Two more writing exercises — #12 and #13

Two more writing exercises. The first one is a scene told from two different perspectives and frankly, it’s kind of crappy. The second is a complete short story based on three items produced by a plot generator:

Your Fault
Superhero Go Home

On the run again

Spring is only six days away. It is time for the trees to bud, the flowers to bloom, the Greater Vancouver area to receive another official snow warning (damn snow) and for me to ponder activities of an outdoor nature that involve more than walking to the store and back.

I went to Forerunners this afternoon. It’s a specialty running store with an impressively large wall of running shoes. The staff is friendly and appears to know their stuff which is helpful because every pair of runners I have bought in the past has been based on looks alone. Most of the time that got me by but a few pairs back I bought some where the left shoe absolutely murdered my foot. I stubbornly kept wearing them instead of doing the sensible thing and taking them back for a refund. I think it’s just one of those guy issues. That shoe was going to bend to my will. Except it never did.

This time, since I’d be getting shoes specifically for jogging and since I’m not…ah, as young and flexible as I once was, I thought it might be a good plan to put aside cost and looks and just get shoes that wouldn’t kill my feet. The young woman who assisted me measured my feet, made me crouch up and down, stand with my feet apart and cough twice. Okay, the coughing I did on my own. She brought out four different pairs of shoes of various brands and widths and I tried them on, often wearing one of each brand per foot. I’d walk around the store then go out and jog in them for about a half block. I did this enough to actually work up a very light sweat. Embarrassing.

In the end we both agreed on the New Balance MR769STs or as I call them, my pair of lemons. You can see them here (Flash required). They come in silver/blue or white/yellow. I got the white/yellow hence my clever nickname. I have never spent over $100 for a pair of running shoes before. In fact, I scoffed at those who did. My current pair cost $30 and have lasted weeks. Weeks! But I have to admit, the new runners feel really nice. They fit like a glove (as recommended) and have the kind of support and spring that you get when you invest $70 more.

I’m hoping they last till I’m 80.

I have a jogging plan to start out with — the Couch to 5K Running Plan — and now a nice pair of shoes. I just need a place to jog! I could create a route in my neighborhood but this area is kind of hilly and I’m not too keen on running on sidewalks or roads. It’s going to be hard enough on my body without making it even moreso. On the plus side, a route through the neighborhood would keep things interesting, especially if I mixed it up a bit. But for now I think I will stick to dedicated running paths. The closest I could find is about 12 blocks away at China Creek Park (North). I checked it out a few days ago and the jogging path there is dirt but covered with bark so it doesn’t turn to mud when it rains. It had a nice springiness to it, firm but yielding, like a nice girl on a second date. While there I watched someone jogging around the path. And I mean around it — he stayed just off the path all the way around the park. People are weird.

Here’s a satellite view of the park courtesy of Google maps. I have embellished the image slightly for your edification. I am tentatively planning on starting the jogging regime next week and will have my first report then.

China Creek Park

I am officially a statistic, hooray!

February jobless rate rises to 7.7%.

Canada’s unemployment rate rose to 7.7 per cent in February, when 82,600 jobs were lost, the fourth consecutive month of declines.

The February drop pushed the national unemployment rate up half a percentage point, from 7.2 per cent in January, Statistics Canada reported Friday. The jobless rate has not been this high since it was eight per cent back in August 2003.

Economists had been expecting February jobs losses to come in around 55,000, and for the overall unemployment to rise to 7.4 per cent.

Good times.

What you do when you have a huge gaming backlog

You start playing old games you’ve already completed, of course.

Have games become my new comfort food now that I can’t rely on Snickers bars and pizza? Probably. Instead of playing Fallout 3 or Left 4 Dead or even Spore, I find my current line-up of games is:

  • Titan Quest (2006) – playing through again in co-op
  • Lord of the Rings Online (2007) – playing with a Monday night-only group from Qt3. I always have a group. It’s nice!
  • Duke Nukem 3D (1996!) – bought off of gog.com and using the high resolution texture pack. My excuse? I never finished the fourth episode, “The Birth”

Someday I’ll start and finish a game when it still counts as “new”. Someday.

