Friday, November 30, 2007

Healthy Living

Laura does pretty much all the cooking in the Glover/Mountjoy household, and she makes yummy, healthy meals. When she's out of town, I think she's always a little nervous that I don't eat well. So, to put her mind at ease I'm offering photographic proof that I'm eating a varied, nutritious diet while she's gone. Tonight's dinner:

Health Food

I've got protein, fat, carbohydrates, starches -- an extremely balanced meal. I've got fruits and vegetables and grains and dairy represented. You'll notice I've even got three kinds of fruit preserves, to ensure I'm getting adequate dietary variety. So rest easy, Laura. I'm eating extremely well and healthy while you're gone.

Toy: good news!

It looks like I might be getting the old laptop from work after all! It just needs to survive a long car trip over the holidays with a few kids, and when it gets back to Indy, it's probably mine to keep! Woo hoo!

It's a silly little thing, but it makes me extremely happy.

Monday, November 26, 2007

New Toy, thwarted.

For the last four or five years at work we've been using an old Acer Travelmate laptop. It's spent most of the last two years at the tech console, and I've really gotten to like it. It's got maybe the most comfortable laptop keyboard I've ever used, the screen's a nice size, and it's old enough that it's standard format instead of widescreen, which is nicer for writing (you can see more of a horizontal page). I've taken it home a few times, and I've really enjoyed using it for writing and light-duty surfing. It's not new or fast; I don't own any games that'll play well on it; it's starting to crash in lots of little ways (the directional pointer doesn't work anymore, f'rinstance). But the keyboard fits my hands like it was custom-designed for me, the display is nice, it's relatively small and light, and it's got some cool tablet PC features. We're replacing it with a new Mac laptop for digital audio recording, and I was hoping that I might get to take the Acer home when we're done with it. It's old enough that there's no official use for it at work, and we're going Mac, so we're not far from not being able to support it anyway. But I'm suspecting that it's going to someone else; I don't really get a vote about these things. I was really looking forward to having my own writing laptop, even if it's old and slow. I'm familiar with it, and it fits my needs perfectly.

I've got an old Toshiba laptop here at home, but it's so old that it's got a sticker on the front that says, "Windows 95 Ready!" to go with its 32mb of RAM. It's got almost no battery life left, and it's amazingly slow and crash-prone, and the B-key mouse doesn't work right. I'm becoming aware that I'm not doing my writing any favors by doing anything to make writing harder for myself, and this includes using crappy tools. Writing doesn't require spectacular toys, but it's hard enough without stacking the deck against myself in little ways. At the same time, I can't really justify putting a new laptop, even a cheap one, on credit. The old work laptop was an ideal solution: free and functional and nice to use. And having the little extravagance of owning my own dedicated writing tool would make me feel good. But at least it's going to be put to good use: it'll be a kids' computer. That makes me feel a bit better....

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Wild illusion

So, which way is she spinning, clockwise or counter-clockwise?

Spinning lady
It's supposedly a left-brain/right brain thing, but I just thought it was a cool optical illusion. If you stare for a bit, you can make her change directions. For an extra challenge, see if you can make her top half seem to spin opposite her bottom half, or bounce back and forth.

iTunes: the merge

Laura and I merged our iTunes accounts on our home computer. This way, we don't have two copies of music we both like on the hard drive, and we don't have to import music separately if we both want to listen to it. It's nice to know that if we can't find a particular song, the reason is that we don't own it, rather than that we didn't import it into the correct person's account. We've also both got access to music one of us has purchased. On the down side, we both have a lot of music in the library that the other has utterly no interest in. And it means that if either of us hits the random button, there's a good chance we'll end up with a song we've got no interest in. Or, in Laura's case, end up with a song that actively disgusts her. I'm fully aware that I can tolerate Laura's music a lot better than she can tolerate mine. I'd like to believe that it's because I've got much broader taste in music, and that I've been exposed to and can appreciate a wider range of music. This is true to an extent, but there's actually a much simpler reason I can listen to more of her music than she can listen to mine: everything in her collection is good music. The worst case scenario is that I'll hear music that I have no interest in. If I listen to her music, I'm likely to end up with Sinatra or Patricia Barber or Sade -- music I can listen to, even if it's not my first choice. If she listens to my music, she's likely to hear good music, even if it doesn't particularly appeal to her: Celtic, gypsy violin, singer-songwriters. She's also likely to hear appallingly bad music that disturbs her. I vaguely recall her hitting the shuffle button a while ago and finding the Insane Clown Posse song describing the axe murder of a cheating girlfriend ("because the moon told me so and it's watching us right now..."). So Laura and I both have a lot of custom playlists to ensure we won't accidentally find some Cradle of Filth or Ella Fitzgerald.

