march 2002

The Critic has new episodes available on the internet?!? Why was I not informed?

I don't think I'm quite done with Survivor yet, although it doesn't bode well that the first person they voted off was the oddball yoga instructor (as opposed to the cranky older lady or the vacuous blonde).

My last day of unemployment. I'm going to celebrate it properly by hanging around the house all day playing video games and watching tv.

I'm cautiously optimistic about re-entering a large bureaucracy. For the last five years, I have worked for very small, independently owned companies, where my work life wasn't nearly as entangled by red tape and office politics. But before that, I worked at Michie, a law publishing firm that had close to 1000 people onsite and was part of the largest publishing conglomerate in the world, Reed Elsevier. In addition to the supervisor for my little group of 10 or 15, I also had to take orders from his supervisor, any of several law-school graduate legal editors, and the head of the whole department. We were on a satellite campus, so we weren't as affected by larger corporate politics, but we still had to go to the all day offsite "plans for the future" meetings (which in retrospect just seems like a semi-annual scare tactic designed to get the lower-level workers like me to get panicky about losing their jobs instead of complaining about pay, parking, etc.). The company as a whole also had to report to Lexis-Nexis officials in Ohio, and they in turn had to report to the British overlords of Reed Elsevier.

When I was at Michie, I was new to the ways of a large, slow bureaucracy, and I thought that it was my responsibility to try and change everything, make people and processes more efficient, and get promoted to a position of more responsibility quickly. I didn't understand that they just wanted me to sit in my cubicle and edit books, and they didn't even really care if I did that well (I cared—I had a reputation of either being loved or hated by my authors. The ones who couldn't write and knew it appreciated how much better my edits made their books. The other ones, the ones who thought that good writing skills came with their law degree, often disliked the suggestions I made, even though my supervisors would readily concede that the books would have been improved with my input). Even though I did make some positive changes in my department (my former supervisor tells me that they still use some of the templates I developed when I was there), I was often very frustrated that my efforts would be impeded by office politics and irritable about the fact that I was easily the most proficient editor in my group (I know that I did at least twice as much work as some of the older incumbents, and did it better, too), I also had the lowest pay.

But with my new job I'm not looking to establish power or get promoted or make the whole system work differently. I just want to go in and do web development with as few distractions as possible. I know that I'll still have to deal with a lot of Dilbert-esque policies and procedures (I got my first taste of some of these yesterday when I went in to fill out some paperwork and get my staff ID), but I think that this time I'll be able to look at them with detached amusement instead of agitated annoyance.

Wish me luck...

A special message for CS Jeff (sung to the tune of "I Am Evil Homer"):

I got Black & White
I got Black & White

See, Jeff and I are both Mac users, so until recently we have been unable to play the groundbreaking new godgame called Black & White. Jeff especially has been counting the days until its release on our platform; he pre-ordered it direct from the manufacturer a month or two before it came out.

Once I realized that it had been officially released, I wrote and asked him if he'd received his copy yet and was it worth the wait. He sent me back a long and complicated story that goes as follows: the first time they shipped it to him (he had paid extra for FedEx overnight delivery), they left a note on his door saying that he could pick up the package for the next three days at the FedEx shipping center. He drove down there that night, and they told him that for some reason they assumed he wouldn't come to pick it up and that they had already shipped it back to the manufacturer.

They agreed to ship it again since it was their mistake, and he arranged for them to deliver it to his apartment manager, who would sign for it and give it to him we he got home that day. Apparently the apartment manager forgot about his conversation with Jeff, though, because he refused to sign for it. So instead of taking it back to the shipping center where it would be safe until Jeff came to claim it, the FedEx guy just left it outside his apartment and left a note on the door.

Of course, by the time Jeff got home, all he found was the note on his door: someone had stolen the game. FedEx refuses to take responsibility for it (I'm not sure why, since they delivered it without the required signature), he hasn't been able to get in touch with the manufacturer of the game, and he still doesn't have a copy of the game even though it's been on store shelves for over a week now.

That's where I found my copy last Thursday night, anyway, and I've been having fun with it ever since. Hope you get your copy soon, Jeff.

The internet is pretty freaking cool. Last Wednesday, I started thinking about Lydia because her birthday was the next day, and that led me to think of Pete because as far as I knew they were still working together. I had been thinking about asking Pete to write for the 9.11 project that I'm working on, so I decided to send him an email. I hadn't written to him in a while, though, and both of the addresses I had for him bounced back. Hmmm. I tried my standard searches for a new address on Yahoo! and Google, but came up empty. I still had a link to a site he put up a few years back, however, and even though it didn't have an email address on it, it did have his wife's full name (she kept her maiden name when they married). I tried searching for her instead, and came up with an address for a database developer at UVA. I shot off an email asking if she was the same person who was married to Pete, and by the next morning I had received a response from both her and Pete himself.

The same morning, I sent an email to the last address I had for Lydia, who I believed still worked with Pete. That one got bounced too, so I used my newly reestablished link with Pete to find out how to get in touch with her. He told me she had left her job and moved to another city in June, but he gave me two email addresses to try and reach her. I sent off a quick email to these two new addresses, and by the early afternoon, I was back in touch with her, too.

Later that afternoon, I was checking some of the links on my Paul Auster site, and discovered that three of the most interesting sites had been taken offline with no explanation. I searched Google and Yahoo! again, trying to determine if they had just been moved to new locations, but I only found the same dead addresses. I thought I would just have to remove the links, but then I remembered the Wayback Machine, a searchable archive of web sites going back several years. I entered the old addresses for the sites into the search box, and soon I had access to the content of the sites as it existed within a few weeks of when the sites went offline. I downloaded the pages and images and am currently in the process of formatting the content so that I can host the pages on my own site and allow Auster fanatics to have access to that content again without having to use the Wayback Machine like I did.

Well, work yesterday went about as well as could be expected. I had no office, my computer hadn't arrived yet, and my supervisor Rob was in London for a few days, so basically no one knew what to do with me. I ended up spending the day sitting in Rob's office with Mark, another person hired for this web initiative, reading manuals and watching the day crawl past.

