july 2005

We should have more holidays where we take a day off for the express purpose of watching fireworks. I think we'd all be much happier if we got to see large colorful explosions in the sky on a more regular basis.

Why do I have to replace the Yellow ink tank in my printer when I JUST WANT TO PRINT SOME FREAKING BLACK TEXT?

Excuse my outburst. I've been a little touchy recently. But I do think that this is a legitimate question.

Tori left yesterday morning, so I took a half day to have breakfast with her and see her off and then worked the afternoon from home. Even though I was mostly focused on the computer screen, I was sitting next to a window, and it was nice to have access to natural light and changing weather for a bit. It was cloudy, it was sunny; it rained for a while, then the rain subsided and I could see the sun slowing drying the water from the asphault. Later in the afternoon it got cloudy and rained again, then the sun returned once more to dry the ground.

Working in my current office, I never see any of these shifts in the mood of the weather; all I know is what it's like when I walk into my building in the morning, what it's like outside during the ten minutes it takes me to walk and pick up my lunch, and what it's like when I leave at the end of the day. It's a little thing, but not having a good feel for what's happening outside just makes me feel that much more divorced from the world, from the organic patterns of nature that give a unique character to each day. Inside my cubicle, staring at the blank white drywall and listening to the hum of the computer under my desk, every day is exactly the same.

So last week while Tori was here, we took to an Orioles game that we already had tickets for. Luckily, seat next to the two we already had was empty, so we were able to purchase that one for her, and we were all looking forward to a great night of baseball: the temperature was cool for summer, we had great seats, and I didn’t have to go to work the next morning. What could ruin a night so perfect?

Well, I'll tell you what: a loudmouthed little redneck and his hillbilly parents. There didn't seem to be anything wrong with them at first: a husband and wife and their two pre-teen sons, who were part of a larger group of boys and parents who were scattered around our section. And then it started: Almost from the first pitch, one of the two kids sitting behind us (very pudgy, with mean, dumb eyes and very crooked teeth) started yelling at the players on the field, the umpire, the coaches, and just about anyone else even remotely associated with the game. And when I say he was yelling, it wasn’t like your normal cheering, even your normal enthusiastic cheering (I’ve sat through that plenty of games with obnoxious Red Sox and Yankees fans before). This was screaming, screeching, so loud that you could actually hear chunks of skin being torn off the inside of his throat by the power of his voice (I'm sure he wasn't able to speak above a whisper for days after the game). And it was right in our ears.

To make matters worse, the kid started jabbering in catchphrases he learned from Blue Collar TV, “git-r-done” being the most annoying example (even more annoying: he would sometimes rapid-fire it to the tune of the William Tell Overture, aka the theme from the Lone Ranger). I was able to tolerate this for a couple of innings, because I was taking some pleasure in the cosmic retribution being visited on Tori for watching that god-awful show in the first place (we caught her tuning in a couple of times in between her frequent visits to the Food Network), but by inning four, it had past the point of being even remotely amusing, and it was just painful. So painful, in fact, the Tori got up and moved to an empty seat across the aisle. By the next inning, Julie had joined her, and I remained as the lone holdout, trying to sit in the seats that I had actually paid for and enjoy the game.

To make things even worse, this kid was making borderline racist statements (for example, he said Sammy Sosa looked like a warmed-over turd—not played like, looked like), and he would even pick on random kids as they walked past (he took particular delight in one boy with a giant head of red curls, repeatedly calling him "carrot top" and asking him "Did you just get a perm?"). These seemed to embarass his parents at least a little, but not nearly enough (I'm ashamed to admit that I'm pretty sure these folks were from my home state, North Carolina), and it was usually only took a few seconds after being admonished before the kid was right back at it, screaming and yelling loud enough that even the people several rows in front of us would turn around to glower.

There was a strange calm after Tori and Julie left, almost like there was some recognition that it was the kid’s bad behavior that had driven them away (neither of them had been shy about glaring at the kid and the parents as they were fleeing), so after an inning of near-silence broken occasionally by cheering at a normal level, I was able to coax them back over. But the second they sat down, the kid started up again. I had promised them that I would actually say something if he started up again (as opposed to the constant dirty looks being flashed at them by everyone in our vicinity who wasn’t with their group), so I turned around and said something like, “Would you mind cutting down on the volume a little bit?” The kid seemed genuinely taken aback, which made me feel bad for about a millisecond until his moron of a father started defending him:

