Friday, May 29, 2009

Buckets of blood products!

I donated platelets this morning at the Indiana Blood Center, and when I finished they informed me that I had just donated my fifteenth gallon of blood products, spread over the last twenty years or so. One pint at a time, that's 120 donations. That equals three five-gallon buckets full to the brim, or 160 12-ounce soda cans full of blood and platelets. I'm still far from my grandfather's record of over fifty gallons, but I'm working on it.

In honor of my 384 five-ounce wine glasses of bodily fluids, here's my favorite piece of blood trivia:

Somewhere between 9% and 11% of your body weight is blood. Blood weighs, roughly, 8.5 pounds per gallon. And you can lose as much as a third of your blood at once, and as much as half over a longer period of time, before you're at risk of exsanguination (bleeding to death). So, if you weigh 170 pounds, roughly 17 pounds of that is blood. 17 pounds is two gallons. So, you'd need to lose over 10 cups of blood before you need to worry about bleeding to death. Remember this the next time you see someone cut themselves and complain about bleeding to death. Then remind them that our hypothetical 170-pound person would have to bleed a puddle 1/16" deep and close to five feet across before they need to worry about dying of blood loss....

Thursday, May 28, 2009

My Job Is Getting Under My Skin

....literally. I think I'm a little allergic to the trees in the Artsgarden. Every time I have to work with the trees, I end up itchy and blotchy. And I think it's getting worse the more I'm exposed. I just pulled the can lights out of one tree, and I'm already debating leaving early so I can go home and hop in the shower, and maybe burn my clothes....

The trees aren't going away, so all of the coping will be on my end. Maybe I'll just keep some benadryl handy, and pop a pill or two when I know I'm about to play with the greenery.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Going Tactical

I know I just said I'm officially too old to be interested in speed rappelling. But I just found a sign that I'm not that old yet. About half of the gear I'm looking at comes in tactical black: the rope, the harness, the ascenders and descender, and some of the carabiners. I know I have absolutely no practical use for all-black gear. But the price is the same, and it's kinda tempting. It's all black! It's Tactical! It's just like being a Navy SEAL! Hoo-AH! I have the opportunity to experience all the thrills of using Tactical Gear!

And, reading that back, I'm realizing that maybe I am that old, if all-black gear is all it takes to add excitement to my life....

Monkeying around

I'm shopping around for some rigging and safety gear for work, because I've got a complicated, necessary repair job that requires climbing around on the outside of the Big Glass Dome. There's no way to access it from the ground, and renting a boom lift big enough to reach the top from the ground is prohibitively expensive. So I'm doing it the hard way, by climbing.

And, oddly, climbing isn't really the hard way. There's ladder access to the top, and it's easier to climb back up then rappel down to a new location, than it is to reposition a lift on the ground. And, I can reach anywhere by rope. With a lift, geometry isn't in our favor; a lift that can reach 90' straight up isn't hard to come by, but one that will reach up and over to the top of a 90' dome is a rarity. Not only that, but a boom lift will put you in a bad position to do the work -- it'll put you right above the work area, with the floor of the lift between you and your target. And a lift has blind spots. There are corners and curves where a lift won't reach.

I'm also convinced that climbing is a lot safer. With rope access work, I'm depending on a lot of analog gear, gear with a failure rate of literally zero when used correctly. I'm not dependent on complex mechanical anything; there are no motors to fail, no controls to stick. And the safety gear is absolute. For a safety-conscious, knowledgeable user, rope access is as close to foolproof as possible.

And, relatively speaking, the new gear isn't that expensive. For a complete kit -- harness, rope, ascenders, descender, helmet, fall protection, and assorted doodads -- I'm spending less than it would cost to get a permit to close down a lane of Illinois Street to position a lift for a week. The new gear is a sign that I'm taking the safety issues seriously. I already own my personal collection of good rock-climbing gear, which is adequate to do pretty much everything I would need to do. But it's not failsafe and, significantly, not OSHA-approved for rope access. So some new gear is definitely a wise choice. I'm officially too old to make wild whooping noises while speed-rappelling down buildings; I'm all about the slow and extremely safe these days.

And, I get to go shopping! For tools! Woo hoo!

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

That's me, informative guy.

