september 2003

I have spent far too much time over my past three supposed days off working on various work projects, and as a result you're not going to get much copy today. I usually don't post on holidays anyway, but I was getting the site ready for the next month while waiting for the good part of Adult Swim to come on (Harvey Birdman, Aqua Teens, Sealab 2021) and I figured I go ahead and post something for today. So here it is. It doesn't matter anyway, since most of you won't read this until tomorrow anyway, at which point there'll be real content. See you then—have a good holiday.

Busy week coming up. We're going to a baseball game tonight, I'm starting my new class on Thursday, then we've got another game on Friday, and finally we're attending Sam's wedding on Saturday (that's also when my sister is graduating from her medical coding program, but we had already signed on for Sam's event by the time we found out what date hers was on). This is also the first week of classes for Hopkins students, which means it's also time for our application cycle to officially ramp up. Hopefully I'll have a few spare minutes to tell you about the day we spent with Ryan and Lexa on Saturday and give you the details on the next project from the group of artists who worked on the Circular Ruins book.

Well, it's Tori's birthday today, but I won't be able to talk to her because she is incommunicado somewhere in Europe, on her way to Austria where she will spend the next school year. I doubt she'll have access to this page, either, but I'm assuming that she'll read this at some point. So when she does: happy birthday, punk. I miss you a lot.

Let's see: it was cold, it was raining, and it took several extra innings of low-scoring baseball before the Orioles added one more defeat to their dismal record this season. Just another night at Camden Yards 2003.

The reality flashback is the greatest thing ever. There is nothing better than seeing smug, egotistical, obnoxious, spoiled, self-centered, backstabbing jerks talking all earnest to the camera about how honest they've been, how they've played the game honorably, how they've never been mean to anyone, etc., etc., only to have their monologues interrupted by video clips showing them being mean, stupid, annoying, dishonest, and all the other things they claim they've never been or done. It's a beautiful thing, and I'm becoming increasingly convinced that this is why reality tv holds me in such a trance: seeing idiots get their comeupance in front of a large audience. That doesn't make me a great person, but I'm not going on camera and telling millions of people that I am, either.

Tonight I start my next class, a survey of modern art (which according to this course starts with Impressionism and goes up to the 80s, at least in the most recent edition of the textbook). I'm looking forward to this, but I'm still getting over my summer course, The Artificial Human in Science, Myth and Literature. See, I got an A-, but I'm really pissed because I think I deserved an A. This isn't that big a deal, I know—no one will ever see or care about these grades again, and I really am doing this program more for the simple joy of learning than anything else (certainly not for the degree)—but in the world of graduate school, particularly this type of graduate school, an A- is equivalent to a B in undergrad, and I certainly didn't deserve a B in this class. I did all the readings, I led three class discussions, I contributed significantly to each class discussion, and my paper was relevant to the course topics (and I thought pretty good, although the professor apparently disagreed with me).

I guess I'm not so much disappointed that he didn't like my paper as I am critical of his ability to read it. He only had two basic comments, one of which was repeated from my second paper (which was basically a rough draft of the final paper) that I feel I addressed more than adequately, and the other of which simply wasn't true. I've always had reservations about how open-minded this professor was—whenever the class discussion went in a direction he didn't like (i.e., different than it would have gone if he had been giving a lecture instead of hosting a seminar), he quickly took it back over and either turned it sharply back towards his interpretation or halted it altogether—and I also don't feel like his readings of the material were particularly insightful (sometimes I feel like he missed the point completely, and my classmates tended to agree). I tried to read his comments with an open mind and take them as legitimate and useful criticism, but the more I thought about them, the more I realized that they just weren't reflective of my paper; the main criticism he had of my analysis was that I didn't do enough to distinguish machine and human intelligence, when in fact I spent three paragraphs specifically on that topic (one of A.I.'s David, one of 2001's HAL, and one in the conclusion). It's like he had already written his criticism and assigned my grade for the course based on my rough draft, and he didn't bother to read the final paper for any other reason than to confirm what he had already decided.

I'm very tempted to write him an email that takes his comments as the first part of a further dialogue, something that I occasionally did in undergrad when I felt like I had been wronged or when I just wanted to say a little bit more about my professor's comments. I don't care about getting my grade changed to an A (and I know he can't adjust my grade downward at this point since the new semester has already started), but the principle of the thing matters a lot to me. I felt like I put a lot into this class, more than any of the other students and maybe even more than the professor (even though I thought the material was a little dated for the topic), and I just don't think it's right that my paper wasn't given a fair hearing when I did my best to make the most of the class every week even when the material wasn't to my liking (Interview with the Vampire and Who Framed Roger Rabbit, I'm looking in your direction).

