Friday, May 28, 2010

Projects 3 (really P1 + P2)

I started out the month of May talking blogwise about the project mentality and how everything was falling into that particular brain-hole, and I never did get around to explicating all of them, but I think it’s only fair to head towards month’s end with a bit of a status update, both in terms of discrete projects and the overall mindset.

Putting-the-house-in-order has made a couple of good steps forward. I did, as predicted, find a tenable starting point for painting the den, which now has one coat of white primer on the formerly orange walls, through which you can see just enough tint to indicate that a second coat of primer is probably in order. The important aspect is that it has gone from project-stalled to project-in-progress and that is all to the good. This weekend I’ll pick up more primer and soon we’ll acquire the actual interior color the room will end up with. I wouldn’t say that qualifies as putting the end in sight, but it has at a minimum reaffirmed my faith in the existence of an end.

I also finally got the pirate bar down into the basement, which in turn freed up enough space in the garage that with a little judicious rearranging my wife and I were finally able to park both cars side by side in the garage overnight last night. Huzzah. Again, still more to do, but also again, a much-needed sense of progress.

The Buffy/Angel Project kicked off on schedule as my wife and I watched the first two episodes of BTVS Season One last night, which works out well because the first episode ends with a cliffhanger that resolves in the second, and the whole 90 minutes or so of both together feels very much like a made-for-tv movie (a charmingly low-budget one, at that), almost to the point of being an entire prototypical BTVS season in microcosm. There is a Big Bad and a Big Plan, every character gets their moments, and in the end the day is saved but the never-ending struggle goes on. I was also amused by how well the beginning of the tv series works as a follow-on to the Kristy Swanson/Luke Perry/Donald Sutherland/Rutger Hauer/Paul Reubens movie. On the one hand you can go into the BTVS show never having seen the movie (that would in fact be the case for my wife, for example) and not feel lost at all (any more than in any other long serialized narrative where the author implies a nebulous backstory) but if you have seen the movie there are some provocative echoes (Cordelia is to Sunnydale what movie-Buffy was to her original high school, to name my favorite) while at the same time it truly does move the Buffy saga forward without recycling all the same theatrical-release beats.

Given the stacked cast and the franchise it spawned, this flick should be like a gajillion times more popular.
One thing that really draws me to Joss Whedon’s work is that he loves subverting tropes, which never fails to pleasantly tickle my brain. There’s an oft-repeated line from an apocryphal Whedon interview in which he says the idea for BTVS came to him when he imagined the stereotypical scene from a horror movie of a little blond girl stalked by a monster, except the scene ends with the little blond girl kicking the monster’s ass. Which is a great notion, but it’s one that I don’t think he ever quite managed to literally translate to the screen. The first-ever sequence of the BTVS tv series subverts that cliché, except in a completely different way: the little blond girl (Darla) turns out to BE the monster. Then later in the episode, when Buffy first meets Angel, the subversion comes close to being realized, as Angel stalks Buffy but she turns the tables on him. However, Angel isn’t really a monster, as it turns out (except he really is, but we won’t find that out until many episodes later) and Buffy doesn’t kick his ass so much as get in one good shot to make him back off before they start verbally sparring and flirting.

Arguably, though, the best subversion in the whole introductory storyline of the BTVS show is when Xander is forced into the agonizing decision of whether or not to stake and kill the vampire his best friend Jesse has become, only to have the point become moot as someone in the fleeing crowd jostles Jesse and Jesse falls on the stake, accidentally killing himself. Kinda goofy and dumb, but effective.

At any rate, Buffy/Angel is underway and we should hit the end of Season 2 by Labor Day if we continue watching two episodes per week through the summer. Which means it won’t quite have become Buffy/Angel by then, either, just Buffy/Buffy, but that’s all right.

The second pop culture project, 50 Books a Year, remains constant, progressing slowly and steadily. In ruminating on Beach Books on a Bus at length, though, I did seriously begin to consider investigating the bus route options between home and work once again. 66 certainly isn’t getting any better on its own. Even the HOV lane which buses use on 66 gets backed up for miles sometimes, but as I’ve said often enough in the past, any amount of traffic is more tolerable when I’m not the one actually driving in it. So maybe BBB won’t be so grossly misnomered this summer after all. And if I bus (and read) most of the way into work, instead of driving halfway and Metroing the rest, my daily page rate will in theory go up and that will make me happy, too. So, further updates forthcoming.

There actually is a third pop culture project I wanted to talk about, which involves inventorying my semi-ludicrously large comic book collection, now that it’s completely reunited under the same roof I sleep beneath, and doing some thinning of the four-color herd once it’s been assessed front-to-back … but, it’s slightly more complicated than that, so I’m not going to get into that right now. Soon, though, soon enough. The entire project-oriented framework of life remains in place, but these days it’s something I’m feeling better and better about.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Graminoid Corollary

Not really revelatory, but relevant: first we had a patch of dry, warm weather that scorched the lawn and rendered mowing reasonably unnecessary. Then we got enough rain for the lawn to recover. Then we proceeded to get more rain, just enough to keep the lawn growing but also constantly damp, which is non-conducive to mowing even as it makes it abundantly necessary. Hopefully some time in the next few days I’ll have both the time and the meteorological cooperation to tend to the landscaping. Ah, property ownership.

But all this mental space occupied by parched grass and lush grass and yards (specifically the contrast between mine and my neighbors, who have managed to find the time to hack their wild turf into submission) has of course had me thinking about the Proximal Graminoid Axiom (“the grass is always greener on the other side”) although truth be told I subscribe much more devoutly to the Graminoid Corollary (“the grass is pretty goddamn brown pretty much everywhere”). Which extends well beyond the literal pastures, as we all know.

Ochre waves of grain
Yesterday was a blur (a metaphor I’m probably guilty of overusing, but if the lack of focus fits and so on) but it did occur to me that a large part of that was due to the particular stage of parenthood my wife and I find ourselves in, the daycare stage. I neither came to this realization nor bring it up now as a complaint, exactly, I’m just stating the goddamn brownness of the grass as a fact. I get up way earlier than my innate biorhythms would normally dictate, so that I can get to work early, so that I can leave work early, so that I can get to daycare to pick up my boy. And every moment from then on is some combination of supervision to keep him out of the nigh-infinite amounts of trouble he is capable of finding, and checking off the long list of things to do in the relatively small window of time before he has to go to bed (dinner, bath, diaper/pajamas, bedtime snack, bedtime story, lullaby/tuck in), followed by a limnal period in which he may or may not actually fall asleep in bed (if not a second lullaby/tuck in may be required), followed finally by a couple of hours that do not revolve around child care, unless we count the looming consideration that going to bed earlier rather than later is a good idea because the whole things starts again in the all-too-soon-to-come morning.

Maybe I can’t quite get away with saying that’s not me complaining, because it certainly sounds like complaining, but at the very least I will say that these are complaints that I am happy enough to have. The Graminoid Corollary is not a philosophy of misery in which everything sucks, it’s just a realistic assessment of the fact that every situation, even awesome dream-come-true situations, have their drawbacks, or challenges, or whatever not-complaining-but-really-yeah-I-am-such-is-the-human-condition term you’d care to put on it. Which in turn makes it kind of pointless to wish away what you’ve got, because what would you replace it with? Any other thing would have its own crunchy beige herbaceous carpet underfoot.

