Friday, May 29, 2009

Dear USPS

As slow as...

Dear USPS,

Sometimes I wonder what you do during work hours. I mailed a package almost three weeks ago to Phoenix, something that should only take about 3 days at most--historically that's been the time frame--and it just arrived today. While this normally might not be a huge deal, that envelope contained my expense reports and reimbursement forms from my last business trip. This caused me about a week of distress believing that my forms had been lost.

In the future I'd appreciate it if you would deliver things in a timely manner. Thanks.

Sincerely,
Tim

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Deceptively sleepy

This morning my body outsmarted my brain.

My alarm goes off at 6:40 AM like it does every weekday. The alarm I've chosen is the soundtrack to Katamari Damacy, a game with a musical score somewhere between 8-bit Nintendo music, Frank Sinatra, and J-Pop. I choose for my alarm to go off at 6:40 because it provides me enough time to hit snooze 2-3 times before I actually have to get up while still having enough time to shower.

I hit snooze and go back to sleep.

Ten minutes later the alarm is once again singing something in accented English that makes me think I should be wearing a smarmy suit in downtown Tokyo while holding a cocktail. I hit snooze again. The third time the alarm goes off it plays a piece of music never intended to wake anyone up; a piece that sounds similar to the score of a NOVA outer space special if played underwater. I groggily wake up, turn off the alarm and check the time. It's 7:06. I think, "Alright, time to wake up."

This is where my body becomes deceptive. Instead of getting up like my brain is ordering, my body offers a counter proposal.

"How about before I get up, I just lay down for a quick second--the bed is warm and it'll feel good to get one last boost of comfort before starting the day." it coyly suggests.

Playing with the idea, my brain offers a rebuttal, "But wouldn't that just make it harder to wake up? Wouldn't that be like offering a heroin addict one last hit before he finally quits?"

"Of course not! This is one last rejuvenating second of blissful splendor before going out in that cold world and starting your day of long, menial work. It'll be a booster shot of energy. Think of it like you're staying with a friend. Your bed is your friend, after all, right? It's better to leave on a positive note after a good night out than a resentful one where you begrudgingly just walk out the door." My body has had practice with this argument.

"Well, I suppose if you put it that way. A few seconds to say goodbye to my friend can't hurt."

And I laid back down for a minute. It was just as my body said; it felt good. It felt right. Deciding that minute was probably enough time, I got up--more rejuvenated than when I tried to get up before--and checked my phone. The clock read 7:42.

"That lying sack of meat!" my brain exclaimed. "It didn't want another minute of sleep, it wanted another 30 of them!"

I quickly throw on some chinos, socks, shoes, a polo shirt, and grabbed some Pop Tarts on my way out. And I'm a little wiser--don't trust the arguments made by my body at 7 AM. It's deceptive.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

NIN|JA

Yep, it's the NIN|JA tour

Yesterday I left work at noon, drove to the SLC airport, flew to Denver, met a friend there, went to the Nine Inch Nails and Jane's Addiction (NIN|JA) concert, played a few games of pool, slept for about 3 hours, then woke up at 5AM and went to the Denver airport to fly back to SLC for work.

I was 45 minutes late.

The concert was incredible. Part of the reason I was willing to fly 373 miles from Salt Lake City to Denver is because this is supposed to be NIN's last concert tour for awhile. Trent Reznor said that he wants to take a break--he's not saying NIN is done, but he's going to take a break and do something else (he's getting married, too!). While I'm not a huge Jane's Addiction fan, I know some of their stuff and know their pretty iconic. They were the band that Trent Reznor credits with giving NIN their break in 1991, inviting him to performing at Lollapalooza with them. (I just found out that Lollapalooza was originally formed as a farewell tour for Jane's Addiction by their front man/singer Perry Farrell.)

Jane's Addiction officially broke up in 1991 the first time. Then they partially reunited at various times, but the whole band never played together again until 2008. Based on the band dynamics, I doubt they'll stay together much longer. Reading through the Wikipedia article on Jane's Addiction it looks like the biggest riff was between the bassist, Eric Avery, and the singer Perry Farrell over royalties--Farrell apparently demanded 62.5% of the royalties leaving everyone else with 12.5%. While their guitarist, Dave Navarro, would occasionally play with them from time to time, it wasn't until last year that Avery returned to the band to remake the original lineup.

