Friday, July 31, 2009

Cars, Buses, and LRTs

Wow, this morning sucked. I woke up early due to a restless cat and the wife who let him in, then squabbled about that for an hour. Always the best way to start the day, and I'm so not being sarcastic.

Next up: dropping the '98 Toyota Camry off at Alexander's Imports for a check-up and oil change. On a scrap of paper I wrote out the intersection where I would catch a bus (22C) into downtown--I wouldn't be biking today, what with driving the car to the garage. At this point my mind enjoyed a brain-fart and I focused on the wrong street in the intersection and overshot the garage by nine blocks. Turning around from Hiawatha Ave was not very easy and I wended my way back through several tedious passages in south Minneapolis.

I found the garage, dropped the car off, and walked to where I knew a nearby bus stop was. Out of curiosity I checked out the intersection and discovered it bore little resemblance to that which I'd cribbed on my note. The X-axis was correct but the Y-axis was off by several blocks. I hiked out to the correct location and, of course, missed my bus by five minutes. The next appropriate bus would not turn up for an hour, helpfully enough.

It was 9:30 AM and I had to be at work at 10:00 AM. I thought about calling a taxi, which would of course be expensive and timeliness was not guaranteed. Waiting in place was a poor option; a better one was to walk three blocks south and several blocks east (backtracking, essentially) to the LRT station on Hiawatha and 38th St. Resigned to failure, I set forth and texted my wife with the update of my adventure.

Almost absently I thought to check for my Go To card (reusable bus pass) in the pocket on my travel bag, and discovered that pocket empty. I checked all the pockets and did not find the Go To card anywhere. Better and better! But I did have two dollar bills on me, and the bus rate had shifted to off-peak, so at least that worked out. As I approached the LRT station the warning bells and lights went off, signaling the approach of an LRT. With seconds to go I forced my money into the bus pass machine, grabbed my pass and change, and boarded the LRT just before it took off. This was the only thing that has worked out in my favor all morning.

With nothing to do for the rest of the ride, I dug out my Kindle 2 and resumed reading Think Smart, the chapter on sharpening one's memory. Abruptly I recalled where my Go To card was: in the pocket of my Kindle case. One more issue was resolved; I put the card back in my travel bag.

As it happened, I pulled into my stop at 10:01 AM and it was a short walk to my office from there. Rather than a full hour, I was only nine minutes late to work. After hearing this story, a coworker complimented my survivalist ability. I was grateful for her assessment.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The City Can Be Interesting

What a delightful lunch! Salaa (I'm guessing how to spell this), my friend at Downtown Diner, made some eggs and shared with me a portion--they had stewed tomatoes and onions in them, plus some mild, earthy seasoning. He also procured a large share of a puffy flatbread, which I tore off and wrapped the eggs in.

There was another customer in the store. His clothes hung strangely on his body, so I decided he must have something to do with computers. (By the bye, the Ophcrack disc did not fix Salaa's laptop, and he says he will buy a new motherboard.) He glanced at me with something milder than being startled and walked straight up to the counter. "A chicken," he ordered, "and can I use your phone?"

Salaa granted him use of the phone, with which he made two calls to the office, leaving two voicemails to coworkers. He looked at my lunch--one slice of black olive/pepperoni pizza, one slice of meat lover's (pepperoni/sausage/gyro)--and said, "I don't like olives." I nodded and countered that I love black olives. He stared at me but said nothing.

When Salaa brought out the flatbread for the eggs, the customer became very interested. "That looks really good," he said. I tore off a section of bread and scooped some eggs into it. "That looks really good," he iterated, leaning over my table. He started to ask if he could have some as I handed the food over to him.

He added, "My name is Tom."

I asked Salaa whether this were a dish for a holiday, like the fish and rice dish he shared last Easter; he said it was a regular old breakfast recipe. Tom told him it was very good, and I agreed. I plan to have it for breakfast tomorrow, at work, rather than try to cart it home.

Tom turned back to me. "I'm into beef." He pointed at my slice not covered in olives. "That's more what I'm into, the sausage." I let him know this was also very good. When his chicken came up he tucked it under his arm and barreled out of the diner.

...Aw, dammit. I forgot to ask whether Salaa's plans to visit his family are still on. He's been meaning to make the trip to Egypt for months but it keeps getting postponed. I know it's killing him, not to see his family for so long. He used to visit them every couple of months, but now it's been almost two years since he's seen them.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Bad Society

Stepped out for lunch and stood on the corner of Nicollet Ave. and 11th St. to take pictures.

Of what? Why, of cyclists biking past the NO BIKES sign.

These signs run all up and down Nicollet Mall. They forbid bikes from 6AM-6PM, MON-FRI, yet between 12:30-1:00 PM I got over 16 photos of cyclists riding up and down the street. Mpls. police's official position is that they are understaffed (and otherwise uninterested) and so are not inclined to bust most biking offenses (like anything that falls under Minn. Stat. 169.222, apparently). And yeah, I'd rather see them breaking up a child porn ring than hauling in a cyclist on Nicollet, but still.

As I walked back to the office, a short, brawny NO SPECIFIC ETHNICITY man brightly asked if I had any change. I didn't, so I said, "Sorry, I don't."

He lost his sunny grin, squared his shoulders and set his jaw. His brow furrowed and he gave me an unblinking once-over, either to identify what I had on me or just to assess my physical prowess. It flashed through my mind that I might have to defend myself, right here on the sidewalk, in the middle of the city, in the middle of the day. I looked him in the eye and he didn't make a move, and I left.

Why is it unreasonable that I should want to walk down the sidewalk unmolested? Why is it unreasonable that I should want to move through the city without constantly being hit up for money? I work for my money: why am I expected to hand it over to any and every jackoff who asks for it?


What are some things I really hate? These are some things I really hate:
  • Sucka MCs.

  • Friends-of-friends who consistently say amazingly stupid things, but I can't make fun of them because my friends will get mad, even when they agree with me. This comes up all the time.

  • Biting the inside of my cheek, then biting it for the next two days because it's swollen.

  • Cats who act like I did something to them, and I didn't. Never even met them before.

  • People who blame Obama for Bush's legacy.

  • People who beg for money, everywhere I go, then insult or threaten me when I don't give it.

  • Angry clerks working at a store that I like.

  • My new old-person's metabolism.

  • The Blue Dog Democrats, of whom I've only recently become aware.

  • Cilantro.

That's not all. More later.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Joy + Pain / Sunshine + Rain

I got my new camera today. I'm quite pleased with it: I can bike around with it in the crook of my thumb and forefinger on my right hand, with the remaining fingers securely working the brake handle. No pouch necessary--it's just always right there, as long as I never drop it. It's got decent zoom and decent macro-zoom. Nothing to scream about but more than sufficient for my purposes.

This is the first picture taken with it, my funny face in the kitchenette where I work. I immediately took a lunch break, sat down with a pastrami/provolone sandwich, and got my camera up and running. On the break room TV Goldeneye was playing--were all Bond movies this bad? I charged the battery for the rest of my work day and brought it out for the ride home, take it for a test drive. It felt like a sense of release to finally have a working, convenient camera on hand to capture the world around me. And I sold one camera for a $30 discount on the price, too, which really helped.

Kinda makes up for Credo denying my application. Yes, this great-assed phone company that's so good for leftist politics, they don't want me to play. Why not? I checked my credit report, there are no blips on any radar since 2004. It could be that the service rep replaced all F's in my name and street address with S's, changed my city to "Miniapolas" and my state to Mississippi. It feels weird to yell at a phone company in order to get them to accept your business, but that's what I'm going to do tomorrow.

Health Care Reform

All right, I don't know anything about what's going on with the current health care issues. My vague understanding is that our current health care system is deplorable, a money-making racket that doesn't pay out to the consumer, and that the Democrats are working to reform it while the Republicans present a series of obstacles to resolution. Now I'm going to read a bunch of news articles and see if I can learn something more substantial than this.

This Buffalo News columnist suggests that Sen. Clinton's health care reform plan would have covered all Americans for "less money" (than what?). He suggests Obama's original plan would not have covered everyone, but that he changed it to a universal plan just prior to his election. He also says Obama is changing the issue from "health care reform" to "health insurance reform." I don't think these terms are equivalent, and I would not suggest Obama can't tell the difference between insurance and the care provider, so I think the inflection is the columnist's. Also, this seems to be a conservative columnist as the only people commenting on his article are libelous conservative conspiracy theorists.

To research: How much was Hillary's plan projected to cost?

In the Letters to the Editor of the Seattle Times, one writer hates the idea of the government covering everyone's health care costs, citing the failure of Medicare (which was mainly intended to cover people over 65), a government-run single-payer health care system (doctors/hospitals are paid by a single fund). Her evidence is anecdotal and second-hand, and she projects that any universal health care system will fail because Medicare did.

Another writer rejects the plan (which plan?) because it has too many pages and that it does not contain a sweeping, overnight solution.

A third writer points out the double-standard of certain politicians (not specified), in that they demand the health care reform cost of $1 trillion must be paid up-front and cannot be distributed over ten years, then insisting that this is an impossibility, while approving billions of dollars for the war in Iraq and the Wall Street bailout.

To research: Which politicians are these? What are their stances on health care reform, the Iraq war, and the Wall Street bailout? What makes Medicare so bad?

