Saturday, December 25, 2010

Derezzed

The short version:
Kid Cudi—Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager: 6/10
Katy Perry—Teenage Dream: 9/10
Morcheeba—Blood like Lemonade: 3/10
Linkin Park—A Thousand Suns: 8/10
Kanye West—My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy: 7/10
Conjure One—Exilarch: 7/10
Daft Punk—Tron: Legacy: 7/10
Evanescence—The Open Door: 6/10

I've been listening to music a lot recently—actually, if you judge what I've been working on based on what I'm writing about, you'd think that's all I've been doing, since my last post was also a music post not even three weeks ago and I've finished eight CDs since then.  The real answer, of course, is that World of Warcraft 4.0 "The Shattering" has launched and I've been playing the Cataclysm expansion with pretty much all of my spare time.  World of Warcraft gets honorable mention from me for including something ridiculous like eight hours of updated and reorchestrated music for the existing game in a patch, not including the several new hours of music for the expansion content.  There are twelve minutes just for the login screen, which is a medley of perhaps some of the best music ever recorded for a game.  I approve.

Anyway, after loving Kid Cudi's debut album, I picked up the recent followup Man on the Moon II: The Legend of Mr. Rager, and ouch, what a disappointment.  It sounds like a disc of B-sides from the first one and the one good single he came up with since then, Erase Me.  Maybe that's what it is.  Besides that single, Scott Mescudi vs. the World and Mr. Rager are the best here.  Much of the rest seems unrefined or boring.  The beats are overall still very solid, but the melodies need help.  Overall the CD isn't awful, but it does make me a bit sad.

I feel some amount of shame for loving Katy Perry's second CD, Teenage Dream, but it's just too fun to hate it.  Some of the lyrics are terrible and some are just fine, and a couple just make me grin and facepalm, like rhyming "ginger ale" with "epic fail."  Having not listened to it yet I laughed when I saw that a Katy Perry CD was up for a Grammy, and now I understand completely; it's a masterpiece of cheesy, cheery pop music.  It's up against Kanye West's and Eminem's latest albums, and I gotta say, out of those three at least, it's the clear winner for me.  Since I typically force myself to pick three favorites I'll go with Last Friday Night, Firework, and Circle the Drain, but this would still be a pretty good CD if all three of those were gone, and there aren't too many albums you can say that for.

And then Morcheeba's Blood like Lemonade.  Their last couple discs were excellent, and after being disappointed by one of their sleepy earlier works, I was really looking forward to their latest.  But ugh, it's a return to the style of their earlier music!  This CD is the official music of naptime.  You could dare someone to not fall asleep listening to it and maybe make some money.  The best on here are the title track, Easier Said than Done, and Self Made Man, but I could really do without all of them.  I wasn't necessarily expecting another amazing CD like Dive Deep, but this one gets a frowny-face from me.

Linkin Park has done something interesting with A Thousand Suns.  The marketing blurb for the disc is that "they weren't making an album...", and I'm sure that's all BS.  But it's a departure nonetheless.  I was actually disappointed at first, but after a couple listens I've come to really like it.  The single Waiting for the End is a really great song—a lot lighter than their other hits and a perfect way to showcase "hey we sound a little different."  I've noticed that most of my favorite tracks from Linkin Park are the ones that are heavy on the Mike Shinoda, the Japanese rapper in the group, and Waiting for the End and When They Come for Me fit the bill.  I also rather like Robot Boy, which features their lead singer Chester, but at no point in the song is he screaming, which is a really nice touch.  The band was even kind enough to separate all of the interludes and filler into their own tracks so they (and the hideous acoustic song The Messenger) can be skipped by those of us who like to shuffle their playlists.  Not all Linkin Park fans are going to like this CD, but I do recommend giving it a couple chances before you pass it up.

Kanye West's latest is also a departure, and while there are some definite good things to come out of it, the difference is that My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy's low points are really low.  (It's a shame too, because his previous album 808s and Heartbreak was a departure too, and it was a really good one.)  The opening track Dark Fantasy is quite good and gets you on the edge of your seat for the weirdness that's to come.  Things go pretty well from there and you're soon treated to Power, another great track.  Then things start to get kind of mixed.  There are some good parts and some bad ones, and you're starting to get kind of annoyed by the CD when suddenly you hear a lone piano note tapped repeatedly and he launches into the terribly brilliant highlight of the album: Runaway.  There's a lot to like in the album, but there are definite parts to hate, and unfortunately those are inextricably weaved into the rest.  The biggest WTF is probably Blame Game, which starts out pretty and relaxed and then suddenly switches into an obnoxious and sudden je ne sais quoi from about 2:30 to 3:30, and then the last two and a half minutes are a baffling cavalcade of obscenities ranted by Chris Rock.  Why?  Some of it comes down to personal preference; I have a personal preference to avoid songs with lyrics about choking women during sex, for example.  If you're a fan of rap music you should probably listen to this CD—but be prepared: it gets weird.

A CD that probably could have stood to be a little more weird is Conjure One's Exilarch.  Conjure One and Delerium share a band member, and they've put out pretty similar music for like a decade now.  It would be nice to hear something a bit more different, but Exilarch is a pleasing more-of-the-same.  The opening track Like Ice is gorgeous, and Zephyr and Run for Cover are both great too.  The rest is good, but they tread dangerously close to generica, and I honestly couldn't tell you which album or artist several of them were from.  Worth picking up if you like Delerium and Conjure One.

Daft Punk seem like the perfect band to score Tron: Legacy—the robot costumes that the band performs in even fit the aesthetic of the film (which I haven't seen yet, so no spoilers).  As a soundtrack I'm sure it works fantastically though: it's moody, futuristic, and alternates between grand and understated.  It all blends together nicely, which is good for a soundtrack but not usually too great for an album; little about this CD puts me in a "gotta play this now!" mood.  The one track that does is Derezzed, which is pretty much exactly what the music for a futuristic video game stadium should sound like.  End of Line is rather good too, and you could put the lovely track Recognizer in the background of just about any scene in Mass Effect 2 and nobody would notice the difference.  Recommended for Daft Punk fans and fans of sci-fi movie scores.

Finally, I listened to Evanescence's The Open Door for a while, and it's fairly decent.  It also all sounds pretty same-y, and similar to their first album Fallen, but I think that's more due to girl-metal not being one of my standard musical genres.  Sweet Sacrifice, Call Me When You're Sober, and Lacrymosa are good.


I'm excited about a new Kerli album coming out soonish.  The first single Army of Love is interesting.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Pursuit of Happiness

The short version:
Dragonette—Galore: 9/10
Morcheeba—Who Can You Trust: 3/10
B.o.B.—The Adventures of Bobby Ray: 8/10
Kid Cudi—Man on the Moon I: The End of Day: 9/10
Goo Goo Dolls—Dizzy Up the Girl: 5/10

Dragonette is a band consisting of the instrumentalist from The Bird and the Bee and a woman trying to beat Lady Gaga in a whoriest lyrics competition.  If that sounds kind of awesome, then I think that we're in agreement; the appropriately-named Galore is quite a good album.  The disc flows well from start to finish, but each song has a little different feel to it.  My favorite track is the opener I Get Around, and True Believer's quite good too.  Black Limousine, another song about being a filthy whore, has a really great vocal character when she sings about her sugar daddy buying her something that she wanted, and she "wanted pink but got red instead... (sigh) that's all they had..."  If you like The Bird and the Bee, or simply don't like it because it's a little too pretty and wholesome, then this may be the disc for you.

Having adored their last couple albums, I picked up some early 1996 work by Morcheeba, Who Can You Trust.  I don't really see any reason to own it other than to complete a collection or for a history lesson on the beginnings of trip-hop.  The best tracks are Trigger Hippie, Tape Loop, and End Theme, and none of them are that great.  You'll fall asleep five minutes in.  Definitely pass.

I was pleasantly surprised by B.o.B.'s The Adventures of Bobby Ray.  It's some fairly standard pop rap, but it's well-produced.  I can't honestly tell whether B.o.B. is above average in talent or not, but whoever he's got working for him can definitely craft some interesting music out of his vocals.  The opener Don't Let Me Fall, the big single Nothin' on You, and Ghost in the Machine are all really fantastic.  Some of the other tracks are pretty cliché, but for the most part they still sound pretty good.

More than any other CD recently I haven't been able to put down Kid Cudi's Man on the Moon I: The End of Day.  It's possibly the best instrumentation of any rap CD that I have, and I can listen to it more than once in a row without getting bored.  Pursuit of Happiness (with a fantastic video) is absolutely amazing, and My World and Enter Galactic are great too, but there are still several other excellent tracks on the album beyond those.  Definitely worth taking a look for anyone who's interested in hip-hop music, and possibly even for fans of electronica.

Finally, I also picked up the fairly ancient Dizzy Up the Girl by the Goo Goo Dolls.  It's okay.  Only Broadway (Is Dark Tonight), Iris, and Slide are any good, and I'd heard them already.  The rest is quite meh.  But, it was cheap, and those tracks are worth having; if you don't like those three high school pop hits, then it's definitely passable.


My phone came with a free month of Zune Pass, so I've been using that pretty extensively to preview albums and weed out the uninteresting ones.  So far it has prevented me from buying ten albums already!

Pass:
Bruno Mars—Doo-Wops and Hooligans
Drake—So Far Gone
Drake—Thank Me Later
Missy Elliott—Miss E… So Addictive
Obi Best—Capades
Slang—More Talk About Tonight
Tricky—Knowle West Boy
Yuval Ron—In Between the Heartbeat
Yuval Ron—In the Shallows
Yuval Ron—Tree of Life

Friday, December 3, 2010

Leafy green

At the gym today I was sort of spacing out and was trying to think of what you could call a mild case of Asperger's Syndrome.  I was thinking of healthier alternatives to burgers (since pergers are not a thing).  The first thing that came to mind was a burger wrap—a lot of places around here offer lettuce-wrapped burgers for people who are avoiding carbs.  That would make it something like Lettuce-wrapped Asperger's or Asperger wrap's or something.  Sucks; try again.  The next thing that came to mind was a salad, which yields Ass-salad syndrome.  Conclusion: not a productive daydreaming topic.  Back to lifting.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

One might call it overkill

While I'm at work I'm running Outlook on my main workstation, and I'm also running Outlook on my home machine, which I connect to through Remote Desktop.  My new phone (the LG Quantum, which I absolutely adore) also syncs with the server.  Now when I have a meeting coming up, I get three simultaneous popups: on my work machine, on my home machine, and on my phone.  One might call it overkill.  It'd be nice if I could have it set up to stagger: show the notification first on this machine, and only if I don't respond within a minute should it also appear on my other devices.  That'd be sweet.  But one thing's for certain...  I'm never gonna miss a meeting now.

On that note...

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Word association

Looking over the stats for my blog, I can see that one of the top search terms people used to find my blog is "jailbait."  Fantastic.  Other gems include "urination habits," "900193" (my most commented-on post!), and "get rid of cacodemon."  Most of the websites that referred traffic to mine are casinos and link spam sites, which probably do that specifically so their addresses fill up my referrer logs.

Thankful

Jason and I are back from Nebraska for Thanksgiving, where he finally got to meet the family.  Jason is of course very likable, and I think it all went pretty well.  School is in full swing so we didn't stay for very long, but everyone seemed to get along.  They were excited to see me finally have someone to bring to the table, even if some of the more ultraconservative relatives (as opposed to the simply conservative ones) don't particularly approve of Jason's... maleness.

I wasn't really sure how it would go down.  I wasn't exactly expecting catastrophe, but it was a pretty best-case-scenario sort of deal.  There was only really a hint of uneasiness in the air; as far as my parents are concerned, having a boyfriend is an ethical violation that reflects poorly on my moral character.  After some lengthy talks with my dad on the subject a year ago I'm not exactly certain where we ended up; either he gave up on trying to convince me to see things his way, or he resigned to simply saying "whatever" and absolving himself of it, or something else.  But I made it rather clear that things were what they were, and that attempting to change my mind was hopeless, and we just sort of stopped talking about it.  It's not as if I weighed the pros and cons and decided to be inconveniently weird and cut my dating pool down by nine tenths.  There are plenty of things that I'll argue endlessly, but that one seemed sort of like arguing about me being white or about if red is actually red.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The ethics of lost Skittles

As a person with a nigh unquenchable thirst for carbonated soft drinks, I am around vending machines many, many times a day, even though I actually purchase things from them very infrequently. Anyone who's used a vending machine is familiar with the situation in which you buy something, the machine whirrs for a bit, and then you receive nothing because it's stuck. Of course, from time to time, the opposite happens: you buy an ice cream sandwich, and you get two ice cream sandwiches, probably because some poor schmuck before you paid for one but didn't get it, and didn't have enough change to buy a second one. I began thinking: is it moral to take the second item that you didn't pay for?

First, that item belongs to someone else. Almost certainly a faceless corporation of some sort, but even that faceless corporation is owned by individuals. On some technical level, the item doesn't belong to you, so taking it is stealing. On the other hand, if you leave the item in the bin, the chances are extremely high that the next person to use that machine will take it, and the net effect on the rightful owner of that candy is exactly the same. One could even perhaps make an argument that since you're at least as likely to lose out due to vending machine errors than to gain from them, you're just balancing out the universe, righting some nonspecific wrong that most likely occurred in the past. That argument is fairly weak to begin with, especially if you consider that the last time you bought something from a vending machine and didn't get it the machine was probably owned by someone else.

It seems to me that for an act to be immoral, then it probably has to be due to a choice that you've made. The difference between murder and killing in self-defense is that in the latter situation, you had "no choice" but to kill the other person in order to save your own life. I put "no choice" in quotes because of course you did have a choice—you could have let them kill you to avoid taking another person's life. But, sacrificing yourself to prevent a would-be murderer from dying is not what most people would call a practical choice, and in the grand scheme of things, not particularly beneficial to society anyway. The vast majority of people would consider murder to be immoral, but I think that most would say that killing purely in self-defense is moral. So then it seems that for an act to be immoral, it has to be a choice you made that had a more ethical alternative. (Of course, things are more complex than that: in my opinion, there are plenty of situations in which you have no moral choices of action because of prior immoral choices that you've made, but I don't think that's relevant to the tasty treat at hand.)

That word practical is what I think makes taking a Charleston Chew that you didn't pay for morally acceptable. Since it's my stance that leaving the candy accomplishes nothing for the righteous forces of good since someone else will surely take it anyway, the remaining course of action is to, what, call the company that runs the vending machine and ask how you can return the candy to them? That's not practical: it's a waste of time for both you and the company given the small value of the item. They probably don't even have a procedure in place for how to accept returns of candy that was vended accidentally anyway. Are there really any other options then? Take the candy and don't feel guilty.

But what if it's not a pack of Juicy Fruit, but rather an iPod at one of those bizarre Best Buy vending machines that they have in airports? The scenario is nearly the same, except that for an item of that value, Best Buy probably does want the item back. The difference is the price. In my gut, it seems that the most moral thing to do if that happens is to take the item and find a phone number, and then either give the item to airport security or call that number and ask Best Buy what to do. That's what I would do. I would feel bad about keeping it and then exchanging it for something else in a store later.

The ethics of lost Skittles seem to score a point for moral relativism.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Reading my mind and the mind of everyone else

For the past few months it's become more and more painfully obvious just how fractured communication is for me these days.  I already have people I talk to through AIM, people that use Facebook chat, people I only email, people who only respond to Facebook messages, and even a few people I have to actually call.  Now I have people who want text messages, which actually probably encompasses some of the above people and I've just been avoiding it because my old phone is terrible and it takes an eternity to text on it.  I think texting is what made it really obvious for me: I have way too many communication methods, none of them work together, and I have to remember which people want what.  It's starting to drive me nuts.

