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The Burgess Shale
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Date:2013-04-08 00:13
Subject:It's hard to make a left turn

[I really don't like the LiveJournal iPad app. I accidentally deleted this post. Here it is again, but unfortunately I lost all the comments.]

I had a ShopVac panic attack on Wednesday.

It was after we looked at the property on Hardy Street in Watertown. During the walkthrough, the current resident cheerfully explained that we could add a kitchen vent by hooking it into the bathroom vent if we wanted to, and suggested that we put in a drainage something in the back yard before the hockey-playing family of five upstairs finished converting the deck into a garage, and pointed out the prizewinning fish he had mounted in the sun porch...and suddenly I could see my future grinding out in the lyrics of Jonathan Coulton's Shop Vac. Puttering passive-aggressively in my basement workshop, waving at the neighbors on their riding lawnmowers before they leave to pick up the kids from hockey in their SUVs, buying a driveway and a swingset and a dog. (The dog would be okay.) We'd already — this is true — checked out the gourmet grocery store, and seen the Starbucks on the corner (that's better than the other one), and it's loud with the ShopVac on....

There are people who love that life. More power to them, but contemplating it makes me feel like someone's making a fist behind my sternum. I freaked out a little in the car. Then I came home and read a chapter in David Byrne's How Music Works called "How to Make a Scene," about creative serendipity, and a location shaping what happens in it, and how he and Tina and Chris lived in an unheated loft across the street from the fledgling CBGB as they were in the process of becoming Talking Heads. I started to think about what I was privileging in my choice of home. Would anything in the environment in Watertown challenge me, confront me, or would I be slipping into a comfortably bland lifestyle? Would that change me? Does the water in the bottle become the bottle? Was I being unfair to Watertown?

To answer the last question, I did some research on the web, and was not heartened. I looked at Watertown Open Studios...and the first piece in their sample gallery was a clay bust of George H.W. Bush. I tried Googling [watertown the next hip]...and got a page of locations for hip surgery. There's no deep significance there, okay, but if I believed in omens it's not a good one! I have a lot more experience with Somerville, and feel tuned in to the vibe there — Somerville Open Studios and Honk! and Porchfest, rainbow mohawks biking down the street. Does Watertown have another side I haven't seen? (I think it's called Waltham — but that's too far west.) If it doesn't, does it matter? I could bike to Davis and Diesel whenever I want to, just like I do now; Brighton isn't exactly Greenwich Village either.

It turns out that these mirror thoughts adfamiliares has been having (another reason I love my wife). We've been ignoring Somerville because it would mean a longer commute to BC for her, but she's coming around to the idea of trading commute time for a more vibrant neighborhood. That said, we might still end up in Watertown, but I'm told there are parts (between Arsenal and Mount Auburn) that are less suburban, more Cambridge-lite. And if we live in the "suburbs", so what? We'll still be us; I'll still wear my kilt and my centipede scarf around the neighborhood. Rebelling against whitebread American Beauty conformity, real or imagined, might be fun. And I'll be closer to my other environmental muse, the great outdoors — Mount Auburn Cemetery and Assabet and Great Meadows in Lexington would all be a few miles closer by bike.

Another lesson from "How to Make a Scene" is that you can't predict where creative synergy will arise. You can do things to make it more likely, but sometimes living in squalor just means you'll keep living in squalor: you have to get lucky to get a CBGB across the street. But if you wait until a scene is happening and move in on it with your middle-class money, you're contributing to gentrification and helping to guarantee that those young Talking Heads and starving artists won't be able to afford the rents. (In Somerville, that process is probably well enough along that we wouldn't make a difference.) Really, it's up to creative people to find ways to engage themselves wherever they are (Philip Larkin stuck it out in a library in Hull, etc. etc.). I can make a scene, even if it's a scene for one.

Anyway, giving the neighbors something to be talk about is an important job.

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Date:2013-04-07 02:38
Subject:The House on the Corner
Mood: hopeful

We're likely to make an offer on a house today.

It's the second floor of a big house on Boylston Street in Watertown, just a block off Mount Auburn St. It's a triangular corner lot, with two good-size trees and a sloping yard with plenty of room for gardening. There's a junior high school across the street; that might be loud at certain times of day, but it's likely to be dead quiet at night.

The living room has a fireplace; the dining room has a lovely built-in cabinet; the tiny office that will, we hope, be mine has floor-to-ceiling built-in bookshelves on one wall, a door to the front porch on another, and a Star Wars bumper sticker pinned to a third. The bedrooms are not huge, but they're adequate. There are plenty of closets. It's in fabulous shape.

A tenth of a mile north is the 71 bus to Harvard Square; a quarter mile south is the 70 to Central. It's a mile closer to my work and to Davis, and 3.5 miles from BC, compared to the 2 miles K. is used to, which is not bad. It's two miles closer to the start of the Minuteman bike path, and moments from the start of the (in progress) Watertown Branch Rail Trail that will one day, I hope, take me right to it. And it's in a neighborhood we're actually excited about, dotted with legitimately nice restaurants and soaked in Armenian culture. (My Shop Vac misgivings of the previous post do not apply.) We'll have four varieties of fresh feta, five varieties of lentils, and all the baklava we can eat in any of the three Armenian groceries 3/4 mile down the road. Whitebread suburbia it ain't.

The downstairs neighbor is a single woman, who may or may not have a girlfriend.

There are even cat doors built into some of the doors.

