Monday, August 31, 2009

It's not triangle trade...

There was a news story today that said that 30% of domestic cocaine that has been seized is laced with a veterinary medicine.

It's not a vicious circle, but I do think it's an interesting set of news stories that:

CHINA owns a lot of our debt and currency and

the majority of U.S. MONEY has traces of cocaine which has

apparently been laced with VETERINARY PRODUCTS to up the HIGH and

we've had nasty ANIMAL FOODS laced with god-knows-what imported from China.


Ahh, the hidden aspects of global trade. I suppose this could easily be an excerpt from a crazy anti-globalization email combined with a unhealthy amount of conspiracy theory, but I think it's just a notable set of tenuously connected stories.

Why did it have to be my GRABBING hand?

When I arrived home last night after my rehearsal, I found I had injured myself. Somewhere between the end of rehearsal at 9:29pm and me arriving home at 9:51pm, I had managed to take a circular slice out of the skin between my right thumb and hand. It's a small wound and only took the skin off in an area about the size of a small drop of glue.

Still, it's one of those really offensive nagging injuries, because it gives me a twinge of awareness every time I flex my right hand or use it to close on anything. Being right-handed, both of those things happen quite often. Luckily, I've been doing a lot of typing today, which (especially on my tiny little netbook keyboard) doesn't involve any thumb stretching. But that somehow makes it worse when I go to close my hand around my cup to take a drink.

It's too small to be an "ouch" feeling, so instead it's just a *streeeeetch* "hmm" feeling. Worse, I have no idea what caused it. Nothing in trombone playing involves that particular area of that hand; were it the left hand, it might be cause of a pointy loose spring or something. Did I carve myself with the sharp side of my seatbelt? Did I grab some pointy part of my steering wheel?

At least it's not a paper cut, I guess.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Wireless whee!

So, the mouse I ordered from Amazon last ... Saturday(?) arrived today. It's wireless, which it turns out makes for an excellent user experience on something as small as my netbook. In the regular usage, it had wires coming out of every port available. I replace the longest and most troublesome of cords (thanks to that ridiculous rebooting mouse) with a little USB wireless sensor about 2/3rds the length of my thumb. The mouse now works 30 feet away, which I find to be MORE than enough. I can't see much of my little screen at 30 feet away. It's probably designed for home theater PCs, so one can mouse from the couch.

I've lived in KC for five complete years. Today, something happened that has never happened before. With my mailroom, of all things. I've probably been in there 1,000 times, and never once have I opened my mailbox to find a key. Huh? Turns out, those little things that look like lockboxes down below all the mailboxes are actually temporary package dropoffs. Little lockers that the mailman can lock with a key, place the key in the mailbox, and when the person uses the key to get a larger package out, the key stays trapped in the lockbox (ready for next time). Fantastic!

Though it makes me wonder why none of my packages have ever used it before. I've had many things delivered by the USPS, so I can't understand why ALL the previous times, they'd place it with the office (ensuring you can only grab it during business hours, M-F). Maybe the mail carrier just figured out what they were for, also.

Speaking of strangeness, this mouse was supposed to arrive next Thursday. I know that, because I looked at the online tracking information this morning and saw that it was still in Indiana, where it had been since Monday. Somehow, the package got all the way from Indiana to my mailbox in under four hours. On a Saturday! I appreciate being provided with the tracking number, but if they're not going to use it, what good is it?

I just checked the webpage again, and now there's moving traffic updates from previous days that have mysteriously (and retroactively) happened. I disapprove.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Paper paper paper paper... new mouse

Paper paper paper paper

My mouse is starting to traverse beyond annoyance. If the cord moves strangely, the mouse loses power and has to be "rebooted" by unplugging and replugging it. Sometimes this gives it another day of motion, and sometimes it dies again before I can even put my "plugging" hand back on it.

It's been like this for months, but it finally annoyed me enough that I went to Best Buy and bought another mouse on Sunday. Wireless, so that this particular problem won't happen again. (It'll be some other problem).

