april 2002

Woo hoo! Opening Day!

This will be the first time since I became a baseball fan that I am not able to take the afternoon off to watch the first game of the Braves season. That's kind of disappointing—there's something about that first game that's just magical, especially when it's played at Turner Field—but by this time next week, I will have seen five games. That's a pretty good number considering that TBS usually goes light on the early season games so it can save its broadcast allotments (about 125 games out of 162) for later in the season, when the games will be more likely to be important.

I have three fantasy baseball teams that I'm doing this year—my standard fee-based all-star style league, and two free Yahoo! rotisserie leagues, one with some guys from work and one with friends and family members— but since the draft for one of my leagues won't be finished until a couple of days from now, I'll have to post more info on that later.

Anyway, I'm just happy for baseball to be back. My withdrawal symptoms during the offseason are not as acute as they once were, but there's still something about the end of the baseball season and the start of winter that takes a little bit of color out of the world. I don't think it's any coincidence that baseball is the only sport whose season starts in the springtime.

I had this elaborate scheme to create fake content for the site for April Fool's Day, but...I kinda ran out of time. So I'll have to save it for next year.

I'm supposed to finally get my new computer at work today. I've got my fingers crossed, but after a full month of not having one, I'm prepared for disappointment. I'm also very aware of the potential irony of the IT guy promising to have my new machine ready on April 1.

You know what? I think this Survivor is not going to suck. I was a little worried after the Africa fiasco that the series had played itself out, but we're approaching the halfway mark of this season and I'm still pretty interested in how things are unfolding. I admit, I'm pretty close to a junkie when it comes to this show, and I'd probably still be watching even if it did suck, but I've been pleasantly surprised at the little twists and turns of this cast. It's still not as good as either of the first two seasons, but it's a thousand times better than the dismal layabouts that populated the Survivor 3 teams.

I don't know where this weekend went. Granted, my plans were a little ambitious—put up the first installment of my long-delayed 9.11 project, get some new reviews written for Plug, clean up the study, install some new shelves, put some finishing touches on the web site at work, archive this site's March entries, links and photos and get the April pages ready, take some new photos for this site, go to the grocery store, go to the Easter Sunday sunrise service, and set the final lineups for my three fantasy baseball teams in anticipation of opening day—but I still thought I'd somehow get it all done.

And I did get a lot of it done. The study is clean, I have two new shelves to store things on, my review of the Moldy Peaches is almost done, the 9.11 site is very, very close to being ready for primetime, we've got our groceries for the next week, my baseball teams are all taken care of, this site is ready for April, the web site for work is ready to be posted tomorrow, and I got up bright and early Sunday morning to go to the Easter sunrise service. But I still feel like I have a lot to do, and I never have the energy during the week to finish things like Plug reviews or the 9.11 site.

But I guess I made some good progress, and I should be thankful for that. Next Monday I should have everything finished. I hope.

In honor of the Sircam worm's recent resurgence, I am adding three more documents to my SirCam page that I received as a result of this virus' mischief. Two are left over from last year, but one I received just a couple of days ago. (The new ones are at the bottom, documents 19, 20, and 21.)

I know it's wrong, but I'm really looking forward to Episode II. God help me, I'm even excited about the Spielberg/Cruise sci-fi collaboration Minority Report.

I did in fact get my new computer yesterday morning bright and early. It didn't have XP on it (the IT guy didn't have time to get an XP image ready and cleared for distribution) or Visual Studio (they ran out of licenses), but otherwise it was fine. I was able to install GoLive and do some final tweaks to the web site I've been working on at home for the past couple of weeks, and tomorrow I'm going to spend a good part of the day ripping CDs to MP3s so I don't have to haul in my CD collection every day (I've got an 80 gig hard drive with nothing on it, because we're supposed to keep all our work files on a network drive where they can be backed up). I also have a couple of meetings with Rob tomorrow, I have to get 40-odd spreadsheets distributed to various department heads, and I need to install Photoshop and do some cleanup on the graphics for the site, so I'm guessing that tomorrow will be just as good as today.

I swear, that was the longest month of my working life ever. It feels like I've been there for years already, even though I hardly know anyone's name.

We should continue this conversation later during the designated break period.

Man, I use the word "actually" a lot. Almost 200 times since I started this site. That's about 12 times a month, or once every five entries or so.

Oh, wait. You don't care, do you?

Aw, hell. I've only been using a Windows PC at work for a couple of days now, and I'm already reaching for the Control key (instead of the Mac's more strategically placed Command key) when I want to use a shortcut key. I mean a keyboard shortcut. I think.

So let's talk about Andy Richter. More specifically, let's talk about his new show, Andy Richter Controls the Universe.

A few weeks ago, it took over the Tuesday night slot that earlier this season belonged to Undeclared, a Judd Apatow show that is almost predestined to be canceled after its initial 17 episodes, seemingly for no other reason than it's brilliant, funny show produced by Judd Apatow (he is also the creator of the Critic (13 episodes, not counting its recent revival on the internet) and Freaks and Geeks (17 episodes), two of my favorite shows of all time).

I had my doubts at first, and I actually like Andy Richter. I thought he did a great job reinventing the sidekick on Conan, and his turn as a mentally challenged deckhand in the underappreciated Cabin Boy (which also features David Letterman's most hilarious two minutes ever in front of a camera) was laugh-out-loud funny. But over the course of the first three episodes, he has slowly won me over. Sure, there are some awkward moments, and the cast of supporting characters still needs to be fleshed out quite a bit (you get the feeling that the network suits had a lot of input on that portion of the show), but it's definitely got potential.

The Osbournes is still far and away the funniest show on tv, though.

