march 2003

Although I had my doubts at the time, it turns out that my decision not to go to class last Thursday because of the weather was a really good one. One of my classmates emailed me the next day to tell me that only about half the class showed up and the instructor decided to cancel it despite Hopkins refusing to reschedule that evening's classes. So if I had gone, I would have driven an hour in the snow during rush hour only to get there and find out that I had to turn around and drive right back.

Skiing went pretty well last week. I was really worried that my ankle would prevent me from being able to ski, because even though it was much better in the days leading up to our trip, it still had serious twinges when I would step on it a certain way, and I wasn't confident in its ability to support me, especially if I needed to react quickly to bad snow conditions, an out-of-control skier, etc. Still, I decided to at least try on some boots and the rental place and see how they felt, and surprisingly, I couldn't find a position in the boots that caused my ankle to give out from under me. I guess it's not really that surprising, since the whole purpose of ski boots is to lock your ankles into position so that your skis don't slide out from under you, but still, I was happy at how well they did that job.

The next day on the slopes, the conditions were pretty good (except for some slushy spots on some of the level spots on the trails—slush tends to grab your skis, so it's a good idea not to be going to fast on it or else you end up head over heels), and I spent most of the morning on some of the longer and more challenging green slopes (the easy slopes, for those of you unfamiliar with skiing's color system for difficulty level) slowly putting more and more pressure on my bad ankle by gaining more speed, making sharper turns, etc. It held up very well, so that afternoon I felt comfortable heading over to the blues (intermediate slopes), which is usually where I start when I'm getting my ski legs back.

The afternoon on the blues went so well that by the next morning I felt confident in skiing the blacks, especially because they had groomed the entire mountain the night before and conditions were just about perfect. After a few warm up runs on the greens and blues, Julie and I decided to head over to Cupp, a black slope on the other side of the mountain that is over a mile long. Conditions were so good that we were even able to convince dad and Rachel to come with us (even though they are both good skiers, they have become cautious as they have grown older, and I don't think they had skied Cupp in several years).

Normally Cupp is so poorly groomed that one trip down takes over half an hour, and it is such a grueling half hour that you are rarely in the mood to do it again. The steepness of the slope and the extreme length are enough to justify it as a black slope, but when you add to it the difficulty of keeping snow on that side of the mountain (resulting in icy and even bare patches) and the throngs of near-beginners who are just going down so they can go back to the bar and brag about having descended Cupp that often litter the slope, and you have a hill that is a real challenge to even advanced skiers like me (although I'm on the low side of advanced).

This time, however, there was snow everywhere on the hill, there were no crowds, and it had been freshly groomed. Our first trip down, while certainly a good workout, was more exhilerating than exhausting, so much so that all of us decided to go again. By our third trip, the conditions were starting to deteriorate a little and more people seemed to have made their way over to Cupp, so dad decided to call it quits for the morning, but Rachel and Julie and I all made one more trip before heading in for lunch. That afternoon, we all went out again and skied all the blacks on the main side of the mountain, none of which are anywhere near as challenging as Cupp, but they were enjoyable nonetheless. And the really great thing was that not once did we stand in line for the lift for longer than a couple of minutes. All in all, it was a great two days of skiing—I got in more good runs in those two days than I have sometimes gotten in a week.

Of course, there was a price to pay. That afternoon when we came in from skiing and I took off my boots, I could tell that my ankle had regressed. I tried to stay off of it until dinner that night (in what is becoming an annual tradition, dad and Rachel once again took us to the Red Fox, and it was fantastic as usual), but on the way over the restaurant it was as bad as it had been in over a week. Dad wrapped it with an Ace bandage when we got back to the condo, but I'm not sure how much it helped.

Dad and Rachel were planning to head out the next morning, but Julie and I had planned to stay and get in one more day of skiing. When I woke up the next morning, however, it was abundantly clear to me that I was finished skiing for the week. I could barely put any pressure on my ankle at all. Because of that and the weather report that was making it sound like we could get snowed in until Saturday if we didn't leave right away, Julie and decided to pack up our stuff and head back home. The first hour or so of the trip was brutal—driving snow, slow vehicles in front of us kicking up salt, water, and rocks (West Virginia's chosen method of snow control is apparently just dumping tons of gravel on the roads), and road conditions that ranged from slushy to icy), but once we got to the interstates it wasn't too bad.

That night we ordered in chinese food, rented a DVD (Reign of Fire—entertaining enough for a rental but not really that good) and a game for our GameCube (the highly amusing Super Monkey Ball II), and prepared to spend the next day, the last day of our vacation, hiding from the neverending snow.

Hmmm...I guess today is my one year anniversary at Hopkins. Weird.

