Monday, July 26, 2010

I Left My Harp in Sam Clam's Disco #5: In Which the Author Discusses the Problems with Keratin Formation in Hygroscopic Environments

My hair is difficult to cut. Finding someone who can cut my hair is an even more onerous task, so imagine my delight and surprise when I discover that around the corner from my current place of residence is a hair salon (I prefer to think of it as a more masculine "barber shop"). There are several good signs about this place:

1) It isn't titled something hipster-ish like "Hair Design by Takeda", or cutesy, like "Lock, Stock, and 2 Smoking Clippers"; instead, it has a very blunt, Times-New-Roman-type sign that says "Hair Cut and Style" and screams "no ad budget"

2) There are plastic sticky letters above the displays that say something like "MEN'S HAIRCUT $10"

3) Most importantly, you can hear a very musical type of foreign language coming from the inside, which means that the people working there are either from Southeast Asia, or Scottish, all of which are good signs.

I go inside and find, to my delight, that the lady who will be cutting my hair today is in fact, Vietnamese ***WARNING RACISM ALERT*** because, there are only a few people who can cut my hair in a way that doesn't make it look like, say, a diorama of the French Revolution as created by a hedgehog with a surrealist bent, or Spock. These people are, in order of proficiency: 1) the Vietnamese 2) the "fish eaters" that That Girl used to make fun of ("unlike them, *our food* has flavor") and 3) a Korean lady who moved to Chicago. ***WARNING END RACISM ALERT***.

It turns out alright; in fact, once I get over the fact that my sideburns are now shaped like the State of Texas (my skin is oily enough to stand in for the Gulf) , I'm quite pleased with my haircut. Moral of the story: be racist; it's good for your hair.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Interlude: The Joy of Legacy Gaming

I am the owner of a Macbook, and this makes gaming rather difficult. My deathly fear of partitioning hard drives has kept me from using Boot Camp to fully utilize the blazingly-fast (by 2007 standards) components inside my computer, so I use a handy-dandy piece of software called VMware to run various virtual machines: Windows 98SE, Windows XP SP2, and Linux-Ubuntu*.

In selecting games that can run in a virtualized environment, I take myself back to the mindset I had in the mid-to-late '90s. When we bought our first family PC, it was a state-of-the-art Gateway rig (costing ~$5,000 MSRP) that had 16 MB of RAM, 200 MB of hard-drive space, and a blazingly-fast 166 Mhz Pentium chip. Unfortunately, it did not have a 3D graphics accelerator, and so I was unable to play MechWarrior 2: Mercenaries, a game that I had played and fallen in love with at my cousin's house (he was clearly ahead of the curve). I still have fond memories of that computer, though, starting with the first three computer games my father bought at a store: Men In Black: the Game, F-22 Lightning II, and a little weird-looking thing called Fallout.

It is absolutely astonishing to me how many classic games came through our greedy little fingers when my brother and I were children: in addition to the original Fallout, my brother and I played Command & Conquer (and practically cried with joy when my dad brought home Red Alert), Jane's AH-64D Longbow, Total Annihilation, Diablo (until my parents decided it was too bloody), Warcraft II, Dark Reign (does anyone remember Dark Reign?), the original Age of Empires, Quake II, Civilization II, Rainbow 6, Jedi Knight...the list goes on and on.

After a few years, my Papa had been convinced through carefully thought-out lobbying attempts by myself and my little brother (mostly us crying and saying "We can't play this game!"), and upgraded to a Pentium II 300 Mhz CPU, which was to the original Pentium as Terminator 2 was to the original Terminator, along with 64 MB of RAM, a 3dfx Voodoo 2 graphics accelerator and (this was the kicker) an enormous, 400-MB (that's FOUR HUNDRED MEGABYTES) hard drive.

I still remember staring at it the day after and watching this newfangled game called Half-Life run smoothly and beautifully; it was the most exciting 15-minute-long train ride of my life. There are very few things in my life that will ever match that beautiful feeling. Ahem.

