Monday, December 27, 2004

Streets of Bangkok

First of all I want to let everyone know that I'm alive and well. I was here in Bangkok when the quake/tsunamis occurred a few days ago so I avoided all of nature's fury much further to the south and in fact was completely oblivious to it all until late that day when passing a TV at a local shopping mall. Very sad occurrence.

Otherwise I'm doing very well. I spent most of the morning wandering the streets of Bangkok simply taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of a city, a way of life far different from my own. Most of the street vendors nearby have set up "shop" for the day and are peddling things from amulets and assorted trinkets to foods of all types. I was quite happy to discover a fantastic western-style coffee house just around the corner from where I'm now staying so my caffeine addiction is sated, at least for now. May wander back down that way sometime in the early afternoon to finish a few more postcards or just watch the river traffic while enjoying an early afternoon coffee. It was quite nice there this morning, seated on the riverside patio watching river traffic of all sorts move up, down, and across the river.

The number and variety of street vendors are one of the most remarkable observations of Thailand thus far, particularly those selling food. Most of my meals have come from such vendors and the quality of food is exceptional in terms of price and quality, as long as one overlooks some of the potentially less than sanitary elements. Given my public health background/educational training, I've been cautious when dining in such a manner, but not to the point where I deprive myself of what may be some of the best food I've ever tried. Seemingly the basic criteria for a good street vendor meal are few: a moblie cart, a heating source, and a few basic ingredients. So far I've suffered no ill effects that I'm aware of, but again, I am going about this will a little caution.

One little thing of note is that my love of hot, spicy food has served me well here. It seems that many Thais are not accustomed to a Westerner being able to tolerate the hot and spicy food preferred by natives. I've managed just fine and have outdone some of my Thai acquaintances in this respect. It's kind of amusing that they show such concern over this Farang (foreigner) encountering a dish that may do him in ("No..too spicy for you. Order something else."). But this has yet to happen and by now I doubt it will.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

Chiang Mai

It's around 4:30pm on Tuesday, December 21. I am sitting in a small Internet cafe just across the street from the Royal Princess Hotel in Chiang Mai. We arrived here just a few hours ago having opted to fly (one hour) instead of drive (six hours) or take the train (12 hours) from Bangkok. As Fate would have it, there is a Starbucks RIGHT NEXT to the hotel so I am happy, particularly having suffered through a few cups of instant coffee over the last few days. But still, instant coffee is better than no coffee at all, right? And this is also the first opportunity I've had to go online since arrival.

The flights from Norfolk to Bangkok went well, though the haul between Chicago and Tokyo was wretchedly long and tedious. We arrived around 10:30pm on Sunday night and had a very full day yesterday including a return trip to the airport late to collect our baggage which somehow was lost in transit. So as for a brief summary of recent events: lots of temple touring yesterday as well as just getting familiarized with Bangkok in general. Very interesting place, very different from Norfolk. Today we flew up here to Chiang Mai where we will spend the next couple of days (going back to Bkk on Xmas Eve.)

At any rate...I just wanted to fire off a qick post to let everyone know that I arrived safely and am having a great time thus far. I will try to update again first thing in the morning if at all possible.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Hurry Up and Wait

Much to my surprise I finished packing with several hours to spare before I sally forth to a friend's house then on to the airport. Everything is packed, everything is in order (at least as good as it's going to get) so now it's a matter of wait, wait, wait. This is not necessarily a bad thing as it will give me ample time to metally review the list to see if there is anything I may have overlooked in all the rushing around today.

So if all goes well my next post will be from Bangkok either on Sunday or Monday. While I am excited about this trip I am also filled with the usual pre-travel anxiety which typically begins to fade once we're underway.

Anyway...thanks to everyone for reading and I'll be updating as time allows.


......Ahhhh.... damn fine coffee. Just taking a break from rushing around to enjoy a cup of much needed caffeine (the coffee itself is but of secondary interest). So far I've gotten A LOT done inculding a hair cut, purshasing three weeks worth of cat provisions, additional clothing, travel acessories, and assorted odds and ends. Even made an appearance at the office Xmas party. I still need to run by the bank, meet my graduate advosir at five, do laundry, pack, and do some last minute tidying up of the aparment before I roll out of here around three in the morning. Yep, 3AM. Ack! Doubt seriously I will sleep any as I want to be tired enough to catch a nap or three during the flight.

Off to relax.

The Race Is On

OK...finished up the semester on a positive note last night (or so I hope) and am leaving on my trip first thing in the morning. So this means that I have approximately 1.3 million thing to do today to get ready. Errands beyong number, laundry, packing, the office Xmas party this afternoon, and so forth. I'll quite enjoy the rushing around today as it's all so very different from the drudgery of academia that has occupied so much of my time the last few weeks.

Anyway...I'm off into the bitter cold to get some things knocked out.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

The Story Behind a Great Christmas Tradition

This morning a friend forwared an email about how one of our most cherished Christmas traditions began.....

When four of Santa's elves got sick and the trainee elves did not produce the toys as fast as the regular ones, Santa was beginning to feel the pressure of being behind schedule. Then Mrs. Claus told Santa that her Mom was coming to visit. This stressed Santa even more.

When he went to harness the reindeer, he found that three of them were about to give birth and two had jumped the fence and were out, heaven knows where. More stress. Then when he began to load the sleigh one of the boards cracked, and the toy bag fell to the ground and scattered the toys.

So, frustrated, Santa went into the house for a cup of apple cider and a shot of rum. When he went to the cupboard he discovered that the elves had hidden the liquor and there was nothing to drink. In his frustration, he accidentally dropped the cider pot, and it broke into hundreds of little pieces all over the kitchen floor. He went to get the broom and found that mice had eaten the straw end of the broom.

Just then the doorbell rang, and irritable Santa trudged to the door. He opened the door and there was a little angel with a great big Christmas tree. The angel said very cheerfully, "Merry Christmas, Santa. Isn't it a lovely day? I have a beautiful tree for you. Where would you like me to stick it?"

And so began the tradition of the little angel on top of the Christmas tree.


Tonight I have the attention span of a baby. I sit down to study for finals and my mind wanders off to the trip. I review for my presentation and my mind wanders off to packing and other preparations. This is sooo not good as finals and the seminar are tomorrow.

