Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Trick or Treat

It's Halloween, and I made the mistake of shopping for candy when I was hungry. We've got a small mountain of good candy to give away: Twix, mini Snickers and Kit Kats, candy-coated Hershey's kisses, Mounds (maybe my favorite candy bar), M&Ms, and Butterfingers. This year we're discontinuing our usual practice of keeping two bowls of candy; instead of keeping a bowl of good candy for the cute little kids and a bowl of those cheap peanut-butter chews for the teenagers without costumes, we're giving everyone the good stuff this year. It's not that we've gotten more charitable towards the thug teenager crowd. Rather, this year we're just not feeling energetic enough to differentiate.

I'm hoping we don't get too many trick-or-treaters of either variety. A positive side bonus to spending probably too much money on good candy is that I get the leftovers.

Probably no NaNo

I think I'm going to skip National Novel Writing Month this year. I'm trying to do more writing, but I'm overworked this November. I might sign up, but I don't suspect I'll finish; I just won't have the time. Bummer, but true. I want to spend more time writing, but my schedule just isn't supporting it this year. I hope it doesn't sound like I'm rationalizing; this really is a bad month for writing. I'm thinking about holding my own unofficial NaNoWriMo when my schedule's more amenable, maybe January....

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Book review: Soon I Will Be Invincible

I just finished reading Austin Grossman's Soon I Will Be Invincible, and I want to recommend it. It's the story of the arch-villain Doctor Impossible and his nemeses in the superhero gang The New Champions. It's told from two viewpoints, with alternating chapters telling Doctor Impossible's story and the story of Fatale, the newest member of the New Champions. Doctor Impossible is an Evil Genius -- or, rather, he suffers from Malign Hypercognition Disorder -- and his goal is total world conquest. Fatale is a cyborg warrior, new to the team and with no memories of her pre-cyborg life. Their reflections on their lives are amusing and humanizing, and the book as a whole is a different take on the life of the villain and hero. It's not only worth reading, I think I'll have to re-read it in a few weeks.

Given that it's the author's first book, it's very well written. The author had to make a lot of choices about how to fit things together, where to tell us things, how to keep the pacing interesting, and he made them all well. The story only dragged (depressingly) for a few pages, and even that was all about what makes our villain tick. The book is probably funnier the more you know about comics and superheroes; I thought it was great satire. So, if superhero satire sounds good, give this a try. I enjoyed reading it, and I suspect you will too.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Forgetting stuff

I was just pondering on the nature of knowledge. We spend a lot of our time learning new things; we have experiences, and a part of what we do sticks in our heads as skill and experience. The more we're exposed to knowledge and information, the better we learn them. And the more we do something, the more strongly it becomes a part of our working skill set. But there's also another side to the way we process skills and experiences. Just like we acquire knowledge and skill by repetition, we can also lose skills by letting them fall out of practice. We lose knowledge by losing touch with the related bits of knowledge; the facts are probably still there, floating around in our heads somewhere, but they get harder to connect to when we need them.

The loss might be more pronounced with skills than knowledge. You can remember having a skill or ability, but you can no longer perform it. I'm thinking about this after I discovered this morning that I no longer have access to a skill that used to be part of my repertoire: I can no longer flip pancakes in midair. I thought I could, but I discovered the hard way that it's no longer in my skill set. As failures go, it was impressive in its magnitude and mess. I even managed to get pancake batter on the front of the microwave. But it's all cleaned up now, just in time to pick up Laura at the airport. I may not have done any extensive pre-Laura's-return cleaning, but at least there's no pancake batter on the ceiling to greet her on her arrival....

Friday, October 26, 2007

Random Linkage: T-shirts

Since I officially became a grown-up (I've been mentally factoring this as whatever age I'm currently at, minus six months), I almost never wear T-shirts with clever sayings. There was a time when at least half of my wardrobe consisted of witty (or tasteless) tees, but that time has passed. I've only acquired two funny shirts in the past six or seven years; one was a gift, and I bought the other mostly to support the guy selling them. Now, on the rare occasions I wear T-shirts, the subtext has shifted. Instead of my shirt saying something that translates as, "I Am Clever And Witty," the message now roughly translates as, "I got this shirt for free from a band or performing arts organization." Still, I'm entertained by t-shirt humor. Here are some of my favorite places to window shop:
For the badass metalhead Harley guy with a chip on his shoulder (and the posers): Wicked Jester.
Generic funny clothing at T-Shirt Trauma.
Witty shirts for writers: The Write Snark.
And, one of my all-time favorites: the Neighbor of the Beast shirt.

