may 2009

Julie will be out of town visiting her parents this weekend, so I'm going to get to work on some projects that have taken a back seat to the application season and me finishing my master's project. I don't know what I'll be in the mood to tackle, but the three big possibilities are: organizing my recent toy purchases (I have a few new items that I need to fit into the proper place in the collection, including a new Sharkey and a new 10 inch labbit, along with Tara McPherson's new Gamma Mutant Space Friends series of mini figures); converting the older parts of my CD collection into iTunes files; and preparing the photos for May's daily photos (which would have been April's daily photos if I hadn't been so busy with other things).

Plus I'm just going to relax a lot; I don't think it's possible to be lazier than our cats, but I'm going to give them a run for their money over the next couple of days.

I talked to my sister Tori yesterday while working on my CD project, and while there is still some unresolved weirdness between us, we can both do a pretty good job of putting that aside and having a normal conversation. I knew I had been talking to her for a while, but when I wrapped up the call, the timer on the iPhone said the conversation had lasted more than three hours; I don't think I've talked to anyone for that long on the phone since I was a teenager.

We didn't really talk about anything significant—exchanging light gossip about other family members, discussing her future plans (she's going to quit her job this summer and go to graduate school)—but it was good to start rebuilding some of our damaged foundations with some nice ordinary conversation. I still don't really know how to fix what's gone wrong between us in the long term, but yesterday was definitely a small step, and even if it takes thousands of small steps and many years, I'm hopeful that someday we can get back some semblance of the close relationship we once had.

Pictures are finally back...

Yesterday was election day in our small town (in addition to the mayor, we were also voting for three positions on the six person town council), and for the first time since we moved here in 2000, I voted. I always vote in the national elections held every two years, but I've never really gotten into local politics. And although I'm still relatively uneducated about our little town, there have been things that our elected officials have done over the past few years that have bothered me. So when I was approached by the mayoral challenger, Mike Miller, a few weeks ago right after arriving home from an afternoon charity event (he was walking around the neighborhood to introduce himself and hand out fliers), I wasn't in the mood to chat, but I promised I'd take a look at his web site.

And I actually did, and that got me interested in finding out more about how the town runs and who runs it. Some of Miller's biggest issues hit home with me: a couple of years ago, the town council upped our property tax rate even though we already had the highest tax rate for any small town in our county (and in fact, our tax rate was second only to the largest city in the county), and Miller helped put together a committee that collected enough signatures from residents of the town to have the tax increase revoked. Last year, the town council tried to start charging for trash collection—the ostensible aim was to encourage recycling, but for many residents, even those who recycled already, it would result in a new kind of tax. Residents were allowed to give feedback before the vote, and the measure did not pass, but despite the vocal opposition from the citizens, the council said they would raise the issue again in a future session.

After reading Miller's web site, it was clear that he opposed future tax increases and fees for basic services, two stances I strongly agree with and that the incumbent obviously does not. I took time to learn about the incumbent as well (he's been mayor for 15 years already, but I guess better late than never), and although there were certain aspects of his leadership and philosophy that appealed to me, he didn't really seem to understand how offensive it is to be paying an already-too-high tax rate and have your town council suggest both a higher rate and new fees for trash pickup within a 12 month timespan, nor was he as transparent as I would have liked with details the ambitious long-term town expansion plans that a major part of his agenda (plans that will be funded in large part by either raising our taxes or increasing the town debt in the short term). He also seemed a little obsessed with historic preservation, which makes sense from a personal perspective because he restores historic properties for a living, but I'm not sure if that's something I'm looking for in a mayor.

I also read the newspaper profiles about and interviews with the mayoral and council candidates in the local weekly paper, read through the meeting minutes from the last few town council sessions posted on the town web site, and looked through the current fiscal year budget and the one proposed for next year to get a clearer picture of the issues at hand and the money involved in running the town.

