Nov 29

The truth comes out

I have a confession to make. All through November, I have been secretly hoping for Jen’s NaNoWriMo effort to fail.
Wait, let me explain! I like to read Jen’s writing. And when she posts to her blog, I get to read it. But she doesn’t publish her fiction, so when she works on that, I don’t get to read it. And it’s a zero-sum game; every hour she spends writing fiction is an hour she doesn’t spend posting to her blog. So really, from my point of view, for her to write fiction is a bad thing. Can you blame me for hoping that she would give up early in the month and go back to blogging?
Well, it didn’t work. We’re nearly to the end of November, and Jen is still striving to meet the NaNoWriMo deadline. (As far as I know, that is.) But if she doesn’t make it, my rooting against her will serve another purpose. Instead of indulging in self-recrimination, she can blame me for sabotaging her effort with all of the negative psychic energy I’ve been sending in her direction. See, I’ve actually made a noble sacrifice on her behalf! I sure hope she appreciates this.

Nov 21


I think I got a traffic ticket yesterday while driving home from work. Hang on a minute, you’re probably saying to yourself. How can you not be sure? Did a cop pull you over and give you a ticket, or not? Well, no. At the moment, I have no ticket in my possession. And no police officer stopped me yesterday. But I probably was cited for a moving violation anyway — automatically, by a machine.
I was driving south on Six Forks Road. It was almost completely dark. I realized that there was a long line of cars in the right lane, which I needed to get into. Slowing down, I looked for a place to merge into that lane, but didn’t see any way to do it. As my gaze reverted to the road in front of me, I saw that the traffic light directly ahead was yellow . . . and I was moving too slowly to get through the intersection in time. Before I could react, three things happened: The light turned red. My car entered the intersection. And a bright flash illuminated the dark street.
I had just been photographed running a red light.
I should have known better. Earlier this year, the city of Raleigh began implementing a program called Safelight, installing photo enforcement systems at key intersections. The intersection of Six Forks Road and Rowan Street was the second location in the city to get one of these. It was no secret — the cameras are housed in big pole-mounted gray boxes that are easy to spot, and a sign reading RED LIGHT PHOTO ENFORCED tells you exactly what they are for. I’ve been driving past this setup for the last six months. I knew it was there. But I forgot.
So I expect that I’ll be receiving a ticket in the mail, telling me I have to pay a $50 fine. I called the Safelight office to find out how long this takes, and spoke with a very nice woman who said they verify the photos, print citations, and mail them within a day or two. I should have my ticket in a week or so.
I am aware that some people object to photo enforcement systems of this sort, but most of the arguments I’ve heard are either “Big Brother” hysteria or claims that the cameras are an invasion of privacy. I’m sorry, but I don’t find those arguments at all convincing. Anyone who has actually read 1984 knows that Big Brother’s cameras were everywhere, in bedrooms and offices and bathrooms. Cameras on a public street corner are hardly the same thing. And there never was any privacy in such places, so how can it be invaded? I’ve seen reports that photo enforcement systems are inaccurate, sending tickets to innocent people. If that’s the case, it’s certainly a problem, but the solution is to fix the system so it works properly, not to dismantle it.
No, I’m not going to object to this. I’ll pay the fine and try to learn from the experience. I’d better, because another Safelight system has been installed at the corner of Rock Quarry Road and Cross Link, which I have to pass to get to Ruth and Ben’s high school. I’ll just have to be more careful at traffic lights. If I don’t, I’ll have no one to blame but myself.

Nov 12

Black and blue

Several weeks ago, the band on my wristwatch broke. So I went shopping for a new one. My watch is a no-frills black analog Timex, so there are lots of replacement bands available at places like Wal-Mart and Target. What I really wanted was a plain black band like the original one, but I didn’t see anything quite like that. I finally settled for the closest thing I could find, a band that was black leather on one side of the watch and a sort of dark blue cloth on the other side.
I installed the new band and decided I liked it. The two-tone color scheme was interesting, and so was the decision to use different materials for the two halves of the band. After I’d been wearing it for a while, I noticed that the design was a little more subtle than I had realized. Both halves were actually made of the same materials, but assembled differently. One half of the band was black leather on the outside and dark blue cloth on the inside; the other half was dark blue cloth on the outside and black leather on the inside.
Today it occured to me that this design didn’t make sense. Leather is more expensive than cloth, so why use leather on the inside of the band, where no one can see it? And then it finally dawned on me: I had installed half of the band backwards.
I reversed that half, and now I have the all-black replacement watchband that I had been looking for when I bought it. But I still think it looked kind of cool the other way.

