may 2002

Hmmm...what a crappy way to start a month. Maybe something interesting will happen by tomorrow.

Haven't they replaced you with a coin-operated machine yet?

I'm in a ranting kind of mood, so let me get a couple of things off my chest that have been percolating for a while.

Let's start with my "If-I-Was-President" rant: If I was president, the first thing I would do is move the US to the metric system. No committees, no debates, no long, drawn-out process. Within six months, all signs and labels would be converted to split metric/english notation, with the metric measurements being at least three times as large as the english. A year after that, nothing but metric. I'm convinced that this is the only way we're ever going to move to the same system that pretty much everyone else on the planet uses. Americans are just too set in their ways to do things gradually; it has to be fast and forceful and there can be no arguments about it, like pulling out a loose tooth.

Along similar lines, the next thing I would do as president would be to get rid of the dollar bill and replace it permanently with a dollar coin. And not a dollar coin that feels like a quarter in your pocket, either—something heavy and solid, like a British pound. This, too, would begin immediately—say a year to design and produce a new coin and then another year to take the bills out of circulation. Nothing gradual—when a bank gets bills, they don't return them to circulation, they simply exchange them for coins. And I could give a damn about vending machines—either upgrade your technology or sell stuff for less than a dollar. If the countries of the EU can switch from all of their various currencies to the Euro over the course of a few months, we can certainly take one lousy bill out of circulation. And in other currency-related changes, I'm not all that fond of the penny, either—maybe it's time for the coin to join its long-deceased sibling, the halfpenny.

Finally, I would eliminate the electoral college. In this day and age, there is absolutely no reason why the president should not be elected by a straight popular vote, just like every other elected official. The electoral college is an outmoded and outdated system that is becoming more anachronistic with each passing election cycle. And no, this change is not a result of the mess that happened in 2000 (although that certainly underscored many of the flaws with the system)—the electoral college hasn't made sense since some time in the 1800s, and it's high time we abandoned it.

I figure I would only need a couple of years to actually accomplish these tasks, but I would need to stick around for the final two years to make sure no one undid them right away. After that fourth year, I think people would be so used to the changes that they would be ready to defend them just as staunchly as they idiotically defend our current practices.

Now, on a completely unrelated topic, let me tell you how irritated I am at the networks and their ridiculous sweeps stunts (another system that could do with some reform, by the way—why can't they just do an average of ratings across the whole year, instead of just four months? I mean, I know they can, so why don't they?). The latest annoyance is the joint plans of CBS, Fox, and ABC to force their viewers to make a Sophie's Choice regarding which show's finale to watch. On Sunday, May 19, these three networks will pit the season finale of Survivor against the season finale of The Practice against the series finale of the X-Files.

Really, I blame CBS the most for this nonsense—Survivor is the only one of these shows not appearing on its normal night, and if it stuck to its regular slot, it would be easy to tape one of the other finales and watch the other one (if I were feeling really paranoid, I would call this a plot by TiVo to sell more recorders, since as I can understand it TiVo can record two other shows while you're watching another one). As it stands, we're going to have to sacrifice one of them, most likely the Practice, because only a fool would choose the increasingly cliched legal drama over the final two hours of one of the most compelling and innovative dramas of the last ten years. Survivor wins the prime slot just because it has that feel of a sporting event that's happening live—it just feels weird to watch it on tape for two hours when you know you could go to the internet and get the final score in five minutes.

There. That feels better. I think I'll spare you anything further.

For now.

The French: even when they're right, they're pretentious.

Is Jango's Slave I the same as Boba's Slave I? If not, shouldn't Boba's be called Slave II? If so, then where is the Slave II, since you wouldn't have to call a ship the Slave I unless there was a Slave II to confuse it with?

I really, really hope this new movie is going to be good. One more screwup and Lucas is leaving himself open to let Peter Jackson and the Lord of the Rings trilogy take the number one movie obsession slot in the minds of geeks everywhere.

Damn it, as much as I hate to admit it, the more I learn about ASP.NET and C# (the new programming language based on C++, Java, and JavaScript that Microsoft created especially for the .NET initiative), the cooler it seems. But I'm still not sure how I feel about Hailstorm. That still has the taint evil about it. But the market may well force them to behave sensibly about it, so it might not turn out to be so bad after all.

This week's addition to the when the walls fell site is by Kurt Heckman, a devout Christian who runs an engineering firm in the Washington D.C. area. An engineering firm that I, in fact, used to work for. Anyway. The writing is not as strong as some of the earlier entries, but I think the strength of religious beliefs and the earnestness and sincerity of his testimony give another important perspective on the events of 9.11.

