january 2005

That was a nice little break. But I'm still not sure if I'm ready to go back to work.

Julie and I went to see Wes Anderson's new film, "The Life Aquatic", with Dodd and Alisa last week, and let me tell you, this film is fucking brilliant. Maybe even better than "Rushmore". But I'm not going to tell you why, or try to convince you to see it. You'll either get it or you won't. But if you liked any of Anderson's earlier films, you'll probably want to give it a chance.

Christmas wasn't too bad this year. Two and a half days with Julie's parents in their small town, and two and a half days more with my mom and her side of the family in Raleigh, followed by six straight days of doing whatever the fuck I wanted. Which it turns out was not much, except for playing World of Warcraft, a deadly addiction that I'm going to have to quickly find a way to deal with now that I'm back on a normal work schedule and I have class starting later this month (although to my credit, I feel compelled to tell you that I didn't play at all yesterday). I had all these grand designs to catch up on some stuff I've been working on for the music blog, to write a series of entries on my physics class from last semester, to hang out with or at least have some conversations with Tom, to watch some of the DVDs I got for Christmas, to go geocaching, etc. But almost none of it happened.

Speaking of Christmas gifts, I did pretty well this year—almost everything I got was something that I really wanted, unlike last year's debacle with my mother's presents where she gave me a bunch of crap that I didn't want and couldn't use. I got two Wüsthof knives, one from my mom (a six inch chef's knife) and one from Julie's parents (a six inch japanese-style knife), several DVD sets (Harsh Realm, Freaks and Geeks, the Return of the King special edition, and my first ever store-bought Christmas gift from the newly employed Dodd, the Home Movies first season set), some new clothes, some good books (including a nice little William Blake from Tori that included reproductions of Blake's original illustrations), and most importantly, a Canon photo printer with 8(!) separate ink tanks that makes gorgeous prints and which will hopefully earn its keep during the upcoming festival season in the spring and summer. I think my Amazon wish list, which Julie had access to, helped a lot—she distributed the items on it around the family pretty equally and made sure no one was getting me the same thing.

I think we gave pretty good gifts, too. The most meaningful was probably the album we gave my granddad: it featured photos and memorabilia from the WWII memorial we attended in his stead last year, and we commissioned the album itself from a friend of mine at work who does book binding on the side. Julie and I each put a lot of work into that one, and I think it really touched him.

Even though things went pretty well this year, it's always exhausting to travel so much (even though we made excellent time on the way back home—Raleigh to our town outside Baltimore in just four and a half hours), and it will be nice to settle back into a somewhat normal schedule, even though we have to go back to work. But there are plenty of breaks coming in the next couple of months—Regan's coming for her first visit in years in a couple of weeks, we're going skiing with dad and Rachel in February, and we might go down to visit mom and see some spring training games in March—and work should be pretty calm for my team for the next month or so anyway.

I've included it on today's links page as well, but I'd like to call special attention to this article in New Scientist that talks about a new calendar proposed by Dr. Richard Henry, the physicist who taught my quantum mechanics class last semester. It's a pretty interesting concept, one that would have some good benefits in terms of scheduling holidays, etc., but I have no faith that the American people will go for it. I mean, we can't even make the switch to metric, get rid of the penny, and substitute a dollar coin for a dollar bill, all of which would have enormous cost savings for us and all of which would be pretty easy to implement, so I can't believe that we would be able to see the wisdom in his new calendar system. But 2006 is the only window to implement it for the next dozen years or so (what should be the next cycle is screwed up by a leap year, which would be eliminated under his proposed calendar), and I expect that Dr. Henry will be doing everything in his power to get this idea as much press as possible in the coming months.

Uh...so I got sidetracked when I was starting to write a post and ended up instead writing a very long response to a very long email I got from CS Jeff (do I need to give you a new hometown now?) about Dr. Henry's calendar proposal. The article that I linked to yesterday doesn't do a great job of justifying the reasons for the proposed calendar changes, so if you're at all interested and you weren't swayed by the New Scientist story, you should visit Dr. Henry's own web page and get a better sense for the benefits of moving away from the Gregorian calendar.

By the way, I'm not entirely sold on this calendar myself, but I think it's worth serious consideration, and Dr. Henry's enthusiasm for the idea is infectious.

Look, I know this tsunami thing is a terrible tragedy; 150,000 dead is an unimaginable number of people. But that was a force of nature, something that, even if there had been a warning for it, would have happened anyway, and likely still would have killed thousands. Yet even conservative estimates of the civilian casualties in Iraq since we began our overthrow of that country are at least as high as the number of tsunami-related deaths, and those deaths weren't the result of a natural disaster, they were the direct result of our bombs, our grenades, and our bullets. As much compassion as this nation has for the victims of tragedy on December 26, you'd think we'd at least be able to acknowledge those who have wrongly been slaughtered during our occupation of Iraq, instead of pretending that those deaths aren't happening; we know down to a man the number of American casualties of the Iraq war, and yet our government refuses to release any estimates on the deaths of tens (and likely hundreds) of thousands of Iraqis, the vast majority of whom were as innocent as the victims of the tsunami.

TV sucks these days. Reality shows are boring, police/legal/medical dramas are boring, and sitcoms...I haven't watched a sitcom in years. Even the Simpsons can't hold my attention anymore, leaving me for the first with serious doubts that they will make it to their stated goal of 20 seasons (they're in season 16 now). Boston Legal and Lost are pretty much the only decent shows on network television right now, and I worry about how long they can keep up their unique appeal—already David E. Kelley's Boston Legal has a few too many Ally McBeal-ish moments creeping into it, and Lost's one-backstory-a-week format is starting to wear a little thin, as they're now having to focus on minor characters or worse, repeating main characters who have already had a week of their own. Good thing I have the all-consuming World of Warcraft to occupy my leisure time instead.

Happy birthday, Regan. I hope you're still up for a visit later this week.

The only thing that's keeping me from turning this into a World of Warcraft blog is the increasingly hard-to-hear non-geek voice inside my head that knows just how boring that would be. But really, I'm consumed with this game, and it's hard to free up a lot of mental energy or time to think or write about anything else. It's engrossing; this is way beyond any other game I've ever played. Whatever their other talents may be, the team at Blizzard has got the science of addiction down pat.

I'm going to have to find some way to deal with this in the very near future, because I can't keep stepping away from real life for extended periods of time to play this game. Regan is hopefully coming for a visit later this week, and not too long after that my spring semester class will start, and that will likely involved a lot of reading and watching movies (it's as course on sci-fi films). But while I can still get away with it, I'm relishing every hour I get to spend in the game. I don't expect anyone who hasn't played it to understand, but I have to believe most people who gave it a chance would love it just as much as I do. Either that, or there's something really, really wrong with me.

There's a lot of swearing from Julie when she's playing the new Prince of Persia game. And yelling. Lots of yelling.

Reading the World of Warcraft forums has now replaced reading news sites and friends' blogs as my preferred lunchtime activity. But I only played for an hour and a half last night. w00t!

I know it seems like I haven't been posting much here recently, and yes, some of that is because of World of Warcraft, but I've also been putting a lot of my writing time into notes, reviewing the music that was released in 2004. So if you want more content and you have any interest in music, you should probably head over there for the next few days, since that's likely going to receive more attention than this site.

So. Sorry I forgot to tell you that I wasn't going to be posting at all for a few days. It's my personal policy not to post on any day that I don't have to work, and as the result of taking a couple of days of vacation so I could spend time with a visiting friend and the MLK holiday, I haven't been to work since last Wednesday.

The friend who came to visit was Regan, who I've known since we were students together at NCSSM and who currently lives in Birmingham, Alabama (you might remember I went to visit her last summer). She got here on Thursday morning, and after I picked her up from the airport, we went up to north Baltimore to have lunch at Pete's Grill and wander around the Hopkins campus for a bit. We tried to get in touch with Julie to see if she could come to lunch with us, but she wasn't reachable because her office had just moved to a new building the day before and they hadn't hooked up her phone yet.

