December 2004 Archives

War Stories - Dining in Sarajevo

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Visitors to the main page of this site should recognize the stone statues that frame the doorway in the photograph below. This doorway is so replete with fascinating detail, I could very well imagine it as the backdrop for some silver screen narrative. The burnt-out, broken neon “METRO” sign with its askew letter “E” adds to the film noir semblance of the edifice. Weighed down by the alcove above, the slightly larger-than-life stone statues, a cross between Greek classicism and socialist industrialism, seem like they would be at home in a Tim Burton film. What stories could these chiseled giants, given life’s breath, bear witness to?

Two soldiers in front of Metro doorway

In the lower left corner of the photo is a German shepherd who became somewhat of an unofficial mascot of our task force. In an environment where food is scarce, like war-torn Sarajevo, a dog is a nuisance; he is an unwelcome scavenger—yelled at, chased away, a target of angrily-thrown projectiles. Among the American soldiers, though, he found friendly greetings, scraps of food, and loving hands stroking his fur. Given the chance, this grateful canine would have followed us to Hell and back.

Turned toward the camera is Julie, a reservist, fellow artist, chess player, masseuse, and native Chicagoan, who also happens to be a convenient segue into the focus of this latest installment of my Sarajevo photos thread.

When we first arrived in Sarajevo, our leaders strongly enforced the “buddy system” for all incursions into the city and its environs. We could not sortie in parties of less than two, and each member had to be in uniform and armed. Anyone packing just a pistol had to have someone with a rifle alongside him or her.

The spring thaw brought a relaxed atmosphere to the city and a corresponding relaxation in regulations. We could now venture out and about in civilian clothing and leave our rifles behind as long as at least one member of the group agreed to be the “designated rifleman,” dressed, of course, in that stylish woodland camouflage battle dress uniform (BDU) that blends so well with the urban landscape.

Home again, home again

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…jiggety jig. I am once again back in the Toxic Garden State. The one thing I missed more than anything was my broadband internet connection. As much as I bitch about “Comcast High-Priced Internet,” I am too much of an addict to ever give it up.

My body is still sore after spending an entire day in single-digit temperatures, sliding down a mountain on two pieces of fiberglass. Of course, the sliding down part is never a problem; stopping is.

It is always strange to return to such a quiet, empty house after constantly being around people for days. I need a pet. I am not really a “cat person” or a “dog person,” but a feline companion would probably suit me best. Unfortunately, this is not a decision that I can make until my current lease expires, and I find another place to live. Of course, I could decide to conveniently “forget” that part of my current lease agreement…

Merry Christmas

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…wishing all of you a restful holiday season, filled with peace and contentment.

resting kitty cat

BTW, my parents’ kitty cat is named Beavis (he can blame my father for that moniker), and his fur is freakishly soft, reminiscent of a rabbit’s. I just gave him a bath today. He was such a trooper; he did not make a single attempt to bite or scratch me and only struggled when his head got too close to the water. Unfortunately, trying to keep this rambunctious kitten clean is a losing battle.

Go west young man

My car is now packed, so it is time for me to head 250 miles west to my parents’ home in Pennsylvania. I will probably still blog while there, although I will have to do it over dial-up (broadband penetration in the United States is abysmal).

I get to go skiing this weekend. Cool. Actually, it will be more than cool, as I will be freezing my ass off, but it will be worth it.

War Stories - Welcome to Sarajevo

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This entry is a continuation of my Sarajevo photos thread. I have had a bit more time to digitize the decade-old cache of photos from my time in Sarajevo, so expect more of these detours down memory lane in the coming weeks.

Most of my photos are springtime shots, because I did not have the freedom to move about Sarajevo with a camera during the winter.

Upon first glance at the charming beauty of the Sarajevo skyline, it is easy to forget that this proud city was devastated by four years of brutal siege warfare. From the orange-shingled roofs of the old town, to the swiss-cheese-windowed office buildings in the distance, to the white and black minarets that dot the landscape; the capital and largest city of Bosnia and Herzegovina is breathtaking.

