Feel My Geek Groove

Current location: the living room downstairs.

I’ve got my laptop computer that Benthic Creatures gave to me to do my job with. I’m sitting on the couch, listening to “Bela Lugosi’s Dead” by Bauhaus on Spinner, staring at the cat on the piano, chatting with my sister on Instant Messenger, and generally enjoying the wireless network that I’ve just finished setting up.

Yeah, baby, yeah. The geek groove trucks on.

Of course, there are a few things I should probably have done differently. I should have hooked up the rest of our computers to the 8-port hub along with the wireless access point instead of to the DSL router. That would probably have made it easier to get the wireless-up laptops to see our LAN. But I’m pretty happy with what I’ve got. For now. Tomorrow will probably be different.

My only regret is that the laptop computer is running Windows XP. If I had my druthers, it’d be running Linux, of course, but there’s probably a limit to how much I can mess around with this work-issued laptop.

* * * * *

We went to the library last week, and I poked around in the marine aquarium section. I’ve been toying with the idea of a marine aquarium for a few months now, and since we went to the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago a couple of weeks ago, the idea has a firmer grip on my imagination. I checked out two books, and read through them both. And it seems that while a marine aquarium — or a reef aquarium, which would be even cooler — would be a bad idea right now. They need daily maintenance, especially in their early months, and with this job of mine that’s going to keep me on the road 50% of the time or so over the next couple of months, daily maintenance just isn’t going to work out.

Maybe I can make a goldfish bowl work. Or maybe some sea monkeys.

* * * * *

My friend Purplkat pointed me at this webcast station, KNR’s Old Time Radio, streaming from Live365. I remember back when I was a kid, I used to listen to some of those old radio shows that KSFO would play on Sunday nights as part of some “old times” feature. I even had a few old episodes of Suspense and Dimension X on tape. Right now I’m listening to an episode of The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes… very, very cool.

Nothing else to report. It’s time to get to bed.

The Latest Political Rant

Actually, I’ve tried to stay clear of politics in this journal for quite awhile now. In fact, when the topic of politics comes up in conversation these days, I usually tell people that my doctor has forbidden me from talking politics, because of my high blood pressure. If forced, I tell them that as long as the maniacs and the morons are in charge of world politics, I want nothing to do with it.

Nevertheless, though, election day is coming. So get the hell out and vote.

In California, we’re faced with a gubernatorial election. It’s not the nastiest political campaign that I’ve ever seen, though the ads on both sides typically focus on why the other candidate is unqualified rather than on the virtues of either candidate. Basically, our choices seem to be limited to either the incompetent Gray Davis, or the slightly more incompetent and far more corrupt Bill Simon. I’m not terriibly fond of either one, but it seems, alas, that we really don’t have much choice.

It’s these sorts of elections where the only thing that people can do is vote for the “lesser of two evils”. I hate that approach; I always feel cheap and used when I walk out of a polling booth after voting that way, like a prostitute who discovers she’s been paid with counterfeit cash.

Fortunately, there are a number of third parties out there that can provide us with some limited alternatives. For example:

  • The Libertarian Party because no government is apparently the best government of all. Based loosely on the philosophy of Ayn Rand (which I found very appealing when I was a geeky adolescent nerd in college, but which I feel I’ve matured past at this point), the primary myth of the Libertarian Party seems to be that if the government would just stop taxing the people and spending money, somehow all of the infrastructure and problems of the world would miraculously take care of themselves. This, I think, is very similar to the Republican Myth (that if the government stops spending money on social issues, people will somehow miraculously become generous enough to spend their own money on those issues). The Libertarian Party is fine with me on social issues — they oppose governmental influence in sexual issues, and for an end to the “war on drugs” — I find their “fiscal conservatism” inconsistent and kind of scary.
  • The Reform Party I am very suspicious of people who say that their biggest goal is to reduce taxation. I’m all in favor of keeping more of the money that I earn, but what usually drives the agenda of the “fewer taxes” folks is “fewer taxes, and spend what remains on the things that I want and to hell with everything else!” The Reform Party claims that it opposes the increasing influence of corporations on the government. Why, then, do I find it suspicious that this party has traditionally been led by corporate guys? I’m also just wary of folks who seem to advocate change for its own sake. I’m also amused by the first line of their platform statement: “We are a Party of independent voters”. I thought that the very notion of an independent voter was that they were free of party allegiance?
  • American Independent Party Generally, this means, “Independence from choice”. While espousing the traditionally popular mantras of less taxation and less governmental influence in daily life, the American Independent Party also contains a streak of right-wing Christian extremism which is really pretty frightening. The AIP opposes abortion in all forms, and finds appalling the fact that two Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals justices wanted to eliminate the words “Under God” from the Prayer of Allegiance.
  • The Natural Law Party Government by physics? From their statement in the California Election Pamphlet: “Our principles and programs are based upon the newest scientific knowledge revealed by quantum physics…” Say what? Perhaps we can apply Heisenberg’s Principle to politics: it is impossible to know with precision both what the President says and what he means, simultaneously. Perhaps I’m being overly facetious; however, I don’t recall from any of my readings of Hawking, Feynman, Einstein, Bohr, or others that the laws of physics included the lowering of taxes, tough anti-crime legislation, and support of alternative energy solutions. Seriously, there’s a lot about this party’s political stance that I like, but I’m puzzled by their quantum physics stance. Also note that if you read the statements of some of their candidates, you’ll find that quantum physics opposes abortion and favors school voucher programs.
  • The Green Party They’re wacky and they’re liberal and they’re popular in Europe. Some state somewhere in the US even has a senator who belongs to the Green Party. The Greens that I have spoken to and interacted with have been among the most consistent and, strangely, honest folks in politics that I’ve met. While I don’t necessarily agree with all of their positions — I’m a bit shaky about affirmative action, for example, and I wonder if a “living wage” law could really work — I am in alignment with their alternative energy platform and their call for an end to all distcrimination everywhere. They’re also opposed to school vouchers, which makes me happy.

Politics in general makes me twitch, but I will get out and vote (actually, I’m voting by absentee ballot this year since I know I’ll be traveling on Election Day). And even though my voter registration card reads “Independent”, I’ll probably vote primarily Democrat or Green. Politics and political campaigns are full of myths and lies, of course; it’s just that some myths and lies are less repulsive than others.

Shuffling Around

Well, I’ve gone and done it. I’ve converted my journal away from the homegrown PHP system that I was using before and rebuilt it using Movable Type (which you can get at Movabletype.org). Things mihgt be a bit wonky around here for awhile until I work out all of the kinks. So until then, just bear with me. If you notice that anything’s gone wrong, just let me know.

Of course, one of the coolest features of Movable Type is the neat comments function. So feel free to comment away on my entries instead of having to go to my guestbook. I guarantee I’ll see what you write!

My Allen Wrench Collection

Allen wrenches are those spiffy little wrenches that have hexagonal heads and are shaped like a capital letter L. If you’ve assembled anything involving nuts and bolts and swear words, then you probably got at least one allen wrench in with the kit and assembly instructions.

Allen wrenches are, of course, drawn to human males, and there are several reasons for that. I think, though, that it’s primarily because men — especially the more domesticated varieties — are invariably called upon to assemble large, clunky items of furniture or machines or devices which have pieces attached by allen bolts. In the case of furniture, the man’s call is usually accompanied by the wife’s accompaniment of, “That looks heavy and hard, honey. You do it.” In the case of machines or devices, the accompaniment is usually something like, “That looks heavy, hard, and boring, honey. You do it.”

Actually, that’s completely unfair. Jennifer offered to help assemble the weight bench which now resides, fully assembled, in our guest room. But I know my own limitations, and I have finally come to terms with the fact that, when it comes to things like this, I just don’t play well with others. I get frustrated and annoyed, especially when pieces that were welded together improperly (and which nearly prompt me to call the customer service line to ask if there are any documented cases of anyone actually assembling the foul contraption successfully without the use of heavy machinery or welding equipment); and Jennifer’s finely tuned sense of self-preservation kicked in and she sat at her computer and played games while I torqued and pounded and aligned and cursed.

