road trip

14
Apr

It’s been a quietish week in these parts, largely because I was offline for large swaths of last week doing things out in the world. The biggest of those things involved a quick visit to the midwest metropolis of Columbus, OH, where I spent most of two days sitting in a room with a bunch of IT people, who were having difficulty coming to terms with the idea that if one is interested in future-proofing systems for the next decade or two, terms like hierarchical database architecture and IBM 3270 screens probably ought to be purged from one’s vocabulary.

It was an interesting experience, to say the least; beneficial in the sense that I got to meet a bunch of folks in person who I “knew” previously via phone and email, which is generally good for relations. I also got to know a bit more about the inner workings of this newish organization, both in terms of information infrastructure and they way things work politically. Still, kinda dull.

I hadn’t had the opportunity to travel for business in a while, and this was the first time with this organization, so I encountered the usual headaches involving transferring travel credentials and expense accounts across organizational boundaries, though having the experience that I do, I was able to sort it out. Also, approved flights from here to there were a mess, involving long layovers in odd places due to flight paths created via non-Euclidian geometry. So, rather than face such Lovecraftian airline horror, I drove – about eight hours each way – which is honestly about the same time investment as I’d have faced if I flew, counting all the time dedicated to security theater and such; also a net savings to my employer and a few more bucks in my pocket for mileage. A long trip, but generally a win.

I can tell that I’m largely out of practice for business travel – the reflexes are there, but I seem to have lost the ability to sleep in hotel beds without incident and subsist on takeout without dramatic effects on my body – of course, that could just be me getting old. Who knows.

The best part of the trip, though, was getting to spend Wednesday evening with some good friends I don’t get to see so terribly often who live in the area. The illustrious Elizabeth and Duncan served as my hosts and guides through a town that has changed quite a bit since I was there last, giving me a nice tour of Columbus’s German Village (including some great history of the region), and an excellent dinner at a relatively new eatery in the city, The Red Brick Tap and Grill, where we drank local brews, caught up socially, and consumed some excellent key lime pie, all while sitting below this wall treatment:

Which we all took as a good omen.

After dinner, being bookish folk, they treated me to a visit to The Book Loft, one of the largest independent booksellers in America, home to 32 ROOMS(!) of books for sale, including rare and autographed editions, and “the biggest collection of jigsaw puzzles in the midwest!” We spent quite a bit of time wandering around this maze of a store, enjoying the atmosphere of being surrounded by so many books in such an interesting place, and I think we each escaped with only two volumes apiece, which for us is pretty mild.

So, all in all, it was a pretty decent adventure, both in terms of work and life. I did spend much of the weekend recovering (like I said, my body is out of practice with this sort of thing), aside from taking in the second game of the Richmond Flying Squirrels’ fifth season; or at least the first five innings thereof, before everyone was just kind of wiped out by the crowds and the general early-season event management kinks and bailed early. Still, it’s an evening at the ballpark, which is always a reasonably good time.

That’s been Chuck’s life. We’ll now return you to your regularly scheduled browsing.

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music and is life

02
Apr

Things have maybe, a little bit, anyway, settled down enough for me to catch a breath. We’re still busy, but it’s not really an overwhelming busy.

The spouse and I even managed to sneak away for an overnight adventure sans children, enjoying the music and comedy stylings of the one-and-only Mikey Mason, performing at Atlantis Comics. We enjoyed the show (during which I may have stuffed money down the performer’s pants in a *mostly* innocent manner), visited with friends in the area, and acquired a couple of books from one such friend, author Lynn Townsend, who’s on a publishing roll this year, with three(!) books out this year, as well as a copy of an old edition of the Paranoia RPG out of the shop’s impressive collection of old school game materials. It was nice to get away, even if we spent too much money on the way home passing through Williamsburg (damn you, Harry & David, damn. you.).

Otherwise, it’s been regular life around here: school, work, dance, scouts, etc. Regular enough (for once) that I found time to get together with some of my music/jam session buddies to make some alleged music last night; the first time with these guys since January. Nothing like a couple of hours playing eclectic acoustic covers in the living room and making each other laugh – not the kind of fun I get to have nearly as much as I’d like.

