the further adventures of

Mike Pirnat

a leaf on the wind

Engulfed in Flames

My wife pays attention to things that, because I am usually oblivious or overworked (or some combination of the two) I will never, ever notice.  Like the fact that writer David Sedaris was coming to town and that there were tickets available.  She couldn't make it, but bought a pair for me and a friend and coworker.  She really missed out, because Sedaris was hilarious, and well worth seeing and meeting.

In one of his most memorable passages, Sedaris addressed the subject of being an undecided voter.  I'm paraphrasing slightly, but it was more or less like this--imagine the Sedaris-esque pauses and slightly better construction where appropriate:

Being an undecided voter in this election is like being the person on the airplane who, when the flight attendant offers a meal selection of chicken or human shit with glass shards in it, says, "Hmm... How is the chicken cooked?"

While still on politics, Sedaris talked about how he conducted a survey during his summer book signing tour. The question--do you think Barack Obama is circumcised or not?--was simple enough, but the hemming and hawing took him by surprise as many well-educated, left-leaning audience members paused for deep thoughts like "Well, I know he's a Muslim, so..." or "He was born in Africa...".

To this I say that Obama is simultaneously both and neither.  The status of Obama's foreskin is like Schroedinger's cat--it's in a superposition of states and is unknowable until observed. (Frankly, I'll be content to let Michelle Obama be the only one to collapse that particular waveform.)

Sedaris warned us during the show about the signing line--the line is long, and never moves.  He was pretty much right; it took us two and a half hours to get through the line, a fair bit longer than the show itself.

I mostly tried to stay awake and on my feet (I'm old, and tired!), occasionally trying out bits of lightly snarky conversation with Cory, and trying not to be noticed by the people in line around us that amused me so.

Now, I know I shouldn't judge, but really, who goes out on a Friday night dressed like an extra from Newsies? He had the hat, the fully-buttoned vest, boots, the works.  I expected him to start hawking papers and then break into song.

More than anyone else, I didn't want to be noticed smirking at the the two extremely chatty high school girls just ahead of us.  It was really hard not to overhear their conversation, and even harder to not jump in with unsolicited advice.  One girl was freaked out about choosing the right career path and that she didn't want to get deep into something only to find out it wasn't right for her, and how she had this plan all mapped out to age 35, and how she'd get a solid career first and then have a family, but she didn't have to get married but she did want kids, oh sure she could be a great single mom if she had to be, so confident in that she was.  I really wanted to be able to interrupt her and tell her that, "Life is what happens when you're making other plans.  I didn't plan to be where I am now, but I'm happy.  Things change, and you change, and if you don't like what you're doing, you've got plenty of time to just do something else.  And as for being a single mom?  HAH!  Even with two parents, having a kid will totally kick your ass!  You have NO idea what you're in for." I bit my tongue a lot, and made observations about the architecture to Cory instead.

Of course, we did get to witness the girls' BFF commitment ceremony, so that's pretty special.  I think there may have been a pinky swear involved.

When the girls meet Sedaris, they practically squealed, and upon departing urged him to "have a nice life."

Sedaris had offered during his show to give away a free copy of a book, as well as allowing immediate line-cutting privileges, to anyone who spoke fluent Portuguese. It took us nearly two hours in line before we realized that we should have started downloading instructional podcasts to Cory's iPhone and learning enough choice phrases to circumvent the entire line experience. In a worst-case scenario, we figured we could just play audio clips from the phone and try to lip sync convincingly, sort of a "Kung-Fu Portuguese" to compare with the "Nicaraguan French" that Sedaris had discussed during one of his readings. Alas, like many great ideas, this one never went anywhere. After all, what were we going to do with a copy of his book in Portuguese?

As we finally neared the end, the line lady came by to give her spiel.  "He signs the title page.  You must have your book open to the title page." Or what?  David Sedaris will hop over the table and take a big ol' bite of my jugular? While he's ripping my throat apart with his delightful teeth, blood spraying everywhere, the line will disintegrate into a panic-stricken mob, screaming and stampeding away from the monster I've unwittingly released in my last moments on earth?

"Well," I mockingly replied aloud to myself, "there *was* that one time in Columbus.  We wouldn't want a repeat of that now, would we?"

The signs prohibiting photography violated one of my most well-groomed pet peeves--the use of the apostrophe to pluralize.  "No Photo's Please," read the sign.  Perhaps, we wondered, it's the "please" that's wrong, so the sign should really say "No Photo's Pleas," which sounds like some kind of aborted haiku... "No photo's pleas heard / Fall leaves swirl silently down / I need syllables."

