Friday, February 29, 2008

Bachelor Days, squandered

It just occurred to me: I've completely squandered my bachelor days while Laura's been gone. Here I've had the house to myself, my schedule totally under my own control, and an actual vehicle available for my use. And I haven't taken advantage of it. I didn't make any shopping trips to Fry's, I only saw one movie (and it was after work), and I didn't do anything social. I didn't even treat myself to a nice dinner out by myself. I feel boring. I guess I'll just spend my last bachelor night like I've spent the rest: reading, dinner, playing with cats, and bed. I might even go wild and play Raven Shield.

On the plus side, Laura's back tomorrow! And, Chris is working for me on Sunday, so I've got an entire day off with my wife. Thanks, Chris!

Thursday, February 28, 2008

iPhone dreaming

We're getting new mobile phones at work tomorrow. We're on the AT&T network, and the new phones come as part of our contract renewal. The stock phones are Motorola Razrs in black, and we're fine with that; they'll be a step up from our current phones. They'll also be more complicated, with a bit of learning curve. Our current phones don't have e-mail or cameras or other extra features, so the Razr will be a big step up in terms of features and capabilities.

While I was contemplating the phone upgrade, I started looking at PocketPC-based phones. I've got a little unexpected cash that just arrived from a job I did a few weeks ago, and something like this seems like a good use of it. I've been looking for something to replace my mostly-defunct Dell Axim handheld, and now would be the time. Unfortunately, our local AT&T retail outlet doesn't carry anything that I can use as a replacement. They sell iPhones, though. And these have a great screen for reading text, with a nice zoom function (assuming I can find a way to load text in the memory, instead of reading it from a web page). I stopped by the store today and played with one for a while, and I'm extremely impressed. I think it'd be a heck of a toy, and it would replace all the electronica I carry around with me all the time. Text reader (via web), web browsing, phone, camera, PIM, and an overall useful collection of toys.

But there are disadvantages. The first: it's expensive. I'd be constantly worried about breaking it or losing it. The second: it's expensive. It costs a lot more than the check I just got, and I'm unwilling to spend the difference on something that isn't paying off bills. The third: it's expensive. If I'm going to spend such a huge chunk of cash on something, it had better be perfect. And while iPhones are wildly cool, they have problems. The fourth: it's expensive. Even if I paid for the phone myself, it would cost an extra $20 a month for the service, and that's money the Arts Council would have to pay (given that it would, technically, be my work phone). So I suspect I'll be sticking with the Razr.

But I've had fun daydreaming about the iPhone. I tend not to daydream about things that aren't in the realm of possibility; no Lamborghini dreams, no beach vacation in Cozumel dreams, no iPhone dreams. But since I got the unexpected check and we're replacing our phones anyway, the iPhone moved into the realm of possibility, and it's been fun thinking about what I could do with it.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Evil Meeping Cat. Possible evil owner.

Our little cat, Jayne (aka Meeper), is almost three years old, and is still unsure about why he needs to use the litter box. He'll use it most of the time, but sometimes he'll just find a quiet corner upstairs or in the basement and do his business there. For a while, he was pooping on the stack of plastic bags immediately next to the litter box; he's gotten over that, replaced with the habit of using the closet in the den as a convenient poop repository. We've got a simple solution for that: close the closet door. But this doesn't solve the actual problem, just changes the location. Twice in the past few weeks he's peed on the front window curtain. This morning he did it in front of me, so I rubbed his nose in it and tossed him outside. I always feel a little bad doing this. It's cold today, and he's our least-furry cat (and, he's got a wet nose). But he needs to learn not to pee everywhere at random. And we've done everything we can to prevent this. We keep the litter boxes clean and accessible, we give him lots of attention and affection, we've followed the enormous quantity of advice we could find on the net for this kind of problem, and none of it works. I'm hoping he gets himself under control soon.

And, it's not all about him. I need to not have the cats peeing and pooping everywhere in the house. I'll feel awful if he's injured or gone or frozen solid when I get home from work (late) tonight. But not too bad. Because I'm tired of finding new and inventive ways to clean cat excreta from our luggage, our curtains, our hardwood floors, our carpeting, and our upholstery. I'm tired of having to turn on lights everywhere I go in the house, to reduce the chances of stepping in a kitty puddle. I'm tired of waking up to a house that smells like pee. I'm tired of not being able to sit in the den until the poop smell dissipates. I'd be unhappy if anything bad happened to any of our cats. But I'd get over it. Possibly the outside cats have conditioned me to this; we've lost about a dozen outside cats in recent memory, including our three favorites.

I should mention that our oldest cat, Chaka, also has a peeing problem. But we think we know the reason: she's pissed (heh) off that we've brought other cats into the house, and she doesn't play well with others. We found a solution for her: every night, I walk her down to the basement, sit her in front of the litter box in the utility room, and close the door. I do laundry until she's done her business, then I let her back upstairs and give her a treat. It's a nice little routine now, and it has the added advantage of keeping me current with the laundry. But we haven't found any such convenient (or moderately inconvenient) solution for Jayne.
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Coda, 9:30pm: while I was reheating chili for dinner tonight, Chaka pooped and peed on the floor in front of the kitchen door. She's spending the night in the basement; I'm not allowed to throw her outside. I'm over our cats at the moment.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

New words

Scalzi declares today "International Make Up A Word Day". I wholeheartedly support this. My contribution:

Distraccident: a motor vehicle collision caused by a driver attempting to simultaneously steer, talk on the phone, and eat a sandwich.