Not all of life’s music is great news, however. Over the weekend, a flurry of announcements signaled what is effectively the end of the Badlees, with the departure of Bret Alexander and Paul Smith from the band’s line-up. Anyone who knows me (especially those who knew me for most of the 90s) know how big a fan of this band I was and am (see here or here or here for additional evidence); seeing this band end after more than 20 years is tough – their music was, for me and for others, the soundtrack of our transition from adolescence into adulthood – it really encapsulated the experience of growing up in a certain place and time. Even though I’m no longer in that place, or that time, being there shaped me, and listening to these sounds (or even thinking about them), dredges up all sorts of feelings and emotions. That’s the beauty of music, after all.

I’m not sure why it’s ending now, but I suspect it’s largely just life happening – output’s been sporadic over the last several years, and all of them have other things going on. With the main songwriting and production forces gone from the band, it’s probably for the best that they’re hanging it up for now. The band, as they’ve always been fond of saying, has always been greater than the sum of it’s parts (it’s really never been quite the same since Jeff left way back when, really). 23-odd years, two different record contracts, and over a dozen albums featuring various combinations of band members is a good run; a lot more than most bands get. I hope to learn of new projects from the various principals in times to come, though I’ll always have a stack of great records to listen to, and an even bigger stack of great memories from all those dozens of live shows. Thanks for the tunes, guys; let’s hope the memories do indeed have equity.

And finally, related to all of the above, I’ve had an idea kicking around in my head for several weeks now that I really need to turn into something; until I do, it’ll be a persistent itch I just can’t get rid of. There’s a creepy ghost story of a song in this photograph from the infamous Graffiti Highway in Centralia PA, if that whole place isn’t a ghost story in and of itself; I just need to finish teasing it out.



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friday random ten – “glad that’s over” edition

28
Mar

From yesterday’s post, you might have gotten the sense that I was a little frustrated with the office this week. That’s kind of true, but not the kind of frustrating that’s going to have me running to the job boards to find something else. I’m relatively happy with my employment lot at the moment, little frustrations aside.

That said, I’m glad to be done with my week. My bills are paid (with only a few little tiny headaches associated with the process – web sites need to let us know when they move their payment buttons around), and my lovely spouse and I have some nice “just us” plans arranged for this evening, involving music, comedy, friends, and a little alone time*. So yeah, things could be worse.

In the meantime, here are some tunes:

  1. “Little Room” – White Stripes
  2. “Never Say Never” – that dog.
  3. “I Like Chinese” – Monty Python
  4. “I Live With It Every Day” – Barenaked Ladies”
  5. “Ain’t Gonna Ask You” – Norah Jones
  6. “Land of the Dead” – Voltaire
  7. “Here, In My Head (live)” – Tori Amos
  8. “Texas Lady” – Les Paul & Mary Ford
  9. “Getchoo” – Weezer
  10. “Naive” – The Rentals

_________________________

* – I hear the winking and the nudging and the “say no more!”-ing. You all have dirty minds. I know; I can recognize my own kind pretty well. As for your assumptions, well.

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stuck in the middle…again

27
Mar

warning: may contain old man yelling at cloud

I guess it’s good news that I haven’t had reason to bitch about work for over six months since I started this new job. It’s a good job, with a great group of people (both locally and across the country), and I get to do all sorts of interesting software system design stuff in areas I haven’t necessarily tried before, so I’m learning new skills and polishing the tarnish off some old ones. All told, it’s pretty awesome, and I’m glad I’m here.

That said, it’s not without it’s frustrations. Soon after I started here, I inherited sysadmin duties for a service that allows our vendors to receive weekly financial data extracts via secure FTP. I collect information, validate identities, and set up accounts, and answer questions. Not a theoretical big deal.

However, what I end up doing six or seven times a day is explaining “arcane” internet lore to non-technical folks whose online navigational knowledge consists of little beyond “Click on the blue E, scroll through Facebook”. I had two different conversations with private industry IT Guys™ this week who didn’t know what an FTP client application was, and couldn’t conceive of the idea of doing something on the internet that didn’t involve a web browser.

Yes, I recognize that this isn’t the most elegant solution to distributing this data, but it’s what I inherited, it works, and the web services guys have bigger problems to deal with than writing a web interface for this thing. Besides, some of my users have done some really neat things on their end with the raw data we give them. But, I expect it would save me a lot of time if there was just a “click the E” version. For one, I wouldn’t have to keep providing uncompensated tech support for FileZilla every damned day.

