Tuesday, December 29, 2009

120: Heist, pt. 2

From the moment Mick brought up the idea, Dell had been kicking himself.  This "opportunity" had far more risk than what Dell normally accepted in a job and it forced him to confront facts about his own life that he'd long since buried and forgotten.  Not to mention ones he'd never really understood.

The premise was easy.  A small collection of art in a small museum tour making its way through small museums across Europe.  Small, small, small.  Easy. 

And plain as day, right there in the brochure, a small statue with murky provenance which Dell had seen before, in his own home growing up.  He family had always surrounded themselves with art, but the collection was ever changing.  Dell had told himself that his parents simply liked variety, but it was many years later that he'd realized he was only fooling himself and he had inadvertently followed in his father's footsteps. 

It was stupid luck, is what it was.  He, computer components, his father, artwork, found themselves face-to-face in the darkened office overlooking the warehouse, both after the manifests that would guide them to the right shipping crate.  He hadn't seen his father in years, but that night as they crouched behind the flimsy metal desk listening to see if anyone else would be joining the party, he was forced to confront the fact that he and his father were both in the business of "asset relocation."  He wanted to punch his father square in the jaw, but realized that would put his own plans in jeopardy.  They'd parted without speaking that night, the rift still wide between them.

While artwork wasn't really Dell's thing, this particular statue had caught his attention, just as it had done so many years before.  The very thought of it now turned his stomach.  In high school, Dell had become friends with another boy, Charlie.  Charlie's family, too, had a large collection of art and from time-to-time over dinner Charlie's father would tell stories of the artists who had painted them.  Charlie's father wasn't a collector of classics.  He had made his money in mini-marts and couldn't tell a Triesch from a Torvald, but he would always say that every artist had a story and that he enjoyed the beauty of the art, no matter the value.  And one night over dinner, Charlie's father brought out a photo.  Charlie's mother had said "Oh, now, George, he doesn't want to hear this sad story.  Please just put it away."  But George had persisted, showing Dell the photo of the small statue that had been stolen from their home a decade earlier, one of the few pieces of art George owned that had any value.  The police had been no help, what could George possibly know about art?  And the cop had said "It's not like it's a Pih-cay-so" or anything and gave George a form to fill out.  And of course, it was the day after the theft that it occured to George that he ought to invest in insurance and a security system.

Dell didn't speak to his father much after that and within a few months had left home.

So Mick and his friends may have been wanting a quick score for some simple cash, for Dell, it was all about the little statue and he could care less about the rest.   He had Googled Charlie and discovered that he was an investment banker, still in Indianapolis, and a recent news article showed him standing near his smiling parents at the opening of a new art gallery in town.

Mick's plan had been good enough - the art would be temporarily housed at a university.  It was safer than a shipping warehouse and no one would really think to look there.  Security would be minimal, a few off-duty policia picking up a little extra money.  It was standard procedure that this tour had used in a number of other cities.  It was fool-proof.

Until Mick wound up as one of the security guards on duty at the planned time of the heist.  And that fool on the motorcycle who had stopped behind him with his lights flashing and was now approaching the SUV.


A tradition I've been doing for several years now, here's where I look back at the past year, as represented by what I posted on.  

January started off with a bang - 31 posts.  Bam.  The mother-in-law was newly out of the house, we had snow, some fog, and I predicted I'd see 160 on the scale by this coming Thursday.  I guess I need to find someone lighter than me to go stand on the scale.
January 3 - "Motivation" - am amazed at how much easier it is to get chores done on a weeknight than it is on a Saturday when there is all day to do stuff. Lori wondered if it was because I'd already spent the day feeling productive and getting stuff done. But, I'm not sure that's it. I think it's more that I have the mental idea of a very short timeframe in which to get stuff done.

February saw practical tips on handling large volumes of email (a guide based on people continuously asking me at work how I did it), regrets over a Daddy/Daughter day that I felt like I phoned in, lots of photos off my cell phone from my trip to Arizona, I looked back on all the major lessons I've learned from each of my post-college jobs, and we projected the superbowl on the wall and now I wanted a projector.
February 11 - "Dirty Tricks Division" - I think if I had a little color printer, I'd want to have some fun.  Like a new note on the toilet paper... "Westin is proud to offer you this extra roll of Heavenly Wipes(tm) because sometimes we know you need more.  To use, simply remove the outer wrapper.  $8 will be added to your bill at the time of checkout."

March was when I got temporarily hooked on Uno online.  That didn't last long, tried flying a kite with Rachel, complained that Qwest still keeps giving us Tacoma phone books, saw the Seattle P.I. cease to be, seriously cleaned my cube (with photos) and had a lot of dreams.
March 22 - "Father and Son" - Tonight, I was sitting on the couch with Ben on my lap.  I was handing him goldfish one at a time and also eating them myself.  He leaned back and lifted his head to look at me.  Then he raised his arm with the golfdish towards me.  He eventually just leaned back until he was lying down so he could look at me.  He would repeat the almost-offer of the goldfish several times.

In April, I counted stuff (# of offices, length of time unemployed, # of bosses named Jeff or Rich), learned that even "when to call a girl back after a date" is set forth in the Bible (thanks "How I Met Your Mother"), continued to rail against how badly GM's mucked things up, enjoyed the rain, complained about Old Navy, and seemingly the big news of our year, we got the Wii Fit.
April 24 - "Mine" - And then inspiration hit. I instructed her to stay put and went and found her birth certificate. I showed her where it said 'Certificate of Live Birth' and 'State of California' and she brightened up and said "That's me!". She liked the colors of the embossing on the paper and seemed impressed by the notary impression. So I showed her where on the paper that it listed her name and my name and Lori's name. And I told her that this was proof from the state of California that she was our daughter and always would be.

In May there was a scare that there was something large in our attic - nope, just a crow clubbing something to death on the roof at 5 am; I talked about TV shows a lot, I tried to document my Wii Fit progress every day (didn't last long), and I proposed fractional pony ownership (similar to NetJets). Think this was also the month that Marcus killed himself, not that we'd find out about it for a few months.
May 6 - "Getting the Band Back Together" - I don't know why, but as I was sitting at dinner, I was struck with inspiration. If I were musical, I'd want to start a band and I'd call it "Store Brand." Our musical style? Covers, of course. (Yeah, I think I'm pretty clever.)

In June I reflected back on an email that Lori and I have been sending back and forth for over 10 years, started doing more creative writing, and took a real honest-to-goodness vacation - foreign country, days spent sitting and doing nothing, views of the water.  All of the sudden, I really miss Victoria. In early June I was inspired to think of a new way of organizing stuff at home, but then really didn't follow through with it.
June 13 - "Inappropriately Insecure" - A rather interesting phrase came up tonight in Small Group: Inappropriately Insecure.  It was used to describe someone who is so insecure that they rely on the rigidity of rules to get by.  Everything is black and white.  There's no deviation from the rules and that's the only time they feel safe.  I thought it was a rather interesting description and a great phrase.  I think I know some people like that and that I once had those tendencies.  But, especially at work, I think I am becoming more confident, more secure, more able to determine when rules should apply and when there is flexibility to choose the best course of action.  It is liberating to be secure, confident.

July was a dry month - not much posting going on, mostly just videos I found cool and screen captures of a busy day or the thermometer in my car.  I also spent more than half an hour screwing with a spammer who had hijacked my friend's Facebook account and was trying to get me to wire them money because they had apparently gotten stuck in London without their wallet.  (Or their four children under the age of 4, one of whom has had some health issues and needs a lot of care and attention.)
July 30 - "Leadership" - Can't remember exactly where I heard it, or if I even am getting the attribution quite right (Dupree?), but thought it was compelling.... Leaders have but two jobs: (1) Define reality. (2) Say "Thank you"

August was also a slow month.  Firestone went on my list, I formulated a plan for cold-call emails, fought with as Waste Management (I think I lost), spent way too much time detailing my (albeit amazing) iTunes smart playlist composition and gave the world unsolicited advice on vacations. 
August 3 - "Woo Hoo" - Not only have the idiots at the Box network been fired and horribly killed and Planet Express is back on the air (errr... in the air), but the new idiots have done something right... thank you to Fox and the stars of Futurama to the compromise that brings back the original voices.