The Caucus, a political blog on the New York Times site, reports that the Senate Finance Committee is trying to draft a bill before "Senate leaves town" (what? why?) on August 8. It reiterates the $1 trillion/ten-year bill and mentions the possibility of taxing high-end health plans. I'm not sure what jurisdiction the Blue Dog Coalition (moderate and conservative Democrats in the House of Representatives) has over health care issues, but it seems that seven distinct fiscal conservatives in that group are purposely blocking the progress of this bill.

The Blue Dogs claim to wish to find a compromise between the liberal and conservative positions, but everything I've read about them (so far) illustrates them as a group formed within the Democratic party to counter and obstruct their own party. As of 2007 over a dozen of them have boycotted contributing party dues to the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee.

To research: Why don't the Blue Dogs join the Republican party? Are they an "away team" dispatched to sow discord from within, a la The Grapes of Wrath? Why would progressive and liberal activists support a group that approved war funding and supported warrantless wiretapping?

Summary: I have a lot of homework to do. There's a lot of background information I need before I can approach the health care reform matter. In contrast, USA Today's article on obesity increasing health care costs seems surprisingly naive from a responsible news source. Yes, obese people with obesity-related health issues need more health care. But it doesn't start there: what made them obese? Lack of sufficient government programs to put a cap on misleading advertising for junk food and soft drinks, or promote nutrition and exercise in terms of education as well as facilities and resources. You can't announce "people buying things makes things expensive" and pretend that's the end of the story. Go back, go to the source, identify the problem and promote a solution.

It's a Very, Very Slow Monday Morning

I'm excited: today I get my new camera. I ordered a refurbished Canon, something very small (not the Elph), and I can bring in my old digital cameras for potential trade-in and further knock down the price. It's already a good deal that stands to turn awesome.

Rebecca's at home with a migraine. I think the cats sense her tension because Toki's concerned for her but doesn't know how to express it. He rubbed himself in her face and purred loudly, which is terrible for trying to sleep through. When I kicked him out he attacked Bella, and I found him in a corner with tufts of grey fur in his mouth. I locked him on the porch to cool him down: he was mournful at first but eventually didn't want to leave. When the neighborhood wakes up, the cats like to sit at the windows and watch everything going on.

I walked over to the IDS Tower this morning to get a bowl of oatmeal at Potbelly. There was a homeless guy in one of the skyway passes, looking dead at me and holding up a sign directly at me. I apologized and went on, got my oatmeal, and thought I'd be clever by going back on the street level. Not so clever, as that put five more homeless people with signs and mournful expressions in my path.

I updated in Small Laws an incident in which a green sports car drove down the bike-only lanes to pass a taxi and a construction vehicle in the bus lane, then blocked a legitimate cyclist while trying to turn onto 8th St. If only I had a camera on me at the time.

This weekend I started a new blog, Postalatry, wherein I'll chronicle my adventures with pen pals, stationery, etymology, and all related materials. It won't be as negative as Small Laws, and it will be more focused than Sweven Volant. I feel good about it. There's not much in it right now but I'll slowly bulk it up with an entry every day.

I'm still waiting for my new cell phone to arrive. Today would be the last reasonable day to wait before suspecting something is amiss, so I hope it turns up before I leave the office (in four hours). New phones, new camera... the details only slightly change from month to month.

Quite mistaken: I did get an ELPH, a Canon PowerShot SD1100. I took a picture of myself and of some guys on a rooftop down the street, and now I'm charging the battery. There were no arm-mounted camera holsters at that store, but there's nothing to stop me from constructing my own such device. It looks like a fine camera for my purposes, and with the resolution set low enough there is no practical limit to the pictures I can take. There was a sale on 2 GB SD cards, you see.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

By Phone: Cecil's

Eating at Cecil's deli in St. Paul. Never been here before, gonna have to come back frequently!

Goodbye, Old Building

My company changed its name from Wolfmotell to Modern Climate. We also moved from our old location over Drink to the top two floors of a new building, kitty-corner from the old Shinders, across Hennepin from the State Theater. It's awesome: beautiful new space, so many windows, so much light.

But I will miss times like this, being presented with my own private Christmas in the elevator, going up to the office:

Friday, July 24, 2009

Recent Past, Really Quickly

It's been a good couple of days. All at once, four Postcrossing cards reached their destinations and I can send out four more: Russia, Belarus, The Netherlands, and Germany all requested weird cards, and oh, do I have those in stock. I'm glad the cards arrived because it's been a dry couple of weeks while I waited for them to go through. In fact, one that I'd sent to Japan seems to have been destroyed in the mail, resulting in a wait time of over 30 days, so I issued a second one and that showed up in less than a week.

My friend at Downtown Diner had intimated that he was having some laptop problems. It seems he lent it to a cousin who, in turn, lent it to a random assortment of people, and someone locked it up with a password. I didn't know how to get around this so I asked my friends Nick and Jarrin and they each recommended Ophcrack for a workaround. I burned a boot disk and handed it to my friend, and he was most pleased. Hope it does the trick!

At the risk of alienating my audience of two, I'm thinking about being less of a dick on Small Laws.

And congratulations go to my niece for winning a coloring contest at the Rice County Fair! She went out for root beer in celebration:

Thursday, July 23, 2009

In Like With This City

I did end up going to National Camera Exchange, and the friendly and helpful clerk recommended a couple very good models. I liked the Canon but expressed my budget and she recommended the same model but refurbished. The one I looked at was tangerine but the refurbished model was silver, which was most fortuitous, and it's substantially cheaper. Further, I can bring in my old cameras for the potential of sale/trade and knock $10-20 more off the price. I feel very good about this.

I went out to Nicollet Ave to peruse the Farmers Market with my wife. I picked up a small package of roasted cinnamon almonds, fresh and hot. This is one of the small things that impart me with the real sense it's good to be alive and good to be in Minneapolis.

The buskers on Nicollet have been very good this season. In the past I enjoyed this gutterpunk combo, stopping in Mpls. while on a hitchhiking adventure. There was a woman on fiddle, a man on accordion, and a varying number of other musicians. They looked great and sounded fantastic, and I miss them a lot. This year I've spotted a trio with accordion and clarinet, and they play klezmer! Truly delightful! I've run across the street to give them money, even when I don't have time to stand and listen--they should definitely be reinforced.

It was awkward today, though, because I had to bend and lunge to drop off my dollar in their instrument case, and when I retracted I ended up face-to-face with a woman begging for change. She had a couple children with her and was feeding one; her crappy cardboard sign begged for help, mentioning she had four children to take care of. Our eyes locked for a second and I was intensely aware of not giving her any money, in direct contrast to dropping a dollar off for the musicians. Her expression was quite sad.

On another corner not far away was a three-piece outfit, The Wandering White River Trio. Fantastic musicians, and judging by their photo gallery, they're three lads out on a grand adventure. That's an aspect I won't experience in this lifetime: the traveling band. It sounds fun and interesting, but I don't think I'm suited for it. I couldn't keep my mood up for that long. I know I have a terrible attitude in the midst of these things. Then again, if I were with a small group of people that I was unreservedly into, who knows?

Shopping = Product + Service

I'm looking for yet another digital camera. I have two technically working but somehow wrong cameras on my bookshelf, and my recent Canon has bitten it. The previous two cameras eventually produced pictures that were burned out/lightened in the center of every image, which was no good. One of them has a lens cover that won't shut. My current camera, the photo button is desensitized so pressing it halfway to focus it doesn't work anymore: you have to press very hard to get it to take a picture, and it's a gamble as to how the image will come out.

I'm going to look up programs in the city for recycling old cameras, because I know these things are unsafe to just throw away. I'd like to give them to a niece or nephew to play around with, but I'm afraid they'd resent me for dumping such a piece of crap on them. Kids aren't stupid, they know when they're getting a deal and when they're inheriting someone else's trash.

Shopping online is usually my go-to modus operandi, but this time I want to talk to someone who knows cameras. I'm going to walk down to National Camera Exchange and ask them for a recommendation. My concern is that they are actually a very good store (I won't say "boutique") for the serious camera enthusiast. I'm concerned they won't have anything in my price range: I don't want to spend more than $100 for a simple, small, slim camera I can whip out in traffic without a fight.

Recently, my bulbous and clunky Canon demonstrated a new trick: first, it refuses to dislodge from the front pocket of my jeans. Second, just before it does come free, the battery door opens, ejects the batteries into the middle of the street, then closes and locks again. That stupid battery door is hard enough to open when I'm sitting in a chair, both hands free, and with all my attention focused upon it, yet somehow it pulled this stunt.

I could trot over to Target, there's a large outlet not far from my new office. They would have a large selection. I could ask a clerk for a recommendation and there's a chance their eyes wouldn't glaze over, some small spark of a synapse swimming through their soupy cranial mist to find a receptor. I'm saying I don't think they'd be as versed in their inventory as would the fine folks at National Camera Exchange, but the stock would certainly be in my range.

I could wend the Skyway to Gaviidae and the Radio Shack therein. Slightly smaller stock, fairly good odds of an employee who knows his stuff. The argument against Radio Shack and Target is that these are not local businesses, not in the same way National Camera Exchange is... Well, actually, "National" is a weird word to have in the name of a local business. Quick research assures me they are at least Upper Midwest-centric, and that's fine. The same research also indicates there's a possibility I could trade my old cameras in, perhaps to facilitate the purchase. I wonder if that applies to my cameras? They may be undesirable recent digital cameras no collector or industry would be interested in, but you never know. I'll ask whether it's worthier to sell them to the store or trade them toward a new purchase. Probably the latter, which means that I won't have a new camera by the end of the day. But it's a deal that neither Target nor Radio Shack could afford me.

