january 2001

Over our Christmas holiday, my wife and I decided to try an intriguing new sport called geocaching. It's kind of like a global scavenger hunt that mostly takes place in state parks where you can enjoy nice walks and great scenery on the way to your goal. How it works is someone sets up a cache, which is usually a collection of small items like batteries, first aid kits, non-perishable foods, toys, CDs, or any number of other items. They are meant to convey something about the personality of the person who has set up the stash, just as the items that visitors leave behind are meant to represent them in some fashion (it is the standard practice of this fledgling sport for the visitors to a cache to take something from the cache and replace it with something they have brought with them).

After the person creates a cache (usually stored in a tupperware or other water-resistant container), they take it to a somewhat remote spot on a public piece of property, usually a few hundred yards or more off a trail at a state or national park. When they find a suitable location to hide the stash (behind a rock, or at the base of a particular tree, for example), they record the location of the stash using the coordinates from a GPS receiver. Then they post these coordinates, along with a description of the stash, to the geocaching web site. Geocachers then use these coordinates and their own GPS receivers to track down the stash and swap an item or two with the stash owner. I purchased our GPS receiver (a Garmin eTrex) for a little over $100 before Christmas, hoping we might have a chance to visit a stash in our area before going home for the holidays.

Of course, we didn't have time with all the holiday errands we had to run, but when we went home we took print outs of several stashes along our route with us in case we had a few hours to kill. We first tried to stop at a couple of stashes near Prince William National Forest in Virginia on the way back up from visiting family in North Carolina, but since we didn't have a detailed map of the region and we were facing the DC rush hour crunch if we lingered too long, we decided to save those for another day. A couple of days later we drove to Harper's Ferry, WV to find a stash there, but found the trail leading to the stash closed for the winter. Finally, we decided to take Saturday afternoon and drive down to find a stash in Rock Creek Park in DC. We were determined to find this one after our previous aborted attempts.

We weren't very familiar with this park, so we drove until we saw a sign for the park that seemed to be the most likely starting point. The GPS receiver said that we were about 1.8 miles from the stash, which didn't sound right because some of the descriptions left in the log on the site said that they had spent only a half hour to an hour total locating the stash and getting back to their cars. We walked for about half a mile before we decided that there had to be a closer starting point and returned to our car to try and find a parking lot that was closer to the stash. We drove around to another entrance to the park and ended up at the parking lot for Picnic Area 6, which our GPS unit said was a little less than a mile from the stash (it turns out that we should have kept on going—Picnic Area 10 was only about .2 miles from the stash).

For a while we just followed the paved road through the park, passing lots of other people skating, walking their dogs, or playing with their children. When we got within .6 miles of the stash, there was a path that led off in the woods that was in the same direction as the stash, so we followed that. We ended up tromping through the woods for about half an hour (mostly uphill), before coming to the road again with .3 miles still to go before we got to the stash. That's when we saw the parking lot for Picnic Area 10 and realized that this was probably where most people left their cars to begin the foot search for the stash.

After crossing the road, we had to take a bridge to get to the other side of the creek where the stash was. It was pretty easy going from there; I used the GPS unit to get us within 30 feet (depending on how many satellites the unit can see, the accuracy varies from 15-85 feet) and my wife stumbled upon the container. We looked through the other entries in the log (there had been about 4 people who had left entries, including one who had brought one of the Polaroid cameras with the sticky film that he used to take pictures of himself and his GPS receiver at the cache which he then stuck in the log with his text entry) and then left our own short recounting of our journey. We took a first aid kit (it looked like the stash had been looted by someone, because there was a lot of cool stuff missing and there was a used pair of panty hose (yuck) that had no accompanying log entry) and left a Pez dispenser with Gonzo (from the muppets) on it.

All in all, it was a pretty enjoyable afternoon, even though it took us a lot longer to find it because of our choice of parking lots. We're going to try another one this weekend; hopefully we've learned a few lessons from this experience that will make finding it a little easier.

