State of the Steven

I did it again. I mentioned my upcoming move in an offhanded comment on Heather’s blog, and she said, “And does this mean you’ve made a decision?? Spill!”

One again, I was absolutely certain that I had talked about this on the blog, but I haven’t. I scrolled back through the last few posts, and when I talked about this in February, I was still thinking about it and I hadn’t locked anything in.

So with that in mind, I thought it would be a nice time to do an overall check-in, a sort of “State of the Steven” post as it were. We’ll start with the topic I already brought up-

I’m moving! I spent a lot of time thinking about the things I mentioned back in February, and I talked the ears off of anyone who would listen about the possibility of a move. Most of the people in closest proximity to me figured out that I was definitely going before I knew it myself.

I did a ton of research, looked at dozens of possible places to live, talked on the phone with one helpful-but-also-standoffish realtor, and took several “virtual tours” of possible apartment buildings. Just a hair under two weeks ago, I signed a lease for an apartment in Arlington, VA, just outside of Washington DC. I have about ten weeks left in Florida then I’m headed up to the new place in August.

map of where I will be living relative to DC
The red pin is approximately where the new apartment is located.

On January 1st, I posted about my theoretical goals for the year, and one of them was blogging more consistently. I’ve obviously let that one slide, so let’s take a quick look at a few of the other biggies:

Health, exercise, and sleep: I started out the year strong on this one, but then we got a pandemic. My access to the treadmill went away. Grocery shopping involved more and more junk food and beer. All the things that keep me sane like live music and trivia out with my friends went away for more than two months. Time began to lose all meaning, thanks to the stay-at-home orders, and my sleep went off the rails. So overall, I would say this goal could be better.

Travel: Unfortunately, Covid-19 and the stay at home orders have killed this one. I’ve had five trips involving air travel killed so far this year, and one remaining for September is in serious doubt. I’ll probably be going up to DC in late June, partly to collect keys to my new apartment and partly because the planned Seattle trip with my sister got squashed and we’re trying to make up for it with a smaller East Coast city-hop. We have to wait for touristy things to open though; if we went now we wouldn’t be able to do anything.

Live Music: This is an utter failure, again because of the pandemic. I’ve honestly lost count of how many shows have been canceled, postponed, or rescheduled, but it’s more than twenty so far. The picture to the right is the little whiteboard in my office. The left column is cancellations and it’s only shorter than the other column because I erase shows once a refund is received. The right column is any show that’s been postponed but hasn’t said anything else about the status. If a show gets rescheduled, I’ll either erase it from the right column or move it to the left, pending a refund. I’ve given this WAY too much thought.

And some of the smaller goals from the January 1st post-

  • See more Shakespeare – I watched a little on YouTube, but the pandemic has put a kibosh in this one. Still, there’s a great Shakespeare theater in DC, so I’m optimistic for the future.
  • Make a decision about moving – Finally, a goal that I can actually say is DONE. All that’s left now are the move itself, the acclimating to a new city, and so forth.
  • More decluttering – I’ve actually done a heap of this in preparation for my move- I got rid of the kitchen stools I never sit in, the second television I don’t need, some other small furniture items, and a few odds and ends. I still have way more than I really want to bring for an interstate move, but hey, it’s a start.

How’re you doing so far this year?

18/52

The London Film Museum

My previous post about London led to a conversation with a friend about London, and I wanted to look at the pictures I posted in my blog post about the London Film Museum. When I went to look for the post, I discovered to my vast surprise that I never wrote a post about the London Film Museum, I only wrote a paragraph in one of my previous London posts. In August of 2012, I said the following in a longer post about London:

I quite enjoyed the London Film Museum, which had a lot of neat stuff, including Daleks, a TARDIS, the superman suit from Superman Returns, the Batman Begins batsuit, and a large variety of props from other movies.  There was an entire room of Harry Potter stuff, and a large exhibit dedicated to Ray Harryhausen, including a full sized original Bubo.  This was a highlight for me.

That’s it- just that one paragraph. All the pictures I took at the museum, which I thought I had posted years ago, were still unshared. I will now correct that oversight.

When I visited the London Film Museum, it was in a section of County Hall, right near Westminster Bridge, close to the London Eye along the Thames River. I have since learned that it moved to a location in Covent Garden in April of 2012- my visit was in July of 2012, so I suspect the museum was still moving, and I saw only a fraction of the entire exhibit. What I did see was pretty dang cool though.

Harry Potter props and costumes- A variety of items were present here, including some costumes, the Tri-Wizard cup, and Harry’s Nimbus 2000.

