march 2004

I spent an inordinate amount of time this weekend rearranging the backend structure of the site and playing around with my CSS file to address some issues that have bothered me for a while, so much so that I was this close to a complete redesign a few months ago (I chickened out). The most visible change is the new "other features" box to your right, which displays today's picture with a link to a larger version, yesterday's picture with a link to the month view where you can see all the thumbnails from the last month (you can click on those thumbnails for larger versions, too), and a more prominent placement of the daily links page, along with a snippet about one of the stories that I link to. I've always felt like these features don't get enough traffic (even though I put as much work into them each day as I do these entries), and I figured giving folks a taste of them with images and a headline will get more people to visit them daily. So please do.

I also cleaned up the nav menus (the webcam link, which has now been removed, hadn't worked since I left CO2 in 2001; I never bothered to hook it up at my new job), rearranged them to give things like notes (another daily feature that I put a lot of work into) and when the walls fell better placement, and gave all the menus rollovers that match the links in the content section. Finally, I updated a couple of pages, like people and bio, that were starting to get out of date. I have some good stories from this weekend, but they'll have to wait until tomorrow—I spent far too much time on site housekeeping tasks this weekend.

My story's a lot like yours, only more interesting because it involves robots.

Yesterday was a surprisingly good day for a Monday. In addition to no traffic during the morning commute and finding a good parking spot in the upper lot at work, I also got an unexpected free lunch of chinese food paid for by Hopkins, and I won the office Oscar pool. I'm not really that into the Oscars (although I was certainly happy to see Peter Jackson get his due for three outstanding films), but the entry fee was only three bucks and a lot of other people were playing who I know don't know as much about the world of entertainment as I do. I got 22 out of the 24 categories right, missing only animated short (I picked the Disney-Dali collaboration Destino) and adapted screenplay (the only category for which Return of the King was nominated that I didn't pick it). So that's another $51 in my pocket, to add to my earlier wins in the office football pool ($165) and the fantasy football league ($325). I can't help but feel good about my chances in the office NCAA tourney pool in a couple of weeks.

Man. I so wanted this story to be true, but I'm pretty sure it's not. It claims that the US put RFID chips into the newly redesigned $20 bills even though they said they wouldn't because of privacy and cost concerns. Although there are chips that are small enough to be hidden in money (the EU is working on a plan to develop new chips that can be woven into the fiber of euros by 2005), I had my doubts; I still have enough faith in our democracy to believe that if the government had decided to proceed with RFID tags in our currency, we would have heard about it somewhere, especially because so many people have been making a fuss about them recently.

I stopped short of actually microwaving a bill myself (see—I'm not totally crazy), but anecdotal evidence from the web suggested that the experiment wasn't reproducable. And when I looked more closely at the pictures posted along with the article, I noticed that many of the bills weren't the new new 20s, the ones with the orangey-pinky stuff in the middle, but the old new 20s that were introduced a few years ago (the burn marks make it look like they all have the orange coloring, but the old new bills have an oval frame around Jackson's head, whereas the new new bills do not). If we're to buy into this, we have to believe that this chip was included in both the new new bill and the old new bill, and I'm not quite paranoid enough to believe that the government was able to slip something like this into our money years ago since the technology behind small, cheap RFID chips has really only come into its own in the last couple of years.

So it's most likely a hoax. But it sure made for a fun couple of hours of research.

Another postcard from Tori, this one from the sidetrip she took to Spain on her way back to Austria after her return home for Christmas:

I'm not sure, but I think this bull might be in serious pain.
But that little guy seems pretty happy.

The note on the back:

Hello and happy belated birthday to Julie. I'm sure y'all had or are having a lovely time. Skiing, that is. Just as long as you don't break anything and don't tell someone else's hoodlum children to behave. Mind your own business! Love, Tori

Well, thank you, we did have a lovely time skiing. No broken bones and very few verbal altercations with other people's offspring.

Last Saturday I was planning to work on my first paper for my middle ages class (I have to identify a piece of ivory with a carving of a roman official on it), but for the first time in months, the weather didn't completely suck—in fact, it was quite pleasant—and we just had to spend the day outside. I wanted to go exploring somewhere we hadn't been before, and I needed to get some good pictures for my photos section, so I decided to go try and find Hell House, the ruins of a religious school called St. Mary's College outside of Ellicott City near Patapsco State Park. I had originally read about it on Annie's blog, and as I did more research I became more intrigued. There's a lot of bad information about it on the web—some of the stories about it are obviously urban legends based on some long-forgotten grain of truth, while some are urban legends about another nearby set of ruins, the Patapsco Female Institute (if you're curious about the real history of Hell House, this is the best article I've found about it).

