august 2006

It is HOT, kids. It's never a good thing when your exhaled breaths are actually cooler than the air you're breathing.

Yet another example of why the media is so fucked up: a couple of days ago, one of the local news stations made a story about water restrictions one of their leads, implying strongly that it was the oppressive heat that was leading to drought conditions and forcing municipalities to enforce water restrictions.

The real story: a major water main broke and one county put about half of its residents on water restrictions until the main got repaired. The restrictions had nothing to do with the heat, nothing to do with a drought, they were just the result of a busted main. That relatively insignificant story was sensationalized by a news team desperate to drum up ratings through scare tactics, and I'm sure it won't come as a surprise to you to find out that the channel behind this was the local Fox affiliate (the web poll featured on the front page of their web site today, coming after weeks of allegations of torture, abuse, murder, and rape by American soliders: "Are we too nice to win the war on terror?").

Somebody wake me when the media decides to start doing their jobs again. Til then, I'll get my info from fake news outlets like the Daily Show. For all the bluster and right-wing grandstanding of his character, Stephen Colbert actually gives us more truth than truthiness compared to most supposedly legit journalists.

All the higher-ups are supposed to take the summer off, right? So why do I have so many damn meetings every week then?

The Interfaith Center on campus released their religious calendar earlier this week, which not only lists important faith-related event on campus, but also the major holidays of many religions. Among the interesting tidbits: all of the Wicca holidays, which were mostly on the solstices and equinoxes; a sprinkling of Zoroastrian and Baha'i observances; and one lone holiday on October 31 from something called Jainism, which appears to be a fundamentalist offshoot of the Sikh religion.

All right, so those weren't that interesting. But running through the calendar with my coworkers helped kill a good half hour yesterday morning. Ooh, and lookee what we found on their web site: Destructive Student Group Info. I wish I'd had that kind of resource before the Raelians got to me...

You know, Ian McKellen really would have been perfect as Professor Dumbledore in the Harry Potter movies. But since he was already playing Gandalf in Lord of the Rings and Magneto in X-Men (both of which he was also perfect for), I guess there were only so many roles he could take in the geek pantheon before it started to get ridiculous.

So, in an interview that will soon be published in GQ, Paris Hilton claims that she is going to remain celibate for a year.

There are three things that I find extremely hard to believe in this article, the first being, of course, that she's going to be celibate for a year.

The second is that she believes that she is somehow comparable to Princess Di; the only things they have in common are blond hair and the media's unnatural obsession with each of them.

The third, and by far most unbelievable: Hilton's claim that she has only had sex with two men in her life. Okay, Paris, whatever you say.

A couple of nights ago, a brief but brutal thunderstorm split a bradford pear tree in our backyard in half, taking down a pretty big branch from the tree next to it as it fell, with both branches coming to rest on the fence that divides our backyard from the neighbor directly behind us. It doesn't yet seem to have caused any serious damage to the fence, and it didn't hurt anything on our neighbor's property, but it looks like the whole tree is going to have to be removed and we'll likely have some sort of minor repairs to make on the fence.

It's too bad—it was a good tree, providing a nice barrier between our house and our neighbor's and lots of shade in the summer. There's also a week or so in spring when it blooms and is covered in white flowers, which I've tried to photograph several times but which I've never quite found the right angle for. We'll likely plant something else in its place, either fast-growing barrier trees or a smaller dogwood, but that part of the yard won't ever be the same again.

The good news is that, because it hit the fence, our insurance will cover any damage to the fence and a substantial portion of the tree removal. They have already estimated the cost and cut us a check (and told us to get back to them if the cost to repair the fence turns out to be higher than expected), and we're gathering estimates from tree removal companies and can hopefully have the it all cleaned up by the end of the week.

It's strange how things can change so quickly; the storm came up out of nowhere, lashed the house with wind and rain and small hail for 20 minutes, and then disappeared. When we looked out the back porch window, there was a break in the green where half of the tree had been, and soon they'll be an even bigger gap when they take down the rest of it. We've had plenty of storms that were worse in terms of violence and length, and the tree never seemed like it was weak or in danger of being blown over, but I guess its time had come.

