5 May 2009 — Beam Me Up, Scotty (5)

The reviews for the new Star Trek film are glowing. They’re positively glowing. I’ve read every one so far, and they’re beginning to bring tears to my eyes. I’m not joking. I’ve waited so long for a Star Trek to make me rekindle my love for the franchise. Rumor has it, this is it. This is the one.

It’s only Tuesday afternoon, I know, but Rotten Tomatoes is showing 100% of 32 critics giving favorable reviews and an average score of 8/10. That’s pretty damn good. Meanwhile, Metacritic tallies a 94% rating on eight reviews. That, too, is pretty damn good.

I’ve told both Kris and Paul J. that I’ll see this with them. And I think it goes without saying that I want to see with Dave and Andrew (right, guys?). Plus I want to see it in IMAX. And on opening night. I don’t really care, to be honest. I’ll watch this over and over and over again.

But what I really hope is that this isn’t just a one-shot. I want for this to be the beginning of something grand and glorious, a brand new journey to brave new worlds. I want to see these folks boldy go where many have gone before.

p.s. Just for fun, here’s the original trailer for what is still the best Trek film, The Wrath of Khan.

p.p.s. I just checked Fandango. Have you seen how many screens this is playing on? With this wide distribution and the rave reviews, it has a chance to set a record for box-office opening…

Tags: Geekiness · Movies · Television · YouTube  → 5 Comments

27 April 2009 — Mini Mileage (9)

We’re home from another great weekend trip to Sunriver. We do this trip every year with the MNF group, and it’s almost always fun. We’ve finally found a house that seems to facilitate group interaction, which is awesome. This was our fourth year in the same spot, and since Kris and I are planning the trip next year, you can count on a fifth year, too.

One of the best parts of this year’s excursion was driving my new (used) Mini Cooper, which we’ve dubbed Bumblebee (or simply Bumble). Kris was very patient with me as I toyed with acceleration in spots. Fun.

As a stats geek, I love the onboard computer. I suppose most cars come with these nowadays, but they’re new to me. Bumble can display his real-time fuel consumption and calculate his average usage. He can do the same for speeds. (And, best of all, Bumble can tell me how far he can go before he needs more gas!)

I’ve always been curious which path to Sunriver is quicker, over Mt. Hood or over the Santiam Pass. This year I tracked our numbers:

  • Our trip to Sunriver took us from Oak Grove to Sandy to Madras to Redmond to Bend. We covered 169.2 miles in three hours and thirty minutes, for an average speed of 52.9 miles per hour. Bumble traveled 34.0 miles per gallon.
  • On our trip home from Sunriver, we went from Bend to Sisters to Stayton to Silverton to Oregon City to Oak Grove. We covered 180.0 miles in three hours and 45 minutes, for an average speed of 51.8 miles per hour. Bumble traveled 39.8 miles per gallon.

For the entire trip (which included some time puttering around Sunriver and Bend), Bumble traveled 430.6 miles and used 12.225 gallons of gas. That’s total fuel efficiency of 35.2 miles per gallon.

One drawback is that Bumble does require Premium fuel. Ouch. That stuff’s expensive. However, I ran the numbers for the final 30 days I owned the Focus and compared them to my first two weeks with the Mini, and it seems the Focus was actually just a hair more expensive to run. (Well, comparing fuel costs only, that is.)

Now, however, it’s time for bed, even though it’s only 7:20. I’ve returned from Sunriver sick as a dog. Ugh. Why me? Why now?

p.s. This is odd. I just re-read my old posts about Sunriver. I came home sick from the 2006 trip, and again in 2009. Kris returned home sick in 2007 and 2008. “Why do you think that is?” I asked Kris. “It’s because those people are germ factories!” she said. I thought that was pretty funny.

Tags: Daily Life · Geekiness  → 9 Comments

8 January 2009 — Sarah Vowell and the Nerd Voice (4)

I don’t know much about Sarah Vowell. To me, she’s the female David Sedaris on This American Life. She’s a funny writer with a funny voice.

But then Craig went and picked Vowell’s new book The Wordy Shipmates for our February book group discussion. Although I should be reading January’s book (the tedious Main Street by Sinclair Lewis), I’m actually further along in Vowell’s. (This is mostly, however, because I have Vowell’s book in audio form, which lets me listen to it as I drive hither and yon.)

It turns out that Sarah Vowell is a self-professed history nerd. She seems to be particularly obsessed with American history. She reads about it. She talks about it. She spends her vacations visiting historical sites. The Wordy Shipmates is her book about the Puritans coming to North America in the early 17th century. It’s educational, insightful — and hilarious.

