30 June, 2008

The coolest thing ever!

Location: internets
Mood: impressed

Check out this really neat web tool!

This thing will tell you every single flight, where it is, and what its altitude is, in close-to-real-time! Super cool.

For example, the tagged plane I highlighted is Alaska Air Flight 547 from Long Beach to Seattle, and it is a Boing MD-83.

Fun times. For older flight data, you can also watch "replays" of the day's flights, and at various spots on the map it shows noise data, telling you how many decibels of noise were created as a plane passed near the meter. In lots of areas around, and south of downtown, there are routinely events in the 65-70dB range. This is compared to "normal conversation level". For comparison sake, the noise level inside most passenger cars, while driving, is about 85dB and the noise level while using a lawnmower is 107dB. Of course, if the airplanes are making "conversation level" noise, then it would stand to reason that having a conversation when one is flying over Capitol Hill would be slightly distracting.

29 June, 2008

Flight paths...

Location: anywhere in Seattle
Mood: deafening

One thing that I found interesting when I first moved to Seattle, and was working at the UW was that you could see the airplanes on their approach to Sea-Tac, because they would fly over the University heading south (usually). And I was intrigued by it. I tried to identify the different planes. And I learned all sorts of interesting phenomena, including the typical patterns - most traffic on most days would be heading south on arrival. Except in the evenings, you would see some transcontinental flights heading out to the north around 6pm or so each day. I even knew which airlines they were (British Air, SAS, Northwest), and what types of airplanes they were (747, Airbus A-340). It was interesting trivia.

But after living here for almost 9 years, there is now one specific thing that I notice about the flight paths. No matter where you live in the main part of Seattle, you are on a flight path, and it will be noisy, all day, every day from 6am until 1am or 2am. Constant noise.

And this has irked me. What I have never been able to understand is the following: Given that Seattle is located practically on the ocean, why can't they direct all flights over the water (either Lake Washington, or the Puget Sound) rather than directly over Seattle (from Northgate, all the way to Sea-Tac, they go straight in).

I have always wondered, "Where would I address a complaint?", with full knowledge that there will not be a damn fucking thing that I could do about the noise, since I am sure that since this airport's inception (it was built in 1944), there have probably been thousands of people who have complained.

So I did a Google search today, and I found out that there is a webpage specifically discussing "noise abatement" efforts. However, from looking at this page, I do not see how this is noise abatement, anymore than I see "attack plans" as being part of a "peace initiative".

First of all, some facts. MOST of the time, as you probably can tell, the airplanes travel toward the south over the city; i.e. arrival. It seems that when the weather is clear, they switch to the opposite direction, where planes depart to the north over the city, but since it is mostly cloudy here, that means that we get more time with planes landing over the city than taking off. Correct me if I am wrong, somebody, will you?

So, the main map that we need to consider is the "South Flow" map. It is here:

In this picture, orange is arrival, and green is departure. So for Seattle proper, it is the orange we look at. And basically what this is saying is that every single plane that arrives on this approach will fly over the entire length of Seattle from Northgate, through Downtown, including U-District, Greenlake, Capitol Hill.

The other pattern, which is the rarer one (taking off to the north) still has ALL traffic going over Downtown and Capitol Hill:

At least this pattern they break off just south of Lake Union, sparing most of North Seattle (the exceptions you see are the few green strands that probably constitute the transatlantic flights that continue all the way to the north).

My question to you is: "How exactly is this 'noise abatement'?"

It seems to me it is just basically proof that they are taking the most noise-polluting path that could possibly be taken. Unfortunately, now that you look at this map and you think about the size of these aircraft, and their velocity, I think the answer to our noise question is probably an engineering constraint. With the orientation of the runways, for safety purposes, there are really no other options than to fly directly over the city!

See, the airport runways are oriented north to south, and the airport is due south of the city. How was this a good design? Well, I guess just like so many other things, they did not think about the future development of the city, and about how planes would get bigger and require longer approach paths. Nope. Just like every other piece of infrastructure in Seattle, they fucked this one up too.

Take, for example, Chicago. Multiple runways are oriented on horizontal, and at every 45 degree angle, with Chicago to the southeast of the airport by about 16 miles.

But, I guess I haven't spent much time in Chicago, so maybe I should shut up and stop complaining.

However, now that I have read further, I am not going to shut up:

Consider the following quote from this article written a number of years ago:

"It is important to note though that the problem at STIA [Sea-Tac International Airport] is one of the worst in the country"

Indeed this has been an ongoing problem and story for years, and there have been battles over new runways, changing of flight paths, etc.

AND... I just found the coolest thing ever!! So cool it gets a separate blog entry!

A wrinkle in a perfect Sunday morning

Location: Cafe Presse
Mood: aggravated

This rant could easily go spinning off in many directions here, so I am going to write this preface in the hope of reminding myself to stay on topic.

Here is the topic: Why do people think that it is completely acceptable for their tiny offspring to invade the personal space of complete strangers in public places?

You can call me a curmudgeon if you wish, but I think this is a reasonable question. You chose to have children. I did not. And there may be lots of reasons why I did not, and it is not necessarily a bad thing that you did decide to have children. But it is a bad thing when you merrily go about your dining experience in peace while your 2.5 year old is bumping into me at the next table and transmitting their Coxsackie virus to me.

It really only pertains to kids of a certain age. Because honestly, once kids get to be about 4 or 5 years old, they usually do not get wildly into others' space because it's around this age that I think they learn about the concept of personal space and why one would not want it invaded. When kids are like 5 or 6 or beyond, they will do the usual "running around the restaurant" thing, and that does not bother me so much. Some people are enraged by that as well, but I just see that as playing, which I am not even sure needs to be controlled. If you take your kids to a completely upscale restaurant, maybe shame on you. But at a coffee shop, or basic restaurant, let the kids run around. Luna and Raven did that, and if they really were like bumping into people's chairs, we would just say "GIRLS! You are not being respectful!" and they realize that is not a desirable behavior, and they will usually at least slightly improve their behavior.

So it is not like I am anti-kid. What I am is anti-parent! :)

When kids are in the just-barely-walking to pre-school stages, they have absolutely no concept of personal space, and they consider all people to be potential curiosities that should be explored. At this point, I think it would really be best if you just keep them in the house for about 3 years, but if you must unleash them on us, you need to control them. And it is clearly not the child's fault. But ignorant parents who just think "Oh... it's okay! He's fine!" really piss me off. Yes, I realize little "Konner" is fine, but what about me? Am I fine? Or am I about to pull out that semi-automatic handgun that I carry (legally) in my backpack, and perform some population control?

As we speak, little "Tighler" is in the process of rearranging the chairs at my table while the group of adults who own him are just smiling and occasionally glancing his way just to make sure he does not put any silverware in the electrical outlets.

I guess I am a bad human being though because I don't see the beauty of this incredibly adventurous period in early-childhood development. I shouldn't complain. He hasn't actually touched me, or removed any items from my table yet, so this isn't as bad as it could be.

Now little "Jaykhubhe" has knocked the silverware and salt shakers off the adjacent empty table and finally this causes mom to stand up and invite him back over to the table. So it's good to see that she has some boundaries. I guess the threshold is "anything that might cause the service staff to become annoyed with us". But fuck the other customers.

It might be getting to be about time for me to get out of here, because he is now under the bench, crawling under me, and there is a reasonably high probability that he will touch me. Yes! He has now officially touched me, and some part of his back side was damp when he touched me. Probably a wet diaper. Nice.

I am going to head home and wash myself with sodium hydroxide.

Perfectionism is a painful path

Location: the recording studio
Mood: oh, i don't know

I think that I would enjoy being a professional musician. Someone who is paid to play tracks in the studio all day, every day. I would enjoy the situation you hear about where a band will spend weeks in the studio just "getting the sounds", with a producer to assist and an engineer to position all the microphones and tell you exactly what sound will fit. I would even enjoy the idea of being that recording engineer, though I would probably not be thrilled to work with players who are not that skilled, because my patience is not exactly stellar, sorry to admit. That's not to say that I think I am anywhere near stellar, because I really do not think that. I just don't take that much time to deliver "pretty good". That's my specialty. I am a master of rapidly producing B+ work. That has been true in most things in my life. It is harder to get A+ work from me, and I question whether or not it is even possible. I think the only time you get A+ from me is if it accidentally comes out of me on the first try. I don't know. Maybe I am being too self-critical, as usual.

Back to what I was saying.

I would love to record full time. But I must say that recording part-time, for a few weeks out of a year, is challenging.