Or it's the potential for a deal. It is the dream of a butterfly asleep on a blade of grass.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

My First Aquatennial Parade

Biked down to Aquatennial! Cool parade, actually. Never seen this before.

Transmitted that from my phone. There must be an app I can text to that will update Facebook and Twitter for me. Hell, there are probably four competing apps for that.

I've never been to Aquatennial before--unsure of the etymology, "occurring once every body of water"--but it's a big thing in Minneapolis... as far as big things go. It was a parade with trailer floats and high school bands, plus other represented groups (like the Renaissance Festival--boy, was that painful). I got excited to see a marching bagpipe squad, but they finished playing half a block south of me and resumed half a block north of me. Anyway, they were Shriners, not any sort of Scottish pride group.

We biked to and from the event, Rebecca and I did. Now that I'm so well-versed in Minnesota statutes, I was all excited about being absolutely prepared for the ride. More's the pity that my wife was almost T-boned by some jackass riding around in the dark without helmet, headlight, or reflectors. He just came gliding out of the evening, heading into oncoming traffic down W 28th St, riding the wrong way down a one-way street. It sucks, that you can put so much effort into learning and following the rules, being a responsible and safe cyclist, and some asshole can come out of nowhere and fuck you up. I don't think I need to go into detail about what would have happened to him, if he'd hurt my wife.

That was right after a different asshole in a sports car blew through the same stop sign we'd stopped at. If I weren't around, Rebecca would still ride through stop signs and red lights, but the stick up my ass about this is big enough for two people so she stops when we're together. This heightened her outrage at the jackass coasting through at 20mph, right next to us. I was just glad there was someone else to feel the angst I go through every single day, for once.

It was a good parade, so I won't reflect longer on the people who attended it and other negative influences. It was a good parade.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

Not My Cup of Sumatra

Now that I'm no longer gaming on Facebook... my free time in the mornings has really opened up. There's not much else for me to do online. Maybe I'll try turning this free hour into writing time, work on short stories or something. I know other people's highly creative time comes in the morning, but for me it's late evening when my mind starts racing. I'm not a morning person in the least way--how propitious, then, that my job doesn't require me to come in until 10:00 AM. I love that so much.

So I went back to the MN Artists Web site and thought about uploading a story to my profile. Before I cancelled my Open Salon account, I went through and grabbed the most noteworthy (to me) articles I posted there, though they're not really usable in any other format. On the other hand, I wouldn't want to upload any short stories I intend to publish anywhere else, so I suppose these used articles can serve as writing samples.

Then again, tonight my writing group meets, and I don't have anything to submit. I skipped the last two weeks and missed out on the two weeks prior... I've met for two sessions. This time it's not the group that's failing me: I'm failing the group. I just haven't had any time to write, but now I'll see if I can do it in the morning. I really don't feel like it. This is my time to enjoy a coffee and see amusing stuff online, but I don't know of any new amusing stuff. I used to hang out with an online community that was constantly surfacing new sites and amazing stuff, but I couldn't hang out there without getting into fights so I had to leave. Now I don't have a source for new links, and I don't know how to seek these out myself.

So I may as well restructure this time and turn it into a writing period. I'm not doing anything useful with this first hour of the day, and gods know I'm not writing at any other point in the day (well, except these two blogs), so I've got to take whatever hour is afforded me and contrive to create in that time.


Update: Yesterday I came home to a mailing from Credo Mobile (formerly Working Assets) with an awesome deal. Free phones, low rates, Sprint's coverage network, and they will cover the fee for leaving a present phone contract (up to $200). This could not have come at a better time. I got a Katana LX for myself and a LG Rumor for Rebecca. And I got the hell rid of T-Mobile.

Monday, July 20, 2009

There is No Point to Doing the Right Thing

It's getting to be too much. Right now I don't feel the will to fight anymore. If I'm the only person who tries to obey the law, and my efforts result in alienation and conflict, why should I keep trying?

Historically there were two traffic violations on my driving record. One was when I ran a light that had just turned red: freezing rain had just descended and coated the street in glare ice, and I was behind a group of cars who went through the yellow. But there was a cop at the intersection and he picked me out as "most offending" vehicle. Another time, I was pulled over 30' from my house for doing 35mph in a 30mph zone.

On the other hand, I've been robbed and mugged, held down at gunpoint. When the gunman returned two weeks later and I got a positive physical ID, the cops blew off my claim. I was punched in the face by a motorcyclist; I gave the plates and physical ID to the police, who were helpless to follow up on it. I was momentarily apprehended by two belligerent cops in search of a short man in a green coat (I'm a tall man and was wearing a black coat--perfect match). My own sister witnessed a murder downtown and when she reported it, in person, to two police officers on a beat, they shrugged and said it wasn't their precinct.

I have no real reason to believe in the legal system.

On the other hand, I've had consistently shitty service with T-Mobile, and the only reason I've stuck with them is because their prices and services are the least shitty out of all companies and providers. But just today, while I was trying to delete two phonecam pictures that I discovered on my online account, which I did not authorize uploading, I was forced to approve a revision to my contact. In order to delete these unauthorized photos, I had to agree to waive all rights to a trial by court and waive all rights to future class-action lawsuits.

That's legal. A phone company that knowingly issues phones that break after a year, but has you locked into a two-year contract, that's legal. A phone company that forces you to pay for an upgrade if you want a working phone (after a completely legal bait-and-switch), and forces you to sign a new two-year contract with it, that's legal. And modifying their contract so you have no legal recourse but arbitration, that's legal.

And here I am, the only bicyclist in Minneapolis who uses hand signals and obeys red lights and stop signs. Cyclist-interest groups, formal and informal, all insist on their enforceable rights as traffic, yet they have no interest in observing those laws. They laugh about it, they brag about it, they admire their own lawlessness, yet they hypocritically insist that cars must follow the rules.

I'm a broken record. It's the same thing over and over again. It's an uphill battle to follow the rules, yet coolness and admiration are heaped upon those who lack the discipline to do so.

Tonight, biking home, a car ran his stop sign to block me at a T-intersection, and he glared at me through his windshield. I tried to hop my bike up onto the curb, crossing the street, but my bike hit the curb instead and I nearly fell over my handlebars. The driver craned around to laugh loudly out of his window, echoing down the block as he drove away.

Something inside me snapped.

Rebecca once asked me, in light of everything that's happened, why I'm not an anarchist. Why do I cling to the law despite how grossly it has failed on every level?

Suck My Ass, T-Mobile

I've been having a terrible time with T-Mobile, in my many years as a customer with them. I have to look at that frankly, instead of using the rosy-hued filter I've applied, wanting to believe they're a good company.

My phone has been breaking down lately, but it's out of warranty. The warranty is for one year, but at minimum T-Mobile locks you into a contract for two years, so you get one year with a phone doing as least as much as it's supposed to do, and one year of a broken-assed phone or hassles with replacement and shelling out for a new phone for the next year. Or you can bail and pay an exorbitant fee for breaking your contract, even though they do not hold themselves responsible for providing a phone that will last the length of the contract.

It is amazing: T-Mobile phones do seem to break just after their warranty expires. This is my third T-Mobile phone to pull this stunt of timing. When I complained last time about the display screen flickering and dying, Customer Service merely said, "This is a known issue." When I reported that the sound went out and I couldn't hear any calls, they agreed and said, "Yup, that's a known issue." It's like if I could surprise them with a brand-new problem, then they would remedy the situation or make restitution to me. But because I had the hard luck of identifying a problem they know they have, a problem thousands of other paying customers have reported, they are not beholden to fix anything.

Imagine yourself going into a popular coffee shop and ordering an iced coffee. They make it and serve it to you, and you discover it tastes terrible. You realize that they have replaced the sugar with salt, but when you report it to the barista, they say, "Oh, that's a known issue. We've had a problem with high salt content in our sweetened drinks." And then the barista refuses to make you a salt-free drink unless you pay for a new drink (plus a replacement fee), and she refuses to refund you your money. She did not give you the drink you ordered, she knew the drink she gave you was wrong, but she made it and gave it to you anyway.

That's how T-Mobile runs its company.

Verizon is T-Mobile's best competitor. Their prices are about the same, and their coverage is about the same (T-Mobile's coverage is slightly better in Minnesota, but Verizon's is slightly better worldwide). But what makes me think that Verizon's business practices will be any better than T-Mobile's? I would even argue that all phone companies are crooked, and they write up horrifying contracts explicitly designed to screw the customer out of decent, equitable service and deprive them of legal recourse. Why would anyone agree to such a contract? Because you've got to have a phone. The demand is so irresistible that the suppliers feel no competitive sense to offer a decent product. You're going to buy no matter what, so why put so much energy into reasonable service and a reliable product?

Sure enough, I talked to a customer service representative and she was very cheerful but unable to help. She confirmed that the warranty had expired on this phone. If you have a T-Mobile phone, enter the warranty expiration date on an online calendar and set up a reminder to e-mail you ten days before it expires, and get a new phone.

