Saturday, August 31, 2013

Missing Your Child...And Your Past

It's been eight days since that first tiny, yet natural, "fracturing" of our family took place. My wife, youngest son Ben and I drove the 40+ miles south to Fredericksburg, Virginia, to move our oldest son Josh into his freshman dorm at the University of Mary Washington. We know this needs to happen, that this should happen, and we're truly excited for Josh -- but that doesn't make the "letting go" of our firstborn any easier.

For our part, we all cried when we said goodbye -- I freely admit that, because I'm that guy, the one who pretty much wears his emotions on his sleeve. For Josh's part, I'm pretty sure he'll miss his mother, brother and I, but I know his excitement to begin not just his freshman year in school, but to start practicing with UMW's lacrosse team (whose recruitment he pursued vigilantly) likely exceeds any family-related emotions he might have right now.

And you know, that's okay...that's part of growing up and going to college, at least from my personal experience, and I am so excited for Josh that he is experiencing that kind of anticipation right now. I remember being in his shoes in the summer of 1984, and hardly being able to wait out summer to get started on my own freshman year at Shippensburg University of Pennsylvania. The mid-to-late 1980s of my undergraduate years at Ship were four of the most exhilarating, exciting and fulfilling years of my entire life so far. Yes, some folks use the same adjectives to describe married life, and to describe life after our kids come along, but those college undergrad years? Well, that's a special kind of magic right there. College is a place and a time where one makes some of the best memories and some of the best friends of a lifetime.

And actually, I find that a week after my oldest son has gone on to start his freshman year at college, that I'm almost...envious. Don't get me wrong, I wouldn't want to go back and re-live those four years at all -- nor to repeat the years that have passed since. I'm not a guy who lives with regret, and I'm not about to start now. But the experience of living somewhere new, in a microcosmic (and somewhat shielded) environment where you're solely responsible for the choices you make regarding your schoolwork, meals, laundry, social life and -- to a certain extent -- your bills and fiscal situation, is incomparable.

It's a growing experience that you don't want to trade for the world. And I'm so glad that Josh is living it right now, and that Ben will get that same opportunity in two years. I love my sons as much as I do my good wife. I do (and I will) miss my kids when they're both off at college -- and I can't help live vicariously (just a bit) through their experiences, and to miss my own -- but I can't wait for them to experience the singularly enriching experience of living on your own for the first time. There's nothing in the world quite like that feeling...

Friday, June 28, 2013

Mourning At Work

Feeling just a little sad today -- it is the final day in the office for two co-workers who I've worked with on various projects over the past several years. They have chosen to move on for better or more lucrative opportunities, and they deserve nothing but success wherever they land, because they have proven themselves to be shrewdly talented and dogged pursuers of progress in each of their positions. I've grown to not only appreciate their professional prowess, but also their sharp wit and the fun times that we shared over the years.

And that's where the sadness comes in -- perhaps it's just me getting old, but I get pretty nostalgic about departures at work, especially when it's someone within our immediate work team of about 40 people. Like it or not, we spend as much time (sometimes more) with our co-workers each day, than we do with our own families -- which is a necessary reality and not always conscious choice. So when a co-worker leaves (especially skilled ones like these two folks), it truly does leave a void behind -- a void that, unfortunately, won't necessarily be back-filled in today's fiscal environment.

Then there's the inevitable questions that arise during this time -- they're moving on, am I doing the right thing by staying put? Am I becoming stagnant in my career? Have I made the right choices in my professional life? It seems there are never concrete answers to those questions, especially when you need them. But I think it's natural that they occur at times like these.

So. as my departing co-workers empty their cubes and plot their journeys into hopefully greener pastures, I'll just sit here, sip on my coffee, and indulge myself by mourning their "moving-on." At least a little bit.

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Star Trek Into Darkness -- WOW. And again, just...WOW.

I was quite fortunate on two counts this afternoon -- not only did I get to catch a matinee showing (in 3D!) of Star Trek Into Darkness, but I was able to see it with my teenage sons, with whom I rarely get to enjoy a movie with anymore.

I will likely have more to say about Star Trek Into Darkness (STID) as time goes on, but right now I need to let the experience sink in. And boy, was it ever an experience...and I mean that in the best possible way. I am a life-long Star Trek fan, of every one of the TV and theatrical incarnations, to include J.J. Abrams' "re-imagined" timeline, starting with this movie's 2009 predecessor and continuing herein.

I suspect much will be said and written with regard to the subject matter choice of this movie. My personal feeling is this:  I'm glad the writers "went there," and got this particular story out of their systems. I won't provide any further spoilers here -- but I think STID strikes a nice balance between the continuing development of relationships among this young crew (which is, I might add, expertly and perfectly cast), while paying homage to that which has come before -- despite the proviso that events from the 2009 movie have irrevocably changed the Star Trek timeline for all involved, in ways that we (nor the writers) can't yet imagine.

A lot has also been written already about Benedict Cumberbatch's turn as the STID villain in this latest installment -- and for good reason. As good as the advance word of mouth has been on this guy, he's even better than that. Cumberbatch is believably scary-good -- calculating, manipulative, cunningly suave, and willing to justify any means to his end. Not all the antagonists in STID are drawn in such stark shades of black and white, however -- and this is where the Star Trek purists (who insist/demand that the future is the utopia imagined in the original TV series) and I disagree. People are people -- good, evil, and everything in between. And it will never matter how much of a utopian society we're able to build -- there will always be an element of inherent evil (or for you true Trek nerds, a "Section 31") ready to tear down or re-interpret what others have worked so hard to build for good.