The downsides are few: it's single level again, though the layout mitigates noise issues. It's a fairly hideous shade of mint chocolate chip green. Some of the interior walls are an even worse shade of green; we would have to paint those. The kitchen cabinets are a little...crafty, though the walk-in pantry forgives a multitude of sins. And it's near (but not at) the top of our price range.

We both reeeally like it.

We're going to meet our realtor there tomorrow afternoon, and if we still both reeeally like it we enter into a whole new stage of drama: making an offer and hoping it's accepted. They're only taking offers until Sunday evening; presumably it won't take long to hear. But that presumably also means they're expecting to have their pick of offers after a single weekend of showings.

May the Force be with us.

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Date:2013-01-27 23:43
Subject:Arisia 2013
Mood: happy

TARDIS dress.

Arisia was last weekend. I truly can't remember having such a good time at a con. Almost invariably, I spend Sunday afternoon at Arisia feeling excluded and mopey; there was none of that this year. Several possible explanations: 1) I now have portable internet devices, so even when I'm alone it's harder for me to feel cut off; 2) I was in the asymptotic, asymptomatic tail of a cold, so I didn't donate blood; or 3) I've finally gotten over myself and figured out how to have a good time. I hope it's not #2, since I really like donating blood at Arisia. But if that's what craters my mood I may have to give it up.

Some things:
  • I was alone on the elevator when a small boy in a fez got on with his father. After a couple of floors, I looked down at him and said, "Fezzes are cool." He lit up like a sonic screwdriver and bounced around the elevator. I felt awesome.

  • Friday evening, there was a "panel" called "Learn/Assist with shooting a Live TV Show." I guessed, perhaps correctly, that this meant "Crap! We forgot to schedule camera people for an event!" On a whim, I headed down to the ballroom, where Syd Weinstein (WorldCon videographer and ex-PBS cameraman) gave a dozen of us a very efficient crash-course in operating TV cameras.Somehow, I find myself behind a camera for a live TV shoot. An hour and a half later, a live feed from our cameras was being streamed throughout the hotel, while Syd directed us through the cans strapped to our heads: "Camera three, can you get a two-shot on Klaatu and Betty? Tilt down a little—hold it. Good. Go camera three." (I was camera three.) The show was the Post-Meridian Radio Players' production of The Day the Earth Stood Still. It was hard to pay much attention to the show, since I was concentrating so hard on Syd's voice, and I had to stand in a back-breaking S position to hug the camera. But it was a great experience, and I like to hope I exceeded Syd's expectations — he had to scold the other two cameras for going soft a couple of times, but I began getting more complicated direction (like a simultaneous pan and zoom: "Okay, camera three, here's your chance to try something"). The only dark spot was during the lesson, when an older man suffering some sort of palsy stumbled into me, knocking me — and, almost, the camera — off the two-foot platform. I hit a chair, and sported a bruised shin for the rest of the con. (Very visible, as I wore my kilt all weekend.)

  • To soothe my aching back and shin, I decided to close out Friday night in the hotel's hot tub, and what with running into one person and another it turned into a hot tub party. It felt good to be the one making something happen at Arisia, and oh my God I went to bed more relaxed than I'd been in ages.

  • The cosplayers were great this year. The lovely young woman at the top of this post was wearing a TARDIS dress that was "bigger on the inside," and my iPhone photos of her have since been BoingBoinged, Reddited, ThinkGeeked, and who knows what else. I saw a dapper steampunk Cyberman, a fierce Leela with a working K-9 (who could go down the escalator!), a creepy weeping angel, a headless automaton (from The Girl in the Fireplace), a nybble of light-up Tron folks, a great Biggs, and many more.

  • I chatted with Devo Spice in the dealers' room, and sat in on one of his concerts. Sparsely attended, but funny, and I like supporting Dr. Demento alumni.

  • The Saturday night club dance was less 80s-tastic than sometimes, but the DJing was more dynamic, with crossfades and looping and other technical hoo-hah. I got over myself and found the groove and flailed a lot on the dance floor. A few dancers thought it was hilarious when I started talking to my puppety hands during Dance Magic Dance. We closed the party down at 3:30AM.

  • Also late at night on Saturday, I watched Starship Eros, a ridiculous SF porn film from the immediate post-Star Wars period. The miniature shots recalled Gerry Anderson without depth of focus, and the robot stud wore a C-3PO mask. When "Threepio" lost his erection, I got a big laugh by whining, "This droid's got a bad motivator!"

  • At the Masquerade, I got another laugh by gently heckling Marty Gear, God of Masquerades and aging Lothario. After a sexy Birds of Prey number, during which they sang about their desire to seduce Batman, Marty quipped, "I wonder if they would believe that Batman is my secret identity." After the laughter died down, into the lull, I called out, "Alfred, maybe." Marty went red, the tech crew gave me high fives, and I felt very pleased with myself.

  • I bought a button in the dealers' room that says "STILL NOT QUEEN," and wore it around on Sunday. I think it's hilarious.

  • I happened to check the Twitter feed on Sunday evening and saw @marnen: Setting up my #theremin outside Harbor ballroom at #Arisia! So I ambled up there and got to play ineptly with a theremin, satisfying one of my life goals.

  • On my way to the theremin, I got to be a Vomit Knight. Hooray! No, it's a good thing. Explanation: I passed a tweenage Link throwing up near the escalators. I checked to see if she was okay, ran to get hotel maintenance, then guarded the vomit from the feet of passersby while she went to get cleaned up. I passed her being taken care of by a friend shortly thereafter, and she thanked me profusely. Made me feel all Boy-Scouty.

