Fifty shades of another stupid list

I’m in one of those phases where I have so much stuff to do and so many different projects, I can’t really sit down to any one of them.  And this blog is one of them, and I always want to update, but have nothing cohesive to say, just a bunch of random stuff, so here’s a list of random stuff.

  1. I am going to New York next week.  Flying there Monday, leaving Wednesday, for work.  It’s been a year and a half since I’ve been there, and I was just looking up something on google maps and almost fell into an inescapable k-hole of looking up every damn house and restaurant I could remember.
  2. Lately, I’ve feared these overly nostalgic episodes, because they always make me want to write a book about some period of my past, which always ends up becoming one of those autobiographical fiction projects, which always stalls out when I think nobody will ever want to read it.  I realized the other day that instead of writing about these periods, I need to write about a character with the same affliction, someone painfully stuck with this need to look at the past, always living with the feeling that there’s a window of time in the past that was ideal in some way.
  3. I just re-read PKD’s The Man in the High Castle for maybe the fourth or fifth time. It’s the first book of his I read, and it’s something I can always go back to and enjoy.  That and the trip to Germany makes me want to re-read Fatherland, but I’ve got too much other reading to get into that.
  4. I’m on a nonfiction run right now, because I’m at that crucial point of editing my own book where I have read it ten too many times and think the whole thing sucks shit.  And when I read any fiction in that state, I immediately get all of these stupid ideas of how to change it, and then hack up the draft in bad ways.  Like I’ll read a Vonnegut book, and then decide I need to rewrite 70% of the book to sound like him or to include drawings of assholes or Kilgore Trout or whatever.  So instead, I read nonfiction, and take a lot of notes for facts and figures I can rip off and turn into plots later.
  5. I made the mistake of hitting OK on an install of Win7SP1 on my work machine about ten minutes before the end of my work day, and a half-hour later, it’s still churning away.
  6. I have been on this kick to do something different monitor-wise, as if having more screen real estate will up my writing efficiency 800%.  I would really like to get one of those giant 30″ Apple displays, but even if I spent a grand on one, I’d also have to buy a new monitor arm and a new KVM switch.  I have heard rumors of this Korean company that makes the Catleap monitor, which is essentially the same panel that’s used in the Cinema display, with 2560×1440 resolution, but is available for around $400.  It’s in an ass-ugly case, only has DVI inputs, Engrish instructions, no support or quality control, and you have to buy one from some shady eBay seller that drop-ships it from Asia.
  7. Instead of this, I bought one of those little 16″ USB monitors, with thoughts of putting it next to or under my existing monitor, and then putting some little windows there, like my email or iTunes or a dictionary or a browser always open to Wikipedia or something.  I got it, and the driver support for OSX was abysmal, and made my machine run like total shit, so I boxed it up and RMIed it.
  8. I decided instead to buy a new monitor arm to raise my current screen a bit more.  Mine sits about 16″ from desktop to center, and it’s a crappy arm with a bit of vibration when I’m typing full speed.  I ordered another arm which will raise it up to about 6″ higher.  When I sit up without slouching and look straight out right now, I look over the top of my monitor, which means I either slouch or continually look down, and both of those are bad.
  9. I still have about 165 Euros left from my trip.  I guess I will change them when I have to go to the airport on Monday.  I don’t know where I can change them in town.  I know the obvious answer is “a bank”, but I don’t have a local bank, and I have a feeling that even if I had a Bank of America account, they would charge me $40 ten times to exchange the money.
  10. This stupid Windows update finally installed.  Actually, I rebooted twice, and then it said it failed, so I started the updater again, and then it came back and said no, it actually worked.

OK, need to go get actual work done.

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Death and Facebook

I found out last night that an old friend of mine from college died of a brain aneurysm, right after her 40th birthday.  She’s someone I lost touch with for twenty years, and then just found on Facebook, so there’s this weird temporal distortion around the friendship.  We only exchanged a few messages, compressing two decades into a couple of hundred characters.

Actually, she reminded me of an episode I forgot about, when I recovered all of the files off of one of her dead floppy disks, which now has some strange symbolism to it.  I don’t even remember how to do disk recovery anymore, but I used to do it in my sleep, a thousand times a day, when I was a computer consultant for the university.

