December 24, 2006

It's beginning to feel a lot like Christmas

I've commented to a few people over the past few days that it really doesn't feel much like Christmas. Maybe it's the fact that it was 65 degrees in DC for the last week, or the fact that I hadn't gotten hardly any shopping done, or just the fact that between class and the couple of weekends after class I've been so busy that I've barely thought about it, but ultimately it seemed really strange to be packing for FL earlier this week, since it just didn't seem like it was time to do that. Even once I got down here, I spent the first day or so with the same feeling.

I think it really changed, though, once my brother and sister-in-law arrived yesterday afternoon. Now the family's all here, with cousins, grandparents, aunt and uncle set to come today. It's starting to make sense now. Well, it's either the arrival of people or the preparation of massive amounts of food (more reasons I love having Italian family). It's definitely one or the other, I will choose to assume the former. But now, on Christmas Eve Day, it's here. It's Christmas.

So I wish all of you a Merry Christmas and a happy holiday, wherever you are and whatever you celebrate. May your time be spent with those close to you, doing the things that bring you peace and happiness. Be safe in your travels, and make the most of the time you have.

Or, if that seems a little too Hallmark, try this:

Either way, Happy Holidays, everybody.

December 13, 2006

Almost Famous.... well, sort of

When I got back from errand-running and lunch on Saturday, I found an odd email in my blogmail. It went like this:

Hey there.I noticed your posting on My Space and wanted to interview you brieflyabout why you think The Wire is such a compelling show. I'm a reporter atthe Washington Post and writing about this TODAY. What is it that speaks toyou? The power of the kids' stories? The failure of the schools and copsand everyone else to address their problems? Some first hand experience ofyour own with dysfunctional cities? Something else?

It closed with an email address and phone number, and the name was one that did show up on a quick search of the Post site. So I figured it was probably legit. What threw me was a) the MySpace reference, since I don't post anything on MySpace (I barely even have a profile), and b) that I got it at all, since mine is not a heavily-trafficked site to say the least. But I was intrigued, and glad that The Wire is getting some much-deserved attention these days (Bubbles got a profile on the other day). I did call the reporter back, but didn't catch her; but it got me thinking about the show, and about the things that I find so gripping about it. I mentioned some of them in a previous post, but there is always more that can be said.

The article can be found here. I think it's a good one, and makes some good points. I am a little bit disappointed, though, because it only addresses a fraction of what I think is important about the show. I can't help but wonder whether the writer watches it herself, or was more just fulfilling an assignment. I felt kind of the same way reading the email, because it suggests a fairly surface-level thinking about the program. All of this is understandable, since I think her intent was less to talk about the program than about the personal reactions people have to it, but I also feel like a show this good deserves a closer look into what really makes it tick. Anyway, were I to have been able to speak with her as she was writing, this is more or less what I would say.

Let me preface with this: I am of the middle-class-white-kid demographic, so that is the point of view from which I approach the show. I don't relate in the same way some of the people quoted in the article do. I'm predictably fine with that, and I don't believe it affects my enjoyment, but I figured I should mention it.

I don't think that the show is about stories, really, and as such I can't say that the kids' stories are what makes it a must-see. It's about characters. Characters are compelling, in a way that stories are not, necessarily. We've all seen the downtrodden-kid-makes-good stories, or the downtrodden-cop-turns-his-life-around stories, but without deep and nuanced characters, the stories don't stick. What Simon/Berg and co. have done is create a world where all of the characters are themselves powerful, so wherever the storyline takes you, you want to go. Namond's story isn't remarkable; Namond is. Randy is. Cutty is. Bubbles definitely is. Marlo, while despicable in many ways, is extremely charismatic as well, and we want to see where the show takes him. I still think that Stringer Bell was one of the best characters this show has seen, but it's a crowded field.

The same thing is true of the "failures" of the police, govt, etc. It's not the failure that is powerful. It's the struggle. If they were failing for a lack of trying, that would be one thing, but you see well-intentioned people (and some not-so-well-intentioned) doing what they can and making small steps forward or large steps back. The new mayorship of Tommy Carcetti is a great example of this. He just keeps piling on examples of how "it's just not that simple." Just look at Prezbo. You could argue that the schools are failing, but you certainly get a clear view of just how much the people in the schools give of themselves to 'save' as many as they can in the process. Prezbo gives you a front row seat to the battle of idealism and hope with cold reality, and that even good people have to make compromises in order to keep doing good.

But really, it's hard to get a sense for how good this show is, or how well it's put together, just by looking at this season. Like many serials, there is a lot of inside baseball on this show, a lot of references and situations you don't fully understand without having seen previous seasons. And that background knowledge takes an already enveloping show and makes it even moreso. If you just watched McNulty during this season, you would get a certain impression, and you could get through the story without losing any critical info. But if you knew what he went through, from Season 1 to now, you would have an entirely different impression of him, and his actions would have a whole different meaning. His relationship with Bodie, and how it developed, is a really solid bit of storytelling, and it explains a lot of McNulty's behavior during the season finale (I'm being intentionally vague out of respect for those who haven't seen it yet. But seriously, get on it already). Same for Cutty, and Colvin, and Bubbles, and even guys like Prop Joe. You don't have to know how they got here, but it sure helps. Some shows are just like that. 24, not so much; this one, absolutely.

And the cast. Holy crap, the cast. Just the casting for the kids alone should be recognized, they're so good. They've cast convicted felons, people that Simon actually arrested years ago. They've got Method Man. And a whole truckload of people you'd never hear of otherwise. Everyone on that show does a superb job, and it seems like nobody notices. The fact that The Wire hasn't received more (any?) awards is, simply put, a travesty. I firmly believe that both the acting and the writing is better on this show that it is on the Sopranos, or Deadwood, or Lost, or pretty much any other drama you might point to.

I like to draw a particular parallel with Lost when I talk about it: there's a feeling you have while watching Lost, a certain tension you feel pretty much throughout the show, no matter what. It's like any minute, something major could happen, and you're just waiting for it. Watching The Wire is like that; there's a very similar sensation watching there as well. You don't know where it's coming from or for whom, but you know it's coming, and you're as much afraid to miss it as anything else. You know it's fiction, but you can't help it: you care. And that's the bottom line. That's the power.

If I'd been asked, that's pretty much what I'd have said. In the end, I wasn't, but it sure would have been cool, wouldn't it?

December 11, 2006

Off to an auspicious start

Well, my semester break started pretty well, with a pleasantly busy weekend (for a change). It was a very long week, with paper and project to finish, but it's certainly good to be past it. The weekend began with the I-66-h0sted All Holiday Blog Celebration, so we'll do that first. Heck, that might be all we'll do; I'm not sure that anyone really needs to hear about my company holiday party. Anyway.

The double-edged sword about the HH's, for me, is that they are seldom more than about five blocks from my office. This is a good thing, in that it's never very far out of my way to get there, but at the same time it does result in a lot of pre-HH sitting around. My workday ends at 5:30, and there's really no point in trekking all the way out to Ballston and back, so I just hang out at the office. The result is that I am at the latest on time for the thing to start, which is not always a good thing when it's your second HH and you haven't, I don't know, met/seen the host before (at least, not in 3-D). So I got to Science Club at a couple minutes after 7, and wandered back to the DJ booth. Nothing. There were a fair amount of people there, but none that I recognized. So I did a tour of the place. Nice upstairs, although I have the feeling I was walking through a private party (buffet setup, some strange looks from people, that sort of thing), checked out the basement, no familiar faces anywhere. So I parked myself off to the side and waited (and people-watched, something of a hobby of mine anyway). There was one other person there who seemed to be waiting as well, but I figured I'd chill out a bit and see what happened (turned out to be HomeImprovementNinja, but I didn't know that at the time). I-66 arrived after a few minutes, I met him and HIN, and the HH was officially under way.

