Sunday, August 30, 2009
I grew up in a family of builders and construction people, and I have always enjoyed working with my hands. I have several small cuts and splinters right now to prove it. Most of my adult work life has revolved in one way or another around building software, and I've got scars from that, too. I've said for years that "you know what would be cool?" are the six most dangerous words that can be uttered when creating software. I have also said that I should take my own advice about eleventy-million times, but that doesn't seem to have any effect, either.
About six or seven months after Hurricane Gustav* reminded me why we refer to nature as a mother, we had completed repairs on everything except our yard, which I don't even want to talk about, and my little storage shed. For a number of reasons, I had decided to keep the new shed much simpler than the last one. It was going to be easy, cheap and take almost no time. I had the floor and foundation from the old shed. Six foot walls and a two foot roof height would let me do it all with a minimum of materials and cutting. Two productive weekends should have it ready to paint.
Just one thing -- it would be nice to have a little overhang because of how damp it is down here. Of course, the easiest way to do that would be to knock together a few simple roof trusses, which means the inside height will be restricted a little by the cross members. And while I could live with six foot clearance inside, I'm a little taller than that and get really tired of hitting my head. And you know that two foot roof pitch looks a little shallow for that height of wall, so let's make it 30 degrees and add another half a foot. It will be easier to cut that way. I can build a little gable vent to cover the space above the eight foot paneling. Oh, and I will need to notch the side paneling for the rafters. And I guess I need lookouts, so I will need to notch all the panels. Anyway, I think you see where this is going.
By initially changing one little thing from the simple, functional -- if not cool-- design that I started with, I have created a cascade of add-ons and extra work. All of the extra cutting, as well as the unknowns that come with designing on the fly, have caused me to do quite a bit more trim work than I had planned on. Oh, and the extra complexity cost me another piece of siding because of the unfamiliar territory of notching for the rafters.
So now we're two days from the first anniversary of the storm that started all of this, and I'm probably two work days from finishing the shed. Granted, it will be somewhat nicer than what I had originally planned, but it will mostly only look nicer, since the core construction is still what was planned when I was doing this on the cheap. And while I think we can all agree that it is better to look good than to feel good, I've always believed that being good trumps both.
So in addition to the building taking all sorts of extra time and costing nearly twice as much to build as planned, we have had to look at the pile of crap in the carport that would normally be in the shed for a year now. And the (much more enjoyable) project that I was working on when the storm hit has been delayed even longer.
If you've ever worked on a project that seemed like it would never end, and just got more and more complicated as time went on, or if you have ever waited for something to be delivered until you despaired of it ever being completed, the chances are very good that the same thing happened that has happened to my shed. One tiny thing makes a thousand other tiny things happen, and the finish line begins to get farther away instead of closer. So the next time you think of something that would make the thing you're working on cooler, keep it to yourself.
* You bastard!
Monday, August 24, 2009
I knew what was coming next. All my life I have wanted a nickname that sticks, but I have never been able to be a Pogey or Pony, Blister or Fister, Stoner, Boner, Weasel, Cracker, Buster or Grunt for more than a few weeks at a time. With one exception.
When The Big Lebowski came out, everyone I know called me "The Dude" for about five years. Now, I don't know if you've seen this movie, but it's a comparison that could be interpreted in several ways. It's sort of like being compared to Nick Cage's character in Raising Arizona. All of my friends swore it was only positive, and I have to admit I feel more than a passing kinship with the character. Still, I was not too upset when the movie and characterization faded from the collective consciousness.
But about twice a year or so, someone will see the movie for the first time and feel compelled to let me know how much I remind them of the lead character. I guess for the thousandth time (plus or minus ten), I am learning that we need to be careful what we wish for.
Sunday, August 16, 2009
Saturday, August 15, 2009
Wednesday, August 12, 2009
Luckily we were meeting at everyone's favorite near-campus landmark, which features very good local cuisine and almost 200 varieties of beer. So I had a plate of etouffee and a pint of outstanding local brew, and let the two tables of lawyers next to me remind me why I don't have any friends who are lawyers. (Not that there is anything wrong with them.)
It actually turned out pretty well. I've had a pretty tough week so far, and it would have been easy to let being stood up ruin my lunch and the rest of my day. I'm not sure where I found the attitude to blow it off and enjoy myself, but I'm glad I did. Sometimes I still surprise myself.