Further complicating the situation is the fact that he is married to the program chair, and while my email would not be in any way rude or offensive (despite my strong feelings about this, I know that I can frame it in a way that won't ruffle any feathers), and I'm pretty sure she wouldn't hold anything against me even if he did take some offense to it (she will ultimately approve my thesis, and I'm also required to take one course with her at some point during the program), it's still needlessly causing potential trouble. I know I should just let it go, and I still might, but I'm at least going to write my response to his comments just to get it out of my system. Whether I actually press the send button after that remains to be seen.

Class last night was okay, but not great. That was mostly due to the fact that the AV folks had forgotten to set up the slide projectors, which meant that instead of being able to see real examples of what the professor was talking about, we just had to take her word for it and imagine her points in the abstract. She was very knowledgeable, though, and it looks like I'll be taking a lot of notes. Which is a good thing; I enjoy a nice lecture course every once and a while.

Sunday could have been productive, but thanks to my primary hard drive deciding that it wasn't so fond of starting up properly any more, I spent most of the day after we got back from church salvaging files, reinstalling all my apps onto my backup drive, and just generally making sure everything was okay with my system. Sometime this week I'll have to go out and get a new primary drive and then do it all over again, because right now there's not a reliable backup for my backup. But all my data is safe, my machine is functional again, and that's good enough for now. And I still managed to do my laundry and get most of my reading done for class, so I guess the day wasn't a total loss.

Falling behind on content again thanks to our busy week last week and this weekend (between two baseball games, my first night of class, Sam's wedding, and my computer problems, I haven't had much time for this site). But before I tell you about Sam and Miranda's wedding, I guess I need to go back a week and tell you about the day Julie and I spent with Ryan and his wife Lexa. I was going to describe it in detail, but I'm trying to work on increasing my brevity and it can be summed up like this: lunch, mini-golf, boardgame, boardgame, dinner. In short, it was a good day.

The highlights were actually the boardgames, believe it or not. Not that the other activities weren't fun, too, but I love new games, and I both of these turned out to be pretty good. The first one was an interesting combination of Risk, Warcraft, and Pit that seemed complicated before we actually started playing but which was pretty easy to understand after the first couple of rounds. The next game was a movie trivia game with a twist: you played it with a DVD that showed clips from famous movies and then asked you questions about what you'd just seen. It's a really cool idea; the only problem was that copyright clearances prevented the game makers from using a wide range of movies, and so even within a single game it could start to feel repetitive (Ryan and Lexa told us that they try not to play it too often so they don't memorize everything by repeated exposure).

Another bonus was Ryan introducing us to a little show on Spike TV called Most Extreme Elimination Challenge via his cherised ReplayTV. This show is freaking hilarious, and I don't understand why it doesn't have a rabid cult following yet. It's a messed-up blend of Iron Chef, Jackass, and Banzai TV, basically taking the best footage from a Japanese game show and overdubbing it with English dialogue that has nothing to do with what the Japanese commentators and contestants are actually saying. That stuff can be pretty funny and surreal, but the best parts of the show are the games themselves, most of which are obstacle courses designed so that the most likely outcome is that the contestant ends up falling hard onto some sort of stationary object before then falling again into a pit of muddy water. If you think Jackass is too highbrow or Banzai TV doesn't cause enough pain to the players, this is the show for you.

It was really weird to see Ryan in the context of a couple (I had never met Lexa before, even though they've been married for over a year at this point). Not that he's not a good guy, but he had the most bachelor-oriented lifestyle of any of my friends (mattress on the floor, computer in the tv room downstairs, cabinets stocked with Hamburger Helper and Lipton noodle packets), and it was hard to imagine his home, which was our headquarters for card nights for a couple of years, as a home for a family. But he and Lexa seemed really natural together, really right for each other, and his home had been transformed into a mostly-normal couple's residence (although there were still telltale signs of his geekness, like the wireless router in the living room and the surround sound speakers stacked on plastic milk crates). It was really cool to finally get to meet her, and I'm hoping it won't take so long before we hang out again.

So last Saturday Sam, a friend of mine from Sycamore days, got married to his longtime sweetheart Miranda, who he started dating years ago. Theirs is a truly unique story: just before they started seeing each other, Miranda made a commitment to spend almost three years in Africa working for the Peace Corps, so that mere months after they got serious, she departed for a country halfway around the world. Sam couldn't stand it; shortly after a three week trip to visit her six months into her stay, he quit his job, sold most of his stuff, and headed to Malawi to be with her. He didn't try to join the Peace Corps himself, but instead made a living doing freelance media design and also living off his savings, which in Africa were substantial enough to provide pretty much everything he and Miranda would need. When they returned to the US two years later, they each spent some time with their families before moving to North Carolina together, where Sam now does media design and Mir is a teacher. A few months ago I got an email from Sam saying they were finally going to tie the knot, and I couldn't have been happier for them.

