february 2002

Nobody ever suspects the butterfly.

The Snuggle fabric softener bear has always creeped me out. I don't understand who thinks he's cute and cuddly. He's like Teddy, the little bear from last summer's A.I., crossed with the Chucky doll from the Child's Play movies. I don't know what it is about him—that bear's always a little too cheery, in the way that only something completely evil can be cheery. How do mascots like this make it through the gauntlet of focus groups and user testing that are a staple of corporate marketing these days?

In my dim recollections of the cartoons I watched as a child, I remember Gargamel being really evil. But he's just seems kind of mean and stupid now.

Speaking of the Smurfs: I wonder if scriptwriters for that show wrote a normal script and then just replaced random words with "smurf" or if they actually wrote the "smurf" realtime as they were writing.

Okay, not to get hung up on Smurfs (I know—too late), but when I was looking around for links for the previous two entries, I found a couple of interesting sites.

The first is an essay by a British guy who examines the socio-political themes in the Smurfs and concludes that the creator of the show was using the cartoon to foist his Marxist agenda on little kids.

If that's not strange enough, I found another page where you can buy and sell those little plastic Smurf figures that used to be so popular back in the 80s. The weird part? THEY'RE STILL MAKING NEW ONES.

My brother Dodd called me about a week ago and told me he had some news. This in and of itself was so unusual that I knew something big must be up—I don't think I can ever remember Dodd calling me before unless it was at our parents' behest.

It turns out that this phone call was in fact ordered by our father. Dodd started out by saying "Dad wanted me to call all of my siblings and tell them that I've finally squandered all the opportunities I've been given." Kind of a weird beginning to a conversation, but it all made sense when he said the next line: "I've failed out of Duke."

I was completely shocked. Dodd never took to the academic world the way I did, and I knew he'd been having trouble for a while, but this semester was going to be the last of his college education—he was scheduled to graduate in May. It turns out that he'd found out when he returned to school after Christmas break, but my parents didn't find out until a few days later when a registered letter arrived from Duke informing them that Dodd was no longer enrolled. It wasn't until two weeks after that that he worked up the courage to call me, and I was the first of his three siblings that he told. I know he's gotten in touch with Tori about it, but I don't know if he's communicated with Carrie yet.

Dodd's biggest problem at Duke (aside from the inordinate amount of time he spent hanging out with his frat brothers) may have been that he didn't major in something he loved; instead, he chose public policy because he thought it would help him reach his long-term goal, law school. Now, public policy is boring even to those who have some sort of affection for it, and you don't need a major like that to get into law school anymore. English or history or religion or any number of other liberal arts majors will take you just as far along that road, because they all force you to do a lot of reading and writing and teach you to synthesize a lot of research into a coherent narrative opinion. Law schools these days are much more interested in your LSAT scores than they are in what you majored in, and majoring in any of the liberal arts disciplines prepares you for the critical thinking and abstract reasoning that the LSAT tests for.

I actually thought Dodd would hit this wall after he graduated, when he went out into the working world. Despite the harsh economic environment, he hadn't been attending any of the jobs fairs on campus, and had no real plans on what he was going to do after graduation. Now he's hitting that same market several months ahead of schedule and with no real marketable skills—hell, without even a college degree at this point. I can sympathize with him to some extent—I remember when I was coming out of college, I figured I'd go to grad school for a couple of years and either make a career for myself in academia or fall into some well-paying job or another. You just really don't understand the 9 to 5 world when you're in school—it all seems so easy and obvious when other people are doing it.

All of this doesn't mean that Dodd is not going to graduate from Duke eventually. This expulsion prevents him from re-enrolling for two semesters (which includes the summer term), so he can apply for readmission next fall. We poked around the Duke web site trying to find more information, and it looks like as long as he seems reasonably more serious about his studies, they will let him back in without too much trouble. In the meantime, he's truly on his own for the first time in his life, having to work a job and pay all his own bills. I really feel for him; we all go through rough times like this at some point in our lives, but the fact that graduating from Duke has been a dream of his since he was a kid has got to make this just that much more difficult for him. Hopefully he'll come out the other side more focused on what he wants to do with his life, and more motivated to reach whatever goals he has set for himself.

I finally got around to updating my daily photo section, and I promise there will be a new one every day from now on. I also filled in the days I've missed over the last couple of weeks, so if you go to the photo archives and go back to January, you will be able to see those, too.

I wouldn't generally label myself as politically conservative (in fact, if I had to choose, I would have to say that I drift towards the liberal side of things on many issues), but I have to say I really have grown to like the Fox News Channel. All of their commentators just seem more honest to me; they're not pretending to be completely objective, as the reporters on CNN and the major networks are (even though the choice of stories and the slant put on those stories by these other networks is tied to more-than-obvious political agendas and corporate motivations). The Fox News Channel people have a slant, too, but they don't try to hide it or pretend that it doesn't exist. Instead, the real personalities of the commentators so obviously drive the way that they report the news that once you get to know the personality a little bit, it's a lot easier to understand the core issues and the different points of view surrounding them.

I especially like Bill O'Reilly, despite his penchant for cutting off his guests midsentence, especially when they're making a point that's damaging to his argument. But instead of throwing his guests softballs (a la his new competition, Connie Chung) or letting a guest slide when they evade a difficult question with a non-answer or a subject change, O'Reilly hangs on like a pit bull, refusing to let an important topic go by the wayside. And also unlike CNN's hosts (like Larry King, for example), O'Reilly has a sense of humor about himself, and he also constantly has guests on his show whose opinions he strongly disagrees with, like Al Sharpton, Bill Maher, and James Carville. His show, the O'Reilly Factor, ends every night with O'Reilly reading a selection of emails from viewers about the previous day's show. A lot of them are supportive of O'Reilly, but at least half are from audience members who are highly critical of his opinions or tactics. I've yet to see another newsperson subject themselves to that kind of public disparagement on their own show.

There's a good reason that Fox News is surging ahead of CNN even though it is only in a fraction of the homes where CNN is available: whether you agree with the commentators or not, you feel like you are getting somebody's honest opinion about the events in the news, rather than just being fed an agenda disguised as objective news by a corporate drone.

Geraldo, however, remains a joke, no matter which network he's on.

It was like being in a snowglobe: big, feathery particles blown in at random angles, with tiny eddies swirling randomly within the larger currents. The flakes never seemed to touch the ground, a million arctic moths diving and climbing in small clusters. Some hovered outside the window for several seconds as if they were watching me, born aloft, it seemed, by sheer will. In a few minutes, the green grass had been frosted white, but the snow didn't stick to the roofs of the houses or the asphalt on the road.

Right before the snow stopped, the sky turned from grey to blue and sunlight began to reflect off of the houses across the street. The snowflakes quickly diminished and lost energy, as if they were nocturnal creatures who, upon seeing the sun, had to quickly find a place to sleep until the sky turned grey again.

It was a brief snow, and except for the dustings of powder that still lingered in the shadows, you would never have guessed that just a few minutes earlier the sky had been filled with a thick fog of drifting white crystals. But I can still see them dancing.

Yesterday I spent most of the day working on my two ongoing extracurricular projects: the Borges thing that Tom is involved with, and a new web site project whose details I'd rather not reveal yet. It's good to be working on projects that I'm really engaged with—it's far better than just sitting by the phone waiting for job phone calls—but I really would like a job now, please.

I spent a lot of time yesterday working on my new project: responding to emails from potential contributors, designing the interface, and registering a new domain for the site. It's taking up a lot more time than I originally anticipated, but I'm really pleased by the response. I sent out about 15 initial emails asking people if they would be interested in contributing, and each of the 10 or so replies I've received so far indicates positive interest in the project. Once I get the details settled (completing the domain registration stuff, finalizing the list of contributors, etc.) I will tell you all a little more about it. But I'm very excited about the way this is shaping up.

As best I can recall, I have never had female friends named Helen, Maria, Stephanie, Vanessa, Heather, Jessica, Linda, Patricia, or Theresa. But I have known women with names like Landreth, Star, Borden, Miche, Leila, Yolanda, Sehoya, Regan, Sasha, Yo Yo, Haley, and Gigi.

My guy friends have much less interesting names: Jeff (it seems like I know about 14 of these), Dave, Ryan, Mike, Sam, Greg, Scott, and Doug are the names of the guys in my current circle of friends. I thought Max, one of my bosses at CO2, might count as an uncommon name, until I remembered that his real name is Marvin and he just goes by Max because it's so much cooler (though I have to admit, it does suit him).

My brother probably has the most interesting name of the guys that I know: Dodd. He is named after my grandfather, my father's father, whose real name was Thomas Bernard. When he was young, though, he almost died from tuberculosis, and didn't like the idea of having his initials be "T.B." So he shortened an old family name from Doddson to Dodd and went by that nickname the rest of his life.

After three hours on the phone with various family members, you just don't have a whole lot left to say.

There are many things I could write about, but you will just have to wait a little bit longer to hear about them.

We had a busy but relaxing weekend. Saturday we slept late, ran some errands, and had a late lunch before meeting Greg and Angie for dinner that night around 7:00. It was fun to see them again; I'm glad that Greg and I have been able to develop our friendship even though we don't work at the same place any more. I'm actually really looking forward to being in their wedding later this year.

Sunday was Julie's birthday, and while she didn't want me to spend a lot of money, I still wanted to celebrate it as best I could. I started off the morning by giving her her gift, a two-CD compilation of songs that were an update of a mix tape I made for her back in college. That might not seem like much to people who don't know me, but I can easily spends months making these things, testing different combinations and orders of songs on iTunes until everything is perfect. As a matter of fact, I was originally planning to give these CDs to her for Christmas, but I just wasn't happy with them and spent January tweaking them to their final state.

