Sunday, December 26, 2010

My Impressions of Indonesia

Location: Bali, Indonesia
I'm not an extensive or exhaustive traveler by any means, but I did notice a few differences between Indonesia and the US, and I even picked up on a few differences between the many islands of Indonesia (of which I've seen four). I would like to touch upon those now.

To save water, simply bathe
during the rainy season.
The bathrooms: so far, we have never stayed in a hotel whose bathroom only had the squatting floor toilet. We've been to many airports where that was an option and a few restaurants where that was the only recourse, but not a hotel. Instead, it struck me as interesting that the entire bathroom is well-tiled and there's no bathtub or even a special shower area: the entire bathroom is also the shower. There's a tiled lip inside the door that prevents your bedroom from getting soaked, but everything else is waterproofed (except the toilet paper, but some hotels don't provide that so it's all good).

Pictured is our shower from Rama Villas, Denpasar, which was actually a very nice bathroom. Open-air with potted plants and a bed of river stones, and it was unique in that you could control hot and cold water.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

XN's Opinion on Dining in Bali

It's a little embarrassing to see how
extremely popular KFC is in Bali.
What I want to tell you about dining in Bali is my advice alone: not everyone would agree with me completely. This is strictly my own experience and my own taste: my motto, now more than ever, is, "Heroes are bold with food." I read that somewhere and I don't recall where, but I'm living by it now.

The very first thing I want to impress you, the Reader, with is: avoid the restaurants. Don't go to a freakin' restaurant if you want the flavor of Bali. There is a high number of restaurants in every town and city, and they're meant for the tourists, even those that claim to have the authentic Balinese flavor and charm. No. Restaurant = Tourism.

Even a mild curiosity can disclose
some of the most fantastic dining to
be had, for very cheap.
Why do people go to restaurants? Many of them offer a wide variety of dishes. Nice Indonesian restaurants are present, as are strictly Korean or Japanese restaurants. There is no dearth of variety and fusion restaurants, and unquestionably some world-class chefs have set up lucrative businesses here. I'm not questioning any of that.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Getting Established in Sanur Kauh

Location: Sanur, Denpasar, Indonesia
Do not be fooled: the highway, Ngurah
Rai By Pass, is never this empty.
I know, you'd think the
rampant spelling errors
would send me into
paroxysms, but no. They're
only amusing.
Right, where did I leave off? Hotel Yani? Like I said, it's a nice budget hotel. You've got to bear that in mind when you stay there: it's only $22/night. When you remind yourself of that, then you can be impressed by the garden interior and the lush breakfast buffet. If you got a $22/night room in the US, you'd have a train running outside your window and there would be evidence of at least two murders that transpired in your room within the last three months. You would not want to use the bed and even breathing deeply would be kind of sketchy.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Our Entrance to Indonesia

Location: Denpasar, Indonesia
The flight to San Francisco from Minneapolis was the first misstep: Delta is an unpleasant airline in the first place, but SFO is notorious for flights delayed due to weather. The liaison at the Delta counter breaking this news to their Minneapolitan constituency was a very snide, abrasive woman who caused customers to regret appealing to her for help answers. Myself, I will never understand why someone who clearly hates her job that much chooses to remain in that career for one day more than absolutely necessary.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

The Day Before

Now it's a matter of mere hours: in 18 hours, we will be boarding the plane to San Francisco, and anything we've failed to wrap up in the States will have to stand, wither, or find us. We've finally and absolutely sold the Camry to a very nice couple, and the last of our property left the apartment last night. We had a going-away party (Reb posted it on Facebook, I posted it on my favorite BBS) at Nye's Polonaise Lounge yesterday evening, and we were delighted with, surprised by, and touched by the volume of attendance. I certainly felt loved at the end of the night, and I'm glad I didn't just slip out of the country with a few curt farewells transmitted electronically and in general.

We had a nice breakfast with our former landlord and current friend, Phil, and settled up with him: we received our apartment deposit and had brunch at Cafeteria in Uptown. He ordered the Night Train Chicken and Waffles to satiate both of our curiosities--the super-cute waitress assured us it was delicious, and it was so. Now we're back at Rebecca's sister's house, getting our bags repacked, preparing the boxes of materiel to be mailed to us in Korea once we have a mailing address, doing laundry, separating the storage items from the donation items from the trash.

Sorry if my writing is wandering all over the place. My thoughts are scattered and I'm deeply nervous about getting everything done. So much so that I was unable to consume even half of my breakfast and had to focus on keeping everything in my stomach. I know for a fact that we will be on that plane tomorrow evening, no matter what, but I have a burning, urgent sense to complete as many tasks as possible, tie up all my loose ends, before we head out. Rebecca has the most work to do, reorganizing her property as well as all the abstract, financial, technical records she keeps track of. I used to do this for myself before I lived with her, but I guess I didn't show enough initiative in getting my hands in that kind of accounting because the poor girl is in charge of it entirely, which means she's also in charge of remembering who has our address, who will send us stuff, who expects money from us, etc. That's one thing I'll have to change when we start over in the States again, years from now. There are a lot of things I'll change about myself when we return.

But I'm just nervous now. I'm writing to hopefully get my thoughts in order or provide some short-term direction, or at least to vent the stress building up in me. So badly, I want to help out and receive a to-do list of things I can systematically knock out. That's what I'm best at. There is no such list, however, and the most immediate things are matters only Rebecca can manage. I'm trying to pick her brain for busywork I could accomplish that might be helpful in some small way, a game of degrees and percentages, hedging the odds, and like that.

The future posts will be more interesting. I'm e-mailing this to my blog to see how the formatting will turn out, though there really can't be a situation in which I can only send out e-mail and not access my blog proper.

Listen to me, I'm babbling.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Starting the Journey Out of the Country

Location: Highland, St Paul, MN, USA
I guess I should start updating this, since it's going to be my publicly accessible travel journal. Of course no one will see what I write in my plain black Moleskine, not even my own wife, and that will come in handy.

So, I guess it's Wednesday? We spent our first night out of the apartment last night, staying at Rebecca's sister's house. Deb and Tom went on vacation to Israel and we were in charge of watching their teenage son, so we're cashing in the favor chip and staying with them for four nights until we fly out of the country. It's really not equivalent: Rebecca and I are endlessly charming and attractive, and we don't produce horrible smells out of innocuous regions of our bodies. Our cats are staying here until my mom's house is open and ready to house them, which will be our final night in the States: we'll bring Toki and Bella down to Apple Valley, stay the night to help them get settled, and then 7pm the next day we will be off to San Francisco, the first of three legs of our journey.

Our old apartment's almost completely empty. Today we emptied the dining room, yesterday we cleared the office, bathroom, and bedroom. Huge piles of trash have gone out, huge boxes labeled "Solid Waste" are waiting to be carted off, and piles of furniture have been hauled to the curb with an accompanying "Curb Alert" message on Craigslist. We gave all this crap away for free: a loveseat, several bookcases, a few computer desks and chairs, carpets and rugs, all sorts of stuff. If we would've sold it, it would've been quite a bit of money, but right now we're extremely detached from physical possessions and only too eager to give to people the property they think they want, property that otherwise would go to the landfill, I guess.

We sold the car yesterday. I didn't think it would go so quickly, but Rebecca's gearhead friend insisted a '99 Camry with 47K miles would move pretty swiftly. In fact, several people called and texted at the same time, and two people showed up yesterday morning. We sold it to the first people who showed up, even though the second guy arrived with $5,500 in cash. That's how in demand this vehicle was. Wow! But at least that's done.

Friday evening's the going-away party for friends. Saturday the buyers will pick up the car. Sunday we are doing nothing not family-related and camping out at the airport. Further bulletins as events warrant.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Exploring the Skyways Yet Again

I thought about attaching this to 365XN, but instead I'll leave it in this blog.

Today saw me undertaking a new undertaking: exploring the entirety of the Skyway, areas known and uncharted. I have a Skyway map (I capitalize it even though it's not supposed to be, I guess) and thought that I should traverse every branch and corridor before I leave this fair city once and for all.

I took pictures of myself at salient junctures but in no way is this intended to represent everything in the Skyway. When I found something unusual or significant, I took a shot of myself in front of it. The Skyway map was flawed, also, in that it doesn't account for a little appendix by the bus station, and it lists the passage through the Marriott as complete when actually it stops at the elevator bay.

After that, it is the failing of Google Maps to not update and show the new Target Field location, which is a fairly significant landmark in Downtown West and the Warehouse District. Consequently, I had to tag a photo of me walking in several lanes of traffic, when actually I was safely ensconced in the Skyway beside a huge parking ramp.

