AdventurEnding

The End

Well, dear readers, this is a somewhat bittersweet moment. After two years of maintaining this blog of my life, it’s time to bring it to an end. After all, why should I write a blog entitled “AlabamAdventures” if I’m no longer in Alabama? Of course, I’m sure many of you had already figured out that I wouldn’t be staying in Alabama forever. Once I was certain that I wasn’t sticking around, I didn’t come right out and say it, but I did certainly hint that the day of departure was to come sooner, rather than later.

Many months ago, I wrote a draft of this final post and let it sit for a while so that I could pull it out and use it for this momentous occasion. Unfortunately, most of the post is somewhat obsolete as I’ve updated this blog with the various activities that I’ve been involved in this year. Fortunately, this means that I can’t use the post, which had a very morose tone anyways.  And yet, it still had some things that I think still need to be said.

In case you hadn’t noticed, it’s been kind of a slow year in terms of adventures. I haven’t really had anything noteworthy enough to write about. This is actually somewhat of a good thing, since most of the things I write about are when things in life don’t go as planned (don’t even get me STARTED on airplanes). And yet, in order to keep this blog from getting too stale, I tried to write a post once every month. Not some of my best writing, but when you’re forcing yourself to write just to keep the readers coming back, the result can often be somewhat banal.

From the very beginning, Alabama was a culture shock for me. Having lived in Colorado for most of my life, the changes ended up conflicting with what I had come to regard as normal. Now granted, I am anything but normal, which you may read into in whichever way you would like. However, for the past two years, I’ve felt like I’ve been in a constant state of resistance against the local culture and climate. Let’s just say that I’m glad my apartment had air-conditioning. To keep this a more upbeat post, I’m not going to mention the variety of things that I resisted while in the south.

Now granted, I have made many friends down here, and I’ve been able to connect to a few of my interests, which has made the decision to leave somewhat difficult. When I left Colorado two years ago, pretty much my immediate family were the only ones that were a little sad to see me go. And yet, in two short years, I have been blessed so much with friends at work and church and Bible study that I eventually grew tired of them telling me that I could not leave.

Still, there were times that I felt a bit stifled, and I think the move will definitely help. When I finished my 7 month rotation in Maryland, I felt like I had come out of the wilderness with a greater understanding of how I tick. I was ready to take on the world. And yet, it wasn’t until the end of my two years in Alabama that I actually feel like I’m ready to emerge from the wilderness.

Part of me feels like I need a fresh start. A clean slate. A second chance. My first few years on my own definitely had many learning experiences. Many failures. Many poor decisions. Somehow, parts of Huntsville seem to embody those failures for me. But other parts of Huntsville also hold significance for my successes, so there is a balance. Still, perhaps getting away from the source of those early, formative years of my independent life will be the way I can finally emerge from my shell and let my life truly begin. After all, how often do we get second chances in life?

When it comes down to it, I am really excited for this new chapter in my life. Not only will I probably get to use some of my skills that I’ve spent years refining, be they skills for work or otherwise, but I feel that I will have access to far more opportunities here because this time I will be looking for them. Still, I will keep this blog up as a landmark and a milestone of where I’ve been. I won’t be updating this site anymore. In fact, I’m liable to stop blogging like this altogether. If there’s anything interesting in my life, I’ll probably write a facebook note about it. At the very least, I don’t like beating myself up over not writing anything in this blog just because it’s here. You can’t control your life for entertainment purposes. I appreciate those who have paid attention over the last two years, but I’ve seen the stats for this site, and I know it won’t really be missed. When it comes down to it, I did this blog for myself, and now I have lost interest (it’s more difficult to come up with titles than I had originally thought). The move from Alabama is only a convenient way to call it quits.

However, this doesn’t mean I’ll stop blogging entirely. I just won’t be blogging about my personal life. Work has already begun on a new blog about movies that will be similar to the articles that I used to write for my college newspaper. As such, I can prepare many posts ahead of time in order to provide a steady stream of posts for you, the valued reader.

So, with this new chapter in my life, I’d ask that you pray that I would have courage to step outside my comfort zone, to not be afraid to try, to accept failures gracefully and to appreciate the successes when they happen. There’s nothing much left to say but, “Once more, from the top. And this time, with feeling!”

ReversExodus

Let me just say that even if you’re experienced at moving around, it doesn’t make it any easier. This August has been no exception. Granted, for the last 7 years I’ve been moving into a new residence around August, just like clockwork. However, those last 7 years had to do with school and work. This one was no different.

However, unlike the simple moves from Fort Collins to Golden, or from one apartment to another, the cross-country move is usually difficult, not only logistically, but just in general. With my graduation from the Career Development Program at work, my time in Alabama came to an end. Now, to those who would jump to conclusions, I’m not leaving my job, I’m merely transferring to a position in another state. And as luck would have it, that state is Colorado.

So this August I packed up my things and did the reverse trip of the move I made two years ago to live in Alabama. Of course, having had two years of a steady and healthy income, my worldly possessions weren’t nearly as compact as they were when I moved down there. To make things more complicated, paperwork issues made this a tight move; tighter than was comfortable for me. Everything worked out, but that’s not to say I didn’t stress out about it.

But the stress of moving aside, I tend to stress out about things that I have no control over. I stress because I have no control over them. If I could control them, then I would be certain that everything would work out. And yet, conservative communication from those who hold vital pieces of information doesn’t make anything better. Anyways, enough of my rambling: It’s story time.

A week after I graduated from the Career Development Program, I headed to Colorado Springs to secure an apartment. This alone made the transition to Colorado easier than the one to Alabama, because I knew where I was going to stay before I packed everything up and headed out the door. There’s a lot you can do ahead of time with an address.