I spent about 30 minutes in the mouse department trying out various things. I dislike mouse shopping because it's always so hard to tell what feels right. Anyway, I was flitting back and forth between three, and finally made up my mind to buy one.

Back at home, I looked it up on Amazon, just to see what the consumer reviews had to say. They were all very positive (which made me feel good), but they showed that it could be had for almost $20 less through Amazon. Buh... Unfortunately, that's a big difference when the item is only $40 to begin with.

So I agonized a bit, thankful that I hadn't opened the box from Best Buy. It's not that they wouldn't take it back even if I HAD opened it-- it just makes it easier to grab the box and go. Eventually, I decided to order the one from Amazon and return the one to Best Buy.

Because of my ethics (or bad digestion or something), I decided not to open the one from Best Buy and use it until the Amazon one arrives from Cactus Suck, Utah next week. So I'm still using the frustrating mouse ... under the watchful (laser)eye of a brand new mouse sealed in plastic, laughing at me.

I need to return it today before I turn the box around to prevent it "looking at me" and talk to it like Tom Hanks' volleyball.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Atropos has a quirky sense of timing.

While I was busy dithering over the previous entry over the last two days, thinking about what it means to be dead and to wish for death, Death flanked me. While I was sitting at the Plaza, idly wondering at all the smokers and listening to a friend play the marimba, there were the most serious sort of news waiting to be told.

My uncle John died on Thursday at 3:05 in the afternoon.

As I alluded to it earlier in the summer, this is not a death that seizes me with hot anguish. It is likely I will not shed tears for my uncle. I do not admit this for the purpose of boasting: actually, it makes me rather uncomfortable to admit it to myself. It would feel more normal if I did cry.

Instead, when my mother called and told me the news this afternoon, I reacted in the way many people do-- I sort of... sat down. I made that sort of soft frown that we use when something is unfortunate, only the frown carried through to the rest of my body. Every bone and joint compresses a little more than normal. Every extremity moves ever-so-slightly more towards the floor, as though the gravity of the earth throbbed and increased by a small amount.

Just before I wrote this, I went looking to see if there was an obituary. I found one, indicated to run in Saturday's paper. As I scrolled through the list of names, it didn't really occur to me that they were all other loved ones, other people who had children and parents and friends and kin. I was just looking for "Thieme", his last name.

When I saw the name in the list, I let out a sigh. I didn't sigh because I was now able to confirm he'd died; that's what I'd expected would happen. I actually sighed because it was a visceral reaction to seeing a family name in the roll call. It was a gut reaction to a thought: "I know that person!", almost as though I was discovering the fact of his death for the first time.

Friday, August 14, 2009

So lets talk "Twilight"

I finished reading "Twilight" earlier this week. Let's start with some context...

One of the opportunities (or problems) with this book is that it reinvents what it means to be a "vampire". The standard mythos of vampires gives them many easily recognizable traits: no reflections, hate garlic, avoid sunlight, fear the cross. There's also an even larger cavalcade of secondary traits that often apply to vampires, such as being unable to cross moving water, being unable to enter a dwelling unless invited, turning into bats, and having some form of mind-control.

Twilight does away with all of this. Every single one of the things I mentioned has no relation to the "Twilight" vampires. They even poke fun.

Which is fine, because when we get right down to it, there's really only one core vampire trait: sucking blood. This is a trait that most tales of vampires share with each other, but also share with the only "real" vampire: the vampire bat. The vampires from "Twilight" also like blood, though they don't seem to have the fangs that identify other vampires.

Notice that at least half of the common traits of vampires listed above are vulnerabilities. That's a critical part of the myth, because vampires have extra-human powers. Most times the vampire is faster, stronger, and more hearty than the humans; they are, in fact, our predators. But we have several advantages over them. We can move around in the daytime, enjoy Italian food, and see the unsightly errant nose-hair in the bathroom mirror.

These vulnerabilities are important because otherwise the monster is too powerful -- we wouldn't have a chance, which doesn't make for good tales by campfire. We have to at least have a chance of surviving, otherwise we don't identify with the story as much.

