Sunday, November 25, 2012

Sabbatical Report: Thanksgiving

I really should have time to do a real post this week, but I’m lazy.  Sabbatical-type lazy.  So welcome to Sabbatical Report #2.  If you want to know what the fuck I’m talking about here, you may want to read Sabbatical Report 1.

So, I’ve been on sabbatical for half a week so far, and I haven’t done much.  Mainly I’m trying to catch up on all my C3V work that I let slack while I was putting in so many hours at work, getting ready for sabbatical.  I’m one unit away from being completely caught up on my editing duties.

Thanksgiving was in there too.  We decided to forego the turkey this year ... it seems like every year, we all get excited about the mashed potatoes, and the deviled eggs, and the onion casserole, and cranberry sauce, and we eat some turkey out of some weird sense of duty, and then we’re stuck with turkey leftovers for 3 weeks and we’re sick of it the whole time.  So, you know: screw the turkey.  We’ll just have the other stuff.  So we did.

Mainly what I was thankful for this year was sabbatical.  That may very well keep me sane.  Many of us were thankful for our newest family member.  And also for our sister family (who I still need to write a blog about someday).  And various and sundry other things.

Other than that, I’ve mostly just hung around the house.  It’s been nice to be able to stay up as late as I like, sleep as late as I like.  And I sleep pretty late under normal circumstances.  So, not a lot of interesting stuff to report, over all.

Next week may be a little more exciting.  Or not.  Either way, I’ll be enjoying it.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Sabbatical Report: SeaWorld Snow Days

Hello, and welcome to Sabbatical Report #1.  When you work for eBay, after 5 years you get a sabbatical, which is 4 weeks off that you have to take all at once.  It’s a way to sort of reset your life, take a well-deserved break from work, and generally chill out.  Next Wednesday, I’ll start my sabbatical.

Of course, I don’t work for eBay, so that’s sort of weird.  I did work for eBay, or at least a subsidiary of eBay (what they call an “adjacency,” for some reason).  But we got sold ... about two months before my 5 year anniversary.  Happily, though, one of the conditions of the sale was that anyone who would qualify for their sabbatical before the end of the year would still get to take it.  (If you didn’t qualify until next year, you just got screwed.)  There were several of us in that boat, including some folks who started after me.  But they all took their sabbaticals already.  I am, in fact, taking the very last sabbatical my company will likely ever give out.

The other thing about sabbaticals is that you try to take them at a time when you can stretch things out.  I decided to take mine right at the end of the year primarily for the reason that there are six paid holidays in there.  Toss in 4 vacation days, and all of sudden that 4 weeks becomes 6.  Pretty smart, eh?

Also, there are a bunch of high-profile projects due at the end of the year, and I don’t feel like dealing with the pressure.

Anyway, during the next 6 weeks, I will be mostly chilling out at home, working on some personal projects, but also doing various and sundry touristy things in the Southern California area.  There will be times when I don’t have time to do a proper blog post, and, on those occasions, I’ll just post something about where we’ve gone and what we saw there.

So this is the first of the Sabbatical Reports.  It’s coming actually before my sabbatical has even started because we had planned to go to SeaWorld during sabbatical, but then we found out that this past Friday was the first day of SeaWorld’s “snow days”, and they reserve that day for season pass holders (which we are, this year).  So we started sabbatical a bit early.

We decided to invite one of the kids from our sister family (p’raps one day I’ll write a blog post about them), so we were six strong heading down to San Diego on Thursday afternoon.  The Mother drove and I worked the whole way down (got a lot of stuff to do before heading out on sabbatical, don’cha know).  We got a decent deal at a Comfort Inn (the picture there looks much nicer than the reality, but it was okay).  We got a suite—there’s just too many of us for a single room these days, especially with one extra kid.

We got in in time to spend a little time in the pool area.  My middle child “fell” into the jacuzzi.  Then we put our bathing suits and got in on purpose.

Next morning we took our time getting up and getting ready.  The park was open until 5pm for everyone, then 5pm - 10pm was for passholders only: there was a special gift for us (turned out to be a manta ray Christmas tree ornament) and fireworks just before park closing.  So no need to rush.

