Sunday, January 17, 2010

weekend catchup

and so ends a fairly uneventful weekend. We watched a couple movies, had some migas, did some shopping and I got in at least one workout. I also ate way too much. This week will be focused on eating out as little as possible. We overdid it a bit over the past couple of days.

Being payday weekend I finally caught up on a couple of the workout related upgrades I've been wanting to do. Some of those upgrades were exciting (new running shoes) and others less so (new swim cap and nose plug). I got to try everything out today and when I get my iPod from the car tomorrow morning I'll port the nike+ graph over here.

Saturday afternoon before meeting up with friends for a barbecue adventure we went over to the local sporting goods store to check over the shoe selection. A couple of weeks ago I checked out the local DSW but was a bit underwhelmed by the selection. I also really wanted to try out the current range of Nike Shox shoes. I did Ironman Wisconsin in a pair of Nike Shox and they were maybe the most comfortable shoes I've ever worn. For whatever reason I never bought another pair.

First things first, if there was a dearth of options at the DSW, the Academy had WAY too many running shoe options. This wouldn't be a bad thing if there were decent sales people around to help out but I couldn't grab the attention of the ones who WERE there because they were busy trying to hunt down a shoe shoplifter. I grabbed a couple of things off the shelf that looked interesting (one of the Lunarglide shoes and a Nike Air Moto) and started to go through the shoe investigation process.

Saturday afternoon probably wasn't the best time to go shoe shopping. As I put on the first pair of shoes I realized that I didn't really have the room to jog back and forth and feel how my feet responded. I also realized that my shin splints hadn't quite healed up from earlier in the week (one of the reasons replacing my running shoes was suddenly more imperative). The Lunarglides were kind of hard to get into. Once I was in them, they felt OK but not great. The insert didn't really fit my foot. It felt like their were weird lumps underneath my right foot.

The second pair, the Nike Air Motos felt much better. My foot felt like it settled in where it needed to be but I was a little concerned that they were the cheaper shoe. I jogged back and forth, noted that everything seemed to be good and went to try and find the Nike Shox the shelf told me I needed to find a sales associate to help me with. I found a rep, convinced him to temporarily ditch the stakeout and he procured me two pairs; a Nike Shox Turbo and a Turmoil. Honestly? After trying both of them I tried the Motos back on and realized that I was better off with the cheaper shoe.

I present to you my new babies.
I did my first two miles in them today. It felt really good. My shins gave me a little grief early in but I adjusted a little bit and finished strong. I still don't completely trust the numbers the Nike+ is giving me, but they jibe fairly closely with what the treadmill said so it's probably true that I did each of the two miles in about an 11:30-12:00/mi range. I did get a little celebratory message from some unknown woman after I completed my workout. The first time this happened I was a little confused. I hit the workout finish button and this woman in my headset says "congratulations. This is Paula Radcliffe, you've just run your fastest mile." I know that I should know who Paula Radcliffe is but I don't so it's just odd when I hear her tell me her name and tells me that I've set a new personal record. Thank you strange anonymous lady.

While I was at the sporting goods store I also picked up a new swimsuit. For whatever reason, neither of the two 24 Hour Fitness locations near me have a swimsuit dryer. I've always found this odd since everywhere I worked out in Colorado had a dryer but apparently YMMV. Because of this 'lack of dryer' problem I've generally ended up laying out my suit on the little raised platform in the back of the PT Cruiser. This tends to dry the suit fairly quickly but it's left the car smelling chlorinated... kind of a lousy side effect.

I have an easy solution, I could just wear my old racing speedo. Aside from being fairly hydrophobic it just has less surface area... it doesn't take nearly as long to dry. That said, in my current state, that's not such a great idea. I tried it the other night at the gym and I just felt naked. It wasn't a good experience. As a compromise solution I picked up a pair of trunks that look more like bike shorts. I felt much better with the extra coverage.

(if only this were me. heh.)

