Thursday, April 19, 2012

Thanksgiving in April: Mom and Dad

I wasn't going to do one of these for my parents because it's so obvious, but it feels just as cheap to leave them out, so I suppose it can't hurt.  Thanks, Mom and Dad.  You sacrificed a lot and put up with a lot.  There were times where I know we didn't see eye to eye, but you equipped me with the logic and reason and love and kindness that it takes to be a good person.  It has never escaped me that though other kids may have had parents with more money or parents that let them get away with more crap, few have had parents that cared as much as mine.

Before I even started kindergarten my mom would buy me these workbooks and other educational things that they sold near the toy aisles in stores.  I'd devour them relentlessly, and I made a lot of progress with reading, writing, and math.  Looking back, I'm sure that we couldn't really afford them.  We didn't have much money.  We lived in my great-grandparents' basement next to a trailer park and paid $55 a month in rent.  But I think that those lessons helped a lot: my parents' focus on encouraging me to learn things at my own pace probably set things up for my whole life.

Thanks.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Thanksgiving in April: Peter, Peter, Phil, and Alex

It's easy for interns at Microsoft (and I assume elsewhere) to feel like this separate little group.  They're only there for a few months, so they don't really ever fully integrate with the teams that they work with, and they're obviously outsiders, so it's easy for the full-time employees to treat them differently.  So special thanks to Alex, Phil, and Peter on the FrontPage team for not making me feel like an outsider when I interned there.  And special thanks to a different Peter from the Thursday Evening Board Gamers for getting me into into the inner circle clique of the cool old people there, being my first non-coworker friend at Microsoft, and not treating me like "just another college kid."

Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Thanksgiving in April: Rob Mauceri

When I first interviewed for an internship at Microsoft, I interviewed to be a Program Manager.  And I failed those interviews.  I kinda think that one of the people who interviewed me was a jerk and an idiot (still don't know who it was... I think it was someone who worked on Excel), and another one of my interviewers didn't seem to be doing a very good job either, but either way, I failed my interviews and didn't get the job.  And then Rob Mauceri said that they should fly me back to interview again for a Software Design Engineer position.  From what I can tell that never happens.  But it did, and I got the internship after that.  And then despite not really producing anything of any real lasting value that summer, I got a full-time offer.  Really this should be more of a thank-you to everyone involved in extending me that offer, because that made my senior year a lot more fun.

I'd wanted to work at Microsoft for a really long time, and I waited a year just to get that first interview.  So I'm really thankful that I managed to get that second chance.  Plus I got to miss Dr. Elbaum's awful software engineering class for my interview.  I hated that class so much.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Thanksgiving in April: Jenifer Dugdale

Ms. Dugdale was my freshman high school English teacher.  I don't think I learned anything in her class.  That's not her fault; I chose her class because it would be really easy, and boy was I right.  No; thanks, Ms. Dugdale, for playing Enya's album Watermark during class one day.  I consider Enya to be one of my favorite artists now.  I went out and bought all of Enya's CDs, making those four discs a sizable fraction of my entire music collection at that point in my life, and I listened to them ad nauseum.  (My mom complained more than once about this, and insisted I listen to something more appropriate, like KISS or Genesis.)  I don't know if it's because of how she layers the instrumentation, or because many of the tracks are simple, or just because she has a really beautiful voice, or just because I only had a few CDs in my collection, but I relentlessly analyzed that music.  I'd always enjoyed music, but for some reason or another Enya taught me to really appreciate music, so thanks Ms. Dugdale for introducing me to Enya.

(Okay, I did learn something in her class.  During Romeo and Juliet I learned that "wherefore" doesn't learn "where."  That knowledge came in handy in the OkCupid dating survey.)

American Nightmare

The short version:
Gorillaz—The Fall: 2/10
Ramin Djawadi—Game of Thrones: 6/10
Röyksopp—The Understanding: 7/10
Vanessa Carlton—Rabbits on the Run: 4/10
The Roots—Undun: 7/10
Morgan Page—Believe: 7/10
The Naked and Famous—Passive Me, Aggressive You: 7/10
Lana Del Rey—Born to Die: 7/10
Chiddy Bang—The Preview: 5/10
Chiddy Bang—Breakfast: 8/10
Kasabian—Kasabian: 6/10
Madonna—MDNA: 6/10
Digitalism—I Love You, Dude: 8/10

Some of the CDs in this batch I've been listening to for quite a while because I just wasn't sure what I thought of them, or I didn't quite feel like listening to them at the moment, or other similar reasons.  Those aren't the case for The Fall by Gorillaz.  It's just horrifying.  I bought it because I like the Gorillaz and though I knew that this album was largely instrumental before I ordered it, I assumed it would be similar to their previous CDs, not similar to the demo tracks that come with thirty-dollar Casio keyboards.  Amarillo and Aspen Forest are the best tracks and the rest aren't even good enough to be B-sides.

The soundtrack to Game of Thrones scored by Ramin Djawadi works well in the show but a lot of it doesn't stand alone extremely well since it's rather sparse at times.  That said, it's hard not to love the gorgeous main theme, and Kill Them All is much more emotional than one would expect given the name.  Appropriately given the story's content, most of the music is either violent, tense, or sad—When the Sun Rises in the West being a great example of the latter.  I don't recall exactly what happened during those couple minutes but having seen the first season there's a pretty good chance that at least a couple people died in that time.  Also there were probably some boobies.

Röyksopp's The Understanding is fun electropop with good beats.  Not super memorable, but pretty decent.  Only This Moment is the best track, with Triumphant and What Else Is There? behind that.

I'm generally a fan of Vanessa Carlton's but she's dipping too far into light folk territory for my tastes with her latest CD Rabbits on the Run.  I liked the more radio-friendly Vanessa, not whatever much of this album is.  Carousel and I Don't Want to Be a Bride are the best two, and In the End is interesting and weird.  Listening to those will probably give you an unfair impression of what the disc's like (no coincidence that those first two are singles); in contrast to those, there are also several barely listenable tracks like Get Good.

The Roots' latest, Undun, is one of the best-reviewed albums I've bought in a while.  I'm not sure if it's justified based on my own personal opinions, but I don't know how much of that is just due to the fact that The Roots' style is less pop and more artistic rap than I typically prefer.  There are a lot of pretty good songs on here but little that's great.  My favorite is I Remember (probably the most radio-friendly one), then Sleep, then One Time.  If I can say one thing about the album, it's not boring or repetitive or a copy of anyone else, and that's certainly worth something, but for me, the style's just a bit off.

I got Morgan Page's CD Believe.  It's electronic dance music.  It has beats and bass and girls singing.  It's pretty good I guess.  He's talented.  Strange Condition, I've Had Friends, and the title track are the best tracks.

The Naked and Famous is a good name for a group and Passive Me, Aggressive You is a good name for an album.  Spank is definitely my favorite track but the rest of the album isn't as hardcore-sounding.  Young Blood is pretty great too, and Punching in a Dream is nice.  For some reason the band sounds to me like what Arcade Fire would be like if they decided to stop being hipster icons and start kicking ass.  Many things about the vocals seem similar to me, and it's got a similar indie, alternative vibe, but everything seems more energetic and exciting and interesting.

Lana Del Rey's debut album Born to Die is weird.  She's a weird lady and her music is weird.  Even her facial expressions are weird, like she had a stroke and has been permanently stuck in some sort of duckface forever, and she sounds like she's bored with her own music and just wants to go home.  But for some reason it kind of works.  Her most well-known song Video Games just sort of floats and drones onward for five minutes and she sounds as if her lips don't move more than about three millimeters, which I think is actually accurate after having seen her perform on Saturday Night Live.  Off to the Races and Diet Mountain Dew are much less slothlike, which normally I'd prefer, though there's something strangely enchanting about how slow and nonelectronic a song titled Video Games can be.

