Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Blogstones (2)

200 times better than the Battle of Thermopylae!
So this is the 500th post I’ve made on the blog. If you know me well enough to be familiar with my fascination (or fixation) on numbers and metrics and such, you must understand how it killed me to not manage the feat of getting this post up on Sunday, the actual 2-year anniversary of this endeavor, and thereby make one big hoohaw out of the whole deal. I had my chance, in that I was well aware how close I was to 500 posts when August 1st rolled around, and I also knew the bloggiversary was near the end of the month. With a couple more Saturday Grab Bags or Sunday Specials or even a double-posting day or two over the course of the month, I could have had 499 posts in the archives by the time this past Sunday dawned. But it never quite came together; between visiting family members and defective dishwashers and water remediation and natural disasters, it has been quite the frenzied late summer.

It’s been quite the couple of years, though, really. When I started the blog I was living in a townhouse with my wife and our nearly-one-year-old son and our two cats and one dog, I took the bus to the Metro to get to work at my corporate HQ, and I wasn’t quite sure how long I’d last under the self-imposed demands of yammering out a bit of text almost every day. Now there’s a bigger house, one of the cats passed on and a new kitten has been taken in, joining the thoroughly absurd backup dog we also acquired, the little guy is about to turn 3 and has a little sister who’s almost 5 months old, I never have to drive on I66 except by choice, I’ve relocated between several desks and from one building to another to another (and oddly enough am now working a block down and across the street from corporate HQ) and these quotidian dispatches show no signs of letting up any time soon. In fact I am once again thinking up potential recurring features to keep things interesting, but those will have to wait for the fullness of time before I say too much more about them. Life does keep keeping on, and has a tendency to interrupt my plans pretty regularly (though obviously I’m hardly the first person to ever observe the phenomenon).

Perhaps in August of 2013 I will have my wits about me enough to align the 1000th post with the four-year anniversary of the blog. We shall see.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Tuesday Grab Bag o’ Bibliophilia

It took me a long, long time to get home last Tuesday. (Because of the earthquake. So two disasters ago, and I’m just getting around to it now. But anyway.) I left the office at the usual time after checking the VRE website and finding that trains would be running a little late. When I got to the platform it was crowded and steadily got more and moreso as people continued to arrive but no trains showed up to carry off the people who were already there. When the 3:57 pm train pulled in about 4:30, I did my level best to get on but it was already overflowing with riders and I wasn't close enough to the front of the mob to push myself through the doors. I had to wait for the next train, which on the one hand at least was an empty train that started at my station instead of two stops further up the line, but on the other hand didn't arrive until close to 6.

Anyway, the point is I was standing on the platform for about two hours and spent most of it reading The Grapes of Wrath. And at one point, perhaps inspired by the all-in-this-together spirit that commuters can sometimes develop during long periods of inconvenience brought on by natural disasters (is it weird that I recognize that as a recurring thing at this point in my life?), a man sitting on a bench near where I was standing said to me, "It is so good to see that people are still reading Steinbeck." As far as I could tell this was completely sincere on his part, like he was the kind of person who every day observes his fellow commuters reading the dumbed-down Express version of the Washington Post or Twilight novels or just kind of zoning out with their iDeviceOfChoice and laments the state of civilization. And we all know I read more than a little genre trash while I commute, but I still allowed myself to be inordinately pleased by the implied praise this random fellow rail-rider was granting me, however sanctimonious a place it might have originated. I smiled with a little aw-shucks and said "I feel like I'm a bit late catching up with this one, honestly" and he just replied "That's great, that's great."

At the beginning of the year I resolved to read 12 classics during 2012, and Grapes of Wrath is one of them, and I didn't do it to impress anybody but ... well if someone has their faith in western civilization restored an iota by me carrying around Steinbeck, I think that's not a bad thing at all.


Oh, incidentally, The Grapes of Wrath is pretty damn amazing. Also pretty damn depressing. Still should be required reading.


So if I'm reading classics does that mean that Beach Books on a Bus is over for the year? Not exactly. Even in high school I was exactly the kind of English-is-my-favorite-class nerd who would read ahead on the syllabus if at all possible. And it was very possible, since my girlfriend was a year ahead of me and the Honors English teachers rarely changed syllabi, so I knew eveyr summer what books would be covered the coming year. I’m pretty sure I read Catcher in the Rye and Lord of the Flies at the beach between freshman and sophomore year. So, in general, the Western canon still feels like beach reading to me.

That said, though, BBB is definitely winding down. After I finished Grapes of Wrath I borrowed a book from a friend on his recommendation, and it’s kind of a time-tossed love story which may or may not require a belief in reincarnation and almost certainly owes a great debt to The Divine Comedy. (Which I have never read, but might very well make it onto my reading list soon, or possibly get rolled into next year’s BBB.) It’s the right feel, but after I finish it September will no doubt be upon us and I don’t have another book lined up next in the queue right now. On the one hand that means I will probably scramble for just about anything I can get my hands on. On the other hand, September is so inherently back-to-schoolish, which leads me inexorably back towards the classics yet again. Given the aforementioned 12-classics-in-2011 resolution, I should already have 8 checked off. The completed list currently stands at 6, so I’ve got some catching up to do and September feels like an optimal time to do it. I might even venture back to the town library, where fun and trashy stuff (that I haven’t already read) is harder to find but the classics are usually there for the taking.


But meanwhile … recently (in the last month or so) held an on-line vote for the Top 100 Greatest Sci-Fi and Fantasy Books. I voted, but not before I snagged myself an electronic copy of the ballot, which had about 237 titles on it to be narrowed down to the century mark. I also went back through the archives and found some of the previous summer reading vote results, including the Top 100 Greatest Thrillers and Top 100 Beach Reads. Partly I did that to see how many of them I had already read, and partly to get ideas for the next time I’m cruising the aisles of the used book store.

The Thrillers list surprised me because I had only read 15 entries, despite having nothing against the genre at all (I mean, duh). But apparently there are a lot of really popular authors out there who just aren’t my cup of tea, and who are very prolific. There was no restriction on how many times an author could appear on a list, so whole swaths were outside my usual reference points. Lots of Tom Clancy; I read The Hunt For Red October in high school and never felt the urge to dig any deeper. The complete works of Dan Brown; I read one page of one of his books lying on someone else’s desk once and just backed away quietly, shaking my head. A few Ian Flemings; I’ve never read a Bond book, spoiled by the movies I suppose. More than a few Michael Chrichton; meh, I say. I did, however, pretty much run the table on the Stephen King thrillers that made the grade, so there’s that.

The Beach Reads were my best showing, which at first I thought was odd but I soon realized that since the list was pretty much genre-agnostic and simply admitted anything that constituted a good read, it’s pretty close to my own eclectic tastes anyway. 41 out of those 100 I’ve already checked off. Some of the other 59 I’ve been meaning to get around to, and some I never will. But I have some good fodder for next year’s BBB.

I had read 48 of the 237 nominees in sci-fi/fantasy and apparently I mostly skipped the right ones because when that was cut down to the top 100 my already-read number only dropped to 32. And really, that’s a bit misleading because given the nature of sci-fi and fantasy and its tendency towards the epic, the saga, and the multi-volume duodecology, many of the entries on the ballot and the final list were a single line encompassing an entire series of books, like Dune or Foundation or The Dark Tower. I haven’t quite managed to find the time yet for the task of figuring out exactly how many discrete books you would have to read to get through the entire Top 100 of books-n-series, and by comparison how many of those I’ve already read (I’m sure my ratio still works out somewhere in the neighborhood of 1/3 though).


I did find it particularly hilarious how the comment threads ended up ringing with the howls of outraged book nerds who couldn't believe science-fiction and fantasy had to share a list, when clearly the genres are so VERY, VERY DIFFERENT and a Top 100 should have been established for each one.


Of course even with all these accessible resources for cheap books and reading recommendations, I’m not sure how long it will be until I make much of a dent in it. Depending on how easy or hard it turns out to be in practice to get some more books in my hands in the very near future, I may end up just DVD-binging on the train for a good chunk of September. I do actually have some books piled up at home but as it happens they are all specifically for my other annual tradition, Spooktoberfest. Highlights this year include the second installment of Guillermo del Toro’s vampire trilogy, and Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (which kills two birds with one stone as a spooky Classic I’ve never read). Then there’s November and December, but after that …

… despite my obsessive urge to constantly add to the grand total number of books I allegedly have under my belt, I’m noticing more and more lately that I don’t remember a whole lot of the books I read. Maybe I’m just getting old and my brain is getting inelastic and my uptake isn’t quite what it used to be, but whatever the reason it’s kind of a drag. I’m seriously considering making 2012 the Year of the Re-Read and going back through a select number of books a second time in hopes that they’ll sink in a little more deeply. And there’s a couple of other motivators, as well: I got my wife to read The Name of the Wind this spring but it had been a few years since I read it myself and when she discussed certain segments with me it was maddeningly difficult to summon up the details in my mind. The sequel, The Wise Man’s Fear, comes out in paperback in March and that will be my wife’s signal to read that volume; I should be able to re-read both TNOTW and TWMF by March myself and be much better prepared to talk about it then. I think volume five of A Song of Ice and Fire will be out in paperback next year, too, which is my cue to read that particular sequel, so I also want to fit in a re-read of parts one through four ahead of time as well. And so on – mostly I suppose it’s a lot of brushing up before moving onward in popular fantasy sagas, but hey, that’s kind of my thing.