I'd resolved to write a post about it today, and then out of the blue this week Facebook announced a new service they're building that's supposed to somehow combine IM, email, texting, and Facebook messages into a single entity, as if they'd somehow been reading my mind and the mind of everyone else who's desperately sick of it all.  I'm curious as to how well it will all work out.  I really want something like that to work out.  I'd really love it if I could text or AIM or Facebook chat with people from either my phone or any of my computers and not have to care about which one of those things I'm doing, and easily start a conversation on one and pick it up on another.  That would be pretty amazing, actually.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Lethargy

I don't know what it is exactly: either the medicine that I'm taking, or just the effect of being off ibuprofen now, but I've been having a terrible time focusing on anything after eight or nine or so this past week.  The past couple days, though, I haven't been worrying too much about my calorie intake, and I've been mostly fine.  It seems that I can choose to either work on my headaches or my weight, but not both at the same time, lest my body collapse under the stress.  A few nights ago I was feeling like I could barely move, and I couldn't type or really think of anything other than just sitting and watching 30 Rock with Jason.  It was sort of like how I feel with the flu, but without the other symptoms.  It was strange and unsettling.  Certainly my body has been under stress before, whether it be school, or work, or workouts, but this was a new feeling.

This weekend I upped my calorie intake and I've been feeling mostly okay.  I'll see how this goes.

Disgust and/or horror

I should keep statistics on how people respond when they first find out that I'm from Nebraska.  But, that's work, and it's much easier to just make numbers up.  I imagine the resulting chart would look something like this:


UPDATE: I realize now that this chart also describes peoples' reactions to me saying I play World of Warcraft if you replace shock with "What server?" and confusion with "What class?"...

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The collection

People occasionally ask me about the size of my music collection.  Here's how it stands as of now if you're curious:

CDs: about 650
Tracks: about 17,000
Size on disk: 214 GB

Most of those tracks are all ripped from my CD collection, though I have various free tracks, songs extracted from game files, and so on—probably a couple thousand.  Everything from my CD collection is now ripped in a lossless format so that it's full CD quality, unlike MP3.  I just finished re-ripping all of my CDs to that format; most of them were originally MP3s.  I don't recall exactly when I began that project, but it was probably eight months or so ago.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Whatever, I'm not the brain doctor

One of the more disconcerting things about the doctor visits I've had regarding my headaches is how each doctor has told me very different things about my headaches.  Among the things my doctors have not agreed on include: whether or not I have migraines, whether or not it is okay long-term to take ibuprofen all day every day, whether or not the headaches are related to caffeine, whether or not they're related to exercise, whether they're a symptom of dehydration, and so on.  Just about the only things that come to mind that they can agree on is that they might be caused by a sleep disorder, and that it's probably not worthwhile to have a head scan.

Right now my new doctor (replacing my old one because his receptionist is intolerably unresponsive and unpleasant) has me on a drug to deaden my pain while I get off of ibuprofen entirely again.  I've done this before, and it didn't work, but he thinks that after at least a month without ibuprofen, my pain will be lessened significantly.  The new replacement drug (an antidepressant) is a bit more effective than the one that the last doctor prescribed (an anti-seizure drug), but by this afternoon I was in quite a bit of pain again and it's distracting enough that I can no longer really concentrate on anything.  I've got vicodin to make up the difference.  That's right, he gave me vicodin to cure me of a dependence on a pain killer.  I'm having Requiem for a Dream flashbacks.  But whatever, I'm not the brain doctor.

So I guess I'll be seeing how that works out shortly.  It's either that or stare blankly at the wall for the rest of the evening after I lose the ability to think straight.  (I could also go fishing in WoW, which requires approximately the same mental engagement as staring blankly at the wall.)

Move it

Two days into the week, two people parking in my reserved spot.  Pretty sure that next time I'm not going to be in a "fair warning, your car is about to be towed so you'd better move it" sort of mood.

Monday, November 1, 2010

Objective reviews of medical professionals

New doctor quick review based on first visit regarding my constant headaches:

CONS
Makes me stop taking ibuprofen

PROS
Is rather cute
Talks to me in a manner that makes it seem as if he doesn't think I'm an idiot
Gives me vicodin

NEUTRAL
Is absolutely convinced that I have migraines even though every previous doctor was absolutely convinced that I did not have migraines

Ain't No Rest for the Wicked

The short version:
Maroon 5—Hands All Over: 7/10
Lady Gaga—The Fame Monster: 7/10
Collective Soul—7even Year Itch: 6/10
Cage the Elephant—Cage the Elephant: 7/10
Massive Attack—Heligoland: 5/10
Wheatus—Wheatus: 4/10
Two Fingers—Two Fingers: 6/10

I picked up Maroon 5's latest album Hands All Over.  Realistically, if you liked their first two, you'll like this one, and if you didn't, you won't—the style is essentially the same.  The opening track Misery has a neat sort of funky electronic vibe, but it doesn't really signal any real changes to the band's sound.  Runaway and No Curtain Call are great too.  There are a bunch of good songs on here, including a couple nice acoustic versions, but at some point I'm going to want something a little different after three CDs of fairly interchangeable music.  In a few months I'll have no idea which disc any given track is even from.

Lady Gaga's The Fame Monster is sort of like an expansion pack for The Fame.  It's more of the same, a little lower quality overall but pretty close.  If you have The Fame you should also have The Fame Monster, and if you don't, you shouldn't.  It's got Bad Romance, Telephone, and Alejandro.

Collective Soul's greatest hits album 7even Year Itch was a walk down memory lane.  I guess I hadn't really realized just how many years it's been since high school until I found that Jason wasn't even familiar with the band or any of the various big hits on here: Heavy, The World I Know, and several others.  There are other good songs, including Why Pt. 2, and then a bunch of okay ones.  You get a lot of decent pop-rock music for your money, and it's some nice variety for my collection.

I picked up Cage the Elephant's self-titled debut CD after hearing the wonderfully infectious Ain't No Rest for the Wicked, the theme song for the game Borderlands which Jason and I had been enjoying co-op for several weeks.  The opening track In One Ear is also excellent, and Back Stabbin' Betty is a lot of fun too.  It's very energetic rock music, and I found it a refreshing change of pace.  The other tracks on the disc are not quite as insanely catchy as my top two, but it's still fun to listen to from start to finish.

Massive Attack also has a new CD out, Heligoland.  Much of their music is pretty slow and dark, and their new work is no exception.  I like Pray for Rain, Girl I Love You, and Atlas Air, and there isn't really anything that's particularly bad, but it gets repetitive at times and isn't exactly brimming with musical energy.  It probably wouldn't have really been worth it if I weren't already collecting their music.

In a strange mood I decided to pick up the self-titled CD by Wheatus.  It's not something that I'd want to listen to very often, but it's sort of amusing occasionally if you're in the right punk-ish frame of mind.  I got the CD for Teenage Dirtbag which is quite good, and then Truffles and Hump 'em 'n' Dump 'em are both decent, apostrophe overload notwithstanding.

Finally, I picked up the debut album from Two Fingers, a collaboration between one of my favorite artists Amon Tobin and Doubleclick, producing drum-and-bass tracks that guest vocalists rap on.  It's an odd disc.  The musical style isn't exactly the same as Amon Tobin's previous work, but it's similar.  Some of the rap is questionable, and I'm wondering if I'd have been happier with an instrumental copy of the album instead.  But, it's certainly not terrible.  My favorites are That Girl, Straw Men, and What You Know.  (On a side note, I do recommend Starkey's Universe EP for fans of electronic music.  It's free if you sign up for a newsletter.)


Sort of a so-so batch of music this time.  I tried out some new bands and styles with mixed results.  Maybe next time will be better.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Knee-jerk

I tend to notice when people are looking at me. Or, at least I think I do. When I feel like someone ia looking at me, I'll instinctively look back at them. I can't help it. Whether it's the first time or the fiftieth time they've looked toward me that day, I am compelled to look back. I can't make myself stop.

