Monday, September 24, 2007

Week 10: Better late than never.

That's it. As of tonight, I'm officially a 5k runner.

And this amazingly after four straight days of non-running.

Let's get down to details.

1. Bad Day / Daniel Powter 3:52
My path begins. We walk for five minutes. I start north down Fourth St. to one of the side streets where I used to take my walks. I use the iPod as a flashlight since its pitch black down these wooded streets. Where is the passion when you need it the most?

2. Waking Up / Milow 4:56
The run begins, and I don't hold much hope - especially after a dinner of pork 'n' beans and hot dogs (a staple I'll soon integrate into my new invention, the Hobo Diet). I learned long ago the consequences of eating a heavy meal before running. But it starts earnestly enough, even though I don't have much hope. Last week was rough, to put it mildly: week nine was supposed to be the final leg of this torture device, and I couldn't make it any past 20 of the 30 minutes.

3. Rusty Cage / Johnny Cash 2:50
I'm going to break my rusty cage...and run.The cool night air helps, especially because the temperature when I left work was in the upper 80s. I almost forgot to run tonight. Or maybe it was just apathy. I trip over the rough spots in the asphalt, and weird noises come out from the woods around me. I double back down Park and Heyser Streets and retrace my path back to Fourth.

4. September / Earth, Wind & Fire 3:37
I've been down these streets tons of times, but it's always different in the dark. I'm thinking about taking my brain somewhere else, or at least focusing on how my legs function, and how I can run for 10 minutes and not break a sweat. Then the sweat comes, and I wish to god I'd broken down and bought me a sweet headband. Maybe next year.

5. Take Me Out / Franz Ferdinand 3:57
Last week I had almost given up, or at least reverted back to simpler times, like week five or six. "Maybe I'll de-evolve, and try this thing over again." Andrea's running a 5k this weekend, and I'm starting to feel like a loser. I've reached the limits of where my body can take me. I run past the tennis courts, sad to realize I don't see any of the usual deer, who I've come to view as cohorts on this journey of pain. They stand, eat grass, bob their ears and tail when I trot past. I run, and weep, and wish for a bus to end my suffering. Take me out.

6. Orange Crush / R.E.M. 3:52
I race around the park on the corner of Briarcliff and West, and I feel the blister that's been bother me for two weeks return. I've long known that I favor the insides of my soles. You can tell just by looking at my shoes how I walk, and it's not pretty. Even the cushy New Balances are no remedy. Another one on the waves tonight / Comin' in, you're home...

7. Refractor / Circle of Dust 2:49
I know now that it's easier to hate than love. Making the return trip down West, passing the tennis courts and Parkside again, I start to feel like maybe this is it. Maybe this is the night. I've told myself this countless times in the past two weeks, but then I think of how good I'm feeling - even after not running for four days, and spending a good deal of yesterday and Saturday on my toosh. I've picked these songs not out of some desire to overcome adversity, or to rock my way to the top of some pinnacle, but simply to dull the pain and quiet the madness - the madness of running in the dark on a Monday night while everyone else is watching football. You know, like I used to do.

8. Daylight Robbery / Imogen Heap 3:22
Oh Imogen, were you right here, I would take some of your English beauty and transfer the feeling to my legs and chest, which are going numb. Thinking big, thinking positive, and an itch to get on with it... I'm back to the apartment complex and heading toward the back where the drive meets Elmdale and the front side of Ella Sharp Park. I'm thinking that "Daylight" is my final song, and so I pick up my pace just to prove myself I'm not some sick, twisted masochistic bastard. Sweet Imogen, carry me home...

9. She Sells Sanctuary / The Cult 4:25
Ah, but only fools rush in - isn't that what Matthew Perry taught us in some foregone age? This is it, I know now, and so the only thing to do now is coast. I realize - somewhere between the putt-putt coarse and Fourth - that I've actually got energy to spare. So I sprint down Fourth, next to the golf course, back in the Parkside parking lot, and end up home. Finished. That's it. The fire in your eyes keeps me alive...

