april 2001

So here is my lineup for this year's Internet Challenge, a fantasy baseball variant that I've been playing for about five or six years now.

Position Player Salary  
C Charles Johnson 840 C Total
C Jorge Posada 870 1710
1B Jason Giambi 1640 1B Total
1B Tony Clark 800 2440
2B Jay Bell 1070 2B Total
2B Quilvio Veras 870 1940
3B Troy Glaus 1290 3B Total
3B Eric Chavez 740 2370
SS Miguel Tejada 1130 SS Total
SS Edgar Renteria 1300 2430
OF Kenny Lofton 1230  
OF Larry Walker 1270  
OF Preston Wilson 1050  
OF Darin Erstad 1620  
OF Trot Nixon 520 OF Total
OF Rondell White 910 6600
DH Richie Sexson 930 DH Total
DH Lance Berkman 570 1500
SP Pedro Martinez 2090  
SP Dustin Hermanson 1000  
SP Curt Schilling 1140  
SP Randy Johnson 1840  
SP Bruce Chen 700 SP Total
SP Paul Wilson 610 7380
RP Curt Leskanic 1090  
RP Keith Foulke 1140  
RP LaTroy Hawkins 990 RP Total
RP Esteban Yan 670 3890
Total team salary  
Taxi Squad
C Jason Kendall 1300  
1B Ryan Klesko 1260  
2B Mark Grudzielanek 1120  
3B Tony Batista 1080  
SS Rafael Furcal 1290  
0F Brian Giles 1390  
0F Andruw Jones 1620  
SP Jeff D'Amico 900  
SP Darren Dreifort 950  
SP Mike Mussina 1130  
RP Matt Mantei 1150  
RP Billy Wagner 1260  

This is a fairly standard All-Star style league, meaning that everyone gets to pick from the same list of players, but team owners have to keep their team salaries under a cap (in this case, $30 million—the salaries in the chart above are in thousands). I play the internet version of the game, because stats are calculated daily and I can keep track of what's going on a lot easier, and I can also make all my team changes online. I can make player changes twice a week (you can either add a completely new player to your team or make a switch from your taxi squad, which is essentially your bench—those players' stats don't count while they are taxied).

Offensive players are judged on hits, runs scored, RBI, homeruns, and stolen bases; pitchers are judged on strikeouts, wins, saves, ERA, and WHIP (walks + hits/innings pitched). The salaries are calculated using the players' relevant stats for the last three years, which means you can sometimes get a bargain for a player who is up and coming or a veteran who is returning from an injury (and whose numbers therefore would have been down for the last season or two).

Since everyone gets to pick from the same list, that's really what winning in this league is all about—getting your team as close to the salary cap as possible, providing relatively consistent performance across all categories, and getting more value for your salary dollars than the other teams in your league. I'm pretty good at two of those, but it's the overall performance that I lack—it seems like every year I fall behind early in either pitching or hitting, and I can never make up the ground (it surprising how much a good or bad April can really be a good predictor for the season, which is true with real as well as fantasy baseball teams).

I feel okay about this team, although I don't feel as good about it as last year's team—there are a lot more players (especially offensive players) that I don't know that well. I'm just going on the research I've done for many of these picks. My pitching was my weakness last year—everyone in my league had really good pitching numbers, and so even though I was in the top two or three in the offensive categories, I could never make up that ground in pitching, even though I added some big producers once I realized that's where I needed help. I still finished around 10th (out of 25 in the league), but that's still not in the money.

I haven't won since the first year I played (I came in third or fourth place and won $50), and I don't keep track of all the players and stats like I did a few years ago, but I play every year anyway. It just helps me feel more like it's the beginning of the season to put together my team.

I always look for unique strategies every year, like axing the saves category and instead spending all the money that I would normally spend on closers on better-quality players in all the other categories, but I never end up trying them. And I always seem to end up with a team that is either very strong in one area, pitching or hitting, or is just mediocre all around. I usually finish in the top 10 (unless I get so disinterested that I just stop making moves a couple of months before the end of the season), but I've only finished in the money that first year. I'm half-convinced that is their plan—let the new players win a little something just to get them hooked, like drugs or gambling. Although I don't know how they'd manipulate the player stats like that. Not even I can believe in a conspiracy that elaborate and pointless.

Opening Day!

I hate Bjork in the morning.

What's the difference between a cheese flavor crisp and a cheese cracker? Do I really want to know?

I was a little surprised at a couple of the players that took the field with the Braves yesterday. They were playing in Cincinnati, which is kind of a big deal because Cincinnati is the home of the first professional baseball team, and the Reds typically play the first game of Opening Day to kick off the baseball season (the past few years have been a sort-of exception; in order to promote the game overseas, MLB is having the first game of the season in a different country each year for 10 years, so the past three first games have been in Mexico, Japan, and Puerto Rico). I didn't really know who to expect on the mound; Greg Maddux, who usually gets the Opening Day call, has a hurt toe, and they usually try to let Glavine pitch the home opener if at all possible. So I figured that Kevin Millwood would get the start.

But no, it was John Burkett. Now, Burkett used to be a pretty good pitcher—back in the early 90s, he and Billy Swift were tandem aces for the Giants in the years that they were fierce rivals with the Braves (the most heartbreaking loss—for Giants fans, anyway—was the 1993 season, which was the last season before the wildcard was introduced into baseball's playoff structure. The Braves and Giants were tied at 104 games apiece entering the last day of the season. The Giants lost to their hated rivals the Dodgers, while the Braves went on to defeat Colorado for a season-sweep of the Rockies in their first year as a franchise). Burkett played a good bit of last season with the Braves as a fifth starter, but he had only done an average job, and I wasn't really sure if he was going to be back this season.

But there he was, on the mound in Cincinnati for the Braves. I was actually pleasantly surprised for the first few innings; he tested the new high strike very early, and was consistently getting the call, so he kept going up there and getting strikeouts with it. Around the fifth inning, though, he got into a jam when the Reds first baseman hit a 3 run homer off of him. After that, he seemed pretty hittable, and Bobby Cox took him out of the game before too long. Maybe if not for that one mistake pitch, he could have stayed in a couple more innings and ended up with a win, but I don't know. I seem to remember this pattern for last year: pitch five or six good innings, then fall apart and hope that the bullpen gets called in before the opposing team gets too far ahead. He's a good occasional fifth starter, but for the next couple of months, until Maddux and Smoltz get healthy, he's probably going to have to carry a heavier load. And I just don't think that he can do it, based on what I've seen so far.

