june 2005

Dad and Rachel and Tori came up to visit for Memorial Day, but before I tell you about the stuff we did this weekend, I need to finish up with all the stuff I never told you about from our trip to Florida (early April) and our trip to Iowa (early May).

  • Visited Coral Castle, a place I've wanted to go for years. It was built by one man who was able to move blocks of coral that weighed several tons using nothing but simple improvised tools, and he claims that he learned and used the pyramid-building secrets of the egyptians to accomplish this. It was pretty cool, but it was obviously meant to be experienced in quiet solitude, which was pretty hard to do with highway traffic nearby and lots of fellow tourists.

  • Took a ride on an airboat in the everglades and saw some alligators. It was pretty fun, but the alligators seemed pretty domesticated and we didn't spend nearly enough time going fast—instead we got a lot of lectures about plant life, etc.

  • Ate at a brazillian steakhouse thing where they walk around with huge skewers of meat and bring it directly to your table from the grill. You can eat as much as you want and they had something like 20 different cuts of meat, as well as some chicken and sausage options. Anyone who likes red meat must do this at least once in their life; this is what I imagine the buffet in heaven would be like for meat eaters.

  • Had dinner at a shack-themed restaurant overlooking the beach and drank a margarita served in a fishbowl. I thought it tasted really good at first, but by the time I finished it (with Julie's help), I realized that it was way too sweet, and the sweetness was meant to mask the fact that there was barely any liquor in it. But it was still a fun outing.


  • Took a tour of the university's art studios and saw some of Tori's recent work, and also spent some time in the campus art museum, which had some interesting pieces. They had one of Rothko's works on paper that was hung too low, probably upside-down, and which also had a wooden sculpture right in front of it so that you couldn't get an unobstructed view of the Rothko without standing to the side of it. It infuriates me when museums can't do a half-decent job of curating Rothko, knowing how important it was to him to have his work displayed properly, and I have considered writing a letter to the museum director to complain. This is probably as close as I'll get, though.

  • Went to Tori's graduation, which was notable mostly for the fact that one of the guys reading the names of the graduates as they walked across the state totally butchered almost every name he was given. It was a real embarrassment for the university. Luckily, he wasn't the one reading Tori's name.

  • Post graduation, we ate at the food court in the Iowa City mall and then played a round of Lunar Golf, and indoor mini-golf course lit by black lights. You got used to it after a while, but when I came back out into normal light, I felt sick and had a terrible headache for a couple of hours. We did have a proper graduation meal for Tori that night at a nice italian restaurant in downtown Iowa City, but I think the Lunar Golf put the food court meal over the top.

So that's it for old news. Tomorrow we'll start on new news.

My parents and Tori arrived on Saturday early in the evening, so we didn't do anything that day except go out to dinner at the Rocky Run near the hotel where my parents were staying (Tori was staying with us). Sunday we had plans to go to the inner harbor together for lunch and then spend the afternoon at the aquarium, but by the time we pulled everyone together and had lunch, it would have been almost 5:00 before we would have been able to get into the aquarium (we didn't buy tickets in advance because we weren't sure that everyone would actually want to go). So instead, we went up to the top of the World Trade Center (Baltimore has one, too, albeit much shorter and much less well known than the ones associated with the towers in NYC) and then walked over to Federal Hill (I mean the actual hill, not the neighborhood behind it).

Around 4 or so, dad and Dodd and I went to Dodd's old apartment to help him finish moving out. He had been moving for a week or so already, doing a carload every couple of days, and he claimed that he only had two carloads left and gave us the impression that all we would have to do is load up his stuff, drive it to the new place, and get it unloaded. Of course, it wasn't as simple as that: when we got to Dodd's old apartment, we found that even though there wasn't a ridiculous amount of stuff left, none of it had been packed up and/or disassembled (for example, Dodd's computers and peripherals were all still plugged in and wired together, his desk hadn't been broken down, etc.). So while dad worked on breaking down the electronics and the desk, Dodd and I loaded the two SUVs with the bed frame, the tvs, his chair, his clothes, and some bags of miscellaneous stuff.

