Wednesday, December 26, 2007

The gift that keeps on Leeching

In July I had this great idea to make a cross-stitch for my niece right after she was born. Since they decorated the baby's room in animals, that's the type of pattern I looked for at the store. The kit I selected is a baby animals kit called Cuddly Critters, which is definitely nowhere near a weekend project. Why didn't a choose a small simple one? Mostly because they were either ugly, uninspired, or Winnie the Pooh (which my sister does not like). Also, I really wanted to do something nice for them.

So I worked on this cross-stitch during part of the summer, but not extremely diligently. I worked on it when on the phone or watching TV, and occasionally I rode my bike to the park and sat there stitching for hours. I also stitched while in the car and not driving on the ride back across country (that I still need to write about).

So around Thanksgiving I was really starting to worry about the state of this project. I worked on it during the semester, but there is really only so much free time in a day that isn't spent sleeping. I had planned to spend the week after our final working on it all day, but a research paper refused to be finished before then and thus it usurped the stitching project. So what did I do after driving to Virginia? I spent 2 days sitting in my parents' house stitching on the couch either in front of the TV, listening to an audiobook, or listening to Christmas music. I basically moved only to help our old blind dog, eat, sleep, and go out to buy a frame for the finished project.

I actually didn't end up finishing it in time, although almost all of the cross stitching is done. Tonight I'll finish the cross stitching, and then I can spend the next few days on outlining and adding my embellishments. I already added my niece's name to it, so next to be added is her birthday.

As you can tell, my life has become consumed with stitching. I'm still glad I chose this design and this project, because they really seemed to like it. I framed it, wrapped it, and gave it to them on Christmas anyway, and my niece started pointed at it and giggling. Since she's 5 months old I assume she was not mocking my work, but maybe she's a natural art critic. Hopefully I'll finish it before leaving VA again in a few days just so that I don't go crazy.

Every few years I end up on some time consuming cross stitching adventure, so at least I probably have 2 more years before I have a time eating goal created from thread again. But then again I am crazy, so I might just find a new project before next Christmas!

Up and Down the East Coast

Driving around holiday time is always interesting. Sometimes there is so much traffic that the drive to my parents' house takes 16 hours, other times there isn't much traffic and it's only the usual 11. Luckily I break it up so that the first day is driving to New Jersey to see my boyfriend's family, and the second day is the drive down to Virginia.

Last Friday was the New Jersey trip. Amazingly, we hit little traffic in Massachusetts, Connecticut, or even New York! Well, when driving on the roads we were supposed to be driving on we hit little traffic. When we were at the end of the Palisades Parkway in NY, we accidentally exited onto I-95 North instead of I-95 South! Yes, that means we crossed the George Washington (GW) bridge! Oh, the shame and horror! To my defense (as I was the driver) they didn't tell you which lane split to which direction until you were at the split and the signs had so much information on them I couldn't find an I-95 South or NJ Turnpike symbol in time to make a decision! And Tim wasn't really paying attention either.

For those of you who also live in horror of the chance event of having to drive near NYC, you understand what's coming next. Except that you don't yet know that we also managed to make this mistake around the beginning of rush hour traffic. For those of you who have not had the experience: it's as horrible as I'm sure you imagine.

Not only did we NOT know how to get back on I-95 going South, but once we found the right road (I-87) to get us there, we were in bumper to bumper traffic. I blame the majority of this problem on the inability of NYC drivers to actually drive with ANY sense at all. For instance, in the two lanes that lead us onto the bridge, a car was parked in one of them. This is not a street, but an ON RAMP that has a shoulder on the right and not the left (the car was on the left). So all cars in our lane had to merge into the other one to get around it. There was also a tractor trailer stuck behind the car and just idling. I'm not sure if he needed to also get over and pass it since he had no turn signal blinking.

It also didn't help traffic that instead of merging, cars were passing on the shoulder of the first stage of the ramp and causing a traffic jam at the end of that stage when they tried to get back in. Is everyone in NYC just narcissistic?

Once we finally ended our multi-hour detour, we ran into yet another traffic jam at the beginning of the turnpike. Apparently 3 lanes were being merged into 1 EZPass lane...so if you got in a left lane to have the quick toll payment, you made a grave mistake. Which is of course what I did.

However, getting past the first few exits of the turnpike gave us open road, and the rest of the drive was relatively smooth, especially for NJ! We only arrived about 3 hours later than expected...

The next day was surprisingly easy. The toll plaza at the end of the turnpike had a ton of traffic, but the quick drive through EZPass lanes were relatively clear! I probably saved 30+ minutes just from having an EZPass. It was one of the happiest moments I had for days!

The beltway around DC was stress free compared to how it normally is (think: incredibly annoying), and despite the fact that my exit wasn't labeled well AT ALL I still managed to take it. The rest of the drive was fabulous except that my iPod battery died and I was stuck in silence for awhile. No, my radio does not currently work in my car, thank you.

I'll take that second day of driving for any trip, and I hope that's the type of drive I have for the drive back right before New Years!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Winter Wonderland!

house with snow
It's absolutely beautiful here in MA. It snowed all afternoon and evening last Thursday, then began again very early this morning. I think at this point we have gotten at least 8" but probably more. When we walked down to the market yesterday for breakfast, we had to walk through some non-shoveled area and it came to the top of my snow boots! Since this is only the beginning of my 3rd year in the Northeast, this much snow is still very exciting for me! The best part is that the picture above is from days ago.

Although I do enjoy snow, and am loving sitting here near the window watching it fall, it's still a bit stressful. I have my one and only exam tomorrow afternoon, and if school is closed tomorrow I'm not entirely sure when the make-up exam will be. Since my family lives in the southern part of the states, I'm leaving on Friday so that I can get home a few days before Christmas (I take 2 days to get home). So any time after Thursday is impossible! Luckily, we rarely have school closings and they are only on days like today where it started snowing heavily in the early morning, so I suspect that it will not be delayed.

On a similar note, last Thursday was very interesting. I was "lucky" enough to need to drive down to CT to pick up a bridesmaid dress for my cousin's wedding. I left in the morning at 10, which should have put me there by 11:30 and back by 1:00, hours before the snow was supposed to start. Well, I was almost to my exit in CT when I hit snow. I decided to continue on since I was almost there, but of course the snow decided to fall heavy enough that we had to slow down. I finally arrived at the store around 12:00. All of the entrances to the shopping center are steep, and I had so little traction that my poor car had to try multiple times to get over the lip at the top and get back on the road. There was a scary moment where I didn't think I'd be able to get back on the road.

The drive back home, usually 1.5 hours max, took 3 hours! Driving on a I-91 was about 15mph except for the few places where the pavement was visible, giving a whopping 30mph for a mile or two! The entire drive was fairly tense, since slowing down and starting back up were both hazardous. It was great to see everyone driving cautiously though, and not too many people driving exceedingly slow for no apparent reason. The only crazy driver I saw was in a utility van, who was zipping in and out of traffic. He was going "fast" so probably about 30-40mph. How he didn't wreck with all of the snow still falling I have no idea.

Today I hope to take time to "play" outside, and call it a "study break" (as if that's not what I'm taking right now!). Hopefully I'll get a great picture of me standing in snow up to my knees to send to my relatives with 60 degree weather. Why am I going south for Christmas when I have a guaranteed white one up here?

Friday, November 30, 2007

Facebook Makes Beacon Opt-in!

I was planning to write a post about Facebook beacon (privacy concerns, bad website design, etc) but just hadn't gotten around to it. Well, they announced yesterday that they are fixing it, so now is the perfect chance to actually tell you about Beacon.

For those that don't know, Facebook recently implemented a new feature called "Beacon." This feature was opt-out, meaning that every Facebook user was signed up for using it unless they said "no." That sounds easy enough, but the way it was designed was even more frustrating. What beacon does is it shows your Internet activity to your friends by posting it in their news feeds (a list of all recent Facebook activity of all friends that have chosen to share that activity). This includes purchases at websites such as Amazon and Overstock.com, as well as other activity such as game playing at Kongregate. At each site a link appears for approximately 10 seconds in which you have the option to "opt out" of the activity showing on Facebook.

I have experienced this link, and I only barely caught it in time. It was hard to notice as it was displayed outside of the area I was expected to be looking at on the site (i.e. bottom right of the screen). I probably only caught it quick enough because I knew it must be around somewhere.