After a quick tour of Hopkins, skipping over my building to eliminate the possibility of getting sucked into a work discussion by my oblivious officemates, we headed back to our house, which Regan had never seen before. We had plans to take a walk down to the nearby river, but after chatting on the couch for a bit and taking a quick nap, I awoke to find that something in my right foot was strained or pulled funny, and although we still gave the walk a shot (that turned out to be a terrible idea), I only made it about halfway to the river before I realized that if I didn't turn around and head home right away, my aching foot was not going to make it.

So that really sucked. We had plans to go to DC on Friday, but with my foot still hurting, we decided to put it off until Sunday and just take it easy Friday. Regan and I still went out to lunch in Frederick and thought about seeing a movie, but instead we went back to the house and watched some episodes of Freaks and Geeks, which Julie and I just got for Christmas. That turned out to be an excellent idea: Regan had never seen the show before, and she devoured the episodes. By the time Julie got home, we were just finishing up episode 5, which turned out to be only half of the episodes that Regan would watch the rest of the weekend (it was eerily similar to Tori's Thanksgiving visit where she got hooked on DVD episodes of the O.C. and ended up watching a good portion of the first season in a few days). We had chinese food for dinner, watched another episode or two, and went to bed, planning to get up early for a day in Baltimore.

Damn you snow! I need more! I need a snow day! By this time last year, we'd had two snow days already. You storm systems better get off your asses and get down here while we have all this frigid air hanging around.

Our intention was to get up relatively early on Saturday morning, visit the American Visionary Art Museum, have lunch somewhere around the harbor, and then head over to the Full Moon Saloon to meet Dodd and watch one of his coworkers play with his band, possibly to be followed by dinner and a movie with Dodd. But for some reason Julie, Regan, and I had a hard time getting going, and by the time we got down to the Visionary Museum it was already lunchtime. So we had lunch first, eating at the no-frills Philip's crabcake stand at Harborplace, and then made our way back over to the Visionary.

I'm a really big fan of this museum—so much so that Julie and I once shelled out of an annual membership—but I've been disappointed at the direction they've taken over the past couple of years. Even though they are ostensibly continuing their pattern of putting up a new themed show once a year and incorporating a lot of disparate styles from lesser-known artists whose works somehow fit that theme, in reality, I feel like I'm seeing the same artists over and over again, just with some different text on the walls tying them together. This show, whose theme of water is one that I was really excited about, was no exception; I saw very little that I hadn't seen before, and nothing that really grabbed me. Plus, they eliminated the downstairs gallery, converting it into an extension of the museum shop so they could sell more trinkets and novelty items. Even the third floor gallery, which used to be changed out every six months or so and which was unrelated to the main annual show, now seems to be a permanent installation of some works owned by the museum (and a poorly lit installation at that). Making all of this even more intolerable was the newly opened expansion of the musuem, which obviously cost a lot of money but which doesn't really add significantly to experience of visiting the museum.

After leaving AVAM, it was close to 5, so we thought we'd head over to the Full Moon Saloon in Fell's Point to catch up with Dodd. We drove around the area for a while, but we couldn't find parking anywhere, so we decided to bag it and catch up with him later. After a phone call with him, we decided to watch a DVD at our house and have pizza for dinner. We watched "Anchorman", which was funnier than I thought it would be even though I love Will Ferrell (The Daily Show's Steve Carell really stole the show, though). Dodd hung around for a while after Julie and Regan called it a night, but he left before midnight so I could get some sleep before our trip into DC the next day.

On Sunday morning we got up at a fairly reasonable hour and made our way down to DC, where our main goal was to visit the new National Museum of the American Indian, which is on the Mall and part of the Smithsonian Institution. By the time we got down to DC, it was close to lunchtime, so we decided to ride the Red Line all the way to Union Station and get some food there before heading to the museum.

