Date Night In April

Last night I came home to a wunnerful surprise. We were going on a pic-a-nick. Nicole had already packed up all the grilling supplies, so we were ready to head off to the park as soon as I got off the train. We picked Northwest Park here in Austin because it's a little more forest-y than the other parks with grills and the sunsets are prettier, too. 

One of the things I love about Austin as opposed to, say, Dallas, is that the parks get a lot of use. While we were making the fire and prepping the veggies, there were four competing sounds vying for our attention. The PA announcer at the baseball field next to us, the "country and 80s mix" the crossfit instructor was using for a class on a nearby hill, the clacking of the fake swords of honest-to-god LARPers by the tennis courts, and the children laughing on the playground. It was a pretty good mix that sounded more "alive" than "dischordant." 

We (I) may have gone a little overboard on the coals, but we were cooking ears of corn, baked beans, a poblano, bacon, and burgers on a small park grill, so we needed a little more width to our heat than normal. This also resulted in a lot more heat than I usually get, so everything cooked relatively quickly and we were eating before sunset.

The other activities died down a little so we dined to the sounds of some French cafe jazz on the iPad. Accordions, acoustic guitars with nylon strings, you know the sound, right? Everything came out well and, after packing up, we decided we weren't quite ready to leave yet. So, we wandered over and caught the last inning of the baseball game, a playoff between the underclassmen at two local high schools. 

The game ended and half the people were super excited and the other half weren't and we decided that was enough for the night and headed back to the car and then home. No photos since we were focusing more on enjoying the night than documenting it. Damned if I know what I've done to deserve such a lovely Tuesday evening but all I know is I want to keep doing whatever it is because this is way better than the life I thought I'd be living. 


In which I find myself wondering "What did I just read?"

Have you ever read a book that kept you turning the pages mostly because you wanted to finish it so you could talk and write about it? I stole my own thunder by writing a short review of Gerald Murnane's Border Districts - A Fiction on Goodreads without realizing that it would cross-post to Facebook. Oops. Here it is, because it's a good start to what I want to talk about:

Damned if I know. The disturbingly precise use of language, the fact that it's almost certainly not a fiction in any accepted sense of the word, and recursive nature of the images that collapse into a heap by the end...this is one of those cases where I can recognize brilliance without completely comprehending it. That's a lot for a book that clocks in at 120 or so pages. I get the sense that I would benefit from reading this book multiple times; there's a circularity to it that Grant Morrison would admire.

That's all true, but it fails to capture what it's like to read this truly odd book. When I read Naked Lunch, it didn't strike me as truly odd as Murnane's book. It was weird, sure, but it was weird in an messy, disorganized way. Border Districts - A Fiction is on the other end of the spectrum. Take this passage for example:

"Today, while I was writing the previous paragraphs, I seemed to arrive at my own explanation for the intimacy between a reading boy and a remembering man on the one hand and on the other hand a female personage brought into being by passages of fiction. (I do not consider the boy and the man fictional characters. I am not writing a work of fiction but a report of seemingly fictional matters.)"

There are hundreds more like it, self-referential to a dizzying degree. He refers to previous paragraphs constantly, and images recur in different contexts throughout its entirety. Murnane doesn't have stylistic tics; he has stylistic spasms. You will probably never see the term "so-called" used so often in a book of any length. 

Oh, I guess I should talk about what the book is about, huh? Ostensibly, it's about a man who moves from the capital to a small town on the border of a neighboring state, and he spends the entire novel describing his memories. What it's really about is Murnane ruminating over mental images. He considers their origins, their accuracy, their persistence, and how they will overlay one another, so that the mental image of one thing can be the image of something else slightly modified to suit the new thing or idea. 

Which is to say, it's pretty abstract. So, you have a writer who discusses abstractions with incredibly precise language. Try to imagine Bertrand Russell and Cormac McCarthy co-authoring a book in a "things you might see in a small Australian town" and you're not too far from it. It's genuinely fascinating, even when it's not always a sprightly read, and I suspect it's a better book than I have the ability to appreciate. 


