september 2005

I just can't wrap my head around this New Orleans thing. I had never been to the city before this year, but I visited for three or four days for a conference in May, and it is still fresh in my mind, its sights and sounds (and smells) are still vivid and living in my memories. I just can't reconcile what I'm seeing on television with the city I got to know a couple of months ago.

When was the last time we lost a major American city? Certainly not during the 20th century. The Great Chicago Fire of 1871? The burning of Atlanta during the Civil War? Those are the two most recent that I can think of, and while those were major cities at the time, they're nothing compared to a modern American city with its high-density population and complex infrastructure. No one really wants to say it, but it seems like it's a real possibility that they're going to have to raze most of New Orleans and just start over again. That seems inconcievable, given how we think of our cities as permanent entities, and especially given how familiar New Orleans is to most Americans given its status as a major tourist destination, but looking at the devastation and hearing the estimates for just getting the city clear of water get longer and longer with each day that passes, it seems more likely than not at this point.

This is going to be way worse then 9.11. More death, more property damage, more long-term health issues. Thousands dead. Tens of thousands homeless. Lawlessness, looting, and chaos. The news gets worse every day, and that's not going to change anytime soon.

A pre-emptive happy birthday goes out to my sister today, because I don't plan on posting anything tomorrow. I haven't gotten her anything yet, and in fact I haven't spoken to her at all since she came to visit in July (I have called home a few times, but she's always been out and about). She just started her job with AmeriCorps in Hickory, NC, staffing a Habitat for Humanity office for a year, so I'm sure that if all else fails, she'll be happy to accept cash.

Anyway. Happy birthday, sweetie. I'll talk to you tomorrow, I promise.

Dodd came to visit for most of the weekend, bringing his brand new iMac G5 with him so he could play World of Warcraft with us. Since he was starting his first character, Julie and I both played low-level characters as well to help him out and guide him without using high-level characters to power-level him, and it was pretty fun...except that there is apparently a problem with Dodd's video card that caused the game to crash every 10-30 minutes.

I'm pretty sure it's the video card because we tried everything else: repaired the disk from the startup CD, ran the hardware test from the startup CD, reinstalled the game, reinstalled the entire OS after wiping the disk and then reinstalling the game, checking the warning LEDs inside the case, testing the hard drive by copying to in continuously for an hour—everything I could think of. And the only time a crash happened was during the game. And I know it's not a problem generally between that video card and the game because it's the exact same card that's in my machine and in Julie's machine (and in fact, Julie's machine is the exact same model with the same specs as Dodd's, and she's been running the game without a hitch for three months now).

So unfortunately Dodd spent more time with me trying to fix this problem than he did playing the game, but he still got his character to level 14 and got a good start on some of his professions, so it wasn't a total loss. And just in case you're wondering: yes, we did actually go outside and take advantage of the beautiful letter, spending an afternoon in the environs of the Prettyboy resevoir in northern Baltimore county.

Dodd's going to take the machine back to the Apple Store this week, and I'm hopeful that they'll be able to replace the video card onsite, but if not, he should still have it back by this weekend. And he really doesn't need to have it before then anyway, until he learns to get a grip on this particular addiction and learn to moderate his intake during the workweek (something I only mastered after a couple of months in the game).

Every year I swear to myself that I'm going to prepare for my live football draft way ahead of time, and come up with a genuine personalized cheat sheet. And every year I spend the hour before the draft frantically downloading rankings from as many sites as possible, trying to cross out the recently injured/suspended players so I don't make a critical mistake in the first few rounds.

So anyway, we had our draft last night at 6:30. Do I need to tell you what I was doing at 5:30?

I had my first class of the new semester last night, which also happens to be my first class since last fall, when I did my internship at the Walters concurrently with my physics class with Dr. Henry. I was a little nervous about it—after doing two classes at a time in the fall followed by a horrendous spring class that I dropped after two sessions despite the fact that dropping it cost me more than $300 while it would have been free if I had stayed to finish it, I was a little burned out on my program. And it's not like the subject matter of this class—the development and significance of myths—holds any special attraction for me; I was mainly taking it because the course offerings were pretty poor this semester, but I have heard a lot of good things about this professor and I knew that I wanted to take at least one class with him before graduating.