10. Today / K.M.F.D.M. 4:56
I've usually ended my workout with KMFDM's epic "DIY" - but since Mr. Ullreys' plan calls for a five minute walk to cool down, a more down-beat approach to the finish line works best. I'm already thinking of what Wednesday, my next scheduled run day, will bring - since I'm learning that trying to predict how a run will go is like trying to predict the world at large. It's the end today, but it's gone tomorrow - and today will never come again.

Back at home, I grab a towel, douse it with cold water from the tap, and try to cool down. It's weird how I could go from almost-quitting to hot-damn-I-did-it.

But here it is. Now I'm going to stretch away my accomplishment.

On selling one's soul with membership dues.

When you lose faith in the very institutions you put your trust in, what hope is there of a better tomorrow?

Such Camus-like existentialism is bred when companies like Bank of America take the names of Iowa University alumni from the very organization that represents that alumni, and keeps the exchange of money a secret.

Now, I didn't go to Iowa, and thankfully I closed my BoA account long ago (after the 0% interest rate expired), but now my own goddamn fraternity is in the business of offering credit cards to members.

That's right: perhaps, if you're a brother, you've received these mail solicitations. I sure as hell have, and each one promises to support my fraternity.

Well I'm calling "bullshit."

For a while now, even Rotary International has customized a credit card for those Rotarians who are foolish enough to believe that MasterCard and Visa have the world's best interest at heart. What they're really interested in is earning that 17% interest above the 1% they give to our Rotary Foundation fund. It's marketing in the mode of philanthropy, and smarter folks than me should be able to see through it.

Using a credit card to help your favorite foundation or organization definitely has a "feel good" aspect to it, but here's an idea: give a charity the 1% yourself, and keep from wasting the other 12-20% in finance charges.

I like the idea of giving a charity I check that I wrote. MasterCard and Visa can send their own damn check.

They can rest assured it won't be me helping them to write it.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Bury your tantric vase, conquer the world

Golly, there are some funny people out there.

Like this - which made me laugh out loud.

Did you know the Dalai Lama is second cousin to Stalin and Hussein?

Or how about this insight:

Although Buddhism has become the trendy religion of choice and appeals to society that it is the religion of ahimsa ("no harm," ie, non-violence), quite the opposite is true as many wars have been fought in the name of Buddhism.

No kidding?

And what happens when you bury a tantric Buddha vase?

"It is the act of defiling the land and provoking God's judgment."

Hot damn. And here I thought provoking the GLBT, feminist, and secular nihilist community were all Christians concerned themselves with. That, and the slander of Islam.

What a great country we live in.

>>Thanks to Digital Tibetan Buddhist Alter

American bridges are falling down, falling down...

After the Minneapolis bridge collapse, our local paper ran an in-depth investigative piece about local bridges that were in need of repair. Most of the bridges in Jackson County, in fact, were found in crumbling condition.

A few days later, some yahoo wrote in condemning the paper, saying the information provided gave aid to terrorists. Supposedly, bin Laden is reading the Jackson Citizen Patriot for ideas on where to strike next.

"Gosh," I thought, "why fear terrorists when government negligence is doing a fine job of killing Americans?"

So I did what any proud, patriotic American would do: I wrote the above thoughts in a letter to the editor.

But locally it would fall on deaf ears. Here in Jackson County, founding place of Mr. Bush's party, public ownership and maintenance of infrastructure is an afterthought - especially where budgets are concerned.

You see, there are some in this country that feel businesses would do a better job of running and maintaining our roads, subways, and bridges. The government is doing a terrible job of keeping up repairs, so why not let the free market try things for a while?

When you have people running the government who harbor disdain for government in the first place, however, it's no wonder bridges are falling down. The order of the day is "privatize everything," (you know, like those honest folks at Enron did in California) because we all know greed makes the world go round. If you don't trust the government, and you're in government, you can really do some damage.

I almost think it's a sinister plan by free market capitalists and some Republican lawmakers: let the country fall apart, and offer business as the solution.

But really, the whole thing could be fixed by (a) a person who knows how to manage a government, (b) a proper budget not made anorexic by tax cuts, or (c) an FDR-style "new New Deal" plan to fix things up.