Thursday, October 25, 2007

The FFA -- all 50 states, and then some

The annual FFA convention is in Indy again this year. The delegates come from all 50 states, plus Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and possibly Guam. And you can easily identify where someone's from. They all wear their official FFA jackets all the time, and the back of each jacket shows the FFA logo, and the wearer's state and chapter. So we've got an unofficial little contest going on, between the Artsgarden tech guys, the ACC desk, the Cinnabon staff, the movie theater staff, and a few others. We've all got checklists of the states, and we're marking off states as we see them. The first group to get all 53 states and territories wins valuable Coolness Points. We've also got a side bet between us tech guys and the Cinnabon managers: whoever loses has to buy lunch for the winners. Because we're cheap, it's from the dollar menu at McDonald's. And because we're classy, lunch will include a dollar-menu sundae. We only need five more states: Alaska, Hawaii, Louisiana, Maine, and Vermont. I can practically taste the double cheeseburger already. Wish us luck!

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Vista. Sucks.

I spent the last four hours playing around with Laura's new laptop, trying to make it boot up. Apparently she removed a USB security dongle while the system was hibernating, which was enough of a disruption that it crashed the system. Worse, it broke something that the system needs to start up. None of the utilities that came with the computer are any help; I've done a system restore to half a dozen different restore points, the auto-repair utility has run often, I've tried booting in safe mode, and nothing helps. My next step is to start over, scrap everything, and reinstall the OS.

Or, an OS. I'm debating installing XP instead of Vista. I'm a bit grouchy that Vista is so twitchy; unplugging a dongle shouldn't cause irreparable system damage. XP is more stable, and it'll run much faster. On the other hand, Vista is about to release a service pack which will theoretically help with this kind of stability problem (without changing its bloated, resource-hogging nature, I'm sure). And, even though it sucks, Vista is the Way of the Future. Unless you can afford the huge pile of cash required to go Mac, which I'm leaning towards pretty heavily. We've been Mac at work for almost a year now, and they're not problem-free (though, again, a lot of the problems have to do with evil Microsoft software). But they're true orders of magnitude more functional than PCs. And it's a pretty good bet you can't destroy a Mac by unplugging a dongle.

So, any advice? Stick with Vista, or revert to XP?

Monday, October 22, 2007

Siding trick

I've spent today on the roof (mostly in the rain) putting siding on the dormer, and I wanted to share a trick for cutting vinyl siding. I don't know how the pros do it, but this is really safe and easy, it lets you cut odd shapes and curves, and it gives you two clean edges when you're done. The miracle tool that makes cutting siding so easy: an angle grinder with a tile wheel. While I was experimenting, I tried a circular saw with a fine-toothed blade. Here's a picture of a circular saw cut, next to the angle grinder cut:

I'm guessing that a circular saw isn't the ideal tool. But you can't really do any better than the angle-grinder cut.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

A few new pictures

I just added some new pictures to my Flickr page. Two of them are of cats on our roof. I spent some time today on the roof, working on siding the dormer on the front of the house. I leave the window open, and the cats decided to follow me out. Chaka is maybe the least adventurous of the cats, but she was the first to explore the roof with me. Koko and Emmett spent a long time climbing all around the roof peaks. They were taking it slow; even for cats, the roof pitch is apparently a bit steep.

Also some pictures of me at work. One of our musicians had a photographer take performance shots, and he got some pics of me too. I don't remember exactly when this show took place, but it has to be a pretty old photo; I've had the goatee for over a year now, so these have to be older than that....