Star Wars stuff – London is the home of Pinewood Studios, which has been a production facility for most of the Star Wars films. There were a few Star Wars artifacts on hand during my visit. I saw much more at the Star Wars exhibit in Tokyo a few years later.

Alien – They had a sculpture of a Xenomorph and some facehuggers from the Alien franchise.

Doctor Who – A film museum in England would naturally have some Doctor Who items. Not as much as the Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff, but still- a Tardis and a handful of Daleks were still neat to see.

Superman and Batman – Pinewood has a long history with DC Comics, and there weer a number of Superman and Batman artifacts on hand. First up, some costumes!

Next, we have part of the ship that brought Kal to earth in Superman (1978) and a newspaper from Superman II.

Braveheart, Hellraiser, and various animation – The Dangermouse cardboard stand was my favorite in this part.

The Ray Harryhausen Exhibit – This was my favorite part, to be honest- they had a special exhibit in plae called “Ray Harryhausen: Myths and Legends.” It contained various items from Harryhausen’s stop-motion work, but I was most interested in the Clash of the Titans items, particularly the full-sized Bubo the Owl!

Have you ever been to a film museum? What’s your favorite prop that you’ve seen in person?

17/52

Ancient Ruminations on London

I have been slowly going through the old posts on my ancient LiveJournal, deleting most and saving some as pdf. There are a few, the rarest of posts, that are worth preserving, so I’ve been adapting or revising them to bring forward to this blog.

One such post was my answer to a question-meme, “If you won a trip to anywhere, where would you go, and why?” While I travel quite often now, that was not so when I wrote this on LiveJournal. This particular LJ post was written before I had ever been to Europe.

Anyone who’s known me for more than a week knows that I want to go to England more than any other destination; <lj user=’raptorgirl’> even gave me a London travel book a few years back as a birthday gift, The Irrevent Guide To London. I just need a travel buddy and a little lead time to put together the money and the vacation request.

It’s true, I used to go on and on about London. By the time I lived overseas, the money and vacation time was no longer a hindrance to going, and I realized pretty quickly that if I kept waiting for a travel buddy, I would never make it anywhere. So, I started traveling alone. And before long, I took that first trip to London- the first of many. By the time I finally made it to the UK, “The Irreverent Guide To London” was wildly out of date, but it was still a fun read. (And for those who aren’t hip to the LJ lingo, raptorgirl is the LiveJournal username of Vanessa, a dear friend here in Orlando. I met her originally when we were both students at the University of Central Florida, and it feels really weird that we’ve known each other now for more than two decades.)

I want to ride the London Eye. I want to see Stonehenge. I want to visit Stratford-on-Avon. I want to see that giant odd looking tower in Cardiff that figures so heavily in the early seasons of Torchwood. I want to see a show in Picadilly. I want to get drunk and lie in a field in Cambridge. I want to ride the Tube and mind the gap. I want to visit a very particular grave in Highgate Cemetary in London. Years of watching British television and reading British authors have given me a laundry list of things to do and see.

I’ve actually decided that I’m going to get there before I turn forty- that gives me just over a year and a half to get my shit together.

I’d like to see other parts of the world too, but that can all wait. London first.

All in all, I did pretty well on this list- In my first trip to London, I managed to ride the London Eye. (And again on a subsequent trip.). I took a day trip from Paddington Station to Salisbury to see Stonehenge. I went to Cardiff with one of my best friends on a subsequent trip to see Roald Dahl Plass, which was used for establishing shots as the Torchwood Hub. (Today is that friend’s birthday, actually- Happy birthday, Lorrie!) We went to the Doctor Who Experience on the same trip- alas, the. DWE has since closed. I’ve watched three different shows in Picadilly. I went to that grave in Highgate. I rode the Tube and minded the Gap. And I did so, so much more.

I didn’t get to go lie in a field in Cambridge, but maybe I’ll manage to do that after this pandemic wraps up. And while I still haven’t made it to Stratford-on-Avon, I did tour the Globe Theater in London, so maybe that’s close enough?

While I was wrong about the sequence – I was living in Germany before I ever made it to London- I did manage to see London before the deadline. Just barely. My first trip there was the summer before I turned forty. I’ve been back a couple of times since though, and there’s always more to see.

After seeing 28 different countries away from home, London is still my favorite place to visit in all the world. I miss it. I hope I can get back there sometime soon.

If you won a trip to anywhere, where would you go, and why?

16/52

The sixth stage is lunacy.

Happy Rex Manning Day, everyone!

