CategoryLondon

I am a lot better at Javascript than I was a few months ago

I am, under normal circumstances, a very reliable exhibit of the human behavior pattern that goes “my stupid system sort of works so I will never change it.” But there are times–rare ones–when my desperation to avoid writing fiction actually overcomes my desperation to avoid writing code. Tonight, after three years of counting words for Anacrusis with a hacky PHP script I wrote in 2007, I finally reached one such point.

This is the word counter I’m going to use from here on out. Unlike the old script, which I was reluctant to publicize because it involved processing user-submitted text on the server side, this is all Javascript and it updates in real time. You can also click the little tab at the bottom if you want to see what the hell it thinks it’s doing.

Someday I will get around to organizing something like this for Portland

Hey, remember Journey to the End of the Night, a game I played with the London crew and subsequently wrote an enormous blog post that I just linked to about? (It’s okay if you didn’t parse that.) Anyway, Newsweek did an article on urban exploration that includes it. Thanks to Mink for the tip!

That’s no battle station

A few weeks ago, Kara and I went out to dinner at a fancy restaurant for her stepdad’s birthday, and I got to meet several members of her extended family for the first time. It was a really nice dinner and we all enjoyed ourselves. Then we walked out to the car, got in, started the engine, glanced backwards and realized that someone had smashed in the rear passenger window and stolen my bag, containing books and my laptop, and a couple hundred dollars’ worth of new clothes Kara had just had delivered by UPS. Have I mentioned that it was raining?

The waitstaff at the restaurant informed us that this was the fourth such smash-and-grab from their parking lot in three weeks. There is no camera or floodlight there. I still need to call up the building owners for a polite discussion about that.

The whole situation sucked a lot, but we got the window replaced and Kara got some of the clothes replaced by a kind friend for her birthday. My car insurance covered the window but not the contents; Kara’s home insurance would have covered them, but in neither instance did the damage meet the deductible. (I had to buy a new windshield after a rock chip incident last summer, too, so I have now replaced about 40% of the glass on my car out of pocket.) The fact is that we are very fortunate to have afforded such luxuries to begin with, and remain both fortunate and luxurious.

I replaced the laptop with a much newer, shinier, more expensive version, but then my boss took the opportunity to buy a nice new Mac Mini for my desk at work (I had been using the aforementioned four-year-old Macbook) and I returned it. The laptopless life is one plagued with tiny inconveniences, so I’ll probably buy it again in a few months when they update the hardware.

The point of this post is to eulogize my old dingy white Macbook, which, for a refurbished computer at the very low end of Apple’s lineup, did me proud for three and a half years. I used it as my only work machine for much of that time; it accompanied me to London, Innsbruck, Winston-Salem, San Francisco, Portland, Seattle, London again, Paris, and Taastrup, where I dumped a glass of water into it and actually managed to grow mold on its hard drive. And then I replaced said drive and used it at the new job for another six months! No one could have asked more.

Thanks, Macbook. You were a good computer. I hope whoever got you dies in a meth lab fire.

Geek Note: For reasons I can’t remember now, I named the laptop DEATHSTAR on our home network when I first bought it; after the hard drive resurrection (and, for the first time, the switch out of Boot Camp to native OS X), I rechristened it Fully Operational. Apparently every Death Star gets destroyed, though, so I have moved on to a new naming convention. Kara’s and my iMac is now the Batcave, the Mac Mini is the Batpod, and whenever I get the laptop again, it will be the Tumbler.

Update 2255 hrs: Kara has informed me that the iMac is named Hodge, after John Hodgman, and always will be, and HOW COULD I THINK THAT, and WHAT AM I GOING TO DO TO OUR CHILDREN, RENAME THEM EVERY TIME I READ A BOOK. (I say he’s only Hodge as long as Windows is running. He is a PC.)

Nebuchadnezzar

I still haven’t posted about this, have I?

I was supposed to be in this picture. Last September, I got my acceptance letter to Clarion South 2009, which I’d resolved to attend way back when I was still in London. I leapt about with glee, of course, and then set out saving enough money to defray the cost.

I failed, and in December I withdrew my application.

So there’s that story! Maybe in 2010 I’ll be in a position to reapply; maybe not. I am quite sure that whoever got my spot made good use of it, and I hope the short fiction economy survives long enough for me to read the results.

EXTREMIST VOODOO CARNIVAL CRISIS

I used to walk around London and marvel at the Evening Standard posters at every newsstand, which demonstrated headlines from a more pure and purposeful dimension. They all seemed to be of the form “BUZZWORD BUZZWORD EXCITINGVERBS BUZZWORD” and I commented repeatedly that you could rearrange said buzzwords in almost any order and get an equally plausible (and, probably, accurate) sentence.

Now Holly, who is much more committed about this kind of thing than I am, has created an Evening Standard Dada Generator or whatever they’re called these days. Except it’s not really Dada–as predicted, they mostly make sense, or at least interesting nonsense. No more coming up with original story ideas for me!

And now it is later

I read the arrival time on my ticket as the departure time. That is what I did. That is the stupidest and most expensive mistake I have ever made.

My housemates kindly refused to let me heave all my luggage to Heathrow myself, and so we set out together with a bag apiece at a little after 10 am. We took the express and I was at the check-in counter by 11:15, smirking at the former self who had worried about transportation time and long lines. There was no line! There was only a brusque man explaining that my flight was not at 1:00, it had been at 10:30.

I explained that I had still been on the first of several public transportation routes at 10:30.

The brusque man directed me to the ticketing counter.

