october 2007

10.1.07
30 Rock is quickly becoming my favorite half hour comedy (especially after the darker-than-usual tone of the Office's season premiere), and one of the best scenes so far is from the poker episode where Jack dresses down Kenneth the page right before he calls Kenneth's bluff and takes all his chips (and his NBC page jacket). Now I know why that monologue was an instant classic: it's because it's a parody of the verbal dissection of Clarice Starling done by Hannibal Lecter during their first encounter in Silence of the Lambs, right down to the closing line (Hannibal says "all the way to the F-B-I", where Jack substitutes "N-B-C").

I don't know if I would have realized this if I hadn't watched the two in close proximity (we watched the poker episode of 30 Rock a couple of weeks ago shortly after we got the DVD set, and I caught the first half hour of Silence of the Lambs over the weekend), but even though it's a parody, it doesn't make Jack's monologue or Alex Baldwin's performance any less brilliant.

10.2.07
And while we're on the subject of tv shows, I have to say that I was a bit disappointed with the season premiere of the Office, which has pretty consistently been my favorite network show for the past few years. There were two main issues (spoilers ahead): the first was that Dwight actually killed Angela's cat in a fairly gruesome manner; it wasn't some weird misunderstanding where the writers led you to believe that might have happened and then revealed that it really didn't, which would be more in keeping with the typical tone of the show. I know they've worked hard to emphasize Dwight's too-rational-for-a-human qualities and also his farm experiences that leave him less empathetic to animals than most pet owning Americans, but it's one thing to kill a chicken for dinner on the farm and quite another to put your girlfriend's cat in the freezer in an attempt to euthanize it without her knowing. It was dark and disturbing in all the wrong ways, whereas this show is usually pretty good at keeping things dark but realistic and sympathetic. That definitely wasn't the case here.

The second thing was Pam and Jim coming out as a couple, at least to the cameras and the home audience. I thought they could have played that better, keeping it hidden from the viewers for a few weeks, too, while strongly hinting that they were seeing each other outside of the gaze of the camera's eye. Then they could have let us in on the secret while still keeping it hidden from their officemates, which would have made the reveal to us much more meaningful and would also have let them play games to keep this information away from their coworkers for a while longer.

The longer hour format that NBC is trying for the first four episodes this season might be contributing to the problem—with that much time, the secondary subplot has to be a lot more substantial, and it feels like the writers were struggling to come up with ideas to fill in the gaps around the Jim/Pam reveal and the main plot of Michael hitting Meredith with his car and then setting up a fun-run to support her (but not for her car injuries, but because she was possibly rabid after being bitten by a bat in the office in an earlier episode). That plotline got stretched a little too thin as well, although "Support the Rabid" is going to become my message board signature for the next few weeks.

I didn't even like the hour format when they did it last year in episodes where they actually needed all that time to get through all the emotional and expository ground they had to cover, and I certainly don't like it when they're just using it to try and goose ratings and fill in some blank spots on the NBC schedule while the fall season gets underway. We've still got three more of them before we get back to the regular half hour format, and hopefully the worst one is behind us, but what NBC really needs to do is let this show do what it does best, and not try to use it as an anchor to get the network back to the heyday of Must See TV Thursdays. I like that they're supporting the show and that they really gave it a chance to blossom last year, but the suits seem overly involved now, and I'm worried that the magic that made the show great will just sort of drift away the more attention it gets and the higher the ratings expectations are for it.

10.3.07
More tv stuff: Cavemen. Watch it. Love it. Live it.

It was only okay, actually, but much better than a sitcom based on a series of car insurance commercials has any right to be. And I'm going to watch it again next week just to see if it gets any better.

10.4.07
Labbits are still my main thing, but this Clockwork Orange-inspired take on a dunny by Frank Kozik is pretty fucking cool.

10.5.07
I'm working from home today because Julie is out of town with our newer car and yesterday our older car nearly broke down at a time and place that could have very well caused me to have one of the worst days of my life. I was driving on a four lane divided street in Baltimore which had been reduced to a single lane because of construction, with each direction of traffic taking turns (as directed by the construction workers). Even when it was our turn to move, the flow went very slowly, so that I was more or less idling for five or ten minutes straight, when suddenly I noticed this cloud of gas or smoke wafting over from the construction site. Only it wasn't from the construction, it was from under my hood—the engine was overheating and the radiator was gushing steam.

