March 30, 2004

Chris vs. The Big Easy

As destinations for business trips go, you could do a lot worse than New Orleans. It became clear to us last week that the program that I was working on had issues that could only be resolved by working on-site. So we got our team together. Anthony is the big, fun-loving Project Lead, Pete is the middle-aged Business Analyst, Matt is the young, athletic-looking programmer from the Denver office, and I'm the other programmer. Since we booked last-minute, we were able to get first-class seats, a luxury I've only enjoyed once before. I'm not sure if the hospitality of a First Class Ticket can be fully enjoyed on a 1 1/2 hour flight, however.

We flew into New Orleans Tuesday night, found our rental car, a new Bonneville. Amazing how a car that takes up a quarter of a city block can still somehow manage to cramp all four passengers of average size. It's like a TARDIS in reverse. Anthony had been here many times before, so he's the cruise director. After dropping our luggage at the hotel, we're off to Zea's, a fancy brewpub near the mall. We get seated and I glance over the menu saying to myself "Let's see...Jambalya, jambalaya, no jambalaya?"

"You want some Jambalaya?" says Anthony. "Yeah, I like the stuff," I said, looking ove the top of the menu, "and this is where it's supposd to come from, right? So this is my goal of the trip: To find some good Jambalaya." "I'm sure we can do that," says Anthony. Well, they didn't have it at Zea's, so I ordered a Chicken dish that ended up being twice as large as anyone can eat, and order a mug of the house porter. After two pints and half of my plate, we are headed out to the car when Anthony informs us of a very southern law loophole in New Orleans.

"Open Container Laws," He starts, "They don't consider it an OPEN container unless there's a straw in it." So because of this loophole, there are Drive-thru Daquiri joints every few miles or so in New Orleans. "You're kidding," says Pete. "Honest to God," proclaims Anthony, "you can drive around with a Daquiri in your car's cup holder, and as long as there's not a straw in it when the cop pulls you over, you're clear." We all have a good laugh, and curiosity makes us pull into the first one we see. We pull around the building into an alley barely wide enough to drive through, as many 10-foot-long scrapes on the far wall suggest. Anthony puts it in park next to the menu, and we all get a good laugh, mainly at the "Gallon To Go."

I'm sitting behind the passenger, farthest from the drive-thru window, so I don't see the face of the girl in the tank top who takes our order. Anthony and Pete order, Matt and I pass. The headless tank top with the bra straps sliding down returns with two Orange Anti-freeze's, which Anthony takes. "Is this considered an open container?" he asks. "Um, it will be in a minute," she replies. They drain them on the way back to the hotel and we turn in for the night. My room is large, but it's mostly unused space. A real waste of money, unless you're driving a 5 foot-wide wheelchair. A long-distance call home later, I'm out like a light.

I couldn't make out where we were at night, but I saw it clearly at dawn. I arose at 6:00, still on Eastern Standard Time, and took a look outside my window. There was a bridge leading from the road outside the hotel, heading over a body of water, stretching off over the horizon. Two thin lines of car lights, heads and tails, led off into the foggy morning, straight as an ironed trouser seam, and I can't see the end of it. It had to be at least twenty miles long. Shaving under the bathroom's rusty showerhead forced me to try to remember the year of my last tetanus booster.

I was the first one in the lobby. I put on my headphones and read through my files. Even with the Propellerheads blaring in my ears, I can't tune out the creepy guy at the offics desk in the lobby. He's not the Concierge, but he's addressing a group of 18-somethings and handing them pamphlets. "Military Recruiter," Pete tells me when he arrives. Kids come here for orientation, he sends them to a certain room for briefings, and they get their temporary room assignments before shipping out to basic training. I find it a bit odd that the hotel lets the armed services use their hotel as a recruiting station, but this is not my town.

The first day is uneventful, as always. We arrive at the bank's Data Center, which was accurately described as "Fort Knox." Everyone has to get their laptops re-configured, get new logons and troubleshoot database connectivity issues most of the day. We break for lunch with a help desk guy named Jimmy and a reclusive DBA named Chris. It's a nice enough place, and after we order, we all are struggling to talk about non-work topics. Anthony poses my question of where to get some good Jambalaya. Jimmy scratches his stubble, "I don't know, it's mainly a home-cooked dish, and everybody makes it, so when people go out, it's not really an in-demand dish, if you know what I mean," Regardless of that fact, he rattles off half a dozen places around town, complete with directions to each. The DBA blinks out of his silence and offers some others. And so it continues, for the better part of the hour, a tennis match of Zagat ratings from these two, listing off scores of possibilities, but none of them sure things. I think to myself, "These are either the most helpful people I've ever met, or they have WAY too many restaurants here."

Late in the day, I start making some progress, and think I have a bead on the program that's been giving them so much trouble. It ran on my machine, but it needed to be tested on the real network, without all the hacking. From what I can tell, it works, but there's more to be done. We finish late, around 7:00 PM, and leave for dinner. Anthony drives us to "Copeland's Cheesecake Bistro," a nice joint in the tradition of Atlanta's Cheesecake Factory. All they have is Jambalaya Pasta, which ends up horribly pedestrian and unsatisfying. Hotel, Calling Card, "Love You too", sleep.

