Year: 2005

March of the Penguins

Saw March of the Penguins recently. I was vaguely aware of the arduous incubation process for emperor penguins, but this was both educational and absorbing. I didn’t realize how arduous it is, and how much the odds are stacked against successful reproduction.

The narration toned down the harshness–the death–for the benefit of the peanut gallery, but the viewers get the idea.

Also interesting to contemplate was the making of the documentary. How the hell do you sit around in -60° weather, through the monthslong night, to film a bunch of penguins without A) your equipment breaking; B) losing any toes; or C) going insane?

Life’s minor annoyances

Over the past weekend, Gwen and I attended to a couple of minor annoyances in our lives–little things that had been bugging us for a long time–just enough to create friction, but not enough to get us to actually fix them.

In Gwen’s case, the annoyance had been bugging her for something like six years. She uses a cigar box as her jewelry box, and she had been meaning to build little dividers and pegs into it to organize her earrings better. A trip to Breed’s, $5 worth of materials, and an hour or so of a fun little craft project later, and it was done.

In my case, it was even dumber–one of the tools I use in making wicks for fire poi is a big sheetmetal screw, and the one I had been using had grown dull with use. I was vaguely aware that this was making more work for me, but I only finally got around to replacing it. Less than half a buck to fix. The difference was immediately noticeable.

There was a prime example of this kind of annoyance with my previous house: the hose bib in back made a poor seal with the hose, so whenever you turned on the spigot, you sprayed water everywhere. The people who lived there before me clearly had been annoyed by the same thing, and rather than fixing it, they adopted the rather ridiculous workaround of putting a splitter on the front hose bib and running a long hose around to the back. In the course of getting my house ready to sell, I had a plumber over to look at something unrelated; I told him “as long as you’re here, why not fix this?” Funny how such a little thing can change the quality of your everyday life so much, but fixing that was huge.

I wonder how much time, energy, and mental health we sacrifice to these little problems when we adapt to them rather than fix them.

Miscellaneous tips

Moving

  • When packing to move, you obviously want to pack your fragile stuff appropriately, and mark your boxes as such. A few other tips:
  • Pack like things with like. Yes, you will inevitably have a few boxes of random stuff, but it pays off if you can minimize this.
  • Mark your boxes extensively. We actually marked 5 sides of every box (leaving the bottom blank) so that we could identify boxes pretty much no matter what. With the more miscellaneous boxes, we also put a pretty complete list of contents on the top.
  • Mark your boxes by priority. Some things need to get unpacked quickly; some don’t. We used some weird tape to mark all our high-priority boxes.
  • Have an “immediate deployment” box. This is the first box you’ll unpack. It should probably include a tape measure, flashlight, paper towels, cleaning fluid, disposable tableware, and basic toiletries.
  • Kinko’s is a great place to get free boxes. Big-box booksellers may also have a recycling dumpster with nothing but clean, flattened boxes. I think Gwen and I bought exactly two boxes for this last move (for framed art), although we did splurge on 20 pounds of clean newsprint. Note that the boxes you get from these sources are relatively small; if you’re hiring movers, that will increase your total box count, and they usually charge by the box. Still, it’s probably cheaper than paying money for bigger boxes.

Remotes

I used to have the beloved Radio Shack six-in-one. Eventually it died, and I tried replacing it with its successor, the eight-in-one. For whatever reason, the newer model lacks the codes for my receiver. (I learned that I could fix this if I bought a special cable and had a Windows computer with which I could run a special app to re-program the remote. Oy.) After looking around, I broke down and bought a Harmony 659. This is an expensive remote–I got it on markdown from Amazon, but it’s still pretty expensive.

It was worth it. You actually set up how the remote works on a website by stepping through a little interview process; the site creates a setup file that you download and then transfer to the remote via USB. Apart from one minor hitch (the TV didn’t turn on when it should–the remote asked me if it was on, and when I responded No, it tried again, successfully, and asked me if that worked–brilliant), everything Just Worked. Now, with my old six-in-one, I was able to make things More Or Less Work the way I wanted, but only with considerable nerding around. When you add up the time investment involved in that, this remote was a good deal.

If you get one of these, though, don’t bother installing the software off the included CD, because it will quite possibly be out of date, and you’ll need to download a newer version anyhow. Jump straight to the download.

Juana Molina

A friend recently turned me on to Juana Molina, a contemporary singer from Argentina. She just had a solo show at the Parish (formerly Mercury Lounge, and completely unchanged apart from the name). Now that we are supposed to have more free time, Gwen and I have resolved to go out for more live music, so we caught the show.

It was a solo show, with her laying down vocal, keyboard, and guitar loops live, and then playing and singing over them (I saw Warren Zevon use the same format a long time ago). Her style is very distinctive. She has a breathy voice that I think of as characteristic of Brazil’s female singers, and the sounds she makes with her instruments remind me a little of Robert Fripp. Very nice. Funny repartee with the crowd and the sound guy. She asked “how many of you speak Spanish?” Something like 10-15% of the audience raised their hand. She then explained that when she was growing up, she was listening to music in English, which she did not understand at the time–she liked the music anyhow. And that for the rest of us, listening to her singing in Spanish was a parallel experience.