I think I first started emailing Allison in 1993, from this stupid online dating program that ran on the VAXes.  We exchanged too much email and never met, which is one of the problems with online dating — you can end up being forever in the friend zone, as email buddies, but that was fine with me.  I was in a horrible depression at the time, and we had no chemistry, but I remember we started hanging out in person, and she made this concerted effort to drag me out and introduce me to her friends and try to get me to act social.  I was just starting as a writer, reading Bukowski and Hemingway obsessively, never leaving the house except to go to the liquor store, staying up all night scribbling in notebooks and feeling sorry for myself.  I remember one time she read me the riot act, telling me to stop being such a shit, and although it pissed me off in the moment, she was right about it, and it was the kick in the ass I needed.

I didn’t keep a lot of email from college, because our accounts had tiny disk quotas, but I did keep all of my emails with her for some reason.  It’s about a semester’s worth of “do you believe in zombies?” small talk and daily routine, and I’m now afraid to open the file, for fear of falling in a very deep and unavoidable k-hole that will bottom out with me googling the names of every college crush and forgotten band and old Bloomington haunt, spending hours and hours trying to find artifacts from Garcia’s Pizza and wanting to scan in every old receipt I still have in boxes and make some kind of giant, depressing photo collage project or write another book set in 1993 that nobody will ever read.

These kind of things make me deeply fear my own mortality.  I’m taking a half-dozen allergy medicines and my back is out and I need to lose weight and I have high blood pressure, and the idea that something in your brain can just explode and kill you really freaks me out.  It’s like when I was in a serious car accident back in 2009 and smashed the entire front end of my car into a pulp, and then had to get back in the driver’s seat the next Monday and spend an hour doing battle on the 101: every other driver on the road wanted to kill me; every lane change was a near-homicide.  It’s easy for me to worry too much about this stuff, and I guess the moral of the story is that I could spend all of my time worrying about it, or I could try to get some shit done.

The facebook angle of the whole thing also fucks with me in several ways.  First, her profile is still posting some asinine daily horoscope thing to her wall every day.  This is absolutely morbid.  Someone from my high school died of cancer a bit ago, someone I wasn’t friends with and didn’t know, but when I heard about it, I looked up her page, and there were tons of daily automated posts from these online games, saying “so and so needs a row of corn for their farm!” or whatever.  And it’s strange to still see her life trapped in amber there, her picture and info and birthday and all of that.  It’s like if when people died, their entire houses were just left as they originally were, the doors open, all of the possessions on the table, food still in the fridge, like one of those museums where they leave Einstein or Macarthur’s office exactly as it was when they died.

There’s also the strangeness that I didn’t really find out about any of this until her wall exploded with posts about praying for her family or whatever, and the only way I could piece together what happened was to crawl through a hundred posts in reverse chronological order.  I guess in the old days, you’d read about this sort of event in these things they used to print called newspapers.

And it also bothers me that facebook has now created this friendship vortex, where you think you’re friends with someone because that bit is flipped in your profile, and you see that daily status update saying they’re in line at the Starbucks, but you don’t really know anything about them.  You don’t talk, and you don’t exchange emails, but you are lulled into this sense that you’re in touch.  Aside from facebook updates, I think there are about five people who consistently email me these days.  Ten years ago, I would write three dozen emails a day to people, long emails talking about everything and nothing.  What happened?

Anyway.  Three day weekend.  Plenty of time for me to lose that twenty pounds and start writing more emails.  Fuck.

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I am back

I am back.  My luggage is not.  It might be on a plane from Frankfurt, Germany to here, or it might be sitting on some Lufthansa baggage conveyor somewhere in Germany.  I will probably see it this weekend, and it’s no big deal, aside from the inability to wash two weeks of dirty laundry.

We had a good time in Berlin, although it seemed pretty short.  I am amazed at how modern and well-planned that city seems, yet how there’s so many different eras of history represented.  There’s all of this ancient history, old churches that somehow survived the wars, and then there’s this postwar history, all of the Stasi-era East German bland architecture that’s quickly being gentrified.  And then there’s all of this ultra-modern stuff, the New York-style glass and chrome buildings.  I guess from a city planning perspective, it helps if your city gets mostly destroyed and you can start over.  It’s the reason Japan has ultra high speed internet everywhere and all of the US that’s not in a million-person-plus city has a total disaster of copper wiring that can barely handle 56K modems.

