Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Pleased To Meet You, Won't You Guess My Name?

Do a search on my name-this blog comes up! @_@

Then again, that's not saying much...

EDIT: Flip a few pages and the page for my Lego trains comes up too.

Monday, December 17, 2007

My Eyes Have Seen You

Something just sparked in my mind-kind of like an intermittently contacting third-rail shoe. (Look it up.) I've been reading an essay by Paul Graham called 'Copy What You Like'. In it he talks about his experience in high school with short story writing. His description of the average short story basically says that it's a deep-feeling 'slice-of-life' vignette. Also that it's often a boring story. Oh, and it helps quite a bit if the characters are unhappy.

I'll admit it's one hell of a generalization, but what's weird is that this is the description of my favorite kind of blog piece. (Except for unhappy participants. I'm depressed enough already...) When I started college life on my own, I thought my life would look like one of those vignettes.

BOY WAS I WRONG.

I like to read opinion pages. I LOVE to read opinion pages. They suck, but I read them anyway. Every other letter to the editor is a response to some letter printed in the previous issue or so; often this letter itself is another response. Incidentally I like to think that there's one bloodline (inkline?) of letters in the PSU Collegian that has as its grandsire a letter published in the very first issue. The average example of these response letters generally takes the opposing viewpoint. It's such a contrarian thing to do, it seems; even I have been tempted to write a letter or two. (One of the more important ones was about CATA, though. Our buses here suck. Right now though I forget why I wanted to write.)

But I digress; I like to read editorials most of all. I once read one in the New York Times that was EXACTLY like one of those blog posts. It was a little vignette on the life of someone who had moved to California from somewhere on the East Coast. (A dream which my friend Matt shares, and I admit has an appeal; but that's another post.) And despite its presentation of all the pitfalls of living in SoCal, it still made this writer's life appealing. As if all of the flaws were just little quirks and could be ignored for something greater in the experience. I ate it up; swallowed it hook line and sinker; any cliche to that effect you may wish to submit works. I thought that's what great writing was.

But no. It isn't. I read and even saved that article. I don't know where it is now. I care but I know deep down that I shouldn't. It's a silly thing, but that editorial presented a fantasy as fact. So do most of those blog posts. It glamorizes a lack of glamor, if that makes any sense. And non-glamor, or even anti-glamor one could say, appeals to me.

Boy, I'm weird.

A lot of my favorite things in life, for a while, were the most ragged. I looked for vintage, or failing to get the genuine article (one example of which I do have), faux-vintage clothes. I liked Neil Young's borderline autistic guitar solos and the protoplasmic punk he pioneered with his Rust Never Sleeps album. (Dig a little deeper and you'll find his Time Fades Away album-beautiful stuff in that same aesthetic.) I like the look and feel of an older building, be it apartment, farmhouse, even suburban dream home. That way it feels more like my childhood home does. (Which is older than even my parents are, I believe.) I honestly have more appreciation for older things in some fields. They feel tried and true; especially when the rest of society is there to validate me. But that's rare.

Why I feel so ready to reject glamor at the first approach is beyond me; maybe sitting in the sun in the living room as a kid did warp part of my brain. But one of the effects of this rejection is that while other people look at wear patterns and see something that needs replaced, I can see beauty, usefulness, worthiness. Maybe if Thomas the Tank Engine had had some rust on his boiler, I'd still be watching the show, and still willing to declare him a really useful engine. But not just because it means he's old; rather because it means he's worked for the title, and he's done the job he was intended to fill. Things in perfect condition bring to mind museum pieces all too often; while things outdated and beat to hell are innately more satisfying because they stood up to the beating and lived to tell the tale to the next generation.

In short, I'm a dork who likes old crap because it makes me feel better about being young. I guess.

Or maybe it means I'd like to have earned my stripes and have the scars to show for it before people go around telling other people how great I am.

I just realized this got WAAAY off track. I can't even remember my original point. Maybe there was none.