As always when I find an author I like, I did some research on Vowell and her other books. Many reviewers seem to think that her best work is an essay called “The Nerd Voice” from The Partly Cloudy Patriot. So I bought the book.

“The Nerd Voice” is a prolonged meditation on the 2000 U.S. presidential election. It contrasts Al Gore and George W. Bush. The former, says Vowell, is a profoundly intelligent man — a nerd. The latter isn’t just dumb, but actively dislikes intelligence — he’s a jock. She doesn’t seem to hate Bush (the book was written in early 2001, however), but she does like Gore. After all, like Vowell, he is a nerd.

Vowell writes that Gore lacks one important characteristic that allows nerds to be accepted by society at large: the capability to be self-deprecating. She equates this with the ability to use the stereotypical “nerd voice” to make fun of oneself, to practice “preemptive mockery”. By mocking yourself before others can, you become a less threatening nerd.

Anyhow, all of this is set up. What I really want to share are the last two pages of Vowell’s essay. (And really, it’s the last paragraph I want to highlight, because I read that and say, “Amen!” But to get to the last paragraph, I need the three paragraphs before…)

While the preemptive mockery software is automatically included in most nerd brains under the age of forty, it still needs to be installed in Gore. Self-deprecation is not standard baby boomer operating procedure — they were the most aggressive self-aggrandizing generation of the twentieth century and aren’t particularly good at making fun of themselves.

Any politician tricky enough to get elected to the House, not to mention the vice presidency, must necessarily have the kind of postmodern mind which thinks simultaneously about both what he is saying and the way he is saying it. As a national Democrat, Gore has had to frame his arguments about, say, energy policy, remembering that his support base includes both the United Auto Workers and the members of the Sierra Club. So he already has the cerebral capability required to give a proper name-heavy speech about the China conundrum followed by an icebreaking wisecrack about not going to the prom. It’s silly, demeaning, and time-consuming, for sure, but for a nerd, what part of driving a tank or pulling on cowboy boots is not?

Any person who wants any job, who knows he would be good at the job, knows he has to fake his way through the dumb job interview before he’s actually allowed to roll up his sleeves. I asked [my friend] Doug what he thought would have happened in the campaign if, instead of donning khakis and cowboy boots and French-kissing his wife on TV, Gore had been truer to himself and said what he thought and knew and believed using the nerd voice. Doug didn’t hesitate: “Oh my God, he’d be president for life.”

I wish it were different. I wish that we privileged knowledge in politicians, that the ones who know things didn’t have to hide it behind brown pants, and that the know-not-enoughs were laughed all the way to the Main border on their first New Hampshire meet and greet. I wish that in order to secure his party’s nomination, a presidential candidate would be required to point at the sky and name all the stars; have the periodic table of the elements memorized; rattle off the kings and queens of Spain; define the significance of the Gatling gun; joke around in Latin; interpret the symbolism in seventeenth-century Dutch painting; explain photosynthesis to a six-year-old; recite Emily Dickenson; bake a perfect popover; build a shortwave radio out of a coconut; and know all the words to Hoagy Carmichael’s “Two Sleepy People”, Johnny Cash’s “Five Feet High and Rising”, and “You Got the Silver” by the Rolling Stones. After all, the United States is the greatest country on earth dealing with the most complicated problems in the history of the world — poverty, pollution, justice, Jerusalem. What we need is a president who is at least twelve kinds of nerd, a nerd messiah to come along every four years, acquire the Secret Service code name Poindexter, install a Revenge of the Nerds screen saver on the Oval Office computer, and one by one decrypt our woes.

Have I mentioned that Obama reads comic books?

Tags: Books · Geekiness  → 4 Comments

25 December 2008 — 2009 Mini Cooper S Convertible (3)

Why do I torture myself. I’ve spent the evening watching YouTube videos of the 2009 Mini Coopers. Videos like this:

Boring? I think not. Expensive is more like it. Every time I let myself get into a Mini Cooper reverie, I come close to buying one. Make no mistake: my next car will be a Mini. But I’m going to be good, and either save until I can afford it, or wait until my Focus dies.

I just wish the Focus would dies soon. Like tomorrow.

(Note: I’ve never been a “car guy”. But I have a deep and driving passion for the Mini.)

Tags: Geekiness · Rants and Raves · YouTube  → 3 Comments

11 November 2008 — How I Became the Bomb (0)

Wow.

