A lot of catching up to do

Last time I wrote here, I'd not quite completed my 52nd transit around the sun. That's no longer the case. I can't think of anything particularly special about a 52nd birthday; it's not divisible by five, there are no changes in legal status or demographic groups, but that's fine. I'm still enjoying birthdays, quite a bit more than I used to in fact, so the 52nd one was definitely one of the good ones.

It helps that Nicole took it upon herself to spoil me enormously. We drove down to New Orleans and, rather than use the time to go drink and party and get crazy (as is my wont), we holed up in a beautiful hotel with the best bathtub I've ever experienced, drank wine, listened to records, and I even wrote a story about snails.

It was all pretty great.

New Orleans has something that every city worth the name ought to have; a downtown grocery store that's open late. The Rouse's (sp.?) was like a mini-Whole Foods with booze that was open until midnight and a block from the hotel. It is exactly what Austin needs if Austin is serious about people living downtown. 11 PM and needing a decent blush, some Spanish ham, and a plate full of cheese? No problem! 

The room was a corner one, overlooking the front door of the hotel. I think the bar at the hotel was a singles bar, in that everyone who went in came out of it single. Couples fighting make for marvelous entertainment, especially when one is soaking in a giant tub next to the window and has a glass of wine in one's hand. It would have been even more poignant had the jazz album we selected not been a mis-filed Emerson, Lake, and Palmer record, but all in all, it was lovely.


I currently have too many hobbies for a lazy SOB like me. Job #2 is kind of on the back burner while I've been playing with the music toys. It's taken months, but I finally got one "song" down that I'm happy with. One. Then again, I guess this stuff is hard for musicians, so for people like me, it's a miracle. I should probably learn more about using the sequencers at my disposal. I'm playing everything but the drum machine live and my sense of rhythm is legendarily poor. 

It's fun, though. Just noodling around and occasionally coming up with something nice is very, very rewarding. Unfortunately, one of my co-workers just sent me this: The NSynth Super open source sound-making-thingie-that-is-definitely-not-a-Kaoscillator. Looks like I'm going to have to learn to solder.

I just re-read The Sandman collection: Brief Lives. This was my entry point into Neil Gaiman and The Sandman. The comic book store next to the Bennigan's where I worked had a big "new storyline" card on the first issue, so it seemed like a good place to jump in. At the time, I had no idea who close to the end it was; the end of the middle section I suppose. 

It's The Sandman at his most emo, a pose that spoke to me at that time. It was all very strange to me as a 20-something, reading a comic book that was very much about the story being told. "Literary" is probably the right word. It didn't follow any of the comic book conventions I recognized, but instead remained true to its own internal logic no matter how surreal (Delirum plays a bigger role in this story than any other). 

It's a very different experience reading it today, knowing all that went on before and happened afterwards. Many of the story beats that seemed out of left field were established as far back as the first issue and some bits didn't pay off until the very end. Mr. Gaiman is, as it turns out, quite good at his job. There are some bits that come off a little too emo or a bit twee, but it's a great standalone story and felt that inevitable Sandman melancholy when I got to the end.

Speaking of revisiting the past, I went down a bit of a rabbit hole on YouTube last night. Watching Cyndi Lauper play the dulcimer is well worth anyone's time.

After that I caught up on the biggest band from my freshman year in college. It was early 1985 and there was only one undisputed champion on KCOU in Columbia, Missouri: The dB's! Oh sure, they played the Smiths and REM and other college bands, but there were no fewer than five songs from the dB's new album "Like This" in heavy rotation. 

Like everyone else at Mizzou, I had a copy of the LP. I had no idea how lucky I was to find it. Here the singer and guitarist, Peter Holsapple, describing the album and the joys of working within the major label distribution system in the New York Times:

"About six weeks before “Like This” was to hit the streets, our big American debut album faced a new and horrendous snag: Bearsville’s distribution by Warner Bros. had come to an end...

So, as the music business punch line goes, “Like This” wasn’t released, it escaped. And then it disappeared. Without the muscle of Warner behind us, the band would find itself doing hastily arranged signings where there were no copies of the record. Promo copies went out to journalists across the country who discovered the new Harold Melvin and the Blue Notes album inside, due to a screw-up at the pressing plant...

There was a single of “Love is for Lovers,” but you couldn’t get it without special ordering. Then you couldn’t get it at all. It made no impact on radio, and the song did not receive a video treatment for the fledgling MTV."

Ugh. One of the most important of records...scratch that, THE most important record of my college years wasn't heard by pretty much anyone outside of Columbia, or so it seemed. I worked at record stores when I got home from college and there was no way to get hold of the album. It was two decades before I was able to get hold of it on CD. 

Give it a listen if you're of a mind. It's one of the finest artifacts of indie college radio from the mid-80s and thanks to almost literally everything going wrong at the time of the release, it remains an underrated gem. 

That's enough and more than for now. Take care,



Where do we go from here?

Loss is terrible. Whoever decided that this world needed loss in it is a lousy architect, and as for the philosophers who rationalize loss? "Our loss, our grief, is what makes us human!" Screw the lot of 'em. I'll buy that it's a biological inevitability, but you don't have to glorify the damned thing. 

I was up until three last weekend recording a drone-ish cover of an obscure Genesis song because that's the sort of thing I do when I'm trying to deal with something that, ultimately cannot be dealt with. That's fine. I needed to do it and I wasn't going to sleep until it was (sort of) complete. Doing more of that would just feel like wallowing. I think I'd like to make some happier sounds now. I have a project, a non-musical one, that I'm going to get started next week that I'm excited about. 

We're travelling next week, going to stay in a fancy hotel with a giant bathtub and we might even leave the hotel at some point. Might. I've grown to really enjoy travel, which sounds weird because everybody enjoys travel, but I was pretty ambivalent about it until recently. I think mostly it has to do with taking a long time to figure out how I like to travel. It turns out I have expensive tastes with regards to accommodations. I like a nice view, a big desk, and...postcards. I love to send postcards from hotels. Is that odd? I feel like that's the century-ago equivalent of calling someone from an airplane and blurting out "Guess where I am!"

After a week or so of heavy use, I can say without qualification that the Pixel 2 is the best phone I've used. I mean, It had better be, since it's the newest, but what I'm most happy with is that it takes some remarkably good photos at close range without having to add external optics.  Here's an example:


This is a zoomed image of a couple of snails in our garden crawling on a water bulb, without any filters or editing.  I'd say this one came out pretty well.

