Leslie's Latest News

Thursday, January 30, 2003


There was a depressing article in the Globe this morning about the high number of old trees that are being lost to a combination of problems, including unusal weather patterns, drought, road salt, regrading, and newly-introduced pests and diseases spread by increasing worldwide trade. A litany of pests and diseases includes ash yellows, butternut fungus, hemlock woolly adelgid, dogwood anthracnose, cankerworms, European viburnum leaf beetle, Asian longhorned beetle (attacks maples), emerald ash borer, and sudden oak death syndrome (which also attacks redwood and Douglas fir). "I get concerned about what the forests of the future will look like," said Craig G. Lorimer, a forest ecologist at the University of Wisconsin. "To have so many diseases cause so many problems over such a short period of time is really unprecedented."
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Wednesday, January 29, 2003


I found a really nice restaurant over in Powderhouse Square in Somerville - What's Cookin. It serves mostly takeout, having only a few tables, so it's a good place to pick up dinner when I'm on my way over to the NESFA clubhouse on Wednesday nights. Tonight I tried the Thai chicken skewers with rice and the garlic spinach, and it was really great! Just the sort of thing I'd like to cook for myself if I had the time (and skill). I'm looking forward to eating my way through the menu....
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I cleaned out another section of the attic today and found an old sword. I can't quite remember where I got it - I actually think it belonged to an old boyfriend. And now I don't know what to do with it. It's in poor condition, so I don't think I can sell it on eBay. But I don't exactly want to throw it in the trash. Maybe I should drop it off at the police station as an unwanted weapon. It does have a rather nice filagree hilt with some sort of crest, though, so it might be of interest to someone. Or I could just put it back up in the attic. It's not like it takes up much room. And it could be handy if I ever have to repel borders.
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Which OS are You?
Which OS are You?


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Someone is running the diary of Samual Pepys (written in 1660) as a weblog, making an entry each day corresponding to the same date in 1660. Nearly 350 years have passed, and not much has changed...

From my own diary, I note that last year on this date the temperature was 62 degrees (a record high). Wimper.
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Tuesday, January 28, 2003


The unemployment problem may be straightened out now. I called first thing this morning, and after waiting on hold for nearly a half hour, I finally got to talk to a helpful person who said they could manually override the missing week. They had no explanation of how it got lost, however, and suggested that I should call a second time each week to check the status of my claim. Probably a good idea.

Yesterday I watched one of my favorite movies, now on DVD in a widescreen edition with director's commentary, Robert Altman's Nashville. This is an unlikely movie to be one of favorites, as I don't normally like country music. But the music in this film is so beautifully linked to the characters, and the characters in this film are just amazing. Made in the 1970's, this movie was groundbreaking in the way it wove together the stories of multiple characters in a semi-documentary style, with people moving in and out of the story. It's the kind of movie you want to watch more than once, so you can sort out the characters and catch some of the overlapping dialogue. But even with so many characters, each one is just a beautifully drawn little gem. If I start talking about each of them I won't be able to stop... Except that I've got to mention Lily Tomlin as the gospel-singing mother of two deaf children who has a brief fling with a visiting folk singer played by Keith Carradine. This was her first movie role, and she was amazing.

And the movie is a perfect portrait of a place and time - it takes you not only to the Grand Ol' Opry, but to the recording studios, the smaller nightclubs with the open mike performances, the Sunday morning church services, the big rally at the fake Parthenon in the park. Most of the audiences were actual people from Nashville, so all the local color is absolutely spot on.

Altman's commentary was interesting. He totally focusses on the process of filmmaking, without trying to interpret the film for you in any way. It was surprising to me how much of the dialog was improvised - from Barbara Jean's breakdown on stage to Opal's deranged monologue in the school bus parking lot to Lady Pearl's ode to the Kennedy brothers. A lot of the movie was unrehearsed and shot in one take, so there's a real sense of immediacy. For example, the musicians were not told about the Barbara Jean breakdown in advance, so their confusion when she keeps interrupting her performance is totally real.

Well, I could go on, but if you're a fan you know what I mean, and if you're not a fan, all I can say is give it a try. If you totally hate country music, you may not be able to stomach the movie (which has a full hour of musical performances), but if you can stick it out, you'll be rewarded. You can laugh at some of the more earnest country numbers, like Haven Hamilton's "For the Sake of the Children"... Pack up your bags and try not to cry. I can't leave my wife and there's three reasons why. There's Timmy, and Kathy, and sweet Lorelei. For the sake of the children, we must say goodbye. Absolutely hysterical, and absolutely right for that character. And then there's Keith Carradine's "I'm Easy", which won the Academy Award that year for best song. When he sings it in a nightclub, there are four women in the audience who are absolutely convinced he's singing it to them - it's just about the most seductive performance I've ever seen.