In September, Lori and I stole away to Seattle for a very quick vacation to celebrate 10 years (sadly, the Hawaii trip was out of reach) (thank you Eskews for entertaining our children!), and I took some screen captures of some positive results in Wii Fit.  What a dud of a month, as far as regular posting went.
September 15 - "Yeah, I Brought It (2 of 2)" - Today is going to be an excellent day. I tangled with someone the other day - they had presented some information in an email that they had gathered and I started to try to reply and address some incorrect points in the email but eventually gave up and just said their email had too many problems for me to know where to begin and that we ought to meet. (Today's lesson for the corporate world, kids - check the org chart first - person didn't like what I said/how I said it and let some others know.) I do believe I've managed to since convince them that I'm a good guy.

3 posts total in October?  Sad, just sad.  I think I must have posted more on Facebook.  But I'm trying to post here on the blog first and let it flow over to Facebook since it'll be retained much longer on the blog.  Yeah, so I made fun of something I like (candy corn), purged my friends lists, and finally learned that Marcus had killed himself.
October 12 - "Fight Night" - Something happened today that's making me re-think how I use Social Media, if at all.  Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy hearing from my friends, but this event made me take stock of who my friends really are.  I heard a researcher recently quoted saying that people can have, I think, between 80-110 friends and really know them. Anyhow, as I looked at it, there were 436 on Facebook and 76 on Twitter, without a lot of overlap.  Were they all friends that I genuinely knew?  No.  I began slashing.  And then I slashed some more.  In the end, I had 233 friends on Facebook and 38 on Twitter.  (And that was after adding two on Twitter.)

November was a little better with 18 posts.  In a number of cases, I had a notepad open as I went through my day and would flip over and jot observations and thoughts and then at the end of the day, post them all at once.  I posted my second-favorite 120 (my first was "Unspoken" in June) and I've intended to follow-it up with additional pieces, but I've been struggling to put them together cohesively.  I might need to just dive in and write about Dell's (my character) backstory before returning to the present where the cop is riding up on the motorcycle behind his stopped truck.  Also questioned Target's new brand strategy, thought I'd solved perpetual motion (but instead got some physics lessons - though those are mostly on Facebook) and Google releases a new toy that I thought I wouldn't see before I got to heaven.
November 7 - "When Will I Learn There Are No Guarantees" - What the world needs now is a new Frank Sinatra. And not in a Cracker way (the person most likely to understand this reference probably wouldn't be caught dead listening to Cracker, so there you go.) And if you say "What about John Mayer?" Then you need a kick in that teeth. That overhyped commercialized pretty boy is nothing but a corporate tool and "Waiting for the World to Change" is a piece of falsely optimistic tripe that appeals to people who are way too self-absorbed, prideful and egotistical (sadly, a topic I'm all too qualified to speak on). You can keep waiting for the world to change, but you will change first. Trust me. The sooner you get real about this fact and look at what you can change at the same time, the more effective you'll be. Don't wait for the world to change around you. Seize the carp and whatnot.

In December, I posted some stats from iTunes about our music listening habits, cheered as Time Warner excised the cancer known as AOL, and suggested I ought to write more.  Ha Ha, Mr. 7 Posts.  And then on Tuesday, December 29, I was late for work.  Though I was there an hour late last night and the office will be virtually empty this morning, I don't think anyone will begrudge me a few minutes.
December 17 - "Undertow: Not a Book Review" - But, yeah, where does that leave me?  If you say "Write what you know." then suddenly I feel very dumb.  I have absolutely no interest in non-fiction, but I feel like I don't know enough about anything to make for a very interesting fiction story.  Or that it's going to be flat because I lack actual experiences to draw from.  And the images in my head, while rich, are sometimes difficult to draw out, or the detail required to give them life will bore people as it veers into non-fiction.

Related posts: 2008, 2007 (parts one, two and three), 2006 and 2005.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

What Are We Listening To? (2009 Edition)

So I thought it would be interesting to see what iTunes about our combined listening habits.  It is indeed an interesting mix.  To get these results, I created two rather simple Smart Playlists just to get me the stats.  In some ways, I may be under-represented because my playlists don't allow the same thing to play in a week or month (depending on the rating) of its last play while Lori has a much smaller playlist of her favorites, with no such restrictions on when something can play.

Our daughter also likes to hear the same things very often, hence the many Tarzan songs and Milli Vanilli's high ranking.  The audio clips are exclusive to my playlist and there is a small number of them total and the playlist is instructed to always keep 10 in my master playlist at all times, so that explains their high number of plays.

Results are the combined results of my iPod, the mostly-Lori's iPod touch, iTunes and our two RAZR phones that play iTunes.  Should be interesting to see what this looks like in a year.  I do predict that Lori's favorites will further dominate the rankings since the iPod touch was given to us later in the year and Lori didn't have a car adapter for it until October.  That and it holds a limited selection of songs.  This is probably the year where we switched to buying more singles on iTunes versus full CDs in disc form.

Anyhow, on with the rankings...

Top 50 - All Time 
(or since late 2006 when we finally added all our CDs to iTunes)

1. Trashin' the Camp - Phil Collins
2. Who Says You Can't Go Home - Bon Jovi featuring Jennifer Nettles
3. My Savior My God - Aaron Shust
4. Morning Has Broken - Various Artists
5. Can't Stop This Thing We Started - Bryan Adams
6. Audio Clip - Mystery Men
7. Girl You Know It's True - Milli Vanilli
8. Jingle Bells - Barenaked Ladies
9. The Cheap Seats - Alabama
10. Audio Clip - The Angry Beavers
11. Keep the Candle Burning - Point of Grace
12. Audio Clip - You've Got Mail
13. Audio Clip - Office Space
14. I Want to Hold Your Hand - The Beatles
15. Circle of Life - Carmen Twillie
16. I Can't Be Your Friend - D.H.T. featuring Edmee
17. Strangers Like Me - Phil Collins
18. I Won't Back Down - Tom Petty & The Heartbreakers
19. Audio Clip - Futurama
20. Deliver Us - Ofra Haza featuring Eden Riegel
21. Audio Clip - Men in Black
22. Rainbow Connection - Various Artists
23. In Christ Alone - Adrienne Liesching (with Geoff Moore)
24. You Give Love a Bad Name - Bon Jovi
25. Free Your Mind - En Vogue
26. Closer to Fine - Indigo Girls
27. Angel Eyes - Jim Brickman
28. Heaven - Live
29. Secret Ambition - Michael W. Smith
30. Ancient Words - Michael W. Smith
31. You Are Holy - Michael W. Smith
32. Under the Sea - Samuel E. Wright
33. Trashin' the Camp - Phil Collins featuring *NSYNC)
34. Two Worlds - Phil Collins
35. Audio Clip - Mystery Men
36. Theme: The Flintstones
37. Lavender Blue - Various Artists
38. Danny Boy - Celtic Woman
39. Bonny Portmore - Loreena McKennitt
40. Two Worlds - Phil Collins
41. Wonderful, Merciful Savior - Selah
42. Audio Clip - The Angry Beavers
43. Born to Be My Baby - Bon Jovi
44. The Gorillas - Mark Mancina and Phil Collins
45. Two Worlds Reprise - Phil Collins
46. You'll Be In My Heart - Phil Collins
47. Angel - Sarah McLachlan
48. Audio Clip - Mystery Men
49. Manic Monday - The Bangles
50. Don't Worry Be Happy - Bobby McFerrin

