january 2003

Ah. Back to a nice odd-numbered year.

So it looks like CDnow is gone for good, consumed by the monster that is Amazon.com; typing www.cdnow.com into your browser dumps you straight into an Amazon interface with a small sidebox that annoyingly chirps "Welcome to the New CDNOW Teamed with Amazon.com!" As much as I like Amazon for books, I can't stand their music layout, and I miss the feeling of being in a site that is dedicated to music only (even though CDnow and Amazon have used the same company to warehouse their merchandise and fulfill their orders for years, meaning that both companies essentially had the same inventory). But I guess I'll just have to get used to it.

Even though I didn't really ask for anything specific this year, I got a lot of cool stuff. My mom continued her recent trend of giving me Wüsthof knives and accessories, complimenting the chef's knife and paring knife she gave me last year with a serrated knife, a wood block to hold the knives, and a very cool ceramic knife sharpener. Julie's parents got me a bunch of new shirts and a couple of pairs of khakis that will greatly help to supplement my aging wardrobe, along with Paul Auster's new book, the Minority Report DVD, and a gift certificate to my local CD store (yes, they spend too much money on us). Tori got me a DVD of a movie she liked (I hadn't heard of it before—some subtitled Spanish film), Carrie got me a Braves shirt, dad and Rachel gave us some money, and even Dodd, who has never ever in the history of his 22 year long life given me any kind of birthday or Christmas gift, gave me a compilation CD that he made himself.

There were also many other smaller gifts, like Star Wars figures and Legos, a gift card for Best Buy (with which I intend to buy the new Lord of the Rings Gamecube title that shoud be released today), and various other little toys which will eventually find their way to one of my many workspaces. Julie insisted that we not get each other gifts this year, but as soon as she found out that I had no intention of following that order, she got me The Clone Wars video game for our Gamecube (very cool, possibly worthy of its own entry) and a two Motorola Talkabouts, a gadget I've been wanting for years. And even though this wasn't techically a Christmas gift, Julie and I also went and renewed our cell phone contract, using the opportunity to get two new free phones which are finally small and light enough and have a long enough battery life that I may actually be able to carry mine in my pocket instead of keeping it in the car for emergencies only (even the basic plans these days come with way more minutes than we'll ever use, so having it available for non-emergency uses won't cost us anything extra).

As for Julie's gifts, the main things that I got her were a three-stone diamond necklace and a set of sapphire jewelry that included a ring, earrings, and a pendant. Normally, I don't tell her how much I've spent on her, mainly because it's always more than she wanted me to spend, but this year the story behind her gifts was just too good to keep secret. See, I mainly wanted to get her the diamond necklace, so I ditched her at the mall and went to Kay to get one (they had been advertising them a lot and I have gotten some good pieces from them in the past). But they were all sold out. Betting that other jewelry stores would probably have similar pieces at the same price, I went to Zales. And I was right: they had one at the same price. Actually, they had only one—I bought the last one they had in stock.

I was pretty happy about my purchase until the next day, when I saw an ad saying that for one day only, the exact necklace I had purchased would be on sale for half of what I had paid for it. I was a little irritated at first, but then I started reading my receipt: 30 day money back guarantee. The next day, the day before the sale, I called the store and asked them why I couldn't return the item for a full refund and then buy it back at the special sale price. There was a pause. "Well...I guess you can."

I started to feel very pleased with myself, especially because I realized that if I had seen the ad in the first place and decided to wait on the sale, they would have been all sold out of what I wanted, so not only would I have not gotten the sale price, I wouldn't have gotten the necklace I was looking for. When I went back to the store, I didn't actually want a refund; I just wanted to spend the money I saved on more gifts for Julie, which is how the set of sapphire jewelry enters the picture.

I usually walk away from Christmas feeling like I got way more than I expected and certainly more than I would have ever asked for, and that was certainly the case this year. But that's probably a lot better than feeling disappointed that I didn't get enough. Even though I sometimes feel a little guilty about receiving so much, it's nice to have a time each year when I can be the recipient of some little luxuries that I would never buy for myself but that I use and appreciate for years after they are given to me by others.

Please join me in congratulating Doug and Taeko on the latest addition to their family and in welcoming Sebastian Yamato in the world. He was actually born a couple of weeks ago, but I'm just getting word of it now. Below is a picture of the newborn, watched over by his big sister Lana.

"He was like this when I got here, I swear!"

After having my heart broken by "Mutations" and then having it trampled and spat on by "Midnite Vultures", I thought I'd never be enough of a sucker to fall in love with Beck again. But "Sea Change"...I swear, it almost makes up for the last five years of disappointment. He's still breaking my heart, but this time it's in a good way.

Joe Millionaire is a terrible, awful, cruel, manipulative show. But it may be the first reality series in which everyone involved gets exactly what they deserve.

Despite working only two days last week and having the previous week off, I'm exhausted after only one day out of my five day week down. For some reason I had trouble sleeping all weekend, probably because I was stressed out anticipating the full-time return to work. I was also fretting about finishing a freelance site that was supposed to be (and actually was) posted by the end of the weekend. Now that I've got that out my hair finally (I've been working on it since Thanksgiving), I should have a lot more time to devote to writing, so hopefully the next few days will see a return to normal content levels.

Note to self: Doug is not Elvis.

Despite posting an entry about his new son on his birthday, I once again forgot that Doug was born on January 3, not January 8, just as I have for years and years. So happy belated birthday, Doug. Some year I'll get it right.

For Christmas this year, Julie got me the Gamecube version of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, a video game that takes place in the time immediately following the end of Episode II (the opening few missions even concern events that went on behind-the-scenes during the last 45 minutes of that movie, like the landing of the new clone army on the planet of Geonosis and missions by lesser-known Jedi to destroy power stations, etc.). A week later, after having played the PS2 version at my cousin's house on Christmas day, I also bought the Gamecube version of the Two Towers game, which includes a few scenes from the first movie but which mostly takes place in the time of the second movie.

Anyone who knows anything about the trends in popular media and entertainment already knows that video games are the next big thing (you could even argue that they are already the current big thing given their staggering revenues, but the coming years will bring enormous growth that will make today's profits look like petty cash in comparison), and so of course there has been increased crossover between the world of movies and the world of video games. For geek-heavy franchises like Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, and the Matrix, video games are going to be an increasingly important factor when judging the financial success of a movie, becoming both a marketing tool and a way to extend the world of the universe that the movie creates and therefore the long term success of the franchise.

So how do the video game companions to last year's two biggest geek movie franchises, the Star Wars prequels and the Lord of the Rings trilogy, stack up to their source films and to each other? (I could throw Harry Potter into the mix as well, except I haven't played either of the video games that go with that franchise, and really, despite the engrossing readability of Rowling's prose and her wonderfully detailed vision of Hogwarts, the movies just haven't lived up to the potential of the books.) First, let's look at the movies themselves, which are where most of us have our initial interaction with the imaginary worlds created by these two franchises.

After having seen the first two thirds of each of these trilogies, I don't think there is anyone who would argue that the Star Wars prequels are the stronger films. Peter Jackson is just plain better at directing than George Lucas, not to mention the fact that his scripts are better because he's not the only one writing them, and therefore his actors also perform better because they aren't hamstrung by ridiculous dialogue (some would argue that Jackson has a headstart because of the great source material from Tolkien, but when you look at how much he's reworked that material to suit his cinematic vision, you can't really take anything away from him for that). And you can't really give Lucas any bonus points for his special effects wizardry—anyone who has spent any time looking through the bonus materials on the DVDs for Fellowship will realize that there is just as much CG tomfoolery going on in Jackson's films. The difference is you don't notice it as much, which is really the goal of today's CG artists. The Two Towers' Gollum could go toe-to-toe with Jar Jar in the believable CG characters category, which is especially impressive when you consider that, since Gollum is more human, he's even harder to fake. Of course, the stuff they're doing for the new Matrix movies will put both of these characters to shame…but I digress.