We recently lost a staff person at the Artsgarden info desk, and as part of the universal belt-tightening that's everywhere these days, we're not replacing her. So I'm spending a lot more time than usual at the information desk. I answer questions, give directions, and help tourists get to know the city. And I generally have a good time with it.

We've got a running joke that if we had an arrow on a stick, we could use it to answer about half of our questions, from "where's the closest restroom?" to "which way is TJ Maxx?". But the other half of the questions are fun. One of the biggies is, "what can we do in town tonight?", and people are universally impressed with the answers. Indy has a lot happening, and I like directing people to the live music and dancing and theatre and art galleries that Indy has to offer. I like selling people on our arts and cultural scene. I like telling people about the good non-chain restaurants downtown. I like talking about the free performances we host here in the Artsgarden. Indy is a great city, and I enjoy being able to talk up our good points for visitors.

My evenings at the info desk keep me informed about what's new in town, too. I start the shift by looking up all the live music in town and checking the performance schedules for shows. And, after having done this for a while, I've gotten to know a lot about downtown -- what's where, when it's open, how much it costs. I know where all the drugstores are and when they're open, I know where to buy a shirt with a picture of Monument Circle. And I know the closest Starbucks is in the Hyatt, though I'm always happy to tell people they should go to the South Bend Chocolate Company instead; the coffee's better, they've got killer hot chocolate and good ice cream, and you'll never have a better mocha.

And I like sounding knowledgeable -- it's practically a hobby. The first time someone asks me a question, I generally have to do some digging for an answer. But, the second or third time someone asks me an obscure question, I sound like a genius. I got to do this over the weekend; for some reason, I had a lot of people asking me about comedy clubs. The first guy who asked sent me to the internet for answers. But the third through fifth guys were extremely impressed when I knew who was playing where, all the showtimes, and all the prices, off the top of my head. One group said I was like the information desk guy in Airplane!, which is a funny and flattering comparison. No questions about cheetahs or orgasms yet, though....

Saturday, May 16, 2009

On Set!

Today: more teevee commercial, this time on location in White River State Park. I really like this kind of work. I'm normally a one-man show; I do all the everything technical by myself. So I enjoy a chance to be part of a team of experts. And, a film crew is a team of experts whose jobs I couldn't do. When I load in a set at a theater, I'm part of a big crew, but I'm an interchangeable part. I could easily step into any position on the crew, from carpenter to rigger to audio to lighting. But a film crew is packed with specialized jobs that are outside my area of expertise. So it's always educational; every time I do this kind of work, I walk away knowing more than when I started.

It's also rare, and nice, for me to be a part of such an efficient machine. Everybody has their job, and everybody is aware that everybody else is an expert at what they do. There's no second-guessing, nobody peeking over your shoulder. You just do what you're good at. The trade-off is that you have to be competent and you have to pay attention; everyone's expecting it from you, and nobody's looking over your shoulder to make sure you're doing what you should be. I hustle and work hard on this kind of call, because I don't want my part of the machine to be the one making the grinding noises.

Also, video pays well. I worked two short-ish days (actually very long days, but only because I coupled the video work with full workdays at my real job), and got paid enough that even after taxes I could afford a low-end netbook. I'm not buying one, of course; I'm paying off part of last year's tax debt. Still, the money's good, even if it doesn't get to go directly to the Shiny Tech Toy fund....

Friday, May 15, 2009

Not cycling to work

Today is Bike to Work Day in Indianapolis. And I didn't bike to work. I'm not being iconoclastic or engaging in any sort of rebellion here; I had to be downtown at 6am, and I won't be leaving downtown until 9:30 or so. I picked up some extremely last-minute work programming lights for a teevee commercial, and I head straight from the shooting location to my real job. The Pedal-and-Park doesn't open until after I'd need to park, and it closes four hours before I'd need to claim my bike. On the other hand, I got to experience BtWD vicariously; a hundred cyclists biked through our set this morning, on the corner of Mass Ave and Vermont. Most of them were friendly, and only a few were actively surly.