Help me, Obi-wan Kenobi. You're my only hope.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The Lost World

Who needs to travel to exotic places when you can have an anthropological adventure right in your own home? One of the projects accomplished this morning was tidying up the bedroom. Not all that difficult of a task save for under the bed where I discovered many things once lost, forgotten, stored, or any combination thereof. I felt a bit like Howard Carter probably did in 1922 when peering into the tomb of King Tutankhamen for the first time. Except for the fact that he probably encountered less dust.

Among the items discovered this morning were:
1. Two broken coat hangers
2. Several cat toys (They're not for me, I swear!)
3. Old pair of dress shoes.
4. A folded National Geographic map of the West Indies
5. One white sock (If I could only find it's match)
6. Autographed Howard Dean campaign pamphlet (which I got in December of 2003 when I saw him speak in Norfolk)
7. Jeep Gear catalog (2004 issue)
8. Blue Micron .20mm journaling pen (This was missing for several weeks)
9. 43 cents in loose change

Also discovered amid the mound of dust and debris were several books:
1. Population, Species, and Evolution by Ernst Mayr.
2. Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh.
3. Kim by Rudyard Kipling; and lastly:
4. Lillian Too's 168 Feng Shui Ways to Declutter Your Home (hmmm)

So what does all this say about me? First of all, it's obvious that I believe in the principle "out of sight, out of mind." It also says that I need to pay a little more attention to cleaning the hard to reach areas or hire a housekeeper. I also need to develop a better system of storage. But these are superficial things. On a deeper, more personal level what else can we infer from the evidence? I'm going to let you, my reader(s) take a stab at this one. So based on the above discoveries and what you may have inferred from reading this blog, try to make a few logical assumptions about me and/or my life in general.

I won't take off points for wrong answers, but I will hunt you down.


Very cold and windy here in Norfolk this morning. With the temperature dipping down into the mid 30s last night, this is undoubtedly the coldest weather we've had since last winter. All night the steam radiators in my apartment hissed and rattled away, an annoying thing when I first moved in, but now comforting on a certain level. It's somewhat akin to the patter of rain on the roof.

I slept well last night and am feeling somewhat better this morning, so evidently the antibiotics are working. This is a good sign. My energy level has increased as well, which means that I should be able to get done a few of the more pressing things on my list.

More than likely I'll go back to work tomorrow, but will take off on Friday to get some last minute errands knocked out (haircut, buying travel essentials, and paying rent). I'll nonetheless make a brief appearance at the office on Friday afternoon for the staff Christmas party.

Anyway...enough rambling. Off to get some things done.

Monday, December 13, 2004

Quack, quack, quack

Last night was rough. The sore throat intensified to a rather dire level which was only exacerbated by laying down. It was the strangest thing: while sitting up, the condition was bad, but bearable. Once I crawled into bed, things intensified to the point where I could not lay down without wincing and engaging in bouts of (Warning: obligatory geek reference ahead) raspy, Ringwraith-like shrieking. As such, I more or less wandered about in the dark of my apartment and from time to time attempted to sleep whilst sitting in a chair. Somehow I managed a few hours of broken sleep and sallied forth to the local witch doctor first thing this morning.

The visit to the doctor's office was a bit surreal. His diagnosis (which he delivered during breaks from his standup comedy act with his office staff audience) was a rather acute case of tonsilitis. No real surprise here (maybe he should stick with comedy and leave medicine to the professionals). He popped into the examination room only once or twice and didn't even give me the opportunity to ask questions before he was off elsewhere. He disappeared for the longest time (possibly talking to his Hollywood agent) and I thought they had forgotten about me until tired old Odessa shuffles into the room bearing prescriptions. (That may not have been her name, but she reminded me of an Odessa who lived across from me at an apartment complex long ago). So at my request she retrieved the doctor and I finally got a chance to ask my questions. (Whats the average annual rainfall of the Amazon basin? Did Abraham Lincoln ever own a dog, and if so, what was it's name? Why am I asking so many questions?) I was given prescriptions for antibiotics and these uber cool painkillers, so if all goes well I'll be feeling better as the week progresses. As an added bonus, I'm staying home from the office a couple of days to rest. This may or may not be a good thing, depending on the boredom level. But I have a lot to do so I shouldnt get to the point where I expire from ennui.

(As an aside, I wonder what's up with all of my asides (bracketed in parentheses) today. Maybe it's the medication).

Sunday, December 12, 2004

Expectations vs. Reality

OK....maybe my expectations were a little too ambitous this morning. While I got some studying for my final exam done, progress towards the other two goals failed to even get off the ground. Tis OK...still plenty of time and in the grand scheme of things the final exam is the most important of the three things I mentioned this morning.

But I was not idle today. I made considerable progress with tidying up the apartment. The kitchen and bathroom are spotless and the living room is more or less headed in that direction. The bedroom and study remain and they should be finished over the next few days. I also finalized my postcard list and got the camera issues sorted out. The camera thing took longer than expected due to stumbling across a box of old pictures while I was looking for my digital camera. Productivity ground to a halt as I had to take a trip down memory lane. Most of the pictures dated around the 1998-2000 time frame which is perhaps one of the most significant watershed periods of my life. It was also one of the rare periods during which I was actively pursing the "Kodak moment" thing; the photographic record of my life since is sparse. I need to pay a little more attention to this. After all, how will I ever be able write my autobiography without the necessary photographic documentation? *grin*

I'm not entirely kidding about the autobiography thing either (so stop chortling, Mildred in Utah! It's not very flattering for someone of your advanced years). This idea has long had a certain appeal and will be a back-burner project completed years from now. Everyone has a story to tell, irregardless of how famous or wealthy or otherwise noteworthy. As I'm none of these things, my story will probably attract very few readers, but it's still my story to one day tell. It's akin to the blog experience: you have to write for yourself; if anyone else happens to come along for the ride...well, that's fine too.

