Cthulhu the cat died today.
He was, strange as it may seem to anyone who isn't a "cat person," one of my best friends.
Of all living things, none were less deserving of his ordeal than Cthulhu. He was truly incapable of malice, never depressed except when he was dying, and always there to spread love and cheer. For eight years I relied on him to help cheer me up when nothing else could, and to shower me with affection even when I was being a moody jerk that didn't necessarily deserve it.
I've had a number of cats in my life, and I've loved them all. But Cthulhu was special. He was my familiar, my shadow. Before he got sick, every time I walked in the door he would come running to me. He would follow me, craning his neck to look up at me with his saucer eyes and an expectant look. Cynics insisted that he just wanted to be fed, until they saw him ignore food in favor of a visit to my lap -- or my shoulder. And not for a momentary visit before rushing off to eat, either. Cthulhu would sometimes spend over an hour on my lap before eating, and would often return immediately afterwards.
When I would walk around the house, he'd often follow me. If he was particularly in the mood for affection, he'd hug my legs with his paws (and try to climb me like a tree). His head-butts of love were extremely enthusiastic, as were his licks. He kneaded me like bread and purred so loud and low that people occasionally mistook him for some sort of distant machinery. My beard was for chewing, and occasionally so was my nose. Cthulhu really was a love cat.
And you never realize quite just how much something means to you until it's gone. I feel guilty for every time I did anything other than spend time petting Cthulhu and basking in his affection, because now I never again can do that. Waking up and not finding him running alongside me down the hallway, looking up at me lovingly in anticipation of cuddles, was already hard enough when he was sick. Now that he's gone, it's even harder.
His unconditional love was unlike anything I've ever known or ever will. We humans with our big brains all love conditionally -- we can't help it, we're made to be judgmental and demanding. The love of a great pet isn't superior to that of a human friend or loved-one, but it is qualitatively different in that it really comes with no strings attached. It's just about togetherness and nothing else. Cats don't care about anything you have or haven't done wrong, they don't want favors, and they have no expectations of you beyond the basics: food, shelter, and affection.
We are about to have a baby, and people say of course this will make it clear that the love of a cat isn't as important as that of your child. Of course it isn't.
But I say of course because as a human I'm wired to be a speciesist, favoring my own kind over all others reflexively, and especially ones that have substantial proportions of genes in common with me.
If I look at it more objectively, what is so inferior about the love of a cat? We're all animals. Cats are small, but so are children, for a while. Cats can't talk, but we love our children before they can talk. Cats and children are both small and mostly helpless against the many large dangers of the world, yet more resilient and clever than we often give them credit for. Cats don't live as long as we do, but we still love people who die young. In fact, we love them more because we long for that extra time together we never got to have. I long for more time with Cthulhu that I can never have.
So of course one doesn't love a cat as much -- at least not in the same way -- as one loves a child, or any other family member. But I am not ashamed to call it a close second.
Cthulhu was an integral part of our lives for eight years. Without Cthulhu here, things are jarringly different, and not in a good way. He's always been in this house with us, we got married when we already had him, his presence was always felt in our lives and now that it's gone the absence is markedly palpable.
My morning coffee ritual, and my evening coming home and dinner rituals, were all centered around Cthulhu. As I walk down the hallway to the kitchen, he is no longer running along side me, craning his little neck to look up at me expectantly all the way. Nobody now sits patiently at my feet waiting for me to finish eating -- only to jump on my lap the instant I'm done. No longer is each meal capped by aggressive snuggling, head-butts punctuated by loud purrs, a kitty head shoved into my underarm, and a mad scramble onto my shoulders to nuzzle my cheeks and lick my ears. These daily routines now seem hollow and pedestrian, which they actually are without an outpouring of kitty love to liven them up.
I still subconsciously look around, expecting to see him running over to share the love, or taking a nap somewhere comfortable.
I wish he had lived long enough to meet the baby, so that she'd have known this most wonderful cat, this living personification of unconditional love.
The other cats are wonderful in their own ways, but only Sim is a lap cat. And none of them have that outgoing, loving personality that always brightened our days. Our household cuddling and happiness quotients just dropped markedly. It will be some time before they go back up at all, and they'll never reach the same soaring heights they did when Cthulhu was still alive.
Even when he was suffering, he could be coaxed into purring and licking and being happy to see us -- until the end, when he just couldn't take it anymore. No creature, and especially not one so wonderful, should have to go through that. Those that believe in some divinity should ask their God why such an innocent creature, absent of malice of any kind, bringing nothing but love and joy to all who encountered him, deserved to suffer so greatly and die so young. But I can tell you the answer already -- there is no reason for it. It is just wrong.
Born feral, blinded by deformed corneas, and mostly toothless his whole life, Cthulhu was unlikely to survive more than a few weeks had the Beckers not found him. We were extremely lucky that such a wonderful creature then found his way to us when they could not keep him. Despite his lifelong physical difficulties, Cthulhu shrugged off the adversity and didn't hold it against the world. He could have been ornery and mean and nobody would have begrudged him that, but instead he was the most affectionate creature I've ever met.
I keep getting up to go check on him and give him reassurance and petting, only to realize he's not there anymore and never will be again. Eventually the sheer momentum of the trying to be there for him as much as possible, to try to do something that would save him, will wear off -- but the cat-shaped void left by his death will always remain.
They were eight great years with Cthulhu around, but eight was not enough. Maybe I'll eventually stop crying whenever I think about him. I certainly hope so, because there are so many joyous memories of him to be cherished.
I wish he could have lived forever. He was supposed to eat the universe, not the other way around. That's why we named him Cthulhu, God damn it.
