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The Ninja Pencil

Oct. 1st, 2011

07:51 pm - Quit Pretending You’re Scared of Clowns

Trends and patterns blaze globally as the Internet publishes ideas, and the net has housed a million sects born through likeminded folks seeking one another out. People converge to discuss health, sports, arts, gossip, hobbies, ailments, culinary ideas, books, whatever floats our respective boats. And as such, memetic fashions bloom online faster than clothing fashions spread across Paris and Milan.

But when and why did it become so cool and trendy to be scared of clowns?

Not just apprehensive or a little unnerved, but The Most scared, petrified, paralyzed, palsy-induced, traumatized and soil-your-pants afraid out of all the people you ever met. Your clown-fear is the stuff of legend. And the hyperbolic competition surrounding coulrophobia is vicious, because then the “Oh yeah? That’s Nothing…” begins.

You’re so scared of clowns, local folklore boasts how you got banned from the circus when you were six, for clawing and chewing your way through the big-top in a hysterical trauma, wrecking their canvas and their show forever. You almost died at the mere suggestion of a clown, but that’s nothing, because my doctor prescribed Zoloft, merely because clowns exist. Oh yeah? Well I once killed a clown, because because because clowns are really, really scary, more so for me than anybody else in the entire universe. I would rather die than ever hear the C-word again.

Scouring the net, it’s stunning how many people boast and exacerbate this trendy new-old clown fear, and also a little embarrassing. It’s even surpassing the upsurge of Spiderman obsessives who claim to have loved the comic their whole lives, even though they didn’t read any until Sam Raimi made it cool. And don’t get me started on ninjas.

I understand that clowns are creepy, and that some people do have a for-real phobia, but I am skeptical that this is the case with the bulk of our clown-fearing trendies. Furthermore, this is not the epiphany or new, hip revelation you think it is. People have been cashing in on the natural unease clowns induce for years.

Obviously clowns are unsettling – they’re SUPPOSED TO BE. Creepy adults in disguise doing unpredictable things around children were never cute. With everything from John Wayne Gacy through to Pennywise, Killer Klowns from Outer Space, Poltergeist, the clown in Zombieland, Shakes the Clown – clowns are one of the most exploited plot devices and nightmare-inducers ever used in popular media. It’s not that unique, Bozo.

But regardless, the clown spats continue, the clownathons run rampant and the contests are becoming more viciously rabid by the day; clown-fearers are overtaking god-fearers in number and extremity, and the wave continues to spread like a virus.

I think I’m starting to fear the fear of clowns.


Jul. 23rd, 2011

02:16 pm - Hakuchi Moya

Having an excellent summer so far, and this heatwave is kicking my butt, but I love it. The last 3 days have averaged highs of 101° F; I feel like a medicine man in a sweat lodge on a vision quest.
This year on October 2nd (Gandhi’s birthday) I’ve worked for Eaton for 5 years, and I only just came to terms with the fact that my job is nuts. It is over-busy all the time, but I love it. It’s interesting. It’s challenging. It stretches my mind every day, and it is unpredictable. And it’s cool. I work with metallurgy and engineering and unusual manufacturing processes making complex stuff, as well as auditing and solving all kinds of weird problems. And not least, being the last set of eyes and authorizing the release of parts which are about to be installed on aircraft engines. I ‘m responsible for compliance to a gazillion customer specs, the application of lab / materials testing, and demonstrating this compliance to some pretty thorough auditors. I don’t usually talk about the details of work, but I felt like it today.
Some days it gets stressful, but I recently stopped taking on the emotional weight of what is happening, and instead started really focusing on just one thing at a time with a deliberate indifference. We work with some tough customers and have gone through plenty of tough days, but I started to muse over what constitutes “tough days”, and was kind of surprised.
Tough is entirely relative to how much pressure you put on yourself, and is reliant on you categorizing it as “tough”. Unless you do that, nothing is tough. If you remove the classification from things, such as good things and bad things, then you’re just left with “things”.
Things by themselves aren’t that stressful or abusive, and they all carry the same weight – which is amazingly light. And so through several challenging days this last 2 weeks, I made a conscious effort to strip the titles and qualifiers off all the good things and bad things and difficult things and mundane things, and the results were phenomenal. All that remained were two factors:
1 – A bunch of stuff I had to work on, and 2 – a priority list determining the order in which the stuff needed to be addressed.
I suddenly had a ton more headspace, and was able to do a better job of each thing. I didn’t carry any fake weight, and I suddenly freed up about 50% of my energy. I didn’t get emotionally involved in anything (as you naturally tend to do when you care about your work), and everything became much easier. I freed up the resources to apply more of myself, more concentration and focus, and there was another side-effect which I didn’t expect. I achieved way more than I usually do. I didn’t rush through anything just because there was lots to do. I didn’t do anything different really, other than just shrug off all the circumstantially-imposed weight, and stroll from one isolated thing to the next. Sounds simple, but holy crap, it was amazing.
My php / MySQL programming quest has been going very well too, since I started getting some early nights and getting up around 5. My mind works best first thing in the morning, and having a couple of hours of Zen prior to heading into the fray is beneficial. I’ve been drinking more water than ever, eating more fruit, taking more time out for nothingness, and all of this is really working – I feel good.
And tonight, I’m going to a 13th Warrior Party, to drink mead out of horns.


