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:: Server Updates: Fotos!

Ok, since we took a lot of pictures on the trip to Union Island, I decided to (finally) put up a photo gallery thing on AngryNoodle. You can get to it from the fotos link on the entry page of AngryNoodle.com. Right now, I have only put up the Union Island pictures. Hopefully, I'll get a better system figured out in the future to make the whole picture gallery thing easier to post. In other news.. I've expanded my web hosting options a bit with my provider (a little more space/bandwidth, plus the ability to host a few other domains). At the moment, I've wired up ToddUlmer.com for my brother and CraigUlmer.com and Craig.Ulmer.name for me. There's not much on these sites for now, but at some point I'll start moving into them. That's all for now..

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:: Off to Tampa

As if we hadn't been out enough times lately, this weekend we're heading down to Tampa to visit our friend Henri (as well as John, if we can find him). This weekend Tampa is throwing the annual Gasparilla festival, which is all about a pirate invasion (more on this later). Mostly it's just an excuse for us to drive down to Tampa for a long overdue visit.


Only in Southern Georgia are there mobile-gazebos..

We arrived at Henri's new super-swank townhouse just as it was starting to get dark (Friday night). After a bit of dinner, Henri, Henri's friend Judy, Amy, and myself piled into Henri's car and drove downtown to go see Aimee Mann at the Tampa Theatre. The Tampa Theatre was really cool- it's a lot like the Fox Theatre in Atlanta, but a bit smaller (which is good, because you feel close to the stage). Duncan Sheik opened. He was pretty good.. Sort of pop folkish, acoustic guitar stuff. Plus he did a really good cover of Radiohead's Fake Plastic Trees at the end of the set. Aimee Mann was good too, but Amy and I didn't really know any of her stuff. It was good music though, and the band was very likeable.

After the concert we went around back and waited for the band to come out (Henri has this history of meeting band people like this. Ask him what it's like to hang out with Howard Jones's dad). After a while Aimee Mann came out. She was willing to give people hugs, sign tickets, and stuff, which I think is pretty cool. I though about asking her if she'd punch me in the stomach, but we'd left the camera at home. Ahh well.. It was a pretty cool evening.. I'm just happy driving around a nice looking city like Tampa and gawking at all the buildings..

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:: Argh.. it's crowded

As I was saying yesterday, one of the reasons why we've come to Tampa is that the Gasparilla festival is going on. What's Gasparilla, you ask? Well, it's a big festival that they have down here that remembers a pirate from the 1800's named Jose Gaspar. According to the festival's website, Gaspar was a pirate that hung out along the coast of Florida for nearly 40 years. He and his men looted at least 36 ships before they were caught by the US Navy (though Gaspar drowned himself rather than be captured). Anyways, in 1904 Tampa selected Gaspar's exploits as a theme for a city-wide festival (since he was obviously a good role model for kids). During this Gasparilla festival, all the pirates in the area get nostalgic for the good old days and invade Tampa (using a city-planned invasion route.. even pirates have to get permits). Unfortunately, pirates often don't do such a great job of running a city they've captured, so the people usually revolt and kick them out after a few days. Such is the life of a pirate.. argh. shiver me timbers.


Modern day pirates (note the shark-pirate in the middle)

So today was the actual pirate invasion part of the Gasparilla festival. Well.. it would be more accurate to replace "pirate" in that sentence with "drunken obnoxious frat boys". Anyways, Henri lives in a pretty swank neighborhood that's only about five blocks away from the invasion (you would think that that would make his place less expensive or something, but apparently a lot of pirates like living close to where the annual invasion takes place). We woke up and walked over to a nearby restaurant to have some breakfast. During breakfast we watched streams and streams of people walking towards the invasion route. It was amazing to watch these folks. It wasn't just that they were wearing a variety of pirate costumes, but a lot of them had worked out special contraptions to help haul their booze to the parade (the one I liked the most was a gang of guys pushing a shopping cart that had a keg in it and an umbrella). Hmm.. Maybe this all should have been a sign or something.


Oh yeah, there's a parade in there somewhere..