Panorama of Sarajevo skyline

In the spring of 1996, we were just beginning to see the signs of the rebuilding effort all around us—construction of new buildings, repair of old ones, new businesses popping up, patching of massive potholes left by mortar shells, civilian vehicles returning to the streets, reestablishment of municipal services like the tramway system. I have such a strong desire to return to Sarajevo as a tourist to see the progress that they have made over the last decade.

Downtown Sarajevo with nice view of Miljacka River

My fondest memories of Sarajevo include waking up at the crack of dawn so that I could run down to Marshal Tito Boulevard to jog alongside the Miljacka River. My route usually started near the site where Gavrilo Princep assassinated Archduke Ferdinand, and where I ended up in this fascinating, historic city was anyone’s guess.

One of the most dramatic symbols of the shift from a wartime Sarajevo to a peacetime Sarajevo was the removal of the sniper barriers from the intersections. I regret not having any photos of these. Usually, they were massive railway cars, placed in a staggered pattern, which required us to follow a weaving, zig-zag pattern as we drove around.

Another view of Sarajevo skyline

Lush green, rural hills surround the urban heart of Sarajevo. Unfortunately, death rained from these hills for four long years. It was far too easy for a sniper to sit, safely obscured in a building on a hill, earning the bounty that he or she would collect after taking out innocent civilians below. During the winter, snipers occasionally fired at our vehicles, but a few holes and dents in our Humvees was the worst damage they were ever able to inflict on us. Fortunately, a universal desire to return to normalcy meant that such hostilities became less and less frequent.

Green hills around Sarajevo

Coming soon: the perils of jogging in Sarajevo, Mad Max Beyond Zetra Stadium, the first time I brought an automatic rifle on a date, and more.

Random rants and raves

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Rave: After using it for a couple of weeks now, I have to say that the Braun Activator 8595 is the best razor I have ever owned, electric or bladed. I have had six electric razors in the past sixteen years, including two Brauns, a Panasonic Linear (the worst one), a Remington, and two Norelcos. This is the first shaver I have used that actually works on my tough beard without having to go over the same areas for thirty minutes. I am so glad that I left the charger for my Braun Synchro in a puddle of water, causing it to short out and melt.

Rant: Hollywood lawyers are clamping down on a few high-profile Bit Torrent sites, causing others, like SuprNova.org to go dark. Damn it. Now I have to search elsewhere for my torrents of television programs that I either forget to TiVo or can’t record because there are too many other things on at the same time. At least there is still TVTorrents.tv and a few others, but for how long?

Rave: GEICO is now available in New Jersey. Now I can save “15% or more” on my car insurance! Actually, if I decide to switch, I would only save about three percent over Allstate, but twelve bucks is twelve bucks.

Rant: Colds suck. I have been nursing one for the past week. It has almost run its course, but now my sleep schedule is all screwed up, and I have skipped my last three Bowflex sessions. I haven’t had the energy to blog or e-mail or work.

Rave: Movable Type 3.14 is out. It fixes a comment-spam server load issue, but even better—the version number is reminiscent of the ratio between the circumference of a circle and its diameter.

Rant: The lack of browser support for the CSS min-height property is a pain…in…the…ass. I finally gave up on a pure-CSS layout for a work-related site after wasting untold hours. Sometimes minimal tables are the only practical option.

Make-a-Flake

Make-a-Flake, a fun little Flash app, lets you use virtual scissors on virtual construction paper to create a virtual snowflake. Then you can add your flake to the gallery, e-mail it, or download it as an EPS or jpeg. Wheee! [via Watermark]

snowflakes

Body by Bowflex - 24 weeks later

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Twenty-four weeks—what a long strange trip it has been. A short time ago, the first Monday after the July 4th weekend, I decided that I would no longer allow unhealthy eating, a lack of exercise, and a lack of discipline to be an excuse for my continued unhappiness. I was ashamed of my physical appearance—as such, I never dated. I had lapsed into a sedentary lifestyle—constant sleeping, late-night junk food binges, an overdose of television, and a lack of socializing. Many of the negative aspects of my life fed upon and reinforced each other. That July weekend, I resolved to not wait another day to embark on the six-week Bowflex Body Plan. Upon successful completion of the first six weeks, I repeated the process (with slight variations) again, and again, and again.