One would hope that this mere 10 second window is not the only chance to decline your friends, relatives, and coworkers the chance to know what you are doing in the privacy of your own home. Technically it is not, as the "privacy" setting area of Facebook allows you to choose whether or not to show activity on that website (above picture). However, the option only appears after you have seen the "opt out" link for that site (i.e. bought something, played the game, etc), and if you choose to "never" show the activity it will still not remove it from the news feed of your friends. So it is not a true second chance as once you miss that first 10 second window that activity will be there for the entire Internet to potentially see. Also, the privacy setting defaults to "notify me first" even if you chose "no" on the initial 10 second window.

As you can undoubtedly tell, Beacon was not well designed. There are ethical flaws, privacy flaws, even common sense flaws. It worries me as to what type of people are working at Facebook; when I was an undergraduate in Computer Science we talked about the ethics of the business, and this type of feature would certainly fall into the category of bad computing decisions. I know Zuckerman is only 23, but I'm not that much older than him and I can see the flaws a mile away.

Not surprisingly, the users of Facebook rallied for their rights! Not only was there a Facebook petition group (as of this posting there are 57873 members), there was also a MoveOn.org petition that grew with each passing day. There were also blogs that shared information on how to "block" beacon from working.

facebook group

The good news is that they have apologized for the error of their ways (again), and are going to fix the problem. Unsurprisingly they will now be making the program opt-in. The main change will be that the default is now "no, I don't want you to share this!" instead of "oh yes, please, I would love you to share this!" I can't wait to see it in action. There are many other concerns beside the fact that friends might see your activity, such as the fact that Facebook will now know your activity either way. Hopefully this concern will also be considered in their revamp of the service. I'm sure many users will eventually warm up to sharing *some* of their activities, especially since people are generally more likely to participate in something when they make the choice themselves!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Tragedy in VA -- W&M Fencing

As some of you may know, I was on the fencing team throughout my time at Virginia Tech. One of the many other schools that competed in Virginia was William & Mary. During the weekend of November 10th one of the cars traveling with their team during a trip for a competition was involved in a crash. This crashed killed their coach Pete Conomikes and injured the members of the team that were also in that car. I just found out that although two of the injured players are OK, one of those team members Ben Gutenberg has died from his injuries. He was a freshman.

There are many things that have gone through my mind the past few weeks about this accident. One was that I wish I had been more involved in MACFA to have known Pete better (he coached the men's team, W&M doesn't have a women's team). Everyone has always revered him as a great coach, especially among those teams that are club and not varsity (i.e. all VA teams). I am sure the Ben was also a fabulous person, with a wonderful life ahead of him. On another note, I'm extremely thankful that it was not the VTFC involved in the crash. I'm quite sad that someone has died, and his death has hit many of the fencers at VT hard enough without it being a fellow Hokie. I can barely imagine the pain I would feel if one of my friends still at VT was killed on their way to a tournament.

It also reminds me a lot of what traveling to tournaments is often like. Many times you either have to leave very early in the morning the day of the event or in the late afternoon or evening the day before the event, because students can't get out of classes on time to leave earlier. It is common to need to drive at night on the way home from a tournament as well. For our team, the drivers are always team members. What is so scary about the W&M crash is that it really reminds me of how easily it could have been us. It still could happen to them. The one thing that puts my mind at least partially at ease is knowing that we always tried to have older more experienced people driving, always ensured that the people driving were not worn out, and always made sure to switch off drivers so no one became fatigued. I am in no way implying that W&M did not do these things, but at least I know VT fencers are working to try to make their trips as safe as possible. Hopefully their luck will continue to hold out. What a way to be reminded about how dangerous it is to drive.

My heart truly goes out to all of the W&M fencers. I've met a few over the years but I think everyone I had met has since graduated. Still, I wish them the best and I hope that their hearts heal. I hope their team is able to heal over time, that they will still travel for their tournaments next semester (sometimes getting back into it can be the best thing for you), and that no other disaster befalls them. Life has become too short for too many this year.

Grad Student Thanksgiving



Ah, Thanksgiving as a graduate student who chose not to go to school in the same state as the one that houses their parents. It's an interesting experience.

Ever since starting graduate school I have yet to make it home for Thanksgiving despite the fact that every year prior I have spent the holiday exclusively with family. Part of this change comes from the fact that our last day of class before Thanksgiving is the day before Thanksgiving. Couple that with the choice between an 11 hour drive home (without holiday traffic) or a $500+ airplane ticket for only a few days visit, and staying at school sounds like a great idea. Besides, who has time for celebrating holidays anyway? A break means even more time to catch up on research! Right? Right?

Ha! Of course we celebrated. The first few years here I ate at a friend's house with a slew of other grad students, and this year my house hosted the party. The great thing about grad student Thanksgiving is that it's potluck. The bad thing about hosting is that it means you are in charge of the turkey!

Fortunately for us, the Internet is there to help and mothers are only a phone call away. Not only did we not set the turkey on fire, it actually turned out quite well! We (myself and the 2 housemates who were in town) also made mashed potatoes, biscuits, cranberry relish, apple pie, and stuffing. Everything was from scratch except the stuffing (because really, who can tell the difference anyway?). Everyone who came brought at least one side dish and/or drinks, and we had lots of help setting everything up just before eating. Not to mention that the first few people who arrived were put to work cutting apples for the pies!

Potluck Thanksgiving really is the best type of Thanksgiving. Not only are you not responsible for creating an entire meal in a single kitchen, but you have the chance to try food that others like and enjoy making, some of which you may have never before eaten! One of the best statistics about our group was that out of the 10 of us, only 4 were Americans! I should have invented some interesting tradition and made them all take part in it....

One of the other great things about grad student Thanksgiving is that you make the rules. It's like having family over, except that nobody fights about what to do. We decided to play Cranium, which was a blast. Although, the trivia was so incredibly simplistic that answering a red card was kin enough to cheating. Of course the foreign students had the hardest time with the game as it was all American trivia, or "act like this famous American that even some Americans don't know"...but my team (2 foreigners + me) was very proud of me when I knew that Transformers was the show were the leader was Optimus Prime! Everyone had fun despite the some of the boys being very competitive (I thought I said this was better than a family gathering??), so I would call it a hit.

I do miss spending the holiday with family, but our way is still fun. In a sense you can be even more thankful for family when they are a phone call away and not an elbow away! In all seriousness though, I hope to have Thanksgiving with my family again soon, but until then I will happily enjoy the time with my fellow academic sufferers.

Oh, and aren't you jealous that as grad students we can actually fit 10 people into our kitchen relatively comfortably along with all of the food? I knew you would be.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Doodle me this

This semester I've been introduced to an amazingly useful website called Doodle. Doodle has made planning an event incredibly easier. You can use it to determine what time everyone wants to go to a movie, what movie they want to watch, etc. After you set it up via 3 easy and intuitive steps, you only have to share the URL to the poll with your friends and they can give you their preferences on whatever you are trying to decide. They can also edit their responses without registering or doing anything special.

Although this site has been fabulous to use, there are a few things that bother me. For instance, anyone can edit any entry into the poll. Hopefully you are only using Doodle to schedule an event among people who are unlikely to be underhanded, so it shouldn't be an issue. I would assume that no one would use the site for something important (in the grand scheme of things), but it's still possible. On the flip side, many people do not seem to realize they can edit or delete their entries as the links are on the top left side while the poll itself is on the bottom. I would love to see a slightly more intuitive link placement.

I was also surprised when I entered 6:00, 7:00, and 8:00 as my labels and then in the poll ended up with 6:00 AM, 7:00 AM, and 8:00 AM. If I had been thinking I would have realized that since they are trying to interpret my input into times that such a thing would happen, but being from the USA I didn't really think about it (come on, who really thinks in military time?). For the poll I was creating it would have been obvious that they were meant to be PM times if no label had been added, but oh well. I don't think this is necessarily something that they have done wrong, but it would be nice if there was some explicit statement that AM and PM would be tacked on to the input for those of us multitasking like mad and therefore not really thinking things through.

So, what's the point? You should use Doodle! Especially if you need to schedule a movie outing among many people and you aren't particular on the time or day. Or really, any time you need to schedule anything in grad school among more than 3 people you should use Doodle and save yourself a headache. It even tallies each option for you so it's easy to see the most popular one! With all of the organizing I do throughout the year, this site may become my new best friend.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

What was the paper about that thing I read last year?

