Sunday, December 26, 2004

Christmas, as hurriedly dashed off in an e-mail to a coworker

Made it to DC ok -- although I didn't actually get out of Nashville until 10:00 on Thurs, so was worried about making it in time for my mom's Xmas eve services. Drove until about 3AM (4AM eastern), and then slept at Motel 6 for about 5 hours. Then drove another 6-7 hours and got in with an hour or so to spare. Then to the church, where I took photos for their website effort. Then to a party hosted by one of my mom's widower parishoners, at which he proposed marriage to his girlfriend! Then home, to bed. Today was a bit more laid back -- xmas presents and stuff in the AM and family dinner in the evening.

No snow here -- in fact, once I got a few hours away from Nashville everything was totally clear. It is cold, though -- I still have the remains of the Nashville ice storm on my truck.

Anyway, was checking in because I got a voicemail about a server problem. Need to sleep now!

Thursday, December 16, 2004

It's time of shutdown!!

One of the software packages we use at work was programmed by a ragtag band of Russian programmers hired at sweatshop wages following the collapse of the Soviet Union. They may have been C++ gurus, but their linguistic prowess didn't always extend to English. I'm always amused by the odd turns of phrase I find buried throughout the system. Like this one, from a log file generated by one of the servers:

It's time of shutdown!!

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

My own little paint factory?

I've been thinking a lot lately about the trajectory of my life. (Yup. It's going to be one of those "deep thoughts" posts. If you're looking for more laundry disasters and other typical NK pap, try back tomorrow.)

In some ways, I feel like I've always followed the path of least resistance when making major life-decisions. This seems like an odd statement, given how hard I work at the things I take on. But I feel like I've sometimes made decisions by default, basing them on the collective "common sense" of society and not on what I really want to do. My technology career is a perfect example: it's based more on a knack for the work than a deep passion. And lately I've been wondering if I really want to spend another 30 years doing more of the same.

I was struck by this tribute to a man I knew only as a wizened old movie reviewer with a cluttered office.

During his travels, Mr. Wyatt visited more than 100 countries. Over the years, he rode a camel by the pyramids in Egypt, lectured at a college in Kyoto, met with dissidents in pre-Velvet Revolution Prague and strolled among ancient Incan ruins in Peru. [...] Mr. Wyatt graduated from North (Nashville) High and David Lipscomb College and held a law degree from Vanderbilt University. He also studied Russian history and language for two years and took an Arabic language course at the University of Baghdad from 1945 to 1946. Mr. Wyatt served for 2½ years as a crypto analyst in the Military Intelligence Service, mostly in the USSR and the Middle East. [...]The longtime reporter, editor and lawyer merged his journalistic and legal interests in reporting on legal aspects of race relations in the 1950s.
Will my obituary be that interesting? Not at the rate I'm going. Here lies D-, struck down in his prime. He, umm, did something with computers.

As this was marinating somewhere in the back of my brain, I saw this story in the paper:

A mower, some cans and a dream of the Gulf

In mid-October, Bainbridge got bored with Indiana, his home for most of his adult life. Unable because of an injury from a severe auto accident to hold a job and unwilling to be trapped in "factory work" even if his back were stronger, the Hoosier said he "just felt like he had to get out while he could."

So Bainbridge, 44, cranked up his 34-year-old Massey Ferguson lawn mower — bought for a song for $35 — hitched on a small trailer that serves as his home on wheels and headed for the Gulf of Mexico … picking up a small mountain of discarded beer and soda pop aluminum cans to finance his trip along the way.

Last weekend, Bainbridge slowly rolled through Lebanon and into Murfreesboro on U.S. 231, attracting stares and a few waves.


If all goes as planned, he'll ride his lawn mower to the Gulf, dip his toe in the surf and "turn left."

"I'll go through Georgia and turn north. I've always wanted to go to Maine," he said.

Here's another guy whose obituary will not lack for interesting material. I was captivated by his ability to simply shake off "common sense" in pursuit of happiness. Then today I read Quitting the Paint Factory: On the virtues of idleness , an essay by Michael Slouka that finally brought this all together for me:
Increasingly, it seems to me, our world is dividing into two kinds of things: those that aid work, or at least represent a path to it, and those that don't Things in the first category are good and noble; things in the second aren't. Thus, for example, education is good (as long as we don't have to listen to any of that "end in itself" nonsense) because it will pre­sumably lead to work. Thus playing the piano or swimming the 100-yard backstroke are good things for a fifteen-year-old to do not because they might give her some pleasure but because rumor has it that Princeton is interested in students who can play Chopin or swim quickly on their backs (and a degree from Princeton, as any fool knows, can be readily converted to work).

Point the beam anywhere, and there's the God of Work, busily trampling out the vintage. Blizzards are bemoaned because they keep us from getting to work. Hobbies are seen as either ridiculous or self-indulgent because they interfere with work. Longer school days are all the rage (even as our children grow demonstrably stupider), not because they make educational or psychological or any other kind of sense but because keeping kids in school longer makes it easier for us to work. Meanwhile, the time grows short, the margin narrows; the white spaces on our calendars have been inked in for months. We're angry about this, upset about that, but who has the time to do anything anymore? There are those reports to re­port on, memos to remember, emails to deflect or delete. They bury us like snow.

The alarm rings and we're off, running so hard that by the time we stop we're too tired to do much of anything except nod in front of the TV, which, like virtually all the other voices in our culture, endorses our exhaustion, fetishizes and romanticizes it and, by daily adding its little trowelful of lies and omissions, helps cement the conviction that not only is this how our three score and ten must be spent but that the transaction is both noble and necessary.

[...] All of which leaves only the task of explaining away those few miscreants who out of some inner weakness or perversity either refuse to convert or who go along and then, in their thirty-sixth year in the choir, say, abruptly abandon the faith. Those in the first category are relatively easy to contend with; they are simply losers. Those in the second are a bit more difficult; their apostasy requires something more ….. dramatic. They are considered mad.

In the final analysis, Slouka relates the obsession with work and the antipathy toward idleness to proto-fascist ideals of the early 20th century -- and lays out his belief that America's obsession with "success" (as achieved through work) is destroying our democratic society. Idleness, as distinct from the commercialized idea of "Leisure", is necessary because it allows time for reason and informed decision-making:
Idleness is not just a psychological necessity, req­uisite to the construction of a complete human being; it constitutes as well a kind of political space, a space as necessary to the workings of an actual democracy as, say, a free press. How does it do this? By allowing us time to figure out who we are, and what we believe; by allowing us time to consider what is unjust, and what we might do about it. By giving the inner life (in whose precincts we are most ourselves) its due.


Could the Church of Work – which today has Americans aspir­ing to sleep deprivation the way they once aspired to a personal knowledge of God – be, at base, an anti-democratic force? Well, yes. James Russell Lowell, that nineteenth-century workhorse, summed it all up quite neatly: "There is no better ballast for keeping the mind steady on its keel, and sav­ing it from all risk of crankiness, than business.

Quite so. The mind, however, particularly the mind of a citizen in a de­mocratic society, is not a boat. Ballast is not what it needs, and steadiness, alas, can be a synonym for stupidity, as our current administration has so am­ply demonstrated. No, what the democratic mind requires, above all, is time; time to consider its options. Time to develop the democratic virtues of independence, orneriness, objectivity, and fairness. Time, perhaps (to sail along with Lowell's leaky metaphor for a moment), to ponder the course our unelected captains have so generously set for us, and to consider mutiny when the iceberg looms.

So what does all this mean for me? I don't know quite yet. But I've been thinking about it a lot lately.

There are some things I'd like to do that have always seemed somewhat incompatible with my day-to-day Office Space existence. For example, I'm attracted to the idea of iving in a foreign country long enough to become comfortable speaking the language. (The top candidates for this would be Germany, Austria, Switzerland, Spain, or somewhere in Central or South America, since I already have a slight linguistic headstart in German and Spanish. But I'm not all that picky.)

I've also been thinking about my longterm professional plans. Right now my job is split between a traditional techie job and managing an internal research library and archive. The techie stuff is lucrative, but there are big parts of it that I just don't enjoy that much, at least the way my job is currently structured.

On the other hand, I really enjoy a lot of the work I do in the library and archives. The problem is that my company really doesn't place that much value on this. Officially it's 15% of my job description. And in the constant battles over time and resources, things like organizing 70 years of photographic prints take a backseat to fixing laptops.

Furthermore, while I've had some training in archival management and now have several years of on-the-job experience, I'm smart enough to know how much I don't know. Most organizations that take this sort of thing seriously look for degrees in history, preservation, and library science. My liberal arts, journalism, and technology management background is a good start, but it's probably not enough to open some of the most interesting doors in the field. So I've been pondering what sort of course correction it would take to steer my career toward greener pastures. Perhaps the most likely scenario involves quitting my job and going back to school full time for a few years. (Maybe pursuing program like this.)

Of course, all these major life-changes would represent a huge financial hit -- something I'm still working through. But they might also be an opportunity to escape the corporate quicksand into which I fear I'm sinking. Maybe it's time for me to escape.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004


The Nashville Symphony's performance of Handel's Messiah (at the Ryman) ended at precisely the same time as the WWE Smackdown at the Gaylord Entertainment Center. Walking down lower Broadway, it was pretty easy to tell who had been to which event.