  • I bid on the BEST THING IN THE WORLD in the art show: one of three six-foot fleece centipede scarves. Sunday afternoon, I found out I'd won my bid, and wore Mr. Snuggles for the rest of the day, feeling so very happy and grinning like a maniac. I'm not sure why, but something about having a giant centipede wrapped around my neck made people want to smile at me and talk to me and take my picture.

Modeling my brand-new centipede scarf!

I also won a papercraft trilobite pin from the same artist and a nicely stripped muskrat skull from a taxidermist / jeweler, each for $5. Bargain! Then, around midnight, as I was getting ready to ride the Silver Line home, kdsorceress caught my attention to tell me that my centipede buddy had walked into the lobby: her friend Kate was wearing one of the other centipede scarves. Furthermore, she was the one who'd stripped the muskrat skull! Turns out she works at the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard, which is like the Holy Land for me. (Seriously, it's probably my favorite spot in the Greater Boston Area. My coffee table proudly displays a book describing its secrets.) There followed half an hour of fanboy babbling from me, and behind-the-scenes stories from her, and a lot of bemused blinking from the other people hanging out with us. Such a great way to end the con, and now I have an "in" at the MCZ.

I floated through Arisia on a silver cloud this year. Everything went my way, and even when my brain went fuzzy I found things to keep the high going. I felt freer to tell people I liked their costumes, or whatever other cool thing they were up to. When I had the choice, I chose engagement, and a spirit of volunteerism. Worked out pretty well.

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Date:2012-12-22 02:01
Subject:My corner of the sky
Mood: pensive

Pippin is a weird show. It's weird not just because of its fourth-wall-breaking twisty-ominous show-within-a-show nature, but because it's a show about the perils of fame-seeking and the deeper joys of an ordinary life...that went on to generate great fame and acclaim for everyone associated with it. Everyone in a modern cast, by dint of being an actor, is trying to find their "corner of the sky," even while they're singing about how that's exactly the sort of thing that can get you immolated. It's so meta it finds itself in its pockets instead of lint.

Pippin is also one of my favorite shows. I saw it at the A.R.T. in Cambridge tonight, and it was a wonderful performance. Many of the Players were played by actual acrobats, with credits from Ringling Bros. and Les Sept Droits de la Main and other big-name big tops, and the Fosse-style choreography was blended with remarkable feats of tumbling and balancing and diving through hoops and pole-climbing. Pippin himself was played by Broadway's Spider-Man; the grandmother was one of the funniest women in the world, SCTV's Andrea Martin; Charlemagne was Terrence Mann, whom you might remember as the bounty hunter from Critters (!) as well as many many other roles. I was tucked away in the extreme right corner of the front row, which I guess is one of the "cheap seats" but gave me the experience of being embedded in the show — perfect for a show that breaks the fourth wall. I had a clear view into the stage left wing and the pit, and got sprayed with glitter and sweat and hay. When the players beckon creepily to the audience at the end of the show, I got my very own beckoner.

There were some things I'd've changed if I were the director, like dropping a few of the less-well-integrated acrobatic routines. More centrally, I think the fracture at the end would've been stronger if the Leading Player had drawn more of a contrast between her "performer" persona and her "real" persona — the farther her mask falls, the farther down the rabbit-hole the audience falls with it. Pippin works best when the boundaries between reality and theater are blurred; if the "reality" still feels stagey, the finale has less power. Pippin himself managed it, breaking character in a way that felt very real and "unprofessional," as did Catherine, and I'd've liked to see more legitimate menace from the Leading Player. But that's a pretty minor complaint — the performances were so strong, the marks hit so perfectly, the orchestrations and costumes and energy so thrummingly vibrant I can't do anything but recommend this to anyone who has a chance to see it. (They hope to take the show to New York, and I have no doubt they will.)

My own response to the show is a little complicated. I saw it at a moment when I'm questioning my own capacity to be remarkable, when I'm tightrope-walking on the edge of the abyss Pippin plunges into, trying to find my own corner of the sky and wondering if it's becoming clear that I never will. I'm not feeling receptive to the notion that an embracing an ordinary life is better than the constant striving to be exceptional. More than that, Pippin strongly recalls high school theater for me, when I was seventeen and oh-so-special and walking the stage to thunderous applause, when people were noticing me and constantly assuring me I was destined for great things. When my beckoner, the circus strongman, reached out and crooked his finger at me at the end of the finale, inviting me to sacrifice everything for one flash-paper blaze of fame, I met his eyes, glanced left and right, and mouthed, "Maybe."

He deftly incorporated that into his spiel — "Oh, maaaybe? Well..." — probably thinking either I was coming on to him or I'd missed the whole point of the show. But I was answering honestly. It's such a hard choice; it's one of the pointy cornerstones of my life. And I think everybody on that stage would feel the same temptation — which is what makes Pippin such a bone-deep show.

Anyway. Strongly recommended. (And I would like to know why there was a ventriloquist's dummy in the curtain call, so if anybody has an idea about that drop me a note. It had not been seen previously. Very freaky.)

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Date:2012-10-03 02:59
Subject:No disintegrations over there
Mood: artistic

Just a reminder: I'm documenting the process of filming my Empire Uncut! scene on my writing blog, http://theslowpalace.blogspot.com/, which is mirrored right here on LJ at slowpalace-feed. I just posted construction details of my Boba Fett costume.

