Doing the Minimum

This month, the girl and i are embarking on what we’ve termed the “Month of Power”.  Similar to the increasingly popular ‘Sober January’, but without the sobriety, necessarily.  It’s focused on penance for a truly excessive month of December, but if i’m honest with myself, i’ve eaten even more badly than my already reprehensible standard for a solid two years now.  Therefore, a month of corrective measures.  Plenty of exercise (this isn’t the least bit unusual for me, of course) including the dreaded Kelsey and her brutal boot camps on Thursdays.  And also a 2,000 calorie a day (or fewer) diet.  For a guy my size, this results in losing weight.

What’s interesting about this, is that every time i undertake to lose weight, i flirt with tendencies that remain from when i was 17 and dangerously anorexic (trust me on this one, if you’re not related to me or one of the few close friends who’s seen pictures).  Sticking to things that have printed numbers of calories on the side.  Adding them up obsessively.  When i’m forced to eat something that someone, say, cooks, leaving 1,000 worth of room for something that winds up being half that.  And suddenly the 2,000 is 1,500.  And all this is fueled by feeling better, looking better, nothing but positive reinforcement for a while.

But eventually it’s unhealthy.  Not just ’cause it’s all Hot Pockets and ramen and diet Mountain Dew (and beer, beer i’ve left room for).  Mostly because it’s an insufficient amount of nutrition.  Instead of flying down the soccer field and finding push-ups easier, i’m winded after five minutes and weak as a kitten.

So it’s best to have an end in sight.  And damn am i ever looking forward to that end.  And pizza.  And cheezburgers.  And burritos.  And that’s how i know i’m okay.

2013 Year In Review

To be honest, i think i need to change it up this year.  Maybe learn some different things about myself instead.  The last thing i want to do is get bored with my spreadsheet, after all.  Although i was very proud of my scholarly work studying the types of beer i drink, that took a lot of work, so i will not be doing that again.

What does this tell me about the forthcoming year?  What did i not do enough of?  Too much of?  Well, i didn’t play enough video games or go to enough concerts, because there weren’t any to count (although ironically, i did close down more bars than i did last year).  i’ll certainly hope to commute by car less this year, and road-trip more to make up for it.  i feel like i’ve let my twitter performance slack a little bit, probably due to working too much, and i barely kept my elite status on yelp; both need to improve, although i did take a lot of photos this year, which is nice.  And as always, this year, i’d like to score a goal, dammit.

Without goals, all this data is just self-indulgent wanking, you know.

Read on, and be very afraid, friends.

Year in Review 2013 - 1
Year in Review 2013 - 2
Year in Review 2013 - 3
Year in Review 2013 - 4
Year in Review 2013 - 5

The Words of a Crazy Person

It’s tempting for my longtime friends to assume that i am the crazy one in my relationship, because i am far from normal in so many ways.  The chilling truth is that my girlfriend is disturbingly crazy, and frequently speaks nonsense at me unprovoked.  These mad non sequiturs are jarring, shocking, frequently insulting, and i think it’s time, long past time that i tell my friends about what i’ve been going through.

It starts out innocently enough, i’ll be having a normal conversation with her, maybe over coffee, maybe basking in the sunset on the boat docks on a warm day after a run.  Maybe i’ll say something like “i don’t know if a credenza is necessarily the right choice for auxiliary kitchen storage,” and she’ll reply, forcefully, a retort to a gibe i didn’t make, “You’re a credenza!” Alternately, i might say “i sure could go for some bacon for breakfast…” Gleefully: “You’re a bacon!”

At some point i started taking notes, in hopes that some pattern would emerge.  Some way we could get her the help she needs.  i just don’t know what else to do.  Here are the things she’s called me:

• towel
• rice dish
• girl
• butcher
• boat
• family hotel
• sea monster
• Satan
• scrabblegator
• beer
• turkey
• bad sitcom
• butt booger
• table
• cyclops
• harlot
• lesbian
• nopetopus
• scarf
• hypotenuse
• credenza
• communist
• chair
• hobo
• snuggle
• bird
• hipster mart
• poop
• bird
• obama-lover
• monkey
• no
• schwimmer
• chipwich
• lollipop
• booger
• sluggard
• gooey treat
• belly
• contest
• drunk
• wizard
• big damn baby
• liar
• boat
• freeway
• postcard
• buttercup
• wound
• dynamite
• cheeseburger pyramid
• harry potter
• job
• belt
• lulz
• lola
• bacon
• panda
• mutant
• robot
• national grid
• human
• potato
• gangster reindeer
• silver bell
• chicken butt
• bed
• noogie
• liar
• marxist
• imaginary creature
• lizard
• humbug
• creeper
• crone
• cheeto
• queue
• pants
• intertube
• ho-ho
• galleria of jewelry
• froyo
• pony
• six dollars

Please, anyone who can help, do.