It's therefore a little surprising that, even though I enjoy playing both games, the Two Towers game is nowhere near as engrossing as the Clone Wars. Part of that has simply to do with the playing style in each. In the Clone Wars, you get to pilot a multitude of ships and vehicles, often in the same mission (although we could have done with a little less of the speeder/tank), and there are even a couple of times when you are allowed to go on foot and kick some serious ass with a light saber. Even though the Two Towers game lets you play as Aragorn, Legolas, or Gimli, each with their own specialized abilities, and it takes you through several battles up through the culminating standoff at Helm's Deep, the gameplay is essentially the same for each character, and there are no alternate vehicles or anything. It's just hack and slash the whole way through—not to say that this isn't enjoyable, it just doesn't offer the same variety as the Clone Wars.

Then there are the missions themselves. Although both games could have done with a few more missions to up the playing time, the Clone Wars again clearly wins out. Some missions are timed escapes, some are kill everything in sight, some are defend/rescue, and very often a single mission will combine two or more of these goals. And again, with the Two Towers, there is but a single goal: don't get killed, and eviscerate as many orcs and goblins and cave trolls and uruk-hai as you can along the way. Again, this is fun as hell—but not quite as fun as cutting up some Geoniosians with your lightsaber and then hopping in a gunship and using all three of its weapons to blow up ships ten times your size.

Another advantage the Clone Wars has is the multiplayer mode, in which up to four people can play four different styles of cooperative or competitive games. Julie doesn't normally go for this kind of thing, but we've already spent several hours exploring the different ships and maps you can play in multiplayer mode (the ships include several droid vehicles that you don't ever get to play in the normal game). The coolest of these options is probably the Jedi Academy training, when you can stand in the middle of the Geonosis arena and slaughter wave after wave of enemies with your lightsaber.

The real kicker for the Clone Wars, however, comes in the way that it uses the video game to extend and expand upon the universe of the movies. Whereas the best missions in the Two Towers basically recreate battles straight out of the films, the Clone Wars game uses shows you events that were happening simultaneous to the end of Attack of the Clones and then takes the characters and adds new chapters to their stories (particularly Anakin, who is, after all, the center of the six Star Wars movies). Rather than just putting us in the world of the film and letting us replay the movie from a first person perspective, the Clone Wars gives us new material that didn't make it into the film, plotlines and character developments that deepen our understanding of the events in Episode II and which will presumably illuminate the events to come in Episode III.

And this is really the way video games based on movies are heading. In combination with the growing phenomenon of Massively Multiplayer Online Role Playing Games (MMORPGs) like Everquest and the newly released Sims Online, it's going to be increasingly important (not to mention profitable) to create an interactive universe that will extend the lives of the characters from the movie and allow fans to feel like they are developing the story of the universe after the movie ends. And George Lucas already knows this: an MMORPG set in the Star Wars universe called Star Wars Galaxies, will be released in April, and could well be the first MMORPG to cross the threshold and have an audience of more casual users, rather than the hardcore gamers/geeks who inhabit the worlds of Ultima Online and Asheron's Call. Of course, the new Matrix movies and their companion materials (which include a DVD nine original anime pieces set in the world of the Matrix, an immersive video game, and continuing updates to the already-fascinating web site for the trilogy) could still put both Lucas and Jackson to shame, but at least Lucas is on the right track. He'll never get the critical recognition that Jackson has, and he's going to continue to get snubbed in the technical Oscar categories as payback for ILM dominating the awards for so long, but for right now, at least, he's doing more to use the latest gaming technology to bring fans closer to the characters and settings that they've grown to love from the films.

Let's see. A year ago at this time, I was out of work, Carrie was out of work, Jeff was out of work, Max was out of work, Dodd had just been academically suspended from Duke, and Tom was barely and begrudgingly employed as a landscaper. Now I'm working full time at Hopkins, Carrie is working part-time and attending school, Jeff is working full time for a software development company, Max is working full time (and lots of overtime) for AOL, Dodd has just returned to Duke to finish his (hopefully) last semester there, and Tom recently found out that his teaching contract has been extended another year, meaning that he's guaranteed employment at UVA until at least May 2004. Despite the continually worsening economic situation, it looks like most of my friends who were hit hard by the downturn and I have personally experienced our rock-bottom moments employment-wise, and my brother and sister are going to finish their coursework by May so that they can get on with the business of starting their post-school lives. All in all, this is shaping up to be a pretty good year.

As has become the custom at recent Macworld keynotes, the expectations and rumors were much more interesting than what was actually introduced, even though some of the stuff that was introduced was pretty cool (a cheap, consumer-level version of Final Cut, a Powerbook with a 17" widescreen display, and updated versions of the iApps suite). But most of us were hoping for a new lifestyle device or two, or at least an updated version of the iPod with exapanded capabilities. Instead, it was a pretty straight-laced keynote, despite Jobs' initial statement that he had enough announcements for two Macworlds.

One product that I initially didn't think much of that I've now started to reconsider was Safari, Apple's custom-built browser optimized to run in Mac OS X 10.2. The Mac user in me was intrigued about downloading it and playing around with it (I was a diehard user of Apple's other in-house browser Cyberdog, which was axed when the OpenDoc architecture that it was built around was sacrificed in the mid-90s), and the web developer in me was slightly irritated that I might have to design and test my work in yet another browser, but aside from that I didn't really think it was that big a deal.

Now that I've had more time to consider it and review some of the features, I think it's possible that Safari might turn out to be one of the most significant announcements made on Tuesday, not only because of the product itself but also because of the signals it gives about Apple's future plans. Safari is just the latest example of Apple finding ways to give great software to their customers that no one else has, products to go along with the iApps series (iPhoto, iTunes, iMovie, and iDVD) that make your computer a better tool for doing the things you want to do with your computer. Think about it—no matter how fast your internet connection is or how beefy your machine's processor, RAM, graphics card, etc., there isn't anyone who doesn't wish that browsing the web was more faster and more intuitive. Instead of overloading a browser with features that no one asked for and hardly anyone uses and that do nothing but slow down your surfing <cough>IE</cough>, Apple has instead focused on speeding up the rendering engine as much as possible and adding a couple of new features (like the Google search builit into the toolbar and a new way of handling bookmarks) that are designed to facilitate some of our most common tasks while browsing.

Apple claims that Safari runs a great deal faster than any of the current browsers designed for OS X, and it's only a beta right now. This is amazing if it's true (I'm going to download it and play with it some time this week, but I haven't had a chance yet), because so far IE 5.2.2 for OS X is flat out the fastest browser I have ever used on any platform (although I haven't spent a lot of time with Chimera yet, a browser written for OS X that uses Netscapes open source Gecko rendering engine—here's a good article that compares the two browsers, both of which are still in beta).

I'm sure there are still some bugs to work out, and I'd certainly like to see a few features added to the final version (like Chimera's tabbed browsing, which eliminates the need for multiple simultaneous browser windows), but overall I think Safari is a nice addition to what Apple is now calling it's iLife suite of products that are designed to make the most common tasks that average computer users will perform in our digital age (editing photos and movies, playing music, burning CDs, browsing the web, sending and receiving email, syncing up lifestyle devices, and keeping a calendar) as intuitive, fast, and crash-proof as possible. As opposed to Microsoft, which seems content to make it's money by selling updated versions of already-bloated applications and operating systems that are even more bloated and intrusive than the previous ones and that are so inefficient that you are forced to upgrade your hardware just to keep up, Apple is actually adding value to your computer with all of these bundled applications, giving you the ability to do things that you have to shell out extra money for on the PC or that are, in some cases, just plain impossible to do on a PC unless you're willing to suffer through multiple crashes and overly technical instruction manuals. And it doesn't hurt that many of the recent apps (iCal, OS X's built-in email program, and Safari) are replacements for apps that have long been the domain of Microsoft on the Mac, meaning that Apple won't have to be so dependent on Mr. Gates and his monopoly-mongers to keep making software for the Mac (although it's really in Microsoft's best interest to do so, but that discussion should be saved for another time).