For lunch we went down to California Tortilla to get burritos because we had a full punch card that allowed us to get one for free, and then went next door to the Rockville Town Center movie theater and used a free pass we had to get one of our tickets to A Beautiful Mind. The movie wasn't too bad—Julie really liked it—but I haven't seen a Ron Howard film yet where he can resist the temptation to drift into melodrama on an all-too-regular basis (although I generally find his work at least entertaining, and I think that Apollo 13 and Splash were both extremely well done—but the Grinch almost canceled out any goodwill I might have had towards him). Rusell Crowe was really good, and I wouldn't be surprised if he got an Oscar nomination for his performance, but really, haven't we seen enough of the mentally disturbed or mentally challenged in serious, touching dramas (please note the use of sarcasm in that last phrase)? I mean, in addition to A Beautiful Mind, we have I Am Sam, Rain Man, What's Eating Gilbert Grape, Shine, Awakenings, The Fisher King, Benny & Joon, Man on the Moon, The Piano, The Other Sister, Nell, etc. And those are just the ones I can think of off the top of my head.

To pay for everything, I used the dividends from my last quarter of Amazon referrals, and thanks to the free burrito and free movie pass, I still had enough left over to pay for dinner. We got take out from a chinese restaurant: kung pao tofu (which we've gotten a few times before, and which is actually pretty good) and singapore mei fun, a spicy noodle dish with slices of chicken, pork, shrimp, and vegetables that Julie has been wanting to try for a while now.

After that, Julie fielded back to back phone calls from her friends Leila and Mary Jo and then my parents. By the time she finished talking, it was past 10:00, so we just finished watching the Practice (which is getting just as silly and far-fetched as David E. Kelley's other dramas, Ally McBeal and Boston Public, neither of which we watch) and then Julie went to bed. I wish that I could have planned things a little more out of the ordinary for her birthday, but all in all I don't think I did too bad.

Does toothpaste ever go bad? How about dental floss?

When we got chinese food the other night for Julie's birthday, we also got several packets of duck sauce, hot mustard, and soy sauce. That's not interesting, I know. What is interesting is what was printed on the back of them: various American symbols, like the flag, a striped ribbon, and an outline of the lower 48 with a big "USA" in the middle, all accompanied by the following text:

Kari-Out will donate a portion of the proceeds from the sale of this product to benefit those who have been affected by the attack on America.

Weird. I'm not sure what to think about this. I mean, I can't imagine that it's going to increase their sales in any way, so maybe this company really is doing this just to be patriotic without any real ulterior motive. But I find it so hard to believe that any corporation could be patriotic without thinking they have something to gain from it that I'm still a little suspicious. It's probably just me, though.

My sister Carrie called on Friday to tell me that she had finally gotten a job, which she starts today. She has been out of work since early last summer, and has never held a full-time job for longer than 6 months or so. This job is an entry-level position in the medical billing department of a university in south Florida, and although the starting pay isn't great, they offer a full range of benefits and will also let her take classes for free. If she really takes advantage of everything they have to offer, she could finally finish her BA or get certified in a field like medical coding, where she could really make some decent money. Anyway, I wish her luck, and I hope she stays with it. It's a great opportunity for her to get herself together financially and make a career for herself.

Spongebob Squarepants is better than 95% of the shows on the networks' prime time schedules.

Call this an unfair generalization if you must, but old people are no good at everything.

I have been watching a lot more of this year's winter Olympics than I thought I would.

Tom Petty was right.

Some days you don't care if string theory hasn't been proven yet; you just know it's true because you can feel all the strings in all the subatomic particles in all the atoms inside you vibrating like a hive of angry bees, open-ended live wires crackling with raw unbridled electricity. There is no way to control this energy; it is uncontained chaos shooting random impulses through your neurons so that you can't concentrate on any activity for more than ten minutes. Your mind is in such a frenzy of activity that you are almost paralyzed, unable to choose one path from the hundreds of possibilities that race through your mind at such a rapid clip that you sometimes discard an idea before it's even begun to take shape. Your brain begins to overheat from all the agitation, your body begins to develop nervous tics, and the you that is watching all of this happen as if to someone else becomes exhausted and frustrated, no longer able to tame the wild surges of current that are now tripping your bioelectric circuits.

And so the minutes pass, each taking much longer than it should, as if the clocks are traveling at light speed while you are still stuck in relatively slow normal earth time—every second that ticks on the light speed clocks feels like 20 to you. On the rare occasions when a block of fifteen minutes passes without you noticing, it is almost cause for a celebration—except that you know the next fifteen will take infinitely longer.

The waiting is the hardest part.

Don't run. We are your friends.

Some happy news: Sally and George called us yesterday to tell us that Sally had given birth to a healthy baby girl on Tuesday, February 12. Isabella is her name, and from what I heard on the phone, it seems that she has inherited her mother's gift for vocalization. Congratulations, guys. I hope I get to meet her soon.

In other happy news: I finally got a job.

I finally got a freaking job. Web development. Johns Hopkins University.

