Thursday, September 27, 2007

New Pictures

I just updated my Flickr page with a few new photos.

Just so ya know.

Band graffiti

On the way to the loading dock at work today, I noticed a lot of band graffiti on the walls. Or, at least I'm assuming it was all band graffiti; I'd like to think that "RANCID" wasn't written by a worker at one of the restaurants in reference to anything other than the band. But I can't think of any non-musical meaning for "Hatebreed" or "Sepultura". I noticed a certain commonality to the bands whose names are scrawled on the walls: they tend to be of the bad/loud genres. The more I think about it, this makes sense. I would've been shocked to see "PAUL SIMON" or "JAMES TAYLOR" inked onto the walls with a Sharpie. They don't have the fan base. They might have fans who'll pay $500 to see them in concert, but nobody loves them enough to scribble their names on a wall next to a service elevator....

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Aaaannndd -- Coffee!

Kayla, our new Artsgarden Coordinator, is a coffee-oriented person. This means that those of us with a coffee infatuation now outnumber the people who don't like coffee. We win! And, we got a n official Artsgarden coffee maker! Woo hoo! I get to pick up some coffee supplies on the way in tomorrow: cups, sugar, cream, Splenda (for Kayla), spoons, things like that. Oh, and probably some coffee too.

It's the little things in life that tend to make me happy. And the office coffee pot is another thing on the list of little things that's making me happy right now.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Am I a page addict? Let's find out.

This morning, I installed the Page Addict web tracking plugin for my Firefox at work. It shows you every website you visited in the course of a day's surfing, and lets you tag the pages by category. It doesn't save a website history from day to day, but it does save the site info by tag. You can't see what sites you visited last week, but it will remember how much time you spent total, sorted by tag. It only marks time with the browser tab on top, and only when the browser is your top window; you can leave your browser open while you're working in another app, and that time won't count.

I'm doing this because I'm curious how much of my day is spent online, and how much of my web time is spent working. I do a fair amount of web-based stuff that counts as "work", from keeping up with what's happening in my field to shopping and spec'ing equipment, to research. But I also check my personal e-mail and read a few webcomics every morning (and blog, occasionally -- like now!). I just heard the apocryphal statistic that the average office worker spends 2.3 hours per day loafing on the web; I don't think I'm close to that, but I'm curious about my web habits. And I'm pretty aware that I can't go with my gut feeling as a guide for how much time I spend online. My workday's over, and I've had a browser open for 84 minutes, so far. 22.3% of that time is tagged "mail", and 10.4% is tagged "goofing off" (this is my tag for webcomics, blogs, and a pile of non-work-related stuff). 51.5% is tagged "work". But today's a strange day; I'll see what the aggregate looks like over several days.

Some Linkage

There's a limit to how long you can hang out on the 'net without reading the Dogs in Elk story. Here's your chance, if you haven't yet.
Orson Scott Card writes interestingly about genre and litFic, and whether the distinction means anything.
A send-up of the dumbest monsters in Dungeons and Dragons.
Indexed, a math-oriented webcomic (sort-of) drawn on index cards.
A theme post from Lore: college acapella groups doing cover songs.
And, a quote about Vista from Alex St. John, the CEO of Wild Tangent: "It's the only self-breaching security system I've seen in my life."

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Happy Anniversary

Laura and I got married six years ago today! We celebrated by taking a trip to Garfield Park and spending some time in the Sunken Garden, where we held the ceremony. We reminisced about the wedding day and the preparation, and we had our official celebratory lunch at the Weber Grill next to the Artsgarden. Laura has to work tonight, so we couldn't spend all day celebrating. But we got to spend some fun time together, so we're happy.

Today we started talking about eventually taking an actual vacation; our last vacation was three days, for our fifth anniversary. Our last before that was in January 2003. We'd really like to get away for a while sometime in the next few years, so we're tentatively planning on spending a week or two at the ocean. Target date: January 2009. That should be enough time to save up and pay cash and plan for cheap tickets and a rental house on the beach....

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Literary bleed-through

I've noticed that what I read tends to influence my worldview for a period of time after I finish a book. The effect fades after a while, the length of time determined by how much mental energy I put into the book and how much I enjoyed reading it. I'm also affected by how true the book rings, whether fiction or non-fiction; a book that seems genuine sets up a sort of sympathetic vibration, and the truth in it resonates for quite a while. I mentioned a while ago that my post-Dune water-consciousness has lasted 20 years, so far. After reading a treatise on swords and tactics, I spent a week thinking about getting back into martial arts. After reading Vertical Run, I found myself feeling a little bit of paranoia for a day or two. After reading "Million Dollar Murray", I spent a few weeks looking differently at the chronically homeless who live downtown.

I've figured out that I can take advantage of this; the time to clean my office is immediately after finishing Getting Things Done, not a few days later when the resonance has faded. I've also discovered that a steady (though meager) diet of books about writing, written by writers I respect, is highly motivating. I can't imagine sitting down and reading any writing book cover-to-cover; I've tried, but I generally can't get more than a chapter or two in before I figure out that my time would be better spent writing, than reading about writing. But listening to a bit of Stephen King reading the audiobook of On Writing on the bike ride home is inspirational. I'm a lot more likely to write when I get home than to play video games.

