Category Archives: Journal

Me. My Life. Stuff that happens.

Couldn’t Happen to Just Anyone

A number of short essays on a number of subjects follow.

  • Yeah, I picked up Grand Theft Auto IV. I’ve played other games in the series and despite its reputation for being vile, its primary objectionable content comes from two things: One, it has a very colorful approach to dialogue with most if not all characters taking the Quentin Tarantino approach to phrasing and two it has a sense of humor I’d commonly associate with thirteen year old boys in medium sized groups who think there aren’t any parents around. My interest in the franchise is rooted mostly in the oddly compelling way in which the game’s story unfolds considering the developers take great pains to allow you an enormous degree of freedom at any given moment. You can certainly play the game as if it had no plot to speak of (and it’s actually only the last two or three that have really made the narrative effective) and many people do. But when you experience the game as if it were a long, meandering Godfather-style crime drama, it shows some remarkable resilience as an escapist bit of entertainment.

    I said once that I thought GTA would be better if they discarded the juvenile fledgling criminal premise and since then other games have come along and done precisely that, following GTA’s loose blueprint for open-ended environments with optional narrative elements woven throughout. Last year’s unexpected marvel Crackdown, for example, flipped the tables and cast the player as a superhuman crime fighter ridding the city of its seedy underbelly in a sort of destructive, Dirty Harry fashion. The equally surprising Gun also did something similar with a wild west theme making the player a kind of bowlegged stranger moseying in to clean up a lawless frontier.

    If you wonder why I continue to play GTA despite its environs not being precisely my cup of tea, understand that these other games lift their playbook directly from the most recent Grand Theft Auto game so they hold an appeal largely due to their genre innovation. Except something I noticed playing IV is that even in open-world games (called “sandbox” games by hobbyists) where you are cast as a good guy, there is always a sort of anti-hero edge to the proceedings. I think this is because these games are equating freedom with the ability to be a pill in their created worlds. If you think about it, the open-ness these games are providing isn’t really from the fact that you can re-order the missions you accept (you could do rudimentary variations on that theme as far back as the NES days) and it isn’t about just wandering around a large but defined space. Adventure games have given us the wandering ability for decades. Instead the freedom, whether in Crackdown, Gun or any other sandbox-style game lies in your ability to torment AI-controlled characters of no consequence. It’s in the way you can blow things up that don’t require destruction. It’s in the fact that the developers put options in the game that aren’t devoid of consequence but that give the (perhaps mistaken) impression of mischief. Even as a super-cop in Crackdown, you spent most of your “freedom” either terrifying civilians with your destructive power (ostensibly only to be directed at the criminal element, but you were of course free to blow passerby apart as well, if you didn’t mind being “reprimanded” by your virtual employer) or climbing up onto buildings where no human should be able to reach.

    Some people like to point at this controlled mischief and say it encourages real-world emulation. I can’t say I agree but I also don’t exactly ruffle my feathers to defend the games because the cop-out standard party line of “it’s only a game” conveniently ignores the truth which is that if there weren’t some perverse joy to be had in the ability to whack a virtual pedestrian with an SUV because he’s wearing a dippy shirt, the games wouldn’t have much of an audience. In effect the mischief is the hook, even if the most recent game finds a certain zen by making the option almost more appealing than the act itself and framing a well-told story within the confines of that premise. No one who wasn’t already nuts would play these games and think, “It’s on my TV so it must be an okay thing to do.” But anyone who says the potential for senseless carnage isn’t significant is lying to themselves about why they play.

  • I missed the San Jose Sharks game on Friday. It was purely accidental; my TiVo has difficulty handling the hastily-scheduled playoff games and the several-hour HD broadcasts are too taxing on my limited disk space to make the typical set-it-and-forget-it principle of TiVo worthwhile anyway. Plus, I enjoy experiencing the games as close to real time as I can anyway. But on Friday I simply lost track of the time and when I did finally remember, the game was long over.

    I was relieved to see that they had won in OT, something they seem to have a hard time doing in the playoffs as a general rule, but it was a tempered relief.

    When the team dropped game three, I groaned and made some remarks about their lack of drive and determination. Nik took me to task at the time, saying how poor of a fan I was for not believing in them despite the long odds. “Isn’t being a fan rooting for them no matter what?” she asked, pointedly. I conceded at the time that she had a case but inside I felt it was coming from someone who didn’t really understand. She hasn’t grown up as a sports fan in the Bay Area. She hasn’t been pulling for the Sharks since their inaugural season. She hasn’t watched the Giants find spectacular ways to lose just on the brink of ultimate victory.

    But I do appreciate the sentiment she offers. How can I not be considered a fair weather fan if I let my cynicism born of years of disappointing seasons color my encouragement of a team that certainly carries within its roster the skill and talent to pull off the nearly impossible? Yet I continually find it a challenge not to fix my disdain directly on the team itself. The truth is they do have the talent, so why have they gotten to this unmanageable position of requiring a herculean four-game winning streak just to forge ahead? You can say they’re halfway there, but you also can say that they didn’t do it in a convincing manner. I see the glass, I see that there are equal parts liquid and empty space, but it’s difficult to fixate on the remaining contents and discount the void.

    My brother suggested via Twitter that should the Sharks win on Friday he suspected they could go all the way. At most all I can say for now is that I hope he’s right. I desperately want him to be correct, but then I think of the facts. Only two teams have ever rallied from 0-3 series deficits to emerge victorious and the last case was 33 years ago. Put another way, such a feat has never occurred in my lifetime. Also, this mandatory win in game six must take place in Dallas but more significantly the final and crucial game seven has to be won at home, a place where other than Friday the Stars have essentially owned the Sharks for the better part of two seasons, including these playoffs. And finally, I understand that the teams are painfully equal in terms of talent and drive. I wish I could hope for a 5-1 massacre tonight or Tuesday but I fear the best case scenario is another 3-2 nail-biter or at best a 2-0 defensive showcase. But that equality leaves precious little room for the unknown variables: Officiating, momentary lapses of concentration, lucky bounces, hot opposing goalies, you name it.

    I know they can do it. I’ll be pulling for them to be that team, to enter the history books. I want them to make it happen, I’m just not quite ready to believe that they actually will.

    And maybe that’s the problem.

  • I think about my career sometimes. Through an unexpected series of choices, curveballs and luck I’ve arrived at a position where I make a comfortable living despite not having the most impressive educational background. I’m competent at the job I’m asked to do and I generally make a favorable impression, mostly through subterfuge I fear, with my employers. But I work as hard as anybody who, you know, sits down for a living and I can’t complain too loudly about most of it.

    The only thing that trips me up sometimes is the fact that while I do well and feel good for the most part about my working life, none of it is really what I feel like I’m meant to do. I started with a short stint in an accelerated occupational school for graphic design, hoping at the time to put my interest in artistic endeavors to some kind of practical use. I did okay at it but quickly found that it was a hard way to make a living and transitioned semi-naturally into an unexpected area of interest with web design. The step from web design to web development (focusing more on the technical side of building web sites than the artistic) was fairly smooth and from there I found an endless well of fascinating challenges along the lines of programming, system administration and technical support.

    But I find that here in this unintentional place I’m encountering the same basic stumbling block I did toward the end of trade school which is that my natural ability has hit its peak and further development would require a level of interest and a desire for enlightenment that I cannot feign. As with graphic design I have just enough raw ability inherent to be a so-so field journeyman but not enough drive to hone my skill to the point of being a true asset to anyone, much less myself.

    I find myself at a bit of a crossroad. On one hand my primary marketable skill is an ability to glean a surface level understanding of any complex system fairly quickly. I also have a pretty broad background in technical and design work so my self-evaluations have resulted in thinking that I might be decently suited for management. There is some interest in me to pursue that avenue; it allows me to maintain my current course and use the skills and experience I already have while furthering my career without demanding a huge commitment of time and resources. But on the other hand it doesn’t necessarily address the fact that my main source of job dissatisfaction comes from being in a field that interests me in a vague intellectual sense but doesn’t offer a lot in the way of personal enrichment. It will only ever be, I fear, a mere job.

    On the other hand, I’m so well entrenched in this sector that any course re-direction would require the aforementioned resource dedication be it schooling or blind transition with the almost certain financial implications. I’ve toyed occasionally with pipe dreams of magical wishes coming true and having unlikely dream jobs like novelist or musician or freelance weirdo essayist. But when I switch off my wandering daydreams and examine reality I find that what I really want is to provide for my family which suggests that I may be happiest just where I am. I also find myself asking from time to time whether my creativity hits a roadblock when evaluating myself. Perhaps, I think, there is a job out there that meets all my criteria for perfection that I’ve never even considered. I certainly didn’t entertain the notion of being a NOC Engineer ten years ago. Maybe I’m missing something.

    Or maybe, I’m not missing a thing.