Speaking of cycling things: the city recently added bike lanes on a few major streets. I think I speak for all cyclists when I say that we really appreciate the effort. And I think I speak for the majority when I say that I hope they get it right next time; they didn't this time. One of the added bike lanes was on New York Street, and in a five-block stretch of downtown, the traffic lane and the bike lane crisscross six times. It's an active hazard to navigate, much worse than cycling in normal traffic with no bike lanes. And, now that there's a marked bike lane, we're expected to use the unsafe bike lane; we can no longer ride where it's convenient and safe, we're stuck in the Zigzag-o'-Doom. I ride two blocks out of my way so I can ride on a street with no bike lanes. I've got better chances there.

The design of the new bike lane on New York is bad enough that it almost suggests malice; I can't imagine anyone planning that monstrosity without seeing the dangers. In my more cynical moments I almost wonder if it wasn't some sort of punishment for the cycling community, a payback for us complaining about the lack of bike lanes. At least it's asphalt, though. The obvious non-cyclist who designed the Cultural Trail decided that paving stones were an ideal cycling surface. I can't wait to see what it looks like after a few winters....

Monday, May 11, 2009

Body Fondue: a (naughty) public service announcement

An R-Rated blog post -- if you're easily offended or too young, read no further. You've been warned!

I suspect most couples have experimented with edibles. From the moment Mickey Rourke broke out the bottle of honey in Nine 1/2 Weeks, and even before, we've been culturally aware of the erotic potential of food. From Redi-Whip to chocolate syrup to marshmallow creme, pretty much any edible that goes well on ice cream can also be slathered on, then licked off, a lover's body. It's a wildly erotic image, sensual and playful, and it adds another dimension of sensory involvement to passionate moments.

But it's often more fun in theory than in practice. Unlike the world of the movies, in the real world we need to deal with the aftermath: chocolate syrup dried in our hair, maraschino cherry juice soaked through the sheets into the mattress, honey smeared down the wall, smashed strawberries making a permanent sticky spot on the carpet. But I've got two pieces of advice that reduce the aftermath and make the slathering more fun.

First: don't dump or pour. Use a pastry brush or small paintbrush; it gives you a lot more control. You get to make Works Of Art (edible, tickling art!) on your lover's body, and it makes much less of a mess in the process. And, really, we're grown-ups. There's a limit to how much Magic Shell we can eat, and a brush is more suited to the quantity we'd actually like to consume.

Second: Body Fondue! Instead of chocolate syrup, use actual chocolate. Those wide, flat chocolate drops you melt for fondue are perfect, and squares of a chocolate bar are good as well. Apply them to your lover's body -- if you first lick the chocolate (or your lover!) they'll stick -- then apply your own body to your lover's, and squeeze and squirm together until the chocolate melts between you. Fun! And, the melted chocolate isn't as messy or runny or sticky as chocolate syrup. Plus, it tastes better, and you can pick chocolate that meets your tastes.

Movie Day!

Laura and I haven't seen a movie in a theater since The Day the Earth Stood Still, so it's remarkable that we saw two movies in one day this weekend. We started with the 10am matinee of Wolverine, which we enjoyed. I liked the cast; Hugh Jackman was ironic and funny and enviably muscled, Liev Schreiber was a very good psychotic bad guy, and Danny Huston made a good Stryker (though Brian Cox in X2 was probably better in the role). The action was entertaining, and I got so wrapped up in the story that even the ridiculous stuff seemed completely plausible at the time (sole exception: an early moment involving swords and bullets and Deadpool, which was so hokey it bumped me out of the movie for a minute). If you're feeling like a good action movie, I'm recommending it.

I've heard a few serious comic-book fans talk about how much they hated the movie because it violated canon in numerous ways. To this I say: aww, how horrible that your fictional worlds don't precisely coincide -- obviously the older one, in comic book form, is the perfect mirror of the platonic ideal of character and setting, and any deviation is clearly blasphemy! Seriously, this whole set of arguments is pretty funny coming from comic book fans, who by this point should be used to an extremely flexible canon which varies based on the year, the writer, and the mood of the publisher. And, it stayed pretty consistent with the world of the other movies, which I did appreciate. I'm fine with them reinventing a lot of stuff for the movies, but it's just bad writing if they reinvent stuff between movies.

