february 2009

Second year straight of a really good Super Bowl game paired with a crop of pretty mediocre commercials. The best one hands down: the careerbuilder.com one that aired shortly after the half. A close second was the hulu.com one with Alec Baldwin, but the "Hey, dummy" and the koala punching put careerbuilder.com over the top.

Also: when I saw a preview for the Office that featured Jack Black, Jessica Alba, and Cloris Leachman, I thought maybe this whole hour-long episode thing they do occasionally had gone from experiment that usually ends badly to a full-blown shark-jumping. Thankfully, these characters weren't really in the episode, they were in a bootlegged movie that the coworkers were watching together during lunch. Still, you could have cut all the sequences that featured the movie and not really lost anything, so it's hard to say it was a good decision.

Let's see, what have I been watching recently? I finished Generation Kill, the Iraq invasion miniseries by the folks who made the Wire, and that was pretty good. It was a shame it was only seven episodes and designed to be a miniseries; I'd have loved three or four seasons at 10-13 episodes per season. I've also finished season 4 of Battlestar Galactica and can now keep up with the new episodes of the final season (which also means that I can read the discussion forums as the season unfolds without fear of spoilers ruining plot developments for me).

I've also watched the two most recent Coen brothers movies back to back (No Country for Old Men and Burn After Reading), and as good as No Country is, that's how mediocre Burn After Reading is. I was actually looking forward to Burn more, and it does have a few good moments, but far too few for one of their overtly comedic efforts, and it's mixed with a lot of pointless butchery, which starts quite abruptly and changes the whole tone of the movie for the worse.

I've got a few other movies on tap, but I've just bumped season 4 of Lost to the top of my queue so we can play catch up on that and get to the tivo'd episodes of season 5 that we're accumulating. We watched the first 3-4 episodes of Lost last year before we missed recording one, and then everything kind of went to hell because we kept putting off watching that missed one (which we subsequently purchased on iTunes), and as anyone who watches the show knows, you can't skip an episode, you have to watch them sequentially.

I haven't written much about my art toy hobby recently, and part of that is because the last couple of months have been pretty slow in terms of new releases. But there have been a few significant purchases, starting with this:

This is a monster piece, easily the largest in my collection at 20 inches high. I have an 8 inch version of the same piece that came out a few years back that stands at the feet of this one and is dwarfed by it; the 20 inch piece is so big that I couldn't fit it in one of my display cases, so I have it perched on top, surrounded by a few of the other large pieces in my Kozik collection.

The second big recent purchase is this set:

This is a collection of some of Kozik's most well-known pieces (from right to left: Filtered Smokey, Labbit, Potamus, and Sarge) in die-cast metal form. There are four editions of this: silver (pictured above), limited to 60 sets; gold, limited to 20 sets; black nickel, limited to 30 sets for his subscribers only; and copper, limited to 40 sets. The black nickel set looks the coolest to me, but since that's limited to his subscribers, there's no way I'm every going to get one of those, so the silver set was my second favorite (and, because it has the largets production run, it was the cheapest of the four sets). I love these pieces; if I could afford it, I'd get all four sets. This same company is supposedly producing a real bronze 5 inch labbit later this year with Kozik; a piece that size will probably be a budget killer, but it's also likely to be a very rare piece that's worth saving up for.

There's really nothing significant coming out until at least March, but also on tap for this year from Kozik are several large versions of his mongers, at least one new 10 inch labbit, series 4 of the mini labbits, a new large plush labbit, series 3 of the mongers, some companion figures to last year's Zog piece, and at least one 6 inch potamus. And I'm sure there will be a bunch more as well—typically in the art toy world, releases aren't widely known until a month or so before they hit the street. And that's just Kozik stuff too—I'm looking forward to more releases from Tara McPherson, Amanda Visell, and David Horvath, all of whom I collect in a limited way. So even though there's not much to be had this time of year, I'm storing up my toy budget because I know in a few months there will be more releases in a given month than my monthly allotment can afford.

I'm getting faster at reading applications—I've got a system now where I can usually read an application in 10 minutes, which is only a little slower than I read them on paper—but now I need to get back my stamina for it. I don't know if it's the extra strain on my eyes from having to read on screen or the discomfort of being forced to read sitting at my desk (as opposed to the couch, etc.), but I can't get through more than 10 apps before I need to take a 15-20 minute break, which significantly slows my daily average.

But I must say the new document management system is working pretty well, and even though there are some disadvantages for the readers, there are a ton of advantages as well. In two years, no one will remember what it was like to read on paper and I guarantee everyone involved in the application process will be doing their jobs faster than they were pre-imaging.

Working from home doesn't turn out so well when your internet goes out for six hours during the day...

Figuring out what to get Julie for her birthday is sometimes a little difficult, because she doesn't really have any hobbies and I'm usually out of gift-giving ideas because of the proximity to Christmas, but this year she made it easy, announcing on Friday that she wanted an iPhone 3G. I tried to surprise her by pretending I was against the idea and then stopping by the AT&T store in Westminster on the way to dinner on Saturday night, but they had changed their hours to close at 8 p.m., so all we could do was look in the window.

