License Plate Holders, Sudoku, The Fair, Tony's

As I was on my way to work the other day I noticed that the car in front of me had one of those personalized license plate holders. The slogan on it read, "Her car, his payment." For the life of me, I couldn't figure out whether that was meant as a complaint from him or a boast from her. I don't know which one would bother me more.



Why is it that so many people have trouble pronouncing the word "sudoku"? It's completely phonetic and not even very long. I mean, I've gotten used to people mangling my quite phonetic last name, but that's also ten letters and five syllables. Sudoku? Three syllables. What's so hard about that? And yet, for some reason, not one person in ten that I've heard say that word gets it right, preferring "suduko" or "soduku" or "sudoku."

Wait a minute...



This past weekend, Juliette and I went to the San Diego County Fair. The first time we went to the fair was just after we moved to San Diego, so it was a little surprising that a year had already gone by. This year's fair wasn't nearly as entertaining for me as last year's, mainly because I wasn't hungry. Usually the prospect of eating a hot dog, a gyro, kettle corn, ice cream, a caramel apple, roasted corn-on-the-cob, a tri-tip sandwich, and a plate of vegetables that has been deep-fried until any semblance of nutrition is long gone all on the same day would be something that would put me in quite a good mood. But this time I just didn't have much of an appetite, so I had to content myself with looking at student art and champion livestock.

Speaking of livestock, Juliette and I were both shocked to hear a woman exclaim "Oh, look at the horsies!" as we passed through the barn that held the cows, sheep, and goats--with nary a horse in sight. After exchanging incredulous looks, we both resolved to make sure when we have a family to get them out of the city from time to time.



Later in the weekend we had a friend from out of town in on business, so we went out to dinner with him and some mutual friends to Tony's Jacal. We'd only been once before, about a year before--for that same friend's birthday, as it happens. I'd nearly forgotten about the place in the intervening time, which is odd considering how good it is. In fact, I think that it may be my new favorite Mexican restaurant, since the closing of the Casa de Bandini last year. One of the odd things about San Diego is that although there are plenty of great little taco shops, there are hardly any good Mexican restaurants--not, at least, in the parts of the city with which I'm familiar. Tony's may not actually disprove that observation, considering that it's actually in the neighboring city of Solana Beach, but it's close enough that I'm willing to overlook such technicalities, especially in light of the awesome food. The prices are pretty decent as well--the five of us all ate quite well for less than $70, including tax and tip. I heartily recommend it if you're ever in the area.

Some Scattered Thoughts

I'm finding it a little difficult to focus at the moment. My mind is quite scattered, kind of like the way sunlight scatters as it passes through the atmosphere, producing the blue color we're used to seeing in the sky. So instead of a tight, cohesive, laser beam of an essay, today you get this dim, flickering candle of a post.

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I'm not nearly as good a poker player as I would like, as evidenced by the $25 I've lost so far playing micro-limit online hold 'em. Does this mean I'm going to quit? Of course not.

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I'm always a little behind the times, which probably explains why it was only this past week that I subscribed to my first podcast. At first I just didn't really get the point. For the most part, I don't listen to talk or news radio, so why would I listen to essentially the same thing on the Internet? Well, things have changed somewhat. Over the past few months the number of web comics I read has doubled, as have the number of blogs I regularly check. Text-only blogs led to video blogs and that, combined with my growing interest in indie music over the past year, led to podcasting.

The three main feeds I'm listening to at the moment are all from radio stations. KCRW, the NPR affiliate in Santa Monica, is well-known for its influential "Morning Becomes Eclectic" music program. That program was one of the few things I was sad to leave behind when I moved to San Diego, so I was delighted to find that they also stream it from their web site. And now they have two very interesting podcasts. The first is a collection of live sets from the show--only updated infrequently because they only include unsigned or independent artists--and the second is a "song of the day" list. The latter, along with a similar feed from Seattle's KEXP, have turned up some really interesting songs that I doubt I would have heard otherwise.

I also subscribe to the video podcast from Rocketboom but it has the irritating quality of failing to work from my office.

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Speaking of video blogs, I started watching Ze Frank's The Show last week and I really like it. I understand that Ze's vlog (yes, it's a stupid word, but that's what they're calling them these days) is one of the more popular ones out there, so you may already watch it. If not, I suppose you'll want a description. OK. If The Show were an ice cream sundae, it would be two scoops of making fun of news items, one of making fun of his viewers, liberally drizzled with fart jokes, and sprinkled with tidbits (mostly complaints) from his own life. And, of course, the cherry on top would be the project to make a sandwich out of the Earth.

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One of my good friends got her master's degree this past Sunday. A lot of thoughts and feelings were going through my mind as I watched her commencement ceremony--I felt proud of her for her accomplishment, a little jealous that I hadn't done it yet, and maybe a little hopeless at the recognition that I probably will never get around to grad school. But most of all I was struck by how boring the ceremony was. I mean, of course it was cool to see my friend walk across the stage, but that was the sole interesting thing about the entire two-hour event

I remember both my high school and college graduations quite well. Both consisted of what I think of as pretty standard graduation elements: a processional to "Pomp and Circumstance," the national anthem, the Pledge of Allegiance, some opening remarks by the principal/president, one or two student speeches, a faculty award or two, a keynote speaker, the awarding of diplomas, some closing remarks, and, finally, the recessional.