Top 50 - Music Added to iTunes in the past year

1. Bonny Portmore - Loreena McKennitt
2. Tainted Love - Soft Cell
3. Waiting for My Rela Life to Begin - Colin Hay
4. Duke of Earl - Gene Chandler
5. The River - Brian Doerksen
6. Cupid - Sam Cooke
7. Fields of Gold - Eva Cassidy
8. Bleeding Love - Leona Lewis
9. I Want it That Way - Backstreet Boys
10. Slow Me Down - Emmy Rossum
11. The Way I Am - Ingrid Michaelson
12. Push - Matchbox Twenty
13. We Humble Ourselves - Paul Baloche
14. Tearin' Up My Heart - *NSYNC
15. He Knows My Name - Tommy Walker
16. What Do I Know of Holy - Addison Road
17. I'm In a Hurry (and Don't Know Why) - Alabama
18. This Magic Moment - The Drifters
19. The Way You Do The Things You Do - UB40
20. Lonely - Akon
21. Remember When - Alan Jackson
22. Suspicious Minds - Elvis Presley
23. Angel - Shaggy & Rayvon
24. There She Goes - Sixpence None the Richer
25. Mickey - Toni Basil
26. My Maria - Brooks & Dunn
27. Little Darlin' - The Diamonds
28. Nothin' to Lose - Josh Gracin
29. Here With Us - Joy Williams
30. Behind Those Hazel Eyes - Kelly Clarkson
31. Movie Clip - Ferris Bueller's Day Off
32. If My People - Promise Keepers
33. Goodbye to You - Scandal
34. The Lion Sleeps Tonight - The Tokens
35. Red Red Wine - UB40
36. White & Nerdy - Wierd Al Yankovic
37. You Spin Me Round (Like a Record) - Dead of Alive
38. There Will Come a Day - Faith Hill
39. I'm Yours - Jason Mraz
40. I'm Not Ashamed - Newsboys
41. The Road I Must Travel - The Nightwatchman
42. No One Else on Earth - Wynonna Judd
43. It's My Life - Bon Jovi
44. Total Eclipse of the Heart - Bonnie Tyler
45. Hard to Say I'm Sorry / Get Away - Chicago
46. Will You Still Love Me? - Chicago
47. He's a Rebel - The Crystals
48. Riverie - Don Wyrtzen
49. What Is Love - Haddaway
50. Down Under - Men at Work

Saturday, December 26, 2009

120: Nothing

Everything was covered in a fine red dust.  A single solitary bulb shone on the porch.  How it was powered or why it was still lit was probably a mystery that would need to eventually solved.  Sunlight had not graced the parched land for a long, long time.  What little light the bulb did produce barely spilled off of the porch, most of the ground in front of the building was held in permanent darkness.  Three of the four steps were very worn, sagging.  The fourth step, which was actually second from the top, was disconnected on one-side, collapsed under the weight of someone, probably leaving the place in a hurry.  But even that would have been a long, long time ago.  The railing, too, was broken, as were all the windows.  The door stood open, the screen door, hung at an angle, its lower hinge still connected, its screen mostly detached and folded over onto itself.  A sign on a pole extending off the front of the building hung perfectly still.  There was no wind to speak of.  The sign itself was also a mystery, the paint had been stripped off decades ago, there was no way to tell what it said, though from the looks of the building and its location, it must have been a gathering place for a community that no longer existed.  This wasn't a place where they would be allowed to stay very long, it wasn't safe.  They turned the vehicle around and headed back the way they had come.

Thou Shall Steal (and Profit!)

A great article today on MSNBC about Christian "parody" products and why they persist (companies are hesitant to appear "un-Christian") despite clear copyright violations.  Looks like I need to look into The Center for Church Communication, but I'm not holding my breath - there's no Facebook or Twitter or anything on their homepage.  Looks clean, sterile and static. 

I've said it before and I'll say it again... parody is misunderstood by the modern church and it shows a true lack of understanding and creativity.  It may be a shortcut to recognition, but it's also free advertising for companies that you might not want to associate Christianity so directly with.  I got excited once when I heard of a Twitter named "Jesus needs better PR" - until I quickly found that he was identifying a problem but not working to address it.

Related posts:

Monday, December 21, 2009

Reindeer Games

Played three fun Christmas games this weekend.  While none were necessarily new, they were all fun, in case you're looking for a last-minute game idea.

Christmas Mad-Libs - we were handed a sheet that asked for things like "Superhero" and "article of clothing" and "noun" and "favorite movie quote" - asked for more than 30 of them.  Then we were handed "'Twas the night before Christmas" with blanks in it.  One person read while the other added the missing words. The fun part was that when we were picking the words, we didn't know the context. 

Christmas Memory - a large tray was presented for a few brief seconds, twice.  Then we had to write down as many things as we could remember off the tray.  Ranged from a stamp to a Christmas card to a pinecone to an ornament.  Probably at least 50 items on the tray.

Christmas Pictionary - Two teams had to guess from the simpler "Deck the Halls" to the more complex English carols the names of which I've already forgotten.  Some were probably too complex.  I am pretty proud of myself, though, one guy drew "___ ___ ___ ___ ____________" (we were drawing lines first in each round to show how many words we were looking for) and I knew right away what it was.  He then tried to draw more and no one on his team or our team got it.  I'm not sure I'd pose this one if I were running the game, but it was "O Come, O Come Emmanuel."  My "12 Days of Christmas" was kinda sad, but someone still got it pretty quickly.  (I drew 12 boxes and then a really sickly bird in a really sickly tree in the first box and they got it.)

Friday, December 18, 2009

10 Minutes

I'm really feeling uninspired to write.  I can't think of anything to write about and I'm still struggling with the idea that I don't have anything that I want to write about.

The curtains in front of me are open, which is somewhat unusual.  This is a large window situated high on the wall above the couch and faces north towards Seattle.  If it were lighter, the view would be of our neighbor's home, trees and sky.  However, it's so pitch black this morning that the view is a reflection of this room - the overhead light, me mostly in what I can only descripbe as white-silhouette -- you can see the outline of my hair and t-shirt bobbing up and down as I step on and off of the Wii balance board.  There's the voice caused by the laptop in front of me and off to one side the reflection of the TV.  "Damaged" by Danity Kane is playing on Pandora.  It's not that good a song, but at least it's got a consistent, fast beat that easy to walk to.

Today is our department Christmas party.  They're doing light catering and then a lot of people are making dessert.  This is a nightmare for me.  Large groups of people standing around not doing anything, unlimited access to food in the form of goodies, a really vague duration (noon to 2 or 3).  I might have to duck out at some point to go take my walk or something.  Really need to remember to recharge my Blackberry.  Then at least I can do some work while I'm sitting there.  I'm hoping they send us all home early.  Then I could hang out with Ben while Rachel and Lori go to a birthday party.  (Friends - three things that should not happen in December: moving, birthday, wedding.)

"S.O.S." by Rihanna.  That's a little better.  But what kind of name is Ree-hah-nah?  Probably not how it's pronounced, but what do I know?  I think the H is silent, but I don't really care.

I'm tired.  Just weary.  And hungry.  Just over an hour until breakfast and coffee.  And 90 seconds left to go on my walk.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Undertow - Not a Book Review

I read Sue Grafton's latest Kinsey Milhone novel "U is for Undertow" on Tuesday.  Well, I started at 11 pm on Monday night, but otherwise I read the whole thing on Tuesday.  There are some people that say "Why read the whole book in such a short time-frame?  Why not let it linger, savor the story over a longer period of time?"  To them I say, "Why not buy tickets all week for the same movie and visit the theater each night to watch a little bit."  No, but I devour fiction.  Non-fiction can take me forever - "Three Signs of a Miserable Job" - it was mostly fiction and I had that part done in no time.  The last few pages are non-fiction and they're taking me forever.  Like weeks.  And the way I read fiction is probably also not the best for my family, I'll carry the book everywhere and any chance I get, I'll crack it open and escape back into that world. 