Finally, at long last, it was our turn to approach the altar-like table where Sedaris sat with his pens and collection of freebie prophylactics that he likes to give to teenagers, and for such a momentous occasion, I shifted into present tense.

He signs for Cory first. In Cory's copy of Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim, Sedaris draws a cute cartoon turtle with a tunnel-like opening on the side of its shell. He explains that this is a turtle who wanted to do good for the world, so she blew a hole in her shell and now she's an abortion clinic.

He bombs out on guessing our signs, swearing and declaring horoscope stuff to be "bullshit" when he fails at both of us, but is surprisingly close to home when he asks if I'm a doctor. I explain that I'm not a doctor, but that my father is. Doctors, he tells me, have long hair on the sides of their hands, between the wrist and pinky.

My turn now, I start to hand over my copy of When You Are Engulfed in Flames when I'm suddenly betrayed by the dust jacket!  It flies out from where it's been dutifully keeping watch on the Magic Page Which Will Be Signed, and I feel like a total jackass. OH NOES!  My embarassments, let me show you them! Fortunately, David Sedaris fails to rip out my throat, nor do me any bodily harm whatsoever.

In my copy of When You Are Engulfed in Flames, he doodles a little bearded man in a top hat, declaring him to be a leprechaun who appears by surprise on your toilet as you exit the shower.  But I am not, Sedaris assures me, the kind of man who will scream upon encountering this leprechaun, because I know that the leprechaun means me no harm.

I tell Sedaris of my morning epiphany -- that the words "When You Are Engulfed in Flames" uncannily match the meter of the Disney classic "When You Wish Upon a Star", and that I've spent all day trying to un-imagine hearing the "in flames" version in my head, which has resulted in mentalling casting him as Jiminy Cricket to sing it at me.  He appears somewhat awestruck--either he's never heard this before, or is very good at pretending that it's his first encounter with the idea--and tells me about this surreal shop in Japan where he bought groceries that always played Disney music for no readily discernable reason.

We shook hands, and I said something trite and thankful in parting, and shifted back to past tense, glad that I wasn't part of the back twenty percent of the line that was still shuffling slowly forward.

And that's pretty much that. If the evening were an Ebay transaction, I'd be leaving a comment along the lines of "A+++ Would do business again!" So, if you feel an urge to be engulfed in flames, let me say from experience that I highly recommend it.

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Potter-Related Setbacks; 24 Hours With Apple TV; Shutterfly Freebies

I'm really excited by the amount of progress I've made over the last couple of weekends, hacking away at what for now is known as Shindig, a group management blog/calendar app written against TurboGears. Its primary purpose is to be something easier and faster for me to maintain than ClePy's current Plone site. I'm sure much of what it solves has already been done, but I want something exactly tuned to giving me the most streamlined workflow possible, and, let's face it, it's just plain fun to write code.

So ordinarily, I'd be psyched about how much I'd be able to get done this weekend... Except that the stupid Harry Potter book is showing up in the mail tomorrow, and that basically means that it will consume every waking, lighted hour until it's done. I love the books, I really do, but it's really putting a crimp on my Python geek-out sessions. But I have to be done reading by Monday, that's for sure, or else I will have to gouge my eyes out to avoid spoilers. My predictions: Snape dies (he's obviously been set up for a hard-core double-agent redemption arc, so he'll probably save the day somehow), Harry lives (and will be the best Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher ever), and Ron and Hermione will finally succumb to the powerful call of teenage hormones and romantic comedy conventions and hook up in a major way.

Oh, yes, and I'm going to see Howard Shore conducting the Cleveland Orchestra in performance of his Lord of the Rings Symphony tomorrow night, so that knocks out a couple more hours of potential coding time. Which I guess I can live with; enjoying some of my favorite music, conducted by its composer, performed by one of the world's foremost orchestras, under the night sky, with a picnic and a nice glass of wine... Should be a real treat.


Tonight marks 24 hours since the arrival of the Apple TV. So far, I'm very, very impressed. I have modest needs, primarily to replace an aging SlimP3 that's prone to chronic buffer under-runs ever since I replaced my dying firewall, and it solves all of my most common use cases with total aplomb. I've been delightfully impressed by its streaming performance, which, even with an 802.11b/g setup, is nothing short of freaking amazing. I'm also very satisfied with the image quality out of the component video cables (chosen since our altar to the television gods predates HDMI by a generation or so). My advice so far, to any prospective owners, boils down to two points:

  1. Don't do your initial sync over wireless if you don't have 802.11n hardware. Wired ethernet is your friend by orders of magnitude.
  2. Its case serves as its heat sink, which is to say it gets hot like you wouldn't believe. Don't set it on top of your DVD player or other hardware (unless you want to cook your gear), and make sure that it gets plenty of airflow. Honestly, I used oven mitts to bring it upstairs to wire it into my switch to finish the initial sync. Yikes!