Batman Begins

Saw Batman Begins a few days ago. Although previous movies in the Batman franchise have certainly had their good points (anything with Tim Burton visuals can’t be all bad), this is the first of the lot that I’d say is actually good. This was also the least cartoonish of the lot, by a longshot–very gritty, with an attempt to make the subject seem real.

Lots of action, very energetic and chaotic fight scenes. Very loud. I suspect a sound engineer spent a solid week coming up with the sound of the tank-like batmobile’s engines, which sound more like a lion’s roar than a mechanism. The movie’s also noteworthy in that both Christian Bale and Gary Oldman play good guys for a change.

The Maelstrom

Moved the 14th. Closed on the sale of the house the 15th.

We effectively had nine days to pack: we had long since scheduled a trip to Chicago that conveniently fell during our contract period. Nine days is not a lot of time, but we managed to do a pretty good job weeding out junk, keeping things categorized, labeling boxes, etc. Where I didn’t do such a good job was in estimating the size of our load for the movers–I was low by about half on the box count, and missed a few pieces of furniture. Oops. Moving day was about as much fun as it ever can be, and very hot.

The place we’re in now, by a series of fortunate events, is the house in front of the garage apartment where Gwen was living when I met her. And right around the corner from the house I lived in during college. It’s smaller than the old place, and has much less storage space (and what there is is less usable), which poses some problems. Boxes and stuff everywhere. Last night was our first real attempt at getting the highest-priority stuff unpacked. After the constant pressure to keep the old house in showable condition, and the crunch of getting it packed, we’re not in a big hurry to deal with the disarray.

I’ve got a lot of money now (or I will, as soon as my realtor drops off the damn check, which I expect to be physically huge, like one of those Ed McMahon checks). Gwen and I met with a couple of financial advisors yesterday, and we discussed ways for us to avoid eating cat food in our later years. Looks like if we invest the money and have garden-variety luck in the market, we’ll accomplish that. The advisors were nice guys, but they seem to proceed from a different set of assumptions about what aging means than I do: they’re trying to create a plan so that we won’t need to work when we’re old. I said “look, I’m much more afraid of not being able to work than of needing to work.” One point where we were all in accord was in assuming that Social Security wouldn’t exist.

The issue of long-term planning raises a host of knotty questions, most relevant (to me) being medical care. It gets more and more expensive every year, and it gets more expensive as you get older (two trends that seem to run in lock-step with each other, too). With my previous insurance carrier, I plotted the rate of increase in my premiums to them against my projected income, and found that, if I stayed with them, my insurance would eat up 100% of my income by the time I turned 60. That’s obviously an untenable situation, and it makes me wonder if the USA will do anything as a nation to resolve it. Can we make assumptions about what the healthcare landscape will look like in 25 years with any degree of confidence? Hell, there are people talking about eliminating death in our lifetimes.

And the question of long-term investments makes me wonder about the health of the U.S. economy over the long haul.

There’s a lot happening all at once, a lot to think about, a lot to do, and a lot of boxes.

Macintel

I caught up with the big news a day after everyone else, since I was travelling. When I read it, my jaw sagged open, and I checked the date more than once, on the off chance that it was April 1.

I have mixed feelings about the move. The PowerPC architecture is, IMO, more elegant than the x86 architecture. And I believe that have more than one platform in circulation is good for the industry as a whole. But. There are a couple of big “buts”: Although PPC may be more elegant than x86, Intel seems to be better at actually making their chips run fast. Real-world performance beats out theoretical elegance 10 times out of 10. Also, MotorolaFreescale and IBM both seem to have bigger fish to fry than catering to Apple’s needs. Freescale obviously has had problems pushing the speed limit with their chips. IBM has done better, but apparently would rather make chips for video games than desktops.

Many people have wondered why–if Apple is switching to x86–they aren’t going with AMD. My own take on this is that Intel execs would rape their own mothers if doing so would take market share away from AMD. I would not be surprised if Intel is practically paying Apple to take its chips rather than have Apple turn to AMD. Supply lines, roadmaps, etc, all seem secondary to this.

I also wonder if Apple is going to use Itaniums (Itania?), and give Intel a way to get rid of some of them–they may be technically great, but have sold poorly because they aren’t x86-based. Since Apple is switching to a new platform, there’s no added penalty in switching to Itaniums (other than optimizing another compiler). Then again, Apple has hinted that people will be able to run Windows on their Macintels, which would mean that Itanium isn’t in the picture.

Now my head explodes

My house has been on the market for about 7 months. That’s a long time. Gwen and I had reduced our asking price shortly before Flipside, and we were getting a lot more interest. I had a feeling that we might get an offer while I was at Flipside (and out of cellphone range).

Sure enough, when I got back early Monday afternoon, I learned we had an offer. Within six hours, we had a pending contract. With a 15-day closing period. And a 6-day trip to Chicago scheduled in the middle. Meaning we have 9 days to pack up my house, assuming the deal goes through (which it probably will, but might not). We’ve already lined up a good deal on a temporary rental.

An event like Flipside gives your brain a lot to chew on (see my previous post), and puts you into a different reality, from which you return to the humdrum world only reluctantly. Being forced to shift so quickly back into everyday life has completely stripped my mental gearbox.

