Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Creepy wierdo of the day:

Murfreesboro man tells why he froze 114 cats: "The only thing unusual about him, said neighbor David Whitten, is that Davis often wears boots, a long coat and a hat, 'like a Texas rancher.'" Well, that an the fact that he keeps Fluffy friends in the Frigidaire. Yikes!

Sunday, December 28, 2003

A quick update:

Made the trek from Nashville to DC to Stanardsville,VA, and back to DC. I'm heading to Boston in a plane, train, or automobile (still hazy) in a couple of days. I've seen lots of long lost family members, tasted homemade beer, communed with cows, driven on windy mountain roads, gone to various churches, committed to scanning a massive crate of family photos, and gotten a cold. I'll try to post more details later, but hope everyone is having happy holidays!

Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Cranberries, evergreens, and a reptile ranch

Route 66 Christmas Tree
Lately I've been a decorating fiend... I put up some clear lights outside last week. Then, I decided to go out and get a Christmas tree, despite the fact that I'm actually not going to be here for Christmas. I lugged the tree back, dug up my stand and lights, and set the whole thing up in the front hall, where you can see it through my front door.

I don't actually have many genuine Christmas ornaments -- in fact, I'm pretty much limited to a couple of boxes of generic glass balls. So I had to get a bit creative. In some dark recess of my brain, I remembered making Christmas tree garlands out of cranberries and popcorn. It took two grocery runs to find whole cranberries in Nashville, but I was soon stringing up a storm, with only minor needle injuries. It takes a long time to do a whole tree that way, but it's pretty mindless work and I watched a movie while I was working on it.

Turns out that I somewhat underestimated the number of linear feet of cranberries in a bag. (These folks need to investigate this!) Despite creative use of cranberry spice sauce for dinner on Sunday night, I still have two bags left. Anyone have any good cranberry recipes?

After the garlands were on the tree, it still looked a bit empty. So I wandered around my house looking for ideas until I found a book of Route 66 paper cutouts, purchased for their kitsch value a few years ago while on vacation in Arizona. I pulled out the book and started happily punching out pieces and putting tab A into slot B to create models of all sorts of Mother Road ephemera -- fireworks stands, Mexican restaurants, Airstream trailers, and more. I then carefully punched holes in the cutouts and stuck them on the tree. So I now have a kitschy Middle-American tree with cranberries and popcorn. (If you look carefully, you can even find an adult bookstore.)

I also have a wreath on the door, greens on the window sills, and a cat determined to make herself sick eating Pointsettia leaves. Plus I made fudge and prepared dough for sugar and spice cookies. I'm totally down with the whole holiday thing this year.

Bus.... Magic Bus!

From last week's Economist -- an old-school internet mail relay network using Wi-Fi and public transportation:
At “The Future in Review”, a wide-ranging technology conference held in San Diego earlier this year, Allen Hammond of the World Resources Institute, an environmental think-tank, outlined a cunning scheme to provide e-mail access in rural India using buses. Each bus would be equipped with an e-mail server and a high-power Wi-Fi base-station, with a range of a mile or so. This communicates with nearby computers in homes, schools, offices or post offices, delivering and collecting e-mail wirelessly as the bus drives past, so that there are a handful of deliveries and collections each day. The buses connect to the internet when they reach the depot at the end of the line. Given the reach of the bus network, it is estimated that this approach could provide national e-mail coverage for a paltry $15m. E-mail by bus—why not?

Monday, December 15, 2003

A Public Service Announcement...

Brought to you by the fine folks over at the National Latex Novelties Association:
What's an office without a rubber chicken or two? Rubber chicken on the wall, rubber chicken on the floor, rubber chickens are funny and make your spirits soar. We are pretty sure everyone's mood will pick up a little bit when you have some rubber chickens laying around the office. Make Monday Rubber Chicken Day and have everyone carry one around to meetings and stuff... how much fun can your office handle?

Tuesday, December 02, 2003

The week in review -- the good, the bad, and the really bad.

As you may have guessed, posts are a bit sparse lately because of my periodic end-of-semester academic panic -- not helped by the fact that I spent big two of the last four weekends goofing off with family instead of working. In any case, here's the reader's digest condensed version of what's happened since my last dispatch:
  • Flew home. Arrived hours late due to typical holiday delays. Was very calm about this, since I had nowhere in particular to be that night.
  • Actually read two novels: Prey and About a Boy. Also read two fascinating articles in Harper's: one about Clear Channel's radio station juggernaut, and another about a possible resurgence of locally-owned companies. Both are worth picking up.
  • Had Thanksgiving dinner with grandparents, parents, one cousin, and a whole mess of food. Accidentally spilled candle wax on my mom's best tablecloth. She was not happy.
  • Visited the research lab of the biotech company I'm working with for my class. Met with them for several hours. Was amazed by how much AP Bio stuff I actually remembered.
  • Bought a wireless router for my parents so that I can finally get online from my laptop at home.
  • My parents, brother B, brother B's girlfriend, and brother B's girlfriend's parents went out to dinner together. Meanwhile, I went out to dinner with brother A, brother B's girlfriend's sister, and brother B's girlfriend's sister's cousin. We ate at the local Salvadoran place, followed by some aimless wandering around and a trip to Cosi -- a nifty place where you can toast your own S'Mores on an open flame at your table. I drove the assembled masses nuts by taking hours to figure out why some guy jumped in front of a bus after eating a seagull sandwich.
  • Got to play with the fireplace, which still works after being fixed last year. Bought a new chain for my dad's chainsaw, but didn't get around to installing it.
  • Went to my mom's church. Talked to a lot of people whose names I probably couldn't remember if you paid me.
  • Had very belated birthday cake for me and my brother. Gave my brother a Sony Clie as a birthday/graduation gift. He now wants a memory stick so he can listen to MP3s on it.
  • Got up very early Monday morning and caught the subway back to National Airport. Waited in a really long line to get through security. Flight was late anyway. Went to work.
  • Got home and started working on my part of the market plan for our company. Interrupted by a call from a friend whose new(to her) computer had a malfunctioning modem. Talked to her for about an hour. Then continued working until my eyes glazed over. Went to bed late.
  • Woke up to a call from my brother, who was in a state of shock after being unexpectedly fired from his job. He had no idea this was coming -- his new dishwasher was delivered yesterday. This is totally sucky on so many levels I won't even go into it here. But suffice it to say I think very little of his former company.
  • Talked to him until I realized I was going to be late for my weekly Long Boring Meeting Where Nothing Happens. Burned rubber into work and still got there late. As predicted, nothing really happened. Despite earlier plans to avoid work entirely and finish my paper, ended up putting in a good 6 hours. Found out that one of my employees is in the hospital with severe pneumonia. Not a good day.
  • Tore out of work as soon as possible and headed to Fido, where I'm currently camped out working on said paper. It's slow going.
  • Friend just called, so I believe I will be taking a break to go have a beer across the street. Yay!
Anyway, that's what's new for now. I plan on being more bloggy after the semester ends.

Tuesday, November 25, 2003

Getting colder...

Frost on a leaf, Nashville, TN Nov. 25, 2003

I'm not always up early in the morning to shoot this sort of thing, but I once again worked all night at the office. That's not good, but at least I got to appreciate a perfect fall morning.

Well, I thought it was perfect. Some people don't agree!)

Monday, November 24, 2003

Domain of the Day

http://www.wewannadoanythingwewannadoanytimewewannadoit.com/

Seen on Monster.com

Wonder if I can get a leave of absence from work -- I just found my meal ticket for a month in Ireland!
IE-Dublin-Father Christmas & Elves
Status: Full Time, Part Time, Temporary/Contract/Project

Unique Entertainment are looking for persons interested in working for them on a part-time basis throughout late November and December 2003.

We require persons to fill the following roles:

  • Father Christmas
  • Elves
Please send brief CV, including a passport photograph, details of your availability during November and December and the roles you are interested in to...

Friday, November 21, 2003

From the silver lining department:

One advantage of being at work at 3 AM is that you can play your CDs as loud as you want, and no one gets pissy about it. Right now I've got Handel's Messiah going at about 80 decibels.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

A real Nashville weekend

This weekend was a true Nashville experience. My grandfather and my cousin Laura both showed up in town, and I got to do all that fun touristy stuff that the locals never get around to. Laura and Grandpa in line at the Ryman

On Saturday, my grandfather went to the Parthenon and the Frist Center. Both were great, but the Frist center has an especially good "Art of Tennessee" exhibit with everything from wood carvings to maps to photos to muskets. It was extremely cool.

Then we went to the airport and picked up Laura. We went home briefly, then headed over to Hatch Show Print. We walked around lower Broad for a bit, and also stopped into Lawrence Record Shop, where we met Mr. Lawrence. This was a very memorable experience -- you can listen right here!

We gave up our coveted $10 parking space and headed back home for a few hours, where we amused ourselves by looking at old photo albums.

Laura at Hatch Show Print That night, we had tickets for the Grand Ole Opry at the Ryman Auditorium. But before the show, we stopped in to Jack's Bar-B-Que. Then a few steps across the alley to the Ryman, where a long line was just beginning to snake through the door. We got to our seats in the balcony just before the show started. One of the first performers was Nanci Griffith, who Laura had seen a few days before in Boston.

The next day we stopped by my office to scan some of the old photos we found, then headed over to Bicentennial Mall, where we explored and played with our cameras until the misty darkness overtook us. (Listen) My grandfather took a detour into the farmer's market, where he purchased a bottle of Dave's Triple XXX Insanity Hot Sauce. The vendor cautioned to only use one drop!

Afterward, we went out to dinner at Basantes (a great Italian restaurant in the lobby of a Day's Inn), and returned home to watch "When Harry Met Sally."

Monday morning, my Grandfather left at the crack of dawn, and Laura and I had breakfast at the Pancake Pantry before her medical school interview at Vanderbilt.

All-in-all, a great weekend. You can view more photos right here.

Thursday, November 13, 2003

A bloomin' family reunion, and a lot of malfunctioning stuff!

My grandfather (the one who lives on the farm in Virginia) e-mailed me to say that he was planning to come down and visit me in Nashville. He has been saying he would do this for years, but this time he was serious. So he's arriving this weekend.

Then a few days ago, I got an e-mail from my cousin Laura, who I haven't seen in almost two years. She has been going to school in Boston, but graduated and is now applying to medical schools. It turns out that she has an interview at Vanderbilt on Monday. So she's also coming down -- and naturally I offered up my place.

So all of a sudden I have two out-of-town guests, and it's time to get the house presentable. I've been spending every free moment cleaning, dealing with repairs, etc. Plus, we have a business plan due in several weeks for my class, and our company is getting impatient. Then late last week the massive server that holds our company's electronic archives decided to die in the middle of the night. This has already been good for one all-nighter and countless hours of additional stress. The worst part about the work is that it's a "hurry-up-and-wait" operation, because it takes so long to move around the tons of data we're dealing with.

Yesterday, I spent most of the day (from 6:30 AM until around 4:30 PM) working on the system from home while the plumber and handyman simultaneously abused my house. (After two trips, I believe I now have a working toilet in the guest bathroom!) I also broke down and hired a maid service to clean the place. I feel so bourgeois. But at least the dust bunnies have left the building.

Somewhere in there, I also ran a line directly from the phone network box to my DSL modem, and proved that my DSL problems are not the fault of the ancient phone wiring in my house. The next guess is a bad modem -- they're sending me another one. The phone company is convinced that there couldn't possibly be anything wrong with the line, so we're trying everything else first.

I then went in to work for a meeting around 5:00, and stayed there working until midnight.

This morning dawned with temperatures in the 30s, and I discovered that once again my furnace seemed to be dead. This happened last year. The repair guy said to just cycle the circuit breaker several times. After about five attempts, it finally came on. (It's an outside unit, and apparently moisture can creep into the unit and cause it not to light. A safety device cuts off the gas if there's no flame. Cycling the power resets the safety device and lets it try again. The unit hadn't been used in a few days, and it poured rain yesterday. So hopefully this won't become a regular occurrence.)

And to add to the pile of malfunction and misfortune, the zero key on my cell phone has died. So to anyone with a zero in your number, I won't be calling you. Everyone else, you're good. (Actually I can work around it with speed dial and other tricks, but it's a real pain!) Verizon says I have to take the phone to one of their stores, which are apparently all in the distant suburbs. And they're very vague about what might happen when I get there. I fear that they may ship my phone off to Timbuktu for repair and leave me without phone, which would be bad since I've also been disconnecting my home phone as part of the DSL troubleshooting.

Now I've got to go into work for more pointless meetings and server angst. Plus I've still got to go grocery shopping to do.

I'm ready for another vacation!

Saturday, November 08, 2003

Eclipse

Lunar Eclipse, 11/08/2003 I walked in to the neighborhood grocery/health food store to pick up a few veggies for dinner. The checkout counter was abuzz. The moon, it seems, was half gone.

When I arrived outside, I saw this for myself. I drove home, grabbed my digital camera, and headed for the backyard. I subsequently stood outside in the chilly fall weather that suddenly arrived a few days ago and watched the moon drift into the shadow of the earth. (Unfortunately I lack a real telephoto lens, so the photos aren't great.)

While I was waiting, I called my parents. My mom was busy writing a sermon, and I had to convince her to go outside. My dad went outside with no prompting. They stood and watched the eclipse with me. Suddenly the 700 miles between us didn't seem so far.

Monday, November 03, 2003

Just another (birth)day...

And today, with a whimper rather than a bang, I enter the 28th year of my life. It's been a pretty average day so far. Not that I was really expecting all that much out of it. The last birthday I can remember getting really excited about was when I turned 25, because it meant that car rental companies would stop hassling me when I tried to rent a car. (IMHO, just because you're in a demographic group that's statistically inclined toward wrapping cars around telephone poles doesn't mean they should have the right to give you a hard time!)

That may have also been the year that my birthday fell on a Saturday and I went to Boston for the weekend. So I spent my birthday visiting penguins in the Boston Aquarium and doing various other fun things.

But I really just can't get all that excited about it this year. It's too much like just another day.

To be fair, I guess this has been a pretty decent year. The highlights were Italy, New Years (in PA), my brother's graduation in Maine, the 4th of July in DC, and my trip back to Syracuse. Hmm. None of the highlights were in Nashville. That sort of sums up why I want to leave one of these days, I'd say.

Friday, October 31, 2003

the dreaded early morning call

Ring. Wha... Hello? Hi Mom. I was asleep. What? Your network doesn't work? Urk. I don't know. Hang on.... Do you see the lights on the hub? Yeah, that little grey box. Are they on? There's only one? There should be two. Which one has the light? It should be really bright, not just a bit lit up. Well, stop changing your story! You're sure it's Laura's machine that has no light? OK, try plugging that one in to a different number port. Still no light? OK, try unplugging and replugging that wire tightly on the back of the computer. Still nothing? OK. Well, I don't know what to tell you. It could be that the cable is bad or the network card is bad. But neither of those things usually happens all of a sudden on their own. Just as a last ditch effort, have you tried restarting Laura's machine? What do you MEAN it's not turned on? Mom!!! If you're trying to get to a shared folder on her machine, YES, her machine has to be turned on! I'm not laughing at you, but you SO owe me an hour of sleep! [click]

Tuesday, October 28, 2003

More Engrishes

HE WENT OUT WITH A MAMAS BIG SHOES FULL SUGAR AND A DREAM STUFFING Bill has posted a new (and perhaps last!) installment of Close, But Not Quite, his homage to mangled English seen in Japan.

