Wednesday, December 25, 2002

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Merry Christmas!

Saturday, December 21, 2002

A New VCR

Our VCR started malfunctioning tonight. We put in a tape, and after playing a few seconds, the VCR promptly began eating it. We put in three tapes to convince ourselves that this was a real problem.

Since our daughter watches a ton of videos (most notably the Teletubbies), we couldn't bear to have a day without a VCR. So at 8:45PM, I trudged out to Circuit City to buy a VCR.

Our old VCR, a Sharp H942U, was originally purchased in September 1995. I was astonished to find out it was that old. The new VCR, a Panasonic PVV4522, was $70.00. While I don't have the receipt for the Sharp VCR, I can bet it was close to $100. In fact, at Circuit City, it was hard to find VCRs over the $100 range.

The new VCR has the ability to set its own time (!) and it has A/V jacks on the front (no more fishing around the back). I installed it in one shot. It was short but dusty work. I played a tape (crossing my fingers), and it played fine. I went through the menus, and jogged forwards and backwards through a tape. The auto clock setting was somewhat disconcerting. The old VCR wouldn't let you into its menus unless you set the date and time first.

I like the new VCR. If it lasts as long as the Sharp, I'll be pleased.

Friday, December 20, 2002

Perl's Anniversary

December 18 marked the 15th anniversary of the Perl computer language. My pictures of Mia web pages are generated using Perl.

Wednesday, December 18, 2002

The Boston Catholic Crisis

The past week's news was dominated by the church scandal. Since I live in Greater Boston, the center of the controversy, it's the lead news. Cardinal Bernard Law's trip to the Vatican last week was closely watched. Of course, it has come to an end for him. Bishop Richard Lennon has been assigned to the Diocese of Boston as the apostolic administrator, until the Pope appoints a new archbishop.

Over the past months leading up to the past week, I have quietly accepted the difficulties of the Catholic church in Boston. As a practicing Catholic, I was just hoping it would all "work out." While others sought to join groups to make changes, I quietly attended mass. When I read last week that Fr. Francis Daley, the pastor of my church, was one of 58 Boston priests who signed the letter asking Law to resign, I rethought the issues again.

At Sunday mass last week, the Eucharistic Prayer was amended: Bishop Lennon's name was used in place of Cardinal Law's name. The changes are occurring. Today, the Vatican approved the sex-abuse policy proposed by the Bishops of the United States. The changes are slowly happening.

I believe it will be many years, perhaps a whole generation or two before the scandal recedes in memory. So much has been hidden for so long. I have commented earlier that Cardinal Law shouldn't step down, but after months of assault from the media, from the faithful, from the priesthood, and from the many disparate groups who have disavowed him, I'm beginning to think that perhaps his leaving will start the healing process. His leaving will allow the church "to move forward." At least I hope so.

Wednesday, December 11, 2002

Lack of Hair

I got my hair cut yesterday. I don't have a lot of hair, so the last few times the barber has shaved the bald part of my head, and cutting the rest in a regular cut. My brother Ron has completely shaved his head, and he looks good! My youngest brother still has a full head of hair.

I never worried about my hair. Neither has my wife. But I do get wistful when I see old photos of myself with the shock of black hair.

Monday, December 9, 2002

Despair, Inc.

I really like the spoofs on Despair, Inc. One of the authors of those despairing missives is a man named Ashleigh Brilliant. What a delightful name, and what an imaginative person!

Sunday, December 8, 2002

New Cell Phone

I officially lost my cell phone, a trusty old Audiovox CDM 4000. I've owned it since September 25, 1999. After realizing that my phone would never be recovered (Jenn and I went to Target, and that's where I last remembered handling it), I promptly purchased a new phone, a Nokia 3285. So far, I'm enjoying the new phone. It's got so many more features than my original phone, including a few games, a calendar, and an alarm clock. And it can receive short e-mail messages.

Wednesday, December 4, 2002

fdisk /mbr

I just finished cloning my old 20 Gig hard drive onto a fresh 80 Gig hard drive. It took me the last two evenings. I'm woozy from the effort, but it went relatively smoothly. I had the benefit of seeing an IS person (Cameron Symonds) do this for my work PC's 6 Gig drive (he cloned that drive to a 40 Gig drive).

Here's the scariest command I had to use tonight: fdisk /mbr.

Saturday, November 30, 2002

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I had a good Thanksgiving. Now, on to Christmas.

Tuesday, November 26, 2002

F.C. Sporadic: Part Two

If you read pud's FC Sporadic on him being heckled, you'll notice that he suggests asking Jason Wolfe for his side of the story (Jason was the heckler). I did.

Jason's side had some points that are worth perusing. There are multiple sides to any issue, and for fairness' sake, I wanted to present Jason's story. It's always amazing to me how the same event can be viewed so differently. Jason was comfortable with me posting his response to pud's newsletter.

Wednesday, November 20, 2002

F.C. Sporadic

One of my favorite e-mail newsletters is pud's FC Sporadic, a sharply sardonic and vulgar missive from the creator of the perfect web site for capturing the low-down feelings from the dot-com bust: Fucked Company.com.

Philip Kaplan (aka pud) went on to write F'd Company, a book observing "the waste, greed, and human stupidity of more than 100 dot-com companies." I haven't read his book, but I've certainly enjoyed his newsletters, which are a mixture of these industry observations, and his own trials as a single young man in New York City trying to get a date. He's a funny writer.

His recent Sporadic describes how he was heckled at a trade show, and how it brought back memories of getting picked on back in the grade school. At the show, the heckler was shouting angrily that pud was spreading lies about dot-com companies, and for putting companies like his out of business. The story was so funny and the heckling so non-sensical that I wrote to him asking if I could post it, and he said "go for it."

It's not hard for me to believe that people still hold a grudge against the dot-com era. I do. I had the requisite useless stock options. People's lives were turned upside down, hoping to make a difference, hoping to be part of a winner. Alas, there were only a few winners. pud gave an outlet for all the workers with corporate angst. He shed light at the end of the proverbial tunnel, and some folks couldn't bear the scrutiny.

Tuesday, November 19, 2002

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Good-bye, Ralphie.

Wednesday, November 13, 2002

Eminem

I have been listening to Eminem. The famed rapper's latest movie, 8 Mile, was big news last weekend, as it grossed over $50 million. I was caught up in the wave of publicity.

Two weekends ago, while surfing TV, I chanced upon MTV's Jammed, a program documenting a "surprise concert". MTV planned a surprise concert for the students at Michigan State University. The singer: Detroit's own Eminem. The ruse: a preview of the movie "8 Mile".

The documentary itself was taut and well paced. I was getting caught up with the planning, and the reactions of the students. When the movie finished, the silver screen rolled up, a stage was revealed, and Eminem (aka Slim Shady) blasted into the beginning of "Lose Yourself".

The music rocked! The students rushed the stage, and started waving their arms to the hip-hop beat, mouthing the fast lyrics, clearly in delirium. It was awesome to see. It was obvious what the big deal was all about.

I recorded the show, and watched the concert over and over again. I downloaded the lyrics. And when I visited Tower Record last Sunday, I bought two of his records. And they're amazing!

Eminem's probably not for everybody: his lyrics are fierce, peppered with profanity, littered with lascivious and lewd leers. He's angry. He's sly. He's Shady ("Guess who's back? Tell a friend!"). His music's connected with me, though. I can hear his expression. It's unique-sounding. It's fresh. I agree with him: "20 million other white rappers emerge, but no matter how many fish in the sea, it'd be so empty without me."

Wednesday, November 6, 2002

Vocabulary

Two. Three. Nine. Turtle. Octopus. "That's all." Hi! C. D. I. Side! Socks. Shoes.

These are some of the words in my daughter's vocabulary.

Wednesday, October 30, 2002

Retiring from Ice Hockey

I threw out my old ice hockey equipment today.

In 1993, I took up the game of ice hockey, and I took it as seriously as I could take it. I bought the best skates I could afford ($200 Riedells). I spent almost a year learning how to ice skate (I took lessons at The Skating Club of Boston). I accumulated equipment as the months progressed.

I joined Hockey North America in early 1994. HNA is a league geared for beginners. There were group try-outs, and then we were assigned to teams randomly. I forked over more money, signed a bunch of papers, and eventually fell into one of the most memorable experiences of my limited sports career.

Our team, the Boston Heat, had a bunch of hockey wanna-bes. Just like me. Some were fairly good skaters. Others were fairly good puck handlers (I was a better skater than puck handler or shooter). We were all gung-ho enthusiasts, living out our ice dreams.

Our captain, Joe Jaena (a fabric business owner) wanted the team to improve, and he hired Cliff Lombardo, a player in the "A" league, to be our coach (we were in the "D" league). Cliff was a good coach. Our team practiced once a week (drills then scrimmages), then we'd play a league game (complete with referees, a clock, and a handful of fans). I played defense, and wore the number 25 because that was how old I was when I joined the league.

We were a good team, and we made it all the way to the championship game. However, the opposing team's one lone talent skated down the left wing, and scored in the final minute of play. I don't remember the score, but I did remember that a tie would have given us the championship on points. I was on the ice, head bowed, completely lost. The locker room afterward was numb, but I remembering trying to hold Joe back as he started in on one of our teammates. We peacefully departed. I remember eating a breakfast meal (it was almost 11PM) at a local pancake place, trying to console myself.

