Wednesday, November 29, 2006

The Lucky Ones

Until about a year ago I was one of the lucky ones.

I had never experienced sinus problems in my life.

Then, about a year ago, I experienced them.

I was completely unprepared.

As I recall, I was sneezing with such force that I was lightheaded and dizzy for a few seconds after each one. My maxillary and frontal sinuses had turned purple and were sticking out of my face. And my knee was hurting like hell. Not related, but still annoying.

And right now my nose is on fucking FIRE. You know, like those guys on TV commercials with flames on their faces? Like that.

How the mighty have fallen.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Let's stick to our guns

Maybe for years there has been lots of crime, and in trying to stop it governments and businesses have slowly but radically changed the fundamental legal basis for many of our frequent actions without our noticing.

And it didn't work: there's still plenty of crime.

Well, to be fair, the changes weren't all made to stop crime. Some of them were plain-old corporate power-grabs.

Here are a few things that are entirely ridiculous (though I'm certainly open to arguments that they aren't):
  • First sales being whatsoever different from subsequent sales.

  • People needing patent licenses to use consumer products (usually computer software and hardware)

  • Contracts that are basically up for sale (usage licenses for software, tickets to events, stuff like that) being non-transferable even though they were originally offered to anyone that would pay for them.

  • Contracts you have to agree to with no ability to negotiate the terms (almost any type of usage license for a consumer product falls under this category)

  • Corporations having the rights of people, including that of free speech (corporations fundamentally cannot be held accountable for their speech and actions as people can, so they should have an accordingly different set of rights that holds them to higher standards, keeping in mind that corporations are supposed to be established for the public good)

Monday, November 27, 2006

On the other hand, I'm totally wrong

Because it's good that people follow their dreams and just because I don't have one doesn't mean that normal people don't.

And furthermore, this all has nothing to do with anything, because if I wound up as lonely as I did last year on a college campus, with tons of people around that share a lot of common ground with me, then everything really is on me and not any place that I go or any tendency of society.

And there was a third point, too, but I forgot it.

Anyway, I can't decide with my mind, so I will probably just have to go with my gut?

In which my blog goes straight to hell

So I went to Illinois for the Thanksgiving weekend, specifically Paxton for the day itself and Elmhurst for most of the rest. And of course some time in the O'Hare Corridor, Phoenix and Denver. For what it's worth.

The whole thing was good, and I'm glad I made the trip. Highlights include John and me riding the West Coast Offense to backyard football victory over the forces of LAS majors, the family being awesome (this is how things normally are... over the last few years I've really come to appreciate how awesome my family is), weather being even better than in California and Frisbee! Also, missing out on Johnurag Palinsenmond's trip to White Castle is something I'm glad for :-P.

I'm disappointed about narrowly missing connections with both Heather and Jess, and then when trying to round up people for Sunday morning ice skating downtown realizing that all my information about how to contact people was in California, except for AIM, and nobody was on. So that didn't happen. And also realizing that it takes me longer to prepare to call people on the phone than it does to actually talk to them, which I somehow had never noticed before. That needs major improvement.

I was terribly sad on the airplane back west to Phoenix, but on the one from Phoenix to San José I was too busy defending my seat from the invading forces of some dude's gigantic arm to think about anything else.

I have had various conversations lately that have made me think about this place a lot, this place being, approximately, "California in the context of it being where my job is and almost nothing else". My mom talked about one time when she had just moved to Chicago and had lots of work to do and stayed home alone for Thanksgiving. She was a two hour drive from most of her family and friends. And my grandma talked about my mom moving to Chicago, and how that seemed like such a long way away. And of course my mom's sisters live on the same street, not a mile away from the house they grew up in (where my grandma still lives); a truly impressive portion of my mom's extended family lives in Paxton, and almost all of it is within central Illinois. So it is kind of a long way away, still. But. Consider making a trip from Chicago back to Paxton. It's two hours from "I'm coming to see you" to "I'm at your doorstep" (at most 3 in horrible traffic) and you'd spend maybe $30 for gas round-trip. Santa Clara to Chicago area? You'd be lucky to pull it off in a day (especially if your "doorstep" destination was outside the Chicago city limits), and spend at least $600 for round-trip airfare (if you were on short notice, which is the scenario I'm using). It means trips have to be very occasional and well-planned, they practically require time off work, and there isn't much flexibility. Which is kind of not how I roll. Air travel does shrink the country, but it doesn't shrink it *that* much.