It Shone Through the Clouds


We moved last weekend in an epic four-day event that I’d classify as thoroughly exhausting. We did manage to get all but one room fully unpacked and ready for habitation, which was a pleasant surprise. Somehow I’d assumed we’d toil for days and have nothing to show beyond a small corner of a room with a sad mattress on the floor and we’d point to it from across a sea of boxes overflowing with our collected trinkets and say, “See? We live here now!” People—mysterious people with no business being in our home to begin with—would back away slowly, speed-dialing their personal injury attorneys in anticipation of their treacherous journey to the front door.

Instead we managed to coordinate a very pleasant environment to exist within and while neither Nik nor I want to get ahead of ourselves I’m prepared to say that thus far we adore our new digs. Well, I think Nik could do without the wild, mutant turkeys that roam the grounds. They seem docile and prone to avoid human contact, but their beady eyes are black and unblinking, hiding machinations unknown to man. It’s certainly unsettling; I can hardly blame my wife for her apprehension.

There are some peculiarities to the new abode, of course. There are a striking number of mirrors around the place, which is a marked change from our last home where you had your standard bathroom mirrors and that was it. Here, it seems, every room has some vast reflective surface in prominent locations so that regardless of where you are you feel accompanied by a flanking clone. Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if I hadn’t fallen out of any kind of self-maintenance routine but as it stands a trip to the restroom holds a minimum of a baker’s dozen screaming reminders that I’m unshaven, unkempt, uncoordinated and unhealthy. I guess it’s some sort of ploy to encourage use of the exercise facilities? I can’t imagine even the most vain among us requiring this many options for self-regard.

Also the baths have these “fancy” gravity plugs that operate with some theoretical physics and while they do an admirable job of stopping water from pouring down the drain when you want it to stay in place, when you do need to dispense of it, the plug slaps against the drain’s rim with a loud and metallic clank. Repeatedly. I first encountered this when a neighbor was draining some water and it sounded like someone kicking the pipes in the wall. I tracked the source of the sound to our own bathroom from which I could hear the flowing water so it sounded like someone flushing the toilet over and over again, kicking it sharply in-between. I couldn’t imagine someone having that much angst over their toilet. Nik happened to be out on an errand at the time: I sent her a text message telling her we were dealing with a domestic toilet abuse situation and, offhand, did she know any hotlines for that kind of thing? Perhaps a listing in the phone book to get me started? Plumbing abuse? Toilet hostility? My efforts weren’t yielding much fruit.

There were the requisite number of maintenance issues as well. We had been spoiled at our last place, a brand-new condo that had never had previous occupants. Here we found cabinet doors that didn’t close, drawers that were broken and not useful for storing, you know, items, dishwashers that practically tumbled out of their niches, shelving units that were missing pivotal brackets and so on. Okay, I’m exaggerating a little. We only have one dishwasher. In any case a man I suspect may be or is possibly descended from Hobbit lineage came by to correct many of the problems. He also spoke to our cat with strange yowling noises that I can only guess reveal either a secret Dr. Doolittle-like ability or a severe mental defect, but either way it didn’t seem to affect his ability to repair our home. It did concern me a little that he had much more to say to our pet than to us. Maybe she was relaying pertinent information to him, but I’ve known her for at least seven years and she’s only ever confessed to me a strong desire for fish-flavored cat treats and scraps of roast beef.

We do have one major, nagging issue: The wonderful new TV I just bought doesn’t “go” with the new apartment’s layout. Specifically the cable outlet in the living room is in a tiny corner next to the fireplace. The TV is like four feet long and two and a half feet tall so it’s never going to fit in this corner and the only option I have is to put the entertainment center directly in front of the fireplace. If this seems counter-productive and a little dangerous, you’re absolutely correct. I compromised by pulling the unit out away from the hearth but that leaves the tangle of cables and power strips exposed to anyone with eyes and while I don’t claim to be some interior design guru, I can say that I’ve never heard the phrase “cable snarl chic” used to describe a decor.

My eventual solution will be to have the TV mounted above the mantle, but since I was trained in all manner of home improvement by my father and I lack even his questionable proficiencies, I have to bring shame on the house of Hamilton and spend money to have someone do it for me who is far less likely to install it upside-down or to perhaps knock over the chimney inadvertently. I’ll also need a new housing unit for the various components which stacks vertically and fits in the small corner of the room. I’m trying to console myself by imagining how wonderful it might be to have a roaring fire beneath a glorious HD display some winter evening, like a poetic juxtaposing contrast between the most ancient technology and the height of man’s achievement. Instead I wind up thinking, “What if I melt the screen I don’t think renter’s insurance covers stupidity and the cat might jump on it and it would fall on the hard tile and shatter to a zillion pieces…”

I end the train of thought making the sound approximated in every “Cathy” comic strip since it began to blight our collective culture: “Aaaaack!”

Lost in the Plot

Speaking of TV, Nik and I were catching up on Lost during a moment of tranquility and while I’ve been kind of so-so about the show since somewhere in the latter half of Season 2, I’ve stuck it out mostly because I’m this far in and I might as well find out how it goes. Now we had a couple of episodes left on the TiVo from before the spring break and then the one that first aired last Thursday. I’d heard that the pre-break finale was an excellent episode and, well, I found it to be not excellent. First of all, the Michael character drives me insane (“Waaaaaaalt!”) and the entire episode was an extended flashback.

But then I watched the first episode back (last Thursday’s) and… all of a sudden the whole thing clicked for me. I mean I think I finally am starting to understand what the show is about, what it’s doing and why I’m compelled to keep watching even though they’ve made some questionable narrative decisions along the way.

Now, it’s certainly possible that this is nothing new to devoted fans, message board devotees and so on. But I stopped following the Internet furor about the time I stopped thinking the show was just awesome and started thinking it was merely good enough to keep watching. So for about a year or two I’ve been out of the speculation loop. If this is all retread of ground covered by them, I apologize and if you don’t want specu-spoilers, stop reading now. But this is my unified theory of Lost, for what it’s worth (nothing).

The Island

For a long time everyone was trying to figure out what the real setting was for Lost. Is it purgatory? A dream? Hurley’s psychotic delusion? I think the island is just an island. But it’s a very special island, a place with certain characteristics that are in some cases sinister and threatening but in other cases are remarkable and even desirable.

The principal characteristics that make the island unique are:

  1. It has a certain sentience. There is a kind of awareness the island possesses: It is in tune with humans that live on it, it has a certain degree of influence over them and it seems to occasionally select people who find themselves there to be its agents. It is possible the island itself doesn’t actively select these people but there is a personality type that is drawn to the island, its secrets and its strange persona but the result is the same either way: The island can become an object of obsession with effects that extend beyond the physical location of the island itself.
  2. The island affects human immune systems. This can manifest in a number of ways: It can present itself as remarkable healing properties. It can work to cause madness or sickness in others. It also acts as a sort of population control, turning the immune system on embryonic life as suggested by Juliet in a recent flashback.
  3. There is a temporal element to the island’s properties. New (and welcome) character Daniel and the time-traveling Desmond have experienced this but we’ve also seen evidence of it elsewhere. People who are connected to the island via whatever mechanism is attributed to the island’s odd sentience seem to age differently. It appears that Widmore (Penny’s father and Ben’s nemesis) may have been the captain of the Black Rock which clearly ran aground on the island long ago. Perhaps the island’s influence on immune systems is part of it, but it may also be that time simply passes at a different rate on the island and those who spend long periods of time there seem to age less quickly to those outside the island.
  4. The island is difficult to locate. Perhaps it is the temporal anomalies, maybe it’s just that the island is cloaked in some fashion or a combination of other factors contributes but the island is not readily located. Even once found it doesn’t seem that it can be readily re-located once left. The lack of information on flight 815 in the “real” world suggests this, as does Widmore’s dogged pursuit of the place, despite indications that he’s been there before.
The Backstory

It seems clear that the human influence on the island dates back quite far. The mysterious statue feet seen at the end of Season 2 and the odd runes in the secret compartment leading to what may be the control center for the island’s security system (the smoke monster) suggest some kind of ancient power or perhaps a lost civilization that was able to somehow harness the power of the island.

Also it appears that the island is most commonly found by accident: The Black Rock ending up on the island somehow, Rousseau’s ship crashing there, flight 815, etc. But it does seem that some people have been able to locate and retain the location of the island, including what I suspect is a scientific research commune called Dharma, from which grew the Others possibly because Benjamin Linus became one of the chosen or obsessed and executed a hostile takeover of the island to suit his own purposes. It seems pretty clear now that he wrested control away from Widmore but it’s not known yet whether Widmore represented Dharma or was maybe part of the original “Others” (when Dharma filled a similar role the survivors of 815 now fill), but either way there was a power grab that left Dharma all but abandoned, Widmore out in the cold and Ben Linus in charge.

The Arc

The show—the current story unfolding as we watch—is about what would happen if a magical island existed in the real world? What if there was a place that didn’t work according to the rules we accept as “reality?” What if people who had nothing in common ended up there? It’s a dangerous place, but it has a certain compelling charm that can change people. The island wants itself to be protected; the people who are enchanted by it want to keep it a secret and hold it for themselves; people who lose it want it back.