Today, at Old Navy I picked up a couple of technical shirts and running shorts. Nothing completely exciting but having a much lighter fabric (I'd been running in sweat shorts and a t-shirt) seemed to be beneficial.

On to a little movie review as a way to wrap this up.

Ang and I finally caught up with A Serious Man this morning. This is yet another Fantastic Fest film that we missed because we didn't have VIP passes. Oh well. Next year that won't be an issue. I love the Coen Brothers. I love that they grew up in Minnesota. I love the way they write. I love their revolving cast of character actors and I love the way they use music (that's often researched by another person I love, T Bone Burnett). So with all of that prefacing my comments... I just have to say, "I don't get it." I appreciated the few little Minnesota touches (they eat at Embers at one point in the movie, they visit a Bloomington Red Owl grocery, they hire Ron Meshbesher, famous Minnesota ambulance chaser and star of many many local afternoon commercials... look at this classy example from his son...

but aside from that? It left me cold. I'm excited to see what they do next with True Grit but I don't know that I ever need to watch A Serious Man again.

more tomorrow.

Friday, January 15, 2010

catching up on movies (continued)

ok. Movie 6 down, now on to 7-9.

Movie 7:
Sunshine Cleaning

Honestly, I'm not sure what to say about this. I sort of enjoyed it, but it's a relatively depressing dramedy about a family coping with past losses and trying to figure out a way to grow in the future. I was much more impressed with Amy Adams in this than I was with her performance in Julie & Julia. The movie also doesn't paint Albuquerque in any sort of a flattering light that would make me want to move there. The Detroit for Austin scenes in Whip It made Austin seem more appealing than the ABQ for ABQ scenes in this film. This is another example of one of those arthouse films that has a deceptive trailer. I went in expecting one thing and was left at least moderately underwhelmed.

Movie 8:
The Book of Eli

Our third Albuquerque/New Mexico movie of the evening. In an inverse of the previous movies great trailer/less great movie. The marketing for this had completely underwhelmed me but I was happy to be proven completely wrong. The Book of Eli has flaws but it's one of those films that just seemed to be firing on almost every cylinder. Gary Oldman and Denzel Washington are wonderful foils. There are great supporting performances from Ray Stephenson and Tom Waits. There's a very specific attempt to shoot the action in a way that is anti-Bourne... showing the kinetic choreography of how the fight flows. Small win piles up on top of small win.

There are areas that bothered me. Some of the cinematography choices seemed to exist in the realm of "We only make a movie every few years so we should try and use every trick we can while we can". Also, there were a few areas that had really old fashioned dissolves. It took me out of the story for a moment.

I never expected going into this that this had more to do with Lone Wolf & Cub or Zatoichi than it did with the Road Warrior and it was a pleasant surprise. I think I might need to see it again just to watch all of the pieces fall into place now that I've seen the story once. It's a rich enough movie that I think it'll be a rewarding revisit.

Movie 9:
A Boy and His Dog

Finally, a movie not shot in New Mexico. Actually. Wait. Let me check. Ok. Good. California. phew.

During the q&a portion of last nights Book of Eli screening Harry and the Hughes brothers talked a bit about this film. They're both apocalyptic quest movies. In Eli, the lead character is on a quest from God to deliver a Bible 'West'. In Dog, the Boy is just on a quest with his telepathic dog to find women for recreational sex. Both movies feature the character having a run in with a small bit of post apocalyptic civilization and both movies feature some sort of female sidekick... but Dog features seventies country soundtrack music and an acerbic telepathic dog. I'm not sure what I was expecting when Harry suggested that everyone of the 50% of the audience that raised there hands when asked if they hadn't seen the film watch it, but I know this film was odder than my expectations.

If you're an apocalyptic film completist or a Harlan Ellison junkie, check it out. Others probably don't need to apply.

Now that I've seen this, I should make a weekend of it and check off a couple of the other low-budget post-apocalyptic movies I haven't seen... particularly Luc Besson's directorial debut 'The Last Battle'.

Phew. caught up. more tomorrow?


