|Wednesday, November 6th, 2013|
6:10 am - An early November book.
Death At The Priory by James Ruddick|
This book inspired a lot of interesting thought.
It's a recounting of a famous unsolved murder case that took place in the late 1800's. The circumstances of the death are complex and bizarre, the surrounding events are titillating, and the wealth of evidence accumulated over the last 140 years provides a great playground for armchair detectives and gawkers like myself. James Ruddick approaches the material as an investigative reporter, and as you follow along you can almost see the Ken Burns slow-camera-pan over old photographs and documents, and the darkly-lit amateur theatre reenactment with a bunch of no-name actors in period costume, skulking around with suspicious expressions, all intercut with modern-day shots of unrecognizable buildings, roads, and signs. All that's missing are commercial breaks, but you can put the book down and create a few yourself to complete the BBC experience if you like.
The murder itself was not what made the book especially thought-provoking for me, though. It was the fact that the setting is late Victorian society, and the author goes to a lot of trouble framing the details of the case in their appropriate cultural context. This was a society in which women were essentially slaves, groomed from birth as chattel to secure financial and social connections between patriarchal family empires. Powerless before marriage, and equally powerless within it, a Victorian wife was not even allowed to assert a distinction between consenting sex and outright rape at the hands of her husband. Wealth and power were central; happiness was an irrelevant afterthought.
The legacy of Victorian culture has lingered, and I don't have to look very hard to see its eerie tentacles woven into every corner of even my own famously progressive liberal American environment. In this modern age, marriage is primarily about happiness. If your husband or wife is sabotaging it, you separate, and you try again. Even if children are involved, it is becoming accepted wisdom that an unhappy couple would be better off making separate households, and splitting the children between them. The law provides a way to make this happen even in cases where a separation creates a financial imbalance. This is almost the polar opposite of Victorian conduct, and yet, that conduct is still here - or something closely related, anyway - because our legal system is progressive, but human nature is stubborn.
Consider a few general observations about romance and dating:
- A woman who has children, and then divorces, is going to have FAR more trouble finding a second husband than a divorced woman with no children, and more trouble than a man in either position.
- A woman moving into her 30's will have much more trouble finding a husband than a man moving into his 30's will have finding a wife.
- Men and women who acquire high wealth and status generally limit their dating pool to people of equal or higher wealth and status.
- Additionally, men who acquire high wealth and status will more often exploit it to become philanderers.
I believe these observations apply for modern society, but taken together they are also something else: A blueprint one could use to construct Victorian codes of conduct from the ground up, the very practices we claim to have "progressed" so far beyond and left behind. This is interesting to me because in my time as a bachelor, moving through my 30's, I have seen these blueprints alive and breathing in the minds of some of the women I've dated, as well as in my own.
I've become very self-sufficient, and so have most of the women I've dated. Not just financially or socially, but emotionally as well. That changes a lot of things. When you have your own life happily established - whether by choice, or by force after finding yourself adrift for a time - your primary concern changes from whether a given suitor will help you pursue happiness, to whether a given suitor will interfere too much with the happiness you have already learned how to pursue. Your career, your social life, your way of running a household, your idea of a kickass vacation; you know what these things can be already, and you probably have most of them in place. And just as important, you know that any romantic entanglement demands compromise. That makes you a lot more choosy. You want someone who brings their own happiness to the table, so you can trade in it equally.
I've come to realize that I have a very feminine approach to romance, and I've even become choosy in a feminine way. I've become drawn to women with careers, with a handle on their own finances, with aggressive, assertive behaviors, sexual experience, high energy, short haircuts, sturdy limbs. Women who debate, and challenge, and belch and play in the mud and tell jokes, but who also have a strong affection for children and a home. All these things mix together and become an emotion, a feeling of interest and excitement, a desire to connect. The core of romantic desire. But again, there is a Victorian shadow around all of this. As I read Death At The Priory, I realized that my criteria were more-or-less the same criteria that the widow Florence Ricardo had settled on, after the disastrous seven-year ordeal of her first marriage, and after achieving financial independence and comfort. After 140 years and across a cultural and literal ocean, we were going about the same search, for the same reasons. What to make of that?
Florence's outcome was not good: She dated a rakish, exciting young man named Charles Bravo, then began to distance herself from him when he became predatory, only to get snared in a marriage when they got pregnant out of wedlock. His aggressive behavior turned to violence and he began to systematically deprive her of all power and control, and since this wasn't her first rodeo, she fought back, and the consequences were horrifying. Society and family conspired to keep her trapped in the marriage, and after her husband's death, she was crushed. She moved to a small house on the coast, became a hermit, and drank herself into her grave at the age of 28.
One thing that's striking to me about her history is her courtship with Charles Bravo. She was clearly hesitant about being married again, and was eventually able to ferret out specific reasons why Charles was not a good match. It's clear she would have rejected him in due time, before pregnancy forced her hand. The question I have is: Why Charles Bravo in the first place? Her first marriage had just been bad luck, and she clearly didn't want to repeat history. Instead she went from bad to worse.
I have an insidious suspicion. I suspect she was deliberately choosing a relationship with a man she would ultimately find incompatible, because she did not actually want to be married at all. Society was compelling her to search, but her instincts were sabotaging that search at the same time.
This translates to a question for myself: Am I somehow my own worst enemy in my attractions? Has my own desire to avoid repeating history somehow become an engine for it? Which is more important - a hesitation I feel after 15 minutes, or one I feel after 15 weeks? What if the key to avoiding the latter is to ignore the former?
What if I set the criteria as: Someone who doesn't care about a career, may not necessarily have complete financial independence, isn't particularly aggressive, doesn't care much for debate, grows her hair long, and avoids the mud? Sure, I suppose someone like that would be easier to stick with in most ways. But something tells me that I would not be happy. In fact, those criteria sound like a recipe for guaranteed disaster, and it wouldn't even be a fun courtship in the meantime.
I guess there just isn't any escape from experience. I can only choose the people I'll be happy with long-term from the pool of people that I am also happy with short-term, and if those groups are mutually exclusive, there isn't much I can do. Happiness in all things is not guaranteed. Florence Ricardo destroyed herself in the pursuit of it. If happiness as a perennial bachelor is my lot, with my overdeveloped and suspiciously gender-reversed Victorian instincts, so be it. It's not a bad outcome.
(I get to stay up as late as I want writing introspective journal entries, for example!)
(comment on this)
|Tuesday, November 5th, 2013|
5:14 pm - October and September reading
These two months have been crazy, but I've still managed a bit of reading...
Breasts: A Natural And Unnatural History by Florence Williams
There's quite a variety of discussion here, from a cleverly presented skewering of the male-centric state of breast research, both medical and anthropological, to a terrifying investigation into the rise of body-polluting complex chemicals from manufactured goods - mostly plastics. I was fascinated to learn that there is a correlation between certain kinds of pollutant exposure in women during puberty, and the incidence of cancer IN THEIR GRANDCHILDREN. A compound that can linger across three generations is a force to be reckoned with.
I'm only slightly embarrassed to admit that the whole section on porn actresses and the implant craze was wasted on me, since I'd recently read the interviews in "The Big Book Of Breasts". Yes! I was totally reading it for the interviews. I was amazed to learn that an actress I'd seen as a kid, named - wait, let me google it - Francesca "Kitten" Natividad, that's her - was originally relatively small-breasted, but had undergone a series of direct silicone injections in Tijuana, ballooning her chest. By the time I saw her she was totally unreal. Then over the next twenty years, she began to suffer from an increasing variety of ailments, until some surgeons went in to remove the material and discovered that it had been industrial-grade silicone.
Very sobering stuff. This book isn't a downer, though. It's far more often interesting than terrifying, and when digested in parts - one half-chapter or so at a time - is a worthwhile read.
7 out of 10 slowly disintegrating flame-retardant carpet squares up.
The Victoria Vanishes, by Christopher Fowler
It took me a while to pick Bryant and May back up after the last tale - White Corridor - was so underwhelming. But it was inevitable. One of the ways to make a good mystery great is to wrap it in a compelling atmosphere, and entirely apart from the hit-and-miss appeal of his plot mechanics, Fowler’s atmosphere is first class. He uses his stories as a platform for some amazing digressions into the lore and atmosphere of London, and he communicates his deep affection for the city so thoroughly that I find myself nostalgic for a place I’ve never visited.
The Victoria Vanishes builds up to a massive confrontation with a huge shadowy organization, and the potential for a sublime payoff when Bryant and May decide to "go guerrilla" on their adversary, but to my disappointment, that confrontation never arrives. The mystery is solved, more or less, but there isn’t any justice in the solution. That ultimately tainted my enjoyment of this otherwise lovely book.
Six-and-a-half out of ten burial urns up.
Moving Pictures by Terry Pratchett
I listened to this for a bit of light entertainment while cleaning house, even though I remembered being unimpressed the first time through, more than a decade ago. My opinion hasn't changed. It's packed with clever hollywood references and it's kind of fun puzzling them all out, but there are so many that the plot and the setting and the characters and far too much of the discworld itself is distorted in favor of fitting them in. Why is there a big golden guardian carrying a sword? Well, because, the Oscars. Why does a character have a dream about skirts billowing up over a gust of wind from a sewer grate? Because Marilyn Monroe. And so on. Pratchett's characters are as fun to spend time with as ever, but they go through so many contortions that they lose their sense of identity, and it becomes hard to relate to them, and then to care about them. The book turns into a film.
A mere 6 banged grains up out of 10. Pratchett has done way better than this.
A Blink Of The Screen by Terry Pratchett
This is an anthology of Pratchett’s short fiction, spanning many years. It’s proof that even as a little kid his writing chops were substantial, and you can tell that his dialogue-driven style was already taking shape. The Discworld-themed stories from later years are amusing as well.
What really makes the collection shine, in my opinion, is the story about the writer who is confronted with one of his own characters inexplicably arriving on his doorstep. As I read it I could think of five or six ways the story could resolve itself, according to common tropes of many movies and books I’ve absorbed, but Pratchett managed to impress me by constructing a very character-driven resolution to the tale that was quite satisfying. He is a natural spinner of yarns, and even these unrefined oddities are a pleasure to listen to.