I was supposed to be in Washington DC right now. I had the hotel and airfare booked. I was going to work from DC for the week, and hang out in various neighborhoods to see what the food options were like, and maybe go to a concert midweek. I was going to look at apartments, hang out with friends a little, and maybe even see my cousin.

I was hoping to see the cherry blossoms while I was there. Of course, the cherry blossoms hit peak bloom about two weeks earlier than normal, so that was a wash. And then there was a pandemic, and everything got cancelled. Everything was pushed off and postponed and scrubbed away.

I wanted to talk about how all my canceled plans have me feeling adrift in this post. I wanted to relate it to the Kübler-Ross stages of grief, but every time I tried to write it that way, it just felt forced. Contrived. Besides, Homer did it better anyway.

I’ve been thinking about this a lot. People close to me have lost family members to Covid-19. Others have lost their jobs as entertainment industry jobs shut down. I know that I’m incredibly fortunate to have employment that is unaffected by the pandemic, but I wrestle with these two notions:

Having all my concerts and trips be washed away like a sandcastle at high tide is incredibly depressing. I am incredibly bummed that all my plans have dissolved as concert venues close and travel becomes unsafe- but I simultaneously feel guilty about feeling bummed, because other people are facing harder losses. I’m sad about the stuff I don’t get to do, and I also feel terrible about being sad for the stuff I don’t get to do.

But enough of this navel-gazing- let’s talk about what I’ve been up to in order to pass the boundless time!


Firstly, an update on the data loss I wrote about in the previous post: I received the new NAS hardware at the end of last week, slapped the original drives into the new enclosure, powered it up, and… miracles occurred. Everything was still there.

I did some reconfiguration on the new hardware, ran a disk check, and started some proactive replacement of the older, smaller hard drives. I couldn’t have asked for a happier ending on what could have been a data-loss tragedy.


Secondly, I cut my own hair last week. Yes, really.

I have no idea when the hair places will reopen, and I was starting to feel desperate and fluffy. I discovered that one of the electric clipper thingies in my cabinet had a plastic spacer to keep it from being full buzz cut, and I set about trying to make myself look a little less like a Q-tip.

Luckily for me, my hair is pretty simple. I keep it short to begin with, so clippering out the sides did most of the work in making me look less fluffy. I tried to use the fingers-and-scissors thing that hair stylists do on the top of my head, and all I really succeeded in doing was scraping up my knuckles.

I can’t see the back, so I know it’s kind of a disaster. I suppose I could set up a complicated series of mirrors to retry the back, but I’m not quite that ambitious.

All in all, this could have come out so much worse.


Lastly, I tried a thing that I saw on BookFace, because it looked interesting, and I’m here to share my results with you all.

I started with a box of cornbread mix, some beef franks, and a muffin pan that had me wandering around the house singing, “Do you know the muffin pan? The muffin pan? The muffin pan!”

I used a box of “instant” cornbread mix. This is pretty simple stuff; it just needs eggs, milk, and butter.

My chosen meat was Hebrew National beef franks. There are several good options for the hot-dog part of these, but I’ve consistently enjoyed the flavor of Hebrew National.

Step one is to mix the eggs and butter. For what may be the first time ever, I have managed to melt butter in the microwave without a) having it spatter all over everything requiring a massive microwave cleaning, or b) breaking a glass because I misjudged how long to heat it.

I just want to take a moment to address the fact that my eggs and butter combined in some sort of mystical foodie sorcery to pretend they were an avocado.

And now I wonder if I could have managed to add avocado to this recipe…

The recipe called for milk, but I don’t keep actual milk around, so soy milk had to do. It worked fine though.

Pay no attention to the Pasta Boat in the background of this photo. It is NOT my most prized kitchen plastic. Shut up!

It was at this point in the cooking process that I remembered that landscape photos look better on the web than portrait photos do. OOPS!

It only took a few minutes of hand whisking to get the mixture ready to go. I don’t have a hand whisk. This is an electric mixer whisk attachment that I was just using by hand, because I am fancy.

A little PAM sprayed into the muffin pan (the muffin pan, the muffin pan) kept the mixture from sticking to the metal during cooking. They just popped right out after.

Based on the advice of a friend, I tried two hot dog delivery methods: upright and chopped.

During the cooking process, the upright ones did not stay upright. I don’t know if this is a failing of my dough or just gravity at work. Maybe I wasn’t chopping them at appropriate right angles.

The clear winner was the chopped hot dog muffins, because they delivered considerably more hot dog with every bite. All in all, I would call this entire experiment a delicious, delicious success.

What have you been doing to keep busy in quarantine?

15/52

All this data will be lost in time, like tears in rain.