As far as Project Fi goes, I haven't noticed an enormous difference in the quality of the service. This is in large part due to the fact that I seldom use my phone as a phone anymore. I am, however, more aware of data usage and make an effort to connect to legitimate WiFi wherever available. This is a side effect of the pricing, which is $10 a gigabyte per month, with a maximum of $60. If I just used the phone like I did with my old plan, I'd come out about even, but since this is more like a pay as you go deal, I think about it more.

This is probably my favorite single strip from my favorite comic of all time:

I feel as though, if I could fully embrace this one strip, I'd be better off. 

That's it for today. Take care.


Goodbye, baby snail

 McKenzie, on some fresh basil, just a couple of weeks ago.

McKenzie, on some fresh basil, just a couple of weeks ago.

About a year ago, we started keeping snails as pets. Nicole found an incredibly beautiful snail named Dazzle, and we brought in a friend to keep her company. Her companion was named McKenzie. We'd never kept snails before, so it was a learning process for us. One thing we learned was that snails are a good deal more resilient than we'd thought.

Last summer, there was an accident that resulted in McKenzie losing a good portion of her snail. Several times, we though we'd lost her entirely. We looked up how to patch a snail's shell (the answer is: very carefully), but the predominant advice was to let the snail try to heal itself. McKenzie didn't do much over the next month, but she rebuilt her shell stronger than before (we feed them a lot of calcium, which helps).

She and Dazzle were as close as we'd hope they'd be. In fact, they were even closer as produced several clutches of eggs. There's nothing quite like waking up in the morning and finding dozens of tiny, almost completely transparent snails climbing the side of your aquarium. We wound up keeping one of the babies, Blink, and there then another who will have their own story one of these days (Lucky). 

Bringing in snails from outside, it's hard to know just how old they are. They can live for several years, but you there's no good way to tell the age of a snail, so we don't know how old McKenzie was. What we do know was that, over the last month or so, she hadn't been as active as she normally was. Sometimes that means there's another batch of eggs coming, but it was worrying. 

This morning, our little McKenzie wasn't with us anymore. Nicole told me when I was at work and I did everything I could to distract myself until I could get home. When I got home, I tried to wake her up and wound up just sobbing my eyes out. I'm still tearing up a little writing this.  Nicole, of course, had done everything I tried, but our friend was gone.

That may seem strange, to be that attached to animal that might not even perceive our presence and certainly can't express any obvious affection. But, we brought them inside and we are completely responsible for giving them as good a life as we can and we do our best because they are truly marvelous creatures. McKenzie was a good little snail whose company we enjoyed greatly. I know snails are considered "pests" but please try to consider how gentle and beautiful they are the next time you see one. 



You only love me when it's gone all wrong

HI there. It's been a while and that feels weird. As I'm sure I've mentioned ad nauseum, I had the flu last month and, while I have been feeling better, I hadn't been feeling quite right. That suddenly changed this weekend, when my energy suddenly returned, the color returned to pretty much everything, and my mood lightened tremendously.

I wouldn't say it's properly "ironic," but my vim sure chose a funny time to come back. I've been "on call" this weekend (by the way, when interviewing for a job, don't just ask about "paid time off; be sure to ask about how much "unpaid time on" you'll be asked to take on), the weather has been garbage, and my soccer team got clobbered. We did sexy, exciting things like "shopping for cat litter" and "baking bread" and it was absolutely great because I felt like I was really present and not just miming the motions of a healthy me from the bottom of a pit. 

"So, Ridley, what's been going on?"

I'm glad you asked! Nicole, on a whim, bought one of those new Crosley record players that looks like something from the mid-60s. We bought a bunch of used records, a lot of jazz, some classical, and, um, a couple of Genesis albums and, while I won't pretend that it sounds any better than digital music, it's really cute and and "used jazz albums with amazing covers" are a cheap hobby for casual collectors.


I bit the bullet and switched, or rather am about to switch, over to Project Fi, Google's phone service. I'm not sure I'll really save any money; the big draw for me is the fact that it works on so many LTE networks at the same time. I'll report back when I've used it enough to have an opinion.

Oh, and the final piece of my Christmas present from Nicole was an Arturia Beatstep Prop, which is an interesting MIDI controller/sequencer, drum thingie that I'm going to be using to make all of my toys play nice with each other. I say "going to" because the old MG-1 isn't cooperating, but it's working well with everything else. It's not substitute for "talent," of course, but I'm considerably closer to being able to fake it, so yay.

We went ahead and booked a couple of vacations while our cashflow was positive. We're going to be staying at the Ace in New Orleans in a few weeks, and then we're heading back to Marfa in June to stay at El Cosmic. It's taken me half a century or so, but I'm finally starting to feel the full restorative value of getting the hell out of Dodge. The trick, I suppose, was figuring where "out of Dodge" one likes to go. 

What else? My last piece for my moonlighting job was probably my best yet (and under unfortunate circumstances), or at least I thought it was. My editor wasn't quite so enthusiastic, but what do editors know? Oh, they know a lot. Back to work, then.

I think that's about it. I wanted to get this down for my own sake as much as anything, but if any of you found it interesting, then so much the better. I should probably get to bed now. Good night, all.



Getting away from it...some?

A while back, we decided to plan our next camping trip. We pulled up the Texas Parks and Wildlife site and poked around for places near home and then we tried to give up in frustration. Most campsites within the "drive there after getting off work on Friday" range were booked through next fall. Having to plan that far in advance takes some of the spontaneity out of the exercise and speaks to a serious lack of park space in our fair state. 

We got a little less picky about the dates and decided to consider camping in late January. Clever readers will notice that right now is, in fact, the very definition of "late January," so I'm writing to you from a tent at McKinney Falls State Park. It's an absolutely lovely evening. My phone, the final arbiter of all things weather-related, puts the temperature at a brisk but still unseasonably warm 62 degrees. We've had a fair bit of fortune this weekend.

One of my greatest fears is "camping in the rain," a fear burned in to me by years of character-building expeditions in my youth when no amount of interesting weather would bring about the cancellation of a camping trip. Floods. I have literally gone canoeing during floods. So, you get the idea. I associate camping in the rain with being chilly, damp, and miserable the whole time. I've spent my entire adulthood avoiding camping in the rain.