But on Sunday we went to the Apple store in Columbia and picked one up, and she was very excited until I noticed that every time she opened an app that had a horizontal view, it would automatically switch to that view and no amount of twisting and turning could get it to switch to vertical. After some research, it seemed like this was probably a hardware problem with the accelerometer, so we'll have to take it back after work today. But she's still really excited about it.

We stopped by the Apple store to return Julie's defective iPhone 3G after work yesterday, and initially the salesperson told us that we'd have to make an appointment at the genius bar in order to make the exchange, and the next open slot wasn't until 6:50, almost three hours away. I told him we had just purchased the phone the day before from their store, and we didn't want to hang around for three hours just to do an exchange for defective hardware, but he told us that was our only option.

So I asked to speak to a manager, who did the exchange in about 10 minutes with no problem. The manager told us the first guy was just following procedure—but he saw the problem for himself, and we told him it had been broken since we took it out of the box, so either that's a pretty stupid procedure, or he wasn't paying attention to what we were telling him.

At any rate, Julie has her replacement iPhone now and it seems to be working properly. Happy birthday!

Julie's birthday celebration was pretty low key, just the two of us this year. We got indian food from Akbar Palace and a cookies and cream ice cream cake that I left work early to pick up as a surprise.

Valentine's this year will likely be similarly basic, especially with it falling on a Saturday, which will make the whole going out to dinner thing even crazier than it normally is. I think we're going to grill steaks at home with baked potatoes and asparagus and catch up on a few episodes of Lost, and then maybe go out to dinner sometime next week after things calm down a bit.

Nothing warms the heart quite like a Duke loss to UNC at Cameron...

Friday the 13th in February + no leap year = Friday the 13th in March.

I was a huge fan of Firefly, but not a fan at all of Buffy, so I was really curious to see what Joss Whedon's new series Dollhouse was like. The verdict after one episode: too soon too tell. I'm not a huge fan of Eliza Dusku, and her acting was pretty wooden in the series premiere (and no, I don't think it was a purposeful thing showing how she's really a blank slate who can be imprinted with any personality, I think she's just not a great actor). It irritatingly runs against Friday Night Lights, which is really undergoing a nice renaissance this season, so we have to watch Dollhouse live unless and until we get a new Tivo that lets us use two cablecards, and unless Dollhouse picks up in quality after the first two or three episodes, I don't know how long we'll stick with it.

I'm sick sick sick of the cold, especially because, despite a fairly harsh winter temperature-wise, we haven't had a single decent snow. We weren't able to do our annual ski trip with my brother and my parents this year for a variety of reasons, but as much as I enjoy those trips, I'm not sure if I'm mentally in a place where I could spend all day outside in the cold. I normally like cold weather and the clarity of the air and sunlight in the winter, but I'm just not in the mood this year.

It feels like the year I spent the spring semester abroad in England—I don't think I felt warm the whole six months, and coming back to Atlanta in the sweltering heat of June was like a gift from god that reminded me just how lucky I was to grow up in the American south and how happy I was to be back there after too much time away. I'm ready for the cold to be gone and the trees to be green again.

The latest addition to my labbit family arrived in the mail yesterday—a 10 inch orange version released in 2005 that was one of the three original 10 inchers, along with a pink and a white (I have the pink already, and the white one from the second series of 10 inchers, along with a glow in the dark one that was released around the same time as the original three). I got him on eBay for only $50, which is only $10 over the original price. I haven't seen one listed on eBay in months, and the last few have sold for closer to $80-$100.

The reason I got mine so cheap was likely because he did not come with his original box, which for some reason creates a huge premium among collectors even though almost everyone displays their acquisitions and only uses the box if they are trying to resell something—there are virtually no pieces on eBay that are truly mint-in-box.

The seller had it listed for $49 buy-it-now or best offer, and I used the but-it-now to snatch it up as soon as I saw it. This apparently irked some people who were hoping the seller would accept their lowball offers, and one of whom felt compelled to contact me through eBay's internal mail system (which means this guy doesn't have access to my real email address or any personal info) to criticize my decision to buy the labbit at the buy-it-now price:

I see you used a buy it now on that labbit that was listed for quite awhile. How come you would not make an offer when he is accepting offers? Don't you think he would have accepted 5.00 off the price? He would have accepted 35.00. I made an offer of 30.00 because I thought it had the box but told him not to accept it because it had no box. Oh well it's your money.

I found this pretty hilarious, and I'm not quite sure what his point was. $50 was a great deal on this piece, and I couldn't give a good goddamn about the box, but apparently he didn't think the labbit was even worth $30 without the stupid box since he withdrew his offer after he found out it had no box. More hilarity from the auction listing itself—two questions to the seller, presumably both left by the person who contacted me after I won the auction:

Q: Hi, Well is that the box the rabbit is on in the photo. Maybe the description was from another auction because it looks like you have the box.
A: No box.

Q: How could you not have the box? It is sitting right on the box in the photo. Please wait to accept my offer until we are clear on whether you have the box. Thanks.
A: I guess that is a bit confusing. I have various other rabbits on sale—he is sat on one of their boxes. Auction states that you should assume I don't have box. So far I haven't found it.

