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.

A Potent Blend

I’ve recently been thinking about music more. Music is a very important part of my life and digital music has allowed people (like me) to adapt their music—that is, the music they listen to as opposed to that which they create—in a more significant way than was possible or at least practical previously. Collections of songs aren’t anything new nor are they particularly heralded by digital formats, but they’re significantly easier to create than previous methods allowed and the collections themselves no longer need artificial limitations such media capacity (tape length, etc.) although there still are limitations depending on device or storage but when we’re talking about subsets in the thousands of songs from collections many times that it’s functionally a non-issue.

Actually, length is kind of significant for the things I’ve been thinking about because what I’m trying to determine is the best method for creating The Mix, which is to say a semi-definitive collection of songs that are ideally suited for the broadest number of occasions. I don’t know about you but my music listening tends to be based on a huge number of factors that range from current mood to present setting to company to the number of times I’ve heard a particular song, artist or album in the recent past. Making a good mix or playlist can be difficult because the requirements may be drastically different from moment to moment.

But ignoring the potential impossibility of the task for a moment, I’m still working on a formula for what I’ll redefine as the most adaptable mix possible. It may help to further define the premise for the mix which is why after much thought I’ve decided that the easiest way to get a really great mix is to try to musically define myself through this project. My assumption is that if I try to cover all aspects of my personality with a song or two, I have the best chance of creating something that is likely to resonate, at least in part, regardless of time or place.

All fine and good. But what of the earlier question of length? My initial thought was to make it limitless. With iPods that hold dozens of hours of music or even entire libraries of songs and even inexpensive low-capacity devices that can hold several hundred songs there’s hardly cause for imposing limitations, right? But the problem is that there is fundamentally no difference between that and, say, having my whole music collection on a high-capacity device and setting the whole thing to “Shuffle Library.” Technically speaking, that is me in a musical nutshell since at some point for some reason I acquired those songs.

So I think the premise if it is to be successful requires some kind of parameters. My reasoned opinion is that the list should be limited by time and not song count and the cutoff should be two and a half hours. That’s roughly two and a half CDs which is plenty sufficient for most normal music-listening situations be it travel time, a stretch of work or as background for another activity (like a social gathering perhaps). It’s long enough that a second playthrough will probably not be onerous since each track’s appearance is theoretically a couple of hours apart but not so long that you’d have to wait forever to hear a particular inclusion and is plenty of room to include a broad cross section of most people’s libraries, including a full album or two if that’s your bag. The key is that you can come in as far under the limit as you wish, but you cannot go over.

Okay, so the ground rules are set now… how do you choose which songs to include? Assuming an average song length of three and a half minutes, two and a half hours gives you a bit more than 40 songs to include. Obviously there will be wiggle room if you include a lot of punk songs and less if you’re partial to progressive rock epics. Still, using that number as a guideline here’s what I came up with:

  • 5 songs that make you want to dance.
  • 4 songs whose lyrics seem to be about you.
  • 3 songs that remind you of younger days.
  • 3 songs that reinforce your good moods.
  • 2 songs you’d learn if you picked up a new instrument.
  • 2 songs that pick you up when you’re feeling down.
  • 2 songs that make you feel normal for feeling down.
  • 2 songs whose music seems to be written for you.
  • 2 songs that reflect your spirituality.
  • 1 song that puts sad times into perspective.
  • 1 song you associate with the saddest time in your life.
  • 1 song that makes you hopeful for the future.
  • 1 song that puts a good mood into perspective.
  • 1 song you associate with the happiest time in your life.
  • 1 song you can’t help but sing along with.
  • 1 song you can’t hope to sing well but wish you could.
  • 1 song that soothes you when you’re angry.
  • 1 song you feel is the most romantic thing you’ve ever heard.
  • 1 song that represents your greatest regret.
  • 1 song that represents your greatest triumph.
  • 1 song you’d want played during the closing credits of a movie about your life.
  • 1 song you’d want played during the intro credits of a movie about your life.
  • 1 instrumental.
  • 1 guilty pleasure song.

