Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Good Thing # Infinity: Gwen

One of my favorite things in the world was to get up early, long before my day had to start, so I could be alone in morning as the sun rose while I drank good coffee and listened to classical music while easing into the day. No matter how the day went after that, at least I had that perfect moment and the whole day was better for it.

Later, even after Jess and I started living together, I'd still wake up an hour or two before she did to start my day the same way. Only now our two cats would follow me out of bed and curl up on me or near me, and it was an even better way to start the day.

Now Gwen has been out in the world for two months. She and I wake up long before her mother does. I make my coffee and she wiggles on the floor. We listen to classical music together. She prefers Bach and Beethoven. I'm partial to Mozart. I read her nursery rhymes and fairy tales. She makes noises that will be words one day. I never thought I'd be sharing my perfect moment with my own daughter. I had no idea how perfect that moment could be!

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

: Good Thing #37: Adventure Time

As an impending dad I'm getting new perspectives on things. It used to be I'd just watch a show and like it or not. Now there's new categories. There's "I'll have to wait until my daughter is asleep to watch this," and "I hope my daughter is never into this," and "I can't wait until my daughter is old enough to watch this."

Falling firmly into that last category is Adventure Time. Adventure Time is into it's 4th season on the Cartoon Network. It follows the adventures of Jake the Dog, who can stretch any part of his body into any shape he needs it to be, and his adopted brother Finn the Human, who is apparently the last human on earth. Humanity was wiped out long ago during the Mushroom Wars. Since then magic has come into the world, and there are many anthropomorphic beings ruled (mostly) by princesses. There's the Bubblegum Princess, who rules the Candy Kingdom who's citizens are living candy. There's the Lumpy Space Princess, who comes from Lumpy Space, an alternate universe where everyone is lumpy and talks like valley girls. Abraham Lincoln is alive and is the ruler of Mars. These are just a few notes of the elaborate mythology of the show. But a wonderful thing about the show is it doesn't get bogged down in its mythology. Like the best cartoons, it works for both adults and kids simultaneously. The fact that it's set in a post-apocalyptic world is there for the grownups to pick up on if they're paying attention, but kids probably won't even notice. They're going to be enjoying the wonderful and strange adventures that Finn and Jake are having.

It doesn't stop at being just a show that kids and grownups can watch. There's another whole level of encoded messages within the adult content that only certain people will pick up on. There are themes from Gene Wolfe's Book of the New Sun, Jack Kirby's Kamandi, the Last Boy on Earth, and the movie A Boy and his Dog, and even Advanced Dungeons and Dragons. But it's all so deftly handled that if you don't get it, you're not left out and it doesn't distract from the story. It's all there as a special treat if you get the reference, but it's still fun if you don't.

It's currently my favorite thing on TV, and I'm looking forward to introducing my daughter to it, when she's old enough. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Good Thing #36: Farmer's Markets

There's something about being able to look the person who grew the food you're going to put into your body in the eye when you buy it. Eating is one of the most important things we do. What we ingest fuels and builds our bodies and the better it is the healthier and happier we are. And yet we put our trust into long chains of strangers, elaborate systems for manufacturing and transporting food that may start on factory farms that may be half a world away. On the other hand, when you shop at the farmer's market, you're buying food that was grown just a few miles away buy someone you can actually talk to, who most likely drove it to market themselves. Most fruits and vegetable start losing flavor and nutritional value as soon as they're harvested, so what you're getting at the farmer's market is the best it can be unless you grow it yourself. At the same time, at least around here, the goods at the farmer's market are actually cheaper than what's at the supermarket. It's a win all around!

Good Thing #35: Everything in its right place

I've moved way too many times this past decade or two. Some people who live like this are smart, and they get rid of everything except what they can carry in their car. Sadly, I'm not one of them. I've always intended to stop moving, put down roots and stay put for a while. It just took a whole lot longer than I thought. So I wound up with way more stuff than an apartment dweller should have. The other unfortunate byproduct is I've also wound up with a lot more stuff that's useless. Speaker wires get put in one box, RCA cables get put in another, and you need them both to make the stereo work, for example. Or the video game console is in one place and the controllers in another, and until all the boxes are unpacked you wind up with objects that are just taking up space. And when you know you're about to move again anyway, you don't really make the effort.

Finally, however, I've got a home I plan to stay in for a long time, and all the boxes are getting unpacked and all the stuff is getting organized and reorganized and what were once just dead objects taking up space are coming to life as useful, enjoyable things. I hadn't realized just how much energy I was wasting always trying to find things I knew were somewhere.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Good Thing #34: OS Updates

I'm a total sucker for operating system updates. I don't really understand why because I know better. We're long past the point where there's anything significant to even do to the Windows or Mac operating systems, so new versions are nothing like the paradigm shifts of the days of yore. Linux appears still has some excitement to it, but unfortunately I'm not well versed in it enough. I'll update my Linux partition when new versions of Ubuntu come out, poke around for a while and think, "This is lovely. When I retire I'll switch over to it completely, but today I still need OS X and Windows to do the work I'm getting paid to do." But with the mainstream operating systems, it used to feel like you were getting a whole new, improved engine put in your car. Now it just feels like putting on a fresh new pair of underwear. But you know what? It's still really pleasant to put on new underwear. So I'm right there when the new release comes out, downloading and installing as soon as it's available.

This might be my version of standing in line, waiting for to be at the first showing of that overhyped new movie. I suspend my disbelief for a few days, read the previews, let myself get caught up in all the excitement over the 200 new features (none of which will be significant). In a few days I'll be one of those people ranting about how the company has lost its direction and how one day I'll make the switch to Linux.

But it's completely insignificant and doesn't matter at all, and that's what makes it fun.

Good Thing #33: Natural Gas

We switched the whole house over to natural gas. The furnace, water heater, stove and even our dryer all run on natural gas. In the wintertime, we used to spend hundreds of dollars a month just to keep from freezing. That's not altogether hyperbole. In the winters when all you have is oil heat, you set the thermostat to just warm enough to keep from shivering when you've got a sweater and long johns on. Now we have a warm house all winter, and our fuel bill, even in the coldest months, is rarely higher than our cell phone bill. In the past it's always been a bit scary going into winter. A cold winter with high oil prices can be financially ruinous, and there's no predicting how bad it can get. Fortunately, we don't have to worry about that as much anymore.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Good Thing #32: These New Fangled Lightbulbs

Incandescent lightbulbs are 90% inefficient. 90%! So 10% of the energy you're using goes to making light, while the remainder makes heat etc. It's technology that hasn't changed much in a century. I can't really think of any other technology that we'd put up with if it performed that badly and was that outdated. Fortunately, we don't have to. There are now fluorescent lightbulbs and LED lightbulbs. In the state of Maine, Efficiency Maine subsidizes fluorescent lightbulbs so they're crazy cheap. Even before this, I'd been buying them as soon as they came, and I've honestly never replaced one. They last forever. LED lighbulbs use even less power than the fluorescents and last even longer. If there's a down side it's that some of our lampshades don't fit anymore. So, they save me money, they save the hassle of blown bulbs, and they're better for the environment. What's not to love?

