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So, this is Christmas.

I don't celebrate Christmas. When asked why, I usually say it's because I'm not Christian and don't want to appropriate their tradition when I don't share their beliefs. That's only partly true.

I don't celebrate it because of what it came to mean to me.

Christmas means a lot of anticipation and disappointment.

It means my brothers getting what I asked "Santa" to bring me, and me getting very little that I wanted.

It means no-one liking the gifts I got them (and to a large extent, this has not changed).

It means all of us kids getting totally hopped up on sugar, and the expectation that it would not change how we behave.

It means my dad getting upset at everyone over some arbitrary infraction of unstated rules.

It means shouting, and punishment.

Sometimes, when my dad was especially peeved at us kids during the holiday season it meant that he would be doing the shopping, and that meant nothing fun, just a bunch of Scouting and camping stuff.

It means gathering the extended family together, forcing us all to interact over a large meal, a meal that caused my mom a huge amount of stress to make, and more stress to get the house ready for the oncoming crowd. Mom's stress caused dad to yell more.

It means more shouting and more punishment after dinner when my brothers and I were assigned the task of cleaning up after the cooking, and a particular brother quietly antagonizing the rest of us so that he could score brownie points with our parents.

It means being sent to our rooms without dessert and sometimes without the gifts that had been given us to teach us a lesson about how to get along with our brothers (how this would teach us that lesson, I never could tell).

I remember being a young child and excited by the promise of Christmas. Year after year that promise was unfulfilled, broken, or worse. By mid-teenage years, I was done with Christmas. I'd go through the motions, but if asked, I would have stated I'd be happy to do without.

These days it's very rare for me to get into the "holiday spirit." I certainly don't feel it this year.

I wish you all a very happy whatever holiday you celebrate. This year, as with most years, I'm happy just to ignore them all and quietly enjoy the days away from the office.

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For those who didn't see this on other social media, a very interesting read:

George Lucas nearly wrote a perfect prequel trilogy. He just didn't notice:
All of the plot points required to make the prequels tell a sensible, meaningful, satisfying and affecting story are actually already in there, either explicitly on-screen or strongly alluded to. But for some reason, George Lucas doesn’t seem to notice that he’s written them, and ignores the lot.

Stick with me on this one. I haven’t gone mad, I promise. It all starts with the fundamentals of Star Wars lore....

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Aug. 29th, 2015

My library software (Delicious Library for Mac) has this cool feature that draws "word clouds" based on your chosen criteria. Here is the word cloud for the authors of the books in my collection, where bigger font size corresponds to the number of books I have by that author. Keen!

(Put behind a cut because the image is HYUUUUGE!) See more...Collapse )

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Back to Writing

I've been managing to sit down at my writing desk for several days over the last couple of weeks. The first couple of days, I merely reviewed what I had done so far on my current WiP (Work in Progress). The next few days were spent brainstorming scenes in the novel. I'm targeting 40 scenes, half of which should deal with the main plot, the rest on supporting plots. (I'm very much a Story Engineer.) Unfortunately, I'm stalling out on details of the main plot, so I decided to take the plunge and start simply writing in one of the scenes I know has to be there. I haven't written much in a while so my 523 words took me a while longer than usual, but boy did it feel good.

(And yes, I did get some lightbox therapy in at the same time.)

Now if only I could figure out the events of my primary plot, I'll be a happy guy. Well, "happy" in terms of where my writing is going; no promises in any other aspect of my life. Since the genre I'm writing in requires a well-laid out and integrated plot, I don't want to try and write by the "seat of my pants". Besides, I like to have a rough map of where I'm going before I commit words on paper, even if half-way through the journey I stop and draw an entirely new map.

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The Katering Show

I ran across this web series thanks to former LJer "Low Fat Muffin", and I had to share it with you all.

The Katering Show, produced out of Australia with two hosts who might, or might not, have any cooking skills whatsoever. But it doesn't matter because each of the episodes is full of snark, sight gags, craziness, and really dark humor. Only six episodes so far, but I want to see these ladies get enough attention so that they are compelled to do more episodes. Therefore, I'm pimping them to you all!

Go. Watch. Laugh. Scare your pets. I know I did!

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Weird Dream Theater

My job was to be a negotiator. The pilot of a spacecraft was endangering Earth, and I had to convince him to take another course. He kept speaking of "the White Lady" or "the Lady in White", and not responding to calls from Mission Control. They were convinced he was mentally ill. It was my mission to save the day.

I boarded the runaway spacecraft, and it was surprisingly homey. I mean, homey in that it looked like the inside of a modest home. Looking around, I spotted an untidy stack of books on a coffee table. I stopped to peruse them, recognizing some of them as books I have read over the years. Several of them were "bookmarked" with rectangles of clear plastic that had been "painted" on with white-out. The figures all were of alien beings, with several of them looking like an enrobed woman. These bookmarks were for pages where various authors spoke of white, glowing aliens. The descriptions were remarkably similar from author to author, and as I thumbed through the books, I found the apparent coincidence to be suspicious. I know Mission Control was under the impression that the pilot was having a mental breakdown, but I found myself wondering if he had stumbled upon some bizarre truth.

My co-worker (who I didn't realize was there until she spoke) reminded me of our mission. We needed to get the spacecraft under control. I went to a control console, which looked like something that Nikola Tesla would have built, flicked the switches to the intercom position, and tried to raise the pilot. At first, he was unresponsive, but eventually agreed to meet with us. He was in the control room, which was upstairs.