Science Club is a decent place, if for no other reason than it has a back room that we were able to more or less take over as the evening progressed. The downside, which is true of most townhouses-turned-bars, I guess, is that the space is long and narrow. I remarked to a couple of folks that it's kind of ironic to be in a bar/club and have less room to maneuver than in the average Metro car. But it is a pretty nice spot, and it was never all that cramped, so it was all good. (This was my first time there; the last time I was at that address it was a Thai restaurant.)

All in all, it was very cool. I met a bunch of folks who I have been reading, which was great, and got to see a few people again who I'd met at Gazuza (double-great). I will admit that I still find the whole thing a little surreal, particularly when people recognize the name of my blog. Good surreal, for sure, but surreal. Plus the whole keeping track of both real and blog names is its own challenge. But I think I did all right, and got to talk to a truckload of witty and engaging people while I was at it. I got to spend some time with repeat offenders Kathryn, KassyK, V, Brunchbird, Bettyjoan, Ashburnite, and HeatherB again, all of whom are tons of fun. V was officially my hero for bringing cake, since I had sort of skipped dinner (okay, Kassy also gets hero-credit for having the birthday for which said cake was brought). Always good to see folks again, and also kind of nice to be remembered (again, just a tad surreal). And like I said, I got to meet a ton of people who I read regularly, occasionally, or in various comments. Many I had never met, or only met briefly at my last HH: I-66, HIN, Velvet, Red, Hey Pretty, Joe Logon, Boztopia, VK, Mandy, VP of Dior, DCVita, FreckledK, Tyler, a couple of Carries whose blogging status I never quite nailed down, and Kathryn's BP. Throw in a few non-bloggers, BBird's S.O., a couple of Kassyk's crew, and you have a full evening on your hands. I made it until a little before midnight, at which point my week kind of caught up with me and I had to head home.

Just a couple of notes:
  • I-66 had what was, for me, the line of the night: "They do bar mitzvahs." I'll not get into the reason for the line, but trust me when I tell you it was hilarious. I-66, I hope you remember, because it was genius.
  • Props to HIN for the charity raffle. There would be more props if I had won, but much credit all the same.
  • Happy Birthday to KassyK.
  • In his primer (which is excellent, btw), I-66 makes a point about managing your expectations, in terms of how you envision people based on their writing vs. how they are in person. I found myself a little surprised a couple of times to meet the faces behind the words. I was surprised as much by my surprise as anything else, if that makes sense. I didn't consiously expect one thing or another, but I did say to myself, "Wow, [x] wasn't how I expected him/her to be." I should mention, having said that, all surprises were of the better-than-advertised variety. Which is just a credit to you folks, really.
  • Five years of engineering school, just so I could fix the battery door on Velvet's camera after it's trip to the hardwood.
  • Count me among those who are very much looking forward to January and the smoking ban. Holy crap. I couldn't even get near my jacket for the rest of the weekend, and it still had a little smokiness to it this morning. Thank goodness for redundant outerwear.
  • I will probably repeat this in recapping most of these, because it bears repeating: anyone who still believes that the blogs/internet are the domain of the socially inept and visually challenged should spend an hour or two at one of these gatherings. Charming, witty people and some seriously gorgeous women. Seriously.

So thanks to I-66 for playing host, and I'll see you at the next one. Right on time, I'm sure...

December 1, 2006

TT4T: Special Friday Edition

Okay, so it was admittedly at the tail end of 8 straight hours of non-stop working on a project (took the day off to do schoolwork; fantastic use of leave, no?), but my friend showed me these two videos last night, and I just had to share.

Why do I love YouTube? Sure, the easy access to loads of stand-up clips is great for a guy like me, and the ability to dig up obscure clips from movies and shows is good, too. But some of the original stuff, the stuff from people you would never see or hear of otherwise, really makes it work. Granted, you have to wade through a whoooooole lot of utter crap to find it, but the little nuggets of gold really make the whole thing worthwhile.

Exhibit A: The Good Word - If at first you don't succeed...

Exhibit B: The Vader Sessions - This is really well done. Someone took Star Wars footage, pulled out James Earl Jones's original dialogue, replaced it with some of this lines from other movies, and left the other characters' dialogue as-is. Sounds odd, but it's brilliant. Just look at the way his new lines even match his movements. His conversation with Leia is priceless.
language warning: probably not safe for non-headphones viewing at work.

November 30, 2006

Right, Right... So tell me again how global warming is just a myth....

Date: November 30
Lunchtime temp: 67 degrees F
Wardrobe: pants, short sleeve shirt

mmm-hmmm... right, no scientific evidence..... riiiight, yes. Clearly making it up... Yep, I totally see where you're coming from.....

I don't know about you, but I'm convinced. If anyone calls, I'll be laying out by the pool.

November 21, 2006

Please stand by...

The roughly four of you who tune in here on a regular basis will notice that there's no 'Tube today. I wanted to, but I just didn't have time to pull it together.

I am now in the last three-ish weeks of the semester, and Crunch Time has officially begun (it manifested itself today, as I sat staring at my computer screen trying and failing to write cogent sentences for my paper, which oh by the way I'm presenting a week from tonight). The good news is, on December 8th I will get to have another Mel Gibson moment (which will mark exactly 12 months until I finish grad school, for those of you keeping track) and a little over a month off to decompress, do the birthday and Christmas thing, and all that fun stuff. The bad news is, the next three weeks are going to be their own special little plane of the Hell, and I'm out of sunscreen.

This whole semester has been a little off-kilter for me, starting with my textbook issues and never quite settling down the way I thought it should. I think this was the first semester I hit real fatigue with the whole grad school thing (not surprising, I guess, two years in). Whatever it was, I've had a much harder time focusing on the work this semester, and it's got me a little behind heading into the home stretch. I absolutely cannot wait for it to be over, but it's going to be kinda rough between now and then. So my four day weekend will really be four days of nonstop project and paper work with a short break on Thursday to go visit some local cousins for Thanksgiving*. I'm really looking forward to that, partly because they're wonderful people, and partly (okay, largely) because having local plans means I will not be among the frustrated masses trying to get from here to there throught the ironically-unfriendly-considering-it's-a-holiday skies. Travelers, I wish you luck, but better you than me. If it's any consolation, the chair at my desk does not recline, I will have to get my own peanuts and drinks, and I will be sitting in this chair for far longer, delays or no, than you will spend in transit. So if you're into comparative misery, tuck that away for during your canceled connection through Chicago.

All of this to say: the blog might get a little neglected for a few weeks. The irony, of course, is that it was just last week that I alerted my friends to the fact that I have a blog in the first place, so now that they know about it and might actually stop in to check it out, they get the blog equivalent of elevator music and "Please continue to hold. Your call is important to us." I guess on the upside, plenty of time to check out the archives.

But most importantly: have a wonderful Thanksgiving holiday weekend. Enjoy the food, and your families, your friends, your parties of one, whatever makes your world a better place. For those of you that are traveling, I will keep my fingers crossed that the skies stay clear and safe, and that the roads are at least somewhat less rage-y than ususal getting out of DC this time of year (and let's be honest, that would be a huge improvement).

If you do happen to be in town wandering around Arlington over the next couple weeks, and you come across a whimpering, fetally-positioned gentleman crying for his mommy, don't be alarmed. It's probably just me on a 'study break,' out 'stretching my legs.' It will pass. But please, no kicking.

*I would just like to point out, as is my habit, that to my knowledge Virginia Tech is the only major university that actually consumes its mascot as the centerpiece of a national holiday (partial credit to Arkansas, if you assume that razorbacks (wild boar = pig) count for Christmas). I have no idea what that means, but I am sure that it is critically important. Or it's just funny.

