april 2008

We attended our sixth consecutive Opening Day at Camden Yards yesterday, but while the previous five years have been the first of many games under a 13 game partial season ticket package, this year we have decided not to indulge. Part of this is because we're trying to save money for other things, and part of it is because their ticket exchange policy still is not as flexible as they promised it would be BEFORE last season, but mostly it's because they seem to have given up on this season before it even began, trading their biggest star and their best pitcher, the latter just as he was coming into his own as a frontline starter.

We'll still go to a few games here and there—we're thinking of going on the best promotion nights, because I have yet to acquire a floppy hat after all these years—but I can't justify making that kind of personal investment in a team that doesn't seem to be interested in doing much this season but playing around with their pretty new scoreboards and giving a bunch of unknowns to get some playing time and hear lots of clubhouse stories from Kevin Millar's glory days in Boston.

Dodd came with us, which is at least his third year coming to Opening Day, and overall it was the most subdued Opening Day we've been to. The cold and drizzly weather didn't help—even though the park wasn't sold out, there were a lot of people who had tickets but didn't show, and a lot more who came late and left early—but the team, which only has a couple of players whose names would be recognizable outside Baltimore, just didn't generate much excitement. They got out to an early 2-0 lead, but then they let up 3 the next inning and let the Tampa Bay team (now renamed and rebranded as simply the Rays instead of the Devil Rays) add 3 more before the end without ever really mounting another serious scoring threat themselves.

A sunny day would have helped the situation, but so would the belief that management gave a damn about winning this season. After a decade of losing, and losing badly, you'd think that would be their primary concern. Haven't the fans suffered through enough rebuilding years already?

Right. So we had some friends visit last weekend. It was a little odd, because they are people that we've known for the past three years, but we've only met one of them in person once before, and had never met the other. See, they are friends we made in World of Warcraft; one is our guild/raid leader, and the other is his girlfriend, who he met while playing the game.

It was actually pretty comfortable from the moment we picked them up at their hotel. They flew in on Thursday night, and we took them out to dinner at Niwana, an asian place near campus, because they really wanted sushi and that's one of the only places we know of in the city where the sushi is decent (not that there aren't plenty of good sushi restuarants in Baltimore, we just don't have an extensive knowledge of Baltimore restaurants). It was relatively quiet, and it was a good chance to get to know each other a bit.

We talked surprisingly little about the game, which is good—that's one of the pitfalls of meeting people who play the game, especially ones that you play the game with—the conversation can easily turn to game-related stuff, like boss strategies or player evaluation, especially given that it's the one thing that we all absolutely have in common. But that's not really what you want to spend your limited time interacting in real life talking to each other about.

On Friday we all (including my brother, who also plays the game with us) met for lunch at Golden West in Hampden (where we met another in-game friend for dinner a month or so ago). After lunch we walked over to Atomic POP, where I picked up a few of Kozik's latest series, Chumps. I'm not as wild about these as I am about most of his vinyl stuff, but out of three blind boxes, I pulled the hippo cop (who is an early preview of his next series, the Potamuses) and the prison version of the shark. I also got a pig, which is one of the models I really don't like, but overall I liked the figures better than I thought I would.

We spent the rest of the afternoon at the Walters, mainly looking at the good stuff from the permanent collection and the special exhibits related to the big map exhibit. I'm definitely going back to see the main show sometime, but since it's on loan from the Field Museum in Chicago (where our friends are from), they had already seen it, and I also had to get back to my office to do get the files prepped so I could send out our decision emails at 6 that evening.

While I was busy at work (one of my favorite stats to keep track of this year is the time between when I send out the first email and when the first post appears on the message boards; this time it only took two minutes), everyone else hit the grocery store for snacks and drinks, and by the time I got home the decision had been made to order chinese food for dinner and then play a board game called Puerto Rico that our friend had brought us as a gift (he's a big fan of games of all sorts, except for card games). But by the time we got around to game time, I had had far too much beer, and since Puerto Rico is pretty freaking complicated, I suggested that we play something simpler that I already knew the rules to, so we settled on Scattergories. I won the first game by several points, with everyone else tying for second, while our female friend won the second handily, with me taking second place.

At that point it was getting pretty late, so we decided to reconvene at the Inner Harbor (that's where their hotel was) the next morning for lunch and a visit to some sort of local attraction.

Birthday today. To celebrate, I'm taking the day off and I'm going to do my damnedest to not check my work email even once.