In order to actually find an apartment, I made a spreadsheet of about 25 different options, of which 7 I decided to pursue. God blessed me with an almost outrageously obvious choice. Of course, this time when I was looking for apartments, I knew what questions to ask and what to look for, having had to put up with far too much in the past. At any rate, with paperwork signed, I headed back to Alabama to plan the rest of my move.

And this is where it began to get complicated. It seems that the dates that I wanted to move were far too soon to adequately prepare movers to move my stuff. Fortunately, God came through again and I had to make only minor adjustments to my plan. Of course, when situations arise that are off-book, I quickly made adaptations that didn’t really matter in the end. But at least I could quickly change to the circumstances.

So, the week of the move quickly came upon me, but not without its headaches at work. On the Friday before I was to leave, I was handed an outprocessing form from the organization that I started with two years ago. Considering that they should have known months ahead of time that I was not staying with their organization, this last second form to fill out irked me something fierce. What was described as taking “a few hours” ended up taking almost two full days to get signatures. The end result: they took away my work laptop and now I was headed to my new job with a literal clean slate and a blind sense of what to do next.

Now, on top of this paperwork at work, I still hadn’t heard from the people who would physically be touching my stuff. I had no idea who was coming to pack and load my things, and I did not know when they would even show up at my apartment. Fortunately, I had help with this move. While I was at work trying to get initials on a form, I got a call from my mom who was down in Alabama to help me move back. Apparently the packers were at my apartment. I quickly hurried home and directed what needed to be packed and what did not. I told them that I would have liked some warning ahead of time, so they made sure to get my phone number so that they could tell me when they were coming to pick everything up.

The next day they called and said they would be at my apartment between 8am and 9am. That evening I got another call from another phone number saying they’d be at my apartment at 8am to pick up my stuff. I thought this was merely a re-confirmation, but it wasn’t until the next day that I found out that it wouldn’t be that simple.

So, the day of the move my mom and I wake up and begin packing our vehicles with the important things that I need to move personally. As we finish up, a big truck comes by and two guys get out. 7:30. Half an hour early. Nice. When they get in the apartment, they ask if the packers left any paperwork for them. They hadn’t. This meant that the loaders had to inventory my stuff, which took some time, not to mention that they had to unpack what was already in their truck so that my stuff could be loaded onto it.

Similarly, they seemed to be taking their time getting this stuff done, which is not what I wanted when I knew that I would be spending the entire day driving. I have a one bedroom apartment, which should not take 3 hours to load. Of course, that’s not even the worst part of it. At about 9:30, the people who packed my stuff showed up. Considering that they were half an hour late from when they said they’d arrive, I wondered if they were even supposed to load my stuff. It seems that during the “peak season” of moves, which just so happens to coincide with my move, double-booking movers is not uncommon. Doesn’t make sense to me, but whatever.

The fortunate circumstance of having the first movers show up early was that they were actually going to move my stuff to my apartment in Colorado. Of course, this was after learning that they were told that it was going into storage in Colorado. I don’t know where they got that idea, since I’ve been telling the people in charge of my move that it was an apartment-to-apartment move. This is why it was fortunate that the packers showed up late: they were going to take my stuff and put it in storage in Alabama, which would have just made its transit even less expeditious.

At any rate, once we made it clear that they were taking far too long in moving my stuff out of my apartment, since I still needed to vacuum and turn in the keys at the front office, two more people magically appeared and the work was quickly done. I guess the lesson here is to make sure that you make it clear how pressed for time you really are.

With the brunt of things that are out of my control on a move out of the way, we hopped in the cars and drove out to Colorado. We couldn’t have asked for better driving weather or driving conditions in general. Since this post is getting a little long, I’ll merely close by saying that this decision to move back to Colorado was made many months ago, but I did not want to tell anyone about it until I had the paperwork that would get me back home in hand. I would hate to say, “I’m leaving in July,” only to leave a month later. Of course, as with any big life decision, this move has its pros and its cons. It’s just that the pros far outweighed the cons. Let’s just say, I’m glad to be back in my home state: it’s where I feel I belong.

View from the Apartment

And now that I just need to wait for my stuff to arrive, I’m enjoying the right choice in apartments. Not only is it literal walking distance from lots of shopping, but it’s so close to major roads that I can get anywhere in town quickly. And with lots of natural light, two-story vaulted ceilings, and a digital thermostat, what’s not to love? Of course, so far there have been no noise complaints on my part, and I think it may just stay that way. Besides, with a view from my porch that allows me to see almost all of Colorado Springs, how can I lose?

CreativEndeavorSequel

Now that you all know what has been filling my Saturday mornings this year, I’d like to cover two other projects I’ve been working on. Both of these were on my list of resolutions for this year, and I have to admit that I’ve only been focusing on one of them at the moment. Still, the year is still young and I will have plenty of time to fulfill what I have set out to do this year. So, let’s start with where I’m lacking: YouTube videos.

YouTube

As many of you may already be aware, in 2007 I started a YouTube channel underneath my internet moniker of RonfarZ3. This was a very successful channel that had garnered over one million combined views, with the crowning achievement of the profile being my lip-sync to Tom Lehrer’s song “New Math”. This video alone garnered my channel over 500,000 views, at least half of the combined views of my 50+ videos.

While many of the videos on the original channel were Anime Music Videos (or AMVs for short), which are still available at AnimeMusicVideos.org, the remainder were lip-syncs to a variety of songs that I enjoy and want to share with the world. Finally, this channel exhibited some of my original works, including a short film entitled “drip”, a terrible assault on the English language entitled “Psychological PUNishment”, and the final project for my Film Studies course, “Action-OVERreaction”.