You can read more about his adventures in Japan right about here.

Sunday, October 26, 2003

Hot stuff

I'm at Bongo, and am drinking a coffee they've named Hair of the Dog. Oddly, the taste is remarkably similar to that of a good cigar.

And I'm still procrastinating on my paper, despite the looming deadline. Last night I cleaned my living room to avoid working on it. When I start house cleaning, that's a good indicator that I really don't want to do something. But I'm about to have a burst of caffeine-induced productivity. I can feel it coming on. Right. Now.

Drat. It didn't happen.

Saturday, October 25, 2003

I got those blinkin' sync light blues...

modems and routers and wires oh my For some reason that eludes me, I've been having major DSL problems for the last week or two. But they're very strange DSL problems. First of all, they seem to be the worst at night. This morning I was able to stay online and connected to my office via VPN for several hours. Yet if I log on at 1:30 AM, as I am wont to do, I can barely keep a connection for two or three minutes without having the modem drop and re-sync.

The only real change I can think of during this time period has to do with the assault on pavement currently being carried out by the good people at Nashville Gas. Part of this involved digging up my front yard and replacing an old-school iron gas pipe with plastic tubing. I'm wondering if perhaps something in the house was improperly grounded to the gas pipe. Now that the pipe is insulated with plastic tubing, perhaps the lack of ground is causing the problem.

My little theory, however, wouldn't explain the curious day/night phenomenon.

This is all quite vexing.

Like all good DSL techies, Mr. Butler was very quick to blame my unfiltered alarm system. But the system has been disconnected from the phone line for several days, and the problem has persisted.

Of course, the phone wiring in this 1920s-vintage house is strung up from the rafters in the dirt cellar, and is quite literally held together by thumbtacks and duct tape. So I suppose at some level it's amazing the thing worked at all. I should probably take the time to crawl around down there and run new wiring, but I have a paper to write this weekend. So maybe I'll just borrow a cup of wireless Internet from everyone's favorite funkadelic neighborhood coffee joint.

In unrelated news...

Beignets I saw The Runaway Jury with a friend earlier tonight. A great suspense story, and I got to revel in a bit of New Orleans nostalgia to boot. (Shady dealings are just better when you negotiate them over Beignets at Cafe du Monde.)

I also discovered that Bonhoeffer, which I just missed the last time I was in DC, is playing for the next few days at the Belcourt. I have been fascinated by the German theologian and Nazi resister ever since I read Denise Giardina's haunting historical novel Saints and Villains. Unfortunately, I wasn't able to convince my friend to go see it with me, but I'm going to try to make it over there before the show closes.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

They don't do windows

Some VIPs from our company's headquarters are flying in on the corporate jet next week for a bunch of meetings and schmoozing. My boss just sent out an e-mail with their agenda, which I opened on my computer at home. A brief moment of amusement followed. When I double clicked the Word attachment, Word popped to the front. My to-do list from last weekend was still open on the screen.

So for a brief moment, I thought that the corporate honchos had scheduled activities like like "clean bathroom, "get new toilet seat," "get scrapbook supplies," and "directions for Grandpa." Alas, it turns out that they're just doing things like having Operational Discussions about Financial Impact. Too bad.

Tuesday, October 21, 2003

ding, dong, ratatatatatatatatatata

I was up very late last night. (Blogging, I admit, but also doing some school work and various other things.) My plan had been to sleep until 9:30, which would have still given me, if not a lot of sleep, at least enough to make it through the day. At 7:00 AM, the neighbor's kid persistently starts ringing my doorbell to tell me that the cat was fine when she checked in on her. A week and a half ago, while I was on vacation. Not sure I see the urgency in this, but anyhow.

So then I was awake for a while, checked my e-mail and did a few other things, and could already tell that I was dragging. So around 7:45 I figured that I'd go back to bed for another couple hours. No sooner had I gotten to sleep, the world champion jackhammer team arrives outside my bedroom window. And starts tearing up the part of the street that they hadn't already destroyed.

Maybe I'm an unwitting part of some sort of sleep deprivation experiment.

Luther -- The Man, The Myth, The Movie

Sorry I've been invisible lately. Lots of stress, for a variety of different reasons. Hopefully things will get better soon, but I have a feeling posting may be erratic for a while -- possibly until the end of the semester.

Martin Luther at age 46, by Lucas Cranach the Elder, 1529 On a non-stressful topic, I saw Luther on Friday night, and was blown away by it. Not that it was necessarily the best movie ever made. But, like Titanic, it gives you a real impression of what people might have seen and heard at a particular point in history.

I think if you've been exposed to something all your life, you sometimes don't really get the point. Growing up Lutheran, I've known about the 95 theses and Luther's wrath over indulgences for as long as I can remember.

The phrase "Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise" is stuck in my head, but not because I really comprehended it. Instead, it was part of a church camp chant that we'd repeat every morning before announcements:

Gooood Mooorning, Mister Craig. And what a fine morning it is. Yes, yes, indeed. The sun is peeking through the clouds, and it looks like it's going to be a wonnnderfulll day. Here I stand, I cannot do otherwise, God help me, Amen. A might fortress is our God. His banner over me is love. Turn, Turn, Turn. Oh, rocka my soul, Baby! A Do Run Run Run, A Do Run Run.
(Or something along those lines -- it was like 20 years ago!)

The point is, that when something is drummed into you in such a relentless and silly way, it loses all meaning. So that's why I was blown away by the scene where Luther stands in front of representatives of the Pope and the Holy Roman Emperor (who could easily have him burned at the stake) and refuses to recant his writings.

Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me.

This dude is thumbing his nose at the most powerful people in the world, in a time when due process wasn't even a glimmer on the horizon. Not something you realize when the phrase is a prelude to announcements about tonight's big game of capture the flag.

To be sure, the movie is probably a rose-colored look at the life of a complex person. Nothing is said, for example, of Luther's antisemitic writings -- which reflected his time but are incongruous with his otherwise progressive views.

Still, I found the movie to be inspiring. If nothing else, it made me want to revisit Germany. I think we breezed by some Luther-related sites during our whirlwind 3-week stay in high school, but I'd like to see more. So I was also inspired to dust off my German book and order a new set of flash cards.

Nothing new there, I guess. I think my restlessness in Nashville is reaching new heights lately. And that's saying something.�

Friday, October 10, 2003

Wednesday, October 08, 2003

A cold day in the rust belt

Carrier - The World's Largest Air Conditioning Company United Technologies, the parent company of the Carrier corporation, has announced that it is shutting down the company's manufacturing facilities in Syracuse. About 1,200 of the company's 2,800 employees in the city will be laid off. The refrigeration equipment manufactured locally will now be made in Singapore and Stone Mountain, Georgia.

This is a huge deal. Carrier is one of the most visible industries in the city -- SU's domed stadium has been known as the Carrier Dome since it was built about 25 years ago.

I don't know what to say...

It appears that California has actually elected Arnold Schwartzenegger Governor. I don't know what this means for Western Civilization As We Know It, but it can't be good.

Monday, October 06, 2003

Keep meaning to...

I keep meaning to blog, and then not quite getting around to it. Same old school/work stuff. Plus I've been trying to do much needed fall cleaning on my house. And I've been sucked into eHarmony, an online dating service that's more time-intensive than the real thing. (More on that one of these days.)

In other news...

What I did this weekend:

  • Went to an Italian restaurant with friends and got to listen to a lounge guitarist with really cheesy synthesized background tracks. Then a chunky guy wearing an apron and an "Italian Stallion" t-shirt came out and started crooning. I was endlessly amused.

  • Actually read my school reading assignments (on time, for a change.) Listened to an hour long interview with this biotech bigwig. And chatted online with my project team. All sorts of academic fun.

