Musical Instruments

When I was in 4th grade, my elementary school allowed us to start playing stringed instruments, if we so chose. I jumped at the chance, and started playing violin. And you know what? I wasn’t half bad at it. I even got to be part of the Honors Strings program a year before I should have been allowed to. It was great, and I really enjoyed the violin. My only real goal at that point in my life was when I was in high school to be part of the “Strolling Strings,” which was where the high school kids would walk around and play their instruments. SO cool, I thought.

But then this thing happened where I went to a middle school that didn’t have a strings program, so I had to switch to band. And I decided to play the tenor saxophone, because I thought it was super bad-a. And for the next 7 years I played the tenor saxophone as my primary instrument, and got okay at it, but never as good as I could have if I would have devoted a ton of time to it.

Before my junior year of high school, I got to thinking that as cool as the tenor sax is, it isn’t very orchestral, and I liked the idea of playing a “real” classical instrument. So I picked up the bassoon. And so for a year in high school I played the bassoon, and was seriously terrible at it, and didn’t particularly enjoy it, but I did do it, so that is something.

Then my senior year of high school came around, and I had some free time. A bunch of free time, actually, and so I decided to sign up for intermediate band with all the beginners, and was going to learn new instruments, just for the heck of it. I became moderately proficient at the clarinet, and I realized that I hated the flute.

And then I graduated high school. And I stopped playing instruments all together. No longer a musician.

It wasn’t until years after finishing college that I started playing at all anymore. I played in a couple of summer musicals, as a clarinetist and saxophonist, and wasn’t terribly good, but had a good time doing it. But something had changed in my love of woodwind instruments, and I felt like that wasn’t really where I wanted to spend my time. So I took up classical guitar.

I took lessons for about a year, and was making really good progress. Classical guitar is incredibly hard, but also very rewarding, and very lovely to listen to. But after a year, it became hard to justify weekly lessons from a time standpoint, so I had to stop. Life got in the way. And I still plunk around on the guitar, but without a teacher it is kind of hard to be guided.

And then a week ago Kelly brought her piano over from her parents. And I fell in love. I’ve always wanted to play the piano, but never had one, and never really thought it would be possible to do two different things with my hands at once. But I’ve been playing for hours every night and really love it.

So I guess I don’t know where I’ll go from here. In an ideal world I’d have enough time and motivation to play the guitar and piano every night. That doesn’t exist, so I’ll probably just keep plunking around from one instrument to another, never really getting that good, but having some fun in the process.

Contemplating

I am trying to figure out what to do here now. I don’t know the answer yet. Times are very different than they were 9 years ago when I started blogging, and it doesn’t fit the same way into my life anymore. So I need to come up with some way to use this, and I don’t know what it is yet.

Diets Suck

I have never in my life been on a diet. I was blessed for many years with a metabolism that kept me very skinny without requiring me to do a lot of work. I was pretty sure that this would be the case for my whole life. Wrong. Somewhere around 25 things started slowing down, and I’ve been putting on about 10 pounds a year pretty faithfully since then.

So I finally started pushing 200, a barrier that I never in a million years imagined myself getting close to, and decided that I needed a change. But it wasn’t until my sister started logging her calories that I decided “Okay, time to do this.” And thus it began.

For the last month I’ve been recording every calorie that I’ve taken in. I’ve vastly cut down on the amount of meat that I eat, which was actually been totally okay. I have found some excellent recipes using lentils and beans and veggies that are seriously just as good as most meat dishes that I’ve had. Curried lentils are the best. I bring my lunch to work, and try to keep it low calorie so that Kelly and I can still have a reasonably nice dinner together. And in a little bit of opposite logic, I’ve added breakfast to my routine. Now I start every day off with Cheerios, and it really helps, actually.

In addition to the food cutbacks, I’ve started exercising, which actually started a little bit before the diet. While I skate, that is only 2 times a week, and especially because of my failed pancreas, I need to make sure the rest of my body, especially my heart, is in good working condition. So I busted out my bicycle, which was my 16th birthday present, and I go out first thing in the morning M-W-F and ride around Forest Park. That part is probably my favorite. It is a good way to start the day, I’m really enjoying biking, and you get to see lots of stuff, so it is way better than an exercise bike. Sometimes you get rained on, though. That’s not so fun.

I’m doing a pretty good job of losing weight, and more importantly, I feel a lot better. There have been some downs, though. At first my body was not used to the change of sugars intake and I had to get my blood sugar issues figured out. But a little bit of tweaking, and that has been better than it has in a long time, actually.