I don't think it will be too bad—the reading is dense but not voluminous, and the only things that determine our grade are a final paper and class participation (and—get this—he even said that some people participate by sitting quietly in the corner and not saying anything, but he still knows they're participating). So it's a good way to ease myself back into the academic world. Plus there's only one really annoying person in the class, and she and I are sitting about as far from one another as is possible given the setup of the classroom.

One weird little observation about my classmates: almost all the men are married, and almost all the women are not. There are 18 people in the class, and it seems pretty evenly split between men and women, and yet there was only one man without a wedding ring, and only one woman with one. And it's not an age thing, either—the women range in age from mid-20s to early 50s, while the men range from mid-20s to early 70s. I don't know quite what to make of this, but it's certainly an interesting piece of data.

I'm going to be selling photos at the Pigtown Festival tomorrow, so if you're in the area, feel free to stop by and say hello. And bring cash. Lots of cash.


Okay, dad, I know it's been a long time—going on six months now—but I finally ordered your birthday present, a copy of Mac OS X 10.4 Tiger. I'm hoping that you haven't bothered to buy this yet, holding out hope that I would eventually fulfill my promise to purchase it for you; if that's the case, then you should be very happy with the package that will arrive in the next few days. And if not, I'm guessing that the good folks at Best Buy will be happy to take my redundant copy and exchange it for some other form of electronic goodness.

The most annoying thing about working at a university: the fecking students (yes, I said fecking). I know they pay our salaries and everything, but man, can they be irritating.

Ugh. I got mugged in football this weekend. Slaughtered in my pay fantasy league, my free fantasy league, and the points pool at the office. I didn't care for my draft in either of my fantasy leagues, and the huge upsets this past weekend screwed up everyone's points picks except the weirdos who voted with their hearts (plus you can never really tell what's going to happen the first week of the season). It would have been nice to have done well in at least one of them, but I really need to do well in something this weekend or I'm going to start to lose interest in only the second week of the season. Because you see, I don't actually like football that much; I just like being smarter about picking teams and players than people who love football a lot.

A few weeks ago, I wrote about one of my friend's new blogs, and that prompted another friend to come out of the woodwork and admit that he had started a blog, too. Combined with another friend of mine who has been keeping a blog for a couple of years and another who started one last year when she moved to a new city, have four friends who are bloggers (actually, I have more than that, because I've made friends with some bloggers, but i have four friends who started some sort of blog after I was already friends with them).

I've been keeping track of all of them, desperately hoping that at least one of them would turn out to be a regular poster and a good read, and while I got that wish, I got just that wish—only one is really worth recommending to whoever it is that makes up my audience. The report card follows.

My friend who has been keeping a blog for a couple of years was always a sporadic poster, but the past few months have been especially atrocious. He has only averaged about 3 posts a month this year, and those often come in clusters, so it's entirely possible to go for weeks without hearing a peep from him. So the little nuggets are nice, but for someone who doesn't know him, it's almost an entirely unrewarding experience: waiting and waiting and waiting, then a tiny, tiny bit of content, then waiting a whole lot more. So his is primarily a friends-and-family blog, because I can't imagine strangers being patient enough to keep checking back regularly for one of his rare posts. This isn't really a criticism—one of the great things about blogging is that there are no rules about what you do with that space or how often you make use of it. It's just that, without an external reason to visit the site, like knowing him in real life, you're probably not going to get a lot out of it.

My friend who moved last year posted once every week or two for a while, but she hasn't posted anything since June, so that blog's effectively dead. Same for my friend who came out about his blog most recently: the day he told me about it he posted, and then he posted twice more the next week before going dark. That was a month ago tomorrow, and I assume he's not coming back. The first line of his first post was "I'm a bad blogger." And he was right, but this sort of thing isn't for everyone.

