Saturday, January 30, 2010

Haiti Taskforce

Spanish class is interesting and important to my job, but it doesn't actually feel like I'm contributing anything to the world. That's one reason that I've enjoyed working on the Haiti Taskforce this week. The primary responsibility of the State Department is to assist American citizens who are overseas. So it's easy to imagine how busy the department has been since the earthquake in Haiti.

I grabbed a couple of overnight shifts answering phone calls, emails, and placing calls to Americans who had/have loved ones in Haiti. The work was interesting and certainly emotionally challenging at times. There are a lot of families in the U.S. trying to get their children back from Haiti (they may have been visiting family, going to school, etc.). In some sad cases the parents died in the earthquake, leaving the children to the responsibility of uncles, cousins, or grandparents in the States who may never have met them.

In retrospect, overnight shifts right before Spanish class might not have been the best idea. I've been pretty sleepy this week, and my lovely wife has been very good about letting me nap during the afternoons. My last shift is tonight.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Restaurant Week

This last week in D.C. was "Restaurant Week," a biannual event where some of the best restaurants in D.C. offer complete meals for a fraction of their normal prices. With so many great eateries here, it's an amazing opportunity to sample what the city has to offer without a lobbyist's salary.

Sara and I had a great dining experience at Tosca, and only paid about half of what we normally would. This was probably our last real date before the baby comes, so I'm glad we took our time and really enjoyed ourselves. I wish we were going to be here for the next Restaurant Week; I definitely would go out more than once.

In Spanish news, I'm currently in negotiations with various people in the department to extend my time in Spanish. We're also checking on the possibility of heading to post a little early.

Saturday, January 9, 2010


Yes, THAT Avatar. I am by no means a film critic, so I'll leave that up to more qualified persons. I just have some things I want to say.

First, I really did enjoy the movie. I had mild interest after seeing the trailers, but it was the Metacritic score that finally convinced me to go. The film took me by surprise; it exceeded my expectations. And yet, I didn't feel blown-away like some viewers (some that I know and some that I've read). And yet (again), I felt like I should have been blown away. It was a disturbing conundrum. Why wasn't my reaction as strong as it should have been? Why didn't the thrilling 3-D visuals leave me breathless? Why did this incredibly foreign, incredibly immersive world feel altogether too...familiar?

I blame World of Warcraft (WoW). Or more specifically, I blame massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) in general. WoW is just the most recent game of my MMORPG career (including UO, EQ, DAoC, NWN, and more). For the benefit of my readers who are not familiar with these types of games, they provide a fully-immersive, detailed, persistent world for the gamer, complete with social interaction, progression, and economic systems. Click here for a more detailed explanation.

I want to be clear that I'm not simply making a visual comparison between Avatar and World of Warcraft, although that's striking as well. But the experience of MMORPGS is more impactful than the visuals. It's the experience (the immersion, the parallels to real life, etc.) that make the games so addictive and fun. All of Avatar's best aspects (the visuals, the otherworldliness, a captivating story, senses of progression and accomplishment, sexy natives) are present in World of Warcraft with one critical, pivotal difference: it's wholly interactive.

So instead of simply watching Jake fly his dragon-bird around the floating moutains, YOU can fly YOUR dragon bird around the floating mountains of Nagrand. Instead of watching one army fight another, you can participate in the battle. Instead of marvelling for nearly three hours at exotic flora and fauna, you can spend unlimited time trapsing through the jungles of Stranglethorn, the swamps of Zangarmarsh, or the mountains of the Storm Peaks. You can fish, bake, tinker, eat, drink, sleep, swim, run, fly, tame and ride animals, and so much more. And many, like Jake, have taken the ultimate step and decided to stay in MMORPGs forever, costing them jobs, family, and sometimes (Google "World of Wacraft suicide") even their lives.

To me, Avatar was a three-hour commercial for WoW. It was like a cinematic cut-scene before a new expansion. I admit that in the weeks since I saw the movie, my desire to reactivate my WoW account has grown substantially, but I'm managed to hold off so far. And it's not easy. So if you loved Avatar and want more, I recommend trying out an MMORPG. But if you value your time and family, well...maybe you should just watch more movies.


If you thought this post was going to be about the message and politics of Avatar, please read this interesting article by David Brooks instead.

Friday, January 8, 2010


We're surviving winter in Virginia. While the blizzard a few weeks ago was annoying, I think I prefer lots of snow to lots of cold. I know our 20ish degree weather doesn't really compare to the windchills of Minnesota, but it's still pretty bad on my Texas-adjusted skin. I can't wait to get down to Costa Rica, where "winter" means it will only get up to 70, and "summer" means it might get as high as 85.

It feels unnaturally calm around here lately, despite the fact that life is accelerating. The baby is coming in about a month, I'm nearing the end of Spanish (I scored a 2+/2+ on my evaluation today), the big move is only a few months away, the final season of LOST starts in four weeks, wait... But really, I feel pretty peaceful about everything that's happening, and that's a good thing.

Only about one third of my A-100 has gone to post, so we still have a decent group of people around. It's amazing how quickly such a large group can gel, and at the same time, it's amazing that we've already been here for over six months. I imagine that life will get more lonely as more and more folks head out. Not that there's a lack of people around. Four more A-100 classes have started since I did, and it doesn't look to be slowing down.

And it only took six months (this is an actual improvement, I've been told) to receive my presidential commission. That's the official document that states my appointment by the president and confirmation by the senate. It's a nice certificate complete with signatures and the official seal.