february 2007

February will feature the last of the photos from our cruise in October, and I've saved a few of my favorites for last. I actually have another month or two's worth of good pictures, but many of them are similar to ones that have already been posted, so they'll just get filed away or posted at some future date when I'm running low on shots one month. Anway, enjoy.

It disappoints me year after year that there is not more widespread celebration of Groundhog Day. Ideally, this would take the form of drinking contests at work, but I'd settle for someone in a large rodent costume handing out candy to everyone.

Had Dodd over for the Super Bowl, where we pretty much repeated the meal from the Ravens playoff game a few weeks ago: wings from a local wings place and a gigantic sandwich with turkey, ham, roast beef, shredded lettuce, mayo, brown mustard, and provolone. I added pickles, cole slaw, and italian dressing to the Super Bowl version, but otherwise the sandwiches were the same.

It was a reasonably decent game, even though I didn't really care who won—there was enough action and screw ups from the rain that the victor was in doubt until well into the fourth quarter. The ads this year, however, sucked worse than any set of ads I remember from previous years. Not really a memorable one in the bunch, although I'm sure that won't stop the advertisers from replaying them thousands of times in the coming weeks to force us to remember them by sheer exposure.

The labbits are not the only thing I'm obsessed with at the Kidrobot site. I'm also quite fond of Gloomy, a bear who is usually depicted with blood dripping from his teeth and claws. Gloomy's story is that he was adopted by a little boy when he was a cub, but since bears never bond with humans the way some other wild animals do, when Gloomy got older he mauled the boy who adopted him.

Anyway, so far I have the bloody Gloomy figure and the limited edition yellow Gloomy, of which there are only 250 and which sold out in less than a day last week. I'm planning to add more Gloomy variations to my collection, but I think I've given Kidrobot enough of my money over the past month, so I'll wait a bit before buying more.

Also, as to the labbits: on the Shins new album, there is a song called "Red Rabbits", and I swear, when the singer comes to the lyrics that reference the title (about 1:50 into the track), he's says "red labbits". I know I'm completely obsessed, but I swear to god he says labbits. Listen to it and tell me I'm wrong.

It is cold outside, kids. The winters have been so mild here the last couple of years that I never felt the need to put the lining in my jacket, simply wearing the canvas outer coat all winter because that's all I needed. But you better believe that lining's back in there now.

I actually like winter, but this is such a bitter, brutal cold that it's really not much fun, especially without some snow (and accompanying snow days). We've had a couple of dustings here and there, but nothing significant (although they've closed schools twice already). I hope that some form of the cold sticks around until next week, when we'll head up to West Virginia with Dodd and my parents for our annual ski trip—it would be great if we could replicate last year's stellar conditions and get in a few good days of skiing.

I know you're likely sick of hearing about them, but a new pack of labbits was released today. I'm not overly fond of the bondage theme, but labbits are labbits, and I'm afraid for the time being that I'm going to get my hands on as many of them as I can.

Alright, I'm a little sick of reading apps now. But I still like the working at home part.

I swear to god, if you weather people are yanking my chain about all the snow we're supposed to get tomorrow, I'm going to be more than a little pissed. I need a snow day. Badly.

Well, it's snowing, and I'm working at home, but it doesn't look like we'll be getting an official snow day, or even partial snow day. There are rumblings that maybe tomorrow will be ugly enough for us to at least come in a bit late, but we'll see. Damn it.

A 21st century valentine's poem, courtesy of teh interwebs:

Roses are #FF0000
Violets are #0000FF
All my base are belong to you

You're welcome.

I finally got my snow day (or ice day, as the case may be), but it sure took Hopkins long enough to call it—they didn't officially decide to close until just after 9 a.m., whereas every other university around Baltimore made the decision to close in time for the early morning news. Whatever, I'll take it.

