California: The not-so-dry season

January, 1996

Well, last friday (Jan 5th) was the first time I've done the Friday Night Skate since the Skater's Ball in what, November? It's been too soggy in San Francisco to go rolling around. SF is a nice city, I like the fog layer a lot, it dampens sound like a new falling snow, but the moisture plays hell on activities that require traction on concrete. The fog is especially nice at Deb's house which lies about 3 blocks from the Pacific, so sitting on her back porch you can just barely hear the breakers. Makes it feel like a beach house, really. There's a windchime somewhere, and the doorknobs on that side of the house are corroded like you find near large bodies of salt water. It's a neat effect, a beach house in the city.

The fog also absorbs echos, does a funky kind of low-pass filter on the world, that makes a lot of things non-directional. If I ever get into VR (and VR survives the continual attempts of dollar-hungry VCs to take a technology that wants 20 years to mature and make it into a lucrative company after 2), I hope to get to play with environmental effects as a kind of subtext to the things you're seeing and hearing. I think that you could do some cool things with putting a person in a busy urban setting, but damping out all sounds coming from more than 10 feet away, getting rid of that ever-present background hum you find in large groups of people, and tweaking the way the person hears their own speech to match the falling-snow transfer function (when snow is in the air, reflections get more absorbed, so your own voice comes mostly from bone conduction, which sounds different).

This almost relates to the other events of the past two months. November, after the Skater's Ball, consisted of work and Thanksgiving, which I spent with my friend Chris (high queen of the FNDC) and her family in Nevada City. It's a nice little town, rural mountainous California, and when the high pressure systems drift in and the air gets cold, the sky becomes clear and there are the most beautiful stars I've ever seen. They have an oddly shaped house (roughly the proportions of a single-floor florida retiree's house, the kind with no attic and no basement, except in portrait mode rather than landscape. Small footprint but high volume. Tall but narrow. The main stairway has 3 floors, one of which has less than 20 square feet. It was built by an architect.. go figure) on the side of a large hill that gives them an incredible view of the mountains and the sky. I remember years ago at what was probably Thanksgiving, that's the only time I ever go there, sitting out back at midnight with either Chris or Phil, just being absorbed in the stars. I stare at the spaces between them, realizing that this is infinity , that when I look there, my gaze will just keep going and going. Well, I used to think that, now I think that my gaze will just keep going and going until it loops around and whacks me in the back of the head, having figured out since then how a 3-dimensional space can be the surface area of a 4-dimensional sphere (ok, hypersphere, I don't see why we should give special lexical status to an object just because it happens to have more dimensions than what we're used to. If going from 3 to 4 means that you add the prefix 'hyper', what will you do with 5? Generalize!). My dad started out doing astronomy, astrophysics, that kind of thing, so I supposed I'm predisposed towards such things. I was actually named after an astronomer (and a guitarist.. the advantage of having a non-unique name is that you couldn't actually prove that I wasn't named after either one of them). One of them contributed the Brian, the other contributed Brian Andrew. If I had been the one named just Brian I think I'd have felt gypped.

December consisted mainly of work, being the end of the quarter and all. I went to a great housewarming party in SF for a friend from school. She's got a beautiful apartment with a great view of the city, and her roommate is a guy who just stopped working for Rocket Science. He's got these cool-looking coffee mugs with their logo that look like they're made out of lab beakers. We played Playdoh Pictionary, which I didn't think would be workable at first but it turned out really well. I rock at pictionary (not to be humble or anything) just because my brain doesn't stick to one topic or line of thinking for very long, which is annoying to listen to but is a positive boon for limited-information word-guessing games (Taboo is the other one). Part of it is that due to the game preferences of certain common friends, I end up playing Taboo and Pictionary with Phil most of the time, and we happen to have enough shared culture that we've got a lot to work with. Frustrates the hell out of the folks that try to play against us, though.

Trying to ship a product before the end of an arbitrarily-chosen 3-month boundary is mostly an exercise in sales and shipping. Doing so in a software company is an exercise in rapid debugging. Things were hectic in December, and stupid me kept making mistakes like dropping by the QA lab at 10:30pm on my way out the door to see if everything was going OK. Dumb, dumb, dumb. I didn't get home until 2am. That worked in college; these days I have to show up in the morning regardless. So getting the releases nailed down and shipped was a great relief.

I spent two weeks at home in Connecticut, 4 days of which were wasted snowed in by the largest snowstorm we've had for 5 years. They don't bury power lines in New England, which means that you get a bit of wind or snow or ice and all the trees fall over, taking all the power with them. Our water comes from an electric pump feeding out of a well, so no power means no water, no showers, no toilets. It's pretty dumb. Beats me why anyone would put up with living there. Earthquakes are ever so much cooler than flushing toilets with buckets of melted snow (it's neat, did you know how a toilet works? You dump in all this water at once, and it imbalances the water in the U-shaped tube and it starts chugging through, and builds up enough momentum to just keep going until there's no more water on top to push through. Normally you keep all this water in the tank until you hit the lever, but you can just pour it if you can do it all at once and not a glassful at a time).

I spent another day sick with some kind of stomach problem. After that I finally made my trip up to Boston to visit some folks, including my little sister and her fianceť (yes, it feels weird to say/type that. "boyfriend" rolls off so much better, but just isn't correct. He's cool, and I suspect that Silicon Valley will entrap him at some point too, just like me). Went to see Cats in it's road-show instantiation; I didn't know that it wasn't supposed to have a plot, and was a little concerned when the second act didn't start with some kind of dramatic buildup.. "how are they going to squeeze this tension in? They're running out of time....". Silly me.

My friend Theresa, who I haven't talked to for about 4 years, swept in out of the blue and gave me the Monty Python Songbook, which contains lyrics and sheet music for the Spam song, Remember that You're Standing On a Planet That's Revolving, and other classics. I love it. And I bought myself the No Doubt CD, which is really cool. I love the two-voices-in-weird-harmony style of songs, and I like fast music, and they do both. Dance Hall Crashers and TMBG fall into the same category.

I pushed back my flight by a day to spend an afternoon with a set of cousins that I haven't seen in ten years. Eric and Kim are a bit younger than me and my sister, but they've become enormous in the years we've missed contact; he's probably 6'8" right now. They're going to attend a Buddhist university in Colorado.. sounds pretty cool. We wandered around NYC looking at Christmas trees in the various museums. New York City is big, it's busy, but it lacks all of the things that I like about San Francisco.. the streets are muddy all year round, it's impossible to drive in (as opposed to SF, which is merely improbable to drive in). I keep expecting NY to just ban passenger cars from Manhattan and admit that taxicabs are the only beast capable of surviving in that environment. NYC also makes you feel like you should be scurrying all the time.. something about the subtle combined effect of a few thousand people within earshot each speaking with tension in their voices, trying desperately to get something done before night falls and they retreat to the safety of their trains.

... I noticed something pretty bizarre..
There's not a lot of people there,
just an awful lot of cars...
-Thomas Dolby, Pulp Culture

New Years was filled by a small party at Chris' house, in which we feasted on her marvelous completely-homemade pizza (starting with flour and tomatoes), and watched movies until nearly dawn. We saw The River's Edge and Buckaroo Banzai. I also met the impressive Eve Andersson, who had come along with Phil (who, I am convinced, is the center of this universe and knows everybody). Looking at her pages later inspired me to figure out why the heck my MadLibs weren't working. They are now. Go look at them and help me write some better stories.

And speaking of harmonies (sorry, emacs can insert paragraphs well but the auto-segue module is still having some problems), tonight's festivities (Sun Jan 7) involved a trip to Berkeley to see a coffee-house concert by a 4-woman a cappella group called Mary Schmary. Wonderful music, really funny, at a place called the Freight & Salvage (Berkeley Society for the Preservation of Traditional Music). This was their first headline gig, they're also promoting their tape named "Flex Your Estrogen", and they were incredible. Desireť, one of the singers, has been a friend of Phil's since kindergarten, and he said that she would come along with us on the Friday Night Skate someday soon. That circle of friends is growing by leaps and bounds. It was a good mix of accomplishments for a Sunday: I got my local working, so that I can get mail to and send mail from correctly, and I went to see a concert. Does that make me well-rounded yet?

-Brian, 8 Jan 1996

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Brian Warner <>
Last modified: Wed Mar 29 01:28:28 PST 2006