Last Day of May, 2015

Sitting in the Lyon Street Cafe with a journal book, a notebook, a Chromebook, Esperanza Street, and Rudy Rucker‘s recently released Journals 1990-2014. The work book, apparently, covers a lot of ground.

June approaches, and with it a titanic pile of work. In the day job the current project will hit the “WE HAVE ONE MONTH LEFT” milestone tomorrow. In Master Lee’s class we have one week until the Festival of the Arts performance. Rick and I are fitting in private practice sessions whenever we can, to offset the time we spend teaching in class.

But the biggest news involves Caffeinated Press, and it comes in two parts. First, today is the last day for submission to Brewed Awakenings II, the house anthology of short stories. Tomorrow we start looking at all of the submissions and figuring out which ones will make it into the anthology. I don’t know the exact submission count, but I do know it is probably closer to 100 than it is to 50.

The second is The 3288 Review. Submissions are rolling in. At the same time we are working on the website (going live very soon!) and meeting frequently to hash out the final details of design, distribution, etc.

Oh yeah: June is when we set up our new office space on Kalamazoo Ave, just south of 28th Street.

In the spare moments left after all of this, I still have a house to maintain and numerous repairs and upgrades.

And at some point I will need sleep and/or food.

Hello, April!

Well, it’s been a quiet week here in Lake Wobegon Grand Rapids, near the shores of Lake Michigan. Spring has sprung with the crocuses running rampant in neighborhood lawns and our first, albeit brief, thunderstorm Thursday morning. Work has been quiet thanks to the one hand being out of synch with the other, though that will likely change very soon. Bench time is a precious commodity and not to be wasted on frivolous pursuits. We will shortly move into our new office space on the fourth floor of 99 Monroe Ave, overlooking, um, Z’s Bar and Restaurant.

Energy level in Master Lee’s classes is still high. The students are practicing hard, and we are giving them a lot to practice. We have two upcoming events – our annual demonstration at the Grand Rapids Festival of the Arts on Saturday, June 6; and our Sifu Day celebration on August 8. We seem to have passed a tipping point of some kind and have a lot of students suddenly learning more advanced forms.

Caffeinated Press is going strong! We have at least three novels in the editing pipeline and many stories submitted for Brewed Awakenings II. The 3288 Review is approaching the edge of the precipice where it goes from being an idea to being A Thing. I have a stack of lit journals on my coffee table which is approaching two feet tall. We are homing in on the format we want, and from there on to the amount of content we can have for each issue. Then we need to figure out advertising, distribution, compensation, all that fun stuff.

All this is lead-up to our community introduction event at Schuler Books and Music this upcoming Monday, April 6, at 7:00pm. We hope to see a room-full of writers to whom we can offer our services as editors and publishers. Word on the street is that we will have something close to a full house. I am allowing myself to be cautiously optimistic. Regardless, We can expect a significant surge in submissions.

All of which is to say, Spring will be busy, and summer likely moreso. But all in a good way.

Late March Update – Corporate Training and Hula Hoops

I feel a little off-balance this weekend. Most of this previous week was taken up with corporate training in Chicago. The training itself was, to my surprise, interesting, though I will likely have little opportunity to make use of any of it. I’m programmer. They don’t let me talk to clients, which is probably for the best.

I only had a couple of hours free to explore the neighborhood. Monday afternoon I walked around Millennium Park for an hour, and at the end sat and watched a group of beautiful young women dancing with hula hoops. A group of break dancers set up nearby and began popping and locking and experimenting with other styles for which I have no vocabulary. Then the two groups started to interact, which was hypnotic and in the smoother moments looked a lot like tai chi.

