february 2004

A couple of weekends ago, Julie and I went to see Tim Burton's Big Fish with Brenda, a friend of mine from the MLA program, and her husband Todd. I am a huge Tim Burton fan, but his output has really slowed in recent years and I haven't really loved one his movies since 1999's Sleepy Hollow. I wasn't quite sure what to expect from this film; Burton hasn't ever really done the serious human drama thing before, and I had two friends who were also Burton fanatics who had given the film mixed reviews (Tom loved it, Alisa thought it stumbled badly towards the end).

We met Brenda and Todd at Niwana for dinner and then drove together down to the Charles, an independent theater in midtown Baltimore that serves wine in the lobby and is generally patronized by the same kind of people who show up for gallery openings and Maya Angelou readings. I guess I'm one of those kind of people myself, but I'm a lot less so than the other people I see at these events. What I'm trying to say is that the Charles has a certain scene, and while I participate in a lot of the same cultural activities as the people who are part of that scene, I'm not really into the whole scene thing, even though I enjoy the atmosphere.

Anyway. We got there about twenty minutes before the show was supposed to start, which gave us just enough time to find good seats (middle of the theater, end of the row) before the crowd started to stream in from the lobby. Despite the fact that this was an independent theater, there were still twenty minutes of previews before the film started, but they were previews for independent films and documentaries rather than the standard big budget Hollywood flicks, and weird shorts were scattered throughout (including a hilarious no-smoking message from Baltimore native John Waters). I was expecting that the level of rudeness at this theater would be significantly reduced due to the demographics of the audience, but I was surprised to see that it wasn't much different than the big chain theaters that we usually go to: there were lots of people talking during the movie, and I even heard a cell phone.

Big Fish was pretty good, but I think I agree with Alisa more than I agree with Tom. The film was divided into two time periods: one when the main character was older and played by Albert Finney that was set in the real world, and one when the character was younger and played by Ewan McGregor that was set in a fantastical past full of tall tales and storytelling (hence the title of the movie). Albert Finney and Jessica Lange were great, and Ewan McGregor was less irritating than I expected from the previews, but I just couldn't stomach Billy Crudup, who played the main character's son in the later real world. He ruined virtually every scene he was in, and I couldn't help thinking what a good job longtime Burton collaborator Johnny Depp would have done in the role. I still liked it overall, but I'll probably wait until it comes out on DVD to see it again.

The Sunday after venturing out to the Charles to see Big Fish, we came back into Baltimore to see our friend Alisa perform a new opera at the Unitarian church in Mt. Vernon near Peabody. This wasn't a new opera in terms of her singing it, it was new new, this being the first public performance. It was actually more like a rehearsal than a performance—the main performance was in New York a few days after the Baltimore performance—and there was very little to the set, the lights weren't done properly, and there was no running caption to help you decipher the singers' words. But it still made for an entertaining evening.

The opera is called Super Double Lite: A Chamber Opera in Three Bullets, and it was written by Alisa's new boyfriend Damon, who is a composer studying at Peabody (they weren't going out when she started work on this project a couple of months ago, and I haven't actually met him yet, but we're hoping to do something with them sometime soon). It's set in the not-too-distant future, and the scenes take place in such dehumanizing public spaces as an off-track betting parlor, a warehouse store, a karaoke bar, and a bail bondsman's office. The main character is named Leba, a lonely data entry clerk who is searching for meaning and fulfillment in her life. While at an informercial taping, she plays a shell game with a Faustian character named John Sloat in which she wins three bullets and a gun, and with which she sets off on her search for love.

You can probably guess the basic structure of the rest of it—a gun in the first act must go off in the third and all that (actually, it goes off in the second, the third, the fourth, etc.)—but there are definitely some post-modern twists, including a doppelgänger in the form of a clone (Lebanu = Leba Nu = Leba New) and the devil as a DJ at a dance club. One particular crowd favorite: Mega Baby, the mascot for the warehouse store where Leba is cloned upon becoming a member. I tell you what, it's been a long time since I've seen something as funny in an opera as a slightly overweight middle-age man in gold lamé shorts doing a spastic ragtime jig on stage (the New York set was supposed to be even better, having him enter the scene by crashing through a fake brick wall a la the Kool Aid man).