On the other hand, the playlists can get a bit difficult to manage. We've got lots, and we don't have a way to differentiate hers from mine. I recently sync'ed a playlist called "exercise" to my iPod, and was sorely disappointed to find it packed with U2 and Annie Lennox. I hope Laura didn't make the same mistake and sync the playlist "exerciseTunes" onto her iPod; she wouldn't have been happy with the Prodigy and Micronaut and Sevendust. Her exercise routine is rather unlike mine, and hers doesn't go with my music any better than mine goes with her music.

If you're tempted to do the merge yourself, it's a bit tricky. You need to tweak your registry so it looks for music in a common directory, and merging the libraries is best done manually; I could find no better way than importing all of one person's music into the other person's library, then manually deleting the duplicates. And manually moving the playlist files into the shared directory is a lot easier than exporting them one at a time, then importing them from the shared library. But it's probably worth the trouble in the long run. We're happy with the music merge so far, and I'm being educated about Laura's taste in music as well.

UPDATE:

If you need to do this yourself, I wouldn't recommend doing it via the complicated random-hacking method I used. Instead, check out Donald Bell's quick, easy directions at CNet Australia.

Friday, November 23, 2007

Movies, good and bad

Laura and I had the day off today, so we picked up a few movies at the library. She had never seen Casino Royale, so that was first on the list. It's probably my favorite Bond movie, and Laura enjoyed it a lot as well. And we also saw a truly awful movie, this past summer's Fantastic Four sequel. The first wasn't very good, but Silver Surfer was a special kind of bad. The writing was every kind of horrible, the action mostly uninteresting, the acting bad, the casting worse. Its only redeeming feature was the Silver Surfer himself. With a better script, he could've been a truly interesting character. As it was, he was awfully cardboard but at least well presented, with good special effects and voicing expertly done by Lawrence Fishburne. If I had seen this on the big screen, the surfer would've been the only reason I wouldn't ask the theater manager for a refund. As is, it's 92 minutes I'll never get back.

I've often wondered if horrible movies come as a surprise to the cast and crew. In some cases, I know the answer; rumor was that Michael Madsen was never sober on the set of Bloodrayne, to dull the agony of working on such a crappy movie (three strikes against it from the start: it's a (1) vampire movie (2) based on a video game, (3) directed by Uwe Boll, and it's even worse than that). And sometimes, you have to know that you're working on a definite B movie with badness potential (movies like Jeepers Creepers, Supernova, and Aliens vs Predator). But I look back at some of the big-budget potential blockbusters with great movie trailers, and I'm curious if the production team really didn't realize that the movie sucked. I'm thinking of a few films in particular: Aeon Flux, Ultraviolet (how do you make a Milla Jovovich ass-kicking fight scene so dull?), Wild, Wild West, and Speed 2 were all movies that had huge budgets, great promotional support, and decent casts, yet still managed to be downright awful. Did Will Smith ever think to himself at some point during production, "a giant robotic tarantula? Give me a break!", or did it seem to make sense at the time? Did Sandra Bullock ever stop and say, "well, this is just stupid!"?

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thanksgiving: The Parade

Happy Turkey Day, all!

