Friday, December 26, 2008

Oops, Belatedly

http://www.somethingawful.com/flash/shmorky/weekendweb4.swf

...Eh, okay, so that wasn't supposed to be a post, but I'll leave it up anyway because it actually is funny. It's good to come back to that "how is babby formed" bit, and I've noticed xkcd has referenced it as well so maybe it's gaining some ground?

Anyway, I was having a bad time getting that thing to load so I posted it as a direct link in here so I could just grab the Shockwave file directly to my laptop. Except it loaded incompletely so it's not a perfect process but, yeah, that's usually how I get video files I want to see over and over again. I wasn't able to remember the URL for that particular episode so it's just simpler to possess it.

Fluctuating Costs in Memory

I'm intrigued by the recent developments in flash drive technology. For the past year I've lusted after an 8GB flash drive no bigger than the last metacarpal of my thumb, barely bigger than a quarter, and shock- and water-resistant to boot: Super Talent's Pico-C 8GB USB flash drive. I love Think Geek but they claim it lists for $50 and they sell it for $30 (when it's in stock). NewEgg.com more competitively prices this at $17.

So what else is out there?

NewEgg.com has a CENTEON 8GB flash drive for $10. They also sell the OCZ Diesel 16GB for $23.50, and the A-DATA 32GB for $55. They're selling the Kingston DataTraveler 150 for $123, and you get 64GB of memory with that one.

J&R Electronics sells a Dane-Elec 8GB for $13. It's not as physically diminutive as the Pico-C, but it's cheaper for the same storage. They also have the Kingston DataTraveler but for $110.

For negligibly more, A11 Devices is selling a Lenovo 16GB model for $14. I've never heard of this company and I can't find any reputable online business rating for them, whereas I've had positive experiences with NewEgg and J&R.

So, for eight gigabytes:
  • NewEgg's CENTEON - $10
  • Amazon's used Ativa - $10
  • J&R's Dane-Elec - $13
  • SuperMediaStore's A-DATA - $16
  • ThinkGeek's Pico-C - $30
And who sells the SuperTalent Pico-C 8GB drive?
I have some affection for ThinkGeek, but it really pays to shop around in some cases.

(Ed. note: This post rendered in Firefox.)

Yesterday was Christmas

I've noticed the formatting here changes depending on which browser I'm using. Mainly, this is an issue of extra hard-breaks or carriage returns. I'm going to try out each of the four browsers I use and see what effect they have on posting. I'm writing this entry in Internet Explorer (much to my chagrin).

Two days ago I knocked out a large portion of errands: I drove out to Office Max to buy new toner for my printer and recycled the old toner cartridge at the store. Immediately, I drove back out there and retrieved it because I forgot that the toner cartridge actually rides inside another case that mounts inside the printer and I'd thrown away the whole thing. Fortunately, a very sweet girl working at the counter remembered me from twenty minutes prior and found the mechanism for me.

I needed the toner to print out a packing slip for another sale: someone bought my The Preacher #6 via Amazon.com and I wanted to get it out in the mail as soon as possible. I printd the packing slip, bundled it up in a bubble mailer, and drove downtown to deliver it through the Loop Station, which is perhaps the greatest mail outlet in operation today. Unfortunately they closed at noon on Xmas Eve, so I used the automated postage generator and perhaps overpaid a couple bucks on postage, but Amazon charges the buyer plenty for postage and tacks that onto my income, so I'm fine with it. I walked over to Rebecca's office and we drove home together.

We packed up and drove up to mom's house in Blaine. The weather, though frigid, presented moderate driving conditions and we arrived without incident. Rob was already at the house and, all assembled, we had a large dinner and watched Elf. Mom and I had never seen it, Rob and Rebecca were already fans of it. I'm embarrassed that I was so reluctant to watch this movie. I've been confronted with my closed-mindedness lately and am endeavoring to address that issue and remain open to new things.

Except M.I.A. I hate her, and I'm at odds with the Current for playing her, with her message of gleeful violence and criminal behavior. She's a very popular musical artist currently, but you know what else is popular? Junk food, SUVs, and hideous fashion in clothing. I don't feel bad about not riding the bandwagon to Bullshitsburg.

Yesterday morning we got cleaned up, packed up, and drove down to Castle Rock to my sister's house. Collin's parents and sister were already there, so we got into the present-opening then. Maggie really made a haul, with an electronic kid's guitar (so she doesn't insist on using an actual controller when her parents are trying to play Guitar Hero), the injection-molded Barbie princess horse she wanted, and a ginormous Lincoln Logs set. It was a knock-off from Fleet Farm, I think, so they called it something else, but I was awed at the sheer volume of it. I loved Lincoln Logs as a kid! And here was easily six times more than I'd ever owned at once. Erin and I followed the instructions to construct a fairly elaborate log cabin with two extra rooms and a hitching post. If such a building existed in real life, I surely would want to visit it.

I got Rebecca an air-powered "rifle" that shoots mini-marshmallows, and she got me a sizeable Hong Kong DVD collection. I felt as cool as Nick and Nora Charles.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Leaving Bad Enough Alone

It's the end of the year, and one way people have commemorated this (aside from splurging in food and booze) throughout the centuries has been in forming resolutions to make the next year better.

But if you're lazy or unimaginative, you're probably also stupid and think that you don't need to improve on anything because you're... just fine.

I thought I'd research online resolution generators, because I know that any time I've come up with an idea, a hundred other people have already slapped a facsimile together.  Google saves me time in pointing out that everything has already been done already, so there's no point in using up precious minutes to create stuff.

But the Internet has also shown us that there is an exponentially greater population of idiots than our most cynical imaginings could suggest.  Here, then, is the juxtaposition between great ideas and stupid applications.

  • I will stop walking the dog.
  • I will stop wearing sunscreen less often.
  • I will start eating french fries again.
  • I will stop using soap less often.
  • I will start smoking cigars less often.
  • Stop taking drugs too grossly.
  • Try not to be acting stupid in theaters.
  • Refrain from selling all my stuff for any reason.
  • Never be tastelessly eBay bidding.
  • Seldom be stumbling.
This year I promise I'll...
  • Quit smoking.
  • Stop saying "dude."
  • Floss.
  • Stop protesting at abortion clinics.
  • Quit swearing.
Three other links to resolution generators turned out to be dead.  It seems there was a rush to create these things a few years ago, and then interest dwindled to where such a function can only be found on low-maintenance ghost sites.

This is a Student Congress Resolution Generator, which is not useful for New Year's resolutions.  I thought it would be funny to include in here, but I ran through a sample resolution and this device was a complete waste of coding.  This program could be more efficaciously replaced by a simple set of formatting guidelines and instructions, since that's essentially what it does under the aegis of automated document generation.

