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cold, travel, laziness

A lot has probably happened in the last few weeks, but I'm too lazy to write it down when I get home at night.

I saw a couple good movies with the French group: the diving bell and the butterfly, which was very interesting--I was skeptical about the idea of a movie whose main character can't move or talk, but they rose to the challenge--and Persepolis was also very well done, though I'm not sure it was strictly necessary--I thought the comic books on which it was based told the story just fine with much more modest means. They did a good job of transferring the drawing style to the big screen, though.

I walked home from Persepolis today, partly just as an excuse to keep an eye on the eclipse; the moon was full, the sky clear, and my walk home coincided with totality, so the viewing was good. On the other hand, there's a limit to how excited I can get to a moon that's a little darker and oranger than usual.

Tomorrow's my last full day at home--I'll do some work, run a few errands, spend the evening with my comic (excuse me, "graphic narrative") discussion group, then early Friday morning I get on the train to Chicago, then to LA, then (by late Sunday) to San Jose.

weather outages

The weather was terrible most of the week, so the only grocery shopping I ended up doing was one stop at the coop on the way home from work. So Sara finally went to Busch's today. I tried to make up for it by meeting her at the bus stop to help her carry the groceries back, and cleaning up the apartment while she was gone.

Tuesday night a particularly bad bit of weather knocked out our power. We went to sleep with it still out, so I don't know when it came back. In the morning my DSL was no longer working. This would be annoying for a normal person--for me it's a bit debilitating, as I also run a lot of services (this blog, for example--but more importantly my mail service) on my home desktop/server. I limped along for a couple days and finally just brought my home machine into work Friday. My ISP is still working on the problem; it looks like a bureaucratic screwup on AT&T's part, but it's hard to tell from the cascade of acronyms in comments the various techs regularly append to my online trouble ticket. The current claim is it'll be back Monday.

Anyway, I should find some more sensible hosting arrangement one of these days.

I did the French conversation group again Wednesday, and it went pretty well. I've also been listening to various French-language podcasts (well, actually radio shows from the Canadian and French national broadcasting services), but haven't found anything really engaging yet.

Yesterday Sara and I did a little shopping, visited her new School of Public Health office, and hung out with the jugglers for a while.

Today I've been mostly at home doing the aforementioned chores, catching up a little on the New Yorker, and getting a couple small pieces of work done.

Dimanche

Sara made biscuits for breakfast this morning, yum.

I walked downtown by way of Kerrytown this afternoon, worked a couple hours at the library, then took bus to a party with the French conversation group. The party was fun, the people were friendly, and our host made us crepes--yum again. I mostly sat in my corner and smiled and nodded, but managed a few conversations (and, for once, actually understood what was going on around me most of the time).

I got a ride back afterwards from a helpful postdoc who mentioned that he lived on "Highland Drive". I heard that as Highland Apartments, which are right in my neighborhood. But I looked it up after I got home and realized Highland Drive is actually completely on the other side of town, and much closer to where the party was. Oops.

Honestly, that's what it's like for me trying to get along in French. It's fun most of the time, but then there's always the occasional basic miscommunication that makes me cringe.

Uh, well, actually that may not be so different from my life in my native language. It's a question of degree, I guess.

We're running low on groceries, as is particularly likely to happen in the winter when I'm much less enthusiastic about the idea of, say, riding my bike down the street to the supermarket. But it's the anticipation that's the worst--once I get going I'm usually comfortable. So I hope to make a grocery run on the way home from work tomorrow.

geeky Saturday

This morning I flashed my OpenMoko phone with the latest software and--miracle of miracles--managed to make a call with it. Whee! So maybe next month sometime I'll actually start playing with it again.

I spent much of the rest of the day deleting code. It's hard to describe how satisfying it is to replace a piece of code by something shorter and easier to understand that still does the same thing.

So, what else has happened in the last few weeks?

I went back to my French conversation group the last two Wednesdays after missing a month or so, and I've started listening to some francophone podcasts again--I quit for a while when my music player died, but I figured out the Nokia 770 I'd written off as a mostly-useless curiosity actually works pretty well as a music player.

