December 31, 2007

I resolve to be immature

While I am not one to normally make New Year's Resolutions, I guess you could say I have a few this year by virtue of having just finished grad school (and no, I can't say that often enough, in case you were wondering). As I mentioned earlier, I do have some hobbies on the drawing board (although drawing is not one of them): I need to get back into some kind of exercise habit, I want to learn the guitar, and there are a couple of things on the second tier that I'm considering. We'll see how it all goes. I just hope the motivation lasts longer than the average Resolution, which these days has the lifespan of a fruit fly.

Except yours, of course. I have no doubt that you will be completely on top of your resolutions. No doubt. Let me know how that works out for you, k? K. Although if you're hard-up for ideas and want some help coming up with resolutions, LemonGloria has some excellent suggestions.

In other news, it's rare that one can get away with publicly channeling one's inner junior-high-schooler, but today is one of those days. As I and many of my co-workers were preparing do depart at the end of our half-day, we traded the age-old cliche that never fails to get a giggle, or at least an appreciative (though they might disagree, we know better) groan. I now bid it to all of you:

Have a good night, and see you next year.

Just remember: If you're driving, don't drink, and if you're drinking, don't drive.

Happy New Year, everybody.

December 22, 2007

I am Legend: somewhat less than legendary

The short version: good not great, but certainly worth seeing. One of the rare occasions on which I would have preferred a longer movie, since several aspects of the story seemed rushed (or ignored). But it's a good, entertaining thrill ride, even if I would say it doesn't quite live up to the hype.

I remember the first preview I saw for I am Legend, even if I don't entirely remember the movie I was seeing at the time. It was just about perfect, as previews go: you got a few shots of Will Smith in his house, driving through a desolate NYC, hunting with his dog, and you got the voice over of his radio message, which ends with, "you are not alone." Cut to title, cut to black.

That was it, and it was great. I knew that I wanted to see it, and frankly I didn't much want to know more about the movie than that. I desperately hoped that they'd keep it that simple in the marketing. I mean, it was brilliant in its simplicity: show the star, whet the appetite, leave the audience a little confused and a lot curious, and they will flock the theaters to see what happens. Genius, right? Less is more, tantalize them and they will come.

Apparently the commercial writers didn't get that memo.

I seriously want to find the people who write movie commercials and pimp-slap each and every one of them. They come very close to ruining most of the movies they're trying to sell, and I'm very, very tired of it. That's another rant for another time, but they really pissed me off with this movie. Mystery? Gone. Almost all of the anticipation about what the story might involve, the curiosity that the preview created, was pretty much shattered during the very first commercial. Oh, that's what they mean by not alone. Thanks, jackasses.

(In the hopes that some of you escaped the spoiler-filled commercials, I will try to discuss the movie vaguely enough to leave some mystery for you. And if you see a commercial come on, turn the channel immediately. Consider yourself warned).

Anyway, even though I knew more than I wanted about the plot, and even though I was pretty sure I knew what the ending was going to look like, I went and saw the movie anyway.

What I liked:
  • The suspense - this is not as much a scary movie as a jumpy movie. There is a lot of good suspense and tension, not much in the way of blood and gore, which I think is a good thing. My suggestion: no coffee before showtime. You'll thank me.
  • Will Smith - it should not be surprising to hear that Will Smith is pretty darn good in this movie, since he hasn't really clunked one in quite a while. What's most impressive is that he spends most of this movie by himself, in a way reminiscent of Tom Hanks in Cast Away. I don't think he's as good in this as Tom was in that, but there are similar aspects of the performance, including making characters out of his surroundings and having it be believable. But then, he has a dog, which is quite a bit more interactive than a volleyball. In any case, he does very well, particularly in showing how the solitude affects him over time. I don't think a nomination is out of the question, even though it's not the genre of film that award voters tend to look at closely.
  • The dog - you get exactly what you want/need out of this dog: a sympathetic side kick for Smith. The fact that they generate real exchanges, Smith and this dog, is a really a credit to the trainers and to Will's performance, but the whole thing works. You will root for the dog almost as much as you root for Will. Best Supporting Animal? I guess we'll have to wait and see how awards season plays out.
  • Almost no music - one of the things I have always given Cast Away (or more specifically, Tom Hanks) tons of credit for was the ability to create drama without the assistance of the movie's musical score. I applauded the decision then, and I applaud it now. There's not a lot of background music in this movie, and I think that was an excellent choice. It heightens the sense of isolation, and it also forces the actor to perform, and as I mentioned, Smith does a good enough job that he doesn't need the musical assistance that most suspense/drama movies get. For example, you don't get the high-pitched violin score in the background when something scary is happening. You get breathing, and darkness, and footsteps, and creaking of floors, and that's always better. Every time.

What I didn't Like:
  • Duration/pacing - this story could easily have taken a two-and-a-half hour film to really flesh out completely, yet the movie comes in at well under two hours and some of the storytelling suffers as a result. The price you pay is a rushed feeling through several points in the movie, as well as the utter lack of explanation of a few questions that seem fairly obvious to ask, although I won't, since doing so would spoil. But they're there, and you'll want to ask them when you're leaving the theater; unfortunately nobody there will be able to help you. There are many points that could have used further explanation, and the lack of it loses a lot of depth to the film.
  • CGI - considering the success of fully-CG characters in movies over the past several years, I was disappointed with the quality of the CG work in this movie. I fail to see what was gained by not using real people. That's all I'm saying. Maybe it was a budget thing (I'm not sure how much they spent to make this movie), but it detracts a bit from the overall experience
  • The fact that I, with zero military or advanced tactical training, and without being a research doctor, was able to suss out at least two things that somehow completely eluded the main character. Granted, you could argue their necessity for plot movement, but having highly intelligent characters suddenly go completely ignorant and unobservant is one of those devices in movies that always bugs me. Especially someone who has apparently developed such a keen survival sense and situational awareness.
  • The marketing/hype - this has a lot less to do with the movie than with the buzz that the people selling the movie have tried to create. I've already mentioned my issues with the commercials, but the real problem is that this movie has been so highly marketed, so intensely advertised, that I can't imagine it truly living up to the expectations that are set in the minds of the people going to see it. I mean, watching the coverage, you realize that if it's not the second coming of The Godfather or something it's going to be a huge disappointment. I think the larger issue is that studios see the drop in overall box office numbers lately, and they think that every movie has to be The Big One, just to get people in the door. They're doing themselves, and their movies, a disservice, though, because the higher you build something up, the more risk of a fall. Conversely, I really enjoyed Harold and Kumar go to White Castle as much because I had zero expectations going in as because it was funny on its own merits (which it was, but still). Anyway, I think that the studios put movies in general, and this movie in particular, at a disadvantage by talking it up so much. It's a good movie, but I think it would have had to be truly great just to meet the expectations, and that's not fair to the film itself.
Ultimately, I did like the movie quite a bit. Despite some of the issues, it's very engaging, it pulls you along with the story, and there are a few surprises in there that will help mitigate the effects of the commercials. I wasn't all that thrilled with the ending, but I respect the fact that it didn't end the way I thought it would, which I appreciate in and of itself. I think it's definitely worth seeing, and it's a movie experience that is definitely enhanced by seeing it on the big screen (the shots of NYC alone are practically worth the ticket). But you will probably enjoy the movie a lot more if you restrict your expectations to a good roller-coaster kind of movie, rather than some epic story. Think Aliens more than, say, Braveheart, and you'll be in better shape.

I give it a B+ for what it is, but a B- for what I expected it to be.

The commercials get an F. Fuckers.

December 19, 2007

And now for something completely different

For the past three years, my life has been more or less defined by a particular two-word phrase, the mention of which has elicited reactions ranging from admiration to pity, depending on to whom I was speaking. That phrase, as many of you know, is 'grad school.'

Or more to the point, it was. As in past tense. As in no longer. Finished. Complete. Dunzo. No mas. I grajimitated.

It didn't quite wrap up the way I expected it to, though. When you think about finishing something like this, you envision going out after class with a couple of classmates and raising a glass in celebration, or heading home to relax and soak up the fact that after all that work and time, you're finally through it; something to mark the occasion, some reflection, some acknowledgement of the event. This wasn't quite the way it went for me. Instead of getting to the end of that final class and basking in the moment, I scampered out of class as soon as my presentation finished, hopped on the metro to my apartment, got in the car and began the 3+ hour drive to Atlantic City for work (that's right, for work). Drove back Friday, then rolled straight into the birthday weekend with plans Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The trip was fun (despite being work), the weekend was fantastic, but there wasn't a whole lot of time to digest the fact that I'm finished (but there was plenty of food to digest, to be sure).

Which brings us to tonight. Tonight would be a class night*, but I will be going home rather than to campus. I have been told that the being-finished thing sets in most on those first evenings when you should be in class but aren't. I'm kind of looking forward to it.

