Friday, December 31, 2010

A not-so-fond farewell to 2010

The last few minutes of 2010 are running out, and after I finish writing this entry I am going to walk (no reason to drive tonight) over to a bar near my house and ring in the new year. I am looking forward to 2011. 2010 was simply not a very good year for me.

First of all, my marriage to Lori officially came to an end last April, as our divorce was finalized. The process actually began in the summer of 2009 - I alluded to some big changes that were underway in my life at the time - but due to the backlog of cases in Harris County's family courts (as well as the fact that I don't think either of our lawyers were in a particular hurry to bring our case to a swift conclusion), the process was not completed until earlier this year.

This might come as a shock to some of the readers of this blog because I never explicitly discussed it until now; I refused to write about the divorce while the proceedings were underway simply because it would have been counterproductive to do so. Nor was I going to tell any lurid tales, accusations or recriminations once it was over. There's no scandal to report: our relationship was not abusive, Lori and I were never unfaithful to one another, and we did not face financial difficulties that put so many other marriages under stress. We simply had our differences - a "discord of conflict and personalities," according to the wording of the law - that made our further togetherness untenable.

It's not something I'm particularly proud of - absent an extreme situation, such as an abusive relationship or serial infidelity, divorce is rarely the best solution for a troubled marriage because really is nothing more than an admission of failure of both husband and wife to effectively communicate, to reconcile one another's differences, to make compromises and to make the changes that need to be made to allow the family to continue to work - but Lori and I have worked to make the best of it. We are still on amicable terms and we cooperate in taking care of Kirby (we have joint custody).

Needless to say, that was the big event of the year. But things at my work were also unsettled, owing to the nation's overall economic condition, creating stress and uncertainty for me for much of the year. Shortly after the year started the budget for one project I was working on came to an abrupt halt. I then went to work on a couple of business development proposals, neither of which went anywhere. Left without any billable work, I volunteered to take several weeks of unpaid leave in May and June, while I dusted off my resumé and prepared myself to face the very real possibility that I could soon be standing in the unemployment line.

Fortunately, I never came to that. Some new work appeared in mid-June, and thankfully things are looking better for me as 2010 draws to a close. But it was a nevertheless disconcerting situation for me and I feel lucky that I managed to avoid being laid off.

In August of 2010 I was hospitalized for the very first time in my life. Fortunately it was nothing serious, but it wasn't much fun, either. It was also a reminder that I am getting older and that, going forward, maintaining my health is going to become more of a priority for me than it has been in the past.

My favorite time of the year is college football season and I thought that it would bring me some welcome diversion. The University of Houston Cougars, after all, were poised to have a great year with an improved defense and Heisman candidate Case Keenum at quarterback. Of course, Keenum's season ended in devastating fashion against UCLA, the UH defense showed no real improvement from the previous season, and the Cougars ended the year with a disappointing losing record. (The Texans also had a lousy year, but I don't care about them quite as much.)

There were other disappointments as well: There were fewer monarch caterpillars for me and Kirby to raise into butterflies. The hometown airline merged with a really lousy one. My favorite Vietnamese sandwich shop abruptly went out of business.

But perhaps the most personally-devastating event of 2010 was the sudden death of my friend Laura. Her death was, needless to say, a profound and horrifying shock. I'm still grappling with it many months later, and my heart continues to go out to her family, her boyfriend and her friends. Her death, of course, also reinforces the terrifying realization that life is fragile and ephemeral, and that the length of our lives as well as those that we love is never guaranteed.

To be sure, there were some bright spots to 2010: I took nice trips to Washington DC, South Padre Island, New Orleans, Colorado and Los Angeles (football game notwithstanding), and I even got to fly first class for the first time in my life. I watched the University of Houston basketball team go to the NCAA tournament for the first time in eighteen years and the football team had their best attendance in almost thirty years in spite of the disappointing season. I built an awesome Rokenbok layout for Kirby and me to play with. I finally got a much-needed new car.

But, on balance, 2010 was a decidedly dismal year for me, and one that I will definitely not look back upon with any sense of fond nostalgia. I am glad that it is over, and I look for 2011 to be a better year for me.

I wish everybody a happy and successful 2011.

My iPod's Top 21

I've had an iPod for five years now: first, a Shuffle that I received for Christmas 2005, and then a Nano I purchased a few years later. I thought it would be interesting to see which songs I've listened to the most over those past five years.

Below is the list, with title and artist, and then album, release year and label in parentheses. Obviously, I like electronica, but I also like 80s pop and New Wave, 90s alternative and even some good ol' 70s disco.

I was going to stop at twenty, but the last two songs on this list had the same play count, hence the "Top 21."