Watching the concert and the footage recorded, I can easily see that resentment. Avery did not look happy during the performance. He looked pissed off the whole time.

Ok, that's enough history on the bands I saw. (Street Sweeper Social Club also performed, who I'd never heard of. They sound a lot like Rage Against the Machine, which is largely because their guitarist is Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine.)

Here's a few photos from my phone of the concert. (I took more with my digital camera but I don't have the cable to transfer them to the PC right now; I'll upload those later.)



As I'm sure you can see, we were pretty far back.


It was an outdoor concert and the sun hadn't set yet. The light show was still good at this point, but it got far better after the sun finally set. (I have pictures of that, but they're on the digital camera; my phone couldn't do low light shots well.)


You can barely make out Reznor in the middle of the light on stage.

I also have some photos of Jane's Addiction on my phone--they put on a really good show. They're a full on 80's alternative rock band with a performance to match. Perry Farrell and Dave Navarro are all over the stage, climbing on speakers, yelling "We love you Colorado!", interacting with the crowd, the whole shebang. They have tons of energy on stage! As I said, I'm not a big Jane's Addiction fan and aren't too familiar with their stuff, but I couldn't help but cheer and jump around to some of their stuff because there's just so much energy coming from them. NIN is one of the best acts around, and Jane's Addiction follows and compliments their performance very well.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

On budgeting and gaming

My budget doesn't look like this

In April I put every spare cent I had towards paying off my credit cards and I got them paid off. For the first time since high school, I was free of credit card debt.

The last two weeks, I've gotten back into it. Things came up--a business trip that I haven't been reimbursed for yet, unexpected moving expenses, quality cutlery--and so my credit card once again has a balance on it. It's nothing massive. It'll be paid off in about two weeks, maybe even by the end of the week. Probably by the end of the week, actually.

It just made me realize that I need to get a bit more frugal with my budget. I took a lot of liberties last month with expenses. As I said, I'm awaiting reimbursement for a business trip which will cover more than half of the current credit card balance, so it's not as serious as it may sound. (I write this faithfully trusting in the United States Postal Service to deliver the mail to it's intended recipient as my company still hasn't received the receipts I mailed to them.) I do need to live within my budget though. I'm skilled at justifying purchases; things that will last are one-time expenses and more valuable over the long run. It's still an expense.

On Sunday I started playing Team Fortress 2 again. I've been playing on a server that has no respawn time (instead of 10-15 seconds), meaning as soon as you die you're back in the fight. This makes it very difficult to get anywhere since everyone is always in the battle. It's a good way to kill 20-30 minutes though since it's nonstop action. One of these days I'll have to find a good server where objectives can actually get completed. That might be a new experience. I also want to get a game of Left 4 Dead going again. On my new connection, my ping would be so sexy.

Monday, May 25, 2009

My history of road trips

Road trips are awesome

I've taken lots of road trips in my lifetime. Growing up in Minnesota it was tradition to go to my grandmother's apartment for Christmas to see family. (My grandmother's apartment entrance had one of those brick walls that's "textured" where the bricks aren't flush and some stick out; I always tried to climb it while waiting for her to buzz us in.) As I got older trips to grandma's became less common, replaced by a trip to Oregon one year and soon enough the people coming home for Christmas weren't my parents but my siblings. After I moved out I took a few more road trips with roommates, some were just weekend trips down to Minneapolis for the Renaissance Festival, others were across the country to Baltimore.

(For the record: if you're ever driving from Baltimore to Minnesota and you see a sign that says "Welcome to Lake Erie"--that's a bad thing.)

Since I've moved to Utah I've taken a few road trips with friends. We've driven down to Las Vegas for various reasons. We've also learned it is worth paying for a suite at the Venetian versus just getting a cheap room at the Excalibur. Remote control curtains are awesome.

I actually like road trips. As Shepherd Book replies when asked about why he doesn't care about where he's going, "how you get there is the worthier part." When you're driving with someone for hours you talk and you get to know a lot about them. Sometimes after 20 hours in the car with someone you want to kill them, but that usually passes after a brief nap. (And sometimes that brief nap is interrupted by someone opening the door you're sleeping against

Not a balanced meal

and you go tumbling out onto the pavement.)