Pretty good birthday weekend. I got a few new Chumps to open on Friday, and all were good pulls, including both octopus versions and the prison version of the frog chase figure, plus I got some money from various folks that will go directly into the larger toy budget. We went out for indian food on Saturday with my brother and our friend Alisa, and just generally relaxed and did whatever I wanted for three days. And really, aside from big ticket purchases like a new computer, etc., there's really nothing more that I want than some downtime and a few new toys.

I don't like the times the Comedy Central chooses to run Futurama—it's even hard to TiVo it—but it's nice to see that they have restored the "Sweet zombie Jesus!" phrase that the Cartoon Network mysteriously started editing out of episodes a couple of years into their ownership of the syndication rights.

Yesterday was an AWESOME day. We finally got the document management system contract approved, which I've been working on since last July, and a very annoying thorn in my side that has made my workplace experience miserable for the last year unexpectedly vanished of its own accord. I have a lot to do over the next week or so, and this summer will be filled with work, but I'm happier about my work situation than I have been in a long, long time.

On the Saturday of our Chicago friends' weekend visit, the plan was to meet at the inner harbor, where their hotel was, and do something around there for the afternoon. Our initial thought was the acquarium, but by the time we finished lunch it was already mid-afternoon and the line for the acquarium was a mile long. So instead we headed over to Fort McHenry, which I had never been to before. We didn't actually pay for tickets, we just kind of walked onto the grounds, but I don't feel terrible about that—the rest of the group went inside to ask for maps, etc., and they clearly weren't wearing the orange stickers they gave to people to wear to prove that they had paid, and the counter staff just handed over the maps without saying we needed to have tickets to go onto the site.

I have a real problem with paying an entrance fee for national or state parks that I'm presumably already paying for with my tax dollars, especially ones with such historical significance (it was while observing an 1812 battle there that Francis Scott Key was inspired to write the national anthem). It's like when I drive on the interstates in the northeast and I see all the tolls they've put on them even though they are federal highways that should be free to us all—and which and are free everywhere in the south where I grew up. The only place south of Maryland where you will encounter tolls on an interstate road is in Florida, which has never really been part of the south anyway and which is increasingly overrun with folks from the northeast who think it's perfectly acceptable to put tolls on federally funded roads. The fact that there are tolls on some interstate stretches in Maryland is further proof that, despite being south of the Mason-Dixon line, Maryland is not really part of the south.

Anyway. Where was I? Fort McHenry. It was a reasonably nice day, and we took a couple of hours to stroll around the grounds. There were also civil war reenactors there that day, which provided some extra entertainment. It was highly worth a visit as a free attraction, but I'd have to say it's not really worth the $8 that they officially charging. So my recommendation is to do what we did, just walk onto the grounds and have a look around. If you think it's worth $8, then feel free to stop by the visitor center on the way out and hand over your cash.

Two of my friends from college sent me a gift certificate to Atomic POP for my birthday, and it partially paid for this:

This thing is BIG—about 8 inches high if you smush the helmet all the way down like in this picture, a couple more if you leave it up a bit so you can see the bear's eyes and the X carved into his forehead. This is another Kozik piece, of course, in his Anarchy style and on a model called a Teddy Troop from European manufacturer adFunture (who are also behind the Buka that got a couple months back).

I was surprised that Atomic POP got these—I talked to Benn about them a few weeks ago when they were released, and he said they weren't planning to stock them, so I figured I'd just pick one up online or from eBay eventually. But he IM'ed me at work to tell me they ordered a couple of the Kozik pieces after all (and apparently a couple by Joe Ledbetter as well).

It is badass. Eventually it will make its way to a shelf, but for right now I'm going to leave it sitting on the edge of my desk. If I had another one of these I'd take it to work in a heartbeat. I can only hope they release a cheaper 3 inch version at some point so I can have multiples.

After leaving Fort McHenry on Saturday, we made our way back to our house to regroup for a few minutes before dinner, and then we headed out to a place about 20 minutes away that we knew served steamed crabs. Now, we've been living in Maryland for a decade or so now, and while I have had steamed crabs Maryland style in my life, we've haven't gone out for them since we've been living here. So even though we were the locals who were supposed to show our out of town friends how it's done, we needed a little refresher course from the waitress to get the hang of it again.

It was pretty fun, even though the crabs are very small this time of year, but by the time we finished, I had had enough crab to hold me for a while. We'll probably do it again when they bigger sizes are more plentiful and/or when we have company again, but I can't ever see us being one of those families who goes out for steamed crabs every week (or even every month).

