I Push Buttons

Whether I'm coding, writing, playing games, or pissing people off, it all boils down to pushing buttons.

June 29, 2008

Home Again, Home Again, Jiggity Jig

I have returned from my business trip to Boston, and I must say that it was great. The only problem I had with the whole trip was that the initial flight up was delayed due to a big storm that came through the Baltimore area and was also right over Boston around the time we were supposed to land. Other than that, though, the whole thing went off without a hitch, despite the constant feeling that I was forgetting something. I blame this on the fact that the entire trip was planned by my company, and I'm not used to giving up that much control when it comes to planning a long distance trip.

The conference itself was excellent. I won't bore you with a ton of details, but it may have been the most educational three days of my entire life, including all previous public and private school education. This not only speaks to the quality of the information we got, but it also speaks volumes for Stephen Few's ability to convey said information. I'm going to recommend this conference to others at my company, and hopefully some other people will be able to get the same learning experience I did. This information could definitely help improve a lot of our products.

While I was up in Boston I got some (hopefully) beautiful pictures. I forgot to take the digital camera with me, so I ended up having to buy a couple of disposables. Once I get those developed, I will be sure to put them up and link to them here. I got a bunch of great photos of the old architecture in South End as well as some interior photos of Old South Church, which had some gorgeous stained glass windows. I ended up running out of film just before I found Trinity Church, which had some great ceiling paintings, but by the time I had purchased another camera across the street, they had closed. I guess those pictures will have to wait until the next trip.

I got home Thursday night and ended up taking Friday off, since Courtney also had the day off. Matt and Sarah arrived for the weekend that evening, and we had a nice dinner of homemade chicken enchiladas, which were awesome. After dinner we went to see Get Smart at the local AMC. I have to say that Steve Carell is the perfect choice to replace Don Adams in a modern remake of this movie. Anne Hathaway is also a great casting job, and I have to say I enjoyed the movie immensely. I recommend it. After that we had some drinks and played a few games of Star Munchkin, which was hilarious as always. Everyone that we've introduced to that game has had a blast playing it, and I look forward to exposing others to it on our beach trip this summer.

On Saturday we got together with Carly and Eric for a hike along the Seneca Creek trail while Matt and Sarah attended a wedding out near Leesburg. It was a gorgeous day and perfect for hiking. Apparently we missed a massive downpour by just a couple of miles. Matt and Sarah had eaten lunch in the area just before they left for the wedding, and they said that a pretty nasty storm blew through. As we were hiking, we started having to walk around more and more large puddles. At the time, we thought they were from the big rainfall a couple of days ago, but once we talked to Matt and Sarah we realized it was from that same day. We'd already had to reschedule this hiking trip twice before, and it would have sucked to have to do it again. Looks like we made this one by the skin of our teeth.

(Aside: teeth don't have skin, so where did this phrase come from? If the actual point of the phrase is that teeth don't have skin, then the phrase makes even less sense. You can't miss something by a factor of zero, because then you hit it. End nerd rant.)

After hiking, we got lunch at Boston Market.1 I have to say I am not a big fan of the new four cheese macaroni; it's way too soupy. Stick with the tried and true, kids. Their chicken and garlic green beans are always great, though. Once we'd eaten, Carly and Eric had to head home for a birthday party, and we headed back to our place to shower and relax for a couple of hours.

Today was church with Matt and Sarah, and everyone parted ways afterward. They headed back to Blacksburg, Courtney headed up to Baltimore for a couple of hours of work, and I stayed at church for a couple of hours of choir rehearsal for a program we're doing in the middle of July. I'm not a huge fan of it, but it could be worse. I just don't particularly enjoy the arrangement of some of the songs that I'm a big fan of in their original form. They now seem to be devoid of the intensity that they originally had. Now, not all of the songs are like this... just my favorites. It's like this guy made this arrangement specifically to annoy me. Knowing the universe, I lay the odds on this being the case at 5 to 1.

Four day work week this week, and then Fourth of July weekend! Four weeks until the beach!