It rained last night and this morning. 

And you know what? It was ok. Nicole has a marvelous sense of not only camp arrangement, but of how to handle a little bad weather without it ruining the trip. She brought cards and checkers and dominoes and books and an extra tarp and we were safe and dry in our tent playing two handed poker without any betting which was more charming than it sounds.


We're in our second night here, our first two-night trip, and I'm feeling very much like we could go longer than this. In spite of all the hiking, we may put on pounds as a result of the camp food. Burgers last night because we needed to keep it simple for the arrival night, then pancakes and bacon for breakfast, a light, no-cook lunch, and then short ribs braised for several hours over the fire in a Dutch oven tonight. 

We haven't left the park at all today and even managed to hike the entire Onion Creek trail which my quadriceps are still complaining about. The little bit of rain we got added significantly to the enthusiasm of the falls themselves. We didn't see nearly as much interesting wildlife as last time, but it was still a lovely, peaceful hike (except for the bit that runs up against a housing development going in right next to the park which strikes me as a little off-message, but progress, right?). 


The park is full, but we really haven't seen that many people. We're among the very few people here camping in tents. Most folks are in enormous home-replacement sized RVs, which I'm not knocking, but there haven't been very many cooking fires these evenings.

The only bit of work I've had to attend to has been just making sure all of our locations sent their data to the reporting site. One didn't, but that was no big deal thanks to the double-edged miracles of modern technology, the same ones allowing me to write to you from here. I didn't even watch my beloved Leicester City thump Peterborough 5-1 this morning, although I did listen on the radio. Other than that? It's just been us and a bunch of outdoors, which is an awfully nice way to spend a weekend. 

So we're sitting here, under the giant umbrella next to the tent, enjoying the slight breeze and the quiet. Well, that and Nicole's Pandora station which mixes French cafe jazz, progressive rock, and Windham Hill-ish instrumentals  (including Maxence Cyrin's solo piano cover of "Where Is My Mind," which is the perfect summary of this mix). It's peaceful enough that I think I'll leave you for a while and get back to doing an exquisite version of nothing with my wife.

Good night all.



Sticking the landing on a weekend

And so Sunday turns into Sunday evening and, right this very moment, everything feels right in this corner of the world. Thanks to Nicole, who did most of the heavy lifting, the apartment is spotless. There's nothing that needs doing, nothing to make one anxious about sentences starting with "I should have." The laundry is done, the cats and snails are set for the night, the dishes are all, well, if not clean, than at least in the dishwasher. Everything is peaceful and relaxed. 

If Nicole has a super power (and she does; she quite a few), it's an ability to create environments. I think that's why we love the Bunkhouse properties (El Cosmico, Hotel Havana, et. al.),all of which are the commercial embodiment of that sort of ability. We have a small space, so arranging it is trickier than it looks and her sense is flawless. If you squint just right, it can feel more like a resort than a home which ain't a bad way to live.

I made my best loaf of bread tonight which is, well, it's not a big thing, but as I get more comfortable playing with the recipes and the timing, it feels just a little less like good fortune and more like I'm learning the craft when it comes out well. I realize that writing this almost guarantees a brick of a loaf next time out, but have I mentioned Nicole's bread pudding?

I'm still in the middle of reading Nick Harkaway's Angelmaker. It's a big, dense, somewhat untidy book with the occasional side-trip that never quite derails the plot. I'm enjoying it immensely even though I keep getting this weird sense that I've read it before. Anyway, I'm late to the party on this, but Mr. Harkaway is the son of author John Le Carre which explains almost nothing about his books, but it's interesting, isn't it?

I finally finished mixing my "cover" of "We Are The Champions," which has been great fun and a reminder that Freddie Mercury was a stellar composer  and arranger on even the slightest of songs. The best that can be said of my version is that you can tell what it's supposed to be. The fun bit has been getting to play with the ridiculous toys that are available for recording music these days. I'm using a program called Reaper, which is a "digital audio workstation." The learning curve to master it is pretty steep, but it's not at all difficult to get started. I think the final version had something like a dozen track and it's ridiculous that that kind of power is available for less than $60. We live in wondrous times, no?

So, things are good now. They may not be tomorrow; they may not have been yesterday, but right now, right this second, I'm very happy and I can't imagine wanting anything more.

Goodnight all.



Snow Day

Snow days aren't really a thing anymore, are they? Back in days of yore, which for the purposes of this discussion are the 1980s and 1990s, bad weather would shut down the office and you would be completely unable to do anything in the way of work. No cell phones, no internet, no email, and no way for work to find you other than your land line (and you'd best have caller ID to screen your calls). 

Today, my fair city shut down over a thin sheen of ice over the roadways and I wasn't able to get to the office, but that hardly made a dent in the amount of work I did. No less than four hours of meetings on Hangouts, plus plenty of email-driven tasks. I might genuinely have worked more today than I would have in the office. Kind of takes the romance out of that thin sheen of ice over the roadways, doesn't it?

So, no real snow, but the icy bits are pretty and the ducks out back seem to to be fine with the chill in the air, so it was kind of fun, even if I wasn't properly playing hooky. We cooked, we watched some QI, Leicester scraped past Fleetwood Town to get into the 4th round of the FA Cup...all in all, a pretty good day.

On an unrelated note, I picked up volume 6 of Kieron Gillen's and Jamie McKelvie's The Wicked + The Divine. Once I recovered, I picked up volume 1 and re-read it, then realized I'd meant to read volume 2, and then, when it started to click, re-read volume 6 again. All I'll say is that they played it more honestly with regards to the big reveal than I thought the first time through. It works. It's mean, it's ugly, and now I really can't wait to see how it ends. Can't recommend it highly enough.

On the off chance that anyone reading this has read Italo Calvino's Invisible Cities, ping me as I'm interested in hearing your take on it. I'm thinking it would have been a better book to take on vacation than to read from daily on the train to and from work. I just picked up Nick Harkaway's Angelmaker and I'm having the weirdest sense of deja vu reading the first couple of chapters. I would bet my life I've never read this book, but almost every word feels familiar. Unsettling. Anyway, he's a ridiculously gifted writer and I'm loving what I've read so far.