After breakfast we strolled down to the parade grounds. Wow, was it packed. There were people everywhere and just about all of the places to see the parade were taken up. We walked up and down the parade route for some time, occasionally catching a loose strand of beads being tossed into the crowd. After a while the parade finally started.. It had lotsa floats with people tossing beads, marching bands (sousaphones and crowds that throw beads just do not mix), etc.. I dunno.. Personally, I think I've seen (and been in) enough parades for one lifetime. Watching the drunk people didn't cheer us up too much either. We saw a girl that was so drunk that she literally fell into a gutter (which her friends thought was hilarious). Yeah, once again, I feel myself saying that we're getting too old for that kind of stuff. We cut out early and went home to take a nap.


So uhh...what now?

When night came we walked again to a nearby set of restaurants. Walking around was kind of weird. Everyone was trying to leave the area, and many of the folks were showing the signs of all day drinking. In one intersection, a guy popped out of the sunroof of his car and asked a guy in front of us "Hey man, do you got a beer in that cooler I can get from you?" The guy avoided the question by yelling back "Go Bucs!", and then toasted the man with the beer he was drinking. A second or two later, another guy walked by yelling out "SOLD! SOLD!". We then noticed he was holding a "sold" sign that he had taken from a real estate for-sale sign. Craziness. It was like we were in Apocalypse Now, going further down the river, but we were walking because the traffic was so bad.

This feeling of craziness was further supported when we reached the restaurants. As we were walking into the first restaurant, we heard on their intercom.. "drunk talk". I don't know how to describe it, it was like Johnny Depp checking in to the hotel in Fear and Loathing. When we walked inside, it was chaos, like all the staff had just gone home and given up on all the drunk people that were still here (maybe they'd just hose them all out tomorrow). Being that the drunks were running the show, we left and went up the street to a more expensive place. This place was a bit odd as well. They were somehow keeping it together, but barely. The waitress had been there for like 11 hours straight and was beginning to be unable to maintain. It was loud, and you could shout if you wanted (so we did). Odd..


Fin.

The last touch of surrealism was when we started walking home. The streets were nearly empty, but they still had that feeling like a huge crowd had just walked by. Then, this car zips by. Out of the left window a guy yells out urgently "When I say Tampa you say Bucs... Tampa!". Then, someone yells out of the other side of the car "Bucs!". They continued to yell "Tampa" "Bucs" until their revved up little car drove off around the corner and there was nothing but the echos of their voices from the empty store fronts. Yeah, it'll be good to get out of this madness and go to sleep tonight..

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:: Tampa Recovers

This may be odd, but I think the day after a big city festival is often a lot more appealing than the actual festival. I dunno, I kind of like walking around a city after a big festival. It's like you know everyone is sort of thinking the same kind of ideas, like "hey, I'm alive", or "if it wasn't for that damn tequila", or "ok, I've never woken up in this ditch before". It's nice to be around people who are just happy to be alive and sober.


Henri finds religion again

This morning we rolled out of bed at around noon and then piled into the car to go downtown for some Sunday buffet action. Ahh.. a bright sunny day, a nice view of the water, and all the cheese blintzes you can stomach. Oh evil, evil buffet, why do we keep coming back to you? You are like the food version of tequila. Sigh. As you would expect, we gorged ourselves on the buffet. Waffles with gravy? Why not! A plate full of capers? Who could resist! A fist-sized portion of whipped cream, wrapped in bacon? How cute! Oof. While those Fear Factor people on TV certainly eat some nasty stuff, I feel like this buffet behavior is just as bad at times.


We was f..u..l..e.. full.

Needless to say, the buffet put our plans to drive back to Atlanta on hold for a while. We drove back to Henri's place and collapsed for the afternoon. At night, we managed to meet up with John at a seafood restaurant (although I was still in the mindset of "I see food, and I puke it!"). Sadly, we could not persuade John into joining us (the nerd side) for a viewing of The Two Towers at an imax theater.. It was kind of nice to see TTT on the huge screen, but honestly, I think we were all a little too worn out from the weekend to sit through a three hour movie.

Anyhow, we're crashing here for the night and driving back tomorrow morning. To Henri we pass on a huge "thank-you" for letting us crash at your place and hang out with you for the last couple of days. It was fun to wander around Gasparilla, even though we've (hopefully) outgrown this drunken stupor stuff. Also, thanks for driving out to meet us for dinner, John. Hopefully, we'll get to see you again soon, when we're not under the gun to make it to a movie..