We've had problems with overheating in the car since the beginning of the summer, but it's never gotten as bad as it did on Thursday—if I had broken down then, I would have held up both lanes of traffic for god knows how long, and I would have had to have had the car towed to god knows what kind of garage and spend the rest of my day sorting out the mess and asking my brother or a coworker to take time out of their days to come pick me up. I feel like I barely made it to my parking garage, and even though I refilled the coolant and left work two hours early to beat the traffic, I barely made it back home (because leaving early didn't help at all; the traffic on the way home was the worst I've seen it in a while for no apparent reason).

It's fine on the highway, because the air the moving past the engine keeps it cool, but when it's stuck idling, the coolant just isn't getting the job done anymore. And as anyone who has to deal with the commute in our area can tell you, idling is something that happens on a fairly regular basis, so I really don't feel comfortable driving it for anything beyond local errands.

We'll take it in next week to have it checked out, but it's eleven years old and has over 200,000 miles on it, so its time may have come. We'd like to put off buying a new car for as long as possible, but if it's not safe, it's not safe, and I don't want Julie or myself driving it if we can't be sure that it's not going to break down on us.

10.8.07
My cousin Kelley died last Wednesday. She was five years older than me and the oldest of my generation of the family, the firstborn child of my father's sister and her husband, and she had Down syndrome. She was fairly high-functioning for people with that condition, being able to, at various points in her life, participate in the Special Olympics, hold a job, and live on her own. Her spirit was indomitable; even though her life held more than her fair share of trouble and pain, she was always a positive, vibrant presence.

We weren't able to make it to the funeral in Florida, but I wrote my aunt and uncle with my recollections of her, and my sister Tori read excepts from that letter at the service on Saturday. Here are the things I remember most about Kelley:

I have a few vivid memories of Kelley, which mean a lot to me. My earliest memory of her is from a visit to your lake cabin, when she would play games and color with the younger kids even though she was several years older. The memories of the times we visited you all there are very precious to me; of course I didn't appreciate it at the time, but looking back it's amazing how easily the two halves of Mary Lou's family merged together. I really didn't see much distinction between my cousins and my siblings, and Kelley felt like a big sister who wasn't too cool to hang out with the little kids.

Another time that stands out in my mind was in 2001 when we were all together for grandmother's memorial service. When we were preparing to leave the hotel for the church, we were mingling outside of your hotel room, all trying our best to hide our feelings, when suddenly Kelley threw her arms around me and started crying. She was simply expressing what the rest of us were feeling on the inside but which we were trying so hard to cover up and control. It was a gift to have her there; she gave the rest of us permission to lower our guards and let out some of the emotions that we were all struggling to contain.

My final memory of Kelley is from Carrie's marriage ceremony last year, which was the first time that all of us came together again after saying goodbye to grandmother. She was happier than I ever remember seeing her at the reception after the wedding, spending the night laughing, dancing, and smiling. And that's how I will remember her: a beam of pure joy that lit up the entire room.

As I grow older, it becomes harder and harder to process the passing of a loved one, because my own mortality looms larger in my field of vision with each passing year. All we really have, and all we really are, are memories, remembrances that allow us to carry the ones we love with us wherever we go and allow us likewise to travel with them. If at the end of my existence I leave behind as many happy memories in the minds of those who care for me as Kelley did for those of us who loved her, I will have lived a good life indeed.


10.9.07
Yeah, so, we're well into October, and for the second day in a row the high temperature here is going to be above 90 degrees (and it's been above 80 for the past week). One of the many reasons that I don't want to live in Florida is because I actually like having four distinct seasons, but I'm beginning to doubt whether that's going to happen this year.

10.10.07
Our cat Smoltz died suddenly and somewhat unexpectedly yesterday. He's been in a slow decline since August of last year, when he hurt his back somehow and then developed problems with keeping on weight as he recovered from that injury, possibly from the steroids that the vet put him on to help ease his pain during the first few weeks after he got hurt.

Before he was hurt, he was a big, strong cat, easily the alpha male of our kitty clan. He was technically a grey tabby, but he had deep, black fur that really made him more distinctive and imposing than grey tabbies; I don't think there's a vet we ever took him to who didn't spontaneously call him handsome or a panther (his walk was much more like a jungle cat's than a typical housecat's). He wasn't necessarily the smartest cat, but he was very affectionate, and in some ways acted more like a dog than a cat, growling when he heard firecrackers or sirens outside the house or comforting us with a concerned trill when we were sad.