Wednesday, February 2, 2011
Labels: bring out your dead
Friday, November 19, 2010
I started riding again this year, after a long break away from it. Despite wrecking my dearly departed Shadow 750 about six months into it, I'm still having fun. Considering all the wrecks I didn't have doing all the stupid shit I did when I was younger, wrecking while commuting on the freeway was a bit embarrassing, but I suppose I owed it for getting away with all that dumb nonsense as a teenager.
Labels: ride to live
Wednesday, April 7, 2010
So he had a good long run, but I am still quite sad. He will be missed.
A couple of articles about him:
And a short article by him:
His autobiography "An American Education" is very hard to find (it was published by a tiny vanity press), but a very interesting read if you can find it.
Ed helped me out quite a bit, especially when I was a teenager. We met when he was helping raise money from the community for me to go to the U.S.S.R. as part of a math and physics student summer exchange program, and also helped me get a Rose Foundation grant for computer equipment when I was in college. We remained friends, and I have always had a great time chatting with him, hearing his stories and getting advice from him. I will miss him quite a bit.
Labels: bring out your dead
Friday, February 12, 2010
I have artwork in this Add-Art online show, along with 3 other artists:
What is Add-Art?
"Add-Art is a free FireFox add-on which replaces advertising on websites with curated art images. The art shows are updated every two weeks and feature contemporary artists and curators."
What the curator (my wife, Anu) wrote about my pieces for the show:
Stephan Vladimir Bugaj uses found photography from the mid-20th century as the basis for exploring the construction of identity. Images from the “Good War” (World War II), a conflict that sent the artist’s family into permanent exile, are manipulated to emphasize the deterioration of cultural memory in an age of superficial access to information. The more data we have, the less we know or remember. Reduced to symbols, the people in these images have lost their voice to the forward march of history.
(note: Some of the images are actually from the WWI "War to End All Wars" era, as well.)
I am interested in several things when doing this kind of rephotography and photomanipulation work. One is the idea, horrifying to me, that people will discard family photos and relegate their ancestors to the dustbin of history. Many of the photos I work from are scans of photos that have been sold-off on eBay or at flea markets. The very idea that someone would willingly toss away a portion of their own personal history for a few bucks amazes and appals me. They've not only lost their voice to the forward march of history, but also to indifference or disdain from their own descendants. I like to imagine lives and personalities for my subjects, though I know I'm certainly quite far from the truth.
Some of the images are of more well known people, not just anonymous players relegated to permanent obscurity. These people interest me especially because the general public's lack of interest in history makes them so easily misunderstood. As symbols, they are subject to preconceived notions by all but those history buffs who may recognize them. In the Add-Art show, I've slipped into the mix a couple of these folks, including Kurt Gerstein. Gerstein's photo, with the SS lightning runes on his collar, will lead most people to immediately assume he is a villain in the drama that is human history. But the truth is much more interesting.
Indeed, even the anonymous soldiers in the show are a window into our own preconceptions. The Germans and Russians must certainly, to many Americans, simply be evil. In reality, though, only a small percentage of people are truly evil. We have no idea whom among them were party members, which were brutal killers, and which were just folks who wanted to serve their own tribe and keep their friends alive long enough to share another round of beer (or vodka). So most people look only at the symbols on their uniform and ask a single question: ally or enemy?
But these soldiers were ultimately the same as any other soldiers: they ran the gamut from idealists swept-up by nationalism to conscripts fighting for nothing more than survival to brutal killers consumed by bloodlust, and everything between. What you think of each individual image says a lot about you, but very little about the truth of the people in the images. Their truth has been lost, and replaced by our assumptions. War is "necessarily" dehumanizing, but its divisive effects last long after the war has concluded, clouding our view of the past, and shaping our future.
The entire series is called Processed and Filtered. In our information-saturated, high-tech media age, everything we know has been processed and filtered. First-hand observation and independent corroboration of opinion masquerading as information has become seen as not merely unnecessary, but passe. Knowing the truth of anything is even more difficult than it has ever been -- the exact opposite of the original promise of mass media technology. We know little or nothing of the truth behind these images, only seeing them through the filters I've applied digitally, and that society has applied memetically. They are an homage to notions of truth and knowledge that were never actually realized, but have since become utterly lost even as ideals.
Sunday, December 20, 2009
This photo pretty much sums up my opinion of Delta (and their level of competence):
We arrived 7 hours early for our LAX-JFK flight. It was canceled. When we asked what we should do, the first agent we spoke to very brusquely said: "go home!" (a) Home is 350 miles away, and (b) we're not flying Christmas week for no particular reason, we paid several hundred dollars to go to NY and we damn well plan to get there. Then she told us we wouldn't be able to get on a flight until the 24th or 25th.
We waited from 10AM until about 6PM on a "special services" line. During the wait, we tried: (a) calling Delta, but the number was busy, (b) using the Delta website to change our flight to another NY flight, but that functionality was turned-off, (c) using the in-airport computerized kiosks to reschedule, but those displayed "you must see an agent", and (d) telephoning Hotwire (whom we bought the tickets through), who took Anu's cell number and said they'd call us back. Hotwire called back after five hours and rebooked us on the 11PM flight, tonight, the same night.
So we waited for eight hours to do something we'd tried several ways to do initially, and in the end it wasn't even Delta who helped us. It was Hotwire. All Delta did when we got to the agent was confirm what Hotwire did, and check our bags. Some passengers who had waited on line with us spent upwards of two hours at the agent's desk trying to get rebooked. Others were helped quickly once they got to the agent, but no attempt was made by Delta to sort people by relative difficulty of rescheduling them or to open the half dozen closed positions and put more staff on the case to cut down the wait. A line that could have been worked through in a couple hours if they'd staffed-up and organized it properly would up taking four times that, and during that time many people missed multiple flights to their destinations.