Harder, though, is the fact that I really enjoy food, and really enjoy cooking food. Especially delicious fried food. Giving that up has been really hard. It is less fun to cook, and it is way less fun to eat. But overall it is a good thing, if it helps add some years onto the end of my life, or makes those years more bearable because I will have my feet and hands.

So yeah. This hasn’t been the best month ever. But that having been said, I’m really glad that I’m doing this, and I keep telling myself it will be over soon. My target weight isn’t too much below where I am now, and once I hit that the amount of calories I can eat each day to maintain weight will allow me to eat much more normally.

That’s my monthly update, I guess. At least this one has some substance, right?

Whoa

Is this thing still here? I totally have been neglecting it. I know. But it comes from a different time in my life, I feel. Am I past the blogging age? I don’t know.

It could be that my life is just supremely boring right now. Or I am busy. Or lazy. Or some combination of all of those.

But still, a belated birthday to Baba. I think we all had a pretty good weekend celebrating.

Bronze Medal

Of all the ridiculous things that I chose to spend my time on, I think that my roller skating probably tops the list if that list were to be ordered by ridiculousness. I am a grown man, and I spend many hours and many dollars roller skating around in figure eights, and doing silly little dances in outfits that are covered in rhinestones. That is pretty damn silly.

Still, there is a large athletic component to it, and there is competition, and if you can look past the silly outfits and the preconceptions that most people have about roller skating, I think that you can come to the conclusion that it is just as valid a sport as anything else adult part-time athletes do. Then again, that could just be me trying to rationalize this crazy thing that I do.

Anyway, the National Championships for Artistic Roller Skating were earlier this month, and I qualified in one of my events, and even though I told myself I would only go if I qualified in both of my events, I ended up going. And so Kelly and I found ourselves driving up to Fort Wayne, Indiana a couple of weeks ago so that I could put on a spandex leotard thing and skate around in figure eights.

If any of you remember, I went to Nationals last year, and sucked big time. I don’t know if it was my nerves, or just a fluke, but I really messed up one of my eights really bad, and came in 17th out of 24. Not a great showing, and it kind of left me feeling down for the whole year, at least in regards to my skating. I was determined to do a better job this year. Even if just slightly.

And so on the morning that I was to skate, I was super nervous. Not only was there the pressure of doing better than last year, but I had been interviewed on my favorite podcast about this thing I do, and I didn’t want to let all of the listeners down. I was shaking, and shaking is a very bad thing to do when the goal is to be as precise as possible. But nerves and shaking are kind of par for the course for this event, so you soldier on.

Without getting into too many details of the actual skating, after the first round of competition I was in 2nd place. A good deal better than the year before. I had qualified for finals, which was my goal, and so no matter what I was going to be happy. Out of 25, they took 8, so I had done as well as I really felt like I could have hoped for.

And then something happened. As the day went on the nerves started coming back. While I originally figured I’d be happy just making finals, now it was feeling like I’d really only be happy with a medal. And even though I was in 2nd, that didn’t mean anything, because the scores are erased. And the figures that I had to do for finals were different than the ones that I had done for eliminations. And they included the figure that I messed up on last year. And I hadn’t practiced them in a couple of months. Things were not looking good.

But I got out there, and skated as best as I could. And something pretty damn cool happened – I came in third. I won a medal. I got to go stand on a podium with music playing and have a medal put around my neck. And while it isn’t the Olympics, for me it was as close as I’ll probably ever get, and it felt damn good.

I’ve kind of been riding this wave of excitement for the last two weeks. I might never medal again. Skaters in my club who have been skating years longer than have never won medals. And since I came in 3rd, I can no longer skate in that event and have to move up to a much harder one.

But all that being said, for now I can enjoy the fact that I did something pretty cool.

Whoops…

Somehow I ended up forgetting that I have a blog for a few months. I really didn’t mean to do that. Life has just been busy, and overwhelming.

And update on things in a few days. I promise.

The Wisdom of Aging Reveals a Wasted Youth

Now don’t get me wrong. My youth was not wasted in total. But in one very specific part that I am now very aware of. My musical instrument playing. From the time I was in 4th grade through the start of college, I was playing one form of instrument or another. And I had a fair amount of natural talent. In fact, I had enough to get by such that I didn’t really need to practice to pull off the music that I was playing.

But at the same time, the fact that I never practiced meant that I never got really good. I never expanded my abilities much beyond where they were shortly after I started playing. Practice wasn’t a lot of fun. There was other stuff I wanted to do at night. The reasons were many and varied. And then college came, and I just quit. I didn’t really play an instrument college, despite owning one. And save for a couple of months in a community band after I graduated, I didn’t play at all afterwards. I didn’t even think of myself as a musician anymore, and I was okay with that.