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Good Thing #31: Shaving with a Safety Razor

I wasn't lucky enough to have a male role model to teach me how to shave. I had to learn this from my mom and my sister, who assumed that what worked on women's legs would also work on a man's face. It doesn't. A man's face is more complicated and much more sensitive than a woman's leg, and that single-bladed, non-pivoting disposable razor cut my face to shreds, and caused razor burns over what was left of my flesh. Thankfully, through the wonder of advertising, I learned about the Gillette Atra, with 2 blades and a pivoting head that made shaving so much less painful than before. Then came the 3-bladed Mach 3, the 5 bladed Fusion. Each one seemed more comfortable than the one before.

The problem was the cost. Buying new blades for the many-bladed Gillettes cost so much that it often came down to a choice, "Do I buy new blades, or do I put up with the pain of dull blades for one more week?" Seriously, $40 for a 12-pack of Fusion blades is just outrageous! 

Fortunately, I discovered it was all just a gimmick. The ever-escalating number of blades really don't give you a better shave. They just compensate for lack of technique, lack of proper prep, lack of a decent shaving lather. 

All I really needed was an old-school safety razor, a shaving brush and some shaving soap. Shop around and you can find all these things for cheaper than a pack of Fusion blades. Do a search for "How to shave with a safety razor," and you can learn how to do it from the Internet. I'm using a single blade in a non-pivoting head, but the shaves are more gentle and more smooth than I ever got from the fanciest Fusion. Better still, for the cost of a 12-pack I can buy enough double-edged safety razor blades  to last for years. Plus, there's a real joy in shaving with hot lather made by soap with natural ingredients, vs. a cold chemical foam from a can. I'm getting better results, having a more enjoyable experience, and spending less money doing it, all while putting less garbage into the waste stream!

And yes, I do get a smug satisfaction knowing how much better I have it compared to all the suckers shaving with the many-bladed cartridge monstrosities. 

Good Thing #30: Flea Markets

I used to love going to yard sales. Then eBay happened and now we have career eBay-ers who descend like locusts at 7 am to yardsales that don't start until 9 and they buy up everything worthwhile, not because they want it, not because it will bring them joy, but because they intend to sell it for more money. Their presence has turned yard sailing from a pleasant way to ease into the weekend into something more of an annoyance.

Fortunately, there's flea markets. Flea markets are a little more expensive than yard sales, but they tend to be better curated. After going to the same flea markets a few times, you start to recognize the vendors and you know what to expect to find at their tables. They'll also give you better deals once they get to know you.

Flea markets fill a nice niche for me. I'm always on the lookout for antique paper goods. I'm looking for design inspiration, though, not as a collector. It doesn't matter to me if the page is slightly damaged, so long as the graphics are intact. I don't need the quality I'd find in an antique shop, and don't want to pay antique shop prices for it. These are the kind of things I like to find at flea markets.

Flea markets are fun because you never know what you'll find there. Our past is vaster and stranger than we realize. Antique shops will sell you the high notes. Truly great products and designs get remembered in books and websites. The worst things ever made also get special attention. So much of the stuff in the middle just falls through the cracks and the only way you'd know it existed is when you find it at a flea market. Then you wonder why it was made, who bought it, why it was worth hanging on to... and then it winds up coming home with you!

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Good Thing #29: Dean's Bean's Ahab's Revenge

Dean's Beans roasts some of the best coffee out there, and they were organic and fair trade before it was cool. All their coffee is good, but Ahab's Revenge deserves special attention.

How quickly we forget. There was a time when decent coffee was hard to come by in this country, and the only options were things like Folgers and Chock-Full-O-Nuts, bought pre-ground in giant cans from the supermarket, or in jars of instant powder.

It tasted awful, but we drank it anyway because enough sugar and cream could make it palatable, and because it gave us a buzz. It tasted awful because of shoddy preparation and horrible growing practices. It also tasted awful because there are actually two types of coffee bean: robusta and arabica. Arabica is what we get in good coffees, but it's picky about where it grows, and is more difficult to grow in large quantities. It likes difficult terrain like mountains, and grows more slowly. Robusta, on the other hand, is perfect for factory farming. It may not taste as good, but it'll grow in the flatlands and it grows fast, so you can get large quantities of bad coffee. The other thing about robusta is that it has more caffeine in it than arabica.

Robusta doesn't need to taste bad, however. It just lends itself to bad growing practices that would kill arabica bushes. With Ahab's Revenge, however, Dean's Beans has brought us the only organic robusta on the market. It's wonderful. It's got all the flavor of a good arabica with that late night diner coffee punch that can even get my caffeine saturated heart racing faster. 

Post #28: Monogamy

I'm surprised to be writing this. Before I met my current partner, I really thought monogamy was a big mistake. Oh, I'd try it, usually because monogamy was a precondition for continuing having sex with someone I was attracted to. But after that first flush wore off I'd start feeling like something was broken. As if that insane passion of the first days of a relationship was the natural state and should last forever, and if it went away there was something wrong, and nothing would ever be good again. That, and a dozen other reasons both rational and irrational would lead me to ending relationships, usually as painfully and selfishly as possible.

In retrospect, I probably should have embraced the idea of open relationships, and been continually honest with my partners that there were, or would be, other people. I think I thought if I did that I'd never get laid again. There's also the idea that you're a bad person if you want that. We're either supposed to be celibate, or with a single partner in a monogamous relationship. So I kept on trying to be monogamous, failing, lying about it. It had it's fun points, but it wasn't good, and it wasn't healthy, and it wound up hurting people I cared about.

But then one day I met someone who I cared about more than myself, someone who I feared losing more than I feared missing an opportunity for passion with another woman. With her, monogamy is easy. I've discovered something I never stuck around long enough to learn before. Yes, that crazy passion of the early days of a relationship goes away, but better things take its place if you work at it, and it's worth the work. I also discovered that there's a whole lot of extra hassle, baggage, headache and heartache that goes along with those early days of a relationship and I'm so happy that I don't have to deal with all that, ever again.