Catching up on movies

hey everyone, back to busyness the past couple of days. After a slow December it's seemed as if everyone's come out of the woodwork this month. Figured I should try and catch up with the past weeks worth of movies so that I don't fall any further behind than I already am.

This week I'm going to try and catch up with The Road. I've heard plenty of mixed reactions about the film over the past couple of months and as I've heard people comment on similarities or the lack thereof between The Book of Eli and The Road, I think it's important that I make sure that I've seen both of them.

Also, the discount theater added Ninja Assassin and 2012 to the lineup this week. Ang and I will try and catch a double feature at some point. I'm not sure whether I'm going to try and log 365 movies this year, but I think there's a chance that between festivals and weekend double features we could do it. The only reason I'm curious at all is that I've never sat down and calculated how many films I watch in a year. I'm looking forward to seeing what the final tally is.

It's interesting that movies 6-8 were all shot in New Mexico over the past few years. There are still days where I wonder whether I should have moved to Albuquerque to try and get into film work. That said, I think Austin is where we're supposed to be and aside from the movie work, there's nothing that would ever make me want to live in Albuquerque over the ATX. (addendum to that: I do remember there being a pretty kick-ass poster store in Albuquerque. Hundreds and hundreds of one sheets and press kits were crammed into this small storefront off of the college drag. I wasn't collecting posters at the time so I didn't buy anything but it was mesmerizing. It's one small leg up on Austin but it's not enough to be the siren that drags me to ABQ)

Ok, without further adieu, movie 6 of 2010...

The Men Who Stare At Goats

I started to write this up last Friday. I've gone back and edited it tonight and tried to form it into something cohesive. Apologies for the length.

Did everyone have a great today? Don't be too quick to respond. I know there are at least a few people out there reading. Thanks. I know that I've been gone for quite some time. But, I’ve consistently posted for the last week so hopefully I can keep this up. We have kind of a significant milestone tonight. After 8 years and many hiatuses I'm finally typing my 500th post.

Tonight we went and had dinner with some friends at Chuy's. Every year, the restaurant (and our favorite Tex-Mex place) celebrate's his birthday. Go in as Priscilla or Elvis and you eat for free. It was fun. Post dinner they give everyone a twinkie.

Afterwards we wandered up towards the discount theater in Round Rock so that we could see The Men Who Stare At Goats. I was excited to see it showing up at the Round Rock 8 today. I had really hoped to have seen the film earlier this year but missed out during the two opportunities we’d had. The first miss happened during Fantastic Fest. Ang and I didn't have VIP passes and it was shown during one of the screenings most easily attended by being a VIP. The second time was a preview screening some film blogger friends helped put on. (That night also happened to be the night of the Fort Hood shooting. Ang and I got stuck in the mother of all traffic jams on the way down to the theater and ended up listening to radio coverage of the tragedy. By the time we got to the theater (an hour later) there was no chance that we were actually going to make it into see the film. Instead, we wandered off to the Screaming Goat (ironic in light of the fact that (spoilers ahead) the goats in the movie have been de-vocalized) where we stumbled upon their trivia night and took 2nd place.)

As we were driving home from the movie I was thinking about contrasting Goats with 1999's Three Kings. I thought about trying to find something poignant about how each of the two movies looks back at their preceding decade and their own Iraqs and Kuwaits. But after thinking about it, I think I want to take another another tack.

The movie is a semi-true, farcical tale about a group of soldiers who were rounded up to try and form the nations first group of super-powered soldiers. Soldiers that could truly 'be all that they could be'. It hops between the founding of the battalion through it's dissolution combined with a modern (fictional) story that takes place sometime in the first couple years of the current Iraq war. I haven't read the book or seen the original British documentary (I know the documentary is online.) But I knew going in that it was oddly true... or at least that there were semi-factual elements in it.

After Chuy's tonight we hit the bookstore to kill some time. At one point my friend mentioned to his wife and I that they had some Benny Hinn books. I've always had some sort of weird fascination with Hinn. In the aforementioned group of friends there's always been a running joke about me starting a rockabilly band called the Benny Hinn Experience. All of the members of the band would wear white suits with big silver pompadours and during musical interludes we'd slay people in the spirit.