Because the site is on private property now and there are no-trespassing signs up all over the place, none of the sites I found offered exact instructions on how to get there, but they gave us enough detail to know where to look (quite a few other people had the same idea we did—we must have seen at least 15 other people wandering around the site during our time there). We drove down to Ellicott City, and after driving past the right spot a couple of times, we finally spotted the silhouette of the ruins against the sky while driving on the road that runs parallel to the river. We turned around, parked beneath a railroad bridge with several other cars, and started our search for the mysterious stairs:

We found them pretty quickly, and hurried to the top. At the top of the stairs there was a path that wound through what were probably gorgeous gardens at some point, which eventually brings you to a short flight of decrepit cement stairs. At the top of this is are the ruins of the main building, which is mostly a facade at this point after a fire in 1997 that destroyed much of the structure. Here are some shots from the front, where it looks like the entrance used to be:

When slowly worked our way around the site, entering a couple of the old rooms that seemed somewhat stable still (most of the interior was filled with bricks and concrete that had collapsed during the fire), eventually stumbling on what looks like an old greenhouse just above the main buildings:

There were several other small structures scattered around the property, including a garage with a burnt out sportscar inside, and we explored everything that looked reasonably safe. I took a lot of pictures of the site, but most of them ended up in this month's photo selections, so just keep checking the daily photo and the photo archives if you want to see more.

We spent a good couple of hours walking around the site, although we didn't make it back to the pool area that has been described by several people on the web. I really want to come back when spring returns; despite the neglect the property has suffered in recent years, I'm betting it's still beautiful when everything's green and growing.

After leaving Hell House, we made our way back down to the train tracks and followed them to a nearby dam. We sat on the stone overlooking the artificial waterfall, throwing in sticks and watching them tumble over the edge into the churning whitewater below. We stayed for a while, just watching the water, but there was a train tunnel that we wanted to walk through before we left, and we sure didn't want to do that anytime close to sunset, so after an hour or so we made our way back towards the train bridge and across it to the tunnel.

The tunnel was deceptively long; it's a straight shot, and you can clearly see the exit even before you enter the mouth of the tunnel, but it took a lot longer to walk through than I expected, and when we were in the dead center, we had this eerie sensation of walking in darkness even though we could see still see the light at the other end; even though we could look ahead and see where we were going, if we looked down, we couldn't see our feet. Very odd. There wasn't a lot to see at the other end of the tunnel, or at least not enough to distract us from our return trip through the tunnel before it got dark. We made the return trip, which was a little less unnerving because the light was behind us and we felt like we were able to see a little more clearly in the darkest part of the tunnel.

We probably stayed for three hours or more, and I can't wait until we can go back; in addition to further explorations of St. Mary's, there were some other little areas near the river and in the park that I'd like to hike around. I have a feeling this could become one of my favorite local outdoor spots, especially when the weather turns warm again.

I'm pretty sure that Tom has had a birthday in the last few days; it might even be today. So, Tom, sorry for forgetting the exact date, but happy birthday.

The second postcard Tori sent from Spain:

Get it?

Her text:

Here is the bear statue molesting the strawberry tree. Last night I had a dream that Dodd ate my hamster. When I told mom about it she said, "Well, yeah, don't you remember what happened to the last one?" Moral of the story: Dodd is a hamster-eater. Also, I have had too much vino and sangria and have forgotten your zip code. It starts with a 2, I know that much. Love, Tori

You're right, our zip code does start with a 2, but strawberries don't grow on trees, dear. And I'm pretty sure Dodd doesn't eat hamsters.

Very tired. I spent all day Saturday at work, all day Sunday working on my first paper for my middle ages class, went to work on Monday and didn't get home until close to 10 because of my class, and worked all day yesterday on a stored procedure that we need on the production server by the end of the week before going to Alisa's final solo recital for her Peabody degree (she was great, and I finally got to meet her new guy Damon, who I liked a lot—we talked at length about his opera, and I was right, Tom Waits' "The Black Rider" was a definite influence). Tomorrow I'm still under pressure to finish the stored procedure and tonight we're going to see Toni Morrison speak at Hopkins, which means that we likely won't get home until close to 11.

But it's okay. I'm getting stuff done, and I'm thoroughly enjoying my extracurricular activities. Still, I'm looking forward to a nice relaxing evening at home on Thursday.

After grabbing a not-so-quick bite to eat at Ruby Tuesday's so we could spend my profitting-on-charity gift certificate, Julie and I went to see Toni Morrison speak at Hopkins last night. I haven't read much of her recent stuff, but Beloved is one of the best books written in the 20th century, and The Bluest Eye and Song of Solomon weren't bad either. Morrison was ostensibly there to celebrate the beginning of the new africana studies program at Hokins, but you could tell that not only did she not have a clue about the program and its goals, she barely knew where she was (she even called it St. Johns University at one point during her remarks). Needless to say, I was less than impressed. Her remarks were so dull and rehearsed that I'm sure she had given this talk dozens of times before; even she seemed bored with what she was saying. Which is too bad, really; the audience was enthusiastic and attentive, and jumped at every chance to applaud her. Unfortunately, those opportunities were few and far between during the more formal part of her talk (which was mercifully short; she couldn't have spoken for more than half an hour).