Monday, February 25, 2008

Bachelor Chili

I'm not working today, so I celebrated by making chili. It turned out really yummy, so I thought I'd share the recipe:

INGREDIENTS
1 tube Thin Mints (the Girl Scout cookies)
1 can Trader Joe's Chicken & Rice Dinner For Cats
3 tbsp cooking oil
1 large green pepper, chopped
1 medium red onion, chopped
2 tbsp chopped garlic
1-1/2 pounds lean ground sirloin
1 pound turkey sausage
2 large cans whole tomatoes
2 cans (15-ounce cans) red kidney beans
1 can black beans
4 tbsp chili powder
1 tsp salt
Buffy the Vampire Slayer season two, disc 6
1 tbsp molasses
1 tbsp wine vinegar
1 tsp lime juice

DIRECTIONS
1. Open Thin Mints. Eat while cooking chili.
2. Open cat food; divide onto several saucers. Place saucers on back porch, hold door open until inside cats are all outside. (This saves the cook the trouble of constantly evicting felines from the countertop).
3. Heat oil in Dutch oven. Saute onions, garlic, and green peppers.
4. Add ground beef and turkey sausage. Brown meat with vegetables.
5. Core and quarter tomatoes. Add tomatoes (with juice), kidney beans (with liquid), and chili powder to Dutch oven. Stir. Cover; simmer over medium-low heat.
6. Start Buffy.
7. Xander does fish-stick slaying reenactment: stir chili.
8. Angel: "I'll have one of these to go." Add black beans (with liquid), lime juice, molasses, and vinegar; stir chili.
9. Spike sings: "Someone wasn't worthy..." Stir chili.
10. Episode ends. Stir chili, turn heat to low, leave lid slightly open. Start next episode.
11. Buffy: "You want my help because your girlfriend's a big ho?": Forget to use a pot holder, burn your hand on the lid, find an ice pack. Stir the chili.
12. Spike: "You hit me with an axe." Stir the chili.
13. Snyder: "You're expelled." Stir the chili.
14. Xander: "The cavalry's a scared guy with a rock." Stir the chili.
15. Buffy: "Close your eyes." Stir the chili.
16. Episode ends: eat the chili.

This is a little different from my normal chili; I think it's got a few improvements. The red onions give a different flavor than white onions. Not necessarily better, but different. Normally I chop the tomatoes a bit, but I like the chunkiness of quartering them. And I like mixing the red and black beans. The lime juice adds a nice bit of zip, too. And I had fun timing the chili with Buffy. The Thin Mints are an ideal chili snack, too. They taste awful with chili, and will therefore help you fight the temptation to pick your favorite bits out of the chili while it cooks. If not for the Thin Mints, my finished chili would've had no big chunks of turkey sausage in it by the time it was done cooking....

Sunday, February 24, 2008

The Rose Awards Dinner, if I can make it

Laura and I are both looking forward to the evening of the Rose Awards Dinner. It's possible that neither of us will actually be there, but we're anticipating it'll be fun for the people who get to attend. We checked our calendars over the last few days, and we're both already scheduled; she's got dress rehearsal for a show she's stage managing, production managing, and designing lights for, so she's probably not able to skip out. And I've got an event at the Artsgarden. I might be able to arrange a replacement, but Chris is out of town for the day. With luck, I'll actually be able to attend; it'd be nice to see who else was nominated, and to see who wins the awards.

Another odd thing: I never really considered myself to be a part of the "hospitality industry". I'm a Rose nominee, so I apparently must be. Still, I'm the tech guy at the Artsgarden. It never really seemed like a hospitality job. I do spend some time sitting at the information desk, and when I do I feel a bit like the information guy from Airplane. I'm pretty knowledgeable about the city and what's happening in it. But that's not what I was nominated for. I'd like to win, but I'm not really expecting it. It does say one of the judging criteria is "neat appearance", and I'm a bit scruffy....

More politics

I've had a few similar political conversations recently that I find a bit disturbing. They condense to something like this:

Me: "I really don't like Huckabee."
Other person: "I can understand that."
Me: "I really didn't like Edwards."
OP: "I can understand that."
Me: "I really don't like Hillary."
OP: "What are you, some kind of sexist pig?"

It's starting to get irritating. At least I'm in good company; I recall Oprah getting some similar ration of crap from for supporting Obama instead of supporting Hillary. I thought feminists were against choosing a candidate solely on the basis of gender. Maybe that only applies if you vote for a man because of his gender. I understand this; it's human nature. A bias against me or my team is evil and unfair, but a bias that works in our favor is suddenly a good thing.

I'm also hearing a lot of trauma from Republicans about McCain. Apparently, he's too maverick and not Republican enough for some core segments of the party. I'm viewing this as pointless political grousing. Here's a fact: core Republicans will always vote for the Republican candidate. Core Democrats will always vote for the Demorcat. If McCain gets the party's nomination, he'll get the Republican core vote, period. I doubt he'll push many people to vote for the libertarian candidate, and anyone who thinks McCain is too liberal is definitely not voting for a Democrat. Especially if it's Hillary; the fact that the Republican leadership is considering Obama more of a threat than Hillary should give her supporters pause.