The next morning, Anthony makes a deal. Shannon, the resident Betty Crocker of the office, promises to make us Jambalaya for Friday's lunch if we get all our interface issues resolved by then. Now THAT'S incentive for me! Bad news is that my home-brewed coding solution hits a snag on the real database, and even my program manager can't help me. The program was supposed to run last night, but all it created was 85 MB worth of error file. It looks like I'll have to restructure the whole program, and I didn't write the thing in the first place, so that wil be no easy task. Bad news all around. Anthony is understanding, though, saying he has faith in me to find a solution. He's a good guy, and an even better project manager. He has the charisma and friendly demeanor that one needs 75% of the time, and enough authority and resolve to be firm in the remaining 25%. He is covering all of my expenses, since my company AmEx card expired, and whatever the company isn't reimbursing him for, he's paying out of his own pocket.

We roll out of there late again, one of the last to leave the building, and I can't shake the funk of failure. To celebrate our successes with MOST of the issues, Anthony takes us out to the French Quarter to a great seafood joint called Deanie's. I ordered Crawfish four ways from a gender ambiguous black waiter(ess) with half an eyebrow on each side. The dish was not only delicious, but again, twice as much as the average man can eat. We walk the rest of the way to Bourbon Street, and I find that it's much smaller than I imagined.

It's a narrow street, closed to all but pedestrian traffic, lined from end to end with souvenir shops, Mango Mango Daquiri bars, peep shows and music halls. The street even has it's own particular...boquet, shall we say? A heady mix of spilled alcohol, horse droppings and beer piss. (Toilets are only for paying customers, but by the time you have to go, you're a mile down from the place you bought your drink.) It's sensory overload for my troubled mind, so I need a Hurricane to soften the blow. As we walked the street, music of all kinds came from each bar we passed, like flipping through radio channels in a strange city.

"Now since my baby done left me, I find a new place to dwell..."
"Sweet Home, Alabama, (Lou-siana!) Lord I'm coming home to you..."
"Everybody, Stop children, what's that sound, everybody look what's going down..."
"Got to come down, and stop cryin' those D.D.S. Blues!"

(Okay, so that last one was 2NU, sue me.)

Halfway down, we stop into a Mango Mango and Matt & I get ourselves a Hurricane to go. Pete points out a sign reading "2 for 1 of the following shots: Sex on the Beach, Blow Job, B-52, Lemon Drop," and Anthony can't resist asking the blonde barmaid in the tight top abut giving the 2-for-1 Blow Jobs. (It's a shot with a bit of cream on top, and you're supposed to drink it without hands, by putting your mouth over the glass, so I'm told.) We slowly make our way through the crowd to the end of the strip, where a man in an inflatable Hand Grenade costume greets us at the door. This is Tropical Isle, home of the "Hand Grenade," a secret mix of liquor tha makes for the strongest drink on the street. Anthony & Pete each grab one, served in a long, neon yellow plastic cup with a grenade-shaped bottom. Anthony gives a grin as the liquor afterburn kicks in, Pete just looks at his cup, probably wondering how it's not melting.

On the way back, we stop with the crowd at a Balcony Bar. There's a number of women up there, shaking beads at the crowd, where there's about thirty balding mid-forties men with digital cameras at the ready. Frat Boy Matt lifts his shirt and shows off his six-pack to a delighted shriek and a small shower of beads, which he shares with us. He throws two strands back up and a girl returns the favor. A quick cheer from the crowd, but they were all looking through their viewfinders, and missed most of it. This happens from time to time, but it's no "Girls Gone Wild" or anything, thank God. Matt and I get a good laugh seeing a father pushing his 4-year old son in a stroller, and lifting him to catch some of the raining beads. Halfway back down the strip, we stop at Tropical Isle #2, where we all get a Hand Grenade this time. No doubt, it's the most powerful thing I've drank, besides that expariment with a cup of Gem Clear 190 proof (the orange flamability warning sticker was bigger than the product label) and half a can of Gatorade.

After a few sips, I'm feeling good. There's a band called "Late as Usual" playing "Fins" by Jimmy Buffet in a cramped corner, and I've forgotten why I was feeling so stressed a few hours before. Unfortunately, I also forgot that Louisiana is an hour behind Atlanta, and I've neglected to call home. I get a well-deserved "what happened" and a quick goodnight from Melissa, promising we'll talk when I get home tomorrow. We make our way back to the car, Anthony trying to trade his beads to passers-by, but no luck. We each fall on our beds into the deepest sleep in a long while.