I picked up both The Preview (an EP) and Breakfast by Chiddy Bang, with the latter full album being notably better than the EP.  Breakfast has some pretty insanely catchy tunes on it: Handclaps and Guitars, Ray Charles, Run It Back, as well as several others.  The rapper seems fairly average on first impression, but the tunes and beats are absolutely infectious.  Definitely worth checking out if you like hip-hop with fancy pop beats.  From The Preview, Opposite of Adults (sampling Kids by MGMT) is probably the best, but it's not nearly as good as Breakfast.

Kasabian's self-titled album is interesting.  By far my favorite song is the opening track, Club Foot, which is the one I got the album for.  That song plays during a crucial plot scene during Alan Wake's American Nightmare and the song is bizarrely perfect for a scene with explosions and nonsensical awesomeness and shadowy demonic creatures with axes crawling out of the darkness to attack you.  I don't think I'd have fully appreciated the song's awesomeness if I didn't associate it with that scene in the game, but anyhoo—nothing on the rest of the CD measures up to that song, but Reason is Treason and the instrumental track Ovary Stripe are both good.

Madonna's got a new CD out, MDNA.  None of the tracks on it seem particularly great.  I haven't listened to it a whole lot yet but nothing really catches me.  The big single Give Me All Your Luvin' featuring Nicki Minaj and MIA is cheesy and lame but it's catchy and still probably the best thing on there, followed by Love Spent and Beautiful Killer.  What's probably most worrisome is Some Girls, a track with some solid production that I think would actually be better as an instrumental.  When one of the world's most iconic vocalists is putting out songs that make me think that they'd be better without any vocals, something's wrong.

Finally, I picked up I Love You, Dude by Digitalism, and it's pretty intense.  It's got a lot of good beats—not necessarily danceable, but I'm not much of a dancer so they're interesting nonetheless.  Blitz, Stratosphere, and Miami Showdown are all great.  Definitely worth checking out if you like a good electronic beat.

Whew.

Update:  You can also find my favorite recent tracks on my Spotify profile.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Thanksgiving in April: Leon Higley

Leon's been my dad's boss at the university for ages, ever since I was young.  He'd host parties at his house for the entomology department, and despite being there because I was one of his employees' kids, he didn't treat me like a kid, which was cool.  But one of the most awesome things an adult ever did for me as a kid when we arrived at one of his house parties and Leon greeted us and moments later said "Travis! I have to show you something," and excitedly took me to the computer room in the basement.  Ignoring the requests for attention from his wife and other guests (which made me feel unusually important), Leon showed me Dune II: The Building of a Dynasty.  He knew it would be exactly the sort of thing that would blow my nerdy little 9-year-old mind, and he was right.  I was utterly captivated.  I couldn't get enough.  By the end of the night I didn't want to leave.

So thanks, Leon, for making me feel like I was one of the cool adults instead of "just a kid" like most adults did, and most specifically, thanks for introducing me to Dune II, the grandfather of Command and Conquer, Warcraft, Starcraft, and the modern RTS genre.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Thanksgiving in April: Spring Break Ireland crew

Thanks to everyone I went to Ireland with on Spring Break: Clay, David, Kyle, and Daniel.  That was a ridiculously awesome trip and I can't believe you convinced me to spend that much money.  Sorry that I lost my passport and we had to drive halfway across the country to go get it back instead of hanging out in Dublin.

Friday, April 13, 2012

Thanksgiving in April: Jason Lin

This one's an easy one.  Jason, thanks for changing my life.  We were together for three years.  It may not have been a lifetime but it certainly wasn't a failure either.  I'm a very different person now.  Before I met you I expected to live my life in solitude and be happy about it, and probably I could have then, but now I've grown and changed and I'm pretty sure that isn't true anymore.  I've learned a lot about myself, learned a lot about other people, and I'm happy for it.  So forgive the cliché as I thank you for teaching me how to love.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Thanksgiving in April: Adam Thayer and Günter Voelker

Thanks, Adam and Günter, my best friends in elementary school and middle school respectively, for putting up with me.  I was a weird-ass kid.  I mean, so were you guys, so let's not give you too much credit, but still.  Props.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Thanksgiving in April: Daniel Mason-D'Croz

Daniel was my best friend in high school.  We ended up going to the same university and going to the same combined computer science and business program, so we decided that we had to room together in the dorms.  This meant a lot of late-night conversations, about anything from video games to philosophy to religion to Jessica Alba, and I adored those conversations.  And of course I had those conversations with other people over the next four years too, but something about insomnia and sharing a cramped bedroom with your best friend leads to an inordinate number of interesting discussions.

