Yearly Archives: 2005

Grey Matter Splatter

Duck to avoid the forthcoming braindump: I have no sense of cohesion today, so things could get squirrely.

  • Doza read yesterday’s comments about my gaming projects. I think that may have been the first time he realized the full extent of my nerdness. Doza may work in IT, but he’s one of those atypical computer workers who manages to maintain a healthy distance from the typical trappings of geek life: SF, role-playing/war/video games, excessive hardware lust, gadget envy, anime attraction, etc. I may have frightened him a little. I’m not sure how one could miss that I’m at least as much of a geek as—say—Ryan, but somehow he seemed to either gloss it over or ignore the warning signs. In any case he suggested that I am a closet geek, which I don’t think is exactly true (ask any of my friends) but I suppose I do avoid going out of my way to broadcast my particular proclivities right off the bat.
  • Of course ironSoap readers ought to have no such delusions. I’ve been geeking out here for almost five years now. Some of you have even suffered through just about all of it. Hey, thanks for that.
  • Regarding yesterday’s post: A follow-up. It seems that Strahd’s attendence at the con is dubious at best so the Blood Bowl tournament is more likely to be a few scattered games, if anything. Also Lister and I decided that there would be no RTT-ing so the focus will be on a small force of 40K (maybe 1,000 points) for some Space Hulk-style business and extra effort put forth into Warmaster. You can scoot back from the edge of your seat now.
  • Also on the agenda for DunDraCon is the Shadowrun game, which I think will be a simple one-shot and not part of the larger campaign (mostly so I get a chance to run a 4th edition session without having to maintain any kind of consistency). Interestingly enough I ran across a link today that shows William “Neuromancer” Gibson dissing Shadowrun. I’ll be honest for a minute here and say that while this has nothing to do with his opinion on Shadowrun, I don’t really see where Gibson is some amazingly gifted person. Other than Neuromancer which was pretty good, nothing else of his that I’ve picked up has caught my attention enough to even finish. I saw “No Maps For These Territories” and I though the film was good but Gibson’s perspectives didn’t exactly blow me away. At best I think he was a decently talented writer who had the right idea at the right time (don’t tell me it was some stretch to combine distopian future visions with ubiquitous computing). Anyway, the point is that his whole sense of ownership for the cyberpunk thing feels a lot like someone who’s been told they’re important for so long that they actually start to believe it. I think at this point enough other people have put their two cents into cyberpunk as a genre that he doesn’t get to declare what is or is not worthy any longer. And excuse me, but I personally think that the blend of fantasy (derisively dismissed with a pompous “*elves*” comment) and cyberpunk is quite remarkable and in fact the primary reason to play Shadowrun. Let’s face it, the game mechanics have never been phenomenal. The setting is the game, in my opinion.
  • I’m tired. I have a hojillion things going on and the more I try to put them together and make some sense of them all, the less I feel like I’m in control. It’s frustrating because I really just want to settle into a comfortable winter routine like I usually do, but I’m confounded at every turn by a fresh injection of new chaos. I’m trying not to complain about it, because the things that are happening represent positive forward steps, but it’s like I was telling Nik the other day when we were discussing the future. All I really want is a lot of money and a lot of free time. Too much to ask? Anyone?
  • My iPod freaked out yesterday. People have discussed the oddness bourne from doing a lot of randomized shuffling but I had a playlist of roughly 700 songs which included one album’s worth of Johnny Cash—maybe 16 songs. Out of the first seven songs I listened to, five of them were The Man in Black. I have nothing against some Cash, but that seemed excessive.
  • Scott’s been griping lately about not having the sort of access he used to have to the server on eFaithFarm. On one hand I want to tell him I don’t care because the current method of doing things means less worry for me. On the other hand, I totally sympathize because I miss some stuff about the old server, too. Of course now the old server is so old that it is in danger of requiring hospice care and desperately needs an OS upgrade, a full house cleaning and some additional security measures set up, but I’ve been daydreaming lately about perhaps moving back were I to do something like that.
  • By the by, Ryan offered up this remarkably useful extention for Firefox that does all sorts of nifty developer-y things. Useful for troubleshooting browser issues, too.
  • Traffic this week has been excellent: My average drive time is 30 minutes both ways. It’s almost a little annoying because I know that starting next week it will be miserable, and it is like a cloud hanging over my scarcely-braking automobile as I drive carefree through the hills that separate the Central Valley from the Bay Area.
  • We were going to make stew last night—or at least chop and prep the ingredients so they could be dumped into the crock pot this morning for a tasty treat when we got home. We got all set to do it and then Nik checked the package on the stew meat. It expired Tuesday.

DunDraConundrum

Last year after I visited DunDraCon, I had a spaz attack about geekdom. I’m over it now, though. I know this because DunDraCon is almost two months away and I’m already getting psyched about a three-day weekend of gaming goodness. Truth is: I’m a geek, I like playing games and hanging out with other geeks, really geeky stuff like gaming conventions is—somewhat paradoxically—super cool to my twisted sensibilities.

In case you didn’t catch the undercurrent there, let me spell it out: This post will be riddled with excessive nerdosity and virtually oozing with evidence that I am, beyond a shadow of a doubt, a dork of extremely high proportions. I’m just giving you fair warning.

So here’s my dilemma, as it were: I have a plethora of projects that I could focus on for DunDraCon and no way I can get them all finished. So I have to choose carefully. Observe the possibilities, complete with time estimates:

  • I have a brand new Blood Bowl team (Undead) waiting to be assembled and painted. I’m reasonably sure that Strahd will run a Blood Bowl tournament again this year and it would be fun to play with a new team… although come to think of it I haven’t played with my Orc team at a con tourney yet either. Still, you can never have too many Blood Bowl teams. Time Estimate: 20 hours.
  • Assuming there is some type of 40K tournament, I’d have to do a little extra work to get the last vestiges of my army painted. I think I have about a dozen or so assorted soldiers that are not really table-ready (primed or, at most, have base coats) and practically none of them have decent bases completed. There is also a lot of little detail work that could be done especially on the vehicles. Either way, if I want to play any 40K, I’ll have to break out some paints. Time Estimate: 25 hours (whole army getting to minimum tournament-level paint); 15 hours (smaller force, like 1,800 points getting to tournament-level); 12 hours (enough paint to play in public spaces but not tournament-level); 6-8 hours (Kill Team-ready only).
  • I could also devote some additional time to my 40K general model, a beastly metal guy I converted with some wicked-looking wings and a head I bitz-ordered from Warhammer Fantasy. He’s all assembled/converted and primed, but really needs some paint. If I put a whole lot of TLC into the paint job and base, I might even consider entering him into a painting contest, should one exist. Something like that would take a lot of extra time away from other projects, though. Time Estimate: 18 hours.
  • Now that I have the new Shadowrun book, I need to do a bunch of conversion work to get the campaign I wrote earlier this year updated. If I did so, I could run the next adventure right there at the con, though. Sounds like a good time and place to playtest some new rules to me. Time Estimate: 12 hours.
  • I’ve started work on a board game. The basic rules are done and it would take some time but I could probably get a prototype of the board, cards and rules set up before President’s Day weekend and do an initial beta playtest, should people be interested in such a thing. And as I mentioned above, cons seem like good places to playtest games. Time Estimate: 40 hours.
  • If there is going to be any minatures action going on (40K, etc.) it wouldn’t be a bad idea to try getting some decent terrain together. I found an interesting bit of recycled cardboard inside a printer box that was supposed to help protect it during shipping. I was thinking with some wire, a bit of papier mache and a lot of flocking it would make a nifty craggy-rock style hill or something. I also have a notion to build a few bunkers with some cool polystyrene bits I found and some foamcore I have left over from my failed wall-making experiments. Time Estimate: 6 hours (per peice).
  • While I’m on the subject of miniatures, I also have a strong notion to get going on my Warmaster army in earnest. I just picked up a couple of additional units in the bargain bin a few weeks ago ($3.00 each!) for my Empire army and I’ve been hankerin’ to try out the game/rules. There’s a lot of work involved in getting these together since my initial assembly method experiment failed, and there are a lot of the little buggers. Plus this is one of only two possibilities I’m considering that might require me to spend more money (I’m lacking in basic troops necessary to build a “legal” force). Time Estimate: 30 hours (per 1,000 points; goal would be 2,500 points).
  • I also got a nifty Napoleonic game from Lister for Christmas. He had previously given me a sackful of Napoleonic miniatures that I could put together. I’m not sure if it would be possible using the rules of the game, but it might be worth investigating the possibility of playing the game with actual minis instead of paper counters. Or, I suppose if that didn’t work there are plenty of miniature-based rulesets for Napoleonic battles including the one the minis were initial for, a game called Shako. Time Esitimate: 30 hours (for the whole army).
  • If I wanted to go the money route, or possibly try to angle something out of my forthcoming birthday, I could see about scoring a Necromunda gang and getting that together for a bit of squad-level goodness. Time Estimate: 20 hours.

Okay, so the only other factors are what games other people are interested in playing and the amount of time I have to devote to these projects. I’m reasonably sure the Blood Bowl thing will happen, but I could do that without having to finish the new team if I wanted to. There is a Rogue Trader 40K Tournament; I don’t have to participate in that, but I would certainly love to at least get one game in; if nothing else a few rounds of Kill Team would be fun. There’s a pretty high likelihood that there will be some kind of painting competition if I wanted to try and get my model in, if nothing else the RTT has a painting element built in.

I can’t imagine that I wouldn’t be able to get the Shadowrun game to happen; if nothing else I could apply to make it an official con event and get some players in that way. But I bet the folks in our gaming group would be down for a few hours of adventure anyway. That’s not much of a problem. The playtest of the board game is also something I’m pretty sure could be arranged; people (especially the people in the group) are pretty supportive about assisting the creative process along.

As long as some kind of miniatures action happens, there would be use for the terrain. In terms of non-40K mini games, I’m pretty sure if I told Lister in time that I wanted to do Napoleonics that he’d get ready to make it happen and between him and Strahd I know that someone would let me try out Warmaster. But both of those options depend more heavily on connecting schedules and having the people involved complete their projects before the con.

I estimate that I could squeeze an average of between ten and twelve hours per week into these things; I also have a standing offer from Nik to help me get some of the painting done. In the time between now and the con that gives me between 70 and 80 hours to do this stuff. I have about 200 estimated hours worth of stuff listed up there. Some stuff has to give.

The Decision Process

After thinking about it for a bit, I’m leaning this direction: I’ll axe the Necromunda gang for now. As much fun as the game is, I have enough unfinished stuff that I don’t need to spend more money and add to the queue. Necromunda can wait for KublaCon. Also, the Shako miniatures sound like a hoot to paint up, but the time sink is extensive and there’s nothing wrong with paper counters; if I want to get in a wargame in that setting, the boxed set I got will do just fine.