Was there ever a song and video more targeted at J.D. than this? I think not. My life is now complete.

Tags: Geekiness · Music · Rants and Raves · YouTube  → No Comments

13 October 2008 — Why I Blog (2)

“Are you watching YouTube again?” Kris asks me nearly every day. Usually I am. She doesn’t get it. But to me, YouTube is just another form of blogging. Both are new forms of community, ways to express yourself and to interact with other people (most of whom are strangers, no doubt, but who can become acquaintances — or friends).

The following video is an hour long, but it does an outstanding job of capturing the mood, the mentality, and the motives behind blogging. Even though it’s about YouTube:

The world is a mess lately: economic turmoil, a contentious Presidential election, and rumors of doom from the corners of the globe. But, for whatever reason, this new interconnectivity gives me hope.

Tags: Deep Thoughts · Geekiness · Introspection  → 2 Comments

1 October 2008 — Connections to the Cosmos (1)

Over the past few years, I’ve accumulated a lot of Amazon credit by selling books on my various web sites. The problem is, I accumulate it faster than I can spend it. Sometimes I buy comics. Sometimes Kris buys something for herself. But mostly it just sits there, unused.

Today I decided to splurge a little with my untapped wealth. I picked up (used) DVD copies of two of my favorite television series, series I haven’t seen in more than a decade.

First up, James Burke’s Connections. When I first saw this series in 1993, it blew my mind. Over 10 episodes, Burke traces the history of everyday objects: nylon, plastic, computers. Trust me: it’s much more exciting than it sounds. In fact, I’m a little giddy at the prospect of watching this again.

Here are the first ten minutes of the first episode:

Okay, that’s not fair. Here are parts two, three, four, five. (And you can find the entire series on YouTube, though surely not legally.) See also: James Burke’s Fan Companion.

I haven’t seen the second series since 1983 (or before!). Carl Sagan’s Cosmos has had a profound influence on my life. It’s imbued with a sense of wonder that’s almost child-like, but at the same time reaches the pinnacle of human knowledge. I love it.

Here’s the beginning of the first episode:

And the end of the same:

Most especially, I love the music. I have three copies of the Cosmos soundtrack on CD. There are two different versions — the long version would be great but it has annoying segues between tracks. I also own the soundtrack on vinyl and cassette tape. (This soundtrack is awesome, but it’s out of print. The regular soundtrack goes for $85 on Amazon, and the two-disc set goes for $200. Amazing.)

You can find most (not all) of Cosmos on YouTube, too. (This excerpt is amazing.)

Anyhow —

Today I splurged on 23 hours of the finest intellectual stimulation I could find. I can’t wait for these boxes to arrive on my doorstep.

Tags: Geekiness · Rants and Raves · Television  → 1 Comment

22 September 2008 — A Comics Geek Gets Serious (1)

I originally intended to post this at Get Rich Slowly, but Kris rightly noted that I’ve beat this topic to death lately. I’ve revised it for posting here.

I’ve spent a lot of time this weekend thinking about my motivation for collecting comics. On some level I do it because I’ve always done it. I’ve been buying comics for 35 years. It’s a part of me. It’s a habit. But more and more, I’ve come to realize I don’t enjoy all of the comics I buy. That’s the main reason I’ve been able to cut my spending on them so sharply over the past few years.

After two days of introspection, I realized that what I really enjoy are the comics I remember from my youth, the ones I might have picked up at the grocery store or the mini mart when I was six, or twelve, or sixteen. I’ve decided to focus my collecting on the years between 1975 and 1986.

Making this decision is a huge relief. It gives me direction. Now I can look at my bookshelves and know exactly which anthologies to sell and which to keep. Now I can budget for future purchases. Now when I stumble on a stack of comic books at the thrift store or a garage sale, I won’t feel the urge to buy them all.

I’m actually excited in a geeky sort of way because I’ll be able to apply several of the techniques I’ve shared at Get Rich Slowly:

  • First, I’m going to purge some of this Stuff from my shelves. I’ll sell the books on eBay or the Amazon Marketplace. The money I earn from selling these books will be used to fund my future purchases.
  • In fact, I’m going to create a special savings account specfically for my comic collecting. Initially, this will act exactly like the stuff replacement fund I wrote about last week. As I sell the comics I no longer want, the money will go into this account.
  • Even more exciting (and I can hardly believe I’m saying this), I’m going to set a comics budget. That’s right — J.D., the man who does not budget, is going to create a budget for one aspect of his life. I’m going to place $50 a month into my comics fund.
  • To implement my monthly comics allowance, I’ll make an automatic transfer from my checking account into an ING Direct subaccount. It’s from this pool of money that I’ll allow myself to buy now books.
  • I’ll draft a list of goals. It may seem silly to have comic-collecting goals, but without them, I’ve just been buying things willy-nilly. (Why on earth do I have an Aquaman compilation? Nobody needs an Aquaman compilation.) With some goals for my collecting, I can focus on what’s important to me.

