october 2008

I don't really remember much from our first day in Vegas except that it was a really, really long day. Our flight from Baltimore left at 6:30 a.m., which meant that we were up at 4 a.m. The flight took about five hours, and I was able to sleep through very little of it (although I did get some stunning views out the plane window of the Rockies, the Grand Canyon, and Hoover Dam), and when we got to Las Vegas it was only 8:30 in the morning becauase of the time zone difference.

Our room wasn't ready yet, so we had breakfast in one of the hotel restaurants and killed time until around noon, when we were finally able to get into our room. After we got settled, we napped for a couple of hours, but knowing that we didn't want to get too off schedule from local time, we forced ourselves to get up by mid-afternoon and walk around for a bit.

At least, I think that's what we did. I honestly can't remember because we did so much that week and I was so tired that day. But I'm pretty sure we walked up to the Luxor, the Excalibur, New York, New York, and the MGM Grand before having dinner at the buffet in the Luxor. We may have played a few dollars on the slot machines as well, but we went to bed relatively early and I slept for a long, long time.

The conference officially started on Sunday, but there wasn't anything besides registration until 7 that night, so we took the day to go to Hoover Dam, which was surprisingly close—it's only 20-30 miles away, and even with the traffic getting backed up ahead of the security checkpoint, it still only took us about 45 minutes to get there.

Since we had plenty of time, we opted for the "special" tour, which they are apparently in the early stages of introducing to the public. In addition to a tour of the power plant, for an extra $30 we also go to go further down into the dam to see some of the access tunnels and look out one of the four air shafts set into the face of the dam. It reminded me a lot of the tour we took at Niagra Falls where we could look out of a shaft that was directly behind the falling water, and although $30 might have been a little pricey, I'm still glad we did it. After spending a few hours at the dam, including walking around on top of it and looking at the intake towers in Lake Mead after the official tour was over, we stopped at a Lake Mead overlook, where you could see very dramatically how low the water level in the lake is.

It was during this trip that we had our first real experience with the "dry heat" that everyone talks about. It was pretty hot out—98 or 99 if I remember correctly—but it didn't feel anywhere near as hot as the humid 95 degree days we get during the Baltimore summers, and I didn't really sweat that much and didn't feel thirsty. But as soon as we got back to the car and opened the bottles of water we had bought at a gas station earlier in the day, I just drank and drank. After that, we made sure to bring plenty of water along with us whenever we took a trip out of the city, and even when we didn't venture outside much, I still drank plenty of water during the day.

That evening I went to the opening reception for the conference, and then we ate dinner at the buffet in our hotel, the Mandalay Bay. The next few days were mostly taken up with conference activities for me, but we stayed for a couple of days after the conference ended so we could see some other local sights.

The VP debate wasn't nearly the trainwreck for Palin I was hoping it would be (although I still think that she did well only compared to her appearances with Charlie Gibson and Katie Couric—if not for that comparison, she would have been mediocre and boring at best), but I did win Palin Bingo with a horizontal row of "Maverick", "Obama", "National Guard", "Bailout", and "Heartland".

Even though I was in my conference sessions for most of the day on Monday, there was still plenty of time in the evening for Vegas activities. Julie and I walked down to the Bellagio that night and had dinner at a noodles restaurant there (where we tried some amazing steamed pork buns and rice porridge in addition to our noodles) before heading outside to watch the fountain show. During prime time, it runs every 15 minutes, so we stayed for about an hour and saw three different shows in their entirety.

The waterworks were amazing for all of them, but the accompanying music varied widely in its quality. The first song was some awful pop country thing, and if that same music had started up for any of our subsequent viewings, I think we would have just turned around and walked away. The second was an opera piece, which was a good choice even though I'm not a huge opera fan.

The third was the killer: Frank Sinatra's "Luck Be a Lady". We weren't sure how many different songs/water shows they had programmed in for the evening, but we knew it wasn't going to get any better than that, so we quit while we were ahead.

Tuesday was another conference day, and since I also had a conference-related dinner that night, Julie spent the evening seeing Mama Mia!, which happened to be playing in our hotel, the Mandalay Bay.