The show seemed a little slow to me for the first couple of acts (there was a prologue, a "blank shell", and an epilogue in addition to the three "bullets", for a total of six distinct scenes), but towards the end of the first act when Leba is being seduced into a membership and cloning at the warehouse club, I started to enjoy it more, and it was able to sustain that momentum through the end of the show. It ended (somewhat predictably) in a showdown between Leba and her clone Lebanu instigated by Sloat, but the audience doesn't quite know how the there-can-be-only-one tension is resolved. It turns out that this opera is the first in a trilogy, and one of the two will go on to play a role in the subsequent works.

We were hoping to meet Damon after the show and maybe go out for drinks, but it was later than we expected and he was being thronged by well-wishers and friends, so we just chatted with Alisa for a few minutes before heading back to our car. On the drive home I dialed up Tom Waits' "The Black Rider" on the iPod, which are songs from an opera that Waits did with writer William S. Burroughs and director Robert Wilson, which was based on a German fable called "Der Freischuts" and which also prominently featured bullets as a plot point. It was interesting to compare the two; the music was much more similar than I expected, but I think that Waits' lyrics were in more of a modern style (although I can't be sure because without subtitles I was only guessing at the lyrics for Super Double Lite).

I would have liked to have seen the New York performance with a proper set and lighting, but there's a possibility that they're going to have another formal staging in New Jersey in a few weeks, so I'm hoping I can make it to that one. I'm very intrigued by the show (I'd love for Tom to see it), and I'm anxious to meet Damon now so I can grill him about it further.

The Apprentice is the best show that you shouldn't be wasting your time watching.

I had my first class of the new semester on Monday night. This is another one that is held at the Walters Art Museum like my first class on the history of the book, but this one is taught by Gary Vikan, the director of the museum, and it focuses on the art of the middle ages, which from what I can tell lasts somewhere from the late roman empire to the renaissance (i.e., 200 AD to 1400 AD).

I already feel very comfortable in this class, probably due to my increasing confidence in my scholarly abilities over the last year, my familiarity with the museum, and even with my classmates. Aside from Kathryn, who for a long time was my best friend in my office before she left for another job, and Jean, who also used to work in my office and who I still see every day (and who was also in a class with me last summer), there is also another returning student from my book class and two students from my modern art class, one of whom I was fairly friendly with.

I don't know much about the middle ages, and I'm not that interested in the period, really (sorry, Dr. Gibson—your classes were great, though), but I just couldn't resist the opportunity to take another class where we got to interact with the Walters collection after hours. But it looks like an interest in that period is going to be of lesser importance, anyway—our professor really stressed how much he wanted us to look at the objects without knowing too much about them, and then work backward from our initial visual impressions to find out about the history and purpose of the object. In fact, that's how he's structured the course: our only two grades will come from two very short papers (1200 and 1500 words, which should really be a cakewalk for me—this entry alone is almost 650 words) that focus on objects from the collection at the Walters (he has already assigned our first objects to us, but we will get to choose the second from a cart full of objects that the Walters doesn't put on display). We will then study our objects to discover their history by examing them up close (we'll be allowed to handle them while wearing rubber surgical gloves) and then doing research in the library to find similar objects that can give us some clue about the possible story behind our particular objects. The professor emphasized that he wants us to be more forensic scientists than historians; he wants us to add to knowledge rather than merely summarizing information from several pre-existing sources (I'm not implying that's what historians do, but I'm trying to come up with a contrast that illustrates the spirit of his lecture).

He also very much encourages teamwork—he said it would be fine with him if all 14 of us handed in a single final paper and all shared an A. I don't want to take it to quite that extreme, but I think it could be fun to work with a couple of other people. As long as it's the right people—otherwise, it could get ugly.