We've been trying since Tuesday morning to get estimates from tree removal companies, but so far only one has responded. The good news: we found some good references on the web, and the price is extremely reasonable. So if we don't hear from anyone else by the end of the day today, we're going to call him back and try to schedule the removal.

The tree fell half into our neighbor's yard, and although it didn't damage any of his property, I still wanted to let him know what we were doing about it. But I've been over a few times now in the evening, and I'm starting to suspect that he's on vacation. That will be a bit of a rude shock for him if he comes back after the tree has been taken down: a giant patch of sky that used to be filled with a leafy green tree. But I guess that's better than coming home and finding your neighbor's tree sitting in your backyard.

I have four hours of conference calls scheduled for today. Four hours.

The good news is that I can use a Java client to tune in for the presentations and use Skype to dial in for free, so instead of having to hold a phone to my ear for several hours while staring at my computer screen and not being able to do any work because it would interefere with the presentation, I can work from home and run all of the conference call stuff on my laptop, leaving me free to use my desktop machine to actually get stuff done.

Or play Snood. Whichever.

I was planning to use this space to curse the name of a friend whose web site pointed me to this addictive little game, but I think it's only worth about weekend's worth of addiction and I'm almost past it now.

Still, click on that link at your own risk—you're going to play it obsessively, the only question is for how long.

I'm haven't been that impressed with a lot of Adult Swim's new shows over the past year, but the second season of the Venture Brothers is even more brilliant than the first, and I didn't think that was possible. I'm also digging Dethklok Metalocalypse, from Home Movies creator Brendan Small. It's VERY different from Home Movies, and although I like it, I can't explain why I like it and I would never try to convince anyone else that they should like it. But it's a hell of a lot cooler than Squidbillies.

So my brother has decided that he's not quite ready for law school yet, and is going to ask his university to defer his admission until next year. I haven't spoken to him about his decision in depth, but I don't think this is necessarily a bad idea: there's no compelling reason why he has to start this year (other than that the sooner he starts, the sooner he'll actually reach his long-term goal of working in a DA's office), and as someone who spent two years and an awful lot of money figuring out that grad school wasn't the right thing for me, I think it's best to be sure before making the kind of of financial, temporal, and mental commitment that any kind of graduate schooling requires, but particularly law school.

If they defer his admission but he's still not quite sure he's ready by this time next year, it still might not hurt for him to go for a semester just to be sure—the program he's been admitted to is a part-time commitment with night classes, so he could still keep his full time job and risk relatively little in terms of money by just going for one semester and taking one or two classes in order to figure out if he really wants to go through the whole process. But no matter what happens, I think his recognition that maybe he's not quite ready right now is a another sign of the growing self-awareness and maturity that he's shown over the past couple of years.

Julie and I talked about going to see a movie last night, and although we didn't go, it got me thinking about the last time we actually went out to see a movie. We used to go see movies pretty regularly—we weren't fiends who saw everything that came out, but it seems like we used to go at least once a month and saw most of the major releases we were interested in. But I think the last thing we saw in the theaters was V for Vendetta back in March, and before that I can't honestly remember (although I assume we went to see something with the family around Thanksgiving).

Honestly, I think we're getting to the point where not only do we not go out to see movies in the theater, we don't even bother to see many of them on DVD—we just wait for them to make their way to cable or the networks. I'm not saying we're the norm here, but I think more and more people are drifting towards only seeing movies in their living rooms, which means that the studios need to get moving on the on-demand distribution that puts movies in people's homes on the same day they are released to theaters. I guarantee I would watch more first-run movies if that kind of model was already in place, and not implementing something like that obviously isn't going to get me into the theater more often.

I know the theater chains don't like this idea, but they've seen it coming with other entertainment industries like books and music for years now, and instead of burying their heads in the sand and pretending like their day of reckoning isn't right around the corner, they should have been figuring out ways to offer us experiences that we can't get from our couches and plasma tvs.

I've had it with these motherfucking snakes on this motherfucking plane!

