A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Mediocrity

Kris and I spent the weekend at Eagle Crest, a resort near Bend. We rented a house with other members of the MNF Investments group and we ended up with ten adults and one infant together for three days. Fun was had by all.

I’m pushing myself too hard on the exercise front, though. I am fat, old, and out-of-shape. For some reason, though, I am not taking these factors into account. As a result, I am in tremendous pain. Last Saturday I had my bicycle crash at the high school. I still have bruises and swelling from that almost ten days later. During the middle of last week I undertook two rides that would have been moderately difficult even if I were skinny, young, and in-shape. These rides drained my thighs. On Friday, our first full day at Eagle Crest, I rode fifteen hilly miles, played two hours of racquetball, and went on a walk. I played another hour of racquetball and played some baseball on Saturday. Now my entire body aches.

My right shoulder, which had been feeling somewhat better, is once again a source of intense pain. While playing racquetball, I twisted my right knee so that now any non-standard use of it sends bolts of pain up my body. My elbows are sore. My ankles are very sore from so much thudding around during racquetball.

I don’t mean to complain. I had tremendous fun. It’s just that I need to take it easy, to ease into this program of fitness.

On a side note: despite the fact that I did so much exercise and was careful about what I ate this weekend, I’m heavier than when I left. sigh I’m attempting to focus on making a life-style change that will lead to better fitness and lighter weights, so this lack of weight loss ought not matter. But, it’s difficult to do things differently than I always have, and I’ve always focused on weight-loss as an indication that I’m exercising and eating well.

While on vacation, I was able to finish Dave Egger’s A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius. This book is a memoir of sorts, written by a young man about my age, relating the story of his parents’ deaths and his subsequent life, which largely consists of raising his younger brother. It is a very witty book at times (I laughed out loud in several places). It is very self-conscious, though, with copious annotations in an included appendix; with a very large dedication/preface filled with information similar to that found in the appendix; and with self-analysis and soliloquies throughout.

The book is neither heartbreaking nor genius. It is, however, mostly well-written and mostly entertaining. The book’s glaring flaw (to my mind) is the author himself, and the manner in which he imposes himself upon the narrative. The first hundred pages or so are very good: well-written and engrossing. After this point, though, Egger’s voice literally begins to intrude upon the page. The narrative becomes less first-person memoir and more self-conscious journal (oh hey! just like this!). I wouldn’t mind reading this kind of thing on-line, but it doesn’t work well as a book.

Eggers sees his life as tragic, as if it were somehow both more important and more grief-filled than other people’s lives. His parents both died of cancer within five weeks of each other, and this fact makes Eggers feel marked, annointed, set apart.

I think that Eggers is just like everybody else, though. All of our lives are filled with tragedy, touched by bizarre coincidences (right, Jennifer?). Where Eggers differs, though, is in his paranoia, his delusions of grandeur.

Don’t get me wrong — I liked the book. I think that Eggers would likely be a close friend if I knew him. It’s just that his “look how special I am” attitude grew stale after, oh, the preface. I look forward to seeing more mature work from Eggers’ pen.


On 30 April 2004 (11:43 AM),
mart said:

JD: if you’re ever ready to give eggers a second chance, his second book “you shall know our velocity” is excellent. i never read aHWoSG though.

16.9 Miles

16.90 miles 1:05:49 (15.40 mph) 33.4 max 24 deg celsius

An amazing ride!

I didn’t set any kind of speed record, but that wasn’t my goal. This early in the season, in the kind of shape that I’m in, I wanted to complete a ride of moderate length comfotably (and enjoyably). I exceeded these goals in every respect.

My speed was not half-bad for my current fitness level. Better, I was never exhausted or frustrated or in pain during the entire ride. I took it easy. I’m a competitive person and too often I compete with myself. I force myself to go faster faster faster when there is really no need. When bicycling for fitness one only needs to maintain a comfortable aerobic pace. I did that today.

Later in the season, when I’ve dropped twenty pounds and developed some leg muscles, I can attempt to kill myself by setting speed records. I don’t know why I do that to myself, but there’s no stopping it. I don’t enjoy it nearly as much as I enjoyed my ride today, though. Maybe I should take a lesson from that.

Why did I enjoy my ride today?

The weather conditions were perfect: sunny, but not blazing, and about 75 degrees fahrenheit with variable breezes. Light traffic. The birds were out and singing. The fields were newly plowed and the lawns newly mowed. The dogs were out but too lazy to give chase; they like the sun, too. I prepped for the ride properly (eating at the right times and drinking a liter of water in the two hours before starting). My mental attitude stayed positive throughout.

This is all important early in the season. Now is when it’s difficult for me to maintain commitment, yet now is when I need commitment. If I begin to slack on my rides during the last of April and the whole of May, then no real riding will get done during the summer. However, if I establish a pattern of riding for pleasure, I’ll be ready to ride every morning.

Hell! I want to go attack the Central Point hill right now! I want to add another ten miles, taking on the biggest ugliest hill around Canby!

I’m not going to, though. I’m likely to injure myself and/or cause myself to rationalize away riding tomorrow. That’d be a shame.