I'm really looking forward to this class, though—even though it meets on Monday night, which I don't care for at all, there's not a ton of reading, there's a nice mix of people, and I don't think that the professor is going to get hung up on testing our knowledge of dates and proper nouns. He's more interested in having us take a fresh look at some very old, very unique objects, each with a story to tell us, and having us explore that story in as much depth as possible. And that's what I'm interested in, too.

My parents have a new dog! Her name is Lily, she's about a year old, she is a mutt but is predominantly golden lab, and she came from a shelter. My stepmother Rachel has wanted another dog as a companion for Finley, their remaining chocolate lab, ever since Finley's mother Pokey passed away after a protracted battle with cancer that cost her one of her legs before it cost her her life. Finley is no longer a young puppy himself, but he still acts like one, and he seemed depressed after his mother and playmate passed away, so Rachel thought another dog would help ease his pain a bit. I have to wonder if there wasn't a little of the empty nest syndrome at work on Rachel's end, too—the pet and child population in their househould has been severely diminished in the past few years, going from a high of four kids, three cats, two dogs, and a bird ten years ago to just Finley and one crazy anti-social cat before Lily joined the family. Here are some pictures of our newest addition:


Finley and Lily

She looks like a sweetheart, and according to Rachel she and Finley get along like old pals. My dad was against getting another dog, but he realized how much it meant to Rachel and Finley, so he acquiesed. In exchange, he asked Rachel to think seriously about joining the parade of recent non-smokers in the family (Dodd and Carrie both quit a few weeks ago, and I know at least Dodd is still sticking to it) and kick her habit. I think that's pretty fair myself, and I hope she can find a way to do it, for her sake and for dad's.

Last week an article called "Bet You're Sorry Now" appeared in Newsweek that I found pretty interesting. It's about the grudges—some good humored, some long-lasting and bitter—that students hold towards the colleges that rejected them, which can manifest themselves in the form of angry letters and phone calls (and only occasionally in the kind of lighthearted exchange that opens the article). As someone who works in the admissions office for one of the most prestigious universities in the country, I have some personal insight on this.

Every year we get a few letters like the ones described in the articles, which either rage against us for not letting them in or taunt us for being dumb enough to deny them admission when one of the big three (Harvard, Yale, Princeton) let them in. I remember one in particular from a student who we had offered a spot on the waitlist but who had been accepted to (and was now planning to attend) Yale. When we offer someone a spot on the waitlist, we include a stamped reply postcard where they can elect to stay on our waitlist or decline our offer. If they decline, we ask them to tell us what university they plan to attend instead, and this student wrote in bold letters on that line: "Yale—so there!"

I think she falls into the humorous category rather than the angry category (she was going to Yale, after all—what did she have to be angry about?), but what's really funny is that the only reason she was offered a spot on the waitlist and wasn't admitted outright was because we knew her well enough to know that she wouldn't come even if we admitted her. Through her interactions with her primary admissions counselor it was clear that we were not her top choice (we weren't even in the top three), and it was equally clear from her qualifications that she was going to be accepted to her top choice and her top alternates. If we had offered her a spot, we would have simply been wasting an offer that could be better used to recruit an equally talented student whose likelihood of enrolling at our institution was much higher.

This isn't always the case—in fact, the vast majority of our denials and waitlist offers are in those categories because they simply don't make the grade when compared to the students we do offer admission to—but there are a handful every year who we know would do well in our academic environment but who we choose not to admit because the chance of them actually enrolling is close to zero. And since yield, or the number of students who are admitted who are converted to enrolling students, is a bigtime stat in most of the college rank surveys, the fewer people we have to admit in order to create our class, the better our yield percentage and the better our chance for a higher ranking (the top three are pretty much set in stone in the 800 pound gorilla of college guides, U.S. News and World Report, and the top 25 are pretty much guaranteed to stay in the top 25, but everyone from 3 through 25 is fighting for every inch of ground within that space).