Things picked up during the Q&A, when Morrison seemed to loosen up a bit and inject some humor and spontaneity into her responses. All the energy and anticipation that the crowd had kept pent up during her talk, waiting for her to liven up and say something interesting, was released during the Q&A. It was like a dam breaking; great gushing waves of laughter rolled through the auditorium at the slightest joke, and there was a palpable sense of relief in the audience that this wasn't going to suck after all. Of course, it still mostly sucked, because it was disappointing to see her half-ass her speech and then only talk for an hour total including the Q&A. It was worth going, though; she had just about the coolest hair I've seen on a nobel laureate.

I ended up writing quite a bit for notes today about Danger Mouse's "The Grey Album", a ridiculously listenably frankenstein's monster of a remix record that was made by overlaying Jay-Z's "Black Album" raps over samples from the Beatles' "White Album", and I encourage you to have a look. But since I'm building up quite a backlog of postcards from Tori, and her next few are hilarious, I'll give you another one of those here today:

Is my leg supposed to bend like that?


Greetings from a scary man. I got this postcard in Zurich. It was free. Beside the toilet. Watch out! Germs!

In my bathroom stall was written:

Peoples are you ready for the take-off?


Oli—my heart does never let you go!

Fuck HipHop! Nigger go home!

DJ Shog—Another World

Gabbers United

Stay hard to the core

Skate or Die!

Bad Wild

Fuck Nazis

I wrote all these down in my notebook. While I was in the bathroom. The I added my own: Fuck the Po-Lice! Then I flushed the toilet for a 2nd time so people wouldn't think I was, uh, sleeping or something, or copying graffiti. Also, why is it all in Enlish?—Tori

When are you coming home, girl? I miss you. But I guess somebody has to be out there transcribing the writing in european toilets.

I'm not a huge college basketball fan, but growing up in North Carolina, the heart of ACC country (four of the original eight teams come from NC, and three of the other four are from adjacent states), I can't help but get excited during the ACC tournament and the NCAA tournament that follows it (which inevitably features several teams from our conference, at least one of whom is in serious contention for the title). Normally, I root for ACC teams in this order: UNC, Duke (don't start, I'm very conflicted—I have one alumni parent from each school), Wake, NC State, UVA, Georgia Tech, Maryland, and Clemson (Florida State, a recent addition to the conference won't count for another 20 years or so as far as I'm concerned).

My brother Dodd, however, is a loyal Duke fan, and he roots for no one else. Both his parents are alums, he's a recent alum, he has a Duke screensaver on his machine at work, he drinks from a Duke mug, he talks about Duke all the time, etc. When you ask him if Duke is going to win their next game, his answer is, without hesitation, "Of course." And it's not that kind of "Well, looking at this rationally, Duke is stronger in these areas" kind of "of course", it's an arrogant, fan-for-life "of course" that he'll still be using years from now when Duke hits a bad spot after Coach K retires and isn't such a great team anymore. Which is fine: that's what real fans are supposed to say. But working at Hopkins, Dodd takes a lot of crap from his co-workers, who are almost all Maryland fans, which so far has just rolled off him because of Duke's high position in the national standings, their dominance of Maryland in the regular season, and their amazing run in recent ACC tournaments.

But I must admit, even though normally I would have been rooting for Duke yesterday in the ACC championship game, I took some perverse pleasure in seeing the number one ranked, previously unstoppable Blue Devils get taken out in overtime by Maryland, the sixth seed. I don't know why that is, really, other than that I've had to listen to Dodd and dad's crap about UNC for the last few years (when UNC has been admittedly terrible), all the while hearing them crow about Duke, which have remained a powerhouse year after year. It just felt good to see Duke get beaten in a big game, especially because Dodd will have to hear about it at work a lot over the next few days because he made all the Maryland fans in the office hear about it each time Duke beat them in the regular season.

Despite my juvenile glee at seeing the kings knocked off their hill in the ACC tournament, I'm still picking Duke to go the final four of the NCAA, and I'll root for them all the way. Or at least after UNC gets knocked out in the third round.

April seems so far away. It's been March forever, and I'm ready for it to be over now. April brings the start of the baseball season, a new record from Modest Mouse, and the return of color to the world, and I need it to be here tomorrow. It's been such a long winter.

Most disturbing thing I've ever heard on a television commercial, in this case an ad for the new Viagra imitator Cialis:

Erections lasting more than four hours, while rare, require immediate medical attention.

You bet they do. Yikes.

The second of two postcards that Tori sent us from Zurich:

Where's my neck?

The text:

A story about peanut butter: My host mom buys peanut butter for us, which is nice because only about 30 people in Austria eat peanut butter. And they're all US ex-pats. Usually she buys smaller sized jars of "Happy Family" brand "Erdauss Creme" or, in smaller type, "Crema de Caccahuetes". But now, since we eat it like fiends, she bought a larger jar. "Peanut Creamy", it says. Here I will trail off, because this is not a good story, and I can't think of how to end it....