1You know, I didn't see one Boston Market in all of my time in Boston. I have the feeling we're being misled.

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June 24, 2008

Hunkered Down In South End

"You got any disposable cameras?" I ask the men behind the counter.

"Yep," the tall, black man replies, turning around and reaching for one of many hanging from a rack behind the counter. "Kodak okay with you?"

"Sure," I say, not really caring. I doubt there's really much difference when it comes to disposable cameras. It doesn't look like they carry any other kind anyway. "You wouldn't happen to have umbrellas too, would you?" I ask with a glance out the window. There had been an impending storm brewing all afternoon, and it was starting to look like Mother Nature might make good on the threat.

"We certainly do," the other man, a short and cheery Arabic fellow, says as he ducks underneath the counter and pulls out a small umbrella in a clear sleeve. He places it on the counter and raises his hands above his head in triumph. "We have everything you could possibly need at 7-11!"

"Thanks. You guys are awesome." I pay the men and step outside, turning left to head toward Tremont Street. I fumble with the packaging for the camera and finally manage to remove it, depositing the wrapper in one of the many trash cans lining Berkeley Street. I pop in my iPod's headphones and resume listening to Coldplay's Viva la Vida album for the thirtieth time in three days.

Chris Martin's crooning falsetto echos in my head as I cross Berkeley and head down Tremont. There are a few choice areas with gorgeous architecture that I spotted on a walk the night before that I want to photograph. Gray clouds start to roll in from the east, cascading over the tops of the red brick buildings, and I pick up the pace, hoping to get some shots in before the rain comes. "Yes" starts to play as I take a picture of a gorgeous side alley. Red brick row houses surround a street with trees springing up out of its center, their lush green branches reaching out to shelter the cars lining the sidewalks in front of the buildings.

When it started we were alright
But night makes a fool of us in the daylight


As if on cue, the clouds grow darker, and the wind begins to pick up. A light rain begins to fall, and people start walking faster. Two girls rush by me and duck into an entryway. I quicken my pace as well and continue to make my way down Tremont, hoping to take shelter in the beautiful old church which I had seen open the other night. Lightning flashes close by and reflects off of the windows of the skyscrapers piercing the clouds behind the smaller businesses lining the road. It's one of those flashes where it's so bright that you know you're going to feel the thunder more than you're going to hear it. A second later, and the roaring percussion rips down Tremont Street, rattling door knockers and vibrating in my chest as if I were standing in the front row of a rock concert.

The wind answers the thunder's challenge and swoops down between the buildings with a ferociousness approaching hurricane strength. It tears at my umbrella, yanking it inside out and nearly wrenching it from my grasp. I break into a full sprint as the rain starts to come down in sheets. I cross a side street and duck into a little corner store, soaking wet after only a few seconds of exposure. It smells of unburned incense and stale coffee. I manage to fix my umbrella and close it, laying it on a plastic shelf. I attempt to dry my glasses with the hem of my shirt, which itself is only partially dry despite having been tucked in. An old man with wrinkled ebony skin and a charcoal mustache is perched on his motorized wheelchair inside the door looking forlornly out into the ensuing storm. A woman with large bug-eyed sunglasses finishes making her purchase and joins us near the doorway.

Tink. Tink. Tink.

The constant hiss of the rain is now interrupted regularly as small hailstones pelt the windows and sidewalk. I take a few steps forward to take a picture of the chaos outside. My camera flashes, and suddenly there is a large black man in a basketball jersey in front of me.

"Look at this!" he exclaims, pealing the drenched clothing from his body. "Two blocks! Two blocks!" No one seems surprised. You couldn't make it two feet out there without looking just like him. "And I was getting hailed on! And when I say hail, I mean hail!" He puts his thumb and forefinger together to illustrate his point and heads to the refrigerator in the back of the store for a two liter of Coke. The rest of us continue to stare at the tempest whipping its way through the city.