1. Blissed - Jesus Jones (Doubt, 1991, SBK)
2. Primary - The Cure (Faith, 1981, Elektra)
3. Love U More - Sunscreem (03, 1993, Columbia)
4. Burst Generator - The Chemical Brothers (We Are The Night, 2007, Australwerks/EMI)
5. Birdhouse in Your Soul - They Might Be Giants (Flood, 1990, Elektra)
6. Four Leaf Clover - Abra Moore (Strangest Places, 1997, Arista)
7. Thank U - Alanis Morissette (Supposed Former Infatuation Junkie, 1998, Maverick/Reprise)
8. Let Forever Be - The Chemical Brothers (Surrender, 1999, Australwerks)
9. So Far Away - Dire Straits (Brothers In Arms, 1985, Warner Bros.)
10. Straight Lines - Silverchair (Young Modern, 2007, Eleven)
11. With or Without You - U2 (The Joshua Tree, 1987, Island)
12. Big Time Sensuality (The Fluke Minimix) - Bjork (Big Time Sensuality EP, 1993, Elektra)
13. Home - Erasure (Chorus, 1991, Sire)
14. Every 1's a Winner - Hot Chocolate (Every 1's a Winner, 1978, EMI)
15. Destroy Everything You Touch - Ladytron (Witching Hour, 2005, So Sweet)
16. Run - Collective Soul (Dosage, 1999, Atlantic)
17. Mr. Brightside - The Killers (Hot Fuss, 2004, Island)
18. Space Age Love Song - A Flock of Seagulls (A Flock of Seagulls, 1982, Jive)
19. White Love (Radio Edit) - One Dove (Morning Dove White, 1993, FFRR)
20. Let's Go All The Way - Sly Fox (Let's Go All The Way, 1985, Capitol)
21. Imagination - Xymox (Twist of Shadows, 1989, Wing)

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Saying goodbye to Kodachrome

I read this story with great interest and a bit of sadness:
An unlikely pilgrimage is under way to Dwayne’s Photo, a small family business that has through luck and persistence become the last processor in the world of Kodachrome, the first successful color film and still the most beloved.

That celebrated 75-year run from mainstream to niche photography is scheduled to come to an end on Thursday when the last processing machine is shut down here to be sold for scrap.

In the last weeks, dozens of visitors and thousands of overnight packages have raced here, transforming this small prairie-bound city not far from the Oklahoma border for a brief time into a center of nostalgia for the days when photographs appeared not in the sterile frame of a computer screen or in a pack of flimsy prints from the local drugstore but in the warm glow of a projector pulling an image from a carousel of vivid slides.

Kodachrome was a "reversal" film, i.e. once it was fully developed, it produced a positive image, rather than the negative film images used for making prints. Kodachrome was used for slides and, although the article does not really mention it, Super 8 movie film.

As an amateur Super 8 filmmaker, I've sent many a cartridge of Kodachrome K40 to Dwayne's Photo in Parsons, Kansas for developing. In the early 2000s they would process a 50-foot cartridge for $9 and ship it back for another $3. They were always quick and reliable, and I especially enjoyed the richness of color (especially the red hues) that Kodachrome produced - something that digital photography has never been able to fully replicate.

Unfortunately, my filmmaking exploits came a pause when Kirby was born, and Kodak discontinued manufacturing Kodachrome for Super 8 movie cameras in 2005. Even if I do one day resume my Super 8 movie-making hobby, I sadly won't be sending cartridges to Dwayne's anymore. As technology marches ahead, Dywane's is moving on:
Still, the toll of the widespread switch to digital photography has been painful for Dwayne’s, much as it has for Kodak. In the last decade, the number of employees has been cut to about 60 from 200 and digital sales now account for nearly half of revenue. Most of the staff and even the owners acknowledge that they primarily use digital cameras. “That’s what we see as the future of the business,” said Grant Steinle, who runs the business now.
Kodak ended production of 35mm slide film last year; Dywane's processed the last roll of slides earlier today:
In the end, it was determined that a roll belonging to Dwayne Steinle, the owner, would be last. It took three tries to find a camera that worked. And over the course of the week he fired off shots of his house, his family and downtown Parsons. The last frame is already planned for Thursday, a picture of all the employees standing in front of Dwayne’s wearing shirts with the epitaph: “The best slide and movie film in history is now officially retired. Kodachrome: 1935-2010."
Pictures of Dwayne's from the New York Times here. Parsons, incidentally, was my mother's father's birthplace.

Friday, December 24, 2010

University of Houston police officer dies in line of duty

This is always a horrible thing to have happen, but it's even worse when it happens on Christmas Eve:
A University of Houston police officer died Friday morning after she apparently lost control of her police unit and crashed into a tree.

Twenty-four-year-old Ann O'Donnell is the first UH Department of Public Safety officer to die in the line of duty.
O'Donnell was responding to a disturbance early this morning at the Wendy's across Scott Street from Robertson Stadium when she lost control of her cruiser and crashed into a tree in front of a residence on North MacGregor near Faculty, quite literally only a few hundred feet from where I was sleeping.
O'Donnell had been an officer only since November 2009. By all accounts, she loved her job and was good at it. "Very personable, very excited, starting her career and really looking forward to what she was doing and had a firm desire to serve the public in any way that she could," UH Police Chief Malcolm Davis said.
The official University of Houston press release is here. My heart goes out to Officer O'Donnell's family, as well as the entire University of Houston Police Department.

