Sunday, May 25, 2014

Another reading week

Well, it’s another reading week for me, as I make yet another attempt to get back into my book.  Of course, the last time I had a reading week was nearly two years ago at this point, and it resulted in not a single further installment of the sputtering novel.  But, then again, I’ve had a fairly crappy year—starting from when I came back from sabbatical, really—and it’s only been recently that it’s shown any hope of getting better.  So that’s my excuse, and I’m sticking with it.  Still, my characters—Johnny Hellebore and Larissa, primarily—have never been far from the front of my mind, and I finally feel like it may be time to restart the cranky engine of fiction production.  I can’t promise you a new installment next week, of course, but you may see something.  If nothing else, I’m finding and fixing typos, poor word choices, mixed tenses, etc.  I haven’t reuploaded the corrections yet, but the master document is updated through long about the beginning of “chapter” 11.  (I put “chapter” in quotes because the divisions in the story don’t really correspond to the “chapters” I’ve come up with for the blog.  So I have no idea if these chapters are anything even approaching reality or not.)

Anyway, I have nothing new for you this week.  Please feel free to reread the beginning of the book, if you like (start here).  Or read for the first time, if you didn’t read it the first time.  It’s mildly entertaining, if I do say so myself.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

And Now for Something Completely Different ...

Alas, I’ve had no time to do a proper post.  I’ve spent a bit of time exploring doing an improper post, but all those plans seem to have fallen through as well.  As a last resort attempt to come up with some actual content as opposed to just a lame excuse, let’s play a game of Last Two.  (I totally made this up, by the way, in case you were wondering why you’d never heard of it before.)

Last two movies I watched: Dallas Buyers Club and RED 2.  Both decent.  Nothing to write home about.

Last two audiobooks I listened to: Currently listening to A Game of Thrones, read by Roy Dotrice, which I’ve previously read in paperback.  I also read A Clash of Kings, but had stopped there because I didn’t want to read too far ahead of the series.  Now I’m trying to get through the first 3 or maybe 4 on audiobook.  Last thing I finished was The Dying Earth, read by Arthur Morey.  It’s one of the few books credited with helping to inspire D&D that I’ve never actually read, so I thought I should probably remedy that, finally.  Honestly, I wasn’t that impressed with it.

Last two physical books I read: Well, I’m currently rereading (for at least the third time) Lord Foul’s Bane, because my kid chose it to do a book report on (weirdly).  It’s a bit more pretentious than I remembered, but also more influential: I had never realized just how much Loial from Wheel of Time is a reflection of Saltheart Foamfollower.  Before that ... well, it’s been a while since I had the opportunity to turn actual pages.  Probably my latest reread of the Reign in Hell graphic novel.

Last two televison shows I watched: Hannibal and Penny DreadfulHannibal I’m still enjoying, for the most part, although I thought this season has been straining credulity on Will Graham’s character; also, the number of scenes stolen from the books to jam into this series, which is supposed to be a prequel, is getting disturbing.  I mean, what are they going to do when they get to those points in the actual story?  Maybe they think they’ll never get that far.  But, they keep killing off people they’re going to need later, so I’m not sure how it’s all supposed to work out.  Penny Dreadful is new, of course (this was only the second episode), but I’m digging it so far.  I was concerned it would come off as too much of a League of Extraordinary Gentlemen rip-off, which there certainly are aspects of (but our African explorer is played by a totally different James Bond!), but it’s a very different vibe, and so far I’m intrigued.  We’ll see if it can hold up.

Last two restaurant meals I ate: Let’s see ... Friday we ordered Chinese from Golden Tiger, which is our go-to Chinese place, because it’s one of the few places we can find East-Coast-style chow mein here in California.  Before that ... I suppose Tuesday lunch with co-workers at Vito.

Last two things I bought at the grocery store: Well, I went to Trader Joe’s on Friday and bought a whole bunch of crap.  The last two thing I put in my cart were probably plantain chips and a 5lb bag of seedless mandarins.

Last two albums I bought: My One and Only Thrill by Melody Gardot and Keep it Going by the Mad Caddies.  Both recommended.

Last two times I took the kids outside: Just today we spent quite a while in the backyard playing in or near the pool.  The pool is still a bit cold, although it’s starting to get hot enough around here that the smaller two at least will brave it (at least for short periods).  But mainly it’s just shooting each other with pool water from squirt guns and throwing pool toys like diving rings at each other and stuff like that.  Before that, hmmm ... well, we all went out thrift shop shopping on Mother’s Day last week.  The Smaller Animal found a pair of goggles and the littlest one found two stuffed animals for like a buck.

Last two meals I cooked: Well, the word “cooked” seems to preclude making a salad, which I do quite often, so it’s probably going to have to be my scrambled omelette.  That is, it’s sort of like an omelette except that I scramble it.  I use trinity and what we generally call “pizza cheese”.  I made some this morning and probably yesterday too.  Once I cut up all the veggies, I usually make it over and over again until they’re gone.

Last two non-work programs I worked on: Just today I was trying to write a script to take a playlist and automaticaly look up the Amazon URLs for those tracks.  This would make it easier to post playlists like I did last week; I make lots of playlists for myself and I would be happy to share them with you.  But Amazon failed me by not having one or two tracks that I was looking for, and YouTube never has all of them, annoyingly.  You’d think by this point we’d have a better situation for sharing music over the Internet.  But whatever.  Yesterday I worked on the help system for my VCtools program, which we use at work, but I still develop on my own time.

Last two web pages I looked at: Uhhh ... before I started this post, you mean?  I guess Amazon and MetaCPAN, according to my browser history.

Last two animals I saw in real life: Um ... well ... I can see two of our cats from here.  Also two of my children, which are pretty close to being animals.

Last two messes I had to clean up: I have a kid who’s potty training.  You really don’t want to know.

Last two multi-syllabic words I spoke to another adult: Okay, now we’re just being silly.

So that’s what I’ve been up to.  Hope your day/week/month is just as exciting.

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Mother's Day Mix

For Mother’s Day this year, we decided to give The Mother a handmade gift.  This traditionally carries connotations of cards made of construction paper or plaques made of macaroni.  But, hey: we live in the digital age, right?  We can do something more exciting than that.

Accordingly, my eldest and I put together a playlist for The Mother.  Now, you might think this is a pretty trivial thing to do, but it’s a bit more work than you might imagine.  First, you have to come up with a list of songs.  For this mix, we wanted songs that The Mother would enjoy, of course, but it needed to be more than just that.  We were looking for happy songs.  Songs that perk you up and lift your spirits.  When coming up with a mix, one of the best ways to start is to find one sing that epitomizes the mood you want and then build around that.  For this mix, the Larger Animal suggested a centerpiece of “Three Little Birds” by Bob Marley, which you probably know better by its chorus:

Don’t worry about a thing,
‘Cause every little thing
Gonna be all right.

So now you have a theme.  Next, you have to come up with 15 to 20 other songs to go with it.  Better to come up with too many and then you can whittle it down.  You’re looking for songs that fit the theme, but also provide some variety.  It’s okay to have an artist or two repeated, but don’t overload with too much from one band.  In fact, I don’t like to overrepresent any one genre, or even decade.

Once you’ve figured out which songs you want, now you have to go find them.  Some of them you probably have digitally already.  If you’re like us, some of them you have on CD, but you’ve never gotten around to burning them.  Which means you have actually find said CDs.  And some of them you may not have at all, which means you have to go buy them.  Happily, that’s pretty easy to do without ever getting off the couch these days, unless you’re looking for something really obscure (we weren’t).

