Friday, March 24, 2006

San Francisco, Part Three!

Looks like I'll be heading to San Francisco again this year. This will be my third trip for JavaOne, making something like fifteen nights I've spent in San Francisco. I don't even think I've slept that many nights in Boston or NYC. Well, that's what happens when the company pays.

To be determined is whether I travel alone, or with Jess. We hadn't planned on an expensive trip together this year, but basically having her along on a company trip (if we don't do anything expensive) is a severely bargained vacation for her. We pay for her flight and her food, and that's it. Still, it's a different trip with just work going on versus sharing the time with Jess. Not that I mind a lot, but when every moment you're busy at the conference is a moment you're not seeing San Francisco with your wife, you kind of find reasons to stay away from the conference.

We'll see.

What I also have to decide, and soon, is where I'm going to stay. The place we stayed last year, Pan Pacific, is no longer affiliated with the conference. I'm not sure why; it was a fine location.

So, there are a couple metrics I need to worry about. Price is the smallest issue. Ideally I should pick a spot with a reasonable rate, but it's not a huge factor.

The next issue is location. While all of the hotels are "walking distance" from the conference, they vary from "next door" to 8 blocks away. Last year's hotel was a bit of a walk, but I never really minded it. Still, closer might be cooler, if it can be arranged.

The final issue is character. The truth is, I like to travel. I like to be in new places. While there's nothing wrong with staying at yet another Marriott, you have to wonder how different the Marriott San Francisco Downtown is from Marriot Boston Copley Place, say.

This creates an interesting dynamic. Close to the conference center, you have bland expensive chains which are designed for convention-goers. You also have a few expensive luxury hotels, and these are the ones I might have trouble getting paid to stay at. Further away, you have some of the more interesting, cheaper places, with more personality. Of course, one person's personality is another person's "dirty, noisy, and cramped." Finding the compromise is the hard job. The bonus here is that price and character are often inversely related. The $230 room at the Marriott is probably much less interesting than the $120 room at the Mark Twain.

Anyway, right now I'm seriously considering Hotel Rex, a small hotel with a literary theme near Union Square. The problem? I remember where this place is, basically another block further from the conference than I was last year ... uphill. Deal breaker? Or deal sealer?

It remains to be seen.

Monday, March 13, 2006

"Welcome to Home Ownership"

"Welcome to home ownership."

I hear that ... a LOT. I tell people about some minor adventure, and that's their response. I'm starting to see a trend.

The battle to turn this house we bought into our home is being fought on many fronts. The first one worth talking about is the paint job. The entire house was relatively unpainted. The main living areas were white, with clear markings of aborted paint attempts of years gone by. The bedrooms were a mix of white and this really pale blue, which looked like it had been unintentionally left on the walls. The previous paint job had been a less-than-enthusiastic affair, evidently, as you could easily see where it hadn't been completed: a giant unpainted area that was likely hidden behind a headboard in the bedroom, for example.

We couldn't decide how to proceed, but we started looking at colors anyway. And then an answer fell in our laps. Jess's parents knew someone who could help us out, and we'd be helping someone out in the meantime. This guy was someone her Dad knew through his church work, a Vietnam vet on disability after a lifetime of tough times. He was getting his life back together, had been sober for a while, and was a painter in need of work. For a reasonable price, he would bring his expertise into our home.

It worked out great. We bought the paint and the supplies, he showed up and just worked his ass off all day. Over the next few weeks, our house was transformed one room at a time, with the living room left for last.

And then he stopped showing up. We called, left messages at his group home, but never heard from him. Jess's Dad called around, and nobody had seen the guy in days. Where was he?

We still don't know. The working theory is that he fell off the wagon when his motorcycling buddy returned to the area, but we don't know.

So, thanks to my wife's initiative, we did it ourselves. She went to the store, bought some brushes, picked up some tips on things to do, and Thursday after work we painted our living room. Friday she put the finishing touches on it, including a couple coats of paint on the trim. Saturday we put our furniture back and packed up all the painter's stuff into one corner of the basement.

We still owe him a few hundred dollars, whenever he returns. And we'll gladly pay it. He earned every dollar of it. And in a weird way, I'm glad we got to paint one room. It gives us a huge sense of pride to sit in our living room and know that we did it. We transformed it. We made it ours.

And then, this weekend, we started working outside. We've got a lot of fighting left to do....

Monday, March 06, 2006

Zombie Horror

You know you are being lazy about updating your blog when your non-tech-savvy wife says she checked it and was sorry to see it hadn't been updated since she last looked.

So now I feel all obligated and such. Heh.

So I'll talk about horror movies, a subject which will bore Jess to tears if she gets stuck reading it. Sorry.

Last year, I was one of many people excited to finally see House of 1000 Corpses, Rob Zombie's first venture into movie-making. It was a classic setup, which you've seen in a dozen movies if you've seen it in one: young couple/group gets stranded somewhere in rural America, gets abducted by group of inbred maniacs living off the grid, tortured and killed one by one, leading to a final escape of one of the characters who either A: gets away, or B: is killed suddenly before escaping. Usually the "victim" characters are flawed enough that you don't feel too bad for them, and usually the "villain" characters are somewhat sympathetic in a "oh, those poor monsters" kind of way.

I'll be honest here. I dig these movies in a weird kind of way. But 1000 Corpses didn't do it for me. I felt like he glossed it up too much, took away all the suspense and tried to win it back with gore. It was too flashy, too much like one long music video with horror overtones as opposed to a solid suspenseful terror movie.

And yet, I still rented his followup, The Devil's Rejects.

And I am so glad I did.

This is so much the better movie. It's a slight departure from formula, in a way that really works and gets you involved. The movie starts with the "house" being raided by a large group of cops. Some of the family get away, and you follow the extended chase. You see the cop in charge of the investigation unravel to the point where at the end you've got a role reversal between the "good guys" and "bad guys."

It's awesome. It drips with 70s mood, has an awesome soundtrack, is gory in all the right ways ... it rocks. It's not flawless, mind you -- some of the acting comes off as stiff and forced, but overall I spent more time happy than disappointed.

The deeper question I ask myself is ... why do I dig this particular genre of horror so much?

That's the much more interesting blog post waiting to be made. And one which I'm not going to do today :).