Oh well – I guess I just have to consider it my humble contribution to the open source movement.

____________________

Okay, I recognize this kind of whining is coming from a very specialized place. Most people don’t need to know how to do much with their computers besides opening up a web browser or spreadsheet. I call a plumber when my sink backs up, and I’ve learned that most home improvement projects turn out better when I pay someone else to do them. i don’t really fix my car myself anymore. I guess my frustration comes from the fact that although I don’t do these things myself, I know what a wrench is, and I can explain how an internal combustion engine works. When I was a student, the computing classes they made us take included at least passing mentions of basic computer things and rudimentary online stuff.

I guess part of it is a generational thing. People a few years older than me didn’t have computers around in school , especially those earlier ones that required you to type arcane-sounding commands like LOAD “*”,8,1 at a prompt to get them to do anything, and lack the experience. Those damned kids even a few years younger than me grew up with graphical user interfaces where conucopias of porn and pirated music were a few mouse clicks away*. I landed somewhere in the middle, where we had these things, they were new and shiny and interesting, and required a bit of thought and learning to make them do things, but it was worth learning that stuff, because it got you access to all kinds of amazing things. As a result, both the older and younger generations frustrate me, because I have to explain all this crap to both of them on a daily basis.

At least I get paid for it now.

_______

* – those of us who were on the cusp of the internet revolution waited like half an hour for a low-res bitmap scan of a magazine centerfold to download on our 9600 baud modems, and we liked it!

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moar squirrels

17
Mar

So, for the last several months, I’ve been playing the Marvel Heroes MMO regularly. It’s one of the free-to-play flavors, so I don’t have the pressure of getting my money’s worth out of a monthly subscription fee. I’ve spent a few bucks over the last not quite year on in-game stuff (mostly extra storage space for loot), but overall, it’s been a relatively cheap hobby to keep me busy.

I’ve got a stable of not quite a dozen heroes, and lately I’ve been playing Squirrel Girl through the top-tier levels. Squirrel Girl is an odd character, who started out as sort of a joke, and still kind of is, but has managed to become something of a fixture in the Marvel universe, not exactly top an A-Lister, but certainly the biggest name in the Great Lakes Avengers, and perhaps the most formidable hero in the Marvel Universe, having bested Dr. Doom, Thanos, MODOK, and other heavy hitters single handedly. She’s fun, and she’s an honest-to-goodness Steve Ditko creation, with a quirky, fun-loving attitude. Plus, she talks to squirrels.

My six year old loves her.

As of this afternoon, she loves her even more, as I managed to score perhaps the most coveted piece of gear for her – Tippy Toe’s Itty Bitty Bow. Tippy Toe is Squirrel Girl’s faithful squirrel companion, and she wears a little pink bow. This item, besides boosting all sorts of stats, summons Tippy Toe herself, wearing, of course, a little pink bow, to follow you around in game, and help you fight bad guys.

And she’s oh so cute:

Today there was much squeeing to be heard, indeed.

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my brain goes strange places…

17
Mar

…when placed under stress.

Life’s been very busy of late, as my wife’s been away a lot due to serious volunteer commitments. It doesn’t help these are commitments that require a certain amount of confidentiality and circumspection – there’s stuff she can’t talk about outside her committee. She disappears and has adventures, and I don’t know much beyond vague generalities. This is tough on both of us, because if there’s one thing we do a lot of, it’s talking about stuff. Not being able to do so is hard on us.

It’s been rough. Lots of mental stress. I joke about how this whole business must kind of be like what it feels like to having a partner engage in infidelity (no offense meant to folks who have experienced this) without bothering to hide it. Of course my joking is kind of out of desperation, because there’s a kernel of truth to the feeling, if not the actual situation.

Make sense?

My brain is doing strange things with all the extra stimulation. Playing out scenarios in my subconscious. I’m having dreams, I think to help me process things.

So, the dream I had last night that involved my spouse leaving me, makes a certain amount of sense in context. I think some even deeper layer of my subconscious understood what was happening, and softened the blow so I didn’t wake up in sorrow and horror.

That theory is all well and good, but it doesn’t do much to explain all the dragons or the pizza delivering monkey*.

Yeah.