  • An assload of laundry. And actually put most of it away when I was done.

  • IMed with my friend in Boston about the Yankees, Red Sox, etc.

  • e-mailed a professor at said friend's college to try to get in on a trip to India in January. For credit, to study offshore outsourcing of IT. Assuming they'll let me enroll and my school will let me transfer the credit. A lot of ifs, but traveling to India would sure beat another boring online elective.

  • Watched The Other Sister with Juliette Lewis and Giovanni Ribisi. This is going to brand me as a total sentimental sap, but I absolutely loved this movie. It is a (debatably realistic) portrayal of a mentally-disabled couple, focusing on the woman's struggle for independence from her domineering Mom. I probably wouldn't have given this a second look in the theater, but I'm glad I happened to stumble into it on cable.

That's about all the excitement. On Wednesday night, I'm flying out to North Carolina for a four-day beach minibreak with my parents and one of my brothers. My parents are nuts, which is why they think that October is ideal beach season. I laughed at them the first year, but every time I've gone it's been warm enough to swim, at least most days. And there are absolutely no crowds. So maybe they've got the right idea.

OK, enough of this. Gotta go finish a group paper that I stupidly volunteered to edit. Gak.

Tuesday, September 30, 2003

Geek humor

From a RedHat FAQ on software RAIDs:
Q: Why is there no question 13?
A: If you are concerned about RAID, High Availability, and UPS, then its probably a good idea to be superstitious as well. It can't hurt, can it?
(For those of you scratching your heads, a RAID is where a server uses multiple disks with multiple copies of the same data to help guard against data disasters.)

Monday, September 29, 2003

Oh, oobee doo, I wanna be like you...

This is a bit tragic in that two people were hurt, but also a bit funny. A gorilla named Little Joe just made his second successful jailbreak from a Boston zoo. This time he actually escaped zoo grounds and was seen sitting at a bus stop. Evidently trying to catch the express bus out of town. After a high (well, medium) speed chase, he was eventually hit with four tranquilizer darts and recaptured.

Personally, I think the zoo should recognize his effort and just let him go!

Thursday, September 25, 2003

Syracuse Pictures!

Pratt's Falls, Onondaga County, NYHaven't had time to write down what I did or even caption the photos, but you can see some pictures from Syracuse and Rochester right here. Will try to write more at some point, but no promises... At a traffic light, Syracuse, NY

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

Lies, damn lies, and double entendre?

Seen in an upgrade solicitation for SPSS, a computer program used for statistical analysis:
Q. Does the new graphics system improve graph/chart appearance?

A. Get ready to impress your customers and colleagues because you won't be restricted by your variable length any longer....

Hmm. I've always heard that it's not the length of your variable, it's the motion of your probability distribution.

Sunday, September 21, 2003

Cocktails, conversation, and other scary C words

I can generally hold my own in a variety of social situations. I have no problem sitting down to dinner and making conversation with people I've never seen before. But there's something about walking into a room filled with strangers holding beverages that gives me the willies. I periodically find myself in these sorts of situations (usually -- but not always -- business related). I usually make an effort, but often end up milling around uncomfortably, talking briefly to a few people, and then taking the first polite opportunity to escape.

There are obvious mitigating factors that make this easier. For example, attending the affair with one or more other people helps. (I think married folks have this easy -- they have a built in conversation partner, and someone who can tag-team with them in case of awkward gaps in conversations.)

Attending an event where you've had enough previous contact with the people to know a few names, faces, and hometowns also helps out. The more people you already know -- even slightly -- the easier it is to meet more folks.

But these factors don't help in situations where you are attending an event alone and know virtually no one. Conference organizers could help somewhat by taking this sort of thing into account -- for example, providing nametags that are very descriptive, or even providing a list of attendees and their backgrounds as part of the conference packet. Sometimes they do, but often you are cast adrift with no lifeboat.

From years of experience with this sort of thing, I have decided that I am simply lousy at this sort of spontaneously-generated "cocktail conversation." You'd think they would teach this sort of thing in school. Maybe they do, and I just skipped class that day. In any case, I think it's a skill I need to develop. Anyone know where I can find an online class?

Friday, September 19, 2003

Back to my old haunts

I'm visiting my alma mater this weekend. I'm here for the 100th anniversary of The Daily Orange. (You can read about some wacky DO traditions -- including the drinking of beer from a shoe -- right here.)

I'm also fighting off a nasty head cold. Gak.

Wednesday, September 17, 2003

How many schoolteachers does it take to build a nuke?

The National Priorities Project database allows you to find out what tradeoffs are being made to support various government programs. For example, next year Tennessee taxpayers will pay $259.7 million to support the nation's nuclear weapons program. This same money could fund more than 6,000 elementary school teachers. You can use the tool to run your own comparisons for your home state.

Tuesday, September 16, 2003

Destroying the air in order to save it

Quoth the New York Times:
Last month, in one of the most far-reaching environmental decisions of his tenure, Mr. Bush eliminated [environmental] rules, allowing thousands of power plants, refineries and factories to make extensive upgrades that increase pollutants without having to install new antipollution devices. The president said other regulations, as well as the passage of his bill known as the Clear Skies initiative, would keep the air clean.

[...]

[T]he trip to the Detroit plant, intended as a broad defense of the Bush administration's clean air policy, quickly reignited the fierce debate between government officials and environmental groups. While Mr. Bush was greeting workers, environmentalists said the relaxation of clean air rules known as the new source review would allow this plant to increase emissions by more than 30,000 tons a year, a 56 percent increase over current levels.

The groups also noted that the government's own analysis of the effect of the Clear Skies bill found that the Monroe plant would not decrease its emissions of soot-forming sulfur dioxide.

Grumble... Who really needs clean air anyway?

Thursday, September 11, 2003

Non-Commercial

I avoid some products like the plague because their advertising annoys me. I'm starting a list:
  • Anything from Arbys -- Aside from their mystery meat "roast beef" sandwiches, that talking oven mit is just annoying.
  • Michelina's frozen dinners -- The Macarena went out with the last century. Let it go, people.
  • Feminine hygiene products -- Well, OK, boycotting these isn't really causing me any great hardship. But with all the great market research out there, you'd think they could target these things better. Most men I know would be quite happy if they never had to think about the words "yeast infection."
  • Anything advertised on the folded over half page that comes on top of the Sunday comics. How are you supposed to get your "Get Fuzzy" fix with that annoying paper flap tacked onto the section? I make it a point to rip it off without reading it. Take that, corporate America!
  • Wal-Mart -- I confess to not really being 100% faithful to this boycott. But the company still bugs me. They have a penchant for image campaigns where they promote themselves as a down-home Mom and apple pie retailer. Of course, this after they killed off all the real Mom and apple pie retailers with their giant suburban mega-warehouses. (I did a paper on this for my marketing class -- and I had to admit that their strategy was brilliant, in a Dr. Evil sort of way.)
This list may be updated as events warrant.

Monday, September 08, 2003

The Washington Post Magazine sent Gene Weingarten to France to pen "A mature and balanced examination of the French, with an eye toward defusing international tensions and dispelling regrettable stereotypes." He describes his mission:
We are now facing a time of chill, with repercussions both silly ("freedom fries") and substantial (tourism and commerce in both directions have taken a hit). There is a great deal of hand-wringing about it on both sides of the Atlantic. No one seems quite certain how to deal with it -- least of all the French, who thought it a swell idea to enlist Woody Allen to tell us, as a specialist in ethics, how we are being unfair to France.

As usual, it falls to a journalist to make things right. This has happened before.

Back in 1834, during the Jackson administration, the French-American rift was trivial, really -- largely a matter of bookkeeping: We sought reparations for damage done to American shipping during the Napoleonic wars, and France was stiffing us. The whole matter was easily resolvable, but President Jackson was given to gruff, obliquely threatening pronouncements -- "bring 'em on" kind of stuff -- and before you knew it, France had recalled its Washington ambassador, and invited ours to leave Paris. There was muffled talk of war.