One of the most frequent questions I've gotten as the end approached is, "what are you going to do with all of that free time?" My answer usually involves sleep and/or the rediscovery of my friends' contact information (or their rediscovery that I, you know, exist), but those are facetious answers to an excellent question. I mean, I haven't had a hobby since the end of 2004. I've got this backlog of ideas that's, oh, about three years old now; now it's just a matter of figuring out how many I can fit in. That in addition to the sleeping and the friends, of course. I was only partly kidding about that. But really, all of those decisions will wait until after the holidays. Between now and then, I'll be concentrating on that whole relaxing thing.

I started this blog partly as a way to kill some of the time I was procrastinating from doing my actual schoolwork. I was spending the bulk of my time at home in front of a computer anyway, and that whole All-Work-No-Play thing made it seem like a good idea. And it certainly has been. Now that I'm finished, it will be interesting to see whether I get better or worse about the blog; I'm a little curious myself.

I'll figure all that out later. Right now, I have to go spend some quality time with my couch. Because I can.

And hey, did I mention I'm done? Oh, ok. Just wanted to make sure I covered that.

* Secretly, it is a class night, due to my prof taking certain liberties with the schedule. I'm not going, though. I did my presentation, the project is handed in, I'm done. Plus, I had told him I was going to be out this week anyway (work travel that was subsequently postponed), so I see no reason to confuse the man by showing up; that would just be impolite.

December 5, 2007

In case you ever wonder...

...why people make fun of

a) blondes
b) southerners
c) the fanatically religious
d) the state of the American educational system

I submit Exhibits A thru D:

A) The Kellie Pickler Experience

That sound you're hearing is your own hand involuntarily smacking into your forehead.

B) Kellie Pickler, even Pickler-er

I mean, she's right, but holy crap. There are people out there who insist that Ms. Pickler's affectations are all an act, and prior to this I might have believed it. But not now. You can't write this stuff; only real people say things this ridiculous.

C) Sherri Shepherd demonstrates the power of faith to overcome fact, logic, and history

Um, what? The best part is Whoopi giving her the out ("on paper"? What does that even mean?), looking for some way to end that conversation without specifically pointing out how hopelessly, foolishly ignorant her co-host is. Because seriously. Jesus came first? Really? The Jews must be awfully confused, then.

But we get this level of uber-intellectualism not just once, but

D) Twice

I've got nothing here. Nothing at all. Because it defies words.

And I feel compelled to point out that both of these women make far, far more money than I do.

But remember kids: work hard and stay in school, because.... um, because that's the only way to.... er, because people who don't.... because, uh....

Turn off the TV. Because I said so.

November 21, 2007

Turkey Day two-fer

family, friends, and
four weeks to go in grad school:
things I'm thankful for

turkey, stuffing, yams,
gluttony on the menu.
Happy Thanksgiving

November 19, 2007

And then the conductor said something about one hand clapping

I will admit that I don't really understand Zen Buddhism. It seems mostly to be concerned with finding alternate ways of looking at things, pondering the kinds of questions that if you try to analyze them logically and rationally, you run the real risk of basically having your brain leak right out your ears.

This is what I was thinking about as I walked home to Ballston from the Clarendon metro station on Friday.

But wait. Ballston has a metro station, it's just two stops farther down the line from Clarendon.

This is true. It may come as no surprise, then, that the philosophical ponderings and my commute are related.

Friday afternoon, there were some issues on the Orange line which were creating delays. In fact, the Orange Line Delay was becoming an all-too-regular occurrence lately, but that's another post. Apparently, there was a disabled train somewhere around East Falls Church that was causing trains to share a track, hence the delay. Nothing new, same as it ever was. So I got on at Rosslyn, figuring that the trip would take a little longer than usual, but no big whoop. We were actually moving along better than I had expected. Everything seemed to be going pretty well, I thought. Until we got to Clarendon, where the conductor said, and I quote:

"This train will be going out of service, due to a disabled train ahead of this one."

Um, what?

Read that sentence a couple of times, and try to make any kind of sense out of it. It might help to plug your ears, just to prevent excess leakage. Don't think about it too hard, you'll just hurt yourself.

Utter ridiculousness aside, they still booted everyone off the train and onto the platform, at which point I decided that trying to figure out/understand what was going to happen next would probably take longer than the 15 minutes I would spend walking. As it was chilly but not raining outside, up the escalator and out of the absurd metro system I went.

Maybe that moment of Zen reflection is how they're justifying the latest round of rate increases. We're not going to appreciably improve service, no, but we will start contributing to your spiritual health. Think of it less as your morning commute than as one more stop on the Express Train to Enlightenment.

But grab a tissue first, because you've got a little something coming out of your ears.

November 8, 2007

I give it a B(ee)

The expectations for Jerry Seinfeld's Bee Movie are understandably high. He's been hyping his project for what seems like forever, creating a spectacle at last year's Cannes film festival and spending a great deal of time on TV lately, from movie ads to McDonald's commercials, making sure that everyone on the planet (and anyone listening on nearby ones) knows that this movie is coming out, and by the way did we mention that Jerry wrote it? Stars in it? And he's in it? And he likes it? And don't you love Jerry? So don't you think you should run out and watch it? Like right now? I mean, it's Jerry! Go see Jerry! It kind of reminds me of that Beggin' Strips commercial: It's BACON!!! That seems to be the marketing philosophy behind this film: the movie? Oh, well, it's about some bees and stuff, but never mind that, IT'S JERRY SEINFELD.

One might be concerned that the commercials show more of Seinfeld in human form than in bee form, at least the one's I've seen: the producers appear to be more interested in selling the voice behind the movie than the movie itself. I mean, he wrote it, sure, I get that; but if he's as proud the project as he claims, don't you think he'd be more interested in showing it off than his face, especially since his face isn't in a single shot of the film? Maybe not: a $38 million box office performance speaks for itself, I guess.

But marketing plan (and box-office gross) aside, is it any good? The short answer: yes. It's good not great, consistently funny but not so much that your sides hurt.

The premise is quite literally one of Bee Meets World: the discontented dreamer strikes out on his own and ends up changing things for everyone, but most importantly himself. The movie hardly scores points for conceptual originality, but how many movies really can these days? The key is the execution, and this movie does a good-to-very-good job with what it has, and what it is: a kids' movie trying to entertain Mom and Dad, since they have to be there, too.

The plot? It's ridiculous, but it doesn't matter. If you're going to a CG animation movie looking for deep plot development, you have to stop going to the theater. In fact, just stop going outside, because you're creeping the rest of us out. The plot is enough to string together the jokes, and that's all that really matters. I'll leave the summary to others, but seriously, who cares?

The art/animation: excellent. The Dreamworks people decided to pull back on the photorealism on this picture, instead going for a more cartoonish look to the characters, and I for one appreciate it. Nobody will mistake the bees for real bees, the people for real people, but the backgrounds, textures, and effects are as good as you'd expect (the flying scenes with the kites are very good, for example). Frankly, if I want to see real people, I'll go outside. That's why it's there. But I digress.

Characters: fine. The characters are everything they need to be, but not a whole lot more; it's mostly archetypes, broadly-drawn characters who are, again, mostly there to keep things moving to the next line or the next step in the story. Jocks? Check. Overbearing Jewish-stereotype parents? Check (they even talk about being Bee-ish, so I'm not over-interpreting anything here). Dreamer's over-practical world-fearing best friend? Check. Sensitive stranger with a heart-o-gold? Check. Her (and of course it's her) overbearing insensitive boyfriend? Check. And on, and on. They're very simple, but remember: kids' movie. Simple is good. As long as it's funny.

The voice acting: Pretty good overall, with some definite bright spots. For better or worse, while his character's face bears no resemblance, you can almost see Jerry in his voice. His delivery is 100% Jerry, in the way that only he can really do it. One of the things I'm curious about is how funny this movie would be without his voice. I'd be interested to know how it does dubbed into other languages, where some of the subltelty of how you say something gets lost while what is said is preserved. As for the other characters, Jerry must have made a lot of phone calls, because this is a very large cast of names. Renee Zellweger is The Girl, and she does well enough as the sweet, sensitive florist who becomes Jerry's connection with the human world. Matthew Broderick is the best friend, and may give the best performance of the whole film. Naturally, a Seinfeldian or two is bound to show up: Putty, aka Patrick Warburton is The Girl's Jerky Boyfriend. There are more, but half the fun for me is guessing. So listen close, and check the credits. All in all, though, the casting was solid, and the performances were generally good. Again, some of the characterizations are a little over the top, but it's all in line with the rest of the movie (which, again, is totally absurd).