Entering the control room, I found the pilot sitting on the floor against a wall, no-where near the pilot's chair. He had a worried look to his face, but was staring at some point far, far away. My co-workers (now plural) were demanding answers from the man, backed up by repeated radio calls from Mission Control. The man was oblivious to their demands, and frankly, they were startring to get on my nerve. I tried talking to the pilot, but it was hard to make myself heard over the din of the crowd. I wanted to ask him about the Lady in White, had he contacted her, what had she told him, but I could not make myself understood. I felt that time was quickly running out, but was having trouble remembering what kind of a threat this ship was posing. I had assumed it was going to crash into the planet, but that didn't seem right now. Perhaps they were afraid we were going to fly into deep space?

I woke up as the din of the crowd grew and grew, only to find the rain pouring down outside my bedroom window. I woke up with the feeling that the world was in danger, that I had yet to complete my mission, and that we were on the cusp of discovering something new and wondrous. What a letdown to realize it was just an ordinary Wednesday and I needed to get to the office to work on testing software.

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Dream Channel

I can't help but think there's some odd symbology at work in my dreams lately. Last night's has me scratching my head.

Michael and I arrive home at our swank, modern, downtown apartment. We shake the rain off our jackets and hats in the front tiled entryway. The floor-to-ceiling glass windows around the door show off the damp and grungy carpet in the hallway outside. The hallway carpet's in the kind of state where you'd fear catching something fatal simply from walking barefoot on it.

Nessee is happy to see us, and lets me know she wants out as soon as possible. So we go to the back door of the apartment, and I open the door to let her out. The yard here is good-sized, triangular, and wraps around one side of the building. It's still raining slightly, so Nessee does her usual thing: stand on the porch looking hangdog at the falling dampness then darting off the porch to the side of the house.

Then I see a large bird alight on the ground in the middle of the yard. This bird is huge. Standing upright, it can look me right in the eye and it does. It spreads it's wings a couple of times. Even in the overcast gloom, it's beautiful, all gold and white and tan, with large luminous golden eyes that show utter disdain for me. It peers eagerly, hungrily towards the side of the building where I know my dog is looking for a place to do her business, and I know that if I don't act soon, I may lose my dog.

I shout at the bird, wave my hands, and try to scare it away. It looks at me, dismisses me. If it could speak, it would have sardonically said, "Really?"

I take a few steps towards it. It drops to all fours (holy flack, it's a Griffin!) and charges me. I have enough time to be terrified before I wake from the dream.

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Voter ID

I've thought a lot about the "Voter ID" laws that are popping up around our country. I do not like most of the current batch of laws. They all seem enacted coincidentally at just the right time to disenfranchise a lot of folks of their voting rights. And that seems wrong and politically motivated. It smells of voter suppression. And the "reasons" given about voter fraud are supported much more by speculation than by actual data.

However, on the whole, I don't object to the concept of a Voter ID or laws that require some kind of verification of identity before voting. I don't think there's a great need for them, since the there are very few cases of voter fraud that such a law would prevent, but if the legislations of the states in our union want to fritter away the money needed for such programs, who am I to stand in their way? (Well, I would probably be annoyed at what would appear to be to be a waste of money, but that's a different rant.)

The problem is, there are some hurdles that a state would need to meet before I think a "Voter ID" law is morally and ethically supportable.

Let's take a moment and recognize that despite a lack of understanding from the privileged classes, a sizable minority in most states can live their lives just fine without a driver's license or other form of ID. Every study done to determine the size of a population who lack appropriate identification shows there are plenty of citizens who would lose their right to vote due to lack of documentation. Regardless of lack of understanding about how these people can get through their daily lives without an ID (lots of indignant cries and lists of things that are impossible without an ID notwithstanding), these citizens do exist, and must be accommodated in any "Voter ID" law.

The laws must have a lengthy period of time between passage and enactment. It will take time to get community organizations put together, and funds raised by appropriate non-profits to help every voter in the state to get their mandated identification. Bureaucracy is slow, and if there is a need to secure certified copies of birth certificates, marriage licenses, and other governmental documents, people will need an appropriate amount of time to interact with those governmental agencies, and sufficient time for several backs-and-forths with said agencies (how often do governmental agencies get something wrong and you have to go back?). If some of these documents require in-person visits, even more time needs to be allowed for those who have to travel long distances, especially if they have no means of transporting themselves. Enacting legislation without this allowance is unjustifiable under the mantle of ensuring every citizen has their voting rights respected.

Accommodations must also be made for people who need to get to these offices on days that the agencies are not normally open. Not everyone works a 9 to 5 job where they can get time off without penalty to run errands to some state office a few miles away. Some people work several back-to-back jobs from early in the morning to late in the evening, and would be harshly penalized (or fired) if they need to take some time off to get paperwork done for the ID. Some people who have 9 to 5 jobs who could take some time off live far enough away from appropriate state agencies that driving there and back would take more time than their employer will allow. Ideally, state agencies would open "pop-up" satellite offices in areas that are not close to their regular offices, but that would require special funding requests, something not found in these "Voter ID" laws enacted lately.

Speaking of funding, since the governmental agencies will be flooded with requests for said documentation, money needs to be allocated to bring on additional staffing to handle the requests. You can't expect an agency to be able to fulfill a huge up-tick in documentation requests in a timely manner on the same budget as before the legislation. Without giving appropriate funding, you just create a huge bottleneck. This only compounds the problems created by a lack of allowance of time in the legislation. In all of the reporting of the recently enacted "Voter ID" laws, I've never seen any mention of increased funding for governmental agencies, so again, I suspect the recent laws have not been enacted with respect to people's voting rights.