In short: some people have great technical prowess but no creativity or sense of humor.  I think this shows me that groups work better than individuals do, in some cases.  Say you've got a humorist who can't draw and an artist who can't tell jokes: which one of them should make a graphic novel?  Neither, or both together.

My resolution: find or start a writing group.  I've had poor experience with these in the past, but maybe there's a non-dorky group out there that's willing to challenge itself and can offer useful, qualified advice.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Today Started Slowly but Leapt Into Action.

I woke up early, and it was that stubborn wake-up where you can't imagine going back to sleep.  I got up, fed the cats, made some coffee, and checked e-mail until the coffee was done.  Rebecca slowly woke up and we listened to an impassioned appeal on behalf of NPR against the LRT being constructed 12 feet away from their recording and broadcast studio without any soundproofing.

Rebecca went to work, I watched an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and made pasta for breakfast.  I worked on expanding another short story--material from my '1000 Words or Less' class that needs to fall within 3,000 to 7,000-word lengths for publication--and played pool on the Wii.  I learned a new trick that was intended to make the cue ball leap over one obstacle to strike your target, but so far I can only cause it to fly away from the table entirely.

Then my brother-in-law called to report that Amanda was having some pregnancy flutterings and they were rushing to the hospital.  He asked if I could meet them there.  I got cleaned up quick, packed two days' worth of clothes, wiped down the windshield of the Chrysler (I think it needs fluid, and I know its fluid nozzles are frozen over), and raced down to Burnsville.

I kid: I did not "race" through rush-hour traffic.  Rarely did we rise above 20 mph, and we stood still a couple times.  Regardless, I got there within an hour.  My niece Maggie was delighted to see me, and Collin explained what was up: no birthing yet, but we should consider this a successful trial run.  She did receive a check-up after a genuine medical concern, nothing negative but it could easily have been a birth.  Amanda reports she is closed to the idea of having the baby tomorrow for it will mean missing Christmas with the family: they will keep her 24 hours after the birth.

After she got dressed we drove to IHOP for dinner.  Maggie showed us a new trick, or perhaps she made it up at the table.  Throwing herself back against the booth seat, she solicited someone to call her to wake up.  Amanda said, "Maggie, wake up."

Maggie, eyes closed, said, "What was that?  Who said that?"  Opening her eyes she looked around the room.  "Where am I?  What happened?"  She keeps her parents entertained, certainly.

We stopped at a Petco so I could get our original brand of cat food, Nutro Natural Blend or something like that.  Our cats have been farting a lot lately, plus a couple incidents of vomiting and today one of them diarrhea'd in the litter.  I am the one who cleans this up so I have a vested interest in what they're eating.  Also, I got a cat-repellant spray for the bottom third of the artificial Christmas tree in the dining room, which the cats have not realized is not actually a nummy treat.  I  hope the spray will work.

I returned home and Rebecca had not--she was ice skating with her sister.  I watched another episode of Buffy, checked the computer, and washed all the dishes.  I forgot to pick up the groceries she mentioned on the phone so I drove out quickly to get them.  There was no crowd in the store and traffic was negligible.  Home again, we had nothing better to do than be tantalized by the big brown boxes that have arrived in the mail: we have ordered most, if not all, of our Christmas presents for each other online.  She definitely gets the long end of the stick here, celebrating Hanukkah as well as Christmas, while I just get the latter holiday.  Anyway, our resolve crumbled and we did exchange a couple gifts but still have stuff to make a good show when we celebrate with the family.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Yesterday We Started Slow

Despite not wanting to be late for a family event, we slept in and lounged about the apartment at our leisure.  In the final hour we raced through gifts, cards, everything else and trundled out, almost an hour late, for Hanukkah at Rachel's house.

The kids were their usual boisterous selves, tumbling and yelling and mostly laughing.  Food was cooking in the kitchen and the adults milled around in various conversations.  I lucked out with the in-laws: I love them all and look forward to hanging out with them.  I must resolve to be more interesting next year so I have something to bring to the conversation.

Dinner was fantastic, and afterward we lounged with tea and cookies and related our favorite Sarah Silverman episodes.  Rebecca loaded up Mario Kart in the Wii and (after struggling with synching the Wiimotes) the kids were well into it.  I guided them through some of the most interesting maps.  Molly, four years old, wanted to play too--she pressed the accelerator while I steered.  When we finished (ninth place, but first out of our group) she cheered and gave me a big hug.  That surprised me, as I always have in the back of my mind a subroutine calculation as to how long it'll be before the kids completely accept me as part of the family.  They were there at the wedding, I've been at several holidays, but the heart of a child doesn't swiftly accept a new player into the fold.  I try to play it cool and give them their space, let them come to their own conclusions.

We came home, I gave Rebecca her Hanukkah present, and we went to sleep.  My dreams were unpleasant, mostly revolving around performances, expectations, and betrayal.  When I woke it was hard to shift gears and not hold my wife accountable for the things I made up in my head.

Saturday, December 20, 2008

We Have Loaded for Bear and Embarked Into the Blizzard

Rebecca's determined to meet winter head-on this year, and this determination allowed me to indulge in my love of winter.  We geared up in layers of warm clothing and trekked seven blocks up to Rainbow for grocery shopping.

I brought my camera with me and took several photos of plants that had been snowed over or architecture with pile-ups of snow.  There was still plenty of daylight for us and little escaped my notice.  Rebecca commented that I had a good eye for photography and she wished she had as well.  I suggested she undertake a small experiment in which she simply go out with a camera purposely  held in one hand and walk around for two blocks.  The act of holding a camera and setting out with the intention of taking pictures will force one to re-examine one's environment, scrutinize it with a new perspective.  That's what I've found, anyway, so that's the theory I passed along to her.

The grocery store itself was unpleasant, in that it was packed with rude crazies who feel their ownership of a puffy jacket gives them license to plow into people.  Somewhere in the distance was a starving baby: by the sound of it, its parents had abandoned it by the charcoal shelves two days ago and the staff had chosen to ignore it all this time.  It was inconsolable, not that it sounded like anyone was bothering to try.

I brought one shopping list and Rebecca brought the other.  We slowly checked off everything on her list, but mine remained untouched.  It turned out that I'd copied my list from the white board which, by some design, was reserved for merchandise specifically from Trader Joe's.  I did buy some conditioner, however, since my new shampoo does a surprisingly thorough job of stripping every substance from my hair, and no one with thinning, baby-fine hair like mine should fight with a hairbrush.

