Ode to the locker room

Being a runner in Minnesota can be difficult, because it forces you to make one of three choices:

  1. Run outside in subzero weather.
  2. Get a gym membership and run on a track or treadmill for 4-5 months.
  3. Stop running altogether in the winter.

Since #3 is not a viable option, you’re left with either bundling up with many layers and tiptoeing hesitantly along icy sidewalks or park paths with blustery winds buffeting your face, or paying a monthly fee for the privilege of driving to a building and running indoors on a treadmill or (if you’re lucky) a track, a tedious but climate-controlled solution.

Being an uncharacteristically wimpy Minnesotan, I’ve gone with the gym membership. I’m very fortunate, I suppose, to live close to the Midtown YWCA in Minneapolis, where I have access to first-rate facilities including a 1/6 mile indoor track. I loathe running on a treadmill. The track can be tedious, but at least I’m actually moving. And if I pick the right soundtrack, I can even visualize running around Lake Nokomis instead. (I’ve run Nokomis to the sounds of my own The Long Run enough times that I know precisely where I am in relation to the lake as each of the 11 sections of the 40-minute piece comes on.)

But as much as I can trick myself into enjoying (or at least tolerating) indoor running in the winter, there’s one aspect of Y membership that I will never like or be able to reconcile with my desire to be outside and alone when I run: the locker room.

I was not a jock in school. In fact, I was pretty much exactly whatever the opposite of a jock is. So what little time I did spend in a locker room was an exercise in taunting and humiliation (real or imagined, and probably more imagined than I believed at the time). I’m no longer afraid of the locker room. I just don’t like it.

I don’t like how crowded it is. I don’t like having to find a space on a bench to put my stuff while I change, or coming back to the locker room after my run to see someone else has chosen bench space directly in front of my locker.

I don’t like listening to other people whistling in the showers. What is so great about this experience to make them want to whistle their tuneless little non-melodies?

I don’t like people who are too comfortable being naked in the locker room, and I also don’t like people who are too uncomfortable with it. Be naked in the shower, the sauna, and at your locker, but nowhere else. Don’t be afraid to take off your swim trunks in the shower. Conversely, don’t stand at the sink naked while you shave, or at the counter by the hair dryers, reading a newspaper. (It kind of just seems logical to me to cover up certain parts when you’re wielding a razor blade, electronics, or paper. Especially paper.)

I don’t like listening to other people’s conversations, even when I am deliberately eavesdropping. I don’t want to be eavesdropping. I especially don’t like listening to teenagers swear loudly. And get off my lawn.

I don’t like how hot it is in the locker room, and how by the time I’m done drying off after my shower, I’ve started sweating again before I can even put on my shirt.

Given my dislike of winter in general, and especially my dislike of the compromises it requires (like spending so much time on the corollary disliking of myriad characteristics of spending time in the Y locker room), I’ve been asked by certain individuals in my life why I want to live in Minnesota at all.

They just don’t understand.

I’m not sure if it’s the harsh conditions of life in the Upper Midwest, much like the harsh conditions in the Scandinavian countries where many of our ancestors came from, or whether we’re just resentful of how easily our existence is ignored by the rest of the country, but part of the joy of being Minnesotan is to be able to complain about being Minnesotan. For us, to love something is to feel comfortable complaining about it.

Of course, that would suggest that perhaps I really love the locker room. But love and hate are not opposites. The opposite of love is indifference. And whether I love the locker room, or hate it, the one thing I clearly am not is indifferent.

But whatever the reason for my strong feelings, there is one that is stronger than all. Spring can’t get here soon enough.

#rpm12 day 5: Pocket Symphonies

Progress on the RPM album continues. Five days in, I have seven tracks finished, two more in progress, and I’m hovering around 35 minutes (one of the two minimum requirements of the challenge). And there’s a lot more to come.

The most notable achievement of the day, however, is that I have settled on a final title for the album. I had been tentatively calling it i, owing to the fact that its central conceit is that all sounds on the album are being produced on an iPhone. But I was never totally happy with that title.

Then this morning, it hit me: Pocket Symphonies. The term was coined by Brian Wilson (or, if Wikipedia is to be believed, his publicist Derek Taylor) in 1966, used to describe what might be considered his crowning achievement as a composer and producer: the brilliantly crafted hit single “Good Vibrations”.

It is not my intention in the least to claim that what I’m producing this month is even from the same planet of artistic achievement as the greatest pop single ever recorded. But I think the idea of a “pocket symphony” is intriguing, and while Wilson simply meant that his song packed the compositional structure of a symphony into a 4-minute package, I am taking it in an entirely different direction.

I’ve been asked if I had considered also using my iPad in recording this album. No, is my answer. It’s not that I wouldn’t want to try it; many of the apps I’m using have fuller-featured iPad versions, and there are other great music apps that exist only for the iPad. But the thing that I find most compelling for this project is that every sound on it is coming from a device that I carry around in my pocket.