Late in the afternoon we met with John, the director of our office, and he assured us that this was just a temporary state of affairs. The third member of our team will start in two weeks, and by then we should have our initial office and all of our computers set up, as well as a good roadmap of our tasks for the next few months. In May we will be able to move to a new office space if we wish, and then move to yet another new space early next year. I'm still really excited about all the stuff that I'm going to be working on, but I just have to be patient for the next couple of weeks while all the pieces are put into place.

But it's good to be working again.

While I was working at home and looking for a new job, I spent most of the day in front of the computer, either working on freelance or personal projects, submitting resumes, or writing. I like to have background noise when I'm working, and often that would come from the small television that we keep in the study. After a while, I developed a sequence of shows that I would tune in to. Even though I didn't really watch many of them intently, I got used to having them around during the day.

But now that I'm working, I'll have to get my background noise from somewhere else. So, goodbye Fox and Friends. Goodbye Little House on the Prairie, Kids in the Hall, Saturday Night Live, and Smurfs reruns on Cartoon Network. Goodbye Judge Mathis, Judge Marilyn Milian, Judge Hatchett, Judge Mills Lane, Judge Larry Joe Doherty, Judge Mablean Ephriam, and Judge Joe Brown. Honestly, I won't really miss you all that much. Besides, Judge Judy still comes on at night.

Ozzy rules!

Seriously though. The Osbournes, a show where MTV basically hangs out at Ozzy's house all day and films him and his family, is one of the funniest things I've seen in a long time.

Well, I've got 130 pages worth of additional knowledge about XML, I've gotten up to the late 16C in Dawn to Decadence (16C is the author's convention for 16th century), and I've somehow ended up on a web committee for student services. Still no office, desk, phone, computer, email, login, or official assignments, but Rob gets back tomorrow, so hopefully they'll be some headway in at least a couple of those areas. It sure beats unemployment, though.

Man. I'd forgotten how much stamina it takes to get through a normal 8-hour workday when you aren't allowed to take a nap whenever you want.

So Rob was finally back in the office yesterday. He gave me a login and email (which had been set up for me two weeks ago), and is working on getting some sort of office space for me and the other new team members. He's really spread thin, especially since he's just coming back from a short vacation in London, but he devoted a lot of time to trying to get us fixed up so that we could actually start to do some work. I was able to use a work study desk to do some research, play around with Dreamweaver, and scrutinize the code and structure of our web site, but I still had to fill some time reading my XML book.

At lunch I didn't feel like eating another one of the Powerbars that I've been bringing all week (I need my lunch to be quick and portable until I have some sort of space of my own), so I took a walk around the Hopkins campus. It's really much smaller than I thought it would be, but it's still a pretty nice walk. The weather got up in the 60s by the afternoon, so tomorrow I think I'll just take my book outside and read.

The hours pass so slow when I don't have anything to work on that it feels like I've been there a few weeks instead of a few days. But Rob said he wanted to have my computer set up and an office for us to work in by the end of the week, so hopefully these days of trying to look busy and find things to do will rapidly come to an end and I can start to develop some sort of working rhythm.

Last night we went to see The Time Machine, the new movie based on the H.G. Wells novel and directed by his great-grandson Simon Wells. Officially it's not supposed to come out until today, but every now and then Entertainment Weekly (which we subscribe to, god help us) runs a promo where subscribers can register on their website to win tickets to an advance screening of a film. The films they choose usually aren't ones I'm dying to see, but I've registered a few times anyway because, hey, who doesn't like free stuff. When we didn't receive a notification within a week or two of entering, I figured we had been passed over again, but last weekend we got a letter from EW with a postcard indicating the time and place for the advance screening.

We had to leave right after work, and it was a miserable drive in rush hour DC traffic (which was mysteriously moving into the city instead of away from it). That frustration was compounded by the fact that when we finally found the theater, the free lot next to it was full and the parking garage would have cost $8, which would have negated the benefit of seeing the movie for free. After driving around in circles for a little while, I finally decided to resort to the strategy of stalking someone on their way to their car. I hate it when people do that to me, but I was desperate and it worked.


I don't want to say the movie was completely pointless, but.... No, wait. That is what I want to say. It was completely pointless.

Yesterday I worked in the office of one of the admissions counselors who was going to be out all day. I did a lot of research about other schools' web sites, particularly the features, design, and UI of the admissions portions of the sites. I was hoping that I'd get my computer by today, since it had taken about a week for Mark's computer to come in. Unfortunately, we found out that it's not even scheduled to ship out from the factory until March 14, which would probably put it in our office about March 19.

I was worried about finding enough to do to keep me busy tomorrow. I don't know how in the world I'm going to make it through the next week and half.

Recent studies show that old people drive at least as well as sleep-deprived apes.

I am sleeping like a madman. 8 hours on Friday night, and 11 hours on Saturday night, and I still felt tired most of the weekend.

Saturday night, Julie and I joined Max and Jeff and their significant others (Laurie and Andrea, respectively) at the annual Addy Awards, a ceremony that honors outstanding work in advertising. CO2 usually does pretty well, and even though we didn't have as many entries as in previous years due to the slowdown of last year, we felt like every piece we entered was a strong contender that had a good chance to win. So even though we only had about ten entries, we thought we could still walk away with five or six awards.

But nothing could have prepared us for what happened. Every single piece we entered won. The MICA CD, the MICA packaging and mailer, the National Geographic CD, the new CO2 web site, the RAID videos and site, and a few other pieces—everything won. Most of them won Addys, which is the highest award you can get in a category, and a couple won Merit Citations (which is like an honorable mention), but every project we entered was recognized in some way.