I didn't care too much for "U is for Undertow" but this isn't my review.  If I do review it, it'll be on Facebook with all of my other reviews.  But, there was one character I liked, a high school writing teacher.  In order to pass a class, the student needed to turn in writing every week over the summer.  At first, the writing was bad, but the teacher didn't hold back his criticisms.  And the student knew that he needed this to graduate.  So he began to realize that he needed to write consistently and he came to understand that he needed to write about what he knew. 

I think the first part of that is easier, writing consistently.  I can and should do that.  I've thought of myself as able to write, but then haven't done it as frequently as I'd like.    I've been writing the second part of the Heist forever.

It's that second part, writing about what you know, that's driving me crazy.  I don't feel like I know anything cool.  I don't have strong emotions, except occasionally frustration or anger, and that's typically towards work.  Used to have more problems while driving until I decided to always drive the speed limit.  Now I no longer have any frustration with whether I'm going to be able to make it somewhere on time or not because that's now actions that need to be taken before I get in the car, because that's going to take as long as it takes once I'm in there.  And the cars driving faster than me?  They're all crazy and I'm smugly better than they because I'm following the rules.  And the cars driving slower than me?  Yeah, they're still a problem, but they're more rare.  Though not last Sunday.

But, yeah, where does that leave me?  If you say "Write what you know." then suddenly I feel very dumb.  I have absolutely no interest in non-fiction, but I feel like I don't know enough about anything to make for a very interesting fiction story.  Or that it's going to be flat because I lack actual experiences to draw from.  And the images in my head, while rich, are sometimes difficult to draw out, or the detail required to give them life will bore people as it veers into non-fiction. 

So, this is my writing for today.  Not going to claim that it's much, but at least I'm doing it.  Should have done it last month for NaBlPoMo or whatever it was that Lori and everyone was doing.

Monday, December 14, 2009

End of the Road

I remember the moment clearly.  I got on the elevator and one of my co-workers was already on the elevator.

"Did you hear?" they asked, "AOL just bought Time Warner."

For reasons I didn't understand, they then got off the elevator.  There were two people behind me in the elevator.  Ignoring them, I said aloud "I could never work for AOL." and jabbed the button a few times for my floor.

I was pretty sure they weren't from AOL or Warner Bros., but I really didn't care.  AOL was evil.  Well, still is. 

Turns out, I wouldn't need to worry about that, I wouldn't be working for them too long at all.  To make the merger work (it didn't), some cutting would need to be made to realize the efficiencies of the synergy or something like that.

But, what happened instead, at least for me, was the series of events that I could never imagined, all of it -- ALL OF IT -- uniquely positioning me for where I am today.  When I think back now, I am amazed.

But at the time, it was very frustrating.  So in some ways, I've been bemused by the failings of this merger and so cheered when I learned Dec. 9 would be its undoing.  AOL had bought itself some time, but in the end, it was being tossed to the wolves.  And I missed cheering on Dec. 9 because I've just been too swamped.  But now, the AOL death watch can resume.

Cat image courtesy of http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/pda/2009/nov/23/digital-media-aol-reactions-to-new-logo
And here's an article about their new logo(s): http://news.cnet.com/8301-1023_3-10403346-93.html?tag=tvjames.blogspot.com

Monday, November 23, 2009

120: Heist, pt. 1

His watch beeped and he reflexively looked at it.  "Bad habit," he thought to himself with a grunt.  Turning the key, he replied "No harm."  As the Land Cruiser roared to life he retorted "Could be."

He swore (in French) at himself for the internal monologue and then laughed softly as he allowed himself one last "Get a grip."  The large SUV shuddered slightly as the engine settled into its cadence.  He eased off the curb and into the street.  The traffic was light, but then that wasn't a surprise, this had all been carefully planned.  What had not been planned was Mick getting reassigned to an earlier shift.  "Such a stereotypical cop's name," he thought, shaking his head.  Now was no time for mind games.  He needed to be focused.  Mick was now a problem.  If he had still been on shift, he wouldn't have been able for the security detail.  They'd thought about that.  Mick was stuck.  If he turned down the work, they'd know he was involved; Mick wasn't the type to take a sick day. 

Dell reached to the passenger seat, bringing over first the envelope, then the gun, placing both in his lap.  He didn't like the new plan.  Mick was practically family.  He knew what he was getting into, but Mick had brought the idea to them in the first place.  Worse yet, the new plan was of his own making, no one else knew of his little improvisation.  The envelope wasn't part of the plan, but Dell thought it might be the way to save Mick's life.

The vehicle glinted under each passing street light.  He wished it weren't such a vibrant blue, but what did it matter?  It would appear only gray on the surveillance cameras and would be torched before morning.  Besides, they'd be looking for -- Dell checked the wallet in the envelope -- James Harrison, the guy who'd rented the Land Cruiser, not him.  That, too, wasn't the way they liked to do things, involving civilians, but this was one case where their handiwork would be noticed quickly.  In their typical job it would be months before the theft made the news, more often than not the company involved would pay big money to make sure the investigation stayed quiet.  That was, if they'd even report it in the first place.

But Dell was a nice guy, he'd called the credit card company and reported the card stolen a few hours after renting the SUV.  That would confuse them even more, but he sure hoped Harrison was here on vacation with family, family who had other credit cards or traveler's checks. 

Right on cue, he spotted a series of police cars in his rearview mirror and quickly pulled to the curb.  They raced by and before he could pull out again, another set of car raced by.  He always marveled at how small the police cars were in these European countries, compared to those in America.  By birth, Dell was American, but by passport, his nationality, even his identity, changed as it suited him.  Which was quite frequently in his line of work.

A cop on a motorcycle racing along the avenue quickly cut in behind him.  This was not according to plan.

to be continued... (not a typiclal 120 as I'm spending more than 2 minutes on each segment)

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Uppity Target

Ha!  I knew I wasn't alone.   Modbird, like me, can't help but see the new Target brand (up & up) and automatically see it upside-down in her head - dn & dn.  (Granted, the & is upside-down, but still...)  I don't know if it's too much Tetris or what, but there it is, the wrong way.

I'd really like to know how much someone got paid for this.  It's not that good.  Sure, the arrow fits the sensibility of the Target style - simple and straightforwarded.  Clean, but not sophisticated.  Boring.  Upside-down, it could be other things as well.

But I have to ask... why "up & up"?  Was there some concern in the past that maybe their products weren't on the up and up?  Or that other generics are shoddy?   Or in the other sense, what's going up?  Quality?  Price?  Both?

Perpetual Motion

I thought I had a perpetual motion idea, but then decided to read up on the subject and realized that I don't.  But, still, I have an interesting idea.  If we can put lights in our lawn that gather energy from the sun during the day, what if you put a lot of them in a room full of mirrors and shined a flashlight at them for a few hours?  After that, couldn't the resulting light keep the solar panels charged, thereby permanently illuminating the room?  I was never good at all this science stuff, so there could be issues of heat and the efficiency of the panels or the lights -- not to mention the practicality or utility, but I wondered if it had practical benefits. 

I mean, take the modern hybrid cars.  Friction caused by braking creates the power used by the electric motor that assists the gasoline engine.  Would have to think at some point the efficiency of solar panels will be to the point that putting them around giant light sources (like stadium lighting or casino signs) could result in recouping some of the electricity required to power them.  (Or if really efficient panels in good quantity mixed with really energy efficient lighting, maybe all of the power required?)

First Sighting

Friday, November 20, 2009

Laptops, cell phones fueling rape and war in the Congo?

Press Release from World Vision:

Laptops, cell phones fueling rape and war in the Congo?