I haven't been to a concert in a really long time. When I was in high school at NCSSM and for the first couple of years of college (when I made frequent weekend trips to Chapel Hill to hang out with all of my NCSSM friends), I went to tons of shows, mostly at the seminal Chapel Hill club the Cat's Cradle or at one of the mid-sized theater venues on the Duke or Chapel Hill campuses: I saw the Pixies, Jane's Addiction, Love and Rockets, Poi Dog Pondering, Robyn Hitchcock, the Silos, Steve Wynn, R.E.M., Violent Femmes, Connells, Scruffy the Cat, Pressure Boys, Morrissey, Johnny Quest, Guadalcanal Diary, Reivers, Lyle Lovett, Throwing Muses, Beautiful South, Billy Bragg, Camper Van Beethoven, 10,000 Maniacs, Soul Asylum, the Veldt, Bob Mould, They Might Be Giants, Loud Family, the Cure, Waxing Poetics, Echo & the Bunnymen, Fetchin Bones, Royal Crescent Mob, Smithereens, Miracle Legion, Sting, Let's Active, Flat Duo Jets, Pere Ubu, and tons of others I can't remember right now. I also attended the first two Lollapaloozas, back before they started to suck hard—the bands I can remember from those first two summers are Pearl Jam, Ice-T, Ministry, Nine Inch Nails, Jane's Addiction, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Lush, Soundgarden, Jesus and Mary Chain, Living Color, and Siouxsie and the Banshees—in later years it wasn't nearly as diverse (apparently they're trying to ressurect it this summer, but it looks pretty boring, aside from a Jane's Addiction reunion). Things slowed down a bit once I moved to Charlottesville to go to grad school because not many bands came through there (preferring to stop in Richmond if they stopped anywhere in Virginia), but even there I managed to catch the occasional decent show like Helmet, Melvins, Morphine, or G. Love.

Since moving to Maryland, however, I think I've only been to one show, a Modest Mouse concert in Baltimore back in September of 2000, right before I started writing this journal. I tried to go to another Modest Mouse show in DC about a year later with Tom, but we didn't buy tickets beforehand and it was sold out when we got to the door.

So I was pretty excited about my plans to meet Tom at the Black Cat in DC last Saturday night to see the Good Life and Rilo Kiley, two Saddle Creek bands I like pretty well (Good Life is the better of the two, in my opinion, but Rilo Kiley probably has a better shot to become more popular). Unfortunately, because of my ankle, I decided at the last minute not to go; my foot was still killing me, and shoving it in a shoe to go spend several hours walking around DC and standing in a club was just not a good idea, as much as I would have liked to have fooled myself into thinking otherwise.

It was okay, though: Tom called me from his cell around 11 p.m. and left one of the Good Life's songs on my answering machine (it was actually one of my favorites, "Some Bullshit Escape", though there's no way he could have known that other than sensing it through the musical mind meld we sometimes share). It was scratchy and distorted and my answering machine cut it off right before one of my favorite lines, but every time I listen to it, it sounds like heaven.

Ever since I made the switch to Mac OS X, I've been faced with a dilemma: which browser should I use? Years ago, I was a devout Netscape 4 user, a browser which I now regard as one of the worst plagues ever unleashed on web developers because of its horrible implementation of the W3C's recommendations for the Document Object Model and CSS. But at the time it was initially released, it was more stable and had more features than its main competitor on the Mac, IE 4. With the release of IE 5, however, Microsoft's browser took a major leap forward and quickly passed the flailing Netscape (flailing, admittedly, because of Microsoft's monopolistic practice of releasing free software to compete with companies like Netscape who actually needed to charge for their work in order to stay in business, instead of being able to rely on annual releases of Windows and Offices for their revenue). I reluctantly made the switch, but I couldn't deny how much better IE 5 was than Netscape 4, both in terms of look and feel and in its implementation of standards.

The fact that IE 5 had been ported very well to Mac OS X was one of the main factors in my deciding to switch to OS X in the first place; I didn't want to make a change to the new OS until all the programs I used on a daily basis had released OS X native versions (thank god I'm not a Quark user). In my pretrials with OS X before I made the formal switch (I installed it on a secondary drive), I was pleased to see that IE 5 seemed to work just as well as it did in OS 9, and it had also been updated to integrate with the new graphic stylings of OS X. So I figured when I made the switch, I would just keep using that as my main browser and that would be that.

But shortly after I moved to OS X, there were a flurry of browser releases that I at least wanted to test out before settling on IE 5 as my primary browser. There was a final version of Netscape 7 (which is really Netscape 5), OmniWeb (an Opera-like browser for OS X), Safari (Apple's own browser), and finally Chimera (the open source Mozilla browser made for OS X that uses the same Gecko rendering engine as Netscape 7). Weeding out the first couple was easy: despite its pretty good implementation of standards, Netscape 7 is horribly slow, and although OmniWeb is decently fast, it didn't offer me anything more than IE 5 did. Safari was the next to go, despite a couple of nice ideas like a Google search field built into the toolbar, the ability to block pop-ups, and some new ways of organizing bookmarks, because it doesn't do a great job of rendering pages yet and it also has some annoying quirks like not allowing you to turn off link underlining (although it is a beta, so I'm certainly going to give it another shot when the final version is released).

So it came down to Chimera, an open source browser also still in beta, and the now-aging but still reliable IE 5. Chimera can also block pop-ups, it is probably one of the fastest at rendering pages, and it introduces a feature called tabbed browsing that lets you open multiple pages in different tabs so you don't have to open lots of windows while you're browsing several sites at once—believe me, once you try this, you'll find it hard to live without. It has some drawbacks, though: it doesn't really support some plug-ins yet, most notably Real and other media players, so you have to download the file to your hard disk and then use the support program to open it manually (it also doesn't automatically decompressed stuffed or zipped files when you download them); when you want to tab between fields on a page, it irritatingly follows the Windows model of tabbing between not just fields but every freaking link on the page (most Mac browsers smartly tab between just the fields on the page, or at least allow you to choose to tab only between fields, so you can actually use your keyboard to navigate around web forms and search fields on web sites); it has some rendering issues, although they are not nearly as severe as Safari's; and even though tabbed browsing is definitely easier to use than multiple windows, for some reason you can't use a key command to switch between different tabs like you can between windows in the other browsers.

