Tuesday, December 30, 2003

Shattered Glass


Shattered Glass is the twelfth movie I've seen in the theater this year.

The movie is about the young (median age: 26) journalists and editors at The New Republic. One of the journalists, Stephen Glass, spent most of his career at the political magazine fabricating stories. One of the editors, Charles Lane, discovers this and deals with the consequences.

This is a simple story, but it's told so very well. It's also a kind of 'genre' movie: the journalistic drama. I'll admit that I'm drawn to journalistic dramas. My two favorites: All the President's Men and The Insider. Shattered Glass actually makes a brief reference to the first one.

Since "Shattered Glass" is based on fact, it was up to writer/director Billy Ray to compress and composite the characters and events to make a dramatic picture. He did this superbly. He somehow made the work of writers and editors very dramatic.

The acting is straightforward but the casting was perfect. Juxtaposing the dashing Hank Azaria, who plays Michael Kelly, the editor who gets fired for defending his writers with Peter Sarsgaard, who plays Charles Lane, as the stiff, unpopular successor sets up the office politics brilliantly. Hayden Christensen plays the story fabricator. As the movie develops, his character becomes more and more desperate and the audience along with the editors begin to doubt even the memories that the film presents as his own.

This is a terrific movie, and it honors the genre of journalistic dramas.

Thursday, December 25, 2003

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Merry Christmas!

Thursday, December 18, 2003

The Magic Season

It's that magical season again, a time of gift giving and gift receiving.

As I get older, the two-sided coin of gift giving and receiving has become more and more worn. It's hard to find the shiny spots anymore. Somewhere along the way, giving gifts has become a chore (or at best, another item on my to-do list). And receiving gifts hasn't gotten any easier.

My wife and I have developed a highly sensible approach for the holiday season. We simply tell each other what we'd like. This starts as early as Labor Day. By the time I buy gifts, which I now do almost exclusively on-line, it's a matter of crossing items off a very detailed list (often with catalog and item numbers). We rarely surprise one another nowadays and this makes me wistful.

I like to think I'm a very gracious gift receiver, but somewhere along the line, I started making enough money to buy myself my own gifts. If I find myself wanting a music CD, or a book, or a new computer part, I buy it. I don't wait for a holiday, or my birthday, or my anniversary.

At work, a bunch of us were grousing about how competitive gift giving can become. The secret Santas. The price limits. Who gave what to whom. Gifts become a measure of the giver and the recipient. "Oh, he can afford to give that. Oh, he deserved that; he's out of work." Instead of sentiment, it's judgment.

Since we have a daughter, Jenn and I have returned to simpler emotions regarding the holidays. Mia's at an age where handing her packing tape is a cause for high celebration, and we can't wait for her to open the myriad of gifts that we bought her. In her squeals of delight, in her simple eagerness to tear away the wrapping paper, I remember that gifts symbolize love and generosity. "I'm thinking of you." "I love you."

I think receivers and givers should remember that this magical season.

Thursday, December 11, 2003

Down Entry

I'm down a bit. I had a transaction go "bad" on eBay (I'll write more about this later). I had to leave work "a little later than usual", which always irks me as it disrupts my commuting routine. And to top it all off, I actually wanted to do some work from home but my PC at work seems to be flaking (I connect to my work PC via TightVNC over SSH).

I'm also down because I spoke with a former co-worker this afternoon, and we were reminiscing about our high-tech careers. As we were going over where we were and where we wanted to go, I was sensing that he made some good decisions career-wise and that perhaps I haven't.

It's always important to look up beyond the trees to see what forest you're in. Are you in a good situation? Does it fit in with your values, your vision of yourself? Do you have a vision of yourself? For me, I have values, I have a vision. Today, career-wise, I wonder if I'm in the best situation.

Tuesday, December 9, 2003

JAlbum

Folks who visited my last picture album probably noticed that I didn't make the HTML pages myself. Instead, I used some shareware called JAlbum. I like this software. It automatically generates the thumbnails, creates the slides, and also creates the navigation between the individual slides. You already have to know HTML, and some basic CSS.

I wrote my own little Perl program to create the web pages over at the Mia Picture Site. But my program never created thumbnails, and my program didn't do the image manipulation (mostly size reduction). I originally wanted to tackle these problems, but I never got around to learning how to use GD, never mind trying to integrate it with my Perl program.

There's a fine line between "doing it yourself" and "building on the work of others." Since I know how to write computer programs, almost every problem that I look at involves me writing a program. We need to organize all these music CDs. "I'll write a program." We need to figure out how many colors to put on this quilt. "I'll write a program." It's the adage "If your only tool is a hammer, everything looks like a nail."

Well, David Ekholm (the author of JAlbum) used his hammer, and used it very well. I'm glad he's sharing the fruits of labor. I have given up trying to write my own program to make picture albums. The amount of pride I had to swallow was very small. Instead, I'll take pride in the albums themselves.

Monday, December 8, 2003

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Kudos to my newspaper delivery man. He didn't deliver anything over the long snow storm this weekend, but this morning, there was a fresh copy of the Sunday Boston Globe, and the Sunday New York Times. His "tip envelope" is on our side table at home. This deserves a nice tip!

Sunday, December 7, 2003

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I made a small album of pictures that I took when I went outside to shovel. The plow didn't arrive until 7PM tonight. I missed my newspapers. I missed church. I missed take-out.

At least I got some exercise.

Saturday, December 6, 2003

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I tried shoveling in the early evening. Unfortunately, snow continued to fall, covering up my efforts. We'll probably get outside as a group tomorrow (Jenn, Mia, and I). We'll try to tackle the shoveling together. The key is to get a break in the snowfall, but that probably won't happen until after lunch on Sunday.

Nor'easter









New England's first Nor'easter of the season is upon us. We live in Arlington, indicated by the red star. All the white stuff on the map is snow. It's been snowing steadily, at times furiously. The shoveling looks formidable. Our street is impassable, but we won't be venturing into our cars, except to grab shovels. No take-out today, it seems.

The snow is predicted to last until noon Sunday. It's a hunkering down time. It's winter time (two weeks ahead of winter's official start day).

Monday, December 1, 2003

DNS Woes

According to the Tripod "Alerts" page (off their Help page), the servers that host my BLOG are undergoing an IP address change, which necessitated a DNS change. The exact wording:
The IP addresses of all Tripod servers has changed causing some users who are attempting to access or edit their Tripod sites to see an old version of their site...
This is the exact problem I'm seeing. Whenever I access my book mark for this page, I do not see my latest entries.

Changing a record on the Domain Name Server involves updating a few records, and then letting the change propagate throughout the Internet. Apparently, the propagation can take a long time. Folks on the Tripod message boards (Tripod Club) are complaining about this very behavior.

For those of you reading this at http://members.tripod.com/rick_umali/rickblog/blogger.html, consider yourselves fortunate. Your ISP is properly updated with respect to the new Tripod servers. Some of you are accessing this via http://rick_umali.tripod.com/rickblog/blogger.html. For some reason, this URL allows me to view the correct content.

Either way, the estimated time to have the DNS records propagated is December 3.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003

Master and Commander


I watched Master and Commander three nights ago, my 11th movie in a theater this year.

I saw the trailer for Master and Commander while watching Mystic River last month. At the time, I shrugged my shoulders and rolled my eyes. Another pirate movie, I thought. Another Russell Crowe vehicle. Then the reviews came out. One after another, the critics were gushing about Master and Commander.

As the media revealed more about the film, I learned that the movie was based on Partrick O'Brian's naval history novels. I learned that the director, Peter Weir, directed two of my favorite movies: The Truman Show and Fearless. And even though I was going to give it pass because of Russell Crowe, I kept reminding myself that his acting in The Insider is a stellar acting performance that I keep revisiting on DVD.

The movie lived up the billing. Big action scenes. Sweeping vistas. This is a movie meant for the movie theater. It demands a theater viewing to properly enjoy the magnificent sound effects ("sound design"). It seemed as if your ears were constantly filled with the creaking and groaning of the old boat as it sailed the seas. Your ears were buffeted by the wind and sea in their highest rage. The music was often introduced by the two lead characters who played instruments (violin and cello) in the evenings.

Russell Crowe positively eats up the lead role of Captain Jack "Lucky" Aubrey. He is the captain of the English sailing ship, the HMS Surprise ("Surprise is on our side!"). He plays the big moments very big and very brash. He projects leadership, and by the end of the movie you can see why his crew followed him on his prideful, foolhardy endeavor of chasing after a much faster and more potent sailing ship, the French Acheron.