The rest of the team is in pretty good shape: Furcal is looking stronger than ever, Veras and Javy look healthy (they both missed the last half of the season due to injuries), and even Brian Jordan, whose production dropped off precipitously last year, looked in good shape (he says that he was playing hurt and that's why his numbers were down). The only thing I would really question (besides Burkett) is the first base situation. Last year we had Andres Galarraga returning after taking a year off to receive treatment for cancer. He did okay, but I guess management thought that his best days might be behind him and decided not to sign him to a new contract. I figured that meant they would go out and get at least a good first basemen, if not top of the line (thanks to Time-Warner's ownership of the team, the Braves have pretty deep free agent pockets, although they pride themselves on developing talent within their farm system—Chipper Jones, Tom Glavine, John Smoltz, Javy Lopez, Rafael Furcal, and Andruw Jones are among the many current Braves players who spent time in the Braves' farm system). Instead, they traded for Rico Brogna, who was with the Phillies last year and missed a lot of time due to injury. Even at his best, Brogna was a middle of the pack first basemen, and his best years are certainly behind him.

And the Braves know this. They're batting him eighth, for God's sake. That's crazy for a first basemen; they are traditionally supposed to be some of the best hitters on the team, typically hitting fourth, fifth, or sixth at the worst. But eighth—that's a second basemen's spot. The Braves' announcers talked about this a little bit, and their theory was that by putting a guy like Brogna in the eighth spot, someone who doesn't have a ton of power but can do a decent job of getting on base, can put the team in a position to have a runner on base that the pitcher can bunt over and then have someone in scoring position for Furcal and Veras (who have pretty good averages) at the top of the order. The idea is that instead of just getting on base, Furcal and Veras will actuallly be able to drive in a run every now and then and still be on base for the power hitters behind them.

It sounds pretty dicey, but at least yesterday, it seemed to be working. Furcal, the leadoff hitter, was responsible for the first four Braves RBI; one of those RBI came courtesy of Brogna, who had gotten on base in the eighth spot and been advanced to scoring position by the pitcher. It happened again later in the game; Veras, the number two hitter, did virtually the same thing, collecting three RBI on a double, one of which was Brogna who had gotten on with a single and been advanced by the pitcher.

So the Braves won, and won convincingly at 10 to 4. It's doubtful that this first-baseman-hitting-eighth gambit will work all season, but for the time being John Scheurholtz and Bobby Cox look like geniuses. And there have been plenty of times before when they did something that looked just plain silly only to have it turn out to be a genius move in retrospect. So I could be wrong. I hope so.

I am 30 years old today. I don't have really strong feelings about this one way or the other.

A new issue of Zyzo is up. And just like last issue, I wrote all the articles for this one (in addition to doing all the coding), even though this is supposed to be a CO2 group effort. It was originally envisioned as a monthly online magazine that would feature a couple of articles and some links to interesting design sites. I was supposed to be the editor and kind of take charge of making sure things got done on time, but we were going to meet every couple of weeks to talk about topics, assign articles, etc. So far, we have adjusted the publishing schedule so that it only comes out quarterly, I have come up with all the topics and written all the articles, and only Jeff has helped me by actually reading the articles and giving me some feedback (Max did the original graphic design for the site, but he hasn't even read the first issue yet).

I mean, I like writing pieces for something besides my own site, but I would like it more if I felt like I was contributing to a larger effort that involved the other people here at CO2. I'm going to continue writing new stuff for it for a while, but I really wish it would turn into the group project that it was originally supposed to be. It's especially disappointing because we just found out that it won some award at the district level of the Addys, which is a pretty big deal because New York is in our district and it's very hard to win anything against the better-known and better-funded NYC studios. But I think it would have meant more to us if all of us had actually contributed to the site.

Someone should remind our new president that it's not 1985.

For my birthday, my wife and I usually keep it pretty simple. We're actually pretty boring, so our celebration might just consist of a dinner at a favorite restaurant and a movie. Since we live close to Baltimore, however, I thought about going to an O's game; the Red Sox were in town and the tickets were cheap (not because of the Red Sox; last night was a special promotional night). But due to scheduling difficulties and the fact that we're trying to save money, I decided instead that I'd rather just go to dinner at a local Middle Eastern restaurant and have a quiet night at home watching the second game of the Braves-Mets series.

Of course, Hideo Nomo pitched a no-hitter last night. On my birthday. 30 miles away. At a game that I could have easily gotten tickets for.

I know that I've blown my one chance to see a no-hitter. I know it as sure as I know that I'll never live to see Cal Ripken's consecutive games played streak broken. There are usually fewer than five no-hitters pitched each year in major league baseball, out of more than 2000 games played; some years there are only one or two. The only time I've even seen a no-hitter on television was pitched by Kent Mercker of the Braves on April 8, 1994, the 20th anniversary of the day that Hank Aaron broke Babe Ruth's career home run record. My odds are even pretty low for seeing another one on television (although thanks to ESPN, there may come a day when the last couple of innings of a no-hitter are broadcast to anyone who has cable). I feel kind of like the guy who came to Sutter's Mill and said, "No, this wouldn't be a good place to live—look at all those yellow rocks in the water."

I've been listening to the Flaming Lips' most recent record, "The Soft Bulletin", for the last couple of days. It came out a couple of years ago to much critical acclaim, but I could never really get into it. I'm starting to like it more and more now. I mean, there were always qualities about it that I appreciated, but I just couldn't get into it enough to consider it one of the best records of the year (as most critics seemed to regard it).

"The Soft Bulletin" has only got a limited window to win me over though: the new Modest Mouse record should be in my hands within a week or two, and I also recently ordered some CDs by new artists: Bingo Trappers, Starlight Mints, Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, the Gossip, the Living End, and Tortoise. The Gossip is a Seattle-area band that sounds like Sleater-Kinney with more straight-ahead blues influence; they also toured with SK and got raves from the SK band members. Tortoise is an experimental project of drummer John McEntire, who has worked with Stereolab in addition to many Chicago-area bands. There are sometimes when bands like this kind of irritate me, but recently I've been listening to Stereolab's "Dots and Loops" a lot, and the song samples I listened to for Tortoise sounded intriguing. I don't know a whole lot about the other bands in this list, but they were all recommended by some music review magazine/site or another, and frankly, I'm getting pretty bored waiting for some new releases. R.E.M., Radiohead, Sparklehorse, Wilco, and the Melvins all have records due out by the end of the summer, but I can't wait any more. I need some new music.