By the time we finished this, it was already close to 6:00 and it was clear that we needed more than two carloads of space, and since we had dropped Julie, Rachel, and Tori off in Hampden so they could shop while we worked on moving Dodd, we decided to take the two carloads of stuff down to Dodd's new place and unload it, and then I would pick up the girls and dad and Dodd would come back to get the final carload of Dodd's stuff. Our tentative plan was to meet for dinner somewhere and then try to go to a late showing of Episode III, but we'd have to make specific plans based on how the last part of the move went.

That final carload took a lot longer than I think anyone expected, in no small part because dad wanted to put the desk back together again after they got it to Dodd's new place (dad could barely remember how to put it back together even though he had just taken it apart a couple of hours before, and he knew that if he could barely do it, Dodd wouldn't have a chance since he wasn't even able to watch while it was taken apart). Rachel, Julie, Tori, and me ended up ordering chinese takeout and eating it at our house, while dad and Dodd planned to grab some fast food on the way to the theater for the 10:30 show.

I got nothing for you today. I mean, there's a lot I could write about, but I'm just feeling lazy, and I'm too stubborn to not post at all. So this is what you get. See you on Monday.

So what did I do this weekend? Three words for you: The Molten Core. Yes, that's World of Warcraft related, and no, you probably don't want to know more. However, I don't think I'm going to take much more spousal grief about this game from here on out; more about that later in the week.

So after dad and Dodd finished getting the last of Dodd's stuff moved into his new place, they met Tori, Rachel, Julie, and I at the Muvico Egyptian down in Arundel Mills for the 10:30 showing of Episode III. I know dad was really tired (I was tired, and I hadn't done half as much as he had), but he also knew that everyone, especially Rachel, Dodd, and I, really wanted to see the movie, so he did what he always does: he put other people first and soldiered on.

I'm sure that you've all read a thousand reviews on Episode III at this point (and a good number of you have probably written your own as well), so I'm not going to go into great detail about what I thought, but here are the basics (and I guess technically I should give a spoilers warning here, but I can't imagine that anyone who reads this site hasn't seen this movie at least once already): it was a pretty good movie, the best of the new ones, although not quite up to the original 3. It had the most emotional resonance of any of the first three, especially in the scenes where the Jedi were being slaughtered and the final confrontation between Anakin and Obi Wan. The love scenes were still a bit awkward, but far less so than in Attack of the Clones, and Padme, who was finally blossoming into a kick-ass Leia-style heroine in the last movie, was reduced to sitting in her apartment and weeping constantly. General Grievous wasn't as cool as I was expecting him to be based on the Clone Wars cartoon series, but he was still pretty cool. And for once, there were too few pauses in the action; I felt like I hardly ever got a chance to catch my breath and really let the implications of the story sink in. Oh, and of course, Anakin's transistion to the dark side was far too abrupt; I don't think we were really given a good reason why he turned from troubled but well-meaning do-gooder to the kind of guy who can walk into the Jedi temple and slaughter dozens of elementary school age kids.

This movie also solidified my already-existing opinion that without Ewan McGregor's performance as Obi Wan in the three prequels, this franchise could have had serious problems. He was the only actor who seemed to be able to appease Lucas' lifeless technical directions and still bring a sense of adventure, humor, and gravitas to his character, reminding us of the best performances in the three original films.

I want to see it again, of course, hopefully a couple more times in the theater, but I really can't wait for it to come out on DVD, so I can have time to replay and re-examine and really get to know it well.

Monday, Memorial Day, was the big event that everyone had come up for: a Braves-Nationals game down at RFK in DC. Back in April, Dodd bought tickets for the whole family as a birthday present to me, since I'm a huge Braves fan and I rarely get to see them in person (they only play the Orioles in interleague play every other year or so, and I'm not often willing to make the trip up to Philadelphia or Pittsburgh to see them there).

Anyway. We all met up at my parents' hotel around 11 a.m. and started to drive down to the metro stop. We got delayed for a bit in heavy traffic due to an accident, which meant canceling our plans to get some lunch at Union Station, but we were still able to get to the stadium in plenty of time for batting practice, so we just got hotdogs, etc., there (Tori the vegetarian was not pleased, especially since she had had to stay up late the night before watching a movie she really had no desire to see). Julie and I had actually been to a baseball game at RFK before, a pre-season exhibition game between St. Louis and some other NL team (possibly the Expos?), and I remembered it being one of the worst baseball experiences of my life: not only was it in a hastily configured all-in-one stadium, it was in an old and decaying hastily configured all-in-one stadium with terrible sight lines. So I was expecting the worst, especially because everyone knows that RFK is just a temporary home for the team while MLB sells them off to the highest bidder who will promptly start construction on a brand new city-financed park. But the overall experience wasn't too bad, really—we were high above the action, but we had a great view from right field from our seats. The only major drawback was that when a ball was hit in our direction, the fielder disappeared below us and we had to wait for the crowd reaction to find out whether he was able to catch it or not.

