And the award goes to…

Posted in family, from Neal's secret diary on December 26, 2007 by neal

My grandmother is a master. I’m not sure if she realizes this; judging by her apparent dementia, my best guess is that she does not. However, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the woman is madly skilled and finding and gifting the exact thing that is furthest from what I would want or even think of. It’s not that what she gives is something towards which I would feel adversely; it’s that the things are completely unpredictable, mostly unimaginable, and slightly insulting. And not only is she a master of choosing these gifts, she has proven herself to be a master of one-upmanship.

This all started years ago when the woman, just a greenhorn in her present senility, sent me for Christmas a pair of basketball shorts. Despite being completely inept in the ways of ball-handling, that in itself was not necessarily a bad thing. But these shorts were Nike basketball shorts. At the time, I was in seventh or eighth grade and was trying to find a sport that did not involved inflated rubber bladders and had recently discovered skating. Thus, out of principle, I had to scoff at Nike. Let me elaborate further: these basketball shorts were silver Nike shorts. Had I been given a pair of silver shorts today, I would have gladly embraced them instead of sending them back to her and asking for a normal color. But this was back in middle school when I was trying to be cool, not aiming to be ostracized. That year brought about the tradition of sending back whatever gift I receive to be get a new color or size which eventually turned from tradition into a ban on my grandmother sending any clothing except for size large t-shirts.

Not expecting much in the way of sentimentality, the family at home did not even bother opening Grandma’s gift on Christmas morning. My mother must have has some insight that the contents of the box were not going to depart from tradition and thus wanted to keep the special occasion all for itself. I’m not sure what exactly clued my mother in on this, but I suppose it could have been the call that came a few days before Christmas when her mother expressed her appreciation for the gift my mom sent and thought my mother was some kind of psychic for knowing exactly what she wanted. This call came about a week after another call where my grandmother told my mom exactly what she wanted.

Thus, my mother took extra care to not make anybody else aware of the gifts from my grandmother. It was not until mid-afternoon when my dad asked about the box that was addressed to Dr. and Mrs. William (I’d like to take this moment to inform you that my surname, and for that matter, my parents’ surname, is not William) sitting in the entryway of the house that my mother acknowledged it and declined opening it until that evening.

Knowing that opening the box was going to be some kind of small spectacle, all of us at the house gathered around around like Native Americans around a wagon train in Oregon Trail (here’s a hint: stock up on trinkets, you get the best deal when bartering), ready to receive wondrous curiosities. My sister received something that was evidently meant to be a birthday gift. But what mattered most were the gifts that labeled “Neil” (take a look here if you think this is not a problem. Let me remind you that she’s my grandmother and should know how yo spell my name): one small and soft, tagged with a Post-it note, the other larger, yet still soft adorned with a card. Now, when I specify soft, I mean soft in the way that some item of clothing, wrapped but not in a box, might feel.

Tearing the paper from the smaller of the two presents, I exposed a white t-shirt. Printed upon such white t-shirt was a message in loopy, yet seriffed font reading: Work for God, the retirement benefits are great. My issue with the shirt is not in the message itself although it’s kitchiness was sickening and it lacked totally in creativity, and for those reasons alone, I would never buy this for myself or wear it anywhere except maybe if I was doing manual labor, but definitely not if I were doing said labor with another person. No, it was not the words that bothered me, the connotations are what bothered me. First, I’m twenty-three. I’m not thinking about retirement benefits. This shirt makes sense for somebody who’s nearer to “retiring” or to retirement. But I do not generally think about my own death. More so, I’m looking to actually get a job, not to quit! My grandmother is obviously aware of my current state of unemployedness and, obviously, she thinks that doesn’t matter. and obviously wants to remind me that I have no job.