Me? If the race in November was Clinton/Huckabee, I vote Clinton. If the race is Obama/McCain, I vote Obama. If the race is Clinton/McCain, that's a tough decision. And I can't be alone in this. Strategically, Obama is a better choice for the party. The race isn't decided by the 20% of the population that's core Republican or the 20% that's core Democrat; it's decided by the 20% in the middle. And by the 40% who can't be bothered to vote. The race will be all about swinging the middle ground and energizing the apathetic. The single-issue voters have probably already picked their candidates (and parties). Once the campaign starts in earnest, both candidates won't need to worry about their base, just swaying the in-the-middles.

I think one of my big issues with both potential democrats is that they both are in favor of large-scale troop withdrawals in Iraq. I consider the Iraq war to be America's biggest policy blunder in my lifetime, but we're committed now. They say it takes ten years to fight a counterinsurgency campaign. We've been there for five, almost six by the time the next president takes office. It'll be the responsibility of the next president to see that we do justice to the Iraqi people, that we finish what we start. And I don't think Hillary or Obama are willing to do it. Does this balance out my doubts about McCain? I don't know yet. I'll have to see who he chooses for a running mate....

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Dinner of Champions

Laura worries about my diet when she's out of town. I want to put her mind at ease by telling her how healthy I'm eating while she's in Norfolk, but that would be lying. Tonight's dinner: tater tots!

The tots weren't my original plan. I had to work today, my theoretical day off; someone at the desk had to leave early, and I was the only person available to cover for them. So I felt like I deserved to treat myself to a nice meal out after work. I stopped by Weber Grill, but they had a half-hour wait and didn't look amenable to my taking up a table for a few hours while I read a book. So I decided to hit Aesop's Tables and have their yummy pasta with myzithra cheese. But on the drive there, I decided that I could save money by having my pasta at home. When I got home, I realized we don't have pasta-appropriate cheese. Then I thought about waffles, but the recipe doesn't reduce well. The tots jumped out at me when I opened the freezer. I'm feeling tired, so the quick, easy and hot of a tater tot meal sounded good....

Movie: Jumper

I finally got to the theater this week to see Jumper. I had high hopes, given its interesting premise. Unfortunately, it really wasn't good. I read a review that said the movie was outshone by its own trailer, and this might be true -- the trailer was for a movie much more interesting than the one I saw. The acting wasn't great, the script wasn't great. But they did some phenomenal location work, and I liked the special effects (even when they were used in plot-inconsistent ways). It managed to be reasonably entertaining, despite the badness; if you're planning on seeing it, I would advise that the less you think about what's happening, the happier you'll be.

The movie commits the cardinal sin of fantasy/sci fi: they break their own rules. One of the advantages of sci-fi is that you can define your own universe. Anti-gravity fields? Fine. Faster-than-light travel? Fine. Alien creatures? Fine. Kids who teleport? Fine. We the audience will buy into whatever world you create. But there's a trade-off for the freedom sci-fi gives you: once you define the rules of your universe, you have to follow them. You build a world, then treat it as real. Changing the way your world works to suit the plot is cheating, and audiences notice. The rules in Jumper change a few times; they change the world around the needs of the plot, rather than making the plot fit the world. And there's really no excuse for this; they could've defined the world differently to start with....

I'm curious to read the book, to see what the movie could've been if done well. I just put it on hold at the library; it should be here in a month or so, enough time for the movie to have faded in my memory a bit. If it rocks, I'll let you know.

Friday, February 22, 2008

The What? Awards

I want to stress that I'm not running around telling absolutely everyone I see on the street that I was nominated for a Rose Award. I'm very selective about spreading the news. I'm currently using a mental checklist to determine if I should do the low-grade bragging of mentioning that I'm a nominee. It looks something like this:
  • Do I remember the person's name?
  • Is the person breathing?
If the answer to both of these questions is YES I will usually tell the person how cool I am, in the form of telling them I'm a Rose Award Nominee and showing them my cool pin. (If the answer to the second question is NO, I contact medical authorities.) Response has been mixed, with about half of the people saying something like, "congratulations! That's great! You deserve something like this!", and the other half saying something that sounds like, "Congratulations! What's a Rose Award?" But everyone's happy for me. Thanks, gang!

Thursday, February 21, 2008

I'm Honored!

I just got nominated for a Rose Award! Woo hoo!

For those who don't know, the Rose Awards are given annually by the Indianapolis Convention and Visitor's Association to honor people who present the best possible face of the city to visitors. About 60 people are nominated every year, and eight or ten win. The awards dinner is March 12, so I'll find out then if I'm one of the lucky 15%. And, a limousine will pick me up at work and drive me to the dinner! My first limo ride ever! It's only three blocks from here, but I might ask the driver to drive around a bit so I can relish the experience a bit longer.

And, the nomination took me completely by surprise. We had a performance today by jazz singer Cynthia Layne, and before the show I saw the leadership of Arts Council hanging around. Before the show started, two guys with the ICVA and the mayor's office picked up the microphone and started talking. Mike told me it was just an impromptu announcement, and I really didn't pay attention to what they were saying; I was doing the sound guy thing, listening to the speech and adjusting, without paying any real attention to the actual words. Until they said my name, at which point I had a moment of Wha?!?. I got to wander up on stage and get a pin and a rose-shaped balloon and shake people's hands. And then I ran sound for the show. It was a totally surreal moment in the middle of my otherwise-routine day.