After two re-boots of the channel, first as TheRonfarZ3 and finally as lipsynchORswim, I was sad to have lost the legacy of views, but glad that I could still keep some of the videos around. While the current channel has been reduced to my lip-syncs and original videos (one of which was essentially a clip show of my first 50 AMVs), I had not made a new video since 2008. Part of the reason for this hiatus was that life kind of got in the way of making videos. Another reason was that as YouTube began to grow, I felt that I needed an equipment upgrade.

One perk of staying in Maryland for 7 months on a rotation for work was that I was able to use my hotel points to purchase a HD camcorder at no cost to myself. This key equipment upgrade was the main reason for my self-induced hiatus, and now that I finally had it, I could start making videos again. Since I did not add any new videos underneath the TheRonfarZ3 reboot, I felt like I needed an introduction. My first video of the year was just that: an announcement that I had come out of my hiatus and would be making videos again.

By February I had added another video to my channel, this time as my first lip-sync to a non-musical audio clip. Then the new videos kind of just stopped. Once again, life intervened and I no longer had the free time that I once had in college to create these videos. Another reason that I stopped was that I was trying to figure out what videos to do next. A 3-year hiatus had built up a bunch of things I wanted to do, but couldn’t figure out the gimmick to present them with. One thing that I wanted to do with my lip-syncs was to have some sort of visual gimmick on the screen so that it wasn’t just me on video singing along. These gimmicks have ranged from lyrics appearing on screen, to lighting, to kind of a “dueling banjos” arrangement.

Now that I have some gimmicks worked out for the next few videos, I just need the motivation to record and edit them. Right now that will have to wait because of a very exciting opportunity that has presented itself: being a published author.

First Name Basis [BUY HERE!]

Front Cover

Regular readers of this blog will remember that last November I participated in National Novel Writing Month and was able to crank out 54,000 words of a first draft for a novel. Once I took a few extra weeks to wrap up the plot, I arrived at a complete first draft of about 66,000 words, covering 113 pages. I then sent this completed draft to some of my friends to read through and critique. My plan was to edit the novel based on the comments I received from some unbiased sources (I thought it was great, but would others?)

Now, my plan was to edit the novel in March, but due to some delays on multiple fronts (the least of which was my procrastination), I didn’t really get started on editing until mid-April. I already knew that since I had hastily written the novel in November that there would be plenty that I needed to change. Granted, after 9 months of preparation, I knew that the plot didn’t need much restructuring, which made editing an easier endeavor. And yet, there was much to be done. Plenty of details to add to the skeleton of characters and settings. Plenty of continuity errors that I needed to fix. Plenty of adjustments to the awkward beginning and rushed ending.

One would wonder why I’d go through all the trouble to fix something that most people would probably never see. Well, one of the perks of being a NaNoWriMo winner is that you can receive a free proof copy of your novel from CreateSpace. I thought that this was a great way to get my literary debut in print, if for nothing more than a conversation piece on my bookshelf. Now, having written the first draft, and not being quite pleased with it, I wanted the finished product that I sent to the printers to be something I could truly be proud of.

Taking most of the comments I received into account, along with my perspective after having not read the draft in four months, I crafted the novel through at least three revisions before I got on CreateSpace to set up my proof copy. Little did I know that I now had a few more hurdles to jump over before I could get my free copy. Luckily, the whole editing process had a deadline of the end of June, which was when my free proof deal would expire, so I was motivated to work on the final minutiae. Fortunately, these final steps proved to be the most fun.

When you read a novel, all you ever really think about is the words on the page, but there’s more that goes into it than that. Formatting was a huge part of my task ahead, and I was fortunate that CreateSpace had some handy templates that I could use. After all, you rarely see a book printed that’s 8.5” X 11”, so some adjustments obviously need to be made. Secondly, I had to create a cover for my work. Again, I was fortunate that CreateSpace has a cover creator section on their website. I used this application to make a cover that I felt conveyed the feel and ideas of the novel as a whole. However, these tasks weren’t the most exciting part that I was discovering.

Since CreateSpace is used to somewhat independently produce and distribute original material, once I received the proof copy of my novel, I could make it available for purchase. This means I’d get royalties for my work. I’d be a professional novelist. Granted, the rates that I’d get for each copy sold are not driving me to quit my day job, but a little bit extra spending cash never hurt anyone either. When I got my proof copy, I read through it and made some much needed final edits, mainly in formatting and some tragic grammatical errors that slipped through in the previous edits.

So what does this mean to you, dear reader? This means that after 17 months from the inception of the idea for First Name Basis, you can finally buy my very first novel. I won’t say much more on this, since this advertisement video explains why you should buy this book a lot better than I can in this blog.

But this isn’t even the best part. Since I spent 9 months planning out the first novel, I have plenty of material left over, not to mention a huge back-story that I can explore. With the world and its set of rules already in place, I’m well on my way toward planning the sequel, Second to None, which I will write this November for National Novel Writing Month. I know that I was initially leery of writing a novel this year, but the ideas and the structure are flowing so quickly that I need to write it this year, lest I forget all of this inspiration. As a result, I should hope to have my second novel published by this time next year.

I feel that self-publishing is definitely the way to go for me right now, since I know that I really like my story, but I’m unsure if major publishers would like it as much as I do. Besides, if the book is truly one of universal appeal, it will spread virally: friends telling their friends and so on. Right now the book is only available through this site, but when I’ve made enough in royalties to cover some of the costs, I will make the book available as an eBook as well.

So yeah, with directing Human Videos, making YouTube videos, publishing a novel, continuing to teach myself how to play the piano and continuing my culinary exploits, my creative life is certainly diverse and exciting. After all, all work and no play . . .

