red echo

A web journal by Mars Saxman: my life, reflected and filtered

May entries

Archived Entries for April, 2004

April 30, 2004

Hammerfest claims to be not just the northernmost town in the world, but also the first in northern Europe to install electric street lights. Coincidence? I think not.

Back in the early 1800s, a tobacco millionaire built a huge network of tunnels under Liverpool for no apparent reason. Some people speculate that it was a sort of social welfare program, providing employment for soldiers returned from the Napoleonic wars; other people think he was part of some religious cult and wanted to prepare for the end of the world.

I am such a cold-weather kid. Sitting here in my east-facing apartment, with the shades drawn to keep out the sun, I found myself thinking: wow, if it's this hot this early in the year, how am I going to survive the summer? Of course when I looked at the thermometer, it was only eighty fahrenheit. It occurs to me that I translate any sensation of warmth to discomfort; I have to be a little bit cold or I don't feel comfortable. There are people out there - most of the world, as far as I can tell - who think eighty degrees is pleasant. How do they do it?

April 28, 2004

I have been thinking about going to Burning Man again this year. I had such an unpleasant time in 2001 that I didn't even consider going in 2002; by last year I decided to give it another try, but had neither the time nor money to make it happen. This year, I'm making plans and connecting with other burners well in advance, so barring any catastrophe I should be able to make it.

I came up with an idea for a project I wanted to build a few weeks ago, and I've just uploaded a page with my design notes so far. It was a whim at first, but it's starting to seem like something that could actually work. I want to build a human-powered spotlight: a beam pointing straight up in the dusty playa air, a beacon visible throughout the neighborhood, powered by the curious wanderers who make their way to its base wondering where the light is coming from.

Coincidentally, today was my first meeting with the Burning Man camp I've been thinking about joining. Only half of them showed up, which is apparently normal, but it was an interesting mix. The group comes off as a wild, chaotic party bunch at first, but on closer observation there is a quiet undercurrent of competence mixed in with the laissez-faire. I'm still a little uncertain about going to camp with a bunch of people who I mostly don't know, but I like the couple I do know, and they seem to be the type who will get things organized and accomplished. I was also surprised to discover that one of the sushi chefs from my favourite restaurant is among the group. I'm not really surprised he's going to Burning Man, but I wasn't expecting to run into him socially.

April 27, 2004

I got stuck in my apartment building's elevator today. It's an old building, built in 1909, and the elevator is a rackety old contraption with one of those sliding fences that you have to open by hand. It always lurches a bit when it starts up, but it had been lurching a bit more than usual for the last day or so. This time it lurched a lot more than usual, and then just... died, about three feet below my floor. The buttons did nothing - not even the usual relay click noise in the basement. So I sat down and started waiting. Conveniently enough, the exterior elevator doors are mostly glass - that's so you can see when the elevator has reached your floor, I think - so I was able to catch the attention of another resident within a few minutes. She got the manager, and after some poking about we figured out how the door catch worked. He slipped a ruler through the crack in the side of the door, I used it to pop the catch, and I stepped out after maybe twenty minutes of confinement. All told, it was about the least stressful trapped-in-an-elevator scenario one could imagine. A harmless little adventure, and I wasn't even late for dinner.

April 24, 2004

As far as I can tell, it is impossible to get an ahi steak on Capitol Hill after ten P.M. What kind of "world-class" city is this, anyway?

I settled for pizza, but I'm still hungry.

April 21, 2004

The trip to Austin disrupted my practice schedule, and since returning I've spent so many of my evenings out doing something social that I have had trouble working practice back into my routine. This evening was completely open, so I (somewhat predictably) swung the pendulum clear in the other direction and spent hours playing, first bass and then piano. I certainly hope my piano's "apartment pedal" muted the sound well enough to keep my neighbors from hearing it, since I was playing long after ten P.M.

