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.
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’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?
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.
Over the last two weeks, my social calendar has thinned out a lot. Everyone is trying to stop the rapid spread of Covid-19, and social distancing is super important for that. In my area, there’s a curfew. Restaurants are not permitted to open their dining rooms- delivery and takeaway are the order of the day there. Grocery stores are limiting their hours. Companies and schools are transitioning largely to work-from-home where possible. For those scenarios that can’t be done remotely, lots of layoffs are happening so that their employees can try to find something else or sign up for unemployment. And so it goes.
While I understand and agree with the reasons behind all of this, I’m very frustrated with the end result. I’ve lost nearly a dozen concerts from my schedule, as venues close in an abundance of caution. I’ve canceled airfare and hotels for two different out of state trips, and there’s another two that may be on the chopping block over the next week. My weekly trivia and monthly karaoke are canceled for the time being. The only thing left on my calendar for the next ten weeks aside from work stuff is MegaCon and one doctor’s appointment. I suspect both of those could wind up canceled before much longer. (Edit: Two hours after this was posted, MegaCon was rescheduled for June.)
For most of my friends, our new weird quarantined reality is a big adjustment. For me, it’s not really all that different than my previous life. I work completely remotely, live alone, and eat most of my meals alone. I actively enjoy not leaving my apartment- I can stay here for days without ever feeling bored or stir-crazy. There’s always something for me to do here. There’s a pitfall, of course- the longer I stay in, the harder it is to break the inertia and get out.
My extrovert friends are losing their minds right now, but for me this isn’t bad at all. Doing stuff alone has always been easy for me. Movies, concerts, trips to other countries: I’m perfectly happy going by myself. Having companionship for these jaunts is enjoyable, but never necessary. I’ve learned over time that while I usually have anxiety about leaving the house, I almost always have fun once I get to where I’m going.
These are the two warring sides of my personality: the loner and the social animal. Am I an introverted extrovert or an extroverted introvert? One of my friends told me a while back that he thinks I’m very social even though it’s sometimes really difficult to get me out of the house- he’s not wrong. Crowds drain me. Too much of that kind of noise makes me glaze over. Too much ambient noise (other than music) depletes me.
There was a brief time a while back where I thought that my loner tendencies might be some sort of personal or psychological failing on my part, so I read a bunch of books about being alone. In “Party Of One: The Loner’s Manifesto” by Anneli Rufus, there is a paragraph about how children played with the original GI Joe doll, the 12-inch version that my brothers had. (This is not to be confused with the four-inch toys that came out in 1982 with all the vehicles and accessories to compete with the similarly sized Star Wars toys at the time. The first GI Joe, the 12 inch one, was only one Joe. They didn’t introduce the snow guy and the ninja guy and the metal-faced guy until later on with the four-inch GI Joe friends.).
Anneli Rufus writes:
“Creating scenarios with only a single doll validates the power and wonder of the individual. Even if this is only a molded-plastic individual with painted-on hair and a mass-produced costume, it is a vessel through which the child projects his own visions of himself as an independent thinker, doer, adventurer, and winner. With only a single doll, the child celebrates self-reliance, learns to strategize, and learns the most potent lesson of all: The doll- or the real person the doll represents- requires nothing in order to do things and have experiences. Its adventures are sparked and carried out through ingenuity, imagination, creativity. In playing with a single doll, the child discovers how to entertain himself. A lone doll gives the message that one is enough.”
— “Party of One: The Loner’s Manifesto” by Anneli Rufus
The book goes on to talk about how the four-inch toys came with their personalities already set, predetermined. Reading this, I thought back to my own childhood. Whenever I was playing with my armada of the tiny Star Wars toys, I didn’t follow the preinstalled personalities or their already-written adventures.
Instead, I would put a blanket on the floor in a blobby unfolded state so that it would make caves. Then I’d select one particular character, never a Luke or a Han- generally some smaller, less important character, and I’d make that character go live by themself in one of the caves. I only chose one, and I stuck with that one. On the far side of Blanket Mountain. Far away from the rest of the action figures. When I was playing Star Wars with other neighborhood kids, this usually led to some frustrating times, because they wanted to interact, and I wanted to be a hermit.
