Maryland Ren Fest, Tom Stoppard and SPX

Maryland Ren Fest: We took Katie for the first time since she was very small, and she loved it. She got to run around in a princess dress, get her face painted, get her hair braided, ride a pony, play in bubbles, and eat deep fried macaroni n’ cheese on a stick. I finally bought the boots I had been eying for five years. Unfortunately, it started to rain on us around 4 and it was not the sort of rain you can just wait out. We went back to my parent’s house and then we left Katie to spend the night.

Tom Stoppard: Once home, we watched a little Tivo and then watched the 1990 production of Tom Stoppard’s Rosenkrantz and Guildestern are Dead. I had forgotten how wonderful the dialogue is, how hot a young Gary Oldman was, and how much I enjoyed the artistic structure of the play. Unfortunately, I was falling asleep at the end but I still need to own a copy on DVD.

SPX: … and I went to SPX in the afternoon! I nearly exploded in the squee of happiness. I also have far less money but I have far more comic books. I cruised all the tables leaving behind a little trail of butterflies and rainbows in the air wherever I went. I did notice that, since the last time I went to SPX, the quality of the mid-tier comics has really picked up. Also, last time I went the porn – comics ratio was fairly high but this time actual comics outweighed the porn about 20:1. I still don’t have any interest in hand-drawn super-artsy books on xeroxes and stapled together. I like my books to be books and I’m enough of a snob that I do put a huge amount on production values. I also refused to buy anything I could get off the web trivially or pick up in a Barnes and Noble. I must support my favorite artists who are awesome! I ended up with a huge haul:

Never Learn Anything from History by Kate Beaton with a little drawn FAT PONY in the front cover;

Beards of our Forefarthers, Clever Tricks to Stave Off Death and the Annotated Wondermark, all Wondermark collections by David Malki!

To Afghanistan and Back by Ted Rall who drew a whole little Osama bin Laden for me on the front page;

Dignifying Science and Bone Sharps, Cowboys and Thunder Lizards by Jim Ottaviani. He was a little taken back by someone showing insane enthusiasm over his science comics but Two-Fisted Science was one of the best collections on 20th century science I had ever read. I was being evangelizing it to the Unsuspecting around me. He threw in a copy of Charles R. Knight: Autobiography of an Artist.

The Secret Science Alliance and the Copycat Crook by Eleanor Davis for Katie Rose. The production value on this book is spectacular and the whole team did a full color picture for Katie on the frontspiece.

From Top Shelf Books, a copy of the Surrogates (Robert Venditti and Brett Weldele) and VEEPS: Profiles in Insignificance by Bill Kelter and Wane Shellabarger. How was I supposed to pass up a book on Vice Presidents? You tell me that because I could not. I was beholden.

Sadly, all the books for Rice Boy were gone by midway through yesterday. But woo! Comics!

Now I must disappear to read.

Norman Centuries

Today I pimp a podcast and a website!

I listened to Lars Brownworth’s original series, the 12 Byzantine Rulers, when it first came out. It was awesome and what got me hooked on academic-leaning podcasts. 12 Byzantine Rulers was recently mystically transformed through occult ritual into dead tree form and it is still available in the full run on iTunes. It was written up by the New York Times and it’s a tremendously fun listening experience at about 15 minutes a pop.

HOWEVER, now he’s doing the Norman Centuries on how the Vikings turned into Normans and became Middle Ages conquering machines. Vikings! Crusades! Norman Conquest of England!

The first episode is up on the webpage and the RSS feed for the podcast is running. I cannot pimp this podcast enough. If you even passingly enjoy learning about the more obscure corners of history, these podcasts are fantastic.

The Internet! Sometimes it’s for learnin’!

Basic Human Rights

This morning before work I clicked on a link that took me to some commentary on NBC that went along with polling on the health care debate. I was not expecting it to be a video, but it was. (This was found on Chuck Todd’s twitter stream this morning.)

I largely ignored it until it came to the last guy who was white male skinny WASP type listed as a “Financial Analyst.” And what he said struck me. He’s not in favor of Health Care Reform because:

A. He doesn’t believe that health care is a basic human right.
B. It’s a “hand out” to “poor people” instead of a “hand up.”
C. Poor people can “go other places like to the Red Cross.”

