The Gathering of the Ranks

It's that time of year. Geeks like me are counting the minutes. If anticipatory tension were a currency, we'd be seeing hyper-inflation the likes of 1920's Germany. I've always been a nail-biter but now I've practically gnawed my fingertips, lucky not to leave bloody fingerprints wherever I lay my palms. Eight year olds on Christmas Eve have got it so good by comparison.

It's only two days away.

For us this is like The Super Bowl, New Years and a class by your favorite college professor all bundled together into one four-day package. I like to think of it as "Nerdi-Gras."

Costumes, shows, seminars, book signings, parties, demos, premiers, concerts, a parade, old friends, new friends and and six months worth of profoundly irresponsible behavior all distilled into a clock-never-stops labor day weekend. Sixty-thousand hard-core nerds, geeks, dweebs, techies, trekkers, dorks, freaks, phreakers, hackers, gamers and, sadly gawkers, crowded into five Atlanta hotels for four days. It's really kind of amazing to behold.

My costume is prepared. My room is booked. My booze is bought. My schedule is made. My heart is all atwitter. Not that my posting is at all regular, but I won't be online for a few days, in case you were expecting something of me.

Everyone sing together now, "It's the most wonderful time ... of the year."


Why I Don't Go to Art Shows

I get them all the time, twenty a week perhaps, maybe more. I get them through facebook, by email, by text and even, once in a great while, on a printed bit of card stock. I get invitations to indie-scale cultural events. It's not always art shows, as I mentioned above. It's just art shows more often than anything else. It's also local bands, photography openings in coffee shops, scene studies and short film screenings. Usually by people I know and actively like.

And I almost never go.

First of all, and I hate to say this lest it come back to haunt but nobody reads this blog so I'm not over-worried, most of the work I see is just plain bad. I might be reaching by claiming to be an objective arbiter of culture but, at the very least, I see very little that I find meaningfully evocative. Most of it is self indulgent wanking making the pretenses of art. The truth is that most of the would-be musicians, directors, painters and the like that I know don't really want to make art. They want to be someone who is lauded for making art.

No one is asking me to these events because I'm important; I'm not. No one is asking me to these events because I'm someone's friend or because someone legitimately wants me to be interested their work, even if I am and they do. Someone is asking me because they're hocking wares and need warm bodies to create a false sense of popularity and urgency to prop up a sales pitch to would-be patrons, so that they can play the celebrity.

Screaming from the rooftops, or it's modern equivalent, papering the world with fliers and pestering people on facebook, is not the way to get your work noticed. Spending the bulk of your time and energy planning your showing rather than perfecting your art is not the way go get your work noticed. Playing the salon ├ęclat is not the way to get your work noticed.

Producing immaculately well crafted, emotionally daring, intellectually innovative art, that is the way to get your work noticed. Excellence is very hard to ignore. If you don't have that, there's not much I can do to help you acquire it. If you do have that, then you don't need my sorry ass showing up at your viewing to pimp your pieces.

Moreover, I have my own half-assed hack work to pursue.


I Feel Safest of All

Inspired by my friend Kimberly, who I've only actually seen once since high school but whatever, I have elected to relate the following.

I tend to name my more important possessions, specifically vehicles and computers. My first car was named Peter. My first computer was named Tex. My bichin' Camaro that I drove back when Kimberly and I were still in school I christened Majje. The laptop I'm typing this on is named Obie2, after it's predecessor Obie, which was in turn named after the hyper-intelligent reality-altering supercomputer from Jack Chalker's Well of Souls novels.

Some people think this an odd habit but I feel that, if we're going to give names to boats, spaceships and B.B. King's guitar, then we should be open to naming just about anything.

The thing is, one can't just name a car the way one names a child. No, a car already has a name when it comes to you and you have to wait for the car to enlighten you as to how it would like to be addressed. It's a little like what T.S. Elliot had to say about cats, only without the help of Andrew Lloyd Webber. You have to take time to get to know the car and for it to acclimate to you. Only then will the car's name occur to you. It will simply pop into your head and you'll know that this is what the vehicle is meant to be called. This is the way it works for me, at least.

I purchased my current car from a friend. I went to see it for the first time in a garage with no lights so I only saw it in shadow. When I returned to test drive it, it was dusk. A few days later, when I committed to purchasing it and showed up with the money, the sun was already down. Having not owned a car for several years, I didn't have a parking space at my apartment and had to park in the side-lot, which was heavily shaded. Point being, I had already owned the car for a week before I saw it in full daylight and realized what color it was. I had thought it was navy blue but it is, in fact, a deep shade of purple, almost violet.

This realization led to the following train of thought. "My car is purple. Lou Reed was the lead singer of the band Deep Purple. My car's name is Reed!" And, I felt that little click in my head that told me I was correct. My car, indeed, wanted to be called "Reed."

I know what you're thinking. I can practically feel your disdain, familiar and comfortable as that is. "Thomas, Lou Reed was not the lead singer of Deep Purple. Lou Reed was the frontman for the Velvet Underground. You're a moron."

I am not, in point of fact, a moron. I know that Lou Reed was not in Deep Purple. I know that those two ensembles didn't produce even vaguely similar music. Simply put, I had a brain fart. An entirely incorrect thought passed through my head and I didn't notice. It happens to the best of us.

Unfortunately, Reed had declared his intentions to me and it was now too late to change up. I could have manufactured some line of reasoning about how purple is the best color for velvet or somesuch but what would that accomplish? And so, my car is Reed and Reed he ever shall be because I had a moment of cranial flatulence.