I’d really like to playtest the board game I’m working on, but I know the time involved would require me to push a lot of other stuff back. Doing that would mean that the primary event for me at the con would be that one playtest. Since the input to output ration on that particular undertaking is fairly low, I think it would be better to postpone that unless for whatever reason there ends up being a lot of requests for some playtesting. For now I think I’d rather spread my time out a bit and get more gaming out of the con.

I think I can safely say that the Shadowrun campaign continuation is something I’d like to do. I won’t decide just now if I want it to be an official game, although checking the con site reveals that there are no scheduled Shadowrun games yet so it could garner some interest. I’ll block out the 12 hours I estimate for that project. The bigger question involves whether I want to push for Warmaster or 40K. The RTT is three rounds, I assume that goes over the course of two days. If not I could be looking at an entire day shot for the tournament. The points value for the tournament is 1850, which would probably take me about 20 hours to get into tournament-ready mode. If I did that, didn’t worry so much about getting the general done up for a contest and saved Warmaster for another day, I could probably get that in, Shadowrun, Blood Bowl and maybe have some time left for a bit of terrain. In fact if that were the case I’d then be able to decide based on what other games were happening whether I wanted to join the tournament or just play some 40K with the usual suspects.

Of course if I enlisted Nik’s help, I could probably cut the time on the Warmaster figs down about half. I wouldn’t end up with a huge army, but 1,000 points or so might be a good introduction level game. I could then just not worry about the 40K tournament and make sure I was just good enough on the Chaos army to play in public and not trip out trying to be all that impressive since the games would be private anyway. I’d even have time to get the Blood Bowl team done up as well. Probably no terrain would get done, but I’d have plenty to keep me busy: Shadowrun, 40K or Kill Team, Warmaster, Blood Bowl, Napoleon at Bay and Settlers of Catan. And that would just be what I brought along. The only official games in there would probably be Blood Bowl and possibly my Shadowrun adventure, but that’s okay. Cons are mostly about dedicating time to play games anyway; the availability of sanctioned game events is pretty much gravy.

State Your Emergency, Please

Nik and I got to talking yesterday after she heard about my “These cordless phones are the last straw in a long war versus landline telephone service” micro-rant yesterday. She expressed a significant degree of skepticism as to the wisdom of such a drastic measure and the crux of her argument hinged on the execution of an emergency telephone call.

Her point goes something like this: In the case of a situation where 911 needs to be contacted (not a situation one hopes to be involved in, sure, but one whose development should rationally be prepared for), she doesn’t find the prospect of having to cope with the—shall we say—quirks of cellular phone service one that she cares to inject into the scenario. Her case study was one in which she recently tried to call her father and was forced to stand outside on the patio in order to acquire enough signal strength to make the call.

I understand the concerns there. Movies that have been made since the proliferation of cell phones have had a field day with circumstances where cell phones have been written out of the script with a simple shot of the phone’s screen displaying the dread “No Signal” message. And we accept this as movie-watchers because we’ve all had enough experience with unresponsive mobile phones to believe that these types of devices can be, at times, unreliable.

My counterpoint though is that as often as the cell service has dropped to heighten tension in movies, we’ve seen as many and I’m wagering even more celluloid-based situations unfold where landlines are disrupted in myriad ways: Broken phone receivers, cut main lines running into the house, cordless phones that run out of batteries or must be taken beyond the range of the handset, etc. My point being that all telephones are subject to inopportune failure—cell phones are hardly the reliability exception and that isn’t just my general loathing of the technology speaking.

In fact, on the contrary, should one enter willingly into a circumstance where the cell phone is the only means of voice-based communication, I imagine that the phone then becomes a vital—even more so than it might otherwise be—part of one’s personal belongings. They would become like keys: You can’t do much without your keys so by and large people figure out a way to have access to their keys at all or most points in time. From an emergency standpoint, that suggests that one might actually be in a better position to have access to 911 or other emergency numbers if one’s only means of accessing them were through a device designed to be carried on your person.

That doesn’t exactly change the fact that cell phones do have an extra wrinkle of worry: Your average reception reliability percentage is greater with a landline, but that’s why I haven’t yet entirely given up on them as a viable method of communication. But with the proliferation of cellular phones and service both as a popular consumer purchase and a business opportunity, I can’t imagine that it would not be in someone‘s best interest to try and make the service better. Constantly, I would think. In fact, isn’t that the thrust of the ever-annoying Verizon ad campaign? “Can you hear me now?” The allusion there is that the company is tirelessly working to ensure that there is quality reception in as many specific locations as possible. This is good for business, and it means that in theory at least, it will eventually be good for consumers who need to be able to rely on their phones in lieu of hardwired devices.

When it comes to wires running into my home, I’d actually prefer to use the Internet to handle my communications anyway. But you already knew that.

Be Still My Morning

Still. It was disconcertingly still this morning when I got up. The hour was earlier than it maybe should have been, a product of an unusual holiday schedule at work. Instead of having an unofficial half day on Friday and getting Monday completely off, we had Friday off and were supposed to put in a “Skeleton Day” on Monday. For the people at my work who know enough about what they’re doing to answer phone calls from customers, that means they basically only needed to manage their phone shift (the part of the day where you accept new incoming support requests via phone, email or web sumbission).

For me, a guy who has no idea what he’s doing and, frankly, is pretty useless at the moment, I struggled to determine what I could do to put in my part of the Skeleton Day. My boss had suggested that it wasn’t necessary for me to come into the office. “Read some manuals,” he said. This morning I realized fairly quickly that while there were a few manuals to read, leisurely perusing technical documentation isn’t very supportive of the other team members who are actually putting in effort. I tried to get some kind of installation work done, setting up test suites for the new version of the product that my co-workers don’t have time to do. It’s educational and it makes me feel at least marginally useful. But alas, without proper VPN access or even a PC to my name, I cannot reach the test suite servers from home.

I don’t know why the world was so calm this morning. Eight-thirty doesn’t seem unreasonably early to me, but on this day it seemed like the whole State was sound asleep as I stared briefly out the window and onto the rain-soaked pavement below. Perhaps it was the recovery from the bustle of the Christmas shopping and family visits and travel arrangements and wound-up children taut with anticipation. It could be that nearly everyone else in the county had today off instead of Friday and all were taking advantage by sleeping in.

I turned away from the window and stared back into the apartment, filled with boxes and bags bulging and overflowing with an assortment of gifts and trinkets. It was a good Christmas, full of family and laughter and thoughtful gifts. In a true sense the oft-cited but rarely understood spirit of Christmas had been something I felt I could safely say was palpable. Whether one chooses to largely exclude the original message of the Christmas season or not—and regardless of my personal feelings on that matter—there is at least one set of ideals that those who try to glean a deeper understanding of the holiday beyond the greed and commercialism can identify and seek. The message of Christmas no matter the motivation remains: Peace, Kindness, Friendship, Joy and most importantly, Hope.

See, I think that whether you want to admit it or not, the message that the Christmas Story (no, not the one with Peter Billingsley, the other one, with the manger…) truly represents is that there is Hope. As people struggle to remember what it is to have Hope, the story of Christmas shows how Jesus came to bring Hope to a small family, to a town, to a people, to all people. Likewise as we try to capture the elusive Christmas Spirit and we ideally visualize a world of peace, where people do things—kind things, little things—for each other, no matter what or why but just because “It’s Christmas” and where we make a concerted effort to recognize the people in our lives that really matter and focus on how these tiny little shifts in attitude and attention can lead to joy and happiness for ourselves and those around us, I think people forget that the point of all that is to try and imagine what it would be like if people acted this way all the time, not just for a few weeks at the end of the year. That’s Hope. If we can do it for a little while, we wish—we Hope—it could last and last.

And when you get right down to it, the basic thrust of Jesus’s story and his message was (loosely paraphrsed), “Let’s all have the Christmas Spirit all the time.” What if Christmas wasn’t a special event? What if Christmas was just, like, Tuesday?

Religious or not, I think we could all get behind that.

Loot

So perhaps I finally sorta understand this whole gift-giving thing. No, I’m not getting all soft and squishy on you; I’m still a cynical jerk who thinks that too much of Christmas is fabricated by FAO Schwartz and the National Retail Federation, but I at least understand the appeal of giving gifts a little better this year. Receiving gifts has never been much of a problem for me except in that it has typically proposed an uncomfortable reciprocation circumstance that I don’t much care for.

And it really isn’t that I’m a cheapskate. Well, that isn’t the whole story. When it comes to money I don’t mind spending it on other people, but I dislike what I perceived as a sort of one-upsmanship type of game involved that, most likely (and this is confirmed by my wife) exists only in my head. But I’m delusional and socially crippled enough to stress out over it. What that means is that gift-giving becomes a proposition of cataclysmic proportions as I must find the perfect gift for everyone. The cliché “It’s the thought that counts” never meant much to me because I worried that if that was all that counted and I put maybe fifteen seconds worth of thought into someone’s gift, then what it really counted for was essentially bupkis.

Maybe things were helped this year by having Nikki do the lion’s share of the shopping. I made an effort to be involved in the process, both so that I could see how it was done by watching a master at work and also so I wouldn’t end up in one of those situations where I watch someone unwrap a gift intensely that I ostensibly gave them because I am as clueless as they are what it might be until they take the wrapping paper off.

But I still had my share of the duties and I was completely on my own when it came to Nik herself since she was incapable of offering advice or strategies. In the end I think I did pretty well on her and for once she didn’t seem to think I was suffering from a severe fever or some kind of brain trauma with my choices. Also, online wishlists are a beautiful thing.