He was very in tune with our daily habits and moods, and he had a lot of times and rituals: in the morning, he would lay on my chest or by my side until I got up to take my shower, and then he would follow me into the bathroom and sleep on the sink counter while I got ready for work. When I got dressed, he would come running when I put on my shoes and play with my shoestrings. At night, when we got home from work, he would be waiting for us, and would follow us to the couch or the study and sit beside Julie. At bedtime, he would jump on the bed while Julie set the alarm and rub his chin on the edge of the clock. There were more, but those were the main ones, and even though he hasn't been completely himself in over a year, it's still hard to think that he'll never be here again to do any of them.

After his problems started last year, he went from a solid 14 or 15 pounds to somewhere around 8, but we thought we had stabilized it with a couple of different medications. He would have his bad spells every now and then, but his personality stayed mostly intact and he always ate well, although he was weaker and more tired than before and he didn't always have the energy to play or follow us around like he used to.

His final downturn came very suddenly; on Friday and Saturday, he was eating and drinking fine and seemed to be acting normal for the most part. By Monday, he wasn't eating dry food or drinking much, but he devoured the wet food we put out for him and he was receptive to drinking water when we used a needleless syringe to get water into his mouth.

We decided to take him to the vet on Tuesday morning when he had become so listless that he could hardly stand on his own (although he was still purring and he ate a decent amount of wet food when we put it next to him). The news from the vet was not good: he was dehydrated and his heart rate was well below normal. Her prognosis didn't give us much hope, and we steeled ourselves to bring him back to be put to sleep if the fluids they gave him didn't quickly improve his condition.

They didn't, and within three hours of bringing him home he had passed naturally. I don't think he was really conscious for the last 12 hours of his life, and he didn't seem to be in pain either. We've been preparing for this day for a long time; he was our favorite cat, and he was just as special to me as my cat Jody, my pet from my elementary to high school days. But even though we've known that this day was coming, I still can't believe he's gone. There is an emptiness to the house now, and it's hard to undo so many of the things we did for him to compensate for his issues—no rugs in the house, food dishes everywhere, and a series of towels laid out for him in the litter room because he had trouble climbing into the boxes sometimes—we've been living with these things for months, they've become part of our household routine, and it's hard to accept that they're just not necessary anymore because they were all for him.

This is a picture of him from last year, a few months before he hurt himself and started to lose weight. I can hardly even picture him like this anymore, I got so used to his diminished self.

Here's a more recent picture. Over the summer he developed an extremely bad habit of jumping up on the kitchen counter and sleeping next to the sink, but it was hard to get mad at him because he was completely unaware that what he was doing was wrong. When we came in and scolded him, he would raise his head to listen to us, and then put it back down and return to his nap.

So much loss this year...I hope this is the end of it. I love you so much Smotlzie. I hope you're somewhere where you're fat and happy again.


10.11.07
Thursday already. I'd be pretty happy that the weekend is almost here if I didn't have so much shit to do before Friday.

10.12.07
We're going to a wedding tomorrow, and we're hoping to surprise my mother with a little good news. But you'll have to wait another few weeks to hear the whole story...

10.15.07
It's hard to believe that the beginning of our cycle is almost upon us again. Between preparing for this year, working on the RFP for our document imaging system, getting a new site ready for our alumni interview folks, and moving into a new building, the late summer/early fall has just flown by, and now we're only two weeks from our Early Decision deadline, which is when the rollercoaster reaches its peak; then we spend the next six months hurtling straight down as we build our class for 2008.

I'm going to be reading files again this year, which I really enjoy; it's a two month break from my normal responsibilities and a chance for me to spend time in a role very different than what I do the rest of the year. This will also be the last year we read the way we've been reading for years, maybe even decades, because by the end of next summer my team and I will implement a new scanning and online digital document management workflow that will turn us into a paperless office and significantly alter the way the operations and counseling teams do their jobs.

I'm looking forward to this implementation, as we've been planning for this for years at this point, and for once I'll be the prime influencer in the vendor/software selection process because this isn't a university-wide project (at least not yet). I don't expect to not feel busy at work until at least a year from now, at which point the next cycle will be starting. Even if we get a new staff member for my team, which is possible but unlikely, I don't think it will make that much of a difference in terms of how busy we'll be. But the impact from this project will be huge, and despite all the good work my group has done for the office over the past five years, this has the potential to be the defining project of my tenure here.