And I really only got to walk through just over half of the Skyway network, in total. I got a lot done, but not nearly enough, and I anticipate adding to this map in the next two weeks. After that it will be impossible for me to complete.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Spam Still Amuses Me

Is it not true that part of the comedy of first-generation spam/phishing techniques is that their translation to English is so poor? If I were substantially less corrupt, I could hire myself out as a copy editor for spammers and receive a cut of their earnings from the bank accounts of the shamefully naive. It almost sounds appealing, phrased like that.

This is what my beloved Yahoo* account yielded me today:

Anti-Terrorist and Monitory Crimes Division. 
Federal Bureau Of Investigation
J. Edgar. Hoover Building, Washington D.C

Your card was hold in our office due to Money laundering certificate , we are ready to take you to any length if you failed to proof the legitimate of the card you are about to receive. As a Federal Commission we are here to protect your interest and the interest of all the United State citizens as well as this great Nation. You have been investigated as the beneficiary of the said funds that is why you are in touch with the FBI for a solid proof before the funds will be release to you.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Moving Pains

Time's running out. We board our plane in 28 days, the first leg of our journey to Indonesia. Every day I find more friends and acquaintances who still don't know that we're leaving the country. I post pictures of receiving shots, getting fingerprinted, piles of boxes like this, and people still don't know.

Packing this stuff up is the hardest process of all. There's so much crap I've accumulated over the years, and Rebecca's got her own household of property as well. My timer says we've got 28 days left until we leave the country, but we're going to leave the apartment on the 15th so we have less time than that.

Also making things hard is reliving the history of everything I own as it touches my hands and I recall where I got it. I'm digging out old books that I borrowed from people and in the past two weeks I've been hunting people down to return their stuff to them. People are remarkably indolent about getting their stuff back: a couple people can't be arsed to meet me halfway and have requested go-betweens to manage their property for them. That's not how I'd react to someone packing up to leave the city who's trying to give my stuff back to me, but I'm not anyone else.

Tied to this is the awareness of who I used to be and what kind of person I am that I'd retain the borrow of something for several years. That's stupid and unreasonable. Simply having held onto it for so long makes me feel like a terrible person, and it's highly embarrassing to contact someone I haven't spoken with in several years (out of mutual neglect, usually) and ask them how to return their stuff. I know I've historically been a flake and I still am. I don't like that about myself and now, in a small part, I'm answering for it. I'm trying to make the effort to right these wrongs in the most basic way.

But I'm also confronted with who I used to be around certain people. There's an entire sphere of old friends and acquaintances around whom I was pretty exclusively a fuck-up. I look back on that era of my life with shame and regret, and so names are coming up associated with other names of people I've alienated or estranged, and I even found a pack of photos from an old Hallowe'en party featuring a gallery of some of these people. There's an entire sphere of people I've wronged and who've wronged me.

Rebecca tells me I've done everything anyone can do to rectify those regrets, and that's working at being a better person and improving my life. She says that beating myself up over these past events only holds me back and prevents the expansion of my character that would otherwise be taking place. Intellectually I can see the logic of that, but emotionally it's difficult for me to stop feeling bad about what happened, to stop feeling ashamed about having let people down or just acted like an ass. Rebecca says we all have moments of our history like that but that I tend to beat myself up excessively over it.

I can't say whether I do or not, because I don't know what the standards are for acceptable levels of self-punishment or how much other people do it. I'm just saying that digging into my past, which has gathered dust in deep storage all this time, is surfacing a lot of grief and ache which previously lay dormant within me.

Maybe that's why I'm so keen on hauling this stuff out to the trash.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Anna Gade - My Lunch

A glimpse into my history. Way back when I was first discovering the Internet, this was one of the ether-spirits that first haunted me and... I won't express what it meant to me. Reading it now, it couldn't mean to anyone what it meant to me then. You'd have to be inside my skull and go back in time to "get it."

Sept. 27, 1994
Subject: RE: my lunch

Snapple is too precious for lobbing. As for lobbying, my only class-consciousness is a super-structure reified in my mat and cupcakes and train schedules. society is progressive just fine here... you'd know that if you stopped to tell the time or even just look at the clock tower. you ask me to forgive your zodiacal romanticism, as if "goethe"were merely something to be dismissed with a "bless you," like a sneeze. but f your mind has a dull crust, then there is hope... as long as you remember which is your lunch and which is mine.

no historical precedents.
at last you tell me something i almost understand, like a Voice of America short story on my shortwave radio. but you must have noticed that they don't carry shortwaves around here, they say it scrambles the singing steel and then noone can appreciate the next invention of the chimes. i even tried once to watch the sin(da)bad here, but it was wrested away from me. what's worse, the humiliation or the deprivation?

there are no quantum leaps or time trax or even highlanders that *can* reveal me to you, because I'm just here on the mat, with my dictionary and my watch and my lunch... and if you're not careful, you'll knock over my vitasoy or get mud in my juice. and then irony will confound the astral plane.

Do you have any idea how long it's been?

"And if I had just a little time,
I could speak seven languages,
I could walk on water..."
you want timetimetime... you want to be the "Master of Seven Languages," (adding one to the six -- there *is* no Sanskritic precedent for that!)... and you want to walk on water... i hear that's not so hard for some, but i still try to keep my lunch well out of their way until they're finished.

i'll be waiting.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Underlying Message: Stay in School

Aw, man, sometimes you're just so busy livin' the life, you know, bein' your hard-rockin'-est that you just can't take the time to pay attention to little details.

In any other context, we'd spell out the "3" and the ampersand, but this Twitter. With a 140-character space constraint, sure, we can allow certain shortcuts. Still, this is only 120 characters: Sierra would've had plenty of room to write these out or even decide how she wants to format her en-dash/em-dash.

The glaring error here is "definetly." Sierra may believe this is the adverbial form of "definet." Who knows? If "definitely" were the name of a low-end vodka, she'd never get it wrong.

But now I really have to question she knows the meaning of the word advice: "A proposal for an appropriate course of action." What kind of "advice" is skipping school? In what context is it appropriate to miss out on an opportunity to learn something? If you're in high school, you're breaking the law and will screw yourself over. If you're in college, you're either wasting hundreds of your own dollars or that of your parents. If you're that intent on screwing your parents over, why don't you just adopt Sierra's hard-rockin', life-advisin' course of action? I'm sure lots of sober people are probably very proud of her.

If the person giving you advice, especially as pertains to education, is functionally illiterate and uses large words (or, sadly, small to medium words) whose meaning elude their facility, you would go safest by doing pretty much the opposite of what they suggest.

But seriously...

I have no idea who this is. This just came up as a random sample as I was logging into Twitter. People who argue against education infuriate me, as do people who advocate doing stupid things for the sake of "coolness." From what I've seen, the pursuit of "cool" is a course of self-defeat: it makes you eat terrible things, wear ugly clothes (that you replace in less than a year), and surrender your free will to marketing in general.

A quick Wikipedia search reveals that Sierra is the 20y.o. lead singer of a band, VersaEmerge. Evidently the page was written by one of their fans: "...current vocalist Sierra Kusterbeck auditioned for the vocal position by sending a tape online." Hope they quickly e-mailed them a tape player, too, since few people have those anymore.

Oh, but it gets better. "They chose the name "VersaEmerge" from the terms (vice-versa) meaning opposite, and "emerge" meaning to rise up." Actually, no, versa doesn't mean anything. It's a brand and a query language, but in English it is not a word. The term vice versa is a singular object, it is not a "terms," and it means "in order reversed," not "opposite." The icing on the cake is their framing of one term in parenthesis and another in quotation marks. If English really were the unending struggle this person seems to find it, I should be a lot thinner from the caloric expenditure of my discipline.

Yes, I know I'm old, but that doesn't stop me from judging this to be stupidity piled upon stupidity. The one might even facilitate the other.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Having a Hard Time with Socializing

So I was all excited because I love the Internet, which led to loving podcasts, which led to loving The Nerdist. And all was well and good, until I overheard (overread?) my friend Molly on Twitter, talking about a new online forum/hangout joint for nerds called The Node. I'm all, That's awesome, but it's invite-only and I'll never get invited. But then I did!

This means more to me than to a lot of people because of this reason: I'm looking for another online community with which to integrate. I've been on the same BBS for 18 years, following its transition from dial-up to Web-based, and it's great, I love it, but I still feel an urge to be a part of other online communities. It's not unrelated to my yet-unsatisfied need to be a regular at a bar. The problem with both of these problems is this: I'm kind of stuck up. It's not that I think I'm better than other people, it's that I find great many other people insufferable. People think I'm boasting or being purposely insulting when I say something like that, but they never stop to ask why someone would ever confess such a horrible thing and expect other people to interpret it as a point of pride.

I'm being honest. This is a problem I wrestle with, my intolerance. I know that if I were more... well, anything from "open-minded" to "standardless," I would be a lot happier. I used to believe that it was acceptable for me to be very in-touch with what I like and what I don't like, but now I know that's false and it doesn't work. But saying that doesn't make it so: I can't walk into a nice bar full of douchebags and hipsters and still enjoy the bar. I don't blame the bar for its patronage, but the patronage can ruin my experience because I'm not open-minded enough to accept hipsters and douchebags.