I'm really psyched about this. I never win anything, and I'm not expecting to win this either (I suspect I might be a little too scruffy and techy for some of the judges), but even being nominated makes me happy. The idea to suggest me for the award came from a totally unexpected source, and a lot of people supported the idea. It's nice to know people appreciate me. And the people who got my name on the list are all people I've worked with on shows and events, who thought highly enough of me to remember me when nomination time came. So being nominated is the fun part for me; it means I impressed people who I've worked with, rather than looking good on paper to people whom I've never met.

Still, wouldn't it be cool if I win?

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Asking for ID

I spent a chunk of my morning at the Indiana Blood Center donating platelets for burn victims and chemo patients. One of my favorite little oddities about the blood center is that they're required by law to ask for a photo ID before any donation. But I'm a regular; like a lot of platelet donors, I'm there every two weeks or so, and the staff knows me. So when I walk in the door I often get to have conversations that sound something like this:

Desk staff: "Hey, Jeff! How're you doing?"
Me: "All's well. Do you have more pictures of your cats?"
Staff: "None you haven't seen. How'd the de-worming go with yours?"
Me: "Painless, but it didn't solve the little one's litterbox problem."
Staff: "Aww, too bad. Hey, I'll need to see a photo ID, please."

It always strikes me as odd that, even though they know perfectly well who I am, I still need to prove who I am with official government documentation.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Chaos ensues.

Uh oh -- I lost my hipster PDA somewhere. This is not good; I had a lot of really important stuff written down there. Also, I'm not finding my cool Fisher Space Pen I bought to go with it. Maybe they're hiding together somewhere. I had finally gotten into the habit of organizing myself around my little stack of 3X5 cards; doing without, and losing all the notes I had written, is already starting to introduce a little chaos to my life.

Also, my old Dell Axim handheld has finally kicked the bucket. It still functions, barely, but the touch screen just stopped functioning. You really can't do much with it without the touch screen. I don't know what I'll replace it with, but I'm sure I want to replace it. It's my mobile text reader, and I probably read a dozen books on it in a year's time. I don't really use the PDA features much, except the phone book, but it's a useful catch-all tool; maybe a few times a month I'll use the calculator or the stopwatch or some other feature that emulates a stand-alone tool which I don't have to carry. I'd consider getting another Axim, if I can find one on the cheap. It's got a lot of nice features that make it better for reading text than the average PDA, like the left-handed scroll wheel and an easily-accessible brightness control.

I've been noticing that the PDA field is pretty dead, and has been for the last few years. Manufacturers are putting all of their PDA mojo into phones, rather than stand-alone PDAs. I'd consider getting a hip, trendy phone to replace my handheld computer, but I don't know that they make one that's suited for text reading, and that works with AT&T. I'll have to look at the options. Of course, there is the iPhone. But it's too expensive, not to mention that it takes two hands to read text on it. Plus, I just got an iPod for my birthday in August. It might irritate my wife if I relegated it to the junk-electronica shelf in the computer room, so soon after she gave it to me.

So, any thoughts about a PDA replacement with a side scroll wheel and a screen big enough to read text on?

More Bachelor Days

Laura's doing a show out of town again, for ten days this time, in Norfolk, Virginia. We spent yesterday making preparations for her departure -- visiting the bookstore, the drugstore, the grocery, and generally running a pile of errands, plus doing laundry and packing and cleaning up the house. It's been a little hectic, but we got to everything on the to-do list.

Now that she's safely on a plane, I can transition from hectic to busy. I've been realizing that I tend to schedule my bachelor days pretty heavily. I've got an appointment for platelets, a side job doing plumbing, and half a dozen dinner offers (maybe word has leaked about my all-pot-pie diet the last time she was out of town). I've also got only one day off work the whole time she's gone. Bummer; I was hoping I'd have two or three days off in a row, so I could take a short camping trip. Instead, I've got other plans, in addition to the above. I'm going to read, I'm going to write, and I'm going to see Jumper, even though it hasn't been reviewed very well.

And I'm going to water Laura's plants. Except the jade plants.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Great Choreographers!

If you're at all interested in dance or art, you need to see the Butler University dance department's midwinter concert, titled "Great Choreographers". One more show, Saturday the 16th at 8pm at Clowes Hall. Make sure you're there! All works are set on the students in Butler's professional-grade dance program, and there are only a few moments in the entire evening that look like student work. I'm always impressed with the quality of Butler's students. The show consists of five separate works: two largely forgettable pieces, an entertaining ballet choreographed by the Ballet Austin's Stephen Mills, and two truly excellent dance works, "Rainmakers" by Cynthia Pratt and "Cloven Kingdom" by Paul Taylor (yes, the Paul Taylor).

"Rainmakers" is the second piece of the concert, and its truly interesting to watch. The choreography is alien and inhuman in places, with dancers rolling as clouds across the floor and insect-like movement from dancers en pointe. The movement, music, and lighting create a synergy on stage that's fun to watch, and yet almost disturbing -- we see the natural inhumanness of a dancer's body enhanced by movement into something almost surreal. It's one of my favorite things I've seen on stage for a while.

