The Third Policeman and other funny books

(unnecessary note: I wrote this last night, but I’m pushing it today because I want to try something and it’s easier to test during the day. I’m sure you needed to know that….)

I picked up a copy of Flann O’Brien’s The Third Policeman knowing nothing more about the novel or novelist than that the book had been name-checked in Grant Morrison’s The Invisibles. One of the characters refers to it as “…one of the greatest books in the English language.” That’s a hell of a claim, even coming from a fictional character (and one of dubious character at that), so I figured it was worth a read.

It was, in fact, worth a read. It’s a comedy that I’ve seen described as “sardonic”, which is the sort of funny that doesn’t make you laugh, so that’s a pretty good description. It is genuinely funny; it’s just a little on the grim side in its humor. It’s a difficult book to describe without spoilers since there’s a big twist near the end. It’s the sort of twist that was a lot more novel back in it’s day (O’Brien wrote it in 1940) but might be a little more transparent to modern readers. Still, no need to spoil it, right?

The language is lovely, and the condemnation of aspects of modernity still hit home. It’s absurd in a (and I hate myself for using this term) Kafka-esque fashion, so if that’s up your alley, I strongly, strongly recommend The Third Policeman to you. It’s short, but fairly dense, so it’s not a breezy read. As someone who has read The Invisibles a couple of hundred times, this adds a little flavor to the overall experience…and I’m not going to go into any more detail than that. Read it for yourself.


While we’re on the subject of funny novels, I wanted to list some of the books that I’ve found particularly amusing. It seems like writing a “funny” novel is really, really hard since so few writers have the knack. So, on the off chance you’re looking for some written drollery, these might scratch that itch:

  • Good Omens, Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman - This is at the top of the list for a reason. It’s the funniest novel I’ve ever read, combining the sensibilities of two of the titans of the field. Not all supergroups work, but this one produced a classic. Honestly, the entire Discworld series belongs on this list, too.

  • A Confederacy of Dunces, John Kennedy Toole - This was one of those classics I’d avoided because I didn’t really know anything about it other than that they made you read it in school. It’s genuinely laugh out loud funny and I’m ticked off that I took so long to get to it.

  • Lamb, Christopher Moore

  • Any Jeeves book, P.G. Wodehouse

  • Crooked Little Vein, Warren Ellis

  • Redshirts, John Scalzi

  • The Eyre Affair, Jasper Fforde

  • The Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy, Douglas Adams

That’s not a complete list, of course, but if you work your way through these books, you’ll probably been in a pretty good mood. The fact that I don’t list The Master and Margarita on here is more of a personal failing than an indictment of the book. It didn’t work for me, but it did for many, many people, so I’m just going to assume the problem is on this end.


nothing whatsoever about unfortunate skin conditions

I cheated a little bit and read some of my current “public transit” book while I was taking a bath tonight and I had a very “me” sort of epiphany: Not all books are best read when riding a train. The Third Policeman is narrowly regarded* as an absolute masterpiece and one of the funniest books ever published. As I’m still reading it, I can’t tell you if I agree with these assessments or not, but what I can tell you is this: It is considerably funnier when reading without any distractions.

I wonder if this effect contributes to my being less impressed with The Master and Margarita that I expected to be. Many people whose opinions I respect regard it as one of the greatest novels ever written, but it left me a little underwhelmed. I’m willing to admit that the problem is probably with me and not the book. Perhaps the issue was not with what I read, but how and where I read it.


TIL why producers really prefer their drum machines to have separate outs for each drum. Again, probably obvious to most people who’ve encountered the situation, but I’m a little slow on the uptake sometimes.


My experiment with Vero is not going particularly well. I like the interface well enough, but the fact that you cannot post just text. You have 8 options as to what you’d like to post:

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You can add text to any of the above, but if you just want to saw something, you have to type it over the cover of a book or an image or something. That’s not a deal breaker, but it’s a curious design decision.

The bigger problem is that none of the people who I am currently following have posted anything in the last 6 months (or longer). The site still has frequent issues with their servers being unable to handle the load of new users, but based on my experience, I’m pretty much just posting for my own benefit.



I guess that’s about it for now, seeing as it is getting unreasonably late. I’ll try to think of something good as I’m dropping off to sleep. It’s a little thing, but I’ve found it helps me sleep a little better. Anything to take the sting out of these strange, worrisome times.

-RK

* Things are often described as “widely regarded” so I assume that they can be “narrowly regarded” as well. I’m improvising here, but I take “narrowly regarded” to mean “adjudged as so by a small but extremely enthusiastic audience.” A minority opinion, but in this case, a minority comprised of people I respect.

skin in the game

Let’s start with something good tonight. Last night, we made some country-style ribs, which are not especially rib-y, but they’re cheap and super-flavorful when cooked patiently. There’s a lot of fat, and the meat isn’t especially tender, so country-style ribs are the poster children for “low and slow”. Unfortunately, the recipe we tried last night, while aces in the flavor department, was a little to low, leaving us with grey, fatty chunklets of meat that we had no desire to eat. So, we went to the pub instead.

But we did save the ribs. For lunch today, we went downstairs and finished them on a grill and…yes, this is how you want to do country-style ribs. Cooking them the previous night left them tender, or at least as tender as they get, and the grill did all kinds of good things with the fatty bits and the sauce.* Hell of a rescue of what looked like a lost cause.


Speaking of lost causes, there was some good news and some bad news regarding my ongoing skin thing. On the bad side, yet another infection had taken hold so I am back on antibiotics. Hooray, compromised immune system! This isn’t new, but it also isn’t a great deal of fun and it puts one in a foul mood when you see the first symptoms and you know that the next week or two are going to be pretty lousy.

However, the doctor thinks she may have come up with a good treatment. There’s a very, very new biological that is custom made for skin ailments but, unlike the others of its ilk, it doesn’t suppress the immune system. She has one other patient using this treatment and it completely cleared up their skin. There is some hope to be had there.

However, you can’t simply prescribe this. I had to fill out an application, as did my doctor, and we’ll have to wait and see what the drug company and my insurance company will allow. I assume that this drug is expensive, which means that my insurance company may say “no”. We’ll know when we know, I guess.


I remember when Google+ launched that the pitch was essentially “It’s like Facebook, but not Facebook.” At the time, that seemed like a reasonable thing to want from a social network. Years later, I’ve come to the conclusion that “like Facebook” isn’t what I want at all. I don’t want ads served up in a feed, or an opaque algorithm determining what it thinks I want to see. There are quite a few options out there with a variety of feature sets; surely one is a good fit.

That’s a long way of saying that I’m giving the new-ish social network Vero a shot. It’s an odd little thing, in that it runs only on mobile devices and there’s no posting just text. You post links, or images, or music, or things like that, although you can add text to the post. It’s pretty sparsely populated, at least by people I know or want to follow, which is both a feature and a bug in my reckoning. I like the idea of a non-pervasive network, which means that if they get to big, I’ll have to rethink it.

The fact that it’s mobile device-only seems weird at first, but I kind of like the fact that I won’t be obsessively checking it while I’m working on a proper computer. I feel like I’d be more in control of how I use it. So, we’ll see. It’s a pretty enough interface and they say the right things regarding privacy and data protection. I’m not not certain that this is the shape of a network that I want. I’ll keep you posted as events warrant.