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:: Coldplay

I got an email this week from my friend John ("Oracle-John" John) about going to see Coldplay at the new Gwinnett Arena. Apparently, the girl he was going to go with backed out at the last minute. John says that dating women in their thirties is a nightmare.. A few of the ladies he's taken out have been so tuned into their biological clocks that they will bail out of any kind of dating scenario if the guy doesn't seem like he's 100% ready to get married in a few months. Augh. Yet another reason to be thankful that I'm already married. John was unsuccessful at luring away any of the hot office ladies away with the extra Coldplay ticket, so he settled for me. I got gussied up in my best dress, hopped on Marta, and met him at his station so we could take Marta up North to suburbia. John had to drive us to the arena since Gwinnett has no real public transportation to speak of (you know, because subways bring a "bad element" into the suburbs, and these "bad elements" would certainly break into people's homes and take their big screen TVs back with them on the subway. sigh..).

The Gwinnett Arena is fairly nice if you don't mind waiting around in traffic before and after a concert. The arena is sort of like a smaller version of Philips Arena. While it's good to see another major concert venue in Atlanta, I'm afraid a lot of the more popular shows will start shifting to outside of 285, where all the suburb rats live. Eh.. With any luck I'll be finding a job sometime soon in a different city, and none of this will matter anymore.

Anyways, after grabbing a few drinky-drinks at the arena we found our seats, evicted the suburb rats that were sitting in them, and settled in for the concert. The opening band (??) was pretty decent. Well, I don't know so much about the music, but the singer could really belt out some stuff. John and I griped about all these whipper-snapper singers who could just sing the high stuff all night. Yeah, it's only a matter of time before they're going to have to start taking vocal steroid shots like Bon Jovi. Oof. I gotta say that one thing that bothered the crap out of me was the light show for the concert. It felt like I was looking at a strobe light the whole night.


Thanx for the ticket, John..

Coldplay came on afterwards and was hugely popular (they said it was a sold-out show). Ok, so I'll admit, I only know Coldplay from what I've heard on the radio. However, the radio stations must love the band, as I recognized at least four of their songs. The band was really into the crowd and vice versa. John said that they have some kind of connection to Atlanta- I think the 99x promotion beast made them popular or something. Speaking of 99x, I think they did some kind of simulcast of the show on the radio (and will also rebroadcast the show on Sunday).

So.. Towards the end of the show they announce they have a "special guest" that's going to come out and play with them. Hmm.. A band that puts a piano center stage.. comes to Atlanta.. special guest..? Who could it possibly be? Oh that's right, Elton John. EJ came out and played piano for one of their songs and the crowd went nuts. I heard the middle-aged soccer moms behind me actually say "ohhh... mahh... gwaaahwd". I dunno. It's all a big mystery about why people get so excited by this. I mean, doesn't Elton John play with like everyone that comes through? Er, this is the guy that played with Eminem on that award show, right? And come on.. was "Rocket Man" really that great of a song? Anyways, he played his part, the crowd went nuts, and then he took off. Maybe Atlanta is just a bit starved for celebrities.

After the show (which all-in-all was pretty good), John and I wandered with the masses out to the parking lot to try to locate our car. I guess that's another thing about the arena- the parking lot is one huge grid with no visual clues to help you remember where you actually parked. However, this might all be part of the Arena's master plan for managing traffic- if everyone had been able to find their cars right away, the traffic would have been even worse than it was. Anyways, we eventually escaped and drove back to Manuel's for a few beers and boiled peanuts. I don't know if it's the Leinenkugel's or the strobe lights, but I'm sure I'm going to have a massive headache tomorrow. Once again, it's just another sign of how old I'm getting..

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:: Tuesdays with "Bob"

Ok, ok.. I know we've said it a million times, but Amy and I really need to move out of our apartment complex. Over the last three years, we've put up with dozens of problems with this place. The water heater is apparently unrepairable, and randomly disembowels itself all over our carpet. The upstairs neighbors wear cowboy boots and have hardwood floors. The 1960's phone wiring in this place swizzels our 1.5Mbps DSL down to 0.7Mbps. Cars are periodically looted at night. All this and the place costs $900/month (which isn't so great in Atlanta for an 800 sqft 2BR apartment).