CreativEndeavors

I’d like to expound briefly on a few creative projects that I’ve been working on this year that some of you may be unaware of. Since we’re about half-way through the year, a few words on these projects might not be amiss. After all, a few of these projects were on my list of resolutions for this year, and an update wouldn’t hurt. So without further ado, let’s start with the one project that wasn’t on the resolution list: X-PRODUCT.

Pronounced “Cross Product”, this is the Junior Human Video team that I have been directing since February. For those who are unfamiliar with Human Video, it is essentially an interpretive dance that conveys the lyrics and message of a song to the audience. Don’t worry; I didn’t know what it was either until December of last year. In fact, let’s start at the beginning of this story.

Once word had gotten around my church that I had been in various theatre productions in college, I suddenly became the expert on these matters. Now, granted, I only ever performed on the stage for these productions, and had little to do with the behind-the-scenes work. And yet, I realize that most people don’t really distinguish between the two. At any rate, the music director at my church approached me about starting a human video group for some of the kids of the church to get them exposed to the world of human video. Having done various acting roles since I was in 4th grade, I thought this was an excellent idea and agreed to help. Of course, I thought I would be helping someone who actually knew what they were doing. Who actually knew what human video was. Who had actually done human video. Ha ha ha, silly ol’ me.

It quickly became apparent that I would be running the entirety of the group. This was a little daunting to me on a few levels. First of all, my one weakness in the theatre is choreography. Every time I did a musical in college, it would take me forever to finally get the choreography for a song down, and even then I was never quite perfect. Now I was to coach a group of 9 to 12 year olds on choreography? God has got a sick sense of humor. Secondly, since I was under the impression that I would be assisting someone else, I wasn’t really comfortable running things. Like I said, I hadn’t even heard of human video until the music director approached me. Finally, I’ve had a little bit of experience in dealing with children through my work as an adult leader in the Boy Scouts, but I was more of a resource and chaperone instead of someone who actually ran anything. So, as you can see, things quickly got out of hand.

Still, I decided that since I had said that I would do it, I would stick through and finish. Our first production needed to be done on Easter Sunday, so I gave myself plenty of time to get the crew into shape, considering that I was new to human video and they were new to human video as well. Of course, you can’t start a group without a good name, so I began to think of what we would call ourselves. Most of the names I had seen for groups were clever and reminded me of the naming convention of Homer’s Barbershop Quartet from The Simpsons: It should be witty initially, but should become less funny each time you hear it. That’s when the name “Cross Product” came to me. I thought it was clever on a few levels (we’re all a product of the cross, we’re doing this production for the cross, etc. etc. etc.) and it gave me an opportunity to be an absolute nerd. With name in hand, we started rehearsals.

To be honest, by the first rehearsal, I had no idea what I was going to do. I knew that they would be performing the song “End of the Beginning”; but past that, I really had no idea what I was doing (as previously hinted to). I managed to work my way through the first rehearsal, getting a gauge of the talent of the ten children I’d be working with and introducing them to the idea of human videos. I ran this first rehearsal absolutely alone, which I wasn’t really comfortable with on a variety of levels, the least of which was trying to control ten 9 to 12 year olds who are not my direct offspring. Needless to say, I was frazzled and readily welcomed the assistance of one of the parents for the remainder of the rehearsals. As a director, I can’t keep the kids in check and teach them choreography at the same time, so the addition of a disciplinarian definitely helped.

With the introductions out of the way, I had to think of a plan if I wanted this to be a success. I had seen a few different versions on YouTube of the song we were doing, but none of them really possessed all that I wanted to show. It was at this point that I decided to make an entirely original arrangement. Now, trying to teach one kid choreography is one thing, but ten kids simultaneously and in concert with each other is something completely different. So, as I usually do, I fell back on my engineering background. Taking the lyrics a line at a time, I created a spreadsheet that detailed the entirety of the motions of each participant. All said and done, this spreadsheet took up six 8.5” X 11” sheets of paper. Intimidating when you look at it, but it definitely helped me to visualize where everyone was at every part of the song, like little chess pieces that I could move around and control at my will. Part of the reason I made what was dubbed “The Epic Spreadsheet” was so that I could coordinate all the moving pieces, but the more important reason was so that the children would have a script of what they would be doing.

If I learned anything from doing theatre in college, it’s that rehearsals are only productive when everyone is present and everyone knows what to say and do. Juggling the schedules of ten different kids is challenge enough without also having to make sure that my rehearsals didn’t conflict with something else at the church. As such, I figured that if some of the kids missed a rehearsal or two, then they could use the spreadsheet to practice at home. Ideally, this is how it should work even when they do come to rehearsals. As we neared the end of the eight weeks that I had given myself to teach these kids this particular human video, I was nervous because some of the kids had been missing for the majority of the rehearsals. A clock can only work if all its pieces are present and know what to do, if you know what I mean.

The Saturday before Easter Sunday was our dress rehearsal and at that point each of the ten kids had been to at least two rehearsals. I was justifiably nervous. Now, another aspect that I haven’t made clear here was that I would not be out in the audience directing the kids with hand motions. I would be in the choir singing the song that they would be performing. As such, I needed to make sure that the kids could do the choreography without me coaching from the shadows. My perfectionist nature definitely pushed them to execute flawlessly, which I had not seen up to that point. I kept telling myself that it was “passable, but not perfect.”

The next day it was out of my hands. I had done all that I could to teach these kids this human video. From tips about stage presence, the fourth wall of the audience, keeping in character and the “quarter rule” to the actual motions themselves, I had spent the equivalent of two full working days with these kids preparing them for this one-time performance. And, of course, as is the case with every performance, they pulled it off flawlessly. I really wish I had been able to see it like that before they got up there and did it for the whole congregation, but that is the nature of the beast that we call theatre.