-RK


* What kind of sauce should you use? Any kind you like! I have my favorites, but really, it’s about whatever flavor profile you prefer. I will say this, though: To take advantage of the high-heat grill, you really want something with a high enough sugar content to caramelize.

the news is that there is no news

It’s been nice to have a few extra days off. The idea was to recharge the batteries and to cut loose on a couple of projects that I’ve been putting off. It didn’t work out that way; I have had so many things that I wanted to do I worried about how much I had to do instead of actually doing it.

That’s not a productive approach. I doubt that this is one of the habits that the legendary Highly-Effective People indulge in. Of course, the specter of work was hanging over me the whole weekend* and that is a de-motivator if there ever was one. Still, at some point, I have to either stop using that as an excuse or just admit to myself that I’m not actually going to do these things and quit worrying over them.

  I’m sure I must have had a reason for selecting this particular panel to insert here.

I’m sure I must have had a reason for selecting this particular panel to insert here.

We watched Fight Club again the other night. It’s a really odd document of it’s time, isn’t it? The anti-consumerist slogans still have some power, but not as much as they would I would have attributed to them when I was in college. The performances are spectacular and David Fincher really knows how to shoot a movie like this. It’s just that…well, I saw a tweet a while back saying that if a guy says that Fight Club is his favorite movie, get the hell away from him. That strikes me as a pretty solid take. Heck of a movie, but what it’s saying, or, more accurately, what some people will take away from it, is not something you want to be involved with.


My skin is starting to do it’s “thing” again, and none of the self-care regimens seem to be having any effect on its progress. Since the last time this happened, I wound up with MRSA, I’m having to treat each return with more respect than I have been. We’ve gone from “annoying but manageable” to “fucking scary and no permanent solution in sight”. My therapist has recommended that I meditate on it to try to discover the root cause and, while I am skeptical, it’s not like any other avenue has produced positive results.


One project I made a little progress on this week was to get the gear all on the same page and playing nicely together. This turned out to be easier than I expected. The modern Korg stuff (Volca Sample, Volca Beats, and Minilogue) sync nicely and all have their own sequencers, so there was no challenge there. I’m using a Beatstep Pro to set the clock and, it had to be leaned on a little to get it to talk to the Korgs, but in the end, that worked out ok. The Beatstep also sequenced the old Korg (DW8000) and the Radio Shack MG-1, so one controller was running or at least providing the beat for five other machines. I did a little goofing on the opening riff from Radiohead’s “My Iron Lung” and it came out well. I’d have been satisfied if it had just worked, but the fact that it sounded pretty good was a bonus.

For the thing I actually want to be working on, I needed some more “industrial” sounds and that took a little doing. Most of the sample packs for the Volca are aimed at trap and house music and that’s not the palette I was looking for. I wanted the sound of metal things hitting other metal things. I couldn’t find anything like that made for the Volca, but I did find this: The Warehouse by 99Sounds. Apparently, Richard Gould went to an old warehouse, smashed shit into other shit, and recorded it all.

The samples are free, but they’re 24bit and my little Korg won’t have anything to do with anything that refined. I had to convert them all to 16bit, crop them and convert them to mono before loading them (there’s only 4mb of sample space on the device, so “efficiency” is the word of the day). They are, in a word, glorious. They’re exactly what I’m looking for: LoFi, crunchy, glitchy fragments of the sounds of violent things happening to heavy objects. The Warehouse is free to download and, if this is your idea of fun, I strongly recommend it.


It has been called to my attention that our nation fired tear gas into another nation to discourage refugees from attempting to cross our borders. I can’t talk about it right now, and I don’t know that I have enough context to offer an informed view, but it sure as hell seems absolutely barbaric and just confirms that, as a people, we are no longer “the good guys” (if we ever were).


I’ve just finished reading Jorge Luis Borges’ The Book of Imaginary Beings. It’s a strange little document, a list of over 100 mythical or at least made-up creatures. It’s not exactly what I was expecting in that it’s a largely straightforward, alphabetized cyclopedia. There’s no over-arching theme, let alone a story. This was my introduction to Borges and, while I enjoyed it and intend to use it as reference, I expect it isn’t really representative of his work.

Next up of The Third Policeman by Flann O’Brien. I know absolutely nothing of O’Brien or this novel save that it was name-checked by Grant Morrison in The Invisibles. If the other works referenced by Morrison are anything to go by, I expect that this will be an unexceptional, by-the-book novel with no surprises, dark overtones, or sardonic wit.

G’night all,

-RK














* My sister’s theory on the sense of dread of returning to work is not absolute but relative. Instead of arriving the night before returning to work regardless of whether or not it’s a weekend or a week-long vacation, the dread arrives when a certain percentage of your time off remains. So, if it’s Sunday night of a regular weekend (approximately 75% of the way through one’s time off), then, if you have a week off (9 days assuming weekends on either side), the dread should arrive around the middle of Friday. There’s actually quite a bit more to the theory, but this is the most useful and easily-calculated part of it.

thanks

With the caveat that the myth behind the holiday is pure bullshit (which is true of more holidays than not), a day for thankfulness is a pretty solid theme for a holiday, is it not? I won’t try to list everything for which I consider myself fortunate as that might well use up all of the internet’s digital paper or however it stores all this stuff. My life is a good one so far, and while I consider myself bright, kind, and sporadically hard-working, even though these things have more to do with good fortune than any virtue on my part, so I have my parents, my family, my schools, and my friends to thank for much of what might appear innate at first glance.

It will probably come as no surprise that I am most thankful for Nicole. She is everything to me and brings new delight to me on a daily basis. I’m biased, of course, in that I am still struggling to digest the feast she prepared and am beginning to doubt that I’ll ever eat again. Hell of a last meal, though.

It was a very Thanksgiving-y day from start to finish. A little cleaning , a lot of cooking, as much eating as the three of us could possibly manage (Sophie joined us, which added significantly to the holiday atmosphere), a lot of recuperating, a very little cleaning, and then some more resting. Even the cats seem tuckered out after today.

The only down note is that I seem to have lost the ability to make a decent loaf of bread. Everything is coming out biscotti-shaped. Seeing as I was doing pretty well a week ago, I’m not quite sure how to correct this. If I can’t figure it out, I’ll be out of things I can do with the oven. Bother.

biscotti-med107845_vert.jpg

Pictured: A lousy shape for a loaf of bread.

So, I hope y’all have a nice day of giving thanks for the good stuff in your lives, and I hope you had more good stuff than you could remember to give thanks for.

-RK


the next big formerly obsolete thing

The question is: What will be the next obsolete technology to break out of the hopelessly niche category and go semi-mainstream again?

When vinyl became a “thing” again, I was surprised, but, if you look at it just right, I can see the appeal. Some people are convinced it sounds better, which I don’t get, but with records, you get beautiful album art, music that’s not mastered to be as loud as possible (at least for older recordings), and…that’s about it, I guess, but that’s something.

Polaroids popped back up out of nowhere and found a home in…Urban Outfitters? Ok, in modern terms it’s a camera that comes with a portable printer, which is pretty cool, and the glitchy-ness of the process gives some interesting results, so, yeah, Polaroids are pretty cool and I can see why they’d find a new market.

