Thursday, March 31, 2011

Oh, the Things we Keep

One thing I've learned since getting married is all that crap your parent have been keeping for memories and for "the grandkids", end up in your basement somehow.

We had to buy 5 shelves so all the stuff we've picked up over the past three years has a place to live and collect dust.

For instance: Sallie and I had a humble milk crate worth of Christmas decorations our first Christmas together, now we have four giant plastic tubs, a milk-crate, and a tree stand that doesn't really fit anywhere.

Sallie's Barbies are currently living in two giant plastic crates.

And then I take up the most space. I currently have a half refrigerator box filled with Star Wars toys, another smaller box with the overflow of Star Wars toys, two giant plastic boxes of Legos, and three giant plastic bins with memories and such.

So why do we keep this stuff?

I can tell you I don't spend all day down in my basement looking at it. I can't remember the last time I thought, I should really display my perfect attendance certificate from third grade. And why do I have a sandbag from the great flood of 1993 still?

Well, last night I was downstairs trying to clean some of this stuff up because it started over-flowing, and honestly I wasn't sure what we had. (My mom has managed to slip a lot of Nick and Brett's toys in with my stuff. Does she not know who's is who's or is she an evil genius? I'll let you decide.)

I managed to get rid of about three trash bags worth of stuff that I honestly didn't know what it was, stuff that was ridiculous that it was still being kept, or had been ruined by the ravages of time.

But I also realized why a lot of this stuff was kept. There are warm memories attached to everything in those bins. I'm keeping it in case I have an extremely awful day and need to remember the good times.

For instance, there are about 32 awards from my grade school days. Not only is there proof that at one point I was considered a genius, but I also had five Physical Education and Sportsman like behavior awards. I've got multiple perfect attendance awards. So contrary to the person my wife knows, there's proof that at one point I was intelligent and great at sports, and apparently I've always had a great constitution, keeping me healthy and out of the nurses office.

There's also just about every note I've ever been given by a girlfriend in one binder. You can literally follow my blossoming relationships all the way to their demise multiple times right up until my marriage. (This is going to make a great movie later when I'm famous.)

I've got so many drawings and songs and writings from my childhood. Some of which are great, some epic, but some are epically great like the giant poster board where on one side in giant letters it says "Star Wars: The Greatest Trilogy of all Time" and has a drawing of two dozen characters at the bottom. Then on the backside of the poster board is a comic called, "Mars Explorers" where these scientists on Mars are attacked and for some reason had rocket launchers with them. Makes sense in my mind.

I guess there are multiple reasons I hang on to a lot of this stuff.

1) I can draw inspiration for stories that I write. I tend to write stories that are loosely based off of life, so the more details I have of that life, the better the story. I don't have to go to my memory bank often, but when I do, I get inspired.

2) If I do ever become famous, there will be biographers willing to pay large sums of money to spend an afternoon going through these boxes.

3) If I make it to an old age (which I plan on living past 100) and I start losing my memories, I want to be able to go back to these and annoy my grand nephews and nieces with stories that "back in the 1990s, everyone drank coffee and wore flannel."

I always found the scenes in movies where people are looking at slides or old 9mm camcorder film to be this romantic concept. The imperfections or distortions of the scenes made the world seem like this happy and perfect place. I don't think we get that anymore. In the world of high-definition, we see every zit and gray hair the world has to offer.

... sort of weird that I'm romantically nostalgic for a time I wasn't even alive during.

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Overcoming the Things that Baffle

This year I've really jumped into food related hobbies I know nothing about.

I would always love to go back into the food business once Sallie and I are a bit more financially stable. I guess the dream is that of most people, I want to open my own place, be my own boss, and become a household name.

I have certain strengths already. Sauces, I gotcha covered. Pasta, yeah I can do that too. Meat, I'm pretty good at throwing something together.

First thing that has always baffled me is baking, more specifically bread baking. Bread can literally be the corner-stone of any meal. Can't make a proper sandwich without bread. Best way to mop up leftover pasta sauce is bread. Hell, some people eat bread as a meal.

