The wildest part of this New Year's Eve was avoiding the drunks on the road on the way home. Jordan, Gypsy, and I watched "Armageddon." Gypsy chastised us for laughing and pointing out the scenes where the writers took liberties with known physics. (The funniest parts were when they ignored their own physics, e.g. at the end when they split the asteroid in two, the two big pieces missed Earth, and the small debris burned up in the atmosphere. Previously we had seen one piece of small debris destroy Paris.) After that Ben Stallings showed up to spend the evening with Gypsy while Jordan and I went to a party at Scott and Maurine Stenwick's place. It was a fun, but not particularly memorable. When we came home around 2:00 it seemed that every other car was weaving, though none managed to hit us.
This is the first Christmas I've had without a corresponding vacation. This made for particularly frantic shopping on weekends and in evenings. We spent the day in the traditional way, visiting my parents. First we opened stockings, carefully filled by another family member chosen at random. This year I had my brother's stocking, and I decided to have a work-related theme. He's a stock analyst, so it was all financial. There was stock (specifically beef stock, the only bull-related item), bond (glue), a tea bill, a coaster on casters (the only roller-coaster related thing I could find), and a small battery (a short cell). Needless to say, he was baffled.
After opening stockings we had breakfast. This is all the traditional order of things, and it's traditional to have crepes. Next on the agenda was opening presents. Good loot was had by all.
Keeping in the traditions from childhood, we spent the rest of the day playing with the toys we had opened. Jordan gave me Lego Mindstorms, a Lego robotics set that you can program from your computer. Unfortunately, without batteries, we couldn't use it. Jordan, Gypsy, and I had given Karina a physics toy, one with balls that go around ramps like a roller coaster. This turned out to be a fun toy which Peter, Karina, Gypsy, Jordan, and I played with all day long. We used as many of the provided gadgets as possible: the gravity well, the trampoline, all four bells, and at least two kinds of switches. After dinner we had to put it all back in the same box it came in so Karina could take it home on the airplane the next day.
The day was a comedy of errors for our houseguest, Gypsy. Our cat kept her up all night, banging on her door trying to get in. (We suspect he hadn't been fed and suspected he could get the food for Gypsy's cats.) As a result, she ended up sleeping late. When she did get up and had breakfast, a cuisinart blade fell off the top of the refrigerator and cut her hand. A small but very deep cut between her thumb and forefinger. Jordan and I were already at work, so nobody was around to help her. Karina ended up taking her to the hospital, where she spent the rest of the day getting stitches.
Dinner was at my parents' house. Family and friends were as plentiful as food. A new addition this year was Tofurky. As artificial turkey goes, it was very good, but still nowhere near as good as a real bird. Our real bird was exceptional. We were at the table between about 4:30 and 8:00.
The final episode of Babylon 5.
Ben Stallings went to Grinnell and let us borrow his projection T.V. We put a sheet up in the living room and rearranged everything to make room. A 70-inch display is a much different experience from a 19-inch one. We invited family and friends to watch. Those who showed up: Karina, Peter and Carla, Gypsy, and Carla's parents, Gary and Myra. By an odd coincidence, everyone there was also at my parents' house the next day for Thanksgiving.
The episode definitely had the feel of a good-bye episode. It took place twenty years after the rest of the show. They didn't explain the fate of some of the characters, and they didn't explain some of the things which lead up to it. In particular, we have occasionally seen scenes of an event where Sheridan and Delenn are held prisoner in the Centari Imperial Palace, and I was hoping this episode would tell the story around that event.
Gypsy, a friend from Grinnell, arrived this evening. She and her two cats are moving here from Portland, OR. She likes Portland, but it's expensive, there are no jobs, and she knows more people in Minnesota. She will be staying with us until she can find an apartment. Ben Stallings, another friend from Grinnell, came with us to meet her.
We moved a door on the second floor of our house from the library to the hallway. Half of our second floor was once the master bedroom, but was later converted into two small bedrooms and a narrow hallway. Essentially we undid that, except keeping the walls intact. That way her cats will have room to run around. We don't want our little kitten to have to deal with two big cats running around his house, so they will remain separated.