All the photos appear in the Flickr set.

Miniature photography on Thursday or Friday; principal photography on Sunday; delivery by next Thursday!

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Date:2012-09-22 20:03
Mood: pleased

I just got back from attending MIT's first annual Boston Festival of Indie Games with kdsorceress. It was, first of all, free, and a bargain at twice the price!

There were two large rooms of indie video games for mobile / PC / console gaming (packed to crushing), two medium-sized rooms of board and card games (less packed), a small art show (mostly Photoshop), an auditorium where they were screening game-themed documentaries, and a few other bits and bobs scattered about. I played an elegant card game called Maelstrom that would be easy to simulate with a deck of playing cards, an adorably illustrated side-scrolling iPad game about a cloud that needs help raining on the right things, a Sokoban-style game based on particle physics, an 8-bit cellular automata-based game of destruction called Conway's inferno, and a 50th-anniversary replica of Spacewar! (one of the first video games). It was built by MIT students using the same memory limitations as the original (half of the processing power went to computing the accurate scrolling starfield), and controlled with metal toggle switches poking out of aluminum boxes. As we were leaving, we were accosted by a giant roving ball of paper that cried when we said we were going to get some dinner instead of playing its game.

The amount of polish on display varied considerably from game to game, but there was a lot of enthusiasm and creativity (and humanity) packed into a small space. Watch for the return of the FIG next year!

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Date:2012-09-12 20:33
Subject:How many disintegrations?
Mood: jubilant

And Remember … No Disintegrations!
"And Remember … No Disintegrations!" by Ryan Brenizer.

TL;DR: Who wants to help me re-create 15 iconic seconds of The Empire Strikes Back? You know you do!

In June, I posted about Star Wars: Uncut, which chopped Star Wars into 500 15-second chunks and gave each one to a different amateur filmmaker to recreate. Which they did, using Legos, animation, live action, rotoscoping, and more. The chunks were reassembled, John Williams's score was added back in, and the final result was released on the internet and the silver screen. It's joyous and jubilant and silly and stupid and frankly wonderful.

Naturally, they're doing Empire.

Naturally, I signed up.

The 15 seconds I chose are the ones that open with Vader shaking his finger in Boba Fett's face: "No disintegrations!" I picked that chunk because I love the bounty hunters — it contains one of Fett's four lines in the film, IG-88 appears next to Fett, and there's a shot between Zuckuss and 4-LOM Dengar and IG-88. And that scene, according to a behind the scenes book I read, was filmed on my 7th birthday.

As it turns out, that chunk is hella complicated. In those 15 seconds, there are six shots, two locations, two VFX shots, four speaking parts, and a circular wipe. Specifically.Collapse ) So recreating it will be a complicated process, but I'm expecting it to be a hoot and a half, and I'm hoping some of my Boston-area buddies will want to sign on. I want proper live-action, so we'll need actors (Vader, Boba Fett, Admiral Piett, Zuckuss, 4-LOM, background Star Destroyer bridge crew, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Leia, C-3PO), a cameraman, "lovingly" "handcrafted" costumes, papercraft models of a Star Destroyer and the Millennium Falcon, brainstorming, &c. If anyone has a camcorder that can shoot HD, that'd be very useful. (I can shoot 640x480 with my camera, but they prefer HD video.) I will do all directing and editing tasks, and break everything up into a manageable to-do list.

Principal photography is likely to be the weekend of September 29-30, with costuming and construction done piecemeal over the next two weeks. I don't expect any of it will take more than a few hours — this is not just shoestring, but the kind of shoestring that's probably going to snap if you tug too hard when you're tying your shoes. Final delivery is no later than October 11. And after the whole shebang is released, you might end up on-screen at the Brattle Theater.

May the Force be with us.

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Date:2012-08-11 02:28
Subject:The Birthday of Seven Gables
Mood: cheerful

For Kendra's birthday excursion, we hopped into the driving machine and headed up to Salem. It was gray and blustery, which was fine weather for touring the House of Seven Gables and hearing stories of ships lost at sea and secret staircases and bloody curses. We got as far as the lobby of the Peabody Essex Museum before realizing we'd prefer to amble through the graveyard, look at cute dresses in a vintage shop (Modern Millie, I think), and visit Count Orlok's Nightmare Gallery — a spooky, splendid, beautifully atmospheric tribute to horror movie monsters. It was great! Life-size dummies loomed from the cobwebbed corners: Lugosi's Dracula, the Fly, Pumpkinhead, Elvira and her assets, Jason Voorhees, a befanged Lon Chaney Sr. from the famously lost film London After Midnight. It's a small museum, but winding and goodie-packed and perfectly presented. Hats off to the charming and geeky host/owner, who is (according to Facebook) engaged to his boyfriend. I'd definitely go again.

We drove back home for dinner at Casa B in Union Square (Somerville), a tiny-delicious tapas place. We had: three ceviches (lobster in lemon, salmon in orange, and hake in lime) with curly plantain chips for dipping, savory beef tenderloin pinchos, sautéed wild mushrooms on slabs of yucca, chorizo "spiders" with goat cheese, and salt cod fritters with brandade and cilantro aioli. Mm-mm! They left a touchpad with a card swiper on the table for us to pay with — it allowed us to rate our dishes individually, split the check (if we'd been doing that), calculate the tip, and text the receipt to my cell phone, all paperlessly.

