Loompanics RIP

As I’ve said before, if I’m not updating here, it means I’m busy writing on a real project. And I have been picking at something for a little while, and making okay progress. I’m still at the beginning though, and too scared to jinx it to mention anything about it. The best explanation to this phase of the writing would have to do with the metaphor about swimming across a mile-wide lake. If you swim out a hundred feet, it’s pretty easy to turn back and swim another hundred feet and then go home. If you swim out a thousand feet, it takes some work to quit and go home. If you’re out three or four thousand feet, you might as well just finish. I need to get down a solid layer of wordcount on this before I even make any decisions on what stays and what goes and how the plot will unfold. I have become the king of false starts in the last few years, and I really need to stick with this one and keep it going, until it’s to a length where I figure I can’t put it down and quit anymore. When Summer Rain was a bad first draft and I gave it up to work on my second book, I eventually had to come back to it and start the next draft, because I invested 80,000 words into it.

(That’s probably not a great metaphor, because I can’t swim.)

Speaking of Summer Rain, I got the hardcover, and it is pretty amazing. I love that it’s done with a color jacket and the actual book has gold lettering on a cloth binding. Very classy. I know nobody else will give a shit to buy one, but I’m glad to have it on the shelf, with the others.

And speaking of buying books, Loompanics is going out of business! For those not in the know, they are (were) the big one-stop catalog for all of your paranormal, fake ID, lockpicking, drug, sex, and spying book needs, many of which you can’t find in stores. They used to put out a great zine-like catalog, and I could just read the catalog itself for hours, poring over all of the strange books they sold. They were located in the Pacific Northwest (Port Townsend, WA – a bit north of Seattle) and I first got their catalog from a zine show or the book fair or something about ten years ago. They’re the kind of store where I would put in a mega-order for a half-dozen book every once in a while when a bonus or tax check came in. Anyway, they are closing shop, and are running a 50% off all stock sale. I placed my order, and I hope I get at least some of it before everything runs out.

I’m still reading as much as I can, as I work on this new book. John Sheppard’s Small Town Punk is currently going – the original version, not the new-and-improved IG Press version which will come out in the future.

Okay, back to work…

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Vegas halftime report

Here’s a quick halftime report of the Vegas trip, thanks to the wonder of in-room ethernet. We’re staying at the Bellagio, which is pretty damn awesome. (See also Ocean’s 11, the remake version with Clooney and Pitt, although we don’t have the ultra-suite shown in the film.) Our suite looks east aka toward the strip, and every time the fountains go off, we see them launch water in the air. Luckily, the room’s got the blackout drapes, and they’re even operated via remote control motors with buttons by the nightstand.

Things have been good and we’ve mostly ate too much and gambled only a touch. We have a car, so we went out to the Liberace museum, which was pretty interesting, especially the cars. Today we went to the Atomic Test museum, which is not a giant hole in the ground, but rather a big new museum a few miles off the strip, which houses a ton of memorabilia about the testing done out at NTS back in the day. Unfortunately, no photography at either, but I have a lot of other good snapshots to upload when I get back.

Food has included the Bouchon, Thomas Keller’s restaurant at the Venetian (pretty damn good, but I’m finding I don’t like French food as much as I probably should); the buffet at the new Wynn casino (pretty much the best you could imagine); the breakfast at Denny’s (I can’t really stomach it anymore); lunch at In-n-Out (one of the best burgers out there, but the fries aren’t a+ material, even if fresh); another lunch at Pink Taco (despite the name, one of my favorite Amerimexican places); a late-night dinner at the Bellagio cafe (excellent); and room service breakfast at the hotel (the best $17 breakfast burrito you can find).

And I finally rode the monorail! Somewhat useless, but very nice. Also drove south to a huge outlet mall in the middle of nowhere, and did a lot of other wandering. None of our other co-vacationers are here until tomorrow night, and then the fun begins. Me and Bill turn 35 on Friday, and there are no plans yet, but we’ll see what happens.

Everything is under construction here, BTW. Every crappy strip mall that sold phone cards and junk t-shirts is getting bulldozed for a new condo development. The look of Vegas will be very weird in a couple of years. For now, it’s all about the home-builder’s convention, and every masonry contractor in middle america is here with their wife and/or girlfriend for the weekend. Nifty.