Of course, IE 5 has its drawbacks, too: it does not allow you to block pop-ups; it has some issues with reloading pages, sometimes refusing to update a page's content even when you use the force reload command (meaning you actually have to quit out of the browser and start it up again to get fresh content, and sometimes you even have to clear the cache to make it work properly); and finally, it's just starting to get a little old and bloated, with rendering times that are noticeably slower than its newer (if unfinished) competitors.

For now I've decided to primarly use Chimera (recently renamed Camino for legal reasons), with the occasional jump back into IE 5 for viewing media-rich pages. Tabbed browsing is just too cool to give up for now, and Chimera is also really good at managing all my site passwords using Apple's Keychain. But with recent word that the final release of Safari will include tabs (one of the main developers of Chimera now works for Apple) and with Apple quickly squashing the page rendering bugs (they even have a button on the main browser interface that lets you report a bug when you find a page that doesn't format properly in Safari), I'm expecting that Safari will likely become my browser of choice within the next couple of months.

None of the browsers for Mac OS X are perfect yet, but I think the competition will eventually produce something close: once IE 5 put Netscape in its grave a couple of years ago, I thought the browsers wars (and the innovation that came with them) were over, and that we would be stuck with whatever Microsoft decided was best for us. Although all of the latest browsers implement the DOM pretty well and pretty consistently, I'm sure there will still be some headaches for developers if we have to start coding for all of them again (instead of just IE, as has been the fashion for the last couple of years), but as a consumer, it's nice to have some choices again.

I don't think I'm really cool enough to like Godspeed You Black Emperor! (the exclamation point is part of the band's name). But I do anyway.

I had planned to write a decently long entry about Tom coming to visit, us going to see the Godspeed You Black Empereor! show at the Masonic temple, and him attending my book class on Thursday night, but yesteday turned out to be a much, much longer day than I had planned, so you'll just have to wait until Monday.

If you get a chance, say a little prayer for my aunt Charlotte, who died over the weekend. I don't have all the details yet, and I haven't assimilated it enough to write her a proper eulogy, but she has always been an important part of the family, and she will be missed.

Today was the day to write about the Godspeed You Black Emperor! show, but after a very, very long (but good) weekend in Philadelphia, I'm too exhausted to write more than a paragraph or two. And that show deserves more than a paragraph or two. And after that, I have to tell you all about Philly, so after today this week should be pretty content-heavy.

Last Wednesday, Tom drove up from Charlottesville to go with Julie and me to see Godspeed You Black Emperor! play in Baltimore. If you haven't heard this band before, they can be kind of hard to describe: in addition to standard rock instruments like electric guitar and bass and a standard drum kit, they also prominently feature a cellist, a violinist, and a couple of percussionists to create tidal, orchestral rock that ebbs and flows in surges of intesity. There are no words, but the music is powerfully emotive, and structured almost symphonically, with various movements expanding on basic repetitions to create long-form, coherent works. The style takes some getting used to, especially for three-minute-three-chord junkies like me, but once you've mentally adjusted to it, and you're in the right mood, there's nothing better on earth.

The show was really, really good, but in a non-standard way, much like the band's music itself. There were probably eight to ten band members performing that night (because of both the darkness of the stage and the fact that at least a couple of members were running computers behind the amps, you couldn't really tell exactly how many performers were contributing to the music), but instead of having the band members play on a well-lit stage and having their performance be the visual focus for the show, the group instead chose to hide themselves in the shadows and allow the audience to focus on a large screen hanging above them. Onto this were projected a series of short, looping films projected from three or four projectors whose images sometimes overlapped one another. I remember a few distinctly: a black and white film of a man directing unseen traffic; a man sitting on a bench with his back turned to the camera who looks like he is rehearsing magic tricks with cards; a car with its headlights on coming slowly towards the camera while traffic on an overpass above moves along even more slowly; and a train looking back through tunnels in the mountains. There were many more, but those are the ones that have remained with me through the trancelike fog of the performance.

The overall effect of the show was very hypnotic; it was almost like attending a mass hallucination or sharing a waking dream with the musicians and the rest of the audience. The show venue added greatly to the ambience: it was held at the Scottish Rite Temple of Freemasonry, an enormous grey stone building that looked like, well, a modern temple, and created that kind of reverential awe in the audience as the approached and waited to be allowed entry (it took a while to get everyone into the concert hall, because there was a very small opening that you could walk through to enter into this enormous room, and the ticket takers also had to hand you a piece of paper and basically read you your rights about not drinking, not smoking, not wandering around, and in general not causing any kind of trouble or they wouldn't be allowed to hold concert events there in the future). The concert was held specifically in the main meeting hall, which was decorated with dark wood paneling, red velvet seats, and white walls with a weird pink trim (it reminded me for some reason of the British parliament). Overhead there was a giant circle, around the edges of which were various mystical masonic symbols—triangles, compasses, burning hearts, crosses, etc.