Suddenly, the wind shifts and starts throwing hailstones into the store entryway, and the young Asian woman working this shift steps out from behind the counter to close the door. "I've never seen anything like this in all my life!" the buy-eyed lady exclaims. The elderly man in the wheelchair concurs, and they go on for several minutes comparing this storm to others they've seen over the years. I only half listen, my attention mostly focused on the storm and the people still running around in it, some trying in vain to stay dry, others not even making an attempt.

The black man with the soda pays the cashier and steps up to the door. It's stopped hailing now. "Well, here goes," he says with a resigned shrug and runs out into the pouring rain. I'm pretty sure he'd already reached maximum saturation, so I suppose he concluded that it didn't make a difference whether he waited out the storm or just ran the two blocks home.

A few minutes later the rain lessens, and the wind lulls. The old man sets his jaw and gives me a resolute look. "Well, I think I can make it now. It's only just over there." With a nod of the head, he indicates a building a little ways down the street. I hold the door open for him and wish him luck. I decide to take my leave as well, thinking my chances might not get any better. I reopen my umbrella, which is miraculously still functional, and start heading back down Tremont Street the way I had come. Photography would have to wait for another day.

I hurry down the sidewalk, passing a man stubbornly braving the rain without an umbrella, cigarette gripped tightly between his lips. He puffs at it with each step, fighting against the rain to keep it lit. My stomach informs me with a growl that it's time for dinner, and after a couple of blocks, I duck into Emilio's, one of the small family run diners that have sprouted up all over this particular area of South End. Two slices of pizza later, and I'm back in the rain, heading toward my hotel, hoping the storm doesn't pick back up before I reach the sanctuary of the lobby.

I cross Berkeley Street and turn north to follow it a couple of blocks to where it intersects Chandler Street at my home away from home. Along the way, I pass the 7-11 I had patronized earlier. The black man is leaning on the wall in the entryway having a smoke and watching the storm. I tip my umbrella to him and smile. He smiles back and gives a friendly wave as I continue on, my shoes sloshing satisfactorily as I make my way down the stony streets of Boston.

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June 23, 2008

These Guys Are Brilliant

So we went out to dinner at Morton's last night for our anniversary dinner. We'd eaten at Morton's once before, and we'd even ordered the hashed brown potato before. But last night was the first night I witnessed the most brilliant culinary invention I've ever seen: the bacon tin. Yes, the waiter brought to our table a tin full of crumbled up pieces of bacon. He asked us if we wanted some on our hash brown. I asked him if he would marry me. Then Courtney punched me in the face, tried to stab the waiter with a steak knife, and got us thrown out. We are now banned from all Morton's.

This is all true. /Eddie Izzard

Ok, so we didn't get thrown out, and no one was assaulted. But the bacon tin is real. All restaurants should take notice of this. This thing needs to be on every single table, as in required. There will be salt and pepper and a bacon tin. When we eventually get a house, I plan on having a fun room. This fun room will have a bar. This bar will not have beer nuts. It will have a bacon tin. If you have a problem with that, you and I are no longer friends.

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June 22, 2008

Happy Anniversary!

Today is Courtney and I's (me and Courtney's? English sucks) fifth anniversary. That's all the fingers on one hand people. We celebrated by giving each other a high five. And presents. And we're going out to dinner at Morton's tonight. Courtney bought me Coldplay's newest CD, "Viva la Vida," which is just plain awesome. I've been fans of these guys for a long time, and they just keep getting better. I could listen to the title track all day, I'm pretty sure. This CD will no doubt encompass the entirety of my iPod listening for the foreseeable future.

She also got me the V for Vendetta DVD and graphic novel. I've seen the movie, and I love it. I can't wait to read the graphic novel, but it's going to be a while. I still have to finish Blue Mars before the beach trip next month, and I'm bringing Watchmen (another graphic novel) to read on the trip itself. My reading list is ridiculously long. We're talking a year's backlog here, at least.

The last thing she got me was a neck pillow for me to take on trips. This is because during our trip to Birmingham on the train, I stole hers multiple times. She claims this will prevent further thefts, but I'm not convinced. I need something to lean on too; those arm rests are hard!