The team stuck together though. We had a nice team party a few weeks later. And after a summer league (we moved to New England Regional Hockey League) and on-and-off practices, we played one more winter season. However, we never captured our original dominant form. We would fade in the early playoff series. This was April 1996.

After I "retired", I played exactly once, at a "stick practice" during lunch (the equivalent of pick up basketball, except that it takes nearly ten minutes to get dressed). There were only ten men in the game, and I was exhausted after three minutes of being on the ice (professional players typically skate in shifts of less than two minutes).

My bag of gear stayed in my basement, but this past weekend, while cleaning out the basement, Jenn suggested I let it go. I have often thought about chucking my gear, but there was always this fear that I might take it up again, and I would need all this equipment. But that didn't seem realistic. I then thought about getting my stuff into a second-hand store, but my pads were worn, and dank with dried sweat. Eventually, I convinced myself that the road sometimes ends. I emptied my gear into a garbage bag, and put it out on the curb.

I kept my skates and my gloves though. My gloves were too new (they were my second pair). And there's no way I could throw out my skates.

I don't miss my equipment so much as I miss being on the team. I loved the camaraderie. I loved the profane noise of a locker room after a practice or a game. I loved the atmosphere: The hard ice. Looking up at the time. My occasional forays into the penalty box. The game itself is the fastest, most physical, yet most skillful game I have ever participated in.

But my playing days are over. They were over long before I threw out my equipment. Putting it out on the curb just makes it official.

Sunday, October 27, 2002

Giants Lose World Series

Spent a draining weekend watching the San Francisco Giants lose the World Series to the Anaheim Angels. As I've mentioned in this space before, I was rooting for the Giants. I was denied the satisfaction, and I'm slighly numb. It's funny how attached you can get to a team you've barely followed all year. I have spending time commiserating on alt.sports.baseball.sf-giants, and I feel their heartbreak.

Tuesday, October 22, 2002

The Little Fish

Carlos Ruiz, the Guatemalan on the LA Galaxy who scored the game winning goal against the New England Revolution in the championship game, is nicknamed The Little Fish. (The highest paid player in the MLS is Cobi Jones, Ruiz's team mate. Cobi makes almost $600,000 a year.)

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Barry Bonds makes $15 million a year.

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Neat web clock. (Link from Red Rock Eater.)

Friday, October 18, 2002

Ben Curtis

Steven is the name of the goofy kid who pitches Dell computers on television. Nearly all his ads have him saying "Dude! You're getting a Dell!" He first made his appearance on TV in the year 2000. The first commercial was a video message to his parents, asking them for a new Dell, and why it's a good thing. He's been going strong as a pitchman for two years. Later we saw him trying to finagle Dells for his friends at stores, malls, and college.

The actor who plays Steven is Ben Curtis. He's 21. Before his commercials with Dell, he was a struggling actor from NYU.

I must admit that I enjoyed these commercials, and while his character is growing a little old, he plays it with freshness (watch how he trills his fingers when he says "just call or go on-line"). Today, I read an article saying that Dell is checking out other advertising campaigns. Could we have seen the last of Steven?

At the Dealers

I spent some time at the dealership today, waiting for auto service. While waiting at the show room floor, a man rushed up the stairs to the service desk, and said "Don't order that part. I won't be needing it." As he made his way downstairs, he announced to a sales person "I'll just get a new car instead." Over the next few minutes, I listened in as he spoke with the sales person. The buyer had decided the cost of a new catalytic converter would be better spent towards a new used car.

It sure is intoxicating sitting in a car dealership, full of gorgeous, gleaming cars. The used cars out front were also nice. Sometimes when I sit there, I contemplate talking to these sales people. "I think I'm ready for a new car," I'd say. "Do you think I can test drive something today?" And we'd be off, spending money I don't have.

Saturday, October 12, 2002

The Revs in the Final

I am rooting for the New England Revolution.

Amazingly, with a tie score today, the Revs made it into the final, the MLS Cup. This is the first time they have made it to the final. The league itself is only six years old, born out of the FIFA World Cup held in the United States in 1994. Jenn and I had season tickets to the Revs in their "dry years". So it was with high hopes that we look forward to meeting the Los Angeles Galaxy in the final. They have a certain karma to them also: the Galaxy have been to the MLS Cup four times(!), and have not won it. I can only wish the Revs extend the Galaxy's streak.

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I am rooting for the San Francisco Giants.

Wednesday, October 9, 2002

Jugglers

On my way home from work today, I spotted a bunch of jugglers practicing in a backyard. They were passing clubs between one another. At home, I saw that the Ringling Brothers and Barnum and Bailey circus was in town. Television news had the obligatory shot of elephants trundling along downtown Boston towards the FleetCenter.

I didn't think these two observations had a connection, but now that I think about it, there are jugglers at the circus.

Monday, October 7, 2002

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Biggest surprise for me out of the weekend: The Yankees were eliminated by the Angels. As a result, the Yankees won't be in the American League Championship Series, nor the World Series. A big wow!

Tuesday, October 1, 2002

Today's High School Kids

I went to a college fair tonight representing Rensselaer. Most high school kids have an experience with a college fair. Typically, representatives from dozens of colleges have a table in an auditorium or cafeteria of some high school, and students walk around, seeking colleges they're interested in, talking to reps, and picking up brochures. I enjoy the interaction and the older I get, the more fascinating it is to observe the interaction between kids and their parents, and kids and their peers.

Today's high school kids seem so different than when I went to school. I wonder if I was ever that "cool"? I wonder if I ever acted stand-offish when my parents were around my peers? I see so many of the kids that I knew in high school: the slouch, the A+ student, perky people, quiet people. Who was I back in high school? What impression do I give these kids today?

The questions from students range from "Do you have a nursing program?" (No.) to "What SATs do I need to get in?" (There is no specific score, but the average SAT for the class of 2005 was 1306. I was well below that.) to "What was the atmosphere like?" (It's a blast. I think.) These miniature counseling sessions are varied, and enlightening.

I stare at the parents. I see the parents who have a strong hand in the decision making, and I see the ones who are just there to chauffeur their kids. I enjoy stunning parents with the cost of tuition (it's $35,000 for freshman year, when you add room and board). I also enjoy representing the school as an alumnus, someone who's proud of their degree, and is making the most of it. I think I know what I want them to hear, since I will (I hope!) be walking around some high school cafeteria chasing after my own college-bound daughter.

I think I would enjoy being a guidance counselor. For most kids, the world truly opens up after high school. It would be fun to be their guide as they start to explore their next horizons. It is an exciting time for them, facing the question: "Where do I want to go to college?"

I know what I want to say to those kids: "You have so much time ahead of you!" I want to tell them to know themselves now. Really think about who they are, and what they enjoy. Try to imagine what you want to be doing "in the real world." Yes, getting into a good school is important, but people transfer between colleges all the time. People drop out all the time. People pick up college later in life. You have a lot of time ahead of you! Make sure to enjoy the excitement.

Wednesday, September 25, 2002

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In July, I wrote about the 419 Coalition, an organization set up to fight the Nigerian Scan ("We need help embezzling funds, and we're willing to pay you big time."). Well, I just read about someone who fell for it. Amazing.

Sunday, September 22, 2002

The Solheim Cup

Congratulations Patty Sheehan (captain), Juli Inskter, Laura Diaz, Rosie Jones, Michele Redman, Cristie Kerr, Meg Mallon, Beth Daniel, Wendy Ward, Emilee Klein, Kelli Kuehne, Kelly Robbins, and Pat Hurst.

They were the United States women's team for the Solheim Cup, and they beat the Europeans (15.5 to 12.5) at the Interlachen Country Club (Edina, Minn). The Solheim Cup is a team golf competition. It's thrilling to watch, and very different from the usual round of televised golf. The matches are played as foursomes, four-ball, and singles match play. Instead of playing the course, the players play against the other's score, which is a subtle difference. It was very exciting to watch.

The men's version of the Solheim Cup is the famous Ryder Cup, which will played next week.

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The bit at the start of tonight's Emmy Awards with Conan O'Brien and The Osbournes was so funny, I wish I had the VCR recording it. Ozzy and Conan got a wide audience tonight, and they wasted none of their time together.

Saturday, September 21, 2002

Revs Entering Post-Season

The New England Revolution soccer team took a season that was certainly considered forgettable and futile in July, and turned it around. Big time. They have not lost in their last five games, and tonight, they entered into the MLS playoffs with authority (New England scored three goals in the first half). The regular season ends this weekend. And the Revolution will be part of what's next.

Thursday, September 19, 2002

Greg Berge

I was going to write about the recent primary, and how my democratic candidate for governor, Tom Birmingham, lost.

While composing my thoughts, I remembered something Greg Berge said to me: "Politics is all about self-interest." Or was it "Voting is all about self-interest?" I couldn't quite remember, so I did what every web-enabled person does: I punched him into Google. And lo and behold: Greg Berge.