After the show, Tom went up on stage as the band was packing up and got the setlist:

The first song, "Storm", is the opening cut off of "Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven!", their second-most recent album, an epic double CD of four primary songs composed of many smaller songs. "Storm" is probably my favorite GYBE! song to date, so it was a little disappointing that they opened with it, because I knew it wasn't likely to get any better than that. The next song, "Monheim", I didn't recognize, but Tom knew that it was one of the smaller songs from "Sleep", a cut from the second disc of "Skinny Fists". He similarly recognized "Police" (full title: "World Police and Friendly Fire"), from "Static", the second cut on the first disc from "Skinny Fists". Tom hadn't heard of "Albanian" before, and it doesn't appear on the band's official site discography, but oddly enough, you can download it from the internet here (I pulled the link from this site, which I stumbled across while trying to guess the offical site URL). "M.F.R." stands for "Motherfucker=Redeemer", a two part work that rounds out the final thirty minutes of their most recent disc, "Yanqui U.X.O.". This was probably my second favorite performance of the night: a straight half hour of music that really managed to keep you engaged the whole way through.

The last song on the list, "Floyd", was another one that Tom hadn't heard of (and which also does not appear on their official discography), but we never got a chance to hear it—because it took so long to get everyone into the temple for the show, things got started late. Apparently the band was told they had to be off the stage by midnight, so when they walked off at right before twelve to take a break before the encore, they were never allowed to walk back on. So I guess we'll have to wait and hope that the future will reveal to us what we were supposed to hear that night. Intriguingly, I found notes about a song called "Tazer Floyd" from this review and this FAQ page suggesting that it was written a few years ago and was supposed to be part of the "Yanqui U.X.O." release. Since the other two titles on "Yanqui" were apparently retitled before the disc was formally released ("9-15-00" used to be "12-28-99" and "Motherfucker=Redeemer" used to be "Tiny Silver Hammers"), it seems possible that "Floyd" refers to "Tazer Floyd", which was written and recorded during the same period and which may have been renamed "Rockets Fall on Rocket Falls" for the "Yanqui" disc.

Even if you're not a fan, or don't think you would be a fan after sampling some of their music, I would still recommend that you attend a GYBE! show if you get the chance. It can be unbelievably difficult music to stage in a rock setting, and the stoic anonymity of the band and its obtuse multimedia accompaniment can seem a little daunting and overly contrived, but believe me, it can be quite an experience if you're willing to give yourself over to it. I usually have very little patience for such antics, but it was so well done that you just had to let it wash over you and let it take you where it was going. It just worked, and it was right, and it was beautiful.

Since UVA was on spring break last week and Tom didn't have anywhere in particular to be, he spent the night at our house Wednesday after the GYBE! show. He had tentative plans to come into the city the next day and have a look at a couple of museums and maybe go to lunch with me, and he was also hoping to attend my class at the Walters. As an artist who makes prints and books, he has an interest in books of hours that goes far beyond my layman's fascination, and he has also been reading up on them since I started my class, so he was even more interested in seeing one up close than he would have been a few months ago. I had written the instructor a couple of days earlier to see if he might be able to join us, but as of Wednesday night, I hadn't heard anything.

Thursday turned out to be Tom's lucky day: while Julie and I had to get up to go to work at our standard 6:00 a.m. start time after not getting home until after 1:00 a.m., Tom got a good night's sleep, not rising until 11 or so. Then he drove to Baltimore, where he discovered that the Baltimore Museum of Art was coincidentally having one of its monthly free days, so he was able to spend the afternoon there without spending a penny. To top it all off, my professor emailed me and let me know that it was fine for Tom to attend the class. As a final bonus, the class was an extra hour long to make up for the cancellation the week before.

For the first hour of class, Tom joined some of the other participants for a lecture on the calendar that starts most books of hours, while those of us who had already heard the lecture got an extra hour to examine our books. The next hour was a new lecture for everyone, after which we returned once more to our manuscripts. Tom spent a lot of time looking over other people's shoulders at their books, and I even found it in my heart to let him spend some quality time with mine.

After class was over, Tom and I headed back home, planning to have dinner at a local thai restaurant on the way. It wasn't until we were about five minutes away from the restaurant (and thirty minutes outside of Baltimore) that Tom asked, "Hey, you haven't forgotten that my car is still parked at Hopkins, have you?" Of course I had forgotten, and since Tom was considering driving back that night so he could get a full day's work in at the studio on Friday, that meant we would have to drive all the way back to Baltimore and back before I could go home and get some rest after what had become a very long day: after four hours of sleep, a stressful day at work, three hours of class, and what amounted to two full commutes, I normally would have been ready to kill someone. But the knowledge that I was working from home the next day helped soften the blow a little bit, and I was able to resign myself to my new fate with some degree of calmness. Not that it was Tom's fault or anything; he just thought I was driving around Baltimore looking for a place to have dinner. I had just plain forgotten, and it was my fault as much as anybody's.

We decided to have dinner first, however, since it was already 9:30 and the restaurant closed at 10. Afterwards, we drove back into Baltimore to retrieve Tom's car, and Tom decided that he was going to drive back to Charlottesville for sure (he had already packed his stuff into his car in anticipation of this possibility). We said our goodbyes and I was finally able to go home for some long-overdue sleep.

Julie was scheduled to speak at an educational conference just outside Philadelphia last Saturday, so we decided to take advantage of that opportunity and spend the weekend in the city. I've only been to Philly once before, when I went with CS Jeff to see the Phillies play the Braves on opening day a few years ago. I also briefly saw Tom during that trip, while he was still in his first year at Tyler (the art school affiliated with Temple University). I didn't really get to see much of the city then (Tyler was at the north end, the stadium at the south, and we didn't really spend any time in between), so I was looking forward to spending a little quality time there.