But I find myself pretty much at the same stage: if I concentrate I can understand radio announcers, or people that are making an effort to help me understand, but when I hear casual conversation between two French speakers, sometimes it's like a totally alien language. And opening my mouth is always a mistake. Is there any hope for me? No doubt the only real way to improve would be to have a real reason to. Which, um, I don't. My obsessions are a mystery.

I've been trying to decide what to make of Warren Ellis's "Global Frequency" comics. They consist of twelve stories, collected in two volumes. Each is exactly 22 pages, and tells a single story: a problem is presented and solved somehow. The solvers are the "Global Frequency" of the title, a worldwide network of specialists, centrally coordinated via cell phones by a dispatcher named "Aleph". She and the organization's head ("Miranda Zero") are the only regularly recurring characters. The crisis often concerns some military program gone wrong. The first and last stories concern forgotten cold-war doomsday machines that are accidentally triggered.

My main first impression is of how *short* the stories are. That's partly a result of the obvious page limit and the decision to make each story self-contained (there's no larger story arc that I can see). The basic outline seems to be: here's a problem, here's how it's solved. Maybe there's a minor surprise at the end (involving a suicide in 5 of the 12 stories, for some reason), but the plots are mostly straightforward.

The stories are obsessed with murder, suicide, gore, and violence. Like some other American comics, they strike me as basically escapist adolescent hero fantasies. (Save the world by browsing the web and talking on your cell phone!) I assume that's what they inherit from superhero comics. But the few older superhero comics that I've read also have some sense of whimsy. The newer stuff sometimes seems to be trying to look more grown-up by being "darker" and "edgier" and losing the sense of humor. That grates on me for some reason. But "Global Frequency" is well done. And I like the structure as 12 short self-contained units: they're sort of variations on a theme. It's fun to see how much they can do with the same basic recurring elements.

comics, etc.

Thursday was the first meeting of a comic discussion group. We'll see how that goes. Our plan for the year (assuming every-other-month meetings):

  • "Global Frequency", by Warren Ellis and various artists
  • "Fun Home" by Alison Bechdel
  • "Yotsuba&!" by by Kiyohiko Azuma (first 2 volumes)
  • "Mister O" by Lewis Trondheim
  • "Palestine" by Joe Sacco
  • "Women and Children First" (from "Get A Life") and "Maybe Later", both by Philippe Dupuy and Charles Berberian

We'll see how it goes.

I own the Trondheim and the Dupuy-Berberian, and of the others all but "Global Frequency" look easily available from the library. So I stopped by our local downtown comic store, "Vault of Midnight", and picked up copies on Friday night. I was suprised by how busy the store was.

Today I did a little work, stopped by juggling for a few minutes, and did some computer-housekeeping (such as upgrading the version of Drupal I'm using for this blog).

2008, back home

The rest of the Arizona trip went fine. I once again skipped the Christmas Eve service at the local UU church. The gift exchange the next morning was good--among other things, I got a replacement for my favorite watch, last replaced in Hawaii. We went to the weekly Encanto park folk thing Wednesday night with Sara's dad, but struck out--the first performer was OK but forgettable, the second hard to listen to (mainly thanks to some iffy singing), and by the time we got to the third, which was actually good, I was just too worn out to appreciate it. Fortunately her dad ran through some of his banjo repretoire Friday night for us, in preparation for his Saturday morning gig at a local livestock show. So we still got to hear some good music, and I had fun trying to figure out how the banjo was tuned and what sort of picking patterns they use to get that busy banjo sound.

Friday night I got some earplugs, loaded up on food, and carried on plenty of clothing as nesting material, but it wasn't enough to get me more than two or three hours of fitful sleep on the red-eye back to Ann Arbor. We got back around 6, with the idea we'd catch breakfast across the street at Café Marie when it opened at 7, but instead we fell promptly asleep, Sara in bed, me on the couch. By the time we woke up it was a much more reasonable hour, so we called our neighbor Ajit before setting off for the café.

Sunday and Monday we did some reading, house cleaning, and cooking, the latter in preparation for a New Year's Eve. We had a few friends over, along with my parents who were making a planned stop on their drive to an extended stay in Boulder, my dad having just retired.