Saturday, October 20, 2007

The not-officially-drunk driver

My parents were in a car wreck a month ago. It wasn't their fault; they were stopped at a traffic light. A drunk guy tried to take a turn too fast and smashed into another car, which then bounced into mom and dad. They were both banged up, and the airbag broke mom's arm. Laura and I got to the scene a few minutes later (this was the night The Planets opened; mom and dad came to the show, but left before the post-show reception), and the guy who caused the wreck was obviously drunk. He was drunk enough that I could even tell by the smell what he had been drinking. We left the scene and followed mom's ambulance to the hospital, and assumed the police would be arresting the guy shortly.

But the drunk guy got away with it. Apparently if you're the first person to talk to the police, they just take your version of what happened as the truth, and nobody else's statement even makes it into the accident report. They also obviously don't even look at the positions of the wrecked cars to see if your version makes any sense. Mom got a call from the second car's insurance company asking her to explain the accident, since the damage to the cars wasn't even close to matching the accident described in the police report. And they never tested the at-fault guy for alcohol, so he gets away clear. And, since the official report is based solely on his made-up version of events, the accident isn't even officially his fault for insurance purposes.

I already have huge heaping amounts of No Respect for our local police as a whole, and this doesn't help. How did the officer not notice that the damage to the cars didn't match the statement? Why didn't he take the minimal step of asking the other drivers for a statement too? And how could he not notice the guy was hammered -- how could he not at least notice that the guy smelled like Crown Royal? Mom was banged up pretty bad, and she's still having problems from the wreck. The drunk guy going to jail won't actually help her, I know, but it irritates me that he's suffering no consequences for his actions....

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A few random Dvorak thoughts

I thought about learning Dvorak with the learn-by-doing method, but I wanted to make the transition as easy as possible so I'm using software to help. I've got a dvorak tutor (Type Faster) on my home computer which I use every morning and evening, and I also carry Dan Wood's A Basic Course in Dvorak on my flash drive for when I've got a few free moments in my workday. I don't have a standard for comparison, but this system seems to be working out pretty well. Five days so far, and I'm already pretty comfortable with the layout. Slow, but comfortable.

My Mac at work is very nice about shortcut keys. The keys are dvorak, but the physical locations of the shortcuts is the same. This is more help than I would've thought. The standard shortcuts are handy because of where they are (conveniently near the ctrl key), not because of what's written on the key face. Those Mac guys are pretty darn clever. Unlike those Microsoft guys. On my PC, my shortcuts jump all over the keyboard when Dvorak's active.

In addition to picking up Dvorak, I figured out another trick for reducing keyboarding pain: don't type with a cat laying across your forearms. If this advice sounds obvious to you, it's probably because you've never owned cats like Koko and Meeper.

Monday, October 15, 2007

And, comic

A while back, Randall Munroe drew an XKCD comic containing coordinates and a date. The date was a few weeks ago, and the coordinates were in a park in Cambridge. And hundreds of people showed up, with no organizing or advance planning of any kind. This might be the coolest thing I've ever heard of.

Honestly, I thought about going. If the coordinates were close enough, I'm pretty sure I would've; I even marked the date and time on my Google calendar. Mostly because I really liked that comic, and because a part of me would really like to believe that wanting something might make it real. And obviously it worked for the people who were there. I wish I could've been a part of it; these are My People. Or rather, I suspect that had I made some different choices in my life, these would've been my people. I'm not sure who my people are now....

On the plus side, XKCD fans take a lot of pictures, so I could vicariously experience the day.


Saw this at Borders Books online, had to share:

Also of note, Borders hosts a series of readings and performances at Borders Store One, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. They post video online; check it out!

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Does it really self-destruct?

I was just shopping online for a new flash drive, and I found this: the IronKey drive. It's a neat security solution, but it solves a problem I don't have, so I won't be buying one. They're interesting, but they're also huge and expensive compared to standard flash drives. I'm only mentioning it because a question on their FAQ asks, "Does it really self-destruct?" They answer that the drive will securely wipe itself clean if tampered with, but (I quote): "You, personally, should not be physically harmed when this happens." Shame; I was getting Mission: Impossible flashbacks for a minute.

BTW, I'm leaning toward either the tiny Sony flash drive or the Sandisk Titanium. Not surprisingly, the Sandisk isn't actually made with titanium. But it's physically larger and therefore harder to lose. On the down side, it's also heavier and sticks further out of a laptop, and is therefore more susceptible to potential cat damage....

