july 2008

Today is my boss's last day in the office for about three weeks, which is good and bad. Good because everyone, no matter how much they like their boss, still likes to have some time at work when it feels a little more relaxed because he's not there, but bad because this is a fairly critical time for planning the document management implementation, and there will be some issues that need his input before he returns. And like me, he really goes on vacation when he's on vacation, so reaching him will be a bit difficult.

Also good and bad: because he's gone for so long, there are lots of other people in the office who won't be around very much, and while that means it will be pretty quiet and allow me to focus on my work, it also means that any project I'm working on that involves other people in the office will likely be held up while I try to get their vacation/out of office schedules to sync up.

Here is the object that I've chosen to study for my medieval art and architecture class:

It's an enameled reliquary that was designed to hold the relics of St. Martial, who was a 3rd century bishop from Limoges famous for being able to resurrect the dead. There's a nice confluence of circumstances here: Limoges is the area most famous for producing intricate enamled pieces, and it was also a major stop on the southern pilgrimage trail on the way to the church in Spain that holds the remains of St. James. So St. Martial was a major local hero, and the reliquary that holds his relics is a fine example of the artistic technique that the region was famous for.

The first shorter paper that I turn it, which is a basic description of this object (technique, history, subject matter, etc.) is also supposed to be the starting point for our larger paper from which we will get the majority of our grade. At first I wanted to do something comparing the reverence of relics to our own modern fascination with objects that are associated with decidedly more secular persons of adoration (like the piece of chewing gum supposedly chewed by Britney Spears or the sheets slept on by Madonna at a hotel that ended up on eBay), but then I learned that this behavior towards non-sacred individuals is far from unique to our time, and that relics from saints and other religious figures are distinct from this other kind of adulation (I mean, it comes from the same instinct, but from an academic perspective, I don't think my original thoughts about this kind of hero worship has as much traction as I originally hoped).

So I think instead I'm going to focus on the act of pilgrimage, and the role that relics played in making certain stops on the pilgrimage trail more important that others. Or I may focus on the church that originally held this reliquary, and its role in the local economy as a result of pilgrims making their way to the town to get the blessings of St. Martial. I'll see which research sources seem to be more fruitful, but I feel pretty good that one of these two paths will pan out.

Having a few people over for a cookout tomorrow—five besides me and Julie—and I think I'm going to take a break from the normal burgers and sausages and instead grill some chicken, shrimp and/or scallops, and vegetable kabobs. I'll still likely fix my grilled corn wrapped in bacon, which is a signature dish that I borrowed from one of my aunts, but aside from that I think I'm going to try out a lighter menu.

For the past couple of years we haven't gone out to watch fireworks because some of our neighbors put on elaborate displays and it's a very relaxing way to spend the evening, not having to fight with traffic and crowds. Last year it rained pretty steadily once it got dark, so the fireworks were limited, but I'm hoping that this year the weather will cooperate and we'll get to see the full show.

July 4 went pretty well, despite my propane tank running out of gas just as I was beginning to cook (it hasn't been replaced last summer, and mine doesn't have a gauge so I have no idea how much is left in it until it runs out). That was okay, because that was pretty much the same time that it began to rain, so I just moved the whole operation inside and used a combination of oven and double-sided indoor grill to cook everything (well, not everything—I got the onions and peppers roasted, the corn cooked, and the chicken grilled, but I was also planning to do grilled shrimp skewers and grilled pineapple chunks, but the indoor grill was so dirty by the time the chicken was done that I just decided to leave them off the menu).

It stopped raining after dinner just as it was turning dark, so we all headed outside to watch the neighbors' overly elaborate fireworks displays (some of them use professional quality shells and a mortar launcher) and set off a few of our own in the yard. Dodd and I took turns with the fireworks Julie and I had purchased earlier that day, taking a break whenever a neighbor started with one of their bigger displays. Standing down in the backyard, I learned that some of the neighbors' shows which are usually obscured by the house when you are sitting on the deck are visible from the far corner of the backyard, so we might just set up the chairs there next year. We're also going to get some better fireworks to set off ourselves next year—there were really only 3-4 of the items from the value packs that we bought that were halfway decent.

I was exhausted by the time people left, but I was happy to have them there, and I felt pretty good about the food, etc. And it was really nice to still have the whole weekend in front of us after the holiday.