Still jetlagged, so even though the watch says 11, the mind says 2 AM, and I must collapse.

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Book meandering

It’s Monday, but it’s a bank holiday, and I have the day off, so life is good. And in about two hours, we will get in a car for LGA and fly west to Las Vegas for a week, and I will again celebrate my birthday (Friday, the 20th) in the land of gambling, no open container laws, and all-you-can eat buffets. I actually don’t know where we’re staying, and it is a complete surprise that will be revealed to me when we actually drive up to the hotel for check-in. So that should be interesting.

The second journal book has already lost steam and been but aside for now. I still want to do it eventually, but I’m just not in the mood to slog through it right now. I’m trying instead to get back on another project I’ve been messing with for a year or two, which is basically a heavy metal version of John Sheppard’s book Small Town Punk (which is getting re-released on IG this year.) Maybe that isn’t a good comparison, but I want to write something about growing up in the late-eighties in Elkhart, Indiana, which was such a beat area where people could never escape and everyone was at the mercy of these huge manufacturing plants that paid okay money for menial labor, but basically killed you in the long-term. And because the whole thing revolved around the economy, and the economy was shit back then, you had mass layoffs and strikes and mandatory overtime and cutting corners on safety and everything else.

And as a 17-year-old kid, I didn’t fully appreciate that situation, but what I did see were the side effects. Kids with one parent who worked 60 hours a week at a trailer factory ended up becoming burnouts, and the people who had a daddy that was an executive vice president of some RV place had the rich lifestyle and basically lived like those executives at Enron who fucked everyone over. And the whole city looked like shit, except for the gated communities, and everyone latched onto whatever fad or abusable substance or religion would promise them a moment of feeling appreciated.

Of course, the book is not about that, but mostly about a kid trying to get laid, and listening to every Metallica album constantly. And it’s not autobiographical. I think I always said that Summer Rain was 80% true, and I think this book will be closer to 30-40%. Many of the main characters are composites, and will have to have big parts of their lives altered to fit the timeline and story. Part of that is that the book has to contain a certain amount of sex, drugs, and alcohol, and none of my friends back then were getting much of any of those, and I wasn’t either. Plus I’m finding it impossible to write about real people anymore without pissing someone off because I’m not 100% glowing about them. The characters need to be real people who fuck up and do stupid things, or it won’t be a good book, so I’m diving more into the fictional realm to do this. But the setting of Elkhart will be there, in full hilbilly glory.

Not much else is going on here. I got one of those Newertech drive enclosures for the Mac Mini and it’s pretty awesome. It looks just like the mac case and sits under there, and has Firewire and USB hubs on the back, plus a 160 GB drive inside. I haven’t had time to start filling it, but what’s also neat is that it has some stuff on it already, like shareware and a bunch of Apple commercials and episodes of The ScreenSavers in QuickTime.

I didn’t leave the house all weekend, which was neat. In fact, I don’t even think I put on shoes once, except to go downstairs and pick up laundry one time. We watched a lot of movies and basically sat around, since we’re going to be running around all week and eating too much and spending lots of cash. We watched a lot of movies, mostly. Meet The Fockers was okay, and The Ali G Show was absolutely hilarious. Now I’m reading (again) Joe Meno’s Hairstyles of the Damned and brought along Robert Lasner’s For Fuck’s Sake so I can get into that first-person vibe and work on that book. I also got an Amazon gift certificate and plowed through that last night, mostly ordering house books on wind energy and underground houses and stuff like that. I’ll have a whole pile of stuff waiting for me when we get back.

Okay, wish me luck!

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Log analysis is masturbation

I thought I’d start with some year-end statistics and bookkeeping, since I thought it would be a good time for answering the question “How many people read this thing, anyway?” So I downloaded all of my logs to my home machine, and used the handy grep, cut and wc commands to crunch away on the raw logs. But before we start, a few disclaimers.

Disclaimer #1: I did not “wash” these logs to remove search engine crawling in any way. I’m sure there are nice tools to do this, but I’m doing this in the most rudimentary way. And just from looking at raw logs, there are a fuck of a lot of search engines out there hitting web sites. If someone told me that 50% of all web traffic was currently web crawlers, I would not be surprised. And even though Google and their huge image-crawling project are the cause for much of the traffic, everyone and their brother is running a web crawler. Jabronis in garages running searches to find email addresses for spam operations are all over my logs, with malformed headers and IDs to try to protect their get-rich-quick operations. Oh, and they’re doing it with the bandwidth I pay for, which is even more heartwarming.