I wake up at 6, before my alarm, as usual. Luckily, my hangover cure of "2 Tylenol and three glasses of water before bed" still works, and I'm fully functional. I sit down after the shower and brainstorm for a bit on my program issue. After 20 minutes of flowchart sketching and a slow continental breakfast to run through it, I have my solution. I don't have to re-write the main program, I've worked out how to fix it locally, and with only a small bit of code. I found it amazing that I could have such a "Hangover Epiphany," given the night before, but then I remembered something from my UGA days. "Brain Cell Darwinism," I think it was called. The theory goes like this: Given, alcohol kills brain cells, but it will likely kill the weakest brain cells. Therefore, the more powerful brain cells survuve to reproduce. After that morning, I've starting to take this theory more seriously.

Shannon brought in a crockpot of her homemade Jambalaya, as promised, along with brownies and lemon cake. The slow simmering smell provides a happy backdrop to the morning's work. I put on my headphones, start up my MOJO MP3 Player, and set to so me furious coding. After three hours, I have it working. Half an hour later, it's tested out and debugged. My fingers and ears are a bit numb from the exercise, but I've solved the problem and it feels incredible. That's what I love so much about programming, it's gratifying to find creative solutions to real-world problems. As intelligence and common sense go, I'm fairly unremarkable, but give me some tools, some time and the latitude to be creative, and I can be McGyver.

The four of us dig in, and it's the best damned Jumbo I've ever had. It's got shrimp, crawdads, spicy sausage & chicken, and a NICE afterburn that creeps up on you four minutes after taking a bite. We each down two bowls and thank her over and over. A few brownies and a couple of status e-mails later, we're packing up and on the way to the airport. I told Melissa that I'd hitch a ride up to Alpharetta, north of town, so she can pick me up there instead of driving across the city and back at 5:30 on a Friday.

We drop off the Bonneville (good riddance, that knee-crusher), saw Matt of to Denver, and discovered that we were in time to catch an earlier flight back to the ATL. We each ask for the switch and head to the terminal. Anthony runs ahead, and Pete & I trail behind, coming up on our terminal as last call is announced. I offer my boarding pass, and the attendant says "Sorry, sir, this is for the NEXT flight." My check-in lady didn't transfer me, and my bag was checked for the later flight. So I say goodbye to Pete, and plan to catch MARTA through the city.

"Well, at least I've got my laptop, so I can write up this trip report," I say to myself. The battery reads "93% - 58 Minutes", that should be enough. Five minutes later and one paragraph in, the "Low Battery" warning flashes, and I barely have enough time to save my work on floppy before it shuts down. Oh well, at least I've got my book, no batteries on that. An hour later I settle into my seat, still unaccustomed to first class.

After everyone is seated, a cheerful, plump stewardess with a south Georgia accent starts taking drink orders. Then I overhear her : "Sorry sir, ends up we're out of Crown. We drank it all on the way here." I can't help but laugh, and she smiles over at me. I had some fun, but I'm going back home to my own witty girl, and that feels best of all.

Movin' On Up

Our office is consolidating the cubicles in the building, to free up space that they hope to rent out. (Good luck!) And just my luck, the wide-open "frontier" leading to the big windows that my cubicle used to look out on, has been replaced by the department managers' offices. No windows anymore, and now the top brass will be walking by my cubicle and peering in, maybe making little notes to themselves like "what is that a picture of?" and "does he EVER take off his headphones?"

Needless to say, my Blogging will no longer be done on my lunchbreaks anymore, I'll be writing at home. I'll also be giving up my daily lunchtime web reading. I don't want to, but this is my boss' boss, and I don't want her getting that impression of me. If you pass someone's door once a day, and you always see them browsing the web, even if it's the same time every day and they're eating lunch, you can't help but form an opinion of them from that.

So goodbye, lunchtime blogging. (*Snifff*) I'll catch up with you later in the day.

March 29, 2004

The King of Pop Cultrure References

It’s poetry like this that makes me think that Wil Wheaton may just have overthrown Scott Adams as the voice of my generation:

“Because it's like that in on-camera auditions, I have to be a perfectly oiled fighting machine when I go into that room. If I'm Voltron with five lions, I'm good. But if I'm Voltron with all those little spaceships, I'm doomed. If I'm Donkey Kong on Colecovison, I'm in like flynn (from Tron, of course.) But if I'm Pac Man on Atari 2600, I am on my way to the landfill of ET cartridges in the middle of the desert.”

March 23, 2004

Travel Advisory
Blogging will be at the very least infrequent, as I am flying out to New Orleans for a business trip. Yes, a business trip. Fine, I'm sure that drinking will be involved sometime during the next few days, but that is NOT the purpose of this trip. All kidding aside, They might not let me leave the building, judging by the amount of debugging I have ahead of me.