"Argelina", by Stephen Mills: a good ballet, with a beautiful pas de deux (and, I might add, excellent lighting!). It was entertaining, yet somehow felt unfinished; this might just be me. It made an interesting contrast with "Rainmakers". Arts leaders have been making much noise about attracting younger patrons into the arts. Cynthia Pratt's piece is the reason younger people should see dance; Stephen Mills's piece is the reason older patrons should keep coming back.

The concert closes with a Paul Taylor rep piece, "Cloven Kingdom". It's one of his signature pieces, and I can see why. The music is a juxtaposition of classical and jarring percussion, and the movement is a combination of balletic grace and Graham-modern sharpness, full of jerking angularity. Taylor can make dance laugh-out-loud funny in places, traditional and smooth in places, and surreally odd in others, and blend it all into a coherent whole that makes sense and is fun to watch. There's a running joke that this piece was a mocking commentary on dance patrons and financial supporters; watching the piece with this in mind adds another level to the movement and choreography, and enhances some of the comic elements. And, I have to add, there's a moment in which the men are dancing in tailcoats -- it really made me flash to Peter Boyle in Young Frankenstein. I really expected the music to riff on "Putting on the Ritz" for a moment.

A lot of modern art seems to live by a maxim that sounds something like, "you can be weird, if you're beautiful enough; if you're interesting enough, you can even get by with occasionally being ugly." The Taylor piece really makes this work; it's strange and surreal, but beautiful. And it has moments of ugly, but even in those moments it's so interesting that it's still entertaining. A lot of artists outside of dance strive for this ideal, and generally fail. It's nice to see what they're aiming for, and that it can actually work sometimes.

The Perfect Gift

I got the perfect gift for Christmas: a Borders gift card. I do most of my reading at the library, because until we get some debt paid off I feel bad spending money on books. I don't even spend much time at bookstores, because it's frustrating. Even if I find something I really want to buy, I have trouble rationalizing the expense, and I feel like I'm using money unwisely. But if I've got a gift card waiting in my wallet, I'm free to go to the bookstore without guilt. I've got "money" that can only be spent on books, so the zero-sum economics of normal purchasing (that is, any money I spend is money that can't go to pay bills) don't apply. Even if I don't buy anything, it makes window shopping fun, because I know I could buy something if I wanted to; not buying something is a choice I'm making, not a circumstance forced on me by my debt load. Even though I'm aware of the psychology behind it, having a gift card is very liberating.

Another nice aspect to a bookstore gift card: you can spend it on books you could never rationalize spending actual money on. Conan books! Graphic novels! That non-fiction book on winter bicycling! Things you couldn't ever buy with a clear conscience are completely fair game when you're not spending real money on them. So I've been having fun for the last few weeks, wandering over to Borders a few times a week and talking to the books. I keep finding books I want, but I haven't bought any yet. It's nice, just picking them up and reading a few pages and petting them, knowing that if I wanted I could take them with me and give them a good home.

So -- Borders gift card. Good gift idea.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

A mid-show crash

I had a new kind of trauma today during our performance. For the first time ever, I had a power failure during a live show. Thankfully, it wasn't an unnaturally complex show -- just three singers with microphones. They managed okay with no amplification, or so I heard; I spent most of their performance trying to track down the power glitch. The building's power was only down for a second or so, but the audio power didn't come back with everything else. And hunting down that problem took me the rest of the performance and then some. Problem? A power conditioner for the audio system, located somewhere appropriately obscure and inaccessible, needed to be reset. But troubleshooting the problem and fixing it was pretty time consuming.

I feel bad for the performers, and I'm aware of how unprofessional this looks when the sound system dies and doesn't come back. I'm fully aware that there's nothing I can do about power failures, and there was really no way I could've fixed it any quicker. Still, I feel bad for the performers. It's a problem on our end, but it makes them look a little bad too.

Still, I've gotta say, I was a bit surprised and defensive when I overheard the performers vociferously grouching about how badly they were "mistreated" by us. Look, guys: power failure. We didn't do it on purpose. I don't hate you, and and even if I did, I'm a professional -- I wouldn't show it. Plus, a power failure is an extremely complicated, labor-intensive way to make you look bad. Think about it for a second, people; I'm the sound guy. If I felt the need, I could probably make you sound awful, make it look like it's all your fault, and not leave my comfy sound-guy chair to do it. A power failure, on the other hand, is a lot of work. Geez. If you're going to assume I'm prejudiced and malicious, at least give me the credit of also assuming I'm lazy....