In any case, here are some of the games I've been playing:

-Heroes of Might and Magic III (circa 1999)
-Jagged Alliance 2 (1999)
-Starcraft (circa 1998, and this will require its own blog post)
-Homeworld (circa 1998, picked up from that beautiful used-book store down the road for $7.95, and just as revolutionary as it was when it was released)
-Diablo II (1999)

*all the hipsters still sneer at me when I tell them I like Ubuntu

Saturday, July 24, 2010

I Left My Harp in Sam Clam's Disco #4: In Which the Author Tastes the Fruit of the Farmer's Market of Good and Evil

My papa always told me that when he retired from [Other Company Name Redacted] he would want to go and get two more jobs: as a people greeter at Wal-Mart during the week, and a chef at one of those teppanyaki-type places on the weekends. I've never understood why my father, who has actual talents and hobbies, would ever want to do menial jobs like that, until I was enlightened by something that [Company Name Redacted] calls the Culinary Internship.

This is an opportunity to do several things, first and foremost of which is the opportunity to skip work for a half-day, giving me an easy out of a meeting via [secret and proprietary long-distance communication system that rhymes with "Mideo Bonferencing" redacted]. But more importantly, it's an opportunity to spend a half-day working in the kitchen of one of our cafeterias (which serves free food), learning about the food prep process. This is how I end up on donut-frying duty at 8 am, dressed in a comically stereotypical white chef's jacket and CSI-yellow latex gloves.

Frying donuts is a surprisingly difficult endeavour, and it's nothing like what you've experienced before. It involves donut dough, which is like cookie dough, but for donuts, and an enormous fat fryer that's large enough to be used to dunk naughty children in. Using a donut scoop, which is like an ice-cream scoop, but for donuts, I take globs of dough the size of my fist and plop them into the oil bath, which hisses appreciatively in a disturbingly anthropomorphic way, like an evil version of one of the magically alive kitchen instruments from Beauty & the Beast*.

Then begins the real issue. When heated, the globs of donut dough expand and start to float in the oil like corpses, but they're actually donuts, and that means that one part- the long segment that sticks out when floating- is not coated with oil, which means it might not get cooked properly. The only possible recourse, therefore, is to use a pair of tongs to savagely beat them down whenever they poke their heads out, bopping them down whenever they pop up like Whack-a-Mole, except with donuts.

It's fun, it helps people get the goodies they want, and it involves donuts; this is enough to keep me amused for what seems like hours, until breakfast is over and the crew cleans up, and serves themselves some leftover bacon, eggs, etc., though for some reason nobody wants to eat my donuts. Afterwards, we gather 'round and get assigned to different stations as we prepare for lunch.

Each team member prepares some dish for the buffet and presents it to the head chef and his assistant, who go down the line, sampling and occasionally interrogating the cooks as to the exact ingredients that go into, say, soy vegan hot dogs wrapped in noodles with coconut sauce. Each chef is required to be able to rattle off the recipe from memory to the head chef, and also to swallow a cyanide capsule if captured by the enemy and tortured for the secret recipe for grilled cheese ([ingredient redacted] between [ingredient redacted], if you're wondering).

The head chef and his assistant seem to like most of the selections today, other than offering a few subtle tweaks here and there that go off-recipe (they both follow the Half-Blood Prince's philosophy when it comes to cooking stuff). We then scurry around and get ready for the day's meal, which in my case involves chopping up a crate full of broccoli for the stir-fry station ("If you run out of broccoli, nobody wants to eat stir fry for some reason").

Next to another team member named Mauricio (it takes me an embarassingly long time to realize this is a Spanglification of "Maurice"), I chop vegetables in a mechanical way and try to re-energize my Spanish with him and other passerby. I manage to learn a few things: most of his family is in NorCal, he has two kids who like watching soccer, and if he ran the cafeteria he would serve grilled shrimp and fish, with various tomato and pepper-based sauces over brown rice.

It's pleasant, to have a conversation that has nothing to do with what you're working on, and I reflect that I could do this job, and be moderately happy. What does that say about me?

I also resolve to talk to my team back at [office name redacted] more about personal, non-work-related content.

*there's a deep-fryer among the characters there, right? You know, the one with the deep Southern accent who sprays Gustan with his gurgling peanut oil during the defense of the castle and then turns into a fat, mayonnaise-loving caricature of Bill Clinton at the end, in a pointed and subtle critique by the Disney animators of how he embarrassed his own party and Americans everywhere? Right? Am I the only one who remembers this?