At that precise moment, a young French writer named Alexis de Tocqueville published a book about the national character of America, gleaned from a nine-month visit here. Democracy in America proved an instant balm to global tensions, not because it was entirely complimentary -- it wasn't -- but because it was entirely honest. It confronted openly the differences between Americans and the French, and found much for the French to like and admire. War reparations were paid and cultural exchanges began again between the two countries, with young Tocqueville himself in the middle of it -- an ambassador without portfolio.

Tocqueville had nine months, but he probably dillydallied. You know the French.

I figured six days should do it.

Go read the rest right here.

Sunday, September 07, 2003

Fairy Floss

cotton candy machine According to today's Tennessean, cotton candy originated in Nashville about 106 years ago when candy makers William Morrison and John C. Wharton designed a machine that allowed them to produce "Fairy Floss" by using centrifugal force to force hot sugar through tiny holes. The confection made it big in 1904, when the pair 68,655 wooden boxes of the stuff at 25 cents each.

Miss Crumm Wed Nearby

I should be sleeping, but I'm still up going through the box of old papers. When my grandparents had their 50th wedding anniversary in 1992, I helped put together a display for the occasion. I just came across some papers left over from that project.

One was a partial copy of a letter apparently written by one of my grandmother's relatives in which she catalogged some of the wedding gifts and gave a description of the wedding day. Here's a snippet:

I'll try to tell you all about the wedding now. Whew!! what a job. Well, here goes and your mother can supply the gaps and details.

It started about five:thirty A.M. with me waking up and almost shreiking with joy because I peeked out of the window and found out it was going to be a perfectly beautiful day. We all got up later and had breakfast on the installment plan and then tried to get Lucile to pack her things from her bureau and dressing table. She started in the middle and went both ways, so up to now we haven't any of us been able to find anything! In the middle of it I happened to think that she didn't have anything to sit on besides her Davenport and one big chair, so I went up to the store room and got out two of the four solid walnut shairs that belonged to my grandmother and which a good friend had kept for me all these years until about four months ago. One was O.K, two were hopeless as far as any amateur cabinet work was concerned, but the fourth only needed a brace. So Papa put one on and I washed them and then waxed them. Then your mother and I upholstered them in a blue linen ex-skirt, and PRESTO-! they matched her livingroom suite! Then we got down the cedar gatelegged table Papa made and she is borrowing it for her dinette until she gets one.

We had just gotten that settled and Lucile off to the beauty parlour when Roscoe arrived so we packed everything into his car and Dolores and your Dad helped him over to the apartment and got the things into it.

The next thing lovely that happened was Harry calling up unexpectedly from the airport and maybe THAT didnt set us wild with joy!! We weren't expecting him until quarter of seven and were worried about the timing, as it takes 45 minutes or longer to get here from there, and the wedding was a seventhirty. While your Ma and Pa went to the airport with Papa, Dolores and I had already decorated the church in the afternoon, and I must say it looked beautiful. Roscoe had gotten a whole carload of laurel and pear blossoms, we had lilac, bridal wreath and forsythia, and Papa actually got two dozen gladiolas.

Alas, the copy of the letter I have ends there, so we'll have to rely on the newspaper for a description. I found a copy of an article (and bridal photograph) that ran in the Washington Evening Star on May 21, 1942. It reads, in part:
Miss Crumm Wed Nearby

Lucile Crumm - Evening Star Amid decorations of spring flowers and palms the marriage of Miss Lucile Marianne Crumm of Mount Ranier to Mr. Roscoe Daniel D--* of College Park took place last evening in the Mount Rainier Methodist Church, where the Rev. Clarkson R. Banes officiated at 7:30 o'clock.

[...]

The daughter of Mrs. Mildred E. Crumm, the bride was escorted to the altar by her grandfather, Mr. Christian Eckert, and given by him in marriage. She wore a gown of white satin made on princess lines with long sleeves, a sweetheart neckline and a full skirt ending in a train. Her veil was fingertip length and edged with lace and was held by a pearl trimmed net coronet. A necklace of pearls, the gift of the bridegroom, was her only ornament, and she carried a shower bouquet of white roses and lillies of the valley.

[...]

Out-of-town guests attending the wedding included Mr. and Mrs. George Eckert of Chicago and Mr. and Mrs. B.A. Kilby of Laurel, Md.

[...]

Mr. and Mrs. D-- will be at home after May 1 at the Prince George Garden apartments in Hyattsville.

* name omitted to prevent voyeuristic googling of this site.

I am fascinated by this sort of thing. Here are the lives of my forbears laid out from the grand to the mundane. My grandmother, who has never let me live down my frantic last-minute packing binge at the end of my senior year of college, is revealed as a young bride frantically throwing things in boxes.

I would not be born for another 33 years, yet I feel like I know these people.

The car

I was going through a box of papers, and came across this piece I wrote for a magazine class in college. The funny thing is that I'm still good friends with Brian, and he's perhaps even more eccentric now.
As we sit in my living room, my friend Brian keeps glancing anxiously out the window toward the parking lot where he parks his car. He is checking for tow trucks -- he is convinced that the parking company is out to get him.

He is obsessed by this.

Of course, his concerns are not totally unjustified. He just mailed a late payment, and the last time the company was convinced he owed money, his car was towed. But when you get right down to hi, there's something a little odd about Brian's relationship with his car.

"I think parking lot attendants are automatons," he tells me. "They're an unwitting part of the system." The "system," in Brian's world, includes parking attendants, the police, tow truck drivers, meter maids, and anyone else who tells him where he can park his car. (Or for that matter, how he can drive it -- he says he doesn't "believe in 'no right turn on red' signs.")

This is no idle pursuit. Brian spends an almost frightening amount of time coming up with ways to foil tow truck operators.

"If you park your car," he says, "leave the wheels turned in such a way that if the two truck pulls it out, the car will turn and smash into something!" And woe betide the poor schlub who does succeed in towing his car. There is a scrape on one of the doors left when his mother ran into a snow bank. "If my vehicle is ever towed," he says, "I'll have something to hold up against the towing company for damaging the car!"

I wonder if perhaps this kind of fanaticism runs in the family. Brian says that his uncle removes the starter from his engine whenever he parks it. And although he boasts that this technique once foiled a thief, you have to admit that there's something a little, uh, weird about taking a wrench to the engine every time you pull into a parking lot.

On top of everything else, Brian's car has a name. Baby. "I think of my car as feminine," he says. And by anyone's estimation, "Baby" leads a pretty sheltered life. Her oil gets changed religiously every 3000 miles, and her fluids are checked on a biweekly basis. She gets a wax job every time she heads for Syracuse. And Brian refuses to move the car, turn on the defroster, the radio, or any other accessory until the car has been running for at least 45 seconds. ("It puts strain on the engine.") And if Brian has to avoid hitting something or someone, Brian says he tries not to slam on the brakes. ("It would cause them to wear.")

Despite all this rationalization, you have to wonder if there is something else to this whole car obsession. For most people, a car is simply a device that gets them from point A to point B. Brian's car seems to fall into the category of loved one.

"Have you ever considered," I ask him, "that you might be using your car as a surrogate for a woman?"

"Shut up," he says. "I'll tell you when I have a girlfriend."

Wednesday, August 27, 2003

Blogging hiatus

The lack of blogging lately is due to piles of work and a desire to try to grab hold of the remaining bits of summer free time before my next class starts. Nothing personal. I'm sure I'll be blogging more regularly once I'm writing papers and have more incentive to procrastinate.

Quote of the weekend:

"It's like that movie Pay it Forward, only with toilets."