We ate dinner at the Reichstag, which is the perfect example of this. It was built in 1894, and most famously burned down in 1933. It has since been redone and reopened, and the parliament now uses it. It’s such a strange combination of new and old though, because you’ve got this centuries-old exterior that everyone’s seen in World War 2 books, but the inside of it is ultra-modern, and seamlessly transforms into this all-glass interior that looks like something out of a movie.  Since we had this dinner reservation through Sarah’s work, we got to line-hop and go straight to the top of the building, into this huge glass dome with a 360-degree view of all of Berlin, and a corkscrew pathway twisting up to a cupola viewing deck at the top.  Dinner itself was good, but just being inside this building, and then seeing all of the city at night was phenomenal.

One of the other things we checked out was the DDR museum, which documented the history of East Germany, and the rise and fall of the Socialist country.  It’s not a very big museum, and when we went, there was a mob of high school kids who didn’t really give a shit, making it chaos.  But they had some very interesting stuff there, and this era fascinates me, because it wasn’t that long ago, just over twenty years, but everything from that era has completely vanished.  It’s like my fascination with old malls: you can easily pull far more information from the Civil War era than you can from a mall that was built in 1978 and torn down in 1994.  The museum had all of these packages from food and cosmetics and beauty products that were produced and sold by the DDR government, these generic packages that were very utilitarian instead of produced by ad agencies. When I was in high school, they churned out millions of bottles of Vita cola, and all of that stuff is gone now.  When I see something in a museum like an old WW2 plane, I have no connection to it, because it was before my parents were born.  But I went to college with people from Germany, had friends in the Army that were stationed over there, and I can clearly remember the existence of East Germany, so there’s a strange nostalgia for me.

I spent all day yesterday on the return trip, and almost got stuck in Frankfurt.  Our flight from Berlin was delayed by an hour, and we had to get from gate A20 to Z8, which involved a serious sprint across the airport.  We luckily did not have to go through security a second time, and they did customs at the gate.  It did mean I could not stock up on water for the eleven-hour flight, and I got stuck with about 150 Euros that I didn’t get a chance to change or spend.  On the long flight, I ended up doing an editing pass on my book, watching Anchorman, and then watching a ton of other TV shows, including a half-season of Louie.

So it feels good to be home, although I don’t have that laundry to wash, I don’t feel like sorting through the thousand pictures I took, and I’m not feeling terribly inspired to write.  But I need to get something done, so I should get to it.

 

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Berlin

It’s two in the afternoon, and it’s an absolutely wonderful day outside in Berlin, 79 degrees and sunny.  And of course, I’m sitting inside, looking out the window and listening to the traffic at Potsdamer Platz. But I did walk about six miles today, so I don’t feel too bad about it.

We had a late flight last night from Nuremberg to Berlin, which meant we had a full day to kill in the old city. We checked in our bags and wandered around, going to the design museum and the national museum. The design museum was pretty cool, one of those all-white modern things with high ceilings, no right angles, and twisty spiral staircases that look like something out of a Star Wars movie. The national museum was oddly Nazi-free, and focused a lot on ancient history, giant tombstones from the 16th century, Gutenberg bibles, and lots of the Jesus, in the form of esoteric wood carvings and gold statues and whatnot.  Both were great museums, but I’m now pretty museum-ed out, and don’t feel like seeing much here.

We got into town late, and caught a cab with an interesting cab driver.  Oh, I should mention the strangest cab ride I’ve had in a while — this was in Nuremberg, and we were going to a dinner, and the cab had a horn in the back seat.  It wasn’t a French horn, but rather what I think is called a “natural horn”, although of course he called it by some German name that was 216 characters long.  I asked him about the horn, just curious if by some coincidence it was made by Conn or Selmer or someone else in Elkhart.  He asked if we wanted to hear him play, and then popped in a CD of what sounded like some Germanic orchestral march music, and then whipped out a harmonica and started playing along the part, holding the metal instrument with one hand while driving on this winding cobblestone road with the other hand.  Very weird.