Taking a moment to regain my composure to read the card. I realize that there is no specific etiquette regulating how to do cards at Christmas. In my opinion, a gift or a card suffices. But this really is dependent on personal preference and how well you know some people. But for the five of us who were recipients of the package, there were at least seven cards of the same set–and each of them was devoid of a personal message except for the underlining of “He is the reason for the season.” What was even more of a surprise was the variation in how the cards were signed. “Gramma and Grampa,” “Grandma and Dad,” and “Nanny and Grampa” were just three of them. Now, we siblings have never referred to Grandma as Nanny and “Grandma and Dad” was just special!

Already, the box had proven to be both slightly insulting and had provided some good entertainment. But I was only half-way through my gifts. I only had to tear a little paper to see that whatever it was. It was tie-died. From anybody else, tie-died would have been a great thing. But these were tie-died pants made of fleece. These were tie-died Grandma Pants fleece pants that are about seven sizes too large (do I look that fat in the pictures?).

And really, the pants speak for themselves and speak quite loudly:

So thank you very much g’ma. Oh, Grandma, while you have done it again but I am not backing down. Let me tell you, I’m keeping these pants. Not only that, I’m going to wear them!

More on Facebook: Dificiencies in Relationship Status Updates

Posted in Facebook, from Neal's secret diary, relationships, technology on December 25, 2007 by neal

Just as I was logging into my blog, I checked out the date on the most recent post and realized it has now been over a week since anything new has gone up. Please understand that with traveling down to California for my sister’s wedding and then flying to Maui and just arriving twelve hours ago, I’m not only behind on writing but I’ve got nearly 700 new postings in my RSS reader that I need to read or at least mark as read.

It is the wedding, more aptly, it is the marriage that spurs on this short post. Specifically, it was the marriage and this Facebook News Feed notice regarding my sister and the man I thought she had married (I mean, I really do have reason to believe she got married. I was there at the alter and I’m a witness on the license).


My sister has been married now for approximately 36 hours and 30 minutes. The exact amount of time passed is a little iffy to pin down as I’m not sure if we start counting from the ceremonial kiss or from the moment in the back of the chapel when the last signature was laid down on the marriage license. If the latter is the case, I’d think it all happened about five minutes before the ceremony started when the pastor shoved the marriage license in my face and barked: “Best man, sign!” I was thought she was confused because I wasn’t technically a best man. I was more of a maid of honor which I suppose makes me a man of honor. And thus, I can understand her confusion. Regardless, I would have been confused as I had no idea that marriages needed two witnesses.

In order to please my sister, who will undoubtedly be reading this post, I’ll assume the marriage went down with the kiss and will settle on 35 hours and seven minutes.

So upon seeing a certain Facebook relationship status update just moments ago, I was a little worried. Facebook relationship stati are a big thing, which is the reason why I avoid taking them seriously and why I have been in one relationship, one complicated relationship, and engaged twice in the last month. I figure that if the relationship status are true, then people will know what’s going on if my status changes. I don’t want that.

Some people do want that, though. My sister and Stu are two such people and I pay attention to the changes there. I’ll respect them for that and monitor their relationships like a hawk. For one day, I hope that there will be a girl listed “In a relationship.” And although my Facebook status will read “Engaged (or Married) to Cameron Calbeck,” that girl and I will be in a very serious relationship. And I will respect that.

Dbrovnik!

Posted in from Neal's secret diary, social commentary, Starbucks on December 17, 2007 by neal

I thought working Friday nights at Starbucks store 33037 at Ka’ahumanu Center in Maui was madness. While there would be a consistent line (and sometimes a line out the door even at closing time), most people would clear the lobby so that they could peruse the mall. I’m counting twenty-five no, now over 35 Russian teenagers in the store at Div and 2nd in Spokane this fine Sunday night. And that doesn’t take into account the number of kids who have come through or who are standing outside the door, smoking their cigs. But they really are quite fascinating. I’ve been a few conversations with some of them and whenever a new person comes to sit at the table right next to me, they all shake hands.

Sure these kids have every right to be here, but should they be out getting in trouble and drinking underagedly?