I didn't know much about bread making, but a guy at my work is a second generation baker. I started talking to him around the end of November and the passion he talked about different bread making techniques piqued my interest. He suggested The Bread Baker's Apprentice as a good starting point. It not only comes with 40 recipes, but explains the history of bread making, why bakers are passionate, and techniques for creating various flavors and shapes.

I tore through the first 70 pages of the history and techniques within a few days. I was eager to dig into my first real bread.

The first thing I made was pizza dough. It's a two day process to properly ferment. It seemed almost too easy. I only had to create the dough and let nature do its stuff for 2 days, until pizza time. I created my own sauce and used Imo's cheese. Although I didn't quite master the pizza dough spin, I did manage to make some of the best pizza I've ever had.

The second bread was a little more complicated, but I could already tell that my skills had improved 10 fold. I made 2 loaves of ciabatta bread. As I bit into the moist, warm bread, I thought to myself, now I understand. I'm ready to dig into much more difficult breads now.

The second thing I've always had a hard time grasping is beer making.

I've drank dozens of flavors and types of beer thanks to the ridiculously cheap prices in Columbia.. I've become somewhat of a connoisseur. But I don't understand how the same basic ingredients can produce wildly different flavors.

A few weekends ago, we went to beer school at the Anheuser-Busch brewery. This was what I really needed. Reading about brewing wasn't teaching me much. I've always been much more about the hands on experience.

I wanted some friends of mine that have been home brewing to help, but our schedules just never worked out. So I decided to jump in, and I love it.

Cory ran around taking pictures of me boiling the hops, mixing in the malt, and watching it ferment for two weeks. (Ok, that's not exactly the most interesting part of the process.)

I just bottled up the beer tonight and over the next three weeks I find out if I made exploding beer time bombs. Yes, if I didn't wait for fermentation to finish, the bottles can fill with so much CO2 that they explode. Either way, I either have beer or a great story.

Third, Sallie and I got our garden going again and this year its bigger. Assuming that neither of us need surgery again this year and we keep up with it, most of our produce and some of our fruit will grow on its own.

I never really knew much about growing, but last year we had some solid results by just throwing seeds in the ground. This year, we've read up a little on this.

We planted lettuce, tomatos, bell peppers, cantalope, watermelon, and cucumbers.

All these DYI hobbies have been great for meditative purposes. It's been a pretty rough beginning of the year and sometimes you just need to go outside and dig in the dirt for a few hours to remember how silly money problems or issues at work really are.

Monday, March 14, 2011

A Rant About Current Technology Trends ... if you will

Anyone not interested in the newest gadgets or technology can go ahead and ignore this one. This is going to be a rant.

So there are substantial rumors that Microsoft will not make a new Zune mp3 player. They will continue to manufacture the current Zune HDs for the time being and the software will still be supported, but they will not release a Zune HD2. (There are even rumors that Microsoft has been in talks with third parties to license the OS and software.)

For those of you that don't know, I hate iPods and iPhones. It's multi-tiered hate. (You can skip the italicized section if you already know why I don't like them.)

1) When I did have an iPod, the scroll wheel would not work when it was less than 35 degrees out, making it impossible to navigate music.

2) They are waaaaaaaayyyy too expensive and a new one will get released within a year making yours obsolete.

3) iTunes is some of the worst software for managing music out there. Even a buddy of mine who runs iTunes on a Mac says its buggy and crashes like crazy. For instance, I could never update iTunes on my Sony laptop running XP. I would have to uninstall iTunes and then reinstall the new version. This was a multi-hour process because iTunes always had trouble reading music tags and I would have to fix it.

4) The songs on iTunes were (they've gotten a little better) more expensive than on Amazon, Zune, or even Dell marketplace and had DRM that wouldn't allow the songs to play on any non-iPod MP3 player.

