December 2004

1 Dec 2004[link to here]

It's that time of year again. Consumers are consuming, Christian-themed music is playing in most public places, and the postal service is delivering more junk mail than ever. Yes, that's right. It's time to donate money to state-approved charities. Don't like where your tax money goes? Here's your chance to divert some.*

* That is, if you already have enough deductions to make itemizing worthwhile, which is probably only true if you own property (i.e. are a First Class Citizen, whose charitable interests are more valuable than those of renters) or if you earn lots of money in a high-tax state like California, in which case the feds are apt to take pity on you. If not, then your tax-deductible charitable donations are charitable, but are not really tax-deductible. Go buy some property, you nomadic freak.

My apologies for the US-centrism; I don't know how taxes work elsewhere, other than they are slightly higher and tend to pay for more health care and fewer bombs.

8 Dec 2004[link to here]

There are a few programming languages that can best be described as regretful. It's not that they themselves regret anything (soulless wretches that they are), but they seem to have an endless supply of regret to distribute to anyone foolish enough to use them. Tcl is one such language; the procmailrc language is another.

They each have tantalizing advantages for extremely specific tasks, and every now and then, they seem like just the thing I need. Life is never that simple though. I always end up treading outside their narrow range of competence, leaving the enchanted path and getting eaten by something. That's when I rue the day I chose that tool. The upside is that I get to use the word "rue", which is perhaps more consolation than should be considered healthy.

19 Dec 2004[link to here]

Yesterday I went spelunking in Moaning Cavern on their "adventure trip". Wow. The four of us watched a short and amusing instructional video on how not to kill ourselves while rappelling, then got dressed: coveralls, gloves, knee pads, elbow pads, and helmet (with light). They even had a bunch of old shoes to lend us in case we didn't want to trash our own, but I wasn't particularly attached to the $4 pair of sneakers I'd gotten at the thrift shop just for the purpose of ruining in a cavern, so we were all set.

I checked all the knots in the harnesses, checked the carabiners, inspected the anchor, and called dibs on going last so I could go slowly and not feel rushed. I wished I could have checked the rope too, but it was already in place, so I had to trust that it was in good shape, reached the bottom, and had a stopper on the end (because you can never be too paranoid about falling off the end of your rope). I figured they'd done this before, but it still bugged me to go down on a rope I'd barely met.

They told us what to expect, but it was still a bit nerve-wracking for me. I've gone rappelling before, but never down a hole. That actually turned out not to be a problem, but the transition to a free descent really got my adrenaline gushing. Just writing about it now is getting it going again.

Imagine with me for a moment, with or without the hormone of fear flowing through your veins. You're hanging from a rope, superficially walking down the side of a rocky hole in the ground. After 10 meters or so, you reach a platform, adjust your j-bar so it can actually hold your weight, fiddle with it a bit, decide it'll probably work now, and proceed ass-first down a much smaller hole in the ground. (Note for future reference that you are, in fact, able to distinguish the two.)

It's a bit tight at first, too tight to keep your legs straight, but it gradually opens up. You can hear noises far below. You know what's coming and your heart begins to race. Finally, there it is: you've run out of wall.

The wall hadn't actually been doing anything useful; it's the rope (and the j-bar) that keeps you from plummeting 50 meters to your death. Still, in times like this, the familiar feeling of something relatively beneath your feet turns out to be a substantial comfort. But here you are, all out of wall, about to emerge from what others, far below, with their feet actually resting on something, might see as a hole in the ceiling of a rather large underground cavern. You descend a little more, feet angling higher; a little more, feet still reaching out to touch rock as long as possible. A little more, and it's gone. You're swinging free.

Heart pounding. Pause. A few deep breaths. Descend a bit. Look around tentatively, but only at eye level. Descend a bit more, look a bit farther, repeat. It gets easier. I did eventually look just about everywhere, including up and down. The transition was the hardest. Eventually I was down.

I did get some views that the people going down the stairs (yes, there are stairs) didn't get, but honestly, I think the view from the stairs and the bottom gets you nearly everything. If you go, do the rappel to do the rappel if that's your thing, but if you're there for the view, you can skip it with a clear conscience. I'm glad I did it, but I don't know if I'll ever do it again.

Crawling around through tunnels though, I'd do again in a heartbeat. After we were down came the really fun part. We slid, we climbed, we crawled, and we wriggled. I got myself over, under, around, and through some really tight squeezes. It was both physically demanding and an interesting intellectual puzzle. How can I push and pull myself through this hole? In what order and orientation do my parts need to go? If I push off this bit here, I won't have room to maneuver my elbow around, but if I reach through and pull on this bit instead, my shoulders won't fit. Much fun.

Our guide was great. We took him up on his offer to have him lead from the rear, and he let us explore any nook or cranny we thought looked promising, except for the one dangerous drop, which was clearly fenced off. He gave us the solution to a few tricky insertions ("go around to the left, then put your feet in that hole so you have room to get your heard around"), but mostly let us figure out what to do.

I discovered that I'm not the least bit claustrophobic, which was a pleasant surprise, and I had a fantastic time. I'm looking forward to exploring California Cavern one of these days, which promises more of the parts I enjoyed most, and with added cave muck.

19 Dec 2004[link to here]

Today I saw the Pickle Circus in Birdhouse Factory. It was fantastic. My favorite was the vertical tango, a highly intertwined pole climbing duet. The German wheel act was also amazing, as was the contortionist (which I usually find fascinating, but tedious) and much of the acrobatics. If you can be in San Francisco between now and January 2nd, go see this show. I want to be an acrobat when I grow up.