Thursday, December 27, 2007

XM Radio quirk

We've been extremely happy with our XM radios. Laura's had hers for two years, and I've had mine for a year, and in that time we've had zero problems. That ended Tuesday, when both of our radios stopped working in the Jeep. Our Roady XT radios transmit an FM signal the car radios pick up; you set the frequency on the XM radio, then set your radio to the same frequency. But they stopped transmitting FM, and the menu option to set the frequency disappeared. I called XM tech support and spent twenty minutes with a very nice but extremely clueless support person in Bangalore, who was convinced I was making this up. I was eventually transferred to a Texan who was apparently allowed to deviate from the troubleshooting checklist ("Turn the radio off, then on. Does the problem persist?") and answer my questions. Turns out, XM just decided that the new FCC broadcast rules for portable FM transmitters were too complex for them to follow, so when our radios did their periodic update, they disabled the FM transmitters in them. It's easier to make all of their customers upgrade their hardware or purchase after-market FM transmitters. I should mention that they did this without warning, so our first hint that our car radios would stop working came when our car radios stopped working. They also did it without informing their front-line tech support about it. Thanks, XM!

Our house music at work is courtesy of the digital music channels on Bright House cable. Since our cable bill is set to increase significantly soon, we're considering dropping our cable service and using satellite radio instead. Given this little bit of chaos with our home radios, I'll start looking at Muzak instead.

An aside: I'm in the habit of listening to the XM radio while we drive. Now that we're listening to broadcast radio again in the car, we're experiencing a bit of a learning curve again. For one thing, we're totally not used to commercials on the radio. For another, we're in the habit of checking the radio to see what song and artist are playing. It's suddenly odd looking at the radio and seeing no useful information other than the time.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Merry Christmas!

Happy holidays, all! Best wishes for today and the new year!

Laura and I are making a point of doing absolutely nothing all day. This holiday season has been even busier than the usual. We picked out our Christmas tree this year on December 3, because it was the last time until Christmas Eve that we both had three consecutive hours off during daylight hours. So we're basking in the relaxing. Our most energetic activity so far has been washing the breakfast dishes.

Christmas Eve was a busy day. We cooked and cleaned for our party, went to my family's for their party, and did a lot of last-minute stuff before guests arrived. The annual Glover-Mountjoy Christmas Party was a hit, as usual. Smaller than normal, but much fun. So today we're settling into the relaxing....

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Better than the guy in the wedding dress

The best E-Bay auction I've ever seen. For a pile of cash, the seller will send a person of your choice three bizarre postcards from Poland, packed with personal details you provide. He'll even sign them illegibly, so the recipient will have no idea what close personal insane friend is sending them postcards from Poland.

I think this might be a good use for Facebook. If you wanted to do this without paying the current $405 auction price, just use a social networking site to find people in distant locations who will, for the sake of the joke, send a postcard for you....

Straight No Chaser

My Christmas Spirit, dulled by a month of holiday music, has returned thanks to Indiana University's acapella group Straight No Chaser doing the best version of "The Twelve Days of Christmas" ever. Don't take my word for it -- check the video.

See? The best Christmas song ever!

Friday, December 21, 2007

Literary vs. genre fiction. And, hitting people!

Two articles of note online today. First, Dave Wolverton writes about the differences between genre fiction and literary fiction. It's worth a read, and I mostly agree with him.

Second, an article in Esquire called, "Why I started punching jerks again". The writer says, essentially, that modern Man is too constrained by a new ethic that says it's more macho to walk away from a fight, and by a fear of the modern legal system. And this constraint lets jerks get away with being jerks, so he's starting to put the fisticuffs back in manliness. It's a funny, short read.

This is a problem I've thought a bit about. What is the proper response if, say, you're at a bar and some guy starts insulting your wife? I don't think the law says you get to hit him. These days, even if a guy picks a fight, if you hit him first you enter the dark, fetid recesses of the legal system. You can go to jail, get sued, and potentially lose your house -- it's a big gamble, and even if you win it you're out a few thousand dollars in legal fees. It seems easier to take the insults. On the other hand, you can insult back; if he hits you first (or makes the attempt), you can hammer him with much better odds in the legal system. Or, if you're particularly manly, just let him hit you and don't defend yourself. Now he's the guy on the pointy end of the legal system. You get hit, while he goes to jail and gets sued. He's even got a chance of getting a felony conviction, which he has to mention on every job application for the rest of his life. Who actually lost that fight? Your black eye lasts less time, and causes you less trauma, than his assault charge will cost him....

Getting sick

I started getting sick Wednesday night, losing my voice and coughing a lot. Yesterday evening I started getting worse, picking up a fever and chills; at bedtime, I was running a 101-degree temperature. Today is better than yesterday, but I'm still severely under the weather. My current plan involves food and sleep and some OTC cold medicine. I hope I feel normal tomorrow, since that's Laura's and my only day to go Christmas shopping. And, no, I haven't done my shopping yet.

