Friday, December 31, 2004

Hello 2005

Good-bye 2004. The year the Red Sox won the series. The year I changed jobs. The year I wrote a novel (and no, I haven't read it yet). What's up for next year? What about my books and movies from this past year? Did I really write fifty letters? Tune in again.

Good-bye 2004. Hello 2005.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

Tuning a Guitar

My daughter Mia received a guitar this weekend. It's a kid's guitar, but it's a fully functioning instrument.

I used to play the guitar when I was little (around fifth, sixth grade). I took guitar lessons, and learned how to play some basic chords. First song I ever learned: Bad Moon Rising (G-D-C). I can also hit the notes for Happy Birthday and the main theme to Star Wars. I still remember how to play these songs even though I haven't owned a guitar in several years.

I got my hands on Mia's guitar in the afternoon and tried some of my songs, but the guitar was sorely out of tune. Mia also enjoys playing with the tuning knobs at the end of the guitar, which wasn't a help.

I visited a web site to relearn the basics of tuning. I eventually found Tuner Tool, a free program that let me hear the correct notes for the guitar. But this wasn't enough. I had a hard time matching the notes played by the tuner to the notes played on Mia's guitar.

After more minutes with Google, I found a better program, by Encore. This tool not only played the correct notes, but using a PC microphone (which I had), it "listened" to the notes the guitar was playing, and pointed out whether it was too sharp or too flat. It's quite amazing seeing the display change as the note played. I was able to tune the guitar in minutes! I recommend this tool (and yes, I'll be buying a license).

Monday, December 20, 2004

Jeri Ellsworth

The New York Times ran an article about Jeri Ellsworth who recently produced a version of the ancient Commodore 64 computer that runs on one chip. A company has packaged this up into a joystick, and it's now being sold on QVC (search for E22494). Jeri is a self-taught computer chip designer, who quit high school, but has clearly followed her interest in chip design to the highest level. The article contains a marvelous quote from Andrew Singer, a high-tech executive, who hired Ms. Ellsworth as a consultant: "It's possible to get a credential and not have passion." How true. How true! Are we doing work that we're passionate about? I can relate to Ms. Ellsworth's resourceful childhood and her deep interest in knowing how her computer worked. She pursued something she was very interested in, and didn't let her lack of a degree keep her from learning, or making a contribution. I admire people like her!

Sunday, December 19, 2004

Behind the Counter

I sometimes wonder how I'd do working behind the counter at McDonalds. I'd probably kick some serious ass.

I go to the same McDonalds nearly every Saturday for lunch. I've observed how the orders go from the cashier to the monitors, and then onto trays or into take-out bags. I can see where the sandwiches are deposited after they're made. I can see the fries as they're being salted and then scooped into serving cartons.

Yet the level of service can really vary, despite all of these sytems. Sometimes the person behind the counter is new, and doesn't count the order. Sometimes they don't know how to ring up the order, or make change. Sometimes they're just plain slow. And even though I have the look of patience on my face, inside I'm wondering: how long will this person keep their job at this McDs? How many botched orders, or slow transactions will it take before they're back out on the street looking for other ways to make money?

I have never worked in a restaurant, much less a fast-food restaurant. I don't have a real foundation for my complaints, other than it's taking long enough to take the "fast" out of "fast-food". Moments like this, I ask myself: Why didn't I just do the drive-thru?

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Ice Skating

There is now an ice skating rink in the Eiffel Tower. That's right, in the Eiffel Tower itself. Patinez au Premiér Etage de la Tour Eiffel! The rink is nearly 200 feet in the air, and the sensation of flying must be quite acute!

Unlike golf, where the course is often a beautiful destination, ice skating rinks are largely utilitarian and indoors. There's a lot of hardware needed to keep a sheet of ice hard smooth. For pure destination ice skating, you must go outdoors.

I've been lucky. When I first moved to Boston, I lived near the Public Garden, a gorgeous walking garden that features a quiet pond with swans and swan boats. During my first cold winter in Boston, I found that the pond froze into a perfect patch of ice. In the late evening hours, I would skate around the darkened pond, careful to avoid thin ice, thrilling to how open the space was. It was glorious.

I haven't had that kind of raw ice skating experience since. When Jenn and I visited Rockefeller Center in New York City, I told her we'd have to ice skate there, but we never have.

Maybe the news of the Eiffel Tower hits me because I first experienced ice skating at an outdoor rink. Jersey City. Palisades Avenue (Pershing Field). I had borrowed ice skates. I somehow knew that I was taking the very first steps in a long ice skating love affair.

Sunday, December 5, 2004

Gift Ideas

My wife was surprised when my holiday gift list didn't include any kind of electronic gadget.

Honestly, I can't think of anything I might want, much less need. Last year, I asked for and received a Tungsten E, but I have rarely used it (I have most of my data in an old Handspring Visor). I kept resolving to migrate my data over to this sleeker, more powerful PDA, but I haven't done it yet. Maybe next year I'll do it.

My shelves have plenty of items that I have bought, but never used. I don't like the idea of adding to this pile.

A lot of the cool stuff that I want really require a new computer (I run an ancient 530Mhz Windows 98 box). Because of this, I can't use an iPod, nor can I really get a digital video camera. I need beefier hardware.

So what do I want this holiday season? Same thing that I want every year: books and DVDs. And socks are always a great gift.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004


Today is a gift. That's why it's called "the present."

I heard that at a Toastmasters meeting from many years ago. I remember being quite affected by that statement. Today is a gift. It's a present.

I think I'll keep this in mind during Thanksgiving tomorrow.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004


Ladies and gentlemen: Rick's profile, courtesy of Blogger.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

This Fish Needs a Bicycle

This past Sunday, I read a funny article about BLOGging and dating by Heather Hunter, who writes the BLOG This Fish Needs a Bicycle. It's a terrific piece describing the perils of courtship in today's BLOGging age.

So of course I visited her BLOG and read a bunch of her entries. They are nearly all wonderful. She reveals her triumphs and her insecurities. She examines her past, studies her present, and ponders her future.

I sometimes wish I could write with her openness. Keeping a BLOG on the Internet isn't exactly being 'closed', but I'm just a bit more reserved (just like in real life). I'd be scared to have you read anything that's too personal about myself. I still keep a private journal (it's electronic), and it frightens me the stuff I put in there from even a week ago!

Fish is not frightened by the private stuff. At least, she's not frightened of writing about the private stuff. Check it out!

Sunday, November 14, 2004

A Novel

I finished writing the novel!

My first draft clocks in at 301 pages (96,460 words). It was weird reaching the end. There just wasn't anything more the character needed to say. I tapped out THE END and sighed.

I have an idea for another novel, a longer work. But instead of just jumping in, I'm going to do an outline. This is something I'll probably start next year. My plan now is to let this one settle, then to reread it sometime in December.

Friday, November 12, 2004


It snowed a little today.

The brief snow shower ended a few hours ago, but roads had their first taste of slush, and trees were bent a bit by the little accumulation. I was chilled, not quite to the bone, but close enough. I may break down and put on the big coat, but temperatures are expected to be in the mid-40s next week.