Finally there needs to be respect for the fact that not everyone in a state can afford the costs associated with getting appropriate ID. Sure, it may seem like the $30 (or so, depending on the state) fee for a driving license is negligible, but that's only one facet. Some people have such poor cash flow that $30 represents several days of food for them and their families. And you need to also factor in the costs of securing any additional paperwork required to get the license (or other ID). Certified copies of birth certificates, wedding licenses, and other required documents are not cheap (I speak from experience). If you need to drive or take transportation to secure these documents, that's an additional cost. And for some people, there is the loss of income from taking several hours off to apply in person for these documents. When you add it all up, it can be quite an expensive proposition for someone making minimum wage. If these laws were being enacted to ensure that all citizens had the right to vote, instead of merely a political strategy to disenfranchise selected minorities, there would be funding available to help offset some of these costs for the poorest of our citizenry. (Unless you feel that the right to vote is contingent on one's income.)

So, as I say, I don't philosophically object to a "Vote ID" law. However, I would require that the laws that get pass do not impose undue hurdles on any segment of the electorate to secure these IDs. If you want to ensure that only citizens vote, you need to ensure that all eligible citizens can easily and affordably meet the requirements of the legislation by providing additional services and funding.

I honestly do not see any state enacting legislation with these understandings included. As I said, most of the legislation that has been passed recently reeks of voter suppression tactics. And, because of the funding question, I don't see any state enacting said appropriate legislation in the future. The costs are simply not justified by the amount of fraud actually being committed, at least the fraud that this kind of legislation would (in theory) prevent.

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-isms in early Sci-Fi

It's an interesting time in Fandom these days, with each week brining new "outrages" regarding writings of revered sci-fi luminaries from the early and middle parts of last century. Sometimes it seems that writers of yesteryear are being held to modern standards and judged wanting if they fail to live up. I'm not looking to excuse the worst offenders of this, but I do feel we need to take a step back and actually look at the attitudes of the time and see if the author was reflecting those attitudes or was a bona-fide proponent of unreasoning bias.

Take, for example, James White, author of the Sector General novels and stories. His first Sector General stories were published in 1957. Reading them today will smack you in the face with rampant sexism, worse than anything you'd see in even Mad Men. He also throws in an occasional dash of racism. (Oddly, his novels are anything but xenophobic.)

Should we condemn White, then, for perpetuating the scourge of sexism? I'd like to think not. While there were certainly egalitarian-minded individuals who were considerably less sexist than what was depicted in White's stories, one cannot deny that Western culture was terribly sexist by modern standards in the 50's, 60's, and even into the 70's. In the early stories, women are terribly two-dimensional, described only in terms of their curvaceousness and beauty, and can only aspire to be nurses, nothing better.

Perhaps White's redeeming quality is that as times changed, so did his characters. In fact, the nurse featured highly in the first few stories, Murchison, does become a full Doctor, and eventually a department head, and is depicted as a fully dimensional complex character of a nature similar to the males iin the stories.

Another example would be Heinlein. I've read and re-read a majority of Heinlein's oeuvre, and he always came across as sexist to me. In fact, it wasn't until "To Sail Beyond the Sunset" did I stop feeling his female characters were anything but caricatures. Even my all-time Heinlein novel, "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" treats women as delicate flowers that need to be protected.

So, how soon will it be before the authors who wrote in the mid-20th century are all pilloried and hung out to dry (and maybe even have their awards posthumously revoked) because of attitudes in their works that are offensive to modern sensibilities? It's a trend I'm finding worrisome, and one I hope dies out soon.

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Foot Stuff Update Update

I saw the podiatrist again today. It was a better visit, but I think that's partly because I pushed him to provide details this time, and indicated I was doing my own research. He was willing to spend more time talking and offering possible treatments. I still don't like him much, but I think we have a better relationship now.

He could not give me a cause of the neuroma. It's just something that develops over time, not because of a specific trauma. So, there's nothing I can to to prevent it from happening to other nerves in that foot or my other foot. Yay.

As for treatments, there are three possibilities he offered.

1. Cortisone injections. These relieve the pain without actually addressing the cause of the pain, but a high percentage of patients report that the pain goes away for a year or more. The doctor said that the cortisone does not affect the joints since it's not being injected into a joint or the circulatory system. I'm concerned that it's only a temporary reprieve (getting a set of painful injections every year for the rest of my life? Hrm.) and as always I'm concerned about the long-term effect of cortisone in my body. I've had enough of that stuff over the years.

2. Alcohol Sclerosing injections. This is an injection of ethanol and other agents into the area of the nerve. I would need 4 to 7 shots administered 7 to 10 days apart. According to my doctor, it would degrade the "shell" that the nerve has built up around itself. According to my Internet research, it degrades the nerve so it doesn't transmit pain signals as well. I'm not sure which to believe more. There also seems to be quite a bit of controversy on the 'Net regarding how effective this treatment can be, with some measuring success in the teens or twenties percentiles and others claiming better than eighty percent effectiveness.

3. Surgery to remove the nerve. I'd suffer some degradation of sensation in the toes served by the nerve, but also definitive release of the pain in my foot. This is my choice of last resort, even though it does pretty much guarantee success. I just don't like the idea of surgery, and want to avoid it at all costs.

We talked about orthotics, but they only provide relief of symptoms and it can be an expensive proposition without a strong prognosis for success. My doctor seems to think this would not be a solution that would work for me.