The basic arc seems to be that the flight crashes, we are introduced to their plight, we find evidence of the strange things that occur on the island and the things that have come before. Then we begin to slowly meet the key players outside the survivors: Ben Linus and his Others; Widmore and his mercenaries. The conflict that has and will arise is between those who want the island for themselves (Linus, Widmore and I think Locke will be to Ben what he was to Widmore) and the people caught in the crossfire are the survivors who’ve wanted nothing more than to be rescued.

But even they will have to make a tough choice: Stay on the island and enjoy the power it holds but risk the violence that erupts from those who wish to possess or control such power or leave that power behind and escape back to a sense of “normalcy.” The initial narrative device of the flashback allowed us to see the characters of the survivors and other key players has been replaced with flash-forwards designed to keep the audience guessing as to the final showdown which I suspect will be either the season or the show’s finale and somehow ends with the Oceanic Six leaving the island, Ben escaping to hunt down Widmore and most likely a lot of the other cast members dead.

I think by the end of the show we’ll know a lot more about Widmore, we’ll understand much more about the island and we’ll have a pretty good idea about Dharma. I think what we won’t necessarily understand is the significance of the events that happened before, such as the Black Rock, the statue feet, the smoke monster and Rousseau’s party. I think they’ll leave some of these questions open-ended in case they ever want to do a spin-off or a motion picture.


Assuming I’m more or less correct, I actually find myself liking the show a lot more all of a sudden. I was so concerned that there was going to have to be some big twist at the end but I like that it suddenly feels like simply a science fiction story (introduce strange, supernatural elements into an ordinary setting) told over a long and intricate narrative. I grant that this introduces a lot of macguffins and misdirections; but the show itself has seemed to stop introducing randomness just to be freaky and has settled into a groove of knowing (at last) what it’s about and just getting the story told.

If people are expecting a sudden revelation I have a feeling they might be disappointed, but I think it’s only chance to work is to fight the urge to pull the rug out from under the viewers and just let them come to the realization that the island’s significance isn’t why it’s so strange, simply that it is so strange.

As the Storm Approaches

Our weekend was dominated by our efforts to prepare for our relocation, scheduled to take place next Wednesday. It’s an odd day to move, I concede, but my atypical schedule sort of dictates a lot of unusual timelines. At this point, I’m more or less used to it. Of course the mid-week move comes with a particular limitation in terms of availability of free or cheap assistance in the manual labor department so I’m rolling the dice a bit and agreeing to allow mercenary strangers to pitch in for a set hourly rate. Including these types of miscreants in the process is something I’m familiar with: My very first job when I was sixteen was on the other side of this equation as I traveled up and down the west coast hoisting people’s weighty belongings into and out of a trailer. I can’t say my experiences there offer a lot of solace for the upcoming transaction.

In any case my best laid plans vis a vis this humble blog have been frequently marginalized or downright derailed lately. My queue of “drafts” is expansive and many are unlikely to see the light of day at this point having lost their sense of immediacy. As I said last month after a suggestion toward a future post evaporated into a procrastination-induced void followed by a limp apology, I don’t usually like to promise things: Either I post or I don’t. Posting about what I plan to post about is dull and fraught with the peril of my own well-intentioned but markedly lazy execution. Be that as it may, I do feel compelled to say that while there is no guarantee, I am considering introducing a series of short fiction entries here.

My rationale is that I’d very much like to finally complete a longer fiction piece but, as I alluded to above, I don’t have the best track record in terms of follow-through. I always have a catalog of excuses but principal among them is a certain fear that my lack of fiction-writing experience will sully the entire thing. When I first began I wanted to just have a place to write something—anything. Over the last six years I’ve been more or less consistent with writing on a regular basis, a practice advice-givers are keen to impart on fledgling writers. Now that I’ve gotten to that point I feel it’s time to start focusing that into something practical that is in line with my longer term goals.

There are two elements really at work here. One is that I desire feedback and while doesn’t have much in the way of a broad audience, it does at least have a convenient feedback mechanism in the comments. The other is that I need practice in exercising certain writing practices that my blogging-style writing doesn’t typically address. I’m talking about the more pure creativity necessary for creation of characters and settings, focusing on pace and voicing and—this is the key item—editing. It may be painfully obvious but I do very, very little editing of my own work on ironSoap. Most posts are stream-of-consciousness ramblings that get posted nearly as they tumble out of my brain, through my fingers and into the edit pane. I don’t worry about it too much now, because I feel a loose conversational style is acceptable in the format. However, I’d never want anything that felt like a creative expression to be that casual in feel and presentation.

So my solution was to try and get some short fiction out as a series of trial runs. I’m not sure when all this will take place, I suppose opportunity and drive will dictate it, but if you see something here that doesn’t feel like a typical “Paul’s Brain Dump” kind of post, that’s probably it.

Meanwhile, a dump from my brain. Natch.

  • As much as I advocate the use and proliferation of RSS, I’m starting to feel that it’s being abused. My chief complaint is the newish trend of submitting design elements along with the data. The most nefarious offender I encounter is Xbox Live’s Major Nelson who sends enough extraneous data to rebuild his entire post (including comments) with each entry. Listen to me: You’re doing it wrong and you’re missing the point. I was okay when RSS feeds started having a single image accompanying them and I let it slide when ads started being sent with feed content (I understand the economics of blogging and content creation) but this is over the line. My other complaint is sort of the flip side of that which is feeds that include a headline and nothing else but a link to the full story on the site itself, as seen with ESPN’s NHL feed. No. Give me at least a bit of teaser text so I know if the link is worth following. That’s the point of RSS: To have content that interests me delivered the way I want it. I don’t need a “new post notification” tool.
  • In related griping: I loathe Netvibes Ginger. It’s buggy, it’s got useless “features” and it takes four stupid clicks to add a new RSS feed to a page. What? No. You’re doing it wrong. I’d use iGoogle instead except it doesn’t have a read/unread feature for its feed displays, which I find invaluable based on the sheer volume of feeds I subscribe to.
  • I’ve tried to avoid posting about the Sharks. I do it every playoffs and all it really accomplishes is raising my blood pressure. But you know what? Heck with it. Something has to be said. Here it is:
    Hey Sharks. What's up?
  • What made me crazy watching last night’s game (other than the fact that it wasn’t in HD and the “Comcast Sports Net” SD feed looks like it’s filmed on a consumer-priced VHS camcorder from the early 80s) was the interview with Tim Hunter prior to the third period. At this point the Sharks are down by two goals and have played miserable, abysmal hockey for forty minutes. So they ask, “What do you guys need to do?” Tim Hunter acts like they got a couple of bad breaks and says they need to win a few more one-on-one battles and do a little more hitting. No. I’m tired of Wilson and company standing over there like wax sculptures while the most talented team in hockey plays like they’re at an off-season exhibition fan meet-n-greet. We know the Sharks are good. There’s no excuses this time: The run to the playoffs is what the Sharks are capable of. This entire series has been a crushing disappointment and the coaches act like they’re some team of destiny. There. Are. No. Teams. Of. Destiny. Wake those fools up. Bench Thornton. Healthy scratch Michalek. Drop McLaren off in downtown Oakland and drive away. I don’t care. The fact that the Sharks are still in the playoffs is a miracle I can’t fully explain but if anyone in that organization actually wants a Stanley Cup they’re going to have to play like they did for the last two minutes of game five from here on out. Period. Personally, I’m sick of wanting the team to win more than the coaches and players actually do.

We’ll Find It Over the Hill

There is a chance that is so small it may as well not even exist that we will not be moving before Spring tips its hat in melancholy farewell, making room for the bright blaze of Summer. It is increasingly likely, in fact, that our location change will be enacted before another twelfth of the year has elapsed.

The rationales are plentiful, as they are apt to be. There is always some reason or collection of reasons put forth to justify the expense and hassle of relocation. At this point, eight years into marriage and (ahem) adulthood, with five settlements already under our belts the logic of moving may as well give way to sage-like morsels designed for vagueness and possessing barely tenuous meaning. “It is time,” for example. “The gypsy spirit no longer nests,” perhaps.

The explanation we gave—the list of “pros” as it were—when we moved a couple of blocks from our last location to the one we currently occupy has ceased to exist, or very nearly. It was supposed to be a place that would be “home” where we might expand the family, a collective whose population has remained constant for close to six and a half years now. It represented a firm commitment to our adopted community in certain ways, and it held promise for financial forecasts that used it as a pillar on which to stand.

Things change.

I mean, a sad moment in our history compounded with a dissolution of interest in the physical shelter and a near reversal of affection for this neighborhood… there has been a foundational upheaval in the way we view our “spot” and how we interact with it. What good are the plans you lay when you lose the basic trust in their cornerstones? These aren’t mistakes we’ve made necessarily, merely unforeseen consequences. As a consequence, then, we look for greener pastures. Or, if you prefer, “It’s time.”