As a graduate student, I often find myself reading papers, books, etc. Unfortunately, I have also found myself trying to remember in what paper I read a particular fact, where I saved the paper (in either paper or electronic form), or why/when/if I even read a specific paper that's lying on my desk.

At first I took notes in my paper notebook, which I highly do NOT recommend. Not only is it harder to find the notes later, it's harder to read part of a paper and then come back. It's unlikely that the estimate you make about how much more paper you need will actually be correct. It also doesn't help in the slightest toward keeping the papers you've read organized.

After that failure I started keeping notes on the computer. I tried Word and OneNote, and found that OneNote was relatively good for organizing. I could organize papers based on their topic by tab, and by paper via pages. This way worked fine for a little while, but then it became a bit cumbersome especially as I started using multiple computers. It also was not ideal as it didn't allow for a paper to fit into more than one category, nor did it allow for viewing a simple list of previously read papers.

I had heard of citation managers that other students were using on their computers, but many had complaints about them. It still would not solve the problem of multiple computers, as most were still just regular computer programs.

A few months ago I was talking with another grad student about how I needed to find a good citation manager, and luck would have it that he had just started using one that he loved. This particular citation manager is called Aigaion and is web based, coded in PHP. Since I already have a web domain that allows PHP, setting it up was a snap. I can create nested topics, assign any topics to a particular paper, write comments about a paper, and upload the pdf file or link to it. Searching is simple, and I can also export to BibTeX if I need a list of papers for LaTeX.

Unfortunately I still haven't finished putting all of my previously read papers in the system. However, I'm still impressed with how instantly organized I am just by uploading papers and categorizing them. I highly recommend Aigaion if you are looking for a way to organize papers, books, etc. I'm sure there are other similar programs, but so far I have only used this one and have used it successfully.

I'm almost speechless....so I'm going to ramble for awhile...

This is so incredibly wrong on so many levels.

The sheer idea of a family trying to sabotage a teenage girl online makes my skin burn. A mother helped create a fake MySpace profile so that she could see what a teenage girl down the street was saying about her own daughter. Then her and her daughter talked to the teenager as if they were some new person in the area that wanted to be her friend. After the fake person and the teen had become good friends, they told her they had heard she was mean and that they didn't want to be her friend anymore, then posted demeaning things about her online such as statements that she was a slut. As far as the girl knew, she had just lost a new friend and people were talking about her behind her back. She committed suicide that night, age 13.

Whether or not she had killed herself in the end, how could an adult not realize how wrong it was to purposefully try to upset and trick a child? Even if the teenager hadn't had depression to begin with, how devastating is it to be told that you are cruel and a bad friend when all you are trying to do is be yourself, fit in, and make friends? From my experience, adults tend to think children are "cruel" because they misunderstand their motivations and think them to be much more conniving than they are. Usually the kids are just making mistakes on interactions with others because they are still learning. It's a shame that a parent would treat a child as an adult, make such a poor decision on how to deal with what was probably a fight between two kids, responding is such a way that is not ever appropriate.

What is the world coming to that even an adult can be so vindictive and mean? Since when is such horrible ill-spirited trickery OK? How incredibly heartless.

Friday, November 16, 2007

Mom, get off the phone!

comic from xkcd.com


A recent study has (unsurprisingly) discovered that teens use IM more than adults, apparently to avoid embarrassing themselves. Afraid Johnny won't want to go out on a date with you? Just IM him, and then close the window if he says "no." That way he won't see you get embarrassed and you can run away. One kid broke up with his girlfriend this way, which he claims probably saved him from bodily harm (haha). Does anyone else think that maybe the phone would have accomplished that same goal without being completely impersonal?

I think one of the main reasons that teens prefer personal conversations to be on instant messenger instead of the phone or in person is that they can't be easily overheard. At school or around town, if a kid makes a fool of him/herself many of his/her peers or complete strangers will witness it. For a teenager, that is potentially devastating (even if only in his/her own mind). At home one's parents or sibling could overhear any spoken conversation, which takes away one's privacy. For a teenager this is of course not acceptable, as obviously parents have no right to know what their kids say to their friends. So I don't think that teens necessarily want to avoid embarrassment with the people they talk to on IM, but that they want to keep other people from knowing of their embarrassment. Because, like, you know, that would be totally uncool.

Too Perfect not to share

As everyone knows, script writers in the USA are currently striking. How can they possibly get their message out? Certainly not by writing a show about their plight and performing it themselves. Oh wait...they actually know how to make a point, how to make jokes, and how to communicate! But certainly they wouldn't use their skills to fight for their own rights or make fun of their bosses, would they?

Well, why not? Looks like someone did write a script and someone else actually owns a camera. As one of my friends said, "Here's your moment of Zen:"



Goooooooooooooooooooooooooo, YouTube!

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Crazy? No.... Revolutionary!

Of all the articles I've seen related to the dates of presidential primaries, I have to mostly agree with a recent commentary article on CNN.

The writer Roland Martin makes a lot of points that seem valid if sometimes flippant. For instance, why should are Iowa and New Hampshire be first? Did their governors beat the other governors at chess? Were they the big bullies of the early government? I'd like to quickly quote the article:


"But that respect for tradition -- Iowa and New Hampshire have always been first in line -- has gone out the window, and the Republican and Democratic national committees have struggled to keep order.

Folks, this cat is out of the bag, and it's never going to be the same again. And frankly, it shouldn't." -- Roland Martin, CNN


Of course, my main issue has nothing against Iowa or New Hampshire. It doesn't really matter to me who the first 2 states are. Although I agree that it is going to quickly get out of hand with states changing their dates like kids trying to be first in the lunch line. However, I also agree that in the end forcing change may be for the best. I'm not a political scientist but I feel like the long primary time span was designed so that candidates had time to travel around the country in an era where airplanes weren't exactly commonplace. Do we have that problem now? No. Do we need to have candidates travel to Iowa for those people to see them debate? No. We have TVs, radios, and Internet. Word travels exponentially faster than it did when the primaries first started. So why are we still doing things the way they were done hundreds of years ago? Since when was the status quo the best way to do things? (Ah yes, my liberal strain emerges...)

Mr. Martin seems of the opinion that having all primaries at the same time would just be crazy. But why? I think it's a great idea (revolutionary, even!). Now no state will heavily influence the voters in other states. Everyone will actually vote for who they want to win, as opposed to who they think has the best chance of winning. *gasp* People actually making decisions for themselves? I know that is actually a crazy idea, but I have a hunch that if the media was forced to focus on all candidate's platforms more than who won Iowa or New Hampshire, it might actually work better...besides, it's only the delegates that really have a say in the end anyway, so why not give it a shot?

Sunday, November 04, 2007

The Place I Love, that Bleeds Orange and Maroon

At the end of May Tim and I started a road trip across country. We began in New England, drove down to VA, drove across I-40, and then up to San Francisco. I continued on to WA afterward for my summer internship, whereas Tim stayed in Palo Alto for his own experience with getting paid.

Although the first few stops were to see family and old friends (including a friend of mine's wedding), our first stop after the trip truly began was in Blacksburg. I hadn't been back since the summer after I graduated, so I certainly wasn't going to miss the opportunity.

bikes

Since we were short on time, we decided to bike around campus. Conveniently we had both of our bikes on the back of my car. The ironic part about this aspect of the adventure is that I have never biked in Blacksburg. When I lived in the dorms I walked, which made sense given all of the stairs, hills, and winter weather. When I lived off campus I took the bus, drove, or walked to get to campus and then walked around throughout the day. Thanks to the speed of biking I was able to show Tim much of campus in only a few short hours, including the duck pond where we sat for a rest. I certainly didn't sit around campus enough when I was in school.

