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So my friend JP posts about Ryan Dunn, who got famous doing the “Jackass” series of films.

Honestly the films looked so pointlessly stupid that I’ve never seen one. Nor did I know who Dunn was until he was drawn to my attention by my friend’s post. In essence my friend said:

“So Ryan Dunn crashed his car and killed himself. The good news is that it was a single-vehicle accident. I have no sympathy. You drink, you drive, you deserve to die. It could have been somebody else he killed.”

And I’m pissed. This friend would probably refer to herself as a Christian woman. Yet here she is stopping a hair’s breadth short of celebrating someone’s death.

Me, I find the death of people in stupid self-inflicted ways to be little different from all the other ways people die, possibly excepting old age.

I have no idea if Ryan Dunn has any kids. But if one of them had died in the car and he’d lived, would my friend be so smugly, self-righteously cavalier?

Would that punishment be “appropriate” because Dunn was putting other’s kids’ lives at risk?

Should we include his passenger (who also died) in our celebrations? He must have known the risks he was taking, riding with a drinking driver?

No. The only appropriate description is “tragedy.”

Would I feel differently had he actually taken someone out? Possibly, but intellectually I understand that that’s no less tragic. Death isn’t a mathematical quantity. If one villain dies, and two heroes die, the world doesn’t get more evil.

A man died.

I want to ask my friend: “Would you look into his mother’s eyes and tell her ‘Your dead son is not worth mourning?’”

I’m like the zombie blogger these days, aren’t I? Just when you’re sure I’m dead and gone, I pop back up and someone has to saw my head off. I hate it when that happens.

The good news (if you like this blog at all) is that I’m hoping for a small life change soon–Employment stuff. We’re still talking, and I can’t be entirely open about it yet, but it should help refocus my mind, and a change in my hours will likely leave me more time for either internet poker or blogging. Though the lack of change in pay will probably mean I’ll go with option b. It’s cheaper.

Hiiiitsssss! Hiiii-iiiits!

So what’ve you been up to lately? Really? No kidding? Well that’s fascinating, now let me tell you about my life.

I’m glad we’re currently kidless. I have no idea what I’d have to do for spare time if the hours I do have were occupied with parenting.

Garbage: Still hard at it. After a slump post-Christmas, which is only expected, my company was daft enough to let go four drivers. Naturally, most of those drivers were roll-off bin pushers. This makes some sense, as the big bins are mostly used in construction, and guess what doesn’t go on a lot around here in mid-winter.

At the same time it was dumb. Short-sighted at least. Business has started to pick up again. In my own little fief (where I’m the sole bin runner for an area roughly the size of … well, something damn big), I’ve delivered half-a-dozen bins in the past month. However, they’re short drivers in the bigger fief to the north, and I’ve had to take on a share of that work as well. My weeks have shot from about twenty-five hours to forty-plus.

So I work. At the same time, I got involved in another stage production, Many Hats Theatre Company’s “Rope’s End.” I’ll post more about that on the acting blog.

And furthermore, I’ve been keeping my hand in with professional editing work. I’m working with a guy who wants to break into the self-help-motivational-public-speaking field. I feel the sector is a bit over-subscribed, but that he has great passion for what he wants to do. So I’m happy to help him put together his particular package and slant on the issues of the modern workplace, and how to secure your place in it.

Last month, between rehearsals, work, and editing, I was working eighty or so hours per week. Time to blog? I had to brush my teeth in shifts.

Summer’s on its way. The spring so far has been largely chilly and damp, but the promise is ahead. I’m attempting to put together a motor scooter for summer transport. I plan on taking the summer off from theatre. It’s heartbreaking, but I want to do a few things: Hone my craft, fix my scoot, get on with some projects around the sadly-neglected house, and hopefully learn to blog regularly.

Telephonic Useability

Useability is one of a number of terms that cause all sorts of wrangling in the writing, particularly technical writing, community.

The definition is simple enough: It refers to how easy something is to use and learn. But within those simple words are manifest permutations.

I tend to feel that, as the judge said about pornography–”I know it when I see it.” And I saw a rotten example and a great example this weekend.

For several reasons, my wife Lori and I decided to buy new phones this weekend–We’ve tried replacing the batteries in our old Motorola, but it hasn’t helped.

So off goes I to The Bay. Which is pretty much as cheap as Wal-Mart these days, but sells far better stuff.

I purchased a General Electric three-handset phone (both offices and the garage), which came with an answering machine. We don’t need the answering machine, ours is part of our VOIP service, but it did come with the unit. The phone was selling off of a clearance table. Regular price $110 or so, clearance price $64.

The box had to be opened on three sides simultaneously. So that the contents pretty much immediately spilled across the table in a jumble. There was no packing list in evidence.

The manual was a map-folded piece of oversized paper which unfolded like some origami explanation of string theory and extruded as far as a small neighbouring dimension.