The day has finally come: the first major studio picture made with massive input and support from the blogosphere. I guarantee you, if this at all lives up to the hype and makes money, you're going to see this become a marketing strategy that will ruin the fun forever.

Dad and Rachel were up for a surprise visit this weekend (surprise in that the don't normally come visit that often, especially for just a weekend, because of the 8 hour drive, and because we didn't know they wanted to come until Tuesday of last week). We already had tickets for an Orioles game on Saturday, but since it was against Toronto and neither team has been tearing it up this year, it wasn't too hard to get three more tickets (including one for Dodd) adjacent to the tickets we already had.

They go in too late on Friday for us to do anything, plus Dodd, Julie, and I were all enmeshed in our weekly World of Warcraft raid group by the time they arrived, so we met them down at the harbor around lunchtime. The game was at 4:35, and although we wanted to get vendor food outside the stadium to take in with us, we needed some refreshment before the gates opened at 2:30, so we walked down to the inner harbor and got light snacks and drinks at the food court there.

We usually get our food from Big Dawg's, but he wasn't there this weekend (a little troubling, because the vendors were moved to new locations this year and they've all been getting less business, and he's never not been there before), so we found another vendor a little ways down who turned out to be pretty good too (although he'll strictly be a backup option unless Big Dawg's isn't going to be there anymore).

Then we did our traditional pre-game ritual: ate our food in the covered seats directly behind left field while watching batting practice. We made our way to our seats about an hour before the game started, and a few of us got beers to help ease what we expected would be the inevitable pain of another Orioles home loss. But it turned out to be a great game—the Orioles started scoring right away, and by the end, it was 15-0, with the bonus that Daniel Cabrera got a complete game shutout.

We all went back to our respective homes/hotels to get a shower and change clothes before meeting for a late dinner, and then we met up again the next morning for church and brunch at a Bob Evans near dad and Rachel's hotel. They left around 2, in time for them to get back home before too late and, serendipitously, in time for Dodd, Julie, and I to make it home in time for our Sunday afternoon raid group.

It was a short visit, but a good one. Dodd, Julie, and I all have good jobs up here, and it's hard for me to imagine a situation in the near future where Julie and I would want to make a move back down to North Carolina, but weekends like this give me a taste of what it would be like to live close to where my family lives and to be able to see them more often on non-holiday occasions.

I love today's photo. Some of the photos I love the most are ones that I got by accident, where I took the picture too early or before I've framed or focused, and this is definitely one of those.

Patch 1.12: The Day the Servers Died.

Blizzard has released some bad patches for World of Warcraft before, but yesterday's maintenance was the longest I've ever seen it, and the servers were only up for a few hours (laggy, but at least you could log in) before it all went to hell. I'm not going to be at all surprised if I get home from work tonight and they're still down; best case scenario, you'll be able to log in, but you won't actually be able to play because of the lag, the server disconnects, and the rolling restarts. I just hope they get the system playable in time for the weekend raids, but I'm not necessarily holding my breath on that, either.

Back in June I posted a list of some of the searches that people had used to find my site in May and added my commentary to them. I meant to do that as a monthly thing, but it somehow slipped my mind until now. So here's June's list; tomorrow I'll post July's.

dancing military school hidden camera

I think this video is what you're looking for. It's freaking hilarious.

i hate billy corgan

Yes, a lot of people do. I still find him charmingly naïve and adorably optimistic for some reason. But that still doesn't mean I bought his last record.

blackwing lair boss explanation

For god's sake, man, which one? There are eight of them, you know.

tracklist extraordinary machine jon brion

This is a reference to Fiona Apple's latest album, Extraordinary Machine, which was released last year. Before it's official release, however, it existed in a different form, with one less track and with the production duties handled by producer Jon Brion.

Apple's story now is that she wasn't happy with the Brion version, so she rerecorded it with another producer, but the prevailing rumor at one point was that the record company wasn't happy with it and they were refusing to release it so they wouldn't have to pay all the promotional costs that Apple was owed according to her contract. Someone anonymously leaked the tracks to the internet in protest (Brion and Apple have both denied doing it, but they are obviously prime suspects), and the record became a rallying cry against tyranical record conglomerates.