During one of my many lulls at work, I decided to scroll through the list of email addresses for students who have applied in the last year and look for funny ones. There actually quite a few, from clever wordplay to references to tv, movies, and music. The best ones are listed below. The domains have all been changed to a generic one, so don't try to email any of these addresses—they won't work. I have also kept the original capitalization intact, and removed any numbers at the end (so that would now just be

I was espeically attracted to the numerous Simpsons' references (mycatsbreathsmellslikecatfood, fishbulb100w), the high rate of addresses that had the word "monkey" in them, and the ones that were just plain weird (duckiegoquack, kickhimandrun)—and a little mystified that you would send an address like saucylttlevixen to a top-tier university that you would presumably like to make a good impression on.

Normally I would post interesting links on the daily links page, but this one was just too strange to post there. It was sent to me by CS Jeff—god only knows how he found it—and it is a web page by convicted serial killer David Berkowitz, better known as Son of Sam. The site has been set up for him by his church, which says that he is wholly reformed and should now be referred to as the Son of Hope. The weirdest thing, however, is Berkowitz's online journals, which chronicle his life from 1998 until the present.

They call themselves Baltimorians. But they should be called Baltimorons.

You know, I've resisted using those online movie ticket reservation services up until now because I have an extreme aversion to any kind of service charge. But when I saw an opportunity to buy advance tickets for an opening day showing of Episode II last night, I just couldn't resist. Quite frankly, I would have paid up to $15 per ticket if I had to; I really, really want to see this thing as soon as possible.

Surprisingly, though, there was no service charge. Sure, the tickets are ridiculously overpriced in the first place ($8.25 apiece), but I kept on waiting for them to tack on a dollar or two at the last second for "handling" charges, and they never did. Maybe it's because I was ordering them directly from the theater chain's web site and not one of those secondary services, but I didn't pay any more than I would have if I had gone to the box office in person. Now all I have to do is show up an hour or so before my showtime a week from this Thursday, show them my ID, and I'll have my opening day tickets. And that's pretty freaking cool.

So: Spider-Man.


And by that I mean, it wasn't terrible, but it wasn't that great. It tiptoed up to the line of over-the-top kitsch that Joel Schumacher used to stop the Batman franchise dead in its tracks, but it didn't actually cross over it (the Green Goblin's costume and the wrestling scene came pretty close, though). The characters were mostly forgettable, although Tobdy Maguire and Kirsten Dunst decent jobs with the lines they were given. But the plot was overly cliched and predictable, and I never got a sense that any of the characters had any real depth.

I was disappointed that the camera moves weren't a little more interesting, given that it was directed by Sam "Evil Dead" Raimi, and I was less than impressed with the CG animations of Spider-Man in action. It was all-too-easy to tell when the swinging and leaping was being done by a real person and when it was being generated by a computer program, especially because the filmmakers had no compunction about using the two Spideys side-by-side in the same scene, where the not-quite-human motions of the animation became especially glaring in contrast to the real person. It just makes you appreciate the fantastic talent and skill of ILM's animators in bringing to life hundreds of CG characters for Episode I; say what you will about Jar Jar, he and his Gungan, Hutt, and droid brethren were far and away the most convincing examples of computer generated characters being incorporated into a live-action film.

Spider-Man is a good popcorn flick, and you probably won't regret seeing it once, especially if you catch a cheaper afternoon matinee. But Episode II should blow this thing out of the water. It better, anyway.

In conclusion: Spider-Man.


I swear, if MTV can milk 13+ episodes out of three weeks of filming the idiotic Real World/Road Rules challenge, why in the hell can't they get more than 10 episodes from six months of filming the Osbourne clan? It seems like you could easily scare up at least one episode per week of filming in that household.

I just don't think that Americans are ever going to accept soccer as one of the bigtime spectator sports. No matter how much Nike wants us to.

I am terrified that I am going to post something to this site that I've ranted about previously. Already I've had to go back three or four times and make sure I didn't rewrite something I'd already written. Sometimes I just think about something for so long that I already have it 95% composed before I ever bother to write it down, so when I do actually go through the process of putting fingers to keys, I get this weird feeling of deja vu when I'm writing. I haven't actually reposted the same thought yet, but the longer I keep doing this, the more likely it is to happen. I just hope when it does no one else will notice.

Today's daily photo is a shot of the local resevoir that I took last week when we were geocaching. No, there's not any water in it (it's supposed to come up to the treeline), and yes, this troubles me deeply.

Let's see what's in the mailbag today...

First, Tori sent me an email regarding the link I posted to the David Berkowitz journals earlier this week:

you know what david berkowitz says? "We need to turn from our lives of sin as well as believe that Chris was and is the Son of God." Now there's something you don't hear everyday.

Now, my name is Chris, for those of you who don't know, but let me state for the record that I am not now nor have I ever been (nor ever claimed to be) the Son of God.