Now, during the eight weeks, I learned that there were some in the congregation who had actually had training in human video. Reasonably, I am still questioning why they were not used to direct this group, instead of the choice of a complete neophyte. And yet, after bonding with these kids for eight weeks, I wasn’t going to let this group fade away. We put in too much work to just end it. Now the initial learning curve was out of the way and we could quickly pull together another human video. After a few weeks of a well deserved break, we got back to work on our next production. This time I have an assistant director, a choice that should become apparent to a lot of people in the near future.

Even though the project wasn’t quite what I had anticipated, I stuck to it and have definitely reaped some immediate rewards, along with those that will be waiting in heaven. Sure, there are some things that I would like to change (more parental involvement/commitment would be nice as a start), but I’ll just keep plugging along doing what I can.

Well, this post got kind of long, so I’ll save the next two creative endeavors for next time. See you then!

PowerlesSituation

“We’re sorry for the inconvenience”

-          God’s last message to His creation

Let’s just say: be careful what you wish for. Those familiar with this blog know that it’s been kind of boring around here. Not many adventures. Not much drive to create adventures. In order to keep my modicum of at least 1 post a month, I was going to write about something else, which I will probably do later. As it stands, I have missed a month. Here’s why.

Wednesday is as good a day as any to start. Woke up to tornado sirens, like I have done occasionally for the past few months. I never really give them much sway, since I generally never encounter anything “tornado worthy” when they go off. They had kind of become the “boy who cried wolf” to me. Of course, Wednesday would be different. Wednesday they just wouldn’t shut up. Wednesday proved that they were correct.

I had training on Wednesday, so I merely went along with the normal day’s activities. Still no obvious weather anomalies. Not until lunch did I see what the sirens were talking about. It got very dark outside. Very windy. Very rainy. It was around this time that I took a trip to the bathroom, where the lights were starting to flicker from power fluctuations. Mind you, I didn’t go there to seek shelter, I just went to use the bathroom. I guess what’s interesting about this phenomenon was that the first thing that I thought of was those slasher/horror/zombie movies where the lights are flickering in the bathroom. We did actually lose power for one second before going back to class. After class, we all went home.

The sirens were still pretty much non-stop out there, but I managed to keep comfortable in my apartment. I made a facebook status update which was the following: “Make sure to stay away from PCs in this severe weather. Mac users should be fine, but you don’t want to be near Windows during a tornado.” The irony of which was that while I was in front of my PC, the power went completely out. Amidst the whirring down of the various appliances and electronics, intermixed with the sound of sirens outside, I could hear something that I hadn’t heard in a while: silence.

Last time I lost power in my apartment, it came back up about mid-way through the night. Last time my building was eventually the only one without power, so it was a bit of an anomaly. This time it didn’t come back on. As was the case last time, I found my headlamp flashlight and used it for the rest of the evening. Similarly, I set my cell phone and iPod alarms to go off in case power didn’t come back on before I went to work the next day. Which brings us to . . .

Thursday. My cell phone alarm woke me up, so I got up and got ready. I figured I would go in to work a little early and see if I could utilize the power there, since I still thought that only my area had been affected. As I drove, I realized that this was bigger than I had thought. All the traffic lights were off, the electronic billboards were black, buildings were dark inside. I began to realize that even though I didn’t see any immediate damage, those sirens on Wednesday might have been on to something. When I pulled into the parking lot at work and found that no one was there, I ejected the CD from the CD player and began searching the radio stations for any news. The first words out of my radio informed me that work was closed for the day. The next day I listened to the radio, but didn’t hear anything about work being closed until I got off the interstate. Then it was merely a turn-around and I was back home again for an unexpected 4+ day weekend.

I suppose that despite everything, there are some fortunate factors to this whole situation. First of all, the weather was nice, if not a bit cool, so that even without power, it was comfortable. I would not have wanted to have no power during the snowstorms earlier this year. That is certainly true. The second fortunate factor (at least to my situation) was that I had plenty to do that didn’t involve electricity. Granted, this wasn’t quite how I wanted to catch up on my reading goal for this year, but I certainly took advantage of it. In the 100 hours of no power, I ended up reading 10 books at a grand total of approximately 2100 pages. I figured, “what else is there to do?” At the very least, I didn’t want to get in the way out there, so staying home reading was the best solution.

Of course, I didn’t realize that it would end up being 100 hours. With no electricity, and limited information resources, I had no idea how long it would be until power returned. I figured a day at most. In fact, I was a little surprised that I managed to get two hot showers out of my water before I had to man up and do it cold. However, when the hours kept ticking on by, I started to worry about a few things. The foremost of which was food. I knew that since I was relatively sedentary I wouldn’t need much in terms of nourishment, and yet I didn’t want to be uncomfortably hungry. I pulled out what dried and non-refrigerated goods I had and snacked on them for meals. I know it may sound a little bit sacrilegious (especially when you say it quickly), but Cheeze-its was my savior. I just didn’t know how much longer I could make it last.

Food wasn’t my main problem anyways. The main issue I had was with communication. As Murphy clearly points out, “If it might go wrong, it will.” A few things stacked up that prevented me from contacting anyone until about the 90th hour of being without power. First was my cell phone battery. When I realized that I might be in this for the long haul, I turned my cell phone off, because it was very low on battery power. This was probably due to the fact that it was searching for a signal that wasn’t being sent out by the cell towers. No power to those, so it figures. I occasionally turned the cell phone back on to see if I could get any reception. When I finally did, I was informed that I had no more minutes. Great.