Think about it. The country's infrastructure went throught the greatest period of growth after the Roosevelts had a vision of parks, highways (Eisenhower helped with that one), bridges, and dams built by Americans to help Americans. The public paid for it because it benefitted everyone. And what a beautiful country we had.

Infrastructure like our radio waves and subway tunnels actually belong to the people, and the government leases the right to use them to companies. Some want companies to own them outright, however, because there's tons of money to be made in fees and tolls.

I can see the idea: competition spurs the best ideas and healthy competition, and everything ends up improving.

But that's not always the case.

I like the idea of the people owning the things we use better. All that's required is a healthy dose of patriotism and some concern for your fellow citizens to take care of the parks, roads, and rails. Put people in government who actually know how to run the government, and not fools who want to dismantle the public infrastructure.

In my book, if you let these systems go to waste, you're a traitor to the country.

My friends Josh and PJ have a pretty conservative uncle, Uncle Robert, who used to tell me that government should be responsible for a few things: delivering the mail, maintaining the roads, and keeping the country safe from harm.

So what happens when the only get one out of those three?

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Former life department: IT systems analyst

When God was handing out careers, he could have given me a few: journalism, marketing, teaching, PR...and computers, I think.

This was highlighted Friday at work, when one of the managers came up to me - frantic - and asked me why one Word file didn't look like her other Word file.

Now, long have I been the unofficial IT guy in our office. Our true IT department sits across the street in the administrative building. Most employees figure that, instead of waiting for IT to come over and rescue them, they come see me.

So when I went downstairs to help the manager, I hit one button (the "Print Layout View" one in the bottom left corner) and fixed her document, and she sighed with thanks.

Is this what I was put on Earth to do? Help people figure out their computer stuff?

The signs are all there. I remember last winter at Cassandra's house getting into a multiple hour-long conversation with an Italian from New York about which high-powered Mac to buy. He has long survived on G5s, the former king daddies, and was thinking about switching to the new Intel models. As soon as he heard the words "oh-ess-ten" come out of my mouth, I was automatically his expert.

I helped Katie buy her HP laptop. I set up a blueberry iMac G3 for my grandma to learn the Internet. I'm the proud owner of more computers than some small businesses. And I fix stuff at work when it's not even my job.

Now I'm getting into web site creation and blogging, and I'm mulling over choices like what company should host my site, and what should my ".com" name be, and whether to use my current Blogger site or switch to WordPress (which people seem to adore). So many choices.

What's nice about blogging is it satisfies two of my cravings: writing and computers. The journalist in me will always long for an audience and a creative outlet, while learning about how to host my own blog and URL address is exciting in its own right.

And step by step, I'm teaching myself HTML - which I actually enjoy and have fun playing around with.

I wrote about hobbies, and how they often define who we consider ourselves to be; maybe this is my hobby. I'm a computer geek.

My training certainly started like most people my age: Macs in elementary, teaching typing or painting or how to use the trash icon. It's how I first fell in love with SimCity. When I moved in with my dad, and he bought a Packard Bell 486, I tinkered with that machine enough to leave it a smoking husk.

A few weeks ago I went to this guy Curtis's house to check out his Mac museum - a setup in his basement that hosts everything from the original Macintosh and Lisa to a OS X G5 server. I took the two Macs I found at our June e-waste drive, a Quadra and an LCII, and we took them apart and hooked them up and got them running again.

Curtis even showed me how to take apart a Mac SE and put it back together again. Katie and I have been playing "Oregon Trail" in full nine-inch-screen, black-and-white glory. It has "Wheel of Fortune," too, which I plan on playing with grandma.

I do like to workout, and fish, and travel, and argue about politics, and read and write, and I'm acquiring a taste for automobiles - all these are the usual "guy" hobbies, right?

But there's something about a box of chips and spinning disks and blowing fans that tickles the reptilian pleasure center in my brain.

Call me a geek - I'm okay with that. But we have to be passionate about something, and it helps when it's something we're good at.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Week 8: couch to holy-crap-it's-working

Maybe the fall is good for something afterall, because running the way I've been running in the heat would be suicide.

It's week 8 in the couch to 5k running program, where the collective "we" run non-stop for 20+ minutes.