That's probably a little more than you wanted to know about this topic, but the minutiae of systems and organizations like the one I work for is fascinating to me. So I hope it was at least a little interesting to you.

We're going skiing later this week, but there's so much to do before we leave that the next 48 hours are going to seem impossibly long. In addition to normal work stuff, which is stressful enough on its own, we have to get my oil changed, get a haircut, (meanwhile Julie's car is showing signs of some sort of reasonably large malfunction, which means we may be in the market for a new car soon), go shopping for groceries, get supplies for the cats, and pack my clothes and skiing gear. I also have class tonight. And I still have to get Julie something for her birthday, which is tomorrow (I always use all my good gifts for Christmas and then forget to save something for her birthday six weeks later).

In addition to these chores and responsibilities, our cancer cat's back is scabby and bleeding (likely because her tumor is growing so fast that her skin can't keep up, although she thankfully doesn't seem to be in any pain from it—she just purred and purred while we clean it with hydrogen peroxide), Julie's car is showing signs of some sort of reasonably large malfunction, stuttering and hesitating during accelerating (and also sometimes making an alarming clunking sound, which means we may be in the market for a new car soon), and there is water on one of the pipes in the basement which we're hoping is just condensation but which I know is the pipe that the guy we bought the house from had to repair because our home inspector found a leak in it. (That was one long-ass sentence, but believe me when I tell you that I could have made it much longer.)

It will be nice to get away, but I just hope our whole world doesn't collapse before we get a chance to high-tail it out of here.

Happy birthday, Julie.

I was going to tell you about going to the Orioles FanFest on Saturday, the coolest part of which was getting to tour the clubhouse, but I didn't get home from work last night until after ten and I still had to get ready for our drive to West Virginia today (which we won't make until at least late afternoon—there's just too much going on at work for me to leave before that). I've got a nice long entry written in my head and lots of pictures, but you'll just have to wait until I get back next week. If I can just make it through tomorrow, the rest of the week should be great—dad says the snow was perfect today, and conditions are supposed to stay the same for the rest of the week. I can't wait to get far, far away from work; being able to spend my time skiing all day is just icing on the cake.

Got back from four days of skiing yesterday afternoon. I swear, the snow was close to the best it's ever been, and we skied so much that we hardly had enough energy at the end of the day to fix dinner, much less socialize and play card games with my parents. It was ski, eat lunch, ski some more, take a nap before dinner, eat dinner, go to sleep, and do it all over again. It was the closest I've come to living like an animal, just going and going without any thought of the past or future, in a long time. During the day I did nothing but focus on the physical activity of going down the mountain, and at night the exhaustion took over and put me out like a light for hours and hours. I would sleep for eight, nine, ten hours, way more than I sleep normally, and still wake up tired. It was great.

Julie started to get more confidence in her skiing abilities, too, taking the slopes at faster and faster speeds. I've always been the most agressive skier in the family (Dodd is supposedly like me, but we haven't been skiing together since he was a kid), and my day has usually consisted of me skiing the way I ski and then having to stop and wait for everyone else to catch up. But with Julie's newfound assertiveness, I found her almost keeping up with me; we did lots of runs where we would take the whole mountain without stopping once. We spent a lot of our time on Cupp, the mile and a half black diamond slope on the western face of the mountain. Our first day skiing, we did a trial run once in the afernoon; the second day, five runs in the morning; and the third day, another seven runs in the morning. We also did three Cupp runs the final day, but the snow wasn't that good and it was really crowded because it was a weekend. We skied lots of stuff on the other side of the mountain and also spent an afternoon down at Silver Creek, staying long enough to try the night skiing there, but Cupp was our primary run this trip, and I have a feeling that as long as conditions are good, it will be hard to keep Julie away from it in the future.