Also, my English is getting worse. The other night I asked my roommate, "How did he knew it?"

This card I also found beside the toilet. Germs!—Tori

I don't think Tori is ever concerned for her safety during her travels—she seems so content and utterly unaware of the stuff going on in the rest of the world. I was the same way when I was in England—I had no idea what was going on back in the US, and very little clue as to what was happening in my host country and its neighbors on the other side of the channel. As plugged in as I am now to cable news outlets, web sites, magazines, and newspapers, it's hard for me to imagine myself out of touch with current events for that long, but really, it was like living on another planet (granted, one of those Star Trek planets where everyone looked just like me and spoke English, but where the culture was different enough to feel alien anyway).

Every now and then, however, like last week on March 11, I remember that Tori's stranger-in-a-strange-land adventures aren't happening in some protective bubble, and that she's quite probably in greater danger over there than she would be back home (in fact, she was in Madrid only a month and a half ago). That doesn't mean that I think she should have given up what may be a once-in-a-lifetime chance to spend a year in europe, but it's just interesting to see the contrast between Tori's complete unconcern for her well-being as an American abroad in dangerous times and the fear that the rest of us have thrust down our throats in our native land every day, with orange alerts and men with automatic weapons at the airport and the like. I'm glad that Tori's not letting fear curtail her explorations, and that she's getting to have these experiences that will change her life. But I'll also be glad when she comes back home.

While we're on the subject of europe, I'd just like to say for the record that I think Spain has really screwed us all by allowing terrorists to believe that if they hit the right target at the right time, they can get concessions and appeasements, the same way Hitler was able to convince the rest of europe that if they would just give him Austria, and maybe Poland, too, that he would be satisfied and leave the rest of them alone. I'm sick of religious nuts controlling our lives and forcing us into violent conflicts because they believe they were sent to cleanse humanity and convert us all to the one true faith, whatever they might believe that to be. And I'm not just talking about bin Laden and his ilk; George W. Bush is driven by the same fanaticism, the same belief that he is on a mission from God to save the world.

Let me clarify things a little for you idiots: God doesn't like people killing each other, especially not when that killing is done in His name. If there's any smiting that needs to be done, I think He's fully capable of doing it Himself. You morons are not heroes, you're not prophets, you're not saviors: you're indiscriminate executioners responsible for the deaths of thousands of innocent people, men and women and children who just wanted to live normal everyday lives, not die pointlessly in your crusades or jihads. If I were you, and I believed in a god who was going to judge me in the afterlife, I'd stop using my faith as a justification for murder and start worrying about all that blood on my hands.

It's Friday. Nobody wants to do work. So go do this instead.

The first day of the NCAA tournament is done, and so far I'm not doing too bad in the office pool: 12 correct picks and 4 wrong ones, but hopefully the damage is minimal because none of my misses were teams that I expected to make it past the second round anyway (in fact, all my bad picks were between 8-9 seeds or 10-7 seeds, most of whom won't go on to play past this weekend no matter which team wins in the opening round). Now I just need to get through tomorrow with no major upsets, and I think I'll be in pretty good shape heading into the second round on Saturday.

I was sorely tempted to make it an all-ACC final four (with six teams in the tournament, a six seed, two fives, two fours, two threes, and a one, this wouldn't be a bad year to do it), but in the end I tried not to let my regional bias factor too heavily into my choices (although I still have Duke winning it all). I came close a couple of years ago, but I've never won the NCAA pool, so I'm hoping my luck in other recent office pools (I was the overall winner of the weekly NFL pool and the Oscar pool this year) will carry over into my tournament picks, even if it means those bastards at Duke get to take home another national championship.

The sky was very confused yesterday.

Adding James Spader to the cast of the Practice to help revitalize the aging franchise was brilliant. His turn as Alan Shore, a morally reprehensible smart ass who you still root for even when he's breaking the law and making a mockery of the ethics that all of the original cast members are always ringing their hands over, breathed new life into a show that even longtime fans had grown tired of over the last couple of seasons. He's been so good, in fact, that ABC has decided to cancel the Practice and instead give Spader's character his own show.

In order to move the Practice to a conclusion that leads logically into the new series featuring Spader, the recent episodes of the Practice have focused on Spader's character being terminated from the firm and the legal battle that ensues over his compensation. Last night, we got to meet the lawyers that will represent Alan Shore in his case against his old firm, headed by William Shatner playing, essentially, himself, an egotistical windbag whose not nearly as good at his chosen profession as he thinks he is. I'm hoping that this could be a preview of the spin-off series; a firm headed by Shatner might sometimes dance uncomforably close to the tiresome hijinks of David E. Kelley's breakthrough show Ally McBeal, but if it works (and last night it certainly did), it could be genius.

We still need a couple of players for our annual fantasy baseball league (all online with an automatic draft based on individual pre-rankings, so you don't need to devote a ridiculous amount of time to it, and it's also free), so if any of you out there in the blogosphere are interested, email me and I'll send you the league info.