Laura and I traditionally watch the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade in the morning, no matter what else we're doing. This year, I even set up a teevee in the kitchen so we wouldn't miss anything while cooking. We enjoy watching, but the thing that struck me this year was the horrible Broadway musicals showcased in front of Macy's. The musicals this year were, as I recall, Legally Blonde: The Musical, Young Frankenstein: The Musical, Xanadu: The Musical, and Mary Poppins. I was seriously appalled by Legally Blonde. I can't imagine thinner source material for a Broadway show. Who thought this was a good idea? Xanadu wasn't much better, or maybe worse. And Young Frankenstein was pretty bad as well; from what I saw (I'm working under the assumption that they excerpted the best parts), it was pretty cheesy. And the cast can't really compete with Gene Wilder, Marty Feldman, Peter Boyle, and Teri Garr. I thought that Mary Poppins could be good; the lead sounds remarkably like Julie Andrews, and it started as a musical. But they couldn't fight the urge to Broadway it up a bit, and the changes weren't for the better. The source material is all familiar to, and generally adored by, its audience, so it's crucial to keep it at least somewhat authentic. But they didn't seem to.

Also, none of these are even vaguely original ideas. I'm wondering if the writers' strike was preceeded by a few years of deliberately low creativity, sort of a writer's work slowdown....

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Jeff Boyardee

While we were doing our last-minute Thanksgiving shopping at Trader Joe's, we found anelletti in the pasta aisle. And, just a few feet away, marinara sauce. Time for homemade spaghetti-o's! They were much yummy, and it might the first time I've ever gotten Laura to eat anything that even vaguely resembles canned pasta. Here's me in a goofy hat, doing my Chef Boyardee impression:

Jeff Boyardee

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Reasons I love Laura, #445,992

We've got a chalkboard in the kitchen on which we leave notes for each other and ourselves: phone messages, grocery items, things like that. When I came downstairs the other day, I found this written on the board:

Alive and sentient

"You're alive and you're sentient!" It was a nice, surreal, charming message with which to begin my day. Thanks, honey!

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Long hours: over!

I had an actual day off today, for the first time in a while. Like last year, the holiday decor at the Artsgarden installed the same week as a few events and performances; this year, though, my long work week was only 82 hours. I tried to think of what we did differently this year that shaved 22 hours from my time commitment, and I finally came up with something: no artists this year. I just did the work, without any assistance from artists telling me where everything needs to go. It was a long week, with my biggest day around 17 hours, but it really wasn't a bad week. I got stuff done, I ran some fun performances, I learned a few things, and I got to be clever (though it was pretty much all internal or hidden cleverness, of the sort that nobody but me will ever know about). Now I've got most of a week off; just a few phone calls to make tomorrow, and a bit of work on Tuesday, and I'm done until next Monday.

I really like my job, but I'm also aware that I might be a bit underappreciated. Nobody really understands what I do, or really has a grasp of how well I do it. I'd be more okay with this if I were paid hourly. When I was at Warren, I had weeks when I worked way too much and really went above and beyond the call of duty. But at the end of the week, I'd have a huge paycheck waiting. Even though they never paid me an overtime rate, with enough time on the clock I'd still make good money on the long weeks. At the Artsgarden, I get comp time. It's less of a good deal than time-and-a-half; for my extra 42 hours this week, instead of getting paid 63 hours more than usual, I get a week off. And it's a week in which the rest of the staff is only working 2 1/2 or 3 days anyway. And time off is nice, but it always gets filled with silly stuff. I'd rather have the cash so I could pay off some bills, or buy Xmas gifts, or save up for a new computer (the fund is up to $18 already!), or fix my car. I know that no overtime is one of the trade-offs for working for a small non-profit arts agency, but it'd be nice to get paid more for doing more work.

After my week off, I go back to work and have a week of normalcy, with just a few projects to take care of. Then we dive into the holiday season, and it's back to a busy schedule. In the three weeks after, I'm not entirely sure I get any days off; I haven't seen the schedule yet, but I recall that we've got something going on every day for three straight weeks.

Another unedited transcript

I drove Laura to work this morning. As I was backing into a tight parking spot in the corner:
Laura: "Stop!"
Jeff: (slams on brakes) "Am I too close to the wall?"
Laura: "No, I mean stop singing to yourself!"
Jeff: "...oh. Stopping."

I didn't realize that I apparently sing under my breath while I drive....