Am I the only person who prefers getting sick on days off? I caught myself thinking, when I was feeling particularly miserable last night, that I was awfully glad I didn't have to work today (which, today, meant only working three hours). I'm not sure why, but for the last few years I've been happier being sick on days off, than on work days. I think it might have to do with the fact being sick on a work day generally means that I go to work sick, so I experience the unpleasantness of the illness while I'm busy and unable to relax or take it easy....

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Holiday madness: almost over!

We host 80-ish performances during December, most of which are part of Mistletoe Music Festival, the Artsgarden's holiday performance series of choirs and bands from local schools. It's an odd kind of work; it doesn't take a lot of skill to push PLAY on the CD player for an elementary school choir show, but it takes most of your attention to do it well and not miss cues. Over the course of this month I've had to pay attention to a horde of school groups singing the same carols over and over and over again. You can imagine how happy I am that it's almost over -- we've only got one more show, a 50-piece middle-school band, tomorrow morning. I've actually had a pretty good time with Mistletoe this year; we've had some very good school groups and very few problems. The kids are pretty entertaining, even when they're bad. And some of the groups have been great. But I'm still happy to see it end.

For me, the real highlight of the month wasn't a school group. We also hosted Indy's Merry Tubachristmas performance, wherein 75 tubas played Christmas music. If you've never heard 75 tubas at the same time, you don't know what you're missing. I'd like to eventually travel to Rockefeller Center to experience 500 tubas....

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Not my fault!

We're experiencing Weather in Indianapolis. We had ice and snow last night, and the roads were pretty bad this morning. We had a dance performance scheduled at the Artsgarden today, and after an hour of indecision the head of the dance studio decided to postpone the performance to another date (the show was the studio's "The Show Must Go On" concert, but I notice that she never said when the show must go on). We're fine with this; we had two of our three performances cancel yesterday due to snow, and the roads were much worse today. We were even okay with the delay before she pulled the plug, even though it meant that we had already done some setup work and heavy lifting before we got the final word.

What I wasn't fine about was that the director lied to her students and their families. She told them that we, the Artsgarden, had canceled the performance, even though she wanted the show to go on. I found out about this the hard way: by having a few irate parents give me a hard time for canceling the show over the director's strenuous objections. I explained to them that if I were going to cancel the show, I would've done it from the comfort of home (possibly the comfort of bed), rather than driving all the way down here and schlepping a dance floor upstairs. We were here and ready to go; the director was the person who was still at home at call time. These are compelling arguments, and the parents believed me. I'm hoping they pass the word to other irate parents and students. I'm having second thoughts about rescheduling them; this might be a cancel, instead of a change of date.

On a happier note, I'm glad our second performance didn't cancel. Circle City Sound sang some great barbershop harmony, and they're entertaining to watch and hear. I've worked with them a lot, starting ten or twelve years ago at Warren, and I've always had fun with them. To end the show they broke away from the Christmas songs and sang a Valentine's Day song, during which one of the chorus members proposed to his girlfriend. It was nice to watch.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Writing, lots

You might have noticed that I haven't posted much recently. I'm not dead or anything (though I was moderately sick early in the week); I'm just trying to make my computer time as fiction-related as possible this week. I've had a day or two off with no commitments, so it's been an experiment in how writing works for me if I have an entire day in which to do it. My first big observation: writing is tiring. After an hour or so, it gets easier. But after four or five hours, it becomes pretty difficult again. The first hour takes real mental effort; I really have to fight the urge to stop at some point during that warm-up period. I can always fill my time with worthwhile-seeming activities that aren't writing: laundry, housekeeping, reading, cat maintenance, lawn work (I raked Monday!), reading author blogs, writing on my own blog (see, the word "writing" is right there! How can that be bad?). And I've got a lot of distractions that are harder to rationalize. I can always watch movies or catch some old Buffy episodes on DVD, and I've got a horde of video games fighting for my attention. And I succumb to the distractions more than I'd like to admit. But the week has been relatively successful. I'm close to finished with a short story that started as a novel idea but shrank significantly when I couldn't figure out how to expand the basic idea. I'm still not happy with it; I don't know how to reconcile a light-hearted viewpoint and funny main character with some pretty gloomy goings-on, so it seems uneven and choppy. Still hammering on it. If it works out nicely, I'll post it somewhere for perusal and comments.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Kitty cuteness

One of our favorite outside cats, Tommy, has been spending a lot of time staring at our barbecue grill:

This made me a wee bit nervous. We assume that our outdoor cats are more perceptive than we are, so I gathered that there was possibly something living in our grill which was worthy of feline attention. I checked it out and found the grill thankfully empty of anything but old charcoal. It took us a while to figure out that she was staring at the other cat. Which other cat? This one:

Tommy: she's extremely cute. I can't imagine what she'd do with an actual mirror; I'll have to test it some day....