The first two rounds of the NCAA tournament are over, and I'm pretty much screwed in the office pool. Two of my final four picks, Stanford and Kentucky, are out, as are several of my sweet sixteen picks, including Gonzaga, NC State, and Mississippi State. In the current rankings, I'm in third place out of nineteen, trailing the leader by only a few points, but I basically need my remaining final four teams, Oklahoma State and Duke, to make it to that round, I need St. Joe's and Syracuse to get knocked out quick next weekend, and I need Duke to win it all. There's still hope, because teams like Nevada and Alabama-Birmingham messed up everybody's brackets, but I'm not that optimistic about my chances.

I'm tired of having to wear a coat. I'm tired of frost on my car in the morning. I'm tired of everything being dead, I'm tired of the trees having no leaves, I'm tired of brown grass.

I remember a science fiction story I read many times when I was a kid (I have no idea what the title is or who wrote it) about a planet where it rained all the time, it was always cloudy, and nobody ever went outside. But once a year, or once every five years or something crazy like that, the sun would come out for a few hours, and the entire population of the planet would go out to soak up every last ray of sunshine while they could. Except the main character of the story, a young girl who accidentally got locked inside and missed the whole thing. This winter has felt as endless as that planet's rainy cycle, and I feel like the girl who missed her moment in the sun; this winter has gone on far too long, and it doesn't feel like it's going to be over any time soon.

I want green, I want growth, I want life. I want to feel my dark hair absorbing the sun. I want to feel warm air on my skin.

A relatively new visitor to my site, who herself maintains a fine site called BaLtiMoRe RoLL (you might have noticed the recent addition of her link to my "other blogs" sidebar), helpfully emailed me the name of the story I referenced in yesterday's post about the planet where it rained all the time. The story is called "All Summer in a Day", and it was written by Ray Bradbury. And not only did she tell me the name and the author, she also sent me a link where the entire story is posted online. So go check it out, and pray to god that our summer will last more than one day this year.

There's nothing special about this article. What I mean to say is, the case discussed in the article, about whether the words "under god" should be removed from the pledge of allegiance, is very interesting (I talked about this extensively when the case was first filed a couple of years back—some might say too extensively—but click here and here if you're interested in reading a couple of dialogues an attorney friend and I had about this topic), but the article itself isn't that different from lots of other articles on lots of other news sites covering the same story. What caught my eye about this version, however, was the second to last paragraph:

Absent from the case is one of the court's most conservative members, Justice Antonin Scalia, who bowed out after he criticized the ruling in Newdow's favor during a religious rally last year. Newdow had requested his recusal.

Am I crazy? Is this is the same Justice Scalia that has refused to recuse himself from a case before the court that concerns Dick Cheney, a longtime friend and political ally? So Scalia will take himself off a case because he publicly criticized a ruling he's being asked to review, but he won't remove himself from a case that involves someone he knows personally and is obviously biased towards (they famously took a duck hunting trip together last fall, which resulted in the most vocal calls for Scalia to recuse himself)? The case under consideration asks whether the White House can keep secrets about who attended a meeting on the administration's energy policy, which is widely viewed as favorable to big oil companies, many of whom probably had represenatives at the meeting in question, and this is a judge who was instrumental in handing the keys to the White House to the Bushies by stopping the recounts in Florida. Given his obviously chummy relationship with the executive branch, it wasn't surprising to me when Scalia refused to recuse himself, but it seems all the more outrageous when compared with his recusal from the pledge case because he spoke unfavorably of the original ruling. So we're supposed to believe that, even though Scalia is admitting that he can't be objective about a case because he already has a publicy-known opinion about it, he can be objective about a case whose participants he knows directly and who he has already issued biased rulings for? Please.

That's the thing I find most disturbing about this current crop of neoconservative republicans (I mean, aside from the fact that they're turning us into a nation of serfs to the coporate kingdoms, dragging us into unjustified wars, making us the most hated nation on earth, etc.): their disdain for the moral, ethical, and legal boundaries that they expect the rest of us to follow, and their condescending dismissiveness when they get caught red-handed. Nothing fazes them: not the massive tax cuts and other benefits that the administration has liberally bestowed on corporations and the ultra-rich to the detriment of our economy; not lying about WMD in order to justify a war that only Cheney, Wolfowitz, Rumsfeld, and Rove wanted; and not Cheney still having a significant financial interest in Halliburton, a company that has received billions of dollars in no-bid contracts from the government for the rebuilding of Iraq after our invasion (was anyone really surprised when it was revealed that Halliburton had overcharged the army millions of dollars for everything from gasoline to meals served to our troops?). No matter what crimes they're accused of and how much proof their is of their guilt, these people don't bat an eyelash. They grimace, huff with annoyance, and tell us to mind our own business, they know what they're doing and they know what's best for us. They're just completely shameless. If these jackals had been the ones running Nixon's presidency, not only would Nixon have refused to resign over the Watergate break-in, he would have accused his opponents of being unpatriotic for even suggesting that the break-in wasn't warranted in order to protect the country from the menace of traitorous liberals.