Oh gosh, if I keep going I'll just tell you the whole movie. So I'll stop now.
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Monday, January 27, 2003


I registered for unemployment, of course, as soon as I was laid off. The way it works is that you need to call in each week and report that you are still unemployed, etc., by answering various questions using your touch-tone phone. I've been faithfully calling each week and have kept a record of the date and time I called. This week, I got a message saying that there was a gap in my reporting and I would need to talk to a human to reopen my claim. This is upsetting because I have been calling every week, so it is their mistake, not mine. It is doubly upsetting because it is Monday and they are "experiencing a high call volume", so won't even put me on hold, but are asking me to call back tomorrow. So I have the anxiety of not knowing if it will be possible to straighten this out and get back the week that they missed. Very frustrating.
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I did make it to the health club yesterday. I thought I would start to feel better once I got started, but I never did find any energy. I only did about half of what I had been planning. Often when I feel limp like this, it means that I'm coming down with an illness, so I just went home and took it easy and watched the Superbowl. This morning I feel a bit better - we'll see how the day goes. My weight is the same as last week; still up 1/2 pound since I started working out. (Alex says it's because I'm building muscle. Yeah, sure.)
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Sunday, January 26, 2003


On second thought, I think one full day of playing Magic is enough for any weekend. I just don't have the motivation to go out and do it again today. Instead I'm going to try to get the energy to go to the health club and make up for missing yesterday.
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I had an amazing time at the Legions Pre-Release Magic tournament yesterday. I entered two flights and won prizes in both of them. In the first flight, I played a really great red/green deck with lots of big creatures. I had good luck in every match - no major mana screws and just getting the right cards I needed to win every time. In the last match, when you're unbeaten, it's often customary to offer an intentional draw to your opponent so you can split the prizes. But I was playing this really cocky kid who sat down and shuffled his deck without saying hello or meeting my eyes. He had one draw already, so I figured he wouldn't be interested in an intentional draw, and I had a lot of faith in my deck, so we just played it out and I beat him. So I finished 5-0 and won 20 packs.

My deck in the second flight wasn't quite as good. It was red/blue with flyers and unblockable creatures. I won two matches and lost the third by not getting the right card at the right time (and my opponent had a great deck and was one of the top finishers). My fourth match opponent was a no-show and an automatic win for me. While I was waiting for him to show up, Rob Dougherty, tournament organizer and pro tour player, sat down to keep me company and we played a fun game by splitting my deck. He hadn't seen the new cards yet or even read any spoilers, so it was fun seeing him figure out how they worked, and fun that I managed to beat him. On the last round, it was pushing midnight and I really wanted to head home, so I offered an intentional draw to my opponent. It turned out he had a 1-3 record with no chance to win a prize, so he offered to just concede to me. I asked the judges if that was legal, and they said that it was as long as it wasn't done in response to consideration (ie, a bribe). Since it hadn't been, and since I figured I probably would have beaten him anyway, I took the offer and won 11 more packs.

So of all the matches I actually played, I went 7 wins and 1 loss. Quite a respectible record. I guess all the practicing I've been doing on Magic Online has actually improved my playing skills.

Today there's another small tournament at Your Move Games, so I think I'm going to go and see if my newly-found skills and/or luck will hold up.

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Friday, January 24, 2003


Yesterday was the 1-year anniversary of my first weblog entry. And tomorrow, I am reliably informed, is "Burns Night", the birthday of Robert Burns, Scotland's national poet, which is traditionally celebrated with a supper of haggis, proudly piped into the room and addressed with Burns' Address to a Haggis. Today is just cold.
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Is Fat the Next Tobacco?. Most media stories have dismissed the recent suit against MacDonalds as frivalous and without merit, but this thoughtful article draws parallels between Big Food and Big Tobacco. "The triggering event occurred in December 2001. That's when the Surgeon General, observing that about 300,000 deaths per year are now associated with overweight and obesity, warned that those conditions might soon cause as much preventable disease and death as smoking.... For at least the past 50 years public-health authorities have wanted to deliver a simple, urgent message to the American people: Eat less. They have been thwarted from doing so, however, by political pressure from the food industry.... For plaintiffs lawyers and nutrition activists, the Hirsch suit was a mixed blessing. Some worried that it was such a laughingstock that it might strengthen the forces pushing for tort reform. As a tool of public education, on the other hand, the Hirsch suit was a landmark. Even if the industry was winning the talk-show shout-fests, its arguments about personal responsibility sent a double-edged message, according to Daynard. "'If you're stupid enough to use our products, you deserve to get the diseases our products cause.' That's what it means if you deconstruct it," he says. "This sort of discussion is not good for the lawsuit, but it's very good for public health."
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Not that I really need to show you examples of violent culture in the U.S., but here's one I ran across this morning. This game is really sick.
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Since I don't get HBO, I never saw The Sopranos, so I rented the first disk from Netflix, just to see what all the fuss was about. Well, it was about as I expected. Well done, well acted, but you know, maybe I'm a prude, but I just can't get interested in a story about people who make a living maiming and killing other human beings. I worry about how violence has become such an accepted and casual part of our society, and shows like this just perpetuate the trend. It's just not for me. (I have to admit, though, the ducks in the pilot episode were very cute!)

