may the fourth etc etc

04
May

Happy Star Wars Day, everyone!

I guess this is kind of a appropriate, as I spent the weekend doing sci-fi like things (if not exactly Star Wars things) at Ravencon. We had some pretty good shows that were well-enjoyed by our fans (wow…I have fans? That’s weird), even if I was a little “off” all weekend, and felt that it maybe intruded into my playing a bit…If the audience noticed, they didn’t say anything, and covered it up with lots of nice comments.

There was some backstage drama amongst one of the other acts on the bill, which made things a little uncomfortable and difficult, though I expect that it was, on the whole, for the best, both for the con and the act in question. All I shall say is that a few people learned a few things about how the community sees them; for good or ill (either one, depending on which individuals we’re talking about). And, i think some neat things might end up being born from the controversy (more on that later, as I may myself be involved…hmmm).

It was nice to see all my friends, and make a few new ones (I highly recommend, for example, you check out The Positronic Cats, a neat little acoustic duo from South-Central Pennsylvania), and spend time with them, sharing music, art, and obsessive fandom….and DONUT PARTIES. It was especially nice to spend a little time with and enjoy several performances by our friend Jonah Knight, an amazing musician and all-around great guy who will be moving to the other coast soon, and it’ll probably be a while until we get to see each other again…his “final show” this weekend was great, and occasionally emotional, as he’s become a much loved and appreciated asset to the mid-atlantic con scene these last however many years.

After the Con, we came home, stashed some stuff, and turned around and visited the Beacon Theater down the road a ways for Queensrÿche‘s show for which I won a pair of last-minute tickets from wnrn late last week. The Beacon is a neat little 1920s theater/movie house that spent the last several decades abandoned or in disrepair until a few years ago when a group of investors cleaned it up, refurbished it, and opened it once again to the public. It’s a really nice, intimate room that’s been hosting a lot of national touring acts (seems like a good place for the state fair crowd to perform on the off-season) lately, and I was curious to check it out, especially since it’s only about 10 minutes from home. This was a good opportunity.

The show good, if maybe a bit sterile. You could tell these guys have been doing this a long time, and they’re pretty damned competent, though it almost felt like I was watching animatronic rock stars rather than actual musicians; it was maybe a little too-well choreographed, I guess. This band has actually had an interesting last couple of years, with inter-band drama, dueling versions of the band performing until the rights and name and stuff could be sorted out legally and all that. They’ve had a new singer tha last couple of years who sounds remarkably like the old guy, and looks remarkably like Mark Wahlberg in the movie Rock Star, right down to the posing and cropped leather jacket. One of the only things detracting from the whole sterility of the thing was when newish (circa 2009) guitarist Parker Lundgren’s occasional “Ha! I’m getting paid to be a rock star” shit-eating grin behind the tattoos and heavy black guyliner, which broke the serious progressive-metal illusion, and was actually a highlight of the show.

We enjoyed ourselves (and the mullets on display were SPECTACULAR), though we left before the second encore (where they surely played “Silent Lucidity”) in order to beat traffic.

Anyway, that’s the most recent/interesting news from this end; this week is rain, a couple of musical rehearsals for short-term commitments (church is doing an abbreviated Godspell that I’m backing), hoping the rain holds off for a bike ride with friends this weekend, and making time to catch Captain America: Civil War at some point.

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weekend plans

28
Apr

In case anybody’s looking, I’ll be at RavenCon this weekend, now in Williamsburg rather than Richmond doing the fan thing and doing several shows with the Humdingers over the course of the weekend.

I’m curious to see how the new venue is going to work out – it was nice enough for MarsCon a few months back, though there were probably some tweaks to be made to get the best use out of the facilities. As there are a lot of the same folks working behind the scenes for both cons, I’m hoping at least some of those lessons get worked into this weekend’s events.

Anyway – all the programming info can be had here in a variety of formats. If you want to stalk me, we’ll be performing at the following times/places:

  • Saturday, 10am (Small Auditorium)
  • Saturday, 9pm (Large Auditorium)
  • Sunday, 2pm (Large Auditorum)

Also, there’s probably some other stuff going on, what with there being “open filking” and such on the schedule, and me being basically a whore musician for hire, I occasionally end up on stage with bands I’m not usually a part of.

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prostrate exam

27
Apr

So, today was perhaps my least favorite day of the year when it comes to work. The day I have to get dressed up all pretty-like and stand before the agency senior leadership and beg for funding in order to keep the lights on and the analysts paid for another year. It sucks. It’s kind of humiliating. I do not like it; no sir.

Still, today, I asked for, and received, with a minimum of fuss, several million dollars.