The cats survived the trip and seem happy with their new quarters. Gypsy too seems alive and happy.
This evening I went to TwinCHI (the Twin Cities chapter of the ACM's special interest group on Computer/Human Interfaces). The group is a mix of academics and professionals. This evening's meeting started out with a video of a recent talk from Ben Schneiderman's, a famous professor of user interface design. I got one useful tip for designing web pages: put as many links as possible on the first page; orienting yourself to a page is the most time-consuming part of navigating, so one complex page is quicker to navigate than several simple ones.
Peter and Carla had their annual murder mystery dinner. Unlike most years, they decided to write their own and play up the role playing, such that only one character was actually interested in solving the mystery. Without knowing the genre, they had created a LARP. It worked out well.
My aunt Nancy and uncle Ted came for the weekend, and Jordan and I, along with my parents, Nancy and Ted, and a few of my parents' friends went to a play.
My mother's re-election party was this evening. She's been in the MN House of Representatives since I graduated from college. She's very popular in her district, so there wasn't much question that she would win. The big news is that my sister Karina flew in to be there, a complete surprise to Mom. (My dad collects frequent flyer tickets the way some people collect pennies, which allows him to arrange things like this.) Once Mom got over the shock of Karina showing up, she realized that Karina is still registered to vote here, and there were less than five minutes left before the polls close. Dad whisked Karina off to the voting booths, where Karina was the last one to vote.
Nero was neutered today. This can be a traumatic, personality-changing experience for a cat, so we were as nice as possible to him in the evening. He was woozy from the anesthetic. During dinner he tried twice to jump onto my lap and each time hit his head on the bottom of the table.
Halloween. We live in a part of town with lots of children, so we bought three big bags of candy. We ended the evening with three candy bars left. A few of our friends were supposed to show up and play a board game, but didn't.
We decorated the front door with many of the same things I decorated my cubicle with: fake spider webs, a black light, and a giant glowing alien head. We also put up a glowing skeleton, some lawn spiders, and seasonal luminaries.
Today was a Halloween party at work, a costume contest, and a cubicle decorating contest. I got second place in the cubicle decorating contest. My section, the "Tunnel" or "Mineshaft" (named for its trendy industrial look), won first place for having cobwebs everywhere, lights turned out, and general haunted house appearance. My particular cubicle added a black light, window covered up with a black cloth and glowing planet, an alien with glowing eyes, and computer gargoyles.
In the evening there was a party at the house of John Carney, my boss. There were pizzas as well as Halloween candy and leftovers from the party at work. Far more food than we could handle. There were about a dozen people there. One of the main reasons I decided to work for Gage was the people, so it comes as no surprise that the conversation was fun. At the peak of my Halloween candy sugar rush, Jordan and I played air hockey and then played doubles in ping pong. (Small air hockey boards can be tough on your knuckles.) At the end of the evening everyone watched "The Best Mind Since Einstein", a documentary about Richard Feynman.
Today we taught our cat to use the treadmill. It took about five minutes. Previously he's been scared or confused by it. His only previous attempt to walk on a moving treadmill resulted in falling down (after a painful struggle) and being dumped off the end. On a whim, Jordan decided to train him. First she put him on the stationary treadmill and pet him while I investigated a broken rubber band nearby. The cat soon walked over to see what I was doing. Jordan turned the machine on. Nero watched the treadmill's walking area and tracked the seam as it went from top to bottom. He could tell it was moving, not always obvious even to human observers. I tossed the rubber band onto the treadmill and Nero watched it fall off the end. After doing this a few times, he seemed to understand the perfectly linear motion. (Nothing else in the cat's world moves at a constant velocity for very long.) After a few more tosses he knew to wait at the end of the treadmill for the rubber band to fall off. Then I missed. The rubber band landed in front of the moving part of the treadmill. Nero walked around the treadmill to where the rubber band had landed and grabbed it, carefully avoiding the treadmill's moving section. Jordan changed the game by dangling the rubber band over the back of the treadmill. The cat would walk with his front paws in order to bat at it. Soon he was walking on all four legs up the treadmill to get to the rubber band. He was perfectly happy to trot along at 0.6 mph to keep up with the rubber band. When he caught it, he would hold it and fall off the back of the treadmill. At first this was disconcerting, but he didn't mind after a few times.