Monday, December 13, 2004

fade to orange

I was pouring bleach into the washing machine, and leaned the bottle against my dark gray t-shirt. Apparently there was a bit of bleach on the bottom. Now my shirt has an orange parabola emblazoned across the front. Drat.

On the other hand, since the shirt's ruined anyway, this may be a perfect opportunity to play with my new Clorox Bleach Pen (TM). Maybe if I further disfigure the shirt people will think I meant to do it in the first place.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

the hiatus

Obviously I've been pretty bad about blogging lately. There are a lot of reasons for that. For one thing, I used to use blogging to procrastinate on schoolwork. Unlike other procrastination techniques, I could actually tell myself that I was working. After all, I was in front of the computer, right?

Now that I've graduated, I am no longer spending as much non-work time in front of the computer. And my goofing off is taking other forms -- for example, I actually get to read books that don't appear on a syllabus.

Plus, I've been a bit down in the dumps for the last few weeks, and haven't felt like sharing my blues with the world.

But not blogging is cumulative -- the longer you don't do it, the harder it is to get back in the swing of things, because the more you've missed. So this post marks my effort to catch up and get back on track.

We'll begin with a list of things I've done in the last month, in occasionally almost chronological order:

  • Visited DC for a quick weekend with college buddies Aaron and Jay who were in town for a wedding.
  • Took cab from Union station to their hotel. Went out in the rain. Found trendy asian fusion restaurant. Ate. Went back to hotel bar. Hung out with wedding party. Drank. Returned to room. Slept.
  • Woke up. Walked around DC a lot. (8 miles or so, based on my quick calculations with a tourist map.) Met up with various other folks who happened to be in town.
  • Went to the World War II memorial, the Spy Museum (but didn't get in -- you need reservations! Who knew?), the Natural History museum, the new Museum of the American Indian, and various other places. Tried once again to go up the Washington Monument, but apparently after years of renovations on the inside, they have now closed it so that they can landscape the grounds.
  • Met with committees at Mom's church about technology and websites.
  • Back to Nashville.
  • Work and stuff.
  • Saw movies: I (Heart) Huckabees, Donnie Darko Director's Cut, and Primer. Is it just me, or have there been a lot of metaphysics flicks lately?
  • Went home for Thanksgiving.
  • Enjoyed life sans electricity for most of Thanksgiving day.
  • Learned that even gas ovens are now dependent on electric power. Yearned for a simpler time.
  • Explored alternatives: hooking the oven up to a car battery and cooking turkey in a trashcan were among the best options.
  • Started cooking Thanksgiving dinner around 4:00 when the power came back on.
  • Ate dinner at midnight.
  • Played family at Monopoly. Or actually an unauthorized "Urban Remix" edition created with contact paper and a color printer by one of my brother's Urban Promise pals.
  • Spent much time ordering and installing $5000 of computer equipment for my mom's office at the church. Get to do more of this at Christmas. Whee.
  • Went to Washington City Museum with my dad. Unfortunately, it's closing because they ran out of money. It's in the old main Carnegie library at Mt. Vernon Square, and has cool things like a giant illuminated aerial photo of the city that you can walk around on. Hopefully they'll figure out a way to get more money.
  • Went to community Christmas Tree lighting at my Mom's church. Took some photos. Would have been even better if I'd brought a tripod -- had to make do with balancing the camera on fenceposts.
  • Back to Nashville. Work. The usual.
  • As Tracy noticed, I went to the (night) Christmas Parade on my way home from work last week. It was pretty cool. really. Next time I'll bring gloves.
  • Got a new boss. Too early to tell how that's going to turn out.
  • Applied my pitiful sewing skills in an attempt to save various items of clothing. It amazes me that people actually wore clothes before the sewing maching was invented. No wonder the Roman Empire came up with the toga concept!
  • Made stew, but burned it a bit because a friend called. Chicken/vegetable/matzoh ball soup. That one turned out better.
  • Got new down pillows as a belated birthday present from my parents. Last night was the first time I used them, but I didn't get to savor them in the morning due to a work emergency. Gak.
  • Finally got paid for the freelance photo/web design job I did in October. And got a dividend check from my insurance company for $46. Yay!
Ok, now I'm all caught up and stuff. So I should be able to blog about my normal silliness without feeling like I'm leaving things out.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Bridal Veil Falls

Bridal Veil Falls

Another test -- this time I'm trying Flickr's ability to blog photos via e-mail. And yet another image from out west this summer, this time of Bridal Veil Falls in Oregon.

Crater Lake

Crater Lake
Originally uploaded by D-.
I just set up an account with flickr, which I'm hoping will make it a lot easier to quickly post photos to this blog. As a test, you should be seeing a photo I took at Crater Lake over the summer.

Monday, November 15, 2004

Back from a tiring yet awesome weekend trip to DC. Will try to post more later, but now must sleep.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

24 hours I would rather forget

It started yesterday morning. I got up late and had a slightly lazy morning at home owing to the fact that I knew I'd be stuck at work dealing with elections until early the next morning.

One of my shamefully-bourgeous habits hiring a cleaning service to come in and remove the top layer of crud once every two weeks. (I started this last year, and it has definitely improved my bachelor pad standard of living.) The normal arrangement is that they are supposed to come Tuesday afternoons. Only their definition of afternoon keeps creeping earlier and earlier. Yesterday it creeped to 11:30 AM, a time when I was happily ensconced in the shower with the bathroom door wide open. I knew they had arrived because I heard people walking around the house. When they realized I was in the shower, they were apparently too flustered to turn off the burglar alarm. So the atmosphere of confusion was enhanced by a loud siren started emanating from the roof of my house.

I staggered out of the shower in a towel, shut off the alarm, and made peace with the assembled masses.

Believe it or not, the day got worse after that.

I finished dressing and cleared out of the house, only to discover (of course) that my truck wouldn't even begin to turn over. It just made a sickly clicking sound when I turned the key. So I bugged one of the cleaning folks to give me a jump start, and things were looking up until I got about a block away and the car died again. Admitting defeat, I called Triple-A, who said they would send someone within an hour to tow it.

They told me that they could call me when the driver was 25 minutes out, so I decided to take a chance. The most important thing I had to do yesterday was vote. So I abandoned my car and hoofed it from my house to the polling place. (I know, I should have voted early. I've already heard that one.)

After waiting in a short line, I was signing my name on the voter roll when my phone rang. The AAA dude said that the tow truck was on its way. So I boogied into the booth, pressed the button for Kerry, and skeedaddled. But as I was walking out the door, AAA dude called back to say that he had screwed up, and that the tow truck was actually already waiting at my car. Ack! So I double-timed it back down to my house, luckily making it before the tow truck driver got fed up and left.

Next was the ride over to CarMax, all the way listening to the tow truck driver tell me how much better his personal truck was than the borrowed truck he was using.

After dropping off the car, I waited around until a friend from work picked me up, and then worked until sometime in the neighborhood of 3:00 AM. (Typical election night in the newsroom: bad food and stressed people yelling a lot.)

Finally went to bed around 5:00 AM, at which point there was still hope that the mysterious provisional ballots in Ohio might yet salvage the Kerry campaign. By the time I woke up at 11:00, the illusion had worn off, and Kerry had called Bush to concede.

So I sit here now digesting the fact that I live in a country full of people who think the Iraq war has been a success, that the economy is just dandy, thankyouverymuch, and that the most important public policy issue for the new millenium is making sure that Steve and Roy can't marry.

Furthermore, the mechanic just called. We've now broken the $500 mark.

Today I am 29 years old.

Sunday, October 31, 2004

Like a swarm of locusts with a sweet tooth

Last year I only got a few Trick-or-Treaters, so I wasn't expecting all that many this year. Even so, I loaded my trusty tin bucket 3/4 full of candy just in case.

But for some reason, this year is different and I'm getting hoardes of kids. 2/3 of the candy is already gone, and it's only 7:00! I have this bad feeling that I might run out before the night is through.

Furthermore, the annoying yappy dog next door just wouldn't shut up. Whenever he's left outside after dark (which unfortunately happens with great frequency) he barks pretty steadily. But tonight with the masses of costumed critters around the 'hood, it was especially bad. Furthermore, my usual trick of drowning it out with headphones or the TV wouldn't work, because I needed to listen for Trick-or-Treaters. So after about an hour and a half of continuous barking, I finally got fed up, called the neighbors, and asked if they could PLEASE put the dog inside. I feel like Scrooge McNeighbor, but at least I can finally hear myself think!

Monday, October 18, 2004

"How far down the rabbit hole do you want to go?"

It's appropriate that the title of What the #$*! Do We Know!? (AKA 'What the bleep do we know?') is a question, because the film is more about stirring up a tasty goulash of provocative questions than it is about providing any sort of concrete answers. It has been criticized by a number of scientific and religious authorities. And it is one of the few times I can remember a movie audience applauding during the closing credits.

I went to see this movie last night simply because I saw the title on Fandango, clicked through to a description, and decided it sounded interesting. I had no agenda going in. Coming out, I'm not sure. I can say for sure that it's been quite a while since a movie made me think this much.

The film is an effort to relate quantum physics, spiritual mysticism and elements of post-modern thought into a coherent worldview that rejects the idea of objective reality and instead emphasizes the power of thought to influence reality. All this is done through a narrative storyline featuring Marlee Matlin as a neurotic photographer in Portland, Oregon, a bunch of truly phenomenal computer graphics, and a series of talking heads -- everyone from physics professors to "Ramtha," a 35,000 year old prophet allegedly being channeled by a psychic.