Any additional space you have left can be used however you see fit and if you run overtime you can always trim the multiple song categories down, but this is the template I’m using.

So what do you think? Does this cover all the bases? Is the format flawed? What would your Mix sound like? Use the comments below or contact me at with feedback and I’ll be back tomorrow to let you know what I came up with.

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.

The Fog Rolls In

I really hate articles like this one by Ross McKeon on the Sharks struggles. He starts off with a thesis, “The Sharks GM Doug Wilson doesn’t want to shake things up but he may have to soon” and then spends the next sixteen or seventeen paragraphs explaining why a shake-up isn’t the way to go only to conclude that “Doug Wilson may have to shake things up, even if he doesn’t want to.”



On one hand, McKeon has some points: The Sharks early ouster from the last three playoffs has been incredibly frustrating. Unfortunately for the Sharks they’ve managed to even circumvent their slow-climb forgiveness in the eyes of the fans who will, I think, no longer accept a trip to the finals regardless of outcome as a step in the right direction. I think San Jose fans expect a Cup and soon. I know I do, and I said as much during the last playoffs. The only possible factors in the Sharks occasional mid-season meltdowns and now clockwork playoff crumbling are A) the coaches B) the players or C) both.

McKeon though shies away from offering anything useful in terms of insight. Except he actually does, but he seems gunshy to spell it out. Let me glean some useful tidbits from his own text.

The team still needs to mature and show up on more nights than they have in the first half of the season. And, in terms of development, players like Matt Carle, Milan Michalek, Steve Bernier, Christian Ehrhoff, Joe Pavelski and Marcel Goc have to continue to improve instead of reaching a plateau and getting stuck.

It seems to me that development of young talent is, fundamentally, a job for the coaching staff. Few people who follow the Sharks (or hockey in general) would deny that Michalek, Bernier, Pavelski and Carle have the makings of good or even great NHL players. Just watch them play and you can see there’s something there. But the fact that Michalek for example has been around for several years now and has yet to really emerge as the powerhouse scoring winger that he clearly has the ability to be suggests there is something wrong either with him or with the way he’s being coached.

If it was just Michalek, I’d probably chalk it up to the player. But then you see a guy like Pavelski or Carle who came on board and made huge splashes in early games only to settle into a routine of mere competence. I can’t say for sure what is happening but consider this: The only real superstar on the Sharks is Joe Thornton, and he was that way before he got to San Jose. Who else, despite all the obvious talent on display, have these coaches crafted into a top-tier player? Marleau has been streaky his whole career and coasts just below the breakout line; Nabokov has also been streaky enough to avoid upper echelon mention (and most of his development lies in different hands than Ron Wilson’s et al). Cheechoo could have been the guy but again, just as he shows himself to be imminently capable, something reigns him in.

Frustration over recent results came bubbling to the surface Friday when Jeremy Roenick and Ron Wilson made some pointed comments, and the coach was caught the night before berating his team during a timeout on the video board, an image that brought a big cheer from the home crowd.

Those events, in addition to what he was seeing on the ice, triggered Doug Wilson to suggest the team meet on Friday instead of practice in preparation for Saturday’s visit by Anaheim, which skated off with a 5-2 victory. There was some damage control going on here, too. Management doesn’t want dirty laundry aired, and it was time to keep the gripes in-house, too.

Ron Wilson finally crawls over his under-achieving players, to the delight of the frustrated fans, and the response is to circle the wagons? Maybe I’m crazy but if players aren’t performing as hoped, maybe a little public outing wouldn’t hurt? It’s not like the fans aren’t noticing that the Sharks haven’t played that great. I’m just not sure who’s being protected here.