We spent the entire day Friday scouring one of two target locations for suitable habitation. We’re still just on the cusp of solid financial footing and having hauled ourselves here through several laborious years we remain shy about such drastic measures as property ownership. A certain part of my brain whose voice I don’t entirely recognize whispers to me occasionally that if we were ever to make such a plunge, now may not be the worst time to do it. I listened to my dad talk sometimes about finances especially as related to significant moves like investments and he mentioned once in a while a sense, like a feeling, that told him what ought to be done. On at least one occasion he ignored that and sought the advice of a “professional” who led him completely astray. I can’t decide if the whisper represents my own version of my dad’s inner wisdom or an echo of the idiot professionals who cling to optimism like a bit of shipwreck flotsam.

In any case, our locational schizophrenia suggests that purchases come with leg irons so heavy we may sink teeth into our own legs to try and escape and I have no interest in that. I don’t even shave my legs. So we trudged from apartment complex to apartment complex, armed with a ream of printouts from Craig and his ubiquitous lists. Our demands are, we feel, relatively reasonable: Washer and dryer in unit, two bedrooms and at least one and a half bathrooms, second floor location and accepting of our pet without forcing us to take second jobs to cover an additional deposit and afford the worst of all landlord atrocities ever conceived: The unctuous “pet rent.”

We certainly have a lengthy list of “like to haves” crafted over the course of a collective seven apartment residences. They range in severity but they aren’t unreasonable either: Included microwave, ample kitchen cabinet space, split sink, medicine cabinets in the bathrooms, security measures, storage space (a garage would be great!), functionally-located cable outlets and sufficient guest parking. Of course there are other considerations that are unlikely to rule out a specific complex but could impact the final decision like hardwood floors (I’m a big fan), spacious balcony/deck, management that is flexible with painting projects and a feasible move-in/out configuration (one place we looked at had three 45° turns in the staircase just to get to the second floor!).

So naturally the very first place we stopped to look had very nearly all the things we were looking for. It boasted reasonable move-in pricing, washer and dryer (full size, I might add), two bedrooms and two baths with a clever layout and no pet rent. It also had a fair amount of kitchen storage, medicine cabinets, an in-unit alarm system, a garage, plenty of guest parking, a huge L-shaped balcony and a living room that was the perfect size for our furnishings. The unit was a “model” which means it is an unoccupied floorplan unit that has been furnished by the property owners to appear lived in, complete with already-on lights and an activated radio. I come close to detesting this method of unit display because its phony veneer of “what it could be” represents nothing of the homes actual humans occupy. Some places go so far as to include casually arranged breakfast trays complete with realistic-looking plastic food on the (made) bedspreads as though someone took the time to get up, make the bed, make breakfast, clean the kitchen and then go back into the bedroom to enjoy it but got called away after a single forkful.


I’m not suggesting that everyone’s house is a trainwreck. As a matter of fact many of my friends and family have wonderfully decorated and organized homes. What I’m trying to say is that these spaces lack even a speck of verisimilitude and instead most closely resemble hotel rooms that have inexplicably been arranged to look like they already have occupants. In some cases they offer helpful visual cues, I confess. One model we looked at had a queen sized bed in it, revealing the extent to which the room’s space dwarfed our current room. But more often they make visualizing the interior as your own almost impossible, akin to imagining what it would be like if you moved all your stuff into the conference room at work.

Anyway, like the diligent consumers we are we didn’t stop there but continued on through one nearly interchangeable room after another, handing over our ID cards and phone numbers in exchange for tours of quasi-functional apartment kitchens, badly outdated cabinet facades, shoddily shampooed carpets and unremarkable window views. We met a variety of characters in our travels including a handsome younger woman with a curious hole in the shoulder of her sweater, a bizarre woman who wore baggy men’s clothing and remained sexually ambiguous throughout the tour, an uncertain temporary employee that decided we should be shown an apartment with another couple we didn’t know and got lost trying to find the model unit and a bewildered elderly lady who lead us down an eerie hallway before trying to unlock the wrong door and had to send us back down the creepy hallway which for a moment I was sure would be cordoned by crime scene tape to hide our grisly murders.

We retired from the expedition, exhausted after these and several other encounters, to the unexpected serenity of a crowded restaurant. As we talked we discussed the window dressing reasons behind the move: Our respective commutes.

Incidentally we just relocated offices at work. Up until last week our main headquarters had been split in half between two buildings roughly a quarter mile removed from each other. We’d outgrown the first location, branched into the second, attempted to make the new place fit the entire staff and finally gave up and picked a new building several towns south of the original location. Technically it’s a longer drive for me in terms of distance: The new building’s location is at a sort of nexus point between Santa Clara, Cupertino and San Jose’s borders. That’s a couple dozen miles further south than the old place in Palo Alto.

But my previous driving options were to take 580 west to 880 via one of the worst bottlenecks in Bay Area traffic and then take the Dumbarton Bridge at a cost of $4 per day to 101 south and then drive up the traffic light-heavy Arastradero whose speed limit is a strictly enforced 25 MPH. Oh, and the two schools near the old building started their days at the same time my shift began which meant I was constantly battling hordes of crosswalk-crowding adolescents and their SUV-clad soccer moms. My other option, which I went with as the lesser of two evils, was a back route over the hills via highway 84. 84 is a winding, meandering two-lane road that skirts steep canyon cliffs and eventually dumps out onto 680, which I’d take south to Mission Boulevard and join the mass of people squeezing from the spacious 680 into a short stretch of surface streets through Fremont’s Warm Springs district and onto 880 south which I’d quickly abandon in favor of the parking lot that perpetually resides on 237 west. After nearly forty minutes of waiting to travel less than ten miles I’d find myself on 101 north, having effectively circumnavigated the Bay where I’d dodge a bit of traffic by using Shoreline Boulevard and cut over to Arastradero via El Camino Real, where the same setbacks applied regardless of the direction I had come on 101.

My commute, therefore, was a steady two hours and change on a weekday and a minimum of an hour and twenty minutes without traffic. One way. Coming home was usually not quite as bad and I could make the trip in just under two hours (I could skip the back route over the hill and go directly via 580 east due to my longer hours putting me on the road behind most of my fellow bedroom-community cattle). Either way I was looking at approximately four hours per day, three times a week and another two, maybe two and a half hours on a weekend shift.

Via simple serendipity my new commute has me following the same path up to 680 but then I pass the Mission exit and keep on trucking, down past the 880 interchange, until 680 becomes 280 south and then just past the 101 and a few exits beyond downtown San Jose I take the Lawrence Expressway exit and get on Stevens Creek Boulevard for half a block before I arrive at my work. The distance is greater but traffic on 680 is a steady clip most of the way, even the worst slow-and-go on 280 lasts for at most ten minutes and the result is a door-to-door travel time that has been averaging an hour and forty minutes in the morning and about an hour and ten minutes in the evening, usually regardless of what day it is.

All of which is a long way of saying the move at work has unexpectedly benefited me as far as my commute is concerned. As we ate our haphazardly prepared food we talked about what we had seen. This was supposed to be one of several expeditions to look at our various options, half to be centered where Friday’s took place and the other half focusing on the South Bay closer to my work. The ambiguity about our final location was based on several factors: Obviously the Tri-Valley area where we looked on Friday is just over the hill from where we live now which means a less drastic change: Social arrangements we’ve been accustomed to for approaching five years now (seven if you count our journey into the dark heart of that burning vista, a place of torment and bile from which only one thing crawled still alive: This site) are more likely to remain in place, Nikki’s employment would not need undergo a drastic upheaval, etc. But at the time we also thought it might not be sufficient to alleviate the pain of my daily excursion to work. After all, as the car drives the Tri-Valley is a mere twenty minutes from where we live now.

But what we didn’t anticipate was the move at work being so beneficial to my commute. Now all of a sudden those extra twenty minutes or so (maybe more depending on how close we end up to a 680 on-ramp) could have a pretty significant impact. My main goal in all of this talk of moving has been to get my average commute under an hour one way. A significant portion of the morning commute for me is getting from our house to roughly the area we were in looking for apartments. Starting from that point would probably get me to work in a little over one hour. Getting home would probably be slightly less, maybe 45 minutes.

Without realizing it, this basically deflated any possible reasons we had for looking out close to my work. Naturally having a breezy sub-fifteen minute commute or an enviable surface-street only drive (or even better, a quick step across the parking lot like Nik once enjoyed) would be superb, but I remind myself that I voluntarily eschewed a six-minute commute to immerse myself back into the Silicon Valley chaos, seeking the higher wages of private corporations versus the fair but unremarkable pay of public service. It hardly seems just to force so much change on my family because of a (let’s face it) greed-based decision I made a few years ago. At this point, I should take my sub-hour commute—respectable for a Bay Area dweller!—and be happy.