We had our traditional dinner out at the Red Fox on Thursday courtesy of dad and Rachel (excellent as usual), but other than that, we just ate home-cooked meals—soup and sandwiches for lunch, chili and spaghetti for dinner. They left on Saturday, so for Valentine's Julie and I just ordered in a pizza and then went up to the bunny slope to watch a fireworks display (I swear, it was better than Baltimore's July Fourth celebration—it lasted at least 20 minutes and there was stuff exploding the whole time). I don't feel like there was as much time to relax and just hang out as we've had previous trips because we spent so much time skiing and because of that we didn't have any energy left in the evening to put towards social pursuits, but it was still a really good trip. The next month and a half is going to be hell at work, but after this trip, I almost feel eager to take it on.


Seriously, stay away from this game.

Most longtime readers of this site know that I'm a huge baseball fan, and more specifically a National League fan, and even more specifically Atlanta Braves fan. But since I live near Baltimore, opportunities to see National League teams are few and far between despite interleague play, and due to the cruel machinations of the scheduling gods, the Braves haven't played in Baltimore in four years (they switch off interleague play home venues every year, so one year the Braves are supposed to play in Baltimore and the next year the Orioles are supposed to play in Atlanta, but for some reason the Braves games in Baltimore were scrapped in 2002, the last year that the Braves were supposed to visit, in favor of interdivisional interleague games against teams like the Dodgers and the Diamondbacks). But American League baseball is better than no Major League baseball at all, and I've always taken advantage of my proximity to Camden Yards to catch a few games every year since moving to Maryland.

Last year, you might remember that we decided to make a larger investment in the Orioles, purchasing a 13 game partial season ticket plan and also going to a few one-off games like Opening Day. Even though the weather was generally terrible and the Orioles generally sucked, we really enjoyed the experience of going to an O's home game every couple of weeks and sitting in the same seats; it really helped accentuate the rhythm of the baseball season, which is all about continuity, repetition, tradition, and the seemingly inevitable sine wave of triumph and tragedy that can make a team seem like invincible gods one night and hopeless clowns the next. We really got a feel for the personalities of the players, the mood of the crowd, and even the condition of the field. Much to my surprise, I found myself almost caring whether the O's won or lost.

Almost. Because really, it's hard to root for a team that seems as intent on losing as the Orioles are, organizationally speaking. They haven't signed any big name free agents since the Albert Belle fiasco (he played poorly for two seasons and retired from baseball due to injuries, but the Orioles still had to pay him for the last three years of his five year contract), and their farm system hasn't really produced any star players to grab the fans' attention either. As a result, Orioles fans haven't had much to look forward to in the offseason for the last few years, and initially it didn't look like this year would be much different.

But as soon as the playoffs were over, word started to spread that Orioles management (i.e. Peter Angelos, the wannabe-Steinbrenner owner of the team) was aggressively pursuing several of the top shelf free agents on the market, including catcher Ivan Rodriguez, shortstop Miguel Tejada, and outfielder Vladimir Guerrero. They didn't end up getting everyone on their wishlist, but they did add significant power to their lineup by snagging the aforementioned Tejada, the best-hitting shortstop this side of Alex Rodriguez (Jeter sucks—really—and Nomar is good but he's always hurt), first baseman Rafael Palmeiro (who has quietly put together an outstanding and amazingly consistent career as a hitter and who is familiar with the Orioles, having played five years in Baltimore in the 90s), and catcher Javy Lopez from my beloved Braves (I actually think they overpayed for Javy, since his great stats last year were likely a fluke and I don't see his knees getting any better as he moves into his mid-30s). They also brought starting pitcher and prodigal son Sidney Ponson back into the fold, who was a lifelong Oriole before being traded to the Giants in the middle of last season.

