march 2005

Man. Not even a half day yesterday. Not even getting out at 3. I don't know who I'm more pissed at: the weather gods or the morons on tv who clearly don't have any idea what the weather gods are doing.

This past weekend, my mom was in DC on business, so we decided to meet her on Saturday and go to a museum. Coincidentally, Alisa was meeting a friend for dinner in DC that night, and she decided to join us that afternoon. Initially my mom had wanted to go to the Library of Congress to see a collection of LandSat images, but when I did some research, I found out that particular exhibit was only open Monday-Friday, so that was out. There wasn't much I wanted to see from the museums we usually spend time at in DC (the National Gallery, the Phillips, the Hirschhorn, the Corcoran, etc.), but I hadn't been to the National Air and Space Museum in a while and figured it was time for another visit if I could talk everyone else into it. It turns out that it wasn't that hard—Alisa had never been and was curious to see it, and mom hadn't been in years.

Julie and I were going to meet up with mom before the museum and have lunch, but we were running a little late, so in order to make sure we didn't miss Alisa, we decided to go straight to the museum and just have lunch there. When I was a kid, I remember the museum food area used to be somewhere on the second floor, and all it was were some revolving self-service bins that you would walk past and grab your food before taking it to the cashier. Sometime in the last decade or so (I'm guessing), they built the existing food area, a huge glass atrium with minimalist white support struts that echoes the architecture in the main hall of the museum. The food was greatly improved in this new space, with far more choices, both in terms of number of items and cuisine styles, and the dining area, with the abundance of light, was a nice place to sit and enjoy a meal (aside from the peculiarly loud air registers in the center of the complex).

But I'm never going back there again. Now, what was once a cool place to eat with some decent food choices has been transformed into yet another outpost for one of our increasingly dominant global brands, in this case McDonald's. Instead of menu options such as italian (pizza, pasta, stromboli, etc.), cafeteria-style plates, burgers and chicken sandwiches, a salad and fruit bar, and premade sandwiches—you know, typical stuff that you find at these kinds of food courts—now you get two choices: McDonald's or Boston Market (which is, as I'm sure you're already guessed, a subsidiary of McDonald's). And you don't even get the full range of choices that you would get at a normal McDonald's or Boston Market: you only get a choice of 8 value meals from the McDonald's menu (which for some reason are priced outrageously higher than they are at normal McDonald's—is there a special anti-terrorist tax for food sold in buildings on the Mall?), or four platters from Boston Market (none of which, we found out the hard way, include a drink like the McDonald's meals do). Despite the higher prices (we paid $25 for two McDonald's "value" meals and one Boston Market plate with a chicken breast and sides of corn and mashed potatoes), the bare minimum of customization that normal fast food restaurants allows has been completely eliminated in this venue: you get exactly what is on the picture, no alterations and no substitutions. In addition, they have made the dining environment considerably less pleasant by putting large LCD screens with ads for the planetarium and the IMAX theater everywhere and piping in annoyingly chipper generic pop music. Not cool.

But the rest of the museum is still pretty fascinating, especially the historic original aircraft like the Spirit of St. Louis, the Wright brothers' plane that first achieved flight, and the plane that Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier with, along with some of the new exhibits like the Russian and American missiles designed to carry nuclear warheads and the gondola from Breitling Orbiter 3, the recent non-stop around-the-world balloon trip (the newly historic SpaceShipOne, winner of the X prize, will also soon call this museum its home). Best overheard conversation of the day, from two college guys:

Guy 1: Hey, look—that's the Spirit of St. Louis.
Guy 2: Yeah, but it's not the original one.
Guy 1: Oh.

Of course, it is the original one—some of the space exhibits, like Skylab, the Hubble, and the moon lander, are full-size recreations, but the Spirit of St. Louis is the genuine article (which these kids would have known if they had taken two seconds to read the informational display they were standing in front of).

We also went to see the planetarium show, which I don't remember much of because the seats were so comfy that I dozed off a couple of times. But what I do remember was very trippy and probably would have been better experienced under the influence of a mind-altering substance. Which is really what planetarium shows are all about, right?