Everything is happening at once.

So Gwen and I spent a few hours Tuesday night boxing up books. Normally, Tuesday night would be fire practice. Normally, the Tuesday following Flipside, nobody would go. But because we had heard that Andy (a phenomenal firespinner visiting from Germany) was going to be there, a pretty good number of people turned out. Gwen and I set aside the boxes and went down as well. A little Flipside dessert.

Burning Flipside 2005

shirries feet

Went to Burning Flipside this past weekend. Unfortunately, Gwen wasn’t able to be with me. We found out (after we had our tickets) that a friend was having a weekend-long wedding bash at the same time, and because this was the same friend who had officiated at our weddding, we didn’t feel like we could miss that. But because The Powers That Be at Flipside had gone out of their way to make it possible for us to be there, we didn’t feel like we could say no to that. So we split the difference: one of us went to Flipside, one went to Davey’s weddingpalooza.

For those who don’t know, Flipside is a “regional burn,” a companion event to Burning Man, which started it all. Flipside is the oldest and largest of these regional burns. What these burn events are is a little harder to explain. When I don’t want to go into details, I call it a camp-out, but that’s like calling the Grand Canyon a ditch. It’s also an intentional community, an art festival, an experiment in “radical self-expression and radical self-reliance” (meaning: anything goes, and you better be able to take care of all your needs except for sanitary facilities). At the popular-perception end of the scale, it’s also an opportunity to do a lot of drugs and see a lot of boobies, but again, that’s completely missing the point.

The Intentional Community

Larry Niven wrote a science-fiction story called “The Anarchy Cloak,” which I read as a teenager. It was a gedankenexperiment about a future society with “anarchy parks” where anything goes, as long as it’s not violent–and there are little hovering robots to zap you if you get out of line. His story explores “what happens when the little robots get knocked out”–basically, warlordism in miniature. Niven’s view of human nature is cynical, albeit with ample justification.

Flipside is like an anarchy park, but without the same social-control mechanism. People are generally decent to each other because they want it to work. There are rangers to deal with problems, and problems do exist, but for the most part the rangers seem to get people to back off from confrontations and deal with people who have OD’d on some drug or another. I was discussing the whole experience with a ranger, Keeper, on the way out, and she observed that people show up not only wanting to make the event work, but to do something to make it better.

Flipside is a place where you can watch good karma in action. At Circle of Fire, the theme camp for firespinners, we had the dual problems of an inadequate sound system and inadequate power supply for it (despite Scott’s ingenious efforts), along with the fact that we were near two DJ’d camps, and would be competing with their sound output. Scott and I had strategized ways to deal with this without really coming up with a solution. At one point, I was filling the tiki torches surrounding CoF, and someone came over asking to bum some fuel for his tiki torches. I offered him all he wanted (there was still plenty left over when we were packing up to go home), and he asked if I wanted anything in return. I said no. He then told me he was from one of the adjacent camps, Winner’s Circle (whose DJ had been spinning vinyl I really enjoyed spinning fire to), so I said “you know, there is something you can do for me: point one of your speakers at the fire circle.” He was happy to do that, and our music problem was solved.

The Extravagant Gesture

Flipside, like other burner events, involves an astounding amount of work for a very large number of people who are derided as hippies and slackers in everyday life. An ordinary person showing up at Flipside would observe the amount of work going into creating a temporary community and ephemeral art, and shake his head in incredulity. Even the simple act of showing up at an event like this involves bringing a hell of a lot of shit for most folks. I showed up with my little wagon packed to the gills, and one of my campmates said, without sarcasm, “you travel light!”

The psychological cornerstone of every burner event is an effigy that is burned on the last night. At Flipside this year, the effigy was a rocket (resonating with this year’s theme: “Innergalactic Circus”). Major sub-assemblies for the rocket had been completed offsite in advance, and were assembled on the spot The result was (I am guessing) about 40 feet tall, and built like a brick shithouse. Seriously: houses that people live their whole lives in probably are not as solid. As I understand it, Dave Umlaus was in charge of the rocket’s construction. I doubt he slept for a week, and construction was still underway just a couple of hours before the burn.

What’s the point of building something, only to burn it down as soon as you finish? There are a lot of ways to answer that. To acknowledge the temporary nature of all things. To put on an exciting show. To create a ritual in which people can cast off the past and purify themselves. To have fun burning shit. Ephemeral art is common in Japan (cf: ikebana) and in other cultures. Perhaps this kind of thing wouldn’t seem so strange (at least for that reason) elsewhere.

Part of the reason behind this is the “wanting to make it better.” I think there’s also an element of auto-one-upsmanship, that is, people think “well, we did this pretty well last year, but we can do better this year.”

This is the most obvious example of the extravagant gesture, but only one of many. I was talking with my friend !Bob about the LED ring, which describes a very large circle around the effigy (this area is referred to as the L2C). Bob had written the code (in Assembly, no less) to control the lighting patterns of the ring, and explained to me just how homemade the damn thing is. I had seen it before, but never knew that it started life as epoxy mix, lumber, bare LEDs, custom-printed circuit boards, and some cheap off-the-rack chips. !Bob had dedicated a ridiculous amout of time to writing patterns for the ring, only to have his efforts stymied by various hardware malfunctions–overextending the limits of the serial communications protocol between the panels, two power supplies that failed because of the rain, poorly soldered joints on the boards, etc.