However, I've gotta say that the most annoying thing lately has been our long-time neighbor (who I'll call "Bob", just because he talks like Billy Bob Thorton in Sling Blade .. mmmHmm.). I don't know the specifics of Bob's medical conditions, but he's in a wheelchair and has limited use of his hands and arms. Now to be fair, we get along with Bob most of the time. We shoot the bull with him when our paths cross, and often say hi to him when his door's open. However, the problem with knowing Bob is that he often needs help with "the little things". Like.. picking up stuff he's dropped (keys, phone, microwave burritos, etc), loading paper into his printer, removing his dog's snarling mouth from a neighbor dog's neck, etc.. Since we're the neighbors that live closest to him, it's not uncommon for Bob to come pound on our door and ask us to do something if his care person isn't around (remember this entry?). Unfortunately, it seems like the care person has been around less and less lately, and it's really starting to bug us.

So anyways, the other night Amy and I were watching the tail end of Saturday Night Live (note that this means it's pretty damn late at night) when we heard Bob's tell-tale pounding at our door. I rolled my eyes and went to the door, hoping that it would be something simple this time. Nope.. Sure enough, there was Bob, wheeling around on our porch, drunk and mumbling something about how his care person wasn't there and how he needed some help getting into bed. Ok.. I followed him next door, worried, but thinking "Hey, he goes to sleep every night so he must have a system or something. He probably just needs me to turn out the lights."

Bob maneuvered his wheelchair into his bedroom and parked it next to the bed. He mumbled something to me about lowering the bed for him, and after a bit of searching, I found a remote that controlled the bed. I pushed buttons until the bed came to life, while Bob thoughtfully slurred out gems like "no, the other button. OTHER button". After the bed was lowered, Bob gave me the news I was dreading "Ok, now just pick me up and move me over". Er.. Ok.. How? Maybe I worry about these things too much. Maybe I should have just said ok and picked him up like a big sack of (mmmmhhar) per-tay-toes and shot-putted him into the bed. But in my head, I've got a dozen questions about this moving business. Will bad things happen if I lift him by the arms? Is he tied down to the chair in any way? Is he attached to any medical gizmos that I should know about? And what do I do if he doesn't make it to the bed and instead falls on the floor? After all this worrying, I tell myself "screwit" and decide to just pick him up under the arms and roll him into the bed. This isn't as easy (or fun) as it sounds, because he weighs a good 120 pounds and the wheelchair is all in the way. However, this technique worked ok, and I was glad at the end of it to see that at least most of his body had made it over to the bed.

Unfortunately, Bob's legs hadn't quite made it into the bed. Bob barked out some new orders instructing me to "just swing" his legs around and onto the bed. Ok.. I grabbed him by the ankles and did just that as best as I could. Now, as I was doing this, I observed that his feet and ankles weren't exactly.. dry, and that there was this little tube coming out of his pantleg. Nasty. The nastiness of all this didn't really register until he mumbled his next order, which was to fetch the old "bag and hose" that was hanging in the bathroom. Nasty. I of course had to connect the two hoses together, while he mumbles something about what a relief it would be to finally have them connected. Thanks, pal.

After hookin' up the hoses, I had to bring him some water and make sure that the phone was near him. On the way out I started thinking about the whole situation. What if I hooked up something wrong (or didn't hook up something else) and he had some medical problem at night? What if the phone wasn't charged up all the way and his caretaker didn't show up for a few days? In my head, I cooked a crime scene investigation where Bob was dead and they hauled me off to prison because of my negligence. I went home and washed my hands thoroughly, thinking about how messed up all of this is. All because Amy and I are "nice guys". Sigh.. So now I write all of this up in the noodle log. I'm sure someone will come along, read this, and tell me how awful we are for not being thrilled at the chance for helping a guy out. Whatever. We've done our part and more. Argh.. Like I was saying, we've got to move away from this place, and we've got to do it soon.

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:: Fire on North Ave.