I'm not sure how I feel about Quentin Taratino in general. I mean, Resevoir Dogs was great, and Pulp Fiction was brilliant, but his output generally leaves something to be desired (I never got up the gumption to go see Jackie Brown, which I suppose says something about it right there, although I would like to see it some time). Plus, he seems to forget that there is good reason he's behind the camera. His incessant need to be treated like a movie star (hosting Saturday Night Live, appearing in several films, etc.) instead of a star director really makes him seem less intelligent than he probably is. For a while, it seemed like everyone in Hollywood was trying to copy his style, although they did it so poorly that they may have ended up prematurely killing an interesting new type of filmmaking (the same way that the record company feeding frenzy in Seattle has left us with only groups like Third Eye Blind and Matchbox 20 as the legacy to potential greats like Soundgarden and Nirvana).

But there is one thing that I think Taratino deserves credit for that people don't often seem to associate with him: the use of pop songs in the creation of the tapestry of a film. The first time I felt like a filmmaker really understood how to use music to enhance the experience of seeing the film to the point that the film would not have been the same without it was while watching Pulp Fiction. Last weekend, I watched American Beauty, Three Kings, and Rushmore (three of the most critically acclaimed films of the last couple of years), and realized that all three were similarly dependent on the pop songs that were intertwined with the visuals.

I'm not sure what else to say about this. I just don't think it's a coincidence that great movies in recent times seem to use music in the same way that Tarantino used it in Pulp Fiction, and he should probably get some credit for that.

My mother received another chemotherapy treatment a couple of days ago. It sounds like the worst part of the experience so far has been the ineptitude of the offices that administer the treatment. The first time she went, they had mysteriously misplaced her orders and refused to give her treatment (even though they had had them the day before when they called to confirm her appointment). She had to call her doctor and get his office to fax over the orders before they would see her, which meant that she spent most of the morning just sitting around.

The second time she went to a different office, hoping the experience there would be better. Even though they knew she was supposed to have the treatment, it was still exhausting and lasted far longer than it should have because they had to do it through an IV in her arm (she had a port put in when she had her surgery that was supposed to make it easy for them to administer the chemo, but that isn't working properly for some reason). Plus, the person who hooked up the IV apparently wasn't very good at sticking people with needles, since she had to do it two or three times before she found the vein. She has only two treatments left for this type of chemo; hopefully they'll get their act together next time she goes.

She did receive some semi-hopeful news from her doctor, though. A study that was just released in the last couple of weeks says that the second round of chemo (which is supposed to be far worse) does not really help people with the particular kind of cancer she has, so she might not have to go through that. This means she might go straight to radiation after this round of chemo, and could potentially be finished with her treatment by summer.

Mostly she just seems tired. Plus she's losing all of her hair. At Christmas, she was trying to do to much, and she is planning on flying to Chicago for three days next week (she travels to Chicago frequently as part of her job), which she probably shouldn't do either. But I think that keeping her life as normal as she can helps her cope with her illness a little better. And I guess as long as the doctor okays it, it doesn't really hurt her to do all these things. But she should still take it easier than she has been.

Well, it's that time of year for top 10 lists. I'd have to say, reviewing my choices, that this has been a pretty lackluster year for music. 1999 was much better; let's hope the coming year makes up for last year's deficiencies.

1. Modest Mouse—The Moon and Antarctica
2. Radiohead—Kid A
3. Modest Mouse—Making Nothing Out of Something
4. Badly Drawn Boy—The Hour of Bewilderbeast
5. Yo La Tengo—And Then Nothing Turned Itself Inside-Out
6. XTC—Wasp Star
7. The Eels—Daisies of the Galaxy
8. Steve Earle—Transcendental Blues
9. U2—All That You Can't Leave Behind
10. PJ Harvey—Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea

You know, George Lucas could make a lot of money if he just released the four existing Star Wars movies on DVD right now, without many extras. Sure, they'd probably include a few behind-the-scenes type features, and maybe a couple of other extras, but they wouldn't really give us anything new. And I'm sure that Fox, the distributor of the Star Wars movies, would love to see him do that; it has almost become a standard practice with DVDs to release a generic version that features little more than the original film and maybe a trailer or two, and then a year later release a special "Collector's Edition" or "Master Edition" that includes tons of extras. The net result is that the studios get to sell two copies of what is basically the same product to each customer (most people are shocked that there haven't already been 3 or 4 versions of the Matrix released already).