Stadium sign

The last time I was at VT, the stadium was undergoing renovations. The South End Zone was complete, but the West Side was still under construction including the press box. It was absolutely amazing to see the finished product. Even the sign outside is monstrous, so of course I had to stand in front of it. The end result of the construction is actually very beautiful, thanks to the design as well as our wonderful Hokie Stone. If you ever get a chance to go to a Hokie football game at Lane Stadium, be sure to check out the outside of the stadium. And of course I highly recommend attending a Hokie football game at least once in your life (preferably at least once a season, but even I can't manage that!).

memorial

Of course this was also the first time I had been to VT since the shootings in April. It was heart wrenching to walk around the memorial, and see Norris blocked off with fences, tape, and security guards. At this point they still hadn't decided what to do with it, so it could have been the last time I ever saw it standing. It was almost surreal to stand there, remembering all the times I walked through the front doors for class up on the second floor.

tree

I also showed Tim the War Memorial, and on our way over there we saw many trees tied with black, orange, and maroon ribbons. They seemed like a fitting gesture to show that the entire campus was affected, but would pull together. With the majority of students gone for the summer, it was as if they were the silent guard.

us at Torgersen Bridge

One can never visit VT without a picture at the alumni mall (Torgersen Bridge), so of course we swapped cameras with another couple that was there. Although bad things did happen at my glorious Alma Mater, the campus is still beautiful and as wonderful as I remember it being. I'm glad I was able to visit, and although it made the April events seem even more real (if that were possible) it also brought a sense of closure. I have returned, all is as well as it could be, and it will be even better next time.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Not Paying Attention, or just hoping that No one Else is?

The Onion usually writes funny stories, but one recent one has me stumped as to why they wrote it: Roomba Maker Unveils Military Robot.

So, iRobot has made military robots for years. I'm fairly sure that the military division came before the Roomba division. Maybe I'm just more aware of this fact since I'm in Computer Science or because I saw a speech and movie at Grace Hopper in 2006 by one of the founders of iRobot. But I have a feeling that it's not just Computer Scientists or Grace Hopper attendees that know about iRobot.

If so, were they just trying to poke fun of a Roomba outfitted with guns? I think I would have written it differently if they were going for that, since then maybe some of us wouldn't just assume they have no idea what they are talking about. At least then it would just be funny instead of confusing and maybe funny.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Ever heard of Charity??

Apparently it was recently discovered that a factory making clothes for GAP used child labor, which the company does not tolerate. They are taking action against the factory involved, and are pulling the piece of clothing off the shelves and will not be selling. This part I agree with, as forced child labor is basically slavery and shouldn't be tolerated nor should the company benefit from it.

However, what I disagree with is the fact that they are destroying the garments that were created by children. OK, so it's good that they aren't selling them. But destroying them? Yes, it was bad that children were forced to make them, but they are already made. Why not donate them to people who can't afford the clothing? They have piles of sweaters they can't sell, you would think that someone in the company would think about putting them to a good use. Making something good out of something bad, as the saying goes.

It seems like such a waste, and makes the company seem even more irresponsible to me. Since I don't like shopping there anyway I can't say I won't shop there anymore, but my opinion of them just dipped even lower (didn't know it was possible!).

Why I will one day be DEAF

Smoke detectors are loud. Well, VERY loud and VERY shrill. Of course I highly approve of smoke alarms that can wake you up and save your life when there is actually a fire. In fact, I sleep more soundly knowing they are there.

However, it is not very useful when they go off every few days. The past few months it has mostly been when someone is cooking, although contrary to popular belief the boys I live with actually can cook and aren't creating lots of smoke. Often there is no visible smoke or reason to suspect that smoke is being created. Sometimes, there is merely steam leaving a pot of boiling water. I suspected that it was due to crap that had fallen under (or on) the burners and henceforth burned when the burner was used, so after thoroughly cleaning the stove and finding these pieces severely damaged I bought new ones and "installed" them.

One would think that the problem would now be solved, but it is not. Last year they went off every night around 4AM for about a week when the entire house had been asleep. Creepy? yes. Useful? no. I'm not sure they would have left the house by the end of the week even if had been a real fire, they were so used to waking up and just waiting for the to shut off since nothing but unplugging them seemed to help.

I'm not sure if it's faulty wiring, ultra sensitivity, or complete randomness, but it's pretty damn annoying and loud. I know the house is old, but how can that affect smoke alarms that are younger than any of the occupants? I am starting to feel less safe, knowing that we are more likely to assume the beeping is for nothing than actually for something. Perhaps we are all turning into the stupid college kids we never quite were...

Lars and the Real Girl



Last night we saw Lars and the Real Girl. I hadn't heard about it until the day before, and the preview only made it look marginally interesting. However, this movie was absolutely hilarious. The whole theater was cracking up during much of it. Other parts were sad, touching, and otherwise dramatic. It was definitely worth seeing though. The story is fantastic, and isn't similar to any other movies that I remember. The acting is phenomenal, I really loved the reactions that all of the characters had to the girlfriend throughout the movie.

This movie is basically about a man who has been lonely and very introverted. He orders a full size love doll and then talks to it as if its alive, treating it as if it's his girlfriend. He really seems to believe she's alive, and it's very interesting to see the progression of his delusion as well as the townspeople's opinions.

If you like funny movies, romances, or especially a combination of the two, you absolutely have to see this movie. It's one of the best movie comedies I've seen for quite some time.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Madrid - Palacio Real


Palacio Real in Madrid

Palacio Real in Madrid


Our first evening in Madrid we walked around and ended up near the Palacio Real. We couldn't go in, but noticed that it was very nice architecture with golden accents (obviously). We put taking a tour on our list of possibilities for our few days there.


Inside the palace


Before we left Madrid we did indeed go on said palace tour. It was very interesting, especially because we decided to wander the palace instead of being in a tour group. This meant that we could go at our own pace, and usually ended up around a tour guide speaking a language we at least marginally understood so we could find out more if we wanted to.


Palacio Real in Madrid


As one might expect we weren't allowed to go everywhere in the palace, but we saw many different rooms including the throne room, dining room, sitting room, and a spare bedroom. The decorations were always extravagant but still beautiful.


Palacio Real in Madrid



Palacio Real in Madrid


Many of ceilings were painted with different scenes, usually related to gods or angels (And yes, in the second photo that is indeed a security camera). It was very nice to have a decent camera with me, especially when trying to zoom in on ceiling details. Even the larger rooms like the throne room had the ceiling covered in a continuous painting. Unfortunately none of the pictures in the throne room turned out well since we weren't allowed to use a flash and it was very dimly lit. Many of the people in there used a flash anyway and nothing happened except that they got yelled at, but we decided not to further increase the damage to the old items in the room. Those hooligans.


Palacio Real in Madrid


Across the courtyard from the inside rooms that we were allowed to visit was the armory. The top floor showed all of the horse armor from the many centuries, and the lower floor showed the human armor and weapons. There were some very interesting swords, and even armor for small children. It felt very much as though I had stepped onto the set of Bednobs and Broomsticks, only it was just not quite the right nationality.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Madrid - old meets new




During our Spain trip in March we also visited Madrid. I found that it was much colder there than it had been in Barcelona, that people were less likely to speak to you in English (fine by me), and that the general feeling was a little less fun and a lot more rushed.

Church in Madrid

Walking around Madrid did give me a great sense of the country's history and it's current state. It was interesting to see old buildings next to busy roads, and plazas in the middle of streets and every intersection. In the middle of the day as well as in the evening there were plenty of people bustling around.

Statues lining walkway

There were many statues throughout the city. The ones above were lining a pathway in a garden outside of the Palacio Real (the Royal Palace). Other statues were in parks, plazas, outside of museums, and outside buildings. It felt like the whole city was alive in art. I really enjoyed that aspect of the city.

lake at park
nice park area

There were also many parks in the city, but one particularly nice one. This park was quite expansive, with gardens, fountains, benches, statues, even a very old tree. It also had a lake area where people boated. This area of the park seemed very popular as there were many people walking, running, and generally enjoying themselves. Of course what would a Spanish park be without the obligatory statue? Although I was quite chilly by this point, we still spend a little while here just generally relaxing and enjoying ourselves.

glass wall

When we were walking over to the Palacio Real from a park, we crossed a bridge that had glass walls along the walkway. It's rather windy, so I definitely felt safer. But it did seem that one of the main reasons the walls were there was to help deter jumpers. I was however immediately amused by the prospect of a photo with the Madrid crest hovering in the middle on it without any editing required. Too bad I was too cold to try to take a really good one.



I really love the pictures from parks and old buildings, so I will end this post with just a series of them. One of the best parts of Madrid was the scenery, especially how parks could just randomly appear (same as statues). I could comment on all of them, but would you want that? No, I'm fairly sure you'd rather just see the pictures!







