Monday, January 28, 2008

Old Friends Gone

Many of you have heard me rail against messenger bags. Too big or too thick, too short or too long, too many pockets, too many fasteners, too expensive: I can never find one that works for me, and I can't shut up about it.

But it wasn't always that way. Once upon a time in Korea, Gooneechy and I were walking through the marketplace near our house in Seoul when we spied the perfect bag. More than one, actually (they had it in several colors). I grabbed a blue one and he grabbed a black one and we haggled the four-foot lady running the booth down to like ten or twelve bucks each.

Man, that was a bag. Behold:

It was exactly the right size! It had just the right number of compartments! It held everything I needed and not a thing more! It held it's shape without being lined with cardboard or foamcore! I could get things out of it without having to disentangle myself from its clutch or yank on unnecessary buckles, zippers, or snaps! It matched everything I owned!

But you never know how good you have it till you lose it. Well, I didn't exactly lose it, but I gave it to my last companion when I left for home, thinking that in America a great bag like that would be sold any-and-everywhere. Better bags, even. Boy was I wrong. I've never come anywhere close to finding a bag to replace Old Blue.

Last night I was reading through the journal I kept in Korea, and I found this:

It's the tag from my perfect bag, taped in there. Here's the back:

Oh, to be one of those people, the happy people from the white sands and the blue sea. Once I had it good. Real good.

I miss my friend.

That's not all I got out of reading my journal. I also got a bit of that crippling nostalgia that keeps things like journals in a deep closet. Just a bit—a honeydrop inkling of who I used to be and where and why. What struck me this time, though, reading it where I am and when, was how much I miss having a companion. A missionary is with their sidekick twenty-four hours a day, and about twenty-three of those hours are spent concentrating on the same thing. You never have to rely on a single opinion or point of view, and you are never ever lonely. Being a missionary, you not only always know what you're doing and why; you know who's doing it with you.1 I miss my friends.

1In mine and nostalgia's defense, I realize that there are drawbacks to that arrangement, that it isn't all good times and ice cream, but you know, I always felt the benefits way outweighed the difficulties. I got along easily and naturally with everyone of my companions except one (whom I liked just fine but who hated me for a reason I could never figure out).

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Two Ideas (maybe related)

A road trip is different going out and coming back.1

Turning your sandwich upside down changes the way it tastes.2

1 For example, the 24-hour trip from Houston to Utah is nothing like the one from Utah to Houston. Heading to Utah, it gets dark at around the New Mexico border and you can go very fast all night because that state doesn't bother to lower the speed limit at night. At around Cortez, Colorado, you can pull over and get out to see the stars in surprising glory, and when the dawn creeps up behind you in Utah a few hours later it reveals canyons and mountains where it had been flat the day before, as if the Second Coming had come in the night. Heading back to Texas you start high in winding valley roads and coast down the whole way. Instead of seeing the lights of reservation casinos from miles away you see the stark natural beauty of the Navajo Nation. When night falls it's all Texas, from Amarillo to Wichita Falls to Fort Worth to Waxahachie to Huntsville to Houston, and you see none of it as you pass, nothing but the night lights of the eighteen-wheelers pulled over to sleep. And still, despite losing an hour with the time change and doing a cautious seven over the nightly speed limit of 65, it takes at least an hour less to get there.
2That's what you've been doing wrong, actually. Oh, and this doesn't apply to peanut butter sandwiches.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

On Eating Breakfast

Well friends, it's a new year and I'm a new man. I am now a breakfast person. Don't get me wrong, I was never a breakfast hater—sign me up for pancakes and bacon and biscuits and waffles and eggs and even quiche anytime. Anytime but breakfast time, that is.

Ever since high school I have eschewed the morning meal as much as possible. It all started when I noticed that on days I ate breakfast I would be really really hungry in second period, still long before lunch, but on days when I skipped eating I would be just fine. After graduation I worked as a waiter and was running on a pretty late schedule. I'd get up and go to work by 10:30, serve lunch furiously for a few hours, and then eat my first meal at around 2, when things slowed down. Then I'd work all evening and not eat again until after closing, sometime around midnight or later. You see, being a waiter is interesting work because not only are you too busy to eat when normal people eat (that's the job, see?), your body kind of flips out since you spend so much time around food. It loses the ability to distinguish between actually having eaten and having watched other people eat and eat and eat. It did not breed good habits in me.