November 14, 2006

Two 'Tube for Tuesday: Denis Leary, Rocker

If you've listened to Denis Leary's No Cure for Cancer, then you're undoubtedly familiar with his classic song, "Asshole." What you may not realize, if you didn't spend the kind of time watching MTV that I did as a kid, is that Denis actually had his very own episode of MTV Unplugged, with his very own band (that backed him up on "Asshole"). They've shown up with him at various events (hosting gigs and whatnot, particularly Comics Come Home, as I recall) over the past few years, and are apparently still playing together at shows.

First, a clip from the original Unplugged show, "Traditional Irish Folk Song" (which was also on No Cure for Cancer, I think, but gets a little added bonus here):

And second, the real reason for this post, a recent (by virtue of subject matter) performance, which also marks the first grab from the MySpace video collection, "Mel Gibson Blues":
Mel Gibson Blues

Add to My Profile More Videos

Good, wholesome, family fun. It's just the Leary way.

November 9, 2006

The sincerest form of flattery

One more quasi-political thing, then I'm done. And this is less about politics, really, than funny.

Distillation of Bush on Rumsfeld:
"You know, I actually endorsed Rummy before I fired him."

Somewhere, John Kerry is howling.

November 7, 2006

Vicious Cycle

I hate politics.

Okay, so that's not entirely true. I like politics just fine; I like talking politics with anyone who has a reasoned opinion and a willingness to debate. It's the political process I can't stand. More specifically, I have come to absolutley loathe the campaign process, and the current state of political discourse in this country. It's this time of year, the tail end of election cycles, that I am least proud of the American political system, in terms of the means by which the people who seek to govern get themselves elected, because it is in that very situation where they behave least like the kind of folks we should, as a nation, be putting in any kind of leadership role.

The state of politics in this country has been in a serious decline, in my opinion, for at least the past six years, and probably more like the past eight. The latter part of the Clinton administration was probably the beginning of the slide, but our current president has thrown the nose straight down and punched the afterburners since taking office. It's ironic, in a way, because he spent quite a bit of energy in his original campaign talking about wanting to unite the parties, and work together to accomplish great things. He wanted to be, in a modification of a more recent reference, the Uniter. Since then, he's become the Decider, and by and large the Divider. Regardless of your political leanings, you can't, by any objective measure, point to a single thing that this administration has done to improve relations between the parties, either in the legislature or the voting public. It's as if the word 'bi-partisan' was anathema, perhaps because it involves the prefix 'bi-' and we all know how uncomfortable that notion makes conservatives, compassionate or otherwise. But I digress.

Consider for a second the nature of campaign communication. Specifically, the kinds of things that the various parties and organizations put on television. Nobody really runs for anything anymore; it's all running against the other guy. And nearly every stance is predicated on fear: in the 2004 elections, Bush wanted you to vote for him because you were scared of Al Qaeda; Kerry wanted you to vote for him because you were scared of Bush. That's really all it amounted to, the whole election. And it hasn't gotten any better. It just keeps getting worse.When is the last time you saw a campaign ad that was less than a full-throated assault on the opposing candidate, in some cases for things that are completely unrelated to the issues of the campaign? It's all finger-pointing, oversimplification and a lot of misrepresentation, from both parties. I stared in amazement at the kind of commercials being aired in northern Virginia the last couple of weeks. Not a single positive ad, or not more than one or two. And the level of negative is just off the scale.

Both sides do it because, sadly, it works. In a lot of ways, I blame the American public, because we as a group not only tolerate this kind of trash, we make no bones about preferring it, both in our entertainment as well as our politics. Moreover, we crave it. We really can't get enough of it, the more vehement and brazen the better, in a lot of cases. And forget depth. We can't have that. Just give us straw men, the more the merrier! Any platform position that takes more than a single, three-second sentence to sum up is waaaaaay beyond our attention span anymore. Heck, if we have to actually read something to understand it, it can't possibly be that important. We should be more careful what we wish for, because we get it every time.

As an example, I submit the "Same-Sex Marriage Ban" that looks all but guaranteed to become part of Virginia's constitution. Never mind for a second that it's the 21st century and we're still codifying intolerance and bigotry into the fabric of our government; I could spend an hour on that alone, but not now. The effect of this amendment is pretty significant for unmarried straight couples as well, the way I understand it. No more rights. None. Period. Cohabitating for a few years, got your assets combined and just haven't seen the need to go official? Tough. This amendment is meant for you, too. There is some question as to whether written contracts could even be enforced in a situation like medical decisions. Oh, and common law? It will be interesting to see how that holds up. I wonder if the rural voting community thought about that at all when they went charging out to the voting booth. But I would be willing to bet that the vast majority, rural or otherwise, never read that far down in the language of the amendment. Gays? Married? Well, we'll just see about that. How could it possibly be more complicated? Wait, it is? Then allow me to plug my ears and sing. La-la-la-la-la, I can't hear you....

It's just saddening that at this point in history, our country is at the mercy of the fringes of both parties. It's true, and it will always be true, until moderates start shouting. I firmly believe that there are more of us than there are of them, but moderates are by nature, well, moderate, which makes us a less-loud, and unfortunately a therefore less powerful, group of people. I know very few people from either side that are all that happy with their party right now, but the nature of the two-party system leaves little in the way of options. So it's a matter of picking the lunatics that worry you less and just keeping your fingers crossed. And the conduct of politicans as a group isn't making great strides to inspire confidence, either. It's like used car salesmen and lawyers are just glad that someone is bumping them out of the top spot of people we wouldn't trust to walk our dog, and yet these are the people who are steering this country into the future. Need some Dramamine? Hang on, it might get a little bumpy.

Now, all of that said, let me say this: I love this country, I would far rather be here than anywhere else. I recognize and appreciate that the system in place allows me the freedom to say these sorts of things without fear. I'm not anti-American, anti-democracy, anti-military, or any of that crap; the truth is quite the opposite, so leave that nonsense at home. I am just troubled by the way the game is being played these days. I really don't think it's good for any of us, long-term, and unless something dramatic happens to make that clear, we're going to take more steps back than forward, which endangers our position on the world stage in addition to the problems it creates within our own borders.

But I voted. I did my part. I will say that it was a pleasant surprise to find that my polling station was all of a block from home. But I just wish that the people that I was voting for would behave more like the kind of people we want, and really need, them to be.

I would never have guessed it would be so much to ask.

Two 'Tube for Tuesday: Thanks KassyK

I almost skipped this week, because of a pileup of work and grad school, but then I saw the title of Kassy's post today, and I just couldn't.

The "Choppin' Broccoli" song is quite possibly the funniest thing Dana Carvey has ever done (that didn't involve a funny wig and nerd glasses). It was made into an SNL skit, but my memory of it has always been from his stand-up. Here is the stand-up version, which gets a little more of an intro to the idea.

And if we're talking about Dana Carvey, then of course we have to have a moment with the funny wig and nerd glasses.

Party on.

November 5, 2006

What a difference...

Five weeks ago: loss to Georgia Tech, 2 starters suspended.
Four weeks ago: loss to Boston College, 2 starters suspended (different players this time).
Two weeks ago: beat then-#10 Clemson by 17 at home.
This week: beat Miami by 7 in Miami.

Isn't it amazing what can happen when you manage to keep your starters from getting arrested? I'm pretty sure there's a lesson in there someplace.

And while we're at it:

What's a Hokie?
That’s the most often-asked question
regarding Virginia Tech athletics. The answer
leads all the way back to 1896 when Virginia
Agricultural and Mechanical College changed its
name to Virginia Polytechnic Institute.

With the change came the necessity for
writing a new cheer and a contest for such a
purpose was held by the student body. Senior
O.M. Stull won first prize for his "Old Hokie"
yell which still is used today.

Later, when asked if "Hokie" had any special
meaning, Stull explained the words he used had
no hidden or symbolic meaning, but had been
thought up in an effort to get attention. Hokie
soon became a nickname for all Tech teams and
for those people loyal to Tech athletics.