--My friend John, during a discussion on how the people who moved into his old house are taking out the toilet, which I believe was originally given to his mother, and giving it to him, and then he's taking the one out of his new house and giving it to someone yet to be named.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

Another anthrax victim

It appears that the archives of the National Enquirer are going to be destroyed because of potential Anthrax contamination. The building of AMI, publisher of the supermarket tabloid, has been sealed tightly with all of its contents in place for almost two years after severe anthrax contamination was discovered. Now a developer has acquired the building at a bargain-basement price in return for an agreement to decontaminate it. Part of the agreement states that he can destroy anything found inside.

Not that the Enquirer's archives are the most important archival collection out there. But they are a slice of American life, and it's tragic to see them destroyed.

For more, see this New York Times story.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Submerged in work, and frankly not loving my job right now. I applied for another out-of-state job, this time in NYC. Once again, I'm not entirely sure how serious I am, but I guess I don't really need to worry about it unless they call me back. Also contemplating joing the Peace Corps. Not seriously -- yet. I've thought about this before, and last time I started grad school instead. But that's going to be over by next May. So, who knows?

More angst, I know. I'm just worried I'm going to wake up one day and be 40 without having done anything but slaved away at a job. :-(

Alright, enough of this. Back to PHP.

Wednesday, August 13, 2003

Creative obfuscated spam of the day:

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Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Work.. And more of it.

Just got home from work at around 1:30 AM, and have to be back for a 9:00 AM monthly strategic planning meeting. I'm sort of hoping the meeting was cancelled since I haven't seen any of the usual reminder e-mails. But I figure I better show up just in case. Then another meeting at two, and another at 4:15. And none of these three are directly related to the product we're supposed to be launching.

So why was I at work so late tonight? I'm working on a collaborative development project with several other people, one of whom is at another branch of our company several hundred miles away. (This is my first experience using CVS, and I now don't know how I got this far without it.)

Right now I am little less enthused about the whole collaboration thing, though. About a week ago, we decided that we were going to lock in the database schema. So I went ahead and migrated a bunch of our old data so that we'd have something to test with (and eventually launch.)

Next thing I know, the other guy is making more changes to the schema. That's ok -- they're good changes, and they tack on to the end of what I've already done. Not a huge deal.

This afternoon, he e-mailed me again. Only this time he had totally reworked the structure of major chunks of the database, changing datatypes, altering field names, and generally wreaking havoc. So at about 6:00 PM I basically had to start from scratch and do another complete data migration to get it into the new, supposedly locked down for real, schema.

Once again, most of his changes are very good, and they will improve the product in the long run. But at the same time, I feel like I just wasted 8 hours of my life redoing work I'd already finished! And this sucker's got to launch in just over a week. Yikes - I feel some all-nighters coming on!

Layne points out that all-nighters are a "telltale sign of sucky planning and mismanagement." Or they could just be a sign of two many projects and not enough staff. Which, come to think of it, would fall under the heading of "sucky planning and mismanagement."

Oh, and the phantom Mary Kay truck basher hasn't returned my call. Maybe her two-year-old is screening her messages for her.

Monday, August 11, 2003

So precious I could puke...

The Mary Kay "Independent Beauty Consultant" who sideswiped my car over the weekend has some sort of unintelligible mesage from her two-year-old on her answering machine. This is the number that's on her business card, folks.

Oy.

Another reason to walk...

I was running late, as usual. I didn't even notice anything was wrong when I dashed out to my truck. When I pulled into my space at work, I looked down and saw something under the windshield wiper. I assumed it was an ad, and grabed it to throw away. It was a Mary Kay business card. On the back, it said
I'm sorry. I hit your truck. Please call so we can get my ins. info to you.
WTF??!? I began to walk around the truck, and at that point realized that the side had been bashed in and there was paint scraped off.

I don't exactly know when this happened, although I suspect it may have been on Saturday -- I heard the doorbell ring, but was not exactly fully dressed, and by the time I got to the door there was no one there. She left a business card, though, so I'm hoping she is well insured. But this is a hassle I did not need to deal with this week.

Over the river...

While I was in DC last weekend, the mayor officially opened the newly-refurbished Shelby Street Pedestrian Bridge. It's about time -- it has been closed and under construction pretty much since I moved to Nashville more than five years ago. So today I decided to go see the new span.

It is incredible -- definitely worth the long wait!

Shelby Street Bridge

The Shelby Street bridge, which has been also been called the Sparkman Street Bridge, the Broadway Bridge, the McGavock Street Bridge, and even the "Korean War Veterans 1950-53 Memorial Bridge," was originally built in 1909, along with a companion bridge at Jefferson Street that has since been replaced. The bridge was among the longest in the nation when it was completed.

The bridge was built in the midst of a great deal of commercial activity. On the east side of the river, it bisected the operations of the Nashville Bridge Company, which manufactured barges. A building (with an entrance at the bridge level) can still be seen, and the remains of derricks used for launching barges are also visible:

old Nashville Bridge Company building    Nashville Skyline with remains of barge works in foreground   

On the west side, the bridge descends over an old railway line, and emerges into the "SoBro" area -- that's what the Chamber of Commerce calls the area South of Broadway. In the 19th century, it was first known as "Black Bottom," a notorious slum containing "A conglomeration of dives, brothels, pawnshops, secondhand clothing stores, filthy habitations accompanied by the daily display of lewdness and drunkenness on the sidewalks and redolent with the stench of every vile odor," according to one resident. Later in the century it became known as Hay Market -- an area of town used for swapping cows, horses, and cow/horse paraphenalia. You can still see traces of this on some of the remaining buildings:

old American Steam Feed Company    Bar Nashville with old signs

The Bridge now emerges very near the square that is currently flanked by the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Hilton, and the Gaylord Entertainment Center. (Home of the recent Brewer's Festival for those of you who are keeping track at home.) The fourth side of this square is currently a Metro firehouse, but will soon be home to the new concert hall for the Nashville Symphony. (That's just a mural below -- the real building hasn't been started yet.)

Shelby Street Bridge looking toward GEC    mural of new symphony hall     Looking toward Bellsouth building from Shelby Street Bridge

The bridge itself is a joy to walk over. It soars high into the air, and offers superb views of the Nashville skyline, the river, the Coliseum, and even the new Gateway bridge being built to its south. (The Shelby Street bridge was deemed unsafe for vehicular traffic, so it was converted to a pedestrian bridge and a new bridge was planned to carry Shelby Avenue across the river.)

new Gateway bridge    Shelby Street bridge at dusk

The only downside is the noise, pollution, and visual blight created by the Nashville Thermal Plant, a humongous garbage incinerator built on the Nashville waterfront in the mid-1970s. At that point in history downtown was seen as a good place to send trash, demolish buildings to create parking lots, etc. Nowadays, Nashville is more interested in fostering a livable city, and the plant is scheduled to go away soon. There is some debate over what to do with the riverfront real estate it currently occupies, but the most interesting idea is to build a new downtown ballpark for the Nashville Sounds, our minor league baseball team. They currently play in an aging ballpark in a remote corner of the city that is only accessible by car. Moving this ballpark downtown near the shopping and entertainment district (and next to the bridge) would be a great idea -- keep your fingers crossed!

Nashville Thermal and Railroad spur    Looking up on Shelby Street Bridge     decorative railings on Shelby Street Bridge

I ended up spending several hours walking around on the bridge and downtown, and I'm seriously considering occasionally walking across the river to work. (The main barrier to this is my chronic inability to get up in the morning!)

In any case, this bridge definitely goes on my list of must-see Nashville attractions, along with Bicentennial Mall.

You can read more about the bridge right here. You can also see the rest of my pictures over at ClubPhoto.

Saturday, August 09, 2003

We have hot one. Please ask our stuff.

Bill is still gainfully employed as a performer at Tokyo Disney. He recently posted another batch of silly Japanese signs, packages, T-Shirts, etc. You can see the first two installments here and here.