March 22, 2004

Resurrection Boulevard

A re-make of "Dawn of the Dead" took the box office from "The Passion of The Christ" this weekend. There's a certain irony in that. Here we have two TOTALLY different takes on the topic of people coming back from the dead: Both films have hysterical crowds, gore, violence, and yes, dead people coming back to life, but one is a field-trip for church groups and the other is more for college kids with a beer buzz. I guess that in resurrection, as in natural life, you are judged on how you act and treat others. If Jesus set the tone for resurrection with all this limping around half-decomposed and trying to eat people's brains, Tom Savini might well have been pope, and the whole "benevolent raised redeemer" racket would have been taken up by long-haired new-agers named after objects in nature. Every sunday, I recite a creed that includes the line "We look for the resurrection of the dead," and I've occasionally wondered how many people think about that line. Sure, we may LOOK for it, but if we actually FOUND the resurrected dead in our yard, we'd most likely take cues from the movie characters and blow the bejesus out of it.

(Note: Do not stand too close to me today, I'm expecting to be smited from above.)

I just finished Dancing Barefoot by Wil Wheaton and I liked it, for the most part. I think the problem was that these are short stories that didn't fit into his forthcoming book "Just A Geek," so they lack a bit of cohesion. Plus, there were only five stories, and only one of those was over 10 pages. Anyway, it's a good quick read and a good lead-in to the main book. It's worth buying just for the illustrator's bio (which I won't spoil for you here).

March 19, 2004

March 18, 2004

My name's Patty...Patty O'Furniture
(Sorry, that's my favorite Brian Johnston joke.)

Since I didn't do anything for St. Patrick's day except mooch a green-iced cookie from a meeting room, here's a St. Patrick's Day Story from Wil Wheaton.

March 15, 2004

Radio, Free America! (please?)

Indecency laws have come to the forefront of the news ever since the "NippleGate" scandal shocked the nation for a whole second and a half. Personally, I'm confused by the double-standards of the FCC. So we saw most of a boob on a football game. I've flipped to some third-rate entertainment news shows last year who showed a starlet's Playboy spread with only three strategically-placed blurs covering her up, so how is that any different? Probably because 200 total viewers watch Access Entertainment Hollywood E! News, but that's beside the point.

Now, in the midst of all this fuss about protecting our children from crude radio content, the House has passed a motion to increase the fines for "indecency" to $500,000 per incident, for both broadcasting companies AND individuals. This is up from the previous $27,500 fine for Broadcasters and $11,000 for individuals. If this measure passes the Senate, the FCC would have the power to fine half a million dollars if anything that they deem "indecent" passes over the airwaves.

So what constitutes indecency, you might ask? Good question, and the FCC does not have an answer. The only clue that they give is the ambiguous reference to "offensive material that refers to sexual and excretory functions." So the entire spectrum of radio broadcasters are effectively on "Double Secret Probation," where the FCC can shut stations down for any reason at all. "Sorry Mr. DJ, I distinctly heard you say 'crap' when you were giving your review of 'Agent Cody Banks 2', so cough up the $500 large..." How, may I ask, is a rule supposed to be effective or hold any power, if the people it's supposed to govern don't know what the rule IS?

If this whole situation causes a bit of Deja-Vu, you may recall the Supreme Court Decision in the past decade that called for a ban on Pornography. After months on the slate, they couldn't say definitively what was or was not Pornography, but former Justice Potter Stewart's infamous phrase "I'll know it when I see it" was still being used. Personally, I was not at ease with the idea of Supreme Court Justices sitting around all day in small video rooms, wearing large, flowing robes, "reviewing" material that may or may not be Pornography.

*Knock Knock* "You done in there, Rehnquist?" "I'm combing my hair!! I mean, Uh...Still under Review!"

Point two, this $500,000 fine now can be levied against individual broadcasters, not just the Broadcasting companies. This is the true beauty of the bill. Let's take a TOTALLY FICITIONAL SCENARIO. Let's say CleanChannel Communications hires a DJ named "Billy the Love Loofah," who is known for his crude antics. CleanChannel doesn't care about the content because Billy has a big draw with the listeners, which equates to lots of advertising revenue for them. One day, Billy performs a musical tribute to his inflatable Uma Thurman doll, and the FCC Decides to shut him down. Under the proposed senate measure, Billy can be personally fined up to $500,000 (easily a couple of years salary). CleanChannel, on the other hand, would be off the hook, free wash it's hands of the situation and make PR statements like "We were shocked to learn of Mr. Love Loofah's indecent commentary, and we have summarily fired him. His brand of off-color humor and views do not represent those of CleanChannel, and he has no place in our decent corporation."

If this piece of election-year grandstanding passes the Senate, it will usher in the Orwellian Age of Radio, a mere 20 years late. Honestly, this whole "decency" plight of the FCC is just another attempt by Mr. Shrub to cast himself as the defender of all that is wholesome and good, like some christian superhero. With this act, he's defending our children from...stuff that most of us like to listen to in the first place. And as a nice side effect, this will place the FCC as the head of a tidy sum as a protection racket: "Wow, you've got a nice radio station here, good listener base, nice advertising revenue streams... It would be a SHAME, if something would, you know HAPPEN to it..."

The Frodo Baggins Picture Show
Now that all three Lord of the Rings movies are out, and Peter Jackson has been properly rewarded, the time has come to honor these films like any good cult movie, and send it up for laughs.