Apple simply makes it easy for that average user to use their computer to do some pretty complicated things. And just as hardcore corporate/network users are increasingly using Linux or some other Unix variant over Microsoft's product offerings because of its stability and low cost, so, too, are home consumers finding that the Mac is really a better choice for them because it's designed from the word go to be able to do the things they want to do on their computers without any hassles and without any crashes. Obviously, I'm already a believer, but the direction Apple has taken over the past couple of years to try and make their computers as intuitive and stable as possible for casual users—to make the computer more of an appliance than a device with a steep learning curve and a baffling interface—is a good strategy that will hopefully pay dividends down the road (the fact that OS X is based on a flavor of Unix and is appealing to serious application developers is a great bonus that will hopefully give Apple some inroads into the long sought after corporate server maket). It's very reassuring to see that Apple understands that the consumer market has always been the lifeblood of the company, and keeping the operating systems and applications tailored to the needs of the average consumer is what will give Apple the ability to continue (and hopefully accelerate) it's slow erosion of the Windows marketshare.

Hey Regan. I got your letter, and I thought it was only fair to reply with another letter, which of course I've been too preoccupied to write. I was going to do that last weekend, and also burn you a couple of CDs and get them in the mail so you would get them by your birthday, but those plans got way off track somewhere around Monday and have been put on hold at least until next week. But I'll call you today, even though you probably won't be there. But you'll know that I was thinking about you. Happy birthday, chica. I love you, and I miss you.


"Little Jonathan"

You don't really need to knnow anything about this picture to find it hilarious, but I'll tell you a little anyway. See, Jonathan is one of Tom's friends, a performance artist who I remember for his pulpit made out of a punching bag and his Eucharist project where he baked a giant man out of bread and everyone attending the show ate a piece. For Christmas this year, his girlfriend made a miniature version of him, sculpting the face out of clay. It's fairly accurate, but as Tom said, the expression is not very flattering (although anyone who knows him will instantly recognize it as Jonathan). Tom described it to me on the phone the other night, and described it so well that I already knew what it was going to look like even before I saw the picture. I was laughing on the phone, but the actual photo just kills me.

Well, it's that time of year again, time to rank last year's best music releases. Despite a slow start and end, it was one of the better years in recent memory. In addition to the ten I list below, honorable mentions should go to Elf Power and Ugly Cassanova, whose records might have deserved a top 10 ranking in a weaker year. There are also a bunch of records that I haven't heard yet or haven't heard long enought to give them a top spot (Beck's "Sea Change" will probably work it's way into the historical rankings eventually, but I've owned it for less than a week at this point). Anyway. Here are my picks for best ten albums of 2002.

1. Wilco—Yankee Hotel Foxtrot
2. ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead—Source Tags and Codes
3. Los Desaparecidos—Read Music Speak Spanish
4. Flaming Lips—Yoshimi Battles the Pink Robots
5. Drive-By Truckers—Southern Rock Opera
6. Bright Eyes—Lifted
7. Badly Drawn Boy—Have You Fed the Fish?
8. Spoon—Kill the Moonlight
9. Eels—Souljacker
10. The Good Life—Black Out

I should point out that, even though his best record only ranked third, Conor Oberst's combined entries (he is the frontman and songwriter for both Bright Eyes and Los Desaparecidos) probably make him artist of the year (although Badly Drawn Boy deserves a nod in that category as well—in addition to "Have You Fed the Fish?", he also released another full album in the form of the "About a Boy" soundtrack).

Did you know that if a blue whale mated with a beaver, their babies would be the largest insects on Earth?

I would just like to note for the record that this is the first time that I have not had "The Moon and Antarctica" in my CD case since I bought it in May 2002. That is probably the longest I have ever had a single album stay in the rotation (by contrast, Wilco's "Yankee Hotel Foxtrot", which was my favorite album released in 2002, also made its exit this week after a relatively short nine months). However, the general Modest Mouse streak is still intact: I've included their b-sides and EPs compilation "Building Nothing Out of Something" in this week's selections.

Well, well, well. What do we have here? CS Jeff went and posted his own web site and didn't even tell me. And what may be worse, he didn't bother with any reciprocal links.

Actually, he told me about this domain and said that he was going to post something to it eventually, and so I checked it every couple of weeks for the first few months, but when no content seemed forthcoming, it just sort of fell off my radar screen. This weekend while I was cleaning out my bookmarks, I stumbled upon it and gave it another try. And lo and behold, he's got music, pictures, and even a weblog (the "thoughts" section).

Despite a fairly high concentration of internet/computer geeks among my friends, Jeff is actually the first one besides me to post his own site and update it regularly, so I'm pretty excited about being able to check in on him every day. I know that my own site has been a good way for a lot of my friends to keep up with what's going on with me, since we are all geographically distant from one another, and I'm hoping that Jeff's site will allow me to get a better understanding of his current daily existence. I'm interested to see if it will be a part-time thing that he'll eventually lose interest in (although he's apparently been doing the weblog since July, so that's a pretty good start) or whether he'll become compulsive about needing to post something every day like I have. Either way, I think it's really cool that he's doing it. It's nice to have some company.

Even though I began looking at the class list for the masters program I'm starting this month way back in early October, I was having a really hard time making up my mind. The course selection this semester wasn't as good as I'd hoped, and there were no clear standouts that caught my attention. Did I want to take the required intro course with the program chair just to get it out of the way? Did I want to take the course about the history of the book (which was initially my first choice until I found out that it only went up until Gutenberg, when what I'm really interested in is the book as a mass media object)? Or did I want to take one of the less compelling ones about religion or politics?

By the time the Christmas holidays rolled around, I still hadn't decided, so I just figured I'd think about it for a couple more weeks and do the in-person registration. No big deal, right? I mean, how many people could be in this program anyway, and of those, how many of them would be slackers like me who waited until the last minute to choose their courses?

As it turns out, there are a lot of people like that. I got to the registration less than half an hour after it opened, and there were already 70 people in line ahead of me (the registration was not just for my program, though—the school offers nine or so different masters degrees in the part time programs). I had been smart enough to gamble that there would be some kind of wait and so I was able to occupy myself for a few minutes by filling out my registration form, but I wasn't as smart as a lot of the other people in line who had brought books and/or companions to help them pass the time.

But I still hadn't really decided which course to sign up for yet, so in between staring blankly at the wall for ten minute stretches and counting the ceiling tiles yet again, I pondered which one I should take, having settled on the intro class and the book class as my top two choices. Now, the book class is pretty cool because it meets at the Walters Art Museum (the instructor is a curator there) and you actually get to see some very rare old manuscripts and bound works. Diane, who is the one who told me about the MLA program, is taking that one, and she was pretty sure that it would be full since it was fairly popular and not offered every year. The intro class, on the other hand, is offered every semester, and since most people take it when they first join the program (although you are not required to take it right away), I thought most of my competition would be people like me who were just starting, which hopefully meant that there would still be some spaces. Plus, Jean, who used to be our director's assistant and is a person I think is pretty cool, was taking that class, and I thought it would be pretty fun to be in there with her.