I think my incubation period for a Sleater-Kinney record must be a little over a year. After judging them solely on their single "Dance Song '97" from their seminal "Dig Me Out" album, it took me over a year to buy the record. I had a gift card from Blockbuster to spend, and I just felt like trying something new. I fell in love with that disc in a matter of minutes, and although I still think "Dance Song" is one of their worst, the rest of the record more than makes up for that one little stumble.

By the time their next record, "The Hot Rock", came out in early 1999, I was thoroughly obsessed with them, so much so that I bought the CD single that came out a month before the record just so I could have access to three new songs. But when I bought the full album, I was disappointed with it; there were a few decent tracks on it, but nothing really got to me the way the songs on "Dig" did. After a few listens, I filed the record away in my collection, thinking that it would be a long time before I listened to it again.

And it was. But by the time I did take it out again, "The Hot Rock" suddenly sounded beautiful and perfect, and I couldn't stop listening to it. Before long, I had come to the conclusion that not only was it equal to its predecessor, it actually far surpassed it (a conviction I still hold today; "The Hot Rock" may well be the best rock record of the 90s). Lucky for me, this epiphany happened right before they released their next record, 2000's "All Hands on the Bad One", so I was again practically drooling in anticipation of this new release.

But just as before, I was disappointed. The songs just seemed flat and too clever for their own good, and the intertwining guitar parts that had made their previous two albums so compelling just didn't pack the same punch. I wrote it off, thinking that no band could sustain that kind of brilliance for three straight discs, and quickly returned to "The Hot Rock" whenever I needed a fix.

A couple of days ago, however, I loaded "All Hands" into my CD player on a whim, and I haven't taken it out since. I think back to the album I thought this was a year and a half ago, and I can't for the life of me figure out what I didn't like about it. I still don't think it's as good as "Hot Rock" or "Dig", but it definitely deserves its place in the Sleater-Kinney discography, if not the larger rock canon. And what do you know? They are slated to release their next album later this year.

So I guess I should ask: are they so brilliant that they're consistently a year ahead of their time, or am I just slow?

I do not care for the recent Butters-centric focus on South Park. I want Kenny back, damn it.

I know the season is only 3 days old, but I am kicking ass in my roto leagues and I need to gloat while I can.

There is nothing scarier than opening a magazine and being assaulted by a full page of the new "Got Milk?" ad featuring Aerosmith's Steven Tyler. If you've seen it, you know exactly what I'm talking about. If you haven't, do yourself a favor and just don't read any magazines for the next month or so.

Despite the slow start, this might not turn out to be such a bad year for music. In addition to the new records from ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead and the Eels that have come out in the last couple of weeks, the next month or so will see the release of Wilco's long-overdue "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot", Cornershop's much-anticipated follow-up to their breakthrough "When I Was Born for the 7th Time", an album of leftovers from Steve Earle, a new Melvins disc, Gomez's first new studio album since 1999, Weezer's open-source "Maladroit", and a solo disc from Modest Mouse's Isaac Brock (released under the name Ugly Casanova).

And we should soon see new work from Liz Phair, Sleater-Kinney, Beth Orton, the Melvins, Fiona Apple, the Breeders, Badly Drawn Boy, the Flaming Lips, Sigur Ros, and Tom Waits, among others.

It's a good thing I finally found a job.

I don't even know the names of half the people in my office yet, but yesterday morning when I came into work, EVERYONE knew it was my birthday. It was a little creepy. Especially because I hadn't told anyone; I've never been real fond of office birthday parties, even when it was with a group of people that I knew pretty well and felt comfortable around. I guess someone must have pulled it from my employee info.

I mean, I appreciate the sentiment and everything. It was just a little disconcerting.

We didn't really do a whole lot for my birthday—it was actually a pretty ordinary Thursday, which is fine by me. We stopped by Wal-Mart on the way home, where I was able to pick up an Episode II preview figure of an R2-like droid (I can't help myself—I love those dumb little toys) and a set of replacement blades for my electric razor that I should have gotten about six months ago. When we got home, Julie gave me the Larry Sanders Show first season DVD, and we went out and got chinese food for dinner. For dessert, Julie went out to McDonald's and got a couple of apple pies and a sundae—I haven't had either of those in years, and they were both pretty good, but the apple pies have changed. They aren't deep-fried anymore—they looked like they wre baked and they had some sort of cinnamon sugar sprinkled on them.

Julie does have some things planned for Saturday, I think, so I've got that to look forward to. But really, I would have been perfectly happy if the celebration was limited to the chinese food and the DVD set.

I hate losing an hour for daylight savings time. But at least I'm not insane about it like the time freaks in Indiana and Arizona.

To complete my birthday celebration, Julie took me out to see Ice Age and then to dinner on Saturday night. We were thinking about going to see an Orioles game on Friday night but I couldn't make up my mind in time to get the tickets. Luckily, I didn't miss a no-hitter again. Although I came close—Boston's Derek Lowe had a no-hitter going through the 7th.

Ice Age wasn't too bad, but I'd have to say that, despite a couple of small innovations, it is probably the weakest of all the 3D animated films released to date. It stole a lot from earlier 3D efforts (especially the two most recent, Shrek and Monsters, Inc.), and there was hardly a joke or plot twist that wasn't taken from some earlier form of animation, be it 3D films, the classic Disney features, or the shorts that have been popular since Steamboat Willie. The virtual set design was obviously influeced a lot by the Pink Panther and Roadrunner animated shorts of the 60s, which gave the film an interesting texture. As usual, the animated humans were the most clumsy aspect of the film, although the water effects used to animate the turbulent surface of a lake were probably the most realistic effects of that kind that I have seen to date.

