April 28, 2008

I guess it had to happen eventually

I started this blog in the fall of 2005, and for two and a half years, I've managed to avoid it. I've seen it happen to other people, but it never happened to me. I will admit, I started to feel invincible. If I haven't run into it by now, surely I was safe, I thought. I thought so, but I was wrong.

I got tagged.

Part of me looks at tagging like the passing of a chain letter, like I have to do it or else something bad will happen, or Bill Gates won't send me a check, or some little girl will succumb to a brain tumor before seeing her email circle the globe (the check isn't coming, and the girl doesn't exist, by the way). But at the same time, it's a sign that someone wants to know you a little better, and it's hard to be annoyed when people find you interesting (yes, I know that there are people out there who find tapeworms interesting, but work with me here, okay?). So thanks to Ms. Lemmonex, here are seven things about me that you might not already know. I hope you won't regret choosing me over tapeworms.

1. In over 17 years of driving, I have received exactly one ticket, for speeding, in 2000. Now that I've said it out loud, I'm sure Murphy will be planning to correct that little statistic forthwith.

2. I don't keep a balanced checkbook, and it's entirely possible I've never actually balanced one at all (I may have done it early on, when I got my first account; the memory is a little hazy). I do most of my banking online, through direct deposit, and I hit the ATM roughly weekly. I monitor my credit card online, and I check the statement against the things I know I've done. I look for obvious anomalies but there's no fine-toothed comb involved. The only checks I write at this point are my rent and the occasional check to a friend for money I owe them, or for donations or entry fees for things (Race for the Cure, for example).

3. By virtue of having done some temp work a few years ago, I know that I can type somewhere between 55 and 60 words per minute. This is significant to me because when I graduated college, I couldn't type at all without staring at my hands, and now I can look away from the computer entirely while typing and not worry too much about making mistakes. On a related note, people find it quite disconcerting if you look them in the eye while continuing to type whatever it is you were typing when they first approached your desk.

4. I'm 33 years old, and I have probably drunk a total of less than three glasses of orange juice since kindergarten. I got sick on the way home from school one day (I can still remember it surprisingly clearly) and at that point my relationship with orange juice more or less ended. The thought of it doesn't make me ill or anything; I just don't want it.

5. I have never been what others might describe as properly drunk. Never fallen down, thrown up or passed out. The drunkest I've ever been is probably slightly off-balance, and that was on my 21st birthday. I rarely drink, and when I do it's almost never more than one drink or beer. I don't have a problem with drinking per se, or with people who do it; it's just never been something I've been interested in. I am regularly surprised at how hard it is for people to wrap their heads around this concept; like they'd be less uncomfortable processing the notion that I'm a raging alcoholic or something.

6. I can sing. Actually, I think it's reasonable to say that I have a well-above-average singing voice. But I could probably count on one hand the number of people I talk to regularly who have ever heard it. At some point, either during or shortly after college, I developed something of a mental block about singing around other people. I don't karaoke, I don't sing with the radio with other people, I pretty much clam up if i think someone else is within earshot. Oddly, I have less of a problem with the notion of strangers hearing me than friends. The only exception I seem to have is if someone has is playing an actual instrument. I'll sing along with someone playing guitar at a party with little hesitation, but karaoke is a non-starter. It makes no sense, and I don't get it myself, but it's there. I'll sort it out at some point. Maybe.

7. Between college and grad school, I have written a total of two applications and one essay. I applied early to Virginia Tech, planning to write the application for the in-state university as a backup plan, which was never necessary; no essay for the Tech application (all the more reason to love that place). I had a friend or two who wrote as many as 11 applications for college, something that I couldn't even fathom at the time. For grad school, I knew where I wanted to go and applied there; it wasn't a top-10 school and my GMAT score by itself could have gotten me in, so I was pretty well set there. Had to write an essay, but I couldn't really complain about it, could I? As higher-education experiences go, I'm pretty comfortable with how mine went.

So there you go, a small window into the man behind the blog. Hope you enjoyed it. Much like with chain letters, I will pass on tagging anyone else. If this wasn't really your thing, perhaps I can interest you in this.

April 17, 2008

I have my handbasket all picked out and everything

The founder of chaos theory has died at age 90.

Reports differ, but it is widely believed that his death was caused by beating, specifically the beating of the wings of a butterfly, somewhere over central Mongolia. Mathematicians continue to investigate. A statement from Jeff Goldblum is expected sometime this afternoon.

What does it say about me that, at 8:00 this morning, this is what first occurred to me upon reading the headline of the story? It's good that the Pope is here this week. He can just give me my Downstairs Pass today and save all the waiting.

April 13, 2008

Things I learned in San Francisco

In Part II of my west-coast journey.