I just don't get what's so important about the fucking box. The only reason I keep the boxes for the pieces I collect is because I know that if I ever decided to sell anything in my collection, nutjobs like this guy will give me more money if I include the original box. As long as I own them, my labbits are going to be out in the open, not trapped in their stupid boxes.

By the way, it drives me crazy that both of these guys refer to the labbit as a rabbit.

Anyway, I got him in the mail yesterday, cleaned him off a bit with a magic eraser, and now he's sitting patiently on his own shelf waiting for me to figure out how to work him into the collection with his brothers.

Days like today leave me spent and exhausted. Hopefully I'll be able to look back and know they were worth it someday...

Ugh. I'm ridiculously behind on reading my files this year, mostly because I'm spending half my time during days set aside for reading taking care of other issues, and also because I'm finding it harder to sit and read for 4-5 hours straight when reading online regardless of any external interruptions.

I feel behind on everything. Even though my files have to be read one way or another by March 2 (which means I'll be reading both weekends and most nights), I still have so many things coming up that I can't honestly see how I'm going to get a break before April or May. In addition to reading my applicant files and keeping up with the normal IT activities for this time of year, I also have to build or update three web sites by April 1 (or whenever we mail our letters, and that tends to actually be a few days before our officially posted mail date of April 1), and I desperately need to finish my graduate project so I can receive my masters degree in May (I've actually made some good progress on this front, but I've probably still got 10-15 hours of writing before I finish a polished draft).

Anyway. This is a story many of you have heard before, just with different projects due, different deadline, different stresses. I'm really feeling pretty burnt out—it feels like I haven't had a break from work in close to a year, and I seem to be working nights and weekends with more and more frequency, which accelerates the burn out process exponentially. Julie and I need to find a way to take a real vacation this year (we haven't had one since we went on our 10th anniversary cruise in 2006), and I probably need to take a week or so in the spring to go visit friends and just get away from work for a while.

Julie and I started playing catch up with Lost over the weekend by watching the first three episodes of season 4. We had seen these already, but we stopped watching last year after episode 3 after the Tivo somehow forgot to record episode 4, so I've now ordered season 4 on Netflix and we're going to try to watch that entire season over the next week or two so we can start making our way through the new season, which I'm recording each week.

After watching much of my television via complete seasons on Netflix over the past year or so, I'm convinced that ultimately the Netfilx method is going to be the best way to experience Lost—given the dense mythology and the story arcs that sometimes lay dormant for a season or more before they are revived and reintegrated, watching all six seasons sequentially in a short time period is going to be the best way to see how all the strands come together.

Perhaps buying Bejeweled for my iPhone was not the best idea in the world...

So I've got all these Facebook requests piling up—some want me to add a person as a friend, some are recommending other friends to me, some are asking me to join a group, and some are just oddball things that I don't understand/care zero about. But I'm reluctant to ignore them for fear of offending the senders, even though none of the people who are sending them to me are close friends (at least not anymore).

I've gone poking around the Facebook help pages and Google, and apparently friend requests that get ignored don't a message back to the sender saying that you have ignored them (although they will presumably get the picture if you never confirm them as a friend), so I'm hoping these other types of requests work the same way. Either way, I really need to clear out that section, because it's getting pretty cluttered, so the ignore button is about to be put to good use, damn the mostly inconsequential consequences.

I finally watched Little Miss Sunshine yesterday (I've had it sitting on the DVR for a few weeks now), and I liked it pretty well. I'm always a little wary of these indie black comedies that are stocked with stars who are doing the movie for rep and not because they have to (Steve Carell, Alan Arkin, Greg Kinnear), especially when they've been fawned over so much by the critics, but these characters have a genuine core that we're allowed to access despite the well-known names and some clunky plot twists.

Steve Carell was brilliant, I always like Alan Arkin, and Kinnear was perfect for his character (although he reminded me exactly why he's never going to be a leading man—there's a bit of desperation and whininess in him that seems to suffuse most of his characters, even the ones who aren't supposed to be so desperate). The dance scene at the end was a little contrived, but it still felt right, even with my stiffer-than-usual reluctance to embrace stuff like this because of the hype. I'm glad I finally watched it, and although I'm not going to become an evangelist for it or anything, it was worth the time spent.

Seven years ago today I wrote one of my favorite entries ever, a kind of goodbye to my friend Lydia that I hadn't (and still haven't) seen in years. It's her birthday today, and even though I have recently gotten back in touch with her in the very tenuous way that Facebook puts you back in touch with people, that goodbye still feels appropriate.

She has children now, which seems to suit her, and I think she has recently moved back to the Triangle, where we all went to school together, fulfilling a dream for her family that Julie and I talk about sometimes but which I'm not sure we'll ever do. I still care for her deeply, as I do for all of my friends from that time in my (many of whom I have also encountered recently on Facebook, and many of whom seem to also have migrated back to North Carolina), but that sense of loss and longing mixed with appreciation for the short time we had together still sums up how I feel about our relationship, such as it is, these days.

Anyway. Happy birthday, Lydia.
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