Yes, they still need to get a couple more starting pitchers, and yes, all of this pales in comparison to moves made by the Red Sox and Yankees, whose out of control spending is threatening to disrupt the salary structure of Major League Baseball. But for O's fans, who had to watch what was essentially a team of no-names last season (besides Ponson, Jeff Conine was probably their best-known player, and he, too, was traded mid-season to the eventual World Series champion Marlins), it will be nice to look forward to a team that has at least a few names that are known outside Baltimore city limits. Add to this the development of young players like Luis Matos, Larry Bigbie, Melvin Mora, and Brian Roberts, and it's not ridiculous to think that the Orioles will at least be able finish with a winning season for the first time since 1997, when they won the division and went to the playoffs (only to be foiled by Jeffery Maier's illegal catch during a pivotal moment in a key game against the Yankees). Hell, they might even be able to move up in the standings, an especially noteworthy feat in a division that has finished in the exact same order for the last six seasons (Yankees, Red Sox, Blue Jays, Orioles, Devil Rays).

I'm not a true fan yet, but for the first time I can admit that I'm getting there. I'll always love the Braves first and foremost, but as long as the O's aren't competing with them directly, I'm starting to think it's not so wrong of me to share my fandom with the local team.

I'm dying for spring.

Wow. Warm weather for once. Yesterday I went outside without wearing my coat for the first time in months, the snowpack that has kept the ground white since January is vanishing, and spring training is starting in Flordia and Arizona. I'm almost starting to believe that this winter is finally going end.

You might have noticed that I've updated the "other blogs" section of the right nav with some new sites while removing a few others. I've been thinking about this for a while—it's not that the blogs I removed aren't worth visiting, I just don't personally visit them much anymore. I really want that area to be for blogs that I read on a more or less daily basis, and of the old personal blogs, fury.com is really the only one that fits that category (Daypop and MetaFilter are community/news blogs that are primarily for keeping up with the latest memes hot current events topics). I still visit In Passing often enough to justify its inclusion in the list, and besides, it's not really a personal blog anyway, more of a concept blog based around repeating bits of overheard conversations. don't hurry is my friend CS Jeff's blog, and although it is updated with annoying inconsistency, I still check in on it every couple of days to see if Jeff has bothered to write anything.

The new additions are Crablogs, a community site in Baltimore that links to the blogs based in and around the Baltimore area, or written by people with roots in the region, and Casa del Harrison, the personal blog of one Annie Harrison. The Casa, as Annie affectionately refers to it, is a blog that I discovered through Crablogs, and I'm not really sure what appeals to me about it, but I find myself checking it everyday to see what Annie's been up to. I think we have a lot of stuff in common—among other things, she works for a university in Baltimore, she has family ties to North Carolina, and I'm pretty sure she has taken/is taking classes in the graduate program that I'm enrolled in. And there's something about her voice that's just refreshing—she sounds like my non-existent younger sister who did lots of drama in high school and ended up one of the more cheerful english majors in college.

Anyway. Hello to all my new Crablogs brethren. Be sure to also have a look at my music blog, notes, and if you link to either of my sites from your blog, send me an email so I can be sure to check out your site.

One of the side benefits of renewing our Orioles season tickets was a set of free tickets to the annual FanFest, a gathering at the Baltimore Convention Center where fans can pose for pictures with players, participate in Q&A forums with management and players, get autographs, and buy Orioles-related merchandise. Julie and I had never been before, but since it was free and there were supposed to be opportunities to meet some of the new stars added via free agency this offseason, we decided to check it out.

We figured that there would be a limited number of nuts who would get up at 7 a.m. to attend this event, especially since it was only open to season ticket holders from 8:30-10:00, but as usual, we failed to properly anticipate the nuttiness of the Baltimorons. There was a line snaking all the way around the convention center by the time we joined the queue around 8:15, and we ended up in line behind a man who clearly had some mental problems. Fortunately for society (but maybe not for Orioles players) those problems manifested themselves in an overly obsessive fandom for the Orioles. He was wearing his own custom Orioles getup that consisted of a jersey with the name "Birdman" on the back, a giant orange beak strapped to his nose, and a wig that made him look like he had a giant orange mohawk. I would have taken a picture for you, but I got the feeling that any undue attention would have served to fuel his disorder, and I for one didn't want to contribute any further to this man's already severe problems.