(comment on this)
|Tuesday, October 29th, 2013|
11:22 pm - Arthur C Clarke Round 8: This Time, It’s Clarkesonal
All The Time In The World, 1952
This one was a lot of fun! A few weeks later I read it again, in fact. Clarke hides the central invention of the plot and reveals it progressively, managing to make each reveal raise and answer questions in an engaging way. Plus, at the very end, it goes all Twilight-Zone cerebral horror on you. Always a great way to go.
A Walk In The Dark, 1950
Seems the inspiring concept for this short tale was the idea that one could get horribly lost on even a small piece of land, if that land is isolated in the unfamiliar environment of interplanetary space. Strange gravity, strange horizon lines, uncertain day-night cycle, or no day cycle at all, et cetera. Not bad, but a little clumsily escalated.
I remember walking home from friends’ houses, on an unlit road with forest canopy obscuring even the meager light from the stars, and getting freaked out the way the protagonist does in this tale, but I could at least rely on the fact that if I blundered into the woods like an idiot and got totally lost, I could sit on my butt and wait for the sun to rise.
Time’s Arrow, 1950
Among other things here, Clarke manages to sketch a bunch of amusing variations on his beloved archetype of the working-class scientist. I can almost hear the jazzy 50's-era lounge theme underscoring the dialogue. I can't say much about the plot without spoiling it, but it's worth a read as an early example of a concept that would later be mined well and truly to death in television and cinema.
The Parasite, 1953
Clarke claims that this story was the genesis for his later book "The Light Of Other Days", co-written with Stephen Baxter. I don’t see much of a connection, personally. It’s a bit of creepy psychological horror in the Lovecraftian tradition, but it's also a bit thin for even the short-form. Might as well skip it and read the later novel.
It's not too much of a spoiler to know that the titular nemesis enters a deep hibernation and accidentally wakes up alone beyond the end of human history. It's the second time that the cruel fate of being isolated for eternity has come up in this little collection of stories. Perhaps Clarke was going through a period of introspection, contemplating the dark side of a personality that is iconoclastic and generally happier working alone. It might explain why he revisited this story and repurposed it several times under different titles.
The Possessed, 1953
In the author's notes that accompany this story, Clarke confesses to having bad information about the behavior of the animal kingdom. However, since there's no way to correct the misconception without destroying the whole story, he leaves it unaltered.
As an aside, I'm noticing another pattern in stories from this era. Scientists and explorers were collectively enchanted by the phenomenon of radio at the time, and just like today, the yet unseen fronteirs of science - the truly fantastic ideas - tended to arrange themselves along the edge of the up-and-coming phenomenon, and filter through it. In other words, if a scientist of the 50's wanted to find a plausible way to explain something totally magical, like an invisible spacefaring consciousness, he or she would probably describe it by invoking an "advanced form of radio waves", or at least using radio-related words to give the impression of accessibility without actually explaining anything.
Before the era of radio, the big science phenomena were electricity and internal combustion. Automatons. Steampunk. Then later on, it was nuclear power and radiation. Monsters weren't just monsters, they were radioactive monsters. They weren't just deformed, they were mutated.
What's the zeitgeist now? Processing power and memory capacity, I suspect. We interpret the fantastic through our cellphone apps. If a spaceship travels the stars in our imagination, it does so at the capable hands of a solid-state, omnipresent computing device made of steel and glass, loaded with every piece of information ever generated, unobtrusively anticipating our every whim.
(2 comments | comment on this)
|Thursday, October 17th, 2013|
2:16 pm - August reading
The Martian, by Andy Weir
All the four-star Amazon reviews are warranted ... this was book was a complete blast. It may not resonate very well with most of the population, but for a hard science geek like me (and many others) it's a great big Tournament Of Roses Parade of puzzles, dilemmas, experiments, and solutions, one after the other, marching happily on for hours, start to finish. I loved it! Even though the hero was obviously put through hell and it eventually became absurdly unrealistic that he would survive or find solutions, I wanted the book to spontaneously grow another 200 pages just so I could keep basking in that feeling of facing a difficult - but somehow solveable - SOMEHOW! - engineering problem.
It was also refreshing to see that the author knew exactly when to end the story. He saw the exact moment when the bottom would suddenly plummet out of the narrative, and went barely a paragraph farther than that.
8.5 out of 10 crushed faceplates up!
America Again: Re-Becoming The Greatness We Never Weren't, by Stephen Colbert (and his staff writers)
This book is a retread of the comedy style in his last book. Good on audio for chores or waiting in line, but not much else. Only the last chapter, where Stephen acts drunk for the whole thing, has real comedic energy to it. You might picture it as a coffee-table paperweight or as bathroom reading - something to leaf through when you're bored - but I recommend instead you go back in time almost 30 years by grabbing a copy of Science Made Stupid. The cover says it all!
4.5 out of 10 American lapel pins (made in China) up.
Inside The Kingdom, by Carmen Bin Laden
I'm not sure why I picked this up, but I'm glad I did. I think I was curious about a culture that was very obviously radically different from mine, and I wanted to view it from the perspective of someone who was intimately entangled with it but still, at heart, "a westerner". Looking back, I'd say this book is my equivalent to "50 Shades Of Grey". A drama-filled first-person story about bondage and putting parts in parts would bore me, but a drama-filled first-person story about descending into an appalling misogynistic culture and then fighting one's way back out of it? Hell yes.
It was very interesting to hear the author work through her conflicting emotions towards her ex-husband. She simultaneously adored him and resented him, simultaneously pushed against his desire for orthodox behavior, and supported him and advised him in his business ventures. She encouraged him to pursue greater status and responsibility, and generally tried to inhabit a role she could feel pride in as a wife without running too far astray from his family's strict muslim traditions. In a way, she was taking the ambitions that were being denied to her and displacing them to her husband. That in itself seems tragic, but on the other hand, if that displacement took place in a society where it could be mutual - where a husband was encouraged to take just as much pride in the success and the self-actualization of his wife - well, that sounds like a pretty fantastic marriage. Married partners should be each others' advocates, and in some measure, share in each other's ambitions as well.
I like that dynamic. I like the idea of being with someone who is going to push back.
But I digress. Carmen Bin Laden's story ended in divorce, healthy dynamic or no. She naïvely traipsed into the middle of a family with an entrenched culture that would never accept her. In fact, she simultaneously hungered for the acceptance and approval of the Bin Laden family while also feeling utterly repulsed by the pettiness, the ignorance, and the complete subjugation that the women appeared to embrace. It was a maelstrom of contradictions and it only grew worse when she had her own children, and it was only for their sake that she found the will to escape it.
Thought-provoking and certainly bound to create some interesting reading-group discussions. 7 out of 10 thieves' severed hands up.
(comment on this)
|Wednesday, October 16th, 2013|
1:25 am - July reading (more catching up)
Bad Science: Quacks, Hacks, and Big Pharma Flacks, by Ben Goldacre
Very educational. This book filled some gaps in my knowledge of scientific studies and methods that I wasn't even aware I had. It's also written in an amusing, almost bantery tone that borders at times on the self-satisfied - which is totally acceptable. Goldacre spends some time talking about the misconduct of organizations that should know better, and the revolting behavior of people who depend on us not knowing any better, and he manages to dance on the line between honorable objective detachment and emotionally satisfying - and hilarious - taunts, reproaches, and occasional potshots. Who wouldn't relish the opportunity to confront someone who is stealing or slandering or distorting good work for criminal ends, and give them a good rant?
Not Goldacre, and not me! Bring it on!
The proper practice of science is everybody's concern, and the very best way we can address this concern is by educating ourselves to be proper skeptics with proper tools. This book is a great - and surprisingly easy - step in that direction.
8 out of 10 doctored study results up.
The House With A Clock In Its Walls, by John Bellairs
I've always been a lover of haunted house stories, especially when they have a strong sense of play. As "young adult" fiction goes, this one is great! Atmospheric, unpredictable, with well-sketched characters and an amusing protagonist. It reminded me strongly of Roald Dahl.
I was lucky enough to experience this as an audiobook, narrated by George Guidall. He did lovely work here, investing a lot of himself in each role. The ending is a little sudden, though.
Seven out of ten minute-hands up.
Salt: A World History, by Mark Kurlansky
Overstuffed with information, including things only tenuously connected to salt. Like its mineral namesake, hard to digest in large quantity. The author made a strong effort at imposing structure on his meandering tour, and mostly failed. Some parts are genuinely intriguing, other parts are distressingly bland, and you never can tell which category the next chapter will belong to.
I'd give it a middle-of-the-road 5.5 overpriced himalayan rocks out of 10.
No Easy Day, by Mark Owen and Kevin Maurer
A lightweight and well constructed book describing the training missions that led up to the killing of Osama Bin Laden, and the mission itself, with a few asides about the life of a Navy SEAL and the ethical and emotional struggles they can experience.
I'm sure there are a lot of ""patriots"" out there who think this book should be on high-school reading programs. Some of them may have even read the book itself. Other people think this book is a cynical cash-grab devoid of any true cultural value. Most of them have not read the book and never will.
Setting aside the inane controversy, such as it is, this book is honestly no more impactful than any generic summer action movie. (Actually, the summer action movie probably contains even more guns. Hah!) I enjoyed it quite a bit, but forgot about it almost completely after turning the last page.
7 extremely expensive night-vision goggles out of 10.
2312, by Kim Stanley Robinson
Epic, and sprawling - in good and bad ways.
The opening scene will absolutely hook you, but be warned: Robinson is apparently not on speaking terms with his editor these days. This book has only enough plot for a 40-page short story, stretched wafer-thin out over a meandering whistle-stop spaceship tour all over the solar system to expound upon the Wonders Of Tomorrow. If you want a big stack of brochures about bizarre future tourist destinations, interspersed with confusing digressional snippets about politics and armchair anthropological wheedling, then this is totally your book. If you want a plot, or decent dialogue, or characters you give a crap about, then go read some Terry Pratchett instead.
With that warning in place, I will now admit that there were sections of the book - certain brochures in the big stack - that were totally enthralling, just as much as the very first one that opens the story. In particular I remember a descent into the cloud layers of a gas giant in search of a mysterious derelict ship. So, this book has its merits, and as a sci-fi fan, I couldn't help churning through the dull parts in search of the next awesome part. Some of those dull parts are real stinkers though.