I don't want to sound like I'm harping on about this, but I feel it's important. I know that some people are very angry that the "Twilight" vampires don't share a whole lot in common with "vampires" as we know them and are ignoring the rich traditions of the myth. That's not the part that bothers me.

What bothers me is that the book vampires don't have weaknesses. Let's take Edward, the romantic lead vampire.

-He's super strong.
-He's super fast.
-He has super reaction speed.
-Sunlight makes him sparkle like granite, but doesn't hamper him.
-He doesn't need to sleep.
-Or breathe.
-He's REALLY beautiful, as all vampires are in this world.

To add to this, each vampire gets a bonus superpower that's unique to them. Edward's super power is that he can read minds. Anyone's mind. From a distance (a mile or something?). Everyone EXCEPT Bella, because... well, that's not really covered. Not that it matters: she wears her emotions on her sleeve and half the time he seems to guess what she's thinking anyway.

The only way a vampire in the "Twilight" world can be killed is seemingly through being pulled apart (by another vampire, I assume, since vamps are super-dense and resilient) and setting the pieces on fire. So, regular people are just out of luck. We are merely lambs at slaughter.

In fact, the book takes a rather dim view of humanity. All the people at school are wrapped up in petty relationship issues, parental figures are absent or distant and unconnected, and the vampires seem to get a lot of amusement from being superior.

And they are superior. Or, in the parlance of the book, "perfect". By the last page, I was really tired of hearing how perfect Edward and all of his vampire friends were. There's far too much use of the word "perfect". They're perfectly beautiful, perfectly graceful, perfectly muscled, perfectly happy, perfectly successful, perfectly family-oriented, and so on. He even has perfect breath, which is good. Someone who dines exclusively on blood might be expected to need Mentos now and then.

In fact, the only thing about Edward that isn't perfect is that he loves Bella TOO MUCH. That's like saying my flaw is that I don't win every footrace, just the ones I enter and compete in. Edward's flaw manifests because he's afraid that he won't be able to avoid chomping on his beloved. But then he tries hard, and he CAN resist. Yay, character arc!

Bella's character arc is ... different. She starts off depressed. She's smarter than most people, way ahead of her classes, and despite her constant bewilderment and annoyance, she's apparently really attractive, considering she has at least four guys after her (in a book where the cast isn't that large). She may not be on vampire-level perfection, but she's pretty high on humanity's pedestal.

The vampires get bonus powers, so I guess it's only fair that the humans get... I'm not sure. What's the opposite of a perk? Anyway, Bella's anti-perk is that she's clumsy. Really clumsy. To put it into perspective, Inspector Clouseau is a freakin' ballet dancer compared to Bella. She tells us right off the bat she's clumsy. When her father picks her up from the airport (way back on page 5), she stumbles off the plane and her father catches her automatically, because that's what you have to do with Bella. She's a freakin' hazard to herself. If only she had a super-agile and intensely protective boyfriend...

The clumsiness is hammered home throughout the book. Bella is perennially getting hit by balls in gym, tripping down sidewalks, dropping things, fainting, and generally trying to force Darwin's hand to remove her from the pool. It's brought up so often and shoehorned in so readily that I was expecting something to happen near the end that would "pay it off". Perhaps she'd accidentally trip over a staircase, forcing Edward to reveal his powers to save her. Maybe she'd hurt herself in a way that would emphasize her frailty and humanity to her inhuman lover.

But nothing like that happens. She just keeps on tripping and fainting to the end of the book. In fact, when she DOES get mortally injured through no fault of her clumsiness, she and her friends conspire to let it be publicly known that she fell down the stairs. "Oh, Bella!" chide her school chums. "You SO crazy!" and they all laugh until the credits roll. And in the background, Anton Chekhov appears and takes away his gun in a fit of pique.

It occurs to me that perhaps this is simply intended to be contrast with the perfect and lithe vampires. They move so gracefully that they dance, always regarded as perfect. In comparison, Bella is gross and inefficient. She's acutely aware of how much better Edward and his family are than her at-- well, everything. She harumphs at him for being perfect, but only in a "do it again, baby" sort of way.