Anyway, I think that by doing better and having a better attitude about the giving portion of gift exchanges I was able to enjoy the receiving element even more. Odd how that works. And this year I got a lot of really cool stuff:

  • New Sharks Jersey. I have an old jersey, the original style with the lighter teal before they switched to the new style that also includes the all black third jersey. I opted for the home colors though, and it’s excessively cool. Nikki apparently had a hard time pulling this one together, enlisting the help of some friends and going through a series of tribulations that I can only hope my gratitude made worthwhile. It will be beyond sweet to wear this to the game I’m going to on the 5th of January (versus the Blue Jackets) for my birthday. It will be my first live Sharks game since a playoff game back in I think ’98.
  • Shadowrun, 4th Edition. I started a Second Edition campaign a couple months back just as they announced this new update to the game. Third edition never really caught my eye but this one (which I’ve had a pseudo-legal PDF of for several weeks) looks very well done. So I put the campaign on hiatus until I can get everything updated for the new rules. It should get started probably around DunDraCon in February. Maybe even there at the con. Wouldn’t that just be fitting?
  • Settlers of Catan. I played this game a bit online when MSN’s Gaming Zone had a free beta tryout. I finally got to play with Lister and Whimsy a week or so ago and it was as fun and addictive as I hoped. I was only a little bummed to find out that it takes at least three players which means Nik and I need to find some suckers friends before we can give it a shot.
  • A Bluetooth Headset. Bluetooth is rapidly becoming my favorite feature of the new RAZR phone I talked about earlier. These bluetooth headsets look incredibly dorky (Doza is fond of calling them Star Trek communicators) but if it’s a choice between looking dorky and dying in a car crash… well, I don’t think too many people make the mistake upon seeing me that I’m anything but an utter nerd, so it’s not really an issue.
  • New Cordless Phones. I’ve elucidated my ongoing offensive versus landlines many times. But this is the gauntlet being thrown. These phones (there is the primary one in the base station and then a secondary handset) are top-quality and probably cost more money than I would ever spend on something that plugs into a wall jack. This is the landline’s last chance, and I mean it. If these phones don’t work out, I’m ripping them out of the wall, I’m calling SBC and canceling my accounts and I’m setting up Skype and using cell phones from here on out.
  • DVDs. I got a plethora of sweet movies to watch, including a very classy-looking boxed set of 16 Alfred Hitchcock movies from my folks, Shaun of the Dead, Underworld, Serenity plus the Firefly boxed set and the Looney Tunes Golden Collection. I also got a few duplicates that will have to be exchanged, but they were all movies I really wanted, it just turned out more than one person was on the right page.
  • CDs. It was a big year for rounding out my Beatles collection: I nabbed Sgt. Pepper’s, Abbey Road and Rubber Soul this year. I also got the latest two System of a Down discs, Green Day’s American Idiot and Johnny Cash Live at San Quentin. Plus there was a $15 iTunes Gift Card in my stocking and an eMusic 100 free downloads card as well. Thus enabled, I scored Sufjan Stevens’ Illinois, the newest New Pornographers album, Deerhoof’s latest, I finished getting the rest of Spoon’s Gimme Fiction, Pavement’s Brighten the Corners, Bad Religion’s No Control, The Casket Lottery’s Survival Is For Cowards and most of the latest from The Walkmen. Throw in a few assorted single tracks from Underworld, Bolt Thrower, The Killers, The Future Sounds of London and Gorillaz and whew! That’s a lot of music to get through and I think it has all but filled my 20 GB iPod.
  • Of course there were loads of other assorted items: I got a Blood Bowl team from Nik (who braved the Geek Brigade at the Games Workshop store to get it); Alton Brown’s “I’m Just Here for the Food” from Gin (who drew my name in the family gift exchange); a Beatles T-shirt (told you it was a big year for the Beatles); Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States”; a nice shirt for work and a Napoleonic wargame, among others that I can’t think of right now. That in no way suggests anything about the quality of those gifts, only the quality of my memory.
  • Interestingly, what I didn’t get any of this year was video games. Granted I didn’t have many of them on my wishlist and they weren’t forthcoming when people asked around about ideas for me, but I think this may be the first Christmas in about 17 years that there were no video games involved. That’s not meant as a complaint, more of a curious notation.

Happy Golden Days

There seems to be a lot—or at least my radar has picked up a higher volume than usual—of talk about the whole “Happy Holidays” versus “Merry Christmas.” The primary thrust of the debate seems to be the clear indication of the Judeo-Christian influence to the holiday on December 25th when saying “Merry Christmas” versus the more secular, greed-based variant of the event whose proponent seem to desire the excision of even the root word “Christ.”

What annoys me in a general sense is the idea of hijacking events for personal gain. Imagine for a moment that we, as general Americans, decided to start recognizing Chanukah in a manner similar to how we recognize Christmas—or, for that matter, let’s make it easier and compare it to Easter.

Chanukah is the Jewish festival that often occurs in December and is largely misunderstood by Gentiles. But what if we all decided that we wanted to have an eight-day celebration in December? Of course we don’t understand Hebrew, don’t really care about the Maccabees, the Temple or burning oil. So instead someone comes up with the idea that since this whole thing has something to do with candles, we’ll use Lumiere from Beauty and the Beast as our kid-friendly mascot. We’ll make up some fun songs and stories about how he comes down and lights the Menorah each night while the kids are sleeping and the songs will have names like “Eight Little Candles (Burning Bright)” and “Lumiere the Candlestick Man.”

Eventually most people will forget about the Menorah and only a few “old-fashioned” people will have real ones in their house during Chanukah while most people just have a lot of adorable stuffed Lumieres that dance and sing when you press a special button hidden in their plush little appendages. We can make up excuses to give people presents like you get one present from people for each of the eight days with the first one being something small and by the eighth day you’re getting new Lexus convertables and diamond necklaces that require their own security service to be within 50 yards at all times or the insurance company will default the policy. Festive Chanukah ads will run on TV where high-priced European auto manufacturers subtly chastise consumers, “Don’t get caught giving a Fourth Day gift on Day Eight! Buy a BMW for your loved ones today.”

Okay, so that was rather tangental, but you get my drift. The commercialization of Christmas annoys me and it only gets worse every year, not better. If you want to celebrate Christmas, maybe you should believe in what it represents. Otherwise it’s like Gentiles celebrating Chanukah or terrorists celebrating the Fourth of July. It doesn’t compute. Of course I could also make an argument that celebrating Christmas in a sincere fashion would preculde any tree/lights/presents hoo-ha, but if I did that, every female in the US would consider me Ebeneezer Grinch.

Of course, the actual phrase “Merry Christmas” is a little suspect, too. Not because of any religious overtone or agenda, but because of the actual linguistic execution. I mean, “Merry?” No one uses that word in any other context. You don’t say “Merry St. Patrick’s Day”; you don’t suggest that you’re feeling especially “merry” if you’re in a good mood; you don’t ask if someone might need “merrying up.”

That being said, I actually prefer the term “Happy Holidays” from an aesthetic perspective, but the people who use it as a political tool have ruined it. Another thing the “Happy Holidays” phrase has going for it is that, when not used to circumvent the religious overtones of Christmas, is actually more inclusive and covers New Year celebrations plus it could be a useful inspecific greeting should one not be quite sure whether someone celebrates Christmas, Chanukah, Kwaanza, Winter Solstice or Festivus or whatever.

So what is needed is a faith-inspecific greeting for people you don’t know well enough to determine if a Christmas-specific greeting is appropriate and an improved Christmas greeting for people who share that specific observance.

Here’s what I suggest: “Season’s Greetings” should replace “Happy Holidays” for all non-specific interactions. It has the added benefit of being familair but is vague enough that it could be applied specifically to whatever “season” requires greetings, be that Christmas or what have you. It isn’t specifically exclusive but is also not presumptive. As for Christmas-specific greetings, here’s the best I could come up with: “Christmas Cheer” or perhaps “Christmas Cheers.” It’s not great, but “cheer” is more common than the archaic “merry.” I’m open to suggestions on that one.

Second Time’s a Charm

So almost immediately after getting a new work cell phone, I switched jobs. Having to turn in that phone was disappointing because I had a sweet deal through work for that phone: Free hardware, $10/month mostly unrestricted personal usage. You simply can’t beat that going through the cell service providers yourself.

But cell phones are a necessary evil, so I went out and upgraded Nik’s phone and got myself that super sexy slab of awesomeness alluded to earlier. The RAZR is a pretty awesome phone, if you’re into cell phone technology. I’m not, at least not exactly, but the bluetooth thing was nice: Importing my Address Book.app contacts into the phone via iSync was, predictably since we’re talking Apple here, simple as pie. I was also able to accomplish my one solid goal for the year and I now have the NES-ized version of “Final Countdown” as a ringtone.

Lister likes to sing the opening riff while playing Blood Bowl when he’s going to try and perform spectacular late-half or late-game lunacy (which, I might add, almost always results in a touchdown for him but similar efforts on my part usually result in failure at best or dead players at worst). It was nice to have a little soundtrack to go along with the effort at my fingertips, even if the outcome was, in technical gamer parlance, bootypants.

My main thumbs up features on the RAZR are the ability to play said MP3 ringtones (using Bluetooth to do a file transfer makes getting them on there cake), the Bluetooth stuff in general since I can never get those clunky PC connect cables to do anything (maybe because the associated software is typically weak Windows garbage) and the massive battery life (7 hours advertised talk time… my actual mileage is probably more around the lines of five plus hours talk time but that translates into one charge per week versus the charge-a-day of my previous phone, regardless of how much I talked on it). The camera and video features are nice, too, as is the very detailed caller ID window that is actually more useful and informative than some other phones’ primary screen. But I could live without those.

I know it was a sort of extravagant thing to spend money on just before Christmas and everything, but if there is one thing I know about myself it is that I don’t do well with the whole follow-up thing. For example, when I got my iPod I thought, “I’ll have to go back and pick up some accessories for this later, like a clippable control remote and a case.” What I actually did was nothing and now I have no way to remotely control the iPod and it’s scratched and filthy from being exposed to the world constantly. So I decided if I was going to get a decent phone “sometime” I better do it “now” or it would actually get done “never.”

It’s all part of the special insanity that is being me.

Oh, Portent?

The green glow of the clock said 12:31. I remember speaking the words, out loud into the darkness that woke my wife’s slumber. “Oh my gosh, I feel terrible.” Perhaps a strange thing to say, but my surprise was genuine. My agony: Just beginning.

Illness is something I’m not terribly familiar with. This is a blessing. Sure, I have my share of uncomfortable moments which come from owning this bag of meat and flesh containing my consciousness. But in a general sense, health has been a more predominant state than any other. I’m reasonably sure my loved ones are as relieved about this as I, since I become childlike, whimering and useless when afflicted.

Sensations that rolled across my body were largely unannounced, particularly pronounced and plentiful. My eyes burned like tiny fires, my muscles and bones groaned and creaked in a civil war of agony. My mind throbbed and the flesh of my face alternated from blistering and dripping sweat to crackling into a taut and icy mask. And the coughing.

Nikki had a procedure scheduled for the day. A nerve-blocking series of injections designed to relieve some of her chronic back pain that put her out of work and onto temporary disability. I had arranged to have the day clear so I could drive her home afterward and take care of her through the day. Instead I sat in a miserable heap in the corner of the pre-op room, counting the number of times my skull expanded to twice its size in a steady rythym punctuated by the piercing beep of a heart monitor in the next stall. When Nik returned I indeed drove her home but there was no care to be given, except in reverse of the original plan as she felt okay soon after the procedure and I required attention.

A deep, rattling cough settled into my chest and threatened my sanity with its persistent wet rumbling, beckoned against my will again and again. So much for Friday.