That's My Bush! sucks. For those of you who've somehow missed the media blitz on this one, it's a sitcom that puts George W. in the place of the typical sitcom dad. It was created by Trey Parker and Matt Stone, the evil geniuses behind South Park, and it's supposed to be funny because Bush is a little slow, a little confused, and in addition to being president he's got to deal with all the stupid things that people in sitcoms have to deal with. He forgets a private dinner with his wife! The pro-lifers and pro-choicers are throwing food at each other in the dining room! And he has to run the country at the same time!

See? Hilarity ensues.

Or not.

The problem is, Parker and Stone have chosen to make fun of the genre of the sitcom instead of making fun of Bush. Now, Bush is funny; I don't care if you like him or not, you can't watch Will Ferrell's impersonation of him on SNL and not laugh. He's just a funny little man; making fun of him would have worked. But instead they've just stuck a weak caricature of him in a really bad sitcom that we're supposed to think is funny because it's making fun of all those sitcom cliches, like the laugh track (used an embarrassing amount in the first episode) and the stereotypical coworkers and family members (you know: there's the neglected wife, the sassy maid, the ditzy secretary, the distraught assistant, the neighbor who makes himself at home, etc.). And Dubya is at the center of it all.

But it just feels like a crappy sitcom, the kind that the networks cancel after a month and replace with reruns. The writing is horrible, the acting is horrible, the laugh track is annoying, and the gags are weak (like a talking fetus representing the pro-lifers). It is insipid and sad and not at all what I would have expected from the South Park guys. It seems like all of their live action stuff has really been awful: remember BASEketball and Orgazmo? Right, of course you don't. Maybe they should just stick to cartoons. It seems to be working pretty well for Matt Groening.

My granddad turns 81 today. He is a pretty amazing man who has seen a lot in his lifetime. His parents were immigrants from Poland, and the family was so devoutly Catholic that two of his sisters became nuns (although he has not been to confession in years: "When I have some sins to confess, I'll go," he says). He has (or had) 6 siblings, but only one of those was a brother. His real name is a very Polish-sounding name that starts with a "B" (it sounds like "Bottleslaus", but I know that's not how it's spelled), but to help him fit in better in America his parents called him Bill. The nuns at his Catholic school insisted that Bill could only be short for the proper name of William, so William is what they called him, and William is what he is known as on all official documents even today.

He left home when he was 19 in 1939 to join the Army, and he had become an officer by the time WWII started. He was at Pearl Harbor when the Japanese attacked, but he spent most of the war as an artillery commander in Europe and Africa. During peacetime he spent a few years in Alaska at Fort Greely doing arctic testing of military equipment; my mother remembers how they used to go out to the dump and watch the polar bears rooting through the garbage. (He recently returned there on his final big trip with his second wife—his first wife, my grandmother, died of cancer about 15 years ago. They had a plan to travel to all 50 states over several years; Alaska was their final and probably most fascinating stop on that journey.) He also served in the Korean War, and retired after 20 years with the rank of Lt. Colonel.

It's impossible to sum up what kind of man he is and what he means to his family. But I honor and respect who he is and how he has lived his life. He is truly a great man.

Regan called me last night. We aren't really comfortable on the phone together; sometimes we will sit for a couple of minutes just listening to each other's silence. But it is good to hear her voice every now and then, and find out what is going on with her.

Her life is really in turmoil right now. Since she left her job at the McWane Center last November, she has basically been freelancing to pay the bills. In addition, she's been trying to carry on a long distance relationship with Bode, who lives in Detroit for the foreseeable future. Her biggest stress is waiting to hear back from the MIT Media Lab, which she applied to last August and was supposed to hear from one way or the other by April 1. If she gets in, she'll probably take some time off to visit friends and kind of get her life in order before she heads to Boston next fall. But if she doesn't get in, she's not sure what she's going to do; she doesn't have any really solid plans beyond waiting to hear back from them.

I can tell you that Regan is exactly the kind of creative super genius that would do well there—this isn't some kind of pipe dream. I am humbled by her life. She applied for a certain research project at the Media Lab (I don't know any more details about it yet), and she made the short list with a couple of other people. But there are three of them competing for one spot, and they are all qualified for it. So who knows what the deciding factor will be. I hope she gets in.

I've been thinking about changing the design of the site for a while—the previous index page was really nothing more than a set of pointers to the rest of the areas on the site, and the previous links page (called the Train Station) was becoming completely irrelevant because of the daily links that I post with the weblog. Plus, when I did these designs several years ago, I tried to use a simple, generic design that I could use for each of the different areas on the site by using the same code but switching out the color scheme.

Now, when I started writing this thing, the only weblog I had seen was the Robot Wisdom Weblog, which is just a long list of links to news stories. There isn't really a daily journal aspect to it. So I thought that weblogs just referred to lists of links—you know, a frequently updated list of interesting stories and sites on the web. Weblog. Of course, a couple of months into it, I start to discover that weblog can refer to anything that is updated fairly often, from a simple collection of links to a personal log or journal. By then, I had already taken to separating out the links from the journal stuff, and calling the links the weblog.

I don't really like the term weblog (or it's hipper cousin, blog), so I've renamed the links section (what I used to call the weblog) to daily links, and now the journal stuff will just appear as the index page for bluecricket.com (I've looked into getting braincoral.com, but it looks like it's owned by a doctor in New Jersey—why he has it, I don't know). I have eliminated the Night Cafe (redundant), the Room (now transformed into brain coral), and the Train Station (now replaced by the daily links section off of brain coral). I am going to be updating the designs for my other sites as well, probably starting with Plug and then Stillman's Maze. The Helmet and House of Freaks sites don't get a ton of traffic, so I will do them last. All of these sites will still be available in their old form and at their old addresses until I get a chance to update them.

I am pleased to note that the DVD for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon has the number 1 Amazon sales rank even though it won't be released for another two months.

I don't need no gum. I got Jesus.

I don't know which I'm looking forward to more: the new Radiohead record or Tim Burton's take on Planet of the Apes.

Over the weekend I saw the pilot and the first official series episode for the new VH-1 show "Bands on the Run", which has four unsigned bands travelling around the country to different cities and trying to make the most money. Each band has one gig that has been scheduled by VH-1, all on the same night, and they are given two or three days to promote the show and try to build an audience. They are also free to play other shows and do other kinds of promotion (like getting on radio or television). The winner is determined by the total amount of cash generated by all ticket and merchandise sales over the course of the two or three days in each city. In the obligatory Survivor rip-off, the band that generates the least revenue will be kicked off the tour after 3 weeks, and another after another 3 weeks, leaving two bands to compete for the final two weeks and the major prize, which consists of $100,000 in equipment, $50,000 cash, a budget for a music video, and an A&R showcase that could land them a record deal.

