Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Skydiving Pt 5

Hopefully, we can stop this at part 6.

I set my alarm for 6:30, but my kids woke me up before 6 anyway.  I showered, kissed the family and drove to Byron.
It looked so little like I expected I missed it the first time.
On the way in to the airport is this little hangar with those cool giant doors, a couple of parachutes hanging from the ceiling, a 1950s refrigerator, and a door that opens to a ten foot drop.
Maybe they throw you out the doors if you don't sign the waiver.
You have to sign an incredibly detailed waiver.

There are tiny backpacks hung on the walls.  They were so small, it took me a while to realize they were actually parachutes.
I feel sorry for the guy who gets that yellow chute on the left.
Then they take you into the plane.  It’s a small affair with benches instead of seats.  Through the entire day, the plane takes off every thirty minutes.  Commercial airlines could learn something.
They have a little disco ball in the back, too.
You then have six hours of class.  You practice your “climb outs,” which sounded like “climax” when my English instructor said it (“Oh, don’t worry,” I said.  “I’ve practiced THOSE.”).  You practice arching your back and holding your hands just right so you fall in the right position.  You learn the ninety steps you have to go through during the forty five seconds of freefall, although half of them are “see how far you’ve fallen.”
This is actually just one of three sets of procedures.
They hang you from the ceiling and you practice pulling your emergency chute.
The chute pulls you in very uncomfortable places.  On the plus side, I don't need a vasectomy.
They teach you a landing pattern.  They teach you how to right a poorly-deployed chute.  The make you go over everything again while you practice with a little metal door.
Zen airplane.
Then you wait for the weather.  It rains.  The wind kicks up to twenty-five knots (beginners aren’t allowed to jump in anything over eighteen).  Your family arrives.  Skydivers fly overhead in their tiny sport chutes, speeding by like abnormally loud kites.  It rains again.  The wind kicks up to thirty.  You decide to use the bathroom again, as your anxiety has been replaced with boredom.  You get a sunburn.

You go home.

I’m scheduled to go again on Sunday.  So far, I’ve been prevented from jumping by hail and wind.  Now I have a cold.

Perhaps it’s a sign…
There is a rainbow in there if you look hard.  Nature is like an abusive boyfriend, eh?

Monday, May 30, 2011

Skydiving Pt 4

I'm glad they have an internet connection here.  I'd be bored out of my mind without one.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Skydiving Pt 3

A quick summary:
  • I’m going skydiving tomorrow morning.
  • I’m not starting with the tandem jump, where you’re strapped to an experienced skydiver.  I’m starting with Accelerated Free Fall, the jump you do yourself.
  • I’m starting with AFF because I want to see if I’ll do something absolutely terrifying to myself.
  • I didn’t go on my birthday because there was rain and hail.
I’m somewhat excited, and only a bit nervous.  I’m not really nervous because it turns out that I’m more likely to die crossing the street than skydiving.  On the other hand, my mother doesn’t want me to call and say goodbye each time I cross the street.

(Hi, Mom.  I told you not to read these posts!)

I do have a few reservations about skydiving:

Reservation 1 – Hangers on
When I scheduled my AFF class, I imagined it would be something like this scene from Babylon 5:

However, in looking for AFF pictures to post, I found they all looked like this:

These two guys have to hang on to me the whole way down to make sure I pull the chute.  It sure takes the romance out of throwing yourself into the abyss knowing there are two guys clinging to you like rats to a meat truck.

Reservation 2 – Visitors
When I signed up, the guy suggested I bring my family so they could watch.  (he suggested my wife jump, too).  Then my wife’s family wanted to come.  Now the attendees may be:
  • My wife
  • My oldest son
  • My youngest son
  • Mother in law
  • Father in law
  • Sister in law
  • Wife’s nieces
  • A friend who is still mad I moved to Chicago for 2006 (Hi Cindi!)
  • Three homeless guys from San Francisco
  • The cast of Glee
  • The entire psychology department of UCSF
Now, I love that there’s all this support, but it’s contrary to my aforementioned goal of seeing if I’ll jump.  I was hoping to do it without judgment.  It didn’t matter if I did it or not; I just wanted to answer questions about myself.  Will I throw myself out of an airplane?  Will I suddenly find sanity?  Will I pee on myself like that guy I worked with at Eidos who fought in Grenada?  Now, if I decide I don’t want to jump, all these people will be disappointed.