But still, the blur-days like yesterday make me wonder. We recently started having our house cleaned every two weeks, and on those days my wife takes our two dogs to work with her because we’re not about to subject the cleaning crew to our personal-boundary-oblivious mutts. The problem is that the dogs give loud voice to their displeasure at being cooped up in the vet clinic all day, and its best for the sanity of all parties, two- and four-legged, if I pick the dogs up after work on my way home rather than forcing them to stay the additional hours of my wife’s regular shift. None of this makes for a bad or even unreasonable plan, but I have to contend with the usual challenges in making it to daycare on time first, and then I can make the cross-town jaunt to my wife’s clinic (which sometimes can be fraught with rush hour headaches which are exacerbated by a back-seat toddler) and retrieve the beasts, and then it’s back home again although as often as not getting the little guy back in the car seat a second time so soon after one ride is a real slobberknocker. (I used to mentally picture an opponent in the mold of the classic St. Michael icon whenever someone evoked the Bible story of Jacob wrestling an angel, but now that I’m a dad, wrestling an angel totally means a fat little winged baby cherub, because MAN that is tough.) And by the time we all get home it’s later than usual which means the whole pre-bedtime run-through has to go double-time. Yes and yes and oh yes, I love having a son and having dogs and having the luxury of housecleaners, but there is a component I can complain about.

Obviously I wouldn’t trade it for not having any of the above, but I do find myself occasionally entertaining the thought of trading it for having an older, school-age child instead of a day care child. I actually have a line on that very exchange, in fact it’s pretty much a sure thing in about ten more years. I’m not so myopic as to think that there won’t be brown grass next decade, too. Right now I have no choice but constant hands-on parenting, which only morphs into a choice between constant over-parenting with a kind of grim (and misplaced) certainty that nothing is going to burst the bubble or some frequency of letting the kid take care of himself and all the attendant (also likely misplaced) neurotic flipping out while envisioning what he might be exposed to when out of my sight.

What I hope, when I think about it, is not so much that I’ll find the magical field where all the grass is green as green can be. I just hope that I can find the place where the brown grass is the kind of brown that I mind the least, maybe that really isn’t so bad at all. I honestly imagine that letting my son get himself to and from school and have his own life after school, while I have my own schedule again, will be pretty nice, even with all the worried uncertainty that comes along with all the attendant growing-up complications. Compared to the daycare stage, I think I might like it better, not that I’ll find it perfect, just preferable in certain days (and of course I make no claim whatsoever that I’ll be immune to the nostalgic sighs of remembering when the little guy was really little). The question is whether or not I’ll still think that when it comes to pass. But that’s the thing about tricks of perspective – it looks one way from way over here, and another way when you get right up there.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Exotic species

I lost about an hour’s worth of potentially productive time this morning while getting some software installed on my computer at work, which simply reminded me once again of the oddities of my current job situation. I feel like a wild animal in a zoo. A nice zoo, don’t get me wrong, as my basic needs are being met and I’m not exactly languishing into oblivion, but it’s still not my natural habitat and everything that I’m accustomed to just having near at hand as a matter of course is now a hard-to-find special order or a jury-rigged close-enough.

I used to work for a company that was expressly founded to create a web application that could be licensed for use by other companies; my job was to be part of the team that would maintain and customize the application. Because that was more or less the crux of the company’s existence (not to mention the fact that it was a relatively small, relatively young start-up) there was a seamless kind of consistency to everything. Of course my computer had all the developer tools I needed, and of course they were compatible with the internet servers where the application resides, because that’s where the corporate focus was, that was the whole point. That company absolutely had its flaws and struggles, but it was a good place for me to really hit my stride as far as doing what I’ve been doing ever since.

But now I’m on a contract working for a defense agency where the emphasis is much more process-based, and these are processes which were old when teh interwebs were young, and depend mainly on human expertise and experience. And it is gradually dawning on those humans heavily invested in the processes that certain kinds of web-based technologies might make their lives easier. Which is where I come in, to translate those gradually dawning ideas into actual web app code.

The major difference, then, is that once upon a time I worked with and for a bunch of people who understood (how well was always debatable, but there was a non-zero amount) web technology and applied that understanding to meeting a need in a certain niche. Whereas now I work with and for a bunch of people who don’t really understand web technology at all, except as users, but recognize it might be applicable to what they do, and who rely on me to fill in the gap in the middle.

Which, you know, that’s the gig and I more or less understood that when I took it. In theory. In practice, there’s a constant struggle to solve things that no one else is even aware of. “Build a website” is a complicated process under the best of circumstances, but to everyone around me now it’s some bizarre electron-alchemy that happens in a cloud of smoke. And as I go through the process and discover I need a tool that hasn’t been provided as a matter of course … if it’s not someone challenging the assumption that I need it at all, it’s someone else informing me that although my previous three projects have been hosted on a server with 2005 version software, my new project has been capriciously assigned to a server with 2008 version software, which means my workstation needs an upgrade in order to even be able to talk to the new project environment. Old company, a server upgrade and developer workstation upgrades would have been part of one big well-planned initiative. New gig, the way a server upgrade affects me is less than an afterthought.

Say 'upgrade' again.
But I figure out what I need even if no one else has me on their radar, and I make noises about it until someone eventually responds, and I stand aside when someone from IT makes time to use their admin rights to download and install the new tools, and the world keeps spinning merrily along. Honestly I will probably find it very unsettling when (if ever) I run out of stuff to complain about at work.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Old Tricks (Marley & Me)

When I first started my current job, I made a conscious decision about the interplay between the mass transit commute and the reading of books. I was of course genuinely pleased to find the silver lining in my time-consuming new commute, namely that I would be able to seriously catch up on reading, both as a general life-element and in particular titles I had been unable to get around to. But I also decided that the books I read while riding the bus and Metro would only be read on the bus or on the Metro. No reading at home, no reading on the weekends – at least, not the same books I commuted with.

Partly this decision was to avoid the potentially enervating situation of getting to the bus station in the morning and realizing I had left the book I was in the middle of on the floor beside the bed after reading it late the night before. In order to face few, if any, sanity-sucking commutes with nothing to read, the commute books would simply never leave my work bag. I felt capable of keeping myself stocked and surrounded with enough books that some could be designated road-only and others home-only.

But another factor in the decision was my own curiosity as to exactly how many more books the new commute would afford me the opportunity to read. Long before this blog, and even before joining the GoodReads website (which, serendipitously enough, did happen within weeks of starting the new gig), I was obsessed with tracking tallies of my own pop culture consumption. I admit there was a part of me that expected that when people asked me about my new job, my commute would naturally come up in conversation, and when people would marvel at the timesink the commute represented and ask me how I was able to bear it, I would tell them I read a lot. I then assumed, after I had been working the new gig for six months or a year or whatever, people might then follow up that line of thought by asking, “Well, how many books would you say you’ve read on your commute.” And I wanted to be able to drop an exact count on them, like boom! 34 books. And those 34 would not be books that I read some of on the bus/Metro and some of on the weekends, at the beach on vacation, in the doctor’s waiting room, oh no. 34 books consumed 100% during commute time. So to that end, I started a page in a notebook listing the books I was reading on my commute, and as time went by GoodReads became a place to track all the books I’ve ever read in my life (or as many as I can or care to remember) and this blog became a place to really delve into certain specific ones, but the notebook is still maintaining the running commute count.

I will celebrate my third anniversary on the job next month. To date, exactly zero people have asked me the question which I have so painstakingly ensured that I have a precise and accurate answer for. Of course.

(The answer as of today is 161.)

Although, honestly, since the blush is somewhat off that particular obsessive rose, I have cheated a little bit recently, especially when I’m close to finishing a book on a Friday, and I would just as soon start a new book on Monday morning on the train than lug two books. In those cases I often polish off the book at home on Friday or Saturday and load a new book in my work bag so I don’t forget come the dawn (or pre-dawn) of the new work week. In point of fact, I followed that very model over this past weekend. Saturday afternoon, while the little guy was taking his nap and my wife was at work, I finished Marley & Me.