The business dinner was a meeting of all the higher education clients and the higher ed sales team from the vendor, and it was held at Craftsteak, a steakhouse in the MGM Grand that features Top Chef judge Tom Colicchio. This was one of the best meals I've had in a long time—good red and white wine was available throughout the meal, and everything was served family style, including the steaks—they brought out several cuts of meat that had been cooked to about medium rare and then pre-sliced so that you could easily take a couple of pieces and then pass the plate down.

We talked business some, but it was good conversation—I was seated near my colleague from work, a man from RIT who I'd gotten to know at a couple of other functions, and the newly hired marketing manager for higher education for the vendor (who had previously worked in higher ed at Case Western). I'm not usually great in large groups of strange people, but I wasn't meeting anyone seated near me for the first time and I felt pretty comfortable with them (the wine certainly didn't hurt).

Overall a very nice evening out, especially given my general disdain for business dinners. I don't think Craftsteak had the best steak I've ever had in my life, but it was pretty close, and I was also eating in a family-style setting. If we ever go back, I'd defiinitely give it a shot to close the deal with a normal meal there.

I've watched both of the previous debates, but I got bored about 20 minutes into the one last night. I still had it on in the background and would sometimes watch for a couple of minutes, but judging from the first bit that I watched, neither candidate really had anything new to say. So instead of giving you any real commentary, I'll leave you with this image comparing candidates to trains. If you do any trolling on political sites, you've doubtless already seen it, but I still find it amusing:

It's starting to feel inevitable that Obama is going to win. And that scares me a little bit—not because I don't want him to win (he's got my vote), but because there's still plenty of time for something to go horribly wrong.

I'd hate to see overconfidence lose this election, and even though I'm sure Obama's disciplined, tightly controlled election apparatus will keeping humming along until the polls close on November 4, I don't want Democratic voters to fall into complacency and think they don't have to pay attention or show up to vote on election day.

More interviews today, but I'm not that excited about the candidates, especially because people's resumes make their skills and experience sound better than they are in reality (I know that's the point, but it gets a little tiresome). But these really are the best of the candidates I've been getting recently, so I'll just cross my fingers and hope that one of them turns out to be more than I'm expecting. We really, really need to get someone decent in here to take some of the workload off our shoulders—I don't know how we're going to make it through the application cycle if it's just the two of us for another six months.

I spent a good deal of time this weekend moving around furniture in my study, constructing some glass display cabinets from Ikea, and rearranging my ever-growing collection of toys. I was getting pretty cramped there over the last month or so—every surface of my desk except the area right in front of my keyboard was littered with figures, and all of my display shelves were full. I haven't even opened the last few toys I've gotten because I simply don't have any room to display them properly.

There's still quite a bit to do, but I have filled up three of the eight new shelves that these cabinets gave me, and I have a plan for how I'm going to use three more of them. And I'll have plenty of room on my existing shelves to display new stuff—I'd say that the addition of these cabinets more than doubled my available display space, and we've got enough room left on the wall to easily fit another, so hopefully I won't have to worry about running out of room again anytime soon.

I work all day every day, but it's just like clearing the decks of the stuff that comes in each day; I never seem to make much headway on my existing to-do list. I reckon it's going to be like this through the holidays. The only reasonably good news is that every time we add a new piece of functionality to the document imaging process, it seems to work, so we can then move on to the next piece and feel like there's some forward movement on that project. Which is good, because the admissions counselors get trained in two weeks and will want to start reading files from the system two weeks after that. Fingers crossed that we can get this all under control by then.

I really loved Glenn Close's season on the Shield, because despite her high-wattage star power compared to the series regulars, she was able to bring a unique character to life and fit her acting style into the vibe of the show. You could almost forget that she was Glenn Close, and while she turned in a fine performance, you were also able to forget that she was a major movie star whose acting chops are significantly more developed than almost anyone else on the show.

The same cannot be said for Forest Whitaker in his season, which I'm working my way through right now. I've never been bothered by his acting before, but he's so deliberate, so slow, so dramatic, and it just doesn't fit with the lean, fast-paced style of the show. He seems like a parody of a Dramatic Actor every time he's onscreen, and I've come to really dread any scene where he plays a significant role.