Now, CO2 has won Best of Show every year that we have entered except for last year when, in addition to several Addys, we ended up with the Judge's Award, which is kind of like second place in the Best of Show competition. We felt like the judges of last year's show were weirdly biased towards the content of a web site (which the client controls) as opposed to its design and presentation, which is what the design firms control and which is what the Addy judges are supposed to base their scoring on. In this light, it's worth noting that the company that won last year, Enforme Interactive, not only did not win the Best of Show or a Judge's Award this year, but it also failed to win a single Addy or Merit Citation despite numerous entries.

We felt like our chances to win either a Judge's Award or the Best of Show honor was pretty good, especially because our strongest projects were in the running (only Addy winners are eligible for Best of Show honors) and because the judges had decided to give out three Judge's Awards this year instead of the usual one. But each of the Judge's Awards were presented without our name being called, and then when they started to describe the judges' comments about the Best of Show winner, I didn't think that they corresponded to any of our projects. But then suddenly some of the details started to match up with the National Geographic CD, and I began to get my hopes up. Finally announced it: we had won again, for the aforementioned National Geographic CD. I was especially happy because I had never been involved with the project that had won Best of Show before: the first year I was with the company we won for a print project, and last year we didn't win Best of Show.

It was kind of strange, though—I'm really happy about winning and everything, but it just makes the collapse and dissolution of CO2 that much sadder. We felt like we were doing really great work, and everything from the comments of our clients to the objective review of our peers has confirmed that belief. And yet we still couldn't find a way to stay in business once the downturn started.

Oh well. At least I've got a pretty new piece of hardware to put on my desk at my new job. When I actually get a desk, I mean.

I have so little to do at work that I am actually looking forward to today's all-day orientation session.

I'm very close to posting the 9.11 site I've been working on (which I originally wanted to post by yesterday), but I'm just not happy with the introductory essays yet. Soon, though. And any of you who agreed to contribute who are reading this, how about sending me at least a rough draft, okay?

The Dismemberment Plan is currently touring with Death Cab for Cutie. Can you guess the tour name?

The Death and Dismemberment Tour.

They played in DC last night, and I really should have tried to go, but I didn't find out about it until last weekend (via Tom), and since the Dismemberment Plan is a local DC group, I figured it would probably be sold out by then. Plus, a show that gets out around 2 a.m. on a weeknight when I have to drive an hour to get home and then get up at 6:30 to go to work is just a little too much for someone of my rapidly advancing years.

But I'm still a little disappointed in myself that I didn't at least make an effort to see if I could get tickets.

The orientation session was pretty boring yesterday, but at least it killed the day. I don't know what I'm going to do today: I still have no office, no phone, and no computer, and therefore no way to do any work or research. Rob is out of the office again starting tomorrow, and I wouldn't be surprised if I didn't see him again until next week. The problems will be compounded then, because the third member of our team is scheduled to start on Monday, and not only will she not have any of the things that I just mentioned, she won't even have a chair to sit in.

I am still very thankful to have somewhere to go every day, but I just wish I had something to do once I got there.

Well, I finally had enough of sitting around and doing nothing at work all day due to my lack of a computer, office, etc. Rob and John had both mentioned that it would be okay with them if we needed to work at home sometimes, and although I realize that it's not really appropriate to do that in the first two weeks of a new job, I decided to go ahead and ask Rob. After all, at home I have access to a broadband connection, an office, a computer, and the same HTML editing software that I will eventually have at work, and I can actually start to work on some of the projects that I've been assigned to but which I have been unable to do any work on yet.

Rob agreed that it would probably be for the best, and apologized for not having things ready when I started, so I zipped up all of the relevant files and FTP'd them to my web host where I could retrieve them from home. I stayed for a while to help Mark work on a query, but around 11 a.m. I headed home and started doing my first real work on some of the projects I've been assigned at my new job.

I'm working from home today, too, since Rob won't be in the office at all and my equipment and office won't be ready until Monday (although Rob has made assurances that both of these issues will be taken care of by then). I really would rather be working in the office, since I worked at home for the five months prior to starting this job, but I would also rather be doing some real work rather than sitting around reading SQL and XML books. I'll go back in tomorrow for a couple of meetings and to pick up my first paycheck, and then hopefully by Monday all of these issues will be resolved and I will actually be able to do my work at the office.

Last night we went to dinner at Jane's house. My mom was passing through DC for a conference, so she was staying with Ron and Jane. I wasn't looking forward to driving down there straight from work after our 2 hour drive to get down to Arlington last week (Jane lives in Falls Church), but one of the added benefits of working from home half of the day yesterday was that I didn't have to drive straight from Baltimore. Julie came back home first, and then I drove us from here to Jane's house. This also meant that we didn't have to drive in peak rush hour traffic and that we were able to feed the cats and give Hunter his insulin before we left, instead of having to leave early and rush back home to take care of him.

Jane made a simple meal of lasagne, salad, and toasted garlic bread, but she's such a good cook that everything she makes is like a gourmet meal. Her daughter Carey was there with her boyfriend Jason (who we'd never met before), and it was a pleasant meal that lasted just the right amount of time.

As we were preparing to head back home after dinner, I noticed a book in Ron and Jane's living room that just fascinated me: The Grapes of Ralph, a book about wine written and illustrated by Ralph Steadman, a British artist best known for accompanying Hunter S. Thompson on some of his journeys and providing the perfect visual counterpart to Thompson's writing style. I flipped through it for a while, trying not to let my fascination with it pull me out of the conversation, but I guess it didn't matter that much since Carey and Jason were busy playing gin instead of talking.

Mom heads back home today, where she will be for a week and a half (the longest she's been home since she stopped her cancer treatments). She'll be back up in North Carolina in early April for my grandfather's birthday, but I don't think we'll be able to go this year. So it was nice to see her now, even if only briefly.

If I were a number, I don't know exactly which one I would be, but I know I'd be a prime.

I have precisely $7.61 left in my bank account, so I'm kinda looking forward to picking up my first paycheck today.

