Mar 29

Friday Five: Famous people

This week’s Friday Five is about fame.
1. If you could eat dinner with and “get to know” one famous person (living or dead), who would you choose? J. Michael Straczynski.
2. Has the death of a famous person ever had an effect on you? Who was it and how did you feel? Sure, many times. I remember being particularly bummed in 1989 because Graham Chapman and Mel Blanc both died that year. But the death that probably affected me the most was that of my favorite science fiction author, Isaac Asimov, in 1992. I was sitting in my office at IBM when I read the news on the company’s internal network. Asimov had been very ill for months, too ill to write, so I had known this was coming, but I was still saddened to hear the news.
3. If you could BE a famous person for 24 hours, who would you choose? At this point, I think I would have to say President Bush, because there are some people I’d like to drop daisy cutters on.
4. Do people ever tell you that you look like someone famous? A few years ago, when I had much more hair and a longer beard, someone told me I looked like Abraham Lincoln. Personally, I think she was nuts.
5. Have you ever met anyone famous? I go to science fiction conventions, so I’ve met a number of well-known authors, actors, and artists. (I’ve met most of the original Star Trek cast, for example.) I even had dinner with Forrest J. Ackerman once. He invited me to join him because I had recognized him and greeted him in Esperanto.

Mar 28

Closing time

Bob and I had our monthly dinner tonight and (following our usual practice) went walking afterward. It was chilly outside, so we did our walking inside a shopping mall. We were at Southpoint in Durham, which is an excellent place for that sort of thing. Until the armed guards ordered us to leave.
No, we weren’t in any kind of trouble. But it was after 9:00, and while we were absorbed in conversation, the mall had closed. This usually happens to us. Our postprandial walks tend to last for hours, and by 9:00 p.m. we are just getting started. But in Mall Time, that’s the end of the evening. Time to go home.
Outside of malls, nobody seems to think that 9:00 is time to call it a night. Stores like Target and Wal-Mart are open until 10:00 or 11:00. So are bookstores like Borders and Barnes & Noble. Movie theaters don’t shut down until midnight, and many restaurants stay open until 10:00 or later. And why not? People are still shopping, eating, and lining up to see movies.
Everyone but the malls seems to understand this. If people leave work at 5:00, it’s close to 6:00 when they get home, and 7:00 by the time they finish supper and get started shopping. From 7:00 to 9:00 is only two hours, which isn’t very long if you have a lot of shopping to do, or need to visit multiple stores. By staying open until 10:00 or 11:00, the Wal-Marts of the world not only make our lives easier, but also increase their business. But the malls think you should be at home in bed by then.
What’s particularly strange is the utter uniformity of it. Every mall I’ve even been to closes at 9:00 or 9:30. Is there some kind of federal law requiring this? They must know they’re driving business to Wal-Mart, but apparently they don’t care. 9:00 is the Official Mall Closing Time, so they chase the customers out and lock the doors.
And the next morning, the malls open at 10:00, when everyone is at work. You can’t go shopping during the day, but the malls are open anyhow, because those are mall hours. Why?

Mar 25

Welcome back from the abyss

The beta crunch is finally over. On Friday, my documentation team finally delivered our help files and manuals for the beta release of the product. And I went home and went to bed. I slept for the entire weekend, except when I was away from home on previously scheduled engagements (Diversions on Saturday, and the memorial service for Miles’s stepfather on Sunday).
Now it’s Monday, and time for my life to get back to normal. Last week was a remarkable experience — I’ve always said that I do some of my best work under extreme pressure at the last minute, and this was no exception — but one can only live for so long on adrenaline, coffee, and three to four hours of sleep per night. I’m proud of what we accomplished, but I think I’ve had enough white-knuckle technical writing for a while.