The big news today was that there was a fire just up the street on North Ave about a block from Freedom Park. I first saw the signs of it on my way home from a meeting at school. I was on North Ave. near the Bank of America building when I heard the fire engines and saw a plume of smoke off in the distance. From that far away you could tell it was something serious, and that it was something near my neighborhood (I wondered if it was City Hall East, Manuel's, the gas station..?). As I got closer I realized it was probably on North, so I went home via a detour through Little 5pts. When I got home I walked through the park to see what was going on.


At least four hook-and-ladders

Thick smoke was coming out of the apartments across the street on North Ave. The people on the news said that it was a three alarm fire, and that it had all started when some roofing people had knocked over come kind of heater they were using to tar the roof. They say the fire swept across the roof, and then began feeding off the gas lines of the building. The fire people were able to get everyone out, but the temperatures were so hot that some of their fire protective clothes started to melt. The fire got out of control and spread through six different units. It burned all afternoon, even with three hook and ladder trucks blasting it and a swarm of firefighters working against it.


Gag (Notice the same two people up front)

After standing with a crowd in the park, I walked back to the house to see if I could find Amy. As it turns out, she had walked down there when it first started, and probably just missed me when she walked back. After swapping stories, we decided to ride our bikes down again and take a few pictures (I intentionally left the camera at home when I walked, since I didn't know how bad things would be). As the pictures show, the smoke was pretty awful- at times you could barely see to the edge of the park. They shut down all the streets around the place (North, Moreland, the end of Freedom Parkway) for the rest of the day, and ran hoses from two blocks away to support the firefighters.


Amy, I swear it was the dog

The firefighters soaked the buildings well into the night. On the late news show they said that the owner of the apartments was putting the people up in an "inn just a block away" (the Highland Inn), and said that most of the pets in the building had been rescued. Hopefully Manuel's or somebody will have some kind of charity drive for these folks or something.. All of this has made us think about our own apartment complex again.. Given the history of broken things in this complex, I guess we should just feel lucky that it wasn't our place this time.

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:: Going back to Cali

So.. Two weeks ago, out of the blue, I got a call from Sandia National Laboratory in California. Somehow, my resume found its way into the hands of a visualization guy there that is interested in my work. After a short phone interview he asked if I would be interested in coming out to Sandia to give a talk and go through the interview process. Being that I've heard Sandia works on a lot of interesting research projects (next gen cluster computing, sensor networks, etc), I naturally jumped at the opportunity. Since then, I've been dusting off the old campaign speech and reworking some of the parts that didn't go over so well at other talks.


Sandia at Livermore, near San Francisco

I guess I should probably give you some background about the lab to put all of this into perspective. Sandia is a national lab funded by the Department of Energy (DoE), and run by Lockheed Martin. There are two sites: the larger lab (8K people) is in Albuquerque, New Mexico, while the second and smaller lab (1K people) is in Livermore, California. The Livermore site is literally right across the street from Lawrence Livermore labs, and is there (I believe) to support collaboration between the labs. The town of Livermore is about 40 miles East of San Francisco (on the other side of the fault lines). It's also relatively close to Silicon Valley, so housing costs and interstate traffic out there are supposed to be pretty horrendous.

I've got to say that of all the national labs I've visited, Sandia is the one that has its act together the most in terms of the recruiting process. They arranged all the travel plans for me and mailed me documentation on what I was to expect and how expenses would be handled. This was a nice change from a visit to one of the other labs, where they basically told me to buy everything myself, and that they would reimburse "all" of it later (which didn't happen). Another cool thing about Sandia is that they like to fly people in on Saturday, and do Monday/Tuesday interviews (w/ a 45min talk on Monday). This gives you a good chance to see the area and get adjusted to the local time, which is a huge plus when you're doing these kinds of interviews.

This morning (Saturday), I caught a flight from ATL to SFO. Strangely, ATL was packed- it was the first time I actually had to wade through the entire field of queues that sit before the security gates. SFO has come a long way since the last time I was there- they now have a tram service that connects all the terminals, and can take you to BART or the car rental place. On a sidenote, they put all the car rental places in one building, which is cool.. Yeah yeah, as an engineer I like to see things like this that are planned out well.. Maybe it's just that there are so many bad airports out there. Anyways, I picked up my car at around one and hit the old California freeway system. As expected, it was a sunny, beautiful day out.