Anyway. Here's the original tracklist from the unofficial version, which is sequenced differently and which is missing the "Parting Gift" track. It also happens to be a much better record than the officially released version.

  1. Not About Love
  2. Red, Red, Red
  3. Get Him Back
  4. Better Version of Me
  5. Oh Well
  6. Oh Sailor
  7. Used to Love Him
    (retitled "Tymps (The Sick in the Head Song)" on the official release
  8. Window
  9. Waltz
  10. Extraordinary Machine
  11. Please Please Please

i hate going to work after a vacation

Most people hate going to work period. But yes, it's worse after a vacation.

izzo interpret clever jehovah lyrics understand

Oh man, have I got the answers you're looking for. This is the definitive article on the subject of interpreting the lyrics to Jay-Z's "Izzo (H.O.V.A.)". One of the few pieces of musical criticism I've read that's as insightful as it is funny.

who started michie publishing company?

You know, I thought this would be a pretty easy question to answer—my first full time job out of grad school was with Michie, a legal publisher located in Charlottesville, VA, and I remember vaguely that it was founded in the early 1800s by someone with the last name Michie who was related to (or possibly was?) the same Michie who had once owned Michie Tavern, which is now a popular tourist lunch stop near Jefferson's Monticello.

However, just before I joined the company, it went through a period of mergers and acquisitions that resulted in several name changes during my tenure (the Michie Company, Michie-Butterworth, and just plain Michie are the ones I can remember) and which eventually led to the company merely becoming an imprint brand name for it's immediate parent company, Lexis-Nexis (in fact, I'm pretty sure the name on the building just says Lexis Law Publishing these days). I thought the official Michie web site would still include something about the history of the company, since it is still located in Charlottesville and it still concentrates on the same niche markets (legal treatises and textbooks that are used by many law schools and certain state codes with annotations) that it did when I was there.

But alas, the Michie web site is merely a small detour on the larger Lexis-Nexis site; there's no history of Michie at all. Even using the brilliant Wayback Machine to peruse the 1996 version of the site (which is the first version they ever had, developed only months before I departed), I can only find a cursory history of the company, and no mention whatsoever of the founder for whom the company is named. Kind of sad, really.

belle & sebastian animated

That's actually a pretty good idea. They'd be the perfect band for a post-millenial Josie and the Pussycats-style animated series.

why is the michelin man white

I asked this same question myself a few years ago, and I couldn't come up with a logical answer that didn't involve corporate racism. However, last year Fortune published an excessively long article about the advertising icon that contains the supposed answer: when the Michelin Man was created, tires actually were "grey-white or a light, translucent beige"; they became black in 1912 when carbon black was added as a preservative agent (I've also read that they were made black so that they wouldn't show dirt and grime).

the eels one hit

That would be "Novocaine for the Soul". But they really should have had more.

that bitch took my money... ben folds

You're either thinking of the line "That bitch took my money and she went to Chicago" from the Violent Femmes song "To the Kill" (off of their self-titled debut album), or you're thinking of Ben Folds line "Give me my money back, you bitch" from "Song for the Dumped" (off of the Ben Folds Five's breakthrough, Whatever and Ever Amen).

does christopher walken speak german?

I think Christopher Walken speaking German is the only thing that could make him scarier than he already is. So let's hope he doesn't.

generic term for peacocks and peahens

Peafowl. Seriously.

something you didn t know about ncssm

Here's something you probably didn't know: I was one of the twelve people who painted the huge mural (depicting mermaids, dinosaurs, pirates, and scenes from Dr. Suess, Lord of the Rings, Where the Wild Things Are, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, and probably a couple of things that I've forgotten) that runs the length of the underground breezeway in Reynolds. That's what I did for Special Projects Week (which is undoubtedly called something else now if they still even do it) my senior year.

we are both peter stillman

Yes. Yes we are.

what is speed-compensated volume???

One of the worst inventions ever. This is a system developed by GM that automatically raises and lowers the volume of your stereo as your speed increases or decreases to compensate for changes in road noise so that the relative volume of the radio remains constant.

