27 February 2009

Hooray for Google and their maps!

Planning for the anniversary vacation is not exactly moving along, but the research sure is. I found the Asheville B&B Association's website, and I added some cool-looking ones to my delicious.com page. But there wasn't any convenient mapping feature that had all of them on it at once, so I fired up GMaps and made my own. I added some restaurants, spas, and shopping (Chocolate Fetish, oh yes), and now it's pretty sweet. I wonder if I ought to add all the B&Bs or just leave it as is, with the ones I'm considering.

There are more nice-looking B&Bs than we can stay in at once, so I'm envisioning future weekend trips. I also think it would be cool to bug off to the mountains for a weekend and stay in a B&B or cabin or something and write, without distractions like the internet or what have you. A bit pricey, but sometimes you just need a change of venue. (My main venue is the living room couch, and I have the awful problem of going to look something up, like a list of major events in 1986, then getting sucked into wikipedia diving. 1986 was a big major-event year: Chernobyl and the Challenger both. I was 10 that year.)

Then after I made my Asheville map, I made a southern Appalachian ski resort map. Probably a duplication of effort, since I found an all-US ski resort map, but it suits my purposes. Which are primarily having it all collected in one convenient place and being able to share it with, say, the in-laws, who like family togetherness time and would probably come to the East Coast for skiing, though they're West Coast types, and our mountains are apparently inferior.

Mostly I do it to combat boredom and mental blahs, because I like looking things up and organizing things into a fashion that suits my needs. No, really, I like doing research into random shit, like restaurants in Asheville, Prussian military history, Victorian fashion, historical train routes, Turkish names, and whatever's got my interest for the moment. I've been known to look up air fares for people who expressed a mild interest in coming to visit.

Pharmacists, after all, are kind of like the reference librarians of the medical world. If we don't know the answer to a drug-related question off the top of our heads (and depending on the drug and the question, sometimes we do), we know where to go to look it up, look it up, and summarize it for you. There's a theory going around that pharmacists on average are better at translating med speak into plain English than other health professionals. Whether it's a result of our training or because of some trait that pushes us into pharmacy rather than medicine or nursing is likely to be a chicken vs egg question.

Right. That wandered all over the place.

24 February 2009


So, skiing was fun on Sunday. I only fell on my ass twice, though the first time I torqued my knee a bit, so it bothered me all day. But the custom insoles I got with my own pair of boots made a world of difference in comfort and support. If you've got wonky or gimpy knees, ankles, or hips and want to try skiing, I can't recommend custom insoles highly enough. They're not cheap, but they make an extreme difference in your skiing experience. I pronate pretty severely (that means my ankles bend inward when I put weight down), and the custom arch supports kept them in a good spot. Recommended!

Because I wasn't sure how sore or tired I'd be, I took Monday off work. Good thing, because I didn't get up until 8 am, which is my usual go time. I also discovered, much to my dismay, that the downstairs heat stopped working. So I called the HVAC folks, and they sent a guy around this morning. This means we sat in the living room, huddled under blankets and surrounded by cats, for 2 hours to watch House and Heroes. (They are the only 2 American TV shows I currently follow.) Turned out the thermostat died, so I paid the guy handsomely to replace it. Bleh.

Anyway. Yesterday afternoon, I was looking for ... I forget what exactly, but it had to do with the ghost stations in Cold War-era Berlin. After the Wall was built, several of the train lines went from west through the east to the west, and they didn't stop in the east, so the East Berliners couldn't defect. So a bunch of stations were basically abandoned or had platforms boarded off, and the East German border patrol, Berlin section, watched it to make sure people weren't trying to escape through train tunnels.

So I googled for something, and I found a bunch of cool videos that people had taken in the late 80s, of riding through the U-bahn, of taking the S-bahn across the Wall, that sort of thing. Then I got distracted surfing related videos on YouTube. It was AWESOME. Seriously, I can't express how inordinately happy finding these random old handheld VHS videocamera recordings on the internet made me.

Because I love you all, I share them with you.

This is how Berlin looked the first time I went, in 1997. OK, not quite this run-down, but the division was still visible: crossing the border, late 1980s. For contrast, this response video: The same route in 2007. I love Berlin. Truly.

Here is a video of an east to west wall crossing in 1988. The big building is the Reichstag. Watch as the guard tower passes on the right side of the train.

This one shows a ghost station on the U6 line.

This one,from 4/90, is titled "East/West Berlin contrasts." It's 10 minutes, and at 8', you can watch another ghost station pass-through. They were officially reopened by then, but several were in need of renovation before people could go in.