Then home for presents — I have never seen someone so excited by a fine-mesh strainer! — and the peach pie I sweated over last night. (It is hard to roll out pie crust in a sauna, it turns out.) It was a good day. Happy birthday to my wife and the love of my life!

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Date:2012-08-01 01:10
Subject:Living Light at Harvard
Mood: impressed

I spent the evening at a lecture / dance performance / lecture about bioluminescence at Harvard's Science Center. It opened with a rambly, genial overview from eminent researcher John "Woody" Hastings (Swat '47, 400+ publications), who gave us a preview of his unpublished theory that bioluminescence evolved independently so many times — 30 to 40 — not because lighting up is fundamentally useful but because all of the diverse mechanisms for it remove toxic oxygen from the organism. ("You hear about the dangers of oxygen...anti-oxidants...well, you don't want to get oxidized inadvertently.") Lighting up (he says) is a side effect, which evolution then finds uses for.

The closing lecture was given by Sylvia Earle, aka "Her Deepness" or "the Sturgeon General," an insanely accomplished oceanographer, author, and conservationist who holds the women's record for a solo submersible dive (1000 meters). She spoke easily and passionately, in her Jodie Foster voice, about the seas and the need to preserve them, Australia's move to create untouchable "national parks" in their sovereign seas, and her role in convincing Google to include the oceans in Google Earth. ("Google Earth is great," she said to the project leader, "but it only covers a quarter of the planet. You should really call it Google Dirt.") I wished Kira G. could be there.

Sandwiched between the lectures was a performance by Kristin McArdle Dance, called Aqua Borealis. Performing in total darkness, the two dancers wore suits of LEDs that pulsed in patterns and colors to the beat of the music, mimicking the photophores of undersea creatures. Their movements recalled luminous octopi, then, with only their right arms lit in blue dots and undulating, waves or rippling fish. Just when the dreamy underwater tone seemed well-established, the blue lights burned red, the music accelerated, and suddenly the mood was energetically ominous. It was beautiful and meditative, and, from a staging perspective, fascinating to see performers provide their own lighting.

The Q&A was brief and weirdly hostile, as though there were communication gaps causing testiness among the participants and between the participants and the audience. Perhaps this resulted from the cross-disciplinary nature of the event; I'm not sure, and there were only about four questions. Very glad I went, regardless; it broke up the tense irritability I've been twitching with the last two days, leading me to get into flame wars with militant atheists on BoingBoing. I like science, and I like art, and I like seeing them work together.

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Date:2012-07-29 23:10
Subject:Possible insight
Mood: pensive

For Houses of the Muses, I've been thinking a lot about same-sex relationships. My general starting point is that they're a lot like mixed-sex relationships, but tonight I had a possible insight into a difference. I would welcome input from anyone who's been in a same-sex relationship, or who's had significant experience with same-sex attraction. Or anyone, really.

My thought is this: Points of attraction are also points of comparison. The things that attract you to someone are things you can examine in yourself and find wanting. The things that keep you up at night with longing may be the things that keep you up at night with insecurity.

This is true for straight couples as well, obviously — if you're attracted to someone's smarts or accomplishments or charisma, anyone of any sex or gender can hold themselves up for comparison and get down on themselves. The world is full of people who think their loves outshine them intellectually or socially, whether or not that's true. But body-insecurity is special, I think — it's particularly pernicious, particularly resistant to mollification. A straight woman won't look at a potential love interest and see a one-to-one comparison between waist size, bust size, hair curliness / straightness / color. Even if you think your boyfriend's hair is prettier than yours (*ahem*), hair doesn't play the same societal role for men and women, which makes it an innately uneven comparison. A straight man won't compare his penis size to his girlfriend's...usually. But surely this sort of thing must be a common occurrence in same-sex couples. And insecurity must sometimes transform into resentment, the way it does; attraction must sometimes evolve into sour grapes. "She's so pretty!" -> "She's prettier than me." -> "Stupid pretty jerkface, thinks she's so special."

Does this hold water? Or am I flapping my gums like an ignoramus? Do the walls between self-perception and other-perception hold regardless of body type? One mitigating factor may be gender roles — what's femme-attractive and what's butch-attractive may not usually have a lot of overlap, for instance. But what's plausible and what's real don't always overlap either, so responses are appreciated.

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Date:2012-07-28 18:17
Mood: full

There was a food truck festival by the Charles today, about three miles from me. I like food trucks — because the setup costs are much lower than a restaurant's, owners can afford to take more risks, which promotes culinary diversity and creativity. They're agile in a way sit-down restaurants aren't. And when you get a bunch of them parked together, you can mix and match your meal.

The way the festival worked was this: there were I-don't-know-how-many food trucks all lined up along the bike path, Roxy's Grilled Cheese and Mei Mei Chinese food and Frozen Hoagies and Redbones and dozens more, with a booth in the middle selling tickets for about a buck and a quarter each. Each truck set its own ticket-to-food conversions, but in general you could get a meal-sized sandwich for four to six tickets, a small bite for two, a beverage for two or three, a side for three, a dessert for two to four. I didn't actually buy any tickets — a kid with leftover tickets came up to me when I was waiting in line, and I bought his sixteen tickets for $15. (He and the two sorority girls he was with didn't set off my scam detectors.) This turned out to be the perfect number of tickets — I got a reasonably good pork bánh mì from Bon Me, an excellent basil limeade from the same place, a strawberry popsicle from Ocean Ave, and a mojito cupcake from the Kickass truck, with one ticket left over for a tip. (I tried to get truffle fries from Roxy's, but they were sold out.) If you go to one of these things, I recommend 30 tickets for a couple. (They sell them in batches of 10.)