My mom was coincidentally in town that weekend, so we were also planning to meet up with her at some point, but we were also looking forward to some time alone together. Before we really had a chance to talk about it, though, my mom had pretty much planned out the whole weekend—dinner on Friday, lunch on Saturday, and the flower show Saturday afternoon/evening—but it turned out to be okay. The stuff she planned was pretty fun, and

The place she took us for dinner on Friday night was a little italian restaurant by the water about two blocks from our hotel called La Veranda. We hadn't seen it in any of the various guidebooks in our hotel room, but it turns out that there may have been a really good reason for this. See, my mom had found this place accidentally, stumbling upon it while walking around the city with a coworker. After she had been back two or three times, she mentioned it to another coworker who actually lived in the Philadelphia area, whose response was, "Judy, you can't go back there—that's a mafia restaurant!" My mom's reply was "Well, then the service and food ought to be pretty good then, shouldn't they?"

There were a few mafioso types hanging around, but there were also plenty of young multicutural couples, and whatever it may have been in the past, I can believe now that it's just a well-kept local secret, because the food was amazing. My mom has a tendency to overorder, especially in expensive restaurants, so we had plenty of dishes to choose from. In addition to the bruschetta and the plate of peppers, mushrooms, and eggplant pickled in balsamic vinegar that they gave to everyone, my mom also ordered bay scallops with red peppers and asparagus for an appetizer, and an extra plate of mushroom risotto to accompany all of our entrees. Julie got one of the specials, lobster and asparagus ravioli, and my mom got a very good salt-baked mediterranean white fish (they cracked open the salt shell at the table, just like Morimoto on Iron Chef).

My dinner was the most interesting. I decided to go for the mixed grill that featured several cuts of meat, thinking I would get a piece of steak, maybe a piece of veal or pork, and a lamb chop or two. It was one of the least expensive non-pasta entrees, so I didn't think it would be that big, but boy, was I wrong. It was a huge platter of meat: a giant veal or pork chop (I couldn't tell exactly which it was), two filet mignon steaks, two italian sausages, two lamb chops, and what I think was a piece of liver. I tried my best, but I couldn't even eat half of it. I started with the filets and the lamb chops, since those were both the smallest cuts and the best tasting, and I managed to finish those (I don't eat a lot of steak, but I think those filets may have been the best red meat I have ever eaten), but I didn't have much luck with the rest of the plate. I ate a few bites of one of the sausages, maybe a bite of the veal/pork, and I didn't bother with the liver. Mom and Julie helped out a little bit, but after we had all done all the damage we could, there was still a huge amount of food left on my plate.

It was only about 9:00 when we finished, but for some reason I was exhausted. Mom dropped us off back at our hotel, and we made plans to go to some museums in the morning while Julie was at her conference. Julie and I went back to our room, and after taking a few pictures of the city out of our windows, I turned in for the evening.

It still really bothers me when people write "a lot" as "alot". It's two words, people. How hard is that to remember?

On Saturday, Julie had to spend the first half of the day at her conference, so my mom came and picked me up and we went to the Philadelphia Museum of Art together. I was a little late meeting her in the lobby of my hotel because Julie interrupted my shower with a small problem: she had forgotten to disarm the alarm before she unlocked the car with her key, and just like it was supposed to, the car disabled the engine for 30 minutes. She ended up having to rent a car (luckily, there was a car rental agency attached to the garage of our hotel), and she got to her conference on time, but the morning was certainly a lot more stressful (and expensive) than we would have liked.

The museum was really crowded, because there was some special show of Degas' works, but the upside was that almost everyone at the museum was there for that show, so the rest of the place was pretty deserted. We only had a couple of hours to spend there (we had to pick up my mom's friend Jane at the train station around noon), and the place is huge, so I decided I'd rather treat it like a recon mission and just see everything really quickly than spend most of my time in one or two areas.

We started with the medieval area because I wanted to see if they had any of their illumninated manuscripts on display (they did, and of course they were under lock and key in a glass case, which was really weird for me since I've grown accustomed to being able to handle them in class). After that we, wandered back to the adjacent architecture section, where they had reconstructions of a Turkish church facade, an Indian temple, Japanese tea rooms, a Buddhist temple, a Spanish courtyard, and a few other rooms/buildings.

Then we headed down to the impressionist galleries, where mom stayed the rest of our visit. I took some time to glance at these (they just don't hold my attention like they used to), and then headed to the back to check out the modern section. I spent a while there before a quick trip to the American crafts and furniture area (where I saw these really cool handmade birth certificates), and then I went to get mom so we could pick up Jane.

We went to lunch at the Four Seasons to celebrate Jane's son Jonathan's recent wedding. The story of Jonathan's wedding is both funny and sad: a long time ago, he and his new wife decided that they didn't believe in the institution of marriage, and so even though they were committed to one another, they never had plans to wed. But he's in the Army Reserves, and he had been called up for training and warned that his unit could be activated for service in the gulf at any time. And in order to insure that his wife would have all the benefits she deserved if something were to happen to him, they decided to get married before he got shipped out. It was a very hurried thing: Tuesday they told their families they were getting married, and Saturday they actually did it. He was wearing his fatigues during the service, and even though they got to spend one night together, the next morning he was back at the base and she was on her way back to Chicago. God only knows when they'll see each other again.