But some of the other stuff? Cassette tapes? No thank you. Even I can tell they sound pretty lousy and there’s just no romance to them. OK, you make a mix tape. Well done! Hardly anyone can play it back, so unless you’re carrying a jam box around, I don’t see much point. And VHS? Yes, VHS is seeing something of a resurgence for reasons that absolutely baffle me. Bad audio AND video in one difficult-to-play-back package.

I could go on: Flip phones and analog keyboards went from hot to not to, well, not hot, but at least back from the dead in an absurdly short span of time. Analog synthesizers used to be considered garbage; now we’ve not only gone back to analog, but modular synths are huge. I think analog wristwatches are “back”, but maybe those are just FitBits and smart watches.

The fact that some pretty crummy tech is on the comeback trail leads me to believe that we’re going to see more of the same in the not-to-distant-future. So, back to the question: What’s next? What tech that we thought was dead and buried is going to make a surprise comeback? I have a few guesses, but that’s really all they are:

  • CRT Monitors

  • Super 8 Film

  • Word Processors

  • 8 Track

  • Dot matrix printers

  • Printed zines

I’ll be honest here: I don’t really think any of these things are the right answer. It’s tough to think to things that were once popular but have been thoroughly superseded by objectively better tech that would be ripe to become popular again. It’s such an odd phenomenon, isn’t it? A little bit of nostalgia, some hip contrarianism, and maybe a little “finding a ‘thing’ to be really into because it’s arcane and needlessly complicated and interesting” and you wind up seeing records outselling digital music in 2018.


A side note about the oddity of the retail side of all this: Remember when the big retailers, the nationwide chains, put all of the local mom-and-pop retailers out of business or at least reduced their numbers significantly? Sound Warehouse, Blockbuster, Borders, and their ilk looked like they’d permanently change the landscape, but it didn’t turn out they way, did it? When the market receded, it could no longer support the giants chains. They’ve all been outlasted by the indie operators. Isn’t that interesting?

-RK


* Next Sunday, AD

thinking aloud; questioning the premise

I have more electronic computing devices than I probably need: A couple of desktops*, several laptops, and really good phone and a janky one for backup. I don’t have any tablets, and there’s a reason for that. While I have a specific use for each of the other devices, I can’t see how a tablet fits any requirements I have. A tablet would sit between the phone and a laptop, but not improve on either one, or, at least, not enough so to justify adding one to my constellation.

I bring this up because I’m starting to think of social media in a similar way. Each platform should fill a specific need or want; otherwise, why am I wasting my time with it? What am I using the various platforms for, what am I getting from them, and what else is there that can answer the needs that aren’t being met. Here’s the current state of play:

Facebook: The only reason I’m on Facebook is that everyone is on Facebook, which means it’s the easiest way to keep in touch with, well, everyone. The fact that it is easily and routinely accessed by current and prospective employers limits the amount of candor one can (or at least should) indulge in. Similarly, the fact that everyone is there encourages you to keep the depth of interactions fair light for fear of the wrong thing reaching the wrong audience. Oh, and Facebook’s interface is painful**, it’s algorithms make it impossible to know what you’ll see when, and they are really, really fucking evil. Facebook is not a lot of fun.

Twitter: Twitter, on the other hand, is tremendously fun. Brevity works to Twitter’s advantages, and the pace of it makes its memory fairly short. The depth of interactions is limited by the character limit, but it makes up for it by providing a meaningful way to interact conversationally with people of all walks of life. But…they absolutely suck at providing decent tools to deal with harassment and don’t seem to recognize the problem. Nazis like Twitter and that’s not a good thing.

Instagram: Owned by Facebook, so they are just as evil according to the transitive property of evil companies. I’m a pretty light user of Instagram. I usually just post weird photos without explanation (visual vaguebooking?) and the level of interaction is minimal. It’s fine for what it is, but it’s not essential to me.

Those are the only ones I’m currently using. I’ve poked around Ello, Diaspora, Mastodon, and Snapchat, but…well, honestly, they might have worked out to some degree if my attention hadn’t been so thoroughly dominated by the others. I didn’t have any urge to add another social media platform and then replicate what I was doing on the others. There’s already a ton of duplicate content: If I follow the same people on more than one platform, I get the same posts over and over (he says knowing full well he’s going to post this on Twitter and Facebook when he’s done writing this piece).

Which is all a long way of getting to the question: What do I want from social media, and where can I get it? I love being able to keep in touch with geographically distant friends and family, but Facebook is a terrible way to do it; the signal to noise is just way too high. I wish I could just follow their posts via an RSS reader. I could probably cobble something together with Zapier or ITTT and it might be worth it. It’d be a lot easier to avoid checking FB constantly if I knew I was getting the feeds I really wanted over RSS.

In truth, I could probably force FB and/or Twitter to do what I want and interact more deeply with a pretty tight group of people. Both platforms discourage that kind of usage by making it a royal pain in the ass to set that up, but it’s doable. Of course, ideally, you wouldn’t have to jump through hoops to make it do what you want it to do, would you?

So…no answers tonight. I’m still just trying to figure out. If anyone has any suggestions for networks with really good privacy controls, good text handling (as opposed to being optimized for images/videos), and that isn’t a graveyard, I’m all ears. Even if it’s something I’ve looked at in the past, I’m willing to give platforms another shot…once I figure out what I want.

G’night,

-RK

* Laptops get a lot of grief for being misnamed, but when is the last time you saw a desktop computer sitting on a desk?

** Would it kill them to have a way to find what you were just looking at before you reload the page or it scrolls down or you click on a link and then try to use the back button, only to find yourself looking at completely different stories? The unpredictability of the interface’s behavior is inexcusable this late in the game.

because, honestly, who doesn't enjoy writing about themselves?

Warren Ellis posted today on his morning.computer blog about his search for some widget or combination of tools that would, and I am paraphrasing, give him the functionality of some of the old-school blogging sites. As a long-time LiveJournal user, I remember the charming status/mood boxes and the way the site acted more like an online diary than anything we see these days.

Jenny Lawson, the Bloggess herself, took time out to ask people to link their blogs as a show of support for this fading and/or resurgent form of expression. She was spurred to do this by an article discussing writers returning to blogging after having moved on to other things.

[In this space I wrote a plausible explanation for why blogs evolved into social media and how the growing ubiquity of having an online presence changed the nature of what people wrote online, but it wasn’t what I wanted to discuss today, so I’m saving it for later. You’re welcome.]

It’s something that’s been on my mind as well. The old LIveJournal blog model was more suited to personal expression than anything social media has to offer (and I understand that this was not an unmixed blessing). It was, at least for me, a way to share a lot with a limited audience which I could control (privacy tools were much, much better than anything Facebook offers) as opposed to sharing a facet of a persona that has to be somewhat curated in the event that a future employer stumbles across it.

I really do miss the silly quizzes, the proto-memes, the just sitting down and writing about what I’m doing and feeling right now. I feel like this is part of whatever it is that both Ellis and Lawson are describing. The “status page”, which in the wrong hands (say, mine) would be horribly self-indulgent but could also be a lot of fun.*

In fact, I’ve been messing with that a little. Over on Fill In The Blank, I made of list of “facts about me expressed as musical genres”, which ticks both the “self-indulgent” and “fun” boxes. At least, it was fun for me. I’m less convinced that it’s of any interest to a general audience but that is precisely the difference between old blogs and social media, isn’t it? It’s the audience, and the awareness thereof.