That doesn't mean you shouldn't consider worshipping me, however. Cash offerings are preferred, but you can always send me cool electronic gizmos, DVDs, or Star Wars figures if the spirit so moves you.

Next we have one of the strangest emails I have ever received. It's from Scott, and it's apparently in response to one of this month's rants (although he didn't specify and, after reading this email, I'm a little scared to ask):

The only problem is that the cybernetic horse jockeys are armed with razor sharp cheese blocks.
It wouldn't be so bad if the didn't frequent the joint so much.
Their day is coming though.
Me and my army of robotic salad beavers are ready to settle the score.
THE BELL TOLLS FOR THEE cybernetic horse jockeys!!


If I were part of a foreign government and I had intercepted this transmission, I could only conclude that it was a code telling the enemy troops to rev up the jets and tanks and start kicking some ass. As it is, though, I don't know what the hell it's supposed to mean. But it frightens me. I don't think Scott is supposed to be on any medication, but maybe it's time for a psych checkup and a CT scan to make sure nothing's broken.

Finally, Tom's brother Michael, who is a programmer, wrote to me in response to my thoughts on C# and .NET:

I need to re-introduce myself first. I have a web addiction. Once a day I sit down and check the news and spend a few minutes looking for something new. I've been reading your rants this month. We've met once or twice with my brother Tom. I know you had a Java ball cap on one of those days, but I won't pick on you for ignoring the beauty of the J2EE specification for .NET, I'm too pragmatic not to be a Microsoft junky.

I was so confused by the Hailstorm articles, especially the dates on them. I went and listened to Steve [Ballmer]'s dog and pony show on .NET in February. He talked about the same thing there and mentioned that Passport and the other things they were working on were all going to be available as a service or a feature that could be integrated into your own enterprise servers since most of the big people that worked with them didn't want to use MS's central authentication. He was saying that the first day that Visual Studio.NET was launched (which I equate to the first time .net was anything but vapor ware). I would think that if Microsoft's CEO was admitting two months ago that they were not being allowed to be evil in this particular way, ZDNet wouldn't act like it is breaking news. Just thought I would pass that on because I am still looking for the part where MS is going to get evil with .NET but I still haven't nailed it down. I suspect they will start doing something really messed up with licensing of the next generation windows servers after they have gotten a bunch of people into the .NET Framework.

May the force be with you young Jedi!

Holy crap, "Jedi" is actually in Microsoft's spellcheck database as a word to capitalize.

That last line really cracked me up. But it also made me curious, and from what I can tell, Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker, Obi Wan, Han Solo, Chewbacca, and Yoda are also recognized by Microsoft's spellchecker (although there are no entries for them in the dictionary and the proper spelling does not appear if you misspell one of them), but for some reason Leia and Boba Fett are not.

Anyway, I thought the letter was an interesting insight from an actual programmer who has been working on the Windows platform for years. In another response, he further clarified his opinion on .NET:

For the record I think the .NET stuff is way cool. I love the platform independence thing. I've been coding in Borland's C++ Builder for 5 years, they are even moving that into the .NET Framework so they must think it is cool too.

The platform-independent nature of .NET is actually what excites me about it, too, although it's so uncharacteristic of Microsoft to be so open that it scares me a little bit. Part of me hopes that they're serious about being platform/language neutral from now on, since that is clearly what programmers want, but part of me knows that if they didn't make .NET very open and easy for experienced C++, Java, and Visual Basic programmers to get into, it probably wouldn't last very long. Still, C#, a language that Microsoft developed themselves, seems like a cool streamlined hybrid of the other popular object-oriented languages that is pretty easy to learn.

Add to this the Integrated Development Environment (IDE) of Visual Studio.NET, which lets you author projects in C#, VB, or C++ and does a ton of the behind-the-scenes dirty work for you, and you've got a powerful incentive for programmer's to quickly adapt to .NET. Granted, the IDE does produce code that is a little more bloated than if you had done it by hand, but the HTML it generates is pretty clean, and it's just so much faster than typing everything into a text editor. Plus, it's got an automatic code checker (much like the spellchecker in Word that prompted this whole entry) that lets you know when you have used improper syntax or forgotten to close a statement properly.

Anyway, I've got my fingers crossed that .NET will live up to its potential and that Microsoft won't corrupt it by foisting bizarre and expensive licensing schemes on us at some later date. But I've still got my doubts.

Ahem. I guess Scott's not going crazy after all. Apparently the bizarro passage of text he sent me a couple of days ago was from a web site he found, and he thought it was odd and funny enough that I would like it. Which I did. Here is his follow up email:

I only wish my mind was still so detached that I could have written that. I found it on a website:, under the comments section on the drink Death Row. I was just sharing it with you because it was so damn funny.