Paul Bettany played Dr. Stephen Maturin, the ship's surgeon. He was Captain Aubrey's confidant, and they fought like rival siblings. Dr. Maturin provided the movie's gruesone, eye-averting footage of early 19th century medical practices.

Anyone with even a passing interest in life on the open seas would enjoy this movie. The seascapes were fantastic. The close quarters and the inevitable "cabin fever" of 200 men on one small boat were clearly depicted. And lessons in leadership were on display, as the film explored the hierarchies of commanders and subordinates, and the strict price when leadership over men cannot be obtained.

I agree with the critics. This is a grand film. There are some slow moments, but thankfully it's in the middle. The beginning, the climax, and even the denouement showed big movie making at its best.

Thursday, November 20, 2003

Connection Timed Out

For the past few days, I was seeing this message:
001 java.net.ConnectException: Connection timed out

when I tried to publish this BLOG using Blogger to my host (Tripod). For the past two days, my previous entry sat in my "posts" queue. I sent a note to Blogger technical support. I posted a note to Tripod's message boards. Fortunately, after leaving the problem alone for a few hours, I attempted to publish again, and now things are working. The Tripod message boards suggest an issue on the Tripod side. Perhaps. I just hope things are resolved.

Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Blogging is Dead

John C. Dvorak, the noted computer columnist from PC Magazine, declared the blogging revolution dead. He points to a survey which states that 60% of a randomly surveyed 3700 hosted web logs were not updated in more than two months. The survey also states that the average length of these hosted blogs was four months. After that, the sites are moth balled.

John Dvorak opines "Writing is tiresome. Why anyone would do it voluntarily on a blog mystifies a lot of professional writers." His column (titled "Co-opting the Future", in the December 9, 2003 issue of PC Magazine) goes on to suggest that "Big Media" is taking over blogging.

I can agree that writing is hard. Half the time, I'm not even sure what I'm doing, or why I'm doing it. But despite the mysticism, I continue to write here. I don't know if I'm an exception to the rule. I don't know if I even care. All I know is that I'm glad I hopped on this band wagon. It's an outlet for me, one that I'm glad to have.

Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Breaking Holiday Stress

So it's November already. The chill is indeed in the air. And with that comes the holidays.

I confess that I often find myself stressed out during the holidays. All the rushing around, buying gifts, wrapping, keeping the house clean for guests. The weekends before November seemed to be relatively unstructured, but between now and New Year's, it seems as if something has to get done each weekend (holiday cards, holiday pictures, cookies). The holidays become a chore, and unfinished chores cause stress.

The key to breaking the stress is to start some of the planning now, and stay ahead of it. For the record, I have already purchased some holiday gifts. Jenn has already started to bake cookies. We're stocked up with wrapping paper and formulating our lists.

Don Wetmore's newsletter, Timely Time Management, featured a few tips for avoiding holiday stress. I was glad to read it.

Tuesday, November 4, 2003

P. Diddy and the Marathon

"It has always been a personal goal of mine to run in the New York City marathon." "I just want to be at the start like the rest of the runners, and respect the tradition."

The author of these statements: Sean Combs, aka P. Diddy, aka Puff Daddy, one of the great names in rap music, as a business man and as a front man. He finished the marathon in 4 hours, 14 minutes, and 54 seconds.

umali.com

umali.com is once again up for sale. This time the price has gone down. It's now selling for $299.

When I last wrote about this, the price was $950!

I just put in a bid for the domain ($200). We'll see what happens.

Friday, October 31, 2003

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My family is up for the Halloween weekend. Both my brothers, and my Mom and Dad. It's always festive for me when they visit.

Monday, October 27, 2003

Drawing Faces

Mia has been drawing faces. Her circles are free-ranging ovals. Her ears are scratches next to the head. The eyes and mouths are mostly in the right place. Her 'signature': a tiny line representing a pony tail on the top. Am I living with a person of artistic talent?

Saturday, October 25, 2003

Take Back Your Time

Friday, October 24, was Take Back Your Time Day.

This grass-roots "movement" attempted to make a dent (or at the very least, make a scratch) in the well-rooted mentality of working "extra hours", or long hours. I applaud such a movement.

At my former employer, Open Market, I was a classic "long hours" guy, especially in my last few years. I often gutted out fifty, sixty hour work weeks. On top of that, I added more hours by being "on-call" after work (I was a customer support technician for an e-commerce system). I have missed my wedding anniversary by being on a customer visit. I have worked draining technical issues ("help, my system is down!") at nearly every holiday. When I was promoted to management, the hours didn't go down, but they changed into an even more stressful version of my "individual contributor" years.

I had the occasion to read my diaries from those years. There were plenty of entries in big, angry letters: "I'm so SICK of working!" and "I'm so TIRED!". I was loyal, but I was burned out. So I had mixed emotions when the company, in a steep downward spiral, decided to transition the product I supported overseas. I volunteered to be laid off (there were incentives). Three days before the lay off date, my daughter entered the world. My work life abruptly ended, and it was incredible.

I didn't work for the next two months (eleven weeks, actually). I lived on severance and unemployment checks. Mia was her own "after-hours" operation, but it was a stress and pressure that I could share with Jenn. While I was jobless, I began to write this BLOG in earnest. I read. I avoided wearing shoes. I watched movies. I put up rickumali.com. I had so much time. But I knew I couldn't "stay on the beach" forever.

In June 2001, I rejoined the work-force, at another technical support gig. The customers, however, weren't working on "live" systems. They were developers, working on future systems. My hours could be regular, and there was no after-hours support. After a few weeks of adjustments, I found myself working exactly between 9 and 5. Sometimes earlier than 9. Rarely later than 5. I was rigid about when I left the office. I managed my workload so that by the time the 5 o'clock hour arrived, I was headed out the door.

As a result, my days have achieved a relatively peaceful and pleasant routine. I get home by 5:45 PM. I have dinner with Jenn and Mia. On the weekdays, I put Mia to bed. Then I do clean-up and laundry chores. By 8:30 PM, I settle in for television (a DVD, or sports) or run out to see a movie (my resolution this year). Sometimes I do some computer stuff, or Internet stuff. I try to get in some reading and writing.

Working 9 to 5 life has improved my work productivity. I try very hard not to slack off at work. I push myself in those hard hours (between 2 and 5PM), when the tendency is to slow down (I'm a morning person). But when 5 o'clock arrives, I am able to put down my work, and save it for tomorrow.

I feel like a hypocrite because when I was in management, I often gave more credit to folks who put in extra hours, who put in extra time. Heck, I called some part of my group for a Sunday afternoon training session. Sunday! My mores have changed, I suppose.

The premise of Take Back Your Time was to bring attention to the culture of overwork. Political solutions would be wonderful, but I believe overwork starts with the individual. We should look at ourselves closely if we're working a lot of overtime. And if we are, then what would it take for us to scale back, to take back our time?

Thursday, October 23, 2003

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The last three movies that I've watched have been in the theater. This means I haven't watched a single DVD since August!

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It was snowing this morning. No accumulation. Just a variety of snowfall (heavy, light, slushy, icy) for my commute into work. The snow persisted into the late morning, then petered away.

Wednesday, October 22, 2003

Mystic River


I watched Mystic River two nights ago. It was my tenth movie in a theater.

Mystic River was originally a mystery novel by Dennis Lehane, a writer from Massachusetts. Clint Eastwood, the famous actor and now director, bought the film rights, and transformed Lehane's novel into a compelling film. It was a very satisfying adaptation, expertly done by screenwriter Brian Helgeland.

The buzz about this movie was strong for folks living in New England. Eastwood decided to shoot on location, since the setting of the novel was in an area near Boston (Southie). I had read the newspaper reports and made a mental note to see this when it came out.

The novel is a police procedural, but it is also a terrifying look at how child abuse can reap something sinister. It's also a terrifying look at revenge. Lehane's novel captured my imagination quickly. The characters were well rendered, and the action and mystery were sufficiently drawn.

The movie is in acting showcase. There were super performances by Kevin Bacon and Laurence Fishburne as detectives. The acting by Tim Robbins as a man struggling with his abused past was frighteningly good. Sean Penn's performance as the father who moves from grief to anger to coldness is awesome to see. Marcia Gay Harden and Laura Linney were also noteworthy. (Everybody tries the infamous Boston accent; I liked Robbins' take on it.)

The movie moves very deliberately. I kept thinking how simple, how sparse everything was: the photography, the editing, the dialogue, the sets. Nothing was out of place to jar you out of the Lehane's world. As a reader of the novel, I felt this movie captured the essential emotions of the novel, which for me was the real miracle.