Then the opportunity to play in some musicals presented itself, and so once a year I would get out my instruments, and play at the same level I always had, which wasn’t really good, but it was good enough for middle school musicals.

And then something happened. I got a guitar. A classical guitar. And I started taking private lessons. And for the first time ever I really felt like I had an instrument that I loved playing. And so I practice. All the time. Probably an hour a day. Almost every day. And I’m pretty terrible. But I’ve already improved a huge amount. Probably a faster improvement than I’ve ever had with any instrument.

So it is now, at 28, that I realize that maybe all of those years ago I should have practiced more. I probably could have been really good. But I didn’t, and I can’t go back and change that. I guess all I really can do now is give my all to the guitar and enjoy it, and have the chance to do something I didn’t do many years ago. And I’m pretty happy about that.

Thoughts About Martin Luther King

Let me start off by saying that this is not meant to offend.

The quasi-fake/quasi-real MLK quote that was going around the other day really got me thinking. And it got me looking into a lot of other quotes that MLK wrote. And then it presented me with a real problem.

Here was a guy who had a lot of beautiful ideas. Progressive ideas. Ideas that I strongly believe in. But his means for coming to those ideas was through the lens of Christianity, which is something that I don’t believe in.

So how do I deal with the fact that the seeming basis for things that I think are deeply important to humanity come from a belief system that I do not abide by?

I did a lot of thinking about it. And I came to this. Almost all philosophies have things in them that are good, and things that are bad. Divinely inspired ones, non divinely inspired ones. But they were all developed by humans, sometimes showing the deepest goodness of our humanity, and sometimes showing the deepest callousness of our humanity. And just because some people claim that these ideas were given to us on high, I believe that they came from man. Nothing more than people sitting around writing their thoughts, and nothing less.

So the basis for MLK’s speeches isn’t in the Almighty. It is from the best parts that make us human, and have made us human. When he says to forgive and love because that is what God requires, what I read is that forgive and love because that is what our humanness requires.

And so I can read and agree and believe in what he wrote without feeling tied to the doctrine of the religion behind it.

Not Dead

Rest assured, I have survived the kitchen fiasco. While it isn’t completely done, it is mostly done, and we are cooking in there again, and it is amazing.

In other news:

– I have started playing classical guitar, and I love it.

– At the end of April I am going to California for four and a half days.

– July 1st – July 10th Kelly and I will be going to California for a costal adventure. We are going to be starting in San Diego and end up in San Francisco.

– I’m still roller skating. A lot of the thrill is gone, but I still do it.

So that is about it for now. I have more to say, but I don’t want to do it right now. But I also wanted everyone to know that I am still alive, and Smackie isn’t doomed to death.

Still Kitchening

Still working on it. I hope to be done soon, but I think that is probably wishful thinking.

Kitchen

We are in the middle of doing a gut renovation of our kitchen. We basically took it down to nothing, and are now putting everything back. So I am extremely busy. The concept of free time no longer exists for me.

Happy End Of Year

As promised, a year end letter. But as I have mentioned in the past, it is getting harder and harder to write these things. I did the “completely absurd” a couple of times, but you can really only go so far with those. And then I tried sort of a mix, and that kind of worked out well. But I really don’t like doing the same thing over and over each year, just for the sake of having an end of the year letter. So I don’t know what this will be. Probably crap.

So like I said earlier, this was actually a really good year. This is a year where I saw Paris. PARIS! I went to Bruges, which is the single most amazing place I’ve ever been. With the possible exception of Paris. What is there to complain about in a year when things like that happen? I should reiterate how good my trip to Europe was. Despite the fact that I missed out on Amsterdam, I saw a lot, and had a really good time. I was thinking about the soccer game that I went to the other day. That was a trip that I will probably think about for the rest of my life.

And right after I got back from Europe, I got engaged. How can I complain about a year where I got engaged? And then just a few months later, I got married. MARRIED! I still can’t believe that I got married. And got married to someone who is really damn awesome. Someone so awesome that it almost makes me feel bad when I read or hear about stereotypical bad marriages and bad wives. Because I don’t have that at all. I’ve got it really, really good. And I’m pretty sure that we had the best wedding in the history of weddings. Rollerskating, cake, and deer. I don’t know what else you need.

Speaking of roller skating, I got first place in my event at Regionals. Again, it would feel wrong to write a bitchy letter when I had a year where something like that happened. And even though I totally tanked and sucked at Nationals, I still went and competed, and made a comeback at my next event by taking two second places.

