Lament of the Swedish Aerocar

I was just thinking about my car. The idiotic thing, a 1991 Saab 900 Turbo, must have been running entirely off its own pure will to continue to exist, much less the parts and money thrown at it to be consumed without a trace, like a veritable black whole. That thing was my one true love. When I had nobody and no job, or a job I despised to hell and back again, that stupid Swedish aerocar was my rock.

Anyone who ever rode with me in the Saab feared for their lives, though most of them were polite enough not to voice any of their concerns. Instead, after a furtive glance at the wires hanging from beneath the dash, the left windshield wiper that sat awkwardly splayed across the middle of the windshield, obstinately refusing to back down, and the turn signal that often turned on and off of its own accord, it was back to talking about the weather and other inconsequential trivialities. 

I refer to the Saab as the “aerocar” due to the fact that Saab’s parent company was primarily concerned with the design of planes, so naturally, the 900, being a convertible, was surprisingly aerodynamic for a bizarre 90s car I’d never even heard of. My favorite past time was taking it around corners too fast and making it perform in ways that a car that came to me with three different brands of tires, an utterly decimated top and a faulty ignition switch shouldn’t be made to perform. Strangely enough, despite its numerous flaws, the most dangerous thing to ever have occurred in the Saab was when I was returning home from work one night, and literally two blocks away from my house the front axle shrugged its shoulders, heaved a heavy sigh and collapsed right there on the asphalt, too weak to continue, you know, being an axle.

“I believe we’ve just lost something,” I mutter, half to myself, half to the Saab, as I drift forward on the last of my momentum, the drive train now disconnected from the wheel. Scraping to a halt on my stubborn brakes which require a professional bodybuilder’s calves, I sit dumbfounded, wondering simply why this had happened now instead of on any of the three freeways I took to get home and thanking my lucky stars it hadn’t been worse. I call for assistance and manage to get the Saab parked and off the way. 

That was early 2013. There were no more major disasters after that (unless you count the power braking faltering and eventually failing over a period of several months) until August. In rush hour traffic I thought I had simply run out of gas at the most inopportune moment, but that was just being optimistic. After enduring a good fifteen minutes of idiots yelling obscenities at me and things like “Hey, DRIVE!” (Why thank you, Captain Obvious), I finally got the thing pulled over and dumped some gas in it. And guess what? Drive decided it wanted to roleplay as Reverse. Except I was on an incline, so it wasn’t actually a conscious identity shift but an inability to function as it was designed to; and that is when I realized I’d just lost my transmission.

I stand on the grass and face the Saab. Why? I mouth at it, shrugging my shoulders. I can almost see the poor thing’s headlights welling up in sadness, painfully aware that it has let me down for what is likely the last time. It knows what I know, and though neither of us want to speak it aloud, it is time to say goodbye. 

The sale takes place a couple of days later. $450 from a collector interested in restoring it. It has been nearly a year but I still think about the old pile of junk, wonder whether it hasn’t been melted down after the discovery that revival is probably more costly than the damn thing was worth new. 

I haven’t gotten another vehicle since, and I probably won’t until I can afford something more current. As much as I loved that weird little car, I really shouldn’t have to adjust to yet another unusual squeaking sound coming from somewhere aft, or an unfamiliar savage growl from the engine while I’m already regretting going anywhere without functioning A/C or doors that actually lock. 

 

R.I.P.

Saab 900 Turbo
1991-2013

 

 

 

 

Writing and all the Struggles it Brings

Sometimes I feel like Writing and I are the sun and the moon. We always cross paths, just missing the other until the day when we meet up during an eclipse and set aside our differences.

What is it about writing that just baffles the hell out of me? It should be simple, like having a conversation with someone, except you can’t see them, and you don’t necessarily know what their reaction is going to be, or if they’re listening to you, or if they even speak English, or… Oh, jeez. I guess it is pretty hard writing for an audience.

I think to myself, “What should I say? Should I try to be funny? Or should I take a more serious, scholarly approach so that I am not so easily disregarded?” First, I try being funny. And often it comes out like most of my jokes come out; that is, not funny.