Friday, November 16, 2007

random thought: Luigi Boccerini

The Artsgarden hosts a monthly performance by the Artsgarden Chamber Ensemble. The performances are arranged by two musicians from the Indianapolis Symphony Orchestra, Vladimir Krakovich and Yefim Pastukh. It's a group of varying size and composition; sometimes it's a classical string quartet, sometimes they have a pianist, sometimes a violin quartet. They've occasionally been joined by trumpets, trombones, a flutist, even a harp, and they arrange much of their own music. Their performances are always exceptional, and their taste in music is impeccable. They showcase work ranging from popular, easily recognizable Mozart pieces to some of the more obscure works by Telemann or Domenico Alberti. It's always worth catching their monthly performance if you can.

So, today's music includes a piece by Luigi Boccerini. Every time I hear someone announce a piece by Boccerini, a little voice in the back of my head translates it as Bach + Rob Schneider from Saturday Night Live: "Bach, Bacherini, the Bachinator, The Bachmeister...".

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Break test

This week at the Artsgarden, we hung some medium-heavy holiday decorations, and I'm extremely safety-paranoid, so I took the rigging for one of the pieces to Tway Cable and had them break -- oops, I mean "test to destruction" -- one of the cables. The heaviest piece weighs 140 pounds. If the ideal safe working load is the industry-standard 20% of breaking strength, that means I'm looking for a break point of at least 700 pounds. The actual break point: 2300 pounds. My paranoia is satisfied.

And, it didn't break where we thought it would. The cable didn't pull out of the hardware; the weak point was the cable itself. I didn't take pictures of the breaking, but I do have a photo of the broken cable. Watching the Tway guys break the cable was a total guy moment, like hitting something with a hammer but louder and more kinetic.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Extremely random thought

It occurs to me... the ancient Egyptians could've saved a lot of time with burial preparations if they had invented some sort of canopic track suit. They wouldn't have had to bother with all those jars.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Why I love my wife (part the millionth)

The Artsgarden hosted a performance showcase over the last few days for the international festival happening next weekend at the fairgrounds. Laura's in production at IRT this week, so she snuck up and had lunch with me during the performance by Indy's Japanese minyo dance troupe. During one number the dancers carry umbrellas with red and yellow spirals on top. The first time they twirled them in our direction Laura leaned over and whispered, "That's almost hypnotic. I wonder what the song lyrics are saying when they do that." And every time they spun the umbrellas after that, she'd put on her best Svengali voice and make up a translation for the words:
"You will buy a Japanese car!"
"You will watch manga porn!"
"You will convert to Shinto!"

Laura: she's the cutest anyone ever. And I really enjoy the million little moments like this one.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

Uh-oh moment for today

Today I start hanging the holiday decor at the Artsgarden. The hanging cable and electrical cord for each piece is custom sized, so it's important that every piece goes back exactly where it hung last year. To make this a bit easier, when I took them down last year I made a detailed plan wherein I labeled all the pieces and made a chart for where everything hangs. I even made an ID chart so I could tell which piece is which even if the markings wear off. So this morning, I engaged in a bit of panic when I couldn't find the hanging guide. I looked through all the piles of paperwork on my desk several times, and I couldn't find it anywhere. I spent half an hour hunting for the install manual, and I had no luck. Finally, in desperation, I checked the last place I would ever put important paperwork: my filing cabinet. And there was the decor manual I had so painstakingly made. It was cleverly hidden in a file clearly labeled, "HOLIDAY DECOR INSTALL". This is a sign; either I need to file everything in labeled folders, or I need to eschew the filing cabinet totally and stick with the pile system. The dual system is causing me some stress....

Nice photos, quirky photographers

The Artsgarden is currently hosting a photo exhibit by a camera club. It's a juried show, and they apparently received several hundred entries (all of which, I understand, had to pay an entry fee to be considered) for the 80 or so places in the show. The photos that made the cut were judged by a second judge, and the best received awards and prizes. Most of the photography is pretty good. For me, though, the most entertaining part of the show isn't the work itself, but the process of getting the show in here. They showed up a few hours later than scheduled, for one thing; they called and warned us, but not until shortly before they were originally scheduled to arrive. And when they arrived, they brought what I'm guessing was their entire camera club. It was a bit of a circus. Most of them were pretty laid-back and fun. We also had the usual collection of people who didn't really have any input to give yet still felt the need to pee in the soup. We had a few people bitter about the fact that the work they submitted didn't make it into the show; some of them spent a lot of time picking apart the work in the show and complaining about biased judges. Some of them grapes were extremely sour. And I was amused by the fact that the club member who did most of the organizing decided to hang a few of her own pieces in the show, even though they didn't get judged into the show (and presumably didn't pay entry fees); she hung hers the next day, I suppose when everyone else wasn't looking. They also hung a few pieces by the judge sometime the next day.