After dinner we went back to the house to play a board game called Puerto Rico that our friends had brought for us as a gift. It was fiendishly complicated, but I could see how if you played regularly with a group of good players it could become very addictive. The tricky part about playing it for the first time was the endgame—the first part of the game is mostly about acquiring resources, producing goods, making money, etc., but the game can end in a variety of ways and you have to know when you are at your strongest to start winding things down. I did by far the worst, thanks to a string of early bad luck that basically made me waste my first three turns, while the top two scorers were, of course, our friends who had experience with the game. It was a good game, but it takes at least three people to play, so we'll have to convince a friend or two around here to play with us every now and then if we really want to get the hang of it.

Our friends went back to Chicago on Sunday, but because their flight didn't leave until later in the afternoon, we were able to spend a few hours at the National Aquarium before driving them to the airport. We had just been in November with the family members who were in town for Thanksgiving, but it's always a fun trip. There was one big change I noticed right away: in that main tank at the lower level, the one with all the rays and a few sharks and turtles, they had covered the bottom of the tank with sand and also filled in a big depression in the middle where some of the bigger rays liked to hang out (presumably because of the flowing water going to the drain at the bottom). This was a huge change visually, because before the painted surface of the floor was badly in need of a new coat of paint. The sand was a pretty elegant solution, because I bet it was cheaper than the paint would have been and using that also meant that you didn't have to drain the tank and temporarily relocate all the animals.

We were also able to find the iguana that lives in the rain forest pyramid that caps the main structure. We had seen him years ago, and being former iguana owners we always looked for him, but we hadn't seen him in a long time. I'm not sure if we just came at the right time of day or if they relocated him to a spot that's a bit easier to find, but it was nice to see him again, especially after the recent passing of our last iguana. In our minds, when iguanas die, they just get reincarnated as iguanas that get to live out our lives at the ruins of Tuluum in Mexico or sleeping the day away atop the National Aquarium.

It was a good weekend, but by the time we dropped our friends off at the airport, we were exhausted. I'm supposed to go on a business trip to Chicago later this year, so we're hoping to see them again before the year is out.

Happy birthday, dad! I know you're in Paris and won't see this for quite some time, but happy birthday anyway. I hope you and Rachel are having a great time on your excursion abroad.

I wonder how long I'd have lasted in my current job if working from home wasn't an option. The office situation is much better since we moved into our new building, but it's still sometimes a drag to spend and hour and a half on a commute and then have the day's plan spoiled with constant interruptions.

Working at home gives me a nice chance to focus on a single project for several hours without walk-ins pulling me off-task, and I also don't feel compelled to check my email every time a new mail notification pops up (in fact, I don't even leave the notification turned on most of the time; instead, I just check it every couple of hours to make sure there's nothing pressing that can't wait until I'm back in the office).

I mowed the lawn for the first time this year yesterday. A bit earlier than last year, but I think this is probably about average.

I've been sellling photos for the past three years at Hopkins' annual Spring Fair, and I'll be doing it again this year. I always make a profit (especially when the kids in charge remember to give me the proper discount for being a Hopkins affiliate), and it's a fun way to spend a spring weekend.

I've done a few other festivals here and there, but I didn't really make much money at those, and I haven't had the time and energy to really do research about other arts festivals that might be a better fit for my prints. For the past two years I have also applied to Artscape, which is a huge arts festival in Baltimore in July. It's a juried show, so it's not just a matter of sending in your application and paying your fee—you actually have to compete for a spot.

The first year I was rejected, and last year I was waitlisted, and since I haven't added a lot of new stuff to my body of work over the past year, I was a little hesitant about applying this year. But it was only $30 to apply, so I picked a different set of photos than I used the previous two years (you have to submit five pieces for the judges to review) and sent in my application.

We weren't supposed to find out the decsion until next Friday (the same day we would be setting up for our first day at this year's Spring Fair), but I got an email from the festival organizer last Friday afternoon. The title was "Artscape 2008 Jury Panel Results", which is exactly the kind of generic title we put on the email messages we send out to our waitlisted and denied applicants, so I wasn't hopeful about making the show. But inside was a nice surprise: an invitation to participate in the festival this summer.

The fee is pretty big, twice as much as any other festival we've participated in, and we'll have to buy some , but it is for three days, includes a tent, a parking pass, etc., and it's also the only festival we've done that is focused on the arts, so even though there will be more competition (last year there were about 20 photographers out of around 140 artists total), the audience will also be coming prepared to spend money on art. So not only will we be sellling to people who are going to be more inclined to purchase what we're selling, they'll also be prepared to spend more on it than typical customers at a non-arts festival.