After an hour of talking myself into it, I was all ready to make my decision final and sign up for the intro class. So of course, I get up to the registration desk (they only had two people working to handle what must have ended up being 150 registrations, by the way) and hand the guy my form with my one course selection filled out, and he immediately hands it back to me and says that the intro class is full and I'll have to choose another. Great. I mean, I was hoping that, since I couldn't really choose between the two classes, my decision would be made for me because one of them would be full, but I had convinced myself that the book class would be unavailable to me, and so I had kind of oriented myself to look forward to the intro class. The registration people told me they could put me on the waitlist for the intro class, but when I asked how many people were on it, one guy told me there were a ton of people who were ahead of me, while the other said I was the only one so far. Whatever. I wrote the instructor to ask if I could slip in, but I haven't heard back yet and I'm not really that optimistic about my chances.

Luckily, they still had plenty of space in the book class, so I just signed up for that one in case I couldn't find a way to get into the intro class. And it's not like the book class will be terrible—it was a strong second choice, after all—and it actually has a lot of relevancy to the work that Tom and Dean are doing with things like the Circular Ruins project that I participated in last year. Plus, it meets on Wednesday, which is a much better night for me (the intro class is on a Monday, and there's just something about getting through that first difficult day and then having to attend a two hour class that makes me uneasy). But still, by the time I got to the registration desk, I had talked myself into the intro class and I was really disappointed when it wasn't open. At least I've learned my lesson about early registration—let's hope so, anyway.

Not to dwell on this too much, but this is one of the nicest things anyone has ever said about me, much less committed to print. I can understand Jeff's reservations about having too many people reading his weblog—I was the same way at first, telling only certain key members of my circle of family and friends (like Jeff himself, my sister Tori, and Tom). Others found out about it over time, but eventually I became comfortable with the idea of the people who inhabited the various compartments of my life all having equal access to my thoughts without me being able to filter depending on who they were. And it is cool that people like Doug and Jeff and Scott and the other Jeff (CO2 Jeff) still feel somewhat engaged with my life despite the lack of frequent direct contact. I consider Jeff (CS Jeff, author of the site on the other end of that link) to be one of my best friends, even though I haven't seen him in...well, it must be over a year now...but I had no idea that I had had this much impact on his life (see, despite the fact that we apparently both write a lot, in person we can both be ridiculously non-verbal in that peculiarly male kind of way).

Really, Jeff, I'm touched. And I'm not being sarcastic for once—I'm simply at a loss for words. Working with you and Sam in that tiny house in Adamstown was one of the most postive work experiences of my life, despite the negative elements that caused us all to leave the company eventually, and although I am happy that you have moved on to a place where you seem pretty content (I haven't read through all of your entries yet, so I might have missed some complaints, but I'm guessing having Connie in your life more than makes up for any other little issues), it really sucked when you left. Why do you think I was trying so hard to get you a spot at CO2? Not just because your excellent programming skills would have greatly expanded our capabilities, but also because I knew that when you left in search of work elsewhere, you would likely be gone for good. You are a good friend, and a good person, and I have more respect for you than you probably realize, just as I would have never had a clue about how I affected your life if I hadn't read that entry in your weblog (do you hate calling it that as much as I do?). I've had few better days than the ones where we left work early to go play golf in perfect spring weather.

God, this is starting to sound gay. But I think we understand each other: I care about you and you care about me. Now let us never speak of it again.

Tom came to visit last weekend, arriving here on Friday night with plans to go into DC with us on Saturday and see several art exhibits that were going to be taken down in the next few weeks. After he got here, we went out for a quick dinner and on the way back stopped at the video store to rent a Gamecube game. We wanted the new Mortal Kombat, but it wasn't in stock yet, so we settled on another one-on-one fighting game called Bloody Roar that I liked mostly because it said it had "destructible environments" and one of the characters changed into a giant Easter bunny. Tom and I played for a while after we got home, but it wasn't that great. The environment took an awful lot of pounding before it became "destructible", and despite the coolness of changing into an oversized bunny, I never got a good feel for the combos. Plus, we were all really tired, so we decided to turn in early in order to increase our chances of getting up by 9 a.m. so we could make our way down to DC before noon. Surprisingly, we did just that: all of us were showered and dressed by around 10 a.m., and we got out the door shortly thereafter.

I never, ever drive in DC, especially not in the downtown part where all the museums and landmarks are, so we drove to the Rockville metro station to take the train in. Given that we left the house on time and had plenty of hours left to visit the museums, I decided to use this opportunity to visit the grave of F. Scott Fitzgerald, which I had only recently learned was in Rockville and in fact was no more than two hundred yards from the metro station at an old Catholic church called Saint Mary's.

F. Scott Fitzgerald is not one of my favorite writers the way that Faulkner, Flannery O'Connor, Auster, or Poe is, but he's definitely in the second tier with people like Hawthorne, Melville, Salinger (mostly for his short stories), and DeLillo. His life was pretty fascinating to me (which, given how obsessed I've become with biography and history books of late, is not an insignificant factor in my interest in him), especially his love for the tragically unbalanced Zelda (on the first night of their honeymoon, she left him a suicide note and wandered out into the Gulf of Mexico to drown herself—how's that for drama?). I thought The Great Gatsby was a pretty good book, but my favorite is his final and unfinished novel, The Last Tycoon. There was something about that book that seemed to be on different level than his previous works, a sign that he was about to embark on a new phase of his career that would produce works more spectacular than those in his already-impressive bibliography.

The journey from the metro parking lot to the cemetery looked a little dicey (lots of fences, train tracks, parking lots, etc.), so we decided just to park at the church and then come back to the metro afterwards. Plus, it felt like it was about five degrees outside, and the less time we spent walking against the wind, the better. It took us a few minutes to find the cemetery gate, and a few more to find the gravesite itself. Here's a picture:

"So we beat on, boats against the current,
borne back ceaselessly into the past."

You might notice the flowers that had been left; I don't know if that's because the anniversary of his death had recently occurred, or if that's fairly typical because of his global fame, but it was interesting to see that someone knew he was here, and that others were affected enough by his writings fifty years after his death to make the trek down to Rockville to pay their respects. If you look closely, you'll also notice that one person left a note with their flowers:

Actually, when we found it, the note was folded up and tucked underneath the other side of the flowers, and although I was sorely tempted to open it and read it, I decided to try and behave myself, so I moved away after taking a few pictures. Of course, when I looked over a couple of minutes later and saw Tom reading it, I figured the damage had been done and quickly hurried over to read it and photograph it myself. Now, if this makes you feel uncomfortable at all, I suggest that you skip this next picture and the text that immediately follows it. If you want to keep the moral upper hand and say that you wouldn't have read it even if someone else opened it, I'm still giving you that chance. Otherwise, you're just the same as me, so quit agonizing and satisfy your curiosity already:

Dear F. Scott,

Thank you for your
words and your ideas.
You, more than any other
writer, have given me
the ideas and dreams by
which I seek to live
my life. I bounce high
and higher in search
of that light on the
other side of the water.

It was signed with the person's name and their home city: Rome, Italy. I don't know. Despite my reservations about invading this person's thoughts and reading the message, it's really beautiful and it made the experience of visiting F. Scott that much more moving. So I don't really have any regrets about reading the note, although I'm still not sure if I would have the ability to be the first one to pick it up and unfold it. But don't worry: when we were done, we folded it back up and tucked it securely beneath the flowers where we had found it.

After visiting the grave for about half an hour, taking pictures and pondering the note, it was getting pretty cold, so we headed back to our cars and then over to the metro station. I took some more photos while waiting for the train (although my battery was getting pretty irritable because of the exceedingly low temperatures), and soon we were on our way down to DC.