Other than being incorrect on all three points, I was just floored by the comment that “basic health care is not a human right.” Where does this view come from? It’s not Christian (or Jewish or Muslim or Buddhist or…) It’s not liberal. It’s not even conservative. It’s just… selfishness for selfishness sake. From a purely conservative viewpoint, making health care a basic human right helps:

– People who are less afraid for their health work harder, create new business and generate more wealth;
– Families because healthy people stay together as a coherent unit and those with less financial strain hold together better;
– Communities because healthy people contribute more locally and are less of a strain on the local community’s economy including the local religious community;
– Local economies because fewer sick people move less sick around, more people go to work, productivity increases;
– Macro-economy because sick uninsured people are a drain on economic resources, spread disease, go to hospital emergency rooms anyway, push up prices all over the place, and reduce work.

We won’t even talk about the liberal viewpoint (everyone should have a right to see a doctor regardless of financial means) or religious viewpoint (Man should give up a little to help fellow Man to reduce suffering). From a purely conservative viewpoint of keeping up the status quo and generating wealth, calling basic health care as a “hand out” is bewildering. It seems to me that the “monied” class would want healthy people to generate them money!

Then I thought about that guy, the guy who played a pure classism card, who clearly believes that financial analysts who can afford $20K a year at a private University should be the only people allowed to see a doctor in the United States. Let’s say he’s — A. White, B. Male, and C. In the banking sector. Reading the statistics from the recession, the people getting laid off most are: A. White, B. Male, and C. In the banking sector. Should he lose his job, and should he not be able to find another one, should his COBRA (given to him by that socialist Teddy Kennedy) run out and he get sick, should we tell Mr. Douchebag that he shouldn’t get hand out and he should go to the Red Cross? My answer: Yes. And him. In particular.

I don’t know where to start with people like this except label them as douchebags. It’s okay to… what, if they can’t afford $100K or $200K in tuition then they should all die in the street? Die of tuberculosis? What precisely do they want?

The problem with the health care debate is that we’re letting these people a place at the table. I know it’s a democracy and everyone gets to have their voices heard but if we can’t even start at the point of basic human decency and agree that all human beings have a right to have a basic alleviation of suffering through simple modern medicine, then where do we go?

I’m not exactly thrilled with the sausage making in Congress and I don’t have huge amounts of hope for whatever legislation will end up being passed, but for God’s sake people. Look at yourself in a mirror.

Rock Band: The Beatles

General Option: Awesome

Review: Having been raised on a strong diet of the Beatles and having vivid memories of my parents arguing over the Paul is Dead symbolism on the cover of Abbey Road, I have about 95% of the Beatles catalog committed to memory. I was a little iffy going into the game because the music is such a part of my DNA but I really do enjoy being able to play guitar and sing the songs. The selection of songs was a little puzzling at first — why Taxman instead of Eleanor Rigsby from Revolver, for instance — until I realized the song choices were heavily weighted to George Harrison songs because his son was the one who brought the project and worked to get the licensing. That’s why you get songs like Within You Without You instead of something easier to sing like Lovely Rita from Sgt. Peppers.

I find playing through story mode to be very interesting. I don’t usually listen to the albums in chronological order, and playing through gives me this sense of a band who went from being this bar-blues-band/rip off of Chuck Berry to a group with their own unique sound that still built all the pop songs over a 12-bar blues sequence to a group that tried to push what they could do musically (which culminates with Dig a Pong in the Rock Band collection, in my opinion).

I have mostly played guitar and done a little singing, although the singing is more on par with “what I do in the truck alone on the way to work.” Generally I find the songs well balanced although the guitar is a little picky about being late on hitting the notes. We haven’t explored the harmony option because we need another microphone. Also, Katie is insisting on singing the songs, so we’re happy for No Fail mode. I need to get off my butt and start mastering songs in Hard.

I actually don’t feel dorky playing the songs on a plastic guitar instead of my perfectly good real guitars, surprisingly enough, despite owning piles and piles and piles of Beatles guitar tabs. Maybe because a) I cannot play the harder songs anyway and b) the singing is about the same if it’s car-signing or if it is rock band singing.

Best Songs in the Collection: Something and Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band / With a Little Help from My Friends. We haven’t played yet Dig a Pony but it’s one of my favorites. Katie loves to sing Yellow Submarine, but then again, who doesn’t?