Weirdly, the information in the manual was divided into above-the-mid-fold and below-the-mid-fold sections. So the instructions on how to set the thing up abruptly ended at the fold, where the instructions for running the answering machine started. There was no visible division, so the instructions were confusing initially.

Having puzzled through the first quarter-page I abruptly discovered that the batteries needed to be charged for sixteen hours prior to first use. Good thing I read instructions.

Not that it helped. Some eighteen hours later I made and received our first calls, only to discover that the little display screen which is apparently so necessary on phones these days didn’t work.

So after some reverse origami and muttered bad language I forced the box closed again and lumbered it, now slightly bulging and distorted, back to The Bay.

The people at The Bay were just excellent. They had no similar GE phones, but in the meantime they’d put a new sign on the clearance table where I bought the first: “Save an additional 20% on last stickered price!”

I discovered a Panasonic unit with FOUR handsets (living room, both offices, and garage). Formerly priced at about $140, it was on for $76, minus the 20% … I got a net refund of some three bucks, and a better phone that, as events had it, worked perfectly.

But the real treat was the packaging. I wish I’d taken photos of it: The box opened with a flap on the top. Immediately beneath it was a diagram of how to re-pack the phone should it be necessary. With arrows. And numbers. I like arrows and numbers most times.

The four handsets rested on top in a little tray. Once they were removed, a large, friendly, red-and-yellow label read: ATTENTION.

Such a label rather demands reading, and so I did. It instructed me that FIRST I must INSTALL AAA batteries and charge for eight hours. And it showed me where in the package to find them (which was right next to the handsets in plain sight). The manual is an old-fashioned book type.

So which of the two phones would one tend to find more useable?

I find the phone quite generally usable without having read the manual, so far. But honestly, they had such smart and simple ideas that I’m saving it for when I next need something entertaining to read, because I’m sure it will be a prose delight.

Submerged

As raincoaster wrote below, I’ve been writing infrequently. Which is a charitable term for “not at all,” lately.

I can explain. Briefly:
The Importance of Being Earnest
I played the minor role of Doctor Chasuble. I doubt I have anything new to say about Oscar Wilde.

Nuncrackers
See my acting blog for more on this.

Work
Did you know I was driving garbage trucks? Ah, yes, of course. You’re a Regular Reader. Well a while ago one of my co-workers was injured in such a fashion that he had to take six weeks off. Normally I work a Tuesday-Saturday shift, and he a Monday-to-Friday.

For a number of reasons it’s easier for the local guy to drive the front-end run. So for the past six weeks I’ve been doing that while someone has come from up the valley to handle my work. Naturally I have to do my Saturday as well, so it’s been six days per week for too long.

Writing
Well I haven’t even been updating my blog. I’ve done a wee bit of editing work, and lately I’ve been having fun mucking about with some speech-to-text software. Of the latter, I’ve learned that if I don’t get a faster computer I might as well stick to typing.

I’ve also been completely immersed in the everyday: Rebuilding bathrooms, painting, supporting my wife in the four major projects she’s into just now.

In short I’m busy and generally happy. Hope you are too.
And I hope to get into the habit of blogging again.

Love, war, and ninjas

Okay, so I fell off the edge of the world for a bit there. I have the usual sheaf of excuses: Life got on top of me, the dandelions and I went mano a mano and I lost, I was in the studio with Elvis, only it wasn’t Elvis at all and the court proceedings are taking up all my time … You know the stuff.

But I have rumbled out of my torpor to tell you about a book. It’s called The Gone-Away World, by Nick Harkaway.

I’ve read enough to be jaded about jacket copy. Do you seriously read what The Daily Mail et al thought of the novel you’re holding? Of course not. You picked it up because of the pneumatic bird on the cover, let’s be honest … I rarely even bother reading jacket synopses. If they were going to tell you the story, they wouldn’t have room on the jacket flaps or at the back of the book, right? They’d have to make them hundreds of pages thick.

Besides, how many novels tell “the story of a man and a woman, two storm-tossed souls in a world gone mad!“?

Which of course is part of the story of The Gone-Away World. Another part involves a bomb, a new superweapon, a “clean” killing device that like most such carries consequences considerably beyond what the designers anticipated.

But some friends praised The Gone-Away World to the skies. And if I may stretch the bomb imagery to its limit, I was blown away. The writing is tight, every word serves the story. It’s like someone put Thompson, Heinlein, Forsythe, and possibly a dash of Pratchett or Amis to taste, into a massive blender (and I am not in any way suggesting that that would ever be a good idea) and poured the result out on paper.

The writing is brilliant, funny and very real. You find yourself recognizing moments when you’ve thought precisely the way the main character has, experienced similar disjointedness, and yet it will all be strange and new to you. Which is an odd coincidence, really … But you’ll learn why I say that once you’ve read it.

