Friday, December 11, 2009

Ritual

I've decided to document my nightly ritual because I have nothing more productive to do.


Camellia Sinensis: My "friend" at the tea store wasn't kidding when he said this was good stuff. I asked for oolong, and he got a proud man's smile as he went back to the store and brought this out in an unmarked package.


Pour: Pour hot (just below boiling) water over the leaves. The familiar sound of the leaves rubbing against each other and the water pouring into the pot is comfort.


Cover: The sound of the lid clinking into place on a teapot is quiet and comfortable. This pot is one of my favorites because...


Wait: ... the tea looks lovely inside it. I need to use those tea blossoms, but I don't want to make them run out.


Fill: The sound of tea filling a cup is like none other. They might not come right out and say it, but those burbling coffee table pieces at the nature stores are so soothing because they sound so much like tea. It's true.


Monday, November 30, 2009

Jesca Hoop - Kismet

I let the last.fm client dictate much of my music listening. It's nifty -- input an artist you like, and it plays you similar-sounding stuff. It's a good way to discover new music, and it's easier than organizing your own playlists.

Recently, I've been listening to a lot of alternative groups with female vocals along the lines of Fiona Apple and Nellie McKay (another recent find). When last.fm plays a song, it also displays the artist and album information on-screen. I find myself running to the computer once in awhile to find out who's making that lovely noise.

Which leads me to today's topic: Jesca Hoop. It seems the last three or four times I've wondered "Who is that?", it's been her. That being the case, I finally decided it was time to find her only (officially-released) album, Kismet.

Jesca Hoop's bio on Last.fm mentions she listened to Tom Waits early on, and it really shows. She's got the clunky, circus-like foundation in about half the tracks on this cut. Her influences, though, go far beyond that; "Out The Back Door" brings back vivid memories of Cibo Matto's distorted vocals and dark, syncopated rhythm, and "Silverscreen" has distinct splashes of Beatles-style elements, including tastefully-executed orchestral swells and a little melody in the chorus that sounds like it could have come straight from Sgt. Pepper.

There's so much variety on this album, every track feels like a brand new experience on the first listen-through, and most remain interesting on subsequent analysis. Best of all, Ms. Hoop manages to completely avoid the trap of neo-cabaret that plagues so many talented young female artists. It's alternative music, to be sure, but with such a wide variety of influences behind it, Jesca Hoop's sound is wholly original and wholly enjoyable.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Random Thought

I wonder if I could pass the bar exam with a bit of work. I picked up a criminal law textbook at Half Price today, and I'm actually interested enough to continue reading it. That's a good sign, no?

Unfortunately, it appears a Juris Doctor is required for actual admission to the bar in most jurisdictions. That part would be expensive. That said, most of the information itself is available online. Findlaw.com appears to have a decent amount of case law available for free. Would that be enough stuff to get me by?

Saturday, November 28, 2009

I Shot my Dad Tonight

I can't believe I've never bought myself an airsoft gun. Thirty bucks is a lot of fun, and I think it's the beginning of a new hobby. These things are just plain cool.

I did shoot Dad, but to be fair, he told me to as he walked out into the yard and spread his arms. I'm not one to disobey :p

Again

There be family, and there be friends. Also, I found New Moon at Half Price Books today. Score.

I'm starting to think Twitter would be more appropriate for this sort of blogging...

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Turkeys

I've written two stories now. Both end in death. There's a very simple reason for this: It's an easy way to end a story. I'm not much of a fiction writer, so it's simply a crutch. Seems like a more creative alternative to "and they all lived happily ever after." Besides, man falling from an elevator surely wouldn't end happily ever after, in any case. There's no need for alarm. If I said "it's fun to kill characters," perhaps there'd be some cause for concern. So I'll just keep that to myself.

Also, a seasonal thought: I'm glad I have family in town. I'm glad the family from out of town came to see us. I'm glad turkeys are made of meat.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

On Nothing and Terminal Velocity

*click* 7…

*click* 6…

*click* 5…

At each floor (*click* 4…) the corresponding number above the door lights with a click, punctuating the metallic scrape of an old elevator in an old building descending to the ground floor. Aryn checks his watch. 4:30. Only two and a half hours until this is over.

*click* 3…

“Four days in a row,” Aryn thinks, Thanksgiving break just a couple hours away. This break is necessary. Between the influx of orders this week (everybody gets their work done at the last possible minute, it seems) and some tension between him and the new guy, the last month has been an absolute drag.

*click* 2…

Before that long break, this ten-minute one is the last today. The coffee upstairs is horrid, having been made this morning and left in that decanter for, what, six hours now? It’s even stale by the time he gets to it when he comes in at 10. At least enough people use the coffee in the common room on the ground floor of the office it’s brewed relatively frequently. Aryn anticipates the cafeteria smell and fluorescent lighting and long tables with tattered wooden chairs from the 80s with that awful prickly upholstery on the seats. He’s made this trip twice daily for two years now. There’s no actual cafeteria here – just some vending machines and a microwave. But it’s comfort. It’s not-work.

*click*--

No number. Weird. Light must be out. These elevators are serviced yearly for their vital parts, but the stupid lights keep disappearing, and the lights outside don’t always work when the elevator arrives. There’s no way to tell whether it’s going up or down without that bell.

As the door lurches open, Aryn steps out, checking his watch again. He looks up in time to see his foot miss the floor. He falls. There’s no floor at all here. The light is apparently just fine.

As he’s falling through nothingness, now looking up (there’s nothing down to look at, and some small part of his brain is sure looking at the one thing that exists will make some difference), the elevator door closes, and the perfectly-working exterior indicator light goes out. The elevator has gone to service another patient user. After a few more seconds, the closed door becomes a pinpoint in the distance, then it vanishes completely.

