Note 14: Light it up

Christmas lights, hair metal bands, and new video games.

Now that Thanksgiving is behind us, we’re officially in the holiday season. I brushed the dust off Twisted Sister’s Christmas album and can play their holiday songs until Jan. 2nd:

I came around to this album in a roundabout way. Several years ago, I wanted to make the most of the holiday season and found several local theatrical productions to attend:

  • The Christmas Schooner at the Mercury Theater: This was a Great Lakes tale about delivering Christmas trees from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to the city of Chicago.

  • The Nutcracker at the Joffrey Ballet: This was the older production, and not the newer version that takes place at the World’s Fair.

  • The Nutcracker at the House Theatre of Chicago: The House’s musical that builds more on the E.T.A. Hoffmann story than the Tchaikovsky ballet.

And finally, we saw Dee Snider’s Rock & Roll Christmas Tale, a holiday musical built around Twisted Sister’s A Twisted Christmas holiday album from 2006. Snider played the role of the narrator. It was a great time, and A Twisted Christmas enjoys a prominent place in my holiday playlist.

After the Thanksgiving leftovers were nestled in their beds in the fridge, I set out some of our Christmas lights for the next month. While I’m not able to go full Clark Griswold on our townhouse facades, we do have both an internal courtyard area as well as an area facing the street. Since last year was a “Star Wars year” with the release of The Rise of Skywalker, BB-8 and R2-D2 were out facing the street next to our lit-up evergreen tree and presents underneath. Since we don’t have a Star Wars film in the theaters this year (or theaters at all), the droids are in our courtyard to delight the neighbors’ children:

A post shared by Chris Karr (@audaciouscode)

On the street side, we’re serving up Peanuts in the form of Snoopy and Woodstock:

A post shared by Chris Karr (@audaciouscode)

And inside, our biggest light decoration is the tree itself:

A post shared by Chris Karr (@audaciouscode)

We’ll have some more “open flame” decorations as soon as I get the time and motivation to break out the various wooden German gadgets that I’ve picked up over the years.

On Christmas lights

Christmas lights have always been one of my favorite parts of the holiday season, even though growing up, we were never in a position to put up some ourselves. (A casualty of living in a rural area.) However, there was never a shortage of other folks’ lights to see and one of my favorite light installations was Raton’s City of Bethlehem:

If it doesn’t come through in the video, this installation retold the story of Christ’s birth from The Gospel of Luke. It was installed on the side of a smaller mountain abutting the town, and it was a pure drive-through experience. You took your family out in a car late in the evening after the sun had gone down and would drive down a dirt road from story beat to story beat.

That was great on its own, but what made the experience even better was the trip through town up to the canyon. People who lived on the route from the main street via Apache Avenue to the mountain west of the town would bring out their own decorations, which largely consisted of home-made wood cutouts of cartoon characters and other pop-culture figures and would place them on their lawn - they called this Toyland - set up for the folks heading to the mountain to enjoy. It was pretty cool.

In our own little courtyard, I’ve been trying to replicate that experience to a small extent for the kids who lived in our courtyard. Several years ago, I picked up BB-8 as a surprise for my friend Bill’s son and R2-D2 joined him soon after. I can’t recall what led me to pick up the Peanuts characters - probably the need for something on the street side after we had an external electrical outlet installed after some maintenance work - but Snoopy and Woodstock are there to stand guard over the lit presents under our evergreen tree facing Sheridan Road ths year.

One of the things that has become a tradition when we visit Holly’s family in Cedar Rapids (Iowa) is seeing some of the light displays around her childhood neighborhood. Unlike Chicago, they do have space to go full Griswold, but most keep it quite tasteful and fun. While I don’t have any real motivation to move into a larger place, the prospect of expanding my seasonal lighting game would be something that would nudge me in that direction. Given enough land, it’s not inconceivable that I’d try to do something that would win me a sweet TV prize:

In the meantime, I’ll be content with decorating our young Japanese maple and keeping an eye out for a suitable Baby Yoda to accompany the festive droids.

Inching towards Azeroth

My gaming life for most of the year has been devoured by Elite: Dangerous and last night I finally completed my journey to the Formidine Rift to visit the ghost ship Zurara and hear the stories of those who perished due to mysterious forces:

Given that I’m 12,000 light years from humanity, I have quite a trek back home.

With that in mind, I’ll likely be switching gears for the rest of the month when it comes to gaming. While I was exploring the galaxy in virtual reality, this dropped:

Given how much I enjoyed DOOM: Eternal, giving this a spin is a no-brainer and should consume a week or two of gaming time.

And in other news, I’ve been following the launch of World of Warcraft: Shadowlands. Depending on how quickly I make it through the new DOOM content, I might find myself returning to Azeroth for a while to see what my night-elf druid has been up to since I left him there a couple of years ago.

Holidays in Azeroth are quite a bit of fun, so maybe I should get back in there soon.

Occupational updates

Work’s been steady and I’ve been making progress on a number of projects both for clients, as well as internal projects that are a large motivation for running an independent software business, as opposed to getting paid to do this for someone else.

One of the major bits of progress we’ve made is including within my Passive Data Kit framework the infrastructure for giving people understandable copies of the data that’s been collected about them. This helps me and my customers fulfill obligations under laws such as Europe’s GDPR, and it helps us fulfill our end of the moral bargain where people give us their data for us to do something useful with it.

This new framework functions by exporting a ZIP file containing a self-contained website that users can open on their own machine and review maps and other representations of what they gave us. We went with a ZIP file so that users can access their data, even if we retire the original servers. I’m quite excited that this has finally come together and look forward to pushing it as a standard service that we deploy in research projects around the world.

In other news, I may be headed back to the office downtown for a bit. Next week, construction will begin on a couple of house renovations and my home office shares a wall with the first project: the guest bathroom. Odds are good that I’ll head in to avoid the sound, assuming that usage of the public transit has abated since I stopped going in mid-October. (I started a small self-quarantine working at home so that I minimized the chance of missing working the election due to COVID.) If things aren’t too busy and people aren’t being blockheads, I’ll likely resume usage of my office through December. One fringe benefit of this is that I’ll have better access to a local post office for sending Christmas cards and packages than I currently have around home.

Interesting reads

The City of Bethlehem: A Cherished Tradition Sponsored Annually by the Raton Lions Club (KRTN Radio)

The One Word That Bars Trump From Pardoning Himself (The Atlantic)

Is probability real? [Part 1] (Aram's Lair of Mad Science)

Here’s what we know about Earth’s new minimoon (Universe Today)

‘Time For My Flag to Go Up’: How Anti-Trumpers Are Reclaiming the American Flag (Politico)

AlphaFold: a solution to a 50-year-old grand challenge in biology (Deep Mind)

Why Democrats Keep Losing Rural Counties Like Mine (Politico)

The Art of Building the Impossible (The New Yorker)


If you haven’t already, find someone that celebrates you like Dee Snider celebrates Christmas: