Tuesday, November 17, 2015

I'm Out of the Fruit Loop

My life is endlessly interesting. There's a Chinese proverb, "May you live in interesting times." It's meant as a curse, of course, but I have to take my pleasures as I find them. My life hasn't been boring for so long I forget what boring looks like. Three square meals a day and central heating is what I imagine it looks like, but how would I know?

My older son is off visiting a friend for a few days. My younger son, who is 12, likes to sleep in his room when the large son is away. The room is ten feet away from his own room, but a big brother's room has special magical powers that make it magical and special and tautological. He also likes using big brother's computer. It's a special treat that also makes no sense. His older brother's computer is at least a decade old and runs Vista. The computer in his own room is newer and faster, and at least has Windows 7, but the magic beans extend to his brother's computer, not just the room itself.

Before school and after school we pretty much let the little feller do what he wants. He spends most of his time monkeying around with various computer programming tasks. He's learned a scripting language in order to produce new versions of Doom rooms, likes working on it a lot, and has basically abandoned Minecraft over it. Kid stuff.

Doom is an old "First Person Shooter" that invented a lot of what is take for granted nowadays in computer games. The computer language that runs it looks vaguely like Javascript to my eye. He knows at least a smattering of Javascript, HTML, and several other programming languages. He uses Khan Academy to learn what he wants, and he has a big pile of programming books that a friend of ours gave to him in a fit of generosity.

I looked over his shoulder this morning as he was writing code. He looks really funny in the morning. His hair is going this way and that from his nightly battle with the Laocoon of his pillows. He still has sleep seeds in his eyes, but he can't wait to get at the computer.

On the screen was the usual text editor window used to code Doom levels. Inside the text editor was something that looked entirely like hieroglyphs to my eye. It was like four hundred Led Zeppelin IV album covers strung together. Line after line of something way past gibberish, because regular computer scripts look like gibberish anyway. This looked like a telegram from Alpha Centauri. What the hell are you doing, son?

I'm writing Doom scripts in WingDings, Dad. Duh.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

The Mechanized Hum of Another World

Friday, November 13, 2015

Oh Noes! It's Gypsy Jazz

That's Rocky Gresset and Noe Reinhardt playing Them There Eyes.

I really feel compelled to correct the grammar in that song. Not sure why. Old habits die hard, I guess. Those there eyes? No, that won't get it done. Those eyes there? That's better, but not quite the knees of the bees, I think.

When in doubt, spray in commas like an Arab, I always say. Even if they're used incorrectly, they give the reader a pleasant place to stop and rest awhile. They're like a bench in a park. Here goes: Those eyes, there.

Hmm. That's grammatically correct, but the meaning has changed somehow. It's possible that it might be preferable to use a semicolon instead of a comma, but I'm fairly certain that semicolons aren't allowed on the Intertunnel anymore. I'd put an exclamation point after: there, but exclamation points are just used instead of periods now, so it wouldn't have the proper declamatory effect.

All I really need to do is need to sneak up on: Those eyes that that girl is in possession of. Oh, dear. Anytime I see "that that" abroad in the land of a sentence I just wrote, I have visions of a nun and the sound of a ruler dopplering towards my knuckles. Also, the song is all bollixed up and wishes to intimate that the beauty is in the eye of the beheld, which can lead to a dangerous feedback loop now that selfies are en vogue. I also feel as though I should specify the gender of the beauty of the beheld of the eye. I'm a guy person, and rarely notice the eyes of another guy unless I'm poking them in a bar brawl, so I'll go with a girlie eye from here on out. 

"That girl is pleasantly ocularly equipped." That mellifluous combo works well enough, but the spellchecker is freaking out over "ocularly." There it goes again. You'd think that after you wrote it once, it would leave you alone after that, but it keeps on telling me that ocularly isn't a word. It's weird knowing more words than the spellchecker and Maceo Pinkard, Doris Tauber and William Tracey.

I think I have it now: "I'm fairly certain that neither of that woman's eyes are made of glass, or both are." Perfection. Someone's going to have to get busy on the chord structure, though. It doesn't seem to fit anymore. I had a hunch something was wrong with that, too.

Monday, November 09, 2015

Three Old Men Having Fun

Back towards the tail end of my stint as a working musician, my friends and I had a name for our band, strictly for internal use: Four Old Men Having Fun. I was in my early forties at the time. We understood that what we were doing was ultimately a young person's game, even though we were still doing it. Unlike many of our contemporaries, we didn't have any ego problem that would interfere with acknowledging the growing absurdity of it. It seemed plenty absurd to me before we got old, so for me the transition was seamless.