After a quick trip to the museum store, we left the museum, but not before I insisted the everyone participate in my ritual of touching the piece of moonrock on display near the entrance. Alisa left us to go join her friend for dinner, and we put mom on the metro out to Falls Church to have dinner with my godmother (who has been friends with my mom since their college days at Chapel Hill), while Julie and I took the red line back out to Rockville where we'd left our car. A trip to this museum is no longer the mystical experience it was when I was a child who dreamed of becoming an astronaut, but it's still a pretty cool place to spend an afternoon.

There's still a ton of reality tv being broadcast, but where did all the really trashy stuff go, the stuff you were emabarrassed to admit you even knew about, much less watched devotedly? Stuff like Temptation Island, Love Cruise, and Paradise Hotel? I mean, sure, Survivor still has its moments (depending on the cast), it's fun watching a bunch of super-skinny girls who are decidely not supermodels compete for what they think will be a shot at a legitimate career on America's Next Top Model, and the Amazing Race has gotten the casting of couples who will inevitably self-destruct in moments of stress down to a science, but they all feel so corporate, so well-planned, so predictable. I want shows with those horrifyingly uncomfortable moments where people realize they've made a huge mistake testing their relationship on national television, the ones where you can't look away even though you know that decent people simply don't watch such programs, and they certainly wouldn't enjoy them like you're enjoying them if they did. Come on, Fox—we need you now more than ever.

Is it your birthday today, Tom? I think it's your birthday today. So happy birthday, Tom. I promise I'll call this weekend.

Today is also my third anniversary with Hopkins, which is kind of strange. This is probably the job I've put the least amount of myself into (I do a really good job, it's just not the center of my universe like some o my previous jobs seemed to be, especially my jobs with small companies—I spend a lot more of my energy on personal projects outside of work, like this site and my photography), and yet I've kept it longer and been more consistently recognized and rewarded for my service.

The longest job I held before this was about 2 1/2 years, and although I quit, it was mostly because I was unhappy with my immediate supervisor, not with the company as a whole or my peers in the media design group (though it didn't hurt that I found another job literally down the hall that paid a lot better). I've been a little bored here of late, although I have no intention of leaving. I don't even check the job boards out of idle curiosity; even though I'm not completely satisfied here, I'm not sure that there would be any other work environment that would make me any more fulfilled, and at least I'm reasonably in control of my own destiny. And like I said, I'm consistently singled out by my department for doing my job well (plus I like my boss a whole lot; he's exactly the kind of manager that I love working for).

I think my boredom is more of a general malaise: I'm tired of work, I'm tired of school, and I don't even get as much satisfaction from my personal projects as I once did. I hope that maybe this will pass when the spring comes, and I think some of this is simple exhaustion from all the traveling we've done in the past year, and unfortunately, we still have lots of that in store through the summer (I am a creature of habit, and for the last several months, it seems like every time we get back from a trip and I get settled into my routine again, we're off to another destination).

I don't know. I don't really know what I'm tryng to say, or how I feel about my current state of directionlessness. But today seemed like a good day to write about it a little bit.

Calm weekend. Had lunch on Friday with Jean (it's so hard not to write her last name—I refer to her by both her first and last names, and she does the same to me), who made me feel a little better about my current state of non-direction because she's feeling a lot of the same things herself. Didn't do much on Saturday until Dodd came over for dinner—we ordered out chinese and watched some episodes of Firefly, which he had never seen before but which he loved. Think we'll try to have him over a few more times so he can see all the episodes before the movie comes out in April. (Crap. Just went online to see the exact date, and it looks like it's been pushed back to September now. At least that gives Dodd plenty of time to finish the series, I guess.)

I'm feeling a little more relaxed about work, but there's still a lot of stuff I don't want to deal with. I hate hiring new people, especially when the only decent resume I've seen so far didn't even want to interview because his current employer gave him a huge raise when they found out he was thinking about leaving. And there's the whole issue with getting the class put together and mailing out the admit letters, and testing the latest round of changes to the database system, etc. But summer will be here soon enough, and I should be focusing mostly on web issues starting in April. So hopefully things are starting to look up.