Monday, August 29, 2011


For whatever reason, it didn’t occur to me to listen to the radio this morning before I left the house. We live far enough to the west, apparently, that all we saw of Hurricane Irene was one very rainy Saturday. There was a minute or two when the rain was lashing down so hard I thought it would be a brutal overall experience (and it just so happened that I was pulling into the parking lot of a store when said deluge started pounding down, and since I had both of my kids in the car with me I abandoned the errand-in-progress and headed home to hunker down) but that was all it was: a minute or two. We didn’t have any flooding on our property or in town, and the power never went out, and Sunday was cheerily blue-skied enough that I consigned the entire storm event to the past tense. I treated this morning as routinely as any other Monday, got in my car, and headed for the train station. Only when my car stereo came to life in mid-jeremiad of school closings did it dawn on me that (a) the VRE might not be running at all, or might not run all the way in as far east as I needed to go, or might be running at reduced speeds and make me much later than usual for work OR (b) my office might be without power, or the federal government might have give non-essential personnel (of which I am the very definition) the day off due to widespread power outages in the District, &c.

But as it turned out, the VRE was running on-schedule and at-speed, and my office was open and everyone is here, so I am left to conclude that everything worked out for the best. If I had been thinking last night about potential office closings, and obsessively checking for web updates until midnight or whatever, I would have been a lot more crushed to be cubicle-bound today. But a momentary “oop?” this morning was not enough to throw my entire Monday into upheaval.

As I said, we got off lucky, moreso than my folks apparently did. My father didn’t have any flooding or house damage, lost power for a little bit, but mainly had to contend with a massive old growth tree that fell squarely across his driveway. Insert obligatory joke about how he insists on owning an SUV for lifestyle reasons but even an over-accessorized light truck can’t help you drive over a three-foot-thick bole in your direct path. Still, that’s not the worst of all possible outcomes, either. My mother on the other hand, poor woman, just recently took up residence, along with my step-father of course, with his 92-year-old mother in New Jersey, and that house is in a very low-lying area near the Raritan River which flooded last time a big hurricane came all the way up the East Coast (’99 or so) and, sure enough, flooded again late Saturday night/early Sunday morning. They all had plenty of warning to evacuate and my mom’s sister-in-law had made a block of hotel reservations a few towns away (presumably on higher, drier ground) so that they would have someplace to evacuate to, if it came to that (which it did). And as mom was telling me when I spoke to her, they’ve rebuilt her mother-in-law’s house after a flood before and they will do it again, so the sense of confusion and uncertainty isn’t terrible this time. Not for my mom, at any rate; my step-father’s poor mother is starting to lose her mental faculties a bit in her advanced age at this point, so she’s been a bit of handful to take care of and repeatedly explain why they can’t go back to the (half-submerged) house just yet.

So everyone’s OK, some of us are already back to normal and some of us have a ways to go yet, but we’re OK. Thus I will end on a shot of professional wrestler Greg “Hurricane” Helms, whom I dressed up as once for a non-Halloween costume party because he has a Green Lantern tattoo and that amuses me.


Blogstones (1)

Technically, yesterday - August 28th - was the two-year anniversary of this here blog. I had kind of thought I might do a lot of blogging this weekend to commemorate the occasion, but that ended up not happening. Hurricanes and all, you know how it goes.

And there was much rejoicing ...
I didn't mark the first anniversary of the blog last year because it fell in the middle of a week which my family and I spent down in the Outer Banks on vacation. If I had let it pass without comment this year, then that would have essentially established non-recognition as a tradition forevermore, and I don't think I want to set that precedent.

So maybe next year there will be a bigger to-do. For now I just wanted to say hey, how about that, and thanks to anyone and everyone who's been reading for any span since 2009.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Five Technological Innovations I Resist

Holy crap, a Five Things post? For reals? For very reals.

On the long continuum between “Luddite” and “hyper-early adopter” I am definitely much closer to the latter than the former. I like gadgets, I’m pro-progress, and I place great faith in the ability of technological innovations and science in general to improve humanity’s overall lot. Obviously I make my living in a field that could not exist without both computers and the glorious, glorious interwebs. And yet … every so often I find myself realizing that there is some newfangled thingamajig which actually isn’t all that new and has in fact been widely embraced by most of my fellow first-worlders, all the while remaining alien to my personal experience because I just can’t bring myself to get on the bandwagon. I’m honestly at a loss to explain why this happens at all, let alone why certain things strike me as awesome while others leave me cold. Nevertheless, here’s a handful of examples:

1. E-books You would think that given how highly “voracious reader” ranks in my self-conception that any and all delivery mechanisms for the printed word would be dead center in my wheelhouse, but … eh. E-books really, really leave me cold, in an abstractly conceptual way because I’ve never read anything in that format (though I certainly observe them constantly on the train these days). Part of it is no doubt that I really like physical, dead-tree books and I’m having a hard time letting go of that sensory experience. There’s also the fact that I’m a collector and displayer and I like lining up spines on bookshelves so people can see them as they walk through my home, which e-books don’t really allow for. (Now of course I’m having visions of the near future where people hang plasma flatscreens on their den walls which would look like bookshelves with spines of books on them, and you could scroll from side to side as if the infinite shelf were on little ballbearings and then you could hold your personal tablet up to the flatscreen and tap a book’s spine and it would download the contents to your tablet to be read.) I think the real tipping point or me will only come when certain works are only published electronically and impossible to read in any other format. As long as I have a choice between paper pages and an e-reader, though, I seem to prefer things old-school.

2. Audiobooks Do not even get me started on audiobooks, though. What really drives me crazy is people who say “I read ten books this summer!” but that means they interpreted printed characters between the covers of two books, and listened to eight people reciting the contents of eight other books. Doesn’t count, I don’t care how irrational that sounds. Does. Not. Count. This has actually been on my mind a bit lately as I’ve talked to a couple of friends who’ve tried to tempt me into maybe jumping ship from my current job and working with them. All other considerations notwithstanding, both times my long commute came up and my friends pointed out that their offices were significantly closer to my house. But of course, those locations are not really mass-transit accessible. I’d be commuting for less of each day but I’d be responsible for all the driving, and goodbye reading list (and might as well cancel Netflix, too, while I’m at it). In my mind, I could hear the counter-counter-arguments, though: you don’t have to give up on books! You can’t read while you drive but you can listen to audiobooks! NONONONONONO. My brain isn’t wired that way; focusing on reading is a pleasure, but focusing on listening is a chore.

Not my bag
3. Facebook When Facebook started gaining critical mass I was a little bit mystified by it, but only a little. It was touted as a great way to keep in touch with people (even before “social networking” was a widespread-enough term to cover that aspect) but I considered myself already pretty good at keeping in touch with people I actually wanted to keep in touch with. Back in the Paleolithic-tech era I used to write longhand letters to my college friends over the summer, and then once everyone had the internet at home and free web-based e-mail, I figured I was golden. Who would ever need more ease of communication than that? But I also acknowledged that not everyone is predisposed to composing long missives in any format, and for whatever reason super-short e-mails never seemed to catch on as a viable use of the medium. Maybe someday I’ll be able to unpack why if someone e-mailed me and the entire message was “I had spaghetti for dinner!” I would think they were a little weird and a little dumb, but if someone posts their Facebook status as “Havin’ spaghetti for dinner!” it’s not weird at all and in fact 7 people are going to “Like” that. (At least I assume so from my outsider stance.)

The gulf between myself and Facebook is only getting wider as it now actively annoys me in various ways. Every time I am waiting for a webpage to finish loading and I can see that the elements holding up the process are Facebook plug-ins (utterly useless to me) I curse the whole insidious concept. And while I used to possess a certain equanimity of perspective along the lines of “I prefer to keep in touch via e-mail, other people prefer Facebook” I know find myself becoming steadily convinced that other people don’t just prefer Facebook, they use it exclusively. Whenever I e-mail someone and they simply do not respond in any way, I can’t help but wonder if things that don’t originate within Facebook just don’t exist for them at all. And rather than making me want to join up on Facebook myself, this just makes me loathe and resent it more. Which is not terribly productive, I grant, but there it is.

4. GPS Ha, I bet you thought every item on this list was going to have “book” in it somewhere, didn’t you? I’m far less antagonistic towards GPS than I am towards Facebook, but I’ve never gotten around to incorporating it into my life. I suppose I can tie it in loosely to the bibliophile vibe I was working in 1 through 3 above, in that I honestly prefer to go to Google Maps or something and get directions there and print them out on an actual sheet of paper that I will carry in the car. But I readily acknowledge that having an onboard GPS allows for a lot more improvisation and ability to roll with changing plans; like I said, I really can’t find fault with the concept. And in fact I’ve gotten to the point where I expect other people to have them, and harbor very little desire to find myself in situations where I have to rise to the occasion and give someone else directions. One of these years I’ll probably get a car that has a GPS as a standard feature and I’ll wonder how I ever got along so long without it.

5. DVR And finally, an element of modern technologically-enhanced life which I’m only resisting in an effort to abide by some token austerity measures in the household budget. Absolutely no principles at stake on this one; in fact, I actively covet a DVR. But every time I think too deeply about why I want a DVR – so that I can attempt to fit even more broadcast television into my life by recording stuff that’s scheduled inconveniently and watching it on my own timetable – I feel a bit guilty for even thinking that’s a consideration worth my mental energy. Hence I’ll just bury it down here at the bottom of the list and never speak of it again. (Until we inevitably get a DVR, of course.)

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Three feet of perspective

A couple of quick Little Guy Anecdotes I wanted to share, in reverse chronological order:

When my family left our house on Sunday morning this past weekend, the good-byes of course included a lot of the requisite assurances that we’d all see each other soon and keep in touch in the meantime and so on, which led my wife to point out that we really should have taken advantage earlier in the weekend of my sister’s presence, since she is so completely a digital native and could have helped us finally hook up our computer to Skype. This proceeded to delay the departure for a scant number of minutes as they hooked up Skype in record time.

It seemed reasonable to test out the Skype connection but at that point it wasn’t possible to call my dad with it, since they had just left and would be on the road for six or eight more hours, so we called my Little Bro. By which I mean I called him on his cell phone with my cell phone and told him to get online so we could try out the Skyping. It worked! And at the outset we had my entire four-person family crowded into the webcam’s field of view, while my brother and his wife were also on screen. A lot of that early part of the conversation was given over to explaining to the little guy how he could see himself in the smaller window on the computer screen but also (more importantly) see his uncle and aunt in the bigger window. And at one point my brother observed to his nephew “You know, when your dad and I were kids, you couldn’t see people when you called them. Except in science fiction movies.”

Or retro-futurist cartoons
Which I thought was a trenchant enough observation, but of course it had absolutely no impact on the little guy whatsoever. Between encountering and learning about brand new ideas every day and still having a shaky-at-best grasp on subtle time-space continuum components like “history” and “change” I don’t think the little guy is quite ready to appreciate notions of how things used to be like THAT but now they’re like THIS. In fact he pretty quickly got bored of the video-call and wandered off, not long after he had tried to show a new toy to his uncle and aunt by holding it up one millimeter away from the webcam lens.

I don’t mean to say that the little guy isn’t able to discern subtle distinctions at all, however. (Cue segue to anecdote #2) On Saturday night we had barbecued chicken, which was prepared in about the simplest manner possible that could still technically be classified as “cooking”: I dumped raw chicken breasts in a bowl and dumped most of a bottle of store-bought barbecue sauce on them, swirled it around to cover them all more or less evenly, threw them on the grill, flipped them a few times, and served. I also put the barbecue sauce bottle on the dinner table, for anyone who wanted to augment the flavors that had been mostly charred and cooked off. My wife asked the little guy if he wanted some ketchup for his, and I said “Or you could have barbecue sauce. Which is just like ketchup, only BETTER.” That is in fact my true personal opinion on the subject. I am the guy who will specifically get a packet or two of barbecue sauce at McDonald’s whether I’m getting Chicken McNuggets or a Big Mac, because I prefer dipping my fries in the barbecue sauce over ketchup. And I figured there was no harm in sharing this preference with my son, who has a pretty sophisticated palate if I do say so myself. E.g., he eats a lot of the home cooking in which my wife and I tend to lay the garlic on pretty thick. I expected barbecue sauce to be a bit of a revelation for him.

And it was, but not the pleasant kind. He tried it but it pretty thoroughly grossed him out. But endearingly enough, what bothered him more than the flavor which struck his tongue as unpleasant was the idea that he had been led astray by his father’s flagrant falsehoods. “It does NOT taste like ketchup!” he yelled at me, close to tears, after he had finished spitting out a bite of barbecue-sauced food. And then he added the kicker: “Never EVER do that again!” He’s been using that particular corrective here and there lately but it was pretty adorable under the circumstances. Never oversimplify the comparative qualities of one condiment with another again? Never make him try something he’s never eaten before again? I honestly don’t know, but I’ll do my best to stay out of that minefield for a while.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

A pretty good ride, so far

Last week I finally finished watching season one of Supernatural on DVD. This of course means that I am jonesing pretty hard for season two, because season one ends on a cliffhanger, as most serialized dramas do these days (read: the 21st century so far). It actually ends on a bit of a double cliffhanger, which is simultaneously enervating and amusing to me.

In the simplest sense the cliffhanger is that the three main monster-hunter characters – Sam, Dean, and their father John – are driving in one car which is t-boned by a tractor trailer at the intersection of two back-country roads. The last shot of the episode is a slow pan through the car over the bloodied, unconscious bodies of the Winchester men, and then upwards to the cab of the big rig, where the driver is sitting stock still, with wide open all-black eyes (the series’ signature for demonic possession). So it’s a classic how-will-they-get-out-of-this-one non-ending, although the tension is greatly diminished by the fact that I am well aware the show keeps going with both Sam and Dean alive and well and is headed into season seven this fall. (Admittedly I don’t know how much longer their father stays in the picture, so his ultimate fate is at least somewhat in doubt.)

Nice set of wheels
But in another sense the real cliffhanger is of the more soap-opera-y type, such as when a character answers the phone at 1:59 on Friday afternoon and says “Oh, hello Doctor, you have the test results?” and you have to wait until Monday to get the answer to the question. Because Supernatural never contented itself with being about a couple of brothers who knew in spite of conventional wisdom that boogeymen were real and traveled around America “hunting things and saving people”. It was about that, but it was also about the mysteries at the heart of why the boys knew there was more to life than conventional wisdom. There’s an early encounter with a paranormal evil that claims the life of their mother and sets the storytelling engines in motion, setting up knowledge of the secret world’s existence and motivation to work against it and pathos and angst all in one fell swoop, plus an arch-enemy in need of a reckoning that the whole season can build to. But for all that, it’s still deeply mysterious. It’s nothing as simple as “I know monsters are real because a monster killed my mom and now I hunt monsters.” There’s a constant suggestion that the monster went after the Winchesters specifically, particularly then-infant Sam, and that Sam is somehow important … and honestly it’s partly there in the episodes themselves in manifestations both subtle and ham-fisted, but partly it’s also in my consciousness because all of my buddies have seen way more episodes of the show than I have and I know there’s lots of stuff about prophecies and War Between Heaven and Hell and Sam’s role in things all coming down the pike. (I love my friends but they are not really spoiler-averse in general conversation.)

The point being that for all of Sam’s asking “Why us? Why me?” all season long, those questions never get answered. The mystery gets fleshed out with more and more information but it never coalesces into anything resembling a deciphered solution. And as I said, that is almost equal parts frustrating and impressive. I’m terribly over-invested in finding out those answers myself, yet I can’t help but admire the way the show’s writers kept things going for 22 episodes on a very slow burn that always felt like incremental progress, and then slammed into the final set of end credits with me twisting on the hook as ever. Five days later I am still in that strange state where I want to know what happens next and what it all means, but I’m enjoying the feeling, especially since at the same time I’m well aware that the payoff may be a big disappointment, whenever I finally do get to the point where they spell out what everything was supposed to mean. (Those revelations often are letdowns, I’ve found.)

Still, it certainly hasn’t been an experience that I’ve regretted spending time and brain-space on. Aside from the mysteries and cliffhangers and mythos-building and things like that, it’s a real reminder of certain other entertainment pleasures of mine. The soundtrack for the show is fantastic, almost entirely 70’s rock that makes me just want to cruise iTunes for hours pulling together a growls’n’distortion epic playlist of my own. And the episodes that spend about 40 seconds dropping another hint about what makes Sam so special and the other 39 minutes and change on the boys fighting the latest random, malevolent ghost remind me of well-played RPGs so much that I find myself making mental notes of how I could turn the urban legends from my own childhood into gaming sessions for my friends, which I haven’t had the opportunity to do in some time but hope to be able to work back toward sometime. And, of course, one of my buddies already has the rulebooks for the licensed Supernatural roleplaying game. Because of course they do.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Party like it's 1897

Yeah apparently there hasn't been an earthquake originating in Virginia of this magnitude in about 114 years, so ... wahoo?

I was on the 11th floor of my office building so I definitely felt something, but I honestly thought with all the people moving into the building this week someone had just dropped something heavy. Then next thing I know everyone's evacuating. I heard someone say they were glad they weren't in an elevator when it happened but all I could think to that was that the elevators in this building are such rattling garbage traps anyway that if I had been in one during the tremor I definitely wouldn't have noticed a thing.