My mom and I both moved to unfamiliar places where we had no community for the sake of our careers. So many people, especially those growing up in urban or suburban areas, leave communities for careers. Go off to a place where they have a lot of "room above their heads", earn more money than they need, and then spend tons of it getting back to some community (if it can even be said to exist anymore when they get back), or supplanting it. I am really having a hard time seeing what's gained from complicating my life like that. I am really having a hard time seeing why we can't stick together instead of scattering like billiards balls that then have to be gradually knocked back into the pockets. It takes me a really long time to get comfortable somewhere, especially when I've had as little help as I've had here, and I just need to know where my option went to choose community instead of career. I could have moved back to Elmhurst, stayed in Champaign-Urbana after college, or I could move to Chicago now, and almost everyone I know from those places is either gone or will be soon. In Paxton you can stick around and not have to re-find yourself every few years. And when people leave they can come back and find some continuity. Where is my option? The masses of people in these new places just make me more alone.

I also talked to one of my cousins, who gets bored even spending Thanksgiving weekend back in Paxton. He drove to Chicago and back Thanksgiving night, which is something I'd probably not do but for a very good reason. (Well, I did Elmhurst->Champaign->Chicago->Champaign in a weekend once, and the reason was pretty good.) He's probably the kind of person that would be better off living in a more exciting place; you know, a smart dude that would get in trouble because he was bored in school, someone that likes to have lots of people around and things going on. He should be doing what I'm doing. He also talked about some girl that wasn't giving him "happy endings", so I probably should have suggested he have her read him some fairy tales.

I really did a lot of listening this past weekend. And some responding. I guess this is another response, just a big overall response.

I think I'll leave it at that.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Warning: boring self-analysis follows

So you don't have to read this, I'm just trying to work through some stuff, I like to have it on record, and I am bad about losing things and throwing them away, so I figure a server owned by Google is a pretty safe place to store things. This really applies to most of my recent posts. But I don't mind people reading it, y'all might find it insightful. Or not.

I was thinking earlier today about my recent desires for escapism. To temporarily be things that I'm not, as a break from my life. And I was walking to the car to get some groceries, 'cause there are no close grocery stores (I should plan ahead trips to the store so they don't wind up like this, which is something I don't think about because it's so convenient to just go to the store whenever I feel like it and sit in my apartment being broody during the times when I actually have the time to make a proper grocery run). And I though to myself:

AL! Hold the fuck up! I thought you were supposed to be a plural person. I thought that you held several sometimes conflicting realities within yourself and celebrated that chaos. You should never need to escape reality, and you should never want to; reality is where everything good happens. But not for a long, long time have I seen you take some singular version of your self and believe so insistently that it's the "real you". I'm also pretty disappointed that you've made it the most boring, dour, ponderous version of yourself possible. You never actually believed that you were the person you dressed like until the last few months came around. Well, I mean, there always was a part of you that was that person, but it wasn't the whole thing.

On the radio later I heard an interview with an actor that played a major role in Fast Food America. The actor was talking about how his character, who was a powerful dude in the movie's fictional fast-food chain, had some misgivings about what he was doing but would never act on them because of his real-world pressures. He had to keep his job and raise his family. Because that all is real and acting on one's true beliefs isn't. OK, I'm not going to say that those values are misplaced; people must order their own values, in general. But you had to hear the guy talk, and hear the way he used the word "real" to discount personal convictions in favor of modern corporate tradition. Tradition. Tradition. Tradition.

Why is it that practically everyone from my rich suburban high school went to a four-year college? Tradition. It was the path set out for them and they followed it, most of them pretty damn aimlessly by my observation. Why do most of them approach job-hunting the way they do? Tradition. And then they get families and get locked in to that tradition, to perpetuate it on to the next generation.