October 31, 2006

Two 'Tube for Tuesday: Whose Line

I'm apparently one of the twelve people nationwide who actually watched Whose Line is it Anyway when it was on network TV, which always confused me because to my mind it was consistently funnier than most sitcoms. But whatever. It's been relegated to ABC Family on reruns, and that's fine. It seems that fans of the show have posted a ton of clips on the 'Tube as well. This is good news. So here are two of my favorites.

Improv is hard, and these guys do it extremely well, pulling off great comedy and never cracking a smile at their own stuff. Well, almost never. Some of the best moments, as far as I'm concerned, are when the people performing just can't hold it together, and crack up despite themselves.
First, Ryan and Colin in "Improbable Mission." Poor Ryan just can't hang.

And second, Wayne Brady doing "Song Styles" as a male strip-o-gram for a retired lunch lady. Quite possibly one of the best WLIIA scenes ever.

October 30, 2006

Low-effort Halloween is easy, thanks to the Wachowski brothers

This has been kind of a hellacious week at work, and only marginally better at school. As a result, I had exactly no time to think about the weekend and any kind of costume ideas for the party I was planning to go to Saturday night. I usually try to be at least kind of clever about it, but there just wasn't time. To make matters worse, the party had a theme, villains, so just any old thing I could come up with wasn't sufficient: I had to be specific.

So I spent a few minutes thinking about it here and there Thursday and Friday, with little luck, and then it struck me. As a professional male, I have most of a pre-fab villain costume in my very own closet.

I own a black suit.
I own a black tie.
I own sunglasses (rimless, which came in handy).
I own white earbud headphones.
Just a quick trip to Target for a tie bar, and I was all set in my Agent Smith-ness.

Since it was chilly out, I got to add to the image with my trenchcoat, which made the entrance even better. As it turned out, people really liked it, which is always cool. The only downside was that, in keeping with the Halloween theme, the house was poorly lit, which made walking around wearing sunglasses a serious health hazard. So they didn't stay on all night, for the benefit of my safety and the safety of those around me.

The great thing about Agent Smith? The more people wearing the same costume, the better. We had two.

There were some great costumes there as well; some folks went all-out. Probably the best: a full-on Cobra Commander, with Baroness and Cobra soldier in tow, was amazing. We had a Borat, mostly because I think every party was required to have at least one this year. We also had the villainous trio from Superman 2 (brilliant), Dr. Evil plus Fembot (complete with ballistic boobs), Pennywise the Killer Clown, and a host of other well-put-together outfits. All in all, a very good time. I'm not a huge Halloween person, but it's always good to be around fun people who do it up right.

October 25, 2006

If I were in charge

Kathryn's post yesterday strikes pretty close to home for me, as I'd imagine it would for most people I know. Pretty much all of my friends (and most of my coworkers and classmates, for that matter) are overworked or overextended and underslept. I have a lot of thoughts as to the hows and whys of it (possible subject of a later post), but the bottom line is this:

Who decided adults didn't need naps? Why did this get taken away when we were kids?

In grade school, we got naps and recess. Middle school came, and we still got recess, but no naps. High School? Lunch, but no recess and certainly no naps (at least, no intentional naps, ccasional in-class dozing notwithstanding). College was a mixed bag; if you were lucky, you could build a schedule that either let you a) sleep in, or b) arrange some mid-day naptime to recharge before the afternoon. If you were me (or my engineering classmates), you got neither. What you did get was loads of homework and a bunch of all-nighters, neither of which sound like naptime. And now, as adults, we get progressively longer work-weeks, work to take home, responsibilities for house/home, relationships, grad school, taking some hobby/recreation/social time, and trying to get as close as possible to a full night's sleep in the middle of all of that (which usually results in a change to what 'full' means for most folks).

A thought experiment: by how much would Starbucks' stock drop if we got to a point in this country (or just this city) where the average adult was actually getting 8 hours of sleep nightly?

I, like a lot of people I'm sure, spend a fair amount of time considering How I'd Run Things. That was one of the most interesting things, to me, about the dot-com boom: a whole lot of people who would not necessarily have been in charge otherwise started companies. The intense demand for skilled employees created an environment where the non-financial benefits of employment became nearly as important as the salaries: company-sponsored gym memberships; on-site pool, foozeball, or ping-pong tables; employee lounges in the true 'lounge' sense of the word (bean bag chairs, video game consoles); I even read about some companies putting together massages or salsa classes for their people. Granted, the demise of that industry, and the general downturn in employment overall, has led to the disappearance of a lot of those things, but a few still remain (my company subsidizes gym membership now, which it didn't a few years ago).

Personally, I'd give most of that up for a half-hour nap in the middle of the day, grade-school-style, just to avoid that stretch from about 3:00 - 3:30pm where I feel like I'm back in my freshman Chemistry class early Thursday morning, just trying to keep the eyelids open.

I have long said that if I am ever in the position to do so, I will set aside a room in my office that will be devoted to naptime. La-Z-Boy recliners and egg timers, that sort of thing. Maybe a Sounds of Nature machine. One of those bubbling fountain things. Something.

The point is, I want my naptime back. And while we're at it, some cookies would be great as well.

It probably won't happen, but it sure would be nice, wouldn't it?

October 23, 2006

Two 'Tube for Tuesday: Classic Carlin

I have been a fan of George Carlin for years. That is, when he was still doing comedy, as opposed to what he's been doing on stage the last couple of years or so. In rememberance of the comic genius that was, I offer the following.

First, one of my all-time favorites, about losing things:

And second, one of the best versions of one of his best, "Stuff," from the '86 Comic Relief show:

I miss funny George. Angry screaming George just isn't the same.

October 19, 2006

Just one of those...

Based on the way the past couple of days have gone at work, I have decided on a new favorite word:

clusterfuckery (n): the quality or state of being a clusterfuck.
["This is whole thing is an exercise in clusterfuckery."]

And that's all I have to say about that.

October 17, 2006

Two 'Tube for Tuesday

Since other bloggers tend to post their weekly fare on Fridays, I thought I'd try something on an otherwise unclaimed (and frankly, underappreciated) day of the week.

I've been sending a bunch of YouTube clips around lately, and did an entire post of them on Sunday (some might call it procrastination, and I'm in no position to argue), so I figured I'd make something regular out of it. On Tuesdays, I'll post a pair of pleasing pieces (so I'm a sucker for alliteration; sue me) from my wanderings for your viewing (and my procrastinating) pleasure. Most will be from YouTube, but I'll dip into Ifilm and other places as I can find them. I'll embed where I can, and link otherwise. Pretty much everything will be safe for work, unless otherwise noted. Feedback/suggestions/requests welcome, of course.

For the inaugural T'T4T, we have a classic, and the extended version of one of my all-time favorites.

First, something everyone should see at least once: the Camelot scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail, done entirely in Legos.

And second, the full-length version of a video I linked to a while ago, which is still one of the funniest things I've ever seen (the mime link). I've been looking for a longer version for a while, and I finally found it.

More next week, or at least until the Google people shut it all down...

October 15, 2006

Tasty nuggets of awesome

Found this on Youtube today. Excellent JT parody, "Paxilback".

While we're parody-ing, we might as well give a nod to the master.
The latest, "White & Nerdy":

And the original, "Eat It":

And some more musical chuckles for your arse:
Flight of the Conchords, "Business Time"

Stephen Lynch, "Superhero"

And finally, this isn't musical, but it's absolutely hilarious. Check it out.

October 12, 2006

While I'm reviewing things...

I did something over the weekend that I rarely do these days: went to the movies. I saw The Departed, the new Scorcese movie with Jack and Matt Damon and Leonardo DiCaprio and Marky Mark (regrettably, still sans Funky Bunch) and a host of others. I really liked it, although there were a couple of things I could have done without.

