Thursday, December 30, 2010

Angry Birds vs Transatlantic Flight

The Angry Birds won.
I've resisted loading many games on my iPad, mostly because I know myself. My level of obsession in any activity is inversely proportional to how useful and productive that activity is. Kind of like my dating life before the Jumping Bean.

But Pac and the iPad have something in common... when not connected to the internets we get sad and twitchy. My disconnected iPad's character changes completely. It no longer serves as my nine-inch window to the world and becomes... an eBook reader.

Don't get me wrong, I enjoy reading. But I would have kept my Kindle if that's all I needed to keep me occupied on a nine hour flight. So before the trip I installed Angry Birds.

Those birds served their purpose and kept me occupied the entire flight home Monday. And Monday evening. And Tuesday morning. (Late for work.) Tuesday night into the wee hours of Wednesday morning...

Those pigs are pissing me off.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Best Christmas Ever

I can't say my 4-day Christmas weekend was relaxing, but it was awesome. We got to Brussels early Christmas morning and checked into our hotel. The first thing we did was order a bottle of champagne from room service.


I was expecting Christmas night to be quiet and dull, but I was wrong. Not far from our hotel was a Christmas festival crowded with revelers. Row upon row of booths sold everything from toys, clothing and jewelry to food and gl├╝hwein. (Vin chaud, or mulled wine, guaranteed to keep you warm.)


As the cup kept my fingers warm and music filled the air, it struck me that everyone was in groups of friends, families with children or couples. And it made me glad I was able to join JB on his trip so that neither of us had to be alone on Christmas.


I was mesmerized by one of the carousels at the festival. I'm not sure I would have appreciated it as a child, in fact I'm sure it would have scared the crap out of me. Even from my mature perspective, it definitely doesn't seem like a suitable children's amusement ride. Not without a tetanus booster and a liability waver signed by both parents. It's a Victorian steam-punk contraption that reminded me of Something Wicket This Way Comes.





Sunday was relaxing and fun. We got up early and were the first to hit the hotel's breakfast buffet. (I wasn't going all the way to Belgium without having waffles.) We met up with some of the other crew members in a pub and shared drinks and laughter by a roaring fire. But the flight home was looming in the back of my mind. Fortunately I was able to get a seat on JB's flight Monday morning. As I watched JB work I realized how much he enjoys his job and how good he is at it, and I thought about how that creates a self-reinforcing cycle. He wore his reindeer antlers which delighted the children onboard, and the grownups too. He related genuinely with the passengers in his cabin and, before landing, took time to thank each one personally.

As we touched down in Atlanta JB gave the standard "Welcome to Atlanta, please remain in your seats..." announcement. At the end he threw in, "On behalf of your Atlanta-based flight crew, I hope you had a merry Christmas and would like to wish each of you a happy, healthy and prosperous 2011!" This was met with spontaneous applause from the passengers. I joined in and added a whistle.

Friday, December 24, 2010

European Christmas Vacation


Since JB was scheduled to lay over in Brussels over Christmas, we tentatively planned for me to accompany him this trip. I say "tentatively" because pass travel is an adventure at the best of times, and all travel plans are at the mercy of current passenger loads. Sure, you can look ahead and say a flight looks good, but one cancellation can change the game completely. But when it does work out, it's a beautiful thing.

Today's flight looks wide open with a nearly empty front cabin. But even on the off chance I sit in coach, I'll still get VIP service due to my sleeping with the lead flight attendant.

The flight back on the other hand is looking iffy. As I sit in the airport lounge drinking a beer and watching the CNN Airport Channel, I see the headline "Winter Storm brings Charles de Gaul Airport To A Standstill."

Dang. CDG was my Plan B for getting home Monday. Next headline: "Delta Cancels 300 Flights in Atlanta -- Rain, snow & ice expected tomorrow."

Time to order a second beer. My butterflies are thirsty.

Location:ATL Concourse E

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Night Devine

There's a moment when you know it's Christmas. I had one tonight. At a gay karaoke bar.



Sorry there's no video. I put the phone down on the table to listen. But I'm glad I left the recorder running.

Its not me hooting. But I was the one who kept saying "Wow, wow...".

Merry Christmas!

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Double Boiling

After my brush with death making brittle the other day, I decided to keep the baking and candy-making to a minimum. Although I still need to break out the double boiler, what could be easier than dipping things in melted chocolate?