And I'm gonna call myself out, I got one in-person job interview and only seriously pursued two companies going for a job. I wasn't very imaginative about it because all I knew is that I wanted to get as far away from anything resembling college as I could. And I'm lazy, both in the sense that it's a virtue for engineers and in the sense that it's a vice in life. Not that I would have done better had I applied at more companies. My life wouldn't be much different if I was working for Microsoft, Google, Amazon, AMD or Intel. My life wouldn't be much different if my mom hadn't opened up my application to UIUC five years ago, decided my handwriting was too sloppy, re-filled it out, written "Computer Engineering" instead of "Computer Science" because she couldn't find "Computer Science" in the list of majors, and then mailed it before I had a chance to look it over. Because I never made it different. Because I still wouldn't have listened to myself when I was burning out senior year. Because I would have kept doing the same thing the guy in the radio interview did, defining the "real world" as the world of the modern corporate tradition rather than the as world as I truly saw it.

And his movie character had a family and kids, he had an excuse. I'm 22, nobody's depending on me, I don't have very much debt or very many commitments. If I had a dream I could live it out, but I don't. But I could at least see the world through my own eyes rather than look at it through the little holes in the four or five nearly identical blue polo shirts that I wear so regularly. I could at least start living out any of the people that are inside of me other than this one that seems to have been at the fore lately.

I didn't bring my copy of Walden here to California when I moved here but I'll pick it up when I got home. One of Jason Zencka's favorite quotes from it when we were in high school was about the ability of people to make a difference in their own lives. It made me uncomfortable then because I never felt I could do it (but it still convinced me to go out running in the still mornings and feel really good), and it makes me uncomfortable now because I desperately need to do it OR ELSE!

Too much damn rambling. I have this really awesome song to record this weekend, and if I don't post it, even if none of you actually listen to my songs (which is cool, I don't claim they're awesome to anyone but myself, because I can hear them in my head being sung by people like Frank Black, Lou Reed and Elvis Costello), kick me in the ass and tell me to stop moping and do something. TIME TO SLEEP!

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Food-Related Mishaps

Funniest thing happened yesterday and today.

Yesterday I ate the last of certain foods in my apartment.

And today they aren't here.

Funny how that works.

I have been fusing together working bits and parts of songs and ideas where they fit, because some of these things need to be completed, and a song can and should have more than one or two working parts. Well, Ted Leo really said it best, "I gather around me / All the little pieces in this song / And fit them where they belong". I have some fun creations that I've been coming out of the shower and immediately singing and pounding out on my keyboard in the morning. And I've resigned myself to the realization that my recollection of throwing out the notebook containing the "Just Minutia/Camino Blanco" sketches must have been accurate after all. So I recreated the "Just Minutia" banner on the whiteboard in my cube at work, and vanquished my fear of trying to redo it and getting it all wrong.

Now, nobody except for maybe my brother John knows what I mean when I say, the "Just Minutia" sketches, and absolutely nobody has ever actually seen them, but maybe someday I'll remake them on some real paper (note to self: get some real paper), find a scanner on craigslist, and share them with y'all. It's my concept for a comic strip that's a little bit like XKCD with a dash of ELER and a pinch of SARC.

Which reminds me, I'm going to rip this idea off from this other dude's blog. POLL: Which webcomic character am I?

  • Hannelore from Questionable Content (the blonde in this particular QC strip)

  • Indie Rock Pete from Diesel Sweeties (keeping in mind his entire body of work and not just that particular strip, which is simply a classic early DS strip)

  • Utahraptor from Dino Comix (because although I am without a doubt a machine that turns food into ideas, even more than that I'm a contrarian)

  • Tycho from Penny Arcade (not the one electrocuting himself)

Sunday, November 12, 2006


I want to post some things that I can't post.

I mean, there are always lots of things that I can't post for lots of reasons, but there is a specific set of things that I can't post for a specific reason.

I need to start over completely, I don't think I can make a plan that meets my requirements right now, suggestions?