So it is with online communities. I was all excited about getting into The Node, thinking I'd find some people to converse with, geek out with, all that good stuff. Oh, of course there would be Twilight fetishists, excitable youth who haven't moved past Monty Python recitations, but aside from that I thought I could find interesting new people to socialize with.

I found some jackass who wanted to talk about a musical genre called "dubstep." I didn't know it but posted a link to a fun dub-generation interactive game I've always enjoyed, and people I introduced it to seemed to think it was cool. Instead, this guy was immediately insulting and ungracious. His profile features of picture of him shirtless in his bedroom. Why is he on The Node? Why would he want to be? If he's just an insulting jackass, why would he want to hang out with a group of nerds?

But even among the nerds, I encounter problems. In a discussion about the possibility of encountering extraterrestrial life, there are exactly three posts.

The first:
"I think that if Stephen Hawkings says so we need to stay away from Aliens. I mean they dude is basiclly a computer on wheels, fyi someone really needs to get him on the Node!"

The second (mine):
"I heard a long lecture on the unlikelihood of alien contact, and how bad it could mean if it happened.

"Right off the bat: if they contact us, either we benefit in ways we can't predict, they bring some new disease that wipes us all out, or nothing results.

"However, there is nothing to be had on Earth that cannot be had much more easily on planets/asteroids much closer to other civilizations, in all likelihood. It would be an unnecessary expenditure of resources to reach us and pass up all the other sources along the way, not to mention to transport them back to the home world (unless, of course, they treat Earth like the vikings did Iceland, stripping it of materials to rebuild their ships on their way to somewhere else, which is also extremely unlikely). It would also be impractical to send out mortal beings on trans-universal flights, so if we did make contact it would be more likely to be with a robotic drone, which in no way guarantees reciprocal communication.

"However, there is one motivation that drives otherwise sentient beings out from their homeland into the unknown without forethought or a plan to return, and that is religion. If some alien civilization is bent on proselytization, they will find us and kill/subjugate everyone they can't convert, just as most orthodox religions have done on Earth.

"Then again, all those theories are based on human metric, and we have absolutely no way of predicting or even guessing at alien logic."

And I thought that was a thoughtful response. I thought it addressed the topic and looked at various possibilities. I thought I was providing useful, topical information to contribute to a conversation.

The third (quoting the first post):
"Yea. That man is smarter than I can ever hope to be. If he thinks it will be all badness who am I to disagree. Also i can't imagine anyone spending that much time and energy to find out little backwater rock and just wanting to hang out."
That's... pretty much how it goes. I think I'm contributing, I'm trying to add content, trying to build on others' conversations, and it's one person without a clue agreeing with an illiterate person in debt of one clue.

And anyone would say I just need to give it some time, but I'm already seeing some patterns emerge. There's a group of attention whores who just post and post and post, regardless of topic or content, so that they can stay high on a list of top contributors. That was a huge problem with Open Salon and it carries over here.

This is just like when I try to go out to an event and I'm unable to appreciate what's going on because I'm too frustrated and affronted by the people around me. Saying it aloud, it sounds like a serious mental problem, further reinforced by how often I have to apologize to my wife for my poor attitude. Quite frequently I also apologize to her for having become saddled to a man who's no longer capable of having fun (at least the type that involves other people). I don't imagine she could relish a long lifetime with someone like me. And so I try to fix my face into a smile and I can't think of anything nice to say but I can hold back everything that's going on inside my head and lie and say I'm having a great time. All other women should be aware of what a bullet they dodged, in not getting involved with me. Life has shown me that marriage is like a dance, in that the most valuable men are those that make the women look their best. More grounds for me to apologize to Rebecca.

So, if The Node was created for nerds who don't fit in other places, where do I go when I don't fit in with the misfits, when I have out-nerded the nerds?

Friday, August 20, 2010

XN Grapples with Net Neutrality

All right, today I'm going to try and understand net neutrality. I have a vague concept of it but that is never sufficient. There are enough respectable authorities and wiser minds than mine weighing in on the topic that there's no reason not to have a better-informed opinion on the matter.

I'll start by stating what I understand about the issue. Net neutrality means that everyone has equal access to every website, and that Internet providers must provide equal access to every website. When Google/Verizon teamed up and the FCC lost jurisdiction to govern the Internet, it was projected that the scales would tip in favor of commodifying Internet service to the extent that websites who could pay impending service fees would necessarily receive better service than those that couldn't. This is a form of preferential treatment that would swiftly become exaggeratedly biased in a really unhelpful direction. Large corporations could facilitate undue attention to themselves, and independent sites would fall to the wayside. Information would no longer stand on its own merit and power would, as in all other human contexts, be distributed according to money as opposed to worth.

Now I'll read up on various sources and see how badly off the mark my aim has struck.

The EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) posted their own very helpful review of Verizon and Google's net neutrality proposal. In short:

  1. The prior concern was that FCC regulation would somehow enable corporations, Hollywood, and morality police with greater online influence. (I'll have to study that later.)
  2. Google/Verizon proposed "a narrow grant of power to the FCC to enforce neutrality within carefully specified parameters."
  3. Limiting the FCC to "case-by-case enforcement of consumer protection" is good, as it would inhibit the FCC's capacity as morality police.
  4. This would also "[exempt] software applications, content and services from FCC jurisdiction." (I'll have to study that later.)
  5. Establishing "standard-setting bodies" by an "independent, widely recognized Internet community governance initiative" is interesting but requires absolute transparency and accountability.
  6. Too much of the proposal's language was vague, like "reasonable network management" and "additional online services." Determining these likewise requires transparency.
  7. Differentiating standards between wired and wireless Internet service is an intellectual train wreck.
  8. Loophole: enabling "lawful" content without strictly defining what "lawful" means or connotes.
People I respect, respect the EFF so therefore I'm inclined to use their opinion as a kind of baseline, pending further information.

This particularly naive and reactionary commentary doesn't really assist the debate, but I'm reading it to see whether it contains anything of use. It suggests the premise that Google teamed up with Verizon simply to allow Google's content to load faster than anyone else's. That's a pretty slanted and simplistic summary of what sounds like, from most other perspectives, a complex issue. The columnist reverse-engineers a kind of Jack the Ripper theory of motivation and identity to arrive at the conclusion of a minor anti-trust infraction, as well as bemoan the FCC losing control of the Internet. He does not have the same understanding of the FCC or its interests that the EFF does, he is a strong proponent of federal government owning absolute control over the Internet (and much of the government has demonstrated a range of attitudes from nescience to obliviousness regarding the workings of the 'Net), yet he is an associate professor of Media Studies and Law. Huh.

This New York Times article reacts to the Google/Verizon proposal shortly after it was revealed and says it claims 1) ISPs would be prevented from providing advantages to Web content producers with money, and 2) the FCC "should have the authority to stop or fine any rule-breakers." Obviously, those rules need to be established first, but Google/Verizon have proposed themselves as advisors to regulators and lawmakers in this matter. The proposal also exempts wireless access (such as the Verizon Android) from the strictures of net neutrality, so that any online media partner with the company would likely receive preferential treatment, a concern common among all commenters on this development.
“I also recognize that there may be benefits to innovation and investment of broadband providers offering managed services in limited circumstances,” [chairman of FCC] said, adding that such services “can supplement — but must not supplant — free and open Internet access.”

Rebecca Arbogast, a telecommunications analyst at Stifel Nicolaus, predicted that the F.C.C. would probably demand that any net neutrality rules cover wireless, and that the details of any exceptions for specialized online services be made clear.
Sounds hopeful but ultimately vague.

The staff attorney at also wrote an insightful breakdown of the Google/Verizon proposal. He pointed out where Google/Verizon tried to differentiate broadband separate from wireless, underscoring the FCC's assertion that "the Internet is the Internet," regardless of access to it. And once again, what does "additional online services" mean? It is once again identified as a loophole through which may drive the large and heavy trucks of paid online prioritization. But the EFF thinks the FCC handling infractions on a case-by-case basis is a reasonable solution, while this attorney believes that relegates it to "a common law court" or "rubber-stamping industry-crafted settlements." He too seems to believe the FCC should total and exclusive power over the Internet.

So that's two legal authorities who differ from the EFF's opinion on this point. Interesting. How do we explain this: that the EFF lacks perspective, or that these legal offices have a vested interest in the FCC retaining control? I know too little about the matter currently--the former sounds wrong and the latter sounds like conspiracy theory.

