Saturday, December 20, 2008

How I Spent My Saturday Vacation

Sorry for the dearth of updates around these parts of late. I'm probably going to wind up with fewer posts this month than last month, and I was out of the country and offline for half of last month.

The doctor's being kind of hedgey now on whether I have (or had) pneumonia. All I know is that the cough is still hanging on after over a month. The antibiotics seemed to help, for the week that the prescription lasted. I also have some Coactifed that I'm supposed to take "when or as needed" to settle the cough down, but I've taken very few of them. They've got a narcotic component, and I'm not a big fan of anything that impairs my faculties. I outright refuse to take one if I'll be driving in the next twelve hours or so, and try to avoid taking them before or during work. Those two conditions cover pretty much all the time.

The most noticeable lasting effect of my cold (or whatever it is / was) besides the coughing is lethargy. I have several fairly substantial posts in various stages of draft, and ideas for a bunch more, but can't quite muster up the gumption to finish any of them. So, since this blog is a self-indulgent personal journal as much as anything else, here's how I spent the last 36 hours or so.

Not long after I got home from work yesterday, Dad came by to pick up my son. The grandparents offered to take him for the night so my wife and I could finish up our Christmas shopping. We were almost done anyway, but that let us finish it off.

After that, I laid down on the couch around 8:30. I woke up to see Jay Leno doing his monologue, which means it was 12:30 (I'm in the Atlantic time zone, as my membership in the New Brunswick Blogroll implies). My first priority was getting the TV switched over to Letterman ASAP. I once went about seven years (ages 14 to 21-ish) without missing a night of Letterman's show. Not an episode - a night. Including repeats. I got over that a long time ago.

After watching Jerry Seinfeld come out and do his bit, I went to bed. I had occasional coughing fits through the night, but eventually crashed out solidly and didn't get up until after noon.

This seems to have have helped my cold more than any of the medications. I feel better today than I have in several weeks. Over a dozen hours of sleep is a great healer.

Since my son was still with his grandparents and our errands were done, my wife and I spent the day defining the word "puttering". She crocheted and watched whatever happened to be on TV. I cleaned the basement up a little (although it still looks like it's been ransacked by a horde of barbarians), scanned a bunch of papers, and tagged a lot of audio files.

I listened to the last section of Ann Coulter's newest book, If Democrats Had Any Brains They'd Be Republicans. I love Coulter's books, but the audiobook seemed more like a disjointed series of one-liners than a cohesive work. Only at the end did I notice a credit for "abridgement"; if I'd realized it was abridged, I wouldn't have bothered listening in the first place.

I'm not a big fan of audiobooks in the first place. I like the idea, they just don't work for me. I get engrossed enough in books, including audiobooks, that I don't like doing anything mentally taxing at the same time. If I could devote the attention required to listen closely, then chances are I could be doing something more productive with that time, so I usually do that instead. That includes reading an actual book. I read much faster than an audiobook's narration, so I can plow through a print edition much faster than an audiobook.

I'll embrace audiobooks wholeheartedly if I ever have long stretches of time where I'm doing something relatively mindless - a long solitary commute, perhaps. For now I walk to work every day, only about ten minutes each way, and I'm never in a car by myself long enough to bother starting into an audiobook. They just don't fit into my lifestyle, such as it is, for the time being.

I also read some comics. I'm reading my way through a nearly complete collection of Knights of the Dinner Table comics. They're great stuff if you're at all into gaming. I've never been much of a role-player, but I play pretty much any other type of game whenever I get the chance, and I've spent lots of time hanging around role-players, so I think this book is terrific. If you aren't a gamer, let me assure you that the characters, situations and dialogue are eerily accurate. The guys who make the strip are gamers themselves, and have captured the culture very well.

I assembled and burned a mixed CD today. Dad called me a couple of days ago and asked me to put "John Lennon's 'So This is Christmas' " on a CD for Mom. Being a huge Beatles nerd I corrected him on the title, Happy Xmas (War Is Over), and asked if that was the only song she wanted.

"She wants some background music for Christmas dinner," he answered, "and that's the only song she mentioned. You could repeat it a couple of times if there's room on the CD."

Instead I assembled a full CD of Christmas music, putting the Lennon track first. When I started out I thought I'd have trouble filling an 80-minute disc. As it turned out, I had to edit ruthlessly to get most of the tracks I wanted. I started searching my collection and found entire Christmas albums by Ringo Starr, Phil Spector and associates (very few of whom he's since shot), City On A Hill, Steve Lukather, VeggieTales (two, actually), the Muppets (also two), the Chipmunks, Amy Grant, Barenaked Ladies, and several more. I also had a few various artists Christmas compilations, lots of classics like Bing Crosby's White Christmas, Chuck Berry's Merry Christmas Baby, and a whole lot more. The compilation turned out much better than I had expected, although I already handed it off and didn't save a copy of the final track listing. It ended with a choral recording of the Hallelujah Chorus.

I've identified prima facie evidence that most Christmas music isn't very good: nobody listens to it anytime except at Christmas. If we actually enjoyed it on its own merits, we'd be as likely to listen to it as anything else in our music collections, at any time. My wife argued against this theory by saying that since a lot of "Christmas" music is actually more about winter and snow in general, it just doesn't cross our minds during the rest of the year. To that I respond, people still listen to the Beach Boys in January.

I got a lot of scanning done today. I'm a pack rat, especially when it comes to documents. I still have all the financial records from the business I owned (and closed almost a decade ago), all of my tax returns and bank records ever, etc. A couple of years ago I embarked on a long-term project intended to cut down on my document retention: scanning and shredding. Every once in a while I grab a pile of papers, feed them through a scanner (these days that means my Kodak Easyshare 5100), then after the scans are verified and saved (with backups, of course), shred the originals. Today I scanned such irreplaceable documents as the records from my year as a life insurance agent (1998), my car registration from 2005, and my minutes from a Sunday School teachers meeting in 2005.

Yeah, it would be a real shame to lose any of that stuff. You never know when I might need it.

Oh, and I also prepared the one Christmas card it occurred to me to prepare. The future recipient is probably reading this. It hasn't been mailed yet because, since I never mail anything, I don't keep stamps on hand.

While engaging in all these other minor activities, after the Ann Coulter audiobook was done I listened to some more audio files for tagging purposes. One of my pet peeves about filesharing is that very few people tag their files well, so I almost always wind up redoing it. I'm really glad I eventually found MP3tag. I spent a whole lot of hours over several years manually tagging and naming each individual audio file in my collection before I stumbled across. Now I consider MP3tag indispensable; it's one of the first things I install whenever I reformat or set up a new PC. Anybody with a collection of more than a few audio files (it handles pretty much any format, not just MP3s) should check it out.

Today I listened to and tagged some Beatles bootleg stuff (documentary tracks from a "1978 Earth Day News" series, whatever that was) and a bunch of tracks from the Hanna-Barbera Cartoon Classics and Wacky Sounds box set. I'm into the third disc of the latter, which consists mostly of sound effects that will hurtle most listeners back into childhood. I'd love to see some sort of documentary showing exactly how they made some of those noises in the studio.

Enough rambling. Here's a picture of my son gazing into the aquarium. Beware doing so. Sometimes when you gaze into the aquarium, the aquarium gazes back into you.


RebelAngel said...

I loved how Hanna Barbera dangerous cats all sounded the same, and space monster/pterodactyl roars, and laser beams, etc.

And I share your pain on the file sharing tags. I have on my own experienced some thoughts like "Dude, that is Herman's Hermits, not the Beatles. Are you an idiot?"

RebelAngel said...

I have a lovely version of "Oh Come, Oh Come Immanuel" (The Burns sisters) and "Breath of Heaven" (Amy Grant) on my year-round listening list. I am planning to add (when I get back to civilization) "That Night in Bethlehem" (Celtic Woman) and "O Holy Night" (I haven't decided which version yet.

I would not suggest secular Rudolph/Santa songs for all year, but some of the religious carols, especially those that focus on more than angels or how cute baby Jesus is, are very powerful.

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