Good Thing #27: Vintage Hi Fi

There is a plus to the fact that the current tastes in audio gear favor convenience and quantity over quality. There's a lot of really good stereo components out there going unappreciated, and if you keep your eyes open at flea markets and yard sales you can put together a really good stereo system for very little money. A lot of the old stuff was built very good, with quality standards that you really only find in current audiophile gear. A receiver from the 70's that you picked up for $5 at a yard sale can sound better than the best thing you can find at Best Buy. 

When you're buying old gear, pick it up. Is it heavy? That's usually a mark of quality. If it is made of real things, like wood, metal and glass that's also a good sign. If you're buying speakers, take the grills off and check the cones. Make sure they're not brittle, and that there are no holes. I've set up several stereo systems this way. I always wind up giving them away to friends. Half the fun is in the building of the system. Once I've gotten it to the point where I say, "Wow, that's great sound! I can't believe I only spent $20 on that!" I remember I already have two stereo systems, and don't really need one for every room in the house. 

I just started on a new one. The first part is a TEAC A400 tape deck from 1976, bought for $7. It has VU meters with needles that bounce instead of LEDs, and metal levers and knobs that turn instead of plastic push-buttons. It is a wonder to behold and a joy to fiddle with. One day I'll crack it open and clean out the rust and replace the belts and make it actually work again. Then I'll probably wind of giving it away, but that's OK because for $7, I'll have gotten my entertainment value out of it. 

Good Thing #26: Hi Fi

I finally managed to get my stereo system hooked back up this week. Sadly, it's been years since it was all together. It's an old-school system of many parts (pre-Klipsch Aragon and Acurus components hooked into Magnaplanar speakers, if you care about such things). I spent more on it than I have on most cars that I've owned. But really, I've been working on it for more than 20 years, and I bought the most expensive pieces when I was a bachelor, working jobs that paid me far more than I make now. I was very aware that I had a window when it would be OK for me to spend such extravagant amounts on pure entertainment. But I was also aware that if I invested the money it'd be a one-time buy. Good audio equipment lasts. The Magnepan speakers I bought more than 15 years ago sound every bit as fantastic as when I bought them and with any luck will continue to do so until I lose my hearing. 

I don't consider myself to be an audiophile, however. In fact, I blame audiophiles for destroying the audio industry by fetishizing the equipment while losing sight of the fact that the whole point was to be enjoying music. MP3s with their compressed range, crappy earbud speakers and car stereos helped to nail the coffin shut, but even before those came about, the audiophiles made it possible. If you stepped into a high-end audio shop in pre-iPod days, you could expect to be belittled and scorned if you didn't identify as an audiophile. You were treated like an idiot if you didn't think spending $7,000 + on a pair of speaker cables was a good idea when there was no real evidence showing that they sounded any better than lamp cord from the hardware store. The general public had already been alienated and when MP3s came around, nobody was there to make the argument against it. 

The argument would have gone along the lines of, "MP3s are OK, but you're trading convenience for quality. You're only hearing maybe 10% of what the artist intended for you to hear." Then I might have brought you over and sat you down in a chair strategically positioned for optimum listening, and I would have played for you the same piece of music on your MP3 player and on the stereo, and hopefully you would understand that both convenience and quality have their place.

That should have been the role of the audiophiles, as defenders and educators of what quality music really means, gently guiding people to make informed choices about their listening. Instead audiophiles copped an attitude and insulted anyone who didn't get it. Now we have a generation who have only heard recorded music through headphones attached to MP3 players or from car stereos. And the audiophiles have become even more insular and elitist.  

But I digress. The point is, my stereo brings me pleasure because when the music is playing, it's as close as I can get to hearing it live. Even better in some ways because I can set the volume to levels that are comfortable for my ears, and I don't have to deal with crowds. While I love the convenience of my iPod/headphone arrangement, when I hear a note I might know it was plucked on a guitar. On the stereo I can hear the differences between the kind of guitar, that it was made of wood and had a hollow body. I can hear the differences between the acoustics between a small, warm room and a large, cold room. With the MP3, music is just the background soundtrack to my life while I do other things. That's important and has its place, but when I hear that same music on the stereo, I'm aware of the music as a work of art created by an artist, or many artists, who are trying to communicate a message and share a feeling that's important to them. 

It's a simple joy to sit back and listen, really listen to music. 

Monday, July 23, 2012

Good Thing #25: Pennies

Some people hate pennies. One of the chief complaints is, "It costs more than a penny to make a penny." That's a stupid argument, though. All our money could cost more to make than it's denomination and it wouldn't matter because it's not the physical value of the actual object we're trading  when we give someone money in exchange for goods and services. The monetary object is just a tool, a symbolic way to keep track of the amount of value we're trading for something. A single penny may be exchanged tens of thousands of times during its lifetime. If something that useful only cost pennies to produce then it was a bargain.

Pennies are nice, though, in that they are almost worthless, but not quite. When I have the opportunity to leave pennies in the, "Leave a penny, take a penny" bowls by cash registers, I do, and I feel good about it because I've made someone's life a little less annoying by doing so because now they'll be able to make exact change. The times when I've had to use that bowl, I've been very grateful to the person who left their pennies there. It's a win/win!

I also don't carry pennies with me. If there are any in my pocket at the end of the day, they go into the penny jar. And they keep going into the penny jar for months, even years, until we're short on funds. Then we roll them up and there's always a surprising amount of money we didn't realize we had. So, yay pennies!

Good Thing #24: Antiques

Some good things you just want to keep to yourself because if everyone knows about them, they're not going to be as good. Fortunately, nobody reads this so I think I'm safe.

I used to think things like antique furniture was something only the wealthy could afford. That may have been the case a while ago, but now it's the way to go. The majority of new furniture seems to have gone the way of Ikea. Cheaply constructed, semi-disposable laminated particle board, with no charm and no longevity. Ikea could get away with it because the price reflected the quality. But now even cheap furniture isn't all that cheap, and good furniture is ridiculously expensive.

We like having nice things in our lives, but we're on a budget. So we've been buying our furniture at antique stores. Surprisingly, you can find many pieces there for less than what you'd buy the equivalent new. The big difference is that the piece you buy at the antique shop is made from solid maple. You know it's going to last, because it's been used for a hundred years or more already. Most likely it was hand made. Only the wealthy could afford to buy new furniture of the quality that you can find in antique shops for short change if you look around.