Huh. Freaky.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

I Rode The Highball, I Fired The Daylight

I've done it again. I've gone and created something. Not to mention added another to my very long list of hobbies.

I've created this Lego steam locomotive. It's not a very big engine, but it's really nice. It's actually a Lego design with Americanized details. I really like it. It's motorized, and runs well, if a bit noisily. I'm currently trying to get ahold of an engineer minifigure to place in the cab.


I'm a bit more proud of another design, however. This tank car was conceived not long after the locomotive was, and the design is wholly mine. I was attempting to create a tank car small enough to work with my Lego train set from 1993 (#4563). Great little set.



Check out the page created for my engine on the MOCPages: American Steam Locomotive

Thursday, December 6, 2007

It's Based On A Novel By A Man Named Lear

Recently I've been considering changing from a Supply Chain & Information Systems major to English. Now before all of you ask why I want to do a silly and wholly unprofitable thing like that, I'll tell you. You may not understand, but I'll tell you.

Sometime last year, I tried to start this blog. I had come out of my Spring '06 semester with an excellent creative writing class with Dr. Judy Lindberg, an excellent English professor who I also had for a business writing class-in the same semester. I don't really remember much from the business writing class, but those I retain from English 050 shine like a new brass bell on a filthy old locomotive.

I'm not totally sure about the rest of the class, but I had liked to write before and Judy got me excited about it. We started out writing poetry, of all things-and I loved it. (to read some of my weird and woolly poems, go here) Probably my favorite exercise was the short story we were assigned-I wrote it about two kids from America moving to Japan to start a band, and their problems in doing so. It turned out very nice.

For a long time before, I was also writing a piece of fanfiction for one of my favorite classic anime
series, Robotech. It was a beloved pet project and though I worked on it quite a bit, the only thing I completed was one chapter in the middle. That's no place to start a story, is it? A classic exception, of course is Tolkien and The Hobbit-but Tolkien already had the foundation stories and legends (which would later become The Silmarillion) written and largely completed by the time The Hobbit was published. Thus, it's not an apt comparison.

I had also begun to write a fantasy story entitled The Legend of Shayla, based on an idea I had come up with when trying my hand at an epic poem in the vein of Barbarossa in Italy; which, oddly enough, I read long before college. I think I read it because of Microsoft's Age Of Empires II strategy game, where one of the campaigns involved Barbarossa. It never really progressed beyond the initial chapter of the poem, but much more recently bits and pieces have come together; I even drew a map of the world in which the story occurs.

All this is good and fine, right? Well, not entirely. Those of you trying to run Microsoft Train Simulator on a laptop should probably not do so, at least in my experience. My computer crashed because of it. I lost everything I had saved-which, in addition to the aforementioned writing, included a lot of music, railroad photos, and all of my work I had saved from my classes. I had kept number of things for reference; like homework and papers. Bad. Very bad. Very bad indeed.

For some of these things, I had hard copies; I had printed out my Robotech fanfic, but the copy I have now was out of date at the time of the crash. The Legend of Shayla survived. My poetry survived because I had put it on the internet as we went through Eng 050. A paper on the history of the small arms used by the US Army during WWII perished in flames (although a copy may still exist in one of my portfolios from my senior year of high school) and I lost my wired copy of the story I wrote based on Rush's song Red Barchetta (print copies and internet publishing have saved that one) as well. Unfortunately, much of the Robotech fanfic's progress over that summer and two pages of my creative writing short story are gone forever. I was not able to recover the data due to a lack of funds (which I probably ate).

It also didn't help at all that this crash occurred just before I was to move into my first apartment in State College; I had to recover from that setback, as well as adjust to living on my own AND with strangers as roommates all around the same time. The former was fun; the latter was a bitch or two. Since then, my written output has slowed, and declined in quality as well, I am afraid. Originally, I set up this blog to counter that. But as it turns out, I'm just using it to recover. Again.

