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Monday, August 18, 2014

Happiness as Science

There's a scientific research project called Track Your Happiness which is trying to quantify what exactly makes humans happy. I first heard about this over a year ago on one of the podcasts I listen to.

The scientist said what they are learning is incredible. Things like, people tend to be most happy when they are in a car and not thinking about much in particular.

It's something you don't think about often. What makes me truly happy? Sure, you know things like eating ice cream will make you temporarily happy, but when, during your everyday life, are you happiest?

I decided to sign up to get text alerts and add to the project. I've done it twice now, 6 months apart. My second go around just finished. This is particularly interesting to me because of the completely different life-place I'm in compared to where I was around the holidays last year during my first time doing the survey.

There were a lot of "no-duh" pieces of information.


  • I'm happiest on Fridays, least happy on Tuesdays. (The day I have to take phone calls.) 
  • I'm most happy when I'm doing things I want to do, but also have to do. Which I think translates to, "I enjoy doing certain things (cooking) for other people when I sign up to do it. (family event, dinner party)
  • Right now, I'm slightly more happy when I'm inside. When I did it the first time, back in January, I was slightly more happy when I was outside.
  • I tend to be happiest when I get around 7 hours of sleep. When I get more than 8, I'm less happy.
  • I am happiest when I'm brewing, at a brewery, at a buddy's house, listening to music, or watching a movie.
  • I'm least happiest when I'm at a hospital, relaxing (that's a huge surprise), working, listening to the news, at Target, or praying/worshiping/meditating. 
I think what I get out of this is, when I'm left with my thoughts, I'm the least happy. Which I don't know what that says about my mental well being. 

It makes sense though, my three least favorite chores to do are yard work, grocery shopping, and doing dishes. All things that are relatively mindless, yet it's not easy to listen to podcasts or occupy myself in other ways. 



Friday, August 1, 2014

Salmonster VS Hungerbot

Every few holidays, I'll make Sallie a comic or picture instead of getting a card.

We've had a bunch of old paintings and canvases sitting around the house, so I got the bright idea to raise the bar. I was going to paint a picture. Now the thing you need to know is I'm terrible at painting. I'm really bad at figuring out which colors go together and staying in the lines. I'm terrible with brush strokes. I basically don't like moving outside of drawing. So I knew this would be quite the undertaking.

I started back in May. The concept stages. Sal and I have this joke that the only time we fight is when she's hungry or I'm tired. In fact, she has a persona for when she's hungry. She's SALMONSTER!

So I thought about how much I love old sci-fi and horror movie posters and decided my topic. I would create Salmonster vs Hungerbot in the style of an old Godzilla movie poster. Specifically, the one below was a huge inspiration.


So I started on this journey. I didn't know how I was going to pull this off without ruining the surprise.

So I started with some concept art, this one being the one that made it. I actually drew this sitting on the same couch as Sal, but she was getting deep into the internet on our tablet, so I knew I was safe from her seeing. I took one of the paintings we already had and agreed that we didn't want to hang it on our wall, I painted primer over it and then did this nice orange and red.


I got a little cavalier next, painted the frames for the buildings and then without any outline, went ahead and did some lettering. Not only did it not line up very well, but days later I realized I forgot the "S" in Monster.



I then added the beginnings of Sal in my favorite dress of hers and the robot. I'm a little creeped out that Sal has no eyes or hair, but I have to wait for the paint to dry before doing anything else. I also start painting over the lettering that I screwed up.


Now this was starting to look like something. I redid the lettering across the bottom, put some hair and glasses on Sal, as well as her dragon breath, and paint a pretty sweet St. Louis skyline. If you look in the top left corner, you'll notice it looks a bit different. I again messed up some lettering, but this is Slider's fault this time.

I was doing the "NEVER BEFORE SEEN..." lettering and I had paints out. The dummy decided to lay right on top of the plate I was using to mix colors. Now my back was turned during this initial thing, but I believe he probably felt wetness, sat up, licked it, and then spazzed out when he tasted paint.