Describing “nothingness” is impossibly difficult. Suffice it to say Aryn still checks his watch every few minutes, partly out of curiosity, having grown up believing all falls end eventually and because this one is taking longer than any he’s experienced thus far, and partly out of simple boredom. There’s not a lot to look at when nothing is around; nothing is very much like a blank canvas without any texture or color. It isn’t even grey. It just isn’t.

After about ten minutes, according to his watch, Aryn begins to wonder whether he’s really falling anymore. Is it possible the door moved away from him as he stepped out? Without a way to orient himself and nothing to indicate movement (surely air exists, since he’s not suffocated yet, but there’s no wind in his face from rapid movement), Aryn believes himself to now be in stasis, suspended in a… what is this place, anyway?

Perhaps ten seconds after deciding he wasn’t moving, he changes his mind. The ground or something equally expansive and flat appears and begins approaching rapidly from his left side. He’s falling. Sideways, in fact. Before Aryn has a chance to wonder what, exactly, terminal velocity would come out to in a place of nothing and whether he’s been falling long enough to reach it, the ground or something equally expansive and flat interrupts his train of thought with a dull thud.

As his mind fades to black (at least there's color now), a mumble: “Terminal velocity, indeed.”

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Memories

When I was a kid, I remember Dad watching math on TV. I thought it was the strangest thing at the time, and I haven't thought much of it since. Until tonight.

I found some math on Youtube. I am amazed. I need to go back to school and learn stuff. I'd be so much happier there.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Better With Cheese

I am not motivated to blog tonight, but I'm always motivated to complain.

I tore open a bag of Tootsie Pops a couple nights ago and found an unpleasant surprise: banana. Not an actual banana, mind, which would have been quite a lot better, but an artificially-flavored banana lollipop.

Waste of a perfectly good stick. That could have been orange, dangit.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Blast

Julia Nunes posted a new video. There's a band behind her, and there's no more spontaneity. There's not even a uke. I am disappointed.

She still rocks, don't get me wrong. It's just that this isn't the spunky youtube girl I fell in love with. There's a pop star in this video.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Musics

It's important to play fun things along with the pieces you're studying to keep burnout at bay, and reading through easy songs is good practice in itself. I found one the other day I like enough to share:



This is Schumann's Traumerei. Traumerei translates to "dreaming," from what I understand. Sounds dreamy, indeed.

Friday, November 20, 2009

<3

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ojIOLuS1ZU0

Just. Wow. Seriously? Word has it that's footage from her campaign last year. I adore Fox news. They need to add "factual" to "fair and balanced".

Thursday, November 19, 2009

La Cuenta, Parte El Fin

I'm skipping the last paragraph. Self-censorship, maybe.

SEATTLE – The Seattle Fire Department said two people died after a fire swept through the Johnson Lofts building downtown. Firefighters arrived shortly after 4:45 PM after receiving a call from a resident who then evacuated safely.

Witnesses said they saw a woman on the fifth floor attempt to escape from the window but disappear shortly afterward. “It was pretty intense,” said witness John Smith. “The smoke was so thick you couldn’t see much. But we knew that lady was in there. There was nothing any of us could do but watch.”

Firefighters confirmed the two deaths and said it appears the victims were attempting to escape. One was the resident of the apartment were the fire began, and the other could not be identified.

The building, which had been recently renovated for residential use, has been a landmark in the city for over fifty years.

Investigators determined the cause of the fire to be accidental.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

La Cuenta, Parte Seis

When he approached the scene, it was clear he wasn’t going to get in. That was his, though, thick black smoke billowing from the half-open window. Christ. He tried to get some information from an officer on the scene, but the officer brushed him off. There was no distracting him from that window. Everybody was staring. Then he saw it, too, a towel almost draped out the window. Like somebody had tried to wave it for help. The firefighters were raising a ladder now.

Sam took off around the building since the police hadn’t had time to set up any sort of perimeter. When he got to the back door, the smoker’s door (fat lot of good banning smoking indoors did), he yanked it open and took off up the stairs. Why were they going for the window? Why hadn’t she used the fire escape like a normal person? Like an animal, she was, faced with fire, fixating on the nearest thing to “away,” even though it was fifty feet up. He should have shown her what to do.

When he got to his floor, winded, he could feel the heat. He could see the heat, even in the floodlit landing, making the door shimmer. He took off his shirt to protect his hands, but as he was looking down the stairwell hoping desperately for somebody to come running, the door fell on its own. It just tipped over into the hall, landing with a crash. The hinges had melted.

As Sam looked down the hall, he was amazed at how dark it was. The heat poured from the open door now, and he could see nearly invisible flames licking at the brick in the hall, blue where they appeared and heat shimmer where they didn’t. He charged in screaming for her, though he could hardly hear himself over what reminded him of the deep, rumbling sound the furnace at his childhood home made when he listened closely to it. It didn’t crackle. It nearly growled.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

La Cuenta, Parte Cinco

On the way home, Sam watched the helicopters, three of them, hovering around downtown. He’d always been amazed by flying machines, even now into his thirties. He couldn’t tell what sort of helicopters they were, but it wasn’t the police. Theirs was a smaller one that looked a bit like a bumblebee.

He was about halfway home when he saw the smoke. The helicopters were for that – a fire. It looked like it might be even be near the lofts. He picked up his pace. Perhaps there’d be some action tonight, after all. And he’d have a great view if it was on his side of the building.