I know that spelling ability has nothing to do with intelligence—some of the smartest, most creative people I know are terrible spellers. And I know that I've been overexposed to poor spelling recently by the time I've spent on the World of Warcraft boards, the moron-to-normal ratio on which is about 19 to 1. But please, for the love of god, people, it's not "rediculous", "definately", or "alot", I don't care what Hooked on Phonics has led you to believe. Spell them with me:

a lot

Learn it. Know it. Live it.

From near 70 degrees to just above 20 degrees in 24 hours? Please.

No, I mean, please. Really. Stop it.

Finally got around to watching the final episode of NYPD Blue. I was introduced to this show a few years into its run (sometime around 1997) by a coworker, and I have been a huge fan since my first viewing. I always felt like a late arrival among fans of the series, but considering that I watched two-thirds of its season, I guess I'm not really anymore.

Anyway. The last episode wasn't too bad, but the true finale emotionally was probably the penultimate episode, which focused on the only two characters left from the original cast, the somewhat bumblilng Greg Medavoy and the show's centerpiece, Andy Sipowicz. The final episode was much faster paced, mimicing a fairly typical episode for the series, but that second-to-last one was the show where fans got to say their goodbyes and the characters got to look forward to new lives.

I'm not generally a fan of cop shows, but the writing and acting on this show was so nuanced and subtle, it was really unlike anything else on television. Hell, they even made Saved By the Bell's Zack Morris seem like a reasonably good dramatic actor. I'm going to miss it, but it was probably time for it to end, before it started to go downhill. This season was just as good as any other I've seen, and the last few episodes were just as strong as the story arc leading up to Bobby Simone's death (Sipowicz's second partner, played by Jimmy Smits). It was good to see them go out on a high note, and thanks to TNT, I should be able to catch reruns for years to come.

Another long week. But we're only two weeks away from our letters going out, and after that milestone, we're really just a few weeks away from summer. I'm still going to be traveling more than I'd like, but if our office does what it always does and lets us work an extra hour every day so we can take a day off every other week with no vacation penalty, then I should still have plenty of downtime. I know it's not even spring yet, but I feel like if I can just make it to April without going crazy, things are going to get a lot more tolerable after that.

Baseball season is almost here, and that means it's also time to start thinking about fantasy baseball. I've already sent an email to everyone who participated in my primary league last year, so if you didn't get one and you're reading this, let me know and I'll send it again. Jeff and Scott, the other two people who have won a season besides me, both signed up within hours of me setting up the league, so it at least looks like the three of us are eager to join the fray again. If you haven't been part of this league before but you're interested, send me an email and I'll send you the league info as long as we have an open spot.

It's hard to believe, but the makers of ABC's Boss Swap have somehow managed to find successful companies that are just as dysfunctional and messed up as the families they dug up for Wife Swap, the show on which Boss Swap is patterned. I mean, it's not hard to believe that there are companies like this out there, but it's inconceivable that the owners of these companies are so clueless as to think that the potential and actual customers who are watching the show will ever want to do business with them. In the first week alone, they featured a male boss who only hires men because he thinks women can't get the job done and who encourages gambling on company time, paired with a female boss with an all female staff who regularly allows her workers to come in late and pays for weekly on-site massages even when they miss their sales targets. Like Wife Swap, I imagine that the premise of Boss Swap will become old after a few weeks, as they either run out of compelling weirdos for subject matter or I become immune to the unimaginably bizarre behavior their cameras capture. But for at least a few weeks, I think this show is going to remain on my must-watch list.

Two weeks from today we're supposed to put our letters in the mail, telling more than 11,000 kids whether they have a possible future at Hopkins. This is always a really stressful time of year, but until yesterday, I wasn't really feeling it. Sure, I've been plenty busy recently, but it's with relatively minor tasks, and I've purposely avoided spending much time on the other side of the office, where the bins with the decisioned files are stacked floor to ceiling and everyone is in a panic because there's seemingly no way to get all of them entered by our director's target of Friday.

