Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale

"If you see only one fiendishly bizarre Finnish film about an evil Santa Claus and his naked band of marauding elves this holiday season, make it Rare Exports: A Christmas Tale. - Rotten Tomatoes Review

Last night, TG and I went to see this quirky little film called Rare Exports: A Christmas Story.  Our 2 year anniversary was Friday and we wanted to go see something but nothing was grabbing our attention: We'd already seen Tangled and Harry Potter, I didn't want to see Black Swan, neither of us had any desire to see Unstoppable or Burlesque and we weren't sure about The Tourist.  That left Rare Exports.  

So we watched the trailer and read the synopsis and really couldn't figure it out.  Was it a spoof?  Were they making fun of action or horror movies?  Was it based off something or was it an original screenplay?  All the lines seemed campy and forced and it seemed like a big joke.  My only real dealings with Scandinavian film was Ingmar Bergman's The Seventh Seal starring Max von Sydow and the MSTK ribbing of Sampo or The Day the Earth Froze, so I was a little skeptical.  I kept thinking, "It'll be filmed in some cold place, it'll make little sense but I'll leave feeling like I should have learned something about my place in the universe."

No way, José.  Rare Exports takes itself very seriously and yet brings with it the charm and humor you find in every day life.  It's not forced or practiced, it seems very real at times.  At others, it seems like something Guillermo del Toro dreamed up.  From the opening with the harmless geological survey team to the fiery explosion at the end, the film builds suspense and emotion meticulously but leaves you feeling raw and exposed as though you were in the cold and in the dark.

The story begins with the owner of a mining company being shown by the lead geologist that a core sample has come back with sawdust.  In the old days, you would keep ice frozen by covering it in sawdust.  (To me this was hilarious as the film takes place within the Arctic Circle.  Who has trouble keeping ice frozen there?)  So what was being frozen under this giant mountain?  The owner of the company knows, but he's not telling anyone just yet.  It turns out, he believes that Santa is being kept in some kind of icy prison and he's going to dig him out.  Things go awry when something falls into a local man's wolf trap, however, and young Pietari is forced to face his fears about a real life Santa who steals children.

Santa Claus as depicted by Macy's and Coca-Cola has only been around for some 60 or so years, but it's based in some older legends from Northern Europe, specifically the Lapland region of Finland.  Santa, or Joulupukki, lives  not at the North Pole, but on Korvantuturi Fell; a place from which he can hear all the children from around the world.  The name Joulupukki means "Yule goat" and Pietari sees a lot of images of Santa with horns or with a goat head.  Rare Exports has its roots in Finnish Yule traditions but doesn't linger.  The bleak landscape immediately makes you tense, waiting for something to jump out.  There's talk of Russian wolves and there aren't any women in the film.  You get the feeling right away that something isn't right, but you don't know what and the characters don't know either.  You and Pietari and his dad and the potato farmer and the reindeer hunter all find out together what's been buried in the mountain.  And it's not even what you think.

We missed the opening night at the Alamo where you could get your picture taken, holding weapons, next to a grizzled old Santa in a cage.  Instead we saw The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (which gets my vote as among the top longest movie titles.)  It wasn't bad, better than the second, but it was maybe unfairly discounted as not being the movie we'd intended on seeing.  And now that I've seen Rare Exports, I feel right in saying it's the better of the two.

It's not a kids movie.  It's not a first date movie.  It's not a feel good Christmas hit.  If you like movies that are surprising and exceptionally made, I would highly suggest it.

Carry on.


Lego Lego Lego

LUG Showcase 2010 Austin
Originally uploaded by xadrian.
I think some folks may get tired of all the photos and posts I do about Lego, but that's what my life is about right now. And it's in Austin, hence the title.

Moving along.

This little scene wasn't built entirely by me. In fact, the only thing built by me was the big read truck. Another TexLUG member, Will Heron, built the winter wonderland. Tiger Lily helped with the big tree on the front and we spent an evening at Will's making trees and ensuring all the components worked together.

It's now on display in Barton Creek Mall's Lego Store. The Lego Group has restarted its community program by allowing a showcase of models by area LUGs (Lego User Groups.) Tiger Lily is also contacting them to see if UTLUG can participate as well.

We've still been buying Lego as often as we can afford it. Gas and food and some bills come first. I try to find deals on Craigslist but some times it's hard not to go to that store and buy something. We've got boxes of brick to sort and I have a feeling we'll need bigger bins very soon.

That aside, the family is still holding together Ms. A and her lady friend are still together and seem to be having a lot of fun being around each other and are both graciously involved in the other's life and activities. I have my time split between P-ville and TG's place in Austin but I do get most of the weekends with LMA and G-man which is nice.

Individually there have been some problems. G-man officially has been diagnosed with asthma. He also has some boy part problems that have made both Ms. A and I really question our skills as parents. It was something we didn't know about and don't remember our pediatrician ever talking to us about. Needless to say it's something he'll again grow out of, but in the mean time there's antibiotics and steroids involved.

LMA is still trying to skate, but the darkening days means the outdoor practices have all but stopped. The new league is, honestly, floundering and hasn't secured either a good place to practice nor enough people to warrant its continued operation. That's my opinion and I'm sure it'll try to pick up again after the holidays. In the mean time, she's taken up knitting. Her grades have been stellar this semester and that coupled with her improved attitude and responsibilities, should result in a pet fish all her own soon.

Ms. A suffered a concussion last week and has been unable to function. She had accidentally hit her head and spent the next day and a half with some classic symptoms. Unfortunately, her history of migraines really prevented anyone from seeing that and it was a few days before she went to the doctor. They did a CT scan yesterday and the tech was unable to give her a diagnosis. However, they didn't call right away which is good news, or at least news that there isn't major trauma. She's not allowed to drive or go to school which sucks because it's finals. Hopefully she can talk to her professors and work something out.