Those things you say to yourself that bust you up laughing? Yeah, those. Don’t say those. Please, Traveling Shadow, for the love of God, don’t say those. No one but you thinks you’re funny.

Failing in humor, I try to sober up my words and make it sound like I know what the hell I’m talking about. The result? More proof than already exists pointing in the direction that I’ve got a major stick up my ass, I actually live inside a thesaurus or there’s a certain dashing English professor I’m trying to impress. Not true; I happen to live in a house.

This is the process I endure whenever I try to write a blog post, or something so simple as a social media update, aside from the quick Twitter status update when I think I’m being clever: “I like my tea like I like my men… Hot and British.” However, trying to write fiction is an entirely different process altogether. It’s like one of those terrible horror movies where the character goes down the basement stairs, and naturally doesn’t turn the lights on, and keeps going even when the ominous music starts to play, clearly signalling they should turn back before it’s too late, and- lo and behold, they’re an idiot and deserved to die. In a similar fashion, I watch the characters on my page run around in circles, like little idiotic ants, bumping into the margins and into each other, and I yell at them like I would the unfortunate protagonist in our horror film:

You imbecile! Stop it! You’re going to get yourself knocked off, you dolt. Shut up! Why are you looking at me like that? I wrote you! Now you see that corner over there? Go sit in it while I decide whether or not to keep you through the rest of this chapter.

Inherently I am not a maternal person at all, and the way I treat my characters reflects this. They’re cumbersome, obnoxious and messy, and I have no idea how to deal with them most of the time. I would like to be a great writer. No, I would love to be a great writer. But I cannot even keep a plant alive for the life of me. I swear, it begins to wilt the second I bring it home. Is this what is destined for my stories and their respective characters? I sincerely hope not- oh, hang on one second. Oscar, will you stop it? Get down from there! I didn’t even write tall buildings into the setting yet! No, don’t-don’t jump, Oscar, I love you! The audience can’t wait to read all about you and your… Oh, look at the stupid moron, waving his wands like that. He deserves whatever he- oop, and, he fell. Goddammit.

With regards Zero-to-Sixty

Not that anyone seems to be following this little project of mine, but I thought it best to post about its current status if only to ease my own conscience. At the moment, it is on hold. I’m still learning programming in my spare time, but not in the manner in which I originally set out to do. With school coming up in about four months now, I have a lot of other things to get done in preparation so that’s been consuming most of my time. Oh, and by the way, I think I’ll stop capitalizing it: Zero-to-Sixty. There, that’s better.

To anyone who’s been following along, thank you. There will be more in the future when things have settled down, so keep a watchful eye.

Stay peppy.

-TS

A Deduction of Etymological Nature

I have long since endeavored to complete the volume, or one might say, tome, entitled the Complete Sherlock Holmes Volume I. It has sat upon my shelf, keeping the company of other famous works and gathering dust, a most unfortunate predicament for any literary work.

My interest in the fictional detective was apparent long before he was realized in film and television by the likes of Robert Downey Jr. and, most recently, Benedict Cumberbatch. The book, sadly, I have had little occasion to delve into. However, it was indeed the BBC’s magnificent portrayal of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories which implored to me to return to paper and learn of their origins. Sherlock Holmes’ deductive process has fascinated me to no end, and I have taken it upon myself to discover what of his methods are so blatantly eschewed by those of lesser observational skill.

The inspiration behind this post lies behind a short paragraph from A Scandal in Bohemia, which I will quote:

I could not help laughing at the ease with which he explained his process of deduction. ‘When I hear you give your reasons,’ I remarked, ‘the thing always appears to me to be so ridiculously simple that I could easily do it myself, though at each successive instance of your reasoning I am baffled until you explain your process. And yet I believe that my eyes are as good as yours.’
    ‘Quite so,’ he answered, lighting a cigarette, and throwing himself down into an armchair. ‘ You see, but you do not observe. The   distinction is clear. For example, you have frequently seen the steps which lead up from the hall to this room.’
    ‘Frequently.’
    ‘How often?’
    ‘Well, some hundreds of times.’
   ‘Then how many are there?’
    ‘How many? I don’t know.’
    ‘Quite so! You have not observed. And yet you have seen. That is just my point.[...]‘”

It was this simple wisdom of Holmes’ that prompted me to explore the meanings behind the words ‘see’ and ‘observe’. From this short exchange, it can easily be noted that what Holmes implies by observation is an active pursuit, which, lacking such activity, would produce only the results of having ‘seen’ something; i.e., an impression of a place or a thing but little in the way of valuable information.