5) When my hard drive crashed, I lost about 40 songs I bought on iTunes. When I asked for support getting them back, Apple support said, sorry, you'll have to re-purchase those songs.

6) Steve Jobs just rubs me the wrong way.

The Zune was the best MP3 player I've ever owned. I've had a Walkman, Jukebox, and iPod, and the Zune was towers above all the rest. So I am sad to see it go.

Now saying that, these rumors that the Zune is no more, are all qualified with, "Its because Microsoft is going to run with the Windows 7 phone and put all of the Zune guys working on that." Basically we're getting a Zune phone, that is no longer called a Zune.

This probably means that I will have to pay more for a Windows 7 phone, that won't be activated, just to have the Zune functionality.

I don't like the current trend of technology and the multifunction device. This is very much like the reason I don't like the popular game series, Grand Theft Auto. Yes, it can do everything, but it does everything mediocre.

I don't want a tablet or phone that is also my MP3 player, internet browser, and gaming machine. I want dedicated devices for each, that do the function better.

1) Gaming on a touch screen phone or tablet irritates me. Yes, there are some very innovative games out there, and yes some of those games look great on an iPhone. But the truth of the matter is, touch controls aren't as responsive as having an actual controller in hand and having your fingers touching the screen really just puts your fingers in the way of the game.

I've never played a game on my Droid for longer than a few weeks. After a while, tower defense, physics based games, and point and click adventures get old. I would much rather be sitting on my couch and playing the game on a large screen.

2) The multifunction device is a great way to carry less on long trips. This is true. It's nice always having a way to send email or to check news stories while waiting somewhere. But typing a longer email, or navigating multiple pages just doesn't work near as well as having a real keyboard in front of you.

On top of that, videos are becoming more popular on websites. If the video will play on your mobile device, its going to eat your battery like crazy.

Not only are videos problematic sometimes, but some websites won't even load on a phone or will have a pop-up add block everything.

So until there's a standard or phones become more powerful, there's no way this can take over as your main browser. Give me a laptop any day. Or really, the netbook is the happy medium here.

3)Battery life is the main obstacle here. I used to have a phone that would get 16-18 hours on a charge. Now that my phone can connect to Twitter, Facebook, Gmail, has fancy animations, and can play music, I'm lucky to get to 10 on some days. That's not even including the drain on the phone trying to find a 3G signal, GPS satellite, wifi-connection, etc, if I choose to use it. If battery life can improve significantly, maybe I'll listen to an argument.

The iPhone does MP3 well, but a lot of people I've talked to have said that their calls aren't exactly clear (Remember antennae gate?) and the network can be sluggish pretty often. The battery life isn't so bad, but let's remember, the primary function is the phone.

My Droid browses really well, has insanely good clarity on my calls, but the music playing software is a joke and it would be nice to have a standard platform like iTunes to manage all of my applications and games.

Basically what I'm saying is, I'd rather have a dedicated device for each function, and I would like that device to do it well. If someone put out a truly exceptional device that could be both a phone, MP3 player, and browser with a good battery, I'd think about changing my stance, but as it stands now, I'd rather have separate devices.

Sunday, March 6, 2011

True/False Festival 2011

I've been attending the True/False Film Festival in Columbia in some form four out of the last five years. The festival fills the streets of Columbia, creates this insanely dedicated community of enthusiasts, and inflates local business' profit for the weekend.

It's a weird festival. Constantly on the cusp of becoming a premier film festival, but remaining just small enough to keep the Yuppies and Hollywood types from descending on the college town and ruining everything. Its weird walking the streets and wandering by a table at a cafe where 3-4 of the directors are hanging out, eating sandwiches, and drinking beers.

It's also a huge advantage to know the town. Whereas most of the tourists wandered into places like Shakespears and Harpos, Sallie and I were able to avoid the large crowds and have intimate and entertaining dinners and drinks off the beaten path.

Unfortunately, the growth of the festival seems to have gotten to the point where they're going to need to add a few venues and possibly another day.

