june 2009

I think I'm going to take a few vacation days this month and maybe even next month, and between those, my summer flex days, and the July 4 holiday, it might be August before I work a full five day week again. I've got a lot of vacation stored up, but I don't want to bleed it out in dribs and drabs—I really want some actual vacations out of it, periods when Julie and I are both out of the office and hopefully out of the state for at least 3-4 days at a time. Plans are still being firmed up, but a June and a July trip are pretty probable at this point, and I can't wait to get away for a while.

I ignored my Netflix deliveries for a couple of months while I wrapped up my master's degree and my end-of-cycle work stuff, but I'm back to it now. I finally got around to watching Wes Anderson's The Darjeeling Limited, and it was a good, solid Wes Anderson outing, although it may still be the weakest of the ones I've seen (I still haven't watched his first film, Bottle Rocket). I know his style is not for everyone, but I adore the worlds he creates with his detailed sets and costumes, and I love his sense of humor and his ability to mix his very dry comedy with darkness and deep meditations on our relationships with other people and our connections to the world around us. And visually he's hard to beat: it might sound like hyperbole, but for a color-oriented person like me, the shade of blue the he uses for the interior of the first train and a village later in the film is alone worth the price of admission.

Next up: Quantum of Solace, Tropic Thunder, and This Film Is Not Yet Rated. My Netflix resurgence comes at an excellent time, as there really isn't much to watch on television these days and I'm taking a break from some of my other hobbies. I queued up about 20 new movies after those three (mostly documentaries for some reason), so I should be good for the next couple of months.

The current American version of I'm a Celebrity...Get Me Out of Here! might be the wors thing ever put on television. Poorly cast, poorly scripted (there's no way it's not scripted), poorly edited, poorly presented, and just generally pointless. We're kind of desperate for some dose of reality TV while we wait for the real summer season to start up (especially Project Runway), but I don't think we're desperate enough to watch this. The whole thing is a fantastic mess, but it's not even watchable from a train wreck standpoint, plus it seems like there's only about 10 minutes of actual new content per hour of programming.

I'm completely out of touch with the mainstream television audience as it is—the overwhelming popularity of the various singing/dancing/talent shows is completely baffling to me—but if this show gets decent or better ratings, I'm going to start seriously considering the possibility that all those Hulu commercials about aliens using television to turn our brains into edible goo are true.

I only just watched Casino Royale a few months ago, but it still took me a few minutes to grasp that Quantum of Solace picked up where that film left off. I do like the new direction that the franchise is going in with Daniel Craig, although I wonder if they've devalued their catalog a little bit by going this way—it's really hard to watch the older bond films, even the Sean Connery ones, without feeling like they're hopelessly cheesy when compared to the gravitas and angst of the Bond character as played by Craig.

Still, I have enjoyed the two most recent movies, and now that they've wrapped up the initial storyline, it will be interesting to see where they go next. And I have to admit, I miss Q and his gadgets, even if they did become a bit overused over the last decade or so. When I watched each of these films, there was hardly a time in the first half of the movie when Bond went into a new room when I didn't expect to see Q waiting for him.

Hopefully now that they've established this new Bond, they'll find a way to work Q back into it, along with some of his gadgets (although I guess if I had to choose between a gadgetless bond and one that returned to the ridiculous overruse from the previous era, I'd choose the former).

Tropic Thunder was about like most Ben Still movies: some really funny parts, some really gross parts, and some really stupid parts. Robert Downey was great playing an Australian white actor playing a southern black soldier, although I felt like I'd seen most of his funniest scenes in previews and trailers. And speaking of trailers, sticking those at the beginning of the film as a way to introduce each character was pretty hilarious, and threatened to make the first part of the movie seem pretty unfunny compared to those clips. And I know that every review of this film has said this, but Tom Cruise was ridiculously funny as a whacked out studio executive—it was almost enough to make him seem cool again.

It's our 13th wedding anniversary today, and our 21st anniversary of being together. We're going to celebrate by taking a day off from work and then going to see Robyn Hitchcock and the Decemberists at Merriweather Post Pavillion tonight.

Definitenly getting the new iPhone. I have a first-generation version, so the 3G speed for downloads and the GPS will be nice hardware upgrades, but I'm equally excited about the new camera hardware (3 megapixels, the same as my first digital camera from seven years ago) and software (focusing options, low light settings, and zoom capabilities). The 32 gig capacity is also very appealing—it won't quite hold my 65 gig music library, but it will be a huge increase over the 8 gigs I have now.

I applied to Artscape again this year, but I got waitlisted instead of invited (last year was the first year I did the festival), so we started making other plans for July; a group of friends was meeting up in Toronto for a few days on the same weekend as Artscape, and we had pretty much made up our minds to go.