The Bowflex Body Plan cover

My initial inspiration for this quest of self-improvement (like many quests) was a love for an extraordinary woman and a desire to become “a better man” worthy of her affection, but as I soon found that this love was doomed to forever remain unrequited, I found a new, healthier focus. This goal of reshaping my body was for me. I needed to achieve this for my own sanity.

A month after I began the program, I started this weblog and transferred my weight loss record over to a blog entry that detailed my progress. One distinct advantage of logging my progress in this manner was that it allowed me to show myself (and others) the steady, consistent results that I was enjoying on this program. Despite a few plateaus here and there, the pounds came off and stayed off.

My 36-inch-waist-bursting 246.5 pounds had been nowhere near my all-time rock bottom of 274 pounds, but it was far too close for comfort. I had experienced the success of following the Bowflex Body Plan once before (even though complacency and a lack of true motivation allowed me to backslide thirty pounds), and I had high hopes for this time. Losing sixty-three pounds over the course of twenty-four weeks, though, exceeded even my most optimistic expectations. I am in better shape now than when I was in the army. For the first time in my three decades of existence, I am somewhat comfortable in my own skin, which is an amazing feeling.

Secret admirer

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Secret admirer notes suck. I never realized this before, as I had never, ever been the recipient of one. They are not romantic. They are not mysterious. They are just annoying. I found such a note as I entered my office Monday morning; it was slipped under my door after I had gone home for the weekend last week.

Using a Conan-Doyle style of reasoning, I sliced away the impossible potential writers of said note, leaving only one, albeit highly improbable, candidate. It’s too bad I forgot that such reasoning is a logical fallacy—she didn’t write the note. I discovered this as I slithered under the nearest rock, bathed in crimson humiliation.

Needless to say, the mystery remains unsolved.

I can’t believe that I, myself, once subjected another human being to such a silly thing. Yes, I am ashamed to say, I did. So if any of you are ever tempted to attempt such a gesture, don’t…do…it.

Jeans

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I just spent three hours shopping for a single pair of jeans. This task used to be so much easier. Just find a couple of pairs of 36W/34L Levis for $20 a pop; task completed in fifteen minutes.

Now, not only are Levis just not good enough, but my new body shape is exceedingly difficult to shop for. The 34-inch inseam obviously didn’t change, but now (because I have muscular thighs, but a slim waist) I need either 30-inch “relaxed fit” jeans or 32-inch straight legged ones. Very few stores have that combination in stock.

As for Levis no longer being adequate, I wholly blame my coworkers. One complement on the pair of tint-washed Bullhead jeans I bought last week gave me a warm feeling. Two complements made my day. The third…well, they may have just created a monster.

So now I quest for hours for the perfect pair of jeans? Inconceivable. Actually, there may just be a closeted metrosexual within me, struggling to get out—but how will I break the news to my parents. My mother will just never understand that I paid fifty bucks (on sale) for a pair of tremendously comfortable, hand-distressed “whiskers-washed” jeans. “Fifty bucks? For jeans with holes in them? I’ve got plenty of jeans with holes in them that I’ll sell you for fifty bucks!”

Finally, follow-up

After a morning of waiting and ninety minutes of assembly, I am now the proud owner of a cherry-finished, low profile (no footboard), California king sleigh bed. Even though it is just a piece of furniture, this purchase and installation seems momentous, almost a rite of passage. No more hand-me-down beds, or government-issued beds, or university-issued beds, or mattresses laid upon the floor for me.

This behemoth is a most imposing piece of furniture, but not too imposing; I’m glad I got the low-profile version. It announces that the bedroom, is most decidedly a bedroom.

One thing that I don’t understand is how the first furniture company I tried to order from could not find a shipping company that would transport a bed cross-country for less than $620. The shipping company that brought my new bed from Rancho Cucamonga, CA, to my door only charged $130 and this furniture company absorbed the cost. Granted there were three half-inch dings, upon which I will have to apply a touch-up stick, but for $600 I am more than willing to deal with bit of minor cosmetic damage.