There were just a few things that I take issue with, but they aren't that serious. I think that the chemistry and rhythm between Jerry and Renee syncs up way too quickly for my sense; she gets over the talking-bee thing with far more aplomb than she should. I understand why they did it, but it struck me as a bit strange. And the ending is absurd, even by absurd standards. And it was kind of predictable; I remember thinking, "Oh, they're not going to... don't tell me... come on..." as I saw it coming. Some of the jokes are like that, too, a little on the predictable side. But you know what? Kids' movie, and it works on that basis. The kids in the theater where I was oohed and ahhed at exactly the right places.

You will appreciate this move if:
- You enjoy cartoons, the raft of Pixar movies, A Bug's Life, and their extended family
- You think puns, word-play, and anthropomorphic humor are funny
- You remember and enjoy Jerry's standup, if not necessarily the sitcom
- You are 7 years old (not required, but certainly helpful)

If you think puns are generally stupid or lacking in cleverness (no matter how clever they may be), or if the bee/people life parallels have little chance of amusing you, then you probably want to skip this movie, since the vast majority of the humor is exactly that. I can't disagree, for example, with a lot of what the WashPost reviewer says in that regard*, although I do think Desson is a bit stuffy and shortchanges the comedy a bit. But he's a critic, and that's his job. I just go to laugh. Which I did.

For what it is, though, it's done pretty well. Like I said, it's a funny movie: the jokes-per-minute rate is relatively high, and the laughs are good ones, if not tear-inducing side-splitters. This makes sense, though, for anyone familiar with the work of the writer and star. His comedy has always been illuminating, thoughtful, and insightful, but not that intense. We shouldn't expect this to be much different.

My final piece of advice: if you go, stay for the credits. There's a treat in there for you.

The bottom line, for me, is that it's worth seeing. I woudn't say you need to see it in the theater, but it's definitely worth renting/Netflixing/buying at a Shanghai pirated DVD kiosk, whatever (I kid, I kid; don't steal or download movies, kids. And stay in school. And say no to drugs. And stay off my lawn).

Actually, I disagree with his point about Chris Rock, but that's as much as I'll say about it here to avoid spoilage. And obviously, I like the movie more than he did.

October 24, 2007

I would much rather oversleep

Sometimes, you wake up in the morning without your alarm, ready to go, and get your day started without that grating electronic screech telling you to get your lazy behind up and moving.

Today was not, strictly speaking, one of those days, and it reminds me of a similar morning I had in college.

My third year of undergrad I was an RA (actually for all of that year, the summer, and the first semester of the next, but anyway). Being an engineer, naturally I had 8am classes, because the department hated us. I'm sure they wouldn't have put it that way, but that was certainly the message they sent. Neither here nor there. Moving on.

One weekday morning, I woke up without my alarm, hopped out of bed and started my day. Grabbed my stuff and headed for the shower. In the hall, I passed one of my residents, said good morning, continued. The usual. I did notice, however, that there did not seem to be the usual activity I was used to seeing in the morning: people up and about, grumbling about the time, the sorts of things your average class-day morning are made of. I didn't think too much about it, lest I get distracted and end up with shampoo in my eyes, but it did occur to me. I made my way back to my room, at which point I looked clearly at the clock for the first time. the more perceptive children probably have an idea where this is headed...

It read: 3:15. As in a.m., ante meridiem, in the morning, a good 3 hours before I was supposed to get up; and there I was, not just up but already showered, and now more than a little annoyed. I hopped back into bed, determined to get back to sleep for at least a couple of hours before getting up for class. You ever try to go to sleep, like really try to sleep? It's hard. It's easily the least effective way to go about it, but I was pissed and had little choice. Fortunately, I did get there, got a little more shuteye before getting up. Again. Dammit.

Later that day, I saw that same resident again, and we talked about it. He agreed that seeing me obviously shower-bound at that time of morning (or night, really) was more than a little out of the ordinary; to which I replied: then just why the hell didn't you, I don't know, say something?

He just shrugged and said, "I just figured you thought you were dirty."

He just figured I thought I was dirty. And apparently had my cleansing inspiration at 3 in the morning. Um, sure.

This made sense, actually, coming from a guy who showered both when he got up and before bed, but I was less than pleased all the same. But I learned my lesson: look at the clock before you get out of bed.

I learned it. Or so I thought.

This morning was like that, although I did catch my error before actually getting into the shower. But I've been groggy all day and class tonight is not looking promising.

Is it just me, or does this happen to other people?

Just another day that I miss naptime.

October 8, 2007

Just say what?

Walking back from getting lunch today, I wandered past what became the current titleholder for Strangest Overheard Conversation Ever.

Man, into cell phone: "... no, the... the cocaine.... the cocaine was out on the back porch. The other stuff...." That was all I heard, and frankly more than I needed to.

Bear in mind that it was just past 1pm, in the area just around the Ballston Mall, and this man made no efforts to lower his voice or seek any particular privacy. In public, in plain sight. My question is, if you weren't interested in concealing the fact that you're talking about cocaine, then what on earth are you into that has to be cryptically described as, "The other stuff"? And what kind of idiot are you dealing with who's leaving cocaine out on the back porch? I mean seriously: what if it gets windy? Think, man, think! I don't even do coke and I know better than that.

This follows a couple of instances in the past couple of months where I've walked behind or past someone smoking pot, while making no effort to conceal the fact that they're smoking pot. One was on GW campus over the summer, some dude just strolling up the street, smoking a joint like it was a cigarette, without a care in the world (except maybe for some Doritos). The other was last week, just after lunch walking down Pennsylvania Avenue. You know, one of the busiest streets in DC? Some guy not even walking, just sitting next to the sidewalk toking up, half a block from one of those really nice hotels. Blew his cloud right in front of me.

Gone, apparently, are the days when the good, self-respecting druggie was behind closed doors, towel shoved into the crack, blowing through a toilet paper tube and dryer sheets. No need for incense, kids, don't worry about it. Get some fresh air with your smoke. It's DC, after all.

You can insert your own joke(s) here about Marion Barry, the DC Police and/or the crime rate and parking tickets. I'd do it for you, but I'm suddenly very hungry...

October 3, 2007

Not technically, but I like the way it sounds

For the next week and a half, I will be a burden on society, a blight on the American professional landscape, a hanger-on, a dragging weight on the progress of the national economy, contributing nothing of substance to the GDP, to the greater good, or to anything other than, perhaps, the viewership of daytime television, Sportscenter, and the Cartoon Network.

I will be, in a word, unemployed. Or, more accurately, I am unemployed right now.

That's the shorter, much more interesting version. The truth is longer and has, like most truths, far less flash. But it'll do.

I got a new job. Monday was my last day with the firm where I have worked for the past six years, and I start the new one in mid-October. While I had been planning to job-search when I was finished with school, and had every intention of polishing up the resume to support that effort, life stepped in a little early and made all of that unnecessary. It went kind of like this:

When I first started at my most recent job, J was also working there. Very solid engineer, strong business sense, overall good guy. He went with me on my Egypt trip, and we got to know each other fairly well (at least, as well as one can in the office). We would even kick around after hours shaking our heads at some decisions management was making, and wondering how it was that the right thing seemed so clear to us and yet eluded many people with far more responsibility, experience, and salaries than we had. But I digress. After a couple of years, J left the company to pursue his own thing. He was going to start his own company, and set off to seek his fortune, as it were. I pretty much lost touch with him shortly after that.

Fast-forward about three years, to a month or so ago. I get back in touch with him on another matter, and we catch up on what's been going on since he left. Turns out that rather than start his own firm from scratch (as was his original plan), he got the chance to start his own division within an existing company instead. And was, oh by the way, in talks to take that firm over once the owner decides to retire in the next couple of years. So at the end of that story, he asks what I'm up to and how things are going at my end. He knows most of the players, having done some consulting work for us since his departure, so he gets a lot of the shorthand. Long story short (ha), I get this offer about two weeks ago. A good one. With some pretty serious growth potential, and a clarity of career path which is more or less foreign with the current company. All that plus the fact that with a new, swiftly-growing firm there are plenty of things they haven't decided how to do yet, from a corporate policy perspective, and the chance to be involved with that appeals to my about-to-be-an-MBA brain quite a bit. The commute's about the same (Crystal City instead of DC), better health coverage, that sort of thing. And of course, more money. And did I mention I'm friends with the Big Boss? That doesn't hurt, either.

You can imagine how long I had to spend thinking about it.

The irony is that it's another federal contractor, and that's the one area I didn't expect to get involved with in a post-MBA career move. I had planned on going and looking into consulting, etc, with private-sector clients, and even had a small list of companies to go chasing. Instead, I got a job similar to what I'm doing, albeit a serious upgrade, and never had to update a resume or even really interview. It's something that I wouldn't necessarily have gone looking for, but I'm certainly glad it found me.

