Sunday, November 12, 2017

This Week's Things

1. So I finally jumped on the "Stranger Things" bandwagon. After a week and now 1.22 seasons in, I'm trying to learn to pace myself so that, among other things, I'll stop being followed by dark tentacle creatures through dreams.

2. I appreciate Black Hills winters greatly.



3. Still wouldn't argue with a little snow, though. A little.

4. Looking at a weird week ahead. We'll see how it all goes.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Sourdough

A year ago, I gave a not-quite-a-review for a book.

I read Mr. Penumbra's 24-Hour Bookstore in a Denver hotel room while preparing for a life that ... as it turned out, never quite happened. It was a weird place and time in my universe and on some level, I wondered if my deep, abiding love for that book was inextricably linked to that almost-life.

Six months later, I read it again. Turns out this was a book that had nothing to do with where I was. I still loved it.

Then, something crossed my radar in September. Robin Sloan, the hilarious and brilliant author of Penumbra, had a newly released novel.

... About bread. Kind of.



I finally acquired it last week, and then this week I opened it up. And the next day, I was done.

Here's my review:


The thing that gets me about Sloan's books as a whole is that they are rather hard to describe. They're not directly mysteries or love stories or anything quite that easily classified (well, not yet). They're worlds colliding with a hint of something fantastic -- a bookstore and Google and a secret society, or a robotics company and a yeast culture and an underground market.

And reading them, I feel an awful lot like I'm hearing a story from a friend that started with, "You'll never believe what I did last month."

It doesn't hurt that so far, he's talked about two things I love dearly -- namely, books and bread. Following the current path, his next book (in a couple years) will somehow involve space and/or beer.

Now, to get back to my own sourdough starter. The book was more than inspirational...

[Yes, that second book in the picture is now getting my attention. Yes. It is very, very good. No, I'm not done with it yet.]

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

Massive Data Cleanse

I'm finally hitting that thing on my to-do list that I've been casually delaying for, oh, about six months now.


Of course, it immediately went awry.

Like most of you, I carry a smartphone that at any given point in time contains hundreds of photos I've barely perused since they first appeared on the screen. Sure, every once in awhile I'll thumb through them, trying to remember what day that hike was or when exactly that aunt visited, and occasionally I'll trip over something oddly memorable.

Like this.


Or the day I took this.


Or ... Seriously, how many cat pictures do I have?


This one caught me a tad off guard.


And of course, there are the food photos.



I seem to be a digital hoarder.

Well, no longer. In the midst of my data cleanse, after I'd pulled everything from the last two years off my memory card and while I was sorting through it, I got The Message.

Card Corrupted. Formatting Required.

What?! NOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!

Several minutes of angry ranting and flailing followed.

Note: That first part was important. I'd managed to get two years' worth of photos (pulled from a phone I've only had for a year, which was nice). Shortly before offering a sacrifice to the tech gods, I found that almost everything from before then had been backed up already, too.

Which meant, perhaps, that what I'd really done was an overzealous cleaning.

A few deep breaths and a reformat later -- along with the finding of a new card adapter because the first one apparently couldn't be trusted -- the rebuilding began. As with many of these tasks, what should have taken an hour ended up spanning eight. (Luckily, I could start a data transfer and walk away.) And while I'm going to have some glitches while I retrain various apps, I've mostly just re-learned a couple valuable lessons.

1. Back-up often.
2. For the love of Pete, don't trust an adapter with a cord.
3. Maybe consider deleting extra photos as you go this time, you weirdo.

.... Yeah, that sums it up.

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Things I've Learned This Week

1. When you come across a bison in the woods, it is every bit as unnerving as you'd expect.



2. I moved many things that I should have thrown away. On the other hand, my donation pile is only getting bigger.

3. Like many, I've been thinking back on 9/11 and where I was that day (early morning band practice), which led to a strange trip through the things I do and do not specifically remember. I remember the Gulf War, although not when it started (I was in first grade). The explosion of Columbia was a huge deal, as I was in class at an engineering university. (We watched the coverage all day in the dorm common room.) Bin Laden's death (while I was packing for my summer).

But what I've realized this week is how many people -- kids, in my book -- I know that have no memories of any of these things. Kids who worked for me were born after 9/11 or Columbia. Kids who have memories of those don't remember Columbine -- and more to the point, no memory of what school was like before that.

It's wild.

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Supposed

"This wasn't how this year was supposed to go."