The delivery person asked me about the Dance Dance Revolution dance mat that is sitting on the floor of my living room. Apparently, his son has expressed interest in getting one. Hopefully, he got all of the details right as I recounted them, and his son has a merry Christmas.

Back in the game?

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As I mentioned in previous entry, I attended a catered holiday dinner and dance for singles this past evening at my church. It has been quite awhile since I have enjoyed myself so completely.

There were a few attractive women in attendance; however, one woman outshone the rest to such a degree that I had trouble taking my eyes off of her the entire night. Soon after my arrival, I did something completely out of character—I broke away from the cluster of guys segregated off to the side, went over, and talked to her.

We talked and hung out together for the better part of the evening. Unfortunately, its going to take a bit more to drag me completely out of my shell. We exchanged e-mail addresses, of course, but as for what happens next, I fear that my cluelessness will betray me. I will inevitably see her again; here’s hoping my utter lack of experience with the “dating game” does not stand in my way once more.

I have one gripe about tonight’s event. Yes, this event took place in a church multipurpose room, but what kind of DJ fails to play even one slow song the entire night? Come on…this was a singles event. Oh well…

Finally

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This one deserves its own entry. My bed finally arrives at my humble abode Tuesday morning.

Finally.

Spendthrift

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When I’m feeling melancholy, I find that I have an overwhelming urge to indulge myself. In the past, such indulgences had a decidedly caloric flavor. Never, ever again. Lately, though, I feel the need…the need…for greed. I have determined that it is my patriotic duty to single-handedly jump start our lagging consumer economy. A little deficit spending never hurt anyone. I figure, “WWDD?” I reason that if our dear president with the tungstenic sobriquet can blow a multi-trillion–dollar surplus, I can run up a bit of extra credit card debt.

My enabler? Well, that would be the Zero Percent Interest Rate For One Year Credit Card (0%IRFOYCC). Buy now, and worry about the consequences later. My one year period is up already? Time to transfer the balances onto a new set of 0%IRFOYCCs.

I have become particularly addicted to Ben’s Bargains. Ooooh! Crap I don’t need for seventy-five percent off the list price—plus free shipping?!? Click. Click. AutoFill button. Whip out the 0%IRFOYCC. Type. Type. Click. Ch-ching!

Every day is like Christmas when I arrive home from work. Are all of these packages for me? Why, Mr. Bezos (Amazon CEO), you shouldn’t have. For example, my DVD shelves now contain days worth of unwatched movies and television season sets. Some day I’ll get around to viewing them…maybe.

One worthwhile recent purchase, though, was the Braun Activator 8595. I have the triple curse of thick, dark, fast-growing whiskers, a pale complexion, and sensitive skin. My humble visage usually resembles Homer Simpson’s (after getting his necktie caught in a belt sander). However, the uniquely-holed foil of the new Braun really does give me a closer, smoother shave. Bye, bye, neck-shredding M3 Power.

My compulsion to satisfy my new-found consumerist urges extends beyond the online realm. This week at one of this area’s many malls, besides a few new shirts, I bought—for the first time in my adult life—a pair of jeans with a size 30 waist. I do have to say, for all of you dieters out there, keep it up! The “after” stage is really worth the sacrifice. After years of grimacing at the sight of my mirrored mislocated bulges, a whole new world of wardrobe possibilities now lies before me. As for the jeans, finally my ass is kicking…ass.

I also ordered some clothing from the International Male catalog. While their overall selection normally makes the Seinfeldian poofy shirt look conservative, they actually have a few nice items.

Time to see what’s new at Ben’s Bargains. Now where’s that 0%IRFOYCC?

Rip / Mix / Burn / Sue

Rip, Mix, Burn, Sue poster

I finally got a chance to watch the stream of Princeton University computer science professor Ed Felten’s lecture Rip, Mix, Burn, Sue: Technology, Politics, and the Fight to Control Digital Media. I had missed the live version of this lecture back in October, and had forgotten about it until Professor Felten mentioned it on Freedom to Tinker yesterday.

