Thursday, January 29, 2009

Thwarted by ice

I'm having a bad ice day. It's like a bad hair day, but with more hammering. Bad ice moment the first: the sliding gate wouldn't open this morning. It travels along the east garage wall when it moves, but a three-foot snowdrift was banked against the wall. And, worse, the snow on the roof had melted and dripped onto the snow, creating an inch-thick layer of ice. I had to use a crowbar and a trenching spade to break up the ice; I ended up getting to work an hour late. The low-grade irony is that the Jeep is one of the few vehicles that can easily manage the foot of snow in the back alley, but it took me an hour to get the Jeep out the gate into the thick snow.

Bad ice moment the second: when I got home, I couldn't open the back door. This time, snow on the house roof had melted and formed into a solid sheet on the back porch. And the ice was so thick that the door wouldn't clear it. Following some more frenetic whacking with the crowbar, I eventually got inside.

I wonder if the rule of three applies to ice. Should I be on the lookout for another minor ice-related trauma? Maybe I should keep the crowbar handy, just in case....

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Snow, snow, snow!

The city of Indianapolis is mostly shut down today because of the 12" of snow that's fallen in the last 16 hours. I was already taking today off, so it's no real change for me -- other than the shoveling. And I shovel a lot. From 10pm to midnight last night, I shoveled our shuffleboard court and back deck, the front walk, the front walks of four neighbors, and about 200' of sidewalk. At the risk of sounding freakish, I really like shoveling snow. It's a nice little thing to do for the neighbors, and it speaks to the type-A part of my brain that likes right angles and things in neat rows. And, shoveling helps me rationalize not exercising for the day. Because, really, two hours of shoveling snow last night, and another 45 minutes this morning, really does feel like exercise.

And, I shoveled kitty paths. Our outside cats mostly live in the garage, but they might have been stuck there; the snow was covering the hole by which they usually come and go. So I cleared their entrance and shoveled a path to the walk, and shoveled paths for most of the other places they go on a regular basis. The outside cats are still staying scarce, hopefully snuggled in a cute little kitty pile staying warm and dry.

So, if you're here in central Indiana thru western Ohio, enjoy your snow day. Stay safe, stay warm, and spend some unscheduled time doing something you enjoy.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

It's really 2009, and I know it.

I don't know what's different this year, but for the first time ever, I've been getting the year right every time I've written the date. Last year, it took me a week or two to stop writing "2007" and start writing "2008"; this year, from day one, I haven't had to think about writing the correct date. It comes out as "2009", without any mental effort on my part.

I'm not sure why this is. I know I'm not smarter than I was this time last year. If I had to guess, I think it's that I had been so ready for 2008 to end, that the transition between years seemed more natural....

Friday, January 23, 2009

Another sign my brain's not at full power today

I'm doing some housekeeping at work today, throwing a bunch of old/broken/useless stuff away and just generally cleaning up. And I need coffee. So the plan was to make a dumpster run, take the long way back via Einstein's Bagels, grab some beverage, and head back to load up for another dumpster run. And I wanted to be nice, and see if one of my coworkers wanted anything at Einstein's while I was there. But what came out of my mouth was:

"I'm headed to the dumpster. Want me to pick you up anything?"

Yah, I need some caffeine. Better get that coffee soon.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

No tiny computer programs?

I'm using a timer for my daily half-hour writing exercise. I find that when I'm writing fast, I lose track of time; ten minutes can seem like an hour, or an hour will seem like just a few minutes. So, to keep me from either looking at the clock all the time, or spending too much time with writing exercises and not enough with actual writing, I start Cool Timer, set it for half an hour, and click the big GO button before I start typing. Cool Timer is ideal; it's got a simple interface and is very bare-bones. The only fancy option is that you can select your own audio file to play when your time expires.