I'm not the kind of fellow to unexpectedly spoil a book for someone else; even a bad book, and even though I appear to be spoiling something here, I'm not. Instead I'm saving you frustration. I am saving you from a level of frustration so great, it might possibly have caused you to stop reading the book entirely and throw it in the trash and call Kim Stanley Robinson various bad names.
When the protagonist and her friend get trapped in an endless hallway due to a disaster aboveground, they will spend a very long time walking slowly down that hallway. Pages and pages are utterly wasted here. It's as if Robinson was deliberately trying to instill the same level of hopeless ennui in his readers that the characters were suffering through in his book. When you get into this part, just start skipping pages. Keep skipping, and don't stop, until the characters are back out on the surface again. All you really need to know can be summarized in one short sentence: "They endured some hardship and developed some feelings for each other." Done.
Trust me; you have just avoided a section so pointless, so inane, so meandering and insipid and eye-gougingly dull and useless, that it would have compelled you to set the book on fire and stomp on it, and then possibly extinguish the ashes with some near-to-hand water stream. I would have done this very thing except I was listening to it as digital audio, so I would have had to stomp on my iPhone, and I couldn't possibly do that to my Most Favorite Possession Ever In The Universe That Isn't Physically Attached.
A hard book to rate, but I'll give it 6.5 out of 10 protagonist temper-tantrums up. The good bits really are good.
(2 comments | comment on this)
|Tuesday, October 15th, 2013|
9:01 pm - May reading (still catching up...)
Discworld 13: Small Gods, by Terry Pratchett
"Let there be another lettuce!" And lo, there was.
This is one of the greats. Pratchett is in top form all the way through this, and his satirical tools are sharp. You grow to love the characters, and even though he works hard to send them off with several additional codas, you still wish there was more to read. I'm not going to summarize the plot or anything here... I'll just say, you gotta read this story.
8.5 out of 10 lettuces up.
Discworld 15: Men At Arms, by Terry Pratchett
This was a fun whodunit with a stellar cast. Pratchett's books are always very dialogue-driven, and this one is loaded with scenes of mismatched characters having heated discussions, cracking jokes, stumbling over clues, bugging each other, and eventually learning to cooperate. In other words, it's like a whole set of buddy-cop movies tangled together. You really get the sense that Pratchett is not just filling out characters here, but evolving them.
On the other hand, Nobby is always Nobby, and Colon is always himself. They don't evolve, and that's the way it should be. The whole point of them is that the universe throws an endless variety of amazing and random events in their path, and they somehow find a way to Nobbes and Colon their way through them unchanged.
7.5 haunted firearms out of 10 up.
The Canterville Ghost, by Oscar Wilde
This brief story starts out as a lampooning of bull-headed americans and over-polite brits in equal measure, and it's fun to see the author play around in that sandbox for a while, but then the plot takes a few sideways turns and becomes a kind of standard-issue quest, ending on a sweet note of resolution. I get the impression that Oscar Wilde knew his story would never catch on if it didn't satisfy the reader's more conventional taste for a tale with a beginning, middle, and end, so he took his potshots, had his fun, and then folded the whole thing up into a harmless origami hat.
Seven out of ten rattling chains up! WoooOOooo! *clank*
(1 comment | comment on this)
|Monday, October 7th, 2013|
1:36 am - Skillz
House improvement so far seems to be a hodgepodge of different skills, most of them minor things that add together. The minor skills create a critical mass of instinct that helps a person accomplish larger tasks more economically, and without making dumb mistakes.
For example, to drive a screw you first need to learn how to find the right screwdriver for a given screw. Then you need to find a technique that gets the screw in without stripping it. That teaches you how much pressure you can apply when you're using an electric screwdriver, and when you switch to one of those and start driving lots of screws in a row, you learn about how to do it quickly, and how fast is "too fast".
I remember the first time I used an electric screwdriver. I didn't know that the trigger had more than one setting - I thought it was just an on off switch - so I jammed it down all the way when it was time to drive the screw. Naturally the screw plummeted into the hole and then stuck, and drill began to skip in the socket completely destroying the screw head. The only way I could think of to remove it was with a pair of vise grips. Durrrr!
Using an electric screwdriver helps you get used to the electric drill, and then you learn how to drill pilot holes for the screws, and about fancy gear like impact drivers. There's a similar chain of skills from the hand-saw to the hacksaw to the reciprocating saw, with side paths like the chainsaw and the circular saw and the jigsaw. And another set of paths from the hammer and nails to the staple gun to the nail gun. And most of the skill in all of these turns out to be in knowing which tool - and which nail or screw or staple or drill bit - to use in a given situation. And how many, and where.
For example, after hanging the blinds in the downstairs garage and testing them for a while, I realized that there wasn't any point in getting the mounting brackets as far on the outside edge of the blind as possible. Doing so just made the blinds flex in the middle, which make them look fragile and cheap. So today I put the brackets about a quarter of the way in from each side. No more flexing. The mounting instructions said nothing about this ... but now I know.
It would be hard to teach this stuff formally. It makes a lot of sense that the trades based on these skills - construction, cleaning, drafting, wiring, tiling - are usually taught as apprenticeships with a hands-on approach. The amount of context-sensitive information is daunting.
Today I practiced my basic skills some more. I drilled pilot holes, and used blue marking tape, and swept and mopped, and raked leaves and stomped them all into the yard-trimmings bin. I hosed a few things off in the driveway. When the handyman comes to fix the sink I'm going to pepper him with questions.
Boy does this stuff take up time ...
(2 comments | comment on this)
|Thursday, October 3rd, 2013|
4:26 pm - Replacing the sewer lateral
When the contractors arrived, the first thing they did was lift the top off the access pipe in the driveway that covered the sewer lateral. Then I turned on the water in the bathtub.|
Looking straight down into the pipe, the morning sunlight illuminated a channel of water, flowing briskly along ... and then slowing down ... and then creeping upwards, filling up the access pipe. It was confirmation that the blockage to the system was somewhere downstream, inside the sewer lateral itself.
So yes ... this work was very necessary.
Here's what it looked like!
First thing on the list: Carve a big hole in the middle of the street.
They got about 30 seconds in, when the air compressor made a funny noise, and the jackhammer stopped.
They found the defect (a valve head sheared off for some reason) and it looks like it's time to go get another compressor.
Meanwhile, a second team is cutting out several squares of sidewalk with a concrete saw.
After a few hours work, they had this. About eight feet down is a junction they'll need to replace.
A third team has excavated the junction where the city's sewer lateral hooks up with the house plumbing.
At the end of the first day, they had the joint exposed, and had set out the new pipe that was going to replace it.
They spent most of the next day using a method called "pipe bursting" to get the new pipe in place. They basically hauled the new pipe in along the tunnel made by the old pipe, smashing the old pipe to bits as they went. It was much better than digging a trench along the entire length, which would have destroyed the driveway, sidewalk, and fence.
Here's the joint they extracted:
And here are a few fragments of the sewer pipe they replaced.
According to the inspection reports, the old pipe was made of ceramic and in extremely poor shape, with multiple root intrusions and at least two "lateral displacements." It's amazing it lasted as long as it did.
Here's the new pipe, installed with a new joint, hooked up to the house plumbing. Not quite ready for the pressure test, but getting there.
Meanwhile, two other crews were filling in the holes at the sidewalk and in the street. Look at all this chaos!
This fellow is using a gigantic one-legged hopping device to pack down the soil very thoroughly. It makes a pretty funny noise.
By the middle of the third day, they'd done the pressure test, brought out a city inspector who issued a certificate of compliance, and filled in their excavations. The area next to the driveway was more-or-less back to normal, but needed some more grass...
... The sidewalk had been re-filled and the cement replaced ...
... And the hole in the street had been filled up and re-paved. They finished half a day ahead of schedule.
The whole operation was relatively painless, even though it's a nasty blow to my finances for the time being. The plumbing is happy again. I ran the garbage disposal, put in a load of laundry, flushed the toilet, and then drained the bathtub, all at once. ... not so much as a gurgle of complaint came from the pipes. In a way, I'm glad I got this taken care of now, because even though the contractors worked efficiently, they made an epic amount of noise. It would have aggravated any house-bound tenants for sure.
The concrete saw was the loudest ... Imagine a blender set on the fastest setting, and filled with sand and rocks. Now imagine it six feet tall. Now cram a banshee inside. That's almost as loud.
While they were working, all the rest of the blinds arrived. That's the next thing on my list...
(5 comments | comment on this)
|Thursday, September 26th, 2013|
4:04 pm - More adventures in home ownership!
Once everything was here at the new place, it was time to do a second round of organization in the garage. There's a lot of stuff in here, and even though some of it needs to be culled, there will be things coming in as well - mostly tools and hardware.|
I got ahold of another three sets of shelving cubes and wired them up. Erika helped me by making tea and providing conversation.
After many, many hours, I had everything rearranged. This second round is a lot cleaner than the first, though the content of the shelves needs to be organized again. The packing crates on the right are eventually going back under the seats in the van.
All my camping and bicycle transport gear has been stacked in the basement, obscuring the window, which is fine by me since it's another obstacle for thieves who might covet my computer setup...
Also, through the powers of craigslist, and some assistance from Erika, I have found a nice table and chairs for the kitchen:
Hey look, it's a fancy-pants cat door! It's amazing what you get get in the mail these days. I've propped it open with a piece of foam during Mira's "training phase" with it.
Hey look, the dishwasher actually works! Things come out clean! I haven't had such a convenience in something like six years.
Always nice to have an assistant, to keep your freshly laundered shirts from "escaping" ...
So you know those quaint modern bathtub drains that are shaped like a silver button, and you step on the button with your foot to close the drain and take a bath?
Yeah, well, they suck.
I noticed that the bathtub was draining slower and slower each day, and even filling with a few inches of water after a shower. So I unscrewed that button and removed it, and then pulled out this lovely specimen:
I thought that would solve the problem, but no. The shower kept slowing down. So I bought some enzyme-based drain cleaner, and applied it liberally. The problem cleared up almost immediately, but since the directions call for a follow-up dose to fully clear the pipes, I applied the drain cleaner a second time. That had an interesting effect. A day later, I took a bath and then started draining the bathwater. It went as fast as it normally should, and then at about the halfway mark there was a crude gurgling sound from the toilet, and the draining halted. Multiple assays with the plunger did nothing. I removed the cover on the drain vent and stuffed a washrag into it, sealing it tight, and went another few rounds with the plunger. To my surprise, bits of lettuce that I'd last seen going down the garbage disposal in the kitchen began floating up from the drain and mingling around in the bathtub.
