Random adventures through my life... in all their glory and splendor.

Sunday, January 29, 2006

Kinetic vs Potential Energy: A tale of Two Snowballs

Ok, so on Friday I had two noteworthy snowball experiences.

The first happened when Chris and I pulled up to our friends' house, and I realized that this would be an excellent opportunity to bean the first person to open then front door. If it was Justin, the 13 year old of the house, I'd be gold, otherwise I'd improvise. My first mistake was a critical error in timing. I started packing a snowball at the end of the driveway instead of waiting until my scheme would be obscured by the front door. So while I'm walking up the driveway, rounding out my weapon of choice I see two eyes looking out one of the front windows. Crap, so I run up to the front door and try to knock causually. Surprisingly, noone's biting. I look through the window and the eyes are gone so I figure that they've now gone to fortify their position. At this point I realized that Chris had avoided the whole debacle and was already in the house. She had walked through the open garage, and into the house from the side. So I bolt to the garage, and through the laundry room... still armed, cocked and ready to administer a little Frozen Justice.
Now this is where things get interesting. Coming through the garage gave me a significant tactical advantage over anyone coming down from upstairs expecting to find someone at the front door, in this case, Brian. So I find myself behind enemy lines, with their counter-offensive launched and facing the other direction. Time to improvise. So here's my thought process:

"He's heading to the front... Holy crap, Brian hasn't seen me yet."
"He's 8 feet away, you can hit him. You can even aim for his head."
"Oh, he's going to remember this..."
"He can take a joke He won't think it's funny right away but he'll laugh about it later... well not as hard as I will, but... He can take a joke."
"Escape route, back through the garage. Clear."
"Can you hit someone who's back is to you? Any ethical problems with that? No? Just checking. Clear."
"Is that a kitana?"
"Here comes the pitch... Sweet Justice is about to be SERVED!"
"KITANA??!!?!! WTF?"
(Scenes from Kill Bill play in slow motion in my head as I see him trying to unsheath this three-foot blade in the narrow hallway between the stairs and the front room)
"Who brings a KITANA to snowball fight?"
"Is beaning a heavily armed man in the back worth possibly losing a limb?"
"WHO brings a KITANA to snowball fight?"
"This has Darwin Awards written all over it"
"WHO the hell brings a KITANA to snowball fight?"
"Screw it."
"Justice is going to have to wait."

I ditch the evidence, thwarted by superior firepower.

So what do you call it when you're standing there AGAIN with a snowball to dispose of, and ANOTHER happy black lab is sitting there smiling at you? It's just begging for a face full of snow, but it's owner is standing there with a sword? Is that Irony? Coincidence? Sigh... I swear I heard that lab laughing at me. Stupid Dogs. They're much more organized than they appear to be.

So actually, we were just meeting at Brian's to go over to Sean's and help him move. Sean had just closed on his new house and we volunteered for the second shift of unpacking. So after hauling stuff around for a while, and getting the tour, we sat around crabbing about work and listening to stories about all of the stuff we just moved... like how his wife, a Disney fan, got 8 rolls of Finding Nemo papertowels as a gag gift for Christmas. Or how Sean keeps a bat in the bedroom, unlike the kitana I had previously encountered at Brian's... My problem is that I barely find my own stuff interesting, let alone anyone elses, but I guess I'm just not nosey like that.
ANYWAY, so we're leaving and I realize that this is another snowball opportunity. Unfortunately, I'm the last one out of the house and once again all the soft targets are safely in their cars before I can reload and assess the situation. So I'm standing there with a hunk of snow evaluating my options... I can throw it haplessly at a car... or drop it. And I ask you, where's a freakin Black Lab when you need one? That's when I notice Sean standing in the doorway of his brand new house, waving goodbye like a good host and not weilding a Bat. This time my internal conversation was totally short circuited and I let fly 'The-Glory-of-Snow" (It had to be named, you know, like all weapons of Legend...) to seek out it's destiny. I was standing at the street end of the driveway so Sean had plenty of time to calculate it's trajectory and dodge it easily. However, Sean was thinking like a warrior and not like a new homeowner as The Snowball stayed true to it's course and sweetly flew clean through the front door, and found its mark somewhere on the virgin carpetting of the dining-room. I suspect Sean watched the whole thing in slow motion. But the conversation went something like this:

Sean: I can't believe you did that! There's snow all over the dining-room!
Me (nonchalantly): Guess you shoulda taken that one for the team, huh?
Sean: Now I've got to get this all cleaned up before my wife gets back!
Me: Good thing you've got plenty of Nemo papertowels...