Thursday, November 9, 2006

Bike Tire Blues

Went for a bike ride today, on this creek trail I didn't know existed until today (The San Tomas Aquinas Creek Trail). It was good. Then got back onto Scott Blvd., crossed the San Tomas Expressway, and ran over some sharp piece of metal. It's still sticking out of my tire, because I didn't want to touch it with my bare hands.

One more tire/inner tube down. One more walk-home-lugging-bike to go. Yarr.

Monday, November 6, 2006

Fucking San José

Walking in San José is opening a secret door that takes you right back where you were.
Is coming off the field in the Frisbee game, making eye contact and then walking, head down, to my bag, grabbing my water bottle and stretching my sore hamstring while making funny faces.
Is so much damn awkward silence.

Like there should be nearly a million people now standing up and screaming, "THE SOLUTION TO OUR SO-CALLED TRAFFIC PROBLEM IS NOT THESE MASSIVE FUTURISTIC SLABS OF CONCRETE!!" but there aren't.

I hate the assholes that ride deafeningly-loud motorcycles by my windows while I'm trying to sleep. But sometimes I'd rather hear the splattering of their engines than the eerie, TIE fighter-like sound of cars, which have to rank up there with the most dehumanizing and antisocial creations of humanity.

Sunday, November 5, 2006

Hehe more music

I've been putting off recording this song for a while and so I finally did it. I'm thinking of dubbing in a clarinet solo over the middle part to distract from all the mistakes I'm making in the piano (and also because I think it would sound good) but it's getting too late to be playing clarinet in the apartment. Maybe I'll do it tomorrow, or maybe I'll wait another month. Song is called "Optimistic Song About San Francisco", which is a crappy title, but it really is overly optimistic. edit: router got reset again, everything is at now

And I finally have a reasonable index page up there now, too, in full xhtml glory. I think eventually I'll self-host this blog and use that as an excuse to properly learn perl. Not that you necessarily need perl for a blog, but I'd want people to leave comments.

Finally: if you use Windows you can play Ogg/Vorbis files with Winamp. If you use a Macintosh there's a dead program called "MacAmp Lite" that can still be found floating around the Internet somewhere. If you use some form of Unix just about any music player worth its salt plays 'em (I've been using Audacious lately, which is like xmms except not from the 18th century); the simplest way to play a single ogg file is with the ogg123 command-line tool from the vorbis-tools package (vorbis-tools or something very similar, according to the Internet, can also be made to run on at least Plan 9, DOS, QNX, NeXTSTEP, VMS and BeOS and can surely at least yield you a decoding filter anywhere you have a reasonable C compiler).

If you're using some platform that isn't mentioned above let me know, just because I enjoy hearing about obscure computer systems. I know I left out something... hmm... IBM mainframes? Well there are portable devices. Windows Mobile and PalmOS have no shortage of Ogg-capable media players. Vorbis-tools will work on Symbian, so you can probably get it running on your cell phone. The only other systems I can think of are tied to hardware too old and slow to conceivably run a Vorbis decoder in real-time. And those various one-man OS projects that seemingly are all inspired by BeOS but somehow different from it. There are the academic "capability" systems: KeyKOS, EROS, CapROS and Coyotos, and probably many others. OK I'm done thinking about this for now.

Friday, November 3, 2006

Fixing Silly Blogger

Blogger by default makes everything really narrow, which is ugly and a waste of screen space. It's especially bad on my computer at home, where I run at 1600x1200. So I finally fixed the template and now it should work better. I've only looked at it on FF1.5/Win (work box), so if it breaks things in your browser post angry comments. I'll see if I can find a way to make the comments page nicer also. Eventually I'll do something about the fonts, too; the way cute-looking websites like Blogger handle fonts is the reason that font sizes on the web are so fucked-up. It is AN ABOMINATION UNTO THE LORD that there's a de-facto standard font size in web browsers that's measured in pixels, and it is AN ABOMINATION UNTO THE LORD that pretty-boy web designers go around designing sites that rely on it. Web sites should use proportional sizing for most elements and point-sizing for fonts except in extraordinary circumstances (which never include body text).

Someday I'll find a way to hack up the comments page too, because I write long paragraphs and the current layout makes them really hard to read.