march 2009

One more chance for the snow gods to reward us or mess with us again. Why do I have a sinking feeling it's going to be the latter?

Today could have been a great day, but it turned out to be a pretty crappy day. Nothing to do but move forward though.

I think today is the seventh anniversary of when I started at Hopkins. Weird.

Finally done reading files. It didn't feel like I read as many this year, but my total ended up being right at 300, only a little lower than last year's 350 (which can probably be explained by the fact that I only read my upstate New York region this year, whereas in the past I've also read some of the magnet high schools in NYC).

Once I found the right approach, I think I was actually read files faster using our new document management system than I did when we had paper files, but it took me longer to do my reads because it was much harder to stay focused only on reading when we had so much else going on in the office this year and because I started later than I usually do (although I had files ready to review much sooner than I did in years past).

There were moments when I considered not reading again next year, but I'm feeling much better about the experience than I did a week or two ago, so I think I'll do it again next year. But even though I'm in a more positive frame of mind about the process, I'm also glad it's over for this cycle.

The colors for today are nice (3, 6, 9). A dark forest green followed by a rich pure blue and closing with deep black. Three of my favorite color elements all on the same day. Calm colors; I hope the day is worthy of them.

Beautiful weather this weekend; it's hard to believe that just a week ago we were dealing with a major snow event and locked into subfreezing temperatures for several days straight.

We spent Saturday down at the Inner Harbor with my brother and his girlfriend, who was visiting him for the weekend. We went to the aquarium, ate at the food court at Harborplace, and watched one of the street performers (one of the same guys who performed at Artscape last summer).

After we left my brother and his girlfriend (they came in on the train, and they wanted to take it back up to Lexington Market before heading home), we stopped at Atomic Books on the way home where I used a gift certificate I got for Christmas and a discount card they give you when you purchase a certain amount to buy a case of the new Uglydoll vinyl mini-figures:

I'm very happy with these guys. There have been some larger Uglydoll vinyl figures before, but those are very hard to find and very expensive. They've also done some in the Japanese Kaiju style which are a little easier to find, but they typically run $80 per figure. So David Horvath decided to do these mini figures (they're about 3 inches tall, a little bigger than the 3 inch dunnys) so he could still work in vinyl but keep the price point below $10 (these sell for about $8 each, the same as the most recent dunny series).

The colors are very nice, the set includes some of the most popular Uglydoll characters (Babo! Icebat!), and best of all, when you buy a case of 12 figures, you are guaranteed to get the complete basic set (there is one chase—the blue Wedgehead on the far right with the bloody teeth), so you don't end up with tons of duplicates and you don't have to go hunting on eBay to finish your basic set. Lots of great ideas here that were very well executed—I hope it sells well enough that we'll get a second series before too long.

Photos are finally back. I actually have a few months worth stored up and a lot still left from our Vegas trip last September, but I just haven't had the time to do the processing to get them in shape for this site. But I've got the rest of this month all ready to go, and I should have enough from the batch I processed over the weekend to take me through April.

Which reminds me: I've also never finished writing about our Vegas trip. I need to get back on that before the memories get so far away that I'll lose a lot of the details.

The trees haven't woken up yet, and the mornings are still cold, but I think it's safe to say that winter is behind us. I usually prefer the colder seasons, but this year I can't wait for summer.

Friday Night Lights this year has nearly equaled its first season form after stumbling a bit in season 2, but it's irksome to have all the loose ends from season 2 that were never tied up. Tons of storylines were never resolved, and several characters just disappeared outright. I'm guessing this is because the season was cut short due to the writers' strike, and they would have wrapped up those storylines and gotten us to where we were at the beginning of season 3. And I guess it makes sense to wipe the slate clean and start fresh with a new set of circumstances and story arcs rather than spend the first half of a new season finishing up season 2, but still, a little closure would have been nice.

When I go back and watch this show again on Netflix years from now, I think I might skip season 2 altogether, not just because of the lack of resolution, but because some of the plots from that season just don't fit with the other two (like the coach—one of the central characters—leaving his family behind to go coach college football, or one of the characters committing manslaughter while defending his girlfriend). The writers experienced the classic sophomore slump, but being sidelined by the strike and nearly canceled seems to have refocused them, and the show is definitely back on track now.

Another Friday the 13th. Since we just had one last month, it's hardly worth noting, but tomorrow is something really special: Pi Day. Celebrate however you deem appropriate. I'd suggest hula hoops, bowling balls, and, well, pie.