She gave me instructions on how to move all my addresses onto my SIM card. That was necessary because she gave me instructions on how to clear the memory on my phone. This, in the hope that it would clear whatever's going wrong in its processing.

Before we left for Green Bay I fully charged my phone on Friday. Saturday it showed a full battery and I got a series of alerts warning me that my battery was empty and about to die--while showing me the "full battery" symbol. Eventually I was not able to back out of the ALERT screen at all, and on Sunday my phone died. Last night I plugged it in and this morning it was fully charged, and as of noon there was one bar of energy left in the battery symbol. Also, the phone was very hot to the touch. When I shut it off and turned it on again, I received a long string of error messages announcing that various EXE programs could not run due to indeterminate problems. I tried to shut it down again and it locked in one of the shut-down screens.

I showed this to a T-Mobile representative in an outlet in the IDS Tower. He shrugged and said it was an issue that had to be called in. I called it in just now, having researched the Nokia 2610 as an acceptable replacement. See it on the Web site there? It's uncomplex and free, so of course when I requested it the customer service representative said they no longer offer it. They advertise it on their Web site, but they don't offer it; she did offer me a Nokia 5610, pretty much the opposite of what I wanted, and I would receive the privilege of getting to pay $50 for it, as long as I signed up for another two-year contract.

T-Mobile will not replace my broken phone. Their "resolution" is that I buy a phone I don't want (since they don't offer the phone they advertise) and that I sign up for another two-year contract, to enjoy another two years of their exemplary service and cutting-edge technology.

Why isn't this illegal?

Ringing In the New Week

I definitely miss the coffee we make for ourselves, whenever we have to leave the house and be gone for a few days. We got a very good conical burr grinder and a very good coffee maker, each of which are made by Capresso, as it happens. They match, so we look like we have a swank little coffee-making system going on in the kitchen, making this a terrible time to try and quit drinking coffee. I have gone down to one cup, however, out of necessity: two cups, and I'm jittery before I even get to work.

And there's another bit of irony: my workplace offers great free coffee and I don't touch it, yet my wife has another cup or two at her place of work and it's terrible coffee. מענטש טראַכט, גאָט לאַכט.

Now it's 9:00 AM and I should start getting ready for work. I think today I'll enact my plan of photographing cyclists breezing past the "no bikes allowed" sign on Nicollet Avenue. It's a sunny, warm day so there will be many people on bikes. I'm sure I can get 16 pictures for a suitable collage. After work I must pick up another bag of cat food, and I know there was something else I was going to do but it escapes my mind presently.

Anyway, I should start using words outside of my customary coinage, just to keep my active vocabulary up. And it looks like my SEO experiment is a total failure: no one is finding my blog based on popular search items. Isn't that funny? I gear up these posts to line up with prominent topics and no one comes; but when I minded my own business, illiterate teenagers searching for info on that tawdry Twilight series showed up in a steady stream, entirely on accident. Looks like this "Internet Popularity" concept is an elusive and ever-shifting target.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

How To Write A Successful Blog

How to write a successful blog.

Easy: Write as though you were trying to impress an attractive woman.

"But I'm attracted to so many women!" you're saying. "How do I know which one to pick?"

Advanced: Write each entry to a different attractive woman.

One day, write to the wholesome, flaxen-haired lass who works at the co-op. Next day, write to the dangerous and surly raven-haired vixen, with a demon tattoo on her left shoulder and three nautical stars across her neck, who runs bar-back at the punk hangout. After that, compose a post as though you were trying to attract the attention of the curvy, highly competent, and forbidding department manager where you work. Will you earn her respect through erudition, or will you gamble with appealing to her turgid sexual underpinnings?

It's that easy! Write me with your success stories and if they're convincing enough I'll give it a try too.

"But I'm gay!" one-tenth of you are saying. "Pussy, yuck! What am I supposed to write about?"

Very Complicated: Oh my gods. Seriously? You're seriously asking me this.

You've got cuisine, fashion, theater, and music in your thrall, and you're asking me what you're supposed to write about. You're an oppressed demographic and you can't come up with any topic you might address. OH MY GODS, is this a serious question or are you just rubbing it in my face? I guarantee you, if we went to a poetry slam and each wrote free verse about our favorite sexual conquest, you would get all the women. Shut up and start writing.

The Cavern Was Just As I Imagined It

Saw the sixth Harry Potter movie tonight. Wonderfully dark, and it played on my barely subcutaneous crush on Helena Bonham Carter. Snape once again inspired me to look for something something black and high-necked and to decorate in hardcover books. Not that I play for Team Slytherin, oh no: I'm top Gryffindor boy, through and through.

My pure enjoyment of the film was tainted on the edges by some princessy emo fuck in the row behind us. He draped his legs over the seats in front of him, which were the only seats of sufficient number to fit our group. As my wife walked up to claim her chair, he rolled his eyes and murmured an agonized "shi-i-i-i-i-it" at being so inconvenienced. I desired to inconvenience him of a few incisors but my wife views these responses askance.

Dear Reader, you don't know how strange it is for me to say "my wife" this and "my wife" that. It's like I've been asked to euphemize or encode a perfectly common word and am trying to force myself in the habit of it. Intellectually, I know I'm within my rights and there's a certain societal expectation I'm fulfilling with it, but do not imagine it exactly trips off my tongue. Oh, I'm not resisting or resenting it at all, but do know that I never, ever conceived that I could end up here.

Anyway, we're back in Green Bay. Rebecca's father is recovering nicely: we saw from photos over the week that he's relearning to walk without support. During our visit this afternoon we had a long conversation with him and he hardly had any trouble at all. What this man is up against would be daunting for anyone, but imagine developing a pattern of behavior that was natural to you for eight decades, and then suddenly you're robbed of it. Can't do it all, have to undertake special training to pick it up again. Imagine learning to hold and wield a fork effectively, or practicing the alphabet all over again. There you go, imagine you went on vacation for a month and when you returned, you find the government had mandated the alphabet should fall in a different order. Everyone else knows it, has memorized it, and you're the only one stumbling through it. I guess it's not dissimilar to that.

Rebecca realized recently that we haven't had a weekend to ourselves in several weeks. Well, what can you do? Two weeks on the cruise, two weeks visiting her father in the hospital, I don't remember what was going on before all this. But you get old, you inherit certain responsibilities. Your parents start to get very old and fall apart and you have to take care of them; there's a brief breather before you and your parter, in turn, become decrepit. It makes me want to say, "Play, kids, as hard as you can."

Friday, July 17, 2009

Postcrossing: What I Send

These are some postcards I'm sending out. Yep, still doing the Postcrossing thing. Still getting some amazing cards from around the world--if the picture's lacking, the story is usually interesting.

The first card is that of a local artist who does scenes of Minneapolis landmarks. Understand me: I really like this city and what it can be, and I really wish I could boost it more, but many of the citizens that go out in public have some trait of assholishness in them. They don't hold doors open; if you smile at them, they scowl and look away; they never give their seats to elderly or blind people on the bus. The citizenry gets me down, but the restaurants, bars, museums, and many of the businesses are very exciting. This place is like a footlocker of manure with dozens of exquisitely cut precious gems embedded. I really, really wish I could throw myself wholeheartedly into supporting the city.

The second card is going out to a young man in Poland. He says he's into football teams and specifically requested that people send him cards featuring local (to the sender) football clubs. I think we would call that "soccer" here, and I don't think we have any clubs for that. I promised him I'd send him a postcard with the MN Vikings, if ever I could find one. But he mentioned that his girlfriend likes "puppies, other small animals, and small Africans." I ran out to Heavenly Soles (their sale is up to 75% off; I bought a second pair of Frye boots) and got some more postcards, one of which was this one. But it's a magic-view card, where if you tilt it back and forth, the three hearts seem to pulse with beats. I hope his girlfriend will like it.

The third is an Albrecht Durer woodcut, Saint Jerome in his Study. I've always liked Durer's work, moreso once I got into linocuts. His mastery of form and perspective compels my attention inordinately long. I picked this card up at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, my favorite museum. I hate modern art and view the Walker's collection as comedic fodder, to my wife's deep chagrin, but the MIA glows within my chest.

Funny, It Doesn't Feel Right

...Yet we're perfectly within our rights to look people up through such online services as White Pages and, say, Facebook.

Checking Google Trends, I found a lot of people have been looking for more information about Heather Lynne Zeo, a high school math teacher in Philadelphia, PA, accused of sexual intercourse with a student. Or two students.

Is she on Facebook? She's totally on Facebook and MySpace. Will people use that as another argument that Facebook is a morass of decadence? It doesn't help that the two teens testified she used it to communicate with them. And I've never heard of Yola, but apparently Heather Zeo started a Web site through them, in which she promotes her inspirational religious music. "The 2003 release of Light as a Feather provided an opportunity for every individual to share in that Light as a Feather freedom attainable only through Complete submission to God's perfect peace."

"As a Christian," she writes, "I love my faith and all people! Teenagers and women's groups are a large part of my passion, but my God and my family direct my world!!" Turns out that's half right.

White Pages lists a Heather L Zeo in Philadelphia, at 1263 Holly Road (it provides a map, provided by Microsoft's new Bing service). There's a phone number, too, but it's only visible to members. But it's free to become a member--they just want online records as to who's looking up who's phone numbers, of course. So I could call and see what's up, which I'm curious to do, but I'm sure that household has disconnected its phone. She's a married 36y.o. woman with three kids, you know. White Pages lists all the names of the people registered in that household, but it doesn't state who's the father and who the kids are.

