Seattlite Once More

I’m back in Seattle finally, sitting in Zoka, drinking an iced chai, and listening as they play Andrew Bird’s Andrew Bird and the Mysterious Production of Eggs, an excellent album if I say so myself. Before I get into the “backness” of things, let me fill in a bit since when I departed.

I flew out Friday the 20th in the evening after a full day of work, tried to nap on the plane (with “plane dozing” about the sum of it), got into Philadelphia in the morning, and then had a speedy flight up from Philly to Manchester, where Dad picked me up, and we proceeded directly to Squam, where Mom and Freya already were. We all caught up a fair bit, and I filled them in on what’s been happening in my life, some of which simply doesn’t translate to text, public or private: there is the strain and timbre of the voice that carries a weight that is hard to convey with the same ease in written form. I am an ardent supporter of using the myriad forms of written communication to talk and discuss and communicate, but I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes it takes a face to face and voice to voice to get the right message across.

Uri didn’t show up until late that night, having had a late start in the morning driving up from DC due to getting his car serviced (a prudent decision, as much as the delay sucked). Finally meandered to bed around 3am for my first real sleep in two days (and my first sleep in an actual bed, not a futon, in months). Sunday brought JJ into the fold for a few days, and Mike and Mariah showed up for the day (with a 3 month old min-pin named Jack in tow), along with more catching up and chatting and, of course, finishing the final Harry Potter, which I managed to convince Mom to let me read first since I was only in town for a week. No spoilers or anything, but I did want to say that I thought it was a nice wrap up of the series — I really feel like she brought the arc to a good close, without leaving lots of things dangling. So, kudos to you, Ms. Rowling.

Monday involved swimming and relaxing and chatting, with the addition of Dave and Margot and their daughter Leah, who came out for the day. It was great to see them, and Leah was adorable and precocious (it occurs to me that some day a dozen years from now, Leah will be googling for her name and may come across this, and not even remember it, but it’s true: you were adorable when you were three years old, already counting and spelling and asking questions and learning how things worked. We rarely think about longevity in what we put out on the internet… maybe we should more often.)

JJ headed out Tuesday, and the rest of the week was basically just the family. I got to spend some quality time with my dog Freya, who lives with my parents (and is fiercely devoted to my mother, though she likes the rest of us well enough). She’s definitely my dog, though: dogs really do seem to imprint something from their owners, and a number of her tendencies definitely mimic those of Mickey, myself, and my parents. In particular, she seems to have my habit in liking to play and socialize, and then after go hang out somewhere quiet and private and safe to refresh. (There were several dogs throughout the week… the folks in the houses on either side of us had dogs, there was Jack the min-pin, and Dave and Margot’s dog India, whom she played with non-stop ALL DAY.) It was great to go swimming every day, get a little sun (light burn that is already faded, leaving just a slightest hint of more color than usual), reading, writing (not the kind of writing you’re thinking: I finished a new area that I’d been puttering on for Avatar for the past 5 years… I’d started it at the same time as the last area I wrote and put in, which took a few years and was put in two years ago… yeah), and just in general chillax. Didn’t worry about food or work or money for at least a little bit, and that was a nice break, above and beyond the fact that I got to see friends and family.

Friday night, we packed up and headed back to the Upper Valley, where I managed to catch up with Eli and even ran into Annah from high school, who was apparently part of a bachelorette party that night. It was great to catch up with her a bit — she’s looking great, and her husband sounds like an interesting fellow (a photographer, currently off in China for a few months). Hopefully we’ll keep in touch a bit. The next day was sort of a dud… Uri and I went out, but no one was around… and I mean no one. Called everyone we could and no responses. Did, however, get ahold of Chris, and arranged to do coffee with him and Gloria the next day, which was excellent.