And that's the end of the short version of around the city Madrid pictures!

Watch out for falling...cameras!

Apparently at the Seahawks game on Sunday a camera almost fell on their quarterback. I know that football can be a hazard to your health, but this seems a bit silly. Who knew you needed to watch out for falling cameras? I think everyone has wondered at one point or another what would happen if a camera fell at a game. I don't know if it's happened before or not.

Apparently it fell twice before they decided to just string it up above the sideline and decommission it. At least the players were smart enough not to stand underneath of it just in case. It definitely would have been horrible if it had hurt someone. I wonder if insurance would cover that as a playing injury? Do football players even use insurance for that sort of stuff or does the team just pay for it? I have no idea.

Ironically, the quarterback it nearly hit is related to the lady on the View who is taking maternity leave now. I only know this because I was taking a break earlier this morning and read about that on MSN. I guess today is just a Hasselbeck kind of day for me.

Saturday, October 13, 2007

"Teaching" the Youth

It's great that the boxes of food that kids eat all seem to have educational material on them. Sometimes it's a puzzle, other times it's a lesson on eating healthy, and occasionally it's even a combination. Usually these box backs are more exciting than the boxes of cereal I eat, since my cereal usually tells me how I'm lowering my cholesterol by eating it.

So of course if I'm eating breakfast with a house mate and their cereal has puzzles for kids on the back, I'm going to read it. A few days ago it was exciting, because one of the puzzles was about computers! We were looking at it, and immediately noticed that one of the words to find in the word search was "softwear." Of course we were mortified, and we looked at the rest of the words to see if they were indeed talking about technology you wear, but no, they just can't spell. It was also misspelled in the word search itself.

Any spell check should be able to find this error. Even the Blogger spell check yelled at me for typing "softwear," not that I'm implying that Blogger software isn't topnotch. I hope that whoever designed this box was around the age of the target audience, both for the lack of spelling ability and for the lack of forethought in double-checking the spelling.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Paprika

On Sunday I saw Paprika at a local theater. I hadn't even heard of it before a friend asked me if I wanted to go, but I knew it was meant to be once I read the cinema's description: "In this psychedelic sci-fi adventure anime, it will take the skills of Dr. Atsuko Chiba -- a genius scientist by day, and a brawling dream warrior named Paprika by night -- to save the world when a machine that allows therapists to enter their patient's dreams is stolen."

The beginning was a little odd, but it definitely turned out to be the perfect place to start. The characters were all interesting and relatively deep for a few hours of animated film. There were great twists, wonderful artwork, and fun surprises. I really feel like it was anime at its finest, telling a compelling story that would have been much harder to accomplish in live action. One of my housemates has since been searching for the other 3 films that the director has made (all of which are advertised in Paprika), and I believe he's found at least one. I will definitely have to make time to watch it.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

New Technology Craving

I'm currently on the market for a new cell phone, and the iPhone started catching my eye this past week when I wasn't thrilled about any of the phones Verizon had to offer. It's definitely a hot piece of technology, has a nice interface, is pretty, and would make my lab mates oh so jealous. The only problem is that I've heard it's not as fast as it could be, and that AT&T's plan is not that great. I have also heard that AT&T's network is not as good as Verizon's in my area. So why would I want a phone that may only marginally function?

Well, it IS the hottest phone. And by hot I mean sexy. I haven't had a new phone in over 2 years, which for people in general I say is a great way to do it. But I do love technology, so it's kin to torture for me! Although I love my Treo, the Palm interface is getting a little old in many ways.

Unfortunately, I don't really want to be a beta tester to the iPhone and the AT&T network right now. Well, truthfully the tester in me would kill to be a tester of the iPhone, but I don't particularly have time to find and report kinks in other people's work at the moment. I do feel like for the next year or so, any owner/user of the iPhone is essentially fulfilling that role, as is usually the case with something new in the technology sphere. Although I am still happy to have been an early adopter of Windows Vista...

Wow, iPhone and Vista in the same post.

For now I think I will hold off on the iPhone, but I'm planning to visit the Apple store nearby in the next week or two so who knows what will happen then. I will definitely have more to say on the interface, size, etc. after that visit though. I wonder if it will be good or bad?

Sunday, August 19, 2007

You're breaking my heart!

I've been vaguely following the news on dog fights at Michael Vick's house this summer, as in I read the headlines and occasionally the story. The newest word on the street seems to be that he was indeed involved, and even helped kill poor performing dogs. Maybe he was killing the poor performing dogs because they were in really bad shape and it would be cruel to keep them alive? But that doesn't really help since he would have been one of the reasons they were in such a state to begin with.

Ever since Vick was at VT I've been a fan. I first saw him play when I was in high school! I found his brother Marcus to be a self-obsessed trouble maker, but Michael never seemed that way. Obviously I assumed that he had no idea about what was going on at the house, because it was definitely logical that he'd let family or friends stay there without him. It's not like he's hurting for cash. I've believed in him this whole time, and now he's letting me down??

If it turns out that he is indeed guilty, my heart will break. Well, it probably won't break completely but there will be some damage. He was such a talented player and seemed to be a nice guy at the same time! I was so proud that he had gone to my university. Are there any great football players out there who aren't letting their fame and talent go to their heads?? I'm beginning to doubt that they exist.

Of course maybe it will turn out Michael is innocent; but it sounds like they are working on a plea deal, so what are the odds? I'll keep believing until it's final, just in case. I'm sure I'm not the only Hokie that will be incredibly disappointed, although obviously we've survived much worse disappointments.

Life of the City

One of the greatest part of Barcelona is the city's pulse. Whether it's day or night, there are lots of people, interesting landmarks, and delicious food. One of my favorite parts of the city was Las Ramblas, despite the many tourist trap areas. It was just plain fun to walk along. One of the many reasons it was fun were the performers dressed as statues. I've seen this done in the states in many cities, but here they were all lined along the street, sometimes only a few feet apart. My favorite was the seaman, so I took a picture and gave him a few euros. He rung his little bell in thanks. It was awesome.

street performer as a statue


At the opposite end of Las Ramblas from Plaza Catalunya was the water. Walking over a bridge took you to a shopping mall, which was highly unexpected! Our first day there we walked across in the evening, and outside the mall was a band on stage. I have no idea who they were or what they were singing about, and we didn't stay long. But we did get to look back across as see the city lit by the moon.

Barcelona by night


Throughout the city were many statues, plazas (with statues and fountains), and old buildings. One of my favorite statues was a very high one in a plaza just before the water of Christopher Columbus. Luckily I have a 12X zoom and could get a clear shot of him.

top of Christopher Columbus statue


There were also murals, and mosaics, many of which were older than our entire country. Perhaps that's why the city seemed to have a life of it's own, because the buildings belonged there. Even in the newer developments there was a sense of belonging.



Other than people and building watching the main attraction is definitely eating. I had the best ham and cheese sandwich of my life multiple times in Barcelona, and I don't particularly like ham. Well, I don't particularly like American deli ham. I am now officially obsessed with bocadillos. Some of our lunches came from the grocery store, whereas others came from the market. El mercado puts our farmer's markets to shame, especially by the frequency of occurrence.



MMMMM....food heaven. Of course, that doesn't even touch on dinner. We had fabulous tapas, as well as late night snacks of tiny sandwiches and wine. The wine is the main focus because when we ate at Taller de Tapas we had a wine called Rey Santos. We split the entire bottle, and I may even have had more than half. If you know me, you know this never happens. But the wine was THAT GOOD. Of course we ate so much food at the same time that it hardly mattered. I was most excited by the fact that I understood most of the menu without looking at the translation, I was able to order in Spanish, and I even finally got to order that wonderous "cafe con leche" we had "ordered" all through high school Spanish class.



Oh, Barcelona, how we miss you. But we'll be back, don't you worry!

Artists and Architects

Much of what we saw in Barcelona was closely tied to either a famous artist or a famous architect. We visited a museum on Picasso, for instance, that had much of his early work. Almost every street you walked down had interesting architecture, but the Modernisme definitely provided the most interesting pieces.

As Wikipedia describes it, "The modernisme movement was centred on the city of Barcelona, and its best-known exponent was the architect Antoni Gaudí." For once, Wikipedia hits the nail right on the head with the first swing. Gaudi was both an interesting character as well as an interesting architect. It would appear that he loathed straight lines. We were lucky enough to have the time to visit two of his creations. One of which was of course Temple Expiatori de la Sagrada Família, or La Sagrada Familia as it's usually referred to.