As we say in New England: Aw, hell!

Monday, November 8, 2004

A Novel

277 pages (double-spaced). 89,000 words. That's what I've got so far in my first attempt at a novel. That's the result of sixty days of writing (I've missed eight days of writing due to vacation and the World Series).

The few books that I've read on novel writing say that after you've finished (and I think I'm almost finished), you should set aside the book for a few weeks. Let it simmer. After this break, pick it up and reread it, revising it, marking it up. After making changes from this first review, set it aside again. Repeat as necessary until you can see the polish.

The one overriding thought I have: where am I going to print 277 pages?

Tuesday, November 2, 2004


I voted today. I hope you do too.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

World Series 2004: Red Sox!

I woke up feeling odd. Did the Red Sox really sweep the Cardinals to win the World Series? The morning newscast answered that question: here were the Red Sox buses, driving with a police escort from the airport to Fenway Park. Reporters were breathless, describing the last out, praising Manny Ramirez (World Series MVP), and lauding the 2004 Red Sox, winners of the World Series.

At the bus stop today, a gentleman Red Sox fan remarked "This will change the whole psyche of the Red Sox Nation." I know my own psyche has changed, for the better.

Today, Red Sox Nation wakes up to a new day as champions.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

World Series 2004

The Red Sox are now one precious win from winning the World Series. In a clean game played with exemplary defense, the Sox beat the Cardinals, 4-1. Pedro pitched masterfully. He was the old school Petey. David ("the Big Cat") Ortiz, our designated hitter in American League games, came up huge on defense. And St. Louis just looked flat out dejected, after some missed opportunities.

I'm a Sox fan, a member of the ever-growing Red Sox Nation, and I know nothing is certain. But I'm in a heightened state of alert. We're right now in the same position as the Yankees had us a few weeks ago, up 3-0 in a best-of-seven. But the Cardinals don't look like the Red Sox.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

World Series 2004

Red Sox have won their first two World Series games over the Cardinals. Two more victories left. Can this team do it? Can they!?

Friday, October 22, 2004

World Series 2004

So how have I followed this past ALCS on the Internet?

I have been enjoying the writing and links on The Joy of Sox, a BLOG by Allan Wood, who wrote a book about the 1918 World Series, which was the last World Series that the Red Sox won.

Replacement Level Yankees Weblog, by Larry Mahnken, provided a lot of sane analysis. He kept a very civil tone of discourse, and explained what the Game 7 loss meant to him.

I also have enjoyed the enthusiastic writing of ESPN's Bill Simmons (the Page 2 column). His column on Game 7 is a marvelous treatment from an old-time Red Sox fan.

Mike and the Mad Dog on WFAN, a New York City radio sports show, gave a great introduction in their first show after Game 7. It's an audio clip. Search their archives for "Oct .21-Mike & Dog open the show after the Yankees complete their collapse in Game 7 of the ALCS."

I'm a stammering idiot compared to the writers and announcers above. But I try. In addition to this BLOG, I spout off my missives and non-sequiturs on, a USENET newsgroup. And for real time action, find me on #baseball_primer, an IRC chat room. During the game, I'm online, firing the one liners as fast as I can type. My handle is easy: rickumali.

Go Red Sox!

World Series 2004

The St. Louis Cardinals have defeated the Houston Astros in Game 7 to win the National League Championship Series. They will face (deep breath) the Boston Red Sox in the World Series, starting Saturday.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

ALCS 2004

The Red Sox are in the World Series!

With a decisive 10-3 win (although don't ask me to relive the game; that inning by Pedro took years off my life), the Sox pushed past the New York Yankees to the 2004 World Series.

Last year, I was officially baptized into the cursed and wailing fandom that is Red Sox Nation. Last year was pure heart ache and sorrow.

This year is the total polar opposite. Joy. Elation. Relief.

The Red Sox have done what no baseball team has done: come back from a 3-0 hole to force and win a best of seven series.

And now we're in the World Series!

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

ALCS 2004: Why Not Us?

Why not us? Tonight, the Red Sox beat the Yankees in Game 6, 4-2. The Red Sox have forced a series deciding Game 7. This is without precedent.

Tonight's game had everything: homers, overturned calls, cops in riot gear, and a mesmerizing performance by Curt Schilling, the hobbled ace of the Sox pitching staff. Game 7 is tomorrow. Or, more accurately, later today.

It all comes down to one more game.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

ALCS 2004

The Sox are killing me. They're exhausting my spectator reserves. They're taking me (and all of Red Sox Nation) to the brink. And I'm following them. Good God, I'm following them. Game Five last night was epic. Monstrous. Outlandish. Red Sox 5, Yankees 4. Sox win. Sox win! Papi has etched himself a place in Sox lore. Manny had better step up. Damon too. But we're at the brink again. Good God.

ALCS 2004

The Red Sox won another thrilling game at Fenway. The series is now going to a sixth game, the Yankees having won three, but the Sox having won the last two. Thrilling baseball!

Monday, October 18, 2004

ALCS 2004

I just got back from my trip to Virginia. And I'm excited about Game 5. Being away from Boston and watching the Game 3 loss was demoralizing! Last night, at 1AM, with the score still tied, knowing I had a busy morning with a flight to catch, I gave up on the game. I was upset and frustrated. This morning, hearing the result, it hit me like a burst of adrenaline. We're down 3-1, but I'm feeling good. Pedro, don't let me down!

Thursday, October 14, 2004

ALCS 2004

Where are the vaunted Red Sox bats? Red Sox lost Game Two, 3-1. But now the series returns to Fenway Park for three games. I've not lost hope yet.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

ALCS 2004

Red Sox made it exciting against the Yankees, but they lost Game 1, 10-7. At least there's a game tomorrow.

Monday, October 11, 2004

The Yes Men

I watched The Yes Men last night. This was my third movie in a theater this year.

Completely hilarious. Mike Moore-esque (he makes an appearance), but more sly, more subtle, less obvious.

The subjects of the documentary, Andy Bichlbauer and Mike Bonnano, wrote a satirical web site of the World Trade Organization. In due time, their site reached the attention of conference planners, and they received an invitation to speak on behalf of the World Trade Organization. What they say at the conference, and at other speaking engagements, is the height of lunacy. It speaks directly to the corporate politeness that pervades diplomacy and the white collar work force. Everyone nods. No one's thinking.

A nice short movie, it reminded me to use my brain. To think things through critically. What am I being told? And why? In an election year, it's a necessary reminder.

Saturday, October 9, 2004

ALCS 2004

The American League Championship Series will be the Boston Red Sox versus the New York Yankees. A repeat of the matchup last year.

The first game is Tuesday at the Bronx. Bring on the Bombers!

Friday, October 8, 2004


Red Sox! Red Sox! Red Sox!

Wednesday, October 6, 2004

Red Sox

Red Sox 9. Angels 3.

The second game is tonight at 10PM on the East Coast. Petey on the mound. He pitches better in warmer weather, and the West Coast is full of that warm weather mojo.