After doing coffee with Chris and Gloria (which involved next to no actual coffee, it was mostly just a gab session, but that’s sort of why I call it “doing coffee” rather than getting a cup of coffee — the coffee is irrelevant other than as a mechanism to bring people together, like “doing lunch”), Uri and I were chased by a crazy guy who kept on trying to convince us to give him a ride and who knows what else (his voice kept on undulating between semi-coherence and mumbling). We managed to get away, went and did dinner with Mom and Dad, and then headed south to Eli’s house, where we caught up with a slew of people. I managed to get ahold of Bethany and convinced her to come down as well. It was great to see her and talk a bit — I’m pretty sure I’ve mentioned before that I used to have a crush on her (and I am of the opinion that crushes do not go away, they simply go dormant), so I suppose it goes without saying that I enjoy her company greatly.

Uri took off Monday morning, and plans to get picked up fell through, so I ended up spending the evening at home, which was fine. Tuesday involved lunch at the Orient with Mom and Dad and Eli, and then departing for the airport. Mom and Dad saw me to the airport, fond farewells and all that… and then the fun began.

It seems that the flight coming from Cincinnati that was to take me down to Atlanta to catch my plane to Seattle had not yet arrived. In fact, it hadn’t even lifted off. Mechanical trouble. The expected departure time kept on creeping forward in increments of 15, until they finally confirmed “yes, it has lifted off, we WILL be taking off at 8:45”. (It was supposed to take off at 5:36). Needless to say, I missed my connecting flight by just under 3 hours, getting into the airport around midnight. Delta set us up with hotels and rescheduled our flights, and about half the plane trudged off grumpily to various hotels around Atlanta to catch what sleep they could.

Got checked in to the hotel a little before 1, and was asleep not long after, sleeping fitfully for the 3-4 hours I had before I needed to be up and hopping BACK onto the shuttle to the airport. Got to my gate, checked in, got my seat, and tried to doze in the seats by the gate waiting for the flight. Of course, there was a small problem: so many people had been shunted around due to not one but TWO overly delayed flights the previous night that the morning flight was overbooked, heavily. They started offering $400 and an upgrade to first class to those willing to wait until 6:30pm, when room really opened up.

I really wish I could have afforded to take that, since that’s $400 towards any flight, anywhere, anytime in the next year (it’s not frequent flier points, it’s more like a gift certificate). That’s a trip back east, say, next year, when we’re having a family reunion. I couldn’t justify it, however: I had already missed one extra day of work due to this snafu, and it being the first, my rent was due, which meant I needed to get home in time to actually a) pay it, and b) deposit the paychecks that had arrived while I was gone so I COULD pay it — i.e. during business hours. However, they did also offer $200 dollars and confirmed seating for the next flight out (about an hour and a half later, which would put me in at noon instead of 11… don’t ask me how they shave a half hour off these things). THAT, I took, which means I now have $200 towards any flight Delta will fly for the next year… domestic, international, whenever, whatever. Given that I have a court date for that ridiculous speeding ticket the Monday following the Morison trustee meeting, I STILL can’t make it to that (nor would it cover it all… a good rate for a round trip ticket from Seattle to New England is ranging in the $350-450 range, assuming you have time to wait for a deal, which I don’t). That said, it almost exactly covers the cost of flying round trip to Los Angeles or the Bay Area, and given I have friends in both areas I would like to visit, as well as potential job prospects in both areas, having this little nest egg dedicated to air travel is NICE. It means I can afford to fly down if an opportunity presents itself, and see people to boot (or vice versa, but the miser in me says I really should try and make it do double duty if I can).

Got in, paid for my car parking (11 days is painful! But it would have been worse parking at the airport… hopefully next time I’ll be able to impose on a friend for the inconvenience of dropping me off and picking me up), and made it home by 2, not only in one piece, but with my luggage to boot! It managed to make it onto the morning flight that I passed up, which meant it was waiting for me when I got in, with no real issues other than some fretting while still on the plane. Showered, deposited pay checks, paid rent, and was asleep by 8. Good to be home.