Ever since "Lord of the Rings: Fellowship of the Ring" hit theaters, the fans have been pondering "Drinking Games" and other Rocky-Horror-like audience participation activities to have a bit of fun. For example, "Whenever Legolas the Elf is zoomed in on, but has no line, take a drink." (With each movie clocking in at over 2 hours, we're talking about some serious intoxication potential.)

On the local scene, my friend Justin has provided Rocky-like quotes that have spoiled certain scenes for us permanently. For example, when the hobbits are running out of a field, and all we see is this scythe over the corn, Justin says "They're stealing crops from the Grim Reaper?!?" Also, in a close-up scene showing Frodo handling the ring, he whispers "Frodo...Stop biting your nails!"

To these I've added my own, but my additions are more mental, not being spoken aloud. If people turn around and give you nasty looks because you're laughing at an inopportune time, you're doing it right.

First, instead of the tear-jerking, Oscar-winning "Into the West" by Annie Lennox playing in Return of the King's end credits, think about Johnny Cash's rendition of "Ring of Fire." (I fell a burning ring of fire, I went down, down, down, and the flames grew higher...)

The idea for my Second item came from my mother-in-law, who said she'd have to close her eyes during the "Shelob the Spider" scene in Return of the King. I thought about that scene with just the dialog an music and smiled. Try it: Close your eyes during this scene and just listen to the dialog. It may paint QUITE a different picture of what's going on:

Frodo: Oh, I don't want to go in there...
Gollum: It's the only way! Either go in or go back!
Frodo We can't go back. All right.
Gollum: Yes, Yes....
Frodo: Agh! What's that smell?
Gollum: Orcs come in here sometimes.
Frodo: Eww! What's this? It's sticky!
Gollum: You will see, you will see... (evil laughter)

Melissa and I did this on our last viewing and were absolutely shaking with laughter, while Craig was giving us a confused stare and asking what was so funny.

And to tie up the idea of ruining the LotR movies for fun: In London, the town where absolutely anything will be made into a big-budget musical (even the craptacular "Chitty-Chitty Bang-Bang"), The Lord of The Rings is set to be adapted into a stage musical. One can only imagine that this was a stipulation in order to secure one Ian McKellan for the casting.

March 13, 2004

Lost in Translation (Part 2)

When Melissa's pen pal Miho and her friend, Miki visited us from Japan a couple months ago, they brought some gifts for Matthew. Aside from some very cool Tokyo Disneyland swag, they brought some clothing. Clothing with English words on them. BAD English. Don't get me wrong, bad translation goes both ways. I'm sure that somewhere in California, one person is proudly showing off a tattoo that he thinks is the Japanese character for "Strength", when it actually says "Sour Squid Candy" or something.

While I personally think that it's pretty cool, I can only wonder what these manufacturers were trying to say.

This looks like a replica of some junior athletic team. I just wonder what sport would have their mascot running away, and what the Count 800 is.
Again, no idea what it's saying, but it's cool, you have to admit. But the back of this shirt has more mystery:
As far as I can tell, this reads "Their ground prosper Heath Kirchart and Steve Berra have both stood tall." Well good on you, Heath and Steve. You've convinced a clothing company that plastering your names on children's clothing would move the merchandise.
This is for the discerning 3-year old, who "Just Can Get's Enough Girl". The hood reads "ChuChum Soul 300," which, as everyone knows, refers to the famous 300 km race for Japanese R&B singers held every spring in Osaka.

But just as clothing with English writing is popular in Japan, I think that these are absolutely cool. My son will proudly wear them in public in a few years. And the squints and stares will prepare him for his teenage years, where he will no doubt follow in his parents' footsteps and wear interesting t-shirts from Hot Topic.

March 12, 2004

My Time of the Month
I have always believed that men are affected by PMS. Not just that we're usually the receiveing END of it, but also that we experience something akin to it ourselves. It comes in two forms; Regular Male PMS, where you are grumpy and upset for no apparent reason, and Anti-PMS, where you feel absolutely GREAT for a few days, and there's no apparent reason. Last night, I had the regular Male PMS.

I can't say why, I just was in a foul mood. Melissa picked up on it and kept asking me what was wrong, and I answered "nothing" honestly. Nothing on my mind, nothing bothering me, nothing going on last night, I was just grumpy. I was just as clueless as she was on this one. Later that night we got into an argument and my Male PMS all came out. It was a pointless argument, so I'll spare you the details. Reading the mental transcript of last night, Melissa wasn't insulting me but what she was saying was just making me angry somehow.

A confusing ping-pong match of words continued for a couple of minutes until I was able to clear my head and walk away, in an attempt to defuse the argument. I returned to the living room at her request, not eager to get back into the fray, but she just sat there grinning. She knew it was Male PMS.

We made bad jokes at each other, laughed away the remainder of the anger and then it was over. We've learned that even anger can be funny, if it's absurd enough. For two absolute goofballs like Melissa and I, laughter is the spark in our life, as well as the wet blanket on any inflamatory argument. We seldom get into arguments, but we always end them laughing. Laughter after a fight is like a cup of sherbert after a spicy meal: It cleanses the pallete of all the stuff that came before, and you can start fresh on the next course.