Conflict Minerals Trade Act key first step to ensuring armed groups don’t benefit from Americans’ high-tech purchases, says aid group

·    Eastern DRC has one of world’s highest rates of gender-based violence, child soldier use
·    Legislation would help companies certify products as “conflict free,” World Vision says

Washington, DC, November 19, 2009—Aid group World Vision today endorsed the Conflict Minerals Trade Act, a House bill introduced by Representative Jim McDermott of Washington State to stop the trade in conflict minerals such as coltan, tin ore, gold and wolframite which are fueling a humanitarian crisis in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC).

The bill, if passed, would be a critical first step in helping U.S. consumers feel confident that their high-tech purchases are not funding violence against women and children in eastern Congo (DRC), where some 1.5 million people are currently displaced by a decade-old conflict being financed by the mining and sale of these minerals.

“This bill would begin addressing the trade in conflict minerals which has been funding a war marked by widespread rape, child soldiering, and one of the world’s worst humanitarian crises,” said Rory Anderson, World Vision’s deputy director for advocacy and government relations.

“Americans deserve to know whether the electronics they buy are fueling bloodshed in Africa. This legislation would help give consumers that knowledge—and the power to make a difference every time they go to the electronics store.”

World Vision also emphasized that the proposed legislation would benefit the electronics and software industries by providing a certified mechanism to label their products as "conflict free." To qualify for the label, companies would be required to purchase their coltan from audited, conflict-free processing facilities.

“We saw from the success of our ‘conflict diamond’ campaign a few years ago that American companies want to do the right thing,” Anderson added. “They also understand that their customers demand products that can be certified as conflict free. But without a uniform process, such as the one proposed in this legislation, it’s very difficult for companies to tackle the supply chain challenge on their own.”

The Christian relief agency’s response in eastern DRC has reached some 150,000 people since October 2008 with medical supplies, emergency food and non-food items, and training and activities to promote the protection of women and children, including Child-Friendly Spaces within displacement camps.


To interview a World Vision expert or to learn more about the agency’s work in the Congo, contact Geraldine Ryerson-Cruz at 202.615.2608 or gryerson@worldvision.org.

World Vision is a Christian humanitarian organization dedicated to working with children, families and their communities worldwide to reach their full potential by tackling the causes of poverty and injustice. World Vision serves all people, regardless of religion, race, ethnicity or gender.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Notecarding Experiences

My boss' boss' boss led devos this morning and said that someone once told him to carry a 3x5 notecard with him and a pen at all times, and to simply every so often write down a single word when there was an experience you wanted to remember.  Said that especially in high stress or high experience times, this prevents you from having sensory overload later when you wanted to remember something.  Very interesting.

Also, he spoke of a church in Rwanda that's now inside a memorial park.  Around the church are many mounds which are mass graves from the genocide, and the church itself has been sealed up, but inside remain the skeletons of people of all ages who believed that they would be safe inside the church but ultimately weren't, and you can even see bullet holes and machete marks throughout the place, even on the altar.  It's pretty amazing what humans are capable of doing to each other.  I can retype these words but I'm sure I actually have absolutely no idea what that's really like to experience that.  

Friday, November 13, 2009

Quirk of Heaven

Ok, ever since I was a little kid, I always hoped that one thing I'd get to do when I got to heaven was to see a path on a map of everywhere on earth that I'd been. I know that's a little weird, but I was curious. Especially as it related to years on the school bus. Would I ever do a commute more than the five years to and from the same elementary school? (I think I came close with my last job and all signs point to it being a pretty good likelihood with my current job.)

I know, that's extremely weird, or the product of a young mind who didn't quite understand the point of heaven, or whatever you want to call it.

Well, Google (of course) this week released "Latitude History," an extension of a the Latitude feature. (An opt-in service that lets you plot your current location on a map and share that with someone else.) For instance, when I was in Arizona last February, I was chatting with Lori on my Blackberry from the shuttle and she was watching my location on a map on her iGoogle (still a dumb name!) page. Anyhow, a few days ago, they added a new feature that lets you track, over time, where you were. (Only capturing stuff since you turn it on, so Arizona's not on my map.)

Soon enough I imagine it will be used as an alibi to exonerate falsely accused of a crime, and not too long after that, to exonerate someone who had their friend carry their phone for them for the night as a way to create a false alibi.

Anyhow, yeah, with poor precision (it makes guesses based on which cell tower the Blackberry is connecting to), it records every ping. So mostly there's this giant loop between home and work. Makes me anxious to go somewhere else just to add some variety to the map.

That part about poor precision? Apparently all night while I sleep someone steals my Blackberry and travels back and forth about 15 blocks, sometimes in a matter of seconds. It makes the playback a little nauseating as the map keeps bouncing back and forth.

Read more on Mashable

Thursday, November 12, 2009

120: Behind The Musings

Ok, here's the rules. I'll pick a recent status update on Facebook from a friend. I'll paste it below, and then I'll set the timer for 120 seconds and expand on it.
[She] cleaned the apartment, did 3 loads of laundry, went to the post office, the grocery store, and now is thinking about her nice, soft bed!
It had been such a nice bed. It was such a surprise when early that morning, someone broke into the apartment, rushed into her bedroom, unceremoniously dumped her onto the floor and stole her bed. She knew it wasn't that great a neighborhood, but still. Sadly, the missing bed had not been at the post office, at the grocery store, or even at the laundromat. But, at least she had snagged three loads of laundry out of the deal. Mostly they were men's clothes, and not in her size, and not even the type that she could get away with wearing in that way that she could wear men's clothes and people would think she was being cute and playful. But, she wondered as she stared at the pile of laundry. Maybe, just maybe. Yes, that was it. If she spread it out, it would provide the warm place for her to sleep after that rotten day.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

This song is just six words long

What a difference a day makes. Sorry, yesterday was probably a slight exaggeration wrapped in an overly dramatic lyric choice for a headline. It's a nice song, even if the subject matter is dark. But the quote becomes quite stark when you add it with some bouncing off the guardrails of a trainwreck. (Last night I mixed my context, today I mix my metaphors. Deal.)

So I'm not king of the world today, but nor am I gonna paint the windows black and start screaming "Final Countdown" like some of the scary people in this video (which won't show up in Facebook, you'll have to actually visit my site - but have to say this video isn't good):

Now this video, much better (Lori loves how he cuts his words to get back to the kazoo):

And even more videos on this, thanks to Lori:

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

The world's on fire and it's more than I can handle

Based on Lori's definition, I am depressed. And I cannot figure out a way out. It could clear on its own shortly. A good song on the radio, a decent commute. Or it could linger and persist and cast a pall over my entire evening. Maybe even the rest of the week. Unsure.

But it's so difficult not to throw a pity party when I feel like this. I start to count the ways that I could pull myself out, and then discount each way. And then my mind wanders to the parts of the world we work in and how I have nothing to complain about. And that simply upsets me further because it's kind of not fair. I guess I'm confusing absolutism and relativism and chronologicism. Compared to many, I have absolutely nothing to be upset about. Compared to the circles within which I operate, I have a little more to legitimately put up on the board. And then to compare against myself even just a few weeks ago, finally I find my justification.

I believe I know the way free of this morass, but if it's the way out, it's not within my control. And it feels like it can only get worse before it gets better. The optimist in me says it must, but I'm struggling with the patience required. And of all times of year, this is when it's least welcome, because there's so much about this particular time of year that I'd rather be taking all in. And I certainly don't like presenting this side of myself to my family, friends and colleagues. But I'm failing to keep up the act.

I was never promised happiness, satisfaction or joy, but I seek it nonetheless. I was promised hardship and suffering, but this doesn't qualify. This is something else.

Monday, November 09, 2009

My Name is My Credit Card

Wow, what an absolutely rocking day. Spent two hours in training on a new product. It should mostly leave the old product in the dust. There are some weird things we're going to have to figure out, but in the short- and long-runs, I think it's going to save the team a lot of time.