But Lucas has decided to wait to release the films on DVD until he can produce the so-called "Master Editions". He doesn't have a lot of time to spend on them right now, since Episode 2 is in heavy production, but even though I would love to see these movies digitally remasted and available on DVD, I have to give Lucas some credit for not wanting to shortchange Star Wars fans for once.

NYPD Blue is back on the air. I don't know why I love that show so much; I mean, I know it's basically the same show, week after week, year after year. But I like it all the same. I wish that ABC hadn't adopted this bizarro-world strategy of airing new episodes continuously from January to May and then not airing the show at all the rest of the year, but it's back on now, and I'm happy to see it return.

My friend Tom came to visit us last weekend. He has been in Rome for the past year and a half, studying printmaking through Tyler, which I think is the art school for Temple University in Philadelphia. On Friday night we went out to dinner at Cafe Kyoko, a great Japanese/Thai/Sushi restaurant. It was a little crowded and they seemed a little short-staffed, but the food was great as usual. Afterwards, Tom and I wanted to go see Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, but the earliest show that we could get to started at 10:50. My wife decided that that was a little too late for her, so she drove home to get some sleep while Tom and I drove to the theater, which was about half an hour away. It wasn't until after we purchased our tickets that they told us that the 10:50 show was sold out; we had been given tickets for the 12:30 show. Both Tom and I are night owls, so this didn't bother us too much. We drove around for a while to kill some time, ending up a 7-Eleven with about 6 cops hassling some guy in an SUV. Tom got a large coffee and I settled on a gatorade and a pack of cough drops.

The theater was actually pretty crowded, which I guess shouldn't have surprised me too much since the 10:50 showing had sold out. There were a lot of people who were younger than I thought they would be; that is, they looked young enough that I thought a subtitled kung fu movie from the director of Sense and Sensibility wouldn't appeal to them.

And I think, in fact, that they may have been too young, because every time the characters would start their eye-popping aerial acrobatics, they would start laughing, just like they laughed every time there was any hint of a romantic overtone. Whatever. This movie seriously kicks ass. Solid story, great acting, and choreographed fighting like you won't believe. This is the only truly impressive movie that I've seen in a while—this is going to be the movie that people rip off until the Matrix sequel comes out.

The movie was so good, in fact, that when my wife and Tom and I met Sally and George, some friends of ours, for a movie the next day, Tom and I were able to successfully lobby for Crouching Tiger again, despite the other three's initial preference for Castaway. We had lunch at a great place called California Tortilla, which had huge burritos in flavors like Honey Lime Chicken, Blackened Chicken Caesar, and Thai Chicken. They also had a ton of hot sauces, including a house sauce that was flavorful but not all that hot. The one weird thing was the owners obsession with putting their pictures on everything: the cups, the drink machine, the hot sauce bottle, and, most disturbingly, the napkins.

Everyone loved the movie, and I think that Tom and I liked it even more the second time, since we were able to focus more on the acting and choreography of the fight sequences instead of having to constantly pay attention to the subtitles to figure out what was going on. I think my wife and I are going to see it again this weekend.

After the movie we went out to dinner at Negril, a Jamaican restaurant that we've been going to for years. The manager is named Beverly, and as far as I can tell she spends every waking moment in the restaurant. She cooks jerk turkey with a mango-cranberry sauce for Thanksgiving, and has her paintings for sale on the walls. She also painted the tops of all the tables, which gives the otherwise ordinary dining room a very bright and inviting atmostphere. Her husband usually mans the cash register, and her son and daughter (who are in school full time and a biochemist, respectively) work there during holidays and some weekends. Sally and George had never been with us before, but they loved the food, just like everyone we bring does.