Part of me thinks it's neat that I can read a news article and instantly look up the home and phone number of the people involved. I did that a couple years ago, when a business woman attempted to run a police officer over with her car in her attempt to sneak past a road block. There had been a car accident and, consequently, a traffic jam, which the woman tried to drive around, crying, "I don't care who died! I'm more important!" I looked up her address and phone number, too.

I think it's neat, but I also think it's really creepy. There are certain people who would act on that information, either with harassing mail/phone calls or actually driving out to make a visit. Useful for a journalist, disastrous in the hands of someone with impaired morality, judgment, and a lot of time.

What Do We Know About Ramzan Kadyrov?

Currently president of Chechnya at age 32, Ramzan Kadyrov is reputed to have been an unruly schoolboy. He looked up to his father, a Muslim imam, and at the age of 16 helped lead a group of separatist fighters against federal Soviet forces. (If you find Chechnya on the map, one wonders what would stop the Ukraine and Kazakhstan from just drawing a line across the narrow channel that divides them, permanently separating Chechnya from Russia.

As it turned out, Kadyrov completely reversed his position and sold out to Moscow, now running Chechnya with the Kremlin's authority. He is credited with rebuilding Grozny, the capital (largely destroyed in the Second Chechen War), taking the opportunity to construct one of the largest mosques in Europe. He's also a fan of boxing, and said that the Danish artist who drew an inflammatory political cartoon of the prophet Mohammed "should be buried alive." He also bragged to human rights activist Natalya Estemirova of having "blood from my hands to my elbows."

Estemirova had been working on gathering evidence of human rights violations since the Second Chechen War (1999). In 2000 she was elected as representative of Memorial, a human rights agency in Grozny. She met with Kadyrov over a year ago to discuss human rights violations and the meeting was less than satisfactory: he ordered her to cease her investigations.

Kadyrov seems to have taken care of his problem:
On Wednesday, the 50-year-old single mother[, widow,] and onetime schoolteacher was kidnapped, driven past numerous police checkpoints, shot in the head and dumped by a roadside [within nine hours].
He, of course, denies any involvement in this, but what kind of vehicle could get through those checkpoints? What kind of driver had the authority? She also worked "with the investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya and lawyer Stanislav Markelov — both of whom were slain in assassination-style killings." Huh.


With the rest of the world looking at this string of inordinate coincidences, all of which seem to run along a very clear theme, Kadyrov shares that weird quality with other world dictators: he believes he is cleverer than anyone, can successfully get away with such a shoddy ruse, and that everyone else is too stupid to see through it.

He has also sworn to conduct two investigations into her death: one official, and "one unofficial, according to Chechen traditions." While he was running for office, he actually used reports issued by Memorial to feature his opponents in an ugly light. His alliance with that organization dissolved immediately upon taking office, of course. Anyone care to place any bets on what the results of his investigation(s) will be?

What is This "Good Day" of Which You Speak?

The sun's fighting to make a showing now, but when I woke up it was grey and overcast in the sky. Bella was making affectionate demonstrations to my wife, crawling and nestling on her, which is rare for this normally reserved Savannah. Toki was elsewhere in the house for most of it, though now I can hear him chewing on cellophane in the next room. One moment...

It was the foil cap to a bottle of wine, peeled off days ago. Sometimes the cats will dig out little treasures from the trash, if it's an open waste bin.

It's 8:30 AM now. In half an hour I'll start getting ready for work, taking a shower and assembling my belongings in a pannier, choosing an outfit. When I started biking I was all excited about shopping for biking shirts, advertising my cyclist-ness, but those shirts are fairly expensive. Whenever you get into a niche interest, there will always be a merchant waiting to jack up the price of whatever you need; the deeper you go, the more expensive it gets. In this way, capitalism stifles personal development and creativity, makes them prohibitive.

So when we went on our cruise around Europe, I was especially excited about picking up biking shirts from each nation we went to. But that gets costly quickly, what with the American dollar being as anemic as it is. I picked up one shirt in Norway, a blatantly souvenir-ish shirt modeled after their flag. It was made of the breathable material I've come to associate with athletic clothing. That's it, one shirt. I bought a couple nicer workout shirts last year, when we got My Fitness Coach for the Wii and started to really make an effort to exercise. Dressing in them puts me in the mindset for exercise, as I find it helpful to have a ritual about some things. I've worn those workout shirts for biking, but now I find it suitable to just pick out some old ratty t-shirt. I mean, who cares how I dress? I'm old and pudgy and married: being "marketable" should be the least of my concerns.

The cats are thundering around in the next room, stampeding back and forth. I've always thought cats were silent and stealthy.

I went to the Minneapolis Institute of Arts last night, for their Third Thursday presentation. This one was "Tour de Force," a play on Tour de France, and the focus was to be on bicycles. To that extent they had an interesting "make your own vintage French bicycle poster" activity, using templates of old posters with space for you to make your own design. I thought that was an awesome idea. They also had a local fashion designer displaying her "bike-friendly" work, which seemed to be cloth flowers you could pin in your hair. Which, as my wife pointed out, prevent the use of a bike helmet. In that light, "bike-friendly" means a decoration for your head that won't get caught in your bike chain, I suppose. Otherwise, I don't know what made her stuff more "bike-friendly" than it was "casual office-friendly," "radio-friendly," or "lemonade-friendly."

Kid Dakota was playing, but he wasn't singing songs about biking or public transit. I didn't see the connection, anyway. The pamphlet mentioned briefly that there was an exhibit "celebrating all things transit" but it did not allude to where this might be, nor was it mentioned anywhere else. There was a showing of The Bicycle Thief, but I didn't go to a museum to see a movie. Except for the DIY poster design, the evening's features seemed arbitrary and random. I'm sure I just missed the point.

The event was thickly populated with the kind of counterculture cyclists I have learned to hate: dressed uniformly, announcing how very into cycling they are, but in practice completely dismissive of traffic law or consideration outside of themselves. At that point I became disinclined to buy any special exercise shirts for biking, but would rather dress like a pedestrian while riding my bike.

Yes, I own a courier bag. Everyone at this event did too. The difference was that I actually carried a lot of stuff in my courier bag, like a small library, my laptop, and a complement of stationery items. Theirs looked empty. Mine was made by Swiss Gear and I keep it looking new, in gun-metal grey and royal blue. Theirs were uniformly black, ragged canvas, in the same way people buy pre-faded and distressed jeans: to advertise to others how long they've been into this motif, making them more integral and harder-core than you.

I don't wear my courier bag anymore, and I'll probably sell it despite its usefulness. I wouldn't want anyone to think I subscribe to their fashion show, just like I wouldn't dress in any way that would lead random bystanders to think I'm a neo-Nazi. I've identified a group and wish to dissociate myself from it.

Anyway. Currently I'm updating my podcasts, though I don't know when I'm supposed to have time to listen to them. I won't wear headphones while biking, unlike half the cyclists I see, and if I have time alone at home I don't want to spend it sitting still and listening to something for an hour. When I'm not alone, that's an even worse thing to do. But my concern is that my wife and I don't share enough interests, so I'm downloading all the Planet Money podcasts and need to find some time, somewhere, to listen to them so I can discuss the economy with her. I will also have to read a lot more about the economy and start studying the news, too. These commentators just bring out the misanthrope in me, which makes it hard to focus on the core message, but as a matter of self-discipline I need to learn how to do that. It's like The Andromeda Strain: putting energy into avoiding irritation only makes you extremely susceptible to the next irritation you encounter. Better to constantly subject yourself to irritation and deaden your nerves.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

What Do We Know About Gambia?

Two things are immediately interesting, to me, about Gambia: 1) it is actually called "The Gambia," like the Hague or the Yukon. (Actually, it is really the Republic of the Gambia.) 2) It is a long, thin, noodle-shaped strip of land that surrounds the north and south banks of the River Gambia (or "the river" as it is colorfully known) for well over 200 miles. Usually you just build a city on a river for its riparian advantage: these guys shaped a nation around it. That's pretty handy.

On the other hand, it is entirely surrounded, let's say "engulfed," by Senegal except for 40 miles of shore on the North Atlantic Ocean. If I were a nation entirely enveloped by another nation, I would feel pretty insecure. What would stop Senegal from saying, "You're completely surrounded. We're going to absorb you, and if you have a problem with that, you appeal to any other neighboring nation." It would be useless at this point to have a small community of fish-elders who can speak to the sea-dwelling creatures because fish make a terrible land-based army.

The Gambia was owned by the United Kingdom up until 1965, and there was a brief stint (1982-89) during which it did actually form a union with Senegal, and it was known as Senegambia. I'm pretty sure no one ever mentioned this in high school, and I was in high school from 1985-88. It should have been very timely, if not exactly relevant to a small, racist, northern Wisconsin town.

The Gambia is currently home to about 6,000 refugees from Sierra Leone, which is about one-seventh of all refugees from Sierra Leone. These refugees either took a boat up the North Atlantic Ocean or somehow crossed through Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, and the southern limb of Senegal to find refuge in the Gambia. They fled Sierra Leone because of a civil war in which the so-called Revolutionary United Front attempted to overthrow Sierra Leone's government, and 50,000 civilians were killed in the process. The UN sent in 13,000 peacekeepers who attempted to disarm the RUF but were themselves taken hostage.