When we recorded the CD, we had a time constraint, we had a budget constraint, we didn't really know what we were doing, entirely. We had a generous engineer who did a lot for us "pro bono" because he was starting out his studio. But the problem is that it is hard to put your finger on the right level of "this is good enough". When you start off your sessions, you know you want to get a lot done, so there is a tendency to play a track, and if it sounds okay, you say "this is good enough, let's move on to the next one". But then over time, you start discovering little things here. Little things there. And they annoy. And sometimes it becomes difficult to go back and fix them, because the settings on the board are different. Or the settings on your amplifier. Or whatever.

The flip side is to start off your recording and be completely anal from step one. Not tolerating anything other than your perfect take, with a perfect tone. And you can drive yourself insane really fast if you come in with that attitude. But if you don't have that attitude, then you find yourself repeatedly listening back and thinking "I could play that a little better" or "I wonder how that would have sounded if I tried this" and you might talk yourself into redoing everything. With any form of art, I guess, whether it be painting, sculpture, music, writing, or whatever, there is a big unknown of "When is it done?"

How can you ever know?

When I was seeing Denise, I asked her one time about her paintings. I said "How do you know when you're done?", because her paintings always had many layers of color, and texture, and often different types of media would be pasted on to her work. And she would just grab this, grab that, and it was not clear if there was a plan. She said that there wasn't always a plan, but that she would keep going until she reached a point where she was like "I think this is kind of all done". With a painting, I can understand that, though I don't know if I could be that person who hangs up the painting and says it's all done.

But with music, which is obviously the only thing that I do that could remotely be called "art" and even then, only loosely, I have a lot harder time envisioning that comfortable "done" point. With the first CD that we did, I felt like one or two of the songs were just fucking fantastic. For instance some songs, I would not touch again if my life depended on it. If for some reason I needed to play that again, I am not sure I could do anything that would make me happier than what is on that recording. The song that I wrote is a different story. I was happy with my guitar sound. But I didn't play it perfectly. And we all agreed that perfect to the point of being "mechanical" was not the goal, but it was essentially a pop tune, and I felt I just didn't execute that well. Of course, I think the guitar that you hear on that recording was the first take we did of that song, with zero overdubs or punches. And I mean that literally. That was the scratch track! We never went back and redid those guitars, because they were "good enough". The engineer did a great job with tone, and I guess we played it well enough. Mark redid a lot of his guitar parts, if I remember correctly, or at least corrected mistakes. But mine was the original. So my guitar track on the final recording was one that was played while I was simultaneously singing the scratch vocal (which I did redo twice).

But with that one, I remember we thought the song was done, but I had not sung it well enough. Obviously it had passed the muster of the band members, and of the recording engineer. But every time I listened to it, I could hear myself a hair out of key, or just a hair "not right" and it made me cringe. And I knew, if this stays like it is, I will be forever cringing for the rest of my life.

But where do you draw that line?

Because I did go back and fix those mistakes that I heard. But even in the end, I still hear a new batch of cringers in that song, that are albeit far less cringeful, but it's still there. I guess it is always going to be hard to listen to your own playing. Except on those rare circumstances. I was pretty happy with how the guitar tracks came out on the first CD.

Now we are doing the guitar tracks for my new band. And I want them to be good. We're recording on our own time, "for free", so to speak, because the band has its own recording arrangements. But you still don't want to annoy the shit out of your bandmates. So how do you know when it is good enough? Is "no cringe" the bar? Or is "perfect tone", "perfect playing", "transcendental experience" the threshold? I don't know.

I try to remind myself that a lot is usually done to things in the mix to make them richer, and smoother, and fuller, and so they sit right with the other instruments.

But I want it to be very good! I don't want the reviews of the next CD to start off "Another strong batch of songs from Jim and his team, though newcomer rhythm guitar player unfortunately provided a sonic backdrop that is anemic and uninspired... it is sad to see the band is now irretrievably hobbled by his ineptitude"

Of course, I am being facetious. But I guess I just want to be "GREAT".

All that said, I think it is possible to go insane if you are a) perfectionistic, and b) compulsive. One thing they told me when we started the studio was "We do not want you to bring every guitar and every amplifier you own", and this was actually liberating to be given this constraint. Because it would be easy to go that way, and just get every possible sound. I suppose there's a delicate balance, but it also comes down to budget. If you record 10 takes of the song, you need to decide which to use.

Even when I am at home recording by myself, I have a hard time deciding on vocal tracks which is the right one to use. It's not easy. Because you could pick it apart word by word, phrase by phrase, and assemble the best one. But it becomes a Frankenstein 100 headed monster. I guess in the old days when vinyl was the only recording medium, people performed the song, and they did it correctly from start to finish. And if it was not perfect, they did it again. It was organic. Even when they started using tape, and splicing was a possibility, there had to be a good cost-efficient reason why it would make more sense to do a splice than to just replay the part.

Okay. I am not sure if I can say anything else about this right now.

I just want it to be good.

28 June, 2008

MySpace, meet Blogger. Blogger, meet MySpace

Location: here and now
Mood: there and then

As promised (or at least, as implied) I decided to port what I considered to be the "better" of my MySpace blogs over to this site so that I could easily refer to them in the future, and so that you could have the opportunity to waste even more of your time looking backwards at my useless mental wanderings if you wanted to do so.

I decided to enter them with their original chronology, but not all-inclusive. There are not many haikus, for example, which were a mainstay of the MySpace blog. Pray that I don't go down that avenue again here! I think I was haikuing when I couldn't think of anything else to say, or when I was not able to discuss things that were too private to write here.

So... if you look from February, 2008, and backwards through 2007 and 2006 in the archive, you will find all the deliciously inspiring nuggets.

Go now. Get thee to a nunnery.

26 June, 2008

Digging into the depths of blog history...

Location: myspace
Mood: nostalgic?

I am thinking of republishing some of my blog entries from MySpace. Not all of them, and not all at once. But I would like to get them up here so that they're archived as part of this writing collection. I forgot about a lot of them, and some of them are actually worth posting. I will probably spare you the ones where I am just whining about my day-to-day existence.

Just giving you a heads-up. I will indicate the ones that are reposted, though it is tempting to enter them with proper chronology, in which case you may never find them... well, you could find them by the date archive. Not sure what I will do yet.

Is this easier to read?

Location: my blog
Mood: easy on the eyes?

It occurs to me (after I try to read my own blog) that perhaps small white text on a black background was not easy to read. I am experimenting trying to find something that is easier. I am avoiding most of the standard "Blogger" templates because they all use a narrow column for the actual text, and I prefer the wider page. I am happy to hear input on that as well.

But just curious if this color scheme is better than what I had before?

I don't care about fancy designs... just want it to be easy to read.

25 June, 2008

Strange observation...

Location: gmail
Mood: lonely

Lately I hardly ever receive Gmail communication, compared to what I used to receive daily, and I think it is because I do more instant messaging and Facebook, and that has taken the place of just "catching up via email". So I am no less in touch with people than I ever was... probably more than before.

But somehow, I am still feeling a little lonely and rejected.

Why won't you send me email anymore? Don't you love me?

Consumers are feeling the pain...

Location: NBC nightly news
Mood: disgusted

We are not humans anymore. We are not people. We are not persons. We are not beings. We are not entities. We are not creatures. We are not animals. We are not citizens. We are not members of society. We are not spirits in the material world. We are not primates. We are not homonids. We are not homo sapiens. We are not individuals. We are not characters. We are not players in the game of life. We are most definitely not souls.


We are consumers.

That is what we are. That is what they call us in the media. And that is how we are viewed by both our government and by corporations. And it is fucking depressing.

I was watching the NBC news last night with Brian Williams (who I like, even though he pretty much looks exactly like every other news anchor because apparently they've decided that there is a face that a news anchor must have, or else he will not be taken seriously, or possibly they want them all to look alike so if you are looking for Tom Brokaw or Peter Jennings (RIP) and you accidentally stumble upon Brian Williams, you don't change the channel because he looks familiar enough, but I digress).

So... watching news at the gym, because I only had 28 songs in my mp3 player for reasons that are too complex, boring, and frustrating to explain to you at this time, and they were doing a segment (which I really wanted to refer to as a "skit", since all news is starting to feel like it is more about entertainment and ratings than about information). And in this "segment" they were discussing how the economy is tough right now, and food is expensive, and goods are getting expensive, and gas is expensive, and homes are losing value, and all that. Ironically, on FOX News, they're telling us that the economy is strong, and that with the exception of ONE year (2001), we have had positive economic data for every year of Bush's Administration. I think it's entertaining that they keep touting these low unemployment numbers. I seem to recall hearing that a caveat to unemployment is that you are not included in unemployment statistics if you are not any longer on the lists of people looking for work. In fact, I would like to know what "unemployment numbers" reflect. Is it "people collecting unemployment benefits"? Because that would be a laugh! You could improve employment data by refusing to pay unemployment benefits for more and more people! Whatever.