At which point we were all laughing so hard Sean was down on one knee and we could barely drive out of there.
That my friends is how a snowball fully realizes it's potential...

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Carpe Chionodoxa - Seize the Glory of Snow - Director's Commentary

Ok, so I though 'Seize the Snow' would be a really cool title for my next posting, and the only thing that would make it cooler would be to do it Caesar-style. But since I don't know crap from carpe about Latin I thought I'd just jump on Ye Olde Googlee and have it do all the work as I sat back and smiled to myself, revelling in my resourcefulness. The problem is, though, for as long as Latin's been around, you'd think there'd be more people talking about it... but for the most part, the internet seems to run quite nicely without it. Fortunately, thanks to sophomore English, I knew that 'Carpe Diem' meant 'Seize the Day' which means I was one word away from success. So I finally found this great Latin to English dictionary that was completely useless to me, since I already speak English, and mostlikely useless to any Latin speakers, because I think they're all dead. Fine. So I get granular and Google for, "All I want is the freakin word for SNOW in Latin" but apparently that wasn't specific enough. Next I Asked Jeeves, but he's not a big fan of the dead languages either. Eventually I found some Latin convention's website where the vocabulary word of the day was 'Snow' and this is what it said:

  • nix, nivis, f., snow
  • nivalis, -e, adj., of snow, snowy, snow-like
  • niveus, -a, -um, adj., snowy, snow-white
  • nivosus, -a, -um, adj., full of snow
So now I've got 3 adjectives and an 'f'. I was really hoping for a 'n' or possibly a 'v' so I'd know if it was a noun or a verb. Now this is just a guess, but I think 'f' is for,"foo" as in "FOO, you ain't gonna learn no Latin over the internet," but I could be wrong about that.

You know how sometimes you notice things in your periferal vision that you wouldn't see if you looked directly at them? Deeper in the search results my eye happened to catch a link to a linguists page that mentioned a flower called Chiondoxa aka 'The Glory of Snow.' Following that lead, it turns out that yes, Chionodoxa is indeed the Latin name for a little blue flower. Nix this Nivis crap, I'm going with that. It's perfect! Well, almost perfect. Shouting, "Seize the little blue flower" wasn't exactly the message I was going for, but it gets worse. Apparently, the translation of the phrase "Modern Latin Name" means, "Greek" in this case because Chionodoxa (khion "snow" doxa "glory") is definitely of Greek origin.

So what I learned tonight was how to say "Seize the Weed," in what I like to call 'Greco-Roman,' which I suspect, if it was ever uttered at all, was probably used to describe an illegal wrestling move. And I also learned that Latin is so frickin impossible you apparently have to be dead to figure it out.
What a load of Carpe.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

All warfare is based on deception. Guess what I've been reading?

Well I stayed home from work today, mostly because I would have been wasting precious air that my workmates should be using to be productive. And although I've done a whole lot of nothing, I did read this article on Loving your Work by Paul Graham which was surprising appropriate today. Paul Graham always has a bunch of nuggets to think about, but the one I'm stuck on is the line about how people who decide their profession while they're still in their teens often look back and realize that their career path was chosen by a high school student. I also read Sun Tzu's The Art Of War this morning. I didn't realize that without commentary, it's works out to be only about 35 pages. If I had known that I would have read it years ago. :) Anyway, I can see why there's so much commentary on it because there's a whole lot of room for interpretation. It pretty much says everything at least once, so you can hear what you want. Rules must always be enforced but some rules have to be broken, be unpredictable but calculated, neither a borrower nor lender be, you know... I can see why business leaders think it applies to them, and it *kinda* explains where my boss is coming from on some of his 'crazy like a fox tactics' where even your officers don't know the big picture; but again, you could turn around and quote all the trust and loyalty building bits too. I especially relate to this one:

"If soldiers are punished before they have grown attached to you, they will not prove submissive, and, unless submissive, they will be practically useless."