The climax in the novel was a stunner. Bad things happen to good people. And bad things happen to bad people. Lehane's novel doesn't flinch, and because of this bravery, there's a powerful impact. I was left shaking my head at the end of the book: Oh my God. Thankfully, the movie doesn't flinch either.

Sunday, October 19, 2003

Baptism into Red Sox Nation

I feel as if I'm now fully recovered from the awful Red Sox loss to the Yankees in Game 7 of the ALCS. I won't rehash the details here. Suffice to say, the loss hurt. To some extent, this loss baptizes me into Red Sox Nation.

Having grown up completely oblivious to sports, I had no allegiance to the home town teams of my youth. Instead of becoming a Yankee fan or a Mets fan, I spent my Jersey City, New Jersey childhood geeking out in front of computers.

In 1986, the year the Red Sox lost the World Series, I was rooting for the other team, the New York Mets. I was a freshman in college, and there were partisans from both New York and Greater Boston. I rooted for the Mets because my youngest brother was rooting for them, and because (hell) I was from the area.

Fast forward five years. I moved to Boston in 1991, and I finally went to see my first professional baseball game in that holiest of destinations, Fenway Park. I knew as soon as I saw that beautiful park that I wanted to know everything about this sport and about this team.

I spent the next few years learning baseball under the tutelage of Boston Globe columnists. I read as much as I could about baseball and the Red Sox. The Red Sox teams of the 1990s were good enough to make the playoffs, but not good enough to take the final prize.

I learned the cursed lore of the Red Sox, the Babe Ruth trade, Bucky Dent, Bill Buckner, and now (sigh) Aaron Boone. However, since 1991, I haven't been emotionally hurt by the team until last Thursday, the final game of this glorious season. I was devastated.

The fog of that loss is receding now. I am starting to take in other sports (so many teams in Boston). I'm starting to think about movies again, and to pick up books that I put down at the beginning of the baseball post season. And, yes, I have tuned into a few innings of the World Series, but I still feel a twinge of bitterness.

I am glad that we have a winter to rest and regroup. There will be time for baseball again next year.

Friday, October 17, 2003

ALCS 2003

The Red Sox lost Game 7.

I'm heartbroken and tired.

Thursday, October 16, 2003

ALCS 2003

The Red Sox won Game 6! Tonight (it's after midnight as I write this), a mere twenty hours from now, the Red Sox and Yankees will face off in a deciding Game 7.

The gamut of emotions that I experienced tonight was incredibly draining! To think I'll put myself through it again. I better get some sleep!

Wednesday, October 15, 2003

ALCS 2003

The Red Sox lost yesterday. Will they win their "must-win game" this afternoon (Game 6)? The game starts in a few minutes. Work? Really, how can I?

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

Game 5

The Red Sox and Yankees are now tied in their best-of-seven Americal League Championship Series. They have each won two games a piece. Now it's come down to who can win two games.

It's hard not to just spout "Go SOX!" every time I'm here writing, but that's how I feel (Pedro's behavior notwithstanding). I just want to feel that winning feeling. Like when New England won the Super Bowl, or when BU won the NCAA (hockey).

The game today is at 4PM. I'm at work, and all I can think about is the game.

Sunday, October 12, 2003

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An old friend of mine, Ninju Bohra, called me this afternoon. He grew up in Chicaco, and wondered how I was holding up with the Red Sox. Not well, especially after yesterday's loss, and now tonight's rain-out.

Saturday, October 11, 2003

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Jenn and I tried to get World Series tickets last night. We were unsuccessful.

The Red Sox will pit Pedro Martínez against Roger Clemens this afternoon, in what should be a pivotal Game 3. The atmosphere in Greater Boston and in New England has been filled with anticipation. And so has my humble home.

Tuesday, October 7, 2003

Sox v. A's

The Red Sox won! The Red Sox WON! We're into the American League Championships against the New York Yankees. Red Sox WON!

Sunday, October 5, 2003

Sox v. A's

In a bizarre two game home-stand, the Red Sox have won two games to tie the Oakland A's in the Americal League Divisional Series. Each team has now won two games each, and the fifth and deciding game will be tomorrow night, 8PM EDT.

It's a heady atmosphere here in Red Sox nation, a state of mind that I haven't visited in quite some time. The Sox were down two games going into Saturday evening's game, and things looked bleak. My prayer for the Sox on Saturday: don't get swept. After the win Saturday night, my prayer for Sunday was get the win and tie the series. The Sox did just that, their big bats coming alive at just the right moments.

Now the teams are flying to Oakland, California for the deciding game. And I'm praying for victory. The New York Yankees are awaiting the winner. I hope we can be those winners.

Friday, October 3, 2003

On Writing

Last weekend, I read Stephen King's book On Writing. It was marvelous.

I read Stephen King books in the 1980s. I read all his classics: Carrie, Salems' Lot, Cujo, The Stand, The Shining, Different Seasons. They were a thrill to read. It was hard to believe that such huge books could be read so fast. However, when I graduated from high school, I stopped reading King. I moved on, I suppose. In a memorable line from a foreword/introduction to one of his books, he stated that his books are the equivalent of a cheeseburger and fries. I eventually found other sumptuous meals.

Just a few weeks ago, a colleague at work said he read Hearts of Atlantis by King. On a lark, I bought a copy of that book, plus On Writing, which I have always been curious about.

On Writing contains a surprisingly moving and inspirational memoir about his life growing up. Sketches and images of his life are drawn quickly, many of which made me laugh out loud. He recounts the precious moment when he first wrote a story (at the age of six), to when the paperback rights were sold for Carrie, which marked the start of his success.

From there, he moves into the work of writing. His words carry authority, but he keeps things light. He relates writing and story telling to archaeology: you're digging up a fossil, which represents the story. Your success in capturing the story depends on how you lift it up out of the ground. Your tools are words, the English language, and grammar. The story is already there. You have to write write write, and eventually it will come out. (Dennis Lehane, who wrote Mystic River, echoed this concept in a recent on-line chat.)

The final part on On Writing deals with the horrible accident that nearly killed Stephen King in 1999. In a gripping narrative, I found myself in his spell. The moment of impact. The panic of emergency care. The pain of surgery. The road to recovery. The return to writing.

Stephen King was awarded the 2003 National Book Foundation's award for "distinguished contribution". Harold Bloom, a professor at Yale and author of The Western Canon wrote that this was a mistake, and proceeded to a scathing critique of King's work. Bloom's theme: "commercial success is not literary success".

I agree with Mr. Bloom somewhat. Just because a book is a commercial success doesn't mean that it's literary. Last month I finished Empire Falls by Richard Russo, and it was far more "literary" than any Stephen King book I have ever read. If a Stephen King book is a cheeseburger at a local diner, then Empire Falls is the best three-course dinner in the finest restaurant you can think of.

But I also disagree with Mr. Bloom's point that "King ... is an immensely inadequate writer." I disagree wholeheartedly. Maybe Mr. King doesn't belong in the same pantheon as "the great writers" (whomever they may be; Bloom suggests four: Pynchon, Roth, DeLillo, and McCarthy). But he belongs in the ball park. King is a more than an adequate writer. On Writing proves that.

Monday, September 29, 2003

Ron and Renato

My brother Ron made a web page, and on it is a small family tree.

My brother Renato continues to update his web page.

Friday, September 26, 2003

Red Sox in the Playoffs

The Boston Red Sox are in the playoffs. I've been largely out of touch with Red Sox baseball, but now that October is drawing near, I find myself pleasantly surprised that the local team will be in post season play.

A colleague at work went over this year's edition of the Red Sox, and I like what I heard. The Red Sox have a feared hitting lineup, and have been getting the job done all through the season.

There are three meaningless regular season games left before we tackle the Oakland A's. The other two teams in the American League playoffs: the dreaded New York Yankees and the Minnesota Twins.

This is going to be one interesting October.

Tuesday, September 23, 2003

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Well, my ISP, Software Tool and Die, is suffering networking problems from an ill-executed network cutover. If you've sent me e-mail over the past two days, send it again, please.

Thursday, September 18, 2003

Matchstick Men


This afternoon, on a matinee, I watched Matchstick Men. This movie is an adaptation of Eric Garcia's book, Matchstick Men.

Two things contributed to Matchstick Men being September's movie (my ninth movie in a theater): Eric Garcia and Ridley Scott.

Eric Garcia occasionally posts on the USENET newsgroup misc.writing.screenplays, a newsgroup I dip into every now and then when I want to see how writers write when they're procrastinating. Eric has clout in the group because he's published, and his novel was made into a movie. He got good buzz. Eric's on-line demeanor is engaging and friendly, and he welcomes all correspondence to his e-mail.

