My Crossword-fu is Weak

I just got a new Nintendo DS lite; I already had one of the original Nintendo DS handheld game machines, but the DS lite is not only slightly smaller, but also has a much better display and is sleeker to look at, too. I picked it up because the sale price was so good that I thought it would be good for trips; you only need one cartridge to play multiplayer on two or more DSes, so that means that I could put Mario Kart DS into my machine and then Charlie and I could play against each other. That sort of thing. At that price, it was a steal and a half.

Crossword-fu is Weak [365portraits: 226]

Anyway, it also reminded me that I have games that I haven’t touched in a while, so yesterday and today I played some more of my New York Times Crosswords game for the DS. And, um… ouch. Apparently not playing in a long time (or doing any other crosswords) has dulled my abilities. I had to give up on my Wednesday puzzle and go back to Monday (easiest) puzzles. I finally tackled a Tuesday puzzle and… um… yeah, the expression says it all.

I eventually finished it, but it took a whopping 40 minutes to do so. Back to Mondays for a bit more until I regain my crossword legs, I guess. Going from hitting the NYT crossword every Mon/Tues/Wed to nothing at all has really taken its toll.

2nd Edition Geek

I went to a morning spinning class today instead of my regular evening one; my evening instructor is on vacation and I also made plans for tonight. But anyway, the morning instructor was wearing an Ithaca College shirt as she pedalled away at the front of the class.

Only, the way she had her arms, it covered up the first and last letters of each word. So I spent the entire class looking up, seeing “THAC” and wondering why she had a t-shirt talking about THAC0. Boy, that’s a term I haven’t needed to know since, oh, 1995… apparently no matter how hard you try, you cannot remove your geekhood.

(I also suspect half of the people reading this will have no idea what the hell I’m talking about.)

Hurry Up, Spring

This morning I was really tired and it took me a while to figure out why—it’s because I’ve been using my psychic powers at full-blast to try and make spring arrive ahead of schedule.

Well, perhaps not, but it’s a nice idea, isn’t it? I’m so sick of it still being dark when I wake up to hit the gym on Monday mornings, or perhaps to do some before-work running on Tuesdays or Thursdays. If it’s still dark out, it just drags me back into slumberland. At least we’re at the point now where it’s not pitch-black when I leave work so I can get the running in then, but still… not a fan. I don’t know how people live up near the Arctic Circle during the cold months; not even so much for the brutal temperatures but the lack of sunlight.

On the other hand, I’ve been having taking three virtual trips into Japan as of late to get through my desire of being somewhere else. As I think I’ve mentioned before, Animal Crossing: City Folk on the Wii is still intensely a funny, an adorable and low-key simulation game where my biggest worry is trying to eventually catch all 64 fish for the local museum’s aquariums. Also in the game realm, though, is Phoenix Wright, Ace Attorney: Justice For All, which I finally started playing on the NintendoDS. It’s a fun cross between an adventure game and a novel, as you navigate the twists and turns of Phoenix Wright’s latest cases before coming to the inevitable conclusion. In many ways it’s like reading a mystery/investigation novel where you have to solve the crime before the author point-blank tells you. I enjoyed the first of these games, and it’s fun checking out the second one.

Last night I also started reading the 856-page comics autobiography A Drifting Life by Yoshihiro Tatsumi. I’ve really enjoyed reading Tatsumi’s comic short story collections as they’re translated into English; they’re always slightly twisted and depressing little vignettes of life in Japan by slightly pathetic people, with something just off-beat enough to attract as a reader. What’s great about A Drifting Life so far (although to be fair I’m only on page 80!) is that Tatsumi is able to really plunge the reader into a different place and time without ever overtly doing so. There’s no huge info dumps or exposition, but it really gives me a strong feel for 1949 Japan.

In many ways, A Drifting Life is just the kind of autobiography that I really like, because it lets me “travel” to not only a different place but a different time as well; it’s a much less expensive way of visiting somewhere that would otherwise be inaccessable. Really good stuff, and once it’s officially released (next month?) I think it’s going to knock people’s socks off. I hope so, because I love the Tatsumi short story collections and want there to be many, many more down the line.

(And, with no exercise scheduled for tomorrow morning—my spinning class is in the evening—that means I can stay up a little later and read some more of the book. Yay!)

Getting Back to Normal

First off, before I forget, huge thanks to everyone who sent well wishes (both on my own website as well as the LJ crosspost). I think it really does help the healing process to know that people actually want you to get better. (Even if it’s just so they can then tackle you with impunity.)

But yes, things are definitely on the mend here. I’m back to normal foods (although with this hideous cold that’s blanketing a lot of the country right now, a soup diet is not such a bad thing!), although still being careful with what I injest. Hey, a little extra care on what I eat isn’t really a bad thing now. Friday was definitely the turning point of going from “I still feel awful” to “I am starting to feel like I am actually getting better.” By the end of the weekend, I was thinking, “I can’t wait to go back to work.”

At this point more than anything else I’m waiting for the Steri-Stripsâ„¢ to fall off of my four incision points (a process that takes “1 to 2 weeks”), and to hopefully get the all-clear next Monday to start exercising again. Honestly at this point I suspect that tackling the full National Marathon at the end of March is probably a no-go, but if I’m allowed to start running next week then we shall see how it goes. Until then I am being good and not lifting heavy objects, or going to cycling class, or using the rowing machine, or anything else of the sort. It is, of course, driving me a little insane.

Still, easy does it, so it’s just as well that I am having a pretty low-key Christmas. Charlie is visiting his family in Alabama, and my older sister’s visit was right before my surgery, so it will just me my parents and Suzanne (plus the adorable canine Bruno) during the day, and then relatives and family friends over for dinner in the evening. I did receive a tripod from Charlie as part of my Christmas present, so maybe this weekend I can finally try out some night photography that doesn’t involve the camera being perched on top of my car or a ledge. (Dear weather: please cooperate.)

Oh, and as a get-well gift to myself, I am now the proud owner of an Xbox 360. It came with two free games (Kung Fu Panda and Lego Indiana Jones) but so far what I am really playing on it are two games I purchased on the XBLA online store—Braid (a platform game which plays with the flow of time and is mind-bendingly wonderful), and Uno. No, really. Tod and Ed have been raving about Xbox Uno and yeah, it is awfully fun. So I certainly have things to keep me busy. (Oh, and my Xbox Live gamertag is “Greg McE” if you would care to add me. You can chortle at my pitiful number of Achievement points so far.)

It’s all good!

Possible Side Effects

Well, in what I can only best describe as “a complete and utter relief” I took my final Amoxicillin dose this morning. I’m glad not only because (knock on wood) the infection seems to be entirely gone, but perhaps more importantly because the drug was also having some not-so-great side effects. The worst was an ever-so-slightly increasing level of nausea; the past two or three days have been almost unbearable at times, to be honest. (Before anyone asks, yes, I took it with food as instructed.) The worst would be that I’d actually start feeling better just around the time that I was supposed to take the next dosage, and the cycle would start up all over again. Never before have I been so happy to see a needed medicine container get thrown into the bathroom trash can. (I did get a laugh when I looked up what the possible side effects were, and oh look, I’d been going through half of them.)

On the bright side, last night I did finally get to head back to my beloved spinning class (my last one was on October 29th); in terms of exercise I still feel like I am slowly getting back up to speed, but it is definitely happening. I also signed up for the Arlington Turkey Trot, although I joked to Katie and Blair last night that they might have to pick my corpse up on the side of the course after it’s over. A slight exaggeration, certainly. I suspect there won’t be a new personal record involved but it will feel good to at least do some sort of race this fall. (And also to use as a benchmark for how I am doing.)

Catching a Football Fish!I also got to give the new Animal Crossing: City Folk a whirl last night. It’s been ages since I played the previous incarnation on my DS, but I’m already loving the Wii version, if only because the tv screen is much easier to see things on than the little DS screen. (Catching insects with the net, for instance? A hundred times easier.) There’s something just so fun and relaxing about moving my little character “Gabriel” around his town as he hunts for fossils, goes fishing, harvests the fruit trees, sends little letters and presents to his neighbors, or just looks at the stars. Yay! (On the downside, Charlie is about to become an Animal Crossing widow.) I haven’t given the new “city” options a whirl yet, but hopefully this weekend.

(One amusing thing is that you can bring your DS character over into the Wii version. You don’t get your money or items, but you do get the same “catalog”—which is helpful—as well as appearance. I had forgotten that in a fit of boredom my old character now had pink hair with a gay Tintin flip in the front. I am continually cracking myself up as a direct result.)

Darn it, now I have the Animal Crossing music stuck in my head.

My Fall Listens and Reads

With everything else going on I forgot to mention it, but I became even more of an Arlington resident stereotype last week; I donated money to WAMU, our local NPR station. I started listening to WAMU around the start of the year on my drive to and from work, and I have to admit that I’ve grown to really love Morning Edition and All Things Considered. And from there, well, I’ve started adding podcasts to be automatically downloaded, like StoryCorps, Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me, or NPR roundups of the week’s news relating to specific subjects (my two favorites are Food and Pop Culture), and most Monday mornings at the gym I spend my hour on the rowing machine and the elliptical listening to the weekend’s episode of This American Life.

So yeah, they’ve given me a lot of entertainment, so with the latest pledge drive I finally crumbled. (It does help that I can make it split over 12 months. That’s not so bad.) But it did make me realize that I really have not picked up much in the way of new music this year. There are still a few albums I’m hoping to get for Christmas (new ones from Aimee Mann and Pink leap to mind), but I didn’t feel the need to rush out and get them. The newest album I can think of acquiring was Tod loaning me Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s Trip the Light Fantastic, which was pretty darn good.

Is this a bad year for music? Or merely a bad year for me finding music that I’m interested in?

On the other hand, I’ve definitely done a lot more reading this year; getting those two hours on the bus at least once a week has certainly helped, of course. I’m almost done with Pride and Prejudice and all of you were absolutely right, it’s very enjoyable. At some point I’ll finally tackle Wuthering Heights, but that will have to wait for a little bit. I took advantage of Small Beer Press’s fall sale and ordered the “everything we published in 2008” set (which may sound like some huge crate of books but it’s actually just five).

It helped that three of the books were already ones I wanted; a new Geoff Ryman book is reason to celebrate (Cambodia? Really? I’m in!), I’ve been wanting to read Joan Aiken’s works for a while now, and I’d heard very good things about Benjamin Rosenbaum’s The Ant King and Other Stories. So that made the decision easy; doubly so because Benjamin Parzybok’s Couch sounds entertaining, and I’ve always heard very good things about John Kessel too. (And hey, one of the stories in The Baum Plan for Financial Independence and Other Stories involves the Bennet sisters from Pride and Prejudice meeting Dr. Frankenstein and his Monster. It’s like it was meant to be.)

Also on my radar (but for 2009) is NESFA Press’s planned six-volume set of anthologies collecting every single Roger Zelazny short story. I cut my teeth on Zelazny’s Amber novels, and from there went to his anthologies (I still vividly remember telling a friend about Unicorn Variations in the sixth grade and wishing that I could write a short story like Zelazny did) and many of his novels. With half of his anthologies out of print and the other half all scattershot and over the place, a complete, definitive edition of everything? Oh yes. Yes yes yes. It’s just as well that it’s a minimum of four months away.

(Oh, and World of Goo for the Wii is one of the coolest games out there, and for $15 at that! A steal and a half. I actually have to stop myself playing it at times because I don’t want it to come to an end. It’s that good. I would talk about wanting an Xbox 360 Pro, here, but I fear that you lot will just egg me on to buy one. And, um, no. I cannot justify one. Maybe next year.)

Meanwhile, back on the ranch…

It’s been a while since I’ve updated about life in the Wild World of Greg. Well, aside from talking about photos or nasty sugar-substitutes.

My work computer bit the dust big time last week. Now I’m on a replacement Lenovo, which has some things which are better than my old HP (for starters, shutting the laptop doesn’t turn it off, and since I use a large monitor at work this is a good thing), other things which drive me crazy (it’s a bit slower and is most noticeable by the 3-second pause before it will open a new browser window).

Artomatic seems to be going well. I set up a guestbook after the first weekend and there are a couple of comments in it that made me smile. No sales, alas, but hope springs eternal. I do think I’m going to run out of business cards before the end, so I decided to give Zazzle’s cards a whirl and printed some out. They should be here at the start of next week, which is good.

Charlie and I saw the Israeli movie Jellyfish last night and both loved it. It’s co-directed by the husband-and-wife team of Etgar Keret and Shira Geffen, and written by Geffen. If I didn’t know better, though, I’d have thought it was written by Keret. I first discovered him through his graphic novel Jetlag (drawn by the Actus comic collective in Israel), and love his short stories—and while the film adaptation of his story “Kneller’s Happy Campers” (which he had nothing to do with) is reportedly awful, I think Asaf Hanuka’s graphic novel adapation of it into Pizzeria Kamikaze is great. Anyway, it’s a good, solid movie that doesn’t overstay its welcome; I was impressed with not only the script that alternates between dreamy tableaus and harsh reality, but with the visual stylings of Keret/Geffen. I’ll keep an eye out for their next film project.

The Capitol Hill Classic 10K last weekend was a blast, both for running it (I’d missed it last year thanks to an injury) as well as seeing old friends. It made me really appreciate both the work I’d put into exercise and running since mid-April, as well as all the people I’ve met through the sport over the years. Good times, good times. Even if I am starting to look like Paula Radcliffe and her hideously bad form when it comes to running, it seems.

Remember how I said I had three things I would think about buying if I sold things at Artomatic? Somehow I’ve ended up with two of them. Thanks to a gift card for my birthday back in March, I picked up Mario Kart Wii, which is so much fun it’s mind-boggling. I even got Charlie to play it and he, too, is all over it. Super, super fun, I cannot recommend this highly enough. (Also on the Wii front is Wii Fit, which I set up this morning and used for half an hour. I got it primarily for the balance and yoga exercises, and I love how well it analyzes my form. I think Fred will be delighted with the end results of me using this on a regular basis.)

Also, I was looking at the laser printer that I’ve been eyeing and the price had suddenly dropped $60 due to an instant rebate. Well, clearly it was a sign that I should buy it now. So it arrived today and I will set it up this weekend. I’m also quite pleased that it’s wireless, so I can set it up across the room and have it out of the way. I haven’t had a home printer in over a decade. What a strange feeling!

Last but not least, it is a super-small world. A week ago, on my way home from work I got trapped on the GW Parkway for 2 1/2 hours due to an accident in the southbound lanes that made the police completely shut down the entire parkway. Eventually everyone shut off their cars and walked around a bit, talked, and so forth. (I took the opportunity to read almost all of Tithe by Holly Black, which is also this month’s book club selection.) The entire time, though, I kept looking at the guy in the car behind me because he looked so very familiar. It wasn’t until afterwards that it finally clicked, though. It was my good friend Jon‘s cousin David, whom I haven’t seen in a decade. Bizarrely, he looks completely unchanged. (No doubt there is a portrait aging away in his attic.) Meanwhile, I look pretty radically different than I did in the late ’90s (much less weight and much less hair) so it didn’t surprise me that I didn’t look at all the same. But still, how funny is that?

This weekend, I am looking forward to not having to go away for Memorial Day weekend in, well, quite a while. Perhaps I can finally photograph some of Rolling Thunder? That’d be nice.

I feel the earth move under my feet

I’m sure there must be a “You can tell you’re an East Coaster when…” list out there that includes the item, “You get excited over a 1.8 magnitude earthquake.”

It certainly wasn’t as strong as the one a few years ago (that was around, what, a 3 or a 4?) which was piddly in its own right, so this one was even less so. With the previous one I at least got up out of my chair and stuck my head into the hallway to see if others felt it. With this one, the best I could muster was an instant message to Karon saying, “I swear I just felt our building shake.”

I’ve been feeling a little bleah for most of today, so it’s good to get excited about something. I skipped my run this morning (one of my legs was feeling stiff and tight this morning and even after several stretches today it’s still a bit that way) and I haven’t decided if I’ll attempt one this afternoon after work or not. (I am unfortunately leaning towards no.) I certainly didn’t sleep well last night, which didn’t help matters, too.

But on the bright side, my labels for Artomatic are printed and sitting on my desk, so I just need to pop by this evening and then I am completely done. People keep asking if I’m excited and the answer has been, “Not yet.” Maybe it’s because it was all so new and a learning process for me this year; I’ve already made a lot of decisions for potential future exhibiting on ways I would do it different. Hopefully once it’s all taken care of I will be a little more jazzed about it.

On the other hand, I have decided that if I sell some of the photos (which would be awfully cool) that I get to reward myself. So items I’m looking at include:

Mario Kart Wii just looks amazingly fun, plus there’s the online play aspect. I would sure like to experiment with a “prime” lens. And I haven’t had a printer for over a decade, since the infamous moment where Kate sent me a cursed manuscript and my printing it out literally destroyed the printer. (It started printing jibberish about 2/3rds of the way through—and no, it was not the manuscript’s actual text—and never recovered.) So for those, I am excited.

(Not that I’m actually expecting to sell any photos, of course. But the thought is pretty fun to think about.)

Overall, though, things are good. I have some friends moving into the neighborhood next month, some beautiful orchids blooming in my office, we had salsa lessons in the office yesterday for Cinco de Mayo (which was fun), and an older gentleman at the gym yesterday asked if that was indeed me at the opera last week—and that he and his wife also left before the end because they couldn’t stand it. Hee hee hee.

Thanks, Amtrak

You know something? I like the idea of trains. I think mass-transit in general is fantastic.

So when I decided that after the business portion of my trip this week is over I would head down to just outside of Jacksonville to visit my parents and grandfather, I figured I would just take the train there from Savannah. That way I didn’t have to rent a car and pay a ludicrous amount of money for the option of dropping the car off in a different city than I picked it up in. (It’s actually easier to fly in and out of Jacksonville than Savannah, so I’ll go home via Jacksonville.)

In my fevered imagination, I pictured getting a train sometime after breakfast, or even early afternoon. Simple, right? Well, actually there are only two trains that go from Savannah to Jacksonville, even though it’s a main line that connects the two. And the later of the two trains leaves Savannah at 6:50am.

In order to take the train to Jacksonville, this would mean taking the rental car back to the airport the night before, then taking a cab back to my hotel, then another one to the train station at the crack of dawn. And if I missed the train, I would be out of luck because the next train wouldn’t come through until the next day.

And Amtrak wonders why no one wants to use them. I guess I’m spoiled by there being regular trains up the northeast corridor from DC to NYC and beyond. But it seems like a nasty little Catch-22, where Amtrak says, “No one’s riding us! We better cut back!” when the solution seems to be to not cut back and bite the bullet for a while until people catch on that heyyyy, there are more trains running, we don’t have to set our alarms for 4:45am in order to take the train somewhere.

Oh well. Guess I better remember to bring some driving music with me.

(In a tangental annoyance, the charger for my Nintendo DS seems to have vanished, and I found some comments that seems to indicate that the DS Lite charger does not work with the original DS. So, it seems my plans to play some Phoenix Wright on this trip are all for naught since everywhere locally seems to just have extra chargers for the DS Lite in stock. I did order an original DS charger online, though, so hopefully it will arrive here by next Tuesday before I head back out of town again. Yay.)

Video Game Bonanza

My eyes hurt.

This weekend had more video games than I think I’ve played in a 48-hour period of time in, well, a very long time. Certainly not since college.

Saturday afternoon, in-between two Restaurant Week meals (a good lunch at Filomena, an ok dinner at Ardeo that gave both Charlie and I some bad stomach pains around 3am) I went home and on a whim jumped to the final level of Super Mario Galaxy and officially won the game. In some ways it wasn’t as epic a finale as I’d hoped, but on the other hand the fun of the game for me was always exploring the new galaxies that the game constantly throws at you, forever introducing new concepts and gameplay variants every time you turn around. I still have 46 stars to go in order to collect the full complement of 120, which makes me happy because it means I’ve still got a lot of fun ahead of me.

Then, today, my friend Rob had a video game get-together. The second Wiimote for my system is currently broken so instead I brought my old Dreamcast along. We played a bunch of Chu Chu Rocket, which can only be best described as a board game involving organized insanity. It involves mice and cats and rocket ships and ever-changing events and craziness. It looks really simple at first, but there was a lot of shrieking and screaming and laughing and cursing going on.

Last but not least, Alex broke out the Eye of Judgment, which crosses collectable card games and online computer games. I never, ever was into things like Magic: The Gathering, or Pokemon, or Yu-Gi-Oh. But you know what? This was really slick and clever and addictive. I was also amazingly impressed with how well the PlayStation 3 recognizes the cards based on its camera—it does so instantaneously, and with such finesse I just stared at it for a couple of minutes. It’s a neat, neat game. I am relieved I don’t own a PS3 because I would be awfully tempted otherwise to own this game. And I really, really, really don’t need another addiction. I can just see it becoming that.

Evil! Pure evil, that game. Or video games in general.

I think the rest of the week will be video game free. Maybe now I can watch the remaining 9 episodes of Journeyman still on my digital recorder?