So let's talk about the one fruitful link in the bunch: Sliced Tongue, a music blog written by a very close friend (he was my best man). Not only has he been pretty good about posting every weekday, his posts are well worth reading. I went on a bit about how much I like his writing style when I originally wrote about his blog, so I won't say anything more on that subject, but I'm also continually impressed with the depth of the content. So head on over and have a look—I guarantee you'll add it to your bookmarks after reading only a couple of entries.

Oh, and FYI: I still really hate the word "blog".

I will give Bush some credit: that was one of the best speeches he's given during his presidency. He took acknowledged culbability for the failures in the Katrina response and he went almost an entire speech without mentioning 9.11 (although he did make a quick reference towards the end).

Of course, a lot of the damage and cleanup costs could have been avoided if he hadn't installed inexperienced political cronies at the highest levels of FEMA and the Department of Homeland Security, if he hadn't cut funding for New Orleans levees, if he and his entire administration hadn't been on and stayed on vacation during the days before and after the crisis, and if we hadn't spent so much money in Iraq that precious few dollars remain for domestic disaster concerns. And we'll see if all of his promises actually come to fruition; based on his track record (or any politician's, really), he'll only pay attention to it as long as the media forces him to pay attention to it. So don't start planning your Mardi Gras trip for 2006 quite yet.

After stalling for a couple of weeks on Shazzrah (which isn't uncommon; many of the hardcore raiding guilds on our server got stuck on him for four or five weeks, and they went way more often than the twice a week that we've been running), we finally took him down last night, and on our first try of the evening to boot. We then proceeded to take down the next two bosses, Sulfuron and Golemagg, which leaves only Domo and Ragnaros before we can say we've conquered this instance.

That will take some doing—most groups get Domo fairly quickly (I think we have a good shot at him next week), but Rag stymies most groups for at least a few weeks. But with our group, I'm confident that everyone but Rag will be on farm status by the end of the month, and I'd be willing to bet that we're going to take down Rag by Halloween.

So this year my employer instituted this new employee recognition award. You have to be nominated by three of your peers, and then a committee judges all the nominees and gives one of them with the "Above and Beyond the Call" award. This award is to be presented at an annual breakfast for all employees from my division, something that I normally skip (I went one year just to be a good sport, but I hated it even more than I thought I would, and I haven't been back since).

So of course, some people in my office apparently nominated me, which means that I not only have to attend this breakfast, but I guess there's an outside chance I could actually win something. Which would be totally wrong: there are at least three people in my office alone who are far more deserving than I would be, and that's to say nothing about the dozens of other employees on campus who I'm sure work just as diligently supporting their offices as I do supporting mine. It's not that I'm not a little flattered that some of my coworkers thought enough of me to nominate me, especially given my lifelong strategy of flying below the radar and doing a good job without too many people needing to know about it, but it just wouldn't be right for me to win it—there are many people who have worked far longer for this organization and are much more willing to give up their free time to work extra hours than I have been, especially recently. I do a very good job, but I don't do an "Above and Beyond the Call" job, and there are people who work in my office who definitely do.

So best case is I have to go and sit through this breakfast and one of my coworkers wins it (I know at least one other person from my office has been nominated). Worst case, I end up winning something that I think my coworkers deserve way more than I do. But I don't think that's realistically going to happen—I never win anything, deserved or not.

No award for me, thank god. There were three runner-ups and one main winner, and thankfully the other person who was nominated from my office, who has been with the university for 20 years and is so much more deserving of widespread recognition than I am, was one of the runner-ups. I did have to go up and get a certificate on stage in front of a couple hundred people, but that wasn't too bad. Again, it was nice of someone to nominate me, but I'm just not a center-of-attention kind of guy, and I certainly don't think that I'm one of the top 15 employees out of the hundreds of people who work on my campus.