Jun. 18th, 2011

02:41 pm - Bananas

Today is gorgeous, and I need to shave my stubbly mush and get out there pronto, before the sun goes away. But that’s OK – plans are in place, razor is available and I just need to convince my lazy posterior to get off the chair and spring into action. I had a dream last night in which my fingers were bananas, and have been trying unsuccessfully to figure out what this means. You could call it ‘Fruit Claws Analysis’.

I drafted a new story for Machine of Death 2 this last couple of weeks, but it’s all over the place and requires effort I can’t be bothered to expend. The deadline I think is July 15th, so if I can get my act together by then I will send it in, but if not then I won’t lose any sleep either.

Trying to get re-enrolled for Fall classes, but I took too much time out this year so I had to re-admit into school; last class I took was Operating Systems in Fall 2010. It was all good though; during my break I learned php, MySQL, html, CSS, a little Javascript, and I started playing guitar again, after about 7 years off. I just got back in touch with some old friends from England, which was nice, and I have been writing some recreational funny non-fic, which I will post on the Understatement in a couple of weeks when things settle down.

This afternoon we’re going to a cookout at Ed and Noelle’s house, so get to play with them and their cool dog Joey and their cool baby Declan. I’m looking forward to it; I’ve missed those guys and need some easy, undemanding fun downtime. My other friend Andres just had a baby yesterday, my brother Nick is having a baby in about ten weeks, our friends Sean and Amy had a baby last month, who I got to meet recently, and so in the good news, procreation is still occurring, and life is like a Nora Ephron movie. This definitely beats the Tarantino movie life of last month, and will suffice through the summer, after which it’ll be more like Tron or Lawnmower Man, when I hibernate inside the grid ready for Winter.

And if you need some amazing music, here are 5 stations you MUST create on Pandora radio:

Beats Antique, Massive Attack, Hank Jones, Medeski Martin & Wood, and Ella Fitzgerald.

Right now, on Beats Antique, a dub-electronica-symphonic groove-string remix of Led Zep’s Kashmir is playing, by Bond, and it is blowing my mind.

May. 8th, 2011

06:04 pm - Interstellar Artois

So this weekend is great so far – did a lot of reading, still pondering what I might write about if I were to submit to Machine of Death 2, and tonight I’m about to grill some steak and asparagus, both which have been marinating in Teriyaki. I also got baby carrots and sesame seeds; if you throw the carrots in a wok with olive oil, garlic and sesame seeds, and then let them cook until they are scorched black and wrinkled, it will change your life. Mmmmmmmmmmmm. Although I only just learned that baby carrots are merely grown up carrots whittled down that way; they are no more baby than Babe Ruth or Baby Jane, when she serves up dead rat to her poor, wheelchair-bound sister. Bette Davis is AWESOME. (Cue music; “I’m writing a letter tooo daddddeeeeeeeeee...”)