I should also admit that in addition to the aforementioned logic of book-toting efficiency, I thought it might be a good idea to finish Marley and Me at home because … spoiler? Do I really need to say that? It’s a book about the life of a dog. Inclusive. And they all end the same way. Life always ends the same way. Still with me? Right, so, I may be cynical about a great many things but I find my sentimentality easily manipulated when it comes to animals and children, which I suppose makes me pretty typical as it goes. And I know Marley & Me is a fairly well known best-seller which was made into a movie a couple of years ago (and I once again am maintaining my custom of jumping on things long after the cultural moment has passed) so if anyone on the Metro were to see me crying while holding that particular book they most likely would not be mystified by my defiance of social conventions, but still. Come on. Appropriate and acceptable or not, I just have no desire to get even the slightest bit unseemly whilst in commuter mode.

Another canine literary classic.
As I ran through all of those justifications Saturday while picking up the book, I decided that my over abundance of caution probably meant that I would make it clear through to the last page with dry eyes. I would see the predictable sucker punches coming and I would brace myself for them, had been bracing myself all along.

Or so I thought.

John Grogan, author and big dopey dog lover, managed to pull off a little bit of trickery by exploiting the double weakspot. Yes, I was touched when he said goodbye to Marley at the end of a typical Lab lifespan that amounted to a pretty idyllic existence. But after a couple hundred pages of the back and forth through loving and hating the “world’s worst dog” it really was the only way the book could possibly have ended. No waterworks for me. But then, Marley was brought home for burial on the family plot and Grogan’s children offered their own memorials. The kids up to that point were really only plot devices in the story of master and beast, a way of showing that Marley was a gentle giant good with kids, a way of explaining why the dog always managed to find extra food, etc. Suddenly in the last ten pages comes the sense of the kids’ relationships with their dog, full of the kind of undiluted love kids (and animals) have the most capacity for, so much so that Grogan’s oldest son signs his farewell letter to Marley “Love, your brother Conor” OH SWEET WEEPING FRIGGA did that get the waterworks going. Like, put the book down and scoop away handfuls of tears. So yes, I was grateful that played itself out in the privacy of my own home, thank you very much.

Obviously it all no doubt hit me harder than it would have, say, three years ago, now that we are raising a boy who adores both of our (his) dogs (especially the one he outweighs). I don’t look forward to the day when those goodbyes will need to be said, but I hope when such time arrives that everyone will agree that getting there was worth it.

Friday, May 21, 2010

External validation

One of the benefits of having my own blog (and one which I had no idea was awaiting me when I took to bold step of starting this enterprise) is that I have my own Blogger home page, which allows me to set up a blog feed, so I get all updates to all the blogs I care to follow spoon-fed to me. It’s become a part of my morning ritual every day, seven days a week, to see what other people are saying, across an eclectic blend of comic books dorks and parents of toddlers whom I don’t know from Adam as well as some old friends.

Anyway, this morning I saw that one of the comics bloggers, who has no idea I’m alive, had posted a question to stimulate discussion in a comments thread, a question which I thought I had at least a semi-interesting answer for. (The question was essentially “Why is it that whenever Marvel comics riffs on Arthurian legends, the results are lame?” and is kind of besides the point of what I’m on about right this moment, but I wanted to at least give you a sense of the geek-saturation point at play here.) The blogger is someone I really enjoy reading because, oh man, if I’ve successfully made the case that I’m an overthinking type of pop culture acolyte, take your sense of me and multiply it by a thousand and make the overthinker actually fairly erudite. So posting an answer (a mini thesis, really) to this guy’s question was a bit of a personal risk for me because I was somewhat afraid that the blogger would respond to my ramblings with something along the lines of “Shut your stupid piehole, uninvited lurker scum!” (Or, you know. A more erudite version of that.)

So I was actually blushingly delighted when the blogger himself commented on my comment and briefly praised my “cogent thoughts” before promising to elaborate more after sleeping. Doubly so because in the course of sketching out my thoughts on mythology in comics in general I got to make a passing reference to this:

Odin's warts!
Which would be the Marvel comics version of the thunder god Thor, after he was magically turned into a frog, which is something that did not ever happen in the Norse eddas, but totally should have. COME ON.

And that’s the note I’m going to end this week on, since not much else went down today, barring a weird conversation with a random co-worker who saw me carrying my box of Lean Pockets toward the office microwave and started ranting about how dangerous they were. At first I thought she meant either that they were addictive or that they had the approximate gastrointestinal transit speed of the proverbial grease-through-a-goose, but it turned out she meant their tendency to get magma hot at the center and burn one’s mouth. Fair enough.

Thursday, May 20, 2010


A coherent post is a bit beyond under-the-weather me today. I'll try to come up with scintillating wordplay for tomorrow. For now enjoy this map of my symptoms!

I definitely have ... some of these?

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Inexplicably still bugging me

I’m a recent convert to fandom for the show How I Met Your Mother, and as has been our increasingly common habit lately, my wife and I watched the new episode this past Monday evening. It was pretty good, and it actually hit a couple of my personal wheelhouses, but it also committed a narrative transgression which swung a wrecking ball through my suspension of disbelief, and I find myself still mentally obsessing over it days later. I overthink, therefore I blog.

So the premise was that Ted suffers the indignity of seeing the story of how he was left at the altar transformed into a major motion picture, which not only parades painful memories of his for all to see, but also twists the details of the story to make the Ted-analogue character into a horrible toad of a person, the analogue of the woman who broke his heart into an angelic victim who finds romantic redemption with another man, and the man who broke Ted and his fiancée up into a square-jawed knight in shining armor. Because, of course, the other man is the author of the screenplay and thus tells the story from his own perspective, vilifying Ted in the process. Rubbing salt in these wounds is the fact that everyone loves the movie, including the girl Ted is currently in the tentative early stages of dating.

This is a premise that I find endlessly fascinating, and I mean that in a good way. I love writing and I love breaking down the writing process, and I’ve been known to take real events in my life and try to perform the proper alchemy that turns them into fiction, changing the elements that need changing to make for a better story. That must be true of all writers, and all writers think they do so in ways that still retain a grain of truth, and never in a manner that’s so self-serving as to be part auto-hagiography, part vengeance-against-all-my-foes. The movie in HIMYM (entitled “The Wedding Bride”) is an intentional exaggeration and that’s not what I have a problem with. HIMYM is a comedy, “The Wedding Bride” is a parody, all’s fair.

Gah, even this poster makes me want to punch somebody.
The movie analogues were a bit hit-or-miss. Chris Kattan, one of the most annoying SNL alums ever, as the boo-hiss version of Ted? That was genius. Malin Akerman, aka the worst actress from the Watchmen movie, as Ted’s ex-fiancee? Not terribly entertaining in itself, but not bad as part of the overall meta-joke of recasting the girl in the story as a victimized damsel in distress, since Akerman is kind of blandly pretty and virtually personality-free. I thought the biggest misstep was casting those two and then a complete unknown as the pretty-boy heroic analogue for the engagement wrecker who wrote the screenplay. I know guest stars on sitcoms don’t come cheap and/or easy, but HIMYM seems to have some pull. They couldn’t have gotten, I don’t know, Daniel Craig or Sam Worthington or something? (NOTE: Insatiable curiosity led me to bust some Google-fu and I guess the pretty-boy is very well known to fans of Sex and the City? So not a complete unknown, but not a widely known, I’ll still argue.)