I've got a decent collection of books on writing, which I've picked up over the years when I've had trouble writing and wanted something educational and/or inspirational to read. Currently on the pile next to my chair: Lawrence Block's Telling Lies for Fun and Profit; Stephen King's On Writing, both in text and audiobook; Terry Brooks's Sometimes the Magic Works; Orson Scott Card's Characters and Viewpoint; John Scalzi's YNFAWYTYLtaCS: SoW; and The Writer's Digest Guide to Novel Writing. I've made it a habit of picking up a book from this pile and reading a few pages before I start writing every day, and it's been a good habit so far.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007


We recently experienced some trauma at the hands of an old friend. I'm not sharing details. We haven't resolved this yet, and we're still a bit hurt by the explosion. A little after the fact, it occurred to me that our friend couched all of his complaining in therapy language. It's easy to recognize; it's not the way normal humans talk. And it was packed with superficially-persuasive bad logic and flawed reasoning. I'm thinking his therapist hasn't been doing him any favors.

This is a shame; done well, I think therapy (or "counseling", or whatever name it travels under) gives people a chance to have an outside opinion on their problems. Many of our problems seem intractable to us, but the solutions may be blazingly obvious to someone who isn't stuck looking at them through the lens of our own experiences. And just talking through problems with someone is a huge help; we often don't feel we can share problems honestly with friends or family, especially if the problems concern them. We can be completely truthful with a therapist and have no fear of repercussions, and we can benefit from their unbiased opinions.

On the other hand, you never really get an unbiased opinion. Your therapist is only human, and is operating from their own set of prejudices and personality quirks. If your therapist believes that all trauma stems from childhood sexual assaults, you might end up with therapist-induced false memory syndrome. If your therapist believes that trauma stems from past-life experiences, you'll experience regression therapy. These are fringe (though very real) examples, but it's a lot easier to imagine a therapist who believes, for instance, that marital problems are generally the husband's fault, or that all problems stem from laziness, or from insecurity, or from repressed guilt. And your therapist's neuroses are never clearly labeled. You don't know when you choose a therapist if he has beliefs incompatible with yours; you may never find out. Everything he says may sound reasonable, but you never know if it's based on fundamental, unspoken beliefs that you don't agree with.

The reason why this is such a problem is that in therapy, there are no standards; that is, the therapy you get is entirely determined by your therapist's world view. Even widely discredited practices are still in use by some therapists. So much of therapy has been so divorced from research-based science for so long, it is truly more of a philosophy than a science. Different therapists may have totally different approaches to a particular patient's problem, and there's quite literally no way to tell which approach is better, or if either is good at all. And there is no standard training for therapists. Much of the licensing can be regarded as a joke; there's a housecat in Philly with four professional certifications, including one from the American Psychotherapy Association.

Many therapists tend to hop on new trends faster than a 'tween at a mall. This is market-driven, to some extent; many patients are looking for the philosophy espoused by this year's bestselling self-help book or mouthpiece on Oprah. Therapy methodologies are as likely to reflect this year's cool therapy concept and/or bestselling book as they are to reflect sound, well-researched practices. And you never know if today's coolest possible therapeutic practice will turn out to be tomorrow's embarrassment to the profession.

Another problem I have with the general practice of therapy: it contains an inherent conflict of interest for the therapist. The patient wants their problems resolved, and as quickly as possible. The therapist, on the other hand, has a strong financial interest in maintaining the therapeutic relationship for as long as possible. At $100 a week, a therapist has a real incentive to make problems last longer than would strictly be necessary. He's also got a strong incentive to not say anything, no matter how badly you need to hear it, that will drive you away. It's like asking a window installer if you need new windows; sure, he's an expert. But he's also got a vested interest in a certain answer. With window salesmen (and plumbers and mechanics, et cetera) it's a matter of trust. With therapists, it's about trust too, but worrying about finances is a shallow level of trust, compared to sharing one's feelings and secrets. If you're trusting your therapist enough to share openly with him (which is, after all, required for therapy to work), it would probably never occur to you to question if he's milking your course of counseling for more cash.

Again, I think that for some people, with the right therapist, counseling can be a huge help. But it can also be destructive and toxic, and you never know in advance what you're going to get. This is one of the reasons I've never seriously considered therapy myself. The other reason is that I'm not a good therapy candidate: all of my problems are either so insignificant that they don't require therapy, or so chthonic and enormous that therapy wouldn't help. And the enormous ones, I talk to the cats about. And I can always rely on Laura to condense months of counseling into a few short, easily understood words.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Yoga (and sucking)

Doing yoga is good for you in a pile of ways: it's calming, it's centering, it's good for overall health, it can help your breathing. Yoga will make you limber and fit, and it can strengthen muscles most people don't know they even have.

Starting yoga again after a fifteen-year hiatus? Sucks.

Just thought I'd share.

Monday, September 17, 2007

And, an occasional low tree

I cracked my bike helmet this morning, just a bit. I failed to duck sufficiently to avoid a low-hanging tree branch over the sidewalk. It looked all leafy, but it was pretty darn solid. I'm going to blame the wind (which, unlike the rider, isn't here to defend itself against the accusation); the branch bobbed down at the last second, and I didn't have time to avoid it. I stayed on the bike, but ouch. Headache, neck ache, whine. I got home and took a short nap, and I'm feeling a bit better now that the Advil has kicked in. Still, hard to Write with a headache. Thus, I blog a bit.

Darn trees. I'm thinking we should embark upon a massive deforestation campaign. Trees are so last century; we need something new for the new millennium.

Occasional low trees...