First of all, pretty much all of the performances are great. Leo managed to go an entire movie without irritating the hell out of me, and that in itself is an achievement. But beyond that, he's really good. Ditto for Jack, but it's kind of jarring listening to Nicholson trying to inhabit a Boston accent. I kind of wish he wouldn't; I don't really think Jack is (or needs to be) acting anymore, he just has to find cool lines to say and go be Jack doing it (he gets a pass for this, unlike Costner, who is just incapable of anything else, including making movies that are under like 7 hours long). Matt Damon is managing to put together an awfully long streak of movies that I can't dislike (as opposed to Affleck, for example), and this is another good choice for him. I don't think that Matt is an overtly good actor, in the sense that he doesn't ever really wow you, but he just manages to put very believable characters on screen. Martin Sheen and Alec Baldwin both pop in with good roles as well. Oh, and the girl - Vera Farmiga - is excellent (I say 'the girl' because there's really only one of any significance in the movie). Good job of casting and acting pretty much all around.

I liked the writing a lot, mostly because while being very dark, there is a whole lot of humor in it. This is a film that makes the most out of down time, with a lot of the the sort of back-and-forth banter and ribbing that you'd expect to find between the characters. I think a lot of serious films try to stay serious, to their detriment, but this one works plenty of comedy in to break up the rhythms a bit. Plus it's almost all sarcasm and snark, so that appeals to me immediately. I would be curious to see how people from different parts of the country react to some of the writing. I just think that the sense of humor that comes out of the Northeast is markedly different from most anywhere else: it has an edge to it that I don't find down here, for example, and I kind of miss a lot of the time. But in any case, this is a surprisingly funny movie, intermixed with a lot of violence and drama.

I won't get too much into the plot, since you get all you need to know about it from the commercial (and then some, but more on that in a second). Moves fast, has plenty of twists, the kinds of things you expect from a director like Scorcese. It gives you about 20 minutes to settle in and then off you go. And go. And go some more. Right up to the end, which is really the only major flaw in the film.

I'm all for plot twists, but I think there should be a limit to the number of them you can cram into a 2-minute stretch of film; there is one scene that violates that limit, whatever it would be. It's unfortunate when, after having an audience pretty well wrapped up in the story, to get laughter and strains of "Oh, come on!" in one of the more important points in the story. I understand the why, but I just would have preferred it to be handled differently. It in no way ruins the movie, it's just an unfortunate speed bump in an otherwise great ride. The only other thing that bothered me was that the commercial for the film, like so many these days, gives you a shot out of the last 2 minutes of the movie. I'm not going to tell you which one, but it had me looking for it for about half the picture, and I eventually figured out that it would be one of the closing shots. That's not the movie's fault, I know, but it irritated me all the same; it's becoming all to common with studios these days, and I'm really, really tired of it. What makes it worse for this one is that this is one of those movies where you really can't tell how it's going to play out from watching the commercial, and that's rare enough that they shouldn't mess with it.

All in all, I recommend it. Whatever flaws it has are vastly outweighed by the things it does well. Of course, if you're not sure about taking my word for it, here's a review if you'd rather hear what a pro thinks.

October 11, 2006

We interrupt this commercial to bring you the following programming...

The grad school schedule is pretty hectic this semester, so I figured I'd share a couple of shows I'm actually making time for.

Studio 60: It's a pretty difficult thing, to come into a brand new series with the kind of expectations that this one did. Think about it: what show in the last few years has seen the kind of pre-hype that S60 has gotten? Usually the great shows sneak up on you after a year or two of warming up (how many people really watched the first seasons of Seinfeld, Raymond, etc.?). Hell, it took Conan a good two years or so to figure out his show, and he has a whole team writing just for him. Anyway, after a few-year break from The West Wing, Sorkin is back on television, and with a great show. Granted, I was very much into both The West Wing and SportsNight when they were on, so I'm a little biased. But I also think that Sorkin's writing on S60 is his best so far.

I am a huge fan of well-written dialogue, and if you're like that as well, there are few better scratches to that itch than a Sorkin script. Fast-paced, intelligent, alternately damn funny and affecting, watching one of his shows is like watching uber-intellectual semantic ping-pong. My problem with WW, though, was that I felt like a lot of the dialogue was interchangeable: any of the lines could have been given to any of the characters, and you wouldn't have noticed much of a difference. Of course, all of the characters were highly educated intellectual types, but I often felt a little let down by the lack of specificity in it. After watching the first few episodes, I can honestly say I think he's fixed that problem, and fixed it good. The group of characters is both broader and deeper, with a more varied cross-section of attitudes and perspectives to work with. And they've done a very good job of casting, pulling in some excellent talent. They've even managed to get Matthew Perry to not play Chandler (well, for the most part, anyway). Brad Whitford is still being Josh, but they've managed to write him a spine, so that's a big improvement.

Oh yeah, and it's also damn funny. If you can, try to find the pilot episode, if for no other reason than for the musical number towards the end. I especially like the fact that it's not all behind-the-scenes; we do get to see some sketches played out as well.

There are still some question marks about how it's all going to play out, but I think it's been a promising first three episodes. And I, for one, will be parked on the couch Monday nights to see how it goes.

The Wire: With apologies to those of you without HBO, this may be the best show on television right now, and it's not especially close. Rave all you want about Lost or Grey's or whatever, but I'll take this show every time over most others. For my money, it's better than The Sopranos ever was, and manages to do what that show never really did: make me care about what's going on week-to-week. I went to viewing parties for Sopranos and everything, but I didn't really take the time out to watch it otherwise. But I make sure to tune in to this one.

The Wire is a serial, so it's tough to drop into (much like Lost or 24), but it's totally worth renting the previous seasons on DVD to catch up (well, I can't really speak for Season 2, but 1 and 3 were great). We're three or four weeks into this season, but the On Demand crowd can catch up relatively easily.

The show is dark, and tragic, and disturbing, but it's Just. So. Good. It's set in Baltimore, but I don't think I've seen a shot of the Inner Harbor used for anything other than an interstitial; the whole show takes place in the parts of the city you never want to be caught in. On one hand, it's about bad people doing bad things, the good people trying to stop them, and the people who get caught in the middle. On the other hand, nothing about the show is that simple; nothing is quite that clearly defined, and that's part of what makes the whole thing so compelling. Sympathetic "villains," "heroes" you want to spit at, and everything in between. And it's all completely believable. The show is run by a former Balt Sun reporter and a former Balt homicide detective, and they succeed in showing the city a fair amount of respect while letting the light in on some of its worst aspects. Perhaps most importantly, they get a lot of support from the city itself, which is a strong endorsement in my eyes. It's not easy to watch at first, but the discomfort passes as you figure out just how good it is.

I watch other stuff as well, but nothing all that regularly. I would probably watch even more if I still had my DVR (which didn't come with me when I moved), but the fact that I don't is probably better for my grades. I pick a couple of shows in a given semester to plan around, and these days it's Studio 60 and The Wire.

What are you watching?

September 25, 2006

productivity is overrated

If you're at work and looking for a really great way to waste company time and money, I humbly offer this, from the M&Ms people (by way of WashPost). It's kind of like the invisibles, for those of you that are familiar with/addicted to those.

This sort of thing makes me miss Games magazine. Did anybody else get that when they were young? Does it still exist? Inquiring minds want to know.

update: the answers can be found here, if you want them.

September 18, 2006

That cruel, cruel mistress

Another semester of grad school has started, which means you can look forward to quite a bit of post-slacking from yours truly over the next couple of months (I know, because I've been so obscenely regular about it to this point, but still). I'll try to do a little something from time to time, but either or both of these classes could turn into the kind of nightmare that last spring was, so we'll have to see.

Case in point: I was up earlier on Saturday morning than I typically get up for work during the week, just to go to campus for a half-day class session. That offends my sense of universal justice on many levels, as I'm sure you can imagine. School on a Saturday, and you have to get up extra-early to do it (okay, so only by half an hour, but it's a matter of principle). It turned out to be enjoyable enough, but who would it have killed to start the effing thing at, like, 10? Of course, I say the same thing about my workday, but that is neither here nor there. Suffice it to say I'm not exactly a morning person.