In clicking around the Web, I've seen it described as "The Matrix without the robots and computers." I've seen it described as a promotional flick for a new-age cult. I've seen it described as pseudoscientific bunk. In this public radio program, the director shrugs off criticism. He was trying to make people ask questions, he says. That people have a strong reaction to it shows that it worked. The show also features a skeptic of the film and a physicist interviewed in the film, and the two go several rounds about whether the scientific claims hold up. One of the folks on this show said something along the lines of "skepticism is important -- no one should accept ideas blindly without questioning them. But at the same time, skepticism only maintains the status quo. It takes leaps of imagination to move forward."

Interestingly, the idea that advanced physics may provide a theoretical framework for spirituality also popped up in Angels & Demons, a Dan Brown paperback I recently picked up while stranded at National Airport. As a novel, I thought this book wasn't that great (it read like a rough draft for his later and more well known The Da Vinci Code). But one of the premises of the book is that the Vatican had been secretly supporting quantum physics research at CERN because it offered the possibility of resolving conflicts between science and religion. Remarkably similar to the science-spirituality connections hinted at by "What the bleep."

One of the scientists interviewed in the film tells a story about how when the American Indians who first saw Columbus' ships come over the horizon, they literally did not see ships. Instead they saw a large wave in the ocean. They had never seen large ships, so their worldview did not permit such a thing to exist. It was only after a spiritual leader spent several days staring at the sea that he perceived that these were ships bearing people. At this point he passed on this knowledge, and the worldview of the community changed.

Whether or not this story is apocryphal, it effectively encapsulates the concept behind this film -- that the way we perceive the world is rooted in our preconceptions, and that a total paradigm shift is necessary to truly understand human consciousness. Furthermore, advanced science can be integrated with traditional religion to create a new unified worldview.

I honestly don't know what to make of all this, but it already inspired me to spend several hours online reading about physics and mysticism. Fascinating stuff whether or not you buy into film.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Mouse Hunt

The cat cornered yet another mouse, and this time I got to watch the process. I first became aware that something was afoot when I heard a crash in the dining room followed by a squeak and some scuffling. My cat then tore into the office making strange noises and with something hanging out of her mouth. It was yet another mouse.

Here's the thing. Being felis domesticus of the well-fed, 21st century persuasion, my cat apparently views mice not as food, but as self-propelled playthings. So rather than delivering the death blow, she would periodically let the mouse go and then chase it again. This went on long enough to do several complete circuits of the office and dining room while I devised a gameplan to end the carnage.

My eventual plan involved putting on shoes (I had been lazing around barefoot), donning a pair of work gloves, and grabbing my trusty 5-gallon orange Home Depot bucket. I then joined the chase around the dining room. Eventually the cat cornered the mouse near the curtains, after several false starts, I manged to shake the mouse into the bucket from the bottom of the drapes where it had taken refuge. (The cat, not realizing what had happened, is still skulking around the drapes waiting for the mouse to re-emerge.)

The mouse seemed remarkably calm once it got into the bucket. I think it realized it had been given a reprieve from hours of torture by Goldie the Cat. I walked it to the vacant lot across the street and released it, hoping that maybe it won't feel like crossing the street to come back.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

The natural order of things

I have my own little "Wild Kingdom" situation going on in the house. Lately I've heard a bit of skittering in the walls. My suspicion that a mouse family had taken up residence were confirmed a couple of weeks ago when I found a dead mouse in the dining room. It was reasonably intact, and I thought perhaps it had died laughing at the cat's efforts to stalk it. (I had noticed her spending a great deal of time staring at the refrigerator -- presumably the doorway to mouse HQ is somewhere back there.)

Early this morning, I arrived home to find a smug looking cat and a another thoroughly disembowled mouse on the dining room rug. And I mean thoroughly. We're talking decapitation and mutilation, folks. I'm writing this entry as in order to avoid the task at hand, which is picking up the pieces. Ugh.

Hopefully that's the last mouse. I'm not looking forward to much more of this.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Keeping up with the news...

Today's highlights:

Sunday, October 10, 2004

Democracy in action

Last night I escaped from work around 8:30 and dashed over to Two Doors Down, a sports bar where a bunch of Democrats and fellow travelers were getting together to watch the debate. A friend at work told me about this, and I figured it would beat watching it at home or the office. (More beer, if nothing else.) The crowd was pretty tough on Bush, and frankly it was somewhat inspiring to be in a room with a bunch of other people who are fired up about actual issues -- the war, environmental laws, erosion of civil liberties, etc. A pleasant break from the constant horse-race coverage of attack ads and spin.

As the night wore on, one thing led to another, and I suddenly found myself coughing up the $7.50 for a ticket to Michael Moore's appearance at the GEC.

Tonight's event, sponsored by the Music Row Democrats, was kicked off by the head of the Kerry campaign in Tennessee. He introduced a theme present throughout the evening: Kerry could still win Tennessee.

This being music city, there was also a strong musical presence. MRD unveiled Takin' My Country Back a new song produced by Honky Tonkers for Truth. [MP3], and "Bob Something" of Monkey Bowl weighed in with two songs, including Al Gore, featuring a taped cameo by none other than Al Gore, who lives down the street from him in Belle Meade.

The musical headliner, however, was a short acoustic set by Steve Earle, who said he turned down a gig in Arizona to be in Nashville because "we're not giving up on winning Tennessee."

Earle then introduced Moore, who I believe had been watching the opening acts from a seat a few rows in front of mine. He donned his trademark red baseball cap and arrived onstage as disheveled as ever. The crowd, while certainly not a sellout for the arena, was surprisingly large -- and clearly in Moore's corner all the way.

I'll be up front with you about Michael Moore. I don't agree with everything he says. I think in some ways he is to the left as Rush Limbaugh is to the right -- a rabid ideologue with a tendancy to assume the worst about his opponents. That said, I think by-and-large he makes valid points about many things, especially the war in Iraq. And if nothing else he helps stir up debate important issues and balances out the culture of right-wing talk radio television.

The speech was mostly the same schtick that has already made news elsewhere (including the infamous giveaway of ramen noodles and underwear to folks who didn't vote in the last election.) There were, however, a number of interesting factoids buried in the rhetoric. For example, he drew a contrast between the $18 million or so spent by the 9/11 commission to investigate how to prevent future terror attacts and the $75 million or so spent by the Office of the Independent Council to investigate Bill Clinton's personal life. Moore also predicted that if US foreign policy doesn't change, the country will be forced to reinstate the draft simply because there will no longer be enough volunteers to sustain our military commitments abroad. A bold statement, but perhaps plausible given the manpower problems being encountered in the military as the Iraq quagmire drags on.

Moore said that his next film is going to be about the pharmaceutical industry. Word has leaked out, he said, and Pfizer -- the company that brought you primetime impotence commercials -- is worried. Moore read from a memo that he said was distributed within the company warning staff to be on the lookout for a "a bearded, heavyset man with rumpled clothing and a microphone." If Moore began asking questions, the memo continued, staffers should immediately call a hotline number to report it. This got a good laugh, and the entire arena simultaneously whipped out their cell phones to program in the number for the Pfizer "Michael Moore Hotline." (For reference, it's 212-573-1226, which a Google search reveals as the the number of one of the company's PR flacks.) Moore suggests giving them a buzz on Monday and saying in a whisper "He's heeere... Inside the house....!!!"

After the event, I wandered around downtown for a bit and then strolled back across the bridge to East Nashville. On the way I chatted with a (possibly homeless) man who was headed in the same direction. He says that he's been back in Nashville for six months and has been looking for work, but that the temp agencies and day labor places where he used to be able to get work are now mobbed with unemployed jobseekers.

During our conversation, he tossed off the standard line that Bush and Kerry are just two sides of the same coin, and that neither of them would make the economy better. I retorted that while Kerry might not be ideal, could he really do any worse than Bush? That brought a snort of agreement. Perhaps this isn't the best criteria for choosing a president, but one I'm pretty comfortable with at this point.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Speaking of animals...

If I were a dog, I would most certainly bite anyone who tried to dress me as Raggedy Ann. I'm just sayin'...

Blessing of the Animals

I was in DC this weekend for several reasons, including a freelance gig photographing a reunion and an attempt to burn my U.S. Airways frequent flyer miles before the company goes under. It happened to be "Blessing of the Animals" day at my mom's church, so I ended up photographing that as well.

Blessing of the Animals

Unfortunately, my good digital camera is in the shop, so this weekend I was using a combination of my point and shoot Powershot S45 (gives decent results in good light, not so much with the flash), and a new EOS Rebel TI that I bought so as to be able to use my canon lenses and stuff with film. After realizing how much it's going to cost to process the 11 rolls I shot, I'm reminded why I like digital so much! :/

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

Something to aspire to:

"The path to profitability, as Peters sees it, is simple. He wants the PBA (Professional Bowling Association) to be Nascar with fewer crashes and slightly better teeth."

(Don't laugh... According to the article professional bowling now has more TV viewers than NHL hockey.)