It was time to replace the sewer lateral.
"Well, damn," I muttered to myself. "I can't just leave the bathtub half-full of nasty water while I wait for that work to be done..." So I set aside the plunger and fetched a plastic tub, and began hauling water out of the house and pouring it down the storm drain outside. My shirt and arms got soaked, so I went back into the bathroom and leaned one arm into the sink, while splashing water on it with the other arm. Suddenly there was a crunching sound followed by a large thud, and my hand dropped a few inches. I looked down and saw this:
"Holy moley!!" I said, and shut off the tap. I stared at my hand in the sink for a while, then laughed. "Okay, this just turned from a tragedy into a farce."
Sinks are glued to the underside of granite countertops with two-part epoxy. However, the epoxy is meant as a sealant, not as a mechanism for holding the sink in place. You're supposed to install metal or wooden bracing for that purpose. Over the last three years - since the remodel - the epoxy dried out around the rim of my bathroom sink, and was no longer sufficient to hold the sink up on its own.
The warranty on the remodel work expired quite a while ago, and my home warranty does not appear to cover this sort of thing. Time to call a handyman, or learn to do this myself...
In the meantime, I'm using those little wire-basket drain inserts, combined with a rubber drain plug, and throwing away this stupid step-on mechanism. Why wash all that stuff down the drain, only to dissolve it later with pipe-corrosive poisons, when you can instead just tap it into the garbage every month or so?
Speaking of drainpipes, I peeled up the covers for the drainage in front of the garage yesterday, and scooped out several gallons of dirt.
I'm pretty sure this is all soil created from leaf litter. It's crawling with bugs and worms and spiders, and is a delicious brown-black color. Mmmm! I gathered it all up and poured it in the planter box in the back yard.
The sewer lateral replacement is scheduled for Tuesday, next week. The city utility employees came out today and marked off the pipeline routes with spraypaint. I wasn't expecting to tackle this until January, but I can't keep taking 45-second showers and washing produce in a bucket for that long. It's going to mean a bunch of meager credit card payments for a while. Ugh.
Meanwhile, the higher-quality blinds I ordered for the upstairs unit are due to arrive tomorrow morning!
One item off the to-do list, two more back on ...
(6 comments | comment on this)
|Friday, September 20th, 2013|
7:22 pm - Moving-in slide show!
One of my tasks was to get the plans for the 2009 remodel from the previous owners. After that, my task was to get them in electronic form so I could browse and archive them.
They're far too big to scan, so I taped them to a wall and took photos instead.
I learned some very interesting things from the plans. For example, the lower unit used to be a set of bedrooms connected to the second floor by a staircase, and the master bedroom had doors opening to the back yard, visible in the lower-left of this drawing.
I can't imagine it was built this way originally, because the first floor would have had a very low ceiling. Perhaps it was an awkward remodeling.
Either way, the people who sold it to me changed it considerably. They got rid of those bedroom doors and dug down when they redid the foundation, making the bedroom that's there now a much taller space.
Looking at the way the rooms were laid out before, I can see the previous owners made some really good decisions.
There were lots of walls ... a foyer, a "parlor", a living room, a dining room, and a kitchen, all divided off. They opened things way up and merged the kitchen, dining room, living room, and foyer into one space, and made the new living room into an area that could double as another bedroom.
One thing that's odd about these plans is that they specify a layout for the first floor - the lower unit - that must have been abandoned later.
At one point they were going to add two bedrooms to the house, but instead they closed off the stairs leading up from the bottom floor and divided the space into a garage and storage area on one side, and a kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom on the other side.
I was amused to see that the tiny L-shaped room on the third floor actually had been a bathroom, with external plumbing. Now it's a hidey-hole.
This afternoon I took delivery of a cat door. Yesterday I got a hacksaw, and I'm going to need to use it to cut the door to shape. I also received a big set of wire shelving today, and with that assembled I'm going to rearrange the garage and basement again, consolidating my bike gear, making room for tools, and freeing up space.
The work continues!
(4 comments | comment on this)
|Saturday, September 14th, 2013|
4:48 am - History repeats
When Char and I met, she was five months out of a divorce, from a marriage that had lasted five years and was quite torturous. About ten months later ... two weeks ago ... she very tearfully confessed to me that she just wasn't ready for a long-term relationship. It wasn't a surprise ... she'd been struggling with lingering fears during the entire time we were together, and made no secret of it ... but nevertheless, I was sad to see it end, because it seemed to be going well despite her hesitation.|
From long experience I know that most of the onus of turning an ended relationship into a friendship is on the person who sought the end in the first place. There is a certain kind of processing that needs to take place. Unfortunately, it looks like Char is uninterested in making - or perhaps unable to make - the effort, so I am losing a friend as well as someone I love.
I've been there. I've been in situations where I was unable to make the effort, out of exhaustion or anger or both.
The entire time I knew her, I sensed that Char was the living embodiment of the Russian saying Ско́лько во́лка ни корми́, он всё в лес смо́трит. No matter how much love I felt for her - or inspired in her - she was going to dream of being single. It was just the timing that made it that way.
That and a gulf of experience, which made a lot of things that were totally innocuous to me seem portentous and disorienting to her. Looking back, this is the second - possibly the third - time I've had a relationship sabotaged by someone's lingering memories of their ex-boyfriend as a messy, emotionally distant, manipulative slob. But ... even so, people carrying baggage from their past are often determined to pursue a relationship in spite of it. In the final analysis, Char decided that she wasn't interested in doing so, and therefore there was something about me specifically that she found lacking.
Maybe she was repulsed by my stubbornness in debates. Maybe I wasn't attentive enough, or maybe I smothered her. Maybe it was something inane that she would never admit, like, perhaps she's impressed by people who wield power over others, and I'm just too damned easygoing. Maybe I just smell bad.
(I know I smell bad right now ... I just ate a bunch of garlic soup. The recipe turned out great, and I got to use up that container of beef broth that she purchased months ago and never used...)
Sometimes there's just no good reason. Sometimes the search for a reason only ends when you get sick of looking and pick something that allows you to move on.
I don't suppose it matters. The wolf is already back in the forest.
If I sound depressed about it, that's because I am. Why wouldn't I be. I love Char, her faults included, and I saw a vision of a future with her, and now that vision has to be shredded up into compost. That will take time and rest, and it will obviously be a while before I can bring my A-game to romance again.
I'm already past the state where there is just about nothing new under the sun, relationship-wise. I find myself a lot less curious and a lot less easily impressed these days. Nevertheless, I'm still optimistic that there are wonderful people out there. I've met my fair share, and they're certainly getting easier to find as I go.
In the meantime, I have a house to organize!
Let's see what happens next...
current mood: melancholy
(4 comments | comment on this)
|Tuesday, September 3rd, 2013|
2:56 am - It's an ugly world out there
I've sometimes dreamed of going on an international bike tour with a special someone, and this scenario is basically my worst nightmare.|
Rampant violence against women in India is bad enough ... but then, when you get to the bottom of the article, check out the comments section for an answer to the question of "how could this get any worse?"
How do people that mentally diffused even get internet access??
(3 comments | comment on this)
|Monday, August 26th, 2013|
1:06 am - About exhaustion and sleep
I wrote this as a series of journal comments in late 2011, and I found it randomly today and realized it was worthy of more attention, and some cleanup.|
Being a night owl:
I'm the sort of person that is content to be alone for long stretches of time. I'm also the sort of person who stays up very late at night. These traits go together in a well-established tradition of computer geekery, and in a larger perspective, have probably gone together since the invention of the light bulb, or perhaps even as far back as the first candles somewhere around 300 BC. As long as there has been a steady light source and things to stay up late obsessing about, folks like me have done it.
For myself personally, this started in late elementary school when I began to stay up late messing about with the computer, reading books, and walking around in the woods. I got my best solo work done at night when the world was quiet, still, and private. Of course, I was still forced to get up around 8:00am no matter what, and this situation carried all the way through high school - eight years of my life. Crucial development years, too.
I remember being continuously harassed by my family - all the rest of whom are early risers - for my "tardiness", as I ran to catch up on school mornings, or slept in late on weekends. For a long time I bore this in shame, until I realized that it was relative. It didn't actually make me lazy. My family just had a habit of setting agendas to suit their own tastes, and had absolutely no respect for mine.
One consequence of this is, I have had permanent rings under my eyes since I was in my late teens. They are part of my face now and never go away.
Another consequence is, staying awake is now too easy for me. It's effortless to evade sleep so I can finish a book, play a game, complete a road trip, ride my bike to the next city... Just a few more hours to square things away... And it's also very hard for me to fall asleep without completely exhausting myself first. Being a night owl is a habit that is physiologically difficult to break, and it has psychological repercussions that can wear you down - make you feel less human. I sometimes feel separated from my community by a gulf of hours as impassable as any real terrain. At its worst, when I've been stretching night all the way into dawn the next day and sleeping until mid-afternoon, people stop being people, and start to seem like fictional characters that I read about instead, or ghosts that move things around in the world and then vanish before I catch them.
Given this tendency to slide farther into a night owl existence, I've learned to fight in the other direction. It's strange, but true, that I found some of the most important tools to help me when I entered a career that caters to night owls.
Working in the Silicon Valley as a computer geek has been very validating. I joined an army of programmers and designers who routinely stayed up just as late as I did, pursuing the tidy completion of some important milestone, day after day. The industry worked around us. Management would schedule and attend meetings as early as 9:00am, but any meeting that involved programmers was scheduled for noon or beyond. It was tacitly understood that if you hauled a programmer into a meeting before noon, chances were you would be waking them up early, and one of the quickest ways to make a programmer less productive is to deprive him or her of sleep.
Having a work schedule that fit with my "natural" sleep schedule boosted my productivity, and my confidence. I learned that I could manage a dense calendar, adapt plans and keep everyone informed, and hit meetings on the dot with notes prepared, every day of the week, ... as long as I was allowed to roll into the office no later - but no earlier - than about 10:30am. For a change, my brain could fire consistently on all cylinders.