* * * * *

Saturday came and went with a numbing sense of the unreality that accompanies an illness. Television gets watched without a clear sense of what you’re seeing. Are these characters really talking about things that humans concern themselves with or have they descended into some parallel dimension where simple phrases like, “I didn’t wash my hands” become hilarious, side-splitting punchlines to the mechanical humans programmed to laugh when a light comes on in our spacious downtown soundstage in front of a quasi-live studio audience. Zombies or automatons these creatures must be to find such raucous delight in the mundane and generally unamusing utterances of these overpaid puppets.

At least that’s the way it seems from the depths of a blanket now covered with clammy sweat and offering the only protection against the offending dust motes whose settling on the skin is like the drawing of a sharp blade against exposed bone. I clutched the blanket against me and examined the oddity that was appetite while sick. I ate two pieces of toast with butter and jam. It tasted like cardboard with a vaguely fruity aftertaste and would prove to be the only sustinence I would consume until Tuesday.

* * * * *

Sunday was supposed to be the tail end of the special torment I’d been going through. Whatever transgression would have surely been atoned for after two days of ill-timed agony. Surely.

Instead it appeared for all intents and purposes that things were getting worse instead. The fever was more pronounced, my attention span plummetted as my brain slowly cooked like a small roast in a pan, leaving me stupid with boredom and discomfort. My only hope was one last night of fitful sleep. At three in the morning I finally drifted off but the alarm sounded immediately informing me that six o’clock had arrived way ahead of schedule and it was time to face the first day on the job.

* * * * *

Ironing my pants was like watching a boxer in a late round whose body is operating completely on instinct, staggering toddler-like into the center of the ring again and again, arms flopping up into a quasi-defensive stance knowing only the conditioning and raw stubbornness in a distant, abstract way. There was no clear goal save the next immediate motion, the current action to be taken executed as a command from exhausted brain to tormented muscle without context or comprehension of the ultimate goal.

I sat on the edge of the bed and agonized in a new and exciting way, apart from the tiny microbes assaulting my cells—all of them and in unison—I now had to decide, quickly, if there was something one could express using only words to a new boss that would rationalize missing one’s very first day of work.

The initial phone call was uncomfortable, the sense that he was displeased was pronounced and his blurted comment that had something to do with making a poor first impression vocalized my worst case scenario for the entire situation. I retreated to bed, glum on top of disgustingly sick. Sleep was fitful and lacking true rest.

Later he returned the call and sounded like, having thought it over, he realized that introducing Typhoid Timmy into the workplace environment would be a poor idea, and obviously I realized the potential pitfalls of such an ill-timed request and wasn’t thrilled with it, either. His demeanor was much more sympathetic having eased off the unpleasant shock of the very early call. At this point he practically begged me not to come in until I felt better. His new understanding was a better dose of medicine than all the Ny- or DayQuils in the world.

I finally slept for a handful of hours and felt like I actually got rest.

* * * * *

My hopes for a mere one day of unplanned vacation diminished late on Monday evening as the fever returned, weaker this time, and I finally began to feel hungry, despite not actually having the energy to take any action that might rectify the situation. I drank more juice and water than I had over the weekend and Nikki, now coming down with her own version of the affliction, seemed to approve.

I felt I had no choice but to visit a doctor, since I was potentially compromising career opportunities with a sickness that had officially become the longest of my adult life the previous day. I arrived at the doctor’s office a few minutes late and settled into a chair with a thick book, ready to wait out the endless tedium of killing time while a doctor takes his or her time listening to pharmaceutical representatives pitch their latest hot-ticket item to be pushed prescribed.

It took less than three minutes for my name to be called. I initially assumed the call to be a cruel joke and did not respond. The attending nurse shot me an irritated glance and spoke my name again, louder this time. I sprang to action quickly and nearly passed out as a cone of blackness raced in from my peripheral vision. Lying down for four days straight does weird things to one’s circulation. I managed to stagger through the door, still skeptical but more focused on trying not to collapse in the doctor’s office which I was sure would lead to unnecessary measures like hospital stays.

The wait in the room with the paper-covered bed wasn’t terribly long either. I began to scan my surroundings for signs of reality television crews enaged in one of their “punkings” and found no evidence to suggest such a thing.

Eventually the doctor came in, listened intently to my chest with his stethoscope and finally declared me in need of chest X-rays. The process of getting pictures taken of my insides was only disconcerting in that anything which involves using clothing that is made from some type of metal and may or may not be capable of stopping high velocity projectiles such as bullets is, very generally speaking, not something I care to be involved in. The lead apron I was required to wear to “protect my future children” was not exactly driving a sense of calm relaxation into my mind.

But the results suggested only a case of bronchitis from infections which could be readily handled by a quick week’s regimen of antibiotics. The doctor suggested in what I can only fathom was supposed to be a warning tone that had I not come in earlier, the bronchitis would surely have led, eventually, to pneumonia. I’m unclear on exactly why the warning was necessary; my being there in fact did suggest that I had chosen to seek medical attention at the appropriate time. Maybe he wanted to let me know that the next time I get Experimental Alien Influenza, I should be sure to do the same thing.

* * * * *

Wednesday morning I finally felt at least reasonably normal. There is, of course, nothing normal about an alarm that rings at six o’clock in the morning, but in terms of general misery I was operating on the much improved scale of maybe five instead of 6,328 out of ten.

The drive took an hour. The actual distance can be covered in twenty-five minutes (or fifteen if you’re Nikki or HB… I drive slow) but during the commute hours much of the additional time is spent on an eight mile stretch of I-580 that cuts through Livermore. I’m not exactly clear why this particular segment of highway causes drivers such consternation; that is, I cannot pinpoint what their general needs are which require such drastic actions as coming to repeated full and complete stops. Sure there are a lot of people trying to traverse the same stretch of road, but usually after a certain exit (Airway Boulevard) things clear up enough to where people can adjust the gas-to-brake pedal ratio back to around 80:20. What happens at this magical on/off ramp?

I arrived at work and climbed up to the third floor, mind filled with not only the usual first-day jitters but also a deeper apprehension for the effect my ill-timed decommission would have on people’s perceptions, expectations and assumptions. Was this just an amusing anecdote to recall years later or a dire omen of how this new chapter would unfold? I coughed lightly into my palm, took a breath and decided to find out.

Procrasination Saves the Face

A lengthy dissection of the potential impact on the San Jose Sharks the trade for Joe Thornton would suggest had ensued in this space as of Thursday and Friday, but its lack of completion kept it from attaining posted status. This, it turns out, is a blessing since any questions or concerns about the wisdom of trading three fan favorites for one marquee-name were resolutely hushed with the ringing of a shot off the post seven seconds into Thursday night’s game. Four assists in two games later (and, more significantly, two wins later) I think it is clear what Joe Thornton has meant for the Sharks and there is no “other hand” to speak of.

Regardless of how my favorite sports teams are doing, things of a personal note have begun to develop which outweigh in terms of both impact and importance any type of professional athletics.

I would prefer that we simply ignore the previously dropped hints and allusions to some key events since I can now speak of them clearly and without potentially negative repercussions. To the point, this coming Thursday marks my last official work day at the City. That date will dovetail nicely with my three-year mark here, meaning that I have worked here longer than I have worked at any other single place. It has been a long time for what was initially a mere stop in the road as I moved forward into bigger and better things.

In the end it wound up being a place that I felt comfortable with, at least from certain perspectives. I’ve made friends here (real friends, that I anticipate maintaining contact with even after I no longer have to see them on a daily basis), I’ve put a lot of myself into my various tasks and I have taken a significant sense of pride and ownership into building the site that has been my ward since 2002. Turning it over to someone else feels oddly like giving a pet to a stranger. I have a sense that it will be fine and in any case it should no longer be my concern, but I can’t help worrying that I didn’t do enough to get it ready to be without me.

My new employer is waiting for me to begin in one week’s time. There are tradeoffs, elements of the change that cannot be casually dismissed: I have a commute to contend with now, for one. Adjusting from the six-minute drive to the City offices to an hour-plus putter over congested freeways and busy surface streets will take some effort. My new job also requires a different sort of work than I’ve been used to and focused on since even before I began working at the City. And of course there is the transition from public servant to private-sector machine cog.

It takes some adjustment to get used to working for government agencies. It took me a good nine months before I really felt like I understood how things operated in the City. The crux of it is this: Things operate slowly. I can understand how talking about how inefficient things work in government would come across as griping, or even sniping at the job. That isn’t the case; there are actually many smart, talented and hard-working people here at the City and, I presume, elsewhere in government. What happens is that those people don’t have any opportunities to let those qualities show because there is a carefully crafted series of policy and historical mechanisms that literally prevent people from being truly productive.

The essence of this—how this actually manifests in a working environment—is that people are quite literally encouraged to maintain a slow and steady pace to progress because… well, honestly I still can’t exactly tell you the exact “whys” of it all. There is a sense that while the public pays for what is done in government, they themselves are resistant to change, as if the government staying on the cutting edge of technology, productivity, action and problem resolution would only be acceptable in certain historically-correct circumstances. For example, the public seems to have no problem with Fire Departments being fast to react to things, and they expect the Police to do so as well, but if street development projects were rolled through the process at breakneck speed, at least the perception is that there would be serious ramifications to not giving the public an unusually long time to debate, argue and nitpick the project to pieces.

Even where the public-facing elements are allowed to be quick, the internal workings have a tendency to move slowly with excessive commentary and meetings and committee intervention where, as best as I can tell, the thought is that we’re using public funds so we better make sure we get everything right on the first try. Which is ludicrous, of course, because no government agency gets things right on the first try all the time, no matter how ponderously they approach problems. But this is counted as gospel and there is little motivation to try and buck trends, and actual resistance to such efforts.

Still, while from a personal work ethic perspective being involved in City government may have been a little eroding, extracting the generalities of government work from the specific environment I can say that I’ve been very lucky. I’ve had a tremendous amount of freedom, had some interesting projects come my way, been involved in the largest-scale web site of my career, made more progress in a single organization than I ever had before and learned a lot about things I can’t imagine having otherwise been exposed to.

* * * * *

Fall has finally come to the Central Valley in California. I know this because my feet are cold. From the first significant series of rains until sometime in mid-May, my feet are perpetually frozen. I don’t know if this is indicative of some kind of circulation issue or just one of the reasons why I loathe the winter so much or what. Either way, very few things even help alleviate the icy feet symptoms, and nothing gets the deep chill out completely.

I stood outside at the gas station last night at about 10:30 pm, shivering in the cold—no comments about being a spoiled California dweeb necessary; I know I’m a wuss when it comes to cold, that’s why I live here in the first place—and trying to get my ATM card to work in the pump. Eventually I sighed and walked as briskly as my chilled feet would carry me toward the tiny register booth. The woman behind the counter informed me that they were in the process of updating their systems for the night and it would be five minutes before she could start the pump. She seemed to be suggesting that I go back out to the car to wait.