On the other hand, Rebecca enjoyed the shopping experience, or she at least allowed it was not nearly as bad as she'd anticipated.  We loaded our groceries in bags we brought with us and hiked back home.  I think the trip home felt shorter than the journey out.  I'll have to ask Rebecca her perspective on the matter.  She soldiered through it all admirably, only finding grievance in the occasional blast of bitter, snowy wind in the face.  I regretted not bringing any tissues, and I wonder how many years and how many winters I must live through before I remember to.

Now we're home.  Rebecca is cooking in the kitchen, a recreational activity for her.  She has produced a tasty plate of baked yam slices--I hate yams but I'm forcing myself to get acclimated to them on account of their high nutrition value.  The chips were delicious, actually.  It sounds like she's washing dishes now, while listening to an audio book about the psychology of thought and perception, and later she'll make some granola.  She makes freakin' delicious granola.

I'm monitoring some online games, one in which I'm invading medieval Europe, and taking breaks to finish Soldier of Arete, which must be terribly overdue by now.  I'm also enjoying some clove ribbon candy from Seroogy's of Green Bay, and Rebecca thoughtfully made me an Irish coffee.  I'm surprised at what a pleasant evening this is.

Friday, December 19, 2008

The Trials of Breakfast

I have the feeling that cooking steel-cut oats shouldn't be as much of a trial as it seems to be for me.

Ireland has subsisted off this breakfast dish for hundreds of years, probably, at least a very long time.  Other countries have likely done at least as well.  My friends, I know for a fact, can cook it handily, without incident.  I seem to be mystically disempowered to render a suitable portion of it.

The worst is when I follow the instructions.  In the microwave, the center of the bowl stays mushy and al dente while the rim of oats toast to a hard crust that defies scrubbing.  In a saucepan, all the water boils away and leaves the aforementioned hard crust coating the entire pan.

Someone suggested that I try a rice cooker, and I happen to have a polite little autmoatic number in my possession.  One of my friends derides it as the rice cooker that fails to cook rice, because once I was hosting a dinner party and loaded it up with rice and water and it didn't cook it promptly.  Of course rice is not a prompt dish, but it seemed to take an especially long time, like, three times as long as rice in an automatic rice cooker should take.  I couldn't argue with him about this, but I've used it successfully on other occasions and feel no stronge need to trash it in favor of another model.

But it does a fine job on steel-cut oats.  Half a cup of oats, one cup of filtered water, and one good twist of the salt grinder prodces a reasonable bowl for breakfast.  I've tried it with vanilla syrup (merely okay), raspberry syrup (delicious), and today I added a couple shots of Glogg.  I love the taste of Glogg but it doesn't work so well in oats.  It needs another fluid to carry it out without interruption, like club soda or vodka.

So today is the second day in a row I've enjoyed not-terrible steel-cut oats, thanks to the rice cooker.  If I got out more and saw people I'd probably have something else to talk about.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Rollin', Rollin', Brollin

It's like the There's a Gun Under the Counter and juice drinks for the kiddies, plus a surprise beach booth next to the one that sells iced carbonated sodas for patrons of the beach. Someone will look up at the sign, feel some alarm, and then think, "Aw, persimmons! It's just a bunch of screwy kids in their ad campaign, makin' ya think you're under some kind of threat and then immediately dismiss it with their mentin of treats fer the kids." And while you moan about the surreal departure from humor more familiar to your liking, two teens in back drawn hoodies slink up to the booth, make a demand, and then everyone pulls their guns out from under the counter and issues a stern rebuke to the teens' ambitious proposal.

So: back up to the Title: Rollin', Rollin', Brollin. Only a soft mind would be thrown off by the string, and then the keener edges among them may recall that it is Josh Brolin that I dislike. Why would I include him in a weave of merriment such as looms across the screen right now?

I wouldn't. So what's that mean?

It means it' time for bed soon. It means the peppermint bark ice cream is particularly to my liking, and I can almost perceive it peeking against its cardboard walls, winking at me, daring me not to like it, insinuating the second bite can't possibly render as well as the first. As with cigarettes! The first puff is delicious, and the second puff is a downward slope into lousy flavor. So it is not with this ice cream, however. It spreads its thighs out and rolls itself all around my tongue, tucks its shins between my jaw and cheeks, and then throbs with a number of lascivious undulations all over my papillae. My heart stopped a couple times.

So yeah, I'd say it's good. The only thing that peeping at me demurely from a yet-unaccessed area of carton will result in is alerting my reconaissance who will report to me with sufficient intelligence to strike on the region. 280 calories enter; one man leave.

It suddenly became crucial for me to logon and hack out a blog post, which I haven't done today (or I disremember) and I don't know what I'm supposed to say, but I'm writing. The font looks a little more copperplate or colonial than New York Times, and it emerges on the screen like type carved in 89% cocoa emerging through a milky screen of white chocolate. I'm continuing to write, directionless as I am, sheerly for the pleasure of watching these confections emerge.

My wife has availed me of her sleep aid: she got half and I got half. It has hit me considerably quicker than it does her. I think she's in the kitchen washing dishes--I've asked her to let me do that, she insists she finds it soothing, calming--and listening to Keith Olbermann, the man for whom she would momentarily throw me over and I would begrudge he nothing. He is a fine man and I would not stand in the way of her happiness. Similarly, should a young woman taller than 75' tall approach me and request my company, I have been granted leave in just such a situation. Or in the case of Tina Fey. Which of those two do you suppose I'm likelier to meet?

Sunday Night I made an amazing hot toddy. I've never made one before and didn't know how it goes, but apparently it involves hot water, flavor, and alcohol. I'll look it up later. For this I used an average-sized jelly jar, maybe 12oz. I dumped in my favorite negus, one ounce of Glogg (gotten from World Market; IKEA's is too weak; Trader Joe's makes a very good one), one ounce of Dimple Pinch scotch whisky (it's a Speyside so too peaty for plum pudding; Dalwhinnie would be better), and ten ounces of boiling water. Stir briskly and go find a comfortable place to sit.

A good Glogg will mask most of the leathery peatiness in a Speyside, I think. It was damned tasty and quite hearty. Maybe a shot of espresso would pick it up nicely.

Of course, I would never have gone off the Bullshot were it not for the girly screams of the men and women around me. Nothing's to stop me now, I suppose.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Returning to Work, Hopefully

All the excitement has died down: classes are over, we're safely back from Green Bay (arrived home just as the streets were turning to ice), and my personal tale of being plagiarized is all played out.  Now it's time to focus on other things.

Like the holidays.  I'm just not sure what the hell's going on.  It was so much easier when I was running solo: make a list, achieve the list, wait for the holiday.  Now there's debate as to how we're doing the gifts--donating to charities, name exchange, regifting, etc.--and the argument has solidified into three or four groups.  Mom will do whatever she wants to do; Rebecca's hurt no one's going along with her socially responsible suggestion; I have no idea who I'm buying for, plus I'm not earning any money so I don't feel I have a right to spend the money my wife's earning on random gifts that may violate whatever anyone thinks has been agreed upon for a gift exchange.