Tomorrow: the Renwick Gallery.

After about half an hour on the red line metro from Rockville, we got off at the Farragut North stop and walked a couple of blocks to the Smithsonian Institution's Renwick Gallery. I had never been here before, but it has the grand old Victorian architecture like the main Smithsonian building and is only a couple of blocks from the White House.

Tom had been there a couple of weeks before to see an exhibit by George Caitlin, whose primary claim to fame (especially these days, around the Lewis and Clark bicentennial) was that he followed the route of the Lewis and Clark expedition about halfway up the Missouri from St. Louis in 1932, almost 30 years after the initial exploration (of course, he rode in comfort on a steamboat instead of paddling his way upstream, but then I guess I would have done that, too). He also traveled to the west several more times in the decade following, and began to take up the cause of preserving Indian heritage and culture. While Caitlin's initial paintings are mostly of the landscapes of the Missouri that had been made famous by the westward expansion started by Jefferson and his Louisian Purchase, his subject matter trends evermore towards the native inhabitants of these landscapes, either by capturing them in the landscaping hunting or setting up their villages, or just plain old portraits that attempted to capture as much of the native garb as possible.

The thing is, he wasn't that great a painter, so it's a good thing that there weren't too many other people pursuing this subject matter or he could have easily ended up even more obscure than he is. The images on the web site actually make the paintings look much better than they do in person, and while I'm sure he was handicapped by the small size of the traveling canvases he had to carry with him (no more than 18" wide), his paintings have a slightly cartoonish quality, thanks in large part to the bright blues and greens that he chose for his palette.

The sheer volume of Caitlin's works is impressive, though. He ended up with over 500 paintings of the scenery and native people of the western lands, and would take them on tours of Europe, along with some of the actual natives themselves, who would dress up in their tribe's garb and reenact battles and animal hunts (which seems a little exploitative from my 21st century perspective, more like a freak show than a cultural exchange, but maybe the context felt different back then). In addition to all the paintings, Caitlin also carried with him a giant teepee and things like lacrosse sticks and headdresses that were used by the Indians (many of which were also included alongside his paintings in this exhibition).

The reason Tom and I were so interested in this exhibit was because of our recent fascination with anything to do with the Lewis and Clark expedition (you might have noticed a heavy concentation of related works in my "read" sidebar recently). See, Tom is based in Charlottesville, VA, home of Thomas Jefferson, who was the man who sent the expedition into the west to search for a passable river route for trade and settlement purposes, and so are a lot of the members of the loose collective of artists who worked on the Borges project last year. Since Charlottesville will be celebrating the bicentenniel of the expedition over the next three four years (it was commissioned in 1803, but didn't reach the actual frontier until 1804, and didn't return back to civilation until 1806), they only thought it appropriate to work on a new project based on some aspect of the expedition. I had a lot of fun participating in the last one, even given my minimal contribution, so I'd really like to do it again, and be more involved this time.

So despite the fact that there weren't a ton of works that really captured my imagination, it was still interesting to see, and it was certainly comforting to know that at least a few of the people living in that time thought that the forced resettlement of the Indians, the taking of their lands, and the destruction of their cultures was a bad thing that maybe we ought to think twice about before doing (although Caitlin sure didn't seem to be averse to making a buck waving the flag for the cause, either). I don't know exactly what shape my contribution to this new project will take, but I'm planning to immerse myself in books, maps, and artistic works related to the exhibition over the next year and just see what comes out. I'm sure there will be a lot of writing, but I'm hoping that I contribute on the visual side as well.

After leaving the Renwick, the next stop was the Corcoran, where we wanted to see an exhibit called Homeland that had been described in the paper as an interpretation of the climate of surveillance since 9.11 and also a piece by an artist named Tim Hawkinson that Tom likes.

But first we needed to get something to eat. It was approaching 1 p.m., and since I didn't have breakfast, I was getting pretty hungry (as were Tom and Julie, even though they had something before we left). I just wanted to get a hotdog from one of the street vendors since a) it would be cheaper and faster than any restaurant in that part of town except McDonald's and b) I was starving. For some reason Julie had a problem with this and wanted to find a sit-down, indoor restaurant, which is odd because she isn't usually like that (and now that I'm thinking about it, it seems like half our meals in Austria were eaten standing on the sidewalk next to a sausage stand). I was grouchy about this, but I reluctantly agreed. We were already at the Corcoran, so we went around back to see if we could find anything in one of the nearby office buildings. We thought we had struck gold at the AFL-CIO building, which had a sign out front advertising a restaurant that served lunch, but when we got up to the doors, they were all locked.

Then we headed back to the Corcoran itself to check out the cafe there. This is exactly what I had wanted to avoid by going to a hotdog stand: an overpriced, less than filling meal that would take up more time than we had (in addition to the Corcoran exhibits, we also wanted to head over to the Hirschhorn to see an exhibit of Italian artists that Tom was into). Luckily, Julie's practicality took over when she saw the menu: $12 for a slice of quiche. Plus, they were supposed to close 15 minutes from when we arrived, and they were already stacking the chairs and wiping down the tables.

So it was back outside to the hotdog stand where I had wanted to go in the first place, where we all ordered spicy polish sausages and cokes. We all sat on a nearby bench to eat, watching several Venezuelan families park and head over to a protest that was taking place in front of the White House (the only reason I know they were Venezuelan is because they were all wearing/waving the same colors/flags, and I was curious enough about it to ask one of them what they were doing). Tom also got a small can of Pringles for everyone to share, but after eating a few chips each, we decided it was much more fun to crush them and throw them to the tiny fat brown birds who clustered at our feet once they realized we had food.

Finally we headed over to the Corcoran. Our first stop was the Homeland exhibit, which wasn't at all what I was expecting from the write-up in the Washington Post I had read the night before. I was actually just a few photographers who took pictures of homes, and a couple of animators/videographers who had done pieces on neighborhoods. The work wasn't all that compelling conceptually, and the potential it had was mostly unrealized by the actual art that came out of the idea. The exhibit featuring the work of Corcoran students, which we passed going to and from the Homeland exhibit, was much more interesting (so much so that we couldn't resist stopping in for a minute each time we walked by it even though we were on a tight schedule).

Next we went in search of Tim Hawkinson's piece, which was way at the back of another special exhibit. We walked through those rooms pretty fast, and there was some good stuff that I could have spent more time with, but the schedule kept pressing us on. The Hawkinson piece was pretty cool: it looked like a giant octopus/tree made out of torn cloth hanging from the ceiling. It was connected to a machine built out of wood and plexiglass so you could see the inner workings, and every now and then the motion sensor at the top would be trigger by someone entering the gallery and it would cause the octopus to start dripping water from the tips of its arms into metal pails below, where it was collected and sent back up to a resevoir perched on the octopuses head. I'm pretty sure that it was on a timer, say a five or ten second interval, and wherever people were moving around at that moment, it would turn on the water drips next to them. We didn't get to spend enough time with it for me to know for sure, but from what I could tell, this was how it was working.

After spending 15 minutes or so interacting with the creature, we headed back towards the front of the museum, this time taking a route through the permanent collection. The most interesting things I saw there were a collection of paintings/drawings about the life of Joan of Arc (one, two, three, four, five), which reminded me a lot of the contemporary comic book artist Jose Quesade, who I know mostly from his recent work in Daredevil (whose work in turn reminds me of Bill Sienkiewicz, an artist who drew one of my favorite comics when I was a teenager). There is a little Gustav Klimt in both of their styles, and so it shouldn't surprise anyone that I found hints of Klimt in all these works (the Joan of Arc paintings were produced during Klimt's lifetime, but after he had established the style he is so famous for).