So the point I am getting at here is that in this segment, they kept referring to us as "consumers". And they didn't say it once. They didn't say it twice. If I had counted, I think that in a 90 second segment, they probably said the word "consumer" at least 15 times, and said the word "people" exactly zero times.

"Consumers are feeling the pain at the gas pumps"
"Consumers are experiencing anxiety about decreasing home values"
"One consumer said that she was having a hard time making ends meet"
"Consumer confidence may be heading toward a new low"

Consumers are getting pissed off at repeatedly being referred to in such a derogatory manner.

The worst part is that when you really think about it, the word "consumer" is actually a very insulting term, that has been used for decades with a relatively positive connotation. What we mean is "people who need to buy things - working people who are contributing to, or participating in our economy". This should be synonymous with "citizens" in a place where everyone has the power to buy stuff and work, but I guess in America there needs to be a distinction!

But what "consumer" means, literally, is "one who consumes". And what is it to "consume"?

Let's go to our trusty online dictionary (http://www.m-w.com is my source of choice):
Main Entry:
Inflected Form(s):
con·sumed; con·sum·ing
Middle English, from Middle French or Latin; Middle French consumer, from Latin consumere, from com- + sumere to take up, take, from sub- up + emere to take — more at sub-, redeem
14th century
transitive verb
: to do away with completely : destroy consumed several buildings>
2 a
: to spend wastefully : squander b: use up consumed much of his time>
3 a
: to eat or drink especially in great quantity <consumed several bags of pretzels> b: to enjoy avidly : devour consumes for fun — E. R. Lipson>
: to engage fully : engross <consumed with curiosity>
5: to utilize as a customer <consume goods and services>

intransitive verb
1: to waste or burn away : perish
: to utilize economic goods


Nice. So, we the people are essentially those who "spend wastefully, devour, squander, destroy" and all that stuff. Oh yeah, and to utilize economic goods. They throw that in there too. But it only has that meaning in the 20th century context of post-industrial revolution economics. The word has been around a lot longer (600 years!) and I am almost certain that it is not a cosmic compliment that we're are referred to by our powers-that-be as "consumers".

Tell me where I'm wrong?

24 June, 2008

The paisley underground...

Location: capitol hill
Mood: euphoric

The band thing is still very new for me, but we got our first "press" this week, which surfaced in a music blog. I realize anybody can write a blog, obviously, case in point here. But it's still nice to see someone that I don't personally know saying good things about us.

23 June, 2008

George Carlin is dead

Location: american history
Mood: sad

Honestly, this is a sad moment in American History for me. Not quite up there with John Lennon or John F. Kennedy, of course, whose lives were snatched before they were able to do everything they might have done.

But George Carlin will be missed. I could sit here and paste excerpts from his routines, and I would really get some satisfaction out of that. But I don't want to shove it down your throat. Instead I will just tell you why I am sad that he is gone. If you feel inclined, you should go to either You Tube (for clips), or Daily Motion (for entire skits).

For almost 50 years, he has been making humorous, enlightened, cutting, insightful, critical commentary on our culture - especially in this country. And though I am reasonably certain that he was liberal-leaning, I think that he did a fair service to pointing out the pompousness on both sides of the political fence - mocking the corporate elite, and the tree-huggers with equal enthusiasm. So many of his observations really made one think about the absurdity of all our behaviors. Our inconsistencies as a culture. Our self-centeredness as a species. And almost without fail, he did it in a manner that just busted me up laughing. And I believe that deep down he genuinely cared about the world and about people. I bet that having dinner with him would be quite an experience.

Not only were his words compelling, but so was his actual voice. He had the most spectacular delivery of his material. I could just listen to him all day long.

At one point, I was so "on board" with his philosophy that I actually thought "This is a guy I would elect for president!" if he were to run, which of course, is absurd.

Anyway, the New York Times obituary is here. It says so much more about what he accomplished than I can say.

I'll miss him.

21 June, 2008

Alone but for the squirrels... and cats (new details added)

Location: Central District
Mood: meandering

My weekend routine involves making an early delivery at the Cherry Hill Swedish Hospital up the street from me. After that, I set out on a morning quest in the name of coffee, exercise, solitude, and maybe some form of reading. Today it included a laptop on the excursion as well, with the destination of Essential Baking Company in Madison Valley.

There are a million different routes one could take to get from point A to point B and I typically like to stay off the main roads, because they're not as interesting, and they're louder. And more importantly, there are not as many squirrels on the main roads.

If you really want to experience urban wildlife, you need to take the backroads. So, this time I decided to take 19th a good ways up to Union, and then headed down towards maybe 25th or something like that, and then to Olive, and finally down to MLK Blvd. There were many interesting things along today's route.

It's just a pretty neighborhood all around, though there's quite a mixture of well-maintained and run-down houses. That's the nature of the Central District. I guess it is the nature of a lot of neighborhoods in Seattle... Wallingford... Fremont... Ballard... Crown Hill... Maple Leaf... everywhere you go there's that mixture of really run-down shit, and beautiful homes. It's a bit of a shame that people don't just take better care of things. I did not take pictures of people's houses, because I didn't want anyone to call the police on me. Though I doubt anyone was awake. Still.

So, as I mentioned earlier, there were some interesting things. One house had some weird mural of a demon on the fence, and a bicycle wheel mounted to the fence. And then, in front of the house, they had this. I realize I posted this photo upside-down. But I don't think it really makes much difference:

Interesting. I am not sure what to make of it. But I guess it is art.

In addition to house art, there was also car art. People pimp out their vehicles in a variety of fashions. Some people use fancy methods, and others appear to use Krylon spray paint.

Whatever suits you.

But the big stars of today's walk were, of course, the little guys. The squirrels were out en masse this morning, and they were truly happy. I think they enjoy the part of the day where cars are not yet driving, and people are not yet walking their dogs, and cats are still laying on their owners' beds. The squirrels had many projects this morning. Unfortunately, the quality of my camera phone limited my ability to show you just how wonderful and glorious they were. But I will try to give you a few little snapshots of their morning activities.

One squirrel had found large slices of stale bread on the sidewalk - as big as him! And he was carrying one off, away from me, for fear perhaps that I might take his bread away! And then under "cover" of the bushes, he was nibbling the bread.

So cute.

Then I came across a flock of squirrels who were chasing each other around the base of the tree, and running across the street (not safe) and got a shot of this guy peeking at me from the edge of the road. I think he assumed I could not see him through the grass. Not so smart. But cute!

There were also a couple of cats along the route. One was near the squirrels but apparently unaware that the squirrels were available. The other was a mangy little female cat (presuming, based on size) with one messed up ear. I tried to befriend her, but she was not interested. She did the "scurry, pause, turn, crouch, scurry" procedure that fraidy-cats use. Note that this cat was so mangy that she was acutally BLURRY. That's not the camera that caused this!

Along my route, a bunch of cyclists passed me, and it irked me to see that this group of riders was completely blocking traffic by riding two abreast with a line of cars trapped behind them as they rode between 12 and 15 miles per hour. I talked with some bicycling friends about this and asked them "Is this legal?" and apparently it is. But here is my gripe with this. If bicyclists want to be given all the rights and recognition as a "vehicle", then they should always behave like a vehicle. But, so often I see bicyclists interpreting themselves interchangeably as "vehicle" and "pedestrian" as they see fit... riding on sidewalks, running stop signs, riding through crosswalks during a red light, etc. I don't think it's appropriate that they get to "have it both ways". End of rant.

There was one funny thing I overheard from the herd of cyclists.

One cyclist to another: "It was some type of 'Meister' drink... like, Jaegermeister and one of the other Meisters"

What the hell are these "other Meisters" of which he speaks?

Anyway, finally I made my way down to Essential Baking Company on Madison. Upon arriving, I immediately came to the sad realization that my "big plan" would not come to fruition as intended. I left my wallet and my money in a different pair of jeans. So no coffee. No breakfast. No buzz for morning happiness [went there again on my way to work Monday morning, and told the friendly barista about this, and she said I should have just told them, and they would have given me the coffee for free and let me pay next time...]