Greg was the resident curmudgeon, instigator, and smart-ass at my first job out of college. He was also an author (he received royalty checks from a study guide he published for some text book). He wrote documentation for our technical products, but he always made it clear that his first love was baseball (specifically, the Mets). Or was it Cornell Ice Hockey? Or was it a love of reading, or being smart?

He taught me baseball. Opened my eyes to it. It was Greg who got me out to Fenway Park to see my first pro baseball game ever. He also taught me how to score. He has memorized the last half-inning of Game 6 (1986), and he keeps index cards of statistics of every player that he's ever personally scored. When the weather was nice, we would play catch (catch!) in a field near the office.

He also taught me how to be a fan. Or rather, how to be a fanatical fan. In the Fall and Winter, he took a road trip to Ithaca every weekend to watch the Cornell ice hockey team. He published a newsletter for fans of The Big Red team. The fact that I was from a competing school in the same division made our brief relationship that much more interesting.

Did we get close? Does it matter? He was an influence. I was a kid, all too happy to enjoy someone else's knowledge. Of course, he reminded me that I should go and get my own knowledge. Or maybe did I figure that out myself?

Monday, September 16, 2002

Random Thoughts

Emptying out some random thoughts:

The New England Patriots really looked good last Sunday against the New York Jets (NFL). I'm reading A Season on the Brink, and it's getting me really psyched for basketball. I was enthralled by Howard Stern's rebroadcast of his 9/11/01 show (which I downloaded from the USENET News). I will be voting tomorrow. I am glad that The Sopranos has finally started their season.

Tuesday, September 10, 2002

9/11: Waves of Hatred

September 11, 2001. Nine eleven. 9/11.

I feel that the nation is still too close to 9/11 to extract broader lessons, although we're trying. I still feel concern that as a nation, our leadership isn't exploring the roots of the hatred that ultimately resulted in these attacks. Is this our wake-up call? Then what is it a wake-up call for? To rely less on oil? To be mindful of our culture's manifest destiny, and how it might alienate other cultures?

9/11 will serve to remind everyone that the current affairs of the United States are on a world scale. Our affairs and our values were somehow repugnant enough for some militants to plow airliners into a building full of people. Why? And more importantly, how do we diffuse the hatred?

I hate what these terrorists have done. But I don't hate who these terrorists are, do I? Do we? Aren't they human, like me? Hands, feet, heart, brains. Don't they breathe the same air I do? Aren't we all part of the human race?

History can be seen as waves of hatred between humans. These waves, these swells, form a rough and raging sea that over time becomes calm, after we learn about who we hate. Who were the Indians? The African Americans? Who were the Japanese? Who were the Irish? The Italian? The Polish? We, as Americans, learned who they were. Hate gives way. Until the next wave.

Today, we're threatening to act on Iraq, a Muslim nation. What is our goal here? To punish a man for building weapons of mass destruction? OK, but we better not be acting out of a hatred towards a people we barely know.

How do we diffuse hatred? I don't know. It's easier to act locally (i.e. to control my-self). But how do we as a country diffuse this hatred? How does our government diffuse hatred?

A hateful act took place on 9/11. Are we adding fuel to this fire?

9/11 Remembered

For people in my demographic (early thirties), 9/11 will be our 12/7 (December 7, 1941, Pearl Harbor). But unlike 12/7, 9/11 has a resonance that's aided by the deep offerings of our modern media. There will be so many ways, so many angles, so many television channels (!) to remember what happened that fateful day last year. Last year!

CBS will be rebroadcasting 9/11, a film by Frenchmen Jules and Gedeon Naudet, and I highly recommend watching this. The brothers were filming a documentary about firefighters, when both suddenly found themselves in the middle of "the most audacious attacks" the United States has ever seen. It's chilling to watch the footage from inside the towers that terrible day.

Last Sunday, the NY Times ran a magnificent article about the building of the World Trade Center. It's a mind boggling story. There was a tremendous amount of political fighting surrounding the project. There were also struggles in designing and then building this landmark. The frightening thought of an airplane striking the towers was actually articulated in 1968 by one of the owners of the Empire State Building, Lawrence Wien. The authors James Glanz and Eric Lipton suggest that the towers could have been safer, in its design, and in its construction. Super writing. The kind of article that I wish could have been longer.

Sunday, September 8, 2002

Out of the Medal Round

The US basketball team is out of the medal round in this weekend's World Basketball Championship. Yugoslavia and Argentina are playing for the gold medal. Both of these teams beat the US in this tournament.

Wednesday, September 4, 2002

Argentines Beat US in Basketball

In an amazing result, the Argentines beat the United States in a basketball game.

I watched the game tonight. I read in the paper this morning that if any team could beat the United States, it was Argentina, with their superior passing and well-distributed shooting ability. I snorted in contempt. Going into this game, the United States have won the previous 58 international matches. (Of course, we started sending professionals since 1992.)

The present US team is no dream team: No Shaquille. No Kobe. No Kidd. But we had NBA players. Reggie Miller. Ben Wallace. Paul Pierce. And it's standard thinking to believe that any US team is better than any other country's team in basketball. It's a given!

Tonight's game was marvelously played. By Argentina. Crisp passing. Great execution. And truly superior shooting. The US never lead. We were down by as many as twenty points. As a Celtic fan, I thrilled at every 3-pointer by Pierce, but the five individual talents on the US squad was no match for the five Argentines who played team basketball.

It's a slightly different world now: Sure, the best basketball players are American. Sure, the NBA is the best league in the world. But tonight, in a basketball game that counted, the US lost, and Argentina is celebrating surely their best sports victory in quite some time.

Sunday, September 1, 2002

Welcome to Beantown

September 1. On the way home from Jenn's Mom's place, we saw a bunch of cars laden with futons, mattresses, and filled with the packed plastic bags of what could only be college kids, streaming into Boston. We live well north of Boston. There was traffic at the exit that would take them to the final stretch into Brighton, Brookline, Newton, Cambridge and Downtown Boston.

Good luck you kids! Welcome to Beantown.

Me? I'm waiting for the first puck to drop.

Wednesday, August 28, 2002

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In my Handspring Visor, I have 590 addresses in my address book. There is not one address or name that begins with the letter "X".

Tuesday, August 27, 2002

Being Recognized

This week, the cashier at the cafeteria called me by my name.

I have worked at my present job for over a year. For almost that entire time, nearly without fail, I go to the cafeteria and pay seventy-five cents for a soda or an ice tea. Occasionally, I'll buy a lunch. I've given her my name once or twice when I didn't have money (the cafeteria allows us to keep a small "tab"). The folks with whom I eat lunch say my name, and she knows and uses their names. I must be filed away in her memory as "the guy who always pays for his soda with exact change." But this week, she used my name. I dropped the change in her hand, and mumble "Here you are, Sharon." She said "Thanks, Rick. Enjoy the lunch."

I think everyone enjoys being recognized.

Monday, August 26, 2002

"How Was Your Weekend?"

"So, how was your weekend?"

It's the obligatory work question after a weekend. How was your weekend? As if people cared. And while some probably do care, I'm sure my answer ("Oh, it was fine.") leaves a lot to be desired. But maybe that's the point. It's like nodding hello, or asking "How are you?" ("Oh, I'm fine.").

So how would I really answer, about my weekend? Well, I spent it chasing around Mia. I spent a few hours on the computer learning PL/SQL. I read part of The Rainmaker. I went to church (but I didn't lector). Jenn and I ate take-out at our usual restaurants (Shanghai Village, Bertucci's, McDonalds).

I napped. I washed dishes. I took lazy swings with a golf club (my pitching wedge). I spent the evenings writing my Mia journal (a personal one). I wrote an entry for this BLOG. While I normally sustain myself on The Boston Globe during the week, the weekend is a feast with both the Globe and the NY Times. For TV, I caught some of the NEC Invitational. I chatted with my neighbors. Jenn, Mia and I all went to Toys R' Us to buy some Teletubbies.

Often, when someone asks about my weekend, it is usually an invitation to listen to that person's weekend. On a Monday, I'm not that interested to hear about someone else's weekend, no matter how good or how bad it was. So my weekend is always "fine". And I often have to remember to volley back the obligatory "And how was your weekend?"

I just want to respond "my weekend was the usual; now let's get to work."

Sunday, August 25, 2002

Big Pumpkins

I'm strangely repulsed by the thought of huge pumpkins. The Boston Globe ran a feature on the growers of giant pumpkins here in Massachusetts, men who admit that there's a little "insanity" in them.

The article described a collegial atmosphere at the annual weigh-off in Topsfield, MA, but the craze is hardly local. I visited www.bigpumpkins.com, and prowled through a number of pictures of people growing their prized pumpkins. There are growers in Germany, England, to Manitoba, Canada, and everywhere in between.

Can you even eat a giant pumpkin? The leaves on these things are huge. In the article, Jim Kuhn has several 700 pound pumpkins in his pumpkin patch. When they're that big, I think they should use another word besides "patch".

Spooky though they may be to me, I am impressed at the record growth of the top growers (1262 pounds). But what do they do with them after the weigh-off? There's a video that I could order, showing giant pumpking growing techniques, but it comes with free giant pumpkin seeds. I'm too scared to place these seeds anywhere!