On the way out, there was one last exhibit that grabbed my attention. It was a large piece called Three Objects by an artist named Nigel Poor. It took up all the wall space in a fairly large round room, and it consisted of a trail of works that each featured a series of six photographs mounted together on a single board. The top half of the board had photos on a black background, while the bottom were over white. The idea was this: the artist asked someone to pick three objects which best represented their personality and lifestyle, take pictures of them, and mount them on the black background. Then this person would choose a friend who would pick three objects that the friend felt best represented the first person. These would be mounted over white, and combined together to take a snapshot of six objects that represented a particular individual, three from the individual himself and three from a friend. The trick was, the second person would then choose three objects to represent themselves and start a new board, creating a chain of objects linking a large group of people. The concept sounds cool, and in theory it panned out pretty well. It held my attention for awhile, although I have to admit that after 20 or so I started to get a little bored. It was startling how different the choices of the primary person were from the choices their friends made concerning them; I only remember three or four canvases where at least one of the objects was a match between the black and white halves, and only one where there were two matches.

At this point it was getting on towards 3 p.m., and the Hirschhorn closed at 5 p.m., so we reluctantly said our goodbyes to the Corcoran and headed towards the mall. We hardly saw any of the permanent collection, and I wouldn't mind spending a little more time with the Biennial exhibit (which both Hawkinson and Poor were included in), so we'll probably head back there some time in the near future.

Tomorrow: the White House and the Hirschhorn.

Yesterday was actually a surprisingly good day at work. I have been feeling sick all week and had worked at home on Monday and Wednesday, and there were so many seemingly intractable problems with some of my projects that I just wasn't looking forward to going back to the office to beat my head against the wall over them some more. But the morning meetings were surprisingly fruitful, Kathryn had a chai tea waiting on my desk when I got back, and she even took me out for lunch because I wasn't feeling well (a bowl of soup was all I could stomach). The afternoon was similarly productive: I found solutions for a couple of long-standing issues with the CD-ROM project and set the stage for resolving some of the near-crisis situations with our new systems implementation. We've built up such good momentum on several things that we've been working on for weeks that it's almost a shame that a three-day weekend is going to interrupt it.

Well, okay, not really. But it was a much better day than I had anticipated.

I love it when a single good day of adventuring turns into a whole week of content.

Our final museum stop was the Hirschhorn Gallery, part of the Smithsonian Institution. On the way, we walked past the White House, which I don't think I had ever seen before in person. We stopped and took some pictures for a few minutes, and debated the likelihood that our conversations were being monitored by listening devices planted in the lawn (well of course they were). Julie found a button on a plaque attached to the fence that said "Welcome to the White House". When she pushed it, nothing happened except that three grey boxes on the lawn started emitting a radio hiss. I'm sure they were speakers, and I'm sure the button was supposed to trigger some sort of greeting for visitors, but it was kind of lame that something as simple as this wasn't working at the home of our leader and one of our most visited national landmarks.

We walked past the Venezuelans, who were still demonstrating across the street, and made our way over the the Capitol part of the mall where most of the Smithsonian buildings are, passing the Washington monument and the main Smithsonian building on our way to the circularly architected Hirschhorn structure. The exhibit Tom wanted to see featured Italian artists from the 60s and 70s (I think), and there was some sort of explanation for the theme that tied their work together, but I can't remember it now and the works of art themselves didn't readily suggest a unifying idea.

It was a fairly large exhibit, circling the full orbit of the outer ring on the second floor, but there wasn't a lot there that grabbed me, so we were done with it in about 20 minutes. The only things I really remember are some neon wall-mounted pieces, a box that was mirrored on the inside that I'm almost certain I saw in the Pompidou Center in Paris 10 years ago, and a room of giant legs/feet in the last room before you exited. Tom, on the other hand, must have spent close to an hour in there, but that was okay—I was pretty tired at this point and didn't chilling out for a while on one of the gallery benches. After he finally finished (I can't tell you how many false alarms we had waiting for him to exit the show—EVERYONE was wearing long dark coats), we looked at another small show on the third floor and at a little bit of the permanent collection, but we didn't stay too long—the museum was about to close and we were all running out of steam.

Tom purchased a couple of catalogs in the museum shop before we made our way back to the metro and started the long ride back to Rockville. We were going to part ways there—we had both brought our cars because Tom was going to head back to Charlottesville straight from Rockville and we needed to head up to Frederick to run a couple of errands—but we went with Tom to the burrito place in the movie theater complex next to the metro stop so he could get something for dinner before he started back. I don't remember talking very much after leaving the Hirschhorn—we had just done and talked about so much already that I didn't really have anything left to say.

Before Tom left, he gave me the Godspeed You Black Emperor! CD "Slow Riot for New Zero Kanada", which is technically an EP with only two tracks but which nonetheless has over half an hour of music on it. This apparently fairly typical of a Godspeed record, which tend to features pieces that start with quiet, intricate arrangements that build to crescendos of noise and dissonance, often several times within the same "song" (it would probably be more helpful to think of them as movements within a larger orchestral work than songs on an album).

I used not to go for this stuff—despite my ecletic and sometimes oddball taste in music, I was a slave to the hook-filled pop song, no matter how many buzzing guitars, sneering vocals, and lo-fi production quirks some of my favorite groups chose to layer on top of it. But recently, bands like the Avalanches, Sigur Ros, Tortoise, and Stereolab (many of whom would prefer the label of "art collective" to the traditional "rock band") have increasingly held my attention and ended up in my CD player for days at a time, so a group like Godspeed seemed like the next logical step (they combine the long-form, abstract qualities of Sigur Ros with the tenacious guitar-driven epics of ...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead). Plus, Tom has liked them for a long time, and we tend to trust each other's musical instincts, even if we don't list the same bands as our favorites.

I listened to "Slow Riot" for a few days whenever I was working in my study, and I got so into it that I had to go out and get their two full-length releases, "Raise Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven" and "Yanqui U.X.O", which was just released in November. I haven't had time to really digest them yet, but so far I'm liking what I hear as much as I did the EP. Maybe it's time for me to listen to some of Sonic Youth's recent releases, which I had written off once I noticed that the reviews consistently mentioned the words "experimental", "challenging", and "avant garde". Given the seemingly shift in my tastes, it could be I'm finally grown up enough to appreciate them.

Well, I've finally done it: I've upgraded to Mac OS X.

I've actually had the OS since the first preview release almost two years ago, and even though each time I installed a new version the system got better and better, I still couldn't bring myself to use it as my day-to-day OS. Part of that was the near-perfection of OS 9: it was stable, customizable, and just fit with the way I used my computer on a daily basis. Another big objection was that the programs I use regularly hadn't yet been released as OS X native, and if there was one thing I knew for sure about OS X it was that I didn't want to constantly be hopping back and forth between OS X and Classic, no matter how seamlessly integrated and stable the Classic environment was.

Over the last year, however, the list of unconverted software that I would require to move to OS X grew shorter and shorter: Adobe GoLive, Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Acrobat, the Microsoft Office suite, Macromedia Flash, Macromedia Dreamweaver, IE, Netscape, Entourage (a more full-featured version of the Outlook program that I used for email), Transmit (my FTP program) have all been released in OS X native versions. It also didn't hurt that Apple's suite of iApps (iTunes, iPhoto, iMovie, etc.) were also given OS X-only upgrades. The final piece to the puzzle was the release of an OS X version of Macromedia Director (which came out a few weeks ago) and the latest upgrade to the OS, OS X 10.2 (better known by its code name, Jaguar). This upgrade introduced a feature that was necessary given the setup of my home network: an option to share my internet connection with other machines over ethernet (in OS 9, I used a piece of third party software, but the only such program available for OS X was designed for business users and cost far more than I was willing to spend).

