march 2001

My name is Humpty.

Pronounced with an "umpty".

After reading a couple of articles on the supposed waning of the popularity of the boy bands, I was starting to believe that their current run on the charts and on radio was finally coming to a long-overdue end. After examining the actual sales, however, I must conclude that they are still going strong, and are likely to remain commercial juggernauts for at least another year or so. It turns out the most of the articles I read based their theories that boy band dominance was coming to an end on the fact that the new release by the Backstreet Boys, "Black and Blue", failed to sell more copies in its first week than N'Sync's latest album, released several months earlier.

But the articles basically ignored the fact that, even though they didn't sell the 2 million plus in their first week that N'Sync did (which set an all-time first week sales record), the Backstreet Boys still sold well over 1 million copies. Not only that, the album has actually been a stronger seller than the N'Sync disc: "Black and Blue" has sold over 8 million copies in 10 weeks; "No Strings Attached", which was released 35 weeks earlier, has sold only 10 million in 48 weeks, a figure that will surely be surpassed by "Black and Blue" when it reaches the 48 week mark. Even the hilariously pathetic O-Town, a group of barely-talented amateur teens that was put together by N'Sync/Backstreet mastermind Lou Perelman for the ABC show "Making the Band", had their first record debut in the top five, and are still in the top 30 after a month (I honestly believe that you could pick 5 teenage guys based solely on their looks and come up with a group that is at least as good as O-Town, provided that they had access to the same phalanx of producers, songwriters, dance and vocal coaches, and marketers as O-Town).

So all I can conclude from this is that most of the writers who cover the music industry are sick of kissing these no-talent teen pop asses, and are just as eager for their "Where Are They Now?" days as I am. Writing those articles was just wishful thinking, hoping that maybe the dam had finally broken and their days of having to pretend that one of these records was actually worth reviewing (much less deserving of praise) were coming to an end. But unfortunately, that's all it was; based on the charts, these bands appear to be a popular as ever, and we're likely going to have to hear about them for many months to come.

In this week's issue of Newsweek, I noticed that there were two articles covering topics that I have written about recently. The first was a short piece in the front of the magazine that talked about the recent use of bears in television commercials, which I wrote about just a couple of weeks ago on this page. In addition to the three ads that I talk about, the Newsweek article references one that I had seen (a Wendy's commercial for chicken nuggets) but forgot to include and one that I have never seen, apparently an advertisement for salmon. Then later in the issue, there is a page-long article about weblogs and their increasing popularity both as an outlet for their authors and as entertainment for web users, a phenomenon I wrote about for the 01.01 issue of (check the Hype section).

Not really a big deal, I guess. I just thought it was weird that two things I have written about recently were being covered in a big news magazine. Maybe I do have a clue.

The Weather Channel has recently been playing one of Love Tractor's songs as the background music for the local forecast. Now, Love Tractor isn't exactly well-known; neither is their music easy to find. The only thing I can figure is that someone at the Weather Channel is a long-suffering fan who has recently picked up 1987's "This Ain't No Outerspace Ship", which was recently reissued on CD in anticipation of their forthcoming album "The Sky at Night", their first album since 1989's "Themes From Venus".

For those of you who don't know (and I imagine there are quite a few of you), Love Tractor was one of the Athens, GA bands that was playing alongside other Athens notables such as the B-52s, Pylon, Dreams So Real, and R.E.M. in the 40 Watt Club in the early 80s. They are kind of like R.E.M. on hallucinogens; there are lots of jangly guitars, but there is also a very dreamlike quality to their songs that is enhanced by the odd falsetto of singer Mike Richmond. Lots of their songs remind me of the summer days when I was a kid when it was just too hot and humid to move, so you'd go poking around in the cool, shady woods near the train tracks looking for streams to catch tadpoles in.

When they formed, Love Tractor couldn't afford microphones, so they wrote only instrumental songs; they liked that kind of songwriting so much that their first three albums were all instrumentals. "This Ain't No Outerspace Ship" was their first record with vocals on most of the tracks (although it did feature 2 or 3 instrumentals, including "Rudolph Nureyev", the track that I keep hearing on the Weather Channel). It is still one of my favorite records.

Love Tractor is one of two bands (the other being House of Freaks) that I really liked a lot but never got to see live. There were at least three times when I was planning to go see a show only to have something come up at the last minute to prevent me from attending. The last time I tried to see them was in Charlotte with my friend Pete. We were actually heading to the car to go to the club when one of Pete's friends called and said that one of the guitarists had hurt his hand and they were canceling the show. They broke up not long after that.

I had assumed that they had broken up for good; I heard a couple of rumors that the lead singer, Mike Richmond, had left the band and been replaced by some 18 year old keyboard wizard, and that they still called themselves Love Tractor even though they refused to play any of the old songs and their new stuff was not at all like their older material. I'm guessing it was the kind of situation where there would have been a lawsuit if there had anything worth suing over. I know that a few years later, in the mid-90s, the bassist was living in Virginia and playing with several local outfits, including, coincidentally enough, House of Freaks and Gutterball, a kind of indie supergroup that included Steve Wynn, both members of House of Freaks, a Long Ryders guitarist, Bob Rupe from the Silos, and, of course, the Love Tractor bassist. According to their bio, the members of Love Tractor have all just been taking time off to pursue other projects, from studying art history and foreign languages to playing in other groups. This new album is apparently the fruition of several years of on-and-off recording.

I don't know if "The Sky at Night" will be any good or not (it doesn't come out until tomorrow), but I liked this band so much that I'm certainly willing to risk $14 to find out. After all, another 80's college radio staple, the Church, recently had a similar rebirth with "Hologram of Baal", their first good record since "Gold Afternoon Fix" way back in 1990. But I can't say enough good things about "This Ain't No Outerspace Ship". There is a line from a Kurt Vonnegut novel where he is trying to describe a character's face and he says something like "Her face was not classically beautiful, but it was the kind of face you would look at and go, 'Yes, that's another very nice way for a human being to look.'" "Outerspace Ship" is kind of like that in rock music terms; different, but not a weird way. Just different enough that you can realize how perfectly unique it is. If that makes any sense at all.

I have officially had it with weather forecasters. All this winter, they've been talking about these huge snowstorms that never materialize. The most recent, one that the Weather Channel is calling "The March Lion", was supposed to drop up to 2 feet of snow on us starting late last night and lasting through tomorrow afternoon. This morning it snowed about two or three hours, but only accumulated about 2 inches at most, which promptly proceeded to melt when the sun came out at noon. It is gloomy outside again now, and the forecasters are telling us that it's going to swing back around and hit us for several inches tonight or tomorrow—no, really, they mean it this time. Their models, they explain, were right about the course of events, just wrong about the timing. Knickerbocker, please!