It seems like just yesterday that we got married. It's hard to believe it's been five years already. I guess that's a good thing, as I've enjoyed pretty much every minute of it. I love you Courtney! I can't wait to see what the future has in store for us.

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"Because I Earned This, Dammit!"

My Pet Peeve: Gratuitous use of the word "deserve" in advertising.

It seems to me that the number of advertisements saying that you "deserve" whatever it is they're selling has increased exponentially. Either that, or I just haven't been paying attention until now. Now that I think about it, I'm pretty certain it is the latter. Regardless, I find it kind of appalling that companies are projecting a sense of entitlement onto the United States population (especially the teenage and young adult age group; gotta get 'em while they're young and easily influenced by the groupthink!), and what's more disturbing is that people are falling for it. Just look at the recent real estate fiasco.

You live in the greatest country in the world! You deserve this five bedroom house, three car garage, and two acres of land. What's that? You don't think you can afford it? Step into my office...

Before you go and write an angry tirade in the comments, I'm aware that not everyone affected by the housing crisis is suffering from this kind of mentality. Some people were legitimately ripped off or misled. In addition, I'm not saying that everyone who can afford the finer things deserve them and people that can't don't. I'm sure there are thousands of hard-working, kind, and generous Americans who deserve a better life than the one they are currently living, just as I am sure that there are those who want for nothing, are horrible people, and deserve none of what they have. My problem is more with this trend in advertising and the marketing departments of these companies, not the average citizen.

I'm sure this direction in product promotion isn't just a problem in the United States, but I haven't been out of the country in a very long time to know what is getting shoved in everyone else's faces. My gut feeling is that marketing BS transcends national borders and language barriers. I'm sure these companies would love nothing more than for everyone in the world to feel like they deserve to have more stuff.

I went searching through Google Images to find an image to go with this post, but I couldn't narrow it down to just one. Just head on over to Google Images and type "you deserve it sale." If the results don't make you just a little bit nauseous, congratulations! You're a good consumer.

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June 20, 2008

Jury Duty

A couple of weeks ago, I received a summons to fulfill one of my obligations as an American citizen and report for jury duty. I had received this once before, but when I called in the day before I was supposed to serve, they said that I wasn't needed. This time, however, I went through the whole process. I was a little nervous about a trial interfering with my business trip to Boston next week, but it ended up just consuming a single Tuesday. And boy was it interesting.

It started with me reporting to the jury lounge to await being called for a trial. They gave you an information packet to read over and also offered you the opportunity to donate any jury pay you would receive (a whopping $15/day for the first five days, $50/day after) to the childrens. I donated all of mine since my company still pays me when serving on a jury, and I proceeded to waste an hour or so surfing the net. It was nice of them to provide free wifi, but the network was locked down tighter than Maid Marian's chastity belt. I couldn't even log in to Google Talk or Yahoo Messenger. AIM, though, is apparently acceptable.

(Sidebar: In Googling to see if I spelled Maid Marian right, I learned that Ridley Scott is doing a remake of Robin Hood where Robin Hood is portrayed as the bad guy. Ridley Scott is one of my favorite directors, but I have some reservations with him drastically changing such an iconic character as Robin Hood. But if anyone can make it work, he can.)

After an hour or so, I was called up to a courtroom to possibly serve on the jury for a trial. The judge asked us some questions to determine if we'd be fair and impartial, such as whether we knew anyone involved in the case or if we'd had bad experiences with the court system in the past. After that, she called up the first twelve people to the jury box. She went down the line one by one and asked the defense and the state whether or not they wanted to seat or strike the potential juror. Each side gets four strikes, and the defense (who was representing himself, more on this later) used up three of his four strikes in the first five people. I'm not sure he knew there was a limit until the judge reminded him after his third strike.

Pretty soon all twelve jurors and an alternate were seated. I'm not sure how I thought an alternate worked before, but it caught me by surprise that they are there for the whole trial and only leave when the jury goes into deliberation. This makes sense, of course, because if something happened to one of the jurors, and the alternate wasn't there for the whole trial, then they would pretty much have to start over. It makes perfect sense, but for some reason at the time I thought it odd that she was there. Stupid brain.