Disclaimer #2: I’m not using a log analysis program. There are hundreds of programs out there, and 99% of the web is using Analog, one of the least interesting of the bunch. Why? Try to get any of the others to work and you’ll find out. If your ISP has some neato package to generate reports on how long people view your pages and stuff like that, great. I’d rather pay for an ISP that’s always working and won’t be shut down in a year when the owner goes to college. So anyway, my stats are based on just raw searches and counting of logs, and nothing fluffier.

Disclaimer #3: Of course, hits include both people who read every word of a page and enjoy it, and people who typed “butt sex” in google and somehow ended up at my page and didn’t read one damn thing when they saw there were no free videos.

Okay. In 2005, Rumored.com had 1,508,132 hits total. In comparison, there were 86,022 hits in 2004, and 53,972 in 2003. That’s about double from last year. There was a similar trend on just the people that came to any of the URLs south of rumored.com/journal (I.e the page you’re currently reading.) 2005’s total hits were 153,586, while 2004 was 86,022 and 2003 was 53,972, which is close to the same trend.

What about unique users? Overall, the entire site had 55,044 in 2005, compared to 44,917 in 2004, and 40,592 in 2003. (I calculated a unique user as a unique IP number or hostname in the logs. I realize that the same person could read both at home and at work and be counted twice; but then many people reading behind a firewall or NAT appliance or whatever could all be considered one visitor, too.) That means that in 2005, the average person read just over 27 pages. Of course, when you factor in all of the people who googled over to my page hoping to download some free Metallica MP3s and only read one page, it balances out with those of you who read all of my entries.

As far as the unique visitors on the journal page, there were 7008 in 2005, which is down from 2004 at 8612 and up from 2003’s 6994. I don’t know why there was a drop, although it’s possible that all of the press I got about Adam Gadahn in 2004 bumped up the number, plus I didn’t write as much in 2005. (56 entries in 2005 versus 91 in 2004.)

So those are the numbers. 7008 readers (minus the search engines and people looking for free porn) is orders of magnitude higher than I would expect, based on the comments and the fact that I really don’t know that many people that read this thing. I don’t advertise; I am not in any weird web rings or communities or whatever; I don’t really socialize with bloggers (I don’t even consider this thing a blog to begin with) and I don’t really whore things out as far as links and whatnot. I did blogexplosion briefly, and go there when I’m eternally bored, but most of the blogs there are either mommy blogs or are so hopelessly useless because they’re nothing but political repostings of day-old news.

I’m happy with the numbers only in that this isn’t my life. It’s a side project, something I do when I can’t write and I don’t have other things to do, and the main reason I do this is so that in five years, I will be able to go back and read this and enjoy it. My guilty pleasure is to go back a few years and read my old entries, and I really love it when I hit stuff I’ve almost totally forgotten and I love the old writing. I put out a book of the first three years of the journals, and it sold about 6 copies, but I admit one of the reasons I did it was to have a paper copy I could read in bed. I still waver back and forth on whether or not I should do a second volume, and maybe throw in some pictures or scans of paper journals or something just to make it interesting. Maybe I will. Who knows.

In other news, I finished reading First Man, James Hansen’s authorized biography of astronaut Neil Armstrong, and I really did enjoy it. Armstrong kept out of the public light for years, hoping he wouldn’t get mauled by the media like his hero and friend Charles Lindberg. For years, there’s been little information about his life, and various second-hand info from other NASA colleagues about the lunar mission. This is a huge book (almost 800 pages) but it was very rewarding as far as how Neil grew up in rural Ohio, went to school at Purdue, joined the Navy and flew jets from carriers in Korea, and became a test pilot before getting tapped for the astronaut job.