I also got my own performance appraisal done for the year and one out of the six I need to do for my team and I feel good. I don't know why I dread these. Maybe it's because they take time to do well and maybe it's because if you're being honest, there's always things to consider improving for the next year. Of course, for me, that continues to be the thing I need to improve. Getting over my fear of the negativity that can be associated with that.

I also seriously plowed through email today. Feel good about how the day went, even if I got caught in a rainstorm on my walk and had to cut it short.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

When will I learn there are no guarantees

Some thoughts on some songs I heard this morning before work...

- "All Right" by Amy Grant is still a great song. Think I found some new meaning in it even today. "When will I learn there are no guarantees / what strengthens hope my eyes have never seen."

- What the world needs now is a new Frank Sinatra. And not in a Cracker way (the person most likely to understand this reference probably wouldn't be caught dead listening to Cracker, so there you go.) And if you say "What about John Mayer?" Then you need a kick in that teeth. That overhyped commercialized pretty boy is nothing but a corporate tool and "Waiting for the World to Change" is a piece of falsely optimistic tripe that appeals to people who are way too self-absorbed, prideful and egotistical (sadly, a topic I'm all too qualified to speak on). You can keep waiting for the world to change, but you will change first. Trust me. The sooner you get real about this fact and look at what you can change at the same time, the more effective you'll be. Don't wait for the world to change around you. Seize the carp and whatnot.

- And finally... I can't think of any, but I'll put it out to my readers... can anyone put into words the coolness that is the opening strains of "You Shook Me" by AC/DC? Bow-bzow-bow-bow, wah wah wah just doesn't seem to do it justice.

...a shortened work day. I didn't get much done at work, and then left at noon because Lori and I both had dentist appointments in the afternoon. Amazingly enough, I was sent home at the end with nothing more than the standard dentist gift-bag. No follow-up appointment for drill and fill. Unexpected and great.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Multimedia message

If you know me, you know this patch of new concrete leaves me conflicted. Is it (a) the man stepping up and fixing a design flaw or (b) acquiescence to rule-breakers who would otherwise just continue to trample the grass which was obviously not part of the path? I think the former is probably the right answer, but barely.

My Memory Has Just Been Sold

7:40 am - Ha! Despite a late start -- alarm seems to have been mysteriously turned off while I was a sleep, thankfully Lori's woke me -- no yoga and an email that I wanted to finish continued to keep me late, but I pushed on and got out of the house on time and got to work early enough to snag the parking spot that's been mine ever since I took it from the white minivan. Lately the minivan's been beating me to the office and taking the spot. The nerve! I rocked out to "Centerfold" in the car. Poor Rachel, every time that song starts at home, she quickly blurts "I like this song, don't change it!" Stayed old school (so old they were still spelling it correctly) with "Free Your Mind." Of course, we do, so she's never heard more than that really fun festive opening, but she really wants to.

8:00 am - While it's served me well in the past, I think there's one unintentional trick that I shouldn't be regularly doing. And it is this: Really pissing someone off in email, and then getting them into a conference room and wowing them. There are a few people at work for whom I believe this has led to a really strong relationship that I wouldn't have otherwise had with them and my name is a lot more firmly etched in their mind, and I can tell by the way they smile and greet me that the positive has had a lot more lasting impact than the negative. However, there's one here that I've only been able to do part one (this is all unintentionally, mind you) but not the second part so they've been simmering for months. I'd change that if I could. I'll be patient and try not to turn the heat up anymore.

8:20 am - Coffee and oatmeal. I'm tempted to run out later and get a Starbucks, but my family's coming for lunch today, so I won't be able to walk at lunch, so probably wiser for me not to. Sam brought me lemonade packets for my water - and he didn't even know I had run out of flavor packets. Sam rocks.

11:20 am - Updating my signature block. I think that my title is too long.
Technology Manager, Rest of World Vision US
Development and Delivery
Internet Business Unit
Products and Donor Recruitment
Donor Engagement, Advocacy and Communications
World Vision US

1:40 pm - Hey... an unofficial "dislike" button for Facebook - available only to Firefox users. http://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/47023

5:00 pm - Time to go. It's been a day. I think a productive day. My one meeting got canceled and I was 3/10 on completed goals today. I'm hoping for a repeat tomorrow. Tonight I'm solo with the kids while Lori's at choir practice. I'm thinking baths and early bedtimes all around. And I really ought to start updating my fan page. I'm up to 8 fans. Cool. http://www.facebook.com/pages/James-Lamb/104888100829

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

The Road I Must Travel

8:00 am - Drove to work with sunroof open, despite 39 degree weather. Played "Road I Must Travel" by The Nightwatchman several times. Any chance heaven is an Irish pub?

8:15 am - Oatmeal and coffee. Turns out I did complete 2 items on my to do list for yesterday. 9 for today, most are from yesterday. Four meetings today plus chapel.

8:35 am - First meeting down. 7 minutes including travel time. Nice.

3:40 pm - No coffee on third or second floors. Wow.

5:00 pm - Two thoughts... (1) already? and (2) finally. Can confirm that that I did not complete even 1 of the 9 items on my list. With only two meetings tomorrow, I have got to get some forward momentum. Wow, my day seems boring. Eh. But the drive in really rocked.

Multimedia message

Nice parking job. Grumble.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Stream of... hey, look, what's that?

8:00 am - Dilbert's at the end of his day, thinking "It's another day of useless work and no accomplishment." That will not be my day.

8:15 am - Over-the-shoulder technical support. Was asked for help and went over to look at someone's screen. Didn't do anything except watch them move the mouse around and talk through the point they were confused about. In the end, they seemed happy and satisfied that things were now working as they should. If you do that and then send them a bill, that's called consulting.

8:45 am - Devos, paraphrasing - "Whether your faith is a narrow ledge, a tightrope or a four-lane overpass, grace is the safety net that will catch you and lift you back up."

9:15 am - Spam subject lines: "Never let dude gun fail!" and "A decent watch will sure give you a decent look." Decent? Decent is when I don't put product in my hair and instead wear a hat. Pass.

11:16 am - Overheard, paraphrasing - "We're going to let him come up with his own ways of holidizing that part of the website." Yes, the key point of this is that they verbed holiday.

11:35 am - This day is feeling less productive than I'd intended. 10 items on my to-do list, 10 items still incomplete. Candy corn as an energy booster.

1:30 pm - Some thoughts while at lunch...
-- I like how many Asian people treat business cards (and sometimes credit cards) with reverence - accepting them and handing them to you by taking them gently by two corners with two hands, barely touching the card. I heard recently this is a sign of respect. It's kinda cool.
-- If I wanted a table at a certain time and I couldn't get a reservation because I only had a party of two -- what if I put in a reservation for eight and then when I got to the restaurant, I called from the car and canceled it?
-- Watched an excellent TED Talk on Motivation: http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/eng/dan_pink_on_motivation.html (19 minutes)

5:20 pm - Day got away from me. Not sure I got any of the 10 things on my list done today. However, it was still a good, encouraging and productive day.

Monday, November 02, 2009

Before there was Twitter

I've done this a few times in the past, before I discovered Twitter. Because of the request that I not Tweet or use Facebook during business hours, I just kept a notepad open on my desktop to quickly dash off thoughts. I find it quite a good stress reliever to be able to get these thoughts out of my head.

8:00 am - Coffee and oatmeal, began drinking my big bottle of water
8:52 am - Philip brought an entire box of doughnuts to devos, including a glazed old fashioned. I resisted. There will be more doughnuts in the future.
Noon - One Oreo cookie and a handful of candy corn.
1 pm - Good lunch. Beef stroganoff and broccoli in cheddar sauce. Long walk.
2 pm - Just read an email about all the new features ExactTarget is rolling out. It's times like these that make me wish I were still an Email Producer so I could check out all the new coolness. Of course, we're not yet even sending with them, but it's very close.
2:15 pm - Done with my big bottle of water, thinking about another cup of coffee
4:30 pm - Never did get that cup of coffee, until now. Also, another handful of candy corn.
5:40 pm - Would like to have been done 40 minutes ago. I had stuff I wanted to do before signing off. Grrr.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Fun Fact

The manufacture of "Candy Corn" was outlawed beginning Jan. 1, 1931, though companies would be permitted to continue selling the wax product until supplies were depleted. Due to massive production between the time the law was passed and the time it went into effect, and the low storage costs (any moderate temperature warehouse) that supply is not expected to run out before 2018.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Fight Night

Something happened today that's making me re-think how I use Social Media, if at all.  Don't get me wrong, I do enjoy hearing from my friends, but this event made me take stock of who my friends really are.  I heard a researcher recently quoted saying that people can have, I think, between 80-110 friends and really know them.