Saturday, October 13, 2007


I was debating getting up early this morning and spending some time at a restaurant, eating a nice breakfast and reading a book. But a friend recently sent me a jug of authentic Vermont maple syrup, so I opted for waffles at home instead. It's really good syrup; I'm taking any excuse to consume some. And we almost never have waffles when Laura's home, so I'm taking my waffles when I can get them. I'm a bad judge of how much batter to use, and I usually err on the side of too much. So I often end up with little half-cooked bits that stick out around the edges of the waffle iron, and I sometimes share the edge bits with the cats. And they know it. Here's Koko waiting for the first batch:

I'm assuming that waffle bits aren't bad for cats. If they are, don't tell Laura!

Friday, October 12, 2007

Dvorak and passwords

One odd observation: dvorak really messes with my tendency to touch-type passwords. It takes me a minute to even remember some of mine, since I usually type them by reflex. So I corrected for this by changing my passwords. The keystrokes didn't change; it just spells something different now. It's extremely secure, too. Some of them even contain punctuation. This will also serve to keep me from backsliding -- it'll be hard to even remember my passwords on a standard keyboard.

My Mac at work is very nice about shortcut keys, in a similar fashion. The key layout is dvorak, but the physical locations of the shortcut keys are the same. This is more help than I would've thought. Those Mac guys are pretty darn clever. On the down side, the keyboard layout doesn't load until you login (it doesn't know which user you are yet), so the first password always has to be on the qwerty layout....

Update: I just figured out that all the MacOS password dialog boxes are still stuck on the qwerty layout. That's a bit less convenient.

Cool coffee art!

I should start doing this with Laura's morning latte:

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Typing like a beginner again

I'm having a bit of trouble with carpal tunnel symptoms, and a bit of tendonitis too. Since I'm planning on typing a lot, I decided to pick up the dvorak keyboard and see if it helps. I figure, if Holly Lisle* can do it, so can I. I made the switch yesterday, and from today on I'm doing all of my typing in the dvorak layout. I'm giving it a month to see if it helps. So far, I'm managing. It's slow*, less than 15 wpm so far. Some of it is just learning-curve stuff, but the shifted punctuation is messing with my sense of order. And I keep hitting* the tab key instead of the apostrophe*. But I can already see how efficient the layout is. They aren't kidding about how many words you can type from home row.

My only problem us that I've got to do a lot of typing in the near future. Having to type a lot is going to suck -- both in the usual sense, and in the sense that it'll suck a lot of time. And they say it's a lot easier if you don't try to switch back and forth between a dvorak and a qwerty* keyboard while learning. So wish me luck....

Update: I'm actually handwriting* my notes for class tomorrow (more on this later) because it's taking so long to type them. Gaaah!

* These are very strange words in dvorak.

Links for the week

Absolutely everyone has seen the list of what not to do when you're a supervillain at Less well known: the Evil Emperess Guide. Still more obscure: John VanSickle's Grand List of Overused Sci-Fi Cliches.

You can't go wrong with dead cat humor.

And, speaking of cats, a picture from Cherie Priest that I wish I would've taken. And I like her writing even more than I like her cat pictures.

And one more funny picture of Spain the cat.

What inspired Gary Gygax? Here are a few possibilities. If you don't know who Gygax is, you're obviously not a geek. Or at least not an old geek.

From Gizmodo: pictures of the dumbest and/or most expensive audio toys in the world.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Mildly discombobulated

It's not just mismatched shoes. My entire day is a bit off, in lots of little ways. I think it's probably because Laura left on tour today. We got to spend some wonderful time together, and we had lunch together before I took her to the airport. But I've been a bit distracted. I really enjoy Laura's company, and I've been doing some pining since she left. Which is odd, in a practical sense. Even if she were working in town, it's likely I wouldn't have seen her yet. But knowing she's not coming back for a few days means I started missing her early, even before she was out of town. Odd, but true.