I think a lot of the reason I liked the book is that Armstrong was so different than other astronauts or test pilots. He was all about the science behind the mission, and he loved the engineering aspect. Strapping into an X-15 rocket plane and flying to the edge of the atmosphere wasn’t about the joyride, or the “extreme” aspect of the mission; it was totally about gathering the data to prove or disprove the theorems that the guys with the sliderules were throwing down in the labs. Armstrong probably could have been elected king of the world in 1969, but he was always shy about politics, and though it was best to not discuss one’s political views, as has become the national sport in the 21st century. He was greatly honored to meet both LBJ and Nixon, but not because they were the highest red or blue, but because they were in charge, and you honor the office over the person. He was from a very religious family, and certainly was religious, but he said so little about it, people accused him of being an atheist. Instead of becoming a token president of a fortune 500 company, like some of his other Apollo buddies, he taught undergrad physics at a small university. He could have just had his name put on the door of a big university, so he could do nothing or maybe dabble in research. Instead, he wanted to go somewhere that would let him teach, because he thought furthering kids’ educations was more important. It’s all of those little things that make him so much more interesting to me, and now that I got a full dose of the official story, I’m happy. (But, Neil’s crewmate Michael Collins’, autobiography still stands as the best I’ve read sofar.)

Quiet Saturday here. In a week and a couple of days, we go to Vegas for the annual birthday celebration, and I can’t wait to get out of town. Until then, I’m taking it easy…

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Xanadu House and 80s nostalgia

I sometimes have this weird nostalgia that’s much more complicated than just “remember the 80s”, but rather a deep nostalgia for what I saw as cutting edge or a glimpse of the future way back when. It’s hard to explain, but it’s that weird feeling I had twenty years ago when I looked at some futuristic computer or technology, and I had this premonition that in the year 2000, this would be “it”. And the feeling is stronger when there are a lot of other interconnected memories or feelings about it. And the other day, this totally happened in a way that is easily explained, but probably still doesn’t capture what the fuck I’m rambling on about.

Okay, Wikipedia had a featured article the other day about The Xanadu House. No, it has nothing to do with Olivia Newton-John or the Rush song from Farewell to Kings. It was a series of three houses built as demo/museum units by the architect as a showcase to “the home of tomorrow”. They were made of sprayed polyurethane foam and looked something like Yoda’s house or maybe something a Hobbit would live in. They were a very 70s-looking design, and I could totally see something like them in a Roger Dean-airbrushed Yes double gatefold album cover, or maybe done up on the side of a van with a wizard shooting lightning bolts that lit up along with the 8-track player.

Okay, the outside did look pretty borderline artschool-project, but the inside was the interesting stuff. There were computers everywhere: controlling the lights, monitoring the bitchin’ hot tub, cooking your food; measuring your calories and watching your weight; integrated into the Elvis-like wall of TVs, one tuned to each station (total: 3); and everywhere else. The house was a full-on wet dream of automation. Now you see why I was somewhat pulled into reading all about this house and scouring the web for more info. I’ve still got this land out in Colorado with nothing but cacti and prarie dogs on it, and the idea of building some huge, fucked up, unconventional structure like a geodesic dome or a decommissioned jet airliner or a giant tube made out of a million egg cartons and some nuclear-proof epoxy solution is pretty appealing. Add to that a slew of computers that I don’t really need and that’s damn near what-I’d-do-if-I-hit-the-Lotto material for me.

But as I dove deeper, I found a lot of threads that pulled me back to when they got this house built down in Florida, in 1983. These computers back in the day weren’t a bunch of IBM blade servers or anything; turns out the builders were using a slew of good old Commodore 64s in the styrofoam innards of this dream palace. The TVs weren’t giant plasmas like Bill Gates would have, but rather the old-school, silver, two-knob not-so-flat CRT sets like you’d find at your Aunt Barbara’s rec room back in ’80. The online shopping system wired into the food-processor kitchen used a 12″ analog laserdisc for its info. The “home gym” consists of the same non-resistance exercise bike your parents bought back in ’78 and used as a clothes rack for ten years before unloading it at a yard sale. This wasn’t a Jetsons home as much as it was my Christmas list from 1983.

And that’s when this unfamiliar house became a home I knew, at least in proxy, for some weird reason. I was IN Florida, in Orlando, in 1983. My parents loaded us up in the station wagon and drove south a thousand miles, first to Tampa, and then to the Disney kingdom. And we didn’t go to the Xanadu house, but it looks a lot like the kind of place we would have stopped. We hit a lot of roadside attractions that trip, and a lot of the gift shops and historical viewpoints, from Tarpon Springs to the Atlantic coast, had the same tacky yet “futuristic” sign that graced the front of the Xanadu house. Everything about the old pictures, the way they were framed, the style of the furniture, just rubs some weird brain cell deep in my head that makes me think of a million memories that have nothing to do with this house and everything to do with my own life.