Instead, I am sitting here, still, not really a customer. Just a loiterer. Writing this blog, and listening to Pandora, then to You Tube videos of the Police from 1978 and 1979. If you haven't done that, I highly recommend it. There is so much to do, both on the streets and on the internets. Lots to keep busy.

Headphones on, I am in a zone.

The Artist of the Month at Essential is Lynne Alexander. They do that here at Essential. Hang up a collection from a local artist... either for sale, or not.

But it's just a bunch of birds in trees. All of it. Fifteen paintings of birds in trees. It is clear that she sat with the Sibley book and pretty much copied. And the amazing thing is that she did not get bored after the first... I don't know... TWELVE or so of them! You can see her stuff at this link. I have not looked. But I bet I know what will be on that site...

Circle... memories...

Location: essential
Mood: reflective

Listening to Pandora on headphones on a laptop. I have created a channel over a period of years that was loosely based on Aimee Mann as the template. And usually you hear a pretty similar set of songs each day. But this time I heard one that I have not heard in probably 10 years and it was one of the most beautiful songs ever. This song is called "Circle" and it is by Edie Brickell. Probably the best song she wrote. Giving me chills. Released in 1988.

You can watch a video of the song here

Go to Pandora and make an Edie Brickell channel and you'll probably get that song pretty quickly. I know you'll remember it. Unless, of course, you were in elementary school when the song was originally released! Wink Wink.

Anyway, Pandora is a good way to discover music if you haven't already been there. I could probably discover a lot more music more quickly if I could make myself listen to the radio, but I have a hard time committing to that. Not sure why that is.

One final footnote on Edie Brickell... she was only 22 years old when that song came out...

20 June, 2008

Partnership for a drug-free america

Location: someone else's friday night
Mood: paranoid

I want to tell you a story that was told to me. It's a pretty good story. While it might seem like it violates the privacy of the individual whose story it is, I pretty much got permission from him, and he's aware that the readership (of which he is a member) is small. Some of the facts might be a little bit messed up, because first of all, it's me telling you what he told me. And second of all, it is not entirely clear that his perception of the events is accurately recalled.

So... here it goes, best as I can do. I am sure he'll give me any relevant corrections, and thanks for allowing me to post this!

January 18, 2008 is where this story takes place. For the sake of convenient typing, I am going to write this from "first person" perspective, because that's how the story was told to me, obviously, and also because typing "I" takes a lot fewer characters than typing the protagonist's name.

Okay. So all the ground rules and disclaimers have been laid out. And I have my notepad here with all of the points of the story. So I'm good to go.

Back in January, I was dating online a bit (by "I", you know that we mean "protagonist").

(just checking)

I'd been out with a bunch of women, and some of them were moderately interesting, some of them were less interesting. But at this point in January, I was just meeting people. And it was not one of those things where people are "hooking up" online. Nothing like that. It was really just a lot of dinners, and some walks in the park, and some coffees and beers. Think "Match.com" not "The Stranger Personals". Though, these days, I am not sure if thinking "Match.com" really makes it a whole lot more innocent. But that's another story. [I will use italics if I am interjecting my own thoughts into the story - because as he told it to me, there are of course some of his own biases and defensiveness - I will probably feel compelled to make commentary in a number of places, and even try to correct things that I think were likely to be inaccurate perceptions. I can do that, because it is MY blog. It is out of the kindness of my little heart that I am giving him a readership for his tale. End of note.]

So. I (protagonist) was meeting a bunch of people, and having a laugh about it to some extent. Everyone got a nickname. And you can't publish the nicknames in the blog, because someone might be able to figure out who some of these people are, if other readers know me! (He is kind of paranoid in the first place... so you can imagine where this might go...)

So, my new criteria was that anyone whom I did not find to be outright hideous would get a shot. What's dinner? No big deal! How bad could it be. So right around this time, I discovered that Match.com had a new feature of Instant Messaging. It used to be in the "old days" you would send your little email blurb, and then wait x number of days, before they'd write back. And just getting to Date #1 could take 3 days to 3 weeks even if they were interested in you, just because of logistics. But the IM thing adds a new element. If you are online, and someone else online sees you and thinks you're "cute", then they can IM you right there on the spot, and one thing can much more quickly lead to another. In fact, back around New Year's Day I met someone on there to whom I chatted for like 3 hours on the spot, then went to telephone for like 3 more hours, and then had our first date the next day! So it can really speed things up a lot. Of course, since I am not telling you about that girl, you can conclude that speeding things up sometimes speeds up the endings as much as the beginnings.

So, January 18th, I have dinner plans with a woman whom I met online and had some chat. Let's say, for argument's sake that her name was Ellen. Actually her name was Ellen. I don't need to protect her anonymity because she's a stranger to all of us, including me, still. Ellen did not sound like a good dating prospect. For logistical reasons. She was presently separated. 40 years old. With THREE small children (ages 11 months, 2 years, and 4 years, or something like that). She did not want to "date" and she did not want a "relationship" and I am not even really thinking she wanted anything physical. I think she'd been married for a long time, and had just got out of it, and was just for the first time experimenting with the waters of "I am going to have a life after this". She was clearly very well off, living in a great part of Phinney Ridge neighborhood (I guess she "got the house", so to speak), and she was some type of Interior Designer (I think she helped people choose colors, and she got so renowned for it, that she started her own business, and realtors and other designers would use her as their color consultant - not a bad life, if you can get away with that!)

So Ellen wanted to meet at a Phinney restaurant whose name I cannot recall [Santa Fe Cafe], and have dinner. She arrived a little late - maybe 10 minutes after me. I am not sure why I agreed to do it, but I think it was because she just seemed nice, and interesting, and her honesty and her situation caused me to think, "Sure, why not?!". From her photos online, I did not even think she was that attractive, but it turned out that in person she was quite cute. She was very nervous, and apparently I was indeed the first "date" she had since before her marriage, which I seem to recall was quite a long marriage? [He didn't remember what she'd said it was, but thought it was like 10-15 years?]

We had dinner, which was excellent - seem to recall the food was Italian. And we drank some wine. Actually quite a bit of wine. I think it might have been at least 3 glasses each, and strangely it really hit me that night. I was pretty buzzed from three glasses. As she got more buzzed, she relaxed a lot, and became more conversational. And her story was very interesting. Just about the business, and about her life, and a tiny bit about her kids, and a tinier bit about her marriage. I didn't press on her personal life, and she didn't offer too much. It was just a nice time. And I was glad that I went. I felt comfortable with her, and though it was obviously not going to be a relationship, I think that at some point near the end of the dinner we were getting ready to pay or something, and she wanted to split it, but I said something like "I want to pay, but it's on the condition that you agree to go out to dinner again", and I meant it. I didn't expect anything. Just that we'd have another discussion and another good meal.

Toward the end of the meal, she got into an interesting discussion topic, and it was sort of out of the blue, but I think it just seemed out of the blue to me because I was not inside her head. She started asking me how I felt about "altered states", and now that I think about it, I am pretty sure she had made an earlier mention of that in the IM chat we had, but I don't think we delved too deeply into it, and I am not really compelled to go hunting around for chat histories to tell you those parts. Suffice it to say she mentioned it once, foreshadowing, and then brought it up again at end of dinner. And I asked her what she meant, and she proceeded to elaborate that she liked to get high. Okay. Fine. Not a big deal. Right? Lots of people do it. But interestingly she framed it in that context of "altered states" and also interestingly she framed it in a context that seemed to place a level of importance on it that was a bit unsettling.

She said she was having a nice time, and that she would like to go maybe get another drink someplace else - though I don't really think we needed it - but before doing that, asked if it would be cool if we stopped by her house briefly for her to achieve her desired state of alteredness. I had no problem with that, but at this point, I think I was just okay with whatever. I confided to her that I did not have much experience in this area, but that the minimal experience had been positive.

I should stop here for a second and note to you that I am woefully inexperienced with "altered states" of any kind, other than if you consider "self-delusion" to be an altered state of sorts. I had only ever gotten "high" once before in my life, maybe 2 years previously, and it probably constituted "very slightly high" and was in the company of an extremely close friend with whom I had complete trust and also with whom I had always noted "if there is one person in this world with whom I would be comfortable experimenting with anything, it would be this person". And that was it. That one time. And it was a very decent experience. On that occasion, it took place while going for a walk around a familiar neighborhood, and there was peaceful and comforting coaching. And I remembered feeling literally "light on my feet" and everything seemed "richer" than usual, but I also felt a strange feeling that I could only describe as "euphoric paranoia" - I felt like everything was happening for a reason, but that it was all for good reasons. I felt like this person had walked me down this particular street to see these particular sites, and walked me by the highway because the sound of the cars on the highway would be more stimulating than usual, and that it would be an experience worth having. I felt like it was all being controlled and everything for a reason. But a good reason. And after we got back to the house, we shared 17 mandarin oranges, and counted the seeds from each, and computed the mean and standard deviation of seed count, while listening to PJ Harvey, and sitting on the stairs to their attic. And all was good.