In theory this sounds like a good idea, but in practice, it just doesn't work. I know firsthand because when my car got hit a couple of years ago by some moron while it was parked in front of my house and was in the shop for a few weeks, the insurance company paid for a rental car for me and I ended up with a Pontiac Grand Prix (ugh) that came equipped with this feature. I've already written about it once, so instead of just repeating myself, I'll point you to my previous post on the subject (which is on my notes music blog).

antz vs. bug s life

I have to say, Bug's Life is still my favorite Pixar film, and I really like everything the studio has done up to now (although I have yet to see this summer's Cars). So I'd have to say Bug's Life, because it has serious cross-generational appeal and I never get tired of watching it.

Having said that, Antz is a pretty good movie, too, and one that's never really gotten it's due. It's aimed at a bit more of an adult audience, because although I'm sure it's entertaining to kids, the visuals are a bit harsher and the plot more grown-up than Bug's Life.

Here are July's most interesting search phrases that were used to find my site:

mandinka throwing muses

"Mandinka" is actually a song from Sinead O'Connor's debut album, The Lion and the Cobra. The fact that you paired it with Throwing Muses is why you ended up on my site instead of a site that would tell you something useful about the song. Try again with the right artist, I'm betting you'll like the results much better.

first novel in the english language

One of my professors in college was certain that it was Moll Flanders, and I've never really bothered to find out how true that was. Of course, in one of my own college papers, I argued that Lord Byron's play "Manfred" was the first screenplay, and I've put forth the the idea that Rousseau's "Confessions" was the first blog, so I'm betting the answer of what book was the first novel is open to debate.

do goblin jumper cables self destruct

No, but they fail to work reasonably often, and sometimes when they don't work they explode and cause damage to the person who tried to use them. But they will always reset and be ready for another try in 30 minutes, so even when they explode they don't really self-destruct.

where does paul auster live

Brooklyn last time I checked. It's been a while, but I don't think he'd move since the borough is so integral to his literary mythology and personal biography. It would be like Faulkner moving from Mississippi to Hollywood. Oh, wait...

was bob marley a freemason

I highly doubt it. In fact, without doing any research at all, I'm pretty comfortable saying "no" to this one.

edgar allan poe's contribution to cosmology

He actually wrote a lot about cosmology in "Eureka: A Prose Poem", and many regard his solution to Olber's Paradox (the question of why the sky is dark at night) as the first theory that matches the current solution to the problem. I wrote a lot (and I mean a LOT) about Olber's Paradox for a paper earlier this year, including Poe's role in the history of its solution, and you can read my whole paper here if you wish.

do detective stories derive from adam and eve

That's actually a really interesting question, but I'm not going to attempt to answer it right now. If you're looking for a thesis topic, this wouldn't be poor choice.

my neighbour is always spying on me

I would either move or call the police. No matter what you decide, do it quickly.

paul auster is jewish?

Yes. But I don't think he's particularly observant.

why isn't radiohead on itunes?

This is a more complicated answer than it should be, although in the end it probably boils down to money. Supposedly Radiohead believes in the integrity of the album and doesn't want to offer people the option to pick and choose the songs they buy, and currently iTunes doesn't allow you to sell just albums (although they will annoyingly allow artists to select a few tracks on each album that cannot be sold as singles—consumers must purchase the whole album in order to get access to key songs, usually tracks that weren't released on the CD version).

I can believe that to some extent, but I'd guess that Radiohead would make far less money if you downloaded their albums (even if you were forced to download the entire album) than they do when people buy the physical media version on CD. Who knows? Maybe their marketing researchers have determined that selling their work on iTunes would simply cannibalize their CD sales instead of bringing them new fans who don't buy CDs, which would mean less money for the band at the end of the day. But given the band's penchant for doing things their own way, I'll still give them some credit and say that the artistic integrity issues are likely a factor even if the loss of profits contributes to the decision as well. Or maybe they're warring with their record company and not agreeing to sell their CDs online is really pissing off the execs. With this band, it really could be anything.