I don't know exactly how many times I've said that in recent history, but do me a favor. Keep going and read that sentence again with my intended tone. It's not a whine -- it's a slightly bewildered but hopeful phrase, as though what became reality might actually be an improvement on what was expected.

"This wasn't how this year was supposed to go."

I've had a lot of catch-up conversations in recent history that have started with, "So have you moved yet?" Each time I get to back up in the year and fill whoever it is in on exactly how the last few months have progressed, and each time I'm a little more baffled. Yes, I'm still on hold (as far as I know). Yes, I'm looking for other jobs in the meantime. No, my patience isn't infinite.

No, I don't actually mind staying in Rapid City. In fact, the summer has been quite fun.

This wasn't how this year was supposed to go -- I was supposed to have moved to a new city in a new state and started a new job by now. I was supposed to be spending my 9-5 hours at a desk and my other hours finding a social life. I was supposed to be trying to find weekends to come up to Rapid and visit while Mia Sorella and Jay were here, and balancing a new gig with time off to make it to a big family wedding.

"Supposed to."

Instead, I've been finding myself curiously afloat -- living in a basement, sure, but picking up odd jobs here and there and getting creatively frugal at times. I've been cooking and baking with increased frequency. And I haven't had to miss anything -- a camping trip with my brother, an entire month with my sister, a family wedding that turned into an extended weekend. Oh, and the eclipse.

While it took some time to get to the point of peace (April was a rough month) and I'm not a big fan of The Great Unknown that I've been perpetually peering into, it has managed to be a pretty good year. Even better, I've been able to find some new structure.

Now, I'll spend a day each week surfing job sites and filling out applications. A couple days working through classes on Coursera. At least one day hiking (usually). Here and there, a day or two with one of those odd jobs. And there are evenings for dinner and beverages, concerts and random road trips.

So yes. It's not been what I expected.

Not even a little.

And yes, I find myself speculating about what it could have been.

But for the moment? I don't think I'd trade it.

That's about the best I could hope for, I think.


Friday, August 25, 2017

Ms. Fix-It

This is a broken car door handle.



It's been a thorn in my side for a few years now. Why? Well, at one point I would have said it was too expensive to fix and therefore it was very low priority.

Recently, however, I needed to replace my front brakes. Let's talk about things that are too expensive.

Egads.

This time, though, I realized I had the time to take care of it myself, and after a fair bit of research (that is, watching videos on YouTube) I realized I could probably do my brakes myself. A few parts, a couple hours, and voila -- brakes!

Which is what brings me here today.

You see, I'm not really a DIY person (whether that was car stuff or other stuff) and there are a lot of things out there that I used to only purchase. Over time, however, I've realized how much of it I can take care of myself in a shorter time for a lot less money, whether it's fixing something or making something from scratch.

I'll admit, I have an unfair advantage: I am unintimidated by mechanical things and I have no fear of pushing buttons. This isn't knowledge of mechanical things, mind you -- it's just a lack of fear. It's not true for everyone. As I start walking through my usual process, you might not get past step two and that is just fine. But if you can keep going, it's strangely rewarding to know that you took care of it yourself.

So here we go.

Step One: Identify the problem/task.

With any luck, this is easy. ("My door handle is clearly broken" or "I need new brake pads" or "I want a coffee table.") If the problem is unidentifiable, take it to a professional -- this is where "random clunking noises" or "something is on fire" often falls.

Step Two: Do some research.

Seriously, everything is on YouTube. If something on your car has broken, someone else has already dealt with it. If you've decided you want fancy rock work done in your bathroom, someone has instructions out there on how to put that up. It's all there.

Read whatever tutorials and watch whatever videos you find from start to finish. You'll know if you can deal with it or if you want to invest the time. If you can, proceed to the next step.

Step Three: Make sure you have the parts and tools needed.

Sounds self-explanatory, right? Don't skip this step.

Step Four: Block out the time.

And for crying out loud, be realistic. Whatever instructions you found, make sure you at least double the expected time frame. Triple it if you haven't done anything like this before.

Step Five: Take a deep breath and get moving.

It's not that scary.

Step Six: Acknowledge that sometimes it IS that scary.

Okay, fine.


Step Seven: Stay organized.

Take notes, keep track of parts, and take pictures along the way if it helps. I've labeled things with sticky notes as I've gone along if there were enough parts. I'll take before and during pictures as reference points so I don't cross wires when I put stuff back together. That kind of thing.