The doctor wants me to do my own research, and think about it for a while. I can't say I'm happy about any of my choices. Two treatments that might or might not work, but I won't know until after going through a series of injections, or a treatment that requires cutting my foot open (which I don't think I could handle without serious happy drugs or general anesthesia, both of which I'm adverse to).

Of course, trying to do research on this is being seriously hampered by my body's reaction to medical detail. I have to pause frequently to stop feeling faint. It wouldn't be good to pass out at my desk at work.

I hate dealing with biological systems that degrade over time with no good reason, especially when that system is my own.

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Foot Stuff Update

The pain has steadily been getting worse. The pads helped for about a week, and eventually shifted the pain closer to the front of the foot. It's also sharper now, rather than being an ache. And it's also starting to hurt even when I don't have pressure on the foot. About the only way to get certain relief is to elevate the foot, which currently isn't practical for most of my day.

I note that the podiatrist I saw, the one who just seemed interested in getting me out of the office as quickly as possible (maybe he needed to get back to his crossword puzzle), didn't bother updating my medical records with any information from our visit other than "extremity pain". If I did go to see another doctor, he or she would be starting from scratch. This does not help improve my feelings about this doctor.

Regardless, the pain has won. I've requested a follow-up appointment. I'll probably be getting a cortisone shot in my foot (yay), a treatment that I see from my own research only works for some patients. If it doesn't work for me, it means at least one more injection before they'd consider other options.

I'm tired of not being able to walk like I used to. I'm not fond of being babied by Michael. But either he drops me off close to where we're going and then he parks the car, or he has to walk slowly with me as I hobble along. And yes, I realize just how whiny that sounds.

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I have a problem with people who make shit up so that they can feel that America is somehow an exceptional nation. People like Colorado's state Board of Education member Pam Mazanec who is under the impression that America voluntarily gave up slavery, albeit at a great sacrifice.

No, it was not done voluntarily. We fought a long, bloody, and brutal war over slavery. Sure, some revisionist historians will go around these days claiming that the war was simply a matter of states' rights, as if we simply had a disagreement over what to serve with tea. That's bullshit. The right that was being "debated" was the right to OWN another person, i.e., slavery.

But now there are many who want to whitewash our own history in order to preserve the myth of "American Exceptionalism," that quaint belief that simply because 'Murica, we're better than everyone else. It's a false pride, and Americans are not singularly susceptible to it. But we mock it when other countries dare to hint that they feel they are likewise exceptional.

There was a time when America did great things. There were a few shining decades where America could not be beat economically or industrially. Mind you, most of the rest of the world was picking through the bombed-out ruins of their cities to really compete with us, but at least we were the best. We had great education, amazing innovation, mind-blowing construction projects, and an economy that was the envy of the rest of the world.

But even during those decades, our moral compass was questionable. Getting involved in land wars in Korea and Vietnam, witch hunts for communists, widespread spying on American citizens, and political assassinations all were dark spots in the shining city on the hill. By the time Watergate happened, and people lost all trust in the integrity of the Presidency, any vestige of that great America was gone.

According to our own CIA fact book, we're not in the top ten in literacy, we're 34th in overall life expectancy, 34th in infant mortality, 63rd in per-capita spending in education, 3rd in spending on health care but with some of the worst outcomes, the highest per-capita GDP yet among the sharpest levels of inequity in the world. About the only thing we're really good at is spending on the military, where we spend more than the next twenty or more countries combined.

I do think America has potential to be great. It won't be possible unless we can get beyond all of the fear-mongering, all of the division-making, all of the finger-pointing, and all of the reality-denying. The zero-sum political games we have been playing for the last several decades are holding us back. Pandering to the fundamentalist wing of the Religious Right has us stuck in the mud. We have to start investing again in education and infrastructure, we need to teach our children how to think, not simply regurgitate rote facts onto standardized tests, we need to come together in public and private partnerships to reach for lofty goals.

I honestly don't know if we can turn the ship around and head once again for that great America, I don't know if we have it in us to even try. I look at what's going on in the Colorado Board of Education today, and what's happened in other states in recent times (I'm looking at you, Texas and Pennsylvania), and I think that maybe we don't deserve greatness any more. If we have to make shit up to make us feel good about being American, perhaps we've lost any claims to exceptionalism.

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Happy Re-Birthday to Me!

Happy Re-Birthday to Me,
Happy Re-Birthday to Me!
Happy Re-Birthday dear Joooo-ooohn,
Happy Re-Birthday to Me!

Today I celebrate the anniversary of my "coming out." It was twenty-three years ago today that I:

1) Sent a letter to my parents letting them know that their eldest child was a homo. (That didn't go so well at first, but all is good now.)
2) Attended my first gay/lesbian/bisexual/trans social event (a beach party organized by the local GLBT resource center).
3) Posted a message on the "underground" BBS that was run by some students at my university, coming out to 40+ of my friends all at once.

Over twenty years of being honest and open about me and my life. Over twenty years of (mostly) winning the fight against the shame I grew up with. And over twenty years of trying to be the most authentic me I can be. I may not always succeed at my authenticity, especially when it can be hard to differentiate the authentic me from the mountain of social programming we all have to deal with, but the intention is always there.

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Bicycle Contemplations

I have some "found" money coming my way, and I'm actively considering using it to buy a bike for myself in the hopes that I'll use it to be more active. There are plenty of bike paths in my area, so there's plenty of opportunity. However, looking at information online about what kind of bike to buy is just bewildering. Who knew there were so many different kinds of bikes out there? (Okay, you hard-core bike enthusiasts certainly did, but *I* didn't and let's keep the focus on what's important: me. ;-) )

I am not looking for the latest in bicycle technology, I'm not going to be training for ALC or any of the other marathon bike charity rides, nor do I currently plan to do more than toddle around my neighborhood and nearby communities. It would be nice to work up to biking to work some day, but it's almost seven miles along some heavy-traffic streets, so I don't think I'll be doing that right away.