I spent much of the day updating the C*UUYAN Website and finishing up other UU business. In the evening Jordan and I went to Circles, a UU young adult group nearby. We watched Joseph Campbell's "Love and the Goddess" documentary. It was flattering and encouraging that one person there has moved to Minneapolis from Canada just last week and found this group from the C*UUYAN Website, where I had recently published the Circles schedule.
Most of the day was spent at a meeting of the Extension Committee, which is charged with funding various things for UU congregations in the Prairie Star District (a geographic area including most of the Midwest). Two things of importance to me were accomplished. First, we approved the job description for a consultant for campus/young adult consultant. (A few details will need to be worked out over the next few weeks.) Second, due to a major re-organization, the committee is being disbanded, and we discussed where we'd end up.
In the evening was Ben Stallings' birthday party. By some odd coincidence everyone who showed up was UU. Among other things, we watched Glenn or Glenda, a classic Ed Wood movie. It is the funniest unintentionally funny movies I've seen in a long time.
This has been my busiest day since I got my electronic calendar (in May). At least, it's the first day with five unrelated things. The first item was bringing in bagels. There is a tradition at my office to have someone bring in bagels Friday morning, and it was my turn. There's a mediocre bagel shop (Einstein Bros.) on the way to work, so I don't have to get up too early in the morning to get them. The second item in my calendar was the weekly department meeting.
The third item was the delivery of a brand new treadmill. After hearing on the radio that treadmills are the most effortless way to burn calories of all the exercise machines, we decided we need one. I used to have a guaranteed half hour walk most days when I was going to the U of MN and lived 15 (walking) minutes away from the building where I spent the most time. Now that I live 15 driving minutes away from work, I'm starting to get a little pudgy. Jordan has similar concerns about her own weight, although I can't tell from looking at her. We live in an area that's wonderful for walking, bicycling, and cross-country skiing, but if we're going to exercise regularly, we need something we can do on a whim when it's cold, dark, and rainy.
The treadmill works great. There are several bells and whistles for programming your work-out, although I don't see much value to them other than to enforce a warm-up and cool-down time, or to enforce a minimum time to work out. I can read the paper at 2-3 mph, and I can watch television at 4.1 mph. (Any faster and I start to run.) The cat doesn't know what to make of it.
In the evening I had two overlapping items, both UU-related.One was a dinner for the the PSD Extension Committee, of which I am a member. I skipped that for a fundraising dinner for UUU (University Unitarian Universalists, a group at the U of MN). The food was good, the cause was good, and the evening was fun.
Today Jordan and I took part in a parade in Plymouth. Mom, who is running for the state Legislature, asked us to carry banners for her. She's been a legislator since about 1990. Her first election was the only one which was even close, but she enjoys campaigning. By election time she will have knocked on all the doors in her district, or will have had someone with her knock on the door as she knocks on a nearby door. This is how she keeps in touch with her constituents.
This was a good day for a parade. Although cool in the morning, it was warm in the afternoon. Jordan and I carried lawn signs while mom shook hands with as many people as possible. We were between a purple 1940 classic car and another legislator who had a go-cart sized classic-style car. Near the end we were joined by member of the Plymouth City Council who had agreed to march for mom.
In the evening, dad invited us over for dinner. There was a convention of neurologists and he had invited them to his place for a dinner party. A caterer made dinner in the kitchen. My parents would have never hired a caterer to make dinner whan I was young, but times have changed. The three kids have moved out and become financially independent and mom is busy with politics.
Today was a "Team Building Picnic" at work. I've done team-building courses before (See the Sept. 20 entry below) but always with UU groups. This was similar, but was better focused on corporate teams. They were also less physically demanding than most (i.e. people over 300 lbs. would not be greatly disadvantaged). When we solved one puzzle by breaking the rules (i.e. using one of our four chances to rearrange the playing field) it was interesting to see that one developer in the group had very mixed feelings. Usually the lesson is to think creatively, but he was quick to point out that one person breaking the rules often means he must re-do everything from scratch to accomidate the new rules. Thus the lesson was that if you think "outside the box", be sure to communicate your unexpected behaviors to everyone who will be affected.