Once I'd made the decision, I didn't want to do it half-assed: no installing the system on a secondary hard drive so I could easily scramble back to OS 9 if I got scared. I wanted to wipe my hard drives clean and do a fresh installation. This gave me a good excuse to purchase a nice fat 80 gig external Firewire drive to back up all my files, something I've been meaning to do for a while anyway. Once I got the drive, I moved everything on my current disks to that device and booted up from the Jaguar install CD to begin my new life in Aqua.

I've been surprised at how easy it's been to make the switch. The actual install took a while, but it went without a hitch, as did the numerous updates and patches the the software updater wanted me to download immediately after my machine was set up. Then it was just a matter of installing new OS X versions of all of my programs and copying the relavent data files back from the Firewire drive. As a bonus, I discovered that both Diablo 2 and Unreal Tournament, games that are a little old but which I still play regularly, had both released OS X versions, meaning I could even play them without jumping into Classic.

The one small glitch was that the internet sharing option has some issue with cable modems, which how we connect (and which is conveniently not asterisked in the feature list for OS X 10.2). We gave it a try anyway, just to be sure, but as we were warned when we enabled it, it didn't work (well, it would work for a little while—maybe five or ten minutes—and then mysteriously disconnect all of the other machines on the network). The only solution was to buy the expensive internet sharing software I mentioned above or get a router to replace our simple ethernet hub. The router was half as much as the software, plus it would mean that the other computers on the network could connect to the internet no matter what mine was doing, so it was an easy choice. And in the end, it was probably something we should have done anyway: all the connections on our home network are faster because the hardware is better at handling the network traffic than our old software was, and we have an added measure of protection with the firewall that is built-in to the router.

All in all I'm pretty happy with the system so far (I've been using it for about a week now). Sometimes the interface feels slower than OS 9, but that's to be expected a little: the OS is much more demanding graphics-wise, and the video card that came with my current machine was introduced nearly three years ago. Even the recent games I purchased and played under OS 9 (Black and White, Warcraft III) were a little sluggish with that card, even at very low resolutions. And this is easily remedied with a small investment in a new card, which I would have needed soon anyway, OS X or no OS X.

Hmmm...looking back over my list of top 10 CDs of 2002, I realize that I've overlooked Clinic's "Walking With Thee" and Sigur Ros' "()". I think they both belong in the top 10 somewhere, but I'm not sure who they should push out (and no, it's not as simple as bumping the last two off the list—I can't explain it, but my brain just won't let it work like that). I've also recently started to appreciate Tom Waits' two simultaneous releases "Blood Money" and "Alice" (especially "Alice"), and it probably won't be long before the Godspeed You Black Emperor! record starts to worm its way into my favorites from last year. And although it wasn't technically a new release, Brian Wilson's "Pet Sounds Live" spent an awful lot of time in my CD player.

So I guess what I'm trying to say is, these are some pretty good records, too, and if you like the other selections on my top 10, you might want to look into these as well.

It took me three and a half years, but I acheived a minor milestone over the weekend: I submitted my 4000th SETI@home work unit.

SETI@home is one of the oldest and most successful distributed computing efforts (not successful in terms of finding proof of alien intelligence, but in terms of the number of participants and the number of hours of CPU time donated). I started running it back when I still worked for Sycamore Associates, where I ran it only on my primary machine. When I moved to CO2 a couple of months after that, I was slowly able to increase the number of machines I had acccess to, starting with my workstation, our testing PC, and our backup server, and occasionally nabbing some time on the video workstation and some of our other surplus machines until Max would get irritated with it and turn it off. Now I run it on my two home Macs, my Mac at work, and my PC at work. Even though I'm using fewer machines than I did at CO2, I'm probably turning in more units now than ever, since my current stable of machines are the most powerful ones I've yet had access to.

I don't really expect that this effort will ever yield a previously unrecognized extraterrestrial signal, but you never know. And since this is one of the few distributed computing efforts that has bothered to make a client for the Macintosh, I feel better about my processors' idle cycles being used for something more meaningful than generating heat.

You know, I had this nice long entry I was going to post today about Mary Jo and Leila coming to visit last weekend (I worked on it for most of my lunch hour yesterday), but I got so sidetracked with tangents that I'm not sure whether I need to split it into two entries or just junk half of it and focus on one area. And last night I needed sleep more than I needed to figure that out. Which is a little bit of a shame, given how much time I've already put into it and also its relevancy to the class I'm starting tonight (one of the things we did with Mary Jo and Leila was go to the Walters Art Museum, which is where my class is taking place). Oh well. It just wasn't meant to be. Stay tuned for whatever the entry turns out to be, as well as details from my first foray back into grad school after my horrendous experience at UVA all those years ago.

Woo hoo! Last night the Simpsons episode "The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson" was put back into the syndication schedule for the first time since the 9.11 attacks (the WTC towers are featured prominently). I was afraid we had lost you forever...

In a similar vein as the Simpsons entry, I've also recently seen the infamous Puerto Rican Day parade episode of Seinfeld in syndication. I never really saw what the problem was with that episode when it first aired (and I think anyone who had seen Seinfeld before, whether they liked it or not, and who actually watched that episode would agree with me). It ran near the end of the last season, and I remember that after it aired, several Puerto Rican advocacy groups loudly condemned it, so the network and production company promised it would never be seen again, either as a network rerun or in syndication. The fact that it has been quietly returned to the rotation and no one is making a fuss about it underscores that the protests were more about getting some free publicity by criticizing a popular show than about genuine outrage at the show's content. And that's good, because it's a damn funny episode, hands down one of the best that aired that final season.

I think God has a plan for me. And it involves puppets.

It's a little scary how much alike CS Jeff and I are when it comes to cranky rants about all the idiots in the world. As Julie can attest, I'm always unleashing tirades against the legions of morons we inevitably encounter during our daily commute; the first-person-in-line-at-the-red-light has been a particular favorite of late. It's like Jeff is tapping into my brain and writing entries that I haven't gotten around to yet.

Whoa. Last night's class was definitely cool. We were taken up to the manuscript room of the Walters Art Museum, where we got to see a first edition of Chaucer, a page from a Gutenberg Bible, a copy of the first folios of Shakespeare's works that were ever printed, and Napolean's handwritten diary, in addition to numerous illuminated manuscripts from the middle ages. As someone who sees books as sacred objects, it was almost too intense. But I think that fate chose the right class for me.

Mary Jo and Leila were here last weekend, using the excuse of Leila's business trip to DC combined with a long weekend to come for a visit. We relaxed a lot (I didn't get up until well after ten most mornings) and didn't kill ourselves keeping busy, but we did find time to take them to the American Visionary Art Museum, which my mom bought us a membership to for Christmas (luckily for Mary Jo and Leila, the membership came with two guest passes, so they got in for free, too).

The first time I went to the Visionary museum, it really blew me away. The exhibit was called "Treasures of the Soul" and it featured work by mostly untrained artists who worked in somewhat unorthodox media (one man made a barn-sized hanging sculpture out of found objects that he thought could cure cancer; a prison inmate, created amazingly detailed 2x4 inch canvases using threads he pulled out of socks; and a kleptomaniac wrapped the things she stole in cocoons of yarn). The last time I went was only a few months after my first visit, right after they put up a new exhibit, but it was also more than a year ago: the second show was called "The Art of War and Peace", and it just happened to go up barely three weeks after the 9.11 attacks (purely a coincidence, since the show was being planned and organized over a year before). We went to see it within two months of the attacks, which was a mistake: the subject matter was just too raw, too emotional, and almost impossible to get through.