A bit nearer, as truth started to dawn, Sam started to run. He didn’t want a view of this scene. Watching a drama unfold as he looked on from his loft window was one thing, but he was kicking himself for the thought now. Karma will have her own way. How about a drama actually unfolding from your window, Sam? He didn’t wish for this.

Monday, November 16, 2009

La Cuenta, Parte Quatro

“How’s work?” he asked.

“Mmgh.” She shrugged, noncommittal.

She’d gotten a job at the grocery at the end of the block, but he didn’t hear her talk much about it.

“Heh. Mine, too. I have a feeling I’ll still be cleaning up yesterday’s mess. That was a disaster. Of course, I took the fall. I always do. I wish they’d quit using me as an excuse when things go wrong.”

“Why do you go if it makes you so miserable?” she asked. “You really don’t have any right to complain. You’ve put yourself in that mess.”

“It’s true. It pays the bills, though. I need to have a job, and I don’t want to work retail. If I could afford to, I sure would. It’d surely be easier than this. No offense, of course.”

At this, she was silent and nodded.

“I’ve got to get going. See ya this evening.”

“Yeah. Thanks again for all this,” she said. “I’ve never lived like this before.”

“What? No need to thank me. You thank me just by being around. I’m glad to have you.” Sam hugged her then he held her at arm’s length. “You really are lovely,” he said, smiling again.

She only lowered her head.

After Sam left, she opened the fridge and checked the date on the eggs. They were still good. Cereal wasn’t nearly as tasty as it used to be. Eggs are real food.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

La Cuenta, Parte Tres

Sam stretched his chin out in front of the mirror, running his fingers down his neck, inspecting his shaving job. Shaving was his own time, and for all the five minutes it took, he had his mind to himself. Morning grogginess made his mind a funny place, with random words repeating themselves for just their sound (he was stuck on Timbuktu this morning) and simple, basic thoughts forming the foundation of his meditation. In the last six months, he’d learned to savor the time he spent shrouded in his morning stupor. He knew she’d be waiting to get in when he left the bathroom. He took his own toothbrush from the rack that now held two and ran the tap. He cupped some water in his hand, splashed his face, and Timbuktu disappeared for the day.

As he opened the bathroom door and stepped into the hall, she was, indeed, waiting. She looked almost domestic these days, now that she had more or less regular meals and slept indoors. Her face was still a bit rough, and she insisted on wearing a mess of randomly kempt, hacked short hair, but at least it was clean. He touched her arm, and she accepted it with a small smile. He smiled, too, knowing how much that meant, and passed her. He’d found out the hard way a couple weeks after their turkey dinner that a friendly hug was not that at all to a girl from the street. He ended up with a black eye, and she didn’t reappear at the side of the building for a few days.

These days, though, their relationship had developed into one of relative comfort. Over a standing breakfast of boxed cereal, Sam looked over her with approval. She’d come a long way, indeed. He didn’t rescue her, per se. But he’d sure helped her get back on her feet. And now he had a friend.

La Cuenta, Parte Dos

She only acted startled the first time. The second, the very next night, she waved her hand in dismissal and grunted, never taking her eyes from the ground. The third passed the same way, and the fourth became a week. Sam, by this time, felt some small connection to the girl, even though only as a neighbor, which she technically was. And her situation started to bother him. It was just a niggling thing at first, wondering before he started speaking to her how long she'd been out there, but having no friends in town and a soul-sucking job that left him with more money than satisfaction, he was already disposed to find an emotional connection somewhere.

One night, after a particularly stressful day, he didn't make it to his apartment. Instead, he sat at the side of the building and looked for bugs. She'd taken to ignoring him again (she hadn't even grunted in a week), but with him sitting right next to her, she didn't last long.

After about ten minutes, she spoke: "The bugs' world isn't any bigger than ours," she said, still looking intently at the gravel. "They have no idea."

Sam hadn't actually expected her to say anything. He didn't even know she could. He was too stunned to respond. He sat, still staring at the ground. As she started rocking again, he joined her, but he wasn't feeling it. "Why do you rock like this?"

"Are you trying to fuck with me?" She looked at him now, weary.

"I.. no, I just..."

"Are you trying to rescue me?"

"I didn't... I was..."

"Am I a curiosity? What do you want?"

"Y.. You are, yes. You're human. And you sit here staring at the dirt all day. And you're apparently not completely loony. If you weren't a curiosity before, you are now. Why are you here?" In the face of this challenge, Sam was finding his voice again.

She sighed. "Because I am. Why are you here? Seriously, what do you want?"

"For the last month and a half, I've seen you sitting here and wondered what was going on in your head as you stared at those rocks all day. I still have no idea, but you're actually lucid. Now I know you can tell me."

She was silent again for a while, resigned. She broke the silence after a few minutes. "You're freakin' weird."

He just shrugged. Having the homeless girl call him weird put him oddly at ease, and now that he'd ascertained with more certainty her relative harmlessness, he was actually comfortable. She was just human, after all.

She looked at him, less weary this time. "Actually," she said. She paused.

Sam turned to look at her.

She looked back at the gravel. "I know I just accused you of attempting rescue, but I'm... I haven't eaten since yesterday. Do you have a couple bucks?"

"No." Sam looked straight ahead again.

"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have--"

"I've got some sliced turkey in the fridge. It's been in there for a week, but it's probably still good. Preservatives and all, you know. I'm not going to give you money. But I'll share. I'm hungry, too."

Friday, November 13, 2009

Office 2008 on OS X

I installed Microsoft Office 2008 for OS X at home expecting it to be somewhat similar to 2007, which we use at the office. It isn't.