The scheduling tactics that I learned at work became useful in my family life as well. When they tried to fix early agendas I would roll my sleeves up and start negotiating, and if a deadline sounded too stressful or tentative, I made a Plan B or an escape route. I felt like I had an army of fellow programmers standing behind me, giving weight to my needs as a late-riser.
Of course, being a night owl still had all its downsides. The gulf of hours encouraged me to confine my social life to my fellow geeks and workmates, and that in turn encouraged me to work so hard that I forgot how to enjoy the outside world.
As I took on more and more responsibility, I eventually got to the point where I could not indulge my desire to stay up late finishing tasks. If I did, I would be in danger of missing a meeting, or being absent from my desk when someone needed me to answer a question or give input on a design problem. I could no longer avoid the fact that being a night owl was a kind of pathology. I had to confront it, or risk stagnation and declining health.
Early in my struggle with being a night owl, I realized that my sleep schedule is disconnected from a normal light/dark cycle. I don't have a true circadian rhythm, because I don't run on a 24-hour day. My body doesn't want to sleep for eight hours and then stay up for sixteen, it wants to sleep for nine or ten hours and then stay up for twenty. The traditional way to combat this would be to deprive myself of sleep, go through a day or two like a zombie, and then go to bed "on time". That fails because as soon as I catch up and erase my sleep debt, I want to stay up for 20 hours again. There has got to be a better way to be "normal" than being constantly sleep deprived, like I was in high school and for most of college. It's murder to a programmer's productivity, for one thing.
Part of the solution has been to recognize that there are different kinds of tiredness. There is a tiredness that climbs up and slaps me in the face, making me think longingly of the bed, and then there is a tiredness that politely rings the doorbell, and then stands around tapping one foot and muttering impatiently. The most important - and the hardest - thing to learn has been that the second kind of tiredness will work just as well when it's time to sleep, as long as I set the stage for it. That means putting myself horizontal under some bedsheets with the lights off and my eyes shut.
But for tiredness to do its work, my brain also needs to get out of the way. I have to convince myself that it's okay for me to lose grip on all the things I'm worried about or fixated on, because I will definitely have time to pick them up again later, after I rest. Even though tomorrow's schedule doesn't appear to have enough room available for those things. Even though it feels good to finish a task - much better than it feels to leave it half-done with a pile of unsorted notes. This is very difficult. Often I lay awake in the dark room, in silence or with ambient music playing, for hour after hour, as my brain writhes around in my skull like a housecat stuck in a carrier box.
It gets even more difficult when I have failed to maintain divisions in my life, between the different tasks I am responsible for; when obsessing over just the right order of tracks in a playlist gets just as much emphasis as obsessing over a demo for work. Most tasks can be weeded out, but it's far too easy to drag them all to bed with me, each like a separate boat anchor, yanking me back towards a reef of consciousness. Any task that I have no set schedule for - an amorphous future task that I must hold in limbo, until some unresolved detail presents itself - is the worst kind of obstacle to a good night's sleep.
So I write everything down. Even little things - dumb ideas, questions, reminders about inconsequential tasks - things that I'll probably think of again later anyway. My obsessive nature wants to preserve all the little bits of paper left over on the worktable of my mind, and as long as I'm clutching them, I won't fit through the door of sleep. I push the scraps out, to writing, to external memory, and that way I keep them safe. They will be there even after my mind gets tangled up in dreams.
I got used to scrawling notes like this at the end of a workday. It was partially to help myself find my place the next morning, and partially to act as a logbook to prove to my managers that I had been productive. I adapted that habit to cover everything - every thought that my mind wanted to keep - and started doing it just before bed. Now I do it while I'm actually in bed, thanks to the iPhone. If something feels particularly important, I write it as a memo on my alarm, so the message is the first thing I see in the morning. Sometimes I also toss a summary of the day into my private journal, just so I don't have to remember that either. A habit I cultivated to stay ahead of my workload is now a habit that helps me fall asleep on time.
Another thing I had to learn - re-learn, really - was that exercise does get me tired enough to sleep in spite of my brain, but it takes a lot more exercise than I thought.
When I was living in San Jose I would occasionally ride my bicycle 10 miles to work, during the off-commute hours. I'm sure the benefit to my cardiovascular health was offset by my constant exposure to exhaust fumes, but a nice side-effect of the riding was an ability to fall asleep just a little bit easier at night. Later on, when I went on a marathon bicycle ride across the country, I realized that my body was actually capable of a whole lot more exercise than I gave it credit for. Twenty miles a day was alright, but eighty miles a day was even better. After days like that I climbed into bed and was out in a matter of minutes. It was like discovering two superpowers at once - my ability to ride a long way, and my ability to sleep like a normal person.
The lesson was obvious: At least part of my problem was that I was exercise-deprived. Imagine that! A computer geek being exercise-deprived!
But seriously, this is an ongoing struggle. It's harder than it seems to integrate consistent, thorough exercise into the life of a person who thrives on constant intellectual stimulation. I can't just ditch an hour of reading for an hour of sit-ups, I need to keep it interesting. So I find myself re-learning this habit over and over again, in different forms, with yoga, or hiking, or chopping wood, or bicycling, or gardening.
Audiobooks have been an enormous help here. To draw one example from many, I got antsy a few days ago, so I got on my bike and rode randomly around Berkeley, up and down the streets in big zig-zags and loops, while listening to a Terry Pratchett novel. I loved the story, and when I got home I looked at the GPS and saw I'd gone almost 20 miles.
I've done battle with my night owl ways and made progress, but it remains the case that I get my best solo work done at night, mostly for the reasons that instilled the habit in the first place: It's quiet, calm, isolated, and unscheduled. There are never any deadlines in my calendar labeled "2:00am". Those all stop before midnight at the latest, and the late night stretches before me, for my use in any way and at any pace I want. I've learned that this habit is not always a bad thing; I just need to have control over it. It took a long time to develop that control, and even after 25 years it's imperfect, but I feel a lot more at peace with it than I did as a teenager.
Unlike my earlier self, I can now see myself finding a groove in an early schedule and thriving in it. For a big chunk of last year that's what I did, in fact. Nevertheless, I'm sure I'll be working against the set-point of a night owl for the rest of my life.
Which reminds me ... why does school start so damn early? Wasn't there some movement to begin classes at 10:00am or later? Whatever happened to that?
(2 comments | comment on this)
|Friday, August 16th, 2013|
5:57 am - A very late update
I have been trying to find both the time and the desire to write something about this year - something that can exist outside of my private encrypted journal, and something more substantial than the book reviews and silly Skyrim travelogues.
There are several reasons why it hasn't happened yet. The first is, I've met someone, a person I adore, and when I get deeply connected to someone they tend to take the place of my public journal in my life. The second is, there has been some logistical upheaval. Early this year I moved across town to a new place, hauling my stuff over one van-load at a time in the evenings after work in a huge hurry because I wanted to be out of my old place as quickly as possible. Once I was moved, I acted like a hermit for a while, resting alone in front of a blazing fireplace, sipping tea, and reading books. I needed to de-stress.
My ex-housemate doesn't really know why I moved so suddenly. At the time, the less he knew, the better I felt about it. I didn't even want him to know where I was going, because I was so fed up with his presence that I didn't even want the possibility that he could show up unannounced, for any reason, no matter how altruistic. He had become an angry, unpredictable pain-in-the-ass. The last straw came when I invited the woman I was dating over to my house and he threatened her with physical violence. Not just a verbal threat - that had already occurred a while earlier - but actually kicking in the door she was behind, in order to, as he claimed, "emphasize a point". She declared that she would never set foot in my house again for as long as he lived there.
When I told him I was moving, he raised a huge stink about it, declaring that I had chosen the absolute worst possible time to "dump" this on him. I knew he was in dire economic straits (he had already failed to pay his share of the rent for one month, and I knew it was going to carry on that way) and I didn't want to be a catalyst to his financial ruin, so I promised him I would carry the rent for the next two months while he figured his shit out. Two months became three, and though I was no longer on the premises I paid the entire rent and all the utilities while he looked for a job and scrounged up enough for a deposit on a new apartment.
He's gone now - living in some other part of Oakland, on the west side; I don't know where. It cost me between three and four thousand dollars to give him that transition time. I was not inclined to pursue him to pay it back. It felt less daunting to re-earn the money, than to keep interacting with him.
I've been hesitant to write even this much about it, because doing so raises the possibility that he will come out of the woodwork again, feeling entitled to defend or absolve himself. "Why didn't you tell me about how upset she was?" he'd say. "You deprived me of the chance to do something about it!"
Yeah. I also deprived you of the chance to traumatize her and myself and my cat even more.
So, I settled into my new house, to de-stress.￼
It's a beautiful place. A free-standing single-family home with hardwood floors throughout, a formal dining room with french doors leading to a living room with a huge fireplace, plenty of windows, and a big solid front door. The owner lives in his own house in the back yard, and he's an attentive and even-handed landlord, and a cat lover and a gardener. Every afternoon the living room floor glows with sunbeams, and the cat lounges around blissfully in them, and sometimes I do too.
I ride my bike less than two miles to work, one mile to Bart, and less than two miles to Berkeley Bowl and three different farmer's markets. With a little effort I can live, work, and play entirely without using my car. This house has been my sanctuary for a while now, and my sweetie and I have had several fine dinner parties here, and we spend most of our weekends here too.
That leads me to another interesting thing: I didn't actually expect to meet someone like the woman I am now with. In fact, just before I met her, I declared that I was done with dating, and wanted to focus on being a bachelor for a while, and contentedly so. Bachelor life unrolled ahead of me like a red carpet and I was looking forward to it in a way I never had before in my life. In retrospect, it was that sense of peace, that sense of not being invested and not caring about the outcome, that put me in exactly the right whimsical frame of mind to stumble upon this fine woman.
Her name is Char. (Photo and name edited to keep her students from googling her. Hah!)
Char has an inner nature that is very unlike mine. She is a self-described border collie who lives to run, but also thrives when she has a safe place and a partner who can unwind and untangle her. Shortly after meeting her I realized that she felt familiar to me, or at least that part of her did - not as a mirror of some internal part of myself, but as a complement to it. She is enthusiastic, honest, observant, extremely intelligent, and good-hearted. She is experienced, but has not been beaten down by experience. She has fire inside her, but there is also a sturdy hearth built around it. Rather than wholly feminine, she is a mixture of masculine and feminine personality traits, which more successfully blends with my own.