Also, I do prefer to buy new, for all of you who would suggest me getting something on ebay or craigslist. I'm not a fan of inheriting someone else's problems, especially those they choose to conceal. I'd rather deal with a store's warranty or return/repair policies.

I can probably spend a grand on the bike and necessary equipment (helmet, other safety gear, etc.). Any recommendations for stores in the South Bay? And what kind of bike am I looking for? What kind of questions should I be asking salespeople if I don't want to get shafted?

Thanks in advance for any and all advice!

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Foot Stuff

Well, I had my visit with the podiatrist today. It was brief. Much like my Primary Care doc, the podiatrist thinks it's a neuroma, and had the same recommendation: over-the-counter insoles with a metatarsal pad. Unlike my Primary, he had some samples he could share, recommended a specific insole available at a local chain of specialty footwear stores, and suggested I shop on Amazon for the pads if they seemed to provide relief. His other option was a cortisone injection into the space between my metatarsals. I'll go with the pads, thanks.

The footwear store didn't open until 9:30, and I needed to get to work, so I'll head over there at lunchtime to see about getting a pair of insoles, then apply the pad(s) tonight. Here's hoping for some pain relief!

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Deep Thoughts on "Deep Breath"

Last night, I joined my guy and some friends to see the Doctor Who Season 8 premier episode, "Deep Breath," in a movie theater. It is enjoyable, every once in a while, to see Doctor Who in a theater with a lot of other Who fans. And this, being the first full Capaldi episode, I was curious to see how other fans enjoyed it.

It was not the first time I'd seen the episode. Thanks to our iTunes subscription, we were able to watch it on Sunday afternoon. And I have to admit, I did not fully enjoy the episode. and I've been trying to understand why. Here are my thoughts, and yes, spoilers abound.

Read more...Collapse )

(Edited to add bit about the return of a previous villain....)

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Updatiness (With Bullets!)

  • I had a very nice weekend camping in Big Basin with some of the members of my church. We took Nessee with us, and she was mostly well behaved (though she did bark at some of the men from time to time). She did get sick in the car on the way to camp again (just like last year even though we took a less twisty route), but thankfully we were prepared for it and I had a plastic bag handy. I still didn't sleep particularly well, and Nessee contributed to that lack of sleep. Apparently when we sleep at her level, she wants to be pressing up against me all night long, and any time I shifted, she's push in closer. Eventually, she was curled up in the middle of the blankets and I was forced into increasingly uncomfortable positions. After forcibly moving her to the side, I was able to get somewhat better rest. But we need to invest in a better mattress before our next camping expedition. Otherwise, it was quite nice to be away from cell tower and wi-fi connectedness for nearly two days. I only got a little twitchy!
  • I used the campout as an excuse to take a break from the Soylent and haven't gotten back to it. I have to wrestle some of my personal issues to the ground before I think it'll really work for me. I'm struggling between the desire to not have to continually make decisions about what and where to eat, and not being able to have the ability to make spontaneous decisions about food. I want to eat my cake but keep it around to eat later all at the same time. I'll give it another try in a less stressed out time.
  • Speaking of stress, work's been fun (in the "sure, add more to my plate than I can accomplish in the time we have left" kind of way). Lots of extra hours, which means much less time at home. Chores are piling up, and Nessee is starting to act up. We haven't really been able to plan meals or shop for groceries, so we're eating out more, often individually, and not healthfully. I'm looking forward to release season being behind us.
  • I did the unthinkable (to me) last night: I told my gamers that after the current story, I was going to take a break from running games for a while. It hasn't been fun for me for a year or so, and I've just been giving in to pleasing my gamers. I'm hoping that after taking a break I'll feel rejuvenated and ready to take my place at the GM's screen again.
  • No progress on the adoption front at all. When we have more time and breathing room, we need to discuss how to increase our marketing reach. We've let our blog(s) and Facebook social page lapse, so those need to be re-energized. And if we can find new networking opportunities, we need to take advantage of them. It's a lot of work!

This entry was originally posted at http://jkusters.dreamwidth.org/878835.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Soylent Me #1

I've mentioned hereabouts a few times over the last year a project called "Soylent" started by software engineer Rob Rhinehart, who in a fit of pique over so much time wasted choosing, shopping for, and preparing food, decided to try creating a perfect food replacement. The full story is available on his blog. Since then, he launched a successful Kickstarter-like campaign, started a company, refined the formula, and started manufacturing the stuff in mass quantities.

I have similar food issues that Rob speaks about. Choosing food has become a chore, and there's little pleasure left in eating it. So I tend to fall into ruts, and not always healthy ones. Additionally, stress and depression tend to drive me towards bad decisions in both quantity and quality of food. With my gallstone issues, this is not a good thing. Before I ran across Rob's blog, I had frequently contemplated the same thing he did, though I was thinking of starting at the food level. He went one further and started at the chemical component level.

With the approval of my partner, when open orders were announced for Soylent, I purchased a month's supply. Okay, that was probably a bit crazy; it might have been wiser to order a single week and see how well I tolerated it. I think the size of my order was directly related to my feelings about food and my fear that if I started and liked it, I would have trouble getting more. They had already mentioned production constraints, so I worried about running out. Thus, a full month.