Oh, and somewhere in all of that, we remodeled our bathroom and have the most kickass bathroom in the world. If you had ever been to my house and seen the old bathroom, you knew how bad it was. Well the new one is probably a million times better than that one.

But since people like the bad stuff, I guess I can throw some of that in as well. Mom and Dad still haven’t sold their house. So that means we won’t be going to Disney World anytime soon, which is a pretty selfish way of looking at it, but I know that I’m not the only one with that view of the situation. And Kelly and I found out that her house is worth significantly less than she owes on it. So we’ve had to rent it out, which has been good for money reasons, but not so good for stress reasons.

And I guess in the process of ripping out the bathroom, we destroyed the kitchen, so we’ve basically been living without a functioning kitchen for close to a year now. But you know what? That is about to get remodeled too, so it is hard to complain too long for that.

So yeah. This has been a really damn good year. I know that things are hard out there for a lot of people. I know that the world isn’t a terribly happy place. And if you follow the links I post on Facebook, you’ll see that I’m getting more and more frustrated with our government, and even our system of governing. But still, I think all of that is pretty inconsequential in light of all of the good things that I’ve had happen to me this year, and so at least for the last little bit of 2010 I’m going to choose to focus on those things, and not so much on the bad things.

Whoops

It is after Christmas. Whoops. I’ve been very busy. So let’s say I’ll get you an “end of the year” letter in the next few days.

Not The Christmas Letter

Not yet. Sorry. But I’ll have it done before Christmas. For the 2 of you that even still check this regularly.

No, the purpose of this post is to talk about salesmen. And I say this with the knowledge that one of my best friends is a salesmen. But besides him, I really, really hate having to deal with salesmen. Like, to the point that my blood is starting to curdle from the amount I’ve had to deal with them in the last couple of weeks.

Let me explain. Actually, let me not explain, since this is the Internet. But let us just assume that I am helping someone out technologically, and to do that I have had to deal with a bunch of salesmen. Salespeople. Whatever. And I have found it to be the most unpleasant thing I’ve had to do in a long time. Why? Well, let’s see.

1 – Once they get a hold of your phone number/email/address they grab on and don’t let go.

I have gotten so many calls, and have had so many voicemails and so many emails since this project has started that I’ve lost count. Oh, and they say things like “I don’t want to pressure you. I’m just checking in.” But really what they are doing is pressuring me. Little do they know that I have absolutely no control over this situation, so they’d be better off calling a random number and hoping to get an answer.

2 – They usually don’t know what they are talking about.

The technical questions that I have are in some cases pretty easy to answer, and in some cases actually require a knowledge of technology to answer. So I know when I’m getting bullshitted. And with these salespeople, I’m getting bullshitted. And honestly, I don’t even really blame them. Their job is not a technical one. But then they are put in a bad position of having to sell technical solutions. So they are caught in this in between world of knowing just enough to frustrate me.

3 – They are smarmy.

Seriously. Do they ALL have to use that much hair gel?

4 – They are TOO nice.

Look, I’m not your friend. You are not my friend. You acting like you are my best buddy in the entire world is not going to make or break this sale. Be polite, be professional, and answer my questions. That is what I am looking for. I’m not looking for some fake chumminess. There are people that I enjoy talking to that I would talk to about my life if I wanted to. And you know what? A lot of times I don’t even talk to them about that stuff. So I definitely don’t want to talk to you.

5 – They try to weasel their way in.

They really want to come to you. They really want to meet at your place. They put up road blocks that make it difficult to get information except on their terms. Hey, you know what? That is obnoxious. You should be catering to me to a certain extent. If I make it clear that I am uncomfortable with you coming to my place of business right away, then respect that. Don’t say that it is impossible for you to do your job. Because if other people can do it, you can as well.

So yeah. I guess I’ll stop ranting down. I just needed to get that off my chest. Salespeople… So glad I stuck it out to get the CS degree…

Don’t Worry

I am not gone. I am in the process of preparing the Christmas letter. The problem is that this has actually been a really good year. I went to Europe, Kelly moved in, we got married, I had my first roller skating competitions. So it is hard to think of bad things to write about. But since that is the point, I will do my best. Expect something soon.

My iPhone

I really hate to think of myself as the kind of person that loves a certain piece of technology. You know the type. Always fooling around with/talking about/showing off their little gadget that no one cares about. Well I’m afraid that I have become that person, at least for one blog post, about one piece of technology. My new iPhone.

I’ve had an iPhone for a while, and always liked it, but never really thought of it as much more than a phone, and I used it for little more. In fact, I mostly used it in the elevator at work to keep from having to talk to people. But beyond that, it really could have been almost any other phone. And part of that is because as it got older, the software kept getting more complicated, but my phone stayed the same speed, so things started getting really slow and pokey. And then the battery stopped holding a charge.

