august 2008

8.1.08
My granddad seems to be improving quickly. After his procedure on Wednesday and five pints of blood, he was moved from the ICU to a normal hospital room, and all the tests they have run on his heard, etc., indicate that he is healthy other than the ulcers and the blood loss they caused, and surgery seems unlikely now. They're going to keep him under observation for another few days, but if his condition continues to improve, he'll likely get to go home by the end of the weekend. Hopefully the crisis has been averted and he'll now be armed with some new stategies about his health and nutrition that will allow him to stay with us a while longer.

8.4.08
Life should return to normal a bit after tonight. For the past couple of months, a lot of my non-work mental energy and free time has been spent preparing for Artscape and reading and researching for my course at the Walters, but Artscape has been over for a couple of weeks and tonight is my last class. It will be nice to finally be living in a world where those two things aren't hanging over me.

8.5.08
I turned in my final paper for my final class last night, and I feel pretty good about it. I had been thinking about it and researching it for a few weeks, and I had a pretty clear sense of what I needed to write, but it took much longer to actually commit to paper than I had expected. Still, it's done, and now I just have a last little bit of paperwork to do to file for graduation next semester. I've really enjoyed this program, but I'm also really going to enjoy finishing it.

8.6.08
My grandfather came home from the hospital on Sunday and seems to be doing much better. I talked to him on Saturday and he still sounded weak and a little disoriented, but considering what he had been through over the previous few days, that wasn't surprising. He had been planning to attend the annual reunion of the 9th infantry division that he served with in WWII later this month, and much of the family was going to attend as well, but that has obviously been canceled now. He's disappointed, but hopefully he can get back on track with his health and make it next year.

8.7.08
At the end of this month, I will have accrued seven weeks of vacation. I'm feeling the need to take some of it.

8.8.08
We finally went to see Dark Knight last night, and although it was pretty good (better than Batman Begins, and I loved that movie), it was hard for it to live up to the hype. I wasn't nearly as annoyed by Bale's low rasp when in the Batman costume as some people seemed to be (I don't know if I would even have noticed it if I hadn't heard complaints about it already), and while Ledger's performance was impressive, I don't think it's Oscar caliber (although he'll likely end up with a nod anyway, especially if this film ends its box office run behind only Titanic's gross receipts).

Again, it's an awesome movie—I'm likely going to see it again sometime soon—I just don't know if any movie could have lived up to the hype that has been generated about this film over the past few weeks.

8.11.08
The Olympics annoucers sure do use the word "wingspan" a lot.

8.11.08
A few months ago, I got tasked with helping another office build a web site, which I finally finished working on over the weekend. As I was building it out and populating the pages with content, I was pretty aggressive about fixing design and editing flaws, because the people working on this, though they are perfectly intelligent and mean well, have no clue what it takes to build a good, user-friendly site.

The biggest change I made was to delete an entire paragraph from one of the most prominent pages. Here's the text:

To learn more about each organization and the information available on their website, place your cursor over the name of the organization. Double click on the name of the organization to open the website.

Okay, so first off, it's my assumption that if you've managed to make it to the web site where this text was supposed to be posted, YOU ALREADY FREAKING KNOW HOW TO USE A WEB SITE. Second, these instructions are just plain wrong: as I'm sure you all know, you don't have to doubleclick on a link in a web browser to go to the linked site; one click will do just fine.

I'm hoping that they won't even notice my changes, or if they do, that they will just trust my expertise and not quibble about them. Because although that was the biggest thing I changed, it wasn't the only thing by a longshot, and after spending my weekend working on a project that's not even for my office (at the request of my dean and his boss), I'm in no mood to spend hours arguing over font and color choices and text edits.


8.12.08
I need a day off. So I'm taking one today.

8.13.08
So that site that I spent all weekend busting my ass to finish so that it could be ready for review by Monday? I sent an email to all involved parties (the ones who pushed for that deadline, even though they won't be announcing it to the public for a few more weeks) on Sunday night, and I haven't heard from a single one of them yet. No "Looks great!", no suggestions for updates or changes, no "Thanks for getting this up in time." No nothing.

Not really sure what to make of this, as I haven't been able to reach any of them yet. It's highly unlikely that they are all on vacation at the same time, especially because this was their deadline, but I'm baffled by the total lack of acknowledgment, especially after there was so much pressure to launch the beta of the site by Monday. Unless I get some sort of reasonable explanation for their complete lack of communication since I posted the site, I'm not going to be very inclined to adhere to their desired deadlines or kill myself working on the weekend for them in the future.