The day's also had a few other non-Laura oddnesses. For one thing, I booted the Meeping Cat out of the house again today; he's been pooping and peeing randomly in the basement, and we'd prefer he didn't. I'm a little worried about him, since it's suddenly gotten cold outside. We saw 90 degrees on Monday, and tomorrow morning it's supposed to be 40, with a high of only 58. I sprayed our outside potted plants for bugs today, and tomorrow I'll bring them in the house. Though it might not be a huge improvement; we have no heat. The thermocouple on our furnace is toast, so it's a bit chilly in here. I've broken out my fleece clothing, and I threw an extra blanket on the bed (okay, technically an electric blanket). And it's messing with my sense of order that I can't fix the furnace myself. I know exactly what's wrong with it, but our furnace is of dubious origin; not only can I find no serial number or model number, I can't even figure out who made it. So I can't find the replacement part. I'm hoping an expert will be able to look at the furnace and know who made it. We'll find out when the expert arrives, which should be a week from today. This is apparently the busy time for heating contractors....

I'm done whining about the slightly surreal nature of my day. Bedtime.

One of those days...

I just realized I'm wearing shoes that don't match today.They're close, but different colors.

That's pretty much everything you need to know about how my day's going....

Tuesday, October 09, 2007

No high-tech solution for a low-tech problem

I record a lot of our performances at the Artsgarden. I've been running a separate recording mix and sending it to a component-system CD recorder, and the recordings have generally sounded good. And the recorder is easy to use: I pop in a blank disc, hit the RECORD button, and let it go. Between songs, I hit the WRITE TRACK button to start the next song on its own track. When it's over, I hit the FINALIZE button. Four minutes later, I hand the performer a copy of their performance. Simple.

But it's getting more complicated. I've recently had problems with the CD recorder; performers have told me two or three times that the CD didn't turn out, and I've gotten a "CHECK DISC" error messages a few times. The recorder also only uses special music-only CD-Rs; because of irritating copyright laws, you can't use standard blank CDs. And music CD-Rs are getting harder to find; they're going the way of floppies, zip discs, and minidiscs.

I'd like to keep the functionality of being able to record and give performers a copy of their performance, and I'd like to do it with something less obsolete than a stereo-system CD recorder with increasingly-onerous media requirements. I've got some budget left for the year, so I've been looking at getting a USB audio interface, some recording software, and some new hardware (I'm thinking MacBook Pro) to use for recording. Audio interface? Easy. MacBook Pro? Easy. But I can't find a software package that does what I need. I've looked at Reason, Audition (formerly CoolEdit), Logic Studio, Peak Pro, Pro Tools, Nuendo, Garage Band, and Audacity so far. Some of them have spectacular feature sets, and they'll do some amazing things. But none of them will let me hit a button to start recording, start a new track without a gap, and easily dump a pile of tracks to a CD. I'm amazed that I can't spend $2500 on hardware and $1500 on software (this is Nuendo's retail price) to emulate the functionality of my $400 CD recorder. The closest I can find are a pile of options for recording one big, long track, which I then have to manually split into separate tracks; almost everything will let me do this, but the time involved varies widely between software suites. Oddly, the one that seems to make it easiest is Audacity, which is shareware. It won't do everything some of the others do, but it's got a more fundamental mastery of the basics. But it still takes five or ten minutes of editing between the end of a show and the time I can start burning a CD for the performer. And I've really got other stuff I should be doing during that time. I'm continuing the search for functional software. I want to buy toys, but I won't spend a huge pile of cash just for the sake of buying toys. I don't even buy gaff tape unless I really need it, so spending a good chunk of my budget on software and hardware that makes my life harder just isn't going to happen.

I know I've got a few audio guys who read this; any advice?

Monday, October 08, 2007

We Are All Villains

I've been slowly catching up on Smallville (meaning I've seen around twenty episodes total from the first six seasons). Laura's a huge Smallville fan, but I've always had a problem with the show's central conflict: the relationship between Clark Kent and Lana Lang. It's a six-season-long trauma created by the characters' inability to actually have a sincere conversation with each other, and it gets old in a hurry. But the show is otherwise interesting, and I like what the series does with some familiar characters from the DC universe.