So that was my one data point.

Never had done any other "illicit" substance, though had been massively curious about many, especially LSD, though was probably way too scared to ever take a chance hopping in a ride that you can't get off until the conductor says it's time.

Back to Ellen. Before we left the restaurant, we both got up to go to the bathroom, and we had a brief, semi-affectionate moment, maybe holding hands for a second or something, and she says to me "so are you game?" and I perceived that to mean "are you going to get high with me?" and I was going with the flow... open to anything... not being limited... and I said "sure".

I got in my car, and she got in her white minivan, and I followed her back to her house which, as I said, was in a great part of Phinney Ridge, and was adorable even from the exterior. We went into her house, and we're in the kitchen, and she asks if I want something to drink, and I said I just wanted water, because honestly, for some reason, 3 glasses of wine was a lot on this night. She got me water from her refrigerator, which I am thinking was a Jenn-Air because it had the same fancy water spigot on the inside of the fridge, on the left panel, unlike most refrigerators that dispense water from the outside of the door. I had never seen this before, and it struck me as strange. I was keenly aware of her interiors. I saw a beautiful kitchen with hanging pots and pans, and nice counter tops. Beautiful antique furniture around. And the evidence of her kids, which were with a sitter tonight. I was looking for this evidence. Assessing the surroundings. And I saw the games on the shelf. But the place was beautifully decorated, and immaculate. Like a Better Homes & Gardens catalog.

She leads me through the living room, around a corner, through the dining room, to a small little sitting area/den like open space, and asks what music I would like to hear. I said I didn't really care. She remembered something earlier in our discussion, and decided to play Aimee Mann because she recalled this was something I like a lot. She says she'll be right back. So I'm sitting on the floor on a carpet I think in this nice den, listening to Aimee Mann. And she returns shortly after with a very ornate looking bong. I have never used one of these, though I have obviously been around plenty of them. This one is just about the fanciest looking thing I have ever seen, and I ask about it, and she says it is from the 60's or 70's or something and that it is very special.

She then made a few comments, suggestions, questions, instructions...

Are you sure you want to do this?

This is very strong stuff... just so you know....

Alcohol and pot can mix kind of funny, and just so you know, if you haven't done this much before (or in a long time), it is possible that you might just pass out...

[when he was telling me this part of the story, it was evident that just recalling those few memories actually brought about some type of emotional or physical reaction. like a flashback-y type of feeling]

It bothered me and seemed peculiar to me when she made that statement "you might just pass out". I had never heard anyone say that before. I have seen plenty of people drink a lot of alcohol and then smoke a lot of weed, and I have never heard nor seen people passing out. She probably was just trying to comfort me and prepare me. She is after all, a mother, and probably feels the need to nurture people. Right?

So, she gets things ready, and then she gives me "instructions" on how to use the bong. I probably did not require this, having seen it enough, but whatever. I was buzzed from the wine, and not particularly disturbed by that aspect of things. Then she offered me to "go first". For some reason, this did bother me a little bit, since I was the not experienced person. I don't know why, but it just seemed funny to me. But I was there... buzzed on wine... in the moment... and I went first. I definitely got a hit, but I don't think it was a particularly strong hit. Then she had some.

Then we sat there for a few moments. Both on the floor, leaning up against respective sofas. And we listened to Aimee Mann. And she asked me if I was feeling anything. And I might have been feeling a little bit, but whatever it was, it was probably less than the one previous time I had some. Maybe I felt something. We sat a little bit more.

Then she asked me if I wanted to have a little bit more, and I was thinking "well, I am not really feeling anything from that, so I guess I am okay... sure... a little bit more". She did some fussing around with the bong, and I think put more of it in there, another bud, or whatever she was doing. I wasn't really paying that close of attention. But I know she did something with it. And she gave me a little more "instruction" on use. And I took another hit. This time I made a conscious effort to take more than the first time.

And something happened.

And it was instantaneous.

The first sensation, instantly was a ripping burning sensation in my lungs that was completely unlike the first time or the previous time I had done it. That was followed, almost immediately, by the most intense wave of nausea that I have ever experienced in my entire life. It hit me like a massive wave, and nearly bowled me over - I was choking and reeling from the nausea - and she asked me if I was okay. I didn't really respond right away. I think that the nausea probably lasted 30 to 60 seconds, and slowly subsided. But it really took a lot out of me, because it was unlike anything I'd felt before.

She took a couple of hits, either during, or after this.

Then we sat some more. Facing each other. The music playing. A few minutes passed. And things started to "alter", so to speak. First thing I noticed was that the music became more "there". More distinct. More separate. The next thing I noticed was that the concept of "peripheral vision" was beginning to lose its meaning. The periphery was becoming unresolved. I saw Ellen. And everything around her began to become less clear. Less important. It was all about Ellen. And the music. Focused. And she was smiling. And she was nodding her head to the music, maybe. And looking at me. Staring at me. I was staring at her. She was staring at me. And I started to feel that feeling - controlling. I started to feel "she is watching me to understand what I am experiencing". I started to feel that she was holding the strings of the puppet and I was the puppet. And she asked me how I was doing, and I said I thought I was okay, and told her a bit about what I was feeling.

I don't know what time-dilation might have been doing to my perception, but based on the songs we heard, I think maybe after about 10-15 minutes tops we were at this present state where I felt very high. And I felt like she knew everything that I was feeling. And I felt that she knew everything that I was going to feel. And I started to feel like she knew something I did not know. Thoughts went through my head.

"if you haven't done this before... you might just pass out"

"why did she want me to go first?"

"why was she putting more stuff in there after only one hit?"

"what was the deal with that weird water spigot in the refrigerator?"

And I started to feel like maybe she knows something I don't know.

But I was drunk, and now high. And I was not able to rationally evaluate any of these considerations.

And at that moment, something happened. And it happened quite spontaneously. First I started to feel flushed. Then I started to feel my heartbeat escalating. And escalating. And then I can feel and hear my heartbeat in my head.

She asks me some question about what I am experiencing, and to me the thought is "She knows that I should be experiencing this right now". And suddenly everything is not okay. Suddenly I realize what is going on. The thoughts in my head, rushing, flying, racing...

This was a stimulant! This was not just marijuana! There is something else in this! Or maybe there was something in THAT WATER! She is WAITING for this to happen. She WANTS this to happen. And then she is going to DO something. And I don't know WHAT.

And the heart races faster, and I am sitting in front of her, still seated in front of me, and she asks if I am okay. And the thought goes through my head "I am about to pass out. And not only that, but if I do pass out, I am completely fucked in a way that I have never been fucked before, and this is not a good thing, this is not a good thing, this is not a good thing"

I say, "I need to leave here... RIGHT... NOW..."

And I muster all my will, all my strength, all my ability to combat flushed, faint, heart exploding, delirium of no clarity, and I get up to my feet and I staggeringly begin running through her house - thinking "left turns! left turns! left turns!" and making my way to the door. Running. And I remember thinking, I need to grab my coat on the way out because my coat has my keys and my coat has my CELL PHONE" and I am running through the rooms to the front door.

And there are 2 doors. Inner door. Outer door. As I open inner door, I am thinking "If outer door is locked, I am fucked!" because I think she's following me. I am sure she is following me.

Outer door is not locked. And I am out in the night. The night of January 18th. Probably around 11pm. And I am fucked up, and I know I cannot drive, so I don't even go for the car, I just start running. First running south, then left heading east. And I am sure she is coming after me. And she will come. And I even start thinking maybe she is not alone! Maybe she is not alone! Maybe this is a setup! Maybe she doesn't even live here! Maybe this was staged! Maybe there are some guys who were hiding until I get in that state of fuckedupness and then they rob me, or who knows what! And I must run. Run. Run.

But I must not just run in a straight line. I must do unpredictable things! I must make lots of turns, so that when THEY follow me, they cannot FIND me. So I get to Greenwood Avenue, but that won't do! I cannot run on Greenwood Avenue! That would be STUPID! So I cross Greenwood and am heading down steep hill, sprinting, heart exploding, mind racing, and feeling like any second I could pass out.