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Links, for a change

It just occurred to me: this is a blog, it should be packed with links! So, here are some interesting blogs, written by people who are much more interesting than I am. Please, come back here when you're done. I'll eventually get interesting, I promise.
  • Polybloggimous: written by Nathan, a professional location manager for film shoots. Not only is he an interesting guy, he's also got an inside look at how film works. And, he's an author! He's publishing a novel online, one chapter at a time, as he writes them.
  • Vaguely related, Life Below The Line: an anonymous blog (there should be a word for this, maybe something like anonyblog) written by a girl who does sound for film and commercials. The title refers to the "below-the-line" budget that covers all aspects of a film except the parts for which individuals can win Oscars (director, producer, writer, major actors). A somewhat-cynical look at another side of the movie business that we rarely see.
  • The Man Who Never Missed: sci-fi author (and silat practitioner) Steve Perry's blog, named after the first book in a series he wrote. He muses about writing, fighting, and life in general, and he's always well-spoken and usually interesting.
  • Westerblog, the online ramblings of young-adult science fiction author Scott Westerfeld. He and his wife, fantasy author Justine Larbalestier, live an interesting, enviable life, and I like reading about it.
  • Charlie's Diary, the online presence of sci-fi writer Charles Stross. His The Atrocity Archives is one of the top ten books I read last year, and word is, he's probably the smartest guy writing science fiction -- and that's a high standard.
  • I'm just assuming that everybody reads The Whatever, John Scalzi's blog. It and my gmail page are the only two entries that are on the bookmarks list of every computer I use.
I just noticed that almost everyone on this list is a writer. Cool! And accidental!

Monday, February 11, 2008

Worst conversation starter, ever.

"Who will mourn me when I die?"

I'll leave you to make up your own story about this.

Check out Inishmore!

If you're in Indy, I'm recommending that you catch the Phoenix Theatre's production of The Lieutenant of Inishmore. It runs every Thursday (7pm), Friday (8pm), Saturday, (8pm) and Sunday (2pm) thru March 9, so you've got lots of opportunities to catch the show. And it's entertaining. For a theatrical production, it's awfully violent and gory -- so much so, that it becomes cartoonish by the end of the play. And it's funny. It's a dark comedy, but still a comedy. It's the story of an Irish terrorist who's so angry the IRA wouldn't let him join, who travels back to his home village to care for his ailing cat. Violent hijinks ensue. The actors fire off around 45 pistol blanks, and something like four gallons of stage blood spatters the floor every performance. I don't want to spoil anything, but it's worth seeing if you get the chance. And, only $25! Practically a bargain, for a theater show!

I have to say, I really wasn't expecting to like the show. Laura (who did the lighting design) had been regaling me for a week with stories about rehearsal trauma and special effects trauma and a whole host of production difficulties in the week leading up to the opening. I was expecting to see some of that on stage, but the production was polished and professional. And, I wasn't expecting it to be as funny as it was. I was pleasantly surprised by almost every aspect of the production; even the actors' Irish accents were pretty good.

Junk, the Throwing Away Of

I have a day off today (woo hoo!), and I was planning on spending it writing. I've gotten a little writing done, but mostly I've spent my day cleaning. It started with some mandatory cat-oriented cleaning, but it's since evolved into a general straightening and cleaning. I've vacuumed all of the carpets; swept the basement; cleaned litter boxes; cleaned the back of one of the upstairs closets, which one of the cats has apparently been using as a litter box; bagged up the last month's papers for recycling; cleaned the hardwood floors; started organizing the piles of books; and, most importantly, I'm throwing stuff away.

So far, I've thrown away the boxes for our roller blades, which have been sitting on a shelf since 2001; an old Pentium 166 computer, which hasn't been fully assembled and operational for four years; my old laptop bag, which has been missing a zipper and a handle for five years; and some of the spare wallpaper for the dining room. My next big tossing: the ten-year archive of Men's Health magazines I've been saving, apparently just in case I really need to look up an ab exercise or something.

Thursday, February 07, 2008

Lucas Oil Stadium: over budget, still too small

I just heard from one of the construction foremen that the Lucas Oil Stadium is now, officially, over budget. I haven't seen any kind of public announcement about this; I imagine everyone wants to keep it quiet, since the cost-overrun fund for the stadium is the construction fund for the new convention center. I heard a while ago that the design team is already looking for corners to cut on the convention center, given that the public isn't ready for another bond issue. I imagine they're in panic mode now.

Also, just wanted to extend my heartfelt gratitude to the design team of the new stadium. I completely understand the need for the extremely expensive new sports facility; the RCA Dome is the smallest stadium in the NFL, and is clearly too small for Indy to ever have a chance at hosting a Super Bowl. I'm so happy we've got Lucas Oil Stadium on the way -- which will be the second-smallest stadium in the NFL. Thanks, design team! You let us spend way over half a billion dollars to move from last place to almost last place!

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

The Phone, it vexes me

I've developed an increasing dislike for our home phone. I think it stems from my deeply-ingrained need to answer the phone whenever it rings, no matter how inconvenient it is. Especially now that I'm writing with a laptop, I'll find myself in the Comfy Chair in the living room, wrapped in a blanket, computer on my knees, Meeper on my lap, typing away when the phone rings. I've got exactly not enough time to gently put the computer down, dislodge the cat, unwrap the blanket, and dash to the phone before the third ring ends. And, on the rare occasions when I make it to the phone, it's never an important call. It's our bank offering us refinancing, or AmVets wondering if we have any clothes to donate, or one of our various alumni institutions (four universities, between the two of us) calling to ask for money. I think I need to work to break my instinctive need to answer the phone whenever it rings. The other option is to carry a cordless phone with me around the house, but that would feel a bit too much like I'm on a leash....