8.14.08
I've been playing around with integrating a Flickr feed (which I can use my iPhone to upload pictures to) and a Twitter feed (which I can use my iPhone to send short blog entries to) onto this page as a substitute for coverting the entire site to a TypePad kind of system, and I think it's doable. Now I just need to make sure I would use it—I don't want them taking up tons of sidebar real estate only to have them updated once every few days.

If I use them, I want them to be supplements to my normal entries and my daily photo feature (which hasn't been very daily of late, but I'm working on getting back into a rhythm)—quick, real-time bursts of my daily walking around life. I might play around with it for a week or so first before I activate the feeds on this page, but I'm excited about being able to bring something like that to this page without having to completely overhaul the architecture and move it to a new environment.

8.15.08
I got my final paper back from my Walters class, and I got a 96. So I've officially completed my coursework for my masters, and now all I have to do is finish an overview project of my experience in the program and file for graduation in December. I'm terrible with that kind of endgame paperwork stuff, but it shouldn't take me more than 8-10 hours total, and I have several months before it's officially due. Ideally, I'd like to finish it by the end of September so I can just be done with it, but if I haven't posted that I've done it by Thanksgiving, someone please smack me in the head with a 2x4 so I don't blow it on the easy part.

8.18.08
As you've probably noticed, I've decided to integrate feeds from Flickr and Twitter into this page as a way to keep the content here a little more varied and dynamic (all of the Flickr images and most of the tweets will come from my iPhone; the goal is to use that to post stuff more in real time). I've also finally gotten my daily photo feature back on track, and hopefully I can stick with it this time.

We'll see how this goes, but I'd like to try this for a month and reevaluate it then. I'm hoping it will make me feel a little more connected to this site, and maybe it will give you a reason to check back more than once a day.

8.19.08
This past weekend, the Dysfunctional Family Circus popped into my head for the first time in years. For those of you who aren't familiar with this now-defunct site, which was active in the late 1990s, it posted an image of a Family Circus comic without the caption and allowed users to post their own captions, which were often obscene, profane, and just plain mean. And hilarious.

The site was shut down after a few years after Bil Keane, the creator of Family Circus, made a personal plea to the site's owner (more details on the life and death of this site are available at Wikipedia, of course). I came to the party pretty late, so I had probably only known about it for a couple of months when it shut down, and at the time there were no archives of it that I knew of, so when it was gone, it was seemingly gone forever.

But we all know that's a tough trick to pull off with internet content, and so when I googled "dysfunctional family circus archive" yesterday, this site came up at the top of the list: The Free-Floating Dysfunctional Family Circus Archive. It has all 500 of the images from the original site and the thousands of user-submitted captions that went with them.

It seems like the last hundred or so are the funniest (that's when the site was at the peak of it's popularity), but you sometimes have to scroll through a couple dozen captions to find that one gem that will make you bust out laughing. But there's guaranteed to be at least a few keepers per page, so it's well worth the time it takes to identify them. It's not necessarily safe for work (the images are fine, but the captions can get pretty out of bounds), and it's not for the faint of heart—the worst entries are along the lines of the humor in that Aristocrats joke that was the subject of a documentary a few years back—but man, it's still funny 10 years later.

8.20.08
I was going over our list of tasks yesterday with my lone employee yesterday (we still haven't been able to hire a replacement for the person who left in May), and it started to dawn on me that October 1, when almost everything has to be done, is perilously close. Between now and then, we have to import somewhere on the order of 150,000 search records, get all three of our online apps (yes, three—don't get me started) up and running, configure all the exports and imports for the images and data associated with those online apps, make updates to about half the web site, conduct 60+ email campaigns for our various fall events, deliver several complicated reports on the incoming class, finish revisions to two external web sites, and hopefully conduct some interviews and get someone hired. Oh, and we also have to finish the implementation and training for the document management system, which is the biggest overhaul to our business process since I started working here. And that's just the stuff we know about right now; it's not like people are going to leave us alone until we're finished with all this.