And it occurs to me...

"This is not good"

I am now 100% certain that I have been drugged with a potent stimulant that took a certain amount of time to kick-in and now it is hitting me, and if I stop, and pass out, I will go into cardiac arrest. This is my thought process. So as I am running, I get out my cell phone and I call my ex-girlfriend because I cannot think of who else I can call. And I am freaking out, and of course she is confused, and I am trying to relate the story to her...

"Was on a date... smoked something... I think it was laced... I don't know what it was... this is not good... I am scared. I am scared. This is bad. My heart feels like it is going to explode"

She says "I am coming to get you. Where are you? Stay right where you are!"

I say "I am at 65th and Fremont, but I cannot stay where I am. I need to keep running or I will pass out"

She says "Where will you be?"

I say "Heading north on Fremont"

She says she is going to come for me. But then I realize, THIS IS VERY BAD. My heart is exploding, and I do not want to have the burden of my life on her hands, and her responsibility, and I cannot make her own this. She would do it for me. She would own it. She would save me. But what if she is not here fast enough. What if she cannot find me? I don't want that on her.

I say "I think I need to call 911"

I say "I need to go. I need to call 911"

I go.

During this time, my phone was ringing, and it is Ellen leaving me a voice mail asking me if I am okay, and sounding confused as to why I ran away. But I am not trusting THAT! Not at that moment, anyway.

Running. Calling 911. Explaining that I took something, and my chest hurts. And I am running. They tell me they're sending an ambulance.

I am running. Then I am walking. Then I am pacing back and forth in the vicinity where I thought I needed to stay for the ambulance to find me.

I see a random person walking their dog on a side street. I am insane. Out of breath, heart pounding, Out of my mind. I say to the person "Excuse me, sir! I am really sorry to bother you, but if you see an ambulance, can you direct them to me, please! I had some type of drug and I don't know what it was, but it messed me up and I am just concerned they might not find me!"

Even in the midst of my insane state, I was apologetic, and trying to SEEM like I am normal. But I was not normal. To him, I was a madman in the street. I was not what he wanted to encounter at 11pm on a Friday night. He wanted to walk his dog and go home. And now he's implicated in some bizarre man's staggering frenzy.

Staggering more.

Firemen arrive. Great. I am too fucked up to be embarrassed.

They approach me, and ask me what happened. I try to tell the story. Fireman takes my vital signs.

Hold your hat:

Blood Pressure: 200/140
Heartrate: 180 beats per minute

Pupils fixed and dilated.

Fireman conferring with one another: "There's no way this was just marijuana. He had to have been given some type of stimulant".

This at least made me feel validated... as pathetic as that sounds...

Then ex-girlfriend shows up. She's trying to stay out of the way.

Ambulance arrives. And it is clear this is the "fake ambulance". I swear there are 2 categories of ambulance. Because the "real ambulance" also showed up. It's like one ambulance is the one that they put you in if they're NOT going to bring you anywhere! Like a "waiting room ambulance" and then the other one is the one for taking you somewhere.

Woman in ambulance with me is a bitch. She is also very butch, and I am not judging her for that, but it was just that she was the least compassionate bitch I have ever met. I am explaining that I have severe chest pain, and she is telling me to stop talking. I want them to give me something to make me stop freaking out, and she is telling me she has nothing.

At this point 3 new things are happening to me too. And this is over an hour after the "dose" of whatever.

First, my mouth is insanely dry.

Second, my body is going pins and needles ALL OVER. Head to toe. Entire body pins and needles (presumably, hyperventilating, I guess... I have had that sensation in one or two, shall we say, "more pleasant" situations, so I am guessing it was hyperventilation).

Third, every so often, maybe every 10-20 minutes, I would experience a MASSIVE rush in which I would feel flushed, my heartrate would go nuts again, and then I would feel like I was falling backwards and sinking out of control, like when you fall into your bed in a dream. But I was awake. And these persisted for hours!

Finally, because the EKG actually showed that my heart rhythm was in tachycardia, they decided that they couldn't let me sit there in the mobile waiting room, and they finally moved me to the real ambulance, and asked me what hospital I wanted to go to... so I said UW Medical Center, mainly because in my mind it was closest, and it was a place with which I am familiar, and it was also not an urgent trauma center, since I guess I suspected I was not urgent trauma, though I did feel like I was going to have a heart attack.

When I get to the hospital, ex-girlfriend coming along in separate car, they end up keeping me there all night. After about 2-3 hours of the "rushes" they finally give me Ativan, which is basically the same category drug as Valium and Xanax, to treat anxiety, and after semi-sleeping, I get out of there and go pick up my car at around 6am. The blood and urine tests showed no signs of amphetamine or cocaine.

[That's the end of his story... and from here onward is my assessment of the other tidbits that he told me in the aftermath]

So... in hindsight, I (and most other people to whom he told the story) realize that what happened was that he had a panic attack. The combination of the paranoid effects and the unfamiliar environment just launched him into a physiological place that he'd never before experienced. And the panic fed on the panic. He'd heard of people having panic attacks before, and even seen them in movies. But he'd never seen one in real life, and in truth - he did not really believe in them. Thought that panic attacks were just people overdramatizing their stresses. Not that panic could manifest as a full-fledged physiological condition that takes over and runs away like a train off the tracks.

There was an interesting philosophical question that he posed to me, and I am not sure what the correct answer is. He said "If I really thought I was dying there, sprinting away with my heart feeling like it was going to explode, does that constitute a 'near death experience'"? In other words, do you really need to be dying to have what constitutes near death experience, or is the psychological perception of that state equivalent? I don't know the answer for him, unfortunately. I guess if he believes it was, then that would suggest that he acted as he would if it had been, in which case it sort of was. He initially felt like he'd demonstrated some great survival characteristics by getting out of there without passing out. Like he pulled himself together in a moment of crisis and the "fight or flight" response had safely taken him away from danger. Took it as some sort of a sign that in a crisis, he would be able to "ACT". But is that really true? Because his crisis was a crisis only of the mind. She was just there to have a good time. We won't ever even know if the weed was laced with anything, and even if it were, most certainly the lacing was incidental and not intentional, and clearly it was something to which she demonstrated no ill effects. There was no malice. Only intent to have a good time. He talked to her the day after briefly only because he wanted to have clarity. It was recommended that he do not communicate with her, but he went against that advice because he wanted clarity.

He got no clarity. Ellen had a bad experience too. Let's not forget that. She hadn't dated anyone in YEARS, and she was just testing the waters, considering the prospect of embarking on a new life, and thinking online dating seemed innocent enough. And then this guy trips out, and goes storming out of her place, leaving his car, and ending up in the ER and then informing her that he had been paranoid that she'd drugged him.

That would not be what I would want my first dating experience in years to be.

He told a lot of people about this story - especially those friends who had a lot of experience with marijuana. At first he thought he would tell no one because of shame. But then, he said, he realized that it's just a life experience. It is not shame. And he wanted perspective. It helped to know that he'd had a panic attack. It helped to know that there was no malicious force out there. And it also helped to understand that the mind is a very very powerful deceiver under certain circumstances.

I have realized that as well. And his story helped me to realize that.

There have been a number of instances where I have been SURE of something, and then reflecting backward, I recognize that it was my perception, but it was not reality. And all of our thoughts are just chemicals popping around in our minds, so whether they be artifically infused, or generated intrinsically, our realities are a product of the chemistry that is occurring inside our heads. And that is both a comforting thought, because it means we may often have the power to craft our own reality through thinking towards our goals; but also a disturbing thought because it means we always need to keep in our minds the reminder that things may not be truly as we see them. Especially when we are in disagreement with others. We must consider that reality might be halfway between. Or all the way to the other extreme.

It makes navigating each challenge all that much more challenging. How do we sail a ship when the map of the ocean floor is subject to change?

Anyway. I thank our protagonist for his willingness to share this story. I am not going to call him brave or generous for letting me put it out here. But I will say that at least he's open to the possibility that it's a worthy story of sharing.

19 June, 2008

Getting unstuck...

Location: the great wide open
Mood: free

I feel like I am letting go. Moving forward. Starting a new phase. I was stuck and now I am not.

Little things. Really little things. Trivial things.

I finally watched movies that I had from Netflix since March 20 ("Harsh Times") and January 9 ("Six Feet Under" episodes), respectively. Yes. I was paying $18/month to support the Netflix corporation without using their products. But now I am. I moved forward.