If I'm feeling the same way tonight, I'll probably raid Melissa's stash of Midol.

For thousands of years, people has looked to the stars for inspiration and wonder. The night sky's unspoiled celestial beauty as spurned great scientific breakthoughs that we would never have even pondered, had we not been looking up to the heavens. But like every other thing of beauty that people look at, some schlep wants sell ad space and make money off it. Enter Alexander Lavrynov, who has just patented a device that could turn the night sky into the world's largest beer commercial.

March 11, 2004

March 10, 2004

The Persistence of Friendship
Today, a good friend thanked my wife and I for keeping him in our lives. While I appreciated the sentiment, it seemed a bit absurd to me. That's kind of like thanking the bank for not foreclosing on your house: If you pay your dues, what reason would they have for giving it up? He's always been there for us, and we return the favor. Melissa and I are both going to be in our thirties next month, and at this stage of life, there is no room for half-friendships. As harsh as it might sound, when your free time starts to come at a premium, you look for the most return on your time investment. You divide out those who give you as much support and laughter as you give to them, and those are the friends you keep.

Some people, myself included, are "relationship pack-rats": You just can't let go of anything, no matter how impractical or pointless. I've tried in vain to keep people in my life who didn't fit in it anymore, because I'm a nice guy at the core and I don't want to hurt people's feelings. As I start into my thirties, with most of my free time happily invested with my wife and son, I have started to let go of friends on the fringes and focus my remaining time on the people that really matter.

I've learned something else as well: Your best friendships may not even be the ones that you have the most contact with. This is what I told my friend :"While there has been plenty of time and opportunity for our friendship to drift away, like others we've known, this one hasn't. We might not see each other very much lately, but that doesn't change things between us one bit. We understand that no matter what goes on in the outside world, we are still the same people, and those people will retain the bonds that we have built together. At a certain point, friendship transcends physical and electronic contact, and exists on it's own as a sovereign nation."

True friendship is a sort of religion in itself. You seek it when you need strength, direction or solace. You give it when others are in need of the same. Comfort and peace is found in its transactions. Take away religion's stained glass and theological trappings, and at the most fundamental level, it's all about friendship. It's all about how you treat your neighbor and how they treat you. I believe that 99% of the miracles that have ever come to pass are due to one person looking after another.

Even if you don't believe in God, everyone can get behind the universal truth in friendship. Myself, I'm a Christian. I don't doubt the ideology or the existence of the Trinity, I believe it wholeheartedly. I just think that God takes the bumper sticker slogan "Think Globally - Act Locally" to heart: God cares for the world by inspiring the masses to care for each other individually.

March 09, 2004

The Meaning of Numbers

Yesterday, Melissa turned 31, thus crossing that critical boundary between BEING 30 and being "In Your Thirties." I don't see what the big deal is, probably due to the fact that I'm a man. But apart from age not being important to me, I downplay the negative aspect of her age because Melissa is one of those lucky few who seem to be aging IN REVERSE. (Like the line regarding Merlin in "Camelot": "He doesn't get older, he...'youthens'?") Comparing the Melissa that I know today to the Melissa that I met nine years ago, or even the one I married, I find the following to be true:

The Melissa of today is more beautiful, is in better shape, has more energy, is in better overall health, has more self-confidence, dresses better, and is more even-tempered than she was just a few years ago. (And this isn't some because-I'm-her-husband B.S. line, our family and friends see it as well.) Despite these changes, she has retained her sense of humor, her passionate opinions and best of all, her love for me. I count myself damned lucky to be married to such a fine woman.

In contrast, I have taken the more traditional DOWNHILL route over the past 10 years: I've gained 30 lbs (but lost 20 of them), gained an inch of forehead due to "cranial deforestation", I'm wearing the same sorts of unfashionable clothing, and I'm no longer much of a singer (which was her original attraction to me). In realization of this, I am trying to improve myself, just to keep up with her. She has agreed to help me get some better clothes this year, and we're both cleaning out our closet. This may well be the year that my beloved "Kermit" T-Shirt goes the way of the Dodo. *Sniff*

March 05, 2004

I've finally re-established contact with Larry McHale. I gave him the cliff notes version of the past four months, while we've been out of touch. He ended up getting that job he was hoping for, and now he's doing real I.T. work, not just training people in I.T. topics. He's loving it, and at the end of a 5-minute description of what he does, he says "Hey, Chris, YOU know LoadRunner, right?"

I shook my head unconsciously, then realized that I was on the PHONE. "Aside from the old video game from Broderbund, no I do not."

"That's a shame, because I need someone who knows LoadRunner. You know Java, don't you?"

"Aside from the CBT's and a few select JavaScript bits used on my web page, no. Sorry, man"

"That's a shame, because I need someone who knows Java as well. Crap, now I gotta actually LOOK for someone."