Retracing my steps

Last week, oddly enough, found me in New Orleans for the first time since 1986.  While i’d passed through Louisiana once in 1998, i’d never been back after moving away, and was the last in my family to lay eyes on what became of where we used to live.  Not to mention the last to go back and experience the city as an adult.

It will not surprise, likely infuriate those who know me when i say i didn’t need directions to my old house.  The relative locations of everything were still known to me; the interstate, the service roads (service roads are a foreign concept to the girl) and motels that flank it, the McDonald’s, and where it is relative to the Wendy’s.  The main business road and corresponding lack of a real downtown.  The other roads that sort of let you circumnavigate the town surrounding my neighborhood.  Familiar names, and the hints of familiar landmarks.  Not the Wal-Mart, but the plaza where it stood.  Not the pizza place, but a different one in the same spot.  The ancient nemeses CVS and Walgreens doing battle where a different pharmacy once stood.

 https://www.flickr.com/photos/rcolonna/11695879096/player/814545e552

Finally, my old neighborhood.  Southern, concrete streets that once seemed to tick by slowly on the school bus thumped rhythmically under the rental car’s tires as i slowly read off the themed street names that faintly registered familiarity.  And then my old street.  So tiny.  The walk to the bus stop now looked ludicrously small, the boundary we had free reign over so near to our house.  And our house, not what you’d call large either.  It was big enough that we had rooms that we were simply forbidden to enter, a spacious backyard, a driveway, and yet, it looked so modest, so crammed in amongst neighbors, and yet still the same; immovable in brick and therefore tough to alter the appearance of that much.  The slight bend in the driveway to the tiny garage, rendering the latter unusable by our van, and therefore basically every modern SUV that’s now de rigeur down there.  The big kitchen window where we sat while waiting for my sister to never eat her vegetables.

It blows my mind to look at a place that is now completely other to me, but nevertheless know for a fact that my 7-year-old feet trod every inch of it, and to know it’s the setting for all manner of things that remain indelible until i kill those brain cells with alcohol.

Speaking of which, it was fascinating to visit New Orleans as an adult.  My experiences with the city as a kid, at least the ones i remember were primarily related to the Audubon Zoo, the 1984 World’s Fair (which had a damn space shuttle, so you know it was pretty important to 8-year-old me), and Café du Monde.  And maybe the nice parts of the French Quarter.

It was therefore very strange to me to experience it as being closer to Las Vegas than the wholesome historical stuff i vaguely remembered.  As related to us by a French Quarter (he pronounced it “Voo Carr-ay”, reminding me how mutilated Louisiana French pronunciation can be) local, the longtime residents don’t much care for the tarted-up commercialized to-go-cup bacchanalia of Bourbon Street, the same way Boston locals scorn Quincy Market. At the same time, with so much of an old city’s heritage tied up in those occupied blocks, there’s more than a bit of tension evident.  Personally, i found that history much more fascinating while sipping on a drink the same way Tennessee Williams or Jean Lafitte might’ve in the same places they would have.  And there’s nothing wrong with a little tarted-up bacchanalia, either; happy people and good cover bands and freedom of open-containers make for a damn good time, too.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/rcolonna/11674179505/player/de3a11e3c7

Another thing that was radically different from my memories was visiting a plantation. An ancient house, but updated with modern, scarily stylish ideas, with an old outbuilding turned into a bar that would be impossible to get into in any city, and tour guides sporting the latest in hipster facial hair and highly pleasant nonchalance about the fact that you can touch everything in what he calls “our house”.  Far from the stuffy museum that i remember enduring when company came to town.  One thing remained the same, though—not a lot of mention of the little issue of slavery.

https://www.flickr.com/photos/rcolonna/11696159244/player/dfbfd3c0ff

One thing that was utterly the same, though?  Café du Monde.  We usually got it take-away as a kid, so sitting down and being waited upon was fun.  We went three times in four days, and every day went home happily coated in powdered sugar.  It’s cheap, it’s always open, and it’s delicious and unique.  It’s not of this country.  If teleportation was a thing, i would go there every single day.

Work: Modular Blender Lid Assembly

A well-known brand of consumer appliances needed some engineering work done on a lid and pitcher system to go with a forthcoming modular blender motor product.  While the cup-shaped vessel for smoothies and things was an easy fit, a pitcher and lid with socket was a more complicated product.  It needed to nest together neatly, incorporate safety interlocks, accommodate safe pouring, and seal against flying liquid.