Anyway, this is more of a “Wow, there are things about the old way that were pretty cool” post than a prediction that blogging will be a big thing. Even if it were to become more popular, the lay of the land is so different now that I don’t think it would ever serve the same function. So it goes.

-RK

* Way back in the early days of email, the company I was with used an messaging platform called GroupWise that was dodgy as hell, but it had these marvelous template which could be customized to a dangerous degree. I built my own that had drop down lists for my current mood, what I was listening to, and other highly unprofessional things of that sort.

I remember teaching one of our newer employees how to build a template, but instead of creating her own, she changed the company default template and added some highly inappropriate features to it. I don’t remember how we weaseled out of that one, but I was with the company for another ten years, so the cover story must have been convincing.

a pause, a deep breath

Today’s been one of those days that doesn’t feel like it’s anything other than a placeholder between other days. I think I’m a little under the weather, or maybe I was just ridiculously dehydrated. Either way, my equilibrium isn’t functioning at 100% and that means I’ve done a whole fistful of nothing today.

I’m about to embark on two projects, so I’m pulling in my sails a little so I can fence off some time to work on them. I’ve cut back on participation in social media and even installed one of those hateful nagging apps that will block certain sites (in my case, Facebook and Twitter) if I’m spending more than ten minutes a day on them. I’ve uninstalled a couple of games from my phone as well since they’re most go-to time wasters when I’m facing something I’m not prepared to face.

To get myself in the mood, I’ve been re-reading Warren Ellis’ Planetary, which might as well be scripture to me. I’ve been listening to early Radiohead and George Harrison solo albums and trying to get my head in the space it needs to be.

I’m not trying to be cool and be provocatively vague about what I’m doing; I just don’t want to go into too much detail before I’ve even started because my record of finishing thing isn’t great and the things I do finish are often vastly different than what they were intended to be.

So, this one’s probably more for me than for anyone else, and I’m not sure how much value it has in the light. As a Christmas icon once say: “They can’t all be winners, kid.”

-RK

These are a few of my favorite things

Howdy,

These remain difficult times, and are likely to for quite a while now. I simply don’t have enough in the tank to rage against all that is wrong with the current state of affairs, so I thought I’d share a few things that make me happy, or distract me, or are just interesting.

In case you were wondering, the image above has nothing to do with any of this. It just made me smile.

  1. The Crafsman

    If there is one thing on this list you check out, make it The Crafsman’s YouTube channel (linked above). The Crafsman, as you might imagine, makes videos about making crafts, but that description seriously undersells the appeal. He’s often compared to Bob Ross or Mr. Rogers because he’s got a wonderful, gentle voice and he’s relentlessly positive, but The Crafsman doesn’t really sound like either of them. His videos are genuinely informative and a delight to listen to. I cannot recommend him highly enough.

  2. Welcome to Night Vale

    WTNV has perhaps the easiest elevator pitch in the history of podcasts: H.P. Lovecraft meets NPR. If that description appeals to you, then go check it out right now. If it doesn’t? Then we’re just wired differently, I guess. WTNV at its best is gently weird and weirdly hilarious. The voice of WTNV is Cecil Baldwin, and I’m not sure it would work without him. Fortunately, it doesn’t have to.

  3. Q.I.

    Q.I. is a panel show hosted by Stephen Fry featuring four other comedians discussing trivia and general knowledge in the silliest way possible. It’s ostensibly a game show, although the scoring format is more about providing interesting answers (“Q.I.” stands for “quite interesting”) than obvious ones (which are almost always incorrect, anyway). No one skips from highbrow wordplay to vulgar puns as easily as Fry, but the guests make a game effort at keeping up.

  4. Keen shoes

    Comfortable and indestructible. They ain’t pretty. They’re not especially cheap. But if you want a shoe what will last you for a decade of hiking on rocks, or snow, or water, or whatever weird thing the universe throws at you, this is the only choice.

  5. Project Fi

    Ugh, Google, am I right? I’m not a big fan of the privacy-destroying monolith that seems to have its fingers in every aspect of my life. But, I will tell you this: Project Fi is the best cell phone service I’ve ever used. They have a “virtual SIM” thingie that allows them to use the best signal available from four different networks, so you will have signal in abundance. It’s cheap, too. My average bill is under $40 a month (it’s a pay-as-you-use-it plan, but with pretty generous terms). You do have to use one of only six phones, but there are some really good ones available.

  6. Korg Volcas

    (You have to scroll down a little to get to the Volca series.)

    These innocent little boxes, about the size of a Stylophone, are some serious kit for making music at very low prices. I have the Beats and the Sample and paid under $100 each for ‘em used. They’re not as powerful as some of the computer-based drum machines and synths, but there’s a tremendous satisfaction in twiddling with the knobs and getting crazy good sounds. I could talk for days about how fun they are and how they’re built to work together and with the Minilogue, but honestly? If you’re into making music, you really ought to get your hands on some of these. The value-to-fun ratio is off the charts.

  7. The Wicked + The Divine

    This comic, by Jamie McKelvie and Kieron Gillen, is the pop-art masterpiece of the decade. It’s not my favorite book by this team (that would be Phonogram), but it’s the best and the most ambitious by a wide margin. Every ninety years, twelve young people become gods, manifestations of one or another ancient deity. It’s a (mostly) different mix every time through. After two years, they die. No one really knows why. That’s the setup. It’s a high-wire act from start to finish and…no, I’m not going to spoil it for you. Just enjoy the ride.

  8. The Battle of Polytopia

    This is a little 4x game for mobile devices. I downloaded it last February and immediately thought “Gee, this is way too simple to be interesting.” Danged if I’m not still playing it regularly. It doesn’t take terribly long to play, and the basics are super easy to pick up, but there are a ton of subtle wrinkles that give it an absurd amount of replay value. I love honing strategies to a fine edge, though, so your mileage may vary.

  9. Office Master Sit To Stand Work Stool

    Not the catchiest name, is it? After several decades of working in an office, my back was starting to feel the strain. I did a little testing and determined that I was most comfortable in a not-quite-standing position, with my butt on an angled stool and my legs still supporting some of the weight. I tried this with some conventional bar stools and, um, I broke a lot of conventional bar stools since the weight was all at the front of the saddle. I found this sucker online and it was exactly what I needed. People look at me funny now (I mean, they did anyway, but you get the idea), but I haven’t had any back pain from sitting in four years now.

  10. Yaupon

    This one’s a life-saver. I had to cut down on my coffee consumption, but I wasn’t going to completely give up on caffeine because, well, because I like caffeine. I didn’t even know what yaupon was before I tried it at the farmer’s market. I tasted a sample out of pity, but holy smokes, it’s good. It tastes like tea but without any of the bitterness, much the way cold brew tastes like drip coffee without the acid. It’s local, it’s sustainable, and it’s the only north American plant that has caffeine in it. You owe it to yourself to try it.