I think a therapist would have a field day with that one.
How are you handling quarantine and social distancing?
I was thinking about a party my parents had when I was a tiny, tiny person, in the house we lived in until I was seventeen.
The second house I have any memories of was in a neighborhood called Florida Gardens. It was five bedrooms and two bathrooms on a quarter-acre of land, and Zillow says it was constructed in 1973. The house was built at roughly the same time as I was!
This is the house as it appears on Google Maps. Our landscaping is all gone now, and the driveway is in worse shape than when we lived there. The house on the left is, hilariously, the house we lived in before this one- I still remember carrying my own toybox between the houses when we moved, even though I don’t think I had a room yet when I carried it over.
I lived in that house through all of middle school and most of high school. It started out as a three-bedroom, but the garage was sealed off and converted into two more bedrooms at some point before we moved in. My parents took the master bedroom, which was on the far side of the dining room. My room was in the back-right corner, with my elder brother’s room right next to mine. The garage-converted bedrooms were given to my other brother and my sister. They had a shared door between their rooms, which gave them plenty of opportunities to be co-conspirators when they were supposed to be otherwise engaged. I remember wandering into my middle brother’s room often to listen to his 45 records. After my sister went off to college, some of her room became a miniature office, and my brother ran a BBS from a computer sitting in that room.
I remember when our grandmother came to visit from New Jersey in 1979. We had HBO and I was watching The Black Hole in the living room when she arrived. She would stay on the second bed in my sister’s room, and in the morning she would make us Farina. I still have a fondness for Farina, despite how bland and grits-like it is.
I digress, however- I was talking about the party. I must have been seven or eight years old- old enough to know I wasn’t allowed into the party, but also old enough to want to be involved. The Formica bar on the back porch was in use for drinks, and there was music on the eight-track player in the living room. I do not remember any of the people my parents invited- I just remember there were other adults there, and my tiny little brain wanted to see all the unfamiliar people.
I’m not sure what made me think about this house party from another time, and I’m not sure that this post even has a point, other than to distract myself from all the weirdness happening in the world right now. It’s nice anyway to think about some interesting memories from back when I was a tiny, tiny person. Like this:
Do you have any fond or interesting memories from your childhood home?
For a while now, I’ve been seeing a meme popping up on BookFace and other social media:
List 10 albums that made a lasting impression on you as a TEENAGER, but only one per band/artist.
This came up in a conversation the other day, and I spiraled out, because that’s what my brain does when I start thinking about music. I spent several hours compiling (and repeatedly revising) my own list of albums.
These aren’t all necessarily from my teen years though- I chose to go a slightly different direction, listing albums that were very influential to me throughout my formative years. Each of the titles listed was important to me for different reasons during the parts of my life where I was learning who I am. The oldest album on the list was released when I was two years old, although I didn’t hear it until I was a teenager. The newest release on the list came out in 1999, roughly a month after I finished off my bachelor’s degree. Here they are in release order:
Alice Cooper – Welcome To My Nightmare (released March 11, 1975) – By the time I finally heard this album for the first time, I had already graduated high school. This album marked the first time I’d ever heard a song with my name as the title.
That song, “Steven,” is part of a trio of songs that tell a story end to end, in a really fascinating way. I’m also a big fan of Vincent Price’s cameo in the song- to borrow a line from Dana Gould, “he’s my favorite everything!“
Styx – Kilroy Was Here (released February 22, 1983) – In 1983, “Mr. Roboto” was all over the radio, and the sound of it had a sci-fi aesthetic that absolutely appealed to ten-year-old me. This album was released three months before Return of the Jedi hit theaters for the first time, and I was incredibly jazzed for both.
Kilroy Was Here was the first time I had ever really been aware of an entire album having a single story to tell. You never forget your first concept album. The different members of the band play specific characters in the story, and I just thought that was amazing.