And then I waited. And waited. I ordered it nearly a year ago, and this week it finally arrived.

It was shipped in two boxes. The smaller box contained a scoop (marked 1/2 meal), a two-liter airtight pitcher, and a "your order will be arriving soon!" flyer. The other box (which did indeed arrive very soon) contained four smaller boxes. Each of the smaller boxes contained seven pouches of powder and seven vials of an oil blend. If you go 100% Soylent, each box contains seven day's worth of product.

There are a variety of ways to prepare Soylent. You can make single servings, or make an entire pouch at a time. With my first batch, I decided to jump into the deep end, so I made an entire pitcher of the stuff. I poured the contents of a pouch into the pitcher, added a couple handfuls of ice cubes (I didn't understand the recommendation when I saw it, but I do now; I'll explain in a bit), and filled the pitcher most of the way with tap water. After adding the oil, I sealed up the pitcher and shook the thing vigorously for about a minute. My dog found this process fascinating. Once it looked blended enough, I added more ice and water, shook it again a bit, then poured a glass for myself.

Okay, it wasn't the best thing I've ever swallowed. (*waits for the pervs to get their minds out of the gutter so my snorkel is unblocked*) It poured as though it had the consistency of whole milk, and smelled a little sweet. The taste was very similar to cake batter, which isn't bad, but the consistency of that first glass was rather gritty. After finishing the glass, I felt like I had a mouth full of tiny flakes of hay. Not an encouraging start.

I wanted to give the stuff an honest try, especially given I had 27 pouches left to use. I grabbed a sippy bottle (A Camelbak eddy, I love 'em!), filled it up with Soylent, and brought it in to work. I got through another 6 or so ounces during the workday but found I was kind of forcing myself. At the end of the day I still had most of the container full, so I stuck a label on it and put it in the break room fridge.

Today, I decided against having breakfast at home in order to give Soylent another try. I got to work, grabbed the bottle, again added ice, and took it to my desk as I prepared to get to work. That's when I discovered why they recommended making the stuff with plenty of ice. Soylent is MUCH tastier when it's ice cold. The texture was also much better, though I'm not sure whether that's because of it being colder or because it absorbed more water overnight. Regardless, it made a tasty breakfast and I finished the bottle off well before lunchtime.

In the future, I think it will be best to make the stuff right before bedtime and let it chill in the fridge overnight. I also am contemplating using a blender to make sure it's more smoothly mixed.

So far, my system has tolerated it fairly well. I do feel a bit bloated and gurgley, but I kind of expect that. A day's supply of Soylent has the recommended daily amount of fiber, and for most of us, that's a LOT more than most of us get on a regular basis. No sudden increase in energy levels or a desire to jump up and run ten miles. My scale did register a more than six pound drop between yesterday and today, but I doubt that has much to do with the small amount of Soylent I had consumed by that point.

I do not plan on replacing all of the food I eat with Soylent. I'm not going 100%. Even if I wanted to, it would be unfair to Michael, since he would feel awkward going out to dinner with me and me not eating anything. Our meals have generally been a communal thing, and I don't want to change that. So, I will likely progress to using Soylent for all by the dinner meal on most weekdays. Weekends will have to be played by ear.

Besides, eating Soylent for most of my meals means that when I do choose to eat "traditional" food, I can enjoy it more, and not feel tired of having to make so many choices every day.

I plan to blog about the experience through the month+ of product I've got at home. I'll try to keep it to around a couple entries a week or less. :-)

(And if you're local and are curious enough to want to try some, let me know. Maybe we can find time to meet up and I can bring samples.)

This entry was originally posted at http://jkusters.dreamwidth.org/878408.html. Please comment there using OpenID.


WWDC 2014

Well, that was WWDC for 2014. I worked three lab shifts (about two to many, but I don't have room to complain since some QA folks were scheduled for as many as seven), met lots of interesting people, and learned quite a bit. Apple seems to have surprised a lot of people with some of the announcement (which is awesome), and I'm excited to have a new programming language to play with.

But now I'm home unwinding. Working the labs is WAAAAY outside my comfort zone. Like interstellar distances outside my comfort zone. But I won't have too much time to relax. We leave on our cruise in less than a week, and now begins the panic time where we figure out what we still have to get done and try to do it all before we board the plane.

After all the walking this week, especially around the City, I'm beginning to suspect something's not quite right with my right foot. In the last couple of days, it feels like I'm constantly walking on a small, smooth, flat stone, right next to the ball of my foot. Or like I'm walking on a bruise. Maybe it's time to see a podiatrist or something. (Like I need more medical appointments in my life, and more people telling me what to do...)

I know I'm forgetting something.... o.O

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Because I have so much on my plate right now, my brain is naturally working overtime to feed me distractions. One of the distractions that I've been playing with is a fun little though experiment regarding a table-top role-playing system that I've humorously called "CRPG: The RPG". The idea is to emulate some of the tropes often found in "Computer Role-Playing Games".