I thought we were coming out of the woods a couple of weeks ago when I was finally finished with my class and with all the Artscape stuff and I at least got my evenings back. But even though we've been working pretty hard all summer with no real breaks (taking a couple of days off around Artscape is the closest thing I've had to a vacation this summer, and my coworker only left for a week back in June), things just keep piling up, and I'm honestly a little concerned about our ability to finish all this by the deadline, especially because, at this point, even if we hire someone in the next couple of weeks, they won't be able to contribute in any meaningfuly way before October.

So I guess we just suck it up and fight our way through it, even though it feels like we've been doing that for the better part of the last 18 months. But I'm seriously going to look for a way to take a week or two off before we get too deep into the admissions cycle, because I know I can't keep going at this pace without a break until next spring.

8.21.08
I've sworn off McDonald's for a long, long time. Sure, I get cravings for their fries every now and then, which remained the unparalleled kings of mainstream fast food fries, and I'm sure that there have been times when McDonald's has been the only option on a road trip when I've visited. But by and large, McDonald's has been completely absent from my diet (and Julie's) for more than a decade.

Recently, however, both Julie and I got intrigued by their new southern style chicken sandwich, which looked like it was being marketed as the McDonald's version of Chik-Fil-A's signature chicken sandwich. And when a Wired review confirmed that McDonald's had managed to reverse engineer Chik-Fil-A accurately, we decided to give it a try sometime, especially because the closest Chik-Fil-A is 25 minutes away and none of them are open on Sunday.

So when we took a half day yesterday and were trying to decide where to stop for lunch, that option came up and it seemed like as good a time as any. And as southerners who grew up with Chik-Fil-A, I can tell you that the McDonad's version is pretty impressive. The breading tastes the same as Chik-Fil-A, even though it seems a little thicker, and the bun is a little less generous and is "buttery-tasting" rather than buttered, but otherwise the imitation was spot on.

I don't think our visits to McDonald's will increase dramatically because of this sandwich, but it's nice to know that if we ever get a serious jones for Chik-Fil-A on a Sunday, we have a pretty good alternative.

8.22.08
It's been just about a year since I started my Netflix subscription, and despite the issues they had last week with their shipping centers, it's been a pretty good experience. I initially started my subscription so I could watch the Sopranos on DVD, and I've been mostly using it to watch either shows that I missed when they were first run or shows that I can't watch because I don't pay for the premium cable channels.

In order, I've watched all the seasons of The Sopranos, all seasons of Curb Your Enthusiasm, the first four seasons of The Wire (the fifth just came out on DVD, and I should start that sometime next month after the demand drops a bit), the first three seasons of Entourage (the fourth will be released next week, and I'll probably get it sometime in October), and the first three seasons of Battlestar Galactica (including the premiere mini-series and the Razor movie). I just started The Shield, and with six seasons available on DVD, that should keep me busy for a while.

I've liked pretty much everything I've rented. The Sopranos and Curb Your Enthusiasm were well worth it, and although Entourage and The Wire started a litle slow, they both grew into great shows (although compared to one another, The Wire is head and shoulders above the relative fluff of Entourage). I was skeptical that Battlestar Galactica would be worth watching, but it was so much better than I expected—I'm hoping I can get the first half of the fourth season via Netflix in time to watch the final episodes on SciFi when they air next spring.

I'm not sure how The Shield will measure up to other cop shows I've loved (especially NYPD Blue and The Wire)—after two episodes, it still seems a little overacted and some of the plot elements seem a bit unbelievable, but I also know from watching other series on DVD that it's not usually until the middle of the first season that the writing and the acting really hit their stride, so I'm optimistic that it will get better and better.

I wasn't sure if I'd still subscribe to Netflix after I was done with The Sopranos, but that was six months ago and there's still plenty of stuff I'd like to watch. I generally like to own my media, and own it in a physical form if possible, but all in all I'm pretty happy with using Netflix for DVD rentals. Even though some of the shows I've watched I wouldn't mind owning, I've gotten a chance to know that for sure before making a sizable investment in purchaing the DVD sets for myself.

8.25.08
So Obama, Biden as your VP pick, huh? Not impressed. If you wanted to pick a Washington insider who's part of the old school Democratic party machine and who can appeal to the white blue collar voters who have generally eluded you, you should have just picked Hillary. Plus, she's could have brought a truckload more money to your campaign than Biden will.

There's no way I'm voting for McCain, because although he's going to play the moderate in his national speeches and debates from now on (and he's absolutely going to do this), anyone who's been paying the slightest bit of attention knows he's a warhawk whose administration will closely resemble the one that's been in power for the last eight years. I know exactly how that story ends, and it's not good for any of us but the super-rich.