Busy, Busy, Busy

Though I did not get home from my sister's dinner party/social until around two in the morning, I was up before six to get moving on three academic projects that must be tackled today. As I experienced technicial difficulties (please stand by!) during my presentation on Thursday (the computer was unable to load my Powerpoint from the CD that I brought due to "corrupt or missing files") I will be giving it this coming Thursday. This is also the night of the final exam so let's just double the stress level for that night. Of course there is a bright side to this in that I now have time to do one more revision to my presentation which will be done today. To complicate matters this week, I received an email from my graduate advisor yesterday requesting a revised copy of my thesis prospectus by Friday (instead of early January) so she can read over it and make comments during the winter break. An additional burden, yes, but not insurmountable if I am diligent today.

The persistent nature of this sore throat is really beginning to vex me. If it has not abated by tomorrow, I will probably make a trip to local witch doctor for whatever antibiotics might be in order. Better to nip this thing in the bud now rather than letting nature take its course and running the risk of it lingering on through the start of vacation.

Ah to be productive.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

Making a List and Checking it Twice

No, I'm not doing the Santa thing.

Since vacation starts in a week, it's about time to start thinking about the necessary trip preparations. As there are so many things I need to do between now and then, a list will be essential so I don't forget anything that might impact events (e.g., leaving my passport at home or remembering on January 1st when in some remote jungle that I forgot to pay rent).
Some of the most essential things that must be done this coming week:

1. Make copies of apartment keys and distribute. Several people are getting keys so they can check up on my cats My "children" are exceptionally fragile and sensitive, so having people check up on them from time to time will be essential for their mental well-being.

2. Stock up on cat provisions. I need to procure enough cat food and litter to last three weeks as it would be a rude thing to force those taking care of my cats to buy such essentials.

3. Finish post card list. Between friends, family, school, and the office, there are 23 people who will be receiving post cards during my holiday. Ack!

4. Tidy up the apartment. My humble abode is in a state of disorganization now due to school. Stacks of books and papers all over. The cats like this. I don't. It would be a good thing to come home in January and not face such clutter as the spring semester begins the day after I return.

5. Sorting clothes. For the most part I plan to pack rather lightly and will likely be buying additional clothing over there since such things are rumored to be relatively cheap. Besides, as it's winter here, it's difficult to find shorts and other warm weather clothing.

6. Have regularly scheduled bouts of anxiety. My previous international travel experience is limited to one foray to South America two years ago, so this is still an unfamiliar experience for me.

7. Buy film and find software for digital camera.

8. Get finances in order. As it's essential that I don't run out of money over there and be reduced to borrowing a monk's begging bowl just to get my meals, I need to get the money sources organized.

9. Pay rent. Rather important since I don't want to come home on January 9th to discover all of my possessions in a pile by the street.

10. Buy necessities. Toothpaste, travel-oriented medications, etc.

11. Visit foreign travel clinic at local health department. I wonder if I'll need any anti-malarials since I'll be spending time in rural areas?

12. Dust off passport.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

Chicken Soup and a Warm Blanket

Achy, sore throat, and congestion. What perfect timing to get sick. The day of my semiar! Ah long as I can muster the fortitude this evening and deliver a half-way decent talk, I'll be fine. I finished the presentation last night and I've run through it a time or two, so I'm nearly ready. More than likely I'll go through it a few more times later on this afternoon.

Off to bundle up in a warm blanket and attempt to catch a nap.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

Wednesday Evening

Yet again today I took off early from work to finish up putting together the seminar that I'll give tomorrow night. Other than maybe ONE more little section and the conclusion it's done. Finally! I had hoped to have it finished by Sunday which turned out not to be the case as I tend to be a bit of an academic perfectionist. And a procrastinator. Can't forget that part. No matter, really, as the seminar is pretty much complete and by this time tomorrow night it will be all over. At that point I'll shift my attention towards final exams and trip preparation.

Guess I'll wander off to put on a pot of coffee and get back to work. I'll tinker with the presentation until about eight-thirty, but after that it will be my time to do whatever. Making time for myself is one of the keys to successfully balancing full time employment along with a full course load. And to me those few hours to myself are among the most precious. (This time is mine. My own. My Precious. No one can steals it from us.) more viewings of LOTR until next summer. to the kitchen before it gets too geeky in here.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Manager's Memo

Home a little early from the office to finish up a project for class and get some laundry done. The weather here in Norfolk this affternoon is a distraction from both. 73 degrees and partly sunny. Almost like an early fall day and not one to be wasted indoors stuck at the computer.

Though it was a shorter day at work, I got a great deal accomplished and even had time to take my secretary out to lunch for her birthday. She's been working at the office for almost as long as I've been alive and is only two years from retirement. She's been such a wonderful resource, particularly during my first six months and was so important to the more or less smooth transition in management. Since the 1950s, my office has had only five managers and as it turned out, I happen to be the youngest by at least 15 years. I am also the third youngest of my staff of almost twenty, so I faced some unique challenges after taking over last January. It's a natural thing for people to be resistant to change. This was something of which I was keenly aware and incorporated early on into my management style.

It's somewhat difficult to define my style of management as it's always evolving and will vary depending upon the circumstance. So I guess the key here is that I'm flexible, but not to the point of being inconsistent. It's a balancing act. Overall I tend to be the type of manager who encourages employees, offers general guidance if needed, and lets them do their thing with little direct involvement on my part. And I always make it known that my door is always open if they have any problems. The follow are some other elements that make up my style, for better or for worse:

1. Listen, listen, listen. Always be open to new ideas from employees, the public, or administration. No matter how bad the suggestion is, give the person the opportunity to voice his or her opinion. This makes emplyees feel that their opinion counts (which it does) and helps build a team atmosphere which is critical to the accomplishment to the goals and mission of the organization.

2. It's the little things. Always make a point to say "good morning," "how was your weekend," or otherwise compliment each employee every day. Though a little tedious at first, the development of this habit will help build a cohesive working environment by letting employees know that you're not just the guy in the power tie sitting in the big office, you're human, you're approachable, you care. The working environment offers so many opportunities for those little things that can do so much, from buying a employee who's having a bad day a cup of coffee to simply saying "please" and complimenting them on a job well done.

3. Lead by example. Early in my undergraduate years I was a student of military history. Can't stand the stuff now, but if there's one lesson I learned was that the most successful generals throughout history were those who led from the front. The first ones in the trenches. Never have any reservations about rolling up the sleeves and being the first to wade into the thick of a project. Showing your employess that you would never ask of them something you would not do yourself is perhaps the best way I've found to inspire staff.