I know that some other people do the same, because sometimes I get stuck in this awkward infinite loop where I look at someone, then they look back, and then we both quickly look away, but then they look back again, and then I look back at them, and then we just seem to stare at each other again and again over the course of the day or night. Even though I know it's not just me, I feel very weird whenever it happens.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Cat people

A friend shared Cat People Are People, Too from the New York Times on Facebook, and I found this quote rather striking:
That’s because their pets’ lack of social need taps straight into our worst fears as the human inhabitants of New York. Cats, after all, don’t have other cat friends. You can’t take them to the cat run. Cats and their owners are on a private, exclusive loop of affection. Thus cats have become symbolic of a community eschewed and a hyper-engagement with oneself. They represent the profound danger of growing so independent in New York that it’s not merely that you don’t need anyone — it’s that you don’t know how to need anyone.
Remove the parts about New York (to which I've never been) and cats (which I do not have), and it's still a poignant few sentences.  Paraphrasing myself from a couple years ago when Jason and I broke up—well, temporarily—I realized that until then I had always seen myself living alone, independent, and being happy about it.  And before dating Jason I think I would have been perfectly happy doing so.  But since then I either learned something about myself, or something changed.  I wonder now if I didn't know how to need someone then.  Is that what changed?


(I consider myself a "cat person," but I don't have any because I am allergic to them and don't want to clean up after them.)

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Make me want to slap you hard across the face

When I worked at the deli (Russ's Market on 66th and O, Lincoln, NE), some of the people I hated the most were the people who thought that they were clever and then got angry when they found out that they weren't. Every time we would have the 8-piece fried chicken on sale for eight bucks, a few people would come in thinking they were brilliant and ask for eight chicken breasts. I'd tell them that the special was for two of each type of piece and you couldn't substitute, and then they'd get angry as if they (and only they) had discovered this super-secret loophole and I would be obligated to give them the deal they thought they were getting. (Wings were 79¢ and breasts were $1.69, so obviously we wouldn't substitute breasts in place of wings.)

Hand-battering chicken was already the worst, and when it was on sale we'd need someone (that would be me) doing it pretty much non-stop. Asking for a ridiculous deal on top of the sale price is how you make me want to slap you hard across the face.

But at least working there helped train my anger management skills.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Voicemail

I have learned that setting "Do not leave me voicemail.  I will not respond to you in a timely fashion" as my voicemail greeting is surprisingly ineffective.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

The healthy range

On the weight loss front I'm making slow progress.  I'm still sitting at about 205, which means that I'm right around where I was four months ago.  I did put on a few pounds and then lose them again, but the weight has stayed relatively constant.  On the other hand, I've definitely still lost some fat and gained some muscle.  It's hard to say exactly how much since I don't have a lot of hard measurements, but my clothes are continuing to shrink, and I'm continuing to increase my strength.  So, on some level, I'm trading fat for muscle.  I can feel a difference.  That's obviously still an improvement, but it's not a flashy one.

I've been dieting rather strictly for a couple months now, and it sucks as much as always.  Honestly, with the amount I'm exercising and how little I'm eating, I'm not sure what exactly is going on anymore, unless I'm building more muscle than I think I am.  I'm going to meet with my dietitian again soon and see what she thinks is up.

I got my latest numbers taken today along with my flu shot, and they put me at 19.3% body fat, which is finally in the "healthy" range, for the first time ever.  Below 10% is unhealthy; 10% would mean losing 23 more pounds.  If I gained muscle along the way and dropped my total body weight by 10 or 15 pounds, I think I'd be in pretty good shape.  I'll have to see what my dietitian and trainer have to say.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

AT&T

Really soon here I should be getting a new Windows Phone 7.  I'm pretty excited about it: from the little I've played with one, it made the iPhone look like a relic.  The problem is that Windows Phone 7, like the iPhone, is launching as a GSM-only phone, which AT&T and not Verizon.  (Verizon phones will be coming someday, but not for a while.)  I'm a current Verizon customer and I really like the service, but I also would really like an amazing new phone.  I was with AT&T for a while and it was terrible.  The service was abysmal and the cost was far higher than what I pay now.  Apparently, though, over the last year they've gotten better—incredibly better—especially in this area.  I've decided over the past few days that I'd be willing to give them another chance.  Jason's on AT&T and he can actually even receive phone calls, which is way better than I used to get when I was on their network.  The problem with giving them another chance is, of course, if I choose poorly and they still suck, I'm stuck with them for a long time.

Of course that's not news.  That's just the way phones work in the US.  It's awful and plenty of people despise it, though it does result in lower-cost phones up front since it effectively ends up being a payment plan.  I think this may just be one of those places where the free market sort of failed.  Until all of the major carriers allow people to freely move between networks, they only have to be competitive every two years when peoples' contracts run out.  Even if contracts weren't in the mix, carriers' technologies aren't terribly compatible, so I couldn't use an iPhone from AT&T on Verizon's network, for example.

I do wonder how much better the European model works, if at all.  As I understand it, the technology there is all roughly the same, and people own their phones outright without lengthy contracts, so it's much easier to switch carriers, forcing them to compete constantly on providing a good service.  That's very appealing to me.  I mean, that's supposed to be the big benefit of capitalism, right?  In the US it seems like it's one of those situations where the free market didn't produce a situation where companies are truly competing with each other.  Mobile phone service is just good enough where it seems that nobody can win out by being radically and phenomenally better.  If a carrier came out with a high-quality service that cost less than half as much as their competitors, I'm sure people would switch, but if you save five bucks a month or get a slightly cooler phone, most people aren't going to notice.  But I really feel that if they were in a situation where people could and would switch for smaller service improvements like that, mobile service would improve at a faster rate than it is right now.

I suppose that as the demand for technology services arises over the next decade, we're going to run into a lot more situations like this where I'll feel like the free market is failing me.  I like Facebook, both the service it provides me as well as the UI.  But nobody's really competing with Facebook, at least not in their core business.  No one can right now.  Maybe eventually I'll stop liking them, and then I won't have any other options to switch to and I'll be upset.  It certainly could happen.  Right now they don't have to let anyone compete with them.  Their network is theirs and they don't have to share.  I don't think that the government forcing Facebook to open up their social network, or forcing AT&T and Verizon to abolish contracts and share network technology is the best solution.  But I do think that a (much) better economist-legislator than me could probably come up with a solution that better encourages companies to behave in ways that ensure future competition without resorting to dictatorship or ridiculous rulings and fines (cough Internet Explorer cough).  Getting stuck with a service provider you don't like for multiple years is not good for capitalism.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Intimidated

But enough about ads and music and all that stuff. The real reason you read this thing is for embarrassing stories about ways in which my brain is broken.
[This is a long post. tl;dr: "I'm hilariously shy."]

This past Sunday night seems like a perfect example that might help you to understand a little bit what it's like to be me: I don't know if it's simply introversion, or something more unusual. Jason and I went to a post-PAX meetup at a bistro in Seattle. Upon arriving, I'm in an unfamiliar place around people I've never met before, and immediately I could think of nothing but finding my ex-coworker there so that I'd be around another person that I already knew. The fact that we all shared common interests—we were all gay men who love video and board games—was not enough to console me. For that first minute I was already in a state of unease. Something in the back of my mind was flooding my thoughts with messages. Why are you here? You know what happens when you're around new people. It never ends well. You should go. GO. You shouldn't be here.

But of course we didn't leave, and it wasn't more than a minute or so until we met up with that ex-coworker, and then I became a lot more comfortable. I didn't really leave his side other than to order a drink for a while. I stood there talking to him and Jason, observing the other people around me playing Rock Band, but not able to start a conversation. Why would you start a new conversation? You don't know these people, after all! I don't know what subconscious thing prevented me from talking to them. Did I fear the rejection of them not being interested in what I had to say? I actually think I'm kinda awesome and smart and pretty fun to talk to, so I don't feel like it's for lack of self-esteem. I went to this event with the explicit purpose of meeting people, but as much as I wanted to, I couldn't do it. It was like I was paralyzed from the brain down. I was trying to talk to these people, but I couldn't open my mouth. Something was stopping me and I didn't know what.