I fall very ably into the stereotype of the befuddled, clueless husband who dimly perceives the world rushing past him, with intermittant milestones of everyone's disappointment that I just don't get it.  I used to be competent.  I used to be considered quite intelligent.  But now it's like I've been training all my life to be the best printing press operator and have suddenly been inducted into my new position as anaesthesiologist for a Kenyan hospital.

That said, weeks of failed job applications and writing submissions--I've never been rejected, I simply have never been responded to by anyone, at all, anywhere--have culminated in one particularly plum position falling into my lap: proofreader for an interesting marketing company.  I just conducted a phone interview, got all dressed up in corporate formal to get in the appropriate frame of mind, and hope to hear from them in a few days.  I'm amply qualified and actually enjoy the work they describe; my only stumbling block was in deciding what to ask for an hourly wage.  We'll see how that goes.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Easy Writing, Difficult Jobs

End of day.  I put plastic up in the bathroom window, scrubbed out the tub, washed all the dishes, and emptied all the trash.  Somehow I forgot to eat lunch, though.

I fired up the grill--yes, in a quilt of snow--for a pair of minute steaks: one in Black & Red, one in cumin.  I also leashed up the cats and let them outside one at a time.  Toki loved it and meandered around in the snow.  Bella hated it and dug her claws into my shoulder, but she calmed down when I carried her to the grill and she could warm up.  She was not curious about walking around, however, and made a beeline for the back door.

Rebecca and I had dinner before she went out shopping with a friend.  I played Zelda: Twilight Princess while she was gone.  I like the Zelda series because it feels like a homecoming every time I start up the game.  There's some dread, too, since I know a lot's going to be expected of me.  Not like Link can just hang out, get tight on mead, and swim in a sea of ladies for a weekend.  Nope, he has to save the kingdom, the princess, and/or the world, and it usually entails walking along narrow ledges above yawning chasms at some point.

Oh, I also forwarded my Open Salon article detailing the incident of plagiarism this weekend.  She was very interested in how it panned out and complimented me on the original article, 'The Legend of Betty.'  I asked her what to do about the internship at Ron Schara Enterprises: she said to call, but there was no phone number.  I looked one up and called but didn't find him listed in the corporate directory, as per the recorded instructions.  I sent in my application last week and e-mailed a reminder yesterday--should I take this as a passive-aggressive hint?  I know Minnesotans hate confrontation...

The Rake never responded to my short fiction submission, and the Star Tribune neither accepted nor declined my video game article.  I've submitted the 'Betty' piece to the New York Times, per a friend's advice, but judging by the automated e-mail I received, I sent it in all wrong.  They said not to worry, not to resend it, they'll still look at it, but if I don't hear from them in three weeks I can take it to mean it's not accepted.  So in three weeks I'll somehow shave 800 words off it, write out the bit about the photograph, and include it in the e-mail instead of as an attachment.

My instructor asked whether I'd be interested in an internship at a local publication and I enthusiastically assured her I was.  That would be worthy experience, certainly.

And I never heard back from Mulberry about the transcription/proofreading position.  I have no idea what the hell's going on.  When did the corporate standard shift from courteous responses (accepting or declining) to neglect?  Has it always been this way?

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Cooking Despite Oneself

Holy crap, I totally figured out a way to make yams palatable.

I hate yams.  So why would I eat them?  I read somewhere that they're nutritionally dense, as nutritious (if not more) as bananas or pumpkins.  I'm all about better nutrition, so I've been looking for a way to work yams into my diet.  I figured I'd just force myself to eat them, the way we did with cilantro when I worked at Bravo Burritos.  The only way to enjoy that soapy herb was to force yourself to munch on it whenever you had the opportunity.

But!  Last night I tried cooking with this curry mix I got at United Noodles.  It's a solid block of curry and spices, you boil it in five cups of water and it creates a thick sauce.  The directions say to sautee some carrots, onions, and potatoes, but I didn't have any potatoes so I diced up some yam and threw the mix in there.

I couldn't taste the yam at all!  It went soft like tofu and, if anything, resembled the carrots in flavor!  And all that curry just slipped it under the radar!  This is an excellent excuse for me to learn how to make some great curry dishes, now.

Foreign Online Radio

I like to experience new music once in a while, really new music.  I just ran a Google search for "africa online radio" and found Addis Live.  It's got a handy interface that lets you select tracks or shuffle the mix, like a regular media player.  I was disappointed in African Internet Radio because the playlist seemed to be full of rap and hip-hop that could be had in the States.  I wanted to hear something new and unfamiliar!

Same with Radio Carisma, in Italy: it's just American Top 40.  I really would appreciate an Italian classics or light jazz station.  Is there a station dedicated to Italian, French, or Spanish cafe music?  That is what I would love the most.  Italian Radio Stations seems to have a robust selection of broadcasters so I'lll mill through those for a while.

While searching for online Japanese stations I found Iheard, Multilingual Books, and Radio Locator.  Plenty to choose from, there.  A long time ago I found a Japanese talk radio station--I didn't understand a word of it, but it was lovely to listen to.   The announcer went off on a spiel, occasionally took calls, and throughout there was a sound foley playing like rain in a forest.  Even that would be interesting to listen to.

Bonus: if the foreign song you listen to is catchy enough, you get to make up the words as you sing it later, sauteeing carrots, onions, and yam, unable to get the melody out of your head:
They wondah, wondah, 'What's up?' / And they eat a little fish and chickie
All the people, and they eating fishie / They wondah, wondah 'What's up?'
It's more fun than you might imagine.  You will be astonished at what can come out of you, once you demand it.

Taste Test: Peppermint Bark

What I love about the holidays is the food unique to that holiday.  Around Hallowe'en and Thanksgiving all the pumpkin beers come out, and I like to gather them up and get acquainted.  I like to figure out which is the tastiest (to me) and the skunkiest.  What my research lacks in rigorous scientific discipline it makes up for in sincerity--though it goes a long way towards scientific discipline.

Now it's heading towards Yule, Christmas, Hannukah, &c., and the foods have shifted.  For those not familiar with peppermint bark, it is this: a bed of dark chocolate covered in white chocolate and sprinkled with fragments of candy cane.  Candy covered in candy and sprinkled with candy: molto delicioso!

There will be, of course, some variations on the theme and being that I'm sitting here with four varieties right in front of me, all purchased within my city, I'm confident there are significant regional differences.  In thinking about these, I'm very curious to try them out but that will have to come later.