One of the bits of comedy concerned security for the photographs. Most of them fit into our locked display cases. These are fairly secure, really; you'd need a hammer to get to the works. Others are hung on exposed display grids, but for security we hung them by zip-tying them to the display grids. It's reasonably secure; somebody would need to bring wire cutters to steal them. The judge's pieces were the only exception. Whoever hung them apparently didn't know about the zip-tie trick, so they were just hung from hooks. I was prepared to let them stay that way; anyone dumb enough to hang work loose in a public space, then hang an $1800 price tag on it, deserves what they get. I'm not feeling particularly charitable towards these people; they irritated me and got us in trouble (more on that in a moment). But my boss decided it'd probably be best to continue our ten-year record of having no work stolen while on display at the Artsgarden, so I secured the judge's work too.

The photo club had asked if they could hold a little opening for the show. We told them that we do this kind of thing all the time, and we started talking about rental rates and scheduling. They said they didn't want anything that cost money, but we never give the space away for free. On the other hand, one of the photographers has a close friend on the Arts Council, so we told them that it is, technically, a public space; if they didn't want it to be a private event, there's no reason they couldn't just gather there like any other group of people to look at the artwork. We even flexed the rules further for them, and told them that our evening staff member at the info desk would unlock the piano so they could have a pianist in the club perform. We even risked the energy-conscious mall manager's ire by turning the stage lighting on for them (which required some complex engineering on our part, since normally the lights are controlled by the light board, which was stowed in a closet when we left for the day). We spelled out the rules in advance: if they wanted staff there, it'd have to be a rental. And they said they were fine with that. But the evening of the reception, they spent a lot of time grouching about the fact that we had no staff there to assist them, that nobody moved the display for them, that the lighting wasn't focused correctly to highlight all the pieces, et cetera. And we, the Artsgarden staff, received some grief from their friend on staff (there was even a Meeting, which thankfully happened on my morning off). I'm thinking the lesson here is that we don't flex the rules for anyone, ever. And I'm at least temporarily done being nice to artists.

Friday, November 09, 2007

A close call

I almost got nailed on the way home on the bike tonight. This is one of the first times I've had a close call all year; I'm actually feeling safer on the bike than I do in a car these days. My biggest problem tends to be the weather, now that it's getting cold again. I'm piling on the polarfleece layers, and I'm wearing good gloves and a headband to keep my ears warm, but it can still get a bit chilly on the ride. I generate my own windchill factor. It's also getting dark pretty darn early. My summer project of taking a different route home every day is now over, since there are only one or two basic routes that are well lit and not swarming with cars driven by idiots. But I'm still having fun with the ride. Even bundling up has its advantages; for one, you can't tell I'm wearing headphones with my jacket and headband on. And the headband cuts down on wind noise enough that I can listen to audiobooks while I ride.

Oh, yeah: I almost forgot. I narrowly avoided getting hammered by a guy in a tricked-out Ford Probe. I was pedaling down Brookside through the intersection at Rural, and the guy in the Probe came flying north down Rural without his headlights on, zooming at about 80 mph, and ran the stoplight without slowing down. I probably wouldn't have seen him in time if he hadn't had blue neon undercarriage lights. As it was, I had a brief moment of panic when I figured out I was going too fast to stop before I was in his path. I ended up slamming into a hard skid turn to the north and missing the guy by less than a foot. For the quarter-second it took him to pass me, we were riding parallel on Rural. I was totally unstable from the harsh turn and fell over as soon as he passed, but I didn't even get scratched. Which is another advantage of bundling up for the cold: extra padding....