Learning to Wait

So, I’m currently sitting in the Manchester, NH Airport, awaiting the first leg of my flight home (more on my excellent vacation later), which should have left over two hours ago (the currently scheduled departure time is 8:45pm, putting me in to Atlanta around 11pm, an hour and a half after my second leg is supposed to have left. Needless to say, I won’t be making it home tonight as I’d planned, and instead will be put up in a hotel courtesy of Delta Airlines, and instead put on a flight bright and early tomorrow morning. I’ve already let work know that I won’t be in until Thursday, and there’s not much else I can do, so I’m just taking it all in stride: given the morning flight and late arrival, I won’t be able to do much enjoying of Atlanta, but still, I’m not paying for the hotel, so why stress about it?

It’s been a good break, a time to re-collect myself, relax, go swimming, get some sun, and assess what I should do next. I’d hardly call it a battle plan, but I do at least have a sense of what I should be doing or trying next, and that’s a good start. To everyone I managed to catch up with: it was great to see you! To everyone I missed: next time, or come visit me!

Thump Thump Thump

Sorry for the radio silence for the past week. Life is, as ever, a quixotic complication of schedules, stresses, and situations, all requiring time and attention. Needless to say, while I could have found the time, I opted instead to not worry about it, and focus on other things. Will I be continuing the music posts? Yeah, probably, but I think I’m done doing them daily for now. There is no shortage of music to talk about, but when you’re coming home wiped and it’s 103 degrees in your apartment, you simply don’t want to sit at the computer and write a review. While writing every day is important, it should be because you’re passionate about it, not because you feel a sense of obligation — that’s a surefire way to douse the spark before it even has time to light. (As Heinlein said: “If you happen to be one of the fretful minority who can do creative work, never force an idea; you’ll abort it if you do. Be patient and you’ll give birth to it when the time is ripe. Learn to wait.“)

I’ve been continuing to work doing game testing, which has been good. I get along well enough with my coworkers, and while I do get up early, and have to deal with 520 traffic heading home (which often leaves me knackered by the time I get home, regardless of how I felt when I left work), it’s still an enjoyable gig, and I feel like I’m DOING something (most of the time… every once in a while we get a day where we’ve done the testing we needed to do, and are simply waiting for a newly corrected build from the developer, so we’re basically just playing through the game trying to think of a new way to break things then, and that ends up feeling like makework for this late in the cycle). I’ve been chatting with a few of my co-workers about doing a mod, as we all have different “other” abilities to bring to the table… one is a modeler and texture artist, one is a programmer, I do production/writing/design, so the idea currently is to brainstorm a project that allows us each to showcase what we excel at. I’ll definitely keep folks in the loop as things solidify with that.

Things I’d like to get back to doing:
1) Photographing regularly (daily would be ideal, but weekly would do).
2) Writing (in particular working on some fiction).
3) Programming (Objective-C)
4) 70 a character in WoW, 75 a character in FFXI
5) Studying and writing about game design.

Tech Adventures

Most of the time, my computers are a delight to use: reliable, fast, clean, effective. But every so often, bad things happen, for inexplicable reasons. Case in point: my MacBook Pro. The machine has had its issues for a long time, as it’s a revision A, purchased 5 minutes after the keynote that they were first announced at, and as most techies will attest, you take your chances to be at the bleeding edge. I had heat issues, battery issues, logic board issues, pretty much the full gamut of problems that people have listed with the early releases. But, by and large, it’s been a good computer, and I’m happy with the purchase regardless.

A few days ago, the video abruptly started to have issues. Text became nearly illegible, colors were completely off (and in some — but not all — cases, inverted), with bizarre technicolor dithering happening where smooth gradients once lay. As some of you are aware, I’m broke, so I REALLY can’t afford to have my machines fail on me right now, because I simply can’t pay the money necessary to repair them in the case of hardware issues, as my warranty has expired. These symptoms reek of a video card failure, so I was concerned to say the least, and turned the machine off for the rest of the week, until I’d have the weekend to work on it.

My first step was to think about what I’d been doing when this first appeared: I’d just installed the Audio Update from Apple via Software Update, and when it restarted, that’s when these issues cropped up. So, maybe an issue with that? Quick check of known issues (Macintouch and MacFixit are both handy for their user reports for this) revealed nothing. I tried rebooting a few times, and it didn’t go away. I then tried booting into my Windows partion, and while there I was still having issues, when I booted back into OS X, the problems went away until I next rebooted. This gave me hope that it’s not actually a hardware problem, as I was able to reproduce this every time.