The wedding was very Sam and Miranda: he was wearing a tux, and there was a preacher to officiate, but those were pretty much the only traditional elements. The ceremony was held outdoors in Sam's father's backyard (it was a beautiful day—Julie and I sat on a blanket in the grass under a shady tree to witness their union), Miranda's dress was made from a $25 garment she got at a thrift store, both of them were in bare feet the entire time, and after the wedding they took their inaugural ride as a couple in an old Model T that Sam's father, a retired judge, had restored. At the reception (also held in the backyard), live music was provided by one of Sam's guitar friends (Sam had a band that produced a pretty decent album right before he took off for Africa), and when he needed to take a break, they pumped music from an iPod through the sound system (including cuts from artists as varied as Lauren Hill, Modest Mouse, Jamiroquai, and Del Tha Funkee Homosapien of Gorillaz fame).

The getaway car

The most interesting part of the day was when the guests celebrated the marriage in a traditional African ceremony called perekani perekani. After the Malawi national anthem was sung (many of the guests were Peace Corps veterans who had known Sam and Mir in Africa), the newlyweds were seated in hand-carved chairs that Sam had purchased in Malawi and a small basket was placed in front of them. Then some contemporary African music was played from the iPod, and different groups of guests were asked to approach the couple, dancing and waving small bills over their heads, and throw the money into the basket along with any advice they might have. The Peace Corps volunteers went first to show everyone how it was done, but everyone had several turns—they asked for the family of the bride, the family of the groom, friends of the bride, friends of the groom, etc., etc. We dropped about $50 in fives and ones into the basket in three trips, and I suspect that was about average. By the time the ceremony was over, the bills were overflowing from the basket; I'm guessing they had at least $1000, and it easily could have been twice that.


It was a great afternoon, cool breezes, lots of sun, and a gorgeous blue sky. Everyone was happy and laughing; everything in the world seemed just right. The world was smiling on Sam and Miranda, and they were smiling back; you couldn't ask for a better start to a life together.

Another Saturday event: my sister Carrie graduated from her medical coding program in Florida. Thanks to relentless pressure from my mother, much of the family attended, but thankfully Julie and I had Sam's wedding on the schedule by the time they told us when the graduation was going to take place. I say thankfully because I didn't really want to go; I'm proud of my sister, and I'm glad that she's taking some positive steps in her life, but it was just a technical training school (similar to one that I would have likely attended if I hadn't been able to find work after CO2 shut down; it was my own interest in possible learning medical coding that sparked Carrie's initial interest in the field), but my mother and Carrie were both treating it as if she was graduating from college.

See, Carrie never finished college—she's never really finished much of anything, in fact (for those of you wondering why I'm able to write with such brutal honesty about this after my recent whining about not being able to truly speak my mind on this page, it's only because I know that neither my mother nor my sister is aware of the existence of this page, and the family members who are aware of it are likely to agree with my point of view and not cause any trouble by relaying my thoughts to them). She's not stupid, but she has chosen since high school to live a stupid life, hanging out with her irresponsible idiot friends, going out to bars and living a near-alcoholic life, and not having to take on any of the responsibilities that most normal adults do. She has lived with my mom forever (save for one year of college in North Carolina, where she did so poorly that she was asked not to return), and has never had to worry about things like paying rent, paying other monthly bills, buying food, saving money, paying for her car, etc. She didn't even have her own checking account until a year or two ago, simply getting my mother to give her cash for her checks from whatever part time job she happened to have at the time. She was 30 years old, but she still had the outlook and the real-world life skills of a 14 year old.

So I was very encouraged when Carrie decided to enroll in a technical school to learn medical coding last October (my dad paid for it, god bless him, even after years of paying for classes that didn't result in anything, even an AA degree; I'm not sure if I would have if I were him), and even more hopeful when she started off well. She was taking her classes very seriously, and she even joined the school's student council. In the end, she was her class's valedictorian, she had her pick of internship sites, and her internship liked her so much that they offered her a permanent position. All of that is great, and I'm proud of her and very happy that she seems to be getting her life on track (although the cynic in me feels compelled to point out that she still hasn't moved out of my mother's house and has yet to really function as an independent adult).

The problem I had with all this was that Carrie and my mother seemed to treat Carrie's completion of a nine month technical school program as equivalent to graduating from a four year college. As of yet, I'm the only one of my siblings to complete four years of college and get a bachelor's degree (to be fair, Tori hasn't yet stumbled and seems well on her way to achieving that goal as well), and I worked damn hard to get it. Davidson was not an easy school, and after a mediocre freshmen year, I took it very seriously, going on to write a thesis, graduate with honors, and win the nonfiction writing award my senior year before heading off to UVA for grad school. So while I'm glad that Carrie has finished her program and seems closer to adulthood than she has in the past ten years, I am a little resentful that she and my mother want to make her experience equal in importance to what I consider to be one of the greatest accomplishments of my life.