That sort of thing makes me extremely uncomfortable. I'm generally in rather good control of myself. I don't swear unintentionally, I don't become violent when I'm angry, and I can calm myself down or cheer myself up at will. (People who observe me in action behave as if I have some sort of meditative superpower.) The idea that my behavior is not completely under my control is actually pretty terrifying. People talk about how hard it is to quit smoking, and whether I want to or not part of me always thinks of those people as just being weak-willed, but come to think of it, I probably have a pretty good grasp of how even simple and positive actions can be blocked subconsciously for unknown reasons.

Not too long after we arrived, someone proposed a game of Uno, and I countered with Coloretto, which I'd brought with me. As soon as people were talking to me, I could effortlessly interact with them, but if he hadn't spoken up, I wouldn't have either. We got five players and a couple tables and started setting things up. I introduced myself, explained the rules, and the game progressed as if we were all friends. Once we had a purpose—to play Coloretto—my conversational difficulties dissolved entirely.

But Jason and that ex-coworker weren't technically the only people I knew there. I had also talked to one of the other guys before: not in person, only online. When I saw a few minutes after arriving that he was there, I planned on going over to say hi and start a conversation. I planned this for four hours and it never happened. Many times I had completely resolved and decided that I was going to walk over there and talk to him, maybe shake his hand or something; say "hey, I'm Travis, remember me? ...nice to meet you." I couldn't actually do it. I would turn in that direction and tell my legs to start moving, and they'd remain motionless. I was physically unable to go over and talk to him. And this wasn't even someone new: I knew his name, the games he plays, his Starcraft II character's name, and all sorts of things that one could start a small-talk conversation on.

Several factors conspired to bolster my shyness this time. At first he was in a group, and it would have been perhaps rude to interrupt a conversation just to introduce myself. But many people in this sort of social situation will immediately leave one group and join another effortlessly. This was a conscious block: I told myself that if I waited for him to be alone I'd never have a chance to talk, so I'd just have to go mingle and wait for a chance to talk, and that was that. I got over it. I already knew this person and I'd come up with a plan, so it'd be easy to go chat. Simple! Of course that didn't happen.

Another problem was that this guy is attractive. Like, really hot... Mr. April 2011 kind of hot. I have a really hard time talking to attractive people. It's not even solely people I am actually attracted to myself: I was at a party about a year ago with a quite good-looking girl I'd talked with like a hundred times before. She works at the gym and we talk all the time there and she's very lovely and friendly, and at this party it was challenging to bring myself to talk to her. (I don't recall if I ever actually did.) Why can I talk to her at the gym? I don't have to; I could easily just be as cold and rude as the other patrons there. I never had any trouble at all talking to people working at Burger King or the grocery store checkout lanes or the deli or Microsoft. Something about parties and bars in particular must scare me, because I don't seem to have the same problem at a workplace.

It seems that with sufficient willpower, I can overcome a few of my difficulties talking to people (unknown people, unknown places, parties/bars, attractive people), but not all of them, and when that willpower falls short, I end up just standing there, seemingly paralyzed. I try to move my legs to walk toward someone, try to open my mouth to talk to them, but nothing happens, and it starts to freak me out. I have enough weird and adorable little personality quirks that I've come to love and accept, but this one in particular angers and scares me. I hate it. I don't want to be this way.

Advertising credit

Facebook decided to give me a $50 advertising credit, so I used it to run this ad in September:


The total campaign cost about $46 (so free after my credit). In that time, the ad was shown 172,423 times, received 42 clicks, giving a response rate of 0.024%. Facebook ads work on a bidding system where you offer to pay up to a certain amount per click, and the ads that offer to pay more get shown more often. I offered up to $1.50, and on average they charged me $1.08 per click. (As an experiment, I'm going to try offering only 20 cents per click and see if the ad gets shown at all.) Then, once you get up to your daily budget (I set a whopping $7), they stop showing your ad until the next day, and then people who bid less than you start having their ads shown more often.

They let you target the ad to pretty much whoever you want. I chose to target only English-speaking women in the US between ages 30 and 60 who have at least a bachelor's degree and have "high school teacher," "middle school teacher," "teaching," "youth group," or "youth ministry" listed on their profiles, because based on the emails I receive, those are the people who use my product. After a day I decided to remove the gender restriction.

Overall it's a pretty neat little system. I don't have any prior experience in advertising, but Facebook gave me more than I expected and it was all really easy to understand. What I don't know is how terrible of a response rate 0.024% is. I mean, obviously, that seems really low. I know people barely ever click ads, but still, 1 out of every 4,000 people seems ridiculous. I don't know if I targeted the ad poorly, or if it's just not visually striking or appealing, or what.

The one takeaway was that if I really were paying $1.08 per click, I'd have to charge significantly more than that just to break even on my ad if this were for profit. If I assumed that 1 in 10 people who clicked the ad actually bought something, which still seems generous, I'd have to charge $11 to even break even on advertising, and (just as a reference) depending on who you ask, the average cost of a successful iPhone app these days is more like $4, and the developer gets like $2.50 out of that. Looking at those numbers, I don't see how a "little guy" making a small, simple product can really profit from Facebook ads. Experimenting with a really low per-click bid may change my perspective.*

* UPDATE: After another week or so, the lowest bid that I could find that would cause my ad to be shown at all was 75¢. At the final end of the campaign, my total was 173,962 impressions, 62,519 of which were for unique users. I got exactly 50 clicks, all unique users, so .08% of the people who saw the ad clicked it.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

We Are Born

The short version:
Augustana—Can't Love, Can't Hurt: 3/10
Ozomatli—Coming Up (EP): 5/10
Justin Nozuka—Holly: 5/10
Dynamite Hack—Superfast: 5/10
Gotan Project—Tango 3.0: 7/10
The Twilight Saga: Eclipse soundtrack: 7/10
Sia—We Are Born: 9/10
Gorillaz—Plastic Beach: 4/10
Hans Zimmer—Inception: 7/10

I've been listening to a lot of different CDs recently, partly because most of them aren't that good and it took a while to find things to like about them.  I'd picked up another Augustana CD, Can't Love, Can't Hurt, when I got the last one, and I probably shouldn't have, but those accursed low prices enticed me.  It wasn't worth it.  It's bland elevator rock.  The best tracks on here are Sweet and Low, I Still Ain't Over You, and Hey Now, and none of them are that good.

I got an EP from Latin band Ozomatli, Coming Up, and it's decent, but nothing special.  It's not very expensive and you get a few worthwhile tracks, but it's not something anyone really needs, either.  The best songs are Esa Morena and a live rendition of Ya Viene el Sol, and some of the rest are kind of annoyingly repetitive.

I got the album Holly by Justin Nozuka after a free Amazon MP3 download of the pretty decent single Criminal, but I guess I should have waited until there were samples of the rest of the tracks online, because they're a letdown.  Down in a Cold Dirty Well and After Tonight are pretty decent too, but the rest is not really my style, sort of a white-boy blues in a voice that sounds awfully similar to a less perky Jason Mraz.

And then there was Dynamite Hack's Superfast, which was a case of "I'd already heard all the great songs on here"; there were a few other okay ones and the rest were pretty bland.  The main single Anyway is excellent somewhat punkish rock, and the weird alternate slow version at the end of the album by a band member's little sister is strangely good too.  They've also got a cover of Boyz-N-The Hood that's pretty hilarious and has a great video.  But, the rest isn't superb, or at least it's so much not my style of music that I can't find much to be interested in.

The third album Tango 3.0 from a group I really like, Gotan Project, arrived a few weeks back, and it's better than any of those other ones so far, but it's a little phoned-in.  Their previous two albums were significantly better (the first one in particular is pretty amazing), but this one seems to be lacking some of that soul.  Peligro, Tu Misterio, and Érase una Vez are all fun.  I'd recommend this one if you like this tango-fusion music, but it's not an overwhelming recommendation.