Virtual Baseball League

Several years ago, I joined a “virtual” baseball league. The commissioner, John Boardman, gathered a group of thirty or so owners from around the Internet. Using Sierra‘s Front Page Sports Baseball, the league drafted teams comprising players who were rated in ceratin ability areas, in the fashion of a role-playing game. A batter would be rated for hitting ability, for example, and speed and fielding ability and arm strength. A pitcher would have a rating for each of the pitches he throws.

I was a member of the league for three seasons and my team enjoyed moderate success. It was always in playoff contention, though the Canby Cougars only made it to the postseason once.

A couple of years ago, when I began my computer programming kick, I dropped the league. This spring, I rejoined. I’ve been having fun with the Virtual Baseball League 2 for the past three months.

Why do I bring this up?

Well, my team has been doing very well. I inherited a team with good players, but I’ve done a fine job managing them, too. As a result, my team sits tied for first in its division midway through the season. I just glanced through the team-by-team stats page — my team is near the top in both pitching and hitting.

Yet, what did I do today? I traded my best pitcher, a damn fine young catcher, and my first-round draft pick for a slightly-lesser catcher (better offensively, worse defensively) and an awesome right-fielder.

I have a sick feeling in my gut.

I just cannot evaluate baseball trades properly. The difference in value between pitching and hitting often bites me in the ass. Now, I can pull of fantastic trades in the fantasy football league I run. Nearly every trade I do there turns to gold. But, I know that league inside-and-out, too, having run it for thirteen years.

This baseball league is different. The games are simulated on the commissioner’s computer and, while the results are mostly realistic, it’s difficult to get a grasp on how things work exactly. Is a pitcher with a high arm strength always better? Should I take this hitter with high contact-hititng and low power, or should I take this hitter with high power-hitting and low speed?

I think that the heart of the trade I made today was fine. I went wrong when I failed to evaluate the pitcher properly. I don’t have a suitable replacement, so 25% of my games (I use a four-man rotation) are now much more likely to be lost than they were previously. Yes, it is helpful to have Reggie Sanders as my right-fielder now; his defense is superlative and he’s an offensive threat.

But I’ve now tried to fix something that wasn’t broken in the first place. I’ve also squandered a significant part of my ability to rebuild in the off-season. I’m losing a huge chunk of my team to free-agency this year, and every draft pick is precious, especially the early ones. I’m not going to get to draft until the end of the second round now, which means that the top fifty players will be gone before I get to pick one.

The good thing about this is: I think I’m good at evaluating talent in this league, and may be able to slowly rebuild from this debacle.

Lord of the Thing

Y’know, I just can’t get a handle on this whole Lord of the Rings movie thing.

When I first heard about the project, I was skeptical that it could ever be pulled off. The first news and images from the production only served to confirm my fears. Then, when the teaser trailer was released and more production information began to filter onto the internet, I actually found myself excited to see the movies.

Now, though, with the pictures and information that Ain’t It Cool News has been providing the last few days, I’m becoming even more skeptical than I was before. Lurtz? Lurtz? Who the hell is Lurtz?

Peter Jackson, in whom I had tremendous faith, is beginning to worry me. This is just going to be some convoluted cheap-ass production with stuff changed around and mangled and added in order to play to that portion of the audience which is unfamiliar with the book. It’s going to be crap.

Harry Potter, on the other hand, looks fantastic.

(On a side note: Why the hell can’t Ain’t It Cool News do something about its layou? It is easily the ugliest major site on the web (well, of those that I view regularly, anyhow). It has the poorest code, the sloppiest layout — it’s just all-around painful to look at.)

Dane writes that:

  1. “Lurtz is the name of the orc in Saruman’s service who is responsible for actually killing Boromir at Amon-hen (http://www.theonering.net)”, and
  2. “I’ve never understood the need to criticize a creative work when it’s not done yet. In under a year you will be able to see the final product. Second guessing the changes Jackson is going to make aren’t really fair without taking the whole final product into account.”

To which I can reply that I both do and do not see his point.

On the one hand, it is silly to judge a creative work before it is finished. Take Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, for example. How many people, like me, were completely blown away by the first trailer? The second trailer wasn’t quite as good, but still promised an amazing film. Based on that, and other information I had gleaned, I was expecting an outstanding movie. Instead I got something on par with Return of the Jedi. Sure it had some fun scenes (opening scene, underwater city, pod race, senate meeting, light saber battle), but these were outnumbered by the lame-ass (lame-ass being a technical term, of course) things in the movie (Jar-Jar, Jedi council, Jar-Jar, midichlorians, Jar-Jar, space battles, Jar-Jar, Coruscant exterior shots, Jar-Jar, C3PO, Jar-Jar, plot points that made no sense, Jar-Jar, and Jar-Jar for example).

On the other hand, is judging an unfinished creative work any different than judging it based on incomplete information? Is my premonition that the Lord of the Rings movie isn’t going to be very good any different than my premonition that the movie Joe Dirt isn’t going to be very good? No. They are the same thing. I’m basing these premonitions on the information I have available and my past experience. And what do you know? — these are generally a good guide. I don’t need to see any more to know that Lurtz is going to be Beastmaster-esque. And deep down Dane knows I’m right.