Sunday, December 31, 2006

A Year of Change

This year, if nothing else, has been one of change. In January, I was living in Melbourne, Florida working for a health insurance company. I knew full well that my job would probably be outsourced, or at the very least, reduced in scope but was determined to stick with it. In May, while at a particular low point with my job, I was given the opportunity to pursue my dream; to work in a big city doing software development using what I believe is the future of web application development. Less than two weeks after my interview, I was in Washington, D.C. building a health portal in Ruby on Rails.

The people in my life have also changed. For many of the friends I had in Melbourne, I no longer maintain much contact with them save for an occasional IM or email. But with others, the friendship has blossomed since my leaving and in at least one case, that person has also come to D.C. for economic opportunities, joining the other ex-Melbournites in the area.

But where I have lost friends as a result of my move, I have also gained many in the time since moving here. Work has been a great source of new friendships, one in particular which has blossomed into something unexpectedly beautiful. She has brought something into my life that I didn't think I was ready for, something which I needed more than I realized. I'm looking forward to what this year will bring for both of us.

As I walked down the jetway upon my arrival at Reagan, I realized that it was only six months ago that I left this exact same airport with aspirations of returning. I have, only this time from a place that I've always considered home. Now I have come to call this slice of urban jungle home and I feel more at home here than I ever have outside of California.

No doubt this year will bring more change, some bad and some good. But I will face it with the same tenacity, open-mindedness and positive attitude that I always have.

Monday, December 25, 2006

Blood diamonds and their impact on mainstream America

The latest cause célèbre seems to be blood diamonds. Conflict diamonds, as they are more commonly known, constitute only 1% of the total diamond trade but lately they have been making quite the splash in popular culture. They have been mentioned in media as disparate as Kanye West's song Diamonds from Sierra Leone to Nicholas Cage's movie Lord of War. But none of these works has addressed the issue as directly as Edward Zwick's latest film Blood Diamond.

The film starts out with our archetype hero, Danny Archer, plying his trade in conflict diamonds. Through a series of mishaps, he becomes entangled with a native by the name of Solomon Vandy, whom he agrees to help on condition that he gets access to the near perfect pink diamond that Vandy discovered while working in the slave labor mines of the RUF. Danny will end up using all his contacts and ingenuity to get what he wants but eventually, he does find the diamond.

Yet instead of leading to great wealth, this leads to personal tragedy, at least for Danny. The true hero of this story comes to be Vandy, who escapes to London and eventually gives a speech to the U.N. on the dangers of conflict diamonds. The movie ends on a hopeful note and yet I can't help but be reminded of how similarly themed features were popular in the early 1990s.

At the time, the shrinking rain forest was a global concern and attracted a large amount of attention as a result. Various celebrities spoke out about the issue and some even made movies about it. Yet it hasn't been on the radar of the public for at least a decade. Recent articles suggest that the Amazon is disappearing at twice the rate as previously estimated. Being the perpetual optimist, I can only hope that the issue of blood diamonds is resolved rather than forgotten about as other important global issues have been.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

A Tenacious D weekend

With my company's product growing closer to launch, I was busier than ever the first full week of December. When Saturday finally came, it was a welcome relief from the hustle and bustle of writing and testing code. This weekend was especially anticipated because it was set to be a Tenacious D weekend.

I don't consider myself a fan of the D but not because I don't like their music. In fact, I think it's great stuff but I've just never taken the time to listen to much more than what my friends have recommended. The first time I heard about their new song "Pick of Destiny" was on Sirius Alt Nation, which has been playing it seemingly non-stop for the past month in anticipation of the movie by the same title. When my friend Beth said she was getting tickets for their upcoming concert show at the GMU Patriot Center, I made sure to get my name in. She took it even further by organizing an outing on Saturday to go see the movie.

Despite being nearly 40 minutes late to the theater, I walked in right when the film started thanks to a series of delays on the part of the projectionist. I went into the movie with no expectations whatsoever and came out with a much greater understanding of what the D is about. The rock opera, for lack of a better term, is a fictional retelling of how Jack Black and Kyle Gass met, formed the band and eventually did battle with Satan. It had its share of laughs and featured cameos by the likes of Ben Stiller, Tim Robbins and several others.

The next night we continued our Tenacious D experience. First stop was Beth's new place in Alexandria which she shared with a roommate. This roommate has a fridge literally stocked to the brim with beer and a stand-up arcade machine with every awesome game on it from 1980 to the early 1990s. We whittled away the time drinking and playing video games from our childhood.

At about 7pm, we headed on over to the Patriot Center and got there just in time for the start of the opening act. It was Neil Hamburger, a somewhat well-known comic who goes for laughs in a roundabout way. Essentially, he told really bad jokes while loudly clearing his throat between each telling. This one was a real gem:
Why did the Taliban burn 200 copies of Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon album? Well, because their music sucked.
Ha ha! I consider myself a Pink Floyd fan and even I thought that was funny. Maybe it was the beer. Oh well, he wasn't on stage much more than 20 minutes and then the real act began.

Jack Black and Kyle Gass appeared with a couch behind them, acting for all the world as if they were in their living room. They played a few sets until quite accidentally, they were electrocuted and woke up to found themselves in the pits of hell. Once there, they decided to make the best of their situation and gather the most awesome band members they could. They went with the Antichrist, Charlie Chaplin and Colonel Sanders, all of whom were available and willing to play with them. Together they rocked the house, did battle with Satan and made prolific use of the F word. In a sense, the concert was a live version of their movie, albeit with less special effects.

Their encore performance included songs off their previous CD plus some covers of songs from The Who. In fact, the very last song they played was "Listening to you" off the Tommy album. Perhaps these musical geniuses were paying homage to the masterpiece that gave birth to the rock opera genre. Whatever their motives, it was an incredible concert that has left an indelible imprint on me.