Yeah, that sums up where I'm at today.

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Exit - Stage Fright

Public Service Announcement: Glossophobia and You

Recently the topic of good old fashioned stage fright has been brought up by a couple friends of mine, neither of which I would classify as introverted, so I thought I'd give y'all my angle on it and how I've dealt with it... or still dealing with it as the case may be.

First of all, it never goes away to the point where it can't come back. It doesn't get 'cured' it just goes into remission. I've been caught off guard or pulled too far out of my comfort zone on stage and suddenly I feel the same way I did at my fourth grade piano recitals. So what do you do about it? How do you psych yourself up but not out?

Everyone wants you to succeed.
Well, 'in the Band' (I refer back to my Captive Free experience a lot here...) I was told that, "No one expects or wants to see you fail." Granted, the performing I do now isn't judged or competitive anymore, but it's generally good advice. The audience is for you, not against you. Chances are pretty good you aren't going to get heckled or boo'ed no matter how badly you think you screwed something up.

You are the only one who knows what you are going to do.
Again, this doesn't apply to the recital-scene, but really, the audience isn't sitting there with your sheetmusic. They don't know that you were supposed to be playing mezzopiano but it came out mezzoforte. On only ONE occassion I was with a friend who noticed that the local talent skipped the third verse and sang the first one over again. Once. Otherwise, people that are listening tend to discuss either how they like or dislike your rendition or how they agree or disagree with your interpretation.

You are your own worst critic, so be kind to yourself.
Let's face it, if you hose something, you know it. There's no denying it and it feels like every pupil in the audience is dialating trying to comprehend how such a flagrant error didn't drive you immediately off stage. Ok, so flip it around, think of a performance you saw where the actor/musician/whatnot flubbed up. Do you remember how many times they messed up, or just the fact that they did? So this leads my to a couple things... if you can't think of the last time you saw anyone else screw up on stage, then that proves point one. You haven't seen any mistakes because as a member of the audience you weren't looking for them, you were there to enjoy the program, not to tally errors. If you do remember a specifically poor performance, I guarantee that if you knew that person well enough to ask them where they thought things fell apart, their list would be 5 to 10 times longer than yours. Again, as the audience, you don't know what the artist's intended result is. Sure, they probably don't want to hit the wrong note or sing out of key, but there's a whole realm of errors that are really only pointed out when the performer lets everyone know that they messed up... which brings me to my next point.

Kill your Tell.
The previous points are psychological, this one however has a very physical manifestation. More often than not, you'll be the one to let the audience in on your mistakes. You may not be able to stop your face from turning red or your knees from shaking, but you can stop yourself from giving the audience too many clues to your current feelings about your performance. Don't roll your eyes at yourself. Don't deflate no matter how defeated you feel. And don't flinch. One of my good friends plays excellent piano, but back in the day, you wouldn't know it by watching. If you closed your eyes, the music that flowed out was amazing, as if you were being taken on a journey. However if you opened your eyes, every 'step off the path' was indicated by the pianists shoulders. Either they were clentched up after a quick mistake or drooping with defeat when the music didn't end up where it was 'supposed' to. As an audience, you're along for the ride. As the artist, you dictate the path. And some of the most critical musical moments happen when you allow yourself to be swept up by a performance... even when it's your own.

Learn to smile through anything.
Channel that wince, eye-roll, and flinch into your smile. It takes some work, but it can be done. If you have to indicate that something just went horribly wrong, smiling is socially acceptable. Especially since you should probably be smiling anyway. It conveys confidence and can camouflage all kinds of things. More importantly though, psychologically, it keeps the feedback loop positive. If you look out into the audience with the 'I just hit the windshield' look on your face, you're going to see a bunch of people bracing for a trainwreck. If however, you do the opposite and muster up the, 'My, my, wasn't that awkward, anyone for tea?' smile you'll notice people nodding and smiling back. This is especially true if you're performing with others. Glaring or scowling at another musician on stage, regardless of fault, is totally unacceptable. You all know already know something went bad, and if you're really ticked about the bobble, talk to them afterwards and work it out. Any finger pointing done on stage basically punishes the audience and makes every one look bad. I think every musician has a, 'I can't believe that just happened' or a 'Dude, that totally sucked' smile. Sometimes it's even outright laughter, but the important thing is that the show goes on and heck... now you're all smiling.