Further down this rocky and briar-strewn path, Ars Technica iterates the worst of what the G/V proposal means and highlights the most negative reviews and critiques of it. They are likewise panicked that the FCC would lose control of the Internet. It increasingly appears EFF is alone in their view that this could be a good thing. Ars Technica also underscores the importance of protecting wireless Internet access as well as the gaping loopholes indicated in the other articles.

They also ran an article on Senator Al Franken and FCC Commissioner Michael Copps criticizing the G/V proposal. Franken took a shot at the FCC for dragging their heels on reclassifying ISPs as "telecommunications," rather than viewing them as "information" as they have for nearly a decade, and the commissioner accepted that, agreed, and resolved to correct this. That was interesting to read in a feel-good kind of way, though it didn't impart any actionable information or even distinctly point at a path the future might take.

Right now the net neutrality "debate" is a lot of vented frustration. People are stepping up to loudly seethe over what they dislike and what they condemn, but not even the most moderated voices have suggested anything concrete. It's all, "Watch out for this, watch out for that, but I have no idea where to go." Elements of the FCC seem willing to get their hands dirty, but how much of that is lip service? How much is, "God, I hope my subordinates understand what the hell's going on, because this is all way over my head"? It is significant to me that the Electronic Frontier Foundation seems to be unique among G/V's critics in that they see reduced FCC jurisdiction a potentially promising venture. I'm frankly stunned at how many critics actually believe the federal government should incontrovertibly possess Internet regulation, how they cannot conceive of how badly that could go (and I use "could" in the same sense they've prefaced all their "could" statements that wind up in an apocalypse).

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

How Very Useful!

OH MY GODS, I've never seen this before.

I was working in a Word document (Mac) and wanted to create a Table of Contents. I've done it before, I just couldn't recall how. The Help tab opened up what looked like a search bar (upper right) and, rather than a paragraph full of hit results, Word just opened up its own dropdown menus and highlighted my destination.

You see that little blue arrow next to Table of Contents? That actually hovers in place, rotating in a small circle to catch your eye better than a stationary marker.

I was so blown away by the helpfulness of this tool, I had to post about it. Thunderation, this is awesome.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

XN in Review

Just downloaded the latest version of Picasa (3.8). It features a new toy which tracks your face in all your photos (as long as you've tagged it) and assembles them into a rapid collage.

Immediately, I had to play with it and see what it's like, and fortunately I do have a large pool of photos of myself so it made for an interesting effect.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

You've Been Facebook-Rolled!

People like to hype up the threat that Facebook poses. Is it an invasion of privacy? Only if you hand over a silver platter of all your personal information, which most people do. Do they retain your user data indefinitely? They seem to, though there's a community on FB that's supposedly dedicated to spreading the word of how to permanently delete your account and all attached or stored information.

It doesn't work, of course. On Thursday, August 12, I set my own account to delete. I was just tired of it--people use it as a crutch to disseminate personal updates with none of the personal attention of directing it to a specific person. You just upload photos of what you did that weekend, then act all offended when your 400 friends didn't logon to seek you out and appraise themselves of your doings.

My feelings are, if you want someone to know, then you engage them in conversation and tell them about it, but apparently this is quite unreasonable: any time I talk about the dozens of concerns other people have written about Facebook, I've been accosted by small groups of friends who deride my opinions and argue that I should just stay where I am and quit worrying about things.

Wow, if there's any one statement that induces my paranoia, it's something along that line. So I gave all my friends and family ample notice and means by which to stay in touch with me--largely ignored--and terminated my FB account. FB says that your account will be purged if you do not login for 14 days, so I set up a calendar reminder to check it out 16 days later.
That's what I saw two weeks and two days after attempting to delete my account, a renewed promise to delete my account in an additional two weeks. I logged in to see if it had been deleted, expecting to be blocked or to pull up the online equivalent of a blank expression, but received an ambivalent "welcome back" instead.

Facebook has no interest in deleting anyone's account. It's a free service so they have no contractual obligation to its users (you wouldn't know that from the astronomical sense of entitlement its users express on a regular basis, as pertains to online games or periodic rumors of FB becoming a paid service). Anything they promise to do, or flippantly suggest they might do, is a favor at best. In practice, it's just noise.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Iran: Sanctions, Fuel Swap, Weapons

Location: Tehran, Iran
I'm just reading about this story in the news. None of these articles iterate proof to support the U.S.' conviction that Iran is building nuclear arms, though one is very clear that Iran has supplied money and weapons to terrorist organizations. We're losing ground with China, with its trade relations with Iran and North Korea. October '09, Iran backed out of a fuel swap deal that would have supplied medical reactor uranium for Tehran. May '10, Iran attempted to discuss a fuel swap with Turkey and Brazil, but the U.N., U.S., and E.U. imposed greater sanctions, on the grounds that the particulars of the plan didn't sufficiently address certain concerns. Now Ahmadinejad wants to discuss a fuel swap with the U.S., talks to happen in Sept. '10.

It sounds like when it's one side's idea, the other side rejects it, then suggests the same thing on its own terms, only to be in turn rejected.

US sanctions Iranians said to support terrorism
The U.S. "Treasury targeted two officers in the Qods force, an elite arm of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, for providing money and weapons to militant groups the U.S. has designated as terrorist organizations: Hezbollah, Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad," and 21 Iranian businesses in its new sanctions against Iran. This is supposed to show the Obama administration "ratcheting up economic and political pressure on Iran to limit its support for Islamic extremism in the Mideast. A parallel goal is to coax Iran into international negotiations over its nuclear program." Iran continues to insist its nuclear program is solely to provide electricity for its increasingly robust nation, but the US continues to insist it's ramping up to build nuclear arms.

U.S. urges China not to take advantage of Iran sanctions
China disapproves of U.S. sanctions on Iran and "welcomed Tehran's offer to return to negotiations on a nuclear fuel swap without conditions." The U.S. says it wants China to show some international responsibility, but China says the U.S. had no right to impose sanctions outside of the UN ruling.

Ahmadinejad urges US to join nuclear swap talks
On the other hand, Iran has repeatedly invited the U.S. to participate in fuel swap talks, as though they're not even listening to anything the U.S. is saying. "[Obama] missed the opportunity last year for a fuel swap; today this opportunity is on the table again," Ahmadinejad said in a televised speech in the city of Hamedan in western Iran. "We are ready for talks based on respect, justice and Iran's proposals after mid-Ramadan (late August) and we advise him not to miss this opportunity."

"The May 17 proposal by Iran, Turkey and Brazil, known as the Tehran Declaration, stipulates that Iran send 1,200 kilogrammes (2,645 pounds) of its low-enriched uranium to Turkey in return for 20 percent high-enriched uranium to be supplied by Russia and France at a later date."

Iran ready to reconsider 20% enrichment
Why the fuel swap? Iran says it is exhausting its uranium supply and needed to refine even more, which could easily be used for nuclear arms as for energy, but it would forego this enrichment process if the Vienna group (U.S., Russia, France) would reconsider a fuel swap.

US urges Japan to get tough on Iran
"Japan imposed sanctions against Iran on Tuesday in line with a UN resolution and said it plans to announce additional punitive measures later this month," but "Robert Einhorn, State Department special adviser for non-proliferation and arms control, called for tough measures from Tokyo, which has long been on relatively good terms with Tehran." This article also points out that Russia and China have protested these new sanctions as they are heavily invested in energy production in Iran. In fact, Iran claims to have obtained 300 surface-to-air missiles from Russia (a 2007 sale), but Russia claims sanctions against Iran prevent their delivery. Israel has reason to sweat this purchase.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Duds Promoting Duds

No mention was made of The Daily Show's coverage, or that of Olbermann or Maddow, but whatever. It's good enough someone's busting Beck's chops on this.

Fools Gold: Inside the Glenn Beck Goldline Scheme

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Art for Esteem's Sake

People often (read: never) ask me, "Hey XN, how do you feel about Eric Clapton?"

I don't like him, and that's because in many cases I have difficulty separating the artist from the art. I won't listen to Skrewdriver because they're white supremacists. I don't like Bing Crosby because he kicked his gay son out of his house. I'm opposed to Michael Jackson not just because he cashed in on his status to earn little boys to have sex with, but because he was a pop artist--I hate it when people do things not for any artistic integrity but solely for the purpose of becoming popular. And no, just because something's popular does not mean it's worth anything--look at The Hills and Jersey Shore.

As for Eric Clapton... well, I think my reworking of one of his classics will explain where I'm coming from.

(Sung to the tune of "Layla")

My vision's very short-sighted
Just want to fuck you once or twice
And when your life's destroyed and your future is bleak
You know I'll never be around

I want some sex with you
You're wed to someone else
Divorce him so that we can get off

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

What Does Nihilism Mean to You?