I decided to vote for Miller because of his primary goals as stated on his web site: reduce town debt, reduce property taxes, and make sure basic services are supported by our tax dollars, not by additional fees. He won in a close race (294-266), nd even though it was clear that he should have been a little more informed about some of the issues, especially the big development projects that were undertaken by the previous mayor that we're still in the midst of, I'd still rather give him a chance to address his main concerns (which are some of my main concerns) than see the previous mayor and council push to increase the tax burden of the citizens while engaging in aggressive growth plans that aren't as open to scrutiny as they should be. I have no idea who Julie voted for; she's not as hostile to the expansion plans and the sprawling town government as I am, and if she read the same articles I did, I can see her having a different takeaway from them.

I'm going to try to start attending the monthly coucil meetings and do additional reading to understand more about some of the big projects that are currently underway, but honestly, my main problem with our current town structure (no matter who is in charge) is that we simply have too much of it. For a town of 4,000 people in a 1.6 square mile area, we have: a mayor; six town council members; nine assorted boards, commissions, and committees; six town departments; a post office that is subsidized by the town to the tune of $40,000 a year (the main post office is up the road a few miles, and it's not that much of a hassle to get to); a town manager who makes $90,000 a year with an assistant who makes $50,000 a year; a full-flegded police department with eight officers, an administrative assistant, several vehicles, and a newly constructed headquarters; and several other full- and part-time salaried positions.

Is all of that really necessary? I don't think so, but I'd like to understand it all better so I can vote and give input to the town council in a more informed way.

Just watched my first episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent starring recent cast addition Jeff Goldblum, and I have to say, he was pretty good. I really like the quirky style of Vincent D'onofrio, and I was afraid that Jeff Goldblum's Detective Nichols would just be a Goldblumian version of D'onofrio's Detective Goran. And in some ways, that's exactly what Nichols is, but there's enough of a difference (and backstory that's clearly rich but only hinted at so far) that I can enjoy Goldblum's performance without getting hung up on the facts that 1) Goldblum always plays essentially the same character and 2) the scripts were clearly written with the Goran as a template.

It wouldn't be a good idea to have Goran and Nichols star together too often (although I'm sure that's in the cards at some point), because their straight arrow female sidekicks give a grounding to the eccentricities of the male detectives, but Goldblum is a good fit for the show, and much more interesting than Chris Noth's Detective Logan (who played it pretty straight himself). I'm looking forward to a season of episodes where I won't be missing Detective Goran every other week. Hopefully the addition of a high profile actor like Goldblum will also spark renewed interest in the series from a mass audience, because it is and has been for several seasons the best show in the Law & Order franchise.

Time spent in meetings yesterday: 5 hours. Estimated time to be spent in meetings today: 4 hours. Sigh.

New kitteh!

She doesn't have a name yet (her pound name was Dewey, which we both hated), and it was really hard to get a shot of her at all in focus with the iPhone because she didn't stop moving for the first several hours after we got her home, but here's a picture of her in repose once she finally ran out of energy:

Spot and Bear are kind of freaked out by her; she's not shy about exploring, and every time one of them gets close to her, she growls and hisses. I guess it's good that she's intimidating them instead of the other way around, and it's kind of funny to see these cats that are several times her size (even runty Spot seems huge next to her) back off when she starts asserting herself. It's been a big change for all of them, and hopefully within a few days they'll all be getting along.

So when we were putting together our enrollment model this year (an algorithm which helps us predict how many students we will yield from the pool of admitted applicants), we made some corrections because of the economic climate, assuming that our yield would be lower because the cost to attend our institution is so high. But for whatever reason (we're still trying to find some logic to explain this), we actually had a higher yield among the students who we assumed would be a lower yield for us, and as a result, we've recieved many more deposits than we anticipated and we likely won't be using the waitlist for the first time in several years.

Not only that, there's a good chance we could have a higher number of students arriving on campus this fall than we expected. Given the economic climate and the revenue they represent, there aren't a whole of people who are unhappy about this, but it the housing office is likely going to be working throughout the summer to make sure everyone has a place to live, and some of the smaller departments may have to prepare for larger class sizes than they are used to. Still, if we're going to have a year where our model misses its target and gives us a larger number of kids than is ideal, this is probably the year to do it; these extra students may mean better funding for some classes and activities that would have been trimmed otherwise.

