Return of the Accidental Actor

I haven’t heard from my agent in a while, and I took that to mean that there would be no more random acting gigs for yours truly. Then last night while trying to figure out how to use a particular restaurant for one of the scenes in “Moonlight”, my phone chirped and there was a message from Maya. I had not been purged from her database entirely, though it’s still possible I am in the “emergencies only” bin. Hard to say. They need several people who look American, and I’m one of those.

So word went out last night, and the casting was today. Callbacks are tomorrow, and the commercial will be shot on Saturday. Not long afterwards the ad will hit the American airwaves, and demand for French’s Mustard will skyrocket. fuego and I were speculating why they were in a big hurry, why they had not been able to plan ahead a little better, but in the end there’s no way to tell. Maybe they moved the production to Prague at the last moment. In any case, fuego and I decided to go try out for the commercial, and any money we made we’d plug back into “Moonlight Sonata”. It could make a big difference.

Far too early this morning I woke up, showered, tidied up the beard a bit, and pondered what to wear. Nothing more American than a baseball jersey, but I went with a more versatile black turtleneck, kind of shooting for a professorial look. It’s one I can do pretty well, what with the graying beard and all, so I thought it might help distance me from the crowd. Plus, after getting the casting message last night, fuego and I came up with our own mustard-selling script that featured the two of us, with fuego playing a bum and me playing a 1950’s-style scientist. That reinforced my wardrobe decision this morning.

When we found the casting place, we ran into people we knew, who had got there early (we had planned to get there early, but our definition of that elusive term seems a bit different. So guys we knew were leaving when we got there. “It’s at a baseball game,” they told us. Shoulda gone with the other shirt.

The casting agency was crammed with people, and there were kids everywhere. fuego recognized several of the kids’ mothers as well-known czech actresses. They didn’t really look like American sports fans, but the mustard folks want a family feel for the ad, and it’s not like cheering is that different the world around (with the exception of whistling). Finally we were ushered into the studio area with three other guys and we stood for the camera and then cheered together and slapped high fives and generally acted like American sports fans. The casting folks seemed satisfied without any further requests and we were on our way again.

Later this afternoon we will find out if either of us has been called back. I don’t know if they will need to see more of the crowd-fillers though, so I don’t expect to hear back until later, when it is decided whether or not they will pay me Saturday to sit in a stadium and cheer. I feel good about my chances, but you never really know. I’ll be sure to let you know how things develop.

Wish me luck!

Blogging Without a Net

I woke up early this morning, which is even more surprising than usual because apparently this weekend everyone around here decided to set their clocks ahead an hour. Many mornings I wake up to the sound of my Yahoo! chat thingie announcing that it’s time for a little morning dialog with That Girl. Not this morning; my Internet has been down more than up lately and this morning it wasn’t even pretending to try to connect. Not a good sign. I thought maybe I was behind on paying, but I just got a bill and it’s not due yet. It mentions nothing of previous unpaid debts.

Out of habit I sat in front of my computer and stared at it for a little while. It seems my only morning ritual that doesn’t involve the Internet is making tea, which I drink while reading Web comics and checking for comments here. This morning I didn’t even make tea.

Sure, I could have picked up a book, or fired up Jer’s Novel Writer to do a little creative work of my own. I could have used my telephone to communicate with friends and contacts for “Moonlight Sonata”. I could have packed up my stuff, walked down the hill, and reacquainted myself with Café Fuzzy’s breakfast sandwich.

I did none of those things. Instead I fiddled with wires and the DSL box and whatnot, hoping for some magic combination that would bring the Internet back. I did not succeed. After two hours of alternating fiddling and staring blankly at the screen I had to admit to myself that Plan B was called for. A mere three hours after I woke up I stumbled into Little Café Near Home, just so I could tell you this little story.

Bangkok Tattoo

Before I get to the quibbles let me just say that Bangkok Tattoo by John Burdett is a damn good read. Interesting characters, many of whom are not particularly good people, fill this story. It follows the story Bangkok 8, but stands alone as a complete story; while having read the precursor will add understanding of some of the nuances, I think one could pick up this book cold and enjoy it tremendously.

On to the quibbles: There are many passages about the contrast between east and west, about the different way that people think in Asia. There are times when Burdett goes beyond the need of the story to present and defend Thai culture and the sex trade in general. After one too many times harping on this theme, it started to feel defensive and even condescending at times. It started to feel western. Our narrator, Sonchai, himself a fairly advanced Buddhist for being a corrupt cop, were he really Thai, would have let events speak for themselves more. Thus the writer’s voice undermines his narrator’s voice, and the story is weakened.