But, again, I really do have a huge soft spot for metafiction, stories about stories and especially stories about where stories come from. HIMYM actually is capable of some fairly deft narrative complexity itself, with its nested flashback structures and whatnot, and at first I had ridiculously optimistic hopes that the story would end up being about perspective and the way audiences project themselves into stories they over-identify with. Because Ted recognized the name of the screenwriter when the credits for the movie began, he was automatically expecting it to be about him, and the plot was loosely based on his bizarre love-triangle experience, but it also wasn’t about him, because the liberties taken were so extreme. The episode repeatedly made the point that when people said “Oh that Jed (the Ted-analogue) is such a jerk!” Ted was personally hurt as if they had said it about him. But they were (almost) always saying that in response to pure fabrications on-screen, things Ted himself had never done, things the screenwriter had embellished way beyond the pale. Ted couldn’t distance himself, and that says a lot about Ted, fair enough, but I was hoping for a third-act Rashomon-esque swerve in which Ted’s friends saw the movie and realized just how much it was a piece of fiction and how Ted was being a wee bit oversensitive and selective in seeing it as personal persecution. Alas, it was not to be. (And maybe that many layers is a bit much for 22 minutes of sitcom.) But that didn’t destroy my suspension of disbelief.

The HIMYM writers for some reason decided that it wasn’t enough that Ted be humiliated by knowing the movie exists, because he happened to end up seeing it on a date, nor for it to be enough that his date really liked the movie. They took it a step too far by asserting that, in their fictional universe, “The Wedding Bride” was the fifth highest grossing movie of all time. Which, you know, ha ha, I get jokes, but they played that fairly straight as a plot point; Ted and his budding romance end up on a double date at one point wherein the other couple loudly proclaims their love for “The Wedding Bride” and their plans to see it again in the theater. At which Ted loses it and tells them all that the movie sucks, and they are all dumb for liking it.

OK, here’s the thing: no romantic comedy will ever be in the top 20 of highest grossing movies of all time. EVER. That is not how the world works. I am going to climb up on my soapbox (which is actually a shipping crate for Dungeons and Dragons manuals) and explain how it is. I gots to represent my people! The highest grossing movies of all time? They are nerdy genre flicks! They are fantasy and sci-fi and based on comic books! Avatar, Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Iron Man, The Dark Knight, Star Wars, those are the box office champs. The lone exception is of course Titanic, but even that movie has more than a few genre-riffic trappings (mega special effects, a high-action escape sequence, Billy Zane). There’s just something to the epic pageantry that gives a movie something for everyone and a high rewatchability factor. Rom-coms serve their purpose in the multiplex ecosystem, but it is not to be all things to all people.

And yeah, again, the joke is that Ted is in hell because he can’t get away from the movie, which symbolizes how he can’t get away from the past until he lets it go, but another joke is that “The Wedding Bride” is a terrible movie. The title in and of itself gives that away, and call me a smug elitist all you want but I back Ted up 100%: most rom-coms do suck, and if your favorite movie of all time is a rom-com (unless it’s for a valid sentimental reason like being what you saw on your first date with your soulmate or something) then yeah, you are empirically dumb. QED, MF’ers. I’m fine with a comedy giving me a ridiculous premise and milking it for laughs, but don’t give me two totally contradictory premises and try to milk them both. I’ll leave that metaphor alone before it gets too gross, but the point stands. I’m disappointed in the writers for trying to have it both ways, for essentially putting forward an egregiously terrible example of an inherently terrible genre and then asserting that everyone except the person secretly maligned by it would adore it. Come on, HIMYM. You’re better than that.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Home Run!

I recently taught the little guy to jubilantly exclaim “home run!” as befits the latest scion of generations of Yankees fans, who have long known that swinging for the fences is the best part of the national pastime, from the Babe to Reggie Jackson to A-Rod. And Aaron Boone. And Bucky F-ing Dent! Anyway, it’s cute to hear an emergently verbal tot shout “home run!”, even if he does it during the SportsCenter highlights of the hockey playoffs because so far he only grasps that it has something to do with televised athletic competitions, which Mommy and Daddy certainly do watch a lot of.

Anyway, case in point of the home run derby version of an awesome baseball game would be last night’s Red Sox at Yankees exhibition. Which was on ESPN, and that in itself honestly makes me wish I had been keeping track since the beginning of the season as to exactly how many Yankees games are being televised nationally (and thus in my non-Yankees home market) this season, because it seems like a lot. In point of fact when I checked the score online near the beginning of the game and informed my wife that it was 6-1 New York in the second inning, she asked “Yankees Red Sox? Is it on tv?” And I insisted oh, no, surely not, they just had Yankees Red Sox as the Monday Night Baseball game the other week when there was a series at Fenway, they’d spread the love around to some other teams, right? My wife responded by switching the channel to ESPN, revealing the live feed from Yankees Stadium. So. He doth protest too much in faux-humility? No one really knows for sure!

Even when you hit homers against my team, I can't stay mad at you, Big Papi.
Not all of the home runs last night had me exclaiming jubilantly, of course. Bad enough when Phil Hughes, who had been pitching brilliantly and nearly home-run free all season, gave up a couple which erased most of the early lead. But when Chan Ho Park gave up a tater late to make it 8-7 Boston, I stormed out of the den and grabbed the dogs’ leashes (they needed their nightly walk anyway and I needed to compose myself). By the time I got back it was 9-7 Sox, and my wife and I headed for bed. But like a glutton for punishment, I turned the bedroom tv to ESPN.

So, bottom of the ninth, down by two runs, Gardner and Texeira and A-Rod due up, this is the conversation between me and my wife:

Me: OK, three home runs, that’s all we need, boom boom boom.
She: Technically, one three-run home run would also do it.
Me: True. Really, two home runs would tie it up and they might be able to salvage it from there, too.

Well, thank the baseball stars and spirits I lowered my expectations, because two homeruns were exactly what was delivered. But fortunately, each one was a two-run shot, as A-Rod tied the game with one swing and Marcus Thames, of all people, delivered the killing blow a couple of at-bats later, after my favorite mouth-breather in the world, Jonny Papelbon, hit a batter and rattled himself enough to serve up a fat target. Sometimes it seems like the storybook ending games and the televised-in-DC games don’t line up very often, but last night they did. Yay, sports!

Ode to the Ignorant Commuter

I know I’ve spent more than my fair share of time ranting about my fellow commuters hereabouts, but this time, let me cut to the chase and acknowledge that the ignorant commuter in question is me.

Yesterday, for the first time in quite a while, I took the VRE back and forth to work, because I had to go to a lab for a blood draw (but didn’t I just have one of those the other week? I did, this was different, more on that later) and the earliest they could take me was 7:30 a.m. and by that time I figured the traffic on 66 and the parking at the Vienna Metro would both be odious, and since I was going to be late to work anyway and in no rush to get home (my wife being home with the little guy on her day off and the rush to a daycare pickup thus not in play) I might as well take the less-stressful means of transportation.

The ride into Rosslyn was less stressful, I’ll give it that. The ride home included cooling my heels in the vestibule between cars and a verbal dressing down complete with threats of massive fines and jail time. So … oops?

The first time I took the VRE, back in December, I purchased a ten-ride ticket from an automated kiosk. I vaguely recall something about needing to validate the ticket before boarding the train, and you could do that at the kiosk too, and I did. No biggie. Then I sat in the upper level of the double-decker car, and never saw a conductor until I got off the train. In the evening I boarded the train, same deal, same results. The next occasion I had to ride the VRE was during one of the winter’s Book of Snow-shovelation events, and the train was on a crazy staggered schedule and on the ride home I was standing shoulder-to-shoulder with people in the vestibule. I think at one point the conductor in the vestibule said “OK, everyone show me your tickets” and we all laughed. That crowded chaos pretty much led directly to me forsaking the VRE for the slightly more weather-impervious Metro, although I did wind up on the VRE another time or two. In other words, I used six or eight of my ten rides.