I don’t fully understand property management companies, specifically their misguided theory of salesmanship. Maybe I’m misunderstanding but I’m of the opinion that apartments more or less sell themselves. I mean, either a place is what you’re looking for in the price range you like or not. I’m sure there is some negotiation that can happen, but it’s not like buying a car where the product itself isn’t more or less static. A property manager or real estate agent has very little control over the appeal of a complex, maybe a little over individual units but none so much that I feel like these people have to really push the sale. Yet that is exactly what they do. The requisite phone numbers you must provide before getting a chance to peek inside at what may eventually be your home aren’t just given for the sake of trivia: They use those things and they waste no time about it. Our visits to these places were on Friday and on Sunday—Easter Sunday, mind—I was getting calls reminding me that such-and-such a place had units available if we needed, you know, shelter. Nik and I shared number-giving responsibilities and today was her turn to get the deluge of follow-up calls, determined I suppose to prove themselves more anxious to bind us into an infernal lease than the other properties.

The process is far from over. We have more places to look (though perhaps fewer than we originally thought, now that the South Bay seems a remote, nearly forgotten option), decisions to make and then the arduous task of executing the actual relocation. Our last move was carried out in an act of pure will with as little outside intervention as possible. But then our total travel distance was maybe six hundred yards and we’re looking at a considerable step up this time around. Had Uncle Sam not hocked a loogie directly onto my schemes I might have organized a group of over-compensated yet burly men to handle the affair for me this time, but it looks like my lot in life is to spend a month of nearly every year trying to recall why we have as many possessions as we do and committing heinous acts of unjustified revenge on my hapless back.

But when it’s time, it’s just time.

With Sun That Touches Hearts

I rolled the window down to let the breeze of motion cool my face; the expected coastal winds were noticeably absent without help from the moving car. I turned up the radio, some anonymous station playing new rock that sounded suspiciously like old rock that I used to hear in high school. It had a persistent beat and a tolerable melody so my foot tapped of its own volition.

The stretch of road that runs around the large business park block where our soon-to-be vacated office lies is crisscrossed by small swatches of what was once wild lands, a large pond hides between multi-story buildings that house technology companies and corporate satellite offices from larger firms whose headquarters are elsewhere. Creekbeds wind through the area, running down the gentle slopes of the hills and forcing city planners to be creative with the placements of parking lots and strip malls.

It felt like an eternity since this kind of tranquility had crowded out the worry and stress from my over-active mind and allowed me a moment of peace. I relished it, briefly. The reason for the mid-day drive was an all too short lunch break where I was planning to try and run and errand as well as pick up something to eat in under thirty minutes but in the fleeting moment I only had to point the car ahead, feel the moving air and sunshine, and hear the music.

* * * * *

The errand was to return the cheap pair of noise-canceling headphones I’d picked up from Fry’s last week. Not only did the NC feature “work” by blasting literally audible static into the ear, but they were based off the design for a torture device whose purpose was to crush skulls one centimeter at a time.

The returns process was not as painful as I had feared, for all of Fry’s plethora of faults they do at least have a pretty generous return policy and a halfway efficient process to boot. Afterward I spent a few moments back in the headphone aisle but since trying on a pair of Bose headphones had been enough to convince me the TDK set I bought was laughably shoddy, there was little hope that the other models displayed proudly in their impossible-to-open stiff plastic bubble packaging would compare.

I left empty-handed but with a slightly more robust wallet, a state which I find little to complain about.


I realize I promised a playlist example for you yesterday, but I felt really sick all day so please forgive me. I will get it posted, as soon as I have time to finalize some of my selections, but it will have to be later this week. I guess there is a reason I avoid making blog-related promises.

Made For Walking

Nik bought me a new pair of boots for Valentine’s Day. Doctor Marten’s, for the detail-oriented.

This isn’t necessarily significant if it were coming from anyone else (I mean me, not Nik… she’s very generous). But for me to have new boots… well, it’s a thing. To set up the significance you should understand that this year we decided to have a “theme” for our Valentine’s Day gifts: We gave each other things that we knew the other would never buy for themselves. In fact, we made it a requirement. So she couldn’t get me any video games or underwear or hats and I couldn’t get her magazines or shoes or perfume. It was a fun exercise.

So why wouldn’t I buy myself boots? Because I had a pair of boots. Doctor Marten’s as a matter of fact. But when I say I had a pair of boots I mean I had them. My parents gave them to me for Christmas when I was either fifteen or sixteen, I can’t remember any longer. But let me tell you, whatever else I got for Christmas that year has long since been used, broken, discarded, lost or given away. But not those boots.

I went into a shoe store last year looking for something else… a sweatshirt or jacket or something. It’s not important. But being a shoe store, the salesman’s eyes shot right to my feet to see what I was sporting. His eyes widened when they saw my boots. To fully understand you have to realize that after fifteen years these boots were worn. I mean, it’s not like I drug them out for certain occasions: They were my freakin’ boots man and they’d been to at least thirteen states, survived a motorcycle accident, lasted through high school, college, trade school, camping trips, every actual job I’ve ever held, marriage, everything. I’d never once polished them so the toes were worn and scuffed and grey. The soles were worn to 1/2 their original height (more in some pressure spots… I measured against the new pair) and the insides were a perfect and exact mold of my feet. Here’s a bit of trivia for you: Through all that, I still had the original laces. With the plastic end caps fully intact.

So this salesman… more like a kid really. He stares at my shoes and says something like, “Those look well-worn.” I cocked an eyebrow at him.

“Son,” I began, asserting an air of wisdom and authority, “I’ve had these boots since you were in short pants.”

I’m paraphrasing here. I don’t actually talk like my grandmother. But the guy was suitably impressed. Rightfully impressed.

So yeah, I got new boots and Nik sweated about it for weeks. It did fit the gift criteria: I would never have replaced my own boots. But would I accept new boots? Nik asked Gin for advice. Gin was skeptical. She didn’t think I’d go for it.

When I peeled off the paper and saw what she had gotten me, I grinned. “Sweet! New boots!” I immediately took off the old pair and put on the new. Nik tried to ease the blow by saying we could take them back or exchange them or anything else I wanted to do with them. I shrugged and left them on. I threw my old pair into the back of the closet.

They were good boots. They were my boots.

But now I have a new pair.

Quick Like Cat

Shortly, as I must join the homeward commute presently:

  • I’ve been making headway on the ironSoap book/formatted archives and I just finished part two. The parts are determined by Google Docs’ (nee Writely) retarded and arbitrary file size limitation of 512K. Anyway, I began working on part three when I realized that the tarball I’ve carefully preserved since I moved to WordPress is half corrupted and my backup files go through September 2002 at the latest. I do have a slew of miscellaneous and ill-labeled archive CDs that I can search through but you can bet this won’t speed up the book’s completion any.
  • My fool-proof strategy for avoiding the receipt nazis at stores who criminally refuse to let you leave without analyzing your purchases as if you were crossing the border with several crates of produce: Pull out cell phone, stride purposefully past while hitting random buttons and pretending to be far too busy to hear their plaintive cries to stop so they can treat you like a thief.
  • I have discovered the purpose for my work-granted ThinkGeek gift certificate (a Christmas present, mind): AirSoft weaponry.
  • Never, ever, ever mix Red Bull with SweetTarts. I’m just saying, I know a guy who did and it didn’t turn out well for him.
  • There is a new poll.

Sidestepping the Magniloquence

I think it would be nice to say, “Hey look, I have a new post. It is well-researched, carefully edited and revised and thoughtfully written.” But you’d probably be like, “Where am I and what happened to ironSoap?” So in the interest of fulfilling your expectations… hastily written bullet points! Ahh…