The Gambia is known for having traffickers for the European sex trade, dealing mainly in women and girls but sometimes in young boys. That is to say, they may be flown to Europe, or they are simply corralled at home for European tourists. The thought of a nation plundering its own helpless citizenry for questionable and fleeting gain is horrifying enough, but that they do so in order to continue being exploited by another nation is pathetic. The government itself declines to prove in any way that it's working to halt their sex trade; indeed, it couldn't provide any proof of convictions or arrests for this offense for all of 2007. One has to assume the government itself is benefiting from pimping out its defenseless citizens. Not so much of a leap, when President Al'Haji Yahya Jammeh claims to have created a herbs-and-banana cure for AIDS, independent of his plans to behead homosexuals. He is also instituting a hunt for practitioners of magic. ...Yes, seriously, he seriously believes wizards are conspiring against him.

But no one can say the Gambia doesn't have a sense of humor: on July 11 claims they commemorated World Population Day, the theme of which was "Investing in Women is a Smart Choice." Probably not the way UNFPA had in mind...

As for the decent, hard-working Gambians who work within the farming, fishing, and legitimate tourism industries, one-third of Gambian citizens fall below the international poverty line. Two-thirds live in rural villages. The media censors itself and lawyers are unwilling to take certain cases for fear of reprisal and brutality by the government. In the last month, ten journalists and media executives have been arrested for criticizing the president. See, they were upset about the president's insulting commentary over the mysterious disappearance of another journalist. Go figure.

How bad must things be in Sierra Leone, that anyone would think to take refuge in the Gambia?

CONCLUSION: I don't think I'll take a vacation in the Gambia.

Seeking Needless Options

I've decided to play the underdog for a while.

As an alternative to Google Reader I'm exploring the more obscure Netvibes service. Tonight I figured out how to add RSS/Atom feeds so I can follow a few blogs of friends--I'll add more soon--and I'm pretty impressed with its flexibility and showmanship. I don't know if it's superior, but it's fun and it's not very well known, I don't think. I only discovered it because it turned up in a StatCounter report. It turned up a lot: I'm guessing someone is checking me out daily through Netvibes, or else Sweven Volant turns up in their blog searches regularly.

And instead of Twitter I'm going to pay more attention to Tumblr. I've noted in the past how I like how much more information it can receive and display. I'm going to capitalize on that and diversify my input there.

If anyone out there reading these words is also using Netvibes or Tumblr, please send me your links so we can connect. If nothing else I'll just add you to my Friends lists, however that's done, and we will have a small, quiet, private network. I've got Jaffa Cakes.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Mismanagement Skills

In line with deleting the extraneous blogs and social networks, I'm deactivating my Facebook account. I'm not deleting it--that appears impossible--but users can put their account on hold, remove themselves from the FB map, and have all their information put into storage. Users can come back later and, upon reactivation, find everything exactly as it was. But until I'm a better husband and a balanced, mature individual, there is no harm in shelving Facebook for a while.

I'll still post here, where no one will read it, and I'll keep my e-mail accounts, which no one writes to. I'm beggared to find a point to maintaining Facebook on top of all that. And with all the extra time I have in the evenings (and mornings and afternoons), there should be ample opportunity for personal development. I'll be able to pack a lunch for myself each morning, and every afternoon I can chip away at cleaning the house. It's like I had a supply of gold bricks and, instead of using them for currency, stacked them to form crude bookshelves up to this point.

Just this morning, I finally uploaded the photos from last Friday's disastrous morning. It was satisfying to get that out of the way. I'm almost done with the two large Gene Wolfe collections I'm reading, which will make room for a stack of other books I've been meaning to get to. See? Benefit upon benefit, and all I had to do was tap into it. And get rid of Facebook.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Death of That Which Did Not Live

Goodbye to my fakey Facebook account, M______. A friend and I used to call these secondary mock-ups "shadow accounts," for when we wanted to air grievances but not have them attached to us. A more enduring term (circa 1953) has been "sock puppet," referring to a false identity set up to deceive.

I never deceived anyone with M______. It was strictly a gaming account--some of my friends on my genuine Facebook account don't like to play games and complain when, twice a year, I invite them to join in. I created a fakey account, befriended strangers, and bulked up my support in the various online games. That's the thing: in many of these games, you cannot succeed or even progress without increasing your entourage. Many of these games are created by marketers or sponsored by them, so they have a vested interest in coercing as many unwilling players as possible to sample their wares. It sucks, but then again, nothing in life is truly free.

I had a pretty good thing going with M______. The games were getting very far and I started to reach up into the upper levels. Unfortunately, that's where the petty, vindictive fucks with nothing else to do lurk, and they wait for someone to show up so they can bully them all to hell. They impede your progress, they deplete your resources, they taunt and insult you, and then they swear vengeance when you do anything to defend/retaliate. That's pretty much the end of the game for me.

Fashion Wars was the worst, for that. Anyone who says that a government run by women would be at all superior to our current patriarchal system needs a crash educational course in trying to get anywhere in Fashion Wars. There's a wall you hit, when you start to come into some real power and, subsequently, attract the notice of the real heavy hitters in the game. (There's a second wall, which I never reached, where you lose the bulk of your defenses and the game introduces a structure which makes it easier for bullies to isolate and torment you repeatedly, indefinitely. I cannot imagine why someone would write that into a game.) If you peer into their accounts, they are mainly white trash women from 17 to 55 years of age. They form alliances and betray them rapidly, then swear vengeance when they are likewise betrayed. They are too willing to take offense at anything around them, and every struggle they're engaged in is evidence of how the world is slanted against them. And that's outside of Fashion Wars--in the game it's ten times worse because they actually have real-world time which translates to in-game power. They form dynasties and clans, and they start up campaigns to systematically harass players they dislike for whatever reason. When I was thus targeted, I quit that game.

It's started up again in another game, though, where a player four times as powerful as me has been killing my character off several times a day over successive days. There's no defense against it, there's no recourse (the game developers are supremely disinterested in this game dynamic), and there's no reason for him to stop. Even though his gain is minimal, the harassment is a real psychological weapon that I can't cope with. Right this minute, if someone gave me a wooden baseball bat and teleported me to a spot just behind the person who has made a small career of harassing me, ideally while they were logged on at their computer, I think I would hospitalize that person. I don't have it in me to kill him, but I would take a lot of joy in breaking him into pieces. I would enjoy his shock and revel in his helplessness, and I would bathe in his agony. It would not be quick, either, I would not swiftly disable him. I would give him ample reason to deeply, sincerely regret his life decisions, and then continue to torture him for several more hours. I wouldn't get tired of it any time soon and I would remind him every five minutes why this is happening. I would also make it very hard for him to go online again.

That's an unreasonable reaction and so I know it's time to quit the game. For that matter, I'm no longer interested in any of the other Facebook games: once you have a steady supply of support and can generate enough energy to completely quests and gain levels, you've essentially won the game. The game never becomes some other model where you need to rethink your strategy. It just repeats itself, making the obstacles larger and the goals more distant, but it is essentially the same thing you started with. Nitrous Racing was more interesting in that there was some judgment to your actions, and there was some amusing storytelling involved in the game (and if someone was repeatedly attacking you, it was never apparent), and I'll miss that game. I got very far in it with the M______ account, but like I said, many of my friends don't enjoy these little games and I will never have a large enough group to get very far in that game with my main account.

The only thing there is to do is terminate M______ and give up playing games on Facebook. Yes, there's Farkle, for which you do not need a large group, but that is only an exercise in frustration.

Online Representation: Simplified

I've often thought about consolidating all my online activity down to a few systems, like, deleting all my extraneous e-mail addresses and directing everyone to one solid, consistent, timeless e-mail address. For example, my "xn70.mpls" experiment failed: I will always be "XN" and I will always have been born in 1970, but I will not always live in Minneapolis. (I inserted the dot in the middle of that ID in an attempt to foil spammers. I think it wasn't a totally bad idea.)

And while I have shut down a few other blogs, I kept Blogger and still update Heavy Boots and Blogger's my main one. I quit Open Salon for sundry community-related issues, and I've terminated several Wordpress blogs--I seem to have anti-luck with them--and I don't even contribute at all to the blog at Writer's Market. No one else does either, though they post frequently: all their posts are "Check out my new self-published book about (angels/my homelessness/troubles with romance)! Click here to praise an article I pulled out of my ass but lack the courage to submit for publication!" and it even expands into private e-mail. There is one user who routinely exhorts people on her distribution list to please edit and review her ATV Web site. I'm the only person I've found who simply writes updates and posts random thoughts.

I kept Tumblr. I like Tumblr a lot, for some reason. It seems more diverse than Twitter, for one thing, though I only have one friend on this network. See, I would like, ideally, one prime e-mail, one prime blog (hopefully tied to one prime home page), and one prime social network. This is so people don't have to guess how to reach me. Maybe that can only happen after I change my surname back to "Wilkie" and can buy a distinct domain name without a lot of letters. On the other hand, "sxoidmal" is pretty unique and is only one letter too long for a MN license plate.