What's most irritating about all this is the panic mode that Marylanders go into whenever they hear snow is coming. We went to the grocery store on Saturday night (at the height of the weatherman-instilled hysteria about the snow) to do our normal weekly grocery shopping, and, as usual when Marylanders are panicking about some weather phenomenon, there were no eggs, no bread, and hardly any milk (usually there is no milk—either we got lucky and they had just put out a fresh shipment or Marylanders are not into skim milk, which is all I can drink anymore). Luckily for us also, the two kinds of bread we needed were pitas for falafel and bagels for lunch sandwiches, which were pretty much the only things left on the bread aisle. We don't buy that much beef, but I needed some hamburger meat for a dish called Goop that I used to make in college and grad school. Apparently hamburger also falls into the panic category for Marylanders, because that part of the meat section was stripped clean.

I don't know. I'm from North Carolina, where the kind of snow we had today was about our average for one winter. If you got half a day's worth of snow where you could make snowballs, that was considered a regular winter. If there was a day when you could go sledding, that was like a blizzard. I haven't been in Maryland for that long, but from what I understand, the past few winters have been pretty mild. So they should be used to heavier snows than this, right? So why all the panic? From what I've seen, the road crews here do an excellent job of keeping the roads clear, even when the snow is fairly heavy. But these people are like lemmings, hurling themselves off the cliff in a frenzy every time they hear about any kind of frozen precipitation.

I'm half convinced that there is some secret kickback deal between the grocery store owners, who make a killing whenever this happens, and the weather forecasters, who continue to forecast gloom and doom (as recently as 24 hours ago they were saying that we would receive 12-24 inches of snow) and continue to be outrageously wrong. And of course, for the two more or less major snows that we've had this winter (major meaning three inches or so), they predicted nothing more than a light dusting. It must be great to have a job where you can tell outlandish tales to a gullible citizenry with no accoutability whatsoever.

Dark is the suede that mows like a harvest.

I was pleased to see that the Daily Show spent about a third of the program last night taking shots at meteorologists.

I heard what I think was another Love Tractor song on the Weather Channel last night. I noticed that the track listing for the reissued 1987 CD is different than the original; the Marvin Gaye standard "Got to Give It Up" has been deleted (probably for royalty reasons), and two tracks have been added. I think that those tracks are instrumentals from one of their earlier records, but they could also be unreleased B-sides. I am assuming that the song I heard on the Weather Channel was one of those two new songs. Or I guess it could be a song from the new album, which was released yesterday. But I bet it was one of the two new ones from the reissue.

I had a dream about my friend Lydia the other night. She was a very good friend for a long time; I always looked on her as kind of a little sister who was quite a bit smarter than me (which is, oddly enough, exactly how I feel about my real youngest sister). I have not seen Lydia in a while, though; briefly last year while she was attending her 10th high school reunion (she is a year younger than me and went to the same science and math high school that I attended and that my sister attends now; I happened to be there the weekend of her class reunion to take my sister on a college visit to my alma mater, Davidson College), and then maybe an hour of having coffee when I was in Richmond (where she currently resides) for a family function. Before that, I was out of contact with her for a few years; I knew that she had gone to Houston to go to grad school in biochemistry or something like that, and that she was engaged to her longtime boyfriend, a fellow student at Duke who was in medical school while she was in grad school.

When she finally contacted me again (I forget how), we discovered that we were living barely an hour away from each other—I was in Charlottesville and she had moved back to Richmond to be with her fiance while he finished medical school. She came to visit once, but it was just kind of awkward—we ended up spending a lot of the day wandering around the UVA campus, which I wasn't really mentally prepared for yet (I so disliked grad school that I actually developed a physical phobia of going on campus—I'd get knots in my stomach, start to hyperventilate, and get really paranoid). So it was a little bit of an odd day, trying to catch up on each other's lives and me trying not to pretend that walking around campus wasn't making me crazy. I should have just gone somewhere else. It was very strange; not seeing each other for so long, I could really tell that she had aged some. There were circles starting to form around her eyes, and she spoke much more slowly than she had in school. What I remember most, though, were her hands. They seemed especially aged; dry, rough, almost like cracked leather, which was very strange because I remember them being very soft in school.

Anyway. The dream. Mostly I remember that we were just sitting around talking, and I was sad about something and she made me feel better. It wasn't until later in the day that I consciously remembered that her mother had had breast cancer, too (she died during the years I was out of contact with Lydia). When I realized that, it made me feel very sad and very comforted at the same time. I can't explain why.

Someone is stealing my Altoids.

My mom goes in for the first session of her second round of chemotherapy tomorrow. This type of chemo is supposed to affect her neurological systems, although the side effects are basically the same as the first kind she had. She's hoping that because her side effects from the last one were relatively minor (she was tired for about 5 days after a session, and she had some issues with her white blood count and hemoglobin) that she will be able to deal with this new kind pretty well. She's finally realized that she needs to take a day or two off after a session, even though she's scheduled the sessions for Fridays so that she can have the weekend to help her recover, too.

We are going to try and see her in May, after her last chemo session but before she starts radiation, which she will have to do five times a week for six weeks starting in June. I haven't really asked about what happens after she finishes all of her treatments: what her long-term prognosis is, how often she'll have to go back for more tests, etc. I'm a little scared to know those answers.

On a related note, my sister Carrie has finally gotten a job. For those of you who don't already know, Carrie is my oldest younger sister. She is 28, two years younger than me, and still lives at home with my mom. She has been going to school for about 10 years now (the family is still not sure whether she has received her AA degree yet, much less the four year degree which is the supposed goal), and has never held a full time job for longer than a year. A couple of years ago, she finally seemed to be making some progress in her life—she had a job she liked, and she said that she was doing well in school. Then a year ago, she switched to a new job which she was laid off from about a month later, and she really took it hard. After my mother was diagnosed with cancer, Carrie irritatingly started to use my mom's illness as a shield to keep her from having to act like a grown up, claiming that she could neither go to school or hold any kind of job because she had to drive my mom to chemo once every three weeks. Of course, my mom, the one who is actually sick, is working full time in spite of her illness, and isn't making any excuses because of it.

Now for the bad news. I found out from my mom (who protects Carrie zealously; any hint of criticisim directed towards Carrie will bring my mother's full wrath against you) that the new job is only 15-20 hours a week. Worse yet is the fact that Carrie is already thinking about dropping out of her one night class, an introductory Spanish course which I'm sure she has taken many times before, despite the fact that both my father (who pays for all of her school-related expenses, including tuition and books) and the school have told her that she has no more chances left; one more failed or dropped class will result in her not being able to attend school any more. Carrie had excuses for why she wasn't doing well, of course (she is unrivalled in the denial department), but they weren't very good ones. I'm really afraid that she's going to end up just being my mom's housemate forever and never growing into a real person. And that makes me sad, because she's not stupid, she's just feeling scared and overwhelmed. And who hasn't felt that way at some point? But you have to move past it. As George Clooney says in Three Kings, "The way it works is, you do the thing you're scared shitless of, and you get the courage AFTER you do it, not before you do it." I think she's just been scared so long that she doesn't know how to take even one step forward.