The sushi stand in Union Station is the first place I ever had sushi, and Regan was the one who introduced me to it, and I've always wanted to go back there and have sushi with her again. Likewise, it was the first place that I ever got Julie to try sushi, and I thought it would be really cool for us all to go there together. Unfortunately, it was bitter cold out, so nobody wanted cold food, and Regan was feeling a little under the weather anyway and didn't feel like tempting the sushi gods. I still would have eaten it, but it just wouldn't have seemed right for me to be the only one enjoying it when Regan and Julie were both there. So I got indian food, the same as them, and it was perfectly fine and much more appropriate for the temperature.

After lunch we hopped back on the metro and made our way down to the Federal Center SW stop, which is the stop we believed to be closest to the museum. We didn't know for sure, because none of the maps in the metro stations had been updated to include the museum yet and we hadn't bothered to look up directions online before we left. But I remembered seeing the museum being built last year, and there was a blank spot on the Mall on the metro maps that would be a perfect place for a new museum. And it was exactly where we expected it to be, only two blocks from the stop.

The new museum has gotten pretty rotten reviews in the press, and it turns out to be for good reason. While I appreciated the design of the museum—an adobe-themed building enhanced with lots of curves which echoed both the artificial river flowing beside it and the circular theme repeated in the interior—the flow in the exhibits was the worst I've ever seen in a museum. Or in any public space of any sort. Or maybe in any space period.

Each of the three main exhibits (Our Universes, Our Peoples, Our Lives) shared similar problems, but Our Universes, which focuses on the mythologies and belief systems of eight of the major tribes, was probably the worst. Instead of finding a way to present the uniqueness of each tribe in the context of a larger space, they had several small adjacent cul-de-sacs, one for each tribe, that made physical movement from place to place very difficult, as people were attempting to go into and come our of each space from both sides of the entrance. In addition, once you got into a cul-de-sac, you were forced to go up either the left side or the right side of the circle, each of which was lined by an exhibit that told a linear story that ended at the top of the cul-de-sac. Which meant that if you wanted to see everything in a room the way it was intended to be seen, you then had to fight your way back down to the entrance and start over, focusing on the opposite side. Add to this the fact that the rooms were pretty small to begin with, and you had a recipe for confusion and claustrophobia. The museum wasn't very crowded that day, but if you had more than five people in those rooms at a time, you felt like you were constantly stepping between a visitor and an exhibit, or bumping into someone, or just stuck in place, waiting for an opening to appear so you could try to force your way back to the entrance/exit. And I have to believe they built this museum knowing it would have more than a few visitors at a time.

The other two large exhibition halls shared these problems, but not quite to the same extent as the Our Universes exhibit. There were chokepoints scattered throughout each room (exacerbated by the museum tour guides who invariably chose these spots as places to stop and lecture their groups for five minutes), and visitors were often forced to choose one exhibit over another, since two exhibits would often run along the inner or outer edge of the same curved space. The only room that seemed to have any real flow to it at all was the temporary exhibition space that featured the work of two contemporary Native American artists; it was the only exhibit that I felt comfortable moving around in.

As I said, the museum building itself was very nicely designed, but it's just a shame that they couldn't get the exhibits themselves right. Regan, who has worked in museum design, was very curious to see this new museum because she wanted to see how they'd worked out all the political issues that currently exist between the tribes, and as it turns out they didn't—rather, the museum is itself a testament to all those differences, telling eight different stories in eight micro-spaces instead of finding a way to tell the larger story in a more easily navigable space.

After leaving the National Museum of the American Indian, we stopped for a while at the U.S. Botanic Gardens, which are also on the Mall adjacent to the museum. (Quick question: why do the Botanic Gardens have better security than the museums, and why do the museums all have better security than the Metro?) That night we met Alisa and Dodd for dinner, and the next morning we watched a couple more episodes of Freaks and Geeks before dropping Regan off at the airport early in the afternoon.

My visits with Regan have tended to be on the order of once every couple of years, but I could really get used to this more than once a year stuff. Regan and Mark have decided not to get married until the fall, so Julie and I will probably try and visit them for a few days this summer, since Julie's never been to Birmingham. Regan and I don't talk much on the phone, and we don't write that often, but we've never had a hard time picking up where we left off in our friendship after long interludes. But it's really nice to have Regan feel more like a good friend than a good memory.