Case in point:



I've taken a screen shot of the top portion of the screen in Word, the one that would normally contain useful tools. Instead, I have an entire row of buttons I'll likely never use. They're cool features (SmartArt, for example, allows one to insert shiny flowcharts and diagrams), but I'm not publishing. I'm processing words. In a Word processor. One that would do better to have tools like "Center" and "Italics" at the top of the page.

Which brings us to annoyance number two:



The aforementioned vital tools aren't even attached to the program's window. They float. And they disappear after a few seconds by default. I can't modify the toolbars at the top of the window, but at least I can change that horrid behavior.

I hear there are other annoyances (the actual removal of VBA support in Excel from the last version to this one, for example), but I can't account for anything else first-hand. I just know I don't like Word. At all.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Parte Uno

When they first met, she didn't know it. He was too uncomfortable to say anything, and she was completely engrossed in her studies. She sat in the half-shade on the side of the building, a brick affair from the 50s, wrapped in a too-large flannel shirt and well-worn jeans, rocking a bit and murmuring to herself about the bugs. She studied the ground in front of her. It appeared, at least from Sam's perspective, to be absolutely fascinating.

Sam was new to the neighborhood, so he said with healthy irony as he introduced himself to his neighbor across the hall as they jostled to get past each other. These halls were too narrow. He'd just moved into the newly-finished warehouse-turned-lofts (closets, really) building in a somewhat seedy part of downtown, but it was a step up from the suburbs. It was more expensive at any rate, he told himself, and he could afford it easily. And it was a downtown loft. It may have been a closet, but it was a luxurious one. His bathroom counter was even made of frosted glass. Movin' on up, indeed.

After a few weeks of walking past the girl at the side of the building every night on his way home from work, Sam grew accustomed enough to her to say hello. The first time he did, she snapped her head up and sat frozen, wide-eyed, her mouth moving only slightly to return the greeting.

He knew by now she was nuttier than an ape on happy pills, but he could tell she wasn't the violent sort. It was something about her features; her face was undoubtedly soft at some point in the past but that had all but disappeared with the passage of time. She wasn't yet grizzled, and she was still young (so tragically young -- twenty-five, tops), but her cheek bones stood out, framing her face between them and a sharp jaw line like a painting left outdoors, exposed, becoming slowly more and more like the environment that surrounded it. She hadn't yet been worn down enough to put out the light behind her eyes, but she was no newcomer to the streets. He wondered how long she'd been here. And he knew by her reaction to him she'd seen more than her share of trouble.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Poem

I should post something.
Eleven days in,
My muse has skipped town.

I'll write a story before the month is over. And I'll post a song. But not tonight. Bah.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Mull

50% down would make a huge dent in a house. My payments would be significantly lower than my current rent. What's the catch?

I wonder if a university would let me play a large piano if I wasn't studying one but was still a student.

What on *earth* is that noise?

Monday, November 9, 2009

Resurrection

I had some herbs this summer. One week, I forgot to water them. One died.

At least, I thought it was dead. The leaves were brown and crinkly, the stems were brittle, and a spider even made a home in the pot. I was apparently wrong. It's come back to life. There's some new green in the middle, and a couple of the stems have even started to turn green again.

Was it faking its death for attention? Somebody ought to tell the plant that dead ones get significantly less attention than live ones...

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Terrible Toads

I went to the same coffee shop several times per week for about five years. A year and a half or so ago, the drama finally sucked me in and I stopped going.

I went back on Halloween, and I went back again yesterday. The same people are still there, up to their same tricks. While many relationships are cool, at best, the place still warms me, and it hasn't yet come to fisticuffs.

I'm not sure if this is such a good idea, but it's too late now. A candle on my table and an oddly-instrumented band on stage playing odd, jazzy-like music and a crowd dressed from jeans and tees to cuff links and ties made the atmosphere a far cry from the sports bar near home. I've missed the place. I'm hooked again.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Love's Tune

A snippet from train-of-thought at the bar:

This is one of her more croony songs. Whenever I hear Billie Holliday these days, it reminds me of a rather disturbing recording of David Sedaris singing commercial jingles in her voice. He does her well. A bit too well. I wouldn't say he's ruined her, but I can't get his voice out of my head. The influence makes me grin. Like I didn't grin enough upon hearing her already.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Unfortunate Cookies

That truck will probably stop.

Your hard work goes mostly unnoticed.

The chicken is safe.

Be confident. It's hilarious.

Savor your freedom. It is short-lived.

You will find yourself without an umbrella.

Thursday, November 5, 2009

'Tis The Season...

I hope this sore throat and exhaustion are due to stress, lots of talking, and a lack of decent sleep this week.

I don't fear the sowmonella, but I sure as heck don't want it. I don't want run-of-the-mill crud, either. Y'know, uninhabited mountain tops don't have contagious diseases or stressors that make mental crud. Just bears. I'd do well with bears at this point.

Here's a rather sad photo of a balding bear:


Story.

A First?

I have seen a lot of shows. When we were kids (from about sixteen through twenty years, I'd say), they were our primary source of entertainment. We attended a few shows a month, mostly small. The bigger ones weren't nearly as much fun.

I saw a man climb to the top of his stack of amplifiers and forcibly dismantle the ceiling with his feet so he could hand out souvenirs. I've seen puddles of not-water, and I've seen people fall right into them. I've seen nunchuck halftime routines and a bust of Mozart. I've seen men and women dive from the stage into the audience. Once, I even saw the lead singer of a screamy metal band whip out a flute for an epic solo.