I'm trying my best to support local brick and mortar retailers over their online competition, but they sure do make it hard. I must have looked in at least 5 bookstores before I gave up and ordered the anthology of Aztec poetry that I've been wanting from Amazon. I wouldn't necessarily expect bookstores to have a semi-obscure item like that in stock, but it was just published in paperback form last year. I expect pretty much anything published in the last year to be available locally, if the bookstore is any good.

I also had to order the new Love Tractor and Le Tigre CDs from CDnow because the local record store would have to special order them (again, Le Tigre was released in late January, and Love Tractor was just released this week). Last time I special ordered something from the record store (another Le Tigre disc, coincidentally), they told me they would call me when it came in. I checked with them anyway every time I went in for the next couple of weeks, and they assured me they would call me when it came in. So I left it alone for TWO MONTHS before I checked again. They had apparently received it about six weeks earlier and had just forgotten to call and tell me it was in. All in all it took over three months to get a CD that CDnow could have had to me by the end of that week. Even without the phone call mix-up, it still would have taken me six weeks. And that's just unacceptable.

My sister Tori called me last night for no reason. Our family is not big on frequent communication; we usually only call each other when we have important news or are trying to plan something (my wife, on the other hand, talks to her parents every Sunday afternoon for at least an hour, and often a couple of more times during the week). I thought Tori might be calling to tell me about a college acceptance or something like that, but she was just calling to talk. It was nice. I hope someday we live close enough to each other to see each other fairly often. I think I would really enjoy being able to have her over for dinner, go to the movies with her, and just share in her life and have her share in mine a little bit more.

Aristotle was not Belgian.

The local Addy awards ceremony was on Saturday night (the Addys are the Advertising Federation awards, kind of like the Oscars for design firms). CO2 always does pretty well, and this year was no exception. We won 12 statues and several citations, including the Judge's Award, which is kind of like runner up for Best of Show. We have won Best of Show the last three years, but this year it went to Jean Peterson Design, another local firm that does very good work and that usually takes home a similar amount of awards to CO2.

Immersion Active, which used to be called Kinetic Studios before a lawsuit from some communications company, also won a bunch of awards, including most of the awards given for web sites. That was a little disappointing for me, since web sites are mostly what I work on (although I don't do the design, just the HTML/JavaScript type stuff), but I noticed that the web sites that the judges really liked were more about the content on the site as opposed to the pure design of the site. This year we had a couple of cool designs, but the content for the sites was rather limited (which is really the clients' fault). I also entered a site I worked on with Sam, my friend who is in Africa now, that was for Sam's band, legsakimbo. Again, cool design, but almost no content. All of the stuff that won an award or a citation will now go to District 2, where the competition will be a lot stiffer—District 2 includes New York. We have won stuff at that level before and had entries at the national level, but we have never won anything at the national level. I'm told that it gets to be mostly politics by the time you get to the nationals, and there's even a good bit of that at the district level, so we don't really count on anything past the local level. But some of our stuff is good enough to compete on that level, I think.

Our piece that won the Judge's Award was for the invitation to the Glass Factory Holiday party (the Glass Factory is the renovated warehouse where we have our office—it has about 7 or 8 other companies besides us, including R. Christopher Goodwin and Associates, a really big archaeology firm, and, a globalization company and also one of our best clients). It was a good piece, but I am mystified that the Walls 2 Web piece, a Director-based sales presentation that we did for, wasn't in the running for the Best of Show award. Now, I don't ever count on even winning regular Addys (although we always do), much less Best of Show, but I was sure the Walls 2 Web project would at least be in the top three. It did win an Addy, so it will go on to the district level where it will have another chance to win. It is probably my favorite CO2 piece ever. Sam wrote original music for it, and the combination of the music and the visuals that Max and Jeff did elicit a true emotional response from most people. It is a great piece, and I hope maybe the judges at the district level will pay a little more attention to it.

The show itself this year wasn't bad, but just like all awards shows it took way too long to present everything, and the special achievement awards, given for long-term contribution to the local design community, really ate up a lot of time because of all the testimonials. They asked four local firms (CO2, Immersion, Matt Steele, and another firm whose name I can't remember) to produce short videos about how winning an Addy had changed them. Everyone did something funny with it—we did a takeoff on Elvis/Evel Kneivel where Max dressed up in a white polyester jumpsuit with rhinestones and a huge collar and tried to jump all the Addys that we've won on a tricycle. It was pretty good (we have a web site for it where you can watch a rough cut of the video), but Immersion's was the best—the did a client meeting where the client's voice was like the grown-ups in the Charlie Brown cartoons and where you could here the responses in their heads to the client's criticisms of the piece. It was drop dead funny, but probably only to people who work in design firms.

In some ways, the local awards are a little embarrassing, since they tend to be dominated by only four of five firms out of dozens that had entries. It is gratifying to receive some recognition for your work, but at the same time it's a little weird to make 15 trips to the stage when the people at the table next to you don't even go up once. It's especially weird for CO2, since we always win so many and since we have won the past three Best of Show awards (along with a couple of Judge's Awards). People around here can get a little resentful. But it's hardly our fault. We do good work.

You're a looper.

Other than that Addys, I didn't do a whole lot this weekend. Laundry, bills, etc. I was hoping to read my conquest of Mexico book some more, but I just didn't have the energy. I caught some other little bug on Friday, and though it's not nearly as devastating as the last one I had a few weeks ago, it still leaves me pretty exhausted. It's weird—I don't think I've gotten sick twice in a winter in years, not since I started taking 1 gram of vitamin C daily my junior year of college. I did a research paper on Linus Pauling and came across a lot of good studies that argued that the RDA for vitamin C set the by US government is aimed more at getting people to take the minimum required to prevent scurvy rather than the minimum amount that will provide additional health benefits. Pauling, a two-time Nobel Prize winner in completely unrelated scientific fields, was a little extreme for most people's tastes (including mine)—he recommended 10 grams a day—but it was his persistence in promoting the positive aspects of higher doses of vitamin C the last few years of his life that made really got the idea implanted in the popular consciousness. I am especially prone to colds because of chronic sinus problems, which for most of my teen and adult life meant that I was sick on and off all year round (mostly with minor colds and congestion) but sick almost all the time during the winter. Since I started the vitamin C regimen, however, I don't get sick at all the rest of the year, and I usually only get one bug during the winter, if I get sick at all.

So I guess I think everyone should take more vitamin C.