Thursday, between the end of the training and my cab ride back to the airport I hit the Chicago Art Institute and wandered around the Impressionists – Monet and Cezanne and Gaugin and Toulouse-Lautrec and Renoir and so many others. Again, I don’t have the vocabulary to describe most of what I saw, other than a sustained sense of wonder. Paris Street, Rainy Day by Gustave Caillebotte, made the strongest impression (heh). The way he created reflections of a cloudy sky in the puddles between cobblestones. The slight haze in the air suggesting warm weather. The glow in the sky that felt like spring.

I missed several classes and with the intense schedule had little time to practice on my own, though I did try to wake up early enough to get in some breathing exercises, and watch the rising sun hit the top of the downtown skyscrapers.

My driver for the cab ride back to the airport was a 70-ish Polish immigrant conspiracy theorist. He had many thoughts about Freemasons and the use of mass media, particularly TV, to manipulate the ignorant masses. I think he was surprised when he found out I knew the lingo and could hold a respectful conversation with him. I didn’t tell him it was because Foucault’s Pendulum was one of my favorite books.

I think he was not used to having actual conversations with his fares because he opened up about his life – what it was like to live in and leave Poland, post- WWII, and that his father was an Auschwitz survivor. He had a big axe to grind about Germany and Russia, and the destruction caused by the struggle over the ownership of Poland. Moving borders can act like bulldozers, and when several parties claim the same piece of land there may be nothing left when the dust settles.

So here I am, working on Editing, Operations, and Marketing for Caffeinated Press. Our big Schuler Books and Music event takes place on April 6. Already word is getting out, and we have a steady but increasing flow of queries to manage. Talent and genre run the gamut, and I am happy to report that everything we have seen is better than average. There is a lot of talent out there.

Now off to enjoy this beautiful Spring morning.

Time Keeps On

Over four months after my last entry here, I find time for another one.

Life got busy for me right at the beginning of May. Master Lee went on vacation, visiting his students in Vietnam and Australia, so class suddenly became much busier. This continued right up through Memorial Day and into the Festival of the Arts performance. I turned 43 on June 5, and took the next week off from work. Spent a few days exploring Traverse City, then suddenly started a new relationship with a beautiful, amazing woman. This led directly to me being involved in a summer solstice celebration, where I collaborate with some people to project Flash visuals (fire, water, evolving plants, snowflakes) on the side of a barn and silo. Right after that, a big project kicked off at work, and that has kept me pretty busy since then.

The work has been interesting. It is a PhoneGap project, using a lot of HTML5/CSS3/jQuery and associated technologies. We used an in-house MVC platform, which was a first for me (using MVC, that is), so I had to negotiate quite a learning curve. Also learned a tremendous amount about jQuery Deferreds, hardware-accelerated CSS animations, custom event listeners, and how the MVC stack keeps disparate parts of an app in synch. I discovered how frustrating it can be to debug mobile applications. The Dalvik Debug Monitor, as good as it is generally, does tend to crash with irritating frequency. Fortunately, 90% of debugging can be done in a desktop browser. But holy cow, can that last 10% be frustrating.

Okay; enough of this for now. When I have time I will post a list of the specific issues I came across, and how I solved them.

Day 2

…it’s not that I’m worried about finding work, or making money. It’s more a sense of bewilderment. Though I have expected this day for over a year, and have been preparing things for the eventuality, actually walking through that door was a bit of a shock. I have abruptly gone from too much to do in too little time, to the opposite – all the time in the world, and no clue what I am going to do with it. Not having the pressure of a restricted schedule makes lessens the drive to make efficient use of any given moment.

Back at the beginning of the year I made a list of about thirty chores and small jobs which could reasonably be accomplished in about fifteen minutes. Given two hours of free time a day, fifteen minutes is a lot of time. With sixteen hours or more a day, yeah, fifteen minutes is fifteen minutes.

This is the third job in 23 years from which I have been let go. The first one was a produce factory in Eaton Rapids. I was a green-season employee, took a sick day, and was fired the next day. A couple of years later I spent a few weeks working as a landscaper. Started fun, ended badly when the company went out of business. Such is life.