It comes to light that you don’t realize how unprepared you are for an emergency until it actually happens. There are a few things that I know I might want to get (or at least have at home) for if this happens again. First of all would be a battery powered radio. I have a Sansa mp3 player that has a radio capability, but that was not at home. Secondly, a land-line. I know it’s a little weird, since cell phones are usually what’s used in emergencies, but it seemed like the land-lines were working, and that way I could have told my parents (and work) that I was OK. Even though the flashlight and the decorative LED ice cube (see picture) were good for lighting at night, some candles (or at least more LED lights) would definitely be useful. I should have figured that one out the first time I lost power, but whatever. And, of course, a car charger for my cell phone would probably not be amiss.

Now that’s not to say that I wasn’t resourceful. After about two days of eating nothing but snack food (which I hadn’t done since a few years back when I was climbing 14ers), I was really craving some proteins. Fortunately, I was able to rescue some leftovers from my refrigerator, so I knew I had some pre-made meals to eat for a few days. The question was how to cook them. That’s when I realized that my car made a perfect solar oven. Around noon, I’d go down to the parking lot, toss in a Tupperware container of leftovers and wait 5 hours for it to warm. In fact, my car probably did a better job than my microwave would have done.

And yet, I found that with no power I noticed a few things that are sometimes drowned out by the hum of every-day life. First was the darkness. When the sun set, it got DARK. Now, I had known this fact from years of camping, but experiencing it in my apartment was something a little different. I’d stare up at the ceiling and I couldn’t tell if my eyes were open or not. I was definitely glad that my watch had glow-in-the-dark hands. Of course, I did take advantage of the darkness on two of the evenings. I hadn’t spent any time looking at the stars in a long while, so I figured that now was as good a time as any. With most of the light pollution gone, including most of the moon, I saw more stars than I ever had while down in Alabama. Granted, due to the increased atmosphere it wasn’t nearly as many stars as I would see at say, Cameron Pass, but it was still an awe-inspiring vista. One of the evenings I went out and lay on the hood of my car to keep my neck from getting sore while I stared up at the heavens. I don’t know why people would ever do this. It’s uncomfortable and probably not good for the car.

Secondly, there is the silence. Or the lack there of. At night it was quiet, with the exception of all the crickets and tree frogs. During the day, it’s the constant stream of cars playing rap music way too vulgar and loud and people walking by speaking way too vulgar and loud. I have come to the conclusion that these two things are probably highly interconnected. At the very least, in the respites of noise, I did manage to focus a lot on my reading, as I have mentioned before.

Lastly: old habits die hard. I don’t know how many times I would go into a room and flip a switch, only to have nothing happen. This kind of goes with the realization when there’s no power; you tend to notice how many power lines there are. None of them were down, but they do become a lot more conspicuous when you realize what they’re there for.

Now even though I was not harmed, and my property was not damaged, and I had a very calm attitude about everything (after all, “Don’t Panic” is excellent advice), I do not want it to seem like I am glib to this whole situation. Merely ignorant. This was a very serious natural disaster and I was lucky to be unscathed in more ways than one. My heart goes out to those that lost everything, and I know that the countless volunteers that are donating their time and effort will have their reward in heaven.

As I lay on my bed trying to get to sleep on Sunday night, I reflected on all that’s happened in my life up until now and how I have truly been blessed. But that’s a post for another time. Around 11:30, the power came on, and I went to check and see if everything was working. After turning off my closet light, which I had inadvertently turned on while the power was off, I logged on, plugged in and resumed my consumption. Having had 100 hours of a forced unplugging, I know to appreciate the little things in life, to pull away from the pace of the world once in a while and truly relax. Maybe that’s all it takes sometimes. Go back to the closet. Find the breaker box. Flip the switch.

Click.

PlaylisTinkering

When I bought my first car about two years ago, I was excited to finally have a car to myself. I really have no complaints about it, with the exception of one thing: the CD player. If I had gotten a car that was older or newer, I would have gotten a tape deck or an additional auxiliary input, respectively. As it is, I cannot just plug my mp3 player into the car stereo and listen to my music. I’m too cheap and lazy to upgrade the CD player, and I’ve found the local radio stations to be banal at best. As a result, I’ve burned a bunch of CDs to play in my car. In doing so, I’ve come across something interesting.

Of course, when burning CD-Rs, I am one of those people who will get as close to that 80 minute cut-off mark as they can. I feel that anything short of that is just wasted space. When I started burning discs for my car, I would find artists that either had an album and an EP, or two shorter albums and I would put one right after the other on one disc. I was surprised at how many discs ended up being the entire discography of a band on one 80 minute CD-R. This worked for quite a few of my favorite bands and I was able to quickly fill my car with music from a variety of musicians.

As I continued, there were a few artists that didn’t quite fit into the 80 minute limit. This is where some judgment came into play. I’d try and keep as much of the albums as I could on the CD, only omitting one or two songs that pushed the total time over the edge. These were usually songs that I didn’t particularly care for anyways, so there was no real loss.

Then came the challenge of artists that I enjoy, but have far too much material to easily filter down to a set that would fit within the boundaries. At first, I would do the same filtering process as before, but this time I would be looking for the songs that I really enjoyed, instead of merely removing the songs that I didn’t care for. I burned a few of these, but I was not very creative in the ordering of the songs. I chose an alphabetical order, mainly for convenience, but also because I figured I would listen to these discs on a shuffling, or random, mode.