Then last Friday I got an email from the festival organizer inviting me back to Artscape from the waitlist, and we had to rethink everything. I was really looking forward to our trip, but I also know how hard it is to get into Artscape, and I wouldn't be surprised if one of the reasons I was invited from the waitlist this year is because I was a particpant last year, and I'm willing to bet that if I turned down a waitlist invitation, I'd never get one again (although I'm hoping I just get invited the first time in future years like I did last year).

We only had until today to decide, and Julie was as conflicted as I was, but in the end we decided to accept the invitation to Artscape and forgo the Toronto trip. We made a small profit last year, but that's mostly because we had a significant one-time cost to buy a display setup. It's still a decent investment for the booth fees, etc., but if we keep our same price points and sell as much as we did last year, we should make a much bigger profit this year.

On vacation for a few days next week, and man am I ready. Every day at work lasts an eternity, and although I've tired of long drives in recent years, I'm excited to get far away from the office for a few days, even if my total drive time will end up somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 hours over the course of six days.

This weekend we're going to all three Orioles games because they are playing an interleague series against the Braves, who I still root for even though my passion for the game has cooled somewhat. I haven't been to Camden Yards since Opening Day 2008 (although I did see the O's play in DC a few weeks ago against the Nationals), and I haven't seen the Braves play live since the last time they came to Baltimore five years ago.

Baltimore is currently the worst team in the American League and their season is almost certainly over (not an unusual state of affairs over the last decade of losing seasons), and while the Braves are still in the hunt, they have been playing .500 ball all year (their current record is 29-30). However, if they can take advantage of a weak Baltimore team, they might be a lot closer to the top of their division standings by the end of the weekend: the Phillies, who are 6 1/2 games up, are playing three interleague games against Boston (who currently sport the second best record in baseball), while the Mets, who are 2 1/2 games ahead of the Braves, will play their crosstown rivals the Yankees.

I'm definitely not as into baseball as I was five years ago, and most of the Braves lineup will be unfamiliar to me (save the stalwart Chipper Jones). But I'm looking forward to reconnecting with a ballpark that I've watched dozens of games in and with a team that I've been rooting for since my college roommate got me into baseball back in the early 90s.

Because I had already purchased the Orioles-Braves tickets before doublechecking my calendar first, I was unable to travel to Chicago this past weekend for the opening of a gallery show of Frank Kozik's paintings at Rotofugi, the best art toy store in Chicago (and one of the best in the country). However, thanks to their brilliant online system, I was able to buy one of the paintings from the online preview before the show even opened to the public because I'm on their mailing list. Here's what I got:

In the Potato Field - I Saw It
In the Potato Field—I Saw It

There was a painting of a zombified labbit that was my first choice, but someone must have just gotten the email off before I did—I sent my email to Rotofugi owner Kirby just six minutes after the preview announcement email went out. But I'm very happy with this piece, and it would be very cool if the design was actually made into a toy someday.

And as much as I would have liked to have met Kozik in person, I might have been lucky that I wasn't able to go. If I had been traveling on Friday to get to Chicago, I could have very well missed the email with the gallery preview link, and by the time the show opened that night, my top 6 or 7 choices were already sold, so if I hadn't been in a place where I could have responded to that email immediately like I did, I could have very well missed out on the chance to own an original Kozik painting that I really like.

Leaving town for a few days. Long weekend on the shore.

Back from vacation, and it was great. Walk on the sand, swim in the ocean, have fresh seafood for dinner. Days don't get much better than that, and we had a bunch of them in a row.

Most of our vacation was spent in Atlantic Beach visiting my mom and godmother, who have taken a vacation at the beach together just about every year for as long as I can remember. But we also went and spend one evening with my dad and stepmother, who live about an hour and a half away from where my mom was staying.

Both visits were really good. I hadn't seen either sets of parents since Christmas, and I likely won't see at least one of them until the holiday season. The days with my mom were spent walking on the beach, sitting in the sun, and bobbing in the waves, followed by a nice dinner, either out or cooked in. Although the restaurants we went to were really nice—I ate a ton of tuna that was just seared enough on the outside to impart some flavor—the best meal was the one we cooked on the last night: shrimp steamed with old bay, fresh corn on the cob, cheesy garlic bread, and chunks of frozen watermelon for dessert (well, our first dessert—we also went to Dairy Queen an hour later, a tradition every time we've been to the beach).

We only stayed one night with my dad, but we packed a lot in. We got there late afternoon, took the boat to a dockside restaurant (actually called Dockside) nearby, then took the boat to the Yacht Club at Wrightsville Beach, intending to get a drink and sit on the rocking chairs outside on the porch. But there was some kind of party, so we walked on the beach instead. The next day my dad fixed his famous waffles for breakfast, and then we had lunch at my favorite Wilmington restaurant for lunch, Saltworks. We also went by an art gallery that Rachel likes before leaving town so we could pick out a gift that was combination anniversary present and graduation gift (I got my master's in May). We ended up with a nice handpainted bowl that has become the centerpiece for our kitchen table.