Then there's practice...
Yeah, you knew it was coming... the more comfortable you are with the content of what you're performing, the less likely you are to be thrown off in the first place, and the more likely you will be able to stay focused after a flub. It's easier to get back into rhythm when your fingers and mind know the groove. One of the best bits of advice I got when learning guitar was to always keep the right hand strumming, regardless of how well (or poorly) your left hand is keeping up. Your left hand will learn the fingerings for various chords with repetition, but if you stop the rhythm every time your left hand misses something then it will never be trained to make quicker chord changes. The other trick with practicing is to make a mental distinction between technical practicing and performance practicing. By technical practice I mean that you are working on the nuts and bolts of whatever you intend to perform. Whether that means memorizing lyrics or repeating a tricky passage over and over, the point is that when you hit a bump, you stop there and smooth it out. You don't have to start from the begining and similarly you don't have to play all the way through a piece before going back to a trouble spot. Now's the time to work through the problems. Once you're fairly comfortable with the mechanics of what you are going to be presenting, then it's important to do work on the performance angle. For me that means standing, singing, and playing guitar as I would when I'm performing. Standing helps me breathe right, and I try to sing and play at the volume and tempo that I plan to perform at. It took some getting used to... hearing my own voice at full volume... in my basement... singing to myself. But it makes a huge difference when it's time to hit the stage, because my ears know what it's supposed to sound like and my body knows what it's supposed to feel like. I know which notes I can grind out and which ones are going to crack if I don't support them.

Just do it.
The bottom line is that the more you are in front of a crowd, the less it's going to phase you. The thing that sculpted my stage presents the most was touring for a year and performing upwards of 8 times a week. After that year I had learned how to perform exhausted, forgive myself for saying stupid stuff into a mic, and recover from all manner of musical goof. Now, pretty much any performing I do is easy and enjoyable by comparision. So once you break the ice, keep doing it.

As you get more comfortable performing, allow yourself to branch out. If you are really uncomfortable talking into a microphone start out easy. Compliment someone. Thank the audience for coming out. Tell people why you picked a certain piece to perform or why it's worth hearing. If you get really ambitious, tell a joke. Learn a new instrument. Find a new venue. Keep pushing yourself until your regular gigs don't shake you any more.

I've been trying to catch as many aspects of stage fright as I can, but I know there's more to be said about tryouts, competitions, and inter-band dynamics. Those will have to be covered in another blog or something.

Thanks for reading this far. *SMILE* You've been a great audience and thanks for spending some time with me. Drive safe, and I'll see you next time!

Saturday, January 21, 2006

That's Snow Moon... (Winter of DisBasement pt II)

Yes indeed I stepped outside and all I saw was snow waiting to be packed and whipped at something... or someBODY... or somebody's DOG! My neighbor 2 doors down was out snowblowing the sidewalk with his black lab. A very happy black lab. Now I know what you're thinking... "Not the dog! Resist! Fight the urge!" No, I didn't peg the dog. Too small a target for me anyway. No actually, I was thinking about how miserable the cats would be if they were in the snow and how nice it would be to have an animal that liked snow. Instead I took the snowball in my hand and threw it at the garage. No, I didn't miss. Shut up. So I proceded to use my energy constructively and dig my car out plus a little extra room for Chris's car. Cuz I'm so mature like that... well at least I was until Chris came home. Then I thought a Helm's Deep reenactment was appropriate. Of course I didn't tell her, but she figured it out pretty quick after the first volley of 'prisoners' hit her car. Oh, and for the record, she was outside the gate, which makes her an orc. *I* was a nobel elf, and the winner writes history.