If Carrie had been graduating from college, even a part-time program at a community college, I wouldn't have missed it for anything. But the medical coding program was in no way, shape, or form the same as finishing a four year college degree, especially one at a school with a workload as heavy as Davidson's. Maybe I'm being petty, but I was glad when I found out that Carrie's graduation was the same day as Sam's wedding; it gave me an easy excuse not to go without ruffling any feathers. I know that my dad struggled for a while with whether or not to go himself; he felt the same reservations I did. But he went, because he is a good man and a good father, and doesn't let petty stuff get to him the same way I do.

I guess Carrie should be allowed to have her day in the sun, since the likelihood of her ever getting a college degree is pretty remote at this point. And I am really proud of her, and optimistic that she is finally going to tap some of the potential that I know she's had all along. I'm just keeping my fingers crossed that she takes her new job as seriously as she took her schooling.

The Orioles got their asses kicked again last night, which always seems to happen when we see them play, no matter how well they've been playing otherwise (out of the 15 games we've seen this season, I think they've won at most three of them). But at least it was Dollar Hot Dog night.

In deference to the 9.11 anniversary, I will not be posting anything to this page tomorrow. But I encourage you to revisit my when the walls fell project, a collection of essays from ordinary people (most of whom happened to be friends and relatives of mine) about the events of that day. I've been spending a lot of time revisiting the site in the last couple of weeks, and it's amazing to me how hard it still to make sense of that day, especially in light of the senseless acts of agression we have in engaged in using the events of that day as justification. Tomorrow is a good day for reflection about where we're heading as individuals, as a nation, and as a global society, and the When the Walls Fell essays help remind me why these questions are worth wrestling with.

Ah, football season is here again. It's time for me to put my disastrous fantasy baseball season behind me and concentrate on fantasy football. This year I'm doing five leagues/pools: two Yahoo leagues with various combinations of the people that I played with last year, another Yahoo league developed by Ryan that rewards poor performance, a CBS pay league run by one of the IT guys at work, and the points pool run by a guy in my office that I played in last year. So far I've won one and lost one in my Yahoo leagues (play in Ryan's Extreme Suck league doesn't start until this week), I won my CBS league, and I got the second highest point total for the week in my points pool. Not a bad start, really, especially given that I don't really know that much about football and have to rely on research to keep up with the true fans. I just hope I get to kick CS Jeff and Scott's asses a couple of times to make up for the drubbing they gave me in baseball this season.


Six months ago, I thought getting 75 junk emails a day was bad. Now I get three times that. This sucks.

We actually got our projectors for last night's lecture, although the professor had to raise holy hell before the AV guys got sufficiently motivated to set them up. The class lasted about two hours, but it went by really quickly. The instructor is great at telling stories about the art, she doesn't just give us the regular art history stuff, and when she lectures she shows two pictures at a time which often seem unrelated on the surface, which is great for a brain like mine that's constantly looking for parallels and patterns between disparate things.

I think I'm going to like this class a lot. The workload is relatively light, but I'm going to learn a lot, both from the lectures and the black-hole density textbook. I've already grown more fond of some artists that I was previously indifferent toward, especially Manet and Degas. I'm a fan of Impressionism in general, and I really like some of Monet's and Van Gogh's work, but given the frequency with which most of the Impressionists show up on coffee mugs, calendars, refrigerator magnets, tote bags, umbrellas, etc., etc., it's nice to hear them given respect by a serious art historian (she called Impressionism the first new art movement since the Renaissance, and Monet the most gifted painter of movement and light ever).

The professor also passed around the sign-up sheet for our in-class presentations, which are supposed to become the basis for our final papers. I had agreed to work with Brenda, a student who I've had two classes with, and we had talked about doing Surrealism, Cubism, or Dada (Brenda really wanted to do something with Picasso), but we ended up with Abstract Expressionism. I'm not too wild about that movement, but that's kind of the point of this class, to get me to understand and appreciate the art of the last century, especially the more abstract stuff that I sometimes have trouble with. So I think it will be a good challenge for me, and I'm hoping that by the time we get there I'll have gained some new insights into the painters of that movement the same way I've gained new appreciation for Manet and Degas.

Damn it.

I spent a good portion of the weekend installing my spiffy new 80 GB hard drive (Maxtor DiamondMax 9) to replace my two ailing 30 GB drives that started having serious problems last week. I made sure everything I needed to have was backed up to my external Firewire drive, then I installed the new drive and went through the several-hour long process of formatting and partitioning the drive, installing a clean copy of OS X onto the boot volume, and finally copying back all of my files, applications, and preferences from the external Firewire. So far, everything seems to be running great, but I'm not erasing anything from the external drive until I've gone through a few weeks with no problems.