I wish real money*, or all the other stuff I’d like to have in real, non-work life, was that easy to obtain. The actual process was trivial (I have a good story to tell, and there’s actually a big return on investment in terms of real savings involved in what I do that I can show with fancy spreadsheets and stuff), though the process of asking is really, really stressful, even though I understand that going before the executive folks in the fancy command conference room with the leather chairs and dark wood is mostly theater, and that if they weren’t going to approve the budget request, I would never have been added to the schedule in the first place. Also, I’ve got enough practice at public speaking/performance that I don’t get flustered by it any longer (thanks, year and change in the teaching trenches!).

Doesn’t change the fact that I was kind of in low-level agony/stress mode over this for the last few days. I think it’s the whole process of having to beg and to justify my existence. It just feels like an opportunity for unnecessary humiliation.

Anyway, I’m glad it’s over for another year.

___________________________

*- It’s “real money” in the sense that we all paid taxes to cover it, but it’s not “real” to me other than in the sense that I click a button indicating the work done on an invoice was received. Also, I’m not going to spend anywhere near the total budgeted value; I’m too responsible with our tax dollars to actually do that.

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2016 can stop it with the death already

23
Apr

The news that came out this morning that Patton Oswalt’s wife, Michelle McNamara passed away has hit me a bit more deeply than one would expect. I didn’t know them, don’t know of anyone I know who knows them…I am, however, a big fan of Mr. Oswalt’s work. In fact, it’s an odd piece of timing; after getting up way too early this morning to drop the boy off for a scout overnight, I had plans to go back to bed, but it wasn’t in the cards, so I put a load of laundry in and crashed on the couch to watch his new netflix standup special Talking for Clapping (which I enjoyed tremendously, by the way – the birthday clown bit could be the new rat story), after which I checked the news on my phone and saw this story.

Here’s the thing, I guess – you get a bit of a feeling for people through their art, especially people like Oswalt, whose comedy is so based in storytelling and personal experience; I expect the Patton Oswalt we see on stage talking about his wife and kids is exaggerated a bit, but it seems pretty close to the real thing (especially given the stories you hear about him from others). And the guy I see on stage isn’t all that different from me – fortyish, intelligent, literate, geeky, obsessive, depressive, and interested in doing a good job in their chosen profession and being a good husband and father. It’s really easy to paste myself into that position, just as it was when this happened to a church friend a year or two back.

So yeah, empathy is kicking in here, as is more than a little bit of fear. I may have texted my wife (who’s off on adventures this weekend with the eldest) something to the effect of “Please Don’t Die, Okay?” this morning.

I hope Mr. Oswalt and his daughter and the rest of his family get all the help and support they need during what is surely a very difficult time. They have my sympathies.

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reign

22
Apr

We could all die any day
But before I’ll let that happen,
I’ll dance my life away

Yeah. Prince died yesterday. 2016 has been a pretty terrible year for losing rock and roll icons; icons that actually resonated with me, rather than old do-wop guys who were influential to the medium but, to be honest, meant relatively little to me on a personal level.

Bowie. Prince. Glenn Frey. Merle Haggard. Lemmy (yeah, last week of 2015, but he gets grandfathered in), not to mention non-musical folks like Alan Rickman and Gary Shandling.

Logically, I know this is primarily a symptom of the fact that as I get older, the artists whose work was positioned to hit the sweet spot of my own coming of age (early to mid 1980s) are hitting the age where death is a real possibility. Emotionally, it feels like a hell of a lot of heroes and formative influences are being yanked away with alarming regularity; that so many of them disappeared in the first quarter of 2016 feels a little too frequent to me, like the universe looked at the so-called “rule of three” and said “screw this, I’m cleaning house.”

Anyway, either way, it sucks. Like a lot of these guys, Prince came to me later than his true heyday; I always enjoyed the tunes, but when his videos were in seriously heavy rotation on early-days MTV, I was a little too young to really get how boundary-pushing (“Sugar Walls”? yeah, it took me years to get that one…) and competent the stuff was. It was only later when I got my hands on copies of “Purple Rain” and “1999” in my 30s after accumulating a bunch of life experience and twenty-odd years of musical training did I realize how well put-together and virtuosic all that stuff was, even with the early 80s synths and drum programming. God, the guitar playing on those records; so understated, but so freakin’ amazing – it was like when I really listened to Zappa the first time; that’s the only comparison I can make, and I don’t make such comparisons lightly. That eccentric little guy from Minneapolis with the unbridled love of basketball and pancakes was an irreplaceable talent, and seriously knew his way around a telecaster:



I don’t have all that many interesting Prince stories. When I was in middle school, a couple of kids in the neighborhood, inspired by the single off of “1999”, used to tease me about my torrid affair with “the girl in the Little Red Corvette” because it was funny when I got flustered and embarassed – this was before I realized that most Corette owners are retired real estate guys with greying ponytails who bought the automatic because they can’t drive stick looking to recapture lost/never had youth and not hot chicks (I was twelve or thirteen; “hot chicks” at that point were interesting, but largely theoretical to me) but the memory, weird as it is, has stuck with me for decades, even if I always liked “Raspberry Beret” better.