For dinner we went to the Melting Pot, a franchise fondue place that we've been going to since we were in high school. We usually only go about once a year, although you're so full by the time you leave that once a year is enough. The basic premise is that you select a cheese fondue appetizer (we always get the swiss with kirschwasser) with bread and apples for dipping, a salad, a style of fondue (a lighter broth-based version or traditional oil) and a selection of meats, vegetables, and sauces, and finally a chocolate-based fondue dessert served with pound cake, bananas, strawberries, and marshmallows.

When you see the plates of raw meat and vegetables that they bring you to cook for your dinner, you always think that you're going to finish it quickly and still be hungry, but that is never the case. Usually you can barely finish the selection of meats and mushrooms, much less the supporting vegetables, and by the time dessert comes, you don't feel like you can eat another bite.

But you always do, because dessert is so good. This time we tried chocolate and whipped marshmallows with oreos crumbled on top, and by the time we finished, I didn't think I would want to eat again for a couple of days.

It was a good day, and a nice way to extend the somewhat limited birthday activities on Thursday night.

Take it one day at a time, like the drunks do.

The hard drive on my new computer at work has a spacious 80 gigs of space available for my programs and files. But the IT staff wants us to store all of our work on a network server, even though with only 20 gigs left out of a maximum of 403, the machine is dangerously close to overload (generally you are supposed to leave at least 10% of your disk free for scratch space; the network drive is down to about 5%). So I decided to take advantage of all the free space I have by ripping my CDs to MP3s that I can listen to while I'm working. I try to do about three or four CDs a day; so far I've loaded about 20 onto my drive, which I load into Winamp and put on random play.

In the early stages of loading these CDs onto my drive, I had limited choices. For whatever reason, the Avalanches "Since I Left You" and Sigur Ros' "Agaetis Byrjun" were two of the first CDs that I loaded, and listening to their songs intermixed with each other really gave me a new perspective on each of these discs. I had been kind of lukewarm about both of these albums before this; the Sigur Rios was a little too ethereal in some places, while the Avalanches drifted over into cliched dance music a few times too often for my comfort. They are both very texture-based artists, although the textures that they choose to work with are radically different, and I think it's that approach that makes them compliment each other so well.

The Avalanches' music is a thick stew of drum, vocal, and instrumental samples, often relying on a single line to form the core of each song. Listening to the album straight through, it is hard to tell where one song stops and another starts; it's a 60 minute opus that drifts from one swirling eddy of sound to another and back again. Sigur Ros' disc is similarly structured, although it is a little easier to find the breaks between songs. It is a cold, distant, atmospheric record that is actually surprisingly warm and intimate when you get into it, and the icelandic vocals somehow add to its otherworldliness.

Somehow listening to these two intertwined with each other let me hear something new in each of them that I had missed when listening to them on their own, and it's been hard to get them out of my head, especially the Sigur Ros, which is quickly becoming one of my favorites. The approach that each group takes to structuring and layering their songs is very similar, although the end result is radically different.

I don't know exactly what I was trying to say here. I just think it's cool when the universe gives me a new and unexpected view into things and lets me see symmetries and interlocks where before I had only seen discontinuity.

Julie's gift to me on my birthday was the DVD set of the entire first season of the Larry Sanders Show. I have always been a peripheral fan; I really like the episodes I've seen, but my viewings have been limited to only 20 episodes or so because of my reluctance to pay the premium fees you need for HBO's programming.

And man, this is still a really great show. If it was on today with the exact same scripts (modified only to reference the current generation of Hollywood's mid-level stars), I think it would still be hailed as fresh and brilliant and perfect. From what I can tell, this season was made in 1992, but it's still funny and relevant and true 10 years later. The entire cast is dead-on with their characters, and the writing is as good as anything that's ever been aired on the small screen. In a lot of ways, it reminds me of the best parts of NYPD Blue; a single look or a glance exchanged between two of the characters can say more about them than 20 pages of dialogue. And even though it's a behind-the-scenes look at the world of talk shows, which you think would get dated pretty quickly, it's still incredibly believable; it hasn't lost any of its vibrancy.

Anyway, if you ever watched this show and liked it, I would recommend picking up this DVD set as soon as possible; it will make you remember why you loved the show so much all those years ago. The Osbournes is the only thing that I can think of that compares to Larry Sanders in terms of making comedy out of the real lives of famous people. But Larry Sanders has a lot more depth and nuance, and it somehow seems even more real than the Real World-style documenting of Ozzy's home life.

Mmmm...recirculated air.

You'd have thought something interesting would have happened by this point in the week, wouldn't you?

When I'm tired, all I want to do when I'm writing is transcribe the various song lyrics floating around in my head. A few samples:

Don't you know that the dirt is on fire down here?

Under the rocks are snails
And we can fill our pockets
And let them go one by one all day
In a brand new place

So long to this cold, cold part of the world

I like it right here but I cannot stay

Last night I heard footsteps walking on the attic floor

I never said that I would quit

Everything was closed at Coney Island
And I could not help from smiling
Brooklyn will fill the beach eventually

I'm quite happy burning flies

My building has every convenience

[Indeciperable icelandic words]

Everybody lives in a knot

Have fun figuring out where those came from.

Yesterday Scott sent me a link to a story about the recent series of ads that walk us through the last 30 or 40 years of pop culture, which I wrote about last month. Actually, he didn't exactly send me a link; rather, he clipped an article out of the newspaper, looked up my name on the university web site, and mailed it to me at work. When I finally received it (it had already been opened and had been drifting around the mailroom for a few days at that point), I figured out the news organization that wrote the story, looked them up on the web, and found the article online in less than five minutes.

But I guess not everyone is as dependent on the web as I am.