I'm cleaning out my spam trap today, and one item in the pile had the subject line, "Occasional low trees cast shadows that made black lines on the dry, moonlit earth." This sounded nice, so I opened it. Pharma spam, of course. But it was a nice change from "D1sc0unt repl1c4 R0LEX W4tches" and "Cheap Cialis NOW!". It's even a step above the "three random words" spam headers, some of which are pretty funny: today I've seen "monotonous Goldfrapp intrusion" and "opulent spinnet wheeze". Some of the offers expressed in my spam subject lines seem like a great deal. I've got one informing me that I have won either $10000 or 5 free ringtones! I wonder which it is. I also got a few dozen identical e-mails informing me that I have been selected to win the laptop of my choice. Okaaay. First, who falls for this? Second, what if someone really did want to give me a laptop of my choice? I might be missing out on a real opportunity here. I should go ahead and open all these and click on all the links, just in case!

I'm amazed at how my attitudes towards spam have changed; it's gone from an annoyance to part of the daily routine. I just cleaned over 800 messages out of my spam traps for my Yahoo mail account and the anyone@ account at (this is the total since Thursday; I had a busy weekend and barely turned the computer on), and I get another 20 or 30 a day at work. The spam filters aren't perfect, though, so I still have to read through the headers manually so I don't miss anything important. I've had problems with the barracuda firewall at work, too. It'll take replies to my own e-mails and filter them as spam, and it'll occasionally block mail from domains I've added to my whitelist. The irony is, there's a simple solution for the spam problem: if no one clicked thru any on any of their spam messages, ever, it'd die out pretty quickly. But people in large groups are dumb as rocks, and the bottom .01% of internet users apparently keep looking for knockoff watches and dubious pharmaceuticals.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Spreading the love (and the hair)

It's laundry day in the Glover/Mountjoy household. We all have duties: Laura and I sort and pre-treat stains and wash and dry and fold. The cats wait until I've folded some clean clothes and piled them in the basket to carry upstairs, then they fwump on the laundry and nap. They like knowing that they're part of the process, even if their part involves getting cat hair all over the clean clothes. Today I ran upstairs for a moment, and when I came back down I had two cats in the dryer, padding nests into the warm laundry. Apparently, they didn't want to wait until it was folded; the hair distribution is more efficient if the laundry's still tumbled together in the dryer. They also scientifically determined that for maximum hair-dispersal effect, the long-haired black cat and the long-haired white cat should get in the dryer together. No matter what color the laundry (cats are somewhat colorblind, after all), the combination of black and white hair would maximize the effect. The cats were all in on this plan together, too; the Meeper acted as lookout on the basement stairs, while Koko and Emmett climbed into the dryer. Chaka might have looked like she was asleep on her chair upstairs, but I'm convinced that she actually masterminded the plot. In her youth she was the laundry impediment, and now she's passing the torch down to the younger cats.

Evil confession: I was a little tempted for a moment to close the door and turn the dryer on for a second, just to see what the cats would do when I opened it. I didn't do it for two reasons. One: it would be a little evil. And, two: I don't need to perform the experiment if I already know the results. I have no doubt about what Koko and Emmett would do after one second in a clothes dryer; the only real experimental variable would be discovering exactly which piece of upstairs furniture I'd find them hiding under....

Friday, September 14, 2007

school trauma flashbacks

I'm amazed at how much trauma we experience in high school. I recently ran into someone from my graduating class, and we spent some time talking. She mentioned the rough time she had in school: backstabbing "friends", social pressures, conformity problems, and a whole host of petty miseries. I was surprised by her revelations; she was one of the very popular people, pretty and smart and well-dressed, and she moved in enviable social circles. I had never really thought about the problems the extremely popular people had to experience as part of their lives. Me? I was on stage crew, displayed an utter lack of fashion sense, and was rather a jerk in school; my social problems were of a different sort than hers. And, while I can respect that popularity can carry a fair amount of misery with it, unpopularity is worse in most respects*.

I think I was also surprised by the revelation that some of the trauma she experienced in school is still echoing in her adult life. I get little echoes myself, now and again. I've dealt with all the problems I had in high school, or at least most of them. But occasionally I'll notice something -- an instinctive reaction to circumstances, or an odd viewpoint -- that on reflection is rooted in some school-age trauma. For instance, I just recently caught myself doing some social planning with the assumption that I'm a little embarrassing to be associated with in formal situations. I don't think, empirically, that this is true; I clean up pretty well, my wife picks out some nice dressy clothing for me, and I'm a decent conversationalist. Nonetheless, I caught myself working from the unchallenged assumption that I'm too scruffy and undesirable to associate with, and that people would be happier if I hid in the background a bit. It took me some thinking to take a guess at the root of this attitude. And, of course, it was school-age trauma I picked up in Catholic-school junior high. It makes me wonder: how many other school-age personality quirks and bad assumptions am I carrying around? How many quirks does everyone carry around with them from school-age misery?

* We get a bit of the same logic as adults; we're told that the rich have their problems too, that their lives aren't all sunny and glorious. But it rings hollow. I think we all get the idea that while the rich might have problems, none of them would trade their problems for those of poor people. Sure, it's hard to find true friends or a trustworthy housecleaning service. But eating ramen or cereal for dinner every night, not being able to afford a doctor's visit, and agonizing over which bills to leave unpaid is worse.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

The New Trendy Drink

While Laura and I were having lunch at the Aristocrat a few weeks ago, a bar order came in for a few mojitos. They normally don't make these, but it was a slow day, and the bartender had some extra time, so she bent the rules and made the drinks. The patrons sent them back, saying they were awful and unpalatable and totally not mojitos. One of them was extremely snippy about it; she refused to even drink a beer poured by the person who made her mojito. The bartender was a little offended at this, but she understood. Mojitos are this year's cool drink; they're apparently featured in an extremely hip teevee commercial. And most people have only experienced mojitos in the form of a just-add-rum mix in the freezer case at the grocery: a sort of sweet lime-and-mint slushie, with rum. A real mojito is pretty radically not what they're expecting. If a mojito had coconut in it, I'd refer to the Coconut Effect here....