So I'm pretty excited about this. I've never done that much to pursue the selling of my work, but if I do well at Artscape, I might have to really put some effort into attending more festivals in the future.

I was thinking about icons and symbols today, and I came up with this theory that good symbols (hearts, stars, diamonds, etc.—basically anything you might find in a Lucky Charms box that might be attached to a larger concept like luck, love, wealth, devotion, etc.) tend to be symmetrical in at least one of the horizontal and vertical planes. So then I started thinking about alpha-numeric characters, because those are the most commonly used symbols in the western world, and that doesn't hold true. For letters, 19 out of 26 of the capital letters meet that criteria, but only 11 out of 26 lowercase letters do, and only three of our ten digits have symmetricality.

I don't really know what this means, but I since I went to the trouble of working it out, I just thought I'd note it for the record.

I really want to get a new camera. But first I think I need to be sure that I'm going to be using it at the same level that I was six years ago when I got my first digital camera and I really started to get into photography again.

Still, I tend to buy a new camera every two years, and it's been two years since I bought my last one. And for only $200 I could get a pretty good upgrade over my current camera—2 more megapixels and image stabilization technology (which makes it much easier to shoot in low-light situations without having to resort to a high ISO). If the toy budget wasn't eating up my extra income and if we didn't have the fees for Artscape coming up next month, I'd probably have already gotten it.

Our final Open House event is today, and although I enjoy helping out with the registration in the morning, it's depleting for an introvert like me to deal with the public for extended stretches of time. After I finish my shift, I'm going to finish up a few other tasks and then probably head back home in the afternoon to finish my prep for Spring Fair.

Spring Fair starts today. Wish me luck.

For the first time since we've been doing this festival, we were able to sell for all three days at Spring Fair, even though Sunday was colder and overcast, which severely limited the crowds. Friday and Saturday were great, though, and overall we sold more prints than in any previous year and also sold them at higher price points, meaning we made a lot more money than we have before.

Our location wasn't great this year—for the first time since they moved the Arts and Crafts vendors to the upper quad, we weren't on the main path between the parking garage and the food vendors, which is very heavily traveled—and although we got decent crowds most of the time, I'm sure that we would have sold 5-10 more prints if we had been in a more visible location. I'll remember to specifically request that next year when I submit my application.

I was just so tired after three days straight of doing this that I had to take today off to recover a bit. I can't imagine what Artscape is going to be like—later nights, much hotter, and a lot more activity. But I'm still really looking forward to it.

My aunt Mae died this morning in her sleep. She broke her hip last week and slipped into a non-responsive state soon after awakening from her surgery, the result of one or more strokes. She lingered for a few days, but we all kind of knew this was the end.

She was 92 (or at least that's our best guess; no one is absolutely sure of her age) and she was the last of my grandmother's sisters. Ruth (my grandmother), Myrtis, Barbara Jean, Charlotte, and Mae are the ones I remember, but there may have been one or two more who passed before I was born. She never married and never had kids; she and Charlotte lived together in a small apartment for just about as long as I can remember until Charlotte died a couple years ago. It was the same apartment that she once shared with my great-grandfather and great-grandmother, who I barely remember.

She made the best pound cake I've ever had in my life.

She was one of the sweetest and kindest people I've ever known, and she will be greatly missed by our family.

This came in the mail yesterday:

It's the Mothman vs Flatwoods Green Monster of Braxton County Super Market Toy. These are smaller, cheaper versions of two sculpts by Uglydolls creator David Horvath (who also gave us Bossy Bear). The toys themselves are pretty cool, but here's the text on the back of the packaging:

WARNING: This is not a toy or a play thing. Please do not give to children or anyone under the age of 13. Maybe really mature 12 year olds are OK. I guess. This is an "art toy" created for educational purposes. These figures are based on real entities and actual events which took place between 1952 and 1967. Mothman can still be seen to this day. You don't believe in creatures living on a planet in outer space? Isn't that what you are? Giant corporations and a "powerful" few have been telling us what is and isn't real for far too long. And not just about aliens.

This kind of thing is not uncommon among toy designers; hopefully those of you who know me are starting to get a good sense of why I love these things so much.

december 2008
november 2008
october 2008
september 2008
august 2008
july 2008
june 2008
may 2008
april 2008
march 2008
february 2008
january 2008

daily links
cd collection