It had something to do with being alone. It had something to do with being okay doing something by myself. It had something to do with not just sitting on the internet, or spending every waking moment engaged in a social endeavor. It had something to do with not being in over-committed damaging situations.

But those were just little things.

I finished a report for work from a project that has been lingering since January. We did the research in December, and had the results in January. And then myself and one other person kept de-prioritizing the completion of the reports for month after month. It was hanging over me. It was an embarrassment. It was a single pock-mark on an otherwise decent mid-year review. It was something that was always needling me. Crushing my motivation. Making me feel like I will never get out from under it. And it was not about the quantity of work involved in completing it. It was about making myself do it. Something for which there was not a particularly high interest or audience. Something that was always less important, but became both more and less important every day that passed. A shame. Guilt. Reason to feel like a bad employee.

And it's done. As we say around here, "off my plate". I hate that metaphor. I hate the metaphor that everything we need to do is like a food item sitting on a large cafeteria plate, and some migrant kitchen worker will be scraping the dregs of it, be it crusty squash or bland powdered milk mashed potatoes, off my proverbial plate. And if you don't finish everything on your plate you don't get any dessert. And all that. But I finished. It was cold. And it didn't taste good. But I ate it anyway, because I understood the consequences.

Even Irina... off my plate. For almost a year after the dissolution of our precarious union, I felt compelled to "drop a line" and say hello. There was no purpose to it. It was not about re-engaging in person (pun not intended). It was not about a real interest. It was idle chatter. It was "because she's there". That green dot of Google. Sometimes it is best to disable it. Remove from contacts. If I don't know you're online, then you are not online. It's been over a month now of no communication. Off my plate.

Other more recent, more painful separations... likewise.

Letting go. Letting go of guilt. Letting go of the past.

Being okay.

Yesterday I had a rehearsal and there was a plan for a social meeting afterwards with some friends. But I was feeling strangely like I was okay to be alone. I needed to be alone. I never need that, and I have rarely in my life chosen it. So I did. Watched that movie, which was pretty good, albeit disturbing. And ate some leftovers, and a grilled cheese, and tomato soup. And I was okay.

I am not saying I want to be alone. And I am definitely not saying I don't want a partner, because I absolutely do! It's not about being "ALONE". It's about being a.l.o.n.e.

Now I don't even know what I am saying.

But it was about getting unstuck. Getting things off my plate.

Going to the gym again. Instead of just thinking a) I am too tired, b) I don't feel like it, c) I would rather just get home, d) I feel so out of shape, e) It is getting harder and harder to get into shape, f) I don't want to get more clothes until I figure out "what size will I actually wear if I lose the 10 pounds that I have needed to lose for 2 years?"

Going. To the gym. Just do it. Stop asking questions, making excuses. And it's not about obsession, and it's not about distorted body image (though I have had tendencies towards both of those at various points in my life). It is just about getting unstuck. Returning to patterns that are healthier. And exiting patterns that are not working.

Things feel a lot better lately. I am not saying every day is rosy. But it's headed in the right direction. Been doing lots of music stuff. Been doing some recording at home. Been spending time alone, especially on the weekend... taking walks... going to cafes for breakfast... reading The Stranger, or the newspaper... not sleeping until noon. Not staying up until 3am. Something is just shifting, and I can't exactly attribute it to one thing. It's like a coalescence of multiple positive forces lifting me up from a place that I was stuck.

Hopefully it is not transient.

18 June, 2008

Hijacking takes on a whole new meaning

Location: 9/11
Mood: ongoing disgust

The "terrorists" hijacked airplanes on 9/11/2001. Remember? And it has brought so many shitty things to our existence, and the existence of so many others in the world, in terms of wars, economic disasters, lost civil liberties, lost respect, and whatever else can be lost.

Jump to another topic.

Boston, Massachusetts... third Monday in April every year... punctuated by a few special events...

1. Boston Red Sox play a home day game on a weekday

2. Boston Marathon is run, from Hopkinton to Downtown Boston, 26.2 miles of glory and gruel

3. Bostonians celebrate a holiday

Do you know what holiday it is? Maybe not, if you're from Seattle. The holiday is called Patriot's Day. And it's kind of a nice holiday, and is commemorating, presumably, the many so-called heroes of American history related to our birth as a nation. Probably people like Paul Revere, and that sort. If you want to read about it, go look at the Wikipedia article on the topic. There you will see that it relates to the Revolutionary War and the battles of Lexington and Concord... so I was close! And technically it is April 19th, but is celebrated on the Monday closest. Heck, the article even mentions the marathon and the Red Sox game, so I hit all the high points of the story. Good for me! I am historically correct. The question remains, am I anatomically correct? That one, I reserve for only a select subset of the audience.

Why am I writing this?

Flash forward to this evening, looking at Google Calendar. Entering some things on there about upcoming shows. I had recently added a cool new feature to my Google Calendar that will show me all of the national holidays, which can be useful for whatever reason you might desire. And what I saw, inadvertently caught my eye, and pissed me off.

This is what I saw:

Do you see what I see?

"PatrioT Day" (no "s" or apostrophe-S)

And do you see when it is?

Fucking September 11th.

This is an abomination on so many fucking levels that I cannot even begin to spout forth my disgust with this backwards government. What about 9/11 relates to Patriotism? There was a bombing of a major business center on that day. That is not an event in our history where we demonstrated patriotism. I don't even know if I understand what patriotism is. I think it means something about demonstrating attributes that would be categorized as being in service of, or support of a nation. Nothing happened on September 11th that would uniquely constitute patriotism in a manner that deserves a special title. Maybe the city of New York could have their own Patriot Day, since one could argue that many people in that city performed acts that were in service and/or support of the well-being of people in the city of New York. But on a national level? Come on... Why don't they designate the day of Hurricane Katrina as Patriot Day? There was a disaster, and then a bunch of people rescued other people. How is that any more or less patriotic?

What is patriotism? Now I feel compelled to give you the dictionary definition, since perhaps I am getting it wrong here.
Main Entry:
\ˈpā-trē-ə-ˌti-zəm, chiefly British ˈpa-\
circa 1726
: love for or devotion to one's country

So, again, I am not far off. And I still do not see how the holiday fits the day.

The worst part is that much like Mohammed Atta et al (allegedly) hijacked four 757/767 jets (they were never tried, convicted, or positively identified last I checked), our government has hijacked a completely good holiday name, with a completely valid holiday cause, and slapped it (albeit with a token modification by dropping the ending "s") on an event that was doing perfectly well being called "9/11" everywhere else in the media.

But for the big neo-con agenda, we needed to tie everything to do with 9/11 into patriotism. The Homeland Security, the Guantanamo, the Iraq, the Afghanistan, the US government sanctioned murder of Saddam Hussein, the loss of civil liberties... it's all about patriotism.

I thought it was about a bunch of Kenyans running sub-5-minute miles through the hilly streets of Eastern Massachusetts.

Silly me.

17 June, 2008

What makes a weekend nice...

Location: Carkeek Park
Mood: peaceful

A walk in the woods...

A beautiful sunset...


and good company...

Among the many things that Bellevue has to offer

Location: 106th and 2nd, Downtown Bellevue
Mood: deliciously horrified

If you want to eat really good food, then you should go to Downtown Bellevue (or Issaquah, another location) and eat at a restaurant called Pogacha. Amazing as this may seem, it is a Croatian restaurant, and they are fantastic. In spite of being trapped in a small strip mall, this restaurant's atmosphere inside is comfortable, and unique, with some kind of nutty art (hands and body parts from mannequins sticking out of the walls) but the food is worth dealing with the horrors of the Eastside.

The item that I have come to know and love is called Dobar Chicken.

The purple dish! As well as the House favorite. Penne pasta tossed in our own Port wine & Gorgonzola cream sauce, topped with grilled chicken breast, Port soaked grapes & Gorgonzola cheese. 17.95

The price is not cheap but it is truly one of the richest most delicious dishes you can get, and I imagine they would do a non-meat version of it and toss extra pasta in the dish for vegetarians. And if you come with me to the Issaquah location, then we can use my Prime Card discount, which is buy one, get one free. For some stupid reason, the Bellevue location (closest to Microsoft) does not accept the discount card (probably for that exact reason, which is annoying).

In addition to the great main course, they also serve all-you-can-eat of this special Croatian flat bread. Actually, I have now read that Pogacha actually means "flatbread". Yippee! If you want to avoid the restaurant and just make your own Pogacha at home, you can click this link and follow a recipe that may or may not be anything like the bread they have at the restaurant.

