The Tumtum Tree

"So rested he by the Tumtum tree, and stood awhile in thought."

Revisiting 2010 goals for 2011
evil twin
Let's take a quick look at the goals I set for myself at the beginning of last year and then review how I did with them:

  1. do at least 20 push-ups and 20 sit-ups every day in January and increase this every month
  2. decrease my body fat through exercise and diet, specifically reducing my dairy and processed sugar intake
  3. keep work and home better separated by developing a daily routine and installing the pocket doors to close off my office
  4. get my entire music library digitized and backed up
  5. finally get around to reading Hofstadter's "Godel, Escher, Bach," Peake's Gormenghast trilogy, Mann's "Magic Mountain," Pynchon's "Gravity's Rainbow," and Burgess' "A Clockwork Orange"
  6. write at least 1000 words of fiction every month
  7. begin having monthly Game Nights (board games) by March
  8. practice/play my bass at least once a week
  9. log at least 500 miles of running (that's less than 10 miles per week average)
  10. take the girls to Disney World

#1 I did pretty well with, although I didn't stick to it completely. I can now do 100 sit-ups in a single set. I can do about 30-40 push-ups, which is well below my target of 100, but is an improvement over the 10-15 I could do at this time last year. I will probably continue with a goal of 100 sit-ups as often as possible and try to increase my push-ups to the 100 range.

#2 I was extremely successful with. I dropped 50 lbs (from 215 to 165) and significantly reduced my body fat. I ate much better until around Halloween, after which my fruit and vegetable intake has dropped off dramatically, accompanied by a dramatic increase in sugars and starches. I'm still holding right around 170 despite this, so I hope to right the ship now that the holidays have passed and get back to eating well.

#3 was a mixed bag. I set up a daily work routine with some minor flexibility in it and had some success at minimizing distractions, but we're nowhere near getting the doors installed. As a makeshift solution, we have some curtains hung over the entrance, which has provided some protection from interruptions.

#4 got some attention late in the year when I finally reorganized my entire physical music libary and purchased a 1 TB external drive. I have some issues with using the drive attached to my router that I haven't resolved yet, but it's on my to do list and I hope to be ripping my collection onto it soon.

#5 stalled out horribly when I tried to get through "Gravity's Rainbow" which was a ponderous and difficult read. It took weeks to get through the first 100 pages, at which point I decided I hadn't gotten enough payoff to justify a continued investment of my time. I read "A Clockwork Orange" earlier in the year, but nothing else on this list. I did, however, read "An Omnivore's Dilemma" this fall, which I've been hoping to get to for quite some time now.

I did virtually nothing on #6. I can't even remember what fiction I wrote last year. I wrote a bit of non-fiction, but the fiction was pretty non-existent.

As for #7, I had exactly one Game Night. It went well, but then summer showed up and time just flew by. This is one goal I will be revisiting this year with some vigor -- I really want to make this happen. At the very least, I want to play more games this year, and specifically I want to play all of the games I own at least once this year.

Playing my bass (#8) is also a goal I want to seriously revisit. I hardly even picked it up last year!

Technically, I came up short of goal #9, as I only logged 441.5 miles. However, I ran pretty close to 500 miles if I factor in the soccer games, the handful of runs that didn't get logged, and the discrepancy between the distances I ran and what Nike+ logged. Considering that a little over 220 of those miles came in Sep, Oct, Nov and Dec, I'm pretty happy. I should be able to increase my mileage total significantly this year, especially with new gear for running in bad weather.

#10 was a big success. Planned for and took the girls to Disney in October and we all had a great time.

I still need to figure out my personal goals for this year. When I do, I'll post them.

Pynchon's "Rainbow" is a struggle so far
evil twin
One of my goals this year was to "finally get around to reading" some books I've had on my radar for a while. One of them is Thomas Pynchon's "Gravity's Rainbow." I picked up a copy from the public library a few weeks ago and I've gotten about 75 pages into it. The book is almost 800 pages long.

To this point, I've found it to be a frustrating, slow and difficult read. It's a book that's alternately very engaging and very confusing. Just when it seems to be hitting a groove, the narrative jumps, the style shifts, and the passages get obtuse and atemporal. I can't decide if I really like the book, or if I can't stand it.

There are some very interesting ideas touched upon in these first 75 pages, and some vivid and beautiful passages, evocative in both sensory and emotional ways. And then there are long, winding passages that make no attempt to maintain temporal continuity, constantly shifting, jumping around between past and present without providing the reader with proper cues to follow along. At times you can't even tell what is reality and what isn't.