I guess I should probably hit the hay. In theory, public transit will be fully functional tomorrow even though there's been no real change in the conditions. We're not terribly good at winter weather down here. Anyway, I'll wager that the office will be semi-empty which is always nice. Sweet dreams.



Fever dreams

It turns out that the flu this year is nothing to (forgive me) sneeze at. While at work last Wednesday, I found myself unreasonably tired from walking up stairs. It came on so quickly from there that I was out of the door in fifteen minutes and home in bed in less than an hour. Bed is where I stayed for the next 48 hours. The next 24 or so were weird in that my body didn't have the energy to do anything but my brain lost its ability to sleep or do anything other than repeat weird loops over and over. 

Do not underestimate this particular strain of influenza. Today was the first day I felt any hunger and ate anything more than a few bites of bread. I didn't turn on my computer for three days. If you know me, you know how far down I had to be for this to be the case. My understanding is that if you see your doctor as soon as you're symptomatic, there's something they can do to lessen the blow. Otherwise, you're looking at over-the-counter symptom reducers. 

Side note: This is the second time I've had the flu in the last ten years. In both cases, I had a flu shot the previous fall. I'm still going to keep getting them, but they don't seem to be quite as efficacious as we've been told, huh?

It wasn't all bad, though. There were a few interesting things to come out of my week on my back:

1. The first solid food I ate was a batch of Popeye's new "Ghost Pepper" wings. They are damned good, albeit a questionable choice for "first solid food." They're nowhere near as spicy as the name suggests, but they're actually pretty hot, well beyond typical fast food empty promises. 

2. I got my primary Christmas present home and, wow, is it a doozy: A Korg Minilogue synthesizer! I'll write more about it when I've had more time to noodle with it, but it's just insanely powerful and intuitive to program.  I'm getting tingly just thinking about getting to play with it more tomorrow.

3. Watching a soccer match broadcast from a single camera at midfield is dizzying and weird. I can see how one might grow accustomed to it, but the angles were alien to me. It didn't help that the first time I turned on any entertainment, on Saturday morning, it was such a garbage match.

3a. I've been pulling for Fleetwood Town ever since they sold Jamie Vardy to Leicester. They've been rising up the ranks, slowly but surely, going from Conference football to nearly reaching the Championship last year. Getting to see the Cod Army out in force only endeared them to me further.


4. QI is the perfect show to binge when you're camped out on the sofa and have no energy to do anything (including watch whatever is on the screen). 

And, that's about it. I'm going to try to work in the morning. We'll see how long that lasts.  Thank goodness for Nicole. She's done yeoman work taking care of me while she, too, has been afflicted by this crud. 

Goodnight all,


Hello 2018

Hi, and welcome to 2018. I have high hopes for 2018 (not to be confused with "high expectations," mind you). Last year set the bar pretty low, so I don't think it's unreasonable to think we'll see at least modest improvement. In case you missed it, here was my tweet summing up the previous year:

It seems appropriate that I can do my 2017 recap as a tweet. Married life was and remains amazing. I lost my father in January. The President is an ignorant bully who makes everything he touches terrible. I think that about covers it.

There were some other good things, of course. We discovered the joys of keeping garden snails as pets (documented here and here). We got to visit Marfa again. I read some quite a few good books. In fact, the last two were among the best all year. 

I'd never read any of Zadie Smith's fiction, but I enjoy her essays and her debut novel, White Teeth, got some pretty terrific reviews. I didn't know quite what to expect. Her style had been dubbed "hysterical realism," which has to be one of the least-helpful descriptions I've ever heard. As it turns out, the novel is a very funny tale of three(-ish) families in England and...I wont' try to describe it further, but I found her tangents and abrupt changes in perspective charming and entirely appropriate to the story-at-hand. I enjoyed it more than all but a handful of books I've read since I started reading during my commute.

Next, I picked up Agatha Christie's Murder on the Orient Express. I'd never read any Christie and figured this would be a good place to start. It wasn't for reasons that are probably obvious to anyone who's ever read it, but it was still a delight. Hercule Poirot is a delightful character and I'd probably enjoy reading "Agatha Christie's Poirot Does A Crossword Puzzle While He Works Out What His Neighbor Is Planning For His Garden This Spring." 

Today, we did something that I hope will be the start of a tradition: We went to an old school arcade. I was triumphant, setting the high score on the Phoenix game as well as the Cyclone pinball machine. The old football game with the track balls and the x and o figures for the players was a bit of a bust, but it was just as painful as I remembered. To commemorate Texas' new open carry law for swords, Nicole won enough tickets on the claw machine and skee ball go get me a nifty scimitar and eye patch (I assume we already have open carry on eye patches). 

 Above: Not a very good game

Above: Not a very good game

Turning in a bit early tonight on account of the fact that I'm absolutely knackered. Here's hoping you and yours have a lovely year and that you're safe and warm tonight.


I finally figured out what was wrong with Pacific Rim (the least-crucial post of 2017)

I know Pacific Rim wasn't a great film, but it was a great idea for a film and it had great parts. It's been frustrating me for four years now and now I think I know why it was so frustrating.

Last week, I watched my favorite part of Pacific Rim, the battle in and near Hong Kong between the four mechs....er, "jaegers" and the kaiju. That sent me down the rabbit hole of reading up on all of the jaegers in the lore that didn't make the film. There were, apparently, other jaegers that were going to be in the movie but had to be cut because director Guillermo del Toro felt there was already too much backstory. That's when it hit me.

The problem with Pacific Rim is that the film we got was the third movie of the trilogy. 

Bear with me on this: Pacific Rim is the story of the conclusion of the decades-long war between humanity and giant monsters from...well, let's call it "the deep." The majority of this war is shown to the audience in flashbacks or plain old voice over exposition. Not only is this awkward, it also forces the films to spend an inordinate amount of time on world building instead of fulfilling its promise of wall-to-wall robot versus monster action. The film had some really great parts, but it never got rolling until way too late.

It didn't have to be this way. The basis for full films is in the backstory. The first is the story of the first appearance of the kaiju. Humanity throws their military might against the huge monsters, fighting heroically but ultimately unsuccessfully against an enemy the likes of which we've never seen. As a last throw of the dice, we build a giant freaking robot and, after several setbacks and against all odds, the newly-christened "jaeger" beats back the menace. Humanity has a, ahem, new hope and the jaeger program is born.

