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With thanks to Dreamwidth and Livejournal, it was time for a change of scenery. My new blog, Culture Lag, is up at cultlag.wordpress.com. Tweets @C_L_Byers.
Hope to see you there,
Charlie
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I was joking with a fellow Android user at work, last month, that if Apple had created Wave, by now it would be so ubiquitous that there'd by an Android app. I am sorry to see Wave go, just when it was getting interesting, but if this means Google is trying to trim the wild branches and get more focused on the projects that are important to them, then that's a silver lining I can live with.

As someone who uses Google products every day (including an unofficially abandoned Android device,) I'm coming to see the company more and more as a shop with more cool projects than project managers. When they throw their full weight behind a product, the result is always great. But they don't seem to have much of a vision for how their total set of products should work together, with the result that lots of very 'wow-ing' apps and services just never find a place in the broader product/marketing strategy. If Apple is really girding itself for war, then that's a lesson Google needs to learn fast.
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Running some errands this morning, I bought a tiny little coffee press at a Fred Meyer's in Bellevue, then later on this evening, Audra and I biked up the hill to the safeway for groceries, and I got some basic, grocery-store coffee. When we came home, I heated up some water, and gave it a shot. (I'm more accustomed to drip coffeemakers, but I think living in Seattle now carries certain responsibilities.) A clumsy few minutes of alchemy later, I poured a cup that was garbage - I could tell just from the color. I stepped out onto the patio while the sunlight was starting to fade, and took a sip, and yes: wrong temperature, wrong amount of time, wrong grind, wrong all over. But then, that faint, dusty, beaney aftertaste, from the stuff that makes those little black whorls in the bottom of the cup when you're done, hit me with a totally unexpected wave of nostalgia, and there seemed to be this sublime kind of correctness in everything, from the color of the light on the mountains to the sounds of the swallows in the roof. The quick explanation I keep telling people is that I lived in Bellingham for a few years when I was a kid, before I got sucked into the desert, and that I've been trying to get back to the northwest ever since. I forget sometimes that it's true. This feels a lot like being home.
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I've been in Seattle since late Sunday night, and so far, it's been wonderful. The drive was a blast - I've always liked road trips, and this one was no exception. The last couple of hours were a little grueling, but for the most part, it was a chance to talk to myself, listen to a bunch of music and watch some glorious scenery roll by for about 20 hours. I highly recommend it. And since then, I've just been making myself at home.

To everyone who's said it's a different pace of life here, amen. There is a coziness to the Northwest, at least for me, that seems to rub the edges off of busy schedules. Even going out 'running errands', as I've been doing a lot this week, has more in common with taking a nice walk than it does with hurrying from one task to another. On paper, today I went to the DMV, got a haircut, bought textbooks, filled up my buss pass and met Audra for lunch, but looking at me at any particular point in that sequence, you'd just see a guy strolling around a pretty town, looking amazed at his own good luck and breathing in all the smell of growing things that his lungs can hold. I'm sure a year from now, I won't notice all of these nice smells, or appreciate the mild summers so much, but I will still be in a place where you can stroll down a downtown sidewalk with a huge grin on your face without looking at all out of place. I think it suits me.
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My to-do list is shifting into a list of things done, and every calendar I check insists that the day I move is in three days, or the day after tomorrow, or tomorrow, or something ridiculously close like that. Cleaning out my desk today, I kept running across old plans for things I've done in the last couple of years at work, and stopping to wonder how I ever found the time to do all this stuff. The move has been a little like that. I've been getting ready for so long, it's hard to believe I'm pretty much ready, now.

It's been a fun week. Better, actually: It's been a week full of people spontaneously inventing ways to tell me how much they appreciate having me in their lives and how much they're going to miss me. I guess I know, on paper, that people tend to like me, but it's humbling to be told so this frequently. From my boss (a guy who has hired me no less than three times) organizing a little going-away party for me at a bar by the office, to my dance buddies at the Aruba arranging a little 'everybody dance with Charlie' circle, it's all been really sweet. I'm ready to move on, but I've had great reminders of all the friendships I'm going to miss when I'm off to Seattle.