Jackass: He's just a kid. Kids are supposed to be loud at games.
Me: There's a difference between cheering and yelling at the top of your lungs for six innings straight.
Jackass: He's just a kid.
Me: He's one of the worst behaved kids I've ever seen at a ballgame.
Jackass: Well, then you've been going to the wrong kinds of ballgames.
Me: Whatever. You come sit in front of him and let him yell in your ear the whole game then.
Jackass: <no response>

After the eighth inning, the score was 9-3 in favor of Cleveland, and it was clear that loudmouth wasn't going to shut up, so we decided to stop fighting and head home. In a way, I felt kind of sorry for the kid: I'm sure that most of the time when he's watching a baseball game, he's in the dugout with his teammates, and there's no one sitting directly in front of him to get annoyed with his nonstop bellowing (in fact, I'm sure that his coach encourages that kind of enthusiasm). But it's up to the parents to teach kids situation-specific behavior, and it's really pathetic that this moron of a father would rather inconvenience other people who paid just as much for their tickets as he did and argue with someone who asks politely for a lowering of the volume than simply explain to his son that there's a difference between the dugout and a major league ballpark. Even though they didn't do anything about it, I know that the parents knew that their son's behavior was inappropriate, but thanks to their cowardice/laziness, it's entirely possible that their son never will.

Anyway. We're going to another game tonight, this time against the Red Sox (whose fans have been even worse than the Yankees in recent years). I usually hate these games, because I just can't stand the fans, but after last week, I doubt that any of them are going to do anything half as irritating as this one little hillbilly jackass.

Good O's game last night. The Boston fans were a little rowdy at first, but they shut up pretty good after the Orioles got two home runs off of David Wells in the third inning to take the permanent lead in a game that would eventually be called due to rain after six innings. Daniel Cabrera was pitching for the home team, and he was his usual self: brilliant when he was in control (8 strikeouts in five innings of work), and teetering on the edge of disaster when he wasn't (two wild pitches, five walks, three hits, and a hit batsman). Part of it was the weather, I think—we've seen him fall apart completely after initially pitching well when he gets rained on in the middle of a game—but the O's got lucky and kept Boston to a single run despite several situations where they had men in scoring position.

This is a critical series for the Orioles—they have their best record at the halfway mark that they've had in years, but even after tonight's win, they're still three games behind the Red Sox for first place in the AL East. If they were to sweep the series, that would put them in a tie for first, and even 3-1 would put them only two games back, but the Yankees, who have recently heated up and started to make a charge, are breathing down their necks, too. So in addition to catching Boston, they need to make sure to stay ahead of New York, neither of which is guaranteed unless they take all four games. After years of disappointment, it's hard to get really excited, especially because you know that both Boston and New York have the funds to go out and shore up the holes in their lineups. But for the first time in recent memory, the Orioles are close enough that owner Peter Angelos might feel compelled to go out and make one of those big deal himself.

If the team could stay in contention for another couple of weeks, they just might be able to land that big name frontline starter that they've been so desperately lacking, which might give them the boost they need to finish the season strong and have a legitimate shot at the postseason. I don't want to get my hopes too high, because you're kidding yourself if you think that either the Yankees or the Red Sox are going to give up before the last out of the season, but for the first time since we've started attending games regularly, we at least still have some optimism at this point in the season.

I know I shouldn't, but I love The Andy Milonakis Show. Love it. Love. It.

Up until now, Milonakis was best known for his webcam raps ("Crispy New Freestyle" was seriously popular among bloggers a couple years back, and that's the first time I encountered him), but I had no idea somone (MTV) was giving him his own show. Or that it had any chance of being good. But it is. The kid has no boundaries, no filters—his show is a direct view into the mind of a boy with serious ADHD and no friends except his dog, his video camera, and an odd assortment of old folks from his neighborhood. Not everything on the show is funny, not by a long shot, but the combined effect of all the pieces together is mesmerizing in the same way that the best reality tv is. Except this time, instead of the editors of the show picking the moments that make the participants look the most deranged and clueless, it's the star himself who's making those choices. Don't watch this if you have an aversion to quick cuts—some of the skits only last a couple of seconds, and they come at you rapid fire a la Robot Chicken. But if any of this sounds even remotely intriguing or appealing to you, watch the show once. There's an equal chance that you'll either love it or hate it, but you should know by the first commericial break which side you're on.

Oh, and I also love Moonraker, which I also know is wrong. But what are you gonna do? We're all allowed our bad taste.

Why is it that you touch a piece of swiss cheese for one second, and for the rest of the day your hands smell like swiss cheese, no matter how many times you wash them. Bleh.

One of the most unpleasant and unprofessional people I have ever had the displeasure to work with announced that she was quitting yesterday, and that she'll no longer be with us a month from now. I didn't have to deal with her that often, usually only one meeting every two or three weeks, but each interaction with her was more unpleasant than the last: deception, misinformation, broken promises, nasty insinuations, and flat out lies were her stock in trade, and I've got to tell you that when I first heard about her resignation yesterday morning, I was genuinely happy. I have a meeting scheduled with her today, and with any luck it will be the last time I will ever have to sit across a table from her and listen as she insults me, my staff, and my office with distortions and untruths that are designed to misdirect people from the incompetence of her and her organization. No matter who they replace her with, they can't be any worse than her; she leaves her successor nowhere to go but up. The only thing that would make this more sweet would be if she had been fired rather than leaving voluntarily. But good riddance nonetheless.

I didn't forget to post today. Really.

I'm serious. I posted this before midnight. It counts.

I think I've been looking forward to my Fridays a little too much recently.

I'm not usually a big fan of series in my daily photos, preferring instead to mix up a variety of different kinds of shots, but the next two weeks will be different. This week I will feature shots of the fireworks I attended in Columbia on the 4th, and next week will be all shots taken in the twilight before the show started. This is done mostly out of laziness, but I do happen to like these shots a lot, too.

Had a nice, relaxing nerd weekend. Friday night I attended my third Molten Core run in a 40-man group, and we finally took down the first boss, which is a major step forward in conquering the rest of the instance (which we'll start working on during this week's run). Saturday we went to see Batman Begins with Dodd, followed by dinner, followed by Dodd and us each picking up a copy of the new Harry Potter book. And I'm betting you can already guess that I spent all day Sunday tearing through this latest offering from J. K. Rowling.

Batman Begins was pretty good—director Christopher Nolan and star Christian Bale definitely added some new life to the cinematic version of the character, and this could be the start of a new era for the beleaguered franchise. Of course, it seems that reinventing a franchise is always the easy part—it's what you do with the follow-up that matters, and that seems to be infinitely harder to manage (witness the decline of every other major superhero franchise after its second installment, a pattern that could continue with the X-Men given Bryan Singer's recent decision to abandon the third part of his trilogy and focus instead on reinventing the Superman franchise).

The Half-Blood Prince was good, of course, but disappointing for the same reasons (coincidentally) that X-Men 2 was: the whole thing feels like a big setup, and although we're given a lot of new stuff to ponder, we don't really have that many more answers to the core questions of the series than we did before. I fully expect that this won't matter once the final book is released, because the events in this book are a natural crescendo-building element for the finale, but right now, you feel left hanging at the end of this book a bit more than you have in previous versions, and it's going to be really hard to wait another 2-3 years before we get the resolution we're all craving. I might write more about this later, which I'm more convinced that those of you who care will have digested the book and I won't be spoiling anything for you, but for now that's all I'll say.

I need a haircut. I need to mow the lawn. I hate having these things too long. But I am not in the mood to take care of either of them today.

I guess since I'm showing you all the photos I took when we were at the fireworks, I should tell you a little bit more about how we ended up in Columbia instead of DC as we originally planned. I think the last time I wrote about Tori, she still had a few days left with us, and during that time we were planning to go to Gettysburg to see some of the battle re-enactments (Friday), spend a day in Annapolis (Saturday), and go to DC for the fireworks on the Mall (Monday).

As usual, we got a late start on Friday (I took the day off to hang out with her), so we decided to put off Gettysburg until Saturday or Sunday and instead spent the afternoon not doing much of anything at all. Saturday we headed down to Annapolis with Dodd, where we had a great time once we managed to procure one of the few available parking spots, and we were all set to go to Gettysburg on Sunday until we found out that it would be at least $25 a person, which changed our minds pretty quickly.

On Sunday afternoon, we somehow dissuaded ourselves from going down to DC the next day (it was actually looking like it was going to be a pretty nice day, not too hot, but it's still a pretty long trip to go down there and reserve a spot), and we started investigating other options that we could be a little more relaxed about. We considered two close to Baltimore, including one where the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra would play, but in the end, we decided on Columbia, mostly because I was really in favor of it after I found out that it was at a lake. My fondest memories of the 4th as a child are from Wilmington, where we would go down to the Cape Fear River where it borders the historic downtown of the city and watch them shoot fireworks over the water from the USS North Carolina, which is moored on the other side of the river. I imagined the lake reflecting the fireworks in the same way that the river did, and from that point on, there really wasn't in question in my mind which celebration we'd be attending (plus the BSO thing cost $17 per person, so that was a big negative).