Anyway, last night’s cabbie was a younger Muslim guy, maybe a college student, and very clean-cut and sort of preppy looking.  He had the nice model of Mercedes cab (it’s funny that the US only gets the high-end M-B cars, whereas they make a whole range of cars here, and you see many total piece of shit Mercedes vehicles, like little diesel econoboxes that are closer to my Yaris than a luxury ride.) and we drove from Teigel with the moonroof open and a cool breeze from the city night filtering into the back seat.  You could immediately tell we were no longer in this ancient castle city, as we cruised on the ultra-modern autobahn and saw the lights of the big city.

He started asking us about where we were from, and we mentioned California, and he said “the Dr. Dre California?”  When we said we were from San Francisco, he asked us if that was where all the gays lived; he didn’t say it in a negative tone, just curious.  We said yes, and mentioned that Silicon Valley is there, too.  The talk went to politics, and Sarah asked him his opinion on Obama, and he said that many people don’t see him as much different than George Bush, which was interesting.  His main thing was that Obama continued what he called the “holocaust” against Muslims with Guantanamo and the various wars, which was a different take than I was used to hearing.  I mentioned that the President was only a third of the national government, and although Obama promised to stop these things, he was largely powerless to do so.  He immediately started asking about the Supreme Court and I thought it was interesting that a German knows all of this stuff about our government, but if you mentioned Angela Merkel to an American, there’s a 99% chance they’d ask what TV show she was on.

We’re staying in a Hyatt near Potsdamer Platz, and I got a slow start today, mostly because of fighting with the hotel WiFi and my Mac.  I’ve had astonishingly bad luck with internet connectivity on this trip, and it seems most hotels have simply handed over their WiFi to a major vendor who then gouges you for something like 3 to 5 Euros per hour for a spotty WiFi connection.  When I fired up my iPhone to check out the prices on 3G, it turns out that international roaming charges are something like $1.50 a minute voice and $20 per megabyte, meaning there’s no way in hell I’ll take my phone out of airplane mode.  I’m currently paying $18/day for wired Internet in the room, and doing internet sharing to feed the other wireless iDevices.  If I came back again, I’d probably look into getting some MiFi adapter that supports a pay-as-you-go account.  Domestically, Virgin Mobile supports a $99 device with a really cheap pay-as-you-go data plan, but it’s CDMA and mostly useless in Europe.  I think there are cheap GSM solutions, but I don’t know which provider you’d use on this end.  The other option would be an international iPhone plan from AT&T that would enable tethering, but the two problems with that are that I don’t travel overseas enough to justify the international plan, and if I switched to a plan that enabled tethering, I’d lose the grandfathered-in unlimited data plan I have now.

So I spent the day walking around the city.  I hit all of the usuals: Brandenburg Gate, the Reichstag, Checkpoint Charlie, the Holocaust Memorial, and a decent excursion into what used to be East Berlin.  All through the city, there is a dark brick line on the ground that traces the old path of the Berlin Wall, and in a few specific places, there are pieces of the concrete wall left behind for tourists to snapshot.  There’s actually pieces of the Berlin Wall all over the place; every shop hawking post cards and t-shirts has chunks of concrete sealed in lucite or on keychains, all purporting to be pieces of the original barrier built in 1961 to divide the city.  There are concrete blocks in cafes, outside of museums, next to currywurst stands, on sidewalks, and in parks.  And back in the states, it seems like every military museum has their own spray-painted chunk of the barrier, as if it somehow invokes the ghost of Reagan in a major “up yours, commies”.  All it gets from me is a major eye roll, like when the same museum has a foot-long section of “WTC steel” which may or may not be a piece of rebar from Home Depot.

There’s a strange park next to this cluster of buildings by our hotel, this chunk of corporate glass-and-chrome towers housing Daimler, Sony, Deutsche Bank, and other businesses.  This huge strip of green was full of businesspeople eating lunches, and I sat on a park bench and worked for a bit while the cleaning people went over our room.  I’ve got this next book, still untitled, sitting on my Kindle, and I’ve been combing through it for errors.  It felt nice to sit outside this business park and chip away at it while a gentle wind blew past.  I’ve still got a ton of work to go on this, so I need to get back to it, but it’s a great day to do it.

So I’ve got tonight, then tomorrow we have a dinner at the Reichstag, and then the big fun flight from Berlin to SFO.  We leave Berlin at three and get home at eight, but that’s really thirteen hours.  And then I work on Thursday, which should be interesting.