On my way to work this morning, I saw a truck pulled over to the side of the road with a firetruck stopped in front of it. They had popped the hood on the truck, and several firemen were standing around spraying the engine with fire extinguishers. The last time I saw a car on fire was when I was working in Chapel Hill between my freshmen and sophomore years of college. I was living in a house with three friends from NCSSM, and we had no money. I mean, I was eating tomato and pimento cheese sandwiches for about half my meals. And I hate tomatoes on sandwiches. Every Wednesday night, however, the local Hare Krishnas, as part of the community service required by their religion, would have a free dinner outside on the UNC campus. It was pretty simple food—curried potatoes, curried rice, curried beans, and a piece of bread—but man, when you've been eating nothing but cold sandwiches for a week, it was like a banquet.

Anyway, at one of these dinners, with dozens of small groups of people sitting on the grass eating their curried dinners, a small car parked about 10 yards away just started smoking. This soon developed into a full-blown fire, which the local fire department eventually put out. It was strange, though; everyone thinks that cars have a propensity to explode like a bomb if you even light a match near them (at least that's what the movies lead us to believe). But there we all were, sitting relatively close to a car engine that was engulfed in flames, and nobody even got up to move away. Some even went to stand next to it to get a better look. Everyone there had some instinctive knowledge that, despite years of seeing cars ignite at the slightest touch on tv, this car was not going to blow up or anything, and we could just enjoy the spectacle while it lasted.

I got the new Love Tractor CD last week finally. It's pretty good for a 12 year layoff, but I still don't think it's as good as "This Ain't No Outerspace Ship". Some of the songs sound like they're rewriting old songs, and the production doesn't seem as rich—you don't get a sense of the real fullness of the guitar chords on the lower end of the register like you do on the two albums that preceded this one. Tom Kelly, the drummer, is the only new member (as far as I know—I don't have the credits for their first couple of albums, and I know that they had at least two drummers back in the 80s, so he could possibly be from way back), but he's pretty good—he helps to update their sound a little bit without interfering with it. Bill Berry, R.E.M.'s retired drummer and Love Tractor's very first drummer (though I don't think he actually recorded anything with them) guests on one track. and there is a guitarist named Doug Stanley who shows up on most of the tracks, but the heart of the band is still Mike Richmond, Mark Cline, and Armistead Wellford. The record has gotten good reviews in Spin and Wall of Sound so far, but I'm not sure if I'm going to do a full review for Plug or not. I should probably at least do a short one.

I also got the new Le Tigre EP, "From the Desk of Mr. Lady". I think I'm going to do a short review on Plug for this one, so I won't say too much about it here other than that it is pretty good and worth buying if you liked their first disc. If you haven't heard their eponymous first disc yet, you should—it was one of the best albums to come out in the last couple of years.

And at long last, the great musical drought, which for me has lasted since "Kid A" and "All That You Can't Leave Behind" were released last fall, may finally be coming to an end, giving some other band the chance to knock Modest Mouse out of my CD player for a few hours. Releases from Kristen Hersh, Blake Babies (another 80s band—haven't figured out if this is really a new release or just some new collection of singles or something, since the primary songwriter, Juliana Hatfield, has had a fairly successful solo career since the early 90s), Arab Strap, Mark Mulcahy (the singer from Miracle Legion), Black Box Recorder, Old 97s, Lloyd Cole, and Melvins are all due out in the next month. Then there is the Pixies B-sides collection from 4AD that looks like it's only going to be released in the UK that I would love to get my hands on. Modest Mouse is also rumored to have a collection of early unreleased material coming out in April, and I think we all know how I feel about Modest Mouse. Plus new material from R.E.M., Liz Phair, Sparklehorse, and of course Radiohead's follow up to "Kid A" are due out by the summer.

I wonder, do hardcore vegans also feed non-animal products to their pets? I'm imagining this whole underground industry that produces vegetable and soy based pet food.

Speaking of weird pet foods, I still think it's funny that Purina actually makes Monkey Chow for primates. I first encountered it while I was doing an internship at the Duke University Primate Center. The pieces are about the size of a large marshmallow, and they're hard as rocks. They were so tough on the outside that we had to use a hammer to break them up into bite-sized chunks for the smaller species. Monkey Chow. It just sounds funny to me.

My mom had her first round of the second type of chemo last Friday. She seems to be doing okay with it—no nausea, which is one of the worst side effects. She seems to be having more trouble with the steriods they're giving her to help with the chemo's side effects. When you get steriods in one big dose like that, they make you kind of loopy for a day or so, and then when they start to wear off it feels like there are little creatures gnawing on your joints, especially in your legs. I had to take some oral steriods once, and I swear it was slow torture just to get out of a chair and walk across the room. She's learned now that she has to take Mondays after the treatment off, so hopefully that will be enough time for the steroid side effects to run their course.

We are tentatively planning to go down there in mid-May, depending on how long the side effects last. She wants to be able to go out and do things with us, so she wants to be sure that the effects from the final chemo treatment will have worn off by the time we come to visit.

Dave, Ryan, Mike, and I played cards last night, which we try to do every couple of weeks. We always start off with spades and then move to hearts. We used to play cribbage after that, but lately we've switched to Uno. The cards were definitely in a strange mood. The spades game lasted an hour and a half, without a single hand where the teams were really evenly matched. It always worked out that one team was bidding around 7 or 8 and the other team was bidding the 4 trick minimum. But it balanced out in the end; on the last hand, if both teams had gotten their bids, there would have been a 1 point difference in the scores. Hearts was even stranger: it lasted only two hands. On the first hand, Dave shot the moon, and decided to give everyone else 26 points. However, I was the only other person who took a trick, which meant that the other 2 players got 2 subtracted from their 26. And of course Dave took the jack of diamonds, so he had -10. This left the scores after the first hand as: Me 26, Dave -10, Mike 24, Ryan 24. On the next hand, I shot, gave 26 to everyone else, and also took the jack. So the final scores were: Me 16, Dave 16, Mike 50, Ryan 50. We didn't feel like playing another hand to determine winners and losers. The cards had made their will sufficiently clear.

I have tried and tried, but I just cannot bring myself to love the Clash's "Sandinista!". There are a few good songs on there, including singles like "The Magnificent Seven" and "Somebody Got Murdered", and a couple of interesting experiments, like "Washington Bullets", which makes prominent use of a xylophone, and versions of "The Guns of Brixton" and "Career Opportunities" being sung by children. But all in all it reeks of too much studio time and too many egos being fed by praise from the critics.

Sandwiched in between "London Calling" and "Combat Rock", the Clash's two best albums, "Sandinista!" was released as a 3-record set that was supposed to cement the Clash's position as the most important band to emerge from Britain's punk scene. It should have been a masterwork, but instead it comes off as a collection of mostly failed experiments. It could have easily been trimmed down to one regular album; the rest of the songs should have been left behind as relics for music historians to sift through years from now.