Location: Downtown West, Minneapolis, MN, USA
I took a lunch break today, leaving my building to cross 1st Ave N. Because of the Twins game and in preparation of the Aquatennial Parade, Downtown West is thick with pedestrian traffic, as well as the one-driver-per-vehicle, anti-carpool phenomenon that characterizes our fine city. To direct traffic, police had been stationed at certain intersections to supplement or override the traffic lights. When traffic reaches a certain density, traffic lights mean less and less and motorists drive through any intersection they please.

A bit further than that and even an in-the-flesh cop means nothing to motorists. The officers at any intersection were waving their hands, blowing their whistles, and drivers were still plowing through red lights, still turning and crossing whenever they wanted to, one after the other as though the cop were gesturing exactly the opposite of what he was doing.

When I reached my wife's building there was a large dais in the commons. On the left (as you faced it) was a chorus of elderly men and women dressed in what looked like Naval Officers' uniforms but were in fact fake costumes with "Minneapolis Aquatennial" stitched on the left sleeve. What the hell does Aquatennial mean, anyway? "Aqua" is Greek for water and "-ennial" is Latin for year. They mashed up two unrelated etymologies, inserted a T for no reason, and created "water year."

But there was a dais, there was a senior chorus, and there were rows of folding chairs. In the front row on the right side were several women in their late-teens or early 20s. They wore sparkly dresses with a white shoulder sash proclaiming "Miss [town of origin]" and tiaras. The audience was some people who'd wandered by and sat down to watch but primarily comprised of teams of adults who served as support and handlers for each of the young women.

Two young women took turns yapping ephemeral, nasal comments into a microphone about what this "celebration" meant, and therefore I have no idea what was going on. Rasmussen College was involved somehow, indicated by a small banner on the side of the stage.

Five hundred penguins starved to death for unknown reasons and washed ashore in Brazil. One thousand head of cattle died in Kansas, succumbing to a heat wave. Three years ago, Al Gore and the IPCC won a Nobel Peace Prize for studying climate change and outlining how to rectify or prepare for it, and to this day people are still deeply in denial. BP's oil spill covers 2,700 square miles and China's oil spill is just getting started at 165 square miles, and the world refuses to cut back on petroleum products, refuses to cut back on gasoline usage.

And our fair city feels the most appropriate action is to mangle our language and host yet another "pretty girl" contest.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Some Things are Better as Unfulfilled Desires

Location: Calhoun Isles, Minneapolis, MN, USA

This is Roma di Luna--or fewer than half of them, actually. Rebecca has been looking forward to seeing them perform for a long time (that is, for a long time, Rebecca's been looking forward to &c.), and she was super excited to see they were on the roster for the Bryant Square Ice Cream Social, Weds. afternoon. That's right in our neighborhood, a short walk away! What a fortuitous opportunity to see such a long-anticipated event! She went and got a (very cute) haircut and we met at the park, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for the music.

Unfortunately, this is what they looked like. They did not engage with the audience at all: the guys on drums and guitar looked at their own instruments and they looked at the ground around them but never at the tiered half-circle of people listening to them. The lead singer, named Channy, actually closed her eyes during almost the entire performance. Her eyes were closed while she sang, and her eyes were closed when she announced the songs. It's like she wasn't actually performing for people so much as reciting, for the thousandth time, a Latin Mass for herself and other people were tolerated to observe. (She did open her eyes to talk to the dude playing guitar. Once.)

Channy sounds like the singers from the Sundays and the Cranberries. When you listen to Ani DiFranco, Billie Holiday, or Ella Fitzgerald, you think, Wow, I've never heard that before. Not so, here: you lose several minutes to recalling all the other singers she reminds you of. Their website describes her singing as "the hauntingly-powerful voice of Channy Moon Casselle." As an editor, not only do I have to question the word choice of juxtaposing haunting with powerful, but I also must insist that hyphen be removed. It would've been less contentious to say, "If you remember liking Harriet Wheeler and Dolores O'Riordan, you'll find familiar things to like about Channy."

Oh yes, I know this review won't be very popular. Roma di Luna is such a romantic-sounding name, and they're all local-hero-ish in the music scene, but I've seen them two times in as many years and they haven't made a favorable impression with me. Some people like a band because they're really good and give a great performance, and other people like a band because of the hype and pretension constructed around them. From what I've seen of this band, their fans seem to fall in the latter encampment. They can pack a room, no argument, but I'm left standing in the back wondering what the big deal is.

We walked in on their set as one song was finishing up. We'd just gotten a couple ice cream cones, which were melting quickly, and we sat down on the grass to enjoy the performance. After a minute of conference with the band, the singer shut her eyes tight and announced they had intended to play "Stand By Me" but... she didn't actually know the words. (Rebecca did and started to sing them; they didn't pick up on her cue.) Instead, they played a "traditional" song called "Queen of Hearts," and rather than the perky Juice Newton single, it was a laborious and depressing dirge played with fiddle. On a bright summer day, with people sitting in a park having ice cream and playing with small children, they thought a slow, mournful, minor-key lament would be an appropriate selection to perform in their playlist.

I looked over at Rebecca. Her shoulders had slumped and her expression was heartbreaking. "Let's get out of here," she murmured, "I've had enough."

Roma di Luna, ladies and gentlemen!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

The Remarkable Mr. Amiri

I really, really want to know what the fuck is up with Shahram Amiri, the Iranian scientist. He's heading back to Tehran today and has released an interview in which he claims US and Saudi "terror and kidnap teams" nabbed him while on hajj to Saudi Arabia and the CIA has been torturing, drugging, and bribing him to reveal Iranian secrets.

He never held a government job. He's 33 years old and was a researcher at Malek Ashtar university of defense technology. The Atomic Energy Organization of Iran denies any ties with him.

Monday, July 12, 2010

My Grandfather Has Gone

This weekend we went to my sister's house for a barbecue to celebrate Rebecca's birthday. A small but tasteful affair, I think. As we drove home Collin called Rebecca's phone to inform us that I'd left my carry-on bag (a.k.a. "purse") at their house. We didn't turn around and get it: they handed it off to mom, who brought it to her house and would further tote it to work on Monday, at which point I'd meet her and pick it up.

In it are two Moleskine notebooks (one date book, one journal), my Kindle, my iPod Nano w/headphones, some stationery, pens, letters I'd recently received, a notebook of computer security info, and my phone. I did without all this for nearly two days. If anyone tried to reach me they would be inconvenienced, but honestly, very, very few people ever try to reach me.

Today I biked to work, fixed up some timecard hassles, did a little proofing work, then met Rebecca for lunch. Together we walked over to mom's building (from one Target HQ to the other, in downtown) and she handed me my bag. I never know what to call it: flight bag, carry-on bag, book bag, satchel... it has no definite name, though I aptly refer to it as my "portable office."

I checked my phone for messages, found a series of incoming texts, then it vibrated in my hand with an incoming call. It was my brother so I excused myself from mom and Rebecca and took the call.

He informed me that this morning, around 7:00 a.m., Grandpa Wilkie passed away. This is my father's father, formerly of Payette, Idaho. Apparently my Aunt Louise tried to call me this morning around 9:30 a.m., just over an hour after her discovery (one hour time zone difference between our towns). I spoke with Andrew about future plans for a bit, hung up and broke the news to mom and Rebecca. My emotions hadn't kicked in yet so I'm afraid I looked a bit stoic and unfeeling when I simply said, "Grandpa has died."

The first thought that appeared in my mind was that he had finally been released. His body was nearly a century old. His sight and hearing were fading, he was unable to sit up or walk around anymore, but his mind was still active. I could only imagine that he had been released from suffering. That was the only way I could see it. Mom said he was with Grandma now, and I agreed. She added they were with Jesus; I ran it through my non-denominational filter, heard "they are loved and at peace," and I agreed.

Mom hugged me, immediately moved by the news, and excused herself so Rebecca and I could be alone. I called Aunt Louise (who had just briefly spoken with Andrew) and she elaborated on how it went down this morning: she was staying up with Grandpa, dozed off around 6:30 a.m., woke abruptly at 7:00 a.m. and discovered Grandpa had passed. Is it easier for an old and exhausted soul to release when no one's looking? I've heard it's not uncommon for the dying to linger and hold on until everyone's left the room.

Rebecca took me to lunch, asked me my view of the afterlife, asked me what stood out in my memory about Grandpa, and that's when I broke down and cried. Other people use religion as a crutch to get them through the good times, but when bad times fall they crumble and question their faith. I have no orthodox religion but a very strong spirituality. There's still room to cry for missing someone, though.

I went back to work, hit up the PMs for any outlying assignments, then biked home. I'm grabbing two hours of quiet time before getting back to my densely scheduled life. It's quite likely that I'll fly out to Idaho this weekend, as well, for the funeral, despite my aunt and father both insisting no one will think less of me if I can't make it. So maybe not. That side of my family is generally pragmatic and stoic: "Keep him in your thoughts and say a prayer for him, and that's enough," they said.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Minneapolis: Pettiness Yet Abounds

Location: East Harriet, Minneapolis, MN, USA
You see three plants here. Three potted plants, three pots with plants therein.