Friday, August 08, 2003

A house in Richmond

Last weekend I flew up to Baltimore and then drove down to Richmond with my dad and brother to help my other brother move from his apartment to his newly-purchased house. (Purchased may be a strong word, since he's worked out that the bank owns all but about four floorboards.) After hitting crazy traffic on I-95, we finally made it to Richmond and got our first grand tour of the house.

It is actually not a bad place, but it suffers from an overdose of "little-old-lady" decor. It has institutional green walls in many of the rooms, vintage 1960s light fixtures, customized switch plates, and flowered contact paper on the kitchen cabinets. But overall it is in pretty good condition, and with some paint and minor remodeling it has real potential. It even has a back yard with a large shed that functions as a workshop -- I'm a bit jealous of that!

We spent the better part of two days trekking back and forth between the apartment and the house, lugging all of my brother's earthly possessions from one place to another. (I helped him move into his apartment in 2001, so I've done this drill before.) We finished up the moving on Sunday afternoon, and then focused on important moving tasks: we left the shower curtain for later, but got the Playstation working right away. (This was my first time playing Grand Theft Auto Vice City, and I think I'm hooked!

That evening, my brother and I went out shopping and bought another window air conditioner. While we were gone, my Mom arrived from DC to see the house. Since none of us were in any shape to eat out, we got carry-out fried chicken for dinner. We then traipsed back to Maryland around midnight.

  

   

  

Photos

Top Left: Our first look at the house.

Top Right: Daniel shows off his empty living room. This is the before picture -- after much grunting and perspiration it looked like the picture in the bottom row.

Middle Left: Dad and Patrick carrying an easy chair. Well, half of one anyway. Hopefully it was supposed to come apart that way!

Middle Right: One of many architectural details in the house. Every switch plate and light fixture is different. Note the green paint -- the photo doesn't do it justice.

Lower Left: Patrick carries Daniel's giraffe into the house. When we were little, our grandfather made one of these wooden giraffes for each of us, and we had them in our rooms growing up. Mine is still in the attic at home, but my brother took his with him to Richmond. I'm not sure quite where it ended up in the house.

Lower Right: Dad views the carnage in the new living room, while the cat begins exploring. We set her free from her cardboard carrier just in time -- she was making pretty good progress clawing her way out!

Thursday, August 07, 2003

The Seeing Eye

I know a man who has lived on one farm half a century. He sleeps in the room in which he was born in the dark. Yet his lambs and his pigs, the velvety roll of new sprouting wheat, the procession of seasons, the apple trees he palnted and has watched for years -- all are new to him each day. I have seen him stand and look at his sheep as if he were a city man long shut out from such sights. A sunset or a sunrise is to him a miracle new-performed each day. That man has the seeing eye. -- Detroit News
Published in the April 19, 1912 edition of the Carbon County News, which I found through the Utah Digital Newspapers project. Very cool.

Tuesday, August 05, 2003

Urk.

Back in Nashville, but too beat to blog. Look for updates on on my brother's new house soon, complete with photos of the vintage little old lady decor.

Sunday, August 03, 2003

On three, everybody lift...

I'm in Richmond with both brothers and my dad, helping move one of said brothers into his newly-purchased house. Details later.

Friday, August 01, 2003

So I open my wallet...

This is how you tell you really live in the South:

Those crazy southerners and their Confederate money...

Tuesday, July 29, 2003

Belated Sunday Update

On Sunday, I read most of Amelia Earhart's Twenty Hours, Forty Minutes, went to a company function at the Coliseum, walked along the river bank for a bit, drove up to Shelby Bottoms and hiked around the short loop (alas, no bunnies), then went home and watched The Restaurant.

My grand housecleaning ambitions for the weekend basically fizzled. Oh, well, at least I'm taking advantage of the no classes thing while I can.

  

   

Unbelievable...

As if the Bush defense department wasn't fucked up enough, it now basically wants $8 million to set up an online betting website so that people can place wagers on whether or not terrorists will attack or political figures will be assassinated. Proponents claim that the free market is better able to predict the future than intelligence analysts, so why not set up a "terrorism futures market."
One of the two senators, Byron L. Dorgan of North Dakota, said the idea seemed so preposterous that he had trouble persuading people it was not a hoax. "Can you imagine," Mr. Dorgan asked, "if another country set up a betting parlor so that people could go in — and is sponsored by the government itself — people could go in and bet on the assassination of an American political figure?"
And meanwhile on the homefront, the administration is busy trying to dismantle what remains of the nation's passenger rail system, creating record-breaking budget deficits, and coming up with tax cuts for the rich.

Sorry for the political benders lately, but a times I get very frustrated about some of these things, and blowing off steam here seems more constructive then yelling at the computer. For my next post, I promise something more fun and decidedly non-political.

Sunday, July 27, 2003

A principled position

Today's Washington Post Magazine has a great piece on John Brady Kiesling, the US dimplomat who resigned his post with a blistering letter criticizing the Bush administration's Iraq juggernaut.
In his April 25 speech at Princeton's Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, a couple of weeks after the fall of Baghdad, Kiesling made an explicit attempt to rally the internationalists. Princeton, he told the 200 or so students, faculty and foreign policy professionals in his audience, "used to be the heartland of a brilliantly successful foreign policy coalition" that shaped American diplomacy for most of the 20th century. It was a bipartisan alliance between liberal "Wilsonian idealists," with their humanist worldview, and the kind of conservative pragmatists who used international institutions to advance American economic interests. But the coalition now "lies in tatters," he said, and he offered his views on how this had happened:

September 11 offered a golden opportunity for anyone "savvy and unscrupulous enough to manipulate public fears," and the advocates of "hard-nosed neoconservatism" promptly seized it. They adopted "the power politics of the schoolyard as their model of human interaction" and reduced a complex moral universe to a permanent face-off between "the forces of light and the forces of darkness." They used "lies and half-truths" to build a case for invading Iraq as "a step toward a more complete power grab." As the neoconservatives began to drive American policy, old-school internationalists tried to come to terms with them, hoping to retain influence. But accommodation has proved no easy task.

"This is an administration at war, and you are with them or you are against them," Kiesling said.

[...]

Among Kiesling's former State Department colleagues you can find a variety of opinions on the need to forcefully remove Saddam Hussein. But there appears to be near-consensus on one point: American foreign policy in general has been dangerously militarized, and the diplomatic point of view devalued. [...] Chas. Freeman, the retired ambassador, is more direct. "We have a national mentality now that says, if you see a problem, shoot it! Because we know that we're very, very good at shooting things."

Free beer!

Well, sort of... We went to the second annual Music City Brewer's Festival, held in the park between the Gaylord Entertainment Center, the Country Music Hall of Fame, the Hilton, and the future site of the new Nashville Symphony Hall.

The deal is, you pay $20 to get in, and then you get a "bottomless cup" that lets you sample beer from a bunch of different brewers arrayed around the outside of the park. There is also live music, and part of the proceeds go to Second Harvest.

Altogether, a pretty great way to spend an afternoon. (The beer is free, but you have to pay a buck for the water!)

We hung out at the festival for most of the afternoon, then went and had dinner at Jack's Bar-B-Que, which serves the best barbeque in Nashville (in my opinion, that is!).Then back to the beer festival for a while longer. We finally closed out the night at Robert's Western World. Oh, and we took a few more catfish photos, too!

I walked from my house over to the park, which I like to think compensated in some small way for drinking beer all afternoon. The refurbished Shelby Street Pedestrian Bridge is scheduled to reopen next week, which will make it a lot easier to hike from one side of the river to the other. (Right now all the working bridges are clustered on the other side of downtown.)

Here are some photos:

  

  

  

You can check out some more right here.