And that leads up to the final part of her character arc.

But before I address that: do you remember the book "Tuck Everlasting"? I think I first read it in middle school or high school English. It's about the Tuck family, who found a spring of eternal life. At the point the story begins, they've been alive for 100 years (coincidentally the approximate age of "Twilight"'s Edward). They live a life of isolation, this family of four, because immortality prevents "normal" life. A young girl, Winnie, stumbles across the family. The Tuck son who's her age is thrilled that she'll drink from the well, they'll get married, and everything will be grand.

But the book doesn't just force them into that fate: it talks around the viewpoints. The older brother once had a wife and children, who ran away when he revealed his secret. Eventually, the wife died in an insane asylum. The father explains that the Tucks are now outside of time, like "stones beside the road". Because the father views it as a curse, they live apart from other families and form no connections, since they would be doomed to watch everyone else die.

Ultimately, Winnie decides to live her life, including her death-- she embraces the order and the cycle. She does not drink the water, avoiding the sunny-eyed plans of the youngest Tuck to have someone. The final scene is many decades later, as the Tucks visit her gravestone.

"Twilight" is the anti-"Tuck Everlasting". In "Twilight", eternity is perfection, not stagnation. To be a vampire is to be better.

By the end of the book, Bella is actually begging Edward to make her immortal. She's so obsessed with him and whipped into such a passionate frenzy that she cannot conceive of ever having to live without him. She pleads to be given "the gift".

I don't blame her, given the knowledge she possesses about how her world works. She's seen how the vampires are basically all-awesome all-days. And here she is, a person who feels distinctly unawesome. She's the outsider. She's disconnected from even her family members, she's uninterested in the social things her peers do, she's madly connected to her new boyfriend. She's ready to make an eternal commitment to become awesome herself. Sure, she'll have to eat blood, but Edward's family seems to turn out OK, so how hard can it be? Plus, then she won't be clumsy. And maybe she'll be "beautiful-er". And she'll get a neato power, like being able to name whatever song is playing on the radio, or be able to talk to turnips.

I don't know the plots of the other three books, but I'm betting she ends up a vampire before the end. I'd be shocked if she dies of old age at the end. There certainly aren't any powerful drawbacks to make her pause! Often, the lure of power and eternal life tempts people to become vampires, but they reflect on never being able to watch the sun rise. Or being condemned to a life where one must directly consume human life in order to continue, a parasitic lifestyle which some people wrestle with. Or having to watch old family and friends pass away into dust.

But Bella doesn't have to worry about things like that. In the hospital, her mother coming to visit is mostly annoying, because Bella just wants her to leave so Edward can caress her again. She's probably not going to sweat too much if she has to leave her dad and mom behind. It reminds me of other literary depictions of addiction, where a brief withdrawal makes the addicted shudder with ecstasy when contact is restored. Brief separations throw her into a funk, with her obsession devouring her life. Becoming a monster simply means she'll be able to get what she desires every day forever.

To me, it seems like she's suicidal. My experience with people who want to kill themselves is that they feel disconnected from their own lives and want to end it because anything -- even the cold nothingness of death -- has got to be better than living. Of course, Bella doesn't want to die: she's just spent most of a book finding out how great love is. But she is in a terrible rush to get this current life over with. By dying. The difference here is that, after dying, she'll wake up in Lollypop Land.

So she's actually more like a suicide bomber, in an all-fired hurry to end her own life to get to the mystical rewards that have been promised. Edward (to his credit) tells her that he won't change her and "damn [her] to an eternity of night." The roles reversed from "Tuck Everlasting"; this time it's the human pleading to be given eternal life, while the immortal hesitates and reasons.

In my opinion, this is the part of the story that most clearly shows the vampire's humanity. The author seems to connect it with "learning to love", as the relationship slowly unlocks the memories of what it is to feel human. I feel that we are never more aware of being human than when we contemplate death. It is important that it's Edward who feels that the natural order must be preserved: he, who is himself an affront to that order.