I always wonder what it would be like to live close to my family, so that visits like these could happen every few weeks instead of every few months, but we're just so scattered—right now, no more than two people in my immediately family live within an hour of one another, and most of those pairs are married couples. These visits have come to be more meaningful to me over the years, and although some might say that they'd lose their specialness if they happened to frequently, I think they'd still mean a great deal to me even if they happened every other week.

Anyway. It was a nice, relaxing visit with good food and good company and long langorous days wandering on the beach. We'd still like to take a vacation with just the two of us sometime this year, but if we had to choose only one, I don't think either of us would give up those five days.

We recently upgraded to Office 2007 at work, and I have to admit that I really like the new standard font that Microsoft uses for Word, Calibri (replacing old standby Times New Roman). But there's not much to love about many of the other changes, like the dreaded ribbon. (Do you think Microsoft anticipated the cottage industry that would grow up around replacing this new UI element with classic menus?)

The upgrade to Office 2007 also meant an upgrade from the hopelessly outdated GroupWise email client to Outlook, which certainly has a few issues, but which is light years better than GroupWise, and that alone probably made the overall upgrade worth our while.

Fridays never seem to come soon enough this time of year...

My most recent Netflix was the documentary Trekkies about the cult of Star Trek. I remember hearing good things about it when it came out a decade or so ago, and I when I saw it while browsing through Netflix I wondered why I had never watched it. But as I watched the first few minutes and got introduced to some of the more peculiar people in the film, it slowly started to dawn on me that I had watched it at some point, although I couldn't remember under what circumstances (I know it wasn't in the theater, though).

I had forgotten a lot of it, so it was worth watching again. I wonder if, in this most recent age of Star Trek with no series and a much hyped origin film, there can still be the kinds of obsessive fans who populate the Trekkies film; even though the J.J. Abrams certainly revitalized the movie franchise and introduce younger generations to the crew of the original series, a movie every 3-4 years (as opposed to a weekly series with 22-26 episodes a year) doesn't really lend itself to the kinds of intimate relationships with the characters and the universe of Star Trek that inspired the Trekkies folks. I still think the best move for the franchise as a whole would be to turn back to a television series and have the movies either punctuate the show or return as big budget events after the show has run its five to seven seasons.

But the approach that Abrams took with the film was already tried with the Enterprise series, which explores the Trek universe pre-Kirk and Spock, and it was met with decided indifference, even from fans of the Original Series. So I don't know. Maybe movies are the only things that will work for the franchise for the time being, and tv show explorations of Roddenberry's vision are gone for good.

I knew I was going to get an iPhone 3G S (well, that was the original name anyway—it seems Apple has changed its mind and now wants to call it the iPhone 3GS, without that extra space) at some point, but because it has been selling pretty well and Apple had declined to post a site where you could check the availability of each model at stores in your area as they did with the past two iPhone releases, I figured I'd just wait another few weeks until the demand leveled out and I wouldn't have to call ahead to see if one was available at one of the nearby Apple stores.

Then over the weekend Apple posted an availability site, and my interest was renewed. Unfortunately, both of the closest stores to me (in Towson and Columbia) were sold out of the 32 gig black models, and although I considered driving down to Tyson's Corner for one, I really wasn't in that big of a hurry to own one. But as I refreshed the site before I took my lunch break (it is supposedly updated hourly), I saw that the Towson store, which is only a couple of miles from where I work, was fully stocked with every model, including the 32 gig black model.

I didn't have a car at work because Julie and I had carpooled that day, but my coworker Scott, who got his first generation iPhone within a day of when I got mine (we both bit when they dropped the price a couple of months after the initial release), did have a vehicle and he was eager to snap one up before they went out of stock again. After a quick stop at his house to let the dog out (she was so excited to meet a new person that she peed on the floor when she saw me), we headed up to the mall to get our new phones.

There was a short line, but it took nearly half an hour before the first person in line was summoned inside (we speculated later that although they store may have registered their receipt of a large order of iPhones, before they could be sold and activated there was further inventory management that needed to be done), and it was only about another 10 minutes before Scott and I got our turn. It was a pretty smooth process, and 20 minutes or so later we were walking out of the store with our newly activated iPhone 3GSs (I'll go with Apple's latest nomenclature even though the text on the box is clearly iPhone 3G S) in our pockets and our deactivated first generation iPhones nestled in the 3GS packaging.

I'm psyched about the faster speed (both processor and download), the GPS chip, and the seriously improved camera, along with quadruple my previous drive space (it's only 8 gigs short of my ancient 40 gig iPod, which was once massive enough to hold my entire music collection and then some). And getting it all set up once I got home couldn't have been easier: I synced my old iPhone, then connected my new one and restored from the backup of the earlier phone. It kept all my accounts, apps, settings, and even th order of the apps on the home screens. The only small negative: it didn't come with a dock, and the dock from my first gen iPhone won't work with it, so I'll have to spend another $30 or so next time I'm in the Apple store to get one of those.

december 2009
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