My friend Doug, who was the best man at my wedding, wrote to me on Friday in response to my giving up on the Clash's "Sandinista!". First a little background on Doug: we met in graduate school, and instantly bonded due to shared tastes in music, a love of baseball, and just a general ease with one another. He's one of the three or four people I have met in my life who I can just hang out with. Plus, he's a really good writer, especially when it comes to music, and his knowledge of the history of pop music is even more extensive and cluttered with effluvia than my own. His review of Stereolab's "Dots and Loops" is still one of the commentaries on an album that I have ever read.

Doug is a few years older than me, and remembers when "Sandinista!" came out—I have none of that historical perspective, no political and cultural context to put it in—I can only view it as the follow up record to "London Calling", which I think is one of the best 10 albums ever recorded. Doug was a fan when the Clash were actually recording (I didn't become a fan until high school, many years after they had broken up—I was only 9 when "Sandinista!" was released), and his memories of their records are tied up with what was going on in his life and the world in general at the time. And after reading my entry about "Sandinista!", he felt compelled to try and set me straight:

Hate to seem like a contra(rarian), but it's time for a (semi-) spirited defense of "Sandinista!"

It's become part of the standard critical lexicon to call it a "failed experiment" or something to that effect. (And my first argument would be in defense of experimentation—they could have easily latched onto the more saleable aspects of the brilliant patchwork that was "London Calling" and pimped that for a single album, i.e., rewrote "Train in Vain" seven times and thrown in some "political stuff man." Instead they put out a three-album set, and ate their profit margin by insisting it be priced as a twofer.)

An aside re the critical history: It's funny, but back in '80 when it was released Rolling Stone gave it five stars, and compared it to the white album and Frank Sinatra's "Trilogy" (!). This set them up for some serious mocking from the likes of Trouser Press, and other of the more "alt" mags of the age.

Anyway, is it a masterwork? Not sure I'm comfortable with a definition for that, but I'll say no, but almost.

Does it sputter? Yeah, and it stutters and struts and strums. "Magnificent Seven" ("Magnificent Dance" actually) was all over WBLS (NYs premiere "Urban" station) in '80, while the Clash were playing Bonds with Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five opening. Although it's almost tempting to blame them for the current mook rock/rap infestation, that wouldn't be fair. But they were trying to kick down some heavy walls long before Steven Tyler busted into Run-DMCs video.

It feels like all I've done so far is defend it by contextualizing it, which is important, but if you want to talk aesthetics and "art," I could make a case for the each of the first 26 tracks. (That sputtering starts with "Mensforth Hill"—I am sorry to make such a blanket statement, but here goes: sound collages suck. "Revolution No. 9" sucks. "Mensforth Hill" sucks. I dig theory as much as the next guy, and stand by my earlier defense of experimentation, but let me repeat: sound collages suck. Let's move on.) The album then rallies a little with "Junkie Slip," "Kingston Advice" (which sort of encapsulates one of the primary weaknesses of the Clash in general by including the line "Must be a (C)clash/There's no alternative" 29 tracks in, when all but the converted have long since left the building), and "Street Parade."

Do I usually bail on the rest of the album? Sure, but I'm pretty full by then...

As I'm sure you are by now. This has turned into a triple-album of a letter. Boy, imagine how much better it would have been if it were shorter...

Anyway, I'm sure you can see now why I think Doug has both great writing skills and a vast amount of knowledge when it comes to the history of rock music (and he's right—sound collages suck, unequivocally). So, damn it, I have to listen to "Sandinista!" again. I really feel guilty for dissing it before—I mean, I think the Clash are gods—but I've given "Sandinista!" it's fair share of chances, and it just never has stuck with me on any deep level.

But Doug really likes it, and I think his musical instincts are dead on, so I have to give "Sandinista!" another chance now. Maybe not this week though.

I didn't do very much this weekend. I was at work most of the time, trying to get the National Geographic Channel CD that we're working on into some kind of decent shape. The original time frame for this project was insane (of course), and then they were two weeks late signing the contract (of course), and then another week late delivering content to us (of course). And my deadline didn't change at all. Of course.

But I am happy to be busy again. December and January always seem to be really slow times for me in particular, for some weird reason. It makes me a little crazy going to work every day for a month or two and having nothing to do. I try to use the time to do research, learn some new skills, etc., but I'm very much the kind of person that needs direction from the designers, I need a problem to solve. I'm not so good at just exploring on my own. I busied myself with Zyzo for a little while, but now I haven't had any time at all to keep it updated. It was originally conceived as a monthly thing, then every two months, and now most likely it will be every quarter, mostly because although everyone else at CO2 really likes the idea of publishing an online magazine, none of them want to put any work into it, not even by helping me come up with ideas for the articles.

It's a shame, really. CO2 has a bunch of interesting, talented people that all bring unique perspectives to the table, but we have a hard time using those different points of view to work as a more creative team. We are still very compartmentalized in the way we do things, not very good at sharing our ideas with each other and building on each other's strengths to make something that is stronger than any one of us individually.

I called Regan last Friday. I hadn't heard from her in a while; her last email said she would be in Detroit until at least the end of February, and that she would call me when she got more settled. I should be used to this by now; she's always been a wanderer. I know for sure that she's been to Europe, Africa, and South America. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that she had hit another couple of continents somewhere along the way. I remember distinctly getting letters from her telling me that she was coming back to America soon and I didn't even know she had left.

I used to get very paranoid sometimes that something had happened to her. I would have dreams that she was dead, and I would get panicky and try to call her at the last contact address or phone number that I had for her, only to find that it was no longer valid. This is part of a letter I wrote her after I had one of these dreams:

I dreamed that I went to see you, but when I got to where you lived you weren't home. Nobody would tell me where you were. Finally someone told me that you had died. I went to the land of the dead to find you. There were butterflies there, and everyone lived in hotels. Everything was painted blue, like ice, but the weather was neither hot nor cold. All the people looked at the ground, their eyes avoiding the butterflies. Someone eventually told me where you lived, but I found someone else living there. They told me that you had moved to a new place, but you weren't there, either. A child in the street told me that he had seen you wandering near the canals, but I could only find the river.

I don't know what it's supposed to mean, but these dreams genuinely affected me. I always felt kind of restless and unsettled until I spoke to her again, until I knew for sure that she was still alive. I was reading Ben Okri's "Songs of Enchantment" at the time of this particular dream, which has a lot of butterfly imagery, and which also frequently crosses back and forth between the visible, everyday realm and the hidden spirtual world that lurks just underneath. So that probably had some influence on the imagery in this dream.

Regan seemed really happy in Birmingham, very settled and still, and happy being still. I liked knowing where she was. Going to visit her there gave me an even more tangible sense of her life there, the person that she was in Birmingham. Who knows—maybe she's still planning on staying for a while. She left for Detroit because she fell in love, which made me happy. She is like a sister to me.

