05/2002

Saturday, May 11, 2002

A hearty welcome back is in order for all those disappointed folks who have been visiting daily in hopes of an amazing update. I've been incredibly busy on all fronts these past two weeks, and I'll try to get everyone caught up on the breath-taking activities that punctuate my exciting lifestyle. I started working last Wednesday and quickly got back into the coding groove. This summer it looks like I'll be working on "future" applications of the current software packages. This includes non-application-specific enhancements and modifications which aren't necessarily tied to an urgent release date. I did the same type of thing last summer, and its gratifying to see all my work from that stint still existing in the baseline for this year's software work.

I also moved into my old roommate's family's guest room this week, cutting my commute drastically. I've decided to keep on getting to work at 5:30 AM though, because I can really use the extra time in the afternoons for my music projects.

Last weekend, I went back to Blacksburg for Nikki's voice recital and Shac's trumpet recital. I'm starting to get used to the long drives now, although the trip down took a couple more hours than expected. There was an accident on 81 around Staunton blocking traffic in both directions, so every trucker and motorist on the highway overflowed into the historic district of the city, backing traffic up even further. A few people even missed the recital as a result, but luckily I made it into town around 6. The voice recital was amazing, and easily one of the best recitals I'd been to all year. I'm glad I took the time to head down there, because it was definitely worthwhile. The folks of Blacksburg are still all the same, and if you haven't been there in a while, the only difference is the viral growth of NOVA-style strip malls and mass market stores in Christiansburg on 460. With people, the degrees of separation keep on shrinking. It was interesting to see that the current roommate (A) of my old roommate (B) is dating the girl (C) who lives in the apartment above my old roommate (D) from 1999, who just started dating another girl (E). This other girl turned out to be the ex-girlfriend of my old roommate's roommate (A). Add the fact that they live just across the parking lot from each other and you have a situation worthy of a bad made-for-TV movie.

In the book department, I read Cybershock, a very interesting book on information warfare and the state of hacking on the Internet. I also picked up a couple books on Director and Lingo for my assistantship but I haven't done more than skim through them yet. I've also seen a bunch of movies since the last time I did a Movie Night update... among them: Zoolander, Bandits, O Brother Where Art Thou?, and Heist. The first was funny in a really dumb way, and the second was really good but very slow-paced. It had a good twist though, and I always like a movie with a twist. I'd heard a lot about O Brother before I watched it and it was pretty good, but not necessarily the best movie ever. I probably wouldn't watch it again. Heist was a lot like Score, just as Snatch was a lot like Lock, Stock. There were just too many plot twists and seesaws in Heist though, and after awhile I just became disinterested in following them all. Score was much more successful in that regards. In Blacksburg, I also watched the old classic, Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure, which was actually a little funnier than I remembered. By the way, I also watched Episode I of Star Wars for posterity's sake. I tried watching it before, but got distracted halfway through. This time I stuck it out to the end, but it was still as bad as I remembered it.

I got a new computer with all the bells and whistles last week (a Pentium 4 2.0GHz with 768MB RAM and a GeForce3) but haven't had very much time to play with it, since I'm only around it on weekends. It came standard with Windows XP which, while incredibly stable, comes with a brand new bag of annoyances, like the Fisher Price "bright shiny colours" interface and the constant behind-the-scenes attempts to ignore my own apps for the Microsoft varieties. If you though it was bad that Internet Explorer was integrated into Windows 98, you'll love that XP is bundled with Messenger (a replacement to ICQ and AIM), Media Player (which tries to divert all your music files and MP3s away from your other players, while reporting your usage habits to Microsoft), and AOL (which tries to convince you to drop your current ISP for America Online or MSN), as well as many more. None of these are easily removed or avoided without a bit of registry editing, but luckily I've managed to revert the feel of the interface to the classic Windows style and hide most of the apps.

I'm also hard at work breaking in a new trumpet, a Bach Stradivarius standard model 37 with my Schilke 15 mouthpiece. I'm still in the trial period, but it seems to have a nice tone quality, and I'll probably end up keeping it. Of course, all of these extracurricular activities are keeping me from composing, which continues to get the short shrift. I've done a lot of mental work on my thesis though, and hope to start the actual writing this week.

P.S. I also saw Spidermanlast week, which was a great movie, even though I've never actually read the comic or the comic book. The computer generated portions were very obvious, but if you don't get hung up on that, you can really get lost in the good parts of the movie.

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Sunday, May 19, 2002

Earlier this year, 7-UP replaced their spokesperson, Orlando Jones, with a newcomer, comedian Godfrey. Apparently there was a commercial spot a few months back explaining the switch, and how the old guy was "promoted". However if you missed that spot, all you can see now is a new actor attempting to portray the same speech patterns and bug-eyed expressions of the original (and popular) actor. You can almost hear the corporate advertising train of thought -- "We can't use Orlando anymore, but maybe if we throw in another guy that looks and acts the same, no one will notice. All white people think all black people look alike anyways."

It was another busy week here in northern Virginia, but I'm starting to get comfortable with my schedule. In my spare time, I read Erich Leinsdorf's The Composer's Advocate, a book which discusses composers and their craft from the conductor's perspective. It's an interesting argument about why conductors need to become more aware of the decisions that went into a composition for proper performance. Although many sections are pedantic descriptions of exact score examples, the book's more general sections are eye-opening, even from a composer's point of view. Take a look if you're a composer or conductor. Next on my reading list is A Beautiful Mind, the biography of John Nash (who was the subject of the recent movie by the same title).

In music, I bought The Best of Bobby McFerrin, and Dr. Demento's 30th Anniversary set last week. I hadn't heard any of McFerrin's work (other than the ubiquitous "Don't Worry Be Happy", and a lot of his vocal jazz work is amazing. Especially good on this CD is his track with Chick Corea, where he does a ten minute rendition of Spain. The Dr. Demento collection was hit-or-miss. I've always been a fan of novelty records, and there's some very funny material on the first disc, but the second disc is pretty much a throwaway. The funniest track in the collection is probably Dungeons and Dragons, a mockumentary of a typical D&D session which is hilarious if you've ever known anyone who actually played the game. I'll try and post an MP3 of it sometime.

The Alias season finale was last Sunday, and it ended very well -- enough closure to end the season but with just a few cliffhangers to be resolved next season. It was amusing to see the protagonist end the season tied to the same chair in the same setting that opened the pilot episode last fall. It's good that the networks are doing so badly with existing shows and ending old series. With shows like Ally McBeal and the X-Files finally coming to a close, ABC can't afford to cancel Alias, even though it definitely wasn't the number one ratings show this season. Now that it's on the program for next year, maybe it will attract some more Nielsen families in time for a third season.

The Friends season finale was last week too. Even though it's still usually funny, I really think the show should have ended this season.

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