Also, strangely enough, my first purchase from a dealer’s room at a con was a copy of Prince’s “Batman” soundtrack on cassette at a Star Trek convention in Scranton/Wilkes-Barre PA at some point in high school. I’m sure there were a bunch of other more interesting things around (dealer rooms were a little more wild wild west back then – I can only imagine the interesting and illicit bootleg crap I could have gotten my hands on instead!), but for some reason, that’s the thing I gravitated toward. I listened the hell out of that tape, and for some reason, “Arms of Orion” sticks with me the most all these years later, even though it wasn’t even in the movie (which blew my 15 year old mind back then).

So yeah, my Prince stories aren’t all that cool, compared to the couple of people I know on social media who had the opportunity to meet the guy over the years. Whatever.

Going back to the heroes thing – Prince was one of those guys, along with Bowie, who, even if I wasn’t necessarily cognizant of it at the time, passed on the lesson that there were ways to be “a man” beyond the traditional stereotypical definitions of masculinity, and that “weirdness” could be a virtue to be reveled in, celebrated, and admired. I think I, and whole generations of people, needed that kind of example, and I appreciated it, even if I wasn’t always conscious of it.

It’s really a shame they’re gone. There are plenty of people out there carrying on the example these days for weird kids to look up to, but guys like Prince set the standard.

Oh yeah, it’s friday. Random ten:

  1. “Best of Both Worlds” – Van Halen
  2. “So. Central Rain (I’m Sorry)” – R.E.M.
  3. “Livin’ On A Prayer” – Bon Jovi
  4. “Summer of ’69” – Bryan Adams
  5. “Never Say Never” – that dog.
  6. “Thunderstruck” – AC/DC
  7. “Lord of the Blacksmiths” – Falconer
  8. “Little Hell” – The Badlees
  9. “Ironic (live)” – Alanis Morrissette
  10. “Iris” – Goo Goo Dolls
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another trip down, various and sundry

18
Apr

first of all, I am happy to report that my work concerns I mentioned last week aren’t really concerns; it looks like they got things locked down, and the fact that I made some noise about it during the dog and pony show Q&A was appreciated by the people that matter. One less thing to worry about…unrelated to the stupidity that comes up every weekend when I’m slightly unplugged because I’m on airplanes or on leave (I’ve dealt with a bit of that this morning already).

oh well. Trip was decent otherwise. Got to get some face time with people I rarely see in person, which always helps future interactions. The presentation was long and dull, but it included all the right things I needed to hear to indicate that the project, at least in these early stages, is heading in the right direction.

Airplane experience was thankfully shorter and relatively painless, other than the unfortunate pizza encountered in Newark airport while my plane was delayed, and the delay coming home when a previous passenger on the plane got their luggage stuck in the overhead on my connecting plane.

Par for the course, really, though on one leg of the homebound trip, I shared the plane with a cowboy in a tuxedo. I don’t get it either, but it was a novelty.

On my free afternoon while out of town, I did finally catch Batman vs. Superman, which wasn’t as terrible as I expected it to be; the real tragedy is that there’s a really *good* movie in there trying to come out, if only director/DC movie grand poo-bah Zack Snyder wasn’t constantly trying to suffocate it under shot after shot of spent cartridge casings falling to the ground in slow motion. Affleck wasn’t awful with what he was given, Henry Cavill is still a charisma vaccum. The real highlight is Wonder Woman, in the ten minutes of screen time she gets. Go see her movie next year, feel free to skip or rent this one.

The weekend was pretty full. Gaming with friends on Saturday (this was the session where I finally figured out 7th Sea‘s mechanics – now I just need to really digest the world), taking care of the usual business on Sunday – laundry and trying to deal with the sprain I got in my back from all the airplane seats.

Watched a couple of movies too – Moonwalkers, aka “Ron Perlman and Ron Weasley drop acid and fake the moon landing”, and Final Girl, which is an amazing inversion on horror movie cliches, and you should definitely watch it.

This week? paperwork, some music, and getting the girls ready for another dance competition. woo.

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the wrong approach

13
Apr

I know I bitch about work a lot here, but I don’t generally bitch specifically about the way my organization does things. Today I’ll make an exception, names concealed to protect the guilty.