It is too, too hard for people to remember how to spell "sxoidmal." Amazingly, a Brazilian guy pronounced it correctly upon glancing at it, when we traded e-mail addresses. He is the only one to have ever done that, as well.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Reflections in Ice Wine

Not doing anything really useful with my evening alone. I should bike out to Hosmer and drop off a way-overdue library book. I will do that, but I should, too. I just ran around and consolidated all the house trash into one bag to be taken out. I cuddled the cats as much as they would tolerate it, and I had a vodka/lime soda. I reheated the remainder of the BK Big Fish from yesterday's road trip, and I played a bunch of Facebook games. I think I'll go for a walk with a cigar.

It's funny how directionless I can be without Rebecca around. She doesn't even have to tell me what to do while she's here: I just feel "on" when she's here. Without her, I feel like I'm killing time, stalling, waiting for something that's about to happen. I think I'd be very bad at living alone again. I fantasize about it when we're shopping in IKEA or World Market, I think about how I'd decorate an apartment or a house all by myself, but in the final analysis (as everyone is saying so frequently lately) it wouldn't be a fun time, I don't think. I'd rather have her around.

I'll clean up the apartment a bit more and try to write at least one letter to send out tomorrow. I bought a sheet of Bob Hope stamps as well as some postcard-rate (domestic) stamps. It sucks that I have to write to complete strangers in order to get my postcard fix. Only two people I know ever send postcards or write letters at all.

For that matter, right now I'm listening to a CD, Lovetune for Vacuum by Soap&Skin, sent to me by a friendly, entertaining lady in northern France. The music sounds a lot like Mum, Rachel's, and Sigur Ros. It's very interesting.

Address Change

Amigos y amigas con queso? If you're reading this, read this now:

I have a new URL:

Please update your links! URL forwarding is in effect, but please!

Sliding Into a Monday Morning

Went to bed alone, woke up alone--late. Surprisingly, the cats did not leap on the bed at 5:30 AM and stage their little pots-and-pans parade like they do to my poor wife. In fact, when they heard me ignore my alarm clock for three minutes, they only drifted in exhibiting weak curiosity. Being that they expect to be fed at 6:00 AM, it's pretty shocking they were so nonchalant two hours later. Maybe Toki was meowing and I couldn't hear him. In which case they will be terrible burglar/fire alarms.

I biked to work, have been biking consistently since I started doing it. My handlebars are screwed, though: the clamp that holds them in place has worn smooth and now my handlebars rotate (forward and back) almost completely freely, restrained only by the brake cables. And my chain jumped again--I really need to keep some paper towels on me or something. Maybe GoJo makes a handi-wipe-type product. At least my ride was shortened by three blocks: my company moved to a new building over the weekend.

I parked my bike, noticing that there are actually specific posted instructions on how to use these particular bike racks. And it was immediately apparent that I'm the only person who's ever bothered to notice these instructions, as all other bikes are parked contrary to the instructions. When that was done I had to remove my panniers and front bike pouch, so they wouldn't get stolen because that is how beautiful our city is (thanks for everything, Chicago), and I entered the building. And was immediately repelled by security: apparently my company has to walk around the corner and enter through a different door.

I sat in the all-staff meeting and heard about our new vision, what changes would be in place, and then went to set up my new desk area. It is certainly much more spacious than the old building--occasionally I glance around and spin in my chair to take it all in. They're still doing some construction work on it but essentially we're all ready to go. I didn't find where the free pastries were, though, and no one's given me a tour: that probably would've happened Friday, at the Farewell Social, but when that was going on I was nearing Green Bay with something else commanding the bulk of my thoughts.

Now I'm all set up at my desk. There are only a few remaining things to iron out, those will come in time. In the meantime it's noon, so I'm going to go out for lunch. Before I left the house I ran into the mailman, so I just went through the day's mail (how strange, that he showed up so early, when usually we expect him around 3:30 PM).

A-a-a-a-and, yeah... then I guess I'll wait around some more and see what's going on.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

End of Weekend

Just got home from Green Bay. Rebecca had to stay behind and discuss family stuff with her sisters--if their parents are no longer capable to taking care of themselves, they're looking at someone staying at the home with them at all times, on shifts, to help out. But who can afford to take one week off every month from work? Most business models don't support something like that, and healthcare is expensive and questionable. It seems like a very grim time to have a family to worry about.

I left town around 4:00 PM and, with three pit stops, made it back to my front door before 9:30 PM. I had the three-cheese steakhouse burger at Burger King, which was tasty, picked up a Voltage Mountain Dew (with ginseng) to see what that was about, and got a couple candy bars for the road as well. Rebecca lent me her iPod and I listened to old-time radio dramas she had stored. Made me want to experiment with writing a script and hiring some friends to create a broadcast.

The cats are pleased to see me, being overly affectionate in their way--whether rubbing against my leg or flopping onto their backs and writhing around, within 20' of me. It's a display of comfort more than anything else, and when Bella does it, every move is accompanied by a tiny "hrrmf!" rather than a full meow. It's hella cute. Toki has taken up post beside me as I write this.

I got very emotional, leaving Rebecca behind in Green Bay. We fight and squabble, we question the quality time we spend together, we wonder whether we should spend more time individually on our friends... but then we're separated for a day and I fall to pieces. I get a lump in my throat and very dramatic music plays through my head. For dozens of miles, all I could think about was kissing her face and hugging her body, which I didn't get to do much this weekend as I was playing support for her and her family, hovering in the background until my services were required.

Now it's almost 10:00 PM and I've got to find something to do with myself. With all the junk food I've eaten, I should fire up My Fitness Coach and do at least 30 minutes of core workout. My legs are finally healing after Friday: biking to work and biking home again within 45 minutes really tore them up, but now I can move without cramping.

I come away from the weekend with a fairly involved story in my head. I'll write it out--not here--and do a little research for it, then see if it's worth submitting for publication anywhere. Somehow I have to get back into writing. I've been reading Wolfe's Starwater Strains on my Kindle and there are more short stories in that book alone than I think I've hacked out in my daily short story quest in total. That means I'm very far behind and have very much work to do.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Accidents are Never Planned

The last two posts were sent over my cell phone: I've terminated my Twitter account, along with my Open Salon and Telegraph accounts, but can upload brief updates to this blog.

Shortly after I biked to work Friday morning, I received a call from Rebecca, relating that her father had been admitted to the hospital but details were still pending. Half an hour later she let me know that her father, Eddie, suffered a stroke, which was discovered when his workplace noted he had not arrived. The entire family mobilized immediately and drove out to Green Bay, so I told my workplace I was leaving. This was no big deal since we had actually shut down to move our office from one building to another.

Getting out of Minneapolis was another matter. A driver in the bus lane decided to shove me out of the way with his car when his lane was blocked for construction. I anticipated his behavior and escaped collision. I raced home, got Rebecca, drove out to Chipotle for a quick to-go lunch, and promptly witnessed a car accident. Right in front of me, at an intersection, a blue truck was turning left and a black sports car drove straight into its rear end. Didn't even touch the brakes. I parked, ran to the accident, called the police but they said they'd already logged the accident and hung up on me before I could volunteer my role as a witness.

But we did make it out to Green Bay. Eddie was having some trouble speaking, controlling his verbal faculty to form coherent words, though clearly he was having ideas he needed to express. Today that has improved and he can express longer sentences before he gets tangled. His wife, Millie, who has been suffering from Alzheimer's, has out of necessity seemed to recover a little and can make and form new short-term memories. She seemed to improve over the course of our two-week cruise, as though the constant stimulation and interaction brought her out of a fog, and so she has been able to stay pretty much on top of the activity at her house (what with four families having converged) and at the hospital.

It's an emotionally wrenching weekend. The four daughters are reconciling with the shock of what has happened to their father, as well as trying to plan what comes next, because Eddie and Millie will need someone to take care of them, but we all live four and a half hours away. This is a terrible economy for anyone to take much time off from work, but what can you do in the face of a family need? There's no easy or clear answer. Certainly, we can't rely on our government whatsoever, to any extent: it is up to the family to improvise and forge its own solution.

As for me, I am not among my considerations. Rebecca needs me, the family needs me. When I'm not needed I sit in another room with a large book of Jewish jokes and short stories; when I'm needed I try to do whatever I can for other people. The hardest thing is keeping my patience, but other people have greater needs than mine.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Eddie is stable, talking, aware. He has to retire, after this! Just supporting the family now.
R's dad had a stroke. We're driving out to Green Bay to see him now.

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Haven't Given Up Writing

Someone planted a seed in my head.

I befriended a professional writer up in Toronto, through Open Salon. I respect and enjoy her style, and she has been supportive and encouraging of my efforts. I don't know why--some little part of me wants to say, "Because you're that good!"--but I don't question it, just letting it roll.

Anyway, her professional site features several genres of her writing and she has suggested a similar technique for me. I think that's a smashing idea, as I do write about many different things, but it would require access to a Web design specialist for one thing (and I could learn that, but would I?) as well as a lot of dedicated writing, and writing that by nature could not be submitted for publication elsewhere.

On the other hand, since I'm quitting Open Salon, I can go ahead and lift those stories and push them to my professional site. And that's what this multigenre Web site would be, my professional site--that is, my professional site would have to be modified to permit all this. And through Google Sites, that's really no problem: it doesn't have to be glamorous, it just has to be obvious and functional. I can swing that, Google Sites can provide that.

So, maybe! I will definitely think about this for a while.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Status and Review: Terse Recap

I started a scotch journal some time ago, into which I transcribed all my notes from Whisky Wench's scotch-tasting nights at Merlin's Rest. But my notebook is kinda big, and I know I'm not going to drink that much scotch (at least not so much variety), so I've divided it in half. In the center I started a cigar journal.