Oh, and a total aside: if you're inclined to buy your textbooks on, just be careful about who you buy from (I have no idea how one would go about this, really, but I felt I should say it). I ordered one of my books a week before the semester started, and it still hasn't shown up. That's close to four weeks and counting, and my confidence is not terribly high at the moment. And naturally, the price (and haven't received yet) has gone from $50 to $85 in the meantime. Still better than the bookstore, but dammit. I've got one more day on my delivery window, so the fingers will remain crossed for just a little longer. It's not a good sign, however, that when I go check out the seller, they're listed as "no longer a registered user." I have a feeling more than the book might turn out to be used...

August 30, 2006

Must See webTV

Okay, I know I made fun of it earlier, and I still don't know that I'll bother going to see the movie, but if you haven't already seen it you must check out Samuel L. Jackson on the Daily Show.

Too often, actors will try to puff up the movie they're promoting, to make it seem more artistic even though we know that they know that we know it's a shallow piece of crap/drivel/nonsense of a movie (and I don't mean that as an insult, merely an observation). So it's refreshing to see Sam be so candid about how intricate and complex this movie isn't, and his willingness to discuss some of the backstory. And it's hilarious to boot. This clip also shows why Jon Stewart is such a great host, because who else in his position would be shouting and hollering along with Sam? Good, good stuff.

** Update: Apparently I'm an idiot who can't link correctly. Thanks to VK for the heads-up, it's fixed now. Now go watch the mothereffing interview.

August 22, 2006

Multitasking is not always a good thing

Like most 21st-century, technologically current folks, I have a cell phone. And I have been known to use that cell phone while walking to/from the metro, on the way to errands, or just standing outside. I also, from time to time, make and take calls while in my car (hands-free, of course). All of these activities qualify as normal, to me, in today's society. Even on the morning metro, I don't much blink when someone pulls out the phone to alert the World Above that the metro is delayed. Again. But that's a whole other rant.

The reason I bring it up: I was walking home from a dinner-grab Monday night, and I saw something that baffled me then, and continues to baffle me now. It started out innocently enough. I was walking along Fairfax Dr across from the IHOP, and I saw a woman coming towards me, out for an evening jog. Mid-40s, I'm guessing, reasonable pace, the kind of thing you see all the time.

But then I noticed that her mouth was moving. I thought perhaps she was tired, maybe she's at the end of her run and huffing a little bit. Perfectly normal, I'm still thinking.

As she gets closer, I realize that she's talking. Now bear in mind, I'm the only person in sight on this side of the street, which might suggest that she's saying something to me. Odd, but not out of the question.

But no. As she jogs by, I see the black wire dangling down from her ear.

She's talking on the phone.

While she's jogging.

Let me repeat that, in case it got by you the first time -

She's jogging while talking on a cell phone. Both at the same time.

Look, I'm not against jogging; I give plenty of credit to anyone who can run more than 100 feet in a straight line without needing a meal/nap break. More power to you. Nor am I against cell phones, as the intro clearly establishes. But together? Wha?

This bothers me on a couple of levels. First, it smacks of self-importance. This person is so important, so popular, with a schedule so crowded, that she's booked to the point where the people clamoring for her attention have to share her with a couple-mile run. So you're shortchanging your friend/colleague/anonymous mole by diverting your focus from the conversation to your pace, how far you have left to go, and oh, I don't know, maybe breathing and staying upright. And speaking of breathing, being able to carry on a normal conversation while running suggests that you aren't running fast enough. I don't know a whole lot about running (mostly flashbacks to Cross-Country. Ick.), but I'm pretty sure that you're shortchanging your workout by trying to run and catch up on Desperate Housewives at the same time. So basically, everybody loses.

Listen closely, ma'am. Come in right up next to the screen, so we're sure not to misunderstand each other:

You are not that important, popular, or busy. It can wait. Put the phone down, run, then talk to your friends. If something is critical enough to make you want to talk about it while you run, postpone the run. The street will be there later. If you really need to get your run in right then, whoever it is will gladly wait the half hour it will take you to get it done. Trust me. If the President of the United States isn't on the phone when he's riding his mountain bike, you don't need to be on the phone when you're running. I assure you you're not as busy as he is, no matter how much vacation he takes. (Although really, that would at least make a reasonable excuse for crashing into a tree, wouldn't it? Or the pretzel-choking would have made much more sense if he'd been on the phone with Blair, who had just made a hilarious bangers-and-mash joke. But I digress)

Which brings me to my next question: who are these people who agree to talk to someone while they're running? I don't mind talking to someone while they're eating, but come on. Do you really want to be on the other side of a phone call with someone halfway through Mile 4? I don't. If I want heavy breathing in my conversation, I'll call a phone sex line like a normal person. Sure it's expensive, but it saves me the risk of mixed messages, and I say you can't put a price on peace of mind. Or maybe I can; it's roughly $3.99 per minute.

So please, jog-talkers out there, pick an activity and stick with it. Or, if you can't get your head around that, I hear they're looking for people at 1-900-HOT-BABE.

In which case, I guess I'll talk to you soon after all.

August 18, 2006

It hasn't started, and I'm already sick of it

Adapted from an email to a friend the other day, in honor of the movie's release.

I fully expect "I'm tired of this/these mothereffing [x] on this/these/that mothereffing [y]" to win the Dead-Horse Catchphrase Award for 2006. Watch for lame variations in bars, offices, and other places hack, unfunny people congregate nationwide starting, oh, now-ish.

(Note: this is not to say that it can't be made funny, I'm just guessing that it generally won't be. Expect a lot of "I'm tired of this mothereffing pepperoni on my mothereffing pizza"-type usage, which will make you just want to bash your head into a wall. Or, more to the point, bash his head into a wall, which would be infinitely more satisfying. Then take the pizza, because obviously he didn't properly appreciate it.)

I just hope we can then say goodbye to referring to something extreme as "[something smaller or less extreme] on steroids."

In other catchphrase-and-SoaP news, I have to thank Virgle Kent for linking to this post from the blog of Josh Friedman, a Hollywood screenwriter who was apparently in on some of the early SoaP action. The reason? Rather than trying to explain it myself, I will quote:

In fact, during the two or three days that precedes my phone call with the
studio, I become obsessed with the concept. Not as a movie. But as a sort of
philosophy. Somnewhere in between "Cest la vie", "Whattya gonna do?" and "Shit
happens" falls my new zen koan "Snakes on a Plane".

WIFE: "Honey you stepped in dog poop again. "
ME: "Snakes on a Plane..."

DOCTOR: "Your cholesterol is 290. Perhaps you want to mix in a walk once in
a while."
ME: "Snakes on a Plane..."

WIFE: "Honey while you were on your cholesterol walk you stepped in dog
poop again."

You get the picture.

For some reason, I just really love this. Not surprisingly, the blog written by a professional screenwriter is pretty good. Check out this post, one of the funnier surgery-anxiety stories you'll hear. This may be because surgery anxiety is seldom a source for giggles, but whatever, this one's damn funny.

Now I have to get back to work.

Snakes on a Plane...

August 17, 2006

Unintentional Comedy at Work

So my company publishes this quarterly internal newsletter (at least, I'm assuming it's internal; it's one of those things I have a hard time imagining we'd send to clients). We do a lot of things, primarily engineering/architecture related, but also dabbling in other related areas. Environmental work is one of those areas. It just so happens that this issue was focused on the environmental work we're doing. The title: Ecological Restoration.

The cover page is divided into five columns, each with a different picture of lush, natrual beauty. From left to right:
1. Undersea shot of coral reef, multicolored fish. Nice. Blue. Pleasant. Jacques would be proud.
2. Beach shot, past a palm tree overlooking the ocean. Calm. Peaceful. Pristine.
3. Wetlands, tall grass in the background and a single white egret/heron/something in the foreground. Excellent photo. Good reflections on the water. Well done.
4. Picture of a small creek cutting through a marsh. Very green. Untouched nature. Very effective.
5. Photo taken across the green at a golf course, including red pin flag. Very, um, uhhh... *sound of needle dragging across record* Huh? Hang on a second.

