Tuesday, December 18, 2007

A loose theme post about the letters "C" and "S"

C. S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, set out what he believed to be the core, essential beliefs of the faith; that is, he tried to define it simply in the face of many competing and complicated denominational beliefs of his day (which still persist; there's probably been some convergence since then, but you probably shouldn't be taking an atheist's word for that). In computer programming, which is what most C. S. majors spend most of their time doing (whether or not that's what they should be doing) about half of all code written involves data definition. And when I rant (in this blog and elsewhere) I often rant about consumerism, careerism and technological modernism. I have specific definitions in mind when I talk about these things that try to be simple and get to the core of these things, hopefully free of value judgments and vague fears, because neither of those things lead me to understanding, but certainly not free of zany sexual metaphors, because those do lead me to understanding. So here are some definitions, rants, and zany sexual metaphors.

Mere Consumerism: The belief that consumption will improve one's life.

I think that one is pretty obvious. We often act in society by producing, providing, or by consuming, using. We have to do both to stay alive. Those of us that stay alive by eating food are consumerists in that respect, at least. I enjoy eating quite a lot (to paraphrase Maude Lebowski, in full mid-Atlantic-accent glory, It's a myth about vegetarians, that we hate food. It can be a natural, zesty enterprise...), and frequently improve my day by cooking up some stuff and eating it. Expand this idea to many things; even those of us that decry the crass conspicuous consumption of the MagMile (and the corresponding blocks of State and Rush streets that seem to have avoided becoming the symbol that North Michigan has) enjoy consumption of some things unless we just hate our lives completely (not as ludicrous as it sounds; talk to me on a bad day).

(personal opinion) One of the main goals of marketers is to convince people that by consuming something specific they can improve their lives, or that certain kinds of consumption are necessary. It's probably a good idea to ignore them most of the time, if you want to keep sane.

Mere Careerism: The belief that a career is the central work of one's life.

Here, I mean career as the progression (loaded term alert) up the career ladder (loaded term alert) of one or several businesses. So let's get past these loaded terms, and to the basics. In capitalism money represents agency. If you have cash in your hand you can get stuff. This is abstracted to credits (someone, perhaps a bank, is obligated to give you money, and thus this kind of agency, if you ask) and debts (some time in the future you're obligated to fork over some cash). In this basic framework, as a worker becomes more familiar with and more skilled in the operations of a company or industry that worker's efforts become more valuable to employers, who will pay the worker more money to keep that work up. Through this process the worker should gain more power. The more money zie's got the less zie needs to work and easier zie can walk away, or dictate demands to an employer that depends on hir.

(this paragraph is personal opinion) However, employers try to make workers feel more loyal to the company as they continue to work. Among people that tend towards loyalty and selflessness in general this can be dangerous: they'll do what they're asked and not demand what they can, while their employers will cynically try to get every last hour out of them. I believe in saving loyalty for friends and selflessness for humanity. When a career's progression reduces agency instead of promoting it that career may need to be re-evaluated (certainly sometimes trade-offs between the present and future can be made, but there are some things that, once traded away, can never be fully regained). The career is only a construction, and one that mostly serves employers.

Technological Modernism: The belief that technology will save us.

Modernism is all about a narrative of progress. The present is better than the past and the future will be even better. Technology is, widely defined, the work of humanity. The Ultimate Problem: In the cosmically puny span of time we call recorded history populations have grown exponentially and thus consumption and exploitation of Earth's resources have grown exponentially. The Earth is just one rock! Someday we'll overcome its ability to sustain us, and we'll go extinct! That is, you might metaphorically look at human progress like a great inverse pyramid. It's a building, with its foundations in the earth, but each floor is wider than the one below it. Every time in recorded history that the highest floor has been too small we've built another, bigger one on top. But we've also kept drilling farther into the ground below. Won't someday the tower just tip over, or become so large that it destroys the earth that sustains it?

The techogist says that the tower won't tip, because we've built some truly amazing gyroscopic balancing systems. And, "destroy" the earth? That's just a loaded term! In fact, this is what's most truly exciting to such a chap, and the reason I've called hir a technogist. A technogist believes in technogism (shortening of Technological Modernism), whose ultimate goal is THE TECHNOGASM. That is, the technological singularity. The moment that technology transcends nature and no longer depends on it; the moment that the human mind, that which in our present day we struggle to even define, escapes completely the need for the body. This is how the technogist believe that technology will continue to save us forever. This is what the Arcade Fire song My Body Is A Cage is about (haha, I wish... remind me not to ever tell you about my overwrought interpretations of every single song on their album Neon Bible).

(in this paragraph I exploit my new and silly metaphor to say old and silly things) If you still think that technogasm is a myth, that's clearly because you're technically inadequate. All artists and philosophers are fools. To make art, or to philosophize, is to jump into bed thinking only of foreplay; truly, all of the bed-jumping of human creation is to the ultimate end of THE TECHNOGASM!

Alright, that's enough of that. A technogist might say that improvements in technology continue to bring more goodness to more people using less resources than ever. A non-technogist might counter with some examples. Most modern cars get gas mileage no better than a Model T, because the improvements in engine efficiency and aerodynamics have been offset by increased weight, feature bloat, and foolish consumer demand for high performance. Minimum recommended computer power supply wattages go up every year, not down. I have a computer with 80 times the processor speed and 64 times the RAM of one that I had 10 years ago and (no) thanks to (the tripe known as) Web 2.0 the interfaces I use to check my email and write my blog are actually less responsive than those I used for similar tasks 10 years ago.


Thursday, December 6, 2007

Office Personalization

The workspace pictures in a recent post by Danielle on the Team BIOMASS blog (see the workspace pictures at the bottom) led me to think about office personalization a bit. I never have customized my work-spaces to a large degree, and I especially haven't put a lot of effort into "nesting", making my office a home (one might say that I've never put much effort into making my home a home either, but that's beside the point). When I worked at Nvidia it was a standard cube-farm, from the CEO down to the new guys like myself. Some people had computer hardware occupying all their shelving and stacked precariously up to the top of their cube walls. Others had varying degrees of personal decoration: miniature models of dinosaur skeletons or airplanes hanging from the ceiling, pyramids of soda cans, fish tanks. A few people had books. The most significant thing I did in this vein was draw maps on my dry-erase board (the longest-standing and most detailed was my map of Chicago's freeway system, but I also drew maps of Elmhurst, Paxton, Champaign-Urbana, Bay-Area cycling routes, and a few diagrams of highway interchanges). I and several others in my group also constructed more outward displays, and manipulated others' cubes, but I'm talking here about "nesting", not low art.

Because my group wasn't working on graphics, and the features we developed were unknown to the marketing department and to most of our customers, we didn't have walls filled with bright posters and press releases trumpeting our work achievements. So the decorations of our little neighborhood were naturally more drab and sparse, but probably more personally substantial, than those of many others. It's probably also more typical of what cube farms look like in most industries less "fashion-like" than consumer computer hardware (this post goes briefly into why the tech industry is fashion-like; I explained this to some co-workers at Nvidia and they largely agreed, so this one isn't just me being a weirdo... that said, none of the people involved know anything about fashion, so we may mis-characterize it).

Anyhow, now I work at Mintel where we have an open floor plan. It's similar to a computer lab, except that it's slightly less dense, we each sit at the same desk and computer every day. We have a little bit of drawer space that doesn't lock. There are no walls to hang posters on, just a few wooden poles extending to the ceiling. Because there are only a few of those, they hold, if anything, only items that the group would unanimously agree upon. Now, here's the thing: even though there's little space, little nesting ability, and no privacy in an open floor plan, I actually think it's better than the cube farm. Cube walls are a barrier to communication, which is important in much software development work. For what you lose in ease of communication, you don't gain much relief from distraction. You can still hear phone calls that other people make, but because those people have an illusion of privacy provided by those walls, they make long personal calls at full volume. The open office has a lot of background noise, but people are sensitive to this and keep their conversations at a low volume. I don't typically find myself distracted by the noise at work, and frequently do find that I can contribute to nearby discussions.

So the open office is great for productivity, especially for people that work in groups on projects and don't need a lot of outside communication. And it allows businesses to pack people into a smaller space, which saves money and energy. What's lost is privacy at work and the ability to nest. My dad is a lawyer and has a full office; he can use that privacy not just to call clients and bang out long documents, but also to take care of occasional personal business. We meet from time to time, often if I need something from home that he brings in from home, and so he calls me on my office phone. I think I'm one of the few people in my department at least that ever receives personal calls on my office phone, or ever has a personal visitor come up to reception. Where he works that kind of thing is more normal. And I think my style of office goes along with the trend of where work is going (particularly in computer programming): almost all time spent during work hours is focused and productive, many inside contacts, few outside contacts, very few personal contacts. What's interesting is what comes up in place of personal nesting at work. There is a great degree of socialization within the department, both during and outside of office hours. And we keep very reasonable work hours, with very occasional long nights, which gives us time at home to take care of our personal business and pursue outside interests. In addition, since more people today have cell phones and other portable communication devices, they rely less on employers to provide means to stay in touch with the outside world. In fact, the situation for outside communication is better for workers that don't have phones at their desks; they use their cell phones any time they have a break. Although this doesn't apply to me at all, people's personalization of portable electronic devices may fill the space of personalizing workspaces.

For young people that live in the city (most of my department fits this description) I think it's a good trade-off. And young people are taking this deal. I've read that in Japan some large companies are trying to bring back the atmosphere of long hours, lots of corporate spirit and devotion to the company (including big drunken corporate parties), and seniority-based promotion that encourages long careers. And young people, largely, aren't biting. They would rather get their work done quickly and define their lives outside somehow. And I think lots of us aren't ready to say that the path we're on now is the one we'll be on forever.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

I've been really post-happy lately, I know...

But this one is important: Dude follows satnav, takes wrong entrance to Yellowstone, gets his rental car stuck, hikes for seven hours in 11-degree weather to the nearest lodge wearing very little in the way of winter clothing, is lucky to be alive.