On the other side of the coin, I just finished reading another Nevil Shute novel, The Trustee From the Toolroom (1960), which is one of his best. This was a bit of an adventure story where a middle-class engineer in England finds it necessary to travel half way around the world to retrieve some smuggled diamonds that are the only legacy of his orphaned niece. The technical bits are interesting, as he flies over the north pole to Hawaii, then learns to navigate a sailboat on the Pacific by using a sextent (seemingly ancient technology in these days of GPS, but that's what they used only some 40-odd years ago). But what was really striking was how decent all the people in the book were to each other. Were people actually like that in 1960, or did Nevil Shute live in some fairy tale world of sweetness and light? It's hard to imagine, in these days of Enron, that corporate magnates would go so out of their way to help out this guy simply because they had read his articles in a model-building magazine and he had answered their letters. And definitely hard to believe they would pay someone a generous consulting fee just because they felt indebted, when there was no legal obligation to do so. I like living in Nevil Shute's world - I just wish the real world were more like it.
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A couple of my friends who I originally met through playing Magic (and later, coincidentally, ended up working with one of them who was also laid off a few weeks ago when I was) have been inviting me for a while to come to a Thursday evening vegetarian potluck dinner group they participate in. When I was working, I always seemed to be too busy to make it, especially since I usually went to NESFA on Wednesday nights, so it was hard to find a chance to cook for the event. But now that I'm out of work, that's not a problem, so I managed to make it this week. I'm not naturally comfortable with strangers, but this turned out to be a very pleasant group - everyone was friendly, bright, and articulate, and there was a lot of passionate discussion on various subjects, from politics to The Lord of the Rings to arcane subjects like the currently high price of vanilla. I've got my name on their list now, so I expect I'll be participating on a regular basis. It'll be good for me to get out and make new friends. (And a couple of them have expressed interest in joining NESFA as subscribing members so they can use the library. So there may be some cross-pollination there.)
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Wednesday, January 22, 2003


As I've been cleaning out my house, I've put some stuff up for sale on eBay. I did very well with a few batches of old magazines. Three lots of garden magazines (1 to 2 years each) sold for $19, $10, and $5.50, and the latest lot of about a dozen Show Music magazines went for $41!
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According to the Globe this morning, this will be the 9th straight day in Boston where the temperature has not gotten above freezing. Tonight's low is predicted to be around 2 degrees F. And on top of that, it's been quite windy, so the wind chill is well below zero. I feel bad for the people who have to work outdoors, like mailmen. And I worry about the plants in my garden, although it helps that there is a snow cover insulating the ground. I'm now off to the health club where I can exercise in the nice warm indoors.
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Tuesday, January 21, 2003


I didn't much like The Royal Tenenbaums. It was supposed to be a comedy about a dysfunctional family, but I didn't find it all that humorous. Much of the dialog was delivered in a wooden manner where the actors just stared out into space, and the characters they played were basically unsympathetic. I guess it was supposed to be funny that they all wore the same clothes through the whole movie, and what was that with Gwyneth Paltrow's makeup? Her dark-rimmed eyes made her look like a raccoon. I obviously just didn't get this movie.
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I went out yesterday afternoon to move my house number from my broken gate to the fencepost so it would be more visible from the street. (The guy who replaced my cable modem last week mentioned that he'd had some trouble finding my house.) I figured it would be 2 minutes with a screwdriver. What I failed to take into account was the fact that if you drop a screw when the ground is covered with snow, it's almost impossible to find it. Currently the number is affixed with a single screw, since I never did manage to find the other one. Good thing my house number is a single digit.
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Alex invited me and Steven over to his place last night for dinner and gaming. He made fish cooked in a fragrant sauce made with onions, soy sauce, and ginger (and maybe some other things), served over jasmine rice, with steamed broccoli. Very yummy and very healthy. We played some of the Looney Labs games based on pyramids that Alex learned at Arisia. We had fun and stayed up quite late, but only Steven had to worry about work in the morning.
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Monday, January 20, 2003


After the first week of working out at the health club, my weight has gone up 1/2 pound, probably due to eating too much junk food at Arisia.
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Saturday, January 18, 2003


Forgot to mention, on the way home from the con, we took a detour through the airport and drove through the newly-opened portion of the Big Dig that connects the Ted Williams tunnel to the Mass Turnpike. The roadway is still very new and was quite dusty still from the construction work, but it sure was a lot faster than dealing with the old central artery and tunnels. It will be great for getting from my house in Watertown to the airport.
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I brought out the big guns for travelling into Boston today - my L.L. Bean full-length down coat with the insulated fur-lined hood (advertised to be good down to something like 20 below), which I bought a few years ago after a particularly frigid First Night experience. Getting into it was like getting into a spacesuit, and it was a pain to lug around the convention, but it worked - I was toasty warm everytime I had to face the outdoors.

The convention was fun, although I was pretty tired by around 6:30pm and we decided to go home around then rather than hang around waiting for the parties to start. Alex and I worked the MCFI/NESFA table for an hour, spent some time in the game room, and attended a few panels. Movies: The Year in Review with Dan Kimmel and Bob Devney went through the whole list of genre films released in 2002 and commented at least briefly on each of them. I came away with a list of movies to add to my Netflix wantlist. LiveJournal and other 'Blogs wasn't quite as interesting as I'd hoped. The main point made was that people often don't realize that what they write in their blogs is accessible to everyone, and sometimes it might be wise not to write about your boss, your sex life, and illegal activities you might be involved in (duh!). The Lord of the Rings Mid-term Report (with jan howard finder, Shane Tourtellotte, Susan de Guardiola, Eric Van, and the gentleman who runs the Coolidge Corner sf marathon whose name I didn't catch) was a lot of fun. Everyone on the panel thought the movies rated somewhere between 82 and 98 on a scale of 100, so most of the discussion was about favorite scenes and analysis of why the movies probably needed to deviate from the books in certain aspects. Back in the game room, Alex learned an interesting game called Pikeman that I'd like to try at some point. The rules and equipment are fairly simple, but the strategy seems pretty subtle. Looney Labs, who were demonstrating the game, have a whole series of games that are based on a set of different-size colored pyramids.