Almost looks like the background for MS XP

It took about 45 minutes to drive out to Livermore from the airport. It was all a bit surreal. Every so often, the freeways would bring back memories of LA, but then there wasn't so much of that urban decay you find down there. And then.. you pass over the mountains and it's a whole different world. There were rolling hills, covered in green grass. It reminded me of both Oklahoma and the Microsoft XP default background at the same time. Odd.. And then.. there's a subway enterance in the middle of it for BART (they have a line that goes almost to Livermore). Anyways, after checking in to my hotel, I did a quick drive-through of Livermore. It's a cute little town, with a speckling of shops and restaurants. Oh, and they have a comic book store (with stacks btw, Eric and Henri) right downtown. While Livermore isn't really that big, it does seem to have some character that might make it a fun place to live. But.. I didn't spend too much time exploring today. I went to bed at about 9pm, a victim of the time change and the grueling flight. I'll look around more tomorrow.

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:: Checking Out California

Ooof, what a busy day. This morning I hunkered down and worked on my talk a bit more (laptops are evil, they let you procrastinate perfecting your slides until the last minute). As usual, I'm a nervous wreck about the talk. You never know who's going to show or what to expect. From experience, I know that a good chunk of the audience won't understand or care about the important stuff in the talk. For these folks you have to hammer on "big picture" ideas, so they can at least get something to justify their time. The big fish in the audience are the handful of folks that really know what you're talking about, and want to know the specifics. So somehow in this turkey of a talk you've got to slide in some statistics, plots, or slides that show that this was no mickey-mouse work. It's a tough thing balancing a talk.. Anyways.. I practiced the talk several times this morning. After one of the runs, I stepped outside of my hotel and discovered that a small audience of snails had amassed to hear about the construction of Multimedia Clusters. I took this as a good omen, even though the little guys tried to scurry off when they heard me open the door.


My #1 fan

By noon I was tired of talking, so I hopped in the car to continue exploring the area. I first drove up to a small town called Tracy, which is about 12 miles east of Livermore and on the other side of some rippling hills. People have told me that houses in Tracy are a good bit cheaper than Livermore ($300k instead of $400k?), and that a lot of folks commute into the lab from there. Tracy was another cute little town, but it was even sleepier than Livermore. Tracy was originally a railroad city (dating back to the 1870's), but it shifted more to an agricultural area in the 1950's as the railroads started to taper off. For some reason, it reminded me of the kind of town you would find back home in the middle of nowhere SC.


The road to Tracy is not less traveled

After grabbing lunch and reading the Sunday Tracy newspaper (which was all of about 16 pages), I headed back to Livermore to see if there was more to the town than what I saw yesterday. Today I got out of the car and walked around a bit. It's definitely a cute town, with a nice little downtown area. I checked out the comic book store for fun, and found that they had old issues of "Web of Spiderman" (so they're cool with me). Looked like there were several nice little restaurants, including some Indian and Thai places.

While I intended to go to a small town called Dublin next (which is about 10 miles west of Livermore), I wound up in a town called Pleasanton. I really liked Pleasanton, as it had a nice long main street with lots of shops, bars and restaurants. While the other towns had felt kind of empty today, Pleasanton felt like it was rumbling with activity. I walked around a bit and had some malt-ball gelato (pretty good actually) at an internet cafe. The big drawback of Pleasanton is that it's closer to Silicon Valley and Berkeley than Livermore is, so houses are just that much more expensive. Of course on the bright side of that, living here would mean a reverse commute (and you'd be living that much closer to the bay area and a BART station).


Pleasanton, so cute, we have our own sign

I went home and crashed at the hotel for a bit after the gelato. At night I tried to find Dublin again. I'm not sure I actually found it, but I did find the largest shopping megaplex I think I've ever seen. This place had a Regal Cinemas multiplex (w/ Imax), and about a dozen of the major "best buy"-like chain stores facing onto a single parking lot. This place would be heaven for Todd. Anyways, I went back home and ironed my clothes for the talk tomorrow. Augh. I wish Amy was here so I wouldn't be so nervous. At least the hard stuff will be over tomorrow.

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