The desert has been really good to me. I don't know how to measure how much I've grown up since I came here, except to look at how much happier I am now than I was then. It's the kind of happiness that, like dancing or SQL or hiking the sneaky back trails in Red Rock, is cultivated in a long string of teacher/pupil relationships, and I've been blessed beyond measure with good teachers, out here.

So, thanks, Vegas. You've been the setting for a great chapter in my life. I can't wait to see what's next.
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My cat is now on his way to Seattle. I'm going to try and imagine him relaxing in his own kitty first-class seat, enjoy his own little kitty cocktails and peanuts, rather than squirming in a cramped carrier in the space under a seat while Audra apologizes profusely to her fellow passengers for his mewing. Either way, he'll be there soon. It was either three hours on a plane or twenty in a car, and I stand by my decision. I just hope he settles into the new place easily.

Meanwhile, I guess I'm settling out of the old place. The furniture is pretty much gone, the stuff I'm keeping is pretty much packed, and by this time next week, I'll be right there with the cat. Hard to believe the move is getting so close.

Confession

Jul. 2nd, 2010 07:28 am
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I have the same problem with the present Kyrgese/Uzbek conflict that I had with the Tutsi and Hutu fighting; I know, intellectually, that there are deplorable violations of people's basic human rights going on, but when I hear the words, I can only visualize those people as Dr. Seuss characters.

Disadvantaged ethnic groups need less funny names. Can we fit that on a protest sign?
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Was I the only one who hadn't watched David Byrne's True Stories until now? It's a musical pop-art movie about the American south in the early '80s (set in Virgil, TX, and filmed thereabouts.) As someone who experienced that culture as a kid, I'm in awe of the accuracy of the portrait. The buildings, streets, rooms, people - they really looked like that. Watching the movie, I could smell those places.

The movie was also an excuse to present the songs from the Talking Heads album in ideal settings. John Goodman sings People Like Us as a character who actually means the "We don't want freedom/ we don't want justice/ we just want someone to love" chorus, and City of Dreams, as music for the closing credits, could knock you over with a feather.

Its on Netflix. Consider this your anthropology homework for the week.
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"CAPRICORN (Dec. 22-Jan. 19): The eulachon is a fish that lives off the
Pacific Coast of North America. Its fat content is so high that the Chinook
Indians used to dry it, thread it with a wick, and employ it as a candle. The
stink was bad, but the light was good. Remind you of anything in your life
right now, Capricorn? Something that provides a steady flow of
illumination, even if it is a bit annoying or inconvenient? I say, treasure it
for what it is and accept it for what it isn't."

Get your own yonder.
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1) I suddenly caught the lyrics in the first verse of Bauhaus' Endless Summer of the Damned, this morning, where it goes "So this: a form of patricide/ in which the children also die". I'm a geek for lyrics, and Peter Murphy is hit-and-miss, for me, but I like that one.

2) I finally got around to listening to IAMX's Kingdom of Welcome Addiction, and I really like it. They're one of those bands where I only buy their albums to encourage them to tour (they're high on my list of favorite live bands,) but this is getting closer and closer to something I'd buy anyway. With the tiny exception of the Sneaker Pimps' Bloodsport, I think every album Chris Corner has made has come out better than the one before it. That makes me happy.

3) In preparation for the move to Seattle next month, I've been getting rid of stuff as un-sentimentally as I can. I'm down to about a box of keeper books, and all of my furniture is getting adopted out, and the resulting pile of stuff to move is rapidly approaching something I could fit in a car. CDs, though, have been a problem. There's just no used market for them, now! I don't actually need them - my entire music collection is digital, and has been for years, but I really hate the idea of throwing away all of my CDs. I think the solution is going to be two piles: One for CDs that I want to have around, just as a collection, even though I don't 'need' them, and the other will be a sad pile of hard-living experimental industrial music that I'll just dump on Salvation Army in the middle of the night and be done with. Wish me luck.
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I did get hold of the new Tom Waits live CD, Glitter and Doom. If you're someone like me who just can't stand knowing there are Tom Waits recordings out there you haven't heard, go get it. Much as I love the guy, I don't think live performance is his strong suit. However: there is a performance of Dirt in the Ground that stands out. I grew up on the studio version from Bone Machine, but here he's turned it into this strange, mournful kind of sermon. It's weird magic, and I love it.