- Golden Gate Park is beautiful. You could probably kill half a day or more there, if the weather's nice (California, duh), and there do seem to be plenty of things to look at. I had little time to spend on my visit, but did stop through the Japanese Tea Garden, which in addition to providing some excellent photographic scenes, allowed me to get the cherry blossom fix I was missing back home, minus the throng of underfoot tourists that clog the pedestrian arteries of our fair city this time of year. Points for that. There is also a rose garden, although apparently early April is not precisely the height of bloom season, as there was exactly one rose among the approximately seventy gajillion rose bushes in that part of the park. All of that said, it is a lovely place, and there are many more picture-worthy spots there than I had time to see, but would like to at some point. The DeYoung museum, for example, looked fascinating. There is also a flower conservatory which includes a butterfly house, if you're into that sort of thing.

- Maps are helpful. There are, to my mind, two major flaws in San Francisco's design, based on my short time there. First, and this is minor once you know your way around, is the signage. I'm very grateful for the Powers That Be for telling me the name of every cross street I pass; I think that's a wonderful idea. What would be brilliant, though, would be to occasionally tell me the name of the street I am currently on. This is important to know when you've just taken a poorly labeled turn that you think is the one you're looking for, and you travel a half-mile or so wondering about it but can't be completely sure because every signpost is blank. Big signs for cross-streets, roughly zero for your current street. Last time I checked, signposts could accommodate at least two signs, one for each direction of street; it seems reasonable to suggest that they be used in that manner, much like every major city on the planet. Except, of course, San Francisco. So knowing how the streets are laid out puts you at least in a moderately advantageous position.

Except for the one-way streets (Issue #2). I don't think it's too much of an exaggeration to say that sorting out the one-way streets in San Fran feels somewhat akin to trying to decipher sanskrit using an Ovaltine decoder ring (and yes, finding out that the secret message is, in fact, "Drink more Ovaltine" is less than satisfying). I've never been so grateful for DC's user-friendly, intuitive urban design. At least here, you are fairly assured that if the street you're crossing won't let you turn left, the odds are at least 50/50 that the next one will. Over there, if you miss one left turn you might be in Sacramento by the time you get another chance.

(And before you say it: GPS is for wimps. Either that or I couldn't expense it. Pick the rationale that you like best. Wimp.)

- Thanks to the BART, I now have an appreciation for just how phenomenal the coverage of our local metro system is, in terms of access to different parts of the city. The BART has four lines, which all pass through the exact same dozen stops downtown, in a straight line across the city.

- The cable car is worth a ride. Because you're there, and that's what you do. Plus, it's a relatively cheap and easy way to get over to Fisherman's Wharf and Ghirardelli Square, etc. It is a fun, scenic ride, and you can hang off the side all the way across town if you want to (which I did). Humming the Rice-a-Roni theme song optional but encouraged (or not). And if you're riding across town in the evening, it's entirely possible that your driver will stop the car in the middle of an intersection, hop off and run into a corner pizza shop to place an order.

The truth is, San Francisco is a very manageable size, and is generally walkable (or at least, don't-have-to-drive-able); you can get most places of interest other than Golden Gate Park or the Bridge without riding a municipal bus or getting into a cab. But given that,

- I am in lousy shape. Not that this is a surprise, but it was brought into uncomfortably stark focus on this trip. I was out and about in San Francisco for about eight hours or so on my one free day, with the total time spent sitting still (driving or riding the cable car) accounting for between an hour and a half and two hours of that time. The rest? Walking. Sure, a lot of stopping to take photos and that sort of thing, but mostly walking. And of the walking, there was a significant amount of climing. Not like rock-climbing or anything, but climbing hills and stairs. Because San Francisco? Not flat. Not even a little. It has hills. (Correction: make that hills).

I walked up Hyde St from the end of the cable car line to the top of Lombard St, the world's windiest street. On the map, this journey is about four blocks, which seems perfectly reasonable. In fact, it may seem reasonable enough that when the cable car stops at the top of Lombard St on Hyde, on the way to the Wharf, you might actually decide against getting off right then, instead figuring that you'll ride the car to the end and then walk over to the bottom of Lombard where the pics will be better anyway. This is a bad idea. Because when you fail to find Leavanworth St, which meets the bottom of Lombard, you will just end up walking up Hyde St anyway, retracing the path your cable car just took, without the benefit of mechanized transportation. And it will suck. The street is obscenely steep. Lombard St itself is listed as having a 27-degree incline; Hyde isn't quite that steep, but it's close. Or at least, it sure as hell feels like it. According to Google maps Terrain view, the trip from Bay St to Lombard St will take you up around 200 feet. In four blocks. With no stairs. It's steep enough that the middle of the sidewalk is cross-hatched, presumably to help people with traction as they climb. So yeah, get off the cable car, take pictures, then walk down the massive nasty hill to the Wharf. Down is easier. Or wait 15 minutes and catch another cable car to the bottom. I did none of these things, because I'm an idiot. But we've long since established that, now haven't we?

