Thursday, July 31, 2003

Years ago, I attended a John Lee seminar on "the rhythm of closeness". The basic idea is that, if we pay attention to our emotional needs, we'll find our hearts telling us when we need to be apart, and when we need to be together. His credibility came from his calm, self-assured demeanor, and the shattered remains of two marriages on which he stood.

When you're as relentlessly self-absorbed as I am, you can't help but notice your own emotions. My reaction is compounded by the fact that I stand right on the line between introvert and extrovert. When I lived in the dorms and never had a moment alone, I tested as an introvert when they gave me the Myer's Briggs test. When I lived with a wife and worked in a cube no one ever visited, I tested as an extrovert, because now I craved the energy of crowds. And now, when my work life is pretty social, and my schedule is filling up, I find myself craving solitude, which is now available to me, albeit not entirely by my choice (though there's much more I could have done).

It's one thing when extroverts spend time with other extroverts. For one thing, they derive their energy from time spent with others, so they can feed off one another. And their public face is them at their most relaxed, most themselves. It's the opposite with introverts, who are never quite at ease in public, but are at home when they are, well, at home. But I drink from both pools, and can't ever quite settle in one. It's a balancing act that resembles capoiera more than kung fu.

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Boy, that really chaps my hide!
I've got a cable modem and basic cable. Really basic cable. No HBO, no CNN, no Lifetime. Sure, there are one or two holes in the filter that let me see HGTV and VH1 when the moon is full, but that's a fluke. I get my Internet connection through the same folks, and it's on the same bill, bumping my monthly costs to about $60 per. Not bad. But my bills always have these flyers in them promoting packages like Digital Cable! and Internet! for Only $55 a Month! and such nonsense. So they wore me down, and I called the company, thinking that if I could pay the same but get more, that has to be a good thing, right? Turns out that $55 a month is in addition to $12 a month for basic cable, then another $45 for extended basic, so that you're actually paying more than twice the advertised price.

Y'know, I was actually pretty happy with Mediacom until I made that phone call. Good job, guys. You spent years building up goodwill by having polite employees that do good work, only to blow it with deceptive advertising. Now that's what I call marketing.

Sunday, July 27, 2003

Mike's Insight of the Week™: The opposite of lonely is annoyed.

Explanation: When the house feels too quiet and empty, TV's boring, and books don't do the trick, I know I need some human companionship. If none of my friends are available, I'll go downtown and hang out in a coffee shop. It's a simple, easily recognized emotion: loneliness.

But its opposite is harder to identify because of how it manifests: as annoyance with the people we're around. The laugh that was charming this afternoon suddenly seems a bit too loud, or even forced. But the problem isn't them, it's me. And it's not a problem, it's just a situational thing. I've been around people too much and need some alone time. It's also very easily solved, by going off for a walk (or whatever), while if I make the mistake of thinking that my annoyance is somehow a product of this other person, then I'm going to be eternally frustrated, because they can't change their laugh even if they wanted to, and they shouldn't want to just because I'm in a pissy mood.

Thursday, July 24, 2003

So, I joined Friendster. For a few months now, I'll read something about Friendster, think "interesting", click through to their homepage, get prompted to register, and decide I'm not that interested. Layne's post on the subject pushed me over the tipping point, I guess, and when I clicked through to see her profile, I registered. But I can't quite bring myself to spam my friends, so Layne's my only Friend™. So if there's anybody out there on Friendster who feels qualified for Friend™ status, now you know where to find me. And if any of my real-life friends reading this have been thinking of signing up, consider this another straw on the pile.

Oh, and thanks, Layne, for agreeing to be my Friend™. Otherwise this was gonna be the first day of high school all over again.

Update: Billie joined, so now I have two Friends™
Oh, sure, I knew Robert Rodriquez was working on the third part of his Mariachi trilogy. And naturally I was psyched, as Desperado comes perilously close to being the perfect action movie. But nobody told me Johnny Depp was in it, playing a corrupt CIA agent. So now I'm really psyched.

Wednesday, July 16, 2003

Food: Christie asked for a steak dinner, so she got one. Filet mignon, grilled over charcoal, seasoned with a mixture of sea salt, fresh ground pepper (is there any other kind?), and Spike. Filet's a pretty lean cut, so I dosed them with a bit of olive oil, as recommended by Cook's Illustrated, and used their tips on grilling (start over a hot fire to sear the surface, then move to a slightly cooler fire to cook the inside), but it's been a while since I've grilled steak, and these were a bit on the small side, so they ended up well instead of medium. But they were still tender and juicy, so neither of us had any complaints. 70% of the credit goes to Cook's Illustrated, though. Their July issue had two pages on how to choose and grill the perfect filet mignon, and I followed their tips almost to the letter. 20% of the credit goes to Schnuck's for having good meat. And Christie get's 10% just for suggesting it.