At many theme camps, people had schlepped out domes or other massive shade structures, DJ rigs and speaker setups, enough rugs to carpet the entire interior, etc. Perhaps the most extreme example was Chupacabra Policia, which set up a three-story scaffolding stockade, surrounded by a locked barbed-wire gate, blaring Extremely Strange Music, fake news reports, and intimidating directives over their PA at all times. Its members adopted names like Bootcutter, and wore uniforms with custom badges and emblems. They even had their own squad car. As Bootcutter put it, it’s not easy being that obnoxious, and that makes it a higher form of art. Just to piss off any feelgood PETAphile hippies, they made themselves notorious for slaughtering and cooking chickens at their camp.

Food

Andy, a firespinner from Germany, seemed to be marking his Flipside experience by the meals he ate. At every theme camp, someone was pushing some kind of meal on him. We had been chatting for a couple of minutes when he excused himself because a camp up the hill was about to be serving chili.

A lot of people (me included) pack way too much food so that they’ll have something to offer to others. At Spin Camp (where I sited my tent), we had a de-facto cook, Crispy. She had brought along hard-boiled eggs from her own chickens. She made cowboy coffee over a campfire every morning. On Friday morning, she made bacon/skirt-steak skewers for breakfast. On Sunday, she filled two massive cast-iron kettles with breakfast-taco fixing (again, using eggs from her chickens) and cooked them over the campfire. At other camps I saw Greek food, fajitas, burgers, chili, etc. One camp (Better Brains Bureau) made a name for itself by handing out chocolate cake and bacon for breakfast. Right after I heard about this, I ran into Striggy on the trail down to the field, and mentioned this to her. She enthused that that was exactly what she wanted.

The counterpart to all this food, of course, is booze. I packed a case-worth of good beer, which I barely made a dent in (beer is not as effective for hydration as water, and hydration is important). Also fixings for damn good margaritas, which, again, mostly went unused despite my persistence in offering them around. There were several theme camps that ran open bars as their centerpieces.

Music

There’s a lot of it, and it’s loud. If you read the theme camp descriptions, you’ll find a lot with vague, trippy descriptions that don’t tell you what will be going on at that camp. These can mostly be translated as “we will have DJs and lasers.” Different camps had different musical styles, of course, and there’s enough variety that anyone can find something that they’ll like. There was at least one camp spinning 130-bpm trance music more or less non-stop, and it all sounded the same. Wonderlounge, next to Spin Camp, had an interesting musical selection that I mostly enjoyed, but kept some of my camp-mates awake later than they wanted. Some of my camp-mates were using both earplugs and earmuff-style protectors to block out the sound.

The real problem with all this highly amplified music is that when you’re down on the main field (which some people wistfully refer to as “the playa”) and between music-oriented camps, you can hear at least two–and probably three–different tracks at any given time. This was a problem at CoF, because we were pretty much relying on the sound from a nearby camp for our music, and when you’re twirling fire, it really helps to have a beat (just one) that you can groove on.

Events

There are a lot of different events during the long weekend, which are all more or less open for anyone to participate in (that’s the whole idea). Both CoF and Spin Camp were holding poi lessons, in addition to hosting fire circles. Spreader Bar & Grill was tying Japanese-style bondage knots on anyone who asked, and you could see a lot of people wandering around with elaborate trusses around their torsos. There was a “Cthulhu Devival Hour.” A “Miss Flipside” competition, which was most entertaining–the first round of judging was an obstacle course in which contestants had to light someone’s cigarette in a creative fashion, hammer rebar with a sledgehammer, and wipe something–anything (and they did) with a wet-wipe–all while carrying a tray full of drinks. The second round consisted of the talent and interview portion. I have no idea who won, but my favorite contestant was Miss Firepants, who had enough attitude to power a small village.

There was a wedding held there. I didn’t know any of the parties involved, but a fire-friend did, and he asked me to be one of several people spinning fire as part of the ceremony. I was happy to oblige. As I heard it, civilians were also being trucked in to take part in the service, and I can only wonder what they thought of the freak procession (which was over a hundred people).

Rain

It has rained at every Flipside, as far as I know. This year it rained a lot–some folks were calling the event Burning Mudslide.

We had a relatively brief but heavy storm on Friday night. This fried two power supplies used in the LED ring, and made a hash of many campsites.

Saturday night, we had a rainstorm strike earlier. It was obvious that storm clouds were rolling in, so we had time to batten down the hatches, and I made it into my tent about a minute before the first drops hit. Some folks stayed out and made merry anyhow, but it was a massive storm that dumped sheets of water on us for hours. I am pleased to report that my tent basically stayed dry (upon striking it, I discovered that there was a small divot under my tent, and a pool of water had collected between the groundcloth and tent floor, soaking through the floor, but my air mattress was between me and the water). I took a nap. When I woke and found the rain had stopped (around 4:00 AM, I guess), I pulled on my shoes and walked down to the field. Except for one camp, it was dark and quiet. That was worth experiencing.