Our bartender also had funny stories about another entry in the "this year's coolest drink" category: the cosmopolitan. Apparently, the main character in Sex and the City always drank cosmos. So, a few years ago, people would show up in bars and order a cosmo so they could be just as cool as Sarah Jessica Parker. And they'd discover that a cosmo is a lot like a martini, and not necessarily pleasant to drink. Our bartender had a lot of returned cosmos when Sex and the City was on the air, and had a fair number of people insist that she had to be making them wrong, because Carrie wouldn't drink something like this.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

For sci-fi geeks only

Just found this OneStar commercial at DragonConTV, answering the question, "What would have happened if they had OnStar service in 2001: A Space Odyssey"? It's short, and funny. If you're a geek. Also, a short sketch about lame super powers: what if, instead of retractable claws, you got the ability to always find a pen when you needed one?

While I'm linking, Toby Inkster's Dan Brown Novel Generator.

And, the random comic button on the Oh No Robot comics search engine.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Surreal house music

We use the digital music channels on our cable teevee for house music at the Artsgarden. Recently we've been listening to the "Sounds of the Season" channel; apparently, August and early September sound like ambient techno, light electronica, and acoustic piano and guitar. Today, though, the first thing I heard was an orchestral scoring of "When Johnny Comes Marching Home", followed by -- no kidding -- Johnny Mathis singing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic", followed by Bruce Springsteen's "The Rising" and a brass-band version of "Yankee Doodle Dandy". I had a few moments of wha? before I remembered that today's September 11. So it's all patriotic music, all day.

I don't want to sound like an America-hating Nazi commie terrorist, but have you ever noticed how bad a lot of patriotic music is? I'm about to give up watching football games because I never again want to hear John Mellencamp sing the "This Is My Country" song during the truck commercials. Oh, well -- at least we're done with Lee Greenwood for a while.

On a happy musical note, our performer in the Artsgarden today is Craig Brenner. He's an excellent pianist who plays truly American music: boogie-woogie! He's good at what he does, and he's fun to work with. So if you're downtown at lunchtime today, drop by and catch Craig. 12:15 - 1:15, live in the Artsgarden: blues, boogie-woogie, boxcars, and ragtime.

Monday, September 10, 2007

A bargain!

I have today off. By "off", I mean that I'm not doing any work for which I earn money. I am spending a few hours at the Phoenix Theatre making their moving lights function; I'm good at this kind of thing, and I'm on intimate terms with the lighting designer for their new show, "Altar Boyz". I never know in advance if I'll be any help. If all I do is plug things in and dress cable, I'm just another deck hand helping schlep stuff around. But if problems happen, it's suddenly a good thing I'm there. Today, problems happened. They were complicated, and I fixed them. I like feeling like I did some actual good, instead of spending my day off serving as Random Grunt Labor.

I wonder if the Phoenix realizes what a bargain they're getting when they hire Laura for design work. They pay for her, and they get me for free; I'm like the surprise in the bottom of the Cracker Jack box.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

Thoughts on a long day of writing

Today's the first day I've had in a long time where I had no obligations of any kind. Until Laura came home from work, I didn't do anything but write, all day. It was nice. And frustrating. Did I mention I'm not a great writer? I'm working on it, but it's hard work. I spend a lot of time agonizing about little things, about how to describe things, how to make action happen, how to make dialogue sound right. And even when I'm done, it doesn't sound right. Usually, writing is a lot of work, but also fun. Today it was just work, and not really any fun. And did I mention the frustrating?

I have a mental picture of how a writer is "supposed" to work, and the way it's working for me doesn't match the picture at all. For one thing, I can't stop writing. Once I start, it takes me a while to get into the mindset, and it's a pretty fragile mindset. I understand that other writers can freely interrupt their work to read the news, approve blog comments, and do actual paid work. But I can't even answer the phone without breaking the writing trance. Oddly, a kitty jumping in my lap doesn't distract me; petting the cats has apparently crossed the line from volitional action to reflex action.

It's a poor carpenter who blames his tools, but I kinda wish I had a laptop for writing. I found myself wishing I could relocate to the couch or the comfy chair downstairs, instead of being stuck at my desk in my less-than-comfortable chair. I should mention I got this chair from a nun who was planning on dumping it in the trash. Think about that for a minute: five years ago when I got it, it was already so old and worn out that a convent was throwing it away. So I'd like to be a little more mobile. A laptop would also be nice because it wouldn't have my ten-year backlog of video games waiting on its hard drive to distract me; I could use my full willpower for writing, instead of having to direct it at not playing games. But a new computer isn't a financial reality for quite a while. Possibly a new chair, though. Or at least a less-used chair; we just bought new office chairs at the Artsgarden a few months ago, so I could probably bring one of the old ones home.

I think writing is actually harder than plumbing. For one thing, plumbing is more interruptible. I can stop sweating a pipe, answer the phone, and go immediately back to sweating pipe. It doesn't take any time to get my head back into plumbing. And I can think about other things while I'm banging on fittings with my wrench collection. Writing occupies 100% of my attention. There are also no standards for writing. I know if I'm doing bad plumbing. But with writing, you really don't know at the time if you're doing well or not. And if you're plumbing, you get paid every week (that's the oldest plumbing joke: you only need to know three things to be a plumber: hot on the left, cold on the right, payday's on Friday). It's entirely likely that I'll never get paid for writing. I still would rather be writing, though. I like the flexibility of it, the fact that the schedule is under my control. I can write at 3am if the urge strikes. I like the fact that the learning curve never slopes back down; you've always got the option of writing better, whereas I think I was learning one new thing per year for the last few years I was plumbing. And at no time in a writer's life is he likely to end up snaking someone else's effluent out of a drainpipe.