The strange thing is, it's one that I didn't even apply for. See, the only way to apply for a job at Hopkins is to go to their website and fill out several pages of forms that give them your cover letter, resume, and personal information. One of the steps is to select specific jobs that you'd like to be considered for, but HR personnel can also search the database and select your resume if they think that your skills are appropriate for a job that you might not have seen.

Now, I did see the posting for this particular job on the Hopkins site, and I did think about specifically asking to be considered for it, but from the job description it didn't really sound like all that good a fit for me. So I was a little surprised when, a couple of weeks ago, I got a call from Steve, an HR representative from Hopkins, asking me to come in for an interview. "What the hell," I figured, "I've got nothing to lose."

I went in on a Tuesday afternoon, met briefly with Steve, and then moved on to the real interview with Rob, who explained a little more about the position. The more we talked, the more it became clear to me that, despite the vagueness of the job description that had been posted to the Hopkins site, I was more than capable of doing this job. I would need to expand my skill sets in a couple of places, but that wasn't really an issue for me or for Rob: he didn't necessarily need someone who was already an expert at everything, and I'm always interested in an opportunity that will allow me to gain expertise in new areas.

The interview seemed to go pretty well—we ended up talking less about the specifics of the job and more about the larger issues encountered when developing a web site, which I took as a good sign. Rob explained to me that he would be meeting with his boss and recommending the best people for a second interview which would take place the following week. He also told me that if I were selected for a second interview, I could expect to hear from him hopefully by that Friday but by the next Monday at the latest.

Even though I felt good about the interview, I wasn't sure how much interest they had in me. I did my standard follow-up phone calls and emails, but I still didn't get a really good sense from their reactions whether I would be asked back or not. Friday came and went with no phone call, but that wasn't a big surprise; when someone says Monday at the latest, what the really mean is Monday, maybe Tuesday.

I got a little more concerned on Monday, but since I hadn't really sold myself on this position yet, I wasn't as disappointed as I could have been. I decided that if I didn't hear from them by mid-Tuesday afternoon, I would give Steve a call just to confirm that I wasn't on the list. To my surprise, however, Steve called me Tuesday morning and asked if I would come back on Thursday afternoon to meet with Rob again. He also told me that I would have a short meeting with John, the director of the office.

Knowing that I now had a real shot at this job, I started to get pretty nervous in the days leading up to the second interview. I tried to prepare as best I could, reviewing their existing site and thinking of improvements and enhancements that could be implemented fairly quickly, but since I didn't know quite what to expect during the second interview, I wasn't sure if this research would even be useful.

Rob had led me to believe that the second interview wasn't going to be that stressful—a quick chat with the director, a couple of introductions to other people in the office that I would be working closely with, and finally another interview with him. It turned out to be a series of three interviews, each of which lasted much longer than I expected. First was the director, John. At first I was a little nervous, but the tone quickly turned conversational, and I was able to relax and just talk with him about some of the issues with the existing site. After I finished meeting with John, Rob gave me my first indication that things were going well: he was surprised that I had been in there so long (about 45 minutes), because John had only penciled me in for 15 minutes.

Next I met with Kim, one of the admissions counselors, and Maggie, who I think was the office manager. They asked me a lot of stock interview questions: tell us a little about your background, why you want this job, what are your strengths and weaknesses, etc. I have always hated these questions, because everyone always gives the same answers; like it or not, thanks to our self-help advice book culture, we have now developed a set of acceptable answers to go with these standard-issue questions. Any attempt to deviate from the "correct" answers could result in a negative impression, although theoretically what you are trying to do in an interview is distinguish yourself from the other applicants. I don't answer these questions very well as a result, since I am loathe to give the answers I know I'm supposed to give, even if they happen to be the answers I would give anyway. Still, I think they liked me, and after about half an hour they took me back to Rob's office for my final interview with him.

He and I started off by talking about the existing site, but we quickly moved on to some of the same broad issues that I had discussed earlier with John. By the end, we were talking about stuff totally unrelated to the job, like the new handheld that Palm had introduced earlier that week and our grudging respect for Bill Gates business and marketing sense. He ended by giving me some positive feedback about how I'd done that day: "Well, I've got three positions to fill, and I only asked a couple of people back for second interviews, so you do the math."

As soon as I got out of the interview, I knew that I had done well. I knew that I had the job, even though I couldn't say it out loud until I actually received an offer. But everything just felt so right. On the drive home, I put on the Replacements "Let It Be" and let my mind unwind for the first time in a long while.

By the time I got back home, the high had worn off, and I felt exhausted. Not just the normal feelings of tiredness you get after a long day, either—I felt tired in a way that I didn't know was possible, like a lifetime of labor had finally come to an end. All the tension was gone, tension that I'd gotten so used to that I hardly even noticed it anymore.