Lunch was really good; I don't think it would be a stretch to say that it was the most extravagant lunch I've ever eaten (I had some sea scallops, and while the food itself was very good, it was the presentation, the environment, and the service that made it really unique). I noticed that they had a rule in their menu asking customers not to use their cell phones in the restaurant, and so of course it only took about five minutes before a woman who looked entirely too accustomed to eating hundred dollar lunches every day not only let her phone ring several times before answering it, she also proceeded to have a loud conversation with little regard for the atmosphere she was disrupting. Another intriguing bit of human behavior was on display at the table on the other side of us, where a fat balding man in his fifites and dressed like a man in his eighties was lunching with a young, trendily dressed asian-american girl. He was talking about the music industry, and how hard it was to break new stars, and I got the distinctly creepy feeling that I was witnessing the music biz version of the casting couch. About halfway through their meal, the girl put on her sunglasses and stared out the window, even though she would still answer him when he asked her a question. She was clearly feeling embarrassed about being there with him, but she was also clearly willing to endure it if she could get something out of it. It was a little disgusting to see, but endlessly fascinating.

Around the time we were finishing lunch, Julie called to say that her conference was over, so we drove back to the hotel so we could walk up to the convention center (stopping to look at some of Philadelphia's historical attractions on the way) for the flower show. I've never been to a flower show before, but apparently Philadelphia's is supposed to be one of the best in the country. Mom went a few years ago, and when she found out that we were going to be in town the weekend of this year's show, she almost insisted on buying us tickets so we could all go together.

It was more interesting than I thought it would be, and it was also way more crowded than I would have imagined. We took a dinner break around six, hoping to try one of the cheese steak places in the Reading Terminal Market, but the stand that we had been recommended was sold out of them when we got there (how can a cheese steak stand in Phildelphia EVER run out of cheese steak, especially on a weekend night with a big tourist attraction right next door?). We ended up going to a chinese place that mom had been to before, which was very good but also a little expensive.

When we got back to the show, it was much, much less crowded than it had been before dinner, and we were able to actually walk around at our own pace and enjoy the displays. On the way out to the street to catch a cab, we walked through the renovated Reading Terminal, where a friendly security guard told me a lot of the history of the building, which was really cool. After a scary cab ride back down to our hotel—our driver had a habit of reflexively honking his horn whenever the cab had to stop for any reason whatsoever, including red lights, and he also seemed to be talking to himself in another language the entire trip (although as we were getting out I noticed he had a small headset connected to a cell phone)—we escorted mom and Jane to mom's rental car, I checked to make sure that my car would still start after Julie's morning alarm fiasco, and then Julie and I went up to our room. It was just after 9 o'clock at that point, but it felt more like midnight. It had been a fun day, but I was exhausted and I just needed to sleep.

I've always toyed with the idea of implementing special stylesheets and images that would update my color scheme for certain holidays, but for St. Patrick's Day at least, it's kind of unnecessary.

Well, it's that time of year again: spring training is well under way, major league games will begin in a mere two weeks, and it's time for me to defend my fantasy baseball title after a disastrous and humiliating football season. All the regulars are back from last year, but we're hoping to add a few new faces to the mix. If you're interested, email me and I'll give you the info you'll need to join the league.

For our final Philadelphia adventure before heading back to Baltimore last Sunday (now more than a week ago), Julile and I decided to spend a couple of hours on Philly's famous South Street, topped off with one of the city's famous cheese steaks for lunch. The guides all recommended a place called Jim's Steaks, which we assumed would be open, but after our experience at the Reading Terminal Market, we called just to be sure. Someone answered the phone and said they were open, so around 11 a.m., we checked out of our hotel, packed up the car (which would stay in the hotel's garage until we were ready to leave), and started the five or six block walk over to South Street.

When we got to Jim's, we discovered that they weren't actually open yet, but they would be soon. A small line had already started to form, but instead of waiting around for another 20 minutes, we walked around the block once or twice and spent some time in one of the many record stores on South Street. Of course, the line was enormously long by the time we came back, and even though it was 12, they still hadn't started letting people in yet, so we made yet another trip around the block and stopped in yet another record store to pass the time. When we came back for the third time, the line outside had disappeared, but that was just because they had all moved inside; you literally couldn't set foot inside it was so crowded. But it was becoming pretty apparent to us that the line wasn't going to get any better than this, so we dutifully took our places, shuffling forward every 15 seconds to move one place closer to the front of the line. It actually moved pretty fast, thanks to cash-only sales and a very efficient preparation process, and before long we were placing our order.

Now, when I've gotten cheese steaks in the past, the cheese part of the cheese steak has always been provolone. But I had heard that in Philly, the locals preferred it with Cheez Whiz, and sure enough, Whiz was the first option on the menu at Jim's. Julie and I were both a little unsure of this, but we wanted to have the authentic Philadelphia experience, so we decided to get one with Whiz and one with provolone and then each take half of each sandwich. It was pretty clear that my sources had been correct, though: everyone who seemed local was ordering their sandwich with Whiz, and it was used so frequently that they just had a big vat of it next to the grill which they would slather onto the rolls before adding the steak and onions.

And man, have those Philadelphians got it right. I ate my provolone half first, and I'm glad I did because it would have been such a letdown to have to eat it after the pure bliss of the Whiz. I'm not quite sure what made it so perfect—the way it oozed into the cracks between the meat slices, or how it added just the right touch of saltiness to the steak and onions (which were cooked without any seasoning)—but boy, was it good. From now on, when I'm looking at cheese steaks on a menu, I'll know that if they don't make it with Cheez Whiz, it's not a real Philly cheese steak.