  • Tomorrow is Super Tuesday. If you are part of a Super Tuesday state, I encourage you to vote. Now, I know that primary elections aren’t as significant as the general election in November so if you skate on this one, I’ll forgive you but only if you promise—and pinky-swear!—to vote later this year.
  • If you do vote tomorrow and can participate in the Republican election, would you please consider Ron Paul?
  • I know people like to say that voting for an underdog is like throwing your vote away but, well, tell that to New York Giants fans. Truth is, you never know.
  • And while I’m sorta on the subject, how weird was that Super Bowl? I mean it was the biggest snoozer of all time until the 4th quarter at which point it became a great game, seemingly out of nowhere. The telling statistic? There were three lead changes in the fourth quarter: A Super Bowl record. I listened to the end of the game on my commute home from work. When Manning tossed that pass for the TD late in the game, I LOL’d. Seriously.
  • You may have already gathered from the Twitter feed (had you been following along at home like I keep telling you), but I finally made my HD dreams come true last weekend. We picked up a Samsung 46″ LCD, got rid of the old 36″ Trinitron, wrangled some HD cable and iced the cake with a PS3/Blu-Ray, an HD-capable TiVo and a Logitech Harmony 550 universal remote. It was a lot of money… so much that I kind of freaked out about it for a little while, but then I caught my first Sharks game in HD and, well, I didn’t feel so bad about it after that. There is more to the story, of course, including a still-ongoing royal rumble with Comcast over the acquisition of a cable card for the TiVo, but I’ll spare you the details until I can provide the epilogue.
  • So… there’s this movie called ‘Sunshine.’ It’s deeply flawed but I think still worth watching. Either way, it basically did for Blu-Ray what The Matrix did for DVD: Sell the format.
  • I have, however, decided that I no longer have any interest in purchasing physical copies of movies. As such I won’t be “upgrading” my DVD collection to Blu-Ray. Aside from the general uncertainty of the format’s future, I just am sick of storing movies in my living space. First we had a pretty impressive collection of VHS tapes. Now we’ve finally gotten to where we have a lot of DVDs. I don’t care to go through the exercise again, so until we all figure out how too handle digital film storage, I’ll stick to rentals.
  • Of course, the PS3 came with Spider-Man 3 (ugh) and also included a 5-free Blu-Ray offer (which I felt obliged to take advantage of) so I will have at least six of the stupid things. But that’s it! I’m not paying for any more.
  • I am also fully aware my resolve has no bearing on the activities of my spouse, who loves to own her favorite movies and TV shows. I guess I better buy a new DVD rack.
  • You know what I think is tacky? That the Cheesecake Factory has ads in their menus.
  • However, TCF makes a mean meatloaf.
  • Nik and I saw Michael Clayton over the weekend. It’s a pretty great flick although I didn’t think so until the very end, and there is still a particular scene that I don’t quite understand once the “truth” is revealed. Or I guess considering what that truth does reveal. Either way, it left Nik and I scratching our heads. Also, it has to have the worst title of the year. Who wants to see a movie named after the fictional lead character? It’s not even some deeply memorable character nor a remarkable/memorable name like Forrest Gump. Michael Clayton sounds like the title of a biopic for some long-ago sports star no one remembers.
  • I would have gone with “The Fixer” or perhaps “The Settlement.” But that’s just me.
  • Snack Watch: So, if you like Sun Chips I implore you to find the “Garden Salsa” flavor, they are exquisite. However, you may also want to investigate Cinnamon Sun Chips (you read that right) which sound questionable but are in fact quite delicious (though more of a standalone snack than a lunch accompaniment). You may also be interested in knowing that the Black Cherry and Almond flavor of Clif bars are especially tasty if you need a mid-afternoon light meal. And I can say with confidence that the energy drink Nos is not suitable for human consumption.
  • On the flip side, has anyone tried Chocolate Chex yet? Nik is too chicken to try them and I’m hit or miss with Chex brand cereal, but I can see it being a fine addition to a batch of Chex mix. Anyone?
  • I’m committed to Lost for the long haul, but I’m terribly, terribly disappointed in the direction they’ve decided to take the show.
  • I have to give some respect to Netflix, a company which had such a terrible site back when I joined almost five years ago that I filed a bug report on it. Now they have one of the best designed, most user-friendly sites I frequent. As a simple example, I indicated to them that I was interested in getting Blu-Ray discs when available. Their system simply confirms that you know what you’re talking about and that you have the appropriate hardware and then it automagically goes in and replaces any movies in your queue with Blu-Ray versions. Brilliant.
  • I loved the book Freakonomics and since I finished it I’ve been following the Freakonomics blog, which often has funny, insightful or thought-provoking posts. Today they had one I found cynical and amusing in all the right ways: Choose a six word motto for the US. My favorite sarcastic suggestion: “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Democracy.” My favorite funny suggestion: “Just like Canada, with Better Bacon.”
  • As much as I love Rock Band, especially the multiplayer, Band World Tour mode is sadly flawed in a fairly fundamental way. And the fact that online co-op doesn’t allow BWT mode is kind of a criminal oversight. Still, I have faith in my Joey Big Hat bandmates to rise above the stupid game limitations.
  • It occurs to me that we need a band logo. And I think you can upload such files into the game and use them as tattoos for your avatar.
  • Excuse me, I have some Photoshopping to do.

A Quiet Satisfaction

It’s not that there aren’t any reasons for me to revert to my default mode of grouchy crankiness, it’s that somehow I’m fully capable of ignoring those reasons, at least today. The resulting mood is an alien sensation, something I presume is my own filtered version of contentment and joy. And like the countering forces, there is an air of mystery around the happiness catalysts: I can identify them, but I can’t describe why they seem to matter more today than usual.

Whatever the case, I thought I’d mix it up around here and give you a few thoughts of a positive and uplifting nature. Or as near as I come.

  • I love the Fruit Guys. They deliver a variety of fruit to businesses sort of as a healthy alternative for companies that like to provide snacks to employees. What I like is that they branch out beyond the typical apples and bananas and include blueberries, grapes, pears, peaches, apricots and so on (depending on what’s in season). They happen to get our shipment here on the same day that they usually bring in bagels so Monday mornings I typically have a tasty (and free!) breakfast of blueberry bagel, piece of fruit and a glass of milk. There’s usually enough fruit left to compliment lunch, too. Today my breakfast peach and my lunch pear were both delicious.
  • Nik and I got new phones on Saturday. Originally we had different models, but the Samsung I went with wasn’t working out for me (and it was $20 more than the LG VX9900 phone Nik got) so Nik took it back for me and got another one like hers (only in olive green rather than silver). Our biggest desire was to have a full QWERTY keypad since we’ve gotten into the habit of using text messages about 75% of the time, so we have that plus we got the full unlimited data package which allows us to hook our email into the phones as well. I know I was pretty psyched about the RAZR when it was new and that eventually wore off, which I’m sure will happen again with this phone, but the prices were right and we got good service from Verizon (a marked difference from AT&T, our original provider, who basically told us flat out that they didn’t care one way or the other if we stayed with them). For the moment, I’m happy with my phone.
  • I’ve been working on an interesting project at work, which is a very nice change of pace since I get to create something and watch my work unfold rather than just respond. Normally when I have “work to do” it means there is something broken, so I had almost forgotten what it was like to feel satisfied with something I was doing. Unfortunately my skills have been stretched close to their limits trying to make this work and I decided to use an unfamiliar tool at a critical juncture which is causing me some problems. Still, these problems are of my own design and I can tell that resolving the issues will be even more satisfying so I’m happy to work on it, unlike most problems I address which result in a sort of shrug and a “Well, that probably worked. Let’s wait and see if it breaks again.”
  • I may have to work today, but at least bank holidays mean far less traffic on the commute trail which is always a nice change. And I like this holiday a lot: It’s nice to have a day set aside to honor someone legitimately worthy. I don’t always understand why we set aside New Year’s Day and Columbus Day as holidays, but for MLK ‘s birthday, I understand completely.
  • Our house was a horrible mess on Saturday night and I had promised Nik on Friday that I’d clean the whole thing. Then we ended up spending hours and hours shopping (mostly for the phones) all afternoon and I wasn’t looking forward to spending my last night before “Monday” cleaning. Then without fanfare or anything Nik stepped in and we knocked the whole thing out in about an hour together. Now the place is all nice and clean and it wasn’t an egregious hassle either.
  • I caught up on some of the email replies I’d let slip over the last couple of weeks this morning. I don’t know why I let things like that go; I always feel guilty about it and I don’t have any negative connotation with composing email correspondence so there’s no reason for my procrastination. Plus I hate seeing a relatively empty inbox and knowing it’s my own fault. Today I feel like the ball is in other folks’ court, so I’m content.
  • So one negative thing that I’m going to spin as a positive is that I discovered that among the other flaky behavior with my old phone over the last few months, it would arbitrarily decide not to alert me about new messages or grant me access to my voicemail. It was inconsistent; enough that I probably lost several messages and or never got others but not enough that I was fully clear on the extent of the problem. If you tried to call and left a message sometime in the last several months but I didn’t get back to you, I’m sorry. I’d blame the phone but honestly if I were better about keeping it with me and on I’d probably have answered a few times and avoided the situation entirely. Plus I knew the phone was garbage and kept using it anyway. But in either case, I believe my new phone works as advertised so if you care to try again, I’d appreciate the second chance.
  • Someone stop me before it gets all cheerful in here.

The Occasional Taste

I’ve been sick for the last few days with a pretty hefty cold. I thought it was the flu at first because of the general sense of achy unpleasantness and chills, but after staying home on Wednesday and having it not manifest with the usual aches and fever I’m inclined to believe it’s merely an industrial-strength common cold.

I’m still recovering but I’ve been doing a lot of lying around and thinking so I have a few unconnected thoughts and anecdotes to share, in a familiar format.

  • For reasons that won’t make sense unless you’re a gamer who owns an Xbox 360 and an OCD-afflicted psychopath such as myself, I purchased a copy of Madden 06 for under $5 from my local game store and have been simulating thirty seasons worth of games. What’s significant about this is that, according to the software, the 49ers won’t win the Super Bowl again until the year 2033. Just something to look forward to.
  • I’m reading a wonderful book by Naomi Klein called “No Logo” about marketing, advertising and branding. There is a passage in the book that stuck with me:

    The people who line up for Starbukcs, writes CEO Howard Shultz, aren’t just there for the coffee. “It’s the romance of the coffee experience, the feeling of warmth and community people get in Starbucks stores.”