It then occurred to me that I’d been doing the phone flashing and modding in the Windows partition, then booted back to the Mac side, then did the Audio update… so it’s entirely possible that something done during that had caused an issue, and I simply hadn’t created circumstances for it to show up until then… so I wiped my Boot Camp partition. Still happening… hmm. So, I put the laptop into target disk mode and backed up my user directory to the desktop, and did a clean install, complete with zeroing data.

The display was still screwy. Well… shit. At least I’d been meaning to clear out and reorganize my laptop anyway. The next step (and probably should have been an earlier step) was to start ticking through different hardware reset methods, things like reseting the NVRAM and the SMC. So, powered down, took out the battery, held the power button for a few seconds (reset the SMC). Reset the VNRAM (option, command, p, r) while booting up, and suddenly no more issues, including across another half dozen test reboots.

I still don’t know what caused the initial problem, and likely never will — I certainly hope it doesn’t come back! Mostly I wanted to share what I’ve been doing all day, and hopefully provide some helpful information for the next poor schmoe who has something like this happen and is Googling for Mac video issues. Tomorrow, I’ll likely be spending the day sifting through my old user directory, and deciding which things I want to put back onto the laptop. Not exactly how I would have liked to spend a gorgeous summer weekend, but sometimes you just have to do what you have to do.

Glory by Essie Jain

I know I’ve heard this song somewhere else, but for the life of me, I can’t place where. I do, however, know where I was (re)introduced to it: this afternoon, driving home from work, Essie Jain came into KEXP for a live performance and interview, and I immediately became enamored with this young lady from London. Her interview was delightful and personable, and the music was simply stunning. She’s currently touring for the release of her first album, We Made This Ourselves, of which “Glory” is the first track.

If you’re looking for layers or technical complexity, then you’re looking in the wrong place. “Glory” is primarily a vocalist and guitar, with another guitar accompanying, adding texture to the melody. That’s about it. Despite this simplicity (or perhaps because of it), “Glory” manages to capture a particular mood and atmosphere that simultaneously reminds me of walking in the summer twilight as the day’s heat cools off, and spending an evening curled up by a fireplace with a good book and hot chocolate as the snow falls outside. It may seem odd at first to have these two images juxtaposed, but if you think about it, they both depict the same sort of mellow, dreamy state of being. It’s a great feeling to have, and that essence distilled into a song is equally great to listen to.

[“Glory” by Essie Jain Free MP3]

[Official Site]

[Essie Jain on MySpace]

Successful Hackery

I managed to successfully hack my phone as I’d mentioned planning to do. I’m definitely glad I gave myself the day to work on it, as the process ended up taking me a good chunk of the day. After that, re-syncing it my computer addressbook, then shuffling contacts around, then adding the contacts that for various reasons were only on my old phone (ie, never got around to adding them to my official addressbook)… well, yeah, you get the picture. Long, semi-annoying day of jiggering things.

Needless to say, there won’t be a song review today. Happy Fourth of July, everyone!

Gone for Good by Morphine

Today I’d like to go back to an old favorite, Morphine. On this day in 1999, Mark Sandman, front man of Morphine, died of a heart attack while on stage in Italy. While I’m sure he would have preferred to not die, I suspect that he would have appreciated going out playing as he did. Sandman (and his compatriots in the band) was a consummate musician, often playing unique, heavily modified instruments to create an unparalleled, interesting sound. Given the circumstances, the song I selected seems perhaps a little morbid, but appropriate: “Gone for Good” off Yes.

It’s a quiet song, just sparse guitar work and Sandman’s deep, resonating vocals. The lyrics paint a clear picture, and really conveys a sense of loneliness and rejection, the unrequited lover coming to terms with the realities of a situation. “Never gonna walk up your walk and ring your bell and feel you fall into my arms. No, never gonna see you again — you’re gone for good.”