Road trips have also taught me that a diet consisting entirely of Red Bull and Mrs. Freshley's Cupcakes is a good recipe for becoming very sick; and that Doug was a pretty awesome roommate.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Knives

As I've stated, I like to cook.

There is something I've neglected about cooking recently: my knives. When I lived with Jared, I used the knives he had--a moderately priced set. When I lived with Doug, I bought a cheap 8 piece set from Walmart for $19.99. When I lived with my brother, I used the Farberware knife set he had. Now that I live by myself, I don't have any roommates who provide me with knives, nor do I have a cheap knife set to use (I left that with Doug when I moved). So last week, I ordered my own knives.

Still love him.

Searching online, I found a website for cutlery that carried every major brand. Shopping around, I looked at Global, Wusthof, Calphalon, Shun, and JA Henckels. Reading reviews, looking at different styles of knives (chef's knife vs. santoku), and comparing prices, I went with the Alton's Angle Shun knives. (I would be lying if I denied the influence of Alton Brown's recommendation and namesake attached to these knives. He endorses so few brands and products that when he actually does, it means something to me.) I've got an 8" chef's knife, a 6" utility knife, and a 4" paring knife ordered, along with a magnetic strip for storage. I was tempted to order a bread knife as well to put it over the site's threshold of getting a free honing steel, but decided it wasn't worth it at the moment. I'll order those later when I have a bit more money saved up.

They should be delivered today. I cannot express how excited I am.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

On Reading, Part Three

David Sedaris: my inspiration

The first line I ever wrote on this blog was "I like to read." When I started this blog almost two years ago, my first two posts were titled "On Reading, Part One" and "On Reading, Part Two," respectively. Looking back at all my posts, I think "On Reading, Part Two" is one of my favorite posts I've ever written.

I think it's time I write Part Three.

When I took my break from blogging two weeks ago I picked up a copy of David Sedaris' Me Talk Pretty One Day and read through it. He's a remarkable writer. His stories range from simple family vacation trips involving sun tan competitions on the beach to realizing he's effectively the village idiot in a rural French town to his brief stint as an artist while high on crystal methamphetamine. For him it doesn't matter much what he's writing--he could be describing the taupe paint on an office wall and it'd be entertaining.

This links me back to a post I wrote awhile ago regarding famous authors and writers not always writing quality material. (I just spent about 45 minutes reading through past blog entries--I'm pleasantly surprised most are quite entertaining--but was unable to find the exact post for linking purposes.) The point is is that not everything David Sedaris has written is as well worded with subtle cynical humor; it takes time, editing, and lots of failure to do so.

Reading his essays on the various events and moments of his life made me take a look at my own life. While I don't think I'll ever compile the stories regarding my sister and I wearing our onesies and sliding down the stairs or the winter day my brother once decided to see how thick of an ice chunk he could break over my head (we got to 2" if I recall; my memory of that's a little hazy), I think the source material is there. My life hasn't been dull; very few lives are, really. It's all a matter of perspective. And maybe some creative exaggeration when storytelling.

What this all culminates to is that reading his works has helped to give me a new perspective on my own life. I'm a pretty strong cynic--something that I don't see as a bad thing; Oscar Wilde, Mark Twain, and Shakespeare were all cynics--but that doesn't mean I can't be happy and enjoy life for the quirks and stories it provides. Think about it, when was the last time you read a story that went "we went on a family vacation and we all got along and all our plans worked out and it was fun"? No; the entertaining stories are the ones that involve your sister spilling her scrambled eggs in front of Minnie Mouse at Disneyland or shooting the only plastic arrow that goes with your favorite toy bow into the Grand Canyon (or whatever that massive gourge we visited when I was a kid was).

Things haven't been perfect in my family, but I love them. Without them, I'm afraid I'd be a fairly boring person.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

IKEA

About a year ago exactly my brother and I went to IKEA and shopped around for furniture for my bedroom. We looked around, found some things we liked, went home, covered the floor with tape mapping out where things would go, then went to buy them. They didn't have what we wanted that trip, so I opted to not get anything than only get part of it. A week or so later my Mom came out to visit and we went back to IKEA, this time actually buying my entire bedroom set.