Which brings me to my point: I should have been an English major. I've screwed up this whole semester, including one class which was mostly writing assignments. It seemed pointless to write a page-long essay on a topic that could be condensed into a simple answer to a simple question. It didn't help that my professor for said class was a boring old fogey who worked for Duquesne Light for thirty years. No motivation whatsoever. It's like watching anything on MTV that isn't a music video: you just don't give a rat's ass.

I've lost interest in my major; I'm afraid of being cooped up in an office for thirty years and becoming all of my awful professors; and I have the drive and passion and all that other stuff needed for an English major, but it's buried beneath a thick layer of self-doubt, laziness, escapism and highly radioactive ash. No, really, it's there and I've seen it; it's just a matter of bringing in an emotional excavation crew and digging it out.

But I can't do what I love, apparently; my mother, especially keeps telling me to stick with SC&IS. "You'll make more money," she says. "So?" I say. "What the hell does it matter if I'm not happy?" "You could get stuck in an office, but you might not," she says. "I could get not stuck in an office, but I might," I say. "They're the same thing, and I don't like it/them." "You might not end up with a job in your field, like your dad," she says. (Incidentally, my dad has his degree from Penn State in geophysics, but he currently works with a database management system because the DBMS uses the same software he used in South America exploring for oil) "Okay, then I'll just go to work for a railroad as train crew, like I was gonna do from when I was little until we met that engineer from Conrail and I ended up talked out of it," I say. "But that's a hard job," she says. "So? Have I tried it? Have you tried it? I LIKE trains, remember? Maybe it's worth it."

And maybe it's not. Now I guess I'll never get to know whether either one-English or train crew-would have worked out.

Monday, November 5, 2007

Laughing Sparrow Died

Recently the MySpace Music page of an artist I really liked disappeared on me. If you are fortunate enough to have heard of McFadden's Parachute, consider yourself oh so lucky. If you do, can you name all the members? Well, they can be counted on a very blind butcher's hand-Dagwood McFadden is the only member; a sort of musical jack-of-all-trades who plays every single instrument on the Parachute's records, thanks to that elven magic known as overdubbing. His song 'Silver Days And Purple Nights' was one of the hallucination induction engines that kept me sane during my second and summer semesters as a junior. Apparently this guy was a kid in the late 60's and early 70's, which makes me just a little jealous. After all, he grew up to a lot of great music; not just the popular sounds of the era, but also local bands from his Rochester, NY hometown that specialized in acid garage. Groovy. I hope he's not done with music; if he is, then the world will just go a little more gray for me. If I could just hear 'Silver Days And Purple Nights' just once more, I think I could die happy.


I got to thinking of someone else who had fallen off my radar in recent months; a girl I went to Penn Ken with. Her name is Andrea Savinda. Fall semester of my freshman year-we had an Honors English Comp class together. She was in the honors program like everyone else in the class; I was just good enough on the placement test to be allowed to schedule it. We never really talked though; me having just come out of homeschooling through high school and being socially inexperienced as a result. Still, she was always quiet herself, but sweet too-not to mention tall, slender, pretty brown hair to her elbows and always wearing long sleeves, as memory recalls. I admit to having a serious crush on her for the rest of that first year at Penn Ken, and all through the next year as well. After moving to State College to finish my degree, I was afraid I'd lose contact with her altogether. But she came up as well; I ran into her one day at the bus stop, and we chatted until my bus came.

Sadly, that was the last I saw or heard from her. I recently looked her up in the Penn State directory; she's not listed anymore. I have her PSU e-mail address; but if she's no longer with the university, she'll never get anything I send her. My only hope is to see if she has a page on Facebook and/or MySpace, and pray to God she remembers me.