She loves to get her hands dirty in the garden. She sings joyous showtunes in the shower and the car. We connect very strongly, but we also have room for personal pursuits - we are not joined at the hip. She has a career that she thrives in, and an essential part of that thriving is the knowledge that her work does concrete good in the world. (She's a middle-school teacher. Apparently I have a "thing" for teachers.) I adore her, and I adore her family and friends too. One of my favorite things in the world is when Char leaps up into my arms, wraps her legs around my waist, and smooches the hell out of me.
We also have incredible sex, and lots of it. I'd be lying if I claimed that wasn't a very important thing to me. I suffered - and made someone else suffer - for a long time to learn that lesson, and I'm never going to forget it.
As I continue to explore her, and learn who she is in context, I am discovering old ambitions and ideas surfacing in my mind, and appearing as new. I am feeling a desire to build and evolve, a motivating force within myself to live up to the promise I made three years ago that I would never again stagnate the way that I had. Despite the recent hardship with my ex-housemate, I feel like I have finally caught my breath and it's time to try something really new and challenging. That feeling is inspired in part by the fact of Char - the fact of her presence.
I feel a need to be careful with my words here: It's not exactly that she inspires me - that would imply that my motivating force is external - being generated by her and somehow transmitted into me. It's not like that. I've spent some time pondering it, and the best way I can describe it is by metaphor:
Picture yourself as a mountain climber. You're very experienced, and after a lot of climbing adventures, you've learned that your success on any given mountain is based on how well you work with the partner who wants to climb it with you. There are some really challenging mountains out there that tempt you, but you've never felt confident enough with your skills or your partner to attempt them. Nevertheless, you've had a good time. All the lower peaks are old-hat for you now, so you've hung up your crampons and your carabiners and set to trying other sports.
Then, by chance, you meet someone that's doing the same thing. You share climbing stories and realize she's very experienced. You play a bunch of sports and observe that you work well together, in good times and bad times. Without even realizing it, the two of you start walking together towards an enormous mountain range, almost casually hiking up through foothills and switchbacks. Pretty soon you start talking about what you're doing, and you're amazed to find that you are both feeling the same sense of confidence. Even the highest peaks feel accessible now. Where will you go? You begin rising above the treeline, into mysterious new territory. What will you find?
That's what it's like. And the territory truly is new.
For example: I am now the proud owner of a house in North Oakland, at the edge of the Temescal area! Bam!!￼
Escrow closes in two weeks. It's been very restful living where I am, but the rent is quite high for one person to carry alone, and after a lot of exploration and energetic assistance from Char I found a place that meets my high standards but also promises a mortgage lower than my current rent. The transition is complicated and chaotic, but it feels like a step in the right direction. It improves my finances, giving me more leeway to try and help Char improve hers. Not that she needs help, mind you - she's got a better head for numbers than I do. But the more often I can visit her in Livermore and give her an all-over body massage and read her poetry and tuck her in, the happier she'll be as she charges through her work week. I love that woman.
I've also found myself open to the idea of more extensive travel, or even to the idea of pulling up stakes and moving. The house can be rented out pretty easily, and the cash flow works in my favor once the mortgage insurance is paid off. (I wouldn't have bought it otherwise.) I've got a good thing going in the East Bay, and the city has felt like home in a way no other has, but now I feel the sense of home also flowing out of Char, and she is much more portable than an entire city! So I find myself idly wondering what it would be like to live in Seattle, or Boston, or even Sydney or Dublin. My tech skills have always been transferable, and my resume has only enhanced that.
Oh the possibilities!
I would write more, but it's nearly six in the morning, and there's a bunch of stuff I need to attend to with my loan officer after what is sure to be too little sleep.
(10 comments | comment on this)
|Sunday, August 11th, 2013|
2:56 am - June reading (oops we skipped a month)
I Am America And So Can You, by Stephen Colbert (and his staff writers)
I was underwhelmed with this book ... but to me, Colbert's breed of comedy - and his comedy persona - doesn't work in long-form, and this book is just proof of that. The Stephen Colbert of the TV show is a creation purpose-built to satirize the media and make topical commentary. Like chewing gum, you gnaw on each episode for a little while and then throw it away, never to be seen again, which is okay because there's always another to look forward to. This book is basically a piece of chewing gum the size of a boxcar. It's way too much gum, and after a little bit of chewing your sense of taste gets all wonky and you forget why you liked gum in the first place.
But perhaps I'm being too harsh. There is, of course, some great political commentary marbled into this work, and every now and then Colbert succeeds in coaxing the most minor of laughs out of me. And it's great to listen to while gardening or doing laundry. Now that's what I call damning with faint praise!!
Five out of ten mismatched earlobes up.
The Hound of the Baskervilles: A Comedic Take, by the BBC, based on the story by Arthur Conan Doyle
This was pretty entertaining and forgettable, except for a throwaway audio gag about two-thirds through it involving a "lamb in a bag" that had me laughing so hard I had to stop the recording and fall over for a while, then rewind a good two minutes or so to find my place again.
I'll Mature When I'm Dead, by Dave Barry
This is an anthology of some of Dave Barry's editorials with a vague adulthood and parenting theme.
The audio version is excellent for a long car trip, especially on unfamiliar roads that are nevertheless boring. The content is amusing and easily digestible, and you don't suffer much for getting distracted and missing the occasional paragraph.
Snow Crash, by Neal Stephenson
Oh my god, this is a fantastic novel.
If I didn't already have a clear favorite (Diamond Age) I would say this is Stephenson's best work. It's a self-aware combination of Cyberpunk and parody, with enough wildcards and bizarre scenery and moments of adorable character development to keep you thoroughly entertained all the way to the last page. It has also aged remarkably well for a Cyberpunk novel - somehow still feeling innovative after a decade and a half. One can't quite say the same about Neuromancer, for example, which is built around some ideas that seem quaint or even inane in our wireless, touchscreened present.
But you don't need to come to Snow Crash for its science fiction merits. Read it for the characters. They are a riot! Amazon proclaims this book is "One of Time magazine's 100 all-time best English-language novels," and I am almost inclined to pitch in a voice of agreement, but ... that's a pretty big honor, putting it in competition with enduring works like Great Expectations and Treasure Island. Snow Crash is a damn good novel and you really shouldn't miss out on it, but it does end a bit sloppily, leaving you hungry for a sequel that has never materialized, or a film adaptation that has been almost pre-spoiled by The Matrix and a variety of explorative anime works like Serial Experiments Lain, Perfect Blue, Summer Wars, and Ghost In The Shell.
Nevertheless, the book is so much fun - and such an enjoyable world to be in - that upon finishing it, you'll be tempted to just turn from the last page to the first and read the whole thing right over again. It's really that much fun.
Nine out of ten electronic pizza boxes up.
Why Evolution Is True, by Jerry A. Coyne
I can usually conjure something interesting to say about any book I read, or start reading. I can at least explain why it didn't hold my interest, or make some snide joke about why it sucked.
The most I can say about this one is, it's well-meaning but presented without flair. Jerry has made a piece-by-piece, well-mannered, tick-all-the-checkboxes procession through historical and semi-recent scientific evidence establishing the fact of evolution, pulling in strong case-studies, and supporting scaffolding from various physical sciences such as geology, physics, biology, paleontology, anthropology, genetics, and so on.
The problem I had with this book is, none of it was new to me. It would have been nice to see Jerry wander afield a little bit, like the way Richard Dawkins in The Ancestor's Tale uses a story about the speciation of grasshoppers as the basis for a very interesting discussion about the meaning of "race" to humans, and follows the branches of the discussion to reach recommendations of other works, including The Red Queen and Dr. Tatiana's Sex Advice to All Creation.
Why Evolution Is True contains no such zestful wanderings. But, perhaps it doesn't really need to contain them. I think my own perspective is too warped to judge this book fairly, so I'm going to avoid giving it a rating.
(comment on this)
1:46 am - April reading (oh man, we're totally catching up now!)
Discworld 25: The Truth, by Terry Pratchett
This is an especially vivid Pratchett novel - you can practically see every character marching around in your head, pontificating and cracking jokes as they navigate the twisty passages of Ankh-Morpork. All of Pratchett's characters are generally well-realized, but usually his protagonists are given far more development and attention than his antagonists. Not so in this book. The two main villains here are hugely entertaining - a brilliant cross between hard-boiled gangsters and an Abbot-and-Costello vaudeville act, with endearing flourishes, and they are given plenty of room to strut their stuff. They're so much fun you almost find yourself rooting for them by the end of the book, despite their blatantly despicable behavior.
With this book, even more than Pratchett's others, I had to stop and wonder every now and then at how much entertainment I was deriving from a work of humorous, seemingly uncomplicated, fiction. It's not a blazing philosophical manifesto, or a brilliant exploration of a scientific frontier, or cunning work of investigative journalism. There's no convenient way to justify reading it. But it is a fun, funny story that's fantastically well executed, and having read it for the second time now, I'm convinced that I will eventually return to it a third time, and maybe even a fourth.
Nine out of ten fine marble carvings up.
The Darwin Awards, by Wendy Northcutt
Most of these stories I'd already heard just from being a long-time denizen of the internet, but there were some that were new to me. I had to take this book in small pieces, because story after story of people behaving like morons is funny for only a limited time, then it becomes bland, and then it gets depressing. The inclusion of "urban legends" alongside the verified stories is an interesting enhancement, and I was pleased to find that the tales I'd read online that had been passed around as "verified truth" - though never with any documentation - were just as unsubstantiated to the authors of this book, and even more obviously implausible to my jaded adult self.
Despite reading it in pieces, it was still a chore to finish. The authors tried to keep it fresh by organizing the stories into rough themes and throwing in amateurish editorials, but somewhere around the story of the young woman who jumped off half-dome with a defective parachute and plummeted like a stone to her gory death in front of her boyfriend's eyes and a gathered crowd of tourists, I lost my taste for it.
Four out of ten exposed wiring panels up.
Discworld 19: Feet of Clay, by Terry Pratchett
This was a fun police procedural, and I returned to it because I'd completely forgotten the plot after so many years. I'd also forgotten what a fun read it was. This is the one where Nobby learns about his family tree, and we are treated to a much elongated version of his name, which is something like - and don't fault me for getting it wrong since I'm quoting from memory - "Lt. Crpl. Cecil Wormsborough St. John 'Nobby' DeNobbs."
I remember using that name as my email alias back in the 90's, but it still wasn't long enough so I tacked a few things on, and came up with "Lt. Crpl. Cecil Wormsborough St. John 'Nobby' DeNobbs Esq. And His Ragtime Band." Somehow that address and the associated name got thrown into a list of "celebrity email addresses" and passed around from website to dusty website, and over the next decade I got five or six emails from people who asked, incredulously, if that was my real name, or if I could help them get directly in touch with Sir Terry Pratchett.
This was a breezy read. The mustache-twirling high-society conspirators are about as sophisticated and threatening as the ones you'd see in the average Saturday-morning cartoon - The Gummi Bears perhaps - but Vimes is thoroughly Vimesey, and Colon is very Colonesque. And Nobby is ... well, ... he is.
Seven out of ten magic scrolls up.
New Rules: Polite Musings from a Timid Observer, by Bill Maher
Bill Maher is, to myself and my left-leaning social circles, equal parts alarming firebrand and national treasure. He's an outspoken critic of conservative and religious attempts to legislate morality, and he uses comedy as a gateway and weapon to enliven his panel discussions. Sometimes he comes down on the wrong side of an issue, but he also shows a refreshing willingness to admit when he's wrong and publicly change his opinion.
That said, this book is not a good demonstration of his appeal.
It's an endless clockwork procession of topical political jokes, most of which have not aged well, interspersed with sex jokes, and references to current events that have long since lost their currency. Without a panel to derail him or an audience to force him to pace himself, Bill's tone here is a bit too consistently sanctimonious to be enjoyed for the comedy.
He's gathered a second collection, "The New New Rules", that I read sometime last year and found to be more palatable, but still not enough to recommend.
Three out of ten flag lapel-pins up.
(comment on this)
12:38 am - December reading (finally getting around to describing it)
Enter Jeeves: 15 Early Stories, by P.G. Wodehouse
Quaint. It's hard to tell just how hard the author is laughing at his own characters. Are we supposed to feel like Jeeves' employer is a doddering but endearing moron, or should we hiss him like a villain - a punching-bag example of high-bred ignorance and weakness? Is it okay that Jeeves puts him into embarrassing situations, or are we supposed to be troubled by such apparent insubordination?
Mind you, this is apparently early in the written legacy of Jeeves, so perhaps I've been exposed to half-formed characters. Unfortunately, the comic-book feel of these adventures has not whet my appetite for more. I'll probably be ignoring Jeeves in the future and reading more Bryant and May instead.
A mere four out of ten magnifying glasses up.
The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature, by Matt Ridley
Fascinating. I didn't realize it before reading this book, but there was a gap in my exploration of genetics; a hazy unexplored cloud around two simple questions that actually require hugely complicated answers: "Why does sex exist", and "why are there (only) two genders?"
In this book I found a thorough discussion of all the modern theories that have been proposed to answer these questions, and it was truly eye-opening. Two chapters in particular impressed me more than the others:
First, the chapter discussing how there was darwinistic competition not just at the gene level, but below the genes, at the level of genetic code itself - an information warfare with startlingly apt parallels in the world of modern computer programming - an arena with its own computer-virus-like infections, code patches, system exploitations, and so on. It seemed such a natural fit that I was a bit embarrassed I hadn't thought about it before.
And second, the chapter that discusses the game-theory implications of genetic competition amongst females, across a spectrum of species, and how the sexual behavior of each species in its environment can be understood as a balance between genetic stability and innovation. In other words, long-term environmental pressures on a species can alter the level of sexual competition, the amount of cheating, the amount of male involvement, the level of infanticide, the number of offspring in a litter, the number of partners a female seeks and for how long, et cetera. Basically, every way the sexual system can be gamed, is subject to tinkering through environmental pressures.
The author sometimes delicately overreaches to extrapolate into human behavior, but always frames each attempt with a disclaimer. Even if it's terribly unscientific, it's still absolutely fascinating to search for parallels in the human world, even in my own life.
For example, why should I be flooded with hormones as a teenager, saddled with a burning desire to have indiscriminate sex that is at odds with modern enlightened society, ... only to have those hormones submit increasingly to my control as I mature emotionally and intellectually? If I work from the premise that my natural instincts are generally successful - they produced me and all my ancestors after all - then this hormonal transition must serve some purpose in furthering my genes (though not necessarily my personal happiness).
I can think of an armchair answer to that question: As a young man, I am surrounded by older, more powerful men, and may not live terribly long. Better to be highly motivated to get someone pregnant despite the consequences. As an older man, I have power of my own, and can make more discerning choices about the quality of my mate and my offspring. A cooler head is more likely to prevail.
It's not a perfect hypothesis, obviously, and I have no idea what kind of experiment could be designed to test it. But it's just the tiniest example of the enormous number of ideas that The Red Queen conjured in my mind as I was reading. It spurred me to look at every single social behavior I engage in - and the ones that I don't - and consider them all from a strategic perspective, as the steward and the vehicle for a bundle of furiously competing genes.
I've returned to this book four or five times to re-read some of the most interesting chapters, and each visit reawakens a tangled bank of thoughts. Love it!
Eight out of ten codons up!
Before the Dawn: Recovering the Lost History of Our Ancestors, by Nicholas Wade
This book is a awkwardly assembled. The content is absolutely fascinating, and I do recommend it, but the author tends to charge from one anecdote or setting straight into another without enough connecting narrative. I've heard it said that to write clearly, you need to announce what you're going to explain, then explain why it is necessary to explain it, then finally make the explanation. This book tends to skip the second step, and sometimes even the first.
I confess, I put it down about a quarter of the way in, and have not yet returned to it, even though I know I'll be fascinated again when I do.
(comment on this)
|Thursday, June 20th, 2013|
4:36 pm - Can't Get Enough Of Super Golden Crisp
With the shops drained of gold, it was time to find more adventure, so I leapt onto Daft Wooley and galloped in a random direction. Wheeee! Open-world adventure!
The winery - a cluster of barn-shaped buildings behind a low stone wall - floated up on my right, and since I'd never gone barging inside before, I decided to do it now. Skyrim follows a long tradition of adventure games where if you are not allowed to barge in to a place, that place has no reason to exist. The reverse also holds: If a place exists, it is so you can barge into it. Therefore you can measure the quality of a role-playing game by a ratio called the Barge Factor. A game with a high Barge Factor will let you plunge through any number of randomly chosen doors, without ever actually blocking your path. Instead, you will encounter increasingly dangerous things until one of them kills you. It's a design philosophy that simultaneously invites and punishes exploration.
Inside the winery I found a bunch of rude people on opposite sides of a countertop, serving and drinking wine. Standard stuff, so I kept on barging, into the storage room. There I found a locked door that required a key. My barging was stopped cold! Infuriating! And yet, the door must have a reason to exist. Probably some quest I hadn't started yet - the thieves or assassins guild maybe. That could wait for later. As soon as I've saved the world and become the ultimate hero of the land, I'll turn evil and start terrorizing it. Moo haa haaa!
I made a note to ransack and destroy the winery later on during my reign of terror. Locked doors are an affront to decency.
Back on my horse, I paused for a while, going over my stats. My skill points for heavy armor and two-handed weapons had been maxed out. There was no point to using my hammer, The Smooshinator, if I couldn't get any better at the skill and gain levels, and I really liked using that hammer... So I decided to move those skill points over to lesser things, like item enchantment and potion mixing, so I could re-earn the points by bashing skulls in. Boop beep!
Time to test this out. I rode north, to an encampment of giants, so I could kill one of them and claim a bounty. I had to park Daft Wooley quite a ways off to keep him from bickering with the mammoths that the giants were keeping as pets. Then: Whack! Thump! Heeyaaarrgh! The giant went down but it was a surprisingly close battle. Those skill points had really made a difference. On the other hand, I re-earned a few of them just in that one fight.
My mission was clear: Get into more fights. Yeah, that's a change-up, right?
I wandered off the trail and into Silverdrift Lair. Dead bandits and empty wine bottles were strewn around the place. The bandits had been ambushed and slaughtered by the undead, who apparently have nothing better to do after committing murder than stand around over their victims, drooling and clutching their weapons, until a new invader arrives. I wound my way through the tunnels, fighting harder than usual because my armor and weapon skills were weak. My assistant was a great help, swapping between various weapons as if to add maximum chaos to each encounter.
One in particular was memorable. I ran into a huge room to find a dragon priest - a spectral zombie creature with a skull for a head and rusty armor, and its legs ripped off. It was floating around the room, muttering and doing whatever it is the undead do with all their spare time (sudoku perhaps) and when it spotted me it shouted an explosive burst of air, making a sound like a cannon and blasting my body up towards the ceiling as though I'd been drop-kicked. Ooof! I hit the wall over the doorway and landed on my head, but in a few seconds I was up, staggering a bit, and I drew my hammer and charged straight for the priest. I'm all finesse.
As I raised the hammer, a bolt of lightning shot in from the side and lit the dragon priest on fire. My assistant was using the lightning staff. Good for her! I swung down and gave the priest a good whack on the head, but he didn't seem to notice, and clawed back at me so severely that I lost half my hitpoints. I backed up and fumbled for a healing spell, and as the priest moved forward to finish emptying his can of whoop-ass, a big armored demon came barreling in and collided with him. Summoned by my assistant, who had immediately switched weapons. As they bounced off each other the demon's stupidly long sword came down and chopped the priest in the shoulder. "THERE CAN BE NO OTHER END!" he bellowed in his death-metal voice. It was a mere distraction to the priest, but it was enough to get me back and healed up, and from a safe distance I hurled explosive fireballs at the pair. My assistant added more lightning bolts, and used a staff of 'conjure familiar' to summon Comedy Wolf, who dashed up and attempted to bite the priest on a leg, then after a moment of confusion, leapt for an arm instead.
Eventually the priest hit the floor, and dissolved into a pile of ash with a chunk of armor on top, but the battle wasn't over yet because my fireballs had turned the demon against me. "FEEL THE PAIN!" he wailed, waving his huge sword overhead in a way that was supposed to look threatening, but was spoiled by how he had to prance underneath it to avoid falling over. My assistant just stood back and watched, since it was her own summoned creature. I could understand, in a way. Attacking it would be like attacking your pet. If your pet got into a fight with your boss, would you help either side win? In this case, the question was moot, since I just ran around in circles until the demon's magical timer expired and it unsummoned itself.