Finally, you have to put them all in order.  Many people don’t bother at all with this step.  They just throw everything in a pot randomly.  But this is foolish.  Songs need to transition from one to the other.  If you have multiple songs from one or more artists, you need to spread them out.  There’s no use in having a variety if you’re going to put all the fast songs in a row followed by all the slow songs.  To get it right, you’ve got to experiment, which means listening to all the songs, or at least pieces of them, and that takes time.

And, of course, once you get all that done, you have to burn it to a CD.  Preferably with a decent burning program, one which has volume normalization and can write the track info and an album title.  Nothing beats having your giftee stick the CD into the car radio and having it announce “Happy Mother’s Day.”

Anyhow, for those interested, here’s the playlist we came up with.  It’s only 3 seconds shy of 70 minutes, which is all a typical blank CD can hold.  So I think I’m not exaggerating when I say this mix is chock full o’ goodness.

Links go to Amazon in case you’d like to purchase them for yourself.

Here’s hoping you had the opportunity to do something nice for your mother today.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Camel Children

You never truly know how long your children can hold their breath until you tell them they can have “just one swallow” of your drink.

In the pool, when you’re trying to convince them that going underwater isn’t going to kill them, anything over 5 seconds is a major accomplishment, to be praised incessantly and talked about for days afterward.  But when they get hold of your straw, they can go 3 or 4 minutes, easy.  When they finally release it, there’s a great gasping intake of air—their lungs are practically bursting with the effort.  Sometimes they look a little blue.  It takes them several whole breaths to recover so they can dive back in for another try at the world record.

In our house, we refer to small humans who do this as “camel children.”  For some reason, all three of our kids have this trait.  It can become disconcerting to take two sips out of your drink and then realize you need a refill.  But after a while you get used to it.  And you yell a lot.  It’s a bit like a bad comedy skit, actually.

“Hey, put that back!”
“No, wait, don’t actually spit it back into the ... no, never mind.  Drink all you want.  I’ll just get another cup.”

My dad always had a bit of germophobia when it came to my brother and I drinking out of his glass.  Not that we wanted to very often—he always drank tea, which we thought was disgusting.  Not as disgusting as coffee, of course, but close.  Oddly, tea (and water) is pretty much all I drink these days.  Although I will admit to spiking my tea with fruit juice.  Keeps it from getting boring and it’s better for me than sugar.  Probably.  Anyways, straight fruit juice is too sweet (and expensive) to drink with any regularity, and straight tea is too strong to drink without sweetener and too close to water to drink at mealtimes, for me.  I drink water all day long, but, at meals, I need something with a bit more character.  Tea is better than water for this purpose, but not by much.  So, combine the two, and voilà.

Anyway, I never understood the whole germophobia thing, at least not from a parental point of view.  When you first bring home that first child, all scrubbed and pink and perfect, you probably have visions of everyone washing their hands before they touch the baby, regular bleaching of all the nursery toys, and compulsive disinfection of all surfaces your baby might ever touch, or, worse yet, lick.  By the time you get to child three (and usually long before), you’re happy if you can just keep the Windex and Pine-Sol out of their mouths.  They drool and spit everywhere.  They get sick and bodily fluids spew out of nearly every orifice.  They pee on the floor when you’re trying to potty train them.  And they poop: regularly, spectacularly, at inconvenient times, in inconvenient places, and in every possible color and consistency you can imagine (and some you can’t).  My daughter pooped four times a day for months.  Wash your hands before you touch them?  Yeah, right.

So I’ve never quite been able to grasp how you can maintain any fear of germs as a parent.  Your entire life is germs when you’re a parent.  The most you can hope for is that, every once in a while, your partner is willing to deal with the germs every once in a while, long enough for you maybe grab a bite to eat between poops.  Drinking out of your glass?  Man, I got over that one a long time ago.

So it’s not any fear of germs I have when my children come for my beverages.  It’s mainly the inconvenience.  Having to get back up and refill my glass or cup constantly.  ‘Cause, you know: they can drink it, but refill it?  Suddenly they’re magically incapable of operating the cup.