It will be noted that this candy doesn't actually look like the bark of any tree; no, not even birch.  I don't know why it's called "bark," but many things were decided before I was born.

Too Good Gourmet, San Lorenzo, CA: Augh, this stuff is freakin' nasty!  Where'd I get this from?  This is horrible!  It tastes like paraffin whipped up and up!  One interesting feature to peppermint bark is the division of the layers: when you bite into it, the milk chocolate may separate from the white chocolate.  This stuff doesn't: it's one solid mass of waxy, bland nastiness dusted in pale chocolate byproduct.  The candy cane chips are small shards with facets in solid red or white.   The chocolate feels bad on the teeth and it resolves poorly upon the tongue.  It doesn't even match its own picture!  There are far fewer candy cane crumbles on the actual product!  ...Oh, I got it at Marshalls.  Gods know how old this stuff is.

Trader Joe's, Monrovia, CA: This stuff is really good.  Trader Joe's just does not put out an inferior product, and second only to their dark chocolate and gooey caramel candies crusted in sea salt (also seasonal), this is my favorite confection of theirs.  Their white truffle fudge is creamy and melts very pleasantly, and the dark chocolate has a fine cocoa graininess that I enjoy.  The candy cane chips on this one actually have lines of color, as from a cross-section of a candy cane, though the red is closer to a raspberry or dark mauve, I guess.

World Market (South Bay Confections, Torrance, CA): I got this one at World Market, but there is no prominent brand name anywhere on the tin.  I really had to look to find "South Bay Confections," and that name doesn't come up on a Google search.  Anyway, as you might imagine, a candy coming from Cost Plus World Market  could be hit-or-miss.  As it turns out, this is a hit.  The white chocolate is more buttery than the other brands and glows with a nice milky sheen under direct light.  That Too Good Gourmet crap reflected lightwaves like old tile from a Catholic school bathroom: presentation matters.   Here, too, the chips of peppermint suggest they are the shrapnel of a shattered candy cane, and all is right with the world.

Harry and David, Medford, OR: Wow, a peppermint bark that doesn't come out of California?  I think there's no surprise that Harry and David put out a superior product on every level.  The taste has a buttery back-of-the-mouth musk akin to Andes mints.  The white and dark chocolates are attractively marbled with each other.  Where the other bark samples come in rectangular slabs, Harry and David's bag of bark is capriciously chunky and irregular--you can fish for a small piece or grab a large one and break it up (or wolf it down, snickety-snack).  And they sprang for the nicer candy cane: alternating solid stripes of red with three red lines.

I really don't think the candy cane should be the deal-breaker, though.  The main focus is the interplay of white and dark chocolate with peppermint as an accent.  I wanted to compare four brands against each other, but I will certainly look for more: Williams-Sonoma claims to have an original recipe, for example.  Did they invent it or are they hearkening to an old-timey recipe?  Most importantly, what difference will this make to the palate?  I intend to find out.

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Thorn in My Side

Okay, this is gonna bug me for a long time.  I won't embarrass myself by posting it somewhere reputable like Open Salon; I'll only embarrass myself by posting it here.

It's embarrassing because it sounds like an issue a teenager would have, but I'm still wrestling with it: why would someone arbitrarily, reflexively dislike me?

There's me, in the center of various social circles.  In a Venn diagram, you can picture me as a dot in the center of the page, and around me loop four separate circles, like hula hoops spinning around a pencil (aerial view).  Some of the people in these circles know each other (shades of blending) and some are completely unrelated (pure primary colors).  You know how these things look.

There's this other person who appears in most of these circles.  I run into her at private parties and large social occasions.  I run into her when I least expect it.  Getting a conversation out of her is like pulling teeth, except not as easy.  We've had several conversations, and every time I run into her she acts like she's never seen me before, but it's that disingenuous act, that very contrived act that also communicates she knows exactly who I am and is hoping to discourage me.

But what did I do?  I never dated her, I've never done anything horrible to anyone she knows. Is it my clothes?  Do I not dress cool enough?  Do I not pose hard enough?  Who I am is who I really am, not who I appear to be.  Why does she treat me like shit?  What is she basing this off of, what is her working premise?

This isn't usually an issue for me.  Months, maybe a year can go by without me thinking about it, and then she turns up somewhere and pulls this same old shit again, and I wonder what the hell is going on.  When we have so many social interests in common, when we have so many friends from so many different circles in common, why does she act like this?  I don't want to date her, I never did.  She just seemed like she would be an interesting person to talk to, so I don't understand why she decided, before meeting me, that I'm beneath her contempt.

I don't understand.  I can't relate to that.  If I dislike someone at first sight, I can tell you precisely why: an article of clothing worn a certain way, an inappropriate hair style, an affected mannerism.  I can isolate the trait and explain to you what it means to me, when else I've seen it, my associations with it.  Can she?  Can she pick out any one thing about me she has a problem with?

I don't understand, and I'm antagonized by this thing that exists outside of my understanding.  If I knew what it was she hated and I disagreed with it, that would be fine.  At least I'd know.  I'd know she's wrong, but I'd know; the matter would be settled.  I could say, "Okay, she's a prejudicial c**t who has based my entire existence upon a sweater I wore once," and that would be the end of it and I could move on.  I would feel content to ignore her at social functions.

But there's no object like that.  She takes a pleasure in being mean to me and she delights in my cluelessness.  And you can call it past-life issues but it really bugs me as to why.

Snowstorm, Editing, and British Commercials

Last night I saw the 2008 British Television Adveriting Awards.  I never have before, and I almost didn't last night.

Yesterday, I spent the day being very responsible.  I scrubbed down the windowsills (lovely weighted windows, vintage Minneapolitan architecture from when everyone was rich), lay down the double-sided tape like nobody's bidness, and adhered the plastic sheets over the windows.  Last year I discovered I actually have a talent for this, and this year I have gotten better with each window.  Doing all seven windows in the sunroom, I was sufficiently warmed up for the rest of the house.  The dining room taught me that not all windows in the house are the same size: those in the sunroom are three feet across, while the living and dining rooms sport portals two feet and eight inches wide.  I'm all, "Why am I suddenly trimming so much plastic off?" for my learning curve grinds slow (but fine).

Then I printed out 23 sheets of poetry, donned my Slovenian army cloak, and ran/walked four blocks up to Urban Bean.  I was meeting a fellow editor there to talk about this stack of poetry; a third editor could not join us, on account of her having to drive so far to rendezvous and also it was snowing like a bitch.  Yes, the second editor told me, "No problem if we have to postpone tonight's meeting since there's a storm brewing," and I'm all, "What storm?"  I looked outside (it is amazing how I can run around the house and be here all day and never think to look out the window, especially considering how many windows we have) and it was just a sheet of white coming down diagonally.  Hence the army cloak and the hampered movement.

