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Anthony (The Family Reunio…): google.com Great summary…
Arron (Project's end): google.com Fine informat…
Dave (Rock, paper, ohfu…): wicked awesome.
Alex (Growing up.): This is designed to test …
Fork (Growing up.): Dude… one of these days i…
Fork (Um, just sort of …): The good old days… sniff …
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oz (All right, let's …): I love Alex. Alex is my h…

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+ 44 - 42 | § Santa Barbara and the star-bellied sneeds

A lot of people here, they don't understand what bothers me about Santa Barbara.  I lay broad claims to the pretensious vein which runs through it, the subtle but suffocating caste system.  They all say, it was like that everywhere.  High school is like that everywhere.
But it was never about high school.
I have this memory from the age of 4, maybe 5, that powerfully affects me even to this day.  I was at pre-school, sitting in the shade of a junglegym, watching people.  Even then, I felt safe in junglegyms.  Even then, part of me loved to watch people.
There were these girls... Three of them, all standing on their heads, giggling as their dresses flopped down around them.  A fourth girl came over, and after a moment, decided to stand on her head with them.
Within seconds, the leader of the three spoke.
"You can't play with us."  She spoke haughtily, strange as that may sound for one her age.
"Why not?"  The girl was confused, and quite obviously hurt.
"Your underwear."  The alpha toddler leaned onto one arm and pointed with the other, still standing on her head.  "It's not made by Calvin Klein."

I didn't even know how to READ then, so I can't tell you what they were.  Fruit of the Loom, maybe.  Hanes, possibly. All I could tell is that sitting there, leaning against a windy ladder, I could make out 3 pairs of frilly girl underwear.  Lacy pink stuff, shiny.  And one pair of plain, cotton.

I found out later that they didn't know how to read, either.  They just knew how to recognize the CK, and had somehow learned that status came with it.  I was aghast, I would say struck speechless had I been saying anything up until that point.  I didn't understand any of it.  How on earth was this poor girl was less fun to play with because her underwear wasn't made by this Calvin guy?  Why on earth did these girls thought discouraging anybody from playing with them was a good idea?  Why the hell did any of this matter?
"I don't know who made my underwear."  A boy next to me piped up.

"Neither do I."  I turned to him and grinned.  A silent agreement had been struck, we were together in this war against nonsense.  So we turned our backs to the smirking elitist toddlers (the girl had since run off crying), and ran up the slide to escape the sand monster that lurked in our midst.

A day later, word had spread among the Secret Maternal Network of these events, and on the way to preschool the next day, my own mother brought it up, and asked if I'd witnessed it.
"Yeah," I remember pausing for a second, just a little afraid that I was asking a stupid question.  "Why does it matter if your underwear is made by Calvin Klein?"
I remember to this day the way she said it,  the staggering and powerful way she drilled the next words out of her mouth into the very core of my being with nothing more than the inflection in her voice and the look in her eyes.
"It's doesn't."  She said.  "It's doesn't matter at all."
"Then why did they do that?"  Still, I did not understand.
"They learned it from their parents."  She paused before saying this, I think she knew I wouldn't let it go until I understood, and this is something that was alien to my way of thinking.
"Why do their parents do it?"  At this point she sighed.
"Because their parents are stupid, Alex.  They're just... They're just stupid."

I tend not to think about this story very often, but anybody who knows me will probably tell you that it makes a lot of sense, that my personality reflects having witnessed this atrocity at such a young age.  I don't even like to look at the brand of clothing I'm buying.  If it's comfortable, by god, it works.  I used to be pretty wary of metrosexual people until I realized that I was committing the same sin as those three little girls, only in reverse.  I have since discovered that most metrosexual men are, in fact, fun and goofy folk.  I wince a little harder than most people do at a judgemental remark made upon anybody, which doesn't have to do with some element of that person's personality.  And I tend to hold a high regard for people who, by several characteristics of their personality and/or lifestyle, unintentionally make it evident that they don't care who's watching.
It's strange to say that I hold someone with a certain form of apathy in high regard.  But it was Santa Barbara.  Not caring was a battle waged in the name of individuality.

Also, I get really nervous whenever shopping with girls requires that I set foot into a Victoria's Secret.  I always want to tip over the "3 for $25" table and defend myself, slingshotting the new spring line at The Enemy.  Though, research has suggested that I'm not the only one, so this last part might just be a guy thing.