Anyway. The article is fairly interesting, although it takes a little bit too much of a pro-corporate-marketing approach for my taste. I still think it's pretty pathetic that all of these high-priced ad agencies can't come up with something more original than this stupid "our brand through the ages" kind of thing, and it's especially embarrassing when they all decide to do it at once.

The main thing I got out of the article, however, is that I'm not crazy for noticing these things. Someone is actually making a living writing about this stuff.

I have some good stuff I'd like to write about my coworkers, but I've learned from other weblogs that this is probably a bad idea, especially because I'm working at a big, bureacratic place where the gossip travels like wildfire and where any one of my office mates could discover this site at any time (although I don't think that any of them are aware of it as of now). So I guess I'll just have to keep it to myself.

Don't think I'm not tempted, though. You don't stumble across content like this every day.

Greg the Bunny should be funnier than it actually is. But I guess that's karmic payback for stealing so openly from Robert Smigel's brilliant (but currently missing-in-action) TV Funhouse.

This year I decided to compete in three different fantasy baseball leagues. One of them is an online service with an entry fee that I have played for the last several years. I have only won money from it once, but I really like the format, so I'm willing to pony up the relatively modest $40 fee for the season. It is an all-star league, which means that everyone has access to the same pool of players and is limited by the same salary cap (in theory, everyone could have the exact same team), so it's very, very competitive. I'm usually happy if I finish in the top 10 in my league of 25 teams.

The other two leagues are through Yahoo!'s free fantasy baseball service, both of which use a rotisserie style of play. The first league I joined was a 12 team league with a guy from work and his friends. I wasn't that enthusiastic about it, but I figured it would be fun to try that style of play, especially against some people that I would have some contact with (in the all-star league, you're usually competing against total strangers, and there's no mesage board for trash talking).

The league I'm really into, though, is the one that almost didn't happen. When Scott read about me joining these first two leagues, he sent me an email saying that if he had known I played, we could have set up a league on Yahoo! together, since he usually plays in a few leagues, too. That got me thinking, and I checked and found out that if I did it quickly, I might still have time to put together a league where Scott and I could compete.

The biggest problem was finding a decent number of owners in the few days that we had left before the season started. First I tried CS Jeff and Doug, who are both pretty big baseball fans (Cubs and Mets, respectively—incidentally, Scott is a Red Sox supporter and I root for the Braves). They both said they were interested, so that gave us four. Then Jeff asked his brother Mark, and I asked my brother Dodd and my dad, all of whom said they were game. That gave us seven, which was good enough (although I would have preferred between ten and twelve).

I then set up a private league on Yahoo! and sent out the password to everyone. We all had a couple of days to do our pre-ranking of players for the draft, and once everybody was set, I ran the autodraft just in time for the start of the season. We play with pretty standard rules—one offensive slot for each of the eight fielding positions besides the picther and one utility slot, four starting pitchers, two relievers, and one general purpose pitching position, plus a bench of seven players of any stripe who can be used to sub for your main team. We are allowed to update our team every day, and trades and waiver pickups have a 2 day waiting period.

I stuck to the basic roto stat categories, plus one bonus category for each major type of stat (offense and pitching). Our offensive categories are Runs Scored (R), Runs Batted In (RBI), Home Runs (HR), Stolen Bases (SB), and Batting Average (BA). My bonus category was On-base Plus Slugging percentage (OPS), which I have always liked because it takes into account walks and extra base hits (among other things). For pitching, we have Wins (W), Saves (S), Strikeouts (K), Earned Run Average (ERA), and Walks plus Hits over Innings Pitched (WHIP). The bonus category here is Strikeouts to Walks ratio (K/BB), which is a good measure of a pitcher's control in my opinion.

Knowing everyone in the league has made me ultracompetitive: I don't want to lose to anyone. Second place just isn't good enough; I have to beat Scott, I have to beat Jeff, I have to beat Doug, and I have to beat my dad, my brother, and Jeff's brother (although if I could only beat one person, it would be Scott, since he is very good at fantasy baseball and I know he's as obsessed with it as I am). So far I've been pretty lucky; my draft strategy of taking pitchers first has really paid off, and my offensive numbers haven't been too bad either. I've been in first place for most of the season, and I've never been lower than second place so far. I know it's early, but I'm hoping that if I stay on top of things, I can have a real chance at doing well.

So that's what the new sidebar on the left is: The Reef is the name of the league (in honor of this site, since most of these people read brain coral), the number in the title is the date on which the rankings were recorded, and the rankings are the name of the team followed by the name of the owner. The final number is the current point total of each team, out of a possible maximum of 84 points. I will probably only update it once a week or so, because keep track of the day-to-day fluctuations would be too time consuming.

I don't know if this is going to interest anyone besides the people who are actually in the league, but I like seeing it up there. Especially when I'm in first place.

I'm starting to think maybe Survivor should just plan to shoot every season somewhere in the south pacific from now on. That environment really seems to bring out the worst in people.

I've been using a Windows-based operating system on my primary machine at work for a couple of weeks now, the first time Windows has been my work OS since I left Michie in 1996. And you know what? Things aren't that much different now than they were back then.

Windows 2000 Professional (the system we currently use) is officially several major upgrades from Windows 95, but you can't tell it from the interface. Since Windows 95, Microsoft has released Windows NT 4, Windows 98, Windows 98 Second Edition, Windows ME, Windows 2000, and now Windows XP—and those are just the ones I know of for sure; there could easily be a couple more that I've missed, and this doesn't even begin to include the countless service packs and security patches that have been released on an almost daily basis. Despite years of supposed overhauls, very few of the annoying desktop behaviors have been fixed, and the user environment is still just as difficult to customize as ever.