Fire

The big draw for me is the firedancing. Although my tent was at Spin Camp, I put in more work at Circle of Fire (both of which are oriented towards firespinning).

Because of the nature of burner events (hell, even the name), firedancers seem to have enjoyed a little bit of priviliged status at these events. But firedancing has become common enough within the freak community that the priviliged status seems to have worn off–it doesn’t draw as much of an audience, or as many would-be spinners eager to learn, and a lot of firespinners have decided that they have better things to do at flipside than burn.

If this sounds like I’m bitter, I’m not. There were a number of fire performers at Flipside who I knew by reputation, or who I saw goofing around during the daytime, and I would have enjoyed watching them more and doing fire-stuff with them more than I did–but it was a pleasure to watch them and play around with them as much as I did. If you’re out there–Skunk, Nico, Rachel, and Dan–I had a ball. Andy, the firespinner from Germany, never lit up that I saw, but he always had his poi in his hands, and would distractedly toss off crazy moves while chatting with you. I also noticed that he seemed to have his keys clipped to his wicks, for some reason.

Stress

Some time before Flipside, Tym asked me to coordinate the fire performance before the big burn of the effigy on Sunday, and I accepted. This turned out to be the overriding aspect of my Flipside experience.

I developed a general plan for how to organize the fire performance. Nothing very complicated–I knew that any plan would need to allow for a lot of flexibility. And I wanted to strike a balance between two conflicting schools of thought on how the performance should be organized: those who thought that it should emphasize talent and showmanship, and those who thought it should maximize participation and inclusion. In case this is of any value to anyone in the future, my original plan was this:

  • Divide the circle into eight wedges.
  • Have performers segregate themselves by ability. Beginners would serve the same role as backup singers, and would station themselves along the back edges of each wedge, laying down a simple pattern with transitions every four measures. More proficient performers would be front and center, going crazy.
  • With 15 minutes of performance time, we could divide the performers into two or three shifts, so that as one performer went out, another would file in.
  • No fire-breathing. I was concerned that the circle would be too crowded and dynamic, and that the crowd would be too close to have safe fire-breathing. This probably pissed off a couple of people.

I had put out a request on a couple of Internet forums asking people who wanted to take part to contact me in advance. A few people did, but there were clearly far fewer respondents than there would be participants.

So at Flipside, I started tracking people down who I knew personally, knew by reputation, by referral, or who I just saw playing with firedancing equpment. I explained to everyone where and when to assemble, what to do, and what my plan was. And it was interesting that I got pushback from a few people who said the plan was elitist or hierarchical, but I knew that any plan would be unsatisfactory to some people, so I shrugged it off. I asked everyone to pass word on to other fire performers they knew. I found the “drum gods” camp and asked them to send a contingent of eight drummers to lay down a steady beat–my original idea was one drummer per slice. They explained they all had to be in one spot to stay on the same beat, but that the sound would carry across the ring. They were especially concerned about hot fuel being cast off by a wick, hitting a drum head, and destroying it.

On Sunday morning, someone asked me how many people I expected would be taking part. I answered “between 10 and 100.” In fact, I thought the number would be about 60.

At about 6:00 on Sunday, I just happened to be present at a war council in the circle around the rocket (having just marked wedges with orange spray paint), discussing the latest weather forecast: there was a thunderstorm watch, flood watch, tornado watch, and chance of hail for the entire county. Oh, shit. Everyone stands around with very serious faces, wondering “now what?” Dave Umlaus, who looked like he had been run through a cheese grater and hastily reassembled into his original form, absorbed the news with a dead expression. The original plan was for rocket ignition at about 10:00 PM, and it was decided that we would try to stick to that plan, but might move the launch up by one hour, to avoid the worst of the weather–apparently, high winds were the main concern, as they could carry embers into the trees.

This meant that I had to track down everyone I had previously told to assemble at 9:15, and update them that they should be there at 8:15. Maybe. Tym apologized to me unnecessarily, and I said “if I wanted to take it easy, I would have stayed home.” I started making a couple passes throughout RecPlan, and seemed to manage to find almost everyone who needed to be found. I also found a few people who had never gotten the invitation in the first place, so I was able to get them on-board. I stopped by the drum gods again–they had heard something was up, but wanted to get my story. After the previous night’s rainstorm, they decided to place their biggest drums on one of the “gator” utility carts that constantly crisscross the site, so they could drive it under the nearby roofed pavillion at the first sign of rain.

This was stressful.

I changed into my eveningwear, and someone from my camp (also named Adam) blasted some glitter onto my brightly sunburned torso. I grabbed a granola bar for dinner, and carried extra fuel down to Circle of Fire, the place where everyone was going to congregate. I arranged the fuel depot to make it clearer what was going on.

At this point, the decision on when to launch the rocket was still up in the air, and in fact was not going to be decided until the last minute. That decision was up to the fire marshal.

Tym was leading a parade throughout the site, gathering up people from every camp as he went. His original plan (also a shambles now) was that the parade would arrive on the field just in time for the firedancers to start their show, then we’d do our thing, and then the rocket would be lit. Instead, he had to arrive on the field early and lead the parade through multiple laps around it. On one lap he gave me his bullhorn so that I could rally my troops. It turned out that there were a little over 30, with about a dozen safety people. I had them count off by eights to determine their position on the circle, had them start soaking and spinning out their wicks. At this point, I had too few firespinners to justify taking shifts, but 15 minutes of time to fill, so I told everyone to resoak and come back out immediately.