What I can't figure out is, why is Cool Timer a 2.4 mb download? It's an extremely simple, single-function program. I remember playing Gunship! for the Commodore 64; it was a complete combat flight sim, very state-of-the-art for 1988, and it loaded completely in 64K of RAM. And, it had a mission timer. So why does my PC-based stand-alone timer use more than 37 times more memory than Gunship? Or, better -- why does the timer on my Palm Pilot fit in 7k, but you can't find a PC timer that's smaller than a 500k download?

I know there's a reason, but I can't imagine what it would be. I could see where a PC timer would take two or three times more memory than a PalmOS timer. But, really -- factor of 37? Come on!

Cell phones in bookstores can get you in trouble.

I went to the bookstore today during the 5pm rush, when downtown workers all hit Borders on the way to their cars, to pick up a book. While I was there, I called Laura to see if she wanted anything. She said yes; she's reading a couple of paranormal romances, and new books in several series have hit the shelves in the last few weeks. But Laura didn't have her book notebook at work, so she wasn't sure about the title, just the author. And all the titles are similar -- they all had the word "midnight" in the title somewhere, or something like that. She had me read the back cover blurbs over the phone so she could figure out which books she had read. I'm not shy about this kind of thing; if I'm going to be reading the back covers of paranormal romances aloud, I might as well do a dramatic reading. So, picture me in the romance aisle of a bookstore, reading text that sounds like:
Dirk Manthorn was the most powerful warrior vhampyre of his clan. Any who threatened he and his brothers would be killed without mercy. So, when he was sent to hunt down the beautiful Alexis Trevayne, whose research had threatened to reveal the existence of the vhampyre society to the mortals, he thought it was just another assignment. But from the first moment her electric blue eyes first met his, he feared she could accomplish what he no longer thought possible: to thaw his frozen heart. And she cannot help but feel the primal pull of his brooding, masculine power. But, an ancient enemy arises, one which will try to use their passion to destroy not only the new lovers, but the entire vhampyr nation....
Laura picked out her book and I hung up the phone, then turned around to find I had an audience: three shoppers and a store employee had all been watching my reading with extreme amusement. It was oddly more funny than embarrassing; I don't embarrass so easily these days.

And, the book I went to Borders for: The Stepsister Scheme, by Jim C. Hines. I recently finished his trilogy about the life and times of Jig the goblin, and I enjoyed it; it's a different, funny take on epic fantasy. The Stepsister Scheme looks like it'll be a lot of fun too, funny and clever -- and well written, if it's anything like Jim Hines's previous work.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

The day is here!

President Obama. I really like the way that sounds.

He's got a lot of people fighting him, both in the open and behind closed doors. But I'm hopeful that he'll be a huge step in the right direction.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Static and cats

Just a quick observation: if you wipe your cats down with fabric-softener dryer sheets, it really does cut down the amount of static electricity generated when you pet them. It breaks the stroke-ZAP!-stroke-ZAP! rhythm you usually get when you pet long-haired cats in winter (though it's cool petting them in the dark and watching the sparks crackle in their fur).

On the down side, the cats hate the dryer sheets. But, silver lining: they smell all Mountain Fresh now.


Laura read this over my shoulder, rolled her eyes, shook her head, and let loose a clearly-audible sigh. She just walked away, talking to herself under her breath; I caught the phrase "you knew he was strange when you married him". Why, yes. Yes, I am.

Friday, January 16, 2009

The Funk Settles In.

I have no idea why -- and believe me, I've done some thinking about it -- but for a decade or so, I've tended to slip into a mild, short depression in mid-to-late January. Laura and I call this the "Richmond to Columbus" time of the year, after the drive we take to Virginia to visit her family. The stretch of highway from Richmond to Columbus is dull, flat, straight, and uninteresting, and this time of year is much the same. It's the time in which you've recovered from the holidays and they're no longer part of your active thoughts, when you're settled back into routine, with cold, dully unpleasant weather waiting outside the door whenever you venture out. It seems like things are harder this time of year, and the circulating hard times this year seem to be exaggerating the effect. And today, for the first time this year, I started feeling the frigid weather seeping in to me on an existential level. Maybe the fact that today was a bit of a bad day kicked off the gloominess. Our offices at work flooded yesterday evening when a pipe froze and broke, and we did lots of coping with that this morning; we canceled our first performance ever because of the cold (42 degrees this morning in the Artsgarden, or 54 degrees warmer than it was outside -- which is actually pretty good for a big, uninsulated glass dome); our computers are having issues; it's extremely cold outside, so I missed another day on the bike. Nothing individually traumatic, but a low-grade funk-inspiring climate of not-good.