Sometimes, to this day, the memory of those girls who knew what "CK" meant before they even knew what a C or a K was, resurfaces in my memory.  Flashes, mostly.  When Jenny, widely lauded for being a hippie from Scottsdale, posted an invite to her birthday party, I skimmed the invitation and balked at "Cocktail Party" and "Dress appropriately."  I"m ashamed to say my first thought was "You can take the girl outta Scottsdale..."  It was really a very relaxed and groovy party, I think what she was really going for was "I'm in college, and this is a 21st birthday party, but that doesn't mean you should show up looking like you're trying to get laid," and I realized that later on, but that initial look at the invitation gave me flashbacks of the whole CK thing.

And mere minutes before I started this entry, there was an ad on TV that showed 3 little, little girls playing like they were in a punk band, and a girl's voice saying "They ALWAYS match."  Later, a fadeout to the department store's name and the word "Sale", that girl's voice said, "Be cool, dress nice for school."

Don't do it, kids.  Dress like an invalid.  Stand on your head.  See who your real friends are.

-Shaggy

+ 45 - 40 | § Not to piss off everyone who reads this, or anything, but...

Have you ever gone from not having enough free time to having too much?
It's a weird feeling.  Me and lethargy, we're like those friends who suddenly grew apart, only to be thrust together years later.  We're both trying to make excuses, make the other one understand.  "It's not you, it's me..."  But at the same time, trying to remember how to get along.

We're starting off with some light stuff.  Cartoons.  Learning how to code in Ruby.  Reading a lot of slashdot, occassionally buying something off woot or geeks.com.  I'm thinking later we might do something neat together.  Write a book, take a nap, see an obscene number of sci-fi movies.  In the meantime, friends are good.  They save me from spending too much time by myself.  Some is good.  Hell, some is necessary.  But too much never does anybody any good.
-Alex

+ 41 - 50 | § Project's end

For the past 10 weeks, I've been busting ass on these two projects... One, a visual user control designed to be able to drop into any application and be instantly usable, but powerful and entirely customizable.  So I chugged away with this corporate-sounding mantra pumping through my veins, my fingertips, "Maximum functionality, minimum setup".  I've used other people's components before, and about the coolest thing in the world is an empty constructor.  No setup, no tweaking, it just automatically works the way everyone thinks it should.

The other project, a program that uses that control.  Bosslady is going to push the executable and some screenshots through internal review so she can stick'm on a web page.  The manual way of doing things with the particular chunks of data I was working with were, get a set, put it into excel, customize a graph, save as jpeg, rinse and repeat.  With a single text file having around 6000 sets, well, that's... um... tedious.  I wrote a program that skips excel, streamlines the graphing process, and displays all the plots you want it to.  Got an email from Bosslady, "This used to take 6 weeks.  Now it takes about 6 minutes."  It's true, my code outputs 1000 GIF files a minute.  That's speed right there.

Had to give a presentation today.  I hate PowerPoint, so I passed out some reference slides with the featureset, hooked my laptop up to the big screen, and talked from the back of the room.  This is how you change the level of detail.  These are the scaling modes.  These are the colors, the overlaying option, the comparisons, the batch...  I was nervous as hell, I hate public speaking in general, but I talked about having no engineering background, no idea what kind of ways people would want the graph to look... So I wrote options, options everywhere.  Tweak this, zoom that, make this part blue.  How people would want it to look, how to tweak it for what they were looking for.  I tangented on the various things people might want to do, analyze where the output was strong and where it was weak, flip through multiple graphs on the same scale... And I showed them how to do that, the right set of mouse clicks that would get things moving, so you could see what you were looking for with the briefest glance at the graph.

It was like this 10 minute sentence, I kept forgetting my own featureset, glancing at my notes, and remembering them, talking about them, springing from one to the other with a "Oh wait, this is cool, Lemme show you this."  Thought I sucked.

However, several people pointed out, after all our presentations were done, how useful the stuff we did was.  My program and control, in particular.  An intel guy said that it was perfect for him, he had no scientific background, but I'd set it up so it would be easy for him to get what he needed to.  Bosslady talked about the built-in potential for real-time streaming of new input overlaid on old data.  I kinda felt all smug.  The lot of us scraggly interns were heralded as genius, sent from the heavens above as deliverers of gorgeous, streamlined, easy to use leetness.

Plus, we all got a nifty coin thing as a sort of mini-plaque for our accomplishments this summer.

Staying two more days before the job's over.  Have to iron out a bug or two, sexify the user interface (which is to say, make it a little more straightforward and intuitive, a few less subtle, non-intuitive side effects to button clicking), then spend a day outprocessing.  I fired off an email to The Boss regarding the realization that quitting involved paperwork too.