4. Power corrupts. One of the potentially most noxious thing about a management position is that it comes with a great deal of power and it's so important not to let this power go to ones head. Everyone has heard stories or has experiencedpower-hungry mangers who lord over their employees like some Central American dictator, but without the shirt full of metals and a firing squad on hand. I don't think I'll ever have this problem as I absolutely hate being in charge of anyone and don't have access to any weaponry. I accept leadership almost as a necessary evil, the result of the natural career progression.

5. I got your back. Never leave your employees high and dry no matter how badly they've screwed up. If everyone is calling for their head on a silver platter, defend them to the best of your ability given the circumstances. Even the worst of mistakes (as long as they're honest mistakes) can be turned into learning opportunities. Never tell them that they "really screwed up." Chances are that they already know it and pointing it out doesn't help matters. Work with them as a colleague in overcoming any challenges they have and its a safe bet they won't make the same mistake twice.

Certainly I still have a lot to learn about this whole management thing and will incorporate elements into my style as they prove to be effective or will eliminate things that do not work. Like everything else in life, it's an ongoing process.

Friday, December 03, 2004

Friday Evening

And so another busy workweek comes to an end and I must shift my productivity this weekend to wrapping up the semester. A major seminar project will occupy most of my time over the next two days. I've gotten most of the background research and reading done; all that remains is outlining the seminar and putting together a Powerpoint presentation which I will go over a million times between before the actual presentation on Thursday. Perhaps this isn't the most enjoyable way to spend a weekend, but it's necessary and will ultimately be a benefit realized when I can hang the masters degree diploma next to my autographed picture of Martha Stewart.

OK...just kidding about the Martha Stewart picture. I'll probably hang the masters next to the bachelors degree instead.

And speaking of hanging of my projects after the first of the year will be to reinvent my apartment. I can't paint my walls lest the leasing agent become cross and hit me with a stick, but there's still a lot I can do to make the place a little more welcoming and comfortable. Like getting a sofa. I've been using an ancient futon that I've had for about six or seven years and the time for its retirement is growing near. The one problem here may be my two cats who have a bad habit of sharpening their claws on anything that doesn't move, including me if I stand too long in one place. Declawing is cruel, so I'll probably just go with something less expensive (and NOT leather) and if they shred it over time, so be it. I'll probably also invest in some wall art (a sensible thing since most of my walls are bare) and proper lighting. Little things like this will probably go a long way towards making my place a little more liveable.

The one problem is going to be my singular lack of decorating ability which is a long running source of mirth among most of my friends. While I've had to endure years of their mockery, I'll nonetheless be able to tap their ability to assist with various decorating ideas. Let's hope the old saying that charity beings at home (MY home) will prove true.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

The Root of all Evil

Just now back from a visit to the dentist who was kind enough to administer my first-ever root canal. The procedure wasn't nearly as bad as everyone claims it to be, the drilling and filing notwithstanding. It seems that there's a considerable amount of misconception floating around about root canals. I told several people about the procedure when it was scheduled last week and the common reaction was whimpering and falling to the floor into the fetal position. Not something that inspires confidence, particularly with those like myself who are highly allergic to pain. So I went in there this morning with visions of the Bill Murray/Steve Martin root canal scene from the 1980s movie "Little Shop of Horrors." But all my anxiety was for naught as the worst part of the whole thing was that Wicked Contrivance they use to lever the mouth open for an ungodly period of time. So one more visit to the dentist next week and it will be over with for another six months.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

Saturday Afternoon

A warm and cloudy Saturday afternoon here in Norfolk. I haven't been terribly productive today other than taking care of laundry and running to the grocery store for a few things. And of course there was the requisite visit to Starbucks.

My agenda for today is actually quite full, between research for an upcoming presentation and other assorted projects and such for class. Not really in the mood yet to get going on this so I'll probably hold off a bit and wait for inspiration. In the meantime I may make a trip to Barnes and Noble in search of a book or two for my trip next month (just under four weeks away. yay!) as I'll need something to occupy my mind on the flights. I'm seriously considering Richard Dawkins' new book on evolution. Should be the perfect thing for passing the time unless I'm seated amongst a herd of creationists.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

The Reign of Witches

Like many other Americans of liberal leanings, I'm still recovering from reelection of W. With almost 60 million Americans voting for the Chimp-in-Chief, it is self-evident that as a nation we are our own worst enemy. We should not fear the remote specter of a WMD when so many of us constitute a much more immediate concern: a WMS (Weapon of Mass Stupidity), by far more threatening to constitutional rights and security at home and harmony abroad than any man-made contrivance.

It is difficult not to be disouraged. We as a nation should have known (and possibly did know) better as evidenced by the fact that most Americans thought the nation was on the wrong track. But fear is a powerful thing. It brings out some primeval herd mentality that clouds the judgement and sends a frightening percentage of the populace retreating into ancient superstitions for salvation and clamoring towards a strong leader for protection, even if doing so entails surrendering individual liberty and, like the leader himself, losing the ability to reason.

Something said by Thomas Jefferson in either 1797 or 98 is so fitting in dark week since Election Day....

“A little patience, and we shall see the reign of witches pass over, their spells dissolve, and the people, recovering their true sight, restore their government to it's true principles. It is true that in the meantime we are suffering deeply in spirit, and incurring the horrors of a war and long oppressions of enormous public debt. If the game runs sometimes against us at home we must have patience till luck turns, and then we shall have an opportunity of winning back the principles we have lost, for this is a game where principles are at stake."

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Watch and Wait

Polls closed almost an hour ago here in Virginia. Probaby not too long before we have a projected winner of this state. Nationally at the moment the Chimp in Chief has 34 electoral votes to Kerry's 3.

Ugh. It's going to be a long night. Dunno if I can stand the suspense.

Sunday, October 31, 2004


Halloween has all but come and gone and I managed to evade snot-nosed trick or treaters again this year. Not a one came to my door, which is just as well since I had nothing to hand out other than those lil fast food restaurant ketchup packets.

Guess I will just save them for Christmas.

And people complain that I'm not much of a gift giver. HA!