I also have a favorite “my brother did that” story about this song- I had been using my little tape recorder, pulling it to the television or the radio to collect the songs that I liked- a precursor to the mix tapes I made later on. One night while my family was gathered together for dinner, I held my trusty tape recorder up to the television while they played the video to Mr. Roboto on “Solid Gold.” About two-thirds of the way into the video, my brother exclaimed, “I finally understand this song.” This was the only version of Mr. Roboto I had on tape for years to come.
Depeche Mode – Some Great Reward (released September 24, 1984) – While my favorite Depeche Mode album is actually 1990’s Violator, Some Great Reward was my first DM title, and my first exposure to an entire genre of music.
It was in a classroom- I don’t even remember which one now. I don’t remember the name of the guy who first let me hear Depeche Mode on his walkman, but I still remember his spiked up black hair and his so-shiny patent leather boots. He was the first of many, many, many friends who listened to goth, industrial, synthpop, post-punk, and electronic music. He had tapes for his Walkman tape deck with Depeche Mode, The Cure, The The, and a few others. (Side note: Try searching for “The The” in most search engines. Without qualifying words like song titles, it’s an exercise in frustration.) He let me listen to a few songs from this album and I was hooked- and Depeche Mode went into my mental playlist forevermore.
Weird Al Yankovic – Dare To Be Stupid (released June 18, 1985) – Needless to say, I was already a Weird Al fan when Dare To Be Stupid dropped into stores. Ironically, it was Al’s originals that brought me to his fandom, not his parodies.
I spent my middle school days waiting in the lunch line with Brian and Phil, singing all the songs from “In 3-D,” especially Midnight Star and Nature Trail To Hell. When I got my copy of Dare To Be Stupid, I immediately gravitated to Slime Creatures From Outer Space, This Is The Life, One More Minute, and of course Yoda. To this day, Dare To Be Stupid is a regular feature during my karaoke nights, and I’ve seen Weird Al live several times. The most recent live Weird Al show I attended was just last summer, thirty-five years after the first time I heard one of his amazing polka medleys.
Information Society – Information Society (released June 21, 1988) – When InSoc dropped their self-titled album, I was regularly attending parent-mandated group therapy, and I listened to this tape over and over again while driving to and from the doctor’s office where my therapy was held.
I practically wore out the tape- I already knew that I loved electronic music, and the theatricality of Kurt Harland, Jim Cassidy, and Paul Robb immediately caught my attention.
It took almost another three decades before I was finally able to see them live- partly because the band broke up after the third album. I purchased every one of their albums, including 1997’s “Don’t Be Afraid,” which was released by Kurt Harland without the rest of the group.
The band members went on to do their own things for a while: Harland writes music and does audio engineering for video games, Cassidy is faculty at Oregon State University, and Robb continued to make music without the Information Society name. They reformed the band in 2006, and I was finally able to catch them live a few years later. I’ve seen them three times now, twice by flying to a show in another state, and it’s a great show every time.
Cyndi Lauper – A Night To Remember (released May 9, 1989) – While “She’s So Unusual” is more widely known (and has bigger sales numbers), A Night To Remember is the album that locked me in as a Cyndi Lauper fan.
This album was originally supposed to include “Hole In My Heart (That Goes All The Way To China)” from the movie soundtrack of Vibes, but when the movie didn’t do well they reworked it. Several of my favorite Cyndi Lauper songs were hilariously never on any of her albums.
In any case, the summer of 1989 was the summer before my senior year of high school, and the music on A Night To Remember spoke to my nascent longing and romanticism in ways that no other music had before. Plus the drums in “I Drove All Night” really slap.
Prince – Batman (released June 20, 1989) – The summer of 1989 saw the release of the first Michael Keaton Batman movie. I had a job that summer as a dishwasher in a Wag’s Restaurant- they no longer exist, and the location where I worked in the River Bridge shopping center in Lake Worth is an IHOP these days.
That summer, I had a Walkman and a bag full of cassette tapes. I would spend time with my high-pressure water spray, and Prince. Or Paula Abdul. Or Cyndi, from the last album I mentioned. Or even Milli Vanilli, before they were discredited.