The book doesn't have chapters, just sections divided by markers. I find that a little disconcerting as I like the structure provided by chapters. Perhaps that's the point, since much of the book seems intent on challenging the reader and his/her expectations.

75 pages in, and I still can't tell you who the protagonist is. There are at least 6 characters, perhaps as many as 8 or 10, who might be the main character. Maybe there is no single protagonist, since that would play into reader expectations.

It's taken a lot of my time to get through these 75 pages, because I have to labor over sentences trying to make sense of them. I'm giving the book 100 pages to really catch me. Something has to happen in the next 25 pages to convince me to continue putting my valuable time into it. At this pace, it will take me months to finish this book, and I'm just not enjoying it enough right now to feel like that's time well spent.

Goal update
evil twin
It's been a while since I posted on LJ. (since May!) I've been busy, but I've also been keeping up (mostly) with some of my goals for the year. Let's check in.Collapse )

Birthday Party
evil twin
G's 6th birthday is coming up and we're having a party for her next Saturday, May 22. She had a couple requests for the party: a scavenger hunt and a pinata. After brainstorming a few ideas, Wendy and I came up with a Dragon Hunt theme. I put together the invitations, which I cut out of resume paper with ragged-edge scrapbooking shears, then rolled them up like scrolls and tied them with a piece of brown twine. The invites were a big hit. Even parents who called to say their kid couldn't come said they really liked the invitations. Some kids have other commitments so they wouldn't normally come, but they got very upset about missing the party so their parents are bringing them for as long as they can manage on their schedules.

Wendy and I brainstormed some theme-based ideas, which finally coalesced last night and this morning. Here's the plan:

1. Wendy bought me a wizard costume, which I will wear for the party.
2. When each kid arrives, I will formally announce them royal-style (i.e. "her ladyship, Princess So-and-so")
3. After being announced, the kid gets to decorate a paper crown with craft materials (crayons, markers, self-stick gems, etc.) and pick out a dragon to color (we found a variety of dragon coloring pages online).
4. After sufficient crafting/decorating time (20-30 minutes?), we will gather all the kids for a group picture, which will be printed out and included in the thank you cards.
5. Following the group picture, the wizard (me) will inform all of the princes and princesses in attendance that they have been assembled at G's request to train together to hunt down the dragons in the kingdom. But it is a very dangerous mission, so before they can begin their training they must gather ingredients for a spell. Each person must bring all of the ingredients to me, at which point I will cast the spell on them and they can embark on the dragon hunt. The ingredients will be a variety of things found in the yard, like leaves, sticks, etc.
6. After the spell has been cast, the kid will receive a scroll with a map on it, which depicts each of the activities on the dragon hunt:
- from the Wizard's Hut, they must cross the Springy Swamp (on the trampoline, they must run three circles and then bounce 15 times)
- after crossing the Springy Swamp, they must climb Dragon Mountain (the climbing wall on the playset)
- after climbing Dragon Mountain, they must go to Lookout Point and use the Dragon's Eye to look for dragons (the toy spyglass mounted in the playhouse)
- after searching the skies for dragons, they must slide down the Rock Slide
- a river of lava flows from beneath Dragon Mountain to the Dragon's Nest and they must first swing over the river (swings)
- after swinging over the river, they must then jump across the Lava River on the stone pillars (large flat stumps in the ground)
- after jumping across on the pillars, they must follow the lava to the Stairs of Eternity and sneak down to the Dragon's Nest (tip-toe down the log steps into the woods)
- pluck an egg from the Dragon's Nest and break it against a nearby tree (raw eggs will be nestled amongst rocks in a "lava pool")
- return to the Wizard's Hut
7. After completing the quest to destroy a dragon egg, they prove themselves worthy to enter the Dragon's Cave and retrieve a treasure stone (in the darkened basement, they will be given a flashlight and have to crawl through a tunnel into a small tent where there will be a bunch of "rocks" with money inside them)
8. After retrieving a rock, they must don safety glasses and use a hammer to break open the rock to get their treasure.
9. Once everyone has completed the quest, we will hang the dragon pinata and take turns whacking at it.
10. After the pinata breaks and the kids gather their candy, we will have cake and sing Happy Birthday.
11. Depending on how much time is left we may do free play, or we may open gifts and then do free play.
12. As kids leave, they get a goodie bag and a certificate with their name on it that says they completed Prince/Princess Level Dragon Hunt Training with the date. They also get to keep their quest map, the dragon they colored and the crown they made.