Also during the wait, Delta called the Police on a passenger who was yelling at an agent. He kept his hands at his sides, made neither verbal threats nor threatening gestures. Six Police responded. Had Delta merely summoned six more gate agents, rather than trying to get LAPD to handle their disgruntled customers for them, yelling might not have been necessary in the first place.
The most obnoxious thing they did was to open a shorter line right in front of those of us who had been waiting for hours. How this failed to lead to a riot, I am not sure, but it was not because of any attempt by Delta agents to rectify this insulting travesty.
I've flow both Air France and Aeroflot (while Aeroflot was still run by the Soviet government, which at the time was in the process of collapsing), and this experience with Delta is far and away the worst. The agents weren't quite as horrendous as Air France employees (who are such jerks that even other ornery French people find them intolerable), the one at the desk was almost nice to us once we waited nearly eight hours to see him. And the delay wasn't quite as bad as Soviet-run Aeroflot (eight hours instead of twelve, though it was slightly longer if you count the time from when we arrived rather than from when the flight was scheduled to leave). But the combination of factors made for a less pleasant experience than either terrible airline (both of which, by the way, are now Delta code-share partners in some kind of symbiotic, anti-customer alliance of the world's worst airlines).
I have a hard time imagining ever flying Delta again. Here's hoping they follow Northwest into bankruptcy (a company they purchased after NWA went bankrupt, perhaps coincidentally but hopefully not, following a similar Holiday season customer service debacle), and are subsequently bought-out by some company that knows how to provide actual customer service.
Tuesday, December 15, 2009
Saturday, December 12, 2009
Take any exercise that's not too horrific -- lunges, marching leg lifts -- and then add the little blue hemisphere of death (which they call a Bosu, whatever that means), and you have a recipe for instant misery. Doing sit-ups on those things is plainly insane, yet we did that, too. I have no love for the little blue hemisphere of death.
We also did a usual course of sit-ups, push-ups, and various other ups that lead me to feel like I'm about to do some reps of throw-ups. Since my RSI doesn't play nice with things like push-ups, bench holds, and so on, I've also been stretching, including over the head stretches with a length of PVC pipe. The highlight of this week's workout was when Jessica malaproped that I ought to get myself a PCP pipe for home. If our workouts get much harder, I'm going to need some PCP for the pain.
Sunday, December 6, 2009
Week 17 included a normal two day gym week, which was grueling as always. We did two days back-to-back. To paraphrase Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade: we chose poorly. Adding Kettlebell training was only a matter of time, since Ice Chamber was started by AKC pros (masters of sport and master trainers) so they could promote their sport (and, also, agony).
We did farmers' walks (to teach us why the wheel was invented), kettlebell presses, squats with a kettlebell (ruining the one thing I'd actually become somewhat proficient at), lunges, a bunch of cardio workout, and of course the usual torture of sit-ups, mountain climbers, and supermans.
However, over this past weekend we also did a five mile hike which was, quite literally, uphill both ways. That was a nice addition to the workout week, though the exertion may have contributed to how sick I was feeling by Monday.
And this weekend I also took the MSF/CA-MSP motorcycle safety class through CA.R.E. That was something of a workout in itself: nearly ten hours of range training in 40-50 degree weather. My four on-range Rider Coaches -- J.P., Gabriel, Roger, and Lisa -- were all fantastic. Like Jessica does at the Ice Chamber, they got me going by mixing encouragement into their critiques about my form and execution, guiding me to do a better job by making me more physically and mentally comfortable with the exercises rather than trying to force them.
It was quite a week for physical activity, especially considering that it started off with my being rather ill (and I was pretty ill last night, too, but thankfully 12 hours of sleep last night enabled me to finish the riding course successfully).
Saturday, November 21, 2009
On Sunday, my friend Max (aka IronMax) will be participating in the IronMan Arizona 140.6 triathlon. To me, this is amazing. Max is a nerd, just like me, but over the past few years he has become my physical training inspiration. His success inspired me to sign-up for plyometrics at the Ice Chamber, and to keep pushing myself even though it often is excruciating.
So here's wishing good luck to Max. I hope he completes the full 140.6, and achieves a time that he's happy with.
Friday, November 20, 2009
The Spinner bike (aka. Hell-on-Wheels-That-Dont-Take-You-Anywhere) reared its ugly head again. Are people not aware that all of modern society has been built upon one single premise: "climbing hills sucks"? Trains and cars to climb them for you, road grading machines to remove them, aircraft to fly over them -- you name it -- all these things stem from the human desire to avoid climbing f***ing hills. What kind of a sick mind invents a device to simulate climbing hills? Had the Spinner bike folks been alive during the Spanish Inquisition, it's obvious what their vocation would have been.
After riding a Spinner bike I am so exhausted and incoherent, I have no idea what is happening afterwards. At least, that's usually the case, but today we did another push-up like thing that involves supporting all your weight on one arm. My left shoulder does not want. Perhaps eventually I'll get strong enough and loose enough in the arms and shoulders that push-ups, and especially one-armed push-ups, don't feel like having a spike driven through my shoulder -- but until then, these are the worst thing ever.
And next week being Thanksgiving means I'll come back the following week even fatter and wimpier. Damn you Pilgrims!
Tuesday, November 17, 2009
The Top 500 List of supercomputers has quite a number of Intel CPU machines running Linux on the list. These are considered commodity supercomputers, even though they use custom backplanes and highly modified Linux kernels.
But several of the Top 10 do not meet that criteria, including the 3 IBM BlueGene systems that have custom chips. But the most interesting to me is the NEC Earth Simulator. This machine is well off the Top 10, in mere 31st place, but the thing that jumps out when you look at the chart is that it only has 1280 processors. In the Top 100, there are no other machines with fewer than 2048 processors, and most of the machines with under 5000 processors are based on the IBM PowerComputing architecture.