It was like the first time I went to the Holocaust museum, which is when I was in the midst of coming to grips with the Holocaust through several courses at Davidson (this paper sums up my struggles to comprehend the events of the Holocaust). There is a section in the Holocaust museum where they recreate one of the train cars that were used to transport people to the concentration camps, and immediately after that was a section where you could see actual artifacts left behind by the victims—jewelry, spoons, shoes, luggage, etc. At the point I was at in trying to come to grips with the events of the Holocaust, I just couldn't take this much visceral sensory data; I could not physically bring myself to walk through the train car, and when I turned the corner and saw the room full of shoes, it nearly knocked me over.

Seeing "The Art of War and Peace" at the Visionary museum barely two months after the 9.11 attacks had the same effect on me: I was already overloaded with data, and adding these artworks (which would have been intense even without the added relevance given to them by the terrorist attacks) to the stream just blew out my system. There were definitely some interesting works in the show, but the totality of the context made it difficult to separate out individual works from the larger theme.

So this time, with a show entitled "High on Life", I was hoping we might see a return to some of the more whimsical and unique forms of art that had been featured in the "Treasures of the Soul" exhibit. I thought the title was making a reference to artists who had substituted an obsession with art for other forms of addiction (to drugs, alcohol, etc.), and I was hoping that many of these artists would be similar to many of the artists in the "Treasures" exhibit: lacking formal training and lacking access to traditional artistic materials, but compelled nonetheless to create art.

Unfortunately, the show was about a more generalized theme of addiction and the role it plays in human existence. A lot of the artists had formal training, having received at least a BA degree in art, and many of the works were standard oil-on-canvas affairs that didn't incorporate any unusual media or techniques. There were some interesting celebrity contributors: punk singer Liz McGrath had several pieces in the show (the best way to describe them would be to imagine what a school diorama collaborated on by Marilyn Manson and Rob Zombie would look like), there were a few paintings by Replacements drummer Chris Mars, and William S. Burroughs, author of "The Naked Lunch" and collaborator with Tom Waits, had several of his signature shotgun-blasted paintings on plyboard (including "X-Ray Man", which was featured on the cover of Sonic Youth's "NYC Ghosts and Flowers"). And of course there were more works by Howard Finster, famous for his R.E.M. and Talking Heads album covers. But celebrity contributors are really supposed to be the point of a place like the Visionary museum, and even though they upped to wow factor a little, it was still hard not to notice that the show just didn't hold together as well as the earlier exhibits.

Part of the problem, too, was that I had seen many of the pieces before. Unlike the previous two shows, where there was virtually no overlap between the artists and artworks, this show included many pieces from artists I had seen before and even specific pieces of art, some of which had barely moved from their wallspace for the "War and Peace" show. There were still several new pieces and artists that appealed to me, but for every new and interesting contributor, there was another that seemed like it had been borrowed from one of the previous shows. And that lessened the overall coherence and impact of the "High on Life" exhibit for me.

I don't know. I'm still a big fan of the museum, but the last couple of shows haven't quite lived up to their potential. Since we have a membership now, I'm definitely planning to make a few return trips while this show is still up, so maybe I'll change my mind about it. But I'm starting to believe that maybe it's not the museum's fault; maybe that first time I fell so hard in love that it's going to be impossible to ever reach that same state of infatuation again, and I'll just have to learn to be happy with moments of revelation instead of a sustained experience of transcendence. Because really, each one of those moments is a gift. I just need to learn to stop expecting them on every canvas.

Man, the Superbowl ads just aren't the same without the dotcom millions pouring into them.

Another thing I love about German: the ß, or double-s symbol, pronouced "eszet". This font doesn't really do it justice, but I just love writing it out by hand.

I think it's really odd that Tori, an art major who is taking a course in book binding this semester, doesn't seem at all interested in the fact that I am taking a class that meets at the Walters Art Museum where we get to handle rare books from the dawn of bookmaking (around 400 CE) to the era of Gutenberg, or in the book project that I contributed to last year. Granted, I was just a writer, not one of the artists who physically put the book together, but several of those artists are from Tori's school, the University of Iowa, and I wouldn't be at all surprised if one of them was even teaching her book binding class. I'm not sure why I'm sharing this, really. It just doesn't make any sense to me. I know she'd hate the comparison, but it's like when Dodd was a sophomore public policy major at Duke during the 2000 elections: not only did he not vote that year, but at Thanksgiving when I attempted to engage him on the subject of the disputed election results, which I thought would have been a fascinating topic for a public policy major, his only comment was something to the effect of, "I'm just sick of the whole thing" (and this was only a couple of weeks into it, mind you).

It seems like neither Dodd or Tori really has a passion for what they've chosen to study in college. They're both very intelligent, but nothing in their studies seems to have triggered that academic inner spark that lights the fire of intellectual curiosity. Maybe I was just weird, or lucky (or some combination of the two), but my years at Davidson were some of the best of my life, in large part because I was a member of a community of learning and academic exploration where I felt as comfortable discussing a book with a classmate in a study session as I did with the professor during office hours. I looked forward to registering for new classes each semester, and I usually walked away a little disappointed because there wasn't enough room on my schedule to take everything that was interesting to me. I didn't major in English, immerse myself in Holocaust studies and Jewish literature, and write a thesis on Paul Auster because I thought they might lead to good career later in life: I did these things because right then, at that moment, they were the center of my universe, and I was compelled to follow the paths that they led me down.

Sure, the skills I learned while pursuing these studies—thinking critically, researching, organizing, and writing—have certainly helped me get where I am in my career, but I wasn't doing those things to get to the place I'm at now. I did them because I felt a need to explore, to go on journeys with unknown destinations (and in fact, without this drive to seek out new challenges, I doubt very much that I could have gone from high school science and math geek to hardcore English major and grad school student to a career in web development). Looking back, it was learning to go on intellectual explorations that was most important thing I learned at Davidson. It's still these journeys that make my life interesting, like writing for this site, or going back to graduate school, or participating in the Circular Ruins project. And it makes me a little sad that Dodd and Tori don't seem to be able to find that same joy in their college experiences, that their intellectual curiosity has yet to be fully aroused by anything they've encountered at school.

Like I said, maybe I'm the oddball here, maybe most people's college experiences are more like Dodd's and Tori's than they are like mine. But I know that finding that passion would do both of them so much good, and I know it's inside them, just waiting to be discovered or brought out by that one special course or instructor. They've both got the potential; they just need a catalyst to start the reaction. For me, it was David Long and Gail Gibson, two professors who took interest in honing my then-undeveloped talents. I've got my fingers crossed that Dodd and Tori will both get to have the life-changing experiences in college that I did, that they'll find that special something in one of their classes that will make them curious about the world around them for the rest of their lives.

Okay, I don't do this sort of thing very often, but I don't feel like writing anything else today and I saw this link on another site and just kind of got sucked in. Plus, the results were surprisingly accurate. So which OS am I?

Which OS are You?

The page that lists all the possible results is pretty funny, too.

I was about to write an entry last night when Tom called and we talked for over an hour. He's probably going to come up for the Godspeed You Black Emperor! show in March (it's at the Scottish Rite Temple of Freemasonry, which makes it all the more appealing to me), and I think I'm going to go down to the Black Cat in DC to see The Good Life and Rilo Kiley with him a few days before that. I'd also love for him to see the Walters sometime when he's up here, and I might even try to see if we could set up a Circular Ruins show there (depending on how well I get to know the curator, who is the instructor for my class).

Anyway. That's why this is the only thing I'm posting today.

I forgot my dinner last night (I don't have time to go home and eat before I to to class), but really, $1.40 for 16 ounces of ice tea and two strawberry frosted pop tarts from the vending machines in basement is not a bad deal.
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