Weirdsmith opening monologue

Here’s the opening monologue from an unfinished play I wrote back in June 1993. I ended up tossing the monologue entirely in favor for something else, but it was an interesting exercise for me to try to get into the mind of an obviously disturbed character. I can’t say it was exactly fun, which I suppose is a good thing.

WEIRDSMITH OPENING MONOLOGUE
REVISION #1

WEIRDSMITH: It was an accident. I know that sounds ridiculous. How do you accidentally stab a person thirty times? Actually, thirty six. I counted. I don’t know why, exactly, except that I have this thing for details. So I counted. But it was still an accident. When we met today, things were a little tense between us, but I wasn’t planning on stabbing him three dozen times. You don’t do that to a friend. An ex friend, maybe.

(He laughs, if hesitantly, at his feeble and ghoulish joke.)

WEIRDSMITH: We got into a fight, and I was twiddling the butcher knife in my hands and…we were in the kitchen. I should point that out. I do not normally go around twiddling butcher knives. I was getting ready to carve the roast. It’s cold now, of course. Uh, we got in a fight. I made like the menacing figure, and he really started freaking out. Told me to drop the knife. Told me to, “Drop that fuckin’ knife! Are you fucking crazy?!” He had a pretty dirty mouth. Anyway, I guess there’s something about being really mad – well, maybe I don’t mean mad. Maybe I mean angry. There’s something about being angry and waving a knife around, and then someone calls you crazy and tells you to drop it. That’s like telling a kid the paint on the fence is wet and he better not touch it. It’s like telling the kid, “You can’t have that toy.” Of course, the only thing he wants now is that toy. He wants to do just the opposite of what you’ve told him. Just plain old childish rebellion. No one ever completely outgrows it, I don’t think. But the accident. Yes. He tells me to drop the knife, so, being the idiot, being the child I am, I say no and wave it around in his face. He starts backing away, really scared. I hate to admit this, but I got off on it. Him being scared like that. I don’t usually scare people. I’m kind of skinny and quiet. Not psycho type quiet, like I might one day decide to take a shotgun to the mall and start hunting people, but just regular quiet. So he was backing away, practically crapping his drawers. And then he backed against the counter, the roast is right behind him. I see it poking around him and for a second I thought that it must be getting cold. I was going to say that, actually. I think if I had, I would have dropped the knife and we would have laughed and then had dinner and that’d be that. Argument over. But I didn’t say anything. I think I may have been laughing, but I’m not sure. Inside I was definitely laughing, it was all so stupid. So I continue waving the knife. Oh, I was saying something, something like, “You scared?” Pretty original, huh? And he said, “Yeah, I’m scared. Put down the fucking knife!” And then I actually got kind of mad, and this time that’s the right word. He was telling me what to do and I had the knife. It didn’t click. You know, I was the dominant one here. That was obvious. But I think it was the way he said it. He was scared, but he was, as he would say, really pissed off, too. So I just kept moving forward and I started darting the knife at him and he actually put out his hand and tried to bat it away. That was pretty stupid. He could have cut himself, the idiot. Well, not that it matters now, I guess.

(He pauses.)