That’s it for now, because ten seems like a nice number to stop on. I just wanted to share some of the things that I like, that work for me, and make me happy. I hope one or two of them appeal to you, too. OK, I hope all of them do, but I don’t really expect that to be the case.

I’m babbling now, and it’s starting to get late in a post-daylight saving time sort of way. Good night, and sleep well.

-RK

Something small and good for big and bad times

This week has been terrible. The political scene is awful, there have been too many shootings (meaning “greater than none”), I have member of my family who are unwell and unlikely to get better, the owner of my favorite soccer team died in a helicopter crash…there just hasn’t been much to talk about that isn’t either sad or outrageous.

But…when we were cleaning out our storage room at the apartment, we decided to toss the old 10 gallon snail tank. It had been empty for about 6 months, but there were still bit of dirt and snail poop in it. When I was about to toss it into the chute, I found a tiny snail shell that had been lodged in a crevasse. It felt thin and dry and very worrying.

So, I took the shell back to our apartment, but the shell in a little ramekin, and added a little bit of water because you just never know with snails. They’re tougher than you’d think sometimes. And, wouldn’t you know it, the little gastropod came right out:

babysnell.jpg


I felt better about this one little fighter’s survival than I have about anything I’ve done at work in years. I don’t know what that means, but I’m just grinning ear to ear over this snail. Most of the lettuce leaf got monched and they’ve joined the other snails in the big tank for what we hope will be a long and happy life, inasmuch as the term “happy” applies to snails (and I like to think that it does).


In other snail-related news, we’re having a pets-in-costumes contest at the office this week. There aren’t many off-the-rack snail costumes out there, so my limited crafting abilities were put to the test. Plus, getting a snail to pose for a photo isn’t a sure thing, but fortunately, Baby Blink was up to the task:

blink2.png

I’m reasonably sure we won’t win the contest, but a lot of people got to see our lovely Blink being a show off and I’m happy enough with that.

Snails are such good little critters. They don’t harm anyone, they get along with each other, and there’s something very peaceful about the slow pace at which they live. When people can’t be bothered to be decent to each other, and when horrible things are happening to people you care about, spending a little time with snails takes some of the edge off.

-RK

Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness

Peter Godfrey-Smith’s Other Minds: The Octopus, the Sea, and the Deep Origins of Consciousness is one of the most ambitious 200-page books I’ve ever encountered. It’s fascinating, eye-opening, and a little frustrating. Godfrey-Smith is a philosopher (please don’t stop reading now, he’s not that kind of philosopher) with a strong background in science who’s given us a book that is about the evolution of consciousness, the various theories of how to determine whether or not a creature in fact has consciousness, and how all of this applies to the octopus. The frustrating part is that there’s no way to cover all of that ground sufficiently to satisfy my curiosity in just 200 pages.

The evolution of nervous systems and the theories as to how, where, and why consciousness arose are the meat and bones of the book. We’re reasonably certain now that cetaceans and birds exhibit behavior that indicates consciousness, but in terms of evolution, they’re all pretty close to where we are on the tree. All of the chordate nervous systems evolved in much the same way, so as unknowable as crows and whales are to us, they not put together that differently than we are.

That brings us to the octopus. Their branch of the evolutionary tree of life diverged from us quite some time ago. Their nervous systems, which are incredibly extensive, are nothing like our own. Nonetheless, the octopus behaves in ways that indicate consciousness. When you’re face to face with an octopus, you’re as close to encountering an alien mind as you’re ever likely to come.

The cuttlefish also gets a good deal of time in the book. They’re a relative of the octopus, and their behavior is perhaps less indicative of consciousness, but there’s enough there to leave the question open. And here’s the weird thing: The cuttlefish nervous system evolved completely separately from that of the octopus. So these unusual, extensive nervous systems evolved separately three times: In chordates, in the octopus, and in the cuttlefish.

Would I recommend the book? Oh hell yes I would. If you’re remotely interested in any of the subjects touched on above, you’ll probably love it. Just understand that it will likely leave you feeling unsatisfied in that you’ll want to know more about pretty much every subject Godfrey-Smith touches on.

Also, if you’re anything like me, you won’t feel so good about eating octopus.

-RK

Pieology

A month or so ago, Nicole and I were driving to the HEB on 51st and we passed a pizza joint called “Pieology”. I’ve never been there, but I know that it’s one of those “make your own pizza” places, sort of like a Mongolian BBQ of pizza. For some reason, a jingle popped into my head:

Make your own
pizza at Pieology.
If it sucks
you won’t get an apology.
Coz you’re the one who made it...
You’re the one who made it...
SUCK!


I’m not certain precisely why, but it was ridiculously catchy. I’d find myself humming it. I’d catch Nicole humming it (usually after I did, but still…). So, I decided to record it.

This turned out to be the most challenging thing I’ve recorded so far. It required a catchy, swinging drum line that I could have easily recorded using the Beatstep, but for some reason I used the motion sequencer on the Volca to do it and eventually figured it out. And then I found out that the sequencer doesn’t actually save the motion after you turn it off(I had to hit the “stutter” knob at exactly the right time to get the beat I wanted), so I had to do it again and record it immediately.

This being a short jingle, there’s really not much to it…unless you’re a hopeless TMBG fanboy and feel like you need horns, strings, bells, drum fills, and, for some reason, a synth solo. It was a weird recording. Normally I do a rhythm track, then record all the parts all the way through the song. This was more a matter of recording two-bar parts for each instrument and then copying-and-pasting them to the part of the song where I needed them. Not my normal process, but it worked OK.

  My highly-professional system of charting the tracks.

My highly-professional system of charting the tracks.

Then there was the matter of vocals. I am not a singer. When I sing, people usually think I’m trying to do a parody bad singing. Then, when the truth hits them, they give me a look that says “Aw, it’s great that you tried.” I played World of Warcraft for 8 years without ever speaking on my guild’s channel because I am just that microphone-shy.

So I bought a mic, a cheap condenser. Then I had to, um, sing. I wound up double-tracking the vocals and discovered that a little equalization works wonders, but I would still describe the end result as “I get what you were going for” as opposed to “good”. It was fun to give it a shot, though.

Anyway, the next step is to send the jingle, unsolicited, to the folks at Pieology. Nicole insists that the right way to do this is to transfer the jingle to cassette tape and send it over snail mail She’s more romantic than she let’s on. Having thought it over, I think she’s exactly right. Of course, I don’t have a cassette recorder, but hey, what’s one more electronic toy?

So, here in all its glory, is the Pieology jingle I wrote:


And, for the sake of completeness, here’s the full version which is more of a short song than a jingle:

I don’t expect I’ll be doing anything like this again, but it was a lot of fun to do and maybe I’ll finally get this jingle out of my head.

Probably not, though.

-RK


Kavanaugh and why I can't sleep tonight

I can’t sleep tonight because our country has gone mad and that sort of thing upsets my sensitive soul. I’ve been trying to avoid talking about the state of the state, but I don’t see any way around it tonight. It’s too much. So yes, this is yet another outsider commenting on the sad farce that took place in our nation’s capitol yesterday. If that’s not your thing, feel free to move along.