But nobody but me seemed to know how many rides I had used, because I rarely if ever saw the conductors. And, I admit, this did strike me as a little bit odd. I had a ticket I would have been more than happy to produce on demand, but I never was asked to do so. I figured the train operators had bigger things to worry about than catching every single person who tried to bilk a free ride, and kind of let things slide in a spot-checking, honor system kind of way. And I never got spot-checked.

So, yesterday evening. I’m sitting on the train and I do see a conductor patrolling the car checking tickets, and I flash him the plastic holder that has my VRE ticket (as well as my work badge and Metro pass). He asks me to hand him the ticket, and I do, and then he looks at me disbelievingly and says “What is this?” To which I reply “It’s a ten-ride ticket?” Which got me an invitation to join the conductor in the vestibule to continue our discussion.

No, not quite as friendly as that.
The conductor broke it down for me: you’re supposed to feed your ticket into the machine on the platform to validate it before you board the train every time you board the train, not just the first ride of ten. OK, that seems awfully straightforward in hindsight but I honestly did not realize that. What I should have told the conductor, in my defense (but didn’t, because I was so flustered), is that I’m from New Jersey and I’ve ridden commuter trains to NYC many times, and on those trains the conductors ask to see your ticket and punch it for you there on the train and that’s kind of what I was expecting on the VRE. The reason I was too flustered to think straight is because the conductor took it upon himself to come down fairly heavy-handed on me, pointing out to me that there is fine print on the back of the ticket that says you must validate it before boarding the train and failure to do so can result in a $500 fine or jail time. I admitted that I was responsible for misunderstanding and it was my mistake, but the conductor was more than a little convinced that I had been scamming free rides for quite some time.

It was one of those perfectly impossible situations. On the one hand, yeah, I had a ten-ride ticket dated December 22, 2009 that had only been validated once. By the return trip on May 17 it should have been validated, theoretically, at least four times, twice when I bought it and twice for the current roundtrip, and it wasn’t, so I’m already in the wrong. And my story about only using the train for four or five roundtrips in six months seems unlikely, even though it’s completely true. My defense about expecting conductors to validate my ticket but understanding why they didn’t when half the trips were during blizzards and the other half might have been simple oversights was also suspiciously convenient, but true, but worse than that hard to press because it amounts to me telling the conductor “Yes, you are the first one to catch me, because your fellow conductors I guess are lazy and or incompetent?”

And since I’m already the bad guy in this story, let me just take it to the next level of douchery. I suspect the conductor really wanted me to quake in my boots about the potential punishments, but I didn’t, and that may have hardened him against me even more. The jail time threat didn’t faze me at all, because I knew there was really no chance. First offense because of a stupid misunderstanding? I might have to cut some kind of deal but no way would I go to jail. The fine also didn’t faze me, not because I thought I could get out of it, but because I could roll with it. $500 is not a joke to me, and it would piss me off, but I would take it out of savings and move on. My two major concerns, after the conductor had read me the riot act in the vestibule, were as follows: first, I was afraid he would toss me off the train at the next stop. At which point I could buy another ticket and get back on the next train, but that would cost me half an hour, and I really wanted to get home and offer some relief to my wife after her long day trying to reestablish household routines with both our son and our dogs after a weekend away. The secondary concern came about due to the conductor asking for my driver’s license and then disappearing to write me a citation (accompanied by the parting shot, as self-serious as a freaking Mega-City Street Judge: “You BROKE the LAW, sir.”) – I was somewhat concerned that the train would get to my stop before he got back and I would be forced to choose between getting off and going home, writing off the license as lost and risking incurring further conductor wrath for skipping summary judgment, or staying on the train until my license was returned and I was dismissed, but ending up at the end of the line a ways from my car and home.

Yup, more like that.
Fortunately he came back before we got to my stop and started to lecture me again, this time emphasizing how there are so many explanations all over the place of how the ticket validating works that there was no excuse for me misunderstanding it, and that he didn’t believe my story. I did what I’ve always done in situations like that, falling on self-abasement and obsequiousness. I assured the conductor I understood where he was coming from and called myself stupid a few dozen different ways. I got my license back, a first offense warning with the ominous promise that now that they had my ID info if I ever tried to scam rides again I would be a known repeat offender, and the conductor confiscated my ten-ride ticket. Which I had pretty much used up anyway.

(Would I have kept trying to ride the VRE with that ticket, figuring it was still good for nine more rides until some conductor started noticing and punching rides off it for me? I’m not proud of this, but I might have. Probably. So, karma-wise, I can’t complain about how it all ended.)

I was incredibly relieved when I got off the train at my intended destination and arrival time, and all I had to worry about was remembering where I had parked my car. And once I got to my car, I got the ultimate kicker for the whole tale: a parking ticket. Did I mention how rarely I take the VRE, and thus how rarely I use the parking garage? Apparently in the morning I had blown past the (small, poorly marked) signs indicating where commuter parking in the garage ended and four-hour midday parking began, and since there were no commuter spots left at 7:45, I parked in the wrong place. $25 fine. Man, that is how they get ya.

Weirdly, the parking ticket is almost a psychological blessing, because while the VRE conductor may have failed to power trip on making me feel helplessly terrified in the face of his iron horse authority, he did succeed in making me feel guilty (though I am an admittedly soft touch for that) and the fact that he let me off with a warning kind of made the guilt worse, because I had screwed up and hadn’t really been punished. The parking ticket is a slap on the wrist, but that’s oddly better than nothing.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Ups and downs

See, the thing is, he's smarter than he looks.
So my Very Little Bro graduated from college over the weekend. Or very nearly – he technically has a couple of online courses to finish this summer in order to complete the requirements of his major, but on Saturday he put on the cap and gown and walked across the stage to pick up his diploma, so let’s just call it a win unless something crazy down the road makes liars of us. He deserved his celebration of accomplishment, niggling loose ends notwithstanding. I for one was so happy for him that I got surprisingly choked up when the graduates came marching across the soccer field (led in by irish bagpipers!) and I spotted him in his academic regalia. I had it easy growing up in a stable (to all appearances) family unit where doing well in school was my only job and getting a Bachelor’s seemed more or less inevitable, but my parents split while I was in college, which was while Very little Bro was only six, so his childhood was markedly different and inarguably bumpier. There were a couple rough stretches where it seemed like he might not make it to college at all. I think part of me will always feel guilty that he had it tougher than I did, and that part was relieved and overjoyed that he came out ahead. Of course, that up is being immediately thrown into sharp relief by the attendant down, namely that Very Little Bro and his college roomie are following their dreams and moving to California this week. I don’t see the VLB as often as I would like, and now it seems I will see him even less. Alas.

Anyway, attending the graduation (in new Hampshire) required a long weekend trip, which is why last week was so light on posts – well, the trip plus a million other little things that are in fact keeping me hopping. I will try to expound on those as this week rolls merrily along, but I just wanted to make sure I didn’t leave this space idle for too long.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Best laid plans and all

There are still some adjustments to be made and rough spots to be smoothed over, as far as the complete integration of the new dog into the household goes. Housebreaking (housebrokenness?) remains an issue, but that’s kind of expected given that:

1. New dog is youngish
2. New dog is a rescue who previously was chained up outside all day, every day, which is not at all conducive to learning NOT to pee wherever one pleases
3. New dog is a bit of a spaz anyway, 1 and 2 notwithstanding

So, you know, accidents happen. They get cleaned up and we all move on. New dog also barks a lot (I’m not quite so peevish as to refer to it as either “yipping” or “yapping” … yet) whether it be for attention or for food or just because he doesn’t quite trust the way that reflected bit of sunlight is just floating there on the wall. (For reals.) And new dog follows us around everywhere in the house, occasionally trotting right between one’s feet and risking inadvertent kicks to the head. Yet I’m reasonably sure a lot of that will be a distant memory some day.