Sorry if I'm a wee bit o' the gloomy today. It was a hard day's work, and it took a lot out of me....

Saturday, September 08, 2007

No-longer-hiking boots

I've got some pretty big items on my Jeff Wants list, but it really doesn't take much to make me happy. Today's happiness-inducing purchase: I just spent three dollars on new laces for my hiking boots. They're shorter than the old laces so they don't catch in my bike chain, and they're fashionably two-toned. Also, they're not frayed and broken, which is nice too. I'm hoping I don't cause some kind of brand-name rift in the fabric of space-time, putting Keen brand laces on my Merrell boots.

Today's the first day I biked in my hiking boots. I had to cycle to the Artsgarden to run a show, then to Penrod to help Laura take down a stage, and it's expected to pour down rain. The boots seemed like a good choice for multitasking, and they're still comfy and functional when soaking wet. They're extremely comfy and durable, and they lock onto the pedals better than my normal cycling shoes (a pair of $20 cross-trainers from Target). I'm not sure why I haven't cycled in them before. I think I was working from the theory that you're not supposed to wear trail hikers as street shoes, because they'll wear out quicker. It just occurred to me this morning that it's not really an issue; I don't think I'm ever taking another big hiking trip. Last year's week in King's Canyon was a nice finish for my backpacking career. And these boots are comfortable enough that they'll make nice everyday footwear.

Of The Yummy: oatmeal with chocolate chips

The Au Bon Pain on Monument Circle serves oatmeal for breakfast. It's not even that expensive, for downtown Indy values of expensive. They've got raisins, almonds, and brown sugar you can heap onto your oatmeal if you desire. And: chocolate chips! I have never tried putting chocolate chips in oatmeal before. It's yummy. And, you don't need a lot. A big spoonful of chocolate chips is plenty. A bowl of oatmeal with a bit of melted chocolate is a wonderful thing; a quarter pound of melted chocolate with some oatmeal isn't quite as good. I'm mostly mentioning this because I discovered the hard way that you don't really want a cup of chocolate chips in your cup-and-a-half of oatmeal. One of these days I'll learn moderation....

I don't know why I had never thought of putting chocolate chips in oatmeal before. It's common knowledge that all foods are improved by the addition of either garlic or chocolate chips (never, ever both at once, though!), and it's pretty obvious that oatmeal isn't on the garlic side of that continuum.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Some Negative Feedback

The Arts Council's annual Start With Art luncheon was yesterday. It's a fun event, and it's grown every year. It's grown so much, the venue has shifted to the Sagamore ballroom at the convention center, because it's pretty much the only place in town where you can have lunch for 1200 people. The keynote speaker was great, the food wasn't actively bad, the program was pertinent, and it was a total technical nightmare. Gaah! The Convention Center is a union hall, so I'm not officially allowed to actually do any work there; the local stagehand's union works under the principle that if I move a chair, I'm costing a union guy his job. It wasn't as bad as that at the convention center; like anywhere, it's mostly about people skills. The union crew liked me, so I could get away with a lot more than if I were a jerk. In some ways, the union-ness of the building simplified my life. I couldn't do any work, so I didn't have to worry about doing any work. On the down side, I didn't get a vote about anything, either. When I arrived in the morning, I saw the microphone they were using on the podium: a Shure SM-57. It's not the crappiest possible mic, but it's close. It's what you get when somebody in charge decides that they're more concerned with a mic's durability than sound quality. It's what you get if you truly don't care how bad the sound is. And, it produced the longest sustained feedback I've ever heard from a sound system, ever. It wasn't a problem with the mic; it was more of an operator problem. She dashed away from the board to fix something and forgot she had left the mic live. It started feeding back, and it took her probably 15 seconds to get back and kill it. That may not sound like much time, but it's a long time to listen to feedback. The house crew leader was pretty adamant about me not being allowed in the booth; I couldn't do anything about it from backstage.

Major technical drama number two: about 20 minutes before we opened house, I wanted to test the live feed from the camera and see how the head shots looked on the giant projector screens. The house person said, "what camera?" Oopsie, they had forgotten to order one. Some panic ensued. I ended up calling a guy who does some video work for the Arts Council and asking if we could borrow a camera. The conversation went something like this:
Jeff: Hey, Mark. Is there any way I can borrow a vidcam and tripod today?
Mark: Sure. When do you need it?
Jeff: Twenty minutes?
Mark: ... Uhm. Sure! I'll be right there.
And he was. He just tossed some extremely nice, expensive gear in his car, zoomed to the convention center, and even helped us set everything up. Truly, the Arts Council -- and me, personally -- owes Mark Williams a huge favor. We really didn't have an Option B, and I didn't have anyone else to call who was even in reasonable driving distance to make it downtown before we started. So, many thanks to Mark and Image Nation. He's not only nice as heck, he's also extremely good at what he does; feel free to give him a call for video work.

One of the real kickers in all this? I was talking to the person who manages the ballroom, and mentioned that I had found a solution for the major problem created when they forgot about the camera: someone was donating a camera to us, and Chris was going to run it. And she had the chutzpah to say, "is he with the union?" I asked if it really mattered at this point, and she eventually said that she'd overlook it this once. How nice of her to not torpedo the last-minute improvised solution to a problem of her making....