Yesterday the sweat barely had time to form before the cool, oncoming autumn air whisked it away. A few nights last week were nice too, now that the dusk temperature is dipping into the 50s and 40s.

Fall is sad, because it means goodbye summer, but I'm just as excited as Andrea to be running some real distance without suffering catotonic coronary despair on the side of some suburban sidewalk.

Since we're running non-stop now, I left the iPod and the podcast at home and ran naked. Without the iPod, my right arm didn't quite know what to do. I don't blame it, because five minutes in and I was counting my exhales for lack of something better to do. It was a good mindfulness practice, though, and I got to 700 before wheezing.

Now, when I see runners jogging down the sidewalk, I feel like I'm part of some mutant group that no one else understands.

RUNNER: "Kill me now."

ME, DRIVING PAST: "Keep it up, buddy."


And so it goes.

My metabolism has kicked into overdrive lately because, along with the running, I've reignited my usual weights-and-sit-ups workout routine, meaning my bloodsugar rarely rises above 150. I can feel calories burn while I sit on my duff at work, and that's the whole idea: to let your metabolism do the hard work.

Well, that's silly. My metabolism can thank me, because its lazy ass doesn't stretch and run and hope for a quick death.

But it's how I lost 15 pounds after graduation. I've gained five of that back in the four years since school, but it's an easy combination: workout + something something = in-shape Dave.

A simple equation in a not-so-simple world.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Money, it's a hit.

Using cash for things changes the entire spending-money dynamic.

I used to be a bona-fide debit card guy - everything from groceries to online shopping to visits to the bar, they all got paid with my checking plastic. It was easy; all I had to do was sign for my purchases.

But then things got forgotten. Sure, I'd check my account every day at work (one of the many benefits of working for a credit union). Every once in a while, thought, I'd forget about some debit transaction that was "pending," where my available cash was different than my actual account balance.

Some folks take care of this by balancing their checkbook on the fly. As soon as a purchase is made, it gets noted in the check ledger.

Well, that didn't work for me. I'd try it, but it wasn't very convenient. And I was all about convenience.

Now for the past year, since switching to the Dave Ramsey plan, I've been using strictly cash for my everyday spending, and it's opened up quite a different world for me.

Ramsey's plan has me putting cash in actual envelopes that are labelled "FOOD," "GAS," Or "BLOW" (spending money, not prostitute money - sicko), etc. I'd budget myself so much each week in the "FOOD" envelope, and then use that cash to buy groceries. "BLOW" would be my fun money, "GAS" my gas money, and so on, and when the money ran out of the envelope I didn't spend any more in that category.

Ramsey's basis for doing this involves people like me who didn't think about their overall spending patterns. I spent until the money was gone, and didn't keep track of where it goes.

Now I do track where it goes by the simple act of keeping my receipts: everytime I make a purchase I take the receipt, stick it in the envelope, and then - later, on an Excel file - note every dollar spent.

Anal? Maybe. But the five minutes it takes to do this per week has kept me from overspending. Any time spent on finances is worth something.

I'm finding there are all these fun dynamics at work when using cash, like paying tips in the new presidential gold dollars. With Mr. Washington and Mr. Jefferson, I can leave the waitstaff a fun souvinir to spend or save. It makes more of an impact than a plain ol' dollar.

For some reason, it feels better to leave someone a gold coin rather than signing off on some slip of paper they may not look at. Actually leaving some cash for someone makes me feel better, and lets them know I appreciate the work they do.

Have you seen that new Visa commercial, where the economic process is running like clockwork until some goof pulls out actual paper money to pay for something?

I say that's bunk. A visual record and the actual physical exchange of money feels better than using plastic now. When I need it, my debit card is there. But not everyone accepts plastic, and everyone accepts cash.

My attitude about cash has definitely changed. Maybe someday cash will be like the snail mail to plastics slick e-mail interface, but the old way of doing things still has its uses.

After the stamp collectors are long dead and gone, maybe I'll be the old guy still pulling out his two dollar bill, hoping to get a smile from the waitress.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Postings from the Pale Blue Dot.

Every time I see an image of the Earth from space - what Carl Sagan called the "Pale Blue Dot" - I want to cry.