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

Two weekends in Nashville

I've been in a bit of a funk lately, and my DSL has been going down every five minutes, give or take. So between those things, my blogging willpower has been pretty dismal. That said, here's an all-at-once update. After the marathon week at work, my brother did show up last weekend. The summer camp where he was working is done for the year, and he's now on a tour of the south before heading back to work at Urban Promise for the school year. This was his first time in Nashville in several years, and we made it count. Activities included:
  • Dinner at Jack's Barbeque on lower Broad, followed by a trip to The Grande Ole Opry
  • A trip to the farmer's market for vittles, followed by a kebab cookout and a DVDs-I-already-have movie night.
  • Me going to work while he went hiking at Fall Creek Falls.
  • Heading to Davinci's for pizza, followed by the Saucer, where we watched Olympics and waited many moons for our beer to arrive.
  • Brunch at the Pancake Pantry
  • Wandering around downtown and going to Hatch Show Print -- where I made friends with the staff and got to explore behind the scenes a bit. (Maybe some pictures to come if I can ever stay online long enough to upload them.)
  • Electric guitar shopping at Valley Arts. My brother was a music major, and already has a string bass, an electric bass, and an acoustic guitar. But he lacked an electric guitar. My parents had agreed to buy him one as a graduation present last year, but hadn't actually purchased it on account of not knowing anything about guitars. It had been languishing until now, and we figured Nashville was probably a pretty good place to be in the market for that sort of thing. Alas, we discovered that he could save $40 of outrageous Tennessee tax by shipping it back to Maryland, so I didn't get to play around with it. Maybe over the holidays...
  • Ate dinner at the Sylvan Park Cafe, home of the best Southern comfort food in Nashville. Then tore around town despterately trying to buy a 6-pack of GooGoo Clusters, because...
  • The Nashville Sounds were having "buy one ticket get one free when you show up with a 6-pack of GooGoo Clusters" night. Even when you add in the extra gas we spent driving around, it was still a good deal. (Hint: the little yuppie market in Sylvan Park and the Eckerd on West End were both found lacking. The Foodland on West End is the place to go for all your GooGoo needs.)
  • My brother wanted to leave at the crack of dawn on Wednesday, since he was heading for Roanoke next, and that's a good day's drive. Only problem was that he had been driving, and we forgot that I had abandoned my car at the office after work on Monday. So I also had to either leave at the crack of dawn, or walk to work. Normally walking to work in return for an extra hour or two of sleep might be a good deal. But since it was pouring rain, I decided to take the ride instead.
So that was my exciting last weekend. This weekend I basically did very little productive, but many different things...
  • Started a book on the personalities behind the development of the atomic bombs in the 1940s and 1950s. Interesting, but not a quick read. Still going on that one.
  • Puttered around the house.
  • Wished my DSL was working.
  • Did a bit of laundry.
  • Wished my DSL was working.
  • Watched The Killing Fields off my ReplayTV
  • Went out to brunch with a friend at The Red Wagon.
  • Drove around aimlessly.
  • Browsed at CompUSA but bought nothing of substance.
  • Went to Border's, bought a travel book about South America, a photography book, and a Kafka anothology.
  • Read The Metamorphesis for the first time.
  • Wondered what that guy was smoking, anyway.
  • Wished my DSL was working.
  • Went to see The Corporation at the Belcourt. It was thought provoking. The filmmakers are dead on in their diagnosis of the problem with big corporations, but they failed to offer workable solutions. As this review points out, governments can make just as big a mess of things as big companies.

    <soapbox>Another thing that grated on me a bit were slightly snide comments by the narrator regarding "pollution tax credits" and related programs that give companies a market incentive to behave responsibly. Rather than present these as a way to charge companies for the externalities that they're responsible for, the narrator breathlessly proclaimed that "corporations even want to own the air we breathe!" This really misses the point -- that these programs reinforce the idea that the environment is a shared resource, and people should have to pay if they mess it up.</soapbox>

    Anyhow... I recommend seeing this if you get a chance.

So that's what I've been up to. Whee.

Monday, August 23, 2004

In good company

Seems I'm not the only one who got a speeding ticket while on vacation in Oregon...

Monday, August 16, 2004

Molasses in January

I'm no expert on the guts of databases, but as far as I can tell there is no reason on God's green earth that this

insert into soccerstats
from soccerstatsold s 
left join games on (
(s.game_id = games.old_id) and 
('7' or'14'))

should be taking over eight minutes to run. It's maddening! Think I need to get a copy of this.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

I've been back for a while, but have been massively busy with work. In case you haven't already gathered, I work for "the Media" -- although I hate that term, because it's often used to imply some sort of massive global information conspiracy, and I personally know that my company couldn't effectively conspire its way out of a paper bag. But I digress.

The point of all this was that my workload tends to fluctuate depending on various cyclical news events -- at the moment, primary elections and high school sports. Plus our company has a management retreat in two weeks so we've got reports to write and powerpoints to slog through. Plus my brother is coming to visit during the same week. And at the moment one person in my department is out sick, and another is on vacation. So, yeah, things have been a bit crazy.

Anyway, in the meantime, I'll leave you with a nifty link to this story in today's paper about this guy who makes pop-art using etch-a-sketches. Very cool. There's only one photo in the article, but here's his actual website.

Thursday, July 29, 2004

A picture or two

I was planning on putting more pics here, but haven't quite gotten to it. Uploading pictures to ClubPhoto is painful over dialup, and I'm too tired/lazy to resize the ones I want to show manually. I did send a few yesterday, so I'll whet your apetite:

Bouquet Toss

Chandelier Tree     Northern California Coast

Mixed bag:

The Good

  • saw Crater Lake, several nifty waterfalls and lots of chipmunks.

The Bad

  • accidentally got a massive speeding ticket (was busy listening to John Edwards' speech at the Democratic Convention, not paying any attention to my speed until I saw the blue lights.)

  • Despite this, pushed on to Eugene, only to find out that it is hosting the "Junior Olympics." This means that virtually every hotel room in town is full of rowdy teens. After trying 4 places (and calling others out of town,) I found one with a cancellation. My room has a stuffed dalmation in the corner. Scary.

  • Realized that I totally overbooked this trip. Something's going to have to give. Think tomorrow I'm going to head for the coast and meet up with my parents for a day or two. Not sure what after that.

  • Not really bad, but just funny: I ran into the stuck SUV people again Crater Lake. They thanked me again for pushing.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

"This is definitely the best drive-thru tree I've ever seen"

The day started out with a cruise up the remains of Highway 1, later merging onto US 101. The fog burned off early on, and the scenery was again gorgeous. Along the way I took a quick detour to drive through a massive 2400-year-old redwood tree. (The quote above was overheard from one of the bystanders.)

Somewhere near the California-Oregon border, I crossed a bridge and saw a herd of elk lounging on the banks of the river. There was a turnoff ahead, so I pulled over to see if I could get a closer look.

Several other people had the same idea. At first I followed their lead and bushwhacked my way through a grove of stinging nettles (ouch!) to get closer. The view wasn't that great, however.

On my way back to my car, I realized that there was a dirt road leading down to the gravel and sand-covered river bed. I was driving a rental car, and there was no way I was going to risk burying it. But I walked down the road to get a closer look.

Some folks, however, didn't share my prudence. One dumbass in particular drove his front-wheel drive SUV down, and then proceeded to bury it up to the axels in sand. His driving showed a remarkable lack of common sense -- he was able to back up, but rather than simply backing out of the sand onto firmer ground, he went a few feet and then zoomed forward to have another go.

After watching this little show for a few minutes, I offered to help push. The guy's wife also got out to help, and a Korean tourist pitched in. The three of us waded into the sand and began frantically pushing, eventually dislodging the underpowered SUV. Unfortunately, however, I lost my footing in the sand when the vehicle started moving and did a split -- ripping a rather noticable hole in my pants.

Not content to be a Good Samaritan/sucker once in a day, about an hour later I was driving down a road and was flagged down by two adults and about 10 kids standing in the middle of the road. A shirtless guy explained to me that they were out of gas, and asked for a ride to a gas station. I wasn't in a huge hurry, so he climbed in with one of the kids and we headed to a Chevron station about 10 miles up the road. While riding, however, it emerged that the guy didn't actually have money to pay for the gas. So I ended up subsidizing a few gallons for them. It may be they were really in trouble -- or that they have just hit on a scam for getting a few gallons of free fuel. Who knows? In any case, I'll live without the $6.

Spent the night at a Motel 6 in Medford, Oregon. Today I'm off to Crater Lake, and then heading back toward the coast.

Tuesday, July 27, 2004


Ended up doing the last hour in the dark after a slow drive up CA route 1 yesterday. Spectacular scenery during the brief interludes between clouds and fog, though. Accidentally went through San Francisco again when I took the wrong turn onto the Oakland Bay Bridge. Once I got back out across the Golden Gate, headed to Muir Woods for an hour or two, and then off up the coast. Ate dinner in a decent but very overpriced place designed to look sort of Russian. Amazingly managed to find a $48 hotel room. That's where I am now, but heading out soon. Hopefully will at least make Oregon today. And hopefully the fog will go away so that I can actually see the scenery!

Monday, July 26, 2004

Back again

The laptop has randomly started working again, but in a rush right now. Might be able to post more later. Here's the quickie version of what I did over the weekend:

  • Rode the train into SF with my brother and mom. Walked up to Union Square. Took a cable car across the city to the Hyde Street Pier/Ghirardellhi Square area. Wandered around. Took the Muni back through the city, and then rode the train back to Pleasanton. Changed and went to the rehearsal dinner at the Pleasanton Hotel in old town.