No Davidson in the tournament this year. I knew this was highly likely when they got knocked out of the Southern Conference tournament (they would have won an automatic bid if they had taken that game), but it still sucks. At least UNC, the team I usually spend the NCAA tournament rooting for, beat Duke last week to win the regular season ACC title and got a number 1 seed in the NCAA tournament (although we were denied another Duke-UNC rematch in the finals of the ACC tournament when Carolina narrowly lost to FSU in the semifinal round).

I usually don't repeat content between here and my music blog, but I feel compelled to mention that I'm going to be celebrating St. Patrick's Day at a Pogues show down in DC. They came to the US this time last year, and again two years before that, but this is the first time their St. Patrick's Day show has happened in DC (the past two times I think it was in NYC). Such a great band—I hope they keep up these visits once every year or two for years to come.

I have a vacation day scheduled for today, but I'll be spending a lot of it cleaning up for the appraiser who's coming by as part of our mortgage refinancing. We're not refinancing because we're in dire financial straits or anything like that, but because interest rates are now lower than our current rate by enough that we'll be able to save a couple hundred dollars a month and get a fixed loan that's the same length as what's left on our current fixed loan (15 years). We thought about doing a loan that would knock five years off the length, which would result in us only paying a little more than we pay now per month, but Julie seems convinced that keeping it at 15 years and saving the monthly money is a better way to go long-term because of the tax credit.

I'm way, way behind on my final project for my master's degree—I had originally discussed turning it in last October with my advisor before I realized how ridiculously busy the fall was going to be for me as a result of the new document management project and my continued lack of a third person for my team—but I'm almost done now, and I'm planning to turn it in before April 1, just in time to meet the requirements to graduate in May. I still haven't decided if I want to march or not—I've never been big on ceremonies, and it seems especially pointless if Julie is going to be the only person there, especially because Hopkins graduation falls on Memorial Day weekend—but I'm leaving the option open just in case I change my mind.

One week til we mail our decision letters. Lots to do between now and then...

My brackets are still mostly intact, but the main thing is that UNC is still in it and, perhaps even more importantly, that Ty Lawson returned from his toe injury and played well in the second half of UNC's second game, giving the team a much better shot to make it to the later rounds if he can play near 100% in next weekend's games. And I have to admit I'm rooting for Duke, too, not just because of my brackets, but because it would be incredible to see those two teams meet in the Final Four. It's a shame that it's impossible to play for them to play against one another for the championship, but if they each win their division, whoever wins their Final Four faceoff is going to be feeling mighty good heading into the championship game.

I assume that most people who had any interest at all in the Battlestar Galactica series finale have watched it already, but just in case, spoilers ahead, so quit reading now if you are still waiting to watch it on your Tivo.

I didn't get to see the finale myself until Saturday night, and as finales go, especially for sci-fi shows (the genre, not the network), it was pretty good. I think a lot of the current generation of mythology-heavy shows like Lost and BSG learned a lot from the slow dissolution of the X-Files, which didn't resolve any of they longterm mysteries of the show and left fans feeling like they'd been tricked somehow (greatly diminishing the legacy of one of the best television series of all time, at least until season six or so), and so the creators of the latest breed of these shows are trying to correct the X-Files' mistakes by giving us closure and making it easy to solve some of the riddles that have been with the shows since the beginning.

In that sense, the BSG finale did an admirable job, because there's virtually no event from the series that is unexplained or unresolved by the end of this extended episode. But that actually might be the biggest weakness of the finale, too: I'm afraid that when I go back to watch the series from the beginning at some point in the future, the tension will be missing from the show because the mysteries that keep us engaged with the twists and turns of the plot have already been revealed. It's like when I tried to read John Irving's A Prayer for Owen Meaney for the second time: once you know how it ends, you can see how every little detail is forcefully pushing you towards that ending. This was one of my favorite books the first time I read it, but when I tried to read it for the second time a year later, it was unbearable. I couldn't even make it past the first chapter.

And I'm worried this might happen with BSG and Lost: in an effort to counteract the bad taste that the X-Files non-resolution left in fans' mouths, they might end up explaining too much, making repeat viewings after you know how the show resolves pointless and irritating. I'm already sensing that with Lost this season—for the first time in the history of the show, I feel like I actually know what's going on, and I'm now just waiting for a resolution to it all rather than wondering what's behind all the weirdness, because they've explained a hell of a lot about the nature of the island, the Others, etc.