So, if you’re coming, don’t get your hopes up.

Reservation 3 – I Might Not Die
In my opinion, there are only two good ways to die.

The first is in an ironic way.  The Darwin Awards are filled with people who get crushed while trying to shake the money out of a vending machine (and are found to have wads of cash in their pockets), or who pull up all the stop signs on a road and are creamed going back through an intersection.  Being crazy enough to jump out of an airplane and finding out that it was the worst mistake in your life is wonderfully ironic.  I’m worried I won’t get a second chance at that kind of death.

This is the second good way to die:

Reservation 4 – I Might Like It
This is an expensive hobby.  I really hope I don’t turn out to really love it.  On the other hand, my kids don’t really need college…

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Skydiving Pt 2

In today’s modern world, there are very few chances for a man (or woman) to test his “mettle,” to see what he is made of.  By and large, that’s a good thing.  Most of the ways people learned truths about themselves used to involve feats of stupidity, animal cruelty, or dangerous drugs.  Usually, it involved all three.
Once, over a decade ago, I got the chance to test my own mettle.  My brother took me to the REI flagship store in Seattle.  Inside, they had built the largest freestanding climbing structure for their customers to test equipment before they bought it.  Anyone could climb for free, and I wanted to try.
I remember it looking a lot less like a penis.
See, I’m a bit afraid of heights.  I have two recurring nightmares: one is about falling and the other is about sharks.  Fear is one of those things I hate, because it makes you run your life in ways you don’t want to.  I guess, like Mrs. Dubose, I want to be beholden to nothing and nobody.  Sure, there are drugs and therapy, but it’s not enough to face my fears.  I want to force myself down their throats and choke them from the inside.  If you fail, so what?  The point was you tried and learned something new about yourself.
I suppose I could just join the military and...  Oh... Ew.  Never mind.
At the REI structure, there are four routes up they suggest for beginners.  One of them has an overhang you have to figure out how to get over.  After looking at them all, my brother suggested any of the routes except the one with the overhang.  Guess which one I chose?
Felt like this.
It wasn’t that I didn’t trust my brother, quite the opposite.  I trusted him to find the scariest, most difficult climb for me.  He was right (as always).  It took me over an hour to make it to the top and I was sweating with fear and exertion the whole time.  When I got down, they told me the whole trip really had only taken me six minutes.  Funny how time works in your mind.
Was more like this.
A little while later I interviewed with a company for a game job.  It was a terrible experience (they took one of my ideas but didn’t hire me), but I started emailing a woman who had interviewed me.  She told me about how she took an accelerated free fall skydiving class; how she had to climb out on the wing by herself to do her first dive.
Here's a hint.
I was entranced.  For years, I thought about it.  I didn’t want to do the tandem jump, where you were strapped to someone.  Where was the challenge in that?  What did you learn about yourself from that?  I wanted to know if I would throw myself out of an airplane.  If I chickened out, who cares?  The point was to learn something about myself.

I have some qualms, but I’ll talk about those tomorrow.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Skydiving Pt 1

Let me start this post by talking to my mother.  Everybody else, stop reading for a couple paragraphs.

Hi, mom.  I’m going to be talking about the skydiving thing for the rest of the week.  You might want to skip reading for a while.  Sorry!

Okay, I’m back.  You can start reading again.

Helloooo?  Hey, you can read again.
Funny, that worked for Adam West.
Oh, wait, shoot.  My mom is 50% of my audience.

Hello, remaining reader.  On Saturday, I’m driving out to Byron, California and jumping out of an airplanefor the first time.  I’m not going to do it right away, though.  I have to go through six hours of training, then have lunch, and THEN I’m going to jump out of an airplane. 
NOT like this.
I want to stress the word “jump” because I’m not going to do a tandem jump.  A tandem jump is when they strap you to someone who knows what he or she is doing and that person jumps out of an airplane.  I’m jumping on my own.
Like this.
When I describe what I’m going to do, most people ask the same thing: “Have you lost your medication?”  Then they usually make this panicked look with their face while they gurgle incoherently.  Then they ask why.