I actually got some good work done yesterday. The site is still a mess though—it looks like it's been through at least four or five people's hands, all with different levels of expertise in HTML, JavaScript, CSS, and graphics optimization, and none of whom could likely be considered good at any of these technologies. I spent the day renaming files so that they fit a standard naming conventions, consolidating several style sheets (that previously contained 1 style each) into one style sheet that I can use sitewide, rewriting the proprietary JavaScript code from Dreamweaver into normal functions that anyone who knows JavaScript can read (I hate using the built-in functions that come with the WYSIWYG HTML editors, because then you're stuck using that program no matter what), and generally trying to standardize the structure and design of the site. I still have a long way to go; I could probably spend two or three more days on it easy.

I'm going in to work today to meet with Rob about the office space issue, find out whether my computer has shipped yet or not, pick up my paycheck, and address a couple of other issues that came up yesterday (Mark emailed me at home and told me how to access my work email via a web browser, so I wasn't totally out of the loop). Hopefully come Monday everything will be resolved and I can actually start to develop a work routine.

I figured out why I haven't written anything new for Plug recently: no new music. Duh. It seems so obvious now.

That said, I have been sufficiently inspired by my recent new purchases to start writing reviews of them, so hopefully I'll have at least a month's worth of new content for Plug in the near future.

When I went into work on Friday, I got the disturbing news that Dell seems to have lost track of my new computer. Previously when we entered the order number on the Dell web site, we would get a message back telling us that it was going to ship on March 14. After March 14, however, it would simply kick the number back and say it was invalid. We actually called our sales rep, and after some extensive hemming and hawing, he finally admitted that he didn't know what was going on, but that he was pretty sure it hadn't shipped yet. So who knows when I'll get it now—that's why I'm working from home again today.

On the bright side, the office space issue has been resolved for now, and my software will all be waiting for me whenever I get my computer. Rob is moving himself and Mark to a temporary space in the basement, where they have recently been doing asbestos removal (ugh). They won't be down there very much—Mark will do a lot of traveling with Rob over to Rob's other office at the Eastern campus (even when Rob is at our office, he's never actually in his office very much). The database person (who starts Thursday) and I will share Rob's existing office. After a month or so, Mark will move back upstairs and sit at the desk of a person who is resigning, and then hopefully in August or September, we will have access to new space where we will all four be able to have desks close to each other.

Rob was also able to make a few phone calls and get me copies of Photoshop 6 and GoLive 6, which are the two pieces of software that are critical to my web site authoring abilities. So now most of the pieces are in place; once I get my computer, I'll actually be able to start doing my job.

It was still worth it to go in on Friday, though—I picked up my paycheck, had a couple of meetings, and met Julie for lunch. I doubt that my computer will be in by tomorrow, but I will still go in because there is an afternoon meeting that Rob wants me to attend. Also, he and Mark should be moved out of the office by tomorrow, so I can start to set up my space even in the absence of a machine.

I haven't bought a CD since just after Christmas (when I used a gift certificate I had received), so when I got my first paycheck last week, I decided to indulge a little and pick up a few items that had been on my wishlist for a while. First up was the new Eels album "Souljacker", which had just been released in the US earlier that week (although it has been available to the rest of the world since last fall). After that, it was just a matter of luck what I was able to get a hold of. I brought in a list of 7 items that I was interested in, knowing that the local independent record store that I shop at usually doesn't have everything I want in stock, no matter how new it is—for some reason, they just don't order much from the smaller labels that don't have a major label distribution deal (although I thought the whole point of an independent record store was to provide a distribution point for those types of labels).

As expected, I ended up only being able to find about half the things on my list, including the Moldy Peaches (a lo-fi duo from NYC), the new Superchunk disc, and the major label debut from the awkwardly named Austin critical darlings ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead.

It's so great to have new music again. I had been purposely avoiding record stores because I knew I couldn't afford to buy anything, and the record companies had made it a lot easier on me by not releasing too many things that I was really interested in over the last couple of months (the next couple of months, however, will bring new discs from Beth Orton, Cornershop, Wilco, and Tom Waits, to name just a few, so these paychecks started rolling in just in time). It brings me so much joy to listen to new music, especially good new music from an artist I've never heard before, but almost more than the specific CDs I bought, I'm happy about being able to walk into a store and buy something if I want. It feels good to be solvent again.

No deal, McCutcheon, that moon money is mine.

I'm sorry, I just don't think I could let a stranger pee on my hand. (I know I'm a little late with this, but I didn't watch last week's episode until last night.)

Even though I've been working at home a lot recently because I still don't have a computer at work, I still have access to my work email because our email system has a web component so you can access your account from any computer with a browser and an internet connection.

Yesterday there were a lot of messages that showed up in my work inbox, most having to do with the status of my computer. It turns out that the machine itself is ready, but the flat-panel monitor that we ordered to go with it is on backorder. The earliest they will get some more is later this week, and then they still have to ship it to us. So it looks like it may be another week before I have the equipment I need to start doing my job.

Add to this the fact that the database person starts on Thursday, and her computer is on the same order as mine (she is also getting a flat panel, so her machine will be delayed along with mine). And of course, Thursday would happen to be the day that Rob leaves for California for several days of meetings with a team of developers who are working on our new information system.

But at least she'll have me to talk to, and she likely won't have to wait three and half weeks before her computer arrives. Oh well. I'm getting a lot of work done at home, but since I feel like I should still be in the office at least half the time, that means at least three days a week where I accomplish little or nothing. It can't last much longer though, right?

Grrr. Fox keeps on pushing back the release date of the Simpsons second season DVD set. First it was supposed to be out before last Christmas, then it was bumped to March, then May, and now it's tentatively set for July. Don't they realize that one hour of truncated syndicated episodes a day just isn't enough?

Back in January, Tori started talking to me about the possibility of transferring from the University of Chicago next year and going to a school that places more of an emphasis on writing and fine arts. This was a little irritating, because last year when she was applying for schools, no one in the family really wanted her to go to Chicago, but she was insistent and we trusted her judgement even though I don't really feel like she ever gave any other schools a chance before choosing Chicago.