I actually have saved a few cigar rings from recreational smoking at home, and when I attended the cigar seminar on the Jewel of the Seas I definitely saved those rings. I pasted these into my journal and wrote pertinent details and impressions of each cigar, ranging from the mellow and delicious Caogold Corona to a honey-flavored blunt obtained from a Wisconsin gas station. Why not, you know? Record everything.

So that's new. What else is new is that I'm trying to delete my blogs on Open Salon and the Telegraph UK, but they don't have (accurate) instructions on how to do this, or else there just is no function for it. All that energy will go into this blog instead. And I've noticed that I still get random views from random nations, based on their citizens Googling random topics and finding my blog, so to increase my readership I'm going to find popular topics to write about: I'll check out what people are Googling and then expound upon that at some length. Why not? It's a fun little game to play, I'll still be writing, and I stand to learn a body of new information.

I may even write about those nations. Recently I've had two visitors from the Ivory Coast and three from Malaysia. What if I researched those nations and wrote up some interesting factoids about them? That might draw more people in too. I think the near future will see a curious little experiment on readership and visibility. I'll try to inject some substance in there as well.

Open Salon was a useful experiment, speaking of. It boosted my self-esteem and I proved to myself that I have the basic chops to be a writer. I was never as popular as some of the... others, people whose thoughts I found objectionable and whose writing was inexcusable, but there you go. They figured out how to make the game work for them, popularity tricks they honed in high school, so now they're King/Queen of the Nobodies. Good for them. As for me, there wasn't enough kickback for me to want to pour a lot of energy into it. I got some validation, I'm good. Oh, also they've started instituting ads, which are really ugly and disruptive, and it seems like there is a small exodus due to this, so it's not just me.

But I wish I knew some people who drink scotch and smoke cigars. I suppose I don't need to go flinging my discretionary income hither and thither, though, if I ever expect to get out of this nation for keeps.

Nihao, Madame Sunset

This is a little story of one isolated event that happened to me during the cruise. It's hard to tell because so much is unknown but I will try to render as complete a picture as I may.

Thursday evening, July 2: we were entirely at sea for the whole day, leaving Geiranger, Norway and heading back to Harwich, England. I didn't mind the two at-sea days we had. What we lost in getting onto land and exploring a foreign town, we made up for in exploring the ship's facilities and discovering where exactly we were and were not allowed to go.

I did not wish to attend the theater performance after dinner--I did not realize it was tacitly expected of me to attend each show, if for no other reason than to represent myself as part of the family--but walked Rebecca to the theater and then went to peruse the photo gallery.

There is a small team of individuals who are charged with getting photos of passengers at nearly every opportunity. Sometimes this is as simple as a life-saver with the name of the port on it, mounted on an easel and set before a gorgeous backdrop, and sometimes as complex as having a young man dress up in a traditional Scottish costume and pose beside us while we're trapped at the dinner table. Not while we're in, near, or heading to Scotland, mind you: this was during our first day, sailing from Le Havre, France.

You don't have to buy the photos. One day after the pictures are taken, they are presented in wall racks and grouped by days/themes. You look through them and find the ones you like (of yourself or your family, though there were a couple of unrelated and unknown hotties whose pictures I would have liked to bring home), and you pay for them (and copies of them) at a counter. If you don't want them, you can remove them and place them in a receptacle to be destroyed. I spent about 15 minutes searching for pictures of myself and Rebecca and our families but, at $19/shot, I didn't purchase any.

I went down to the Centrum Bar in hopes of seeing Lorenzo, a bartender from the Philippines who promptly exhibited his ability to remember names and faces as well as drink preferences. He was absent, and in his place was Ali, a pleasant if disinterested young man. I asked what the drink of the day was--the "Bahama Papa" (all the drinks' names were slightly changed for no reason I knew of)--and brought it out to the port-side observation deck. On these decks, on most levels, there were rows and rows of loungers and deck chairs, just as one sees in old English movies but in plastic-coated metal tubing rather than wood-and-canvas contraptions.

Right by the doorway a Latina in her late-20s was having a smoke break, so I chose a seat several chairs down. I stretched out on the lounger, rested my tropical frou-frou drink on my thigh, and closed my eyes to the bright sunset before me. The warmth of the sun defeated the breeze from our velocity, so I was comfortable enough in jeans and the sweater I bought in Ireland.

A third person came out to join us and I must break to explain something. Among the couple thousand passengers was a group of individuals who were either all related or very close friends and associates. I was unable to determine their nationality because I am ignorant: by their faces I would guess they were from Hong Kong, but by their dress I would peg them as Taiwanese. There were two or three men in the group, well-groomed and appointed, in classic, understated black suits. Mainly the group was female, and by their haughty carriage I would guess they come from considerable wealth and social station. The youngest women hovered silently and respectfully near the older women, and all held their heads high and kept their gaze fixed somewhere on the horizon, regardless of being indoors or outside. The women favored stiff, sheath-like dresses with a broad, paneled shoulder wrap of the same material, which was of pastel hues and scintillating with gold or metallic threads. They were a glamorous lot, a little intimidating to be near, but I'm entirely willing to concede that my lack of education and exposure leaves me unqualified to reliably interpret their non-verbal behavior. These are my impressions as a complete outsider.

One of these ladies had joined us, alone. Her bearing was imperious and proud--I never saw this group speak to anyone outside of their group, aside from waitstaff--and she paused by the sliding doors to assess the environment. The time was almost 9:00 PM but the sun was still quite high even as it was setting (the sky would not darken until midnight) and still bright. The air was clean and brisk, not strong enough to unruffle a hairstyle with sufficient product to hold it. I had long since foregone counting on my styling gel and surrendered to the wind-blown look, which was not an undesireable effect.

I glimpsed my environment in pieces, glancing for a moment before resting my eyelids and letting the sunset glow upon my face, or interrupting my repose to sip the Bahama Papa. There was just the Latina, smoking, and I closed my eyes. I looked, and the elegant (a bit too young to properly entitle "matriarch") Taiwanese lady took a seat by the door to light up a cigarette. Rebecca asked me if it were a long, very thin cigarette as this would have helped establish nationality, but I never did clearly see the item in question, just the gestures that suggested its existence. Both women were downwind of me so there was no issue of me having to breathe their smoke.

I closed my eyes again and settled into the lounger. I heard conversation to my left and realized the Latina had pulled out her cell phone and began a long and giddy conversation with someone--the roaming charges would sting her, and how fortunate was she to get a signal in the first place. When I opened my eyes, the elegant lady was seated beside me.

My heart stopped for a second, I was so surprised. I was not particularly well-dressed, only the polite side of casual. I was holding a goofy drink in my right hand and appeared to be stretched out for a little nap in the sunset. Yet, out of 30-some lounge chairs around me (many more beyond the sliding doors, or further in either direction), she quietly strode up and took a seat beside my chair. I was stretched out the full length of the lounger but she was seated demurely at the end of hers, next to my Doc Martens (self-consciously I wondered whether I should politely retract these), her back turned to me.

As the ship had been at sea all day, so was I in this moment. Did this mean anything? Was she merely escaping the annoying phone conversation? If so, why sit so close to me, a callow American of common birth? Did she merely wish to sit not entirely alone, or... was this a cue, an inscrutable, impenetrable cue for me? Honestly, it felt like a sublimely tacit invitation: "You may speak to me now." It would not do for her to initiate a conversation with me, but she had established a context in which I could politely begin speaking to her, and she might politely respond.

And yet, and yet...

I know I tend to overthink these things, questionable circumstances which are in all likelihood completely innocuous yet have the potential to bear greater meaning. Generally it's safest for me to shelve my paranoid delusion, pretend nothing's going on, and do or say nothing at all to distinguish myself or set myself up for an awkward situation.

And yet, and yet...

I closed my eyes and rested. I heard some rustling and opened them again. The lady had with her a royal blue plastic bag, a Royal Caribbean shopping bag, and she was poking through it to examine her purchase.

Yet it didn't feel like that's all it was. It felt like a subtle reminder of her presence, far more subtle than someone gently clearing their throat. She fussed with the bag momentarily, then resumed her tranquil pose to regard the sunset. She sat upright but with her spine slightly curved as though her knees bent gently to the right and her ankles rested gently to the left, evidence of a social finishing America has long forgotten.

Confused, I slid a couple more chips into Probably Means Nothing and placed my bet: sipped my drink, closed my eyes, and focused on breathing calmly.

When I heard the ringing metal sound of a katana being drawn purposely from its sheath, my eyes snapped open, sunset be damned. The elegant, possibly Taiwanese lady was not standing over me with a sword in her hands, preparing to execute me for my neglect: she had merely pulled out her iPhone and the sword foley probably accompanied its activation or that of some function on the iPhone. I thought it was awfully cool and very nearly started a conversation on that point alone.

But I was still quite intimidated by her and didn't want to speak up and be accidentally rude, or at least presumptuous. If she was inviting me to speak up, I do hope she understood my silence to be that of respect rather than something negative. I'll never know, of course, because the next time I opened my eyes she was gone.

Did I blow it? I hope it wasn't an opportunity for me to blow. I hope it was meaningless coincidence of innocuous events. There's no way for me to know and it's probably best to push the whole thing out of mind.