Right now, it looks like we should have great weather, but we're going to double-check Wednesday and if it looks like rain, then we'll recalibrate with indoor activities. I really hope it doesn't come to that, though. We did a dry run of the activities this morning with the girls, and they seemed to have a great time, even without all the theme decorations.

I'll be manning the Wizard's Hut and the Dragon's Cave (the Hut will be at the door to the basement). Wendy will be managing the stone breaking with the safety glasses and hammer. My parents will be helping out, probably at the Dragon's Nest and the Lava River. And at least one neighbor will man the trampoline/Springy Swamp. Ideally, we'll have another 1 or 2 parents helping out with Dragon Mountain.

We're planning to make signposts with arrows toward each station and signs at each station with symbols that match the quest maps. We also bought some red mulch which we'll use to designate the Lava River. We may also use some red and orange tissue paper and streamers around the stumps to make it more lava-like.

And if we can actually pull all of that off, I'll be extremely happy, and hopefully the kids will be, too.

Cheap music
evil twin
Between Borders and Best Buy, I bought a bunch of great music on the cheap today.

Borders is clearing out a lot of their stock and has a lot of CDs for $5.99-$8.99. Unfortunately, their stock is pretty limited these days, so there are a lot of "Millennium Collection" editions, but there are plenty of gems to be had.

Best Buy has a ton of GREAT music on sale as well. A large variety of CDs are $7.99 (for example, all of the remastered Police albums and Rush albums!) and marked with large orange stickers, making them easy to spot on the racks. A similarly large variety of CDs are $9.99 and marked with large green stickers.

Here's what I picked up between the two stores (I was on a $100 budget):

$8.99 Grease Soundtrack
$8.99 Misfits
$8.99 Radiohead "OK Computer"
$8.99 Smashing Pumpkins "Siamese Dream"

$7.99 Blur "Parklife"
$7.99 Yes "The Yes Album"
$7.99 The Police "Outlandos D'Amour"
$7.99 The Police "Regatta De Blanc"
$7.99 The Police "Zenyatta Mondatta"
$7.99 The Police "Ghost in the Machine"

$6.99 New York Dolls

$5.99 Weird Al Yankovic "Polka Party!"

Near purchases included:
$8.99 David Bowie "Aladdin Sane"
$8.99 Radiohead "Kid A"
$7.99 Cheap Trick "At Budokon"
$9.99 The Who "Who's Next"
$9.99 The Who "Tommy"
$7.99 Traffic "Low Spark of High-Heeled Boys"
$9.99 Traffic "Definitive Collection"
$7.99 Steely Dan "Aja"
$7.99 Steely Dan "Pretzel Logic"
$7.99 Korn "Korn"
$7.99 Korn "Life is Peachy"
$7.99 Korn "Issues"
$9.99 Korn "Follow the Leader"
$7.99 Rush "Caress of Steel" remaster
$7.99 Kate Bush "The Kick Inside"
$7.99 Cat Stevens "Tea for the Tillerman"
$9.99 Cat Stevens "Millennium Collection"

What independent children do
evil twin
While outside this afternoon, Wendy asked G (our 5yo who was playing in the sandbox) to go inside and bring her out a bottle of water. G went inside and disappeared for half an hour. When she reappeared she was in her pj's and said "I was really dirty so I took a shower and changed my clothes." This was at 4 pm.

Not long after this, M (our 4yo) started whining that she was dirty too and wanted to get cleaned up like G. Wendy and I were both busy so I told M she would have to wait for us to help her. I suggested she sit on a chair in the sun. Within 5 minutes, both girls had vanished and sure enough, G had taken M inside and helped her take a bath and get dressed, too.

They emerged both wearing long one-piece pajamas with nightgowns over them, their hair brushed and pulled back under a hairband, and rain boots on their feet. "Look, Dad!" said M excitedly. "We're twins!!"

I think that was the easiest bedtime prep I've ever had.

Another goal check-in
evil twin
1. do at least 20 push-ups and 20 sit-ups every day in January and increase this every month

I'm currently at 40 sit-ups and 40 push-ups, so I've kept up that pace. I've fallen off the pace of doing both every day, though. At the beginning of March, it was really hard to get to 40 so I was alternating push-ups one day and sit-ups the next. I got thrown off by GDC and haven't kept up with either (I have a routine at home where I do my exercises prior to my shower each day).

2. decrease my body fat through exercise and diet, specifically reducing my dairy and processed sugar intake

I'm not even close on this one. Now that the weather is breaking, though, I've already begun to be outside more. I expect to start grilling again, and I've begun running. We'll see how this shapes up in the next month, but the diet part really needs some attention. I've let my portion sizes creep back up into the "too large" area again.