I got there about 45 minutes before the festival ended, which wasn't quite enough time — as I was running up and down the long long line of trucks, trying to at least glance at every menu option, I had visions in my head of ending up hungry with sixteen worthless tickets in my hand as all the trucks drove away. And of course the system punishes poor planning, in exactly that way. But it's a great way to sample a bucketload of diverse cuisines, cooked well and cooked to order.

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Date:2012-07-20 01:16
Subject:Phidippus audax (daring jumping spider)
Mood: pleased

Daring jumping spider

Found this jaunty little lady in our garden last night, after the rains. She's wearing a water droplet as a hat! And a nose! A few more shots under the cut.Collapse )

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Date:2012-07-18 02:42
Subject:Pinewoods II: Non-turtle events
Mood: nostalgic

There were, in fact, people and dances and parties and other non-wildlife sorts of things at Pinewoods. Kendra and I were under the microscope a little, since we'll be running the joint, and we had I-don't-know-how-many chats with people who had insights or suggestions or advice, some of whom had been coming for forty years. It was extremely helpful, while at the same time making me feel the weight of tradition that's been draped around our shoulders.

To puncture some of that tension, for the Session II ceilidh, I sang a song describing some of the changes Kendra and I plan to introduce — a parody of Dylan's A Hard Rain's Gonna Fall called A Raccoon in Every Cabin. It went over like gangbusters...though it's possible I've talked myself into finding 150 raccoons by next year. *sigh*

The evening music was fantastic overall, but we were blown away by Ryan McKasson's arrangement for Ferla Mor. The bass player played his instrument like a cello, taking the melody, while half a dozen fiddles played pizzicato. It was eerie and modern and weird and energizing. We'd never heard anything like it — Dave Arnold and I could barely follow the dance because we were trying to figure out how they were doing it. Which was okay, because the crowd demanded a full encore, twice and to the bottom, which is practically unheard-of. I was floating for a full hour afterwards.

Other things: I carried corks in my pocket all week, torturing kind of a lot of people with the cork puzzle, as well as the cup puzzle. I played invented-word Boggle with Ruth Howe, and got to know her in the course of assorted other hangings-out. I went canoeing with kdsorceress before she left after Session I, and got a surprise snuggly visit from mogwit at the end of Session II. Kendra and I ran the silent auction again, which pulled in an impressive $1200 for Pinewoods, bringing the all-auction total above $10,000. The part of my hair sunburned from snorkeling, so I spent the last half of the week hatted. I finally got to learn all of Dancing on Parnassus — which transforms from a square-set strathspey to a longways reel and back — in Robert McOwen's teacher's choice class. I learned that they make bras with magnetic front clasps (brilliant!). Adorable children, two of them bilingual Québecois, spent all week making marble machines and cell phones and salad out of the bits of wood in front of the dining hall. I was fed very well (not by the children), and skinnydipped, and skinnysnorkeled, and had good conversations, and oh dear God it's all up to us next year isn't it?

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Date:2012-07-17 23:50
Subject:Angus the Bruce
Mood: satisfied

Angus the Bruce

Pinewoods was fabulous this year. This was our first time going to both Scottish sessions — we're going to be the co-chairs next year, so we had to experience the whole eight days — and by the end of a week of ponds and sunshine and ginger beer on the porch I was lanky and loose and very mellow.

For the first time, I brought a mask and snorkel, and I spent hours snorkeling in Long Pond and Round Pond (and, briefly, Little Long Pond).
Freshwater snorkeling is brilliant — the ponds are filled with fish, from half an inch long to the size of my arm, not to mention dragonfly larvae, frogs, and turtles. My first time snorkeling in Long Pond, I cruised up to investigate a pile of rocks underneath the dock, and got to within a foot or so before I began furiously backpaddling...from an enormous snapping turtle! I measured it using a practice paddle for a kayak as calipers: 31" from nose to tail, which puts its carapace at about 18". They don't get much bigger than that! I alerted the general vicinity, and soon there was a line of butts sticking up along the dock as everyone leaned down over the water to see. I lent my mask to a few of the more adventurous souls, then followed the turtle ("Angus the Bruce," he was dubbed) when he got sick of the attention and swam into deeper water. He returned the next day, and I spent at least an hour communing with him, watching as he stretched up, long-necked, on elephant legs to inhale with an audible hiss (as he's doing in the photo above), or sat among darting fish with his jaws open waiting for a meal. It was sublime.

Snorkeling also serves social functions. For one thing, there are quite a few SCUBA enthusiasts and instructors among the Scottish crowd, and I had a number of fine conversations with Mel and Ellie Briscoe and Terry Harvey about clearing my snorkel and equalizing pressure and hammerhead sharks and so on. For another, I spend a lot of time alone in my day-to-day life, and having people around constantly can be overwhelming. Snorkeling is a way to submerge myself in a different world of muffled sound and placid fish without vanishing socially altogether. I can recharge my batteries and surface refreshed.