And there are cute, non-annoying things, like the way he will lead the way from the closet where the dog food is kept to his bowl when it’s chow time, running in what amounts to a corkscrew pattern, towards the bowl, then back towards me to make sure I’m still bringing the grub, then back towards the bowl, then back towards me, in tight little spazzy circles.

Of course new dog was my wife’s idea and is her dream pet, the Cavalier King Charles being a breed she has dreamed of owning for years. So, in theory, he’s her dog.

In terms of dog ownership (aka dog accountability) we’ve often joked about our original, main dog being either hers or mine, whose idea it was to keep him, depending largely on how well-behaved the dog has been lately. I accepted that the dog ended up mostly mine, but the arrival of our little guy seemed to settle the issue because we simply entered countdown mode, figuring as soon as the little guy was old enough to take on even token responsibilities, the dog would be his.

So my wife gets the little bitty dog and my son gets the medium mutt, sounds like a great plan, right?

You see where this is headed.

New, little bitty dog is reasonably tolerant of the toddler’s attention, but oh, MAN, you guys: the little guy loooOOOOoooves the new dog. Can’t get enough of him. Has the dog’s name on his lips when he wakes up in the morning, needs to say goodnight to the dog before going to bed each evening. Hugs him all the time. It is pretty precious. I guess they’ve bonded over being the smallest of their species in the house, respectively. You just never know who exactly is going to find common ground or lifelong friendship with whom when you start collecting a whole mess of small dependent creatures under your roof.

No joke here, it's just amusing to me for some reason.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Projects 2

So, I believe I was talking at one point about how Everything In My Life Is Some Big Project Or Another and I had only given one single solitary example so far. Easily remedied; prepare yourself for instance the second.

You might remember that one of my New Year’s Resolutions for 2010 was to read 50 books, and to a certain extent you could probably consider that a project in and of itself. And it does require a certain time commitment, which is largely allotted to mass transit commute time. It also has a certain obsessiveness, even competitiveness (if only in that I compete with myself) built in, which might be what elevates it to a capital-P Project, because in my mind I am constantly calculating how many books I have lined up to read (no downtime is allowed, none at all; if I’m getting close to the end of one book I start carrying another book as well so that I can transition seamlessly and not waste five minutes on the Metro) and how long the current book I’m reading is and at what pages-per-day pace I’m getting through the current book and what books-per-month pace I’m setting for the year. And really hammering the point home (if the point is “what is WRONG with you?”) is the fact that reading books is something I love and passing time pleasantly when I’m stuck on the Metro is something I need, but the 50 Books A Year Project causes me no small amount of stress and grief, because to tell the truth I started the year off the pace by a good margin and I’m only now close to closing the gap. I’ve read fifteen books since January 1, and I’ll most likely finish the sixteenth today. I should be reading four or five each month, so at this point, 1/3 of the way through May, I should be finishing my nineteenth or twentieth. Part of the problem lies in some of my early choices: dense classics like Sons and Lovers in January and thousand-page epics like The Terror in February. So at this point I am actively selecting books that are a little on the slim side so that I can crank through them and pump up the bottom line tally. Which is kind of not in the spirit of the Resolution or the Project and is also more than a little insane in the membrane. But, I gotta be me.

And, to that point, it wouldn’t be me if I weren’t prone to inventing Projects within Projects. Which brings us to Beach Books on a Bus (henceforward known simply as BBB).

BBB started in July of 2008 when it became apparent that, because the little guy’s birth was imminent and I was saving all my paid time off for paternity leave, I was not going to get a week’s vacation at the beach. (To be fair, neither was my wife. To be fair, lots of people are working poor and never get paid vacations at all. I know. This is not their blog.) One of the most gratifying pleasures I have found in life is sitting on the beach and reading a book that is just trashy and fluffy enough to be perfect vacation entertainment, and that was the element of the not-in-the-cards beach trip I was going to miss the most.

As if to mock me, the Washington Post ran an article early that summer about the Ultimate Beach Books, as determined by some kind of poll. That helped me make up my mind to indulge in the reading material usually reserved for the vacation while slogging through my commute. Hence, Beach Books on a Bus. That year I read The Thorn Birds, Rosemary’s Baby, Devil in a Blue Dress, and Riders of the Purple Sage off the Post list, and I threw in Endymion, which is high sci-fi and the third part of a four-volume cycle I was into at the time. Riders of the Purple Sage was a bit creaky, but the rest were great, deserving Beach Reading Classics, and the whole BBB notion helped get me through the hazy, humid days of riding the bus lines and the rails in July and August.

The first year or so of his life, Little Guy was plagued with ear infections and I blew through a lot of paid time off on his sick days home from day care, so there was no proper summer vacation in 2009 either, and BBB 2 went into effect for two solid months. I read, in rapid succession: The Name of the Rose, Sick Puppy, The Spy Who Came In From The Cold, Fool Moon, The Count of Monte Cristo, A Feast for Crows, The Pillars of the Earth and The Clan of the Cave Bear. Some of those were leftovers from the Post article of the year before, and some were modern urban fantasy or sword-n-sorcery of my own discovery, but again, it was a nice way to commemorate summer while I was stuck at work.

Will there be a BBB 3 this year? Need you even ask? It will be inaptly named, since I no longer take the bus to work, but ah well. The centerpiece this year will most likely be Edgar Rice Burroughs’s classic pulp trilogy about John Carter of Mars - which inspires the picture above - because not too long ago there was a sweet hardcover collection on the discount table at Barnes & Noble and you best believe I snatched that right up. I’ve also got some Douglas Adams lined up (I’ve read the Hitchhiker’s books many times but never cracked the Dirk Gently books, which I plan to rectify) and a few other dimestore paperbacks I got at the used bookstore. Oh, and A Year in Provence, which my wife recommended and which struck me as vacation-appropriate. They are all sitting on my bedside table, intermixed with a few other books I will read in the near-term, while those all wait their turn in July.

Of course the punchline here is that this year we have a healthy little toddler, no imminent childbirth leave to save up PTO for, and ample time and resources to take a weeklong holiday at the beach. And we’re totally planning to do just that. So BBB 3 will either be interrupted by, or segue nicely into, a pleasant vacation at the actual beach. However, odds are I won’t be able to finish a single book at the beach, as I will be spending the vast majority of my time keeping my progeny from being carried off by feral hermit crabs or otherwise getting into enormous amounts of trouble in a strange, new place. Is that irony? I think it might be.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Hammer and Tongs

Last Friday I didn’t really have time to blog from work because of two completely unrelated factors:

The Hammer: After enough-weeks-to-lose-track, the hammer finally fell and I was informed right around mid-morning that I needed to clear out of my cubicle. A new hire was starting work in the government office on Monday (today) and was going to be assigned the workspace where I had been squatting. I assume I’ve mentioned this situation and this possible resolution thereof enough times that everyone reading this will realize it was not a big deal in the grand scheme of things. It did not fill me with exquisite fear about the future of my position and/or paycheck, as I’ve always known that I’m an integral part of the contract who simply has the misfortune of being listed as an off-site team member but who finds his job much easier to accomplish on-site and has just been kind of winging it.