I wish I didn't find conventions so exhausting. When I go to conventions where I'm staying at the hotel, I can take a break in the middle of the day and go up to the room to lie down for a bit, but when you're attending as a commuter, it's hard to find a place where you can really relax. Unfortunately, with both of us out of work, Alex and I probably won't be able to stay at the hotel for Boskone this year, so it'll be interesting to see how much of the convention I'll manage to attend before I tire out.
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Good god, it's cold out there! I came home from Arisia (Boston science fiction convention) last night on the T at 1 am. On the 5-block walk to Alex's place (where I'd left my car) I thought my face was going to freeze off. Today it's even colder, but we'll be driving in because the con has discounted parking on the weekend.

Got home late last night and stayed up even later because the Fan Gallery was pursuing me again and I figured it was time to answer them. The Fan Gallery collects pictures and biographical information about well-known fans and puts them on a web page and a travelling exhibit. They want to know thngs like offices held, fanzines published, honors received, so I spent some time doing research on dates on places. I don't think I'll be able to track down everything I've done, but I've at least now got the most prominent things to send them. When it's all done, I'll post a link to the web page.
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Thursday, January 16, 2003


I had dinner tonight with a bunch of friends from work - some who are still there, one who was laid off when I was, and my ex-boss, who left voluntarily back in the summer. It was fun to see them all again and find out what's been happening back in the office. I thought that with so few people left everyone would get a window office, but it turns out that they're going to compress the offices again and cram everyone into an even smaller space. I learned that the extent of the layoffs was decided at the last minute and came as big surprise even to the managers. Apparently our group was originally slated to lose only 2 out of 15, but something happened at the last minute (perhaps intervention from the board of directors?) and that number got raised to 9. Interesting, but it doesn't change anything. I'm still laid off...
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According to this morning's Globe, our e-mail addresses are going to change yet again - a second time in less than a year! "attbi.com" will change to "comcast.net". Last year when I had to change from "mediaone.net" to "attbi.com", I set up a domain name address and started using it for some things. But I didn't use it for everything because I didn't want the permanent address to get on junk mail lists. So I still will have to change a lot of accounts. What a pain.
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Wednesday, January 15, 2003


This morning I found a package from England next to my mailbox. It turned out to be a gift from Jackie! One of her sons is an artist who does whimsical cartoony water colors, and this was one of his prints, but with a mat that had been specially done for me. The main drawing was a girl in bed, surrounded by a bevy of cats playing various musical instruments (drum, cymbols, trumpet, etc.). The caption on the mat reads "Cats will always let you know when they are hungry!". Across the top of a mat is a picture of a bookshelf where the books have titles like "Leslie's ABC of Horse Trails and Bridal Paths" and "Tales from the Stables". There's a bag labeled "Simon's Horse Food" (I can't believe she actually remembered the name of the horse I rode!) and a picture of Simon labeled "Love, Simon XXX". It's totally adorable.
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Tuesday, January 14, 2003


I went to my health club appointment this morning, and met with the owner, Jim, who reviewed my exercise routine and made sure I was using all the machines correctly. I found that I hadn't really lost too much; we reduced most of the weights one notch, but I think I will quickly be back to where I was before. And he showed me a couple of new machines for abdominal exercises, as I didn't really enjoy doing them on the mat and the machines should make it a bit more interesting. Also used a large "balance ball" for the basic abdominal crunch. The ball was nice because it gives a lot of back support, which I need.

It's a gorgeous crisp sunny day today, but, oh, so very cold...
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Alex came over yesterday to help me install System X on my Mac, but we never got to it because we were stymied by being unable to create a new disk partition. When we installed my new disk, we left a lot of space for System X but didn't actually create the partition for it. Now the utility software we are using is saying that it can't create a new partition without wiping out the old one. I'm reluctant to do that unless it turns out that's the only way we can proceed. Alex is doing some research and in the meantime I will attempt to make a clean backup of my essential stuff, just in case that's what we have to do.

So while we were working on this, my network access went down again, as it as been doing lately. This time it just got terribly slow for a while, and then when we tried to power recycle my modem, it wouldn't come up at all. Alex called ATT for me and they seemed to think it was a modem problem (the one I'm using is maybe 3 years old and perhaps a bit obsolete now). They set up a service appointment for Thursday afternoon. Later in the evening, the network reappeared on its own, but I'm hoping they will come on Thursday and replace the modem anyway, as this has been an intermittent problem over the last month or so.
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Monday, January 13, 2003