Monday, October 4, 2004

Red Sox

The Boston Red Sox will be taking on the Anaheim Angels in the American League Division Series (best of five). The winner of this series will face the winner of the New York Yankees versus Minnesota Twins division series.

Sox fans in Red Sox Nation are cautiously optimistic. Me? I'm scared. I'm anxious. Let's get the series started!

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Red Sox

The Red Sox have clinched their play off berth. All the old feelings are starting to rise to the surface again. I'm anxious to know our Division Series opponent. Who'll pitch third? (We know Schilling and Martinez are one and two, but what about Lowe, or Arroyo, or Wakefield?) Are the hitters going to stay hot? Is anybody going to cowboy up? Is Francona ("Tito") up to the challenge of playoff ball? Is the Garciaparra trade going to bite us in the ass (not if Chicago keeps losing)?

All I have is questions. But in a few days it will be October, and I'm going to get some answers, whether I like them or not.

Monday, September 20, 2004

A Novel

Every night, since around mid-August I've been writing pages and pages towards a novel about a retiring pro athlete. What a strange voyage this has become! The fact that I haven't let up says something to me. I think it says "I'm crazy." In fact, I actually wrote about 100 manuscript pages (double-spaced, one inch margins), then scrapped it because it felt too boring. I've sometimes wondered in this space whether I could "keep up" a writing schedule. Well, it appears that I can.

Thursday, September 9, 2004


It's weird to me, watching pro football on a humid day in September. Patriots 3, Colts 10 in the second quarter. I know there are people who have been starving for this sports day since the dizzy hours of Superbowl XXXVIII. Me? I'm starting to play closer attention to the Red Sox.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

Beth Kavanagh

Beth Marie Kavanagh, my dental hygienist, died last weekend. Her obituary was in the newspaper today. She was 47.

When I moved to Boston in 1991, I hadn't been to the dentist in nearly three years. While brushing and flossing kept my teeth relatively OK, I sorely needed a dentist's cleaning.

Jenn said I should go to her dentist. They had an office two blocks from my Back Bay apartment. Beth would be my hygienist. It took her two visits to work through all the plaque that was on my teeth.

I have kept up my dentist visits since then (twice a year). My appointments were with Beth. She was a wonderful person to be with. I always felt like she was attentive, and interested in what I was up to. I considered her a terrific conversationalist. She has read this BLOG, and she regaled me with her views on cycling (she was an avid cyclist) and movies and books. In the obituary, it's reported that she was the same way with many others, and I'm not surprised.

The last time I saw her, in May, she was walking around with a cane. She explained that she had a condition that required a lot of physical therapy. A few weeks after that visit, I received a form letter from her on her office's letterhead. She was asking her patients to keep their scheduled appointments, and not to switch dates to when she would be able to work on us. According to the article, she died of chondrosarcoma, a form of cancer.

As a patient, lying on the dentist's chair, I would sometimes watch her eyes as they looked into my mouth. She worked carefully with her instruments. I could sometimes hear her stomach rumbling, depending on the time of day. When she smiled behind her mask, her eyes gave it away. She was consistently full of mirth, and she made each visit pleasant.

My next appointment with Beth would have been in the December. I will make my appointment, but I'm sad because my favorite hygienist will not.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

At the Beach

Today, thanks to a company outing, I was at the beach.

I went swimming. The water was chilly, but after a few teeth chattering minutes, I got used to it. I swam alongside the coastline, and away into the deeper water. I haven't been swimming in probably many years. (Coincidentally, I was at this same beach for another company a few years ago, and it was probably then that I was last in water.)

I marveled at the feeling of suspension, just at the ledge of the beach where I couldn't touch the bottom with my feet. I waved my arms and legs trying to stay afloat, and then my body remembered that all I had to do was lie down in a relaxed prone position to stay floating. The water was murky, and it was salty (I didn't open my eyes underwater). But I put some of it in my mouth and squirted it out, like I was some sea animal.

There was a buoy probably a hundred or two hundred yards beyond the beach. A boat was settled next to it. From land, the buoy seemed reachable, but in the water, my amateur swimming stroke only got me a third of the way there. I didn't trust myself to get back to shore even if I could reach it.

The company party largely stayed on the beach, but a few of us die-hards romped in the New England water. There's the bigness of the water that is both comforting and mildly terrifying. Someone nearby reminded me not to panic. Don't flail. Relax. Your body is naturally buoyant.

The longer I stayed, the stronger the pull of the water. The tide was coming in. Near the surface, the water was warmer, but at my feet, at my legs, were fast moving streams of cooler water. Nature at work on me, around me. I was in her element. I could see the crest of the water rising above my head, the strength of the water. I tried to catch the modest waves as they began their break into the beach.

I clambered out onto the beach, exhausted, elated, and feeling all rubbery. I was experiencing gravity anew it seemed.

"I can't believe you went in there!" some people said. I looked back at the marvelous water. How could I not?

Friday, August 13, 2004

Lack of Cream

There was no cream or milk at work this morning, so for the first time in quite some time, I'm having my coffee black. While hunting for the milk, someone suggested looking around our kitchenette for some of powdered non-diary creamer. I couldn't find any. Perhaps I should buy some for my desk, in case of "emergencies".

Of course, just as I'm typing this, I realized that I could have walked over to the other kitchenette on the other side of the building. It's Friday the 13th, and I think it's going to be one of those days.

Thursday, August 5, 2004

Some Kind of Monster

There's one scene in Metallica: Some Kind of Monster, in which James Hetfield, the lead singer, openly wonders whether the filming of their own documentary should even continue. When the directors (who appear in the film) ask whether Hetfield remembered his motivations for doing the documentary, he said (I'm paraphrasing): "I figured 'We're Metallica'; we're supposed to have a documentary."

This at once sums up the nature of "the monster" that is Metallica. A heavy metal icon, the band has been around for over twenty years. They have sold an immense amount of records. Their fans are loyal and legion. Should this band have a documentary? That's a silly question. Of course it should have a documentary.

I enjoyed watching Metallica's creative process so openly documented. The song writing, the riff conjuring, and the music making process is depicted as awkward, frustrating, and hardly glamorous. Their efforts in the studio and in the mixing sessions seem to yield precious few rewards.

The core band (Hetfield, outspoken drummer Lars Ulrich, and guitarist Kirk Hammett) have accumulated much wealth, and it is in full display, but throughout the movie they yearn for things that money can't buy: the love of their families and parents, the time and space to think, the opportunity to become better versions of themselves.

There are some inadvertent references to Spinal Tap, but Monster proves that art does imitate life. You see their children parading around in their studio. You see the band whining about their group therapy sessions. You see the rehabilitated Hetfield quitting "work" at 4 so he can catch his daughter's ballet class.

During the documentary, the group constantly struggled with the fear of being considered 'yesterday's music.' The ending suggests that they're still as vital as ever, but we've learned that it takes a lot of work to stay vital. It's a lesson worth seeing through this movie.

Sunday, August 1, 2004

A Walking Commute

My commute home begins with the walk from my office to the Kendall Square "T Stop". From Kendall, I take a train to the bus stop at Alewife. The train ride from Kendall to Alewife is about fifteen minutes. The 6:25PM bus gets me home in about twenty minutes.