Other wildlife encounters from Pinewoods:

• A painted turtle swam right up to my mask, almost bumping into it, before realizing I was a human and paddling furiously away.
• I caught and released a little musk turtle (or "stinkpot"), after which he fled comically from me every time I came near the dock.
• A wild turkey came down to Round Pond to drink while I was the only person in the water. A hush hung over the pond as it dipped its neck once, twice, three times.
• I found a moss-topped phoebe nest on the camp house gutter, with three perfect breath-mint eggs in it. The mother roosted there off and on throughout the week.
• Colonies of freshwater bryozoans clung to the forks of sunken logs, amber and glistening and football-sized, like the first stages of a Blob invasion.
• Standing on the bottom step of the stairs to Round Pond, with my toes hanging over the edge, a nine-inch sunfish jumped out of the water to bite me. The fish are getting bolder.
• I kayaked to the tiny wooded island in Little Long Pond, aka Paradise of Birds, and for the first time got out of the boat and walked around. I saw a juvenile green heron, two cormorants high in a tree like pterodactyls, and what I think were a bunch of basket-like kingbird nests. (Julie MacRae helped me navigate my Peterson iPad app to ID everything.)
• Ellie Briscoe lent me a dive-light so I could try night snorkeling. I didn't see the hoped-for fabulous nocturnal macrofauna, but I noticed that if I held the lamp still the beam filled with a blizzard of darting zooplankton, like moths to a flame. I saw copepods, daphnia, tiny jacknifing worms, investigatory minnows, and one dragonfly larva that took up residence on the lamp and snacked on what came near. So cool!

The snapping turtle became a camp meme, of course, though he didn't show up under the dock after Monday. I did see him again, on Friday afternoon, in the little canal between Long Pond and Little Long Pond. He was ripping into a good-sized fish with his beak and claws — blood and tatters of fish everywhere — which I'm glad I saw at the end of the week.

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Date:2012-07-04 22:12
Subject:Ups and downs
Mood: tired

For the 4th, we had a very nice time in Deb's and Charles' backyard, eating burgers and watermelon and amazing gooey brownies. Guests included Michael and Lisa (with David), Josh and Amy (with Junie and Quentin), Chaos, Ruth and Gavin, fiddler friend Catherine and her husband (with daughter), a couple of people we didn't know who'd just come back from Pinewoods, and more. Catherine's husband taught me a party trick with two corks that I am looking forward to confounding people with.

Kendra and I biked there, about 8 miles each way. Deb and Charles live at the top of a very tall, very steep hill in Arlington, about a mile from the Minuteman. After we left, we got as far as the Minuteman (at the bottom of the very tall, very steep hill) before I realized I'd forgotten my Camelbak. I need it for Pinewoods, and we're leaving Friday morning, so there was nothing for it but to hop back on my bike, turn around, and go back up the very tall, very steep hill. (Kendra continued on to Spy Pond to wait for me.) I share this so I can share the elevation plot for this trip, which I found amusing. See if you can spot where I realized I'd forgotten my backpack!


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Date:2012-06-23 00:45
Subject:From a tiny (Snap)seed...
Mood: nostalgic

Last June, Kendra and I went with my boss and his wife to Acadia, which I wrote about at the time (1, 2, 3). What I did not do at the time was post any photos. My aging computer gets a little sluggish running iPhoto and Photoshop Elements, which leads to an intimidating photo backlog as I constantly postpone the editing process.

Then my dad got me an iPad, and I downloaded two apps: Snapseed and Flickr Studio ($5 each, though Snapseed was free at the time). Snapseed is a tight little editing program, with sensitive, intuitive touch-adjustment of things like contrast and white balance, plus an assortment of Instagrammy effects filters; Flickr Studio is clunkier, but offers easy tagging and uploading to Flickr. This means I can tag and edit photos on the bus, while watching TV, sitting in Diesel...which means I tag and edit more photos. It's my version of knitting.

Long story short, here's a sampling of last year's Acadia pix. There's another 300 or so in the Flickr set.

Photos!Collapse )

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Date:2012-06-17 02:38
Subject:Bicycle noodles
Mood: accomplished

I replaced my brake cables today, for the first time. It wasn't too tricky — slide the old cables out, slide the new ones in, crimp on the end caps. I had a little trouble clipping them, since my wire cutters couldn't handle the steel cables, but one of the bits of my Leatherman eventually did the trick. The cables had some rust on them, which explained part of the friction I'd been feeling in the brakes, but even the new ones got stuck going through the noodles (those J-shaped tubes of metal that steer the cables to the brakes), which were gunked up with congealed grease. I made an evening trip to REI, that being the only place that was open, then replaced the noodles on the concrete in front of the store. A little adjustment to the spring tension screws, and my brakes were good as new.

While I was at it, I replaced the brake pads (which didn't quite need it yet) and put on new tubes and tires (which did — the tubes had two or three patches each, and the rubber of the tires was fissuring a bit). I'm experimenting with Bontrager's "Hard Case Plus" tires, which have all sorts of anti-flat technology built in; we shall see if they're worth the extra $10. kdsorceress stopped by to help with the maintenance and point out that my tires were on backwards and so on, which was very useful of her.

I'm going to celebrate my newly tuned bike with a trip to Rocky Narrows Reservation on Sunday. It's about a 37-mile round-trip, plus a couple of miles of hiking. Mmmm.

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Date:2012-06-08 01:49
Subject:I had a bad feeling about this
Mood: cheerful

Take Star Wars. Chop it into 500 fifteen-second chunks. Give each chunk to an amateur filmmaker to remake, by any means necessary. Reassemble the chunks, add John Williams's score back in, and screen that mother.