Monday, October 25, 2004


How odd. My post on Friday last evidently posted (kinda) but without any text. So maybe it didn't actually "post;" perhaps "semipost" or even "F***** Up Post" is a better term in this case. A pity, really, given the time it took to expound upon the solution to world peace (Step #1: Vote the Chimp-in-Chief out of office next week), devise never-fail prison escape plans for Martha Stewart (and it was SUCH a good thing too), and and reveal my Christmas wish list (All presents MUST be in my hands by December 17th to avoid any international shipping charges). Alas, thanks to my tempermental computer, the world will continue to suffer.

Ah least I won't have to worry about papercuts from unwrapping presents.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Coffee Break

A fairly busy day thus far with the obligatory Sunday morning run to Harris Teeter for groceries and a few other assorted errands. I successfully fought the temptation of going to Barnes and Noble, which was advantageous in the sense that had I given in, 1.) I would still be there, and 2.) I would be much poorer when I left. I do need to go to B & N at some point in the very near future as I've pretty much read everything on the shelves here at home.

So as for today, I'm going to take a few minutes to relax with the obligatory (word of the day) cup of coffee before launching into an afternoon of homework. I'm leading a seminar tomorrow for one of my classes, so a little extra preparation is probably needed. It's hard to believe that the semester is about half over. *doing happy dance* to be productive.

Friday, October 08, 2004

Friday Evening

Another workweek comes to a close. Well...almost. I'll more than likely head in to the office for a couple of hours in the morning to take care of some things that I didn't quite finish today. I've long discovered that I can get much more accomplished in a few hours on the weekends than during the typical workday as I don't have to bother with the distraction of my ever-so-gabby secretary, the comings and goings of my other employees, and ringing telephones.

It's been a refreshingly quiet evening and I've accomplished little other than hammering out a few emails, chatting with assorted people on the phone, and the like. I do feel a bit guilty about the "wasted" time this evening, but such downtime is nonetheless important so as not to burn myself out. I have a busy weekend ahead, so I shouldn't feel too bad about slacking a bit tonight.

The most interesting news to report is the finalization of flight arrangements trip for the trip to Thailand in December and January. No backing out now. Due to the scaricty of available flights, the trip will be a bit longer than originially conceived: three weeks instead of two, which is not necessarily a bad thing given the singularly long trip. My longest flight leg to date has been around four hours, so I'm not exactly sure how I'm going to cope with the 13.5 hours from Chicago to Tokyo. I'll be sure to bring a REALLY good book or two and hope the in-flight movies are worthwhile.

Over the course of the next two months I'll begin planning the in-country itinerary. Given my predisposition for outdoorsy, adventurous things, I don't foresee spending too much time in Bangkok. At least a week will be spent touring the provinces to the north with an equal, or greater amount of time on the southern peninsula. If all goes as planned, I'll have an Internet connection for at least part of the time over there, so I'll be able to update the blog, which will probably go something like this:

Day 1: After 384 days in air, arrived in Bangkok. Saw big Buddha statue.
Day 2: Saw another Buddha statue.
Day 3: Chased by elephant. Saw another Buddha statue.
Day 4: Saw another statue. Chased by a cobra.
Day 5: On southern beaches. Saw statue. Chased by jellyfish.
Day 6: Drank toooo much. Saw tiger. Chazed by Booda statatuaue.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

Tuesday PM

Well I finally broke down today and put a Kerry-Edwards bumper sticker on my Jeep. Now let's just see how long it takes for the soft top to get slashed...or worse. But all things considered, I live in a fairly liberal enclave of I'm not seriously anticipating any conservative mischief.

Typically, I'm not much of a political person beyond doing my civic duty of voting. Things are significantly different this time around, however. As this is certainly the most important election of our time, additional political activism is absolutely essential....even if it is just slapping a bumper sticker on the car and encouraging like-minded invididuals to vote come election day. Though originally a Howard Dean supporter (I saw him speak in Norfolk last December), I do like Kerry a lot and he certainly has the fortitude and vision to be President.

Saturday, October 02, 2004


Ever so slightly groggy this morning thanks to partaking a little too freely of alcoholic refreshments whilst out with my sister and some friends last night. We all met at the Taphouse, one of my favourite casual hang-outs here in Ghent, which also has one of the best selections of Belgian ales in the Norfolk area. Over the years, I've developed a pronounced fondness for Belgian ales and the Taphouse's regularly changing beer selection keeps things interesting. My favourite Belgian at present is the Carlous Gran Cru 2004, a truly wonderful beer, though one with a higher-than-normal alcohol content. Not a bad thing, mind you.

But at any rate....after a glass or two of water and a couple Advil this morning (in addition to the requisite cups of coffee), I am able to face the day.

Today's agenda consists of some errands and grocery shopping this morning, followed by research, etc. later in the day. In other words, it's going to be a typical Saturday. This sort of routine is agreeable to me as I tend to be a creature of habit, moreso now than in times past when life was more carefree and pressing responsibilities were few. Given the myriad of projects I'm juggling, routine and pattern are critical to both their accomplishment and my overall sanity.

Friday, October 01, 2004

These Boots Are Made for Walking....

....but they're in such terrible shape, I'll have to get a new pair of hiking boots prior to sallying forth to Thailand for a couple of weeks in December. I've made the decision to go and the flight arrangements are all but finalized, so barring any calamity I'll be nancing about in the jungles of Southeast Asia over the winter holiday.

I wonder if I can get Trampled by Elephant Insurance?

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Saturday Morning it's been quite a while since my last entry and hopefully I'll begin posting on a much more regular bais as to not disappoint any of my disciples who wander onto this site looking for mirth and inspiration.

Autumn has officially arrived and one can certainly feel a change in the air. The days are getting noticeably shorter and it's nice finally being able to turn off the air condition and throw open the windows. Of course since this is Norfolk, we still have an occasional uncomfortably hot and humid day that seems to come out of nowhere. But at any rate, autumn has long been my favourite season of the year and I can foresee the traditional trip to the mountains in the not too distant future. The mountains of Virginia are beautiful at any season of the year, though the vistas in the fall are much more breathtaking with the mountains and valleys afire with shades of red and yellow foliage.