  • Sunday, we got up late, went to "Dean's," a local fixture that serves every omelet under the sun (including some with clams and other oddities). Mine was hot peper, Italian sausage, and spinach. Very good. Then my mom and dad went antiquing, while my brother and I drove across the Oakland Bay Bridge, through San Francisco, and across the Golden Gate Bridge. We then stopped and walked around the bridge for a bit, and then hightailed it back to Pleasanton for the wedding. We got dressed and headed over to the Wente vineyards in Livermore, where the wedding was held. There were about 120 people there, and dinner and dancing went on into the night.

  • Getting a late start today for several reasons, but my plan is to drive up the California coast toward Oregon.

If the laptop keeps working, I'll try to post a few pictures tonight.

Sunday, July 25, 2004

In the dark...

Unfortunately it appears that the backlight in my laptop screen has suddenly up and died. Right now I'm managing to use the machine by aiming a desklamp at the screen and squinting, but it's not pleasant. So I may be somewhat out of touch for the remainder of the trip.

Saturday, July 24, 2004

"The Desperate Town in the West"

After a 4.5 hour flight from Nashville next to a reasonably well-behaved baby, I'm now camped out at a hotel in Pleasanton, CA. According to in-room literature provided by the helpful folks at Hilton:

In the mid 1850s bandits and desperados gave Pleasanton the title of "the Desperate Town in the West." Main Street shootouts were not uncommon. Infamous bandits, such as Joaquin Murrieta, would ambush prospectors on their way from the gold fields and seek refuge in Pleasanton.

So far all I've seen is two Interstates, a Denny's and a Home Depot. I'm going to be disappointed if I don't get to meet a few desperados while I'm here.

Not sure what the plan is tomorrow except that the rehearsal dinner is in the evening. Might try to go into San Francisco for a bit.

Thursday, July 22, 2004

Car bomb at Opry Mills?

This is bizarre. Some guy's car blew up (with him in it) in a remote corner of a mall parking lot.

We already have his neighbors weighing in: "I have to be honest, we have always been afraid something was going to happen," says one.

Of course, this story is getting buried by the much more weighty material. The Titans are dropping Eddie George.

Monday, July 19, 2004

The Saddest Music Movie in the World

I saw this movie. I like artsy flicks as much as the next guy. And if you're looking for some interesting visual effects, it might be worth a glance. But otherwise this is simply a piece of disorganized filmmaking that revels in its own artsiness without actually making much of a point. Sure you can glean meaning from it. If I try hard enough, I can glean meaning from a pile of rotten broccoli. (I am an English major after all! <g>) But that doesn't mean I have to happily fork over $8 to do it.

I have a tolerance for bad movies that don't purport to be anything special. For example, I'm willing to (somewhat) forgive the makers of the insanely-bad Stepford Wives remake, because it was obviously intended as summer-movie pap. But when a director goes out of his way to show off how artistic and avant-garde he is, he better have something to back it up. In this case, Guy Maddin comes up with nothing.

For what its worth, I remember having a similar reaction to this.

Sunday, July 18, 2004

They say money can't buy happiness. But if it could...

Two economists, apparently tired of letting those psychology prima donnas grab all of the juicy sex headlines, have taken it upon themselves to study the economics of sex and happiness. According to the New York Times:
In their study ["Money, Sex and Happiness: An Empirical Study"], Mr. [Andrew J.] Oswald and Mr. [David G.] Blanchflower analyzed the self-reported sexual activity and levels of happiness of more than 16,000 American adults who participated in a number of social surveys since the early 1990's. (Happiness is notoriously difficult to define, and the surveys make no attempt to do so; the respondents simply record how happy they believe themselves to be on a sliding scale.) By factoring out the measurable effects of other life events, the study revealed, to no one's surprise, that, "The more sex, the happier the person."

Furthermore, the economists compared the levels of happiness produced by a vigorous sex life with other activities whose economic values had been calculated in prior research, allowing them to impute, in dollars, how much happiness sex was worth. They also estimated that increasing the frequency of sexual intercourse from once a month to at least once a week provided as much happiness as putting $50,000 in the bank.

A lasting marriage, by comparison, offers about $100,000 worth of happiness a year -- that is, on average, a single person would need to receive $100,000 annually to be as happy as a married person with the same education, job status and other characteristics. Divorce, on the other hand, imposes an emotional toll of about $66,000 a year, though there may be a short-term economic gain from the immediate relief provided by leaving your spouse.

So, the way I figure it, that means that happily married folks should have to pay more income taxes!

Oswald acknowleges that there are some limitations to his statistical methodology, but he says it's difficult to carry out controlled experiments in the field. "It would be great to assign Mr. and Mrs. X a certain amount of sexual activity and a certain amount of income, and see how it impacts their happiness," he said. "But I think it would be hard to get government funding."

Here's the actual study (PDF), but be warned that it has, like, numbers and stuff! ;-) The NY Times story is now stuck behind their paid archive, but you can read a similar account over here.

Westward ho!

One of my projects for the weekend has been planning my upcoming trip to California/Oregon/Washington.  I made my plane reservation to get to San Francisco for the wedding several weeks ago.  But my plans were very vague. So I've been trying to hammer down the details -- I've been camped out at Fido all afternoon with my travel books and computer.

When I went to Mexico City, I was able to find a family owned guesthouse in the heart of the metropolis for about $30/night. Alas, I'm quickly realizing that traveling to the high-rent district that is the Pacific Northwest is an entirely different story. In the U.S., guesthouses of the sort I've encountered in Italy or Mexico have been pushed out of the market by the the ubiquitous chain motels that spring up like mushrooms around Interstate exits.  So if you're looking to stay "in town" in a place with a bit of character, you end up perusing the "Bed and Breakfast" market -- complete with antique furniture in the room, breakfast served on crystal, and a hefty price tag.  Definitely overkill. But I'm really not thrilled about spending every night in a generic motel room out by the Interstate -- I want to be where I can walk around and sightsee, and where I'm likely to meet other people in the process. So that makes things a bit more complicated.   

Plus, the stuff I'm interested in seeing in Oregon and Washington is less centralized than Mexico City -- I'm considering trying to see Mount Hood, Crater Lake, the falls on the Columbia River, etc. This means that to do this with any sort of speed, I'm going to need to have a car. And the cost of the car rental is probably going to dwarf the cost of my plane tickets to California.   

The end result is that the trip is going to be a lot more expensive than I initially thought. Still, though, I'm looking forward to it. Now the big challenge is simply figuring out how to cram everything into 11 days.   

Right now all I know for sure is that I'm arriving in Oakland on Friday night, and leaving from Seattle the following Tuesday afternoon. Everything between that is up in the air.

 In addition to sightseeing around the Bay area and the actual wedding on Sunday, here's a rough list of things I may want to hit on this trip: 

  • Drive across the Golden Gate Bridge (I've been under it before on a boat, but think it would be cool to drive across as well.)  Go to Muir Woods and possibly a few other things in that area. Then figure out some sort of scenic route from there north to Oregon.
  • In Oregon, I'd like to see some of the coast, Crater Lake, Portland itself, the Columbia River gorge, possibly Mount Hood, and other things if there's time.
  • In Washington, I want to get to Seattle itself (including the givens: Pike Place Market, the Space Needle, etc.), as well as perhaps Olympic National Park and maybe a daytrip over the Washington Cascades to the farmland beyond.

I have no idea how exactly I'm going to accomplish all this, however.  If y'all know anything about this area and have suggestions, I'd love to hear them.  

Those who don't study history...

Friday's USA Today had an interesting article about A Short Guide to Iraq, a training manual produced by the U.S. Government about 60 years ago. It was designed to provide common sense advice to GI's who were occupying the country during World War II. Things like:

American success or failure in Iraq may well depend on whether the Iraqis ... like American soldiers or not. ... One of your jobs is to prevent Hitler's agents from getting in their dirty work. The best way you can do this is by getting along with the Iraqis and making them your friends. ... Every American soldier is an ... ambassador of good will.


Kerbela (and) Nejef ... are particularly sacred to the Iraqi Moslems. ... It is advisable to stay away from them.

Apparently the folks running the current occupation hadn't read this book.

The complete document is available as a PDF right here.

Thursday, July 15, 2004

Criminal Mastermind Captured

The Washington Post reports on the capture of "Magnum," a 110-pound black Labrador retriever with case of lawn-ornament kleptomania. The perp was identified after police publicized a surveillance video of the dog making off with a ceramic squirrel, chipmunk, and fox.

Guess that whole homeland security thing is paying off...

Dangling my feet

As any regular reader of this blog knows, I've been "passively" job hunting for years. This basically means that I keep my eyes open for interesting job opportunities, but don't really actively network or anything. The end result has been several applications and one job interview, but nothing really serious.

At the moment I'm in no huge rush to get out of my current job, although I'm still interested in what else is out there.

So when I was contacted by a headhunter trying to fill a job in Knoxville the other day, I didn't immediately tell him to take a hike. But I also didn't get all lovey dovey with him.

Basically, the job sounds like it would have pluses and minuses. With the biggest minus being that it's in Knoxville. I've always told myself that if I left my current job it would be to move back to the Northeast. So I'm not especially interested in this.

On the other hand, everyone has a price. <rationalization>And Knoxville is closer to the northeast by about three hours... :-) </rationalization> So I sent him a note back essentially saying that I might be interested if they were paying about 25%-35% more than I'm making now, but it would still depend a lot on the particular company (which he's being cagey about.) I'm not expecting anything to come out of this, but it makes life interesting to have it floating around out there.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Back in the land of air conditioning and electric lights...