After seeing all of the artists that I like on it, I finally broke down and got the soundtrack to The Twilight Saga: Eclipse, and was pleasantly surprised.  The songs fit together pretty well stylistically, and there's a lot to like.  I'm always annoyed at having to buy some random compilation CD to get a track or two I want instead of just getting that on a normal single-artist album, but this one ended up being worth the purchase.  Songs of note include Metric—Eclipse (All Yours), Florence and the Machine—Heavy, Sia—My Love, The Black Keys—Chop and Change, and Cee-Lo Green—What Part of Forever.  (Interestingly, Bat for Lashes and Muse are two of the three artists I got the album for, and their songs aren't even favorites.)

The best one out of the bunch was Sia's latest, We Are Born.  It's great; it's definitely her most poppy CD to date, but it's just as smart and creative as her previous work, if not more.  I love The Fight, Clap Your Hands, and Bring Night, and it's an album I can listen to twice in a row and not hate it.  If you like Sia's previous work or just interesting pop-styled music in general, I'd recommend it.

The latest Gorillaz album Plastic Beach is sort of painful.  The best tracks on it aren't that great (Superfast Jellyfish, Rhinestone Eyes, Some Kind of Nature), and there are some terribly obnoxious ones like Pirate Jet and Sweepstakes.  There are interesting and creative beats and sounds like you'd expect from a Gorillaz album, but whether or not it succeeds as a sound effects CD, it's not good listening.  Their first two were considerably better.

Finally, I picked up Hans Zimmer's soundtrack for Inception.  When I saw the movie I was in awe at how well the music fit, but I was unsure of how well it would work as a standalone CD.  It turns out that it works... okay.  The pacing of the album makes it impossible for the whole thing to fit whatever mood I'm in all at once, but yet the tracks themselves make the most sense as a collective.  Even if you liked the music in the movie as much as I did I don't think it's worthwhile to pick up the album.  That said, Dream Is Collapsing, Mombasa, and Time are all great tracks and sound good on their own.

Could have been a better couple months. I'm going to need to replenish my stock of new music soon.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Emerald Princesses

Aboard the Emerald Princess there was a nightly event on the schedule called the "LGBT get-together" to help gay singles and couples meet the others aboard.  Overall there were something like sixteen of us that showed up, out of a couple thousand passengers.  The event itself wasn't anything other than a place to meet where there would be free champagne, but it was interesting to meet up with other couples, and it was reassuring to have a group of people to keep coming back to each night to contrast with the fleeting meetings with random people throughout the week.  We ate dinner several times with the group in addition to the get-togethers, so we got to know each other well.

The group was pretty diverse, with men and women ranging from retirees to businesspeople to students (though strongly tending to the former), from connoisseurs of five hundred dollar shirts to connoisseurs of random anonymous sex.  It made for an interesting base for conversation, even if it did drift into the predictable gay stereotypes a little too often (fashion, shopping, sex).  I nicknamed our team the Emerald Princesses.

I had pretty low expectations about those LGBT get-togethers.  I'm often annoyed by gay people; flamboyance gets on my nerves, vapid and fake people drive me nuts, and I really don't have any interest in talking about shoes.  Maybe the experience helped improve my tolerance for gay people, which I realize sounds absurd.  After the first get-together I was wondering if I wanted to go to the next one, but by the end I wasn't even considering skipping.  After wearing down those obnoxious stereotype façades I got to know the people behind them, and it was fun and gave me some interesting perspectives that I otherwise wouldn't have had.  Now I've met someone who's been to the home of Michael Jackson.  I'd hardly talked to any retired couples outside my family at length before, let alone any gay retired couples who might have insight into what things might be like for me in several decades.  And now I've had the experience of meeting someone who would one moment tell me about the orgies that occur on gay-only cruises with the excitement of a sixteen-year-old boy, only to tell us all how important family and monogamy were to him minutes later.

The fact that he had a very obvious crush on me is not particularly relevant, I think.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Laziness truly knows no bounds

I get my groceries delivered by Amazon on Saturdays, so on Fridays I move the grocery bins that I keep on the side of my house to the front door so the guy can pick them up.  I just went out to put them there and found myself very slightly annoyed that I had to go all the way outside for a few seconds just so I'll have groceries picked out, put in boxes, driven to my home, and delivered to my doorstep tomorrow.  Apparently laziness truly knows no bounds.  In a couple decades I'll be annoyed when Diet Coke isn't delivered directly to my refrigerator.

#pleaserobme

I wonder if an efficient way for criminals to easily identify houses where the owners aren't home would be to look for people who left their trash cans out for an extra day after everyone else on their block took them back in.  You could drive through a neighborhood and scout burglary targets more quickly that way than actually lurking around and watching for movement.

Then again, I was home almost all day today and my trash cans are still outside, so...

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

The blind date meal plan

So, Jason and I are back from a cruise to the Caribbean, which excuses my extended blogging absence.  It was fun, hot, luxurious, pricey, and without practical access to the internet.  That doesn’t really make a good story, though, so I won’t bore you with every detail.  (I’ve got photos of the cruise and ship if you’re interested.)

* * *

One thing about the cruise that I thought that I would detest and actually didn’t mind at all was that I was almost always surrounded by people.  There would be the occasional moment when I would be alone or nearly so when I’d get up and watch a sunrise, or when I’d just wander around the upper decks of the ship looking around, but for the most part, there were generally crew and passengers everywhere I looked and every place I went.  That’s not even mentioning the swarms and crowds that were present at every port.  But somehow this all did not set off any of my introversion alarms.

I imagine that I found all these people unusually tolerable because I didn’t have to interact with them.  There were thousands of people on the ship, all doing their own thing.  They were on vacation, and I was on vacation, and while we happened to be taking our vacations on the same gargantuan floating city with a population greater than most towns in Nebraska, they were fairly separate vacations.  I’d see hundreds of random new people any given time I’d leave my room, and yet most of them I would never see again.  I got to know some people from dinners and get-togethers and I’d see them around from time to time, but these cases were an unusual (though fun) exception.

None of that explains why I enjoyed having meals with randomly selected people, an experience that I assume is basically the same as Chatroulette with an all-you-can-eat menu in place of the graphic live nudity.  If you’re on the “anytime dining” plan, you show up in one of the fancy dining rooms whenever you feel like it, and you can either eat by yourself or with friends, or alternately with whoever else seemed to be hungry at the time.  I found that blind date meal plan to be strangely compelling.  It fit the cruise concept of a shared vacation with total strangers perfectly, and while certainly not every person I met for a meal was interesting or insightful, it gave me a less terrifying way to meet people.  I met a tattooed and pierced mother and daughter pair from England, an engineer for Ford, a mechanical engineer and his family from just outside Paris who spoke little English, and of course a whole slew of ultrarepublican retired people from Florida who go on a few Caribbean cruises a year.  I’ll never see them again or talk to them again, but for some reason I enjoyed being forced to get to know them.

I’ve long assumed that I would find living in a big-city urban environment to be quite distasteful, and this overall pleasant experience has made me question that assumption.  I will still, however, maintain for the record that I hate meeting new people and small talk and those sorts of things.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Rebound

I went to see a neurologist about the headaches I've been having for the past few years.  His hope was that my headaches at this point are actually just a "rebound" response to having been on ibuprofen for so long—being on ibuprofen is my normal state, so when I'm not taking it, I'm worse off than normal.  So, for a little longer than a week I've been off it, for the most part, only having a couple when my head's been hurting really badly.  He gave me some prescription seizure medicine that's supposed to make my headaches less "spiky," but not actually eliminate the pain, and I've been taking that.

So far, no luck.  I feel terrible all the time, and I've been absolutely miserable since then.  The medication he's given me does nothing or next to nothing, and without the ibuprofen my pounding, burning head makes it nearly impossible to be productive.  I've doubled the dosage (yes, Mom, with doctor permission) and haven't noticed any difference.  I'm going to continue taking the pills until my samples run out a day or two before I leave for vacation, and at that point, assuming no real improvement, I'm back to ibuprofen, unless he prescribes something new.