All I see is a gray blob come flying around my "L" shaped desk, jumping off of my drawing table, and then shooting upstairs. I look at the paint and see hair stuck in it.

I start to chase this already panicked cat around the house, he's foaming out of his mouth, getting paint everywhere.

I catch him, put him in the bath to wash all the paint off and then make him throw up.

A day later, while Sal is eating dinner, I notice a bunch of cat painted paw prints near the piano on the floor and stealthily clean them up.

Disaster averted.

Then I had Rosie come over and do a little touching up. She put on the perfect accents to make it look a little more professional. So, after a good ten weeks of working on this for 30 minutes at a time, here is the final product.


Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The 30's and Sitcoms

Sal and I both turn 30 in the next week.

She is looking forward to her 30's.

I am not.

I don't have a great reason why I'm not. It's really a number that humans made up based on another number on a piece of paper from 30 years ago. Being 28 is not much different from being 32.

But I feel sort of ripped off. Between the multiple surgeries, getting laid off, all the overtime, I feel like we missed out of the sitcom years. You know, the 24-30 range where you make adult wages and get to have fancy cocktails in some hip New York bar/coffee house combo.

Instead, I could barely walk during those years.

And it's unrealistic. No one really lives like Ross and Rachel or the Sex in the City ladies. (I know, they were all in their 30s, but come on, they lived like 20 somethings) Most of my friends had the same struggles finding work as we did and dealing with lay offs and unexpected debt.

None of us were sipping cocktails in Manhattan and worrying about a visit from our rich, but obtrusive parents or discussing the benefits of dating older men and women.

F·R·I·E·N·D·S more like L·I·E·S
The 20's just felt like this exciting time. Older adults seemed to latch onto every story you had, living vicariously through you. The world seemed to be in front of us, and life so fresh.

When I look at the 30's on paper, it just seems like a time to get comfortable, and I don't really want that.

I'm not going to feel much different on Saturday than I did any random Saturday a few years back. This is all theoretical changes and maybe how others might view me.

I guess I'm ready for my 30's. A time where my student loans will be paid off, our car paid for, our salaries increasing (God willing), and a new chapter in life. But damn if I didn't wish I still had a few 20's to count.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Going Back to the Phones

On July 8th, I had to return to taking phone calls once a week.

I hadn't done this in almost a year, and in that year I really loved my job. The calls themselves aren't that bad. It gives me a chance to think on my feet and interact with people. BUT... this also opens me up to abuse from people having a bad time.

I've been dreading it. I used to be one of the best you could ask for on the phones, but not taking a call in a year really puts some rust on your skills.

For instance, my phone dismounts have gotten really awkward.

"Alright, that password is reset, you should be good to go..."
"OK, than..." "can I help..." "OK, umm bye" "...with anything else." Pause a few seconds, "No, bye."

I've also been stumbling to remember where I have certain tools saved. Sometimes they're a bookmark, sometimes it's an app, either way, I have 100 of both, so I have to sift through.

And I forgot how talking to users is like speaking two different languages. They don't exactly know what's going on and that's why I'm there to take calls.

So the first day back, I had a call that went something like, "Hey, I can't get logged in."

"OK, what screen are you on? Is this Windows or Email?"

"It's Windows."

"OK, do you see a change password button below where you log in?"

"No, I see a black screen."

"Ummmm, sir is your monitor on."

"Yeah should be, but it's black."

"Push the little orange button."

"Alright, I'm logged in. Thank you!"

We have a new head of technology coming in August, so my team going back on the phones is sort of a test to see if we can keep up with our other work. The answer is probably no and we're hoping whoever the next head is will take us off the phones permanently. But for at least the next few months, every Tuesday is going to be the worst day of my week.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Divergent Path

I didn't go to my 10 year high-school reunion because frankly, I didn't like high-school very much and the people I actually liked, I still talk to.