TG is also nearing the end of the semester and indeed the end of her time at UT. All her courses are now senior level. It's unknown yet whether she'll go to UT for her graduate studies or if she'll go right away. There's talk she might move back to Louisiana to finish that out, which would mean a bit of travel for us back and forth.

I have to get some drawing done soon. I have a few portraits to get done as well as this year's Christmas card. I have no idea what to do with it so it could be anything. Suggestions?

Hope everyone had a happy Thanksgiving and was able to get most of their shopping done. I hopefully have a five year bonus coming that will be used for that and fixing my car. (That's my holiday gift to myself.)

Carry on.



The Band
Originally uploaded by xadrian.
It's six o'clock and Lil Miss Austin has decided that her third iteration of Halloween outfit isn't right. She does, however, know without a doubt that all her friends hate her because they won't return her calls to go Trick-or-Treating. At 6:10, she has more or less settled into a costume, has found a friend to go with and also has a two year old to escort around. By 9 o'clock she was ready for bed with eye makeup and lip stain only partially washed off.

G-man was Spiderman.

Costumes have always been part of my Halloween and I try to pass that love of dressing up to my children. Ms. A does her part as well and was instrumental in getting LMA into what eventually became a Vampire Queen outfit. (See, it's not enough to just be a vampire, she has to be the Vampire Queen or it just doesn't make any sense.) Originally she was a gypsy with a nice out fit Ms. A got her. Then that wasn't good enough so it changed to a belly dancer. All we had to do was cut the outfit in half. She had plenty of sequence and glitter and she had this great idea for these things trailing from her feet because she'd be going barefoot.

That wasn't working so then Ms. A suggested she read about Persephone and maybe use some of her dresses and costuming bits to go as her. LMA agreed but the more she dressed, the more she looked like a vampire. So a little eye make up, some blood on the lips and we were ready to go.

G-man was Spiderman from the get go, no changes. He didn't wear a mask or face paint. He just jumped around like Spiderman all night. Ms. A may have got a picture of them, but I forgot. A TXRD skater and family friend brought her 2 year old daughter over (dressed as the Statue of Liberty) and we all went out to get candy from strangers.

The night before, Tiger Lily and I dressed as Floyd Pepper and Janice from the Muppets. Dressing as slight less well know characters produces an interesting reaction. People were really impressed with it and were all smiles, but honestly couldn't place us. Without my mask I looked like the Fifth Cuban Beatle. With it, people said I was Dr. Teeth or Animal. When I said Floyd they looked confused or like I'd blown air into their face as if I didn't know what I was talking about.

I was for the most part with a group of people like myself who had grown up with the Muppets so they KNEW who I was even if not specifically.

And just like LMA's, I finished my costume minutes before leaving for the party. My mom will be happy to know I used a sewing machine to make the front of the shirt.

Hope all your ghouls and goblins has a wonderful and spooky Halloween.

Carry on.



Originally uploaded by xadrian.
I got a call yesterday from my mom. Shortly after exercise class, my grandma suffered a massive stroke. She was kept on life support for a short while until it was determined the damage was irreparable. She died around 7pm last night. She was 87.

After 37 years, I don't think I truly knew her and that's the worst part about her death for me. I don't mourn like other people. I try to be supportive for those left behind and I try to remind them of what the deceased was like in life. Personally I try to imagine what I'd like to see people do when I die as though I were looking in on them from beyond the veil and I can tell you I don't want to see them sad. I want them to remember me and say how awesome I was, so that's what I do for people.

My grandma was awesome.

First of all, she put up with an artist for 57 years. My grandpa Joe died in 2003 and he was a great artist, but I can see them being at odds over a great many things, especially early in their lives. My grandma saw WWII, the building AND tearing down of the Berlin Wall. She was alive for 17 Olympic games. She saw Kennedy's assassination, the first man on the moon, the first man in space, and Pearl Harbor.

What I don't know about her is what she did during all this time. I'm sure I'll find out from my family, but all I know is that at one point she worked as a banker. She raised three kids, two of which had kids of their own. She had to drive my grandpa around because he didn't have a license until late in their lives. She always made dinner for Christmas eve and it was usually delicious. (I say usually not to be mean, but there were times as a kid when I couldn't get through the adult dishes.)

I know her family came from a long line of German and Irish citizenry. Her family line was Ganley and Rueves. She has family in Minnesota and I've always made fun of the fact that they all listen to or have been mentioned on Prairie Home Companion. Once about 15 years ago, she bummed a cigarette from me and my brother as we were outside smoking. (I probably shouldn't tell my mom that one.)

Ms. A said to me "...the Jedi just don't feel death as a great sadness." This is very true for me. I have been devastated before, I have been sad and depressed. I feared the loss of my kids to the point of bawling for hours. But when someone dies, I don't have the same reaction. My grandma died quickly, apparently painlessly. She'd lead a good long life with as many hardships and joys as anyone could need. I don't feel sad she's gone, I feel happy that I knew her when she was alive. I'm grateful she gave birth to my mom.

I'm not real happy about that cigarette though, sneaky "ex-smoker." :-)

Carry on.


Tech Support

I believe ISPs find out my job title and spend extra support time with me just to see how long it takes for me to snap.

Something in the way I call in must say to the tier one specialist, "I work with computer systems and network equipment all day.  If possible, please speak to me as though I know nothing."

I'm trying to set up an internet account at TG's apartment.  She already has cable for free but no internet.  I volunteered to have it in my name and get it all set up.  Time Warner had a special so I called.  After paying a deposit (don't ask) we got the equipment for a self install.  It's super easy and stupid if you don't.  You get the cable from the wall to the modem, modem get your network cable to the wireless router, done.  Some times you'll need to configure your wireless but that's a different story and there's easy software for that.  The communication between the wall, the modem and the wireless should be a no-brainer, unless there's a problem.

And there usually is.  Why?  Because I work in IT, so there will be a problem.

I get everything connected and of course it doesn't work.  Laptop sees the wireless, but gets no outside connectivity.  (I hate saying "I don't have the Internet" or "I can't connect to the Internet."  It's semantics but it drives me nuts.  Sadly it's the only thing even level 1 support people understand.)  I'm unable to reach outside addresses.  After doing the regular troubleshooting on my own I call support.

First thing is they can't find my account.  I'm already tweaked about the connectivity, now I'm double spiked about the account info.  Finally they are able to find it and it's because a different phone number was listed.  I called from my work number and despite giving them my cell number as the MAIN ACCOUNT number, they put in my work number anyway.  Okay, sorted, no problem.  Now let's look at this problem.

Can see your modem from where you are?

I'm going to stop and say that I understand why tech support people do this.  I'm sure there's a large slice of the pie chart that leaves things unplugged, loosely connected, soaking in the fish tank, set on fire or otherwise unable to function.  I'm not them, but I don't know how to tell them without making me look like a PowerDouche 4500.  So after trying to explain my circumstance and what I've already done, I just shut up and let them read their script.

Yes I see the small black box with the flashing green lights.

Okay I've checked all the connections.

Yes it's plugged in.

No oddly after those three steps I still can't get to the Interwebs.

The first guy at the local Time Warner office here in Austin, was nice enough though I had a feeling he was on the 9pm to 6am shift for a reason.  After running 2 hours of trouble shooting (mostly involved with me rebooting my laptop, which takes 59 minutes each time) he decides it's a software problem.  It may also be the memory.  And you should try taking the battery out and tightening all the screws.


Okay thanks dude.

I give up for the night because my head hurts from all the dumb.  The next day is too busy and we aren't done till late so I don't even try.  Today at lunch I get on chat because I mainly want to find out what's wrong with my account and why they can't find it.  I had no intention of troubleshooting mainly because I didn't think anything would come of it.  I'd already resigned myself to calling for a tech to come out or just bring the modem back to the local office and get a replacement.  But, while I was on the Time Warner Grand Help Chat You Save Time, Go Fun! I decided to actually mention my problem.  Here's what follows (edited for personal information.)

Jennie Jones:    Thank you for contacting Time Warner Cable. At the end of our chat you will be given the option of taking a brief survey. My name is Jennie. Please give me a moment while I access your account.
Jennie Jones:    Hello!
Jennie Jones:    Thank you for waiting.
Ben_:    sure thing
Jennie Jones:    You would like to know whether we provide service in your area. Correct?
Ben_:    No, I would like to make sure my account exists.  I signed up for service, got a self install kit, and it doesn't work.  When I call or email for support, I'm told my account doesn't exist.
Ben_:    So I'd like to find out why, maybe get an account number, and possibly set up a trouble ticket.
Jennie Jones:    Thank you for the information.
Jennie Jones:    I understand your concern.
Jennie Jones:    It'll be my pleasure to direct you to the right support in order to get this done for you.
Jennie Jones:    Since, I belong to the technical chat support for Time Warner Cable video services, we do not have access to check the status of the new order for the services.
Jennie Jones:    I would appreciate if you would contact our sales team at 512-485-5555 or 1-800-418-8848, as they are specially equipped to handle this type of request.
Jennie Jones:    The working hours are from, 7:30am - 9pm Monday -Saturday and 9:45am-9pm on Sundays.
Ben_:    So you can't look up my account?
Jennie Jones:    Let me try once again.
Jennie Jones:
May I know the account holder's full name, please?
Ben_:    Ben Rollman
Jennie Jones:    Thank you.
Jennie Jones:    May I have the complete address associated with the account, please?
Ben_:    (address)
Jennie Jones:    Thank you for the information.
Jennie Jones:    May I have the PIN on the account?  The PIN is a 4-digit number that was selected by you and it allows me to authenticate that you are an authorized account user. You are required to provide your PIN for all issues needing account information.
Ben_:    (pin) (by the way, it's not pin number)
Jennie Jones:    Thank you for the verification.
Jennie Jones:    Your account number is (numbers).
Ben_:    excellent
Jennie Jones:    I appreciate your patience and understanding.
Ben_:    Is your support for only TV?
Ben_:    You said video.
Jennie Jones:    I mention, Cable video services, which means cable service.
Ben_:    Okay, not road runner then, right?
Ben_:    Not that it matters, I wouldn't be able to chat with you if we started troubleshooting anyway. :)
Jennie Jones:    May I know you need assistance with which services?
Ben_:    When I call the local number, are there options for tech support?  Last time I called the local 485-5555 number I was then transfered to Austin as though I'd called a HQ number.  But I just called the local number.
Ben_:    Sorry, I have a cable modem, I'm not able to connect from multiple devices.  I've called a couple times and have been told it's a software issue.  It can't be.  If you have it, I could use some upper level help.
Ben_:    So, internet services.
Jennie Jones:    Thank you for the information.
Jennie Jones:    It seems that this issue needs to be escalated to National Road Runner support. We will transfer you to that support group.
Jennie Jones:    One moment please, while I connect you to our National Road Runner support.
Jennie Jones:    Again, my name is Jennie.  Thank you for chatting with Time Warner Cable.  We value you as a customer and are here to assist you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
Jennie Jones:    Please wait, while the problem is escalated to another analyst
Irina:    Hello! Thank you for choosing Road Runner Internet Technical Chat Support. My name is Irina.How may I assist you?

(This is where I begin to worry.  I'm connected on my laptop via Clear, which is a little USB device that picks up a WiMax signal.  Before you ask, I only have one, so TG would have to wait till I'm not using it for her Mac and the Playstation would never be able to get it, hence the need for Time Warner.)
Ben_:    Hi Irina.  I have a new account, self install kit.  Cable modem, Netgear wireless router, PC MAC   PS3.  So far I'm unable to get online.
Ben_:    I've gone through some local connection configurations and tests and I'm left thinking it maybe a DNS issue or something wrong with the modem configuration.
Ben_:    The last person I spoke with said it was likely a software issue, but two of these devices connect to other wifi locations just fine.
Irina:    I understand that you are unable to access Internet connection , am I correct?.


Ben_:    Yes
Irina:    Thank you for confirmation.
Irina:    I am sorry to know this.
Irina:    I'm more than happy to assist you.  To get us started, I'm going to need to verify some security information and then we can move on to understanding your setup.  We will need to perform some troubleshooting steps together, and I'll be running some tests on my end.  Feel free to ask questions along the way.
Irina:    Before we begin, please provide the following three pieces of information to verify your account and to document this interaction for future reference:
1. The account holder's 10 digit telephone number. (xxx-xxx-xxxx)
2. The account holder's Full Name (First and Last)
3. Please tell us your name.


Ben_:    (number)
Ben_:    Ben Rollman
Ben_:    acct (number)
Ben_:    PIN
Ben_:    SSN (last four)
Ben_:    (Address)
Irina:    For some reason I am not able to pull your account details, may I have any other phone number that is registered with RoadRunner?
Ben_:    Try (work number)
Ben_:    You can't look it up by any of the other info I gave you?
Ben_:    I'm worried that TW's inabilty to find my account is somehow related to not being able to get online.  As though the account is inactive so tht modem hasn't been provisioned.
Irina:    I understand your concern.
Irina:    I regret this inconvenience.
Irina:    Please provide me with your Modem Mac id.
Irina:    It is a 12-digit number starting with  00  located on the back or side of your cable modem (the small box with the flashing lights). If there is more than one MAC ID listed we will only need the C-MAC, CM-MAC or HFC-MAC number specifically.

^ that's unedited BTW, the parenthetical phrase was all hers - the small box with the flashing lights.  God, my mistake ma'am.  This whole time I've been troubleshooting my toaster. 

Ben_:   (mac address)
Irina:    I am sorry to inform you that I am unable to locate your account with any of the information you have provided.
Ben_:    Then how do I have the equipment?
Irina:    Let me explain it to you.
Irina:    The issue you are facing is because your 12-Digit modem MAC address is not registered with our Road Runner local office.
Irina:    This process of getting your modem MAC address registered is called as modem provisioning.
Irina:    There is nothing much to worry about. I will provide you with one more alternate solution.
Irina:    You need to contact our local office and get this modem MAC address 001BD7FFABE6 registered with them over phone.
Irina:    Also I will provide you a ticket number, so that you will not have to explain the issue again.
Irina:    Can I provide you the number to call them?
Ben_:    Is it 512-485-5555?
Ben_:    And yes please, a ticket number would be great.
Irina:    The number for the department is 866-701-3588
They work 24x7.
Ben_:    Okay.
Irina:    Kindly hold on for a minute.
Irina:    Please make a note, your ticket number for this session is:RQST00079368472
Irina:    Just provide them the ticket number as I have put in special notes instructing them to do the needful and documented your chat against the same number.
Irina:    You can always visit http://help.rr.com for online FAQs to get more help and knowledge about the products and services offered by Road Runner.
Irina:    Is there anything that I can help you with?
Ben_:    Nope, will be calling immediately, thank you for your help.
Irina:    Thank you for contacting Road Runner Technical Chat Support, again my name is Irina, we value you as a customer.
Irina:    Analyst has closed chat and left the room

I know that was long, but it goes to show that a) I wasn't a dick b) I had given them all the information I had, including the steps I'd taken to solve the issue and c) that I kinda know what I'm talking about.  In the end it didn't matter, I'd have to make another call.

So I called the number Irina gave and I end up with an automated system.  After not finding my account again, I'm transfered to a technical support member.  I use the "call you back in X minutes" option and they do call me back.  I get Amanda who also can't find my account.  She then says, after I give me address, "Austin Texas?"

Yeees...as opposed to...?

"Oh honey, you're in a South Carolina call center."  She apologizes profusely and tries to find the right number.  The 485-5555 number?  I ask.  No, here's one, 202-bla-blah.  That's not Austin, I say.  Oh, well then yes the 584-5555 one.  Okay I said, but I'm worried.  I called that one the first time and they couldn't find my account either.  Okay, she said.  Let me just transfer you there.  The call doesn't go through and I have to call back.  So I call the local number and get Bob.

Bob was the man.  After all this, he asks what the problem is and I say, "I need to have my modem provisioned.  It's not letting any traffic out."  Bob's on it.  Okay, can you power it for me?  (That's tech for turn it off, wait ten seconds and turn it back on.  See, he already knows.)  I do, he sends a configuration file.  I power it again.  He says he can see it but it's not behaving.  He sets up a tech visit.  I say I can bring the modem to the office and swap it out.  "Yeah, but I'd hate for you to waste your time if it's something in the line and not the modem.  I'd do the trouble call and if you DO take it back and it works, just call and cancel."

Bob's the man.

The sad part is, after all this, the only person that didn't have a survey follow up was Bob.  Everyone else made damn sure I had a venue to tell them how unsatisfied I was.

Carry on.



Humans differ from animals for various reasons not least of which is our ability to communicate through language.  All life communicates on some level, but no other animal writes, reads or retains language like we do.  We recount events verbally, we write down events and save it for historical purposes, we spin tales of pure fiction, we pass along instructions.  We also communicate in order to exchange ideas or things.  We sell and buy, barter and trade.  We bargain, haggle and compromise.

Over the past 170 years, our ability to communicate took a couple giant steps forward.  We were able to send signals across great distances to relay messages.  At first it was in short bursting sounds, then voice traffic was possible and eventually we would be able to communicate by sending anything we wanted over thousands of miles of cable and even bounced off orbiting satellites.  For thousands of years, our spoke and written languages have remained within our mouths and ears and fixed to paper.  Since 1940, we've been able to send those ideas and thoughts and requests without opening our mouths and without writing with ink.

Email is ubiquitous.  It's household, it's common, it's no longer a fad.  I still remember the days when people carried pagers and had no email.  To have an email address was a thing of wonder and wealth.  The address was free, the service was free, but the cost for the internet usage was prohibitive and people didn't check it often.  If you had access to email, chances are less than half the people you knew did as well.  To this day there are folks who don't have email or do and don't use it.  They feel it's gimmicky, impersonal and a waste of time.  They'd rather pick up the phone or write a letter or plan a visit.

And that's fine.  The world will always need Luddites to anchor the frantic expansion of technology.  If it wasn't for all the legacy mindsets in the world, we wouldn't still be using fax machines.  And who doesn't love a good fax now and then?

The problem is the half-assed attempts to bridge both worlds and no where is it more common than the small business web site.  Take a look at any web site out there and you will see a Contact Us somewhere on the first page.  The type of contact from that point is varied, but it will undoubtedly contain an email address or a way to send information to the company via a form.  It does include a phone number or maybe a fax, but email is fast, it allows you to write out exactly what you want and it creates a record of your conversation.  As someone who has worked in customer service, I truly appreciate being able to go back in time to see exactly when someone contacted me or I responded to them.

That all falls apart if there is no reply.

If you're a company that has a web site and you run advertising that points to that web site, and that web site has an email address, you must reply to emails the come in to your company.  Even if it's an automated response saying something about calling you instead, do something.  Email is just valid as a phone call and I find that more than half the time, I receive no response from companies using email.  The exception being those with a dedicated problem tracking system that generates a ticket for a trouble call.  But for general inquiries, I'm almost certain that if I send an email it will not be addressed and I'll have to eventually make a phone call.

Why not call in the first place, you may ask.  Two reasons.  1) I don't like the phone.  I get anxious and panicky on the phone and I tend to forget why I called and tend to leave out important information.  My mind blanks out and I end up not getting what I need from the call.  And 2) My belief is that if I email you, you should answer.  If you have an email and phone, you're signally to your customers or clients that you can be reached that way.  If you don't answer an email, it's a signal that you don't value the customer that approaches you that way and that's offensive.

I realize large companies get millions of emails and it's hard to negotiate the trash and spam from the actual correspondence, but there are tools for that.  Mail servers and spam blockers are smart and sophisticated today and overload can no longer be blamed for the inability to respond to requests.

So what's to be done?  Were I in charge of the world, I would force companies that don't reply to emails to remove the option from their site.  If you want people to only make a phone call, only list a phone number.  If you list an email address, you are acknowledging that a response will be sent.  If not, it's akin to ignoring your phone when it rings or throwing a letter away before opening it.

There's no way to fight this, but moving forward, I will at least try.  Every phone call I make from now on after having sent an email will also include the request to remove the email from their site since they don't use it.  Hopefully the trend will catch on and more people will do likewise.  I don't want to punish these people, I want them to act with some social responsibility.  Ignoring people isn't responsible.

Carry on.


The Wheels Are Off

First tooth!
Big days for G-man.

Last week the little dude lost a tooth and yesterday he rode around with his training wheels removed.  After much hemming and hawing, we were finally able to convince him to try it out.  He did really well and I'm really happy for him.  Too often his sister goes blazing around the neighborhood without him because his little bike is too slow to keep up.  Now that he's free to ride like the wind, I foresee many more local adventures.  G is the type of kid that will take two hours to ride around the block because he wants to literally stop and smell the flowers.

We also have a video of me totally biting it.  I may save that one for friends and family only because I might try to win $10,000 on AFV.  I was running with G-man, holding on to his handlebars, you know, Dad style.  I was waiting for him to say "Let go!" but he didn't and I was running into a low hanging tree and then a truck in a driveway.  I let go and fell to the ground and G-man fell shortly after on the other side of the truck.  At first he got really upset until I showed him my skinned knee.  Then he laughed.

After his triumphant couple rides, he smashed his inner thigh on one crash so we called it a day, but not before a fist pumping four house long ride on his own.

Very proud of you little dude.  I can't wait to ride around with you.

Carry on.


Season Ender

Rowan is ready for roller derby.
Originally uploaded by xadrian.
TXRD's championship bout was last Saturday. The Cherry Bombs were triumphant over the Hellcats in a nail biter of a match that was hard fought, tightly contested and full of emotion. Skaters flew off the track, fought, danced and skated their brains out. The last jam saw two rival skaters arms around each other's shoulders, pumping their fists in celebration. Despite the animosity seen on the track, in the end they are all skaters and they all belong to the league and they all do it for the love of roller derby.

I told someone about the upcoming event and how LMA was going to be manning a table to raise funds for her new league, and they rolled their eyes and said with much derision that there was a group of people you want to get involved with. At the bout when I could sit in the crowd and watch the bout, I sat in front of an older couple that seemed to take pleasure in tsk-tsk-ing and belittling everything that went on in front of them from the music, to the dress code to the actual match.

I'd always thought that roller derby now is like what comic books used to be in the 70's. Mostly a cult following but slowly growing in popularity. At first it's just those involved and their friends and families. People in the know really appreciate what it means to be involved but have a hard time relaying that to The Everyday Joe. Eventually enough people across the globe are involved, a movie is made based on the idea and suddenly it lives somewhere between cult and mainstream. People know about it, may have participated in it, but most generally don't know enough about it and some even look down on it.

The difference is, a comic book nerd is much less likely to start a fight over costuming.

Derby girls are hard working, genuine and passionate folks who aren't afraid to speak their mind. They are loyal, creative, determined creatures who have found in derby something meaningful. They are strong and at the end of the day, I'd rather have my girl emulate them than any girl scout or beauty queen or movie actress. These ladies are entrepreneurs and business owners and athletes and they have thousands of girls looking up to them. Not only because they skate fast and hit hard, but because they are successful at doing what they want when other people shake their heads.

So the next time you're not sure about how to react at a bout, or what to say to someone affiliated with derby, it's probably best to keep your mouth shut. Because while they may be role models to young women, they'll still punch your lights out for being a judgmental douchebag.

Carry on.


The Littlest Capitalist

Button Maker
Originally uploaded by xadrian.
A sign would show up on the counter, "Shop Open!" with hearts and stars and rainbows and an arrow pointing into the living room. Behind the steamer trunk sat Lil Miss Austin with an open lock box full of all the change she'd been siphoning off laundry and her parents' pockets. The shelves of her store were bookshelves, end tables and chairs. The merchandise for sale were items from around the house; DVDs, books, kitchen utensils, tools, knick-knacks, toys and jewelry. Often the items were marked with a price tag. Other times she had all the prices in her head.

She summon us from whatever adult thing we were doing and we'd make the slow walk through the emporium to sample her wares. It felt like a role playing game in which the store may not have what you actually needed, but you felt the urge to spend money on it just the same. I'd end up buying (back) a few DVDs and a ceramic kitten. I'd part with my nickels or quarters and be on my way. If she didn't have what I needed, I'd be put at ease at her placing the item on order if I wanted to come back later.

She built blanket forts and played dress up too, but to me the single activity that defined LMA was her capitalist nature. She likes to organize, plan and make money. If she can delegate, she will. If she can pull in favors, she will. She dislikes the idea of raising money for charities and would rather earn pure profit. She's not greedy, she doesn't just ask for money. She's constantly thinking of ways to make money. So this is a big deal for her.

She had a plastic button maker set, the kind you get from Michael's for $12. It came with a handful of buttons and you could order refills. She loved making them and wanted more. Ms. A had an acquaintance with a button maker for sale and so surprised LMA with it with the understanding that she'd make buttons and sell them to support her derby league. It's one of those giant, official, professional button makers too.

LMA's going to be part of the 3rd Jr. Derby league in Austin. It's brand new and will start skating soon. They're associated with the Boys and Girls Club of Austin. The reason behind this third group's formation is a weird and almost sad conflict of politics and bloodlines, but needless to say we're mostly just happy LMA can skate.

So this Saturday is the TXRD Championship. Part of Ms. A's derby responsibilities is marketing and merchandise. She's in charge of getting sponsors and setting up a lot of the tables and helping with vendors at the event. She's also signed on to do the same thing for the new Jr. league, which means LMA will have a table to sell her buttons at the big girl championship.

It's like a dream come true for her.

So a couple of the TXRD girls came over for "family dinner" night and helped make a lot of buttons. My guess is we'll need a couple hundred, so hopefully LMA doesn't run out of ideas.

So if you're going to the bout this Saturday, stop by the TXCR (or Jr. Derby) table and buy a button.

Carry on.


Closing of Adventure 2010

So Ms. A really gave it her best this summer. She ensured that the kids did something adventurous nearly every day of the summer. Some time around the 2nd week of summer break, she decided that TV watching and video game playing were over and that G-man and LMA were going to be active and adventurous.

What we ended up with is a couple tan, healthy, happy kids. TV watching was limited to times when there was really nothing else to do - a last resort. If there was only one parent there and that parent was sick, TV watching was okay. I picked some family movies to watch over dinner on occasion but for the most part the TV was off. Ironically, the kids wanted to watch pretty much one show; Phineas & Ferb, a cartoon about two boys who do something new every day over the summer.

It started with swim lessons. They both took two sessions of swim lessons in late June. Then they took gymnastics at the rec center. After that it was "let's find every creek, pond, swimming hole, lake and river we can" time. With their new found abilities, they took to rocky swimming holes with gusto and even Lil G-man was seen fearlessly diving from outcroppings.

Even if the adventures were small, it was more about doing things. They went to baseball games, saw the President's motorcade, visited the local air force base, swam in the lake dozens of times and explored a dinosaur trail. I tried getting in on the action on the weekends, but most of my efforts were movies. We did however visit the Lego store grand opening and the un-related Lego Games tour as well as an ice-cream festival and a trip to Colorado to see family. There was no Derby Brats over the summer, but we did try to get to a couple TXRD bouts.

To quote a Calvin and Hobbes title, "The Days Are Just Packed."

Gregory even got a girlfriend.

We also hung out with a lot of new people, made monsters after Ms. A got a sewing machine and built a lot of Lego. Surprisingly I still go a lot of drawing done and was able to PASS my summer classes. I'm not taking any fall classes as I need more time to focus on work, drawing, lego, the kids and what exactly I'm going to do with this "education."

So now the 2010 Adventure Season is closed. G-man started 1st grade today, LMA is in 4th. Ms. A started classes today as well. Her census job is over so this is good timing. TG's UT Lego group starts soon and I hope that's a fun group for her. Everyone in our immediate vicinity and group of friends is fairly healthy and at least happy on the surface. Some times it's hard to tell.

The next update may be about TG and attending the Intergalactic Nemesis show on Sept. 3rd. We're utterly geeking out about it and I think the creators might be thinking we're stalking them. More about that later. Right now I'm going to the Lego store and then draw.

Carry on.



Originally uploaded by xadrian.
On May 16th I posted the first pictures of my first big Lego build. 77 days later it was finished.

To answer the next question, no we're not putting a sniper in it.

I don't have exact measurements, but at the roof it stands just over a meter, with the antenna is roughly 1.25m. I don't know how many pieces we used so don't ask. The structure is fairly hollow to allow the lighting, we used a rope light coiled up tightly and a bunch of trans clear bits to make the "1" effect.

The clocks aren't done, but my mom's husband fashioned and painted some gold/brass metal rings to serve as the outside and we'll probably put a sticker inside it. We haven't been able to find anything small enough kit wise to make our own time telling piece.

We're both extremely proud of this building. We worked very hard on it and spent a lot of money getting the needed parts. Between us we had a good amount but neither of us had that much white. I spent $175 getting brick and I know TG spent easily that much as well. We fought and argued about how to build certain parts, but we always came back together and agreed and I'm very happy to say this was a true collaboration.

I don't know how long we'll keep it together. There are a handful of parts left to buy to replace ones we used to fill in for color reasons, but the main part is done. Now we can go back to building spaceships and dragons.


You Can't Go Home Again

Above the Clouds
Originally uploaded by xadrian.
Last weekend I took the kids and Tiger Lily up to Colorado to see my cousin get married. You'd think I was close to said cousin to make this trip but in reality I'm not. At one point in our lives we were close-ER but since I moved away 13 years ago I haven't been close to anyone up there. Most of my family lived in Denver or surrounding suburbs so it wasn't hard to remain in contact. While we wouldn't spend every weekend with my aunts and uncles, we would see them several times a year.

That changed after moving to Texas and it's harder and harder to go back each time. When I left I was still young. I wasn't a child, but I was not quite the perfectly responsible adult you think one would need to be in order to make that kind of transition. I wouldn't even think of myself that way today. In my head, I'm much younger than my years on this Earth. I may not remember exact details, but the nostalgia for times gone by is strong and I've noticed it's becoming painful. It's no longer a wistful recollection of sweetness and innocence and reckless abandon, but a scraping of your soul with a laser all the things you've lost, haven't done and likely never will do.

We crammed as much as we could into the few days we were there, including a drive to the summit of Pike's Peak. Tiger Lily had never been to Colorado, never seen mountains this large and had never been higher than a few hundred feet, with the exception of flying. We drove to Manitou Springs where we had buffalo burgers and ice cream. We drove through the Garden of the Gods and then eventually went through the neighborhood where I grew up.

It was small.

It was small and run down and really quite sad, but it was in the exact place I'd left it. The fences and buildings and most of the trees were just like I'd left them. The sidewalks and fire hydrants and hills and signs were mostly there. But I felt like an alien. I felt as though it was still me but I'd been pulled through a rift in time and space and dropped into an alternate universe, a universe in which everything was vibrant and real and tangible, but not right. I can still trace the path of the bike ride to the rec center in my head, but the route now seems wider and with a strange buzz in the air. The park and elementary school have different paint jobs and playgrounds but the structures are the same. Trees grow quite a bit in 13 years.

It was sad and unnerving and it made me want to cry and scratch my skin all over. I wanted to just walk into all the houses of my friends like I had done for so many years, knowing that the line "I used to live here" would not stop the current residents from pressing charges.

I think the saddest thing is that it looked like every where else.

There was no feeling of familiarity outside of knowing which way to turn. There was no warm feeling of being almost home or almost to my buddies house or nearly to the top of the hill on my bike. It was the moon from Baron Munchausen. It was all front and nothing behind it. It was really quite dead to me.

Instead of the PDQ it was just another Diamond Shamrock. Instead of long drives in between sub divisions, it was one long strip mall. Instead of it being small and quaint and unique, it was homogeneous and average. It was exactly as I remember it and nothing at all like I wanted it to be.

But what do you expect, really? I'm not 9, riding on my BMX Mongoose to the hills down between the neighborhoods. I'm not building Lego starships and leaving them buried in the sand at the rec center. I'm not riding my skateboard down the main street. Why would I expect it to be the same for me now? Because my brain was formed then. My life and my habits and my fascinations and hopes were all forged in that crummy little area of north west Denver, a few miles from a mall or a county airport or our church in the next town. That's the place I decided I wanted to be a cartoonist/fighter pilot/Lego builder/astronaut/movie star. That's the place I fell in love for the first time, had my first kiss, my first sexual encounter, my first car, speeding ticket, alcoholic beverage, video game, ice cream and X-Wing from Kenner.

Since then, I've accomplished much in the same way that the neighborhood has evolved. I work in an office. I got married and had kids. I have a car, a pet, bills and my hair line is receding. I feel like everyone else and the older I get the less distinctive I'll be, just like my neighborhood is now to me.

The trick is, never go back. Just move ahead.


How to not study for a test

Make a short stop animation with your daughter.


Lego Update!

Originally uploaded by xadrian.
The LEGO® group is opening a store in Austin. A "soft" opening is scheduled for July 15th and the grand opening should be some time in early August. As part of TexLUG, Tiger Lily and I will be meeting at another member's house to help build the "Brand Ribbon" sets as well as some retail sets for display at the opening.

This is nearly a dream come true for me. I've been building Lego most of my life and to be able to build stuff that Lego sent to display in a store is bouncy-dance, fist-pumping exciting. When I'm at the store and people are looking at the sets on display, I can say, "I built that."

Next step is designing them.

There was a post on Eurobricks about a product designer job opening and I about fell out of my cubical. The catch? It's in Denmark. Which led me to ask them if any jobs like this are available in the US. I'm guessing no and that will really change my plans for the future. I hear Denmark is nice, but I'd rather not have to move there.

Closer to home, Tiger Lily and I have finished about 3/4 of our tower. We get more parts in almost every week and this last batch put us really close. I don't know that we'll be able to show it at the opening of the Lego store (I don't think they allow MOCs) but we'll at least be able to take it to other places TexLUG puts on a display.

That's all for now, carry on.


Robot Prez Shirt RIPT

I wish I could have posted this sooner but I missed out in the morning.  Anyway, go to RIPT Apparel and get a Robot President T-Shirt.  It's only up for today so you have to act now!



Robot Prez Shirt RIPT

Robot Prez Shirt RIPT
Originally uploaded by xadrian.
On Monday, June 28th, this shirt will be available on RIPT.


Please consider purchasing one or at least posting about it. Thank you.


Deus Ex Machina: A Lost and Battlestar Galactica Comparison

With the UK shaking its head at America's tunnel vision toward science fiction, fans of the genre here in the States are now without a flagship television drama.  It's been almost two weeks since the series finale of Lost and somehow the world still exists and die hard fans find ways to fill their empty hours.

I felt moved to write because I feel I'm on the wrong side of fence as the bandwagon leaves the station.  The ending of Lost wasn't for me.  I thought it was cheap and focused too much on the last season and not enough on the show as a whole.  It tied up loose ends with a very soft touch and some gold ribbon, and then handed its final message to the viewers on a warm plate covered in love and chocolate and joyful tears.

And I call bullshit.

In 2005, J.J. Abrams told the world that one of the leading theories about Lost was not correct.  The island inhabitants were not in fact in Purgatory.  Co-creator Damon Lindelof did the same a year later.  As people tried to make sense of all the story lines and all the hints and side stories, it was probably natural that we lost focus and just chalked it up to something spiritual.  But the show runners said we were wrong.

Turns out, in 2005, we were.  But in 2009-2010, the tune changed.  When the bomb went off at the end of last season, we began a new and final chapter in which the characters were in Purgatory, or at least a realm in between the living and the soon to be dead.  The reality of the Island, such as it was, remained intact.  Elusive, inexplicable, frustratingly vague, but intact.  There was no split timeline, no alternate parallel universe.  It was some blissful Matrix like construct each cast member created in their mind or soul or whatever in order to meet their loved ones after they die...whenever that was going to be.

But it was only the loved ones from the Island.  Kate's mom wasn't there.  Juliet's sister wasn't there.  Hugo's parents weren't there.  Did the four-five months these people spend on the Island completely replace the love and affection they had for their families or the rest of the world?  I would appear so.

So the last season was the one that would explain it all, and it did mostly.  Except for why CJ was there in the first place and why she killed Jacob and Blackshirt's real mom.  Oh and except for the Heart of the Island.  Oh and why were Hurley's number's so important again?  So important that they infiltrated every thing in the show?  I'm sure there are more, but we know that a good deal was wrapped up in the last year and it really didn't matter to the fans what the Island was.  It was magic, it was light, it was goodness, that's apparently all we need to know.  It was Moya and Jacob was its Pilot.

Which brings me, with a worthless segue, to the ending of Battlestar: Galactica.  This show caught a lot of flak for its initial claim that it was a military science fiction show and not the spiritual space opera it turned into.  It lost viewers and the ending brought scorn from those who stuck it out.  Again, I went against the grain and felt the wrap up of BS:G was nearly perfect and if you watched it twice on DVD straight through, you would probably see that.  The main argument was that everything ended too neatly.  Starbuck came back for no reason, they found Earth on luck and the Final Five story line was made up as they went along.

There's truth to some of this.  Interviews with Ronald Moore indicate that the story didn't go where he originally wanted and that toward the end they were winging it, but that's how stories go sometimes.  We all thought Lost had a big scheme to it and in the end we were proven wrong.  It was a little unexplained well of spiritual energy accompanying a glimpse into the personal afterlife states of a handful of people.  So why can't another show be about angels and gods and fate?

Starbuck died, but was brought back for a reason.  She was brought back long before finale.  Before she died we're given glimpses of a special symbol.  She follows this symbol so that she can die and be reborn or at least delivered to the crew as a messenger, the harbinger of death.  The Final Five hear a song of Earth origin (All Along the Watchtower) which Starbuck plays on a piano.  The notes align with the drawings of a half human, half cylon child.  They're also numbers, numbers she uses to chart a course away from the climactic battle with the Cylons to a habitable world.  The battle was to save this child, one that was born early on in the series and became a rallying cry for the human fleet.  Along the way, we're reminded of the fight between the people believing in the gods and the one true God.

So to have Starbuck type in some numbers to save their ass was not Deus Ex Machina any more than the Island being a mysterious living thing with no explanation as to its existence.

I've been told I don't understand the concept of Deux Ex Machina.  In my defense, I understood it to mean that at the end of a story, some new thing just shows up out of no where to change the course of the story.  In most cases it saves the day, at least in modern stories, but it comes from a time when people actually believed in the ancient gods.  The stories would show people struggling with some task only to have it cleaned up by a god and displaying how our will and our choices don't matter.  Fate is all that matters and the gods control that.  More recently it's a tool to help creativity handicapped writers find a way out of the corner.

And thus the fans cried D.E.M. when Kara Thrace found Earth, but again I call bullshit.

Why?  Because she's not a new character.  She was with the show from the beginning.  So was the idea of gods and God, making the idea of angels not that extraordinary.  To me, it's not D.E.M. if the entire show had built to that point and it makes sense.  All the clues, all the symbols lead to their fight and their finding Earth.  Does it defeat the idea of free will if there is a God pulling the strings?  If it's done from the beginning of the story?  Did anyone in that show have a choice or were they being manipulated?  Were they being lead by God to find Earth?

At the end of Lost Jack said, "This is what I'm supposed to do."  His choices, his will, his meaning in life up until last season was to get off the Island and hopefully save as many people as he could.  Where did that get him?  Most of the people died, including him.  It was only when he let go and almost stop making choices did he become content.  Even in death he appeared happy.

Both shows started as science fiction.  Both ended with enormous ties to spirituality.  It's much like cutting edge scientific thought wherein the unexplained is turned over to The God Factor.  We understand things to a certain point, and after that we just don't know.  I think the creators of both shows started with good intentions, but in the end just didn't know and fell back on religion.  The difference is, one did that early on and wasn't ashamed of it at the end.

I'll let you decide which was which.

Carry on.