Of course, a large part of the appeal of the show is not just the competition aspect, but the internal strife in each of the bands, of which there is plenty. One band is already making rumblings about firing its self-centered drummer, and even though there has only been one episode in the official series (the pilot was a one-time thing without any real prize and featured only three of the four bands that are in the series), there has been conflict in all of the groups. None of the bands seem especially interesting (there is a Dave Matthews ripoff, a couple of all-guy bands that can't decide if they want to be Radiohead or Blink-182, and a wannabe-Goth all girl group). They all also have pretty stupid names, and most of them seem far more interested in figuring out how to get free drinks than they do in getting people to come to their shows.

It's an okay show, though. I'll probably try to catch it a couple of more times before I decide whether or not I'm going to really watch it.

I overslept today. Put my head back down on the pillow for five more minutes of sleep and woke up two hours later already late for work.

Not that it mattered much. I don't have a lot to do at the moment (although we have the CO2 site revision, a CD-ROM for MICA, and a Flash marketing piece for K-12 starting up in the next few days), and Max and Jeff were down at a meeting in DC most of the day.

I had also already set up lunch with Jeff (my visiting friend, not my boss) at around 11, which means that I was only at work long enough to check my email before I left for a 2 hour lunch. We went to a sandwich place called Frisco's, which is out in an industrial park-type area. It's always supercrowded even though it's pretty out of the way. The sandwiches are made to order, cheap, and huge. The menu has a San Francisco theme, so all the sandwiches and salads have names like "The Examiner", "Union Square", and "Fisherman's Wharf". We went there because it was Jeff's favorite lunch place when he still lived here (it was the last place we ate together before he left last year). It was funny, because before all the names on the menu were just abstract; now that he's been living just north of SF for about a year, though, he actually knows what they are.

It was good to hang out with him some more. We talked about each other's families, House of Leaves, Flannery O'Connor, and his impending move. It looks like he's going to be taking a job in Vermont, which is good for him because he'll be pretty close to his family. But it's too bad he couldn't come back here.

Last night I went out to dinner with Ryan and Dave, my bi-monthly card buddies, and Jeff, who used to be one of my card buddies before he was laid off here and decided to go work for an educational software firm in San Francisco. We all used to work together at the same company; Jeff and I worked for the media division while Dave and Ryan worked for the engineering division (as a database programmer and a server guy, respectively). I left the company a couple of years ago for CO2 because I was getting tired of the problems with the management of the media division; less than a year later the whole division was shut down. Jeff was offered the opportunity to go to work in engineering, but he decided he still wanted to do more media-related projects, so he moved out to San Francisco to develop web-based educational software.

At dinner, we ordered chicken fingers for an appetizer, and I was going to get a reuben, but I changed my order to chicken fingers after the appetizer came. I know that sounds stupid, but they were just really good. After dinner we went back to Ryan's place to play cards. It felt so normal that it was almost a little weird. It was as if Jeff had never left. It was just like the kind of stuff we all used to do as a group when he was still here. Tonight we'll probably have dinner again and go to the movies (I'm lobbying for Crouching Tiger, of course, which Jeff has only seen once but wants to see again, and which Dave and Ryan haven't seen at all).

It's strange too, because in some ways I feel like I almost know more about Jeff now than I did when he lived here. I mean, he's always been a really good friend; we used to play golf once a week and play cards with Ryan and Dave once a week, not to mention other activities like lunch, movies, etc. Jeff and I even took a trip to Chicago together to see the Cubs play (ostensibly, he was attending a wedding and I was going to visit my mother, but the Cubs games were the highlight of the trip—we're both huge baseball fans, and the Cubs are Jeff's team). Even though we hung out a lot, and even though the times we did talk about issues and opinions, I felt like we shared similar ways of approaching the world, we still didn't spend a lot of time actually talking to each other about what was going on in our heads.

But when he moved away, the only way we could communicate was through email, where you can't really get away with just hanging out and not saying anything. So in his emails he had to say a lot more than he would in a normal conversation, and I started to get a better sense of him. Our communication got even better after I started keeping this log; several times our email exchanges had something to do with things that I had written about in the log. I also noticed that he started to send me things that were almost like log entries themselves: a description of his day at the SFMOMA or the Palace of the Legion of Honor. Those were probably the coolest emails, because they gave me a lot of insight into what he was thinking that I don't think I would have necessarily gotten even if I had been there with him.

So even though it sucks that he's not around to hang out or play golf with anymore, I actually feel like we're closer friends than we used to be. It's been good to see him again.

I probably shouldn't have eaten that packet of powdered gravy I found in the parking lot.

Ryan, Jeff, and I went out to dinner and to see Crouching Tiger last night down in Rockville. Dave was supposed to come too, but he cancelled at the last minute with two of the most pathetic excuses I've ever heard: I'm not that hungry because I had a big lunch and I don't really want to see Crouching Tiger in the theater. That's just sad, even for Dave, who is known for cancelling at the last minute for some stupid reason or another. These two excuses can be translated thusly: I don't want to spend any money and my wife won't let me out of the house two nights in a row. Whatever. It was especially annoying this time because Jeff is only in town through tomorrow and god only knows when he'll be back again.

We went to dinner at California Tortilla, a cool burrito place right next to the theater. The burritos are only $5, they're huge, and they come in flavors like Thai Chicken, Honey Lime Chicken, and Crispy BBQ Ranch. I've tried a couple of other flavors, but I keep coming back to Thai Chicken. Besides, every time I've seen Crouching Tiger, it's been at the theater in Rockville, and we've always eaten either before or after at California Tortilla. So getting a Thai Chicken burrito has almost become part of my ritual for going to see Crouching Tiger.

Last night was my fifth viewing of Crouching Tiger, Jeff's second, and Ryan's first. The print at that theater is getting pretty dirty, and they didn't have the sound turned up very loud, but I still enjoyed it. There are new things to discover each time you see it. The audience, which wasn't bad for a weeknight, also behaved themselves until about halfway through the movie. Then two teenage boys about four rows behind us started sharing a cell phone and chatting with their friends. Since they were both trying to listen at the same time, they had the volume on the phone turned way up, so much so that we could all hear the voice coming out of it. Despite several dirty looks, the snickering and cell phone noise went on for about half an hour. Then, as soon as they hung up, they spent another fifteen minutes making fun of the Chinese language (except during the fight scenes). Whenever there were characters just talking together, they would wait until one character finished speaking his or her lines and then say some Chinese sounding gibberish like "ching chow chang" or "choo chee wah". Besides the obvious irritation factor, there was also the racist subtext that was kind of disturbing. And why in god's name would you pay $8.50 just so you could make fun of the Chinese and talk on your cell phone for an hour? I didn't want to make a scene because 1) I can be overly sensitive to sounds and I didn't know if they were bothering anyone else; 2) I had seen the movie four times already; and 3) I figured that if I caused any commotion by asking them to shut the hell up, it would disturb more people than were disturbed by the giggling monkey boys in the first place.