I’ve been a fan of Prince ever since the first time I heard his music, but when he did the soundtrack to a comic book movie, two of my favorite things in the world commingled. This album is also the source of a joke that I listened to hundreds of times before finally getting it one random afternoon just a few years ago. Yes, it took me nearly thirty years to grok the punchline of this joke. And no I’m not going to tell you which joke.
Erasure – Chorus (released October 14, 1991) – I’ve seen Erasure in concert several times, and while my favorite Erasure tour was absolutely the amazing Nightbird tour around 2005, that wasn’t my favorite album from Andy Bell and Vince Clarke. That honor belongs to Chorus.
This album just saw a thirtieth anniversary release, not in the United States of course, with remasters of the original ten songs, a second disc of remixes, and a third disc containing the entire album performed live in Manchester from 1992. Of course I lapped up the entire thing- Chorus was the soundtrack to my 1992, end to end. The number of memories I have pertaining to people and places around this album cannot be counted. To this day, “Am I Right” is a song that I hum to myself whenever it rains. (Unless I’m singing that other song about rain, that is.)
Toys – Music from the Motion Picture Soundtrack (released December 15, 1992) – I don’t get to talk about it much these days, but my first job ever was at a movie theater. Over the years, I’ve worked at five different movie theaters, and in 1992 I was working in a theater that played Toys.
This brilliant Robin Williams movie contained a fantastic cast. (To this day, some of my electronics are named after Joan Cusack’s character.) The soundtrack includes some of the most original and creative music I’ve ever heard, including a few tracks that I go back to over and over again throughout the years. I’m especially fond of “The Closing of the Year,” featuring Wendy and Lisa (who are themselves better known for being part of Prince’s band The Revolution.) I tend to spin up that song on New Year’s Eve, in a sort of personal musical tradition.
I’ve found that a well-curated movie soundtrack can be a thing of beauty and wonder, and this is one of my favorites. (See also: Cool World, The Crow, Mortal Kombat — amazing soundtracks, all.)
VNV Nation – Empires (released in 1999 in Europe, and May 16, 2000 in the US) – While I was a University of Central Florida student in Orlando, there was a stretch of time where I was going out dancing five nights a week. I had a tremendous rotation of clubs that simply is not possible in the city now.
The amazing Embassy Music Hall is a fricking Wal-Mart Grocery now. I can’t remember precisely where Club Zen was, but I think it’s currently called the “Tequila Lounge Club.” Cairo was downtown but it’s not there anymore. The Blue Room? That’s gone too. The only one of the original clubs from that time still standing is Barbarella, which was renamed the Independent Bar and now only has the kind of music I want to dance to once a month, stupidly always on a Monday.
In late 1999, I had just completed my degree, and I was forced to move back to South Florida even though I didn’t want to leave Orlando. VNV Nation was already well played in the kinds of clubs I went to, but when this album dropped, their music was suddenly everywhere. It was the first album in quite a while that I could listen to end-to-end without feeling the urge to skip to something else. For a span of several years in the early 2000s, this type of music- EBM and synthpop- was my most listened to genre. At a time where I was sort of adrift, many of these songs soothed me in a way that I could never really articulate. Even today, when the mood is just-so, this is the kind of music I seek out.
I realized while I was writing this post that with the exception of the soundtrack to Toys, I’ve seen the artists of the other nine albums live. All of them. Most of them I’ve seen more than once. I find that kind of remarkable, but also not very surprising.
Also, I came up with a smaller list during the making of the list above which contains five much more recent albums that I enjoy enough to listen to end-to-end. Just for giggles, here’s those five with absolutely zero additional commentary:
1. Muse – The Resistance (2009) 2. Taylor Swift – 1989 (2014) 3. Peter Cincotti – Metropolis (2012) 4. The Greatest Showman (2017) 5. Alice Merton – Mint (2019)
I listed ten of my most influential albums in this post. Now tell me one of yours!