Friday, December 30, 2011

unslept family day

J is 7 now, which means I've known him almost five years, and he is growing up. He runs pretty normally now, and he's making that fantastic, gratitude-inducing shift in perspective where he starts to see himself and to empathize more clearly with how others see the world. He's still got his package of Asperger-y stuff, but he's growing up into his unusual self. He looks us in the eyes constantly now, which is striking and awesome. It'd be nice if school could be challenging enough for him to learn anything besides perseverance in the face of tedium, but in general he's got the hang of it as long as his teacher knows how to handle him.

No work today or Monday, so after trying to sleep off my 1:30am-6:30am awakeness, I was around for playing, and J really wanted my company. He's a big fan of making extended Tinkertoy armatures for poking Anna--as with most things J-related, we have no idea why--so he recruited me to help build a Mama-poker that would be longer than her (extremely long) arms without falling apart. I ended up doing the engineering, but he enjoyed watching and doing the testing. We ended up with a quite successful design, about 4 feet long and very stable. Anna was a bit more equivocal.

J knows me so well now that he's largely able to keep up with when I'm being facetious (not coincidentally, a word I learned from my father at an early age).
J: *giggle* Chris, are you making a whatchamacallit too?
C: No. I decided to make a thingamahoozie instead.
J: A thingamahoozie?! What's a thingamahoozie??
C: Oh, you don't know? It's so much better than a whatchamacallit, you won't believe it.
[sounds of Anna busting out laughing in the other room]
Sometimes it's just fun to be contrary.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

Happy December 25th

Merry Christmas! The important thing, of course, is that I got presents.

We had some time with J in the morning, and then friends came over and I made leg of lamb, shiitake mushroom rice pilaf, and a second attempt at Yorkshire pudding that came out pretty perfect, thanks to a conversation with Mom.

Yorkshire Pudding 2

The friends brought Southern-fried greens, artisanal gin (the Botanivore), and an 8-year old girl, and all around it was a lovely afternoon.

One new revelation about family life is that Christmas is no longer a time of rest. Sure, I used to cook and buy presents and go to parties before, but now there's someone else's parties to go to, plus we've had J all week, and while it's nice to spend time with him (mostly), it means less time alone. Plus I'm busy at work trying to be prepared for the coming transition. It was a nice quiet couple of weeks in early December, there, but oh, that bird has flown.

(J has further promoted me, by the way: he was sort of emo the other day and I stuffed him in his room, whereupon he screamed "YOU'RE THE WORST DAD, I MEAN STEPDAD, EVER AND I HATE YOU." It's touching to be so internalized! You know he likes you if he feels free to call you names. We knew he'd connected with Mom when he called her "Mrs. Shouts-A-Lot" after she badgered him to move so a piece of sailboat didn't bash him in the head.)

I hope your holiday has been peaceful and spent however you wanted. Here, have some baroque music.

Friday, December 23, 2011

I should be asleep

...and I'm not. The douchebags upstairs managed to wake me up (thankfully not Anna) with the dulcet tones of their subwoofer again. They turned it down when I went upstairs, then 20 minutes later turned it back on, louder and with dancing. At that point I was awake in the living room, so I went upstairs and knocked, and like magic, the music stopped and the flashing party lights went dark...and they refused to answer the door. It's like they're two-year olds. At least they then gave up and went drinking elsewhere. A mere five weeks until their lease is up! It's not clear the leaseholders actually live there now, and there's no signs of anyone moving, so I wonder if the landlord will have to evict them.

I've taken on some additional responsibility at work as a result of the tech lead leaving in a few weeks, going on a crusade to catalog and prioritize all the broken things so the team can stop fighting fires, which is both demoralizing and prevents them from working on actual interesting things. I'll have more to say about it post-holidays.

Holidays! I'm not sure what's happening on Christmas, yet. I've been known to spend California Christmases watching movies with friends, and I think once or twice by myself, though of course I don't really remember except that I'm satisfied with how it's all turned out in the end.

My memory is horrible: I had a brief IM chat with a friend, and the next day:
"Sorry for being all weird yesterday. I realize you probably didn't notice anything at all, but I just wanted to say."
"I don't remember what you said, but I'm certain you weren't being weird, so it's all fine."
I'm very present and involved in the conversation when it happens; just, when it's done, I'm on to the next thing and the details will more or less immediately slip my mind. It's a little weird when people thank me for saying something they found really helpful and I have no idea what it was. I try to speak directly to whatever's in front of me at the moment and put my attention on that, and if you can do arithmetic you can correctly guess that we cannot be thinking about past things and have 100% of our attention on the current thing.