I'm fine, my wife checked ina nd let me know she and the kids are fine, everything's fine. Bit of an odd day, though.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Post-Visit Stress Disorder

So my dad, step-mom and sister made it to Virginia on Friday, visited, and headed home on Sunday and everyone survived without any major blow-ups or freakouts. It would be nice to be able to append “not that I was expecting any!” to the end of the previous sentence, but that would be a big lie, undeniable even now in more than 24 hours of hindsight. I woke up both Saturday and Sunday mornings just feeling exhausted and sore with the full-body equivalent of a tension headache, because apparently my default mode of being around my father these days is “waiting for the other shoe to drop” whether or not it ever actually happens. I’m in a much better place mentally and emotionally as of today but my muscles are still a little tender (especially my forearms, which is a new phenomenon for me; was I really making fists all weekend long?) and those occasional twinges are reminder enough that keeping the peace in my extended family is not entirely without cost.

Aiming to the left, landing on the right
In lieu of major calamities there were a few minor drama-traumas. The little guy fell, as little ones often do, on the hardwood floor and split his lip open pretty good Saturday night, but that was a truly no-fault accident. My sister got a little woe-is-me over her fifth wheel status, too, but she is thirteen and pity parties kind of come with the territory. (And honestly I sympathize, I really do, but between having small children of my own and trying to play host to everybody I really couldn’t deal directly with that in any productive way.) My dad is still more than a little oblivious toward other people in various ways; he’ll talk about himself or offer unsolicited advice but rarely seems to just want to hear or learn about his kids (or their spouses); he’ll agree to a schedule in principle and then run late and botch it completely with no acknowledgement that his might inconvenience people; he’ll do things for himself at the expense of things that might actually make the most of the first time our respective families have spent visiting each other in over a year; etc. But all of that is more eye-rollingly annoying than egregiously hurtful, so huzzah for lower standards, I guess?

At any rate, I’m sure my dad thought it was a great visit which means at least I’m not the black sheep of his children for a little while. From my perspective, at least it’s over, except for the after-effects. The funny thing about that is that Wednesday and Thursday of this week, the rest of my contracting colleagues are finally catching up and moving over to the new office space. I think that if I were so inclined, I could volunteer to help them pack up today or tomorrow, and even get away with wearing blue jeans and t-shirts to work those days because of the physical nature of the tasks that need doing. But as I mentioned, I’m still all kinds of stiff and sore from holding my breath for most of the weekend, so I’ll just dress up and sit quietly in my cubicle and recuperate as best I can.

Friday, August 19, 2011

And then there were four

My wife and I some time ago came to conclusive agreement on the ideal total number (3) and exact configuration (2 feline, 1 canine) of pets. We actually had this particular set-up going for a while, but only for a while as our second cat succumbed to sudden illness. Soon thereafter we rescued our second dog, which respected the right pet population cap but inverse-optimal arrangement of species. At the time we thought both dogs would appreciate having a playmate, only to learn in time that they drive each other crazy. Meanwhile our lone cat (really my wife's cat, predating our dating) seems to enjoy her solitary station anyway. It's difficult, in hindsight, to pinpoint specifically if we codified the 3 max, 2 cats, 1 dog formulation before or after the back-up dog was adopted, but if we didn't I can be fairly certain that accord was reached shortly thereafter at the latest.

Not an actual photo of our kitten, but a reasonable approximation
So hey, did I mention that we rescued a kitten? Because we totally did. Also, did I mention that we got rid of any of the other pets? Of course not, because we absolutely didn't. So we now somehow have 2 cats and 2 dogs, and it's still too early to tell how all of their inter-bestial personality dynamics are going to work out because the kitten is very tiny and frail and confined to a large dog crate day and night (as much to prevent the itty little thing from getting lost down an air duct as to keep the overly inquisitive dogs and skeptical cat from messing with him). But of course the little guy adores the latest pet to join the family. Finally, after four months of being told that he can hug and kiss his baby sister but that's about it, there is another tiny creature in the house which he is actually permitted to pick up in his arms and carry around. Good times.

Thursday, August 18, 2011


So our baby daughter had her four-month checkup at the pediatrician on Monday, and my wife dutifully gave me the rundown that night, rattling off the vital stats (which I processed at the time as “acceptably hitting the right milestones” without memorizing the exact figures): weighs fifteen and a half pounds now, twenty-something inches long, something-something centimeters head circumference. In no small part do I attribute my lack of eidetic memory on the numbers to the weird mixing of units. Or as I put it to my wife: “How come the length is imperial and the phrenology is metric?” To which she immediately answered “Yeah, I know, that bugged me, too.” I struggle to express how truly grand it is for me to be able to ask questions using my own preferred terminology and not only have my wife answer in a way that reveals we are essentially on the same page, but not have her bat an eye at the question itself in the first place. She gets where I’m coming from.

But as discredited pseudoscience goes, it's so charming.
So the little girl is healthy and happy and measuring as she should in all respects. Her brother is, too, but of course at his age a lot of the as-he-should stuff , particularly in the mental emotional and social arenas, involves being contrary and independence-seeking and boundary-challenging and so forth. He’s been on a good roll lately (knock interweb-wood) with bedtimes, although last night we got into a slight power-scuffle over which stuffed animals and how many he was going to take to bed. First he wanted a massive orangutan doll which sits on top of his bookcase and is literally about the same size as the little guy; I told him that was not a good sleep-snuggy. He conceded the point if he could have his regular stuffed lion (which is the size of a small teddy bear) plus a Beanie Baby walrus plus some Beanie Baby monkeys. My counter-offer was lion, walrus and one monkey, which I lined up on his bed while telling him that three sleep-snuggies was all he needed.

Unburdened by logic or mathematic fundamentals as basic as the number line, the little guy then proceeded to tell me that I hadn’t given him three sleep-snuggies, I had given him six. He even counted them to demonstrate: “One … two … six!” He further asserted that he needed more stuffed animals to get three, because three is more than six, as he attempted to liberate more monkeys. I was perilously close to actually arguing with the little guy about his flawed methodology in numbering objects, but fortunately I realized that it was not the optimal time and place and managed to terminate the negotiations and get him into bed rather than digress too much into the philosophy of simple addition. I’m sure it was just a postponement of the inevitable.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011


I really did try to make the best of things yesterday as I was forced (twist my arm) to blow a day’s worth of personal leave and hang around the house to let in and generally supervise the service technicians who were scheduled to come to our assistance. Fortunately both pros were scheduled to come in the early afternoon and I had the morning free. I helped my wife to get ready for work and the kids to get ready for daycare. Once they were out the door I ran a shopping errand which otherwise would have had to wait until Thursday and eaten into my wife’s day off, and when I got back home I spent some time cleaning up a bit of the mess in the basement resulting from the leak as well as organizing down there a little more, seeing as how we’ll be having guests this weekend who will want the grand tour. I straightened up the main floor of the house, too, and hung some pictures, and did some laundry, and tried to be more productive than lazy.

And, I admit, I played some video games. There came a point where I felt I needed to be on the main floor of the house so I could answer the door quickly for both respective appointments, and I likewise felt I should be doing something which would be no trouble to unceremoniously walk away from at the chime of the doorbell. I also think that if you’re going to miss a day of work for whatever reason and not squeeze at least a little bit of enjoyment/entertainment out of it to recharge your spiritual batteries and gird yourself for the next stretch of grindstone-nosing days, you are missing a golden opportunity. So shortly before the pros were due, I made myself lunch and sat down at the computer and once again turned my attention to my recently renewed interest in City of Heroes.

I don’t think I mentioned it last time, but when I delved back into the MMO world of Paragon City this summer I started playing a brand new character rather than picking up where I left off with any of my other characters. (I have like six dozen of them, because I am just about obsessed with inventing superheroes.) Given various templates and power sets to choose from, I ended up making a somewhat scruffy, bearded dude with a sword and a shield (I would also have given him a cape but the way the game works you must earn your cape after reaching a certain level). And I dubbed this character … Quixote.

There’s an old joke about the massive multiplayer online roleplaying game model, which points out that the workings of the game world are somewhat at odds with the genres they attempt to emulate. In theory, you play a character in an MMORPG to experience the thrill of heroic adventure in a dangerous, living world. In practice, the world is a computer program and its dangers consist of random subroutines like wandering gangs of goblins (in a fantasy setting) or muggers (in something like City of Heroes). You can direct your character to beat up the bad guys and stop the mugging, and shortly after you knock out your enemies they will fade away, but shortly after that they will respawn so that someone else can have a turn at them. So in this sense (finally, here comes the joke) it is less like heroic adventure and more like social work. (Rim shot.) Granted, all video games are repetitive, no matter how many times Pac-Man eats those ghosts they just float their disembodied eyes back to the middle and then come out resheeted for more. Perhaps it’s simply more striking (to me, at least) in the milieu of archetypal figures ostensibly dedicated to ideals like “making the world a better place” as opposed to “gobbling pellets”.