Anyhow, as I looked at it, there were 436 on Facebook and 76 on Twitter, without a lot of overlap.  Were they all friends that I genuinely knew?  No.  I began slashing.  And then I slashed some more.  In the end, I had 233 friends on Facebook and 38 on Twitter.  (And that was after adding two on Twitter.)

Does my new list represent people I know intimately?  Not entirely, but they are people I know.  Some are people I want to follow the online lives of, some are people with sage professional and/or technological wisdom I find interesting.  And to be honest, some are people who regularly tell me that they enjoy my posts, and so it may be vanity, but who am I deprive people?

And, to be honest, I also dropped some friends, professional contacts and present-day colleagues, a number of whom I've even describe as friends-in-real-life.  In some cases, they were cybersquatters who created accounts but didn't use them, others were people whose lives have diverged so far from me that I'm not getting any benefit from their social media lives -- and as such, every post they make prevents me from seeing one of someone else I care more about hearing from. 

But now, with my newfound trimmer friends list, how do I keep on the diet.  And that's where I came up with a weird idea that would never work, and it's this... every time I get a friend request, I send my new friend-to-be a list of all of my current social media friends and they tell me who they think I should replace.  This also assures that they know my friends.  And then I let the two of them decide who gets to go on my list.

Of course, this will never work.  While nice for my ego, there are very few people who would go to those links.  The rest would tell me off in some probably insulting and discouraging language that would leave me off-kilter for the rest of the day, like I am now.  (But I've been off-kilter all day, thinking about the deaths of two friends, plus the aforementioned undescribed incident.)

Now, I have a hunger for more purging.  I wish I had the time and courage to just throw out so much stuff in this house.  But it's too much work and I don't have a great mechanism for it and so many things have a future use, like the giant stack of Entertainment Weekly's of Lori's that I need to go through the book section of and add to my "to read" list, or all the Architectural Digests that I want to cut out things I like from for later use.

So the clutter builds up.  Also, while I was off licking my wounds I neglected a friend who's guesting with us yesterday and today.  Doesn't help my funk any more.

I'll get to watch last Thursday's The Office tonight and it had better be funny.  I think I'd rather be watching FlashForward, but I'm not sure because at least The Office is a known and FlashForward is still a little bit of an unknown.

Again to Hear of Passing in Passing

So, again I find out of another death belated.   I knew Marcus from the Buffy days, a very congenial guy from San Diego.  I'd only connected with him in person a handful of times, but online many, many times over the years.  He always remembered birthdays, was always sending encouraging words, posting notes on Facebook.  One of those people who are always a better friend to you than you are to them.  He was single, lived on a boat and drove a Mustang, some cool vibes all wrapped up in that.

Well, as we were leaving town, Lori gets a nasty note from someone on Facebook that she didn't know.  A little while back, Lori took what turned out to be a bogus quiz on Facebook and the quiz took the liberty then of spamming lots of people's walls with inappropriate content trying to sell stuff.  Lori thought she had gotten it all cleaned up, but this person was incensed that Lori would post such a thing on Marcus' wall, calling her a troll.  Lori quickly wrote back apologizing and explaining and then removed the post and thanked the person for letting her know of Marcus' passing. 

Kind of made for a bit of a bummer for the start of our trip and I don't mean that lightly.  Marcus had been sick for some time and we knew it was an incredible struggle for him.  Marcus had also seemed to have no interest in religion, no place for God. 

Life was what it was, a period of time and then you die, and the cards he'd been dealt hadn't been a good hand.

I was reading Marcus' wall today and looked like he'd been playing online on Facebook, updating all of his photos, and I read that he'd been found in his car and that attempts to notify any next of kin had been fruitless.

I had also remembered that on Friday morning we'd discovered that he had his own website that neither Lori or I knew about.  So I went to visit it - a single page describing the fact that he was going to fold his hand.  His attempts at disability denied, his insurance running out, about to lose his boat, out of money, and tired of being sick and tired.

And at the bottom, a suicide cocktail and timeline of his intended death.

Damn you, Marcus.

And sorry for not being a more engaged friend.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Long Time

Feel like it's been forever since I've posted anything of any personal nature on here.  Four minutes left on this morning's 30 minutes of free step and I feel compelled to write.  Not sure of what, but I'm sure there's plenty.

This past weekend, Lori and I stole away for about 23 hours up to the Big City.  We stayed at the Doubletree Arctic Club (built in 1917).  Even though we were there entirely on points, they put us up on the newly renovated top floor.   It's pretty cool - when you get off the elevator, you're in a little antechamber with only a single door with a simple plaque next to it that reads "Hilton Honors" and nothing more.  Stepping through the door, it's a small hallway with a few doors.  I'd later read that there were only 8 rooms on that floor.  Our room was pretty expansive.  A king sized bed with room to drop in a second king.  Desk, table, chairs, an elaborate ancient-looking chest that had been modified to hold a coffee bar, clothes storage and a hidden mini-bar.  And on top, a massive LCD. 

Huh... and now my four minutes are up.  More later.  I'm worried we didn't actually take any photos in the room. 

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Office is atwitter

I wish I could say it was all of Scranton, PA (aint no party like a Scranton party), but it's a good start.

But, you might be thinking to yourself "I don't do Twitter." or "I won't be able to keep up with the hijinx."

That's fine.  All you really need is Google.  What?  Still not using Google Reader?

Ok, let's assume you're using Google Reader.  This will offer you a great way to watch their conversations with one another, all in chronological order, all stored safely until you're ready to read them.

Step 1: Add these three feeds

Step 2: Add one of the feeds to a folder.  Easiest way is to click on "Feed Settings" and then scroll the way to the bottom and select "New folder..."

Step 3: Give it a name.

Step 4: Add the other two feeds to the same folder.

Step 5: Reverse the order so that the oldest show up first. (You'll get a warning about being only able to see the last 30 days worth of feeds, but you don't care because they haven't been doing it that long.)

Success!  They are approximately in the order posted, though a few seemed slightly in the wrong order, but not so much that you lose the humor.

True Office fans will want to take at least a peek at the actual Twitter pages because who each is following is also a nice touch.

I assume that in relatively short fashion we'll see additional people from Dunder Mifflin joining in on the fun.  (Aren't you a little old for MySpace, eh, Pam?)

Share Me!

I've added a Share button to all of my posts, so that you can quickly repost, in case I ever post anything worth reposting.  Like my one about The Office being on Twitter which I just posted. 

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Yeah, I Brought It (2 of 2)

Ok, so my diet this week has been garbage and you might be a little less impressed if you saw the seesaw of the little weight line, but this was a surprise, considering yesterday that I worked through lunch, didn't get as much walking in yesterday as I'd have liked and instead of eating my lunch I ate a large number of small chips ahoy cookies and drank 3 or 4 cups of coffee yesterday instead of the usual two.

Today is going to be an excellent day. I tangled with someone the other day - they had presented some information in an email that they had gathered and I started to try to reply and address some incorrect points in the email but eventually gave up and just said their email had too many problems for me to know where to begin and that we ought to meet. (Today's lesson for the corporate world, kids - check the org chart first - person didn't like what I said/how I said it and let some others know.) I do believe I've managed to since convince them that I'm a good guy.