Mar 11

Friday Five: Home

A combination of Blogger outages and an insane workload prevented me from tackling the Friday Five last week, and although I kept meaning to do it over the weekend, somehow I never did. Rather than let it slide completely, I’m going to pretend it’s still Friday and do it anyway.
1. What makes you homesick? As I mentioned last week, I haven’t been on an extended trip in a very long time, so I really haven’t had the opportunity to experience homesickness.
2. Where is “home” for you? Is it where you are living now, or somewhere else (ie: Mom & Dad’s house, particular state/city)? Home is the Research Triangle area of North Carolina. Marie and I lived in Columbia for most of a decade, but it never felt permanent; as students living in dorms, and then as a married couple living in various apartments, it always had a transient feeling, as if we were just passing through. After we moved here in 1987, I finally started to feel that I had put down roots.
Home used to be Rock Hill, but that town has changed so much since I left for college that I barely recognize it any more. The Triangle has changed just as much, of course, but I’ve watched it happen. Rock Hill transformed while I wasn’t looking, and on some unconscious level I still expect it to look the way it did in 1981.
3. What makes it home for you? People? Things? People. Specifically, GNO. Moving to North Carolina was made much easier by the fact that Virgil and Denise were already here. And gradually, over the next decade or so, the four of us managed to accumulate a group of like-minded people that defies description, except to say that I never get tired of spending time with them. This place is home because they are here. (Although, in point of fact, some of them aren’t physically here any more.)
4. Where is the furthest you’ve been from home, miles-wise? In 1968, my family (which lived in Monroe, Louisiana at the time) set out on a summer vacation across the southwestern USA. We got as far as Nevada before turning back. That’s definitely as far as I’ve ever been from my current home, and probably farther from Monroe than I ever get from Holly Springs these days.
5. What are your plans for this weekend? Well, the weekend in question is already over, but most of it was taken up with the final installment of Ben’s 13th birthday celebration. (When I was a kid, you got one party, on the actual anniversary of your birth. When did birthday celebrations become multipart affairs than last in excess of a week? Somewhere along the line, I got cheated.) We took Ben and a bunch of his friends bowling on Saturday, and they stayed at our house overnight and well into Sunday, playing video and computer games and trying out Ben’s new paintball equipment. (Now you know why I didn’t post anything over the weekend: I couldn’t get near the computer!)

Mar 02

Friday Five: Destinations

This week’s Friday Five is about vacations.
1. What’s your favorite vacation spot? I don’t think I’m really qualified to have one. I’ve spent most of my career working as a technical writing contractor, which meant that I didn’t get paid vacations. So I have done very little vacationing other than weekend or holiday visits to family, which don’t really count.
Now that I’m an honest-to-God employee at IBM, I should probably try to develop the vacation habit. I’m ashamed to say that I’ve lived in North Carolina for almost fifteen years and have made no effort to explore the state. I’ve spent a few weekends at Fort Caswell (on the coast near Wilmington) and have visited the State Zoo in Asheboro, but that’s all. I haven’t even been to Biltmore Estates.
2. Where do you consider to be the biggest hell-hole on earth? I’m not qualified to answer that one either. I can think of lots of places — Cuba and North Korea come to mind — that I have no desire to visit, but that’s not based on personal experience. I’ve never been to a truly awful place because I never go anywhere.
3. What would be your dream vacation? If this is another money-is-no-object scenario, then it’s easy: one of those billionaire junkets to Space Station Alpha.
4. If you could go on a road-trip with anyone, who would it be and why? Until recently, I would have had a difficult time answering this question. But a month or so ago, I drove to Lexington to meet my mother for lunch. Marie and I and the kids do this sort of thing fairly often (see #5), but on this occasion they were all busy with other things, so I ended up going by myself. And I enjoyed it immensely.
It had been many years since I had gone on a road trip alone, and I had forgotten how liberating it was to be able to set my own schedule, choose my own route, and stop wherever I felt like it. On the way back, for example, I stopped at a shoe outlet in Siler City and just looked around for a while. I didn’t end up buying anything, but just the fact that I didn’t have to justify the stop to anyone, or listen to complaints about how long it was taking, was exhilerating to me. I don’t often experience that kind of freedom.
Perhaps I should look for excuses to do that sort of thing more often.
5. What are your plans for this weekend? Tonight the family is going out to dinner at Stir Crazy (the new Mongolian barbecue restaurant in Cary) to celebrate Ben’s thirteenth birthday (which is actually not until Monday, but we won’t let that stop us). On Saturday, we’re taking Marie to see The Fellowship of the Ring for the first time. (It will be my third.) On Sunday, we’re meeting my parents for lunch in Asheboro, again to celebrate Ben’s birthday.

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