The television crews that were on scene to capture the events for the local news had no such qualms, however, and they all trained their lenses on him for at least half a minute as the line moved forward past them. When a new camera turned in his direction, Birdman would invariably tell one of his well-rehearsed jokes, like "I had a hair-raising experience this morning" (referring to his mohawk wig). I heard him tell this joke at least three times, including once during the forum with the coaches and managers. Julie was excited because she figured we would have a pretty good chance to make it onto television ourselves given our proximity to Birdman, but I found no consolation in that probability.

Once we got inside, we looked at the revised schedule and found that both Miguel Tejada and Javy Lopez had canceled their appearances. The only new Oriole who can be considered a legitimate star who was still going to be available for autographs and photos was Rafael Palmeiro, but he started signing starting at 8:30 and by the time we found the line, they weren't letting anyone else join it. It's probably just as well because we didn't have any stuff for him to sign anyway, but it was still a little disappointing. I did snap a picture of him at the signing table, though:

Rafael Palmeiro signs autographs for fans

There really wasn't much else to do until the first Q&A session at 10—a lot of the activities were geared to kids, or were trying to get you to sign up for mailing lists or stuff like that. We wandered the event floor, just making sure we hadn't missed anything, then took our seats for the forum with the coaches. That went on for an hour and was fairly entertaining, but when it was over, we didn't feel compelled to hang around. We checked out the upstairs section of the event, where people were getting in line for autograph sessions with lesser known players and waiting for the Orioles store to open, but there was nothing there we were really interested in.

Luckily, the tours of the Orioles clubhouse were starting about that time, so we left the convention center and made our way over to Camden Yards. The itinerary made it sound like it was a guided tour, but when we got there, they just pointed us to the elevator and we went down to the lower level where all the player-related areas were. There were people making sure you didn't sneak off into unauthorized areas, but other than that the tour was completely self-guided. You started by going through the weight room, past the medical area (where the closer Jorge Julio was having his arm worked on by one of the trainers), and into the locker room:

Lockers for Javy Lopez and Rafael Palmeiro

The lockers for the new additions were very clean because they obviously hadn't been to the locker room yet and didn't have any of their personal effects cluttering up the shelves, but a lot of the lockers for returning players were filled with energy bars, televisions or radios, and good luck charms (there was a tractor seat hanging above one locker, and a deer butt with an arrow sticking out of it above another). I was surprised at how small it was given that 25 big guys had to share it—there were leather couches for lounging, but other than that it was pretty utiliarian, not like the pro locker rooms you see in the movies.

After we left the locker room, we went past the batting cages and up the tunnel to the dugout:

View from the Orioles dugout

The field was covered with snow and ice or else we would have been allowed to walk around on it and take another exit back into the clubhouse area, but as it was we had to content ourselves with looking around the dugout. They had a plaque commemorating Cal Ripken, Sr., who was a longtime manager/coach for the club for many of his son's early years as a player, a warning sign about clearing out any guests before gametime, and an old lineup card from a 2002 game against the hated Yankees:

Lineup card from September 18, 2002

There wasn't really anything else to see after the dugout, so we made our way back down the tunnel, past the batting cages, past the medical room, through the weight room, and up the elevator to the lobby. It wasn't quite noon yet, and while I wished there had been more stuff to do at the FanFest itself, I was pretty psyched about the clubhouse tour despite the fact that we couldn't go up on the field. It was worth giving up a Saturday morning, and I'm guessing that we'll be back next year, hopefully better prepared to take advantage of the autograph sessions.

I forgot one other blog on my list yesterday: Boblog, the weblog of Bob Mould, frontman for Hüsker Dü and Sugar, who has recently relocated to DC. Probably the most down-to-earth celebrity blog I've yet seen.