Tomorrow: we take Tom geocaching.

On Sunday we decided to take Tom geocaching before dropping him off in Virginia. There were a couple of stashes around Fairfax that were pretty close together, including one that had just been stashed a week earlier. It has so far been our habit to leave a Pez dispenser, since they are relatively small, most people think they are cool, and kids like them, too (a lot of people take their kids out geocaching, especially when the stashes are located in suburban areas, and there are a lot of complaints on the site whenever a stash doesn't have anything that a kid would like). We had a Daffy Duck and a Woodstock (from Peanuts) with us that day. Tom had been agonizing over what to leave in the stash—we had looked in malls, in Wal-Marts, and pretty much everywhere else and he couldn't find anything that he really thought would be cool that was also relatively cheap. He still hadn't found anything by Sunday morning, so we stopped at a gas station close to the stash and he picked up a couple of tins of Altoids.

We started off with a stash at the Marie Butler Leven nature preserve in McLean. Generally what I do when we are searching for a stash is head off in the exact direction of the stash, which usually results in us tromping through the brush for a few minutes instead of enjoying a nice walk on a path that would have taken us within 20 or 30 yards of the stash. This was the case again with this stash, although the park that it was hidden in was so small that it probably didn't make much difference timewise. It was very easy to find, only about a ten minute walk from the car. We left the Daffy Pez and Tom left a tin of Cinnamon Altoids. We each decided to take a CD from the stash (one visitor had left five of them), hoping that they would contain some cool music or some sort of data about the person who left them, but we found out later that they were just blank. I was pretty disappointed about this, but I think I'm going to burn something on it and then take it back to the stash and exchange it for something else.

Next we went to the new stash in Ashlawn Park. It was a very strange little park. There didn't seem to be any official parking lot for it, just a few roads in a subdivision that ended at the park. We just parked on the street outside of someone's house. This stash was very easy to find, too, taking only about 15 minutes from where we parked. Even though it had just been stashed the week before, we were the fifth group of visitors, and we encountered the sixth on our way out of the park (a couple who looked just like my wife and I: the man staring intently at the GPS receiver in his left hand and the woman with a sheet of paper giving instructions on how to locate the stash once you were in range). Tom went a little overboard on this one, leaving a Darth Maul action figure, a tin of Wintergreen Altoids, and about $1.50 worth of Italian coins. We left the Woodstock Pez, and each of us ended up taking a mini pocket knife.

Tom seemed to really enjoy the experience. He was fascinated by the GPS receiver (we use a Garmin eTrex, which is very small and has a ton of features even though it costs just over $100, which is very cheap), and was especially interested in the dynamic, collaborative nature of the sport. The stashes are really like fluid time capsules, with each visitor contributing to the current and future state of the stash. Tom is thinking about planting a stash in some ruins near where he lives in Rome, but since he doesn't have a GPS receiver he'll have to find some way to get the coordinates before he can post it to the geocaching site. Someday I would like to plant a stash containing all the things that we have collected from other stashes. I think that my wife and I will probably try to hit another stash this weekend, probably down in northern Virginia again. We did just get a new dual 450 G4 and a copy of Diablo II, however, so our outdoor activity (and sleep) may be somewhat limited for the next couple of weeks.

Our friend Tom was supposed to go back to Italy on Sunday, after a month of being home again for the first time in a year and a half. Instead, we got a phone call from him on Sunday night, telling us that it would be at least a couple of weeks before he could go back because the mole he had had removed from his neck the week before turned out to be a cancerous melanoma.