As a treatment option, "just be in constant distracting pain for the next couple weeks and see if that fixes things," sucks.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Jailbait car wash

A weekend ago Jason and I went on a camping trip with some of the guys from his fraternity, and I enjoyed the scenic drive from Seattle to Wenatchee National Forest.  One of the scenic portions actually started before we were on the open highway, just as we left the greater Seattle/Tacoma metro area, in Monroe.  We were paused at a stop light and I noticed a fundraising car wash on the other side of the road, with a couple of attractive guys advertising it. Jason and I were amused until our other passenger helpfully pointed out that their signs contained the words "youth camp."  I decided that "jailbait car wash" was a funny phrase anyway.

It's a nice area, but as a campground it sucks, at least compared to my myriad camping experiences of years past.  Almost all campgrounds I've been to on the budget-conscious family vacations of my life have been in places where each campsite is relatively secluded by trees.  This place was like an open dirt field with a couple trees here and there, which seemed a bit strange given that it was in a forest.  You could hear and see every campsite in the area: every crying baby, every barking dog, and every obnoxious neighbor who loudly bangs pots with what could generously be referred to as "rhythm" over a background of generic Latin music for hours and hours at a time.

I think of camping categorizes it as what you do when a motel or hotel or cabin is too expensive, which is entirely consistent with my childhood experience.  Almost all family vacations involved camping, and for the most part, we were just there because it was cheaper, and that money saved could be used toward other things on the vacation.  I can see the potential for entertainment value in "roughing it" from time to time, but sleeping in a tent with a cooler of drinks and food, within easy walking distance of sinks or even a convenience store, is not "roughing it" for me to derive any entertainment value, instead squarely situated in what I would just call "inconvenience."  For me, the aspects of camping that are fun—mostly, hanging out with a group of people for an extended period of time—are more fun when actual camping is not involved.  (I will concede, however, that camping does definitely have the upper hand over cabins and hotels for the fabrication of s'mores.)

But, our campsite was just like half a mile away from the rather pretty Lake Wenatchee, which was nice, if ice cold.  The mosquitoes thought it was nice too, and we had a lively discussion that involved me being bitten about fifty times.  Our last night there, the sky was perfectly clear around midnight, and the view of the night sky from the lake was gorgeous and memorable.  That, and hanging around the campfire for hours at a time talking, are the sort of experiences worth reliving to me, not the sleeping-on-rocks-and-dirt part.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Tootsie Rolls are the devil

A week and a half ago, Jason and I had a party over at our place.  Whilst buying snacks for said party, I picked up a bag of Tootsie Rolls and a bag of Starburst.  They were placed in a bowl less centrally located than other snacks, and as a result there was quite a bit left over.

This is a problem.  Tootsie Rolls are the devil.

Only having one Tootsie Roll or Starburst or other small candy is restraint.  After all, my desire is to eat a ton of them, so only having one or two is self-control.  It takes no effort to pick one up and eat one since I can do it on the way to someplace else, and it gives me a small burst of happiness.  Unfortunately, it ends up being an issue of exercising restraint a dozen times a day.  Few places in my house are so remote that I will not pass by them endlessly, when getting drinks, dinner, going to the bathroom, or whatever else.  When you pass by an object of confectionery desire a dozen times in a day, having one or two small candies becomes significant—effectively by the end of the day you've eaten a candy bar.

To pick a fairly round number, 250 additional calories a day is noticeable.  That would be a pound of fat gained every other week!  We're bombarded effectively constantly by delicious things in easy reach, and doing a really good job of barely eating any of them is still not a good plan.  It's not enough to simply exercise restraint, in the same way that putting a 90% effort into losing weight simply isn't effective.  Those sorts of occasional treats may be acceptable if you're just trying to stay at your same weight, but losing weight is really, really hard, and it makes little sense to put in 90% of the effort and get 10% of the results.  I'm annoyed that I've been doing this for almost two years, lost more than 70 pounds, and I still have to keep reminding myself of these things.

(Luckily, the Tootsie Rolls are gone; there weren't that many.  Some evil Starburst are still left.)

To lose weight in a reasonable amount of time, I need to be hardcore about it, and not be "mostly hardcore," which is how I respond these days when people ask how serious I am about losing weight.  If I'm to lose more weight, I'm going to have to do what I did when I was really shedding the pounds—eat horrible, healthy food, and make no exceptions or excuses.  I'm going on vacation in a few weeks, and when I return, I think it's time to go back to eating leaves and berries and chicken breasts.  It'd almost be a good thing if I gained a couple of pounds on vacation—it would be a much bigger motivation to get serious than this general sense of wishing I were losing weight more quickly.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

You know the people

I have a hard time understanding those people who always refer to cats or dogs as a "he" or a "she" regardless of the animal's gender.  You know the people I'm talking about.  You correct them every time for a while, but they never learn, and eventually you just sigh and give up.

Grace: And this is our new puppy.  He's a dalmatian.
Everett: What's her name?
Grace: Well, actually, he's a boy.  His name is Rex.
Everett: When did you get her?
Grace: (sigh) ...

I've assumed that these people do it because they had a childhood cat or dog and it was a girl so now they call all cats and dogs "she."  I don't know if there's any truth in that; I guess I should just ask them next time.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Expressive

Jason and I tend to talk about characteristics that we find attractive in people rather often.  One thing that I've been pondering recently is that one of the most important characteristics to me is a person's expressiveness—how effective they are at communicating their emotions simply by moving their eyes and cheeks and lips.  I simply tend to enjoy the company of people who have expressive faces much more than others.  This isn't quite the same as how cheery someone is; a person can be annoyed or exhibit dry, deadpan wit (another quality I admire greatly) and still have an expressive face: for example, I find Michael Bluth from Arrested Development (Jason Bateman) to be extremely likeable in that even when he's frustrated and annoyed (which is most of the show), his face is very communicative.


There's a point where one can be too flamboyantly expressive, and I find that to be extremely unpleasant.  I think that it's primarily because at a certain point the expressions lose their authenticity.  It's likely similar to the uncanny valley phenomenon, where people respond well to increasingly lifelike depictions of things, but at a certain point of near-life (prosthetic hands, corpses, not-quite-realistic 3D simulations of humans), people are repulsed.  Similarly, at some point, it becomes evident that the emotions being expressed are not genuine.  It is painfully difficult for me to imagine that someone as ridiculously bubbly as Richard Simmons is not just trying to put on a show.  At some level, perhaps it feels like dishonesty, and it causes me to avoid that person.

Perhaps it's a desirable characteristic to me because it's something I aspire to.  I feel like I'm rather unskilled at picking up on apparently-obvious emotional and social cues, and I try to be better about providing those cues myself, though I don't think I always do a good job at it.  People used to tell me that they thought I was depressed all the time because I usually have a blank look on my face.  This always annoyed me, because I'm a very happy person and have a very positive outlook on live, even though I tend to be pessimistic or at least realistic in my expectations of things, which is a conflict that confuses people and is a topic for another day. I don't get that much anymore, so maybe I've gotten better.

So a way that you can become more likable and attractive to me is to make faces.  Make your face look silly if you're feeling silly, or sad if you're looking sad.  People with constantly changing faces intrigue me, but you don't have to look like a cartoon.  In most of my favorite portrait photos that I've taken of people, the subject is not visibly happy or sad, but still has an interesting, intriguing look on their face.

I don't mean "attractiveness" simply in the sexual sense, though certainly if you're already my type, your facial expressions can really make a difference in how I perceive you.  Facial expressions can amplify all sorts of positive aspects—cuteness, wit, and good ol'-fashioned sexiness.  They can make intelligent people seem smarter.  They make me want to talk to you and learn more about what you're thinking.

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Battery life

I guess that you can say a product has good battery life if it lasts for more than three years of continuous use and you didn't even realize that it took batteries in the first place.