I don't know if she's still in love. I hope so. She called me back, but I wasn't home—all I was able to glean from the message was that she was back in Birmingham for now, helping out with her friend Tory's wedding. She's supposed to call back some time this week when the wedding aftermath calms down a little bit. I hope I can see her soon.

I picked up "House of Leaves" again for the first time since finishing it last summer to look for a passage on a fear mantra (of course, the source text for this mantra doesn't exist, which I'm sure is the case for most of the so-called source materials for this book—although I bet there are a few real ones). I was surprised at how small it seemed—in my head it is this massive book that would take a mortal man years to properly understand. Which is true—the more I flipped through it, looking for the fear mantra, the more I realized how much I'd already forgotten about it, and how little time I had spent following some of the tangential paths that trail out like a million tiny tendrils of meaning and possibility. It really is a book that you could get lost in for a while, like the MTV version of Finnegan's Wake. And I don't mean that in a bad way. I really do like this book. Only, I think that following all of those dead ends just to prove that they are dead ends that don't necessarily mean anything is exactly what the book warns against. Or maybe not. I think I really should read it three or four more times before I reach any kind of conclusion about it's meaning. But that's kind of what it means to me right now: obsessions suck the life out of you. Not even an obsession that lets your create great art is necessarily a good trade off for losing the rest of your life.

Something disturbing happened when I was picking out some new CDs to bring to work yesterday. It had been a while since I listened to "OK Computer", which is one of my favorite albums of the 90s, so I decided it was time to add it back to the rotation for a few days. As I was putting the disc into the sleeve of the carrying case, however, part of the layer of foil on top of the CD (where the data is stored) just peeled off. It will play the first two tracks, but after that nothing. I've never had that happen before; it was very creepy and now I'm super paranoid that all my CDs are going to start just peeling away from their plastic discs. Even though it's annoying, "OK Computer" is easily replaced. But there are a bunch of CDs in my collection that I would never be able to find again, obscure things from the 80s and early 90s that I've slowly acquired over the last 15 years. A lot of the CDs in my collection are ones that I have only seen in CD form once, culled from the used bins of dozens of record stores. Replacing them would be very expensive, if it were possible at all. So I hope that "OK Computer" is the exception. Maybe it's supposed to do that, a final commentary by Radiohead on modern technology and art. Wouldn't surprise me a bit.

Since I started writing on this page every day, the word has slowly spread among my friends and some of them have become daily visitors. The interesting thing is that after my friends start reading this page, I get letters from them more frequently, letters with a lot of details about what's going on in their lives. Which is cool. My friend Tom, who is now in Rome, sent me a very long and fascinating letter about his trip back to Rome last month and what he's been doing there since. Jeff, a programmer friend who has recently become one of the many dotcom layoffs in California (although I'm not worried about him—programmers are still in pretty high demand, and he already has a couple of options that could turn into something), wrote to me in great detail recently about his trip to a museum in San Francisco. In some ways it feels like they're reacting to the stuff I share on this page by telling me about the same kinds of things that are going on in their lives. Which I like a lot; most of my friends are not located anywhere near me at this point, so the only contact I have with them is through emails. I didn't have any goal or purpose to this site when I started writing on it frequently, other than to get back in the habit of writing something on a semi-regular basis, but if a by-product is that I get to be in closer contact with my friends that I don't get to visit with very often, then that would be great.

May I take your trident, sir?

Given that baseball's opening day is just around the corner and about 80% of brain is currently occupied with trying to figure out how to get my fantasy team down below the salary cap without including some really awful players on my roster, this week's entries are probably going to be a little heavy on baseball musings. I'll try to cut it with some other stuff, though.

My wife is really getting into gardening. Which is good, I think, because she's never really had a hobby. She has spent most of the last 15 years of her life using her free time to study. But when she got her Ph.D. a couple of years ago, and then passed the licensing exam last year, she suddenly had oodles of free time and nothing to do with it.

I got inspired to garden after I read Jamaica Kincaid's "My Garden Book". But even though I was fascinated with that woman and her obsession with gardening to the point that I wanted to start gardening myself, I could never really get into it. We bought a house and had own our yard for the first time about the same time as I read Ms. Kincaid's book, so I was very excited to start planting things in the yard. But it just didn't take. I like mowing the lawn (which surprises me, since I hated it as a kid when it was part of my regimen of chores), and I enjoy helping my wife plant flowers, but she is really obsessed with it now, and I'm just not. Even though I wish I were.

So now she spends a lot of time flipping through the catalog for Wayside Gardens, going up to the local nursery and asking a lot of questions, and scavenging around Lowe's and Home Depot for the best deals on plants. Saturday morning she went and got several lilac bushes from a friend of hers who was just going to get rid of them because she couldn't plant them anywhere in her yard where they would get enough sun, and then planted those and dug out a space on the hillside for some phlox (which we purchased that afternoon). She is starting to speak that strange language that gardening people speak, the language that our friend Leila speaks, the language that Jamaica Kincaid speaks, the language that I wish that I spoke. I am a little jealous, but I am happy that my wife has finally found a hobby that she really enjoys.

I love this time of year. Baseball season is starting soon, and we are coming to the end of the long empty sports desert between the World Series and Opening Day. I try not to get too excited in mid-February when pitchers and catchers report, or on March 1 when the first exhibition games of the Spring are usually played. There's still the long, slow month of March to get through before baseball is really back. But when they start airing Baseball Tonight on a daily basis on ESPN, I know we're getting close. Last Friday I saw my first game (on television) since last November, an exhibition game between the O's and the Cardinals

I usually take the day off from work on Opening Day to just stay at home, relax, and watch what is hopefully the first victory of the Braves season. I don't know if people think that's weird or not. I'm not a big sports fanatic, but there's something about baseball that really holds my attention.

Beer! Beer is the cheese!

My sister Tori called me last night to tell me that she had gotten into Davidson (my alma mater), Grinnell, UNC-Chapel Hill, and the University of Chicago. She really wants to go to Chicago, but no one else in the family is really wild about the idea. We're all a little wary of big cities, plus she would be pretty far away from all of us then. I was hoping she would go to Davidson, but I knew in my heart she wouldn't; it's just too small for her, I think (although I also think she would really flourish there). My parents wanted her to go to Duke, where they went, but since her high school is only about five blocks from the Duke campus, I figured she would want a change of scenery (just like I did—I went to the same high school as her, and Duke was the last place I would have wanted to go to college just because I felt like I'd had enough of Durham at that point).

I actually like the city of Chicago, which is weird because I really don't like big cities that much. I applied to Chicago when I was a senior as well, but I was a little overwhelmed by the size of the city when I went for my interview and campus visit. I think the size of the city is actually one of the biggest draws for Tori.