Daniel has the rare honor of being the only person I can think of who has actually changed my mind on a religious topic through the power of persuasive debate, which I suppose is pretty impressive given the number of professional preachers I've heard in my life.  I won't get into the details since that's a good topic for an entire series of blog posts, but suffice it to say it was a good discussion, and probably one that kept us up way too late into the night as always.  So thanks, Dan.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Thanksgiving in April: Meredith Campbell

It seems appropriate to make the first person that I thank my elementary school English mentor, Meredith Campbell.  Without a lot of beating around the bush, I was a smarter-than-average kid, and the school set me up with a mentor to let me read books at a much higher grade level and to help me with my writing.  I loved my time with Mrs. Campbell, and having a personal one-on-one teacher was a rare opportunity normally limited to families of means.

Mrs. Campbell taught me a lot of things about words and vocabulary and Latin and Greek roots and that sort of thing (though nothing much about grammar, which probably contributed to my current approach to grammar, which is "whatever looks good").  But probably the most useful lesson she taught me had nothing to do with written language at all.

Often our time together would be in the mornings, and she'd bring along a couple Croissan'wiches from Burger King and share one with me.  (Best... teacher... ever.)  And then one day she brought one, and she ate it in front of me.  She ate it slowly, enjoying every bite.  I was upset, and she didn't care.  Then when she was done, she looked at me matter-of-factly and said that I should learn to say "thank you" when people do nice things for me.

That was a very effective lesson.  So thanks, Mrs. Campbell, for putting up with me, and helping me to not grow up to be a pretentious douchebag.

Thanksgiving in April

Everyone's always thankful for stuff in November.  That's the traditional time for thanksgiving after all.  I decided that I'd take a few days in the totally "wrong" time of the year and thank a few people who've made a difference in my life, one a day.  Not an exhaustive list or anything... just until I get tired of it.  (That should cover my butt for all of those people I leave out.)

Last will and testament

Some of my favorite short thoughts recycled from my Facebook statuses...


Madonna sings "Don't play those stupid games because I'm a different type of girl." I assume she means "the type of girl with an AARP membership."

...and to The Internet, upon my death I hereby bequeath my entire text messaging history for use in Socially Awkward Penguin memes...

Dang it Lost, slow down. I haven't even stopped crying from the last sad thing that happened. I mean, I haven't even stopped being really manly from the last who-cares thing that happened.

I should write an app that makes it so that whenever the most recent news story on my Facebook feed is from an hour ago, it just replaces the whole page with bold red text "GO TO BED."

It's been almost a decade now. I'm beginning to wonder if I'll ever stop thinking of Kitty's boobs on Arrested Development whenever I hear or read the words "spring break."

When I find a notice on my door saying that I have to drive to the post office to pick up my certified mail I wish there was a box I could check that would just send the person a carrier pigeon with a little note that says "FYI, this is the 21st century" attached to its leg.

Not happy to see you. Just strawberry yogurt on my pants.

This morning when I woke up I had the image in my mind of the alien from Alien wearing a white Marilyn Monroe dress, standing over a vent. There is no context.

Today I have been invited to 13 meetings meant for someone else with the name Travis. As obnoxious as that may be, at least I know someone else is going to have a suckier week than I am.

A program manager, a designer, and an animator walked into my office... and I don't really get the rest of the joke but when they left they were in a panic that had something to do with trapezoids. Today is a weird day.

Friday, April 6, 2012

The fourth option

This post has been taunting me.  I wrote it the day after Jason and I broke up—Sunday, 27 November 2011.  That was more than four months ago.  It's been sitting here in my drafts folder since then.  I never change it or reread it.  It just mocks me and I can never bring myself to actually post it.  I wanted to write Comfort before posting this one, but I planned on writing that post the very next day.  I need to just publish it and get it over with, because I think that knowing that it exists is causing me writer's block, and I actually like writing.  So here goes.