I’m going to start by asking you to suspend disbelief here. For the purposes of this initial discussion, I’m going to propose that, in that very narrow matter of whether or not Brett Kavanaugh should be confirmed to the Supreme Court, it does not matter whether or not Dr. Christine Blasey Ford’s accusations are true or not. Kavanaugh did enough to disqualify himself that, even if you were to find his denials credible, there is no reasonable way to draw the conclusion that he should be confirmed.

Bluntly speaking, Brett Kavanaugh lied during the hearings in such an obvious fashion that no one could credibly claim otherwise. His lies were insulting and unmistakable. The word “boffing” has an accepted meaning, and that meaning is not related to passing gas. “The devil’s triangle” is not a drinking game. Labeling yourself a “Renate Alumnius” is not a way to honor a friend you “hang out with”.

His explanations for these things were a slap in the face to the whole process. These are the kind of lies you tell when you don’t respect your accuser or the people who are going to vote on your confirmation. Everyone knew he was lying, and he didn’t care one bit. Everyone who votes for him today (and I fully expect him to pass committee and be confirmed sooner rather than later) knows that what he was saying was untrue and they don’t care either.

It’s a bit much, coming from a man who fervently believed that the phrase “I did not have sexual relations with that one” was enough to remove a sitting president, but don’t mistake that for irony. Irony lives in opposition to expectations. This is just crass realpolitik, rank hypocrisy, and precisely what one would expect for a man of Kavanaugh’s ilk.

I haven’t even discussed his temperament (volatile and angry) or his partisanship (which calls into question his ability to function as an impartial arbiter on the court), because these, too, aren’t necessary to disqualify him from the job. The bottom line is, regardless of whether or not you accept Dr. Ford’s testimony, Brett Kavanaugh has no business being anywhere near the Supreme Court.


Of course, Dr. Ford’s testimony does matter and I can’t imagine anyone watching the proceedings and not coming out of them with a stronger belief that she is telling the truth. Her testimony was immaculate. She provided precision where she could, and was honest as to where she couldn’t.

Contrast that with Kavanaugh’s testimony, which was riddled with ridiculous lies and inconsistencies, the vast majority of which had to do with his sexual history. If he couldn’t be honest about what the word “boffing” means, I don’t see any reason why we should presume he was honest about much else.

So, yes, I think her accusations are credible and his denials are not. Maybe that’s not fair, but when you lie as easily and as blatantly as Brett Kavanaugh? You lose the benefit of the doubt.


I’ll close this out with some speculation about what I see as the meta-thread running through these hearings. When I hear the Lindsey Grahams and Donald Trumps of the vociferously defending Brett Kavanaugh, I don’t hear men who really believe that Dr. Ford is falsely accusing him. I don’t even hear partisan hacks who are going to support “their guy” through thick or thin. I hear something much deeper and darker: I hear men of privilege who genuinely don’t believe that the things Kavanaugh is accused of doing are wrong.

I think way too many of these men standing up for Kavanaugh feel personally attacked by the accusations.

What I think, and again, I am speculating, but I am speculating with a great deal of “this rings true to me”. These men grew up treating women exactly the way Brett Kavanaugh is accused of doing and they’re thinking “We all acted like that in school, because that’s how ‘men’ act, and this is where we draw the line against women calling what they think of as normal boyhood behavior ‘assault’. I think they feel like, if what Kavanaugh did was sexual assault, then most of them are guilty as well.

A reach? It could be. But consider this: They could have withdrawn Kavanaugh from consideration, found another justice fresh of the Federalist factory floor, and very likely got the same sort of candidate without having to go through these hearing. Why did it have to be Kavanaugh? Why was he the line in the sand, the hill to die on?

I think, too, that this is why this is such an incredibly important moment for the feminist movement. As unlikely as it sounds, the Kavanaugh confirmation hearings have become a referendum on the matter of “boys will be boys” vs. “#MeToo”. It’s white (and let’s not kid ourselves about that) male privilege trying to stem the tide of accountability for their actions.

So, if Brett Kavanaugh is ultimately confirmed, not only are we stuck with a lifetime appointment for a mediocre man who has demonstrated amply that he has no business on the bench, it’s a symbolic slap in the face to anyone who has ever been sexually assaulted. They won’t be confirming Kavanaugh because they believe him; they’re doing it because they think he did it and they don’t think he did anything wrong.

And that, my friends, is why I can’t sleep tonight.




algernon

So, here’s the thing: I feel great, I mean like “the best I have felt in years”, but I’m not sure I understand or trust the reasons for it. The steroids? Sure, that could be it, but I’ve been on a prednisone taper before and it I don’t recall it making me feel anything other than normal. Is it getting over a really scary disease that’s driving me? That doesn’t seem right, does it?

Whatever it is, I feel light and energetic and happy and smart and even borderline-attractive. It’s nice. I’ve had a really great weekend, the best-feeling weekend I’ve had in ages. Maybe I’ve had some sort of low-grade ick dragging me down for months (years?) that’s been sapping my energy and making me live in a fog and this knocked the shit out of it and now I’m just back to a normal I only vaguely remembered.

Regardless, whether this is the new normal or if it’s just some temporary side-effect of some treatment, I’m enjoying it. I feel more present, too, more capable of concentration. Whether the sky will always be this blue and the wind this soft and the ground this warm or not, there’s not reason not to take a deep breath and just be happy to be right here.

(I’ve just been reliably informed that it’s dark out, there’s no wind indoors, and the floors in here are cold. So much for figurative language in this day and age.)


One of the highlights of the weekend was a visit to a new bookstore literally across the street from us. It’s not just any bookstore, it’s an Japanese bookstore/office supply store/pop culture extravaganza. It’s called Kinokinuya and it might just be my favorite place to go and give in to all of my wicked consumer impulse urges.

I’m trying to think of a good way to properly describe this place and I’m struggling because there’s not really a good point of reference. It’s a big place and the books may take up a third or so of it, making it about as big as the old mall book stores. The are all manner of writing utensils (I have never seen so many mechanical pencils), papers, notebooks, and accessories. There’s an entire Studio Ghibli section because it would feel weird if there weren’t. There’s an extensive selection of anime, plastic figures, plush figures, other toys, pins, temporary tattoos, reading glasses (swoon), and literally countless other ways to separate me from my money.

I picked up a little pocked notebook because I’d like to find out if I’m the kind of person that carries one of those around and makes notes on my clever musings and droll observations. I may not be, but it was an excuse to get a beautiful Horizon mechanical pencil. I may not be, but it’ll be fun to find out.

Nicole also encouraged me to get a Yamamoto Paper “paper tasting” kit to test which type of papers my fountain pen likes the best. Yes, it’s that kind of place, and I’m not sure how my life was ever complete without it.

  Shiny aluminum pencil! Oh, and real big spender on that notebook, Ridley…

Shiny aluminum pencil! Oh, and real big spender on that notebook, Ridley…

As a kid, I always loved office supply stores because, well, they were fun! I got that same buzz going in to Kinokinuya: I felt like a kid. If you’re in the neighborhood, or you have one in your home town, I cannot recommend it highly enough.


We had a little gathering over here on Saturday. The events which took place during the gathering will not be recounted here. If you believe you have heard rumor of any of said events, you are mistaken and that is a hill on which I am prepared to shed significant blood. Nothing of any importance happened, nothing was broken, no secrets were revealed, no, or at least very little, witchcraft was performed, most clothing that came in to our abode left the same evening (and mostly on the same person who originally wore it). It was not unlike most nights in any significant fashion.