I think I may have overdone it; the bass session flew by, but I felt myself starting to drag after just twenty minutes on the piano. I quit my drills early, spent half an hour on some old favourites, and ended up digging into a new Bach piece, but by then it was late and I was tired, and I just couldn't get into it.

I'm sure part of my reduced enthusiasm for the piano recently comes from my feeling of having reached another plateau. The irregular practice schedule can't have helped, but I also feel like I'm in a weird in-between state with no realistic goals to shoot for. I'm really just playing for the joy of playing, but the simple truth is that I haven't been enjoying it that much lately. Maybe I need to push myself out of the baroque zone I've spent the last half year in; I love the music, but maybe I need to soak up some new rhythms and take on some different challenges.

I'm happy with my progress on the bass, though. It's always exciting to be on the fast upward curve at the beginning of a new skill, when you can practically feel your abilities stretching as you work. I've been playing along to drum loops, instead of using a metronome, and it feels great. It's hard to believe I've been at this for almost a year already; I still feel like I just started yesterday.

Now here's a plan that seems as silly as it is delightful: Three British men are going to cross the Gobi desert in kite buggies.

April 20, 2004

I got to work on an interesting audio project today, unrelated to my usual music production. A friend managed to get an audition with Cirque du Soleil, and needed a piece of accompanying music which is no more than five minutes long. He had a few pieces in mind but the lengths just didn't come out right. So he brought over some CDs this evening and we spent a couple of hours playing with various pieces of music software. We ended up fading into the middle of Tool's "Triad", merging a couple of instrumental pieces from the Amelie soundtrack into a medley, and slicing out part of Juno Reactor's "Swamp Thing" so the introduction cuts into the body of the song about twenty seconds later than it was supposed to. The results sounded pretty good, to me, and Graeme was happy with it too. It wasn't particularly hard work, but it was something I'd never tried before, and it was fun to stretch myself a bit.

April 19, 2004

I won a nice pile of cash in Uncle Sam's Mandatory Lottery this year and decided to spend (most of) it getting out of debt. I just mailed a check paying off the remaining balance on my piano, and that's the last of it: no more monthly payments, except for monthly services.

I'd expected to feel a weight lift off my shoulders, or something. Maybe that only happens the first time.

Truth in advertising

Yes, that is a knobby-tired, chrome-plated Segway.

April 18, 2004

Is the universe trying to tell me something?

Surefire hangover cure, in two parts: first, don't get in bed immediately upon returning home. Stay awake for at least half an hour or so and let some of the alcohol filter out of your system. Second, drink a lot of water before falling asleep: at least a quart. Then leave a bottle of water by the bed, and sip on it if you wake up thirsty during the night. Works for me, every time...

April 17, 2004

View from St. Mark's Cathedral

April 16, 2004

Beautiful Seattle spring rain

April 14, 2004

The Alcan 5000 is an almost-yearly road race from Seattle to Anchorage along the Alaska-Canada Highway. There are two versions this year, the February "Winter Rally" and an "anniversary" run this August. It seems to be an interesting mix of serious teams and random amateurs.

My friend Adam and I had a long discussion Sunday afternoon about ways a secular organization might be able to provide the sense of community, social safety net, and other benefits churches can offer the religious. In light I found this article particularly interesting. Its author contends that churches actually don't spend much of their time on politics or social support, and are primarily focused on music and other artistic and cultural activities.

Using his pioneering 1998 National Congregations Survey, the first study to delve into the specific activities of a truly representative sampling of the nation's religious congregations, he finds that politics and service programs are not the main draws. Indeed, most congregations put little effort into community work and, he says, "play--and will continue to play--only a small role in our society's social-service system." (Significantly, he notes, those few that are more involved "rely heavily on paid staff, involve relatively few congregational volunteers, and conduct their efforts in collaboration . . . with secular and government agencies.") And while some congregations do hand out voter guides (17 percent) or encourage participation in marches or demonstrations (9 percent), only a few take on political work as congregations. All in all, he says, "congregations play only a small role in our society's political system."