Actually, my friend's graduation was actually pretty much the same, except that some of the elements had been changed. Instead of having short opening remarks, for example, they had long opening remarks that mainly consisted of introducing a bunch of faculty and staff that I didn't know or care about. (Judging by the applause, some of them didn't even matter to the students.) Instead of having a valedictory address, they had some student get up and accept a diploma on behalf of the whole class. And instead of a keynote speaker, they had, well, nothing.

I had figured beforehand that it would be somewhat different from my college graduation, being a huge state university instead of a small, private college. I thought that meant that the boring part would be longer, considering there would be far more diplomas to hand out. I didn't expect the extent to which my prediction would hold true. On the bright side, at least I know what to expect should I ever get back to school.

In any case, as boring as the ceremony was, it doesn't take away from the magnitude of my friend's accomplishment. I really am happy for her--I mean, not only does she have a master's degree now, but she also has all kinds of free time in the evening. So congratulations, Mel.

The Desert Can Be a Beautiful Place

One of my good friends from high school got married this past Saturday. Juliette was very excited about it because even though she was never actually the groom's friend, we hadn't been to a wedding since our own--almost three years ago--and like any good junkie she needed her fix. I was excited, too, but more because I was just so happy for my friend.

I ended up having quite a good time. At first I was a little worried because I didn't know anyone but the groom and a few of his family members, plus it was uncomfortably hot--the wedding was held in the town where the couple lives, which is way out in the middle of the Mojave Desert. Anyone who has been to a large wedding knows that the newlyweds won't be able to make much time during the reception to hang out with any one guest--they've just got too many people that want a piece of them. So if you only know the couple and you're not very outgoing, you're in for a sort of slow night. As it turned out, though, my friend had invited another guy I knew from high school, and Juliette and I spent a fair amount of time that evening chatting with him and his wife, catching up and reminiscing. It was really nice to hear what was going on with him, not to mention interesting.

What will stay in my mind as the defining image of the wedding, though, was the look on the groom's face during the ceremony. As long as I've known this guy--and it's been about twenty years since we first met--he's always played it close to the vest when it came to emotions. We've had many a chuckle, but I can't think of a time I've ever seen him angry or depressed or ecstatic. But the expression he had when he was looking at his bride was so full--joy, love, amazement, one after another all nakedly present on his face. I swear I even saw him get choked up. It was amazing. In fact, it was one of the most beautiful things I've ever seen. I'm glad I got the chance to see it--it's things like that that make your own life richer.

Congratulations, MacKenzie and Stephanie. I'm really happy for you guys.

Our Nation's Capital

I recently had the opportunity to visit Washington, DC for the first time. Having never been there before, I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I am, by nature, a rather patriotic person, but I'm also quite the small town boy. I love history, but I hate being a tourist. As luck would have it, I quite enjoyed my brief stay in our nation's capital.

You may think that much of what I have to say in the rest of this piece is hokey, strange, or at least uninformed; I can base my opinions on nothing more than my own experiences. But, like people, places have a certain quality, call it spirit or, if you prefer, personality, that can be sensed if you are open to it.

Washington is a beautiful city. It is beautiful in a way that Los Angeles never has been, and probably never will be. Like New York, it has that rather stately feeling of an East Coast city that knows its age and the respect that it is due. Yet where New York is vibrant and exciting, Washington has a sense of understated dignity that I found humbling. It is a city that is fully aware of its history and of the symbolism inherent in its very being.

I don't normally enjoy doing touristy things. I like to try to blend in wherever I go. I don't always, or even often, succeed, but I try. Washington was a different experience for me. I found myself trying to visit as many monuments and memorials as I could. I drove all over the downtown area, saw the Mall, the Washington Monument, drove past the Smithsonian museums, the Capitol, the White House. I didn't get a chance to walk around and really experience most--I was in the area for less than twenty-four hours--but I think that many of the attractions just need to be seen. The one place I did get out and explore was the Arlington National Cemetary. I'm glad I did.

As you enter the cemetary, there is a sign that informs you that you are entering the nation's most sacred shrine, and reminds you to conduct yourself with dignity and respect. Periodically, there are signs that say, "Silence. Respect." Here's the amazing thing: people read and obey the signs. The cemetary is not silent, but it is an exceptionally quiet place. I've noticed that certain outdoor places have a certain strange acoustic property wherein sound does not resonate. The Mojave Desert is one such place. The Arlington National Cemetary is another. Sound seems to be swallowed up by the air; you can hardly even hear your own footfalls.

The cemetary is a place of awesome dignity, but one place above the rest sticks with me: the Tomb of the Unknown Soldiers. The Tomb stands before the Memorial Amphitheater, looking out over the hills and the river toward the capital. A lone sentry stands guard, pacing back and forth in front of the tomb. The only sound, apart from the occasional bird call, is the click of his heels as he turns. The tomb bears this inscription:




As I read these words and looked out over the city I couldn't help but get a lump in my throat. These were ordinary people, as much so as you and I, who gave the ultimate sacrifice for their country and their way of life. It is a poignant reminder that this land was built and sustained by the hopes, dreams, sweat, and, sometimes, blood of such people.