Speaking of trips, I've been giving serious thought as to where I want to go for my December and January holidays. Though a return trip to South America is tempting, I've eliminated that from the list, at least for now. London is always a possibility, but I'm not sure about visiting there during the winter. Besides, a trip to London can be a spur of the moment, extended weekend sort of thing. So my choices now are the American Southwest and, on a little more ambitious scale, Thailand, neither of which I've visited. Depending on how the logistics of it all work out, I may attempt both with two weeks in Thailand coming in December and a week in the Southwest in early January. So today I'll mostly likely sally forth to Barnes and Noble to peruse various travel guides for both destinations.

Off to get more coffee and formally start my day.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

So It Begins

Today marks the official start of the new semester at school and if things go as planned, this will be the last semester in which I'll have to take any structured classes as I'll be completing all the requisites in my program of study. *doing happy dance* All that remains is an additional few semesters of research, a seminar, and the masters degree will be finished. I suppose I could wrap up the thesis research sooner, but the additional work will certainly be of benefit as I hope to enter a PhD program somewhere in the near future. If there's one thing to guarantee entry into a doctoral program is demonstrated research ability. And publications. So the extended time on the thesis will achieve both of these goals. Of course, given my past history, I'll probably still take classes just for the fun of it.

Yeah. I know. I'm a sick puppy.

I've always quite enjoyed the college experience, which is surprising given just how much I absolutely detested high school. Very few fond memories from that period of my life. College turned out to be so different. You're not "spoon fed" the material and whether you sink or swim...well, that's largely up to you. I found this new approach to academics surprisingly appealing. After receiving my bacholors degree in the fall of 1997, I took a semester off to do the "enjoy life" thing. About two months into the break I was missing the challenges of acadmeia in the worst way. So I began taking classes for "fun" and formally started the masters degree program in January of 2003, in a field entirely different from my undergraduate studies. Going from liberal arts to the sciences required a bit of an adjustment, but so far so good. Unless I totally drop the ball this semester, I'll finish the masters with a GPA somewhere around a 3.96 or thereabouts.

Anyway, off to get a coffee refill and get started on the day.

Monday, August 23, 2004


I took half day off from the office so I could get some things done around the apartment. Many things were on my list, including laundry, cleaning, and continue working on the thesis. So what did I do first? Took a long nap. Oh well...the sleep was probably needed and I've gotten quite a bit done since I woke.

Yesterday I went down to the Outer Banks of North Carolina to get a little sun and let me Jeep play on the beach. I did get a bit of a tan (ok..more than tha tan. I look like a lobster), but had second thoughts about taking the Jeep onto the beach, mainly due to the fact that I have not yet "prepped" it for beach driving. I've taken it out onto the sand before and it handled things well, but I don't want to make a habit of that until I get the appropriate equipment for beach driving: portable air pump, small shovel, rope, etc. The last thing I want to do is get stuck in the gathering dark miles from the nearest house. The more important element of beach driving is deflating your tires down to 20 psi which creates a flatter surface (meaning you shouldn't get stuck quite as easily). So this week I'm going to look for a portable air pump. I have one more free weekend before the semester starts back, so I'm going to try to spend it back down on the OBX.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

The Chili Man

Living in a semi-urban environment gives one the opportunity to meet the most unforgettable characters, both good and bad. This is not to say that small towns lack their share of eccentrics; the most certainly have them, but in a much lighter density (per square mile) than one finds in the city. I grew up on the outskirts of a small town and remember well a number of people whose lives and overall impact on the traditional quietude of life were more colorful than a highway strewn with dead clowns (which is one of the reasons maximum occupancy laws now exist for those teeny cars they drive).

One of the most eccentric individuals from my youth was known only as The Purple Lady. She was an elderly woman who presumably lived alone in the then-rural northern part of the city. No one ever saw her, so she was this great mystery. She got her reputation not by who she was (of which we knew nothing), but by what she did. As her "name" implies, she was quite fond of the color purple. Her little clapboard house set back off the road behind a field was painted purple, as were the tree trunks in her yard. Even her mailbox was purple. And she didn't stop there. All down the road on both sides of the house she painted the telephone poles to match as high as she could reach, which couldn't have been more than five or six feet high. She must have done this in the dark of night as no one ever caught her in the act, which would have made the front page of the local paper had someone done so. But with the passage of time, her little house fell into disrepair and became overgrown and the purple on the mailbox and telephone poles faded. Eventually, the land was sold to a developer and a subdivision now stands where the Purple Lady once lived. All traces of her handiwork long since disappeared until one day not long ago when one telephone pole near where she used to live was painted a familiar color no more than five or six feet high.

And Im not making this up!

While Norfolk certainly isn't New York, or even Washington, DC for that matter, it is large enough to harbor the eccentric characters one finds in larger cities. To the list of occasional goths, punks, The Crying Lady, The Dirty Old Fool, and What The Hell Is That, I have to add The Chili Man.

On the way home from work the other afternoon, I stopped by a convenience store. As I was waiting in the ridiculously long line (which kind of took the whole notion of "convenience" from the stop) I noticed a gnarled, gnome of a man standing by the cheese/chili machine at the back counter. Ragged, filthy clothes, unkempt beard, and hair that probably hasn't been washed since the Reagan Administration, the poor old chap was evidently homeless. Or had had a really long day. He stood there looking around the store, at the clerks, at the customers, all the while with his hands wrapped tightly around a 40 ounce Colt 45 (the beer, not a gun). I felt sorry for him and wondered why he would take what little money he had to buy beer instead of food, which he obviously needed.

I soon had my answer.

He inched closer to the chili and cheese machine and set his beer down on the counter. Suddenly he began pressing the button that dispenses the chili which oozed out into a mound in the palm of his left hand which he then shoveled through his beard into his mouth. He did this several times, shovelling it in like a man possessed. Like a ten time champion at one of those pie eating contests at a county fair defending his title. I was shocked. Convenience store chili couln't be that good. Finally he licked his hand clean, then ran it all over the catch plate and nozzle of the machine to clean up all the residue, eventually leaving the machine covered in smeared chili and whatever else may have been on his hand. By the time he took his place in line, someone *ahem* had notified the manager of the situation who went over to clean things up. The Chili Man assumed an air of angelic innocence that was spectacularly betrayed by the orange/red chili residue all over his beard and mouth and hand wrapped tightly again around the beer bottle.