Monday, August 19, 2002

Nikon Coolpix

My Dad just got a Nikon Coolpix 2500, and it's awesome. I'm so ... jealous! My rugged camera looks like an Edsel compared to his sleek, compact device. He came up this weekend with Mom and my brother, and during his visit he tinkered with the camera, and read its manual. Gawd. His camera is half the price of mine (dpreview lists the Coolpix 2500 as less than $400), but it's easily got twice as many features.

My Dad's been a photo-bug since I can remember. At every family occasion, he was always taking pictures. I felt that he enjoyed getting the most out of his equipment. His primary camera is a Minolta model, a fully-automated SLR with manual override. I think he's joining the digital photography age, and I'm happy for him. But I wish I had thought to just give him my camera, so I could run out and get this cool Nikon.

Cooling Off

The weather is cooling off. The evening temperature is 72 degrees Farenheit. Thank goodness.

High Heat

Bleary-eyed, I stared at the weather report this morning, and found that today would be another day of high heat. I'll be at work, avoiding the brunt of it, but Jenn and Mia are home. I also found that Greater Boston is working on eight consecutive days of 90+ degrees Farenheit, not two weeks. Tomorrow's forecast: high 70 degrees Farenheit.

Sunday, August 18, 2002

High Heat

In New England, there was almost two weeks of high heat (heat above 90 degrees Farenheit). Jenn and I never put up an air conditioner so we suffered. Our fuses were quite short, and the evening never arrived fast enough (but even when it did, it offered little relief). We have employed multiple fans to move the air, and I have one aimed at my body all night.

The weather should be breaking into cooler climate by tomorrow. I've lost all my taste for the summer.

Friday, August 16, 2002

Elvis

Thanks to a visit I made to Graceland three years ago, today's 25th anniversary of Elvis' death is quite meaningful. I played the King in my car stereo all week. He rocks on, in the hearts and minds of new and old fans. We remember you fondly, Elvis, wherever you are.

Wednesday, August 14, 2002

Asteroids

16390, 47840, 19540, 79370, 49880, 35190. These were my scores from playing Asteroids tonight, an ancient arcade game that I have been playing thanks to MAME for Windows.

I was lamenting to a gamer at work that my best scores seem to come within the first three or four games. The rest of my games were crap. Tonight's high score: 79370, in game four. But it was a tight 79370. With an extra ship every 10000 points, I almost broke the 80000, but lost concentration.

Since I started up Asteroids (a few days ago), I've been steadily improving. I broke 50000 in the second night of playing. Then 60000 the next night. 70000 last night. I was a decent Asteroids player in my youth: I turned over the coin-op machine a few times. Someone at work suggested I take up a more modern game, but I love the simplicity of destroying asteroids, then firing at a buzzing saucer.

I played for nearly an hour tonight. I hope to post up some analysis on this in the future.

Monday, August 5, 2002

The Making of the Atomic Bomb

I just finished reading The Making of the Atomic Bomb.

Coincidentally, August 6, 2002, is the 57th anniversary of the day the United States dropped "Little Boy" on Hiroshima, Japan. Three days later, we dropped "Fat Man" on Nagasaki, and five days later, the Japanese surrendered.

The "Bomb Book" as I've come to call it is a comprehensive, sweeping history of the making of the atomic bomb, from the earliest discoveries of the nature of the atom, to the effort made by the United States to harness this power into a weapon of mass destruction (the Manhattan Project), to the delivery of the bombs on Japan, and the forces that led the United States to this fateful decision.

Tom Clancy's The Sum of All Fears led me to the Bomb Book. He spent a whole chapter describing the explosion of a nuclear bomb. It was fascinating, and it kindled an interest to learn more. Discussing this at work, a colleague mentioned that I would probably want to tackle The Making of the Atomic Bomb.

This book is a monument. The author, Richard Rhodes, must be commended. His bibliography lists 556 sources. He has distilled these plus what was obviously many many interviews into a 788-page book that must be considered the definitive history of the atomic bomb. This book was published in 1986, and it won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction.

This is the hardest book I've read in a long time. Big novels don't scare me. I've read A Man in Full (700+ pages), An American Tragedy (800+), The Sum of All Fears (900+), and Executioner's Song (1000+ pages). But as someone recently characterized, the Bomb Book is very dense.

I started reading the book on July 13. I spent every evening (I only skipped two nights) reading one chapter. It took me up to two hours to read the 40-70 pages that make up a chapter. Towards the end of the book, I was able to digest a few pages into the next chapter. I didn't watch TV or DVDs. My wife often saw me reading this book at the dining room table, my pen in hand.

Despite the density of the material, Rhodes' terrific writing made it very bearable. His long historical and scientific passages are necessary, but he also turned out some dramatic and suspenseful paragraphs. Mostly, I found myself engrossed and amazed. This really happened, I kept telling myself. Even though I didn't understand all of the physics involved (and there's a lot; a periodic table is presented early in the book, I often referred to it), I felt awe at each discovery that made the bomb possible (fission, the neutron, U235, plutonium). The bold men and women who made these discoveries (Ernest Rutherford, Lise Meitner, Neils Bohr), and the men and women who engineered these terrible weapons (Robert Oppenheimer, Edward Teller, Leslie Groves) are captured clearly in this work.

Rhodes has a thesis that I'm still trying to digest: the bomb as the "entity" or strong force that will dissolve the nation-state. The discovery of the bomb will force nations to deal with one another openly or with ever-widening suspicion. This duality, its complementarity, was proposed by Neils Bohr, and Rhodes adopts it as the key proposal of the book. The bomb is supposed to end wars, but of course it hasn't. Will we as a country (with other countries) learn the other lessons of the bomb?

Thanks to this book those lessons are at least written down.

Car-Free

Thursday of last week, the company where I work had an off-site meeting in downtown Boston, and I decided to leave my car at home, and take the bus and T to the venue. Since early 1997, I have been a regular automobile commuter. So the day trip into Boston was a very pleasant change from driving my car.

I have to walk through a lightly wooded dirt path and then down a steep hill to get to the bus stop. I met two nice gentlemen, who cordially introduced themselves to me. It was a marked difference to being alone in my car! There was a nice pace to the morning as we each exchanged pleasantries.

The bus trip was filled with chatting, and people watching. The crowd of people increased as we neared the Alewife T Station, where we would pick up the train. There, I felt the rhythm of people rushing to get tokens, newspapers, iced coffees, before boarding.

On the train, people were in their own "space", listening to music, reading books, magazines, or newspapers. I spoke with my bus-riding colleague until he reached his stop, then sat alone, feeling wonderfully at ease.

My meeting didn't start until 10AM, so when I got to my stop, Park Avenue, I leisurely strode down Tremont Street, and picked up breakfast at McDonalds. Park Avenue is a crowded stop, at the intersection of the Boston Common, the State House, and the start of the Freedom Trail. People going to work were walking briskly, with high purpose. Tourists walked like zombies, looking everywhere except ahead of them, as they drank in the surroundings. I was in between: I was touring a familiar place, on my way to "work".

Some of my colleagues and I compared notes on our various commutes into Boston. Some drove in ($15 to park!). Most took public transportation. Our company chartered seven buses for those who wanted to go the office first. We all acknowledged that our routines would have to be different if we worked in Boston.

What I enjoyed the most last Thursday was just the ability to walk in a vibrant city. In my first year in Boston, I lived in the Back Bay with three other guys (the only way I could afford it). From the apartment, a few of us would often walk to work. We cut through the Public Garden, up Charles Street, then over the Longfellow Bridge to get to our office in Kendall Square (near MIT). People from the world over come to Boston to see these sights, and it was for me an ordinary and mundane walk to work.

And that's the kicker: if I had to commute into Boston by public transportation, it would eventually become mundane, would become ordinary.

When the Red Line train leaves Kendall Square, it rises out of a tunnel, then lumbers over the Charles River, offering a postcard view of the Boston skyline. It's a gorgeous view, and I gawked out at it, while my fellow commuters remained unmoved. I had been away so long it was all new to me again.

Sunday, July 28, 2002

Rescueing Trapped Miners

I think the part I enjoy the most about the successful rescue of the trapped miners in Pennsylvania is the sheer surprise on the part of television news reporters. The two newscasts that I watched (CNN and NBC) had reporters expressing their own doubts as to whether any of the nine miners would even be found, much less alive.

This news item made the headlines late last week, but I didn't track the story on CNN. So when I fetched my Sunday Boston Globe this morning, I was amazed at the headline: "Pa. miners are rescued". Tears of joy began to form as I blurted this news out to Jenn and Mia. "They're found!" I turned the TV to CNN.

How rare it is to be forced to contemplate your death. How rare it is to experience what these men experienced for the three days they were underground. We will all want to know what they felt, how they coped, how they came to terms. What did they talk about? What pacts did they make with one another, with God? News and TV will inquire and probe. I applaud Harry "Blaine" Mayhugh's courage to answer some of these questions so soon after this ordeal.

They'll have a special perspective to view the world now. I hope those of us who watched can grasp some of that perspective.