I had no intention of doing any such thing. While the register booth may not have been exactly toasty warm and inviting, it at least was a dozen degrees warmer than outside, so I just stood there next to the tiny rack of Hostess products: Zingers and Ho-Hos, Twinkies and Sno-Balls. I tried to find something interesting in the booth to examine while I waited, but there was very little aside from candy bars and rows of gum with increasingly frigid-sounding names. Cool Ice, Winterfresh, Frozen Chill, Arctic Blast. I couldn’t decide if it was fitting or unfortunate that all these gum manufacturers were trying to sell me breath mints using apt descriptions of the condition of my feet.

Finally the woman opened the cash register and started the pump for me. She seemed relieved to get me out of her booth so I was no longer lurking in what she obviously considered an uncomfortable silence. I felt a little bad about making her nervous, but I wasn’t about to risk frostbite on my toes for her social comfort. The gas tank filled as slowly as possible, as though the petrol from the pump were the consistency of molasses and someone was pouring them in using only gravity and trying to fight the same chill that was making my shoes increasingly uncomfortable.

At last finished with my chores, I replaced the nozzle, collected my receipt and climbed back into the car where the heater blasted hot air on my shoes. It helped a little. Once at home I retired toward bed, where Nik already lay sound asleep. I left my socks on and crawled under the covers, tucking my legs tightly around me. Eventually the rest of my body warmed up and felt contented to drift into sleep, but my feet stubbornly remained stiff and uncomfortable. I tried to force the thoughts of the unpleasant sensations from my mind, which worked for a few seconds until the empty spaces began to fill with dread for the coming changes.

I wondered how anyone ever knew if they were making a mistake. Is it something people really feel ahead of time and fail to heed, or when they say, “I knew that was a bad idea!” are they really saying, “I had no idea that was going to go badly but now that it has I will try to save face by claiming it was preordained and I merely chose to look the other way rather than admit that I didn’t see this coming”?

I want to be upbeat about my new job. In a lot of ways, I am indeed excited. Change has its own unique blend of inherent thrills, and there are some decidedly positive aspects of the new job. Still, it’s not comfortable. It’s not familiar. My mind filled with questions, all beginning with “What if…” I try to embrace the changes that come with life, with living it and doing it and being a person. How will this impact my life in this area? What will be the effect of that? I wondered if change can really be embraced with such trepidation. Is executing change enough to claim welcome for it, or does one have to raise up a chin and casually except the unknowns as insignificant in order to say that you have truly sought it?

I wondered what difference it made, whether I wanted this change completely or not. I decided that in the end, it didn’t matter. I would be an idiot if I wasn’t concerned for the well-being of my family and worried about the impact a new schedule, a new work environment, a new set of responsibilities and a new level of expectations would have on me. Only a fool looks at upheaval and thinks, “Who cares?”

As sleep began to overtake me, I noticed with an odd curiosity that for a brief second, my feet felt a bit warmer.

* * * * *

Check My Gat For the Bullets it Spat

  • So, my wishlist has a new series of entries on it. They are filed under the category of “My New PC.” I suppose I don’t owe anyone an explanation, but I feel it would be warranted. If left entirely up to me, I’d be content with remaining a Mac-only household. However, there are two facets which leave that option suspect. The first is that with this new job I anticipate a level of expectation that I can work from home on occasion. Typically, the systems and configurations required to facilitate such a feat are focused squarely on the most common home-based hardware and software which, in our day and age, is Microsoft Windows running on a PC. Now I’ve toyed with the idea of building a PC before but what tends to stop me is that on one hand you have this sweet PC specced out and on the other you have everything you could possibly buy with that money: Video game consoles, Mac peripherals, newer Macs, Wargaming supplies, HDTVs, new sofas… I mean, the list is boundless. And the thing about all those other items is that for the most part their common thread is that I’d rather have them than install and try to maintain a PC. However, when it comes down to it, having a PC offers two distinct opportunities that cannot be denied: Telecommuting and sweet, sweet PC gaming. As much as the new XBox 360 increasingly intrigues me, patience with consoles is a virtue and eventually those things will be less of a $400 extravagance and more of a $250 whim, at which point there will be more and better games available, etc. With PCs, however, a decent gaming system will almost always cost roughly the same amount of money. Because whenever you buy a PC you want to make sure it has the best chance of staying current where a console is designed to grow old and die.

    Anyway, none of the components that I picked out are exactly cheap (if I’m going to do this, I’m going to do it right), but hopefully by the time I have saved enough for each bit and have enough of them to put something functioning together I’ll have the chance to do some of that telecommuting business. Of course I do realize that working from home on a machine that is admittedly designed to run the latest games as well as they can possibly be run is a bit suspect, but you’re just going to have to trust me.

  • Saturday was our annual Christmas Party/White Elephant exchange. We had it over at Gin and HB‘a house this year, which was good because we had quite a few more people than we’ve had in the past (about 26 at the most I think). It was fun and I think the game went off pretty well. In the end we presented the winner of the “Best Gift” competition (Stylegirl) an iPod shuffle which she seemed excited about and hopefully everyone had a good time. The shuffle as supergift was a tough decision that we actually didn’t make until late in the planning stages of the party because while we had a decent idea of our budget we toyed for a long time with offering a TiVo and subscription card. TiVos are only $50 after a massive mail-in rebate these days which made it a pretty attractive idea, except that we weren’t sure the etiquette behind asking people to cut the UPC symbols off of a gift they just won. In the end we decided that we wanted to give the winner the option to return the gift for cash (or something else they wanted) if they weren’t thrilled with our selection and should someone return the TiVo we would have no hope of getting the rebate and would shoot ourselves quite far over the budget. It worked out pretty well in the end and I thank Nik for setting me straight on the logistics of the whole thing.
  • Thursday is my last day because we get every other Friday off here at the City. That is one thing I’m going to miss quite a bit: It’s pretty easy to get used to slightly longer work days in exchange for two three-day weekends every month. But it works out well that the last Friday off that I have is this particular Friday because that’s the day Nik is having her nerve-blocking procedure done for her herniated disc in her spine. She’s a nervous wreck about it because she hates needles and there are likely to be more than just one involved. I’m taking her to the hospital and I’m supposed to drive her home afterward which suggests that she’ll either be somewhat loopy from the medication or perhaps uncomfortable for a while. Hopefully the end result is that her pain subsides for a long time and gives her a chance to really heal, but I’m glad that I have the chance to help her through it.

Tryptophan Began the Stand

Gin was already in our dining room by the time I got home, roughly an hour and a half early. It was, after all, the day before a long weekend and employers are more apt to suggest or be open to the idea of shortened days just before an extended leave. I have yet to quite parse the logic of that, but on the other hand I’m not sure I want to know since that would be uncomfortably close to biting the hand. I was rushing when I arrived; my early exit from work was choreographed with one purpose in mind: Get in some exercise before the food-oriented weekend.

Unlike most lunch hours, I had spent Wednesday’s noon break doing laundry and anxiously waiting for an important phone call that never actually came. But the early exit had left an opening prior to my normal quitting time and still before the scheduled dinner with HB and Gin. I raced to get my gym bag together and sprinted out the door, even overtaking Gin and Nik as they ambled out to make another bold attempt at shopping before dinner.

I met Doza in the parking lot, with unusually perfect timing, and had the foresight to double check about reserving a racquetball court at the front desk which helped since all but one were filled and several times during the match I caught some forlorn looking would-be player peering in through the small window in the door. The games were interesting; close, competitive and see-sawing back and forth in score. I won the first game by a single point after surrendering a fairly comfortable lead. The second game Doza won although it was my turn to rally back from a deficit. By the third game we’d played through 57 points, including a lot of long rallies and quite a few sideouts: We easily split 125 serves. I did manage to win the third game (and the match) with a startlingly simple realization that I tend to hit the ball too high up on the wall and give my opponents plenty of time to recover. By aiming a little lower I was able to score more points on the rally.

Still, it was a great match and I left feeling more than a little tired and more than a lot hungry. We had dinner at a Mexican restaurant Gin and HB love called Jorge’s Tapatio. They have decent food, all you can eat hot tortilla chips and salsa, generous combination plates and pocket-friendly prices. Our town isn’t big on the dining selection, but if you want Mexican food, you have plenty of good options ranging from full sit-down fare like Jorge’s to little hole-in-the-wall Taquerias. Many of them are very good, too.

We got up fairly early on Thursday to get ready for the day. Nik and I called our respective parents on the drive over to HB and Gin’s place and then piled into Nikki’s Civic for the trek to San Jose and Thanksgiving feasting with Lister, Whimsy, RR and others. There were around 15 people there most of the day and long into the night. The dinner featured a Turducken (turkey stuffed with duck stuffed with chicken) and a 12-pound prime rib infused with enough garlic to stun a yak. In the end I think Turducken is a better concept than actual dish since duck is kind of an acquired taste (although I happen to like it okay) and chicken and turkey are sort of indistinguishable when cooked together and placed on the same serving platter. Which is not to say it wasn’t good, just that I was sort of expecting to see slices of turkey/duck/chicken hybrids and once I saw Lister trying to carve the thing I realized that was simply not an option.

As usual my favorite part of Thanksgiving was the side dishes: Green bean casserole, stuffing, mashed potatoes, gravy, sweet potatoes, squash and buttery sweet rolls. I ate enough for several men my size and sort of regretted it the rest of the evening as we sat around and grunted at the TV while the Sharks managed to lose another game. Later we played Gang of Four in which I, of course, lost horribly but did manage to pull the GoF-equivalent to the Royal Flush: A Gang of Six Tens. There is no higher hand in the game, and I used it to hilarious effect against Lister’s smug Gang of Four Sixes. A momentary triumph, perhaps, but worth it all the same.

I drove home rocking to The Killers’ Hot Fuss which I’ve even managed to get Nikki rocking to and finally made it to bed around 3:30 am. Friday was supposed to be a much more productive day than it was. In fact most of what I got accomplished was a thorough cleaning of the house with Nikki’s assist and a lot of TV and video gaming. I certainly wasn’t about to go shopping, but I had sort of intended to do some other productive sorts of work that ended up not really getting done. Saturday Nik and I went to breakfast at Nation’s and then packed up for the overnight trip out to her mom’s surprise birthday party.

Surprise parties are a little baffling to me. On one hand, I see the appeal of having a big shindig in an unexpected way. On the other hand, people don’t seem to do them right, I don’t think. For one thing they always plan surprises for significant milestone birthdays. In this case, Nik’s mom turned 50 on Friday. As part of the act we had to make ourselves scarce that day, which made Thanksgiving up at their place a little impractical (hence the San Jose trip). But in order to pull all this off, we had to leave her feeling quite upset that we were “ditching” her on her 50th birthday. To me, nothing spells suspicious like having your whole family act like your milestone birthday means essentially nothing.