Now, I'm not the most ecologically-educated guy, but I'm at least a little bit sure that a golf course is not exactly a restoration measure. I mean, it's green and everything, but come on. Let's see: cut down most of the trees, dig up the ground, poke holes in it, plant grass that doesn't belong there, pave cart paths, pump in water for the hazards, and put up a bunch of buildings. Yeah, exactly the way it was centuries ago. Ecological restoration at its finest, we should all be proud to be a part of it. Plus, free cart rentals, so there's that.

It very much struck me as one of those games in Highlights, where you have to spot the thing that doesn't belong. Except instead of being on the back of a Denny's kids' meal menu/placemat, it's official communication from my employer.

At least they could have passed out crayons with it; there's plenty of room for Hangman in there.

August 15, 2006


I had contemplated calling this post 'my Mel Gibson moment,' but then I figured I'd have to start out explaining how I was not referring to some drunken ethnically offensive rant, but rather the whole-monologue-in-a-single-word from the end of Braveheart. But I figured that would be a little tedious, so I decided against it.

Boy, am I glad I dodged that one.

The point of the post (you knew I'd get to it eventually) is: I'm done. Done with yet one more semester on the path to the end of grad school. Took my final tonight, and now I have three weeks of largely unscheduled time.

World. Oyster. You get the idea.

I don't have much planned for the break, except a four-day trip to NYC to visit my friend in film school (NYU, which is way cool), but I hope to correct that state of affairs. I also have a crapload of cleaning up/arranging to do in my apartment, following the arrival of some new furniture and the departure of some old (there's a post in there too, but later for that). All good stuff, but my place is a disaster area (but then, it's been like that off and on since I moved in January). So part of the agenda has to include making the place look like a fully functioning adult actually lives here. I figure if I make it look that way, the fully functioning adulthood will follow at some point. Someday.

I keep hoping.....

Anyway, here's to another step taken down the road. At some point, maybe I'll actually figure out where the heck I'm going. But like Kermit and Fozzy used to say:

Movin' right along, footloose and fancy free
Getting there is half the fun, come share it with me

(or something like that; we learned the song when I was in first grade and I'm pretty much going from memory. When I was that young, singing the song was worthwhile just to say Saskatchewan, which at the time, and to and extent still, was the funniest place name I had ever heard)

August 9, 2006

Extroversion, Part Deux

Just a couple of random thoughts from the HH:

- It was surprising to me just how many people I recognized, considering the fact that I had never met any of them. I was pretty good about not immediately referring to them by their blogname, with the exception of KassyK: I introduced myself to her saying, "You must be Kassy." I mean, I was right, but I was also wrong. Aside from Kathryn and Cookie, I met Namaste, KassyK, BrunchBird, etcetera, Circle V, Thicky, Ashburnite, Jeff Simmermon, Jay Gatsby, Heather (Heather B?), GratefulDating, Bettyjoan, and a few others who may or may not have been bloggers, because I didn't always ask.

- I was apparently the one person within the blast range of both exploding drinks Friday night. As such, the owners of said drinks can blame me, if they would prefer. I'm a helper, it's what I do.

- This will be no surprise to anyone, but Cookie is a dynamo. Cookie, plus an electric pink wig, plus a generous helping of Namaste, is a recipe for hijinks. I almost pity the poor Subway employees, who had no idea what they were in for. Ditto the patrons, ditto the people outside the restaurant. Highly entertaining, but you have to wonder what a couple of the passers-by's conversations must have been like afterwards (a few interesting looks as Cookie was checking/adjusting the wig, using the front door to the place as a mirror). Then again, it's DuPont, so it might not have seemed all that out of the ordinary. But it was damn funny either way.

- If you aren't reading Brunchbird, you should be. That's all I have to say about that.

- I only spoke to her for 20 or so minutes, but I'm a little bit sure that etcetera is a much, much better person than I am. Or most people, for that matter. I mean, anyone whose profession centers around places like Darfur gets that title pretty much by default. Plus, I'm generally a horrible person, so the bar is set kinda low. It's all about standards, I guess.

- The ladies react far differently to Cookie grabbing their boobs than when I do it. She didn't get maced even once. Must be a technique thing, I'll have to figure that out. And if there were pictures when I did it, it wouldn't be "cute HH moments," it would be "Prosecution Exhibit A." Which is a big reason I don't carry a camera.

August 7, 2006

Extroversion is my copilot

File this with what I'm sure is the long, long line of recaps from the Gazuza HH Friday night.

First of all, it was well worth my showing up before I even got to the bar. In fact, what helped me find the place at all made it worth the trip, and got the evening off to a very good start:

I walked to DuPont with a vague idea of where Gazuza was. DuPont Circle is about 6 blocks from my office. I Google-mapped the bar (never been before), so I knew it was in the vicinity of Connecticut and Q but that was as specific as I got. But hey, it's an intersection, it can't be hard to spot, I thought. Those of you familiar with that part of the Circle might chuckle at that, and rightly so. I probably will the next time I hear it, too. Long story short: I may not have found the bar at all had I not randomly run into my client from a recent project. And I do mean randomly. I was standing at the metro station, checking my cell voicemail and thinking about what to next, and he literally came walking by, with his twin brother. So we stopped and caught up for 15 or 20 minutes, which was great, and he pointed me in the right direction to find the happy hour (also great). And I got to meet his longtime partner, about whom I had heard many stories while I was on that contract. So it was awesome to catch up with him, since we'd been out of touch since the spring, and it put me in a pretty good mood going into the happy hour (this guy just sort of does that; it would make perfect sense if you met him). And, you know, I actually knew where I was going now. Big plus there.

The happy hour itself was way cool. It took all of about ten seconds to find and recognize Kathryn, who is at least as charming and delightful in three dimensions as she comes across in two. The same goes for Cookie, whom I met right afterwards. Many introductions and conversations followed, and pretty much all of them with engaging, interesting people.

The whole thing was somewhat surreal, because it was the first time I had introduced myself to anyone as a blogger, and moreso because some people actually recognized the reference (this was a little strange for me. In a good way, to be sure, but I just haven't quite gotten used to it yet). And meeting people in that environment is particularly interesting, because there are a couple of parts of the introduction: you cover name, blogger/commenter/reader/other, and Blogger handle, just to get a starting point. This is old hat for a lot of people, I'm sure, but it was a bunch of firsts for me.

All in all, I had a great time, and will definitely try to make it to the next one. Big ups to Cookie and Kathryn for playing hostess(es), and for making a newbie feel welcome.

One of the things that struck me as I looked around the room:
- consider for a second the traditional image of the person/people who spend(s) significant amounts of time online (going back to MMORPGs, chatrooms, etc). Now consider that the group at HH was almost overwhelmingly female, and hot. I'll leave it to the English majors to say for sure, but I think that qualifies as 'irony.' Wonderful, wonderful irony.

More later, but beddy-bye time for now. If you're having trouble sleeping, may I suggest this lullaby. Always works for me.

August 4, 2006

I am spoiled, Part II

Buch of characters, this group. I spend most of my weekend visit alternately eating and laughing my ass off. The danger, of course, is in the combination, but we haven't lost anyone. Yet.