And all of that was after I had spent a couple of hours at the Golden Gate, where I climbed every bit of the 220 feet from the bridge deck to sea level, but at least there were stairs involved. See, you can park right next to the toll booths at the bridge, almost, take your pictures, then head on out to do whatever's next. You can, but I can't. I'm the one who notices the path off to the side, and follows it, ever looking for better angles for the photos. Then you realize that you can make your way all the way down to the water, where there's this cool concrete pier that gives you an excellent view of the bridge, as well as the city itself and Alcatraz; all it requires is that you descend, oh, say, 33885744 stairs to get there. At which point you're probably a little less than a half-mile from the bridge, and you notice that you can get almost right next to the bridge itself, also at the water line. So you go. It is at that point when you recognize that, while you may be standing next to the bridge, there is no direct path from there to the top of the bridge where you started. Instead, you ahve to go all the way back around and all the way back up the stairs. And did I mention 220 feet? Yeah. Awesome. And no escalators.

But the good news is, the pictures came out pretty well. They would be much better, if not for the final, most colossally aggravating thing I learned out there:

- My (brand new) camera has a defect in it. There is this small collection of circles, between two and four, in the top-center of just about every frame I took on this trip. They aren't always obvious, but they are always there, and always in the same place. So the clear blue sky surrounding the architectural wonder that is the Golden Gate Bridge has what appears to be a series of bubbles in it. Not that that's distracting or anything. I had purchased this camera about a week before I left for California, from a website that shall remain nameless (although one might suspect from its name that they also sell crackers, or that they're Putting On something*), but whose return/exchange policy, I found out later, is ten days. Ten days. That's it. Even for exchanges for defects. Ten days. So instead of making it easy to get this rectified, I'm going to have to send my camera to the manufacturer to get serviced, which will take something on the order of two weeks. Because the piece of crap website can't seem to figure out how to write a reasonable customer service policy. Fuckers. I have a $50 gift coupon that came with my camera, after whose use they will receive exactly $0 of my money ever again, and roughly that same amount from anyone who I ever talk to about camera stuff.

But that said, I did find some very good pictures in San Francisco, and will get some posted here one of these days. And I had an excellent trip out west, all things considered. This is a pretty busy travel month, so there may be more stories coming, you never know. Hopefully good ones, but since Murphy and I have the sort of relationship we do, you can never really tell...

* I should point out, however, that the brick and mortar stores bearing this name are not affiliated with the website, and as such I have no issues with them. The people there have been very helpful, in distinct contrast to their virtual cousins. Did I mention fuckers? Just checking.

April 9, 2008

They can't take it back now....

While it took so long as to suggest less Pony Express than Limping Tortoise Express, this did finally arrive today.

Not that it was ever in doubt or anything, but actually being able to hold it in your hands is pretty darn cool.

But seriously, it took 'em long enough....

April 2, 2008

Doing a little West Coast swing

Some observations from my first-ever trip to Los Angeles, the first stop on my two-city tour for work this week. Spent the weekend with a good friend from college, who was kind enough to play tour guide, and I've managed to see far more of the LA area than I had expected to. All in all, an excellent time.

- Why being nice to people matters: my seat assignment for my flight on Friday was waaaay in the back of the plane, on the window. Being somewhat taller than average, I tend to prefer the aisle because window seats usually have less foot-room on account of the curvature of the plane's fuselage. And exit row seats are always a good thing; but the seat-selection for exit rows, the computer said, would have to be handled at the departure gate. Not a promising sign, but I remained optimistic. At the gate, I inquired about a seat change, and was told that the flight was completely full, and there were no available seats, but the lady said she'd put in a request and we'd see what came up. Which sounded a lot to me like, "Don't hold your breath." But again, I remained optimistic.

Fast forward about twenty minutes, when the rest of that gate's staff arrived. The lady I had spoken to asked the arriving folks whether any of them had an extra pen, since she seemed to have left hers at her previous post. As it turned out, only one of them had a pen at all, so there was one pen available for three gate agents. Not an ideal situation, to be sure. I have my backpack with me, since that's what I use to carry my laptop, which has all of the supplies I used to take to class, including a plethora of pens. So grabbed one I hardly use, wandered over to the desk and handed it to her, saying,"And the best part is, I don't even want it back." She chuckled, said thanks, and I went back to my seat.