Not a bad ending for a day where I was so out of it at work that I tried to wake my pc by jiggling a can of coke... yeah... uh, just missed the mouse. So as it turns out, caffeine is more effective when you drink it and not just slide it around your desk. Conversely, don't ingest your mouse, which is probably a more important lesson.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Winter of DisBasement

Well we're supposed to get 3 to 6 inches of snow tonight so it's a darn good thing I've been in my basement on the computer for the past 2 weeks so I wouldn't get stir crazy now that the weather is 'bad.' Ok, it's bad for driving... I can't argue that. It took forever to get home tonight. But fortunately the commute was uneventful, except for one Volkswagen in the ditch. Guess the Autobahn is wider or something... Anyway, right now, it's like 33 degrees so it's just barely staying snow, but it really wants to be balled up and chucked.
I might have to go test that theory...

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Sensitive Blackholes

Here's an excerpt from an email I recently wrote to a college friend regarding how to deal with that part of you that wants to care, but the other part that doesn't want to get walked all over. I've genericized it and taken names out, but I'm sticking to the spirit of the message. It's where I'm at... Your mileage may vary.


From one post-sensitive person to another in the thick of it, sensitivity isn't the problem, it can keep you in tune to needs that other people aren't going to notice... and personally, I think that's really important for anyone going into your profession... The problem is prioritizing the resources. Prioritizing YOUR resources so that you can deal effectively with what's truly important to you. That's when your sensitivity is going to make you stronger. When it keeps you focused on your passion and not distracted by all the other things you think you should be caring about. If you assume your physical and emotional resources are limited, then you've got to make the best of what you've got when you've got it.
"Important things" get clearer as you get older and... well... DO more stuff. The more things you do to get out and relate to other people, the more you can keep the other fires that pop up in perspective. There's alot of unimportant stuff going on at college. Mostly narcisistic... but that's the stage of life a lot of people are at. Fortunately you're already narrowing down the scope on how you are going to make a difference.

Ok, last thing... Emotional blackholes. You know the people I'm talking about. The people you can't fix. The people that 'just need to talk to someone' but never get anywhere. As soon as you spot one, avoid it! There's nothing you can say or do that can help that person out of their situation. Usually because deep down they aren't ready to accept the consequences of 'moving on' and from experience, I can tell you that you won't be able to convince them otherwise. Anyway, the problem is, these people PREY ON sensitive people. They aggressively hunt us down trying to fill some void with our emotion. It doesn't work even if both parties want it to... Anyway, going back to the part about limited resources, you can see how feeding blackholes is actually detrimental, and not charitable. They hurt and distract you from investing in the important things.
There's a saying about knowing when to 'fish or cut bait' and I didn't learn how to do that emotionally until my 20's. But recognizing the need is half the battle.

Sunday, January 8, 2006


Ah... The ever important First blog. One small step for me, one giant leap toward more carp on the internet.

Man... it's been so long since I've written freely. Usually the only time I write is specifically to dole out some info, not just for writing's sake. I've had my creative times, but nothing I've really fostered lately so I feel woefully out of practice and inadequate. Gotta disengage ye olden brain-filter. I was just telling Chris that I hope I'm not one of those people that only writes when they're angry or bored. But the idea here is to turn off the filter and see where I end up...

So, a couple of things I need to get out of my system:
For all you punks that got iPods for Christmas, enjoy this: 50 things to do with your iPod Sleep well knowing that I'm not bitter.

And here's my all-time favorite Vin Diesel 'fact' courtesy of the Vin Diesel Random Fact Generator:
"Most people don't know this, but the bible actually ends with Vin Diesel showing up at the crucifixion with a pair of Uzi's and kicking some Roman ass. Vin Diesel was all like, "Jesus, I totally saved you." Then, off on the horizon, a bunch of Romans show up riding dinosaurs led by Mecha Pontious Pilate. Jesus busts out this sweet ninja sword and says, "Now it's my turn to save you." Then Jesus and Vin Diesel run towards the Romans in slow motion. That's how the Bible ends. It's a cliff-hanger. I can't wait for the sequel, "The Bible 2: Water Into Blood."

That cracks me up everytime I read it... because you know, I can relate. My life is a cliff-hanger too. Wonder what my sequel will be called?

I think it would have a Bond-ish feel to it... like 'The Nerd is Not Enough' or something. As long as it isn't called 'Leave it to Leevis' or turned into a musical, it should be ok. Oh, and the role of Lee Gardner would be played by someone cool like Michael Shanks or Jerry O'Connell. Definitely.

K, I think I blew a cranial gasket...