Tuesday, August 11, 2009
I have been pushing since the beginning of the summer to have a paper ready to submit to this major academic conference that is particularly relevant to my research group and our field. It's one of two or three such opportunities that come along in a given year, and arguably the single most important. I have spent the last three weeks or so thinking of virtually nothing else. Up too early, in bed too late, hunched in front of one computer screen or another* morning and night. Too many fast food runs and evening glasses of red to shut my mind off for just an hour or two.
The deadline was yesterday. After spending most of the day reading and talking and editing and talking some more it suddenly became apparent that we needed to pull the plug. The writing was fine, but we just didn't have the results we needed to make the paper something we wanted to put our names on. I turned off the computer, came home, had a few drinks and made bread. The bread was awesome, by the way. I learned how to make kaiser rolls, and there's a lot of banging of dough involved.
There is really no feeling quite like the end of a long, hard project. And writing -- even research writing -- is personal enough that you get pretty wrapped up in it. And when it's finally over, they all seem to feel different. Some make you want to shout, and others make you want to scream. A few smell like napalm in the morning, and some end up smelling like the men's room in a cowboy bar at the end of rodeo season. And then there are those that don't smell like anything.
A project that neither succeeds nor fails is particularly unsatisfying. The work I did is probably not wasted, and plans are already underway for continuing to work to have something even better for the next opportunity in three months, or six, or whenever it is. But there's a process to this, a steady buildup of heavy breathing and sweat and focus. It's not supposed to end just because someone says, "time's up."
One way or another, it's back to the normal rhythm of life. I will go to the gym for the first time in a month, eat some vegetables, clean the house and go back to my every day. At least until the next time.
* I counted just now, and there are seven different computers in different places that I think of as mine. Though to be fair, I only use five on a regular basis.**
** This is ridiculous
Monday, August 10, 2009
In the end, I think I will stay on the journey until it ends. Every year has brought surprises and new insights, and I think there is still more for me to learn.
Thursday, August 6, 2009
"Mrs. Clinton said* that the battle for Somalia, which has been the lawless home to Islamist extremists, terrorists, gun runners, drug smugglers, teenage gunmen and even pirates for the past 18 years, is deeply connected to American interests."
Does this remind anyone but me of Hedley Lamar's speech in Blazing Saddles?
"I want rustlers, cutthroats, murderers, bounty hunters, desperados, mugs, pugs, thugs, nitwits, halfwits, dimwits, vipers, snipers, con-men, Indian agents, Mexican bandits, muggers, buggerers, bushwhackers, hornswogglers, horse thieves, bull-dykes, train robbers, bank robbers, ass-kickers, shit-kickers, and Methodists!**"
I guess life -- or at least journalism -- does imitate art. Or maybe Harvey Korman faked his death and is secretly running Somalia.
* It's not clear from the article whether Mrs. Clinton actually said all that stuff about the terrorists and pirates and teenage ghosts. But I thought it was funny.
** This sounds a little bit like my old neighborhood.
Wednesday, August 5, 2009
A friend posted this on Facebook the other day. All my instincts tell me to let you watch the clip and then shut up, but I've never really been one to follow good advice. See, the thing that makes this video so amazing is that it is 100% serious. Bill Shatner was part of a few shows I worked in 1978-79, and this is not an act. This is exactly how he was then, on and off camera. You could not find anyone who was more of an ass in the western hemisphere. You know that noise that Kif makes on Futurama whenever Zapp Brannigan asks to have his toes cleaned or whatever? We worked with Leonard Nimoy a few times that same year, and he made that noise almost every time Shatner's name came up.
Which is actually what makes present day, Boston Public Travelocity Shatner so wonderful. It's a testament to the power of continued existence and "character building" experiences to help us become better people in spite of our best efforts to do otherwise. Because I can't imagine what would transform the guy in the video into a jolly fat man with a sense of humor about the guy in the video except thirty years of perspective and a fair amount of getting your ass kicked by life. Let's face it. No one reinvents themselves until they find themselves in pieces on the floor and can't figure out how to put the old way back together.
I've got a friend from high school who could have been voted Most Likely to Have a Successful Yet Unremarkable Life, who had a seemingly successful and unremarkable life until about two years ago, when the whole thing turned to liquid shit. Since then it's been divorce, job loss, kids in trouble -- totally made for TV movie material. Maybe I will send him the link.