10.16.07
The mornings feel like fall now, but the afternoons are still too warm. 80 degrees plus in mid-October is just not right.

10.17.07
Today is the anniversary of this site, the seventh anniversary to be precise. It kind of crept up on me this year; I had a feeling there was something about this date that was special, but it wasn't until I was going back through the archive pages to fix a broken link on the navigation that I realized that seven years ago today is the first time I ever wrote an entry for this site.

So anyway, happy birthday, brain coral.

10.18.07
Blerg.

10.19.07
So we built a new web application this year for the group that schedules and coordinates alumni interviews for our applicants, and since the webhosting people at the university are apparently incapapble of setting up a secure LAMP (Linux Apache MySQL PHP) server, we had to go to a third party vendor. I've been using my current host for close to 10 years and had very few issues with them, so I figured it would be easy to set up a new account, register a domain name through their registrar, and get up and running pretty quickly and with minimal hassle.

And for the most part, it seemed like that was going to be the case—there were a few initial hitches getting the proper nameservers attached to the domain and stuff like that, but I opened the account on Friday afternoon and by Monday morning it was ready for my programmer to create his MySQL database and upload his scripts and files.

Everything went fine for the first day, but on Tuesday there were sporadic outages on the server resulting in our application being unavailable for an hour or so at a time. But the tech staff at the webhosting company was posting regular updates, and it seemed like they'd have the problem resolved soon.

But when I got to work on Wednesday morning, the site still wasn't up, so I checked the emergency notice thread on the webhost's forums, and it said that the motherboard in the server had failed, so they had to move the drives to a completely new box and rebuild the raid array. This was a fairly major undertaking, but I was hopeful that this would be the last of our issues, and that the new hardware would solve whatever issues had existed previously.

Then I noticed another thread in the customer forums mid-afternoon: a customer who had an account on the same box we did had posted an email he had received from the webhosting company saying that the raid rebuild had failed and that the data on the drives was basically unrecoverable. They were going to recreate everyone's accounts on a new server, but everything—our configuration, our databases, our PHP files and scripts, etc.—was gone, and we'd have to start from scratch.

I never recieved that email, so after dinner I opened a ticket with the webhosting company asking what the status of our account was, and after numerous back-and-forths, I was finally able to get access to our administrative control panels again—at 4:30 a.m. I actually went to bed around 1:30 because it had been over an hour since I had submitted my latest response in our dialogue and because our internet also decided to go on the fritz, but when I woke up early I just decided to check and see if anything had been resolved, and when it appeared that it had, I knew that I needed to get the configuration up and running before my programmer got to the office so that he could immediately start to rebuild our database and reload our scripts. I finished that around 6:30, took a nap for a couple of hours, and then got back up and started a full day's work from home.

Luckily for us, we had a pretty complete if crude backup in the form of a report that pulled every field from every record in the database into a spreadsheet, so we hopefully won't lose anyone's registration information (although we posted something to our site to let people know that if they registered anytime after Tuesday morning they need to contact our office to confirm that we have their data). Normally after an experience like this, I'd be looking for a new vendor, but I've worked with this company on many projects over the past several years and I've never experienced anything like this, so I'm willing to chalk it up to extreme bad luck and hope that things will run as expected from here on out. But I'm also going to make sure we continue to back up our data somewhere other than their server, just in case.

10.22.07
I'm tired of checking five things off my to-do list every day and then adding eight more. This is the week the tide turns; I will have fewer tasks at the end of this week than I do right now. I have to; it's wearying working your ass off and feeling like you're just falling farther behind.

10.23.07
Not a good start to my week of turning the tide: I wasn't able to even go to work yesterday thanks to some flu-like bug that first started to get to me on Saturday night. I wasn't feeling great on Sunday, but since I didn't do much, I thought I was on the mend. When I woke up on Monday morning, however, I felt worse than I did the night before, and I was barely able to send an email to work telling them I wouldn't be in that day before I collapsed back in bed and slept for over 8 hours straight (this after getting plenty of sleep the night before).

I was able to do one or two tasks in the afternoon when I woke up, and from my work inbox it didn't look like anything was really going on that needed my attention, so hopefully I still have a chance to catch up on everything before the weekend. I still don't feel great, but I've got to get into work today, so I'm hoping I won't be completely exhausted all day and that I won't spread whatever I have to anyone else.