For instance, I have a 17-inch flat screen monitor, and yet most of the grahics for Windows are still done in 256 colors or fewer, so I have to look at crappy pixelated gradients that look like they were designed circa 1992 (which they probably were). I have a brand new optical mouse, but the tracking is still just as unpredictable and frustrating as it was seven years ago when I had a cruddy roller mouse that had never been cleaned before I inheirited it. In spite of superfast processors and disk drives, a huge amount of RAM, and top of the line peripherals, my new computer's performance and UI reminds me an awful lot of the 60 MHz 486 that I used seven years ago.

I just don't get it. I feel the same way now that I did almost a decade ago: the more I use Windows, the more baffled I am that it, and not the elegant and user friendly Mac OS, is the dominant operating system on the planet. My daily experiences with Windows make it perfectly clear why most people don't like their computers. Who would like a device that has random, hard-to-fix failures, is constantly doing things you don't want it to (like launching Windows Media Player every time you insert a CD, something that you apparently cannot disable no matter how many control panels and options menus you poke through), and seems to be working against your goals as often as it helps you to acheive them.

I know that you non-Mac users think that we Apple supporters are almost cult-like in our fanatacism about our OS of choice, but I swear, if everyone could sit down with a Mac for three months, Microsoft would be nothing more than another software developer within a matter of a few years. The Mac OS is simply better than Windows. I'm reminded of the cricket bat speech from Tom Stoppard's play "The Real Thing". It goes something like (and I'm paraphrasing big time here), "A cricket bat isn't better than a stick for hitting a ball because of my bias, it's better because it's better."

Stoppard was using this metaphor to explore the difference between good and bad writing, but it can be just as easily applied to operating systems and software. And given the popularity of crap like "Who Moved My Cheese?" and the seemingly unending spew of garbage from writers like John Grisham and Danielle Steel, I guess I shouldn't be too surprised that the same people who keep those writers at the top of the best seller lists are perfectly happy to help keep Windows at the top of the OS heap.


If you haven't already paid your taxes by now...well, you're probably screwed. Unless you're a huge corporation with hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue. Then your accountants have already figured out how to keep you from having to pay any taxes at all.

But, as for the rest of us...we're just screwed, whether we remembered to send in our returns or not. Happy 15th!

Dodd came to visit this weekend, we went out to dinner with Angie and Greg on Saturday night, and I got a new digital camera so I can take higher resolution pictures for the daily photo feature (which I'll start doing tomorrow, so no new pictures until then), but I don't have the energy to go into detail about any of that stuff right now. After finishing up two essays for my 9.11 project (which is posted and which will be officially launched tomorrow after one last round of review from some of the participants) and cleaning up a couple of pieces for the Borges project for Tom, I'm all written out for today. See you back here tomorrow.

The ability to cut ahead in line is what separates us from the animals.

The Bachelor might actually be worse than Temptation Island or Who Wants to Marry a Multi-Millionaire (the latter of which was developed by the same producer behind The Bachelor). So of course I'm watching it.

The 9.11 project I've been working on is finally ready for primetime. You can visit it at:


I'm pretty happy with the results, especially given how difficult it was to get everything to come together. That's been one of the big reasons there hasn't been much content here recently, but all that should change now that this site is finally up and running.

Scott pointed out this quote from the story about the pesticide that was giving frogs multiple sex organs on CNN.com:

I'm not saying it's safe for humans. I'm not saying its unsafe for humans. All I'm saying is it that it makes hermaphrodites of frogs.

And all I'm saying is that it would probably be a good idea to keep this stuff as far away from yourself as possible. Unless you're into that sort of thing.

I made this today, for no particular reason. I'm just looking for ways to keep my JavaScript skills sharp while I wait to start an actual project at work. The title, "pattern against user", is stolen from an At the Drive-In song title, for no other reason than it sounds really cool. If you discover/create any interesting results, send me a screenshot.

p.s. - The HTML file is pretty big, so if you have a slow connection, it might be a little bit of a wait. Also, if you click on "Randomize All" or on one of the swatches in the "Change all" palette, it will seem like nothing is happening for a while. Give it some time, though—it will work eventually.

Cold cuts are not raw. They're just cold.

Earlier this week I mowed the lawn for the first time this year. There's nothing more to tell, really. I just wanted to note that for the record.

Back in high school, the Smiths were far and away my favorite band, and I still revisit their discs with some frequency. They are easily one of the most underrated bands ever (in America, at least), and I think that if they were to release the same music today as a new act, it would be as fresh and new as it was back when they started their all-too-short run in 1984. Among the 80s alt/college music crowd, the hope of a Morrissey/Marr reunion in the years following the Smiths' breakup in 1988 had the same sort of holy grail quality as the possibility of David Lee Roth rejoining Van Halen did for the heavy metal crowd.

So I was pleased to see that the Smiths recently beat out the Beatles and were named the most important rock group of the last 50 years by NME (props to Scott for the link). I don't actually happen to agree with that, as much as I love their music (and no, it's not Modest Mouse either—the impact that early groups like the Beatles and the Stones had is far-reaching and ongoing, and the Smiths' legacy obviously pales in comparison, even in England's quirkier musical canon). But it's cool that people still remember them.

Tom says he saw a beer ad recently featuring the opening few bars of Modest Mouse's "Gravity Rides Everything". I don't know how I feel about this. I guess I'm glad they're getting some cash, but I'm disappointed they went for something as empty as a beer ad (as opposed to, say, one of the more stylish Volkswagon ads that have featured everyone from The Roots to Stereolab). Given their reputation, though, it's likely that they actually use the product that they are implicitly endorsing.

At least they aren't whoring for McDonald's, like the Shins. Who am I to judge, though? Maybe the guys in the Shins really like McDonald's.