The whole post follows:

Comments: Death Row

Subject: Wondering?
From: John Rooker
Date: 2001-07-12

Comment: Rookers Crab Shack and Robots in Des Moines Iowa make the best Death Rows! The only problem is that the cybernetic horse jockeys are armed with razor sharp cheese blocks. It wouldn't be so bad if the didn't frequent the joint so much. Their day is coming though. Me and my army of robotic salad beavers are ready to settle the score. THE BELL TOLLS FOR THEE cybernetic horse jockeys!! IT'S TIME TO PAY THE FIDDLER WHORE.

So this John Rooker fellow is quite, and I mean QUITE off his rocker.

So I searched some more. Apparently Chris Farley said the last line at some point:

But besides that, I can't find any reference to any of the other peculiar phrases Johnny uses.

I did some research myself, and Scott is right: a search for the exact phrases "cybernetic horse jockeys" and "robotic salad beavers" turns up nothing on Google. Which surprises me, for some reason. So I guess the mystery isn't exactly solved—that's still one strange block of text—but at least Scott's brain appears to be in adequate working order.

The new when the walls fell entry is up. This week, it's a piece by my friend Scott, who I haven't seen since high school but with whom I have struck up a fairly active email correspondence over the last several months. The quality of these essays continues to amaze me, and Scott's is no exception.

In other Scott-related news: he finally gets his moment of glory on the Reef sidebar this week—we have been running neck and neck for the past seven days (we were even tied for a couple of days), but as of Saturday's stats, which are the ones I normally use for the sidebar, he has a half point lead on me. A lousy half point. Enjoy it while you can—my guys had a bad week, but it won't last forever.

A few days ago, my daily photo was a shot of the largest of our local resevoir's that I took while hunting for a geocache there. A few days later, I checked in on the geocaching web site to see if anyone else had visited recently, and was surprised to find this photo, taken from almost the exact same angle as mine was (I was standing next to the stump that you see in the foreground of this picture when I took mine).

I was going to do an all-Episode II daily links page today, but there were too many other interesting things going on, so I'll just link to them here. The following is a list of some of the more interesting reviews of Attack of the Clones. Be warned: a lot of these reviews contain spoilers.

Wired News (loved it)
Entertainment Weekly (disliked it) (mostly liked it)
Roger Ebert (mostly disliked it)
Ain't It Cool News 1 (loved it)
Ain't It Cool News 2 (neutral) 1 (loved it) 2 (liked it)
New York Times (really hated it, but it's interesting to note that they also hated Empire Strikes Back, generally regarded as the best of the Star Wars movies)

The consensus seems to be that it is better than Episode I, but just how much better is a subject of debate. A few seem to think that it still ranks fourth out of the five films so far, while others put it in the same class with Empire and the original Star Wars.

For the first time in a while, I really don't feel like writing anything today. It's not a lack of material—I've got about ten things in my workbook that I want to write about eventually—and it's not simply that I'm tired (although I am). I just don't feel compelled to sit down for the next half hour or hour tonight and flesh out any of my thoughts. Recently I've been questioning whether I've been writing this page more for me or for you, the readers who take the time to visit every day. At first it was a nice side bonus to see the traffic on this site slowly grow to the point where I knew that there were a lot of strangers who found this site worth visiting and my words worth reading. But over the past few weeks, I've grown preoccupied with it, worrying about losing some of you, and wondering how to attract more. And those aren't really the kinds of concerns that I expected to have when I started this thing over a year and a half ago.

I don't know. Maybe it is that I'm tired. See you tomorrow.

The Wrath of Khan is so perfect that not even the presence of Kirstie Alley can spoil it.

On Saturday we went down to Charlottesville to see Tom. The ostensible purpose was for me to meet with Tom and Dean and a couple of other people working on the Circular Ruins project about structure, etc., and talk about how my writings might fit in (I have written four things for the project, two poems and two short fiction pieces; I will probably post them to this site eventually). But really, it was as much about getting to visit with Tom, who we haven't seen since he came to visit back in January, and it was also a good chance for Julie to revisit Charlottesville—I don't think she's been back since she graduated except once or twice.

We met at Christian's for lunch (I had the tortellini pizza with pesto sauce and split a piece of spicy chicken with Julie), where we also ate when I went down there with Tori last December, and then we walked around the mall and downtown area for a while, and spent a few minutes at some sort of Lewis and Clark thing in a little park (I can't remember the exact connection, but I know that Jefferson approved their trip when he was president, and, well, anything that has anything to do with Jefferson is huge in Charlottesville).