3. keep work and home better separated by developing a daily routine and installing the pocket doors to close off my office

Haven't done anything with closing off my office, but I was doing a much better of keeping work and home separated prior to GDC. I've had some time off since GDC, so my routine has been compromised. I'll be trying to get back on track this week. With all the work to do outside, it's unlikely the pocket doors will get any attention before Fall.

4. get my entire music library digitized and backed up

Not really any closer here. Need to get to Best Buy and look at external Tb drives for storage.

5. finally get around to reading Hofstadter's "Godel, Escher, Bach," Peake's Gormenghast trilogy, Mann's "Magic Mountain," Pynchon's "Gravity's Rainbow," and Burgess' "A Clockwork Orange"

I just read "A Clockwork Orange" so yay me! The Peake and Hofstadter books are huge but I own copies. "The Magic Mountain" is also big, and I have to get a copy from the library. Not sure how long "Gravity's Rainbow" is but that also must come from the library. So I have some work to do to get to these.

6. write at least 1000 words of fiction every month

This goal was in part to get me prepped for NaNoWriMo in November. I haven't really done any fiction writing, however, I have been rattling off some non-fiction pieces which is a step in the right direction. April is ScriptFrenzy month, which I'm seriously considering participating in. It involves writing 100 pages of new script material (comics, movies, TV, plays) during the month of April.

7. begin having monthly Game Nights (board games) by March

We had our first Game Night last night and everyone seemed to have a good time, so yay! Now to keep it going with another one in April.

8. practice/play my bass at least once a week

Still haven't gotten to a place where I even pick it up. I need to work on this.

9. log at least 500 miles of running (that's less than 10 miles per week average)

So far I've logged 31 miles, which is significantly off my intended pace -- that's less than 3 miles per week. With the weather breaking now, it's time for me to step up my game.

10. take the girls to Disney World

We've seriously started planning toward this. We know how many of my frequent flier miles it takes to get us there, we just need to figure out the hotel and timing of the trip. We may even be able to use my miles for the hotel and car!

Life and death
evil twin
A while back someone asked me what I believe happens when we die. As a Christian, she was curious about an agnostic's perspective on the matter. I asked her to be patient because it wasn't a simple answer. It has taken me a while to get around to it, but this is my response to her. It also serves to document some of my thoughts for the benefit of my children.

Let me begin by clarifying for those who are wondering that an agnostic is someone who doesn’t believe you can know whether “God” exists or not. It’s not a term that can be used to succinctly categorize someone’s spiritual beliefs because two agnostics could easily have wildly disparate ideas about “God,” the afterlife, reincarnation, spirituality, etc. It’s also worth noting that “agnostic” and “atheist” are not the same thing. It is possible to be agnostic and still believe in “God” or some kind of higher power or unifying force.

Personally, I tend to be an apathetic agnostic. Because we cannot discern the truth about the existence of “God” trying to do so is a generally pointless exercise.

When I was thirteen my paternal grandfather died. He had a massive heart attack and died almost instantly – he was a firefighter and was on his way to a fire when he slumped over. They immediately administered CPR but couldn’t revive him. It was my first exposure to death in a real, tangible form that I could connect with, and it had a profound effect on me.

Although I lived 4 hours from my grandparents, we visited them often and I spent large portions of my childhood summers at their house. I didn’t know my grandfather well, but I loved him immensely and felt a very strong connection to him – I was named after him and that meant a great deal to me (and to him, I believe, especially since I was his only grandson).

Imagine being thirteen and seeing your own name in obituaries and on funeral signs, a tombstone, a memorial, a dedication plaque, etc. and hearing people use your name over and over in a the past tense. The experience forced me to consider at length things like my identity, self-worth and mortality, as well as death in general, life, purpose, soul and spirit, God, religion, the universe, and truth.

This was almost exclusively an internal process, as neither of my parents are overtly religious. My mother was raised Catholic but my dad wasn’t and when they had kids my mom apparently settled for just exposing us to Christianity since we attended the closest church to my childhood home, which happened to be United Methodist. My father never accompanied us and my mother let us decide for ourselves as we got older if we wanted to go to church or not. Despite my mother’s upbringing, ours was not a religious house in the least. I don’t recall any pictures of Christ of crucifixes anywhere (although my mom had a crucifix on a necklace) and the phrases “goddamn” and “jesus christ” were quite common. I’ve never really discussed God or religion with my parents. In fact, I don’t have the faintest idea what, if anything, my father believes in, including God. It’s just not a subject we ever discussed, although I admit to being extremely curious.