When I heard a book of his was going to be a movie, I bought it. I devoured the book in two evenings. It was splendid! A very fast paced book, the twists and turns were stunning, and by the end of it, well...let's just say I thought it was a very brave ending!

Ridley Scott is the famous director, of course. He's the man behind the vision of such films as Black Hawk Down, Gladiator, Blade Runner, and Alien.

Ridley Scott's movies are gorgeous. I'm not enough of a film student to able to dissect exactly why, but I'm enough of a movie fan to know that I very much like how puts a movie together. Ridley's DVD commentary on Alien was the first DVD commentary I ever listened to.

In a recent article, Ridley was joking that "I'm old, but I can still beat the pants off any 22-year old tennis pro", referring to today's younger directors. It then occurred to me that I haven't seen a Ridley Scott movie in the theater since perhaps Thelma & Louise. I have seen Alien and Blade Runner in college, but I missed his modern spectacles Black Hawk Down and Gladiator. Knowing the story line for Matchstick Men, I was eager to see what he'd do with it. Guess what? He did the story pretty well!

It's a movie to definitely go see. You'll see a "tone" that is uniquely and unmistakably Ridley Scott. You'll see some very showy (and to me, very cool) editing by Dody Dorn. Nicolas Cage gives an eye-popping performance. And screen writers Nicholas Griffin and Ted Griffin do all right by Eric Garcia.

Monday, September 15, 2003

Picture of Me

Look, readers. There on the left hand side of the page. That's me!

I took the photo with my digital camera (which I can rotate to take a self-portrait). I thought it was high time to have an image of me on these very pages. Maybe it'll affect the way you read this page? Maybe some of you will recognize me? Either way, I have been meaning to add a picture to this BLOG for some time. And while I was at, I put another picture of myself on the archives page.

Thursday, September 11, 2003

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I hear the sound of an airliner overhead, queuing up in the airspace approaching Logan Airport. It's a sound that has the low bass of foreboding, thanks to the events from 9/11/2001.

There's another one, more distant. Business as usual, it appears.

Friday, September 5, 2003

Welcome to Boston

For the past few evenings, I have been trying to write a nice little piece welcoming all the new college kids coming to Boston. I was going to write about all the nice places to visit in and around town. I then thought about writing some unsolicited advice ("carry a pen", "learn the names of people who serve you", etc.).

But I couldn't get the words going. And now I know why: I'm jealous of all the new college kids coming to Boston. I wish I were you. Young. Relatively care-free. Raring to explore a new city, a new environment (college!).

You kids are lucky. Boston is a tremendous city to study in, to spend college time in. And college is indeed a special time. I guess at the time, I tried to maintain a nonchalance demeanor. Maybe you do too. But know this: You will never have the kind of time you have now, ever again.

When I was in school, all roads were open. All paths were welcoming me. And I had the energy and the freedom to look down all those roads, walk down all those paths, at least for a little while. At least until I realized that maybe another path was for me. The path I'm on now.

So welcome to Boston you new kids on the block! Make sure to visit Fenway Park. Walk the Freedom Trail. Explore your college campus, and find a quiet place, a quiet nook that only you know about. Make sure you socialize once in a while in school. Learn how to find yourself. Make friends. You won't make these kinds of friends again. I promise you that.

There's time enough for the future. Live your college lives fully!

Saturday, August 30, 2003

Seeing Tiger

Yesterday, I saw Tiger Woods at a golf tournament.

He was in Norton, Massachusetts, at the Deutsche Bank Championship. I bought a ticket for the first round of this tournament the day they went on sale in April.

Tiger was the main and only attraction. When I arrived at the course, I saw that he was approaching the 9th green. I rushed over to the 10th tee. The tee box and grand stand was full, and I had to wait in a distant spot. As the throng waited for Tiger, putting on the 9th, his security entourage paced the gallery waiting on the 10th. Then, like a stampede, a herd of people started to line up along the cross walk between the 9th and the 10th. They bulged forward as Tiger strode to the 10th tee. He was a rock star, a messiah, his flock quietly but determinedly dogging his every step, as far as they were allowed.

His tee shot on 10 was a thing of wonder. A long iron that went nearly the distance of the woods that his playing partners hit (Roger Allenby, Kaname Yokoo). Straight and accurate. As the players strode off, his gallery, his band of people strode off with him.

I skipped past the crowd to the 11th tee box. It was a par 3, and I saw Tiger at some distance hit a reasonable shot. Tiger marched forward. So did his partners. So did the huge gallery, the huge controlled mob.

And then I decided to stay at the 11th tee. All that was left were a handful of people. I moved to a spot right next to the tee markers. The next group of golfers sauntered into the tee box, among them the 1995 U.S. Open champion Corey Pavin. Then the next group came, among them the 1998 Masters champion Mark O'Meara. There was no crowd to speak of. We at the tee could hear the golfers and their caddies fall into a banter of yardage, and club selection. I stayed long enough on the 11th to see the eventual leader of the tournament Justin Rose tee off.

I did make one more effort to get up close to Tiger. I managed to stand at a crosswalk, waiting for him to get to the next tee. I was an arm's length away from him, watching him walk past me. He was slim, but not slight. His head was bowed (he wasn't playing well today), but his eyes were alert and wary underneath the brim of his cap. There was a contained ferocity, a fierce concentration. The greatest golfer in the world strode past me; I won't be forgetting his eyes.

Thursday, August 28, 2003

Step Into Liquid


I watched Step Into Liquid this afternoon, my first matinee of the year. I have read a few reviews in which the director Dana Brown was taken to task for making the movie too preachy or for adding too "religious" a gloss on this sport. I disagree. This is a movie that is filled with joy.

"Step Into Liquid" has beautiful images. It is also well-paced. You moved easily from one band of surfers to another. From Wisconsin, to New Zealand, to Hawaii, and of course, to California. From rank amateurs, and people who have never stepped onto a wave, to professionals, men and women, boys and girls. I'm glad I saw the movie in the day; it would have been jarring to step out of the theater into night, after basking in the brilliant sun soaked images.

The slow-motion cinematography heightened the grace and talent and skill that these surfers brought to each ride. The choice music also added to the impact of the images. The documentary spent time on people well-versed in the sport, and each of them gave a good sense of what the fuss was all about. Every one of them was stoked.

When I lived in Southern California, going to the beach was part of the weekend ritual. I rented small body boards, so I could glide along the smaller waves. I can easily recollect the thrill of catching a good wave, hitting the board at just the right angle so I could ride it all the way to sand. The wave propelled me forward, with a speed I couldn't control. Everything around me rushed past in a blur, all the sound seemingly hushed by the wind and gurgling water. I remember the feeling: pure joy.

Saturday, August 23, 2003

Little League World Series

Alas, the little league baseball players from Saugus couldn't defeat Boynton Beach, Florida in tonight's U.S. Championship game. Congratulations on a super effort, Saugus!

Florida will play Japan for the World Series title.

Thursday, August 21, 2003

Little League World Series

A thrilling victory by the local team from Saugus, MA over Lamar National of Texas in tonight's semifinal match of the Little League World Series (baseball). The box score is amazing:
                                1 2 3 4 5 6 7   R  H E
US Southwest - Lamar National 0 2 0 1 1 6 3 13 13 2
US New England - Saugus Amer. 2 2 6 0 0 0 4 14 12 4
Reading this carefully, you'll see that New England was up by eight runs going into the fourth inning. It was over. I was already cueing up the DVD for the evening. But then Texas chips away, until they score four runs with two outs in the final inning, to tie the score (in the Little League World Series, teams play only six innings). In extra innings, Texas put up three runs. But New England was able to put up four runs in the home-half of the inning to take the win.

The actual baseball was quite good. These kids are a slower and smaller version of pro baseball. However, I did see a handful of dropped fly-balls (considered a blooper in the majors), a badly judged throw to home plate (a fielders choice that should have been an easy out to first), and a player get caught in a pickle, but the fielders couldn't get the out.

The coaches exhortations to the players were broadcast over the air: "I don't want you feeling pressure. Just swing easy!" "Hey, that play is in the past now. Just concentrate on this out." Aren't professional managers saying the same thing?

It was a great game. These kids played hard. Neither team gave in; one team just ended up scoring more runs.

Congratulations Saugus! They'll play for the U.S. Championship on Saturday.