That was pretty lame, though, so we went over to the McGuffey center, an old elementary school that has been renovated to provide cheap studio space for artists. They always have some sort of show featuring local artists, many of whom have space in the building. There wasn't anything that really caught my eye, although in the small gallery that usually houses a separate show with a specific theme, there was a cool mirror thing and a pair of angel's wings made out of stolen spoons (we assume that most of them were stolen because several had the names of airlines on the handles).

After that, we started to head back to our cars so we could get over to campus for the project meeting. On the way, we bumped into Raj, a law editor from Michie who I also saw last time I was in Charlottesville, and we chatted for a little bit. Before we had the meeting, though, I wanted to give Tom some gifts that I had been saving for him.

First were a couple of Star Wars figures. Tom is a Star Wars nut, too, but he's trying to save as much money as possible so that when he's housesitting in Charlottesville this summer he won't have to work full time and he can get some serious time in the studio, so he can't really afford little indulgences like $6 action figures. But I can, thankfully, so I got him Jango Fett and the C-3PO with the attachable plating.

The really cool gift, though, was the Rusty Brown Lunchbox. (Click on the 3D view—very cool. And the description's pretty funny, too.). It took me forever to find one—Amazon was planning on stocking it at one point, but as soon as Jason Kottke linked to it, they sold out their entire preorder, and it's even pretty rare to find one on eBay. But I finally found a site that specializes in hard to find toys related to comics and movies, and they had several in stock. It was so cool that I almost kept it for myself, although I am not even close to being the Chris Ware fan that Tom is, but you only get a chance to give a gift like that a couple of times in your life. Tom was suitably enthusiastic, insisting on opening it right then and there (as much as I wanted to take a peek inside when it arrived, I had left it sealed in the original factory plastic) and spending several minutes scrutinizing the text and images.

By that time we were on the verge of being late for our meeting, plus there were several minivans circling us like sharks hoping to grab our parking space when we did eventually decide to leave, so Tom gathered his gifts and left to find his car and we headed off to meet him at the studio for our meeting with Dean.

Seals are trash mammals. Everybody knows that.

By the time you read this, you could be sitting in a theater watching one of the first showings of Episode II instead of screwing around on the web. So why aren't you? It's driving me crazy that I have to wait until tonight after work.

One of the few pleasant memories I have from my months of unemployment was being able to go to the opening day 11 a.m. showing of Lord of the Rings—no crowds, no kids, and a print of the film that hadn't yet been brutalized by the poorly maintained equipment at the local theater. I mean, by the time I see Episode II, at least five other audiences will have seen that print before me. Five!

(I'm kidding. Mostly.)

Work is getting interesting. I basically have two bosses: one is my direct supervisor who is supposed to give me my assignments and allocate my time. He was the one who interviewed and hired me with an eye towards me working on the implementation of a new web-based database system for the office. But he's hardly ever there, so my other boss, who is also my supervisor's boss, has been asking me to devote a lot of my time to web site and multimedia issues. Both of them are under the impression that they have priority on my time, and both of them are expecting me to work primarily on their projects this summer.

Me, I don't really care either way. I love doing web and multimedia stuff, but I'm also very interested in learning ASP.NET, Visual Studio.NET, and C#. It will be interesting to watch them fight this out over the next couple of weeks—I would think that my supervisor's boss (who wants me to work mainly on the web site) would have the edge if I had to give odds, but it's really hard to say how this will turn out until they actually sit down and work it out, which they might not do until some time after Memorial Day. Till then, I won't really have any idea what I'm going to be working on this summer.

Episode II is, in general, awesome. Sure, it has its flaws, but they're no worse than the ones you find in the first three Star Wars movies. And the last 45 minutes has a way of making you forget the more wince-worthy parts. My faith in Lucas has been somewhat renewed, and I have high hopes for Episode III now.

More on all this later.

The when the walls fell entry for this week comes from Rebecca Hoffberger, founder and curator of the American Visionary Museum of Art in Baltimore. I was hoping that hers would be really amazing, because they were in the process of putting up a show that deals with the themes of war and peace at the time of the attacks, but it was a lot shorter and more disjointed than I expected. Still, it does have some interesting insights.

Vanilla Coke is quite tasty.

So: Episode II.

I have seen it twice now, and I must say that, despite some small criticisms, this is a pretty good Star Wars movie. The consensus among fans seems to be that it is better than Return of the Jedi and The Phantom Menace, but not as good as A New Hope (the first movie) and The Empire Strikes Back. I could go along with that, although I often find myself being an apologist for The Phantom Menace and ranking it a little higher than everyone else; Episode I is slow in some parts, and Jake Lloyd is not as good as he could have been, but I didn't find Jar Jar as annoying as some did, and overall I think it's a decent movie.