To Live and Watch Robots Die in L.A.

Note: There are linked videos of BattleBots fights in this post. They are all from last season. There are no spoilers for the upcoming season, which will be on the Discovery and Science Channels this starting this May.

Some vacations are about visiting friends and family. Others are about going places you’ve never been, taking in the scenery, the food, the feel and the air of a distant city. Still others are just about getting away from everything and taking a break from a routine.

This vacation was not about any of those things. This vacation was about watching robots kick the ever-loving crap out of each other. It was about fire, and noise, and saws, and hammers, and mower blades.

This vacation was about BattleBots.

Warhead vs. Complete Control in what I regard as the greatest fight in the history of all fighting sports. I am biased.

Nicole introduced me to BattleBots a year or two ago and I was instantly hooked. It has far more violence than any sport I’ve seen, but no one gets hurt. It rewards tactical thinking, the ability to design, the skill to build, and the quickness of wit to face a foe bent on the destruction of your bot. In a better world, it would be more popular than any other sport.

So, when Nicole saw that tickets were on sale for the taping of season 3 (or 6, or 7…BattleBots has a difficult history), it was a no-brainer to grab a pair to the final frickin’ show. This was one of those items you don’t realize is on your bucket list until the opportunity presents itself.

Hypershock vs. Warrior Clan. Please marvel at Hypershock's non-traditional choice of weapons.

We looked at the timing and the finances and decided that, rather than make a vacation out of it, we would make this trip a short one and focus on the single event rather than trying to “see L.A.” We flew in Saturday evening and we’re on our way home on right now (“right now” being 8:00 AM Monday morning; I’ll be posting this later as the idea of buying in-flight Wi-Fi by the hour does not appeal).

The upshot is that we have very little to report from a tourist standpoint as we spent most of our time near our hotel (near LAX and Inglewood) and in the part of Long Beach that doesn’t show up in the brochures (unless those brochures are for things like “shipping containers” and “small commercial airports”). Mostly, we saw a lot of the 405, which looks a good deal like other freeways.

Chomp vs. Captain Shrederator. The Captain's builder expressed disdain for Chomp prior to this fight, calling the bot "over-engineered." 

Food-wise, we decided to try a well-reviewed Mexican joint within walking distance of the hotel called Casa Gamino. If you’re from Texas, I would advise you to avoid this. The food was plentiful, but bland does not begin to describe. Wait, that’s not true. “Bland” is a exceedingly accurate description of the chiles rellenos and red chile plate.

Lunch the next day was more successful but not without a little difficulty. We tried a place called Panang Thai, literally next to the hotel, which shares a building with a Thai massage place and an aquarium. The food wasn’t spicy, but it was flavorful, well-prepared, and plentiful to a fault. The appetizers were entire meals on their own, and, due to what I hope was a language problem, I was served a bowl of chicken curry instead of the Thai fried rice with chicken I’d ordered. Or, we thought it was “instead of,” as ten minutes later, it turned into “in addition to” a plate of beef fried rice.

Then, it was time for the main event: BattleBots! We drove to a hanger in Long Beach and, through some unlikely bit of luck, found ourselves in the front of the line for the group filling one side of the arena. I got some serious chills when we walked in and saw the set for the first time. We picked out an optimal spot and then we waited.

Minotaur vs. Warhead in a battle of two of the most outrageous powerful weapons in the tournament.

If you’ve ever been to this sort of an event, you already know that there’s a good deal of waiting involved. Carting the bots into the arena, cleaning up after a particularly vicious fight, getting the announcers and the judges into places, doing alternate takes (of which there were surprisingly few; the entire crew were pros at this), but it was all worth it.