The second film shows the rise of the jaegers to the height of their glory. The pilots are rock stars, heroes, and almost gods. Basking in the glory of easy early successes, no one wants to acknowledge that the monsters are getting tougher and appearing more frequently. Soon, the victories aren't coming so easily and the losses are starting to mount. When an entire city is destroyed due to over-confidence on the part of a jaegar pilot, public opinion turns against the program.  Humanity is on the back foot and the fateful (and ill-advised) decision is made to abandon the jaegers and entrust our fate to enormous sea walls.

Now, we have Pacific Rim as the third film. This solves so many problems. When Crimson Typhoon and Cherno Alpha take the field against a kaiju, the audience knows these jaegers as legendary veterans who've won battle after battle. Now there's no need to spend a third of the film on the backstories of the eventual pilots of Gipsy Danger. Now there's time to have more robot vs. monster fights, with higher stakes since we're invested in the participants. It works so much better.

I know this is the mootest of moot points, but it's been bugging me for a long time. This makes sense, right? Anyway, here's the first part of the Hong Kong fight. It still makes sad to see the Russians get it this way:




Learning to cope in the new dystopia

I've opened my laptop every day with the intent of writing something here, and then I've closed it again after staring at the screen for a number of minutes. These days are seriously taking a toll on me. 

I've always said that the real danger in Washington wasn't the President, but rather what Congress could do with the spotlight permanently affixed on the shit show that is the current administration. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you: The tax bill! While it's hard to judge exactly what's in it on account of the fact that it was still being written moments before the vote and no one had a chance to read it before they cast their vote. Based on what little we know, it looks as bad as anything I've seen.

It's a tax hike on the lower and middle classes and a big cut for the wealthy. That in and of itself is not damning. If the taxes on the wealthy are too high, you'll get high interest rates and a lack of investment. Of course, that's not the case now. Companies are not merely flush with cash; credit is cheap and readily available as well. Thus, lowering taxes is NOT going to result in an influx of investment. Many larger companies have indicated they'll just put the tax cuts in investors' pockets  which is exactly what one would expect.

Of course, they didn't stop at tax cuts. They put in an end to the individual mandate of Obamacare, which will cost an estimated 10 million Americans their health insurance. In an attempt to make abortion illegal (via a tax bill, mind you), they defined "life" as beginning prior to pregnancy. They added tax deductions for private education and removed deductions for state and local taxes (which fund public education). Oh, and let's not forget that deduction for private jet owners. It will increase the deficit by over 1 trillion dollars, which, one presumes, will be the excuse for cutting public services in the future. It's a piece of shit bill.

That alone is enough to make me feel like we (meaning people with values similar to mine) lost, and lost big. If this thing passes in its current form, the damage will be significant and could take a generation to repair. The Senate Republicans flat-out said that, if they didn't pass this bill, their big donors would cut them off. That's indication enough who they're working for, and if you're not a big Republican donor, you're going to be worse off than you are now.

I don't mean to imply that this is the only bad thing the government is doing. The cascade of awful news is just overwhelming. We're giving public lands (meaning "yours and mine") to energy companies. We're making it harder to report sexual harrassment in schools. We're trying to kick trans folks out of the military. We're still talking about that border wall for some reason.  We're about to elect a man who preys on children to the U.S. Senate, with the endorsement of the President. We're provoking additional violence in the Middle East. We're kneecapping the internet as an open channel for communication. We're allowing the police to murder black people without repurcussion because they feel threatened by the fact that they're black.

And, for some reason, the President is holding rallies for himself, like this is a normal thing.

I'm wiped out. I'm just buried underneath all of the horrible things we're doing to try to turn the clock back on every hard-fought gain we've seen over the last...well, my lifetime at least. I didn't even mention the fact that they're talking about allowing business owners to claim some of their employees' tips as their own. That's huge, but there's just so much and I can't keep up or prioritize because it's starting to break me. 

Unfortunately, curling into a ball and turning off all media for the next couple of years isn't an option and wouldn't help if it were. Onward and upward. Shit's broken and it's not going to fix itself. Honestly, I'm probably not going to fix it, but at least I'm going to have to support those that are while I'm learning to live in the new dystopia. 

Which is all a (very) long way of saying that I'm going to be making an effort to put something in this space on a regular basis. That's the point of that new "top 5 lists" thing at the top, to give me a place to write something easy and tiny when I'm too knackered to make a proper post.

That's all the venting for today. Cheers.


Barreling through the holidays

This was one of the nicest turkeys days I've ever had, in no small part due to the lack of turkey on the menu. Nicole and I holed up by ourselves and it turns out that we do a pretty fine job working in the kitchen together. I made a beef roast and baked yet more bread and she took care of the green bean casserole, asparagus, and mashed potatoes, gravy, and some seriously evil chocolate-y desserts. For the first time in memory, everything worked. There were no duds and, while there were leftovers, they weren't left over very long and not a bite went to waste.

Then, by some miracle, the house was transformed that very night into a winter wonderland, festooned with tinsel and garland and a tree and stockings and...you get the idea. By "miracle" I mean, of course, Nicole. I think, hoping I don't jinx it, that we are well-prepared for the coming month and we're going to enjoy it. This isn't usually my favorite time of the year but I feel up to it. I normally tend towards melancholy during the winter, but there's no reason not to push back against that tendency.

One thing that helps is that, while my plate seems pretty fully, it's full largely of things I've chosen to heap on to it. That makes a big difference. It's the time-based obligations of the holidays that get under my skin, but when I'm actually looking forward to most of what's on the calendar this time around. I'd like to think it's a matter of "gaining wisdom," but I suspect it has more to do with my partner than any special insights I've acquired.

Even the cards and the shopping feel less stressful this year (he says haven't not actually completely either). My mother's going to be coming down here to visit, and she's easy to buy for. Nicole has broadly hinted as to what she would like to see under the tree. It all feels relatively more doable than in most years. 

While I'm almost 100% certain that this sort of thing has been happening for my entire life (and longer), the days feel shorter than I can ever remember them feeling. It's weird, but six in the evening seems a great deal like ten and I don't recall that being the case. I don't even have a good theory as to why this should be the case, but the case it most certainly is. 