Another twenty minutes or so, and we're beginning the boarding process. They've already announced that first class is completely full, so there will be no upgrades, and we have a full flight, so the standby folks are SOL. But in the midst of all those announcements, the gate lady makes her way in my direction, holding a long slip of paper. A new boarding pass. Exit row. Aisle. Score. I'm not saying it was because I gave her the pen, but I'm not saying it wasn't, either.

- For some reason, United has decided that, rather than dividing the under-seat space evenly across the three seats in a row, the best approach would be to give the middle seat enough space to house a small third-world family, and the aisle and window each enough space for a business-sized envelope (standing on its edge), a thimble and a ball-point pen.

- Celebrity Sighting #1: Friday night in a small, relatively loud bar in Studio City whose name escapes me (I remember low, red lighting and a lot of noise, which narrows the list to roughly 4,556,533 bars in Los Angeles). Among the patrons, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who I recognize more as "that guy who looks like Robert Downey Jr's older brother" than for any of his acting work.

- Complain all you want about the drivers in the DC area, but compared to the drivers out here we are all extraordinarily thoughtful and considerate on the road. No wonder they shoot at each other. But then, if I had to deal with the 405 every day, I might be a little unhinged myself.

- Run, Fat Boy, Run is a very good movie, and the Cinemadome at the Arclight theater is an exceptional place to take in a film. It reminded me of the Uptown, in terms of the screen space, but it is a very modern, updated theater. As interested as I was/am in Grummann's Chinese Theater, I wasn't willing to suffer through Drillbit Taylor just to have the experience. I think I came out ahead here. Quick trivia on Fat Boy: co-written by Michael Ian Black, formerly of MTV's The State, and directed by David Schwimmer, of all people. And he does an excellent job. And let's be honest, you simply cannot go wrong with Simon Pegg. Hank Azaria doesn't hurt, either.

- I've seen more Italian sportscars here than I have anywhere else outside of Milwaukee, Wisconsin (yes, Milwaukee of all places. There was this little euro bar near where I stayed while I was there in 1998, and every night there were no fewer than seven high-end sportscars parked on that corner. Lamborghini, Ferrari, even Lotus were well-represented on that hundred-foot stretch of curb. We never understood it, but it was something to behold). Also, more than a few Bentley's and Rolls' out in normal traffic, driving to the mall.

- Celebrity(ish) Sighting #2: Santa Monica is a lovely place to walk around, between the Promenade, which has some exceptional street performers, and the Pier, which has some exceptional views of the Pacific Ocean and the surrounding beaches. In the Apple store on the Promenade I saw Amanda from that Tila Tequila reality show, A Shot at Love. Neither my friend nor her boyfriend knew who she was, but thanks to the internet-connected computers in the store I was able to enlighten(?) them. The site has switched to Season 2, so her bio is no longer up there. But I will say this: the makeup artists on that show were busy. Either that or she aged a helluva lot since that show ended. Possibly both.

- If you find yourself in Studio City, make your way to Sushi Dan. Trust me. Order the baked langostino roll. You will not be disappointed.

- Ditto for Duke's in Malibu, which offers the added extra bonus of a drive on the PCH. Sitting at lunch, looking at the ocean, watching dolphins go by. Yeah, that'll do. Plus, the food? Delicious.

- Celebrity Sighting #3: Vivian's Millenium Cafe, brunchtime. Order the banana pancakes. But get the regular order, because the large is just absurd (he said, having learned the hard way). But they're very, very good. Sitting about six feet away, just off the patio and doing a crossword puzzle, is Zach Levi. At one point, he disappears into the restaurant, grabs the coffee pot to refill his cup, then heads back to his table with it, offering refills to other patrons along the way.

- Petco Park in San Diego is a beautiful stadium, and an ideal place to take in a game. Our client decided to make an impromptu trip down for the Padres-Astros game Tuesday night, and I went along. We got there early, and wandered through the grounds and every level of the stadium. Great sight lines everywhere. Our client said that it's a very similar environment to the new Nationals stadium, actually. With the small exception of it being very chilly in San Diego that night, it was an excellent side trip to take, and we made very good time both getting there and getting back. And on top of it all, it was a pretty good game; we root-root-rooted for the home team, and they won. Like an idiot, however, I left my camera in my hotel, so we'll have to see how the cell-phone pictures come out.

- There is an endless supply of amazing views out here, to the point where you get oddly used to it. And it's hard to take pictures, since the panoramas far exceed the width of the camera lens. It's difficult to pick which part of the sweeping view you want to capture. I got a few good ones, though.

Next up is San Francisico, for the second (and much shorter) leg of the tour; I head home Friday. I won't have nearly the tourist-time I had in LA, but I do plan on seeing as much as I can fit in. I'll post some of the pictures once I get back home.
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