And, I really enjoyed the keynote speaker, Sir Ken Robinson. I couldn't see him from backstage, but I heard his talk. And he was clever, funny, and extremely British. He managed to talk about a pretty varied set of topics, touching on a huge range of facts and opinions, and keep it all coherent and brief. The Arts Council has always managed to find excellent speakers for Start With Art, and this year's was one of my favorites.

the iPod, three weeks in

I adore my iPod Nano. It's one of my favorite birthday gifts I can remember, ranking up there with my Rocket eBook (back when it was the coolest e-book reader on the planet). I'm impressed with the battery life: it's got close to double the life of my old Zen Nano, and five times the battery life of my Axim handheld. I also like its ability to create new playlists on the fly; just hold the center button for a second or two when a track is selected, and it's added to the On The Go playlist. I like the sound quality, I like the EQ settings, and I like the physical design, from the extremely-portable form factor to the intuitive user interface. And 8 gigs is an enormous amount of music. I like that iTunes now lets you specify which playlists you want to sync (unlike some early versions) with each iPod; this makes it a lot easier to use multiple iPods with the same computer (like, say, Laura's Mini and my Nano).

On the other hand, it's got some features that make no sense, from an end-user standpoint. For one thing, how many people own and/or use more than one computer? But you can still only use your iPod with one at a time, in any practical sense. I also have a quirky problem when I use the "shuffle" function on the iPod. Sometimes, it shuffles all the songs from all the playlists together. Sometimes it works fine, but I've shuffled my cycling playlist and ended up with bits of audiobook in the mix. This might be an operator problem. It's happened twice so far, and both times I've just re-shuffled, and it's gone back to shuffling within playlists. I also wish it would remember my place in a playlist if I switch to another playlist and back. If I'm listening to a book-on-mp3 and change to music for the bike ride, when I change back to the book I have to relocate which track I was on. I don't know if htis is because I don't listen to official Apple-sanctioned audiobooks; mine are mostly just mp3 files.

And I have to say I'm irritated with Apple's policy of not telling you when new products are about to be released. I feel a bit sorry for the people who bought their iMacs the day before Apple rolled out their new iMac line; I only hope Apple has a somewhat-friendly return policy. I had my Nano for less than a month when they released the new Nano line with widescreen video. I think I prefer the smaller form factor of the old nano, and I don't think I'd ever watch movies on it anyway. Still, it would've been nice to have the choice. The only upgrade I can picture is the iPod Touch, essentially a large-capacity iPhone without the phone functions or camera. But I wasn't going to spend $500 or $600 for an iPhone, and I'm not going to spend $300 or $400 for the same product minus the phone. Despite their excellent product design, Apple isn't the white knight of the electronics world; they're more of the smoky grey knight, replete with unnaturally expensive hardware, borderline-evil pricing policies, bad new-product release policies, and quirky (but well-marketed) customer service. This is why Apple owes so much to Microsoft: the Black Knight of Redmond makes Apple look lily-white by comparison.

Still, I'm extremely happy with my slightly-old-school Nano. I'd recommend it, but you can't buy them anymore....

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

NFL in town

We've already seen dozens of football games on the airwaves in the past week -- but none of those are real games, because they're pre-season games. They don't count towards anything at all, and in no way affect a team's standing or playoff chances. Sponsors still make money, fans still buy tickets, but in a practical, scorekeeping way, pre-season games don't count. They're not even that interesting; teams don't take risks with injuring their important, expensive players, and don't give away much of their strategy.

Given that, it's important that tomorrow is the first NFL game of the regular season, for football fan values of "important". It's in Indy, between the Colts and the New Orleans Saints. The advertising theme seems to be "Who Wants It More?". Downtown is plastered with posters and billboards featuring the two quarterbacks looking surly, above the Who Wants It More verbiage. It looks pretty cool. On the other hand, they also have exactly the same poster displayed around town, except instead of football players the pictures are of Kelly Clarkson and Faith Hill, the headliners for the performers at the free outdoor concert before the game. I love that it looks like Faith and Kelly are competing for something. And you can go a lot of places the ads never intended by changing the referent of the pronoun "it".

Today at the Artsgarden we hosted the big, official press conference for the performers: Faith, Kelly, the band Hinder, and John Mellencamp. A half-hour press conference is no biggie for us. We do this sort of thing all the time. But this press conference was for the NFL, and it had Big Names in attendance. We had a huge setup: special artwork, banners and logos; a strange podium with the wrong mic mount; fluid tech requirements; 17 video guys showing up at the last minute. So many video crews showed up that we actually ran out of open channels on our press box. And we had tech issues. Mad props to Chris, our sound guy; I doubt many people even knew we were having technical difficulties. With this many camera crews, we started having wireless interference with our microphones. The interference is never clean, like two people talking on the same mic; rather, you get odd squelching, squealing sounds. And Chris was dialing the squeals out on the equalizer as they were fading in. He was so responsive and efficient at this, that I doubt many people (in the room full of techs and camera guys) realized there was such a serious problem going on behind the scenes. There's no way I could've done this myself.