_______________________

* -seriously. Monkey, or maybe some sort of higher ape. I don’t remember whether he had a tail or not. I don’t think it was important. Still, he had a little uniform, and a car, and carried pizza boxes around, hung out at the pizza stand between deliveries. That part of the whole business is remarkably lucid. If I knew why that was, perhaps we’d all have a much greater understanding of the universe.

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friday random ten – “um, yeah” edition

14
Mar

Haven’t done one of these in a while, but I was at the computer paying bills anyway, so…

Been a busy couple of months (but not *my* busy, necessarily), and though I can maybe see the end of it, the end isn’t here yet. That’s why it’s been quiet. Sorry.

tunes.

  1. “Legendary Lovers” – Katy Perry
  2. “You’re Crazy” – Guns N’ Roses
  3. “Nowhere Road” – Steve Earle
  4. “Kids Wanna Rock” – Bryan Adams
  5. “Roll Away The Stone” – Mumford & Sons
  6. “Keep Coming Back” – Edie Brickell & New Bohemians
  7. “Hitchin’ A Ride” – Saraya
  8. “Snow Queen” – She & Him
  9. “Cedar Tree” – Indigo Girls
  10. “Dance in the Dark” – Lady GaGa
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can’t brain right now

05
Mar

In the meantime, please enjoy this visual metaphorical representation of my current physical and mental faculties. Hasn’t been the best couple of weeks.

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various and sundry pop culture and politics – Feb 2014

26
Feb

I’m feeling slightly guilty about not having huge amounts to say in this space. Suffice it to say that life and otherwise is keeping me occupied largely in meatspace. Running kids around and stepping up to cover for the spouse as she’s currently mired in some pretty intensive responsibilities lately, vehicle maintenance, headaches of electronic commerce, and the occasional snowstorm have all reared their ugly (but not always unwelcome) heads at one point or another. You know, the usual.

There’s been stuff, though. Stuff I guess worth blogging about. Here are some of those things, in bulleted list form:

  • Last night, thanks to the magic of Netflix, I wandered down the memory/nostalgia hole and watched The Wraith, a neat little low-budget supernatural revenge flick from 1986 with a *very* 80s pop-metal soundtrack (“available on Scotti Bros. records and tapes!”) starring a pre-Tiger Blood Charlie Sheen and a pre-Twin Peaks Sherylin Fenn (as a just this side of porny blonde, no less). If anyone remembers it at all, it’s because the real star was the Dodge M4S/PPG Turbo Interceptor, the concept car used as a very stylish murder weapon throughout. it’s low budget cheese, but it’s a lot of fun, and I recommend checking it out if you’re into that sort of thing.
  • I’ve picked up a couple of new records the last couple of weeks. The first worth mentioning is Devo Spice’s I Am The Doctor, a nerdcore hip-hop tribute to Doctor Who, featuring a tune for each of the current 11 doctors, plus the title track. Devo is a con acquaintence who’s one of the driving forces behind The FUMP (The Funny Music Project), and is always entertaining. This one’s also gotten me on a bit of a hip hop and (especially nerdcore) jag lately, with me spending an inordinate amount of time spinning MC Frontalot and Girl Talk way too loudly while driving.
  • The other disc worth talking about is a bit more mainstream – Lorde’s Pure Heroine. As I tend to listen mostly to independent radio, I missed the initial pop radio rampage of “Royals” a couple of months back, but got sucked in enough to purchase when I heard “A World Alone” on WNRN a couple of weeks back, and really dug the whole retro-modern singer/songwriter vibe (the same itch that Lana Del Ray and the last Tegan and Sara record scratch for me). It’s good stuff, and not worth dismissing simply because of the artist’s teenage-ness and initial corporate radio exposure.
  • To swing into an entirely other direction: Witness my State Senator, ladies and gentleman, being made a nationwide laughing stock by characterizing women as less than human. The worst thing is that this kind of thing continues to play in this part of the suburbs, despite the ample evidence of a population of which at least half of have, will have, or have had the potential to be one of Mr. Martin’s “hosts” at some point in their lives. And this guy runs unopposed around here every cycle. One of these years, everyone else is going to catch on to my ongoing write-in campaign for my wife.
  • Swinging right back, go check out the full trailer for Marvel’s next big comic book extravaganza, Guardians of the Galaxy. come for the machine-gun toting raccoon, stay for the total embrace of the ridiculous and quirky space opera tone. This one’s going to be a bit of a risk for Marvel, as these guys, despite a relatively popular book out there right now, aren’t exactly household names (yet), but I thik they’ll pull it out in the end and have a hit on their hands this summer.
  • Speaking of comic books, I’m in the midst of re-jiggering my pull list, thanks to a couple of new interesting books on the horizon. the much talked about new Ms. Marvel, from G. Willow Wilson and Sara Pichelli, had a great first issue, which captivated me with the art and humor, and really appealed to my teenage daughter as well. Also, a new She-Hulk run just kicked off, by Charles Soule and Javier Pulido, which I quite enjoyed. As you may be aware, I’m very fond of Ms. Walters, Esq’s adventures in general, as well as Dan Slott’s run on the title in particular (which are perhaps my favorite comics in the history of forever). This new run seems to carry a lot of the same charm as that one. I like it. These, along with the upcoming Moon Knight from Warren Ellis, are going to knock several books off my monthly list, including the adjectiveless X-Men and DC’s Masters of the Universe, the former of which is just losing me by being too insider X-Men, and the latter, which just isn’t hitting my happy place since Pop Mhan stopped drawing it. I’m also likely going to be dropping Superior Spider-Man Team Up (which lacks the fun of the flagship), as well Fantastic Four, which (along with companion title FF) just wrapped up an excellent run by Matt Fraction, which seemed like a fine place to drop off. I might also drop the aforementioned Guardians, which, while good, is really Bendis-y, and I think I’ll need to make room for Dan Slott’s Silver Surfer, which should probably satisfy my cosmic Marvel itch a bit more.