What's really interesting about it to me is that some of the locals went so far out of their way to help the guy out. They bought him a plane ticket to Denver, are covering the costs of repair to the building he broke into, are trying to find a way to cover other costs he's incurred. I don't think that would happen in the city. I'm trying to think of a similar blunder that a visitor to Chicago might make, but I'm coming up blank. It's hard to go seven hours in the city with your life in danger before finding another person. It's also pretty hard to make a serious driving mistake that only puts yourself in danger, and so I'd really consider a hostile attitude towards people that commit driving mistakes in the city justified (and if that kind of attitude keeps unsure drivers off of city roads, all the better). I guess here in the city we don't have to worry so much about harsh nature, but we act more harshly. We have to worry about the effects of actions on others! We have to worry about our safety! We think we can't possibly deal with all of the tragedy we see every day.

Driving mistakes aren't the only kind of mistakes people make, of course. A while ago Dan told me about a guy he saw on the El, looked like he was really messed up on drugs. Dan tried to see if he was OK or needed some help, but he was unresponsive. None of the other passengers came near the guy. Honestly, I probably wouldn't have gone near him, either. The CTA must see that kind of thing all the time; an official will walk through the cars before parking the train up at Howard Yard and get the police to take him. They might be able to find his family or where he lives. That's my justification but it feels inhuman, really. I don't have to worry about the welfare of this man, and the police don't have to worry about bugs in their computer software. Except that his welfare probably isn't taken care of, especially in the long run. And the police (along with the rest of you) really do have to worry about bugs in their software, because we programmers aren't good enough at our jobs yet.

Some people say that we just have to try to do our best and things will be fine, but usually in practice that becomes a justification to put forth minimal effort for anyone but ourselves. It's just how we reassure ourselves and get back to our little functions. It's the way we often deal with environmental issues on a personal level. Global Warming Is Coming, Global Warming Is Coming, I guess I should make sure to separate my recyclables, 'eh? Now I've "done my best" and I can get on to leaving my computer running all day so people can read my away message on AIM. And if global warming really is coming, I've just participated in the attitude that will cause the downfall of life on earth. And it sort of looks like it is. And similarly peak oil, eventually, for all the times it's failed to turn up. When it does we'll almost certainly be less prepared than ever before, and more sure that it never will, since it hasn't for so long.

So. The people living around Yellowstone helped a guy recover from a big and nearly-fatal mistake? Would this happen, could it happen, in the city? Thoughts?


I really wish I hadn't already titled an entry in this blog "Always Crashing on the Same Bike", 'cause today I actually did crash on my bike. Twice, even. I certainly wasn't "touching close to ninety-four", though.

I wonder if the people that have studied SAD and developed things like The Sunbox have looked at the effect of snow on the whole thing. Walking out of my office and having snowflakes hit me in the face definitely brightened up my evening a bit.

I managed to make it all the way past Belmont Harbor before my first crash, which was a matter of leaning into a turn. The second one came shortly before Montrose; a lot of snow and sludge had accumulated between my wheel and fork, and the additional friction made the front wheel lock up suddenly as I was slowing down for the intersection. This problem is probably specific to road bikes with skinny forks and caliper brakes.

Maybe I should see if my dad will let me borrow his old Schwinn for the winter. With coaster brakes and internal gearing, it served me well in all sorts of inclement weather in college. I'd lose a lot of speed points, but gain a lot of style points.

Monday, December 3, 2007

More Urban Jungle Shit

My Dear Readership, this might be a little rudimentary. I apologize. I do not apologize for, nay, do not even acknowledge whatever factual errors you may think you've found. "But pineapples don't grow on trees, Al!" Poppycock! My daydreams err not, and I err not in reporting them!

Al let out a little laughing yelp as he released himself from the tree. He swung his legs a bit, as if running in the air, then deftly braced himself for the landing. Hit the ground rolling into a somersault and then to his feet, presenting in his outstretched arms a pineapple. He paused to stare out at the sky, across the endless ocean. Just for a second now, the sky would be there the next day, too. He twisted the leaves off, discarded them, and drew a long, curved knife from a sheath at his hip.

Al peeked into the kitchenshit drawer. No, not in there. Surveyed the pile of dishes next to the sink that he'd been reusing for the past few weeks. Nope. He went over to the dark red drainboard (one of the better purchasing decisions he'd made in recent years), lifted up a skillet and a baking pan, and again came up empty. Ha, he was in an apartment in Chicago in December. Now the light from the setting sun was going to cast a shadow of his body, chiseled from years of swimming in the ocean and swinging up and down from trees, long across the beach. The traitorous yellow star had dipped below the sprawl on the western horizon more than an hour before he'd left work. The dishwasher. Top shelf. Eureka, choppin' knife! He sliced through the pineapple longitudinally, placed each half down flush against the dark red cutting board, then cut each half longitudinally also. He wondered if the dishwasher was clean.

Al continued making his lengthwise cuts until he bored of it, and then began cutting the rind off of each slice, and dividing each into slightly-larger-than-bite-size pieces. Al always chopped things a little coarser than most people did. He attributed this to laziness and low standards. The pineapple pieces piled high on a blue plate behind the cutting board. Al stopped to think in the middle of the process. He first thought that it was a lot of pineapple. Next that he could all of it easily. But that it wouldn't be proper. And then that he could probably satisfy his immediate desire for pineapple with just the flesh clinging to the rinds. But that wouldn't be proper either.

No. Al was alone in his apartment. There was no circle of knitters meeting in the church basement implementing social control by gossiping about the eating methods of young men. There was good fruit on those rinds! He grabbed one of the rinds and stuck it in his mouth, scraping his teeth down the flesh side, squeezing the nectar down his throat. Juice dripped down his chin, onto the cutting board, over the rinds and yet-uncut slivers. He sucked the rind dry. He picked up another rind and did the same. The nectar burned in the splits of his wind-dried lips. It danced sweetly across his tongue, and he looked up again at the sun as it melted into the ocean, then looked back at the rest of the people on the beach. A few rolled their eyes at him as they swallowed their last morsels, and one of those grabbed him by the arm and mock-dragged him behind the rest of the group headed back towards the village. He did get one last look at the sun before it sank into the ocean.

Al hoped Dan would get home soon and help him eat some of this pineapple. There was no Saran Wrap in the place and he couldn't find half his Tupperware lids.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

The neighborhoods I fly through each day on my bike

I'm reading a book (very slowly, the same way I do everything) by Harvey Warren Zorbaugh called The Gold Coast and the Slum: a sociological study of Chicago's Near North side. It was written in the 1920s. I'm learning a lot about life in 2007, though. And thinking about myself, because I'm a self-centered asshole. The isolation and disorganization of city life, particularly for apartment dwellers, was a new thing then. Where I can't recall a time or place when I knew all my neighbors, or where I knew much of the kind of community that is auspiciously noted as lacking in many of the neighborhoods in this book.

Zorbaugh's descriptions of increasing specialization in people's lives, and their increasing dependence on monetary transactions to replace social and community functions, are particularly striking. And as their mobility increased, their use of this mobility to move away from communities for the individual pursuits of career and fortune. The exceptionally transient people of the rooming house district were on the leading edge of this trend in the 1920s and the same process presses onward today. I think the leading edge is now on the west coast, particularly the Bay Area. It's really a trend I could do without; I really want to belong to communities maintained through things deeper than commerce, against the full force of the one I grew up in, and against the force of my introversion and my apparently very lucrative skill at fixing logic errors in computer programs, and also while acknowledging the power of the abstraction at the heart of capitalism, that of people to either explicitly or implicitly express their values and priorities through money, without having to necessarily agree about anything. I want to put that away, make my final change, live naturally for my family and friends first. But I can also understand the stories of my colleagues that came alone to Silicon Valley, or even my own. We didn't come there from the tight-knit socially-integrated communities idealized as home by some of Zorbaugh's case studies. We came from the varyingly-conscious material worlds of North American suburbia, or from the competitive upwards-looking upper-middle class families of China, India, Pakistan... or even Little Egypt (as sons and daughters of SIU professors attending elitist high schools, raised to dream of the glamour of the business world). From places that largely wouldn't know us if we returned, because they'd have moved on to pushing another class of people out to their individual careers.

My friend Yi, currently in his final year at Berkley, recently came through Chicago and I came downtown to visit him during his night in town. His other friends in the city are people he'd known from programs that would send top students from scattered Illinois high schools on trips to places, largely (so it seemed to me from their descriptions) to become acquainted with the atmosphere of the world of business. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that products of such a program are comfortable in high-stress, long-hour jobs, with getting what they want and need through the money earned with labor in their fields alone. When they asked me about my job and life, they seemed only at first to envy that I didn't have to work nights and weekends. But even though I'm not quite where I want to be yet, I still could plant a seed in their minds of the things that could be done through a non-career focused life. But I'm not sure that they'd know where to go or what to look for if they had four extra hours in their days. I at least have my mom's family in Paxton as a model for enduring community, and my years in Allen Hall as a model for inclusive and creative community (limited as it was)... not to mention my dad's parents as models for community leadership and hands-on philanthropy. With all this that I've seen I have something to aim for, right through the tendency of modern cities and suburbs to alienate and objectify. Not everyone has that. As a side note, it's like 8 minutes to Thanksgiving and I'm pretty damn thankful for that stuff. Woo! To go farther aside, if there's a reason I'm not more radical on the surface it might have a lot to do with positive experiences I've had in the mainstream; I can identify those things and why they're positive.

Aaaand seeing as I've managed to let yet another innocent discussion slip into a rant on careerism and consumerism, it's safe to say I'm Done For The Evening.

Happy Thanksgiving, y'all!