  • Level-based with LOTS of levels (like 50+, maybe no level cap at all)
  • Frequent leveling (maybe as often as once per session?)
  • Several attributes that also have high limits (or no cap). Not sure yet how these would be used, but my first thought would be that checks would be attribute+d20 against some target number. The problem is that in the first twenty or so levels, the results will be rather random, but as they get to the higher levels, the d20 provides a lot less apparent randomness. I thought for a bit about whether low-level characters should be provided some kind of boost around high-level monsters, but in a CRPG, if you go the wrong way, you get stomped, so it seems to emulate the genre well enough.
  • A wide but shallow skill tree, broken into groupings. Each skill has a low number of levels (four?), and each level gives you a special ability you can use with an associated "action point" or "energy point" cost. For example, you might have a "Fire Magery" grouping, with a set of skills that allow the creation of different forms of fire, a set of skills that allow various kinds of attacks using fire, and maybe a set of skills that give the character immunity to different forms of fire. Another example would be a "Dual Melee Weapons" skill grouping that gave you access to various special abilities regarding wielding a weapon in each hand.
  • Depending on genre, they could be a dozen or couple dozen "professions" available to the character. Each time the character levels, the player chooses a "profession" to level which grants them specific increases to specific stats, and a skill point that can be spent on one of the profession's associated skills. The Medieval Soldier profession might give access to "Swords", "Pole Arms", "Shields", "First Aid", and "Leadership" skill groupings.
  • Each scene in a session has a point, some information that the characters need to learn, or some interaction they need to have. Once that point is reached, the GM awards the group with a "plot point" and moves to the next scene.
  • The group decides as a whole how to spend that "plot point". It can be used as a "hero point" to help avert a bad die roll, it can be used as an experience point to help someone in the team level, it can be used to power extraordinary special abilities, etc.
  • I'm thinking it takes three plot points to level. That way, if there are five to six scene's in a night's session, at least one character will have the potential to level up.

I'm not likely to do much more than toy with the idea, as by the time I'll have enough spare time to try and flush this puppy out, I'll have moved on to other ideas (such is my life). But it's fun to think about while so much else is on my plate. :-)

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My Tastebuds and Me

(No, I'm not going to try and write this post as a parody of "The Wizard and I", though I was tempted...)

Some of my online friends around the social web have been posting about peculiar tastes and how it affects their enjoyment of some foods. It's got me thinking about how my sense of taste (in food) seems at great odds to just about everyone else.

For example, I hate mineral water. It's generally "bitter" to me (as I understand the meaning of that word), and even the addition of fruit juice does little to hide the mineral flavor.

Cilantro tastes like mineral water to me. Anything it is added to takes on that bitter mineral taste to the point where I can taste little else.

Cucumbers also have a very strong taste to me. A bit of cucumber in a forkful of salad will put me off salads for the rest of the meal. Worse is that since it often leaves a bit of itself behind no matter how carefully I pluck it out of my salad bowl, I can generally still taste it.

All fish has an unpleasant oily-salty aroma to it, which is intensified when I taste it. Doesn't matter if it's fresh or spoiled, it still has that smell.

Ever get a whiff of burning rubber? That's what alcohol smells like to me, in just about any form. (Isopropyl doesn't; I like the smell of isopropyl alcohol.) Given how it smells, you can imagine how it tastes to me. This is the main reason why I don't drink booze. I've also sent desserts back that have had, unknown to me, a dash of amaretto added because the whole thing tastes of burnt rubber. Yuck!

I don't like milk chocolate that much. There's not enough chocolate taste amongst the rather bland creaminess to make it worth it. I loathe white "chocolate". It tastes like rather tasteless butter. I much prefer darker chocolates. However, as the percentage of cacao rises, the sweeter the chocolate tastes, and at some point, super-dark chocolate is too sweet for me. (Yes, I realize that it isn't really sweet, but that's how I perceive it.)

Cooking vegetables, especially broccoli, asparagus, cauliflower, and related plants, gives off an odor that turns my stomach. I usually have to leave the room else I get physically sick.

And that's just how things smell and/or taste. I'm also highly sensitive to texture, but that's another post.

(No, this is not an invitation to try and coerce me into "getting over" my dislike of some foods, or to belittle me for not liking something that you think is the best thing ever. While tastes can indeed change over time, I don't think it's particularly polite to imply that someone is somehow deficient in some way just because they have different tastes than you do.)

This entry was originally posted at http://jkusters.dreamwidth.org/876363.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Instant Gratification Gorilla

This is a blog post that has been being passed around my Facebook page this week, giving a metaphorical explanation for why procrastinators procrastinate. Both it and it's follow up (about how to beat procrastination) have been interesting reads for me and ring very true for my life.

One thing that the author fails to mention, and perhaps this is not his experience but it has been mine, is that every time you allow the Instant Gratification Monkey take the wheel it grows a little bit. Not enough to really notice on any given time, but still, growth. If you fail to suffer negative consequences for letting it do so, that's a bit more growth. And if you get to the land of "good enough" (or as the blog author calls it, "The Mixed Feelings Park") by letting the monkey drive for a while, still more growth.

I realized that I've let that monkey take the wheel far too frequently in my forty-some years. The number of times that I've suffered negative consequences have been very few, and the number of times I've achieve "good enough" results by waiting until the last possible moment are uncountably large. I've written 30 page college-level term papers in one draft on an electric typewriter (not a word processor), with footnotes and bibliography in the 24 hours before their due. Multiple times. And every time I got an "A".

I always figured it's because I do write well, I know how to structure a paper like that (thank you, Brother Alfred Salz!), and I'm very good at analyzing data to make and support a thesis. I won't say it was easy, but with the panic monster breathing down my neck, I can be amazingly focused. (I've had people I trust tell me that while some people can make this work in their undergrad years, it's not possible in grad school. I'll take them at their word as I've never attended grad school. Now I know not to try until I've beaten the monkey into submission.)