Six years is a long time to spend in one job, and truth be told the company has been pretty good to me overall during my time there. It's a big office, filled with a diverse group of smart, fun people, and that's something that's very difficult to find. While it is hard in it's own way to leave, it's the best move and I'm looking forward to the next step.

But in the meantime, I get to be a bum. Well, okay, not really. Since I'm not collecting unemployment or anything, I'm not technically a burden on society. And I won't be watching a whole lot of TV, what with the whole grad school thing going on. But being a bum sounds a whole lot better, doesn't it? The upside, though, is that I should be able to get on top of my classwork in such a way that makes the end of the semester a whole lot easier. I kind of wish that the move happened in August, between semesters, but you won't hear me complain. Much.

There seems to be a lot of this job-changing thing going around lately, I'm noticing. And that's just the people actually making changes; there are a number of other bloggers in the area either seriously considering changes or having changes looming in the not-too-distant future. In what I would describe as a relatively small community of local bloggers, that's an awfully high percentage. I don't know if it means anything, but I think it's significant.

Heck, it's almost enough people to co-host a HH. Well, almost...

September 18, 2007

Reading is fundamental

*Credit to Jo for jogging my memory

Let me preface this by saying: they weren't for me.

I start with that, because it's the answer to the question that will fly out of your mouth/brain, unbidden, in just a second. So I will say it again, just so we're clear: they weren't for me. Got it? Good. Moving on.

I have, on two occasions, gone into a grocery store unaccompanied, and purchased pantyhose. Now go read that first sentence again.

If there were any questions as to whether I'm a good friend to have, I will now consider the matter closed.

Here's the thing: a lot of guys talk about buying tampons as being a big deal. Like it's the ultimate sign of either a) loyalty and devotion, or b) whipped-ness, depending on your point of view. But I disagree. Tampons are nothing. All buying tampons says is that more than likely there is a woman at home who will be very, um, grateful, when you get home (or at least in a short period of time). ('period,' heh) Tampons are unambiguous; everyone in the place knows what they are and what they mean. Ladies who see men buying tampons/pads will invariably see that man in a positive light, a gentleman to be respected and admired.

Pantyhose? Not so much. The social standing of a man buying pantyhose is, understandably, somewhat less clear. He may very well be a helpful soul, doing his part for a lady friend in need. Or, he may be a bank robber. Or a transvestite. Or something that makes either a bank robber or transvestite seem like a desirable alternative; I leave that to your imagination. Pleasant dreams. But I digress. I was the former, just trying to help out. This particular story concerns my first pantyhose adventure (which really sounds like a whole lot more fun than it was, as you will see).

My freshman year of college, I lived in a dorm that was coed by floor, and I happened to get to know a number of the girls who lived on the floor above me (somehow, in 1993, simply knowing how to get around in Windows made one an 'expert,' but that's another story). My favorite of these was 'Heather,' with whom I got to be pretty good friends that year and through most of college. Anyway, Heather got herself into a sorority, and come springtime she got all dolled up and went off with her boyfriend to her spring formal. Looked great, good to go, no problem.

Fast forward about three hours. I'm hanging out down the hall when I hear the door to our hallway open, and the sound of heels heading my way. Naturally, I poke my head out to see who it is, and there's Heather, visibly upset, and she comes straight to me and about loses it. Mascara running, tears all over the place, generally not a great scene. Apparently she got a little tipsy, did something embarrassing (or got in a snit with the boyfriend, I really don't remember) and made a beeline home. More or less inconsolable, and I somehow have to deal with this.

The solution: take her upstairs to the girls, and put her in the care of experts. Fortunately for me, a couple of her sisters had followed her home, so there was a cavalry of sorts. I did, however, make what would prove to be the mistake of sticking around, something I would come to regret. Twice.

So we get her calmed down, and ultimately decide that what she needs to do is put herself back together and go back to the formal. Excellent idea, all agree. So the crew gets to work.

Hair? Tara. Makeup? Keely. We're good to go.

Then, someone notices the run in the pantyhose (cue more crying). At which point the room basically turns and looks at me. Given that I had (and have) no skills in the hair or makeup department, and seeing as how both of my legs did in fact work, I was the 'logical' choice to go to the campus store and get black pantyhose for Heather. (cue Moment of Regret #1) And quickly, chop-chop. Regular black pantyhose, no frills, just get it. I'm a smart guy, I figure it can't be that hard, so off I go. I'm the man (er, as it were). I was to the store in back in less than twenty minutes, and proud of myself for it.

Now I should take a second and describe Heather: maybe 5'3", a petite little thing, cute as a button, etc. But the point is, tiny little blonde girl.

I should also point out the importance not just of reading, but reading for comprehension. And I should further mention, gentlemen, that if you find yourself in a similar position you should know that pantyhose comes not only in different colors, but different sizes as well (this is worth writing down, if you have a pen handy).

Because, it turns out, when a size 0-1 girl is already in a very, very fragile state, it does nothing to help matters when she is handed a package of pantyhose to wear, whose size reads: Queen. I am not exaggerating when I say that this went over poorly. There may have been more, possibly even louder, crying. I try to block that part out.

But the bottom line (ha) is, these will not do. But it's no problem, I will simply return them and get the right size, and all will be well. So again, off I go to the campus store. I have a receipt, so there will be no issues.

I get to the store, go up to the counter, and explain that I need to return some pantyhose. The guy behind the counter reaches down and pulls out a form, and explains that I will have to sign for that. (cue Moment of Regret #2) Apparently, my alma mater keeps records of all returns made to the campus store. So in the archives somewhere, there is written record of the fact that I returned women's black Queen-sized pantyhose, complete with (wait for it) social security number and signature. Awesome.

Plus, the whole transaction took time, of which I had very little. So little, in fact, that when I got back Heather was gone. They decided to skip the pantyhose and go without. Which if they had just decided in the first place, would have saved me two trips to the store and a signature for women's undergarments. And might have kept any potential political aspirations alive. But not so much.

But I hear bank robbery is a growth industry, and I do have a leg up on that now.

September 17, 2007

Not boxers


- If you're curious what it's been like to be a Buffalo Bills fan over the past, say, ten years, all you had to do was watch the game on Sunday. We finally get on TV in the DC area, and lay a big, fat egg. Chris Berman once said that nobody circles the wagons like the Buffalo Bills. Well, circle 'em up, boys, because that was ugly.

- If you had told me that the over-under on one of Sunday's games was going to be right around 100 points, then had me choose the matchup that would produce such a total, I can unequivocally say that Cleveland-Cincinnati wouldn't have made the top five. And we were stuck watching Jets-Ravens. Yawn. Yet another reason I despise regional broadcast rules.

- For all his extensive education and football smarts, Bill Belichek sure thinks that the media and fanbase of the NFL are a bunch of rubes. Like anyone believes for a second he misunderstood anything, and there's no chance the vague, non-acknowledgement of something that has apparently been a poorly-kept secret in football circles for some time is going to satisfy anyone, save the most die-hard Pats apologists. Note to Bill: come on. If I want my intelligence insulted, I'll watch Congressional hearings. I expect more from you.


- Wow. I mean, wow. On a night celebrating the best of television, a night that should be all glitz and glitter, polish and panache, they choose to pull that crap. Okay, so you want to beep some bad words. Fine. But really, is that the way to do it? Like some seven-year-0ld got loose in the booth and started pushing random buttons? Cutting away to some still footage behind the disco ball, so everyone wonders whether you're having technical problems? Somehow the simplest move in broadcast television turned into Twitchy Moron Theater Sunday night, when they trot out the best and brightest to show just how good television can be.

- I'm all for theater in the round and everything, but that usually means that the show will play to all sides of the stage. That's the beauty of in-the-round. If you're curious about how it's supposed to look, check George Carlin, late 70s, or Def Leppard, Pour Some Sugar on Me. But no, really, I'm sure the cast of Ugly Betty really wanted to stare at all the presenters' asses all night. Good choice.

- I know awards shows are too long. I know that there are only a few hours to get it all in. I understand. But seriously: you do not, ever, ever play Robert Duvall off the stage. America Ferrarra? Sure. She won an award, say thanks, now let's go. But Duvall, one of the greatest actors of his generation (and possibly any other) can stand up there as long as he damn well pleases. Read his grocery list, I don't care. Show some respect,people, for crying out loud. Sally Field, too. Gidget can take her time. She's earned it. Want to save time? I only need one member of the cast of Entourage to present an award. Or, better yet, cut out Seacrest's monologue. No really, please. Cut it.

- Someone please explain to me why Ryan Seacrest is allowed to host anything other than American Idol and some girl's sweet 16 party. Nobody over the age of 25 wants to see this guy. I'm pretty sure most of the ladies will agree with me on this, not just the guys. In five minutes, Jon Stewart and Steven Colbert were more entertaining than the host. My vote? Seacrest out.