Since we weren't able to eat the shrimp on July 4 as planned, I grilled them after marinating them in a light coating of olive oil, salt, pepper, and fresh squeezed lemon juice. I also grilled some pineapple chunks as a side, and served it all over white rice. I'm definitely going to make this meal again sometime soon—super easy and really tasty. I'm almost glad my July 4 cooking plan fell through, because they would have simply been a side dish at that meal, and I never would have figured out how good they were served as the main course with grilled pineapple.

The rest of this month is going to kick my ass. In addition to getting all of the implementation and hardware stuff coordinated for the new document management system, I have to finish the work on my capstone project for my MLA degree (end of the month), finish preparing for Artscape (the biggest task at this point is printing and matting another 100 photos) and actually set up and sell stuff for three days (check in is next Thursday, the festival is Friday through Sunday), and write my final paper for my last class in my graduate program (August 4).

We're going to Las Vegas for a conference in September, and we might make a short trip to Orlando for one of my grandfather's Army reunions, but I really think I'm going to need some actual vacation time in August if everything is going well with the document management system—I have over six weeks stored up at this point, and it's really starting to feel like I haven't been on a real vacation in years.

My new favorite summer treat: frozen seedless watermelon chunks with coarsely ground sea salt. I'm usually not a big fruit eater, but between one or two large servings of this and my new habit of having a banana at lunch, I should be easily getting my recommended daily servings.

One week from today, we'll be selling at Artscape, and there is still so much to do. We're actually taking off next Thursday, too, so we'll have time to take care of all the last minute stuff and drop by the site to register and see where our booth will be (not sure yet how much we're supposed to/allowed to set up the day before). I really hope it goes well. It feels like we've been getting prepped for this forever, and we've spent a ton on money on the registration fees, stuff for the booth (display setups, a banner, stuff like that), and signing up with a credit card processing company, not to mention all the normal materials like mats, photo paper, ink, etc.

I know I'm going to be exhausted by the time it's over, so I've already scheduled a day off for the day after it ends. Even if we're successful there, I'll have to think seriously about applying for it again next year—it just sucks up so much time and energy.

I've fallen behind on my daily photo feature again, and while one of the main reasons is all the work we've been doing to get ready for Artscape, leaving little time for any recreational activities, another major factor is my new camera. I was really excited to get this upgrade with a higher megapixel CCD and in-lens image stabilization, and overall the model is living up to expectations, but my particular camera has a big red dead pixel that shows up right in the middle of the pictures. And while I figure out what to do about it, I just haven't been that motivated to go out shooting with it.

I know that dead pixels are a fact of life on chips with several million light sensors, but usually they are clean coming out of the factory—they have programs that will find the dead pixels and disable them, using data from surrounding sensors to interpolate the missing data. But this is apparently a spotty practice these days at Canon, which is a bit disappointing.

If I had purchased this from a camera store, I would just return it for a new camera and let them worry about sending it back to Canon. But because I got this from Sam's Club, I know they will just tell me to deal with Canon directly, and while it's still in warranty and I can get it fixed for free, I'll have to mail it into them and I won't have it in my possession for two or three weeks. It's also easy enough to edit out the bad pixel on any images I want to use for posting or printing. But I'm a bit annoyed that a brand new camera has this issue and that I have to do anything to fix this problem at all, especially because I love my other Canons so much.

I don't know. If I had sent it in when I initially discovered the problem, I'd likely have gotten it back already. I just need to decide if I can live with it or if I need to send it back for repair and get on with it.

All-Star game tonight. I used to get really excited about this, but in recent years, I could really care less, even though it's supposed to count for something now. After seeing Bud Selig call the game and declare a tie a few years back, it just became obvious how big a joke the game really was to everyone involved.

Julie and I have both spent most of our free time for the past couple of weeks prepping for Artscape—buying supplies, working on our display, printing, matting, etc.—and tomorrow it's finally registration, so we'll get to see exactly where our booth will be. I'm still pretty excited about doing this, but I'm also already exhausted from all the work, and I know that by the time we get home Sunday night, we're going to be zombies. I'm glad that I'm getting a chance to do this, but I'm also going to be glad when it's done.