The party went fine, but when we got up the next morning the world was completely blanketed in white, so my folks decided to stay, putting off till this morning the next leg of their trip, to Iowa.

I was too tired to get real work done today, so I did a bunch of cleanup instead. I traded David a desk for a table, picking up four file drawers along the way, and tinkered with the arrangement of drawers and file drawers. Turns out the various modules that attach to these desks are all removable, which I hadn't noticed before, so I got to do some tinkertoy-like play for a while before launching into a huge collection of all the random crap lying around. I threw out a vast quantity of paper. When I left work there was maybe an inch-high stack left deal with.

Tempe

It was a bit of a rush getting ready Wednesday morning, but the trip to the airport and the flight went fine, and Sara's dad was waiting for us in the parking lot just a short walk from the baggage return.

Wednesday nights are his jam session at Encanto park, but Sara and I decided we were too tired, and left to go to sleep early instead.

Except for some brief rain on Friday it's been sunny, so you can stay pretty warm outside, but the actual temperatures have been cold enough to get some frost at night, with highs under sixty. The house isn't heated, so for sitting around inside I'm actually dressed more warmly than I normally would be in Michigan. But I came prepared, so I've been pretty comfortable.

Sara's parents always feed us well. We usually don't eat out at all while we're here. And living in Arizona they're still producing a lot of good food from their yard even this time of year. Sometimes it feels like a large part of the day is devoted to preparing for or cleaning up after meals. Or, well, in my case, mostly watching other people do that.

They have DSL, but it's only usable from the one Windows machine, fine for the occasional email or web browsing, but awkward if I want to work with data from my laptop or something. Various attempts to hook up my laptop directly or to configure the little travel wireless router that came with me failed, thanks to Earthlink's stupid MAC address filtering and some problem I can't figure out with my router.

So Sunday we made a trip to Fry's to pick up a wireless router, which will also make it easier for Sara's mom to use her new laptop. It's strange how much that makes me feel back to normal.

My gift for Sara was due to arrive from Amazon today, but what came instead was an Amazon box with the correct tracking number on the outside but someone else's order on the inside. I went through their standard return procedure and, just for the heck of it, googled for the intended recipient and called her to let her know what happened. It'll get sorted out, but not till we're back in Michigan.

packing

The last couple days have been taken up with tying up loose ends, last-minute shopping, some errands, and some work. Tommorow morning we get on the plane for Arizona.

That's all!

party, Lola

If I could have only one superpower, it would be the power to sleep at will in any situation. But the possibly related skill of being able to eat a month's worth of food at once could have been useful at this Friday's party at Sofia's.

I spent the rest of the weekend at home, trying to get a bunch of loose ends tied up before we leave for Tempe on Wednesday. This morning I woke up (very late) to the season's first really big world-carpetting snowfall. I had this feeling I should have taken advantage of it somehow--maybe made a snowman or gone sledding or something--but lacked the energy.

Last night we saw "La Gloire de mon Père", based on a novel by the same name by Marcel Pagnol. It was charming enough, but I didn't see what it had over the book.

Then tonight we saw Demy's excellent "Lola". It's fun to see the shared character (Roland Cossard) and other little connections he makes between it and the two big musicals of his I've seen ("Les Parapluies de Cherbourg" and "Les Desmoiselles de Rochefort"). It was earlier than those two, must have been made under a much tighter budget, and the singing and dancing is reduced to one or two short scenes (both in character--"Lola" is a dancer). But the constraints don't lessen it at all.

BSG, winter

It was the annual movie night for the book club tonight. We watched a couple episodes of Battlestar Galactica. I wasn't won over. I guess it didn't get much of the chance--it would be more interesting if you watched enough to get a good sense of the characters. It seemed to be a tremendous loose-ends generator in the way that neverending TV series tend to be. I think I'll avoid it.

In the last month or two we've moved to our winter (flannel) comforter cover, and a down comforter. Tonight we're bringing out the really heavy artillery: it's actually two down comforters that velcro together. You feel like you're sleeping under a giant marshmallow.

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