Before I had an ironic appreciation for Hinn though I was really kind of into him. There was a period in a youth group where Hinn's "Good Morning Holy Spirit" was a really big deal. There was a certain zeal amongst the teenagers that we could be ‘special’... something I think every teenager who’s trying to sort their lives out wants. Hinn’s book delivered on that in spades. Telling the story of how he originally received the ‘gift of the Holy Spirit’ it’s sort of a thrilling read for a clueless kid. Imagine reading a book that claims to be the cardinal truth, that seems to jibe with what you’ve been taught in the church you’ve grown up in and that seems to promise you all sorts of wonderful things that God can do ‘through you’. It’s kind of addicting.

That addiction spread. Through other circumstances and a general desire for ‘revival’ the choir and youth group focused more and more on prayer time and trying to receive the spiritual gifts. While I believe in scripture and believe that it’s inspired and believe what’s written about the various gifts there was something unhealthy about what the youth group wanted. But what we wanted was what the Men who Stare At Goats wanted. We, in a way, wanted super powers. We would have claimed that these things were from God if they actually happened, but I think deep down we would have found validation in it. Look at what ‘I’ was able to do! For about a year it seemed to become a sort of singular focus.

Each week, often instead of singing, the choir would gather and we’d pray for anointings, we'd have nights where we'd lay hands on people and while speaking in tongues ask God to 'slay them in the spirit'. One night, during one of these ‘choir rehearsals’, I got into a line of people that were being prayed over. When I got to the front of the line, one of the leaders put her hand on my head and started speaking in tongues. I wasn't feeling anything. After another minute I started to feel the leader pressing on my head as if she wanted me to go down. I wasn't feeling anything. I wanted SO BAD to feel the Holy Spirit knock me down but I was very aware of the fact that there was a distinct lack of anything supernatural happening. I pondered whether or not I should just walk away and whether I would be castigated for walking out of the room. Eventually, after another minute or so and more pressing, they gave up and I did walk away.

During these times of prayer I'd end up practicing trying to hear the 'still small voice' while we were praying. I'd almost will bible verses to come into my head and see if they were prophetic messages. A good deal of the time the verse and chapter didn't exist at all.

The Men Who Stare at Goats wanted something. They wanted to feel special. They wanted to develop their powers for good.

Did I mention that this was a Lutheran church?

It wasn't too long after these various evenings that I wandered away from the choir. Honestly, it wasn't just the prayer nights. I had a roiling soul. Battling depression amongst other things, I just never really felt like I fit in. I was neither popular or completely unpopular. Looking back now I had more friends than I ever thought I did, but it never really felt like I had many. I mostly wandered away because I was sick of feeling different. My theology started to diverge from the rest of the youth group, though I don't think my hope that there was a Holy Spirit that could do miraculous things ever went away. It just grew more jaded. Many of my friends from that choir eventually stepped away from the church. I don't blame them. There were all sorts of weird things that went on, but for whatever reason I never lost my faith. I've experienced too many weird things that I can't attribute to anything but some sort of a God and so I go on believing, but maybe my history makes me more sympathetic to the idea that some soldiers could get the idea that they want to figure out how to develop superpowers.

So having been through that, I could oddly relate to the idea that there were people who REALLY truly believed that they could try and tap into something beyond themselves. They thought they’d find their answers outside the church in the eastern philosophies and the hippy tropes, but the universal feeling of wanting to tap into something bigger than who they were to transform themselves and their world was teh same.

The main narrator of the movie takes an almost inverse character arc. He goes from being the jaded and cynical journalist to believing in it himself. He's a bit of a doubting Thomas, not able to put any stock into what the people around him are saying until he's able to experience them for himself. He's quite the empiricist. I think we're all empirical to some degree. We're able to have faith in something but we always have the desire to find some empirical knowledge that would prove that it's true.