There are limits, though. So I thought before tonight. Before tonight, I had not imagined any of the following things appearing in a musical act:

  • Seven-foot stilts

  • A fire eater

  • A tea party

  • Burlesque costumes that made me a bit uncomfortable

  • A lady on one of those cloth rope trapeeze things like in cirque du soleil


  • Emilie Autumn is the single most annoying performer I have ever witnessed on stage. She didn't even play most of her music (nor did she pantomime well), and at one point, she even said, "I just know this is going to end up on youtube!" Many members of the crowd started recording with their phones. Clever, perhaps, but desperate much? Even so, the show was enjoyable. Her "band" had character, and there were breaks for what can only be described as campy skit-like interludes between songs. There was plenty to see, as outlined above, and little to, erm... cover it. Which makes me consider whether I'd have enjoyed it as much if the performers had been male. Sadly, it just wouldn't have had the same appeal. Or much at all, really.

    It was worth my money, but I wonder about the throng of doe-eyed fangirls. What were they there for?

    Tuesday, November 3, 2009

    Fluffy Rabbits

    I was saving the "I'm going to shoot for nablopomo" post for a night I was out of material, and that night has come sooner than expected.

    I'm going to shoot for nablopomo.

    Monday, November 2, 2009

    How Introverts Communicate

    Last night, a friend sent me a link to an summary article entitled "How Introverts Communicate". The article outlines a book by a Dr. Marti Olsen Laney called The Introvent Advantage. Going beyond XKCD's "Just Shy" t-shirt (available at the xkcd store at the bottom), it offers gems of advice like the following:

    Ask questions, such as what happened during the day. Introverts may need to be drawn out.


    In other words, if we're sitting in awkward silence, I'm likely stuck. I do specify awkward silence, though, because the following is also true:

    Be comfortable with silence. Introverts generally like it quiet – but they also enjoy spending time with others. Quietly.


    Finally, one I hadn't thought much about:

    Use nonverbal communication. According to Laney, shoulder pats, hand holding, kisses on the cheek are effective ways to “talk” to people with introverted personality traits.


    Granted, in our culture, a kiss on the cheek would freak most introverts (or most anybody, actually) right the heck out if not from someone very close, but I'm sure the author's point encompasses more than just physical contact. Nonverbal communication indeed carries a lot of weight, perhaps because verbal communication carries less.

    Combined with other personality traits, some introverts seem downright cold, but that's seldom the case. There's as much social ineptitude among extroverts as introverts, too; it's not a matter of sociability. We just communicate differently. There's little more to it.

    Sunday, November 1, 2009

    Zoom Zip

    Speeding, while it does make a difference, doesn’t make as large a difference as you might think.

    At first glance at the below graph, you’ll notice the time saved on a 30-mile commute by driving at 90mph instead of 55mph is a whopping 12 minutes. For a trip that takes only 32 minutes to begin with, that could turn “running significantly late” into “right on time”. Bear in mind, though, that most highways have a speed limit greater than 55, and 90 in town is downright insane. I included such a large range to demonstrate a very important point: the graph is not linear. Note that while the difference between 55mph and 65mph is still a relatively significant five minutes, the difference between 65mph and 75mph is only 3.7 minutes. Perhaps more practically, the difference between 70mph (probably no ticket) and 75mph (definitely a ticket) on a 30-mile commute is a measly one minute and forty-three seconds. That graph doesn’t look so impressive anymore.



    I’ve included a 150-mile trip as well to reiterate my point. You could, theoretically, shave 63 minutes from what would be a two-hour, forty-three minute trip at 55mph by driving 90mph. Once again though, 55mph is pretty slow, and at 90mph, the risk of running out of fuel in 150 miles becomes significant. So does the risk of death by blunt trauma. To be practical, if the speed limit is 65 and you normally drive 70, a ticketable speed of 75 miles per hour will save you eight minutes, thirty-four seconds on a trip that would otherwise take just over two hours.



    As it happens, at 75 miles per hour, even in a 150-mile trip, one has still has essentially just as much time in the car for, say, algebra.

    Sunday, October 18, 2009

    Beer-Battered Fish Burrito

    I made food tonight, and it turned out well enough to share.

    1 tilapia fillet
    1 can of beer
    1 handful of flour
    1 sprinkling of taco seasoning
    tortillas
    taco toppings
    3-4 tbsp olive oil

    Soak the tilapia fillet in enough beer to cover it. While it's soaking, mix the flour and enough taco seasoning to make it flavorful. This will be the fried-ish crust, so use the taco seasoning with that in mind.

    After the tilapia has soaked for long enough to be... properly soaked, drag it through the flour/seasoning mixture to coat it. Dip it once more in the beer, then drag it through the flour/seasoning mixture once again. It should be dry to the touch and fairly caked with the battering when you're done.

    Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. While it's warming up, coat the bottom of a glass baking dish with olive oil. Then, coat the fillet with olive oil in the baking dish. It's not necessary to coat the fish completely, but you'll want to get some on there to keep it moist. Also, olive oil is fat and fat is flavor. Bake for 20 minutes or so, depending on the thickness of your fillet.

    While it's baking, cut up an onion and a tomato and whatever else you might want to put in a taco. Keep in mind you're essentially frying the fish, so perhaps sour cream and guacamole should be avoided because of their fat content, but it's up to you.

    After the fish is thoroughly cooked, introduce it to your toppings in a tortilla. I used cheese and tomato and onion and Taco Bell's fire sauce, and it did make for some tasty.

    Saturday, October 17, 2009

    Title

    My parents never pressured, but they provided all the opportunity a child could want. They expected commitment, of course, but they certainly weren't the type to live vicariously through their kids. I had my music and my sis had softball, but we both dabbled in sports and music and art, the things parents do hope their kids will become involved in. There was no pressure to do any one thing, and for that, I owe my love of music to my parents. Even though it was their introduction, I feel like it was my own discovery, and I treasure it as such.