We took a short break, then headed back to the theater for the second movie of the day: Star Trek! I really liked this movie. I was happy to get back to the early original-series Star Trek characters, and I liked what they did with them. And, without getting spoilery, they started the movie with a plot device that'll kill all of the Trekkie canon complaints. Any "it didn't happen that way!" complaints go out the window, and it makes the movie more fun to watch. And the cast was great; Kirk and Spock have chemistry, and everyone fought the urge to imitate the old series cast member they're replacing. And, the bad guy: fanatically evil. You see what broke him, which makes him "human", but he is in no way a sympathetic character. For the serious Trekkies, the movie has a bunch of little in-jokes. They're done nicely; fans will catch them, but they're subtle enough that they won't leave newcomers with the feeling they just missed a joke. I suspect I'll have to watch this movie once more on the big screen. I'll wait two weeks, when my free passes are good, then catch it again.

Oh, and: when did matinees in Indy jump to $7.50? Ouch!

Friday, May 08, 2009

Failed writing experiment

I have a tendency to rewrite while I write. I don't think this is necessarily bad; it makes my draft-zero text more readable than it would be otherwise, and if I change something important it's good to go back and change it in earlier paragraphs too -- if someone's floor changes from hardwoods to carpet, I need to correct that while it's still in my head, or make a note. But, in general, I'm working on finishing more text, even if it's not as polished. I don't know if this'll be my finished writing style, but it's a teaching tool for now, getting me in the habit of making lots words appear on the page rather than making the words perfect (ideally perfect; at this point in my writing non-career, I'll settle for legible).

So yesterday I played around a bit with writing text I couldn't edit. I switched my keyboard layout from Dvorak to standard qwerty, then touch-typed in Dvorak. The resulting text looked like gobbledygook until I ran it through a converter to make it readable; until I was finished and converted it, it wasn't even possible to read what I had just written.

This was a bad idea. Turns out, an important part of writing is the ability to read what I just wrote. But it was at least a learning experience....

Thursday, May 07, 2009

The Mac(ScottishPlay) Experiment

Let me just state upfront that I'm not superstitious. I'll whistle onstage, I own two black cats who cross my path regularly without harm, I'll spill salt with wild abandon. So I take an amused, detached view to superstitions in general. One of my favorites: theater people believe it's the worst possible jinx to say the word "Macbeth" in a theater. Some go so far as to never say the word, on stage or off. I think this is a wee bit silly, though I generally avoid saying the M-word just to keep my fellow stage workers from hyperventilating and falling onto power tools. The preferred substitute for "Macbeth" is "The Scottish Play"; apparently referring to Macbeth is fine, as long as you avoid the actual proper noun.

Superstitions fall apart as soon as you try to quantify them too much, though. How recently can a black cat have crossed your path to cause bad luck? If it never wears off, good luck finding any place that has never been trod upon by a black cat. Do you have to see the cat cross your path? If he's within visual range, but you're looking the wrong direction when he crosses your path, do you still get bad luck? Is it the same degree of curse if he's closer to you? What's the half-life of bad black-cat luck? What if he wanders across your path, then walks back where he came from -- do the two crossings balance out to neutral, or does your bad luck double from the second crossing (that is, is bad luck a vector or scalar quantity)? If a black cat crosses over a bridge, and you're walking under it, did he cross your path, or is your luck unchanged? Are you protected by the cat's altitude, or by the material of the bridge? If the superstition is true, there need to be answers to all of these (and many more) questions. But after a while, it becomes a bit ridiculous.

So, my Macbeth question: at what point are you allowed to start saying the M-word if you're doing an actual production onstage? I assume that the actors are allowed to read their lines, even though they frequently include the Forbidden Name. When the person gives the curtain speech, are they allowed to name the play the audience is about to watch, or do they have to say something like, "ladies and gentlemen, the Theater Company is proud to welcome you to our production of *mumblemumble*!" How about rehearsals -- when the director has a production meeting onstage, is he allowed to use the name of the play? When the tech crew is loading in the scenery, do they get to say "Macbeth"? What if you're not yet in production, but you're discussing possible shows for the upcoming season? At what point in the production or pre-production does the jinx go away?

Which led to Laura's and my funny conversation this morning. What if a theater company believed that the jinx never goes away? The play would look like this:

Guard 1: "Here approach Banquo and Scottish Guy!"
Guard 2: "Where is Lady *coughcough*?"

Or, better, have someone bleep out the M-word, as if it were an obscenity:

First Ghost: Mac[beep] Mac[beep] Mac[beep], beware Macduff, beware the Thane of Fife!