The Braves were having a terrible game at the plate, with only one hit through the seventh inning, but they managed to score a run early on thanks to two errors and a walk from the Nationals in one inning. Then in the seventh came the moment that would define the game, and I'm going to go on a little tangent now relating that play to you:

Dick Henry, the physicist/astronomer who taught my Philosophy of the Universe class last year, was fond of using props to demonstrate the quantum-mechanical nature of the universe. In our first class, he took a deck of cards, shuffled it a couple of times, and dealt out the cards one by one and face-up on the table. After letting us look at them for a minute, he scooped them up and recombined them into a deck, and then asked us how long it would take for us to see that exact same pattern of cards again if he were able to deal them once a second. A few people guessed a year or two, some people a couple of decades, some a couple of centuries.

As it turns out, it would take longer than the universe has currently existed, which meant, essentially, that that particular deal was unique in the universe for those of us who saw it. It might be dealt again, what with all the millions of deals that happen every day in casinos throughout the planet, but the odds were enormously against any of us in that room ever seeing it again ourselves. Despite the seemingly small number of cards and limited possible combinations, there are in fact a staggering number of potential outcomes every time you shuffle and deal a deck of cards.

That's what baseball is like: a basic ruleset and a limited number of players interacting with one object, but a bewildering universe of possibilities. No matter how many baseball games you've seen in your life, you are almost guaranteed that every time you go to a game, you're going to see something that you've never seen before and will never seen again.

So anyway, back to the seventh inning. The score was 2-1 in favor of the Nationals, and the Braves' Brian Jordan hit a long flyball that went over the fence the left field corner but looked to me like it went over as a foul. The umpire who had the view down the line called it a homerun, however, and so Jordan started his trot around the bases. Predictably, the Nationals' manager came out to argue, and a couple of minutes later, completely unpredictably, the umpire crew chief (who was standing at second base and did not have a clear view of the ball as it left the stadium) overruled the umpire who had called the ball fair and called back the homerun. Of course, then Bobby Cox, the Braves' manager, came out from his dugout and made his arguments, bolstered by the knowledge that the replay in the clubhouse had shown that the ball was fair and deserved to be called a homerun. But it almost never happens that an umpire reverses a call in the first place (otherwise managers would argue every play), and it's a thousand times more rare for them to reverse an already-reversed call, so Bobby left the field empty-handed, down by one run instead of tied at two.

This should-have-been-a-homer became even more significant in the 9th inning when the Braves, down to their last couple of outs, got another homerun from Andruw Jones, which put the score at 3-2. Had Jordan's homerun been properly credited, that would have made it a tie game, and the Braves would have had a shot to win it in extra innings. As it stood, Andruw's homerun was meaningless because the umpire crew chief had overruled the umpire who had the best view of the ball, and who, as it turns out, had made the right call.

I'm pretty certain that no matter how many more baseball games I see in my life, I'll never see something like that again. At least, I hope I won't.

Today is our ninth wedding anniversary, and the seventeenth anniversary of our first date. Since I'm 34, that means I've spent half my life with Julie; every day from here forward I will have spent more days on earth with Julie than I have without her. Weird. Weird but cool.

Ever since I got my new dual G5 tower last November, and especially since I got World of Warcraft in December, we've been talking about getting a new machine for Julie. For whatever reason, we got both of our previous machines, G4 towers, at around the same time, so hers was just as obsolete as mine (although mine did have more RAM, a bigger harddrive, a better processor, etc.). She was no small fan of Diablo II, and so when she saw how much fun World of Warcraft was, we both knew it was only a matter of time until we'd have to get her a machine good enough for her to play her own characters.