You can't have steak without potatoes, so I went to the farmer's market and picked up two quarts of new potatoes and a head of garlic, which I roasted. I chopped and boiled the potatoes, then ran them through the ricer, skins intact. Having the skins in their made them a little tricky to rice, so they were still a little chunky, but that was actually the feel I was going for. I like my potatoes a bit rustic. The roasted garlic and a bit of olive oil smoothed them up, and then I added half a teaspoon of lemon zest for the hell of it. (I had a new Microplane Zester/Grater I wanted to use.) Salt and pepper to taste, of course. If I was doing it again, I'd grab some thyme from the garden, but they turned out pretty good as it was. They weren't spectacular, but they're a side dish, so spectacular would have been, well, too much. My goal was to create the look, feel, and fun of mashed potatoes, but without the weight and warmth that just didn't feel right for a 90 degree day, and I think I did just that.

A friend had dropped off a bit of extra homemade mozzarella, so that meant fresh tomatoes, topped with a little balsamic. Add a dash of salt and pepper, and you've got a great summer appetizer, perfectly suited to a hot afternoon on the back patio, waiting for the fire to be ready for grilling. (A Note on salt and pepper: If it's going to be on the surface, I use a grainy sea salt, and if it needs to be mixed in, I use standard shaker-style salt, because it blends better. The larger grained salt has a nice texture to it, and I swear to god it tastes saltier. More complex, anyway.)

Christie's brother in law had gone for peaches the day before, and had leftovers. Meanwhile, I had one bag of last season's peaches still in the freezer, and I really felt like I needed to get rid of them before I started eating fresh ones. That meant pie. Peach and blackberry pie, specifically. Under the best of circumstances, this is a really juicy pie, but their was a fair amount of water in the frozen peaches, so I increased the amount of cornstarch and quick-cook tapioca to suck up that extra moisture. I've never really taken the time to write down this recipe, so it's always a bit of an improv deal, but lately I've been thinking I ought to write it down for my own use if not for y'all. But I'm still not happy with my pie crust, so you'll have to wait a bit until I get a handle on that. One thing I was happy with as far as the crust goes: I used the prescribed amount of salt, but I used half fine grain and half course grain sea salt, so that there was a certain amount of saltiness in the crust itself, then the occasional little "pop" of salty when you hit one of the larger grains. I don't know that it'd be to everyone's taste, but I thought it was a really nice effect, and I think I'll keep it.

And then there are the leftovers. I had mozzarella, tomatoes and potatoes (both mashed and unprepared) all left over, so Christie and I had fried potatoes (with bacon, the only way to fly) for dinner last night, and I made myself a pizza on Monday with thinly sliced tomatoes and a garlic/olive oil glaze. I suppose potato pancakes are next, but tonight's a happy hour for a friend who's celebrating her divorce, so I expect dinner tonight will be bar food. And there's been pie for dessert just about every night. So while shopping and cooking pretty much consumed my Saturday, it's been worth it, even if you ignore the fun of the moment.
Ran across this Chuck Asay cartoon the other day, and I've really gotta ask: WTF? What planet has this guy been on? Then I looked at the paper he's from and realized: Planet Colorado Springs.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Her: It's like when you've just gotten your first kayak, and before you've even had a chance to take it out, your sister wants to borrow it and take it down some class four rapids.

Me: Yes, I'm sure you're exactly right. Having your first child is just like getting your first kayak.

Her: Shut up. It's an analogy.

Monday, July 14, 2003

By moonlight I love you,
when there is no color but blue tinged gray,
crickets chirp their midnight serenades,
and fireflies swoon in slip-rhythm dance
for an audience hidden among the blades
in a light that hides as it reveals.

I cannot read by this light,
but trust my hand to shape the letters.
I can see that I have written,
and hope that daylight will find the words.

I am a hero in your arms, piratical and wild,
gentle and unyielding, lost and found.

If this is lunacy, so be it.
If moonlight love is all that's left us,
then meet me at sunset,
and we'll dance together
while the world dreams daylight dreams.