Notable Songs Missing: Help! Penny Lane. Your Mother Should Know. I wish Because was on there but it’s a little more obscure. Most of the 1st album of the White Album. However, the albums are all coming out, starting with Abbey Road, then Sgt Peppers, and Rubber Soul.

Entertaining Easter Egg: There’s a special reward for playing the 32-bar guitar solo on While My Guitar Gently Weeps on Expert without missing a note. I joked this was the special Eric Clapton award since the White Album recording is a Clapton solo.

Random Comments: Twist and Shout and Boys are both covers played by the Beatles of other bands.

I will probably make more comments about Maxwell’s Silver Hammer being the stupidest pop song in existence after Abbey Road is downloadable and I can play it. Who writes an ironic happy pop song in a major key about stalking and double murder?

I found musty live 1964 Beatles concert footage on YouTube this morning. For some reason I cannot remember the song but Ringo is just going crazy on those drums. He looks like a mid-70s punk drummer with that stripped down set. It was awesome.

Labor Day Weekend

Quick roundup of some interesting stuff from over the weekend.

Inglorious Basterds: I am an enormous Tarantino fan so my opinion is likely biased and tainted. I enjoyed it greatly. Long conversations punctuated by extreme violence. Interesting bit about the movie: it felt very much like the opening of a novel and the ending of a novel but the middle 800 pages skipped. I want to see the Aldo the Apache mini-series. Also — Col. Hans Landa is the best Nazi villain of all time.

Ceazar’s Restaurant and International Market: Found on HowChow. A very good Iranian restaurant in Elkridge although they were surprised and confused to have customers on a Sunday lunch time during Ramadan. Not quite ready to handle the restaurant side of things although the food was very good. (Eric pointed out that “Meat on a stick is the highest form of food.”) Attached market intriguing; stuff on the shelves we had never heard of and everything is pickled.

OMG SKULLZ: Eric made me an awesome hoodie in skull-print knits. It’s like wearing a comfy goth blanket. It has skulls. OMG SKULLZ! He went from no hoodie in the afternoon to complete hoodie at 2am. It’s amazing hoodie making magic!

Yarn: Wanted to do the Craft-Zine Craft-A-Long but no one hand the required yarn. It will come to me eventually, but had to order it from online. Sad. Lower-end yarn selection at big box stores pretty sucktastic.

Nordstrom: Running an experiment — ordering replacement cosmetics online. I hate going to the cosmetics counter at any Department store. With the stores having low sales, they have gone from aggressively ignoring me and refusing to sell me things to aggressively upselling me. If I can order my stuff online one of my great life’s problems will be solved. (Anyone else truly hate buying cosmetics? I have had a rare few good experiences buying cosmetics at the counter.)

Katie’s Bronchitis: She’s on a nebulizer with albuterol. It’s better than it was on Thursday and Friday but she was still coughing pretty bad last night. She spent the weekend at Grandma and Grandpa’s watching Spongebob. Grandma bought Katie a Halloween Tree with Halloween Ornaments. Because why should Christmas get all the fun? Also, spooky light-up house! My child, the 4 year old goth.

Presidential Faux-rage: Heard a rumor of white cloistered Midwesterners in flyover states having conniptions of fauxrage and keeping children home over black socialist Marxist propagandist message of “study hard” and “listen to your teachers” beamed into schools. Sent Katie to school this morning in adorable uniform anyway.

Imbalance

I generally don’t write about work for a large host of reasons and this is far less a work post than an observation on engineering post.

I sat in a big meeting for 8 hours yesterday with a big collection of the “brain trust” at work — system administrators, network engineers, DBAs, lead engineers, and engineering management. What I noticed after an hour was the population mix:

29 guys.
1 me.

This bothered me enough to mention something — I jokingly commented that I felt like the Waldo in a Where’s Waldo drawing and mentioned were no other women in the meeting at all. “So?” was the response which I am sure meant “that doesn’t mean anything.”

It was weird. We do have one other female engineer but she’s exceedingly junior. There are no women in any other direct engineering roles. (We do have women system analysts.) I stand alone.

It’s still bothering me a little and I’m wondering if I’m just over-analyzing or if this is part of the core of why I feel so off all the time. It definitely says something about the culture of engineering, even in Enlightened Liberal Maryland.