    When I was in second grade, my mom told me she had a friend at school who taught piano lessons, and she asked if that's something I'd want to do. I'd had no exposure to the creation of music before then, save the recorders my parents got us as tots and the drumsticks my dad bought for us once that quickly disappeared after a few breakables were discovered not to be percussion instruments. She told me she expected me to stick with it for six months and that it was a serious thing (the sort of things one does need to tell an eight-year-old kid before signing them up for something that costs money), but that if I didn't like it, it wasn't a forever thing. I thought it sounded like fun, having heard her play the piano we had downstairs and staring in awe.

    Learning the piano wasn't fun. I remember frustrated tears over a sticky keyboard (I was a kid, after all), terrible nerves and an awful mood before recitals, and agonizingly long waits for lessons with a piano teacher who was chronically behind schedule. That said, I also remember showing up late for a piano recital in a baseball uniform and the first song I played with the damper pedal. That one, the song with the pedal, was the first time I felt like I was really playing. It was just broken chords up and down the keyboard, but it was absolutely lovely. It made me feel like an artist. It was that song that hooked me. Learning the piano may have been a nightmare, but playing it was the best of dreams.

    Six months turned into five years with a teacher and a here-and-there of self-study after that. Having recently bought a keyboard with eighty-eight weighted keys that plays as close to the real thing as I could hope, I'm back to a regular routine, practicing an hour or so a day. And it's still not fun. Human fingers don't, by default, perform gymnastics, and it seems an impossible feat to pay attention to both the music in front of me and the keys under my fingers. I get frustrated frequently and mash the keys all at once as though to flush a certain passage's difficulty right out of the instrument. When it doesn't work, I do it again. I don't cry anymore, but I sure feel like I could sometimes.

    But I play. After the difficulties have been properly flushed and I don't have to look at the music anymore, the music comes out, and it's still a dream. After years of study, I can play more than broken triads with the damper pedal, and I take none of it for granted. Mozart's trite little romps through the park and Beethoven's gut-punching sforzandos and Chopin's ironic, twisting chord changes (alas, my ode to that particular Romantic is for another day) flow through me, not just from my brain, through my fingers, and into the air, but the other way around. The music comes back after the sound comes out, washing over me, seeping back into my soul, filling me with emotion and romance and peace, filling me right back up so I can pour myself back into the keys. I wouldn't give this up for anything, and I'd especially hate to part with the learning experience. It's miserable. It's intense. It's fuel.

    Friday, August 7, 2009

    The Mind of a Child

    In second grade, I took the bus one day per week to a different school. The ride was long enough to be boring, and since I was a kid, I had time to use that imagination I seem to have since lost. I’m sure there were other fancies, but I remember one specifically that consisted of gremlins in my brain controlling me.

    This isn’t nearly as bad as it sounds. I was still myself, it’s just that instead of electrical impulses, a team of gremlins sat at control panels with a wide screen at the front and countless levers and buttons controlling motion and speech. As I moved my hand in front of my face, I saw the control team making much ado about moving the appropriate levers.

    More complex actions required a plan, and on the way back to my home school one afternoon, I formulated a plan for greeting my classmates upon return. One action was a facial expression – a smile, perhaps – controlled by the brown gremlin at the helm. A chubby guy with a hard hat to one side of the control room would wave my hand. He had two levers to choose from, and he’d been trained to choose the correct one. A seemingly simple “Hello”, was the work of the mad genius with thick glasses and a lab coat surrounded by bleeping computer terminals on the upper level. Speech, such an extraordinary system, required extraordinary talent to control, after all. All these actions were divided and assigned and listed on the display at the front of the control room in sequence, and my controllers had rehearsed their coordinated procedure several times, surely making anybody watching think, “So that’s who rides the short bus”.

    As I walked into the classroom, my gremlins upstairs sat ready, hands on levers, their moment of action nigh. And nobody saw me. I sat down at my desk in time to be dismissed for the day, and nobody even turned. The gremlins, one by one, relaxed a bit, then released the levers altogether. Their heads hung just slightly, and the brown gremlin’s face held the leader-in-distress “everything is going according to plan” expression. Nothing ever happened.

    As the bell rang and we left the building, the image of gremlins faded, but that feeling, the anticipation of social interaction and eventual realization that I had been on the wrong track entirely, has shown itself plenty of times since then. It’s really no more than a curiosity; some people socialize as automatically as they breathe, but I don’t, and that’s just the way it is. Even so, I wonder if a little thing like that had a bigger effect on my sociability than I realized, or if it was just the first time I remember noticing something that was already starting to become part of me.

    Friday, June 19, 2009

    Downtown

    I had an itch for adventure this evening, so after work, I headed off in search of it. Truth be told, I've been planning this for a week, so it wasn't exactly spontaneous, but it was nonetheless as exciting as I could have wished.

    I ended up taking the bus downtown since the area I work in is not quite authentic adventure -- it's where the tourists go. Once I was on foot in the middle of Kansas City, I hiked to a bar I've heard wonderful things about and stopped for dinner and a frothy beverage. After I ate, I took the bus out of town back to the office.

    Behold, evidence of my trek:


    Permanent evidence of a past dispute.




    I couldn't capture the tallest buildings (i.e. the one I was standing under), but there were shorter ones to the west.




    My bus. The fare was cheaper than parking would have been.



    I have never taken the bus, nor have I eaten dinner at a beer bar. Heck, I haven't been downtown before, not like this. I've been to the city -- I work close enough to qualify -- but this was literally right in the middle of the center of the city proper.