I wanted the same thing. I wanted to believe and did believe to a certain degree, but I really wanted to have that experiential moment where I could absolutely know that it was true because IT (whatever ‘it’ happened to be) had been done or been done through me.

There was an interesting sermon I read recently from a pastor/novelist/philosopher named Frederick Buechner. He sort of covered some of the same territory. While he's talking about our desire for proof that God is there. I think it applies to this story as well… the hope for there to be something more than just our corporeal existence.

"If God really exists, why in Heaven's name does God not prove that he exists instead of leaving us here in our terrible uncertainty? Why does he not show his face so that at last, a despairing world can have hope? At one time or another, everyone asks such a question. In some objectifiably verifiable and convincing way, we want God himself to demonstrate his own existence. Deep in our hearts, I suspect that this is what all of us want, unbelievers no less than believers. And I have wondered sometimes what would happen if God were to do just that...

...We all want to be certain, we all want proof, but the kind of proof that we tend to want---scientifically or philosophically demonstrable proof that would silence all doubts once and for all----would not in the long run, I think, answer the fearful depths of our need at all. For what we need to know, of course, is not just that God exists, not just that beyond the steely brightness of the stars there is a cosmic intelligence of some kind that keeps the whole show going, but that there is a God right here in the thick of our day-by-day lives who may not be writing messages about himself in the stars but who in one way or another is trying to get messages through our blindness as we move around down here knee-deep in the fragrant muck and misery and marvel of the world. It is not objective proof of God's existence that we want but, whether we use religious language for it or not, the experience of God's presence. That is the miracle that we are really after. And that is also, I think, the miracle that we really get...

...God speaks to us, I would say, much more often than we realize or than we choose to realize...His message is not written out in starlight, which in the long run would make no difference; rather it is written out for each of us in the humdrum, helter-skelter events of each day; it is a message that in the long run might make all the difference...

...But I believe that there are some things that by and large, God is always saying to each of us. Each of us, for instance, carries around inside himself, I believe, a certain emptiness--a sense that something is missing, a restlessness, the deep feeling that somehow all is not right inside his skin. Psychologists sometimes call it anxiety, theologians sometimes call it estrangement, but whatever you call it, I doubt that there are many who do not recognize the experience itself, especially no one of our age, which has been variously termed the age of anxiety, the lost generation, the beat generation, the lonely crowd. Part of the inner world of everyone is this sense of emptiness, unease, incompleteness, and I believe that this in itself is a word from God, that this is the sound that God's voice makes in a world that has explained him away. In such a world, I suspect that maybe God speaks to us most clearly in his silence, his absence, so that we know him best through our missing him.

...These words that God speaks into our own lives are the real miracles. They are not miracles that create faith as we might think that a message in the stars would create faith, but they are miracles that it takes faith to see--faith in the sense of openness, faith in the sense of willingness to wait, to watch, to listen, for the incredible presence of God here in the world among us."

excerpts from "message in the stars" by frederick buechner

Anyway, I know the movie wasn’t particularly theologically deep, but it made me think of all of that old junk. Knowing that there were factual elements I was quite surprised after the movie to hear from one of my car-ride companions that they found the idea implausible, almost to the point of complete incredulity. I guess I was a little surprised. It wasn’t enough to take me at my word that I’d read about some of the various events. The person didn’t think that rational army people would ever do something so seemingly irrational... I've known this person for quite a while but i guess we’ve never really discussed anything of a similar vein. I had projected my beliefs and assumptions on to them whether that was a belief or not.

I guess, having lived through the youth group, it really wasn’t that much of a stretch to think that, yes, there were people out there who would do something irrational in the hope that it was entirely rational and that people just hadn’t discovered quite how rational it was.

I’m probably being too introspective about the movie. It’s a pretty light comedy really. But maybe it hit me because as much as I’ve changed and grown up over the 16 years since those original youth group events transpired, there’s still a part of me that wants to stare at my own goats and see if I (God) can make something happen.