March 04, 2004

Eisner Steps Down, (But Not Out)
Eisner was stripped of his Chairman title, but remains CEO of Disney. In light of 42% of shareholdes withholding their votes from Eisner, the Board of Directors made a quick decision to have Mitchell assume the Chairman responsibilities. Mitchell is generally thought of to be one of Eisner's cronies anyway, so this will not change much. This was well played, I hate to admit, because it dilutes his fervent opposition. Sure, the shareholders would unite against Eisner on the board, so he removed himself from it. But he still remains quite influential through Mitchell, who will not face such united opposition from the people.

March 03, 2004

"One Party to rule them all..."
"The Return of The One Party." Not exactly an Academy Awards studio party, but down the street at a black-tie Lord of the Rings Oscar party thrown by, the internet's largest Tolkein community. The party was so big that the "Rings" stars, including Peter Jackson himself, came there first, and didn't show up at their official New Line Cinema party until around 1:30 AM. All major papers said that this bash was THE place to be on Oscar Night, even better than the usual Studio bashes. And Melissa and her friend Rebecca were there to see it.

The L.A. Times did a piece on The One Party and CNN did a Gallery for it.

They had a wonderful evening, made friends with a security guard, and even got to hand Elijah Wood a CD from AthFest (Athens, Georgia's version of "Music Midtown"). Rob and Gwennie showed them around town a bit and fun was had. She shook Robin Williams' hand and told Eugene Levy that she loved him in "American Pie." (I told her that saying she loved him in "Best in Show" or "SCTV" might have been received better.) She even snapped a picture as "Return of the King" was added to the Kodak Theater's Best Picture History display. She's still flying high from the trip, and telling me stories repeatedly, but I love it. This is probably the best Christmas/Birthday gift that I've ever given her.

Blogging Statistics
A study done last year claims that Blogs aren't as prevalent as people might think. Their basis for this is the claim that "somewhere between 2 percent and 7 percent of adult Internet users in the United States actually keep their own blogs. Of those, only about 10 percent update them daily, the majority doing so only once a week or less often."

Okay, two things wrong with that conclusion. One, the word "adult". Depending on where you define your demographic, that could easily exclude about 60% of the blogging community. Two, not every blog NEEDS updating daily. This widely-held belief leads to thought-provoking entries like his:

"Wow. 4:30 AM. I should really get to bed. got a Trig test in the morning. l8rz."

Blogs should only be updated if you have something to say that's WORTH COMMUNICATING. Every blogger is guilty of pointless posting every now and again, but the whole point is to communicate thoughts and ideas with a community, be it the world at-large or just your circle of friends. And I don't think the world-at-large needs to know that your toenail has become ingrown.

I'm currently reading "Cryptonomicon" by Neal Stephenson. You have to respect a paperback so thick that it almost requires you to be ambidextrous to read it.

March 02, 2004

Disney Eats Crow for "Narnia"
Peter Jackson's "Lord of the Rings" trilogy is topping worldwide box office reciepts and just won Best Picture, and every other award that it was up for. So today, Disney is trying to make up for the mistake of originally passing on the opportunity to make "Lord of the Rings" by adapting C.S. Lewis' "Chronicles of Narnia" to the big screen, starting with "The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe." In order to make the film work, Disney needed a first-class visionary director to head up the project. So who did they pick up? Andrew Adamson, the director who proved his sense of epic scale and respect for literature with the epic "Shrek." Ahem.

The problem is that "The Chronicles of Narnia" are more slanted towards children than the far more deep and political "Lord of the Rings", so it would be something more akin to the adaption of the "Harry Potter" books. And with Adamson on board, you're sure to see the aforementioned Lion voiced by Eddie Murphy, making jokes about chasing "tail" and other such drivel. The decision to make these films is just the sort of bandwagon decision making that I'd expect out of Michael Eisner lately, but hiring Adamson shows just how desperate that Disney is without PIXAR in their corner.

"Shrek" was, at it's core, a thinly-veiled one-finger-salute at all things Disney, from the parks to corporate management. Let's review, shall we?
  • Shrek was put out by Dreamworks SKG, of which the "K" stands for Jeffrey Katzenberg former head of Studio Operations at Disney. Katzenberg's "former" status was courtesy of Mr. Eisner, who tried to stiff him on bonuses.

  • The vertically-challenged Lord Farquaad was a caricature of Eisner, made short in the film, most likely in response to Eisner calling Katzenberg "That Dwarf."

  • Farquaad's eviction of the magical storybook creatures from his forest is rumored to be a reference to Eisner's rejection of the Disney heritage when he took charge. (Eisner's first speech to Disney employees reportedly started with the line "Walt is dead. Let's move on.")

  • The Castle of Duloc in the film *IS* Cinderella's castle from DisneyWorld, and a man in a character suit gards the gate.