    The trip was, quite literally, sensational. Cars echoed against the buildings, which towered higher than I could properly capture with a cell phone camera. I saw a man across the street in a salon cutting somebody's hair, except the stylist had no shirt on and a cigarette hanging from his mouth, and it looked very much like he was actually destroying what would otherwise have been a perfectly sensible haircut. The city smelled, too, the subtle yet unmistakable sweet scent of garbage (likely from the can in that last picture there) mixed with car exhaust and old pavement.

    If I never return, I will remember this trip for a good, long time. That said, I can't imagine staying away for long. The city lives on, and it calls me from the north.

    Wednesday, June 17, 2009

    Blue Monkeys and Iced Tea

    Redundant survey is redundant:

    Wednesday, April 8, 2009

    Sodas

    The John Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health released a study this month which concluded that “liquid calorie intake had a stronger impact on weight than solid calorie intake.” I believe this study can be found in American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. Effectively, this study points an accusing finger at soft drinks and related beverages when it comes to our national obesity problem.

    The researchers speculated, as a result of this study, that the body has more trouble regulating liquid calorie intake than solid calorie intake. Though the study didn't go as far as to speculate why, I figure this may be because adult humans have traditionally found the vast majority of our caloric needs in solid food, so we just don’t have the biological mechanisms in place to properly nourish ourselves with liquids.

    In addition to that study, another paper released by John Hopkins in March in Biochemical and Biophysical Research Communications concluded with results that led researchers to hypothesize that while glucose tends to curb appetite (glucose is an important carbohydrate, and it makes sense that it would make us full), fructose, also an important carbohydrate, but which is often used in large quantities as a sweetener, may actually increase appetite. This study was not specific to soft drinks, but the lead author did identify soft drinks as the most notable source of high fructose sweeteners.

    Coupled together, I’d say these two studies offer still more convincing evidence against daily consumption of soft drinks and sweetened beverages. I won’t say I never consume soda (I do love me some root beer), but when I do, I’m well aware it’s not just a thirst quencher. As a can of soda has140-ish calories, mostly from refined sugars, I tend to imagine an ounce and a half of table sugar in a ziplock bag and consider it a hefty dessert.

    Monday, April 6, 2009

    Balance

    Without anything particularly interesting to write about, I sort of lost track of the blog. The thing is, I've had plenty of interesting things to write about, like the "Now Hiring" sign in the window of a local moving company called "Two Men and a Truck" and the warning on a cup of noodles that recommended holding the cup in an upright position to prevent spills. And, well, that's about it. I guess it has been a slow couple of months.

    Then, tonight, while I was in my thought bubble at the gym, I figured I could write about my experiences there. A blog is but a place for vanity, after all, and even if blogging about health gets boring, it might at least build some posting momentum, so to speak.

    One of my favorite things about exercise is the rapidity in improvement; I've only been at this for a couple months now. I'm still pale and stickly, but I feel a lot better about myself. Tonight, I hoisted 40lbs above my head ten times, then I hoisted those same 40lbs above my head ten full times again. Arnold would not be impressed, and that may sound like a silly thing to mention, but I'm proud of myself. That's the first time I've done two complete sets with that much weight.

    On a whinier note, the Hip Adduction/Abduction Machine is not a knee-bike. It's a weight machine -- y'know, one of those things you have to focus on so as not only to prevent injury, but to actually get something out of the exercise you're performing. If you've lifted those silly weights thirty times between page-flips in your magazine, you're not lifting enough weight. Beyond the fact that you're just plain doing it wrong, that fat you're clearly trying to cut from your hips is just about as responsive to push-ups. Try out one of these instead. Honestly, they're as fun as they are cool-lookin', and your fat will melt away like ice cream. Even I'm getting slimmer around the middle, and I only consider that a side-effect.

    Cheers. Here's hoping for the motivation for another update before two more months have passed.

    Thursday, January 29, 2009

    Recipie

    One of the best things about living alone is the ability to make what-the-heck-ever you want for dinner. I'm still getting over that. Granted, I eat a lot of oatmeal, and not all of my real meals are exactly palatable (kids, never take your parents' cooking for granted), but if I want a meal of boiled beets and fried sardines, well, I'll have one.

    Tonight, I made beef stew. I realize there's little point to posting a recipe for stew, but I'm excited to have made a meal that actually tasted good enough for seconds.

    Start with beef. When I went to the store, I asked the man behind the counter for a "handful or so" of chopped stew meat, then "a little more". I ended up with a bit over 1/2 lb. I browned said beef in a large pan with olive oil, but I forgot that beef tends to have plenty of fat by itself. I probably didn't need the oil.

    While the beef is cooking, prepare the stew stuff. I had five or six of those baby red potatoes, a bunch of baby carrots, a few leaves of cabbage, half a yellow onion chopped into medium-ish pieces, and a handful of mushrooms. I also cut up three pieces of garlic and a bunch of thyme for seasoning.

    After the beef is fully cooked, pour in a regular-sized can of beef broth and the same-sized can of water. I used the "low sodium" beef broth because it tastes pretty much the same and has 45% less heart attack, but I doubt it would really matter.

    Dump in the previously prepared goodies. I had about a dinner bowl's worth, and it ended up working out pretty well. Add the garlic and thyme and a good bunch of ground black pepper. By "ground" pepper, I mean actual ground black peppercorns. That black snowy stuff from the condiment factory is not pepper.

    Turn up the heat and boil. Once it's at a good boil, turn the heat down to where it'll settle down to tiny bubbles. Cover it, and leave it for an hour. Check occasionally for fire and stir while you're there.