But since she was still just in the thinking about it stage, I helped her sort through what she was looking for in a school and then suggested a few possibilities that she should investigate. As February wore on, it became increasingly clear that she was very serious about transferring. Since she hadn't actually asked for my opinion on the matter, I decided to offer it to her anyway: I didn't think she should transfer, because the reasons she was telling me she was unhappy with Chicago were, to me, things that probably wouldn't be that much different at any decent-sized university or college, like people being more aloof and harder to get to know than they were in high school, registration and course selection being fairly difficult and limited in her first couple years, etc. But stubbornness is a strong family trait, and she was clearly digging in and going to do this no matter what we all thought, just as she had done the year before with her original decision to attend the University of Chicago.

When dad and Rachel came up to visit for parent's weekend early in March, she informed them of her desire to leave Chicago. They took it pretty well, I think, but Rachel was in complete agreement with me about Tori's decision: neither of us thought it was a really good idea, because from what we could tell, Tori had no good reason for it other than some vague unhappiness which we felt she had unfairly attached to the university. And it wasn't just us, either: Dodd and my mom (who Tori has gotten to know quite well, since my mom spends about her time on business in Chicago) both thought it was a mistake.

I've talked to Tori in depth about her decision a few times, hoping that she would be able to convince me that she was doing something positive for herself that would result in an improvement in her academic and social life. But the more questions I asked her, the more doubts I had about the wisdom of her leaving Chicago. Usually Tori's decisions are very well thought out, and even though she had a lot of reasons for leaving that looked good on the surface, the more I delved into the rationale behind them, the less they stood up.

For example, the first thing she brought up was the scarcity of writing and fine arts courses at Chicago, and the difficulty of getting into those courses. Largely because of her desire to have easier access to more of these types courses, she was looking at the University of Iowa (based, ironically, on a recommendation from me—the writing program has long been one of the nation's best, and holds a special place in my heart because it's where Flannery O'Connor landed the contract for her first novel. The fine arts program is pretty good too, especially in the area of printmaking). So I asked what I thought was a reasonable question: was she planning on majoring in writing or fine arts? Tori answered that she didn't know, but she wanted to be somewhere where she could have better access to those kinds of classes.

I then asked what I thought was the logical question to follow from this: did she know for sure that she would be able to have access to those classes at Iowa if she wasn't planning to major in those subjects? I pointed out that even though Iowa might have a lot more course offerings in those areas, they also had a much larger student population, and they also would have a larger percentage of the student population competing for spots in those classes, since many of the people who had chosen Iowa had done so because they were planning to major in one of those subjects.

Tori got a little evasive with her answer on this topic, and then said that the course selection wasn't really the problem with Chicago, it was the people there. She said they were all too intellectual and hard to get to know. Now, Tori went to NCSSM just like I did, and it is a very common syndrome for students who graduate from that school to be highly disappointed with the academic and social scenes of whatever college they choose after the intense demands of NCSSM's classes and the open-minded and outgoing natures of the student population. I made more close friends there in two years than I have in all the other years of my life combined, and I expect that to remain true until I die. There's something about the uniqueness of that experience that allows you to bond with a large number of people very quickly (probably due to the highly structured environment and the like-mindedness of the people who choose to go there).

It's just a fact of life that people tend to be less open and harder to get to know as we move forward into adulthood, and although I'm know that this is a difficult and often painful realization that everyone has to deal with, it's especially hard for people from NCSSM, since most of us leave there thinking that college is going to be just like NCSSM, only better. We are invariably disappointed, although we all eventually get over it and start to realize that our experience at college, while different from NCSSM, is just as rewarding and unique.

It's hard to tell someone this, though—I mean it's hard to tell someone this and have them understand. I tried to tell Tori anyway, knowing it was a mostly futile effort, and she kept on insisting that, no, her experience at Chicago was different, that there was really something wrong with the people there. Whatever. That's what I thought about Davidson, that's what Regan thought about Dartmouth (and then Yale), that's what Emily thought about Elon, that's what most everyone I went to high school with thought about most every college they went to. For the first year, anyway—then we all started to find our niche and really begin our college lives. But it's just something that Tori will have to go through and figure out for herself, whether she stays at Chicago or not.

The thing that troubles me the most about all of this is that I have always seen Tori as someone who moves towards the positive, but in this case it feels very much like she's just trying to move away from the negative. She can't seem to really pinpoint why she is unhappy in Chicago, and when you scrutinize the things that she lists as negatives, it is plain to see that those aren't the real problems, because she hasn't taken the time to find out if any of those negatives are going to be improved on by moving to a different school. And if the negatives are inside her, they're going to follow her wherever she goes and poison her perception of whatever environment she's placed in, no matter what positive things that environment might have to offer.

Rachel has an interesting theory about all of this: she thinks Tori might have a mild form of seasonal affective disorder, where people become depressed during the winter months due to lack of exposure to sunlight. Rachel hopes that, as unhappy as Tori is now and as serious as she seems about transferring, Tori will go on spring break in New York, have a good time with her friends, and come back to warmer weather and more sunlight and suddenly have an attitude change. I don't know how likely that is (especially because even if Tori did gain some renewed enthusiasm for Chicago, she's just stubborn enough to stick with the decision to transfer because she knows that none of us want her to do it). But I am curious to see if there is any kind of change in Tori's attitude as we move closer to the summer months.

At any rate, all I really want is for Tori to be happy. If she thinks that transferring to a new school is the right answer for her, then I want her to do that. I'm just worried that she doesn't really know why she's unhappy, and so she can't really know what will make her happy. A lot of the things she's complaining about are things that a lot of freshmen complain about, no matter what their school and no matter how much they enjoyed their high school experience, and those issues have always been especially difficult for NCSSM graduates to deal with. Tori is insistent that her experience is unique, even though from what's she's told me it's actually fairly typical. But I love her very much, and I hope that no matter what she decides, things get better for her soon.