Difficulty two wasn't technical; it was Amos. A local radio personality who bills himself as the Voice of the Black Community has apparently been haranguing the NFL for a while about the fact that all of the artists on the bill for the free concert are white. And he used the press conference as a national platform to air his grievances with the NFL. It was unprofessional, and it was irritating to watch. During the question-and-answer, he started talking; after about 90 seconds, the camera guy next to me leaned over and said, "is there going to be an actual question anytime soon?" It's a press conference. He was there as a journalist, not an activist, and he did his best to derail the proceedings. He was finally shut down and shut up by the girl singing the national anthem. She's black, and she proceeded to get defensive and say he was belittling her by claiming that blacks weren't represented -- essentially, "what am I , copped liver?"

I should also mention that I think Amos's main gripe is totally overblown. It's pretty obvious that the NFL doesn't have race issues with the kickoff performance; in the last three years, the headliners have included Sean "Puffy" Combs, Kanye West, Rihanna, Mary J. Blige, and Destiny's Child. Blacks are less than 20% of the population at large; if a sample of three performers (Mellencamp wasn't planned as part of the free concert; he's the opening act inside the Dome) are all white, that's the law of averages at work, not racism.

But the NFL people were happy with us, and we had fun working with them. And this whole thing was educational for me. Lesson one: don't let a producer or performer talk you into something that's a bad idea. I keep getting smacked with this lesson. This time, it's that you shouldn't use wireless microphones when you're expecting a pile of other wireless gear in the same vicinity, with no troubleshooting time in the schedule and no control over everyone's frequencies. The last major time I got hit with this lesson was last year at Start With Art. The performer insisted on getting his wireless lav mic an hour and a half before he was due to talk. He turned it off to eat, and never turned it back on again -- not even when he was on stage, and people were yelling at him that they couldn't hear him. Apparently he forgot he had it on. And it's the sound guy who looks incompetent, not him....

A side note: I had never heard Faith Hill talk before. She's blazingly intelligent behind the cute face, and she's extremely savvy -- a lot more savvy than you'd guess from the celebrity picture you usually see painted. I was extremely impressed. Still, after watching the press conference, I'm convinced that Kelly Clarkson Wants It More.


Normally I don't have much trouble with mosquitoes while I'm cycling. I think I'm generally going too fast for insects to be a real problem (today I set a personal record and made the 4.7-mile trip downtown in 17 minutes. I rock!). Especially since I've usually got a Murphy's-Law-inspired headwind whenever I bicycle anywhere. Today, though, I had an unpleasant moment when I rode through a cloud of mosquitoes on the road. Normally I just zoom through, making sure my mouth is closed and I'm exhaling through my nose so I don't inhale any. Today, due to some odd quirk of wind, the baggy sleeve of my t-shirt apparently acted as a sort of mosquito ram scoop. I didn't realize it for a minute, but when I left the mosquito cloud I picked up two or three dozen mosquitoes inside my shirt, in the vicinity of my left armpit. I had to pull over and engage in some serious slapping and freaking out. I think I got bitten eighteen or twenty times on the same four square inches of armpit skin. Aaaugh! The bites were bad enough that I actually broke out the calamine lotion when I got home.

Really, in spite of things like this happening occasionally, I enjoy riding my bike. It's really true: a bad day on a bike is still better than a good day in a car. I think it's the same mentality that lets me enjoy hiking and camping.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Music For Going Fast

I've noticed that the right music inspires me to pedal harder, go faster, and make better snap judgments on the bike. After a few weeks of zooming around on the bike, here's the playlist I crank when I feel like making tracks:
  • Trip Like I Do: Filter/Crystal Method (from the Spawn soundtrack; the Crystal Method's original "Trip Like I Do" has a minute-long spoken-word intro)
  • Possession: Sarah McLachlan (the Rabbit in the Moon remix)
  • Bloodbath Dance: Crystal Method (from the Blade soundtrack; extremely repetitive, but high-energy)
  • Block Rockin' Beats: Chemical Brothers
  • Northern Style Kung Fu: Micronaut (good luck finding this on CD)
  • Touched: Vast
  • Blind: Korn (good enough that I forgave the slow intro)
  • Breathe: Prodigy
  • Dirty Deeds, Done Dirt Cheap: Joan Jett (not as cool as the AC/DC version, but a little perkier)
  • Headhunter: Front 242 (You Catch The Man!)
  • I Turn to You: Mel C (Twisted Factory remix)
  • Right Here, Right Now: Ice Cube
  • Clueless: Sevendust (really, the whole Alpha album rocks)
  • Polyamorous: Breaking Benjamin
  • Jungle Boogie: Kool & the Gang
  • Not Gonna Get Us: TaTu (Hot Bodies club mix; yes, I own this album. Got it for $1 at a used-record store.)
  • Rocket: Herbie Hancock (You'll notice I grew up in the '80s)
  • Parabola: Tool (this is the only Tool song that survived on the playlist; the rest of their really high-energy songs all have really slow, low-energy intros. Even with Parabola, you've got to skip the last 30 seconds of the track while it dwindles to nothing)
  • The Devil You Know: Face to Face
  • Body Rock: Moby
  • Pain Redefined: Disturbed
  • Mortal Kombat Theme: KMFDM (yes, I'm embarrassed by this)
  • Yub Nub: Forbidden Soul Donut (a heavy-metal cover of the Ewoks song from the end of Return of the Jedi. It's hilarious, and very high-energy.)
  • You Spin Me Right Round: Dope
  • I Am the Law: Anthrax (from the live album; the best version possible)
  • A Man of Constant Sorrow: Alison Krauss (also from the live album. Not particularly fast-tempo, but it makes me ride fast.)
The playlist started a lot longer than this. I was surprised at some of the music that I expected to inspire speed, which I always skipped when it came up in the playlist. Here's a sampling of music I deleted from the playlist:
  • Don't Fear the Reaper: Apollo 440 (another cover song better than the original)
  • I've Got the Power: Snap (I have no idea why this isn't a good going-fast song, but I tended to skip it every time it came up in the playlist)
  • One: Metallica
  • Barracuda: Heart
  • Save Yourself: Stabbing Westward
  • Killing in the Name Of: Rage Against the Machine
  • anything from Rammstein
  • Living Dead Girl: Rob Zombie (the Naked Exorcism remix)
  • Tom Sawyer: Rush
  • Eye of the Tiger: Survivor (yes, I had this on the original playlist. Did I mention -- child of the '80s.)
  • Temple of Love: Sisters of Mercy
  • Vulcan: Snake River Conspiracy
  • Twist the Knife: Napalm Death
  • Angry Again: Megadeth
  • Battleflag: Lo-Fidelity All-Stars (again, a slow, draggy intro -- and the song itself isn't as fast and peppy as I remembered)
  • Can I Play with Madness?: Iron Maiden
  • Night Drive: Andrea Parker (club music; I think the tempo/key change in the middle is hard to pedal to)
I've got other playlists for less energetic rides. If I'm really taking my time and sightseeing, I've got a playlist that's entirely Aimee Mann, Sarah McLachlan, Cowboy Junkies, Tanya Donelly, Regina Spektor,....