I'm starting to build up a backlog of postcards from Tori, so I guess it's time to start posting them again. This one I got back before she came home for Christmas, and it's fairly normal for once:

Mary with the Child in the tree of Jesse

The text on the back:

Well hello there! Zurich is wonderful. I love it, and there are lots of free museums (although everything else is quite expensive). These Chagall windows are absolutely beautiful—wunderschön, you could say. So, I'm off to see more churches! Love, Tori

I think she's decided to stay over there to attend a writing program in Ireland that lasts until the end of July. I'm glad she's having all these great adventures, but I don't think she realizes how much we all miss her.

Work sucks this week. But at least it sucks for everyone in my office equally: the counselors are swamped with files to read, operations is swamped with data to enter and folders to file, PR is swamped with phone calls and emails from kids checking on the status of their application, and we're swamped with yet another round of significant architecture and front end changes to the database/web system that we've been implementing for the past eighteen(!) months.

The good news: we've finally found a replacement for our DBA who left last August. The bad: this implementation is now scheduled to be ongoing through at least mid-2006, which means that instead of getting the painful transition overwith by going first (we were the first office to implement the new system a year ago), we're instead going to be the foolish office that will have to deal with the implementation issues the longest, because the developers change so much with every release that it requires us to retest every component and recode all of our customizations. So even though we're live and in production on the system, we're also still in the midst of implementation. The worst of both worlds, as a developer friend of mine is fond of saying.

I swear, if the tech market experienced another bubble (or mini-bubble, even), Hopkins would lose half its technical staff within six months. Not me—I'm pretty happy there despite the challenges—but I've got a lot more patience than most of the the IT staff on campus.

I miss having class on Thursdays. Up until this semester, every class I had taken in this program was on a Thursday night, and it just felt right, for the same reason that Thursday was right for the weekly card night I used to have with CS Jeff, Dave, and Ryan back when we were all working for Sycamore. You go and do something mentally engaging but fun for a few hours right after work, get home tired but happy, and you know that you just have to get through one more workday before the weekend. Thursday night class was a prelude to more time away from thinking about work, a kickoff to personal time.

This semester my class is on Monday night, which is probably the worst class time offered by the program other than Saturday mornings. I've usually just had my most stressful day of the week, trying to get caught up on all the stuff that got piled up from the previous week and dealing with a whole new set of tasks and deadlines for the upcoming week, and then I have to hike upstairs to the humid, almost tropical environment of the Walters library to do research. By the time I get home, I'm mentally drained, badly in need of some dinner, and feeling more than a little beleaguered because I know that my week is just beginning.

But it's a good class, despite a couple of annoying personalities, and the poor timing is more than made up for by the fact that I get to spend three hours of my time with the director of the museum, seeing objects that are never shown in the museum's public collection (not quite as cool as the illuminated manuscripts I got to handle in my last class at the Walters, but that's to be expected—I'm a book guy). And I'm sure that I won't feel quite so exhausted by class in April when the grass is green again, the air is warm, baseball is in full swing, Modest Mouse's new record is out, and we've mailed our 11,000 decision letters. But April's still a long way away.

I'm going to miss Richard Hatch on Survivor All-Stars. He was the only player who had a sense of humor about it. The rest of them do nothing but endlessly repeat the "I'm playing the game" mantra ad infinitum. Yeah, we know, and the game just got a whole lot less interesting now that you robots are running things. The only person left who has the potential to cause any trouble is Sue Hawk, another contestant from the first season, and she's so irritating that I can barely stand to keep the sound on when she's talking. We can always hope for the return of Evil Jerri (as opposed to this season's Whiny Jerri), the borderline sociopathic boasting of Boston Rob, or the it's-a-man-baby aggressiveness of the too-buff Alicia, but everyone's playing it so safe because they all got kicked off on previous shows by having too much personality and voicing their opinions a little too strongly. I'm still rooting for Rupert, but he's no longer the unstoppable machine that he was on his original season. Of course, that could work to his advantage in this game.

P.S.—Normally, I would have posted a spoilers warning at the top of this entry, but with Survivor, you're either a die-hard fan who would never miss an episode or you don't really care that much in the first place. So I hope I didn't spoil anything for anybody.
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