I'd never met this other editor before, though I'm sure I've seen her at another writer's function, maybe the open mic thing my university hosted a couple months ago.  I apologized for causing her to wait and we got down to business: judging poetry.

I don't write poetry and I barely read it.  It's just that some editors were leaving the literary journal my university puts out, and I was recommended by some of the other editors but they had no specific job function for me.   When they realized a dearth of poetry editors, well, they let gravity take its course and I fell into place.

I actually would have had a better time editing the poetry.  That would have been easier.  Apostrophes are like mathematics: there is little or no room for interpretation.  When they are clearly wrong, I am become an Old Testament God; full wroth, my fist strikes strong, and none who fall may rise again.  I could also render a substantive edit: "I understand you feel a conflict with society, but could you mention the nature of this conflict?  It's not coming across."  I love Dorothy Parker (who doesn't?  Pol Pot didn't) and W.H. Auden, but after that I couldn't tell Rod McKuen from Wallace Stevens.   Sorry.

Luckily, the other editor and I agreed on each piece down the pike.  We came away with five strong "yes" pieces, four "maybes" and we simply pressed a pillow upon the faces of the rest until they stopped moving.  With time to kill, we discussed what it entails to write full-time as well as our blogging ventures.  Where before I could only shrug and ahem and hint at attempting to get things published but it's just so hard in this market, now I have a conversational ace in the hole: "I was plagiarized this weekend."  That is topical.   Anyone who is a writer to any extent snaps to attention, and the conversation pretty much writes itself from there.

The editor went home and I finished my Americano and The Onion's crossword puzzle before my wife picked me up.  She sent me a couple updates on the dire traffic situation: every year, Minnesota needs to re-learn how to drive in snow.  We received our first really big snowfall yesterday and everything went to hell.  Accidents, spin-outs, back-ups--my wife's bus was over 45 minutes late.  She still made it home, got the car, and picked me up with plenty of time for the 2008 British Television Advertising Awards.

We hung out in the lobby of the Walker for half an hour.  Her sister and brother-in-law showed up (good thing: they had the tickets) and we conversed lightly on the news of the day.  There is plenty of news, so there was plenty to talk about.  I got in some decent people-watching, all these affluent artistic types dressed mostly in black, which I find very attractive though gods know I could never live with any of them.  I imagine they take art very seriously and love every bit of it, but I have definite lines.  I'm only as contemporary as Edward Hopper; I have zero tolerance for "I'm brilliant because I sliced this canvas just so," or "See!  See how cunningly I have replicated this box of cereal!" or anything by Jasper Johns.  This disappoints my wife very much, as she is drawn to modern art.  We can't talk about it because I only see it as comedy gold and I'll start riffing until she wonders what exactly it was she liked about me in the first place.

Now, take me to the MIA and it's a different story.   I could lose a week in the ancient sculptures, metal crafts, tapestries, and artifacts.  I'm astonished and awestruck by genuine craftsmanship, maniacal talent, innovation amid primitive technology.  That, to me, is real skill and vision, true mastery of technique and media.

Anyway.  Eventually the waiting was over and we all filed into the theater, took our seats, and the rundown of the best of British commercials began.  These were astonishing, artistic and striking.  Most were comical and many were thoughtful.  The PSAs were particularly effective: an ultra-fast camera captured a sequence of a bullet striking various things, an apple, a bottle of water, a watermelon, etc.  It was beautiful to see the slow-motion detail of how these things erupted, watching the skins rip and peel away, watching fruit spray to the front and back.  The final object in the sequence was a young boy's head.  My eyes widened and I stopped breathing.  He was looking straight into the camera and there was a long pause, just as there was with the apple and the water bottle and everything else, and then that small black missile came gliding in from the edge of the screen and I couldn't believe what I was about to see.  Then the bullet dissolved and changed into a sentence, appealing for guns to be taken off the streets.  The most effective and compelling anti-gun PSA I've ever seen.  It certainly earned its award.

It was a fantastic showing and we four spent the next hour recounting our favorite clips.  We drove out to the Herkimer for dinner (turns out none of us had eaten beforehand), chatted some more, and wound up our night.  I was impressed with how social and fun it was, considering it was a Monday night.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Welcome to Monday Afternoon

This has been an exciting weekend, more or less.  That fiasco with the minor-league plagiarism has settled, the offender has fled into the night and debate (among this insular community of singles) rages as to who actually stole from whom, and what the thief's motives were.  A few people have invited me to stay and keep blogging, which they intend as a compliment as well as to bolster their community, but I don't need that kind of petty drama in my life.

Rebecca and I are still weathering the turbulence that the first year of any marriage will see.  We have good times and bad times.  It's interesting to see what you allow yourself to say in an argument or debate, when you have the security of knowing that the other person can't just pick up and leave you.  You don't have to speak as carefully as you would if things really could end.

But, of course, things can always end.  Only an idiot doesn't bear this in mind.

I successfully sold one of my trade paperbacks on Amazon.com.  It's all packaged up and ready to go: do I want to spend more money busing downtown to buy postage and get it sent out today?  And with everything I have to do today (weatherproofing the windows, cleaning the apartment, laundry, and selecting poetic submissions for my university's literary magazine), can I afford the hour it would take to bus downtown and return?

And those damned cats.  Toki cries to be let out into the porch.  Once there, he cries to be let back in because it's freakin' freezing out there.  Once inside, he cries to be let back out because he has absolutely no memory of what that's like.  This goes on for as long as I have patience for it.  (Bella has no desire to go out but wants a share of whatever Toki's getting.)

Right now I'm having a dark beer, cleaning the windowsills for the plastic sheets, and listening to a Czech cover of ABBA's "Knowing Me, Knowing You."

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Plagiarism: I Never Thought It Could Happen To Me

This is astounding.  Someone is plagiarizing my writing.

I wrote this article on Open Salon, based on my experiences with Betty, my neighbor at my apartment on Bryant Ave.  I typed it up and posted it last night.

This morning I received a message from a diligent user on Open Salon.  She said she was reading another woman's blog and was impressed with her latest post, but that it didn't sound like her other writing.  She did a quick text search and found that this woman, RomanticLibra106, had stolen my post.  Lacking the skill to rewrite the essential text, she simply substituted her name for mine throughout the copy: notice the stylistic violations in her insertion of "(Yuck but anyway)."  No comma, period outside the parenthesis--offenses totally not in keeping with the rest of the writing.  As well, her incharitable commentary stands in contrast to the tone of the article.