La Sagrada Familia is a large Catholic basilica, as one with any inkling of Spanish might suspect. It was begun in 1882 and is still under construction. One side of the facade was designed and created by Gaudi (2nd picture), whereas the other side was designed by his successors (1st picture). During the Spanish Civil War both parts of the building and parts of Gaudi's plans were destroyed, but it is still beautiful. Although there are currently 8 towers, Gaudi designed it with 18.




As you can see in the photo, Gaudi's side is much more intricate. I really love this type of design, and am really impressed with how much detail is there despite the size. This is the type of man-made artifact that I could look at for a long time and not be bored. Especially with a high powered camera lens.




The inside is also quite intricate. A lot of construction is still occurring inside, but some of the stained glass windows are already completed. Just imagine what the inside would look like if every window had the colored glass seen in the photo (these windows repeat throughout the large room). Even the ceiling has a sparkling gold design, although in the picture above it has not yet been put on the star-like patterns.




Further North is Parc Guell, another Modernisme design. There are gardens and buildings, including an open area where many kids were playing soccer (ok, "futbol"). We visited right after seeing La Sagrada Familia, and noticed Gaudi's mark immediately.




Of course, he did more than design cathedrals and build parks before being hit by a streetcar in 1926. Unfortunately, we only had but so much time to explore his work. I do recommend seeing both of these sites if you find yourself in Barcelona, even if you don't think you appreciate architecture. Maybe by the time you make it there another tower or two will be up at La Sagrada Familia.




And please don't forget: all images are copyright to the photographer, and if you want to use it you should ask first and cite.

Barcelona - The city of my dreams

I just discovered that I never posted ANYTHING about my fabulous Spain trip in March. Granted we were only there a week, but I still managed to take over 2GB worth of pictures. :)

The main reason I am shocked by this discovery is that Barcelona is one of my new favorite places in the entire world. I loved the vibe of the city, and I especially loved people watching. Everyone seemed to have their own sense of style, and were very determined to show that off to the world. There was hustle and bustle, but yet it was still relaxed. Seeing all of these modern people surrounded by beautiful architecture was heaven.

Granted, Barcelona represents the first European city that I have spent more than an airplane switch in, so as far as Europeans are concerned I don't have much to compare to. I can however say that I enjoyed Barcelona much more than I enjoyed Madrid, and would happily move there. It probably helped that between Tim and I we remembered enough Spanish from high school to get by...although I think I was better at understanding other people, whereas Tim was better at actually speaking. That just means I'll have to bring him along on the next trip! I have a feeling that will work out just fine.

One of the most interesting parts of visiting Spain was to finally see all of the places that came up in Spanish class: Plaza Catalunya, Palacio Real, Museo National del Prado, Sagrada Familia. I really wish the trip had been closer to a month instead of an unsatisfying 7 days. I also wish I'd been practicing my Spanish the past 6 years so that I was actually still close enough to fluent to have a conversation.

Since I want to share photos, there will be many more Spain posts coming soon!

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Hairspray - A Fun Movie

I saw Hairspray a little over a week ago with my officemate, and we were cracking up almost the entire movie. Although there are a few parts that are definite social commentary from the era, overall the movie is very funny. There are great one liners such as "Oh, so you've met my mom," but you'll have to watch the movie to find out why that's so funny.

I never saw it on Broadway (although I wanted to!), so I can't make a comparison. But overall it was highly entertaining and I walked away feeling energized and wanting to dance good 'ol dance like the lawn mower, the shopping cart, and the sprinkler. Which of course reminds me of all the fun half-time shows we did in college with those dance moves in the middle. That's how you get Lane Stadium energized!

But back on track...you should see the movie. Even if you are one of those silly people that don't like musicals, you will be entertained. Many of the singing parts are funny just because of the context when they burst into song. I don't know that I'd watch it again and again, but if you want a fun-loving movie this is the one for you.

Monday, July 23, 2007

Thank you, J.K. Rowling

I finished Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows in less than 24 hours, and it was fabulous. It was so much more than I expected, and I expected a lot. I loved how the stories were woven together, and how well the small details from previous books fit into this one. I will definitely be reading it again before the end of the summer, it's a phenomenal story. All of the time spent re-reading the previous books before this one was released was well worth it, and I know I appreciate this book so much more for having those details fresh.

So thank you J.K. Rowling for giving us this fabulous world to delve into, and nicely rounding out the story of the majority of the characters. It was a fulfilling end.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Something more important than anything else I've ever posted

I will preface this post by saying that I find it despicable that people can still act this way. I find it so hard to comprehend how someone could so despise another human being just because he or she is different from them. I truly feel that this is the greatest flaw in human beings, and the main reason horrible things happen in our world.

------------------------

Dear friend,

I just learned about a case of segregation-era oppression happening today in Jena, Louisiana. I signed onto ColorOfChange.org's campaign for justice in Jena, and wanted to invite you to do the same.

Go to the official website to find out more

Last fall in Jena, the day after two Black high school students sat beneath the "white tree" on their campus, nooses were hung from the tree. When the superintendent dismissed the nooses as a "prank," more Black students sat under the tree in protest. The District Attorney then came to the school accompanied by the town's police and demanded that the students end their protest, telling them, "I can be your best friend or your worst enemy... I can take away your lives with a stroke of my pen."

A series of white-on-black incidents of violence followed, and the DA did nothing. But when a white student was beaten up in a schoolyard fight, the DA responded by charging six black students with attempted murder and conspiracy to commit murder.

It's a story that reads like one from the Jim Crow era, when judges, lawyers and all-white juries used the justice system to keep blacks in "their place." But it's happening today. The families of these young men are fighting back, but the story has gotten minimal press. Together, we can make sure their story is told and that the Governor of Louisiana intervenes and provides justice for the Jena 6. It starts now. Please join me:

Go to the official website to see what you can do

The noose-hanging incident and the DA's visit to the school set the stage for everything that followed. Racial tension escalated over the next couple of months, and on November 30, the main academic building of Jena High School was burned down in an unsolved fire. Later the same weekend, a black student was beaten up by white students at a party. The next day, black students at a convenience store were threatened by a young white man with a shotgun. They wrestled the gun from him and ran away. While no charges were filed against the white man, the students were later arrested for the theft of the gun.

That Monday at school, a white student, who had been a vocal supporter of the students who hung the nooses, taunted the black student who was beaten up at the off-campus party and allegedly called several black students "nigger." After lunch, he was knocked down, punched and kicked by black students. He was taken to the hospital, but was released and was well enough to go to a social event that evening.

Six Black Jena High students, Robert Bailey (17), Theo Shaw (17), Carwin Jones (18), Bryant Purvis (17), Mychal Bell (16) and an unidentified minor, were expelled from school, arrested and charged with second-degree attempted murder. The first trial ended last month, and Mychal Bell, who has been in prison since December, was convicted of aggravated battery and conspiracy to commit aggravated battery (both felonies) by an all-white jury in a trial where his public defender called no witnesses. During his trial, Mychal's parents were ordered not to speak to the media and the court prohibited protests from taking place near the courtroom or where the judge could see them.

Mychal is scheduled to be sentenced on July 31st, and could go to jail for 22 years. Theo Shaw's trial is next. He will finally make bail this week.

The Jena Six are lucky to have parents and loved ones who are fighting tooth and nail to free them. They have been threatened but they are standing strong. We know that if the families have to go it alone, their sons will be a long time coming home. But if we act now, we can make a difference.

Join me in demanding that Louisiana Governor Kathleen Blanco get involved to make sure that justice is served for Mychal Bell, and that DA Reed Walters drop the charges against the 5 boys who have not yet gone to trial.

Official website - http://www.colorofchange.org/jena/?id=1912-199742

Thanks.

Friday, July 20, 2007

Harry Potter Book #7 Predictions

Ok, so there are lots of things that have been going through my mind about what might happen in Book #7. From re-reading all of the books over the course of a month, it becomes very apparent how much foreshadowing J.K. Rowling does books ahead of time. Therefore, I am racking my brain to figure out what events have been hinted at but have not yet occurred. Sorry for any Harry Potter related mis-spellings, I don't have a book on me to look them up.