Music wasn't our real profession, though. Don't get me wrong. We performed a lot and got checks with more than one zero on them. That was the whole point of it. We had regular occupations and played music at night and on the weekends to make some extra money. When we were younger we met lots of pretty girls and when we got older we used the money we earned to buy formula for the babies we had with the girls. 

I have no complaints. I simply stopped doing it. It was easy for me to stop because I was stopping being what I wasn't.  It's not so easy for people who are musicians whether the sun's up or not. They are what they is, as they say. They don't want to stop being musicians because then they stop being people. A few prominent people in the arts, who don't want to keep slugging it out in a fickle industry, open wineries or some such enterprise when they want to live my life in reverse, but most are still trying to sing Hope I Die Before I Get Old right up until they're screwing down the lid.

I find that most of the interesting songwriters in pop music are basically scholars. Bob Dylan, Van Morrison, and people like Donald Fagen are bookworms for music. They perform their own stuff, but they would probably be just as happy if they were like Jimmy Webb or Rogers and Hammerstein or a million other guys that sat in a walkup office with a piano and a pile of foolscap and wrote music all day. I'm pretty sure that Fagen and Becker actually tried their hand at being Brill Building-type drones before the music business decided that it was simply cheaper and easier to have all the bands write their own stuff. Man, the Beatles ruined everything.

I found it amusing to watch the Three Old Men Having Fun resurrecting the Isley Brothers Who's That Lady. Pop music doesn't cure cancer or anything, but you can always find interesting things in it if you look around. Donald Fagen isn't about to seine the Seventies looking for material and come up with The Candy Man. He has better taste than that. Who's That Lady was a great piece of pop when it first came out. It's been mostly overlooked in the recycled music industry, so it was both a surprise and familiar for the audience of geezers. That's the secret to good covers.

I found all sorts of things interesting in that video: Bog Gas is performing with the wreckage of Steely Dan now? Fascinating. After all these years, Michael McDonald still doesn't know the difference between a cardioid and an omnidirectional microphone? He pulls his head away from the microphone too abruptly at the end of phrases. In about ten more years, are you going to be able to tell the difference between Donald Fagen and Stephen Hawking without nametags? I used to think the Gibson SG was the worst guitar ever made, but now that I've seen Jon Herrington play one, is it possible that it's worse than the worst guitar ever made? It makes him play badly, at least for him.

I'm moderately surprised that was a performance at the Metropolitan Opera. It's not that goofy an idea, I suppose. Mean Joe Greene (Giuseppe Verdi) was a pop artist, and opera was the equivalent of the top forty on AM radio back in the day. Sometimes only the passage of time gives things cultural weight. But man, if you asked me in 1974 if the Isleys would be covered in the Metropolitan Opera House by Bog Gas and Steely Dan, I would have said that's impossible. And tried to buy tickets.

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Top Ten Adviceses for Aspirating Writerers

Before I begin with the advices, I'm required to pull rank somehow. Lay out my bona fidos. In order to tempt you to take writing advice from me, I have to lure you into thinking that I've managed to produce some form of folding money by writing. That's the Holy Grail, and I have to convince you I've had a swig from it before you'll listen to me. Here goes: I'm such a good writer that I have intermittently been able to cover the monthly fee for keeping a bank account open to accept the money I've earned by writing. I know, huh? How awesome is that?

I don't mean to brag, but I have adjectives I haven't even used yet. I can swear more convincingly than Edna St. Vincent Millay and write dialog better than any you'll find in the Encyclopedia Britannica. I can make grown men weep and women violent. I have the touch, and I'm here to give you the benefit of my touching.

I started out fairly wretched, so it was easier for me to become an inkstained wretch than most people. I wrote a book that had pages with printing on both sides and two covers that were too far apart. I sold several copies of that book to drunk persons who found themselves on Amazon at 4 AM (it's my target demographic). That doesn't mean you'll necessarily have that kind of luck. Those people might have sobered up by now. I advise you to start off slowly and confine yourself to writing for the Internets. But whatever you decide, make sure you confine yourself, or someone else will.