For example, I remember, again on the trip, going to a Showbiz pizza with my family. For those who don’t remember, Showbiz was similar to Chuck E. Cheese, the pizza parlor where you bring the rugrats for birthdays and parties. But back in the day, Showbiz was very oriented toward arcade games, and had a fuckload of consoles, including duplicates of many popular games. And at that time, the big deal were laserdisc-based games like Dragon’s Lair. Nobody seems to remember this particular fad, but these machines had a big giant laser disc player in them, and when you jerked around the joystick, different scenes from this Disney-eque cartoon would play. The game totally sucked from a playability standpoint, but everyone was too busy circle-jerking over the fact that the output was basically like DVD-quality animation and sound, and this was at a time when most arcade heroes were 16 by 16 pixel sprites. I remember staring at people playing these games in amazement, thinking this was the future of arcade games. Of course, the future was that nobody wanted to pay 50 cents per game (this was one of the first two-coin titles), the laser players crapped out and took forever to load, and in another year, the entire coin-op arcade game industry would take a crap and completely implode, meaning nobody would be too interested in the progress of games for another five years. (About when Nintendo started slapping NES guts into consoles and charging people to play games on a console you could just buy and play at home on a TV – that is if you could find a NES, which you couldn’t, because Nintendo was in the middle of a price-fixing, fake-supply-problem war.)

And I went to Epcot on that trip, which was right when it opened and they had a lot of cool displays about the future and how science would win everything. (They’ve long since ripped all of this shit out and replaced it with “Bob the Builder’s Why Every Kid Should Buy More of My Garbage” exhibits.) And the exhibit showed electronic cars that we’d all drive to work in 1997, and ways to raise more food for the world through hydroponic greenhouses we’d all use when we went to Mars, and so on. Epcot was originally going to be a huge experiment in sustainable living, but when Disney realized there was no money in that, they had GE, GM, and AT&T drop these huge advertisements for life in the future. And the same thing is, in 1983, it all seemed so fucking feasible that in 20 years we’d all have video phones and TVs with smellovision and pod cars, and I remember that view of the future so vividly. And now that future is in the past, and none of it happened. I used to read in Compute magazine about how, maybe if we all tried hard, cars might have a single microprocessor in them, and it would be so cool to get so much blazing power out of an 8-bit 6510 wired into our engine. And now, I’ve got at least twenty processors sitting on my desk, in my watch, in my camera, in my mouse, and none of them are doing anything remotely as interesting as what I thought they would be. I have ten times the computing power of that Xanadu house sitting in the battery charger to my camera, and none of it is being used to automatically cook my food or turn on the jaccuzi when I get home from work. And that’s sad, in a way.

The house has a much more sad ending, though. It ran as a museum until the ’90s, then sat vacant, as Florida mold consumed the sterile white interior. Squatters broke in and tore up the interior, and eventually, last year, the owners bulldozed the place, and plan on putting in a condo on the land. There are a lot of pictures on line of the interior in disrepair, and then the dozer taking out the foam walls. Very sad stuff.

Anyway, I forgot what my point is, other than to somehow describe that feeling I get when I look at an old Amiga or something. I remember the summer of 85 when all of the computer magazines were abuzz about that thing like all of the glamour mags are currently abuzz about the Jessica Simpson divorce or something. I mowed lawns and babysat and applied at every McDonald’s and Hardees within 10-speed distance of my house to scrape up money for that A-1000, and never made it. Just looking at the magazine pictures was like a view into the future of computing, something that could draw multiple windows and 4096 simultaneous colors! Looking back at the old beige-platinum machines, I imagine this massive future, but then I realize that my old Palm Pilot is probably faster and with a better screen.

Ah well, enough rambling. I’m still reading this Neil Armstrong book and it’s going to take me forever to finish. Better invest some more time into it…

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Goodbye 2005

Okay, it looks like the annual archive-last-year-and-start anew journal maintenance worked, and I’m ready to start 2006. Because I cobbled together this system back in 1997 and slowly added new features to it over the years, I can never remember exactly how to do this big shift at the end of the year, and every year I swear I will rewrite the whole thing to make it easier, but I never do. Maybe before 2007.