We didn't give each other birthday presents this year so we could put the money towards a new computer for Julie, and we were planning on doing the same for our anniversary, but then a happy convergence of circumstances occurred and we were able to buy her a new iMac G5 last weekend, complete with everything she needed except for an extra 512 megs of RAM (to bring her up to a gig total) and, of course, a copy of World of Warcraft.

The first thing that happened was a feature-bump to the iMac line without a corresponding price bump. Previously, the low-end iMac G5 had a 1.6 GHz G5 processor, 80 gigs of hard drive space, 256 megs of RAM, and an Nvidia GeForce FX 5200 video card (which included 64 megs of video RAM). While this machine technically met the minimum specs for the game (aside from the RAM, of course—you really need a gig to get the game to run smoothly in high-population areas of the virtual world), I knew from reading posts on the WoW message boards that this video card wasn't really up to snuff, and that the game would be playable only at the lowest graphics settings. But the latest revision to the iMac line doubled the RAM, doubled the hard drive space, bumped the processor to 1.8 GHz, and also put in an ATI Radeon 9600, which has twice as much video RAM as the GeForce FX 5200 and is the exact same card that shipped with my G5 tower back in November. Plus the new machine included an Airport Extreme wireless card and a Bluetooth care, which were options on the previous model worth well over $100 combined. Apple did all this while keeping the price at $1299, or $1199 for education customers, which is the price we paid after showing our IDs at the Apple store in Towson Town Center. A further bonus was a free copy of Mac OS X 10.4, Tiger, which retails for around $130 and which I was very close to buying (I could wait for my institution to get it in stock like I did for the last OS, Panther, but that took almost 6 months and I don't think I would have waited that long this time).

But that was a minor factor in our ability to purchase a new machine sooner than later. See, Julie does our taxes. She has always done our taxes except for one year when we both changed jobs, moved to a different state, and had freelance income to account for—that year we got an accountant to do our taxes for us. But she's always done a great job, even in the year I had substantial income from some contract work outside of my regular job. She's always done it by hand, too, although it wouldn't have cost that much to buy the software that would have checked over everything for you to make sure you weren't making any stupid mistakes. And up until a couple of months ago, we'd always assumed that she'd done them right.

This year, for the first time, the IRS provided free software to let you fill our your tax forms and file them electronically, so Julie set to work with copies of last year's forms, some draft copies of this year's forms that she'd filled out by hand, and our W-2s. Everything was going fine until the software caught a deduction that Julie hadn't made on her paper copy: she'd forgotten to deduct our state taxes from our adjusted gross income on the federal forms. This made it so that instead of paying a very small amount of federal taxes, which is what she had come up with on her draft forms, we would actually get several hundred dollars back.

Since she caught it before she filed it, that wasn't so bad. But then she decided to check on our previous returns, and found that she had made the same mistake on every return going back to 2001. Luckily for us, you can refile your taxes to correct any mistakes like this, and even more fortunately, 2001 was the cutoff for this year's filing. So she hastily redid the 2001 return and sent it in when she sent off our other tax forms, and lo and behold, two weeks ago, we got a check for the government for over $1700. Combined with the money we got back this year, and the money that we will get back when she refiles the 2002 and 2003 forms, we've suddenly found ourselves with several thousand extra dollars that we weren't including in our budget for the year.

Of course we're going to save most of it, but given the happy coincidence of the iMac G5 low-end model being bumped to specs that are perfect for WoW, how could we resist buying one with our unexpected good fortune. We couldn't, of course, so last Friday after leaving work we went straight to the Apple store in Towson and walked out 20 minutes later with a brand new iMac for Julie. We got the machine plugged in and on the wireless network in less than 15 minutes, and an hour later, after we had installed WoW and downloaded the patches, she was happily creating her first character. And as embarrassed as she is to have me tell you about her multi-year tax error, she'd be even more embarrassed if I told you how many hours she's played that character since Friday night.

Well, tomorrow Seadragon and I will have another go at selling our photos to the general public, this time at HonFest in Hampden. I've already registered another domain name to sell my photos (I won't post a link from here, because I use my name on that other site, and as you probably know, I try not to use my name or other people's last names when writing for this site), but for the time being it will probably just have a gallery of the photos I have for sale and an email address where you can place an order (I'll at least get a placeholder page done with the logo I designed on it).