The power came back on. Thus concludes this episode of "Frontier House Nashville."

Tuesday, July 13, 2004

Blacked Out

Owing to recent large thunderstorms, I am sitting at home in the dark. Lucky for you, I figured out how to blog from my cell phone.

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Modern Marvels: Contextual Advertising

I am continually amused by the contextual advertising chosen by the cutting edge technology over at Google. For example, there has been a lot of discussion about the reunion on our class message board. Google has provided helpful advertising to go along with this: three of the ads are for reunion planning services. One (in German) is for a travel agency that books reunion trips. The reunion theme continues with the final ad: "Ready for BOTOX® Cosmetic?" it inquires. "Order Your Welcome Kit today."

Creepy popunder ads

It has been brought to our attention here at Kumquat headquarters that some of you may be experiencing unpleasant popunder ads when browsing this site. Personally, our Google toolbar was doing a good job at shielding us, so we hadn't noticed. But we aim to please, and wouldn't want the 15 people who visit this site every day to take their procrastination business elsewhere. So we have decided to christen a blue-ribbon investigative panel. Here is their preliminary report:

Whatever is causing the pop-unders, it appears to be hidden in script being pulled from another server, since viewing source does not reveal the offending code. There is no smoking gun, but this guy has a theory that Bravenet has begun serving popunder ads with its "free" counters at random intervals.

To test this theory, we're going to expunge any bravenet-related code from our templates. Please let us know if you continue to see popunders when you visit.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

I thought things were going to calm down...

... after the reunion, but it turns out things have been crazier than ever. Lately, every time I ponder a blog entry I think about how much catching up I have to do, and then I go watch The Simpsons instead. So below is my attempt to catch up in one fell swoop, hopefully facilitating a return to the normal level of inane drivel in this space.

Let me back up and start at the beginning:

  • The Reunion -- The reunion was a blast. And I'm not just saying that because I helped plan it. As previously mentioned, we had money left over, and started out by giving everyone $10 and a free drink ticket. That probably helped. But the really fun thing was just seeing all these people again. In my role as de facto class webmaster, I have a vague idea of what a lot of people are up to. But in terms of really keeping in touch, there are only a few folks that I actually communicate with regularly. So it was a pretty cool thing to see all these people in the same place having a great time. Everyone seems to be doing well -- and it's amazing how many different paths people have taken. A lot of people still live in Maryland, but there are also outposts in Seattle, Florida, St. Louis, NYC, and just about every other corner of the country. There are doctors, lawyers, actors, computer programmers, marine biologists, aircraft carrier drivers, and (yikes!) parents of four children.

    The evening was, if anything, too short (the hotel cut off our electricity to get rid of us!) and ended with an increasingly drunken party at a local dive bar on Route 1.

    I documented the thing pretty thoroughly over here. And, no, I'm not really sure what was going on right here. We'd had a few drinks, ok?

  • The Tradeshow -- Entirely by accident, the reunion coincided with a major trade show in Washington, so I the company actually paid my way to DC! Once the reunion was over, I spent a few days hiking around a massive exhibit floor in DC's brand new convention center. I also managed to schedule a visit to another division of our company on Wednesday to look at a system we're considering buying.

    On Thursday I was supposed to join my Mom to go down to my grandfather's farm and see my grandmother in the nursing home. However, my mom was planning this little excursion, and I was shanghaied and forced to fix computers at her office. So we were off to a late start to begin with. This was followed by the two hour drive to the farm, a hurried lunch at the Stanardsville Dairy Queen, and quick visits to the farm and the nursing home.

    My mom was supposed to be back for a 7:00 meeting, and I had a 9:00 flight, so we burned rubber up Route 29, only to hit massive traffic jams as we approached the city. (You would think heading into DC in rush hour would be easy, but not so much.) In an attempt to avoid the beltway traffic jam, we tried staying on I-66 toward downtown. When that didn't work, we got off, and partly due to garbled directions phoned in by my dad, ended up winding across half of northern Virginia before finally cutting through downtown and back up into Maryland. My mom was late for her meeting, and meanwhile my dad was throwing all my remaining belongings into my suitcase and rushing to meet us so that I could get to the airport on time. Needless to say this wasn't really the most relaxing day.

  • Back in Nashville, I figured everything would calm down for a while, and got ready to enjoy a complete weekend with no plans. Which worked well, until Sunday morning, when one of our key servers had a heart attack on the table during scheduled maintenance and refused to wake up. So I was called in to work and spent most of the next three days there. We finally got things back to normal at 5:00 AM on Tuesday.

  • Independence Day -- Once the crisis was resolved, I made a split-second decision to fly back up to DC for the 4th of July weekend. My yougest brother was home from the summer camp where he's currently employed, so I got to see him for the first time since last winter. I was pondering the idea of trying to go downtown for the big national parade, but am glad I didn't since it was called off early due to a deluge of biblical proportions. Instead we had a quick family cookout in between rainstorms, and then I went to a party at a friend's apartment in the city. Last year they had a good view of the fireworks through their window, but this year the smoke was blowing towards us and we mostly saw clounds. Still, it was fun. As I drove back up Georgia Avenue toward home, the city streets were sputtered and popped as the locals experimented with their own (illegal) fireworks. It was fun driving through it all.
    girl scouts with flags
    Click for more photos

    Takoma Park had been the subject of good-natured ribbing for delaying its festivities until Monday, but the city had the last laugh when the day dawned sunny and dry. Unfortunately my brother left that morning to meet a new group of campers. But my parents and I did our annual march over to old-town for the festivities. As always, the parade was a hoot, with various organizations and neighborhood associations turning out. As the Post pointed out,

    Grant Avenue offered up a giant gray-and-yellow cardboard Humvee that was propelled Fred Flintstone-style by nearly a dozen hot and sweaty denizens of that street. Labeled "Weapon of Mass Consumption" for its figuratively unquenchable thirst for fuel, it careened wildly right and left along the route with Dan Robinson as driver.

    "Every five seconds, we run out of gas," he explained with a grin.

    The presidential campaign was never far removed, with marchers in the Sherman Avenue "Bush Country" entry chanting, tongue firmly in cheek, "Don't think -- vote Bush" as they passed by. "Billionaires for Bush" appeared a few minutes later, in tuxedos and evening gowns.

    We spent part of the afternoon planning my parents' trip to Italy this fall, and then grilled again for dinner. After dinner my dad and I trekked over to Takoma Middle School for the local fireworks. And thus ended by Independece Day extravaganza -- the next morning I was back at work and trying to catch up. So this is only the second time I've spent a full day at home since the middle of June. Whew.

So that's basically where things are now. I'm off again to California for my cousin's wedding in a couple of weeks, and am planning to spend a week or so exploring out that way. (I actually don't have a return flight right now, so maybe I'll just decide to stay...)

Monday, June 21, 2004

Saturday, June 19, 2004

What I'm up to

In reunion planning hell until tonight. Yesterday's errands included going to the bank to pick up $1000 in $10 bills, buying nametags and certificate blanks, and trying to teach a kinkos guy how to use a computer. Plus dealing with a major server failure back in Nashville last night.

More of the same today. Reunion is tonight, and then off to the convention for tomorrow through Tuesday. After that, maybe a trip to the farm, and/or visiting another division of the company to see a new system in action. Back to Nashville next Friday. Whee.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

A manager's lament

Editor's note: What follows is a bitter rant that I will no doubt regret in the morning.

I feel like all of my interactions with senior management go something like this:

Me: Here's what I need to do what you're asking.
Them: No, what we need is the absolute bare bones estimate. No frills.
Me: That's what this is.
Them: So you're saying that this is the absolute minimum your department can get by on.
Me: Yes.
Them: Ok, here's half of that. And from now on can you also have your staff wash the windows and empty the trash?

I am really freakin' tired of this. I work for a Fortune 200 company that pays regular dividends to its shareholders, yet to hear folks around here talk you'd think we're subsisting on government cheese. I mean, we ration Post-It! notes, for crying out loud. And our mileage is reimbursed at a whopping $0.24 (bumped up from $0.22 due to the gas price increases.)

At the moment I'm supposed to feel grateful because this year they only cut my laptop budget by 50%, instead of last year's 100%. Even if the budget were fully funded, we would still have 6+ year old machines in our fleet.

And I also found out today that some of my staff had simply been ignoring a public-facing voice mail box for the last three months. I can't blame them, because I've been pressuring them to do other things, and they simply don't have enough time. But I'm utterly frustrated that the company doesn't provide us with sufficient human and financial resources to do what is expected.

At some level, I know things could be worse. I mean, there are companies in our industry that are laying people off. But at the same time, I can't help wondering if things could also be better.

Supreme court considers making history; instead goes for pizza

After agreeing to hear a controversial case on the constitutionality of the phrase "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance, the Supreme Court yesterday decided to weasel out of the debate by finding that the guy in question didn't have standing to sue. This leaves unresolved the core issue of how one reconciles the 1950s-era congressional insertion of "under God" with the the constitutional admonition that "congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion."