That night when I slept, it was a slumber to make up for months of sleepless nights and weary days. I was too tired even to dream. I fell asleep almost immediately, and even though I slept for several hours more than usual, I felt as though I had closed my eyes at night and opened them a second later to find it was morning. The stress of unemployment had become so integrated into my body's systems that without it I felt completely drained. As miserable as it made me sometimes, all the worrying had actually helped me function on a somewhat normal level even when the rest of my body wanted to throw in the towel; now that I no longer had a place for the anxiety in my thoughts, I could almost feel it drifting out of my body like a malevolent spirit abandoning a possessed man.

Friday morning brought more positive signals from Steve, the HR guy. He called me to get my references and have me finish part of the online application that I had forgotten about. He even told me that I might hear back from him as early as that afternoon, but if not, I could probably expect to hear from him on Monday.

Of course I didn't hear from him again on Friday, but that didn't worry me too much. It didn't worry me that much when I didn't hear anything on Monday, either, but by Tuesday afternoon I was starting to panic a little bit. I started second-guessing everything: maybe the interview hadn't gone as well as I thought, or maybe there was another candidate who had done better than me, or maybe there had been a mistake in the accounting department and they didn't actually have enough money in the budget to hire someone for that position.

Luckily, I decided to leave a message with Steve on Tuesday, and learned through his voicemail message that he had not really been in the office on Monday or Tuesday (I didn't end up leaving a message after hearing this). Okay, I thought, then I'll definitely hear from him on Wednesday, since everyone had made it very clear that they wanted to get the offers out by the first part of the week. But Wednesday passed without a call, so I once again attempted to contact Steve myself. This time he answered his phone, and told me that he and Rob had both been out of the office Wednesday morning and that he was still waiting for one last piece of paperwork before he could call me, but that things were looking really good.

This calmed me down a great deal, and my anxiety was put to rest for good when Steve called me first thing Thursday morning with a formal offer. I got the details from him, discussed everything briefly with Julie (who was working at home that day), and called Steve back to officially accept. My start date is March 4, and I can't wait. I've heard so many stories about laid off people who had to leave this industry and take work in other fields because they just couldn't find a job before their money ran out. I was still a few months away from having to take action as drastic as that, but I realize how lucky I was to find something in this economy that will allow me to continue my growth in this career.

It's been a strange five months, and although I learned a lot from the experience, I'm glad it's over now. Thanks to everyone who provided support to me when I needed it, or helped me laugh when I was down. Now if Dodd could just find a job...

Tom Hanks' son looks a lot more like he should be Jim Carrey's son.

You know what would make figure skating competitions better? If all the skaters had to be out there on the ice at the same time, like the racers. And if they were allowed—no, forced—to use ninja weapons.

I applied to a lot of positions when I was on my five-month long job hunt. A lot. Most of the times they were for jobs that had been advertised on a web site or in the paper, but sometimes I also sent my resume to firms that did work similar to CO2, hoping that they might have an opening. All in all I applied at about 80 places, including 10 or 15 positions that had more to do with writing and editing than web stuff and a couple for Macintosh repair and upgrade shops.

One of the funny things about this experience was the wide variety of job titles that the market has come up with to describe my skills. Just so you can get a taste of how little this industry understands about itself, here is a list of all the unique web job titles that I applied for, in more or less chronological order:

HTML Programmer
Multimedia Developer
Interactive Developer
Webmaster II
Web Marketing and Communications Specialist
Web Developer
Web Content Developer
Web Site Manager
Web Director
Web Master/Web Developer
Web Master
Webmaster II
Web Specialist
Web Development Programmer
Webmaster I
WWW/Internet Developer II
Web Programmer
Website Designer Senior
Web Administrator
Graphics/Web Specialist
Graphic and Web Designer
PC Technician/Front Page Web Designer
Web Person
Website Developer
Web Editor
Web Production Specialist
Web/Internet Developer II
Web/Graphic Designer
Website Coordinator II
Web Developer/Webmaster
Web Site Squeegee (I don't know what the hell this means, either)
Website Coordinator
Specialist III
Web Development Specialist
Web Associate
Web Coordinator
Web Designer
HTML Specialist
Web/Administrative Projects Coordinator

Web Developer was far and away the most popular, with 10 occurrences—the most that any other title had was two (although there were a bunch of variations on Webmaster, just not a lot of exact matches). And the winner: Web Development Specialist, which probably would have just been called Web Developer if not for the complicated relationship between job title and pay grade that Hopkins uses. Anyway, I could care less what I'm called—I'm just happy I get to do this for a living again.

Julie and I are going to West Virginia to go skiing with my parents this afternoon, and I will be out of town for the rest of the week. I have gone ahead and posted the pictures to the photo archives page that I would have published had I been here, but there won't be any updates to this page or to the daily links until I get back.

I think it sucks the way Radio Shack tries to collect personal information about you even when all you want to buy is a battery or whatever, but they sure do have a lot of cool adapters, cables, and switches that you just can't find anywhere else.

For Christmas this year, I asked for either money or gift cards to places like Best Buy, Suncoast, or my local independent music store. I got enough in gift cards to allow me to purchase a few CDs and sate my ever-present hunger for new music that had been almost completely ignored since I stopped working in October, so I planned to save all the money I had gotten for an emergency or to add to our general savings if I was able to find a job quickly.