And actually, it wasn’t all that difficult an assembly. There was only one time when I had to lie on my back, using a wrench with one hand to hold a bolt in place while I attached the aircraft nut with the other hand while holding the inclined bench support aloft with my left foot. It hurt, but I got my isometric stretching in while doing it; but the packaging materials failed to include that cool spinner with the pictures of the hands and the feet and the different colors so that someone could shout out “Left hand blue!” while I was trying to put these pieces together.

I think it was about then that Jennifer reported to my mother that there was a blue cloud of obscenities beginning to form over Dixon.

I don’t really know how these things get successfully built. You see such things — like this weight bench — sitting on the sporting goods floor, all nice and pretty and perfectly assembled and without any blood smears on it. Such displays are meant to instill confidence in the man. “Well, if some retail schmuck can put that together perfectly,” the man is supposed to think, “then, Hell, me and a bottle of beer can do it, no prob!” Of course, what you don’t realize is that no human being actually assembles these things. Yoda actually comes in at night and commands the Force to assemble these things. Even then, the Force occasionally pounds its thumb and curses and gets ready to quit in exasperation before Yoda threatens to give it a good whompin’ and sends Mace Windu to get medieval on its ass.

So the man, falsely inspired, appeals to his wife, who, under the barrage of pleading from the husband and hard-sell tactics from the salesperson, sighs and says, “Fine, we can add that to the pile of incomplete projects in the garage. What’s one more?”

And then the box, complete with all of the parts and the pieces and the assembly instructions written in an obscure 4th century dialect of Sudanese, is loaded into the car and the project is taken home.

And, of course, it comes with allen wrenches.

I scored two allen wrenches from the weight bench project. I’ve added them to the collection, which includes allen wrenches that have come from the two folding futon frames, the endtable with built-in lamp that lives in our living room now, my grill, the light kit for the ceiling fan in the computer room, and the two rocking chairs in the master bedroom. To my credit, the only incomplete project among those is the light kit. And I have an excuse for that one.

So now the weight bench is done. The allen wrenches have been put away. All of the weights have been moved to the guest room, including the large barbell which now rests on the stand at the top. The packaging material has been thrown away. And my muscles are all ready to use it.

All that’s left is for me to use it.

I Promise, It's Been Fun

You know, I’ve been having a powerful troublesome time writing this entry. I don’t know why it is. I guess it’s because I’ve been trying to come up with a way to compare this business trip with business trips that I’ve been on in the past, and just… failing at it.

So anyway, we’re here in Chicago. Westmont, actually. We’ve been here since last Monday, when we finally arrived after an adventurous flight from Sacramento through Denver, some troubles concerning exactly how it was that we were supposed to get from the airport to the Benthic Creatures headquarters, and an encounter with a big-hearted bus driver who shattered all of our stereotypes about the surliness of the typical Chicago driver. And here we are, safe and sound.

We’ve been busy. During the day we’ve been at work, the nine of us mollusk-handler-trainers-to-be sitting around a large table with our laptops and approximately six tons of documentation, learning the product through and through (it may be important to note, by the way, that Benthic Creatures does not actually produce the product in question — it’s produced by a much larger corporation that you have probably heard of, called Universal PolyPolyps Inc), watching presentations and giving presentations. I’ve discovered that while I have a solid understanding of the product, I’m still a bit nervous about public speaking — this even after years and years of improvisational comedic acting at the Renaissance Faire and live action role-playing. Who would have ever thought that standing in front of your colleagues and giving a presentation about economic processes and databases would be so different from pretending to be a 16th century barber-surgeon trying to remove a tooth from a drunk Scotsman?

Apparently, there’s a world of difference.

Not that I did badly, of course. I think, in fact, that I did rather well. One of our co-workers tells me that I just need to “find my groove”, and I think he’s right about that.

Jennifer took to it really easily. She loves explaining things; whether it’s explaining to users how to interface with a database backend, or explaining to me why it is that Azzie is not an evil overlord bent on world domination, she shines at it. I don’t have as much experience with that sort of thing; but, at the same time, I’m not all that allergic to making a fool of myself in front of a room full of strangers, so I’m not all that worried.