Monday, August 18, 2003

Ideas for Writing

Ideas. I seem to keep coming up with them. Snippets of dialogue. An opening sentence. A concluding sentence. I want to write write write write them all down. Sometimes I do. On little pieces of paper. In my car. Sometimes on the PC. Invariably, they make their way into a file folder, which has dozens of little bits of writing. Ideas for stories. Ideas for movies. Ideas for scenes. I'm anxious in front of the blank stare of open writing space on my computer. Will the words from my folder ever come out? Are they worthy? Maybe. Maybe.

Saturday, August 16, 2003

Elvis Presley

Elvis Presley died August 16, 1977. I'll be kicking out the current music in my car's CD player (Coldplay), and replacing it with Elvis' "Kentucky Road", and "Suspicious Minds."

Friday, August 15, 2003

Maile Meloy

We're halfway through August.

In today's NY Times, I read a beautiful essay by Maile Meloy about summer in Montana. There, the brief summers are earned after nine long months of winter. It was a perfectly evocative article.
All winter, it had been below zero for weeks at a time. ... Windshields had to be scraped, and nothing in town was far enough away for the car's heater to warm up before you got there.

Thursday, August 14, 2003

The Drowning Machine

The NY Times quote of the day was from Lt. Fred Larow:

"They call it a drowning machine. The water was so turbulent and aerated that there was no way they could stay above water."

He was referring to the river water in which four boys drowned. The boys affectionately called one another the Baco boys, and in a reunion of sorts, they visited their childhood haunt, Split Rock Falls, 20 miles miles east of Lake Placid. One of them, David Altschuler, slipped and fell into the Boquet River. The recent rain water and the nearby water fall churned up the high water so much that the body's natural buoyancy was defeated. "Even the strongest swimmer in the world couldn't have survived it," Lt. Larlow continued.

The three other men, Adam Cohen, Jonah Richman, and Jordan Satin, friends since youth, jumped in. They all died. They were all 18-19 years old.

Ever since reading The Perfect Storm, I've always thought that drowning would be the worst way to die. There's the struggle, as the body attempts to preserve itself. But then the lungs fill with water. Choking. More struggle, then the brain shutting down, the body fighting less and less.

One of the Baco boys was co-captain of his swim team. They were all athletic. Did the three who jumped in to rescue their friend realize they were diving into a drowning machine? It's numbing thinking about it.

Tuesday, August 12, 2003

Worm

According to this page, I'm not affected by the latest Internet worm because I'm running Windows 98. For once, having an older system is paying off.

Friday, August 8, 2003

Harvey Pekar

It doesn't surprise me that Harvey Pekar has a BLOG. This is a man who's made his life available to others in illustrated books. How could he resist blogging?

It's so easy to get caught up reading about Pekar's life in American Splendor that it's easy to forget that folks who blog are doing something very similar. Here's a very slim slice of my life, on the web, for you, the random reader, to either enjoy or press the "Back" button.

In the last comic of The New American Splendor Anthology, "Meet Colin Upton", Pekar poses the question: "How can a democracy function in a nation full of people who believe that their lives and their neighbor's lives are insignificant?" His answer? "Imperfectly at best."

Harvey Pekar

I spent the past three days reading Harvey Pekar's book, The New American Splendor Anthology. Pekar's stories are illustrated, so it seems like I've been reading a comic book. A bleak comic book.

It's like reading Lynda Barry, or Bill Griffith's Zippy. You know these kinds of comics: they're in the back pages of your city's weekly magazine, the kind that's given out for free at bus or train stations.

Pekar's book is a mesmerizing look at his dilemmas and quandaries. He's a crank. He's compulsive. He's obsessive. He's a nine-to-fiver. He's a music fiend, a book hound, and he's always looking for a good deal. It's good stuff.

I got put onto to Pekar because his life has become a movie, and it opens this month.

Thursday, August 7, 2003

Flash Flooding

When I got home, the TV weather that I watched reported flash flooding in the town where I work. The meteorologist was saying something about three inches of rain in one hour. I can agree: it was torrential. On the way home, I had the wipers at its highest tempo. The area of torrential rain was very small; once I emerged from this weather cell, the air was quickly dry, and rain-free.

Tweet

It's pouring now. A heavy, dark rain. I have a window seat at work, and despite the awful looking weather, I wish I were out there now.

Wednesday, August 6, 2003

Two Keys

I've been seeing television advertising for a credit card small enough to fit on your key chain.

I don't have a key chain. I carry two keys with me during the day: my car key, and my house key. And sometimes, I can leave the house key at home (because Jenn will be home). I carry these keys separately.

I can remember carrying multiple keys in high school: the two or three keys to open up our house, the keys to the car, the keys high school newspaper office. I had the same keys issue at college: one for the dorm, one of the magazine office. I associated keys with responsibility. I marveled at those guys who seemed to carry dozens of keys; usually they were custodians, but often they were fellow students like me, who happened to acquire keys as they acquired jobs.

Two keys. That's all I got.

Thursday, July 31, 2003

Spy Kids III


I watched Spy Kids III tonight. It was fun, although there were some some cheesy and preachy moments.

For the first few minutes, as the story was establishing itself, I actually began to fear that it was a bad movie. "Oh no! My hero Robert Rodriguez made a bad movie!" But as the story progressed, it got more fun. Sylvester Stallone played his role(s) with just the right amount of exaggeration, and I'm glad he got the screen time that he did.

The movie was also 3-D, but I was disappointed. I wear glasses, and the 3-D glasses on top of them didn't give me the best effect. I keep thinking that I shouldn't be seeing so much red, or so much blue. I think the movie would have worked in 2-D though. The best 3-D that I remember seeing was at Universal Studios, and there we wore polarized glasses instead of tonight's blue/red plastic lenses.

Overall? It was OK.

Wednesday, July 30, 2003

Multiple Books

Two BLOGs that I frequent recently discussed books. It's high time I do so.

Blork wrote that he's discovered the key to reading books simultaneously. Ken wrote that he's been overwhelmed by the number of new books at Barnes and Noble.

Like Ken, I'm often astonished by the plethora of books at a huge book store like Barnes and Noble. Ken specifically points out new books, and he's right: there are a tremendous amount of new books out there. Who's reading them? More incredibly, who's writing them?

Like Blork, I am in the middle of a handful of books. I used to be far more strict about this. I never started a book if I was still reading another one. Now, I am reading three books: All the President's Men, by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward, A Walk Across France, by Miles Moreland, and Empire Falls, by Richard Russo.

After watching the movie "All the President's Men" earlier in the summer, I was finally compelled to read this famous book. It's a very dry and dense book, and I'm only able to muster a few paragraphs at a time. There are many many more names in Mr. Woodward and Mr. Bernstein's book. It shows how deliberate and painstaking the investigation was to piece together the corruption of Richard Nixon's. The book is also the first time I have seen pictures of the real Mr. Woodward and Mr. Bernstein.

My wife loved A Walk Across France, and she's been pushing me to read this for the past few months. She's right. It's not just a travelogue, but a memoir of a man who spent plenty of years in business, often forgetting to smell the roses. Mr. Moreland and his wife are walking the thin part of France north of the Pyrénées, from the Mediterranean Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. I like the book's pace.

Empire Falls by Richard Russo was a paperback I picked up strictly for its cover. I read the jacket, and saw that it was the 2002 Pulitzer Prize winner for Fiction. The jacket announced that this is a book about a man who works at a diner. My thought bubble: "What kind of stories could come from that kind of protagonist? I like diners, right?" I circled the store a few times before finally putting it into my basket and checking out. I'm glad I did. This book is super literary fiction. I'm enjoying the story very much.

Tomorrow is the last day of July, and I'll catch a movie in the theater, to fulfill my July quota.

This is SportsCenter Live

Last night, ESPN broadcast their news show Sports Center on two channels. On ESPN2, they ran the show as viewers normally watch it. On ESPN, they had cameras covering the behind-the-scenes activity as on-air talent Dan Patrick and Kevin Frazier ran through sports news.

It was great television.

Dan Patrick says doing the show is one big adrenaline rush. While on the air the announcers display a calm wit and an off-the-cuff bravado, just outside the television frame, and in their ears, and in a very rushed control room, is a swarm of activity, from people editing tapes, to the technical director counting backwards from commercial break, to the producers changing and adding to the coverage to make the show as newsworthy as possible. The show, This is SportsCenter Live, captured the in-the-ear chatter, the prep work for a highlight (situation, action, result), and revealed that the anchors wear sneakers to set. And yes, production assistants run with video tape of sports highlights to be shown during the show.

It all looks so easy watching television news. This program was a great peek at all the hard work needed to pull it off. Kudos, ESPN!