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

The Making of the Atomic Bomb

Every evening, since July 13, with the exception of two nights (tonight being one of them), I have been reading The Making of the Atomic Bomb. This is a thrilling and compelling saga about the discovery of nuclear fission, and how that jump-started the building of the atomic bomb. I plan to write a more thorough review when I'm done (I'm on page 318; 470 pages to go).

But I must share the part that made me laugh out loud. I'm at the part of the book after President Hoover formed his Advisory Committee on Uranium. The nuclear scientists are meeting with the Navy and Army weapons "experts". During the lengthy discussion about how to harness a chain reaction into a bomb, the Army expert said, "In Aberdeen, we have a goat tethered to a stick with a ten-foot rope, and we have promised a big prize to anyone who can kill the goat with a death ray. Nobody has claimed the prize yet."

I burst out chuckling. How contemptuous! But can you blame him? To him, these scientists were dreamers! A chain reaction from atomic particles? What did that mean? Of course, we all know how it turned out.

This history of discovery is sure to be the best book I'll have read this year.

Thursday, July 18, 2002

Internet Outage

Tonight, we had another outage with our cable modem. This time, it took only a half hour to resolve. There was no lengthy hold times to reach support. Maria took my call initially. Angela (second tier, ticket number 1900728) resolved the issue (she had to key in my cable modem's MAC address back into their system).

For Jenn and I, this represents a "rash" of outages (we just faced a two-day outage last week).

Home for Lost Pictures

This picture made me think of Accordion Crimes, by E. Annie Proulx. Her wondrous book about the many lives a single accordion had touched still resides in small places in my brain.

La Moderna Association has created a home for lost pictures, and it's tantalizing. Like many folks, my house has plenty of photographs, stashed in various nooks and crannies. A majority of them are lumped into a box. Some are in albums. Some are still in their photo lab envelopes, tucked into a shelf.

I sometimes wonder if I'll ever "organize" them. Perhaps with a scanner. Perhaps with some album indexing software. I suspect this is a project that will remain in a formulated state, but never executed. Or executed partially. I'm thankful that Mia's pictures of growing up are on a web site with some organization.

Sunday, July 14, 2002

The Highest Free-Fall

I first read about the man trying to break the world record for highest free-fall in Sports Illustrated. It's deeply fascinating to me.

When I was in college, one of the fool-hardy things I did was go for a tandem sky-dive. The sky-diver that I was attached to was casually eating a burrito before our take-off to 10,000 feet. I remember signing and initialing a lengthy disclaimer form (there was a lurid clause that the company wouldn't be liable if I were to somehow hit a plane on my jump). I didn't feel like I was falling. Only when we landed did I feel the earth rushing towards me. Point Break emphasized this fearful feeling.

Michael Fournier will jump from 25 miles up. That's 132,000 feet. From that height, he requires a pressurized space suit and helmet. He will break the sound barrier.

The Sports Illustrated article said that Joe Kittinger did his record-breaking jump in 1960 as an Air Force test pilot, primarily to test "bailout and recovery equipment for future spacemen." His record has been in the books for four decades. The two others who tried to conquer this height have died in their jumps.

Mr. Fournier is set to go in September. I'll be watching.

Thursday, July 11, 2002

How to Start Blogging

I was inspired to start this BLOG after reading an article in the Wall Street Journal. Here's their latest take on how to get started.

Wednesday, July 10, 2002

The Importance of the Internet

My wife and I were without our Internet connection (through AT&T Broadband) for the past two days. We had our service restored just this morning.

It was an unsettling two evenings without the Internet. I kept having to remind myself: "I don't have a connection. I don't have a connection." Jenn had access through her work laptop, and even though I have a junky old laptop with a phone line modem, I thought I should "tough it out."

For two days, I called into AT&T Broadband customer service phone line. I gave an inward chuckle with the happy-voice announcing that I can get more help going to their web site. My longest hold time: 25 minutes. This tells me that we weren't the only ones calling in. In my first call, I reached Tom, who opened a second-tier trouble ticket (1823095). He explained that AT&T Broadband went to a new server, and that customers using the old LANcity cable modems didn't get properly converted. I'll buy that.

I called again later that first evening at 11PM. Again, 25 minutes on hold. I reached Dan. I asked him if my ticket had been updated. He sent me to "tier 2". I spoke with Grant. He said my ticket hadn't been updated yet. One whole night without the Internet. I ended up watching TV (HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm).

Our Internet connection still hadn't been restored the next day. So after work, and after putting Mia to bed, I called AT&T. Only 5 minutes on hold. I reached Jason. Again, no update to my ticket. More TV (ESPN2's Tuesday Night Fights). I called again before I went to bed (around 11PM). I reached Bonnie. "No update to the ticket, but these things usually take 24-48 hours to resolve." This was last night.

My wife sent me an e-mail before lunch today, saying we're back online. I'm relieved as I write this. The Internet to me is just below electricity and water. I'm perturbed when it goes away unexpectedly. This is the first time our service has cut out like it did, and we've had it since June 1998. I'm hoping this is our only outage for next four years.

Friday, July 5, 2002

Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu

Tonight, to remember Ted Williams, the famed Boston Red Sox hitter who died today, I reread "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu".

This is a famous 1960 article about the great hitter written by John Updike for The New Yorker. It recounts Teddy Ballgame's history (in footnotes), and his famous last at-bat. I had actually underlined and made marks next to sentences, so wonderful is the writing. Its famous first sentence: "Fenway Park, in Boston, is a lyric little bandbox of a ballpark."

Of course, I never saw Ted Williams play. But I have gone to Fenway Park, and pondered his retired number 9, and I have driven through the tunnel that bears his name. When I was learning Red Sox lore, Ted Williams towered in my studies.

The Updike article is a glorious fan's perspective on the self-described Kid at his final scene. In the days before ESPN and 7-by-24 baseball coverage, Updike, as a youngster, followed Ted Williams through box scores: "He radiated, from afar, the blue glow of high purpose." When Updike visited Fenway on that blustery September day in 1960, Williams was the old man (42) among young talent. Updike describes the crowd (10,454), the game (a come-from-behind Red Sox victory, 5-4, over the Orioles), and his at-bat: "The crowd grunted, seeing that classic swing, so long and smooth and quick, exposed." Williams stroked a home run ("there it was"), and was gone after running the bases.

As his obituary streams across America tonight, it will be noted that he was noncommital to his fans; that even after this final home run in his final home at-bat (he would quit before the last away games with the Yankees), he didn't come out to tip his cap. "Gods do not answer letters." But Updike writes movingly that Ted Williams addressed the crowd before the game began, and said "I want to say that my years in Boston have been the greatest thing in my life."

He is the last man to hit above .400 (he hit .406, going 6-for-8 in the final double-header of the season). He did this in 1941, the same year that Joe DiMaggio hit safely in 56 straight games. These are immortal records.

Today, Ted Williams died. It's now time for us to tip our caps to him.

Thursday, July 4, 2002

American Citizen

I wasn't born in America. But I'm an American citizen.

I have this memory of me in the 5th or 6th grade, and Mom announcing to me and my brothers that we were citizens of this country now. Having already lived here since I was three years old, I was somewhat surprised. Weren't we always citizens? But on that day, we were official.

Mom showed me the certificate of citizenship, and then said she would be keeping this for us. Now, many years later, this all important document (dated December 14, 1978) is locked away in a safety deposit box. I remember mailing this certificate to customs in order to get a passport, and I felt uneasy not having it around until it was returned to me.

Since I was born outside of the country, I can't become president. That's OK by me though. There are plenty of other great things about living in America than having the opportunity to become its president.

A Little Cooler

It's a little cooler (below 90!) already. Tomorrow should be fine.

Wednesday, July 3, 2002

How to Handle Heat

For the past three days, Boston has been in the throes of 90 degree weather (Farenheit). It's 78 degrees now in the late evening as I write this.

In my town's mailing list, a few of the subscribers have posted reflections and thoughts about the high heat. A few of mine:
  • Think of Winter

    The beauty of changing seasons is that Summer Heat will come to pass. In fact, it's predicted that our heat wave will break in Friday. One more month, and it's August. After that, the pro ice hockey teams start camp. The heat will pass.


  • Do Everything Slower

    When I'm in the heat, I walk slower. I wash dishes slower. I don't rush to get the paper. No sudden moves. Go slow. The heat will sap your energy. Take it easy.

  • Drink Water

    Forget soda. Forget ice cream. Water. Cool water. Any water. Keep hydrated.

  • Shower Before Bed

    After a hot afternoon and evening, jump into a cool shower. The brisk water always invigorates me, and cools me down enough to lie in peace.

Tuesday, July 2, 2002

Nigerian Bank Scam

I receive a good amount of spam e-mail. Of all the spam I receive, I am most intrigued by the Nigerian Scam.

The e-mails are often serious in tone. They contain a sincere-sounding request for your help transferring millions of U.S. Dollars from Nigeria to a U.S. bank. A very generous fee will be provided for your help.

Of course, it's too good to be true. The 419 Coalition was set up to fight this fraud. People who are lured into the trap of these scams (not just through e-mails, but through letters and faxes) often find that their bank accounts are swept clean by "advanced fees."