The trial itself was kind of a circus. As I mentioned before, this guy was representing himself in an attempt to refute charges of running a red light and driving while impaired. He was supposed to have a witness, but this witness never showed up. He also mumbled and trailed off when explaining to the jury why he was representing himself. (No one asked him this question; he was just rambling in his opening statement.)

The entirety of the evidence in this trial boiled down to the testimonies of two officers and the defendant, as well as a printout from a breathalyzer machine which said that the defendant did not provide a sufficient air sample to be processed. The state, being the professional lawyers they are, were very direct and brief in their questioning. However, when the defendant was questioning the officers, there were several points where I had to do my best not to burst out laughing in the middle of the courtroom. This was a guy who had seen one too many Law and Order reruns. Sample scene in 3... 2... 1...


The defendant paces deliberately in the center of the courtroom, hands clasped behind his back.

Defendant
So, officer, how long would you say you were in the testing room with the defendant?

Officer
Oh, I'd say about forty or forty-five minutes.

Defendant
(triumphantly, with hands up in front of him)
Forty-five minutes!


He did this several times, where he would ask a question completely irrelevant to the charges at hand and then act as if the answer were some sort of shocking revelation which helped make his case. It was all I could do not to laugh at him, and I could see that several of the other jurors were stifling their own giggles. When it came down to it, all he did the entire trial was to try and misdirect us with questions and testimony that had nothing to do with what he was charged with. We went with the testimony of the officers (he had failed the field sobriety tests before being taken to the station) and the refusal to provide a sufficient breath sample to be analyzed by the machine as reasonable proof of the charges and convicted him.

All in all, I found the entire process to be quite interesting and educational. The trial itself was compelling enough, even if I started to get pissed off when the defendant asked the officer about twenty different versions of the same question and also when he deliberately asked questions about things which didn't happen in an effort to trip up the officers. (The crimes in question had taken place almost two years ago. For some reason, the trial had been postponed multiple times.) Other than that, it was nice to see the process at work. Though my faith in the upper realms of our government has almost completely eroded, my confidence in my fellow everyday Americans has been reassured. We may have to fight for some of the things we've lost, but what we still have is pretty great.

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June 18, 2008

Why I Push Buttons: A Programmer's Journey

I've always loved pushing buttons, ever since I was a little kid. There's just something about pressing a button, feeling it sink and make contact, and having that do something that is innately satisfying to me. Pushing buttons to me is akin to breathing; it's an involuntary muscle reaction. In fact, I go so far as to press down all the little tabs on top of the plastic soda lids every time I get one. If there were several of us trapped in a room with a big red button labeled "DO NOT PUSH," I'm the guy you'd have to worry about destroying us all.

I blame my grandparents. My dad's parents, to be specific. They were the ones who got me hooked on buttons at a very early age. They would always let me call the elevator and order it to whatever floor we needed. Such power wielded at the tender age of three! But it didn't stop there, oh no. There were several toys I was given over the span of a couple of years that would set my life on a course that I would never be able to change.



I don't remember which came first, the hand-held pinball game or the Speak'n'Spell, but I was captivated by those machines for hours on end. I'm pretty sure my parents spent more money on batteries than on my college education. The fact that I could press buttons and make letters appear or hit a little pinball around a virtual table while accumulating the high score captivated my little mind like nothing I'd ever experienced in my few years of life. Hours long trips to the beach or to relatives' houses seemed to last mere minutes while I played in my digital realms.



After I outgrew the Speak'n'Spell, my grandparents presented me with the awesome WhizKid. At least, I'm pretty sure that was the name. I can't for the life of me find a picture of it on Google Image Search. It had a huge base with a thin keyboard that flipped up and locked into place over the display, and the games ran off of little flexible cards. If you know what I'm talking about and can find an image, I'd appreciate it. Then all of the intarnets will bow to your web-fu.