So I was out in California, and decided it was time to upgrade, so I made Phil take me to the Apple store and I got an iPhone 4. And let me tell you, it is just about the best piece of technology that I have ever owned. It was so much faster than my old iPhone, and so I finally can use it without getting frustrated. My applications now open in a timely fashion, so I’m more likely to use them. And some of the more intense games wouldn’t run at all before, and now they blaze away.

Plus, the screen is amazing. I don’t like buying into the marketing hype about a “retina” display, but the screen really is amazing. You can’t see the pixels. It is such a strange and wonderful thing.

Anyway, now that I have this awesome little piece of technology, I find myself using it where before I’d use my laptop. I surf the web on it, keep up with my tech news on it, email on it, facebook on it, listen to music and podcasts on it, read books on it, watch movies and tv on it, and play games on it. About the only things I can’t do from it is real work in the form of programming, or long form composing of any type of writing. It is just too tedious for that.

So yeah. I love my little phone. And if you’re on the fence about whether or not to get one, I’d definitely say you need to get one.

My TSA Experience

I posted this on a big aviation website that I read. I figured I’d repost it here.

Some background – I am a type 1 diabetic, and to treat that condition, I wear an insulin pump, which is a little machine that is plugged into the side of me and literally keeps me alive. I wear this 24/7. In the past when I have flown it has usually not been an issue. The agents sometimes notice it, sometimes don’t, but almost never make an issue about it, and have always known what it is when mentioned, so I’m assumed that they are trained about this.

Anyway, I was flying home from San Francisco a couple of weeks ago, a few days after the new procedures went into place, and I was slightly nervous because I wasn’t sure how they would affect me and my situation. When I got to the security area I was very up front with them, showed them my insulin pump, and they seemed confused. I was put through the backscatter machine, while holding my insulin pump in my hand, and was then held while the TSA agents went off and discussed my situation. After a few minutes they came over, and I overheard them saying that everything checked out fine on me, but then they took me aside where I got the “enhanced pat down.” Then they also did the swab test on my insulin pump, and everything checked out and I was sent on my way.

This got me to thinking, though. Am I going to always be subjected to the “enhanced pat down” because of my medical device? I don’t even so much object to the backscatter x-ray machines, and I don’t have any problem with them doing the swab on the device. So I did some research and talked to other people with the insulin pumps who have also flown, and they have had to deal with the same thing I did. One lady was even told by a TSA supervisor that if you have a medical device like an insulin pump, you have to go through the “enhanced pat down”. No choice.

I’m really bothered by this, for multiple reasons. One, they clearly said that they saw nothing was wrong, and still submitted me to the “enhanced pat down”, even though it seems to me like at that point checking my insulin pump to make sure it was real would have been fine. I also think it is pretty wrong to single out a group of people, specifically those with a form of disability, and make them go through something that is pretty unpleasant and demeaning. I’m not someone opting out of the scanner for some reason. I’m being told that the scanner is not an option for me no matter what. I have no choice.

And finally, I can’t take off the pump and run it through the flatbed xray because it is not certified for that. If something were to get messed up in it from some errant x-rays, I could die. And I would still have part of the apparatus connected to me that would show up in the backscatter scanner.

Anyway, I don’t know if this is going to do any good, but I feel like it is a part of the conversation that has been largely missed.

Double Second Place

So at that skating competition a couple of weeks ago I came in 2nd place in both of my events. And I’m pretty happy with this, considering that I had not put in much effort towards getting read.

I think that it was even more impressive because before my dance event, while warming up, some guy accidentally tripped me and I fell hard on the concrete skating surface. Let me tell you, it hurt like hell. I ripped a hole in my outfit, and really banged up my knee, elbow, and wrist.

But despite that, I was able to come in second, and the girl who came in first is a friend of mine, so it is all good. Especially considering the last time I had competed in this event, I came in 7th, against many of the same people.

So that was all good, but now I have to figure out to do with my poor little outfit.

Skating Competition

I have a skating competition this weekend, and I’m actually not very excited about it. It is just a little local competition, and I’m a little burnt out on skating right now.

Oh, and I have to skate at 6:00 in the morning. So I have to be there at like 5:00. Which means I need to leave my house around 4:15. So I’m gonna have to wake up at like 3:30.

Anyway, I’m sure that no one on here is going to want to come to it, because even I don’t really want to go. But it is an opportunity to see me in rhinestones. So if you want info, let me know.