I got on standby for the next flight for 200 bucks, and I did end up on it, and my seat was actually one of the best on the plane. I completely missed the last plane to Louisville from O’Hare, of course, but got on a different standby flight to Lexington and Saint Maria drove out to those hinterlands in the middle of the night to pick me up.

It should be noted that my seat on the Lexington flight was also impossibly good. Here’s what I have learned about American Airlines: reserve a seat and get firmly rogered, or get on standby for infinite leg room and an unobstructed window view. I’m never flying on a reserved ticket again! Wait, no, I said “on a reserved ticket” when I meant “anywhere.”

My original mistake almost ended up much more costly than I anticipated. The somewhat hilarious coda is that, during my panicky evening in O’Hare, I had to make a number of pay phone calls to David Flora and Maria, trying to figure out whether I would have to stay overnight in Chicago in order to get a morning flight to Louisville. I had forgotten that trying to call a nonlocal number (like, say, any cell phone ever) from a pay phone requires more quarters than I could have held in my cupped hands, so I had to charge all these to my credit card. This meant swiping the card directly on the phone, punching in the number on the keypad, and reading it aloud to the operator before I could connect.

Apparently someone wandered by and listened to me obligingly reading out the number, expiration date, CV2, et cetera, and proceeded to charge an amount greater than my entire credit limit to the card. Capital One actually noticed and denied it; their overenthusiastic fraud department often made things inconvenient in London, but my attitude toward them is much warmer now. I’ll miss my old card number, though, which I’ve had memorized for almost ten years. Farewell, 5291071505966037! May you serve Internet in poor decision-making as well as you did me.

There is a subtext to this story: I had three friends in London to help take my luggage all the way to Heathrow, buy me yogurt and let me send emergency emails from their phones. Those emails went to more friends, one of whom was willing to put me up in Chicago, another of whom was willing to drive to tiny airports late at night just so I could get home when I wanted. I traveled across seven time zones and I had people offering me help at every step. Who cares how much ticket changes or credit card scammers might cost me? I’m rich.

After I type this title I am going to shower for about a week

Fourteen hours ago I was on top of an Alp. Three hours ago I was getting lengthily hassled by Immigration about my months-long residence in the United Kingdom with no visible means of support. Eventually they decided they couldn’t really deport me and grumpily let me back in, but not without permanently detaining–get ready for it–my London library card. That is the pettiest thing I can imagine! I am going to write a book about petty people just so I can use that as an epitome!

But the hassling and bag search and back rooms and subsequent two-hour night bus ride don’t really take away from the experience of looking down on Innsbruck from four miles up (a good quarter of which we hiked) with a really good song on my headphones, learning the secret of Hafelekar summit. The secret is this: it’s fucking covered in poop and bugs. I guess the mountain goats and snow rabbits just love to use the lookout point as their special private time space, but man. They grow the flies big on Hafelekar summit.

My interaction with the world has always been, and remains, mostly text-based; maybe this is why not being able to read holds a particular terror for me. Seeing the shapes of a familiar alphabet in configurations I can’t parse is a constant reinforcement. That would explain why I’ve handled London better than I did Rio, and why (cognitocultural dissonance ahead) I am now, in Innsbruck, missing London.

I like Battersea, man! I like the little library and the big park and fresh bread every day for lunch. I like living too far away from the bookstore or the electronics shop to spend money easily. I like my housemates most of all, and I’ve only got forty days left there, and it will be very hard to leave.

Aha, Kevan points out that all the Shoot London photos are up, better illustrating the original-groupthink phenomenon Holly articulated and I repeated. It took me three tries to find our own picture on the Clue A page.

Fortunately London says it was just a flesh wound

On Saturday, Kevan, Holly, their friend Ramesh and I shot London in an event put together by Shoot Experience. As with Hide and Seek Fest the weekend before (only a week? Gosh), this was something that one of my housemates discovered through arcane metainternet means. This used to say that the discoverer was Kevan, but I am hereby correcting it: it was Holly. I was a liar before! I will burn.

We got ten “clues” related to London, water and the area around the Tate Modern; these were pretty obscure to me but much, much less so to my teammates. Our memory card was due in at 5:00, and they sent us out at around noon. That seems like a lot of time, but we were one of 66 teams, all of whom were trying to come up with unusual ideas for the same ten things and get to them on foot. The walking took longer than any clue, and our best shots took almost an hour apiece.

We spent the last hour in increasingly desperate attempts to get anything at all for the last four clues, and ended up frantically paring 232 shots down to the required 10 on-camera, while speedwalking back to the venue. We were lucky to have time to back up some of the better extraneous shots onto my iPod before the culling was complete, which is why there are 24 pictures in the Flickr set (half mine, half Holly’s or Kevan’s). If we did it again, we agreed, we’d concentrate on getting really good shots for half the clues and not bother with those that didn’t strike us–there was no completion requirement, as long as you didn’t have more than one shot per clue. (Nobody else knew that either, which is why there were fifty hasty pictures of toilets for Waterloo.)

Those striking clues really did yield the best results. We won the category prize for clue A, about the Tower-Bridge-leaping bus, for which I think everybody did exactly the same thing–but ours was the prettiest.

We got some Norton software we didn’t actually need as a prize, but the peer recognition was nicer; there were only thirteen prizes awarded, and Tiny Richard Dawkins and His Komodo Dragon Band got one of them. (Holly will be glad to explain our team name.) There’s an multiple-city Shoot Experience gallery show in August, so I won’t be here for it, but I’ll make my housemates blog about whether we make it into that too.

Speaking of Flickr, Maria wants me to mention that I’ve been slowly, disjointedly editing and posting some of the twelve mojillion pictures I’ve taken this year; recent additions include touristy ventures to the Tower of London, Kent and the British Museum.

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