I mean, it's a long standing joke, but you won't like the panic when you get done and have a new "spare" part sitting there, mocking you.

Step Eight: Realize that the step in the process that you thought was going to be the shortest and easiest one is the longest one.

Seriously, removing door panels was a lot more muscle work than I expected.

Step Nine: Don't be afraid to call for reinforcements if things get wonky.

No, really.

Step Ten: Keep going.

This is more important when you're making something new. Do yourself a favor and don't leave a project half-finished for six months. The guilt is ridiculous. (In related news, I still have some random wood that's supposed to be a bench.)

Step Eleven: Abruptly realize you're done and that wasn't so bad.

I like this step.



I don't think I mentioned that both door handles were broken. Seriously, I should have done this years ago.

Step Twelve: Bask in the moment when you get to toss an old bad part.



Step Thirteen: Take a moment to reflect and add up your own costs.

Was it worth it? Did you save money? Was your time well-spent? Did you learn something new? Was it, "I hate cars and never want to do this again?"

The fun part is ... this can apply to a lot of things. This has been my process for everything from that brake work to sewing a dress to properly cooking a turkey to making my own cleaning solutions. There have been times where I've gotten done and realized it wasn't worth the effort -- so I never did it again. And there have been multiple projects where step eight bit me and I got stuck there.

But hey, I've learned something every time.

Especially today ... when I could hit the lock button on my keys and it actually worked. Wonderful.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Eclipsed

Three weeks ago, I sent a text off to the Machine. "Want to go watch the eclipse with me?"

His answer was immediate and straightforward: "Yes."

Being me, this wasn't the first time I'd thought about it. I'd been half-planning for months what I might do for The Day, based on where I thought I might be living at that point. As far as I could tell, I'd be close to the path of totality no matter what -- the question was more about how much free time I might have.

As it turned out, I didn't have to worry about the time. Even better, as Monday neared, my crowd grew.

First was the Machine. Then, Ashli realized she was starting work here on the 22nd. Finally, I met Mikah Meyer, a record-setting traveler who happened to be in the area with no firm eclipse plans as of nine days ago.

The team now assembled, we started debating our options.

Rapid City happened to lie two to three hours from the path of totality, with many options for where you might choose to land. Heck, the town itself was at 95%, which wasn't so bad, either. So we discussed ... Nebraska made the most sense. The Badlands would provide excellent photos. Wyoming was a pretty okay option.

That is, until Saturday night. With storms or clouds forecast for much of the area we'd considered, we realized Lusk, Wyoming, was our best bet.


And so it was that we assembled in a parking lot on Monday morning and headed southwest.

We were ... not alone in this decision.

This road has never seen this many cars at once.

Traffic was slow at times but kept moving, and we reached our destination a little after 10AM. Lusk was busy but didn't seem swamped -- we shared a field on the south side of town with only about twenty people. 

We pulled out food, settled in ... and waited.




We didn't have to wait long for things to start.


We started to notice things after 11. It was almost smoky outside, the strange effect of the sun setting above us instead of on the horizon. Things took on a green haze, then a blueish one. The temperature noticeably dropped.

And around 11:48, we hit totality.


I still don't fully have the words. It was incredible. It was two surreal minutes in an ocean of time as the world went dark and all the birds in the area abruptly decided to fly south. We had 360 degrees of sunset and a strange chill.

And after all too brief a time, it was over.

There are so many other descriptions out there that are so much better, but I can still say -- easily -- that this was one of those experiences that will stay with me for the rest of my life. I understand why people hundreds of years ago would have thought the world was ending. I [mostly] understand why there are eclipse chasers.

And it's possible I looked at the map for the 2024 eclipse and thought, "Maybe I could make that work."

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Planning For the Eclipse

All right, folks. I'm very curious.

Who among my friends has eclipse plans?

And what are they?

This falls into the category of "things I should have been planning for awhile ago but I'm just now getting to it since it appears I'll have the free time," and while my eclipse experience may be a little ... we'll say spontaneous, I know many of you have official plans. Parking spots reserved. Lunches you plan on packing. Heck, a few of you don't need to make plans because you live in that totality path.
So I'm curious. Are you making any special plans for August 21st?

For those of you who want to learn more, check out NASA's official page (and laugh with me a bit over their website, which seems not quite as state-of-the-art as I would expect). Here you can find maps and times, places to find eclipse glasses, and great ways to explain the science of the event to your favorite non-nerd.

Now, to figure out where I'm going ... I'm so close to the totality path...