    .59 lb of meat plus a dinner bowl of prepared plant material plus a can of broth and a can of water looks like it would probably feed three people comfortably or two very hungry people. I "served" it with the standard whole wheat bread because a soup isn't really a soup if you don't have any bread to soak up the liquid with.

    Hoo-ray. I'll have lunch tomorrow, too.

    Sunday, January 18, 2009

    Drowned Rat

    I had a strange dream in which the rat was swimming. She'd be underwater most of the time, as she actually lived in a tank of water. I remember wondering how long she had been living there and thinking it was a bit weird for a rat to live in an aquarium.

    I had to keep a close eye on her. She would swim around near the bottom of the tank, and when she needed a breath, she would swim to the surface. Unfortunately, she didn't always make it to the surface in time. When she opened her mouth to take a breath underwater, I would have to fish her out and squeeze her to squirt the water out. She would reinflate with air, at which point I would breathe a sigh of relief and put her back in her tank.

    When I took her out this afternoon, she kept chasing my feet and biting my toes. I think she was upset about the "wet habitat" thing, even though I was dreaming and didn't know any better.

    Friday, January 9, 2009

    Old Man Ranting

    Our culture, thanks to a relatively recent obsession with self-esteem, feelings, and an “everybody’s a unique snowflake” attitude, is tainted with self-centeredness and a firm belief in one’s entitlement to whatever they very well please to have. If you remember your parents saying things like, “You can be anything you want, dear,” and, “You’re special just because you’re you,” you’re probably in the affected generations. As time passes, the number of self-important centers-of-the-world will increase. How old are the oldest, now? Thirty? Thirty-five? By the time they fill out the higher age brackets, there’ll be nobody left to say, “Why, back in my day…” and remind us we’re actually not the center of the universe. A society ruled by the principles of selfishness and hedonism will grow from the ashes of one formed from a spirit of cooperation and community.

    Our level of consumer debt indicates not only a strong desire to consume, but a desire to consume things for free. A person who racks up thousands of dollars in debt on a credit card should not be allowed to declare bankruptcy and keep even a shred of clothing; he is, in fact, not entitled to a thing he hasn’t earned. To him, of course, he is, but bankruptcy, originally, was not intended as a purchasing mechanism for irresponsible, greedy consumers. [RESEARCH NEEDED]. What happens when more people decide they can’t pay back what they’ve borrowed? When the bankruptcy rate climbs to 5% or 10%, what’ll happen to the legitimate borrower? My sense of community goes a long way, but it does not go as far as paying off some lazy, jobless twit’s loan.

    If you’ve worked in the service industry, you know well the sorts of nasty behavior today’s entitlement attitude leads to; an adult throwing a temper tantrum is a terrible thing to witness, indeed:

    “I’m sorry, ma’am, all of our technicians are currently assisting other customers.”

    “That’s correct. Our service orders are processed in the order they’re received.”

    “No, ma’am. Unless you have a service-level agreement, we cannot prioritize your case over others.”

    “I understand you run a business from your home. Most of our customers, in the midst of their tantrums, also run business from their homes.”

    “Ma’am, listen. Wait. Your. Bloody. Turn. You were the screaming child at the supermarket I wished would earn a smack from her inattentive mother before I walked over and thumped you myself, weren’t you? If I didn’t send a truck (say, for example, they all exploded), you would have an outright stroke!”

    “…”

    “I know there’s a ‘Delete Ticket’ key here somewhere…”

    Perhaps the last couple of lines were internal dialogue, but to overhear such a conversation is completely commonplace in a callcenter. Many people simply refuse to accept they’re no more important than anybody else. It’s denial, if it’s anything. Then, it’s anger. Finally, when they meet Saint Peter at the gates, well. They may be too late for acceptance at that point.

    With all that said, some people are, indeed, more important than others. Some are cleverer, some are less apt to stumble over their shoestrings, and some contribute a great deal more to society than their peers. I am more important – more snowflakey – than some. Some, likewise, are more important than me. Most, though, are just as inconsequentially, mundanely average as I am. The mental gymnastics it takes to reach this conclusion are not as impossible as it’d seem. In Mr. Rogers’ neighborhood, I am perfectly unique, special in every way, and exemplary just for being me. In our neighborhood, the same holds true, but I realize in addition that being me takes a bit more than exchanging oxygen for carbon dioxide and carbohydrates for amino acids.

    The person you are is defined by the work you do, the standard of ethics you maintain, and your attitude toward others. If you work at a mediocre job abiding by mediocre ethics and carrying a mediocre attitude, there’s nothing about you (save superficial things that don’t matter anyway, regardless of how much our culture tries to convince us otherwise) that makes you unique. This also means you’re entitled to nothing more or less than you earn, and as such, you’ll probably not gain anything – material or otherwise – that’s very far outside the definition of mediocre. There’s nothing wrong with you, mind. You’re just not particularly special. On the other hand, if you work to enrich your mind and better your community (which, I should specify, goes well beyond your “day job”), remain spotlessly ethical, and treat the folks around you well, you’ll be well on your way to greatness. You’ll be entitled to great things equal to the work you’ve put into your life.

    Instead of, “You can be anything you want, dear,” and, “You’re special just because you’re you,” we need to adopt a more realistic vision. To my child, if he’s exemplary, I’ll say, “You can achieve any dream you work hard to follow.” If he’s not, I’ll say, “You have the capacity to be a very special person.” Those statements mean something. Instead of patting a kid on the head for simply having a head, those statements are akin to looking him in the eye and saying, “I’m glad you’re around.” It’s too late for the thirty-somethings, but for the kids we have, let’s raise them to be real people, shall we?