Our booth will be on the 800 block of West 36th ("The Avenue"), between Chesnut and Elm but closer to Chestnut. So, if you're planning to atttend anyway, make sure to stop by. Don't feel pressured to buy anything if you come—we'll probably be there around 12 hours including setup and breakdown, so we'll be grateful just to have some non-strangers to talk to. Hope to see you there.

No posts yesterday because I had the day off. No particular reason, we're just in our summer schedule, and in exchange for working extra every day, we can take a day off every couple of weeks without sacrificing a vacation day. So this will happen every now and then throughout the summer.

HonFest was quite an experience. It was brutally hot until about 6 p.m., and then it was just pretty hot. I didn't sell many photos at all, and while Seadragon did okay (better than she did at Spring Fair, I think), she still probably just broke even when you consider the materials and the cost of the booth (although, like me, she still has a pretty good stock of material leftover for the next show, if she decides to do this again).

We were paranoid that it was our slightly higher prices that led to poor sales (although we were still cheaper than I've seen for other photographers at events like this, including the other vendor who was at Honfest), but at the end of the day, I think the heat was the primary factor. It was just too hot—too hot to think, too hot to browse, and certainly too hot to think about what might look good on your wall. I think early in the day, when people were just hot, they spent a ton of money on food and especially drinks; later, when it cooled off, they had spent more money than they intended to and decided to forgo any purchases of decorative objects. Until 5, we got very few browsers and a few sales; after 5, we got tons of browsers but still not many sales. Diane didn't sell any of her hand-bound journals, but she did have a conversation with one of the Hampden store owners that could lead to some steady business for her in the future; Seadragon's sales were helped by her abundance of Baltimore-related shots (not that her other photos aren't great, too, the crowds at HonFest just seemed drawn to her Baltimore shots); and me...well, I just didn't do that great. Lots of conversations praising my work and lots of browsers who lingered and took a business card, but very few actual sales.

I chatted with a couple of other vendors selling decorative art items, and they all said that it was pretty much the same story for them, so I guess the heat was just too much for people to really shop (plus I bet they spent all their money on beer and snowcones—hey, there's an idea: beer snowcones!). Oh well. The next festival I've thought about doing this year isn't until September, so hopefully that won't be a factor next time. And this is all just a learning experience anway: if at the end of this year, having done 5-6 festivals, we feel like we can't make a profit attending these fairs, then we'll stop doing it; til then, I guess we have to roll with the highs (Spring Fair) and lows (HonFest).

I haven't been happy at work for a long time, and I really need to figure out what's going on because it's getting harder and harder for me to get motivated to get up in the morning and spend my day in the office. I'm not desperately unhappy at work—in general, I like the people I work with, I really like my boss, I like some aspects of my job, and the money is enough so I don't have to think about it—but I'm just not happy, not like I've been at my previous jobs, even the ones I ended up quitting.

There are some little things that contribute to this, like the fact that I share one office with two other people and that I have no access to natural light unless I leave my desk and walk outside. This probably isn't that big a deal to most people, but natural light is really important to me, and the longer I sit under those purple fluorescent lights with no idea of what the weather's like outside, the deader I feel. It doesn't help that our room is isolated from the rest of the office, either, so that we don't get the normal flow of traffic—visitors and conversations can go a long way to making a poorly lit cubicle farm bearable.

But that's not really the main thing that makes me unhappy, it just contributes to my dissatisfaction. I've thought and thought about this, and I guess the main thing that I'm lacking here that I wasn't lacking at my other jobs is friends, people I can relate to outside of work. Looking at my past three jobs—Michie (publishing), Sycamore (media developer), and CO2 (media developer)—the one thing they all had in common was that I had friends around me, people that I wanted to spend time with outside of work and many of whom I'm still in touch with (Tom from Michie; Jeff, Sam, Dave, and Ryan from Sycamore; and Jeff and Greg from CO2). I used to have friends here—Kathryn, Alisa, and Dodd in particular—but they have all moved on to new jobs now, and I just haven't bonded with anyone else here (Jean is still here, but her location isn't conducive to conversation, and she's rarely free for lunch). I like most of the people well enough—but the smartest, most interesting folks here are also the busiest, and that, combined with my own hectic schedule and our relative isolation from the rest of our coworkers, means that I don't have the opportunities to hang out with them and get to know them better.