We got to Columbia about three hours before the fireworks were scheduled to start, meeting Alisa in the parking lot. Even though nearly every square inch of grass was already covered with a blanket reserving the spot for the owners, we still found a pretty nice space next to the water under some trees (you'll notice the canopy of leaves in most of the shots I took—it actually made for a really beautiful effect, seeing the light from the explosions filtered through the tree branches). We had a great time eating fair food, sitting under the tree, and just hanging out. It was a leisurely few hours, one of the few times recently when I didn't feel rushed or stressed about something; the only thing that could have made it better would have been if I didn't have to say goodbye to Tori and go to work the next day.

Lunchtime is the bane of my existence these days. There isn't anything I want to make and take in with me, there are no frozen meals I can tolerate, there's nothing I want from Levering, and even my old standby Silk Road has lost its appeal, so there's nothing within a ten minute walk that serves anything I'm in the mood to eat. On top of that, I'm sick of eating at my desk, sick of never having time to have a conversation with someone, sick of eating alone. I know that this is probably symptomatic of my recent dissatisfaction at work, but what I want more than anything is to be able to check out of the office for an hour, and sit down and have a nice meal and a good conversation with someone. But there's nothing I want to eat and no one I want to talk to, so I end up spending most of my lunch periods writing or browsing the web. Socially, it's worse for me at work right now than it was when I was working in a classified environment where I was the only person working on my project and I didn't know anyone else on my hallway; just me sitting alone all day, doing my job and waiting for the end of the day.

This is the away message that one of my co-workers uses on AIM:

I am not available because I am playing a computer game that takes up the whole screen.

That's completely hilarious and pretty ballsy, especially given that her supervisor is on AIM and isn't known to have much of a sense of humor. I would love to put up a message like that and have people who don't know me question whether it was a joke or not, but I don't think I have the guts.

Hair is cut. Lawn is mowed. Balance is restored to the universe.

Oh, and we took down Magmadar last night. On to Gehennas!

I've been interested in reading Freakonomics for a while now, and I finally picked up a copy last week. I'm about halfway through now, and while it's got a lot of interesting ideas/theories in it, I wish it had more in the way of actual research data. It's a thin volume that was clearly written for the ADHD corporate reader, which short sections that build into somewhat coherent chapters, none of which takes more than 20-30 minutes to read (the chapters, that is—the sections in those chapters are much shorter). There is a companion web site for the book, but sadly, it does not contain that much more information, either—it's clearly designed to be only a marketing tool, not as a true supplement to the book. I like reading the authors' points of view of the data they're poring through, but it would also be fun to have access to the raw data, and even to the algorithms they used to sift through and find items of statistical significance. So far, this feels like the condensed, Reader's Digest version; I'm sure I'm not the only one who would like to see a meatier tome (or more conviently, web site with downloadable data sets) that allowed us to dig into the raw information ourselves.

I finally got so frustrated with the poor service we've been getting from the implementation and support team in our IT department that I blew up at someone (in a message board, but still, I was pretty pissed and you could tell), and man, did it feel good. Their ogre of a boss, who usually harasses you with a nasty phone call after such outbursts, is leaving soon and has already checked out, so I doubt there will be any reprisals from this.

Which means I'm going to do it more often from now on. Only when it's warranted, of course, but believe me, it's warranted pretty often (a couple of people think I didn't go far enough in my response today). It's about time that we stop playing nice and start getting serious about calling them out on their willful incompetence.

Well, we spent a couple of hours taking a shot at Gehennas before our instance reset last night, and although we came really close, we couldn't quite bring him down. But we're heading back in Friday night to a repopulated instance, and as good as we've gotten at clearing the stuff before him, I wouldn't be surprised if we got another chance then.

Go Braves! After starting the season strong but then falling 5 1/2 games behind the surprising Nationals by early July, Atlanta is finally solidly in first place again after sweeping a three game series against Washington. I don't want to get too confident too early, but the Braves surging in July and August to take the lead on the way to yet another divisional title has been one of the mysterious but reliable-as-clockwork functions of the universe for the past fifteen years. Even the most diehard Braves fans are surprised at this—no other team in the history of professional sports in this country has kept up a streak anywhere near this long, and we all know that it has to end sometime. But year after year, team after team, the Braves keep on finding a way to win (in the regular season, at least).

The NL East is always a close race until at least the end of August, and this year may be the tightest yet, with only 6 games separating the first place Braves and the last place Mets and Phillies. All of the teams have winning records (unique among both the NL and the AL divsions), all of them have the talent to take the division crown, all of them have the money to get more help before the July 31 deadline, and all of them would like nothing more than to be the team that cuts short the Braves' unprecendented run of division titles. But the Braves have faced all of this before, and they always seem to come out on top. Let's hope they have at least one more year left in them.
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