Despite all my rage I am still just a blob in a maze.
And this of course is how I amuse myself, thinking about the inherent absurdities of things and highlighting them, literalizing the quixotic nature of cyber-superheroing. What I didn’t realize a few weeks ago was just how ironic it would be to be sitting in my house playing a video game in the guise of a superhero named Quixote while waiting for service appointments in what was starting to feel a lot like an uphill, unending and unwinnable battle against entropy itself to keep everything in my house operating at acceptable levels of functionality and comfort. It’s just about enough to get me to start over with another character, a be-toga-ed strongman named Sisyphus, perhaps.

Also, what I wouldn’t have given for a windmill yesterday to fan the house and keep it cool. (Not really how windmills work. I know.)

Also also, when my wife got home from work last night we were talking a bit about the kids and one particular boy at daycare whom our little guy seems to be best buds with, and my wife (accurately) assessed the other boy as sweet but possibly not very bright (as these things go for three-year-olds) and she said he was the Sancho Panza to our little guy’s Don Quixote. She actually portmanteaued our son as Don Juan Quixote to highlight his winning ways with the ladies, while she was at it. But the point is she was tossing around the Cervantes references with utterly no idea that I had been ruminating on them in a completely different context earlier. It’s a little bit frightening how simpatico we are.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Catastrophic decompression

Right, so last week when I made passing, almost unwilling reference to our house problems with leaky dishwashers and warped hardwood floors and noisy amelioration machines and such? If I had blogged over the weekend, I might have also reluctantly provided updates on the fact that our air conditioner started to crap itself.

So yesterday was my wife's day off and she was able to meet the water remediation guy who took away the dehumidifier and basement industrial fans. I played hooky from work today to stay home and meet not one but two service people, one who came and installed the replacement dishwasher part (so our weeklong domestic nightmare of washing dishes by hand is now at an end) and one who came to check out the AC. Dishwasher guy was in and out in about 45 minutes. AC guy was here for about 5 hours. He found massive freon leaks in both in the exterior and interior units and various other issues and problems and gave me a choice among

A - massive repairs to the whole system, which might extend the AC's life significantly, but no guarantees

B - minor repairs to the whole system just to get it working for a little while longer

and C - replacing the entire system

So I opted for B with an eye toward probably getting around to C sooner than later. It is a good dang thing this house was such a steal. Also an even better dang thing that fortunately the heat bubble has burst and the past weekend was really quite pleasant; opening all the windows and running every fan in the house made the lack of AC not that huge of a hardship. (If it had been 98 in both degrees of Fahrenheit and percent humidity we no doubt would have decamped to a hotel.)

Upshot is, as of this evening we have a non-leaking dishwasher and a functioning-at-the-moment AC. Fortunately I like to live in the now. Still need to have some contractors come out and look at the hardwood floor situation and then begin the actual work and all that fun stuff. I will, with no doubt a marked lack of enthusiasm, keep everyone posted.

Geekier, funner stuff tomorrow!

Monday, August 15, 2011

Parental Guidance

On Friday, my wife borrowed a DVD copy of Finding Nemo from one of her co-workers, the idea being that we might let the little guy watch it at some point over the weekend; since mommy had to work Saturday and Sunday, it was pretty highly likely that daddy might need an hour and a half of the little guy being self-sufficiently blissed out by brand-new (to him) Pixar animation sooner or later. We made it until about 9:30 Saturday morning before that time did in fact arrive.

As I think I’ve mentioned before, my son had prior to this past weekend seen exactly two full-length feature films in his entire life: Cars and Cars 2. Other than that he’s watched a few DVD compilations of children’s tv shows, but aside from running time the difference between those episodes of Bob the Builder or Thomas the Tank Engine or even the Friz Freleng Dr. Seuss cartoons and a full-length movie is that the latter is more narratively complex and brings in real issues of conflict along with a heavier emotional palette. The little guy and I have had long conversations many a time about the ending of Cars where (spoilers) Chick Hicks wins the Big Race, but he does it in an unacceptably mean way, while Lightning could have won but chooses instead to help someone who needs help. And Cars is one of the least complex of the Pixar movies.

Finding Nemo, on the other hand, is dark as Hades. Not visually, of course, it’s arguably the most gorgeous story Pixar’s ever told. But happy ending notwithstanding they go to some awful, despair-filled nightmarish places in that flick. As a matter of fact they start out squarely in that territory almost from the get-go.

Now here’s the thing: my wife and I realized a while ago that if you roughly divide children’s entertainment into two categories you get the insipid on one side and the subversive on the other. Either there are no stakes and everyone cooperates and sings songs of support while teaching some platitude or other (again, hey there Bob the Builder and Thomas the Tank Engine!) or there are actual consequences and dangers and genuinely scary or at least unsettling stuff (like most Disney and other fairy-tale type stuff). (Granted there is also a third kind of stuff which is really just trash with consequence-free violence and no morals at all, but that’s pretty easy to avoid at this point.) The little guy is drawn to some of the insipid stuff and we really don’t have a problem with that, but we’re not going to shield him from the more problematic stuff, either.

Well, except maybe the extremely problematic. My wife and I of course both saw Finding Nemo years ago and so we both thought the little guy would like it but we also both knew that the movie opens with Marlin and Coral looking over their clutch of eggs and then HOLY CRAP BARRACUDA ATTACK AND CORAL AND ALMOST ALL THE BABIES DIE. Now on the one hand this is a bog-standard fairy-tale trope, having the main character be down at least one if not both parents. It’s just that usually we meet, say, Aladdin the orphan and motherless Princess Jasmine a bit farther along in their stories. And of course, Finding Nemo isn’t really motherless Nemo’s story entirely, anyway, it’s mostly Marlin’s, and we have to see what Marlin had and how he lost 99.9% of it to understand how traumatized he is and what his quest signifies, yeah, yeah, I get all that. But that Barracuda attack scene – man, I can’t get behind showing that to a three-year-old. So my wife and I agreed, when/if the little guy saw Finding Nemo for the first time, we would cue it up for him, skip the first scene, and let him watch the rest from there. The sharks, the jellyfish, the whale, Darla the Fishkiller – all of that I figured he could handle but, sweet Poseidon, not the clownfish massacre at the beginning.

So did I execute the plan as such when I sat the little guy down on Saturday morning to watch the movie? I did. Here’s the interesting thing about the way they broke the scene/chapters on the DVD though. Movie starts, I hit Next, and we cut to scene two, which is not really a traditional scene break with a change in location or fade from black or anything like that. Scene two is the immediate aftermath of the barracuda attack. The first moment of the scene is Marlin saying “Oh no” and – all admiration in the world to Albert Brooks because he sells it – it is the sound of grief and shock and horror. But of course that is immediately followed by Marlin realizing there is one egg left, one tiny egg with a crack in its membrane and a teeny-tiny adorable embryonic fish inside and Marlin scoops it up and says “it’s ok, daddy’s got you, daddy’s here and I promise I will never let anything happen to you” which is about the point where I had to set down the remote and walk away before the little guy could see that I was on the verge of losing it. In other words I made it about ten seconds in before I was almost bawling. Dammit, Pixar. The little guy, of course, was already totally sucked in and oblivious to my emotional contortions and to Pixar’s credit they don’t linger on Marlin’s devastation any longer than that, there’s a quick dissolve to the title card and then another quick fade in on the anemone years later as Nemo is waking up his dad on the first day of school, and it’s very high energy and engaging and silly and funny. Bumpy start, though.

But the important thing is the little guy loved it. And, I should note, he found it thought-provoking as well. Later that night we were discussing why the divers took Nemo away in the first place, and I explained that they wanted a clownfish in their aquarium but they didn’t give any thought to what the clownfish might want or how the clownfish might feel being taken away from his home in the ocean, and the little guy seemed to process that pretty well. (I think there is actually a throwaway line in the movie about how the diver/dentist actually thinks he’s “rescuing” Nemo because Nemo has that one undersized fin, and wouldn’t have survived long on the reef, but I didn’t get into that.) I didn’t really predict my first attempts at teaching empathy to my children would intersect so closely with anthropomorphized cartoon sealife, but I’ll take it.

Friday, August 12, 2011


You may have noticed that I spent the vast majority of this week looking backwards: Lost Dog and Lost Dog, Revisited; the political satires I read and watched up through last Friday; the blogging job I didn’t apply for. About the only current events I got into involved the birthday party we took the little guy to, and the clue there is the “took” part, as in, something which got us out of the house.

If it seemed like I was avoiding observing and/or commenting on what was going on around me at the time, that’s not an unfair assessment. It’s been a bit of a fuster around the old homestead this week. A minor malfunction of our dishwasher (which gets run pretty much every single day) resulted in lots of water leaking behind the walls and under the floor and into the ceiling of the basement, which is how I finally became aware of the situation when a saturated ceiling tile collapsed to the floor. Because you see it was one of those minor but insidious leaks, not enough to flood the kitchen in three inches of water but enough to do some damage to the hardwood floors, with the capacity for even more structural damage if we hadn’t caught it relatively early. (And by ‘we’ of course I mean ‘the plumber we had come over on Monday’.)