Simply dividing Rmax (which is in tflops) by the # of processors, we get 0.95 for the Earth Simulator, or about 95gflops per CPU. The #1 machine, Cray's "Jaguar" XT system, is 0.0078 or about 780mflops per CPU. Though there are other conflating factors in supercomputer design that make a CPU-to-CPU comparison difficult, a rough estimate of 100 times faster per CPU ought to pique interest in the NEC architecture. But it hasn't.
The Earth Simulator is the only machine in the Top 100 running the NEC Vector architecture and Super-UX operating system. The Intel-Linux pairing is quite cost competitive, and therefore often wins out on bids. But this is still the main advantage of Intel's commodity CISC architecture. The per-CPU compute rate is still a lot better when R&D dollars are applied to other computing architectures. By always going with the cheap solution, as an industry we're holding ourselves back. We've been stuck with the same Intel x86-ish architecture now for a while. RISC machines officially left the desktop mainstream in 2006 when Apple dumped the PowerPC architecture, but x86 dominance of the chip market has been a reality for a while. As of 2009, Intel has about 80% of the CPU market (including the mobile market, according to TGdaily), and its biggest rival is x86 clone maker AMD.
Most people don't need more computing power, more efficient CPUs, and less bloated / more compute efficient operating systems. But for those of us who do, it's a shame that so few resources are going into RISC CPU, whole-system architecture, and OS R&D in favor of trying to solve the problem with hacks on top of commodity systems. It's not like the industry is at a standstill, far from it. And sometimes those hacks work, which has all sorts of interesting results. But just imagine a 224162 CPU Earth Simulator instead of a 224162 Intel-based Cray XT, and what kinds of complex physics and earth science computations that could do.
Labels: computers suck
Sunday, November 15, 2009
We're getting back into the groove at The Ice Chamber. And by "The Groove" I mean "The Pain". Aches and pains in my arms and legs are reminders of the SS-style workout that is plyometrics, and what a fool I am for doing it. Chance of death by heart attack is now at about 98.8%.
This week we did lunges, squats, lunges with weights, squats with weights, squat-to-press with weights, and of course horrible, horrible things like push-ups (aka. arm-destroyers) and mountain climbers (aka. vomit-inducers). All that made the rowing seem less horrid by comparison, but I know that's just my mind playing tricks on me. It's like people who say prison isn't that bad: they know they're not getting out, might as well make the best of it.
On the plus side, now my bicep, tricep, and hamstring pains can distract me a bit from the pain in my perpetually-RSI-injured trapezius.
Thursday, November 12, 2009
NIMBY, the very cool art colony in Oakland where I rent a space, has been through a lot financially and emotionally. The space needs financial support to keep going, especially due to the trouble their fundraising events have run into due to complaints from new fancy-loft neighbors who are trying to gentrify the area and run-out the artists, businesses and lower-income people who were there first.
Here is a missive that was just sent out by the NIMBY crew:
While NIMBY is financially sound as an art space - we need the greater community to once again step up and help us through this crunch. NIMBY is setting many precedence for art spaces as we go through this process with Oakland. We are dotting every i and crossing every t, creating a solid foundation for future art spaces to build upon.
Watch our short video, lend your support if you can, and please pass along this message. It is your support that makes this all possible.
How to lend your support:
Tax Deductible Donations - email firstname.lastname@example.org
Keep up with NIMBY:
NIMBY Announce List - http://www.nimbyspace.org/contact/
Facebook - http://www.facebook.com/pages/edit/?id=171530301726#/pages/NIMBY/171530301726
Twitter - NIMBYSPACE
(And as always more detailed updates on our progress can be found at http://www.nimbyspace.org)
If you can help, it'll be appreciated by a number of Bay Area artists, art lovers and Burning Man devotees: those who have spaces at NIMBY, those who attend the NIMBY events, those who enjoy the projects constructed at NIMBY, and those who are trying to follow in NIMBY's footsteps and get other arts venues up and running.
Tuesday, November 10, 2009
I was sorting through some photos this evening, and I found this shot I took of my favorite Austrian signage. It's a sign indicating special needs seating on the tram.
The seats are reserved for fat women with thick rubber gloves, Sigmund Freud, Socialist welders, and women with baby Hitler.
Labels: very funny mothaf***a
Friday, November 6, 2009
Though the Apple ][ scored the #1 slot, the Commodore 64 did not even make it onto the PC World 25 Greatest Computers of All Time list at all (it, along with the PET, made it onto the "near greatest" list in favor of barely innovative, and (except the iMac) marginally culturally significant computers like the Alienware, Shuttle, Sony, and Apple iMac boxes on the list).
This is preposterous. The C64 sold 17 million units, making it the best selling model of personal computer of all time. In its heyday, it had between 30% and 40% of PC market share.
The C64 essentially defined a generation of computing, becoming a major force in popularizing hobbyist programming and PC gaming (many programmers I meet who are my age or older either owned a 64 at some point, or hacked on them in school -- even some who were primarily Apple ][ or Atari 800 hackers).
It defined a generation in part because it was the first computer that was truly affordable yet as good or better than its more expensive contemporaries. Families like mine couldn't afford $1200-3000 Apple ][s or even $1000 Atari 800s, but the initially $600 Commodore 64 dropped to $400 a year after its release, making it truly a people's computer. That alone is a major accomplishment in the history of computing, worthy of note (unless you think only rich people contributed to the history of computing).
And even though the Apple ][ and Atari 800 had sound and color graphics, it was really the C64 that was accepted as the the first prominent consumer/small business proto-multimedia-workstation. It was used extensively on TV especially for low budget chargen apps, helped define and popularize the demo scene, and the SID chip is still coveted today by electronic musicians.