There used to be four. Rebecca was growing some herbs, delighting in arranging them on the front walk not three steps beyond our front door, watering them, making sure they got sun. She had two basil plants.

We walked out this morning to discover someone had helped themselves to the second basil plant. Not merely clipped off a couple leaves or even trimmed the entire plant: one of our neighbors saw fit to steal the plant, the pot it sat in, and the plate beneath the pot. Someone in our neighborhood believed they deserved it and we did not, believed they had right to take someone else's property.

Unfortunately, this isn't exactly the kind of thing police prefer to be bothered by. No witnesses, no break-in, no foot/finger prints, and the sum loss is one plant and one flower pot. Still, it broke Rebecca's heart to think that she couldn't have something as simple as a potted plant without locking it down or constructing some kind of cage to protect it from the neighbors. The guy who stole my cell phone? That makes sense, that's expensive electronics. The tenant who kept stealing my book shipments? He was just betting that there might be something worthy in a large box. And, ha ha, not only did he get stuck with stupid, useless books but two copies of each.

But whose life is so wretched and pathetic that they need to steal a potted plant? What undereducated, loveless bastard child of a crack-whore and deadbeat dad thinks some kind of balance has been restored by shitting on someone else's happiness?

We didn't let that sour our day. We were driving out to CONvergence, my former social highlight of the year. This was Rebecca's first sci-fi convention and she was looking forward to the phenomenon. We drove out to her sister's house in Linden Hills and had her brother-in-law drive us down to the convention. There just is no parking available at all at the Sheraton or Sofitel parking lots, where the convention takes place. None. It's that popular: every space is full for four days.

He drove us down there, we spent the day seeing the sights and mingling with friends, then caught a taxi back to Linden Hills. We noticed a viscous substance streaked across the driver-side windows, and when we got home we discovered that someone had splattered a raw egg over the side of our car.

Again, not real police-worthy material. Rebecca promptly researched online how to scrub egg protein off a vehicle, and it seems that we caught it not very long after it happened, so the egg was still fresh and a 50/50 mixture of vinegar and water effectively lifted it off without any damage to the exterior.

One of our neighbors yelled at us: she thought we were breaking into the car, as we were hunched at the side with a couple of flashlights (she didn't see our wash rags). We explained that we'd been vandalized but we appreciated her vigilance. It occurred to me later that we've been living a house away from her for nearly three years and she had no damned clue who we were.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Dr. Emilio Lizardo/Lord John Whorfin

Blacks [Black Lectroids] are on this planet! Here, in-a New Jersey, coming to destroy us! We must act! Escape - or die!
We must work faster to finish the great vehicle itself so we can enter the eighth dimension and free our trapped comarades! We can return home and seize power once again!
What is the greatest joy? "The joy of duty!"
Louder-ah! "The joy of duty!"
History is made at night. Character is what you are in the dark. We must work while the clock, she is ticking! We hide... they seek!
Where are we going? "Planet Ten!"
When? "Real soon!"

Monday, June 21, 2010

Living in Sepia

Everyone else is posting their pictures: here's my image of the strange orange/yellow sky we experienced last Thursday.

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

Night of a Thousand Borrowed and Tired Catchphrases

Location: Lyn-Lake, Minneapolis, MN 55408, USA
I was going to file this under my other blog, Cool Minneapolis, but it turned out to not be that cool.

We met up with some friends at Sauce Spirits & Soundbar for a trivia night hosted by the guys pictured, Joe and Noah (Noah's on the left). I've been to Sauce once and didn't care for it: mediocre food, proud prices, and they list Absente as one of their brands of absinthe. The gaffe is that Absente doesn't contain wormwood, which is the definitive ingredient of absinthe. It's like, "Here's your scotch! Mind you, it doesn't have barley and it wasn't made in Scotland."

But we need to be social and these friends in particular are awesome people. And even though Sauce's crowd isn't my people (it tends to attract hipsters and young douchebags), I tell myself I'm still glad that events like this are going on. Tonight's trivia contest was '80s themed, and people have fun with that. Yeah. Imagine a week without a free, fun trivia night, and imagine a week with one. The latter week is better, right? It's great that this city has so many things for different people to enjoy, I tell myself.

Then we got to a certain multiple-choice question about when a song or a movie took place. The answers were: 1) 1989, or 2) 1990. My groups thinking was, This is an '80s trivia contest. No way would the answer not fall within the purview of the '80s. By the sound of the crowd when the answer was revealed, that was many people's thinking too. And even Joe and Noah admitted that it was a "contentious" question but they included it anyway. I had two absinthes in me and I thought I'd try a little heckling. Everyone was doin' it.

ME: How about an '80s trivia question about the Hindenburg disaster? Was it in 1989 or 1937?

NOAH: How about you shut the fuck up?

That was it. That was the witty rejoinder the bar found suitable to cheer. Noah plumbed the depths of his cultural reference and pieced together a desultory juxtaposition to entertain and provoke thought... Naah. He repeated something he'd heard a hundred times before, and not to be outdone, Joe chimed in: "I believe you've just been served!"

Translated: We're already so successful as an event night, we don't need any new patronage.

I had a comeback forming in my mind, but I decided not to prolong the agony. He had the mic, after all, and bereaved of humor or cunning he could always shout me down. It's not the audience's role to take the spotlight away from who's on stage (unless their stage presence is so nominal the beam simply slides off them in search of something substantial), and even if I did cook off a good comeback, what would that get me? The admiration of a roomful of drunk douchebags? This was not the hill I wanted to die on.

After the contest, as we packed up to leave, Noah approached our table. He glanced at me and then apologized to everyone else. "I was just having a gag," he explained to the four people he had not told to fuck themselves in front of a building full of strangers. My wife says this is my fault for looking so murderous, how could he possibly approach me, and that I deserved it in the first place for being a heckler. I don't know what anyone else's take was on it: I didn't do a lot of talking with anyone from that point on.

I was immediately reminded of the time my team (different people) won Triviasco!, and that host also took time out to award me "Biggest Douche of the Evening" for the amusement of everyone sitting in that half of Pizza Luce. No one had my back then, either, my own team thought it was hilarious. Or the time I left Mayslacks to invite a nearby friend to come out and see the live band (can't recall who; the frontman sounded like Johnny Cash), and upon return the lead singer announced to the bar that I'd been sucking my friend's cock in the bathroom. Again, the people I was with thought this the pinnacle of comedy and looked down on me for being upset.

What's to be learned from this? "Going out" is an activity not meant for me, and "friend" doesn't mean what I think it means.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Thickening Up the Time

Not sure how the formatting will look: rarely do I e-mail my entries into this blog.

After four months of indolence, things have picked up both professionally and personally. I'm working as a proofreader/copy editor for Patterson Companies, focusing on branches of the medical industry that are relatively new to me. I like when that happens, I appreciate being educated in new disciplines. That's what's so fantastic about being a copy editor: you're compelled to constantly learn new things and shift your mind into a new context.

My evenings will be filling up as well. I'm no longer with the writers group: it seemed to drift apart as members stopped showing up, new members were shy or preoccupied, and I know I wasn't producing any new material. I don't know why I was able to produce a short story every day for nearly two months while I had a job, but when I was unemployed I couldn't generate one new idea and develop it into a story. Maybe the group would even still be together if I'd tried harder. This experience shows me I'm not ready for a writers group, currently.

As for the busy evening schedule, Mondays I'll be tutoring ESL students at CLUES, Thursdays at Holy Rosary. After attending the pre-training sessions with Minnesota Literacy Council, it's up to me to get some practical experience in this field. Aside from that, once a week I'll be training to gain certification as a Streetcar Operator: I simply wanted to find a schedule of when the Como-Harriet Streetcar Line was running, but I found an invitation to learn how to run these beautiful machines, and there was no way for me to resist. You know? As long as I'm living here, I have a free evening, and the training's free, why not? Why not do something as awesome as operating a trolley during these beautiful summer evenings?

One might say, "Well, at least your Fridays are open." That's true: Fridays are designated date nights with Rebecca, and nothing gets in the way of that. We can go out and see live music, or we can stay home and watch movies, but whatever I do--especially now, as the rest of my week becomes occupied--I need this time to focus on my beautiful and clever wife.


Aut viam inveniam aut faciam.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Weird, Where These Things Come From

I just had a strange memory come back to me, but first, here's the chain of moments that sparked the memory into being.

I'm at the inlaws' apartment, waiting until we take off to see Iron Man 2. Rebecca said that her parents could get a nap first, but when I stepped out of the computer room I saw Rebecca and Eddie passed out and Millie sitting on the edge of her seat, watching In Like Flynn on TV.