Kitteh has a name now: Junebug. We've been calling her Junie when she's good and Bug when she's bad. She's a very sweet kitty, very affectionate, but she doesn't really know what the word "no" means and she's very persistent when she sees something she wants. We call her Bug a lot...

I'm not sure the Baltimore-Washington area was ready for two baseball teams. My brother's girlfriend (that still feels weird to say) and her two kids (that feels even weirder) are coming down to visit for the holiday next weekend, and one of them likes baseball, so we wanted to go to a game. Unfortunately, the Orioles are not playing at home; fortunately, they are playing the Nationals next weekend.

So here's the scenario: the game is on a Saturday on a holiday weekend; it's a giveaway night (free baseball caps); this is the fifth season for the Nationals in DC and their third in a brand new, state of the art stadium; and they are playing Baltimore, a team whose fanbase is located 40 minutes up I-95 (and up until five years ago, all of the people who go to see Nats games now probably spent their baseball dollars on the Orioles). All of this should add up to me being screwed for waiting until a little over a week before the game to order the tickets.

So I picked out my ideal section, called up the ticket office, and gave them this order: one of three sections under the scoreboard on the field; two blocks of tickets one behind the other on the aisle, the first with four seats and the second with two. I was expecting the ticket agent to laugh and tell me I should have called two months ago, but nope: she got me exactly what I wanted in rows six and seven from the front of the section. It couldn't have been more perfect.

I'm sure it doesn't help that both the O's and the Nats are dead last in their divisions and two of the worst teams in baseball this year, but still, with all the factors I mentioned above, you'd hope that they'd at least come close to a sellout. Oh well. Maybe it's not that the region isn't ready for two teams, it's just not ready for two teams that suck.

I don't know how this keeps happening, but we've had another ridiculous convergence of bulk emails that will start going out today. In addition to the decision letters for the transfer students (three emails to about 800 students total), we have the waitlist update emails (two emails to around 8,000 kids total) and our search emails for next year (three emails to 100,000+ high school students). There's very little chance I'm going to be done with these all today, especially as I'm still waiting for final text and student lists for the transfers and waitlists and I likely won't be able to start sending them until the end of the day, so it looks like I'm going to be sending emails on Saturday and possibly Sunday as well.

Bug is a binary creature: she's either on or she's off. And either way, there's not much you can do about it.

Short week at work, but I still can't wait for it to be over...

Tomorrow is when I will technically graduate and get my master's degree, but I won't be marching. Instead, I'll be resting on the first day of a long weekend that won't end until next Tuesday. We'll be pretty busy in the middle part—some out of town visitors are arriving Friday and we'll be spending a lot of time with them between Friday and Sunday—but we'll have tomorrow and Monday with no obligations, so we'll still have a couple of lazy days in there.

We saw the new Star Trek reboot on Friday, and it was pretty entertaining. I can understand why hardcore fans of ST:TOS might be a little upset, and after Lost's focus on time travel for the past couple of seasons, it's becoming a trope used a little too heavily by J.J. Abrams and company, but overall, I can't think of a way they could have introduced these characters to a new generation of fans while working within the tight confines of the existing mythology aside from simply remaking the earlier films or doing a one-off prequel, and they quite clearly want this to be the first of many new films for the franchise.

I wish this was just a springboard to a new television series with this cast, though—it's the tv shows that have really allowed fans to connect with this universe, with the movies serving as icing on the cake after the series have gone off the air. I guess a television show is techinically feasible—aside from Zachary Quinto, everyone else in the cast is still basically an unknown (although Chekov has a fairly significant role in the new Terminator movie), and even Quinto is currently a star of the Heroes tv series, so he's clearly not above doing television—but I'm guess we're going to just get a new movie every 3-5 years, which is going to make it much harder to connect with these characters over the long haul.