I'm aware of the funk settling in, which helps with the coping; awareness doesn't keep it from happening, though. I'm keeping busy, exercising, writing, and in general not giving myself any time for mopey navel-gazing or surly ruminations. But I can feel it under the surface. If I don't pay attention, it makes me a bit grouchy and even more cynical than usual, but I'm good at keeping it under wraps (usually)....

Just thought I'd share and vent. How about y'all -- does the seasonal funk hit you too?

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Big Ol' Wimp

In case anyone was wondering if I rode my bike to work this morning in the sub-zero temperatures (with the -20 windchill): no. I wussed out at the last minute. I stood on the back porch this morning, watching the outside kitties eat and making sure they were all healthy and not frozen, and felt the wind blow right through my three layers. I did the math and figured that exposed skin would be frostbitten in under five minutes, then did more math and figured out that, with a headwind, the windchill factor on the bike would be close to -30. I remembered how cold my face was on the ride home the night before, when it was twenty degrees warmer. And I went back inside, changed out of my bike clothes, and rode downtown with Laura in the Jeep.

This is the first time this year, and maybe the first time ever, that I've foregone a bike ride because of the cold. So I don't feel too bad.

It just occurred to me that there's another reason it's a good thing I didn't ride the bike: we had a pipe freeze and burst at work today, and the green room and our offices were flooded. I did much mopping and cleaning, and I got wet in the process, so I would've ridden home with wet feet. On the plus side, after a few blocks, the outer layer of my boots would've frozen to solid ice, which would protect my feet from the wind....

Quick Toy Update

For the first time in years, Apple is actually telling you the battery life of one of its laptops! Of course, I'm extremely not in the market for a $2800 laptop. But battery life is the second most important feature I would look for in a laptop, after a comfy keyboard. 8 hours would be nice, and close to quadruple the battery life of my current old laptop.

Still daydreaming intermittently about netbooks. Again, I'm not going to buy one any time this decade. But that doesn't stop me checking them out. I wish I could get my hands on the Dell Mini 9; they look nice on paper, but you can never tell if it's got some irritating design flaw (like the up-arrow key being where the right shift key should be on Asus netbooks; every time you type a left-hand capital letter, you end up one line above, typing in the middle of a word) until you try it in person. But I did try out the HP Mini 1000, and it was pretty nice. And Acer's Aspire One also seems pretty cool in person. Ahh, daydreaming -- fun, if ultimately a little frustrating.

Side note: I'm developing a pet peeve about web pages that play irritating music or sounds (defined as "any music or sounds of any kind") when they load. Acer does this, and believe me, the hip-esque midi jazz doesn't put me in a buying mood. It makes me want to go to a different website.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Random Movie Thoughts