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

New toys at the Artsgarden

We're breaking into multitrack digital recording at the Artsgarden. We're picking up all the software and hardware we need now, and as of January 1 we'll be able to offer our performers some extremely cool raw recordings. We've still got to work out some details; while I'm familiar with digital multitrack recording, I've never used Logic Studio before. I suspect I've got some serious study ahead of me. Still, by all reports it blows its competitors away. I'm looking forward to trying it out and seeing what it can do.

We've been recording shows in stereo for quite a while, so we've got a good grasp of what's required for that. But multitrack recording is a different animal. I suspect that one of the big challenges will be breaking old habits. For one thing, I know we'll have to reconsider how we mic percussion. We usually use a single overhead mic for an entire drum kit; with proper mic placement, if you roll up the low end on the EQ, it sounds fine for our usual stereo recording. But we'll have to take a different approach for multitrack. I'm sure there'll be other issues, and I'm sure we'll probably find them the hard way. But it'll be a fun, informative learning curve.

One of our complications as sound guys at the Artsgarden is that we have no rehearsal. We work with a lot of new bands, and we only see our recurring performers two times a year at most. So we go into every performance at least a bit cold and blind. We're intimately familiar with the space, and we know our gear as thoroughly as possible, but we're at best only passingly familiar with the performers and the music. And we only rarely get a full sound check; the norm is a few minutes to set monitor levels. We improvise the live sound on the fly, and simultaneously handle a separate recording mix.

We're required to multitask like this a lot. In addition to a horde of setup crew, road shows have three audio engineers: the front-of-house engineer, the monitor engineer, and a recording engineer. We do all this work with a crew of one single sound guy, who sets up and tears down as well as handling monitor and FOH sound as well as mixing the live recording. Some of our shows are small enough or low-tech enough that it's a reasonable one-man job. But we also do performances for which a crew of three or four might be more appropriate, and it's still just one guy doing the work. (Let me take a moment to say how happy I am to have Chris working with me; there aren't a lot of sound guys who are capable of doing all this as extremely well as he does.)

So, given the complexity of what we're already doing, I hesitate a bit to add more to our job duties. But that's the beauty of multitrack recording: the recording takes almost no active work on the part of the sound guy. The real complexity comes later, after the show's over, when you mix down the recorded tracks to a finished recording. So it'll take time later but won't add a lot to our live-show workload. I also suspect it'll be a lot of fun, and it's a real added value to our performers. I still need to figure out how to interface with the performers about the recording, but I'll work on that between now and our live date of January 1, 2008.

There's also talk about streaming our shows live on the internet; it may or not happen, but our issues with that are much more legal than technical. More on that at another time.

The shocking election (we're screwed)

I wrote a few days ago about Indy's mayoral race. To pretty much everyone's surprise, Bart Peterson lost the race. Control of the city council also shifted parties to Republican leadership, with a strong 17-12 majority. A few thoughts:
  • I think one of the reasons Bart lost is that so few of his supporters voted. Everyone assumed the race was in the bag, but with total voter turnout so low, Ballard won the election with around 10% of Marion County's residents voting for him. His angry minority was enough, since the silent majority stayed home.
  • I'm worried about my friends (and myself). The mayor and the city-county council democrats were supporters of city funding for the arts. Arts organizations don't get a lot of money from the city, but it makes a huge difference. And, when arts organizations lose funding, they do their best to keep their services alive. Nobody wants to cut performances, or museum hours, or outreach programs, or the work they do to bring the arts into schools (often, to make up for school arts programs being cut). When they need to tighten the belt, it's their staff who gets squeezed, not the patrons. People lose insurance coverage, freelancers lose work, development budgets disappear, raises go away. No matter what politicians say, the bottom 85% of America's earners are already in a recession. Budgets have already been trimmed too close. More cuts will go beyond the uncomfortable, and start hurting a lot of my friends.
  • I'm alarmed that Ballard essentially won this election based on no actual platform or ideals of his own; his "Had Enough?" campaign was entirely that, centered not on any good ideas but on people's dislike of the incumbent. It was summed up by a Ballard supporter interviewed on election day, who said to Ballard at a campaign stop: "“I am going to vote for you. I hope you’re the right guy, because I’m voting against the other guy."
  • I'm also a bit disturbed that the big issue that got Ballard elected has nothing to do with the mayor's office. Property tax hikes were his rallying cry, and a shocking number of ignorant people apparently never connected that the mayor has absolutely no input on property taxes.
  • About 30% of the electorate will always vote for the Republican candidate, even if it's Damien Thorn running for office. About 30% of the electorate will always vote for the democratic candidate, even if it's Jason Vorhees running for office. The outcome of any election is really decided by the 40% of people in the middle.
  • I'm a little angry with the people who voted Ballard without even knowing anything about his (mostly nonexistent) platform. Come on, people -- by voting for a guy in ignorance because you're angry with the incumbent, you're tacitly acknowledging that it matters who runs the city. So realize that you can't cast a negative vote. It's not in the system to be able to vote against someone. You're voting for Ballard. At least Google the guy, or something....