The food was good.

Goodnight and sweet dreams,

RK

airbag

You know that feeling when you’re skidding out of control, or you blew a deadline, or it’s coming right for you! and you just narrowly avoid taking the hit. You’re unscathed when you could (and probably should) have been a bloodied mess?

It’s an exhilarating feeling, that sense of escape, of being back on the upswing. Beowulf Shaeffer pulled out of the spin into the neutron star and can see it diminishing into the GP hull-equivalent of the rear view mirror.

That’s where I am now. I’ve gone from being really, really not well to feeling incredible in less than a week. It turns out MRSA was involved, and that’s not one to joke with. My doctor didn’t fuck about and went with the right antibiotics and we killed it dead, but we did so right before things would have become Serious.

And now, that sense of release, of escape, of having cheated a deserved fate, plus some 60mg of prednisone a day, have left me feeling like everything is wonderful. My brain has worked better the last couple of days than it has in months. I’m even (gasp) productive at work. Who knew that was even in the cards?

This is, of course, not a sustainable model for improving my mood and my acuity. I’m in no hurry to do it again any time soon. My doctor agrees, so we’re working to prevent this going forward and to find alternatives for the steroids, which are marvelous in their efficacy, but they will eventually exact an unacceptable toll.

So, yay. I got lucky. It feels amazing. I will enjoy it for as long as it lasts, and do all within my power to ensure I don’t have to be lucky next time.

Silver linings

So, yes, what I posted yesterday was pretty unpleasant, but life isn't without its pleasures these days. This new apartment we're in has the most extraordinary views of, well, mostly sky, but it's a fantastic sky. The living room has an almost 180 degree field of view, meaning that was can see the old airport and the lights of the new airport to the east. We can see the west stand of the football stadium, the tower, and downtown to the south, and the TV towers on the hills to the west. 

And we get pretty decent sunsets, too.

  Google recommended a pretty extreme filter for this, but I think it came out ok without it.

Google recommended a pretty extreme filter for this, but I think it came out ok without it.

While I was basking in this marvelous sunset, Nicole called me to have me take a look at the other side of the sky, which was festooned in rainbow plumage. Again, not a bad view from the porch, eh?

rainbow.jpg

This is a relaxing place to live. It still feels more like a resort we're leasing than home, and that's not a bad thing at all. I'm sleeping better than I have in years for...well, I'm not sure why, but I am. Maybe it's orientation of the window in the bedroom with respect to the sunrise, maybe it's that we're keeping the room free of felines for most of the day. I really don't know.

Another little "huh" thing: The floors feel so different than those in our old first floor apartment. The solidity of the ground floor tiles, affixed directly to the concrete foundation, has been replaced by something with a little more give. It's subtle, but it's far more pleasant to walk barefoot on upper floors. 

Oh, and I'm still just a couple of minutes (6, to be exact) walk to the train station, which was a non-negotiable for us. It's funny to think that, when we first moved near a train station, I expected to ride the train once or twice a week and drive on other days. It's took maybe two days to become completely hooked on taking the train. After a year or so of riding, started carrying books to read as a way to alleviate the stress of checking email and because I like reading books. That initiative has worked out swimmingly. It's "found time" that I'm fortunate enough to have and to put to good use.

Which is all a long way of saying that, in spite of the fact that I look like a troll (which is a slight improvement on "Deadpool") and that I have a chronic condition the cure for which is nowhere in site, things really aren't bad. I appreciate all the support I received yesterday when I was writing about the worst of things; I just wanted to let y'all know that pretty much everything else? Pretty darned good.

-RK

Plague Days

Let's start this one off with a content warning for body horror descriptions. 

I was going to make this a P.S., but I wanted it right here at the top of the post: Nicole has been a goddamned angel of mercy this weekend. She's taken such incredibly good care of me and taken care of all the house things and even prodded me when I wasn't doing the best thing for myself. The fermented cabbage juice/probiotic was a bit much, but in the big scheme of things, it does nothing to reduce my gratitude. She loves me, even when my face is such a mess. I'm terribly lucky.

For those of you who haven't followed my general well-being with rapt attention, good on you. I'm presuming you have a rich, full life that in no way involves memorizing the peculiar ailments of strangers. However, a little bit of backstory is required for this to make any sense, so bear with me.

I have a Skin Thing. I can't put a proper label on it as three doctors have yet to make heads or tails of why my skin will just stop being skin and start being a collection of portals linking the dermis with the outside world. It started happening years ago and all we've determined with any certainty is that, while I am allergic to p-phenylene diamine, that alone doesn't explain what's going on. The allergist says it's a skin condition. The dermatologist says it is likely one or more allergies. The GP's guesses are best left unsaid.  The other thing is that my condition goes away for about 2-3 months after getting a steroid shot. So, that's what I've been doing to keep it in check.

This past Tuesday, I went in for my shot which is by now a routine. Wednesday and Thursday, I felt unusually warm and had started to develop tiny bumps on my elbows. By Friday evening, both arms were covered, as was my trunk and parts of my legs. More worryingly, my face had some of those tiny bumps and was slightly swollen.

Saturday was bad. By Saturday, my face resembled Deadpool's -swollen, bumpy, seeping, and....yuck. I contacted my dermatologist, who, suspecting a bacterial infection (steroids leave you prone to infections), put me on a pretty serious antibiotic; the kind you take with a meal every 12 hours like clockwork. 

Today was....worse. The whole of my face was covered in seeping gunk and the tried bits of it after they'd done their seeping. It was bad enough that I contacted my doctor again with one of the most appalling selfies I've ever taken. She regarded it as a Not-At-All-Good Condition and called in a prescription for some prednisone, which is, as they say in the business, serious shit.

So here it is Sunday night. I'm not going to work tomorrow for obvious reasons. I'll be in the doctor's office by 9 AM-ish after what I expect to be a poor night's rest. The tide seems to have been stemmed; I don't see my face or any other part of me getting worse. There's no improvement, either. The weird thing is that I feel fine. My skin is just garbage right now and I do not feel pretty. 

P.S. I'd intended to turn my enforced housebound state into some overly dramatic, sentimental music but alas and dammit, my audio interface seems to have completely stopped doing anything beyond powering up. My computer doesn't recognize the USB connection, and none of my instruments can make the line-level lights dance at all. It's under warranty, or it would be, had I registered it. We'll see what Behringer has to say about it. Maybe there's a magic reset switch, but I doubt it. Of all the soul-destroying events of the weekend, this was probably the worst. I just wanted to sit in front of my shattered interface and mumble "It's not fair....it's not fair." Oh well, at least my glasses still work.

Movin' on up

I've found it difficult to write while we're in the process of moving to a new apartment. My brain, body, and whatever evil little bit somewhere inside me that compels me to spill out what's going on in my life in this increasingly-archaic fashion haven't been in a state that allows me to sit down and write about it. I'm trying to steal little bits here and there when I can jot things down, but I've found that I'm seldom able to make sense of my notes, so here it is in one go. 