  • When the Donkey pushes the button at the Indformation Center, the puppets sing a parody of Disney's strict rules of conduct: "Welcome to Duloc / Such a perfect town / Here we have some rules / Let us lay them down / Don't make waves / Stay in line / And we'll get along fine / Duloc is a perfect place / Please keep off of the grass / Shine your shoes / Wipe your... FACE. / Duloc is, Duloc is / Duloc is a perfect... place"

But guess what? Shrek proved to be movie theater gold. It was a cartoon, but not one of those sissy DISNEY cartoons that had all those "family values". It was an adolescent-humored buddy film that had real attitude, not some silly musical. Most of the Disney-bashing went over the kids' heads, but what they caught on to, they loved, because it was making fun of the films that they've grown out of. Parents took their kids to see it because it was a cartoon, and kids, specifically adolescent boys, wanted to see it because it was like no other cartoon before it: It was hip, fresh and slightly crude. Shrek's success created the animation wing of Dreamworks. Because there was now more than one player in the animation arena, the Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film" was re-introduced, and won that year by "Shrek."

Andrew Adamson, The man who directed this film, will now be at the helm of "The Chronicles of Narnia," which could be one of Disney's biggest film projects to date. Adamson may have proved his profitability and audience rapport with "Shrek," but many of the jokes were at Disney's expense. For Eisner to bring him on board for the "Narnia" films shows just how desperate that Disney is in their post-Pixar era; having to hire the man who made millions by thumbing his nose at them.

March 01, 2004

As of today, SiriusGraphics.Com is up and running. Bear with me, I'll get the site cleaned up in a few weeks. My blog will be posted here exclusively now, as to avoid the Blogspot Ads.

The Academy Retires an Old Prejudice
History has been made, folks, and you probably know that I'm talking about Lord of the Rings. Last night at the Academy Awards, there was an 11-oscar sweep for Lord of the Rings, tying the record with Titanic and Ben Hur. I'm so glad that the Academy has broadened it's horizons in light of such an incredible set of films.

"Fantasy is an 'F' word that hopefully the five-second delay won't do anything with," Peter Jacksons said when "Return of the King" won Best Picture. Many fans of the film were worried that it would be overlooked because the Academy has never given Best Picture to a Fantasy/Sci-Fi film. My friend, Justin Patterson, said it best : "I think that the Academy realized that if they didn't recognize Lord of the Rings, that they would appear less credible." I agree, if the Academy kept their stance that there can be no drama or in science Fiction or Fantasy settings, in the face of such an amazing cinematic accomplishment, they would start to lose their audience.

Put simply, Movies are a drug, and large numbers of us are unquestionably addicted. The "pushers" of the movie industry are largely movie store clerks and other movie buffs, usually with wide social connections. "Justins," if you will, in reference to Mr. Patterson. Each social group has at least one "Justin" that can appreciate the whole spectrum of film without discrimination: They can recommend "Memento" and "Casablanca" with as much fervor as "From Dusk Till Dawn" and "Lord of the Rings." Justins are the biggest driving forces behind the DVD renatal and sales market. Long after the distributor has spent it's last advertising dollar on a film, the Justins of the world continue to promote it by recommendations to friends and co-workers. Case and point is "Office Space," which was a low performer at the box office but has earned cult fame by word-of-mouth and become one of the best selling video & DVD releases of all time.

Many people don't realize that it's in the secondary market that most of the movie's revenue is made. Popular films can easily recoup the production and advertising costs from just from theatrical releases and make a tidy sum on top. This makes the $19.99 that fans will pay to buy the movie on DVD almost pure profit. Some distributors can even lower themselves to releasing "Special Edition", "Collector's Edition" and "Director's Cut" versions of the same DVD, with very little extra value-added content, to squeeze more money from fans. (Don't get me started on Mr. George Lucas.)

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts & Sciences is universally viewed as the "Official" recognition for great films. Although the Academy is not a democracy or even a representative democracy, the public seems to feel that the Academy's decisions should reflect public opinion, to some degree. Like elected government officials, the public may feel that since they pay the salaries of the film industry, that the industry should represent the people and their views. The Academy, like any other organization, is only as powerful and influential as we decide to make it. I believe that the Academy decided to soften their rigid stance on Fantasy & Science Fiction films in the face of such overwhelming public support for "Lord of the Rings" in order to maintain their status of officiality. This was a wise move on their part.

Some may see this change of stance may as "watering-down" the importance of the Academy, but I disagree. This was not pandering to the public, and this willnot lead to granting Best Picture awards to movies solely on box-office reciepts and fan base. This decision was simply the removal of an entrenched discrimination, which now allows the recognition of great films of any genre. "Lord of the Rings" shows us that the drama of a film can overshadow it's fantasy settings and special effects and be just as moving as films in a more realistic setting.

The Academy has wisely decided to become more in tune with the Justins of the world, and see the greatness in the multitude of cinematic works, not solely dramas. Some members might have had reservations about this decision, but I think it is a great step forward for the Academy and the film industry as a whole. In this move, the Academy has defended its integrity, stating that an award with no genre-specific categories should and will recognize great accomplishments in film, regardless of realism.