I just saw this on tv while I was writing today's entries: a rather slow-looking guy is holding a walkabout in his hand, while a disembodied voice asks: "I'm talking, can you hear me?". The slow guy then starts to nod his head, seemingly oblivious to the fact that the other person can't see him.

Maybe you had to be there. But I thought it was really funny.

I spent six hours at the airport yesterday greeting students arriving for today's open house event. In addition to finishing a few dozen more pages of "Dawn to Decadence", I saw many interesting things. Some highlights:
  • The most strange and wonderful thing I saw was the mentally handicapped girl working at a fast food restaurant, happily singing along with Lionel Ritchie's "Three Times a Lady" while she wiped down the tables. She reminded me of my cousin Kelly, who has Down's Syndrome, and she smiled and said hello to everyone she passed just like Kelly does.

  • I realized yesterday that it was the first time I'd been in an airport since the 9.11 attacks. I should have been ready for it, but it was very disconcerting to come around a corner and see two national guardsmen with their fingers milimeters from the triggers of their M-16s.

  • I spend a lot of time reading in one of the smaller lounges there. What was disturbing was that in the first hour and a half I was there, no fewer than 20 airport employees, from security personnel to janitors, came in and took 10 to 30 minute naps on the couches. Maybe it's just me, but I have a hard time believing that you're functioning at your peak if you're so tired that you are willing to take a nap on the job in a public place where your supervisor could stumble across you at any moment.

  • I hate cell phones. I hate them in movie theaters, I hate seeing people using them while they are driving, and I hate the annoying ring tones that cell phone users seem to find so endlessly fascinating. Being in the airport gave me a chance to see the next wave in cell phone gadgets, since almost every business traveller had one clipped to his waist or glued to his ear. The latest thing seemed to be an over-the-ear headset where the microphone was just a little nodule on the wire that hung a few inches down from the earpiece. The guys wearing these seemed to have the smallest phones, the nicest watches, and the smuggest (most smug?) expressions.

Anyway. It was a pretty boring day, but next time I get drafted to help out with something like this, I'll remember to bring my notebook with me.

I reworked pattern against user a little bit, making the underlying code more efficient and adding a "Really Random" option the triggers a random switch of any block on the screen whenever you roll over any block on the screen. I don't know that it will run any faster when you click on the "Randomize All" or "Change all" options, but the page is about 20k smaller than it used to be.

Damn it. Damn it, damn it, damn it. I forgot to check my pitching lineup yesterday, and too late I realized that I had two starters pitching whose stats I won't get credit for. Neither of them got wins, but their K, ERA, WHIP, and K/BB stats would have definitely helped me out. Scott overtook me in the K and W columns thanks to his pitchers, but I should hopefully be able to keep first place anyway. I just hope this doesn't come back to haunt me later in the season.

Damn it.

My brother Dodd came to visit last weekend. He got here late on Friday night, several hours behind schedule (he is one of the late ones, along with his mother; dad, Tori, and I tend to be the punctual ones), so we didn't really do anything Friday night.

On Saturday we had planned to go to the annual Kinetic Sculpture Race sponsored by the American Visionary Art Museum, which meant that everyone needed to be awake, showered, and fed by 9:30 or so. Julie and I got up on time, of course, but despite trying to rouse Dodd several times between 8:30 and 9:30, he just wouldn't get up. So instead of getting annoyed by it, I decided to just let him sleep and work on some projects around the house.

Dodd finally got up around 11:30 or so, and after a quick breakfast of pop tarts, he got his shower so that we could go to lunch. After lunch we ran a few errands before heading home, where Dodd spent most of the day playing the Star Wars game on the GameCube. Later that evening, after dinner, we went up to the video store to see if we could rent a two-player game, but they didn't have any fighting games. We settled on one of the baseball titles, but it wasn't very good—it was way too obsessed with accuracy, which meant that the games were extremely low-scoring and hitting was a matter of luck more than anything else. I'm all for low-scoring games when I'm watching a real baseball game, but when I'm playing a video game, I'd rather have it be fun than realistic.

Dodd stayed up later than us again on Saturday night, playing the GameCube and watching tv, and we barely got him up in time to have lunch with him before he headed back down to Wilmington. It was a short visit, but I'm glad he came—despite me constantly reaching out to him over the years, Dodd has never really opened up to me and bonded with me the way Tori has. Even if we never become as close as Tori and I are, I would still like to have a closer relationship with Dodd, and the more time we spend together, the better chance there is of that happening. And I think it was good for him to get away and just relax for a weekend without having to think about work or going back to school or any of the other things that have been stressing him out. Hopefully he'll come back again this summer some time.

I'm sure you'll all be relieved to know that despite a one day lead by Scott in The Reef (which I have to admit he would have likely had anyway despite my screwup with my pitchers last week), I am again back in the first position. Granted, it's just by a point, but that margin will hopefully increase by the time you read this, thanks in large part to a 17 K game by Randy Johnson yesterday.

I know you don't care (unless you're Scott, that is). But indulge me this little obsession.

There is a new essay up on when the walls fell. I think this project is going to turn out pretty well, although it will all depend on how many people get their essays to me on time.

With the money that people sent me for my birthday, I finally took the plunge and bought a new digital still camera. Up until now, all of the photos that I have posted on this site have been taken with a mini-DV digital video camera that could only shoot still images at a resolution of 640 x 480, and not shoot them very well at that. That's why I had to go for the 320 x 240 image size for the pictures so far.

All that is going to change now. After a lot of research and price comparisions, I settled on the Kodak 3900 DX, the first 3+ megapixel addition to their EasyShare lineup and far and away the cheapest 3 megapixel camera around. And because I got it at Sam's Club, it included the camera dock, a proprietary battery pack (although it can use several different power sources, another factor that appealed to me), and a memory card for less than the price that most retail stores charge for just the camera. And for another $50, I got a 128 meg CompactFlash card, which means that I can shoot around 130 pictures at the highest resolution without having to recharge the battery or transfer images off of the memory card.