Before I get any hate mail from my one reader (Mildred in Utah), I do hasten to add that I'm not trying to find amusement at The Chili Man's expense though it may seem that way on a superficial level. I guess what I'm trying to do it get at the basic elements of human nature, the choices we make when faced with untenable circumstances.

Saturday Afternoon Ramblings

Went out this morning to visit the parental units (and raid their garden) and returned home a short while ago with bags of all sorts of vegetables that I'll certainly put to good use this coming week. Admittedly, I don't visit the 'rents as often as I probably should, but in my defense, I do stay a little busier than I would like with my own comings and goings here in Norfolk. They understand this, so they don't go overbord with the guilt trips for not visiting.

So now I'm working my way through a cup of particularly strong coffee that I just procured from the shop across the street (they did indeed ask where I was this morning). The goal is to become sufficiently caffeinated to start plugging away on the thesis draft that I mentioned in my post of earlier today. I've nearly reached the caffeine level where research and furious scribbling are possible, so I suspect I'll have the thing wrapped up this afternoon once I get started, which is always the most difficult part. Once I get going on such a project, I can usually make good progress in no time at all. So we shall see. One eccentricity on my part that may slow the creativity process a bit is my old habit of writing out such research by hand. I use the same tired old mechanical pencil I've had since starting college way back when. And I've always used the same style of yellow legal pad as well. When it comes to such academic pursuits, I'm certainly a creature of habit.

Saturday Morning Routine

As a change of pace this morning, I decided to make coffee here at home instead of going across the street to the local coffee shop. I'm sure they're wondering what horrible misfortune occurred during the night to keep me from my daily ritual (the commercial from years gone by with the old woman crying "I've fallen and I can't get up!" comes to mind). More than likely I'll make an appearance over there later on before they start issuing cups with "Missing" and my picture plastered on the side.

So here it is, Saturday morning and I'm not sure what's on the agenda for today other than assorted chores and tinkering with my masters thesis. I must have a draft completed this weekend to turn in to my advisor by the first of the week. I've been somewhat indolent this summer towards completion of the draft, so a self-imposed deadline will certainly inspire academic creativity over the next two days.

At any rate, off to be productive.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

Is It Friday Yet?

Suffering from a slight headache this evening that is probably the result of too much coffee combined with the typical stresses of work. Though it's a far cry from the debilitating migraines that I have on occasion, it's annoying nonetheless, a shadow on the edge of perception.

It has been quite the week at work. Between personnel issues, logistical problems, budgets, and so forth, I wonder why anyone would ever want an administrative position. I certainly do not thrive off of the authority this position provides; rather I see it (and the associated headaches innumerable) as just a part of the natural career progression. I suppose the one thing that keeps me going more so than anything else is having a passion for my chosen field. I've never minded waking early to go in to the office (once I've had my morning coffee), staying late, or going in for a few hours on the weekends as needed. An while there are some days I question my sanity in my choice of professions, such thoughts are fleeting and in the average of things are more than outweighed by the more positive aspects. I recall an old saying (it may have been from a fortune cookie a million years ago) that went: "if you love what you do, you'll never work a day in your life." This as certainly proven valid over the last few years.

So I guess the keys to happiness are: love what you do and take fortune cookies seriously.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

Storm Watch

Cloudy, warm, and very humid here in Norfolk on this early Saturday morning. After doing its thing in Florida late yesterday, Hurricane Charley is over the Atlantic and heading for the Carolinas, the effects of which should be felt here late this afternoon and evening. We shouldn't see anything more than just a strong tropical storm, but as such storms are so unpredictable, who knows. Since the ground here is so saturated from weeks of heavy rain, the biggest concern is just how many trees Charley is going to bring down.

Despite their destructive nature (and perhaps because of it), hurricanes are quite the fascinating phenomenon. It's humbling to experience such raw power; in the ultimate contest of man versus nature, the latter reins supreme. We can deforest and pollute the Earth, exploit it of mineral and ecological wealth, and mold it, change it's landscape to suit our own interests, but from time to time nature shows us that she's still boss. No matter the length humans go to set themselves apart from nature, to raise themselves up from everything else in the world, its but a fanciful dream easily crumbled by water, wind, and other natural elements.

I've long been fascinated by storms. I was born during a severe summer thunderstorm (or so I was told anyway) and remember as a kid the excitement of approaching storms: the dark, angry clouds gathering on the horizon, the distant rumble of thunder growing ever louder, and the first few drops of rain from the darkened sky. Back in my single digit years, my family and I would often sit on the screened back porch and watch the approach of storms, at least until an ear-splitting crack of thunder and lightning sent us scurrying for safety inside the house.

One of my fondest childhood memories was walking the fields behind the house after a heavy storm. On many occasions, rainfall was heavy enough to wash away the topsoil between the rows of whatever crop was planted that year which often revealed a treasure trove of scattered Native American and colonial era artifacts (points, pottery, buttons, pipe stems, etc) on the surface just waitint to be picked up. While I've since learned that such "pothunting" is discouraged by those in the archaeological profession, I was unaware of this as a kid and spent many blissful hours walking up and down the rows picking up this and that and returning to the house muddy and wet with hands full of newfound objects that needed to be washed, dried, and sorted into various collection boxes. I believe it was archaeologist James Deetz who called such fragments of material culture "treasure without price." This is certainly true as in the monetary sense, such bits and pieces of the past are worthless. But to a daydreamer of a kid growing up on the old family land, they are indeed priceless.

I haven't walked those fields in over 15 years and I suppose my old artifact collection is still at my parent's house, stored away with the other once-cherished remnants of growing up in rural Virginia.

Monday, August 09, 2004

Please Dress in Forgettable Attire

Today was one of "those" days. I rushed home from the office so I could get some laundry done before going out this evening. Laundry facilities in my apartment are down in the basement and there is never a wait to use them. Except for today. Both washers were full of clothes presumably recently washed. Strategically placed laundry basket on top of the washer, the drier door open with a heavily scented drier sheet already inside. Not a problem, I thought. Work in progress. I'll check back in about an hour and get my stuff going, once the owner begins to dry their things. Besides, I really don't like the idea of digging through someone elses clothes, even if it is only to transfer them to the laundry basket. I would be afraid of stumbling across something that would cause permanent emotional damage.