I thought about composing a photograph of myself in each of their positions and remembered how I used to do that in Photoshop. One such picture--me, strangling myself from behind with a scarf--was so disturbing that Rebecca considered not dating me because of it, way back in the beginning.

Images of the other photo collages flickered through my mind: me, dressed as a traditional ninja, facing off against me dressed as Kakashi from Naruto. Three versions of me, standing in the front hall and pulling on jackets and shoes, preparing to go out. Two of me, sitting on the couch, one reading a book and the other clicking through channels on TV. My mind went back and focused on the three of me going out, and I think one of me was wearing a large, knee-length wool coat. I also wondered whether the traditional ninja suit would soften up after a few washings.

Actually, it's a Swedish Army officer's off-duty jacket, according to a Swedish veteran who helped me identify what the insignia on it meant. I used to pin my own medals and those of my father on its chest and go out like that. One guy on a bus tried yelling at me because he was sure I was making fun of Viet Nam. He was too young to have served, but he had a chip on his shoulder about it and was only too anxious to get into a fistfight on a bus over it.

But here's where the memory came in. I was riding in the back of an MTC bus, where the seats face each other across the aisle, and across from me sat down three people. I don't remember one of them, I think it was a girl, but she was sidelined by the other two. One was a light-skinned black man who had a shy, hunched posture and wide rolling eyes, and he expressed brief statements in goofy voices. The star of the trio, however, was a short and strong-looking white man with a shaved head, a denim jacket, and black pants tucked into a pair of tabi boots. These are ninja climbing boots with a notch between the big and 2nd toes, to assist with rope-climbing. There aren't a lot of publicly accessible ropes dangling throughout Minneapolis, so he was just being a sci-fi/fantasy freak.

He sat down directly across from me. He glared at me. He kept his chin up and stared at me intently, as though waiting for me to give anyone in his group a judgmental look. I'm wearing this large wool jacket with military medals on the chest and a gold and red drapery cord looped around one shoulder like a campaign award, plus a kouffiyeh around my neck, so I'm not looking very conventional either.

But this guy was primed to take offense at anyone. It was very, very hard not looking at any of them, occupying as they did much of the viewing space directly ahead of me. The black guy kept making comments about me to his friends, in his strange voices, one of which was a comically alarmed voice: "Now I've seen everything!" Like I'm the strange one. Walking around downtown in ninja climbing boots is A-OK, but this wool jacket of mine has me branded a freak, and the stumpy denim guy is just itching for a confrontation.

Nothing happened. He stared, I continued to look away, and one or the other of us left the bus.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Use Your Voice

Now is the time for all concerned citizens to surf on over to and use their automated submission form to send a comment to President Obama pertaining to BP's Deepwater Horizon oil spill. I know they receive tens of thousands of e-mails every day, but add your voice regardless. My position is that the cleanup should be federalized, as BP has proven themselves to be corrupt and unreliable, locked as they are in "cover your ass" mode. Here is the e-mail I sent to our nation's president:

Please federalize the Deepwater Horizon oil spill cleanup efforts. With BP's precedent of defiance, administrative corruption, and falsified information on the disaster's day-to-day progress, they have demonstrated themselves grossly insufficient stewards of the environment and their industry. They may no longer be relied upon to accurately report the disaster's consequences nor assess the measures to rectify the damage their accident has caused. The very definition of "disaster" is an event that requires outside assistance, and BP is demonstrably incapable of moderating the repercussions their carelessness has wrought. The situation requires the federal government to commandeer the cleanup and recovery measures, as well as to enforce to fullest extent BP's culpability.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Ghost Adventures: the Drinking Game

Rebecca's really into Ghost Adventures, or as we call it, Douchebag Ghost Patrol. I'm impressed by what these guys are able to record, and only the staunchest deniers could decry the evidence that is presented in each episode. And with a dozen episodes each season, coming up on the fourth season, that's a lot of hardcore denying, bordering intellectual dishonesty.

But if you watch enough episodes, patterns begin to emerge, and I'm surprised it took this long for me to coalesce these qualities into a drinking game. I found a message board where fans of the show tossed out some ideas for such a game two years ago, but I'd like to try my hand at it too.

Take one drink every time:
  • Zak calls a crew mate "dude" or Aaron calls a crew mate "bro."
  • someone gives a play-by-play of temperature change: "73! 72! 71! 70! ...69!"
  • an "unexplained" voice is too muddled to transcribe.
  • the action stops to focus on an orb.
  • an orb enters someone's head/spine.
  • Zak's underwear is visible.
  • one of the crew makes a pun.
  • you can't see the shape/shadow they claim to have filmed.
  • you disagree with the transcription of a recorded ghostly voice.
  • Zak feeds cues/answers to a witness after asking a question.
  • Zak refers to 9:00 PM to 6:00 AM as a twelve-hour shift.
  • Zak issues contradictory commands: "Stop talking and, if you hear something, speak up."
  • someone mangles or murders grammar: "phenomenas," "my camera shut off out of nowhere."
  • Nick is locked up alone in a confined space.
Take two drinks whenever:
  • a hot new piece of technology is introduced.
  • a camera or electronic equipment fails (drained battery, audio cuts out, &c.).
  • paranormal activity manifests in daylight.
  • a recorded ghostly voice speaks very, very clearly.
  • someone trips over a chair or walks into a door.
  • someone's monologue/rant is interrupted by ghostly activity.
  • someone's mouth has to be blurred due to swearing (bleeps don't count).
  • a command is issued three times: "Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!"
  • Zak or Aaron makes a comically frightened face at the camera.
  • a witness becomes choked up or weeps during narrative.
  • the crew's recordings are interpreted by freaky-looking paranormal experts.
Take three drinks whenever:
  • one of the crew is possessed by a spirit/demon.
  • a woman is brought into a prison for a "trigger object."
  • an inanimate object is thrown or pushed into a crew member.
  • a ghost clearly pronounces one of the crew's names.
  • a humanoid form/shadow is clearly recorded.
  • Nick finds his own testicles.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Week in Review

It's been an eventful week! Let me just touch on some of the large and small points.

I was asking for trouble when I brought my computers in. First was the laptop: I knew that its graphics card had crashed, and that it was integrated into the motherboard. It was reasonable to assume it would be extremely difficult to get it repaired, and replacing it meant replacing the entire motherboard. And that was impossible because that model has been discontinued and no one's even selling it on eBay.

Using the laptop as a regular computer, I plugged in the monitor, speakers, a better mouse, the printer, and let it run. And it ran great for a week, but one day I asked too much of it (scanning, Flash application, transferring files, a download all at once) and the processor froze and thin wisps of smoke came out the back. I shut it down, tore out the peripherals, and set it on the porch to air out. Probably there is only enough life left in it to let me grab the few new files that didn't get backed up on it.

General Nanosystems returned my tower computer today: it also has a blown capacitor but they were confident it could run without it--there's a chance it's been running with this condition all its life. And they forced my computer to finally recognize my SATA drive, so now I have an additional 320GB storage! Now it's home and purring like a kitten... but for how long?

And I finally got a job, and maybe two jobs. I interviewed for a position with a marketing company that made it sound like they could actually e-mail most of their assignments to me, so I accepted the other, proofreading/copy editing for a dental supply company. I start tomorrow! I'll be earning money and everything.

Today I discovered a new program called Lazyfeed, which is a Web site aggregator with a handy interface that lets you segment your interests and search for new info within those topics. Awesome, right? Well, I thought I'd start one on emergency preparedness and when I used "go-bag" as a topic, it turned up an article whose title urged all white people to take up arms and prepare supplies. I thought it was a joke, you know, an intelligent parody of racist sites, since the "information" was so over-the-top and quite dated. The article itself was quite well-informed, offering good advice on packing a backpack, what clothes to bring, deals on packing food, emergency supplies, &c., but then it would erupt into spittle-flecked invective about other ethnic groups and...

It took me too long to realize it was being sincere. It took me way too long to realize this was not just an elaborate hoax of rich satire. It really was a virulent racist hate-speech blog and when I researched it, I found it enjoyed friendly and supportive connections with a few other well-known white supremacist hate-speech sites. I closed the browser and went out to the porch to have a pipe. There was a lump in my throat as the disbelief melted and I was forced to wonder how badly and to what depth the System has failed, to allow such abject ignorance to proliferate. There were no spelling errors on this site, the typography was clear and stable, and like I said there was also a lot of useful information, but then there was this staggering hatred of things the writer had no experience with. It was rampant, spoon-fed propaganda such as would have given Big Brother an erection. Beyond the willful misinterpretation of news, beyond the denial and lies, there was just this tremendous, yawning chasm of absolutely nothing, a huge void where there should have been at least a little warmth, a little intelligence, but there was nothing. And there's a community of people who live their lives in defense of that nothing, fighting against facts, reality, progress, at war with their own humanity. People striving with every last muscle to promote this gaping, hideous ignorance.