The lecture is just under an hour, followed by a short Q&A session, and gives an informative analysis and historical overview of the struggle between content providers and consumers for control over multi-use technologies.

At work, I experience on a fairly regular basis how the Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA), if religiously enforced, can severely impede creativity and education. Often professors want to use video clips from CSS-encrypted DVDs to enhance the effectiveness of their lectures. “Fair Use” laws protect a professor’s right to use these clips, yet to get them off of the DVD and into PowerPoint would hypothetically require a felonious act of civil disobedience. While I would never openly advocate such an act on a public forum such as this, one can appreciate the ethical dilemma.

Send me an angel

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For the past few years, my family has agreed not to exchange presents at Christmas (mostly for financial reasons, but partly because my dad doesn’t want to be bothered with it). I have respected this, and having no significant other to lavish with gifts, I usually try to do something charitable with the money I would have otherwise wasted on myself.

This is my third year doing the “Angel Tree” thing (different organizations have different names for them), and I have to say that it is tremendous fun. Because I still remain a child at heart (despite the universe’s incessant attempts to crush my spirit) I love shopping for toys. I grew out of my collector phase long ago, and I probably won’t have children of my own for at least a few years, so something like this is a great outlet.

This year I got to do one from the Salvation Army and two from a prison fellowship ministry (below). With the Salvation Army one, the kids let you know what they want; I am not sure about the background circumstances of their need. With the prison ones, the children are in social services, so, via this ministry, the incarcerated parents choose gifts that their children might like, yet that they are unable to provide for them.

Angel Tree tags

I tried to pick wishes that I was uniquely qualified to fulfill. The fact that I actually know what Yu-Gi-Oh! is may not win me many points in the romance department, but I suppose it would help towards my being a great father (and I know it makes me a great gift giver). The educational toy was tough, because it is so difficult to find such toys in a sub-$30 price range that don’t suck; this marble toy looks like it would be fun. As for the 5-year-old girl, I do have to say that those Lil’ Bratz dolls are kind of cool (even for a heterosexual guy). I love the cartoonish, exaggerated manga-inspired features, and the fashions and accessories they bundle with the things seem to have a bit more character than a lot of other dolls. She’ll be getting this one and this one.

Many grocery stores have trees full of these tags in their entryways. Most of them probably require you to return the gifts by next weekend. I would strongly encourage you to pause for a moment in front of these trees and consider taking a tag—especially if you love to shop, but don’t have anyone to shop for (or if you need an excuse to do even more shopping). You will be really surprised by how much fun it is.

LAser in-SItu Keratomileusis 6

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Well, I made an appointment with Dr. Della Russo’s office today. On January 15 at 9:00 AM, I will go back under the laser. Deciding to make the retreatment appointment was not an easy decision; I put it off for months. Any surgery is inherently risky, and my fear is that rather than perfecting my vision, this operation may make it worse. This second operation will most likely be a tremendous success, but I will always remain a pessimist and a worrier at heart.

It has been a wonderful year free from the burden of glasses, and I can scarcely believe that it has almost been a year. I love opening my eyes in the morning and viewing my surroundings with 20/20 clarity. However, due to slight aberrations in the shape of my cornea, driving at night can be difficult because of my eyes’ over-sensitivity to light. Oncoming headlights and traffic lights blur my vision quite a bit. Occasionally, I also have trouble focusing on small words across a computer screen, and I must squint or close one eye to refocus.

If I don’t get this done now, I will most likely not get another chance. I have already paid for this operation the first time and will incur no further charges for the retreatment. I will, however, have to pay for an overnight stay at the inn again, and I will have to pay for the expensive eye drops prescription once more.

During the recovery time, I will not be able to lift weights for a few weeks, and I will have to repeat the extensive regimen of eye drops and artificial tears. This a small price to pay, though, if I can finally have perfect vision.

War Stories - Intro

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I have a vast assortment of interesting and unique photos from the months that I spent in Sarajevo as part of the NATO-led peace Implementation Force (IFOR) back in 1995-1996. I have wanted to post them online since I started blogging (hence the “War Stories” category) but have not had the time. Rather than upload them all at once, every so often I will take a break from my day-to-day ramblings, and I will post a few pics at a time, with an accompanying story. The stories will not have any linear narrative flow, but will be random tidbits and observations that I will loosely tie to the photos.

Operation Joint Endeavor has become somewhat of a historical footnote, due, in part, to the comparatively minimal casualties (thank God) and overall success of the mission; however, for the deployed soldiers and for the residents of the former Yugoslavia, it was a significant, life-altering event. We shape history by the stories we tell, and it is my hope that my stories are informative and entertaining.

It was around this time nine years ago that members of my unit first heard rumblings that the latest peace agreement was the real thing after a seemingly endless string of ignored treaties and failed cease fires. The warring parties hammered out these accords and initialed them in Dayton, Ohio, of all places, on November 21. Our superiors told us to get our affairs in order because we would not be spending Christmas in North Carolina; we left for Stuttgart via commercial airliner on December 11 (no drafty, noisy C-141 for us special ops types). I spent the holidays at Panzer Kaserne (“Tank Base”) in Böblingen, Germany, and didn’t get to fly into Bosnia until a month later.

Because we were a psychological operations (propaganda) unit, our primary mission was to get the word out that NATO, unlike the impotent United Nations Protection Force, would respond to any hostility with proportional retaliation. It was also our responsibility to explain the mind-numbing, garrulous legalese of the peace accords to a confused, paranoid, war-weary populace. Our secondary mission was to support the United Nations Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), with campaigns such as mine awareness, war criminal “wanted posters,” etc.

Michael hands out propaganda on the streets of Sarajevo

In the photo above, a handsome young soldier and future blogger, clad in woodland camo body armor and Kevlar helmet, pretends to hand out mine awareness leaflets to a young resident of Sarajevo who agreed to pose for our photo. Unlike our compatriots stationed up north in Tuzla, we never wore our body armor around town because it tended to alienate the populace, and we, of course, were there to win their hearts and minds. We staged this shot as a “dog and pony show” for our stateside commanders.

Wind

I love wind, and the first of December was an especially windswept day. One of my favorite “alone-time” places is the nosebleed section of Princeton University’s football stadium. Of course, for a small school like Princeton, that section is only forty rows up. Still, this locale is open enough and at a sufficient altitude to swell mere breezes to tempestuous intensity.

As I pace back and forth during my lunch hour, the gusts are strong enough to stagger my balance, forcing me to brace myself. The faint, warm glow of the winter sun is a pleasant contrast to the chilling currents cutting through my clothing. The sheer power of nature humbles me as it tosses me about, yet I feel simultaneously empowered.

Wind whips through my hair.
Unseen hands caress my face.
My unbound soul soars.

December resolutions

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Rather than wait an entire month to make resolutions, I decided to make some now, and if I accomplish them before 2004 is history, so much the better. There are just too many dangling threads in my life that I must try to weave back into the tapestry.

  1. I will finally reach my goal weight of 180 lbs. My weight has stagnated around 190 lbs. for weeks. Die, love handles, die!
  2. I will increase my neck circumference by at least one inch. I bought myself a neck harness to facilitate this endeavor. (Well, since none of my pants fit, now I have to make sure none of my dress shirts fit either.)
  3. I will finish remodeling my master bedroom. Thanks to the fiasco of trying to order a bed from California, I have let this project languish for too long. For example, sage velveteen curtains remain balled-up in my closet because I wanted to match the wood finish of the curtain rod to the bed, etc., etc. I finally ordered a different bed from a different company (product shot below); it does not have a walnut finish as I originally wanted, but I like it.

    sleigh bed with cherry finish

  4. I will learn PHP. I attended a week-long class taught by David Sklar, but such classes become worthless and are quickly forgotten if not followed up with a project that practically applies that newly acquired knowledge. My personal web site will be such a project.
  5. I will get my LASIK surgery retreated. I already paid for it. I am guaranteed satisfaction. However, the disruptive effects that the post-surgery recovery time would have on my life have encouraged my procrastination.
  6. I will move on with my love life, closing old doors and opening up new ones.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from December 2004 listed from newest to oldest.

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