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Nuremberg

It’s my second-to-last day in the Bavarian city of Nuremberg, and it’s something like seventy degrees outside, but I’m in the hotel, looking out a huge window at the sun, listening to birds chirp, and editing a book I hope to get published by June, although I just realized that’s in eleven days, so given that the book doesn’t even have a title yet, I should start saying “by summer”.

I’m staying in the old part of town, which is all inside a giant set of castle walls, the kinds of things with bricks like the kind they build pyramids out of, with parapets and archer slits and giant arches and the whole nine.  If I was really into fantasy and Tolkein, this would be far more interesting, as would the 17 medieval-looking churches in the area.  It is pretty stuff to photograph, but when my mind wanders, I’m not thinking dragons and elves.  I’m mostly wondering what got destroyed by allied bombing, what got repaired, and what’s brand new, or at least post-1945.  Sometimes, it’s very obvious; you can see a building that’s totally new, and its neighboring buildings are new from the second floor on up, and it’s obvious a bomb hit right in the middle of them.

I’ve done a lot of walking. On our first day here, I walked to the Nazi parade grounds, which is where Triumph of the Will was filmed and all of those huge party rallies were held in the thirties.  A good chunk of it is now apartments, but they kept the remains of the never-finished congress hall and turned it into a museum.  It’s all in German, but you can get one of those English headphone things.  It’s fairly creepy, and focuses on trying to explain how the propaganda took hold in the country, and then how the Nuremberg trials happened after the war.  There was plenty of creepy Nazi stuff, and endless irony that the hall where the great Nazi congresses were to meet is now largely used as a storage facility.

Nuremberg isn’t a tourist destination, and English isn’t as prevalent as it was in Berlin.  The place also has a small-town feel.  It actually reminds me a lot of when I visited Stratford, Ontario back in high school, I guess because of all of the old-looking architecture and the fact that a lot of the town’s just working and doing whatever instead of busking tourists.

Even though the city isn’t huge – somewhere around the size of Oklahoma City – it does have a full underground subway system.  I bought a day pass for just under 5 Euros yesterday and took a quick trip around the U-Bahn.  It’s Germany’s newest train system, and has 46 underground stations.  Like all German trains, it’s ridiculously clean and incredibly sedate and orderly.  And like other German systems, the ticketing is practically on the honor system; there are no turnstiles or gates.  You’re expected to purchase a paper ticket when you use the system, but nobody was checking them and no machine stopped you from just walking downstairs and onto a train.  Maybe the cops spot-check people, but I didn’t see this happening.  I think I gave some train system ratings on a 1 to 10 scale system, and the U-Bahn here probably rates in the low 9’s, with Berlin being a high 9, the main difference being that the Berlin system will tell you when the next train is coming.

Lots of diesel cars and VWs here, which made me start thinking about Summer Rainduring yesterday’s walk. That book starts on the Friday before Mother’s Day in 1992, meaning we just passed the 20-year mark, which made me think way too much about it. It’s strange to wonder if twenty years ago I’d ever imagine myself 4500 miles away in Europe.  It’s strange to think about it even now.

Anyway, this book awaits.  There’s some kind of freaky festival tonight, the blue night festival, and nobody can seem to explain it to me.  When I ask someone, the explanation usually goes something like “there is this, how you say, acrobats, and in town square, there is, you know, man running, and with blue light on the buildings, you know?” which leaves me even more confused.  We fly to Berlin tomorrow at 8:30 at night, and then have three days until we return to SFO, at which time my sleep schedule will be completely fucked.  I’m hoping for an interesting evening with these blue lights or whatever it is.

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London

I’m now in Nuremberg, after a rough travel day yesterday. Here’s a general brain dump in bulleted list format on my short stay in London:

  • I thought London would be a lot like New York, except darker.  I actually liked London more than Manhattan for a few reasons:
    • It isn’t as dense or vertically packed, or at least didn’t seem like it to me.
    • Many of the buildings are pretty new, like New York, but the old buildings are ancient.  I don’t know how any of them survived the blitz, or if they were partially knocked out and then repaired, but there’s some impressive architecture to be seen.
    • There’s a lot more green in the city, and some pretty astounding parks.
    • The city seemed much cleaner. Part of this could be some massive restoration program prior to the Olympics, but I saw nowhere near as much graffiti or general deterioration as Manhattan.
    • Cars are all but banned in the city.  They are allowed, but you need some kind of special “green” pass, meaning that aside from taxis and delivery vehicles, the only cars I saw belonged to the ultra-rich.
    • There seemed to be a lot more money.  Part of that could have been where we were staying, but I saw so many people driving super-high-end cars.  I remember walking down a street, and every single car I passed had a six-figure (in dollars) price tag.  And this was parked on a public street.  When’s the last time you’ve seen someone park a Ferrari on the street in New York?
    • I didn’t hear a car alarm the entire time I was there.
  • That said, the city was insanely expensive.  I didn’t notice this at first, because I was like “hey, entrees are only like twenty bucks here!” but that was twenty pounds, or like $32.
  • I found London insanely polite.  My experience in New York was always that people were insanely impolite, but that was the price of living in a big city.  For example, when I was in New York and riding the subway on crutches, if I asked someone for a seat, the typical response was “go fuck yourself”.  In London, the Underground gives out buttons that pregnant women can wear so that others will give up their seats for them.
  • The food was generally pretty good.  Both Yelp and OpenTable are fully operational there, so we managed to get into some decent restaurants.  I did not have fish and chips while I was there, which is a shame, but I did have pretty decent Indian food twice.
  • I saw the changing of the royal guard at Buckingham, and I totally don’t understand any of the procedure, but found it interesting.  Of course, I don’t pay taxes there, so maybe I would have a different opinion of the large amount of overhead needed for tradition.
  • I went to the Imperial War Museum, which was decent, but not massive.  The big takeaway there was that I know so little about post-WW2 British military history.  The general collection was divided into WW1, WW2, and post-WW2.  I was trying to think of what that entailed: Falklands, Iraq, Afghanistan, …?  Turns out they have been in a few dozen military actions – basically, every time another bit of decolonization happened, there was another “war” or whatever you want to call it.  (“Emergency”?  “Conflict”?)  There’s also the Northern Ireland business.  Bottom line, I have a lot of reading to do.
  • We went to the Tate Modern and saw their Damien Hirst exhibit, which was pretty interesting.  That twelve-million dollar shark was there, floating in formaldehyde, as were the split-in-half cow and calf, the spin paintings, and the butterfly room.  The Tate Modern itself is pretty impressive – it used to be a power plant, and looks like one of those gigantic turbine facilities that some commando team has to blow up in a World War 2 movie.
  • 288 photos.  I’ll try to weed through them and post them to flickr when I have a real internet connection, which might not be until after I return.

And now I must go write.  I walked ten miles today, all of that before lunch, so I have more stories to tell, probably in another annoying bulleted list.  Stay tuned.

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Things I Found In Storage Today

When I moved to Oakland in 2009, I rented a storage locker in this old warehouse that always reminds me of that scene at the end of Indiana Jones, and has the smell of a place where the Ark of the Covenant is probably packed away and forgotten. I’d been shuffling around boxes of stuff I didn’t use on a daily basis but couldn’t just throw out, and we moved into our first loft, I needed to stash this stuff somewhere.

Since high school, I’ve moved to Bloomington, back to Elkhart, to Bloomington again, back to Elkhart for a summer, back to Bloomington, to Seattle, to Washington Heights in Manhattan, to Astoria, Queens, to the Lower East Side, to Denver, to LA, to South San Francisco, and then to Oakland. Each time, I accumulated more zines and more books and more papers, and then sold books and donated CDs and junked electronics. Every once in a while, I wonder if I still have a copy of XYZ or if I ever kept this and that magazine or printout. While I like our attempt at an ultra-sleek open-concept loft, I also liked when I would run into one of these questions at ten at night and could just go to The Pile Of Boxes and start digging, rather than find an opportunity to drive over to the storage place, climb four flights of rickety stairs, and play the reverse-Tetris game of pulling things out of this tiny four by eight room.