Monday, June 14, 2004

"Passionate & Opinionated" vs. "Fair & Balanced"

I thought this was pretty interesting. Writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Mark Oppenheimer points out that the most interesting and challenging teachers tend to be those with strong, passionate points of view that are expressed in the classroom:
Disagreement is a prime engine for advancing human knowledge -- and besides, hearing boldly stated opinions is tremendous fun. For smart students to feel challenged, and for dull students to lose their cobwebs, they need to learn that academic subjects are both a matter of grave moral concern and a source of exhilaration, worth becoming overheated about. They learn this not by being invited to care, but by watching professors who manifestly do care. For the college professor, the proper pedagogic role is not as facilitator, coaxing children into thinking, but as role model, showing young men and women what a thinking mind looks like.

My suggestion that professors are too mild, not sufficiently opinionated, may at first sound ludicrous. It is well known that professors take their fields too seriously. They are too inclined to think that second-century Roman coinage is a matter of ultimate concern, too willing to end friendships over what Willa Cather's lesbianism might mean for her depictions of wheat fields. But while professors may get contrary at conferences and in journal articles, those same professors are often profoundly milquetoast in their classrooms, so eager to get in opposing points of view and to assure students that no opinion could be wholly wrong that they forget to have opinions themselves.

Yes, some professors are known for "advancing an agenda," which is thought to be a bad thing. But for the most part, they hold to the well-meaning liberal dogma that students ought to figure things out for themselves. That leads to the kind of teaching that all of us dread and yet engage in: "Very good. I see where you're coming from. Now, does anyone have another point of view?"

I wonder if the same calculus applies to attempts by the news media to be "fair and balanced" (in the real sense, not the Fox sense). By trying to present every point of view equally, are journalists creating gutless prose that fails to inspire meaningful intellectual debate?

Sunday, June 13, 2004

Justification for travel?

Phileas Fogg had won his wager, and had made his journey around the world in eighty days. To do this he had employed every means of conveyance--steamers, railways, carriages, yachts, trading-vessels, sledges, elephants. The eccentric gentleman had throughout displayed all his marvellous qualities of coolness and exactitude. But what then? What had he really gained by all this trouble? What had he brought back from this long and weary journey?

Nothing, say you? Perhaps so; nothing but a charming woman, who, strange as it may appear, made him the happiest of men!

Truly, would you not for less than that make the tour around the world?

-- The conclusion of
Around the World in
Eighty Days
, by Jules
Verne, which I just
finished re-reading.

What I've been up to

Sorry for the blogging dry spell... Here's what I've been up to for the last week or two:

I spent most of the week doing various things related to a conference being held here in Nashville. One of the departments I supervise at work was on tour on Saturday, so we spent a lot of time frantically straghtening things up and getting ready. I think it ended up going pretty well.

Sunday I spent part of the day preparing a Powerpoint for my own presentation on Tuesday. In the evening I made an abortive attempt to meet up with someone who was supposed to give me a ticket to one of the conference events. I spent an hour wandering around Opryland, but never found him. So instead I went home, grabbed my new camera, and went down to the riverfront where a carnival was set up. (Might post a few of the pictures when I have a chance to upload them.) I ran into a couple of other amateur photographers doing the same thing.

After that I spent a fun week out at Opryland doing various conference-related things. The conference was great -- I learned a lot, and met some pretty fascinating people. (Oh, and never let it be said that librarians don't know how to throw a party.)

Since that's over, I'm trying to dig out at work, and have also moved on to the next planning crisis: the 10-year-reunion that I'm co-chairing next weekend. While I'm in D.C. for that, I'm also going to stop in at another conference for work.

Today was the first day that I've really been able to totally goof off in a few weeks, and I took advantage -- sleeping in, watching some TV, talking to one of my Boston friends, and reading. Tomorrow I guess I should try to accomplish something a little more productive.

Thursday, June 03, 2004

New camera

Last week I finally broke down and bought the new camera I've been pondering for quite a while. I don't think the DSLR is going to replace my point-and-shoot entirely -- it's a lot clunkier to carry around, for one thing. But it should give me more flexibility in terms of lenses, time-exposures, etc.

Monday evening I went walking in Shelby Bottoms for about two hours, and brought the camera along to play with. I'm still learning how to use it, and I don't think anything I took is really that great. But it was fun to experiment. I've already decided that I need to get a longer lens than the 18-55mm it came with. (Actually more like a 28-90mm lens due to the smaller digital image sensor.)

The only problem with buying lenses is that the good ones are really expensive. Like more than the camera. I think I'm probably going to let my checkbook cool down for a bit before I send more money over to B&H.

Shelby Bottoms
Shelby Bottoms

Personal Enrichment

Our company has an Internet station set up in the cafeteria, mainly so that employees without computers can access the intranet, benefits website, etc. I was at work late, and went down to get a Diet Coke. There was a guy sitting at the machine surfing, while his friend microwaved a bag of popcorn. "Check this out," he says to his friend. "Decapitations by helicopter." I glanced over his shoulder. Sure enough, there were pictures.

Sunday, May 23, 2004

Daily Yearly Bread

Continuing this weekend's theme of "all kitchen, all the time," I will now tell you about the loaf of bread. Not just any loaf of bread. The loaf of of Harris-Teeter brand "Premier Selection 9-Grain Enriched Bread" that I purchased last September or October and then accidentally left in a cabinet until now.

I'm sure you're expecting a scary-sounding description of mold and decay. But the actual result of this little inadvertent science experiment was even scarier. The bread looks and feels just like it did the day it left the supermarket. No mold. No staleness. Just plain old spongy American-style mass-produced bread.

Apparently they pump this stuff so full of preservatives now that it can basically stand decades in storage with little loss of its basic bread nature. Let's contrast this to bread from the local bakery, which tastes great, but basically starts going bad after a day or two.

So obviously store-bought bread has some powerful chemical juju going on. For all we know, Harris-Teeter just made one giant batch of super-durable bread made in 1987, and they've been selling it ever since. Kind of scary, if you ask me.

Truck Balls

I'm thinking about building a new Linux box to use as a media center/development server/web server/file server/etc. Ideally I'd like to get one that can just fit under my desk rather than taking up a whole shelf in my storage room. So I did a google search for "small form factor." It came back with helpful links to a variety of small PC vendors. But one of the adword results did't quite seem to fit:

American culture at its finest

I ask you, my friends, is this a great country or what?

Saturday, May 22, 2004

My kingdom for some soap

Speaking of better living through chemistry, what I wouldn't give right now for some Boraxo. This morning I went to painting project sponsored by Hands on Nashville, and managed to cover my hands with latex paint. Boraxo is the only thing I know that gets this stuff off without a fight. Maybe I'll go on a soap expedition in a few minutes.

Kitchen declared federal disaster area

antIn addition to the Grape-Nuts fiasco (see below), I am also dealing with a massive ant infestation in my kitchen. When they first showed up, they just went after some hard candy that had been sitting in a mason jar on my windowsill for a few months. I got rid of that temptation, but new they were interested, and immediately commissioned ant-explorers to forage in new areas. Like the cabinets, the toaster, the sink, and just about everywhere else.

So yesterday morning I made an emergency trip to Cumberland Hardware. If you're imagining Home Depot, think again. This is the sort of old-school hardware shop that has been exterminated by the big boxes in most places. The moment you walk into the tiny shop, one of the proprietors quizzes you about what you're looking for. They then instantly locate it from amidst the floor-to-ceiling clutter. Once I asked for a lightbulb that they didn't have, but helpfully they sent me to another shop two doors down. I'd give you a web address, but they apparently don't have one. Which figures -- their main concession to modern technology is a cash register powered by a metal crank on its side!

Anyway, they sold me this stuff called Terro. It's a little bottle filled with clear goop that looks sort of like sugar syrup. And from what I understand, that's basically what it is, albeit with a dollop or two of boric acid thrown in for good measure. The idea is that you leave this stuff laying around, the ants go into a feeding frenzy on it, take a bunch of it home to the missus, and the die a horrible death. So far they're definitely snarfing it down as fast as I can ladle it out, but I haven't noticed a marked decrease in the number of ants marching in.

Too bad there aren't more of these guys around here.

A major Grape-Nuts related incident

For breakfast this morning, I was going to open a new box of Grape-NutsTM cereal. But the plastic liner in the box was very stubborn and refused to open. In hindsight, I guess using a pair of scissors would have been a good idea. But being a manly-man, I instead opted for the brute force method. And it worked -- sort of. The bag suddenly tore wide open, causing a massive Grape Nut explosion the likes of which have never before been seen. There are now Grape Nut nodules embedded in every nook and cranny of the kitchen. There should be a warning label on those things.

Saturday, May 15, 2004

Thursday, May 13, 2004

Close, but not quite...

A guy in our department just got a phone call from someone asking if this was the Special Ed. Department. He had to think about it about it for a minute before he decided that it was a wrong number.

More on new Blogger features

I just tried enabling Blogger's new built-in comment feature. I then disabled it and went back to YACCS.

The new commenting interface seems to be headed toward the livejournal model, where commenters are either members of Blogger and post under their username, or must post as "Anonymous." I have never liked this, since I don't think it's fair that blog-less friends, Movable Type users, etc. should have to suffer the indignity of being known as "anonymous." The YACCS model allows anyone to enter contact info in on the fly, which is more democratic.

On another note, I also turned on the new "post by e-mail" feature, which sounds pretty cool. If this works, it means I should be able to blast out blog entries from my SmartPhone. (I've tried to do this before in other ways, but it's never been very reliable.) I'll give it a try in a bit.

Monday, May 10, 2004

I don't blog for a day...

... and they change everything! Not sure how I feel about this freaky new version of blogger, but it does seem to have some interesting features.