Last night, about an hour after I finished working a longer than average Monday shift, I opened up Plex to finish watching an episode of Night Court that I had started the day before, and I waited. I waited some more. Then I waited a tiny bit longer.

After a while, I realized that Plex wasn’t going to load my video, and I went into troubleshooting mode- it took me less than a minute to realize that I couldn’t connect into my little NAS in any way- not through a web browser or a shell program. A NAS, for you non-techie folks, is network-attached storage. It’s basically a little computer with a bunch of disks that holds a bunch of my crap. In my case, I had been using it as a storage location off my main computer for everything that needed long-term storage- photographs, important documents, and more.

A moment later and I’d gone to investigate the machine physically- all the lights were solid except one drive light which was rapidly blinking. I let it sit that way for a few minutes, and when I saw no change at all, I tried the usual thing- turning it off and on again. The fans spun up for a second, then the power light started flashing blue and the drive lights all went amber.

Cue the frantic Google research to figure out what the hell just happened, and a short while later I was certain that it was completely dead. There was a design flaw in the Atom chips used in this particular model, and they burn up and stop working over time. Like Roy Batty, my little data robot had always had a finite life-span.

It is not lost on me that my NAS died the night before World Backup Day.

It’s my own fault, I suppose- I had been contemplating upgrading to a newer model for a while, and I guess my little NAS got jealous. It pulled a full Ophelia and basically just jumped in the nearest river.

I am, of course, kidding. This demise was foretold years ago– I just didn’t know it until yesterday because Synology is garbage at notifying their customers of fatal design flaws. The frustrating part of all this for me is that because of the world’s Pandemical issues, it’s a little bit harder to get the replacements that I need to get back up and running. I’ve ordered the main piece that I need- a new host body for my disks. With a little luck, I’ll have it within a week.

My data, on the other hand- that’s a big question for me. It should be ok- the drives were RAIDed so that they protect against data loss. In theory, I should just be able to plug them right into the new console when it arrives and pick up where I left off. The settings, user profiles, and the like will probably need to be set up from scratch, but my data should be safe.

If, for some reason, the drives are scrambled and the drives are unreadable, then I’m still not completely dead because I back up EVERYTHING. I’ve been burned before. In September of 2003, my Windows XP machine crashed and burned. It was bad, people, really bad. I lost nearly sixty gig of personal data. Old photographs, e-mail correspondence- things I will never recover. That crash is why I don’t use Windows for a personal machine anymore. (Well, one of the reasons, at any rate.)

Ever since then, I’ve been fastidious (and perhaps even a little paranoid) about backing my shit up. Each of the volumes on my NAS is synced to a cloud backup service- all my personal data, the photos from trips to 28 countries, the video files stored in my Plex server, and most importantly the music.

Most especially the music.

I lost some of my music collection in The Great Crash of ’03 and ever since then I’ve been hypervigilant. My music collection is, unarguably, the most important data on my machine, and it’s stored in no less than five different places around the world. I will not lose the music again.

So that’s where I am now- waiting patiently for the new shell to put my drives in. The Ezri to host my symbiont now that Jadzia is gone. (I’m kidding again; I did not name my Synology after a Trill, but now that I’ve made the joke, I’m madly tempted to name the new one Ezri.)

Have you ever lost important data to a computer crash? What did you do?

14/52


Let’s call this an Appendix, for the technically minded folks who may be curious about some of the technology discussed in this post. Here are two quick notes:

  • The failed NAS is a Synology DS415+. The flaw was in the Atom chips used by that model. I’ve chosen to replace it with a DS918+. While the DS918+ has the same number of drive bays, it will have eight times as much RAM and built-in support for a virtual machine, which I’m excited to play with. And before you ask why I’m not going to FreeNAS and playing with ZFS – while ZFS is undeniably awesome, building my own kit is expensive and time-consuming and it has no interest for me now. I used to assemble Frankenstein-computers from pieces-parts when I was younger. Nowadays, I slave over a hot server all day at work, and when I’m off work I don’t want to tinker. I just don’t.

  • I use a variety of backup systems for my data, but the two most important ones are designated as most important because they’re off-site. If my apartment were to fall into a sinkhole right now, my data would still exist in the cloud. (And let’s face it, that happens a lot in Florida for some reason, almost like we’re on a Hellmouth.) There are several great backup services out there, so do your research. I personally use Backblaze for my main computer and Backblaze’s B2 Buckets for the individual volumes of my NAS. I’ve had Crashplan in the past, and the Java app was unwieldy. I find Backblaze to be simpler to use and leaner on my computer.