Also, the party was set up at a country club restaurant which HB’s dad (who is married to Nik’s mom) rented out for the night. In order to prepare the event, he had to convince her to go out to dinner for her birthday (a day late I might add). As of an hour before her extremely elaborate party she was begging her husband to just let her stay home and be low-key for the night. This seems like a pretty significant roadblock and one that is bound to throw more monkey wrenches into plans than people like to admit. You’d think that just including the guest of honor into the fact that there was going to be an event would alleviate some of these issues. Perhaps let the scope of the event be the surprise.

Nik threw me a surprise party a few years ago. Now granted, I knew something was fishy. I’m not stupid, although I am a bit spacey at times so when she got all insistent that I not look at her computer for a few months and she got very upset with me the night before my birthday when I dragged my feet about helping her clean the house (and I mean clean in a way that she never bothers with) I thought “huh, that’s weird.” She also went well out of her way to run the show for the whole evening, “We’re going to dinner here at this time and the movies there at that time and then…” Not that mind since I like to be a go-with-the-flow kind of guy. But the odd phone call to a friend on the way home from the movies struck me as exceptionally odd. And it got my radar up. By the time we reached our apartment, I was on the lookout for oddities so when I noticed her mom’s car in the parking lot I knew as I walked up the stairs.

And this is what I mean by surprise parties being weird is that they take all this extra effort and trouble for the planners which is bound to make the guest of honor suspicious and if it gets ruined by one little thing (especially at the last minute) the whole thing feels like a letdown. And I did feel badly for not playing off my surprise better. I was excited by the time I walked in the door, but the big grin on my face gave away that I knew what to expect. The point I’m making here is that I’m not sure who surprise parties really benefit. I understand their appeal in a theoretical sense, but their actual execution is so difficult and the payoff for the target is so fleeting, I wonder if it can ever be said to be worth all the effort.

Anyway, we all had a lot of fun and the whole weekend passed by far too quickly. It wasn’t until the middle of the night last night as I woke to get a drink of water that I realized how lucky I really am. Being thankful for things is sometimes a very abstract state: You realize you are grateful that you have family and friends who care about you, you feel fortunate to have enough of the things you need and there is a sense of relief that you don’t have to try and come up with stuff to feel blessed with. But when you get to a point where you can’t be certain what is going to happen in the next two hours you have to be focused on the things that are stable and are worthy of gratitude. I sipped the water and stared out the window at the early morning darkness.

The cat wandered up, bleary-eyed and mewing softly. My hand absently stroked her head and after a moment I put the water away and walked back down the hall and into bed. I pulled the warm covers up to my chin and shivered for a moment as the chill from the night air fled my skin. With a sleepy sigh, I gently kissed Nikki on her cheek as she slept. Thank you, I whispered in my mind.

Who Wants Some Links?

These are leftovers from Wednesday. What can I say, it’s leftovers all week.

  • TiVo, shortly after announcing iPod capability for TiVo2Go, seems to be suggesting that they might finally start supporting Macs. I want to believe, but the holdup has me wondering: They seem suspiciously reluctant to give a reasonable date and we’re talking about software that has, theoretically at least, been under development for over a year already. I think it’s safe to say that they did pretty much nothing on it up until this point and now that they finally see a compelling reason to support an Apple product (iPods with video) they have to scramble to deliver what they already should have made available.
  • So at first I was unimpressed with the XBox 360. Actually, not really unimpressed, just uninterested in actually acquiring one. New hardware such as the PSP, Nintendo DS and XBox 360 is, in and of itself, pretty mundane in my mind. But I am a gamer and when a game intrigues me, I feel the urge to obtain it and/or the means with which to engage such entertainment. In this case the launch titles of the 360, aside from the typically ho-hum graphical upgrades to a slew of popular sports titles, held—so I thought—nothing of note. Then I looked deeper into Perfect Dark Zero. There are two opposing forces at work here: One is that Rare has released nothing of note in a long time after originally being a very celebrated game development brand name. The other is that this game sounds like what I wanted from Halo 2: Online co-op, detailed multiplayer and an enjoyable single-player campaign. It is indeed the co-op that really sells the concepts presented here in my mind, which of course means that the previously mentioned means to an end does not just require my own financial sacrifice/investment into the next generation of consoles but a trusted companion’s as well. And that may be asking just a little too much this Christmas.
  • Okay, is it just me or do we need to stop acting like Wayne Gretsky is so special that he doesn’t even have to play by the rules? It was bad enough when he played at the end of his career and he got all those superstar calls (ie, some defender cleanly poke checks him and even though the “Great One” doesn’t fall the D-man gets a tripping call) but he’s getting them now as a coach? Come on.
  • So I have an OS X problem that I can’t solve. Specifically, HB wants to mimic a feature that XP has in which video files stored in a folder have their file icon represented by a screen capture of the movie itself. OS X does this with image files, but video files always default back to the filetype icon (MOV, WMV, etc). Even if OS X doesn’t support this natively you’d think there would be a way to script a folder action that would open the file, take a PNG cap of the first frame, save the PNG as the file’s icon and move on to the next file. Yet neither HB, I nor anyone else I’ve asked can seem to find something like this. I was tempted to try and write some Applescript to do this very thing for him, but I don’t know squat about Applescript. I did find this script which doesn’t do what I want but is sort of in the ballpark. Maybe it is useful for someone to modify? Alternately, if you know of any good Applescript tutorials, toss ‘em my way.

The Value of Keeping One’s Mouth Shut

Whenever I start to write something and I think, “Maybe I shouldn’t mention this,” I go through a little phase of internal deliberation during which I usually settle on some sort of compromise. “I’ll just be vague about it,” or something similar. I’m big on compromises, because to me they feel like solutions. I like solutions: They’re masculine, action-oriented, results-bearing. We solved that problem. Grunt.

The problem with compromise is that while they are (or at least they usually are) solutions, they aren’t always good solutions. For example my maddeningly vague mentions of some huge event last week. The event wasn’t really that huge and it turns out it may not result in the Hallelujah Chorus and refrains of “He’s a Jolly Good Fellow” after all. This is a fundamental premise of life, in which things that could be great can’t possibly always be so and things which we don’t expect to be worthwhile at all can at times startle us with their unexpected delights.

So in this case I wish I’d simply said nothing until there was actually something to say, and no one would have to feel disappointed for me and I wouldn’t have to keep being vague without context.

Call it a lesson learned.

Miss Elainey Us

Ohh, look! I can surf the Webs!

  • Check it out, you can actually buy a replica of Charlie Brown’s Christmas tree.
  • Gaming Horizon has new Tomb Raider screenshots. They look pretty nice, I must say (even if Lara Croft is seeming a bit anorexic). But visuals are not the issue here, of course, the gameplay is. In a series that has been stale since (no exaggeration) the third title (did anyone not loathe TRIII?), they’d better bring it with this iteration or I forsee the Tomb Raider franchise becoming as much of an industry object of scorn as Sonic the Hedgehog. Come on, you know you hate Sonic for the endless string of disappointing titles bearing his name. You ain’t gotta lie to kick it.
  • Joel Spolsky has marvelous insights on the record companies’ desire to introduce variable pricing to iTunes Music Store.
  • Amen.
  • Okay, so soon TiVo2Go will be able to transfer to video iPods. Does that mean that they’re about to start supporting OS X (finally)? From the article:

    There is no information available at this time regarding support for transferring recorded shows to Apple Mac OS X personal computers, although one might infer that supporting MPEG-4 video will allow Macs to play such content.

    Uh, okay. Thanks for clearing that up, TiVo.

  • Mmmmm…. Mp3 player in a NES controller. Brilliant!
  • You should check out Bob Elsdale’s photographs. He has some stunning stuff on there: Animals, surrealist photos and some very impressive Photoshop work to go along with the excellent photography. The site has kind of a dippy flash interface, but it’s worth the annoyance.
  • It is imperative that you stop what you’re doing and go download this collection of pop songs done in old school NES style. My new mission in life is to get “Final Countdown” in NES glory established as my cell phone’s ringtone. Also, it is curious how much Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody,” when digitized as such, sounds like it could have come directly from some obscure RPG back in the day.
  • I’m telling you, landlines are old and busted. Internet calling is the sorta-new hotness.

Eye Blink

This is not a real post, just so you know. This is just an update for people who may have felt like they were sort of hanging after Tuesday’s cryptic hinting. Your reward, of course, is more cryptic hinting: Today went well, maybe better than expected. I should have a full account either tomorrow or very early next week.

The Agony of Defeat

I play racquetball. Not competitively, of course. I, after all, suck at racquetball. But it’s a fun game and I do it so as to avoid becoming a fat slob requiring a separate love seat for each butt cheek. It’s a legitimate concern.

For those who are unfamiliar, racquetball is played in a medium-sized room with high concrete walls, one smooth-surfaced door and a small rubber ball that has a bit more bounce than a tennis ball. The eponymous racquets are a bit smaller than tennis rackets with shorter handles and perhaps slightly wider heads.

The idea of the game is sort of like playing tennis against a wall: Hit it before it bounces twice back at the wall, taking turns with your opponent, until someone misses the front wall or lets it bounce too many times. Often there are open spaces in the courts high up on the back wall for spectators and those who suffer from claustrophobia. Hitting it out of play is also cause for losing the rally.

Where the game gets tricky is that for the most part a well positioned player can get to more or less anywhere on the court because they aren’t that big. Also, bounces off of walls other than the front wall don’t count against a player who is receiving a hit, which means often you can use the back wall to reduce the distance you have to move to get to a hard-hit ball. The key is to get your opponent to commit to one thing and then do another or force him to move one place to return a hit and then use his less than ideal position to finish the point with your second hit.

It’s harder than it sounds.

Now, racquetball isn’t exactly a dangerous sport. Your biggest problems come from the occasional serve return that wings off the back of your neck or smacks you in the leg. Nasty welt aside, it only stings for a second or two. You have to wear protective glasses, but these are a formality since most people probably don’t come close to their eyes with anything very often, if at all. The only other factor is those concrete walls, which you can avoid if you simply choose not to sacrifice your body by diving face-first into them to chase a ball.

Danger or no, rest assured that if there is a way to injure yourself in spectacularly clumsy fashion—no matter how unlikely—I find it and test it out.

So here’s the scene: I’m playing Doza in a pretty close game. He’s far, far better than I am but on occasion I can keep it interesting and I’ve even won a game or two. It’s game two of three in the match, he’s already up by one. The score is close, but getting a bit out of hand as he serves: 8-6 and he’s scored four in a row, coming from behind. All day my hits have been flying out of the court so I’m trying to stay back. Usually when you hit a ball too hard too close to the front wall is when they sail out of play.