So... there unfortunately is a down side to the Pogacha experience (in Bellevue). The other establishments at this strip mall are, should I say, less than savory.

For example, we have this:

You know that times are rough in Bellevue, when they have actually resorted to selling Christians!! So sad...

And even stranger... and ironic as well... right next to the Christian Store, is this most bizarre of establishments!

What the hell is the deal with that?!?! Bellevue is really a very sick and demented place. Someone should do something about this. Really.

15 June, 2008

Why am I recording other people's songs?

Location: my private studio...
Mood: okay

For some reason I have decided that it is a worthwhile endeavor to start a recording project. But instead of doing what most real musicians would do, and write songs, I am instead just recording songs that I like that are written by other people. This feels like somewhat of a copout and it is easy to convince myself that it is about as much an exercise in mental masturbation as any other empty pursuit I could do (e.g. playing World of Warcraft). I am not producing anything new. So why am I doing it? I don't know. I had this idea awhile back that I wanted to record an entire CD of me playing my favorite songs by female artists. I don't know where it is going. And given that this was my plan, I failed at that, having first recorded a Beatles song.

The upside to doing this is to get tighter as a musician, to work on my recording techniques, and to learn how to use my recording software. But it would probably be a lot more fruitful if I were actually working on songs written by me. The problem is, there really are not very many songs written by me that are available for said project. All told, I think I have only completed 4 or 5 songs in my lifetime, and 2 of those had lyrical help.

There was the one song, which was recorded by my first band. That was good.

There was "Numb", also in the process of being recorded by my first band, but I have gradually moved towards dismissing this song, because I got sick of it, and decided that it was rather trite. Everyone else seemed to like it okay, but to me it just felt like a big piece of poop.

There was "Successful Failure", recorded, but never released because the band disintegrated (or more accurately, I quit, and then the band dissolved later). That was a good song, and I guess I wish I had the original tracks, but the chances of me getting the rights to them are virtually zero.

There was "The Other Side", which was also recorded, and never released. That song had lyrical help from Tony. It probably never would have been finished if not for his help, and it turned out pretty good, even though he completely hijacked the entire topic from me. The song was supposed to be mocking organized religion, and it ended up being a song about a romance. What can you do?

There was "The Girl With Synthetic Hair", which was not titled by me. That one was also a song that never got recorded. I had music, and a melody, and nothing else. Tony wrote all the words, and it turned out pretty well, but I am not sure what to do in my catalog with a song about a transvestite.

There was "Seduction", the first real song I ever completed (barring cheesy tunes written in high school and college, whose names I will not even tell you). Actually this one was pretty cheesy too, but it got recorded with my friends' band as a demo back in Boston in the mid 90's. They were trying to help me get a demo for looking for a band. It was kind of a stupid song, and the lyrics were incredibly sophomoric. Do you detect any sort of self-deprecation here? I can't help it. that's why I don't bother trying to write very often.

Besides that tiny handful of songs, I have had lots of half-baked ideas. I cannot even remember some of them. I think there were 2 or 3 that didn't ever get done. And more recently I have written little fragments.

I have a pretty good ability to write music, if I am able to set the inner critic aside, which is rarely. But the one-two punch that keeps me from being productive is (1) inner critic, and (2) lack of patience to finish anything.

So that puts me where I am right now. Recording other people's songs. I am somewhat hoping that going through this process will eventually make me snap out of it and just write some things, perhaps using recording as an avenue to create. But that might be a very unrealistic expectation. It might just be self-deception. It is kind of depressing because I have worked with a lot of musicians in my life, and there have only been a few that I couldn't at least keep pace with in terms of the playing. But when it comes to writing, I just don't have it. Seems like a shame.

I am hoping that if I berate myself enough here, perhaps I will start recording something original to prove myself wrong! Ha!

So, last week, I recorded the Beatles song, and it came out quite nice. A lot of layered vocals, multi-track lead vocal, some acoustic guitars. Learning the ins and outs of recording with my new microphone (which, funny enough, is actually 2 years old, but I am only just now starting to use it, since I took a huge break from recording). One challenge that I face here besides my own demons is the fact that sitting on the final approach path of Sea-Tac's flight route means that my condenser microphone is constantly picking up jet engines. I guess it will usually be buried in the recording, and if it ever is actually loud enough to be noticed, maybe it will come at an opportune part of the recording, and I can use it to my advantage.

Anyway. Many moons ago, I started recording the first of the "Bob Sings the Girl Songs" project, which was "Shitloads of Money" by Liz Phair. I figured there would be some of Liz, and some Aimee Mann, of course, and then a bunch of other things that I am as of yet not sure (though I had an idea to do a Kelly Clarkson song, until I found out that some dude named Ted Leo already did it... I still might do it). After doing a midi drum track, and a crappy take of the bass guitar, I abandoned it for several months. And I decided that today would be the day that I finish it. So I set about "fixing" the bass guitar, which is actually quite a cool feat. Those of you who are recording gurus will know that this is simple, but those of you who are not will probably be impressed with what can be done. I had a lot of notes that fell "out of time" a little bit. Either just ahead or just behind the beat. And using the recording software, it is possible to slide individual notes around in the audio recording so that it sounds like it was played correctly! Pretty sweet. It probably took more time than just replaying the part, but that's why computers are for, right? To do something "automatically" that would take half the time to do "manually".

Then I recorded an electric guitar. Then vocals. Then spent a long time dicking around redoing many parts of the vocals, and in the end, kept on feeling that I could have sung it better than I did, and might go back and redo eventually, but for now am sick of the melody. Liz's voice is low, but still a little high for me, and I think to get it perfect would take a lot of tries. Then I did an acoustic guitar solo, followed by an acoustic guitar rhythm track, followed by a distorted electric guitar overdub, and finally a harmony vocal on some of the choruses.

Fun fun fun.

Mixed it down, and made an mp3 of it.

I am not really particularly proud of how this one came out (more proud of the Beatles song) but if you want to listen to them, I made myself a music MySpace page, which you can view here.

Eventually I will put some real design on there, but for now it's just a holding pen for songs.

13 June, 2008

this is really the stupidest thing ever

Location: netherlands
Mood: feeling stupid

This is in the news. And it is called "Research".

I want to see error bars on the data. Is the result significant?


12 June, 2008

Is the Smart Car really that smart?

Location: my self-righteous opinion mill
Mood: doubtful

You've heard of the Smart Car. They have been all the rage in Europe for years, and are now starting to become more available in the USA - there's a dealer in Seattle now. When I first heard about them, I was enraged that they were not available here, and ranted about how our country doesn't want us to have fuel economic options, and all my usual complaining.

And then a few weeks ago, a friend of mine said "You know, they don't even really get very good gas mileage", to which I argued, and said "No no no! I am pretty sure they get like 60 or 100 miles per gallon or something like that!"

I don't know where I got this information. But it is incorrect.

According to Fueleconomy.gov, here are the facts:

Not particularly impressive.

And when you factor in the fact that this car is significantly smaller, with less storage space, and presumably less safety for the driver, than many competing mileage vehicles like the Civic, the Scion xD, and the Honda Fit, how do you justify the Smart Car? Because you can park it more easily? The price is around $12,000, and it is really not clear to me you're getting value with it.

Furthermore, one could make a valid argument that the Smart Car is actually operating on a significantly LESS efficient engine than the competing models listed below. If you consider efficiency to be related to the amount of energy required to move a load, then the efficiency must include in it the weight of the object being moved.

Therefore, if we look at these vehicles, we've got the following:

Smart Car
Highway mileage: 41 mpg
Curb weight: 1584 lbs
Normalized: 32.5 miles*ton per gallon

Honda Fit
Highway mileage: 34 mpg
Curb weight: 2450 lbs
Normalized: 41.7 miles*ton per gallon

Scion xD
Highway mileage: 33 mpg
Curb weight: 2625 lbs
Normalized: 43.3 miles*ton per gallon

Hummer H3
Highway mileage: 18 mpg
Curb weight: 4700 lbs
Normalized: 42.3 miles*ton per gallon

Are you reading that? In terms of load-pulling capability, the Hummer is more efficient than the Smart Car, and amazingly it is exactly as efficient as three of the most fuel economical vehicles on the road.

If the Smart Car were simply as efficient as the Hummer H3 in terms of load-pulling efficiency, then its engine would get about 53 miles per gallon. Why can they not design the Smart Car's engine to accomplish the same thing that is accomplished in each of the other three vehicles listed above?

I find those numbers intriguing. And what do they make you think of the Smart Car?

Not so smart, I say.