After the WhizKid, it was a small portable computer system with a single line display. The text would scroll across the LCD, letting you play hangman and other games, as well as asking you math, geography, and history questions. This little machine was also my first introduction to computer programming, as it had a very rudimentary form of BASIC on it. I was entirely too young to really understand how intricate programming was, and I don't think I was even able to grasp the concept of a variable at that point. But I did manage to figure out the PRINT command, and my rapidly developing brain found this utterly fascinating. I could make this machine say whatever I wanted it to say, and it had to do what I told it! Even if it was "Poop!" (Not surprisingly, I still find this highly amusing.) I was on a pre-pubescent power trip from which I would never recover. Many machines came and went during my early childhood, from my friend's Atari 2600, to my first Nintendo, to a Sega Genesis; they all impacted my life, even if some were not as important or memorable as others.

From grades four and up I was fortunate to attend schools which had computer labs. I didn't care if they were IBMs or Macintoshes, as long as I got to use a computer. Computer lab was my absolute most favorite thing to do at school, and I loved using these machines to engage my mind with activities like Number Munchers and Oregon Trail. It would make me sad when computer lab was over because I knew I would have to wait for an entire week before I got to play on the computer again.



My first exposure to industrial strength computers came when I went to visit my aunt and uncle in Houston. They both worked at NASA, and they got to take me on a personal tour of the complex. I even got to go into Mission Control and watch them launch a satellite. They even let me play at one of the stations, allowing me to put on a headset and talk to the other engineers! It was fantastic and pretty much my life's greatest accomplishment up to that point.



After the tour, they took me back to their place, where they showed me their IBM PC and set me up with Wolfenstein 3D. I can remember the first few minutes of this like it was yesterday. I was amazed that I was able to walk down halls, open secret passages and doors, and shoot nazi scumbags all while collecting tons of treasure! Apparently I also learned to swear in German, yet another educational experience point gained from computers. I remember that when I first started playing, the game made me feel nauseous, as I'd never been exposed to any kind of 3D game before. There were several times where I wanted to quit, but I fought my way through the sinking tugs in the pit of my stomach. I was just too enthralled to stop, and I never told my aunt or uncle how bad I felt because I was afraid they would make me stop playing. After this day, I never got motion sickness from a computer game ever again.



It wasn't long after this trip that my dad purchased our very first home computer: a Packard Bell running Windows 3.1. I was meant to use it for school work, which I did, but the majority of the hours spent on it were dedicated to games. I remember the very first game I bought with my own money: X-Com UFO Defense. I played this game for hours and hours and hours. It had everything a kid could want: space, aliens, explosions, rockets, guns, flying saucers. Those of you who played this game know exactly what I'm talking about. The other game on this system that really hooked me was the original X-Wing by Lucasarts. This one not only caught me in its unrelenting grip, but it snared my dad as well. It served as a great bonding tool, as I would watch dad fly a mission, and he would watch me, each of us acting as spotter for the other. I watched the tiny dots on the radar with an intensity of focus I had previously reserved for GI Joe and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.



This computer was also my first exposure to a more robust form of Basic than I had learned previously in the form of QBasic. The first real program I ever wrote was a computer game review program. When you started it, it would bring up a list of computer games that I had played. You typed in the number corresponding to the game you wanted to read about, and it would display my opinions for your perusal. I was immensely proud of this little program, and I showed it to anyone who would look at it.

Through my high school, college, and professional years, as technology became more sophisticated, newer and faster machines replaced the Packard Bells, and larger and more complex languages have replaced the simple world of QBasic. These improvements seemed to come along increasingly more often, constantly feeding my need to find new ways to learn and play. Looking back now, it seems I really had no choice in what I was going to do when I became an adult and joined the ranks of tax-paying citizens. My place in life was reserved at a very early age, and I never once considered veering from the path that would take me there. After writing this post, the very thought seems ludicrous.

180 END

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June 16, 2008

And We're Back!