As I said yesterday, I’m travelling out to the midwest for a day-long Dog and Pony Show/Kick-off meeting for a big, multi-million dollar, multi-year modernization project of an ancient business system. This kind of thing has actually, totally by accident, kind of become my career, as anybody who’s a regular reader here probably knows.

It’s safe to say that I know a little about how to make one of these things work.

Going over the agenda for tomorrow’s meeting, I noticed that the discussion of “Change Management” has been stuffed into the dead zone right at the end of the presentation, where everybody’s watching the clock instead of paying attention to the material.

If this is any indication of the relative priorities of the program, I’m a little worried. Change management (the process of getting everybody in the organization, including those folks doing the modernization work, invested in making things work, and getting everyone excited about the effort) is the kind of thing that makes or breaks a project like this; if the organization isn’t invested in making things happen, and leadership isn’t giving their all to sell the idea, the effort’s going to wither on the vine and the project will fail.

This is especially important for a project like this, that failed exactly that way about a decade ago, largely because those doing the work weren’t “on board”. I really hope they have priorities in order. I’m not in charge of this one, though I work pretty closely with those that do, especially the guy at the top; anytime I get their ear, I hammer on the change management stuff first (even before I start telling them where my actual systemic priorities are), because it’s the most important.

This agenda doesn’t fill me with confidence that my message has been received.

I really don’t want to be worrying about this, especially when there’s all kinds of other cool stuff going on in the world, like this teaser trailer for the Doctor Strange movie:

Astral Projection! Eff Yeah!

This looks pretty great. The Doc’s one of my favorites. Cumberbatch’s “Doctor House” voice is a little weird, but I’m sure I’ll get used to it.

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raining – not (completely) a metaphor

12
Apr

Feeling maybe normalized again after a rough emotional week. In between running kids to formal events, rehearsal, and Irish Dance Spectaculars, I got a lot of video game time in…knocking out wave after wave of HYDRA goons and demons in Mid-Town Manhattan in Marvel Heroes can, in its own way, be meditative.

On Sunday after my shift with Irish Mystique, the girls and I had a nice dinner out with friends, just chatting and eating sushi; it was nice.

Like I said, last week at work would have been a banner performance. This week, so far, is a bit more normal. Somebody screwed up the batch timing on the mainframe side over the weekend (why, in modern times, are we still dealing with overnight batches? Or mainframes for that matter? the whole business could run on my phone processor…more on this later), causing an interesting hiccup; we’ve also been chasing some errant “space” characters showing up in fields – like something is dropping into two spaces over. My theory, as posted on social media yesterday:

today’s testing adventure: files are failing because of a seemingly random number of spaces showing up in key fields.

I just know we’re going find out that somebody near the mainframe brought their toddler to work over the weekend and the kid’s been banging on random keyboards….

Anyway; no confirmation on that yet, but honestly, at this point, nothing would surprise me.

Also on my plate yesterday – a big dog-and-pony-show/town hall meeting all day on Thursday in Columbus OH; notification of which was passed to me after close of business on Friday. I don’t really feel like doing a 48 hour drop-in to the midwest, but this meeting is actually relatively important to what I’ll be doing the next couple of years (another decade long modernization project like I wrote about from 1998 through 2013), and maybe fixing some of those parenthetical issues from the third paragraph of this post.

This is still theoretical, because nobody’s approved my travel authorization yet, and my flight leaves around 2pm tomorrow. we’ll see. I’ve done my due squeaky wheel dilligence.

Oh, and it was raining fiercely this morning, and the interstate was filled with erratically moving big trucks. I survived.

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not necessarily fair

08
Apr

Happy Friday, folks. I hope it’s happy for you, at any rate.

Consider this your semi-annual “depression sucks” reminder, because my system is totally reminding me.

I’ve had what one might consider a pretty good week, all told. Work is going amazingly well – I’ve been hesitant to say anything, for fear of jinxing all the really successful testing and operational interfaces and paperwork that makes sure that my people get paid next year (and still saves a decent fraction of my microscopic fraction of the federal budget over the previous year), and I ended my week a day early, after getting a nice pat on the head from the CIO of the agency for a job well done.

Shame my nervous system’s not letting me enjoy any of it.

Oh well; it’s a busy weekend involving formal wear and costumes and dancing and live music and such. I hope I can cope.

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crazy! cool!

04
Apr

Yes, I know there’s going to be post-production work done on this scene to add something in the background; probably some trippy surrealistic Ditko-esque nightmare portal to who knows where…

But, all the same, I kind of want to imagine that this scene from Marvel’s upcoming Doctor Strange, shot in NYC this weekend, is going to go into the movie as-is.

With a properly peppy uptempo musical cue.

Leading into the film’s climactic musical number.

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