I’m doing it because I want to know more about myself.

Tell you what that means tomorrow.
Well, probably more like this...

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

DBIM: The Producers

In the original The Producers (the movie, not the musical based on the movie, nor the movie based on the musical based on the movie), the main characters attempt to make a killing by producing a flop on Broadway.  They try to assemble the worst of everything: cast, actors, etc. 
First, however, they have to find the worst play written by the worst playwright.  They end up picking "Springtime for Hitler," a musical comedy about...  Well, here's the opening number:
Severity: 2 (more than one)
Genre: Movie
Date: 1968
Description: The playwright is an insane Nazi who keeps pigeons. At one point, we see he keeps pigeons on the roof of his apartment building. Then we realize they're all dead.
Mitigating Factors: In the musical, the pigeons are all alive, and sing "The Deutschlandlied" while showing off their Nazi arm bands.
Aggravating Factors: None.

Monday, May 23, 2011

Maker Faire Report

Q: What’s the difference between a “fair” and a “faire?”
A: About $25 plus parking.

So I took the kid to Maker Faire over the weekend.  In between the thirty seconds my son let me talk to friends, we saw some rather impressive things.  Highlights of the conference:

Astromech.net. People who make their own, disturbingly accurate, R2D2s.
"These aren't the droids we're looking for  These also aren't the droids we're looking for..."
This forest of soft, lighted tree thingies that tried to digest my son.
"Come in, come in.  Nothing bad will happen to you..."

Light-up, animated sharks that drove around in the dark and scared the bejeezus out of small children.
The tails wave, the gills breathe, and the mouth chomps.  In the dark they were pretty darned cool.

Angry Birds played on an ENORMOUS touch screen.
You can almost smell the droppings.

The world’s largest Beyblade made out of a wooden dowel, cork, hand mixer, and a pizza pan.
After he let go, it flew into the air and decapitated a robot made by high school students.

Remote control Lego trains.
Okay, not really a highlight, but my younger son couldn't come and he loves trains, so I took a picture.
Now, with 100% fewer fossil fuels!
Meeting the guy who makes ScienceWiz home kits.  When I told him we loved his kits, but couldn’t find coal for the Energy kit, he promptly handed me a little baggy of coal.  He said the Post Office wouldn’t let him put any in the box because coal turns out to be toxic.
Looks so much easier on XBOX.
Trying to teach my son how to pick a lock and failing.  I guess you lose a skill if you don’t use it regularly.

I don't think we should cancel the shuttle program.
Seeing the tree house some guy made that is also a working rocket with attitude jets.
Ow.  Ow.  Ow.
Take home, make-your-own soap kits.  The woman at the booth assured me nothing out of Fight Club would happen to my children.

Overall, well-worth the trip.  Maybe we’ll do it again next year!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Human Purpose