He is going back in for more tests next week; it's possible that they could have removed all of the cancerous material and that it might not have spread. But it's also possible that it did spread. He's worried about this second possibility, and not just for the obvious reasons: it turns out that chemotherapy and radiation have little effect on cancers of this type. What this would mean for the long term, I don't know yet. Hopefully it's something that I won't have to think about. We're going to go visit him this Saturday, and probably take him geocaching again.

My mom did not have a great week this week, either. Last Tuesday she got a cold, which, in her immune system's weakened state, translated into a 104° fever and nearly resulted in a hospital stay. She also found out that she wouldn't be receptive to the new pill-based second round of chemo, so she'll have to do the one where she goes in for IV treatments every three weeks. Given how much the current treatments have taken her out of action, and given that the current treatments are supposed to be much easier on the body than the second round, I know that she was disappointed that she would have to go through them. She has also started reading up on her upcoming radiation treatments. She thought that these might be easier to get through than the chemo even though she'll have to do them every day instead of every three weeks, but she's beginning to think that they may be just as bad as the second round of chemo. So all in all the next six months are looking pretty terrible for her. We're going to try to fly down for a visit in March or April.

And, as if we hadn't received enough good news this week, my wife's father is in the hospital again. It wasn't a stroke this time, but rather blood loss from a minor surgical procedure. By the time the doctors figured out what was going on, they had to give him 7 units of blood and transfer him to a better facility. He should be okay in a couple of days, but given that this happened once before, you'd think that his doctors would learn to be especially careful about this kind of thing.

I'm not afraid of death. I'm afraid of life losing its joy.

I feel like making lists today, and for some reason all of the lists are about television.

Television shows I really like:
Iron Chef
TV Funhouse
Malcolm in the Middle
The X-Files
The Simpsons
South Park
Crocodile Hunter
The Daily Show

Shows I am on the fence about how much I really like them:
Dark Angel
Star Trek: Voyager
Junkyard Wars

Shows I once loved and still watch, even though I'm wondering if they're starting to lose it:
The Practice
King of the Hill
That 70's Show

Shows I watch even though I know I shouldn't:
Temptation Island
The Mole

Shows that, based on critical acclaim and friends who like them, I should be watching but probably never will:
The West Wing
Law & Order

Shows I watched for a year or two at some point but now don't watch at all:
Ally McBeal
Who Wants to Be a Millionaire

Shows I wish the bastards who run television hadn't canceled so quickly:
Freaks and Geeks
Harsh Realm

Products for which I never need to see another ad on television:
Adult diapers
Hemorrhoid creams
Athlete's Foot treatments
Genital herpes pills
Vaginal yeast infection creams
Torso Track, Torso Toner, Torso Tiger, or any other torso-related product
Ab Force, Ab Rocker, Ab Roller, AB Doer, Ab Slide, Ab Twister, Ab Flex, Ab Flex 2, Ab Blaster, Ab Trainer, Ab Strap, Ab Mats, Ab Bench, Ab Wheel, Ab Toner, Ab Dolly, Ab Isolator, Ab Machine, Ab Sculptor, Ab Slimmer, Six Pack Abs or any other ab-related product

I really like Miss Cleo, though, the Tarot card reader with the fake Jamaican accent. I wish they would give her a talk show.

The Iron Chef is really the only show that I make an effort not to miss. They had a 24 hour marathon on New Year's Day this year, and I'd have to guess that I probably watched at least half of them (and there were a few I didn't watch because I had seen them before). Sunday is a pretty big night—there are a lot of shows that I like that don't overlap with one another. Some shows, like Crocodile Hunter, Battlebots, and Junkyard Wars, I'll watch if I happen to catch them, but I really have no idea when they come on and don't go out of my way to find them. It probably helps that these types of shows are all on cable channels, which tend to run a new episode of a given show at least 4 or 5 times every week to maximize the exposure. Cable channels don't have to be as concerned about ratings because their primary source of revenue comes from the number of cable subscribers who receive the channel—ad revenue from their programming is mostly a bonus.