Fifty weeks of the year I shy away from white chocolate. It's like taking all that makes chocolate holy, then choosing what's left. Cocoa butter. It really doesn't deserve to even be called chocolate, but "edible moisturizer" doesn't sell. However the dipped pretzels are a hit every year, and have become a Casa Midtown tradition. Plus they sort of look festive.


But I am still tempted to try Stevie's Chocolate Crinkle Cookies. What could be better than half brownie, half cookie and half powdered sugar? Yum!

FaceTime Well Spent?

When you've been with someone fourteen years...

I love that he got me my new iPhone for Christmas.

But I expected more from our first long distance Facetime chat. JB was not at all happy with how he looked, because THAT was he was focusing on. The tiny window showing his face was all he could see. The big window with me in it meant nothing.

And his face looked so nice to me.

All I gotta say is that Jumping Bean better get with the times. And quick.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Light

I was raised Catholic but in my heart I know I'm 97% pagan. The remaining 2% is a mixture of Buddhism, Judaism, Neoplatonism, Southern Baptist and Mathematician. I thought for a while about joining that Heaven's Gate church. I loved the astronomy but hated the shoes. (Are there any cults that wear Pumas?)

Also, I've dabbled. I mean, get on your knees once and you're a catechumen, twice and you're an alter boy. I remember once I was being... but I digress*. Where was I? Ah yes, Paganism.

It doesn't surprise me that this time of year held a special place to our great grandmonkeys. The longest night of the year, coming with the faint promise of Spring. It's like seeing the light at the end of the tunnel when you're still only three-eighths of they way in.

We totally take light for granted. In fact, I cant seem to get away from it. Not only does it seep in through the curtains at all hours, but every new gadget I bring into the house has two or thirteen glowy, blinky LEDs on it. When I was little the only night-light I had to comfort me was my mom's glowing cigarette butt rising and falling in the dark. Now it's like trying to sleep in that sad glass cage at the airport, but without all the emphysema.

Once in college I took an unofficial tour of an old copper mine. I and some fraternity brothers snuck into the abandoned shaft, making sure we each had two working flashlights going in. Deep inside we all turned them off for a good ten minutes. Even giving our eyes time to adjust, it was the darkest dark I'd ever seen.

That's what impressed me most from that elicit expedition. After the first few moments, our echoing laughter faded to a creepy silence. The darkness went from being the mere lack of light to become a physical, palpable entity wrapping itself around us. I began to feel claustrophobic and I realized that without our flashlights, we would literally die. There would have been no way we could have blindly found our way out of that labyrinth while avoiding the dangerous pits and flooded shafts.

So it makes perfect sense to me that, at a time when light was a precious and limited resource, people would find any reason to celebrate turning the corner and put the longest night behind them.

And of course, they'd celebrate with light.








* My apologies to Doctor Evil.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Chocolate Death Chews

After reading about Randy P's awesome sounding chocolate coated cashew brittle I decided to try it myself. Since I didn't have a candy thermometer, I had to use my inner Julia to tell my soft crack from a hard crack. Evidently my inner Julia is on crack.

I knew it literally wasn't brittle when I could use a pizza cutter to make bite-size morsels. I forged ahead anyway and dipped them in dark Belgian chocolate. The next morning I looked them over. They looked good. Real good. So I popped one in my mouth.

Whatever it was that I made, it wasn't candy. It wasn't even edible. In fact, it almost killed me. It stuck to every part of my mouth that didn't have the good sense to excrete protective mucous. Then it went for my throat, and that's when my flight-or-fight instinct kicked in. Do I try to swallow this mess or do I try to spit it out? Either option seemed equally impossible.

Oddly my main concern was, do I remember the Heimlich from my Red Cross training? And would I be able to convey the instructions to JB in interpretive dance before running out of blood oxygen?

After my near-death experience I evaluated what was truly important in my life. Revenge. I marched straight to the Cook's Warehouse and bought a candy thermometer.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Gay Scarf Dance

Evidently scarves are all the rage with the gays this holiday season, if you watch Old Navy commercials. WTF?

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Pac's Column

Reading StevieB's post about his recent office move got me thinking about my current work habitat. I'm not close to any windows which is sad at this time of year when I spend most of the daylight hours in the office. I have an inside cubicle close to the heart of the building and I share my cube space with a building support column. It's like working in a phone booth with another, somewhat smaller phone booth inside it. What? What's a phone booth? How to explain... It's like working in a TARDIS... no, bad analogy, those are actually quite roomy inside. It's like working in a shoebox, with one shoe still in it. And someone is wearing the shoe.