Furthermore, only the Amiga, Apple ][, and Atari 800 machines can even compare to it in terms of long-term user loyalty. Many people still use C64s today, either the real hardware, or emulators to run beloved old games (and rediscover one's own early programming projects).
Personally, I think the C64 should have been #1 on that list. Objectively, it should have at least been in the top 10 -- not an also-ran.
Labels: computers suck
Thursday, November 5, 2009
I missed 2 weeks of workouts, and week 13 became two one-session weeks, due to illness and travel. This week became week 14, and it's just like starting over: I'm back at 99.9% chance of heart attack during the workout, and have put back on several pounds thanks to the patented "mostly booze diet" I stuck to during CineStory and Austin Film Festival.
We did some horrible thing called Bear Walks, which should have been awesome since you get to pretend you're a bear, and I'm working on a movie at work with "Bear" in the title to boot. But it wasn't awesome. It was as un-awesome as marching presses which, like most things that involve marching, make you understand what a miserable little worm you really are, Private. It also finally dawned on me: rowing is a form of torture. I was so incoherent most times we've worked on the rowing machines it never fully occurred to me until now just how awful it really is.
On the plus side, I allow myself to eat peanut butter after the workout, and everyone knows peanut butter kicks ass.
Wednesday, November 4, 2009
The Yankees have won their 27th world series championship.
Many people do not know that I am a baseball fan, but I am. I have been a Yankees fan since I was a child. I started watching their games when I was about two years old, though my earliest actual recollections of Yankees games are from when I was about four or five. As a kid, I played in Yumas A.C. in Mastic Beach, NY, where I was an All Star. I then had my dream of someday playing for the Yankees permanently shattered as (unbeknownst to me at the time) my vision started going bad and my performance as a member of the Rotary Club team in East Hampton, NY dropped from All Star to flat-out terrible. Yet I still root root root for the home team, which for me is still the New York Yankees. Each time they win another one, I wish my father were still alive to share in the excitement. But I'm glad that the rest of my family, and Anu's family as well, are also Yankees fans and thus the family tradition goes on.
So congratulations to NY City, Joe Girardi (maybe now they'll stop saying he's a poor manager), Hideki Matsui (series MVP), Andy Pettite, Mariano Rivera, and the rest of the NY Yankees team on their win.
Labels: secret masters of fandom
Tuesday, November 3, 2009
Working into (or, even worse, through) the lunch hour, and having lunch meetings, is an American affliction desperately in need of a cure. Our shoddy eating habits are compounded by our inability to stick to a reasonable eating schedule, and the fact that most situations that require working through lunch are stressful ones certainly doesn't help with digestion.
Personally, I think working into or through lunchtime should be made as socially unacceptable as coming to work in a Nazi SS uniform.
Sunday, November 1, 2009
Halloween night I performed a wedding ceremony for my friends Frédérique and Jason, at The Enchanted Forest, in Fallbrook, CA. Since I got my ULC ministerial credentials 17 years ago, I've planned to marry several couples, but this is the first one that actually happened. And it was a wonderful, fairy tale wedding -- Tim Burton style. Many of the guests were in costume, and the bride and groom exited in a hearse at the end of the evening.
(photo courtesy Philip Wilburn)
Here's wishing Jason andFrédérique a long, happy life together!
Monday, October 26, 2009
Digging around some old photos this evening, I stumbled upon this photo of me from my Sophomore year at Simon's Rock College. I'm pretty sure this was early in the semester, and therefore I'm still 17 in this photo. Holy smokes.
My time at Simon's Rock was definitely a case of "it was the best of times, it was the worst of times". To this day, I still miss the place, and all the people I knew there -- some of whom I see now and then, and most of whom I haven't seen since I left.
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Sunday, October 11, 2009
Week 12 became a 3-day 2 weeks and it all just went by in a blur. I've been super busy getting ready to go to CineStory and Austin Film Festival, and doing a hugely time consuming project at work, and trying to get in some writing on a script I'm co-writing with a friend, and... uh... a bunch of other stuff. So much so that when I went to the gym I was so exhausted that the pain just sort of got muted by the general incoherence of my sleep-addled mind at 8AM.
There was something new we did. It involved doing squats or lunges and rows while Anu and I tugged on elastic straps against each other, thereby becoming each others' resistance. It was very confusing to try to coordinate two people with no sleep. Hopefully this coming week will be more coherent, so I can grouse about it more clearly.
Sunday, September 27, 2009
Due to jetlag and illness, Week 11's 2 sessions were actually spread out over 2 weeks. Now we're back into the groove. Owing to our weakened state, Jessica took it easy on us, but alas I am still sore. And I know that's just the calm before the storm.
We did manage to work in a new torture: uneven push-ups. Admittedly, all my push-ups are of uneven (at best) quality, but these are push-ups where the ground is made uneven through the insertion of a ball between one of my hands and the floor. The purpose of this seems at first pleasant enough: to simulate fondling a breast in order to make doing a push-up more pleasant. But it turns out the real purpose is to make the push-up far more painful in one shoulder, reminding me that no matter how horrid push-ups may be, there's always a way to make them worse.
Tuesday, September 15, 2009
A lot of people I know have been having children lately. Apparently that's what happens when folks get around my age. This has caused Anu and I to consider whether or not we want to be a part of this particular trend. Part of considering this is figuring out just how much it sucks to be a kid, or have one, these days.
When I was a kid, there were plenty of lousy things about being young. Bullies kicking my ass. Girls who wouldn't kiss me. Not being able to drive a car. The fact that the entire planet was not made of pizza and iced cream.
It turns out, however, that being a kid nowadays sucks even more -- and so does being a parent.