The schedule this season works out pretty well for me. There are only 3 nights where there is anything on at all that I will watch, leaving me free to balance my TV watching with reading, computer stuff, music, etc. I still have a lot of guilt about watching television, but I'm such a pop culture junkie that I don't think I could realistically give it up.

I guess advertisers on the web are finally realizing that people are savvy enough to screen out all of the ad banners, promo boxes, and other traditional forms of banner ads, so now they are starting to insist on pop-up ads, which they have renamed "interstitials" in some misguided attempt to make them less annoying. For a while, only sites that offered free hosting (like Geocities or Angelfire) would force pop-ups on their users (and AOL, which really should know better since they are already charging too much for access to their network). But in the past few weeks, I have seen them start to creep on to sites as varied EW.com (Entertainment Weekly's web site), Space.com, Salon.com, ESPN.com, ZDNet, USA Today, CNN.com, and several others. MSNBC has adapted a different strategy: whenever you click on the left-hand navigation for their site, instead of going directly to that section, you are first redirected to a page that features a fairly large ad. You do have the option of clicking through to the section or just waiting for about 10 seconds for the ad to go away, but it's still annoying.

The goal in creating good UI design and site structure is supposed to be to let the user get to the information they want in the fewest number of clicks; this leads to a good user experience that will bring them back to the site in the future. Ad banners, although distracting, do not usually interfere with the actual user experience on the site; users are still able to navigate the site and get to what they want quickly and easily (given that the design is solid in the first place). But these new ad strategies directly interfere with this principle: they force user to make extra clicks (either by clicking through the ad to get to what they want, like on MSNBC, or by clicking the close box in the pop-up window).

The problem with web advertising is that it is the only form of advertising where you measure the number of people who directly respond to the ad as opposed to the number of people who potentially might see the ad. Advertisers pay a nominal fee for a certain number of page impressions, but what they really want (and are willing to pay a higher fee for) are click-thrus, where people actually interact with the ad and leave the content site to go to the advertiser's site. With television commercials, magazine and newspaper ads, billboards, and various sponsorship-oriented forms of advertising (such as NASCAR vehicles and drivers plastered with various logos, or sports stadiums being named after companies), the goal is simple to make the brand or product name so pervasive that even if the audience isn't necessarily actively engaged in interacting with the material, a positive association with the product will be created that will hopefully influence the viewer's purchasing decisions in the future.

The web should just be another extension of this type of advertising, but the fact that you can link that ad to a web page and then measure how many people actually click on the ad and go to that page have from the beginning made advertising on the web a different proposition from advertising almost anywhere else. In other words, other forms of advertising media base their rates on impressions (such as how many people buy a particular magazine or watch a particular television show), but because it is possible to measure something like click-thrus on the web, web advertising is held to a higher and more unreasonable standard.

The reason for the recent trend towards pop-ups I would guess is coming from the probability that as users have become more experienced with navigating the web, they have become less likely to click on an ad banner that will take them away from the content that they really want. Plus, users usually don't go to a commercial web site unless they are ready to buy a product or unless they are looking for specific information, in which case they will go there directly instead of waiting for an ad banner to show up that will take them there.

So I guess the thinking from the advertisers is that they want to make sure that people are looking at their ad banners, even though they have no way of knowing that people who watch a show they sponsor or read a magazine they advertise in aren't turning the channel during the commercials or flipping past the ads. So they've decided that the way to force users to look at their ads is to pop them up over the content, so that the user must close the window before they can continue. What they don't realize, however, is that savvy users (the same ones who advertisers are presumably worried about ignoring the more traditional ad banners) just find the pop-up ads annoying. At best, the user is just a little irritated; at worst, the user begins to form negative associations with both the product being advertised and the web site that is hosting the ad. I know that I've become accustomed to quickly closing a pop-up window as soon as it shows up, often before whatever advertising embedded inside it has a chance to load. Whereas an ad banner can sit at the top of a page as long as you are on that page, the pop-up ads are gone as soon as you close the window. And if I'm at all like most people, on the off chance that the window stays open long enough for me to determine what the product is, the net result is that I harbor some negative feelings about the product or company for choosing to interrupt my browsing experience. Not to mention the sites that actually agreed to start running these things in the first place.