I suppose it should come as no surprise but I still hold Wilson accountable for last year’s playoff mistake and I think his leash ought to be as short as one can reasonably be. Doug Wilson is a fantastic GM and I’m sure he’d love to see Ron succeed, but then again Marco Sturm was a good winger that fans liked and everyone wanted to see him succeed but I didn’t hear a whole lot of crying when he ended up in Boston. Because, frankly, I’m getting to the point (and I can’t be alone) where I’m thinking “Just win, baby.” Like, whatever it takes. I like Marleau, I think he should be a Shark, but if it takes getting rid of him to get the Bay Area a Stanley Cup, then I say don’t let the door hit ya in the rear on the way out, Patty.

But before we start bailing on players that have become important parts of the lineup, maybe we should think about who’s guiding the practices?

Finding What Was Lost

I enjoy talking. You know this. But talking itself is not so intriguing, it is the subjects that fascinate. Something I enjoy discussing is politics. However, as with most topics, the older I get the less I feel I know and understand (as a home exercise, contrast this with how incredibly certain I was ten years ago). No subject better exemplifies this as politics. It is not to say I don’t have strong opinions, but I shied for a long while from the subject because—frankly—it had gotten out ahead of me. Peripherally I am aware of political happenings but honestly my understanding is no deeper than that of any other Wal-Mart-frequenting American tub of lard and it shames me to the point of silence.

Consider also that I find the state of affairs in the last six years (give or take) so repugnant and so fraught with a sense of futility that more than a cursory evaluation finds me quivering in an impotent rage focused on a shamelessly corrupt and power-mad administration, a fruitlessly inept (and equally repugnant) opposition party, a complicit and lazy media and a maddeningly indifferent population that my recourse and my defense mechanism is assimilation and quiet despair. I take no pride in this truth. The last portion—the greatest portion—of my angst is aligned like a sniper’s scope on my own casual denial of responsibility and recursively I frustrate myself into a deeper well of miserable inaction.

Yesterday I had a strange wake-up call. It came from, of all places, a candidate for president. I’ve been snarlingly cynical of our electoral process in the past and I can’t claim a full escape from that bitterness. However, part of my disdain has focused on the fact that so much of electoral process centers on reactionary platforms (“Vote for me! I’m Not-the-Incumbent!”) which result in a lesser-of-two-evils approach to voting. Without realizing it the two-party status quo-titians drove from my heart the hope that I would ever find someone I’d be voting for versus just picking someone to vote against.

Then a co-worker mentioned the name Ron Paul.

Now, I’m going to be earnest in this post. Exuberant. I’m sorry if that makes you uncomfortable. You can stop reading if you like. I won’t hold a grudge. Either way, I found something while reading about Dr. Paul that I thought was dead and gone: Hope.

See, I hate the way America is heading. The tightening of freedoms, the aggressive foreign policies, the general sense of divide between the populace fostered by a decidedly non-neutral media that fails its audience at every conceivable turn, the constant barrage of government-knows-best programs and policies and the name-only divide between members of the main political parties. It’s enough that I’ve seriously considered abandoning the US altogether. If our leaders aren’t embarrassments for their personal exploits they are petty thieves and swindlers and if they aren’t merely greedy for tiny power and indifferent to their constituents they are flat-out tyrannical and manipulative.

I look at other Americans and I see them either willingly mislead on the premise of moral solidarity (backed up by nothing in terms of actions, by the way) or angry but only to the point of a witty bumper sticker or a clever t-shirt. I hate both and I sympathize with all. I’m the one dying for a true leader. I’m the one disillusioned to the point of passive semi-apathy. It’s sad and it’s pandemic and it makes Canada or France or Japan look like nice places to hunker down. Except… well, except they aren’t the USA. I don’t know when it happened or how I was indoctrinated into it, but I want to love this country. Those ideas they taught me when I was in grade school about how America was all about freedom and equality and trying to do The Right Thing… well, I took them seriously at the time. It made sense. It sounded like a place I’d like to live. I believed then that it was the kind of place I did live in and that made me proud.