We got there around noon, which means we were walking around the park for about ten hours, minus breaks for food and shows.  We got the all-day-eating thingy so we wouldn’t have to stress about how much food we were getting.  Plus for dinner we got cookies and hot chocolate for free (more season pass holder goodies).  Of course, none of the food was particularly good, but that’s to be expected for amusement park food.

Show-wise, we saw the Christmas version of the Shamu show, which was a lot cheesier than the regular Shamu show (and that’s saying something).  Lots of oozing religiosity and seasonal warmth.  Whatever.  And we saw the Polar Express 4D show, which means we saw a really abridged version of the movie and they shot bubbles at us so it looked like snow.  Nothing to write home about (although here I am writing blog about it, so what do I know?).

We didn’t really didn’t do too many rides.  We rode up in the tower, and the kids did the Riptide Rescue.  Oh, and the Wild Arctic fake helicopter ride thingy.  Mostly we did animals.  The kids fed the sea lions, we all touched the bat rays, we watched the penguins and the polar bears and the beluga whales and the fish and snakes and frogs.  We saw a lady with a tarantua on her hand, a guy with a hawk on his arm, and two women with a beaver on a leash, who came up and sniffed our toes.  Plus the standard dolphins and orcas.

And of course there was the snow, that being the point of “Snow Days.”  There was a small, roped-off area where a snow machine was making honest-to-goodness snow.  The kids made snowballs to throw at each other, made a (very small) snowman, and, most importantly, got to sled down a little hill.  Not much of a hill, mind you, but considering we’re less than 20 miles from Mexico, any sledding at all is pretty impressive.

Add a few overpriced stuffed animals to the haul, and some decent fireworks right at the end, and you’ve pretty much got our entire day.  We were thinking about doing the zoo yesterday, but we decided we were all too tired.  Well, except for my middle child.  He could have kept on going for days, I’m sure.

And that was our first sabbatical trip, before sabbatical even starts.  Hope you enjoyed this brief recap.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Dresden Again

Allow me to preface today’s post with a caveat:  It was never my intention to turn this blog into a drooling Harry Dresden fanboy site.  Seriously.

But good God damn.

The last time I talked about the Dresden Files (an urban fantasy series by Jim Butcher), I mentioned that it had gone from being good to really, really good.  That was along about book 7 or 8.  I am now on book 13, and it is no longer really, really good.

It is fucking insanely awesome.

Now, last time I tried to express just why it was so awesome, I theorized it was because of its perfect balance between episodic adventures and an overarching story arc.  And, it’s true: there’s something indescribably delicious about the way it sucks you in with a monster-of-the-week premise until you’re almost surprised to realize you’re hip deep in mythic quest territory.  But I’ve recently realized there’s another element going on here.

I’m a lot like Harry Dresden.

I mean, Harry is generally relatable: he has an affable, everyman quality that makes him instantly likeable, and I’m sure a lot of people will see themselves (or at least bits of themselves) in Harry.  But, for me, it seems to go beyond that.

I first noticed it when Harry was dealing with the White Council in one of the later books.  The White Council, of course, is the organization of wizards to which Harry belongs.  Harry hates dealing with them, because it’s all politics.  Harry hates politics.  I do too.  Harry deals with politics much the same way I do: he’s blunt, he’s abrasive, he bulls his way through, knocking over with main force what he can’t deal with via subtlety.  Yet, as the series progresses, Harry actually gets better at politics, almost by accident.  He still hates it, and he’s still not particularly skilled at it, but he manages to get by, and even score a few points now and again.  I feel much the same way at work: I still avoid the politics, and bulldoze it where I can, but every now and again, just from having survived this long, I manage to score a point here or there.  Just like Harry.