When I was a kid, I ran forehead-first into our driveway gate (which I rarely remembered to latch, so it was always swinging in the wind) as I was chasing my beloved kite. I required stitches. I also tried to jump a neighbor's fence on my bicycle, leading me to hit the storm drain, flip the bike, and slam into the fence. I avoided stitches, but I sure looked and felt like a bruised-up moron. Among my many other stupid tricks were: jumping through the branches of a tree the height of our house (washing off blood and sap really sucks), numerous bicycle crashes, punching out walls and windows, building a treehouse that collapsed with me in it, hundreds of dirt clod fights (including ones that turned into fist and/or rock fights), and as I got older, first leaping and eventually riding dirtbikes off a cliff and into a nearby sand and gravel pit.
Friends and I also used to play Star Wars in a nearby bog that looked kind of like Dagobah, and was right next to the four dishes and radio antenna owned by the local cable TV firm. My dad used to bring home fireworks. And skateboards. Sometimes the fireworks and skateboards were deployed at the same time. I also liked to set fires (though generally in safe places), swim in the ocean, and take the train 100 miles into NY City to buy records and go to punk clubs (after I was about 12, I did the latter two unattended).
Many of my stunts resulted in getting yelled at, lectured, or grounded. Were I a kid now, any one of these things might result in my mom getting arrested and/or me and my sisters being taken away from her by Child Protective Services.
So might the fact that I started babysitting my little sisters starting when I was as young as 10 (though not for very long at that age). I was actually paid to babysit other people's kids, and to mow laws with an actual lawnmower, when I was 12. Child labor! Dangerous whirling blades! The horror! The horror!
I even got arrested once as a kid (for graffiti). The judge chastised me for being a snotty young punk, and then chewed-out the cop for wasting his time when the cop should have just dealt with it locally and made me clean up the graffiti and be done with it. Then the judge sentenced me to clean up the graffiti. The idea of arresting my mother for the fact that young people are universally stupid never even occurred to anyone involved.
I left home to go to college at 16. I did incredible amounts of stupid things between 16 and 18 (the age at which my mother was no longer legally burdened with the responsibility for my actions despite being a four and a half hour drive away). And while I was there, a friend of mine was killed in one of the first campus shooting rampages since Charles Whitman.
Was my mom negligent for allowing me to go to college before the age of majority? Based on the culture of paranoia today, I bet a lot of so-called parents today would think so, especially since something actually quite bad did happen on campus. Of course, she couldn't have known. And statistically, the chances of that happening were incredibly small. It was freakish that it happened, not inevitable.
In the neighborhood where I currently live, there is a huge State Park that you can walk to from our house in about 5 minutes. I hardly ever see kids in it. I also hardly ever see kids riding bikes in the neighborhood (once), walking around the neighborhood, or even playing in their own yards. Outside is where bad things are like scrapes and cuts and bullies and the ubiquitous* child abductors.
When I was a kid, my mom was constantly trying to get me to go outside and run around more. She wanted me away from the video games and out in the woods with my friends, not cooped up in the house so I'd be "safe". And she certainly didn't make play dates for me. If I wanted to play, I had to arrange it with other kids myself, like kids have since cavekids dragged each other out by the hair to play a nice game of "hit the tiger with a stick". Parents have become both overprotective, as well as obsessed with the idea of "preparing kids for success" and thus kids' lives have become regimented and contained.
People think they're being responsible with their kids by building these walls around them, and regimenting their lives, but they're really being quite irresponsible. In addition to the fact that sedentary lifestyles encourage kids to get fat and unhealthy, this kind of mollycoddling makes kids lazy, codependent, and spoiled. And it perpetuates the pathetic culture of victimization that has turned America into the land of lawsuits and self help scams. Perhaps, though, this constant monitoring and scheduling is just good parenting after all -- preparing them for constant surveillance and obedience in the post-Patriot-Act police state that many seem to want to turn our country into.
Michael Chabon has written about this. George Carlin ranted about it and accurately named the phenomenon "The Cult of The Child" and "Child Worship". Lenore Skenazy has made combating the insidious forces depriving kids of a real childhood into a cottage industry with her Free Range Kids book and site. And historical fiction author Conn Iggulden achieved international attention for his own Dangerous Book For Boys (which inspired the Daring Book For Girls). All this effort in order to try to inspire, encourage, and occasionally chastise parents into allowing kids to actually have a life.
If raising kids is going to mean getting arrested and sued for trying to let my kids experience the world, I am not so sure I want to do that. At least, not here. When I was in Denmark visiting my sister Katrina and her husband Troels, I saw kids actually riding bicycles and playing in public parks. Maybe in Europe, a kid can still go to the mall without anyone getting arrested.
(* Child abduction is far from ubiquitous. Based on reported statistics, while approximately 1.1% of children are reported missing annually (approx 800,000 missing child reports, out of a child population of approx 73.7m), being reported missing includes runaways, etc. About half that 800,000 number is accounted for by abductions by family members. Only about 7.5% of that 800,000 number is claimed to be stranger abductions, and only 115 (0.01%) were "stereotypical kidnappings". Approximately 99% of kids reported missing are found. So based on these reported statistics, in any given year a kid's chances of going missing with a non-family member is about seven hundredths of a percent (0.07%), and of going missing permanently is approximately one hundredth of a percent (0.01%). Even if you believe the claim that reported statistics are under-reported by a factor of 20x, which seems an absurd claim in our current culture of paranoia, we're talking about 1.4% and 0.2% chances, respectively. According to child violent death statistics, a kid has a 0.01% chance of a violent death (0.004% chance of being murdered). On the other hand, heart disease, which obesity and lack of exercise is a factor in, is responsible for 27% of all U.S. deaths per year.)