Has there been anything that they haven't lied about yet? Have they done anything that even remotely follows the moderate platform that they campaigned on in 2000? After all the outcry (not to mention tens of millions of wasted taxpayer dollars) over Clinton's lies about an extramarital affair, there hasn't been a peep from conservatives about any of the dozens of enormous lies that have been told by every high-ranking member of this administration. It's all about character, right? That's what they kept telling us about Clinton, remember? Well, these people are lying, immoral, narcissistic, arrogant sociopaths who routinely thumb their noses at our legal system, and who could care less about any but the wealthiest citizens of this nation. Who is still buying their bullshit after four years of constant deception and blatant corruption?

Last week, Julie and I went to see Alisa sing in her solo recital, a major performance that is one of the final steps in her pursuit of a graduate performance degree from Peabody. We were joined by a couple of people from the office, including Amy, who is herself a singer who graduated from Peabody, and, surprisingly, my brother Dodd.

The performance went on for over an hour, and it consisted of five different sets of songs. Alisa was usually accompanied by a pianist (he was brilliant, but his own stage theatrics tended to upstage Alisa, who really should have been the primary focus since it was her recital), but for one set of songs she was joined by a cellist, a violinist, and a harpsichord player. She led off with a selection from an opera (she told me later this was mostly just to get her voice warmed up for the other stuff), and then moved to a series of three pieces by Debussy that were inspired by a french poet named Pierre Louys. Next was a series of three songs written by Handel that were based on works by the german poet Barthold Brockes, followed by the debut of a new piece written by a composition student at Peabody that recounts Mary Magdalene's first-person experience of encountering the resurrected Christ. Alisa closed with five carribean pieces that were decidedly more uptempo and contemporary than most of the other pieces.

The opera stuff was my least favorite, but that's probably because it's hard for me to enjoy opera without the context of people committing adultery, stealing, and stabbing one another. Plus what I really like about the performace of opera is when two or more performers are singing overlapping parts, which of course doesn't happen during an aria selected for a solo recital. The french pieces were pretty good, but I must admit I liked them as much for the poems they were based on (which were about a young girl's first romantic experiences) as I did Alisa's singing; the imagery was just gorgeous.

I also enjoyed the Handel pieces a lot, although the violin player was just awful on one of the songs, constantly missing her notes and distracting us from Alisa's performance, which was spectacular. The Mary Magdalene piece was really incredible: it began with the pianist plucking violently at his keys with one hand while holding down the strings inside the piano with the other, which created an easteran-influenced percussion sound. It was captivating, and for once it didn't matter that the piano was the center of attention: the piece was that good. I remember the composition moved through several different stages, but it's not distinct enough in my memory for me to say exactly what these were. But I do remember being pretty much blown away by both the performance and the song itself.

The closing section consisted of five songs that were a little more lighthearted, drawing on cuban and carribean traditions, and it was a joyous end to a truly amazing performance. I think Alisa got better as the recital went on, both because her voice was warmed up and because she was able to relax enough to have fun with the audience. Overall she did very well, despite the terrible violist and some Peabody students making a ruckus in the back of the hall during her final few songs (they had the hall booked after her, and for some reason they thought it was okay to start moving their equipment in before she was done with her performance).

Afterwards, we hung around the reception long enough to congratulate her and briefly meet her new guy, Damon, the composer of Super Double Lite, but she was being mobbed by friends and family and we still had to drop Dodd off at his apartment before we headed home. She recorded it and is going to give me a copy, which I'm really looking forward to hearing because most of her performance is lingering in my head as an impression, and I'd like to solidify it a little more since there was so much of it that I liked.

Our oldest cat, Wednesday, died last week. We had her for nearly ten years, but since we didn't adopt her until she was an adult, we have no idea how old she really was. She had cancer for the last four or five years of her life, and although the tumor never seemed to cause her pain, she took a turn for the worse a few weeks ago and finally let go on Thursday night.

We first encountered her when we still lived on Stadium Road in Charlottesville, during my second year of graduate school and Julie's first. We used to leave cat food on the back porch for the various neighborhood strays, including several cats, a couple of possums, and three or four raccoons. Wednesday, who we just called "black and white kitty" until we took her in, was very shy around people, which is a little sad given how affectionate she became after she joined the household. After a year of so of us feeding her, she had gotten comfortable enough with us to let us pet her and occasionally hold her, but not much more than that (as foolish as it was, we would sometimes let the strays in to interact with our two indoor cats).

That all changed with the blizzard of January 1996 and the bitter cold that accompanied it; Wednesday willingly came indoors, and she really hasn't been back outdoors since. After it was clear that she was going to stay with us, we took her to the vet to have her checked out, and they told us that they couldn't tell how old she was because her teeth were in such great shape (apparently it's pretty easy to guess a cat's age by how much plaque has built up on their teeth). They did tell us that she had been fixed already, though, which means that she had belonged to someone before us. I'm guessing she was the house cat for one of the many student dwellings on Stadium Road, and when her collective owners all went their separate ways, no one wanted to take responsibility for her, so she became a neighborhood cat, taking care of herself for the most part.