Posted in Me
Nov 07


Bob may have no comment on CNN’s article about abandoned sites, but I can think of a couple of things to say about it. First of all, the journalist who wrote the article seems to think that this is a new phenomenon, but it’s not. A blog or other personal Web site is the online equivalent of a newsletter, and a lot of newsletters peter out after the first few issues.
Unless you are receiving a newsletter in the first place, you don’t notice when it stops coming. But defunct Web sites are more conspicuous, thanks to search engines like Google. As long as a dead site remains on the Web, search engines keep dredging it up and showing it to us. So we tend to be more aware of abandoned sites, because they’re in our faces more often than abandoned newsletters.
Why have newsletters always had such a high infant mortality rate? I think it’s because most of them were started for the wrong reason, or no obvious reason at all. It just seemed like a good idea. Well, the existence of a newsletter about your favorite topic is a wonderful thing, but somebody has to create it. And not just once, but over and over, every time an issue is due. It requires an ongoing commitment of time, money, and creative energy — and when the initial enthusiasm fades away, you need a reason to continue doing it. Otherwise you’ll realize that you’re wasting your time and energy on something you don’t really care about, and you’ll quit.
Maintaining a Web site is no different. Because of tools like Blogger, creating and updating a Web site seems easier than publishing a newsletter, but that’s an illusion. Sure, you don’t have to make a stack of photocopies, collate and address them by hand, and then drive to the Post Office to mail them. You just open a browser window and start typing. As a result, some people conclude that maintaining a Web site is effortless. But they’re walking into a trap, because the requirement for creative energy hasn’t changed. You still have to think of something worth saying, and then painstakingly craft sentences and paragraphs to communicate it. Fancy tools like Blogger don’t help you with that. When you have to face the Dreadful Blank Page and fill it with words, the fact that it’s a computer screen instead of a sheet of paper does not make the prospect any less daunting.
Most of those abandoned Web sites were doomed before they ever appeared on the Internet, because the site creators forgot to ask themselves: Why am I doing this? The commitment of time and energy to maintain a Web site is nontrivial. If you don’t get anything out of it, you’ll end up like Ajay Powell, viewing your site as a burden rather than a joy.

Nov 02

Princes and pages and mice, oh my!

My mother e-mailed asking whether the Cinderella cast rehearses every day. The short answer is yes. But there are a number of exceptions, which depend somewhat on your role in the play. The cast of Cinderella breaks down into a number of groups:

  • Cinderella and Prince Charming
  • The Fairy Godmother and her two helpers
  • King Darling III and his two pages
  • The Wicked Stepmother and the two Ugly Stepsisters
  • The Young Prince
  • The Mouse Ponies
  • The Ensemble

The Mouse Ponies are the six children who play the mice that get transformed into ponies to pull Cinderella’s carriage. The Young Prince is a boy who appears in a musical number in which the Prince reminisces about his youth and ends up singing a duet with a younger version of himself. The Ensemble is everyone else, the actors who populate the two big crowd scenes: the Prologue (in which the peasants celebrate Christmas in the town square) and the Ball. I don’t list the quartet as a separate group because it really has no separate identity after the song that starts off the play; the quartet members merge into the crowd of peasants and are not seen again as distinct characters. I should also mention that the Mouse Ponies and the Young Prince appear in the Prologue as the children of the town.
Everyone except the Ensemble and the Mouse Ponies is usually spoken of collectively as the Principal Characters — in other words, the folks who actually have lines. Of the 14 scenes in Cinderella, the Ensemble and the Mouse Ponies appear in only four of them. The entire rest of the play is carried by the Principals. So they definitely earn their top billing. But some of them are in more scenes than others, or are involved in more musical numbers. Cinderella appears in eight scenes, but the Fairy Godmother is in nine, and her two helpers appear in 13 — every scene but one!
What does this have to do with the rehearsal schedule? Well, the first week of rehearsal has consisted of learning and practicing the songs, which involves pretty much everyone. (However, the Mouse Ponies only sing with us on two songs, so we do those songs first and then let the mice go home. We also gave them Halloween off so they could go trick-or-treating.) But in week 2, we’ll concentrate mostly on the dance steps for the Ball, which doesn’t involve the mice. So they’ll get to skip those rehearsals. Moving into week 3, we’ll start to focus more on the blocking of specific scenes, and if the Ensemble or Mouse Ponies aren’t needed for those scenes, they’ll get the night off. For example, November 5 rehearsal will focus on the blocking of scenes 2, 3, and 4, which are Principals-only. So the Ensemble and the mice are off that evening.
In week 4, we’ll begin running through the entire play from beginning to end. This means that the non-Principals will spend most of the evening offstage, waiting. The adults in the Ensemble will chat, play cards, or read books, but what about the mice and the Young Prince? It’s the job of the Mouse Nanny (or as I prefer to call her, the Mouse Wrangler) to keep these seven kids corralled, quiet, and occupied when they’re not needed on stage. This year’s Mouse Wrangler is Marie, and I’ll write about that in another post.
There are several other reasons that we may not have a rehearsal on a particular day. First, that day may simply be listed as OFF in the rehearsal schedule for reasons known only to Haskell (the director). For example, November 20 and 23 are off days. Second, that day may be a holiday. This only happens once for Cinderella: we get the four-day Thanksgiving weekend off. Finally, the cast may be progressing well enough that Jane or Haskell decides that we can afford to skip a day. For example, at the end of yesterday’s rehearsal, Jane said we were doing great and gave us Sunday off! Hooray!
But I went to RLT today anyway. In fact, the entire family did. Schoolhouse Rock Live ended its run today, and the final performance (a matinee) was followed immediately by a strike. Strikes are all-hands events; the entire cast and crew is expected to participate, along with anyone else who is willing to help. Marie, Ruth, and I all worked on that show, so we reported for the strike, and Ben came along to pitch in. We spent the afternoon striking the props and costumes, dismantling the set, and stripping all of the lights from the overhead grid in the Gaddy-Goodwin Teaching Theatre. We also helped move the audience chairs, and the risers they had been sitting on, back against the walls to clear as much floor space as possible. (The Cinderella rehearsals will move into that theatre tomorrow, and we’ll need all the room we can get to practice dance steps.)
After the strike was completed, everyone adjourned to the Green Room for the traditional strike dinner. A good time was had by all.