There was also a sense in my last two jobs that I was on a team that was fighting for something, that we were all oriented towards a single goal, and we all shared a common love of technology and how we could use it to create something new. In my current job, people are open to technology, but no one is really enthusiastic about it, no one shares my passion for it, even the other people who work on the IT staff. I guess this is one of the predictable results of IT becoming so prevalent, but there are now tons of people in the industry who view it as just another job, no different than showing up at a factory and manning the line all day or checking out customers at a retail store. That's not to say that the work we do doesn't require more skill and training than those kinds of jobs, but people will now get that training not because they love technology and they love making things with their tech skills, but simply to get an IT job with good benefits and pay. They don't have to love their work any more, they just have to show up and do it. While I'm the last person who thinks that work should be the be-all end-all of your existence, it would still be nice if there was something about it that was compelling enough to make you look forward to showing up everyday (besides the paycheck of course). And I just don't think many of my colleagues are that into what they've chosen as their profession—many of them don't use a computer for anything except email and looking up movie times when they're not at work, and they certainly don't do anything creative with their programming skills.

I do like the mission of our office, and I like that our mission is of vital importance to the future of the university, but I just don't feel like I share in that mission on a day-to-day basis. Our office is divided up into very specific teams, each of which functions fairly independently of the others, and while my team probably has the most cross-team contact of any of the groups, it's because different teams all ask us for the same kinds of stuff: an update to the web site, a report, a login to our database front-end. We don't get to participate in the aspects of the work that keep everyone else's jobs from getting too boring; instead, we get to do the same tasks over and over again, just for different customers. Couple this with our location, and it feels like we live in a little box that's cut off from the rest of the office, and the stuff we do ends up being very mundane and divorced from the larger goals of the office.

Part of my growing dislike of being in the office might also have to do with my status as a senior staff member. Sure, I've worked as a project manager in previous jobs, but I was always able to work very collaboratively with both my bosses and with the people working on the project (the companies I worked for were so small that we didn't have a choice, really—everyone had to pitch in and do some grunt work or else the projects just wouldn't get done). Now, however, I'm in this larger bureaucratic structure where all requests for my department come to me and then I decide who does what. None of our requests are that complicated, so there's no need for teamwork on a given task, and so what happens is that I end up mostly as a filter. Sure, I still work on a ton of stuff, too, since the filtering process doesn't take that long, but I work on it in solitude, just like the other members of my team. I rarely need to ask anyone's help or opinion on how to best complete the work, nor do they need to ask mine; we all silently toil away, listening to our headphones and doing a slight variation on a task that we've almost certainly done dozens of times before.

I'm not really sure what I can do to make this better. I can't just create friends out of thin air, and I certainly can't move to a new location that has windows and easy access to interesting coworkers. I can't make the work we do any more interesting, and I can't seem to find projects for us to work on that will involve collaboration. I just don't know what to do. I don't want to leave (I'm under no delusions that things would be any better in another job; they could easily be much worse), but I'm increasingly finding that I don't want to stay, either.

Yesterday I was trying to figure out if there was any way to make both the Orioles game I had tickets for (which started at 7:05) and the monthly Baltimore bloggers happy hour (which started at 7), but as it turns out, I didn't need to worry about making either. Around noon I started feeling a little unwell at work (which seems to happen these days whenever I'm away from the office for more than a weekend; I don't know if that's a physical reaction to the poor air quality in our building or a psychosomatic reaction to having to come back in to a job I'm not all that excited about these days, but I wouldn't bet against either possibility), and although I felt a little better after I got home that night, I was feeling decidely unwell by the next morning. I thought about working from home and still trying to make the game somehow, but I just ended up sleeping most of the day, drinking lots of fluids, and drifting in and out of the seemingly unending stream of syndicated episodes of Law & Order on the cable channels.

After reading my entry a couple of days ago on my recent unhappiness at work, Tom wrote suggested that I take some time to get out of my office. Stealing a phrase from Jonathan Durham: "Physicality stops thought." And you know, I think he's right—taking a nice long walk in the middle of the day would give me access to some sunshine and fresh air, and the mindless wandering would reboot my brain so I could start with a clean slate in the afternoon. So that's what I'm going to do: if my job doesn't want me to burn out and quit, they're just going to have to deal with the fact that I'm going to be away from my desk once or twice a day for a half hour or so.