The definitions I am using are from the Merriam-Webster dictionary.

‘See: To notice or become aware of by using your eyes. Origin: Middle English seen, from Old English seon; akin to Old High German sehan to see and perhaps to Latin sequi to follow.’

‘Observe: To watch and sometimes also listen to (someone or something) carefully. Origin: Middle English, from Anglo-French observer, from Latin observare to guard, watch, observe, from ob- in the way, toward + servare to keep.’

Upon viewing these definitions and their derivations, it immediately became apparent to me the stark difference between the two, ‘see’ being to notice, become aware of, follow, whilst ‘observe’ is to watch carefully, guard, keep; to give an analogy, it is essentially the difference between offering a fellow traveler a friendly nod of acknowledgment and entering into a lengthy discussion with them.

I think Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had an extraordinary point to make when he gave his famous detective such prowess of intellect. We may not all aspire to such keen ability but we certainly have nothing but to gain from this perspective. Seek to observe rather than see, and you will garner more knowledge of the world around you than any dusty tome could provide. 

ZERO-TO-SIXTY: Code Ninja, Week Four Recap

This is going to be a fairly short post as I barely got anything done this week.

I know, I know. “I’m half-way through and I’ve already given up!” No, I haven’t. I wound up being busier than anticipated, and the one day I had entirely free to code, I had to deal with a moderate bout of depression so needless to say, progress was hampered.

I did however complete Codeacademy‘s unit 7 of Python, aaaaand I completed the Web Fundamentals track. The last thing it covered was positioning which was rather spiffy.

I also got through Stage 2 on Treehouse. Now, Treehouse is really phenomenal. I can’t believe I didn’t join sooner. It hasn’t delved into Ruby just yet, but it has so far been an extremely interactive experience which I am enjoying immensely. I’ll be doing a separate post altogether on that as I think it deserves its own mention.

This week’s goals are as follows:

 

 

ZERO-TO-SIXTY: Code Ninja, Week Three Recap

Ahhh! Week Three is over already. Noooooooooooo!

In these past few weeks, I’ve been trucking along on this project with the mind of a serious dilettante. That all has changed. I have stayed up till the wee hours of the night working on my code, and I can say with fair certainty that I am obsessed. If the interpreter gives me an error, I will sit in front of my screen for however long is necessary to debug the damn thing. It’s fantastic. Here’s a brief outline of what I covered.

On Lesson 3 of Udacity, I practiced working with while and for loops, if/elif/else statements and lists, and eventually finished building a web crawler. I’ll admit I’m still a little perplexed as to how that all worked, but I’ll go through the lesson again at the end of the course with the knowledge of the later lessons and I’m sure it will make much more sense. One thing I did when I was having trouble was went to Codeacademy and started a track on Python, which is the language I’m using on Udacity. Going through those exercises put everything into perspective, and I started to notice the beauty of code. Here is a before and after example of my code.

Before:


pyg = ‘ay’

original = raw_input(‘Enter a word:’)

word = original.lower()

first = word[0]

if len(original) > 0 and original.isalpha():
       if first == “a” or first == “e” or first == “i” or first == “o” or first == “u”:
                print “vowel”
        else:
                print “consonant”
else:
        print ‘empty’

After:


pyg = ‘ay’
original = raw_input(“Enter a word:”)

def check_word(original):
        word = original.lower()
        if len(word) > 0 and word.isalpha():
                first = word[0]
                if first == ‘a’ or first == ‘e’ or first == ‘i’ or first == ‘o’ or first == ‘u’:
                        new_word = word + pyg
                        print new_word
                else:
                        new_word = word[1:] + word[0] + pyg
                        print new_word
        elif len(word) > 0 and not word.isalpha():
                print “Not a word”
        else:
                print “Empty”

print check_word(original)

(This is a Pig Latin translator, in case you couldn’t tell.)