It's depressing, painful even, when a friend steps outside your life like that. It's going to happen to me again at the end of next semester; my friend Emily is, I believe, going back to Harper's Ferry, WV to work at the National Historic Site and resume her internship of last summer with the Park Service. (I did suggest to her, tongue quite within cheek, that she should give working at the Steamtown NHS in Scranton a try; but she rolled her eyes at the idea, being much less of a train buff than me.) Or like my friend Jenny from Honors English; she's in Ireland right now, spending a semester abroad. My friend Stoner Tim is in China, and apparently has a kid there. My friends Mike, Matt, and Jonathan are still back in Pittsburgh, due to Matt and John working jobs right now and Mike taking a major only available at Penn Ken.

Ch-ch-ch-ch-changes, turn and face the strain; pretty soon you're gonna get a little older..........

Then It Gets Much Much Worse As The Day Goes On

Ignore the previous post. I've just discovered some kind of error on Blogger whereby the post regarding the Adult Swim anime bumpers failed to register its labels under 'Thematics' after I deleted an early draft of the post. And to boot, the damn thing won't register the same labels if I change that post to a draft.

SHIT.

In a way, this reminds me of an obscure anecdote from the history of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The electrified rail lines from New York City to Washington D.C. were their territory while they were in business; one of the electric locomotive they operated was known as model P5a. Let me focus on their running gear-the important bit of this story. These engines had three large-wheeled drive axles between two pair of load-bearing axles with much smaller wheels.

The center pair of drivers was blind (had no flange) so that these locomotives could use tighter curves than otherwise intended. Thus, without proper alignment, the center wheels ran the risk of derailing and causing general havoc. Large pins were used to hold said wheels within the proper tolerances.

Well, these things wore out (and fell out or broke) more often than was expected. On occasion, a P5a would come into the shops, I believe, at Enola, PA missing a pin or two. Instead of putting in a new pin and making the locomotive serviceable for another few months, the shop men would dig up a dead D-cell battery, about the same diameter of the pin; hammer it into the pin hole with a mallet; slap some grease over it and pray that there wasn't a Federal Railroad Administration inspector for about a hundred miles. All in order to get 'one more run' out of the locomotive before it really needed to come in for a scheduled inspection or needed more work.

Sure is confidence inspiring, isn't it?

Technical Difficulties

Please Stand By

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Tommorow Morning You'll Wake Up With The White Noise


Has anybody else noticed those strange pre-show intro bits Adult Swim airs after the anime begins? They are really odd. So much so that I've enjoyed watching them as much-if, God forbid, not more-than the actual programming. I can't tell whether they're a photograph or a frame from a film; or whether they're real subjects or models. They feature a scene-it varies wildly; from high above an intersection between several freeways, to trackside on the Alaska Railroad, to inside some hotel with a decidedly industrial-looking freight elevator (I think). They're all slightly disconcerting and deja-vu inducing, filling me with restlessness and heartache. I don't even know why.

The music is good too.

The first picture is one I can more easily dissect than anyone else, I bet. That's an Alaska Railroad GP-series locomotive from EMD, probably a GP40; pulling a Rader Railcar product built for a 'railcruise' company operating trains across Alaska's natural beauty, for which tourists are supplied by means of a cruise ship. Come on, people, there is such a thing as the AlCan Highway. *shoulda been a railroad*The next is a total mystery. This is where I begin to wonder if these aren't skilfully built dioramas, equally skilfully lit and photographed (better than I did with the tevelision, capturing these fleeting images). This 'Last Chance Saloon' is straight out of some Smokey and the Bandit ripoff, I know it; I just know it! Like it was supposed to be blown up in this 'f4k3rz' S&B and they either forgot, made a spare, or never filmed that bit out of sheer apathy. I can't remember what kind of music is playing in either of these; they both seem to have been some kind of spooky lullaby or something, not particularly remarkable but pleasant and evocative of nighttime themed moods. Or mooded themes. I dunno.
Now comes the one with the really cool music; this cool cat has a really nice bluesy jive to it-something I like to call smoky club music. The smog of fifty or so cigarettes; plenty of minor chords on bass and not particularly overdriven guitar and a simple alternating drum line make for an urbanely spooky atmosphere. Probably the reason I think this one represents a hotel. The music seriously ranks up there with 'Have Love Will Travel' by the Black Keys. Cool tools. I think the carpet pattern has something to do with the 'hotel' theory too.