Doza serves to the right side, and I easily handle it, but since it was fast moving and a bit out of reach I have to stretch and settle for a soft lob back to the wall with no hope of aim or direction. Doza fights the return a bit, but lobs it up high toward the ceiling so it bounces up and over my head. I back-peddal quickly and catch it before it gets to that nasty low spot off the back wall where you can’t get underneath or behind it. By necessity, my return is high but Doza waits for this hit off the back wall and cuts in behind it, accelerating it forward and higher. It swings back into the right corner and I hit it high but soft, so it floats casually back to Doza as I find myself badly out of position.

At this point he has many things he can do. If he ropes it to the left corner, I might overcommit to getting it before it comes off the back wall and miss it completely. But that’s a high-risk proposition because if I do get there or judge it correctly, I have a chance to get a medium strength backhand in that hugs the left wall. Those are hard to hit without jamming the racquet into the wall. He could also try to dink it low and force me to sprint for it, but I’m already moving and I have a tendency to dive for low ones. I make it about half the time, too (even if I end up lying down and unable to get up in time for the next hit). So Doza does the right thing, he hits is firmly but high into the back left corner. I can make it, but if he did it right I’ll still be out of position and giving him another chance for an aimed shot.

He misses the hit a little long, so it doesn’t fall short back to the court. That gives me enough time to bank it off the back wall with a hard hit that will fly all the way back to the front wall. I had moved up to the middle of the court as the ball flew, so I’m running toward the back wall as it comes down, rebounds toward my swinging racquet for the necessarily solid contact.

Here’s the point where things get a bit hazy. One thing that is true about hitting off the back wall is that if you do that but hit it too soft, it won’t make it. The other thing that is true about hitting off the back wall is that you have to get the shot straight or else it banks too much, looses too much speed, and won’t make it. So I reach back and belt it. I mean I give it a good wollop.

Only I’m still running toward the back wall. And now the ball that I just hit straight into the wall as hard as possible is coming right back at me.

The way the next two seconds unfolded in my mind are thus: A blur of blue goes from small to immense in my field of vision with such rapidity that I don’t even react. A slap of stinging pain strikes me as the ball rebounds off my face. Instinct kicks in, and I reach up for my face, spinning away from the impact. Then a blossom of agony erupts in my skull as my forehead connects with something very, very hard and extremely unforgiving: The concrete wall.

I collapsed to the hardwood floor, clutching my head, hearing nothing, seeing only black with flecks of white. I thought, insanely, “I wonder if this is what they mean by ‘seeing stars’?” Doza tried to ascertain if I was in serious trouble or just needing to writhe for a while. It crossed my mind that I had heard my safety glasses skitter across the floor just after I bashed my noggin into a very unyielding wall. Or had the ball knocked them off when I smacked it into my own face?

Eventually I was able to open my eyes to a cloudy world. I staggered up and off the court, in search of a water fountain. I kept checking my head for blood, but my fingers came back drenched only in sweat from the game. Good news, except that a bloody mess is for whatever reason something that I consider easier to explain than a random bruise on one’s dome. Indeed, minutes after my altercation with the wall, Doza noted that I was developing a significant knot over my left eye and it had developed a crisp purple hue.

Since then the purple coloration has faded into a disgruntled-looking pink, but the swelling hasn’t gone down in the least. And I’ve had a headache ever since.

Plus, I lost the game. I’m not exactly competitive in the traditional sense, but if I’m going to suffer a near concussion, don’t you think for no other reason than dramatic impact that I should have won?

Observe the Dance

So I got some exciting news in the form of a possibility late last week. Without getting specific—and therefore getting myself into trouble—let me say that certain solutions may present themselves to several looming problems. As a guy who prefers to reduce problems wherever possible, this is obviously a positive development.

However, the news is tenuous, dependent upon several things happening just so and also a lot depends upon me in terms of how well I can represent myself. What that means is that I spent the entire weekend feeling like I was under a lot of very intense pressure. It’s a stressful thing to want something, but not want to get your hopes up for fear of being assaulted by crushing disappointment and then subsequently finding that the attempts to drive hopeful thoughts from your mind increase the level of stress. Cyclical and recursive in a way that no one would enjoy, that’s how I’d describe the whole weekend.

My efforts to distract my mind from obsession have yielded the following results, which you may or may not care to join me in regarding. Really, it’s up to you.

Ring-a-Ling

I got a new phone. From work, natch, so it isn’t some super sexy slab of awesomeness, but it is 4,399,716,884 times cooler than my old phone. It’s a Motorola v276 and it has a few spiffy features I like. The one thing it has is a functioning voicemail feature, where my previous phone did not.

It turns out that not having voicemail is a strange thing. One might think the reaction to having no voicemail is “I should make sure to have this phone with me at all times since I can’t miss a call and find out what someone wanted.” Maybe a normal person would subscribe to that concept. But not me. I decided that if I wasn’t going to be able to return missed calls, I didn’t care if I missed them at all. As such I barely ever carried my phone around with me.

Now there were other factors: I generally hate having excess stuff in my pockets and the old phone was compact but it was a brick. It’s easily twice as heavy as my new phone and it has maybe 40% of the features the new one does. That discomfort made it even more unlikely to be carried. I also never got any accessories for it, so it had no case, no belt clip, etc. When carrying it can only be accomplished via pocket and that is a poor option, the concept of a cell phone rapidly loses appeal.

In addition to better form factor and a few key accessories (as dorky as a belt clip makes me look, at least it’s a tolerable transportation option, and as long as my comrades and associates can get ahold of me, I assume they’ll cope with having to be seen with a Class-A nerd), it has a camera which is fun in the sense that having a crappy camera on you at all times is fun. I figure it like this: For all those times when I thought, “Man, I wish I had a camera for this—no one will believe it!” Now I do. It’s a little thing, but it keeps me entertained.

I do wish it came with a few games and an easier way to get the excessively lame ringtones updated into something awesome, but it’s better than nothing.

Actually, is not having a cell phone better than having even the coolest one ever? If so, I guess it isn’t better than nothing, but it’s better than before. Improvement: It’s also a good thing.

Strange Design Decisions

A few days (weeks? I dunno, they all blend together) ago I was talking about the flexibility of Unix-style operating systems and contrasting that with OS X, which is sorta Unix-style but covered with a think blanket of sassy GUI goodness that occasionally hampers the “selling point” of Unix.

So last week I was trying to accomplish something with iCal: Specifically getting a recurring event to happen on the last day of the month. The article I found explained how to accomplish this with a fairly simple set of command line acrobatics but the end result had me scratching my head.

This, in essence, is why the developers in the open source Unix universe spend so much of their time carefully crafting sometimes arcane configuration files for all their projects. It’s not that everyone will want to do something out of the ordinary, or even that anyone will want to do something the developer didn’t think was important, it’s that they might. What I think Apple, despite all their design brilliance and the generally high quality of their software, misses often is the fact that things can be simple without being crippled in terms of flexibility.

Update

As it took me forever to get this post finished, I have since encountered further developments on the front mentioned at the top of the post. It turns out that Thursday is now significant. As the outcome of that day will impact the next several years, I classify it as significant.

I’m sorry if my definitions are not up to your lofty standards.

Random is as Random… Fish People!

I can only deal with Serious Life Stuff via silliness and being random. Just work with me here.

  • Some dude made the Best Sandwich In The History of All Sandwiches. He’s dead now, of course, but I imagine it was totally worth it.
  • I got an email about the Netflix settlement, and thought it seemed… hokey. Then before I had a chance to do anything with it, I see a site all about how the settlement sucks. Since the one-month non-automatically-reverting upgrade was dumb in the first place, I might actually help them out with this one. I’m always down to stick it to some lawyers.
  • There’s an interesting article floating around about the Cult of iPod. Worth a read.
  • Speaking of Apple stuff, HB and Gin are switchers now, which is funny because while Lister and I are both fans of Apple’s computers, neither of us tried to convince them to do anything unusual. They did it on their own accord. Weird. Anyway, they now own a nice 20″ iMac and two iPod nanos. They’re totally going to start wearing black turtlenecks and thick-rimmed glasses any day now.
  • Oh, the other thing I wanted to mention is that there are a couple of new dealies in the Meta section over there on the right. One is a Feedburner feed, which you should use because RSS is awesome and using it lets you be cool, gives me a chance to track who’s hip to the ironSoap game and leaves your hair shiny without all that excess buildup. There’s also a service over there that lets you get ironSoap delivered via email, if you’re a big fan of email and my relentless blathering. Chalk it up to “features no one requested but I thought would be pretty cool anyway.”
  • Today’s headline is ripped off, rather blatantly, from a headline a friend of mine wrote for our high school newspaper. He was a very funny guy, and I imagine he still is, even though I barely ever get to talk to him anymore. Lame.

Worst Week Ever

Last weekend we were gathered ’round our new coffee table. By “we” I mean Lister, Whimsy, HB, Gin, Nik, myself and Eggman. By “new coffee table” I mean a cast-off from HB and Gin’s spare-room-turned-exercise-room that I nicked while helping HB muscle an oversized TV into their bedroom. Our motivation for being around a coffee table was to play Nik’s new party game, Loaded Questions, which involved asking pseudo-personal questions, secretly writing down the answers, reading them aloud at random and trying to get the question-asker to guess who answered what.

One of the questions was to name the most over-used cliché which caused a bit of consternation to our group since we’re all smart enough to know what a cliché is but some of us had trouble coming up with one. Of the six answers given I think only two were what would readily be identified as clichés in the traditional sense of played-out platitudes. Since then I’ve been taking a more marked notice of instances where clichés get thrown around. Today, for example, I was tempted to write at the top of this post, “When it rains, it pours” An obvious cliché, true, but the reason these sayings get repeated to the point of reducing them to triteness is that there must be a nugget of truth buried within. Or at least a common enough situation to warrant their application.

This week started off in fairly normal fashion. I had visited Bosslady over the weekend to pick up some assignments which would keep me busy and occupied throughout the week with contract work. As I came in to my day job I was thinking there would probably be plenty to do there as well, considering the fact that we were getting ready to power down the server room in less than ten days to do some serious clean-up of systems and wiring that had gotten out of hand through new hardware installations, maintenance work on the room, an upgrade to Active Directory, etc. But busy is okay. Busy is not bored, after all.

I should have known things were headed in a grim direction when Nik called after visiting her Pain Management specialist. She’s been having trouble with her back for a couple of months and they had gotten to the point where she’d gone for an MRI to see what might be the cause. It turns out she has a herniated disc in her lower spine, which is a not exactly a comfortable condition and is, apparently, an unusual condition for someone Nik’s age. The immediate impact is that she was forced to resign from her job at the grocery store because the list of limitations her doctor placed on her was unacceptable for the management. This, in turn, has had a pretty profoundly negative impact on Nik’s mental state because, frankly, she really liked her job.