So, as I said, this exploration of high concepts and spirituality was primarily an internal process. I considered what it was possible to actually know – what you can sense around you? How do you know if you can trust your senses? Can’t your eyes and ears be tricked? It’s possible to touch something very cold but think that it is very hot because of the interpretation of the sensation. Sensing clearly cannot define reality. So what is real? The only thing I know for sure is that I exist and can “think,” whatever that actually means.

Consider Descartes’ famous line “cogito ergo sum” – I think therefore I am. I know that I exist; I do not know if you, or anyone or anything else, actually exist because I know my senses are “fallible.” It’s entirely possible that everything that seems to exist around me is merely a figment of my imagination – a “dreamworld” created by my consciousness with a manufactured history and internal consistency. This is called Solipsism, although I didn’t know there was a term for it at the time.

The problem with Solipsism is that it’s a rabbit-hole of thinking – if everything is (or could be) a figment of your mind, then why do anything? Or why follow any of society’s rules? It essentially sets you up as God. From there, where do you go? One path is the full-bore God Complex. Another is suicide. I thought about both of these, however I always kept coming back to one thought: if everything really is in my mind, then why would I (that is, me, my consciousness) create such an elaborate mental construct and trick myself into believing it? There had to be some reason, purpose, plan at work. And if my consciousness had some plan for this set-up, wouldn’t it be a monumental waste not to play it out? Whether real or not, it seems most sensible to stick to “the rules” and continue to pretend that everything that seems real actually is. That you exist simply because you seem to exist to me. I decided to continue to play the game, if you will.

Of course, this didn’t spring forth as a fully-formed idea in one day. It was the result of months of introspection and reasoning. Not long after these thoughts coalesced I began to read about philosophy and religion and I continue to be fascinated by both topics to this day. “Western” religions like Christianity, Judaism and Islam strike me as mostly politicized hogwash – they developed as mechanisms to bind together persecuted minorities and put power into the hands of a small elite. I found “Eastern” religions to be far more compelling – particularly Zen Buddhism and Taoism – as they focus more on the Self, more internally, than on the Other and the external.

So after laying all that groundwork, I can finally get around to answering the original question: what do I believe happens when we die? Well, I’m not entirely sure but here’s my thinking on the matter. It’s possible nothing happens when people die, because everything is fake anyway and the only thing that matters is what happens when I die. Let’s assume, though, that you all do exist and that whatever happens when I die is the same thing that happens whenever anyone dies. Namely, your consciousness “jacks out” of the simulation that is our “reality” and drops back into its “other” existence, much like jacking out of the Matrix (this is one reason that movie blew me away and why I despise the sequels). From there, maybe “you” jack back into this reality, rebooted into someone or something else, or you go play in some other reality. Essentially, to me “God” is the collection of rules that all of our “other selves” agree to abide by when they join this game. Some people think of this as the laws of physics, but I think of it as more than that.

So, um, yeah. There you go. My philosophy of life, death and reality boiled down into a bite-size chunk.

I (heart) faces: Jump for Joy!
evil twin

I Heart Faces has a themed photo competition every week. This week's theme is "Jump for Joy!" I just happened to have a photo that fit, so I'm entering the contest for the first time. This is my eldest daughter enjoying the chance to get outside on the warmest day we've had in a while by striking rockstar poses on our deck.

Game sale!
evil twin
Millennium Games, one of the local game stores here in Rochester, just changed ownership. The new owner is trying to get rid of some old stock, so he's having a 50% off sale for everything in his back room, including RPG books, terrain, wargames, board and card games, CCGs, and even some arcade cabinets. Here's what I walked away with:

Canyon (OOP, MSRP $27.95)
Condottiere (Descartes Games edition, which is OOP, MSRP for new version $24.95)
Doge (MSRP $39.95)
Evergreen (MSRP $32.95)
King's Breakfast (OOP, MSRP $14.99)
Oh, Pharaoh! (OOP, MSRP $16.95)
Thurn and Taxis: All roads lead to Rome (MSRP $29.95)
Thurn and Taxis: Power and Glory (MSRP $29.95)
Ur (MSRP $39.95)
Wizard: Deluxe Edition (MSRP $12.00)
World of Warcraft: the Adventure Game (MSRP $39.95)

The grand total was $144.48, tax included, for games that list for over $300, and some are not even currently in print. You can often find games at about 35% off MSRP online and you may or may not have shipping costs. Even without shipping, these games would have run just over $200. True, some of them are a bit ding-n-dent-y, but the box condition doesn't matter to me so much. I'd call it a worthwhile trip.


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