I'm not a YouTube connoisseur, but like everyone, I've watched my fair share of videos from the service. Most of the good clips I've seen get to the point in under a minute, although I've seen a few keep the laughs coming for three or four minutes. However, when my dad sent me a link to this video about a user testing out Windows Vista's voice recognition software, which clocks in at just over 10 1/2 minutes, I had my doubts that I'd make it all the way through.

But I watched every single second of it, and I was laughing hard most of the way through. There's a little bit of a slowdown a couple of minutes before the end of the video, but I really think that's just to allow you to catch your breath before the finale. I don't think this is just a video for IT geeks, either, because it's not really about somene trying to write a PERL script or whatever he's trying to do, it's about hitting your head over and over against a piece of poorly developed technology, something I think we can all relate to. Enjoy.

Last Saturday I met up with Ryan and Dave, two of my former coworkers from Sycamore, for lunch and a movie in Frederick. We met at Frisco's, which is where we pretty much always meet, and caught up with each other's lives over our sandwiches. We see each other on AIM all the time, and we even chat occasionally, but despite our good intentions to get together regularly, we figured out that it had actually been about three years since the last time we had hung out in person.

After lunch, we went to see Breach, the new movie with Chris Cooper about FBI spy Robert Hanssen. I'm still not sure if I liked the movie or not, even though I'm very interested in the subject matter—it was a very spare, minimalist effort, with most of the story taking place inside the windowless confines of FBI headquarters, especially the small office space shared by Hanssen and his assistant, an undercover agent who helped bust him. Chris Cooper played the enigmatic Hanssen pretty well, and there were moments when he looked just about as scary as anything I've ever seen on the big screen, just by tensing his face muscles with rage.

I guess my main problem is that, for a character study, I don't feel like I learned an awful lot about the character—I know he was religious, obsessive, very detail oriented, and has a huge ego buried under a mask of humility, but I never really understood anything about where his behaviors came from or why he was the way he was. That's probably because no one really knows—the reasons why Hanssen betrayed his country remain a mystery to everyone but the man himself.

I didn't have time to hang out after the movie was over, but we made promises that we'd try to do this again soon, i.e., before another three years had passed. I hope that's true, but I'm as bad at following up on my good intentions as anyone. But I miss seeing these guys, and working with these guys, and it seems silly for us not to get together a few times a year given how close we all live to one another.

Going skiing for a few days, so no updates til next week. I have posted the rest of this week's pictures in the photo archives section in case you're curious. Pray that the weather doesn't warm up as expected—it would be really annoying to have suffered through this bitter cold snap for the last month only for it to get unseasonably warm again just as we're preparing to hit the slopes.

So, our ski trip was pretty interesting this year, especially the part about actually getting to the mountain. Sit back and get comfortable, because this is going to take a while.

Our plan was to leave as soon as we could after work on Tuesday night, getting to Snowshoe before midnight so we could get a decent night's rest and ski on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday before driving back sometime Saturday. Ideally, we would have wanted to leave by 6:30 or so, but since Dodd couldn't get off early, we had to delay until around 7:00 for him to get home from work, get his stuff in the car, and get out to our place.

Our first problem came when he called around the time he was supposed to be at our house to tell us he was running late. That was more or less expected, but by the time he finally got to us and we got on the road from our house, it was closer to 8:30 than 7:30, which is the latest I thought he'd be.

Before we even really got going, we needed to stop for dinner and an ATM, so we drove about 10 miles up the road to an exit that had both, grabbing dinner first and then making a stop at the bank. That's where our second delay came in: I'm usually the one who takes care of getting cash for Julie and myself, but a few days previous I had lost my ATM card. The replacement hadn't arrived by Tuesday afternoon, so I had transferred money into Julie's account for her to withdraw. But when we pulled up to the bank, she started frantically searching through her purse and couldn't locate her card, either.

Since I really didn't feel comfortable proceeding without any cash, we had to drive back to our house (there's no worse way to start a long trip than to backtrack to your house after you think you've hit the road) and search for her card, which turned out to be in the pockets of a pair of jeans she'd worn the day before. Then it was back to the bank again, and one final stop for gas before we really got going.