In conclusion, I'm not what I'd consider a fan. In the same breath, I can't deny that once there was an urgent possibility that someone was going to get dismembered and eaten, the story FINALLY took off and I kept the pages turning. I'm not saying that because it's a stereotypically guy thing to do; I'm not an enthusiast of blood and gore. It was more the realization that suddenly there was plot and conflict, and the action started moving fast (prior to that, it moves at what could be called a "leisurely" pace). There's some serious blocks that keep me from really enjoying it, though.

One-- the heroine. I never really liked her. My hoped-for scenario of the author making her intially unlikable to promote a change in her character did not materialize. She just morphs from grumpy sulking to strident obsession, surrendering all the power to her boyfiend. I kinda wanted to shake her by the shoulders and check that she still has an intact spine. I mean, she doesn't really freak out when it's revealed that Edward has been watching her sleep every night without her knowledge. Let's talk boundaries, little girl.

Two-- the hero. I don't know if I can directly blame Edward for... himself. Unlike Bella, he's actually underwritten, which makes for an unintentionally funny situation. Because Bella gets her thoughts exposed via the narration and because most other people are written to be shockingly obvious with their thoughts and feelings, Edward (the mind reader) is the one person whose thoughts and motivations are most obscured.

He seems to flit back and forth between making fun of her and brooding on the fact that he could destroy her easily. And he really likes to bring up the fact that she can't take care of herself, even though the times she came closest to being injured have nothing to do with her epic clumsiness.

Three-- the notion of love and romance. This is kind of its own deal. Maybe I'll address it in a later entry. Suffice it to say that everyone seems to have unappealing traits that go unregarded in the pursuit of love. Edward is controlling and jealous, but that's OK: Bella is so scatterbrained that she NEEDS help. Bella is rather manipulative and often in distress, but that's OK: she's just trying to get everyone to do what she wants.

Personal predictions for books two, three, and four:

-Bella becomes a vampire, because it's all she ever wanted (since page 300 or so).
-There will be a love triangle that's probably NOT really ever a triangle, because of her destiny with Ed.
-Nobody has sex until after marriage, unless they're evil. Consequently, Edward and Bella get married as soon as feasible.
-Hopefully, someone discovers that there's actually a really big flaw with becoming a vampire, so that it's not a simple "make me super" decision.
-Hopefully, Bella develops something (or someone) on the human-side that acts as a counterweight to all the vampy perfection. This might be the love triangle, but that would be REALLY cheesy. I'm hoping her mom has another kid and that Bella appreciates discovering a blood-relative (one last pun before I go) that needs her.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Look who's still awake.

Though, I suppose by the time you (a normal person in one of the U.S. time zones) read this, it will already be morning. Or even later. So... good morning!

I rather hoped that this would all go away after I made my early morning call. 8:30 Monday morning, I called a person I'd never met and turned down a job. I spent all weekend turning back and forth. By the time the rehearsal ended on Sunday night (a relaxing space of time when I barely thought about it), I had made a decision. Looking at my now-only-manual garage door (that's a different story) and hearing the rain pound on the car roof, I decided that I *had* to take it. Had to.

Yes, it was more of a drive than I wanted.
Yes, it wasn't very much money.
Yes, it was doing something that I didn't particularly want to do.
Yes, it doubled the chance to find myself in proximity to a person I'd rather not be near: from 0.5% to 1.0%.
Yes, there weren't any benefits.
Yes, I would have hated it.

But it was for-real work. And money.

I had talked myself in. By the time the sun rose next morning, I had talked myself out.

I cradled the phone in one hand, watching the time tick by. Closer and closer to the time I was supposed to call. What's the "good" way to turn down a job I haven't been formally offered? Should I even bother to call? I mean, he's probably not even expecting me.

Lies, told to myself. Of course. Eventually, I pushed myself over the mountain and dialed the number. No answer, left a message. Anxiety evaporated. Short and simple.

