june 2008

This came in late last week:

Obviously another Redrum piece from Kozik, this one a sculpt called Dr. Bomb that probably has a couple dozen variations at this point. I only own one other Dr. Bomb (Red Army), but this is probably my favorite Redrum piece so far. There are also supposed to be very limited edition black and glow-in-the-dark versions coming which look even cooler than this one, but no one knows the details on the black colorway and the GID one will be released exclusively for a toy show in Japan, so that's going to be pretty hard to come by.

I really look forward to conference calls. Especially when lawyers are going to be on the phone.

Argh. You know that document management system that we've been investigating and demoing and doing site visits for so we can find the right vendor for our implementation, the process that's been dragging on since July of last year? Well, in late March we made a choice, got approval from the budget and admin people, and asked our preferred vendor for a contract.

So we should be well into the implementation by now, right? Well, yeah, we should be, but we aren't: we still don't have a signed contract.

There were delays on both sides: it took two weeks to get a contract from the vendor once we requested one, then our purchasing and legal teams took three weeks to return it to the vendor with some requested changes, and then their legal team returned it to us two weeks after that basically putting everything back to the way it was originally.

That was about two weeks ago, and we have had two conference calls with interested parties from both sides. Although we solved most of the remaining issues on the second call, the two big sticking points from our legal counsel are jurisdiction if we decide to sue one another and liability for willful destruction of data (something that will never happen in reality, but which our legal team wants covered in the contract, and it is kind of covered, but not to their satisfaction).

One of the big problems is that, as the largest private employer in the state (and the second largest employer overall, behind only the state itself), we're not used to negotiating contracts at this level—if people want to do business with us, they put our language in the contract or we just walk away and find another vendor. And on the vendor's side, the amount of this contract isn't enough to justify special treatment, especially given that dozens of other schools, including other schools that compete at our level, have signed the exact same contract without any fuss.

We're running out of time, too—if we don't get this signed in the next couple of weeks, our timeline of getting this system in place before our Early Decision deadline is in serious jeopardy. And if we can't reach an accord with this vendor and have to go with our second choice, we can just forget it for another year, especially if it's going to take another two months to get a contract signed with that vendor.

I really wish we could just get to work on this; we've been researching these systems for going on five years now, and we've been pushing to get one seriously for three; we're so close, but if we can't get legal to sign off, all that work will have to wait another year before it produces anything tangible for our office.

When we were at Spring Fair this year, there was an exhibit by a new student art group in front of the library on the upper quad. I liked a lot of the stuff, but I was particularly taken by one artist. I didn't write her name down, though, and when I went back to look at her work on the last day, it had already been taken down.

Luckily, the coordinator of the group was there watching over the artwork that remained while he waited for the other student artists to come get them. I started chatting with him about the group, and eventually about the artist I liked, and he supplied me with her name. So I emailed her the next week to see if the pieces I had seen were for sale, and they were, so after a bit of negotiating, we were able to settle on a price. Here's what I got:

Robots in the Jungle


The first piece is called Robots in the Jungle, and in person the colors are just beautiful; the photo I took of it doesn't really capture how striking the blue of the robots' bodies are against the orange background, or how the deep purple of the leaves' outlines adds another dimension to the palette. I love looking at this thing every day; I can't believe I actually own it now.

The second piece is an oil pastel drawing called Alien. To get the gradient effect on the alien's body, she heated the media with a hair dryer and then used a cotton ball to blend them. Again, it's a lot more powerful in person, but the image I've posted gives you the basic idea.

I need to get Alien framed, but I'd like to have both of these hanging in my office. Right now I'm leaning the canvas against a wall on my desk, while the drawing sits flat on my file cabinet. I never got around to decorating my previous office, but this new one deserves to have some stuff like this on the walls.

It's our 12th wedding anniversary this Sunday, and our 20th anniversary of being together as a couple. We're not planning anything that special—we might go into the MICA student art sale tomorrow or go to the Walters for the map exhibit—but we are both taking Monday off so we can have a nice long weekend together.

We didn't do much on Saturday—we made our quarterly trip to Sam's Club and made steaks with asparagus, baked potatoes, and mushrooms for dinner—but on Sunday we did finally make it out to the Walters for the final day of the maps exhibit and then to MICA for the student/alumni art sale (although we were only able to find the alumni portion; the student show was in another building that was closed by the time we figured out there were two shows). We also went to dinner at a nice restaurant that's in our little downtown area but which we haven't eaten at even though we've been here for eight years now.