Monday, September 14, 2009
After the Sex Pistols, there was Public Image Limited. And perhaps I commit Punk heresy here, but while the Sex Pistols were incredible, PIL was even better. Possibly not as influential, but better. Though in true "it's better to burn out than fade away" fashion, PIL did survive long enough to become less urgent and relevant in later years. Never bad, mind you, merely not as amazing a band as they once had been.
PIL was founded by John Lydon (Rotten), ex-Clash guitarist Keith Levene, and bassist Jah Wobble (that lineup is shown above). Within two years PIL started undergoing lineup changes that would continue throughout its existence -- with Lydon being the only constant over the years. While that makes PIL Lydon's band, the sound formed during those first two years laid the groundwork for the original PIL sound that held sway from 1978 to 1986 (when "Album" was released). The first two albums, "First Issue" and "Metal Box" (later rerelased on CD as Second Edition) are uncontested postpunk classics, whose sound (along with Joy Division, another band that will show up in this series) became the metric by which all other postpunk would be measured.
The often reviled "This Is What You Want... This Is What You Get" is for me, however, quite possibly my favorite PIL album. It is the first one I heard in its entirety (I'd heard "Public Image" and "Low Life" at friends' parties, and sought out a recording by the band, which I'd been informed was called PIL), when I was 11 years old, and it made a lasting impression on me with its minimalist, rhythm-driven sound. I played my first cassette copy of this album so much that the tape broke. This album, along with the nearly as excellent "Flowers of Romance", featured Martin Atkins (later of Killing Joke, Ministry, and Pigface) on drums.
"Album" is another favorite of mine, and I played it as constantly as "This Is What You Want..." when it was released. A near total change in sound, "Album" is a sonically dense, anthemic rock album layered atop the traditional PIL foundation of strong rhythms. This Bill Laswell produced album features several luminary players: Steve Vai on guitar, Tony Williams and Ginger Baker on drums, and Ryuichi Sakamoto on keyboards. But despite the sonic density and "noodly" guitar work by Vai, this is clearly still a PIL album, with the last vestiges of the original postpunk sound still poking through here and there (particularly on "Ease"). That all-star lineup lasted one album.
PIL's first five albums are utterly essential (even if Allmusic does give both "This Is What You Want..." and "Album" 2 stars -- B.S. I say, those are both five star albums). Later albums, during the Lu Edmunds (Damned) and John McGeoch (Siouxsie, Magazine) era, "Happy?", "9", and "That What Is Not", are not so essential. These albums are all good, to be sure, but by this time PIL had become so pop / R&B / new wave influenced that not much of the original postpunk sound remained. They lost essentially all of their original fans, and an increasing number of their recent converts, and the hitmaking trailed off. The sense of urgency and relevance faded, and so did PIL. Never officially breaking up, PIL has announced that they will reform in 2009 to play a series of winter shows. Hopefully this will lead to a reunion in the studio, because even at their worst PIL was always among the most interesting bands around.
Tuesday, September 1, 2009
Today's special torment was front squats with balls of unusual size (ok, ok they were of usual size but unusual weight). I got to go from a 16 pound ball to a 28 pound ball over the course of 3 sets of reps. Oh, lucky me. The only place there should even be a 28 pound ball is hanging from an elephant.
We also did push-ups. After nearly 11 weeks of training, I can finally say that push-ups have gotten a little bit easier. When I first started, push-ups were like trying to shove the planet in one direction while shoving the sky in the other direction. Now I've finally realized that thanks to the wonders of fluid compressability what I'm really doing is shoving the planet in one direction and merely most of the sky in the other direction. So instead of 3 sets of reps of push-ups making me want to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge, they make me want to jump off the Manhattan Bridge instead. High fives, everyone!
But it turns out that I am some kind of a freak, because I actually wish I was getting to go to the gym a second time this week. The terrorists have clearly won. But I'm not going a second time this week. I'm going to Europe instead, which is technically much, much more awesome than going to the gym. On the positive side, after being away from the gym for ten days I'll utterly and completely suck at everything again, instead of just mostly sucking, and that'll be good for at least a half-dozen more snarky blog posts.
Friday, August 28, 2009
This week we added another new thing to our repertoire of pain called rope waves. It seems so simple. All you do shake a rope up and down for 30 seconds. Vigorously. And therein lies the rub. You see, I also learned a valuable life lesson this week: anything you can do, if you do it vigorously, it sucks.
The virtue of laziness is that you never do anything so vigorously as to make it suck, and thus lazy people enjoy life more. The harder you try, the more it hurts. So the secret to happiness is nonstop alternating binges of sleeping and eating.
On the plus side, I think I'm down to a 98.4% chance of dying of a heart attack each time we go to the gym. On the downside, there are certain gym activities I'm starting to sort- of like. Not only does that mean that the terrorists are winning and I'm becoming "one of them," but it also means if Jessica finds out what they are she'll make them more difficult. So I must endeavor to keep this information secure at all times.
And tthere have been Prids around twice in the last two weeks, which means dancing, but also beer and french fries. Ahh, life's balancing acts.
Friday, August 21, 2009
After 9 weeks of working out I finally have crossed the threshold and am now at a mere 98.5% chance of dying from a heart attack. I think that means Jessica was taking it easy on us today.
Earlier in the week we learned a new torment that I like to call "being kicked in the nuts." For some inexplicable reason, other people call them Inchworms, and they are almost as bad as Burpies (which suck so royally that I'll never actually do one without someone there yelling at me to do so). Essentially all my muscles were in pain after doing them. Even the ones that weren't involved had sympathetic pains.
Now I am just plain tired. I need a nap.
Tuesday, August 18, 2009
I love too many bands to have a single favorite, but if I had to go through the process of picking a favorite, Front 242 would definitely make the shortlist. They are incredibly underappreciated considering the immense impact they had on subsequent generations of electronic music. For me, their digital artwork is also emblematic of an era, one which really resonates with me emotionally and aesthetically. They're another band that I became immediately and permanently obsessed with when I first heard them, back in my early teens.