- And finally, why I am a Katherine Heigl fan after last night: she corrected the patronizing, infinitely annoying disembodied Announcer Voice on the pronunciation of her last name. You would think that one of the key, critically important details of putting an awards broadcast together would be knowing how to say the people's names. You'd think that, but apparently you'd be wrong.

September 11, 2007

Thoughts about thoughts

This is less about the day itself than about the peculiarity of the mind, and how things occur to us sometimes.

About this time six years ago, I was in my second week at a new job (this one), at my desk by Farragut West, about four or so blocks from the White House. As most would say, it started out like any other morning. Actually, I probably wouldn't have found out much about what happened if not for the fact that the lady sitting across from me was listening, as she did every day, to one of the local morning shows (PGC, or something similar). Like most people I've talked to since, I took the early news of a plane crashing into the WTC as something like a small Cessna or private plane; it wasn't until a short time later that the truth was made clear. But everyone knows what happened, and this isn't really about that.

The first thing I did, as I'm sure many did as well, was try to figure out whether I knew anyone in either of the Towers or at the Pentagon. I couldn't think of anyone, which was a relief, so I went to check the TV that had been set up in the hallway upstairs (our office didn't have cable or TVs, someone found a presentation TV and set it up with rabbit ears on the next floor up; I got to it just in time to watch the first building come down). I couldn't watch much after that, so I went back to my desk. I had talked to my roommate, who was home at the time, and got caught up a little on the news. We'd heard from a co-worker's dad, who was working in the Pentagon, and by and large most of the people we knew of were accounted for. One woman hadn't heard from her husband, and she left the office almost immediately. Again, I found myself glad that I didn't know anyone directly connected to what was happening.

But not long after (in the men's room of all places), a snippet of conversation floated across my memory, a question asked in what sounded a whole lot like my own voice:

So what's it like working in the World Trade Center?


It bubbled up seemingly from nowhere, and it took me a few seconds to put the images together.

I was in St. Augustine, Florida, the previous Christmas. My cousin, her then-boyfriend, and I were at the tail end of driving up A1A after taking my grandparents most of the way home from the holiday festivities (we took one of our cars and theirs, drove them most of the way home, then put them in their car for the last hour or so), on one of the most beautiful winter days I could remember (75 and sunny all day) for a drive back up the coast to Jacksonville, where my parents live. We had stopped in St. Augustine in the late afternoon, walked around town, and had some phenomenal seafood for dinner on the patio, thoroughly enjoying the weather. It was over that meal that the conversation took place. My cousin's boyfriend worked for Black Rock at the time, as I remember, and they had an office in one of the Towers. So I was curious as to what that was like, working in a global landmark.

A global landmark that was, at the moment, in the process of disintegrating.

This all came back to me in a rush, and I could have slapped myself for not thinking of it sooner.

But really, all I thought was, holy shit.

Now, anyone who tried to make a call into NYC that day knows what it was like. Cell coverage was shot, because a) everyone and their brother was calling into town that day, and b) the cell tower that would have carried the incoming calls went down with the buildings. So I had little to no hope of getting directly to my cousin. Not that it stopped me from trying, mind you.

Fortunately for me, her parents lived in the Poconos at the time, so I was able to get through to them and find out that everyone was all right. My cousin's bf (who is now her husband) was actually between the buildings when the first plane came in, being one of the many who were running a little late that morning and probably being alive because of it. So he was fine. At least, as fine as anyone could be that day.

Not long afterwards, I made my way home and spent eight or so hours straight watching CNN. I finally hit my threshold around 9:30 or so, when they ran the same montage of footage for the third or fourth time in a row, and my and my roommates' brains just couldn't take it anymore. There's an extent to which I suppose mine still can't.

But I always sort of shake my head when I think back, and wonder just how the hell I didn't think of that conversation sooner.

Perhaps more bizarre, in terms of how-the-brain-works, is what my aunt told me about M's experience that morning (he hasn't told much of the story himself; doesn't like to talk about it). Apparently, in the midst of all that was happening, having seen a plane crash into a major building, one of the first things that occurred to him was this:

better get to an ATM.

Most New Yorkers carry little or no cash, and he figured he should probably get some in case he needed it and the system shut down. Under the circumstances it made practical sense, but it seems a totally bizarre thought to have. It's the kind of thing that actually gets a laugh when telling the story. But sometimes, the brain just sort of does that.

I don't have much of a point here; I just like to tell that story as an example of how even in the midst of tragedy and suffering, sometimes things happen that just make you chuckle a little bit, and maybe that's the best news of all.

September 10, 2007

Unlike the rest of them, I actually am back to school...

Is there a better way to close my first week of classes than with the Back to School Blogger HH? There aren't many that I can think of. Once again, a very good time with the blogkids.

This one may have set a world record for number of co-hosts, which prompted my suggestion that if the trend continues, we will at some point have a Blogger HH where the co-hosts outnumber the attendees. It's only a matter of time before we have a HH comprised entirely of co-hosts. You laugh, but just wait, it could happen.

This was a really, really good HH for me, because it had what has become the usual suspects, plus a handful of bloggers that either haven't been out in a while, or that I just have missed over the past few HHs. At one point, KassyK turned to me and said that the HH had a very old-school feel to it, and I agree. I kept waiting for someone to walk up to Jessica and ask her if she was new, and did she write a blog. That would have been classic. It was great to see the erstwhile DC Cookie, just a short time before her upcoming wedding (and an even shorter time before a half-marathon yesterday. I get tired just thinking about it). She was my first blog friend, and it is nearly impossible to have a bad time when she's in the building. Go ahead and try; you will fail. KK, also one of my first blogquaintences, can easily hold her own in that department as well.

I got to Madhatter a little bit early, and found most of the co-hosts there and getting a step ahead of the party. More surprising than that (okay, so it wasn't surprising at all) was seeing Bettyjoan, who I almost didn't recognize with her lighter hair and whom I hadn't seen since I voted for her butt. That evening was going to come up a lot Friday, since it was also the last time I had seen/met I-66, VP of Dior, Hey Pretty, and Mandy. I got to catch up with each to varying degrees, but it was good to see all of them. My only request: don't let it go that long again before the next time, please. Also got brief hellos/catchups with Boztopia and Joe Logon, which is never a bad thing. And the retired blogstress of Circle V made an appearance,

Some of the newer familiar faces: the treacherous trio of gn, h, and Gen; I got to congratulate gn and h on their new jobs, and got to see (but did not meet) Gen's bf. Arj, of course, was in full Arjewtinian effect (which is to say, inebriated and amnesiac), sporting his new fannypack. We more pushed past than talked to each other most of the night, but that counts for quality time in my book. Same for INPY, who was somehow always at the other end of the room from me after about the first half hour.

And then the new (or new-ish) folks. Leon is one funny man, and has what I can safely refer to as the best business card I've ever seen, period. JustJenny has what may be the world's greatest blog title, at least to anyone who enjoys Eats, Shoots, and Leaves-type humor. I also got to meet the man behind DCBlogs, whom I had seen before but never spoken to. I re-met a couple of folks, including LMNt, fresh off of his blogging sabbatical, and Dagny Taggart, who I met very briefly at the last HH I attended and who I read just about daily. She also gets major cool points for making bearable, even enjoyable, a very long wait for the metro at the end of the evening. So thanks for that.

There were a whole lot more bloggers there that I recognized but never got to say hello to, and I know there were a bunch more that I didn't know but have heard of. But I suppose if you're going to have a problem, it should be of over-attendance and too many people to talk to, as opposed to the alternative.

I will apologize if I left anyone out; feel free to lambaste me in the comments. Thanks to the cornucopia of co-hosts for putting together another winner, and I look forward to the next one.

The rest of the weekend was also very good. If you ever find yourself in a postion to see Daniel Tosh do anything, especially stand-up, jump on it. Great show at the Improv on Saturday. One of the rare occasions when all three comics, from the emcee to the feature to the headliner, killed. The best emcee I've seen at the Improv in years, but I can't remember his name (figures; my best guess is Terry Tyler). The feature was a girl from Last Comic Standing (whose name I also do not remember; Amy something, I think), and was much better on stage than on the show; I think this is because a) LCS doesn't give comics more than a couple of minutes, which makes it difficult to hit a rhythm, and b) you can't be dirty on LCS, and she was, but she did it well.

And now, of course, it's Monday. I don't have a case of them, but it's possible that I'm a carrier.

August 29, 2007

One of life's great equalizers: the burrito

It doesn't matter how successful, powerful, well-educated, or wealthy you are.

It's nearly impossible to carry yourself as a dignified, professional adult while trying to eat an overstuffed and poorly wrapped burrito from Chipotle. You just can't.

And this is the time, of course, when every single person in the office stops by. They have questions, and you're just trying to make sure you eat more of your lunch than you wear, and are barely succeeding. You could be the CEO, or King, and for a few minutes you're just some schmuck working way too hard to keep black beans and salsa off of your shirt.