10.24.07
This has been a rough month.

Hell, this has been a rough year.

10.25.07
It's raining here finally, and it might be the only good thing that has happened this week.

10.26.07
This week can't be over soon enough. I don't think I'm going to be ready to use this space to talk about how things went wrong for a very long time, so next Monday I'm going to pretend that this week never happened and go back to normal topics.

10.29.07
I'm usually a big fan of Apple, but I'm not normally the type that feels compelled to run out and buy a new OS the first day it's available, even when the Apple PR machine has been working overtime hyping it. But there were a couple of compelling features in Leopard that made me anxious to get it installed (improvements in the graphics engine and the inclusion of an automatic backup utility that integrates seemlessly into the desktop environment), so we went out on Friday and got a copy from the closest Apple store (they seemed to be the only places selling hard copies; even at CompUSA, which has a store-within-a-store deal with Apple, was only selling copies online).

The official launch was at 6 p.m., and there were supposed to be t-shirt giveaways at every store, but we didn't feel like battling with crowds, so we waited until after 7 before we headed out, hoping that the fanatics would have cleared out even if they took all the t-shirts with them. When we arrived, the store was pretty packed, but there wasn't a line out the door or anything, and it only took a couple of minutes to purchase a copy of Leopard. On the way out, we were pleasantly surprised to be offered t-shirts—even though their stock was low, there were still at least a couple of bins left. These may or may not end up on eBay depending on how much the nuts in the big cities who didn't get one are willing to pay for them.

I backed up my critical documents before beginning the install, because I didn't have enough room on my primary drive to do a clean install and there's always danger than an upgrade will go wrong and leave you without access to your main drive. I started the install before we sat down for dinner, and by the time we were done, the install was finished and it went off without a hitch.

I've been using Microsoft Entourage for email and Firefox for web browsing for a while now, but I'd really rather switch to Apple products because I know that as long as I own a Mac, those programs will continue to be supported and improved. So I moved all my email folders over from Entourage to Mail and played around with it quite a bit, and I think I'm ready to make the switch. There are still some little things I'm getting used to, but I think they are more a matter of familiarity, and I'm sure that soon enough they will seem just as natural to me as their counterparts in Entourage.

Safari is a different matter, however. I'm so accusted to the extended functionality that I get from my favorite Firefox plug-ins that there would really need to be equivalents in Safari, and right now there just aren't. The most important of these is Firefox's Session Manager plug-in, which saves the state of your current browsing session (including all windows and tabs) and restores them automatically when you launch the browser. The latest version of Safari includes a feature like this, but you have to trigger it manually each time, and it also means that you have an extra window each time you start up (the first window that it launches before you tell it to restore the session). So if you don't manually close that extra window each time before quitting, it then gets assigned to the session restore next time, and pretty soon you've got a ton of extra windows you don't want.

The new Safari does seem faster than Firefox, but I also never fully loaded all the windows and tabs that I keep active in Firefox, so I don't know for sure. And I'm hoping that even if there is a performance difference between the two browsers right now that Firefox will be able to catch up or pass Safari when version 3 of the open source browser is released. Until then, I'm content to have things load slightly slower to keep the Session Manager plug-in (along with a few other less-necessary but still very useful add-ons).

Overall it's a really stable upgrade, with some cool new features that I'm still exploring. I'm most eager to get Time Machine up and running, but my current external drive is maxed out and I have to wait for a new one to come in later this week before I can try it out. From what I've read about it, I'm not so sure it's the perfect backup scheme for me, but I'm willing to give it a try before I consider a more traditional backup program. I'm also hoping that Apple will listen to user suggestion about the program and write some code that will make it a little more flexible in the future.

10.30.07
As phase two of my cleanup of the study (the first being to add new shelves to the bookcases and put my stacks and stacks of loose CDs back in alphabetical order where they belong), I spent a few hours on Saturday putting up three new wall shelves to house my burgeoning labbit/monger/dunny/Gloomy collection. Still not sure exactly how I'm going to arrange them, but since I've moved all my CDs back onto the bookcases and I've got ample space for my toys with my new shelves, my desk actually looks pretty tidy for the first time in a couple of years.

10.31.07
A lot of ghosts around this year...
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