I've also been noticing one of the unspoken metaphorical premises of the show. It usually follows the familiar monster-of-the-week format, with the twist that most of the bad guys are just normal people who've been "infected" with kryptonite and acquire some sort of supernatural ability. These normal folk then invariably turn into murderers and thieves and proceed to wreak havoc on the innocents around them. I don't know if the producers of the show do this consciously, or if it's just a convenient plot device. But they seem to base their theory of bad guys around the maxim that Power Corrupts: any normal person, given a bit of power, will use it for personal gain. Further, any ordinary person who acquires a bit of power tends to lose touch with basic morality. People would be expected to feel no guilt about resorting to thievery and murder, when removed from the threat of being caught and punished.

My first instinct is to defend humanity-at-large from this insult, but the more I think about it, I suspect people are generally somewhat corruptible. We've got a running cultural joke that says that the first thing a guy would do if he could turn invisible would be to visit the ladies locker room at the local gym, and I suspect there's at least a little truth to this. But I'd like to think that our hypothetical invisible guy would confine himself to light voyeurism and wouldn't resort to killing and raping on a whim.

I think the Smallville folks have another reason for showcasing the fallibility of mankind. It's another of the central theses of the show that one guy -- Clark -- is truly incorruptible; he's got the power to do pretty much whatever he wants, but he chooses to help people and lead a relatively selfless life. And the corruptibility of everyone around him makes a dramatic counterpoint to the main character's central nature.

I also have to observe that a fair number of the supernatural powers acquired by the Meteor Freaks in Smallville are of no practical use other than the Sowing of Doom and Chaos. Sure, some people end up with teleportation, or with telekinesis, or the ability to walk through walls, or the ability to heal people, or the power of persuasion. These powers can go either way. But if your newfound ability is that every living thing you touch instantly turns to ash, you're pretty much relegated to the status of Evil Villain, Third Class (with an upgrade to Evil Villain, Second Class if you fire off one-liners every time you ash someone, or a shift to Tragic Buffoon if you keep doing it accidentally).

On a somewhat related note, I saw a guy in season one with a power I'd like to have. He could separate himself into two identical people, and the two could later merge back into one person. Imagine: I'd get up in the morning, and the two of me would go our separate ways. One of us would work, the other would spend the day reading. I'd get a lot of writing done, and I could also pick up a second job and get some bills paid off. The only real Evil Villain use of this ability would be the power of Instant Alibi....

Saturday, October 06, 2007

New books

I'm psyched about a few new books. I just got a copy of Jon Armstrong's Grey from the library. I've been wanting to read it since I read the first chapter on the author's website. From the first chapter, it seems like something I'll enjoy -- good writing, interesting characters, and vaguely post-singularity cyberpunk setting. I'm planning on starting it tomorrow, after I finish Joe Hill's Heart-Shaped Box.

Speaking of, Heart-Shaped Box is great so far (a third of the way in), one of the best horror novels I can remember. And it's written very well. It was only recently revealed that Joe Hill is Stephen King's son. A few snarky blogger-types immediately jumped on this, screaming that of course it's easy to get a book published if you're Stephen King's son. You've got all these connections and industry contacts and people who owe your dad favors! I think they're missing the point. If you're Stephen King's son, you've probably managed to learn a lot about how writing (and the writing business) works. Joe Hill apparently had the book published under his own name, with no reference to his father and no special assistance. And I'd believe it; the writing is excellent in every respect, so far. He uses language in interesting ways, builds character in interesting ways, and has mastered pacing and description. And it's his first novel. I can't wait to see what he does next.

I also picked up a copy of Tim Ferriss's Four Hour Workweek, which seemed like a must-read after reading a bit of his website and seeing how many other interesting people were picking up on it. I'm not planning on quitting my job and travelling the world; for one thing, I think the whole outsourcing-your-life concept mostly applies to people with extremely white-collar jobs. Account executives can do it, but bricklayers can't (they're the guys to whom construction managers have already outsourced the actual work), and neither can sound guys. But I at least expect it'll be an interesting read.

I just finished Timothy Scahill's Blackwater. I'll save you the trouble of reading it yourself and sum it up for you: the Blackwater mercenary company is powerful, huge, corrupt, extremely well connected, mostly above the law, and is doing questionable things while pretending to be an arm of the official military. There ya go -- I just saved you 350 pages. You're welcome.

I'm also psyched about the third Eden Moore book from Cherie Priest: Not Flesh Nor Feathers. I enjoyed the first two, and I'm looking forward to reading the end of the trilogy. They're gothic, they're southern, and they're stories told well. I don't know when I'll get the book; I just put it on hold at the library, but it's still officially "on order". Also waiting for me at the library: Scott Westerfeld's Peeps. I've been wanting to read something by Scott for quite a while, and this looks like a good place to start. I'll let you know if it rocks.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Overheard conversation

Here's a snippet of a conversation I overheard in a restaurant this week:

GirlOne: "Just remember, no matter what you're doing, No Means No."
GirlTwo: "Or, in this case, humming the Gilligan theme through a gag means No."

The rest of the conversation was similar in tone and content to this, and it was pretty fascinating (and a little informative). I'm pruriently curious about the situation behind this conversation. I almost suspect it was a bit of guerrilla theater; it was awfully clean (in the "devoid of umms, uhhhs, and likes" sense), and it was a little too clever and witty to be normal people's regular speech, unless there really are people who talk like the gang on Friends or Buffy.

So you know, I wasn't really eavesdropping; they were in the booth next to me and weren't talking very quietly (again, maybe guerrilla theater). Plus, I have trouble writing dialogue, and I find that listening to people talk helps a lot. I don't know how much this particular conversation helped. I don't write that kind of story....

Sounds of the Season

I've spent a while debating what music (that is, which of Bright House cable's digital music channels) to play as house music in the Artsgarden. It has to be good, can't be too sleep-inducing, and needs to be appropriate for all audiences (by which I mean older people; kids can handle a much broader range of music than their grandparents). There's a limit to how much dentist's-office soft rock I can handle, and the smooth jazz channel gets excruciatingly dull with a quickness. I experimentally tried the electronica channel for about five seconds, until I figured out that the sample song was Prodigy's "Smack My Bitch Up". We've spent a few years tuned mostly to the blues and jazz stations. The reggae station's fun, and is a practical sort of inoffensive: the people who would be offended by the lyrics, can't understand the lyrics. And we've had good luck with the Party Favorites and classic R&B stations, too, though they're not for all audiences.

We've recently discovered some extremely cool music on the Sounds of the Season channel. Sometimes. When no particular holiday's upcoming, Sounds of the Season plays a station called Pulse. It's highly eclectic modern music: trip hop, ambient, new age, light trance. Unfortunately, a lot of the time they play actual seasonal music. Right now, it's all drinking songs and oompah music for Octoberfest, which I can only handle for two or three seconds at a time. We get a week of good music again starting next Monday, but after that it transitions to Halloween music, then directly into Christmas music on November 1. No more Pulse until January. If you're curious about their schedule, go here and click on the Sounds of the Season to see the pdf file. You'll also notice descriptions at the bottom of the page for their specialty shows. My favorite is for the Last Rites show on the heavy metal channel. It promises to "rend the flesh of nonbelievers". I'm wildly curious about this; if I find myself here at the appropriate time, I'll have to give a listen. If it turns out I'm not a true believer, you'll know by the rent flesh the next day.

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

My minor prejudice of the day

Ever since I read Blink last year, I've tried to keep an eye on my thoughts to see what assumptions I make based on superficial qualities. If it's an unfair judgment, I try to avoid it in the future. On the other hand, some of them pan out in practice. F'rinstance, I tend to avoid enormous SUVs (of the Hummer/Yukon/Excursion class) on the road; I don't know if they have poor sight lines, or if their drivers just don't quite realize how big their vehicles are, but they tend to pass way too close to bicyclists. I might be wrong on occasion, but I err on the side of caution. Occasionally, though, I'll catch myself making snap judgments that I won't even realize I've made until they're contradicted.

I did this yesterday. I was talking with a Russian guy, and it hit me after a few minutes that the guy was about as sharp as a sack full of hammers. And a little voice in the back of my head said, "how can he be this stupid? He's Russian!" Apparently, I've been carrying a prejudice that says that Russians are smart. I think this is based on experience; I've known a fair number of Russians, but I've never met a dumb Russian before.