After the movie, I found out that Jeff and Ryan had been equally bothered by them, but hadn't wanted to get up and say anything for reasons similar to my own. In my fantasy world I imagined grabbing the cell phone and throwing it against the nearest wall, but that's probably has more to do with my long-standing hatred of cell phones, pagers, and other wireless devices than with the particular jackasses that were bothering me last night. I don't know why our society tolerates the proliferation of devices that let idiots with 15 second attention spans make themselves feel busy and important at the expense of everyone around them. I think they should licensed, like guns—you should be able to carry them only if you are a doctor or someone of similar critical importance or for emergency use only. Okay, not really. But people should be a little smarter about appropriate use, and if they have to use one for some reason, they should have the same courtesy as a parent with a crying child and TAKE IT OUT IN THE HALL WHERE NO ONE CAN HEAR IT. I hope someday soon, cell phone use in movie theaters, restaurants, and other indoor public places will become as taboo and uniformly disallowed as smoking or spitting. It's certainly no less pleasant.

God, I sound like I'm 80 years old. Where's my Social Security check?

I watched a little bit of Robotica on TLC last night, which is their modified version of Battlebots. In this hour long show, two teams compete against each other in a series of obstacle courses; whoever has the most points at the end of three competitions gets to go on to the final round and do battle with another team that won their obstacle course round. In some ways, I think I like it better than Battlebots—it's more than just two robots duking it out (although they get to that eventually) and they also allow more creative weapons, like flamethrowers. But there are also some big problems with it, number one being the host Ahmet Zappa, the most annoying of the Zappa progeny (and that's saying something). Plus, the fight at the end takes place in a very small arena and lasts only one minute; at the end of that minute, the walls drop and the bot that can push the its opponent off of the platform first wins. What usually happens is the larger bot pins the smaller one in a corner and just waits for the walls to drop, which really isn't any better than one of the Battlebots matches where one robots gets disabled after 15 seconds.

So what have I learned? I am still fascinated by the idea of robots in combat. But no one's managed to get the formula right yet.

The new Plug design is up, along with two new reviews (Love Tractor and Le Tigre). I know I say this every time, but I'll really try to get something new posted to Plug at least once a week.

It hasn't been extensively tested, so let me know if you find anything wrong with it as you're clicking around.

I got The Sims this weekend. That was probably a mistake.

Saturday was beautiful here. Everything was blooming, and the grass was finally long enough to cut. I don't know what I like so much about mowing the lawn. Maybe it's because no one can talk to you while you're doing it; there's no phones to answer and no ambiguities about what you're doing. You can just be right there mowing that lawn and not thinking about anything else.

My sister Tori has definitely decided to go to Chicago next year. I haven't talked to her about it since she made her final decision (although I still think that she never had any intention of going anywhere else if she got into Chicago), but I am happy for her. I'm going to try and talk her into picking a dorm that's relatively close to the main campus for her freshman year (my parents said that she was thinking about a residence hall that was 10 or 12 blocks from the main campus because it was near the lake). Until she gets to know the city a little better, it would probably be wise to stick a little closer to the center of campus; she'll have three other years when she can live by the lake, plus I would bet that most people in her class will also live close to campus. And I know she hasn't thought about walking that 10 or 12 blocks in the Chicago winter, when there's two feet of snow on the ground and the wind chill makes it feel like 15 below.

Hopefully I'll be able to visit Tori a decent amount in Chicago. After my mom finishes her chemo and radiation, she will hopefully be able to resume her normal work schedule, which usually involves a couple of weeks a month in Chicago. So for the price of a plane ticket I would be able to visit both Tori and my Mom at the same time. Which is good, because I don't get to see either of them enough.

It is freezing cold here again.

I talked to my dad last night about Tori's dorm selection in Chicago (it was his birthday yesterday). He told me that there aren't many dorms really close to campus, and most of those are pretty old. Plus, since the dorm by the lake that Tori wants used to be a hotel, so every room has it's own bathroom, and there are shuttle buses that run constantly between the dorm and the main campus. So that makes a little more sense then. Tori took off for a week at the beach with her friends, so I still haven't talked to her directly since she made her final decision, but hopefully I'll be able to chat with her this weekend. I'm going to see if I can't find a way to get up there in September when the Cubs are still playing and take her to a game.

I used to really enjoy the Easter season; I used to really feel it in my heart in a way that is hard to explain now. Easter morning was a very real thing to me, different from other days, with the ability to transport me back in time to the original Easter morning in the same way that the Jewish Passover seder recreates the night of the original passover.

At my church in Wilmington, we always went to the sunrise service at the top of the bell tower, which was pretty much the only time that you could go up in the tower. The tower has a very specific smell, like a library where the books are very old and haven't been touched in a long time. There is always a lot of dust on the ancient floorboards, and the ladders that you use to get from one level to another creak like they are about to collapse to the floor and take you with them. Navigating your way up through this maze of tiny ladders and trapdoors is hard enough as it is, but trying to do it in the dark and with a flashlight in one hand can be downright hazardous. Eventually, you emerge from a trapdoor at the top of the tower into the cold darkness of the morning.

The service always starts in the darkness, but as it goes on, the sky begins to lighten, first turning to grey and then to shades of orange, pink, and eventually blue as the sun rises. Downtown Wilmington is not populated by very many tall buildings, so you get an incredible view of the river and the drawbridge and the battleship and the whole downtown area. We sing hymns that are only sung on Easter morning at the top of the tower of St. James church in Wilmington, North Carolina; they were written long ago by a member of our church, and they are reserved especially for this occasion. I miss them when I have to celebrate Easter somewhere else. After the service is over, and after everyone takes a few minutes to enjoy the view (it has never rained that I can remember, a very peculiar quirk given April's reputation), everyone climbs slowly back down and heads for the great hall, where we have a pancake breakfast together. Even when I didn't like church very much, and I was unclear about what exactly I believed in, I really enjoyed this Easter Sunday ritual with my family.