So it went, through Silverdrift Lair and beyond.
I entered Bronze Water Cave out of curiosity and was tackled by a couple of angry bears. I didn't want to chop them up, but my assistant couldn't help herself.
I plundered Yorgrim Overlook and bashed the skeletons hiding around it. It was no more than an alcove in the rock, covered in snow, really.
I cleared out Fort Kastav, which turned out to be brimming with necromancers and elemental mages and was a tough job. I had to park Daft Wooley half a mile away behind a rock to keep him out of it.
I visited a mine called Whistling Mine - a depressing place, with nothing inside but a vein of iron ore and a few starving miners. That's another neat thing about this game ... some of the locations are about mood, instead of plot. The only point of Whistling Mine seemed to be, "Yep, sometimes life just sucks, out here in the frozen wastes."
I visited the college of Winterhold, and returned some books, then got zapped green by a students' practice spell gone wrong, then recovered a missing amulet, and picked up a quest to collect dwarven cogs for a teacher's experiment which was sure to go embarrassingly wrong and release some ancient evil and someone would lose an eye, yadda yadda.
I went into the college atrium and found a big glowing orb floating in it, over the central fountain. It was something I'd found in a dungeon some time ago, and the college faculty moved it here, apparently. A nearby instructor informed me it was called the Eye of Magnus, and that conversation led to another, and another, which led me into the caverns below the college. There I encountered the Augur of Dunlaim, a glowing cloud of blue mist, like a rave caught in a vortex. He told me to do a bunch of stuff and I nodded and said "yeah, yeah" and then ran outside, jumped on my horse, and rode over a cliff into the ocean. Because this is Skyrim, and you can do whatever you want.
Single-player open-world games are becoming a lost art, and that's a shame. The great thing about being the only real person in a world is that you're the only one who's "in on the joke". Things mean what you personally decide they mean. It also immerses you completely in a different culture, assuming the game has one. And I'm not talking about the jargon-laden multiplayer culture of online gaming either, which is defined more by mechanics and celebrity than anything else.
Also, why won't those damn kids stay off my lawn?!
Down by the coast I plundered a wrecked ship and found a crown, which I returned to the mayor of Winterhold. From there I zig-zagged west along the icy shoreline, peeking into dwarven ruins to collect any cogs or loot laying around. After a while I ran across the Frostflow Lighthouse, on a steep oceanside cliff. One of my dead horses was still outside the door, frozen in the snow where I'd left it months before. Daft Wooley was not alarmed. "I see you have previously ridden some chump-ass inferior horse," he seemed to say.
The interior of the lighthouse was a grisly murder scene. A mangled corpse lay face-down in the center of the room on the first floor, next to a deceased invader - some kind of goblin thing - among broken furniture and food and cookware and spattered blood. I found a few oh-so-convenient journals laying around, wherein the deceased tenants had written endless complaints about mysterious scratching noises coming from the walls and the basement. A stroll down the stairs to the basement revealed a huge hole in the wall, with cold wind blowing out, and a trail of blood and scratches leading in.
I'd been here before, and everything was the same as I'd left it. The first time, I'd gone jogging gamely through the hole in the wall, and somewhere in the depths of the icy tunnels below I'd found a severed head, and upon picking it up I was vexed to find that I could not drop it - it was a quest item and would not leave my inventory. "Habd's Remains", it proclaimed itself in the inventory box, and what gory remains they were: A head with the skin clawed away, no jawbone, and one blind eyeball remaining. Gross.
I carried that thing around for months, all across the map. A reeking albatross of an unfinished quest. But what the hell was the quest? What was I supposed to do with a semi-anonymous gory severed head? Standing around in the lighthouse now, I guessed that there was some room or document that I hadn't seen the first time. Ransacking the lower floors gave me some cooked fish, a few loose coins, and yet another journal complaining about the noises in the walls, this time from a little girl. At least I never found her corpse. Maybe she got away.
Finally I found it: A ladder on the upper story leading to the roof, and the gigantic lighthouse lamp. On a whim I climbed up to the lamp and lit it. Poof! Habd's stinking Remains vanished from my inventory, and instead I got some kind of blessing called "Sailors Repose" which amplifies all my healing spells. Well, that was pretty random. Rest in pieces, Mr Habd. At least now I don't have to smell like festering brains all the time. Oh wait! That's just my usual smell!
Heh heh heh.
(1 comment | comment on this)
|Friday, May 10th, 2013|
4:35 pm - Top Ten Reasons To Quit Slashdot! (Or: Hey guys, remember that old site we all stopped reading?)
Remember that old message board, back in the late 90's? Wasn't that thing a laugh? Oh sorry, you're on your phone. I won't distract you.|
(In solidarity with this page)
10. You probably already have, and haven't noticed.
9. Editorial quality was always poor; it has only declined.
8. All the edgy stuff happens elsewhere now. Even places like 4chan and Reddit are edgier.
7. Many of the discussion threads never elevate beyond what you'd find underneath the average YouTube video.
6. The scoring system encourages bitch-slapping and arguing to "win". (A.k.a "karma whoring".) There is no prize for winning. There never was.
5. Moderation is a thankless unpaid task.
4. Facebook and other social media are a better for product endorsements, faster with news, and more easily filtered.
3. The "Slashdot Effect" ain't what it used to be.
2. Most of us have grown up and moved on.
1. Slashdot never did anything for you (but waste your time).
The question that leaps to mind is: Why post this? Am I bitter about something? In a bad mood? Well, yeah, I probably am in a bad mood, but that motivation also comes wrapped around something else. Someone mentioned an article they'd seen on Slashdot today, and I realized I hadn't even looked at the home page in a year, which surprised me.
I used to read the Slashdot RSS feed for news about the company I worked for, and when Safari got updated and lost the RSS reader, I didn't bother to update the broken link.
So the question I asked myself is: In retrospect, what was my impression of Slashdot? And the above list is most of what came as an answer. No wonder I left it behind.
(3 comments | comment on this)
1:38 am - Emily Dickinson (1830-1886)
I had a guinea golden;
I lost it in the sand,
And though the sum was simple,
And pounds were in the land,
Still had it such a value
Unto my frugal eye,
That when I could not find it
I sat me down to sigh.
I had a crimson robin
Who sang full many a day,
But when the woods were painted
He, too, did fly away.
Time brought me other robins,--
Their ballads were the same,--
Still for my missing troubadour
I kept the "house at hame."
I had a star in heaven;
One Pleiad was its name,
And when I was not heeding
It wandered from the same.
And though the skies are crowded,
And all the night ashine,
I do not care about it,
Since none of them are mine.
My story has a moral:
I have a missing friend,--
Pleiad its name, and robin,
And guinea in the sand,--
And when this mournful ditty,
Accompanied with tear,
Shall meet the eye of traitor
In country far from here,
Grant that repentance solemn
May seize upon his mind,
And he no consolation
Beneath the sun may find.- - -
Some days I am still sad, deep down in my gut, over the things that happened three years ago. As summer began, I simultaneously abandoned someone who had become deeply connected with me - practically drove her out of our house - and was also utterly rejected by someone that I felt a frighteningly intense aching desire to be with. Everything changed, especially my perception of myself. I became a person who made awful mistakes. I had lived a generally peaceful life up until then, focused mainly on finding love, going with changes as they happened, and valuing warmth and gentleness above everything else. I was pretty sure I knew what I was doing, and I felt like I was a dependable and committed person who kept his promises, and had no guilt over any decisions. Then some wellspring broke open down inside me and all of those ideas were poisoned by what came out.
Now I face all future feelings of love with the knowledge that love can decline, or worse yet, be poisoned. On the face of it, that's no more wisdom than I gained when I was a teenager, when my first hesitant and sloppy romance began and collapsed shortly afterwards, with much dramatic flailing and pontificating to my friends and my parents and my equally feckless newly-minted ex-girlfriend. The difference between then and now is, now I feel the weight of history, pressing in from the walls, telling me that it doesn't matter how strong the feelings are or how careful and patient the players; love not only can decline, it will. Every time. You can practically set your god damned watch by it.
Now I wrestle with that history, and the argument it tries to make:
Perhaps I might just be better off alone.
I have a house that is quiet and sunny and clean. I have my health back. I have a challenging, honorable job with a nonexistent commute. Culture and adventure surrounds me.
Why should I let somebody else wade into this, just so they can screw it all up?
A few times since the trauma of three years ago, I have felt fully, deliriously in love, with a new person, and reassured myself that yes, now I am free of that old insidious misery, that regret and emptiness, and a new chapter can begin, with a fresh start. I feel reawakened. I feel ready to stake my faith and trust in partnership once again, and begin work on a foundation for something with no expiration date. But, at some point, the connection acquires weight, and the weight begins to drag, and I wonder if I'm making just another damned awful mistake. As the lead says in Seven Brides For Seven Brothers - "I get a sinking feeling." Some days I feel half-buried already. Other days I feel confident and dauntless again, and the sky is the limit, and yes it takes work but the work is fully worthwhile.
I hate that sinking feeling. I hate the way that I get depressed - some food-borne systemic issue, some sleep disruption, maybe a lack of sun, I don't know - and I'm suddenly tangled up in guilt again, like a spider web. I feel guilt over the way I pushed someone away, deeply wounding someone who was blameless and didn't want things to end, and I feel intense anguish over the way I was rejected, repeatedly, by someone I had very unwisely handed my heart to despite their dangerous flaws. Those two people are not in my life now. They are well outside it. It is quite possible that I will not see either of them in person, ever again. Many other things have happened since those incidents as well; many important things.
But I still bear that wellspring of poison inside me, and I don't even understand why.
I am determined not to let it consume me, but some days it gets very hard. My obsessive autobiographical mind is vulnerable to this. Being alone has advantages, but I know I am happier with more, and against odds I have found a good thing and it bears the promise of many great things to come.
I have no idea what's going to happen now.
- - -
I stepped from plank to plank
So slow and cautiously;
The stars about my head I felt,
About my feet the sea.
I knew not but the next
Would be my final inch,--
This gave me that precarious gait
Some call experience.
(2 comments | comment on this)