My brother's out-of-town girlfriend (apparently soon to be his live-in girlfriend—he's planning to move to her town and move into her apartment next month) brought her two daughters to visit for the holiday weekend, and on Saturday we took them down to DC to see some of the monuments and go to a Nationals baseball game.

The weather was a little warm, but I didn't mind it at all. We walked from the Foggy Bottom metro station down to the Lincoln and Vietnam memorials, then to the WWII memorial and the Washington Monument before taking the Smithsonian metro to the Navy Yard stop next to the Nationals ballpark.

I hadn't been to the new park before (this is its third season, I believe), and it was pretty nice, like most of the new parks. In fact, that would be my only criticism—that it's too much like some of the other new parks, particularly the Pittsburgh Pirates' new field. But it had great sightlines, it felt very cozy, and the seats were more generous than Camden Yards (where the Orioles play).

The Nationals were actually playing the Orioles, so I broke from my normal tradition of rooting for the home team and rooted for my hometown team instead. Both teams played pretty poorly, but the Nationals played just a bit worse than the O's (not surprising since the Nats have the worst record in baseball) and the Orioles won 2-1.

One note about the food: if you go to see the Nationals and you have any desire for a sausage-type product, make sure you try the Half Smoke from Ben's Chili Bowl. It's a spicy bratwurst topped with gooey melted cheese, chili diced onions, and mustard. Hands down the best ballpark sausage I've ever had, and not too expensive at $6.75 given that a regular hotdog will set you back $4.50 and a regular kosher dog is $5.50.

We have tickets for a preview showing of Pixar's new movie Up tonight, which I'm pretty excited about—except for the possibility that we're going to be seeing the 3D version. See, I have monocular vision, so the whole using-different-lenses-to-feed-each-eye-a-different-image thing doesn't work for me, and whether I'm wearing the glasses or not, I see a double image (although with most 3D systems, wearing the glasses makes the second image a little fainter).

The one exception to this was a Walt Disney World back in the 1980s when we went to see the 3D Michael Jackson movie Captain EO (directed by Francis Ford Coppola and produced by George Lucas). There, I think they used polarized lenses, and that system completely blocked out the secondary image for me. I hoped that system would be the one that caught on, especially during this recent resurgence of 3D, but from what I've seen recently, I don't think it is.

They had some 3D preview shots of Up in Entertainment Weekly a couple of months ago (glasses included), and although the ghost images were still there, they weren't as noticeable as they have been with some other systems. So I'm hopeful that, even if this is the 3D version we're going to see tonight, the visual artifacts won't be too bad. I also hope that when these companies release 3D movies on DVD, they include a non-3D version by default—not just so that people like me can watch the movie clearly, but also because, unless a single 3D system becomes so dominant and regularly used that people have more permanent 3D glasses, the cardboard 3D glasses they are likely to include with the DVD will quickly become lost or destroyed, making the movie unwatchable to anyone.

Up isn't going to do anything to tarnish Pixar's legacy, and there were parts of it that were quite good, but I'm not sure I'd rush to see it again. Although there is still plenty of stuff that will keep kids entertained, it's probably the most grown-up oriented of their films that I've seen (I shockingly haven't seen WALL•E yet), and one that tugs a little too often and too blatantly at the heartstrings (there may be a male-female divide here—Julie said this might be her favorite Pixar film ever).

I was pleasantly surprised by the 3D aspect as well—I couldn't see any of the 3D effects, of course, but with the glasses on, the image was crisp and clear with no ghosting. The system they used was called RealD, and it uses a more modern variant on the polarized technique that I saw back in Disney World in the 80s. The good news for me is that this looks to become the dominant format for the recent 3D resurgence, so if a time comes when more than just animated features or special effects novelty films are shot using this technology, I won't have to either suffer through watching movies with double images or wait for them to be released on DVD months later.

I'm still curious to see how this technology will translate to home DVD releases—it's one thing to wear special glasses in the theater, where you still feel like you're at a special event, but it's quite another to wear them when you are sitting on your couch at home, especially if kids are involved (and most of the movies being made with this technology are currently aimed at the elementary school set).

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