At any rate, Attack of the Clones is certainly better than Episode I, just because there isn't as much background stuff that Lucas is trying to set up, so the pacing is a lot faster because he can focus more on moving the plot along than giving us expositional details about the Star Wars universe. It starts off fairly quickly on Coruscant, then moves to Naboo, Kamino (a new planet), and Tatooine before ending up finally on Geonosia (another new planet). The only really weak parts are some of the love scenes between Padme and Anakin; the dialog is terrible for most of these, and the acting follows suit even though Portman and Christiansen are more talented than they seem to be, but what the hell is any actor supposed to do with a clunker like "You're in my very soul, tormenting me"?

I remember George Lucas defending Episode I by saying that, to him, this was just the first two hours in a twelve hour saga, and he had a lot of setup work to do that would make sense in the context of the whole sequence of films. At the time, I thought that was a bullshit excuse for making a movie that wasn't quite as good as it should have been, but after watching Episode II, I actually think he might be right. At least now I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt until Episode III is finished and we can finally see his entire vision.

The last 45 minutes of Attack of the Clones totally make up for any inadequacies up until that point. They take you from a ride through a mechanical nightmare factory where conveyor belts whisk you towards gigantic industrial cutting and smashing machines (where we finally get to see R2 use his rocket boosters to fly), to a Gladiator-style arena replete with alien monstrosities, to dozens of Jedi kicking ass and taking names, to an all-out fight between two massive armies that is much greater in scope and intensity than any previous Star Wars conflict, and finally to another great light sabre battle (which, although it includes Yoda throwing down some serious smack, is still not quite as good as the Darth Maul sequence in Episode I, which is still the best light sabre dual in the Star Wars canon). In fact, I'd venture to say that this last extended sequence on Geonosia is the most sustained piece of great filmmaking that George Lucas has ever directed, and is rivaled only by the Hoth sequences in Empire and the final battle in Jedi.

Boba Fett is only 9 or 10 years old in this one, but he is still a badass. His father, Jango Fett, is also seriously cool, but even at that young age, Boba still looks like he could come over and kick your ass just for looking at him wrong. The kid they cast is perfect; you almost get the feeling they grabbed him up from some New Zealand juvenile detention facility, and then quickly sent him back as soon as filming was over.

There are some other negatives about this film (for instance, is Lucas was concerned that Watto was being seen as a stereotype of a money-grubbing jew, then why in hell did he add a hat to his costume that looks just like the one that Hasidic jews traditionally wear?), but the positives far outweigh the negatives. The opening chase scenes with Zam Wesell are fantastic, as are all of the Kamino scenes with Obi Wan, Jango, and Boba. There are a couple of missteps on Tatooine (like the early end to the scene in which Anakin flies into a murderous rage after the death of his mother, which would have demonstrated better than anything else in the film the dark side lurking under Anakin's Jedi exterior), but for the most part, the only real problems are the awkward romance scenes between Padme and Anakin, which could have been written and acted with greater skill. But what do you expect from George Lucas, really? Has he ever had a Star Wars character say anything remotely romantic that didn't make you wince? Yes, it's a shame that he can't handle that type of thing better, especially in a film like this where the romance is so central to the overall story, but it's not enough to drag the whole film down.

I have read a lot of reviews of this movie where it was shown absolutely no mercy, where the reviewer couldn't find a single positive thing to say about anything in the film. All I can say is, if you don't enjoy that last 45 minutes, you should just shoot yourself in the head right now, because you're not going to get much enjoyment out of anything in life, much less from a self-proclaimed popcorn flick whose target audience is boys between the ages of 12 and 17. If you have any contact whatsoever with the child that you once were, you will like this film. It's not perfect, but it's good fun, and it's well worth your hard-earned dollars.

From Leila, who was visiting us this weekend:

"You see the worst parenting at Wal-Mart."

And you really do. It seems like most of the parents there view the store either as a playground that their children can run amuck in while they do their shopping, or as a china shop where every item is so precious that a child who reaches out to touch anything deserves a good smack. Either way, you're going to end up with messed up kids.

I'm on another serious Diabo II jag. No time to write.

Man, it is cold here. There was a frost warning last night, and it got down in the 30s. What the hell? It's almost June, right? We're not in Maine, for god's sake.

I'll be gone the rest of the week, taking a little vacation in West Virginia for a few days. They force us to take Thursday off for commencement because they need our parking spaces, so by taking one vacation day and combining it with Memorial Day on the other side of the weekend, we get a five day break and we only have to give up one day of vacation time. I've posted the photos for the rest of the week in the photo archives, but that'll be all the content you get until I get back.