* * * * *

Jason and I broke up last night.  Or more specifically, early this morning.  But I'm not sure that's accurate.  I think we broke up slowly over the past couple months and we're just admitting it now.

That's the second time we've broken up if you're counting.  (We were together for a total of three years, which I suppose is basically a lifelong partnership in gay-stereotype years.)  And not coincidentally, this was my second time breaking up with someone.  The first time it happened it was a surprise, at least to me.  That was the "oh man, I didn't realize that you felt that way" breakup.  This one was different.  It wasn't the violent-explosion or the I-don't-love-you-anymore or the I-met-someone-else or any of those common archetypes I've learned from TV and movies.  No, this one was different and considerably less dramatic.  This one was the "I love you so much, but the things that we want from a relationship are just too different" breakup.

It was not a surprise.  The eventual timing of it all certainly was, but the eventuality of it wasn't much of one.  We talked about this breakup a year ago, or maybe even a year and a half ago, when we first realized that we wanted things that were a little different.  Back then, there were three options: there was "Travis wins," where Jason changes his opinions about something and we become compatible.  Then there was "Jason wins," where Travis changes his opinions about something and we become compatible.  And then of course there's "compromise," where we find a way to make things work.  And we set out toward making one of those outcomes work out, focusing primarily of course on the third option.

But that didn't happen.  Perhaps we're indeed too stubborn and love is worth trading anything for and we're idiots for giving up, but every way we looked at it, it seemed like the story was that we were together forever, each with the man we loved, and somehow still unhappy about it.  That's something I'd never foreseen in all my thoughts and imaginings of the future—the possibility that I could find someone, fall in love with him, and that still there would be something that would prevent us from being happy, together, forever.

(I realize that my vagueness in not explaining in excruciating detail what is keeping us from being happy together may be annoying.  Hopefully this all still makes enough sense though.)

It wasn't long until I realized that even in the "Travis wins" scenario, Travis still loses because he has to live with the fact that Jason gave up something intrinsic to his very nature to make it work, and vice-versa.  A lot of things are worth changing or compromising for love—perhaps almost everything— but what if being together is what is killing your love?  We looked for a year for a way to write a different ending to the story and couldn't find one.  And that left us with just one option—the scary fourth option that we were quite aware existed from the start, but both refused to acknowledge: ending things.

Perhaps we really have taken a cowardly way out.  Truly dedicated people would stick it out no matter what the cost, no matter what the pain, and no matter how bitter the ending seemed.  But a year is a long time to spend searching for a path up a mountain.  We know that the peak has an amazing view, but after a year circling the mountain with no path upward in sight and no progress made toward the destination, the logical decision has to be to turn around and head home.

Comfort

Most of my closest friends know that when I'm feeling down, I don't really want much in the way of comfort—usually I'd rather just be left alone to deal with things on my own.  Well, either that or they've been taking cues from Honey Badger and they just don't give a shit about me.  But it works out well either way.  Ideally, if you want to make me feel better, pat me on the shoulder, say "that sucks, dude," and be done with it.  You don't have to side with me, or tell me that you're sorry (ugh), or tell me that you're there for me, or ask if there's anything you can do to make me feel better.  I suppose that makes me sound like a macho ass, but usually all I really want from my friends when I'm in a bad mood is acknowledgement.  If I told you what was going on, I want to know that you understand my situation.  Basically, I want to know that you weren't just nodding your head while you check Facebook on your phone.

(Or even better, if you can make me laugh, even with a mean joke at my expense, I'll appreciate that a lot.)

I feel like I have an unnaturally decent ability to recenter my emotional state.  This can be a blessing or a curse.  It means that I don't get sad very easily and when I do it doesn't last for long, but unfortunately I think it also means that I haven't experienced the depth of feelings of loss and despair that others have been through, and it makes it even harder for me to empathize with people who are really despondent.

But if that helps you feel better at not going through your usual "let's invite Travis over for horseshoes and finger sandwiches to cheer him up" routine, that sounds good to me.