But as soon as we got back home from our holiday visits, I got confirmation that two freelance contracts, each of which would have netted me a few thousand dollars, were both moving along positively. One was through CO2 and was with one of our existing clients, the National Geographic Channel. They needed a new web site modeled after the CD-ROM that we had produced for them the year before, and needed it by the end of February. The other was a project with my friend Mike, who was working on a site design for a client left over from his freelance days, and he wanted me to do the coding for it once the design was done. That one was scheduled to be finished by the end of January.

So anyway, I thought that the first couple of months of the year would be fairly profitable and that I could afford to buy myself a little present with the money I had gotten for Christmas. I know, I know—even after all these years in the web business, seeing countless sure things go bad at the last minute, I guess I still didn't learn my lesson. The thing is, these were some of the surest things ever—NGC was a client who had come back to us and we knew they had deep pockets, and Mike had already done his half of the work on the project, and had dealt with this particular client before.

What I really wanted was a new game system. I had been jonesing for one ever since PS2 made its premiere in 2000, and I figured that I could take a portion of the Christmas money I had saved to buy one of the three systems (Xbox and Gamecube are the other two), since the freelance money I was going to make would more than make up for the money I would spend on a system and a couple of games. I spent a day or two doing research on the systems, comparing the hardware, the current and future crop of games, and the prices. After careful consideration, I settled on the Gamecube, which was $100 cheaper than the other two systems and which seemed to have the most games that I was interested in. We kept our eyes open for a Gamecube over the next couple of days, eventually finding one at a Funcoland in Frederick (they were sold out everywhere else). In addition to the system itself, we also bought a memory card and two games: SSX Tricky ($10 off because it was used) and Star Wars: Rogue Squadron, a title exclusive to the Gamecube.

You all know how this story ends, don't you? A couple of days later, Max and Jeff called and informed me that when the project manager at NGC had returned to his desk after the new year, he had a memo waiting for him that slashed most of his budget, including the web project that CO2 was supposed to work on. A day after that, Mike let me know that his project had hit a snag and that even though he would eventually need me to code it, he didn't want to put a firm date on it.

I would have felt really stupid if I hadn't been able to find a job relatively quickly or I hadn't liked the system and the games so much. The Star Wars game is really hard, but the graphics are incredible and the gameplay is pretty cool; it actually feels like you are playing out some of the most memorable battle scenes from the movies, including the attack on the two Death Stars, the Hoth battle where you have to wrap cables around the AT-ATs, and one mission where you get to take out an Imperial Cruiser. You can eventually fly almost all of the main ships from the movies, including the T-16, the Snowspeeder, the X-Wing, the Y-Wing, the A-Wing, and the B-Wing (very cool ship—I wish they had used that more in the films). Once you complete all the missions, you can also unlock cooler ships like the Naboo Starfighter, the Millennium Falcon, the TIE fighter, and even Boba Fett's Slave I. Some of the missions have very precise objectives combined with a tight time limit, but once you master the basics, you can get through most of them after a couple of tries. And god, it's just fun to fly around those environments, even if you don't accomplish the goal of the mission.

The other game is SSX Tricky, a snowboarding/racing game that was also released on PS2 and Xbox. That game is just flat-out fun; even Julie got really into it, and she hardly ever gets into games the way I do (Diablo II and Snood being notable exceptions). It didn't take me too long to beat all the tracks with two or three different characters, but it has great replay value, especially for someone like me who can race the same track over and over trying to shave a fraction of a second off my time with a perfect run.

Anyway. In retrospect I'm glad I got the Gamecube, since I didn't need that money for anything important in the end and it did help reduce my stress and provide hours of entertainment for Julie and me. But I have to remember that no freelance contract should be taken seriously until you have a signature on a contract and a deposit check—and sometimes not even then.

Dave Attell is one funny man.

One week till I start my new job. Ah, to be generating income again.

On Tuesday we left after lunch to go to West Virginia to go skiing with my parents. My dad owns a place at Snowshoe, and I have gone there almost every year since he bought the place when I was 12 or 13. The drive takes us about 5 and a half hours from Maryland with one stop for food and gas. The first two hours are all interstate and aren't too bad, but that first hour or so after you get off the interstate and start using the little two-lane roads that make up the bulk of West Virginia's roadways can be a real nightmare. Get stuck behind an eighteen wheeler or a local with nowhere in particular to go, and you can easily add 30 interminably slow minutes to your trip.

One of the highlights of traveling these roads is that you get to see what the somewhat paranoid residents of rural West Virginia (is there any part of the state that isn't rural?) are up in arms about, since their primary mode of political expression is to put signs in their yards. This year the only one I can remember was an invective against the United Nations, but last year there were several protesting something called Corridor H, which is apparently a stretch of new interstate that they want to build that will connect Elkins to the Virginia border and shave at least 45 minutes off of our trip to Snowshoe.