My memories of all the sunrise services at St. James have kind of blended into one another with the passing of time, but there is one specific Easter that is very significant to me. My wife and I spent a semester abroad in England when we were juniors in college (we weren't married at the time). The midterm break over there lasts four or five weeks, so we decided to use that time to go over to the continent and visit France, Italy, and Austria. Our last stop in France, after a second visit to Paris on the way back from Austria, was in a town called Lille. In Lille we stayed with the family of a girl named Sabine, who my wife knew from high school (Sabine had spent a year at my wife's high school a few years previous; the next summer, my wife went to visit Sabine for a couple of weeks in Lille). It was the week before Easter, and on Friday night (which was of course Good Friday), we went to a church service with Sabine's friend Anne and her family. The church was very small but held a lot of people; I don't remember much about it except that it seemed very old and I felt very welcome there even though I didn't speak a word of French.

(One of the few things I had been taught to say by my wife, who took French, was "I'm sorry, I don't speak French." After the service, we all went back to Anne's family's house, and a little while later the priest stopped by to say hello. He very slowly and carefully spoke a sentence to me; I assumed he was speaking in French and was just slowing it down so that I could understand him better. So I responded with my one sentence of French: "I'm sorry, I don't speak French." Just as I was finishing my sentence, somewhere in the dim recesses of my brain I realized that the priest had actually been trying to speak his one sentence of English to me and that I had just insulted him by telling him, essentially, that his English was so bad that it sounded like French. It was cool, though; he had a good laugh and tried again.)

The next morning we started on our way back to England. Lille is about an hour from Le Havre, where we took the ferry back to Dover. From Dover we had decided to take the train to Canterbury and attend the Easter service at the cathedral there. That was a big deal to me for several reasons: First, I was an English major and a huge Chaucer fan. I had read the Canterbury Tales in Middle English the year before in a class taught by Gail Gibson (who would go on to be my thesis advisor my senior year). The Chaucer course culminated in a recreation of a medieval dinner at her house; everyone had to make at least one dish and dress in the medieval garb of one of the characters from the Canterbury Tales (for those of you who don't know, the conceit of the Canterbury Tales is that the tales are told by a group of pilgrims on their way to the Easter service at Canterbury). Second, I am Episcopalian, so the Archbishop of Canterbury is the official head of my church (when we went up for communion, they just put you into one of four lines; we were lucky enough to get in his line and take communion from the Archbishop himself; he was wearing a really big hat). Plus, it was finally turning to Spring, which is even more beautiful there than it is here because the winters are so much greyer in England.

This past Sunday we went to the sunrise service at our church here in Maryland, but since we have no bell tower at All Saints, the service is just held in the memorial garden, which is pretty but is a far cry from the tower services in my memory. And we don't have breakfast together afterwards; instead we proceed to the nave for a full service. But it's not just the location, or the uniqueness of the service that makes me miss St. James; it's not having the same reaction to the service and to the remembrance of what happened that first Easter morning. I mean, on an intellectual level, the significance of the ceremonies of the Lenten and Easter seasons are still as incredible and meaningful to me as ever; I just don't feel it in my heart the way I did a few years ago. It's more understanding than revelation, and revelatory experiences are always the ones that we humans get more emotional about and feel more deeply. But I've learned that faith and doubt, devotion and laxity, revelation and knowledge, are many facets of the twin poles of my religious journey; my understanding of the spiritual world is always ebbing and flowing between them. The tide will turn again someday, and I will receive the same illumination from the Easter celebrations that I used to. Till then, I'm just happy that Spring is here again.

My friend Jeff (the one from San Francisco, not my boss) wrote asking where I got one of the entries on this page ("I don't need no gum. I got Jesus."). I got it from Saturday Night Live, which we usually watch on Comedy Central here during lunch (most of the random unattributed quotes on this page come from the Simpsons, SNL, song lyrics, or just weird things I see in advertisements). I think Deion Sanders said it, but I can't remember the context. Anyway, trying to figure out the origin, Jeff typed the phrase into a search engine, and this is what he came up with.

Jeff, one of my bosses at CO2, told me a couple of days ago that Sunday was the first time his oldest son had told him about a dream. Ethan (his son) has had nightmares before, but he's never described them to Jeff before. He was clearly terrified, and Jeff tried to explain the concept of a dream, that it wasn't real, it was just in his mind, but Ethan seemed reluctant to believe that. He insisted that he had been attacked by two dogs in what he referred to as "Ethan's old house", which may be the only way he knows how to describe the location in his dream. I know there are some cultures where the dream world is just as real as what we think of as the real world; neither one is more valid than the other, and what happens in one can affect the other and vice versa.

We talked about dreams in general for a little while, and also about specific dreams that we'd had. I tend to have recurring dreams, in the sense that they often take place in the same locations with the same people, while Jeff has very few recurring dreams. His favorite ones were one where he was flying around in the dome of a huge cathedral (I've never had a flying dream; the closest I've come, I guess, are my running dreams, where I can just run and run forever without getting tired) and one dream that he said was the most intense and realistic dream he's ever had.

In the dream, he was a white settler some time in the colonial era; he remembers a river, and the setting sun's reflection in the water. A tribe of indians approaches him, and he recognizes that their leader is Max, our other boss here at CO2 (they have been close friends for years). It doesn't look like Max, but he knows that it is Max all the same. They are sitting and talking when they are suddenly attacked by some other white settlers and another band of indians. Jeff remembers that one man had him pinned behind a tree, shooting round after round into it and keeping Jeff from moving. Jeff waits until he hears a musketball slam into the tree, and then runs full bore at the guy, who is frantically trying to reload his rifle about a hundred yards away. He doesn't finish in time to stop Jeff, who pounces on him and breaks his neck. But then one of the attacking indians appears out of nowhere waving two tomahawks; Jeff tries to grab his arms as the indian swings the weapons at him, but only manages to stop one arm. The other hatchet lands in the small of his back and all he remembers thinking before he blacks out is, "Well, this is it, I'm dead." When he comes to, though, indian-Max and another indian lead him to a clearing, where sticks have been arranged in an ornate pattern. He doesn't understand exactly what they are saying, but he comprehends generally that these patterns will protect him and allow him to recover from his injuries.

There are two really interesting things about this dream. The first is that he had this dream the night before he and Max went to Sedona for a camping trip in the desert where they both had some really otherworldly experiences. The second is that, when he was younger, Jeff had a benign tumor in his back at about the same place as where the tomahawk hit him in the dream. I have read that some believers in past lives think that injuries suffered in one life can surface as scars, birthmarks, or tumors in another; Jeff had never heard that before and had never connected those two events until I mentioned that. Some people also believe that the people you are very close are people that you have had relationships with in previous lives, which puts in interesting light on the "it didn't look like Max, but I knew it was Max" indian in the dream who ends up saving his life.