It made me physically ill. It set my body at the preamble before the heaving starts which leads to vomiting. It made me want to cry, that so many decent and loving people should have their lives threatened simply because a group of monsters needs to inflict their staggering ignorance upon the lives of innocents.

So being online, being exposed to all the world's information, is both a blessing and a curse.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Challenge: How Could Qwest Possibly Suck More?

Here's a question I receive with surprising frequency:

"Christian, why do you love Qwest so much?"

To which I say... I have to say...

Oh wait, no, I never receive that question. There is nothing I have ever done or said that reflects this attitude. I was overly delighted to send Qwest the final payment on my bill seven years ago, concluding business with them once and for all, or so I thought.

Recently we started a new account with them, just because Qwest is the only provider of POTS, or "plain old telephone service." That means when the Internet goes down and all the cell phone satellites are taken offline, POTS phones will still be in operation.

However: signing up with Qwest necessarily means additional headaches, grief, and upset that one would not ordinarily have received in the course of one's day. For instance: Rebecca informed me of a strange spike in our bill. We got a bare-bones phone account for $15, so why is it suddenly nearly $50 this month? We never use this land-line phone, it's just there for emergencies, like the gallons of water we store in our closet or the First Aid kit on its shelf.

It's impossible to know! Qwest routinely makes this crap up! That's their business model!

I thought I'd login to my Qwest online account and see what's up. It's just that I'm stonewalled from accessing it. "Your user name may be an email address," the site advises me, but e-mail addresses also contain invalid characters that can't be in a user name. So I followed the "forgot my password" procedure and created something very simple, then the "forgot my user name" procedure and confirmed it was indeed my e-mail address. Taking no chances, I cut-n-paste the user name Qwest told me into the user name field, so of course it was rejected.

"QWEST: Keeping Things Desultory and Inaccessible."

Thursday, May 6, 2010

A Short Day in Sturgeon Bay

Location: Sturgeon Bay, WI, USA
Last weekend, my wife and I had made plans to drive out to Madison, just to get out of town. We've both got friends there, there's no lack of stuff to do (for two days), and we really love the coffee shop known as Ancora. But as it happened, we were requested to head out to Green Bay instead: we're still trying to sell her parents' house and a plumber was scheduled to come in Saturday morning to look at a persistent leak in the basement. The family needed someone to let him in, and since we were headed that way anyway...

We packed up Friday evening and drove straight there, listening to podcasts: WTF and The Nerdist are our current favorites. We rolled in around midnight, went straight to bed, and got up nice and early... only to have the plumber reschedule. He was really pressed for appointments and asked if he might show up Sunday morning instead. This was fine, as we'd be at the house both days regardless, so we decided to make a day trip of Saturday. We stopped by Luna Coffee for supplies (read: coffee) and drove out to Door County.

Rebecca's been so stoked to bring me up to Door County! It's usually a point of conversation every time we head out to her childhood home in Green Bay: "Maybe this time we'll make it up to Door County!" It's apparently a family destination tradition for her and she has a lot of pleasant memories of the area. I've never been but I'm open for anything. I only wish we'd stopped somewhere for breakfast on the way because for some reason we forgot to eat. No problem, I figured, there's got to be restaurants in Door County.

(In literature, this is what we call "foreshadowing.")

When we pulled into Sturgeon Bay, I had no idea what to expect. I've gone on random little road trips before where the only point was to end up somewhere we'd never been before. I love those trips, where the whole day is spent in discovery and exploration, getting a feel for the local flavor and seeing how an entirely other community has developed, remote from anything familiar to me. I parked in what looked like the center of town and we walked around--it was a blustery day and, being surrounded by water, there was nothing to slow the wind down--and the first thing we saw was this place: Greystone Castle. We didn't go in (being 12:30 PM, it was a bit early for me to start drinking) but I asked Rebecca to pose in front of it. Why? Because I had my cultural references confused: I was thinking of Castle Greyskull from He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. Slightly different, but still a good photo-op.

We spent a lot of time perusing the selection at Madison Avenue Wine Shop, a very cool store specializing in independent wines and microbrew olive oils and vinegars. I picked up an appealing bottle of wine, Kung Fu Girl, as well as a little gift for some friends. I saw the clerk had a copy of The Kite Runner with her, which I'd read a couple years ago: she thought she'd have time to read it but the store was particularly hopping this day. Too bad for the book, but great for business.

By this time we were completely famished and Rebecca was starting to feel a little nauseated with hunger. We'd brought a bag of sesame-coated almonds to snack on in the car but this was by no means a substantial repast. It was now time to perambulate in ever-widening circles until we found a suitable restaurant. I saw a large sign proclaiming a restaurant at Wave Pointe Marina & Resort, but we walked all around the building and couldn't clearly see anything resembling a restaurant--I'm sure a little curiosity with the resort entrance would have yielded better results, but we went elsewhere.

We ended up at Kimz Galley Cafe (the copy editor in me bristled, but steady on), across the street. There were no customers inside but a couple staff walking around, so we went in. It's a bit of a challenge to find a restaurant where Rebecca can eat, with her gluten intolerance, but we checked out the menu and picked out a couple suitable items. Inside, however, a waitress informed us that it was 2:00 PM and they were closed--to iterate her point, she walked over to the front window and flipped the OPEN sign. But my cell phone indicated we had shown up at 1:40 PM. How long could it take to make a salad? Rather than argue, I asked if she could recommend any other restaurants in town, and she gave me a short list of five places within three blocks. I thanked her for her help and we set out.

I felt bad because Rebecca was declining: something in her was acting up and she really needed to just sit down and put something in her stomach. Moreover, she hates high winds and the wind today was just relentless. Not far up the road was a coffee shop, at least, so we ducked in there to get a snack before figuring out what to do next.

This was DC Brew, and I was stunned to see their selection: they had a wide line of meats (Boar's Head in particular, which I like) and cheeses, so they were quite set up to make nice sandwiches! The interior was beautiful and well-appointed, as well, so I ushered my wife to a table to rest while I got in line. There was a father and his daughter ahead of me, and off to the side an older gentleman was gauging whether I were truly in line, hoping he could get the the counter a little quicker.

But there wasn't anyone behind the counter for a minute. There were several customers seated around the premises, but it was some time before any staff manifested. When they did, it was in the form of a teenage girl who went straight to what looked like a smoothie dispenser and began trying to churn a drink out. She was in the middle of something, clearly, but there came another girl right behind her. Her job, evidently, was to hover at her coworker's shoulder and pointedly avoid glancing at the counter. The father and daughter waited, I waited, the older gent waited, but all that played out was the tableau of one girl working the smoothie machine and the other watching her with an air of anticipation. After a few minutes I collected Rebecca from her table and we hit the streets once more.

We found a health food shop nearby and tried it out, but they didn't serve food. The clerk did recommend a health food restaurant but informed us that most places close around 2:00 PM (Rebecca kept reminding me we were in the off-season for tourism). I was growing frustrated (maybe due to low blood sugar?) and was extremely reluctant to make Rebecca walk any more than was absolutely necessary. I hustled her back to the car and we started to head out of town--I stopped by Mandarin Garden, which the lady at Galley Cafe had mentioned, but they too had packed it in until the dinner rush, presumably.

Now I was irritable. This was almost as bad as driving through Buffalo, MN, which does not seem to have any restaurants whatsoever. Rebecca asked where we should try next. Darkly I informed her wherever it was, we were done with Sturgeon Bay and could surely find an open restaurant somewhere in the next 50 miles.

We did: turning off at Dyckesville into a tiny town called Luxemburg (on Sturgeon Bay Road, ironically), we found Lipsky's Firebaked Pizza & Burgers. Not only were they open, they would serve us, placing them head and shoulders above any other restaurant this day. There was only one girl working, but she worked like a little cyclone, clearing off tables, hustling food to customers, keeping everything running and in order. I tried a pizza burger (I really should have had a wood-fired pizza, in retrospect) and Rebecca got a chicken soup (carefully picking out the noodles--gluten, after all) that she really enjoyed. She told me it was what booyah tasted like, going back to an earlier conversation where I'd spotted this on a menu. Apparently it's a kind of stew, a Wisconsin-regional dish, but I'd only known it to be an intimidating cry of dominance on a basketball court or in certain social settings.

Even aside from my gratitude at finding something to eat, I was so impressed with this working girl's professionalism and effort--I'm afraid I may have overwhelmed her with the recounting of the day's misadventure, but I felt I should explain why my wife was looking so frayed and why I was so inordinately enthusiastic.

Heading back to Green Bay, Rebecca was disappointed my experience with Sturgeon Bay had not approached her golden memories of the area. She assured me it's usually much better and vowed to bring me back later in the season. I'll take her at her word and give it another try--but I'll also pack us a nice large lunch.