On another lap around, Tym came over and said “as of now, all your people need to be ready to go on at a moment’s notice” and I relayed this. Sure enough, a few minutes later, Tym came by again and said “get them out there now and light them up.” So they did. I patrolled the perimeter while they burned. One of the safety people took me aside and explained that someone in her wedge (whom I had not met) was insisting on fire-breathing–the safety had explained my position, but he was adamant. As it turned out, this wasn’t a big deal, since there was a pretty wide band between the fire performers and everyone else, being patrolled by rangers, and the circle itself wasn’t that crowded.

After about five minutes of burn time, someone came to me and told me “we have to clear the circle now.” So much for the re-soak and re-light plan. I ran over to the fuel depot and told everyone to stop re-dipping, though a few people got past. I went back out to the circle and hollered at everyone to clear the circle. A couple of showboats delayed leaving for a couple minutes, but apparently that wasn’t a deal-breaker.

Once the field was cleared, we waited. There were drummers everywhere, people hooting and hollering. The predicted storm was gathering–massive thunderheads, with frequent lightning. It made a perfect backdrop, and I half-expected a lightningbolt to strike the rocket. After some period of time, thrusters at the bottom of the rocket fired and everyone went nuts. Although there was a spinning fire-fountain on the top of the rocket, and it had been test-fired the previous night, it did not fire at this time. I suspect there were a hundred things that went wrong (the LED ring was completely shut off), but there was so much going on that you’d never miss it if you hadn’t known it was there. It took a while for the rocket to really start burning in earnest, but once it did there was a massive wave of heat that pushed everyone back about ten paces. It took a long time to burn and collapse (there was a lot of wood in there, and it was solidly built). It was sending embers perhaps 100 feet into the air, with the smoke creating a weak vortex. Firefighters were spraying their hoses to wet down the field downwind. As soon as the edifice had collapsed and the heat died down a bit, a lot of people moved inside the LED ring, and started walking in a circle around it. I was relieved and happy things had gone off as well as they did, and I hugged, congratulated, and thanked people as I went by or they did. As the fire died down a little more, people moved in to get as close as they could tolerate. Firespinners stepped into the band between the embers and the rest of the crowd (that is to say, the zone where the heat was intolerable). I grabbed my chains and joined them. After four light-ups in the hot zone, my sunburn was twice as bad–practically purple.

The storm mostly passed us by–we got a light sprinkling, but that was it. I wound up turning in relatively early. It was difficult to find a comfortable position to lie in with my sunburn, but I managed to get a pretty good night’s sleep.

The next morning, I hastily struck my own campsite (which was still kind of wet and muddy) and got it ready to load. I grabbed some garbage bags and went down to CoF to pick up the cigarette butts, tinsel, bottlecaps, etc. Finished up with that and went back up. Went to get my car, and found it blocked in by a gator–apparently someone at the adjacent camp had OD’d, and there were rangers and medics dealing with the situation. A few minutes later, though, I was able to get my car out. I loaded it up quickly and said goodbye to my camp-mates. On my way out, I saw Jori, a camp-mate and ranger, and said goodbye to her. Another ranger came over and asked “can you give someone a ride to the airport?” I said sure, and they loaded up Keeper and her one duffel bag (talk about travelling light!). The ranger gave me a piece of “flipside currency”–I have no idea what I would do with it, and I’m not inclined to part with it anyhow.

flipside coin

More

I’ll write more as I think of it.

Movie roundup

Been a long time since I actually blogged the movies I’ve seen. Here goes.

  1. Off the Map. Good, evocative, low-key, and smart. Directed by Campbell Scott, who I only knew of as an actor (but one who takes smart roles). Joan Allen is excellent, and seems to improve with time.
  2. Sin City. Wow. Visually, this is one of the most arresting movies I’ve seen in a long time. The stories are, well, pretty much standard pulp-fiction, although kind of interesting in that the good guys aren’t really all that good; the bad guys are inventively despicable, though. The babes are hawt. The violence is really, surprisingly, intense and remorseless. I learned after seeing the movie that, like Sky Captain, the whole movie was shot in front of greenscreens and the backgrounds were all CG–I had guessed there was a lot of CG, but I didn’t realize it was total. I’d say Rodriguez did a better job with it here. Like Sky Captain, the visuals are stylized, but this kind of stylization seems to work better. And the technology has probably improved. I also learned that Rodriguez was fanatically faithful to Miller’s layouts from the comic book in his scene composition.
  3. The Interpreter. A formula Hollywood suspense movie with pretty good execution. Problems: It peaks too early. It tries to lard too many red-herrings and distracting personal stories. (I mean, really, did they need to make it so Sean Penn’s character had just lost the wife from whom he had been sort-of separated but on the verge of a reconciliation? He plays tortured personalities naturally, you don’t need to pile it on.) But, speaking as a translator, I can say that they accurately portrayed the members of my sister profession as a bunch of attractive stateless vagabonds with shady pasts in guerilla organizations.
  4. Enron: the Smartest Guys in the Room. Didn’t tell us a whole lot that we didn’t already know, and was forced by time constraints to omit some interesting aspects of the company’s shady dealings. It did give us more insight into the personalities at the top. Felt a little disorganized, but still absorbing.