Friday, July 25, 2003

Comptroller blames TDOT road fixation for poor air quality

This story appeared in the Tennessean this morning. Well, it's about freakin' time someone in government pointed this out. Hopefully this will lead to some more rational development and mass transit planning in Tennessee.

Nothing like a hard day's work...

The friend's closing was postponed due to building codes hassles. So there's more time to finish the various remaining projects. My contribution for today was to show up, gaze at the half-finished hearth tile that he was working on with another friend, and then go out to dinner with them.

Bumper Wit

A while back, someone over on the west side of the river had bumper stickers printed up saying "37212 -- It's not just a zip code, it's a way of life." Now one of the East Nashville listservs is buzzing because someone wants to print up matching bumper stickers for our side of the town. People are throwing out all sorts of suggestions. My favorites so far:
  • 37206: My zipcode can beat up your zipcode.
  • 37206: We'll Steal Your Heart AND Your Lawnmower.
  • 37206: The Police don't know where it is either.
  • 37206: We're the neighborhood your Mamma warned you about.
Heh. I love East Nashville, even if you do have to tie down your lawn furniture.

Thursday, July 24, 2003

FUNY W3B SIET!!!111!1 WTF

Following on the heels of automatic language translation services like Google Language Tools and Babelfish, The English-to-12-Year-Old-AOLer Translator can transform your writing so as to make it understandable by the average 12-year-old AOL junkie.

Of course, you've been able to use Google in your favorite language for years. Choices include Elmer Fudd, hacker, Pig Latin, and bork, bork, bork!

Paint and plaster dust

Another late night, this time helping a friend out with crazy home repair projects. He just bought a new house and moved into it. Now he has to close on his old house on Friday. Only he sort of never really quite finished some of the renovation stuff that was supposed to completed before the sale. So we spent several hours cutting and painting shoe molding to go around the interior of the house. We had to work around massive piles of dust, since his previous project was grinding down a concrete slab to even it out in preparation for tile.

Tomorrow I go to work, and he goes back to frantic home improvement land. If I can escape work at a reasonable hour, I'll probably head back over -- he has a real problem if he can't get everything shipshape by Friday morning!

Tuesday, July 22, 2003

Late night cinematic ramblings

Just watched Fellini's Roma for the first time. And most of it for the second time. It's quite bizarre, entirely plotless, blurring the lines between movie and documentary -- a collage of clashing imagery and jarring noise. For the most part, it's a dark and almost apocolyptic vision of the city and the world. I've only seen two Kubrick films, but this reminded me of his style. The film was made in 1972, and the conflicts of society at that time are very much in evidence.

Gore Vidal appears as himself, speaking in English dubbed in Italian and then subtitled in English. He says:

Rome is the city of illusions. Not only by chance, you have here the church, the government, the cinema. They all produce illusions, like you do and like I do. We're getting closer and closer to the end of the world because of too many people, too many cars, too many poisons. And what better city than Rome, which has been reborn so often? What place could be more peaceful to wait for the end from pollution and overpopulation? It's the ideal city for waiting to see if it will really come to an end or not.
For me, the most striking of the many disconnected scenes in the film portrayed the entry of the film crew into a subway tunnel being dug under the city. Rome has only two subway lines, and they don't service many of the most popular destinations. This is because it's almost impossible to dig tunnels without running into important archeaological finds. Fellini uses this as a device to make a statement about art and progress. We descend through a roaring wasteland of subterranean pipes, tunnels, and ruins until we reach the forefront of the excavation, where giant robotic claws are eating their way through the earth. The work stops because a another cavity has been detected. The guide is exasperated -- work will have to stop for another two months while the archaeologists get involved. One of the foremen looks ill. The team starts up the insect-like claw and begins burrowing a tiny hole through the loose dirt. Suddenly the hole opens up and air begins roaring into the cavity. The team climbs through and finds a perfectly preserved, 2000 year old Roman house, filled with beautiful sculptures and frescoes. The camera lands on a figure bearing a striking resemblance to the sick construction foreman. The explorers continue to wander, witnessing mosaics covered by luminous pools of water, and come to a room with even more brilliant lifesize artwork. All this time, air is roaring into the cavern. Suddenly, though, the frescoes begin to dissolve, destroyed by the air. The very act of witnessing the art has destroyed it.

I didn't appreciate the movie at first. It rambles, and it's not the sort of movie that yields a clear message without a lot of thought. But the more I watched it, the more I got in the groove of Fellini's bizarre worldview.

While we're in the foreign film vein, I guess I could also offer my thoughts on L'Auberge espagnole, which I saw with my mom and brother in the newly-restored Avalon Theater in DC when I was home a few weeks ago. Unlike Roma, this movie has a very clear political message -- in fact, you walk out of the theater feeling like you've been beaten over the head. The tone reminds me of the sort of proletarian epiphanies found in radical novels like Jews without money and Germinal.

In this case, however, the utopian vision is not of a socialist paradise, but instead of pan-European unity brought into being by the youth of the continent.

This no doubt sounds heavy, so I should back up and say that this film is, first and foremost, a very amusing comedy about a bunch of college students in a cramped apartment in Barcelona. In fact, you could easily mistake it for a feature length version of MTV's The Real World. The residents of the apartment are from many different countries, and despite their initial stereotypes and squabbles, they end up becoming fast friends. But the movie also functions at a more allegorical level (true to form, the British characters end up literally in bed with the Americans), and its position on the development of a trans-national European identity are clear. In some places, the film has been released under the English titles "Euro Pudding" and "Pot Luck," which pretty much sum up the director's vision.

Today's Washington Post has an article about the exact phenomena chronicled in the movie. It seems young people in Europe are traveling between countries and breaking down cultural barriers like never before. It strikes me that Bush's myopic foreign policy is probably giving wings to this trend -- it's easy for people from many cultures to find common ground in their dislike for American unilateralism and military posturing.

In any case, I recommend this movie. If you're looking for a light comedy, you can enjoy it at that level. If you want something to think about, it's got that too.

All right, enough of this. I'm going to bed.

Friday, July 18, 2003

Les fran├žais fous

France has banned the term e-mail. From now on, official documents are required to refer to electronic messaging as "Courriel."

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Unclear on the concept

I just got my second diet Coke bottle cap in a week offering "buy a dozen, get a dozen" donuts at Krispy Kreme. I wonder what part of diet Coke they don't understand.

Sunday, July 13, 2003

Please excuse my dear aunt sally...

Which stands for parentheses, exponents, multiplication, division, addition, subtraction. A mnemonic for the order of operations in equations. I'm having 8th grade math flashbacks. Scary.

ACME - For all your anvil needs

Matt over at Scrubbles points out that someone took the time to create a comprehensive catalog of every product ever produced by the ACME company, the favorite vendor of celebrities like Wile E. Coyote and Elmer Fudd. It's all in there -- from "Hen Grenades" to "Triple Strength Battleship Steel Armor Plate"

Yeah, yeah, I know. I'm supposed to be working on my exam. Can't a fella goof off just a little?

Friday, July 11, 2003

But what would G.I. Joe say?

A Seattle company is introducing a librarian action figure, complete with "Shushing action!" The figure is modeled after real life librarian Nancy Pearl. Nancy joins the ranks of other action figures from the company, including "Jesus, Sigmund Freud, Rosie the Riveter, Nico the Barista and a striped-shirted hipster/philosopher named Fuzz."

Stressin'

Busy trying to extricate myself from academic peril this week, so not posting a lot. (I really should not have gone home last weekend!) The class is over -- one way or another -- next week, so things might be a little more lively around here after that.

Wednesday, July 09, 2003

This just in:

Britney Spears Says She's Not a Virgin. I'm just in a state of shock. Good thing we have a free press to get the word out on this sort of thing.

Tuesday, July 08, 2003

Pictures!

  

  

  

You can check out some more right here.

Oh, yeah. Tracy, this one's for you!