Incredible as it sounds, this is the third to fifth largest industry in Nigeria, and most of the letters and e-mails do originate from there. What's amazing is that people still feel bound to "inquire" about this fee. I get these e-mails about once a month. I sometimes let myself ponder what would happen if this were legitimate: if someone really did my help in moving a large sum of money to a U.S. bank. But it's too good to be true.

World Cup Predictions

Turkey won, which I predicted. Brazil won, which I didn't predict.

Friday, June 28, 2002

World Cup Predictions

Predictions:

Korea 2 Turkey 2. Korea wins third-place match in penalty kicks.

Germany 2 Brazil 1. Ronaldo (Brazil) will score.

Wednesday, June 26, 2002

A Swing Set

Tonight, I put together the biggest toy yet for Mia: a swing set. What an ordeal.

The "My First Swing Set" (from Hedstrom) was a mish-mash of pipes and screws and molded plastic parts. I started this endeavor on Monday.

I'm the kind of person that reads the manual a few times, and then strategizes over the appropriate order to put things together. Unfortunately, when it came time to connect the metal pipes together, I couldn't drive the driving screw (R84 in the swing set manual, if you must know). My humble Philips head screwdriver kept jumping off the head. I stopped, convinced that the screws were "not right". I called Hedstrom customer service, and the woman did acknowledge that the screws would be difficult to drive, and that in fact, I most likely have the right ones.

So last night, affirming my man-hood, I made a trip to Home Depot, to buy a tool to help me drive those screws. That's right: I bought a cordless power drill.

My Ryobi 12-volt cordless powerdrill (HP1202M) is the essence of a good tool. It feels good in my hand. It's sensitive to the pressure I put on the trigger. And it had the right "bit" to securely hold then drive the screw. I can't think of a recent purchase that has given me such satisfaction.

There were fourteen of these screws, and I used the drill for each one. It felt great. It felt "right". This drill is now my favorite tool, and I'm not a do-it-yourself type. I almost wish I had something else to put together.

Mia should be happy playing with this swing set. I know Daddy had a happy time putting it together.

Friday, June 21, 2002

US Soccer

What a game!

While most of the United States looked on with raised eyebrows ("our boys are where, playing what?"), the rest of the world marvelled at the progress of American soccer. I'm so proud to see our country beginning to shine in this global sport. In 1978, when I first started watching soccer, the only real telecasts were on the Spanish channel. During the second round matches, I remember network TV breaking into the game to play commercials, and it was then I realized how little America understood this sport.

Now, our team (my team!) has held themselves admirably against a three-time winner of the World Cup, soccer-power Germany. Who would have thought this in 1978?

Alas, we are now out of it in 2002, but I have fond memories. I will be actively watching the rest of the tournament, hoping for beautiful soccer, hoping for a dramatic new winner (Spain? Turkey? Senegal? Korea?). Jenn and I have started talking about maybe travelling to Germany for the next World Cup. I hope the American team will make there too.

Thursday, June 20, 2002

World Cup: US v. Germany

For once, I wish the United States soccer team was playing its World Cup match at 2:30AM. Instead, I'm off to bed now, anxiously awaiting the start of the match against Germany. I don't dare hope for an upset. It's better to be realistic.

Saturday, June 15, 2002

Father's Day Thought

As Father's Day approaches tomorrow, I am humbled by one overpowering thought: I never want to see my daughter die.

Just the other day, Jenn, my wife, was coming home with Mia from day-care, and there was an ambulance outside one of our neighbors' driveway. Their daughter had to be taken to the hospital. She had somehow stopped breathing. Thank God she is OK. Apparently, she didn't even have to stay overnight.

We have been blessed so far. There have been no frantic visits to the hospital. Some minor doctor's visits. Colds. Fevers. A rash on her face. Nothing more. Mia is a healthy baby.

I want to be celebrating many dozens of Father's Days. And I want Mia to be a part of them. I can't wait for her to express herself on these days, as a young girl, then as a teen-ager, then as a young woman. I'm desperate to know that this will happen, but of course I can't know the future. Days like tomorrow remind me of how precious life is.

So I hope she stays alive. So that I can teach her how to throw, how to ice skate. So I can hear her say "I love you". So I can give her lots of money. So I can take her out on special occasions. So I can send her e-mail. So I can be her father.

I hope she stays alive. A simple thought. A thought that is taken for granted, to be sure, but it's my one thought on Father's Day.

Thursday, June 13, 2002

NBA Finals: Lakers v. Nets

Last night, I fell asleep watching the LA Lakers and NJ Nets in Game 4 of the NBA Finals. Sadly, NJ couldn't produce a victory to extend the series. The Sports Illustrated this week has Shaquille O'Neal on the cover. Apparently, when he finishes his pro basketball career, he wants to become a policeman. I'll believe it when I see it. (Prove me wrong, Shaq!)

Monday, June 10, 2002

World Cup: US v. Korea

I went to bed last night at 8AM. Almost six hours later (1:55AM), I got up so I could watch the United States match versus Korea live. Go US!

Wednesday, June 5, 2002

helpmeet

Synchronicity.

I subscribe to A Word A Day (AWAD). Today's word was helpmeet. An interesting word, I read about its origin in the AWAD daily e-mail. Basically it's a misspelling of "helpmate". But it has seeped into the language.

Today, I encountered this very word in the book I'm reading. I wanted to read a few pages to pass the time before the NBA Finals started. And there was the word.

Synchronicity.

Early Morning Soccer

I woke up a few times in the night, anticipating 5AM. When it was 4:50AM, I trudged downstairs, and turned on the TV. I feel like such a world citizen, tuning in to the World Cup.

Warning: Soccer result coming!

The result was more than I could have dreamed. The United States scored two quick goals against Portugal (one an own-goal), an acknowledged soccer power. A terrific third goal (Brian McBride). Portugal scored before the half. Jeff Agoos potted an own-goal in the second. But thankfully, the scored stayed like that. This was very much a historic result, one that I'll be telling everyone about when I get to work shortly.

If you're reading this in the United States, and you'll be home at 3PM EDT, this match will be replayed on ESPN.

Tuesday, June 4, 2002

Anniversary

Yesterday marks the seventh year that my wife and I have been married.

Thursday, May 30, 2002

The World Cup

What with all the basketball I've been watching (Celtics down three games to two against the Nets in the NBA Eastern Conference Finals), the World Cup has almost snuck up on me. But not to the rest of the planet.

This is the biggest sporting event in the world. All the world plays soccer. All the world. The best 32 national men's soccer teams will play at various locations in Japan and Korea. The United States will be among them. Their first match: June 5 (Wednesday) at 5AM. I will be watching. (We're playing Portugal.)

All of the matches will be broadcast live, but in the wee-hours, like 2:30AM and 3:30AM. But it won't matter. The World Cup draws an audience as large if not larger than the Olympics.

We have had the World Cup groupings on our refrigerator door since December. But this evening, I noticed that my wife had put up the match schedule, sorted by date. Let's get started!

Tuesday, May 28, 2002

Knife Cut

I cut my left index finger with a big kitchen knife this evening, almost two hours ago. Boy it hurts to type.

I was cutting some cooked meat, which I was going to have for lunch. I held the knife with my right hand, but I was slicing towards my left. I slipped, and the knife cut somewhat deeply into the finger, just below my nail, somewhat on the side. "Holy Jesus Christ" I spat out, as the blood began pouring out. I ran it under some cold water for a few minutes. The blood kept dripping.

I ran it under water a few more minutes, then put it in a cup full of water. The blood oozed out of my finger, turning the water into a dull red. I went to Jenn. Though she was quite disgusted at my bleeding finger, she said to keep pressure on it, then bandage it when the bleeding subsides. Of course.

I clamped down on my bleeding finger using a rag. After a few minutes of pressure, the bleeding subsided. I was able to look at the cut. It was about a quarter-inch in length, and it felt deep. I wrapped a bandage around this finger, and the bleeding has largely subsided. A clean cut, as they say.

Did it hurt? Only when it was bleeding profusely. I was worried for a few seconds, mostly around when the bleeding will stop (I was watching hockey's Eastern Conference Finals between the Hurricanes and the Maple Leafs). I am amazed at the process my body is now doing to heal this cut. A lot is going on, but essentially your body just deals with it. (Of course, if you're a hemophiliac, this small cut would be deadly.)

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

The Chronicles of George

The Chronicles of George was the funniest thing I have read on-line about technical support stupidity in quite some time ("her volume was her volume is not working").

The FAQ on this site reveals a remarkably sensitive person, just trying to find some release for his pent-up feelings of frustration at havening had to work with someone like George.

Sunday, May 19, 2002

Sorry-Looking Lawn

I mowed my sorry-looking lawn this morning. I also threw down some lawn seed, in the hopes that nature will take her course. Someday, I'll probably feel compelled to "buy" a new lawn (i.e. new sod). Today wasn't that day.

Wednesday, May 15, 2002

Celtics and Nets

It will be the Boston Celtics versus the New Jersey Nets for the NBA's Eastern Conference Final. The first game is this Sunday.

The Star Wars Prequels

Believe it or not, I watched Star Wars: The Phantom Menace for the first time last week. I borrowed the DVD from a colleague at work, and I finally got around to watching it. (I had just finished watching The Apostle, so I wanted to watch something "light".)