The key factor to making the 6:25PM bus is the walk from my office. I leave work by 5:50PM. It takes a few minutes for the elevator to rise to the eighth floor office where I work. By the time I'm street level, it may be 5:53PM or 5:54PM. The walk from my office to the train can be done in ten or eleven minutes at a leisurely pace.

But I don't go at a leisurely pace. I walk heads down, long strides, taking a criss-crossing path that gets me to the T in about nine to ten minutes. A few days ago, however, I walked to the train with another person who went a completely different way. She said her route was faster, and I was amazed when we got to the T in slightly over eight minutes!

The new route crosses fewer streets, and when it does cross a street, the intersection is less busier, so I don't have to wait. The new route also cuts an angle. The sidewalk on this new route curves away from the T, but she cuts across this curve, going straight, making the walk seem even faster. The new route also avoids traffic lights, whereas my original walk crosses at least three lights.

We go through life accepting things as being 'set'. "That's the way I always walk." "That's the turn I always make". I was starting to get 'set' with my walk. It's rewarding to reexamine old habits, and to make new discoveries about them.

Now if I could only call up the elevator from my desk.

Wednesday, July 21, 2004

Alpe D'Huez

I'm watching the OLNTV repeat broadcast of the 16th stage of the Tour de France. The race today was a time-trial up the infamous Alpe D'Huez. He was the fastest person up the mountain, taking 39 minutes and 41 seconds to ride 9.6 miles. He was the only rider to race up the mountain in under forty minutes. He finished a minute faster than the second place rider, Jan Ullrich.

Two remarks: One, he caught up with the rider ahead of him, Ivan Basso. In time-trials, races start two minutes apart. I've seen him catch up with riders ahead of him in relatively flat time trials, but this was up a mountain! Two: In an overhead camera angle, looking down on the road at Lance chugging up the mountain, I saw on the road, in huge white painted letters, the exhortation: "Rip their balls off Lance." He did. Oh, yes, he did.

Tuesday, July 20, 2004

Moon Landing

Thirty-five years ago, man first walked on the moon. The President has declared that we would return to the moon, and I am eager to see it happen.

Tonight, in a brief celebration, I watched the episode from the HBO mini-series From the Earth to the Moon featuring the lunar landing (episode six: "Mare Tranquilitatis"). The show focused on the preparation by the crew (Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin, Michael Collins) and the flight operations team. In a series of flashbacks, the episode described the easy-going attitude of Collins (who never set foot on the moon, orbiting instead in the command module), the decision behind Armstrong walking on the moon first before Aldrin (Armstrong was the mission commander), and the strain of working in simulators, preparing for the worst.

The moon landing was the singular human achievement of the 20th century. I hope we try it again in the 21st century.

Saturday, July 10, 2004

Reading at Risk

The New York Times had an op-ed piece about a report by the National Endowment of the Arts called Reading at Risk. The report, which you can download from their website, states that less than half of the American population now reads literature.

As I scanned the document, I was worried that the NEA had set the bar too high: literature means a certain thing. Literature means Dickens, Shakespeare, and other books that are supposed to be "good for you" (but may not necessarily be fun for you). But the report defines literature as "any novel, short story, plays, or poetry." For purposes of their survey, reading any of the above items "counted as reading literature, including popular genres such as mysteries, as well as contemporary and classic literary fiction. No distinctions were drawn on the quality of literary works."

So we're in trouble. Reading is indeed at risk. The NEA is quite clearly stating that reading for pleasure is in decline. The report doesn't offer an action plan. The report sought to explain, not to prescribe.

Are you reading? In my morning and evening commute (on a train and a bus), my head is buried in a book. But before I hit the pages, I take a brief survey of what people are reading around me. In a train car of perhaps sixty to eighty people, at most only ten have a book in their hands. Most have newspapers or music. Some (to my amazement) just sit.

Since I started this commuting schedule at the end of April, I have read nine books. This makes me part of a dwindling statistic.

Thursday, July 1, 2004


Hello, July! We'll soon be cresting the exact middle of the year.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Baby Doll

This past weekend, which included Father's day, Jenn had brought home a Zapf baby doll for Mia. We already have a baby doll named Bob, but this new doll is programmed to cry, yawn, and actually get drowsy and fall asleep.

The first thing the baby doll did when we put in the batteries was cry. Mia was fascinated. "She's crying!" I was instantly brought me back to Mia's first year.

"Where's the switch to turn it off?" was my first question.

I still hear my share of crying, but it's nothing like those days of infancy. I'm happy and weary of being a father. I've seen so much of Mia growing up, and I know there's more to come! More than anything, I've learned that time really does go by quickly. Hearing that doll cry and cry brought that lesson to the forefront again.

That Sunday, I showed Mia how to pat and rub the baby so that she closes her eyes and dozes to sleep. At night, after work, I make sure it's switched off. Time flies indeed.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

My Name's Rick

I go by Rick. How hard is it to remember to call me Rick?

Apparently, it's sometimes very hard. I spend a lot of my day on the phone with customers (I work in technical support). When I leave voice-mail messages, or when I write e-mails, I sign off as Rick. Not Ricky. Not Ricardo. Not Rikki Tikki Tavi.

So of course today a customer called me back and said, "How you doing, Ricky?" I grated my teeth, and smiled.

Depending on my mood, or the customer's temperament, I'll nip it off at the bud: "Call me Rick." But more often than not, I'll let it slide, emphasizing the "y-less" Rick in future voice mails and e-mails. Sometimes they get the hint.

I liken my plight to Rick Schroeder. As a child actor, he's most famous for playing Ricky Stratton in the sit-com Silver Spoons. Of course, as he "grew up", his character's named changed, losing the "y", becoming "Ricker". The actor also decided "Ricky" (the name) was best left to childhood, and eventually he made his way back to television (on NYPD Blue) as Rick.

Rick and I have at least this in common: We'd prefer to be called Rick. I think people who instantly start calling me "Ricky" want to "buddy up" by nicknaming me even further. Tacking on the "Y" implies a familiarity. (I was guilty of this practice with a co-worker named Andrew. I spoke with others about "Andy's" work, and someone pointed out: "He's Andrew! Not Andy.")

The customer did call me back later this afternoon, and surprised me by apologizing for calling me "Ricky" in our earlier call. Without too much fanfare, I moved the conversation past this apology. Inside, I was beaming. And Rick's not even my real name!

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Detroit Pistons

I was worried for nothing! Detroit 100, Los Angeles 86.

Congratulations Michigan!

Monday, June 14, 2004

Detroit Pistons

Tomorrow night, the Detroit Pistons are going for a fourth and decisive victory over the Los Angeles Lakers to win the NBA Championship.

I'm rooting for the Pistons. I've crossed over and become emotionally attached to this team of hardworking players, and their famed coach, Larry Brown, who has yet to win a championship (compared to Phil Jackson, who's won nine).

They have three chances to win this thing, since the best-of-seven series is 3-1, in favor of the Pistons. But I'm scared for them too. The Lakers may be hobbling, but they have Shaquille O'Neal, as unstoppable a force as there is in the NBA. And while the Lakers have to win at least two to force the Game 7, I wouldn't put it past them (hey, I'm a Red Sox fan).