For what it's worth, STID has the most breathtaking and amazing special effects I've ever seen in any movie in my lifetime. The attention to detail is astonishing -- for example, after an altercation between the U.S.S. Enterprise and another starship, there is a (arguably dangerous) debris field simply floating in space between the two vessels, as there likely would be in a weightless environment. Why didn't anyone else think of that simple detail before?

This newly designed Enterprise continues to grow on me...and starships are critical for me to be immersed in all of this, because they are my favorite part of the entire Star Trek universe. What seemed to me to be at first a ship haphazardly designed by adult fan boys in the 2009 movie, who were inspired by several years' worth of 1970s-era Hot Rod magazines, is starting to make optical sense to me now. The Enterprise is beautifully and lovingly shot from many angles (by both the camera and opposing weapons) in STID. Perhaps even more logically, we get to see ship interiors and spaces that fit and flow together and actually help you believe, for example, that you're seeing the engineering deck of the Enterprise, and not just a sprawling brewery factory doubling as such.

I read several glowing reviews of the post-production 3D effect layered onto this movie, which affected my decision to spring for the 3D showing, BUT -- I won't be paying the premium price for 3D again, unless it's a film that was filmed that way from the start. It's cool technology, yes, and I admit that I ducked once or twice when a piece of "debris" came "flying" at me from the screen, but honestly, I wouldn't say it added that much to the overall experience. (In truth, the 3D trailer for the new Superman epic, Man of Steel, was more exciting than the entire STID movie in 3D.)

So, bottom line -- I do strongly recommend that you see STID in a theater, in 2D or 3D. The cast is impeccably awesome, the story's pretty darn good, and the special effects are the absolute best I've seen in any theatrical space opera in the past 30 years. I'll go ahead and give it a 4 stars out of 5 on Mike's Perfectly Meaningless Movie Rating Scale.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Local Used Book Store Closed, Victim of eBooks

Book Rack to Close for Good Saturday - Kingstowne-Rose Hill, VA Patch

This is what happens when you don't blog regularly, and routinely seek out local news. The Book Rack was a book store that sold second-hand paperbacks and hardbacks in a nearby shopping plaza, that closed at the end of Feburary 2013 -- a victim of all of the iPads and Android tablets that showed up under Christmas trees at the end of 2012. That's not unexpected, but the store closing is sad for our family -- my wife and I, as well as our two sons dug through many stacks of used books over the years there. RIP, Book Rack -- and perhaps, books in general.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Springfield Town Center -- Not A "Reston Town Center"

The nearby transformation of the former Springfield Mall into Springfield Town Center (STC) is discussed and highlighted in this brief but very informative video. I thought all along that the STC redevelopment would be a series of redesigned "blocks" comprising a network of sidewalks, streets and plazas interconnecting among the existing anchor stores and newer, smaller retail tenants (not unlike Reston Town Center). I know that STC was pitched with this type of layout a number of years ago. STC will remain an enclosed mall, but with many upgrades, and a much more "open" feel, at least judging by what the video shows. Personally, I can't wait for STC's new multiplex theater and expanded food court to open and take the pressure off of Kingstowne Town Center, which has become nearly unnavigable on weekend evenings in recent months.

Jack Diamond Exits MIX 107.3...Apparently, for Good

In a surprise move, WRQX-FM booted ultra-popular morning drive host Jack Diamond from their daily lineup a couple weeks ago, and replaced him with "The Bert Show," syndicated from Atlanta. Twenty plus years ago when my wife and I first married and commuted into Alexandria city together from our Kingstowne home, we listened to Jack and Bert on the drive, who were a pretty successful team back then. Jack has taken on several co-hosts over the years, and (in my opinion) hasn't been quite as much fun to listen to, but that's more likely due to me preferring straight news/talk radio to gossipy shock jocks on my morning commute. Godspeed, Jack Diamond...

And So ENDED The Great Basement Den Renovation (Like 10 Months Ago)

Yes, it's a sad state of affairs when you check into your blog stats and realize that A) it's been one year and a day since you last posted, and B) that you last posted about basement renovations. I mean, seriously...yawn. Anyway, for the one or two folks who might accidentally stumble across this blog and potentially tear their hair out over the renovation "cliffhanger" I posted a year ago, this picture's just for you.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

And So BEGINS The Great Basement Den Renovation

The basement den is the final room to be remodeled in the home we've lived in for 10 years. Here's the before state, with that horrid, dirty neutral white walls and the detestable "rose" carpet that came with our home. Additional pics will be added as we progress, with the new "Monroe Bisque" (that's fancy-pants for "tan") paint to be finished tomorrow, of the new berber carpeting being installed next week, and of the new IKEA entertainment center arriving next weekend. Here we go...

Friday, February 3, 2012

Too Much Positive Reinforcement Produces Negative Results

So, I was just reading about a local church whose education director chooses to "honor" those Sunday school students who have perfect attendance for a given quarter at each of that church's Sunday services at the end of the quarter. Any student who has perfect attendance for any or all quarters is "honored" in June with a special "banana (wait for it...) sunday" celebration. When did Sunday school attendance become such a contest, so needlessly complicated with the unneeded emphasis on rewards? I'm sure I'm in the minority here, but I think the "positive-reinforcement crowd" is getting as large and as annoying as the "politically correct" crowd. This Wall Street Journal article from two years ago is still pretty valid today with its discussion of the "trophy kids" entering the workforce.

Android Through the Years: One User's Perspective

From Cupcake To Ice Cream Sandwich: My Android Journey - AndroidPIT

Interesting look-back at one user's journey with every flavor of the Android mobile OS since the start...