Hill Country Ride for Aids

Gwen and I finished the HCRA this past weekend.

We had gone to a mandatory orientation for the ride (apart from packet pickup) that suggested the organizers took a patronizing and paternalistic attitude towards the riders. No drafting, no riding double-file (even if the shoulder permits it), lights-out at 9:00, etc. My enthusiasm had waned long before we showed up at the rollout.

I hadn’t been on my road bike at all in three weeks. Gwen and I have been very busy with the house, buffing up that curb appeal and trying to make it more saleable. We didn’t even start packing for the ride until 9:30 the night before.

Rollout was supposed to be at about 8:00 AM Saturday, and we were encouraged to get there well before that, to allow for setup and general confusion. So we were out of bed at 6:00 AM after a poor night’s sleep. Weather was not agreeable: cold, rain, and lightning. By the time we arrived at the starting point, the lightning had abated, but conditions were no more inviting. The organizers delayed rollout repeatedly, until about 10:30, to give the weather a chance to clear. It still wasn’t clear at 10:30, but it was less bad. My mood was foul.

Once we got moving, however, it wasn’t so bad. As event rides go, this is a small one–something like 350 riders–and the patronizing attitude of the organizers had led me to believe that almost all the riders were beginners. This was not the case: there were plenty of competent riders out there, and some damn zooty bikes. Once we had a chance to warm up, and the field thinned itself out, riding wasn’t too bad. Within an hour or so, things were drying out, and by lunch, the weather was actually quite pleasant.

The route on Day One was shortened by about 15 miles, to 50 miles, because of the delayed rollout. That turned out to be quite sufficient. The course was divided into 4 legs, with lunch at the end of leg 3. I knew that, despite my lack of training, I’d be able to grind through the ride on willpower and my lifetime mileage base. While I was gratified to be proved right, I was definitely riding a lot weaker than I felt I should be, and on the third leg of Day One leading into the lunch stop, the combination of little sleep, little training, and energy drained away waiting in the cold left my vision closing in a tiny bit as I jammed along. At the stop, it took me about 10 minutes before I could contemplate food. At some point late in the course, (leg 3? leg 4? It’s all a blur) we ran into a hill that had at least 4/5th of the riders walking–it’s not so much that the hill was itself terribly steep, but that it came at the end of four miles of gradual climbing. Gwen and I both managed to ride up it (and I managed to hold my 23 in reserve).

Once we rolled into camp in Krause Springs, we pitched camp, got cleaned up, hung out, and ate barbecue. By the time we were done with dinner, it was getting dark and cold (and we hadn’t packed enough warm clothes), so bed turned out the best place to be. Davey, the eponym for our team, had tweaked his knee, so he headed back to Austin after dinner. I realized I had risked the same, by riding in a nearly new pair of cleats (Nikes with carbon-fiber soles. There’s too much hype and fashion with Nike, but if I can get their shoes for 1/3rd retail or less, I’ll hold my nose and buy them. The carbon-fiber soles on these really are nice.) that I hadn’t quite settled into. As it turns out, the shoes didn’t give me any trouble, but that wasn’t the smartest thing to do.

Day Two started off chilly but dry apart from dew. We got up a little late, giving the sun a chance to warm things up for us a little. Breakfast consisted of breakfast tacos and insufficient amounts of insufficiently strong coffee. We struck camp and rolled out. The course this day seemed to mostly trace back Day One’s course. The same hill that had people walking on Day One had them walking Day Two going the other way. Over the course of this ride, I was definitely moving a little slower, my ass was sore, my hands were sore (I had forgotten my gloves), but I managed to avoid the tunnel vision of the day before. Gwen and I both finished pretty strongly and without incident.

The course was challenging and beautiful–I love the hill country. I’ve done some riding out there before, and was prepared for some of the stuff this course had in store for us. There was probably at least one support volunteer for every rider on the course, and they had plastered the sides of the roads with signs to encourage us that made me feel a bit like I was in fifth grade. But they had also looked after, well, just about everything: feeding us, transporting our gear, minding things on the course (I had occasion to borrow a track pump from one of them when I flatted early on Day One). We just had to ride, eat, and camp out.

I’ve posted a few pictures at Flickr.

iPod shuffle = yuppie gimme-cap

Practically overnight, the iPod shuffle has established itself as the upscale promotional giveaway. I know of three recent events where the shuffle was given away as a door prize–Gwen being the lucky recipient of one of these.

This is interesting on many levels. An underlying assumption is that any possible recipient will be able to use it and will value it (which is based on other assumptions about access to computers, technical competence, interest in music, etc). In other ways, though, the Shuffle itself is almost perfect as a door-prize: it makes no assumptions about the user’s tastes. It is faceless and white. Unassuming. Neither girly nor masculine, liberal nor conservative. It is blank, and becomes a mirror of the user’s tastes by being used. It is cheap enough for a promoter to buy a few out of petty cash, but nice enough to make the winner feel lucky to get it. And it really is nice–after using hers for all of five minutes, Gwen commented “I’ll bet their are twelve-step programs for iPod users.”