WEIRDSMITH: Then he suddenly flies into the living room, past me just like a rocket. I take off after him and he wheels around, facing me. I keep walking forward and he’s telling me to stop, but I’m having none of it. Then he backed into the coat rack. He just backed right into it and his feet got tangled and he slipped, and I reached out to grab him, but…this sounds so stupid. I hear it now and it sounds stupid. Yes, that’s right: he slipped and I went to help him and the knife just accidentally plunged clear into his chest, right between two ribs, just clean as can be. But that was it. I was holding the knife so tight that by the time I realized it was going into him, he was probably already dead. And he just screamed like I’ve never heard before. Not like on TV. It was like when you’re lying awake in bed at three in the morning and you hear this horrible scream outside, and you don’t know if someone’s being killed or just screwing around. He screamed like that and I think I screamed, too. Or I said, “Oh, shoot” or something like that. I was gonna help him even though it was probably too late, but he just kept screaming, so when I pulled the knife out, I stabbed him again. I wasn’t thinking, of course. I just wanted him to shut up, because I was right there and I was going to help him, but he didn’t need to alert the whole neighborhood and get us in really serious trouble. So I stabbed him again and that was going to be it, but he still kept screaming and I thought, “Am I gonna have to kill this guy to shut him up?” Well, I don’t know if I really thought that or not. By that time I think I was on auto pilot. He dropped, well, slid onto the floor and I went down with him, and started to stab him like a…machine. And I counted. I started at one, even though I’d already stabbed him twice. And I kept stabbing, and I almost stopped because the blood was spraying into my face, but I had my glasses on, so it didn’t get into my eyes. I moved the knife all over, like it was important to spread the holes around. Like I said, I’m kind of fixed on little details like that. And when I reached thirty four, I couldn’t see anymore white on his shirt, so I stopped and sat down for a while. Then I figured out two plus the thirty four, and I had stabbed him thirty six times. But the first time probably killed him, and that was an accident. So I don’t really think I deliberately killed him. Like anyone in the world will believe that. It’s not as if I have a spotless past. But it’s funny, when I met him, it was the start of things going good for me again. And they did. Things were good again, and for a while, I could forget about everything that had already happened. You know, in the business world, they say don’t think about how much money you’ve spent on something, cause that money’s gone. Think about how much more you have to spend and whether it’s worth it. He told me that not too long after we met. He said to think of my life like that. Don’t think about the past, cause it’s already gone. Think about the future instead, and see if it’s worth it. Actually, at the time, I thought it was pretty stupid. I mean, making philosophy out of something from a first year economics class. But even if I thought it was stupid, I did let go of things. I tried to start over. He helped me a lot.

(He kneels next to the body.)

WEIRDSMITH: I know this is pretty silly, since you’re not just dead, but very dead, but I want to thank you for helping me. Jeez, this is dumb.

(He stands.)

WEIRDSMITH: Thank you for sticking with me just long enough for my entire life to go to hell again, thank you for sticking around just long enough for me to end up stabbing you thirty six times!

(He drops the knife and again kneels next to the body.)

WEIRDSMITH: I’m going to treat your words with respect. It’s not too late. Well, it is too late, but I’m doing it anyway. I’m doing it because I agree with what you said. Everything’s in the past now and I think the future’s worth it, so I hope you don’t mind if I find somewhere to just kind of dispose of you.

(He begins to drag the body to the back of the stage.)

WEIRDSMITH: Like maybe in a bog or something. Death is crazy, my friend, but life is crazier than hell.

It’s nearly spring. You know what that means.

Yes, more snow. It’s March 9th but Vancouver has somehow been stealthily moved to Siberia where it snows all the time.

You can almost see the guy at the door across the alley saying, “WTF?” as he looks around at all the white stuff on the ground.

March snow, 2009

Damn snow.

How to prove you are dumb on the Internet

A year ago CBC decided it would be nifty to give the public a voice on its news website by allowing user comments. As shocking as it may seem, a lot of the comments are belligerent, ignorant and dumb. I know, I know, it is hard to believe that people with extreme (or Xtreme!!) opinions would leap at the chance to share their idiotic views with a large if anonymous audience.

Let’s take a random sample.

In today’s news, there is a story titled Federal New Democrats want complete overhaul of EI system. There are 247 comments as I post this. The first and last paragraphs of the story read as so:

The federal NDP says it’s time the Conservative government made it easier for people to get employment insurance benefits.

***

The federal NDP is asking the government to eliminate the waiting period for EI, reduce the number of work hours needed to qualify, expand eligibility to include self-employed workers and encourage retraining.

Here is the first comment:

can’t come quick enough !