Tomorrow is Artscape, and I'm going to try something a little different: mobile blogging from my iPhone. Since my site is done in old school HTML, it would be a little difficult to update this page directly, so I've signed up for a TypePad account and will use that to post photos and comments from Artscape (if we're not overwhelmed and/or exhausted).

I'll eventually move those posts back to this blog, but for live updates over the weekend, point your browsers to:


Wish me luck with both the festival and my attempts at mobile blogging.

Artscape turned out pretty well—we made less than I had hoped we would, but only slightly less, and every vendor we talked to who had been before said that it was the slowest year they could remember. I'll still have to think about whether I want to apply next year, but chances are I would do as well or better in the future, and the group running it was very well organized.

We easily covered our booth fee, and even paid for our new display apparatus and our materials cost thanks to having our biggest day of sales on Sunday. If we were just worried about the booth fee and the materials cost, we would have made about $500 profit, which isn't too bad. Plus I'm hoping that some of the people who took business cards (we gave away about 100) will place orders on the web site, which will bring up our profits even more.

It was a long weekend, but it was a good experience to have. I'd like it if we could find 3-4 festivals a year like this one—easy to drive to, well-organized, and profitable.

I was fairly pleased with using my iPhone to do mobile blogging to TypePad, but I'm not sure if I want to keep that account active or not (it's free for the first 14 days; after that you have to start paying a monthly fee). I'll transfer all the posts over to this blog and insert them where they belong chronologically for historical purposes, but after I copy that stuff over I have some thinking to do.

I've always thought about transferring my stuff to a service like this, because I like the idea of people being able to leave comments and of me being able to update my site from any web terminal or from my mobile device, but in order to do that, I'd have to find a way to transfer all my old content to the site (time consuming, but doable), set up my other blog on that site (also time consuming and possible), figure out what to do with my daily links and photos features, and worry about how pointing my domain name to the TypePad server would affect my subdomains, email, etc.

I think it's also possible to purchase the TypePad software and install it on my own web server, which would solve a couple of the issues listed above, but even though my current setup for my sites leaves me unable to have things like comments and mobile posting, I really like the fact that it all lives on my home machine (and is therefore backed up to my backup drive as well as backed up on the web server) and posts never get lost in transition (three times I pressed the Publish button on the TypePad iPhone application and have them disappear into the ether, leaving thte Pending box on the iPhone but never making it to TypePad).

I've got another ten days or so before I have to decide, but there's a lot to think about between now and then. I might just pay the $9 for one month to give myself more time to figure it out.

This came out last Thursday, and I picked up a couple before we went down to register and get set up at Artscape:

This is Bob the Amazing Action Slug and his labbit rider. I really, really like this sculpt, but I wish it was a little bigger (this image is pretty close to lifesize on my screen, about 5 inches long from the side view). The price was a little higher than I like for that size, but I used a recently completed frequent buyer card at Atomic POP to save $15, so I felt okay about buying two, one for home and one for the office.

As we were preparing to pack up the car on Sunday after Artscape, a random Baltimore crazy wandered by and insisted that I agree with him that it was going to rain in 20 minutes, and that the storm would last for about 20 minutes. I looked at the sky with him, and I saw some clouds moving in, but it didn't have that impending doom feel to me, so I just nodded and agreed and he went on his way.

But sure enough, about 20 minutes later, just as we'd gotten the last of our stuff in the car, the skies opened up, and it poured for about 20 minutes. The Baltimorons may be a little scary and a little slow about some things, but I'll concede that they know their weather.

I'm marginally less stressed now than I was before Artscape, but a little over a week from now, I'm hoping life will be more or less back to normal—by then, the server install and initial configuration document for our document management system should be finished, and I'll have turned in my last paper for my last class in my master's program. I still have to do a capstone project before I can graduate next semester, and of course there will be a lot of work to do to finish the implementation of the document management system, but hopefully I can actually have a little downtime on my weekends and not have so many things hanging over me.

Yesterday we decided to take a trip to the Liberty Resevoir dam, which I discovered accidentally while playing around on Google Maps. We've been to different parts of the resevoir many times before, and I guess I should have assumed there was a dam involved somewhere, but it's set pretty far back from the main roads, and the resevoir is so large that it's been easy to miss.

When we arrived, we found one sign that said the park was open from dawn to dusk, and then another shortly thereafter that said it was only open until 4 (it was around 6:30 when we go there). I decided to push on and abide by the dusk sign, because it looked like a pretty long hike from that first parking lot to the main one near the dam.