I'm not sure what the point of all this was. It seems a little incoherent, but I don't have the energy today to tighten it up. I guess all I really wanted to say was the pop-up ads suck for a variety of reasons, and I hope that this new trend toward using them doesn't spread too much further and dies off quickly.

I called Tom on Monday after his second surgery. He sounded a little groggy, but in surprisingly good spirits. The doctor removed 3 or 4 lymph nodes, I think, but he probably won't have the results back until next week. That seems a little strange to me, because my mom said they were able to actually test her lymph nodes in the operating room. Maybe it has something to do with the type of cancer. He's thinking even if he gets good news that he might not go back to Rome, but instead stay here and try to get settled somewhere. We're supposed to try and meet him Saturday to go geocaching (we were originally planning to go last Saturday, but bad weather intervened), so hopefully I'll find out more then.

On another health note, Julie's dad is doing better. They eventually found the place he was bleeding from and cauterized it. He received 9 units of blood over a day or two. Strangely enough, everyone has noticed how much like his old self he has been since receiving the new blood. He used to be a very outgoing and talkative person, but since the strokes started a couple of years ago he has been pretty lethargic and quiet. It's kind of like that Simpsons episode where Mr. Burns gets some of Bart's blood. I seem to remember that it was a fad among the too-rich and too-obsessed-with-youth a few years ago to have your blood taken out and "cleaned" before putting it back in your body in order to give you more energy. I wonder if anyone has done any serious studies about the possible benefits from receiving blood infusions as preventative therapy.

I don't know if they're doing this everywhere else in the country, but all of the local newscasters in Baltimore are referring to this year's Superbowl as "Festivus Maximus". I'm not sure if it's because the Ravens are in the Superbowl this year and they're trying to whip the locals into a frenzy, or if this is some sort of country-wide epidemic where the Superbowl people are trying to capitalize on Gladiator's success by making a comparison between football and Roman blood sport, but it sounds really gay to me and I wish they would stop. It's just annoying.

Tom called me at work on Friday with great news: no more cancer. It appears that it did not spread to his lymph nodes and that they were able to remove all of it with surgery.

He's still not sure about his future plans—he's pretty sure he'd like to begin the process of settling down somewhere in the US, but he has stuff to take care of in Rome before he leaves, so he would probably go back for at least a month to get all of his affairs in order. He was still very tired after his surgery, so we didn't see him this weekend, but we'll try to get together next weekend. He'll most likely be here through mid-February, so we should get a chance to spend some time with him before then.

My new grammatical pet peeve is the improper use of "less" and "fewer". I don't know if it's just me, but I've been noticing it in commercials and magazine ad copy a lot recently. Generally speaking, "less" means a smaller amount of something (like less time or less power), while "fewer" refers to a smaller number of items (like fewer calories).

The most egregious transgression comes from the Sprint campaign featuring Sela Ward (which is egregious for a number of other reasons that have nothing to do with grammar). In one of the ads, her opening line is something like: "Do you ever wish you had a few less walls?". Of course, what they should have said was simply "fewer walls", but I'm sure that they didn't like the pacing of that line. If they wanted to use that structure, the proper thing to say would have been "a few fewer walls", which of course sounds ridiculous and stupid. So instead of realizing that the whole sentence is just ridiculous and trying again, they just replaced "fewer" with "less" and ploughed right through it as if this was a perfectly reasonable solution.

I don't know why I care about things like this. But I do. I suppose when I'm 80, I'll point to things like this as the beginning of the end of western civilization, which will by then have been declared dead about a hundred times by people a lot smarter and more uptight than me. And of course we'll all be wrong.
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