An added bonus of installing this new drive is that everything on my system is markedly faster. I did some research and figured out why: my hard drives reside on the internal ATA bus, which is an ATA 100 bus, but one of my old hard drives was only an ATA 66, and no matter what the bus speed is or what the speed of the fastest disk on the bus is, the transfer rates will only be as fast as the slowest drive. That means that for the past couple of years, I have only gotten about 2/3 of the performance out of my hard drive transfer rates as my machine was capable of.

I also spent a significant amount of time revamping the code under the hood of this site for a site revamp that I've been considering for some time. You shouldn't notice any difference (unless you're using a really, really old browser), but trust me, much has changed. (If you do happen to notice anything weird, just empty your cache and reload the page, and that should fix it.) I'll probably be ready to unveil the surface aspects of these changes in the next month or two, so stay tuned.

Tom has a new car.

Tori called on Sunday afternoon, and although I didn't talk to her for that long, it was good to hear from her. She's been in Austria for over a week now, and she seems to be settling in nicely with her host family—there is one other girl from her program staying in the house who's also a vegetarian, but they each have their own rooms, so there is some personal space for Tori among all those strangers. She has a cell phone and a calling card that gives her semi-reasonable rates back to the US, and she has 20 hours of time at a local internet cafe so she can check email (she can buy more if she needs to). She started classes a few days ago—mostly art and art history stuff, although she's taking German, too—and it generally sounds like she's really enjoying herself.

It's still weird for me to think about her being in Austria, in Salzberg, (although in some ways it's more real to me than Iowa). Salzberg was one of the towns we stayed in while traveling through Europe, though only briefly. All I remember from our visit is staying in a cottage up in the mountains above the town where we got to enjoy the company of a cat who stayed with the guests, and the white swans who swam in the river the runs through the center of town. There are other dim memories of Austria, but I don't know for sure if they are from Salzberg or Innsbruck or Vienna, all of which we stopped at for a day or more.

I think a lot about how different that experience would have been for me if I had gotten to do it at this point in my life, where I obsessively document my experiences both textually and visually (I didn't keep a journal or take pictures of any sort, although Julie did). At the same time, I don't think I would be the same person I am today without that six months abroad; even though I was a very cautious traveler, I still saw and did a lot of things that changed my outlook on the world forever. I would like nothing more than to return to Europe at some point, and it would be a nice bonus if I could spend time with Tori in the process, but I'm not sure if we'll have the money or the time for such an indulgence before she returns to the states next year. I'm just really glad she's getting to do it; I think it's a real shame that Dodd and Carrie never got to a point where they were able or willing to spend some time abroad. At the same time, if there was only one of us that could go, Tori would definitely be the one, because she's the most adventurous of the four of us, the most willing to open herself up to new experiences, and she will definitely get the most out of it. I just hope she still wants to come home nine months from now.

You know, even though I haven't lived in North Carolina for better than a decade now, that's still where my heart is. And I think it's pretty cool that the Democratic senator from NC, John Edwards, officially announced his presidential candidacy on The Daily Show on Monday night. Although, in typical play-it-safe politician style, this isn't mentioned anywhere on Edwards' web site, which instead references a more traditional press conference he gave Tuesday morning as his official announcement, and in fact doesn't mention The Daily Show appearance at all.

I don't really know anything about Edwards as a candidate at this point, but he's from NC and he was able to handle Jon Stewart's pointed questions for a couple of minutes, so I'm willing to give hm the benefit of the doubt. Still, I'd love to see a few more Democrats start taking direct shots at Bush and stop using outsider Howard Dean as their meat shield. If they don't watch it, Dean could cement his lead at the front of the pack and leave them all begging to be his VP.

Big storm coming. Julie's parents were supposed to drive up today for a weekend visit, but they're staying home; my mom was supposed to fly into town for a conference, and that's been canceled; and even though I'm sure Hopkins will wait until the last minute to annouce it, based on what other colleges and universities are doing in our area, it looks like we'll be closed at least half a day tomorrow (most other schools have already annouced that they will be closed Friday and either all day or a half a day today, but Hopkins has this stoic thing about being the last school to announce its severe weather plans).

Dad and Rachel will likely get hit pretty hard (they live in Wilmington, NC), and they've got everything boarded up and battoned down, but they aren't planning on leaving the house; they've been through worse, and for some reason they don't think Isabel is going to be as bad as the forecasters say it will be. The last time a storm this strong came through (1999's Floyd, also a strong Category 2), they lost the pier, which was barely two years old after having been heavily damaged by Fran in 1996, but Floyd and Fran were also pretty much direct hits on Wilmington, while Isabel currently looks like it's going to make landfall north of them. They'll still get lots of rain and have to deal with the storm surge, and I'm sure the wind will be pretty bad, but the house has definitely been through worse and I'm not too worried about them.