Saturday, June 12, 2004


Last night, I installed a wireless router in my home. Now I can share my broadband Internet connection with my wireless enabled work laptop. Of course, what this really means is that I will be able to do real time IRC chat while watching sports. Go Pistons!

Thursday, June 3, 2004


Today is my ninth wedding anniversary. Nine years!

Wednesday, May 26, 2004

My Church is Closing

St. James in Arlington, the Catholic church I've been attending since 1996 is being closed, due to the Parish Reconfiguration here in Greater Boston. The reconfiguration has been in the news since early January, when Archbishop Sean O'Malley began the process to close some churches due to lack of parishoners, lack of priests and lack of money (a majority of the churches run with massive money problems). In total, the diocese will close 65 churches.

It was sad to hear the news. While I've missed my share of masses, I acknowledge the relationship between going to mass and being a "good Catholic". In a recent homily, Archbishop O'Malley stated "If you are like those Catholics who come to Mass only when they are hatched, matched, and dispatched, then the gifts of the spirit will not be there for you when you need them." I agree with this, despite my own struggles to come to terms with Catholic teachings (abortion, homosexuality, etc). Sunday Mass reminds us of the spirit, and renourishes our own faith.

It's often been said that a church is not a building, but a community of people. In a few months, I'll be part of a small community of worshipers, looking for a new building.

Wednesday, May 19, 2004

Perfect Game

Randy Johnson threw a perfect game last night. I was struck by the rarity of this baseball event, forgetting the small difference between no-hitters and perfect games. If a no-hitter happens as often as a lunar eclipse, then a perfect game happens as often as the planets align.

My youngest brother used to let the computer simulate dozens (hundreds?) of baseball games. I remember him scanning the resulting box scores one evening, and exclaiming that in one of his simulated games, a pitcher threw a perfect game!

Sunday, May 16, 2004


The news is peppered with commencement speech summaries. Famous and notable people are making their way across college campuses, dispensing wisdom, proclaiming advice, exhorting action. I sometimes imagine myself addressing a high school or college graduation.

I'd remind students that commencement isn't about endings, but about beginnings (the word commence means 'to begin, to initiate'). I'd tell them to look back with pride, but look forward with excitement.

I'd advise them to listen to their hearts these next few tender years. What does your heart want to do? Don't question it! It doesn't know why. It wants what it wants. What do you want to do? You can listen to your heart when you're thirty or forty, but the chances of following your heart are strongest now.

I'd tell students what they don't want to hear: that time is short. You're only young once. Someday, you'll be weighed down with "practical matters": job, marriage, mortgage, children. You'll be ordinary like me, and you have to make the best of it, by being the person you want to be.

I'd ask parents to truly let go at this stage. I'd also ask the same of old friends. We have to let them go. We have to let them fly. We've given them our money, our support. Now let's give them their time.

People of accomplishment are favored speakers at commencement exercises, but living a good life is an accomplishment itself. And a good life can be had with simple lessons: listen and know yourself; be positive; be good. It shouldn't take a famous person to remind graduates of this.

Sunday, May 9, 2004

Is Thank You Ever Enough?

Happy Mother's Day!

I was chatting with someone about parenthood a few months ago, and he said "Being a parent is a hard road!"

In my house, Jenn's the one driving on that road. I'm somewhere in the back of the car, cowering in fear. When Mia had a bout of sleeping issues because of my new work schedule, Jenn figured out how to help Mia adjust. Whenever Mia develops some malady, Jenn takes her to the doctor. (Jenn sometimes jokes that I don't even know the doctor's name, but that's not true.) Jenn cooks for Mia. Jenn cleans Mia's clothes. Jenn does practically everything.

In the course of parenthood, finding new ways to be grateful becomes difficult. How often can one say Thank You? Is it ever enough? A day like today reminds us to appreciate.

I'm grateful. Thank you, Jenn. Happy Mother's Day.

Friday, May 7, 2004

Poison Ivy

In the course of my commute, I often walk through a small wooded area. Over the past few days I apparently have made contact with some poison ivy, and for the past few days, a very itchy rash has broken out on my forearms, up to my elbows. The itch is maddening, but I've been keeping things at bay with Gold Bond Triple Action Medicated body powder and plain old Hydrocortisone (in an over the counter cream).

Jim Dunphy has created the Poison Ivy, Oak, and Sumac Information Center, and it's a bonanza of information, including pertinent facts (it would only take 1/4 ounce of poison ivy oil (urushiol) to cause a rash for every person on the planet) and many pages describing ways to relieve the itching and rashing. The website contains various photos of poison ivy.

He hopes his site will bring some relief to those dealing with poison ivy. It has certainly been helpful for me.

Saturday, May 1, 2004


What's on my mind right now: My commute is a real bear! Mother's Day in one week (and yes, I have gotten gifts already). Really enjoying Train, by Pete Dexter. Missed the Kentucky Derby on television. New England Revolution (soccer) won their first match of the season (2-1 over Los Angeles Galaxy). Really want to get started editing my Jersey City footage. Have only written two letters out of the fifty I resolved to write on New Years. Mia's been having trouble sleeping lately (we think it's my work hours; I'm coming home much later). Haven't yet watched last the two episodes of the Sopranos which I've recorded.

Monday, April 26, 2004

Now, Discover Your Strengths

I have spent a few evenings reading Now, Discover Your Strengths, and through the website for this book, I discovered that I had the "Learner" theme. I love to learn. This isn't news to me, but it's comforting having it validated. But the description of this talent contains this: "The subject matter that interests you most will be determined by your other themes and experiences..."

What interests me most? The book doesn't explain how to answer this, but it does state "You will need to find your field ... by listening to the yearnings that pull you and then seeing what moves you." What pulls me? What moves me? It's something that I've thought about because I am reporting this after my first day at a new job. That's right: I switched jobs.

Over the past several months at my previous employer, I slowly began to lose my interest with their "subject matter". Yes, the work involved computers, something that has fascinated and intrigued me since grade school. The work specifically involved multi-computing hardware and software. The problems I faced were multifaceted. But after a year or so, I was becoming despondent with how difficult the subject matter was. It was an area of computers that ultimately didn't engage or thrill me.

So I stayed in my "comfort zone" amidst all this technology: I focused on software tools, not the hardware that was the mainstay of the company. But even in the comfort zone, I found myself in areas that I wasn't completely comfortable with. More importantly, I was in areas that I didn't find myself desiring to learn.

I was productive, but I was aching to "do more", to "be more". Which leads me to another strength identified by that website. I have the "Maximizer" theme. I have a talent for measuring myself against excellence. I don't want to fix what I lack. I want to increase what I already have.

So over the past few months, I searched the meager market for a position involving technologies that I knew well and technologies that I desired to know well. I networked. I practiced. And now I'm at a new job.

I believe I've found subject matter that greatly interests me at my new job. Now it's time to Learn and Maximize.

Sunday, April 25, 2004

Childhood Friends

I was blessed with great childhood friendships.