I'm still suffering through writer's block on my 9.11 project, my ideas workbook is full of half-written reviews of the CDs I just got and fragments of rants that I'm not sure I'll ever publish, and nothing really interesting is happening in my life right now. I'm developing two more pieces for the Borges project that Tom is working on, but I just can't find the finishing touch that I need to complete each one. There's nothing to do at work, and even if there was, I still don't have a computer there to do it on and my supervisor is out of town for the next week. I haven't been to see a movie or finished a book recently, and aside from a strong endorsement for The Osbournes, there's nothing on tv that I feel particularly compelled to talk about.

Usually all the little things circling around my life produce some kind of daily content for this site, but today there isn't really anything worth writing about. Everything is unfinished or undone or just plain uninteresting. I have lots of new content on the way, but none of it is ready for prime time, and most of it is destined for some other outlet anyway.

So I guess you'll all have to be patient with me.

A connection failure has occurred.

The spellchecker for the HTML editor I use doesn't like em dashes—you know, just like that one, and this one—so it tries to take the two words on either side of the em dash and suggest one new word to take their place. So when I was spellchecking some recent entries (no, I don't do it every day, even though I should, but hey, I barely have time to proofread these things most days), it decided that it didn't like the em-dashed phrase "now—that's". Its suggestion for a replacement: nuthatches.

Just what the hell is a nuthatch, anyway?

Okay, I admit it—I looked it up. A nuthatch is a bird, specifically "a small bird with a blue-gray back that usually hangs upside down on a tree trunk and works its way down, eating insects, seeds, and nuts", according to Microsoft Word's built in dictionary. It's apparently quite a popular bird, too—a search on Google for "nuthatch" returns over 30,000 results.

Still, with names like nuthatch, titmouse, honeycreeper, woodcock, bullfinch, dowitcher, bufflehead, turnstone, waxwing, towhee, kittiwake, godwit, and nightjar, among many others, does anyone else get the feeling that birdwatchers aren't quite right in the head?

Maybe I'm just being paranoid, but I'm starting to convince myself that the various cable and broadcast television channels are slowing starting to synchronize their programming so that all their advertisements run at the same time, thus making channel-flipping during commercials pointless.

Is it just me? (It's okay, you can be honest.)

Well, work was interesting yesterday. I arrived around 8:15 to find Mark already sitting at his workstation. I should have figured something was up, since he usually doesn't get there until 8:30, and sure enough, after a couple of minutes I noticed that he had his left leg propped on a trashcan that he'd turned upside down.

It turns out that he had stepped on his ankle wrong playing lacrosse the night before, and instead of going to a clinic or an emergency room, he had lain awake on the couch all night, hoping that the swelling would go down by morning (for some reason his self-diagnosis and treatment did not include putting ice on his ankle or taking any kind of advil or tylenol-type painkiller/anti-swelling agent). He just figured he'd go to work the next morning and visit the student health center, and they would fix him up.

Of course, the student clinic was closed because the students are all on spring break. After looking at his ankle, it was pretty clear he needed some sort of medical attention—it looked like he had stuffed a couple of ping pong balls into his sock—so we started to ask around the office to see what his options were. I ended up dropping him off at a local emergency room, where they took x-rays (it was not broken), put his ankle in a splint, gave him some crutches, and sent him on his merry way.

While all of this was happening, the new database administrator, Jinwen, showed up for her first day of work. Apparently Rob had forgotten to get in touch with her to let her know that he would be in California when she got there, and that he wouldn't be back until almost a week later. So I was kind of left to tell her that our computers still had not shipped, we had no real tasks assigned to us yet, and even though we technically had an office, it was still being inhabited by Mark and Rob, since Rob didn't have time to move his stuff into his new office space before leaving on his trip.

Oh well. I told her she should just bring a book or something to study for the next few days, and then used Mark's laptop to print out a copy of the data dictionary for her so she could get to work pulling the database apart and figuring out the best way to put it back together again, just as I have been deconstructing and reconstructing the web site over the past week or so.

A little good news, though: by the end of the day, we got confirmation from Dell that both of our PCs had finally shipped, and that they would hopefully arrive by Monday. So maybe by the end of next week, I will have done some work while I'm actually at work.

The Superbowl is probably second only to the Oscars in terms of sucky television that everyone watches anyway. But at least with the Superbowl you get to see some decent commercials. And people smashing into each other.

According to the tracking info on the FedEx site, my computer was passing through Atlanta on Friday night, so there's actually a pretty good chance that it could get to Baltimore by today or tomorrow. Which would really work out well, since I already have some deadlines for this week, and without my computer I have no real way of meeting them.

I know I'm being a little obsessive about this, but my computer left the Harrisburg, PA, FedEx sort facility late last night and is scheduled for delivery at the office today. Of course, once it arrives there, it will still take a day or two for the IT guy to set it up properly, so I've decided to stay home today where I can actually get some work done. Tomorrow should be my first day of real work at my new job, though: my computer should be set up, Rob will be back from California, and the office space that I'm supposed to use should get cleared out.

Yesterday wasn't too bad, though: since the admission letters go out on Wednesday, there were 3000 priority mail envelopes that needed to be stuffed with six to eight different items (folders, brochures, etc.). That (and a brief meeting with Maggie) kept me busy until around 2:30 in the afternoon. The day just flew by (no, I'm not being sarcastic).

In addition to the all-star style fantasy baseball league that I play every year, this season I am also playing in a free rotisserie-style league on Yahoo! with my new coworker Mark and several of his buddies from back home.

I figured that most of them would concentrate on getting big name hitters and fixate on the glamor hitting stats (like batting average and homeruns), so I decided to focus my first few rounds of picks on frontline starting and relief pitchers. In addition to reduced competition for these players in the first few rounds, I thought this strategy might pay off because, when you come down to it, there are far more good hitters in baseball at every position than there are good pitchers. Another incentive to proceed with this strategy is that this particular league is set up so that there are more pitching stats that count for points than there are hitting categories.

The pitching part of my draft turned out great: I got five front line starters and two top tier closers. Even my two backup pitchers could become valuable depending on what their final role is once the season starts. But the hitting part of the draft didn't turn out so well, mostly because I failed to anticipate the exact way the autodraft system would interpret my rankings.