So the next time one of your friends or co-workers gets a little too high on themselves, offer to take them to lunch. Just make sure to go to Chipotle.

August 21, 2007

Further adventures in declining productivity

By now, pretty much everyone is familiar with these. Chances are that at one point or another you've wanted to make your own. Well, now you can.

It's fun, if a bit challenging (finding the right photo is the trick, I think). Give it a try. Send yours to and I'll put it up here, or post a link in the comments.

The Gallery

August 17, 2007

... Another town, and one more show...

There was surprisingly little shouting, jumping, hooting or hollering, all things considered. I guess you could say it went out more or less like a lamb. It was not nearly so much celebration as relief. But either way, the result is the same.

As the boys of Yes said (in case you're challenged in that area and didn't get the lyrical reference in the title): One down, one to go. I am now officially one semester away from being finished with grad school. Two classes and a little less than four months from now it will all be over. On the one hand it's kind of hard to imagine, since my life has been a certain way for going on three years now. On the other much larger, stronger, and more insistent hand, however, December cannot come fast enough.

Between now and Labor Day weekend, I am a free man (well, except for that whole work thing, which puts a bit of a damper on the freedom, but I'll take what I can get). I don't have travel plans this time, but I do plan to try and set up as many weeknight dinner meetups with friends as possible, since I can't really do that while class is in session.

Oh, and sleep. Sleeping will be good.

And probably some work on ye olde resume, just between you and me. I think it's about time to dust that off and polish it up.

But it is a definite relief, and I have a heavily-inked appointment for the shouting, hooting and hollering, and general carrying-on that will commence on or about December 10, 2007.

July 31, 2007

Lemming management, or why the iPhone is kind of a scam

If you're like me (and whether that is a good thing or not is a matter of considerable debate), you've been watching all the iPhone mania and asking yourself one question:


Maybe I'm overthinking things, but I have a hard time understanding what all the fuss is about. I have to admire the marketing folks for giving this thing that sort of messianic je ne sais quois, but honestly I can't buy into it. I know I'm a little late to this particular party, but I got into a conversation about it over the weekend, and it sort of flipped the rant-switch, so here we are.

My basic problem with the iPhone is this: it's targeted at the early-adopter, the gadget geek who wants the latest and greatest, the bleeding edge technology. This is the group that has been salivating over this thing since they'd heard about it, and you've been telling them (and everyone else who'll listen) that it's going to revolutionize their lives. But in the end, all it's really doing is adding time and cost to their lives, which isn't exactly the kind of revolution I think they had in mind. Let me explain (there is plenty of time, so no need to sum up).

Let's say you're a full-on Apple disciple. If that's true, you probably have a Mac of one kind or another, and love it. You probably also have a great big iPod with the video screen, and have ported over your whole cd collection, and are enjoying your iTunes and watching Scrubs on the metro in the morning every day. Now, you're just itching to pick up this new iPhone, because holycrapitsaphoneanditplaysmusicanditsawifisupercoolinternetcruiserandohboyohboyicantwaittogetone.

And so you camp out for a few days, you and your brethren turning every Apple store into its own little Geekstock village. And the doors open on That Fateful Morning, like the heavens themselves (just with more casually dressed angels), and all of your patience and enthusiasm is rewarded with the Greatest Electronic Gadget Ever, the iPhone. So you rush home to fire it up, figuring the first thing to do is move all your music from your iPod to the phone, since clearly now that you have the iPhone, you won't need the iPod anymore. This is going to be so effing cool, you think, until you get home and realize....

Your iPod: 40GB
The iPhone: 8GB, max

Which does pose something of a problem. See, it's one thing if you have one of those 512MB players, where you just switch out a few songs here and there since you're only working with a couple hours' worth of music anyway, but with 8GB? that's 20% of your collection, a fifth of your music will fit onto the Next Big Thing. Which means that you'll actually have to be judicious about what moves from one to the other, the avoidance of which is more than likely a big reason you bought the 40GB iPod in the first place.

So really, you can't replace your iPod with it.

Okay, so at least you can replace your phone. That's easy, right? It's a cell phone, so I won't need my current cell phone anymore. True, but as cell phones go it's awfully expensive, and it's not exactly slim and portable, is it? Say you're currently carrying a RAZR. That's a decent-sized phone, as the more recent models go, and the iPhone is considerably bigger than heavier than a RAZR. Part of the reason I don't want a Blackberry or a smartphone is because they're just too big for me to want to carry with me everywhere I go. But that's just me.

But yes, you can replace your cell phone with it. As long as you already subscribe to AT&T, or are at the end of your contract anyway. Otherwise, prepare for the $125 cancellation fee from your existing provider on top of the $600 for the iPhone and the AT&T activation fee that's going to accompany the Joy of iPhone Ownership. And while we're on the topic of cell phones, let me ask this question: in the past 12 months, how many times have you dropped your cell phone? How paranoid are you going to be about scratches, dents, etc after dropping $600?

And as for the internet thing, I would have to imagine that the people who really need/want internet access as part of their wireless activities probably already have a Blackberry or a smartphone or something, which again only bears replacement if you're at the end of your contract or if your current device isn't working very well. The wifi thing is cool, but if you already have data service, then do you need the wifi? I don't have it, so I don't know. But it's a reasonable question.

So in the end, you pay $600, still have to keep your iPod, and making significant changes in other areas of its functionality stands to cost you even more money. Does that sound miraculous to you? I don't really see it.

Okay, so maybe the ubertechie early adopter isn't the best target audience. How about Joe Average Consumer? That's easy: $600. No thank you, I'll wait, at least until they sort out all of the bugs (which I won't even get into here, but it's not like this thing performs perfectly out of the box). The list of things I could otherwise do with $600 is long and distinguished. Plus the added $50 or so per month it's going to cost someone who doesn't already have data service on their cell plan. That's a lot of money that if I haven't already spent, it's probably not because I've just been waiting for this opportunity.

I realize also that the word 'scam' is kind of severe, but if someone told you to give them a bunch of money in return for changing your life, and the only change is that it ultimately made your life more complicated, not less, then that's probably the same word you'd use. Plus a few choice others, I'm sure.

Don't get me wrong, I think the iPhone is cool. I have a coworker who was right up front to buy one, and I got to test-drive it a bit. It's definitely an innovative little device; I'm just not sure it's worth the $600 price tag. But they're selling, so what do I know.

Jeans-wearing CEO and a borderline-cultlike marketing culture: priceless.

July 30, 2007

Obligatory (but not burdensome) recap

I don't get to nearly as many of them as I should, but I did make it out to the Happy Hour on Friday. The short version: loads of fun, great people, many laughs. Good times, as I have come to expect with this group.

This is my third-ish HH since I started this blog, and I'm still learning a few things (besides names and faces, of which there are many to keep track). For example, I'm still kind of getting used to referring to myself as "a blogger" in the first place. I know I'm going on two years here, but still. I don't talk about it often among my friends (the ones I know in 3-D), so it's something I rarely refer to outside of the HH's. Plus, I don't post all that often; I'm generally lucky to get something up weekly, what with my schedule. So it's still a little strange when someone asks me if I blog. It's getting better, in that I don't pause for nearly as long now, but it's still a little odd.

More than that, I am still apparently unprepared for when someone tells me that they a) read, or b) like this blog. Especially the latter. So it was pretty surprising when I had, on more than one occasion, not just recognition but enthusiastic responses to my blog. I have never taken compliments particularly well, my reflex generally being deflection and self-deprecation. It's always just kind of been my way. It was no different on Friday, I don't think. This may have resulted in something that looks like clumsy embarrasment rather than actual gratitude, so if you said something nice about me or my blog, and I tripped all over myself in response, please let me just say here: thank you, I appreciate it. While I may look like an idiot (and it would by no means be the first or last time), I am a very appreciative idiot.

Fortunately, the weather wasn't as much of an issue as it could have been. I got rained on in VA (heading to and from the metro) but not in DC, which was a very good thing. I was a little worried that it would keep people away, but this was not so. These folks are like the Postal Service: not rain nor sleet nor snow shall keep them from their appointed rounds. Of shots (the drinking kind, not the kind of shots you might expect from other kinds of postal workers). There was a very good turnout, and I was pleased that so many faces are becoming more familiar to me now, which is great, and I'm still meeting some people that I read often, which is also very cool.