Facebook has removed the need to re-connect at high-school reunions. There is something lost by not drinking face to face, trying to one-up each other in the life awards at a real reunion, but I think I'm OK with it. I've always said, have a couple great friends instead of a ton of OK friends.

There are a few outlying people that don't post to Facebook too often that I want to know what they are up to.

My best friend from high-school reached out to me a few days ago. I hadn't really heard from him in a good 7 years when in college he told me he knocked up a girl and might have to drop out of school.

When I say I haven't "really" heard from him, it means I haven't had a meaningful conversation with him in years. Maybe about every 2-3 years, he sort of checks in and finds out where I'm living and what I'm doing.

He was cleaning out boxes in his basement and found a concert stub for a metal show we went to in high-school and reached out to me asking if I remember it.

I think the real reason is my Facebook picture is me as a kid and he thought maybe I had a child. I get the sense that he lost a lot of friends having a kid so early and was hoping to rekindle ours. As soon as I told him it was me, his answers got much shorter.

There are times where I'm jealous of the attention and camaraderie I see among parents my age. This is especially true at family functions where my brothers and I are the only ones that don't have kids or houses in the burbs.

The other cousins form circles where they discuss trips to Florida or the most recent soccer tournament. The announcement of a new pregnancy brings high-fives and hugs.

The kicker is, I love kids. I'm great with them. I just don't know if Sal and I will ever have one of our own. Anytime we've seriously discussed it, we think adoption is the most likely option for us. And even that, not until we're in our mid-30's. We both always felt like we wouldn't have one of our own, but our parental calling would be more of one for a child in need.

As morbid as it is, we both separately had this deep feeling that something terrible would happen someone we knew and we would take their kids and raise them instead of letting them go to child services.





Friday, June 20, 2014

The Things You Learn About Yourself and Six Flags

There are days where men are challenged. Where they take a deep look into their inner essence as a man, and discover just how much they can take. That same man, if truly a person of this Earth, then looks at his environment, and notices details he skips in everyday life. The way a leaf sways in the wind and how completely different the dance looks as a whole. The way rain runs down the branches of a tree.

Today was one of those days. Today I learned some things.
  • My younger self was either braver or dumber than my older self.
  • The rides at Six Flags are mostly not built for a 6'1" full grown adults. 
  • Shirts are required at Six Flags, but sleeves are not.
  • That park is much smaller when you're tall enough to see over the line railings.
I hadn't been to Six Flags since I was 17, almost 13 years ago. No... let's not start the story there, let's back up a little more.

Being a kid with an early growth spurt, I was both blessed and cursed with the ability to ride any ride at this early age. When I was 5, the Screaming Eagle had just had some renovations done and there was heavy marketing during Saturday morning cartoons for it. I wanted to ride it. I wanted to ride it more than I wanted a Rafael action figure.

And I did. And when I almost fell out of the seat every time this creaking wooden roller coaster hopped the track, I decided that would be the last time I ride a coaster for a long time.

We went back to Six Flags around the time I was 7. My mother made a deal that if I rode the Ninja with her, I would get some cotton candy. I went on the ride, trembling. Turns out I liked it OK and it seemed as if my coaster phobia was fixed.

I had season passes in high-school, and soon got bored riding the Batman, Mr. Freeze, and the Boss. We were there just about every other week and got to the point where we just walked around Six Flags like it was a casual day at the mall.

Flash forward to today, and I thought, just maybe, JUST MAAAYYYBBEE, today would be the day I finally ride the Screaming Eagle.

We start the day on the Batman. The line was non-existent. This was a good sign. We had high hopes.

And then my cranium got beat to hell on the ride. I had a headache. I felt a little woozy. This was a bad sign.

Then we move to the Mine King where my knees were beat to hell.

And then swings thinking that would let my brain stop rattling. Well, these aren't your grandma's swings. These swings first raise you about 100 feet into the air, and then start spinning you around. Neither of us felt comfortable.

The heat start pounding down. My energy was draining quickly. My head seemed to grow three sizes. I was too aware of the Jimmy John's hanging out in my stomach.