The reason we didn't see any signs about Corridor H this year is that they've apparently begun to build it; for the first hour or so after leaving the interstate, we kept crossing over major construction zones bounded by ominous signs warning you to turn off all cell phones or two-way radios lest you accidentally trigger one of the remotely activated blasting caps. I know I don't live there or anything, and it probably really sucks for people who have this giant building project sitting in their backyards where there used to be mountains and trees, but really, what the hell else were they going to do with all that land? It's not like the state's going to suddenly turn into a strip mall hellhole. It'll just be a little easier to get through the mountains when it's finished.

We got to Snowshoe around 7:30 that night and had a Cuban bean soup with chickpeas, potatoes, and spicy sausage that is based on a soup that my dad remembers from Miami. It was really good, better than I expected—the spicy sausage really made all the difference. Rachel had been talking about teaching us how to play bridge, but that night we were so tired that we just wanted to go to bed so we could get up early and head to the rental shop to pick up our gear and lift tickets. I started to read the Barzun book about the last 500 years of western civilization, but I didn't get very far before I had to turn off the light and go to sleep.

Yesterday morning on Salon.com I found a wire story very similar to this one about the ongoing anthrax investigation, except that instead of saying that the probe was focusing on a suspect, it said that the FBI had actually taken their prime suspect into custody. By that afternoon, the story had been replaced by this one, which says nothing about an arrest and in which the FBI denies that they even have a prime suspect. What the hell is going on here?

When I was kid and we used to go to Snowshoe in February, it was always perfect. Every day the temperature was below freezing, they always had a good base of snow, and more often than not it would snow either during the day or overnight, so there was always fresh powder.

The last few years have been really different in comparison. There is invariably at least one day during the trip where the temperature reaches into the 40s, and I can't remember the last time I was there when we got a really good snowfall. Fortunately, snowmaking technology has improved to the point where it doesn't really matter how much real snow falls or what the temperature is. As long as it doesn't drift too far past 40 degrees during the day, the base is so well maintained that you can generally ski without too many problems.

On this trip, we didn't have a single perfect day, but each day was good enough that we were able to ski for 5 or 6 hours before the conditions got too weird to still be enjoyable. The first day was probably the best: it had just snowed a couple of days before, the slopes weren't at all crowded, and the temperature stayed in the 30s. There weren't really any icy patches, and it never got warm enough for slush to form.

The second day, the slopes were pretty good early in the morning, but as it drifted on towards the afternoon, the snow started to get increasingly slushy, thanks to the above-40-degree temperatures and the occasional rays of sunshine that poked their way through the clouds. We spent the morning skiing with dad and Rachel, and then in the afternoon we all went over to Silver Creek (another set of slopes on the same mountain that used to be a rival resort but which were purchased by Snowshoe a few years back). We were hoping the snow at Silver Creek might be a little better, but it really wasn't. We ate lunch at a little pub at the bottom of the mountain, made a few more runs, and then headed back to Snowshoe.

I was hoping that our final day would be really good skiing because the temperature had fallen to below freezing shortly after sundown, and they had spent the entire night making snow and grooming the slopes. And it wasn't too bad, really, but there was a lot more ice than I expected (I don't generally mind ice since I learned to ski on icy slopes, but it's definitely not as fun as packed powder). Even though the temperature stayed below freezing all day and prevented slush from forming, the loose granules of snow produced by the artificial snowmakers clumped together in big patches and made an almost slushy consistency even though they were still frozen, so you had really erratic conditions where you could build up a lot of speed on the ice and then have your skis get grabbed by one of these thick pools of artificial snow crystals clustering together.

Right before lunch we decided to give Cupp Run a try (Cupp is a mile and a half long black diamond that was designed by Olympic medalist Jean Claude Killey), and even though the conditions weren't terrible, we didn't really have any desire to ski it again after our first run. After a lunch of leftovers, Julie and I went back and skied until right before the slopes closed, while dad and Rachel relaxed in the condo.

It was a pretty good trip, though. Any day where you can make more than 15 runs is a good day, and we had three of those.

Let the bears pay the bear tax.

I don't remember many specific days I spent with you. Mostly I remember making plans with you that one of us would inevitably cancel, always believing we could make up the time later. I remember writing you long crazy letters when I was in college, the same kinds of letters I wrote to Regan and Vicki and whoever else I thought could help me figure things out. You never wrote back, and I pretended that I didn't care, but I did. I can't remember if I saw you in London with Nicole and Emily when we were all studying abroad; I don't think so, but I can't be sure.

There are two days that stand out in my memory. The first was when I drove to see you in Greenville: desperate to get out of my parents' house, I left at six in the morning and drove faster than I should have, arriving at your house around 8 a.m., two hours before you were expecting me. Your mother, who I loved, was still alive then, although she had already begun her losing battle with cancer (when my own mother was diagnosed last year, I had a strong urge to contact you, but I didn't know how). She calmly fixed me breakfast and treated me like one of her own children while you got dressed, which I appreciated more than you and she could ever know. I was an odd kid, but I never felt out of place in your mother's home.