As I’m sure my brother already knows, with the two compilations of music from Colorado musicians he’s already made, creating the perfect mix-tape is more of an art than merely choosing what music you want to listen to. I now have an appreciation for this art as well. For example’s sake, let’s take a hypothetical CD I would burn for a CD player alarm clock (of which I do not actually own):

1. “Morgenstimmung (Morning Mood)” by Edvard Grieg from Peer Gynt Suite No. 1, Op. 46
2.  “Here Comes the Sun” by The Beatles from Abbey Road
3. “Good Morning Good Morning” by The Beatles from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band
4.  “Good Day Sunshine” by The Beatles from Revolver
5.  “Good Morning Starshine” by Strawberry Alarm Clock from Incense and Peppermints
6.  “Blue Morning, Blue Day” by Foreigner from Complete Greatest Hits
7.  “Alarm Clock” by The W’s from Fourth From the Last
8.  “Woke Up This Morning” by A3 from The Sopranos
9.  “Pachuca Sunrise” by Minus the Bear from Menos el Oso
10. “Sunday Sun” by The Cinematics from A Strange Education
11. “A Day in the Life” by The Beatles from Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely hearts Club Band

For this example, I followed the concept of free association. That is, expanding a subject by including the first words and phrases that pop into your head. In doing so, I have expanded my initial idea of “alarm clock” to include “morning/good morning”, “sun/sunshine/sunrise”, and “day”. Strangely enough, a lot of these tracks are songs by The Beatles, of which I have absolutely no qualms. Still, this is only one aspect of creating a mix. This isn’t really any different than what I was doing with the musicians that I had too much material from. This next example goes into the flow of a mix:

1.    Theme from New York, New York
2.    My Kind of Town
3.    South of the Border
4.    Fly Me to the Moon
5.    All or Nothing at All
6.    Nice ‘N’ Easy
7.    The Best is Yet to Come
8.    I’ve Got the World on a String
9.    You Make Me Feel so Young
10.  I Get a Kick Out of You
11.  I’ve Got You Under My Skin
12.  Luck Be a Lady
13.  The Lady is a Tramp
14.  Love and Marriage
15.  (Love Is) The Tender Trap
16.  Witchcraft
17.  Learnin’ the Blues
18.  Night and Day
19.  The Way You Look Tonight
20.  Strangers in the Night
21.  In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning
22.  It Was a Very Good Year
23.  The Last Dance
24.  My Way

This example was created by selecting the songs by Frank Sinatra that I liked. Once I had the total time underneath the 80 minute threshold, I started moving tracks around. Most songs on this list fall into pretty clear-cut categories, so I tried to group the songs together based on their subject matter. Once that was accomplished, I would move whole chunks of songs around to get the desired flow. Right off the bat, I wanted the songs revolving around the night to finish off the mix, so I set those at the end. From there, I wanted to start the mix with the songs about various locales, thus cementing the start of the mix. In between there were the “women songs”, which were further split up to sub-categories. The main point with this mix was to get a good flow from one song to another based not only on lyrical content, but on tempo as well. Of course, with a lot of the songs having the “big band” sound, it was fairly easy to have a natural progression between them. Finally, this last example uses the ideas from the Sinatra mix and applies them to a variety of artists like the Morning mix did:

1.   “White Lines and Lipstick” by A Change of Pace from Prepare the Masses
2.   “Squeaking Wheels and White Lights” by This Providence from Who Are You Now?
3.   “Armistice” by MUTEMATH from Armistice
4.   “Is This Tomorrow?” by As Tall as Lions from You Can’t Take it With You
5.   “Little Kids” by Kings of Convenience from Quiet is the New Loud
6.   “Eleanor Put Your Boots On” by Franz Ferdinand from You Could Have it So Much Better
7.   “Words & Music” by Sondre Lerche from Heartbeat Radio
8.   “Boring Fountain” by Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin from Pershing
9.   “Saturday Night” by Blitzen Trapper from Furr
10. “Junkie Weight” by Gooding from Tiny Heart Attacks
11. “Devil” by Cat-a-Tac from Cat-a-Tac
12. “Calling on You” by Paulson from All at Once
13. “Pachuca Sunrise” by Minus the Bear from Menos el Oso
14. “Keep Forgetting” by The Cinematics from A Strange Education
15. “This is Not the End” by The Bravery from The Sun and the Moon
16. “The Name of the Train is the Hurricane” by Men, Women & Children from Men, Women & Children
17. “Too Too Too Fast” by Ra Ra Riot from The Rhumb Line
18. “M79” by Vampire Weekend from Vampire Weekend
19. “Itch U Can’t Skratch” by Junior Senior from Hey Hey My My Yo Yo
20. “Sublime” by Supreme Beings of Leisure from Supreme Beings of Leisure
21. “The Rot” by Ian Cooke from The Fall I Fell
22. “Wake” by Annuals from Such Fun

The idea behind this last mix was to introduce someone to the variety of bands that I like. Even though I might be labeled a hipster for the lack of mainstream music on this mix, I do feel that it is a gateway for people to discover some pretty great musicians that they might not have known about otherwise. As such, I spent a very large amount of time picking out the tracks for this mix. There was a lot of back and forth to try and get it just right, and now I believe I have arrived at something that I will enjoy listening to.

One aspect that I found helps with mixes like this is the way that songs begin and end. Getting a good flow of tempos is good, and even progressing through different musical styles lends itself well to a good mix, but what really gets songs stuck together is if one starts in the same way that the previous one ended. For instance, if there is a fade out on the last song, then if the next song started with a fade in, it just naturally fits together.

What I’ve found through making these mixes, is that the truly good mixes make it so that when you listen to the songs away from the compilation, the next song from the mix automatically will come to mind when the song is done playing. I am by no means an expert on this subject, but these have been my thoughts on creating a good mix. Consider this post to be tips from a music enthusiast, and nothing more than that.

AstronauTraining

Reading up before the big mission

Many children have ambitious dreams for the careers that they would eventually like to have. Some examples of said professions are doctor, fireman, and athlete. Of course, there is inevitably one other profession that most kids want to be when they grow up. Astronaut. Unfortunately, not only do the astronauts of this world come in short supply, but their job is a difficult test of endurance, both physically and mentally.