Galveston blogger Breck Porter has more.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

What passes for fall foliage in Houston

Houston's subtropical climate does not lend itself to the brilliant and picturesque displays of fall foliage common in other parts of the nation. But sometimes we nevertheless get bits and pieces of autumn color down here. Here are some pictures I took while Kirby and I walked around the neighborhood and the adjacent University of Houston campus yesterday:

Kirby was obviously more interested in the water surrounding Peter Forakis's "Tower of Cheyenne" sculpture in front of the UH library than he was the colorful leaves...

Denton puts two high schools in state finals

Citizens of Denton had much to cheer about yesterday, as two of their teams were playing in state high school football championship games. Guyer High School faced off against Cibolo Steele in the Class 5A Division II championship, while Ryan High School met Lake Travis in the Class 4A Division I championship.

Alas, neither team was able to bring home any hardware. Guyer lost to Cibolo Steele 21-24, while Ryan lost to Lake Travis 7-27. The games were played back-to-back at Cowboys Stadium in Arlington.

Nevertheless, it's pretty remarkable for a school district to put two schools in the finals in the same year; according to the Denton Record-Chronicle's Brett Vito, this hasn't happened since 1962. Keep in mind that Denton ISD, which includes the City of Denton as well as surrounding communities, isn't a particularly massive school district: its total enrollment of about 23,000 students is dwarfed by districts in and around Houston, Dallas, Austin and other Texas metropolitan areas.

Obviously the kids from Guyer and Ryan would have preferred to win their respective championships, but they should nevertheless be proud of what they've accomplished. Guyer High School didn't even exist until a few years ago!

Closer to home, congratulations are in order for the Pearland Oilers, who captured the Class 5A Division I title with a 28-24 victory over Euless Trinity last night.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

College football miscellany

College football's 2010 regular season comes to a close this Saturday; after this weekend's games, the postseason, featuring a record 35 bowl games, begins. One team that will not be making a postseason appearance is the University of Houston Cougars, who lost to Texas Tech at Lubbock last Saturday, 20-35, and cemented a losing record. The Coogs' 2010 campaign will probably go down as the most disappointing season in University of Houston football history since the Great Run-and-Shoot Trainwreck of 1991. I'll provide a thorough postseason postmortem later on, when I feel up to the task (and right now I don't).

North Texas has a new football coach. Dan McCarney, formerly the head coach at Iowa State, will take over at the helm of the Mean Green. Given the program's abysmal 8-40 record over the past four seasons, McCarney has a lot of work ahead of him if he is to return UNT football to something resembling respectability. He does have the advantage of a new stadium coming online, which might aid him in recruiting. Early word is that the University of Houston will be the Mean Green's first opponent in their new stadium next September. I plan to be there if this is so.

In other Metroplex college football news, TCU has made it official: they will be joining the Big East for all sports in 2012. This announcement came as no surprise, given recent rumors. While the move might not make geographic sense - Fort Worth is "where the west begins," after all - from a football standpoint it makes sense for both parties: the Big East is clearly the weakest of the BCS automatically-qualifying conferences and needs the strength of the Horned Frog program to bolster its status, while by virtue of joining an automatically-qualifying conference TCU elevates itself into the world of the college football "haves." This will probably not be the end of the Big East's football expansion process, either, and Houston is still being mentioned as a possible target. Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, Boise State's BCS aspirations came to an end last Friday in Reno, as they were upset by the Nevada Wolfpack, 34-31. It was a thrilling game: Nevada trailed 7-24 at one point but rallied to win the game in overtime. They were unintentionally aided by Boise State kicker Kyle Brotzman, who missed a 26-yard attempt that would have won the game in regulation as well as a field goal in the first overtime. Nevada kicker Anthony Gonzalez would make his overtime field goal, ending Boise's BCS aspirations and leading to a celebration on the field:
Meanwhile, with Journey's "Don't Stop Believing" playing on the PA, thousands of Wolf Pack fans poured on to the field of 30,000-seat Mackay Stadium to celebrate what coach Chris Ault called "the greatest win this university has ever had." The Hall of Fame inductee, who came out of retirement in 2004 in part because he'd tired of seeing his team get crushed annually by Boise State, took umbrage with the notion his team was one of the so-called "Little Sisters of the Poor" on the Broncos' schedule.
And who was it that called teams like Nevada the "Little Sisters of the Poor?" Oh, that's right, Ohio State University President E. Gordon Gee, whose elitist and uniformed comments about college football keep looking stupider all the time.

College football. Gotta love it!