I checked the movie schedule, and there's nothing I'm interested in seeing. Laura and I caught The Day the Earth Stood Still while we were Christmas shopping, but that's the only movie we've seen for months. There's just not much that we're interested in, or at least nothing that looks like we need to see it on the big screen. Since movies are on my mind, here are a few random movie-oriented thoughts:
  • I think I figured out what genre Bride Wars belongs to: torture porn. We watched the trailer, and it seems that the movie focuses on the misery created by whacking people in their soft spots. The whacking happens with hair dye and dress sabotage, rather than ball-peen hammers; it's intended to be funny, rather than shocking. But I've hit a point where sadism has lost its entertainment value, whether it's supposed to be funny or grisly and shocking.
  • Best movie review ever: Roger Ebert slamming Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo.
  • Also good: the capsule reviews slamming the live-action Cat in the Hat. Start reading at the bottom of the page, and work your way up. My favorite: "Such a remarkable rift between its charming source material and its heinous cinematic realization that the producers may as well have skipped the hassle of securing licensing rights and simply called this mess Mike Myers: A--hole in Fur."
  • I'm really curious to see Taken. It looks a lot like a standard badass-dude revenge flick, as forgettable as the rest -- but it's a Luc Besson product. Everything I've ever seen with his name on it has been, at the very least, entertaining. Banlieue 13 might be my favorite extremely obscure action movie, and The Fifth Element might be the movie I saw most on the big screen. He even had an uncredited producer's role with Ong Bak: the Thai Warrior, my other favorite extremely obscure action movie.
  • Speaking of obscure movies and Luc Besson: I want to see Wasabi. It's got a lot going for it: the tagline is " Quite Possibly The Greatest French-Language, English-Subtitled, Japanese Action-Comedy Of All Time"; stars Jean Reno, one of my favorite actors; also stars Carole Bouquet, who was one of my favorite Bond girls (For Your Eyes Only).
  • Obscure movie trivia: Luke Skywalker was originally named "Luke Starkiller".
That's all I've got, movie-wise....

Dance Kaleidoscope: they rock!

I saw Dance Kaleidoscope's Magical Mystery Tour last night, and it was a lot of fun. They did the same show in late March, 2007, and I think I enjoyed this version more. It helps that I was in a better mood when I saw it; I was fairly in a fairly surly state of mind last time. It also helps that I'm less actively irritated by Beatles music now than I was then. I enjoyed the lighting, the dancers were great, and the thematic arc of the show as a whole seemed more apparent this time.

One thing that really struck me this time was how much a role changed with a different dancer performing the role. I don't think it's a matter of better or worse, but different dancers really lend a different flavor to a character. It's also interesting to pay attention and see if you can figure out what, exactly, makes the difference; the choreography hasn't changed, just the dancer. The difference between serious and lighthearted, or energetic and subdued, is subtle but real, and the show was changed as a result.

If you haven't seen it, I'd recommend it; showtimes are tonight (Saturday) at 8pm, and tomorrow (Sunday) at 2:30pm. You can buy tickets online here. Check it out!

Friday, January 09, 2009

Bad Movies I Love

This came up in conversation a few days ago: there are movies I really enjoy, that apparently everyone else in the world hates. Don't get me wrong -- I hate Battlefield: Earth as much as the next guy. Heck, I even dislike BioDome (Metacritic's worst-rated movie ever) and Gigli (which didn't even make the top 100 on the Metacritic list o' bad), and I've never even seen them. But there are some movies that are generally regarded as terrible that I really enjoy. A partial list:
  • Chain Reaction. Keanu Reeves, Morgan Freeman, Rachel Weisz, and Brian Cox in a movie without genre. It's got not nearly enough action to be an action flick, not enough drama to be a suspense movie, and not enough love story to be a romance. But I think its genre-free nature makes it charming.
  • Hudson Hawk. I really like this movie; Bruce Willis plays a fun character, Richard E. Grant and Sandra Bernhard make good villains, and it's an entertaining kind of silly. And I'm amused by the fact that a cup of cappuccino plays a recurring role in the story.
  • Cyborg. Old Jean-Claude Van Damme movie, set in a post-apocalyptic wasteland. It's just fun to watch, even though there's no way around the fact that it's an awful movie. Favorite moment: our hero confronts the bad guy, and the bad guy has a great opportunity for a speech-making moment. And his speech consists entirely of the screamed word "fuuuckeeeeer!" Classy.
  • Freejack. Sir Mick Jagger as the bounty hunter. Sir Anthony Hopkins as the billionaire. Two knights, one entertaining movie. And, no -- it's not good. But I have fun watching it.
  • The Fountain. Of the few people who have seen this, most seem to really dislike it. I thought it was great, and it gets better the more I think about it. And it's genuinely science fiction, in extremely cool ways. A bit esoteric, but good.
  • Starship Troopers. I'm a bit embarrassed to admit it, but I really liked this movie. It was a horrible adaptation of the Heinlein novel; had they changed character names, I would've made it all the way through the movie and never connected that it was based on the book. But it was an entertaining bad sci-fi action movie. Laura hated this movie; I think I still owe her chick flicks for dragging her to see this on the big screen.
This is but a partial list of bad or unpopular movies I really like. Anybody want to add one to the list?

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Cold. Brr.

It's freezing in the Artsgarden. Not literally freezing; our pipes aren't bursting, or anything traumatic. But it's cold. I'm wearing exactly the same clothes inside that I do outside; I don't remove any layers when I go from the sub-freezing temperature outside to the chill of the Artsgarden. Early in the mornings, you can even see your breath inside. And the temperature never gets above 61 degrees, from a normal low of 55 or so (and a record low of 48). We've even apparently gotten a reputation for being cold. We had a pianist perform yesterday, and when he told a friend where he was playing, the friend said, "isn't it too cold in there to play a piano?" And he's right; it's not good for our concert grand Steinway to be in here. A month ago, we had a guitarist who was dipping his fingers in his coffee to warm them up between songs. This is bad.

[Hey, it's amazing how many people read this. Snarky comments redacted.]

I know I'm just whining. But I'm chilly and therefore a bit grouchy.


Update 1-10-09: it's nice and warm in here today! Yesterday, it started getting warm; it's now 65 degrees in here. Apparently, the mall guys fixed whatever was wrong; thanks, Circle Centre!

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Absolute Power

I've been noticing for a while that absolutes have a kind of power to them. Always and never carry a psychological and functional weight that sometimes and rarely and usually don't have. I started thinking about this a while ago, when I noticed the power of the absolute working in my favor. I never drink alcohol (because I'm a boring sleepy drunk, because alcohol's expensive, and because I don't like the feeling of being drunk). And when we go out, people are generally fine with me not drinking. But if I described myself as an occasional drinker, people always want one of those occasions to be right now. (Rarely, someone won't be put off by the never -- "come on, just have a few!" -- but we have words for these people, of which "alcoholic" is maybe the most polite.)

Relatives carry no real weight. If you usually exercise daily, there's no compelling reason to do it today; some days you do, and some days you don't, and there's no real reason today needs to be an exercise day. But if you stretch every morning, that in itself is a compelling reason to stretch today. It's a habit, like brushing your teeth. And, I never want to miss the day that turns an always into a usually.

I've spent too much time abusing the laxity allowed by relative terms. For the last few years, I've tried to write when I could, which functionally translated as "when it's convenient". And, writing is hard, and therefore rarely convenient. I almost never wrote five days in a row, and I occasionally went whole weeks in which I didn't write anything creative at all. I lead a pretty busy life, and trying to write when I could meant not writing nearly as often as I should. It's awfully easy to find an excuse for skipping today's writing; in the short term, what difference does it make if you miss a day?

But this reasoning falls apart in the long term. Missing days are cumulative. We're creatures of habit, and not doing something is exactly as much a habit as doing something. Being busy is no excuse; I'm never so busy that I skip brushing my teeth or taking a shower or emptying the cats' litter boxes every day. I shower and brush my teeth and engage in cat maintenance because it's important, and because it's a habit. So if the writing is important, there's no reason I should be able to find time to shower, but not time to write.

And don't get me started on my exercise habits.

But I'm trying this year to use the power of absolutes (to twist this awesome power to my own selfish ends, mwah ha ha ha!!). I'm writing every day, without fail. And I'm exercising every day, also without fail. It's already helped; yesterday was a bit of a busy day and a scheduling boondoggle, and I realized it was 10pm and I hadn't written anything yet. So instead of going to bed and figuring I'd make up for it later, I sat down and wrote. I'm giving myself a 45-minute daily minimum with the writing. More is better, but 45 minutes is the bare minimum. Blogging and e-mail don't count; it's got to be fiction or fiction-oriented.