“I can’t get the lid off!”
“Oh bring it back here and I’ll do it.  And don’t forget to put the ice in first this time, okay??  And don’t spill it!”

Yes, only your oh-so-clever children are capable of spilling an empty glass.  They’ve drained it completely dry, yet somehow they can still find at least a few last drops to dribble on the carpet.  It’s okay if they have to turn the glass completely upside-down in order to do this.  They’re industrious that way.

This is part of the reason I use a cup with a lid on it.  A Starbucks cup is one of the best, but most anything that is difficult to break, difficult to spill, and gigantic will do.  For many years, I would use super-size drink cups from McDonald’s.  You know how hard it is to convince McDonald’s to give you a super-size drink cup with water in it?  It completely blows their minds.  When you ask for water at McDonald’s, they want to give you a container of water roughly the size of a Dixie cup.  That’s all they’re willing to give you for free.  Of course, nowadays, they’ll sell you bottled water, because the brilliant marketing people at the bottled water companies have managed to convince everyone that their own tap water is so disgusting that they really need to pay to drink somebody else’s tap water.  But that’s another rant.  The point being, back in the days when I used to go to McDonald’s, I would spend quite a bit of time negotiating for a super-size cup with water in it.

“And I want a super-size drink with that.”
“What kind?”
[On the little computer screen they have at the drive-through in an attempt to subvert the apppropriate Joe Pesci meme, the following line appears:]
1 Bottled Water: $1.50.
“No, not a bottle of water, a cup.”
[The line on the screen changes:]
1 Courtesy Cup: $0.00.
“No, a super-size cup.  Like I said.”
“Sir, we can’t do that unless we charge you for a full drink.”
“Okay, that’s fine.”
“That’s fine.  Charge me for a drink.”
“So you want a super-size drink? what kind?”
“But, sir, you have to pay for the drink.”
“I don’t want the drink.  I want the cup.”
“But we have to charge you ...”
“Yes.  Charge me.  Charge me whatever you like.  I’ll pay an extra service fee if I have to.  Just give me the damn cup.”

Because that cup could last for months.  They were sturdy.  They were essentially unbreakable.  They could survive the dishwasher if you felt a compelling need for that, but, since I never put anything other than water in them, I didn’t really feel the need to wash them that often.  Sure, they had my germs in them, but they were my germs.  You don’t like it?  Don’t drink out of my cup.

Like that would ever stop my children.

But nowadays I use the Starbucks cup, or something similar.  They’re far more expensive than the McDonald’s cup, and not as sturdy, weirdly—oh, they’re impossible to crush, sure, but they’re brittle, and one good tumble onto concrete generally does them in.  But they can survive most falls, and they rarely spill.  They’re double-walled, which cuts down on the sweating and keeps the water cold longer.  And the straw has a little ring at the bottom which keeps little people from yanking it out and running away with it.  And it’s 24 ounces, which is only a bit more than half the size of the Mickey D’s cup, but still large enough that I don’t have to refill it that often.  Assuming, of course, my kids aren’t around ...

And I’m not the only one with this problem.  You know how they say you need to gets lots of water while breastfeedingThe Mother has recently taken to claiming that she’s going to keel over dead from dehydration, because her water cup is always empty.

It’s not like we don’t give them their own cups.  Ours are just more fun to drink out of, apparently.

Well, in the grand scheme of things, there are worse problems to have, definitely.  If the worst thing I could think of about my children were their beverage thieving habits, I’d be a pretty damned proud parent.  No doubt about that.  And, it can be sort of majestic, when you consider it ...  The camel child, taking on gallons of liquid at a time so that they can go for days without further drinking, which enables them to play videogames in marathon stretches that would kill a lesser mortal.  It’s like having your own nature channel.

But enough about my children.  I must take my leave now.  I’m out of water again.