What congregations are most engaged in, Chaves reveals, are cultural activities. That includes education and the many components of worship, of course, but also the generally less-remarked-upon activities of producing and consuming art and culture, particularly musical and theatrical performances, outside of worship.

April 13, 2004

I've been working out regularly for about two months now. I did a lot of kayaking and hiking last year, and it felt great. That all stopped when my car was totalled, and I had begun to worry that when I did get a chance to visit the wilderness again I would find myself out of shape and easily exhausted. When I moved up to Capitol Hill I found there was a Gold's Gym within five minutes' walk of my new apartment, and half on a whim I decided to sign up. I don't know what I was expecting, exactly, but it has been a surprising experience.

My first unexpected discovery was the fact that working out feels good. I had expected to make myself go to the gym once or twice a week on sheer willpower, persevering through the tedious labor by reminding myself about the fun I would have out in the wilderness later. It turns out that much of the bliss I associate with hiking or kayaking is actually common to any sort of physical exertion. Even the mental challenge I feel when climbing a mountain or persevering to the end of a long trail comes into play: keep going, just three more repetitions, you can do it, now lift! It's no trouble at all going to the gym three times a week; in fact, I look forward to it, and miss it when I can't go.

The second big surprise is the seemingly self-evident fact that training actually works. I was just looking for a way to maintain the ability to hike, paddle, climb, and ski comfortably, but I find that almost without trying my stamina and strength are increasing. In the last week, I've had to move all the weights up by 20% or 25% from the settings I used when I started! What's more, my body is changing: my appetite has become a persistent nag, and I've gained eight pounds, three of it in the last week alone.

Strange as it may seem, this is actually making me nervous. I've long gotten over my teenage self-conception as a "brain with fingers", but it's still hard to think of myself as a strong, fit person. I've always been on the slender side - sometimes too much so - but for years I have feared that age would someday come along and drop a potbelly in my lap. Now here I am in my late 20s, suddenly gaining a bunch of weight, and it's hard to have faith that this is all really working. Bah, insecurity! I feel great, and I wish that was all that mattered; but I want to look good too, and that's awfully hard to judge in one's own mirror.

An article about the Rio de Janeiro shantytowns, talking about their social organization and some ways they are actually nicer places to live in than official low-income-housing type projects. Interesting points about self-sufficiency and entrepreneurialism.

April 11, 2004

Sexy pants

(too bad they're made of cotton...)

April 10, 2004

KAOS firespinning at Gasworks Park

Here's a well-informed analysis of the likely impact of fundamentalist ideas on the Bush administration's policies. The "religious right" is a semi-random assemblage of groups and ideas, many of them opposed to each other, but the distinctions are often hard to see from across the political aisle. Most of my friends probably have no idea that there is any difference between "fundamentalists" and "evangelicals", and have probably never heard of "premillenialism" or "Christian Reconstructionism". The author of this piece, an evangelical himself, does a good job laying out the basic divisions and explains why Bush isn't quite as radical as many progressives think he is.

In other words, President Bush could scarcely be a premillennialist and a Reconstructionist at the same time -- at least not with any consistency. "Aha!" you may reply, "but is someone like Dubya likely to be consistent? I think not." And I think not, also. But that's precisely why I don't share the fears of Didion and Miller. The scenarios they construct require Bush and his key advisers to be people who read the Bible in light of a coherent theology that yields a specific political program (rather than politicians whose chief concern is getting reelected). The danger would lie in consistency itself -- in Bush's willingness to get policy from theology as a mathematician derives an equation. Yet even if that were true -- even if Bush's mind worked that way -- these fears could only be realized if he were a premillennialist in foreign policy and a Reconstructionist on the domestic front.