Dad also thinks that it will be very weak by the time it gets up here, but again, I haven't seen any forecasters who agree with him. Most think it will be reduced to tropical storm strength (which should still cause a lot of damage), but there are a few who think Isabel could still be a hurricane by the time it reaches the DC/Baltimore metro area. We're not too worried—we've cleaned up everything in the yard, we have fresh batteries for flashlights and radios, a camp stove that we can use to heat up soup, lots of candles, and a few days supply of water—but we do expect to lose power for a significant amount of time (it seems like we lose power every couple of weeks from old trees falling on power lines, and that's when the weather is good—I have to believe that the strong winds are going knock down a whole lot more, and we're going to be pretty low on the priority list if Baltimore's power is out). I guess we'll see.

No power.

Well, Hopkins did close as expected for Isabel, shutting down at noon on Thursday and all day Friday. When we got home on Thursday afternoon, we doublechecked to make sure all of our recently purchased batteries and flashlights were working, filled up every empty pitcher and bottle with water, and waited for the storm to come later that night. The winds started to pick up in the middle of the afternoon, mixed with brief periods of rain, but overall it wasn't too bad. We hadn't had any problems with the power by 7 p.m., so we decided to order out chinese food and hope we could make it through the Survivor season premiere. By 9:30, the storm was beginning to rage, but we still had power (save for a brief flicker just after 9) and I was beginning to feel optimistic that we might not have too much to suffer from the storm, and that we would get a bonus day off to boot.

Alas, it was not to be. Around 10:30, while I was working at the computer, we suddenly lost power. Oh well, we figured, that lasted longer than we expected it to. I spent the rest of the evening reading by the light of the battery-powered flourescent latern we had just purchased, and went to sleep hoping that the power would be back when I woke up.The storm woke me up a few times during the night, the fierce wind throwing debris and small branches against our windows, and the rain coming down in dense sheets. Around 2 a.m. we decided to make sure the sump pump hole wasn't getting too much water in it, and lucky thing we did, too: the drain at the bottom of the outside stairs that lead to the basement had gotten clogged with leaves and trash, and the water had started to leak into the house. It only took a couple of minutes to clear away debris and let the water drain, but if we hadn't checked, we could have had a small flood in our basement. The sump pump hole was reasonably full, but we decided to check on it in another half hour before starting to bail it out (the sump pump itself was not working because we still had no power).

The storm seemed to abate soon after that, and the water in the sump pump hole had actually subsided when we checked on it again. We couldn't sleep, so we tuned the radio to the AM station out of Baltimore to hear how things were going in other parts of the state. Power outages seemed pretty common (based on what I've been able to gather so far, I think more than half the state lost power during the storm and its aftermath), but the storm had not dropped as much rain on the the coastal regions as had been forecast, and no serious flooding had occured at that point. I was again optimistic that maybe we would escape mostly unharmed and have a relaxing if partly powerless day off from work.

So the next day came and went with no power, but it wasn't that big of a deal. I had cold leftovers for lunch and did a lot of reading. We even got to have hot water; the insulated water heater tank had more than enough water for us to take showers. That night we went out to dinner and a movie in Frederick. We saw some lights on as we were driving back home, and we were hopeful that power had been restored while we had been away, but when we turned onto our street it was still dark. One of our neighbors had lit up their yard with tiki torches, and many others were gathered on their front steps with candles and flashlights, passing the time and hoping, like us, for power to be restored.

By Saturday I was starting to get a little irritable. We were still listening to the Baltimore station, where every half hour or so Rob Gould, a spokesman for Baltimore Gas & Electric (BGE), would update listeners on the status of the repairs and take a couple of phone calls from listeners. But his reports were maddeningly lacking in useful information, and I could tell that I was not alone in my frustration when the tenor of the calls started to change from "You guys are doing a great job" to "Why don't I have power yet?" and "Where are all the repairman?" Now, I understand that they can't give exact estimates on fixing an enormous problem like this, and I also understand that I was pretty well off compared to many: there was no flooding in my area, and the water treatment plants were still operational, which means that we didn't have to worry about drinking water. But it was still annoying to hear, every half hour on the hour, that the best estimate they could give was that they hoped most people would have their power back by late Friday, more than a week after the storm.

Anyway. The point is, on Saturday I was getting a little grouchy, and I was also getting concerned that I might have to go through the workweek taking cold showers at 6:30 in the morning and wearing not-so-fresh clothes to work (it was my laundry weekend, and I didn't have much in reserve). We were supposed to go the an Orioles game that night with Julie's parents, but they hadn't come because of the storm, and I didn't feel like going; I was exhausted from two nights of tossing and turning and getting very little sleep, and the thought of returning home late after the game and finding our lights still out was too depressing for me to think about.

