The Hess Report


Thursday, July 06, 2006

We Can't All Be Superman 

Long time, no Hess Report.

I fell into the old trap again of wanting to do a better job on writing about things than I had time for, thus ending up not writing anything at all, when I should have been just putting up little posts heavy laden with half-assery. Oh well. It happens a couple of times a year.

So -- and back to one of the original goals of the blog: keeping family and friends informed -- what's been going on?

Lots of house stuff. There were a number of "must do" projects that went along with the new house, and I've been busting my biscuits to get them done. Some were things I've done before, like carpentry and wiring. Others, like roofing and plumbing, were new to me.

Roofing was really terrifying the first day I was up there. One of things our home insurer required that we fix in order to maintain coverage was the "roof on the outbuilding", meaning the shed. While a peeling OSB roof half covered with weathered felt is certainly an eye sore, I don't see how it represents a threat to life and limb, or to their bottom line. But then again, I don't have access to their actuarial tables, so what the hell do I know? Inadequate shed roofing might be the number one cause of loss in the United States.

Back to me up on the roof. It wasn't too bad on the front side, as it was only ten to fifteen feet off the ground. Behind the shed, though, there's a bit of a ravine that adds another five to ten, depending on exactly which part you decide to fall from. Thankfully, a previous owner of the house had disposed of jagged concrete blocks and corroding rebar back there, so it would help to break your fall.

I was up there for about six hours the first day, and when it was over, I felt like I'd been in a fist fight the whole time. It wouldn't have surprised me to learn that lots of roofers are alcoholics. Not saying they are. Just that it wouldn't surprise.

The second day I spent on the roof was much better. Not that it was fun like electrical work is fun, but at least I wasn't in constant half panicky fear of becoming a quadriplegic.

So, the roof was done, pictures were taken, and the insurance company was happy. Well, that's probably a gross exaggeration. Let's just say that the insurance company's gollum-eyed half-man-half-computadora actuarial staff were lulled back to dormancy for another year, probably satisfied more by the distant knowledge of my personal adrenaline shakes than by any payments our escrow company will ever make...

Plumbing was easier. The well water at the new house is fairly hard and has a low, but not insignificant, iron content. Culligan would fix the whole thing for only $5,000! That's a bargain. If you're smoking crack. I was able to buy the supplies to do it myself at Lowes for a little more than 10% of that estimate. And I did.

My dad showed me how to do copper plumbing with a blowtorch and solder, and I'm proud to say that my first attempt -- which included sixteen different solder joints -- went perfectly. Not a drip. And this isn't to give the impression that the entire procedure was anxiety-free. When it was time to turn off the water, cut the main line, and hook my work up to it, well... that was uncharted territory for me, and something with a real consequence to failure. But I didn't fail, and nervous butterflies were replaced with the familiar uncontrollable grin of triumph when the water hit the pipes and everything worked exactly as planned.

The Culligan rep that had initially come to our house said that he prided himself on "giving my pitch then leaving you alone." Of course, even after we told him that we weren't interested, he kept calling Joy for a couple of weeks with increasing levels of scare tactics. "You don't want to run that nice new dishwasher with that hard water." We didn't bother pointing out the fact that it was a $50 dishwasher we'd found on craigslist. Eventually he got the message and stopped calling.

But I'm thinking we should change their slogan from "Hey, Culligan Man!" to "Hey Culligan Man... Bite Me!"

Other than house stuff, I've been either working harder at work than normal (lots of people taking vacation or getting injured and having to be off for weeks at a time), so there's very little free time there for things like this. I've also been working on BlenderPeople, my crowd simulation software. I was invited to present and demo at the Open Source booth (sponsored by GNOME, UniVerse and the Blender Foundation) at SIGGRAPH 2006. Technical barriers and the must-do nature of the house projects I've already mentioned have slowed development, but I think I'm still on track for having something very cool to show at the beginning of August. I've had a few inquiries from independent film makers (like, the backyard style of independent, not the Lions Gate style) about when it will be ready, as they're counting on using it in their productions. And that's pretty cool to me.

On a final note, I have to relate a little weird experience I had at our new local library last night. I've had a couple of people over the last few years recognize me from my appearance on Jeopardy!. Which is okay, because any amount of discomfort I feel about being talked to by someone I don't know is completely offset by the fact that they watch Jeopardy! closely enough to recognize someone who came in second on one episode five years ago and all that that implies about them. It's like, you're bothering me, but you obviously have neither social connections nor a life beyond your family of cats and the pitcher of margaritas you make yourself everyday after work, so we'll call it even.

Additionally, I also once had a couple of girls at a concert (a Pittsburgh Camerata concert, not the rocking kind) seriously ask me if I was Matthew Perry, to which I should have responded "the fat one... or the thin one?" but didn't.

The way that humans respond to unsolicited and unreturned recognition is odd, and you can see it on display in Hollywood every day. I don't think that human psychology was designed (or "grew up", if you will) with the ability to effectively deal with it. For tens of thousands of years, we only knew about what was going on in our immediate communities, only knew people who knew us in return. Distant atrocities and fame rare and spread by rumor. Three hundred years ago even the most famous person would not have been recognized on sight.

As we were leaving the library last night, the librarian who had checked us out asked me "So how's your movie going?" Now, he looked to be about as hardcore of a geek (said affectionately as one of their number) as you can be. Reference Desk badge. Pale complexion. Hair a little goofy. Someone I would have gone to school with. So, instantly, this connection fires in my head: artwork on Elephants Dream->geek appeal of Open Movie project->finding out local had worked on it->recognized names on library account->said "So how's your movie going?" It's a long chain, but the only one that immediately made sense. I stood there for a moment, unfortunately looking at him like he was a loony, trying to puzzle it out. I was about to ask him how he knew about Elephants Dream and how I had worked on it, when I realized that I was wearing a nice blue t-shirt with a big red and yellow "S" on it. You know the one.

Ah. Duh. I laughed. "Oh, not too bad," I said. And then, realizing that I had had more than just an "I don't get it" expression on my face a moment before, I, in complete lameness, waved my hand and mumbled "I thought something else." Brilliant! Genius! This is why I could never be a salesman. And I'm sure the reference desk guy was thinking "What an idiot."

Oh well. We can't all be Superman.