This week's when the walls fell entry is by my friend Vicki, who I met when she was dating one of my friends in college. She has been a journalist for as long as I have known her, serving as editor for the UNC Chapel Hill campus newspaper and then working at the New Orleans Times-Picayune after graduation. It was in New Orleans that she met her husband, who she now shares a life with in North Carolina, where she writes a weekly column for the Raleigh News and Observer. Her essay is one of my favorite so far, and I don't want to spoil it for you, so go read it.

For some unknown reason, Johns Hopkins always holds its graduation on a Thursday. I'm sure this goes back to some tradition left over from a hundred years ago, but in today's world, where getting time off from work and syncing up schedules of multiple family members for important events is hard enough even when the event is on a weekend, it seems downright silly to continue this practice. Nevertheless, this year was the same as every other, and they scheduled graduation for last Thursday.

One of Hopkins chronic problems is lack of good parking (a problem that is about to get a lot more acute when they close down or destroy a few of the existing lots to make way for new campus construction), so in order to accomodate all of the guests who visit the campus for graduation, they give all Homewood campus employees the day off on the day of graduation (well, they don't really just give it to us—all non-Homewood employees get two floating holidays, whereas we just get one, with the other automatically appropriated for graduation). Because of that, and because of the Memorial Day holiday, Julie and I decided to use one of my precious few vacation days for this year and take a trip up to West Virginia.

Now, normally West Virginia wouldn't be my first choice for a vacation, but my dad owns a condo up at Snowshoe, where we can stay free of charge. Plus, this time of year it isn't very crowded, and Julie had never been there in the summer (we usually go up during the winter to go skiing), so we made a long weekend of it.

We drove up on Wednesday night so that we would have all day on Thursday to do stuff, but we got there so late that we ended up sleeping in and not really getting going until Thursday afternoon. We spent an hour or so wandering around Snowshoe, looking at the new construction projects that were going up and comparing the now-green mountains with the snow-covered peaks that we remember from our winters there. Late in the day, we made our plans for the rest of the weeks, and decided to drive over to the tiny town of Durbin to see if we could rent bikes and spend the next day on a converted railroad line that ran next to the river. After a little digging around, we spoke to the brother of the owner of the outfitter shop who, after telling us about the festivities planned for that weekend (something about the 100th anniversary of the train line running through Durbin, which was apparently a big enough deal that Senator Rockefeller and the governor of West Virginia were showing up), finally told us about renting bikes from his brother's shop the next morning.

On the way back home, we drove past two other attractions that we were planning to visit, the Greenbank Radio Astronomy Observatory (you could see the newest, biggest telescope—which is actually a big dish since they are "watching" for radio signals—from the road) and Cass Scenic Railroad, which I had unwillingly been dragged to as a child.

When we got home, we fixed a quick dinner of marinated chicken breasts and grilled vegetables on the George Foreman grill that my dad keeps locked up at the condo for family use only (they rent the condo out for most of the winter to cover property tax and maintenance costs) before turning in. I stayed up a little later to fix our lunch for the next day (turkey and mozarella bagels with sweet onion mustard), but I barely made it through five pages of my book before I fell asleep.

On Friday we got up fairly early (for a vacation, anyway) and drove back to Durbin to get our bikes. The day was almost perfect—60s in the morning, rising to the high 70s by the afternoon, with a nice cool mountain breeze that kept up for most of the day. Now, I haven't ridden a bike in a while, but I thought it would just be a nice leisurely day of pedaling on a flat trail next to a river—the trail used to be a railroad line, and the information we had on it said it had less than 1% grade (less than one foot of rise or fall per hundred feet) and that it was suitable for novices and the elderly. We brought two bottles of water with us, but they were a little small, so we also stopped and picked up two bottles of gatorade, figuring that there would be no way we would drink all of it. Then we went to pick up our bikes, and were heading for the trail around 9:00 a.m.

It was about half a mile on paved roads to get to the trail head, and for the first 30 minutes or so, everything was going about how I expected. The gravel trails were a little bumpier than I thought they would be, and the grade, small as it was, seemed to be almost entirely uphill on the first half of our journey. About an hour in, I started to get a little fatigued, stopping to rest every quarter to half mile, and even walking alongside my bike occasionally. I took these opportunities to take a lot of pictures, though, so at least there was some benefit. The trail was very beautiful, but you could tell that it would be a lot more pretty in a few weeks—it had actually snowed a couple of days before we had arrived, so everything that had been starting to bloom had quickly retreated when the cold snap happened. It was all fairly green and growing, but there was virtually nothing flowering.

By lunchtime I was pretty tired, but I was hoping a long lunch in the shade would revive me somewhat. We had already had one bottle of water that morning, and we each finished our gatorades for lunch before realizing that we now had only one bottle of water left to get us all the way back to town. It wasn't too much of a concern, because we weren't planning on going too much farther—there was a bridge at the seven mile mark that we wanted to see, and we figured we were pretty close when we stopped for lunch—but still, it had said in the brochure that there were water stations along the way, and we had kind of counted on those for backup and we hadn't seen one yet.