Well, then I went to Korea, and I can say that I did eat breakfast regularly then, because it was more or less a commandment. But Koreans don't distinguish between meals the way we do—they eat pretty much the same things for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. I mean, it's rice all the time, and they don't bat an eye at eating something killer spicy for breakfast. So even though I was getting up and eating before 8, it wasn't always very breakfasty.1

When I came home, I got my old job back waiting tables and Andrew and I fell into the same old habits of eating. Later, as roommates in college, we started calling it the 12-hour diet, because we usually ate at 11 and 11 every day. Also somewhere in here I lost the ability to eat the same thing twice (did I ever have that ability?). Maybe it was the variety in Korea and the hot breakfast almost every day, or maybe I just grew out of cereal or something, but whatever it was, breakfast foods weren't cutting it because I didn't have time to cook something new and good (and spicy) every day.

And that brings us to today: I am not good at eating before noon, and I have years of practice. But no more! This year I have resolved to take my mother's advice, the same advice she's given me every time I go home and she takes me to Walmart in hopes of buying me all my favorite things and we end up walking right by the cereals, the Poptarts, the muffins, the powdered donettes, the Toaster Strudels, the Eggo Waffles, and the canned biscuit dough with nary a snatch.2 From now on I am a breakfast eater, whether I want to be or not. This year I have already consumed like 6 yogurts, a box of Post Selects Banana Nut Crunch, and 11 English muffins,3 plus I have a full box of Cheerios ready to go.

Wish me luck.

1Although I'll always remember this time, living with Steve Wiscombe, when we made a huge stack of pancakes—apple-cinnamon, maybe?—and a big jug of homemade banana milk. For some reason we set up the little table in the living room and were just settling down around it to pray and eat, and Hales or Groneman knocked the whole jug over onto Wiscombe's shirt.4
2Well, maybe not the powdered donettes.
3Two of which I ate at lunch time, but you get the idea.
4Note to self: Looking to see if I recorded that incident in my journal some place, I stumbled across the entry explaining about the house that the retired architect designed for his own family and how he made classical guitars in the basement, a story I had just shared with Z at the pizza place tonight. This is a coincidence because I probably haven't thought of that in years, but here it is twice on one day.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

Thus a New Theory is Born

S: "No, Jennifer Connelly is the most beautiful woman in the world, ever. Hair, lips, eyes, figure, voice—across the board she is the best. There's just no contest.

Z: "Yeah, but adjusting for babe-flation, Grace Kelly's got her beat."

S: "True."

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

More Like "Three T-babes and Their Awesome Guitar Friend"

This is where I was tonight:

It was fantastic. A big thanks to Nephi for giving me the heads up and to Joe and Emily for not making me go alone.

In the spirit of my recent postings, I hate how any concert makes me want to get up and leave instantly, rush home, and play my own guitar for hours and hours. I also hate that my brother Drew hates concerts. Jon, Mary: that Blues Traveler concert was great. Glad you came.

Monday, January 21, 2008

The Next Big Thing

I'm always having these brilliant ideas that ought to make me rich rich rich, but, being a Gemini, I never follow up on any of them.

This week's big idea is Frozen Leftovers. Think of it: for years college kids and bachelors have gotten by on well-matched meals from the freezer, things like Salisbury steak1 with mashed potatoes and burritos with rice and beans. But that's not what they need. What they need is some variety, some excitement, and some practice for married life. What they need is Frozen Leftovers.

I'm talking about real-life food combinations made easy, of mac'n'cheese with egg rolls and a half-eaten slice of pizza. Of spaghetti and enchiladas with a corn and Doritos medley on the side. Of hot dogs cut up over half a serving of Rice-a-Roni topped with cream gravy and Oreos, served in a stale bread bowl. And there won't be any little compartments on the tray—the directions will read: "Microwave on high until the commercials end and 24 comes back on, stir entire tray together, top with cheese, enjoy. Warning: Pasta may be scorching hot; mashed potatoes may be freezing cold."

Think "Reality TV," but for your mouth. I'm gonna be rich.

1Interestingly, Salisbury in this case is not a place, but a name. The steak was named for its inventor, Dr. J. H. Salisbury (who apparently invented it in an effort to combat diarrhea among Civil War troops). Wikipedia claims that "Salisbury was one of the earliest health food faddists and taught that diet was the main determinant of health. . . . He believed that human dentition demonstrated that humans were meant to eat meat, and sought to limit vegetables, fruit, starches, and fats to one-third of the diet." It also says that "H. L. Mencken reported (in 1945) that the name was used to replace "hamburger steak" during World War I as a political euphemism."

Continuing Antipathy

Whiteboards! Oh what did we ever do to deserve this, the bane of fine teachers everywhere? I hate 'em! They're ugly! They're always stained and covered with that funky inkdust! They're pretentiously, corporately hip! And worst of all, those curséd markers are always ALWAYS out of juice!

But so that you don't think I hate things unreservedly and without reason (as if there was anything wrong with that), I got on good old Wikipedia to see where the dang things come from. It seems that whiteboards were created in response to some people being allergic to chalk dust. Great. Fantastic. I can accept that, except that later in the article I found this sentence: "Some people are sensitive or allergic to the strong odour of most whiteboard markers."1

In fact, the more I read, the more inconsistencies I found. Pretty much every advantage was countered with a disadvantage, like how chalk gets all over the room and all over your clothes—but it washes out—whereas dry erase ink never ever does. Or how whiteboards are supposedly easier to see, but "The white background can cause contrast problems for people with vision impairment." They claim whiteboards offer multiple colors, which is a plus, but have they forgotten about, uh, sidewalk chalk? I've only ever seen about four crummy colors of marker, but I've seen entire spectrums of chalk.2 Furthermore, the article points out that while chalk is a naturally occurring mineral, the production of dry erase markers relies on petroleum, a nonrenewable resource. Pretty much the only thing whiteboards have going for them is that they are lighter than chalkboards, which is true. The classroom I teach in has this sissy whiteboard on a flimsy frame—the thing can't really take the pressure of being written on without swaying and rocking like it's high on the marker fumes. Would a chalkboard do that? Heck no. Heavier is obviously better. It's a fact that we all subconsciously link weight with quality: Lincoln Towncars over Geo Metros, the Riverside Complete Shakespeare over a Dover Thrift Edition of Hamlet, special edition 2-disc DVD collectors editions over the normal fullscreen edition (widescreen just feels heavier)—even a nice solid box of Cheerios or Raisin Bran feels like quality in the hand compared to Honeycombs or something puffed. I heard recently that they found some old chalkboards in Provo that still held the handwriting of Karl G. Maeser, dated 1900.3 Would whiteboards have survived a hundred years in an attic? I think not.

Is not chalk the very fragrance of academia, the soil in which tweed-jacketed seeds germinate and blossom, the fairy dust left by the muses' touch on our lives? The click-swish of a teacher's chalk sings in sprightly counterpoint to his students' scritching pencils, while the squeek of a dry erase marker is only the sickly rattle of Death's swinging scythe. Whiteboards reek of staff meetings, of stale coffee, and of seas of white ceiling tiles. They breed only weedy buzzwords and brambled flowcharts and offer—instead of an endless dark upon which the spirit might brood, an as-yet-uncreated expanse—only the blaring bleached white of the Corporation, the framed stencil of the Accepted Procedure, the identical albino twin of the Policy Handbook's first page. The whiteboard invites us to sit up and listen attentively to yet another manager, the chalkboard to sit back with El Presidente himself and enjoy today's special: the Awesome Blossom.4

Chalk art by Sean McAfee

The blackboard is pure potential; it is primordial. The whiteboard is a prescription; it is a fence already whitewashed and Tom Sawyer already off to find adventure in a cave.

But you don't have to take my word for it. Here is what I found when googling for whiteboard art, and here's what I got for chalk art. It's no comparison (although I did find this cool video).