- Kathryn and KassyK, two of the first blog-acquaintences I ever made, sort of bookended my HH experience: got to catch up with KK first thing, and Kathryn on my way out.
- Managed to greet gn, H, and Gen without falling victim to the awkwardness of the hugshake. I have only really met these girls together; they're like the Musketeers, just much hotter. And no swords (Ahem). Delightful, all of them, but I did have to give gn a hard time for not bringing treats to share...
- I dare you to spend five minutes with Jo and keep from smiling our laughing out loud. It's pretty much impossible. You'll lose before you get the watch started.
- Arjewtino is at least as funny in person as he is online, even if his short-term memory is a little spotty. And the former coworkers were great fun as well.
- INPY can work a room. And a patio.

And I got to see other familiar faces, and a few new ones. All in all, a good beginning to an excellent weekend, and a great way to end a long week. Hopefully it will be less than four months before I get to another one. Thanks to the hosts, and best wishes to Roosh on his travels.

July 20, 2007

Climate (out of) control

The good news:
When the Metro doors open, a cool, light breeze blows onto the hypercrowded afternoon train, giving the riders near the doors a brief moment of comfort on a hot commute.

The bad news:
You're at Rosslyn.

WMATA gets the gas face*.

* A gazillion ultra-cool points if this makes any sense to you at all. Seriously. A gazillion.

July 15, 2007

And then there were four

Generations, that is.

Saturday morning marked the passing of my great-great-uncle Mote, succumbing to cancer at the age of 97. Mote was the last remaining member of his generation of my family, and he had served as the family patriarch, in a way, for the past several years. We were fortunate enough to have him with us for that long, and long enough for him to meet the fifth generation, the children of my cousins, over the past three years.

I've written before about how pleased I am with my family, and how blessed I am to be related to them. I can't say I knew Mote all that well, given how far apart we were in age and geography, but I certainly had (and have) a great deal of affection for him. It's always tough, when you're a kid, to relate to the much-older generations, and by the time you are old enough, there just isn't enough time. But Mote was the grandfather-type with the gruff, gravelly voice and twinkle in his eye, and he was always happy to take a few minutes out to chat with us kids.

I do have one Mote moment, which will always serve as characteristic of him in particular and my family in general. This part of my family tree, my father's mother's side, has bi-annual reunions, where as many of us as possible get together in Ithaca, NY, and catch up. It's been a tradition for at least as long as I've been alive, and will hopefully continue for decades to come. In 2000, we had a double celebration, my grandmother's 80th birthday that year, and Mote's 90th. It was a lovely weekend all around (and it was also the site of the summer-prank story I referred to in the past post). But the funniest conversation I had all weekend was with Mote.

Mote comes walking by, and I inquire as to how he's doing. He says, "You know, I'm a little tired. I think I might be getting old." Now bear in mind, he's turning 90. I chuckled, and asked what brought this on. He then told me about the week leading up to the reunion. He had, in the seven days previous, done the following:
- played 18 holes of golf
- resurfaced/resealed his driveway (and yes, by himself)
- he and his wife, on the way to Ithaca, stopped and picked $25 worth of blueberries, so they could take them around to their friends, who were in many cases much younger than he was, who couldn't get out themselves (and blueberries were running at $0.75 per pound, by the way).

He spoke of these things as though it was the perfectly normal activity level for someone his age. I was tired justs thinking about it. So naturally, I told him that the kind of week he'd had would wear anybody out, even a strapping young lad like himself, and that I was sure he'd recover as quickly as ever. That, in a nutshell, was Uncle Mote. And by the end of the weekend, he would curse the heavens for raining and preventing him from mowing his daughter's lawn for her (who is my parents' age, give or take).

I'll always remember the big sunglasses and the big smile, on display for the whole weekend we would see him. He is survived by his wife, Dot, and an enormous extended family that will miss him dearly, all while hoping to have the kind of long, full life that he enjoyed himself.

And boy, did he enjoy it.

July 12, 2007

Here's to you, Mr. Absurd Cause-and-effect Connector

If you haven't yet seen this, you should, if only to enjoy the feeling of your hand involuntarily smacking into your forehead at its ridiculousness.

The story refers to this research, which I don't really have an issue with. It's objective, measured data taken by researchers. Left alone, it seems reasonable, and kind of obvious. It's the inane interpretation that I can't stand.

This is a professor of finance (and we'll leave aside for a second the fact that he's a professor of finance, not social studies or psychology or sociology or any area of academia that would make him, I don't know, credible in this discussion), who should if nothing else be a fairly competent analyst, in general. And what he does is look at people who are at a minimum 18 years old, and deduce the cause of their behavior to be an experience that is roughly 12 years old by then, ignoring the host of influences that might have been present along the way. Whiny? Clearly, it's because of a single program they watched as a 6-year-old. That by itself should get him fired, for intellectual laziness unbecoming a college professor, and for piss-poor analytical skills which, if applied to his finances, would have him living in a Maytag box under a bridge somewhere, unable even to afford the coffee cup to collect donations with. Or, in a highly-placed position with the Bush administration. But I digress.

We're living in a time where
- kids can divorce (or sue) their parents
- the act of parental discipline has been reduced to softly-spoken comments and standing in a corner
- the 'tweener' age group has among the highest buying power of any demographic, and therefore marketing panders to them like nobody's business
- getting (and staying) in college is so competitive, and the pressure so high, that parents have increased the pressure on students to "succeed"
- the cultural role models are predominantly hypersexed, undertalented, spoiled brats who have done very little outwardly worthwhile to achieve their success
- everything is negotiable, from traffic tickets to hotel reservations to, well, everything.

But the reason they're self-centered is because some kind old man in a cardigan said they were special. Uh-huh. Right.

Actually, what I find really amusing is the clip from the FOX News program Fox & Friends, where their crack staff of investigative journalists takes on the issue. Watch it here. What's great about it is that the anchor guy basically gets most of his facts wrong. The "research" he attributes to the LSU professor is actually the study at SDSU; the quote about having room for improvement is actually not from the professor at all, it's from some commenter in a chat forum. The LSU professor didn't actually research anything, he just ran his mouth, and ignorantly at that. Clearly, he could do a stand-in on Fox & Friends if this whole teaching thing doesn't pan out (heck, it might keep him out of the Maytag box, you never know), considering the high standards of journalistic and intellectual rigor they have in place there.

I don't even want to get into his comments about Asian students; I really don't have that kind of time. But obviously, if you want to evaluate the influence of a television program on our youth, your best control group is one taken from a completely different social structure and culture. Yes, I think that is the Nobel committee on Line 1, sir; I'm pretty sure you should take it. Moron.

June 19, 2007

People get degrees in this stuff, apparently

Ooof. The irony of summer classes in grad school is that, while you'd expect summer activities to be leisurely and slow-paced, summer classes are whole classes squeezed into half a semester (so we can get two out of the way in one summer). So while you're only in class for a short while, it's a fairly intense short while.

All of that to say: I've been a little busy, hence the silence.

But I did want to share something I saw in CVS yesterday, which has had me shaking my head ever since.

I stopped into ye olde CVS to pick up some stuff for the cold I'm fighting (a fight I appear to be winning, at least for the moment), and on my way to the cashier I spied a product that I literally had to stop, go back, and look at again to make sure I had seen correctly. I couldn't believe it, myself.

Waterproof diapers (I guess), for little baby to go to the pool in. To keep little baby from going in the pool. As it were.

Called... I kid you not...

Little Swimmers.

I want to know how this made it past a room full of adults. I mean, really. Maybe there were no men in the room, so there was no one to spit out their coffee when the name was suggested. That's my best guess. I can't for the life of me imagine a man making it through the decision process with a straight face.

Actually my theory (hope?) is that the name was suggested by the one guy in the room as a joke, and everyone thought it was adorable.

There is serious upside for fathers, though. At the public pool, they can be very proud, publicly, of their little swimmers. Actually twice, if you think about it.

May 25, 2007

I'm a mature adult. Except when I'm not.

Every once in a while, you have one of those regression moments, one of those times where you see something, and your inner 5th-grader (or perhaps your inner Beavis) just takes over your brain. No matter how old you are, that little part of you stands up, takes notice, and takes over your head for a few, oddly gratifying moments. Most often, it is totally inappropriate, but also totally unavoidable.

I would say it probably happens more often with guys than girls, on average. And more often with me, I'm guessing, than most. I blame television. Yeah, television, that's it.

I had my most recent one last night, on the way home from class.

It's DC in the summertime, and that means that while many residents will be out of town on vacation, an even larger number of out-of-towners are choosing DC for their destination of choice: it's the annual Plague of Annoying Tourists. Often, large groups are distinguishable by their plumage, commonly taking the form of identical T-shirts displaying the name of the town/organization/school from which they are coming. This is what caught my attention last night.

Got on the train a little after 8pm, and found myself surrounded by blue tie-dye shirts, worn by a large group of girls, emblazoned with what I could only assume was the school these young ladies attended.

The school? Licking Valley.

I hoped for a minute that it was an all-girls school, until I saw a couple of boys wearing the same shirt. But still. Licking. Valley.