But several issues pulled me over there yesterday, and I spent most of my day either trying to revise some of the critical data extracts and ratings calculations that will be used to sculpt the class or talking with counselors and operations staff about strategies for attacking the thousands of files that have been read and decisioned but not entered into the database yet. I think now I'm almost as stressed as everyone else, because I'm seeing just how much we have to do as an office in the next two weeks, and I'm also realizing how much my team will contribute to that effort.

By the time we mail the letters in late March, most people in the office are completely burned out; if this was a small business and not an ungainly bureaucracy, I'd say that everyone should be given the week off, because after months of intense focus on getting the class finalized, there isn't much left to do until the deposits start to come in, so, naturally, people don't do much. Luckily for me, I'm almost going to take that week off anyway: the first day of the next week is baseball's Opening Day, which I will take off at least a half day for, and that Wednesday Julie and I are flying to Florida to visit my mom for an extended weekend. Even though I'm not really in the mood to travel these days, I think I will be ready to get far away from the office at that point. And it won't hurt that I'm going somewhere sunny and warm.

Went to my first Baltimore Bloggers happy hour last night at Dizzy Issie's, but because I was exhausted from too little sleep and too much work, it really was literally an hour for me. Tuesdayscoming met Julie and I at my office and we walked over together. The bar was full of off-duty firemen, but we were the first of the blogging crowd to arrive, so we made our way to the back and grabbed a table. Before long, Seadragon, Lost in Place, and Fool showed up; including Tuesdayscoming, these four constituted 4/5 of the Baltimore bloggers I had met in person before.

More bloggers soon crowded into the cluster of tables in the back that we'd staked out, including Talkin' Loud, Anonymous Coworker, Kmart, and Messy Hair Girl, but because of the noise in the bar, Talkin' Loud was the only previously unknown blogger I was able to chat with. Around 7, more people were arriving and there were no seats left, so Julie and I decided it was a good time for us to get on the road (we still had a 45 minute drive home plus a stop at the grocery store on the way). I'm not that much of a bar person, and I'm also not that great in groups of strangers (I tend to clam up and turn into an observer, although my silence last night was due mostly to the fact that I was running on empty after a very long day at work), but I'm up for attending another meetup, especially if it's held in a place where we have a little more room to spread out.

Since we left early, I have no idea who else might have shown up later, but Fool and Seadragon usually have pretty thorough write-ups, so hop on over to their sites if you want more details.

My friend Tamara has a photoblog (actually, she has two, one for color and one for black and white). She also has a broken camera, so she hasn't been updating it very much recently. As a result, she recently solicited her photgrapher friends to loan her some pictures, both to keep the content on her site fresh and to give some exposure to the donors. I spend a lot of time on my photos, but because I don't have a separate photoblog, they don't get as much attention as I would like, and I gave her four shots hoping that maybe they would bring some photo-focused readers to this site. I don't know if she'll use any of my other ones—that all depended on how many other photographers responded to her request—but she has posted one of my photos there. So if you're coming here from her site, welcome, and please check out my photo archives using the link on my top right sidebar. And if you're regular reader here who's going to hop over to Tamara's site, for the love of god, leave some comments on my photo. It's embarrassing having all that empty space below my picture.

Alright, so my feelings aren't hurt—nobody left any comments for my picture on Tamara's photoblog (I'm really not that bothered; it's a pretty abstract photo and I'm not sure how much you can really say about it). And actually, there is one comment, but I'm not counting it because it's just my dad messing with me. However, you should revisit the page and read his comment, because it has got to be the most dead-on parody of the types of things that photobloggers post to other people's photoblogs, hoping that their praise will garner a reciprocal visit to their own site. Totally hilarious—seriously, I laughed out loud when I read it. My dad's a quiet one, but when he does decide to break his silence, it's usually worth hearing.

Going to see Will again tonight at the Walters. I went a couple of weeks ago with Diane, who has been volunteering for him this semester, but I didn't get much done because the book I was working on last semester is now part of an exhibit that won't come down until May. Instead, Will and I pored over folio diagrams from the Archimedes palimpsest, trying to figure out a pattern to how the pages were cut up and made into a new book (it seemed really random at first, but then it became apparent that aspects of it were too perfectly random, suggesting a pattern). My book will still be locked up in a case, so maybe I'll start on a new text tonight, or maybe we'll end up spending three hours poring over some equally esoteric bit of conjecture. I don't really care much; I just like hanging out with Will and getting another chance to look at that manuscript collection.

Didn't end up going to see Will last night after all, because around noon I started to feel really crappy (fever, headache, congestion, etc.), and by 2 I knew that if I didn't head home soon, I might be too loopy to safely drive myself home. I slept for about five hours straight, had a little something to eat, and rested a bit more before checking email, etc. Don't know if I'll make it into work today, although I have a couple of meetings that I really should attend—a lot of it will depend on whether Julie can leave early, because I'm not sure if I can drive myself and I'm not sure if I can do a full day even if she drives.

Stayed home from work yesterday, and slept most of the day, although I did begin to feel better early in the afternoon. I did some work then—checked email, finished installing SQL Server and the VPN client on an old laptop I brought home so I could run PC apps for work, and ran a few queries for people. The morning was really peaceful—just lying in bed in the grey morning light, and no sounds except the rain hitting the roof above me. A very English kind of morning, and it was nice to be able to drift in and out of it knowing that I wouldn't actually have to go out in it.

A lot of my dreams recently have been taking place in my real-life locations—home, work, etc.—except that there will be weird changes to them which really freak me out because I'm not aware that I'm in a dream when I stumble on the inconsistencies. This morning I dreamed I was asleep on the couch and I heard footsteps in the kitchen, and when I went to investigate, the blinds in the kitchen were the wrong color. Then I went to look out the front window and the road was several yards farther from our front yard than I remembered. I was really getting panicky, wandering around the house to find out if anything else was different, and wondering if the things I remembered were the dream and I had been in it so long I had forgotten what the real world was really like. Then I woke up and found everything the way I expected it, and that freaked me out almost as much because I was completely unaware that I had been dreaming; I had begun to reshape my map of the world to fit the new parameters of the dream. I think I like it better when my recurring dreams take place in locations that I know don't exist in this world; it's a little easier on the psyche.

Tamara has posted two more of my photos, one to her color photoblog, White Light, and the other to her black and white photoblog, Shadows (although I feel compelled to note that the black and white photo is actually in full color—there's just no real color in the scene).

Hey kids! Don't like our court system and decades of legal precedents? Here's a quick and easy way to manipulate the press in your favor:

You, in the jean jacket! Quit looking at the camera—you're making us look like media whores!

Peace, love, and understanding? WTF? Where's all the stuff about forcing our beliefs down other people's throats?

Media of the world! I command you to obey!

Why do we all have our eyes closed?

I don't know—praying maybe?

Praying—that's good. Or maybe like we're in pain? Like we're sharing her pain?

Oh, yeah, sharing her pain—that's perfect!

Well, my eyes are open now, but I think the photographer got me earlier when they were closed. Yeah, in fact, I'm sure he did.

My eyes are open, too, but I still look really pained, right?

I went to CNN yesterday and I was greeted by one of these taped mouths. Then I went to another news site and found another. And another. And another. With very minimal browsing, I was able to find nine different images of these people, all of them placed very prominently, and I'm sure it wouldn't have taken me long to find double this number.

There are several things that rankle me about this, aside from the obvious homogenization of journalistic opinion in this country (don't get me started about the so-called "liberal media", which not even the Fox News robots can say with a straight face anymore). One, what the hell is this supposed to mean, having tape over your mouth with the word "Life" written on it? I kinda get the red tape thing, but why is it over their mouths? They've gotten a chance to speak—they've taken this issue to court 20 times now, and in each case, every court has sided with the husband and his statements that his wife had told him she would not want to be kept artificially alive, despite the absence of a written living will. Just because the courts disagree with you doesn't mean you've been silenced, it means that, under the law, you're wrong. This is a terrible situation all around, but is it really helping anyone to drag it out on a national stage?