I furnished my entire bedroom for $989.63. It looked pretty nice, even if it was all IKEA stuff.

Last week I moved into a new place. All the furniture I had in my old bedroom is now in my living room and my bedroom is, again, empty. A trip to IKEA is in order.

I'm waiting to get reimbursed for my business trip to Phoenix two weeks ago. I plan on heading back to IKEA and, once again, furnishing my bedroom. This time it can be a bit simpler, though--I just need a desk, maybe some accent lights, some artwork perhaps and maybe a new bed (I'd like to replace the twin I have now).

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Phoenix

Phoenix, AZ

Two weeks ago I took a business trip to Phoenix. It was a simple trip--just to meet the new employees in the IT department and help them with a move to a new office, setting up computers, network connections, etc. I went down on Wednesday and was going to work with them on Thursday and Friday, the move would happen on Saturday morning and that evening I'd fly home.

I arrived on Wednesday night and picked up my rental car--a Kia minivan. Last time I got a 2008 Ford Mustang; this time, a Kia minivan. Alright; a car is a car and I wasn't going to complain.

A few months ago my company revised their business travel procedures and required all sorts of paperwork for them. One of the policies they implemented was that employees are eligible for $50 a day food reimbursement. Personally, I live off of about $32.49 worth of groceries a week. It's not that my budget limits me to that, but rather that I can cook good meals for a week without paying as much as a many people worldwide make in a month. My initial reaction to this stipend was that I'd buy some peanut butter, jelly, and bread, and then pocket the cash each day since I had no reason to spend $50 on food daily. That would be too easy, of course. The money isn't given as a stipend; it's a reimbursement. This means I only get $50 a day for food if I spend $50 a day for food.

Realizing this, I made it my goal to spend $50 on food each day I was there.

This proved challenging on Wednesday night, as I had one meal to blow it all on. I went to a restaurant called Fajita's and ordered some nacho appetizers and a top sirloin fajita; the total came to $28.68 with tip. So far I was failing on my goal.

Thursday and Friday it wasn't too hard--going out to lunch each day I'd spend about $15 or $20 on sushi or what is arguably the greatest sandwich ever (Miracle Mile's "Straw"--if you're in Phoenix, go there and get it). For dinner on Thursday I went to a nice Cajun seafood place I went to last time and got a very good salmon; $28 for a salmon with asparagus gets you some good fish.

I did find that sometimes the price of a meal isn't proportional to quality but rather the quantity. On Friday I ate at a Mexican place that the hotel front desk recommended and I decided to order the steak and chicken enchiladas for $21.99 on the menu. As it turns out, this wasn't a high class place where $21.99 gets you a nice salmon; instead it got me about 8 enchiladas covered in refried beans, cheese, rise, lettuce, and pico de gallo. I ate two of them.

On Saturday the move to the new office didn't happen; the building wasn't ready yet.

This meant I had a Saturday to spend in Phoenix with no obligations and a $50 food budget. Eating breakfast at the hotel, I figured I'd drive around see what I could find. A coworker from Utah recommended a place that sells Nordstrom returns and overstock for really good prices on Camelback road, so I thought I'd try to find it. Driving down the road I passed several restaurants, small business, large business buildings, and a strip mall; no sign of the place my coworker told me about. Figuring I had a few hours to kill, I decided to stop at the strip mall.

This wasn't an ordinary strip mall.

Instead of Gap they had Gucci. Instead of Banana Republic they had Tommy Bahamas. Instead of Express they had Saks Fifth Avenue. They had valet parking. The lot was filled with BMWs, Mercedes, Porsches, and Bentleys. I parked my large white Kia minivan myself next to a bright red Porsche Carrera S and shiny black Aston Martin.

Walking around the shopping outlet was like walking through an issue of Details. Everyone was dressed in nice polo shirts or suits; everything was made by a fashion designer from Italy; all the store clerks either ignored me or assumed I was shoplifting.