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Dvorak, three weeks in

So, I've been at the Dvorak keyboard for over three weeks now. It's been three weeks of frustratingly slow typing, not much writing or blogging, and some low-grade work-related stress (I had never realized how much typing is required for my job). But I'm finally starting to get more of a grip on my typing now. I'm only making a large number of errors, much diminished from the enormous number of errors I was making earlier. I only rarely have to think much about what my hands are doing; it's definitely turning back into a reflex. And my typing speed is up to almost 20 words per minute, which is double what it was ten days ago. It's hard to tell if Dvorak is making any difference with the wrist pain. It's definitely no worse, but it hasn't improved. Then again, the same amount of typing is now taking me a lot more time; until I type faster, I'm replacing an hour's qwerty typing with two hours of typing on Dvorak. And I'm still pretty awkward, which isn't good for one's wrists either.

I can quickly (and temporarily) convert any keyboard I need to type on to Dvorak; all of the computers at work now switch layouts with a speedy alt-shift. But I'm having a few problems I didn't anticipate. One is that a lot of my non-computer hardware toys also need a keyboard, and none of them have Dvorak drivers. My light board at work, the video titler, and all three of my portable Palm Pilot / Dell Axim keyboards are qwerty-only. Not only have I somewhat lost the ability to touch-type error free on a qwerty keyboard, reverting to qwerty sets my Dvorak learning curve back a few days....

I've also noticed that my typing errors have changed. Originally, my errors were all a matter of typing qwerty keys on accident. I almost never do that anymore. Instead, I've discovered a whole host of Dvorak-specific errors. My most common errors involve mistyping F, K, and L. I seem to have some sort of mental block about the letters K and F. I've occasionally found myself hitting four or five keys before I actually find the right one. I keep hitting the S instead of the L. I need to look at my chart to find a lot of the less-common punctuation marks. And, I have a lot of problems with hitting the correct shift key. It's apparently a separate reflex from typing; I still tend to use the qwerty-appropriate shift keys for most letters, and it's a hard habit to correct. But I've noticed that none of my common errors on qwerty have yet shifted to Dvorak. I used to mistype the as teh all the time; I haven't done this once since I switched, so I'm assuming that this common typo is an artifact of qwerty. I wonder what other amazingly common typos are also qwerty artifacts.

I have to say, I'm glad I made the shift. I can already see the extreme efficiency of the Dvorak layout. I suspect it'll take me another month to be typing as fast, or maybe even faster, on Dvorak than I did on Qwerty. And it's really true that you have to move your hands a lot less to type on Dvorak. I suspect that when I get faster and smoother my wrist pain will me much diminished, or maybe even disappear entirely....

Football games (and the Indy mayoral race)

So, tomorrow's the Big Game: Colts versus Patriots, 4:15pm in the Hoosier Dome. It's a big enough game that I might even watch some of it. Even though I've picked up an appreciation for the game from Laura, I rarely consider it the best use of my time; I've hit the point where I consider football a decent-enough social activity, but not really something I'd do on my own. Laura's not watching the game, but she'll be listening on the radio. She's convinced, with a superstitious fan's certainty, that if she watches the game she'll jinx it and the Colts will lose. I'm giving the Colts even odds: the game is between probably the two best quarterbacks in the sport today, and we've got a history of getting our ass handed to us by the Patriots. Even when we've won, it's been very close; the Patriots are a great team to watch, even while they're pummeling the Colts, and Tom Brady is on a course to break Manning's single-season pass record. On the other hand, the game's in Indy, and we're statistically a city with a strong home-field advantage. So I'm giving us even odds tomorrow. But, since it's traditional to give a prediction, I'm going to guess the final score at 38-31, Patriots.