Monday, December 10, 2007

Author surfing

I should mention than I found the Tao of Coffee via a link on his wife's LJ. His wife is author Cherie Priest, and I catch up on her blogging every few days. She's one of a growing number of author blogs I read on a regular basis. Other author blogs on the list:

John Scalzi (The Whatever) -- the only author blog I read daily
Justine Larbalestier -- whose blog I enjoy, even though I've never read her books
Lynn Viehl (Paperback Writer) -- Laura likes her paranormals, I like her writing about writing
Orson Scott Card (Hatrack River) -- though I dislike his politics, I like his writing enough to get over it. And Uncle Orson Reviews Everything is a great weekly column.
Kat Richardson (My Own Personal Grey) -- a personal look at the life of a new, published writer
Patrick and Theresa Nielsen Hayden (Making Light) -- not writers, but the editors at Tor
Steve Perry (Old Enough to Know Better) -- a sci fi writer, an aspiring musician, and a practitioner of the same scary martial art I once studied

These are a horrible temptation. When I sit down at the computer, I should be writing. Period. But reading blogs by other writers is an easy distraction, and easy to rationalize. I'm reading about writing! That's almost like writing, isn't it?

I really can't understand how so many published writers can spend so much time doing things that aren't writing. I can barely find chunks of time to write, and I can easily fill them with huge amounts of vaguely writing-related surfing if I let myself. Then again, I can really see the benefits of community for writers. It's something I don't have, and I find myself surfing writer blogs when I'd really prefer to be communing with other writers. It'd be nice to have a peer group to consult with about writing problems, and to share with when things are going well. But the peer group of unpublished writers is simultaneously huge and rather sparse, and remarkably less useful than published writers would be. It's the difference between asking your fellow students for advice, and asking your fellow professors for advice....

The Tao (and Wit) of Coffee

Coffee Tao has become one of my weekly web destinations. The proprietor (or would that be barista) adores coffee, pays attention to what's going on in the world of coffee, and gives good advice to coffee newbies. And, he turns a good phrase. I quote a bit from a recent bit he wrote about McDonald's decision to start marketing espresso beverages:
... even purveyors of poor mass-market coffee like Starbucks factor a certain ambiance into the price of their lattes. Take away the neutral colors and quiet jazz, add in harried crowds and beeping fry machines, and it’s going to occur to someone much quicker that they just paid $4.00 for a terrible cup of coffee.
See? Very witty. And worth glancing through every week or so if you've got a mild infatuation with coffee beverages.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

Web comedy: The Superest

If you haven't seen it yet, you need to check out The Superest. The concept is, player one invents a superhero with a special power. Player two then invents a superhero whose power exactly counters the first player's hero. Player one then invents a new hero to defeat this interloper, et cetera. It's funny, and it's got art. Start at the bottom of the page and work your way up....

Saturday, December 08, 2007

Welcome to my day!

People amuse me sometimes. Here's a conversation I had with a performer this morning:

Jeff: "Here's the key to the green room and dressing room."
Crazy Choir Director: "The dressing room is locked?"
J: "Yes. Here's the key."
CCD: "But we need the piano [in the green room] to rehearse!"
J: "Here's the key."
CCD: "What if people are waiting to get in?"
J: "Here's the key."
CCD: "Where can we leave our coats and purses?"
J: "In the green room."
CCD: "Does it lock?"

Yah, welcome to my day.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Geek invention of the day

So, we all know the universal gesture for "telephone":

Phone Gesture

I like this gesture, and I decided I liked it enough to mod my cell phone earpiece. A little plastic (wire insulation from 12-ga solid wire), a little hot glue, and I have this:
Phone Handset

Handset On Hand

I'm psyched that I can now actually talk on the phone while making the talking-on-the-phone gesture. What do you think, does it look geeky enough?

Happy Geek

Tree Time!

It's officially the holiday season. I can tell, because Laura and I decorated our Christmas tree last night! We always have a great time choosing and decorating a tree. We went back to the Lost Forty Tree Farm and cut our own tree, then spent the evening sharing memories of holidays past while we strung lights and hung ornaments. We've only got a few generic ornaments; most of what we hang on the tree has a story behind it, and we'll retell the stories behind them as we decorate the tree. Isn't it pretty?

Tree 2007

The other sign that the holidays are here: yesterday is the only day between now and Christmas Eve when Laura and I have four consecutive hours off during business hours. 'Tis the season to be insanely busy and rarely see each other in daylight, fa la la la la, la la la la.