    I guess that’s why I dislike Starbucks. Here I thought they made bad coffee and served them in pretentious and ubiquitous locations. Turns out the make pretentious and ubiquitous locations in which to serve bad coffee.

  • Our band name (comprised of myself on “vocals,” Nik on guitar, HB on drums and Gin as a roadie/groupie, but soon she’ll play bass… I just don’t have another guitar-shaped controller) is “Joey Big Hat is a Bit Much.” It’s completely an inside joke and probably not a very funny one at that. However, it still cracks me up whenever I think about it.
  • The above bullet refers to Rock Band, which Nik bought me for my birthday.
  • However, I’ve decided that this year I will buy a new guitar (I’m thinking Fender Telecaster), Nik has indicated that she wants to take guitar lessons and Lister has indicated that once he returns from overseas he wants to get a bit more serious about forming a jam band so music is on people’s minds. There may one day be a real-life variant of JBHiaBM. We probably won’t cover Bon Jovi’s “Dead or Alive” however.
  • My folks sent me a very kind gift for my birthday which was essentially funds to be converted into San Jose Sharks tickets. I did some digging around and found that you can actually buy unwanted season tickets for a single game through Ticketmaster which seems to be the only way to get lower-reserve seating. But I found that the price differs wildly depending on what team is visiting. For example, for about $60 a ticket I can get lower-reserve center ice tickets (row 25) and see the Sharks play the Columbus Blue Jackets. For those same seats I can see them play the Anaheim Ducks… for $300 each.
  • I’m probably going to see the Blue Jackets.
  • We went and saw Juno on New Year’s Eve. It’s an exceptional movie.
  • Just days before my birthday I went to the eye doctor as a sign of solidarity with Nik, who was going because she’s had terrible migraines for about a month now and her doctor suggested she may be having vision trouble (the actual doctorese-to-English translation of that is “I have no idea what’s wrong, so hows about a stab in the dark?”). I hadn’t had my eyes checked in a very long while so I went along, assuming my vision was still 20/20. It’s not. Now I need glasses. Strangely, Nik and I need practically the same prescription.
  • I have no delusions that people who meet me or pass me on the street are fooled into thinking I’m anything but a nerd. However, for those few who may have been blinded by the ruse, I think glasses ought to remove all doubt.
  • Truthfully, I’m okay with that. However, with my basketball-shaped noggin, hairless pate and the chunky Buddy Holly style glasses I went with, I fear I may end up resembling Dr. Bunsen Honeydew.

Twitter Year

I discovered this wonderful statistics-gathering Perl script via the equally excellent Rands in Repose blog. It gathers data about your Twitter activity for general analysis which is incredibly geeky but, to one such as myself, also fantastically cool.

Since Twitter is rapidly becoming my preferred method of remote communication, I simply had to try this out. Unfortunately the default script package was designed to use Apple’s Numbers spreadsheet software which I don’t own so I used the variant script found in the comments for the original script post to use Google instead and came up with the following:

Tweets per hour
Tweets per hour

Tweets per day
Tweets per day

Tweets per month
Tweets per month

So some of the data is a little strange-looking primarily because up through August I was working a grave shift and since as you can see from the daily chart I do most of my Twittering during work hours, I have some activity in the wee hours of the morning. However, I’ve begun Twittering much more earnestly in the last couple of months, mostly due to me finally convincing several friends to join, which means the activity seems heavily weighted toward the regular daylight hours.

You’ll note a fairly fitful start at the beginning of the year. I’ve noticed that there seems to be kind of an adjustment period when people first get on the site: You update for a few days, forget about it for a week or so, remember again and make a single update and so on. Until at last there comes this sort of moment of clarity where you either get the critical mass of friends and acquaintances involved enough that it becomes a real means of communication (as opposed to an interesting toy) or you become so enamored with the idea of following the activities of other people in tiny bite-sized morsels delivered throughout the day that it just “sticks.” You’ll note that October was the moment of clarity for me and the dip in November was a sad side effect of me being dumb and forgetting that I can update from my phone while we were in Seattle visiting Fast-Track.

Incidentally, it would have been awesome to have Twittered from Seattle and I sincerely regret my lapse; I lamented the oversight on Twitter hours after we got back.

The script also tracks the ‘@reply’ usage as well, but since it took me the better part of the year to get anyone on the site that I know well enough to reply to, my stats in that category are dull and unimpressive (hence the omission). It’s also misleading because I’ve noticed that with Nik I tend to use direct messages (‘d DixieGirl’ for example) when I need to speak to her directly versus ‘@DixieGirl’ which everyone can see. However I tend to have semi-public conversations with Ryan so my top ‘@reply’ listing is @corvock even though I communicate with Nik via Twitter at least 3-to-1 compared with Ryan. But obviously these stats can’t collect info on the direct messages which aren’t publicly visible (that’s sort of the point).

What I find most interesting about all this is how it took Twitter to really make me see the benefit of text messaging, but because of it I now have a pretty steady stream of messages coming into (and out of) my phone. For sanity’s sake and also for the sake of my cell phone bill I’ve had to limit the people who’s tweets update directly on my phone to Nik and Scott, but I sincerely regret not being hip to what’s happening with Red, Gin, Whimsy, Lister, Ryan and the rest simply because I can’t afford to have 25 messages per day.

However, with Twitter facilitating so much of my daily communication now and with discoveries like the sublime Oh, Don’t Forget, I may have to simply call AT&T and crank up my text message plan to the next level and just be done with it.

Every Once in a Little While

I realize I’ve been neglecting the three people who read this site, but even as I shed some commitments that I made with the best of intentions to free up some time, the crushing demand for my mental capacity remains unwieldy. It doesn’t help that my maximum threshold was… unremarkable to begin with.

I have nothing noteworthy to say, but I feel compelled to stop in now and again to say “hi” as if that compensated for my general malaise. Better that I could produce something of note, but I’m sure you’ve come to expect nothing of the kind. Lo, the bullet point!

  • I started following the Sharks about a month and a half into the season, or, if you prefer, several games ago. They currently sit atop the Pacific Division by a small margin, but they scarcely seem to deserve their position. What I’m more concerned about however is that it seems Sirius satellite radio’s loss of the NHL contract to XM escaped my notice. This development significantly impacts my affection for the service, and the terrestrial alternatives which ought to fit neatly into my driving-heavy schedule are so poor as to be nearly worthless. The general lack of appreciation for the country’s best sport remains a perpetual thorn in my side.
  • Are you on Twitter? If not, please acclimate yourself to it promptly. I realize that the beauty of micro-blogging takes some time to appreciate, but once you accept the elegance of the 140-character limitation and note the wide assortment of update/notification options available, it fits casually into one’s life the way few other technological/social cross-breedings can.
  • Had you been following my Twitter feed (which is conveniently updated on this very site), you would have noted that my Xbox broke about a week after my buddy Foster’s did. I tried to arrange a bait-and-switch scam with him to utilize my store warranty which I fear will expire presently without use. He declined for reasons that are his own, but when my machine broke the point became moot—until it began to be clear that a key component of the exchange (my receipt) had not smoothly made the move across town last spring. Hope still lingers that the mysterious boxes in the garage hold the valuable treasure, but they have become bed and breakfast facilities for several species of repugnant critters who respond to interruptions of their romantic vacationing by scurrying up one’s pant legs and distributing the crawling creeps whose effects last and last, sometimes for days.
  • I had occasion over the last couple of weeks to work on some projects that felt strangely like coding. Wednesday is the day when our weekly shifts overlap so we have double coverage on all shifts and, when the day and swing hours intersect, up to four NOC personnel on hand. Because of this and because we only have two workstations, I chose to pull out my iBook and just do some project work elsewhere and let others handle the task of watching the service. As I worked and switched between Terminal, MySQL, Finder, Safari, Colloquy, Mail and installed various unix applications, OS X applications and generally made a lot of progress I noted that I was feeling something reminiscent, something almost forgotten: Joy, while computing. I’ve been working on Windows machines for about two years now as my primary employment-based environment and while tools like PuTTY, Pidgin and Firefox make things sort of tolerable, I never feel happy to be working on them. I think part of it is also that the work I was doing was similar to the kinds of things I used to do at my City job and, before that, the kinds of things I used to do contractually at home. But the uniting thread was really that I was working in a comfortable environment on something that interested me. That’s been happening less and less frequently the last couple of years and I need to find a way to recapture that because on days when I’m being honest with myself I note that I’m getting dangerously close to burning out in this line of work. What’s terrifying is that aside from muddling through technology work, I’m utterly useless as an employee.
  • We’re heading up to Seattle for Thanksgiving this year, a departure of sorts but one I’m very much looking forward to. I went there last summer and absolutely loved it so I expect to have even more fun this time with additional folks along to appreciate it. And if you think I won’t be getting cream cheese hot dogs, you’re flat wrong. I’m not saying they will replace the turkey dinner, I’m just saying they are inevitable and given the choice between leftover turkey sandwiches carefully layered with gravy-moistened cornbread stuffing and cream cheese hot dogs, the outcome is not predetermined and may possibly result in paralysis. Of the mind.
  • Exercise is my foe. It’s like this: I truly love being active. It’s kind of taken me a long time to realize this, because it suggests something that isn’t precisely true. But when I had buddies at work who were willing to join me and the time to spare, a high point of every day was going to the gym. And all I was doing was light cardio and some minor weight training. Practically the second I switched jobs and lost my daily partners, I drifted away from my daily regimen. These days I try to make it to the gym as often as is practical, but in fact the only consistency I’ve had is meeting my buddy Dave a couple of times on my off days for tennis or racquetball. And yet, again, those activities are among my week’s delights. It’s not that I’m terribly athletic—quite the opposite, actually—it’s that I find the typical awkwardness of purely social encounters dissipates entirely when framed by physical activity. In a strange twist, when either element is removed from the equation the result is remarkably unsatisfying and I prefer to retreat to my default environment of inactive and antisocial. Note that the general benefit of exercise remains even without any social context, and that includes a general sense of well-being and mental clarity, but I cannot apply raw logic to the scenario. For someone who keeps unusual hours and yet spends most of them parked in a chair with ready access to an assortment of free or dangerously inexpensive snacks, the recipe is fraught with peril.
  • My brother, a generally awesome guy, upped his awesomeness factor once again by patiently waiting for me to come ’round on digital music mixing. His steady but non-pressurized acclaim for products such as Reaper ensured that as my inevitable curiosity finally got the better of me, I would readily find details I needed to dabble. Now, granted, Scott is a superb musician and I am… not. But, I have a strong affinity for creative endeavors and this is the kind of tech nerd/art nerd hybrid that touches the soft white underbelly of my soul. At the moment my technical and financial situation makes for a sort of interested observer level of involvement, but it would be the work of a nice bonus check or a few hours overtime to enable some deeper investigation which may result in… well, best not to speculate. But should such a situation arise, you can be certain I’ll subject you to it all.