Did not actually happen!
Thereafter began a round of calling the homeowners insurance people, who in turn called a water mitigation services company, who sent somebody out Tuesday evening to check the damage. He ended up leaving us with multiple industrial machines (dehumidifiers and circulator fans) which were to run round-the-clock drying out our floor as much as possible to limit the harm done. We were also instructed to order a replacement part for the dishwasher and not run it until the new part was installed. Said part was located Wednesday and takes six days to arrive, so we’ve been hand-washing dishes when we bother to use them (that birthday party really could not have been better timed as a way to get away from the racket in our kitchen and also have dinner taken care of; last night we had take-out and dirtied some plates but at least didn’t have to hand-scrub pots).

Today some of the fans were picked up and taken away but the floor was still reading as wet (according to some kind of resistivity measurer the water mitigation guy uses) so the dehumidifier stayed along with a couple fans in the basement pointed at the ceiling. The plan is to let the run over the weekend and be done with them by Monday, and hopefully we’ll have the dishwasher part by Tuesday to be installed … Thursday, I guess? The point being we’re getting there, but we’re not there yet. It’s fine, hardly the end of the world, and we will survive (and in theory get a nice brand new hardwood floor for the low, low price of our insurance deductable) but … you can probably expect me to blog mostly about abstract stuff for most of next week, too.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Ups and Downs and In-Betweens


Need I even point out that the worst aspect of temporarily misplacing our dog over the weekend was the effect that it had on the little guy? Probably I need not. But for completeness’s sake, let me sketch it out a bit more.

As much to head off a potential meltdown-level tantrum as anything, when it was decided on Sunday afternoon that I would walk around the neighborhood looking for and calling out to our dog, it was concurrently decided that I would take the little guy with me. So I strapped him into his stroller and set off to comb the cul-de-sacs in our vicinity. And at first the little guy was entirely helpful to the cause. Every time I called out the dog’s name, the little guy would echo me, and in a nice throaty register that carried pretty well, to boot. That’s my boy. Of course, we were a few neighborhoods away from where our pooch had ended up by that point and would later be retrieved from, so all the yelling was moot.

I think I mentioned that it was a hot, muggy afternoon, too. And loud yelling can be fairly taxing under any circumstances. Eventually I noticed that the little guy was no longer echoing my calls; at first I assumed that he had simply gotten bored of the repetitive nature of it all, but when I asked the little guy a direct question and he failed to answer, I realized that he had simply fallen asleep. I continued shouting our dog’s name but the little guy slept through it all, until we made it all the way back to our house and I physically unloaded him from the stroller.

At that point it was almost dinner time, so my wife took the baby girl in her car to drive around on mutt-spotting patrol, leaving me alone with the little guy to make an attempt at feeding him. And there we were, standing in the kitchen, the little guy still baked from cruising around outside and cranky with being recently roused from a pretty deep sleep and generally hungry, and without warning he burst into tears and wailed “I WANT MY DOGGIE!” So yeah, that was definitely the worst. I was worried about the dog having been hit by a car, concerned that my wife would be saddened if the dog did not eventually turn up (as I kept promising he would) and all manner of other consternations, but my son crying was far and away the emotional bottoming out.

So, good thing the dog did turn up safe and sound after all. I’m just choosing not to think about what we’ll do at the end of his natural lifespan.


But, you know, one day you confront the bleak possibility of losing a beloved (relatively speaking) family pet, another day you go to a three-year-old’s birthday party and everything is bright balloons and sugar rushes. And that’s where we were last night. I picked up the kids from daycare, swung out to my wife’s place of business where she had arranged her schedule to be able to clock out early, and the four of us proceeded to the multi-moonbounce playhouse where we’ve been known to take the little guy to blow off steam from time to time. They do birthday parties too, of course, even on weeknights. (I think the necessity of a Wednesday evening party was dictated by the fact that the mom works weekends as a nurse, so I can get behind that without too much problem.)

The little guy had a blast, running around after the birthday girl and occasionally making very gentlemanly offers to catch her as she slid off the base of some of the more elevated moonbounces. Despite only being three and a half weeks younger, our little guy is noticeably smaller than the princess in question, so on one occasion when I observed the offer accepted, the birthday girl basically landed on top of my son and flattened him. I had seen a similar scenario play out earlier in the day, with one of the little guy’s male peers at daycare falling on top of him accidentally, which caused the little guy to pitch a fit. Birthday girl lands on him, he gets up and dusts himself off with no concern whatsoever. Chivalry never hurts, apparently.

Loud but gallant. Flesh of my flesh, he is.

Sparkle on, ladies.
Anyway, not for nothing did I call the birthday girl “princess” since it was a Disney Princess themed party and the little lady’s celebratory outfit consisted of a pink shirt, pink tights, a glittery pink fairy-tutu, and I’m seeing a tiara in my mind’s eye but that might just be a completist projection. Still, she did it up princess-style and more girl-power to her. The facility also offered a giant, inflatable throne where the birthday child (it’s a fairly unisex primary colored throne) is intended to sit while they open their gifts. My favorite part was when one of the older children handed the birthday girl a gift bag, which proved to be so heavy that she slowly slid out of the throne, dragged from her vinyl seat by the sheer weight.

The little guy’s dinner that night consisted of three bites of pizza (two of which were all crust), half a cupcake, two full-sized Capri Sun pouches, and a packet of Goldfish crackers from his goody bag. I thought about giving him the marshmallow rope to eat on the way home just to see what would happen, but my less masochistic side prevailed. And when we got home there was no bath, just a quick change to pajamas, a long story, and a face-scrubbing and tooth-brushing before being tucked in an hour later than usual. So pretty close to an ideal day in the little guy’s view, I’m sure.


The little guy continues to amuse all the time, with what he says and the way he says it. He’s getting remarkably adept at doing voices, complete with accents and speaking cadences and characteristic vocal qualities. His impression of Mater in particular has this adorable gravelly quality that kills me.

Then there’s the slightly more poignant death-by-amusement variant. As mentioned, last night bedtime was unavoidably pushed back. When the little guy was finally under the covers with the lights out, I asked him if he wanted me to sing to him. He always wants whoever is putting him to bed to sing to him, but the asking is part of the ritual. And usually the singing consists of three songs, two about driving and one wordless lullaby (the “doo-doo-doos”). However, last night the answer coming from the little guy was, “Just sing one song. The song about the moon.” We had been making up a song about the moon on the drive home because we could see it rising in the sky, so I obliged him and sang it again. It wasn’t very long. And when I had finished, the little guy very contentedly gave the following direction: “Now go away.”

And so I did. He kills me.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Application FAIL recently posted a notice that they were accepting applications for an in-house pop culture blogger, a fact which was brought to my attention by my lovely wife along with some overt encouragement to submit my resume. Nothing ventured, nothing gained, and nothing but upside if I should happen to somehow hit the jackpot, right? Maybe, but although I seriously considered the notion I did not, in the end, pull the trigger. I think ultimately there were two big reasons for that.

First, the request as stated on the website was for a cover letter and resume and not, by way of contrast, a chipper note accompanying a blog link. I certainly could have provided the latter and done so as a lark, on the million-to-one shot at getting someone’s attention and proceeding from there but not really missing a beat if I never heard back. But the former case, the implicit seriousness and professionalism of a cover letter and resume? That was a lot harder to wrap my head around.

I haven’t had to shop my resume around since about 2007 or so, and obviously when I did it was to secure a job as a web database programmer. So I wouldn’t have needed to update my resume so much as create a completely new one from scratch that would be geared towards a gig as a writer/blogger. And aside from my English degree, an article I sold to a roleplaying game magazine back in 2006, and of course How the West Was Weird, what else would I even include on that alterna-C.V.? The fact is I don’t have all that much professional (or even volunteer) writing experience and thus a real, grown-up resume trying to make that case would be suspiciously thin on bullet points, and probably formatted in 44 point type. I briefly considered drafting a kind of gag resume that would include my precious few accomplishments and then pad out the rest with obvious jokes: turning everyday pop culture consumption into noteworthy achievements, making outrageous claims at imaginary honorifics, and so on. But then that seemed like a lot of effort for what would likely end up discarded unremarked upon by the designated resume-sorter as they looked for actual, viable candidates.

And speaking of effort and time, my second hesitation arose from the feeling that I wasn’t really qualified for the job. Not in terms of blogging chops, I know I can write every day and do so tolerably well. And not in terms of overall pop culture familiarity, because modern entertainment in all its wondrous forms is something I am passionately, perhaps overly, invested in. But basically in terms of on-top-of-it-ness. Because I’m not. On top of things.

I assume that a pop culture blogger would be expected to read new books when they are released, watch new tv shows the night they are broadcast, download new music the day it becomes available, and respond to those offerings in 750-word posts within a reasonably rapid turnaround time. And man oh man, I am not the guy for that job. This week I am reading a sci-fi novel published in 1976, and I plan on watching a blockbuster from 2008 on DVD on Friday (but no promises!). I love comics but I am deeply ambivalent about whether or not I am going to wander into a comics shop next month and buy any of the “New 52” titles as DC Comics relaunches their entire universe, or if instead I will just continue filling out my eclectic runs of 1980’s series I missed the first time around. And so on. You could say that this blog has a strong pop-culture influence to it, but you could also say with more specificity that the recurring theme is more along the lines of “holy crap check it out you guys somehow I was able, amidst the wrangling of two children under three and the upkeep of my old-as-I-am suburban home, to enjoy the following piece of decades-old entertainment which is somewhat related to one of my weirdly specific geeky interests!”