Back in my happier days here, I used to do this all the time, but it was always in the company of someone else. Kathryn and I especially would go on very long walks, sometimes close to an hour, in addition to having lunch a couple of times a week, and after the weather warmed up during Dodd's time here, he and I would often walk over to the Mattin Center and have lunch outside together. And while it would be nice to have a companion, I still think just getting out and wandering around campus my help my attitude a bit and it will certainly ensure that purple fluorescents and stale air aren't the only things going into my skin and lungs all day.

I had lunch with CO2 Jeff on Saturday in Frederick. It doesn't seem like it, but I don't think I've seen him since we went our with our wives before Christmas in 2003. I chat with him every now and then on IM and email, but we just don't seem to get together very often, even though Frederick is only about half an hour away for both of us and we always end up hanging out for several hours when we see each other.

It was kind of appropriate to see him in light of my recent work issues. Jeff was one of my bosses at CO2, but he was also very much a friend—he's one of those guys that I instantly felt comfortable with and always enjoyed spending time with. If I was able to with him on a daily basis like we did at CO2, or even if I was just able to meet him for lunch a couple of times a week, I think I'd be much happier about the job situation. Right now when I go into work, I just don't have anything to look forward to—it's just go in, keep my head down, do my work, eat lunch at my desk, and wait til it's time to go home. Having just a couple of hours a week to talk to someone about art, pop culture, families, etc., during work hours would make me feel much more connected to my workplace and make me a lot less stressed about the aspects of my job that are becoming soulkillers without some human interaction to balance them out.

Anyway. It was really good to see him, although it made me miss working with people like him and Dave and Ryan and my other friend Jeff that much more. Hopefully it won't be another year and a half before we find time to get together again.

I watched the first episode of Morgan Spurlock's new show on Bravo, 30 Days, the other night, and although I enjoyed it as an entertainment product, I think that it's flawed as a piece of journalism. In the age of Michael Moore, where sensationalism is prized over pure objectivity, and in the Fox News era of red state facts and blue state facts that lead to a distrust of all media outlets, it's more important than ever for someone who is trying to make a political statement with a documentary film to minimize the editing and resist creating situations that will be favorable to the director's preformed opinion of the issue that they are exploring. In cases like 30 Days, where the film a controlled social experiment, it's also critical to make sure that the experiment is set up properly, and that's where 30 Days falls down (or that's where the first episode failed, anyway).

The premise of this show is that for 30 days, the primary subject of each episode will live a life that is outside of their normal comfort zone (homophobe living as a gay man, christian living as a muslim, etc.), which is similar to the premise of his movie Supersize Me, where Spurlock ate nothing but McDonald's for 30 days to see what it would do to his body. Spurlock won't be the star of every episode, but to kick off the series, he and his fiancee explored what it would be like to live on minimum wage for only 30 days.

This had great potential, I thought—the minimum wage is painfully low, and most people who make minimum wage don't have health insurance, no savings, no retirement, and often not even a checking account. But Spurlock framed it in a way that, even with both he and his fiancee earning checks, they were almost doomed to failure from the start. They began with nothing more than two weeks pay at the minimum wage, which meant that they had around $350 combined to pay for a place to live, furniture, food, etc., so they were well in the hole before they ever started (by contrast, I would bet that most people come into their first independent living situation with some money in the bank and some help from the parents, and likely some furniture as well). Both Spurlock and his fiancee found jobs immediately, but within two days, both of them developed ailments that required emergency room visits, which were of course ridiculously expensive. That's not to say that healthcare coverage isn't a major issue in this country, especially for the poor, but it's incredibly unlikely that a normal, healthy couple of two relatively young people are both going to develop serious ailments within a 24 hour period, and so at the very beginning of the experiment they had put themselves in a hole that they were almost certain not be able to climb out of in a month making only minimum wage.

They also didn't take advantage of any government assistant programs like food stamps, welfare, housing assistance, etc., which they almost certainly would have been eligible for had they been legal residents of the town in which they filmed this episode and had they not been multimillionaires in real life. Again, that's not to say that it still wouldn't have been a major struggle to get by on the federal minimum wage even with the benefit of those programs, but by not using them the way that most of the working poor do, they automatically made sure that they would come to the conclusion that they wanted: it's impossible to have even a minimum standard of living on the minimum wage.