By now, it's no longer a monkey. It's a gorilla. It's King Kong on steroids. Forcing myself to stay on task and focused requires an effort that is physically exhausting. On those days when I manage to force myself to push that monkey gorilla aside for more than a few hours, I end the day feeling wiped. I haven't found a good way to silence that monkey gorilla. And with my "all or nothing" (broken) mindset combined with my guilt complex for spending so much time in the space the blog author titles "The Dark Wood", I just see a never-ending list of things that need to be done, and no-where on that list is anything that is what I'd call "me time". (Because since I've spent so much time indulging the monkey gorilla, I don't have time for "me time". And besides, I'm such a bad person I don't deserve it.)

I did find the blog entries to be insightful, and they give me metaphorical terms to use to describe how I'm feeling and what I'm experiencing. I haven't finished reading his suggested solutions yet. Because that looks like work, and the monkey gorilla has found more interesting things to do for now...

This entry was originally posted at http://jkusters.dreamwidth.org/875788.html. Please comment there using OpenID.


A bunch of my friends are in anxiety-inducing life situations that could be easily solved with an influx of cold, hard cash. I sometimes wish I made enough money to be able to help all of my friends not have to deal with these kinds of situations, and I sometimes am sad that I can't help out more. Love of money may be the root of all evil, but lack of money sure seems like the root of a lot of anxiety.

It's a shame too that the planet does have enough resources to give basic food, health, and living security for it's entire population, but human nature is such that we can't help but find ways to ensure that the bulk of those riches are held by a relatively minuscule portion of the people living here. I guess that's part of why I love Roddenberry's vision of the future, one in which the anxieties of trying to ensure that there's enough food to eat and sufficient medical care have been wiped out, allowing people to spend that energy in more creative and productive pursuits.

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Doc Visit

I had my mandated annual physical for the adoption today. Despite society telling me that since I'm fat, I'm going to drop dead at any moment, I seem to be relatively healthy. My triglycerides are a touch high, but still in the "normal" range. My blood pressure is a touch high, but since it came down during the visit and I had to deal with terrible traffic this morning (and the stress of trying to find the doctor's new office), my doc says it looks fine. Pulse rate fine. My HDL is lower than she'd like, but there's not much I can do to affect that since it is apparently genetic. She urged me to exercise more, and I can't argue with her there, and to cut down on sugar intake. Both will help with both the triglycerides and the HDL (a little).

For a guy who's about to drop dead any moment now from morbid obesity, I guess I'm doing okay... ;-)

This entry was originally posted at http://jkusters.dreamwidth.org/874670.html. Please comment there using OpenID.

Wedding Thoughts

Given that it's the eighth anniversary of my proposal to Michael (and his acceptance), it's not surprising that my thoughts turn towards finally getting hitched. For those not in the know, we were ready to pull the trigger on a wedding six and a half years ago, but loss of a job and the need to gut and rebuild our kitchen (which had become contaminated with toxic mold) scuttled those plans. Now that we've moved to the Bay Area, the topic comes up every once in a while, but we've honestly made no progress on it. Some of that has to do with the fact that, well, we tend to move very slowly on big things like this. But another part of it, which we don't talk about, is that I've started to feel guilt about the kind of wedding I had once wanted to have.

Okay, I'll admit I'm foolish and have bought into the fantasy that we as a society have built up around weddings. To me, a wedding is always a solemn occasion, with a touch of the theatric. A chance to look your best, in a beautiful setting, with the person you love, in front of your friends and family, and to make a solemn vow that you will put this one person above all others in your life, sickness, health, richer, poorer, yadda, yadda. And, of course, the fun party afterwards with good food, good music, lots of smiles, and maybe the drunk relative or two. Sure, it can be expensive, but we're both fiscally prudent and, well, we both work in high tech, so it's not like we are impoverished. I wanted something lavish that would fulfill the "grandiose but not over the top" image I'd long had.

But then I started talking about weddings in social media. Frankly, I really should stop talking about such things in public. Such discussions always wind up the same way for me, with the casual destruction of my carefully constructed dreams and images. So too was it with a discussion of getting married. When I made some mention of some of the ideas that were floating around my head, the people in my social circles nearly unanimously suggested weddings on the cheap. "We had the ceremony in our back yard around a keg, and it only cost us the price of the keg!" or "We did a Justice of the Peace ceremony, and then went to a nice dinner with a bunch of friends, and it didn't put is in the poor house!" or "Why have a ceremony at all? It's just a waste of money and will end in tears."

I get that big, formal weddings are not everyone's cup of tea or piece of cake. Really I do. But they kind of were mine. I liked the spectacle of fancy dress, thoughtful music, personal vows, themed cakes, and good food. But now, whenever I think about getting married, I'm finding myself thinking that maybe just going to the JoP and getting married without letting anyone know. I guess, I'm thinking of eloping just to stay under everyone's radar. That way I won't have to hear anyone's post-wedding confusion about why we chose what we chose.

Yes, I realize this is me capitulating to some people's ideas of what a wedding can or should be like. Perhaps it's wrong, but my friends' opinions have a good deal of influence in my thinking. And when the chorus of voices that respond to my thoughts about weddings are all in agreement that spending anything more than absolutely necessary is a BAD IDEA, I kind of have to wonder what was I thinking?

We don't need a lavish ceremony or a rollicking party to cement the relationship we have. We've been together for over 21 years, that's not going to change just because we don't have a big fete. But it was something I wanted to do, and now every time I consider it, I can't help but think, "Why bother? Everyone's going to be thinking we did it wrong..."

This entry was originally posted at http://jkusters.dreamwidth.org/874448.html. Please comment there using OpenID.


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