It was a nice, relaxed weekend, and even though we didn't really need Monday off, we had a good day, going to see the new Indiana Jones (pretty decent, although a lot of stuff recycled from the other Indiana Jones titles and even some stuff from Star Wars) and just enjoying another slow day free of responsibility.

One of our purchases at Sam's on Saturday was a new camera for me, the Canon A720IS, which is an updated version of the A700 that I've been using for the last couple of years. The new features include an 8 megapixel chip (as opposed to the 6 megapixel A700) and in-lens image stabilization (which accounts for the IS at the end of the model name) that should make shooting in low-light situations much easier (performance in this area has been my only real complaint about Canon cameras, which I've been using for just over four years now). There are also some other little additions, like some new preset shooting modes, the abilit to shoot at 1600 ISO, and a few minor tweaks to the camera body, but the image stabilzation was the big reason I decided to upgrade.

Since I started taking pictures digitally several years ago, I've gotten a new camera every two years, and although I'm pretty much on schedule with this purchase, I hadn't seriously considered it until a few weeks ago when I learned how cheap the cameras had gotten. The retail on the A720IS was $230, but you could find it most places right at $200, and Sam's had it for $185. Throw in another $25 for a 4 gig (!) memory card, and for just over $200 I upped my resolution, gained the ability to shoot more reliably in low light without a flash, and increased my capacity to 1200+ full-size, high-resolution pictures at a time.

I have kind of fallen out of the habit of taking pictures, as regular readers have no doubt noticed by the lack change to the daily photo for the last six months, but I think it was a good creative break for me, and now I'm ready to start doing it more regularly again. As a result, I've back-populated my archives with photos starting at the beginning of this month, and hopefully my daily photo feature will resume without the major interruptions that plagued it last year.

We had a weird night a couple of nights ago. The power went out after a brief but particularly intense thunderstorm, and although we were hoping that it might be back on by the time we returned home with dinner (we had just ordered carryout minutes before the storm hit), we weren't surprised when it wasn't.

It was pretty warm that evening, and although the storm cooled things off, I still didn't feel like eating spicy chinese food in the hot, still air of the house, and since I was also pretty tired, I just decided to go to bed and hope that I could take a nap for an hour or two and the power would be back on when I got up.

That was around 8:30 p.m. or so; the next thing I remember is waking up around 2:30 a.m. with the power still off. Julie had fallen asleep on the couch, but she wasn't asleep when I went out to check on her; a few minutes before, she had heard male voices in the street, and someone had come up to the house and started pounding on our door. It was only for a minute, but it didn't seem to be anyone official (like firemen or police), and naturally it freaked her out. It's probably what woke me up, even though I didn't recall any noises when I woke up, but my sleep that night, in a deadly quiet house without any airflow, was fitful at best.

We both tried to go back to sleep, but I just tossed and turned until 5:30 or so, when the power finally came back on. Even though I technically had gotten more sleep than I typically do on a weeknight, I was completely exhausted, owing not only to the fitful sleep and the weird door pounding incident, but also because I hadn't really had anything to eat in over 24 hours. I decided to work from home that day to take a little bit of stress away and give me more hours to recover, but it was still a very long workday.

I have the first class of my final course in my master's program on Monday, and although at this point I just kind of want it all to be over, I am excited that the end is in sight.

It's another course at the Walters, which is where I had my first class and where, when all is said and done, four out of my ten course credits will have come from—so far I've taken courses with the curator of rare books and manuscripts (I took a class and did an internship with him) and with the director of the museum, and this final class will be with the director's assistant, who was usually around during the class I took with the director (she's not his secretary—she has a Ph.D.—and although I know that assistant is the current preferred term for secretary, I can't think of what else to call her).

The reading shouldn't be too bad, the classes are always interesting there because there are a lot of slide shows or actual objects as part of the class discussion, and the writing assignments are just like the other classes I've had here—a short description of an object (like one you would do for a museum catalog) followed by a longer paper on the same object that goes more into its historical context and its specific history. But even though I think this will be a good class, I will still be glad when it's over—I've been in this program for too long, and it will be good to finally be finished and not have it hanging over me anymore.

My site (along with, apparently, every other site hosted by my web hosting company, including their own) was down all weekend. I haven't seen any news stories about this yet (it's a pretty big company, hosting tens if not hundreds of thousands of sites), and I guess it's possible that many of their customers didn't notice because it happened during non-standard business hours. But unless this was some sort of weird DNS error from my ISP and not a massive outage of their servers, I expect their message boards will be pretty active today.

