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 By the time I finally made it to the UK, “The Irreverent Guide To London” was wildly out of date, but it was still a fun read.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?

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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.

Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels.com

On being alone.

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?

13/52

Photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels.com
Header photo by Markus Spiske from Pexels.com
https://www.pexels.com/photo/crowd-reflection-color-toy-1679618/

61.

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?

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