Interestingly enough, my contractor-manager did not so much as breathe a word this time around about relocating me off-site to a corporate HQ desk/cube/office/crawlspace/whathaveyou. He just showed up in my govt. cubicle and asked me to follow him down the hall to a separate room where up to three people can work at once at temporary workstations, and asked me if I would mind working there as of Monday until we figure something else out. Considering that there are technically only about four and a half months left on the current contract, I no longer consider it outside the realm of possibility that they might simply re-write the next contract for FY11 in order to convert my role from off-site to on-site, rather than actually figure out a permanent off-site home for me, because that apparently is a task of mythological-labor levels of difficulty.

Apparently in this analogy Hercules is me, and the Lion is A Consistent Place To Work And Maybe Leave A Coffe Mug At If That's Not Too Much To Ask.  I guess?
But as always, I am a team player and not a complainer so I assured my manager I was fine with relocating. Still, it cut into my valuable slacking-off-at-work time, since I had to clear all my files off the cubicle computer (deleting some and copying others to the office network so I could access them elsewhere), and gather up all my paper files and such (though thankfully I hadn’t accumulated much along those lines), and set up the temp workstation computer and put in a Help Desk request for the one piece of software I use semi-regularly which needs to be custom installed wherever I go. But in the end, I daresay it was worth it, because even though I am now (this is NOT a joke) sitting a small windowless room which is also being used for storage and therefore contains a small flock of broken chairs as well as many boxes of random computer components, it is an out-of-the-way small windowless storage room and I feel a little less like people are constantly passing behind me and looking over my shoulder and judging me. So that’s decidedly more pleasant, and well worth sacrificing my view of the monuments across the river. Also I think the computer here at my new digs is actually newer and faster than in the old cubicle, although I'm trying to play that relatively cool so that I.T. doesn't come and re-appropriate it.

The Tongs: The other impingement on my time on Friday was the fact that my government supervisor decided to re-institute an old departmental tradition, namely Random Wine and Cheese Fridays. The technical term for my response parameters in those types of situations is HELL YEAH. So after shuttling stuff physically from one office desk to another and electronically from one drive to another I was more than ready for some crackers and Jarlsberg and cheap merlot. The spread of both foodstuffs and wines was actually impressively generous, well worth the hat-passing for 3 bucks a person that (partially) underwrote it. I stayed for about an hour and got my fill, and since by then it was close enough to quitting time and I had long since finished my workweek quota, I slipped out before the event officially ended. But I assume, having returned to a still-standing office today, that no fistfights broke out over the crudités (the tongs-necessitating munchies, in case you were wondering about my ever-tenuous connection making) so I also assume that our supervisor will be bringing Wine and Cheese Fridays back semi-regularly, and I for one have no problem allowing my morale to be manipulated and pandered to in such fashion.

Thursday, May 6, 2010

Filter Thaw?

Quick Work Network Filter Update: Yeah, apparently that was a false alarm. Late yesterday afternoon I was able to get straight to Blogger without having to click any buttons acknowledging “quota time” or anything like that, and today that return to normalcy still prevails, so apparently it was a brief interlude of heavy-handedness. On the one hand, that’s a bit of a relief, especially once I realized that because Blogger uses a pop-up window for the uploading of pictures, which counts as a separate window and requires the use of ten more quota minutes to do one minute of work, I would be burning through a lot of this quota time for a once-a-day post. But then again, from the Blogger dashboard, which I use for following other blogs, I was able to launch new tabs viewing all of those blogs with no filter warnings whatsoever. So it wouldn’t have been that big a hardship (and please be aware I use that term as ironically as possible without completely obliterating its meaning) in any case. It does all beg the question, though, of what was going on yesterday. My two leading theories:

1 – It was an inadvertent dry-run. The Pentagon is eventually going to block access to Blogger et al, and they activated the filter before they intended to, and took it back down, but eventually will put it back in place when originally scheduled. That may sound a bit improbably inept, but trust me, it’s not that far-fetched.

2 – It was an intentional move which was immediately met with howling cries of protest from users who have legitimate, DoD-business reasons to stay abreast of various blogs for more than 50 minutes a day. Also not that far-fetched in theory, but this is my number two hypothesis because of what I said above: I was able to get to all the blogs linked off of my Blogger dashboard, just not the main Blogger site itself. So how much hutesium et clamor could there have been?

As always, I will keep you all posted of further developments, if any.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Cold Filtered!

(Parenthetical Asides interrupts the detailed dissection of How Everything In My Life Is Some Big Project Parts One Through Forty-Seven in order to bring you some breaking news. In a long-winded, roundabout way of course.)

Way, way back when I started this blog I ranted a bit about the seemingly capricious nature of my company’s internet firewall and the fact that I could reach some sites and not others, and two sites that seemed to have equally high futz-factor scores might fall on opposite sides of the divide, and how I was just sort of learning to live with it and regard it as sort of a challenge to map out teh interwebs both off-limits and on-.

But that was August, and this is May, and since then I’ve gone from working at my corporate HQ to working in a government office on government equipment attached to a government network, which means it’s not my employer’s IT policy I have to reckon with, it’s Pentagon IT policy. I don’t believe I’ve talked much about that, because it’s pretty boring: slightly more restrictive than my employer, but at least logical and consistent.

Here’s the thing, though, about IT policies (good ones, at any rate): they are constantly evolving, to reflect teh interwebs themselves. Maybe not rapidly evolving, certainly not as fast as the online universe itself, and much slower if the institution owning the policy is large and encumbered (like, oh, say, just for instance, random example, the Department of Defense), but if a huge trend emerges and persists, eventually the policy will catch up.

So today I tried to get to the Blogger home page and was informed that “Blogs and Personal Sites” are being filtered. Of course this information was presented as flatly and unsympathetically as if it had been the Law of the Landlines for as long as anyone can remember, but I got to the Blogger home page yesterday without a blip of protest from the Pentagon routers. This is a brand new development.

I am absolutely incapable of getting bent out of shape about this. Yes, I blog from work, but I know quite well that I shouldn’t. I can rationalize it in the context of the fact that the nature of my position gives me a lot of free time, and I never neglect the duties of my contract in favor of blogging, but bottom line I know that it’s personal use of taxpayer-funded resources and a pretty straightforward no-no. Apparently some time overnight it went from a discouraged, frowned-upon no-no to an outright banned no-no.

Well, you know, the kid's got a point.
Well, maybe not so outright after all. The page in my browser telling me that blogs are verboten under acceptable use policies also features a button which I can click in order to start ten minutes of “quota time” during which, I guess, I can get to Blogger and its kin? Apparently I’m allotted 50 minutes which I can use in 10-minute increments, and I presume those 10-minutes need to be an hour apart or something. I guess I’ll find out, because of course I’m going to play with this quota functionality and see what it’s all about. It feels like it has a vague Orwellian creepiness about it, but that just means I won’t be visiting The Blog of Provocative Whalebone Corset Advertisements at work anymore, I suppose.

So I’ve written this whole post in Word and now I’m going to try to use quota time to connect to Blogger and post it, which means if you’re reading this I’ve succeeded, and later I’ll report further on how the whole thing works out.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010


Maybe it’s spillover from my workaday mindset as a white-collar drone, but lately it seems like I cannot get away from the concept of projects in all the other non-office areas of my life. I don’t have to-do lists comprised of various small and discrete tasks; I have a collection of (arguably) ambitious and (absolutely) time-consuming undertakings that I need to figure out how to fit into my life schedule on a recurring basis. And it’s a bit of unearned victim-playing to say that I can’t get away from it, because truthfully I am doing this to myself, completely by choice.