Class is okay, but it's not as good as I'd hoped it would be—at least not yet; it still has potential. But the discussions have been almost non-existent, even though this is supposed to be a discussion seminar, and the few discussions with broad class participation haven't been very good (if I can calm down enough, I'll tell you about one discussion about the myth of the rape of Persephone in which most of the women in the class were arguing that she deserved what she got and her rapist wasn't such a bad guy after all—that one completely baffles me). But I'm hoping as we move through the introductory stuff, which is pretty broad, we'll get more focused, and the discussions won't be quite so random.

This weekend will be busy because we're going to spend most of it hanging out with a significant portion of my mom's family in DC, but I will get tonight off to relax, so hopefully I won't be too exhausted come Sunday night (although there is a big banquet on Sunday that we probably won't get home from until close to bedtime). The next few weekends are going to busy—in fact, I'm getting the feeling that I won't get a real break from activity until after the new year—but I'm hoping this one will be more relaxing than stressful.

Didn't get back til late last night, and I haven't had time to gather my thoughts from the weekend. It was good to see some members of my family who I haven't seen in a long time, and I was glad I could be there to support my grandfather, but it was pretty tiring even though we weren't heavily involved in the activities. More later.

Reading makes me sleepy.

The big family event down in DC this weekend was all because of my grandfather. He served in the 9th Infantry Division in World War II, and about ten years ago, spurred on by his second wife, he started attending their annual reunions, which he enjoyed much more than I think he expected to. They have a big meeting once a year, and this year, their 60th reunion, it was held in DC so they could all go and see the new World War II Memorial together. They always encourage family members to come, and because we all wanted to be there for what was a pretty important reunion for a number of reasons, a lot of us made plans to attend. It was easy for Julie and me, since we live close by, but my mother and sister came from Florida, my uncle and his wife came from Ohio, and my two cousins and a husband came from Georgia. All in all, he had both of his kids and all four of his grandkids, and I think it meant a lot to him that we were all able to be there together.

Since we live so close, it didn't make sense for us to stay in the hotel with everyone else, so we took the metro down to DC to meet everyone for the important events. On Saturday that was a 9 a.m. ceremony at the World War II Memorial with a color guard, a police escort, and a military bugler who played taps. Walking from the Smithsonian metro stop, Julie and I got to see the setup for the National Book Festival and walked through the crowds that were gathering for the big anti-war protest that was taking place later that day.

After the ceremony, we rode buses over to Arlington National Cemetery to watch the changing of the guard at the tomb of the unknown soldier. They gave us a good amount of time there, so I went wandering off by myself, and eventually caught up with everyone right after a guard change. Julie, my cousins, and I all then went off in search of Kennedy's grave, which we only got to see briefly because we realized that we were actually quite a ways from the buses and it was only a few minutes until they left.

We all had lunch together, and then a few people went back to the hotel while the rest of us took the metro back into the city to see some of the sights. We started with the Ford Theatre, where Lincoln was shot, which kind of sucked—because they were in rehearsal for a play, you couldn't actually go up and see the booth where he was shot. The museum in the basement was small and not that interesting, except that there's some pretty clear evidence that our collective national interest in the ghoulish artifacts related to the death of a famous person is not a recent phenomenon.

Tomorrow: the big banquet.

w00t! The Braves clinch another division title! Now let's just hope they can make some progress in the playoffs for once.

I don't like the new, skinny Peter Jackson. There's something about the non-Hobit version that I just don't trust...

Wait...Andy Milonakis is 29 years old? WTF?!?

Went to the final home game of the Orioles season last night, in which they got drubbed by the hated Yankees, starting with a four run first inning (including a monster shot to right field by Jason Giambi). A sadly predictable end to their most disappointing season in years. Good thing the team I really care about is the Braves.

This is just about my favorite thing on the whole planet right now:

I know I'm a little behind the internet hipsters on this one, but hey, a good meme is a good meme.

december 2005
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