And, once I started to see similarities between myself and Dresden, I couldn’t stop seeing them.  Harry is a wiseass: if you’re familiar with psychic detective Shawn Spencer, you’ll recognize Harry’s tendency towards inanity in the face of danger or authority.  (Harry’s not quite as off-putting as Shawn, but close.)  Harry has a wacky sense of humor, but he also has a lot of pent up anger.  He has an overblown sense of injustice, which is often the trigger for his anger.  He has an insouciant sense of fatalism which leads many of his friends to think of him as cynical, yet at heart he’s a hopeless romantic.  He’s passionate about certain things, and careless about others.  His friends think he’s stubborn, but he doesn’t view himself that way.  He’s desperately loyal to those friends, protective of them, would do anything for them.  Little things bug him; big things roll off his back.  When he says “Oh, come on!  How is that fair??” ... I hear myself.

Harry doesn’t always think of himself as a good man, and yet he always tries to do the right thing.  He knows he has faults, and mostly he’s comfortable with them.  He knows he can be loud, and that he can get on people’s nerves, but he’s pretty much a love-me-or-leave-me guy, so that doesn’t bother him.  He’s direct, and he’s honest, and he has a great deal of talent at one particular thing, which makes him respected by some and laughable to others.  I’m not a professional wizard, obviously, but, as a professional programmer for over half my life, I have experience with being a geek in both positive and negative senses of the word.

Of course, the coolest thing about reading the adventures of someone who’s a lot like you is the parts where he’s not like you.  I am not, as I mentioned, a professional wizard, nor a private investigator, nor do I hang out with vampires, werewolves, holy knights, and various stripes of wild fae.  Harry Dresden’s personality may be close to mine, but his life is far more exciting, which is good, because who would want to read about my boring-ass life?  Harry’s life is anything but boring.  Harry’s life is not always fun for Harry, but it will keep you on the edge of your seat.

Check it out.  You’ll be glad you did.

Recommended Reading Order

Hopefully I’ve convinced you to at least check out this great series.  If you really get into it, you may want to know what order to read things in, and I’m going to help you out.

For the most part, this is a no-brainer.  There are 13 novels in the series, and the 14th is due out later this month.  The publication order matches the chronological order within the fictional world, so you just read them in the order they came out and you’re golden.  The only monkey wrench is Side Jobs.

Side Jobs is a collection of short stories and novellas set in the Dresden Files universe.  Each one contains a short introduction and a blurb telling you where it fits, chronologically.  If you like, you can read it at the point where I read it:

Simple Reading Order:

Read Side Jobs between Changes and Ghost Story.  Do not read it earlier, because the last story in it (“Aftermath”) contains major spoilers for Changes, and don’t read it later, because I think “Aftermath” really gives an important context to Ghost Story (not to mention the useful background info you get from “A Restoration of Faith”).

Or, you could alternately try:

More Complex Reading Order:

It might make more sense to read the stories in the order in which they fall in between the books.  This works very well for almost all of them, in fact; the only problem is “A Restoration of Faith.”  Chronologically, it’s first (before Storm Front, even).  But I think it works much better as a flashback than as an introduction.  Reading it first would be like trying to read New Spring before the remainder of the Wheel of Time books, or trying to watch In the Beginning before the first season of Babylon 5 (both of which I’ve tried).  It just doesn’t work.  There’s too much going on that only makes sense when you’re looking back on it with some perspective.

On the other hand, the rest of the stories are just the opposite: they give context to the books that follow (or at least some of them do).  Certainly I know that if I’d read “Heorot” before reading Changes, a couple of things would have made a lot more sense (for just one example).

So, in the order below, I’ve chosen a good place to drop in “A Restoration of Faith,” and I’ve left the others where they naturally fall.  So this is mostly nothing you couldn’t have figured out for yourself, but hopefully this saves you the hassle of working it all out.  Enjoy.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

A Random Guest Star

Well, tomorrow is my birthday,* so you’ll get no blog post from me this week.  But, luckily for you, I’ve engaged a guest blogger to keep you amused until my return next week.  This is a story that my elder son wrote for school, and is reprinted here with his permission.  I’ve edited it only slightly; these words are all his, and convey a bit of genetic talent for the craft, if I do say so myself.  Whether he will pursue this or not, I can’t say.  But it seems a promising start.