I found a little bistro called Tru Food where all the waiters were dressed in cotton pants that hadn't been dyed and used notepads made of bamboo. The menu had items labeled vegetarian and vegan and the few options that had meat explicitly mentioned that the animals were all raised organically in free range farms or wild caught and humanely given anaesthetic prior to being killed. I ordered the open salmon sandwich along with the "antioxidant doctor berry juice" that had no added sugar and was made solely from blueberries, acai berries, and 8 other berries found only in the remote hills of Sweden. Both the drink and the salmon were exquisite. Looking at my budget I still had a little over $20 to spend on food. Walking around I found a Cheesecake Factory and decided dessert sounded good--walking in I was quickly seated, the waiter quickly attended and recommended the vanilla bean cheesecake, I accepted and ordered a shake to go with it. (I was on a trip and I had money that had to be spent! Don't judge me.)

When all was said and done I realized that I don't particularly enjoy the posh shopping centers. I don't fit into that world--I assumed the world that Details magazine covers existed only in their own minds; I didn't know people actually dressed that stuck up.

People dress like this?

I'm all for looking nice, but I mostly use fashion and style as a guide that I then apply to my own wardrobe. This place followed it exactly and it scared me. I always assumed fashion shows were to give ideas, not to tell you exactly what to wear. These places had no imagination; the people weren't unique. These stores--Ralph Lauren, Tommy Bahamas, Saks--these aren't where style is created; this is where it dies because it's all dictated. While the quality was remarkable; the originality was lost.

Each day I was there the temperature hit about 106 F; I didn't enjoy that part.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Turbulence

The Boeing 747-8

Having a background in science, flying doesn't bother me. I don't mind takeoffs, I don't mind landings, I don't even mind turbulence. I understand it happens regularly and is nothing to worry about.

Despite that, there are still times when it can be unnerving. When the plane drops so sharply that you actually feel your butt leave the seat it's easy to think, "When was the last time I spoke to my bishop and repented?" Having a window seat can only exacerbate this as thoughts like "Is the wing supposed to be bending like that?" and "That's a funny angle for the ground to be at..." don't instill confidence that a 490 ton hunk of metal can in fact glide safely 6 miles up. Turns out a little math and some Greek symbols on a napkin "proving" you're safe doesn't always trump natural survival instincts; I do get a little scared on flights sometimes.

Despite these thoughts and experiences while on my last flight, we landed safely and no one was hurt. So it goes.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Quick update

My weekend plans

I said I was going on hiatus for about a week. It's now been a week and a half. Regular updates will hopefully resume next Monday. They're postponement is due to a few factors, namely: I was in Phoenix last week for business; I'm moving this week; lack of motivation.

On the plus side, I do have some ideas for posts that should hopefully rejuvenate things here and make it a bit more entertaining to read. More essay-like posts instead of oh-crap-I-forgot-to-write-something-quick-write-about-a-stupid-event-that-happened-yesterday posts.

Thanks for being patient (all 20 of you).

Monday, May 4, 2009

Hiatus

Back next week

I've decided to put my blog on hiatus for about a week.

When I started the regular updates over 6 months ago I didn't think it would last this long. The reason I started doing weekday updates was because I found myself having more ideas and writing more often than just 2-3 times per week. In one day I'd find myself writing 2-3 blog posts on various topics--on days when I couldn't think of anything, I still had 3 or 4 days worth of posts waiting for me. Recently I've been finding myself running out of ideas on what to write about, usually trying to crank out ideas on the last minute on whatever topic would come to mind. I don't like that. Whenever I do get ideas I find they're usually things I've already written about.

I'm going to take the next week off of posting. Hopefully during this time ideas will come to me and I'll write some and save them for next week so I can get back into my 2-3 day grace period window.

For those of you who read this regularly, I do appreciate it. If no one read this I don't think I'd really write. I greatly enjoy writing, but I enjoy writing things that people like to read more.

Friday, May 1, 2009

No short fiction today

Due to a lack of creativity on my part right now, and a shortness of time, I will spare you any other random stories that don't really go anywhere and instead let you learn how Hugh Jackman's son (an 8-year old) picks up chicks--it occurs around 1:50 to 2:30:

The Daily Show With Jon StewartM - Th 11p / 10c
Hugh Jackman
thedailyshow.com
Daily Show
Full Episodes
Economic CrisisFirst 100 Days


And here's a cat version of whack-a-mole. Someday I want to create an automated version of this--cats would be entertained for hours: