I've been meaning to write this post for a while now, but such things as strep throat, San Andreas, lots of programming, and the LJ power outage kept getting in the way. So here we go.

After six months of speculation and planning, Laura and I finally decided that we would both go to Pittsburgh at the same time so that I could meet her extended family. And we could have Christmas near each other. We also decided that she would come down to Richmond with my family and hang there for a bit. Then we had plans to go see VNV Nation in Chicago early in 2005. More on that later.

So here's the list of cities in the whirlwind tour, in order that we visited them: Cedar Rapids, Pittsburgh, Richmond, Cedar Rapids (I made a quick trip to Pella and Ames before returning to Cedar Rapids), Chicago, Madison, Cedar Rapids again. The trip totaled over 3800 miles. Now I'll describe the legs of the journey.

Laura and I got Pittsburgh first so that she could spend more time with her extended family. I got to meet her grandmother first, a lovely, sweet lady. I wish I had been able to meet her grandfather, but he passed away in October. I did get a glimpse of all of the love that everyone had for him, though. On Christmas Day, I met Laura's dad's cousin's family, at whose house we ate shrimp and chatted, before heading over to Laura's mom's brother's house. There I met Laura's cousins who I'd heard much about and have seen many pictures of. Right after showing up, they shoved a Guinness in my hand. Uncle Tom was quite the joker, always making fun of everyone (especially me). I had met her Aunt Janie so at least I had a familiar face to help protect me. ;-) Christmas dinner was great. The most memorable part was the "ice cream cake". I had probably eaten a quarter to a half of it (and had already said how much I loved it) when they told me that the three layers of pound cake in it had each been soaked in a different kind of alcohol. Right around then I got really lightheaded, and knew why. :-) Good times, though. I hope our families get use to us being together. That trend isn't going to turn around. :-).

Richmond was fun. Had more Christmas celebrations to add to the ones I had with my mom's and Laura's family in Pittsburgh. Got to see the cousin and stuff. The lots of food, etc. etc. Then we drove back to Iowa.

And then to Chicago, where we met up with Mike and Samantha and saw VNV Nation rock the Chicago goth scene. It seriously was the best concert I've ever been to. CodeR23, a live side project of Front 242, opened for them. Very danceable. VNV's live show has matured greatly since the last time Mike and I saw them. They played a few songs from their upcoming album, Matter and Form. Looking forward to it.

We stayed in a hotel this time (sometimes Mike and I even learn!) And drove up to Madison in the morning to hang out with Mike and Samantha and see their apartment. Samantha made steak and salmon and these really great potatoes that I cannot seem to reproduce. It was good to see them.

For Christmas, I got Dragon NaturallySpeaking 8. In fact, I wrote this entire entry with it. If you see any weird syntactic structures or grammatical slipups, that's a speak-o. Overall, I've been really happy with the software. With minimal dictation, I was up and running, and after some vocabulary additions and additional training, I use it for chatting and e-mail and writing papers. You can use it to open programs, interact with dialog boxes and the start menu, and of course it is great for dictation. Since there are so many words that I use everyday, but aren't really standard English, I've had to teach it new vocabulary, such as X-Chat, Azureus, eMule, VNV Nation, etc. For $50, I think everybody should get it. However, it's not very useful for code. You could write code with it, but it's much easier to just type. Yet another weapon in the war against repetitive stress injuries.

Well, I think that's pretty much everything I wanted to talk about. More code-related things later. And Mike, you should write about the VNV Nation concert as well.