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

A knife and pliers to battle the Masters of the Universe

The most recent toy on my Do Want list comes from Leatherman Tools: the Skeletool. It's bare-bones, for a multitool: knife blade, pliers, interchangeable-bit screwdriver, and a combination carabiner/bottle opener, but it's pretty much everything you need to have in your pocket. Like all multitools, the blade only opens easily with one hand if it's your right hand, but I've been using right-handed tools all my life. I've got the Modified Lefty Grip down to a science. It comes in two versions; this one has a carbon-fiber handle, the other a stainless steel handle, but I think I prefer the lighter carbon fibers. I wouldn't use it for anything so strenuous that I'd feel the need for the extra strength of steel. It's not on my urgent purchase list, because I'd have trouble justifying the price tag. But I think it's cool, and if money were no object I'd buy one. New toys: always good.

My favorite thing about it might be the name. The Hardware Aisle column at This Old House's website said it best in their review, which was basically one big long He-Man joke....

Monday, February 04, 2008

Good work comes from good tools

I'm becoming aware of how much difference a laptop has made in my writing. I've had it for a month now, and I didn't realize how much impact mobility would have; I've been writing on the couch upstairs, in the comfy chair in the living room, in bed, and pretty much anywhere else I want. The flexibility has helped a lot, both in getting myself to write and in my comfort while I'm typing. I'm also really liking the ergonomics of the slightly-curved keyboard, which is extremely comfortable to type on. It's an older laptop, and I had to do some repairs when I got it (it had been dropped, and I had to pop the case together and remount some internal components), but I'm extremely happy with it. It meets all of my needs, and it isn't packed with piles of features I won't use and don't care about.

When I sit down upstairs at the desktop computer, it's noticeably difficult to start writing. I had never known what a handicap the studio was until I was mobile and could write elsewhere. I think it's partially the environment; the studio is a wreck, stacked with projects I need to work on and things I need to clean up, and the space is cramped. It doesn't help that the big computer upstairs is the machine on which all of my games are installed. Writing isn't easy for me, and when I hit moments of difficulty I can hear Raven Shield calling me. Even if I don't cave in to the temptation, I'm aware it's there. The laptop is old enough that I can't play graphics-intensive games on it, and I've gone out of my way to not install any older games which it'll support.

I'm running Windows XP TabletPC Edition, but other than the OS I'm entirely Microsoft-free. I'm writing in OpenOffice and Zoho, surfing with Firefox, and running an open-source virus scanner. If Linux supported tablet computers, I wouldn't have even installed the original OS when I stripped it down and rebuilt it....

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Movies

Just got back from Rambo and Cloverfield. Should you go see them? Maybe. Rambo is a better movie than its two predecessors in the series, but not as good as First Blood. It's more realistic than either of the middle two, as well; no exploding arrows, for one thing, and the action is what you'd expect from badass mercenaries. They're good at what they do, but they don't run around with a machine gun in each hand blasting baddies. It's gritty and realistic about what's going on in Burma right now, too, and pretty graphic about it. I'm going to say that, if you're expecting a "Rambo movie", you won't be disappointed. And if a Rambo movie doesn't sound good, you should avoid it.

Cloverfield lives up to its premise, if you go in with the right assumptions about its premise. If you've seen the trailer, you know the entire movie is supposed to be footage found on a video camera recovered from the wreckage of Manhattan after a huge alien creature invades and destroys most of the city. This means the entire film is shaky handicam footage; if this'll give you a headache, skip the movie. The movie starts with a guy filming a going-away party for a friend, and it seems like this part of the film lasts for half an hour. I wasn't timing it, but it definitely lasted too long. I found myself thinking, "just get on with the alien invasion already!" [spoilers start here] I suppose they felt the need to develop characters a bit; fleeing an alien monster is less interesting than watching our heroes head towards the chaos for most of the movie to rescue a friend, and the producers felt they had to establish some relationships first. They were wrong; you can't really develop character in a hurry, so we the audience pretty much took it on faith anyway that the main character would risk his life and defy major odds to rescue the girl. We could've spent five minutes at the party and been fine with the characters and their motivations. I'm also amazed at how wussy the alien spider-things were. We saw a brief clip of them tearing through some army guys when they first appear, but our unarmed heroes manage to fend off a pack of them and survive. And I wasn't happy with the end; we finally get to see the big alien thing when it kills our camera operator. We're talking about a huge beast, a thing that crushes Army tanks underfoot with no effort. And it spends a few moments contemplating this one guy, standing by himself in a park, before it bites him, throws him around, and drops him. Yeah, that's efficient. I know why it was in the movie: they had to show us the creature so we could get a good look at it, after a movie filled with brief glimpses. I disagree -- we didn't need to see the creature in good light, against a clean backdrop. It didn't add anything. And, given that they spent a lot of the movie not showing us things, it also seemed a bit out of character for the filmmakers, to have a good chunk of documentary footage showcasing their monster. It's also in the premise of the film that the guys with the camera don't survive the movie; if the camera was found in wreckage, it's probable that the guys holding it were with it. Still, I was almost surprised that the main characters almost all die by the end, one or two at a time.

As a production, it's interesting watching a movie without a score. All of the music is what's playing on someone's boom box, or in an electronics store, or just the ambient sound for wherever the character with the camera is. It's also amazing how huge the crew is. The credits are as long as the credits for any other blockbuster movie, even though it looks like it was really shot with a handheld camera. I even saw a boom operator in the credits; not quite sure how that worked. I can't recall any shots that didn't have the handicam feel. Also a nice moment -- maybe the only really creepy moment in the film -- when they switched the camera to night-vision mode. (For another really creepy use of night vision, watch 28 Weeks Later.)