We got smart and spread coasters between other rides. hoping I would recouperate on the non-coaster rides.

We rode a new one called the Boomerang (surprisingly was a good ride) and then cooled off in Thunder River (barely got splashed) and the Log Flume (got splashed a little more.) But still, the heat barreled down and that headache I got from the Batman was also turning into a stomach thing.

We started really noticing the clientele of Six Flags has changed dramatically since our childhood. We remember middle class families, standing in line, generally building memories.

Now... man... now it's like some Blue Collar Comedy Horror Movie. Lot's of really fat children, red necks in Hustler t-shirts, (sleeves cut off of course, exposing the side of their hairy man chests) and little girls (3-4 year old) in "I'm sexy and I know it" shirts. It was sad enough that Sal and I actually turned to each other and said, "Maybe we should get some kids so that the whole world isn't screwed in 18-30 years."

So I said, "No Dan, you will not go quietly into the night. I will not vanish without a fight. We're going to coaster on!"

We walked the approximate 3 miles to the Boss, my favorite coaster from my high-school days. And halfway down the first hill, at the worst possible moment, I came to the realization, "I don't think I like roller coasters anymore." The rest of the ride I held my glasses on, with my abs engaged, teeth clinched, and eyes closed, just repeating, "Do not hurl" in my head.

We got off the Boss and I had had enough. My head was pounding, the heat was making me feel sick and weak, and I had no interest in checking Mr. Freeze and some new coaster called American Thunder off the list.  That Screaming Eagle will stand as a monument to my roller coaster failures until inevitably someday it jumps the track and actually kills some people.

We start driving home, I'm still feeling rough, but I'm focusing on the highway in front of us. We're so close at home. Soooo close... and then BAM! My head flips forward, my already pounding brain is beat against the front of my skull, and shortly after the shock I realize we've been hit from behind. (BTW: Sallie has only driven home from Six Flags twice in her life and has been in accidents both times)

We pull over and meet an erratic Bosnian. He obviously didn't have insurance. He kept saying, "Oh everyone is fine, there's no damage, there's no need to get insurance involved. I really have to get to a job. See, I'm wearing work clothes. This happened before and the people let me drive off, I praise God." I'm feeling so crappy at this point that I just see a small scratch on our bumper and I don't think I can physically wait for the hour or so for the cops to show up and write up a report.

We ask if we could have his insurance info. We wrote down his name and number and that was it. As he drove off, I snapped a few pictures of his car and wrote down his license plate. It technically wasn't a hit and run, but it wasn't far from it. (After consulting a legal expert, I found out that we're OK, even if we find something wrong later on since we have his plate info)

So hours later, after being in air conditioning, eating some food, having a beer to take the edge off, I finally feel somewhat normal again. Just really tired. I would not be surprised if I were in bed before 10 tonight.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Wanting What You Don't Have

I've always been incredibly jealous of guitar players. People that really understand the instrument and can just pick it up and make things up as they go, belt out some Beatles, and generally impress everyone in the room.

Anytime I'm in a room where someone I didn't pay to hear play music starts playing guitar, my neck tenses up and I get disappointed.

Now don't get me wrong, I play guitar. I'm better than the average person. I know most the important chords and can string my guitar up. But out of all the talents I was blessed with, rhythm was not one of them.

And it's partially the way I decided to learn guitar. I came to guitar because I actually wanted to sing, but didn't know what to do with my body when there wasn't singing. The thought of my lanky, awkward body trying to do some sort of rock star dance scared me behind the strings.

I tried to learn for a solid 7-8 years and I sort of hit this point and never got any better. I had multiple people try to teach me scales. I read so many books and watched so many terrible videos. But nothing got me to a better point.

You want me to play Green Day? I got you covered. You want me to play the Who? I'm going to stare at the frets for a minute, maybe play a note or two, and then change the subject.

I guess I just sort of need to accept where I am in talent level. I can write stories like a madman, play games like no ones business, and brew beer like a champ. But none of my talents are flashy things that you can own a room with.