Oh! This is wholly unrelated to the holidays, but I don't want to forget to mention it. I'm currently reading Zadie Smith's White Teeth and, while it's not a quick read, it's delightful. I'm not sure what I expected, but "fun" wasn't it. I've only read her non-fiction which is careful and precise and scholarly even when discussing non-scholarly subjects. White Teeth is, at least thus far, a blast, full of dry wit and touchingly unfortunate characters. 

There. That should about do it for tonight. Hope you all had a lovely Thanksgiving.



A very Austin weekend

Active weekends feel like longer weekends, don't they? We thought it would be fun (and cheap) to get out and about and do some things we've been meaning to do for a while now. We kept busy enough that, driving home tonight, I found myself trying to remember what day we'd gone to Epoch for coffee. Turns out it the answer was "today." Either we had a nice, full weekend or I'm just getting old. Or both. Probably both.

Saturday morning, we hit up the poetically-name Lower Bull Creek Greenbelt Trail. It's not far from our home, five, maybe ten minutes, but it feels like we've left the city entirely when we're hiking by the waterfalls. It's not a difficult hike like some of the other trails off of 360, but it's quite beautiful and easily accessible. Well worth the visit if you want to see some nature without having to leave town.

  Looking down the waterfall from the header image.

Looking down the waterfall from the header image.


Saturday night, we checked out the Creekshow at Waller Creek. It was a lovely use off the space along Waller Creek, and judging by the attendance, it was wildly popular. I didn't take any pictures, but I'm sure you can find some if you're interested.

It felt a little off to me, though. I work a block from Waller Creek and I spend a lot of time in that area. The creek splits the distance between the homeless shelter and the police station. During every other week, the vibe is very different. Austin has a large homeless population and the area around Waller Creek is a popular place for people who don't have any place to live. None of this was in evidence during the Creekshow, which was very much by design.

The Creekshow is sponsored by the Waller Creek Conservancy. Here's how they describe their purpose. 

The mission of Creek Show is to surprise and delight the community while also creating awareness about the importance of Waller Creek's transformation for Austin's social, cultural, and ecological future.

If this means "It's time for Austin to get serious about helping the homeless," then great. But it's about spending moving to develop the area and kick out the people who already have nowhere to go, then I'm less excited about it. I hate to sound so negative; it was a neat show, but knowing what that area really looks like gave the event a weird vibe.

Today was special. Today was checked out the new Austin Central Library. I'd heard it was amazing, but I wasn't prepared for what I saw. It's flat-out stunning. It has a huge atrium with an Escher-eque array of staircases which is every bit as vertigo-inducing as it sounds. There are two large event areas, a museum, a gift shop, computer catalogs everywhere, plenty of computers for people to use, include laptops that can be "checked out" for use in one of the many reading/working areas, small meeting rooms, porches, and even the top-floor garden. Check out some of the photos here.

Oh, and there were books, too. A great lot of books, which is what you'd expect (although the fiction selection was curiously thin). But...the focus seemed to be on ways to put all manner of information in the hands of people who want it as opposed to being just about the books. I love books, and I prefer to do my reading on paper, but I'm not religious about it. The library seems to have been born of an effort to provide well-rounded information services to the community as opposed to just catering to bookworms like me.

In fact, if I couldn't afford a computer or an internet connection, and I lived next to a library like that, I think I'd get on just fine. Of course, this library is located in one of the most expensive areas to live in the entire city so the people who live nearby are the ones who least need those kind of services. Nonetheless, it's an incredibly impressive building. I'm making a note here: Huge success!

Before I go, though, I'd like to share this with you all. This weekend, we also added a third adult snail to our terrarium. Last month, we found a beautiful snail outside with the shiniest shell we'd ever seen. Looking more closely, we realized his shell was nearly transparent because he was so deprived of calcium and he'd had some breakage as well. We brought him and kept him in his own enclosure for a month while he recuperated and, yesterday, we introduced him to our other snails, Dazzle and McKenzie. Professor Dashiell Longfellow now has a home with us, and Nicole made this video to announce his arrival:

And now I am truly tired. My legs are sore, and I think it's more from the library stairs than the hike, and Nicole is asleep and I expect I will be too shortly.

Getting hygge with it

One wrinkle we've added to our home life of late is keeping the bedroom as peaceful and relaxing as possible. When I say "we," I mean it was Nicole's idea, but I've taken it up as well. Everything in its right place, bed made (and I am not a bed-maker by nature), candles, and just a general lack of clutter. I'm sore most of you are thinking something like "that's how my bedroom always looks," but please understand that this new to me, so bear with me on it.

With the change of environment comes a change in habit. Rather than staying in the living room until we're good and knackered, we're adjourning to the bedroom a little earlier so we can wind down and relax. It's all very comfortable and I find I'm sleeping better than I have in a good long time. The cats seem to like it, too. One or the other will usually be sleeping between our pillows and making my nose itchy. I would say "in a good way," but we all know there's no such thing as a good kind of itchy.


My musical gear occupies one corner of the bedroom and the lack of clutter makes it a good deal more inviting and accessible to me. I'll probably never be good, but I have a lot of fun with it and that's more than enough to make it worthwhile. 

This week, i re-worked a section of a song I wrote in college, changing it from 13/8 to 3/4 (rhythm and I don't get along), moving it down a half-step to make it work with another bit I wound up discarding, and discovering and ultimately feeling pretty good about where it landed. 

I've never used a digital audio workstation before, but hey, it's not that hard to get a few basics down and start playing with it. Learning a new skill is wildly gratifying, even if it's a skill that I'll never use for anything other than playing around.

This messing around with the musical toys has also interfered a little with my other "job" and writing in this space, thus proving the "Fun distractions are more appealing than work" theorem. One of the many, many proofs, as it turns out.

Anyway, my larger point is that we (and again, by this I mean largely Nicole) have turned our little apartment into something that feels more like a resort, a little oasis of calm in what is an increasingly unquiet world. It sounds weird to make an effort to create calmness, but I'm awfully happy with the results. Now if I could just get Nicole to consult on our office space...


The election analysis nobody asked for

So, yesterday was a very bad day for Republicans. The Gods of Ironic Justice smote the party of Trump in an unusually decisive fashion for an odd-year election. This is all very good news. Republicans lost a lot of ground in some key states (Virginia, I'm looking at you...with admiration), and Medicaid expansion won in Maine over the protests of their quite incredibly racist governor.