In the interest of embracing the comedy, here's the outgoing voicemail I recorded on my cell phone before I sat down in the theater: "You've reached the voice mail of Jeff Mountjoy, production coordinator for the Indianapolis Artsgarden [it's technically my work phone]. I've turned my phone off while I see Rambo on the big screen. Leave me a message, and I'll call you back as soon as I finish watching Sylvester Stallone demolish yet another Southeast Asian nation. Thank you." I had one missed call, no messages. I hope the call wasn't work-related.

Super Bowl Sunday: movie time!

It's the day of The Big Game. The Giants face the Patriots in a winner-take-all, no-holds-barred showdown, a fight-to-the-finish contest between two second-to-none teams that can be described by a whole pile of multiply-hyphenated phrases.

And I don't care. Laura's got to work this afternoon, and while she's at rehearsal I'm heading to the movie theater. I'm planning on a double feature consisting of Cloverfield and Rambo, and a dinner consisting of popcorn and diet Coke. I suspect the theater won't be too busy, since both movies occur during the window of televised football hype.

There was a time when I felt bad watching movies by myself, like I was some kind of loser geek with no friends. I've gotten over this; sometimes, the company I seek is my own. Still, there are movies that are better watched in company. And some of my most memorable movie moments have had less to do with the film, and more to do with the people I watched with. Rambo might be an in-company movie, but I've looked ahead at my schedule, and I don't think I'll have free time to schedule another viewing until it's out of the theaters.

And, a quick movie story: I watched the first Jeepers Creepers (a truly bad horror flick) with my brother and my friend Drew. The movie starts with a scary-looking truck running a pair of teenagers off the road. They get back on the road, and soon pass said creepy truck parked next to a creepy abandoned church, with a creepy hooded figure shoving what looks suspiciously like a wrapped-up corpse down a drainpipe. The guy in the car says, "that person might need our help! Let's go check it out!" At this point, Drew stands up in the movie theater and says, "That's it -- you're too dumb to live. I'm rooting for the bad guy now!" The movie then shifted from a horror film to a comedy as Mike, Drew, and I spent the rest of the film whispering advice to the characters on screen, things like, "Hey -- go down that dark alley! I'm sure nothing bad will happen!" and "Why don't you just stick your head out of the window to see what made that noise? The chances of being dragged outside by your face are practically nil!" It made the movie so much more entertaining than it would've been otherwise. It's such a bad movie that [spoiler alert!] the big twist at the end is that the evil demon-thing, which collects body parts from its victims to stay alive forever, wants the main character for his eyes! This is a total and complete shock to anyone who never heard the song from which the movie gets its name, and to any deaf people watching who didn't hear the lyrics of the song playing two dozen times over the course of the film....

A really wierd, macabre book

I got a book for Christmas. It's at the top of the list of the strangest Christmas gifts I've ever received, and that's a high standard. Some friends were traveling in Montana and found it at one of those tourist traps that crop up in the middle of nowhere. The book: Hanging Around the Big Sky ("The unofficial guide to lynching, strangling, and legal hangings of Montana"). I got volume one: legal hangings. I'm disturbed that one of my friends would see this book on a shelf and immediately think of me. I'm taking it as a sign that I'm hard to buy for.

As disturbing as the gift is, possibly worse is that I enjoyed reading it. It's as poorly written and edited as any other small-press local history book written primarily for the tourist trade, but once you get past that, it's a look at a chunk of history that people tend to forget about, in a part of the country that I really like. Narrow-slice history is generally fascinating; I've read books about the way Paris smelled in the 1800s, the legalization of divorce in sixteenth-century Geneva, and a host of others about topics as obscure, and I've tended to have fun with them. Reading about this section of the history of the justice system is good for perspective when I see abuses of the justice system today. We might screw things up occasionally, but we've come a long way from the days of mob rule and frontier justice. And some of the stories are good. My favorite was about a thug who got word that a posse was going after a no-good lowlife cattle rustler, so he gathered some people, brought the rope, and even found a suitable tree. When he met the posse, he figured out a bit too late that he was the no-good lowlife cattle rustler. He's listed as the only person in the history of the U.S. to have organized his own hanging.

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Art and Soul

It's Art & Soul month at the Artsgarden. We've scheduled some great performances by some excellent musicians; Gregg Bacon performs today, and later this month we've got Drums of West Africa (Tuesday the 12th), jazz singer Cynthia Layne (Thursday the 21st), and the Tony Cheeseborough Blues Band (Tuesday the 26th). These guys are all good, so if you find yourself downtown near the Artsgarden on the appropriate days, drop by, catch the show, and say hi to the sound guy (me). We're also hosting dancers, choirs, orchestras, and a historical reenactment or two. It'll be a fun month, and also a bit busy; I'm working all of the performances and events, since our sound guy is out of town until March. On the plus side, since we've instituted a policy wherein I'm not allowed to work more than 40 hours in a week, I'll have my full quota of days off; they'll be oddly spaced, but I'll have them. I'm planning on writing a lot, sort of an unofficial NaNoWriMo in February; my goal is to average at least 1000 words a day. Wish me luck with the writing, and stop downtown and catch a show if you can!