It’s a sort of tricky situation to navigate as a husband because, just as frankly, I thought her job was basically pants from various perspectives. It required odd hours, limited income, a commute, schedule interference and—of course—manual labor. But regardless of the negatives from my perspective, she really did like working there and that’s something that one can’t readily dismiss. It’s not that I have trouble concealing some secret glee or anything, more that she’s pretty shaken up and while I can be supportive, I can’t really muster up a load of sympathy because my head doesn’t compute the idea that this is a particularly negative development. From where I sit it just sort of seems like, “Well, there you go: It’s not a good job for you to have.” Then she sits there, morose and unhappy and I’m left feeling (deservedly) like a heel because I don’t comprehend.

While this is going on, I woke up Tuesday morning feeling very out of sorts. My body had that deep-bone exhaustion that portends some sort of influenza, and it was only my even deeper loathing of calling in sick that forced me through the motions of my morning ritual. When I arrived at work my primary task was getting a replacement development server set up, and by 11:00 it was becoming rather obvious that it was going very poorly. A splitting headache had decided to join the party and frustrated that I couldn’t get any consequential work accomplished, not to mention that progress was being actively stunted by my growing incapacity for rational, pain-free thought, I made a command decision to go home for lunch and simply not return.

I secretly hoped that by fudging a sick day with a half day I might manage to weasel out of a full-blown illness. Instead I woke up Wednesday feeling even worse than before and at Nik’s urging, called in sick for a full day of recuperation-based moping. The one thing I must note about being sick in modern times is that while only a decade ago the temporarily impaired were forced to suffer through the drudgery of daytime TV, there is no shortage of quality entertainment options available to modern man, when you take into consideration the expansion of cable programming, TiVos, DVDs, wirelessly connected laptops and video game consoles with long controller cords that can reach a couch located across the room. Still, being sick is still accompanied by an annoying series of sensations that can only be described, mildly, as unpleasant. When your very skin feels like an affront to your otherwise perfectly rational nerve endings, it’s hard to enjoy the trappings of modern life to their fullest.

This morning I woke feeling only marginally, if at all, better than yesterday. I groaned from beneath my mound of blankets and pillows until far later than strictly necessary, weighing the relative merits of using another nine hours of sick leave. In the end I let work itself be the deciding factor and checked my email. The crushing weight of what seemed like an endless stream of urgent requests for web-related intervention roused me into a sort of unwilling action as I tried to pull myself together to make the six-minute commute and avoid being buried from another day of stagnation, work-wise. I wasn’t feeling the whole thing to begin with, which made me quite crabby and I moodily sulked downstairs to my car.

You know the sinking, wash-of-cold sensation you get when you discover something extremely unpleasant has just occurred? It turns out when you couple that with an already miserably hot sensation of lingering illness, you get something that I imagine were possible to successfully bottle and load into a syringe would render all other methods of torture instantly obsolete. The pile of glass around the passenger side door of my car spoke a volume of what had taken place in the cold of the previous night. The seat that was now covered with bluish shards of shattered safety glass no longer held my nicest jacket; the floor before the seat that had only a few hours earlier been home to my gym bag was now also barren, save the irregular shapes of sharp edges, refracting the blazing morning light. My glove box also lie open, empty except for a single fast-food straw I keep in there, just in case.

I spent a good portion of the morning getting further behind in work as I waited in furious silence on hold with the insurance company, glass repair shop and police department. By the time I finally made it to work I was in what may best be described as the foulest mood of my entire life. As the day went on my mood got a little better as I managed to pull the perspective of the day’s events into their proper context. It did little to soften the wrenching annoyance of the whole process, but it did make me less apt to physically assault any co-workers who might have attempted an ill-advised joke at my expense.

My only response so far has been to craft the following post, which tomorrow morning I will affix to the mailboxes around our apartment complex in an attempt to take the proverbial wild shot in the dark. Plus I think putting my thoughts out there for all to see will give me a sense of extremely self-important and uncommonly smug satisfaction:

Are You the Irresponsible Baboon Who Broke into a Saturn Outside of Building 20 on Wednesday Night?
Then congratulations! You’re now in illicit possession of:

  • My Gym bag containing an iPod shuffle, a pair of stinky gym shoes, a Master Lock, my gym shorts and T-shirt, a pair of sweaty socks, my favorite pair of earphones, a half-used container of raquetballs and a first aid kit.
  • My jacket.
  • The contents of my glove compartment.

I’m not sure what possible use the proof of insurance, registration and the car’s manual could be to you. I don’t know what you want with my rank gym gear nor why you needed a jacket so badly as to swipe mine. I really don’t care since your intelligence is not under question: I’m completely convinced of your status as a Class-A ignoramus.

If it was really worth the effort, I’ll give you the benefit of the doubt as to what your motivation was, other than selfish mayhem. In any case, consider the iPod shuffle my gift to you. Consider it a reward, of sorts, for being a particularly primitive neanderthal.

What I really want is the bag, jacket, headphones and glove compartment contents returned. They have no obvious value to you, so returning them should be of no particular consequence, you soulless twit.

If you return these items to the office, you are free to keep the iPod shuffle, no questions asked, although I will wish that the fleas of a thousand camels infest your armpit hair. Don’t take it personally, I wish that on anyone with loose enough morals to steal from others without regard for what, exactly, they may be depriving them of.

Should you muster a few spare brain cells with which to clumsily operate the iPod, also be my guest to listen to the included music, which is likely of far superior quality to your own inebriated musical taste. The ancillary benefit of decent tunes may be looked upon as a secondary reward for your oh-so-clever felonious actions.

May their dulcet tones lull you in to a pleasant slumber in which you dream of a world in which thievery is punishable by the sharp removal of a hand.

Sincerely,
Your friendly neighborhood Saturn owner

Anyway, I’m going to bed now. I’ve pretty much had it with this week. And the uncomfortable thing that keeps running through my head is that It’s only Thursday.

For the love of all that is pure and true, there’s still two more days of this. It’s a good day the waiting period for firearms is three days. That’s all I have to say about that.

Jingle Bell Rawk

I understand that, with Halloween being a few days away yet, it feels far too early to be thinking about—much less discussing—Christmas. However, the annual Christmas party is approaching in early December, invitations are to be sent out next week and preparations need to begin.

A short bit of background about the parties our group of friends throw and attend: Music is a pretty significant part of most parties. But among us, there is some overlap of musical tastes, but not enough that a CD can be put into a player and enough of a consensus reached that the griping begins to drown out the tunes. So here’s what happens at nearly every party we’ve ever had: Someone puts in CD A. Four to five people start whining about how bad the music is. Before the first song on CD A is even done playing, someone else has snuck over to the stereo and slipped in CD B. Then the person who put CD A in plus three or four others who were like minded with the original selection begin to complain and one of them slinks toward the stereo for a coup before the second song has gotten to the halfway point…

This power struggle is universal and while I understand the sentiment, I’ve always felt the end result is far more annoying than one should have to deal with at a party. To me the obvious solution is to simply put a varied mix together that has Something For Everyone so that, worst case scenario, you only have to listen to a couple of songs you don’t like before something comes on you can groove to. Hey, in a perfect world we’d all like the same great music but instead we have to compromise sometimes.

The problem in the past has been that my carefully crafted party mixes get hijacked by stereo-sneakers who start turning off iPods or iTunes and putting in CDs, thus igniting the great Stereo Battles of the 21st Century. This year I have some ideas to help avoid that sort of thing.

My first idea is that someone (I’ll go ahead and volunteer unless someone else is more suited to the task or more willing to put in the time and effort) will be the official party DJ. The DJ’s job is simple: Set up some playlists and the music equipment/computers, manage the DJ’s table and make sure people aren’t losing interest (in a general sense) in the music and be available to take requests. The theory here is that no one really gets too bent out of shape at events (think weddings) that have official DJs because if the DJ does his/her job right, there is that healthy mix of music that keeps people’s spirits up without catering too much to any one particular taste.

My second idea is to give people plenty of advance warning about the music situation and not just offer but actively encourage requests. For example, if someone were a huge fan of The Eagles and wouldn’t feel it was a party without The Eagles playing, this would be their cue to get that CD ready to take with them to the party so they could make sure some Eagles tunes make it into the rotation. Also, since for now I’m assuming the mantle of DJ, I want to be clear that any digital tracks (within reason) that are sent ahead of time are sure to make it into the initial playlist somewhere.

In my head this works like a collaboration where everyone either: A) Sends song titles as suggestions ahead of time, B) Sends the actual mp3s ahead of time or C) Brings a CD along to the party to give as requests. The end result is a likely eclectic but healthy mix of songs that will at least occasionally make everyone happy and, if all goes according to plan, avoids seriously chapping anyone’s hide.

I do have a request for (both) loyal ironSoap readers as part of this endeavor as well. See, this is a Christmas party, and it would probably be nice to throw a few Christmas tunes in the mix. The thing is that I don’t really have any Christmas music. When you really think about it, there are actually only about two, maybe three dozen songs that qualify as Christmas tunes and what you usually end up hearing are about 9,450 variations or renditions of each song. Having done absolutely no research on this topic, I’m hoping you can give me a hand here.

What I’m looking for are the definitive versions of the Christmas classics. Is Bing Crosby’s “White Christmas” really the best take on that track, or did some obscure recording put his crooning to shame? Who sings the absolute best versions of “Jingle Bell Rock,” “Little Drummer Boy” or “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen?”

In this case I’m not looking for the actual songs on mp3, just the song and artist pair. I’ll worry about tracking down the actual file or CD, I just need some of your expertise. I’ll take as many recommendations as I get (send ‘em to paul@ironsoap.org with the subject “Christmas Songs”) but I don’t plan on overloading the mix with festive songs. Probably something like a four to one mix of regular songs and holiday songs (respectively) would be about right.

While We’re Not on the Subject

I ran across a very cool site yesterday that I forgot to link. There’s a guy that buys all kinds of old cameras that have undeveloped film still inside. He develops the film, scans the pics and posts them to his website. The results are fascinating, intriguing and occasionally haunting. I do wish he would lay off some of the commentary sometimes since it doesn’t often add anything to the pictures (the stuff about where the camera came from and the process used to get the pictures developed I don’t mind, but his assigning names to the subjects and trying to be cute by giving fake info about their lives is trite and manages to undermine what he’s trying to do).

Fortunately he had enough sense to let the pictures do the talking in one set of galleries that seem to come from a soldier stationed in Europe during World War II. Brilliant, fascinating stuff.