Sunday, July 27, 2003

5-Time Winners

Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France this morning. I watched a replay of the last stage (the ceremonial Paris criterium) on the Outdoor Life Network tonight, and I was treated to a very dramatic finish for the coveted green jersey, the jersey won by the best sprinter. Baden Cooke overtook Robbie McEwen right at the finish line. Paul Sherwen and Phil Liggett gave a marvelous race commentary.

But the real story, of course, is the fact that an American has broken into a very exclusive club: 5-time winners of the Tour de France. Jacques Anquetil (France), Eddy Merckx (Belgium), Bernard Hinault (France), and Miguel Indurain (Spain) were the previous 5-time winners. The cycling world will hold its collective breath until next year, when Lance could become the sole member of the 6-time winners club.

Thursday, July 24, 2003

Robert Rodriguez

Nope.

Can't get movies off the front-burner of my muse. I watched Spy Kids and Spy Kids II, in preparation to see Spy Kids III in the theater in August (or September).

The director of these movies is Robert Rodriguez. He's been a source of inspiration to me, as his love affair with movies and movie making is infectious and unique. He is not only a screen-writer and director, but he's also a director of photography, film editor, and musical score composer for nearly all of his movies. He has a heretical opinion against film, favoring digital technology (he shot Spy Kids II in high defintion), and he does nearly all of the post-production at his home in Texas.

His book Rebel Without a Crew is worth reading for anyone who's ever thought about the process behind movie making. He describes his own quest to make a movie, just to "practice" his skills, and how this small movie, El Mariachi, become a film festival award winner. His commentary track for this movie is jam-packed, and inspiring. He's an acknowledged rare breed, and his films are definitely worth checking out.

Monday, July 21, 2003

Changing a Movie's Ending

My mind has been on the movies lately. I read over the weekend that the creators of 28 Days Later... decided to change their ending, even though the movie has already been in theatrical release for the past few weeks. The producers wanted to put out the "darker ending."

1400 theaters have the film "print". The new ending will either play immediately after the credits, or be spliced in by projectionists. Highly unusual. According to the article, it's an additional four minutes of film.

When I read this, I thought immediately of the character Tyler Durden in Fight Club, who would splice in one frame of porn in children's movies. I also thought about all those evenings hanging out at the projector room during college. I knew a few of the projectionists, and became familiar with how they would irreverently handle film.



This news would have been right up their alley.

Tuesday, July 15, 2003

Bunch of Movies

I've watched a bunch of movies this month, as I'm waiting on Jenn to wrap up some writing for our little home movie. Here were three of them:

Judy Berlin featured Edie Falco, the now-famous actress playing Carmella Soprano on The Sopranos. This quiet movie about suburban ennui was punctuated with exclamation points by her ecstatic performance. Everyone moves in a dreamy, bored manner, except for her. It's a good movie.

In the Bedroom was a movie about how a murder affects a couple stuck in their ways. Grief seems fully rendered here, and this grief gives way to frustration, anger, and then an acceptance that is chilling, but inevitable. The rugged country of Maine was beautifully portrayed. Sissy Spacek gives an Oscar nominated performance.

The Royal Tenebaums, directed and co-written by Wes Anderson, is an original look at the themes of unfulfilled love and forgiveness. I loved Mr. Anderson's Rushmore, and I felt he topped that. He has a very unique look and style to his films.

Monday, July 14, 2003

Tweet

It's been two weeks since my last entry. I'm writing this from work, and it feels like I'm doing something "frowned upon." My mind is brimming with topics, including movies that I've watched, books that I'm reading, and the six minute home movie that I've been working on for the past two months. But I'll save all this for when I feel "allowed" to do this: in the middle of the night.

Monday, June 30, 2003

Stone Reader


I saw the film documentary Stone Reader last week. It was a very satisfying reflection on the reading life.

Books can move us, though this is rarely portrayed in movies. Some time ago, I watched Orange County, and in the first few minutes of that movie, the lead character spends a summer reading and rereading a book that makes him decide he wants to be a writer. The book simply changes his life, and it's the launch pad for the main plot of that movie.

Mark Moskovitz's documentary is in a similar vein. The book The Stones of Summer captured his imagination in a such a forceful way that he wanted to read other books by the same author, Dow Mossman. However, as he dove into the library, and the Internet, he not only discovered that the author didn't publish anything else, there was barely anything published about the author. So Mark goes on a journey to try to learn all that there is about the author.

Along the way, we learn about book publishing, book reading, and book reviewing. We learn about Mr. Moskovitz's deep love of reading, and the books that have affected him. We learn (or are we reminded?) that in the reverie of reading, the mind is actively constructing a world that the author builds, and this intimate action is incredibly unique, and incredibly engaging. Finally, we do learn about Dow Mossman, and the price of creativity, coupled with commerce.

This was a wonderful, thoughtful movie.

Friday, June 20, 2003

All The President's Men

Last night, I rented the DVD of All the President's Men. I was mentioning this at work near the coffee station, and an older gentleman remarked that it was the anniversary of the break-in at Watergate just the other day (June 17, 1972). He said to the group of us that we probably hadn't even been born when this happened. Not so! I was four years old.

The movie is dying for a director's commentary, an actor's commentary, a screen writer's commentary, and a historical critique commentary. Perhaps the kind folks at Criterion could spin this up. I'd buy it.

The impulse to watch it again was from reading the Boston Globe's profile on Senator John Kerry. When he was running for Congress back in early 1972, he felt Nixon operatives were at work to derail his nomination. "That Nixon sure was evil!" I thought. Then I started thinking about the movie. "I should see it again." Next thing you know, it's 11PM, and I start the two-hour movie. I couldn't break away from it.

I highly recommend this movie. You never would think that a movie whose primary action consists of phone calls and furious typing would be so compelling, but it is.

Thursday, June 19, 2003

Tweet

While searching for a computer part, I chanced upon another custom computer cabinet, this one geared to play MAME.

Tuesday, June 17, 2003

iMike

An old friend pointed me to the iMike, a complete PC built into a very customized case (a PC monitor). It's cool watching the gradual creation of this computer. The builder has worked with cabinetry before. It took him three months to make this PC, and it's very cool looking. Hats off!

Saturday, June 14, 2003

Father's Day

It's Father's Day tomorrow. I'm a Dad, so I look forward to it. Jenn said that she and Mia would be taking me out for brunch.

However, I can't rely on one day of the year to "feel special" about being Dad. I seek out Father's Moments during my week. Sometimes it's in the way Mia will grab my hand when we're out walking. Or, at the height of play, she'll be laughing and squealing, and she'll say breathlessly "Daddy!" Or the way she'll smile when I turn around to look at her when we're at a stop light.

Being a Dad can be about hardship, exhaustion, frayed feelings. I'm tormented by the simple question: "Am I doing enough?" But it's also filled with moments of joy and pride and love. Tomorrow is the national recognition of those positive feelings, but after tomorrow, it'll be up to me to continue seeking out these precious moments.

Friday, June 6, 2003

Speeding

I was pulled over this morning for speeding. Speeding! I was going 75 MPH in a 55 MPH zone, but I was cruising in a road designated as a construction site. I could have been looking at double the normal fine. The trooper claimed I was at 81 MPH on the radar.

He certainly made me wait as he writing up the ticket. I sat contrite, fuming at myself. I kept thinking about the moments before I saw the flashing lights immediately behind me. I remember blowing by someone in the passing lane, and forgetting to decelerate. I saw the trooper pull out as I blowing by, and I knew that he was pulling out for me.

In the end, he gave me a citation, and $100 fine. He told me that this was the minimum fine, and that I should just be careful. Aye aye.

Wednesday, May 28, 2003

Be Not Nobody

Today, I listened to Vanessa Carlton's album, Be Not Nobody. It's a wonderful album! The sound is so luscious and sweeping. I kept hearing her song "A Thousand Miles" on the radio during my twice-daily thirty-minute commute, and I enjoy the rumbling piano, and the uplifting orchestration. The rest of the songs on the CD are just as splendid. I'll probably listen to it for the rest of the week in my car.

Thursday, May 22, 2003

Annika Sorenstam

As I write this, Annika Sorenstam, the number one female golfer in the world, birdied the fourth hole at the Bank of America Colonial, a men's PGA Tour event. She is the first woman in 58 years to be playing in a men's field. The course is a par 70, measuring 7080 yards, and it will be longest course she has ever played in competition. I'll be watching her over the next few days, and hopefully, into the weekend.

Last year's winner (Nick Price) finished 13-under par. In earlier interviews, she has acknowledged that making the cut and shooting just plain par would be excellent. Good luck, Annika!

Tuesday, May 20, 2003

The Matrix: Reloaded


I saw The Matrix: Reloaded last night. What a mind-bender!