An hour later I go back down and, behold, nothing had changed. Very curious, I thought. How could someone forget their laundry? Perhaps they were stuck on the phone with some long lost aunt from Utah. So I gave them more time.

An hour passed with no change in status. I was over it. So I placed the laundry basket on the floor and forked all the unmentionables from the washer with a stick. Still kinda damp looking, probably washed yesterday. An hour and a half later when my laundry chore was done, those clothes were still sitting there, forgotten. Perhaps the owner was called away unexpectedly on some emergency.

Or maybe they just ran out of quarters.

Anyway, enough of such nonsensical prattle. I'm off to be productive and promise that I'll write something more substantial next time.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

Martha Stewart Strikes Back

The condition of my apartment has been vexing me for some time now, so today's major goal was to bring things back into order. Not that it was dirty...far from it. Nor was it in a state of disrepair. The problem was twofold: 1.) the accumulation of day-to-day clutter: a pile of books over here, a stack of bills over there, and other little things that seem to have lost their place as of late and 2.) a general feeling of "incompleteness" in the way the apartment was set up. I've been here almost a year and things have never felt quite right. Maybe there's something to that feng shui business after all.

So today was a flurry of domestic activity that would have made M.S. proud: Putting books back where they belong, throwing away bills (Ha! who needs them anyway), and other similiar efforts that have made a world of difference. The most significant impact was rearranging some furniture including moving the dining table (once I located it under a pile of books) and lugging the futon from the study/guest bedroom back to the living room. The advantage of the latter is that I have more room for guests to sit when they visit and now they're not quite as inclined to spend the night. A true win-win situation if there ever was one.

More work remains, particularly with the study/former guest bedroom. If I'm in the mood tomorrow for further domestic endeavors, perhaps I'll leave the office early to finish things up. The study will take some time as it became the "catch all room" soley to deter overnight guests. If it wasn't so late, I would begin working on it tonight, but I want to do some reading before bed. I'm satisfied with the progress today, though. Domestic activity: "It's a good thing." Im going to hell for saying that.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

Sleeping In

I crawled out of bed this morning around eight-thirty, which for me is seriously sleeping in. I'm normally up around five-thirty regardless if it's a workday or the weekend, so I feel a bit out of sorts and guilty this morning for the extra three hours worth of sleep. There are probably two reasons why I slept in this morning: 1.) I was up too late last night reading; and 2.) Unseasonably cool temperatures make it difficult to leave the warm confines of the blanket.

I've always enjoyed being an early riser for reasons more than just being first in line at the local coffee shop (Me: "Ha! I'm first! I'm first!!). Rising at an early hour gives me ample time to get myself organized to start the day. Even on weekends when there is usually no pressing issue (e.g., reporting to the office), the early morning hours are nonetheless rewarding on a personal level. Going for walks around the neighborhood as life begins to stir is certainly one of the fondest experiences that I'll long remember when my time here in Norfolk is up. On occasion, I'll make the half hour drive out to the Virginia Beach oceanfront in time to watch the sunrise. It's almost a spiritual experience being practically alone on the beach with nothing but the sounds of crashing waves, the occasional call of a gull, and the Sun rising over the eastern horizon.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Full Plate

Just wanted to hammer out a few lines before I'm off to bed. While it's still a bit early to turn in, I need my sleep. Tonight is one of those rare occasions that I feel a bit daunted by the number of things I'm trying to juggle. Between work, finishing the masters degree, and finding the time to engage in some semblance of a social life, I feel as though I'm stretched a bit thin. The important thing is focusing on one thing at a time and keep in mind the fact that this level of activity is not permanent. Another semester or two and I'm done with least until the next academic goal appears on the horizon.

But then again, a good night's sleep and a cup or two or coffee to bring my caffeine level back up to "normal" and I'm ready again to face any challenge, any amount of work.

Naming of the Blog

After glancing the Outer Banks of North Carolina and dumping a lot of rain on the whole area, Hurricane Alex now spins out to sea. The most significant impact here in Norfolk was street flooding, so things could have been much worse. And when you own a Jeep, street flooding isn't really that bad a thing. It needed washing anyway.

One of the more challenging aspects of developing this blog was coming up with a suitable title, something reflective of me and my perspectives on life. I tend to be a person atypical of what one would expect of a 32 year old guy of relatively rural Virginia origins. I certainly don't fit into any particular category and I wanted the blog title to reflect this. But then again, how I perceive myself may differ considerably from how friends see me. Hence the challenge. While I trust their judgment, naming the blog is not a committee project. As such, I chose the title most appropriate to where I see myself to be at this point in time. Five years ago the title would have been different with the same being said for two or five years from now. Such is the evolutionary phenomenon known as life. At any rate, "To Whatever End" was among the short list of possible titles that also included:

"River of Life:" wayyyy too dramatic and reminiscent of a Richard Dawkins book on human genetic variability since the dawn of mankind.

"Field of Meaning:" again, too dramatic.

"My Life:" too ordinary, though worked well for Clinton.

"Journal:" Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz

"The Diary of Anne Frank:"

"To Whatever End:" This sums up well my current perspectives on life and, consequently, my humble place in the grand scheme of things. Certainly, this title implies a fair amount of uncertainty, but that itself is the most sublime and beautiful part of life. Not having a road map, open to all possibilities, and no path to follow other than a general sense of where you want to go. Just go, just "be," and make the most out of every moment, whether it's the accomplishment of some goal, or just being alive, aware of the present moment. The end is not important; it's the journey that truly counts.

Monday, August 02, 2004

Rainy Norfolk Night

Great. Tropical Storm Alex is churning up the Carolina coast bringing with it the promise of more rain. After our bout with Hurricane Isabel last fall, this is just what we need, particularly since my refrigerator has not long recovered from the "twelve days without electicity" smell. Depending on the ultimate track of Alex, we may get soaked or emerge relatively unscathed. The latest forecast track has the storm a bit to the west of where forecasters originally predicted, so it looks like we're in for rain, rain, rain.

But as for right now, all is quiet save for the tree frogs and crickets calling in the dark.

So here is my first blog entry. Admittedly I'm a bit apprehensive typing my innermost thoughts on here knowing full well that everyone (ok..probably just some old lady in Utah) may be reading them. I've long kept a hand-written journal, but this particular form will take some adjustment time.