I ordered Waking the Dead sort of by mistake; I got it confused with the Nicholas Cage movie, Bringing Out the Dead. But I'm glad I watched it. It was a thoughtful portrayal of two people who were deeply in love, while at the same time having very divergent political opinions. And after one of them died in a politically-motivated car bombing, showing how the other dealt with his grief and sense of loss, and how he ultimately changed to reflect the values of the person he loved. I've ordered the novel it was based on from half.com and am looking forward to reading it.
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Since I've been at home, I've been using they Netflix service more intensively (since I have a lot more time to do things like watch movies), and I just want to say that I am extremely impressed by the high quality of their service. The turn-around time is very fast and they almost always have the item at the top of my wishlist. The other day they sent me an extra movie just because they had to obtain my first choice from a remote warehouse and it was going to take a couple of extra days. Another thing I like is that you can add current movies that aren't out on DVD yet to a separate section of your wishlist. That way, when they eventually do come out, they'll automatically appear on your list. I definitely recommend them highly.
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I suppose it's a cliche to start an exercise program at the beginning of the year, but now that I have the time to do it, I plan to do it, cliche or no. So I went to the health club this morning and put in 20 minutes on the elliptical trainer. I know that doesn't sound like much, but I'm sure I will be sore tomorrow. At my age, you can't just suddenly dive into a new activity without incurring some consequences. I also made a date with the club owner to help me set up a routine on the exercise machines tomorrow morning. I still have the records of where I was the last time I worked out regularly, but I'm sure I'll have to back down and work my way up again. That was about 18 months ago, before I started my current job. All the time I was working, I kept my health club membership, but sadly never used it.
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Sunday, January 12, 2003


I have a set of "Medicine Cards", which are something like Tarot Cards based on native American animal spirits. I decided to select three cards to see what they would tell me about this period of unemployment. The ones I drew were amazingly apropos. Here are a few excerpts:

Bat (Rebirth) - Bat symbolizes the need for a ritualistic death of some way of life that no longer suits your new growth pattern. This can mean a time of letting go of old habits, and of assuming the position in life that prepares you for rebirth. The universe is always asking you to grow and become your future. To do so you must die the shaman's death.

Hummingbird (Joy) - If Hummingbird is your personal medicine, you love life and its joys. Your presence brings joy to others. You know instinctively where beauty abides and, near or far, you journey to your ideal. If Hummingbird has flown into your cards, get ready musically and enjoy Creator's many gifts. Drop your judgemental attitude and relax. Get ready for a strange new burst of energy which may send your senses reeling. Hummingbird quickly dies if caged, caught, or imprisoned. Follow Sister Hummingbird and you will experience a renewal of the magic of living.

Eagle (Spirit) - If Eagle has majestically soared into your cards, you are being put on notice to reconnect with the element of air. If you have been walking in the shadows of former realities, Eagle brings illumination. Eagle medicine is the gift we give ourselves to remind us of the freedom of the skies. Eagle asks you to give yourself permission to legalize freedom and to follow the joy your heart desires.
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More cleanup today. Actually, cleaning out my storage areas is a project that will probably take several weeks, as I have so much stuff! This morning's project is to sort through nearly 40 years of World Science Fiction Convention memorabilia. I have one box of older material that's more or less sorted, but the last twenty years or so is in a couple of big unsorted piles. So I am trying to sort by year and weed out duplicates and random stuff I don't really want to keep. It looks like I'll end up filling about 3 file boxes. I'm not entirely sure why I'm keeping it all, but it's a great collection and it's been a big part of my life for so long that I'm not eager to let it go. I found the program book for the first Worldcon I ever attended - Tricon in Cleveland in 1966. On the back page it has signatures of Hal Clement, L. Sprague de Camp, Frederik Pohl, John W. Campbell, Harlan Ellison (who won a Hugo there for "Repent, Harlequin, Said the Ticktockman"), Randall Garrett, Lester del Rey, and Roger Zelazny (also a Hugo-winner for "...And Call Me Conrad"). (Don't know how I missed Isaac Asimov, who was in attendance - I guess I didn't think he was a big deal, since he was living in Boston at that time and very accessible to fans.)
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Saturday, January 11, 2003


Wow! I was cleaning out my upstairs storage today, and I found the Tolkien letter! Well, it's not the actual Tolkien letter (Alex tells me that's in Widener Library), but it's a transcript of the Tolkien letter. Let me start at the beginning.

During my freshman year in college, I was introduced to Tolkien by my roommate, Cory Seidman (who is now Cory Panshin). The Lord of the Rings had not been published in paperback yet, but Cory had copies of the hardcovers and loaned them to me. After the Christmas break, a sign in Elvish and English appeared in our dormitory elevator. The English text read: "Readers and students of the works of Professor John Ronald Reuel Tolkien are cordially invited to meet in the South House Common Room at 7:00 p.m., January 8th".

Cory and I went, and Tolkien's secretary was there, along with a letter of greeting from Tolkien himself. There also was a huge turnout, much larger than expected, and this was the beginning of the Harvard/Radcliffe Tolkien Society. After the meeting, the organizers sent a transcript of Tolkien's letter to everyone who attended. If you want to read it, you can find it here.
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I didn't get the contract job I interviewed for on Wednesday. The people I talked to liked me, but the head of the company doesn't like to hire contractors and the hiring manager wasn't able to change his mind. It probably didn't help that I quoted a billing rate that was roughly equivalent to my previous salary; perhaps going in a bit lower might have worked. I may have to do that in the future when I get more desperate, but right now I don't see that I should sell myself short.