Tomorrow I give a presentation on how the PolyPolyp product can be used to help the mollusk handlers better track their mollusks. I’m not nervous, but at the same time I can’t help but wonder if I’m going to miss something important. Like, how to log in to the system or something. Not all that urgent when presenting to a room full of colleagues as a practice session, but possibly more pressing when it’s a room full of mollusk handlers.

Chicago itself is pretty swell. I’d never been here before. And I’ve decided that I really love this city. The buildings are marvelous, and the weather, with the exception of a couple of really nasty and muggy days at the beginning of our trip, has been great.

One of the things that’s really going to stick with me, though, is the food. On the night of our arrival, we went to Pappadeux’s, a Cajun style restaurant just blocks away from our hotel. I was attracted to the place because the sign advertised that they offered “Fried Gator”, and there’s no better way to attract my custom than the promise of weird food. The six others in the team were similarly intrigued, so we went.

Then two nights later, King Squid showed up and took us all out to dinner at the Weber Restaurant, which I’ve been wanting to get to ever since I’d heard that there was a restaurant which featured exclusively food items prepared on Weber grills. And since that night, we’ve eated twice at Papagus, and had sandwiches and pizzas from local eateries that were fantastic. And we’ve had a lot of Starbuck’s coffee.

We stayed over the weekend, since it would have made no since to fly back home just for two days. On the first day, we went to the Field Museum, Chicago’s natural history museum; see, I fully admit that I’m a natural history museum junkie, and I have a hard time passing up the opportunity to wander a place where I can look at dinosaur skeletons, learn about ecosystems, and pick up rare and unusual stones from all over the world. And on Sunday we went to the Shedd Aquarium, where we were both impressed by the beauty of seahorses and the talkative nature of beluga whales. Seriously, did you know how chatty belugas are? The fellow who was trying to give the talk about belugas kept having to pause because one of the belugas was hanging out at the edge of the pool, looking up at the visitors, and belting out squeaks, chirps, raspberries, and whistles. Belugas are nicknamed the “canaries of the sea” for that very characteristic. But, then, this is the sort of thing that I find absolutely fascinating.

There’s still a lot of Chicago to explore and a lot of learning to do. Tomorrow night, a couple of us are going to try to get to downtown Chicago to catch some authentic Chicago-style blues. Jennifer is unimpressed with the notion and has vowed to spend the evening holed up in our hotel room, playing on line and possibly watching television. Her loss.

And, of course, I’ve been doing a lot of reading which I haven’t been recording on my web page, because that’s what I do. I’ve read The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn again, as well as We Have Always Lived in the Castle by Shirley Jackson. I’ve also started reading The Haunting of Hill House, also by Shirley Jackson, and The Island of the Day Before by Umberto Eco. Jennifer reached a crisis in reading the other night when she ran out of books to read, and we had to make an emergency trip to Borders — “Clerk, get me five hundred pages of Janet Evanovich, STAT! And a cc or two of coffee.”

I guess that’s basically where this trip differs from the business trips that I’ve taken in the past. When I went to Boston, I had ideas that I’d get to see historical sites and explore, if only a little bit. Naturally, I didn’t; I didn’t even get to eat at any non-chain restaurants. So when I came to Chicago, it was with the idea that I wouldn’t see anything but my hotel room and the training area. I’ve been very pleasantly surprised. The fact that I like everyone else on the team, and have enormous respect for our boss, has really helped. The fact that I’m here with Jennifer has, of course, really made the trip worthwhile.

And so on Friday night, we fly back to northern California. Once there we’ll get a week or two of respite before beginning our next business trip, which will take us down to Santa Clara. And in Santa Clara, there lurks something even odder and more mysterious than any beluga whale or leafy sea dragon:

My family.

Side note. Yes, the mollusks that will be handled are actually people. And I don’t mean to disparage them by calling them mollusks, which are, after all, either insentient and inanimate creatures that feed by filtering at best, or free floating multi-tentacled beasties with big eyes and a propensity for shooting ink at others. It’s just that when I was coming up with nicknames for the company and the job, “Benthic Creatures” is what sprang to mind, so I’ve been trying to stick with that theme ever since. Besides, some of my best friends are mollusks.