For HTML, I completed lesson 10 on Codeacademy, as I said I would. I worked more on divs, classes and IDs. The entire track is 79% complete, and once I finish I will hop over to Jon Duckett’s HTML & CSS for a review of everything and to build my own site! Pretty stoked for that.

Yet again I failed to do anything with Treehouse (sorry, guys), and I only got one lecture out of CS50 which was a live demonstration of Scratch. So, goals for this week are as follows:

Geronimo!!!

On My Discontentment With Living In LA

I’ve been struggling with something for most of my life. It wasn’t something I’ve ever clearly identified until now. Sort of like a thing you keep seeing out of the corner of your eye but can’t fully discern, and every time you turn your head to catch it, it disappears as though it never existed. Then finally, one day, your reflexes happen to have been +1upped by some stroke of fate, and this time, when you turn around- AHA! – you spot what’s been following you around all this time. That nagging feeling you couldn’t shake, now identified as what is seemingly an actual living, breathing entity, blinking and never taking his eyes of you. We’ll call him Bill.

Now, it has finally come to my attention that Bill has been stalking me for a long, long time. Perhaps longer than I even remember. He says things to me when I go out for social events, like “You don’t fit in your here. You’re not like the rest of them,” and “Don’t bother voicing your opinions; they’re too abstract and besides, no one will listen over the slurping of their caramel machiatto.”

Often, he will follow me places like Newport Beach, where I sometimes go to escape the hectic city. Even then, when the peaceful waves crashing against the shoreline aren’t enough to quell my desires, he whispers, “See? You don’t belong here.”

I’ve wanted for a long time for it not to be true. I’ve wanted to get along with my city. I could never say I loved LA, but I’d at least like to be on good terms with it. A meet-up-for-drinks-once-a-week kind of relationship. But no. No, LA and I were born together as siblings; constantly at war with each other but indelibly interlinked. LA is all the things I dislike (ostentatious, loud, dirty) and I am the things it dislikes (anti-consumerist, innately reclusive, quietly contemplative). We have tried, but no more can we reconcile our differences than can the moon cease rising in a post-sunlit sky.

Bill has made as many attempts to remedy my discontent as I myself have.

“Portland?” He asks.
“Too hipster,” is my reply.
“Then, Seattle?”
“Too small.”
“How about Boston, or New York?”
“Too east coast.”
“Agreed. How about someplace completely unexpected, like Bali?”
“Sure, someday. But not right now.”
“Okay, what about London?”

Our conversations continue like this for some time, rarely establishing anything but only confirming a fact that can no longer be disputed: LA is not mine. It is not my city, it is not my companion, it is not my home. To me, the streets of Hollywood are just a proverbial jail cell, and no distance you walk within it will ever unveil the key.

It’s not just the overall landscape; there are some nice things to see here. It’s also the people. The closer you get to the heart of the city, the less human connection you feel. Or so I notice. You’ll be sitting on a bench, minding your business when you happen to look up at a passerby. He or she will catch your eye, just briefly, then resume staring at the ground, as though to say, “Dude. I’ve got my own problems to deal with.”

Sure, the place is filled with artists and actors, musicians and magicians, choreographers and cartoonists. It’s the entertainment capitol of the world. These people naturally band together, being gregarious creatures, and strive toward success as a single unit rather than one individual. However, it is an elite circle and those too lowly and too incapable of taking a seat in it get sucked under the wheels. I myself am no longer interested in this caravan.

While I am fundamentally unhappy with the city I reside in, am I simultaneously uplifted by the thought of returning to Bill for yet another long discussion over tea about whether I would look better in parkas in Moscow, sandals in Australia or kimonos in Tokyo.


Image credit: semyaivera.ru


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