I don't know. I personally have not had many experiences with alternate realities (Jeff, who is one of the most down-to-earth people I know, has had experiences with ghosts, visions in the desert of the American southwest, and this hyper-realistic dream), but I'm certainly open to possibilities. It may all just be coincidence, but it's still pretty cool to think about.

I think it's very weird that today marks the anniversary of both the Waco fire and the Oklahoma City bombing and it's the day that has been chosen as the Jewish Day of Remembrance for holocaust victims. Poking around on the web a little, I see that it is the anniversary of the day that the first space station (Salyut 1) was launched by the Soviets, the day when MacArhtur retired and uttered his "old soldiers never die" quote, and the day when the battles of Lexington and Concord kicked off the American Revolutionary War. It's also my sister's birthday, an occasion that she shares with Dudley Moore and Ashley Judd. And the fun doesn't stop there: tomorrow is the anniversary of the Columbine killing spree and also Hitler's birthday.

The San Francisco Museum of Modern Art is currently home to a show about the influence of technology in contemporary art called 010101:ART.IN.Technological.TIMES (the title refers both to the launch date, which is the official start to the new millenium, and binary code). The show seems to be focused on concept pieces and installations, and not as much on more traditional media (the Whitney Museum just opened a similar show called Bitstreams that seems to have a lot more in the way of paintings and such that were either partially created by or influenced by modern technology).

Any, SF Jeff decided that since he was probably going to be leaving the area soon, he'd better check out some of the unique sites that SF had to offer, and the 010101 show was high on his list. Here are some of his comments from a recent email:

So I went to the SFMOMA Tuesday. Naturally, I was most interested in seeing the 010101 technology exhibit. It was actually pretty disappointing. Maybe it was because I had built it up in my mind to be this really great thing, but for the most part I was unimpressed. Most of the pieces were much more interesting as concepts than they were in reality. I found myself reading the descriptions and the artist's idea of what they were trying to do and thinking it would be great. But then when I actually saw what they had done, it fell kind of flat. They sounded good in theory, but....

The one I thought was going to like was "1:10". The artist scanned people in 3D and then had a computer control some sort of plastic sprayer thing that recreated the people at 1/10 their real size. The result just felt like a bunch of little action figures. The final product wasn't nearly as interesting to me as the process that was used to create it. It was on the verge of being really cool, but it was missing something and didn't really grab me. There were a lot of pieces like that—cool ideas but the finished piece lacked that something that would have made it really interesting. Another one was supposed to be some exploration of time and how it's perceived in different cultures and how it's faster or slower or more important or less important. Conceptually it sounded good, but the actual piece was a bunch of LED-like numbers projected from the ceiling. They all counted up from 0 to 9 and moved around and some were bigger and some counted faster. You could stand under the projector and the numbers would show up on your arms and clothes and stuff and I guess that was supposed to represent how time affects you or something. Again, it fell kind of flat.

It occured to me that Jeff's experience with this show kind of parallels the rise and fall of the web as a new medium for commerce and communication over the last couple of years. The web, too, is ripe with interesting possibilities, ideas that sound like they could change our world. But as the economic collapse of hundreds of dotcom startups over the past year illustrates, these great ideas don't always translate into useful products or enhanced methods of communication, just like the great concepts in this show don't necessarily translate into great art, even if executed well (Jeff did like a couple of the pieces in the show, most notably the distorted perspective photographs from a German artist and some pieces that were created by tracking the artist's eye movements).

The thing is, even in the cases where they fail, both the art on display in 010101 and the art displayed on the gigantic tapestry of the web can still make you excited about our future. Just because an idea wasn't commercially viable today, or just because a good concept wasn't fully fleshed out or executed perfectly because of the limits of our current technology doesn't mean that those same concepts and ideas won't be reborn at some point in the not-too-distant future. In some ways, art is almost better when it fails a little, because then you can kind of join the artist on the journey through the creation of the piece, rather than just admiring the finished product. Unfortunately for all the brilliant programmers out there, their art still has to produce economic results. But their failures over the last year point more towards a society that wasn't quite ready for their technology, rather than the failure of the technology itself.

The creativity and optimism evident in both the 010101 show and the spirit of the thousands of people who have spent the last couple of years expanding the frontiers of the web as both a commercial and artistic medium mean that we have a lot to look forward to from the future, even if it currently feels like failure.

This quote is translated from the poetry of the Mexica people who were conquered by Cortes (I came across it in Hugh Thomas' book on Montezuma and Cortes called Conquest):

We only came to sleep
We only came to dream
It is not true, no it is not true
That we came to live on Earth

I've had this in my "to be logged" file for a while now, trying to figure out exactly what I want to say about it. But I still don't know, and I don't know if I'll ever know. In the book, the quote is used to illustrate the despair of the Mexica people after the Europeans began to arrive and destroy their culture. The closest I can come to interpreting my reaction to it is that it made me recognize very quickly the great sadness of these people who were suddenly forced to abandon all that was beautiful about their lives and become slaves and prisoners of the barbaric European colonists whose lust for gold was made all the more disgusting by the suffering that they inflicted on others in order to get it.

The quote reminds me of a saying from the Tao Te Ching (and I'm paraphrasing here, as I don't have my copy handy): "Accept misfortune as the human condition. If you did not have a body, how could you experience misfortune?". I don't know if I can explain why these two quotes are linked in my mind, but they are. I just think they are beautiful and sad and true.

We went to see Blow on Saturday. I'm not sure exactly what the point of that movie was supposed to be. It is based on the true story of George Jung, a drug dealer who got his start in the 60s selling pot in California and eventually worked his way up to being Pablo Escobar's main distributor of cocaine in America in the late 70s and early 80s. Johnny Depp plays Jung, and he does a really good job, but there are times when the movie feels like it exists just so the costume and hair people can dress Depp up in funny 60s and 70s clothes and haircuts. The plot was so tedious and obvious that I found myself waiting for the twist that never came:

Hey! I'm young, good looking, and rich beyond imagining because I deal drugs! The world is great! Nothing can stop me now! Oh wait. Oh crap. I got caught. And now I'm in prison. Shit.