This one's for Tom!
And that very much works for me, but it doesn’t seem like the perspective that a major online publication would really be recruiting for. So I didn’t throw my hat in the ring. Still and all, if the fine people at Slate stumble across my blog because I linked to them, and they like what they see here and want to talk about a paying contract for me to keep it going, that’s a conversation I’m totally willing to have.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

BBB meets PSW

BBB (Beach Books on a Bus) and SMOAT (Summer Movies on a Train) are still rolling along, although last week might have seemed like a slight deviation from what the alleged mission statement of the dual programs purport to be (something something trashy genre paperbacks something mindless blockbusters something). In fact a little mini-theme unto itself accidentally developed: Political Satire Week.

First I should perhaps remind everyone that I have been tightening my belt and curtailing my purchases of non-essential items such as books. (Though on some level, with Borders currently having liquidation sales, this kind of kills me.) This means that I am working my way down through a diminishing pile of reading material accumulated over the previous months, some of which was specifically intended for BBB but not with a fanatical amount of planning to account for X number of commuting hours until Labor Day. Thus, in order to pace myself, I’ve been a bit more open to reading what’s actually stacked on top of the bookshelf rather than running out to buy another opening volume of a Dragonlance trilogy. I bought quite a few beachy paperbacks the last time I was at the used book store, and I also bought a book called Boomsday which I might not have picked up unassisted but which was brought to me by the little guy as he perused the shelves on his own. I can only assume he was drawn to the bright primary colors of the jacket’s design elements; all I know is when my son hands me a book and says “Here, Daddy, wanna buy this one?” it is very hard for me to say no (especially when said book costs all of a couple bucks and more than covered by my balance of store credit, to boot). So Boomsday came home with a load of BBB, which just about qualifies at this point as “close enough”.

I haven't read the book, but I do heartily recommend the movie
It’s also pretty funny, and while the overriding vibe of BBB tends to be light sci-fi and fantasy escapism and so on, comedy has its place, too. The book is written by Christopher Buckley, the same guy who brought the world Thank You For Smoking, and Boomsday also skewers the world of public relations and media saturation and so forth, while also mocking the Social Security program, hard politics and presidential runs, and the generational divides in America. It’s set in the near future so it can exaggerate a few trends for comedic effect (although this does backfire a tiny bit, when people insult each other with insinuations of Osama Bin Laden being on their speed dial – how could Buckley have known in 2007 that Bin Laden would be killed in 2011 and no one in 2020-whatever would be talking about him in the present tense anymore?) and it’s not exactly uplifting in either subject matter or apparent conclusions about human nature, but it is over-the-top enough to have made me chuckle under my breath a few times.

Still and all, you might think I would be exceedingly eager to counterbalance the thought-provoking rigors of such a book with a Friday flick along the lines of Hellboy II: The Golden Army. And you would be bang-on right. But, coincidentally, last week heralded a brand new month, which meant certain changes I had made to my Netflix account of late finally went into effect. So although I sent Bull Durham (aka Holy Sweet Honus Wagner How Had I Never Seen This Fantastic Movie Before) back the prior weekend, I did not receive a new disc in exchange because I am now on the 2-movies-out-at-a-time plan, rather than 3. As of Friday my train-bound viewing choices were Date Night (which I intend to watch with my wife just as soon as we have something resembling a free evening together) and In The Loop. And as has been exhaustively documented I am a sucker for thematic consistency, so I went with the indie flick satirizing international politics and build-ups to manufactured wars. Which, again, kind of a bummer when something is funny because it’s true but the truths are so inherently awful. But I laughed, a lot, very nearly passing into the territory of “weird guy laughing out loud on the train” that I strive to avoid.

And all of that was of course just the entertainment backdrop to another week commuting to within spitting distance of D.C. and working for a government contractor, all while the debt ceiling compromise was coming into final, ultra-ugly view and the subsequent fallout. I like political satire as much as the next guy, probably a little more to be honest, but I have a feeling that PSW might prove to be a very infrequent programming theme. There are various things I could willingly allow myself to o.d. on, but I’m reasonably sure that shouldn’t be one of them.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Out of sight, out of my mind

Thursday of last week, my son misplaced some of his favorite toys. This doesn’t happen all that often, really. Sometimes it might take a moment or two to locate a specific toy amidst the general tide of clutter that ebbs and flows across the living room floor and sometimes stretches as far as the foyer or the dining room, but that’s not such a hardship. Other times we might have to remember that the little guy had wandered off to the den with toy in hand, or that he had been allowed to bring a certain plaything upstairs and into the bath, but again, those steps are easy to retrace and the mislaid toys easily recovered.

Every once in a while, though, something will end up in an odd, out-of-the-way nook of the house and require a little more effort in the retrieval. This is what happened last week, and it was all the more strange because it was three toys that went missing all at once – and, of course, they were Cars and not just any Cars but the high triumvirate of The Big Race, Lightning McQueen and the King and Chick Hicks, the lattermost of which had only just been presented as a reward for the little guy’s good behavior a mere two days prior. Then suddenly all three were nowhere to be found.

They were missing for about 30 hours or so, but those were a long 30 hours. I found out about it when I got home from work on Thursday. Earlier in the day my wife had seen the little guy playing with the three cars, and then had to bundle the kids into the car and go run a few errands. By the time they got home neither the little guy nor my wife could remember exactly where he had been playing just before they left the house. The only certain thing was that the toy cars had not gone along for the ride and had to still be somewhere in the house. But checking all of the usual and unusual-but-not-unheard-of places (including just inside the coat closet door, and inside the play-kitchen oven) yielded zip.

Once active searching had ceased (or at least been put off until the free time of the weekend would allow for more thorough house-dismantling) I was still in low-grade lookout mode. Fortunately, we were almost positive that all three cars would be found together, and all three are different colors. So while a blue car might get overlooked between blue couch cushions, some combination of blue, red and/or green should stand out to the watchful eye. Or so I hoped. And ultimately, indeed, it was Lightning’s cheery red that caught my eye on Friday night when my wife was giving the little guy a bath and I was changing his sister’s diaper in her room, and I happened to notice first one and then all three cars, lined up along the wooden seat of the nursery’s glider, tucked between the cushion and the armrest. Why exactly the little guy was lining up the cars in furniture crevasses in his sister’s room, we may never know. But crisis averted, and potential dark cloud hanging over the weekend lifted!

And then on Sunday afternoon our older dog ran away.

My wife told me early and often not to beat myself up, but it was totally my fault. I had been doing yardwork earlier in the day and in the course of cleaning up afterwards somehow managed not to secure the gate in our backyard fence. In the afternoon we let the dogs out into the backyard and, while the backup dog saw no point in leaving our property, something must have gotten his big canine brother’s attention and lured him beyond the confines. Sometimes we leave the dogs out for long stretches if they don’t immediately bark to be let back in, and by the time I went to re-admit them, only one came through the door. Rounds of walking and driving the neighborhood while calling our dog’s name followed, but he didn’t come back, which was distressingly inconsistent with his previous patterns of behavior. We were forced to conclude that he had been found by a fellow dog-lover who didn’t think he should be wandering the streets (compounding my overall guilt, it was a very hot and muggy day around our neck of the woods, so no doubt the dog was panting like crazy and someone was moved to pity on his behalf) and was thus out of earshot. And we hoped like mad that said dog-lover would bring our mutt to the cops or shelter or vet, where someone could scan him for his microchip and bring about the technologically enabled reunion. All we could do was wait for that to happen.

But still, kicking around the house last night, I found myself once again in low-grade lookout mode, even though it made absolutely no rational sense. As if we had simply misplaced the dog and kept overlooking him, and if I checked under the right bed or in the correct corner in the back of the closet, he might turn up and we could all relax. Utterly irrational, but even when I consciously acknowledged such, I couldn't shake off the feeling that it was important I keep a constant vigil.

Fortunately this story, too, has a happy ending, as my wife swung by the animal shelter Monday morning and was told that yes, someone had called to see if anyone had reported a medium-sized black dog with a red collar missing. There was some rigamarole with privacy concerns where my wife had to leave her number, the shelter had to call back the caller and pass those numbers on, and then my wife had to wait for the finder to call her to confirm they had our dog. But they did and they did and as of 4:30 in the afternoon the walkabout adventure was over and the animal/human balance in the house had been restored. Huzzah.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Saturday Grab Bag Why Not

Department of Corrections: My wife brought to my attention on Thursday night that the links I had tried to include in my Wednesday geek-ramble were malfunctioning. That will teach me to not check my posts as they go live, and also to double-check the technical stuff when I copy from Word into the Blogger interface. The point being, they are fixed! If you were desperately curious to follow where I was trying to point you, you can time-travel back to Wednesday and have at it again.