But still I can't sleep. Maybe it's something else. Maybe it's my discomfort for feeling that I somehow let down the friend who referred the job to me? Maybe I don't want there to be even a hint of the obligation which hangs in the air between us: not obligation that I'd need to be appreciative, by the way. No, this obligation runs in the other direction. In some microscopic way that isn't accurate, she feels that she has a small obligation to me. It's nonsense, but trying to talk people out of perceived honor-bound obligations is as ineffectual as attempting to sell carpet to a wall.

Or maybe it's the other friend at the job who presented it as a fait acompli. I've had enough of those jobs this summer, thanks very much. I'd really like to earn a position on my own merit. It doesn't ever seem to be in my cards, though, which is certainly another anxiety-causing factor.

Maybe this is now the new normal, as long as I'm going to be working hard on the papers. Maybe a redoubled effort plays havoc with my internal clock. Perhaps I'm just disturbed by unjustified guilt and discomfort. In any case, it can't be stopped now. I've got things to do!

Monday, August 10, 2009

Insomnia again

Spent the better part of three hours turning endlessly in bed without being able to make progress towards sleep. Frustrating, since I was nodding off while I was reading earlier. At least there's a thunderstorm outside, with conveniently spaced thunder to allow me to tick off the time.

It has to be attributable to the assorted worries in my head, but I think I'd better drop the thermostat a few degrees, just in case. It seemed to work last time.

One of my friends spent many of her years in the Floridian climate, so she's permanently cold here in the "north". Many is the time I've been out with her when a comfortable climate for me finds her perma-goosebumped.

I found myself in the reverse situation while sitting in her apartment, which gave me an understanding where she's coming from. I was actively sweating because there was no air movement and the temperature was set too high for my taste. It was quite uncomfortable and all I could think about as we sat on the couch talking. She was, naturally, perfectly comfortable and gave no thought to the temperature.

On another note: earlier this evening, we had the first rehearsal for the brass band. Things went well for the beginning of the season, though people were complaining about pain by the time it was over. We're heading to the U.K. for a tour in November, so we'll be learning three separate concerts as well as memorizing some pieces and choreography.

Not all of the members are able to take off the month of November to go gallivanting across the ocean. All the people with "real jobs" and "responsibilities" and "families" apparently have other priorities. Well, except the people who are bringing along wives, fiancées, parents, or children...

This is a busy year for the band. Lots of commitments and opportunities to impress (or bore). Plus, apparently I get to be Frosty the Snowman this year.

Yeah, I'm not sure what that's about either.

Saturday, August 08, 2009

I hope they recycled it...

A couple of months ago, my subdivision installed a recycling dumpster. Bright green so you know it's for recycling, they even poured a fancy concrete pedestal for it to stand on (with fancy sculpted edges!). I was thrilled, because anything that makes consumer recycling more accessible to me and everybody else gets my vote.

Last week, I noticed a small typed sign by the mailbox. "Due to numerous complaints about the appearance of the recycling dumpster, it has been removed permanently."

Sure enough, it's gone. Just the fancy concrete left behind. We can put a light post on it or something.

I'm dismayed. Was it just that people objected to the dumpster look? It was shiny and green, looking like a very fancy dumpster. Sure, the trash dumpster is hidden under a gazebo-thing. But every weekend, no one seems to remember how to run the compactor and the bags pile up right in front on the sidewalk, sometimes five deep. That's not keeping a good appearance, but I don't think anyone's going to take the trash dumpster away.

Academics isn't pretty

Shame and personal disgust may not be attractive qualities, but they sure are great motivators. Five new pages of my paper written since lunch. Trying to have it sent off for first round of editing by Friday.

Has to be between 25 and 50 pages-- or so. Currently standing at 37, with no end in sight. May have to start hacking and slashing to refocus the paper again. I'm thinking 30 would be a good amount, but I don't have an ending. Also, I'm still searching for an "oh yeah awesome" trivial relation to pull out of all seven pieces to support the idea that they're all linked around a common theme.