Don't forget everyone—today is Firefox Download Day, where you can download version 3 of the open source web browser and help them set a world record for most downloads in a 24 hour period.

I've been using the betas/release candidates of Firefox 3 for the past few months, and as good as version 2 was, this release is so much better, and each new version has shown improvement. Even without the world record attempt, I wouldn't hesitate to download this today. It's hands down better than IE, and although there are debates about whether Firefox 3 or Safari is faster on the Mac, it's very close, and Firefox is much more customizable than Safari.

If you aren't already a Firefox fan/user, today is a perfect day to become one, and if you are, this upgrade is well worth it if you are still using version 2.

Google recently changed its favicon (the mini icon that appears in the address bar of your browser) from the big capital G at the beginning of its logotype to the lowercase g in the middle (this blog has before and after images if you don't know what I'm talking about).

No one knows why they made this change (here's a handy Google search that has links to lots of blogger commentary) because the company didn't make an announcement about it and hasn't said anything in response to the speculation about the reason for the change. Some think that they are doing it just to see how many people noticed and what the reaction was; I think they are attempting to create the impression of a friendlier, more low-key company.

Personally, I think anytime a corporate entity with as much power as Google has now does anything to convince us that they are not as big and scary as they actually are, we should all be very skeptical. Google's original "Don't be evil" motto from their pre-IPO days has long since become a cautionary punchline about how even a company that has genuinely good intentions and which has also done a lot of truly great things can still become the opposite of what it wanted to be simply through the accumulation of massive amounts of power and wealth.

It is just the changing of a tiny little icon, and it's not really a big deal in and of itself. But the immediate and widespread reaction/speculation about the change remind us just how big a role Google plays in our internet lives.

I just don't understand how jelly can still be on the shelves in a world where jam is so readily available.

Next week should have been a very quiet week for me—in the space where my team works we have one cubicle that's empty because one of my supervisees recently left for another position in the institution, another cubicle inhabited by a part time employee who is off for the summer, and a final workspace that is empty because the person who sits there is on vacation all week.

But I won't actually be at my desk very much, because the implementation team from our document management vendor will be on site for three days next week, and I'll likely spend most of my time with them as they talk with the members of our operations and counseling teams.

The schedule works out very well in some ways—my director is out this week and will out again for a couple of weeks starting the week after next, so this is really the only time we could have included him in the process before mid-July, and there will be a nice lull for a couple of weeks afterward while their team comes up with an implementation roadmap. But during the one week when my work area will be pretty much deserted (and quiet) all week, I likely won't spend more than a few hours at my desk anyway.

My parents came up this past weekend to help my brother with his move to a new apartment and to visit with us, and although the moving part took a bit longer than most of us anticipated, it wasn't too much work, and my brother is now fully relocated to a much nicer location that's also only about 15 minutes from us (he used to live about 45 minutes away). Saturday was the main move day, with several trips back and forth between the old apartment and the new (mostly done by Dodd and my dad; we helped with the last run) while Rachel stayed at the old place cleaning. By the end of the day Saturday, almost everything had been moved, and the apartment was reasonably clean—they just needed one more trip on Sunday morning to finish up the cleaning and move another load of stuff.

We finished so late on Saturday that we ended up ordering chinese takeout and meeting back at our house for dinner before everyone turned in for the night. But we did get to spend a lot more time with them on Sunday - they came over mid-afternoon and stayed until 9:30 or so, and I grilled out hamburgers and sausages and corn (supplemented by potato salad, vinegar cole slaw, and seedless watermelon).

I wish their visit could have been longer, but even if they had been able to stay, this week is going to be so hectic for me that I wouldn't have been able to take of any extra time anyway. But we're hopeful that we can find some time to either go visit them (it's been years since I've visited Wilmington in the summer) or that they can get away for another long weekend up here.

My class looks like it will be pretty good, although I'm still trying to figure out my paper topic (we choose an object in the Walters collection and first write a short description of it and then use that as the basis for a longer piece that goes into more depth about the history, imagery, etc.). It's a pretty relaxed group of people, and although there are some art history types in there, I haven't seen anyone who likes to show off how smart and educated they are by dominating the conversation. The guy who comes closest to this is a guy who works at National Geographic, and I actually like him pretty well.