Two weekends ago, I attended the wedding of one such friend, someone I knew since elementary school. He invited a few other childhood friends, so the order of the weekend was nostalgia. Who remembers what happened to whom?

Since I've known some of these people since grade school, the ties are especially strong. In an old diary, I wrote that old childhood friends are like fine leather gloves. Even if you don't wear them for years, they still easily form a natural fit around your hand. The gloves are creased in the right places. They're easy to put on.

I often ponder a theory that as we get older, it's easier to make friends. When you get past college, you've often learned "how to get close" to people. We've learned how to be direct, and how to ask meaningful questions. One long evening of talking is enough to form some good bonds.

Childhood friendships are different from college and post-college friendships. Childhood friendships start out very haphazardly. You're next to someone in homeroom. You live close to them in the neighborhood. These friendships are tested during the high years of peer pressure and puberty. Childhood friendships are formed at an impressionable age, and an age when parents can still be a strong influence. More importantly, they're formed when we all had time; long stretches of time, in which you can learn about your friends playing tag, going over their house, watching movies, or making iced tea.

If you were lucky, you grew up with your childhood friends. You tested one another in your attempts to broaden yourself beyond your comfort zone. You provided checks on one another. And as you made new friends, you "tested" them against your old friends. Before you know it, you pass the mile markers of life with them: school proms, driver's licenses, college, first jobs, marriage, children, baptisms, anniversaries.

I don't often put on the fine gloves that are my childhood friends anymore. But recalling the warmth of those gloves, the warmth of those friendships, is enough to make me smile broadly. I had a great childhood thanks to these friends. I was glad to be in that warmth two weekends ago.

Wednesday, April 21, 2004

Everything Became Smaller

I was in New Jersey this past weekend, attending a wedding. I spent the night at my parents' home, the home I grew up in. It was the first time I had been back home in three years.

My childhood house seems incredibly small to me. I felt like a giant, walking in and out of the rooms my brothers and I slept in. The toilets felt small. The kitchen felt small. The driveway in which I parked my car felt small.

Even when I walked outside, the feeling didn't leave me. I had to walk to my friend's place in the morning and as a kid I remember how long that walk was. This past weekend, I was somewhat startled making the turn at the corner from my street to his street, and seeing him so nearby.

Distances that used to be far are now short. Things that used to be big are now small. Maybe that's what being a grown-up is.

Sunday, April 11, 2004

Forgoing Counts

What gives? There are now ads here again? And where did my counter go?

Just so you all know, I've decided to move the site, to yet another location. I haven't done this yet, but I plan to soon. The new location will be ad-free. I've also decided to forgo my web counter. The final report showed this:

Full disclosure: In March 2003, I decided to put the counter on ALL my web pages.

Tuesday, April 6, 2004


Today was my 36th birthday. I wish I could say that I did something special or out of the ordinary, but it was fairly routine. I remember saying out loud during my boring commute to work "Now don't get killed today, OK? That would suck." In the continually running dialogue (monologue?) in my head, I remember that thought making me chuckle and making me somewhat nervous, until I safely arrived at work, at which point the thought of dying disappeared.

Work was routine. No one knew it was my birthday.

I didn't open any presents tonight, because in a tradition that my wife and I enjoy, we opened presents the night before. So last night, my daughter bounces out from her dinner table to announce "Presents! For Daddy! Open presents, Daddy? Presents? Happy Birthday Daddy! You like presents? Happy Birthday Daddy? Happy Birthday Mia! Happy Birthday Mommy! Open presents?" During this entire little speech, she grabbed a wrapped box, and tried to hand it to me. What fun! So after dinner last night, Mia helped me open all of my gifts.

My brother Ron called. My brother Renato sent e-mail. My mother-in-law called. A few other nice e-mails. I spent a lot of time drifting off into dream land, thinking about friends, about family, thinking about that inevitable cycle of life.

I watched most of NCAA Women's Basketball championship. I broke down boxes for garbage day tomorrow. I enjoyed a brownie. I read bits of a book. I listened to part of a DVD commentary.

As I sign off tonight, my prevailing thought: I'm glad to have gone around the calendar one more year!

Monday, April 5, 2004

Eating Alone

A few days ago I ate lunch by myself in the company cafeteria.

My group apparently went out to lunch, but I missed them because I was at a meeting that ran late. So there I was in the cafeteria, eating by myself. It was disconcerting.

I think it's one thing to eat by yourself in a fast-food joint where you are often eating in the company of other loners. It's another thing to be eating in a cafeteria at work, where you often know everyone by name, if not by face. Normally if I find myself unable to join my group, I go to a smaller cafeteria to eat alone.

Just like in school, there are the usual cliques in our company cafeteria. The same groups of people, and often the same exact tables. Our group has our own table, but we have second and even third choice tables, in case someone else has taken "our" table. I sat alone, somewhat worried about "what other people are thinking." But of course, I know that no one was thinking anything. It's not school. It's work. I'm grabbing lunch. So what if I'm by myself?

I lingered a bit in my aloneness. When I finished, I headed back to the office, skipping my usual dessert.

Monday, March 29, 2004

Mike Hall

Big ups to Mike Hall, who won ESPN's Dream Job. Later that same evening on SportsCenter, he played a trivia contest which determined his starting salary. Starting at $70,000, he answered four easy questions at $5,000 apiece to crank his starting salary up to $90,000. I think a reality show crew should follow him around during his one year on-air contract, just to see if he's up to snuff. It'd be also interesting to see him negotiate his salary next year with an agent.

Mike, if you're googling this, congratulations!

Saturday, March 27, 2004

Picture of Mia

I created a new picture album for my daughter's third birthday party. It was a fun but exhausting day. Mia was really out of it by her bedtime, but she really enjoyed playing with all her cousins and friends.

Sunday, March 21, 2004

Dream Job

Yes, I'm a fan of the reality show Dream Job on ESPN (it airs Sunday night at 10 PM EDT). This show is a contest between twelve people trying out for one on-air news anchor job at ESPN. At its core, it's a show about hiring a television newscaster. The cliffhanger element at the end of every episode is that one or two people are eliminated from the contest.

It's very clear that all the participants love sports and all desire to be a sportscaster, but love and desire don't translate to good television without talent, and Dream Job is a talent competition.

Dream Job also reveals that we have certain expectations from our television anchors, and that it is jarring to not have these expectations met. We want our anchors to have a certain look (and nearly all the contestants are telegenic). We want our anchors to have a polished eloquence (i.e. they speak better than we do). We want our anchors to project a certain credibility.

There are only six contestants left: Aaron Levine, Casey Stern, Kelly Milligan, Maggie Haskins, Mike Hall, and Zachariah Selwyn. My money is on Aaron Levine or Kelly Milligan. Aaron is a young kid studying broadcasting at Stanford, whereas Kelly Milligan is a lawyer, trying to do the impossible: break into television at the age of 37. Both of these gentlemen look very convincing as sportscasters.