Final thought: you know you've spent a lot of time writing when formatting your footnotes to be "Chicago Manual of Style-approved" is what you do for fun between analytical ideas.

Cut to the chase

Insomnia is what I've got.

Had a long post written, rambling on about all manner of things in my head. Fortunately, I turned down my AC and am already feeling better.

Short form:

Monstrously ignorant people make me angry.

Friends who keep not doing what they say they want make me sad.

Friends who rediscover their laugh after bad things happen make me happy.

Friends who repeatedly climb on their cross and preach make me disgusted.

I could use a good kiss from whomever it is who delivers these things.

My inability to succeed at things is starting to de-shine my apple.

My lack of millions of dollars is starting to be an inconvenience.

I still remain inexplicably pleased with who I am, how I behave, and all the things I know.

The fact that it may now be cold enough to sleep makes me happy.

Friday, August 07, 2009

So THAT'S a text message...

I had a rather momentous technology day on Wednesday. I sent and received the first text messages that were specifically to me at a number that belonged to me. It's like being in 2003!

Of course, since this is ME we're talking about, this new frontier was not crossed because I upgraded my cell phone to handle texts. No. That would be the normal and most simple way. In fact, the texts I sent have nothing to do with my cell phone.

Instead, they're originating from a number that was newly assigned to me through the Google Voice application. This number, while a traditional phone number in appearance, doesn't actually ring it's own phone. But it's not like Skype either, so it's not like my computer rings. When someone calls the Google number, every phone I have rings (or some phones, or none, based on parameters I can customize down to the individual caller).

Google Voice doesn't replace having some form of telephone: it only rings phones you already own. It also allows text messages to be sent and received for free. So when a friend was stranded at the DMV on Wednesday and already over her monthly allotment of minutes, I was able to communicate with her for free.

But that's exposed a problem with Google's system. Text messages are a way for mobile telephones to communicate without actually placing a call. There are numerous situations where a discreet text is a fast and easy way to communicate a simple piece of information. If someone asks, "What room is the meeting in?", it's easy to send a text saying "Room 211".

The problem arises because I can only receive and send text messages at my laptop, which must be connected to the Internet. So the on-the-go appeal of text messages is lost. I won't receive them until I sit at my computer and despite the smaller size of my netbook, I don't carry it around everywhere as I do my phone.

So this isn't the ideal situation. I'm reluctant to open the floodgates of friends texting to this number because it doesn't function like people expect it to function.

Looking down the pike, I'd like to have a so-called "smart phone" such as the Palm Pre or iPhone; these phones can handle internet data connections. When I contact my friend Dave (an iPhone user) by email, I know I'm reaching him WHEREVER he happens to be. He and I were able to coordinate (through a series of real-time emails) an emergency pickup at the KC airport with him being in some airport in Virginia.

And just to wrap this entry up on a bizarre note, here's a story of an Indian man who set the Guinness Record for text messages in a single month: 189,689. As the article points out, that works out to one every 14 seconds or so. Considering the man must have had to sleep, I can't imagine how many messages his family got that contained deep information like "g" or "6". His bill was over 1,400 pages long, but he had unlimited messages on his phone, preventing him from looking foolish. Hmm.

Thursday, August 06, 2009

And I hated Scarlett O'Hara! (part I)

I'm working my way through "Twilight" (2005), by Stephenie Meyer. I had decided that I was going to reserve the bulk of my commentary until after I've finished it. It seems fitting to do this (as I haven't read the entire thing), but it was quite a controversy in my own mind. Specifically, I came close to washing my hands of the book after finishing the first chapter. What follows, then, is the story of why, after seven days and another read-through, I decided to move on to chapter two.

I'm not used to having my reading routine subjected to such... perturbed impulses. Then again, I'm not used to spending time reading a "project book" like this. As I mentioned before, this is a book I picked up primarily to discover what the fuss was about. It wasn't due to any particular interest in the author or plot, so perhaps that explains my flighty commitment.

Or maybe my reticence to continue reading was due to my near-pathological dislike of the protagonist.