That's all mostly true, but it's worth considering whether it's using Zen practice as a way to explain my memory which is just as bad as it has always been, long before I ever heard of Zen.

ANYWAY. Dude. Polar bear!

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Happy Hanukkah

The Yeshiva University Maccabeats originally got famous with a video called "Candlelight":

This is actually an arrangement by Mike Tompkins, covering a pop-dance song by Taio Cruz called "Dynamite":

That song neatly articulates a sort of "we're going to go someplace, and the place will be cool because we are there" attitude that I can't say I really understand, but we'll save that for later. Regardless, even a quick glance at his other videos shows that Tompkins is quite a professional.

I find myself really touched by Matisyahu's "Miracle," so I've been listening to more of his stuff on YouTube. This is "King Without A Crown" on Letterman in 2006; it shows both how very talented he is, and why I loathe that guitarist:

Here's the music video for "Miracle," which is just...weird.

Apparently he's a really good ice skater? He wrote the song so kids would have a Hanukkah song that actually talked about the meaning of the holiday, but the narrative of the video is just shy of comprehensible.

And finally, one of the awesome catchy ones, with a pretty start:

One cool thing about Matisyahu is that he's just this normal guy who liked reggae and found his way to Orthodox Judaism. As I was looking him up, I found that just last week he shaved his beard:

He looks like hell, despite being a few years younger than me. Life as a touring musician is pretty hard, but who knows. He's still Orthodox, and I'm glad he's finding his way.

serious shopping failure

[I started a blog post, and it turned into an essay. I'm hoping to finish it this week.]

I tried to support local business today. I really did. I wanted to get a sight for my bow, so that maybe I could actually hit something more than 30 yards away. (At shorter distances you do what's called "instinctive shooting," which is literally "Hey, that looks good. *twang*" but with lots of practice. For longer distances you have to sight against some fixed point on the bow, which means either using an actual sight, or sticking a piece of numbered tape on the bow so it's not just a piece of featureless wood with no markers to sight on.)

The people at Pacifica Archery are fantastic, but most people shoot compound bows, and that's most of what they carry. They only had two models of sight for recurve bows, nearly identical, and the same price.
  1. I chose the nicer one first. The parts of the sight didn't actually fit together well enough to be usable.
  2. I punted and chose the other one. It was machined so poorly the screw holes didn't even line up and it couldn't be mounted on the bow.

Okay, then. How much are new limbs for my bow? (It's a 35lb. draw, I'd like to go up to 40 or 45.)

After 30 years, the company stopped making that model when the economy tanked, and when they brought it back, they changed the specs, so they no longer sell limbs that fit my bow. So I'm looking at a new bow, whenever that becomes important to me.

Just to add insult to injury, the shop also didn't have any larger quivers I liked.

It's not anyone's fault, particularly. Just a massive conjunction of retail lossage. I felt bad, because I don't mind paying the premium to get advice and customer service and keep the local economy running, but I do require that they carry something I can actually buy.

Friday, December 9, 2011


Wednesday night I went to the local YMCA, which we joined a while back. It turns out that compared to an unlit, cold running route full of traffic lights, a treadmill is just fine.

I'm working a fair bit, trying to give work its due after a few months of non-work chaos. That's going well, although our system has been in meltdown for a few weeks. I feel like I should be able to fix it, but I actually can't, and it's hard to let go of that and go write code for the new and improved version, instead of trying to get the current version working. It's a terrible time for our team lead to be quitting: the boss thinks we can hire a replacement before the end of the year, which means I'll consider us lucky to find someone before March (he's often a little optimistic about hiring, and in general, hiring mostly stops during the holidays). My fellow SREs voiced my fears by pointing out that when the team lead leaves, one natural choice for at least an interim team lead would be the other senior engineer, which I hate meetings and I don't know anything about video, but hey, it could work.

Married life is going well in Week 5, its cold iron grip generously offset with snuggles and head-petting. Ain't nothing boring about it, that's for sure.

Hanukkah is coming! Have some cute Jewish boys singing excellent a cappella:

The best part for me is that the description says, "Feat. Big Bang Theory's Mayim Bialik!", when in fact those of us of a certain age remember that Mayim Bialik starred in her own TV series, Blossom. Like most of us, she's much hotter now at age 35 and not dressed in horrible early-90s clothing. Somewhere in there, she got a Ph.D. in neuroscience, which of course makes her even hotter.