I think my first act will be to spend a week clearing my head. Next week I will start making decisions.

Some New Stuff

I have been doing a lot of Flash work lately, so in an effort to shamelessly promote my talents I now have an experiments section. You can see the button at the top of the page, nestled in between “About” and “Links”

Also: As of November 1, 2007, BBK Studio (my former and current place of employment) is now People Design. We ushered in the new era with a grand party at the new Grand Rapids Art Museum, which is big and beautiful (as is their website, which we built).

Flash in the Can, Part 1: Outwitting Fate

Awoke at 3:00am from a restless three hours to get a jump on the day. Left Grand Rapids around 3:30 in rental car (a Mazda) made necessary by the sudden death of my Saturn (stabbed in the back with an SUV). Hit the highway out of town and headed East.

First part of the trip was uneventful. Saw many interesting things, such as tail-lights, head-lights and…pavement. Passed within a few miles of the Ryan Lee ancestral home. Learned many interesting things about Ryan. Drank coffee concentrate to stay awake.

I-69 turned into I-94, and I-94 turned into 401 as we crossed the border. Passed USA-side toll gate with no difficulty. Bridge over the border was beautiful, with a false dawn turning the eastern horizon a opalescent gray. Stopped to present bona-fides at Canadian bridge.

Canadian gate was guarded by something much like a Marine, complete with buzz-cut, piercing blue eyes, and a bullet-proof vest. Proof of American citizenship was demanded. We each handed over our Michigan drivers’ licenses. Dialogue follows:

Guard: I need to see proof of American Citizenship.
Me: Like what?
Guard: Birth Certificate or Passport
Me: Here’s my passport.
Ryan: Here’s my social security card.
Guard: That does me no good.
Ryan: That’s all I have.
Guard: Where are you going?
Me: Toronto.
Guard: Why?
Me: Conference for work.
Guard: For how long?
Me: Until Tuesday.
Guard: Pretty long for a conference. What kind of conference?
Me: Web development.
Guard: What’s that?
Ryan: You ever look at the internet and see animations and —
Guard No! Do you have any alcohol or firearms?
Me: No —
Guard: Dead bodies in the trunk or weapons of Mass Destruction.
Me. Um… no.
Guard: Where did you say you were going?
Me Toron —
Guard: For what?
Ryan: A conf —
Guard: WHO ARE YOU REALLY?????
Me: …
Guard: I need to see proof of American Citizenship.
Ryan: But —
Guard: I can order you to turn around and not come back until you have proof.
Me: b-b-b-but—
Ryan: Why—?
Guard: All right. Go ahead. If I see you again, I’ll kill you.
Me. Thank you sir.

Silenced reigned for the next few miles. The eastern sky slowly turned blue.

A word about the stretch of 401/402/whatever between the Michigan border and the ‘burbs of Toronto: Nothing there

7:00am: We are below a quarter tank. Time to think about refueling. Take the first exit with a “petrol” sign. Find the gas station. Closed. Hit the highway again. Find another exit promising “petrol”. Find, I kid you not, an “Esso” station with old-style, static-electricity generating metal pumps. Closed. Hit the road again. Realize that we haven’t seen a living human being since crossing the border. Suspect zombie activity. Hit yet another exit. Find yet another gas station closed. Notice that the highway is kind of a pink, fleshy color. Voice hypothesis that the highway is made out of zombies. Realize I am working on three hours of sleep in the last 48 and no food in the last 12.

7:45am: Heading into a glowing ball of fire the apparent size of a prize-winning pumpkin. Ryan has been pushing the car for the last several miles. We see a sign for London and make jokes about a wrong turn. Find (finally!) a working gas station and real live humans! We re-fill the car and warn them of encroaching horde of zombies. When asked what they look like, we reply that we didn’t actually see them, so they must be Ninja zombies.