See, it wasn't a real draft, where you got to sit and manually pick the player you wanted each round from the available pool of players. Instead, you had to pre-rank as many players as you wanted, and then the system would use that list (in combination with its own ranking list as a fallback) to automatically choose a player for you each round. The second part of my strategy was to draft position players in order of scarcity of hitting talent at the position, so I ranked the positions in order of second basemen, catchers, shortstops, third basemen, first basemen, and outfielders, since second base is the position where you are least likely to find a good hitter and the outfield positions are stocked with good hitters.

In some ways, the strategy worked: I got a great catcher and second baseman, a good shortstop, and a couple of pretty good outfielders. But looking back over the draft results, I could have had a much better team had I been allowed to do the choosing myself. One of the problems was that many players qualified at more than one position. For instance my first baseman is primarily a catcher, but since he qualified at first base and my catchers were ranked higher than my first basemen, when it came time for the computer to fill my first base slot, it chose this catcher instead of a real first basemen.

The second problem was that there are three bench spots for backup hitters and a utility slot that can be filled by any hitter. I figured that the computer would save these slots for last, filling them up with whoever was left at the bottom of my picks after it had filled all the primary positions. Instead it filled these slots for me very early in the draft, adding 3 more second basemen and another catcher to my roster and wasting four rounds when I could have been picking up a quality first or third baseman and a couple of good outfielders. As a result, out of 12 hitting slots on my team, 7 of them are filled by either catchers or second basemen.

I immediately went and starting pouring through the free agent rolls to find decent players to exchange for my dugout full of infielders, and there were actually a few good ones that hadn't been drafted (there are only 12 teams in our league with 21 players each, whereas MLB has 30 teams with 25 players each). It takes two days for the trades to clear, so I'll find out tonight whether or not I'll get these players; if I get all the ones I want, my team will be much more balanced. I'll still need to pick up a couple of quality players here and there, but I should be able to hold my own given the tilt towards pitching categories in this league, since I easily have the most dominating pitching staff.

The good news is that most people ended up with a team that had great hitters and no good pitchers, when what it really takes to win is a balanced team where you can either rank above average in every category or rank at the top of one set of categories (hitting or pitching) and stay in the middle or better in the other set of categories. There were only two or three teams in our the league that fit this profile, and if I can exchange my second basemen for the free agents I want, I think I can count myself among that small group.

Of course, everyone thinks their team's a winner before the season starts, whether you're talking about real or fantasy baseball. But I think I stand a good chance of doing well in this league.

I don't know much about you lurkers who visit the site every day but who have never written me, but I do know that there are a bunch of you. Anyway, I'm mentioning this because I'm trying to put together another fantasy baseball league at Yahoo!, and I'm looking for recruits. It's completely free if you have a Yahoo! ID (and if you don't, it only takes a couple of minutes to sign up and get one), but I need to set it up within the next day or so. It will most likely be a rotisserie league, but I'm open to doing a fantasy points league if that's what everyone else wants.

Including myself there are currently three people interested, but it would be nice to have at least ten teams. I would prefer to hear from people who follow baseball at least semi-regularly and who have participated in a fantasy league before, but if you've always wanted to give it a try and just never had the opportunity, that will be fine, too. If you are interested, write me within the next 24 hours so I can begin to get an idea of how to set up the league.

So here's the last update on my work computer. Working from home on Tuesday afternoon, I check the shipping status on the FedEx site and am given the following information:

Monday, 11:35 pm: Arrives at FedEx sort facility in Baltimore
Tuesday, 3:35 am: Loaded onto vehicle for delivery
Tuesday, 2:42 pm: Delivered to customer

Shortly after that, I received this sequence of emails:

From:   Mark
To:   Me
Date:   Tuesday - March 26, 2002 2:44 PM
Subject:   They're IN

Computers are in!!!!!  2:45 on Tuesday!!


From:   Rob
To:   IT Guy
Date:   Tuesday - March 26, 2002 2:55 PM
Subject:   PCs

IT Guy,

The two new PCs have arrived. Please connect with [our office administrator] as soon as possible about gaining possession of them to begin setup. Please get back to me with your planned time frame for having them configured. I would prefer to have them by noon on Thursday, if at all possible.

From:  IT Guy
To:   Rob
Date:   Tuesday - March 26, 2002 2:57 PM
Subject:   Re: PCs

That is impossible since I am completely scheduled out until Thursday. My time frame is for a Monday deployment.


Bear in mind, Rob wrote our departmental IT person last Thursday telling him that the computers had shipped, that they would be in on Monday or Tuesday, and that we would need them as soon as possible because we have already been waiting almost a month for them. At that time, the IT guy replied that he would set aside some time for them and that he would probably have them ready by Thursday, but definitely by Friday.

At least it's almost over. I know you're probably about as sick of hearing about it as I am of dealing with it.

Hmm. I don't want two entries in a row about the computer, and I want to put the baseball entry first because I want to make sure that people see it. Therefore, I need another entry to act as a buffer between today's computer rant and yesterday's. But I don't really have anything else to write about today.

So I guess we're stuck with this. But it works. If you need more content, go look at my photos or links or something.

[Note: these entries were originally published so that the days were in reverse order, but the sequence within each day was as they are presented here. This entry would have come between the entry immediately above it and the final entry for 3.26, both of which are about my MIA computer.]

The latest Pepsi ads with Britney were bad enough: the concept of showing "Pepsi through the decades" wasn't really that compelling in the first place, and adding a vacuous no-talent teen starlet to the mix certainly didn't help things any.

But apparently the ad agencies disagreed with me. Only a few weeks after the Britney ads made their debut during the Superbowl, we were subjected to very, very similar ads featuring Shaq hawking Whoppers for Burger King (incidentally, the other Burger King ad that showed up around the same time is a blatant ripoff of the opening credit sequence for the movie Contact, so the idea-well must be running pretty dry at whatever agency they use). As in the Britney ads, we saw Shaq dressed in clothes commonly associated with the 50s, the 60s (twice), the 70s, and either the 80s or the 90s or now (I can't tell which), with each costume change being accompanied by a corresponding shift in background music.