And that’s about all I can tell you. The novel is so intricately plotted that to tell you one bit is likely to spoil your enjoyment as the story unfolds. I will share with you only that I no longer look at mimes in quite the same way.

Part science fiction, part drama, part war story, The Gone Away World should delight all who read it. It is in fact particularly well-suited for people who say “Well I don’t really go for science fiction …”

Here’s another opinion. Disclosure: I know the blog’s author. But the fact that we have similarly magnificent taste in no way prejudices me.

It’s on cheap at Amazon, by the way. Just sayin’. We’ll doubtless be purchasing another copy, we’ve read ours to wrack and ruin.

In researching this blog post I have discovered Mr. Harkaway comes by his amazing talent honestly. He is the son of the man who writes under “John LeCarré,” another long-time favourite. Though I’ll tell you, their styles are radically different. I’d like to leave you with the author’s own words:

It’s an adventure without the faintest attempt at realism. It’s a love story. It’s a serious novel. And it has ninjas in it.”

In my life and around the world.

In my own life I just auditioned for, and got, a small role in a Christmas musical (yes, they are casting a Christmas show in May). Family visits dominate summer at the moment. My new job follows close behind.

I really like the place where I work. It’s one of those sort of remote stations where the staff are more-or-less left alone to do their work without much interference from head office. One of my co-workers is on permanent disability and doesn’t leave the office. Another is in his late sixties and deaf–The reason he isn’t retired is due to a bad investment. The third is on productivity pay. This means that once he’s completed his day’s work, he can go home whether it’s four in the arvo or ten a.m..

As I wrote earlier I’ve been hired to run roll-off bins and front-end “cans” as we call dumpsters. I already had some experience, so the operating part isn’t too hard to get up to speed on. Right now I’m learning the stuff that you can only learn by doing the route.

Garbage is an odd collision at the vertex of the digital age. Electronics can be amazingly useful and/or equally useless.

A map could tell you where the stops are, for example. But a map won’t tell you whether you need a key to get into the enclosure where the dumpster is, or whether there’s a power line above the dumpster you need to watch.

On the other hand, a digital picture of an overflowing dumpster, or one that’s in an unsafe location, can be very useful.

The job itself is fairly straightforward: Drive around, pick up gype. But the devil is in the details. Just in my own roll-off specialty there are things I need to know: Is this a cardboard bin or garbage? Where is it going? Is it an “inside railer” or “outside railer”? Does it have a compactor built on?

That last point is important, as the hydraulic machinery that powers the packing rams is usually stationary and connected to the compacting bin by a pair of hydraulic hoses. And while, as my trainer pointed out “If you forget to unhook the hoses once you won’t forget ‘em twice,” I would prefer never to do it at all.

My training has been under a succession of instructors, each of whom tells me the same thing: What I learned from the previous instructor is invalid and shouldn’t be used. “Now watch me and see how I do it …”

In the wider world, Israel just stormed an aid convoy in international waters. My Prime Minister has expressed “regret” over the deaths. If these had been Somalis instead of Israelis we’d be mounting a punitive expedition and calling it “piracy.”

BP has revealed that essentially they have not now, and never did have, a plan for capping an undersea gusher. Their damages are capped, while damages to the environment simply aren’t.

And the whole thing could have been prevented by a half-million-dollar acoustic “switch”–Which in Australia has been a mandatory requirement since the early nineties, when a similar spill drenched the coast.

One nice thing about working in garbage. It’s a bit less morally ambiguous than some other jobs … Heck, I could have wound up doing PR for BP.

One of the more difficult aspects of this sort of blogging, I’m discovering, is the autobiographical nature of what you’re doing.

In conventional autobiography there’s a decent chance that many of the subjects you’ll be writing about will be safely dead by the time the book comes out. Or that you will.

For me this is a powerful element in writing for a blog. It makes me examine the stuff I write because I don’t want to make false statements about anyone, and I want to be completely honest in my assessment. So what can I do when my assessment may be perceived to be … unkind?

James Miller, editor of the local paper, intensely dislikes theatre reviews in small towns and doesn’t publish them if he can help it. He feels, and I tend to agree, that critique is rarely honest when the writer can get cold-shouldered out of the community, or when the impact of writing something negative may cost the subject of the critique work or community standing.

Theatre is a fairly tight community, if not in the Okanagan then more specifically here in town. If I unfairly criticize someone, then I run the risk of losing work myself, or for other people, and of alienating people in my community.

So interestingly, when I’m viewing my life as a bloggable subject, it makes me more self-aware in my relationships. I want to be as open, fair, and honest as possible with people.

Which is why it’s been difficult to write about “Tartuffe.” Though I’m working on it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s turning out to be a fine production, I feel. But the process of getting there has been a bit … fraught, and I’m still working on how to treat what I’ll eventually write about it.

In the meantime, why not pop over to my acting blog, where I’ve been trying to sum up what’s been happening in that sphere of my life?

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