As well as starting The Believers by Zoe Heller, I did a lot of reading into MySQL and SQL, and have been taking some time out from the site to get to know databases a little better; so I made a fake “users” table, populated it with a bunch of fake users (including a few non-humans from Star Trek, The Hoax, MEAT and Backbite), and have been playing with this as a way to get comfortable with query constructs and such. SQL is an awesomely logical and simple language, but I have been avoiding it for ages out of fear of being bored to death. But I love that feeling of brain expansion and accomplishment you get when you develop comprehension of something that yesterday you were scared of and oblivious to. (I’m sorry to badmouth you SQL, you have a boring aura. But now you have pulled me into your boring little world, drugged me with Boreanol and I’m suddenly a convert, addicted to doing boring shit such as retrieving data and concatenating user names with hilarious little literal messages, such as:
SELECT CONCAT(first_name, ‘ ‘, last_name, ‘ likes to fool around with chickens’) FROM users

Spoke to my sis earlier, and started making tentative plans for her to fly over next year and meet us in Orlando; she wants to see Universal studios at Halloween, which I imagine is probably an excellent time to see Universal, as well as being nice weather, not too crowded and all round fun. I went driving round today and got in that summer mood, the weather was gorgeous, and I am very excited to go camping and kayaking, and especially to beat the shit out of my bike at Lincoln woods. In fact, Adrienne and I were hiking there 2 weeks ago, I became adventurous and got us a little bit lost, and accidentally happened upon some amazing single track bike trails. We found our way back to the main path fairly easily, but I made a mental note of how to get back there with my mahntan bayak.

[tags LiveJournal, WordPress, LinkedIn, carrots, sesame seeds, Lincoln woods, single track, mountain bikes, SQL, boring, steak, teriyaki, Sparrow Guts, Baby Jane, Bette Davis, The Hoax by Adrienne Jones, chickens]
[category tech, life]

May. 1st, 2011

10:18 pm - Mesquite Chips and Zuma

It’s the end of a fun and mellow weekend, and a few interesting things transpired, such as:
Machine of Death has announced they’re putting together a sequel, taking submissions for vol 2 from sometime in May. Big question – do I want to write something new and submit to this one as well? The guidelines explicitly state that “NO PREFERENTIAL TREATMENT will be given to people published in Vol 1”. I think I probably do want to submit something new anyway; I have a few ideas, but actually sitting my arse down a writing something start to finish is the real litmus test. I bet this time they get more than 600 submissions, after the success of the first volume. They are also trying to sell film / TV rights, and have optioned the stories in vol 1 just in case. Fingers crossed!
Been tinkering on the site a little more today, mostly building database tables and populating it with fake users and companies, so I can play around and make sure only users working for company X can read / write to company X’s records, and will remain oblivious to company Y and Z’s information. I threw together a blank user login / index page too, but all it consists of right now is a form for the login info, a new-user registration link and a blank space for what will be the public sales pitch / demo / screenshots type stuff. Having to go back and do some more tutorials every step of the way for many of the individual things I wanna achieve, but it’s coming together pretty well. In the next few days I should be able to get the login page plumbed in, along with validation scripts and cookie / session data so concurrent users can access this at the same time.
I just picked up Zoe Heller’s new(est) book The Believers, and once again she is kicking my butt with how awesome her writing is. If you have not read her work before, I heartily recommend Notes On A Scandal. Awesome stuff. Last fiction I read was White Tiger while we were out in California, and that was really good as well, although it made me want to take several showers per chapter. And last night, we grilled chicken drumsticks, using Kingsford Charcoal laced with Mesquite chips, and the flavour of everything is enhanced soooooo much, it came out killah.
And probably the most amazing news of all: Popcap Games have launched Zuma Blitz on Facebook. This is one addictive weapon of mass distraction. Just... cannot... stop... shooting. I love it!