Such is serendipity.


And Some Days...

You find yourself in a familiar place, with a familiar feeling doing familiar things. You realize that, at some point in the past few years, you lost your only super power but you're only a bit concerned about how to get it back. You read in the paper that a terrible injustice has been righted. You can smell the approaching autumn and your only real concern is whether you can help HBO save the world.

And that's just fine.


Green is Willpower; Yellow is Fear

My boss has this tendency of asking idle questions at which I can take a competent swing at the answer. These are usually minor inquiries about the details of modern life that most people shrug over and quickly forget. Unfortunately for me, I have a habit of remembering curious little details and, when I manifest any understanding of these trifling questions, the boss wants to know more. This generally lands me back at my desk, investing an hour in researching some, otherwise ignorable, detail of the modern world. I've now got a stack of these one-page summaries of useless knowledge and I figure I might as well make use of them beyond entertaining my colleagues. So, here we go


Dry cell batteries, the kind that you load in most household electronics, from remote controls to children's toys, come in two general varieties. There are 1.5 volt batteries, which are the cylindrical ones denoted by letters, D, AA, etc and there are 6/9 volt batteries that are usually square.

With 1.5 volt batteries, the cylindrical ones, the size indicates the lifetime of the battery. Larger batteries last longer so for maximum performance, a manufacturer of a device shoots for the largest battery that is convenient for their machine. Also important is “plate area,” the size of the battery's contacts. Larger plate area allows for greater amperage at the same voltage so wider batteries are needed to power higher amp devices.

Square batteries have similar concerns regarding size vs battery-life but are designed differently. 1.5 volt batteries have only one cell. 9 volt style batteries have higher voltages because they have multiple cells sandwiched together. They are shaped differently in part because it's easier to stack square cells together than round ones, in part to differentiate them from their lower voltage counterparts and in part to make them less susceptible to damage as they are more potentially dangerous than their cylindrical counterparts.

As for why one device would require six AAA batteries as opposed to two AA batteries, it's a matter of how batteries are wired. Batteries wired in series: positive to negative to positive etc, create a multi-cell battery with the same voltage, but a longer life, functionally the same as a larger battery. Batteries wired in parallel, positive to positive to positive then negative to negative to negative, create a higher voltage battery, with the same lifetime as one of the constituent batteries. A device may use a larger number of smaller batteries rather than a small number of larger batteries to take best advantage of amperage / voltage / lifetime wiring combinations.

Other, exotic types, of batteries like hearing aid batteries and those weird 6 volt cylindrical batteries used in light meters, are usually designed to conform to the needs of a specific device, hence why there are so many types of them. Because they are manufactured in such small quantities for very specific machines, there is little incentive to standardize them.

You are thus enlightened.


Swimming Through Sick Lullabies

"How are you?" she asked. I was a bit surprised to see her and even more surprised that she would speak to me. We've been avoiding one another for a long time. "Are you doing okay?"

"That depends," I answer. "Are you about to realize that you're still in love with me, come rushing home to my waiting arms and promise never to leave me again?"

"No, I'm not."

"Then I'm alright, but not as good as I could be."

And isn't that the truth of it.


Happy Idiot, Struggle for the Legal Tender

I'm not a conspiracy theorist but one must concede that our government, on all levels, has been getting more and more business-friendly over the last decade or more. While there are those that will assert that there is a vast and sinister cabal attempting to subvert global progressivism and concentrate wealth in the hands of the wealthiest elite, I understand that the ebb and flow of politics and culture lead to times of great progress and to times of regression. I'm not willing to put motives where none need to be.

Think on this, though. The recent debt squabbles resulted in a deal, however poor a deal it was, to raise the US debt ceiling. While the squabbles did make for an interesting vignette in political brinksmanship, in practical terms, the federal government came nowhere near to either a technical nor a practical default. In its two hundred and thirty-five year history, the US has never defaulted on a public debt. We remain the gold standard (metaphorically speaking) of public securities. No major investor or financial entity believes that US debt is a fundamentally less secure or less reliable financial instrument than it was a month ago. Nothing has functionally changed, except for the letters that S&P ascribe to federal bonds.

The practical results of this, mostly arbitrary, downgrade have been well explained. Any variable debt-instrument that is tied to federal bonds will see its interest rate increase. Your mortgage, car loan, student loans etc, all will end up costing you more because the loan your bank gave you is tied to a loan the bank received from the government which is tied to a loan the government took out from someone else. We all lose.

Or do we?

Who stands to benefit from this? Well, who stands to benefit from any hike in interest rates, the creditor. Secretly, Visa loves it when you miss a payment because they get to charge you more; they make more money and they didn't have to do anything for it.

Hyperbolic talk of market apocalypse aside, the nation's creditors are licking their chops. They're going to pocket as much as one hundred billion dollars a year for doing absolutely nothing. Who's going to pay them those billions? You and I, the working Americans, are going to surrender our tax dollars to the banks, the funds, the foreign governments, the corporations and the affluent individuals that hold the bulk of federal debt. Moreover, those of us who hold personal debt will, through no actions of our own, now be obligated to pay larger sums to the financial institutions that own the deeds to hour homes and the notes on our cars.

We're in the tank for billions of dollars to these institutions and they did absolutely nothing to earn it.

Nothing, unless of course, you count contributing millions of dollars in campaign and soft-money contributions to the very politicians that just engaged in four months of bad faith dog-&-pony show that they knew would tank our credit rating.

Like I said, I'm not a conspiracy theorist, but I'm starting to be more forgiving of those who are.