But let’s look past that, shall we? This is a mystery story, but even the question they are trying to answer is evasive. What happened that night in the hotel room when an American was mutilated and murdered seems of only secondary importance. What concerns everyone involved are the consequences of the crime. As various interests try to influence the interpretation of the crime, things escalate. The Americans want to blame Al Qaida. The moderate muslims want it to be a simple crime; they are working to keep politics stable in the south next to Muslim Malaysia. Colonel Vikorn, head of police in the part of town where the crime occurred, wants to keep one of his star prostitutes out of jail. Sonchai’s dead partner has advice that seems to make no sense at all. Then things get complicated.

One of the best things about the narrator is the reverence Sonchai has for his boss. The relationship is a mass of contradictions; Vikorn is a drug-dealing cop and one wily SOB. Sonchai makes the whole force nervous with his ethics but he has nothing but praise for the man who runs the department (and is a majority shareholder in Sonchai’s mother’s brothel). Vikorn falsifies evidence, and Sonchai can do nothing but praise the skill with which he did it. Then there’s Lek, Sonchai’s young partner. The Colonel is glad hear that he’s not gay; he’s merely a transvestite, a female spirit in a male body. The Buddha teaches that this is a natural state and points out that such people must walk a very difficult path. Do not judge; you’ve been one before and you will be again. And there’s Chanya, the beautiful prostitute who took credit for killing the American. Chanya, whom Sonchai has come to love, even while admiring her skill making other men love her.

So, there are lots of people who want different things. Colonel Vikorn proves adept at coming up with evidence that will satisfy all parties. Every time he does, however, a new interest shows up on he scene, or contradictory evidence comes up in a way that can’t easily be ignored. There is a point, maybe two-thirds of the way through, where Sonchai says (I’m paraphrasing but the actual quote is equally straightforward), “that’s the end of the story. There’s just a coda to follow.”

The coda starts out like a well-behaved wrap-up would, then explodes. I don’t want to tell you too much more, but there comes a time when a man must pay for his actions, and sometimes that price can be unpleasant.

It’s hard for me to turn off the editor brain while I read these days. I’m cruising along and sooner or later I hit something that makes me think about the writing rather than the story. I’m happy to report that for this book most of those interruptions were positive; sometimes an unexpected but perfect adjective, other times a satisfying twist of phrase, once of twice a particularly sweet metaphor. The only negatives were when he betrayed the voice of the narrator to beat home that it’s different there. Got it. Thanks. Let’s move on with the story. It’s a really good story.

Note: if you use the above link to buy this book (or a Kindle, or a new car), I get a kickback.

The First MOH of the New Blog

In the past few months the pivotal role of the Millennial Office Holder has been lost, overwhelmed by all the other news and my own laziness to keep track of this stuff. But now I am re-energized, and on top of that traffic to the blog is way down (Google has not approved of the move), making this business easier to stay on top of.

[Brief writer’s note: there’s an arbitrary rule created by a bunch of hard-asses in the early 20th century that says not to end a sentence with a preposition. The rule is a load of crap designed by a bunch of old men hoping to maintain class distinctions by creating an artificial “high English”, and the above sentence is proof of their folly. What are you going to say? ‘On top of which the business is more easily stayed?’]

Anyway, It’s time to revive the MOH. Visitor 121,001 was a googler from Pennsylvania looking for the recipe for Kofola. Happily, I’m confident that whoever that person was will never succeed in reproducing the most original soft drink in the world. Dr. Pepper is a mainstream chump compared to Kofola. It’s the licorice in Kofola that gets me, I think. Not a big fan.

Speaking of the Goog, I’ve seen an interesting trend lately. There has been a big slowdown in over-easy egg seekers and a huge increase in ‘New York Sucks’ searches. Did something happen over there? (On that topic, while I stand by the core sentiments of my original rant, several people have written in the comments about how damn cool New York can be and I believe them, and there have been people who agree with me completely that just perpetuate the stereotype. Irony abounds.)

Talking ’bout the Weather

It’s spring, and so when I left my little sanctuary this morning (for the first time in a few days) I did not check very carefully what the weather might be like outside. I put on my beloved (crumbling) leather jacket, slapped a baseball cap on my head, and ventured forth.

I was greeted outside the door by a wind that seemed to be especially talented at reaching icy fingers through my clothing and even my skin, chilling my very bones. I had gone perhaps fifty strides when the first popcorn snow started to fall. By the time I got to the corner I was in a blizzard, swirling swarms of little snow nuggets dancing in the wind and finding ways to get down my neck. At least I wasn’t pony-tailed today. It makes a big difference.