Thursday, October 25, 2007

Dialog between wind and bike

42An accountant and an economist once walked down a dirt road, along the banks of a crick. The accountant saw a frog, and did offer the economist $20,000 to eat it. So the economist ate the frog, and the accountant did verily pay him. 43Another half hour down the road the economist saw a frog. He offered the accountant $20,000 to eat the frog, and, yea, they agreed and fulfilled their contract. 44The accountant thus said unto the economist, 45"We have now our original sums of money, and we have both eaten frogs. We are no better off than before." 46The economist paused and wisely intoned, 47"Only if you neglect that we have engaged in $40,000 of trade"

(The competing currents of thought underlying this dialog, which I found in a much less pretentious form on a web page full of "profession" jokes, also underly my thinking about many things lately. Yes.)

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Always crashing... on the same bike

d+b (sing): "how can we be abstract if we're always on the brink"
b (sings): "finding something new, finding something new"
d (sings): "there's no time time there's no time time"
c: what's that?
d: it's from the good futureheads album.
a: every flaw i find in the futureheads, i hold it against y'all's taste in music. it would be different with, say, kenny chesney...
b: what, she thinks my bike is sexy?
c: she doesn't think chesney's tractor is sexy, she thinks he's sexy. the tractor is just a part of his identity and the bike is part of yours. but let's face it: if she thought your bike was sexy you'd buy a hummer.

I was reading some stuff about David Bowie today. The guy fascinates me. All the cliches, you know, he lives (but move lived) his life as art. Dude with the talent and will to make statements through music, but who went further and changed himself all the time, too. Sometimes got into some pretty bad trouble with it. Many people admire those who explore the dark side of their own nature, when they do it on canvas or vinyl. When they show their work, though, they'd better be cheery to the people that come in to see it.

Radiohead once introduced a song at a concert once as one written, "while their heads were in the blender during Kid A". We're going to play a bleak song without many guitars in it, but we're fine now. See, the guitar is right over there! Just fine! This is what you came for, anyway, let's go. Maybe I'm seeing Bowie's most influential period through the eyes of the most starry-eyed fans, but clearly Tchocky doesn't compare to what Bowie did.

I don't have the musicianship to compose and play groundbreaking music prolifically in several rapidly-changing styles over a short period. I don't have the confidence to shout out my ideas in the spotlight of pop-culture iconhood (or even really to many people much of the time). And I don't have the wardrobe. But I can sure change. My change comes in 180-degree flips, rejections of the past... It's never enough to just try to live a balanced life, I have to rail against careerism. It's never enough to have a break-up, I have to reject the impulses that got me there, or the idioms of modern love. It's never enough to admit that I couldn't handle starting socially from nothing in California, I have to reject Silicon Valley as "structurally introverted", impossibly unsuited to me. Can't come to terms with some of my anxieties and have to intellectually reject them as foolish, the more adamantly the more strongly I feel them. Reject components of my education that can't be changed, think I probably could have been taught in a better way, that I would have turned out with more useful skills that I'd like more than the ones I've got. But I don't just give things a second chance, hoping they'll turn out better with experience. At least not until I come all the way around and reject my rejections.

I think the hope is that eventually I'll find the right combination of flips, and suddenly I'll just be happy. I can forget about progress, conscious anti-materialism, the movements of culture, the change in the weather. Move to Golconda. Speak the truth when asked, keep quiet otherwise. Go running every day on the hills surrounding town. Totally self-assured, a fucking monument to something that's so much better than self-discipline: living right because it just feels right. Oh, yeah.

Of course that is pretty much a pipe dream. But I think I can feel better. I always plan a date for changes, and then want it to come sooner, think that the change will really help me out, start to hate my situation... I am going to change from a 5k runner to a triathlete after running a great race Saturday... but then I melted down last week and lost motivation right after running one of my best-ever track workouts... and then I think of races I could run after Saturday, that now I have to find ways to run non-seriously. I'm in the last week of an attempt to run a 16:20 5k that's now falling down the tubes, but I can't just declare it over and quit. It sure helped to pick a solid date to leave California, but choosing it six months out meant that for six months I had to live out the end of a life with no future. It was good that college ended, that's for sure (after all, I heartily reject the notion of academic work and many parts of the involved lifestyle), but I was sure ready to get out a year before I could. And I'm never totally ready for the changes either, always fail to be prepared when the date comes. Maybe I just need to be lighter on my feet? Less possessions, actively seeking ways to simplify life, evaluating "true needs" and desires that should be fulfilled against things that will just get in the way? Really, truly, throw out artifacts that point to empty memories? Until I find something really worth going full towards. Casting off things might make me lose a lot of self... would it be addition by subtraction? I don't really know. And I can't do it yet for a lot of reasons, which is frustrating. I have several months to wait before I can wait to find my so-called true calling, which will never actually come.

For as confused and bleak as this all sounds, I think this is a fair resolution to a much more confused and bleaker weekend. Onward.

Sunday, October 7, 2007

Just Sayin'

I was throwing some clothes in the laundry, and for some reason it came into my head that I've come a pretty good long way since moving to Chicago, and that I'm probably generally as happy as I've ever been. You know, in my WHOLE LIFE or something. Deep shit, yeah. Still prone to occasional angst-fits and a few mildly self-destructive impulses here or there, and still sometimes overreacting to little things, but I'm not going for perfection. Just for plenty of good stuff.

I always say I feel like Chicago gives me what I deserve, but then again I sometimes say that people don't really deserve anything (they just sometimes get things and have to figure out what to do with them). I don't deserve anything specific and Chicago doesn't give me anything too specific; just a surprise from time to time. Information can be thought of in terms of surprise, in terms of what's different from the expectation. And I continue to observe, to become more informed, to take in more information, to be surprised. I think there's a deep well of that in this city. Many, many years deep. Lots of places to look, and when I look there is something there! When I feel the well is running dry maybe then I'll go somewhere else. Or maybe then I won't need surprise and information, but something different.

Friday, September 21, 2007


1. On my ride home today, at the intersection of Grand Ave. and Lake Shore Drive, right in front of me a taxi cab turning right hit a bicyclist in the crosswalk (the lakefront bike path uses the sidewalk along lower Lake Shore for that stretch, for those unfamiliar). I know it's a tricky intersection with poor visibility, and cyclists come out pretty quickly, but there's no excuse for that. You always have to check the crosswalk. And the cyclist probably should have been more careful, too. You really shouldn't be going very fast when you're on the sidewalk there, and any time you're biking and to the right of right-turning traffic extra caution is warranted.

2. When all the lights are off in the apartment and light comes in through the blinds in the living room the changing patterns it creates on the ceiling are really neat. This is probably true for anyone with those vertical-strip blinds and windows on more than one wall of a room. Check it out sometime.

Sunday, September 9, 2007

Acting out miseries

Story time.

Once upon a time there was a handsome, charming young prince named Al Dimond. He was also a 1337 h4x00r who had r00t on all j00r b0x3n (even that old Apple //e in your attic under the Christmas ornaments). And wise, too. He never committed massive fuck-ups that ruined his day, no, nothing like that, and when stuff went wrong he just took it in stride. He knew his way around the city, for Pete's sake (Pete was his neighbor, who frequently called him to ask for directions).

Then he tried to move into his new apartment; after all, he was paying the rent. And he realized that he was neither handsome, charming, a prince, 1337, nor wise. Here I quote the Coen brothers:

I only mention it because sometimes there's a man. I won't say a hero, 'cause... what's a hero? Sometimes there's a man. And I'm talkin' about the Dude here — the Dude from Los Angeles. Sometimes, there's a man, well... he's the man for his time and place. He fits right in there. And that's the Dude. The Dude, from Los Angeles.

Hear that? The Dude, from Los Angeles. Not Al, from Chicago. The Dude, from Los Angeles. Al does not fit right in there. And he's certainly not the man for his time and place. He's more like the man for ancient civilization in the mountains of South America.

But... ah, Hell, I done introduced it enough. A list of things that went wrong yesterday (not to mention all the stuff that went wrong last week), in order of when I discovered them:

- We showed up right on time to the building with all of our stuff but the wrong amount of money for the security deposit. Dan and I had talked. He was going to call the management and ask them what the amount was supposed to be, because they hadn't yet given us a copy of the contract yet and we didn't remember it (there's a lot to remember). But then apparently he decided that he knew what it was and didn't call to ask. So my dad and I went around trying to find a BOA branch so I could get a cashier's check; it took an hour but it was OK, we were just an hour behind.

- Manager gave us the key. The one key. Two-bedroom place, two tenants, one key.

- The apartment was not very clean. Dust and gunk on the floors, radiators, counters and all bathroom surfaces from renovation. We spent a few hours cleaning, and have a few hours more still to go, just to make it generally clean and livable.

- Water does not flow from the kitchen sink. Light fixtures in the kitchen and front hall don't work. They're all new, so I would guess they haven't been connected yet. It was the 8th, and we started paying rent for the 1st.

- We left, we came back. The one key did not work in the outer doors of the apartment, giving us access only when the security guard was on duty.

- I caused lots of friction between myself and my mom. First, I'm OK with things going wrong, but I'm too proud for my own good and it bothers me when other people are there to see it. Especially my parents. I feel like I know my limitations in general, and that I should be able to get along just fine in life with those limitations. Maybe I'll have to take my time on some things, and I'll never do some things that other people find very important, but that's OK; I can be happy if I can control my situation and make sure I don't let things get too complicated. My parents seem to expect me to learn and improve from all my mistakes, which I think is totally unnecessary; I'll learn and improve on the stuff that affects me every day and I can't avoid, and the stuff that comes up occasionally, I'll live with some occasional fuck-ups. I don't take suggestions for improvement on my weak points well for this reason. The other thing that I don't handle well is when I make a logical argument and it's ignored, dismissed for no apparent reason, or people act like I'm being a jerk for pointing out facts and the conclusions that can be trivially derived from them. My mom is the queen of this. We are incapable of communicating when we disagree about anything because neither of us can handle the other's style of arguing. It's like at that Dennis Kucinich QA session I saw last Presidential cycle, where Kucinich took a few questions/arguments from a hard-core right-winger and they were practically speaking different languages, each unable to directly address the other's points.

- Perhaps related to this, I've often found that when I feel I'm doing things right my mom doesn't get it, or perhaps slightly disapproves. My mom loves the view from my apartment and the nice renovated stuff. It feels like a bad omen.