I didn't see the first Matrix movie in the theater. I borrowed someone's video tape. I remember how blown away I was at the universe concocted by the writer/director brothers, Andy and Larry Wachowski. Basically, they propose that the "real world" is not really "real" at all. We're all in a Matrix, living an imagined life while evil machines suck our dreaming bodies of energy. The "man in the machine."

This movie opens by introducing us to a whole civilization of people who have avoided becoming part of the Matrix. Instead, they wage a desperate war against the machines, with Neo, Morpheus, and Trinity diving into the Matrix to unlock secrets. The end of the movie is so frought with hard questions that it definitely demands a reviewing. I won't have to wait long for the DVD, I imagine. The third part of the Matrix trilogy will be released by the end of this year!

Thursday, May 15, 2003

Tweet

I want to say for the record that I am very much on the Mighty Ducks bandwagon.

Monday, May 5, 2003

Planting Grass

The grass has been growing in our lawn! I wish I had done a time-lapse video, or at least taken some decent before and after shots.

Tuesday, April 29, 2003

Joe Jaena

Last October, I wrote about throwing out my old hockey equipment. Today, I received an e-mail from Joan Broadway, who found that piece of writing while searching for Joe Jaena on the Internet. She gave me some terrible news: Joe passed away, in December 2000.

Joe was the captain of the hockey team I played for. Her e-mail put me in a sad spell for a few minutes. I guess I always thought that Joe would find that web page himself, and drop me a line. Now I know that won't ever happen.

Confidence


I watched Confidence in the movie theaters last night.

The director of Confidence, James Foley, also directed Glengarry Glen Ross. Once I learned that, I knew I had to see this. GGR is one amazing movie! When I scanned the cast listing, and saw Robert Forster, that sealed the deal. I really enjoyed Robert's portrayal of Max Cherry in Jackie Brown; his role in Confidence is substantially smaller. (The cast was studded with super stars, including Dustin Hoffman and Andy Garcia).

The movie was about a con, a crime, a heist. And like an old book from high school, it felt very familiar. The lead character (Jake Vig, played by Edward Burns with his trademark scowl) even says that a good con is like a play: everyone knows their lines.

I was intrigued by some reviews that said you'll know what to expect, you just won't know when. The movie was like comfort food. You like it. Just enjoy it! And I did.

Sunday, April 27, 2003

Woodpecker

While on my walk, I heard the distinctive sound of a wood pecker, pecking away. I was under him, by the proximity of the sound. I looked up at the four or five trees. The bird pecked-pecked, stopped, then resumed, then stopped. I had to wait for him to hammer before I could hone in on him. It took a few minutes before I could finally spot spot him. There he was! His head jack-hammering into the tree. Mia was blissfully pushing her hand through some dirt. My head was looking towards the sky.

Planting Grass

I'm happy to report that the slightest of grass blades have begun to appear. Jenn spotted them, while I was on my way out with Mia for a walk. "You have to look at the ground at an angle." Sure enough, there they were, so small and delicate. With the warmer weather coming, we should be seeing the green fuzz of new grass over the next few days. I'm excited by this possibility.

Wednesday, April 23, 2003

Planting Grass

Two Sundays ago, Jenn's Dad came over and we planted some grass. We raked and prepared the ground, then spread fertilizer, then spread seed. So far, no grass. But today, somewhat at work suggested that it's still a little too cold for the grass seeds to grow. He said to wait until a few weeks of solid evenings in the 50 degree range. I'm guessing that's mid-May.

Tuesday, April 15, 2003

Light Jacket

Today, the temperatures are expected to be over 70 degrees! I'll be wearing short sleeves, and I'll be carrying my light jacket. Unfortunately, the weather will turn cold again. Up and down. New England weather. But today will be a wonderful bite into warm sunshine.

Sunday, April 6, 2003

Thirty-Five

I turned thirty-five years old today.

Friday, April 4, 2003

VxWorks

I spent the last four days attending a training seminar on VxWorks, the real-time operating system from Wind River.

This operating system is booted up and loaded to run the small computer program used by some modern fighter jet ejection seats. The computer program calculates an angle, according to the Michel Chabroux, the instructor of our seminar. He brought up the ejection seat story because it illustrated the need for a fast booting operating system. VxWorks can go from zero to application run within seconds. I know it takes my PC up to a minute to fire up, and then it takes up to a minute to start mail, and my web browser. Jenn and I typically leave it on during the day. A pilot needing to abort can't wait that long. I spent the week looking at the operating system that helps him out in this situation.

Who was the programmer who wrote that little program? How big was the VxWorks OS (it can be made very small if you don't need all of its features)? If you're reading this, send me an e-mail!

Tuesday, April 1, 2003

Micahel Jeter

Jenn noticed in the obituaries today that Michael Jeter died. He played the lovable "Mr. Noodle" on Sesame Street. Mia could say his name ("nooou-nooou"). Jenn and I delighted in his very expressive acting. Elmo always introduced Mr. Noodle as "Mr. Noodle's brother, Mr. Noodle!". Reading Mr. Jeter's obituary, it's striking to realize that you probably have seen him, even if you don't watch Elmo. He was in The Green Mile (with Tom Hanks), Patch Adams (with Robin Williams), and True Crime (with Clint Eastwood). But I won't be missing him in those roles. I'll be missing Mr. Noodle, Elmo's comic relief.

Monday, March 31, 2003

Tweet

I posted pictures of Mia from the past birthday weekend. Enjoy!

Sunday, March 30, 2003

Mia Turns Two

My daughter turned two years old on March 28. We had lots of fun having a little party. She didn't seem to like the cake though: she cried furiously when the candles were being lit, and she didn't even want to sit near it. Thankfully, later, she did have some cake for a snack. I'll have the obligatory pictures up on the web site soon.

Thursday, March 27, 2003

Talk To Her


I watched Talk to Her tonight (technically, last night, as I write this). The original title is "Hable con ella". I went to Kendall Square's Landmark Theater, a theater featuring what some would consider "non-commercial" films (foreign, documentary, "art-house").

The director of this movie is Pedro Almodóvar, the acclaimed Spanish director, creator of "Tie Me Up, Tie Me Down", and "All About My Mother". "Talk to Her" was the 2003 Academy Award Winner for Best Original Screenplay.

The basic story: two women in a coma; two men who are their caretakers; friendships grow; love grows; in the silence of these women, there are stories, secrets. It's a beautiful movie. I cried (I'm glad I go alone; I make sure never to sit next to anyone). I laughed (despite the captions, you know when something's supposed to be funny). I saw bullfighting. I saw ballet. It moves at a patient pace. It's thoroughly original.

This is the third movie I've seen in the theater this year.

Tuesday, March 25, 2003

ScriptLance

ScriptLance is a website that exemplifies the frictionless economy. It's a gathering place where web developers/programmers can bid on "odd jobs" from web sites that need extra work. It seemed like a good way to make a few extra bucks, so I signed up as a programmer. So far, I haven't been able to get to work.

ScriptLance is too frictionless. It's like EBay, but in reverse. The "employer" can always get the "lowest bidder" for his/her job. Here's an example: someone wants to make an auction website. They want it by the middle of May. The lowest bid: $1. The highest bid for the job: $3000. One person out of twenty-two bidders, has deemed their time for this job to be worth $3000. Could this person make a living on this? One 45-day job for $3000?

I know jobs are getting done. Webmasters (owners of the web sites) and web developers are receiving feedback, and presumably web developers are getting paid. But here's another example of how crazy things can get: someone wants to add "membership" capabilities to their web site. This involves personalized pages, auto responders, mailing lists, etc. The web master has listed $10/hour as their minimum fee. At least programmers can put in a reasonable quote here, but the lowest bid is again $1, with the highest being $2500.

Browsing ScriptLance is enticing yet exhausting. There are some nice little odd jobs. Software installations. Code modifications. Things I know I can do. Yet the bidding for jobs is very immediate. And the favored programmers have feedback associated with their IDs. You can't get feedback unless you've done some work. But it seems as if you can't get work unless you have good feedback. What about resume? What about my ten years of "industry" experience.

It's capitalism, of course, in its purest form. It's capitalism made frictionless.

It's easy for me to be shrug off a failed bid because I have a day job that supports me pretty well. I'm just glad I'm in a position not to have to compete for work on ScriptLance.

Saturday, March 22, 2003

Rumaila

Grumble.

Here's the deal. Rumalia seems to actually be spelled RUMAILA. I was reading the Globe and the Times and found the correct spelling there. It's either my ego, or my bad hearing that caused me to see it spelled Rumalia. (I probably should have realized the misspelling when Google only produced web sites that didn't include current news.)