I’m afraid I can’t discuss the content of the battles until after these episodes air, but I can tell you this: It was worth it. Television does a great job of capturing the violence of these fights, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. The sounds inside the building are much louder than they seem on TV, and when something unexpected and incredible happens, everyone in the building laughs and screams even the old pros seem to be delighted by the spectacle. There was one moment in particular; you’ll know it when you see it, that had everyone from the stage crew to the other teams to the on-screen talent lining up to take photos.

After a generous number of undercard fights, we finally got to the final. Obviously, I can’t say anything specific, but what I can say is that you’ll want to see it. Last year’s final, a battle between Tombstone and Bombshell, was a bit of a dud and was over quickly without much in the way of spectacular action. That is not the case with the final this year.

Tombstone won the tournament last year. This is not the final because the final wasn't very good. Most fights against Tombstone are not very good. Ask Counter Revolution.

We had an absolute blast. Would we do it again? Of course! My voice is absolutely shot and we must have sweated off half a dozen pounds over the course of the evening. One of the most fun, ridiculous things we've done. 

But who won?


Looks like it was me!


Notes during an all-day meeting

I'm in a room with 13 other people, a room that's meant to hold maybe half that many, for a meeting that's scheduled to run from 9 AM until 5 PM. I have something along the lines of 30 minutes worth of content, but it's an important 30 minutes and I need to be here to answer questions, so...that's my Friday.

Fortunately, writing this looks a great deal like "working" if you aren't watching me closely and it doesn't look as though anyone is. So, at the risk of going looking like a doofus when a question comes my way, I might as well take advantage of this semi-free time.

It's been a good week from a musical standpoint. One of the folks I work with remotely suggested that I check out the not-at-all-new Legendary Pink Dots. They weren't even on my radar, but after a couple of ours of listening last night, they most certainly are now. Definitely German in character, but there's some late-70s King Crimson (that sax!) in it is well. Really interesting stuff, and very much up my alley. On an unrelated but similar note, we're going to go see 242 next Tuesday. I haven't seen them since they toured with Siouxsie and the Banshees on the Tyranny For You album.  That was...ugh...27 years ago?

This one's for synth nerds only. When I wasn't listening to the Legendary Pink Dots, I spent the rest of the evening geeking out over a series of videos reviewing the most-recent addition to my synth stack, the Korg Minilogue (thanks again, Blade!). This guy is an enthusiast in the best sense of the word: He gets excited and sometimes even just starts laughing at all the weird stuff you can do with it. If you're looking for an inexpensive synthesizer with a ton of bang for your buck, this is your machine.

While I'm repping products here, I'm going to risk so blow-back here, but the Central Market brand frozen etouffee base is pretty damned good. It's not as good as some of the home made I've had, and there are restaurants that do it better, but....I don't believe there are any restaurants in Austin that make a better etouffee. It's got everything but rice and crawfish, but that's what you want from a frozen base, isn't it? 

The next time I write here, I'll likely be in the City of Angels for the Battlebots Grand Final. At this point, I don't know any more than you do about who'll be the finalists, but I'd bet on Minotaur and Tombstone. I won't be able to share any of that info until it airs, but I will be to let you all know how awesome it was. Which will be "very," of course.

OK, I guess I should start paying attention to some of this. Only 5 1/2 hours to go. Wish me luck.


How I learned to stop worrying and finally finish reading "The Death and Life of Great American Cities"

It took me a little over two months to read Jane Jacobs' The Death and Life of Great American Cities. That even longer than I needed to finish Thomas Pynchon's 1,185 page Against The Day.  Jacobs' book is less than half that length, but what it lacks in sheer pages it makes up for in textbooky-ness. That makes it, as one Goodreads reviewer noted, "...easy to put down."

It was also one of the most informative books I've ever read. I've developed strong opinions regarding how cities ought to be planned without ever bothering to learn anything about how they actually are planned. That wasn't an acceptable state of affairs, so I tracked down the consensus pick for the best book on city planning and this one is, by most accounts, the place to start.