I vote yes.

The schism between Tool and the Whitworth Choir

Posted in from Neal's secret diary, Music on December 14, 2007 by neal

I mentioned earlier the blog that disappeared, you know, in that blog about how Jesus saves and I used to be and arguably still am a huge nerd lacking in social skills. Well, here it is, magically raised from the depths of blog purgatory. In actuality, what this means is that I had things I thought were worth saying (mostly criticisms about Tool) and figured that I’d go back through my mental notes and recompose the entry and incorporate new details as there really is no hiding the fact that I’m writing this over a week out from both performances. In doing so, I somehow have expanded the post significantly, so, if you’re dying to know, Whitworth wins.

The Music:
There is no critically acclaimed bass player quite like Justin Chancellor (what a good name that is. In my opinion, any last name that is also a political title gives the name major points.). With no less nine pedal effects and a penchant for playing up more than a dozen frets, he has a unique style. This is illustrated by my experience when “Schism” was released back when I was but a teenager and learning guitar. Distracted and deluded by my new hobby, I hadn’t the slightest clue that the intervals I was listening to were played on a bass and not a guitar. Even in the life show, I found myself listening and watching Adam Jones (not that Adam Jones, you Whitworth kiddos) only to realize that it was not a guitar to which I was listening but a bass. That and something like 70 flying speakers and 18 sub cabinest plus the vocal talents of Maynard Keenan are nothing to be scoffed at. But neither are the dissonant pedal tones of the First Pres organ under the command of Bonnie Robinson.

Thinking about it, the style of Tool’s music and the general style (i.e., not any song sung in Yoruba) of what the Whitworth choir sang have similar strings. No, I’m not talking about the string quartet that accompanied the choir but that does add extra points to Whitworth’s score. Really, I’m a sucker for cellists. Regardless of my attraction to certain types of string players, it really goes without saying that metal has derived quite a bit from music older than say the 1950s and has even been known to mirror certain aspects of the classics. But don’t tell metal heads that–we want to keep it a secret.

The Lyrics:
Come Thanksgiving day, something weird happens. I think it’s related to the post binge-purge-induced depression that comes the Friday after the fourth Thursday of November, but I cannot be sure. At that time, after three or four weeks of adamantly resisting the corporate world’s push towards Christmas, I experience the first letting down of my guard. Sitting in Starbucks or the cavernous monstrosity that is the Service Station, I begin to actually enjoy Christmas music. This year, the transition to Christmas music has been especially easy as the Thanksgiving weekend brought the first substantial snow, efficiently quelching my delusions of summer. Quite unintentionally, I proved this point today by actually digging up Sufjan Steven’s Songs for Christmas and listening to four out of the five discs while driving around today. Weird.

So Christmas music has been a nice compliment and I found myself in one the midsts of the four of the not-the-other-48-weeks-of-the-year where I can enjoy mildly evil lyrics. Maybe I am a skosh traditional. That and the Tool concert seemed to be lacking in their most excellent lyrical pieces. I knew there wasn’t much hope to hear the cookie recipe (Die Eier Von Satan, Aenema), but (Ana, this one’s for you) there was no “monkeys killing monkeys” (“Right in Two,” 10,000 Days).

On the other hand, there were Whitworth choirs. They didn’t sing Christmas songs. No, they led a worship service. No, when it comes to the lyrics, ideally, every song would have been in Latin. But beggars can’t be choosers. I say that as “Christmas Cantata” (or for those of you who speak Latin, “Sinfonia Sacra“) was absolutely breathtaking.

The Ambiance:
It’s in this area that the Whitworth choir and Tool differ to the greatest degree. Suits, ties, dresses. Don’t get me wrong, I can appreciate high fashion and I do appreciate seeing Kamesh Sankaran in a bow tie as much, no, more than most anybody else. But that says something about the audience as well. Sure, they’re not coming into the stands wearing gothblack makeup, streaming down from their eyes like bat fingers, but the suited, tied, and dressed audience isn’t much for personal self-expression, either. Going along with the formalish attire was the sanctuary itself, dressed in its Christmas best. Quaint, it was, paling in comparison to the choreographed laser and light spectacle in a smoke-filled arena with 10,000 fellow metal connoisseurs.