A quill from a buzzard
in blood writes the word.
And I want to know,
am I the sky or the bird?

Hell's boiling over.
Heaven is full.
We're chained to the world,
and we've all gotta pull.
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I bought an ebook reader a couple of weeks ago. After some research on features, I went with the Nook, and while I could write a longer post on what they got right and what they got wrong, I have been happy with it. I end up with lots of ebooks and pdfs to read for school, and quite a few I just want to read for fun, and these e-ink displays are fantastic. Reading on the Nook is every bit as comfortable as reading print.

Hauling the device around in my backpack does seem a little unkind, though, so I decided today to make a bookjacket for it. In junior high, I always made book jackets from grocery bags, and I still like that texture. Materials were a few rubber bands, a little cardboard (I used a shoebox,) tape and a grocery bag.

Pictures! )

This was a first prototype, and there might be a second. Or, I might just make some cosmetic fixes to tidy up the inside cover. For now, though, it'll do just fine.
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Yesterday, I finally sat down my boss and my department VP, and told them about my plan to move up to Seattle in July. The plans have been in place for a while, now, but I didn't want to give too much notice, or not enough. 3 months seemed like about the right number. We talked about the possibility a long-distance, part-time position after I relocate, too, so time will tell where that goes. It'd be nice to have a job when I get to WA. But for the most part, I'm just relieved to have that conversation behind me, and to have all my plans out in the open.

Keeping the secret has made it hard to discuss this openly, but I'm thrilled about making the move. It'll put me closer to Audra, closer to most of my family, and in a much better position to continue with school. This feels like a big move forward, for me. The plan I'm following would have seemed preposterous to a slightly younger and more cynical me. And yet, here I am. I'm just endlessly grateful that things are working out so well.

Next step: shed belongings until I can fit everything in my car. So, if anyone reading this has secretly coveted any of my stuff, this is a good time to ask for it!
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Audra and I spent last weekend on a whirlwind tour of San Francisco. We hoteled up in a stupendously mod little place called the Crescent Hotel, just up the hill from the Powell/Market St. BART station, and took in everything we could in the space of a 3-day weekend. Here's a few photos:

click! )

Awesome trip! Much thanks to all the fun people we got to catch up with. I'd love to make a habit out of visiting SF.
Later,
Charlie
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My buddy Don, at work, got Ninja Assassins on DVD, and he's been loaning it around. I watched it last week, and I approve. This morning, Ellen (our resident SAS developer) handed the disc back to him, and said "Yeah, the action scenes were good. But, they called it Ninja Assassins, you know? What was all that love story stuff for?"

I mean, wow, right? Wow. I've called out Iron Man as a stealth chick-flick, but Ninja Assassins? Accusing that movie of being too mushy is like saying Anaconda had too many mammals in it.
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After I went dancing this evening, I got the odd urge to go see a late movie, so I went and caught the last thing showing at the Orleans, which was The Green Zone. I was expecting it to be a shitty movie - you might even say I was heartset on the experience of watching a shitty movie in a mostly-empty theater in the middle of the night - and I guess it didn't let me down.

It's a hard movie to praise or criticize, really. Watching a big-budget action movie voice patriotic doubt over Iraq is a little like watching kids on a playground act out their parents' arguments; you wish they wouldn't, but can't say they don't have the right. The movie tries to keep the audience interested by blowing things up at regular intervals, which balances oddly with the often ham-fisted message. There are moments where the actors all but turn to the camera and say 'hey, we fucked up in Iraq!' But then, within a few minutes, they're back to work putting a simple, familiar conspiracy thriller on screen for you. You can just picture the screenwriter, pitching it to a producer as 'an indictment of Iraq war policy so simple, even a republican could understand it'.

 What made the outing worth it, for me, was a guy striking up a conversation with me in the men's room after the movie*. I think what he said was "You know our government's just like that, don't you?" Then he told me about his nephew, who is now on his fourth tour of duty in Iraq. Even more than the movie, the conversation drove home the point that our regrets over Iraq have become the cultural mainstream. I offered him my sympathies, and recommended that he watch No End in Sight. And I recommend it to you, too, come to think of it. It's a difficult documentary to describe without putting too many preconceptions in people's heads, but I now have a very convenient shorthand to describe it: It's The Green Zone for grown-ups.


*Note for females: guys don't do this often.

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22-year old Katie Spotz has just become the youngest person ever to row across the Atlantic, solo. I'm just spreading the word because rowing across the Atlantic solo rules. I heard a snippet of an interview she did, today, and to hear her talking about the fish and turtles and dolphins that would follow her around, and getting seventy-something consecutive days worth of sunrises and sunsets all to herself, I'm halfway tempted to plot something like that, myself. (Granted, she went out in something a little more seaworthy than the Imperforable*, but still.)

I don't really go in for sports celebrity, but this kind of undertaking does impress me. I love hearing about people taking on cool challenges just for the challenge of it. She says one of her goals was to raise funds for blueplanetrun.org/, a non-profit that funds projects to bring safe drinking water to communities without. I'll definitely chip in for that.

That 'youngest' title is held by a slight margin - I know Paul Ridley was 25 when he made the trip last year, and all of the eighty-something people to attempt it have been fairly young. Rowing for two or three months solid isn't anybody's idea of retirement, I guess. In my book, they're all badasses. So, well done.

(*: My command, the HMS Imperforable, commissioned 2006. The terror of the reservoir.)

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I got a last-minute invitation to a wedding, this last weekend. I knew that my friends April and Doug were getting hitched, but they were doing a small ceremony, pretty much with just their families. At the last minute, though, someone had to cancel, so they asked me. I was glad I got to go. I haven't seen either of them much in the last year or so, but once upon a time, the bride was one of my my 'inner core' of clubbing buddies.
I hadn't thought of this fact for a long time, but she and I both ended our first marriages around the same time. We met, a couple of months later, in similar states of mind: a little baffled at the turn our lives had taken, but grateful for our second chances, and determined to make the best of it all. It seems like a lifetime ago, now, but getting to share that with somebody meant a lot to me. It gave me a lot of hope. So, I was glad I got to be there, for both of them. They've both been good friends when I've most needed good friends, and the wedding made a really nice moment in that story.
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There's a great scene in Memento, where the main character, who can't form any new memories, is going back to hotel where he's been staying. The desk clerk shows him to his room, then, as soon as they step inside, stops. 'Wait', he says, 'this is the wrong room'. The main character, Leonard, asks 'then why is my stuff here?' And the clerk admits that he's been renting Leonard two rooms, and double-charging him, because he can't remember paying for the room long enough to catch on. 'Well, I appreciate you being honest.' Leonard says. And the clerk shrugs, and says, 'Hey - it's not like you're going to remember this conversation.' To which Leonard kind of flinches, and says 'You didn't have to be that honest.'

I think of that exchange when people say 'We need to pass this healthcare bill, even though it's worthless. The democrats need a victory to campaign on'. I understand that we are that stupid, as a group, but... well, that doesn't mean I like hearing it.

Does anybody see a silver lining in this, or is the first Democratic majority in years really blowing all of its political capital just to funnel more money to the health insurance industry?

Aw, man.

Mar. 7th, 2010 03:42 pm
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The dude from Sparklehorse died yesterday. He was exactly the kind of weird I like.
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