Macduff: ...Mac[beep] was from his mother's womb untimely ripped! [glares offstage]
voice offstage: ... sorry!

(pathetic) sign of the times:

When you get a tune stuck in your head, and realize it's the default ringtone for your phone. This never happened to previous generations.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Bad writing advice

I've read an embarrassing number of books about the craft of writing. Some have been very good, some less so; a few have been full of actively bad advice. But I've been slowly learning that none of them have what I'm looking for. And none of them ever will. Like people who collect diet books or exercise manuals, I know that at least subconsciously, I'm looking for a magic pill. I'm inherently lazy, and I'm hoping that I'll read some piece of advice that will make everything click -- that will make writing into something that isn't work.

This is a dangerous idea to carry around. It carries with it the assumption that becoming really good at writing -- at anything, for that matter -- will ever be easy. It's nice to believe that the only thing standing between me and fabulous prose is some clever bit of advice that will trip some switch in my head, and I'll suddenly turn into John Updike. It's a nice, happy belief, that somewhere inside is this Great Writer, just waiting to be freed. But it's not true, even for the very best. Being good at something is a skill you acquire through regular effort and a truly stunning amount of practice. Talent helps, I think -- it makes your practice more efficient, so you don't have to do quite as much of it. But no amount of talent will make you any damn good unless you work at it, and work hard. In that regard, maybe the only really valuable piece of writing advice I've ever read was, roughly: it's important to realize that the first million words you write will be crap; the key to a successful writing career is to get those million words out of the way as quickly as possible. (I heard this attributed to David Eddings, but I can't find it now.)

The other danger is that reading about writing is yet another write-ish behavior that feels writing-related and doesn't trip my mental I'm-Wasting-Time alarm, but gets me no closer to finishing a novel. I've got a lot of write-ish things I do, and I'm trying to be more aware of them and cut them from my schedule. I just need to be constantly aware when I'm doing stuff that feels productive, without actually producing anything.

That said, I'm not ditching my collection of writing guides. In small doses, they serve the important function of being inspirational. As long as I'm not reading them instead of writing, a little inspiration is a good thing. But I'm now aware that I'm no longer looking for The Answer. I'll occasionally look for an answer; Orson Scott Card's book on character is a classic, f'rinstance, and has answers to questions I ask a lot. But I know there's no magic there....


Just noticed -- this was my 1,000th post here. I've got mixed feelings about that. On the one hand: cool! Landmark! On the other, look at all the time I've spent writing, none of which got me any closer to finishing a decent novel....

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Internet-free days

No, our ISP didn't crash. I just spent two days with no internet. I'm trying to take a day or two every week and spend it anywhere but online. It's too easy for me to sink time on le web; I'll be writing something, decide I need a fact of some sort, and go to Wikipedia or hit Google to gain some knowledge, and it's suddenly two hours later and I haven't gotten any writing done. What I did accomplish was Olympic-level link-jumping. So I'm just taking a day or two when I turn off the wifi and write. If I need to look something up, I make a note and look it up later. It's amazing how many ways I can find to waste time online.

The worst are the ones that seem somehow writerly: reading author blogs, reading fanfic or online fiction, hitting the random button on the tvtropes wiki for story ideas, things like that.
It feels like I'm being writing-focused, but without producing any finished work. I'm trying to severely limit my diet of this writing-ish activity. And a few luddite days helps a lot.

Saturday, May 02, 2009

Circle City Sound!

We've got a performance today by Circle City Sound (formerly the Pride of Indy Chorus), Indianapolis's barbershop chorus. Woo hoo! I really like these guys. They're extremely into what they do, and they all take it seriously while still obviously having a blast with it. And the music is excellent. I did my first show with them almost twenty years ago at the Warren, and some of the same guys are still singing; it's nice to see them still at it.

Down side: every time I do one of their shows, I spend most of the next week humming "Goodbye, My Coney Island Baby" under my breath. Usually I hum the baritone part.

Friday, May 01, 2009

my fashion statement

I'm wearing a cool black shirt today. I picked it out of the closet this morning because I think it's comfortable, it shows off my upper body, and it looks stylish without being trendy. But I was just informed of the actual fashion statement my black shirt makes. Apparently, it says, "I own at least one long-haired white cat!"

That's fine. I wasn't hung up on looking cool anyway.