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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