Six contestants have already been eliminated: Chris Williams, Alvin Williams, Lori Rubinson, Michael Quigley, Chet Anekwe, and my personal favorite: Nick Stevens. Nick is a local product (from Braintree, Massachusetts) and his quirky, wry-delivery worked for me, but alas, not for the judges, who found him too "smug."

When the show ends, I will usually watch the opening segment of the real Sports Center, which immediately follows the show. The contrast between the wanna-be anchors and the "real" anchors is very stunning. The 11 PM Sports Center anchors are invariably highly polished and highly witty. They are on-cut and on-mark. They look great and speak with conviction. If the anchors on Sports Center are a ten on a scale from one to ten, then our contestants on Dream Job are around five or six. It's great fun to see who'll get the shot to become a ten in the future. Check out this show!

Wednesday, March 17, 2004


I don't drink anymore, not like I used to.

In college, the start of my drinking years, I drank beers like soda. By sophomore year, the little refrigerator in my dorm room was jammed with cans of cheap beer, which I consumed as early as lunch. I never felt like I drank too much, but more than once I woke up sick from an evening's excess; more than once I've passed out in some lounge area. I've had grain alcohol, drunk flaming shots, damn near choked while attempting a funnel (only once; maybe twice). I participated in most of the silliness involved with casual but frequent drinking. In my senior year at college, the class gift to the school was a pub and I drank there every night until I graduated. Literally.

Sterling Barrett, one of my post-college roommates, set me straight on drinking. He showed me how to appreciate a quiet drink: gin and tonic, bourbon over ice. He was fond of the Negroni. Even though I didn't enjoy it like he did, I certainly began to enjoy and appreciate this slower drinking.

Tonight I had a Jack Daniels on crushed ice after dinner. I finished it an hour ago, and have been drinking water ever since. I haven't gotten college-drunk since, well, since college. The last drink I had before tonight was probably a few weeks ago, when Jenn and I went out (we had wine).

I sometimes ponder what led me to drink so much back in school. My first attempts to spread my wings while I was away from home? To belong to the "fun crowd?" To escape from my petty miseries? Whatever those impulses were back then, they're gone now. I'm grateful.

Wednesday, March 10, 2004

Finding Your Voice

Three years ago I started this little BLOG. Sometimes the words flow easily and I can bang out an entry quickly. Other times I get stuck and the whole affair becomes a chore. (I've started an entry a few days ago and I don't know when it will appear on this page.)

At the Beige Tower Webmaster Forums, the subject of BLOGs came up and I made a reference to an essay titled "Finding Your Voice" by Phil Agre.

Phil describes a process by which we (you or I) can find a "public voice". If there's anything my BLOG is about, it's about my own attempts to find and use this voice. I've been doing this experiment for three years running. Let's see how long I can keep this up.

Tuesday, March 9, 2004

A Fundamental Question

I was having one of those inevitable conversations about careers today, when out of the blue floated this point-blank question: "So what is it that you really want to do?"

I distinctly remember pausing. I was struck by the fundamental nature of the question. The answer I came up with then was adequate enough to move the conversation.

But I'm still pondering it. "So what is it that you really want to do?"

Monday, March 1, 2004


For the record, I have not watched The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, which won Best Picture in the 2004 Academy Awards. Nor have I watched any of the other movies in this glorious trilogy, but I do have them both on DVD. I will make a sincere effort to watch these movies this year.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

Ash Wednesday

Ash Wednesday has come and gone. At the homily of the mass I attended, the priest said "What a wonderful time Lent is. We get to ask ourselves, 'Do I really like being Catholic?'" I was struck by how profound that question was. I kept turning it over in my head. What would it be like to "not be a Catholic?" Different beliefs? Yes. Perhaps a different way to view death? Different holidays? Christmas as an utterly secular ritual?

The priest said that for nearly all of us, Catholicism is a gift, handed to us by our parents thanks to baptism. And it's a gift that we get to ponder most closely during Lent, the time in which we're asked to "turn away from sin, and be faithful to the Gospel." I'm always glad for the Lenten season. It reminds me of this gift my parents gave me, and the season reminds me that I should use this gift.

Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Jonathan Camaya

One day long ago, when I was in high-school, I went over my friend Jonathan Camaya's house. He was almost done refinishing the kitchen cabinets. He was amazingly handy, and he had that craftsman's touch. One year, he built a gazebo in his back yard. I told him once "I'd like to get started with wood working someday." He said "Start with something simple. Make a box."

Jon's advice has been lodged in my head ever since.

How do you start anything new? You have to start small. I can imagine Jon making those small boxes, using wood lying around his basement. I can see him trying out different nails, trying different tools, making small boxes, then small benches, then small lattice work, until eventually he made a small gazebo that for all I know is probably still in parents' back yard.

For the past few months, I've been making lots of small boxes, in my attempt to learn Java, a computer technology that's missing from my resume. Java is very current. There's yards and yards of books about Java in the technical book stores. Where do you start? How do you start? "Start with something simple. Make a box."

With the help of some good books and some freely available tools, I've begun to explore Swing, XML, JDBC (using MySQL), Tomcat, Servlets, JSP, and SOAP. Can I make a gazebo yet? Probably not. But the boxes I'm making are getting bigger, and more intricate. I'm writing a lot of small to medium-sized programs, and learning how they work. I'm becoming more comfortable with the tools and the jargon. It's a good start.

"Start small. Make a box." Thanks, Jon.

Sunday, February 15, 2004

Valentine's Day

I had a nice Valentine's weekend with my two favorite women (my wife and my daughter).

Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Star Wars on DVD

I was amazed and thrilled to read the announcements that Star Wars will soon be on DVD (arriving by September 2004). I can imagine the news reports of people lining up at Tower Record or Suncoast Video, waiting to be the first to buy this set (it's a box set containing the entire first trilogy). I won't be one of those nuts, but the box set will be on my Christmas wish list, and I'll be opening it early.

(Star Wars was one of the great influences in my life. I have written about this before.)

Friday, February 6, 2004

Audi Woes

For the record, I'm driving my car again. I picked it up this morning, dropping off my rental at the dealership. The service manager said I needed my throttle body replaced, so I had them replace it. When he told me this late last week, the part had to be ordered, so I put in another five days in my rental. If this is the big repair for my car this year, I'll take it.

Sunday, February 1, 2004

Patriots Win Superbowl

New England 32. Carolina 29.

Possibly the best Superbowl that I have ever watched. A very worthy opponent (Carolina) showed up and fought a 7-point favorite (Patriots).

This game will be dissected every which way between now and rookie camp. For the record, the two-point plays were huge. Carolina blew one; Patriots made one. And in the end, Adam Vinatieri, the kicker for New England, was the difference after an authoritative final-minute drive by quarterback Tom Brady.


Saturday, January 31, 2004

Superbowl Hype

The game is tomorrow. So much talk and so much hype. Living in the heart of Patriots Nation, every media outlet seems to be talking Superbowl. It's incessant.

Celtics almost pulled out a win against Indiana tonight. Bruins won a shutout at Montreal this afternoon, and the two teams will play in Boston tomorrow afternoon. The men's final is underway at the Australian Open as I write this. But this is all just background noise.

Kick-off is at 6:25PM EDT tomorrow night.