This is another long video going from east to west, in 1988.

Then when I finally stopped being distracted, I worked on version 2 of my ghost station/trains story, which seems to be working better from a completely different perspective, in a completely different setup. Funny how that works. It might also be the first story I don't spend 7000 words on. We'll see.

21 February 2009

Family gatherings and other unrelated travel.

Tomorrow I'm going skiing in Virginia. We meet at 5 am, and the bus rolls out at 5:30, to get up there around 9, where we ski all day and get back into the bus at like 5 pm and come home. Of course, there's supposed to be some icky weather in the morning, so the ride up will probably take longer than advertised.

Tonight I'm meeting a friend for dinner. She lives out in Asheville, so I don't get to see her often.

Ever since the pound has gone down vs the dollar, I've been thinking, "Hey, maybe I could go to England, since it's not stupidly expensive, only rest-of-Europe expensive." So when Ben off-hand commented that we could go for our anniversary, I was kind of shocked, since he normally doesn't make suggestions like that, and wondered if he meant it, so I could kill time at work by looking stuff up on the internet. I poked around a bit, and tickets are stupidly expensive, plus hotel and food and transportation... gets up there.

Also, I'd forgotten the summer thing his mom wanted us to go to out in Oregon. And my vacation time budget can't afford that much travel. (Annoyingly, my employer doesn't send out pay stubs, and we can only access the remuneration statements from work, so I can't check and see if it even shows my leave accrual rate.)

So an anniversary whatever will likely wind up being a weekend getaway to Asheville.

Between my planned con travel (3 days), this family thing (2 days), and whatever we decide to do for our anniversary (1 day?), I'll be using much of my allotted time, which is currently 41 hours, then the 45 or so I'll earn between now and September, which equals about 11 days vacation. (My employer says full time is 37.5 hours.)

Annoyingly, this get-together will be the weekend before the annual beach trip, and because of work and the fact that I was just off the previous Friday and that Monday, I'll have to work till 5 and drive out to the beach after that, not getting there until long after dinner. Which sucks, because the best part of the beach is the food. And the annual Friday night beach walk. (Assuming we can be enough of a voice to have it the 2nd weekend in August, anyway.)

So we'll save up my vacation hours and take a longer trip to Europe for anniversary #10. Maybe a Danube cruise, or just a several-city self-guided tour of the Habsburg empire (Vienna, Budapest, places in between). There's plenty of time to plan for that, though.

16 February 2009

Oh my aching garden.

Last spring, we put in a raised garden beside the front steps, under the tall arched window. A pair of heirloom gardenias, grown from cuttings from some 100+-year-old plants in Wilmington, went in. Because the timing was poor, we were unable to move the Japanese maple from the middle of the yard, so we left a nice space for it.

We moved the tree yesterday. I'd dug around the drip line the week before, cutting the shallowest roots. So then we had to dig deeper and cut more roots, and lever and pull and cut and dig and, well, you get the picture. Finally it was freed, and we shoved it into the wheelbarrow and deposited it in the raised bed. (By we, I mostly mean Ben, of course. My upper body strength is non-existent. But I got to use my leg strength and low center of gravity to tilt the tree so he could reach the roots under it.)

I hope it survives its rather rude upheaval. We only broke a few smaller branches in the process. It's the roots that have me nervous, but it's almost growing season again, so hopefully it'll be OK.

I also got a new cell phone, and it's quite fun. It's got a full keyboard and a decent camera and pretty fast internet. I was trying internet on my 2-yr-old RAZR, but it was painfully slow and the browser sucked and it was ... far less than optimal, even for a phone. This new Samsung Propel thing is kinda nifty, and I dig the slide feature. It's not as satisfying as flipping the phone closed with a snap to signal the end of a conversation, but it's better than the stupid bar phones. Sending email and text messages is a breeze with the full qwerty keyboard. (Spellcheck didn't underline qwerty. It underlined spellcheck, though.) Checking email, looking up maps with the mobile GMaps application, and even doing Blogger (though I haven't tried that at this point; it sounds tedious to try to do anything longer than a few lines) on my phone! It's amazing!

Downside is that surfing the web on your phone eats battery like mad, especially if you like a bright backlight. (I have mine set to 2 or 3 out of 5.)

I'm reading a book called Sharpe's Havoc, a military historical set in Portugal in 1809. It's a rollicking tale so far (about 1/3 through). I wonder if there are any historicals in English (translated, even) set in the German kingdoms, confederation, or empires. I'd even read one in German, if I had access to a good enough dictionary. I don't know English military terms.