Sunday, December 02, 2007

Winter Cycling

I've had a shift of philosophy regarding cycling. All summer, I was cycling to keep myself in shape. Now, I'm cycling to keep myself tough and scrappy. Now that most of my cycling is happening when the temperature is below freezing, the biggest challenge is no longer the exercise, the push to go a little faster or take longer routes. The new challenge is the day-to-day push to keep cycling, rather than taking the bus or having Laura drive me to work. In the summer and fall, I actively enjoy just being on the bike. I rode into 30mph headwinds a few times this summer, and I biked in a torrential downpour or two. It's hard, but even at its worst I never wished I was in a car. Cycling in the winter is a different animal. It's genuinely a lot less fun. For the last week or two I've been riding for transportation rather than enjoyment.

Everything that works against you in warm weather is compounded in cold weather. Wind hits harder, for one thing; it slows me down more. I'm pretty aerodynamic in my summer shorts and tank top, but in my bulky winter fleece I've got a lot more surface area for the wind to push against. It's also amazing how fast the windchill sucks your heat. And rain is mostly a problem in summer because my work clothes can get wet in my backpack. Sleet, on the other hand, truly sucks when you're on a bike. You get cold and wet in a hurry, and the roads turn treacherous both from the lack of traction and the fact that car drivers don't spare as much of their energy watching for cyclists. Ice is actively dangerous, and snow is a navigational hazard (as well as camouflage for ice).

Cold is a big issue for me. I get chilled very easily, I don't warm up fast, and I intensely dislike the feeling of being cold. (Remember reading Dante's Inferno? The part that always struck me as the most horrific were the guys standing up to their knees in the frozen river of Cocytus, doomed to crouch forever in a vain attempt to shield themselves from the freezing wind.) So I'm working on optimizing my wardrobe to reduce the misery quotient of the commute. I've got a pair of polyester shirts that work pretty well as an upper-body base layer; they wick, though they're not warm and don't insulate much. I've got a decent collection of polar fleece sweatshirts and sweatpants which make a nice insulating layer. But I'm having trouble finding a good outer layer. I don't have anything bike-appropriate that's waterproof or stops wind, and nothing that's breathable. I've been making due by layering the fleece, but a good wind cuts right through all the layers. If the temperature drops much further, or if I have to ride in the sleet again, I'll experiment with wearing a vinyl rainsuit under my outer layer. It doesn't breathe, and I doubt it's comfortable to ride in, but it'll definitely keep me dry and stop the wind. And I'm pretty happy with my head covering: my fleece earband, and a fleece neck gaiter I pull up to cover my nose and cheeks. It messes with the fit of my helmet, though. I've got my helmet adjusted as loose as it'll get, and it's still uncomfortably tight over my warm-weather headgear.

I'm trying to work with what I already own, since I'm averse to spending money on anything cycling related. Extreme economy is most of the reason I bike in the first place. I went the whole summer without spending any money on the bike; I didn't even buy fenders, as much as they would've helped with biking in the rain. No rack, no saddlebags, no headlight, and no mirrors, either. So spending money on special cycling clothes isn't going to happen. I've done some window shopping online (search-engine typo: there's no such thing as a "cycling baclava", though it'd probably be durable and yummy) and found some winter clothing I'd love to have. Maybe I'll ask for some for Christmas. And I knit, so I've got the option of making some of my own cycle clothing. On my first really cold ride, as I was trying to remember the likelihood and symptoms of frostbitten cheeks, I designed a knitting project I'd like to make to keep my head warm; problem is, knitted goods don't tend to block the wind at all. Knitting is less useful when it comes to outer-layer items like this. Maybe I should knit it in any random yarn, then spray it with Grip-Dip for windproofing. :-)

I've also had a few other practical cold-weather problems. It seems like my brakes don't work as well in cold weather, even when they're dry. Maybe the pads get stiffer as the temperature drops; I haven't seen any references to this, so I might just need new pads. My winter work clothes are bulkier than my summer clothes. This means I often don't have extra space in my backpack, and I can't stop on the way home to pick up library books or groceries. Another cold-weather issue: the neck gaiter makes my glasses fog up. In a perfect world* I'd probably wear contacts and some kind of ski goggles, or maybe get a pair of prescription cycle goggles. But it's only a problem when I breathe out through my nose, or when I stop moving. So I'm compensating by exhaling from my mouth and pulling the gaiter down when I have to stop. I'm also not equipped for riding in the dark, and if I leave work at 5:30 my entire ride home is in the dark. I've got a flashing LED tail light, but I don't have reflective clothing or a headlight for the bike. I've been improvising a headlamp by bungeeing my LED headlamp to the handlebars, and it's working so far.

I should mention that I've done some research into winter cycling and found some good online references. The Icebike site was a font of useful information, and Cycle-licious is always a fun way to kill some time. The Tredz winter cycling guide had some good general guidelines. And the links page at might be the most complete I've seen.

* Or, perfect enough that I'd have cash to spend on cycling, but not so much cash that I could justify trading the bike for a car....