Sunday, May 09, 2004


Since I'm just about done with classes, I was totally looking forward to a weekend of freedom. I had been thinking all about what to do with it. For example, finally going to see that Frist Center exhibit that will be disappearing in a few days. Or maybe trying to watch some horses. Or maybe just running some errands around town.

Instead I spent today in orbit between the bed and the futon, feeling like crud warmed over. I seem to have picked up some sort of nasty head cold that is sapping my will to live. Hopefully with a lot of sleep it will blow over soon.

On the good side of the scale, the brother who was laid off back around Thanksgiving, finally found another job -- and it sounds like it's a pretty good one. Yay.

Wednesday, May 05, 2004

The Song

Patty Larkin - Red=Luck Ok, you've suffered long enough. The lyrics below were from "The Cranes," sung by Patty Larkin on the album "Red = Luck."

Monday, May 03, 2004

Name that tune...

Inspired by Danielle, who was, in turn, inspired by someone else, we will now play a fun game.
  1. Grab the nearest CD.
  2. Put it in your CD-Player (or start your mp3-player, I-tunes, etc.).
  3. Skip to Song 3 (or load the 3rd song in your 3rd playlist)
  4. Post the first verse in your journal along with these instructions. Don't name the band, nor the album-title.

On their wings they are returning.
On their wings they fly.
Shadows fade; the sun is burning... high.

Every day the light stays longer.
Every day you sigh.
Shadows fade; you start to wave goodbye.

If you're thinking of leaving, you're leaving at a very bad time.

No Googling Allowed. Which performer performed this song on which album?

On the brighter side of life...

We just handed in our group paper for the biotech class, which was the last major assignment left before graduation. I have a few more little weekly position papers, but by and large I am done. Yay.

Why else would they put the stage in the middle of a river?

From today's paper:

''I'm drinking alcohol,'' explained Julian Casablancas, lead singer of red-hot rock band The Strokes, to the packed River Stages audience Sunday night.

''I'm not drinking water, I'm not drinking juice. I'm drinking liquid cocaine.''

Casablancas' explanation seemed somewhat necessary, and not entirely unexpected, given that he and guitarist Nick Valensi had urinated minutes before into the Cumberland River.

Charming... Now pardon me while I go and refill my Brita with premium grade Cumberland River tap water.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

But it's non-GMO cirrhosis...

Came across this while working on my paper:

Emulating the food industries, Japanese breweries have also joined the competition to offer GM-free products. In 1998, Paarlberg said, the Kirin Brewing Company announced that starting in the year 2001 it would use only GM-free corn starch in its beer. Only one day after Kirin’s announcement, its competitor, Sapporo Breweries made similar promises that its beer would be as GM-free as its competitors. Recognizing this commendable display of health consciousness among beer drinkers, Paarlberg pointed out that even Japanese smokers made the decision some years ago to consume only non-GM tobacco leaves.

-- Robert Paarlberg, "Asia’s Response to Genetically Modified Food

Mexico in old school 35mm

Here are a few of the photos I snapped on my first day in Mexico city using my trusty Pentax K-1000. These are inside the Mexico City Cathedral, and then outside where they were rehearsing the passion play for later in the week. (They may be a bit distorted by the scaling, but I don't feel like messing with Photoshop right now.)

Mass in the Cathedral, Mexico City

Cathedral Interior, Mexico City    Passion Play Rehearsal, Mexico City

Passion play rehearsal, Mexico City

Saturday, April 24, 2004

Or not...

When you roll out of bed midmorning on a Saturday, walk into the kitchen in your boxers, look out the window, and see people jogging past the 20 mile mark of a marathon, it sort of makes you feel a bit lazy.

Monday, April 19, 2004

Hoofin' It

This morning I decided to walk to work. I've done this a few times before, but never on a regular basis. I'm thinking about trying to start doing it more often. The (relatively) new Shelby pedestrian bridge makes it a much nicer walk.

It's about two miles from there to here, and there's some nice scenery along the way. The only drawback is having to allow enough time to get here, and having to do it again at the end of the day whether I feel like it or not. (There's always cabs and buses in a pinch, I guess.)

I figure the walking is an easy way to help make up for the computer screen I stare at much of the rest of the day. We'll have to see if this idea survives once the mercury tops 90, though.

Sunday, April 18, 2004

I'm making a valiant effort on my section of this biotech paper. But it just seems like a crime against nature to be sitting in front of a computer when it's this nice outside.

Wednesday, April 14, 2004

I'm back. Spent 12+ hours yesterday trying to dig out at work. And to make matters worse, after perfect weather in Mexico, I came back to snow showers in Nashville!

The trip was fantastic. I'll try to write more about the trip the first chance I get. But I also have a group paper to work on for class, and a visit from my cousin. So no promises.

Friday, April 09, 2004


No time to blog, but here are a few photos to whet your apetite...

Thursday, April 08, 2004

Buenas Tardes

In Mexico City. My feet hurt, but it´s great. More later!

Tuesday, April 06, 2004

Getting ready to leave for Mexico tomorrow: Packing bags. Mowing lawn. Trying to recall my two years of middle school Spanish. Figuring out how the heck a night owl can catch a 6:50 AM flight without staying up all night.

Monday, April 05, 2004

Your tax dollars at work...

With all the pressing issues facing society in today's complex and dangerous world, it's good to know that the Tennessee legislature is on top of the growing drive-by porn epidemic.

Thursday, April 01, 2004

Root Canals, Group Projects, and other fun activities

I just got off the phone with a member of my project group for my "Social Issues in Biotechnology" class. During the conversation, she mentioned that she just finished a graduate writing workshop recommended by her advisor. After I got off the phone, it occurred to me that no one had ever suggested that I take a writing workshop in grad school. With a sinking feeling, I went and looked at her midterm paper on our class website. Let's just say it didn't fill me with confidence in her writing ability.

Now to be fair, I don't think she is a native English speaker. And I have a huge amount of respect for anyone who knows enough of a foreign language to attend graduate school in it. But on the other hand, when your grade is on the line, you can't help but think that it would be nice to be in a group with a few gifted wordsmiths with a remarkable command of the English language.

I should point out that I've worked with plenty of native-born Americans who were lousy writers, and I'm sure there are plenty of non-native speakers who can write circles around me. But unfortunately they aren't in my BIOT640 project group.

Oh, yeah. On top of that, I have once again summarily been elected group leader. We were playing a game of chicken. The first person to panic and suggest that maybe we should actually meet was tagged as the sucker, and henceforth appointed ruler. That was me. So it's my job to guide the group into coming up with a coherent paper in the next month. It's going to be a long month.

Letting sleeping birds lie...

BoingBoing highlighted this article on managing your body's hardwired "biological clock" that determines sleep cycles. It explains why the only time I usually see the sunrise is when I stay up for it.
The body tells time with a master clock in the brain, a pinhead-sized cluster of neurons in the hypothalamus that takes cues from optic nerves that signal sunlight. By sticking people in isolation chambers, scientists discovered that most people's internal clocks run a bit longer — about a half-hour on average — than the sun's 24-hour cycle. That's why, for most people, it's easier to stay up later and compensate by sleeping in than to force yourself to sleep early and wake early, explains Dr. Eliza Sutton, an acting assistant professor of medicine at the University of Washington. Morning larks are those rarer birds whose body clock is shorter than 24 hours, so they wake up raring to go.

On Frida Kahlo, Mexico, and Art

detail, Self-Portrait with Loose Hair, 1947, by Frida Kahlo A friend at work recently went to Mexico City, and has been giving me crib sheets for my upcoming trip. He recommended that I watch Frida, the award-winning film about Mexican artist Fridah Kahlo and her husband, muralist Diego Rivera.

So last night I rented the movie. It was shot entirely in Mexico, and was absolutely beautiful. A lot of the credit for this goes to director Julie Taymor. After listening to her director's commentary, I am a huge fan. She is amazingly articulate about how she manages to portray emotion on film, something that not all directors are able to convey. And her vision and connection to the material in the movie are apparent.

As usual, I spent a lot of time trolling through the DVD extras. The second disc included a variety of interviews with the participants in the film. One particularly fascinating one is with Chavela Vargas, a famous Mexican folk singer (in her 90s) who performed in the film and who actually knew Frida Kahlo. Through the subtitles, she almost seemed to be speaking in poetry.

Another hidden treasure was this story, relayed by Julie Taymor during an interview with Bill Moyers:

I am often interested in the story of the outsider. You know I lived in Indonesia for many years. [...] I was there for two years and I was planning to stay longer and start a theater company. I went to Bali to a remote village by a volcanic mountain on the lake. They were having a ceremony that only happens only every 10 years for the young men. I wanted to be alone.

I was listening to this music and all of a sudden out of the darkness I could see glints of mirrors and 30 or 40 old men in full warrior costume-- there was nobody in this village square. I was alone. They couldn't see me in the shadows. They came out with these spears and they started to dance. They did, I don't know, it felt like an eternity but probably a half hour dance. With these voices coming out of them. And they danced to nobody. Right after that, they and I went oh, my God. The first man came out and they were performing for God. Now God can mean whatever you want it to mean. But for me, I understood it so totally. The detail on the costumes. They didn't care if someone was paying tickets, writing reviews. They didn't care if an audience was watching. They did it from the inside to the outside. And from the outside to the in. And that profoundly moved me then.

The rest of the interview is online right here.