The most obvious takeaway from this is that it's very difficult to win when your party holds the White House and the President's approval ratings are south of 40%. The President isn't the party, but he's the most visible symbol of what the party stands for. Despite what a few sad, misinformed souls have suggested, Ed Gillespie's loss can't be blamed on a failure to embrace the President. If anything, his determination to association himself with the White House likely cost him.

I suspect that the Republican party has reached the same conclusion. Unless the President turns it around, he'll be a millstone around the party's neck this time next year. If he fails to improve his popularity, is there anything else they can do? Well, duh, of course they can. They can remove him. He's done numerous things that would warrant removal if they were done by literally any other President. Leaving aside the still-to-be-concluded Mueller probe, he's actively solicited donations from foreign governments even after he was told to stop, he sent Congress a note saying that he had no intention of abiding by the emollients clause because that kind of reporting would be inconvenient, he's attempted to use the Justice Department to harass his political enemies...I could go on, but really, they only need one thing and he's given them a bucketful.

Why is he still around? He's useful. While he's in office holding the spotlight, there's no limit to the kind of chicanery a Republican Congress can achieve. Voter suppression, rolling back civil rights protections for everyone but white men, knocking down the barriers between church and state, and tax cuts for the super-wealthy? You'd best believe it! This is very likely a once in a lifetime opportunity for this kind of mischief and removing the President would bring it to a halt.

This does not mean I think the President will be impeached in the next six months. I think that the election results last night make it more likely. If Trump continues to embody the concept of "box office poison," then Republican legislators will have to make the call. If he continues to damage the party and puts the seats of career politicians at risk, he'll be gone by late spring. Principles are fine, but if a legislator has to choose between "enacting a wildly conservative agenda" and "keeping their job," you know what they're gonna choose.


Evidence of Autumn

Edit: Here's my Autumn 2017 playlist. Enjoy?

What kind of a mood am I in? I just spent half an hour playing one note on one of my old synthesizers. Just slowly, slooowly messing with the filter settings and letting the LFO sweep as gently as it could. Cross-modulation, ring modulation, de-tuning the oscillators..all the good stuff. The old synths have all kinds of knobs and sliders you can use to evolve the tone in a very immediate, tactile way, so you can get a huge variety of sound, even playing just one note. It was an E.

Nicole posted something on Facebook requesting 

Using gifs:. illustrate the meaningless void of existence. Explain death to a child. Caress the icy hand of nothing. Taste rot. Become agony.

For some reason, I had a stack of 'em queued up. Here are a couple I'm particularly well-pleased with:


OK, so the second one isn't a .gif, but I stand by it nonetheless.

I've be diving into the last couple of Talk Talk albums lately (and, curiously enough, so has my brother-in-law). If you're anything like me, you remember Talk Talk largely as a new wave band that had a string of increasingly interesting hits ("Talk Talk," "It's My LIfe," and "Life's What You Make It") and then kind of dropped off the radar. 

The story of their final album, Laughing Stock is interesting and way too long for me to recount, but if you're up for it, you can read it at The Quietus. It's a record I'd never listened to or thought much about until I saw it included on Fact magazine's list of the top 30 post-rock albums. I was a little surprised to see a Talk Talk record at #4 on the list in the same company as Mogwai, Sigur Ros, and Godspeed You! Black Emperor. So, I had to check it out.

That's not the Talk Talk I remembered. As usual, late to the party, but that's ok. It's not a race.

I just finished reading Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go. It's a devastating book in that there is tremendous violence in it, but it's all very calm on it's surface. If I had to choose a single bucket for it, I'd probably go with science-fiction, of all things. It hits big themes, but the one I'm obviously fixating on right is the question of creating meaning or at least its appearance in a world that denies you any hope of achieving your creation.

It's a pretty heavy book. It's easy to read, a difficult one to put down, and I strongly recommend it.

All of this probably comes across as emo or depressing or something like that, but that's not it at all. It's the feeling that comes from looking at things through a microscope instead of a wide-angle lens. We have a single, small light on in the corner of the bedroom right now, plus several candles and the faint hint of spent pinon pine incense. Nicole's asleep next to me and it's all very quiet and calm and good. 

Tonight's going to be the first properly chilly night of the year and I'm looking forward to it. I'm going to turn out the light, blow out the candles, and burrow under a big, fuzzy blanket, kiss my wife on the cheek, crack the window just a little, and enjoy the cool, dry night air.




One trip around the sun

That was quick. A year ago today, I was a demi-centenarian newlywed. Nicole and I have now been married for a full three hundred and sixty five days, the vast majority of which have been awfully nice. I'm looking forward to the next several dozen transits, too. My life is better than I ever hoped it would be, let alone expected, and she's biggest reason for that.

To celebrate, we performed the ancient ritual of karaoke the night before our anniversary. At this point, I should point out that singing in public is a perfect storm of anxiety for me. The only college course I failed was public speaking. And as for my ability to carry a tune, the response to my best efforts is usually something like "Aw, at least you tried. Although, while we're being honest, we'd really rather you didn't try, or at least, not while we're within earshot." I've had several sincere attempts at singing mistaken for exaggerated jokes. 

With that out of the way, it was a hoot. There were only four people in our room at The HIghball, which made for a very comfortable atmosphere. I set a personal record by singing three times (did I mention this is something that makes me nervous?). Nicole can really sing, and even though I know this now, I still get giddy watching her do it. My takes on They Might Be Giants ("Particle Man"), REM ("It's the End of the World as We Know It"), and Cameo ("Word Up") were less successful, but a lot of fun. Everyone had a great time, and nothing got broken, except the glass I knocked over playing air guitar to "Bohemian Rhapsody," but it's not a party until something gets broken. Usually by me.

For our actual, honest-to-goodness, anniversary, we hit up Garbo's for some lobster rolls because who doesn't love a lobster roll? They catered our wedding and, as I suspect is typical at these events, the bride and groom didn't really get to properly enjoy the food. We did today.

  Seriously. These are good.

Seriously. These are good.

It's late now and tomorrow's a work day, so things have wound down now but in a comforting soft of way. Nicole's streaming Marfa public radio on her tablet, and we're just chilling by candlelight and looking forward to spending a lifetime together. 



Amidst all the chaos and horror of watching everything good your country has done over the last 50 years undone in a matter of months, we're rapidly approaching the first anniversary of our wedding and honeymoon. Even one year after the fact, there's enough good associated with those days to push aside the rest of the world and make me feel, if only for a short time, that everything right and good with the world makes it all worth it.