Repeat that cycle a couple of more times, throw in some pathos about Jung not getting to see his daughter or his father, and voila!: instant preachy drug movie. I haven't seen Traffic yet, which is the obvious film to compare it to, but I can't imagine that Blow is anywhere near as good as Traffic is supposed to be. It felt a lot like the Johnny Depp/drug remake of Goodfellas, which was a Ray Liotta/mafia version of the same story (only done so much better—Goodfellas is one of my favorite movies). Even the voiceover narration by the main character was the same as Goodfellas. Making things even more surreal were the presence of Ray Liotta in the movie playing Depp's character's father.

There were some funny lines in Blow, but again, it felt like the whole structure had been created just to have a place to use the funny line. The music selection was pretty good, but that's become almost a part of the formula for these types of movies (you know, all the drug or mafia movies that are trying to be as stylish as Tarantino while making some grand point that continues to elude me). Plus, the end of this movie drifted into mere schlockly sentimentality, focusing increasingly on Jung's fractured connections with his father and his young daughter. So you deal drugs, get caught, go to prison, and your lack of contact with the people you care about screws with your relationships with them. What a shocker.

Paul Reubens (aka Pee Wee Herman) did a pretty good job as a fey hairdresser/drug dealer, and Ray Liotta handled his part as best he could (he always has on too much mascara and eyeliner, so I'm beginning to believe that it's his choice to have his eyes look that way; it's getting a little hard to believe that every single makeup person in Hollywood would choose to do such a clown-like job on him), but even when combined with Depp's performance, this still doesn't add up to a good movie. In the end, there is just nothing really compelling about this story; we've seen it before, and, knowing Hollywood, we'll see it again, just with different costumes and actors.

Okay. So I should stop flipping through the channels randomly when I'm getting ready for work in the morning. This morning there was a terrible rap video on MTV which was just like all of the other terrible rap videos they play except that this one had a weird set with these towers made out of wire and weird bits of metal. I instantly recognized them as smaller versions of something that I seen before, so I watched the rest of the video trying to place them. My brain has been fixated on them all morning. I have come up with two possibilities:

1. They are from a really bad movie that I saw very late at night and don't really remember.
2. They are from a dream I had.

The problem is that if it was a dream, it was the kind of dream where you feel like you're watching a movie in 3-D. I remember some sort of villain chasing the good guy around these towers, and the good guy eventually doing some weird stunt and charging the tower with electricity just as he's leaping off to another tower and electrocuting the villain. But that's it. My brain won't remember any more than that, and I keep going back and forth on whether it was a movie or a dream. And it's taking up way to much processor time.

Flipping through this week's EW, which has the summer movie previews, a still for the comedy Bubble Boy (which looks awful, by the way) caught my eye. The shot had the main character in a convenience store, and it's always interesting to me to see what brands use product placement in a movie like this, so I started to examine the shelves in the photo. There were some common products, like Doritos, and a weird kind of root beer thing was featured pretty prominently. But down in the lower right hand corner I noticed a display of Lay's potato chips that seemed to say "Lemon" on it. I looked closer, and it was actually "Limon", and the bag had images of lemons and limes on it. Now, I know there are some weird flavors of chips out there (when we were in England, they had flavors like shrimp and worcestershire sauce), so it was at least plausible that this was some new flavor of chip that Lay's was test marketing somewhere. So I went to the Lay's site, but it had nothing on there about Limon flavored chips.

I guess it could be a product that is still being tested; after all, the movie doesn't come out until August, so Lay's could be planning on rolling it out sometime this summer. Or it could just be a fairly elaborate joke by the filmmakers; even though I know that there are bizarre flavors of potato chips out there (the Lay's site lists Toasted Onion & Cheese and ADOBADAS as official flavors), I still can't imagine that anyone would be able to successfully market Limon chips. And I can't figure out what they might taste like. Citrus and potatoes? I just can't get it to add up. I hope it's a joke.

Doug just sent me a link to the Frito-Lay site that has "LAY'S® brand Limon Tangy Lime Flavored Potato Chips" on the list of products not containing lactose or milk, although they are not listed on the main Lay's product page. So I guess they do exist. Weird.

Not much to write about today. Or rather, a lot to write about but no time. There are lots of goings-on at CO2 that I need to sort out and figure out how I feel about them, and there are a lot of entries that I've only half-finished. Plus, I got into work late this morning because I had to go pick up one of the cats from surgery (she had a fairly large cancerous tumor removed—between her and our diabetic cat, I know way too much about animal healthcare). And I've got to get the new CO2 site cranked out, which I'm still getting files from the designers for.

But my wife is out of town this weekend, gone back home to help her parents clean out their attic, so hopefully I'll be able to catch up a little and have some good new entries next week.

I started reading David Markson's new book "This Is Not a Novel" this weekend (one of the few things I actually got around to—due to some recent stress at work which I've decide not to write about yet, I've only been getting three or four hours of sleep for the last week or so, and I think my body decided to make up for this by sleeping for 10-12 hours each night this weekend). And he's right, it's not a novel. In fact, I'm not really sure what it is. So far, there are no chapters, no plot, no characters, no nothing. It's a collection of very short (usually no longer than one or two sentences) anecdotes about significant events in the lives, deaths, and works of various writers, artists, poets, philosophers, composers, literary characters, and baseball players, from Plato and the bible to Faulkner and Picasso, along with random, unattributed quotes from many of their works. Interspersed in these sentences are lines from the author, who refers to himself simply as Writer. I really like it, but then again, I was the kind of English major who devoured similar non-fiction books on anecdotes when I was a teenager (like the time that Hawthorne had his wife stall at the front door while he ran out the back in order to avoid spending the afternoon with Emerson). I'm not sure what normal people would think about it.

So far, the only coherent way for me to describe it is as a canvas upon which is painted the story of artistic life thoughout the history of Western civilization, using the lives of hundreds of individuals who spent their lives struggling for art as the brushes and pigment. And even though it is a melancholy book in some ways, with the the illnesses and deaths of these artists being listed practically every other sentence, it is also genuinely funny, containing dozens of scathing critcisms that these writers and painters made about their contemporaries, as well as humorous historical oddities (like the fact that Ben Johnson was referenced 3 times as often as Shakespeare in the first 300 years after their deaths). The litany of commonplace events in the lives of these artists makes their artistic achievements seem all the more extraordinary; at the same time, they remind us that these artists, great as their art may have been, were still just ordinary people, with the same human foibles and susceptibility to illness and death as the rest of us. But that's oversimplifying a bit, and doesn't really explain what's going on in my mind when I'm reading the book. It's almost like trying to explain to someone who's never smoked pot what it's like to be stoned. You just kind of have to experience it for yourself. Maybe I'll have something a little more useful to say about it once I've finished it (and maybe read it over again a couple of times for good measure).
december 2001
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