Monday, September 03, 2007

More actual dialogue

While I was sweeping the floor today, the cats were being unhelpful and underfoot. Here follows an actual conversation I had with Laura:

Jeff (to Koko): Move it! You're breaking the Second Rule: don't lay down in the dirt piles while I'm sweeping!
Jeff (to Meeper): And you -- you're breaking the Third Rule: don't try to eat anything I'm sweeping up!
Laura: I'm just curious, what's the First Rule?
Jeff: You do not talk about Fight Club.
Laura: Ohhh... Is that an important rule?
Jeff: Well, it's worked so far. Have the cats ever talked to you about Fight Club?
Laura: I suspect you've spent too much time with the cats, dear.

Multiply this by an entire day, and this is life in the Glover/Mountjoy household.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Laura's Home!

I picked Laura up at the airport on Friday, and we've had an extremely laid-back time since then. She's tired after her travels (and her extreme working hours and jet lag), so we've done some quality sleeping-in and napping. And we've done some quality reading. I really enjoy just reading with Laura. We'll take opposite ends of the couch and just read for hours, occasionally sharing funny parts or well-turned phrases. It might be my favorite way to spend a day off.

The books have been good, too. I read Cherie Priest's second Eden Moore novel, Wings to the Kingdom. I liked it a lot, almost as much as the first in the series. I've had Wings sitting on the shelf for a while, but I had put off reading it after I finished Dreadful Skin; while Dreadful Skin had three of my favorite book virtues (brevity, interesting characters, and good use of language), I didn't much care for the ending. It didn't so much end as just stop; it ended in the same way the second Pirates of the Caribbean movie ended. It took some time to work my way back to reading another Cherie Priest novel. But Wings to the Kingdom was definitely worth reading.

I'm also simultaneously reading Peter Watts's Starfish and Tim Scott's Outrageous Fortune. I'm really digging Starfish; I picked it up after reading Blindsight online, and reading bits of the author's cool, cryptic webpage about Starfish. I'm almost finished with it, and I'm enjoying it a lot so far. The character development is wild and interesting, and the author does it in creative ways. I'm curious about how the story wraps up. It's not at all obvious what's about to happen next; part of this is conditioned by reading Blindsight, which had an ending I never would've predicted, even though the entire story is essentially told in flashback, and you see what happened to the main character on the first page (though you don't understand it until the end). I started Starfish when I needed a break from the Tim Scott novel. Outrageous Fortune is a little too strange to get into easily; we're dropped a little too suddenly into a surreal world that's not explained very quickly. The book is funny and quirky, but the reading experience is very superficial because it's too hard to relate to anything that's going on or to any of the characters. Then again, I'm only 80 pages in; my view might change later. I'll keep you informed.

I also started and finished Kat Richardson's Poltergeist. This'll be the first urban horror series I've gotten hooked on in quite a while; I like the main character, and I like the writing. I also really enjoy the cover art, by Chris McGrath. This is incidental to my enjoyment of the book, but I have to say that the cover art is what made me pick up Greywalker in the first place. And I had to read a few great reviews before I picked up my first Charlaine Harris Sookie Stackhouse book; the cover just looked too goofy to hold a good book within it, like a cheap, colorized Edward Gorey knockoff.

I'm typing this on Laura's new laptop, and I've gotta say I think I like Dell's laptop keyboard a lot. It's a close second to the slightly-curved ergonomic layout on some of Acer's laptops. On the down side, I had to retype a bit after Vista restarted itself. Without warning. I was typing along, and -- blip! -- my browser closed, and the OS informed me that it was restarting to install updates. Grrr. I'm sorely tempted to just strip Vista and install XP on this thing, regardless of what problems and trauma that might cause. I'm also noticing that a 15.4" widescreen is more than I really need. Most of what I do on a computer these days is all about typing, and it's not comfortable to type full-width on this size screen. My ideal typing box is six or seven inches wide, so that's all I really use anyway; I could pretty easily get by with a 12" screen. Small screen equals longer battery life equals more typing; this would probably be best for me. Also, I think I'd have fewer distractions on a smaller screen. Then again, I also like the idea of a huge desktop-replacement laptop with a 17" screen and a full keyboard. Of course, it's academic anyway. We just bought this laptop, and we're not affording another for a few years.