The Bard’s Tale

There was once a man, many years ago, who was said to be a great bard, and also, the luckiest bard in all the world.  He would travel from kingdom to kingdom, country to country, singing songs and generally enjoying a carefree life.

It was one day that he was in a kingdom, having been requested to play a song for the king.  He played a happy, joyous song, but the king was sad, and simply sighed and motioned for the bard to leave.  The bard slung his lute around his shoulders once again, and before leaving, asked why the king was so sad.  The king said his daughter had been taken away, as a sacrifice to a group of trolls that would otherwise destroy the kingdom, were they not sated.  The bard, being a heroic sort, offered to save the princess.  The king sighed again, and said that he was certainly welcome to try.  The bard ignored the king’s pessimism, and set off for the trolls.

He asked around, and learned the road down which sacrifices were taken, and happily set off.  After a few days of travelling, he came across a forest, which he happily skipped into, singing a merry song.  A group of bandits heard him, and set off to find him.  They leapt out at him, baring knives and crossbows and swords.  The leader walked out and asked for everything the bard could offer.  He smiled and said although he had not much of material value, he had songs.  The bandit leader rolled his eyes.  “Another merry idiot,” he said.  “Open fire.”  The crossbows all fired at once, sending a hail of arrows at the happy bard.  He simply stood still as every arrow missed, the closest simply shooting his hat off his head.  “A fine shot!” he remarked.  “Now, may I have a turn?”  As everyone stood astonished, he took a bow from a pack on his back, drew it, and aimed it at a rock.  It hit the rock, ricocheted into an archer’s arm, preventing him from shooting any more, through the arm, into several more lined up in a row, hitting the chest armor of one, and bouncing into the leader’s shoulder.  The injured fell and held their wounds, while the uninjured stared in amazement.  They all ran, fearing the bard, who happily marched forward, through the forest, and up a rocky mountain path as night fell.

He saw a fire ahead, and the ugly warty trolls gathered around it.  They were lighting it, and intended to cook the princess.  The bard saw why they were a threat to the kingdom: each was as tall as fifty men!  The bard walked up to the colossal trolls, four in all, and introduced himself.  A troll swatted at him with his club, which the bard hopped back from, just in time.  “Well, that was rude!” he said.  The trolls grunted, clearly not conversational types, and another tried to hit him again, which he jumped back from, again.  He slung his lute from his back into his hands, and began to play a song, dancing and jumping, merrily dodging the giants.  He did this for two days (it is said), until the giants all began to tire, and collapsed onto one and another.  He smiled, and walked around the cluster of bodies, and untied the princess.

“My love, I have rescued you!” he shouted, smiling.  He moved his head sideways, expecting a kiss on the cheek.   “Thank you,” the princess said simply, walking down the rocky mountain path.  He followed, asking “aren’t you going to kiss me?”  The princess looked at him and shook her head.  “Just because you saved me doesn’t mean I love you,” she said, moving her hand to brush away branches from a tree.  “I appreciate the gesture, surely, but not enough to marry you, or whatever you intend.”  The bard looked shocked.  “But ... but ... I’m the luckiest bard in the world!  Courting is so simple for me!”  The princess shrugged, and walked off.

The bard sat, sad.  But, he had an idea.  All he had to do was serenade the princess!  Days later, the princess sat at her room in the palace, when she heard music.  Opening the door she saw the bard.  “Look, really, I appreciate everything you’ve done, but I do not love you!”  She shut the doors, but he was determined.  Every day for the next month he sang to her, becoming more and more unhappy with her determination not to love him.

Eventually, she married a prince, and the bard was devastated.  It is said he threw himself off a cliff, singing his song of love.

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And there you have it.  I thought it was a bit of a downer personally, but its author says it’s just a story with a message.  And the moral of it is:

Don’t be so fucking cocky that you commit suicide at the first girl who doesn’t return your affections.

Sounds reasonable to me.

* Now, if you’ve been paying attention, you already knew I’m a Scorpio and a Horse, and I’ve dropped a few hints as to which decade of life I’m in, so at this point you should be able to work exactly when I was born ...