There are a few more of these; one with a big red cargo ship; two, like a hot-air balloon ride over the city, providing views of a shopping district and a major convergence of important highways; one with a battleship; one with a grond level vieew of a highway interchange; one with two backhoes and an aluminum trailer; and one I missed my opportunity in photographing last night, containing a lake in the background, train tracks in the foreground, and between some kind of transmitter tower and a small outbuilding. Gotta get me the rest of these.

What the real mystery is to me is that 'ACTN' logo with all the katakana above it and the odd symbol to the right. A clear closeup of this would be most appreciated, if it's to be found anywhere. The best view of it I have is in the 'hotel' picture. What exactly is ACTN? How does it relate to Adult Swim and Cartoon Network? Why am I geeky enough to pay more attention to the filler between shows than the shows I stayed up to watch? Do these things really have that much meaning to them, or am I just a lonely, empathetic loser? Will our hero be dashed to bits on the jagged rocks below?

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Salesman Where You Gonna Go Sell All Of Your Goods Today

Songs I like that have subsequently ended up in commercials:

'C'mon C'mon' by the Von Bondies: Chevy sale commercial.
'Alive & Amplified' by the Mooney Suzuki: Suzuki commercial.
'Jerk It Out' by The Caesars: iPod commercial.

I know there's more, but can't think of them now. I could've rattled off a very long list about two hours ago, before class, however.

I wonder if 'Piece of Crap' by Neil Young will ever make it into a commercial. If I ever have the power to pick music for a commercial, I think that's what I'm gonna use. No parts with lyrics; just the music. Mostly to see if anybody recognizes it. And to see how pissed off Neil will get for my asking. Hopefully that'll inspire him to make a new album as kickass as side B of good'ol Rust Never Sleeps...

By now you might have guessed that the overwhelming majority of my blog posts are going to have relatively obscure music lyrics for titles. Like that's original.

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Welcome Back My Friends To The Show That Never Ends

Well, November is upon us, and since I signed up for a blog of the same name last year but have lost the password (think of it as the same blog for all practical intents and purposes) I guess I'd better start writing. With all the other mathoms in my life, whose purpose is beyond my guess,this blog has rested empty; like some used boxcar, purchased by a shortline railroad, all traces of its former identity painted over in a fresher dab of its original colors, but stored vaguely serviceable in a weed-infested and forgotten siding due to the tragic loss of an important customer.

But no more! Up comes this post, with all the rusty innocence of a chop-nosed, weatherbeaten ex-Illinois Central GP10 still in orange and white; with its old roadnumber and a small stencil of its owner's reporting marks. Bang go the couplers; the hiss of airbrakes pervades the atmosphere as the brake line is linked and the handbrake comes off; with a toot on a Leslie three-chime airhorn, the staccato bark of the enduringly supercharged 16-cylinder 567C engine block revving up, and all the corroded creaking and groaning of an empty, aged freight car trundling down the rails, this train of thought rolls on.

I've moved the spot I write from since those two paragraphs above; this started in the stairwell/vending machine congress of the Joab L. Thomas Building on the Pennsylvania State University campus. Much of this space is formed by one quarter-circle wall featuring several tall windows whose sills are big enough to use as benches; curl up in one and you have the perfect spot to hide form the world in-especially the far one behind the snack machine; to read, write, use the campus wireless internet, or even sleep. I was here, for the second time and the same reason: Spanish class, 002 this time. Over the summer it was 001, with a really cool crew and an awesome professor named Erin. The next step across is taught in my section by a tall and middle-aged, good-natured profesora from Spain, with heavy (but arousing) accent and a penchant for thong underwear (I could tell. We'll leave it at that.). Putting this thought far, FAR aside, this class also rosters Danielle, a capitvating brunette with a wonderfully talented artistic side and a refreshingly individual sense of fashion. I really like her; in our few after-class chats (including the ones from Spanish 001, her being a charter member of said cool crew) she's revealed herself to be an interesting and attractive person, not defined as just another but worthy of her pretty face.