I've contacted the admin at Match Doctor and set up an account there to confront the plagiarist. I'm shocked that someone would plagiarize me--my heart's still pounding and my hands are trembling at the excitement.  How many other authors has she ripped off?  Does RomanticLibra106 have her own account on Open Salon where she trolls for writing she envies?  There's a sad little woman stealing the written work of various authors around the Web to make herself look better in the eyes of her community.

Granted, I don't make any money off of my posts at Open Salon, and RomanticLibra106 can't make any money off of her blog on a singles Web site.  But I'm a writer and my resume is built on my written work, and my contributions to Open Salon and other blogs constitute my credentials.  I never would have discovered this theft on my own, but this diligent user quickly sussed what was up and notified me.  I'm deeply grateful to her.

I think it's not a bad exercise for every online author to do a quick search for selected lines from their own writing.  It hadn't occurred to me before but I'll certainly implement it now.

Update: The user in question has deleted the offending post and terminated her own account.  I received considerable support from the users of Open Salon as well as Match Doctor (where a lively debate ensued).  I think no real harm was done (except to my blood pressure) and I learned a good lesson.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Legend of Betty: Quintessential Upstairs Neighbor

This is a silly little picture I took of myself three years ago. We were enjoying a deep, blanketing snowfall and I took the opportunity to stage a self-portrait. I grabbed my camera and tripod, geared up, and snapped a couple shots in front of my apartment building--my apartment windows would be just to the left of that staircase.

Out of all the shots I took in that session, I kept this one just because of the old woman in the entryway. I hadn't heard her come downstairs and didn't even know she'd been there until I checked all the photos later. I can promise you she did not seriously need to check her mail at 10:00 PM.

Her name's Betty. She used to be caretaker of the building in the '80s and still considered herself to hold that position, to the chagrin of the tenants and management alike. She wrote up the notes that told you to remove the doormat in front of your door or take down certain decorations from your door. She would lecture you if you sat on the front steps and smoked. And in this classic scene, she was coming down to stare disapprovingly at my suspicious photo session. It was not uncommon to look up at the building and see her on the second floor, directly above my apartment, peeking through her off-white venetian blinds with resentment.

Betty introduced herself to me by asking me to please turn down my stereo. She didn't really ask and she never said "please," but she might have. I assured her I had no stereo but she insisted I did and that it was too loud. Up until I answered the door I had been listening to Radiohead very quietly on my computer speakers, tinny little things with no bass. A person on the toilet in my apartment could not have heard what I was listening to, but Betty was disturbed by my ruckus. I invited her to come in and look for a stereo. "That's not necessary," she said, "just keep it down."

Later, she came down to complain about my recording studio. I have never owned a recording studio. The argument over this issue sounded very comical to a pretty woman walking by in the hallway, another tenant who had previous experience with Betty. I called my landlord about Betty and he apologized, explained her history to me, and promised it wouldn't happen again.

Betty lived alone, directly above me. The only family I heard about was a 50-year-old son in a coma, whom she visited in the hospital at least weekly. The visit was an ordeal, as her limbs were not in good condition and she relied upon our public transportation. He died shortly before I moved out of the building, never having come back to consciousness.

There are some people who are incapable of sympathy or consideration because they are so deeply locked in their own condition. They are disagreeable but it's without true malice, and I sensed Betty was such a person. She was old and alone, probably on the precipice of senile dementia. Other tenants regarded her with amusement, irritation, or even fear. I made an effort to not let her get to me. Whenever I saw her I smiled and addressed her by name.

It didn't take long to get in her good graces, surprisingly. She warmed up quickly, commiserating with me about some of the other horrible tenants, expressing disapproval over the recent choices in caretakers. I agreed with her down the line: the vacuuming was deplorable, the grass hadn't been mowed in quite some time.

Then she knocked on my door, greeted me by name, and asked very shyly if I weren't busy. Curious, I followed her to her apartment: she decorated very tidily and it looked quite like a little cottage inside. There were photos of extended family members on shelves, a lace antimacassar, couches and chairs in very busy upholstery. There were several framed certificates on the walls, expressing gratitude for her volunteer work at some hospitals and elderly centers. I'd always wondered what her place looked like, and I knew that no other apartment in the building looked as nice.

Betty just needed me to replace the light bulbs in her dining room--well, she had as much of a dining room as I did, which was a large empty area next to the kitchenette. I climbed up--she begged me to be careful--and replaced the dead bulbs with new energy saving bulbs. She was effusive in her gratitude and I stayed for another 15 minutes, chit-chatting with her about whatever she wanted to say.

Later, she told me she was having trouble with her VCR. I know very little about electronics but was able to figure out that one of the speakers on her TV had gone out, and somehow she had pushed the stereo output of her VCR exclusively into the dead speaker. I balanced the sound and we watched half an hour of a John Wayne movie together.

Eventually she started to decline. A friend of mine down the hall told me that Betty tried to visit me during the day, while I was at work. She found Betty kicking my door and screaming at me to turn my music down. I called the landlord again, not to complain but out of concern for Betty. I had to call him again, out of concern, when she asked me to fix her television: it sounded like a problem with the reception, as she reported images flickering across the screen. She brought me up to her place, sat me on the couch, and I waited for her to turn on the TV.

After a minute she yelled, "There! There it is!" All I saw was a TV with the power off. "It's there! The mouse! Do you see the mouse?" she asked me. I didn't see a mouse at all. She explained to me that a mouse must have crept into the TV because she would see it running across the screen while she was trying to watch movies--sometimes it was a mouse, she said, and sometimes it was a small dog. I naively tried to explain the nature of a vacuum tube and how a mouse couldn't possibly crawl into one. She dismissed my science and pointed at the screen, at the mouse she saw running back and forth. I looked at the blank screen and my stomach dropped; I admitted that I didn't see anything.

She looked at me, her serious expression turning a little sad around the edges. "Oh, Christian, don't tell me that," she said quietly.

She was declining. She was convinced her neighbor was cranking up his music. Her story for him was that he worked second shift, came home early in the morning, and relaxed by turning up techno music very loud while she was trying to sleep. I found out later that no one lived in that apartment at all, it hadn't been rented while she was complaining. Another tenant who used to live there, a young woman who moved one apartment over, said that Betty used to complain about the techno music she was playing at extreme volume.

Betty would visit me and complain, horrified, about the music. "He plays the strangest music," she told me. "He just plays these lyrics over and over: 'I love you, I love you, I love you! I'm sorry, I'm sorry, I'm sorry!'" Later, the lyrics included the name of my friend down the hall, and then they began to describe Betty's actions in play-by-play detail. "I don't know how he does it!" she cried. "I wash the dishes, and the lyrics sing about me washing the dishes! I call the landlord, and the lyrics make fun of me calling him! How does he watch me? How does he make those lyrics so quickly? And then they say the most horrible things!" I won't repeat those lyrics here, but I was stunned to hear what she came up with. The younger generation always believes they created all the obscenities, until a shock like this reveals them to be generations old and older.