Stands to Reason

My mind drifts in and out of linear thought, with an emphasis on out. My tailbone is sore and I’m twitchy in my seat, having gone too long without significant physical activity. It’s too early for a break, but I tell my co-worker that I’m going anyway. What, exactly, are they going to say?

I lock my workstation so no one sends questionable emails in my name and I cast a disgusted look at the television feed playing in a picture-in-picture window atop a scattered and disorganized cluster of mostly incomprehensible graphs and monitoring readouts. The feed is tuned to some anonymous 24-hour news station and they’re gleefully recapping the day’s sordid celebrity gossip as if it were legitimately newsworthy. Somewhere in the span of time it takes me to stand and stretch my back out against the protestations my shoulders and knees the channel switches to a more somber tale of soldiers in Iraq who re-enlist without notifying their families back home. The channel is muted by workplace requirement but the potentially intriguing story is sharply undercut in the silence by the inappropriately low-cut blouse worn by the field correspondent.

Taking the back door to avoid traipsing through the rows of offices filled with half-familiar cubehounds who spend their days staring out of their doorways, awaiting some passerby to hijack into a one-sided conversation about whatever uninteresting television show they caught the night before, I step into the poorly decorated upstairs lobby of the office complex. I take the stairs, as always, moving mostly on instinct just for the excuse to move but not without any actual purpose. Halfway down I meet an arbitrary group of Dockers-and-Polos with their belt-clipped cell phones and Bachelor’s degree haircuts who refuse to yield even a millimeter in their center-stair ascent which forces me to try and impersonate the grainy off-white paint on the stairwell walls to avoid being trampled by sixteen pair of identical imitation leather loafers.

By the time the cool autumn air touches my face I’m mentally weighing the possible repercussions of simply climbing into my car and driving as fast as traffic will allow toward home. Some kind of ingrained sense of responsibility that I keep trying to convince myself I do not possess compels me instead to turn the other direction and move toward the back of the parking lot. I don’t venture this direction often and as I pass the building south of the featureless one I call work I note with a touch of surprise that the tree-lined lot set against a surprisingly structure-free hillside is vaguely picturesque.

My momentary astonishment is crushed by the bawdy and senselessly loud one-sided conversation from an unknown receptionist taking a cigarette break out by the dumpster housing, peppered with screeching laughter and context-free profanity. I wonder with disgust how there could be a tranquil scene so close and yet she would choose to spend her personal time pressed tightly against a reeking trash bin. I stuff my hands into my pockets as far as they will go and I walk away from her offending voice as fast as I can without incorporating arm movement.

I’m deep into my bitterness, staring at the pavement as I walk in who-knows-what direction when suddenly I come across a small, shallow puddle. I look down into the water’s reflective surface, noting that the late afternoon lighting is just so and the trees I didn’t know I was approaching stretch not up but down into the pool’s mirror world, where an entire sky is hidden just beneath the oily water’s plane. I’ve stopped walking without realizing and I stare, down but yet up, at the tops of the trees beneath my feet.

A sense of vertigo I didn’t expect cascades over me, sending a surprise shudder down my back and I avert my eyes, back up to the trees casting the reflection. The sky is blue-grey and a thin sheet of dimpled clouds makes the sunlight hazy and familiar, recognizable from the puddle-world I just saw. With a heavy sigh, I close my eyes and smile.

A Speling Be

I realize certain words are difficult to spell for a lot of people. “A lot,” for example is too commonly written as “alot.” The simple trick to remember that is, you’d never write “alittle,” and so you’d not “alot.” I love those little tricks because they work so well to provide context for what would otherwise be an exercise in rote memorization (a technique that clearly didn’t work in the first place). Sometimes a trick does not exist for a word I often misspell, so I have to make up my own. Here are a few of them.

  • I struggled with “significant” for a long time until I noticed that you can make a little sentence out of parts of the word. “Sign if I can’t” is, minus the apostrophe, the correct spelling.
  • The word “their,” aside from being part of the they’re/there/their trifecta of grammatical butchery, stymied me for some time because I was always trying to spell it “thier.” Once I noticed that no matter what form of the word you’re using it always contains the three-letter sequence “the,” it was no problem.
  • Definitely is “in it.” That’s how I remember that it’s not “definately” or “defanitely” or “defineitely” or whatever other mess of vowels people toss into that word. After the “def” and before the “ely” it’s just “in it.”

If you have your own little spelling tricks, I’d love to hear them.

Police Blotter Report, #2: Is This Maine?

The best part of this exchange, by far, is the abrupt topic change at the end, which had me laughing so hard my co-workers, who were playing four-player foosball and blaring Daft Punk at the time, yelled at me to keep it down.

(16:01:48) Nikki Hamilton: 5:47 p.m.: A woman on the 800 block of Kennedy Place told police that the neighbors’ children threw bottles and a live lobster over the fence into a jumpy house that family members had set up for a girl’s 10th birthday party.
(16:02:13) Paul Hamilton: who…
(16:02:18) Paul Hamilton: who has a live lobster on hand?
(16:02:29) Nikki Hamilton: that’s EXACTLY what i was thinking
(16:02:43) Nikki Hamilton: was it dinner and they just decided to use it as a weapon instead?
(16:02:58) Paul Hamilton: maybe it was meant as a gift?
(16:03:08) Paul Hamilton: I mean, that’s not a cheap dinner
(16:03:15) Nikki Hamilton: true.
(16:03:53) Nikki Hamilton: but, how many 10-year-olds enjoy lobster?
(16:04:16) Paul Hamilton: Right. I don’t know that it was high on her wish list
(16:04:22) Paul Hamilton: 3. Barbie
(16:04:27) Paul Hamilton: 2. Bratz Doll
(16:04:34) Paul Hamilton: 1. Succulent lobster dinner
(16:06:04) Nikki Hamilton: i’m going to go to barnes and noble

Also, a bonus IM conversation follows. As a bit of backstory, this exchange is with my friend Ryan. Ryan is awesome because he can out-geek me which isn’t exactly an accomplishment per se, but it does have a certain significance. Observe:

(15:14:56) Ryan Hardester: ok, I am all for willing suspension of disbelief .. I’m a cheap date like that but I am having troubles with Journeyman
(15:15:11) Paul Hamilton: I couldn’t stay up to watch it last night
(15:15:26) Paul Hamilton: getting tough to swallow?
(15:16:10) Ryan Hardester: doesn’t matter how understanding your wife is … she won’t put up with disappearing for long
(15:16:30) Ryan Hardester: and she seems less than understanding to begin with
(15:16:46) Paul Hamilton: wait.
(15:17:19) Paul Hamilton: the guy spontaneously jumps through time and you’re having trouble accepting that his wife would be okay with him being gone?
(15:17:27) Ryan Hardester: well… yeah