It still sounds like a place I’d like to live, I’m just not sure it’s that anymore. Maybe it never was, but it’s less so than it used to be and it’s going the wrong way. I’m sick of it. Other people are sick of it. We’re sick of being hated for our country as it’s run by people who forgot that “freedom” isn’t the opposite of “what everyone else thinks.” We’re sick of working so hard to be proud of our home. Somewhere in this place is something worth believing in, but it’s hard to see it through all the shouting faces and colorful Fear Charts and choking irony…


I was talking about Ron Paul.

He’s this presidential candidate, see? He’s trying to win the Republican nomination.

I know.

I know.

But stay with me here. This is the problem, in a nutshell. Things are broken. People aren’t running on the democratic ticket saying, “here, let me fix them.” They don’t want it to be fixed. They don’t think it’s broken. Or at least they don’t think it’s broken enough. Saying they aren’t Bush isn’t enough for me. Saying isn’t enough for me. It’s the same old story and at some point we have to be sick of it. So sick that we start to wonder whether these finger waggling clowns are really talking or if they’re reciting. So sick that we have to question whether they’re saying what they feel or what they think we want to hear. So sick that we have to remember that back in the day Bush seemed kind of clueless but potentially less frightening than Al “I Hear a Whale Crying” Gore. They’re puppets. They’re punchlines. They’re playing us for fools. CNN tells us Barrack Obama or Hillary Clinton can be the next president. Fox News tells us it’s Mit Romney or Rudy Gulliani and I wonder why I even care. Black, white, male, female, democrat, republican… aren’t they all just money-soaked Pez dispensers waiting to betray our trust and abuse their power?

They can abuse it in the name of security, they can abuse it in the name of the economy, they can abuse it in the name of the environment or the poor people or the middle class or the rich or the minorities or the taxpayers or the atheists or the devout and it all means the same thing: Nothing.

So this Ron Paul guy. He’s different? Mm-hmm. Right.

A republican.


We’ve been there, done that for eight years. React. Try the other side. Eight years later: React. Try the other-other side. Again. Just react. Flip the pancake. Turn the cheek. Definition of stupidity.

So maybe we can stop reacting. Maybe we can stop hoping or pinning hopes on unworthy recipients. Let’s start thinking.

I keep digressing. I’m sorry.

Ron Paul. Listen, I can’t tell you what to do. I don’t want to. In a way, that’s the point. Neither does Ron Paul. Don’t believe me. Please, just don’t take my word for it. Google Ron Paul. Try his Wikipedia entry. Consider this: I don’t agree with him. Not on everything, but that’s not a problem. Because here’s the thing: I agree with his approach. I agree with where he’s coming from. What he’s saying isn’t particularly partisan if you believe the CNN version of partisan politics. He’s a mishmash of radically liberal ideas and staunchly conservative stances. He’s a Libertarian (of sorts) running on a Republican ticket. Whatever.

Here’s what you learn from knowing that he’s not welcome in either party: He’s smart enough to know that running on a third party ticket is suicide. Also, “conservative” republicans mostly aren’t. Plus, liberal “democrats” mostly aren’t. None of them can distinguish themselves because they all talk teeny variations on the same pointless theme. Leave it to the guy that only the Internets love to have something different to say.

Check out what Paul has to say about religion and government and the reach of each within the other’s affairs:

The notion of a rigid separation between church and state has no basis in either the text of the Constitution or the writings of our Founding Fathers. On the contrary, our Founders’ political views were strongly informed by their religious beliefs. Certainly the drafters of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, both replete with references to God, would be aghast at the federal government’s hostility to religion…

The Founding Fathers envisioned a robustly Christian yet religiously tolerant America, with churches serving as vital institutions that would eclipse the state in importance. Throughout our nation’s history, churches have done what no government can ever do, namely teach morality and civility. Moral and civil individuals are largely governed by their own sense of right and wrong, and hence have little need for external government.