Also: it was a bit disappointing to find out that Caprica and Balthar's mysterious invisible friends who popped up to give them advice in sensitive situations were supposed to be read as "angels". And it was a total copout to have Starbuck disappear into thin air, presumably because she was another angel-like creature. One last thing: was it just me, or is it a little too Euro-centric to make Eve, the African woman with whom everyone on the planet shares DNA, a pale-skinned girl that we would clearly refer to as white today? I know in the context of the show she's a mix of cylon and human, and that skin color isn't supposed to matter, but it seems a bit odd that the show's creators have replaced what was presumably a dark-skinned African woman who was the real-life Eve with a caucasian moppet.

I like to think that people who drive yellow cars got them at a deep discount because of the color. But I don't really think that's true; it's highly likely that the people who drive yellow cars choose to drive yellow cars.

I'm no longer going to update Twitter/Facebook with the traditional "is doing something" phrase that's meant to follow your name on the Facebook interface (I use Twitter to update Facebook, so I can use both services without having to update both). Back to normal complete sentences for me.

The decision letters go out today, the culmination of another year of work. It's been a long year with lots of extra hours, but I feel good about what we accomplished on my technology team and with the overall performance of our office as we transitioned from a paper application reading process to an online one.

Next year will likely hold many challenges for my IT group, and our next year will begin in a matter of a few weeks (as opposed to most of the other teams in my office, who won't really get busy again until later summer), but we should have a window of downtime in April to recuperate and lay out a game plan for the next cycle.

Also, I'd like to work in at least one vacation this summer. I'm starting to get close to my maximum for accrued days, and I'll be damned if I'm losing any of it.

The mail/email process went pretty well this year. This will be a more interesting yield period than in most years—because of the economic issues that have developed since last fall, there are a lot more kids asking for money, and even though our overall financial aid budget grew this year, a lot of the new money is being set aside for current students who will either be requesting more aid than they currently receive or who will be asking for aid for the first time because of a major change in their family's financial situation.

I have a feeling we'll come in slightly under our target and have to go to the waitlist, but that's better than coming in over target and having to supplement the aid budget and figure out where to house the overflow (students are required to live in university-owned on-campus housing for their first two years). We've been just under our target the last couple of years, and we've been able to fill the last few slots with exactly the kids we need from the waitlist within a few weeks.

I watched There Will Be Blood over the weekend, and I can understand why many saw it as a companion piece to the Coen brothers' No Country for Old Men. They are both intense, quiet films, and even though they take place a century apart, their common setting in the American west ties them together visually, thematically, and emotionally.

Both films were nominated for the best picture Oscar, but I understand why No Country won—there's something about that film that's a more coherent story, albeit one that takes place in a bewildering and chaotic world. Blood has those elements as well, but it's focused on one individual (oilman Daniel Plainview), and for some reason I felt like it should have given more insight into what drove that individual. By the end of the film, I had a sense of what kind of creature Plainview was, but not what his goals were or what drove him. Even Javier Bardem's character in No Country, who is supposed to be a cypher, a force of nature, was more understandable to me as an actual person than Plainview.

But I also understand why Daniel Day-Lewis won the best actor Oscar for his performance in Blood—it was intense and visceral, and he had far less dialogue at his disposal to explain his character to us than he did in Scorsese's Gangs of New York. Paul Dano also did a great job in his role as a young evangelical preacher, but in the end, the film felt more like a platform for great performances than it did a coherent narrative. You could conceivable make the same argument about No Country, but you'd have a much rougher go of it, especially because we're given so many people in No Country who we can identify with, particularly Tommy Lee Jones' sherriff and Josh Brolin's character.

Both movies are well worth watching, and you'll probably gain more insight into each if you watch the second while the first is still fresh in your memory, but they are also definite mood pieces. If you're looking for action or comedy, you're not going to find it in these movies. They are both slow burns with some very intense moments; I have to imagine they'd be best watched alone when you don't have much else on your mind and you're in kind of a plaintive mood. Watching them late at night probably wouldn't be a bad idea either.

Also: Blood is based on an Upton Sinclair novel named Oil!, and the title alone tells me that is highly likely that the book and the movie don't share much besides the basic characters and some set pieces. I'm curious to read a little bit of it anyway, although I'm expecting that it will be tremendously bad.
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