Usually when I take classes at the Walters, I park in the Peabody garage and use Julie's ID (she takes piano lessons at the Preparatory) to get the discounted rate. However, all the classes I've taken at the Walters before have been during a normal semester, and they have all let out at 8:30, giving me plenty of time to get back to the garage by closing time at 9:00. But since this class is meeting on a shorter summer schedule, it doesn't get out until 9:00 and I didn't remember that last night until class was halfway over (the first week of class I forgot to get Julie's ID, so I parked in the much more expensive Walters lot).

I called Julie to see if she could find out for sure when the garage closed so I could excuse myself from class early if necessary, and since our break was almost over, I just told her to call me ONLY if the garage closed earlier than 9:30. And sure enough, 20 minutes later, I felt my phone vibrate and saw that it was a message from Julie, so I spent the next hour or so figuring out how I was going to politely excuse myself from the last 15 minutes of class.

As it turns out, I didn't have to worry: in a near-miraculous stroke of fortune, our professors laptop bugged out with 20 minutes left in the class, and since her lecture and our class discussion are dependent on having images to look at, she called it a night. I quickly packed up and headed out, figuring I had plenty of time to get back to the garage before it closed.

I was a little shocked then when I rounded the corner and found the entrance to the garage sealed tight. I was about to call Julie to tell her she'd have to drive all the way to Baltimore to pick me up when I saw to my relief that the exit door was still open. I found the attendant listening to the radio in his truck, and just to be sure, I asked him what time the garage actually closed. "Well," he said, "in the spring and winter it's 9:30, but in the summer it's not usually later than 9." I asked what that meant, not usually later than 9. "In the summer, sometimes it's 6, sometimes it's 9. Just ask the attendant when you come in how late the garage will be open that night."

So I don't think I'll be parking in the Peabody garage this summer. I've managed to frame the higher cost of the Walters lot like this: there are only 6 classes left, and the Walters lot is only $5 more than the Peabody garage. So for $30 extra I get to park closer and not have to panic about having my car locked up because the Peabody attendants decided to go home early that night.

It's been almost a year to the day since we did our first demo for this document management system (coincidentally with the company that we ended up choosing for the contract), and now the contracts are finally signed and the project kickoff has officially begun. It's going to be a long cycle, thanks to the implementation of this new system and the loss of a staff member who won't be soon or easily replaced, but a year from now, our business process should be much more efficient and secure; if we do this right, this will be the single biggest impact I've had on my office since I've been here, and it will change the way we do business forever.

I'm pretty excited about this, not because it raises my profile, especially among the higher-ups outside my office (although it will do that as well), but because I honestly believe that we've got as efficient as we're going to get with our current process and software tools, and this is really the only way to improve our work further. And this won't be just a minor improvement, either—this is probably going to be a more meaningful project than everything else I've worked on combined.

Out of the 17 or 18 hours I've spent at work the past couple of days, I'd guess that around 12 or 13 have been spent in meetings, including pretty much all of Tuesday. I was supposed to spend all of yesterday in meetings, too, but there came a point when I was going to lose my mind if I didn't step out for a couple of hours. Plus I needed to, you know, do some actual work, since my to-do list doesn't just disappear because we have consultants on site.

I'm due for another full day of meetings again today, since this is their last day here, but I know I'm going to have to excuse myself for a couple of hours at least to get some of the other stuff done that I have to do in preparation for our prospective student event on Saturday. In general, people have been coming to these meetings focused and with good questions/input, so they definitley haven't been a waste of time, but I'll still be glad when this week is finally over.

Our office is doing our summer flex schedule again this year, which means that I get to take today off without using a vacation day because I've cut down on my lunch hour and worked some extra time each day for the past couple of weeks (actually, I don't really have to work any extra time, because I'm typically at work until 5:30 anyway because of the way that the carpool situation with Julie works). Which is good, because after this past week, I think I would have taken a day of vacation if the flex schedule wasn't in effect.

It was a productive few days, though, and I think we'll have a good implementation plan in place by the middle of the month. I'm normally very wary of outside consultants coming in and charging obscene daily amounts to help you figure out what you already know how to do, but one of the reasons I chose this vendor is because of the positive reports from other clients about how good their implementation specialists were about helping you rapidly convert your business process into a paperless process driven by their document management system, and based on what I've seen so far, it's looking like a good decision.

I hate it when the last day of the month is on a Monday. Such a pain in the ass to do my monthly transition on a Monday night, especially right now, when, because of my class, I won't be getting home until 10 or so.
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