It's been three years since The Phantom Menace (TPM) was released (1999), and twenty years since Return of the Jedi (1983). Return of the Jedi was the last Star Wars movie I saw in the theater (I think I watched the rerelease of Star Wars (A New Hope) right before TPM).

For a variety of reasons, I never got into the idea of watching TPM. For one thing, I didn't really like the plot twists introduced in Return of the Jedi. Over time, I've come to understand them ("I am your father!"), and I've come to accept them ("I am your sister!") but I began to feel that George Lucas was pulling something over his audience.

I don't deny the popularity of the Star Wars films. Star Wars was the first movie that I ever watched more than once in a theater. The first movie in which I loved the music. The special effects. The great lines ("I have a bad feeling about this."). It was influential in that it has informed me of what a great movie experience is all about. I devoured Star Wars. I knew who Kenny Baker and Anthony Daniels were. I read magazines on Star Wars. I collected cards. I had a Darth Vader poster on my wall.

But as I grew up, and was able to absorb more sophisticated movies, I learned that in the scheme of "important" movies, it may fall below, say The Godfather, or Forrest Gump. I've learned to appreciate simple cinematic touches (the unwinding ball of yarn in Cinema Paradiso), great dialogue (Hard Eight), and great acting (Sean Penn in Dead Man Walking).

So I was greatly surprised when I found that I really liked TPM. I watched it once, then watched the DVD's "featurettes" on the making of TPM, then watched it again, listening to the commentary track.

TPM, despite the dreaded Jar Jar, is a fantastic film. Ewan MacGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi) and Liam Neeson (Qui-Gon Jinn) had great approaches to their roles, and young Jake Lloyd played a terrific young Annakin Skywalker. And Natalie Portman (Queen Padmé Amidala) was wonderful. The story was well-paced, and I found myself quite engaged. You know how things will turn out, but you enjoy the voyage anyway. That's good story-telling! (Lucas isn't pulling anything over our eyes...he just doesn't have enough movie hours to tell his story!)

It's not as good as A New Hope. But it's got me hooked again. Joe Barlow's review sums it up: "TPM is a major step forward in the evolution of this series."

I've read some of the tough initial reviews on Attack of the Clones, but I'm sure the generation of young fans who saw Phantom Menace the way I saw Star Wars will be lining up when Episode II debuts. I think I know how they feel.

Tuesday, May 14, 2002

Boston and Detroit Series

Boston 90. Detroit 81. And now Boston is playing for the NBA's Eastern Conference Championship.

We'll find out tomorrow if we're playing the New Jersey Nets or the Charlotte Hornets. The Nets are up 3-1 in their series. Since I'm originally from New Jersey, and my Dad still lives there, I'll be hard pressed to root against the Nets. But I'll do it. Sorry Dad!

Sunday, May 12, 2002

Boston and Detroit Series

Boston 90. Detroit 79. This Boston win makes the series 3-1 in Boston's favor.

If the Boston Celtics and the New Jersey Nets make the next round, I'll really be sweating every playoff game.

Friday, May 10, 2002

Smiley Face

Buried deep in the paper was the comment that the student pipe-bomber Lucas Hedler was trying to make a smiley face with the location of mail boxes that he used.

For some reason, all I could think about was The Watchmen comic book series.

Sunday, May 5, 2002

Making Change

I was buying a bottle of juice Friday morning. I presented a $20 bill. The attendant asked "Do you have anything smaller than that?"

I hate that question. My thought bubble read: "No. I didn't have anything smaller. C'mon!"

I wish clerks wouldn't bother asking for smaller bills. Does it matter? Just make the change! It's not like anyone has to actually subtract anything. The cash machine takes care of the brain work. (My juice was $1.39. What's the difference between $1.39 and $20.00?)

I believe that gas stations, convenience stores, and other high-traffic places should stock up on single dollar bills in the morning. I truly do.

I can appreciate clerks not wanting to break bills for people who don't purchase anything. But I had the obligatory purchase. In my video game playing days (1970 and 1980s), no one wanted the serve the line of kids asking for four quarters for a dollar. I was the kid with five dimes asking for two quarters!

I should confess that the reason for my needing to break the big bill in the morning was to prevent having to break a big bill at lunch. It was the kind of lunch where at the end everyone is fishing for small bills and no one wants to say "All I've got is a $20 bill."

We all have to break a big bill once in a while. To all you clerks out there: just do it, OK?

Saturday, May 4, 2002

Celtics Win!

Celtics 120. Sixers 87. Yeah!

Thursday, May 2, 2002

The Rain and The Celtics

It's raining. Drizzling steadily. Lightning. Now thunder. Rain.

I'm now anxiously awaiting the Celtics "must-win" game tomorrow night. I said this to myself Tuesday night when I heard the weather forecast: "I don't care if it rains, as long as the Celtics win." Well, it's raining, and the Celtics lost.

I don't have great expectations about this team. But now that they're in the playoffs, I want them to succeed. I want them to advance. Being a sports fan means being a little irrational I think.

Prediction: Celtics win game 5 to get to the second round. I'll be posting tomorrow night. The forecast: A windy cloudy day. But I don't care.

Wednesday, May 1, 2002

Tweet

It's May. Amazing.

Tuesday, April 23, 2002

No More Ink

My PaperMate pen ran out of ink. Finally.

When I joined my current job last Summer, I grabbed two generic PaperMate pens out of the office supply cabinet. For work, I have used no other pens except these two.

So today was an oddly satisfying day. The pen gave out during a presentation I was attending. I had been scribbling notes furiously, but with about fifteen minutes to go, the ink started thinning out. It produced the recognizable fade of a pen nearing its end. I wrote until the pen scratched invisible notes on my paper, before I put it in my pocket.

At home, I took the pen apart. Its barrel of ink was empty. I felt like the character out of a cartoon I once saw who exclaimed "Yes!" when he gets to the last Post-it Note. I want to announce to my co-workers tomorrow: "My pen died yesterday. I've been using it for ten months straight!"

Being strict about using these pens was an exercise in discipline and restraint. Office pens are in such abundance that it's easy to take their presence for granted. I guarded these pens, however. I carefully watched people who needed to borrow it during meetings. I felt a little odd everytime I brought one of them home by mistake. These were my work pens. They belonged at work.

And now this one pen has gone. I'll be casually replacing it tomorrow, grabbing a pen out of the boxes of fresh new pens in our supply cabinet. But there'll be nothing casual about how I'll be keeping it over the next year.

Friday, April 19, 2002

Ending Mia's First Year Diary


And just like that, I stopped writing Mia's First Year, a daily on-line diary I had been keeping about my daughter's first year of life. I have archived the whole diary for posterity.

I named the diary Mia's First Year because I wanted to record only the first year of her new found life. I also wanted to put a limit on the diary because I didn't think I could keep up the pace of writing every day, even if it was only a few sentences. But as the year marched on, I found how easy it was to think of something to say. Every day, Mia changed in such big and small ways that I always found myself saying "I better put that in the BLOG". Most of the time, I did.

As she starts Year Two (!), I started debating whether to start a Mia's Second Year on-line diary. I kept procrastinating the archiving of the BLOG, and the writing of the last page. Last night and tonight, I made the final cut-over. I even deleted the diary from Blogger, so that I wouldn't be tempted to write to it.

I hope that many years from now, when the time is right, I can show Mia these web pages (probably on some laptop she'll need for the fourth-grade), and she can see what her Dad's been doing the entire time she was turning one.

Monday, April 15, 2002

Tiger's Third Masters

Tiger Woods won his third Masters.

Today, at lunch, someone asked me how Tiger did this weekend. How did he do this weekend? He won, OK? He became only the third player to have won back-to-back Masters. He became the youngest player to have won seven major championships. He solidified his reputation again as the person to beat when leading the tournament going into Sunday's final round. How did he do this weekend? Among other things, he chipped in a birdie to take a stroke back (6th hole), stiffs a wedge to five feet for birdie (15th), then knocks in a critical par-putt to seal the deal (16th). While other players wilted, Tiger bloomed.

After Tiger Woods won his first Masters (1996), I thought: if he never wins another major, he'll have written his name in history. Today, he continues to stamp his name all over the golf history books. And he will not stop.

If you want to look up "the real deal" and "the man" in the dictionary, look under W, for Tiger Woods.

Friday, April 12, 2002

Oprah's Book Club

Oprah Winfrey shut down her famous book club over the past few weeks. She says that's she's having a hard time finding good books that she's excited to share on her popular television show.

By all accounts, Oprah's book club brought about a resurgence in popular fiction. I knew of it primarily from my wife, who used to ask me to pick up books for her if I went to the book store. She would often suggest that I just pick up an Oprah recommended book.

Minor class warfare broke out in the Fall of 2001 when Oprah selected The Corrections by Jonathan Frazen. Mr. Frazen huffed with real disdain about having the Oprah book club seal on his "important literature". But no doubt he enjoyed the additional sales that always accompany an Oprah book club recommendation.

I have read two Oprah books, The Pilot's Wife and While I Was Gone, both wonderful excursions. I am slowly making my way through a third Oprah selection, A Map of the World. I'm amazed at where this book is taking me.