We had a pretty quiet but nice new year. We went to Balthazar for an early dinner, and that was pretty damn good. Actually, the problem there is that the same owner or restaurant umbrella or whatever also runs a bar called Schiller’s in our neighborhood, and they have a decent bar food menu with some similar entrees, and they deliver. We’re pretty much on a first-name basis with their delivery guy because they’re now the default delivery choice, and having their entrees constantly sort of ruins going to the restaurant and ordering them. But it was neat to see everything in full swing for the big night. We got out of there by like seven though, and went home to lay in diabetic coma after the big meal and watch TV. Nothing exciting, but it was nice.

In conversation, Sarah asked me what I did last year, and I couldn’t even remember. I probably watched Platoon for the 8000th time and contemplated rigging up tripwires and punji sticks to take out my neighbors. I haven’t done anything for the new year in a while. I know everyone thinks that all New Yorkers stand in Times Square, but I haven’t done that and probably never will, since even if the weather is ultra-nice on the 29th and 30th, it always turns horrible on the day of the 31st and dips below freezing, as if someone out there knows there will be tens of thousands of people standing out there waiting to get frostbite. The flipside of this is that every bar and restaurant in the city suddenly adds an extra zero or two to their rates, and you end up spending a grand to sit in a greasy spoon with a thimble of champagne bought at CostCo, getting loaded with a bunch of strangers. So I’ve always avoided leaving the house.

I think the last time I actually threw a party was when I lived with Simms and Liggett in Bloomington at West Sixth. That was in 94/95, and we had a huge bottle rocket war outside, lots of Simms’ chili, a keg in the kitchen, a ton of people, and Chuck’s nephew Eric made this fortified distilled champagne that was like rocket fuel and gave me a hangover for like a week. But without the huge college house and a bunch of roommates and ultra-cheap Big Red Liquors right down the road, it’s hard to throw a big bash like that. And the whole “too old” thing comes into play, especially since I don’t drink anymore, and it actually took some effort to stay up till midnight last night.

I considered typing up some huge year-in-review meme and decided not to. I really don’t give a shit about what happened this year outside my life, and it seems like most preassembled sets of questions seem to require me giving a shit about the hurricanes or Tom Delay or whatever else, and I honestly don’t. I had a good year in the sense that I met Sarah, and moved out of Astoria, and finally got out of the country on vacation (Canada doesn’t count). I got to Hawaii again, and I got some new states checked off of my list (Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Rhode Island.) I got the next issue of the zine out, which was good. Nobody bought it, which isn’t.

I really don’t feel like I got much done as far as writing this last year. I barely wrote in here (50,000 words compared to 2004’s 80,000), and a lot of that has to do with my own neuroses about what a blog should be and what I should put out there for people to read and all of that shit. Part of it is also just apathy. I didn’t write much in my paper journal, either. And other than the production of the zine, I didn’t really get any work done on any large projects. I think I cycled between six and eight ideas, all somewhat bad, and did little work in any of them. I don’t set new year resolutions, but if I did, it would be to get my shit straight on all of that, pick a project, and get some work done on it. I don’t even give a shit about the whole selling and finding a market and all of the other stuff that other so-called authors get stuck on. I just want to find a project and WRITE and get words on paper and come up with something that rivals the other two books in length, depth, complexity, etc. I have a bunch of ideas for scraping together various crap and stories and journals and photos and putting them into books that nobody will buy, but I’m so tired of the fact that all of those are the equivalent to “greatest hits” packages, and I need to move on to something new.

Add to that the usual resolutions, like getting in shape, paying off debt, etc. I also want to focus a lot more on completely ignoring politics, which will be important with the elections in the coming year. I’m also trying to read more this year, and maybe I should help enforce that by writing more book reviews and stuff. I have a huge stack of books from Christmas that I need to get through, so that should keep me busy.

We have a nice, three-day weekend, so today’s a day for lounging around. We also got started with zipcar, and tomorrow we are taking the afternoon to drive to New Jersey and go to the mall and to Target and just to get the hell out of the city for a day. I know there’s a common perception that Jersey is horrible, but after being cooped up on this little island for the last month or two, going out there is like panacea. So, happy new year and all of that stuff. I’m going to go read for a while.

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