That being said, Thom Yorke's recently released solo album, The Eraser, is being sold on iTunes, so perhaps the band's resistance to online music sales is weakening.

boston red sox wedding cakes

Dude, look, I don't care how much she says she's into the Red Sox, and how much she likes hanging out with you and the guys: this is a bad idea. Trust me on this one.

The only good thing about this being the last week of summer is that I'll get a nice four-day weekend to prepare myself for the offical end of our more flexible summer hours and the beginning of our admissions cycle, which will kick off this year with an all-day staff retreat. True, things don't really pick up until the second half of October, but there's just something that changes when the students return to campus and everyone starts wearing dress shirts and ties again.

For a few weeks I've been wanting to upgrade my machine to 2 gigs of memory, because I usually have several applications that are absolute RAM hogs open at once and after a bit, they all start using virtual memory and my response time goes to hell. I usually buy my memory from on online vendor, but since we were going to Sam's Club for our quarterly run, I decided to see what they had available. And they did indeed have the correct kind of memory, but they only had it in 1 gig sticks, when, because my machine requires matched pairs, I really needed two 512 meg sticks.

But then it occurred to me that Julie's machine had two 512 meg sticks and that both our machines used the same type of RAM, so if I got two of the 1 gig sticks, I could put those in her two RAM slots and put her two 512 meg sticks in my two remaining RAM slots, and then both of our machines could be upgraded to 2 gigs of memory.

I doublechecked all the specs, but once I was sure that this would work, I went ahead and purchased the two 1 gig sticks from Sam's. The installation on Julie's machine when great; it took me less than 10 minutes to open up her iMac, remove her existing RAM, and replace it with the new RAM. It started up fine, and when I checked the system profiler, it indicated that there was a 1 gig stick in each slot. On to my machine.

It took me another 10 minutes to open up my machine, clean out of a bit of the dust, and install Julie's old RAM, and when my machine started right up, I figured that I was done. However, when I checked the system profiler, it showed my two original 512 meg sticks, but it showed the two slots that I'd just installed Julie's RAM into as empty. Hmmm. Maybe I hadn't seated one of them properly, and it was ignoring the other one because it required matched pairs.

So I opened up my machine again, made sure that all the sticks were properly seated, and started the machine back up. Same results. Then I spent half an hour trying various combinations—switching the good RAM to the secondary RAM slots to make sure that there wasn't something wrong with the slots themselves, etc.—but no go. No matter what I did, Julie's RAM would show up. The two chips weren't exactly identical, but I doublechecked on Apple's site and they were identical in the ways that were supposed to count: same number of megabytes and same speed.

The only thing I could figure was that I'd somehow damaged one of them during the removal and reinstallation process, so to test this, I put them both back in Julie's machine, and, of course, they both worked in there (but Julie's machine doesn't require matched pairs). So clearly there was some other factor that the machine considered important in terms of recognizing a matched pair, and these chips clearly were not identical in regards to that spec.

There really wasn't anything I could do except leave Julie's original RAM in her machine and install the two new 1 gig sticks in my machine, giving me 3 gigs and her 1 gig. She wasn't really dying for more memory anyway, and adding this much will probably help extend the useful life of my machine by another six months or so, so it all worked out okay, but I really wish my original plan had panned out.

Today's photo was taken on the final day of our Niagara Falls vacation, which was our tenth wedding anniversary and which I don't think I ever wrote about here. Basically, we finished off the remaining touristy things on the Canadian side, like the spanish aerocar that took you out over one of the whirlpools downriver from the falls, and we had dinner at one of the wineries near Niagara on the Lake.

This photo was taken from the back patio of the winery, where we actually ate dinner (our reservations were for the indoor portion of the restaurant, but it was just too tempting to eat on the patio as the sun went down). It was a great place to have dinner, except for the first 30 minutes or so when the sun had yet to disappear behind the clouds and we had to share the patio with two businessmen who were killing time with drinks while their wives finished shopping in the town's faux mainstreet. After they left, we had the place to ourselves, and we enjoyed a very pleasant meal outdoors in the summer evening.

I have tomorrow off, the start of a four day weekend. So I bet you can guess how invested I am in being productive at work today...
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