I suspect that Brian Wilson could not have imagined in 1966 that, in his lifetime, millions of people would be carrying around portable music studios in their pockets, masquerading as phones. And while only a small fraction of us iPhone owners are using them as musical instruments, the potential is there, for everyone. A “pocket symphony” means something in 2012 that was beyond the farthest realm of possibility in the mid-’60s. (Come on, Star Trek had only just premiered a month before “Good Vibrations” was released.)

And so, Pocket Symphonies it is. It’s exciting to watch this nebulous concept begin to take shape as the month wears on.

RegisTrap seems to be losing its effectiveness

I suspected this might happen once I released RegisTrap to the public. I had four new spam user registrations on my site when I checked it today (having last checked it maybe two or three days ago). Previously I’d only see about one a week with RegisTrap running.

It was bound to happen. The rules RegisTrap employs are fairly simple, and the “bots” are constantly being modified. I have no idea how many registrations RegisTrap has blocked in the time it’s been running — perhaps my next step in developing it is to add a logging feature. If there were only four (or even maybe a dozen or so) spam attempts on my site during this time period, then RegisTrap seems pretty ineffectual. But if it actually blocked a ton (metaphorically speaking) of spam registrations, then four sneaking through doesn’t seem so bad.

If anyone out there is using RegisTrap and cares to comment on ways I could improve it, let me know! Meanwhile, as time allows I am going to pursue the logging functionality, if only for my own edification. As valuable as the logging feature would be, it goes against the spirit of simplicity inherent in the plugin. I really don’t want to write anything to the database or filesystem.

Caucuses… what’s the point?

Tonight I participated in my first ever caucus. I had always been intimidated by them because, well, I had no idea what really went on at them, and I didn’t know anyone who ever went. But reading about them on Barack Obama‘s website, I realized that like a flu shot it’s quick and painless, so I went.

I suppose if I were really active in party politics, it might have been worthwhile. There were lots of people sitting in rows of chairs listening to an amiable guy fumbling his way through whatever he was supposed to be doing. (At one point, someone in the crowd spoke up that no one had seen the agenda, and asked if he could quickly go over it, which prompted him to yell over to someone else at the registration table and ask if anyone had the agenda. This was shortly after he had asked if anyone might volunteer to be secretary for the night’s meeting.)

But most of us were just there to say who we want to be the next president, or at least the person the Democrats put forth to potentially become the next president, so we queued up, “voted” (such as it was) and walked out.

I did actually linger for a few minutes after voting, but mainly because my son was already comfortable in a chair watching the proceedings, not that he even realized — or cared — why we were there. (I’m sure he was just thinking about Super Metroid.) I also wanted to chat with a neighbor who had shown up a few minutes after us.

Although the general experience was about how I had envisioned it (albeit more “church basement”-like, which should not have been surprising, given it was being held in a church basement), I was thoroughly surprised by the voting process itself. I already expected it not to be secret, but I was taken aback at just how informal it was. After signing in, I was handed a small, cut piece of yellow paper (reused from something — it appeared to be part of a flyer) and told it was my ballot. I was instructed to write the name of my candidate on the paper, and then I handed it to someone else holding a large envelope stuffed with similar slips of yellow paper.

And that’s it. About as low-tech and unofficial as can be. Yet somehow I’m supposed to believe, minutes after the caucuses closed at 8 PM, that CNN, MSNBC and the rest had reports from precincts that might, in any way, resemble the tallies of the contents of similar stuffed envelopes from around the state.

I realize that primaries and caucuses are organized by the state branches of the political parties and, what with the whole delegate system, are even more tenuously connected to the party’s nomination process than individual votes are in the Electoral College of the general election. So I suppose in some way this patently ludicrous voting process in the caucus is at least more transparent than the superficial formality of primary elections held in other states.

I guess if I’d stuck around I might have gotten more insight into how my little yellow slip of recycled takeout menu translates into the delegates the party sends to the convention this summer to vote for a candidate on my behalf. I might even have become one of those delegates if I had wanted to. But… whatever. It looks like my candidate is on track to win the state handily anyway, so I’m free to go back to my self-absorbed complacency on the matter, just like any other red-blooded American.

Something has to give in your life to be this good at Super Metroid

I didn’t play many console video games between outgrowing my Atari 2600 in high school (while I would visit friends’ houses for regular reminders of how much I sucked at newer games on their NESes) and getting my GameCube in 2003, but since then I’ve had a bit of a renaissance and am a lot better at these games than I used to be.

But I will never be great at Super Metroid. In particular, I cannot for the life of me get the timing right for wall jumps in that game. I’ve been able to do them on occasion, but it’s just been luck.

Now my son is playing it (on the Wii) and he seems to be drawn like a magnet to the spot where you have to wall jump to get out of a deep shaft. (The spot where the native creatures “teach” you the wall jump.) And then he wants me to help him. Good luck with that!

I decided to try to research what the trick is. I got some leads, but I still doubt I’ll master it. And there is no way that I’ll ever be able to do a 32-minute speed run like in the following video. Of course, wall jumps are all over it. (I can’t even begin to imagine how to do the wall jump against a single wall. I didn’t even realize it was possible until I saw this!)

Get Flash to see this player.