The center of the floor has the elevators, stairs, restrooms and a mysterious chamber with a locked door marked "Mechanical/Electrical/Phone Room". Inside this room I can only imagine lives an angry dragon or large steam engine. All day long I can feel its pulsating energy. The fluorescent tubes and suspended ceiling tiles rattle overhead. A few unluckier employees, condemned to toil even closer to the beast, can't even focus on their computer screens unless they force themselves to relax and let their eyes vibrate in sync. Kind of like Jodie Foster riding the Machine in Contact.
Click to take a virtual spin of Pac's Cube!
Hey, it's cooler than it sounds. But not much.
For even more realism, do it during a 3.0 earthquake.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Made Worse Every Day

Lately I've been watching History Channel International more than the History Channel. Even though it's not in HD, it seems to have a bit more actual historical content and less Pawn Swamp Truck Ice Picking Logger Stars on it. I'm willing to submit that the average Nielsen family just isn't interested in true, educational history. But do they seriously find shows about the self-storage business more compelling?

And you knew it was only a matter of time before they pulled this...
sigh.

Monday, December 13, 2010

One Triggabyte

A technician working on a 1970's hard drive.
When I do remember my dreams it usually makes me wonder, "what the hell's going on in there?" I woke up this morning laughing with this quote in my head: "You taste like you brush your teeth with Bisquick." I have no idea what this means.

JB and I went to the mall on Saturday. I know, stupid. We were still a quarter mile from the exit when we got stuck in mall traffic. Another hour before we could find a parking space. "In and out!" JB kept saying. Right.

It was last August when a summer storm knocked out the power. When the power came back on, my old iMac could not be resuscitated. I've been making due since then with my iPad, waiting on my best behavior for Christmas when I was told I could get a new iMac.

I spent the rest of the weekend getting the new baby set up and importing our music and photos from the back-up drive. I remember when I first heard the term "terabyte". (Or "triggabyte" as my friend Larry calls it when he calls me for tech support.) I was working for an ISP that was expanding into national markets and growing rapidly. In a meeting one of the network engineers was describing a new email architecture. When he said our online storage was expanding to a terabyte, the geeks in the room gasped. At the time our entire customer email storage was operating within just a few gigabytes.

That was 1998. Today I find more gigabytes than that under the sofa cushions. And I'm just hoping we don't fill up our new triggabyte iMac drive with our mundane crap before I can absorb our christmas expenses and buy more storage.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Pot Luck

For this recipe and more, visit the Gallery of Regrettable Food!
Just finished my last night shift of the year! My job responsibilities occasionally require me to work maintenance and software releases at night to minimize potential customer impact. The only problem is that I'm still expected to show up at the office the next morning bright-eyed and bushy-tailed. With enough coffee I can manage bright-eyed, but I don't get paid enough to do bushy-tail.

Today was the IT department's holiday pot luck. Pot luck, even the name conveys the inherent uncertainty and potential for adventure. And in my office, it was sure to be a multicultural adventure. I didn't provide a dish of my own. Not out of fear, although in this economy it's never wise to risk poisoning your coworkers. Through some oversight, the contract personnel were left off the invite list until the last minute. I suppose I could have thrown a casserole together last night. I was going to be up late anyway. Fortunately I had the perfect excuse to bail out of the event. Exhaustion.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Control Freak

I've always been a control freak. Not the stereotypical Type-A style control freak. I leave that particular disorder to my partner, JB. I'm way too lazy for that. (I prefer to think of it as "ambition economics".) I'm talking automation. As a kid I watched the Jetsons and wanted that lifestyle right then and there. Not so much the flying cars, although those would be cool too. I wanted that level of push-button convenience, like a bed that dressed me in the morning, and hands-free oral hygiene. And I got tired of waiting for it.

At age eleven I was building robots. I wasn't so much interested in an artificially intelligent companion, I was imagining an obedient servant. Looking back, it's ironic how much time and effort I spent trying to avoid making my bed.

My first attempt resulted in a trash can that rolled around in circles and spoke pre-taped lines recorded in a "robotic" version of my own voice. It was less Rosie and more C3PO, except even more useless and gay.

While Dad allowed me access to his workshop, my mother was never supportive of my hobby. Probably because household items, small appliances and wigs would go mysteriously missing only to turn up weeks later, assimilated into some fresh
Rube Gold-Borg monster. "Get that thing out of my sight!"