But I'm happy for her. I know she'll do well wherever she goes, and Chicago is not a bad place at all to visit (especially if it's during the baseball season—you really haven't seen a baseball game until you've seen an afternoon game a Wrigley Field). She's going to have a much more interesting life than me, and this is just the beginning for her.

So the stupid Oscars were on Sunday. Normally I don't care at all, but this year I was hoping that Crouching Tiger, with its 10 nominations, would prove that the Academy actually knew a good film when they saw one. Unfortunately, it only won in three or four categories, like Best Score, Art Direction, and Cinematography. But it didn't win any of the glamour categories like Best Director of Best Picture (it wasn't even nominated in any of the actor categories, which I think is a travesty). It did win Best Foreign Language Film, but that almost seems like a consolation prize for a film that was nominated in the Director and Picture categories.

It did finally push over the $100 million mark, which is still the benchmark for a blockbuster in the U.S. But at the same time, Miss Congeniality, which I remember got awful reviews and which I figured had dropped out of sight after a fairly disappointing opening weekend box office, has actually made a few million more than Crouching Tiger at this point. And that's just sad.

Some of my favorite baseball memories come from the two times (in 1993 and 1994) that my wife (then girlfriend) and I went down to visit my mom for spring break and ended up going to several spring training games. My mom lived in Fort Lauderdale, which was about 45 minutes away from Palm Beach, where my favorite team, the Braves, had their spring training home. The Braves have now become part of the evil Disney corporate structure—their current spring training facilities are on the grounds of Disney World (which is strange, because they officially belong to the evil AOL-Time Warner corporate structure, which, until they day when it inevitably merges with Disney, is one of Disney's biggest competitors for global entertainment domination).

Back then, the Braves shared a stadium with the Montreal Expos, so you could show up every day and know that there was going to be a game (even if one team was on the road that day, the other would be at home). The most expensive seats were only $6, and you could usually get a seat two or three rows back without any problem. The players started arriving at the complex as early as 7:00 a.m. for conditioning and batting practice, and there was a place where fans could wait and try to get autographs from the players while they were on their way from the parking lot to the locker rooms. We decided to do this for a couple of days (I was pretty into collecting baseball cards at the time, so I had plenty of duplicates for signing), so we bought a couple of sharpies, packed a backpack with some bottles of water, and headed up to Palm Beach pretty early in the morning.

Most of the players were pretty good about signing. Even though it was pretty early (we got there around 7:30 or 8:00, and stayed until around 10, by which time most players had arrived), there were usually around 30 or 40 other people also waiting for autographs. We got tons of autographs, but there are a few that really stick out in my mind. Tom Glavine signed for everyone every day, which was unusual for a star of his magnitude (I also remember that he drove a big gold Mercedes, which seems out of character for him—despite his multimillion dollar contracts, he is a known penny-pincher). Greg Maddux was coming off of his second straight Cy Young Award (and headed for two more); he signed for a few people, but not everyone (although we were lucky enough to get a signature from him once).

Mark Wohlers, who was still seen as an up and coming closer, was pretty arrogant given his lack of on-the-field performance; he would recite the mantra "Just signing for the kids today" over and over, even as he walked right past several youngsters asking for an autograph. Cliff Floyd, who was then a white-hot first base prospect for the Expos (he turned into a slightly-better-than-average outfielder) would walk past the crowd every day promising to return after his morning conditioning, but he never did. At the same time, people were ignoring Pedro Martinez, who had just been traded to the Expos from the Dodgers; at that point, he had only pitched in relief in the majors, but the Expos believed he could be a quality starter (they were certainly correct). I remember that I had a card for him, but I couldn't get it out in time. He has always been one of my favorite pitchers—I just knew that he was going to be big the first time I saw him pitch—and I have always regretted not getting that autograph from him.

Terry Pendleton, David Justice, and Ron Gant used to arrive together and ride in from the parking lot on a golf cart. They would flip a coin to see who would have to sign autographs; the loser would run interference for the other two so that only one of them had to sign. Pendleton lost the day we were there, and so we got a couple of autographs from him. John Smoltz, who is one of my favorite pitchers, would try to run from the parking lot to the main entrance, where there weren't usually many people that time of day. One day we were there, people saw him and tried to intercept him, and he played this cat and mouse game with autograph seekers for about 20 minutes before finally making it to the clubhouse. It probably would have taken him less time if he had just stopped to sign, but it was pretty funny to see him running around like that.

There are few things in life more irritating and full of pointless drudgery than a Henry James novel. A film based on a Henry James novel is one of them.

We got a single copy of Mac OS X on Monday, which I installed on my machine to play around with (we just finished a big project, so I don't have a whole lot to do for the next few days). I thought that I would be able to use it for a couple of weeks, even do some real production with it, and kind of evaluate it for the rest of the office. I wasn't planning on upgrading everyone until this summer, when some updates have been released and most of the major apps that we use for production (like Photoshop, Illustrator, GoLive, and Director) have all been optimized to work with the new system. I thought I could just have some fun with it and get to know it before I would have to provide support for it in a few months when the rest of the office switches over to it.

I was pretty disappointed, though. The interface is beautiful, and I'm sure that the advanced, under-the-hood features are pretty cool (like protected memory, true pre-emptive multitasking, and system-wide support for multiple processors, not to mention advanced security features). But it just seemed slow in some of the more mundane tasks, like resizing windows and copying files. It should be noted that when OS 8, the last big revision to the Mac OS, was released, it had the same issues with slow screen redrawing and copying, which were quickly remedied with OS 8.1. (I've done a little more research since I first wrote this, and it looks like the slow redraw problem is limited to the earlier G3s and G4s; they haven't written any drivers to take advantage of hardware acceleration for the older graphics cards, something which will hopefully be included in the first update, which should be posted some time in the next week or two.) Plus, OS X doesn't really have much support for USB, SCSI, and Firewire devices yet, and the classic environment, the emulation mode that lets you run older applications until they are updated to work with OS X, takes forever to start up. Plus, the classic apps don't work perfectly under emulation; there was already a laundry list of issues on MacFixIt for most of the apps that we use.

There were some good things about OS X. It was very easy, as usual, to get all of my network preferences set up and customize the interface to work they way I wanted it to. There were also some cool new tools that let you monitor system activity and customize your workspace (it's interesting that the default game on OS X is 3D chess instead of the usual solitaire), and there were many new ways to organize and access your data. And the interface is really beautiful; I'm sure that after a few weeks of use it will seem just as natural and intuitive as the current Mac OS 9 interface.