Vanilla Sky was a very strange movie. I didn't really understand what was happening most of the way through it. Part of the plot was a very moving love story, which I couldn't fully enjoy the first time through because of all the ominous hints hovering around that things weren't going to go well. But near the end, there was an explanation that worked pretty well for me. Of course, at that point I had to watch it again, just so I could sort out everything in my mind. A very interesting and original movie. (whisper: Open your eyes.)

I also saw the pilot episode of Mister Sterling, a new TV show about the non-political son of a popular pol who gets appointed by the governor of California to fill a Senate seat vacated by the death of the Democratic incumbant. It was well done and very entertaining, especially when Sterling reveals that he's actually an Independent (no one bothered to ask!) Much consternation ensues.
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Thursday, January 09, 2003


Brandied Pear Bread Pudding, from Everyday Cooking with Dr. Dean Ornish. (This is designed to serve 12; I cut it in half when I made it for myself. He also suggests making this with plums, apricots, or berries instead of pears, but I thought the pears were just great.) Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spray a 10-inch round baking pan with cooking spray. Prepare 8 cups 1-inch cubes stale nine-grain bread (I used Pepperidge Farms) in a large bowl. Simmer 1/4 cup sugar in 1/4 cup brandy in a skillet; add 4 cups diced peeled pears and simmer 3 minutes. Pour over bread and add 1/2 cup raisins. Toss to blend. In another bowl, lightly beat 1 cup egg whites (approx. 8 eggs), 1/4 ts salt, 1 1/2 cups nonfat milk, 1/2 cup nonfat sour cream, 1 tablespoon vanilla extract, and 1 teaspoon cinnamon. Pour over the bread mixture, mix well, and transfer to prepared pan. Bake until firm and golden, 30 to 35 minutes. Serve at room temperature or chilled.

Okay, I'll admit I used a few egg yolks along with the whites and lowfat sour cream instead of nonfat sour cream. But the result was still pretty low fat and tasted great.
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I got Magic Online downloaded and installed on Virtual PC today, and much to my amazement everthing works! It's a little sluggish, and pretty much requires all the memory I can give it, but it does run and I've been able to play out the league games I need to get in this week. So that's a relief. I'm running Version 5, but I'll be able to get a free upgrade to Version 6, which just came out and is supposed to be 25% faster.

Nothing much else to report today, except a visit to the dentist. They've recommended that I get one of those fancy SonicCare electric toothbrushes, so I did some web surfing to find one. Google has started a new shopping search site called Froogle.com (a play on "Google" and "Frugle"), which seems to work pretty well. Tonight I'm planning to curl up on the couch, snuggle up under the wool throw that I lugged back from the Cotswold Woollen Weavers in Filkins Gloucestershire (a neutral plaid made from the natural wool from rare breeds of sheep, which now you can buy on the web for the same price I paid in England), and watch the DVD of Vanilla Sky (I've already started it and I can tell it's going to be a very strange movie...)
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Yesterday was a busy day. I had lunch with two of the developers that I'd worked closely with at Vignette - Jay and Seth. It was great to see them again and hear what had been happening since I left. It was strange to remember that we had had lunch together to decompress the last time there were major layoffs, the only difference was this time I was one of the ones who had been laid off. I really hope we'll be able to stay in touch.

In the afternoon I had a job interview at CambridgeSoft, a company that makes software to support chemists - things like a drawing program, and database program, a lab notebook, etc., all of which have chemical smarts built in. The initial need is for a tester for their ChemOffice product for the next few months while their QA manager is out on maternity leave. I think everyone liked me, but there may be some negotiation over price. We'll see.

In the evening, I went to the usual Wednesday night gathering at NESFA, chatted with people, and played some Magic.

In between these activities, packaged up some items I'd sold on eBay and took them to the post office, picked up milk and diet Coke at the supermarket, made a really nice low-fat brandied pear bread pudding (recipe to come), shoveled some snow, and installed Virtual PC on my Macintosh so I can set up to run Magic Online. And I still haven't unpacked the boxes of stuff I brought back from the office. Who says being out of work means you have plenty of free time?
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Wednesday, January 08, 2003


Got through to unemployment this morning after only 15 minutes on hold, and the guy I talked to was very helpful and nice. They no longer have a 1-week delay before benefits start (one of the fallouts of 9/11), and because my severence pay is contingent upon signing a release form, I can collect unemployment concurrently with the severence. I had a choice of filing weekly electronically or bi-weekly by mail. I went for electronically, as you have a choice of doing it either by phone or via a web site. It seemed like that would be easier to remember if it was a weekly routine. If I take a short-term job, I don't collect for the weeks that I'm employed, but I can reinstate the unemployment when the contract period ends (up to 52 weeks from my Vignette termination date). So that all sounds pretty good.
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Tuesday, January 07, 2003


Almost forgot the best part of the new PowerBook - the screen is backlit with fiber optics, so it has a soft glow that comes up when the room lights dim. Very cool!
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I've already got one interview lined up for tomorrow, for a 2-month contract positon that might turn into something longer. Wow! This is due to a friend who works at a company where the QA manager just went out on maternity leave, and they're trying to get a product out soon. So they're desperate for a person in the short term. The only hitch is that all their software is chemistry-related and I don't have a chemistry background. But I'm sure I can pick up enough to be useful, so we'll see how the interview goes. I also got a tip from my previous manager that Rational has several QA openings, so I've sent my resume to them, also.