There was one other car there when we pulled in, but the couple it belonged to got in and left as we exited our vehicle, so we had the place to ourselves. We had to walk down a pretty steep set of stairs to get to the dam itself, which had a nice overlook that extended out several yards over the resevoir and the ravine on the other side of the dam, but this overlook had been disappointingly locked off in what looked like another one of our idiotic and ineffective overreactions to 9.11—a chain link fence topped with barbed wire had been hastily constructed in the recent past, and a video camera monitored the dam itself from a perch that was likely one of the most popular viewing spots before the dam had been closed off to the public.

The whole setup was ridiculous—from the little we could see of it, the dam had some nice aesthetics, and from the overlooks and the huge parking lot next to it, it had clearly been designed for visitors to come and appreciate the views. What made it especially stupid is that the only thing keeping you from using a door in the chain link fence that led to the overlook was a rusty lock and an even rustier chain which could have been foiled by any $10 bolt cutter. (Yes, that's right—after presumably no more than six years or so, the chain was already well on its way to rusting through, so even though they clearly spent thousands of dollars on the fence and barbed wire and video camera, they couldn't spend the extra three dollars to get a chain that was rustproof.)

As is typical with our "security" measures in the past few years, all the fence served to do was keep normal folks from appreciating the beauty of the dam and its surroundings, while doing nothing—absolutely nothing—to prevent someone with bad intentions from doing harm if they so wished. And I guarantee you, if someone cut that chain, it would be months before anyone official would notice—in fact, we noticed an unlocked padlock hanging uselessly off of one of the power boxes next to the dam.

Despite my irritation with the fence situation, it was still a nice afternoon. We saw several deer clans, a few geese, and got to see the sun set over the resevoir while a light shower fell, making overlapping concentric circles on the surface of the water. It was unexpected and beautiful, and it was a nice last image to have of the park before going home for the day.

Another consultant from the company that makes our document management software is here this week to help get the servers and the first scanning station set up, and so far it's not going well. The development environment, which we were told was ready a week ago, didn't get set up until well after noon, and the production environment, which was supposed to have been completed on Friday, won't be ready until tomorrow or the day after.

In addition, the scanner, which I didn't know needed to be available for this install until late last week, is a brand new model that we may or may not be able to get to our offices by Thursday, even with overnight shipping, because the first batch is just now arriving at west coast distribution outlets.

It's frustrating to have so much of a project that I worked so long to get approval for be bungled by people who should be there to support us but who instead could seem to care less. Hopefully it will all come together and this week won't be a complete waste of the consultant's time and our money, but I won't know for sure until we get to Friday and it's all done.

The scanner issue seems to be resolved—it should show up at our office sometime today—and although we lost half a day of configuration time on the production server yesterday because it wasn't ready until late in the afternoon, we were able to use that downtime to go over some other configuration issues, so there's a chance that we could still get to the end of this week and have everything accomplished that we need in order to move forward with the workflow configuration. There's still a few things that could go wrong to halt our progress, but I'm a bit more optimistic about things than I was yesterday.

My grandfather was taken to the hospital in an ambulance yesterday morning after a week or so of feeling faint and a couple of falls. He was conscious and lucid—he told the ambulance drivers which hospital he wanted them to take him to—but feeling extremely weak.

After waiting in the ER for a while to be seen, the doctors determined that he had some kind of internal bleeding and very low blood pressue. They put him on fluids and moved him to the ICU, and then later in the day did an endoscopy where they determined that the bleeding was coming from stomach ulcers. The one that was the biggest problem they cauterized and treated with a site injection of some kind of drug, and now he's being held for observation, still in the ICU.

If he doesn't show signs of improvement today, they will likely have to operate, and at his age (88) and in his current condition, the odds are not great for his survival. We're going to wait to see what the doctors have to say, but if he's going to need surgery, we're going to head down to North Carolina just in case.

I don't even really know how to process this. Even though he's definitely become more frail over the past few years, and his short term memory has been spottier, he's still generally been in excellent shape for a man his age (he and his wife went on a six week trip to Europe just a year ago). He means so much to me, to everyone in the family. I just hope the doctors are able to help him so we can have more years with him; it's almost impossible to conceive of him not being here with us anymore.
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