(My thermostat)

Friday, June 11, 2010

Mildly delicious

Weight loss progress has been really slow for me lately. I'm still losing weight, but not very quickly. It's just so hard to lose weight when you're only giving it 90%. I think that I need to go back to putting all my effort into it, and that'll probably be easier now that Jason is off school for the summer. He and I have been trying to eat more healthy, and I think that him being home more frequently will eliminate some of the excuses that I've been making when I've cheated and eaten something mildly delicious, which is of course a no-no.

I'm at 205 pounds now, which is 73 down from the original "starting weight" I was using to track my weight loss initially. In six more pounds I'll finally hit the top end of "normal" BMI, and I'll officially no longer be overweight. There's definitely still more that I should lose at that point, but it would be a great milestone to pass.

Friends of friends

One of the things about Facebook that intrigues me is how you can see certain activity of friends of your own friends. (In my case, this is extended somewhat by the fact that I often see Jason on Facebook, which causes me to see things that I normally wouldn't see on my own account, but it's a similar situation.) The result of it is that I begin to recognize names and pictures of people that I've never met before. Last night I was at one of Jason's fraternity's parties, and I met someone who I wasn't certain if I'd ever met before. I'd seen him on Facebook, so I knew his name and what he looked like and other small tidbits, but I didn't know for sure if I'd ever seen him in person. (I had a feeling that I hadn't, and that turned out to be correct. Turns out he's a cool guy. I guess it wouldn't have made a good post if he sucked.)

Certainly there have been many times in my life where I wasn't sure if I was meeting someone for the first time or not, but in many of those cases I'm usually wondering whether I truly hadn't met them, or I had and they just hadn't made an impression on me. I guess the most similar preexisting social situation before this Facebook phenomenon is the scenario in which you meet someone's spouse or significant other after having heard of them several times before, but even in that situation, you generally haven't been seeing pictures of them beforehand.

I'm pretty terrible with names and faces, and Facebook actually helps with that too. It tests me with flash cards of a sort a little bit every day. There have been people that I've worked with for months for whom I still can't remember their name all the time, yet certain random people I don't know on Facebook I can recall in a snap. (This is easier at work now because I get photos of people who send me email, right in Outlook.)

For a shy, introverted person like me, this is one of the cooler parts of Facebook. One of the hardest social barriers I have to pass is getting from knowing nothing about someone to knowing a little bit about them. That awkward section of introductory small talk is still very painful to me. But meeting friends of friends is notably easier post-Facebook: I can go to a party of mostly people outside my own circle of friends and already know the names of some of the people there. And, since I've already gotten a little bit past that initial barrier, it's easier to gather the energy to talk to them, and it's easier to remember who said what. For a website often blamed for ruining our society's ability to interact with each other on a personal level, Facebook really seems to be helping me out.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Back in balance

I still buy some of the things branded by the weight management program I went on a couple years ago, 20/20 Lifestyles.  The ready-to-drink protein meal replacement shakes that they sell are actually pretty decent as far as shakes go, though I only have one or two a month.  Every time I look at one, I'm a little annoyed: on the front beneath the 20/20 Lifestyles logo is the phrase "bring your health back in balance."

I feel like they don't really understand what "20/20" means.  It's not that you have level 20 vision in your left eye and level 20 vision in your right eye and that everything's in balance.  Being 20/20 is, effectively, being "as good as other people are," which is really what the program is about anyway.  You're fat, and you want to be less fat so you're more like other people.  Achieving 20/20 vision is actually a reasonably correct metaphor, but it has nothing to do with balance.  The tagline under the logo is stupid and it bothers me when I see it.  (Also, it should really be "into balance," not "in balance," should it not?)

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Stop for a Minute

The short version:
Keane—Night Train: 5/10
Ashlee Simpson—Bittersweet World: 8/10
Kutless—It Is Well: 3/10
Katy Perry—One of the Boys: 5/10
Lady Gaga—The Fame: 9/10
311—Uplifter: 5/10
Bat for Lashes—Two Suns: 4/10
Thirty Seconds to Mars—This Is War: 8/10

Not too long since their last full album, Keane put out the EP Night Train featuring a couple guest artists.  The two tracks featuring K'NAAN rapping, Stop for a Minute and Looking Back, are good, the other track with a guest artist, Ishin Denshin, is terrible, and the rest pretty much just sounds like B-sides that didn't fit on a full album.  Overall it's fairly disappointing.  That said, the two K'NAAN tracks are an interesting change of pace, and the EP's finisher My Shadow isn't too bad.  It's worth adding to a Keane collection if you're a fan, but if you don't already have their amazing album Under the Iron Sea you should really just spend a couple extra bucks and get that one.

I've also been listening to Ashlee Simpson's album Bittersweet World too much.  I had pretty low expectations, but it was cheap so I went with it, and it's just embarrassingly fun.  It's poppy dance music I can listen to from start to finish and still want more.  Outta My Head, Boys, and Murder are infectious like swine flu at a gamer convention, but you could put just about any track from here on a party playlist and get a smile on your face when it comes on.


I got around to listening to a CD I got for Christmas, It Is Well by Kutless.  As far as I can tell it's half new material and half rock versions of hymns.  The opening title track It Is Well is actually quite decent, and probably the best rock cover of a song in the public domain I've ever heard.  Remember Me is pretty good too.  The rest would be okay, though nothing special, except that the tracks are impossibly similar.  When I'm deciding which songs on a CD to write about and add to my various playlists, I have to refresh my memory as to which track title is which song, and I do that by skipping to a track, then jumping to about 1/3 through that track, then doing the same for the next in the list, and then the next and so on.  With this CD there were three tracks in a row that sounded virtually identical by the third-way point; I could have sworn that the next track button in Winamp was broken.

I also got Katy Perry's One of the Boys quite a long time ago and hadn't gotten around to it until recently.  This one's got I Kissed a Girl and Hot n Cold on it, and those are both pretty irresistible, and the title track is good too.  The rest is pretty acceptable but nothing to blog about.

My gay might be showing, but I also finally got Lady Gaga's CD The Fame, and goodness, it's fantastic.  Every track on the disc is good, and it's a nearly perfect dance album.  Just Dance and Poker Face are excellent singles, but my other favorite from the disc, Paper Gangsta, hasn't played on the radio.  There's not much I can say; if you like dance music you should already have this CD.

311's latest CD Uplifter is pretty okay.  A lot of songs on here are decent, but I think what it really needs are more hooks!  The disc progresses from start to finish and the tracks are different enough such that you don't feel like you're listening to the same things on repeat, but many of the individual songs don't seem like they change too much within themselves.  My favorites, Hey You, India Ink, and Get Down for the most part don't suffer too badly, but the vocals on some other tracks like Golden Sunlight are just boring.  There's just not enough variation in tune or rhythm.

Bat for Lashes' seconds CD Two Suns is too Feist-y.  It's airy and full of weird sounds, which I like in the right setting, but it all lacks a punch.  Three good tracks on the album are Daniel, Glass, and Sleep Alone, and there's a noticeable difference in how those three are produced and how things like Pearl's Dream are produced.  With the same instruments, same tune, same vocals, but different volumes and settings in the recording booth I think it's be a better track.  It wouldn't be a great CD if remastered, but I think it'd be better.  I think that Enya's latest couple albums could use the same treatment—to make them "sparkle" a bit more, or at least pull them out of the air and ground them.

Finally, recently I've been hearing a lot of Thirty Seconds to Mars' CD This Is War since Jason bought it, and it's a great rock CD.  My only prior experience with the lead singer of the band was seeing him as the lead actor in Requiem for a Dream, and it's challenging (though certainly not impossible) to imagine that cracked-out druggie singing on top of a background of music that obviously wants to be described with the word "epic."  Strings, children's choirs, military drumming, and guitars lifted to the sky are abound here, and even if it's a little bit cheesy, it works really well.  Night of the Hunter, This Is War, and Hurricane are all lovely, but other than an intro track and an interlude, there's nothing bad on the disc.  I recommend it.

Speaking of epic, I HAVE NOT been able to stop listening to Storming New Caprica from the BSG season 3 soundtrack recently. The part right after 2:05 is played during one of my favorite moments in all of television. (If you think about the title and the season it's in, you should be able to figure out when.)