Ok. that went much longer than I thought it would. Reviews of 7-9 will have to get bumped to the next post. More in a few.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

today's run

Today's run wasn't the most exciting workout in the world. I crawled out of the office after I finished up with the design work I was doing and made it to the gym around 6. Had to come back into the apartment before I actually left the complex because I'd forgotten my shoes that had the Nike+ sensor in them. Tomorrow I'll do some lifting at the gym but tonight I really just wanted to get on the treadmill and run for a while. Here's run #1

it's short. I've discovered the one thing so far I don't like about the Nike+. It REALLY wants you to set up your playlist ahead of time. The only option it gives you to change your music during a workout is to go to another playlist. Want to listen to something that's not included in a playlist? Too bad. You need to end your workout and start over again. It's more than a little annoying. Also? If you've switched to album shuffle? There's no way to get into song shuffle either. While I like Phoenix, there's a reason I put multiple things in that playlist. Let me switch to another shuffle mode please.

Which brings us to run#2. Playlist and playlist mode switched, I started again.

I'm much better at staying around a single speed when I'm on the treadmill but I never reached any sort of flow. I kept fiddling with my iPod and speeding up and slowing down. It was sort of a painful run. Not physically, though my shins hurt a little bit towards the end, just mentally. Went and sat in the sauna for a few minutes afterwards. I could tell I was dehydrated, didn't feel super great afterwards and my weight was down a couple pounds on the scale. Sucking back fluids now. Oh. One thing of note. I found out how to trigger my 'power song'. I'm not sure what I'll set it to permanently, but tonight it was THE FINAL COUNTDOWN

10 miles in over the first 12 days of the year. I wonder if I can hit at least 30 by the end of the month or maybe even 40. I know that once I get birthday money next month it'll be used for either running shoes or cycling shoes. I'm overdue to replace both.

OK. Back to work. Still have some things to finish before bed.

Here are the designs I was working on earlier today. Nothing super exciting but I'm fairly happy with them.

sometimes you just have to start..

I was sitting at lunch this afternoon thinking about the project I was working on this morning. There wasn't anything particularly interesting or abnormal about the project (it's just a series of design options for a sales conference a good friend hired me to create) but the circumstances. For the first time in a while, I hit the zone. At least, I've always called it the zone. As soon as I started to dig into the problem I felt my brain turn on and the 'design program' kicked in. I dove in to my project and found myself zoning out for an hour at a time.

I've experienced this on various occasions. Mostly while riding my bike. It's sort of like an oasis in the desert. You long for those moments where you stop existing in the moment and can disassociate and let the rest of your body take over. I guess it's a coping mechanism. When people ask about how one could ever do an Ironman, that's the reason. If you had to be acutely aware of every moment of the race, you couldn't do it. Time is too slow in those moments you need to figure out how to let the rest of your body take over and do the work for you.

Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi (say that three times fast) called it 'flow theory'. He's a professor and former chairman of the Department of Psychology at the University of Chicago. He's devoted his career to investigating flow. He's described flow as
"being completely involved in an activity for its own sake. The ego falls away. Time flies. Every action, movement, and thought follows inevitably from the previous one, like playing jazz. Your whole being is involved, and you're using your skills to the utmost."
Flow tends to be driven by concentration. Depression impedes concentration... I've been mildly depressed for a while now. As a result, the times I've really felt that design flow creep in have been few and far between. Whatever the cause, seasonal affective disorder, lack of exercise, I became pretty aware of the fact that I've needed to change something. It's why I've been introducing running the past couple of weeks (and eventually triathlon) and it's the reason that I've started to blog again. I'm methodically experimenting on the things that make me feel better so that I can more effectively live my professional life in front of the computer in my zone.

I need to get back to work but I hope to continue to expand on this. I started to talk to a friend about why I started running the other night and didn't really get to expound on it all that much. This is the beginning of that reason.

Song of the day (which has been playing in the background as I wrote this)


here's an interesting article I found while doing a little research on Csikszentmihalyi. It's more about programming but a lot of it can be applied to design as well.