Apr. 14th, 2011

09:47 pm - Zits

Geekery makes me calm. Can’t explain it, but my god it does. Coding / writing algorithms / debugging or just thinking about how stuff will work is one of the only things that puts me in a completely Zen place. I’m doomed, but happy to be so. I love it. I just need a pocket protector and a few zits, and then I will be perfect.
Last night I went to a Providence Geek meetup at AS220 on Empire Street downtown, and heard a presentation about the evolution of Providence software company Andera, by their CEO / founder Charlie Kroll. That was an interesting event & good presentation, met some pretty cool new folks and a couple of older friends, and also found out about some other neat local geekeries going on which are actually specific to php web development. How could I possibly abstain?
Today I finally wrapped my head around the potential of external Cascading Style Sheets, as well as the coolness of php include() statements and pulling in variables and page elements from external files. Getting used to working in fragments like this at first seemed like a somewhat unnecessary pain in the arse, but having played with it for some time, my opinion has completely flipped, and it makes updating anything really, really, REALLY really simple.
I’ve been working a little bit with some visual flowcharting representations of the QMS for work, and that quickly started to scream a need for html involvement. I don’t know how successful I will be getting all the toys / tools I would like to complete this task, but DreamWeaver would make it a whole lot easier and more fun. Or even some of the freebies, like Nvu and Bluefish would work. But being in a corporation means I can’t just go downloading stuff willy nilly, I have to go through channels or the IT police will arrest me. But if I’m a good employee this year and state my case poetically with a hint of poignant desperation, maybe Santa will bring me some software.
But for now, I’m tired, and need to go wash my face in lard, then eat a pound of chocolate and wrap a thick, grimy pink Band Aid around the middle of my glasses, and have a pen leak in my shirt pocket before bed.
Peasant dreams!

Apr. 10th, 2011

08:53 am - Deep Stain 9 Vs. Voyager

So I have tried and tried and tried, but the word is official – I cannot get into Star Trek DS-9. I gave it more time; I tried episodes from after season 1; I even rooted for them in fights and sat through 3 consecutive “To be continued” endings, but when they were all done, it still felt lame & unfulfilling. I wish Voyager went on forever. I miss the EMH. I miss the subtext between Chakotay and Janeway, and I miss Harry Kim’s frequent abductions and Tuvok’s wise words, usually spouted despite being rudely interrupted at Kal Toh while he tries to find the seeds of order in the midst of profound chaos. I even miss Tom Paris, albeit only the later Tom who got married to B’Ellana and eventually stopped being a whining dickhead. And I miss Arachnia. I do not miss Neelix though, and am kind of glad Kes became a crazy elevated being of light. And I miss Seven of Nine, with her ice cold logic and hilariously serious observations about the inexplicable peculiarities of human social behavior. *Siiiiiigh*
This week was cool; work was a little busy but under control. I had a blast every single night, and Thursday we went to India House and ate Maryland Crab Cakes and drank East India iced tea while a band played jazz in the corner. I played a lot more guitar, and started figuring out some abnormal patterns all the way up the neck in strange key signatures. Also went way back to basics and started zoning in on mundane fingerpicking exercises, although it is coming back quickly so the mundane shouldn’t last long.
Twas a good week full of geek chic, and then it peaked, no-one freaked, and Friday at 4.30 pm, out I sneaked, came home and took a leak, listened to Beats Antique and then partied like a Sheik.
But now I’m finally all done with rhyming, and may need to move onto abnormal alliterations with alarming alacrity, alluding to almost all I know about Alabama, Alaska, Anarchy, Anacondas and Alligators.
Anyone for bacon?