But seriously Obama, your decisions recently really make me question your judgment and that of your campaign team, many of whom will become powerful members of your administration should you win. Telling the press you've picked a VP candidate but that you're not going to tell them yet or even tell them when you're going to tell them? Lame. Sending out a text message at 3 a.m. on Saturday morning to let your supporters know you had selected Biden? What are you, a fourteen year old girl swapping gossip with her girlfriends? And picking Biden, who doesn't bring anything to the table you couldn't have gotten with Hillary (and she could have given you so much more) and who certainly doesn't reinforce your change message? It's just baffling.

You've got my vote almost no matter what, but once I again I find myself voting against the more obviously wrong choice of the two candidates rather than voting FOR someone. You better get your game back on track fast, because coming out of the Republican convention McCain is going to have a 2-4 point lead on you. And then things are going to get nasty real quick, and the GOP is much better at that game than your party. That 10 point lead you enjoyed a couple of months ago is GONE. You better start acting like you're still in a heated race, because you are. Otherwise you're going to spend the rest of your life wondering how the hell you lost in a year when Democrats should be able to run a reasonably healthy potted plant and have a pretty good shot against the bruised, bloody, and scandal-ridden Republicans.

8.26.08
One of my friends from Chicago flew into DC last night so he could speak at a convention this morning, so Julie, Dodd, and I met him down in the District for dinner last night, along with another acquaintance from the area who we'd never met in person before. We ate at Les Halles, which is a French/Alsatian bistro with an emphasis on steak that has some vague association with Anthony Bourdain (a coworker of our friend from Chicago had recommended it to him).

Everyone got something steak-related except for our Chicago friend, who got a platter of german goodness with a lot of sausages, sauerkraut, etc. Dodd and I both got the grilled meat platter, which had two kinds of sausages, two kinds of steak, and a lambchop, and everything on it was excellent. It wasn't the best steak I've had in my life (a mafia steakhouse in Philadelphia holds that title), but it was pretty damn good, and given that it's in downtown DC near all the federal buildings and the White House, the prices were extremely reasonable.

8.27.08
The consultants from the company that we purchased our document management software are coming back today for one last visit to firm up some technology issues before they begin to build out the workflow that we've designed. They say we're still on track for launch on September 30, but that just feels so close now that it's hard to believe that it will all get done. This is the first project I've worked on that has high visibility (most of the directors and deans in my area are aware of it and aware that I'm the project manager, along with the vice provost and the main budget person for our campus), and if something goes wrong, I'm going to take all the blame, so I'm putting a lot of faith in this company.

But that's one of the reasons I selected them as our vendor for this technology: they never just sell the software to you and let you work it out for yourself. It's an integral part of their process that they get the first build up and running so that you can start using the system productively within 2-3 months of purchasing it. After speaking to some of their other customers during the RFP evaluation process, the rational part of my brain believes in their abilities, but it's still a little nerve wracking to see how close our golive date is getting. Fingers crossed.

8.28.08
I'm mostly finished with the first season of the Shield, and I keep waiting for it to get better. I think the only other show that I've watched via Netflix that didn't really win me over by the end of the first season was Entourage, and although that one got better in the second season, I'm still only lukewarm about the show. The Shield should still be a decent diversion even if the quality doesn't improve, but I'm not sure how many more ridiculous plots I can take. Also: the whole angle of showing Vic's sensitive side with his soft spot for a strung out hooker and his son's autism diagnosis? It's not doing anything to further our understanding of the character, it's just showing the writers' reliance on obvious cliches for making Vic seem like something other than a narcissistic asshole. I hope they ditch these subplots quickly, because all I want to do when I see any scenes involving this hooker or Vic's family is hit the fast forward button.

8.29.08
Very long week at work, but we got a lot done, and we're hopefully on track to have all the technology pieces in place for the next admissions cycle by the end of the month. The only reason I'm coming into the office today is because a friend who's been working here longer than I have got a new job that she starts in a couple of weeks and today we're having a lunch for her and her closest friends on campus at Gertrude's. I still may go home after lunch, since ahead of the holiday weekend, I expect the office to be pretty much deserted anyway. It really depends on whether I can cross all the items off of my must-be-done-this-week list before noon.
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