Also, and only because such things are listed in the program, I’m going take note of the poor poster and program design. I appreciated shades of yellow and blue thrown together when I’m in Ikea or pledging allegiance to the Swedish flag but not in posters or programs. There are fives or tens of Whitworth art majors who would be willing to whip up something more visually appealing for the cost of a pizza.

Tool gets this one on all accounts.


The Seating:

As if none of this wasn’t already subjective enough, I need to delve into a subset of the overall ambiance: the seating. In the case of the Tool concert, I shouldn’t have gotten in but at the last minute, was presented an opportunity and by the luck of the draw, had an excellent vantage point. With the choir concert, I was an actual ticket holder and got a seat resembling a restricted view seat at Fenway. I’m going to go out and say it: the seating at both concerts was seriously lacking. My back door method into the Tool concert came as the result of some creative maneuvering on Brent Unruh’s part. He was supposed to help with crowd management but didn’t want to. I wanted to see Tool. I spent the entire time perched at the top of the first level of the stands but only about 50 feet in front and to stage right of the stage. Of course, I had to direct people to their seats. That was no biggie. What became problematic was that my “employer” wanted me to be the ultimate killjoy. By the end of the show, I had told three people to put their camera phones away, one person that “lighting up isn’t cool,” had confiscated a flask of Smirnoff 100, and had stamped out one girl’s cigarette. I became that guy and hated myself for that. Here’s the kicker: two cops, while on their rounds, would often end up at the top of my section and catch a song or two. And they didn’t even do anything about less-than-legal activities going on in the crowd.

As I mentioned earlier, I was a bona fide ticket holder at the Whit choir concert and I was stuck down in a pew. I’ll take the blame for ending up in the back row, but it is most definitely First Pres’ fault for having one structural post obstructing my view plus a half dozen other posts topped with ribbons lining each side of the hallway.

Overall Performance:
Saving my only substantial bit of criticism for last I need to consider the exuberance of the performers. I mentioned that I have tried reconciling the fact that sometimes artists are on and sometimes they are not. Obviously Spokane is not a money city. When you hear anything about the size of the “Spokane Metro Area,” you need to realize that that includes Eastern Washington and that Idaho panhandle from Canada down to Pullman and Moscow. Such stats that come from those figures and won’t impress tour promoters or managers. Additionally, the Spokesman Review and The Inlander are not SPIN Magazine and there are probably no press photographers anywhere withing the confines of the concert. But that should mean you give a sub-par show. No, I’m not criticizing the fact that Maynard hangs to the back of the stage, never leaving the security of his platform shared with the drum set. That is a personal preference and an intentional statement about the music. What most concerns me is how the concert felt canned. It wasn’t special. Of course it was forceful. It was epic. If I were an announcer on any rock station, I would say in a low, rumbling voice, “Tool, more rock rock rock than a face-full of CONCRETE PIE!!!” By definition, Tool is all that and more. But the band seemed slightly apathetic.

Again, I’m sure the specifics of the concert affected Whitworth choirs’ performances, but fortunately it was for the best. I was lucky enough to attend the final Christmas concert. Keep in mind that for a good number of members, this is not just the final concert of the season but it is their final concert. What I beheld was absolutely astonishing and I cannot rave enough. The performance by the singers and musicians went without missing a step and the entire experience seemes as though it was choreographed.

So on that note, I’ve got to hand it to Whitworth’s music department. Overall, the Whitworth choirs take the cake. Sadly though, it’s Maynard Keenan and his band who can do what they do and live a comfortable life. For the rest of the Whitworth musicians I saw perform, I am reminded of joke which sums up the plight ofprofessional musicians in general: How do you get a professional trombonist off your front patio? Pay him and say “Thanks for the Pizza.”