 Here's my Top Ten Adviceses for Aspirating Writerers:
  1. Make sure all the guidance you seek out on any topic is from a deciled list. Never read anything with even a hint of paragraphs about it. Numbered pages are right out. Don't waste your time with any wild-eyed iconoclasts while you're poking around the Intertunnel looking for your lists. Remember that nothing important ever consists of nine or eleven items. Ten items is your guarantee of quality. 
  2. Use words like "deciled" in your writing. It wasn't a word until I made it a word in the previous entry on this list. Sprinkle in words like that, and pretty soon your blog or website or honeypot or whatever will be search engine optimized to be Numero Uno, baby, whenever anyone uses Google to look for words that don't exist. Just watch the money roll in from that.
  3. Only express strong opinions about who shot first or the dress some talentless skank was wearing at the Oscars. All other opinions will be met with an endless cavalcade of death threats on Twitter and bad reviews on Yelp! -- whether or not you own a business. Yelpers will found a company under your name, rent a strip mall storefront, and then fill it with employees just so they can give you bad reviews if you express certain opinions that are beyond the pale. Never mention that Windows 10 works just fine, for instance. 
  4. Make sure you tell everyone how passionate you are about writing. Let's say you're applying for a job offered by a Bangladeshi spammer on People per Hour to fill out an Excel spreadsheet to keep track of the comments he's leaving on abandoned blogs for generic Nair for back hair. It's really important for you to assure him how passionate you are about that type of work. The job pays almost as well as delivering gluten-free pizza using Uber cab service, so you're going to have to show some serious passion if you want to beat out Mikayla, Michaela, Makaila, Makhailla, and Premjit for the job.
  5. You need a headshot photo. Make sure it's taken of you, by you, at arm's length. Employers have learned to trust only people who appear to be furtively looking up at the surveillance camera in a convenience store while pursing their lips into a kind of smirk. It gives off a vibe that screams: passion.
  6. Sometimes passion alone isn't enough to get that Kenyan to award you that erotic fiction e-book gig. That's when you need to haul out the big guns, and assure them that you have a real "flare" for writing to amplify all that passion.
  7. You're going to have to know all about how sexy a werewolf is. You can't limit your ability to textually sexify werewolves solely to the terrestrial kind, either. Bone up on sexy interstellar  werewolves along with the domestic breeds. It never hurts to have a minor in Sexy Vampirism to go with your B.A. in Libidinous Lycanthropy. 
  8. Don't make the mistake of offering content that's too challenging for the average college-educated person to understand. I mean, does that GIF really need to be animated? Can't it just be a GIF? 
  9. Use mnemonic devices to organize your daily efforts. For instance, I keep a little framed sign on my desk that says: K.I.S.S.. It's an acronym that reminds me that if I don't write something and sell it soon, I might be Killed Indiscriminately by the ShutzStaffel. I think that's what it stands for. I got it from the tail end of a deciled list and can only remember the first three items. Number 4 was an animated GIF, and I got confounded. 
  10. Under no circumstances get a real job and leave writing to people who are good at it. Get a real job and then use the office computer to write badly and show those starving writers they're starving for a reason. 
Well, there you have it. You're now ready to enter the lucrative world of Intertunnel writing. If you're wondering if my advice is any better than the other 40,995,651 websites offering writing advice, I urge you to search on Google for "Top Ten Adviceses for Aspirating Writerers." I assure you I'll be the very first entry on the search results. That's how the quality of everything on the Intertunnel is determined.

Saturday, November 07, 2015

Winter Dreams the Same Dream Every Time

We burned around seven tons of pellets last heating season. There's approximately 8,500 BTUs in a pound of wood pellets. That works out to 17,000,000 BTUs in a ton. Seven tons is almost 120 million BTUS. That was enough to make our refrigerator run from time to time to keep the ketchup inside from freezing solid, so we can't complain.

It's difficult to say exactly how many of those BTUS end up being useful inside our house. The pellet stove industry doesn't like cold, hard, facts very much. Instead of telling you how many BTUs their rigs produce, they prefer to say how many square feet of floor area the machine will serve. Um, yeah, about that. I've noticed several differences between, say, San Diego and New England, in addition to only one having a functional football team. Call me a wild-eyed pessimist, but I guess that the ability of a heating appliance to cover the same square footage in those two places might also vary. The home in San Diego might still have an old 100-watt incandescent installed in a ceiling can light, which as you know produces enough "waste heat" to act as a standin for a furnace. I suspect there might be other variables.

The unit we use to burn pellets says it will heat 3,000 square feet. I haven't noticed any macaws in the sumac bushes across the street, crocodiles in the Androscoggin River out back, or howler monkeys in the spruce trees, and I haven't noticed being overly hot in January while trying to heat 2,000 square feet. The howler monkeys comment on news stories on the Bangor Daily News, so I know they're around, but I think they have oil heat.