We named her Wednesday, after Wednesday Addams, and she became the fourth member of our little kitty collective. She was the only girl, and the only one we didn't own from a kitten, so she never fit in that well with the others, preferring to sit in a quiet corner by herself. With people, however, she was incredibly affectionate, curling up in your arms and licking your face if you would let her. It breaks my heart to think about her being abandoned by her previous owners and going without human contact for at least a couple of years, because she really craved that attention.

A few years ago, we noticed a small lump on her back, just behind her right shoulder blade. It happened to appear just before her annual checkup, but the vet didn't seem too concerned about it when we asked about it. By the next year, however, the mass had grown enough that the vet wanted to have it checked out, and after some tests, she confirmed that it was malignant cancer. We eventually decided to have it removed, and although we were a little concerned about having surgery for something that didn't seem to bother her that much at her advanced age, Wednesday came through it without a problem. I don't even recall a recovery period from the operation; we dropped her off at the clinic in the morning, and when we picked her up in the afternoon, the lump was gone and she was behaving the same way she always had.

The vet told us that if it didn't come back within a year or two, then it was gone forever, but if it did come back, there wasn't much point in having the surgery again because it would just keep coming back. We were hopeful after a year had passed and we couldn't detect anything on her back except the scar from the surgery, but sometime in the second year after the operation, a small lump started to re-form in the same spot. Since it didn't seem to hurt her at all, we decided to follow our vet's advice and not have another operation to remove it again when it started to get really big again.

In the last eight or nine months, it's growth became prodigious, increasingly in size noticeably from month to month and eventually week to week. By January of this year, it was massive, and the skin on the right side of her body was pulled so tight that she was having trouble moving her right front leg. Still, it didn't seem to bother her besides making it slightly more difficult for her to walk; she ate as much as she always did and was just as affectionate and happy as she ever was.

Things took a turn for the worse after the Incident. We don't know if her skin was stretched so tight that it finally burst or if she got into an altercation with one of the other cats, but one night after she came upstairs after going to the litter, there was a tiny hole in her skin above the lump. It actually turned out that much of the lump was composed of a disgusting liquid, a mixture of pus and blood, and starting at the foot of the stairs and leading all the way up to her favorite spot under the table, there was a trail of it spattered all over the house. It was completely disgusting; it looked like someone had been killed in a very brutal fashion, and they hadn't gone quietly, either. I took one look at it and thought for sure we would have to pay for professional carpet cleaning, if not replace the carpet altogether (amazingly, Julie was able to clean it all up using OxyClean; I swear, if you have any kind of organic stain, it's worth getting a bucket of this stuff—it saved us at least a couple hundred dollars in cleaning costs).

We called the vet and took Wednesday for a visit a couple of days later, and they just told us to keep an eye on it. The best case scenario was that it would heal up but the fluid would start to collect again, in which case we could periodically bring her in to have it drained with a needle instead of waiting for it to explode all over the carpet; the worst case was that it wouldn't heal, in which case there wasn't much they could do for her.

Since I've alreday told you that she died, you can guess which one of these two happened. At first it did seem to scab up a little, and we had hopes that she could get better and continue to live more or less as she had for the past several years. But then it opened again, and the fluid (which was mostly the yellowish pus now) kept the wound too wet for it to scab over. Within a couple of weeks the hole had grown to three or more inches in diameter, and the smell was just awful. Because of that and because the fluid was constantly leaking from the hole, we decided to set her up in the bathroom with her own makeshift litter, food and water bowls, and a kitty bed we purchased just for her. She really didn't seem to mind this at all; as I mentioned, she mostly sat in one spot all day anyway, and I don't think she particularly cared where that spot was, as long as she felt safe and protected. We visited her as much as we could, and spent more time holding her and petting her than we would have had she been in her normal spot in the living room.

For a couple of weeks, she seemed just as unconcerned with the gaping hole in her back as she had with the lump she had lived with for five years, but we knew it was a bad sign the first day she didn't eat anything. Two days later, on Thursday, she was so weak that she was having trouble walking, and we figured that we should probably make an appointment to have her put to sleep on Saturday. That night, Julie took her outside and let her walk in the grass, and we both spent a lot of time holding her and petting her. Even though she was weak, she never stopped purring; despite the rapidly deteriorating condition of her body, she didn't seem to be in any pain.

We put Wednesday to bed for the evening as usual, after which we tried not to bother her too much since if we went down to see her she would get excited and try to walk around, and she just didn't have the energy to do that anymore. As I was going to bed, however, I impulsively decided to check on her, just to make sure she was alright; I just had a feeling that she needed to see me. I opened the door a crack and stared at her for a few seconds; I couldn't see her breathing. I watched for a few moments more, afraid to confirm what I already knew, before kneeling down to feel her chest. Her body was still warm and limp, but there was no heartbeat.