On a similar note, I've also been noticing that I've got a stack of professional prejudices. I've got a whole set of prejudices about disc jockeys. I can look at a DJ's gear and tell everything I need to know about the show he's likely to do. Now that I think about it, this is less of a prejudice, per se, and more of a professional judgment. I make a lot of these. As another example, certain things about a drum kit are marks of a bad drummer, and other traits are marks of a good drummer. I've never seen a bad drummer with a tiny drum kit. If a guy shows up with a kit that looks something like bass-snare-hat-tom-ride, I know I'm in for a good show. Real experts know what they need to sound good, and they don't bring any more than they want to carry from the car. Bigger kits can mean anything, but a small kit is the mark of mastery. This kind of snap judgment isn't really prejudicial; it comes from lots of experience, and you don't conduct any sort of analysis. It just soaks in over time, until one day you see a complete stranger setting up a five-piece drum kit and catch yourself saying, "hey, this guy's gonna be good!"

DK's costumes -- ooh, slam!

Once upon a time, I expressed some high-quality distaste for the horrible costumes in Dance Kaleidoscope's Magical Mystery Tour show last year, and also some distaste for the costume designer's professionalism. The same designer was responsible for the costuming for DK's recent The Planets, performed at Clowes Hall with the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra and the Indianapolis Symphonic Choir. It was an excellent show, and included DK's "Earth" from their Four Seasons production. Laura did an amazing job with the lighting, the symphony was equally amazing, and the dancers and choreography were truly great. The weak link was the costuming for Planets. They weren't awful, by Magical Mystery Tour standards, but they were definitely the low point of the show. Some worked well, but others glared and distracted.

I'm amused to know that I'm not the only person who thought so. The Indiana Business Journal reviewed the show as well in their arts column. Here's the part about Planets:
The Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra-led by guest conductor James Lowe of the New Bristol Sinfonia-seemed to relish being out of the sightlines for its performance of Gustav Holst's The Planets at Clowes Memorial Hall (Sept. 22-23). Turning the stage over to the skilled company of Dance Kaleidoscope, the pit-parked ISO glided from the sweet strings of "Venus, the Bringer of Peace" through the majestic "Jupiter, the Bringer of Jollity" to the evocative fade out of "Neptune, the Mystic," reminding listeners that this popular piece is popular for a suite of very good reasons. So good was the sound at the Sunday performance that I found myself, often, closing my eyes to fully soak it in. OK, there was another reason, too: the unfortunate costumes inflicted on the DK dancers on stage. What were we to make of the oversized codpieces, confettied bathing caps and bubbled helmets? Was there a reason to saddle a hardworking dancer with what looked like an aluminum foil headpiece? Was this the most respected dance troupe in the city or the cast of a science fiction porno film from 1977?

Whimsy? I'd buy that if it matched the tone of the choreography and overall design of the presentation. As it stands, the costuming choices were baffling and a distraction-and inflicted more harm on the program than a bad note or a dancer's misstep would have.

Better served was the opening piece-Frank Felice's "Earthworks," a gripping work (alas, with recorded music) given a clear choreographed vision-making it as much about birth as it was about Earth-by DK leader David Hochoy.

"Science fiction porno film from 1977". Heh. That's a great image. The funny thing is that the writer, Lou Harry, is a fan of DK. You can tell; he was appalled by the atrocities committed against the company by their costumer.

And, an addendum to my previous rant about the costuming for the Beatles show. I heard recently about the designer throwing a fit about Dance Kaleidoscope's rampant "unprofessionalism" for not hiring a costume shop to make the costumes; he said something like, "I'm a designer. Someone else should build." Great, Barry, but that argument becomes invalid as soon as you sign a contract to design and build. The time for that batch of whining is earlier; once you're building late and over budget, it's no excuse to say that, really, this should be someone else's job. Suck it up and do the job you were hired for. Ideally, do it on time, on budget, and without an excess of griping -- that would be... what's the word? Oh, yes: professional.