Facebook and the Age of Angst

Posted in Facebook, me, social commentary on December 14, 2007 by neal

“You’re not one of those people who derives worth from the number of Facebook friend’s, are you?”

On a normal day, I’d like to think that people would not even consider asking me this question. I view Facebook as something like a social tool and a lot like a toy (oh, wait, isn’t that former part similar to what they say?). Facebook offers a myriad of applications that range from semi-practical to totally useless. I use it as my primary method of sharing tidbits of entertainment with friends as it provides an easy way to link video clips and images. The wall provides a slightly warmer (and considerably more mindless) way of connecting with friend whom you don’t care about/know well enough to call. When I’m bored, I can peruse my friends’ photo albums, looking to see how they have fared since the last time I saw them thirteen months ago. Additionally, I can leave comments solely for the purpose of entertaining numero uno. All of the above functions, as well as Fight Club, Superpoke, and all 9 to the nth power applications are fine and dandy in and of themselves. Even using them to a point that would make even the most reclusive computer nerd sick is understandable.

Now, I don’t want to isolate my reader (yeah, I’m talking to you as you are the only reader), so I’ll admit that I’ve had my share of Facebook faux pas, one such being my goal to catch up with my brother in the wall post count (currently, he’s at 3294, but I’m on my way with 1067). And back in April of 2005 when Facebook had just opened up to Whitworth, I entered an unspoken competition with Cole Casey to have the most friends. It was so unspoken that he didn’t even know it was going on until quite some time down the road. *

But there’s a limit that should not be crossed. In my opinion, that limit is more qualitative than quantitative. Of course people will exceed that limit, but when I think of these people, the preferred weapon of choice is World of Warcraft or Second Life.

But today, something was different. I woke up this morning, overwhelmed by the number of items on my to do list and slightly dismayed at the inadequacies of the previous day’s text message conversations. So I began compulsively checking Facebook. I began with my profile but that only kept my mind occupied for a couple of minutes. As Facebook is a two-way street, I ended up posting on some friends’ walls. I needed to get things done today, so I paced around the house trying to figure out my schedule. Distracted, I returned to Bridget, my faithful MacBook Pro, and in order to show my concern for my friends, I checked the mini feed to see how other friends were doing. And then I got to reading others’ wall posts and wishing more people would contact me. But I stopped myself as I was feeling kind of creepy. I updated my status. I edited and filled in some information on some photos I had uploaded yesterday from my mobile. Then I paced around some more. Others’ photos came next. I found some missing tags and filled those in. I took a shower. I commented on a string of profile pics. I ate some M&Ms for breakfast. I began messaging friends and responding to new wall posts. I actually began searching for YouTube videos to share with friends. I updated my status again, this time with something half-way witty.

At one point, I had enough and, leaving Bridget upstairs, I had a quiet time in the basement. It was the hardest 40 minutes I experienced all day.

Shortly before noon, my dear friend Penny came over. But she wasn’t quite Facebook; obviously she wasn’t relieving my social angst and feelings of insufficiency. Then I realized I was way beyond that line. Actually, it was Penny who helped with that when she asked me the question that opens this post. One word for Penny: Ouch.

But what hope was there for me? The answer is there was no immediate hope. I left for a secluded place, namely Westminster Hall’s lounge, with hopes of clearing my mind and maybe even getting some leisure reading done. There, I found myself on the department computers at three different times checking Facebook, making sure that friends’ finals and gin bottles were being finished off well. Trying a last-ditch effort to rid myself of Facebook-induced angst, I switched my method to real life. Maghan and Kamesh, you saved saved me.

So, if there’s little to no hope for me, what hope is there for the generation of angsty high school students brought up on coffee drinks and emotional music? When I was in high school, I was lucky to have a cell phone. But I still communicated with my friends primarily through face-to-face conversation. What will happen to these people if one person’s Internet is down? If Facebook is down?