Would I have discovered these books without Oprah? I doubt it.

Since college, my reading has been quite unstructured. I would get a recommendation from my brothers, or some friends, or some work colleagues. Every once in a while, I'll read a book because it "looked interesting" in the bookstore. More often than not, I'll buy a book based on some book review or advertisement in the Boston Globe, or the New York Times. My Visor has an ever-growing list of books that I should buy or borrow.

The reading life is a wonderful life. Thanks, Oprah, for sharing this spirt!

Monday, April 8, 2002

Tweet

I turned thirty-four this past weekend. Hurray!

Monday, April 1, 2002

Lent

I gave up soda for Lent. It was a good sacrifice. With the beginning of Easter, and the end of Lent, I had my first Diet Pepsi in almost forty days. It was tasty!

I will probably continue to reduce my soda consumption during work day lunches. One aspect of not drinking soda is that I tend not to munch on chips during lunch (sweety Pepsi and salty chips are a compelling combination), and as a result, I've been avoiding cafeteria food. This is a money savings, and that's not a bad thing.

Monday, March 25, 2002

The Long Bet

David Winer and Martin Nisenholtz placed a long bet to see which will be more relevant in 2007: web logs or The New York Times. Good arguments both ways, but I'll put my money on The New York Times.

(Of particular interest to my house-hold: long bet #8.)

Sunday, March 24, 2002

Big Watches

The Times ran a neat article about a new trend: big watches. It seems that superstars like Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger have a taste for "big watches", watches that are larger than 40 millimeters in diameter. The article spoke about watches as being one of the few pieces of jewelry that a man will wear on a regular basis. Hence, a "big" watch, like those made by Panerai are in vogue. It says you have "big" style.

The watch I desire the most is by Jaeger-LeCoultre. It's an art-deco masterpiece called the Reverso. Right after that model is the exquisite Master Perpetual. Both are analog, and both are north of the $10,000 price range. I tried a Reverso in a jewelry store, and Jenn and I marvelled at its elegant beauty (and she owns a gorgeous Raymond-Weil).

Surprisingly, since the start of my present job (June 2001), I haven't worn my watch (your run-of-the-mill Swiss Army). I've always associated my watch fetish with my own climb up the corporate ladder. The higher up I go, the more demands on my time, the more I'll want a good looking watch. Since it's not clear I'm anywhere near the ladder anymore, I don't need a watch to remember when to be somewhere. I just glance at my computer's clock.

Monday, March 18, 2002

Buzzy's Roast Beef

A local eatery is shutting down in Boston: Buzzy's Roast Beef. I never ate there, but I wish I had.

This is a total dive. Set near the Charles Street/Mass General Hospital T Stop, and a busy traffic circle, the restaurant seemed to have the night-owl hours I loved when I was single. It's a place of some "ill repute", some concerning food, some concerning questionable clientele. In 1996, Russell Frye bought the place, and refurbished it somewhat. I remember thinking "I better get over there, before it closes like The Tasty in Harvard Square."

But life is such that the closest things to us are often the things we take for granted the most. I never expected Buzzy's to close, just like I never expected The Tasty to close, or the old Boston Garden, or Fenway Park. (Actually, Fenway is thriving under the new ownership, but you never know.)

I read in an article a few months back that you "belong to a place" when you have witnessed a change in that place. "That hairdresser used to be a tanning salon." or "That sign didn't exist until the tourists started coming here." In a way, this is why my childhood home of Jersey City scares me so much: there's so much change I haven't witnessed, I'm almost disoriented.

Tom Wolfe wrote You Can't Go Home Again, but sometimes home changes out from under you. Make sure to visit!

Monday, March 11, 2002

My Neighbor Died

One of my neighbors died over the weekend. Jenn and I heard the news this morning. His obituary was in the newspaper today.

I spent a bit of time trying to recall the last time I saw Steve, the last time I spoke with him. He and his wife have lived on our street for a long time. They were here when we moved to Arlington in March 1997. I always found him, his wife Diane, and their young son Kobi to be very nice.

I last saw him walking his dog in the early morning. A few weeks ago? I was on my way to work; I waved from inside the car. Did he wave back? Maybe. In the warmer weather, we would stop to chat, him from the street, me from the car.

There's a common lament that we don't get to know our neighbors. I feel that now.

Sunday, March 10, 2002

The Boston Catholic Crisis

There is a fierce outcry in Boston over the actions of Cardinal Bernard Law, and his handling of priests accused of sexually abusing children at their parishes. In particular, the flashpoint of this crisis is John Geoghan, a former parish priest who has molested up to a hundred children. Maybe more. Cardinal Law, with full knowledge of Geoghan's pedophilia, moved him to other parishes.

The media loves this story: there are clear victims and clear "villains".

I feel tremendous ambivalence.

Geoghan, and other priests who have now come forward, men who have vowed to be celibate, to represent Christ on earth, they have used their power to partake in a perversion. But is this a story because these men were priests? What about people who are pedophiles who are not priests? The ones propositioning children in AOL chat rooms? The ones peddling child pornography? Are they less wrong? How about those that view these materials? Don't they deserve the microscope of media attention?

Cardinal Law, as an administrator, has made a critical mistake in thinking that Fr. Geoghan could simply be "moved" away from the problem. Cardinal Law has put his hat in his hand, and asked for forgiveness. He is backing up his words by putting into place a task force that will seek policies so abuse like this won't happen again. He is trying to affect change. I am encouraged by this action, and I do not feel he should step down.



We are all weak. We are all sinners. Out of this whole mess, this is one of the lessons that I'm most sure of.

I won't learn anything fundamentally new from the trial of Geoghan. I won't learn anything from new allegations of abuse from victims, or new admissions of guilt from priests. The sin/crime is the same. Only the details are different. My reaction is the same as when I first heard of these events: weary shock, weary sadness.

What do the abusers want? Understanding. Forgiveness. Perhaps help. Do they know that what they do is aberrant?

What do the victims want? Retribution. An erasing of a memory that can never be forgotten. Perhaps they want to forgive. Perhaps they want to make the priesthood contrite.

There are plenty of lawyers involved now, for both sides. Instead of the language of forgiveness, of healing, of faith and prayer, there is the language of secret testimonies, of settlements, of challenging statute of limitations. My Mom often says "man proposes; God disposes." We're proposing now: we're proposing in our courts how to exact a justice that won't ever be enough. We're proposing how to fix a priesthood that is meant to represent Christ.

I will try to pray for these people: for the victims and for the abusers, caught in an awful cycle of sin then revelation. Caught in the media glare.

Thursday, March 7, 2002

One Year of Blogging

On March 10, 2002, it will be one year since I started writing this BLOG.

Saturday, March 2, 2002

Gordon Matthews

The inventor of modern voice mail died yesterday. His name was Gordon Matthews. He was 65.

One day, while standing in the rain near a dumpster, he noticed a huge pile of those pink "While You Were Out" slips. He thought "What if we didn't need those slips of paper anymore?"

He built prototypes, and eventually filed the patent (4,371,752) that was the birth of the modern voice mail era. His first systems were bought by 3M. Other companies soon followed. The company he founded to build and sell voice mail systems would eventually earn millions of dollars in royalties on this technology.

I am not a heavy voice mail user now. As it is, I only receive one or two messages a week. At my last job, however, I was a voice mail geek. I changed my greeting every day: "Today is Friday, March 1. You have reached Rick Umali." The five to ten people who left voice mail for me would know I was in. One of my colleagues configured his voice mail box to send a message to his pager, so he knew whenever a voice mail message arrived for him. Despite my dearth of incoming messages, I couldn't imagine working in an office without voice mail.

Gordon Matthews changed the way businesses work. RIP.

Tuesday, February 26, 2002

Watching Ellie

I really enjoyed Watching Ellie, a new television series starring Julia Louis-Dreyfus.

The show started with a potentially weak gag (running late, Julia's character, Ellie, finds that water is overflowing from her toilet tank), but the show used this device to introduce some funny characters. The show also had a timer, set at the lower-left corner of the television picture, faint, but noticeable. The timer emphasized the 'real time' nature of the show, and it was somewhat disconcerting. The timer started at 21 minutes, and ticked down to 00:00, like watching some sporting event.

The last time I watched something in "real time" was the movie Timecode. And that movie featured four simultaneous screens, each quite watchable. When I saw the first edit in Watching Ellie, I thought "how could this be realtime if there's editing?" But by the end of the show, you really felt late when Ellie finally arrives on stage at the end of the episode, knowing all she went through in the past twenty minutes.

I'm trying to think of a 20 minute block out of my life that would be worthy of television dramatization. I thinking the moments before my wedding (I smoke a cigarette while my brother Ron and great friend (and usher) James try to get to the church in a car that's running out of gas; we eventually stop at a gas station). I'm thinking the ten minutes before and the ten minutes after Mia was born. I'm thinking the twenty minutes I interviewed with the president of the first company I worked for after college.



It will be a challenge for Watching Ellie to match the perfect pacing of their premiere episode. I think it will also be hard to figure out moments in Ellie's life that are suited for a real-time presentation. Good scripts and good editing can help, but for how long?