The robots got better over time but never really performed anything more useful than entertaining my friends and family. My final creation, Hankie 2, was a notorious womanizer; don't ask me how, don't ask me why. Countless hours of soldering and programming only to end up with a machine that moved and spoke like Steven Hawking but with the brain of Benny Hill.

One Christmas my relatives watched as Hankie 2 rolled up to my most prudish aunt and then, as if his proximity sensor failed, just kept rolling. To everyone's delight, Hankie disappeared under her skirt. Everyone, that is, except Aunt Judith who squealed and cursed at the electromechanical violator. Hankie's gears finally stopped grinding as he exclaimed to uproarious laughter, "It's dark in here!" At least his light sensor was still working.

Hankie even managed to eventually win Mom over when -- one night on his charger -- his infrared sensor detected her lighting up her 4am smoke and he asked, "What's cooking, good looking?" I sensed the shift when Mom started calling him by name. "Get Hankie out of my sight!"

I guess it should come as no surprise I went on to get my Electrical Engineering degree in control theory. Or that Casa Midtown is under complete computer control. Control which JB steadfastly refuses to relinquish without a fight. My programming efforts are constantly subverted by unplugged controllers, lamps and stereos which don't turn on because they were turned off the "wrong way" and systems mysteriously switched to manual override.

To accommodate JB's irrational need to decide for himself when lights should turn on and off, I've had to alter my dream of ultimate automation. The casa now keeps track of JB's whereabouts at all times and has a "Half_Jetson" mode and a "Full_Jetson" mode. Now I just have to figure out how to get Muncher (our Roomba) to only come out from under the bed in Full_Jetson mode. I'm tired of JB telling me, "Get that thing out of my sight!"

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

As The Shoppers Rush

During the hustle and bustle of the holiday season, my mind goes back to an experience from two years ago. JB and I were headed to some sort of holiday event, I cant remember exactly what. Even though we were already running late, we had to make a stop at Publix to pick up some party supplies. To save time, we planned a divide-and-conquer strategy, meeting back at the checkout. The store was typically busy for a Friday night on the week before Christmas and even though the cashiers and baggers were efficiently keeping the shoppers moving, the lines were about five carts deep. The boop boop of the bar code scans seemed to fit in time with the piped-in holiday music.

There must be some sort of cosmic law that states no matter which lane I choose, there's going to be a price check, a shopper that needs to run back for a forgotten item or one of those people who not only still pays with a check, but also needs to take the time to tediously record the transaction in their ledger to make sure the account is still in balance.

As I shifted my bag of ice between arms to check my watch, JB began motioning to draw my attention to the older gentleman waiting ahead of us. It looked like he was also on his way to a Christmas party. He was wearing red and green suspenders and a matching bow tie, and it occurred to me that his appearance and demeanor would be perfectly suited to a seasonal stint as a department store Santa. I silently hoped he wasn't packing a checkbook. We acknowledged each other's festive attire (I was wearing a Santa hat, JB had reindeer antlers on) and he winked from behind his bifocals. "Merry Christmas," he said.

"Merry Christmas," we responded obligingly.

When it was his turn, the man said something that made the cashier laugh cheerfully. I didn't pick the fastest lane, but ours seemed to be the warmest and happiest. The man and young woman had a friendly exchange as I was focussed on finding a spot on the conveyor belt to put down my ice. He wished her a "Merry Christmas!" as he took his bag and receipt. "Merry Christmas..." she said and watched him intently was he left the store. Then she looked to her nearest coworkers, as if she expected them to be watching.

As she turned back to her duties, I noticed her wipe a tear. She was still smiling but, while so gregarious a minute ago, she was now somewhere far away. She scanned half our groceries, then paused and looked up at us, her eyes pooling. "His card..." she hesitated for a second, as if embarrassed. Then her cheerful laughter returned as she resumed scanning and said, "The name on his credit card is 'Santa Clause'."

Monday, December 6, 2010

Do You Smell What I Smell

Its been a crazy week. Night shifts Tuesday through Friday, along with my normal daily responsibilities.

Toward the end of the week I thought I was going nuts each night when I'd sit at my computer desk at home working with our offshore personnel. Could it be my imagination? After a half hour into my online conference call with India, I could swear I smell curry. I need a good night's sleep. Or a vacation. Or intensive cultural sensitivity retraining.

Also this week, air traffic controllers go on strike in Spain. Who does that affect? Lots of people, I'm sure. And all of our weekend plans it turns out, when JB gets stuck over there on his layover.

He's finally back home tonight, after missing two of the most anticipated holiday parties of the season. But the season's still young. There are plenty of holiday memories yet to be made.