We did want to go out somewhere, however, so we headed into Baltimore, thinking that we could at least have dinner out and see another movie somewhere. On the way out, we saw several power company trucks in the neighborhood, dealing with down trees and wires, but we didn't dare to get our hopes up; we fully expected not to have power when we returned. We stopped by Hopkins so I could set all my football leagues in order before the games began on Sunday and so we could generally gather information and news (about the storm and othewise) on the internet. After an hour or so of this, I still didn't feel like going to the game, but Julie really wanted to so I acquiesed. We sold Julie's parents' tickets to another couple waiting in line to buy tickets (a good deal for them: $20 for two tickets that are normally priced at over $30 each) and used the cash to pay for our concessions (i.e., dinner). Since it was the last home series of the season, it was fan appreciation weekend, so after entering the gates, we were greeted by the Orioles players who were handing out limited edition pins (each players was giving out pins featuring his jersey) and taking pictures with people (we got Brian Roberts, the second basemen).

The game wasn't too bad—my favorite Orioles player, Luis Matos, hit a home run in the fourth—but I was still exhausted and didn't want to stay the whole night. After the fifth inning, we walked over to Eutaw street to see if they had installed the marker for David Ortiz of the Red Sox, who had hit a homer out onto the street the last time we had been to a game, but either it wasn't there yet or we couldn't find it among the crowds (for those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, there is part of a street in between the warehouse at Camden and the baseball field that is now enclosed within the stadium walls, and when a player hits a home run long enough to hit this street, the Orioles mark the spot with a plaque the size of a baseball that lists the date and the name of the player who hit the ball). I felt kind of bad leaving our last game of the season early, but I was just so tired that I knew there was no way I could make it another four innings.

We didn't have great hope that our power would be back by the time we got home, but as we approached our neighborhood, we saw streetlights lit that had been dim the night before, and we started to have some glimmer of optimism. This increased as we moved closer and closer to our street, and homes and streetlights continued to be lit. We held our breath as we made the last turn onto our street, and were happy to see that all our neighbors lights were on along with the streetlights. We rushed inside, flipped the main circuit breaker, and enjoyed electric lights and air conditioning for the first time in two days.

It wasn't that long, really, and if I had known that I only had to bear it for two days, I think I would have been much less grouchy about it. It was really the dread of facing a workweek without clean clothes and showers and having to return every night to a non-functional house. Our cable was out, and remained so through Monday morning, but that was much less of an inconvenience than not having power (that's why you're not going to be reading this post the day I'm writing it, though—our cable also provides our internet connection, so even though I can write, I can't post). And I know there are a lot of people who are worse off than we are (including Julie's parents in north eastern NC, whose whole town is without power and isn't likely to get it back fully until later this week), and I am thankful that a couple of days without power was the only difficulty we had to face as a result of the storm.

Our cable has been restored, obviously, or else you wouldn't be reading this. I'd much rather be without cable and internet than power, but as a child of the electronic age, I sure am glad to have them back. And even though I know we're very lucky compared to some others who are still facing power and water problems as a result of this storm, it was kind of annoying to go into work on Monday and hear everyone talk about how much fun they had on their day off on Friday; none of them lost power or water or cable or anything. Half of Baltimore supposedly lost power, but I guess it was the half that didn't include any of the neighborhoods where my coworkers live.

Space. It seems to go on and on forever. But then you get to the end and a gorilla starts throwing barrels at you.

I had a terrible, terrible day yesterday. After struggling to get to sleep as close to midnight as possible so I could get the six hours of sleep that is typical for me during the workweek, I was awakened at 5 a.m. by the sound of all the machines in our house turn off simultaneously. Yes, we had lost power again, less than two days after having it restored, thanks to several inches of rain that fell during the overnight hours. Aside from interrupting my sleep (I don't know why the power going out makes it hard for me to sleep, but it does), this was annoying because we had just restocked the refrigerator and freezer after purposely emptying it last week in anticipation of losing power during Isabel. But there was still enough hot water in the tank for us to take showers, so we headed off to work hopeful that the power would be restored by the time we returned home, and in time to prevent all of our newly purchased food from spoiling.

Of course, it hadn't stopped raining by the time we left the house, which meant that our commute, which typically takes 40-45 minutes, took well over an hour, with a special fifteen minute bonus trip tacked on thanks to a blocked road that forced us to detour from our normal route. By the time I arrived at the office, I was already exhausted, already ready to go home, and I didn't know how I would make it through the day with all the stuff I had to do.