Part of it may be that, because he works solo and he's working against the main characters of the show, he's already in an oppositional position where we very rarely get to see anything unexpected or positive from his character, but if he played it a little more crisply and without the sometimes Shatner-esque cadences and fequent dramatic pauses, I think he'd be a more likeable character despite these factors (or even if you didn't like the character, you'd still have some respect for the acting).

I'm actually looking forward to the end of this season now, and I haven't felt that way about this show since the first season when it was still finding its identity. Hopefully Whitaker's appearance will be like Close's and he will disappear at the conclusion of this season; otherwise it's going to be a long haul to get to the end of this series.

I can't believe we're only two weeks from November 1, which is the deadline for our Early Decision applicants. We're making decent progress with the document management stuff, but we're way behind on some other projects, and at some point I expect to hit a major snafu with the imaging stuff as well. But for now, we just take it one day at a time, and seeing progress every day is about the best I can hope for.

Today is the eighth anniversary of the day I started this site. Just noting it for the record.

I talked to Regan over the weeked for the first time in months, and as usual, it was really good to reconnect with her. One of the things we talked about was this blog (I knew she knew about it, but I didn't know that she read it on a regular basis). We talked through one of the big issues with it that I've been wresting with for a while, and that's the fact that I can't really write about all the things I'd like to write about because of who reads this. Sometimes when there are big family issues that I'm trying to work out in my head, I can't talk about them here because some of my family visits this site, and it's almost impossible to talk about anything sensitive related to my work because of the ever-present risk of people at my job stumbling onto this site.

Regan summed it up pretty well: sometimes she reads this site and is disappointed because she wants to know what I'm really thinking.

And that's the problem: I can't always be as honest with and about myself as I'd like to be using this platform, because even though my main purpose now is to document my life, not to attract or entertain an audience, the fact is that I have an audience, and a lot of people in that audience are people I know so the things I say here could have repercussions in real life.

I don't really know what to do about this. Maybe it's better if some of these thoughts are kept in my head or in private conversations and not archived for everyone to see years from now. But there have been three or four major, major events, things that have had real impacts on my life, over just the past couple of years that most people who read this blog (including some of my friends and family members) have no clue about, and that just doesn't seem right to me. I sometimes leave markers for myself, short, cryptic posts that will remind me of what was going on years from now, but when I look back at the past couple of years, there are some big holes in the story about myself that I've been telling.

This isn't to say that I don't want people reading this site; I wouldn't publish it if I didn't expect other people to read it, and having an audience also helps me stay disciplined about making regular updates. But it does present some difficulties when it comes to sensitive subject matter, and I just need to figure out if there are ways that I can still talk about some of these issues without complicating anything in the real world.

It's finally starting to feel like fall. Yesterday was the first day we had frost on the grass and on the car when we left for work. I love it when the weather starts turning cold.

The new fall television season has been pretty disappointing so far, but at least the Office is holding up pretty well and seems to have learned from last year, when they opened with four hour-long episodes that would have been stronger if they had been half-hour episodes—the first episode this season was extra long, but all the others have been in the standard format. And 30 Rock is back on soon, which means that the amount of time I devote to half hour comedies will double, because aside from 30 Rock and the Office, I don't watch any other shows in that genre.

I really haven't watched many new shows at all—it's been mostly tried and true reality shows (Amazing Race, Survivor, Project Runway, and soon Top Chef) and the occasional procedural drama (mostly Law & Order: Criminal Intent). I've liked The Sarah Connor Chronicles the couple of times I've watched it, but I deleted it from my DVR after five or six episodes piled up and I had no real desire to work my way through them. I was looking forward to Fringe, but again, I recorded a few episodes and never really felt like watching them.

I guess tv has kind of broken my heart too many times for me to invest in a new serialized drama without knowing it's going to be around for more than five or six episodes. That, and I have plenty of other things to distract me these days. I'm sure there are some quality shows on that I'm missing out on right now, and I feel bad about that in the same way that I feel bad about not reading fiction (or really anything) anymore—that is, I feel like it's something that I should be doing, but not enought to actually do it. For now, I'm pretty happy with the five or six shows we have chosen to watch (most of which we watch on the DVR while having dinner) and watching one episode a night of whatever show I'm getting via Netflix.