And finally, I apologize for missing this one when it came around on the calendar. Maybe twelve is too old for this sort of thing, but I kind of have fun taking the time to hunt for the pictures:

So, that’s the bits of life I’m going to talk about. I hope you’re satisfied.

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standing on the side of love

18
Feb

image borrowed from Equality Virginia – go check them out – seriously!

On Friday, a Federal Judge declared Virginia’s ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional. This decision has been appealed, of course, and the state is allowing the legal process to play out before issuing marriage licenses to couples, but really, it’s all but over. Sooner, rather than later, Virginia can drop the “but only if you’re straight” asterisk from the Virginia is For Lovers tourism brochures.

You know, I don’t really care how you feel personally about two people of the same gender being married to one another. I don’t care whether your church supports it or not. I don’t really care about your feelings about “tradition”. However, I do care when a government tries to use those sorts of arguments to deny equal protection under the law. No one’s asking you to marry anyone you don’t want to. However, they are keeping numerous friends of mine from marrying who they want to, and I’m glad that the state in which I reside will (hopefully very soon) allow those friends to enjoy the same rights that I do.

Many of the objections to same-sex marriage in Virginia stem from “tradition”, which, if you’ve spent any time here at all, a big deal in the Commonwealth. They made the same sort of arguments against interracial marriage a few decades ago, and it took the Supreme Court’s 1967 decision on Loving v. Virginia to overturn that one. That’s why I’m glad Judge Wright Allen directly called out Loving in the decision (this is the whole 41 page document – I encourage you to read it), leading off with an extensive exerpt from Mildred Loving.

I also feel that given Virginia’s history with this sort of thing, this decision, and what’s to follow in the Commonwealth, is a big victory for those supporting legal same-sex marriage in the United States. Virginia is going to be a turning point, I think; a big victory in a state that is mired in difficult history and tradition, but whose population has trended toward more inclusive ways of thinking, socially and politically, in recent decades. It shows that the balance has really and truly tipped, and that the law will finally start lining up with the will of the people – a majority of Virginians support marriage equity (which was not the case in ’06 when the original state constitutional amendment was passed).

Tradition may indeed be important; however, however, not all traditions are worth holding onto.

I’m personally rather a fan of one particular statement from the decision:

Gay and lesbian individuals share the same capacity as heterosexual individuals to form, preserve, and celebrate loving, intimate, and lasting relationships. Such relationships are created through the exercise of sacred, personal choices—choices, like the choices made by every citizen, that must be free from unwarranted government interference.

It doesn’t get much clearer than that, does it? It’s a shame that it takes a federal court case to get some people to realize it.

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