--- --- ---

Several years ago, I decided I wanted to see "Gone With the Wind" for the first time. I remember being at my parents' house and picking out a copy from the local library. I knew vague bits about the story, knew she shot a Yankee, knew Atlanta burned, and knew that Clark Gable turned at some point and said one of (if not THE) most famous line in movie history.

That's not really a lot to go on, though. Even "the line" is largely inscrutable outside of the context of the film, and it's usually quoted without even the line that precedes it. What doesn't he give a damn about? Is he blowing her off, or running off to counter the whims of society and ask her father for permission to marry her? I had no idea.

So I watched it through. And by the end, I had answers to all the questions. More importantly, I knew that I had a passionate dislike of Scarlett O'Hara. So much so that it soured the film for me: this was the masterful epic that people went on and on about? Feh!

I can appreciate that this heroine was unlike all the others who came before. She certainly doesn't get tossed around like a damsel in distress. But I found her calculating, manipulative, dishonest, and self-serving. Her two character poles are selfishness (her active trait) and self-pity (her defensive trait). Maybe that's her "point", but I just spent a few hours watching a brat manipulate everyone she ever cares about and complain about everything else. It left an awful taste.

Good score, though.

Scarlett is often described as a strong-willed woman. Not willing to let the plot push her around, she puts life around her into motion with her actions. I can respect that: the women I'm attracted to tend to be similarly decisive. But Scarlet burns up all my goodwill by around the fourth or fifth time she manipulates the relations of other people due to her pride.

I'm more than willing to admit that I'm not seeing the greatness of the movie. Maybe watching her resolve to get Rhett back right before the credits roll is supposed to indicate character growth. As it stands, I don't see it. So it puts her on the list of women I couldn't care less about, which doesn't seem that great of a place to be forced to put the protagonist.

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And that's why I had trouble with the protagonist in the first chapter of "Twilight": Bella Swan has bewildering levels of self-pity and I could care less about her. Her lack of appeal is almost shocking, given that the best way for readers to immerse in the book is to identify with the lead character. Maybe it's just because I've never been a 15-year old girl... I've heard of the literary technique of the Unreliable Narrator, but the Unlikeable Narrator is a new one to me.

As I worked my way through the chapter, I tried to decide if the author was in on it. Is she writing Bella this way to ... emphasize that she's a really unlikeable and sullen teenager in the beginning, so that she can make a transformation to the ... ahem ... swan that she'll eventually be? That'd be one way of showing change in a character over time. Hard to imagine a bigger transformation trip than from scorn to "awwwwwww!"

But if that's the plan, it's subverted by the other characters in the story (ALL of the others), who meet Bella and think she's great. Every girl wants to be her friend, every guy wants to take her to dances and dates. So... it's obvious that she's not unlikeable in the reality of the story. So... maybe we're supposed to look down on all the supporting characters too, as being "fooled" by her in the beginning, so that they also go on a path of discovery? Hmm. Or maybe we're not supposed to like her EVEN MORE, because she wants nothing to do with all these shiny happy people around her. But then Bella points out the flaws in the supporting characters' character, so I guess we're supposed to armchair-analyze along with her and see that the others are really false. Or...hmm.

I begin to feel a certain stretching in the cloth I'm trying to use to encircle this plot. Better ease off.

Next time, we'll head back to the beginning of the story. We'll meet Bella on her terrible, horrible, no-good very bad day -- where she moves to this pristine and beautiful town she "pre-loathes", feels uncomfortable at her new school (as she KNEW she would) while all her new "friends" act friendly and do nice things for her, and eventually finds ONE guy who doesn't trip over himself making her feel special. This last guy seems to DISlike her right away, instead of liking her. She's mortified, finding that all her fears (that were completely disproved) came true at the very end of the day with regards to one anti-social loner kid who (her friends explain) doesn't actually like or associate with ANY other student.

She has tears all the way home because the weird high school guy who keeps to himself doesn't like her. Ladies and gentlemen: our heroine.