If you're willing to accept the fact that your night stand might not match the bed, you can fill your life with hand-crafted, American-made hardwood furniture without breaking the bank! That's the route we're going, and it's very satisfying.

Good Thing #23: Masterchef Australia

If there was a way to legally watch Masterchef Australia in the US, I wouldn't advocate pirating it. Unfortunately, as far as I know, that's our only option. Do it. Go to Pirate Bay and search for Masterchef Australia and torrent it right now. It's the gold standard for what reality programming can be. If you're into cooking or into competitive reality TV, go get it now. If you've ever watched such shows and it seemed like they weren't living up to their potential, go get it now. Here's reality programming raised to the level of a true artform.

A word of warning, though. After watching Masterchef Australia, it's hard to watch the US versions of Masterchef, or even Hell's Kitchen. They just seem embarrassing now.

The key difference is that Masterchef Australia understands drama. The US version too often reverts back to the comfortable, understandable standards of sex and soap opera. Masterchef Australia understands the real drama is in the food and in learning to become better chefs. You can actually learn to be a better cook and to better appreciate the food you eat by watching the show.

Masterchef Australia dispenses with the hero and villain cliché of the US version, where there's cooks you route for and cooks you hate. Instead, all the cooks are likable and we really want to see them all succeed. The cooks actually support and encourage each other as well, and become friends as show progresses. The approach really notches up the drama. Instead of the "I'm not here to make friends," line we get the victor's conflict because their victory is at the expense of someone they care about.

There have been episodes that made me exclaim, "THAT'S how you do drama!" because the show frequently goes beyond what makes good reality programming and into themes that make good cinema, or good novel writing. It has that kind of power to make us engage emotionally with the characters and feel triumph and heartbreak as they do. That's a remarkable thing in any medium, but for it to happen in what's typically the lowest point in our culture is just amazing.

Good Thing #22: Bruce Campbell

Bruce Campbell was born at the wrong time. In the 30's or 40's his heroic good looks and mighty chin would have cast him as a Hollywood leading man. Sadly, we're living in a post-heroic age, so when Bruce Campbell is cast in a heroic role, it's with ironic or humorous intent. Fortunately, he's gets the joke, and it's a role he plays very well. Everything he stars in is better for having him in it. From numerous B-movies to classics like Evil Dead and Army of Darkness, to his current supporting role in the TV series Burn Notice, Bruce Campbell is like salt. Almost every recipe is better with it. Even really bad movies like Alien Apocalypse are better because he's in them.

Friday, July 06, 2012

Good Thing #21: The Deli

The deli section in the supermarket is too easily overlooked. After all, you can get most everything in the deli in the refrigerated sections of the supermarket, so why take the extra time?

First off, it's often cheaper. The deli section often has specials on things that aren't discounted in the cooler. I think it tastes better, too. A hunk of cheese cut of a big block has a better flavor and texture to it than those small, shrink-wrapped vacuum sealed bricks. I also like the human interaction. The people who work the deli counter tend to be friendly and cheerful. If I remember correctly, the deli section is somewhere you get promoted into. It's a desirable position to have. So the people who are there are the supermarket "pros" and they want to be there, so they're great to deal with. You can also get your cheese and meat sliced exactly to the thickness you want.

The thing I like to do when I go to the deli is to request "about a pound" of cheese in a solid block. I'm okay with a little more or a little less. I just don't want them to be timid with their cut. Invariably, they almost always spot on, never more than a hair's weight off. It's really impressive since they're cutting by eye.

Go to the deli on your next trip to the supermarket. It's one of life's small joys.

Good Thing #20: Administrative Assistants and Custodians

It's a Good Thing 2 for 1 special today, because I couldn't find a concise way of saying, "The people who matter a lot more than most people realize."

If there's a word of advice I'd give to young people starting out on their careers, it's, "Suck up to the boss, but make friends with the administrative assistants and the custodians." The first part is obvious, and many people stop there in their relentless pursuit to get to the top. These people typically make more than me, so maybe you should pay attention to them. However, I think I've had a more enjoyable life by paying attention to the second part.

Custodians and administrative assistants tend to know a whole lot more about what's going on in any organization than most people realize. For a lot of people, since they're not going to help you "get ahead" they're invisible unless they're needed to staple something or clean up a mess. And so people are a lot freer with their information around them. Custodians also know what people are throwing away. Administrative assistants handle the flow of information across their bosses' desks. So they're often plugged in in ways that people don't realize. Administrative assistants sometimes have magic powers they can use in your favor if they like you. They might be able to enter hours you were out sick as hours you were working in payroll, for example.

In my experience, I've found that custodians and administrative assistants are there for you in ways that upper-level employees can't or won't be. They've got your back and will put a good word for you in the right ear if they can. They'll also help you jump your car if your battery is dead. If you drop your security pass they'll get it back to you instead of giving it to security like they should, saving so much hassle.

The catch is, my advice said make friends with them. You can suck up to the boss and it's socially acceptable for this to be completely superficial because you're only doing it to get ahead. It's not OK to do that with a custodian or administrative assistant. They'll know. Instead you're going to have to do things the old fashioned way. Get to know them by name. If they need help with something, give it to them. If you need something done, ask nicely, saying "please" and "thank you" even if according to company hierarchy they're your subordinate. Don't leave messy, sloppy stuff in your waste basket that's going to be a pain for somebody to clean up. Be a friend and you'll make a friend.

So anyway, thanks to all the custodians and administrative assistants who've been so helpful to me all these years. You are truly appreciated.

Tuesday, July 03, 2012

Good Thing #19: Chocolate


Do I need to say any more than that? If you agree than I don't need to explain. If you don't, there's nothing I can say that will change your mind.

Someone once said, "The best things in life aren't things." Probably a 1%-er, trying to find a myth that will keep the rest of us from rebelling and tearing this whole sick system down.

They're obviously wrong. Chocolate is absolutely one of the best things in life.

Monday, July 02, 2012

Good Thing #18: Bone Folders

Using the right tool for the job makes a huge difference, no matter what that job is. To most people, folding paper probably does not seem like an act that would require a special tool. You just fold the paper in half and run your finger along the fold to make the crease, right? 

When you use a bone folder, that crease it tight, even, and clean, and it stays folded. It turns a task you never really think about into a pleasure. When you can turn the ignored corners of your life into enjoyable acts, then your life is that much better!

You can find bone folders at most art supply and all book binding supply stores. Unfortunately, it has to be bone. There are plastic folders out there, but they're just don't work as good as the real bone does. We have several in our house, and we keep them in those little nooks where the pens and pencils accumulate, because you never know when you're going to need to fold something. When you do, it's good to do it right!

Good Thing #17: The Voynich Manuscript

The Voynich manuscript is an illustrated book of about 240 pages, written most likely in Italy in the 1400s. That's about all anyone knows for sure about it. It's written in something that has the attributes of a language, but over the past hundred years none of the world's top cryptographers have been able to crack it. Many of the illustrations are of plants that have never been known to exist. It's been dubbed "the world's most mysterious manuscript." Just Google it. There's a wealth of information out there on it, and all of it will just make you wonder more. 

That's why the Voynich manuscript makes me happy. We live in times where it feels like everything is defined, regulated, understood, put in neatly labeled compartments. And here's this object that has defied all that for almost 600 years. Maybe it's just a hoax, but what a hoax! A hoax that has kept people wondering for more than half a millennium is a wonder itself.  Or maybe it's not a hoax at all, but an actual record of places and things that only the author had access to.

Either way, it's a reminder that there are still wonders in the world. 

Saturday, June 30, 2012

Good Thing #16: Peter's Alive

A little over year ago my dear friend Peter was dying from a liver condition that would certainly have killed him were it not for the wonders of modern medicine, his will to live, and love and support from family and friends. Now he's healthy. He just got back from his honeymoon. He's buying a house and planning for the future. That's great for him. What's great for me is I still have Peter in my life.

Thanks for still being alive, Peter! The world is a better place for having you in it, as is my life!

Good Thing #15: Marriage

Jess and I just celebrated our sixth anniversary this past weekend. By celebrate, I mean we tried to take a trip down the coast for a romantic day of exploring and antiquing, but between Jess being extremely pregnant and me still recovering from the last surgery, we wound up mostly doing lunch at our favorite restaurant and then calling it an early day.

I don't intend for that to sound depressing. One of the great things about marriage is it lets you take a longer view on things. A lavish celebration of affection isn't all that feasible right now, but we're together for life. We'll make up for it many times over. In a short time we'll have a baby girl to multiply the celebrating.

I don't think Jess will ever let me live this one down: A year or so after we got married, I said, "You know, marriage doesn't suck nearly as much as I thought it was going to." It sounded better in my head before I said it. Before I got married, I really never intended to get married. I couldn't see the point. The majority of marriages end in divorce. As an atheist/anarchist I don't really need to have a marriage legitimated in the eyes of the church or state in order for it to be real to me. I'd already planned to stay with Jess for the rest of my life. So really, what was the point?

Ultimately, it was simple math. Jess's family really wanted her married. Jess wanted to be married. It really didn't matter to me, but with little effort on my part, I could make a whole lot of people I cared about happy. Plus: presents!

Maybe indifference is not the attitude one should go into a marriage with, but it worked for me. I went into married life without all the baggage. I wasn't looking for marriage to complete me, didn't think it meant an automatic "happily ever after," wasn't really expecting anything to be different save for it'd be a little more difficult to break up if we got bored with each other.

Much to my surprise, marriage did change everything, in many unexpected and happy ways. As much as I like to think of myself as someone who makes his own rules and isn't defined by society, society has other ideas. It really is easier to be married when you're of an age that people expect you to be married. You're treated with more respect. People take you more seriously. Doors open up that you had no idea were even closed. The world really does treat you better when you're married. Part of me bristles at that because I strongly believe that people should be valued for who they are, not for their labels, but in this case I'm benefitting it, so I'm not going to fight it!

But that's really the least of it. Even though I'd planned on staying with Jess for the rest of my life already, there really is something different having a ring on my finger that reminds me of that in a wonderful way. No matter what happens, no matter how bad things get, we're together and we'll make it work out somehow. Even if we don't know what the solution is going to be, we'll get through it. There's a difference between intending to be together forever and actually thinking like you're going to be. The good things are things you'll maintain, sustain and grow, and keep on growing for years to come. The bad things are things you'll overcome, together.

I've become a much braver person since getting married. I would never have bought a house on my own, or gone back to school, or done many of the dozens of crazy things I've attempted over the past six years if I didn't have a wife there reminding me it's better to try, and that she has my back.

Together we dream bigger, try harder, and go farther than we ever would on our own. Every day I'm reminded what a great choice I made when I decided to marry Jess.

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Good Thing #14: Stovetop Popcorn Poppers

Somehow, popcorn sellers managed to make popping popcorn seem like a difficult ordeal, so much so that unless you buy pre-bagged, pre-seasoned popcorn in microwavable bags, it's just too difficult to manage. So people wind up spending way more than they need to for popcorn that tastes so bad it doesn't deserve to be called popcorn when they could be spending far less for much better popcorn, with only a minimum of extra effort.

All you need is one of these:
There's a variety of brands out there, Whirly Pop, Great Northern, Cook'n Home, and others. There are debates over which is the best, but we've found them all to work just fine. Whenever we see them at yardsales, we'll buy them to convert family and friends. New you can find them for under $20, though. 

Put in a splash of oil and some popcorn and heat it on the stove while turning the crank, and about three minutes later you'll have six quarts of fresh popcorn. Is that really so much harder than doing it in the microwave? 

Once you've made the initial investment, popcorn costs pennies a batch. Far, far less than microwave popcorn. It's more environmentally sound because you can buy the popcorn in bulk and you won't have that popcorn inside a paper back inside a plastic bag inside a box. 

Most importantly, it tastes great. Popcorn made this way tastes infinitely better than microwave popcorn. Plus you can choose exactly what to put on it for toppings and how much. You can even add seasonings while it cooks for special treats, like kettle corn. 

We usually make popcorn this way a couple times a week. It's a great way to make an evening movie seem like an event. It's also a guilt-free snack. 

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Good Thing #13: Waking up Early

I love the early morning neighborhood, when I'm the first one up and there are no cars going by, and it's just me and the crows. And slowly, I can hear it all wake up. A car engine starts, a dog starts barking, a door slams. But a little bit at at time, as if the entire neighborhood is just trying to ease into the day.

I love the way the cats follow me down stairs, and rub up against my legs as I make my coffee. Dash usually wanders back upstairs to sleep on Jess, but Dot sticks around until I sprinkle more food into dishes that already have catfood in them. Then I have to pet her while she eats. It's our morning routine.

I love sitting in peace and quiet solitude while I drink my coffee and my brain starts working. Soon people will be up and the business will start, but for a moment the day is completely mine.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Good Thing #12: Meeting P. Scott Makela

Some people you know for a short time, but you're changed forever by them. Hopefully in a good way.

P. Scott Makela changed graphic design in the '90s. He defied convention by overlapping text, violating borders, using text as a graphic element and not just for communicating a message, daring to be ugly and dissonant. There were other designers at the time who did something similar, but the difference between those and Scott is the difference between a talentless musician who plays a few random notes on a trumpet and calls it jazz and Miles Davis. The 90s were an interesting time for design because of the advent of desktop publishing. A lot of people broke into the industry not because they were talented designers, but because they knew how to use computers. A number of designers violated graphic design conventions because they didn't know any better. The best of them just pushed their lack of ability to the point where it looked intentional. P. Scott Makela, however, was classically trained in Basel. Every transgression against design convention was done precisely and deliberately. 

I had the good fortune of taking classes from Scott at the Kodak Center for Creative Imaging and it changed the way I design. At the start we had to pick our favorite and most hated fonts, and explain why. From then on we could only use the fonts we hated. We were allowed, however, to go into the font with Fontographer and edit the font to change it into something we liked. That's actually way harder than it sounds and I wound up with a font that looked totally schizophrenic because of my lack of ability, but turned out to be perfect for what I needed it to do. It was an eye-opening experience. Designing with a font you hate can actually push you to design something better than if you'd gone the conventional route. 

I always thought P. Scott Makela deserved a whole lot more attention and credit than he got. Sadly, he died in 1999 at age 39, before his titles for the movie Fight Club made it into the theaters. That might have been his breakout moment. Still, I'm grateful to have met him, and I still use what he taught me to this day. 

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Good Thing #11: Streaming

I admit it. I love TV. Way too much of my time gets sucked up by the idiot box. However, we got rid of cable years ago. Between Netflix, Hulu and Crunchyroll, there's more than enough to watch. I feel good that Fox News and the shopping networks aren't getting our money. While Hulu still has advertising, it's far less than what's on TV. Plus we can watch whatever we want when we want, without needing to DVR it. I really don't understand why anyone with high-speed Internet access would pay for cable TV. It may be a small and superficial thing, making TV more enjoyable does improve my life.

Good Thing #10: Having the Right People

When you own your own home, there are some people you have in your life for a brief time, but they can make an impact on it every day. Flip a light switch, turn on a faucet, open a window... unless you're a do-it-yourself-er you're interacting with the work of an electrician, plumber or carpenter. If they've done their jobs right these simple acts are something you don't notice. If not, your every day is annoying. If these jobs are done badly enough it can actually be damaging or dangerous.

It seems like in this day and age, with online reviews and everything that it would be easy to find the right people. It's way more of a challenge than it should be. There are just too many people who are incompetent, if not downright dishonest. We got lucky. Our plumber is a childhood chum who takes great pride in his work. He introduced us to a good carpenter. We didn't have such good luck with electricians. The first one did a few things badly, left stuff unfinished and never returned our calls afterwards. The second was decent, to a point, but then left a job unfinished and also stopped returning our calls. I don't think we're that hard to get along with. Word has it that for electricians, the money is in wiring up whole houses so it can be a problem finding one to do small jobs. Still, that's no excuse for being unprofessional. The third electrician was a lot more expensive than the first two, but she did good work showed up when she said she was going to. We'll be having her back to do more work.

That's just it. We may not have many "major" jobs to do, but now that we've found the right people we'll stick with them for as long as we live in the area. Decades of small jobs add up!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Good Thing #9: Bangor, ME

We bought a house in Bangor, Maine because it was where we could afford to buy a house we loved, not because we were actually thrilled to be moving there. In fact, most people's reaction, if it wasn't, "Where?" was, "Why would you want to move there?" To be honest, we had our misgivings, but figured we'd be spending most of our time in the college town up the road, Orono.

To our surprise, Bangor has turned out to be a great place! We only go to Orono when we have to. We've never run out of things to do here, and there's always some event we're missing. There's a growing creative community, and young people who are trying to make the place better.

There's a real feeling of history here. Bangor was once one of the wealthiest cities on the planet, before the wooden ships fell out of fashion. It never fully recovered from that crash, but many of the buildings are still around, great lumber baron mansions that are now divided up into apartments.

The city has its problems, as any city of a certain size does. Homelessness and drug abuse and crime are things you hear about, but you'll find those in a lot of places. What Bangor also has, though, is potential. Lots of cheap but beautiful properties and places where things could happen. Creatives are moving to Detroit because they see the potential in the abandoned places. They should be coming here!

Good Thing #8: Frosty's in Brunswick, ME

Really good donuts are becoming hard to find. It's been really distressing here in Maine. Dunkin' Donuts lets the small, locally owned donut shops act as location scouts. When those businesses prove a donut shop can be successful in that location, Dunkin' Donuts will buy a location as close to it as possible. While the locals continue to support the old business, the loss of the drive-by traffic as people go to the known entity of Dunkin' Donuts is too much for the home team to continue.

It's a real shame. If you honestly believe the Dunkin' Donuts are good, you're grossly mistaken. They're disgusting. They're not worthy of the name donut. A good donut is a magical thing. They don't just fill a hole. Taste one and it makes you pause and close your eyes and exclaim how good it is. They take you back to that wonderful childhood time when you had that sheer, unfettered love of all things sweet, and could just love sugary goodness with reckless abandon.

Frosty's was one of the last surviving makers of great donuts in Maine. It was an almost mystical place, due in part to the fact that their donuts were so good that even though they opened on weekdays at 4 am, they were often sold out of their best donuts by 6 am. If you weren't someone who woke up that early, you only got to have Frosty's donuts when they were gifted to you by someone who got there in time. Even though I lived a few hundred feet from Frosty's I never made it in time. 

Then their donuts got even harder to get. It was regularly closed due to "an illness in the family" as the note on the door said. Then one day two hand-written notes appeared. "Closed," and "For Sale." It was heart breaking. This almost always means the death of a place. Rarely is a place under new ownership as good as the old one. 

Amazingly, a miracle happened. The new owners loved the old Frosty's and they've kept all the recipes to the same or better standards than they were before. Plus they make a whole lot more donuts, and they're open on weekends, so you can actually go in at noon on a Saturday and get a donut. I've only had better donuts once in my life, at a Mennonite bakery in Quetzaltanango, Guatemala. Fortunately, Frosty's is much closer!

Good Thing #7: Board Games

I love to play boardgames. I loved them as a kid, but hadn't really played them for years, until my friend Mark introduced me to Eurogames a few years back. I've pretty much stopped playing video games since then, finding the face-to-face interaction of sitting at the table with the people you're playing with so much more enjoyable. They also offer a much better entertainment value than video games. For less than the price of a new video game, which pretty much offers entertainment value up until you beat the game and then becomes a shiny plastic circle inside a crappy plastic case, many boardgames offer fine craftsmanship that can feature wood, leather, metal and the usual cardboard, with playability that can last for years. 

If you haven't heard of Eurogames, well, basically they're boardgames from Europe. In the US there are really two types of board games. There are the ones we're all familiar, like Risk and Monopoly. You probably played them a few times when you were a kid, and then got bored with them. Then there are hardcore games that take hours to play. Only the serious gamers play those. But there's not much in between the two. 

Europe has a different attitude to board games. There, the designers of the games get cover credit on the game, and when they design something new, people get excited. The games cover a much broader range of skills and interests. Games like Settlers of Catan or Dominion can be played and enjoyed by the whole family (as opposed to a game like Monopoly where the whole family can play, but only the youngest kids actually enjoy it). One thing I find interesting about Eurogames is they're so fun to play that I usually don't care if I win or lose. It's just fun to play. Of course it's always nice to win!

Board games attract a different sort of crowd. I've been to a boardgame meetups where large numbers of board gamers gather to play. The atmosphere is far more along the lines of "Hey, come let me teach you how to play this really fun game!" instead of the competitive atmosphere one might expect from gamers. 

I'm really looking forward to the day when my daughter is old enough to start playing Settlers of Catan herself!

Good Thing #6: What's Best in Life? Conan!

Most people who have never read Conan assume it's stupid. Many people have actually read Conan still think it's stupid because they haven't read it in the way it was actually written. It took almost 70 years from the time of Robert E. Howard's death for the stories to be published the way he'd written them. Before then, the stories that had been published in magazines in the 20s and 30s were edited, re-ordered to give the stories a linear sequence like novels, which was never the intent. Stories Howard had written about other characters had their names replaced with "Conan." So in some stories Conan is in inexplicably a different location with a different personality.

With the Del Rey editions published in the 2000s, they correct the problems, going back to Robert E. Howard's original versions and ordering them the way he wrote them. Originally they were non-sequential snapshots of the life of a barbarian who is living at at time when civilization was taking hold. Unlike the comfortable "noble savage" of, say, the Tarzan novels (with the familiar, "Who's the real savage, Tarzan or civilized man?" cliché) Conan is absolutely savage. The view of civilization is much more nihilistic. It's not necessarily better or worse than savagery, it just might not stand any chance at all.

At the same time, these are rousing adventures, written to get the blood racing. They can be extremely brutal, and some scenes stick in the mind long after they're read. When they're in the order that they were written, we see Howard growing as a writer, defining then transcending the Sword & Sorcery genre. The last few stories we see a writer who could go on to become recognized as one of America's best writers coming into his own. Sadly, he committed suicide. It's heartbreaking to think of the stories that might have been.

At least he left us with many great stories. I'm happy for that.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Good Thing #5: These Perfect Days

We have a saying in Maine: If you don't like the weather, wait a minute. It's true. I grew up with it so I don't notice it as much, but when I was living in LA I realized we can get more of a range of weather conditions in a single day than LA gets in half a year. Usually we like it that way! If the weather was more consistently pleasant, more people would move here, and then we'd have all the problems of a place like LA. But every once in a while, we get these days that are absolutely perfect. Today is one of those days. It's sunny, but it's still cool enough not to mind it, but warm enough to be able to leave the house without putting on anything extra. There's a breeze keeping the air fresh and blowing the mosquitos and black flies away. We don't get many days like this around here, and it's always a special treat when we do.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Good Thing #4: Dot & Dash

Our two cats, Dot & Dash. I know most of it is just human projection on behavior that is probably much more self-absorbed than it seems, but these cats create such a feeling of unconditional love! I get up in the morning and they're happy I'm awake, and they rub themselves against my legs. And when I come home it's the same thing. And sure, it's probably just because they want to be fed, or need to re-mark me as their territory, but when something cute, warm and purring acts happy to see me, it makes me happy.

Although they're just warm lumps most of the time, I find them endlessly fascinating. I would have assumed that things like "personality" belonged to things with bigger brains, but these twin sisters have distinctly different personalities. Dot spends her time following me around, usually just a few feet away from me as long as I'm home. Every once in a while she'll come up and want to be petted, and will walk on the keyboard until I do. Dash could care less, unless I have a lap for her to sit on. Then she'll park there as long as I let her. Dot is aloof and seems like the shy one, but will be the first to explore an unfamiliar situation while Dash hides under a bed. Dot somehow knows I'm on the toilet, no matter where I am in the house, and will run in and demand to be petted as soon as I sit. Dash stands guard outside the bathroom when we're using it. 

I could go on and on, but like children, people's own cats are infinitely more fascinating to themselves than anyone else. Suffice it to say I love my cats and my every day is better because they're in it. 

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Good Thing #3: The Bicycle Wheel

Today I celebrate the bicycle wheel. It's an amazing work of art. It should be put on a pedestal and put on display in an art gallery. Oh, wait:

Marcel Duchamp, Bicycle Wheel, 1913
Duchamp may not have had the same intention as I woud for putting a bicycle wheel in an art gallery. Most likely he was using it to critique the essential concepts of art. I, however, would do it to celebrate the bicycle wheel.

As the story goes, Ben Franklin was speaking to a Revolutionary assembly. He held up an arrow and broke it in half. Then he held up a bundle of arrows and tried to break it, and couldn't, and it was something to do with how if they were united they'd be unbreakable. That's just because the bicycle wheel hadn't been invented. 

If you pick up a bicycle spoke on its own, you can easily bend it with one hand. The rim is a bit sturdier, but you could bend the rim fairly easily if it hasn't been built into the wheel. Once the various parts of the bicycle wheel are combined and tuned properly, it's a wonder. Together these parts that are weak on their own can now withstand tremendous impacts with ease.

How the wheel works is not what you'd logically expect. The spoke attaches to the rim and to the hub and it's under tension. Every spoke is pulling the rim towards the hub. So when the rider is on the bike, the ground pushes up on the wheel and tension of spokes at the bottom reduces. When you're riding, you're actually suspended by the spokes at the top of the wheel, while the spokes at the bottom are relaxed and able to absorb impacts. 

Look at the wheel Duchamp displayed and compare it to one of today. The design is very similar to the ones of today. Every so often they'll try something new, like a disc or a blade, and it'll be around for a little while before people realize they really couldn't improve on perfection.

Monday, June 11, 2012

Good Thing #2: Singin' in the Rain

Is there a finer movie than Stanley Donen's 1952 movie Singin' in the Rain? No. There may be other movies that are as good, but none better.

First of all, it's really funny. I wouldn't have thought that a sixty year old musical comedy about the birth of talking motion pictures would ever be that funny, let alone that the jokes would still work today. But the setup and the timing are impeccable, and the range of humor, from slapstick to one-liners to complex gags set up over multiple scenes. There's an entire genre called musical comedy. This one is actually funny. 

The composition of every scene is gorgeous. Nothing is taken for granted. Every color is carefully chosen, and the placement of everything and everyone in every scene is perfect. You could print any frame of this movie and hang it on the wall. And yet it never calls attention to itself. I didn't even notice until after I'd watched it a few times.

Everyone has personality. Even with characters who only have one line, you get the sense that they thought about that person. They have a story that began before that line, and continued after the camera moved on Even characters who only appear for a second are still memorable. The main characters we fall in love with, or hate. 

Cyd Charisse does a dance dressed in green. She's only in the movie for one dance number, and has no speaking lines, but in that short time she manages to be the sexiest woman in the history of sexy. 

There's the Broadway Melody sequence. Just watch it and remember that they made this 60 years ago. They build sets for all of it, and actually did what you're watching. It's not greenscreen (except for a second or two).

I could go on and on. There's just so much to love about this movie. I'm happy it exists. 

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Good Thing #1: Carbon Steel Spatulas

Carbon steel spatulas haven't been made in years. The ones that we have are probably 50 to 100 years old.

The bad thing about a carbon steel spatula is that it rusts if you leave it wet. Manufacturers think Americans are too lazy to clean their cookware after they use it, so now all spatulas are stainless steel or plastic. If you don't see washing a spatula as a huge inconvenience, you're rewarded by getting to use a finely crafted kitchen tool. A carbon steel spatula is much thinner and more flexible than plastic or stainless steel spatulas. The edge is knife-sharp. This means you can slide it under the most delicate food without pushing it. It also means that if you accidentally scorch your food and it sticks to the pan, you can cut it away from the pan, leaving the scorched portion still attached to the food instead of ripping it away from what you're cooking.

It's a little thing, but you know, it's a spatula that works the way a spatula is supposed to work. Every time I fry something, the process is more enjoyable because I've got these antique spatulas.

Good Things

I've got a special project for this old blog. I'm making no promises to stick with it. I'm not sure if I'll even tell anyone about it. Since this was my former "thing a  day" type blog, it seems an appropriate place. 

Things haven't quite been going my way lately. I think it started about a year ago, last March, with the liver surgery. The surgery itself was a good thing. It was a planned donation to save a friend's life. That friend is thriving now and I'm grateful I had the opportunity to save a friend's life. Too often when we've got a dying loved one in our lives, all we can do is try to be emotionally supportive, but there's rarely more than that. But for once I could do something to make a difference. So I don't regret that surgery for an instant. However, the recovery from that meant half a year of not operating at my fullest. Not really in any sort of pain after the first 3 months, but just tired all the time. Just barely able to fulfill commitments, not really feeling enthusiastic about doing things that would usually excite me. Yeah, depression, basically. 

Then, just as I was finally recovering from that, our son died 5 months into the pregnancy. I must confess, I never really understood this before it happened to me. I've always been sympathetic to friends who lost children during pregnancy, but it didn't seem like all that big a deal. After all, they never really knew their child. I shudder to think that I used to feel this way. But I guess unless you've lost a child that way, you never really know what that kind of pain is like. I hope you never do. 

The pain from that was almost paralyzing. I'm not quite sure how we kept moving forward, but we did. The depression was worse than anything from the liver surgery. Then there was a whole series of misfortunes. I don't want to get into all those, but it just seemed like whenever things started looking positive, there was something else bad happening to knock me back down. 

But we were getting through it. We've got a daughter on the way now, and all the tests and scans indicate that everything is A-OK. I'd started feeling more confident, excited by the future, feeling like things were going to turn out fine.

Then a routine surgery turned into a 3-day hospital stay with a six week recovery. While full recovery is expected, it's been extremely painful and debilitating. I've been in near constant pain for a month now. It's worse when I laugh. Or cough. Or, really, do anything besides sit around. 

And yes, the depression is back. I'm starting to feel like a Smith's song:

Good times for a change
See, the luck I've had
Can make a good man
Turn bad

So please please please
Let me, let me, let me
Let me get what I want
This time

Haven't had a dream in a long time
See, the life I've had
Can make a good man bad

So for once in my life
Let me get what I want
Lord knows, it would be the first time
Lord knows, it would be the first time

Depression is a tricky beast. Once you've got it, it's almost like a living thing that tries to keep perpetuating itself. It will make it so you don't notice the good things in your life (and there are many good things in my life. I know this intellectually but knowing it and feeling it can be two very different things). Depression will also make you do things that ensure you have things to be depressed about. Like make a deadline seem so overwhelming you don't even try to meet it. Or make you terrified of your email in box, so a simple problem that could be solved with a "yes" or "no" turns into a problem so big it needs a committee meeting to deal with. Or turn an normal, healthy dialog into something that seems like a painful confrontation.

You know what? I've got better things to do. I've got a daughter on the way who I want to welcome into the world with boundless joy. I have a wife who makes me feel lucky to be married to her every day. I have a family I love and get along with more often than not, and a life filled with interesting people, exciting opportunities and so many other things that should be making me happy now, and will again.

So here's what I'm going to do. Every day I'm going to write about one good thing. Yes, I know it's not an original idea (see the 1000 Awesome Things blog, for example). Yes, I know I've complained about how contrived and banal books like the "Things to be Happy About" series are. But you know? I don't care. This is for me. Every day I'm going to carve out a few minutes to recognize that there's something good in my life. I'm going to do it for as long as I can, even if that doesn't last past the end of the week. I'm not going to try to be profound. I'm just going to do it.