We were right about the seven mile mark—it turned out to be only a half a mile or so up the road, and so after a few minutes of taking pictures and staring at an absurdly irridescent blue bird, we headed back towards town. We were also counting on the ride back being a little easier than the ride up had been, since the grade would be flowing in our direction. For the most part that was true, but since we were so tired at that point (and also very saddle sore, since we hadn't ridden bikes in a while, and certainly not of the bumpy terrain of an offroad trail), it still took longer than we thought. We stopped for another rest next to the river, took off our shoes and dangled them in the water (briefly—it had to be close to 40 degrees, and after about five seconds, we started to lose sensation in our toes). We drank our last bottle of water when we were less than a mile from the store, and even though it was mostly paved after that, the last little uphill push to get back to the outfitters shop was a real challenge.

The first thing Julie and I did after turning in the bikes was head for the local corner store (which is where, as far as we can tell, most West Virginians buy their groceries) and bought two big lemonades, which we drank in about two minutes. I swear I can't remember a drink ever tasting so good.

That night we grilled Omaha Steak hamburgers that we'd gotten with a coupon from HSN on the George Foreman grill and drank a lot of fluids. We would have gone to bed early anyway because we were so exhausted, but we wanted to get up and take the Green Bank tour before the noon Cass trip the next day, so we hit the hay around 9 or 10 and got a good night's sleep.

I wrote some content about Nirvana yesterday on my lunch break, and I was also planning on writing about the second half of our Saturday at Cass, but the Green Bank stuff went on longer than I planned. So tomorrow you'll get all that, plus the final story from our vacation: our stop at Smoke Hole caverns on the way back home. Oh, and I also might work in a quick review of the Harry Potter DVD.

On Saturday we got up around 8, planning to head over to Green Bank for the 10 o'clock tour and then driving to Cass for the noon train that went all the way to the top of the mountain (they had three other trains that just went to a stop about a third of the way up, but it was only a couple of dollars more for the full ride).

On the way back from Durbin the day before, we had noticed a small motel whose parking lot was packed with motorcycles. In a field nearby, there was a large group of denim and leather clad men and women, and a big sign that said "Cass Rally". The last thing I expected was to run into these guys at Green Bank at 10 in the morning, but run into them we did. Pretty much everyone else on the tour that morning was a biker, but it was really weird—they were old, and fairly polite, and a little nerdy about their bikes. They reminded me more of greying hackers than Hell's Angels. But that was fine by me; I would have preferred no crowds at all, but if I had to be surrounded by a large group of people who all knew each other, they were a pretty good bunch.

Our tour guide was a college kid who was studying to be an architectural engineer, and he was pretty patient with us considering that, as a group, we were either dead silent or pelting him with annoyingly pointless questions. There was actually a lot of cool stuff that happened at Green Bank; it was where the first SETI research was performed (which is particularly interesting to me, since I have completed nearly 3000 units in the SETI@home project), one of the telescopes there had discovered about 50% of the known molecules in the universe, and another telescope had collapsed under its own weight (the Enquirer apparently ran a story that aliens zapped it) and was replaced by a huge, unique design that lets the scientists use almost all of the surface area (it was constructed to be a small portion of a large parabolic dish, so that the receiver only needed one arm instead of three).

After a slideshow and a canned presentation, our guide took us out on a bus to see the telescopes up close. The bus smelled horrible; it was the first day of their season, and I guess the bus had just been sitting all winter building up a funk that wasn't going to go away quickly. We drove around to see all of the telescopes, but we were only allowed to get out and take pictures of one. That was okay, though, because it was the big one, and we got really lucky because they happened to be repositioning just as we drove up, so we got to watch it move for a few minutes. It doesn't sound very exciting, I know, but the dish is freaking huge, and watching anything that big move so elegantly is impressive.

After buying a few postcards in the gift shop and carefully extracting the car from the nest of motorcycles (mostly BMWs) that had infested the parking lot, we headed over the Cass for a train ride up the mountain.

Ugh. I had no time to write the things I had planned, because I had to drive up to York to pick up my tuxedo for Greg's wedding this weekend. I didn't get home until around 9, and moments after walking in the door I started doing battle with the laptop PC that Julie borrowed from work so that I could offload my pictures from the camera while we were on vacation. I've been trying to get my pictures off of it (over 100 of them) since we got home on Sunday night, spending at least an hour every night this week (and often more) trying to devise ways to get my pictures away from the little bastard. I've already spent two hours with it tonight, and if I spend a minute more I'm going to destroy it.

I hate PCs.
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