We are back from Birmingham, and the trip was a rousing success. As far as I know, Matt and Shelly's traditional Indian wedding was in no way cursed, at least as far as my own actions are concerned. I can't speak for those who showed up late, wore shoes into the ceremony, or forgot to turn off their cell phones. Hopefully their kids don't wind up with three eyes or something. The Methodist ceremony also went off without a hitch, and so, being married twice over, I'm pretty sure everyone was sufficiently convinced that their love is genuine. I mean, I barely made it through planning and being married once, let alone twice in the same weekend. (And, yes, being the man, my participation as far as "planning" goes was limited to agreeing with everything my beautiful wife-to-be said.) Truly, these two are workers of miracles seldom seen by mere mortals.

Being in the south and in relatively close proximity to New Orleans, I was not especially surprised to learn upon arriving at the reception that the happy couple had hired a jazz band for the evening's entertainment. Everyone in the troupe was under thirty with room to spare, and it made me happy to see younger people carrying on "older" styles of music, especially in these days of cookie-cutter Top 40 songs churned out by the monolith that is the music industry machine. The only qualm I had with the band was that they didn't have their sound levels quite right. The trumpet and sax drowned out most of the rhythm guitar, and you could barely hear the poor soloist, a beautiful young black woman with a perfect voice to accompany their musical stylings. Most of the time one was left wondering if her microphone was even plugged in.

However, when it came to actual talent, the band more than delivered, and we danced and laughed... mostly at Brooks. You don't even have to know Brooks, a long-time friend of the groom, to know that he's great entertainment. I imagine that is part of the great burden one must shoulder when going through life with a name like Brooks. There is much less pressure on you when your name is Matt, except for when 30% of the people your friends know are also named Matt, and then it becomes a constant struggle to differentiate yourself. But I digress.

I must say that I really did enjoy traveling by train. It is by far the most relaxing form of transportation that I've used thus far. You don't have to deal with the stress of driving with the myriad of idiots that infest the American roadways, and you also don't have the stress of long lines at the airport, going through security and dealing with the jackbooted thugs in the TSA, measuring out fluids into appropriately sized containers, etc. In fact, there was no security (theater) to speak of at the train stations, unless you count a glass door that was closed (but not locked), which led out to the platform. There were no metal detectors or X-ray scanners, no glorified rent-a-cops feeling you up, and the people that work on the Amtrak trains themselves seem to genuinely enjoy their jobs, as opposed to those in the airline industry who just barely manage to tolerate theirs. (I should know; my dad's a pilot.)

The only problem I had with the trip was sleeping. The seats on the trains lean back great deal farther than those on a plane and have at least twice as much legroom, but I'm one of those people who generally sleep on their sides, which is difficult for me to do in a chair. We tried to upgrade to a sleeping car for the trip home, but they were sold out. I imagine that if you're in one of these, train travel ceases to become a way to get from point A to point B and becomes an experience. Other than difficulty sleeping and the fact that the train car was kept at around fifteen degrees below zero (I understand some of the staff are former penguins), the trip was thoroughly enjoyable. We had our evening meal in the dining car, and the food was excellent, on par with what you would expect at a pretty good restaurant. Salad, entree, a half-bottle of wine, and dessert came in at just over $50 without tip. I think that's a pretty good deal, considering they have a monopoly on hot meals. So, if you ever find yourself needing to travel a few hundred miles, and time is not a huge issue for you, I recommend trying the train. I'm pretty sure with regular use it will add years to your life.1


1 "Addition" of time to the life of the user is based on retention of years that would otherwise be subtracted had the user chosen to travel by plane or car. Train use has not been approved by the FDA and is intended for transportation purposes only. I am not your lawyer, and this is not legal advice. This footnote brought to you by letter iota and the number zwei.

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June 12, 2008

Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

We're leaving later this afternoon to head down to Birmingham, Alabama for one of my former college roommates' wedding. We looked into flying down, but with fuel costs being what they are, the price was going to end up being around $600 for both Courtney and I. That's just a bit ridiculous. Courtney did some research, and it turns out that tickets on Amtrak from DC to Birmingham are about $200 cheaper. So, today will be my first ever trip on a train.