Today I went after one main thing, and decided to go stem to stern through the unit to confirm or deny a few other things.  This is not a complete inventory, but here’s what I found:

  1. The George Foreman grill.  (The stated goal.)
  2. An original issue Darth Vader Collector’s Case, in “well-played” condition, containing about two dozen figures, ranging in condition from fair to “buried in back yard for an entire Indiana winter”.
  3. A large box of photos with no negatives which have never been scanned, ranging from childhood pictures to a bunch of Polaroids I took on my cross-country trip in 1999.
  4. A wooden box I made in junior high, containing a bunch of pin-on buttons that were at one time pinned to the collars of various jackets, most of them being of Iron Maiden.
  5. A folder full of every story and poem I wrote in the 7th and 8th grade.
  6. A mimeograph of a typed script for a talent show I co-MCed in the sixth grade.
  7. A certificate from the Daughters of the American Revolution awarded me for some unknown history project in 1983.
  8. A set of six Western Digital EIDE hard drives, ranging in size from 6 to 160 GB.
  9. A printer paper box full of zines, including all of the masters for Xenocide 1-5 and Air in the Paragraph Line 1-9.
  10. This picture:

That is all.

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Bigger, Faster, Dumber

I did something the other day I haven’t done since July of 09.  I rode my bike.  Not a lot, maybe a mile or so around the neighborhood, a quick shakedown cruise after wiping off three years of junk from the frame and hitting the chain with some oil.  I’ve been away from the little Dahon because my last bike ride resulted in a broken arm.  And of course, we managed to close on our house a couple of days later, which meant I got to sign my name 40,000 times with a broken arm, which I’d recommend about as much as spending six or seven hours in the Oakland hospital ER.

Anyway, the bike ride is part of the latest attempt to get my shit straight with fitness.  After this latest health scare that wasn’t, I took stock in my situation, and things have been slowly slacking off since I started working from home, and the numbers at the scale have been getting progressively worse.  I haven’t had to run out and buy elastic-band maternity pants, but my absolute lowest weight during Weight Watchers was 168 at the start of 2009, and I’m currently sitting at 183.  Compared to the 250 or so I was at back in New York, that’s still not bad, but I wouldn’t mind getting back into the 170s.

So part of this new quest has been getting a Fitbit, which is a tiny little thing you clip on your belt or pocket.  It has an accelerometer in it, and works as a pedometer, recording every step you take, as well as recording how many flights of stairs you climb.  This info is beamed back to your computer wirelessly, and then back up to the mothership, where a freaky web 2.0 site enables you to track other stuff, like food, exercise, and all that jazz.  You can also wear the tracker to bed and it will record your sleep time and efficiency, graphing the number of times the cats wake me up in the middle of the night.  If this thing also tracked the number of words I wrote and the amount of money I spent every day at Amazon, it would pretty much be a total solution.

The fitbit solution is interesting, because it quantifies everything.  The only reason I ever went from 250 to 170 was from being held accountable for every piece of food I shove in my piehole, but when you make something very quantitative, it’s easier for the geek in me to deal with the whole thing.  It’s like sitting at a Jira bug tracker and seeing the number of defects that have to be resolved before a ship date, and not just some vague emotional conquest that may or may not be working.  Fitbit also heavily gamifies the whole thing, awarding badges for passing certain goals, and enabling you to add friends and compete with others.  (This is me – let me know if you do this also, and add me.)

The first thing I learned is that I walk a pathetic amount during the average work day.  The arbitrary goal is 10,000 steps a day, and unless I do anything out of the ordinary, I’ll average around a thousand.  Add in a trip to the grocery store, some trips to the dumpster, and another errand or two, and that goes up a couple of thousand. But I’m not burning enough, and I’ve been making more of an effort to get off my ass and go walking after lunch or after work.

The other thing is that my eating has drifted heavily from the WW regimen, and I need to get that shit straight.  One of the neat things about the Fitbit is that if you’re entering your food, it’s keeping track of your calories in and calories out.  So you can set a goal of how many more calories you want to burn than consume, and at any given point in the day, you can see if you’re eating too much and need to run around the block a few times, or if you’re starving yourself and you need to go eat something.

I’m trying to heavily change what I eat, not eating processed stuff and eating smaller meals through the day.  I work ten feet from my kitchen, so I don’t have any excuses about the inability to prep food.  The hard part right now is retraining myself to know what I can eat and what I can’t.  I went through this before, because left to my own devices, I’ll just eat ten thousand calories of carbs and fat, and I know that the one thing that keeps me mentally together is protein consumption through the day.  So there’s a learning curve on figuring out the routine.

Oh shit, I just found out you can track ANYTHING on this site, and add your own custom trackers.  So I just added one for writing, to track words written a day.  This should be interesting.

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