I'm also requiring a mere five minute minimum of daily exercise. Five minutes might sound a little sparse for exercise, but I'm not counting cycling as exercise; my daily 40-minute-minimum commute is separate. So in addition to the daily bike ride, I need to spend five minutes doing something actively energetic. Five minutes is short enough that, if bedtime rolls around and I realized I haven't exercised yet, I can do five minutes of push-ups and crunches and sumo squats without giving myself insomnia. And it's a minimum. More is always better, and the hard part is getting started. Once I'm doing exercise, adding more time is (mentally) easy. This is mostly so I can develop a habit of keeping in shape on or off the bike.

And, I acknowledge that I have a few extremely busy days. So I'm giving myself an out: any day when I'm too busy to shower, I'm allowed to skip the writing and exercise. Though on days when I'm that busy, I'm usually active enough that exercise isn't an issue....

Friday, January 02, 2009

I actually do this.

Fun to see this in a comic -- I thought I was the only one who engages in this sort of low-level personal paranoia (though I don't do it often). From most people, I'd assume they were just kidding. But I suspect Mr. Munroe actually does this too....

Thursday, January 01, 2009

The right way to start a new year

I believe in the concept of personal momentum -- that getting started is much harder than maintaining the pace, and that building or changing a habit takes orders of magnitude more energy than keeping a habit. With that in mind, Laura got our new year off to a good start. We cleaned out and organized our kitchen cabinets, threw away a lot of stuff that was old or expired or that we'd never use, and put everything where we could find it easily. Nothing is stuffed, crammed, or packed in our cabinets now. We had gotten in the habit of keeping a messy kitchen, and we're now officially neat and organized. And, once we're here, it's much easier to keep things straightened.

When we finished that, I cleaned up some of my crap around the house as well. I've had a subscription to Men's Health for thirteen years, and I've saved all of my back issues. Why would I ever throw them away, when they're so full of exercises and health tips and fun stories? Anytime I wanted to, I could flip through and be informed and entertained. Problem is, I never actually do it. I've got a sufficient mental list of exercises (plus the insane Workout of the Day from the CrossFit maniacs) to keep myself in shape, we've got an entire bookcase full of healthy recipes, and I'm extremely not the target market for "Better Sex Right This Very Second!"-style advice (though MH does have a fun online sexual-position roulette wheel). Also, it's extremely unlikely that I'll ever feel the need to refer again to any of the articles; I haven't read a back issue in years, and I keep getting busier. I can't see myself suddenly acquiring enough free time that I'll start looking through old magazines to occupy myself. They clutter up my bookshelf, litter the floor of the studio, and occupy mental and physical space that I'd like to have free. So I bagged them all up, and they go to recycling the next time we make a trip. It felt really liberating, getting rid of this pile of magazines I've been schlepping around and living with for fourteen years. I still get Men's Health, and I enjoy reading it. But I'm no longer feeling the need to archive them when I'm done with them.

And, in the interest of building momentum, I spent a few hours writing! Go, me!

New Year!

It's 2009 -- yay! And, I've gotta say I'm happy to see 2008 go. It was many kinds of bad year, and very few kinds of good year. I didn't accomplish a lot of what I wanted to accomplish, and I spent a lot of the year in a state of unlocalized angst. Election, economy, and government, combined with not nearly enough time spent writing: it's a recipe for low-grade constant stress.

But I've got high hopes for this year. Unlike previous years, I'm not making a pile of resolutions. This year, I've only got one big resolution: finish a novel. I've got lots of problems with my writing, but I think that I'll be a lot happier with a finished novel under my belt -- even if it sucks. Instead of cranking out a hundred thousand words of functionally random text, I need to focus it all in the direction of one single project. And then finish it. So this is the goal for the year -- a novel, good or bad. Wish me luck....