It turns out that I don't enjoy moving. It's a cataclysmic event that feeds me nothing but stress before, during, and...well, ok, not so much after, but you get the idea. It wrecks me physically and mentally and I may not be the dynamo of energy I used to be. I've heard about people who will pack and move your stuff for you, but that seems like an unthinkable luxury reserved for people who have made much better life decisions than I have.

That said, the new place is awfully nice. We're at the top of the not-especially-tall-but-still-the-tallest-building-in-the-area, so we get a great view, especially since the living room offers nearly 180 degrees of windows. It doesn't quite feel like home yet, but it's getting there. I think I'm gonna like it.

  The view from my desk ain't bad.

The view from my desk ain't bad.


I've just finished reading Henning Mankell's Sidetracked, which was an absolutely delightful read about a serial killer and the policeman (Kurt Wallender) who is trying to stop him. The plot is fine, I suppose. I don't really read that much crime fiction and that which I do, I don't read for the plot. The writing, and most especially the characterizations, are what make Sidetracked such a page turned. 

I've determined that what I really enjoy about crime fiction is the writing. It tends towards sparseness, but not in the "I'm going to be an ass about it" way that Hemingway and, sometimes, Cormac McCarthy write. There's not much else that tie Hammett, Chandler, and Mankell together: Hammett is the more playful of the three, Chandler starts out obviously influenced by Hammett but finding his own, more philosophical voice, later on. Mankell is several generations removed, but his style is recognizably similar to his predecessors, but it's more...human? Wallender is grumpy and makes mistakes.  Anyway, the lot of them are great fun to read even when I struggle to care about the crimes they're solving.


I'm late to the party on this, but Google Cloud Print is pretty magical, isn't it? I needed to figure out a way for Nicole to print to an old Brother printer from her iPad and it took something like 15 seconds to set up. That seems wrong; the central tenet of IT support is that printers are awful and difficult to share. This particular bit of functionality seems like it should be getting a lot more attention than it has.


I have a lot more, but it's not bubbling up to the surface right now, so I'll leave you with this. Lasagna is amazingly fun to make when you stop worrying about what a lasagna is supposed to be. We made a sorta-lasagna last night that I'm reasonably sure would earn me a failing grade from any Italian chef worth their while, but ya know what? It tasted great. Don't like ricotta (and I don't)? Don't use it! You want to make it with green chiles, chicken, and Alfredo sauce? Go for it! There's probably a metaphor in there somewhere, but I'm not about it. I mean this literally. Don't let any bossy people tell you what a lasagna is supposed to be because, if you make it the way you like it, it'll be awesome.

 

 

A little bit of this, a little bit of that

Well hello there. I've got a lot of little things on my mind right now and I'm not sleeping any time soon, so I thought that this would be a good time to unload a few of them. 

 

Tell The Machine Goodnight is a curious novel that I tore through as quickly as anything I've read of late. It's by Katie Williams, and it batted around my expectations like a cat playing with a catnip-filled toy. The inside cover description made me think of a Terry Gilliam-ish dystopia, but that's not really it at all. The first chapter left me thinking I had the rest of the novel neatly figured out, but I couldn't have been more wrong. 

I'm not certain what I think of the ending, but that's true of a lot of my favorite speculative stories. It's science fiction, but it's more so in the manner of The Twilight Zone than space opera, which, I should point out, was at its best when the endings were a little ambiguous. It's also nothing at all like The Twilight Zone. It's an interesting, thoughtful book and it's a great read. 


Speaking of The Twilight Zone, we watched one of the less-famous Richard Donner-directed episodes last night: "Come Wander With Me". Nicole pointed out just how pitch-perfect the casting was, and how this was so often the case with The Twilight Zone. The other thing that stood out were the production values and, yes, the direction. I've seen films that weren't as tightly constructed as "Come Wander With Me". It's a delight to see the craftsmanship involved in telling these stories, even when the stories themselves don't always hold up. The big downside of this episode? The song is an evil, evil ear worm. Don't say I didn't warn you.


We're going to be moving to a new apartment next week, so things are a little untidy around here. We're going to be staying in the same area; I'm pretty sure the distance between the front doors is around 50 yards. The new place is a little larger, a lot newer (we'll be the first occupants), and we're hoping the management and maintenance will be a little more to our liking. 

We'll won't be on the first floor anymore, which means we won't have our garden which, for all intents and purposes, has served more as a snail sanctuary than a proper garden. That was fine, as we weren't going to eat anything we grew. This left us with a bit of a dilemma: What to do with the little creatures who depended on us for food and shelter? Simply leaving would put them in a bad situation as snails are generally considered to be pests. 

You can probably guess what we decided. 

snail.jpg

A little bit of zucchini, some lettuces, and a cuttlebone and our new guests seem quite happy indeed. They're marvelous little creatures, very relaxing to watching and as gentle as you could want. Given the likely result had we left them, I'm certain we made the best choice for them in bringing them in. I hope they have lovely lives.


Maybe one of the reasons that I'm not sleeping so well is that I go "on call" tomorrow. "On call" is the worst. It's pitched as a benefit to the people who are part of the rotation. No, really. The line of thinking is "At least it's only one week out of four that you're expected to be available 24/7 if (when) something comes up." That's a fiction, of course, in two ways. One is that you're expected to be available at all times anyway, at least to some degree. In addition, it's not really "if something comes up". There's no making plans when you're "on call". No being away from your computer for more than an hour at the most, so no movies, fast food if you dine out, and no real weekend. It comes with the gig, and the gig is well-compensated, but that doesn't mean I'm a fan.


I recently re-played on of my favorite old PS2 games, Final Fantasy X. It was ported, largely successfully, to PC and I've been eager to see if it lived up to my memories. It did in almost every respect. The gameplay itself is not particularly challenging and it's possible, through a little judicious grinding, to remove most of what challenge there is. It's still fun, though. The "sphere grid" system for advancing the characters is ludicrous, beautiful, and kind of delightful. The combat is 100% turn based, so once you get your head around it, it's not especially difficult to get your tactics right.

Of course, Final Fantasy games are only tangentially about gameplay, and that's as true of FFX as any of them. You're playing a story, a story that's told with beautiful art, and with some wildly inconsistent voice acting. It all makes a sort of sense that would make you sound like a madman if you tried to describe it to someone, and it's deeply, deeply sad. The pacing is near-perfect and the ending will give you feels. The only bit that was different than what I remembered is that I had a key part of the story backwards in my head. It's no less melancholy than I recalled, just for slightly different reasons. And, honestly, it's just gorgeous to look at. Worth a play (or replay) if you're in to that sort of thing.


I've been dreaming of spending some time in a little cabin, somewhere remote, somewhere rainy, and taking a week to get my head on straight. It's cruel, then, that there's been a little unseasonable rain this weekend. Not enough to do much of anything beyond make it too humid to go outside, not that we were going to do much of that. There's packing to be done. In case there was any doubt in your mind, the cliche is true: It's not the heat, it is the humidity. 100 dry degrees is a cakewalk compared to 90 degrees and moisture in the air. 

I guess that's about it for now. One of these days I'll get back in the rhythm of writing shorter posts about a single thing. That's not going to happen until after we settle in at the soonest. 

Goodnight all. Sweet dreams.

-RK