We're celebrating a little early on account of the fact that an opportunity too good to pass up landed in our lap. We're at the Hotel Havana in San Antonio, which is owned and operated by the same good folks who gave us El Cosmico out in Marfa. The term "curated" is overused (and most often, misused) these days, but when you stay at a place like this, the term makes all the sense in the world. Every detail is just so, creating an environment that is more comforting and relaxing than any of the luxury accommodations I've visited.

This probably isn't the place for everyone, but it fits the two of us like some cliched object which fits very well indeed. There's nothing gilded, no lacy linens, but it's old and quiet and comfortable and it has, quite ridiculously, two bathrooms. Rather than trying to describe the whole room, I'll just detail the main bathroom. There's a toilet to the side in it's one enclosure, a central area with a rug, a leather chair, and a stand-alone sink and mirror. In turquoise-tiled hutch behind there, there's an open shower area (no walls at all) and a large bathtub. Ridiculous, right? But it works. Best shower I've ever had, and damned if I can properly explain why.

  Maybe this will explain it better

Maybe this will explain it better

It's not the sort of place you visit to sleep overnight and then move on. It's more of a retreat, a place to get away, than it is a hotel. That's what I've been trying to say. It makes me think of that marvelous era when writers and other bohemian types lived at hotels for long periods of time. That romantic notion of life appeals mightily staying at a joint like this.

  It even has a proper desk? Not one of those glass-covered, overly busy monstrosities you get at "luxury" hotels.

It even has a proper desk? Not one of those glass-covered, overly busy monstrosities you get at "luxury" hotels.

Speaking of "romantic," this feels like a reprise of our honeymoon in the best possible sense. It's hasn't been an easy year in many other senses, but being with Nicole is the best thing that has ever happened to me (and this from someone whose life has been marked by more good fortune than I claim to deserve). She supports me through the bad stuff and, hell, she supports me through the good stuff which isn't something that should be taken for granted. She makes everything in my life better and I hope like hell I can continue to do the same for her.


So yeah, I'd marry the hell out of her again.

I'll shut up now and just share some more images of this lovely place. If you're in central Texas and you're looking to get away from everything without going into the middle of nowhere, you could do a lot worse than Hotel Havana.

  One of the most comfortable beds I've ever slept in, too.

One of the most comfortable beds I've ever slept in, too.

  Looking down from the bed area.

Looking down from the bed area.

  Stairs. Oh so many stairs in this building.

Stairs. Oh so many stairs in this building.

  Living area. Cute fridge, pity about the name.

Living area. Cute fridge, pity about the name.





When the drain on the battery exceeds the charge rate

I'm going through one of those spells where the weekends, the refueling times, aren't long or restful enough to top off the tank, meaning that each week, I'm dipping a little deeper into the reserve to get through it all. 

Which is to say, I don't have a great deal to report, at least, not a great deal that's terribly interesting. I got my blood work back from the lab and I'm surprisingly healthy in most respects, but my B12 level is low and my vitamin D level is...I'm trying to remember the exact words on the report. "Alarmingly low," I think, is what they were. Apparently, the best answer for this is to drink milk and eat a lot of fish. The more realistic response is to take supplements. 

I'm currently reading Kazuo Ishiguro's Never Let Me Go which is both quite the page turner and absolutely nothing like I was expecting from the author of Remains of the Day. The trade paperback has one really annoying quirk, though. The typeface, which I've seen identified as Bembo Schoolbook, is unusually distracting. It's thinner than what I'm accustomed to reading and it bothers me more than it should. It's quite pretty; it's just not great for reading.

My fair burg finally got a Peruvian restaurant worth the name. If you're not familiar with Peruvian food, at least the versions of it that have made their way this far north, you'll be in for a treat. Imagine a delicious stir fry and then imagine serving it over hot french fries. That's the lomo saltado, which is probably the most obviously accessible dish, but any culture that comes up with that level of genius is going to produce some fine food. The place is called Lima Criollo, and it's inexpensive, the portions are generous, and it's as casual as you'd like. 

That's about it for now as we're getting into wee-hour territory here and I'm pretty sure that staying up late isn't going to do my energy levels any good. Good night, and take care.



It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, but mostly the latter

Is it just me, or have these last few weeks been the worst? I find myself listing the tragedies and obscene acts by politicians and celebrities just to keep myself from getting buried beneath the sheer awfulness.

  • Hurricane Maria leaves thousands of Americans without food, water, power and/or shelter in Puerto Rico. The White House complained that helping these people was going to mess up "our" budget and told the people that they were lucky they hadn't 
  • The funding for CHIP expired on 30 September.
  • The US votesd against a UN resolution condemning executing people for apostasy, blasphemy, adultery, and same-sex relations.
  • The birth control coverage mandate has been removed.
  • The dreamer program (DACA) has been ended.
  • 59 people were murdered by one gunman in Las Vegas, leading to a massive surge in gun sales.
  • The justice department has filed opinions in court stating that businesses may fire employees for being gay.
  • The justice department has also determined that Title VII does not apply to trans people.
  • The House has banned abortions performed after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
  • The President of the United States is spoiling for war against North Korea.
  • The administration is actively trying to undermine the ACA, limiting the registration period and declining to advertising the enrollment dates.

That's a hell of a list, and I'm certain I haven't remembered everything. That's the point though; there are so many terrible things happening (or, more accurately, being done) so quickly that it is difficult to focus and fight on all of these fronts. It's overwhelming to me, and I'm not even in the line of fire for most of these

Most of these acts target minorities. I don't see any way to look at this list and come to any other conclusion, and I started writing this before today's little PR stunt. In case you missed it, the President sent Vice President Pence to Indianapolis for the express purpose of walking out of a football game during the national anthem. They spend a reported quarter million dollars to have the Vice President protest against men who protest against race-based police brutality.

So, if it's wearing you down, I just wanted to let you know that it's getting to me to too. Honestly, I'd be worried about anyone who doesn't feel the weight of the events of the last few weeks. No matter how tempting it is, I implore you not to tune out for the sake of self-care. Doing that is a privilege possessed by people who aren't (currently) under threat. Stay alert, stay angry, and for fuck's sake, register to vote.