Back on the road. Hit the outskirts of human civilization. Make the mistake of not placing blind faith in Google Maps and end up back in zombie territory. Retrace our steps and rediscover civilization. Enter Toronto. Again fall from grace with Google maps and find ourselves in a Grand Rapids-esque endless loop of one-way streets. Increase speed to build up centrifugal force necessary to fling us in the right direction. Finally find the Hilton. Find a spot in the bottom of the parking garage, among the rats and albino alligators. Head to exit. Door is locked. Walk up ramp. Find another exit. Door is locked. Walk up another level. Find another exit. Open.

At this point the fates relented and the day achieved a semblance of normality. We were about an hour and a half late, so upon throwing stuff in our hotel rooms we headed for our respective seminars.

Notes on the conference itself will come later.

All People Are Critics. Some Are More Critical Than Others

Today I wrote my first movie review.

One of the big, ongoing projects at work is development on Spout.com, a movie discovery and discussion website. Several of my friends are regulars, so I finally bowed to peer pressure and created an account for myself. My user name is “Grasshopper”.

The first thing I did was to rate all of the movies I had seen. Simple enough to do — find the movie, and assign it a number between one and five. Before I knew it, I had rated over five hundred movies, and I am now up over a thousand. And that isn’t even counting all of the TV series and individual television episodes which can be rated; those would probably push me into the 2,000 range.

Normally I try not to shill for the projects I work on, but this time something unexpected happened: I had fun. I went through and found movies I hadn’t thought about in twenty years or more. Some of them were good, many more were mediocre or bad. Some of them made me feel quite nostalgic, accompanied by an odd sense of deja-vu wherein I could remember where I was and what I was doing when I watched the movie. Poltergeist with my brother and step-brother in Louisiana. Robocop with my brother, at home laying on the living room floor. The Crow with friends immediately after I returned from Russia. Star Wars with my Mom and brother in a movie theater in Jackson. The Razor’s Edge, sitting home surrounded by stacks of books.

Martial Arts is the only film genre I watch with a seriously critical eye, and I watch a lot of martial arts films. If I post a review of which I am particularly proud I will announce it here. In the meantime, browse around and see if you rediscover any old favorites.

Back Again

Chaos, contrary to what you might think, is easily predictable. If many different areas of my life have a tendency towards instability, they will all become complicated at once.

Take my computer. The old one died a month ago. This is the first thing I am doing on my new machine. The build process went something like this:

-buy computer parts
-build computer
-install Windows XP, 64-bit edition
-install wrong drivers
-format hard drive
-install Windows XP, 64-bit edition
-install is corrupt
-format hard drive
-install Windows XP, 64-bit edition
-find 64-bit drivers
-discover that USB wireless adapter has no 64-bit drivers
-discover that antivirus and personal firewall software for 64-bit machine are rare and expensive
-format hard drive
-install Windows XP, 32-bit edition
-stare in confusion at notice that windows can’t find CD drive in the middle of Windows installing from CD drive
-format hard drive
-install Windows XP, 32-bit edition
-stare in confusion at notice that windows can’t find CD drive in the middle of Windows installing from CD drive
-copy files form CD to USB Flash drive, which now somehow is the D: drive
-stare in confusion at notice that windows can’t find USB drive that is says is now my D: drive
-format hard drive
-copy Windows install CD to new 4-gig USB Flash drive
-change boot order to USB FIRST
-install windows XP, 32-bit edition from USB drive
-stare in confusion at notice that Windows can’t find USB drive etc. etc.
-cross fingers and hit Enter
-stare in confusion as Windows finishes installing
-install drivers
-install Oblivion
-bask in the awesomeness that is Oblivion on a 64-bit, dual-core, 2GHz Athlon running 2Gb of RAM and a 512Mb NVidia video card

whew

Also, I started a new job at the beginning of the month. After a year and a half away, I am back at BBK Studio in its new, more developer-friendly iteration.

Funny old world, innit?