I asked the landlord what was going to happen to Betty. He told me they couldn't really do anything until she was clearly unable to take care of herself or if she hurt herself, and then he could call county services. He urged me to please contact him if I ever thought she'd gone over the edge.

It was more important than ever for me to be kind to her. I slipped cards under her door for the holidays. I listened to her grievances and escorted her to the bus stop when she had to run errands. I avoided expressing any opinion on what she saw in the TV or heard in the techno lyrics. "I feel like I'm going crazy, Christian," she told me, her voice cracking. "Am I going crazy?" I didn't consider it a huge crime to assure her she was fine.

Last year I moved out to live with my fiancee. My landlord was disappointed because I was a good tenant, but Betty took it especially hard. She said, "There's no one else here for me. Everyone else thinks I'm crazy." I told her I would visit occasionally to see how she was doing.

I never did. I got wrapped up in my new life and never went back. My friend down the hall moved out a year after I did and said that Betty was no longer there. She didn't have many details: one day there was an ambulance, and later Betty's apartment was emptied out and loaded into a truck. Betty was moved to whatever kind of elderly facilities are run by the state, and there may have been a stint in the hospital. No one had any facts to offer.

This isn't an uncommon story by any means: an elderly adult living alone, out of touch with family (if they still exist), paying the rent who-knows-how, whiling away the days until their body or mind gives out. It happens every day, everywhere. Many of them pass on quietly until the Tragedy needle dips into the red, pushed by cumulative factors, and they belatedly flag the attention of the media.

Now I wish I'd asked about her history, gotten some good stories by which to memorialize her. All I have are a string of awkward anecdotes that do no tribute to her life, and they put a pretty dark spin on our community, too. I tried to comfort her, but did I do enough? I couldn't change anything in her life but her sense of loneliness, and there was plenty of room to do more along that line.

I don't know where she is now. I hope she's not suffering.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Et in Silverpine Ego

Once in a while, driving through town, I see something that gives my heart a tug, something that makes me a little homesick.

This is an unlikely concept since I've moved all over the country and never stayed long enough in any one place to consider it my hometown.  Currently I'm based in Minneapolis and have been here for twelve years, besting my previous record by seven years.  This should be "home" for me.

But once in a while I see a fiery bush with tiny, bright red berries, or a tall, slender coniferous tree in dark green and my heart whispers, Silverpine...

While this may be lost of most people, I hope a couple of you winced in sympathetic embarrassment for me.

Where is this place, I'm imposing asking upon you?  Silverpine Forest lies south-southwest of Brill and the castle Lordaeron, beneath which is the necropolis Undercity, home to thousands of my fellow Forsaken.

It's a territory in World of Warcraft, a massively multiplayer online (MMO) game with over 12 million subscribers around the world.  Yes, it's that awesome, and yes, I'm that much of a geek for missing it.

I can't help it!  I spent a lot of time there.  It started when I finished training my warrior in Deathknell and went to Brill to continue.  I ran into a female mage who needed help with some quests: I could take the damage while she unleashed the firepower.  We worked well together and progressed rapidly as a team.

In the course of these quests we had long, usually drunken conversations and became close friends.  I even visited her during a trip to California and it was strange to finally meet someone I'd known so well for so long, but it was also natural.  It was just another channel of communication: we'd hung out in the game and we'd chatted over GTalk (during a murloc swarm, it's much easier to talk (or scream) at your combat buddy than it is to attempt typing while panicked and drunk), so sitting across the table from her wasn't that much of a stretch--though our conversation did tend to run straight back to the game, time and time again.

After we'd cleared everything there was to do in Brill we ran down to Silverpine Forest for a new brace of challenges.  We spent a lot of time there, fighting off grizzled bears and mottled worgs in the Ivar Patch, fending off the maniacal and mindless undead (not like us, of course) in the Dead Field, fighting our way down to the Sepulcher where at last we could recoup and repair.  We planned our next missions, we prioritized our personal goals, or we just hung out in the graveyard and chatted some more.  Those were good times.

It was the company as much as the setting that attracted me.  I loved rambling over the crags and tors, racing through the underbrush, fighting the assorted moonrages on North Tide's Run.   During quiet moments my companion would forage for herbs and I'd mine copper or tin for my blacksmithing hobby.  The foliage was lush and dark like a gothic Victorian Christmas.  Run in this direction and you're deep in the woods; run in that direction and the fields spread open; run too far and you're in Pyrewood Village, a seriously bad time unless you've got a lot of friends.  I loved the architecture of the buildings and the feeling of pioneering as we Forsaken scratched and clawed out tiny glades of respite in a world where the chips were stacked against us.

I have no such affection for Hillsbrad, where the treacherous, honorless Alliance relentlessly assaulted players far, far below their level.  The Arathi Highlands just seem flavorless.  There are some monsters there, and Horde goes here and Alliance goes there, and then some stuff happens.

After a year of friendship and travel, my mage friend and I rode back into Brill for some reason.  It's a useful training ground with decent facilities, and it's right outside Undercity as I mentioned, but there's no real call for high-level types to hang out there.  Usually they're running between Undercity and the zeppelin portal, but one day we rode into Brill and paused.

I asked, "Does this feel like... a homecoming, somehow?"

She replied, "Yeah, it does.  I know what you mean."

I'm glad I wasn't alone in this.  We discussed what it meant to be homesick for a video game, how weird that was.  But it's all the same to the psyche, I've read, whether you read about an experience or study drawings or blow weeks and months within a gorgeous MMO like we did.  Other video games easily induce vertigo, even though you know you're sitting on a couch in your living room.  A friend told me about a WWII game he was playing and during a sadistic streak he knocked a civilian down and started kicking her.

"Why are you doing this?" the computer-generated automaton cried.  "Please, I'm sorry, just stop hurting me!"  It was the addition of this recorded speech that unnerved my friend and made him promptly desist and suddenly extend his empathy to other characters in the game.  Usually you can do whatever you want to a crowd and they'll yell and run, and you accept it as token gestures.  But this one character reached out to him and expressed confusion and fear, and that made all the difference to him.

So it's not weird to feel tense when scaling the side of a virtual mountain, gazing down at the virtual rocks below.  It's not weird, after flying around the world on sundry quests, to return to your original training grounds and experience a measure of nostalgia.

Despite, I don't know how much sympathy I could garner from my real-life friends when, in driving around town, I see a dark, dilapidated home surrounded by arching pines and express a desire to return to Silverpine.

Silverpine, where my heart belongs.