Yankees/Red Sox this weekend! And all three games are being televised on national feeds, because it's a battle for first in the AL East and apparently (despite the Sox pretty much having the Yanks number this season, especially at Fenway) everyone thinks it could go either way. Last night's game gave me ulcers, but the Bombers managed to get the W (and without a home run, too). Not a great start for Bartolo Colon, which bums me out because I look to that guy, a professional athlete, as justification for describing my own build as "athletic".

Just more of me to love, senoritas.
My wife, for her part, has decided that her favorite thing about baseball right now is that it's almost time for football.


I know it's been a minor eternity since I did an SGB post, and I'm not saying they're going to become regular again, but we'll see. At the moment both children are relatively unfussy and my lovely wife is taking some morning exercise. And I really wanted to address the broken-links-from-Wednesday thing. And I've been sitting on that dumb Bartolo Colon joke for a while. So there you go.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Helping less fortunate kids

It’s August, so I’m allowed to talk about back-to-school stuff now, right? Maybe? What if it’s for a good cause?

Volunteers of America runs a program called Operation Backpack that turns donations into school supplies for needy children in homeless shelters, foster care, and other less than optimal circumstances. I’m not even going to try to be snarky or wry about that, that’s just some outstanding civic heroism right there.

So right now you can help out Operation Backpack and at the same time you can get your hands on an ebook version of How The West Was Weird Volume 2, and its predecessor volume (which doesn’t feature any stories by me but is still a good little anthology) and fifteen other ebooks, all for the low low price of $10, profits passed on to the charity.


Thanks. I promise to be much more wry and altogether snarkier about inappropriate seasonal lead times when the stores bring out their Halloween stuff in about a week and a half.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Or maybe they're lulling us while hatching big schemes for later

I am both pleased and relieved to report that the outlook on the child-rearing front is generally improving. The little girl remains an unimpeachable peach. There was some worry that as she passed her thirteenth week out of the womb (marking the end of the legendary fourth trimester which some evolutionary biologists (not to mention amateur evolution enthusiasts such as myself) believe would be better spent gestating if our heads didn’t get so dang big that childbirth at 53 weeks would be physically impossible) she would mysteriously transform into an altogether different creature in terms of temperament, biorhythmic schedule, and so forth. But thankfully no. She is still mellow and accepting of pretty much whatever the current circumstances dictate. Time for school? Fine by her. Time to sleep not eat, or eat not play, etc? Copacetic. Recently there have been a few more 3 am awakenings than had happened in a while, but nothing so major as to ruin an entire night’s sleep. (Or sometimes nothing so major as to even wake me up, for which I give abundant credit and gratitude to the mother of my children whom I by no means take for granted.) So the little girl is still good as gold.

Well at least he's smiling.
And the little guy has been much less monstrous as well. It took some more thinly-veiled bribery, as well as a fair amount of patience in reacquainting him with exactly how that works, but he is now back in the groove of collecting stickers at bedtime for good behavior and cashing in set numbers of stickers for small rewards. He hasn’t attempted a running breakout from his bedroom at naptime or bedtime in several days, and yesterday he was rewarded with a diecast Chick Hicks (do I even need to elucidate that Chick is a character from the movie Cars, at this point? I think it’s more than fair for you, the reader, to assume any fictional character in my son’s orbit is from Cars unless I specifically annotate otherwise.) I don’t know if there’s a connection with his joy at receiving this latest sought-after prize, but yesterday at school he took a 2 hour nap. I can’t remember how long it’s been since that happened, but I know it’s been quite a stretch because the daycare provider marking the nap’s duration on the little guy’s daily report festooned the number 2 with all manner of exclamation points and smiley faces. So really, when the little guy’s happy, everybody’s happy.

Bottom line, it feels like the inmates of the asylum are reasonably under control. And of course by simply saying that I’ve all but guaranteed that something or other will gang agley, but so it goes.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Fight For Freedom

Back in April, when I read The Freedom Phalanx, one of the City of Heroes novelizations, I posted some thoughts about it. Last month I read another novel set in that game-world, Web of Arachnos, and that pretty much passed without comment. Mainly that was due to the fact that the second novel wasn’t much of a different reading experience from the first; it covered a different, earlier period in the fictional history of that fictional setting, but it employed all the same tropes and suffered all the same pitfalls as its counterpart. It amused me and I enjoyed it, but I don’t think any deeper analysis than that is required. What I didn’t realize at the time, however, was that it would kick off something of a resurgence in my preoccupation with Paragon City.

I pointed out in the Freedom Phalanx post how that novel skipped right over the origin stories of individual heroes and dove straight into the story of how a superhero team which had disbanded was reformed by a new generation when the city needed them most. I almost certainly read the novels out of order, because not only does Web of Arachnos take place in the 1930’s, but it is essentially the origin stories of the heroic Statesman, the evil Lord Recluse, the several support-role heroes who make up the first incarnation of the Freedom Phalanx, and the FP itself. Again, everything that happens in the Web of Arachnos novel has to happen, in order to lay the groundwork for the video game world in which the MMORPG is set. But it was competently done, especially in terms of the little details that set Statesman apart from his obvious comic book inspiration(s).

In thinking about that inspiration, though, I was put in mind of another blog which I enjoy both for the sheer, insane amount of content posted there on a daily basis (all by one dude from Canada!) and its subject matter: Siskoid’s Blog of Geekery. One of the recurring features Siskoid currently provides is called Reign of the Supermen. Superman has appeared in many different forms and variations within official publications of his corporate owner, DC Comics, and has also inspired countless analogues, homages, rip-offs, and so on. So for close to a year now, Siskoid has been posting one profile every single day of a character who is a version of Superman, from the copyrighted on-model iterations to the parodies, subversions and deconstructions. I’ve been enjoying the feature, and after reading an entire novel about a Superman-analogue, I was possessed with the urge to e-mail Siskoid and ask when he was going to profile Statesman for a Reign entry. After a bit of back-and-forth, he did so this past Monday. I was geeked, especially because he basically (with permission) used a lot of my arguments/analysis about exactly what kind of Superman analogue Statesman is.

He's a bad mutha.  SHUT YO MOUTH!  I'm just talkin' bout Statesman.  Yeah, I can dig it.
With all of that heavy thinking about City of Heroes characters, I realized that I still hadn’t played the actual game in quite a while, despite finally upgrading to a new computer not too long ago. So over the weekend, during a couple of peaceful interludes when both children were either asleep or at least (in the case of a certain rowdy little guy) temporarily confined to their rooms with doors shut for Designated Quiet Time, I fired up the MMORPG and reacquainted myself with it. I think I mentioned that my wife and I deliberately purchased a very economical home PC just so that we could have something that a scanner, Skype, iTunes and a few other peripherals could be connected to, and also to store files (for a while, until the next inevitable upgrade) someplace other than my fading laptop or our mini-netbook. To borrow some analogies from my wife’s line of work, my laptop is like a gray-muzzled Golden Retriever with arthritis in his hips whom you really don’t want to ask too much of if you can help it; the netbook is like a cute little toy dog who seems fine but (in my mind at least) you never know when an unobserved defect is suddenly going to make it drop dead. Clearly we needed another workable dog-computer. Or something. But nothing extravagant. However I am pleased to say that even a cheap-o desktop manufactured in the past year is a lot more powerful than the best that 2004 had to offer, which approximates whence the older home PC originated. So City of Heroes is almost a completely new experience for me, it just loads so much faster and plays so much smoother. I am geeked again!

I was in fact so smitten with the enhanced gameplay that I elected to keep playing a few more levels on Saturday even after the little guy’s Designated Quiet Time was over. He asked if he could sit on my lap while I played, and that was fine with me … and then the “why” questions began. I consider it a fortunate blessing that my son will almost certainly not remember that particular conversation from before he was three years old, not that anything went horribly wrong during it, but it wasn’t full of sparkling insight, either. It’s tough to explain to a child, who still needs frequent reminders that we don’t hit or bite or kick and we must be nice to people, that it is highly entertaining to daddy to play a game where you make a man run around hitting and kicking. The morality gets even more questionable considering that the rules of the CoH game allow and encourage you to identify enemies and get the drop on them before they attack you, which means you often come upon bad guys who aren’t really doing anything bad, and you commence whomping on them without provocation. I found myself seeking out the programmed instances where the computer generates hoodlums attempting to steal the purse of an innocent civilian, because in those cases I could unleash the fury and still assure my little guy that I was the good guy because stealing is wrong.

I long, long ago made my peace with violent entertainment all the way up to and including horror movies and revenge stories, but it’s only now that I’m realizing that all of my sophisticated rationalizations about challenging art and the release valves of a sane society don’t really work very well in service of the simple “hurting people is wrong” values I’m trying to instill in a very small child of my own. I suspect as time continues to march on, bonecrunching video games and the like will have to be post-bedtime, adults-only business. Because it’s not like I’m going to give that stuff up or anything. I just got back into the game.