The iPod does make one assumption: that your ears are big enough to accommodate Apple’s earbuds, and as it turns out, Gwen’s aren’t.

Mashup

I’ve never been a fan of mashup music, but perhaps that’s because I wasn’t listening to the right stuff. I recently ran across DJ Earworm, and damn is he (she?) good. I’ll admit it’s weird stuff–mashups in general are pretty weird, but this is taking it to extremes, combining Dolly Parton (covering Stairway to Heaven, of all things), Annie Lenox, Pat Benatar, the Beatles, Laurie Anderson, and I don’t know what else all in a single track. Somehow it works.

Art car parade

Had a busy Satutday. Gwen and I rode down to the farmer’s market, and then checked out the art car parade. There were some amazing creations in the parade. There was also a dismaying level of corporate sponsorship–it’s sad to see something so blatantly countercultural getting co-opted as a marketing opportunity.

I’ve posted some photos on flickr (by no means an exhaustive catalog of the entries, though), with comments on individual objets there.

farmersmarket.jpg

Google automats the one-line bio

I was trying out the new Yagoohoogle and of course, had to search on my name to do a double-barreled egosurf. The first result from Google not only pinpoints me (as opposed to the other Adam Rices out there), it cobbles together a one-line synopsis of who I am and what’s going on at my site.

Freelance Japanese-English translator living in Hyde Park. Includes a weblog, recipes, trip diaries, and rants.

This sentence doesn’t appear anywhere on my site. Fragments of it do. I tried typing in the names of some friends who also have websites and distinctive names, but didn’t come up with anything equivalent for them. I wonder where this came from. I know that Google News has some kind of magical news-story synopsizer–I wonder if they’re starting to apply that technology elsewhere. It’s obviously not perfect–although I do have a few recipes posted on this site, they’re hardly as prominent as other kinds of writing. And rants? Moi?

Later: I think I found the source of that bio. Dmoz. Should have guessed. Presumably written by a human, though it isn’t clear who the category editor is. Some other Google results for fellow bloggers seem to be culled from this listing, which could do with some editing. My name given as “Adam Rice,” David Nuñez’ as “Nuñez, David,” and many other people listed under the title of their blog, rather than their name (and no, I am not volunteering to edit this).

Tuna fajitas

Hey look, a recipe. Gwen decided to live dangerously the other night, so she put me in charge of dinner. I came up with the following, and it turned out pretty well.

Ingredients

  • 1 lb tuna filets or steaks
  • onion
  • bell pepper
  • other vegetables to suit
for marinade
  • soy sauce
  • juice of 2 limes
  • black pepper
  • other spices to suit
for topping
  • cilantro, chopped
  • red cabbage, chopped

Directions

  • Slice the tuna into strips about 0.25″ thick.
  • Juice limes and combine marinade ingredients in a non-reactive (pyrex) shallow pan.
  • Marinate sliced tuna in pan. Marinade should be deep enough to just cover the strips; if not, you will need to rotate the strips periodically. Leave 20–30 minutes to marinate: the tuna should be uniformly chemically cooked by the lime juice on the outside.
  • Slice onion and bell pepper and any other vegetables you want to include into long, narrow strips; also chop toppings.
  • Sautee onions in a cast-iron skillet. When onions start turning brown, add bell peppers and any other vegetables; shortly after, add the fish along with the marinade.
  • Stir for two minutes, then cover and allow to cook over medium/high heat for another 8 minutes or until the fish is cooked through. Transfer contents of skillet to a serving piece and clean skillet immediately, as lime juice will corrode the surface of the skillet.

This recipe would go well with a chipotle cream sauce as a topping—I’ll try that next time.

Interesting things I have learned in the past two days

My DSL modem was bouncing up and down repeatedly yesterday. It’s not unusual for it to reboot once in a while, but this was clearly Wrong. Called SBC’s tech support in Bangalore and got a trouble-ticket number.

A little while later, a good ol’ boy called me back. My line had already started behaving, but he did some tests while I was on the line, and we discussed the problem. Now, the service I signed up for is nominally 128 up/384 down. Apparently, my bandwidth had been automatically upgraded to 128 up/1500 down (I had noticed that my downloads were much faster than 384), and this was the cause of the problem. As he told me, I’m 15,000 feet from the central office, and my line can’t sustain that kind of bandwidth reliably (approximately 17,000 from the CO is usually as far as they’ll go). He changed my service to 384 up/768 down and said he was seeing a cleaner signal.

It’s interesting that A) SBC is upgrading service for its customers without squeezing more money out of them, and B) is apparently doing so without human intervention.


Tonight, Gwen and I are attending a Zombie Formal at the Pink Pleasure Palace. We needed to get some makeup for wounds, so we headed to the Bazaar, where a very helpful clerk showed us our options and gave us some ideas. We were going to pick up some stage blood, and he pointed out that they usually have a better selection, but with Easter coming, they’ve sold out of one variety. Apparently they sell more blood for Easter than for Halloween, and this has been exacerbated by The Passion. I never realized Christians were so lurid.