In one of Kurt Vonnegut's books, he describes a character suddenly thinking of someone they haven't seen in years for no reason, and then reveals that the person being thought of had just died and had sent out a tiny signal to everyone they had ever known, triggering memories of that person just before they died (I don't remember what book; I devoured everything Vonnegut wrote during a two-year period in high school, but I haven't read any of his stuff in over a decade). Vonnegut referred to these telepathic messages as "mental butterflies", and said that we all send them out when we die, a last gasp to the living before we are no longer among them. I have always wanted to believe this, and at least with Wednesday, I do; it was not my habit to check on her late at night before I went to bed, but I had an irresistable urge to visit her. Based on the warmth of her body when I found her, I cannot believe that she had been dead for more than a few minutes; she may have even died while I was with her.

I woke Julie up and told her the bad news, and we both pet her and cried for a little while as her body grew colder. Still, we were glad that she never seemed to be in any pain, that she had gotten to walk around on the grass one last time that afternoon, and that her last memories would not be of a vet giving her a shot in an animal hospital. She died in her bed at home, feeling safe. I don't think she would have chosen to have her life end in any other way.

On Friday afternoon, we wrapped her in a blanket, put her in a cardboard box, and buried her in one of the flower beds near my iguana. It was strange, taking her cold, stiff, lifeless body out of her bed and contorting it to fit into the box, but even though it was her body, it wasn't her. She was gone already.


This is one of the last pictures I took of her a couple of weeks before she died. I like it because her body is out of focus and fuzzy, but her eyes still burn through; she's still in there looking right back at you. When I took the picture, she had already started her downward trend, she had already started to become something less than she was, but she still had the same personality she had always had. The picture just seems to fit how she was at the end, when she would still try to climb in your lap and lick your face even though she barely had the strength to get out of her kitty bed; she never stopped being herself even when her body was failing her.

Goodbye, Wednesday. You already know how much we miss you.

Sometimes the idiots who run tv aren't so stupid after all: they've granted my wish to have William Shatner play a major role in the Practice spin-off that's being built around James Spader's character, Alan Shore. As long as David E. Kelley can resist the urge to be weird and keep his goofier instincts at bay, and maintain the biting sarcasm of Spader's character for the spin-off, this could be one of the best new shows of the fall.

Well, heading into the final four, I only have two teams left in my bracket, and I'm about 15 points and a few other players behind the leader in my pool. But I've still got an outside chance of winning: of all the people above me in the pool, none had Duke winning it all, so if Duke goes all the way, I'm the winner by a large margin. In fact, no one still in contention has either Duke or Georgia Tech advancing to the finals (they all have UConn beating Duke and Oklahoma State beating Georgia Tech in the next round), so if both of the ACC teams win their final four games next week, I'm also guaranteed to be the winner, although only by a few points. So go ACC! Go Duke! Keep my office pool streak alive!

We went geocaching on Sunday for the first time in a long time (in fact, according to the geocaching site, we haven't logged a cache in over a year, which doesn't seem right to me, but I guess we could have done a couple last summer and forgotten to log them the site—actually, looking back though my photo archives, I know that's not the last one we did, because I have some photos from a cache we did at the end of the summer last year). The weather was too nice to stay indoors all day, but I had some work to do, so we decided to find one close to home.

Luckily, several caches have been planted very close to where we live recently, and we picked one that looked like it was right downtown next to the river. The GPS unit was pointing me to a spot underneath the bridge (or so I thought, and we poked around down there for a while before noticing that a previous geocacher had noted in his log on the site that it wasn't underneath the bridge. I was wondering if my GPS unit was acting up, because it really seemed focused on this one spot, but it didn't look like there was a good hiding place for a cache anywhere but under the bridge.

Then we noticed that it was a microcache, meaning that it was very small (when we found it, it was housed in a repurposed Altoids tin) and that several other geocachers had complained about how hard it was to grab the cache without making the "muggles" (a term for non-geocachers, stolen, of course, from Harry Potter) suspicious. You never want to let non-geocachers see you finding or hiding a cache, because if someone who doesn't understand the sport sees you, they can retrieve it and loot it or destroy it.

Another clue gave a further hint that it might, in fact, be on the bridge, and after deciphering that we were able to find the cache in pretty short order. The cache was too small to leave anything (it was barely big enough to hold a couple of sheets of notepad paper for the log and a golf pencil), so we added our names to the log and carefully put it back in its hiding place. Luckily, there weren't too many folks around, so I'm pretty sure no one saw us. It was an easy cache, and it didn't take too long, but it reminded me of what a good excuse geocaching is for spending time outdoors, and I have no intention of letting another summer go by without adding at least ten new finds to our list.
december 2004
november 2004
october 2004
september 2004
august 2004
july 2004
june 2004
may 2004
april 2004
march 2004
february 2004
january 2004

daily links
cd collection