The most interesting puzzle was one in which half the team (six people) were blindfolded. They each had a rope, all attached to the same inner tube. Using that inner tube, the task was to pour the contents of one bucket into another. Since only the blindfolded people could physically do anything, we were essentailly divided into mamagers and naive workers. Unlike most tasks, where leaders weren't necessary, here we needed one person to coordinate the movements of the workers. When that person had to leave briefly, two people tried to step in, resulting in chaos.
Most of the management at Gage who showed up were in one group (not mine), and when they did this exercise they were the ones to volunteer to be blindfolded. They didn't do very well, although they learned a lot.
Jordan's birthday. We actually celebrated several times throughout the weekend. On Saturday we went out for dinner at a Japanese restaurant. On Sunday I invited my parents over for dinner and baked a hazelnut torte. The main course was salmon from Alaska, where Jordan's parents live.
Mary Samuels, who lead the University UU's last school year, was ordained this weekend. I'd never been to an ordination before. It's basically a service, but with many ministers and many ministerial in-jokes and chock full of hymns that ministers consider underutilized. All in all, it was an excellent service. It was exciting to see Mary get ordained.
In other news, we got a new washer and dryer this week. The old ones, while working, had many problems. The dryer took hours to dry a load of laundry, while the washer wouldn't take hot water (we checked the hoses; they were fine). Previously, it took all day to do a load. Now I can wash and dry three loads in one morning. They also wash and dry better and don't need babysitting. Jordan picked them out and is quite proud of her purchases. In part, I suspect, this is because she baught something that I will use nearly exclusively and she managed to buy things I like. She probably hopes that I won't mind doing the laundry quite so much.
I went to the PSD UU Young Adults annual fall conference ("Fall Boone") this weekend. It was at a new location this year, since the old location (the 4-H camp near Madrid, IA) is now priced out of our range. We weren't able to get a very secluded site, and there were a number of technical snags. But the weekend was good overall, and the camp has potential. Several current Grinnell students attended, and it was good to hear about what's happening there. Nearly the entire PSD-YA Steering Committee was reelected, although most people switched positions. I remain the treasurer and "Settled Adult".
We did a Teams Course (a.k.a. Low Ropes Course) and it was one of the best I've attended. The group really worked well together, and the puzzles were different from the ones we normally do. My favorite was a maze which one person traversed blindfolded, lead by a sighted person outside the maze. It becomes especially interesting when many people are in the maze at the same time, and therefore many voices overlapping.
In other news, Eva Carlstrom, a dear friend from college, got married on Saturday. (At about the same time, there was a wedding going on at the campsite where I was.)
We named the cat Nero. Previously we toyed with the name Hadrian after the Roman emperor. Hadrian makes a better role model, having been relatively popular and a good hunter. Nero, in the other hand, was arrogant and spoiled. But Nero makes a better cat name.
Jordan and I got a kitten. The kitten is something Jordan has been wanting for a long time, so last Saturday we went to the Humane Society and picked one out. It's a black kitten, three months old. Very friendly; almost too friendly. No name yet. I suggested "Berkeley", since he will be a eunich in three months. Jordan doesn't think "Berkeley" is a real name for a cat.
I got my diploma from the U of MN for my Master's Degree in the mail today. It's 8.5x11", and says I have the degree of Master of Science. Doesn't mention Computer Science. Hmmm... I have a master's degree in SCIENCE!
Defended my master's thesis. Except for a few beurocratic hoops, this was the last requirement for my master's thesis. That's good, since I had already been working for Gage Marketing full time for several weeks.
Started work for Gage Marketing Group. Part time for the first few weeks, to give me time to finish my master's thesis.
Finished my last class at the University of Minnesota.
Married Jordan Wood. The location was the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum; the minister was Jill Terwilliger.
Graduated from Grinnell College.
Completed Concordia Institute of German Studies, a one-year immersion program.
Graduated from The Blake School in Minneapolis.