I just finished watching the final episode of season 4 of the Shield, and I'm getting a sinking feeling that I haven't seen the last of Forest Whitaker's character. But it will be a couple of weeks before as I know for sure, as I'm taking a break from that show to watch the final season of the Wire.

It's weird trying to get back into the Wire after taking a few months off from it (I finished season 4 three or four weeks before season 5 came out on DVD, and I've been working my way through the Shield since then), because there's so much to remember from before. The first few episodes of a season of the Wire tend to be a little slow, because they're setting up so much for later, and that's the case here—I feel like there's a lot of checking in with old characters and introducing new ones without a clear sense of how they're all going to relate to one another, but once I hit episode 5 or 6, I have a feeling things will pick up and go full barrel until the final episode. So far I'm not too excited about McNulty turning into an alcoholic womanizer again and making up a serial killer, but I'm looking forward to seeing how this series winds up.

Work is so incredibly consuming these days that when the weekend gets here, I just need to unplug completely. I'm supposed to be finishing up my final project for my master's degree, but aside from gathering all the materials I'll need and doing some mental organization, I haven't really worked on it at all. Likewise various house projects are mostly on hold; I bought and set up some display cases from Ikea for my toy collection and set up a couple of shelves worth of toys, but that was a couple of weeks ago and I haven't done much with that effort since then.

Hopefully we'll get some relief from our months-long push in the next two weeks; by Tuesday we should have the development environment completely configured, and if testing for that goes well, the production environment should be active by the beginning of the week after that. We've still got some side projects in support of the document management effort, but if we can get to November 7 and have all of the imaging and workflow stuff up and running and have our major import functioning, I'll be feeling pretty good about things.

Like a lot of people, I've been watching SNL this year, mostly because of Tina Fey's Palin impersonation. I was pretty sure she wasn't going to be on this past weekend, but I recorded it on my DVR. Here's what they gave us:
  • 3 political sketches, none of which featured Fey, including an obscenely long Obama sketch about him using his upcoming half hour of prime time to put on a variety show
  • Weekend Update sans Amy Poehler (she was giving birth), which was mostly political stuff
  • An SNL digital short by Andy Samburg
  • 4 sketches where host Jon Hamm either plays himself or his character from Mad Men, Don Draper
  • 2 Halloween sketches
  • 2 Coldplay performances

The show has sucked for a long, long time, and I think you can tell why just by running down that list. There were two sketches that had nothing to do with either politics or the guest host, and one of those was a complete dud. (A Vincent Price Halloween special? Really? Do you think most kids under 25 even know who that is, much less the parade of has-been stars who accompanied him?)

So unless there's more Fey, I'm out. I give this show another try every few years, but it never gets any better, and I can't imagine how bad it's going to be once the election is over and they have to forage elsewhere for material.

Some recaps of last Saturday's SNL credit Coldplay with three songs, and it's true, I did see the beginning of a third song as the show was signing off, but they only got about three bars in before my local station started playing commercials. So that doesn't really count in my book.

We're running out of time on this document management thing, and although we're making progress bit by bit, I just don't know if we're really going to get everything finished on time. It's time to start making some hard choices...

The last time the document management consultants were in town, we tried to take them to Pete's Grill for lunch. Pete's has been around forever and is a favorite of Hopkins folks and Charles Village residents, but it's recently been famous as one of Michael Phelps favorite places to eat. They have a weird closing policy—their menu says they close at 1:15 every afternoon, but I've been there as late as 2:30 and gotten a meal, and I've also gotten there at 12:45 and found the doors locked. The basically close whenever they feel like it, and you can't tell from day to day what time that's going to be.

When we tried to take them during their last visit, we got there right at 1:15, and although the doors were still opened, they shooed us back out saying they were closed for the day. So this time we left a little earlier and got there around 1:00, just in time to miss the lunch rush and still get our food without garnering any dirty looks (they served one more group of two after the four of us sat down, but then waved off the next group that came in).

You don't quite get the full Pete's experience unless you go when it's crowded, but the food was as good as I remember it (I usually get the western omelet, but I decided to go with one of the daily specials, the mushroom and swiss burger), and it's always fun to take visitors to a Baltimore landmark to show them the side of the city you don't get to see on the Wire.

This is going to be a weird day. And not really because it's Halloween.
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