As if these two campaigns weren't bad enough, I noticed earlier this week that Mercedes has begun a similar campaign to introduce its new 5th Generation SL. The time-shift phenomenon isn't as widespread yet as the bear and car/tree ads that were prevalent a year or so ago, but the concept is so much more hackneyed and cliched that it's almost more pathetic and lacking in originality.

Well, it's been a year since Mac OS X was first introduced, and it's finally getting to the point where there are enough applications available for it that I can actually consider using it as my primary OS.

I decided to give it a shot today after my upgrade to Adobe GoLive arrived in the mail. GoLive is my HTML editor of choice, and the newly released version 6 is fully optimized to work natively in the OS X environment. Add to this the availability of OS X versions Microsoft Office, Internet Explorer, Transmit (my FTP program), BBEdit, and many others, and all that I'm really missing from my arsenal of regularly-used programs is Adobe's seminal image editing software, Photoshop. And a Mac OS X version of that is due out by the end of the second quarter.

As a test, I used OS X for everything I did today (after finishing my job-related tasks), from checking email (I'm still using Outlook Express in the Classic environment, but I'm going to mess around with Office v.X tomorrow to see if I can transfer my mail database to Entourage) to browsing the internet to editing my site with GoLive 6 and uploading it with Transmit. I haven't yet installed any OS X games, but I have downloaded Tranquility X and I know that Black & White includes an X installer, so I'll probably play around with those soon.

Everything still seems a little more sluggish than it did under OS 9, which is kind of irritating since OS X should be taking full advantage of the dual processors in my machine (OS 9 only had the ability to use one of the processors) and should therefore feel even more speedy than the older OS.

There are some nagging interface features that I'm not sure I'm going to get used to anytime soon, like the fact that when you pull an application to the front all of its windows don't automatically come with it, and the anti-aliasing of the ultra-tiny text used in application status bars that makes the text look blurry and hard to read (and it's starting to give me a headache). I'm also annoyed by the application switcher being absorbed into the dock (which I also hate—I use a shareware program called DragThing to manage my applications, folders, etc.). The switching method is not at all smart—when you tab over to a new application, the app you were just in moves to the back of the queue, meaning that switching back and forth between two apps takes a lot more keystrokes. In addition, since the old application switcher would appear in the center of the screen by default, you have to redirect your attention to wherever the dock is to see the app you want to switch to, which is a lot less convenient and demonstrates very poor UI design, especially for an OS that touts its ease-of-use as one of its main selling points.

It's a very stable OS, though—I've been trying since the beta release to bring down the whole system, and I have yet to succeed. But OS 9 was pretty stable for me, too, so I would really like them to make the interface a little more customizable and address the UI speed issues before I will consider this OS superior to its predecessor. But OS X has definitely matured a lot in the last year, and I can envision a day in the near future when I'll never want to boot up in OS 9 again.

Factoids for Tori: while most Chicago-based historians think that the city gets its name from an indian word meaning "strong" or "great", most everybody else thinks the name comes one of a number of other indian words that are translated as "garlic", "wild onion", or "skunk". The reason for this is that original site of the city was nicknamed "the place of evil smell" by the indians thanks to the swampy marshlands nearby. Even european settlers wouldn't come near the place until the Illinois legislature decided to make the small town the terminus of a new canal connecting Lake Michigan to the Mississippi river.

By the time the canal was done (around 1850), it was next to useless thanks to the growth of the railroads, but those same railroads also served to cement Chicago's place as a center of American commerce and culture. In roughly 50 years—from 1830 to 1880—Chicago's population grew from only a few dozen hearty settlers living in log cabins to a burgeoning metropolis of over 700,000.

After reading my comments about OS X yesterday, CS Jeff wrote and said that he'd experienced similar frustrations with it, but he had still decided to stick with it as his primary OS even though he still had to run some critical applications (like his email) under Classic. He suggested I try a couple applications to see if they could address some of my complaints, specifically a freeware app called App Switcher that is supposed to mimic the functionality of the task switcher in Windows or of shareware programs like Program Switcher for Mac OS 9.

It actually works pretty well—not only did it give me the application switcher I'd been looking for, it also hid the dock from view and had an option that made all the windows associated with an application move to the front when you selected any window in that application, another bit of OS 9 functionality that I had been missing. I also discovered an option in the OS X version of DragThing that put the trash can on the desktop and made it function just like the trash can in OS 9, which means that I don't have to use the dock for anything now. I still wish that there was some way to use the pop-up tabbed windows that I've gotten so used to in OS 9, and that I could assign Finder actions to the funtion keys, but I have a feeling that people will write programs to take care of those issues eventually.

One of the last pieces to the OS X puzzle was a good email program that could import all of my existing mail, currently stored in Outlook Express. I decided to try Entourage, the PIM included with Office v.X (I only have the trial version right now, but it will work for 30 days before it forces me to buy a copy). It was surprisingly easy to move all of my email, accounts, signatures, and addresses over to this new program; it only took about five minutes, and the conversion was so perfect that I didn't even have to tweak any settings. It even moved over the folder and subfolder structures that I use to archive my old mail.

The only programs really missing now are Photoshop (which I mentioned yesterday) and a gateway server so that I can share my internet connection with the other two computers on my local network. I'm more sold on OS X than I was yesterday, even though I'm still sticking with OS 9 for now. It's just too bad that most of the applications that I used to customize my desktop were written by third party developers, and not included in the OS by Apple—especially because it was Apple who invented most of that functionality in the first place.

Oh, and I also need several hundred dollars (even with the educational discounts that I'm now eligible for) to pay for upgrades to the OS X versions of programs, because most companies didn't see fit to release free X versions even if the X versions offered no real improvements over the previous versions of the products. Not really Apple's fault, but still kind of annoying.
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