Second, I did a little digging around into the group behind this "demonstration" <cough>staged media event</cough> (I don't want to name them because, frankly, they don't need any more publicity, but if you're really curious, it's easy enough to find), and their main mission—their only mission as far as I can tell—is to overturn Roe v. Wade, which tells you exactly what this whole Terry Schiavo mess is really all about. They could care less about her and her wishes, or her husband and his years of pain—they just know a useful political tool when they see one (and it doesn't hurt at all that she's from a state controlled by the brother of our evangelical president who's willing to erode the Constitution to further his religious agenda).

I'm not cynical enough to believe that the republicans organized this to happen during Easter week—not quite—but I don't think they're at all unhappy about the coincidence. And that makes me feel just a little sick, because the Jesus I know wouldn't want to prolong suffering and pain, especially if the only reason was to coldly advance a political agenda.

I know I haven't talked about it much recently—it's not that I haven't wanted to, but I've been trying to spare you—but I'm still spending a lot of time on World of Warcraft. An update since the last time I annoyed you with information about this extremely nerdy pasttime: My old guild disbanded because the guild leader didn't log on for a month, I joined a new guild with an in-game friend of mine who was an officer in that guild, I was soon made an officer myself, my main is two levels away from 60 (the current highest level in the game), and I made an alt. Oh, and this weekend, my main dropped skinning/leatherworking, which has no useful high-end crafting recipes for my class, and picked up mining/engineering, primarily so I can make my own end-game arrows and also so I can carry a device called Goblin Jumper Cables that will let me resusitate a fallen party member (well, sometimes—they also have a tendency to blow up in your face).

There are a lot of stupid, immature, and just plain mean people who play games like this, but every now and then you stumble across another intelligent soul with a good sense of humor. Case in point: in reply to a message posted to the game forums where every single plural noun ended with an apostrophe before the "s", another gamer posted this:

An apostrophe does not mean "Here comes an s!"

Gold. Pure gold.

It's Clocky! This is an alarm clock that hides from you after you press the snooze button once, forcing you to get out of bed to shut it up, and it's totally awesome. But I would only give one to someone I hate. Or my brother.

Today was supposed to be the day. For a year, we've been sending emails, brochures, and letters to prospective students, tens of thousands of them; we've been hosting them at on-campus events, arranging off-campus events for those who live to distant to travel, and even chatting with them at scheduled online events. We've been encouraging them to apply, then hoping that they'll complete their applications, then hoping that enough of the ones we admit will make us their first choice. We've been watching them closely, tracking trends in their interests, in our desirability, in our competitors' strategies, trying to find something in the data that we can use to convince them that we are the right choice for their undergraduate experience.

This year's worth of work was supposed to end today; we were supposed to mail out our decision letters, send emails to kids who had provided us with an email address, and finally, for the first time in many months, be able to sit back, take a deep breath, and relax, knowing that we had done our jobs, and that, for once, we were going to get our decisions to our kids at the same time as our fiercest competitors (you'd be surprised how much of a psychological boost you get in a student's mind when you're the first school they are accepted to).

But that's apparently not going to happen, even though we've had a prominent post on our web site for the last week announcing our mail date (which I had to not-so-subtly alter yesterday afternoon). And that sucks: to work so hard and fall one day short. Maybe next year.

Well, yesterday was a pretty crappy day. Things started off normally—drove to work, checked my email for a few minutes, and started to work on the web updates and emails for our decison day (which is hopefully today). Then I started to feel really cold. Then I started to shake. Then my forehead felt like it was on fire. Then I was shivering so much that I couldn't even type a line of code: out of nowhere, I had a terrible fever and headache.

After a miserable hour of this (which felt like a day), I mustered my strength and drove myself home, where I promptly collapsed on the couch and did nothing but shiver and stare at the ceiling for two or three hours. Finally the fever started to break, and I was able to sleep for an hour or two before the neighbor's son woke me up by blasting his bass-heavy car speakers for a half hour straight.

By 5, I felt well enough to crawl to the computer, check my email, and finish writing the queries I had been working on that morning, but I still felt pretty awful. But I'm hoping a good night's sleep will give me enough energy to make it until at least noon tomorrow, which should give me time to finish all the mission-critical stuff that I'm responsible for on the day we mail our decisions.
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