My experience as an evangelical suggests to me that such consistency is highly unlikely. And if I didn't know it from self-reflection, I'd know it from nearly 20 years of teaching at Wheaton College, the leading evangelical liberal-arts college in America.

April 8, 2004

The auction ends today, and I'm not bidding. So ends another of my sudden little obsessions. It's definitely not the same car; the one I saw years ago had a stereo mounted in the dash, and this one has clearly never had anything of the kind. I liked it anyway, but the venture lost a little of its romantic urgency once I noticed that detail, and there were enough other detractions to convince me that this is a wild idea better left in the wild-idea bin.

Along the way, though, I've had a whimsical little adventure. I finally got in touch with the guy who's selling the car yesterday at lunchtime, and an hour or two later decided that I was just going to drive down to Portland and check it out in person. So off I went on a seven-hour mini road trip. It was great fun, even though the rental car didn't have a CD player; I just listened to the radio and switched from one weird local station to another whenever they went out of range.

I arrived in Portland at around eight, and after chatting with the seller and having a good look-over we took off and went cruising around Lake Oswego. The car was gorgeous, and I couldn't wait to get behind the wheel. It's based on a '54 MG, but the style is pure '30s. It's the kind of car that makes you want to drive wearing gloves, goggles, and a scarf. It proved to be a fun ride, even at night with the top up. It's based on a 1.6L VW engine, but the body is light and the center of gravity is low, so it accelerates nicely and holds corners well. The dash is classic, with decidedly low-tech gauges and lights.

Of course it also turned out to be distinctly annoying in several important ways. It's a small car, designed to be driven with the top down; with the top up, my head scrapes the ceiling and the top of the windshield frame interferes with my view. It has no real windows - just snap-on side curtains which you must remove in order to get in or out of the car. Cargo space is limited; two people could go backpacking in it, but their packs would protrude somewhat precariously from behind the seats. The fender-mounted side mirrors, while classy as all get-out, are impossible to adjust by yourself and nearly useless if not adjusted perfectly.

Then there are some annoyances specific to this particular car. The kit builder reused lots of VW parts: bumpers, marker lights, headlights, turn signals, wheels... they don't detract significantly from the look, unless you know what you're seeing, but I know I'd end up wanting to replace them. The seats are not actually mounted to the body - they are just wooden frames sitting on a pair of fiberglass supports, and tend to wobble a bit when going around corners. There's a tear in one of the side curtains, the headlight cans are rusted and need to be replaced, the turn signal switch is hard to reach and the left-turn indicator on the dash doesn't work, the speedometer doesn't work, and the gas and brake pedals are so close together that the edge of my shoe kept catching on the brake when I was trying to release the accelerator. Frightening!

None of these would be particularly serious problems if I had a garage with an electrical outlet. I did far more work on my Samurai... but my Samurai was also frustrating, because I could never quite make it as cool as I wanted it given the limits on my time, skill, and resources. This car is cooler, but also less practical, and given that my apartment building doesn't even have a lot, much less a garage, even small maintenance jobs would turn into big hassles.

I will probably still get one of these cars someday, but not until I have more money and live somewhere with a garage I can use as a shop.

This expedition ate its own tail, in a way; given that I managed to head out on a completely unplanned road trip with about two hours' notice, I really can't be hurting very badly for not having a car. I should keep reminding myself that I could rent a car for a long weekend every month and still spend less money than car ownership would cost...

April 7, 2004

Well, the little green MG replica might not be the same car I fell in love with after all. The current seller bought it from the guy who built it. The car I saw was for sale, back in 1997, so either the original seller decided to hang on to it for a few more years, or it's a different car entirely.

But it's still bugging me. The more I think about it, the less outrageous the idea begins to seem. I don't need a car for getting around in the city: I can walk most places and bus to the rest. What I can't do is get out of the city, visit the mountains, see the beach, go backpacking... not that I do these things more than once or twice a month, but when I want to do them, I currently just don't have any way. And what better car for wild, frivolous, romantic trips out of the city than a wild, frivolous, romantic convertible dream car?