No real rain yet! Someday, though.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

in memoriam

Yesterday we had J.D.'s memorial service, starting with about 90 minutes of people standing up and sharing stories or thoughts about J.D., then a whole mess of food, and then folks took the room apart, laid down carpet foam, and it became a chill party. There were a couple very nice altars, one for the community to put stuff on, and one main altar:


Jon Logan, among other things a brilliant ambient music DJ, did the most amazing slideshow, set to this Aphex Twin song which will, for a long time, make me cry.

All my photos are here.

I might have thought, after moving his dead body, that the fullness of J.D's death would have hit me already. Maybe it did, and now I'm just having sadness about it; I don't think the psychoanalysis matters.

Matt L. called me yesterday afternoon to ask if I would work with him in bringing the wireless microphones around to people who wanted to talk, which of course I did, so I ended up helping the memorial after all, and in such a public way that everyone thanked me for all my hard work. I also got to say my own piece, which was fun. I'll post links to video, if there is one (there should be, since it was live-streamed).

I was really struck by how many people, in their grieving, made what they were saying be all about them. We didn't cut anybody off, though it was an option: "really awkward" is not the same as "inappropriate." J.D.'s mother started off with a long prepared statement that talked (in not entirely accurate terms) about their estrangement, and after a brief field trip into the crazy, ended by encouraging people to resolve their own estrangements. A few more people echoed that sentiment during the sharing, and one guy afterward was talking to me and talking about how he was going to call his father the next day, since they'd been estranged for a few years.
"...and I realized aw, crap, I gotta make a phone call."
"Yeah, you do."
"I should."
"And you know, it might not work."
"But then I know I made the effort."
"Exactly. The best we can do is to be the ones to set ourselves aside and reach out. It might not work out, but we tried."
I was pretty angry at J.D. for a while after he moved to Colorado, because he left a vast quantity of stuff in the house we were both moving out of, which took me about a week and a half to dispose of. He never quite apologized for it, and without that I didn't have much to say about it, so it just sort of hung in the air and dissipated slowly like a bad smell in a poorly-ventilated room. Our friendship always had a bit of awkwardness to it, so it's not clear what would have changed had we actually worked it out. We talked and saw each other and hung out and had dinner. Life continued. So I think it's okay, and I don't regret anything.

I didn't see him often in person, but I talked to him every day on ICB, and now our conversation is ended. I guess this is it, then. Our friend is dead.

Friday, December 2, 2011

oh, you were joking

Sixteen days without a major life event! I've been able to run a couple times this week, and even went to aikido on Wednesday. Let's all hope for a calm stretch.

A while ago I had this exchange with a friend at work:
M: does zen practice make you better at coming up with unanswerable questions?
Chris: heh!
Chris: it helps us find questions to ask, and understand that a lot of the time the learning is in the process of questioning rather than in finding an answer.
Chris: tends to focus on setting directions and intentions, instead of goals.
M: actually (all kidding aside) that's very interesting. sounds like it could be useful.
Which is sort of typical of what happens when people who only know Zen from its cultural chic. The standard Steve Jobs hagiography now mentions his Zen connections, but tends to gloss over the disconnect between his Zen practice and the fact that he was kind of a dick. Or Zen restaurants and furniture. Or soap! Clearly it's the best religion ever, or at least among the most diversified.

But then you run into someone who's actually practiced for a while, and it turns out that in fact we try to speak and act in spontaneous ways that meet the needs of the moment. Like last year, walking with a friend and talking about a rough patch in his life, when he said, "And now you're going to tell me that everything is impermanent." I said, "Well, that's true, everything is impermanent, but it's irrelevant to the conversation right now, and it'd just be a cliché to say it."

That's part of why I try not to be all overtly Buddhisty when I'm talking to people: not because I'm ashamed of it (if you ask about it specifically it's hard to get me to shut up), but because it uses a vocabulary and a frame of reference that's pretty foreign to most people. All I really want is for people to understand how their minds work, which is how everyone's mind works, and how the whole universe works. Once we really see our minds in action, we can understand and end our own angst, and we can do incredible amounts of good for the people around us. I don't particularly want that everyone should be doing Buddhist practice; I do care that everyone learn to see themselves and the rest of the world as the fully human, suffering, not-actually-comprehensible entities that we are, and to have compassion for what they see.

"Huh, that's interesting, I'll think about that" is the first step.