This morning I went with Alex to the Apple store in the CambridgeSide Galleria to watch the Steve Jobs keynote speech at MacWorld San Francisco on live video feed. It was a lot of fun, as Steve is always entertaining. The new software he announced has motivated me to get System X installed on my machine, since that now seems to be a requirement for all new Apple software. There are new versions of iTunes and iPhoto, and a brand new super-fast web browser called Safari, all of which are free for the download. For new hardware, he announced a 17" and a 12" power book, both less than 1-inch thick. Also new faster airport technology (wireless networking) and double-speed firewire. This will likely cause the price of the old 15" power book to drop, so that might be what I buy next.
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I tried to call to register for unemployment today, but I got an automated message to call back later because their call volume was so high. I looked to see if they had a way to register on the web, but couldn't find anything. Tomorrow I'll try calling earlier.
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Here's a hearty low-fat winter soup from Everyday Cooking by Dr. Dean Ornish. White Bean Soup with Winter Greens: Remove and discard tough ribs from 1 bunch kale or chard. Boil in water for 2 min, drain, and cool with cold water. Drain thoroughly and chop coarsely. Combine 3 cups veggie broth, 1 diced baking potato, 1/2 onion chopped, 2 ts minced garlic, and 1 bay leaf in a saucepan. Bring to simmer, cover, and cook 10 minutes. Add 2 15 oz cans white beans with liquid. Continue cooking about 15 minutes more. Add chopped kale or chard and simmer 1 minute, uncovered. Season to taste with salt and pepper and stir in 1 ts grated lemon zest.
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Monday, January 06, 2003


This article reports a study that shows how much life expectancy is shortened for those who are overweight or obese at 40. "If you're overweight, you basically live three years less ... and if you're obese, you live approximately six to seven years less."
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Well, this morning wasn't too bad. So here's what it's like to get laid off, for those of you who haven't had the pleasure. I went in toting boxes and my laptop. When I arrived at the front desk, the receptionist greeted me with a sympathic smile and took my name badge. I noticed there were two guys I didn't know sitting in the reception area. They were in plain clothes, but were pretty obviously security. I had to wait while the receptionist could track down my manager to escort me in. She left me unattended in my cubicle to start packing things up, and gave me the severence documents to read. My neighbor, Seth, a young developer who had always been really helpful to me whenever I had problems, came by to keep me company while I packed. He was really good at saying all the right things a recently laid-off person wants to hear, like how the company was making a big mistake and they would all really miss me. Various other people came by to say goodbye, and I collected home contact information for each of them. When I was done packing, I sat down with my boss to go over the paperwork. She was a total basket case, since she was letting go 9 people out of her 15-person group, and had been going through one emotional meeting after another. By contrast, I was pretty composed. After that, Seth came by to help me tote my stuff down to the parking garage and see me off. He had wanted to get together a group to go to lunch with me, but the company had called a lunch meeting with pizza to discuss the "restructuring" so we'll probably do it later in the week.

After that, I had lunch with Alex, went shopping for vegetables, and by the time I got home there was already a message on my answering machine from a friend with a job possibility.
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Spam question. Lately I've been getting a lot of messages saying that messages I've sent to other people have bounced. The messages in question appear to be spam and the people I'm supposedly sending them to are not people that I know. I am running on a Macintosh with a firewall. Does anyone know what is happening here? It sounds like some spammer is using my e-mail address as their return address on their spam. Probably nothing I can do about it, right?
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Apparently getting laid off is not good for your health. I have not been sleeping well, and have had a headache for two straight days. Perhaps I've been anticipating today, when I have to go in to sign papers, move out, and say goodbye to people. It will be hard, and I'm looking forward to putting that behind me.

I watched Run Lola Run yesterday. I was expecting not to like it because I heard it was aimed at the MTV generation. But it grew on me. The film is fast-moving, with an insistent score and lots of quick cuts, but it's very stylish and clever. It shows a period of time when Lola has 20 minutes to come up with 100,000 marks or her lover will be killed. The twist is that when things go wrong, she gets to do it over again a couple of times. Very slight changes in when she arrives at different points make all the difference to the story. This is an alternate time-track movie in the tradition of Sliding Doors and Groundhog Day. It is in German with subtitles; I listened to the commentary and found that a lot of the minor characters are well-known actors in Germany.
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Sunday, January 05, 2003


Happy Accidents is a cute little love story with elements of what may be time travel (this is left in doubt until the end). Nothing fancy, very minor special effects, but Marisa Tomei is appealing and Vincent D'Onofrio's quirky little mannerisms make sense in this particular story.
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Now Corporations Claim The "Right To Lie" This is a very interesting article about why corporations should not be extended the same rights as living, breathing human beings.

Corporations are non-living, non-breathing, legal fictions. They feel no pain. They don't need clean water to drink, fresh air to breathe, or healthy food to consume. They can live forever. They can't be put in prison. They can change their identity or appearance in a day, change their citizenship in an hour, rip off parts of themselves and create entirely new entities. Some have compared corporations with robots, in that they are human creations that can outlive individual humans, performing their assigned tasks forever.