Sunday, July 13, 2003

This turned out to be a four-movie weekend, as will sometimes happen. So here are my capsule reviews:

Die Another Day - Second best of the Pierce Brosnan Bond films, but that's not much of a complement. This was a great movie, up until he started getting gadgets from Q again, at which point the screenwriters either got lazy or were sent out for donuts. Don't get me wrong; I think Brosnan may be the perfect James Bond, but the writing he's had to deal with is much worse than scorpion venom. B

Pirates of the Caribbean - Ted Elliot and Terry Rossio may be the best screenwriters in Hollywood when it comes to formula blockbusters. They know we want one-liners, great action, and big explosions, but that it'll all feel hollow if the action doesn't flow from the characters. But if their writing was the only thing this movie had going for it, it would have been at best a C+. Johnny Depp took what could have been a write-in and instead turned in a performance you can't take your eyes off. A

League of Extraordinary Gentlement - Well, they took an incredible idea, and managed not to fuck it up too much. But the most interesting thing about this movie is that the "heroes" mostly teeter on the edge of outright villainy. Most of the characters are at least given an "I regret my mistakes" speech, but Hyde is horribly misused. If you set this up against Pirates of the Caribbean, the contrast is telling. One of the two is populated with animatronic characters, and it's not the one you'd expect, given their origins. C

Undercover Brother - Wonderfully funny and weird movie starring Eddie Griffin (a Kansas City native, by the way). Yeah, it's stupid, but every couple of minutes something would happen that'd almost knock me off the couch laughing. Caveat: Clueless white folks might not get why it's funny to hear white person after white person say "He's so articulate!" Second Caveat: While the movie is good, and the outtakes are a blast, the rest of the DVD features are dull, and, as usual, the deleted scenes just serve to remind us all of why they were deleted in the first place. Also, the DVD forces you to sit through a preview for Johnny English before you can watch the movie. And I do mean forces you. The remote doesn't work at all. Imagine watching the movie, loving the movie, and buying the DVD so you can watch whenever you want, but every time you do, you have to sit through a trailer for some piece of crap that you have no interest in and that'll probably be in theaters for about 15 minutes before heading straight for the sale rack at Target. Who, exactly, thought that was a good idea? B for the movie, and an F for the DVD design team.

Friday, July 11, 2003

On the Dramatic Tension Between Karma and Appearances
I ate lunch at The Main Squeeze, a vegetarian juice bar downtown, and had a sandwich featuring, among other things, shredded beets. No animals were harmed in the making of my lunch (for once), but now I have red stains on my hands like I killed something (or somebody) with my bare hands over my lunch hour.

I'd wander among the cubicles saying, "Out, damned spot!" but, alas, I've used up my quote quota for the week. Ironically, that was Macbeth as well. But how am I supposed to resist when, at the close of a meeting, someone says, "When shall we meet again?" I mean, really, I'm only human.

Thursday, July 10, 2003

One more.
Two more things: Thing One and Thing Two.
Do You Have a Reading Problem? (apologies to AA)
  1. Do you often read to relax, or to escape from your problems?
  2. Do you turn to books when you get mad at other people, your friends or parents?
  3. Do you prefer to read alone, rather than watch television with others, or go to movies, like a normal person?
  4. Does your reading habit interfere with your work or school?
  5. Did you ever try to stop reading or to read less, and fail?
  6. Have you begun to read in the morning, before school or work?
  7. Do you read quickly?
  8. Do you ever lose time? Have you ever looked up from a book to realize that the entire evening has gone by?
  9. Do you lie about your reading?
  10. Do you ever read while driving? Books on tape count, you know.
  11. Do you lose track of your surroundings when you read, even when you don't mean to?
  12. Do you think it's cool to have read a lot of books, and to be able to read quickly?
  13. Have you ever read in the shower?
If you answered "yes" to any of these questions, especially number 13, please call your cable company immediately. Literature is a highly destructive force, and ruins countless lives, but there is help.
In memory of countless squirrels transported, imprisoned, or killed after crossing the back hedge, my father's version of the Maginot Line, I give you Dale Keiger. When will there be peace?

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

Christie's got her pictures up as well, now. So if you're interested in seeing the same kind of stuff, but from a different perspective, that's the way to go. Also, because they're Christie's pictures rather than mine, I'm no longer the geek behind the camera; I'm the geek in front of it. Highlights (in my opinion) include: The Goofy Hat Album Cover Shot, Climber Boy, Anything You Can Do, I Can Do Better, The Adorable Couple, and Kaiser the Posable Wonder Dog.

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

The incomparable Will Durst:
Managing to skewer two dinosaurs with a single spear, they struck down a Texas anti-sodomy law, effectively legalizing homosexuality nationwide, and killing Strom Thurmond in the process. Oh come on, it was hours afterwards. You know that's why he kicked. He couldn't continue to live in a world where tolerance was mandated, and man-dating was tolerated.
I've tried to hold to a "don't speak ill of the dead" rule out of some twisted midwestern sense of decency, but that's just too damn funny to skip.
My vacation pics are up. I've culled out most of the crap, and added a bit of text, so they might even be mildly interesting to the one or two of you who aren't in them.

Monday, July 07, 2003

Well, a week of sand, sun and sloth has taken its toll, and now I'm antsy to get stuff done. My to-do list at work is growing steadily longer, and I'm on the verge of starting to making some checkmarks on my project list at home. In the meantime, vacation pictures will be forthcoming.