- I was planning to ride my bike out to meet Heather by the "Lincoln Square" arch on Lincoln in Lincoln Square. I forgot to bring my backpack, which had my bike lock in it.

- I started riding my bike anyhow, just because I like to ride my bike. I forgot to check after transporting it that the chain was still attached. It wasn't. Usually the pedals just spin when that happens. But for me the chain got messed up in a way that I can't even comprehend.

- I had a car down there, so I drove towards the meeting spot. For some reason I thought Clark was close to Lincoln and parked on Clark. Clark is a mile and a half from Lincoln that far north. I walked all of that.

But some good things went down, too:

- The people working the phones for AT&T are really friendly and helpful. Every time I've had to call them for any reason they've done a great job. If only their computer systems were as good.

- For all that I bitch about them, my parents are ridiculously helpful and patient, and between the two of them they can do just about anything well.

- I got to the meeting point and did actually catch Heather this time. Just before she was about to leave because I was so late. But not quite.

- German festival in Lincoln Square. Loud, happy drunk people singing and chanting along to songs. We did not know how they knew all the words and when to say them, but were right there in the middle of the crowd surrounded by all that energy.

- My dad got tickets to the US-Brazil soccer match today at Soldier Field! Woooo!


Saturday, September 8, 2007

I suppose it bears mention that I'm moving tomorrow. Tomorrow meaning Saturday, meaning, "In six hours I pick up the truck." Since I suck at productivity I haven't called to set up phone/internet yet. So I may be hard to contact for a while. I'll do my best to keep up with email. Everything else will be pretty spotty.

My place will be uptown. Sometimes I say it's, "In Uptown," but it feels awkward and wrong. Uptown should be an adjective, no? But I guess uptown as an adjective would probably be a lot less specific than Uptown, the proper noun denoting a still very large area surrounded by Lakeview, Edgewater, the lake and Lincoln Square.

I think it's time for me to train for a 5k. When I ran my 35:54 10k in the late fall of 2004 I had run a 5k just the week before in about 17:15 or 17:30... somewhere around there. And when I ran the 10k that probably was around 35:20 or so this past April I had run a ridiculously hilly 5k in just over 18 the week before (San Francisco hilly, but still. 18 minutes?). Those 5k times seem really pathetically bad compared to those 10k times. In high school I ran 15:48 for 3 miles at State; that translates to 16:20-ish for 5k. To be that fast again at that distance would be pretty awesome, I'm just not sure if I can do it without getting injured. I sometimes think that my goal is to run sub-16, but when I look at the numbers... it's totally unrealistic. So 16:20 will make a fine 10k goal for this fall!

EDIT: Sub-16 is not totally unrealistic if I can get my 2-mile time back under 10 minutes. Getting my 2-mile time that fast again would require tons of weightlifting and living at the track. And my dad's Blackberry just went off and it's 1:34 AM on a Friday. WTF? So, in conclusion, I think I need to hit the speedwork hard, and never get a cell phone ever.

EDIT2: In other blogworthy news I may already have a team for my 6th R2R running! I have run 5 out of the 8 legs: #5 while in moderate-but-not-peak shape in 2003, #8 while struggling through tendinitis in 2004, #4 basically as soon as they let me run after ACL reconstruction in 2005, #7 while having a blah year in 2006, and #6 this past year while in excellent shape. If I keep it up and finish the cycle in 2010 I wonder if I'll be the youngest runner to have run all 8 legs!

Saturday, September 1, 2007

Have you seen my "mailto:" links?

The masses have spoken, and the have chosen The Web. Well, frankly, developers have spoken and they've chosen the
Web also, and little surprise, really: show me a programmer that would rather muck with visual form editors than write text (even if it's markup text) to stdout and I'll find you 10 that are the other way around. I've decided I'm fine with Webization, despite my earlier rantings against it. Although the Web can be clumsy as an application platform it offers something very important, a consistent and universal UI element, a theme running through all of its applications: the hyperlink. Whoever came up with the idea of blue, underlined link text really struck gold: even in non-web applications underlined text has come to signify that clicking it will take you somewhere, often to a web page. In my high school class some honors English students turned in papers with blue underlined text in the middle and the teacher, who had probably lived without the Web for at least 80% of her life, immediately recognized that the students had copied and pasted sections of their papers from a Web site.

Over the last few years I've become accustomed to seeing the increasing complexity of individual web pages drive away the simple tags that the Perl jockeys of yore coerced out of their cryptic scripts. Just as less and less Unix time is spent issuing two-letter commands, less and less Web formatting is done with <b>, with <i>, and more with monstrosities like <span style="font-weight:bold;"> and <span style="font-style:italic;"> (these are what Blogger produces if you ask for bold or italic text; they would appear to be semantically equivalent, but they probably affect the DOM in different ways). But at least those old tags still basically do what you'd expect, no matter what awful things the W3C says about their use. There's one kind of tag that's for all practical purposes been broken by the Web: <a href="mailto:">.

Ironic, isn't it? The disappearance of classic email clients and rise of webmail, that is, email's move onto the Web, has broken hyperlinking! Because the mailto: directive tells the client browser, "Make an email happen; I don't care how," and the traditional Web hyperlink means, "Go to this specific page and I know you'll love it!"

There are, of course, programs that make mailto: do the right thing. One was installed on my family's computer by SBC with their DSL connection suite a long time ago. But just this morning my mom clicked on a mailto: link and got Outlook Express asking her for her email server information. SBC's software didn't survive; there may have been a full OS re-install in the middle somewhere, or at least a major browser re-install.

These solutions aren't good enough, because they'll never be distributed widely enough. Getting mailto: links right these days the job of the browser, given the browser's current role as the center of all Internet client programs. I think that to facilitate this there ought to be a standard way for browsers to address webmail services, so that a user can just type in a simple URL into the standard preferences form and get mailto: working properly, whether the URL points to gmail or to some crazy homebrew IMAP frontend behind a noip address.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Post #100: The Invasion of Runblogg!

Since the Team BIOMASS Runblog is currently under a flood of GRR posts I have to make a personal runbloggy note here: I just did a long run with a watch for the first time in years. Probably two or three years. And, let me tell you, it was a great reminder of why I haven't missed running with a watch.

Normally when I go for long runs I keep a decent pace, and maybe pick it up halfway through or towards the end depending on how I'm feeling. With the watch, and mile markers along the Prairie Path, I got really competitive. The time for the first three miles was meaningless because I stopped to stretch. After that I had a mile that was probably at a slight incline and ran 6:47. Then I was like, "6:47? For an almost-12-mile run? That is not fast enough!!! AAAAAAAARGH!!!!!" I was putting down around 6:40 for the next few, then got down to 6:30s. Three miles from the end I put down two miles at 6:20, then the last mile was 5:53. But it wasn't really, because everyone in Elmhurst knows that the distance between mile markers 8 and 9 is not quite a mile. I ran fast, but I had to stop for traffic twice and do the hill over Route 83. There's no way I would have actually done a mile under 6.

So. Now that I have a watch with a band, I think I'll still only use it for speedwork and long runs with specific goals (such as when I have that day in a few months when I say, "It is that time again. Time to run ten miles in an hour." And then fall embarassingly short of doing that).

Monday, August 27, 2007

GRR, Argh!

(GRR = Great River Relay. Depending who you ask it's either a 12-runner, 205-mile relay race, or a 10-runner, 212-mile relay race, starting in La Crosse, WI and finishing in St. Paul, MN. Argh is what you say after "Grr". "Grr, Argh!" I didn't make that up. I think Danielle did.)

I'm not going to do a narrativething about GRR, because other folk are doing that over on Danielle's runblog (which has a link over yonder ⇒ somewhere) and they're all better writers than me. And would you expect this blog to give you the straight story? I submit that you would not. So I will comment on their posts to add my personal experiences. If you want that info that's where it is. This post is not about the central part of the race, but about odd bits of the periphery.

"You wanna know why my people, they ain't got no success (they ain't dressed for it... they ain't dressed for it)": Teams at the race wore crazy things like rubber chickens (on their heads!), massively overstuffed bras, underwear with text advertising their prowess in the realm of gaseous emissions, matching pink runshirtthings, matching teal (aqua?) runshirtthings, t-shirts with religious texts on them, and run-adapted french maid outfits. Laurie had a totally awesome shirt that said, "Tree's Company" on it. People liked my bright yellow shorts because they made me easy to pick out from a distance. John designed really cool looking team shirts. The other van (consisting mostly of women, and also of Tim, who was not so much participating in this particular discussion as I understand it) spent a lot of time speculating how passing male runners would look were they not dressed at all.

"Why do we say, 'Hello'?": I am definitely getting better at talking to people. I talked to this dude from Chicago as I was passing him on my first leg, just because his team was from Chicago and I'm, you know, from Chicago. He didn't say much, his mouth was full 'cause he was EATING MY DUST!!! OH SNAP!!! (Just kidding... I saw him after the leg, he finished pretty soon after me, sounded like he had a pretty good run). And out by the Mississippi in Stockholm, WI I talked about music with a dude that's a music director at a megachurch. In the Town Hall Brewery I met a guy that does century bike rides like snapping his fingers (he would say that he met a dude that can run a 5-minute mile like snapping his fingers... maybe we'd both be exaggerating a little about the ease with which the other does it, but we definitely both can perform our respective feats). And then on the plane back to Chicago I talked to a woman that had just been in northern Canada trying to help make peace between logging companies and native folk embroiled in struggles for land (we made fun of airport security and of flying safety requirements and speculated that there may have been nukes aboard the plane because the pilot had to return to the gate after we'd initially started taxiing to sign off his approval for some bit of luggage).

More Songs About Transit and Beer: Then after we'd slept, marveled at one of the awesomely wide bike paths that cover the Twin Cities, had some Pannekoeken at the Pannekoeken Huis, and watched most of the team drive back toward Ames, Nisha and Audrey and I toured an area of St. Paul that the Internet said was neat, on Grand Avenue. It reminded me a bit of parts of the north side, of the quieter parts of Edgewater or Lincoln Square. Then they went to catch their flights and I had a few more hours so I caught a bus downtown and went to the Town Hall Brewery. Had their Scotch ale and one of their seasonals, a smoked hefeweizen. The Scotch ale was a nut-brown ale and was rich and creamy and... basically everything that a brown ale ought to be in my estimation. The smoked hefeweizen was interesting. It was, you know, both smoky and wheat...y... and those are not two attributes I'd have thought to pair. The smokiness might have drowned out the more typical delicate hefeweizen notes, leaving almost two separate flavors, the sweet wheat taste at first and the smoky aftertaste later. Nice people at the bar helped give me directions to the nearest train stop going to the airport. The one train line in Minneapolis gets you to the airport (or to Mall of America, I guess) really fast from downtown. Being used to the under-construction Red and Brown lines in Chicago I allowed way too much time for that trip. Should have left later and had another beer. But then I guess I would have been worried and drunk. It's hard to judge their transit system based on two rides on a Sunday, but everything I used was clean and fast, and their website is great.

Oh, yeah, and because I only had $20s on me I had to go to an international market and buy peaches to get change for bus fare. They were uneven. But overall I thought Minneapolis and St. Paul were pretty nice towns, and I didn't even go down to the Chain of Lakes or spend much time on their reputedly excellent trail network.

Husker Du?: Shaun's bad luck with mileage. Over 32 miles of running for him. John changing his pants inside of his sleeping bag (and willingly being filmed doing so). Audrey calling Shaun's room to ask if he had health insurance. Danielle's blueberry theme. All of the confusing directions (and I really feel bad for Shaun and Kimberly... I got lost on a few runs back in the day, I know how hard that can be). OK that's all for now. Sleep!

Sunday, August 12, 2007


There's something about going to Michigan that really heightens my sense of awareness. I was in the back of the van reading; we'd been on Lake Shore Drive but suddenly I just felt that we had to be in Hyde Park. I looked out the left window and the first awning I saw read: "Hyde Park Florist".

Whatever I'm going to write here isn't going to be nearly as !OMG!superangstcore! as the last thing I remember writing about going to Michigan several years ago. Which I know I could dig up if I felt like it (I keep great records, except when I forget to put on the recurse flag when copying all my old files and don't notice until years later when I want some random thing) but I'm not going to.

Still reading in the back seat, stuck on traffic on the Indiana Toll Road (I think "stuck in traffic" here is redundant), I came across an article in Time wondering why romance movies are dying. The article comments that (I don't have it with me, so paraphrasing) a movie depicting types of war atrocities that have never been documented would likely be praised for its gritty realism, while a movie about people falling in love, which happens every day, would likely be panned for being unrealistic. The problem is that to be a good romance movie a couple has to fall in love in an interesting way. And then once they've done that the movie ends. Most people meet eachother in undramatic ways and most of what's important happens after the movie would have already ended.

Besides, there's a logical problem that happens in many romantic stories, and as people apply more logic to their lives over time I think they see through it. Frequently person A does not love person B, and then person B does something spectacular to prove that zie loves person A. But person B loving person A was never in question. Person B's actions, however spectacular, really shouldn't convince person A to love person B back, but they do. People realize that if they were person A they wouldn't fall for that because it doesn't make sense, and if they were person B they wouldn't bother with all that silly shit because anyone dumb enough to fall for it would not be smart enough to make a relationship of any sort work in the long term.

Notes on Kalamazoo: Grandpa showed me a picture of Albert B. Dimond II (my great-great grandfather I think), which looks just like me. Grandma just had her knee replaced and the doctor had said that an advantage of knee replacement was that it would last for the rest of her life. She told him that her mother was 97. He backed off the statement. No metal knee can outlast a member of my family! Mama Blanche (my grandmother's mother) is pretty awesome. Even now that a trip is pretty hard on her, she'll come to see us when big things happen in our lives. Just last month she came down to Illinois for my cousin's high school graduation party and senior recital.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Are you a bad enough dude to rescue Bob Barker?

I picked up the double jewel case and read the line of text on the top of the back side: "The fate of the world is in your hands!"

I turned the case over and read the front. "Jeopardy".

Saturday, August 4, 2007

Things happen when I go to Chicago

Thursday I got a free Cubs ticket and went in with Anurag, Big Dave, and Joe P. Anurag thought (we all thought, actually) he had a great and free parking spot on Belmont but it turned out to be an illegal parking spot between 4 and 7. Which meant that, with the game being a 1:20 start, Sean Marshall would have had to turn in a Mark Buerhle-like performance to keep us legal. He didn't. In fact, neither starter worked quickly, pitched effectively, or even made it out of the third inning. I like Sean Marshall; he is over time I think an average pitcher, and he'll have good and bad starts. He's had mostly good ones so far, and had a bad one Thursday, and Anurag got a parking ticket.

I was going to do a bike-to-the-south-side thing to meet with Susan, Jess, KT, Erin and Zeke but then I twisted my knee at Frisbee after the game. So I was going to take my bike on the train and ride around in the morning scoping out neighborhoods, but this was a no-bike weekend on Metra beacuse of Lollapalooza. So I surrendered my travel plans to the whims of the CTA.

Walking through maybe Ravenswood or maybe Edgewater (probably from Ravenswood to Edgewater) this morning I was talking about my afternoon plans to someone in my head (no, really, I'm not insane, I just always need to be thinking about something, and inner dialog is twice the fun of inner monologue) and I said to that person that having friends like Susan, Jess, KT, Zeke and Erin reassured me that there must be a good person somewhere in me. That they're totally awesome folk. And that they would probably be OK with him (the person in my head) hanging out with them (he graciously declined, having important afternoon plans, and already having spent his morning bumming around the north side with me).

On the Bryn Mawr Red Line platform some people were idly chatting waiting for a southbound train and one asked if his companions thought the El tracks up on the north side were more or less stable than the bridge that collapsed in Minneapolis. And, that bridge collapsing, Oh, Man! So much of what we stand on like it's solid ground... I didn't even know until yesterday that Lower Wacker and its ilk are basically at the original ground level of downtown Chicago. Though I did randomly know that such a thing had done in Seattle and that it had, as in Chicago, helped to alleviate flooding among other things. And I knew that there was a huge blackout within my lifetime caused by flooding in old freight subways downtown. But I've never pounded ground downtown and felt like I was on top of something. Crazy.

A while later, in Lakeview-ish, a woman who'd just stepped out of a building walking a little white dog complimented my shirt and asked where I got it. It was my WWR BIOMASS (OK, BOMIAS to be correct and all) shirt. Susan says that in Hyde Park she frequently gets hit on by strange men. So maybe if I lived in Lakeview that is how strange women would hit on me, by meekly complimenting my odd t-shirts. Well, I'm not going to live in Lakeview anyway, so I won't have to worry about that, except while traveling.

The name of this blog is "But I wanna be a taxi driver!". I definitely don't want to be a bus driver. If I was the driver of either the sardine-packed bus I took to Hyde Park or the bus I took back downtown through the crowd of drunk and clueless people pouring out of Lollapalooza ("Um, like, does this bus go to [insert random intersection/neighborhood/suburb here]") I would have probably flipped out.

Wednesday, August 1, 2007

RAGBRAI, Employment, Rupert Murdoch

It is really amazing how trusting people in Iowa are for RAGBRAI. Thousands of really nice bikes, not to mention wallets and all kinds of other stuff were just left on the side of the road in every town we went through and nobody even worried for a second about stuff getting stolen. That was probably the thing that impressed me most. For the record we didn't see John Edwards or Lance Armstrong. We did see the Mitt-Mobile, but not Mitt. What I really would like to do, now, is ride across the country like Matt and David Montgomery. That would be pretty awesome.

I'm starting my new job on the 13th. Looking for places to live now. Woot.

And when Rupert Murdoch buys out my blog I'll make sure I negotiate for editorial freedom at least three or four posts out of ten.

Sunday, July 15, 2007

My Body and the Real World

So after it all, I guess I can understand how after biking 25 miles hard with a crash in the middle[1], stopping for a few hours to hang out and eat Real Food, getting back on the road for another pretty hard 25 to get home (including a stop in Devon for some random small groceries), and then eating lots of carbs'n'protein and drinking lots of water, my body might decide that it wants sleep now and won't take no for an answer. It had a lot of stuff to take care of without consciousness throwing it any more crap... digestion, healing of wounds, replenishing muscles (they've worked a lot the last 3 days).

The intense sleep rush still felt pretty crazy, though. Now that's over and I'll probably be up for a really long time. Grr.

[1]Out-of-use train tracks are always a hazard when you're on a road bike. You try to hit them at as steep an angle as possible. I was setting up to do this, but there was a pothole along the tracks, and I noticed it too late to avoid it. When my front wheel hit the pothole it turned itself slightly to the right (the direction of the tracks) and my wheel got caught in the groove next to the rail. At this point my wheel was pointed in a very different direction from my momentum. There was not much to do besides try not to injure myself on the fall.

The cuts I wound up with were not nearly as bad-ass as the ones I got falling on that rock face in Big Sur. Which is nice. Handlebars are bent up a bit. I think I've had pretty good luck with crashes.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Two Industries

In Neal Stephenson's The Diamond Age I think Madame Ping says something along the lines of, "There are two industries: stuff and entertainment." Well.
Make things for people so that they don't have to make them or understand them. Contribute to the specialization of people and the complexity of their lives. Work towards the technological singularity.
Trick people's senses so they can be excited in their mechanized lives. Manipulate their emotions. Glorify invented beliefs.

Fuck industry.

Thursday, July 5, 2007

"And as she read I laid my head / and I can't tell which head"

While I've been struggling with the Mountain Goats the way the faithful struggle with Bible verses they don't like I've been listening to Mermaid Avenue, on which Billy Bragg and Wilco put their own music to old found Woody Guthrie lyrics. It is a terrific album. In particular, Walt Whitman's Niece (the song from which I pulled this post's title) is a riot of a song. If Billy Bragg is this good when he writes his own lyrics I'll have to find more of his stuff.

Yesterday for the Fourth I went up to Evanston to meet up with some Fora crazies and watch professional pyrotechnicians create spectacular entropy over Lake Michigan. There was a concert band playing before the fireworks. It was the Palatine Concert Band. Directed by none other than Ron Polancich, former band director of star clarinettist Al Dimond. Great to get out of the house.

I think I'm ready to turn it around. I don't care if I get it completely right, I just need to get it a little different from now.

Saturday, June 30, 2007

"You are a decent person / And you have a function"

Ran at Waterfall Glen today. Notes:

- It really is one of my favorite places to run.
- As I ran by the "L.P.S. 1921" ruins I thought that they looked kind of like a mausoleum, and that "L.P.S." could be someone's initials. It doesn't make a lot of sense, really; it doesn't look like there's a cemetery nearby. I'm conflicted about "Lemont Postal Service"; it's near train tracks but it doesn't look like a likely place for trains to stop. Also I don't think "Lemont Postal Service" makes much sense; it would be the US Postal Service, and the Lemont Post Office. "Lemont Park Service" is another possibility. I don't see why the year would be chiseled into the building in either case.
- After getting done I helped a couple with a baby find the trailhead and then a few cyclists find the old pump water fountain. Woot.

Friday, June 29, 2007

Now I have to wash my cleats...

Bunch of idiot drunken 13 year-olds interrupted our Frisbee game last night. Among other things, they repeatedly tried to start fights with us and other people at the park, tried in vein to break the old Schwinn (definitely glad I didn't ride my good bike to Frisbee), and apparently at one point took one of my cleats (I was not wearing them at the time), ran to the other side of the park, peed on it, then brought it back and threw it at us. Nobody was injured, and the extent of the damage sustained was that now my cleats smell like strongly alcoholic pee.

Really, with Wilder being such a high-traffic park, it's not unusual for our games there to be interrupted. Sometimes a person passing through will join in the game (as much as the field at Wilder is awful, it is cool that people join in), sometimes silly kids come through and grab the disc, give it a good chuck, and run away. I guess this was a bit beyond that.

I think that one measure of a place is how it disrupts you. Chicago disrupted me with prohibitively long lines at public ice skating, and disrupts me into just wandering around checking out the cool buildings. Well, plenty of other ways, too. San Francisco disrupted me by making it impossible to get anywhere in a timely manner, but introducing me to friendly (if sometimes weird) people while trying. Santa Clara and San José disrupted me with deafening motorcycles. Elmhurst seems to disrupt me like a gnat in my ear. Idiot kids yelling at me from their cars as I run, walk, or especially bike around town. Idiot kids picking fights at the park. Idiot kids littering by the Prairie Path. Neighbors parking their car across the sidewalk because it wouldn't fit in their garage (a few years ago when I was on crutches). Nothing seriously bad or dangerous, just annoying.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

I need to be defragged

I am completely, horribly lost right now. To where I can't go for a bike ride without spending two hours thinking about where I want to go. Everything is just too much. Ack.

Also, why do people commonly mistake me for being more radical than I really am? I don't really have a concrete example of this, I just have this feeling that a lot of people say things like they assume that I'm really different from them in kind of a dismissive "I don't have to understand you" way? Or I'm just paranoid?

Thursday, June 21, 2007

What it is with the Mountain Goats

For a moment let's forget about musical style completely. I'm going to talk about lyrics.

The 'Goats write lots of songs about doomed love (in fact, this has been a typical theme in songwriting for many years). They do it in a way that's unusual for songwriters. I've been listening to the Arcade Fire a lot lately. Some lyrics from a song of theirs on that very topic, Ocean of Noise:

Left in the morning
While you were fast asleep
To an ocean of violence
A world of empty streets
You got your reasons
Me I got mine
But all the reasons I gave were just lies
To buy myself some time

It's sort of introspective and self-deprecating, and you probably wouldn't say those words exactly to your (doomed) lover, but even so, the words could be re-arranged into something that could be a communication to said (doomed) lover. The details of the events that took place aren't really set out, because the (doomed) lover knows all them, it's an explanation of the speaker's feelings, and one with at least a bit of a motive.

The Mountain Goats, on the other hand (Tallahassee):

Twin-prop airplanes passing loudly overhead
Road to the airport: two lanes clear
Half the whole town gone for the summer
A terrible silence, coming down here
And you... you.

And from Oceanographer's Choice

But then you came in and we locked eyes
You kicked the ashtray over as we came toward eachother
Stubbed my cigarette out against the west wall
Quickly lit another

In the first he's establishing setting. In the second giving action. The mood and emotion are not just pounded in like a guy trying to earnestly plead his case to someone, they're embedded in the setting and in the events, like someone writing a novel. Although the speaker addresses his (doomed) lover with "you", he's telling a story to the audience more than anything else. It creates a distance between Darnielle and the speaker that lets the audience get much closer to the speaker. The songs are free to be more honest about the speaker's character. His first-person portrayals show all the flaws and warts of the characters, show their actions for what they are. He's not fishing for sympathy like so many songwriters; that's the honesty that makes his songs powerful. The feelings follow from the events and are free to be contradictory or ugly. This is why I don't agree with classifying the songs as earnest. Earnestness is (according to Wiktionary) "ardent in the pursuit of an object; eager to obtain or do; zealous with sincerity...", and I think only part of that definition is met by the Mountain Goats' songs. They're really more honest than they are earnest, as the speakers don't really have an objective but to tell the story.

I am cursed.

I couldn't get to sleep last night, I was so excited about going into Chicago, meeting up with Heather and some other folk, and seeing the Mountain Goats. I thought it might be something that would finally go well.

I was excited and nervous and couldn't get to sleep until 5. Slept until around 11 maybe? Way too late. Needed to go deposit a check, my security deposit from Santa Clara, that had arrived in the mail. Couldn't find the check. Bad omen. Needed to drop a letter in the mailbox. The post office removed the mailbox that used to be a few blocks from my house; now the closest one is way too far away. Everything in Elmhurst is just taking me twice as long as it should, I can't do anything efficiently.

So I got to the train station in Elmhurst to take the Metra downtown in plenty of time. The train didn't arrive. Just west of the depot there was a big freight train standing still on the tracks. That might be it. Indeed, an announcement came over the loudspeaker that the 5:49 train was 13 minutes late due to the disabled freight train. Unfortunately, since the 5:49 train wasn't moving, and nobody seemed to have any idea how long it would take to get the freighter moving again, after 20 minutes of listening to meaningless updates on how late the 5:49 train now was I just walked back home. Had to call the gang up in Chicago to let them know I'd be late, even if the Elmhurst train was going to depart in an hour or so, which seemed like a best-case scenario given the size and acceleration speed of typical freight trains.

My initial plan was to drive up to Metro. Then my mom came home and offered to drive me to the Hinsdale train station, which is on the BNSF line, where I could catch a train. Worried about parking and traffic, I chose that option. I should have used my brain and realized that Metro is right next to Wrigley, and that with the Cubs out of town there would be plenty of parking nearby. So I got up to Metro probably by 8:25. I don't know exactly the time I got there, but it was shortly before the first band finished playing, and after 8:15.

Because at 8:15 apparently Heather and Eli scored free VIP tickets and went in. Had I known this I would have just bought one off of someone outside and met them after the show. But I had no way of knowing, so I waited outside for about an hour and a half. They came out after the Mountain Goats were done, fortunately, and so I ran into them then.

So to recap, the trains from Elmhurst could have been running. I could have made a smarter decision about how to get to Metro after finding that they weren't. Heather and Eli could have not scored such an awesome deal and met me outside just before the Mountain Goats started. I could have realized that this wasn't going to happen around 8:45 and just found a ticket outside. I could have done one thing right, luck could have once been on my side, but no. I totally missed the show.

So to top things off on the train back to Elmhurst there was a guy that had boarded with no ticket and no money and was trying to get to Lombard. He was dodging the conductors going from car to car asking people for money for a ticket. I gave him a buck; while Metra certainly doesn't want to encourage people doing this, that's pretty abstract, and this dude getting thrown off the train in River Forest was pretty concrete. He thought this would be the last dollar he needed, but it wasn't $3 to get to Lombard, it was $3.05. The conductor was adamant about this last nickel; apparently this guy had done this before, and the conductor was not going to tolerate anyone else giving him more money. They tried to get him to leave the train but he refused, so they stopped at River Forest and called the cops. As the conductor left the car to make the call the guy went down to the lower level and got a nickel from someone, offered it to the conductor. The conductor wasn't buying. The guy wasn't getting off the train. He walked through the cars telling everyone what was going on. None of the sleepy folk in this night's last outbound train were going to protest for him, though, not as he grandstanded and accused Metra of racism (he said he was Puerto Rican). A few confronted him and argued with him, though. There was an opportunity for a fight to break out between him and another passenger on the upper deck, right next to my seat, but fortunately it passed. Finally the police arrived and he left the train. It's a sad story all over, far beyond it continuing my weird string of bad train luck.

EDIT: When I say, "string of bad train luck," it really extends for quite a long time. Many people ride trains daily with few incidents. I ride trains rather infrequently and yet have had a Metra train's engine die on the tracks, waited 45 minutes for a Red Line train due to some incident on the train up the line (at least I wasn't on that one when it happened, plus today's shenanigans, in the Chicago area. In San Francisco the first time I rode the Muni it was an F-line streetcar; in the bumper-to-bumper traffic along the Embarcadero (yes, bumper-to-bumper streetcars, all packed with people) I could have walked to my destination faster than the train got me there. The second time I tried to ride the Muni I waited at an N-line stop for almost an hour because Critical Mass was having a bike rally along the N-line route. When the train finally got there it was too full to fit another person on board. Later that day I caught an N-line train back towards downtown and tried to transfer to a T-line, but the turnstiles would accept neither my transfer card nor my money (yes, you can pay with coins at some of the turnstiles in SF). The next day was when Jess and Katie were in town. Our N-Line train stopped on the tracks for a very long time while the incompetent operators tried to help a man in a wheelchair onto the train, causing a few riders to chant, "Refund! Refund!" Later that day we tried to connect to a T-Line train to get us back to the Caltrain station. It was late, and we missed the train back to Santa Clara by just a few minutes and had to wait two hours for the next one. Which gives the Muni a perfect record: every time I've dared to make a trip on a Muni train it's been a disaster.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Go Baseball!

I guess I don't usually blog about Baseball. Anyhow, this is worth saying: MLB's rules on retaliation are total crap, and the recent Cubs-Braves series is a good example of why.

Soriano hit three homers in a game, and on the first pitch of the next game Tim Hudson hit him. Perhaps partially intentional at worst (Hudson was probably trying to brush him off the plate and missed a bit inside). Because it looked bad, warnings were issued to each side. After both starters were knocked out early Cubs' long reliever Gallagher came to the plate for his first career plate appearance. He got hit by a pitch that got away from the Braves' reliever, and rightly no action was taken. But if the tables were turned what would have happened? Had a pitch gotten away from Gallagher and hit anyone on the Braves he almost certainly would have been tossed. Hell, Lilly even got tossed for hitting Renteria the next day!

There's something wrong when the result of hitting a batter is that your teammates can hit batters with no consequence while the opposing pitchers will get thrown out for it.

And if the umps are concerned with preventing retaliation above all else, even when it rewards "aggressors", then why was nothing done about the only play that was obviously retaliatory: Renteria's forearm on the slide into second base?

Monday, June 11, 2007

Everything that happened since my last post

A few things have happened that are the kind of thing I usually mention here:

1. I moved back to Elmhurst. Did so in the form of a road trip with Jessica and Katie, who i had met only briefly beforehand. It was a good trip, with only one "OMG ANGST" day (while driving across South Dakota). I don't think I actually took any pictures with my camera, the two of them got plenty though. Wyoming, especially in the Bighorn mountains, is beautiful. Went to a used bookstore in Omaha called the Antequarium. Saw Danielle in Iowa.

I woke up really early most of the days and I don't know why. Mostly I used the early morning time before my traveling companions awoke for reading.

2. Did a bike ride from Elmhurst out west to the edge of suburbia and back. Heather said to look for windmills, maybe in Batavia. Didn't see any, but I did get a picture of a cornfield with a row of brand new-looking very suburban-style houses behind it, and also one of an intersection with what looked like a fairly new stoplight rigged up at it, right in front of an old barn and silo.

3. Yesterday went to Chicago for the book fair, blues fest, and visiting Heather. All yielded successful results (books by Stephenson, DeLillo and Sartre (I know, I read the same stuff over and over again, sue me), rockin' harmonica by James Cotton, also a somewhat creepy dude from Louisiana that played really repetitive music and made lots of comments on the audience's dancing, beer by... some Belgian dudes, I guess). And I couldn't make the last train back to Elmhurst so I crashed at Heather and Beth and Me-Hi's (OK I totally made that spelling up, because I have no idea how this dude's name is spelled. Good dude, as far as I could tell, though) new place and woke up really early and read for a few hours, which kind of gave the morning a road trip vibe. I would have invited more people that would enjoy books and blues, but I figured (correctly) that the trip would be a very Al city trip. That is, lots of walking and searching for things, lots of scrambling for trains, a very shaky sense of plan, lots of getting approached by a dude on State and Harrison with a mohawk that had flopped down and was growing out around the edges, asking if I was Brian or William or something from St. Louis, and if I was an atheist, and who claimed to be God, and asked me how he could relax (I should have said, "By being disrupted in just the right way!"). The kind of trip that I need to do alone, at least for parts of it, so that I don't feel guilty about making tired companions trudge several extra blocks because of my incorrect guesses about the locations of public phones (cell phones are for the weak; Red Line stop at State and Harrison to the rescue!), and so that nobody has to actually listen to me talk about harmonicas.

4. And then I have to go back downtown tomorrow to run an errand for my dad. And there will be adventures of a different sort, if I have any luck.

5. I am really putting this off, but once I get off my lazy ass I'll post the pictures from my bike rides and stuff in one big OMG PICKTCHARR POST.

6. Now I have to sleep because waking up early is cool.

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Burning my PTO, bitches!

So far in the time since work ended I've done shit I should be blogging about, but I've been too fuckin' lazy until now. There are pictures, and my camera shit is packed, so pictures once I'm set up in Chicago in a week-ish. Patience.

After getting out on Friday I rode up to Alviso Marina to check out the ghost town of Drawbridge. There are some ruins, and some paths. The first train passed and I was pretty well hidden, but when the second train passed through I was out in plain view, and so in the off chance that some authority figure aboard the train would call in that I was there and send some other authority figures after me. Pretty OK place.

Obervation: My ankles are bad-ass. I rolled them a few times on the railroad ties while running out to the island and they didn't even swell up or anything. *Flexes ankles*

Saturday I rode down to Santa Cruz with a backpack full of clothes and stuff. It hurt my back. I took it easy (I know y'all probably don't think I even know how to do that while running or biking, but I really did this time). I tried to get into Holy City but there was a mean-looking fence. Fucking boo. Well, I didn't try very hard... it could probably be gotten into without too much effort. But I just went on to S.C. Went to the beach, just stood out there waist-deep in the water. Little boy screaming at the sea for much longer than you'd think a kid his age should be able to focus on anything. Shared a glance with a knee-deep young lady that didn't look like much of a beach person over that episode. Went, got a wet-suit. Old couple walking down the street, man said disgustedly, "Apparently clothes are optional in this town." Swam around the wharf. I'm not a very good swimmer. I think it's around a mile. It was tiring. Checked in the wetsuit. Put on an orange shirt. Got a compliment on the orangeness of the shirt. Some other people recognized me as the dude they saw swimming around the pier, said they got a picture of me. The picture is probably posted on someone's blog, with a shark-fin photoshopped in behind me. I hope so.

By that point I was hungry and in the mood for beer so I went down to the first brewery. They were about to close (not much of a retail establishment, although they will become one shortly after I leave California) so I tasted their offerings and got a bottle of their IPA for later.

Went down to the hostel, checked in. Some dudes from Italy hanging out there, and a local street musician that is passionately anti-sprawl. He owned, all told, a backpack full of stuff. Seemed reasonably happy with the arrangement. Being a computer geek, runner, cyclist... I don't think I could get it down that far if I tried (running requires lots of clothing and shoes, cycling a bike and more clothes, computing a computer... I had a backpack the same size for my day-trip, mostly filled with clothes).

Walked over to the second brewery, this one with a bar attached. This dude saw me up at the bar trying their barleywine, asked if I'd just biked in. I said yeah, but wasn't sure how he figured that out. It turns out the bar was having a bike night (last week was sort-of bike week in California) where you could get a free beer by biking in, so he figured any random scruffy dude hanging out at the bar alone had probably just coasted in for a free beer. Somehow I hadn't noticed that, and I thought he meant, "Did you just bike into town?", which would have made him a psychic. Anyhow he invited me to go meet his buddies from a UCSC agro-ecology program that had just rolled in for free beer that evening. I had some real dinner and got my free beer (two beers after that much exercise was about all I could handle) and we hung out for a while. Was talking to one of them about moving, and he asked why I didn't just move to Santa Cruz. I said I really wanted to be back with all my friends in Illinois, and he said I had friends in Santa Cruz now too. That was cool. But I miss y'all Illinoisans anyhow. They were going to a little concert and then back to UCSC to party until the livestock local to Santa Cruz came home, but I had to get back to the hostel by 11pm.

Welllll, apparently I didn't *have* to be back at the hostel by 11, because when I woke up there were at least three more people in the room than when I went to sleep. If I'd stayed out with those folk it probably would have been completely out of line, though.

On the ride back, unlike when I did this round-trip in one day, I was able to make the whole stretch on Mountain Charlie Road only stopping once, and that stop only to take a really awesome picture. There are several really awesome pictures to take along the road, but I was really feeling awesome and didn't want to stop. So I just picked my favorite view and snapped a few pictures there. It's not that I'm in better shape than then (I'm actually in far worse shape), it's just that that stretch of road is much more feasible with 10 miles behind you instead of 50.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Local Business

A while ago I put in a reservation to rent a moving truck from Budget, which has a pick-up/drop-off location in a gas station that's across the driveway from my apartment. I made the reservation online because I was doing price comparisons. When John found out that he could take all my furniture, I had to cancel the reservation. So I walked over to the gas station and asked the attendant about it. She told me to call Budget's national number. The call was quick and went smoothly.

So if I'd just called the number instead of going over to the station in the first place I could have made and canceled a transaction with a business located not 40 feet from where I'm sitting right now without actually interacting with anyone there.

I guess the real, fundamental question underlying this whole experience is: is this type of thing even interesting to normal people?

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Apple and DRM, Corporate Trust

Quite a while ago now Apple began to offer some tracks from EMI at the iTunes Music Store sans-DRM, and since then there has been quite a range of responses from anti-DRM folk around the Internet. Steve Jobs has also taken a few jabs at DRM in public. What's going on? A company that once clung to DRM as part of the magic glue holding together its vertical stack of the iTunes music store, iTunes and the iPod, now wishing it dead? Is Steve Jobs now some kind of consumer hero? Not really, but it doesn't change the fact that in the end the smart thing for people to do is to buy Apple's digital music wares (or at least not to buy Microsoft's).

There are a few things that some people get really worked up about regarding this deal. One of them is pricing. The DRM-free tracks cost more, and this means that suddenly not every song in the iTunes music store costs 99¢ anymore. Count me among those that don't give a shit. Apple is offering people something better with these songs; not only do they come without DRM, aiding interoperability, allowing people to avoid iPod lock-in, allowing trading among friends. This last one is important to me, even if it's illegal by the books. When my friends live in another state we can't listen to CDs together to share music we enjoy. With DRM we're being trusted to respect the spirit of copyright law, and hopefully we do. Also the DRM-free tracks have higher sound quality, not as a result of their not having DRM, but just as an additional distinguishing feature. Some people get really passionate about the idea of all songs costing the same in the iTunes Music Store, particularly because Steve Jobs himself has fought the record companies to keep it that way. But those people shouldn't be angry about this; Apple still isn't letting the companies charge differently for different songs. Furthermore, Steve Jobs doesn't care about keeping all songs the same price because he thinks it's good for consumers, he's doing it because he thinks it's good for his business. In online music right now what's good for his business and what's good for consumers overlaps (in general, regardless of whether one-price-fits-all is actually good for consumers). Even though Apple has a strong position already, there are many more people that don't use an online music service than there are that use one, and Apple has to continually win those new users in order to maintain their strong position. I actually think that the pricing of online music tracks is often silly. Buying all the tracks on an album is less expensive than the CD for bands that have albums with fewer and longer songs, and more expensive for bands with albums with more and shorter songs. The Minutemen's Double Nickels on the Dime and Radiohead's Kid A both cost me around $13 on CD (Kid A may have been a bit more); if all those tracks were available on iTunes for 99¢ a pop I would have paid $9.90 for Kid A ($10.89 if you count the "hidden" stuff at the end as a track) and $42.57 for Double Nickels. Would I really pay 99¢ for Take 5, D.? Probably not, but it brings a smile to my face when I hear it. There is currently no better deal on the consumer side of music than the compact disc, and even with Apple's new online offerings I still buy CDs if they want an album and recommend that others do the same. But if the market will sustain Apple's wacky pricing model, and they think it's good for them overall (surely most of their customers aren't buying full hardcore albums from the iTMS) then I say they can do whatever the hell they want.

There's also the issue with European governments trying to force Apple to license their DRM to other companies at a reasonable rate. People think that this move will convince those governments not to do that. I don't see how it should have any effect, since they'll still overwhelmingly sell tracks with DRM, but Laws Are Weird. Apple's DRM, as I understand it, isn't really built to be licensed to other companies the way Microsoft's is, and actually would stand a better chance of being broken if they licensed it. If Apple can refuse to license their DRM they can keep the people that already have lots of DRM-laden iTMS songs locked to the iPod, even as they sell them new songs that don't themselves lock their users in. I haven't been paying attention to Apple's legal negotiations in Europe, but if they manage to get the governments off their back, good for them. I don't really care if other companies have the FairPlay spec, I'd rather consumers get a hold of it ;-).

I don't think that this whole thing is about the European courts, though. Why would Jobs take jabs at DRM if that was the case? Why would Apple invite other record labels to offer their songs DRM-free? I think there's more at stake. Apple makes its money on the iPod. The iTMS is a lock-in vehicle for the iPod, and also a way to prevent them from getting sued by record companies for supporting piracy. Apple's Goal #1 is to protect and grow iPod sales. The problem is that to keep up their vertical market they need to sell two things: the iPod and FairPlay DRM. Specifically they're selling the iPod to consumers and FairPlay to record labels. If consumers reject the iPod, or if the labels reject FairPlay, they're in trouble. Apple is one of the best companies in the world these days at selling to consumers. But Microsoft is probably the best company in the world at selling to corporations. Microsoft is Apple's top competitor in the DRM business, and Microsoft has shown a willingness over the last few years to do lots of work to support the DRM that media companies want. Even as Apple is putting lots of computers and iPods in our hands, they're scrambling to match Microsoft's Protected Video Path to satisfy corporate content holders. The battle to get content on the platform by having the strongest DRM system is being won by Microsoft. Apple's best chance is to play to consumers. If consumers reject DRM then Apple doesn't have to fight that battle. And consumers should reject DRM, because our digital rights don't need any management! So Microsoft happens to be pushing against consumers right now and Apple happens to be pushing for them.

EDIT: Apparently I'm way behind the times and Apple does sell albums on iTunes now. Which renders the last half of the paragraph on pricing irrelevant. It doesn't really change the main point of this post... actually, that stuff had nothing to do with my main point, so I shouldn't have even put it in here. Now I still wouldn't buy stuff from the iTMS with DRM (which includes most of the iTMS' offerings), and I can't really buy anything from the iTMS unless they support Linux. That last problem is pretty much specific to me, so for most people, especially people wanting to buy single songs, the iTMS non-DRM stuff might be worth a look.

Sunday, May 6, 2007

I was going to use the phrase "unrelated news" in this blog post, which made me think of a database structure with a table for news-item relations

... and clearly these two news items would not be expressed as a pair in this table.

I've had a few dreams lately in which I was in college, living in the dorms, and just got a cat to live with me and my roomies. But this cat, he is pure evil. You can see it in the little bastard's eyes. The second you fall asleep he's going to eat you. Then he's going to look up your grandma in your address book, hitch a ride to her place, and eat her.

Also in these dreams I have the ability to drink a 16-ounce glass of straight gin and still go to class, just a little bit impaired.

It's a very good thing I don't really have that ability.

In un-related news...

My "moongazing plugin" for gaim is almost finished! All I have to do is set up the callbacks for periodic updates (this is easy, I know how to do it) and then apply the logic I'm using for profiles to status messages. Well, then I have to rewrite the moon-positioning code because my current source for that code is xearth and xearth, while open-source, has a non-GPL compatible license (specifically, it appears to prohibit distribution for commercial use) and gaim (which my program is also a derivative work of) uses the GPL. Obviously I can comply with both licenses uness I distribute the work. It should be an interesting problem to hack at, given Wikipedia as documentation. And maybe I'll need a more precise source for the parameters of the moon's rotation.

But, like the Rolling Stones playing a cover of some band whose name I don't remember, I ain't too proud to beg: if any of you can tell me how to find the location on the surface of the Earth (... how shall I specify this accurately ...) through which passes a displacement vector from the center of the earth to the center of the moon, I'm dying to know.

But yeah, I'm doing the C coding, which I know I can hack out, first.

Oh, and gaim is now "Pidgin". So s/gaim/Pidgin/g, k?

Friday, April 27, 2007

Belated Egyptian Recap

The first lucky thing that happened Friday is that it rained. Was planning to walk to the airport shuttle, but I chose to drive because of the rain. Got to the airport early, at 5:49AM. Tried to check in. Check-in machine said my flight was departing at 6:20AM. I definitely booked the 7:45. AA representative said, "Well, you're on the 6:20 now." Got moved to the front of the security line. Got another Leatherman confiscated (I have to remember to take that thing out of my backpack before traveling). Sprinted my ass off down the terminal and just made the flight.

So I wound up in Orange County with lots of layover time. Walked around looking for food. Saw a shop selling a t-shirt saying, "Not all who wander are lost." I wanted to buy it but didn't have any room in my backpack.

Hit the flight to St. Louis. After touchdown the flight attendant listed gates for connecting flights and said, "If the St. Louis area is your home, welcome home." I nearly cried right there. Got the car, drove to Marion while listening to the Cubs lose to the Cardinals. Ronny Cedeño, pinch running for someone (Mark DeRosa, maybe?), had the green light on a 3-2 pitch, the batter walked, the catcher threw to second. Ronny got second base automatically because of the walk but he slid past the bag and the shortstop tagged him out. That was the second out in the bottom of the ninth with the Cubs down a run. I may have got cheated out of snow in my visits to the midwest this year, but at least the Cubs found a way to lose for me. Met the team at Williamson County Pavilion. Wanted to buy a River to River license plate holder and some bumper stickers, but didn't have room in my backpack. Grrrr.

Ran the race. Did pretty well. Wrote about it in the runblog. Wore a jacket and pants all day in the heat to keep from getting sunburned. I got lots of comments. I didn't get sunburned. Southern Illinois is beautiful. I'm sure you all know that I want to live there someday.

After the race I didn't have any specific plans for the night and it wasn't too late so I went back to St. Louis. Formed a plan involving finding a room downtown, wandering around and maybe having a beer somewhere, waking up early, watching the sun rise over the casinos on the Illinois side of the river, dropping off the rental car, going to the airport. Plan was busted by the fact that I couldn't find a room downtown that wasn't way too expensive, didn't know my way around, didn't have a very good map. And I wandered past a bunch of bars and clubs and casinos with a bunch of cops milling around outside and all these people trying to look cool and being loud and drunk, and I was wearing my new River to River t-shirt because it was one of two clean ones I had left, looking really dorky and being quiet and sober.

So I headed out towards the airport, found a motel out there, was so tired I forgot to set my alarm before crashing. Woke up kind of late. But could make it if I hurried. Went to go return the car. I'd seen signs for the rental car checkin the night before, so I followed them. They were for different companies. Looked at the rental car map and tried to reconcile that with what I remembered from watching out the window of the shuttle bus from the airport. This part took about an hour. Fuck. I got to the airport 10 minutes after the flight left. They had me try to make standby on a flight to Dallas, and then try to make standby from Dallas to San José. Fun.

There was a sort of crappy airport bar outside my terminal. I got a banana and a muffin at the nearby Starbucks and then headed for the bar. Ordered a gin and tonic. Bartender said everyone ordered those at the casinos, but almost nobody did at the airport. Well maybe a gin and tonic is good luck. Would I like to make it a double for a few extra bucks? I've gotta make two flights on standby to get back home, so yeah, you'd better make that a double.

I think that's the most drunk I've ever been before noon. With my rather low alcohol tolerance, I don't think I was walking quite straight, or speaking very clearly. But I made the flight! Fifth out of six standby passengers to get called! Win! Sat next to the engine. Tried to read a bit. Observed myself getting soberer. Landed in Dallas.

Walked around the D terminal for a while before eating a burrito and some ice cream (the airport industry made a killing off of me on this trip, but I was stressing out... whatever). Ahead of me on the standby list were a group of three and two groups of two. Eight seats available and I'm in; seven seats I'm out; six seats I'm in; five, I'm out; four I'm in; three, out; two, out. There was one seat. I was in.