Harry: Harry will not die. It doesn't seem like it would make any sense with all of the work she's put into the character. If he dies I will be completely shocked. I bet he will use Dumbledore's pensieve to help him accomplish his task, however. I also bet that his chosen profession will either be auror, professor, or Quidditch player, depending on how vanquishing Voldemort goes.

Ron and Hermione: I also think it unlikely that they will both die. I think there's a chance that one of them will at least be attacked and almost killed...but at most one will die, and I'm betting on neither. But I am also betting on injuries for both. Also, I expect that Hermione will be a lot of the brains behind finding the Horcruxes.

Complete Theory #1 on who will Die: At least 1 Weasley will die. Although Mr. Weasley talks in book #6 about how half of their family owes Harry their lives, which may imply that the other half will in the end as well, I think they are such major characters and so close to Harry that it is unlikely that they will all survive. My first inclination is that it will be Ginny. Also, nothing has happened yet with the fact that Mrs. Weasley's greatest fear is the death of her family members and Harry (see via the Boggart in book #5). I also suspect that Draco may be killed by Voldemort or at least punished for not killing Dumbledore himself. Either Draco or Snape will surely die by the end of the book to satisfy the vengeance everyone feels toward the killers of Dumbledore.

Complete Theory #2 on who will Die: Throughout the series Harry consistently loses the adults that have acted like parents to him: his actual parents, Sirius, and Dumbledore. He even states so himself at the end of book #6. However, in book #6 he erroneously states that he's lost every parent figure he's still had. He does still have Mr. and Mrs. Weasley though, and to some extent he has Hagrid. I therefore suspect that at least one of the Weasley parents will die in book #7. I mostly think it will be Mrs. Weasley who is killed while trying to save someone else, especially since all of her family was killed the last time Voldemort was alive. This all also relates to the fact that nothing has happened yet about Mrs. Weasley's boggart. If only Mrs. Weasley does and not Mr. Weasley, then the 2nd death will probably be a member of the order...probably Lupin because he hasn't been looking well and Fenrir Greyback will know he's in the order now that he fought at Hogwarts in book #6, and he and Tonks are finally together despite him saying it won't work. Poor Lupin, he might even get killed by non-Death eaters who fear he's with Voldemort just because he's a werewolf. :(

Dating: Obviously Ron & Hermione will finally get all of that figured out, and from the end of book #6 it looks like Neville and Luna will be together as well. If Ginny survives until the end, she and Harry will be re-united.

Horcruxes: The locket that RAB (Regulus Black) stole from the cave is at Grimold Place. I assume that Harry will not realize this until at least halfway through the book, unless he forces Kreacher to tell him of anything like it in the house. Another Horcux may be hidden at Hogwarts, which could have been a reason for Voldemort to visit Dumbledore to request a teaching position. He only needed to enter the building to hide it, maybe in the Room of Requirement?

House Elves: They will be put to use somehow by Harry, and Hermione will somehow secure freedom for at least one of them in the end. Harry will probably grudgingly need to use Kreacher at least once, and Kreacher will probably betray him at some point.

Magical Creatures: Throughout the books, every creature discussed in Defense Against the Dark Arts and Care of Magical Creatures has come up again. It's a great way to explain to the reader what a creature is early on, and then just reference it at an exciting point in the book. I haven't had time to note if any creatures haven't been seen that were mentioned...but I bet that most things that they meet they will have heard about at school already, even in passing. I also bet the pixies will somehow be utilized (or at least I hope they will be).

Wormtail: He still owes Harry for saving his life, and this may be the only reason Harry is able to kill Lord Voldemort. That silver hand he was given at the end of book #4 is going to have to be special in some way; Voldemort says he hopes he will be a better wizard, so perhaps it increases his magic abilities or decreases his clumsiness. If so, it will give him the power to help kill Lord Voldemort because he was never really loyal to him anyway.

Other Ideas:
I have an inkling that Voldemort or Death Eaters may show up wherever Harry is the second he comes of age, as Dumbledore's enchantment will wear off at that point (assuming it is still in effect now that he is dead, which I am unsure of).

I hope that Harry will use his ability to speak Parseltongue in some way that allows him to gain advantage on his enemies, or even to eavesdrop. I also hope that Harry will become better at occlumency because it drives me crazy that he still hasn't bothered.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Harry Potter: Order of the Phoenix

Some co-workers and I attended the opening night of Harry Potter on July 10, despite a 9AM meeting the next morning. It was an interesting experience...but I'm glad I did it no matter how I feel about the movie. I've had a week now to think about how I feel on the movie, and I'm still disgruntled.

OK, so the book dragged on a bit, I understand that. I also understand that things get cut for movies. But that's no excuse to try to re-write the entire story when making the movie. I have no problem with changes that enhance the story or adapt it to the movie format, as many things that happen in books are ill-suited to film. But why was every scene very different? Why were characters changed? Why was there such a focus on Umbridge to the point that Ron and Hermione don't even seem like main characters? Why were all of my favorite scenes ruined?

And the biggest question of all: why did someone decide that the movie didn't need to flow, and that cutting from scene to scene with no explanation was a good idea?

I have 2 main issues that stem from these questions. The first issue is that many changes from the book were less creative and interesting than how Rowling did it. The second issue is that much of the movie would have been impossible to understand or follow if I hadn't read the book, which I can say because people with me who had not read the book were lost by the end.

On the positive side, I think the acting was superb, the shooting was excellent, and the scenes were well laid out. It's just a shame they couldn't find a way to make those scenes flow better. Although I think there were many excellent shots, it did feel a bit like one giant montage.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Harry Potter Oddities

While re-reading all of the Harry Potter books over the last month, I've noticed little things here and there that don't quite mesh up. Some of them are not listed here because J.K. Rowling explains them away on her website. Although I did not do a thorough search there for the ones below, I don't think they've been addressed:

Book 2: Percy docks points from Griffindor when Ron and Harry exit a girls bathroom (Moaning Myrtle's)
Book 5: Hermione points out to Malfoy that prefects can't take points away from houses

Book ?(multiple): Harry references when he first met Draco on the Hogwarts train
Book 1: Harry first meets Draco at the robe store

Book 6: The library fails Hermione for "the first time" when looking for Horcruxes
Book 4: The library actually fails Hermione for the first time when trying to figure out how Harry can breathe under water

I'm not quite done re-reading Book 6, so I will edit this post (with a note) if I realize any more oddities.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Nancy Drew

I saw the Nancy Drew movie yesterday, and it was surprisingly good! I read many of the books when I was younger (at least a decade ago), so I only remembered that she tended to get herself into tough situations, and her father was a lawyer. My officemate re-read one of the books yesterday morning, and assured me that the books were actually horrible in that people reacted in totally unrealistic ways. The movie kept true to that theme, and was very enjoyable because of it.

Overall, it was quite hilarious. Many funny things happen as this awkward girl from a small town tries to adjust to living in LA. There is also suspense in trying to determine what the solution to the mystery is. The audience can make a few guesses just because there are only so many characters involved, but you don't know until near the end which guess is right. Although it does have some short suspenseful moments, it's definitely appropriate for older kids since there is barely any actual violence, and common sense tells you that the main characters will be OK in the end.

As a former Nancy Drew fan, I was very pleased with the movie. I was worried that it would be horribly cheesy, but it really wasn't. Even if you never read Nancy Drew, you should definitely watch this movie because it has a good story and actually keeps you interested the entire time.

I recently found out that there are some old black and white Nancy Drew movies. I wonder how those are?

SI's best football uniforms

Sports Illustrated just released their Best College Football Uniform List to counteract their worst football list of last week. I can easily agree with some of the uniforms that are there, such as USC and Texas. But it seems that their definition of "best uniform" is primarily based on whether or not they have a dark muted color, and the level of boredom the uniform causes you (the more the better). Apparently the blue Notre Dame uniform is infinitely better than the green Notre Dame uniform.

So what truly defines "better" for these uniforms? I would wager that a good uniform would be defined as using the school's colors wisely, being pleasing to the eye, and having a modern look. Obviously I don't work for SI. My main wonder is why Michigan made the "best" list and Delaware made the "worst" list. Granted, Michigan's uniform is slightly more pleasing with the gold over the yellow, but the differences are not vast enough for one to be in the top 10 and the other to be in the bottom 10. Maybe if there were only 20 teams in college football I'd buy that, but we all know the truth of that statement.