Thursday, January 29, 2004

All Things Belichick

Just last year, around this time, a football coach wrote a compelling op-ed piece about winning. From the point of view of a previous champion, he wrote movingly about how you get to the winner's circle. He opined about the frivolous and the serious. He noted the many details that separate champions from runners up (and from the rest of the pack). He wrote of joy and sorrow.

That writer was Bill Belichick and that article appeared in the Sunday NY Times (January 26, 2003). He is the coach of the New England Patriots and his team will be facing the Carolina Panthers in this weekend's Superbowl.

(You can read his article at All Things Belichick.)

Sunday, January 25, 2004

Audi Woes

For the second time in a week my car has been towed. Persistent rough idle and starting problems. I've been in a rental since the first time I wrote about this, and it's starting to really dent my wallet (almost $300 per week). I hate having car problems over my head.

The first time I towed it, I sent it to a local place, hoping that it was something easy (the only change was the sudden cold weather). $150 later, the mechanic at the local garage said "I think the dealer needs to look at this. They have better computers there." So this morning, the car went to the dealer. I'm going to hate tallying all this up.

Sunday, January 18, 2004

Wife's Birthday

My wife's birthday just happens to be February 1, Superbowl Sunday. She said the perfect thing tonight: "Whether the Pats win or lose, we'll at least have cake!"

Saturday, January 17, 2004

Rise of Patriots Nation

When the Red Sox lost Game 7 way back on October 16, 2003, I was put into a sports depression. The following Sunday, the New England Patriots were at the Miami Dolphins. The hype: New England hadn't won at Miami in any of their previous September/October match-ups. In the mood I was in, I was prepared for yet another New England sports loss.

Instead, the Patriots won the game in overtime, on a thrilling 82-yard pass from Tom Brady to Troy Brown. They became 5-2 that Sunday. And from that point on they have not lost. (They had already won two-straight before that Miami game.) I have watched the Patriots win with all kinds of styles: defensive stops (Colts), dramatic touch-down passing (Denver), squeakers (Jets) and even a plain old ass-whipping (Buffalo). The Patriots have done more than get me out of my sports depression; they have lifted me back into the winners' section, feeling that winning feeling.

Tomorrow, the Patriots are playing the Indianapolis Colts for the right to play in the Superbowl. Listening to the local sports media analyze and dissect this game, you'd think that New England has already won the thing. But the Colts have a hot quarterback in Peyton Manning. And the Colts have lost twice to New England this season. I.M. Bettor of the Boston Herald opined on the radio that "lessons may have been learned."

As a Red Sox fan whose neck still tightens thinking about that roller-coaster week in October, it's hard to really let my guard down. I'm nervous for tomorrow. But I'll be there, to see if I can get that winning feeling again.

Friday, January 16, 2004

Minus Zero

Minus-eight Farenheit outside when I woke up. As I write this, it's warming up. The temperature is now minus-three.

I think nearly every school in Arlington is closed. My car hasn't started for the past two days. Even after a jump start, it remains inert (it can idle, provided I keep my foot on the gas to give it RPMs). It's betrayed me like this before. I'm now driving a rental. Thankfully, that started up this morning.

Thursday, January 15, 2004

Minus Zero

-5.4. That's right. Minus-five-point-four Farenheit. Right after I took this snapshot, I stepped outside, and closed the door. For the first few seconds, I thought: It's not so bad. But after ten seconds (I was counting) the bitter brittle air started to tighten its cold group around my exposed hands and face. I stepped back inside.

As I write this, nearly thirty minutes later, the temperature on my outdoor thermometer is reading -6.3. Minus six-point-three. My hands are only now beginning to feel warm.

New England is in the midst of its coldest weather in years. It's the lead story in every media outlet. The weekend's forecast is going to be in the mid-thirties, and we're looking forward to it! Our only consolation: No snow. But the blustery wind is making up for that deficit.

Best Movies Watched in 2003

I watched 56 movies in 2003, twelve of which I watched in the theater. The rest I watched on DVD or on cable television. Here were some highlights:

Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Best Books Read in 2003

My Previous Best Books: 2001, 2002.

I read seventeen books last year. Three of them were "graphic novels" (comics), which I read during the buzz of American Splendor. Two of the books, Mystic River and Matchstick Men, I read strictly because I knew I was going to watch their movies. These turned out to be terrific books.

My favorite book from 2003 was Empire Falls. This book is by Richard Russo, and it won the 2002 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction. This is such a beautiful book, it's almost indescribable. Many times as I was reading it, I openly marveled at how lovingly the sentences were put together. They were rich with imagery.

One sample: "She gave him a smile in which hope and knowledge were going at it, bare-knuckled, equally and eternally matched."

Now how good is that? You don't even have to know the plot or the characters to see what her face must look like.

As a whole, the bookie story is about a man coming to terms with his own self, with his own dreams, with his own struggles. We spend a lot of time inside the main character's head, and I found myself pulling for him as I turned every page. This is a book I deliciously savored over the summer. I hope to devour this again!

Friday, January 9, 2004


It's so cold that I can feel my nose hairs freeze when I breathe through my nose. They feel like tiny icicles.

The weather reports said that the sun would be ineffective today. Indeed.

Thursday, January 8, 2004

Fifty Letters

My resolution this year is to write fifty letters to people.

That's right: fifty actual letters that I will send by postal mail. I was buying stamps at the post office last month, and they were selling a sheet of fifty stamps, each stamp bearing one of the fifty states. In an impulse, I bought the sheet ($18.50), and declared to myself that I'll use this sheet to return to letter writing.

Of course, since that time, I haven't written a single letter. But fifty letters over the course of a year should be doable. My wife actually suggested I write a hundred. But let me settle for fifty. First letter will bear Alabama.

Sunday, January 4, 2004

Cut Time

I posted the list of books that I read and the list of movies that I watched in 2003. I'll be picking out my favorites from these two lists over the next few days.

A few days ago, I finished reading my first book in 2004, a splendid book about boxing called Cut Time by Carlo Rotella. I'm a moderate fan of boxing. The few times that I've admitted this in public, I was met with ridicule. "Boxing is so barbaric!" some would say. Now I can urge these folks to read this book. It's a surprisingly moving account of boxing and the relationship of boxing to life. Carlo's writing reaches such tender notes that you'll have to remind yourself that the book is about the kind of people that purposely seek to hurt and be hurt.

Thursday, January 1, 2004

New Year's Reminisce

For nearly all my time growing up, until the years after I got married, I spent New Year's at my cousin's house, in a suburb near Washington, D.C. The four of us would meander through the long New Year's eve day, eating plenty of food (my aunt hosted a hearty party every New Year's eve), playing with new toys, and watching plenty of television. When the New Year rang in, cheers of "Happy New Year" were shouted and choruses of Auld Lang Syne were sung. More eating. More TV.

Jenn, my wife, attended the festivities a few times, and knows what we're missing.

I miss the party every year I don't go. As I get older, all I really want to do is be a kid again, scampering among the toys, eating too much food, and yelling Happy New Year into the quiet midnight evening.

Hello 2004. Happy New Year!