By then it was after 10, which meant that we wouldn't be arriving in Snowshoe until well after midnight, likely between 2 and 3 a.m., which also meant that any skiing in the morning was likely shot. It was a little disappointing, but it wasn't the end of the world.

So why did I make such a big production about how arduous the trip up to the resort was at the beginning of this entry? Because running several hours late was just the tip of the iceberg; compared to what happened next, our schedule being pushed back was no more than a minor inconvenience...

We were into West Virginia by midnight; we stopped for gas and a bathroom break after getting off the big new highway they're building so that we wouldn't need to stop again on the deserted country roads that wound their way through the mountains on the way to Snowshoe. By 1 a.m. we were past Petersburg and on our way through the national park that contains the Smoke Hole Caverns and Seneca Rocks.

We had just passed Smoke Hole and the dozens of fishing cabins that line the banks of the nearby North Fork River, which feeds into the Potomac, and were coming out of a turn into a flat stretch when the headlights picked up a basketball-sized hunk of jagged rock that had fallen into the roadway. At the same time, I could see a tractor-trailer rounding the bend on the other side of the road, which left me a split second to choose between hitting the rock or hitting the truck, because there was no shoulder on our side of the road.

I chose the rock, of course, trying my best to dodge around it. But I heard a tire pop as we went over the rock, and I said as I pulled over to the opposite shoulder, "I think we're in big trouble." At first I thought it would be a simple spare tire change that would get us to Snowshoe, and we could take care of getting a new tire there, but as we were unpacking the trunk to get the spare and the jack, we noticed that both tires on the passenger side were flat, and we were actually going to need a tow truck.

Okay, so two flat tires, 1:30 in the morning in the middle of nowhere in West Virginia: we'll just call AAA, sleep in the car while we wait for the tow truck to arrive (which we realized might not be til daylight), and call to let dad know we're okay. But then we get out our cell phones and find that we're in a dead zone, without even the faintest hint of a signal...

It wasn't too long before we figured out that the only way out of our predicament was to flag down a passing motorist and have them call AAA for us once they got back into town. Of course, passing motorists are not in abundant supply in rural counties in West Virginia at 2 in the morning, so we hunkered down in the car to wait for one and try to keep warm. It actually wasn't that cold—about 40 degrees that night—and we could have always run the car to get some heat if we needed it, but we did pretty well just using out heavy coats as pillows/blankets.

In the first 20 minutes or so, we actually managed to flag down an 18 wheeler, which we thought was exactly what we needed, because his CB shouldn't have been affected by the lack of cell phone reception. But even though he stopped, he didn't seem to really want to help us—we explained what had happened while he leaned his head out the window, and he told us our best bet was to flag someone down. Which is exactly what we were doing at that moment. Thanks for nothing.

A pickup truck passed a few minutes later, headed back towards Petersburg, and this driver agreed to call AAA for us once he got back into town, so I gave him the 800 number, my membership ID, and my name. As soon as he drove away, we realized that we should have also asked him to call dad, who was likely still up and wondering where his kids were, so we decided to try to flag down another person to help out.

Our routine for flagging people down was this: we would sit in the dark in the car waiting until we saw a glimmer of headlights from one direction or another. Then we would turn on the hazards, and Dodd would get out of the back seat to try to flag them down. Dodd and I tried to sleep in between attempts, but Julie was mostly awake, so it was usually her yelling "Car! Car!" that started the process.

It was amazing how dark it was nestled in the West Virginia mountains; after a few minutes, our eyes would start to adjust to the scant light provided by a cloud-hidden moon and the reflection of moonlight off the snow in the field next to us, but aside from outlining the peaks of the mountains around us and getting the ambient glow from the snow, we couldn't really see anything else.

As it turns out, we were pretty lucky with the pickup guy who stopped for us given that he was only the third person that we saw. No one else stopped for us the rest of the night, and one person even slowed down, took a look at us, and sped off without even rolling down his window to speak to Dodd first.
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