Yes. Religiously tolerant? Natural separation versus legislative? Does that make sense to you? It’s not reactionary like the “Ban all talk of God!” patchouli/granola dimwits and it’s not arrogant like the “We are a persecuted majority!” tunnel-viewers. If you accept a simple principle that the Constitution has merit and is worth preserving not just as an artifact but as a guide crafted carefully by people who’s values we share then you note that there is a component of that guide which indicates that the sponsorship of faith by the state is fatal and the exorcism of it from all apsects of life is impossible and unconscionable. It’s there, if you choose to see it. To think about it.

One more example. One I disagree with, perhaps, to show how voting by lists of shared “positions” leads to tax-raising conservatives and environmentally-unfriendly democrats as their allegiances shift with the rustling of a breeze through their clotheslines drying laundered bills.

From the article on Wikipedia about his political positions:

The only 2008 presidential candidate to earn Gun Owners of America’s A+ rating, Paul has authored and sponsored pro-Second Amendment legislation in Congress. He has also fought for the right of pilots to be armed.

In the first chapter of his book, Freedom Under Siege, Paul argued that the purpose of the Second Amendment is to place a check on government tyranny, not to merely grant hunting rights or allow self-defense. When asked whether individuals should be allowed to own machine guns, Paul responded, “Whether it’s an automatic weapon or not is, I think, irrelevant.”[1] Paul believes that a weapons ban at the federal or state level does not work either. “Of course true military-style automatic rifles remain widely available to criminals on the black market. So practically speaking, the assault weapons ban does nothing to make us safer.”[2] Rather, he sees school shootings, plane hijackings, and other such events as a result of prohibitions on self-defense.[3]

So I disagree. I think guns are too readily available and too poorly regulated. I think the NRA are a bunch of psychos and may they shoot me in the face to prove my point. But I see what he’s saying and in a way he may be right. That’s the thing about disagreement about political issues: It’s so theoretical that “right” and “wrong” are actual barricades to progress. Everyone is so committed to being correct that they forget how pointless it may be. Correct is not the issue, the issue is better.

Ron Paul, in this issue, defaults to his reasoning. 1) The Constitution has merit. The Second Amendment suggests citizens may keep and bear arms. Logically, okay. That’s not flawed. 2) Liberty is valuable. The limitations on people’s freedoms are usually not the answer. I may disagree in this case, but I can’t disagree with his consistency and the place he comes from. More freedom is better, and I’d rather err on that side of caution than the other.

You know, the way we do now.

I just discovered Ron Paul. Who knows, he may be a lunatic and I may sheepishly return to my tail-tucking rathole of fear and resentment and ineffectual, uninformed fist-waving. But I’ll tell you this. I watched the Ron Paul “A New Hope” video and I read the Wikipedia pages and I searched the Googles and as I saw more I felt something return that I didn’t know was missing.

Hope. You know? Hope.

As usual, he’s a candidate that has a long climb ahead of him because he doesn’t play by the usual rules. Which is to say he’s got a million to one chance. But that’s the thing about hope: It doesn’t let odds stand in the way. I think of a country with Paul as president and I think of a place I might like to stay. I think of a country that would elect a guy like him and I think of a place I’d be proud of. I think of a country that cares enough to try something that isn’t the newest menu item at Taco Bell and I have hope that the future isn’t dark.

It’s not that Ron Paul is magical. He’s just a guy, I’m sure. But he’s just a guy I’d not just grudgingly pick over the other slimeball; he’s a guy I want to vote for.

Listen: I changed my voter registration to Republican so I could vote for him in the California primaries. It’s the least I can do.

But don’t listen to me.

Don’t follow me.

Read the articles. Do the research. Find a way to care just enough to realize that this matters. Go looking for your own hope. It doesn’t have to be the same as mine. I want you to be free to have those differing—disparate—opinions. I want to talk about it. Not scream, talk. I hope you want freedom too, and as much of it as you can get. If so, maybe you’ll find hope where I did. I hope you do. It’s okay if you don’t, though. Because the point is simply this: For once, in years, and now at last…

I hope.


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.