I went back and populated last week in the archives with some pictures I took with this camera, and starting with those the daily photo will now be displayed at a comparatively whopping 640 x 427 image size. The quality is so good that I may even bump that up eventually (the camera shoots at some ungodly resolution—better than 2000 x 1600, although I don't know the exact number offhand). And starting today, I am going to begin a photography experiment, where I take a picture from a certain viewpoint on campus and then take a picture from that same vantage point once a week so that I can see how things change from week to week. I am going to try to do this for a year, but we'll see how long I actually stay interested in it.

Oops. Even though I updated the actual files, I fogot to upload them to the when the walls fell site yesterday. So they're there now. Go have a look.

Ugh. Even if I was going to write about work on this site, I still wouldn't have any content, because I'M STILL NOT DOING ANYTHING.

That's not completely true. Every day or so someone will come by with a needlessly complicated data request that will let me kill half a day writing a SQL query (it takes so long mostly because I don't know the database that well yet—the documentation is pretty sketchy and the one guy who knows it really well, my supervisor, is only in the office for about 3 hours a week—and also because I want it to take that long), and I'm spending a lot of time tweaking little things with the web site. But considering that we're supposed to start a full-scale development cycle using .NET technologies and a new database built especially for eduational markets in June, and I have neither the software nor reference materials that I need to start learning this stuff, it's pretty frustrating to be sitting around all day when I know that every hour I'm not working now is another hour of overtime this summer.

By the way, despite my general dislike of all things Microsoft, I think .NET has a lot of potential. I would like it even more if I could ignore the fact that I know Microsoft is going to twist it into something evil and monopolistic. They just can't help themselves.

My officemate uses the I-Ching to predict the stock markets, Bush's future approval ratings, and the health of important personages such as the Pope and Alan Greenspan. Now, I have a real interest in the I-Ching and I'm curious to hear about someone else's experiences with it (although I would use it as more of a meditative tool for personal decision-making, not some sort of faux-prophetic device like the Zodiac or Tarot cards), so I don't actually happen to think this is as weird as it might sound at first.

But it is a little weird.

Alright. I admit it. I am a Star Wars nut. I am not on the level of the of the oft-derided fanboys—I'm not going to start waiting in line weeks before the next movie is released, I don't read the novels set in the Star Wars universe, and none of my screen names are based on Star Wars characters' names—but I think I'm probably a bigger fan than the average person. My decision to buy a GameCube over one of the other consoles was based largely on the desire for the Star Wars: Rogue Leader game that is only available on GameCube, I do plan on seeing Episode II the first day it comes out, and I can spend a while arguing that Episode I was not a bad movie (even though it was in a lot of ways—but not nearly as bad as people make it out to be).

And, yes, I like to collect the action figures. I'm not one of the must-keep-it-mint-in-box collectors who handles the still-sealed boxes with a pair of rubber-coated tongs—I actually take my figures out of their boxes—but in 1999, when the toys for Episode I went on sale at midnight in Toys R Us stores across the country, Julie and went to the Gaithersburg store and waited in line for two hours so that I could have a full compliment of new figures to put on my desk at work the next day. I probably would have done the same thing again this year if any of the stores near us (there are about 4 within a half hour of here) had been participating in the midnight openings, but luckily the closest store was in Fairfax, which is just a little too far to go to get some toys a few hours before everyone else.

But I was still eager enough to see (and own) the figures from the new movie that I did stop by Toys R Us and Wal-Mart on the way home from work. The good thing is that the new figures are $2 cheaper than they were three years ago, and they also include a lot of cool extras (probably because they weren't spending all that money on those stupid, cheap-souding Comm Tech chips that were included with all the Episode I figures). At the Toys R Us I picked up the ones I really wanted, including new characters like Jango and Boba Fett (Boba is only a child in this movie), updates from the last movie like Obi Wan and Padme, and old standbys C-3PO (whose base figure is the skeletal wireframe of Episode I with snap-on panels that give him a rought version of his well-known outer casing) and an electronic R2-D2 (I swear, I must own 10 or so versions of this duo).

While collecting my loot at the Toys R Us, I also got some helpful tips from rabid collector (believe it or not, I don't even come close to belonging to that category) who looked like he had hit about 20 stores that day. He told me which stores had the best prices (Toys R Us and Wal-Mart), which were the most expensive (Target and K-Mart, running at least $1 more per figure than the average price of $6), and which figures were hardest to find (in case you care, they are: Count Dooku (aka Darth Tyranus), the Royal Guard, jedi master Luminara, Yoda, the Clonetrooper, Qui-Gon, Taun We, and shapeshifting bounty hunter Zam Wesell). After not locating any of these harder-to-find figures at Toys R Us, I also stopped at Wal-Mart, where I found a lone Taun We and bought Julie several packets of flower seeds and a big bag of potting soil as thanks for her patience with me.

I have no capacity to judge how weird this might seem to anyone else. I'm sure that part of the reason I like to buy the Star Wars toys has to do with the fact that the Star Wars action figures and Hot Wheels cars were the center of my universe as a kid—but there's more to it than simple nostalgia. All I know is that I think the figures are really cool, and they are part and parcel of my love for the Star Wars movies.

Finally, a new Plug review. This week, it's the Moldy Peaches self-titled debut album. I've got several other half-written reviews, so hopefully I'll be able to have a semi-regular publication schedule for the next couple of months.

Out of the five CDs that I have purchased recently—Gomez's "In Our Gun", Steve Earle's "Sidetracks", Cornershop's "Handcream for a Generation", Wilco's "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot", and Elvis Costello's "When I Was Cruel"—the Cornershop disc has made the best first impression.

And I'm as surprised as anyone. It was actually ranking pretty low in terms of my expectations for this batch of discs, mostly because I have been fans of most of the other artists for longer. I have been looking forward to the new Wilco record for over a year now, and although I know I'll grow to love it, it's just going to take some time, and I'm probably not quite in the right mood to appreciate it fully. Gomez is another group that I usually enjoy, but I still can't decide if I like this new album or not—it sounds like they're losing their direction a little bit, and they're not quite sure where to go next. Steve Earle's effort is a collection of leftovers from various projects, so it's not surprising that there are a few weak moments scattered throughout. And I'm almost ashamed to say this, but this is the first Elvis Costello album I've ever owned, and although I like it, I'm still trying to get into the swing of the Costello universe.

Don't get me wrong—I really liked the last Cornershop disc, "When I Was Born for the 7th Time", even though it drifted dangerously close to esoterica at times—but based on my history with and knowledge of each of these artists, I thought their new album would be the record that would be the one that would be back-burnered the fastest while I explored the other more compelling CDs.

There's no telling where it will rank eventually, but for right now, for the mood I'm in, it's sounding really good.

Another week gone by, and still no progress at work in terms of getting training or even a basic understanding of what I'm supposed to working on this summer. Instead, I spent the week doing further refinements to the web site, things like cleaning up the sloppily produced graphics and bringing the pages up to basic W3C compliance.

We were actually supposed to be building a test application by now, but instead we don't even have access to an IIS server with the .NET framework installed, much less the tools and reference materials to build anything on it. And my supervisor cancelled his weekly meeting with us for the second week in a row. Not counting the Tuesday morning meeting that we both attend, I saw him for maybe five minutes this week. I'd venture to say that I spent more time with him during my two interviews for this job than I have in the two months since I started working here.

Very frustrating...

Mmmm...corporate synergy.

In order to rev the hype machine for Episode II into high gear, Fox is going to play three of the earlier Star Wars movies each Thursday night. They started with The Empire Strikes Back last night, next week they will air Return of the Jedi, and two weeks from now they will show Episode I, exactly one week before Episode II is due to hit theaters. I watched parts of Empire last night (the first two hours were intermixed with watching this week's episode of Survivor and with the finale of The Bachelor), and god, it is a great movie. I really wish they would hurry up and release the first three Star Wars flicks on DVD.

I also picked up a couple more action figures last night, and from the short paragraph of text that appears on the back of the package, I am slowly beginning to piece together some key plot points of the movie (I know, I know, I could to any of a half dozen sites and read the whole script, but I like leaving it somewhat of a mystery). I guess I should put in a warning in here about SPOILERS, but if you've read this far, you probably already know most of this anyway.

One of the new figures I picked up was a Clonetrooper, and the first thing I noticed was the similarity between his helmet and the mask worn by Jango and Boba Fett. The rumor is that Boba himself is a clone of Jango, given to Jango as a gift by the emperor, and that the entire clone army is based on Jango's DNA. So the similarity between the helmets would help to reinforce that theory.

Another interesting detail was that the Anakin figure from the hangar duel with Count Dooku/Darth Tyrnanus is carrying two lightsabers, lending credence to the rumor that Obi Wan is hurt during this fight and Anakin ends up wielding both his own and Obi Wan's lightsabers against the rogue jedi Count Dooku. What's more interesting, however, is that Anakin's right hand detaches, which according to the package text is supposed "to re-enact [a] battle wound". And if you'll remember, Luke loses his right hand in his battle with Vader in Cloud City, so it would make perfect sense for Anakin's first major injury to be one similar to the wound he would give his own son many years later.

Please please please let this movie be good. I'm so ready to go see it 15 times.

A monkey doesn't need pills to get ramped up for hot monkey sex.

This week's addition to the when the walls fell site is now up. The new essay is by my friend Sam, who was actually living in Africa at the time of the 9.11 attacks, and the cultural differences are staggering. One thing that I remember about the days immediately following the attacks was the feeling of comfort that I got from just looking around at my neighbors, my coworkers, and even strangers on the street and realizing that we were all Americans, and we were all in this toghether. This feeling of kinship was almost entirely absent from Sam's own experience with 9.11, since he and his girlfriend were the only Americans in a tiny village in the middle of nowhere. Sam really has a unique perspective on the events, and I strongly encourage you to read his essay and spread the word about this site.

We went geocaching this weekend for the first time since January, but I'm too tired to write anymore about it now. Maybe tomorrow.

My dad's roto team, the Aaardvarks (the misspelling is intentional—he thought it would give him a higher ranking in the draft), is driving me crazy. I mean, I'm not in any immediate danger from him catching up to me or anything, but he never pays attention to his team (no trades, player pickups, or even basic player shifts—he has had two pitchers on the DL for a couple of weeks now and he doesn't even seem to notice) and yet he consistently ranks ahead of Doug and CS Jeff, both of whom know ten times as much about baseball as he does and both of whom regularly attempt to improve their teams. I'd hate to see what he could do if he was actually trying.

Thanks for the birthday card, CS Jeff. It was...disturbing. You haven't started taking your meds with gin again, have you?

I can't find an image of the card anywhere on the web, so I'll describe it for you: on the front, there is a glamor shot of one of the N'Sync punks, along with a stylized logo leftover from the 80s and an embossed silver signature. On the back, there is a small group photo, along with an N'Sync Fun Fact:

Chris found his calling during his junior year of high school when he landed the lead in the school's production of "Oliver".

Possibly the scariest thing about the card was the small type on the back: #12 in a Series of 35.

Giddy up now...
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