Standing at the tram stop was pretty much miserable. There is a small shelter there, but it was already full. I stood in the wind wondering why the hell it was taking so long for the tram to get there. Yeah, buddy, welcome to spring.

Let’s get this show (back) on the road!

The problem with paying your key people practically nothing is that when they get a better offer you really can’t begrudge them the time. On top of that, when one of the key people is turning around and putting that income into the production, it becomes an opportunity rather than a hindrance.

In this case, we will be trading three weeks of schedule slide for a Red. That’s a good thing in the long run, but it doesn’t come without a price. In the meantime, Soup Boy got himself a job. I’m happy for him, but now we have a fancy camera and no one to operate it.

Meanwhile, one of our locations is looking iffy. More scouting will be required. We already have an alternate in mind, but we have yet to actually contact anyone at the place.

More details will follow—fuego is joining me now and we’ll figure out all this stuff (as much as possible) and then the project should start ramping up again. Woo hoo!

Need More Guest Poems (and animations)!

Now that the poetry cycles up there in the header (except on Internet Explorer), people are likely to see a lot more of them on each visit. Sure, there’s well over a hundred in the rotation, but as every american knows, more is better. You can help! Send me yout little poems either here in the comments or by email, along with the name you want to appear with it. If you want your picture next to it, of course you have to supply that too. Otherwise I might just pick something. I have a couple of poems in the roatation —notably the ‘theme haiku’ — but mainly that little area is a place for guests to play.

And who knows? We know that great literary movers and shakers frequent this site. This could be your shot at the glamorous life of a poet!

Edited to add: Heck, why stop at poetry? You may have noticed the occasional duck flying through the header every minute or two. The way that’s done, I can load and play pretty much anything anyone out there puts together. It shouldn’t be too intrusive, of course, but with one simple tweak to your animation I can put it in the random list. Whether you’ve been thinking about learning a little Flash or you kick Flash’s ass, here’s a great chance to strut your stuff.

What could POSSIBLY be cooler than that? Nothing, that’s what!

Bar 300

I set out today to scout a place called Jazz Dock, a venue recommended by one of our musicians as a spot we could film the concert at a respectable hour. Let’s face it, one of the themes of the movie is the difference between the day world and the night world, and we are planning to simulate the night world during the day. The reason: the best places to film have actual concerts at night.

Jazz Dock is a new place, and is therefore not totally booked up. It is also completely, 100% wrong for our film. Oh, well. So there I was in Smichov, hanging with the guy doing the original music for the final scene. “Want to have a beer somewhere?” he asked.

He’s opening a sound studio around the corner from here soon, so he’s a bit familiar with the local drinkeries. His recommendation: Jungle Bar. As we walked it occurred to me that this would be bar 300 on my list.

Only, Jungle Bar was closed, and missed its chance at immortality. Bar 300 is instead Ragtime Bar, which is connected to Jungle Bar but had the advantage of being open. And here I sit. It’s a nice place.

Nice, but I can’t come up with much more to say about it. There’s lots of wood, which is good, a moderate amount of kitsch but not enough to bother me, decent music (not ragtime) playing, but somehow all of that leaves something missing. This despite the fact that we’re by the river and I had a great view across to the other side as the sun set and lit up the buildings. Meanwhile, a bunch of older guys who made me think ‘mafia’ were meeting here. What’s not to like?

Honestly, I have no idea. When you look at any individual facet of the place it comes across well, but in this case the whole is less than the sum of the parts. I think it comes down to a feeling that the place is calculated. It’s like a really well-executed chain restaurant. I’m not entirely sure what a place can to about that, except to allow the customers to leave an imprint on the place, to provide a little funkiness and family vibe. But pragmatically speaking, how do you bring that about?

Of course there’s always rock-stacking. There’s a way to set your bar apart: a stack pit, a web cam, exotic stones from around the world — some rounded, some angular. When the bar opens the stacks from the night before (if still standing) are knocked down with a toast to gravity. That would be the best bar ever.

Pardon the Dust

Although this is now the official home of Muddled Ramblings and Half-baked ideas, there’s still a lot of construction work going on. Some parts aren’t finished yet, and others, well, they’re just a bit on the ugly side. Obviously I’m not going to win any design awards, but that doesn’t bother me much.

Don’t let the construction deter you, though! Look around, and let me know what you think!

Today: Modified the Site Meter widget to show the MOH and next big number.

Let’s Make this Move Official

I just went back through and re-imported the entire old blog for what I hope is the last time. Before I did that, I had to delete all the episodes I’d imported before (I’ve made a few spelling corrections in the text, and the links did not reflect the impending redefinition of muddledramblings.com)

As I was deleting all the old stuff, I kept telling myself, “Don’t delete the episode with all the useful user feedback. Don’t delete the episode with all the useful user feedback.” Then Sparta scored a goal, flipping the puck through the five-hole, and Franta was saying, “Džer

Signatures

When I got my new credit card, I was admonished to sign the back right away. This strikes me as a fairly silly security measure — I wonder if that signature also somehow cements an agreement between me and the card issuer. But that’s for another day.

So here I was faced with a slick piece of plastic with a very small area to sign. There are no do-overs. If I choose the wrong pen and it doesn’t work out, that’s too bad. The biggest problem is the space available, however.

When I sign my name, the result cannot in any way be interpreted as a collection of letters, let alone one that spells a meaningful word. It is much more akin to the silly symbol Prince chose to represent himself with, except mine’s a mess. Whenever I sign something I start with every intention of maybe making the signature a little more legible this time, but then something in my cerebellum takes over and my hand begins to jerk spasmodically, working it’s way more or less left-to-right, then whipping around to finish with a flourish, a loop that goes all the way back to the beginning of the signature and slashes through it. This is not the sort of signature that fits on the back of a credit card.

What is it that takes over when I’m signing my name and causes me to create this scribble instead? It’s somewhat different when I sign ‘Jerry’ instead of ‘Gerald’, looser and often in two separable parts — with two big flourishes. Now that I think about it, it’s probably the ‘y’ in ‘Jerry’ that has survived enough to provide a break in the progress of the pen. I do seem to like those grand gestures.

Face with my card-signing task I tested pens and did some practice signatures, trying to write small enough. Finally I was ready, had a soft-tip pen with permanent ink, took a breath and started. Easy, easy… jerk. Once more my reptillian signature-writing brain took over, sending the pen out of the white space to get hung up in the numbers. There is no stopping now, though, and the next jerk brought me up into the designated zone again, somewhat off-course but still on the move. Loop! Twist! and at last the grand finale, which swooped the length of the white strip, rising with a bit of a tail on the end, obscuring the secret code number.

Overall, one of my better efforts.

1

Solvent!

Well, here I sit at Bowle & Bowling, listening to the rumble and clatter of the bowling balls, and a feeling of normalcy is starting to come over me. I can pay rent.

Even the last chapter of my adventure was not as straightforward as I had hoped. The credit card people told me, “you can get cash from any bank with a Visa sign on the door.” This, it turns out, is not true. Not at all. Not even close. What she should have said was, “It’s possible there’s a bank in Prague that will advance you cash on your card, but good luck finding it.”

I started my two-day quest in my own neighborhood, at the largest and fanciest bank. As usual in my neighborhood no english was spoken there, but we communicated surprisingly well. “I need money,” I said in Czech. I didn’t know how to say “cash advance” in Czech, and credit cards are so rarely used here that it wouldn’t surprise me if the bank lady didn’t know the word either. “You can’t use the bankomat?” she asked. “No, it’s an emergency card,” I explained. She thought for a moment. “I’m sorry,” she said. “I can’t help you. I don’t think any bank can.”

I canvassed the rest of the neighborhood and got the same story. It was getting late so I decided to try another approach. I would call my bank and see if they could issue me a PIN so I could restore all the happy ATM-ness to my card.

Naturally, that turned out to be complicated. Then my Internet connection went down, leaving me Skype-less.

Back on the street again today, an earlier start, knowing that I was going to have to go down to the city center to have any hope of success, and I would probably have to visit a currency exchange. There are plenty of them on Wenceslas square and thereabouts. I wandered up and down the street, window shopping. I noticed that the rates most places advertised were for very large amounts; the normal-human rate was much worse. Luckily (an odd sort of luck, I must say), I will be needing a lot of money, so I found the best rate at a 0% commission place and went on in.

After a little confusion because I said “hundred” instead of “ten” we got the deal squared away. “There will be a commission,” the woman said.

I thought of saying things like, “but your sign says…” but I knew it wouldn’t help, and I knew it would be the same everywhere. No commission on currency exchanges. Credit card: get ready to bend over. If asked they would probably say that they have added expenses and whatnot, and there’s a risk of fraud they have to factor in. In reality, it’s because people getting cash off their credits cards are all desperate schmucks like me. I was tired. I just wanted to be finished with this whole mess. I bent over.

This is officially the last time I think about how much I just spent to get my own money.