My favorites are probably my grandmother's sisters. My grandmother is the oldest of six; there are two boys and three girls below her. And they're all just overgrown children. Well, the whole family is, really, but especially these kids. I remember a couple of years ago, standing and listening to two of my great-aunts all a-giggle, threatening each other with sneaking into the other's room and pulling the sleeping-hand-in-a-pan-of-warm-water trick. Bear in mind, these are women in their late 60s or early 70s, grandparents or more each, talking about grade-school summer camp pranks. These are my people. And it by no means starts or ends with them: everyone's an enabler (or more to the point, instigator) here. My dad and his siblings/cousins are like that, as are mine. It's hard to pick out the most fun moments, but a lot of them have to do with listening to the older folks tell stories about when they were young. Every time, you get another story you haven't heard, and every time you wonder how on earth you'd never heard that before, or you learn something that it had never occurred to you to ask. Plus, watching them all howl with laughter as they talk about the kinds of shenanigans they were into 60+ years ago is just a treat.

What's remarkable to me is that so many of them are still around; I frequently refer to my family as indestructible. There is some serious longevity in my gene pool: the patriarch of the family is my great-great-uncle Mote (my grandmother's uncle). At 95, he is just now starting to slow down. It was only in the past few years that they made him stop driving (my brother rode with him once on the way to play golf; I think once was plenty for him). Mote was a pilot, flew the Hump, and even though he's visibly slower now he still has quite a presence. My grandfather is 93, and I swear he's in better shape than I am (all right, so maybe that says more about me than about him). He and my grandmother (age 86) walk a couple miles every day in FL, and they bowl and garden and do things that people 10 or 20 years their junior have trouble doing. The past couple of gatherings have been especially neat, since we now have the fifth generation being born. The cousins my age are now marrying and starting families, and the new round of babies is, not suprisingly, a big hit. The pictures of five generations all together (my great-great-uncle, grandmother, aunt, cousin and her 6-month-old) really are priceless.

The defining thing is really just how much everyone truly enjoys spending time together. I could tell a million stories as examples, but it's hard to put into words the sensation of being there, in the middle of it all. You really can't help but smile. I have always felt more than a little blessed to be in this family, considering some of the stories I've heard about others: one side of the family doesn't speak to the other, divorces, various kinds of drama and conflict. We've been largely drama-free; not completely, but I'd say we've had well below the average. My parents have been married for around 35 years, my grandparents for a little over 60 years now. And every get-together is just one long love-fest. Every couple of summers, it's just a little bit bigger.

So yeah, I'm spoiled, but in the best possible way...

August 3, 2006

I am spoiled, Pt I

After spending this past weekend at my bi-annual family reunion, one thought keeps coming back to my mind:

My family kicks ass.

They do. They really do. Now, I'm not suggesting that yours doesn't; this isn't a contest. But I am repeatedly amazed at just how good the people I'm related to are, from top to bottom. There were probably 40-45 people attending this year (background on all that in a sec), spanning five generations, and there was not one person there who I wasn't thrilled to see. Even our black sheep, if you will, is at worst a medium gray.

This part of my family (paternal grandmother's part of the tree) has been getting together every other summer for pretty much as long as I can remember. See, my dad grew up in a small town in upstate NY, surrounded by cousins, aunts, uncles, etc. They would walk to school together, and spent much of their growing-up time immersed with the extended fam. As they grew up and began moving away, they decided that they wanted their children to have as close to that kind of relationship as possible, so coming to the reunions was a central part of many of our vacation plans. For the past 20 or so years, it's been held at the same place, my cousin's home in Ithaca. It's a great house: a good amount of room on the main floor to eat/socialize, a nice deck out back and a huge open back yard for running around. It's just about perfect. I started out as a kid in the yard, and have graduated to spending most of the time with the other adults (and believe me, I use that term loosely) watching the young'uns from the deck and out in the driveway. Honestly, it's hard to say which I prefer. The perspectives are so much different.

When I was little, I remember playing a lot of hide and seek in the yard, and tag (in all its various form), being mostly concerned about which other kids were going to be there. I was sort of peripherally aware of the old people; I knew that I had to say hello and get hugs, not to mention run the cheek-pinching gaunlet of older Italian women, but I was really interested in eating and playing and not much else. How I was connected to them was very much an afterthought. Trying to crack the cousin-math came a bit later, as I got into my mid-teens, when I really was trying to remember the adults' names and who was connected to whom (and it's tricky, I only really clicked with it in the last few years. I may explain that another time). So originally it was, "which of the kids are going to be there this year?"; then it became, usually on the drive up there, "okay, so what's his/her name again, and he/she belongs to which group?", and now I don't need the flash cards anymore. Well, almost.

The group that shows up varies in number, anywhere from about 25 to as many as 70 a few years ago. There is a core group of regulars, numbering about 20, which includes my immediate family and my first cousins/families, my grandmother and her siblings, and the family that hosts the party. Outside of that, we get any number of people from one gathering to the next, coming in from this area, from Ohio, Texas, Florida, Michigan, and lately from St. Thomas, where one of my cousins moved not long ago. This year was a good example. There were the usual suspects who I saw just a couple years ago, and there were some folks there that I hadn't seen in 10 years or more. So I have most of the names down, there are usually a few new (or at least, new-ish) faces to keep track of. But that's really just part of the fun. There's a running joke that we need nametags (which we did use this year), and should include some reference to our place on the family tree, just so we can keep everyone straight. Like I said, the math is a little tricky. It's all good fun, though, and we have a great time. And we eat. Boy, do we eat. Did I mention it's an Italian family?

I'm splitting this into two parts, because this is clearly too long already. I've covered the what and where, but the who is really the good part. More on that soon.

August 1, 2006

And we're back

Apparently 'slacking' was a bit of an understatement.

But all things considered, my comment about the wisdom of starting the blog was prescient: spring was a bear. Up to this point I had been taking three classes per semester, to try and move things along as quickly as possible (this was just to get through the core classes before the electives kick in). Did that for a couple of semesters, and it went pretty well. Then in the spring I dropped to two, because I had heard that this one class was especially demanding. I figured just taking two rather than three would allow me to handle that class and still have a life. Seemed like a good idea at the time, and it worked out. Kind of.

It turns out that the class I paired with the bear was also a bear. It was, without question, the hardest semester in grad school so far. Imagine having two different 50-ish-page papers due within about a week of each other (see E.T. reference, previous). In a word: suckage. Oh, and it's all group work. So the two-class semester was a good idea, but the having a life part wasn't so much an option. As rough as it was, it was a good semester educationally: the subject matter of each class complemented the other, and I definitely learned more having taken them together than I would have taking them separately. But still, it wasn't much fun while I was in the middle of it. I guess it falls into the Builds Character category next to shoveling snow, mowing the lawn, and all the other things your parents made you do when you'd much rather have been doing <insert anything that isn't mowing the lawn or shoveling snow here>. Plus, the grades came out all right (A- in both) so I didn't take a GPA hit in the process. Still rocking the 3.9+ and holding on for dear life.

(The grades thing is kind of surreal to me. I had a sub-3.0 undergrad GPA, so going through this many classes seeing nothing lower than an A- is very strange. Of course, I did almost no work in undergrad, which doesn't mix very well with an engineering curriculum. Discipline issues. Still dealing with them, but better this time.)

The summer has been much easier. One class per session, and pretty easy ones at that (although that assessment may change when I get my midterm back tonight). I've spent most of my blog time reading/commenting at other people's, but haven't been paying much attention to my own. Part of it was laziness. It's so much easier when other people will provide the entertainment. I also just didn't feel like I had much to say, so why post just for the sake of posting (like this, you might ask)? But lately I've been itching a bit, so here we are. Plus, I had a post idea, which always helps. Considering the hiatus, though, I thought I should throw in a quick recap before getting into it. Then again, I'm pretty sure I'm the only one reading this, and I already know what's been going on. But for anyone who drops by, now you know, too.

And knowing is half the battle*.

* It's amazing what an age-group barometer this is. On one hand, it's incredibly satisfying when you can throw that line into a conversation and get a "Yo Joe" in response. They are officially someone you can relate to. Conversely, it's downright depressing when someone responds, with no irony at all, "what's the other half?" Just makes you want to take your Geritol and go to bed. And tell them to get off your lawn. These kids today...
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