1Actually, only Brits are allergic to the odour of dry erase markers. Us Americans are only allergic to odors (but the occasional colour does set me off).
2Also I remember the music teacher in Elementary school having this wood-and-wire thing that held five pieces of chalk equidistantly apart so she could draw a perfect music staff on the board in a single stroke. I have yet to see a whiteboard pull that trick. I guess every good board does fine after all.
3Karl G. Maeser was principal of Brigham Young Academy, the school that eventually became BYU. Read all about the chalkboards here.
4So it turns out Chili's has a myspace page, complete with an electronic chalkboard you can draw on. Go figure.

Friday, January 18, 2008

On a Roll

I drew this one at Donkey coffee shop last night while watching open mic-ers strut their singer/songwriterly stuff, on the back of a scratch sheet my two friends used to map out some chords for a jazz jam.

A Change of Pace

Today I drew some pictures in class. Here they are:

I think this pretty much speaks for itself.

I thought this was a pretty good idea, but Zach gave me some constructive criticism on the execution, so I redrew it...

Thanks, Zach.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

More Vitriol

I hate hate freezers that keep ice cream too cold. It's gotten to the point where I don't really consider myself a lover of ice cream anymore, since it rarely excites me. The thing is that there's no good way to get the ice cream to the proper softness once the freezer has petrified it. You can pull it out halfway through dinner in hopes that it might melt a bit before dessert, but only the sides and top really melt, and too much at that. It's like a Hot Pocket in reverse—or inverse, or something. If you scoop it first (good luck!) and let it soften in the bowl you get the same problem. Microwaves don't cut it (scientists!), and I don't have time to let it sit in the fridge for however long it would take to get it nicely warmed.

Like I told Zach: if I'm going to ingest that many worthless calories and whatever else, I'd rather get the full experience, so it's a very occasional trip to Cold Stone for me. Worthless freezers!

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

More on Cards

I don't mean to harp on about it, but I forgot to mention that there's also the issue of dividing the two decks evenly before putting them in the box. Is there anyone who hasn't just thrown away the Uno or the Skipbo box and started storing them as one tall deck held together by a rubber band or hair binder or something? If you are one of the mental types who has to hang on to the box, isn't it eating you that it gets more and more tattered with each use? And hasn't everyone throw away those stupid blank cards and instructions cards by now? There has to be a better way!

Monday, January 14, 2008

Hateful Things

~Bad sidewalks.
~Burnt-out light bulbs.
~Things without a place.
~How fast the trash can fills up.
~Wearing a jacket and then not needing it.
~Wet shoes.
~Not knowing what someone else is thinking when clearly they're thinking about me.
~Employment websites.
~All websites that aren't anything but middlemen for other websites, that are bald-faced attempts to make an easy buck without actually doing anything.
~Too many keychains.
~A cluttered, dirty car.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

¼ of July

Here's something I hate: when two decks of cards are meant to be shoved side-by-side into one box—they inevitably get mixled up and mashded together. There has to be another way.

And since somewhere it's somebody's job solely to devise compelling and efficient packaging for games, someone's dropping the ball. Maybe it's Milton, maybe it's Bradley, and maybe it's one of those Parker Bros., but whoever it is, get with the game. Even the slow scientists are making you look bad.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

New Year, Never Fear

Just a note to say that I'm back. Who knows what I will have to say this year, or whether I will run out of things all together? I guess we'll see. Here is a quick string of things leftover from last year that I meant to say before being caught up in the holiday spirit:

#1: Put 'er Therer, Friend

What's the deal with us making up words like "pusher-outer" or "picker-upper"? As in, "Mom said we all have to clean the house—Sarah, you vacuum the floors; Jon, you wash the dishes; and me, she said I'm the trash putter-outer."

Haven't we got a clear precedent with the term "passer-by"? Should I be the "putter-out" of the trash? The "hanger-up" of the clothes. The "puckerer-up" of the lips?

And if there's more than one of us, shouldn't we be the "suckers-in" of the tummies?

#2: Dukers-it-out

Has anyone else noticed that Michael Bolton, Huey Lewis, and Stevie Ray Vaughan all have the same voice, even though they all sing in a different style of music? Or, if not the same voice exactly, at least close cousins. I don't know what it is—maybe it's that huskiness or the way they power out the words from somewhere deep in their guts.


Whatever it is, I'd like to see Bolton and Lewis duke it out to play Vaughan in a biopic.1 Lewis has the advantage of being musically close to SRV, but Bolton's got (had) the hair.

#3: Catchers-up

Why doesn't technology keep up? We have what, like a billion scientists currently working on solving everything, right? And at least 750,000 of them are working exclusively on cell phone games and facebook applications, right? So why hasn't anyone fixed IM-ing yet?

I mean, I'm pretty new to the whole chat scene, having eschewed it for years on the grounds that whenever I thought I was chatting with Cute Girl it ended up being Cute Girl's roommate on Cute Girl's computer after Cute Girl failed to log out or whatever. (Or maybe it was Cute Girl, and just when I got the upper-flirt-hand she decided to bail by claiming she was her own roommate, tee hee!) But even in the few months that I've used g-chat (quite sparingly at that), I've figured out that IM-ing doesn't work right.

Here's one thing: Why haven't they come up with a way to type more than one thing at once? How often are you typing out some response to one thing when the other person posts and then you need to delete your whole line and start over to answer what was just said? They should have two or three little windows to type in so you can work on more than one idea at a time.

And another thing, how about multiple windows with one person to carry on different strains of the conversation? Or maybe different fonts or colors you can assign to your multiple windows to differentiate which part of the conversation what you're saying refers to? The other day I was chatting with a friend and we spontaneously developed a system of parentheses and brackets to identify which parts of the conversation we were contributing to. We did (this), [this], {this}, and ([this]), and in another minute we probably would've thrown in ({[this]}) or something if not for the difficulty of arranging the brackets all in the proper order and the danger of confusing our punctuation for a flirtatious smiley face. Why hasn't one of the scientists or the college dropouts done anything about this yet? What was all that talk about technology picking up so much speed we wouldn't be able to comprehend it, all those graphs showing a curve shooting up exponentially, an unassailable mountain of knowledge?

The thing is that the fundamental difference between talking in person and chatting online (aside from the issue of knowing who you're talking to), is that online you are free to follow every possible conversation. In a normal conversation you choose at each moment, with the next thing you say, where the conversation will go, even if there are multiple possibilities. Let's say Zach says, "Man, I loved that movie Dick Tracy." Then I can say, "Yeah, I love Warren Beatty's yellow trench coat," and we're off on costumes for five minutes. Or I can say, "I haven't seen it since I was six," and we're off on movies of our youth. Or I can say, "Madonna was a t-babe in that movie, but too skanky," and we can proceed to analyze her career for awhile. I know what you're thinking—you can always come back and touch on those other subjects later. True, and sometimes you do that by saying, "I've got two things to say about that." Then you have a marker to come back to, a mental tingle that waits to be scratched while you wander down a tangent. But more likely your talk of Madonna splits into her film career versus her music career, A League of Their Own takes you to Tom Hanks takes you to The Ladykillers takes you to the Coen Brothers takes you to No Country for Old Men, or "Like a Virgin" takes you to "Like a Surgeon" takes you to "Eat It" takes you to MJ himself, and you never come back to yellow trench coats or films like Willow and Cloak and Dagger (well, those are the ones from my childhood at least).

Instant messaging takes time out of the equation and allows you to explore simultaneous parallel conversational universes as they spring into being. This is the beauty of it, the thing that makes it different and supplemental to regular conversation.2 You're all thinking the same thing, right? So why haven't the scientists figured this out yet?

What we need is an interface that lets you split conversations out as they occur, a time-machine web-diagram chatterbox. At first you start with just one thread in one window, but there's a button you can press to split the conversation out and follow it in two directions. And there needs to be quick keyboard shortcuts to fly from thread to thread without having to reach out to the mouse and put the cursor in just the right spot. I hate that.

1I looked it up, and this word is pronounced "bio-pic," not "bi-opic." Personally, I prefer the second one. I'd also prefer to drive a CONvert-able (convert as in the person, not the verb), and I'd rather be mis-cheeve-ious rather than mischief-ous. Pedagogy. Pe-DOG-ogy. PED-agogy.
2 This is what discussion boards have been doing for as long as they've been around, only with more people and more spread out.