Also, how could someone call a football uniform one of the best when there is no school logo on the helmet? Half of those uniforms could belong to any team with those general colors.

I wonder how they chose their rankings from 1 to 10 after determining their top 10. As far as I can tell, they were drawn out of a hat. Or maybe 10 people were ranked in their order of importance and they each got to choose who were the top 10 and bottom 10 based on their personal order. I was hoping that the best uniform list would be different enough from the worst uniform list to shed some light on their formula, but as I've elaborated on above we had no such luck. Although I think they nailed Texas and USC as being great uniforms, I have no idea why they ranked USC at the bottom of their "best" list.

I wonder if SI is stuck in the past enough that anything that appears "classic" is obviously "good." Maybe SI needs some new blood. Or maybe they just need to hire more women in general (and I don't mean in a bikini context). But that's another topic altogether, I suppose.

If I was choosing a team to cheer for based on uniform alone, I would choose Clemson (worst list, #7) over Wofford (best list, #6) any day.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Is that the worst you can find?

Sport's Illustrated has released their Top 10 Worst College Football Uniforms, and I have to say that I'm rather disappointed in SI, and quite pleased with college football.

Overall, the uniforms they show are not that bad from either an aesthetic point or a school spirit point of view. Some of them are indeed God-awful, like Delaware, Notre Dame, Air Force, and the old Oregon uniforms. But apparently SI has a thing against too much of one color. Did they miss the point that it's all about school spirit and being proud of your school colors? Yes, many of them could be better designed, and its apparent that most of the uniforms have probably been around since the late 90's, but most of them don't look that bad. I think a proper title would have been "Oldest-Looking College Football Uniforms."

As far as the new Oregon uniforms go, I like them. Coming from a school that is orange and maroon, I have to say that they did orange well. They have a nice modern design over the shoulders, and don't have too much of any color (which should have made SI happy!). It's a nice young look, which is great for a college team.

Sure, I may not be a fashion designer, but I guarantee the people that wrote that SI article aren't either.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Once a Hokie, Always a Hokie

I have no idea who made this image, if you know please tell me


The past week has been so very rough for all of us due to the shootings on my beloved Virginia Tech campus. I am happy to report that no one I knew was injured or killed, including my brother, although many of my friends' friends were not so lucky. Whenever I check Facebook I see messages about dead friends from those on my friends list, and new groups in honor of the victims, the administration, and the school. There is so much grief, but yet there is a determination and spirit as well. Nikki Giovanni was so right when she said We are Virginia Tech. We will prevail!

Maybe someone from another school wouldn't see it or understand it, but you don't stop being a Hokie when you graduate. You don't stop being a Hokie if you drop out. You don't even have to go to VT to be a Hokie. And as was demonstrated in a horrible way on Monday, you don't stop being a Hokie even in death. Virginia Tech For Life is an alumni motto, but I think Virginia Tech for Life and Beyond might be a better fitting one. You know what we say: If God isn't a Hokie, why do the leaves turn orange and maroon?.

Being so far from home when something like this happens it just terrible. I want to be able to go to the vigils at VT and support my Hokies. Even though I didn't lose anyone I knew, I still lost members of my Hokie Family. My friends are suffering, and I can't be there for them. I spoke to my mother on instant messenger for hours last Monday as she filled me in on details that she got on the local news before they reached me on the Internet or TV. I checked up on people via Facebook because cellphones weren't always working, and I don't have everyone's number anyway.

At the vigil, I'm sure it's copyrighted to the newspaper but it's me so they can deal


It has been wonderful to see such support from around the country though. At my current school we had a vigil on Thursday night to honor the victims and help everyone find some peace. It was fabulous to see such a great turnout, and to meet other Hokies that were also so far from home. We all cried (at least we alumni did), there was beautiful music, and everyone had the chance to write a note to send to VT. My boyfriend wrote "I never knew what true school spirit was until I met a Virginia Tech graduate." and then continued about how VT would prevail and survive. That touched me so much, especially because it was straight from his heart.

Also, last Friday was Hokie Hope Day, also called Orange and Maroon Effect Day, and was devised by VT alumni. It was great to see the word spread through the internet and finally through the Alumni Association. Many people in my department wore maroon and/or orange to show their support, and it truly touched my heart.

The world lost many wonderful people last Monday, and the world continues to grieve. I am happy to say a week later that the healing has begun. Although it will be difficult for a long time for those that lost loved ones and friends, they will pull through. It is a tragedy that something so horrible could happen to such a wonderful university, but Virginia Tech has a community that will pull together and rally. They will support each other, even as the alumni support them with our thoughts and prayers from far away. Virginia Tech is not weak enough to fall by the actions of one man. Although there is much heartache, confusion, and disbelief, one day the Hokie Nation will return to normal. We will never forget, and our mourning will last for a long time, but we will triumph over our fears and sadness.

We are Virginia Tech, and We will prevail!

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Jet Airways - Flying in India

When I went to India in January, I chose Jet Air as my domestic flight provider despite a few negative comments. I am glad that I made that decision (even if it was based on price) as it was a great experience.

Overall, my flights (Mumbai -> Hyderabad, and Hyderabad -> Delhi) were on time. A friend of mine flew Hyderabad -> Delhi on Spice Jet, and his flight was about 4 hours late. I've heard that SpiceJet is relatively cheap because all of the businessmen fly it on a regular basis, but that flights to Delhi in the evening are usually late due to compounded delays over the course of the day.

One of my favorite parts about Jet Air was the fact that we had hot meals both times, even though one of the trips was only about an hour. Each meal had a hot entree, bread (usually naan), and some sides. They were very filling! On each flight there was also the choice of juice or bottled water, and the meal came with hot tea.

The service seemed so much better than on US domestic flights. The meal was hot, in real dishes, and was free for even a short flight. In the US, you'd be happy just to get a pack of peanuts! Not to mention the fact that in the US you frequently are stuck with none of your flights offering a meal as you fly across the country (as I've mentioned before). Indians definitely have better comfort when it comes to flying on small planes. Granted, the seats are a bit cramped, but are equivalent to many US flights.

Marie Antoinette - Was there a Point?

Ever since I saw the first preview, I wanted to see Marie Antoinette. The preview convinced me that although it would be a movie filled with rich people having fun and wearing expensive clothes, it would still have an interesting story to tell about the title character.

However, I was sadly mistaken. Halfway through the movie I was ready for it to end; my roommate, who had seen it the night before, laughed that I didn't make it as far into the movie as she did. Luckily it was a rented DVD, so I just hit the fast forward button until it looked like they were talking or advancing the storyline. I contribute my ability to get to the end of the movie to the ability to fast forward at a designated speed.

Granted, I tend to get easily impatient with movies; I know a movie is good if I can manage to sit through it without constantly checking my watch for the last half. Or fast-forwarding, if it's rented. Much of Marie Antoinette was only reinforcing the fact that she was a spoiled woman, who did what she wanted and spent money she didn't have. So many facts about the real person were only barely noticeable, assuming the viewer was already aware of them (like the fact that she never wore the same dress twice). Much of the movie was just watching her lie around, or play games. Of course, the first third of the movie had the tension of whether or not she would convince her husband to consummate the marriage, but this part of the plot can only hold a viewer's attention for so long.

After they have a child is a good point to begin fast-forwarding until the end. The rest of the movie after this point is just Marie and her friends having fun. Much of the movie doesn't even have dialogue; although many movies can tell a great story without a large amount of dialogue (Amelie, anyone?), this one merely stagnates. There is an interesting love scene though, so if you want to see Kirsten Dunst without many clothes on this part of the movie will help you in that respect.

I did enjoy seeing all of the costumes designed for the movie, so if you are interested in old clothing then the movie will be fun throughout. Other than the exciting dresses, shoes, and hats (I wish I could wear a boat in my hair!), the last 30 minutes (maybe less?) has actual excitement as the French Revolution begins. If only more of the movie concentrated on this one part!

Another problem I have with the movie is the fact that Marie seems like a completely clueless but possibly extremely nice person. Her personality comes off as almost non-existent, except for the few times it seems that she enjoys thrills that save her from her "boring" life. Her husband seems like a dolt, but at least the character seems to have a little depth.

Why did I spent part of my Saturday evening watching this movie?