"Kind of precludes angry spontaneous quitting, doesn't it?  Like, 'Screw the lot of you, I've had it up to HERE with all this crap.  I quit, goddamnit!  I'll be at post all day tomorrow filling out paperwork, and them I'm gone!'  Then spending a day fuming, menacingly scribbling your social security number a couple hundred times on a thousand different forms..."

That's gonna be me, Wednesday or so.  Only without all the "Screw you guys." More like, "Well... done now."

-Alex

+ 47 - 47 | § The Family Reunion

Last weekend, family reunion.  I keep... starting... to talk about it, then stopping, like I don't have the energy to cover anything.  Too many events, too much emotion.

"Let me essplain.  No, there is too much.  Let me sum up."

175 family members.  Oregon, California, Colorado, Jersey, Georgia, DC, North Carolina... You're getting the idea.  From everywhere.  A sea of little old ladies and strapping, swarthy 20-somethings.  Food.  Everywhere.  The whole gig was split into two days - Dinner friday night at the Pittsburgh Steakhouse.  Barbecue the next day at a park.  Lasted about 10 hours.  It was efficient, too.  Friday night was for finding the people you'd missed, the people you know.  Hadn't seen Dorien or Thalia in a year or two.  Small stuff.  I hadn't seen Fern or Jesse or Mike, Manny,  Mikey, or Anthony, in about 8 years.  Hadn't seen my cousin John (swarthiest geek you'll ever meet. 

The next day, barbecue.  A 2nd cousin once removed (I think) had put us all into a giant family tree, it was on a poster.  But she died a month ago, and nobody else knew how to use the mac she put it together on.  I told her brother I might be able to convert it to PC and complete it, and it was a longshot, but I could give it a shot.  An hour later my dad pulls me aside, tells me rumor has spread of "That young man on Penelope's side" who's going to convert, update, and post the family tree for everyone.  Apparently, "give it a crack" translates to "accepts this sacred task."

Heh, sounds like fun.

This is the part that's hard, the feeling.  I remember barhopping with the other 6 or 7 twenty-somethings, loud music blasting in the back of a dive somewhere in downtown pittsburgh.  Making loud, but barely audible conversation by yelling into the ear of this amazingly beautiful girl sitting next to me.  The context is funny.  We're trying to figure out how we're related.  A few drinks, a bajillion cigarettes, and a cab ride later, John, Dorien and I are sitting on a curb out in front of the hotel, talking.  Her mom and our dads are all siblings, and they all have stories about eachother, but not about themselves.  So we trade, and we laugh, and we share some sadder tales of family that isn't with us anymore.  Later it's just John and I, pounding menthols and catching up on the decade we missed.

I remember my cousin Thalia's year-old son running up and hugging my leg, with a giant grin on his face.  I remember Phillip's son Adam playing twenty questions, and making his sister laugh hysterically by saying "boobyjuice".  Jason's greatest quote of the evening, "Dude, I just talked to my dad.  Third cousins are cool."

I remember after the barbecue, dragging two benches out in front of the drop-off zone of the hotel.  At first it was just John and I, then Jason, then some aunts and great-aunts, and Manny and Mikey... At least 3, maybe 4 generations all told, about 12 of us, sitting on these benches on a saturday night well after midnight, telling stories, catching up, sharing.  Some of us are drinking Coronas, some are munching soy chips.  A few are smoking.

It's mostly just that I remember the feeling.  How the awkward tradition arose of naming your great-grandmother when you introduced yourself, so people could peice things together.  How, with utter confidence, you could walk up to a table of strangers and say "Hi, I don't know any of you."  The number of people who, unprompted, opened their doors to the hypothetical situation of me being around.  "Next time you're in LA..."  If you're ever in Georgia, New Jersey, New York, or North Carolina.  If you're ever in Pennsylvania or Colorado or Virgina or DC.  If you're ever lost, you have a couch, you have a home.

I remember the look on Dorien's face, on Thalia's face, on Terry's face, on Uncle Mikey's and Aunt Fern's and Great Aunt Marika's face when I first arrived at the hotel, or walked through the doors to the restaurant.  Love, written all over their faces.  Big, greek-style hugs.  It's weird, a little disconcerting to show up somewhere with so many people that love and miss me.  It's hard, part of me wants to shrink away from all the attention.  But that would mean ducking away from them.  And I missed them too, yaknow?  I loved them too.

-Alex

+ 44 - 42 | § Oh, man.

At work:  I was having trouble conceptualizing program flow for a particularly wankerish set of interrelated operations.  I knew there was a way to do it so I wasn't redundantly calling and/or special-casing all over the place, but I couldn't get a handle on how to refactor the code.  So I drew a DFA, and it helped.
God help me.
-Alex