Funny sidenote: while we were upstairs eating our lunch at Jim's, I noticed a huge guy eating two cheese steaks by himself. Now I'm a pretty big guy myself, but this guy could have rolled right over me and not even noticed. But him being big and him eating two cheese steaks solo isn't the funny part. The funny part is his drink: a diet coke. Julie pointed out that he could have had diabetes, which is why he would choose a diet beverage to accompany a meal that obviously didn't belong anywhere near any kind of diet aimed at making you lose weight. And while that may be true, it doesn't make the scene any less comical.

Speaking of baseball: ever since we have moved close enough to a major league town to be able to attend games on a regular basis, it has been a dream of mine to have season tickets. The team isn't really important; I am a Braves fan, and no matter how long I live near Baltimore, that won't change, just like no matter how long I stay in Maryland, I'll always be a Chapel Hill fan. But the idea of following a team for a whole season, seeing every game, or at least every home game, is an unspoken desire of every serious baseball fan. If it's your favorite team, so much the better, but really, I don't know any true fan who would miss an opportunity to show up at a stadium every night there's a game and watch a major league team, no matter how bad, make their way through a whole season.

Now, real season tickets are more of a time and money investment than I can afford right now, but luckily (thanks to the Orioles' losing ways over the past few seasons), the team is now offering more affordable partial season ticket plans, where you can select from one of four 13 game packages or a deluxe 29 game package in addition to the traditional full season package. And for the cheapest seats in the 13 game packages, it's only around $150 per seat for the season, which is well within our price range.

I started looking at the various plans a month or so ago when tickets for this season first went on sale, but I never really followed up on it seriously. When you live next to a city with a big league team, it's always easy to procrastinate and figure that if you don't get around to it this season, there's always next year. But then Julie told me she had saved up some money for my birthday present, I still had some money left over from Christmas, and (this was the real clincher) they were having a special "tag day" at the stadium where you could look at the remaining season ticket seats and buy them on the spot.

I still wasn't completely sure that I wanted to do it, but since the tag day festivities included free hot dogs and drinks and other giveaways, we figured that even if we didn't end up buying tickets, we'd still get a fun day at the ballpark out of it. And we weren't disappointed: in addition to the free food and the chance to walk anywhere in the stadium on a beautiful day (the first day this year that it really felt like spring, or perhaps more importantly, that it didn't feel like winter), we were given two free tickets to an exhibition game versus the Mets next week, a chance to enter a drawing for an opening day luxury suite party for ten people,

After thinking about it some more, and being swept up by the beauty of the park on a gorgeous day, I was pretty sure that I wanted to buy one of the 13 game plans, but the next question was, which one? Julie was willing to go a little higher than the base $150 per seat plan in upper reserve (read: the nosebleed section, although even the cheap seats at Camden Yards have great views), but she didn't want to go too much higher. She was thinking maybe the next highest price range, the upper box ($260 per seat), which was still in the highest tier of the stadium, but not so high up so you didn't feel as removed from the action. I, on the other hand, was thinking that if we were going to do this, we might as well do it right: I was considering going as high as the most expensive of the partial plans, which went up to $455 per seat.

In the end, we compromised, partly because of the seats that were still available (all of the really expensive ones were taken) and partly because Julie was slowly warming to the idea of more expensive seats the more time we spent in the stadium. The best seats they had left were right in the middle of the overall structure at $325 per seat. We found a pair of seats on the end of a row on the field level of left field that were still available for the plan we wanted, and after a few minutes of enjoying the view, we decided to go ahead and get them. Here are some pictures:

The seats themselves

The view looking straight ahead

View to the right

View to the left

Even at $325 per seat, these seats are a really great deal. That price averages out to $25 per person per game, but seats in that section normally sell for $32, and if we were buying the tickets individually at the box office, $25 would buy you the best seats in the upper deck, but would get you nowhere near the field level. Also included with our ticket package were discounts on stadium food and merchandise, a free Orioles jersey, discounts at several area restaurants, and season ticket holder privileges like being able to enter the stadium half an hour before the general public and invitations to town hall meetings featuring Orioles players, coaches, and management. We were also able to buy two opening day tickets (which were otherwise sold out) in a special section they had set aside for people who purchased tickets on tag day. The final bonus was one of the best: we were offered (and purchased) the opportunity to buy a parking pass that would allow us to park in a special season ticket holders lot near the stadium for each of the games in our season ticket package. Price: $7 per game, $1 less than the parking lot we usually use downtown. And we never have to worry about it being full.

All in all, I'm pretty happy about our purchase. For $759, we got tickets to 15 games, including the exhibition match against the Mets and opening day, and parking for the 13 regular season games. It's a little more than we were intending to spend, but if we only do this once, I think the extra money will be worth it (the sales guy who helped us told us that our section was mostly filled with people who had been season ticket holders for the life of the stadium, and that two years ago they wouldn't have had anything to offer in that section because everyone was renewing their seats every year). And if we really like our seats, they are automatically held for us next year; we can even trade up to better ones if they become available.

Our seats. That feels really good to say. Needless to say, I am really looking forward to the start of baseball season.

You spend your whole life building a guy's toe, you're gonna remember him.

Okay, fantasy baseball people. Time to get signed up. Don't make me base the draft order on how quickly you joined the league. And we still have some spots open, so if anyone out there is interested, just email me.

Apparently Canada has my sister. We'd like her returned intact, please.

Fear the bloody snowflake on a stick! Oh, wait—that's just a leaf.

"The Canadian Flag is a symbol of Nation unity." Well, duh.