"Front By Front" is one of the perfect 80s albums -- essentially flawless, and emblematic of its era. Every song is haunting yet full of rhythmic energy, a sound I closely associate with that Late Cold War era feeling of resignation to a bleak future combined with a pent-up desire to do something about it being funneled into creatvity, movement, and desire.
"Don't Crash" off the excellent "Politics of Pressure" EP is one of my absolute favorite songs, and fills me with nostalgia every time I hear it (it always has, even when I first heard it -- it's just got that nostalgia inducing sound for me, similar to Pink Floyd's "Remember A Day" or Project Pitchfork's "I Live Your Dream"). If you asked me for one song that summed up the feeling of the 1980s completely, "Don't Crash" would certainly be a contender. ("Work 242" is also especially good for getting into a dreamy mood.)
Front242 sounds like Cyberpunk reads (as do Clock DVA, Borghesia, and several other 242 peers). It's music to write software by, and the perfect soundtrack to dystopian dreams in which you're a dark, Deckardian hero fighting through driving rain, human foibles, and the misery of a dying world to try to find a better way. It's the sonic equivalent of a targeting HUD on a black helicopter stalking its prey in the night -- rendered 8bit. Mirrorshades and goggles, armored leather outfits, headsets with dangling wires... this is the proper attire to capture the feeling of Front 242 in an outfit.
Yet Front242 is not soulless machine music. It is cold and bleak, yet at the same time full of energy and desire. Later Front242 is even more layered, creating a fuller sound that is in some ways richer than their earlier work (and in some ways, not as exciting in its stripped-down clarity and evocatively bleak atmosphere).
That new direction took me a bit of getting used to when "05:22:09:12 Off" and "06:21:03:11 Up Evil" came out, mainly because of the band's lineup change and unfortunate embrace of the Techno aesthetic in their live shows, but these (and the later "Pulse") are absolutely a continuation of the Front242 sound and unequivocably are true Front242 albums -- all but one of which is excellent (the one is the unlistenably bad remix album "Mut@ge Mix@ge"). I now listen to those newer albums almost as much as the older ones.
Machine music has taken many different directions over the years, but the Front242 sound will always be among the most compelling. If you have never heard Front242, consider it your duty to "Catch The Men" and rectify this aesthetic deficiency immediately.
Saturday, August 15, 2009
Time to blog again at least a wee bit about things other than working out and filmmaking.
So I'm starting a new thread for myself called "Best Band Ever?" in which I'll blog a bit about what certain bands mean to me. I don't really like writing reviews, so it'll just be thoughts about why I think a certain band is great.
Big Black only existed for five years, and they wrote and released only about 70 unique tracks in that time, but their impact on music history is immense. They are one of those bands that are utterly revered by musicians and music critics, even if they never achieved massive success with the general public. This popularity among musicians means their influence on later music is quite extensive. And frontman Steve Albini went on to produce tracks for just about every hip-yet-still-musically-interesting band ever.
The first time I ever heard Big Black I was about 12 years old, and the track was Steelworker. It was slow and sparse, yet still heavy. Simple, yet compelling. And vicious. It told a story. A simple one. But not a pretty one. Big Black's lyrics read like Noir poetry. Drawn from newspaper headlines and the band's own school of hard knocks experiences, their tracks chronicle the dark corners of American society, and pull no punches. They seemed to be angry about everything my teenage self was angry about, and their intense statement of this fact resonated deeply.
The music doesn't pull punches either. Big Black's music is heavy and loud, with a simple, driving rhythm and a layer of chaos on top. Big Black sounds like a cross between a bar fight and a cheap hotel room with a bare light dangling from a swinging cord. To this day, they are one of my absolute favorite bands.
Big Black decided to break up at their height of their popularity and musical development, so that they could go out on a high. I suppose this worked, because none of the successor bands (Arsenal, Rapeman, or Shellac), as good as they are, ever came close to the sheer awesomeness of Big Black. But I still wonder what amazingness might have been on offer had they kept going as a coherent unit. I played the LP of Big Black's final album, Songs About Fucking, over and over again so many times that I physically wore out the record and had to replace it.
Big Black are also responsible for one of the rare records I want most: the original Bulldozer EP with the acid-etched steel jacket and (paper) poster. That sounds amazing. I wish more recordings came in such insane packaging.
There are many awesome punk/postpunk/whatever bands in the world, but few compare to Big Black. Reunions often lead to new material that's far inferior to the older work, but if there's one band that really ought to at least give it a go -- it's Big Black.
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Eight weeks of torment, and I'm down to a 99.5% chance of fatal heart attack every time I step inside the Ice Chamber (a wedding this past weekend, starting with hot dogs at AT&T park, followed by a lovely wedding, which was followed by a late night of partying on a party bus, and then a bacon burger all conspired to set me back into the mid 99.xx% range -- stupid me, I could have been down to like a 98.97% chance of heart attack otherwise).
Today we did a workout which included a routine I now refer to as the Ministry of Silly Walks: skips, grapevines, butt kicks, and some generic hopping side to side thing. Apparently I look so utterly ridiculous and cartoonish doing butt kicks that I caused Anu and Jessica to burt out into nearly uncontrollable laughter. Ahhh... being laughted at in the gym. Now that brings back memories.
It turns out that the interval between being six and being thirty-six proves that skipping and hopping are just like riding a bicycle: you never forget how, but if you don't do it for thirty years, you'll still totally suck at it "remembering how" notwithstanding. It starts off as a near-convincing simulation of fun, and then about two skips or so into it you realize "this is f**king difficult." Yet, it seems so easy for children -- which is just one of many reasons why children piss me off.