13 February 2009

In which I admit to heretofore unspoken levels of geekiness.

I'm a seiyuu fan. Seiyuu is the Japanese word for voice actor, or someone who plays roles in animated series, video games, and radio dramas. (In Japan, this also includes dubbing artists for non-Japanese films.) American fans use seiyuu rather than voice actor to distinguish between the Japanese voices and the NA voices.

Seiyuu fandom can be expensive, since any of their vocal CDs, drama CDs, and that sort of thing is import only, and Japanese shit is expensive. Japanese companies believe in price fixing, so a CD will cost about 3500 yen ($35.) Tack on import duties, shipping, and any fees the import company charges, and you're looking close to $50. For a single CD. Unless your seller is finding them used, in which case you'll spend about half that. eBay can be your friend in this regard, too.

The seiyuu I fangirl are few in number, but they're prolific as hell.

Seki Tomokazu is coming to Animazement this spring. Now I need to figure out what I want to take for him to sign. Do I want to take one of the vocal CDs from Weiss Kreuz? Or an Initial D vocal album? I'm still annoyed that I never found Vocal Battle 2 again (Koyasu vs SekiTomo) after not buying it on a trip to San Francisco. A Fruits Basket DVD? Gankutsuou? Meine Liebe? Last Exile? Genshiken? I wish I had some G Gundam stuff. I'm definitely taking something from Gundam Seed, possibly the voice iDoll of his character, which shouts lines from his character, Yzak Joule, when you press the button.

Another downside of being a seiyuu fan is that you watch some really shitty anime because it's got your favorites in it. Like Weiss Kreuz, which is by any standard TERRIBLE, but it's got Koyasu and SekiTomo in it. And Meine Liebe, based on a dating sim for girls, which is also pretty darn awful, if froufy and fun, but it has Koyasu and both Sekis in it.

The things I do for geek.

10 February 2009

Poetry: It's hard!

So, when I was a young, impressionable reader, I read Lord of the Rings. I fell in love with Middle Earth, read all the poems and appendices and even got some of the apocrypha like the Book of Lost Tales. I read it the first time before I was 10.

My first exposure was the Rankin-Bass animation of the Hobbit and Return of the King, which aired on TV in the early 80s at some point (I think I was about 5, so 1981 maybe?) Then I read Narnia, which my friend's parents owned, being good evangelicals. At some point, I got a used 3-volume edition of LOTR, which has since fallen apart. I think I gave it to Kim. (I currently own 2.3 editions: the Ballantine anniversary jewel-tone covers (aka the romance novel covers), the hardback Alan Lee illustrated edition, and a movie tie-in copy of the Two Towers, because the romance novel cover is too goofy, even if it's got the Legolas/Gimli moved right out of subtext.)

But this post isn't supposed to be about me waxing rhapsodic about how I wanted to be Eowyn when I was 12. It's supposed to be about the travails of attempting narrative poetry to stick in the middle of the fantasy with maps.

I haven't written poetry™ since, uh, 11th grade English class (British lit), when we had to write sonnets. (I wonder if I still have mine somewhere. I was inspired by "the world is too much with us" and wrote about teenagers being overly concerned with appearance.) I wrote some crappy emo poetry in college, and published it in the lit zine. Some of it rhymed, maybe, and I doubt any of it had any sort of meter. Free, blank verse FTW.

So here I sit, mumble years later, trying to write a fat narrative poem for my novel. It's much harder than writing, or even editing, prose, and I'm finding that it requires a different brain pattern. When I write prose, I tend to dump it onto the page, then go back and take out nonsense, add in descriptions, and generally fix it up. That doesn't quite seem to work for poetry. I'm sure it's grinding away in the back of my head somewhere, because I got a good line in the shower this morning (just one), and a sort of outline for the first half of the first stanza. I've got an outline for the whole thing, but nothing specific yet.

I've opted to use the chant royal and dactylic trimeter. And I'm going to guess that attempting to write this while at my day job is going to be pretty pointless and futile. I'll need more concentration than I can muster, with the regular interruptions of doing my job.

02 February 2009


A friend of mine did one of those memes on her livejournal, wherein the reader is encouraged to post his/her favorite poem to their own journal upon reading the post. So I'm posting one of my favorites, and leaving what it indicates about my psychology to the reader.

OZYMANDIAS, Percy Bysshe Shelley

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.