I don't often read Jason Kottke's web site anymore, not because it's not good, but because it's so perfectly crafted that it makes me want to throw down my keyboard in disgust and take my site offline. But a recent entry of his on the war (written before the conflict actually started) has been receiving a lot of links on Daypop, and it sums up a lot of my feelings on the conflict with Iraq, Saddam, the current administration, and the complacent media establishment that is little more than a propaganda machine for the White House. So rather than trying to restate what he has already said so succinctly and with more insight than I could offer, I'm just going to direct you to his thoughts on the war. I don't agree with him on everything (most notably his arrogant comments about peace protestors—the solution they're supporting is not holding hands and hoping that everything will get better, but rather continuing the policies of weapons inspections and trade restrictions aimed at containing Saddam), but for the most part he offers a balanced view of many aspects of this issue.

Michael Moore kicks ass. Can't we give him his own television network or something?

On a related note: through a combination of lackluster and unseen nominated films and performances and the coincidental airing of the show on the same day as the first day of real combat in the new war with Iraq, the Oscars have never seemed more irrelevant. And that's saying something.

Attention inappropriate cell phone users: the reason that skit on Trigger Happy TV where they guy is yelling into an oversized cell phone in the park, in a museum, at the movies, etc., never gets old no matter how many variations they come up with is because THAT'S EXACTLY HOW YOU SOUND TO THE REST OF US. So cut it out before one of us punches you.

What kind of warped television classification system would label The Brak Show and Aqua Teen Hunger Force "Animated Fantasy" while calling their twisted Adult Swim sibling Sealab 2021 "Animated Drama"?

My first paper is due for my book grad school class on Wednesday, and just like in college, I have procrastinated until the last possible minute. I'll probably do it during lunch today and then take some final notes at class tonight before finishing it up late tomorrow night (we're meeting twice this week to make up for our week off last week). I take some solace in the fact that I have already written it in my head and all I need to do is sit down and type it up, but really, I should have at least written a rough draft before now.

Remember that paper I mentioned yesterday? Well, I'm still working on it, so it gets all my attention writing-wise today.

It is getting increasingly difficult to find interesting links that aren't related to the Iraq war.

So tired. After long days at work and two nights of class in a row, I've barely been able to stay awake long enough to have dinner, much less do any work for this site. But class is over for the week, my paper is done, and I'm hoping that we're reaching the end of the long work days, too—we mail our decisions next Monday, so we're just stuffing envelopes in preparation for that now, and we're also almost finished configuring and testing the production server for the new database system. I might even get to come home on time today.

Are news items like "Baghdad Rocked by Explosions" really worthy of alert status at this point?

Last Sunday we went geocaching again for the first time in a while. Looking back at our logs, it was actually longer than I thought it was, way back in June. I guess the combination of the brutally hot summer, the non-existent fall, and the cold and snowy winter has kept us indoors a lot more than normal.

We did two, and neither was particularly hard. Which was a good thing—we need some time to get back both our hiking legs and our keen cache-hunting instincts. Now that spring looks like it's finally arriving and the weather is warm enough to spend weekends outside again, we'll hopefully get to make up for the last several months of inactivity and finally push our geocaches found total over fifty (we're currently at 38 after just over two years of participating in the sport on a very sporadic basis).

For Christmas, Julie got me two of those short-range talkabout walkie talkies, thinking we could use them while skiing or geocaching. We took them with us skiing, but we didn't actually end up using them because we never separated from each other long enough to need them. We brought them with us on Sunday, and I was still having my doubts about whether they would really be useful, but surprisingly, they were. We didn't need them at the first cache because it was hidden only a couple of steps into the forest under a log (we barely needed the GPS unit to find that one), but the second one was hidden in a hollow under a rock on a hill, which hill happened to have dozens of such rocks within 50 feet of the cache. We split up, with Julie taking the low ground and me taking the high ground, and we were able to coordinate our efforts pretty well without having to shout at each other from a distance. I have a feeling their going to become a regular part of our increasingly technological outings in the woods, along with our GPS unit and digital camera.

Look, weather gods: I don't know what kind of screwed up timetables you're looking at, but it is not supposed to snow for ten hours straight on March 30. At least not in the mid-atlantic region of the east coast. You're just lucky it didn't stick to the roads. I've got tickets for opening day tomorrow and I don't want any more monkey business. Let's get on with spring, please; we've suffered through your winter for long enough.

Some random observations from a weekend mostly spent hibernating and recovering from a long three months at work:
  • The Breakfast Club has aged very well. It remains a great teen angst movie, despite the total collapse of the careers of all of the stars. Sixteen Candles is still pretty good, too.

  • My suspicion that our cats sleep more than 20 hours a day is more than just a suspicion at this point.

  • It is really hard to get any work dependent on internet research done when your cable modem cuts out on you every ten minutes. That goes for playing online games, too.

  • I don't think they show any cartoons on Saturday morning anymore.

  • After reading that the Braves had to place both Mike Hampton and Paul Byrd on the DL after spring training (the replacements for Tom Glavine and Kevin Millwood, respectively), I'm growing increasingly concerned about the team's chances to add another year to their amazing twelve year run of division titles.

  • Tom's best idea so far this year: suggesting that I watch the Simpons DVDs with the audio commentary and English subtitles on at the same time so I could remember what the story was about for each episode without having to watch it once without the commentary.

  • I didn't really know who to root for in the NCAA tournament this weekend because I couldn't remember who I picked in the office pool.

I guess that's about it. Productive weekend, huh?

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