There is, of course, the ongoing Get The New House In Order Project, which is perilously close to being inaptly named because the house is not so much new to us anymore. (Surely we lose all rights to that label around six months after the move, which would be June 19 as it happens.) The garage still needs to be emptied and the den still needs to be painted and furniture needs to be acquired and so on, all of which swells up to project-nebula size because of all the cascading dependencies involved: I seem to have mislaid the key to the shed, which is where I wanted to move the firewood that’s stacked in the garage; and the furniture is going to be purchased out of our federal tax refund, which has not yet been routed to the bank account; and the walls can’t be painted until they’re primed, and can’t be primed until the floor moldings and ceiling corners are taped, and can’t be taped &c. (I’m actually not sure where that last &c. goes. Maybe that’s the entrance point I need to focus on.) For a while the GTNHIO Project was going full swing, but it inevitably tapered off and became more of a “well, when I have a free moment” thing and now it seems free moments are so rare that a more aggressive approach is called for. Which, you know, fair enough.

But still, all work and no play and all that. The really rueful aspect is the extent to which I’ve begun organizing my leisuretime activities into capital-P Projects of varying scopes. Allow me to overshare:

Thursday is the big tv night in my house, as I’ve detailed on more than one occasion. However, the tv season for those shows officially ends on May 20, and since my wife and I have been such devoted followers this year we really have no reason to sit through the summer re-runs. But we have a plan! Oddly enough, it mainly involves … um … watching re-runs? Kind of, sort of, in the sense that we will be watching episodes of two tv shows that have all aired before and are now preserved forever on DVD. Also, we’ve seen every episode of one of the shows before.

Mr. Pointy!  Also, some blonde chick...?
When my wife and I started dating we watched every episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer in order on DVD; she had seen most of them before on tv, whereas I had never jumped on the broadcast incarnation of the show, but she thought they were worth re-watching and she knew I would love the show (and she was right). So now we’ve both seen the whole seven-season epic but I am as interested in re-watching every episode as my wife was five years ago, especially since I remember how much she enjoyed picking up the recurring motifs and foreshadowing and whatnot on her secondary viewings. Additionally, when we watched BTVS the first time we made a half-hearted effort to also watch the Angel spin-off, but quickly faltered. By the time the completist uber-geek in me was regretting not having full crossover knowledge of the Angelverse as it impacted the BTVS series finale, it was of course too late to rectify. Until now! Hence the Buffy/Angel Project. Starting on May 27, Thursday nights will be Thurs-slay nights! Amirite? Guys? Ahem. Given that an average episode is about 44 minutes long, we should be able to get in two or three per week between the little guy’s bedtime and our own. So for starters that will mean back-to-back-to-back Buffy, but once we hit season 4 we will alternate episodes of Buffy and Angel to watch them more or less concurrently like the network showrunners intended. The only flaw in this plan is that even if we cram in three episodes every single Thursday, we will be nowhere near done with the project by the new fall tv season. I’m not quite sure what we will do at that point, whether the Buffy/Angel Project will go on hiatus, or move to a different night of the week, or what, but that is the kind of far-off logistical challenge that does absolutely nothing to diminish my faintly ridiculous excitement for the Project itself.

And that really gets at the heart of the whole thing, I suppose. Part of my brain thinks that it’s weird to have a regimented structure for recreational DVD-viewing that involves working through a massive pile of hundreds of episodes of tv in very specific order. But most of my brain thinks it’s AWESOME. This is not something I’m doing because I feel guilty about not having done it already or because I’m tired of being left out when other people talk about it (though I can of course think of many Projects past and future which probably would be well described in those terms), it’s something I want to do, period (except to add: so much so that I’m willing to put in the mental effort of planning around it and implementing said plan and not just letting it rot in the bin of “oh, one of these days that would be cool …” Also so much so that I bought the mega box set of every BTVS episode ever, but in my defense I bought it at Costco where it was approximately 67% off the usual retail price.)

But I believe I mentioned that the Buffy/Angel project was only one of many which currently loom large over my mental landscape? Perhaps I will detail the others later on this week. I’m pretty sure by Friday I can have everyone wondering how I even manage a passable imitation of normal functioning human being.

Monday, May 3, 2010

And the livin' is easy

I did in fact make it to my blood draw on Friday afternoon more or less on time (really ten minutes late, not because I failed to leave the office on schedule but because I spent several minutes driving slowly around the small office park where I assumed the lab would be before cruising along the adjacent strip mall and discovering the lab was, in fact, situated between a dry cleaner and a Quizno’s) and afterwards found myself with about an hour and a half to dispose of before picking the little guy up from day care. I could have picked him up early, but then he would have missed his scheduled singing/dancing/cooperation reinforcing as well as his late afternoon snack, and one of the more prominent lessons of the past twenty months has been that he really is at his best when his days are predictably on-pattern. I also could have gone home and kicked back on the couch for ninety minutes, but that seemed like more trouble than it was worth. The new dog, still somewhat accident-prone, gets crated when no one is home and if I stopped at the house only to leave again shortly thereafter, I would be forced to tease the dog with a brief furlough before tossing him back in the doggie clink, so it struck me as less cruel to simply let him out once and for good when I got home post daycare pick-up. All of which is a long way of saying that’s how I found myself at the used bookstore on a Friday afternoon.

I had been driving around with a box of old CD’s in my trunk that I intended to sell, and I managed to accomplish that objective and picked up a half-dozen books for myself as well. All six books, unsurprisingly, are sci-fi/fantasy genre ghettotastic fare. Those kind of books tend to be printed as cheap paperbacks to begin with, and therefore people are probably more likely to sell those to a used book store than to hold on to them for any reason (from sentimentalism to shelf-dressing), not to mention that the used book stores in turn know they can’t really re-sell cheap genre paperbacks for more than a buck or two, so if that’s what you load up on you get more bang for your buck, and of course I revel in the pleasures of cheap genre fiction so I tend to think of used book stores as SF/F Emporiums anyway … as I said, unsurprising.

Stocking up on pocket-sized paperbacks promising overwrought pulpy goodness generally makes me feel like I’m going to the beach, because those are the perfect reading material for time whiled away on a blanket under the sun. (Or, again, so I tell myself because that’s my own personal preference and viewpoint-validating experience.) We do have a family beach trip planned for the end of the season, but if I’m already stocking up reading materials for it then the season must be starting, right?

Summer is without a doubt my favorite season of the year so I’m happy to define it as being over four months long, from May 1 until Labor Day or so. Setting aside obvious actual sidereal considerations like the solstice and whatnot, a more mainstream opinion might hold that summer begins around Memorial Day, but I have found that date steadily creeping earlier and earlier for me. The college years, and the end of the semester and completion of finals by the first or second week of May did a lot to unseat Memorial Day for me, and the ad campaigns from our friends at Corona and Dos Equis have pushed Cinco de Mayo out in front in terms of warm-weather holidays, too. Might as well round it off and say that if summer starts sometime (any time) in May, then when May starts, summer does too.

And in fact we found ourselves hopping this past weekend from a birthday party to a pig roast to an actual Cinco de Mayo celebration, and the weather was obligingly summery (which in Virginia means warm and humid, oh goodness yes was it humid) and the ice cream van managed to serendipitously show up at the pig roast. I also mowed the entire lawn on Saturday, including the entirely-too-steep-for-safety-but-what-can-you-do side yard. And my dear wife, alarmed by my blog-kvetching about the dearth of new music in my orbit, made sure that the satellite radio was tuned to the new alt-rock station at every available moment (defined as moments when we weren’t trying to catch the scores of what ended up being an O’s sweep of the Red Sox, to which I add: BWAAHAHAHAHA!)

So, just to serve general notice, as far as I (and therefore this here blog) care to consider it, summer has officially arrived. Dress accordingly.
Socks mandatory.