You came downstairs a few minutes later, and we got in my car drove around aimlessly for a while, ending up at the Goodwill store where I bought a two-cup coffee maker that I used every day the summer I did research with Dr. Long at Davidson. Later we tried to go down to the river, but the path was flooded over and you were wearing shoes too good for walking in the mud. I carried you for a while, but the river was just too far, and eventually we turned around and went back to your house.

The second day that I remember clearly was when you came to meet me in Charlottesville in the fall, the same year that I started to work for Sycamore. The last time I had heard from you, you were in Houston getting your Masters in biochemistry or something like that. Then one day I got an email saying that you had actually been only an hour away in Richmond for over a year, but had just now figured out where I was. We both felt stupid for not visiting each other even though we were so close, and you made plans to come to Charlottesville a couple of weeks later.

You got there early in the morning, earlier than I thought you would, and we went up to campus and spent some time in a gallery where Tom had some pieces on display. I remember looking at your face and seeing wrinkles around your eyes that weren't there the last time I had seen you, and holding hands and being very conscious of how rough and dry your hands were, like the hands of someone who was very old and had worked very hard. That was the day, I think, when you told me that your mother had died.

The last time I really talked to you was in Richmond when I went with my family to the reinterment of General Pickett's bones (my stepmother and her progeny are direct descendants) at the old cemetery by the James River. We met you and your husband David for coffee afterwards at some I-95 Starbucks. It is the only time I have ever met him, even though you had been telling me about him for years, ever since you first met him while you were at Duke.

I saw you again briefly when I went to visit Tori at NCSSM; it just happened to be the weekend of your 10-year class reunion, and I ran into you in a hallway, still hanging out with Emily and Nicole. We exchanged email addresses, promising to keep in touch even though we knew we wouldn't.

By some weird coincidence, you ended up working with Pete, who had been my DA and spades partner when I was a junior at NCSSM. He had been a classmate of your brother's, and the first time you met at work, you knew that you knew each other, but it took you a little while to figure out just what the link was. I haven't seen Pete in years, either.

Happy birthday, Lydia Coulter. I wish I still knew whoever you've become.

I think that the Simpsons may have reached their pinnacle with the Chili Festival/Soulmate episode. The first half is absolutely the most brilliant material they've ever come up with: chili boots, Guatemalan insanity peppers, and Johnny Cash as a coyote spirit guide are just a few of the highlights. Almost every line is funny, and there is hardly a frame that seems wasted. But the second half pretty much sucks, focusing on Homer's nonsensically random search for his soulmate, who turns out to be (gasp!) Marge.

It's almost like the writers knew how good the first half was, and knew that if they made the second half as good, they might as well just pack up their desks and go home, because they'd never be able to write anything anywhere close to that good again. So instead they intentionally sabotaged the episode: the second half is some of the worst writing the show has ever seen, the last couple of seasons notwithstanding.

Still, those first fifteen minutes are amazing. It remains one of my favorite episodes ever, even though half the time I can't bring myself to watch the post-hallucination portion.

Words I can type using only my left hand:


You know what? I was thinking about doing this for my right hand as well, but I'm already tired of this game and I haven't even finished finding all the words on the left side of the keyboard, much less making all the plurals and past tense forms. Screw this.

Who lives in a pineapple under the sea?

I still have a hard time accepting Paul Westerberg as a solo artist.

10 things I learned this year at Snowshoe:

1. Broccoli is the devil's flower, but if you stick it in a casserole with lots of cream of mushroom soup and curry and cook it to death, it's almost edible.

2. Even though none of them came very close to killing me this year, I still hate snowboarders. But the snowboarders in the Olympics were pretty cool.

3. The only reason people watch ice skating in the first place is because of scandals like the pairs judging this year or the Kerrigan/Harding nonsense back in 1994. Get rid of that stuff, and no one will even think about watching.

4. Dad and Rachel are turning into the kind of overly cautious skiers who don't like to ski anything but the green slopes. They wouldn't even go down Cupp with us this year.

5. I think I would love Bridge if I could play with three other people who took it just as seriously as I would, especially if I had a partner who I really trusted. But as it is, it's just too frustrating and slow.

6. Food costs a lot of money when you're on top of a mountain and the nearest town is an hour away.

7. White Merlot is moderately more interesting than White Zinfindale, but it's still pretty much a Kool-Aid type of wine.

8. Chilean sea bass is pretty good, especially when it's encrusted with hoisin sauce and sesame seeds and served with pickled ginger, sticky rice, and sauteed bok choi.

9. It would be almost as cool to drive a Snow Cat down the mountain as it would be to drive a Zamboni at a hockey game.

10. If you want to make waffles taste really good on a cold day, heat up the syrup before you pour it on.

december 2002
november 2002
october 2002
september 2002
august 2002
july 2002
june 2002
may 2002
april 2002
march 2002
february 2002
january 2002

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