So I just made a reservation with Enterprise, and I'm going to drive down to Portland in a rental car and test drive the little MG. It'll either be annoying, and I'll give the idea up, or it'll be fun and I'll bid on it. I might not win the auction anyway, but this is a good excuse for a random adventure.

April 5, 2004

Years ago, when I was living in Portland, I saw the coolest car in the universe sitting in a parking lot with a For Sale sign. It was a replica 1954 MG, built on a Volkswagen chassis; a pert little sporty convertible in classic hunter green. I fell in love with it instantly, but I didn't really need a car, and I couldn't afford anything close to the $3500 price tag. I've casually kept my eye out for another one like it ever since, and every couple of months or so I take a look at the offerings on eBay. Well, I found a listing today for what looks like the very same car, still in Portland.

So I have an unexpected second chance at my long-lost dream car. To my surprise I find that over the years I've become somewhat of an MG-replica connoiseur, and this isn't one of the better models I've seen. It's built on a '77 Super Beetle chassis, which is pretty common, but there's a second line of kits built on a late-'80s Chevette that have a more powerful engine and a normal front-engine/rear-drive layout. What's more, this one is kind of a low-end job, reusing the VW wheels, taillights, and marker lights instead of MG-style wire wheels and replica lights. If I hadn't noticed that the seller was located in Portland, I probably wouldn't have given it a second thought.

I'm not sure any of that actually matters, though. The idea of this car was all about the romance anyway; the only one of its attributes I could call "practical" would be the fact that it's small and can be easily squeezed into small downtown parking spaces. The MG dream was always all about long road trips: endless cruises down dusty Nevada highways, slow winds through crisp air mountain passes, the long shot down Highway 101 from Seattle to San Francisco. It wasn't supposed to be a real MG, or even a cheap replacement for one; I wouldn't buy a genuine MG-TD even if I could afford one. The maintenance demands, gutless engine, and sense of responsibility would take all the fun out of it. I just like the look, the style, the echo of leftover grace from the first golden age of the automobile. A spry little convertible built after the same style, using simple, reliable, easily maintained components, is just about the most perfect car I can imagine.

Oh well. I feel old, saying this, but I think I'd rather spend my tax refund money getting out of debt. Besides, I live on Capitol Hill, and there wouldn't be anywhere to park it.

But it's still going to bug me, for the next two days and twenty-one hours, until the auction ends and the opportunity passes once again.

April 4, 2004

The incredible expanding studio

April 3, 2004

View out my kitchen window

The trees all budded while I was out of town.

April 2, 2004

I'm back in Seattle after a week and a half in Austin. My mood was in churn mode today, which is never much fun, but three or four shots of scotch and a good conversation with a random stranger in the Houston airport bar did a lot to improve it. My trips to Austin are usually tedious, and the weather tends to be uncomfortably hot, but everything really clicked this time around. The trip started with the REAL World conference, which spun off a couple of pub crawls and some nice dinners out, and then I had a free weekend which I spent in various entertaining ways. Even during the week, I ended up going out to a couple of clubs and to Austin's First Thursday art walk / pub crawl / craft fair / music festival. The weather was pretty much perfect: overcast skies, light rain every now and then, and temperatures in the mid to low seventies - just like home will be in a couple of months.

Home? Yeah, Seattle really is home; not in the ultimate platonic sense, but it's a place where I feel comfortable and usually feel like I fit in, at least a bit. I still feel a trace of the old itch in my feet that keeps me from letting my roots grow too deep, but I've already stayed here longer than I ever expected to stay anywhere, and I'm not ready to leave yet.

The universe feels just a little colder and lonelier this morning. Bah.

March entries


photo © 2001 Stacie Mayes

Current entries


2004: Jan Feb Mar

2003: Nov Dec

Wanderings in Black and Red (previous site)