This is particularly relevant to me right now as I've been grappling with my feelings about being laid off. Even though I am not in major financial need and can even enjoy having some free time for a while, and even though I've been half expecting this ever since I started at Vignette and we began having quarterly layoffs, I still find it deeply frustrating and upsetting to have such a major change in my life so totally out of my control. And not just out of my control, but in the control of a totally arbitrary process with no human face. If you talk to my immediate manager and her manager, they will say they hate laying people off, and they will say they valued your contribution and enjoyed working with you, but there is nothing they can do to change the situation. And if you go any higher than that, you're dealing with people who don't know you personally and have no idea what you've done, and will say that it's no reflection on you, just a business necessity. There's no one to talk to, reason with, argue with, try to convince to change their mind. There's no one really responsible. It's just something that's decided in the corporate stratosphere and gets filtered down to a specific action that radically changes a lot of people's lives.

The other part that's frustrating is just the abruptness of it. One day we're having a party celebrating the release, all of us happy to be part of a team that's been working together. The next day you're separated from your friends and all the familiar little things that you've set up in the workplace with no chance to tidy them up or bring them to completion. Luckily for them we were at the end of a project and I'd taken the time to update all my test plans and so forth. But I know I left a lot of untidy loose ends that someone is going to have to sort out. Or, if not, a lot of my work will be wasted. It's just so frustrating.

I've got to practice saying, "It's not my worry anymore".
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Saturday, January 04, 2003


According to Electrolite, today is J. R. R. Tolkien's "eleventy-first" birthday.
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I've done a quick update to my resume. I'd be happy to hear any comments or leads.
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Friday, January 03, 2003


After the below-mentioned phone call, I found myself totally unable to focus on anything. So I went over to Alex's to have lunch and then got him to let me rearrange his living room and unpack more kitchen boxes. I felt that doing something physical would help to keep me from brooding. And it was great to have someone not connected with work to spend the time with - it gave me a chance to decompress.

When I got home I had 3 phone messages. One phone message and also another e-mail message were from friends who'd read the news in my weblog and were sending condolences. That was nice. The other two phone messages were from other people who'd been laid off. I had time to call back one of them, and we chatted for about an hour. I learned that the cuts in Waltham were really deep. According to my informant, only 30 people were left in the Waltham office and the whole Maryland office (where we had about 7 people) was closed entirely. It is now my opinion that the long-term plan is to close the Waltham office, and they're only keeping a skeleton staff to do stuff they can't yet handle in the main office in Texas. If I had not been laid off, I would still be feeling that my days were numbered.

I'll have to go in on Monday to sign paperwork and pick up my personal things. I am told that I will be getting 8 weeks of severence pay and I believe they also said they would cover one month of medical insurance before COBRA kicks in. And of course there's unemployment. So I should be in pretty decent shape. I'm really glad I sent in my last car payment just a few days ago!

Did I say Happy New Year? Yeah, sure thing.
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Breaking news: My boss just called me to tell me that I am being laid off as of today. Apparently 60% of our department has been cut and 30% of the engineering department overall. It is not completely unexpected, although I'm surprised at the depth of the cuts. We had always been joking that as soon as we got Version 7 out the door we would all be laid off. Apparently that was the case. I will try to look at the bright side - 8 weeks severence and a lot of free time. Would have been better to come in a nicer time of year, though.
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Thursday, January 02, 2003


Today is 01/02/03! (At least in the United States. In Europe, it'll be February 1, 2003.)
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Whew, I'm exhausted tonight. Just spent two days working on two different kitchens (mine and Alex's). In mine, I organized my shelves of foodstuffs, throwing out stuff that was old or not something I ever expected to eat, and making room for storing things that had been sitting out on the counter. In Alex's, Steven and Alex and I spent the day throwing out about a year's worth of recyclables (a big pain in Cambridge, where you have to flatten cardboard boxes and cut them down to 3' x 3' pieces), put together a big set of storage shelves, and unpacked many boxes of kitchen stuff which he had never unpacked since his move. Now I'm pretty tired and achey, but have a good sense of accomplishment. Unfortunately, I have to go back to work tomorrow. I am really not ready for that, but ya gotta do what ya gotta do.
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Wednesday, January 01, 2003


This book (The Hungry Gene: The Science of Fat and the Future of Thin) sounds very interesting.
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Tea With Mussolini was worth watching for a couple of reasons. The first was to watch Maggie Smith, Judy Dench, Joan Plowright, Lily Tomlin, and Cher play some fun characters. I especially liked Cher's performance as the American art collector. At the start she appears to be a flamboyant rich woman who just likes spending money, but later she shows how much she really loves the art she is surrounding herself with, and later still displays a quiet desperation when her situation becomes more serious. (Fun line early on: when asked by an Italian stud if there are more women in America as exciting as she is, she strikes a pose and says "Sadly, no".) The second reason this film was interesting is that it was a semi-autobiographical story about the unlikely childhood of the director Franco Zeffirelli. Born in Florence as the bastard son of a factory owner, he is taken under the wing of a trio of British art lovers, taught Shakespeare, then is sent off to school in German and returns as a young man who later joins the resistence. What I didn't like about the movie was that it was a little too light-hearted about the Nazis. The women are all just a bit to wrapped up in maintaining the status quo for themselves without seeming to notice what is going on around them. I think it's pretty unlikely that a desperate soldier at the end of the war would hesitate to blow up a tower because an English woman had tied herself to the base of it to protect the art inside.
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Happy New Year!
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