Now, no more worries! Now I have money, enough for me to cover rent and some of the expenses of filming, and I have time to find another conduit for the rest. Back on my feet, baby!

The Waiting is the Hardest Part

Last Friday I finally got someone in the banking world to take up my cause. I really wish I’d got her name, because she was the kind of get-it-done person you want when you are hungry and all your money is tantalizingly beyond your reach. Hours later the call came from Visa: your replacement card is on the way!

Hooray!

She told me it would be delivered the next business day, Monday. I woke up this morning with the sun on my face (solved with a pillow), but then Real Life started to weasel into my thoughts and suddenly I sat up with a jerk and lunged for the computer. What day is it?

The answer: Monday (rhymes with today). I’m getting an express delivery today. I don’t know when.

I live in what is called around here a ‘villa’. It’s a big house built to have a family on each floor. My place is an afterthought; at some point someone realized that the attic was just a lost opportunity for rent. It takes me three keys to get in: There’s the iron gate by the street, then there’s the door to the building, then there’s my own door at the top of the steps. The catch is that someone on the street has no way to signal me to come down. As I type this, the delivery guy could be down there cursing my name.

So I sit now, windows cracked open despite the chill rain outside, waiting to hear the UPS guy. I am hopeful — when I talked to the final Visa operator I mentioned that the driver should have my phone number. “It will be in the information,” she said, “But we can’t guarantee that the driver will have a telephone.” That was the first funny thing that came out of this whole trauma. A czech without a phone. Ho!

But now I sit, my apartment getting colder (a little complicated – my only windows with ears to the street are in the bathroom, where my heater also lives. The heater pump is failing, and makes a racket. If I have the bathroom door open to hear sounds from the street, I can’t have the heater hammering away.)

So now, I wait. And hope. If the weather was nice I’d just take a book and a chair down to the front lawn. Alas, the weather is not nice. So I’m up here, afraid to do anything that makes the slightest sound lest I miss the critical delivery. Today promises to be big fun.

Rant of a Geek

So I destroyed the forum at Jer’s Software Hut. By pure blind luck—the purest and blindest variety of this luck: Extra Virgin Pure Blind Luck, I made a backup two minutes before destroying the forums. I have yet to restore the forums from the backup for reasons I’m not sure of, but the data is there, and I know I will be able to pull it off eventually.

So I have this file that should restore the database to its previous condition. Groovy. Only problem is, it doesn’t work. I’ll figure it out. But that’s not my beef here. My beef is about units. The maximum size for an uploaded restore file is 102 kKiB.

How big again?

There’s been a movement afoot to try to separate the binary “thousand” from the decimal thousand. Thus a thousand meters is a kilometer (km), and a 1026 bytes is no longer a kilobyte (kB), but a kibibyte (KiB). I’m down with that. It’s a distinction I already made in my head, and now it’s codified.

But then there’s 102 kKiB. No. No, no, no. You’re at three decimal point precision here, there’s really not any reason whatsoever to be mixing your numbering systems. (I’m cc’ing this message to the people at myPhPAdmin.) Why not just say 99 MiB? Every mainstream operating system reports file size in MiB (though they call it MB), so suddenly there’s no deciphering involved.

Maybe it’s just the residual physics geek in me, but units, properly used, make things simpler. I got out of a second semester of class by unit-analyzing my way through a test. I had no idea what the question was asking, but I knew what I had and I knew what units the answer had to be in, and most of the time that and a little calculus is enough.

But that has nothing to do with my current rant. My rant is this: 102 kKiB is really effing retarded.

I feel better now.

Edited to add: Apparently, the “MB” numbers on hard drives are the absolutely retarded 1000 x 1024 Bytes, or 1000 KiB, or 1 kKiB. Even though it’s stupid, I will swallow and not be annoyed when the unit is used in direct reference to a hard drive, for truth in advertising. In the case of a file upload, there is still no excuse.

Balaton

The cheapest (large) beer at Little Café Near Home is now well over a buck fifty. My preferred beer is nudging up against two dollars for half a liter. Therefore I’m spending more time at the Budvar bar next door. Tonight, however, I stopped by LCNH to snag a bottle of wine. Tea, bless her heart, a fine and happy soul who understands that life is but a joke, redirected my eye from the 95-crown wine selection to the hungarian outlier. Twenty crowns. Today, about ninety-five cents.

It’s sitting on the table in front of me as I write this. I’m a little bit afraid. I will open the bottle tonight. I will drink at least some of the contents. It’s just my imagination I know, but I already feel the hangover coming on. But for science, it must be done. Wish me luck.