That's Star Wars: Uncut, which had its New England premiere at the Brattle tonight. It uses action figures, Lego minifigs, computer animation, traditional animation, pencil sketches, cats, dogs, ferrets, terrible costumes, excellent costumes, excellent terrible costumes, puppets, adorable children, greenscreening, machinima, rotoscoping, repurposed footage, shop vacs, stop motion, fast motion, slow motion, no motion, instant messaging, an Oscar statuette, a hamburger, and My Little Ponies. It was amazing.

Two problems: one, among the five hundred, there were half a dozen scenes from asshole hipsters who think poop jokes and cheap drag are hi-larious. And two, they used the Special Edition (*ptooie*), not the original theatrical release. But even an extraneous Jabba scene couldn't sink the buoyant creativity and resourcefulness on display; I was grinning for two hours straight. If it comes to a theater near you, don't miss it. If it doesn't, you can watch it, the whole thing or one chunk at a time, at the link above.

(Important note: They're going to open submissions for Empire in a few months.)

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Date:2012-04-29 22:14
Mood: aggravated

My dad, with assistance from the in-laws, sent me money for an iPad for my fortieth birthday, which is ridiculous and awesome — and not the source of the aggravation.

I placed an order last night at store.apple.com, indicating that I intended to pick it up at the Cambridgeside Galleria. They had the correct model in stock, so my order, they said, should be ready within an hour of placing it. They would send me an email.

This afternoon, around 2:30, about 15 hours after placing the order, the email had not yet arrived. My order status said "Processing" and "In stock for pickup." I called the Cambridgeside store to ask what was up, and got transferred (invisibly) to the central Apple number. She was sympathetic, and told me their order system had been down for maintenance. "Call the local store to see if your order is ready," she said. "I did," I said. "That's how I got you."

Armed with the secret override code for the automated system ("SALES REP"), I re-dialed the number, and reached someone at Cambridgeside. "Oh yeah," he said. "We filled that order this morning. You can come down and pick it up. If you don't have the email, just bring the order number and a photo ID."

"Woot," I said.

After an eight-mile bike ride in an eighteen-knot headwind, I arrived at Cambridgeside, and told the floor rep I was there to pick up an order. She asked if I'd received the email, and I explained the situation. I showed her my order number and photo ID. She disappeared into the back — for sort of a long time. Ten or fifteen minutes. Eventually, someone else asked, "Are you still waiting for your order?" I nodded, and they vanished into the back after her.

After a while, she emerged, carrying an iPad box. "Good news and bad news," she said. "We have your model in stock, and I can sell you one right now."

"Great!" I said. "And the bad news?"

"Your order hasn't reached us yet, so it wouldn't fulfill your order."

"The what now?" I said.

"If you bought this iPad, your order would go through later, and you would own two iPads," she said. "But we can cancel your online order, and then you can just buy this one!"

I thought about this for a moment. "Gotcha," I said.

We went over to a big iMac, and I logged in to my order page. "Just click 'cancel'," she said. I clicked cancel. Nothing happened. "'This order cannot be cancelled,'" she read. "Hmm."

She instructed me to call Apple, to get them to cancel the order. ("Buying from Apple is usually really seamless!" she said — which, to be fair, I believe. "Can I get you anything to make you more comfortable?") I navigated the automated system until it said it was going to connect me to a human. Then it hung up. I tried again, and it hung up again.

(All this time, an iPad very much like the one I'd purchased was sitting next to me on the desk. It was not the one I'd purchased, however, and I could not leave with it, unless I bought it as well. Had I not placed the order online, and just gone to the store like a normal person and bought it, I would have that iPad right now.)

Eventually I got through to Apple, and they told me they couldn't cancel the order either. It was in the ether, between them and Cambridgeside, and no mortal hand could turn it aside. By this time it was 5:00, which happened to be the time I was supposed to meet adfamiliares in Harvard Square for dinner, so I called her to apologize, then left.

One hour and twenty-three minutes later, at 6:23, I received the email saying my order had cleared.

Not sure when I'll be able to make it back to East Cambridge.

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Date:2012-04-27 23:03
Subject:Livin' extra-large (XL)
Mood: optimistic

With little fanfare, but many FaceBook well-wishings, I turned 40 yesterday. I did laundry, looked over some proofs for work, grilled some burgers and asparagus, watched a little TV with my lovely wife. Perhaps if I didn't acknowledge it, it would go away. No such luck.

On Monday, I got glasses. (See icon.) Seemed like a good time for it; I went my first forty years without, and can go the next forty with. (At 80, I can replace them with vat-grown night-vision eyes with neon purple irises.) My distance vision had been squintily blurry for a while; now it's like someone has Windexed the world. "Sorcery!" I quietly mumble, but only because I am accustomed to my unaugmented perspective being correct. A sudden improvement seems uncanny, like the world has been sharpened, not my vision.

Tonight, adfamiliares took me out for a stunning meal at Oleana, a Middle Eastern place in Cambridge. We split a chick pea terrine, a stuffed burrata, a canoe-shaped pastry ("pide") filled with creamed nettles and mint, greens with toum (a garlic sauce), and quail kebabs. For dessert, two amazing plates: one with a rich chocolate kanayif (sort of a bird's-nest pastry), sheep's milk sorbet, and a chocolate "crème bruléette"; the other with an unbelievably light caramel-drizzled bread pudding and mulberries in honey. I swooned.

Tomorrow, we bike to a sheepshearing festival. That's the sort of thing old people do, right?


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