And yet, many still persist in these lofty dreams. That’s where space camp comes in. Space camp is a good way to give kids a chance to experience a small part of what being an astronaut is like. I never got the chance to go when I was a child, and I’m completely fine with that. However, when opportunity knocks, I’m certainly going to answer the door.

In the final days of January, I participated in (what essentially boiled down to) space camp for adults. As part of a teambuilding and leadership training, I was able to use my position at the Missile Defense Agency as a part of its Career Development Program to go to space camp. This broke down into two days. Day 1 was a ropes course and day 2 was the astronaut training.

Over the years, I’ve had the chance to participate in many ropes courses. As such, I’ve been able to figure out some of the “tricks” of the teambuilding that takes place. Let’s just say experience breeds confidence. Of course, the first task was to break the large group into smaller groups. Standard icebreaker involving pictures taped to backs. All said and done, I ended up in team Charlie. Even though the other teams were Alpha and Bravo, I couldn’t help talking about going to Candy Mountain, the Leopluradon, and the fact that we were on a bridge.

The first activity of the day was the climbing wall. Again: standard stuff. And yet, there was a twist that I hadn’t encountered before. While you were climbing the wall, two others were climbing with you. Not only that, but all three climbers were loosely tethered to each other. The goal was to get to the top of the wall while keeping the tethers intact. Of the sets of three that attempted the wall, mine was the only one of our small group to make it to the top as a complete team. High fives and other congratulatory actions were well due indeed. Oh, did I mention that it was 40° outside? Yeah, it was cold. Yet another factor that made the day an adventure.

Next up was what I would call “Lumberjack Ninja”. The goal was to use metal pegs to climb to the top of a 40 foot pole and jump off. Easy enough, except heights can sometimes be an issue for me. Fortunately, the prior experience with ropes courses had ingrained in my brain the safety of the rope system, which definitely helped on the last few steps to the top of the pole. Once on top, I made a ninja pose, which really felt appropriate, considering where I was standing. Turning around (which is a difficult task when the pole sways with your movement), I leapt off the pole and fist-bumped the rope I was supposed to hit. I think the “rope hitting” part of the challenge was to make sure that you were far enough away from the pole so that you could be lowered safely. Of course, I took advantage of the situation to practice my best “Peter Pan” poses while I was lowered back down to the safety of the ground.

The last event of the day was the low ropes course. Nothing particularly special here, but it did enforce communication skills. With day 1 in the bag, I was looking forward to day 2. The end of day 1 consisted of a guided tour of the rest of the Space and Rocket Center, which was nice considering the last time I had been there, the guiding was left to the individual. Part of the reason I really liked this training, apart from the astronaut simulations, was the fact that we had many different teams that we had to work with. There’s no better way to become acquainted with your coworkers, than with a harmless assignment like a shuttle mission.

To start the second day off, our teams had to design our mission patches. I was a part of the space shuttle Atlantis, so of course I had the perfect slogan up my sleeve. “Let’s Get Kraken!” was proudly emblazoned at the top of our patch, which is only appropriate, considering the name of our shuttle. Once again, I found that my improvisational skills came in handy when we had to present our patch design in a clever manner. We decided upon the “evening news” method, and I was the head anchor to provide the explanation.

After an initial run-through of the mission on both flight control and shuttle sides, we made our way to what I would call the “simulation room”. This was a hangar-like building that housed a lot of equipment to simulate different conditions that astronauts might encounter. The first simulation I did was the “moon walk”, where springs reduced your “weight” to give the sensation of walking on the moon. A lot more difficult than it looks, mainly because a lot of the force that goes into walking isn’t put into going forward, but (apparently) into going up. The next simulation was meant to simulate microgravity, and it was pretty neat, considering I was essentially sitting in a mini-hovercraft. Newton’s laws definitely become apparent when there’s no friction to hold you back. Lastly, I went on the gyroscopic tumble simulator. This is the one that spins you around in every direction. Afterwards, I was reminded that I do actually get seasick, and that I probably wouldn’t make a good astronaut if this was part of the standard training. Well, that and the fact that I’m 6’1”.

By far the best part of the last day was the actual mission. Not only did we have blue flight suits (which I ended up buying), but we had tasks that were performed in a simulated shuttle environment. I was fortunate enough to be one of the Mission Specialists for the mission, which meant that I would be doing a spacewalk to assemble a structure for a satellite. This mission was replete with all the gear that would give the full experience. This included headsets, the bubble helmet, and various other accoutrement needed for a simulated spacewalk.

My only issue with the spacewalk has to do with the microgravity simulator. In order to give the feeling that you’re not being pulled down by gravity, you have to counter that force with a counterweight. Unfortunately, the compensation is perhaps a little more than the gravity pulling me to earth. Sitting in the chair for the spacewalk felt like being continually kicked in the crotch, because it kept pulling me up, when I wanted to just stay put. Of course, I can understand that there are certain limitations of trying to simulate a minimal gravity environment, but I kept fighting it instead of the alternative, which was to lose control. Add on top of everything trying to build a structure out of nodes and rods that were a little bit too big to really fit together properly, I definitely had my workout for the day.

Another observation I made about the mission in general was the critical thinking experience that many of us had. We were all college graduates, and many of us had engineering backgrounds, so the mission certainly did seem to go smoothly. There are a lot of checklists to work through, anomalies to solve, and switches to flip, and it was interesting to see how we were so well adept to these tasks already. Plus, I think most of us were old enough to really enjoy it.

The training concluded with a speech by retired astronaut Robert C. Springer. All said and done, it was an excellent 2 days and I wouldn’t trade them for anything else. Heck, I’d do it again. So in conclusion: yes. I have been to space camp. I just had to wait until I was 25.

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