I have a complicated relationship with tomatoes. Up until the summer after my freshmen year of college, I wouldn't eat them unless they were in sauce, ketchup, or soup—I never ate them raw, whether they were on sandwiches or in salads. The taste, the texture, the way they looked when they were sliced open—nothing about them appealed to me.

The summer after my freshmen year at Davidson, I lived in Chapel Hill with some friends from high school, working in a restaurant kitchen to pay the rent. I had no money—the minimum wage they paid me was barely enough to cover my basic monthly expenses—and I quickly learned that if I was ever going to have anything but canned soup to eat, I'd have to get it at work. Which was fine by the owners—employees, especially those of us who didn't deal with the public, were allowed one meal from on our shift, as long as it wasn't one of the specials or something ridiculous like seafood or a whole chicken. Sometimes when we were working prep in the early afternoon a few hours before the restaurant opened, one of the two owners would come in early and play around in the kitchen to keep his cooking skills up (he was a professionally trained chef, but he spent most of his time at the restaurant behind the bar or in the office taking care of the books). Usually he would fix stuff that I liked, but one time he fixed big chicken and black bean burritos for everyone, complete with fresh chopped tomatoes and onions (which I also had a major issue with, one that I've long since gotten over). I wasn’t too wild about these ingredients, but I was starving, and so I dug in with only a slight pause.

And I really loved it. Loved the tomatoes, loved the onions, loved everything. For the rest of that summer, I tried every dish I came across with tomatoes or onions in it. My main source of food at home turned from cans of soup to tomato and pimento cheese sandwiches. I couldn't believe that I'd turned my back on this great vegetable (okay, I know it's technically a fruit) for years, and I was trying to make up for lost time. Of course, I probably overindulged, because after the summer was over and I returned to college, I would still eat sandwiches with tomatoes on them, but I wasn't as enthused about them as I had been while working at the restaurant. Slowly, my distaste for the texture of the tomato returned, and I started to pick them off of any food unless they were near-perfect in terms of ripeness, color, firmness, etc.

Now I am again all but unable to eat tomatoes raw, but whenever I order something with tomatoes on it, I don't ask for them to not be included. I still pick them off for the most part, but I like knowing that the tomato was on there; it gives the food something that it would be lacking if the tomato had never been there. I remember a scene from a movie where someone is describing how to make the perfect martini, and instead of adding vermouth to the gin, he advocated swirling a small amount of vermouth around the glass and pouring it out before adding the gin. He said that this would make sure the essence of the vermouth was in the drink. And I guess that's what I want on my sandwiches: the essence of the tomato. But not the tomato itself.

Normally I would probably post something like this to notes, but I've got plenty of content over there because I'm running down my 2004 top 10, while I'm a little lacking in things to say in this forum. So I'm posting it here.

Last Friday night, Julie and I went down to DC to see Colin Meloy, the frontman for the Decemberists, perform a solo show at a café. Normally, I would have been attending a semi-regular poker game that I just got invited to a few weeks ago, but Julie was dead-set on seeing this show since the Decemberists were so great when we saw them back in October. Not that I would mind seeing the show, but I also wouldn't have minded a quiet night at home or an evening of poker.

The show was down in one of the Virginia suburbs, and even though we left after rush hour was over, it still took close to an hour and a half to get there. We arrived around 8:30, and the show was supposed to start at 9:30 (we weren't sure if there was an opening act or not), so the first thing we did was get our tickets, because they were only sold at the door and there was a good chance the show would sell out since it was such a small venue. We went into the café, because Julie had read somewhere that you could order food and eat there, but even an hour before the show it was already pretty crowded, and I started feeling claustrophobic in addition to hungry, tired, and cold.