And, the other football game: Indy's mayoral race. We've got Bart Peterson, a strong incumbent with a strong base, but with a large constituency that's pissed off at him, running against Steve Ballard, a challenger with nothing special to offer other than that he's Not Bart. These races always end with the incumbent staying in power (remember the last presidential race?), but they're always close. Ballard has no real concrete ideas about what he'd do differently (other than cutting arts funding, which I'm naturally opposed to); his whole campaign is built on the slogan "Had enough?". But Mayor Peterson has amassed a huge pile of enemies. A partial list of his problems:
  • The biggie: Indy's enormous property tax increase. Not so much the mayor's fault, as that of the representative body that decided to eliminate the business inventory tax and make up the lost revenue by increasing property taxes. This, coupled with a court decision that changed the way property values are assessed, saddled a lot of people with a tax bill close to double last year's. Again, people seem to lose sight of the fact that this is a problem the mayor didn't create. But the mayor definitely could've handled the situation better.
  • Also big: Indy's getting a new stadium and keeping the Colts, but at an enormous short-term and long-term cost. Peterson and his team negotiated away absolutely everything to keep the Colts. We get a new stadium and convention center, but we didn't even keep the non-football revenue from the new stadium; the Colts get 100% of the money made by the stadium, even from motocross races and band competitions. The city assumes all debt and liability and keeps none of the revenue stream. And the citizenry got a substantial tax increase to pay for it. Really, the city had no negotiating leverage; the Colts threatened to leave Indy if they didn't get everything they asked for, so the "negotiating" was mostly a matter of the city bending over for Jim Irsay and handing him a bottle of Astroglide. Still, the city gave away things that shouldn't have even been on the table. And the stadium's over budget -- by how much, nobody's saying, but people are talking about the problem that the convention center budget is the de facto slush fund for the stadium. They'll be paying the stadium's true construction cost either by cutting an enormous number of corners on the convention center (the city's only actual asset in this deal), or by making the second bond issue they promised would never happen. Again, Peterson didn't have a lot of negotiating room here, but the city's getting screwed hard on this deal, and Peterson's the one ultimately responsible.
  • Also pertaining to the stadium, people started doubting the city's plan for paying off the construction debt when it was revealed that the city still owes $75 million of the original $45 million we financed for the current stadium. They're expecting to pay off the Hoosier Dome's 30-year debt from 1984 in 2021, 13 years after it's scheduled to be torn down. Nice. Peterson's team is responsible for some of that refinancing; it doesn't give one much faith that the new stadium will be paid off on time or on budget.
  • On a related note, a large number of downtown merchants have expressed anger at the city's policies about downtown management and parking. Essentially, downtown "event parking" rates stick it to people who come downtown for games, and incidentally hammers customers of downtown businesses any time there's a Colts or Pacers game, or anything classed as a special event (Indy hosts a lot of these). This one falls squarely at the mayor's feet, as do the stories of regulatory agencies being used as enforcers of strong-arm tactics to quiet these complaints. I've personally heard several downtown restaurant and small business owners and managers complain about event parking and traffic policies, and also say that if they complain too loudly or publicly, within a few days they'll find themselves being inspected with the proverbial fine-toothed comb by every city agency with the authority: food and beverage, health, fire, wiring, immigration, etc.
  • A lot of people are inexplicably angry about the police merger. When the Marion County Sheriff's Department merged with the Indianapolis Police Department, absolutely nothing bad happened that I could see; our shitty police service didn't change noticeably, and it saved a pile of cash. But the mayor's still receiving grief for it.
So that's the mayor's race in a nutshell. It's Peterson's race, even factoring in all of the above, unless a surprisingly large pile of people from the "Had Enough?" camp decide to actually vote in a midterm, local-office-only election....