He tells me about his Spanish adventures while I try to make being back home compare to an unexpected paid vacation in Barcelona. A glass of red wine, some guitar music, Totino's pizza tapas... I know, I'll light some candles.

"Where are those candles you said you bought at Pier One the other day?"

"In the den, next to the computer. Behind the door."

"Found them!"

Seriously. Who would buy curry scented candles?

Friday, December 3, 2010

Misfits

After reconnecting with my old elementary and high school friends on Facebook, I've come to realize that I was perfectly okay losing touch with most of them. It's amazing how far apart we all drifted ideologically over the years.

But maybe, just maybe, there is an upside to reconnecting with them...



If it helps put things in perspective, this one popped up a few moments later...



It's obvious that Rudolph's underlying message of understanding, tolerance and respect -- even for those quite different from yourself -- is lost to some. To them it's just a cute story.

Or maybe, they just never had the opportunity to know how it feels to be a misfit.

I remember how much, at one time, I wanted to fit in with these people. How much I wanted them to like me. How they seemed to know even before I did that I was a "faggot".

Then again, maybe it's me who's finally grasping the true meaning of this story. What would I be?... where would I be?... who would I be if I "fit in" with these folks? I can tell you right now I certainly wouldn't have a Mexican husband. Thank God for unanswered prayers, right Garth?

How fortunate and truly thankful I am for the things that make me different. Thank you Rudolph! Hermey, you're amazing just the way you are. And Yukon Cornelius, I'll be woofing you later, you hot ginger git.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Working From Home

I've never been much for computer games, but one day I decided to pick up a copy of The Sims. On a Saturday afternoon I installed it and gave it a try. I built some little sim houses then started adding sim characters, learning how to customize the appearance and personalities of each one. Just for fun I made a Sim Pac and a Sim Jumping Bean and set them free in their swanky sim casa. As I watched the game unfold, I could see Sim JB getting increasingly frustrated as he cleaned up behind Sim Pac. For his part, Sim Pac alternated between sitting at the computer, watching TV and eating. There was something about that little storm cloud over Sim JB's head that seemed so realistic, so... familiar. I cautiously lifted my eyes from the game to see the real JB, swiffer duster in hand, glaring at me. I never felt the need to play Sims -- or any other computer game -- since.

I mention this because occasionally my job allows me to work from home. I don't usually like working from home because I'm way too easily distracted. Lingering household projects and chores which blithely languish all weekend suddenly start itching my brain when I'm sitting at my computer at 2:30 on a Wednesday afternoon. And the television calls my name. "Pac... Pac... Daytime television is quality television. Turn me on, Pac. You're perfectly justified catching a little CNBC. My random TiVo suggestions will take it from there."

It's even worse when JB is home. JB is a fight attendant and it seems like he's home a lot. But whether he's at home or away on a trip, he's always busy, always doing something. The idea that productive work could be accomplished while sitting passively at a computer, fingers barely moving, just doesn't register with him. Individually he understands the words "knowledge" and "worker". He just can't put them together. More than once I found myself trying to write code over the noise of the vacuum cleaner, finally giving up when the Dyson starts slamming repeatedly into the back of my chair. It's passive-aggressive way of telling me "one person here is accomplishing useful work while the other is not". To JB, computers are for wasting time on Facebook, playing stupid simulation games and the occasional wank.

And to him, Pac at work looks exactly like Pac at play.

That's why I like to make that distinction perfectly clear for him by getting the hell out of the house each weekday morning. Then at the end of the day I can come home feigning exhaustion and flop dramatically on the couch with a beer in one hand and remote control in the other. If I make a good enough show of it, he may even bring the beer and remote to me. There's just no way that would ever happen if JB actually saw me "working". Nope. He'd point me directly to the baskets of unfolded laundry still hot from the dryer or put a toilet brush in my hand and send me scrubbing.

Fortunately, JB was out of the house when I worked from home today. That gave me the peace and quiet I needed to productively enjoy this...


How did I miss this theatrical release? God bless you BET! Sticky Fingaz perfectly
reprises the Jennifer Anniston role for 1/250th of the cost, with the savings directly
creating even more jobs for little people.


And learning important facts like this...


I heard about the Sally Hemings thing, but
that's just damn freaky.


~

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

When I Knew I Was A Bear Lover

Please tell me I wasn't the only little boy with a thing for Yukon...


Real men do wear muffs but carry their breast-parka-pocket pens sans protector. And they love tinsel. Remember kids, bumbles bounce!