I guess that's what I found so disappointing—I'm betting that I'm going to tend to agree with Spurlock's politics in most cases, but by exploring these issues with experiments that are all but destined to come to conclusions that matche his pre-existing beliefs about a particular topic, the only people who are going to find the show at all enlightening are people who already agree with him. It would be much more powerful if there were a chance that his hypothesis could be proven wrong, and maybe he would have to learn to adjust his worldview just as he's hoping that others will have their opinions changed by the episodes where he's right. But anyone who wanted to criticize this episode could have done so easily—in addition to the problems listed above, there were plenty of other aspects of the experiment that were unrealistic. Anyone who didn't want to think about this issue would be able to easily write off the whole show and its conclusions because it took an approach that's far enough from reality that you could reject the whole premise before you'd even seen the ending.

I plan on watching more episodes, but as entertaining and congenial as Spurlock is, it's going to be hard to become a fan if future episodes follow this same pattern. I'm hoping that the fact that he won't be starring in the episodes will give him a little objectivity and allow him to explore situations from a more neutral point of view.

So there are a bunch fairly crappy reality shows on these days, and as usual, I can't resist checking them out. This summer's offerings include Hell's Kitchen, Beauty and the Geek, and Sports Kids Moms and Dads, (Big Brother, the king of crappy reality tv, is due back soon as well). Of these, Sports Kids Moms and Dads (which follows last year's Showbiz Moms and Dads) is easily the most compelling, because it's the most real of these so-called reality shows—it deals with kids ranging from 8 to 15 in age whose parents are pushing them to be hyper-involved in sports. And even though most them seem to enjoy and be good at their chosen activity, it's really scary to see how much the parents live through their kdis—every fall at cheerleading practice or in the ice skating rink, every dropped passed, every missed basket, can seem like the end of the world to the parents, while the kids only seem upset because they know that their parents will be upset.

Hell's Kitchen (which pits budding chefs against one another to see who will win their own restaurant) and Beauty and the Geek (I'm not even really sure what the point of this show is) are entertaining fluff, but honestly, I can't currently recall the names of any of the contestants, and if they were canceled tomorrow, I wouldn't miss them—they're just standard reality fare, and they feature the same kinds of morons that auditon for American Idol and are willing to sign up for a Fox reality show without knowing the premise. Sports Kids Moms and Dads features real people whose emotions and reactions seem pretty genuine, even if they're a far cry from most of us would consider normal.

New guy started at work this week, and so far he's fitting in really well. He's a Hopkins grad in computer science, and he also worked in our office as a student his final two years here, so he has good tech skills and he's familiar with most of the business processes in our office. Plus, as this is his first job, he's very eager to please and I think he could take over a lot of the lower level things that tend to take up a lot of my day at the expense of the longer-term projects that I'd rather spend time on. This could turn out to be a good summer at work after all.

It's Friday, and I have only one thing to say: w00t!

Sorry for the unexplained absence. I took a couple of days off to spend time with my sister, who is visiting us for a week, and per my policy of not posting on days when I don't go to work, I haven't posted since last Friday.

Sunday night we went to see Wilco down in Columbia, and Monday we didn't do much of anything at all, although I did spend an hour or so cooking a dinner of shrimp and vegetable kabobs over crazy rice. Yesterday we slept in a bit, but we were up and about in time to drive to Frederick for lunch (tapas!) and walk around the downtown for a bit. I'm working today and tomorrow, but then I'm taking Friday off so we can go up to Gettysburg for the opening day of the reenactments this weekend, and then this weekend we'll probably go to Annapolis. We're finishing off with a trip to DC to see the fireworks on Monday, and then Tori will probably go home on Tuesday to spend some time with our parents and her hometown friends before she leaves in August to start her new job with AmeriCorps. Busy weekend ahead, but it should be fun.

I'm really loving the transformation of Tom Cruise from the planet's most beloved action hero/love interest into nutjob cult mouthpiece with a way-too-young girlfriend. Schadenfreude 4TW!*

*4TW = For the Win. This is a snarky phrase I've picked up from the WoW forums that I don't think people use outside of geek message boards where everyone already knows what it means, so I'll explain it to you just this once. But never again. w00t!
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