But no, now it is after class, a 9.something-or-other-of-10 on a brief composition on my non-existent high school routine in Spanish, and another, quite long chat with the lovely Danielle (whose last name I do not know) that I sit at Canyon Pizza, on Beaver Street, State College, PA 16801 that I continue this essay. This place is the cheapest meal in State College-no exaggeration. Certainly not terrible quality, or they would have been shuttered a long time ago. Then again, nobody expects too much from a $1.50 slice of pepperoni or sausage. Does the job and how. Tonight the chick who lost her bikini top while working in the September heat, multiplied by all those great big pizza ovens, isn't here; more's the pity. I admit I can't well describe her topless, having not been there to see this momentous event, but even as tattoo'd and pierc'd as she is, she's a sight for sore eyes. Serves a mean slice of pepperoni too. Alternate as a girl can get without creeping me out at all, green-hoodie-over-
a-red-and-white-bikini-top-what-has-an-addiction-to-gravity pizza shop babe, I heart you. My mind revs up to sexy thousand rpms and redlines; my body follows on like a homemade flatbed trailer, rattling and bumping along helplessly.

On the way over to this temple to the urbanity of Italian cuisine, I passed a delivery car for another favorite culinary cathedral of mine; Wings Over Happy Valley. Not to issue a chicken fatwah here, but these are the greatest wings I've ever had.
Hands-and feet-among other things-down. If manna from heaven and the nectar of the gods made hot, sweet, beautiful love; then these wings would be their bratty, mischievous love child. I'm not a big bone-in wings fan, however; I usually get their boneless wings (read: glorfied chicken tenders). Damned if these things aren't huge; they're more like whole boneless chicken breasts. Chicken breasts from the Gianna Michaels of chickens. And the sauce-Oh! What joy! In the form of 20 varieties available. I'm not brave (or rich) enough to try them all; some appear to be unfit for human consumption. But the kickin' BBQ and honey BBQ are totally worth the heartburn.

I just wish I had a group of friends I could better share all this with; it's surprisingly lonely on a campus of 42,000. I only know a few people; most of them people I knew from the PSU New Kensington branch, 20 miles northeast of Pittsburgh (but located in Upper Burrell). People like Matt who is as big as me (not my good railfan buddy Matt, who's the youngest and tallest of y railfan bunch back home); Brian, a Pittsburgh Penguins fan and all-around good guy, famous for picking me out of a crowd of 300 in astronomy class, and introducing Guitar Hero to the uncultured savages; Shane, my friend Mike's former high school metalhead friend, the only one of the group of Mike's friends from high school to come up here; and Emily, an awesome punky girl who likes Tiger Army and only comes up to somewhere between my shoulder and elbow whom I have lunch with quite often. The people I've met here, a very short list, is made up of Danielle and a few others I don't talk to anymore.

Still, this is a unique experience; one I don't appreciate one iota. Oh, don't get me wrong; I love being on my own. But Penn State is giving me problems. Right now I'm failing two classes; Lately I've begun to think the problem was my choice of major. What happened was one day I was flipping through the catalog of majors I was given as part of registration and happened to notice the word 'Railroads'. Going all gooey over someone else realizing that not all vehicles have rubber tires and a steering wheel, a screw and rudder, or wings and jets; I immediately signed up for Supply Chain & Information Systems, not realizing until last week that I would probably have been better suited to my alternate choice of journalism. Didn't figure that out 'til it was too late. Sometimes, like this, my geekiness gets the better of me.

Well, I better pack it in. It's 20 til 7, the tiresome U2/Green Day ripoff band playing next door is really getting on my nerves, and even though the sun has gone down and brought the streetlights on, I still have my prescription shades on.

Ah hell. I think I'll leave them on.