Okay, a little weak on the whole capitalization thing and in his or her excitement there is an errant space before the exclamation point but this person has expressed a viewpoint in a concise and non-controversial manner. But this is the first post, so pretty much a fluke. Let’s dig a little further…

By the fifth post we have KooteneyForestryGirl saying:

Its already such an abused system, you don’t need to make it even easier.
Personally I’d rather just keep my own money and be able to invest as I see fit for tough times. I hate being “babysat,” I think the whole program should be scraped. If people don’t have the foresight to plan ahead then tough luck..

Without saying why, she claims the system is abused, but hey, no need to back up an opinion, right? She perhaps doesn’t quite understand how EI actually works, but if we just scrape the program then, I dunno, maybe scientists can gather a sample to examine and figure out how to make it work better! Now here’s the important thing — KFG has staked out a position that EI is bad and thinks it should go away. She has 43 agreeing but 146 disagreeing. No surprises there. The groundwork has been laid for a nice fight.

Bi Polar Bear uses breathless hyperbole to make his case in support:

I’ve known dozens of people who don’t like their jobs – so they quit … then expect to get EI. It doesn’t work that way folks. If you don’t like your job – get another job.

Yes, he knows dozens — that is to say, at least 24 or 36 people — who have quit their jobs specifically to collect EI. He must hang around dumb folks to make himself feel smart. I’ve never known anyone who quit their job thinking they could get EI (you can’t). Obligatory slam at the NDP:

The NDP would gladly tax us to 95% if they could.

Because all socialists want to tax people into ruin because that’s what they do, amirite?

Irrelevant potshot at current government that has nothing to do with the actual news story:

It’s time to overhaul the federal government too; that is, give Harper and his neo-clown posse the boot all the way back to Cow Town!

And on it goes. This story is actually a fairly mild one in terms of the user comments but it’s still kind of depressing. The average person who posts just seems kind of ugly and uncaring. These are not people you really feel like sharing a coffee with at Tim Horton’s.

Tonight we spring forward, tomorrow we wake up cranky

Tonight begins Year 3 of the “even earlier daylight savings time” in which PDT stretches from March to November. This means we are on daylight savings for 3/4 of the year now, all the better to help farmers. Farmers who apparently do not have electricity and can only work under the steady glare of the sun. Yeah, I don’t get it, either.

And on that note…

Here’s some of the music I have been listening to lately:

Jon & Vangelis, The Friends of Mr. Cairo — I originally bought this album around 1986 (it came out in ’81) but sold it with a bunch of other CDs back when I was a stupidly poor college student. I just picked it up again for $10 from iTunes. This is a surprisingly good pop album. The weakest track is probably “Back to School” in which the duo try to “rock out” and even that one isn’t really awful. “I’ll Find My Way Home” and “State of Independence” are both catchy as all get-out and the centerpiece title track is a funny pastiche of ’30s and ’40s film noir/gangster films.

Prism, “Armageddon” and “Night to Remember”. Alas, iTunes did not have the album available so I picked two tracks from a “Best of Prism” collection. I first owned this on 8-track. Ah, 8-track, the medium where album integrity was treated with a hearty LOL as tracks got shuffled about, duplicated or split in two. how I miss thee! Anyway, the track “Armageddon” is one I first heard as a piece used in a Remembrance Day ceremony back in grade 8 where we all solemnly read bits about how awful war is, with the orchestral intro/extro of “Armageddon” bookmarking the whole bit. I absolutely lurved the music and bought the album for what amounted to a couple minutes from one song. The album as a whole is perfectly serviceable pop, although I still get a chuckle out of some of the lyrics — “Jerry and Linda in the White House, president sleep in his shoes…” Somehow it seemed plausible that Jerry Brown and Linda Rondstadt could end up being the First Couple. Silly Canadians! “Night to Remember”, by the way, is not about the sinking of the Titanic, but rather a man wanting to bag a woman. It’s rather crass (“Hey, little girl, can I show you the world? Lay down beside me now…”) but all kinds of catchy.