This year, Sallie and I bought the step up on our passes. Unlike last year where we got to see any movie Friday-Sunday, this year we could see movies Thursday-Sunday and get into all of the events.

We're supposed to be able to choose tickets before most of the film goers, but as I was on the website clicking the movies we wanted to see, our prime choices started dissapearing quickly. I had to make some quick decisions and hit the submit button without thinking much about it. We didn't get into two of the movies we really wanted to see and had nothing to watch all Friday morning.

Last year, with these passes, we were able to line up outside the theater and if people that had tickets didn't show up to the film, they would let us in.

This year, so many people didn't get tickets to the films that the lines for the queue were double and sometimes triple the length of who would get in.

So Friday we bummed around downtown all day. We tried to get into three different movies and were turned away every time. We were running out of things to do. We didn't want to hop back in the car and go to the hotel because we had prime parking and had hope we would see a movie. We basically went to Slackers five times and drank wine out of boredom.

Then the tornado sirens started blaring. The streets empties. Sallie and I were left in Top 10 Wines, sipping on a smoky red wine, watching the chaos outside. Not the worst way to spend apocalyptic weather. (Until you realized that we are in a building filled with glass.)

Saturday and Sunday were much more productive and we felt better about the money we spent on the tickets.

We finally saw some films, most of which were entertaining, but average. This gives short descriptions and reviews of everything we saw. Most of these films aren't out on DVD yet. Some even had their world premier at True/False.

-Fake it So Real: This is about Professional Amateur wrestlers in North Carolina. It was very interesting, sort of heartbreaking. You see the characters giving two weekends a month to entertain 10-40 people. They bust their bodies and are lucky to make $20. It really was carried by the characters who were all surprisingly charismatic and fairly intelligent. Went on for about 15 minutes too much.

-Secret Screening Purple: I can't talk about this one because it hasn't officially released yet.

-Resurrect Dead: This was one of the most interesting films of the festival. Was something out of the X-files. These weird messages pop up all around the world on the street and these guys become obsessed with finding out who is making them. I even asked a question of the director in front of a few hundred people. (He only gave me a half answer which was upsetting.)

-Campfire Stories: This wasn't a movie, but rather the directors (and sometimes subjects of the film) got up in front of a crowd and told us stories about the scenes that they didn't catch. There were stories that made you laugh, cry, just really made you marvel at these people's ability to tell a story. What made this better is we got smores.

-Knuckle: This film was about feuding Irish families and how they would have bare knuckle boxing fights in the street to settle differences. Real violent, but at the same time, these families are having short boxing matches instead of shooting each other on the street. If gangs were able to settle their differences this way, the world would be a better place.

-The Arbor: Pretentious without any true direction or subject. This is the only film we hated.

-The Burger and the King: There was a short about the civil rights movement at the beginning that was one of the best films we saw. Then the actual documentary was a series of interviews with the people that made Elvis' food. That man could eat!

-The Pruit Igoe Myth: This was one of the most heartbreaking of films. It tells the story of the demise of St. Louis. People moving out of the city after World War II caused lack of money because of loss of taxes, which then made the city start falling apart. It's hard to watch the destruction of something you have so much pride for.

-Shut Up Little Man: This started off strong. Two guys move to San Francisco and find that their neighbors are hilarious drunks. They record the guys fighting and start passing the tapes around. It becomes a big deal, thousands of people hear the tapes. This is about those guys trying to justify what they did. Gets really pathetic toward the end. It's a shame, started out so strong.

-Page One: Inside the New York Times: This was by far the best documentary of the festival. It not only showed you the inside workings of the New York Times, but David Carr, one of the main subjects, really gives hope for the future of journalism. I haven't seen Sallie smiling about her profession that much since she graduated.

-Bobby Fischer Against the World: Bobby Fischer, chess genius, bat-sh*t insane. This follows Bobby Fischer through his life and basically shows that when you re-wire your brain for something like chess, you can really mess yourself up.