My closing thoughs: panic and chaos will prevail. Not every child would make it through. Miscommunication would be responsible for some of the resulting hysteria and the hysteria will be responsible for the rioting and the rioting will result in bodily harm. There would be a reverse baby boom as an entire generation with no social skills dies off without ever procreating. And the old people and those socially awkward will have the last laugh.

*Oh, and just so you know, I’m currently beating Cole in my competition by a 15% margin.

Jesus saves (I do not).

Posted in me, technology on December 12, 2007 by neal

Let me be frank, computers have turned me into an asshole. Partly, I have become so accustomed to the reliability of today’s computers, that I completely forget that something could happen while I’m in the middle of a project and wipe out all of progress. I’m particularly lucky as I do most of my work on my MacBook Pro, so I do not need to worry about power interruptions. On occasion, when I’m on the go, I’ve put my computer to sleep, packed it up and hele’d on, not realizing that I had about nine hours of unsaved work lying in data purgatory.

Nevertheless (yet not helpful to my cause at all), the power grid here in North America seems to be much more reliable than Maui Electric Company’s setup back when I first started getting into computers back in 1993 on Seabury Hall’s old Macs. As I know you are all wondering right now what exactly “getting into computers” meant for a 12-year-old back in the early 1990s, who, up until this point has never successfully posted a blog, let me take this moment to lower my guard and share exactly what 12-year-old Neal did with computers. If there was one thing that justified the 2/3-the-cost-of-my-college’s-tuition tuition, it was the computer lab in the middle school hall, filled to the brim with new Macs. At morning break, I would consistently be at the computers, hoping that the daily allotment of free Jelly Belly samples offered at JellyBelly.com had not been completely called for. I do not remember how many months it took me to finally be one of the first 400 people to request a sample, but the drawn-out battle eventually paid off. There’s no feeling like knowing you fought the good fight and that in four to six weeks, I would have my sample of Jelly Belly beans. Contrarily, there’s no letdown like what you experience when, upon finally receiving that packet in the mail, opening it and finding a measly twelve pieces of candy.

Getting to know computers also involved discovering the world of internet chatting. Oh, there were hours of chats in private and public chat rooms hosted via Mattchat, a long forgotten HTML based chat client that was AWESOME. There were many genuine people to meet in the general chat rooms. The most memorable (except for, of course, Scott Ponte and Mikey Rosales who would set directly adjacent to me) one such persons was TheBob. Oh, how I idolized TheBob for his popularity. Fortunately, I was a smart little kid and soon realized that I, too, could be TheBob. Oh the grandeur!

Not everything I did was over the Internet. Eventually I found Telnet, which even at that time seemed. For a few months, A Moment in Tyme, a MUD game, was all the rage in my class until I found myself strapped for gold coins and realized I could create an endless number of characters and give their grubstake to me! entire network excluded from the game. Then, we all decided that Amazon Trail was seriously the best game. Instead of hunting, you got to spear fish. Sure, it’s not as exciting as shooting 3402 pounds of food and only being able to bring back 378. But buffalo are cliché. Now spearing a piranha, that’s a thrill ride!

Even with all the play, I did start learning the ins and out of computing. I learned that PCs and Macs weren’t friends. I learned how to use “graphics.” I knew what a scanner was. In my science class, we had to learn basic HTML code. I even had a teacher with a digital camera that recorded onto floppy disks! Through all of that, I learned how important it was to save my work.

So when I came back to my blog a few days ago only to find that the blog was gone, I felt like an asshole. Sure, I can blame that on Google. But I cannot blame the other instance a day later when I lost about three hours of work I had done on an illustration because I hadn’t saved the file at all and my computer decided to restart instead of falling to sleep. That, right there, is my fault and I can sum it all up here: Don’t trust me for your salvation needs.