Coldplay, Viva La Vida. Yes, it is and always has been trendy to hate Coldplay because they are fey wannabe rockers or something. I still really like A Rush of Blood to the Head, even if the simplistic lyrics do annoy if I focus on them. I thought the follow-up, X+Y was okay but nothing special. Viva La Vida, though, is their best effort yet. Musically, the band has expanded its sound and Chris Martin’s lyrics aren’t as cringe-inducing. The band is uncharacteristically whimsical on songs like “Strawberry Swing” and the title track, with a bright pop sound that is new. Definitely recommended if you’ve cared for any of their past work.

A couple of albums I picked up based on recommendations from a thread at Quarter to Three:

Zombi, Spirit Animal — This is a duo consisting of keyboard and drums, with some guitar thrown in here and there. They play “space rock” and it’s all instrumental, no vocals. The sound has been described as a cross between Rush and John Carpenter and that’s not a bad description. This is reminiscent of the long tracks favored by prog rock bands of the 70s, with songs divided into movements stretching out over 10 to 17 minutes. It’s great background music and I mean that as a compliment. At times hypnotic or soothing, a great album to mellow out to (man).

Animal Collective, Merriweather Post Pavilion — This is a weird one. The sound is dense and layered, heavy on effects and processing, with vocals that sound submerged. In fact, that’s a good word to describe the sound as a whole — submerged. It really is difficult to accurately describe the songs because there is no standard frame of reference in pop music to compare to. The sound is at times haunting and even creepy but there’s also plenty of layered harmonies that recall the bright sound of The Beach Boys. Definitely something you want to sample before diving into.

Yes, I can play keyboards

Actually, I can’t, but I kind of look like I’m auditioning for a synth-heavy band in this photo from my 1990 college student card. This is probably the last photo I have where I am clean-shaven. Compared to the high school grad photo from 8 years earlier, it’s about 1000% better.

1990 college student card

Jogging vs. weightlifting: Fight!

Last year I did the ol’ diet switcheroo, dumping fast food and junk food in favor of lean meat, veggies and low-fat snacks. The chief aim was to reduce my slightly-elevated blood sugar so I was no longer pre-diabetic. The diet has had side benefits, chiefly in terms of reducing me from a porky 187.5 pounds to a more svelte 150ish pounds. I then decided that the next step was to exercise more so that my skinny muscles would become toned and I’d have more energy and all that.

After mulling some choices, I settled on dumbbell exercises for a few reasons:

1. A set of dumbbells is fairly cheap.
2. I can work with them at home — no need for trips to a gym.

It turned out I pretty much also needed:

3. An exercise bench.

I never really committed to the exercises much despite getting the dumbbells and bench. Initial motivation in any new activity, especially one that requires, you know, actual physical exertion (and isn’t sex) is difficult to manage. But eventually I laid out a routine based on a book I had purchased and that’s when I discovered the bench I bought is too short and cannot be lowered quite enough for someone of my height. Crap. While I have found another bench that might work, it got me thinking that maybe I ought to consider other forms of exercise.

I have my bike and will probably ride it a few times a week. While not as good an exercise as some, it has the benefit of not being too hard on the joints. There is swimming but my lessons in January convinced me it will be a good while before I am comfortable enough in the water to consider swimming as an exercise instead of “not drowning”. And then there is jogging.

I was a decent runner back in junior and senior high. I was also about 16 years old. I’m now at the “consult your doctor before exercising” age and face the prospect of injuring myself if I don’t do things right. But I have been investigating running — looking at programs that ease you into it, scouting jogging trails (to avoid the pain of running on pavement or concrete) and looking into getting fitted for a good pair of running shoes. I even bought the current issue of Runner’s World and not just because the model on the cover is smoking hot (that was only 50% of the reason at best). So I think I may try this jogging thing out and see if my knees suffer a thousand agonies or if it goes a bit better than that. More to come!