All in all, though, OS X just felt like it had something missing. Like it was still in beta. I understand the importance of releasing it now; Windows XP, which is basically an NT kernel with a cheesy OS X ripoff interface running on top of it, is being released way ahead of schedule (if Mac OS X is basically in beta with this release, XP will be in alpha) to try and win back some of the corporate clients who might be lured away from NT as their enterprise platform by OS X's ease of use and Unix core (Microsoft's problem is that they have the money and resources to execute any idea, no matter how bad, and they have such a grip on the market that they can essentially shove all their bad ideas down the throats of both consumers and corporations). The sooner Apple gets OS X on the market, the sooner all of the software companies will be forced to upgrade their apps to work with it, and the sooner corporate IT departments will consider it a viable alternative to Windows.

The master plan makes sense: release it now sans a few features for the software companies and early adopters to get their hands on it and essentially do one last round of bug testing for you before you make it your primary consumer OS (Apple won't be preinstalling OS X in the factory until later this summer), release a few incremental updates in the next two or three months, and really have it ready for primetime by August, when you can showcase it at Macworld New York, along with the thousands of applications, games, and utilities that will have been optimized to work with it by then—not to mention the new hardware that will be optimized to support OS X (Apple is rumored to be releasing quad 1 GHz processor towers, a completely revised iMac with a new form factor, and a new entry-level flat panel model that will be priced as low as $499). But for right now, I'm disappointed. After seven years of waiting for this next-generation OS, I still have to wait another few months to see if it's really going to live up to its potential.

Something that most people don't know about spring training is that all the teams have special green hats for St. Patrick's Day (at least the grapefruit league teams do; I'm assuming the cactus league follows the same tradition). If you go to see a game on St. Patrick's Day, every player will be wearing a special green version of their team hat; some teams even have green jerseys (I thought this was the case this year when I saw spring training highlights of the Devil Rays, but instead it looks like they have chosen green as the color of their road jerseys). In 1993 on St. Patrick's Day we saw a game between the Expos and the Mets in which Bret Saberhagen was pitching. Earlier in his career, he had the reputation for having good years on the odd numbers (he had won his two Cy Youngs in odd numbered years) and mediocre years on the even numbers. This was an odd numbered year, so people were anxious to see if he was going to rebound from his not-so-great 1992 performance. There was one fan in the stands who spent the whole game yelling encouragement (not obnoxiously—it was along the lines of "Go Bret" or "Nice pitch Bret" every now and then). Fans were close enough to the field that the players could actually hear stuff like that, and Saberhagen apparently did and appreciated it—after he left the game, he had an usher give his game-worn green St. Patrick's Day Mets hat to that fan.

We have owned our house for one year now. And we're still getting mail for the old owner who was apparently too lazy to register his change of address with the post office. He lives pretty close by, so up until now we have been dropping by once a month or so to deliver it, a policy that my wife still supports. After a year, however, I think we should just throw it out. What motivation is there for him to update his address if he is still getting all his mail?

The second round of chemo is not going well for my mom. She was supposed to have it once every three weeks, just like the first round, but it really left her unable to function for several days afterward. So now they are switching her to a lower dose of a different kind of medicine, but she will have to have it every week. That means that there will probably be no rest between the end of her chemo and the beginning of her radiation treatments. We were thinking about going to see her in May in between her treatments, but now we might wait and go in early June when she has just started radiation (the radiation is five days a week, but it only takes a few minutes and the effects don't start to get bad until the end of the treatment).

Other than that, she seems to be doing okay. She saw Jane in Orlando last weekend, and she is going to North Carolina for a conference and for my grandfather's birthday next week. She still travels more than I would like her to, but I think it helps her cope with the stresses of the treatment, so as long as her doctor says it's okay, then I guess it's fine with me.

If you want to learn a lot about baseball quickly, the spring training stands are probably one of the best places go. The fans there are often people who have been following the game for a lifetime, and they know tons about not only their favorite team, but all the players and teams and the history and rules of the game. I remember one group of fans who were sitting near us were constantly evaluating the Mets' talent—the team was in transition then, and auditioning tons of young and talented but unproven players who have all gone on to varying degrees of success. One of the players was a new second basemen named Jeff Kent, who was a virtual unknown at the time. After watching him for two or three at-bats, this group concluding that he was a future All Star and MVP. In the years that followed, I have always remembered that and followed Kent's career. While he has always been one of the better second basemen in the league offensively and very dependable defensively, he is very low key and hasn't garnered the attention of flashier players like Roberto Alomar or Craig Biggio. But he finally earned his first trip to the All Star Game in 1999 and then in 2000, fulfilling the prediction of these fans from way back in 1993, he made a return trip to the All Star Game and capped off his season with an MVP award.

Yesterday the whole office took a half day to go to see Crouching Tiger and have lunch together (well, almost the whole office; Max cancelled at the last minute because he is moving this weekend and needed the extra time to finish packing). I was the only one who had seen Crouching Tiger before, but everyone loved it, of course; I don't know anyone who has seen it that didn't love it.

CO2 has been trying to do these field trip activities for a while now, but something seems to always come up to prevent us from actually following through with our plans. We've talked about visiting museums, going on random trips where we take pictures and movies and use that material to create a web site, or going to talks given by famous designers, among other things. There were a couple of times when we actually had a loose itinerary planned out, only to have it cancelled the day before because somebody couldn't do it. I'm glad that we were finally able to do something, even if it was just seeing a movie and having lunch together, but I really hope that we start doing some of the other stuff that we've talked about. I think it would help keep us creatively fresh and also help us understand each other a little better, which will only increase our ability to work well together on projects in the office. We'll see, though; it only takes one person not participating to make it all fall apart.

I think that if the Astros had kept Billy Wagner a starter instead of turning him into a closer, they would have one of the top five starters in the National League. Looking at Wagner's minor league numbers, he often pitched complete or near-complete games with no loss in velocity and no reduction in strikeouts per inning. The Astros made him a closer because his is relatively short (5' 11") and he throws very hard, and they just thought he had a closer's mentality (he's very aggressive). Plus, their starting staff at the time was in okay shape, but they were terrified of putting their relief pitchers on the mound in a save situation. So they called him up, stuck him in the closer's role, and then kept him there next year after a good couple of months at the end of the season.

But the player that Wagner has always reminded me of is Pedro Martinez, who is without question the best pitcher in the game today. He, too, started off in the majors in a relief role, he throws as hard as hell, and he's pretty short—about the same height as Billy Wagner. The Dodgers were ready to keep Martinez in relief forever, but the Expos saw something more in him, so they traded for him with the explicit purpose of turning him into a starter. And he's been one of the best starter's in the game ever since. He's the kind of pitcher who could realistically throw a no-hitter every season (in fact, in his first two seasons, he threw one game of 8 1/3 no hit innings and another of 9+ no hit innings—if his team had scored a single run in those first nine innings, he would have been credited with a no-hitter). I'm not saying that Billy Wagner would have been as dominating as Pedro, but he would have been a great starter, and it's a shame that his talents are being underused in the closer's role.
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