Beware of the YouTube integration; Liz and I must have spent an hour tonight watching videos of cats doing stupidly cute things. It is a powerful and addictive time-sink.


Finally, I'm happy to report that the first of two freebie poster-size prints from Shutterfly arrived today and it looks great. I picked up a 50mm prime lens for my Canon (Digital Rebel XT) recently, and the folks at Amazon threw in a coupon for one free 11x14 and 16x20 print. The 16x20 (which I expect sometime Saturday or Monday) will probably end up framed and in our dining room, next to some other wine-related art, and the 11x14 (which showed up today) will probably find a home in our living room. I'm really quite tickled--I've never printed any of my work larger than 5x7 before--but I fear that I could start going poor making prints of my better photos. Oh well; Liz said I should find a hobby.... ;-)

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Being Uncle Mike

My recent vacation photos hiatus is in part due to spending last weekend being all responsible and grown-up and stuff--Laura, one of my nieces, came to visit us for the weekend. Note the use of the word "my," a big step for me, as for most of the past seven years, the girls have been "Liz's nieces." Maybe they're just growing up to the point at which I can relate to them, but they're really, finally feeling like family.

So! Laura braved the increased airport security, water bottle fascism and all, and arrived last Friday. Liz picked her up, and after getting settled in at the house, took us all out to lunch at Phnom Penh; to my amazement, Laura loved her loath chha! That evening we hit our local Winking Lizard and then went out to Will Farrell NASCAR movie (hilarious, recommended), got ice cream on the way home, and stayed up far too late playing Munchkin. Saturday we caught up on "Monk" and "Psych", then went out to friends' for their Wild Game BBQ, where there was much delicious food, frosty beverage, and wacky croquet fun, then zipped down to Blossom to chill out under the stars and experience the Cleveland Orchestra playing the scores to Bugs Bunny cartoons (and incidentally seeing a lot of folks that we don't always bump into). Sunday we had brunch downtown, spent a few hours at the science center (note to self: don't try the "virtual hang-glider" right after eating...), tried to get Laura hooked on "Firefly", and played a lot more Munchkin and Apples to Apples.

Laura was up and out the door early on Monday to get to her flight on time; by all accounts she made it back home safely. I'm still trying to wrap my head around her pronouncement that I'm "an awesome uncle," but for the most part I guess that's pretty cool. The entire experience has left me a lot more optimistic about the idea of being a parent, a mental paradigm shift that is simultaneously comforting and scary as hell.

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Adventures in Indiana

Originally uploaded by mikepirnat.

We're now back from our adventures in Indiana. Friday was occupied with the drive down (filled with an amusingly punch-drunk loop of "are we there yet?"), and capped off with a bit of prosecco and tasty eats at Agio, which we selected based on its proximity to our B&B;, the immediacy of seating, and the volume of grumbles from our stomaches. After dinner--surprise!--the nearby sky was filled with a fireworks display. It was a nice echo of our string of early fireworks-related dates.

We had a wonderful breakfast the next morning, then it was off to the Indiana State Museum for the Lord of the Rings exhibit. I was prohibited from taking pictures inside the exhibit, which took a lot of self-control as it was all one delight after another, from props to costumes, models, maquettes, and concept art. This will show what a geek I am, but I got a little chill as I stood before the shards of Narsil, and next to it the reforged Anduril, Flame of the West. The One Ring was presented very effectively, suspended in mid-air in a separate chamber, ringed in darkness and fire, whispers of the black speech echoing all around. Kids seemed to quite enjoy the motion capture demonstration, and I got a kick out of getting my picture taken with Liz on the "Gandalf's cart" photo booth.

Once through the exhibit, we had a nice walk along the canal and crossed over the river and visited the zoo, which was a nice recap to our reception five years ago at Chicago's Brookfield Zoo. Sadly, seahorses just aren't as cool as those jellyfish (sorry, Indianapolis).

Dinner that night at Scholar's Inn was simply excellent. The bottle of Iron Horse vintage 2000 Blanc de Noirs "Wedding Cuvee" set the stage for an evening of delicious treats. Highly recommended!

Sunday, another nummy breakfast, and then we were on the road again to head back to Cleveland. Liz drove while I read The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe aloud to help us reconcile our distant childhood memories of the book with our expectations for the upcoming movie. We paused along the way to visit DeBrand for a chocolate fix; if you happen to find yourself in Fort Wayne, you should do the same.

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