At various points in my life, this song has really struck a personal chord with me. I won’t say all, but I imagine most of us have gone through one of these periods, where friends or family are dying, or you’ve been rejected by the love of your life, or hell, all of the above. You feel fragile, right on the hairy edge of breaking, as you realize the loss. This song perfectly captures that. This may, perhaps, depress some, but I hope that listeners will be able to appreciate the craftsmanship inherent in capturing that emotion and distilling it in a song regardless of the mood it may direct you to.

[“Gone for Good” on iTunes]

[Morphine on Wikipedia]

Tomato Song by PWRFL POWER

I’ll admit it: I’m a big fan of KEXP, and often end up raiding their fine selection of Song of the Day Podcasts for songs to review. I also, however, read their blog, where they often link to some really interesting independent artists, alternative tracks, remixes, and things you might not always hear on the radio. That would be the case with “Tomato Song” by PWRFL POWER. I haven’t been able to find info on buying an actual album, but he (yeah, it’s one guy, Kazutaka Nomura, a 22 year old Japanese International Student, currently living in Seattle) is apparently touring a fair bit (mostly in Japan). He’ll be at the Capitol Hill Block Party at the end of the month, but I’ll still be in Vermont. Ah well.

It’s an interesting song: acoustic guitar with an interesting progression, and simply sung lyrics, which gives a sort of childlike feel to the song that belies the nuances within the lyrics. There’s nothing grandiose or overly complex about the song: it’s simply good. I imagine he would be a great live show, so those of you on the east coast or in Japan, go check him out while you can (tour dates and locations are on his MySpace).

[“Tomato Song” by PWRFL POWER Free MP3]

[PWRFL POWER on MySpace]

Twitch, Twitch, New Phone

No, not an iPhone. They’re pretty awesome (swung by the Apple Store and played with one), but I ended up making use of the “new every two” feature of my current contract to pick up a Motorola K1m instead. It’s a sexy little phone, and I like it a lot… physically. The interface, however, leaves a LOT to be desired. This is not Motorola’s fault, mind you: Moto’s standard interface is pretty kickass. It’s Verizon. They made their own UI, and it’s ugly as sin, and literally SATURATED with Verizon and V Cast branding, all the way down to advertising V Cast both when turning the phone ON and when turning it OFF, and when talking on the phone, the outside screen has a giant Verizon Wireless logo glowing, making you a walking advertisement. This is patently ridiculous, with added insult in that they turned off core functionality of the phone to make room for their branded materials. The ever so handy shortcut keys? The only things useful that aren’t just links to V Cast or Get It Now services are the alarm clock, calculator, and calendar. I really wasn’t expecting this level of stupidity, since they didn’t do nearly as much of this with the 710 I was using before.

So, I’ve had the phone for a day, and I’m already poring over sites online about how to change the firmware. It looks like I’ll need to do it in my Windows partition, as there are several tools that are currently still PC only (though ports are being worked on), but otherwise the materials necessary to re-flash the phone are readily available. I really hate that I feel like this is a necessary step to enjoy my phone, but it really, really is. If any VZW reps happen to read this (the chances of which are increased by my including brand names and such), PLEASE stop dumbing down your phones! Leave them as is! Motorola has better UI designers than you, let them do their job! It would do a lot to assuage the perception of you as an “evil corporation” if you stopped fucking over your customers like this. You’re Verizon, we’re not going to forget your fucking name, you reeeeally don’t need to inundate us with your branding when we already have your service.

No Song Today

Nor tomorrow, methinks. There are a few other things I need to work on, so the music reviews will go on a brief hiatus, and will restart on Monday the 2nd. That’s just four days (well, essentially 3), so not too big a deal (especially since two of those days I wouldn’t have been writing a music post anyway), but I wanted to let it be known that I’m still committed to it.

In the meantime:

Creepy-Sexy: The Doll (YouTube Video, Dialup Beware)

Just-Plain-Odd: The Algorithm March (YouTube Video, Dialup Beware)