The reported efficiency of a pellet stove is a WAG when it isn't an outright lie. The entire industry gets a pass because they put "eco" in every other word on their websites. I guess that a well set up and well maintained pellet stove runs at around 80 percent efficiency. An oil furnace that efficient would get replaced. I mentioned yesterday that wet pellets are a problem we avoid like the plague. Wet pellets drop the efficiency of a stove precipitously.

The manufacturers of the stoves use the variable quality of pellets to weasel out of any sort of prediction on how the stove will run and the amount of heat and creosote the stove will produce. The Number 2 bunker oil you get for heating your mighty castle might be anything from Caracas sludge to North Sea sewing machine oil, but your oil burner will handle it just fine. Your furnace will be expected to perform the same in any case, but the the pellet industry gets a pass. "I'm sorry, the trees used to make your pellets had over 17 birdsnests per cubic ton of shade, so their refractal qualities make them unsuitabable for peak performance in our Lignoblaster 5000 EcoGuevara stove."

At this point in my life, I simply dream of a thermostat. After that, three square meals a day would be gravy. And I mean that every which way.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Sixteen Tons and Whaddaya Get?

We got a ton of pellets yesterday. A ton isn't that much. It's fifty bags that weigh forty pounds each. I wrote out the math for you to prove I went to Catholic school. We had it delivered, because the place that delivers keeps their pellets indoors, so they're the only supplier that doesn't sell you wet pellets. Wet pellets are next to useless. Walmart is only twenty-five dollars a ton cheaper, and they leave the pallets out in the weather. In case you're some form of criminal, I'm giving you a heads up that you can go to Walmart at 1 AM and find $25,000 worth of pellets in the parking lot that you can steal if you're feeling really frisky and have a pickup truck that can handle a hundred tons. My advice is that it's a lot less work to simply siphon gas from your neighbors' cars and use the fuel to drive until you reach the Mason-Dixon line. Sometimes the old ways are the best ways.

People never steal anything useful like pellets. That's why they're left out in the parking lot under the hinky streetlight. People who want to steal things go inside the Walmart and try to steal televisions and iPhones, which are not useful, and go to jail for their trouble. There's 25 grand in pellets outside, but they want to steal a phone the company will give to you for free if you sign up for cellphone service. I think that proves that tattoo ink interferes with normal brain function, because everyone in the police blotter has a visible tattoo on their neck. I'm just doing the math again. However, it doesn't explain how you ended up with a tattoo in the first place, so I need a new theorem.

We burn pellets instead of firewood these days. Firewood is cheaper than pellets, which are cheaper than oil, which is cheaper than propane, which is cheaper than electricity. Wood, pellets, oil, and propane dumped together and burned in a rusty barrel out in the yard to heat the house indirectly through an open window is cheaper than electricity, now that I think of it. That's because electricity is 100-percent efficient. Nothing goes to waste. Every electron you use is converted directly into a zero on your bill. You could get an electric bill for $900 where I live. For one month. That's if it's a warmish January. The electric company doesn't leave any electricity outside on pallets in their parking lot, or I would steal it, and feel saintly while doing it. There are laws greater than those made by men.

We bought the largest pellet stove we could find. It's a Vogelzang, which translates roughly from German as, "The goddamn electric bill for January was $900." If that translation sounds a bit off for you, that's because I learnt classical German, not that strange dialect you seem to have picked up. Anyway, according to the manufacturer, our pellet stove produces 60,000 BTUs per hour. According to me, pellet stove manufacturers produce one extravagant lie every minute. At any rate, our stove has 5 settings:
  1. Why do you keep it so hot in here? (October)
  2. Why do you keep it so cold in here? (November)
  3. Why is there ice on the inside of the windows? (December)
  4. Why am I brushing my teeth with slush from the faucet? (January)
  5. Why didn't I buy damp pellets from Walmart when I had the chance? (February)
Whenever we turn the pellet stove on Setting 5, we all adopt a Montgomery Scott accent and say things like, " She canna take much more captain, she's gonna blow." On the humor scale, that's right up there with saying, "Come along, Artoo," when you're pulling a shop vac over to clean out the pellet stove and start a fire in the shop vac. Normal people fear a fire in their shop-vac. In Maine, we shrug and say, "Woohoo! Free BTUs!"

The stove glows like an Iranian underground bunker, vibrates and hums a lot, and the side panels pop open from expansion when it's on the Number 5 setting. It's still only 40 percent as terrifying as the electric bill, so we take our chances.