I remember Al Gore surprising me with an image at the end of "An Inconvenient Truth." At the end of that moving movie was the most moving image that a human could look at, besides the actual face of god. It was the Earth, the first picture of it ever taken from space, and it never fails to impress me.

Wired has an image gallery from the Voyager spacecraft planetary visits, and I fought back tears again on seeing the above image - the first ever taken of the Earth and our Moon together in space.

Of course they include a picture of Dr. Sagan, the brains behind the whole operation. Sagan has been a hero of mine since childhood, and it's because of projects like Voyager that help me revere his memory.

There's something about seeing an image of the Earth from space that makes you feel humble. In a vast and unforgiving universe, we are mites in the carpet. You can't see national borders, or political parties, or anything built by human hands - besides the Great Wall of China - from space. Not one shred of evidence of our existence can be seen from orbit, and yet we think our everyday goings-on matter so much.

From our perspective they do, because we're stuck here on terra firma. We know people and we go places and we accomplish goals that have impact on the world, however small it is, around us.

But from up there, we're nothing.

And Dr. Sagan helped me to feel okay about that. There's comfort in knowing that, in all the universe, we've fought tooth and literal nail to get where we are - to inhabit a tiny ball of oxygen, nitrogen, and hydrogen and make it our own.

Sometimes I imagine what it would've been like, on Voyager 1 and 2, on the day Jupiter loomed large enough to make out its many moons and cloud bands. I imagine what it was like when those spacecrafts zipped by Neptune - its clouds a bright, electric blue - and the other outer planets that dwarf our own. On its way out of the solar system, into that interplanetary limbo where not much at all exists, Voyager took a shot of Earth from way out - and it makes me fall in love with Earth every time.

I love the planet because I'm biased, but also because it has its own beauty and splendor, as does each of the planets in our neighborhood. And I love it because it's home, and when you step foot on it you can see so many wonderful things.

The cosmos is hard to fathom because our brains can't well handle the idea of infinity. And if the universe isn't infinite in size, it might as well be. It's pretty damn big.

And here we sit, on our pale blue dot, floating around in space, doing our own thing.

The Voyager mission showed worlds outside of our own, and how spectacular they were. It's only our own world, however, that tears me up - every damn time, it gets me.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

What we want for Christmas.

It's not that hard, after watching Apple's special event today, to figure out what I want for Christmas.

Just as I - and the rest of the world - figured, the prices for iPhones have dropped, and there are new iPods to be lusted after and shown to friends and finally, at some northern Apple store, purchased with glee.

It used to be, friends, that we heard new songs on the radio, and maybe recorded them on a cassette, and walked down the street with a cheap knock-off of the Walkman in our hands.

"That old country is fading away and I await the new," Garrison Keillor wrote yesterday. "It doesn't matter whether I welcome it or not, it's coming, and I watch its arrival with interest."

He was writing about our changing attitudes about sex, but it could easily apply to music. We've now seen no less than three music formats in our lifetime, and what could be sexier than the current one?

I can't think of a facet of my life that doesn't involve my total dedication to an art form like music, and it's people like me (and you, dear reader) that adore beautiful objects to make our listening all the more enjoyable.

It's obvious: the people that work for Apple, like most of us, adore music. And you can tell they put that passion in their products. Music is sexy. iPods are sexy. Easy, right?

So now that iPhones are only $399, owning a piece of the Apple/AT&T humpfest becomes a little more realistic.

Dear Santa Jobs...

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Fun with iMovie.

It's amazing that, in the almost two years I've had my iBook, I've never messed around with iMovie.

That's part of what makes Apple so successful these days: programs like GarageBand and iPhoto and iMovie can make digital media n00bs like you and I into semi-decent craftspeople.

So, after dinking around last night with some river footage I took on the trip, here's a little something I made.

NOTE: There are parts where I couldn't get the audio to work. So when I'm talking at the camera, just imagine a lot of profanity and ranting.

Monday, September 3, 2007

Take me to the river.

Ah, Labor Day weekend. Goodbye summer, hello cool nights.

Went up to Scotsville, just east of Ludington, for a canoe trip with dad and the family.

Check out the Flickr photos for the full scoop.

Happy Labor Day!