Earlier this month, I wrote:

There is nothing wrong with buying things that you will use and enjoy. That’s the purpose of money. If you’re spending less than you earn, meeting your needs, and saving or the future, it’s a wonderful thing to be able to afford the things that make life easier and more pleasurable. But when you purchase things based solely on the idea of having, I believe you’ve crossed the line from using money as a tool to becoming a tool for money.

For a long time, I’ve been collecting comics because I liked the idea of having them.

Kris, who views comics as a waste of time and money, would probably prefer I just got rid of them all, but I enjoy them. Now that I have no consumer debt, I can afford to spend a little money on them, and I’m happy to do it.

This isn’t really about the comics, though. It’s about taking a hobby I enjoy and determining why it brings me pleasure. It’s about setting limits, about setting goals, and about turning a collection of Stuff into a books I will read and enjoy.

Next: How I discovered that May 1980 marked the start of my “golden age” of collecting.

Tags: Comic Books · Geekiness · Introspection  → 1 Comment

29 August 2008 — One Small Step for a Man… (1)

Last night, I made what may be an important move in my attempt to get my electronic life under control. I separated my work e-mail from my personal e-mail.

I’ve complained for months that I’m overwhelmed by my e-mail load. I’m also overwhelmed by my browser tabs and my text documents. Things are out of control. I’ve been paying Michael and Lisa to help me at Get Rich Slowly, but I’ve done a poor job of giving them assignments because I’m buried by all the stuff. I don’t know what they should be doing!

Worse, I’ve turned into a terrible correspondent with my friends. It’s one thing to be slow with my GRS e-mail, but it’s a shame when messages from Dave or Andrew or you get lost in the swamp that is my inbox.

So, in an effort to take control, I’ve told my desktop computer to stop checking foldedspace e-mail. I’ve told my laptop to only check foldedspace e-mail. What’s more, after two years of having a zillion open browser tabs, the laptop now has none. The browser is in its default state, ready for me to poke around. If I use it for work, I’ll try to work on one task at a time, and try to finish that task before moving on.

I don’t have all the text documents closed on the laptop yet, but I think I can get there over the weekend. I may just zip them up and e-mail them to the work machine. What’s another ten text documents when I already have nearly 100 open?

Anyhow, what I’m trying to say is: I’ve begun to compartmentalize my work life and my social life. I’m hoping this leads to a revitalization of the latter. Work has been my whole life for too long…

Tags: Blogging · Computers · Daily Life · Geekiness  → 1 Comment

28 August 2008 — Building Great Sentences (6)

This is how geeky I am (as if you all needed another example).

For years, I’ve bemoaned the fact that I’ve been unable to find a good college-level grammar class to take. All of the college-level grammar classes around here are remedial. I don’t want a remedial grammar class. I want an advanced grammar class that really gets into the nuts and bolts of the stuff.

As you may know, I’m a huge fan of The Teaching Company. This company offers college-level courses via compact disc and DVD (and, now, audio download). They’re great. Robert Greenberg’s “How to Listen to and Understand Great Music” is marvelous, and I recommend it to anyone. Well worth the $95 download.

As much as I love these courses, I try not to look at the catalog when it comes. I’m a frugal fellow, remember, and I don’t need to go out of my way to find reasons to spend money. Hell, I already have several courses from The Teaching Company that I haven’t finished auditing yet:

Today when I received the monthly Teaching Company e-mail solicitation, I dragged it to the trash, just like always. But as I did, something caught my eye: a course called “Building great sentences: Exploring the writer’s craft”.

Well.

As you can probably guess, there were mere microseconds between me noticing that and actually downloading the lectures. That’s right — I am so geeky that I would, without hesitation, pay $35 to download a 12-hour series of lectures on how to write sentences.

Now I’ve got to find an excuse to listen to this course. Anyone up for a trip to Boise and back? I’ll provide the wheels. And the listening material.

Tags: Geekiness · Rants and Raves · Writing  → 6 Comments