Apr. 3rd, 2011

12:52 pm - Triads n Quiche

I liked this last few weeks, even though parts of it made me a bit blue; in the not-so-goods was: 4 of my favorite colleagues had their last days at work, one retiring and three moving onto new opportunities. That involved far more beer than I had intended, but they’re all worth it.
In the good stuff, I made some fine headway with the new web app, building significant templates for several of the key pages, and even coding in some Javascript that makes popups of varying sizes without navigation / URL / Menu or scroll bars cluttering up the place. I even coded in some buttons and form elements which don’t do much yet, but are now ready and waiting for that fateful day when they have a SQL table ready to catch whatever dear information they may hold, and deliver it safely into the guts of the Internet. Now I’m thinking about Drupal, and wondering if that would either help or hinder my learning experience.
I also had a birthday this weekend, which typically makes me feel strange and start contemplating mortality, and other happy morbid existential pensive ruminations, and I spent a whole lot of time revisiting my relationship with ye olde guitar, which is coming on stronger and faster than I had anticipated. (And maybe for the first time in my life, I’m loving it. I used to like it, but have never loved it.) Thinking about subscribing to Acoustic Guitar mag, and whereas I spent my life using electrics, I’m now suddenly engrossed in blues and jazz and crazy chords, and wayyyyyyyyyyyy focusing on developing a lightning fast and accurate fingerstylin’ right hand. Does this mean I’m getting old, just because I wanna be Robert Johnson combined with Bela Fleck and John Williams?
But I’ve already been far more productive than I intended, so for the rest of the day we’re continuing our mega sci-fi marathon, with Children of Dune. Desert Power, and Muad Fn’ Dib baby!
Here are some pictures of my new lurve; I have yet to think of a name...


Mar. 27th, 2011

11:03 am - Hippy

Got home from California yesterday after a grueling, long and awesome trip; it wouldn’t have been quite so tiring but we checked out of the hotel at 11 am and the first flight wasn’t until 9.30 pm. So we drove round and saw a bunch of places up and down the Pacific Coast Highway, from Laguna Beach where we were staying thru Newport Beach, Huntington Beach and then Longbeach. By the time we put the key in our front door yesterday lunchtime, we’d been on the move for about 26 straight hours, including 3 flights, ~ 3000 miles. I then slept for 8 hours, got up for some food / water, and then slept again for another 8, hopefully setting my body clock back to EST.
The week was amazing, including an evening eating Thai food with our friends Aurelio and Chuck, and another evening eating fish while watching apocalyptic doomy waves smash the hell out of the beach and coastline in a storm. That was the day we arrived in Orange County, and the closest I have ever felt to death on a flight. Coming in to land the plane was being ragged all over by insane high winds; very, very scary. As the wheels were about to touch down, the plane was being thrown side to side and wobbling on the axis banking one way and then the other, and the wing tip almost hit the treetops as we landed somewhere around a hundred miles an hour. Half the plane applauded and half were in a “WTF” style palsy; I have experienced turbulence many times, but never this bad and never this close to the ground at this speed.
The training course was pretty good, the people there from sites all over the country were great and the commute through the Laguna Hills into Irvine down route 133 was gorgeous. And because of a last-minute schedule change, we had to spend Monday entertaining ourselves. This enforced drastic measures, including spending several traumatic hours on the deck at The Cliff restaurant, getting sun-tans, drinking ice-cold beers and looking at this:


Mar. 16th, 2011

07:38 pm - The Sinister Minister

This week is / was a doooooooozy, aka a coincidental cluster of circumstances which require me (and my workmates) to run round like blue-arsed flies balancing it. We have a Nadcap audit in progress, someone in my department just left and so I partially (temporarily) inherited Rolls Royce, and my regular backup is out for some different training, so I’m juggling and cartwheeling all the way to the asylum. But I’m determined to take this Saturday off, because Sunday morning I’m flying out to CA for a week, for training of my own. But... we had some great news this week, and one of my first programs I built in VBA has been put to amazing use by my colleagues, and yielded some pretty cool results which pleased one of our customers (and management) greatly.

And... I finally bought a pretty, solid-top classical guitar on Saturday, which having not played in several years feels good yet extremely clunky and awkward. And on Sunday, my nephew and I went to Dave & Busters Arcade and shot the hell out of zombies, terrorists and Terminators. The new T4 Salvation game is awesome, and the guns are badass, but the only downside is that you can’t bring yourself to stop playing until your wrists are screaming in agony.

So in the list of stuff I haven’t achieved:
* Didn’t work on the new web application
* Haven’t slept enough
* Haven’t shaved my head since last week, so it may require the electric shears prior to the manual razor
* I didn’t learn banjo, (although I never wanted or intended to); but I did listen to Bela Fleck a bit over the weekend
Tonight we’re just kicking back and watching a couple of Stargate Universe episodes on Hulu, and tomorrow the audit will be done, so things will start to settle down.

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