When the ship came into orbit around Sagittarius B (“The World,” as the inhabitants called it), they concluded that it was alien.  They made that conclusion for two reasons.  First of all, their limited telescopes saw that the ship was made primarily up of iron ores, which were so rare on their planet that they used it as money.  The secondary reason was that nobody on their planet had figured out how to get into space yet.
The inhabitants of The World did not think much like we do.  They also looked very different, a fact they only realized when the ship landed in an open field of Creep Grass and the robot wheeled out, gleaming in the green light.  It was upright, with four limbs and a head balanced precariously on top.  In contrast, they were sqat and bulbous, with several thin, tendril-like legs.
Adults could not speak (their expression mandibles tended to stiffen with age) so they sent a youth to meet it.  The child approached nervously, sitting down on three of its legs before the robot.  After several minutes, the child came back.
“It’s vibrating the air,” the child said.  “I think it’s trying to talk.”
After a few hours, the robot stopped vibrating and flashing lights appeared over its surface.  Later, the lights turned off and it began gesticulating with its hands.  Finally, using a combination of clicks and hand gestures, it spoke.  The child came back after a moment’s conversation.
“It says it’s from a planet called Earth,” the child said.  “It travelled a hundred light years to get here.”
The elders wanted to know why.  The youngster went back to the robot for a few moments.
“It says it was built by another machine that was built by another and another.  That machine was built by the biological natives of Earth who all died.  They were called humans.  Humans put all their knowledge and hopes in computers, spread out over the planet and connected by a network of wires called the internet.  The internet was so hard to destroy that it’s still around.  It says all the machines were left on the planet after the humans died and have been working together to try to preserve the purpose of humanity.”
What was that purpose?  The child went back and came back in a great hurry.
“It wants to give us great wealth!” it said.  “There is a huge storehouse of wealth back on the planet Earth and it wants to share it with us, but it said the wealth is trapped.  The robot just needs our help to get it out.”
The elders conferred.  What did they need to do?
“It needs some of our wealth.  The vast storehouse is guarded by some kind of guard that wants money to release it.  Once the storehouse is opened, they will give us twenty percent of what they find there, but they need our money first.”
Over the next few years, the call went out all over The World to collect as much wealth as possible.  Every piece of available iron ore on the planet was packed carefully on to the robot’s ship.  When they could give no more, the robot rolled back onto the spacecraft and took off back into space.  It never returned.
A few hundred years later, when another spaceship landed, they just threw rocks at it until it went away.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

May 21st, 2011

I know what you’re thinking.  You’re looking at the title and thinking “Woah, it’s not May 21st yet!  What’s going on!”  Or, I suppose you could be looking at the title and saying “Woah, it really is May 21st!  How did he know that?”  And then there’s going to be a few of you who say “No it isn’t!  That was earlier.”

To the first group, let me say: “I’m trying to write articles about current events, so I’m writing now about that Rapture Thing that’s supposed to happen on Saturday.”

To the second group, let me say: “Yes, it is!  You’re quick.  Don’t try to eat sharp objects, by the way.”

To the third group: “Why are you looking at this blog.  THE WORLD IS COMING TO AN END!”
Yes, that’s right, this is a post about that Rapture Thing that is supposed to be happening this weekend.  You must have seen the billboards and thought, like me, it was impressive that a radio show could afford a nationwide billboard campaign.  The basic idea, as I understand it, is that those who are truly faithful will disappear during the Rapture Thing (teleported into Heaven), and the rest of us will be subjected to war and famine and all manner of yucky stuff.

The Tribulations are marked by bad movies.
I’m not going to debate the absurdity of the Rapture Thing.  I’m not going to post about how many timespeople have been wrong about predicting Rapture Things in the past.  I just want to make a...  Suggestion.  First, a couple facts:
The Rapture as envisioned by Disney Imagineering.
Not a lot of people will disappear in The Rapture.
Only 144,000 people will enter Heaven, according to The Book of Revelations.  If those people are evenly distributed around the world, we’d hardly notice when they went.
Why is there always some blonde girl with pony tails getting Raptured?
People have disappeared before.
Back in December of 1872, a ship named the Marie Celeste was found abandoned.  Its crew and passengers had completely vanished, and nobody knows where they went or why.  In 1900, three lighthouse keepers disappeared leaving their harsh environment gear and were never found.  In 1913, Ambrose Bierce (a famous author) disappeared without a trace, although some suggest he snuck off and shot himself.

Bearing those two facts in mind, here’s my suggestion:

What if The Rapture already happened a hundred years ago and we missed it?  Alternatively, what if The Rapture is happening all the time and, when you become faithful/nice enough, you just suddenly disappear without a trace?

Happy Saturday!

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Schwarzenegger Love Child

We’ve all heard the news by now: Arnold had a secret love child for ten years.  I’m sure we’ve all had the same reaction (other than “Wow, my word processor knows how to spell Schwarzenegger correctly!”):

Why only one love child?

Arnold became extremely rich and one of the most famous people on the planet by becoming an actor known for not being able to act.  Arnold rose to the highest political office available to him even though he was known for not being able to govern.  By almost any metric, Schwarzenegger is one of the most successful men alive, and what good does it do him?  None at all.  Why?  Because who will remember him in five thousand years?

Okay, bear with me a moment.

Name the most important person who lived five thousand years ago.  Heck, name ANYONE who lived five thousand years ago.  Oh, come on, surely you can name one of the pharos of the first dynasty in Egypt, can’t you?  Of course not.  Nobody remembers the most famous and important people from that long ago, and nobody will remember us five thousand years from now, either.
Here's a hint.
So, nobody is important?  Not exactly.  You know who the most important person who ever lived was?  Christ?  No.  Buddha?  No.  It was Mitochondrial Eve.  Mitochondrial Eve (or “Mito,” as her friends called her) is the one person that all humans evolved from.  Sure, she may not have had an entourage or her own fighter jet, but her children took over the fricking world.  How did she manage that?  She had a lot of babies.  The only way for someone to really make a difference is through DNA.
Here's what she may have looked like, according to anthropologist Ron Moore.
Now, Arnold has four beautiful kids with his wife.  I’m sure they’re all smart and attractive and personable and successful, but will they and their children take over the fricking world?  Probably not.  You know whose kids will?  The Duggars.  That’s right; Michelle Duggar is the current front runner to be the next Mitochondrial Eve and the only thing she ever did in her life was have twenty kids (and counting).
"I'm going to name this one 'Number 20!'"
So, I think we can all feel for Arnold.  He started from nothing, clawed his way to the top of humanity, looked around, and realized the only thing he did that really mattered was have a few kids.  Really, to move up, he needed to have more.  A lot more.
The chair is reserved for the next one.
Really, we should be criticizing him for stopping at one.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Bad Children’s Book Review: Seven Diving Ducks

If there is a meaner, more harmful book for children than Margaret Friskey’s Seven Diving Ducks, I don’t want to know about it.  Sure, there are lots of books out there with outdated morality or philosophies, but this one took me so completely aback, that I had to check the date it was published in Wikipedia (1940) to see if there was any unusual planetary alignment that would explain it.  Best I can guess is that it was part of a secret Nazi plot to undermine the Allies by tricking them into killing their own children.
"Here's my plan.  First, we take over The Children's Press in Chicago..."
Seven Diving Ducks is about a family of (surprise!) ducks.  Six of them are brave and take to swimming quickly, but the third is afraid and dubbed a “chicken” by his father.  What chickens call their timid children is never addressed, but I’m going to go with “turkey.” 

After watching his pitiful swimming attempts, the seventh duck’s father makes him stay up all night on a wooden stump practicing.  Why?  Because we all know children swim better after a sleepless night of painful exercise. 
"I don't care if  your butt is sore!  Real men have sore butts!"
Later the seventh duck is too scared to dive underwater and try to catch fish.  The father banishes the child because he won’t have a sissy in his family.  I’m not making that up.  The father’s exact words are: “I won’t have any sissies in my family.” 

As the seventh duck is swimming away, he’s hit by an apple, is knocked underwater, and catches a fish.  They welcome him back to the family and his father tells him he had just been afraid to try.
Because, as we all know, concussions just make you swim better.
Here’s what I learned from this book:

1.      Fathers should be cruel to scared children and call them names.
After all, fear is always diminished by cruelty.  That’s why so many children master their fears after their parents punch one or two of their teeth out.  If your kids are out of teeth, call them names like sissy; that’s bound to increase their self-esteem.
"Maybe next time we should try drowning them first!"

2.      Fathers should ignore their wives’ wishes.
When the father duck banishes the seventh duckling, the mother is shown crying, obviously distraught.  However, she’s probably just upset at her own failing as a parent.  After all, if she’d been a good mother, none of this would have happened!

"That's right, cry.  If I'd married someone better, this wouldn't have happened."
3.      Fathers should throw children out into the cold.
If you’ve tried beating and name-calling and none of it has worked, you have to throw your children out into the cold.  That’s really better for them in the long run, especially if your other choice is stoning them to death.

I wonder what Margaret Friskey’s father was like.  I imagine he was a bit like this:
Or maybe this:
Or maybe...  You know, never mind.  Just do a web search on "world's worst dad" yourself.