The Death and Life of Great American Cites was first published in 1961 and, while it certainly shows its age in some of the details, it remains a remarkably forward-looking book. Jacobs' central thesis is that most city planning misses the mark because the prevalent theories are concerned with how cities ought to be as opposed to looking what actually works in existing cities and working out why it works and attempting to replicate it.

Jacobs makes no attempt to disguise her disdain for the three prevailing paradigms of her day: The Garden City, the Radiant City, and the City Beautiful. In her telling, the Garden City's primary impact on urban planning was the urge to put as much green space in cities as possible and to minimize the number of streets. The Radiant City (and again, this is Jacobs version of it) is also concerned with minimize the footprint of streets and building tall, inward-facing buildings to maximize the efficiency of land use. The City Beautiful focuses on creating districts apart from the rest of the city concentrating all of the cultural centers and monuments in one location.

She sees all of these as profoundly wrong-headed as they compartmentalize the city, segregating districts and neighborhoods in the interests of efficient and rational organization. Instead, she espouses diversity in all of its messy, difficult to replicate glory. Jacobs' four drivers for generating diversity are:

1.  A mixture of primary uses (to ensure that there are reasons for a variety of people to be in the area at different times of the day).

2. Small city blocks (to allow the free flow of foot and vehicle traffic allowing areas to knit together with nearby districts).

3. A mixture in ages of buildings (to ensure both a mixture of uses so the area doesn't become monochromatic and a mixture of prices to allow new and innovative uses of the area).

4. Sufficient density of people in the area (to support businesses and housing, meaning that the district has to continue to appeal to residents as their circumstances improve).

Jacobs gives entire chapters to almost every imaginable aspect of her proposals. I won't go into detail, but she most certainly does. She's incredibly thorough in laying out her argument and does so primarily by use of anecdote and not a little bit of old-fashioned lecturing. She gives the impression that she knows both her sources and the numbers behind her statements thoroughly,  but there's very little of either of these in the book itself.

If it sounds like I have mixed feelings about this book, then I'm accurately expressing my feelings toward it. I've been looking at the structure of cities differently while reading it, and I now how some theoretical framework on which to hang my ideas about how cities should be planned. When I see something that appears to be working, I have a better idea as to why this should be so. The book did what it set out to do, and it did so better than I expected and the vast majority of what she has to say holds up over 50 years later.

If you're even a little interested in city planning, it's worth the effort to read The Death and Live of Great American Cities. Just be forewarned that it will be an effort.


Good advice, not taken

As it turns out, this is good advice for all types, creative and otherwise. It is especially good advice with regards to things which are irreplaceable and things which hadn't occurred to you to back up.  Obviously, I'm not speaking in hypotheticals here and the worst part is, I had a warning of sorts just last week.

I will always have a special place in my heart for the Korg DW 8000 synthesizer. It's the one I lusted for in high school and I've owned probably a half dozen of them over the years. The one I have now has been with me for over a decade so I've had a chance to really dial in the settings and get the sounds just right

I took it in to Switched On last week to get the firmware upgraded and went ahead and changed the battery that allowed it to save settings when turned off. I panicked slightly on hearing this, afraid that all of my lovely settings had been lost. Fortunately, the good folks at Switched On know their stuff and everything was as it had been. According to the tech, I'd been very close to losing everything as the battery was on its last legs. This is what is often referred to as "foreshadowing."

Last night, I was messing around with it and for some reason, I decided I should check to make sure the upgrade completed. This is exactly the sort of thing that got Orpheus in trouble. I didn't fare quite that badly, but it was close.

This being an old piece of gear, the way you check the version is by turning it on while holding two particular buttons on the front panel.  I held down the 5 and the 8, turn it on, version number popped up. I tried it a couple more times and got the same result. Then I pressed one of the keys and....silence. 

Uh oh.

It turns out that, had I looked it up again to make sure I remembered it properly, I would have found that the keys to hold down to get the firmware version were the 1 and the 2. 5 and 8, on the other hand, erase everything. All 88 patches gone. That dark, warbling organ sound that was so close to the one The The use on "Love Is Stronger Than Death?" Gone.