Rumalia

Rumalia, the name for some oil fields in Iraq, contain my last name, in between an "R" and an "A". "R"-"UMALI"-"A". It's odd now seeing the name Rumalia go by in some CNN Headline News pop-up or MSNBC news "crawl".

Thursday, March 20, 2003

Kevin Sites

While crusing for new BLOGs to read, I chanced upon Kevin Sites|blog, a solo-journalist reporting for CNN on the war in Iraq. Amazing: he says that the "huge" number of people using satellite phones is causing connectivity problems. He's trying to BLOG from Iraq...I'm blogging from the comfort of my own home. Our medium is the same web browser you're using to read this. Amazing.

Monday, March 17, 2003

Saddam Hussein

Do you think Saddam Hussein ever googles himself? If he does, he may hit this page, and be counted as one of my "visitors". If so, then I would be remiss not to remind him that he has under two days, as I write this, to leave Iraq. Or else!

Wednesday, March 12, 2003

Tweet

A woman missing for the past nine months is now found. A man about the executed, was given a reprieve within ten minutes of his execution. A miraculous day.

Monday, March 10, 2003

Two Years of Blogging

It's now been two years since I started writing this BLOG.

I read an article a few weeks ago about Junot Diaz, a writer who is experiencing writer's block. I don't write professionally; this is the only outlet I have for writing, and I suppose if I needed to do this professionally, I probably will encounter days in which I couldn't get it going.

Since March 10, 2001, I wrote 330 entries into this BLOG. Some entries have been as short as a few words. Others were lengthier. I doubt that any entry is as as long as a typical column done by the columnists I like to read. Some of them, like Sam Allis, have columns that appear once a week. Others, like Bob Ryan, have columns that appear two or three times a week.

While at my Mom-in-Law's, I skimmed through Andy Rooney's book Common Nonsense. In it (I'm paraphrasing), he said that people who think writing is easy sometimes equate it with penmanship: the act of writing as the physical act of putting letters to paper (or typing, as I'm doing now). That writing is easy. But the writing that he does, and the writing that Mr. Diaz does, as well as Mr. Allis, and Mr. Ryan, is pretty hard.

Or is it? Billy Joel wrote "New York State of Mind" in an afternoon. Paul Thomas Anderson said it took him a few months to write Sydney, which is the equivalent of speed-writing in Hollywood. But he admitted that it took him a year to write Magnolia. Quentin Tarantino said it took him a year to adapt/write Jackie Brown, and it was already a published book (Rum Punch, by Elmore Leonard).

Bill Weld has now written three books, all after his years as governor of Massachusetts. He said that in school, he learned to write from outlines. He decided one day to make an outline of a book, and go from there. He made it sound so simple. And maybe it is.

For me? Some days it's easy to produce sentences, produce words. Others...well, let's say I'm glad I don't have to do this for pay. Well, it's late. Happy reading! Good night.

Wednesday, March 5, 2003

Ash Wednesday

Today was Ash Wednesday. I received ashes in the morning. The older I get, the less perturbed I am by Lent, the forty days before Easter in which Catholics are normally abstaining from meat on Fridays, as well as giving up "something". I heard a homily last Sunday in which Lent should be thought of as a period of "feasting" on positive things, and "fasting" from negative things. I found the list mentioned in the homily, and it's a wonderful sentiment going into this Lenten season.

Monday, March 3, 2003

Enetation

I've been busy with my BLOG actually. I finally added two features that I've been meaning to add for quite some time: links and comments.

Each specific entry in this on-line journal can be linked via a URL to the archive page which that entry belongs to. Moreover, the link contains a NAME field, which will also allow direct the browser to the specific entry. I had a heck of a time getting this to work, and I plan to document it later.

But even better than links are comments. Thanks to Blork's Blog, I found Enetation, a web service for hosting comments you may have about any specific entry. Just click on the comments link, and drop a quick line. Your e-mail and web addresses are optional.

Thursday, February 27, 2003

Midlife

I sometimes worry that I'm right smack in the middle of my life. Right there in the middle.

Friday, February 21, 2003

Adaptation


I watched Adaptation tonight (technically, last night, as I write this). I hoofed to Harvard Square, and drank in a little atmosphere before disappearing into the "4-Ramp Low" screen at Harvard Loews Cinema.

The twist in the movie reminds me a great deal of Paul Auster's The New York Trilogy. The first book, City of Glass, features a character who receives a phone call. "Is this Paul Auster?" asks an urgent voice. The main character says "No." But after repeated phone calls for the mysterious Paul Auster, the main character eventually says "Yes."

Charlie Kaufman writes himself into his adaptation of Susan Orlean's book, The Orchid Thief, and we're on a marvelous and perilous journey as Charlie struggles with how to structure a screen play on top of a structure-less novel.

Adaptation is about creativity. It's also about passion. It's about the writing life, depicted in all its difficulty, and banality. In Kaufman's other screenplay, Being John Malkovich, we peek inside the head of the actor Malkovich. In Adaptation, we take a peek inside the screenwriter, and oh, how twisted it is.

This is the second movie I've seen in the theater this year.

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

Heavy Snow

Somehow, I made it to work, despite the heavy heavy snow fall. I shoveled a little bit last night, after dinner, during the heavy snow fall, and I shoveled a lot in the morning, to dig my car out. The temperature promises to break 35 degrees tomorrow, and through the weekend. I'm hoping for a little snow-melt. I'm hoping for a little relief.

Monday, February 10, 2003

Joblessness

Bob Herbert of the New York Times wrote a telling op-ed piece about joblessness in America. It's heartbreaking, actually. "If you want to see desperation close up, look at the eyes of the increasing numbers of breadwinners who can't find work."

Wednesday, February 5, 2003

Michael Pouliot

Michael Pouliot died in Kuwait last month. He was a founding member of Tapestry Solutions. Mike leaves two daughters and a wife.

I found out about his horrible death this afternoon from NPR. Michael wasn't a soldier. He wasn't a reporter. He was a software engineer. A programmer. He was like me, and all the rest of us computer folks, except he worked on defense software. He was a military contractor, and he was in Kuwait installing software. He was driving in an SUV with David Caraway, another Tapestry Solutions programmer, when an unknown number of unidentified gunmen opened fire on it. David was injured. Michael was killed.

Reading the eulogy on the company web site, I see that Mike had a focus on military software. He had a real customer-focus, and believed that you needed to be near the users to understand their issues. For him, this meant being in battle-scarred Kuwait.

I don't think young students studying computers ever think about being in harm's way. I know I never did. But from my job at a computer systems company that serves the defense industry, among other markets, I can sense first-hand the reliance of computers in war-fare. I often see hardware chassis that will make their way into planes, and battle cruisers. I'm at peace with this. Bigger companies build the planes, or the cruisers, or the tanks, and then they put our systems in them. We're just a small piece of the machinery. Well out of harm's way.

But as systems get more complex, as the reliance of computer systems grows, more and more military contractors are finding themselves near the front-lines. And with last month's news about Mike Pouliot, the proximity to this danger can be perilous.

Unlike our intrepid astronauts, for whom the risks were well known and understood, Mike's job as a software engineer (and company executive) should have been risk-free. I'm sure he was told to "be careful", but he was a civilian. He was just there to install software. I'll feel the senselessness of his death. The randomness. As we head towards a confrontation with Iraq, I will be remembering Mike as already having paid the highest-price for our freedom, and for our military.

Monday, February 3, 2003

Columbia

Like all of us, I'm still dealing with the recent tragedy of the Space Shuttle Columbia. I take solace in President Bush's speech from that dreadful Saturday morning, February 1: "The same Creator who names the stars also knows the names of the seven souls we mourn today. The crew of the shuttle Columbia did not return safely to Earth; yet we can pray that all are safely home."

Thursday, January 30, 2003

25th Hour


I watched Spike Lee's movie 25th Hour last night. I heartily agree with those critics who say that this is Spike Lee's finest work.

The last movie that I saw by Spike Lee was Bamboozled, a satire that had a preachy feel to it. I saw this on DVD. 25th Hour is a simpler story: a man, about to serve a seven-year prison sentence, is living his last day as a free man. He meets with his father, with his friends, with his enemies, with his lover. Despite the somber theme, the movie was oddly touching.

The signature Spike Lee moments are here: the rant to the audience about New York, an actor floating across the scene on a dolly, the nod to New York sports (a New York Yankees cap has a brief role in the film). But Spike also let's the story and the characters bloom in a way that felt very different from Bamboozled. His latest "joint" feels fresh.

I am glad this was my first theater movie of 2003.