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We interrupt this broadcast to bring you

BONUS POINTS

I don't have to deal with stupid drivers OR the morons at the TSA! That's what I call a win/win. I can just relax and do some reading.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled programming.

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There's a huge number of stops on the way down. Apparently, this train runs from New York to New Orleans. It will be an overnight trip, which should be interesting, since we don't have a sleeper car. I've heard that the chairs on the trains lean back pretty far, though, so hopefully it won't be an uncomfortable trip, and hopefully the constant stops won't wake me up. Once we get to Birmingham, Julia will pick us up and take us to the airport to pick up our rental car for the weekend. The last time we rented a car, it was ridiculously expensive, but that was because we were on our honeymoon and both under twenty-four at the time. It should be much less expensive this time around.

The wedding itself is taking place over two services. The first service is on Friday night and is (I think) a traditional Indian wedding service. The service on Saturday is the standard wedding service that is the staple of western culture. I'm interested to see what the Indian wedding service will be like. I just hope I don't somehow violate some ancient Indian tradition through my cultural ignorance and curse their family for seven generations or something.

By the way, this is the third wedding we've been to this year, and we still have two more on the schedule. Three of the five weddings require a great deal of travel and overnight stays. At least we're not in any of the weddings, or we probably wouldn't be able to afford to go to all of them (plus buy the couples presents). This stuff is getting expensive. From this day on, I demand all of our unmarried friends and family consult us on the date of their wedding. If we already have three weddings for a particular year, you're going to have to postpone. Now taking reservations.

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June 11, 2008

You Can't Be Serious...

Come on, Matt. Enough is enough. I've looked at your profile, and this is your... fourth... your fourth blog. Because what you need is another freaking blog.

Hey, shut up, me.

Sorry about that. That guy can be kind of a jerk. Yes, as you may have noticed, I'm racking up quite the blogroll here. I figured out what my problem is, though. I attempted to separate all of my thoughts into certain types and store them in distinct places, and it turns out that, honestly, I just don't have enough interesting thoughts to keep three separate blogs going. Not only that, but there were things I would like to write that I didn't post because they didn't "fit" in any of my previous blogs, so they just fell by the wayside. This blog will hopefully be the last until I'm able to build my own website. I don't anticipate having the time or inclination to do this in the near future, so I expect this to be my home for quite some time. It should actually be worth it to bookmark this one.

Now, if you'll pardon me for a few moments, I need to take care of some business.

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I'm sorry boys, but there just isn't enough work to keep all of you around. Matt's Personal BlogosphereTM is filing for Chapter 11 and reorganizing. I'm not going to candy-coat this; there's going to be some layoffs. There will probably be some hurt feelings, but at this point I really have no choice.

Truer Than Fiction, you were the first, but you were also the least productive. I have to say I don't feel bad letting you go at all. Take some time off, get your life together, and when you're ready, I'm sure they'll have a job for you writing anonymous comments over at Digg or Slashdot. You'll have to work on obnoxious internet spelling and grammar; an extremely racist and US-centric attitude; and a strong aversion to actual facts, but I think you can do it.

Sheer Determinism, you started out a strong employee, and you hit the ground running. I had high hopes for you. Your contributions were both (+5) interesting and (+5) insightful, but somewhere along the way you just got lazy. I'm afraid we don't have room around here for laziness, so I suggest you take a permanent leave of absence. Once you develop a strong work ethic, look up the kids in the moderate and unbiased news media. Actually finding these media outlets is left as an exercise.

Last, we come to you Matt on Poker. What can I say? You ran pretty solid for about two years. Then congress had to go and stick their noses where they didn't belong, and you languished along with my bankroll. For that I am sorry; you deserve better. You were a good worker, and you were great at developing contacts out there in cyberspace. I've a lot of "pretend friends" that I enjoy talking to because of you. You will be missed. Enjoy your retirement.

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Well, I guess that's that. What's done is done. Welcome to my new home. Hopefully it will be a lot more interesting and active than those past. If not, I can always go to five...