Amazon listing

blender_lid_isoScreen Shot 2015-02-01 at 1.42.37 PM

Everything There Is To Know

I just finished reading Dave Eggers’ The Circle, and i don’t want to say I’m spooked, exactly. While it’s intended as a cautionary tale, a forward-looking premonition of a 1984 of our own making, it’s wrong to draw a straight line from the services we clutch to our smartphones’ hearts today to the fictional über-service of the book’s tomorrow.

What’s spooky about it though, is that there are all kinds of ways that parts of it have happened, are happening, or are fervently sought-after today (and i don’t just mean that their Facebook-analog actually has a ‘dislike’ button). There are any number of creeping, meandering paths to this sort of Total Information Awareness, to borrow a catchphrase. And we’re making more of them, clamoring for more of them every day.

I harken back to my college years, and the years in a boring job shortly thereafter, wherein i spent too much time reading Slashdot and hung around with a lot of Linux nerds. A common theme of the then-rollicking discussions was of what could be done, the classic Jurassic Park moral of whether it should be done, be damned (Of course you want Linux, then DOOM on an iPod, even if it did have less space than a Nomad and was lame). The giddy coupling of cheap computing with boundless talent and enthusiasm brought to bear on stuff that, was useless on small scales but fascinating, then profitable on large scales. Extrapolating from my anecdotal knowledge of where these folks wound up, I might suspect this attitude is the very core ethos of the armies of ridiculously smart people working at Google and Facebook. “Let’s see if we can do this,” turned to “Let’s see what we can do with this.”

None of that’s terribly revelatory, but it’s that enthusiasm, that insistence that it should be done, and that we should be glad of the results, combined with a newfound thirst for new fuel in the form of data, that’s what makes my skin crawl. From Zuckerberg’s implication that ‘the age of privacy is over‘ to Google’s Eric Schmidt’s “If you have something that you don’t want anyone to know, maybe you shouldn’t be doing it in the first place,” the perception that what’s good for them is rewarding for you is the start of where the novel hits too close to home. The idea, hell, the reality that their product makes your life better the more you give yourself over to it, to them, is the same in both cases.

It’s not like Facebook and Google are their only targets, either. Yelp’s unwritten practice of complimenting and expecting one back is lampooned mercilessly. I just learned that Uber drivers are basically screwed if they get less than 4.5 stars, just like the characters in the book.  The irresistible allure and seamless integration, upgrading of perfectly designed products as Trojan horse is at least in part Apple’s contribution. The logical progression of Twitter’s always-on firehose sounds convincingly exhausting. The idea that “nobody goes there anymore, it’s too crowded” could befall any business anywhere, if enough people were reading some equivalent of Angie’s List.  What if they were the same hydra-headed beast?

But let’s face it, Eggers’ real target is Google, and i think the book is an implicit prediction on his part that they swallow Facebook at some point, and not the other way around. The difference is ambition, as expressed by their stated goals, and by the manifestations of it. Google’s the one building things that exist to help you funnel information to them. Fiber networks, glasses, phones, self-driving cars all serve that end.  Introducing new products of some sort or another every other week.

This thirst for information is terribly ironic, considering that the people like the people i know whom i assume work at these companies all have a healthy love of. cryptography, or did after reading Neal Stephenson’s Cryptonomicon, at least. Figure that one out.

So do i think this will all happen? Not in that way, probably not. Not just because things like tiny wireless video cameras seem like they will always be hamstrung by our old, infinitely fallible nemesis, the battery. We’re going to see people’s reaction to the first truly intrusive devices really soon now, with Google’s eyes soon to be nestled next to humans’. Honestly, i have a hard time picturing people putting up with it.

But it doesn’t take that. Soon enough, our phones, little tattletales in our pocket, will tell mall retailers where you shopped, where you browsed, and where you skipped. They’ll know if you were active or sedentary. They’ll report on what TV you watches, whether you woke up too late, and if you went straight home from work. They’ll know if your kid did their homework. And enough of any information is worth something.

Maybe some people are willing to make that trade. Or enough little trades that amount to total surrender. i often wonder if i have, and wonder what level of annoyance will cause me to go without something i maybe take for granted, if they’re selling my information too promiscuously, or littering my life with advertisements. Goodness knows we all have varying degrees of hypocrisy on this issue, says the man pimping his Kickstarter on every available social platform. Me, i’m just hoping there’s something left that’s comfortably between going full Unabomber and selling my soul to whomever’s buying. And i enjoyed reading about one logical conclusion of it all.