Sunday, October 11, 2009


Goosebumps are a physiological response to an uncomfortable situation. Tiny muscles at the base of hair follicles tighten, forcing the hairs to stand upright, and the follicle to bulge slightly producing the bumpy look. This reflex doesn't provide any noticeable benefits to modern humans, but perhaps at sometime in our past we had more hair and tensing our hair muscles made us look bigger or provided better insulation against injury or cold. All animals with hair can get goosebumps, but it is perhaps more noticeable in animals with feathers, like geese (hence the name goosebumps).

Goosebumps are perhaps most well known as a responsive to fear, and as such have lent their name to an extremely successful series of children's books by author R.L. Stine.

I'm pretty sure I never read any of these books growing up, but I have seen a few of the TV adaptions. I normally don't make a habit of reading children's books, but I have found them to be an useful tool when learning foreign languages. When trying to improve my Spanish, I read Isabel Allende's Las memorias del Águila y el Jaguar series, as well Harry Potter y la piedra filosofal, and now in attempting to improve my French, I have turned to Monsieur Stine's Chair de Poule series.

Goosebumps are also called goose flesh in English, and in French they are called chicken flesh, or more accurately hen flesh, chair de poule. Having never read the English versions, I cannot make any comparisons, but the few that I have read in French are quite entertaining. And more importantly they are short (120 page small paperbacks on average), and do not use overcomplicated language or slang.

I've tried to read more "mature" books in French, but that usually ends up being more frustrating than entertaining or educational, especially given my recent preference for authors like William Gibson, Khaled Hosseini, Dan Brown, and Cormack McCarthy. It's very frustrating to read, extremely slowly, through many chapters of a book and then realize you must have horribly misunderstood something earlier because nothing is making much sense anymore, so I've resigned myself to children's books for the time being, and the Goosebumps series was the first I came across in the Library.

Public book readings are still common here, authors are treated with much respect, there are more bookstores per capita than most cities I have been too, and the libraries are always packed. They even have a TV show here that is just a host (usually a beautiful woman) reading for hours, so the French probably rank quite high in any "literary" rankings.

I do a lot of reading at the park, on the subway, or in other public areas, so a grown man reading Goosebumps books solicits quite a few strange looks here. I think maybe I should make excuses like "I am just reading them so I can discuss them with my kids" or lying that I am an aspiring children's book author myself, but in the end I just kinda smile meekly and bury my head in my book. Maybe after a few more Goosebumps books I will speak French well enough to pull of the aspiring author lie.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Busy, busy, busy

September turned out to me an extremely busy month for me. Work, health, family, obligations, blah--sometimes these things get all clogged up and you just have to slog thru the cleanup (and my propensity for procrastination certainly doesn't help).

As mentioned earlier, the video game industry is very milestone driven, so once per month you up the effort a bit to polish off a demo for the suits to guarantee the next paycheck. As you progress further in development the expectations and requirements for these demos become higher, and depending on how good you are at scheduling, your work efforts might also increase.

We've done a pretty good job of scheduling our project, with the minor oversight of the ridiculous amount of vacation you get in France (and by ridiculous, I mean awesome). By French law everyone is guaranteed 5 weeks of vacation per year, which accrues at a rate of just over 2 days per month. This works pretty much like the vacation you get in the US, you can save up a certain amount, and you use it whenever you want.

At Arkane we also have extra vacation (called RTT--Réduction du temps de travail) which is essentially compensation vacation since we work 39 hour work weeks instead of the standard 35 hours. This means every employee also banks an additional 4 hours per week of time off, or 22 days per year. These days are granted in November, and must be used by the end of the next November or they expire and you do not get paid for them. That expiration date is just under 2 months away, and nearly every member of the team still has 10+ days to take, and some have more then 15! Work has agreed to buy some of them back to prevent the entire team taking the next month off, but still we had to account for this time off in the planning.

Btw, I accounted for my time off by planning a trip to Italy next week :-)

So work got a little hectic for a bit, but in the end everything got worked out, and we didn't kill ourselves too much. Just as the work situation resolved itself, however, I received a friendly mail from the French government reminding me that I live in France, and when you live in France you are supposed to pay taxes in France.

I only lived in France for 7 weeks last year, and I did actually pay taxes on my income, but I paid it to the US government (boo). The US government requires its citizens to pay taxes on their world-wide income, regardless of where they happen to live or earn it, so even in France I have to report and pay taxes in the US. There are tax treaties between the US and France to prevent double taxation, so mostly what this means is that I just have to fill out a bunch of extra paper work clarifying who I pay what, and my US taxes this year were a whopping 42 pages of forms and addenda that I almost certainly didn't fill out correctly, so I was pretty scared about going thru the same nightmare in France (and more to the point, in French).

Turns out the French tax forms are much simpler than the US. 4 pages, most of which I got to leave blank, and just one addendum where I apologize for being a stupid foreigner who didn't know any better, and I eagerly await their response on whether or not I owe any penalties or if they will kick me out of the country.

September was also the time for catching up on my health issues. After squinting at my monitor at work for the past 3 months, I finally got around to getting an eye exam and ordering new glasses. The doc told me my eyes looked fine, and just that my prescription had worsened a bit and sent me off to the eye glasses shop to pick up some new spectacles.

I visited a bunch of eye glass shops looking for the best deal, but eventually settled for a shop near my house with a mediocre deal because the salesman was extremely helpful, explained everything thoroughly (in English even), and provided probably the best service I have had in France. I found the frames I liked (Armani frames to go with all my Armani suits), paid my 50 bucks (after insurance) and came back in a week to pick them up. Everything was going great until I put them on and felt like I was going to pass out.

I tried them for a few days hoping I just needed to get used to them, but after a bit it was clear that something was wrong. I returned to the shop to get them fixed, and the salesman broke out his own machine for testing your vision and found the prescription provided by my ophthalmologist to be way off, so some new lenses were ordered and I am still squinting as I type this sentence, but I will hopefully be able to see clearly by mid next week.

If you are in Lyon and need new glasses, go to Lynx and ask for Mr. Helfre.

To reward me for my busy week though, Lyon provided the best weekend weather we have had in a while. It was absolutely gorgeous yesterday so George and I went for a walk around the Croix-Rousse area of Lyon and found a really cool old Church we had never been too with this kinda creepy statue of the pope kneeling over a human skull.