No one seemed to be having a very good day. Mark also faced traffic difficulties and had had trouble sleeping, although he didn't have to deal with losing power (not even during Isabel), and one of the HITS guys we work with a lot, Steve, reported similar experiences. Half the office wasn't there, either sick or faking it, and the half that was there was extremely grouchy because of the office painting that has been going on for the past couple of weeks (apparently it's too expensive to have the painters come in on the weekend when no one's around, even though while they are painting, no one in their vicinity can do any work, so we're losing lots of money in wasted man hours). It was the kind of day where, if I was the boss, I would have called it a day and told everyone to go home to wait out the bad karma.

The day didn't really get any better from there, but at least it didn't get worse. I got most of the stuff done that I wanted to get done, despite several last minute requests (needed, when else, "by the end of the day"), and when I called home at noon, I was happy to discover that our power had been turned back on (we left the answering machine plugged in, so we knew that if it picked up the power had been restored). I ended up staying late to finish some of those last-minute requests, but I'm going to make up for it today by working at home, which gives me some immunity from the I-need-this-ASAP crowd. I just hope our power stays on all day.

It is super-irritating that ever since Fox released the third season of the Simpsons on DVD, they've been running the same episodes in syndication, which means that you either have to skip watching the syndication episodes or you don't feel like watching the DVDs, even with the hilarious commentary turned on, because you've recently seen all the episodes on them. I guess the reasoning is that they want to remind you how great the third season episodes were so you'll get excited about the DVD set and run out and buy it, but you'd think they'd instead use the Disney strategy of not showing any episodes from the third season for a year before and after it comes out on DVD so you'll buy them because that's the only time you're going to get to see them (Disney is famous for releasing a popular film on DVD and then telling consumers that if they don't buy it soon, they won't be able to buy it again for a number of years). To non-Simpsons fans, it might seem like I'm obsessing about this a little too much, but I guarantee you everyone who took off work early to buy the latest DVD set feels exactly the same way.

On another Simpsons DVD note: if the show lasts 20 seasons, which is what the producers have stated as their goal (they'll start season 15 this year), and if they only release one new season on DVD per year, that means I'll be almost 50 years old when I complete my collection.

The coolest thing I've learned so far in my Modern Art class: Rodin's famous "The Thinker" sculpture is actually Dante, one of many figures on Rodin's unfinished masterpiece "The Gates of Hell". This work depicted scenes from Dante's Inferno, which, with the Purgatorio, is one of my favorite works of literature. Rodin worked on this project for over 20 years; when complete, the sculputres were supposed to be combined to create the doors for a museum of art that was never built. Rodin's "The Gates of Hell" were modeled after Ghiberti's east doors on the Batista di San Giovani in Florence called "The Gates of Paradise", which showed scenes from the old and new testament and which were revolutionary in their time (and are still pretty revolutionary today, in my opinion). "The Gates of Paradise" sculptures are among my favorite pieces of Renaissance art, one of the few things I remember distinctly from my sophomore art survey course; they were the first thing I sought out when Julie and I were in Florence during our six months studying abroad. And what was I reading during this visit to Florence? Coincidentally, it was Mark Musa's translation of Dante's Inferno, which I was reading in preparation for my second class at the University of York in England, which dealt with Dante's La Vita Nuova and the Divine Comedy.

It's cool when seemingly disparate incidents in your life circle back on themselves and combine to show you a pattern you never realized was there before. It shimmers and fades almost before your mind can take it in, but for that instant the world seems to make complete sense. You can see how everything's connected, and for just a nanosecond, a minute fragment of time, you get a glimpse of the larger constellation made by the shining moments of your life; the whole universe, every last subatomic string, is vibrating at the same frequency. Borrowing from Doug, for one brief moment you are reminded that a loop is just a dot writ large.

Tofu is really good at imitating a wide range of meat products, but how good it is seems to be directly proportional to how much the food being imitated is an unaltered meat product (for example, a simple grilled chicken breast made of tofu doesn't taste or feel particularly like a grilled chicken breast, but a chicken nugget made of tofu is only barely distinguishable from its meat-based cousing). The order, from least like the food it's imitating to most like it, goes something like this: grilled chicken breast, hamburger patty, sausage, chicken nuggets, hot dogs, and corn dogs (I defy anyone to consistently distinguish between a meat-based corn dog and a tofu-based corn dog).

But now we have a new champion: the riblet, aka the McRib. They just put these on the market, so we bought a box with a coupon and I tried my first one this weekend. It's incredible how much these are like actually McRibs (which I admittedly haven't had since I was in my teens, but still, they're pretty hard to forget). Even the texture was accurate, which is still hard to believe. Somebody at Gardenburger must have had to eat an awful lot of those things before they got that right.

Sick yesterday. Sleep, sleep, sleep, and more sleep. So I don't have anything for you today but links and a photo.
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