The silver lining is that I've had to learn some stuff. The DW is from back in the days of yore when synths were just learning to talk to computers. It's actually designed to backup and restore its data using a cassette tape. I do not have a cassette tape. Fortunately a laptop makes a pretty good cassette tape substitute was I was able to track down a site that had the stock sounds saved as a .wav file. Just run a line from the laptop's headphone jack to the "tape in" port on the keyboard, play the .wav file, and, holy cats! It worked.

  The LED even (sorta) spells out "tape" when you enable the load function, which is adorable.

The LED even (sorta) spells out "tape" when you enable the load function, which is adorable.

Of course, they're not my sounds, but at least there are sounds. So that's a start. I should be able to use a MIDI interface to load other people's sounds (and by "should," I mean, "absolutely can if I can get it figured out"). I may not want those sounds, but I want to know how to do it so I can then back mine up.  It's not that hard; I'm just not familiar with the tools of the trade and, remember, we're talking about a synthesizer that celebrated its 30th birthday several years ago. 

So, yeah. Fred's reminder about backing things up applies to everything. If it's important to you, back it up. Automate it so you can't not back stuff up. That's the lesson. Silver linings are great, but cloudless skies are even better. 


Slow books, wonky electronics, killer robots, and cat empathy

You may have noticed that I haven't updated my reading list lately. I haven't given up; I'm just finding the current book, Jane Jacobs' The Death and Life of Great American Cities, extremely slow going. One reviewer on Goodreads described it as "easy to put down," an assessment with which I can't argue. It's a slog, but it's also chock full o' useful insights about what does and doesn't work with regards to city planning. I'll give it a full write-up when I'm done, but it's taking me almost as long to read as Pynchon, so be patient.

I'm in the technology business, and when it comes to support, there's a certain scenario that happens so often it's not even a joke anymore. One of our users will put in an urgent request for help, I'll wander over to their desk, ask them to show me what's wrong, and whatever problem they were having will disappear simply due to my looking over their shoulder. They say they're doing the exact same thing (and I believe them), but everything will work swimmingly.

It happened to me yesterday.

I took one of my keyboards into the shop (the lovely folks at Switched On, thanks for asking) because my Radio Shack synth was acting wonky.  They plugged it in, tried it out, and absolutely everything I was having trouble with worked fine. Honestly, it worked better than fine because they're all way better than me at playing it. Hrmph. Anyway, there was no charge, which was cool. I took it home, plugged it back in, and damned if everything didn't work exactly as it was supposed to. So, if you were wondering whether "it" ever happened to IT folks? You betcha!

So, it's gong to happen. We're going to go see what I think is the potentially the greatest sport on Earth in April: BATTLEBOTS. Two, 250-pound robots battling to the, if not death, then at least something very much like it. It's incredibly violent, but nobody gets hurt, being smart counts for more than being strong, and there's a fine balance between the engineering skill to build 'em and the skill to drive 'em. Oh, never mind. Just watch this and you'll understand:

We're going to see the final, which I imagine will be the long-awaited showdown between Minotaur and Tombstone. I am so lucky to be married to a woman who wouldn't just tolerate this sort of silliness, but would actually be more into it than I am (and I can assure you, I am into it). Actually, I'm pretty lucky to be with her, full stop.

I'm not sure why, but it only just hit me the other night how weird it is that my cat, all twelve pounds of him, feels perfectly comfortable sleeping between the two of us. I'm something approaching twenty times his size, so it wouldn't take much rolling over to make his life difficult, but he just trusts us and lies down directly between the two of us. Can you imagine that if the roles were reversed? I wonder what goes through his little head. It just seems really unlikely and kind of mind-blowing that a creature that can't even meaningfully communicate with us could develop that kind of trust outside of his species.

And so to bed, where I know I'll find a little grey cat patiently waiting for me to settle in next to him.


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, "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 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.