So we wandered up the block a bit and decided to get a quick dinner at the Hard Times Café, a chili place that I think has a franchise in Gaithersburg as well. I felt much better after getting some food, but I was still pretty cranky when we got back to the club and found that we could barely push our way through the door and find a place to stand in the very back. Colin Meloy briefly appeared next to us, discussing strategies with the manager on how to reach the stage in such a densely packed room, before disappearing into the back and reappearing on stage a few minutes later. There was no opening act, so our timing turned out to be pretty good.

It was a good set, maybe an hour and half, with some Decemberists favorites, some previews of tracks and b-sides from their upcoming album, and a few Morrissey covers (Colin was selling a six-song EP of Morrissey covers as a tour-only exclusive release). He was relaxed, chatty with the crowd, and forthcoming with supplemental details about life with the Decemberists or stories behind some of the songs. They're starting another tour in March, and when we saw them in Baltimore last fall, Colin promised we'd be getting a return visit in the spring. Let's hope so; this is one of the best bands going today, and I'd like to see them up close and personal as much as I can before they have their songs featured on the O.C. and don't play little clubs anymore.

I'm starting this semester's grad school class tonight, and for the first time since I started this program, I'm not really all the excited about it. Part of it is that I'm a little tired—in addition to my lingering exhaustion from last semester, when I took a class that I ended up writing close to sixty pages for and also did an internship at the Walters for credit, I'm also holding down a full time job and maintaining daily link, photo, and music blogs in addition to this site and still finding time for leisure activities, especially when most of my downtime has been devoted to one particular activity (World of Warcraft). And part of it is that there just wasn't very much offered this semester that interested me (I settled on a class on science fiction film in the 20th century, even though I've kind of taken a class like this before, taught the husband of the teacher of my current class).

But I think that, in some ways, the program has done what I needed it to do for me—re-engage me in academics—and I'm trying to figure out what I want it to do for me now. I only have four classes and a thesis left (and the thesis is practically half-written, because I'm going to use an extended essay from one of my courses as the basis for my thesis), so I know that I'm going to finish the program (how could you not when it's free?), but I guess I'm starting to look beyond the program to what I might like to do to continue participating in academics after I complete this program. Since I'm not particularly deadline-driven and I don't know what I want to do next, I think I might throttle back and not take any more summer courses, because the one that I took a couple of years ago was way too stressful, and the course schedules tend to interfere with a lot of summer plans. Besides, they tend to save the best courses for the fall and spring semesters anyway, so if I had a hard time finding a good class this semester, I can't imagine how unappealing the summer course offerings will be.

Man, I don't know how I'm going to make it through this semester. In addition to having my three least favorite people from my program in my class (I was pretty sure one of them was going to be in there, but all three?), there was also blatant and seemingly unanimous dislike for high-level thinking. One of the girls, who already seemed to be the teacher's pet, actually said, "Who would want to read all that theory stuff anyway? It's boring." And most of my classmates seemed to nod their heads in agreement. Now, I'm no fan of dense critical tomes on semiotics and deconstructionism, but at the same time, you can't just discount that stuff without reading it and attempting to understand it, and you certainly can't understand the history of film or film theory without understanding at least the basics of those concepts. If you're not willing to do that, then it just means that you're lazy and afraid of the hard work it takes to read and understand the theories. It frightens me a little that someone would say something like that so openly in class, and it frightens me more that there seemed to be no dissent.

But I don't think I can drop the class, because there really isn't anything else I want to take this semester, especially on Thursday night, which is really when I'd like to have my class. Plus, the teacher is the head of my program, and I was hoping that if I took this class with her I could talk her into letting me skip the one required course for the program, which she also teaches and which I have no desire to ever take. Not to mention the $150 processing fee I'll have to pay to drop the course after the semester has already started, the mony I've already spent on books, etc.

So I don't know what to do. I don't think the opening class could have gone worse, and with those three idiots all in the same class, I've never felt more like god was punishing/testing me. So, god, I give up. I apologize for whatever I've done. Now please let at least one of them be hit by a bus. Amen.

Alright, snow gods, you just don't seem to get it. It doesn't count as a snow day unless if happens DURING THE WORK WEEK. Let's get it right sometime soon, and hey, let's try not doing it the week we're away for skiing.
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