The prospect of their mascot is both delicious and disturbing.

I would like to find this place and visit the bookstore, if only to see if I could find a Licking Valley Cross-Country Shirt. I might never wear anything else.

May 16, 2007

Stop, drop, and... oh never mind

When I was in college, I lived in dorms that were mostly populated by freshmen (the last two years as an RA). What that meant was, among other things, the buildings in which I lived were inordinately fire-alarm-prone, and usually late at night. My job, of course, was to go round up the stragglers (i.e. the people who heard the alarm and decided they didn't feel like getting up) and send them outside. So you can imagine how popular that was in January. Anyway, fire alarms quickly became something not to take all that seriously.

You'd think that would change as an adult, but not really. At my previous office, I can remember several times when the fire alarm would sound, and most people would take a moment and try to figure out whether or not this was something they could get away with ignoring. We're talking people with kids, behaving more or less like college freshmen. In their cases, I think, it was mostly laziness: uncertain danger of fire compared with walking down and perhaps back up eight flights of stairs.

Fast forward to last night, around 11pm. I'm in my apartment, minding my own business, watching a little TV and winding down. All of the sudden, this bell starts going off in the hall. It was a feeble bell, and kind of intermittent, but it was definitely persistent and obviously trying to tell me something. It just wasn't that convincing. It took about fifteen seconds of hearing it for me to realize that it was most likely the building's fire alarm.

My first thought was, "That's your fire alarm? Seriously? Get that fixed, because that's just wrong." The fact that I wasn't sure it was a fire alarm in the first place means there's a problem. I then actually stood in my apartment and debated whether or not I was going to go outside. Part of me still wasn't convinced that what I was hearing was a fire alarm, the other half was flashing back to college and kind of assuming (hoping?) that it was just some false alarm. But I was in a high-rise apartment building, not some freshman college dorm, so the odds of a prank were pretty low.

Of course, hearing the sirens in the distance helped make up my mind. Definitely tipped the scales a bit. I then cursed myself for never getting around to making that renter's insurace call I'd been meaning to for a couple of months, and headed out to see what was going on.

It's never a good sign when you see, at the other end of your hall, a steady stream of people coming out of the stairwell and heading out the door (I live on the ground floor, hence near the exits).

I made my way up to the lobby, only to find about 50-60 people standing around, not doing much of anything. I thought that was a little odd. I mean, the fire alarm is going, there's a fire truck parked outside, and you're standing in the lobby like it's social hour. GO. OUTSIDE.

I went out the back door, and wandered down the building towards the opposite end away from my place, where I could see flashing red lights off of the buildings across the street. The fire crew was running hoses, heading for the hydrants, which didn't exactly help my optimism. I could see smoke coming from around the corner.

Turns out the apartment in question was on the first floor, on the opposite side and end of the building from me. It didn't seem that serious once I got there, a fair amount of smoke but no obvious flames. An ambulance came, but it wasn't needed, thankfully. I saw firefighters moving around, inside the apartment, but I never saw hoses running inside. Good news there as well. It seemed to be pretty well under control very quickly, nobody injured and no damage to the building. In fact, the firefighters never seemed to be in that much of a hurry, which I took as a good sign.

The story ended up being that the guy living in that apartment had a stove fire while doing some cooking. He was fine, the apartment, it seems, is intact, and we had quite a show going on outside for a little while. All's well that ends well, I guess.

But seriously, fix that damn bell.

May 14, 2007

It figures...

... that on the one day I'm in a kind of hurry, I hop in a cab with the World's Least Assertive Cab Driver. No exaggeration.

Coming up to a red light (where I feel obligated to mention, we were going to be making a right turn), the cab stops no fewer than five feet before the stop line, and made no moves to suggest making the right on red was even on his mind. Just waited patiently for the light to turn green (I looked for 'no turn on red.' didn't see it). On the way to the airport, he exhibited none of the maniacally aggressive cab-driver tendencies which most of us loathe and revile while driving near, but we do so tremendously appreciate when we're the ones benefiting from the onset of others' road rage. He let people merge. He didn't accelerate to stops, or jump from lane to lane at the first hint of a quicker line of traffic.

In short, he about drove me crazy.

I realize that we would all rather that more cab drivers would behave this way, but I'd just as soon they get enlightened when it better suits my needs. I don't think that's all that much to ask, is it?

I did see a couple of interesting things on the way, though:

A car turning into the flow of traffic with a steady stream of smoke coming from under its hood. The driver looked almost serenely unconcerned, which bothered me immensely. It bothered me that he wasn't bothered, and I was much happier once we passed him and made him someone else's problem.

If you travel down 23rd St to Constitution in the afternoon, you are no doubt accustomed to seeing the far right lane blocked by at least one car still parked at the meters, despite the fact cars aren't allowed to be there. The difference this time was that the lone offending vehicle was a WWII-era, olive drab Jeep. White star on the side and everything. I can only imagine Gen. Patton was off breaking a dollar for meter change.

The funniest thing about the trip was the car radio. Like many cabs, I'm sure, this one didn't exactly have a Bose premium sound system. Far from it. The upshot was that I got to listen to Wilson Phillips' "Hold On" with a disproportionately high bass level. Think about that: Carnie Wilson with Dr. Dre-level bass lines. It totally changed the song, which is to say it almost made it listenable. Almost.

Of course, Wilson Phillips was forever changed for me after I first heard The Dan Band. If you don't know who these guys are, you should, and here's why*:

I got to the airport and made my plane in plenty of time, so it was all good. But it wasn't quite the ride I was expecting, not by a long shot.

* safe for work, but there's a long-ish intro with some bleeped swearing.

May 2, 2007

Just.... A Little..... Farther...

I'm finished with classes for the semester, but I have to turn in a project (today/tonight) and do a final (this weekend) before I'm officially free. Then it's two-ish weeks of (relatively) minimal responsibility before summer classes start.

Just two semesters to go. Summer and Fall. Then I'm done. No. More. School.

Probably not ever.

I can't begin to describe how deliciously good that sounds. It will be topped, I admit, in August and December, but it's darn good for right now.

All I'll need to do then is figure out just what exactly the %$*@& I want to do with my life, and I'll be all set.

April 23, 2007

One last thing

For any of you out in blogland who are looking for something you can do for the people affected by the events of last week, here are a couple of links.

Hokies United (from whom I borrowed this excellent graphic)

And if you're a fan of collegiate a cappella, as I am, groups from around Virginia are putting together a compilation CD for sale, with all monies going to the above funds (all of it, they're covering the production costs themselves). Check it out here. Also, the Hokies United folks plan to have T-shirts available later this week. Keep an eye on the site for details and the design.

My goal is for this to be the last thing I say on the matter, at least here (hence the post title). Ultimately, it's not about me or what I think; it's about the students and families affected. So this seems an appropriate place to leave it.

As for me, I'm sure I'll be back to the moderately hilarious mediocrity you've come to know and tolerate soon enough. You can take that as good or bad news, as you prefer.


People with far more talent than I have written at length about the tragedy at Virginia Tech, what it means to the university, the students, and perhaps to us as people. With the exception of that first day, I haven't had many words about it myself; it's been more of a quiet sadness, watching the pictures from campus, hearing the stories of the victims, and enduring the words of those who would co-opt the deaths of innocent students for their own purposes. By the end of the week, I was just tired. I had run out of energy even to respond to the kind messages from people who cared about me. It got to be difficult to write what amounted to the same message saying, "yes, I'm fine, thanks for asking," much as I deeply appreciated the thought. I'm getting to it, but not quite as fast as perhaps I should.

I have to admit, the whole thing hit me a bit harder than I had expected. I mean, sure, I went to school there and everything, but I haven't been back in almost ten years and I don't know anyone down there, with the exception of a professor or two. But there it was, a surprising weight in my gut. It got a bit heavier as I read the updates, and as I flipped past all of the news programs, since it seemed like everyone in the world was broadcasting from Blacksburg last week. Well, everyone except Lee Corso, who I think we'd all agree would have been a great break from what we'd been getting. I'd have gladly paid a dollar to have Lee walk around campus with that Hokie head on. Okay, maybe two. Just would have been a welcome change of pace, I'm guessing. But alas, no. We got what we got, and I'd had enough.

It still weighs on me, and probably will for a long time. What has been amazing, though, is the amount of support that I've gotten from people near and far, both fellow alums and folks with no clear connection to the school at all. Friday, I saw a truly humbling amount of maroon and orange around DC, and it's all been extremely heartwarming. I just want to take a second and thank everyone for their kind words, emails, phone calls, blog posts, you name it. It's been a great help to me, and I'm sure it's been for others as well.

It's Monday, the start of a new week. The students at Virginia Tech head back to classes today, and begin the extremely long, difficult road back towards normal (or something that passes for it). I just hope that the rest of the world lets them.
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