Anyhow, I spent yesterday's lunch time drawing on the white board in a conference room. I tried to apply a little bit of Back of the Napkin or In Plain English, but it still took me the entire hour to draw on my whiteboard, refine, capture with my camera, print out, and then redraw in the conference room and refine some more. After I was done, I left and then returned to take some photos with a higher quality camera and there were people gathering for the next meeting and they were all standing around looking at the board. When they found out I had drawn it, they asked me to email it to them, to put it on the wiki and said that their entire team needed to see it. (It was a 3-D virtual representation of our content and commerce websites, complete with aisles, cash register, zip lines, little guides holding coupons and a related city scene complete with house, a very poorly drawn non-3D bus, a TV store and a billboard. I'm pretty proud of it.)

* Back of the Napkin or In Plain English

Boo ya (1 of 2)

Should have taken it one screen earlier when it used the word "incredible" but "perfect" is pretty good, too. Of course, that involves standing perfectly still, but is there any other way to accomplish this? Maybe someone will much better posture, though I'd like to think mine's improving. Today is going to be an excellent day.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009


These have been on my to do list for the longest time with the simple title "Look up these verses" - no idea why they were there or when I put them on there, but they're encouraging, I think.

Jeremiah 29:11

For I know the plans I have for you," declares the LORD, "plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.

Psalm 32:8

I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go; I will counsel you and watch over you.

Galatians 6:9

Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Here's a story... of a lovely trash can

Actually, I don't like our new trash can.  But, after being without one for a week, I'll take it.

The incompetant morons of Waste Management (wait... is that redundant to say Waste Management is stupid and clueless?)  Anyhow, so I was saying... The insufferable nazis of Waste Management delivered us a new garbage can today.  It's ugly.  The body is gray with white speckles.  It's like it's gone upscale.  But the lid is green.  Like when you have to get a new hood for your blue car and the only one you can find is red and you can't afford spray paint.

It all started a few months ago... got a letter in the mail saying our credit card was expired.   I called in and they said that the expiration date was 2006.  Odd, since they had been taking money from it every three months without fail since early 2006.   Then the lady says "Oh.  Well, we just upgraded our payment system.  Maybe it carried over an old credit card number."

I didn't have the credit card with me, so I asked me wife to call in and give them the number over again.  So she did and then confirmed with the woman that we were now all set.  "Yes" was the answer.

Well, apparently not.  Early August.  Another letter.  This time, a lot more doom and gloom.  We're going to cut off your service.  We're going to throw rocks through your windows and drop a garbage truck on your house from a helicopter.  And then we're going to light it on fire.  You know the type of letter.  (Or, actually, you my dear readers, are probably the kind who pay their bills on time and don't have problems like this.)

Lori calls again.  Yes, the new credit card is on file.  Did we want to use it to pay the outstanding balance?  Uh.  D-freaking-uh.  So now we were good, right?  "Yes" was the answer again.

Well, apparently not.  Last Tuesday I get home from work.  I notice no can out front and make a mental note to thank Lori for bringing the can in.  Only it's not in the garage.  It's not next to the house on either side.  It's not in the backyard.  So I ask Lori and she says that it was there when she got home from the grocery store.

Weird.  Did someone steal our garbage can?  There were plenty of others still on the street, so that didn't seem likely.   How do you call up and say "Someone stole my garbage can?"  I called in the next morning and a nice woman looks up my account and says that the account was closed at the end of July for non-payment.  But, she says that we are current on our payments.  And that they called on August 2.  (She tells me this just moments after finding out that they had an old number on file.)  So, they may have called, but they didn't talk to us.  I think there ought to be a distinction there.

So, all week without a trash can.  No place to put bags of dirty diapers or cat litter.  No place to put smelly kitchen stuff.  Except in a big pile on the garage floor.  

So, now we have a can and it's brand new.  So I'm happy to fill it with all kinds of nasty.

But... this may not even be the end of the story.  On the last call, to get the service turned back on, she told me there might be a charge for delivering new cans.  (I should also note - they brought us a new greens can.  And since the last owners never turned theirs in, we now have three.  I'm trying to figure out how to get a few more so I can build a wall or several inground individual soaking tubs or something.)   I expected that to be waived.  She was happy to put a note on my account and I was free to talk to whoever I wanted.  Yes, she said that.

So, thanks for the bumbling idiocy of Waste Management, I've just wasted a few precious moments of you who bothered to read all the way to the end.

Monday, August 24, 2009


Had a conversation with someone this morning at the coffee machine and they were moaning about being back at work after a vacation. I'm no expert on vacations, I tend to take vacation days one at a time. (I think I'm only planning to be in the office three Fridays in September and October this year.)

But I think my friend make a fatal flaw in her vacation schedule... you gotta ease out and ease in.

Ease out... many people start their vacations at 5 pm Friday and end it on Monday at 8 am. If, for instance, they're taking a week, they think this gives them a nine-day vacation. That thinking is flawed. Saturday (and possibly Sunday) occur as normal on your way out. Not only that, but all your colleagues are also gunning for 5 pm on Friday, which means they're not stopping to think about the fact that you're going to be gone. So, ease out. Take your leave mid-week. This really puts you in vacation-mode right off the bat -- you're at home while all your co-workers are still at work. Muwahahaha. On top of that, book the last few hours of your last day in the office to make sure no one can get you in a meeting. That allows you to wrap up details and remind your colleages (multiple times) that you're going to be gone. (Also, this allows you to travel on a weekday or very early on a Saturday and get a jump on the other travellers.)

On your way back, you have the usual Sunday afternoon stuff before heading back in.

Ease in... if you're dragging yourself in Monday morning, so is everyone else. And you complain about being back from a vacation, you're going to get no love. But, if you come in mid-week, you're a fresh face helping bolster everyone mid-week. But, if you come in mid-week, come in swinging. The worst thing you can do is come in and then hide in front of your computer with mounds of email. Easy solution - work from home your first day back. Download all your mail, disconnect, and start plowing through. Reconnect when you've done all you can. That prevents you from seeing new mail while you try to catch up, and prevents your mail from getting out there and generating new mail. (Sadly, my email program won't do that - it will stop incoming, but will continue sending out my responses - unless I completely disconnect but then I lose access to some things I need.)

Then wander back into the office around 2 pm. (Maybe bring in doughnuts or coffee. A nice touch I just thought of.)

And if traveling, pad your trip, before and after, in order to to do packing and unpacking. (For our last trip, Corey and Gilda gave us five nights at a World Mark resort. That means we had a kitchen and washer and dryer in our unit - so we actually returned home with all of our clothes already clean. That was nice.)

Repaving AND recycling... at the same time

This is pretty cool... click the link to see more, including a video.

Repaving AND recycling... at the same time: "
You’ve probably heard of recycled paper, recycled glass or recycled plastic, but we’re wiling to bet that you’ve never heard (or thought) about recycled asphalt.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

My Playlists

Corey had asked me for the criteria of my playlists after I explained them to him the other day.  Unfortunately, it looks like iTunes would have trouble exporting and importing them since they are dependent on each other. So, I decided to write them all out.  Had thought about doing that for some time, but always wondered if I could screen grab or something.  Anyhow, here they are.

Note: All of the smaller playlists are titled with z-James in front of them on my list to keep them out of the way on the iPod which doesn't have folders.  My master list as "> " at the front to get it to the top of the list.

Master List

Playlist is z-IncludeChristian
Playlist is z-IncludeChristmas
Playlist is z-IncludeHighestRated
Playlist is z-IncludeInChristAloneAndOthers
Playlist is z-IncludeOldest
Playlist is z-IncludeFromJames25
Playlist is z-IncludePurchased
Playlist is z-IncludeTopThisYear
Playlist is z-IncludeLeast
Playlist is z-IncludeLeastNewAdds
Playlist is z-IncludeFromLori'sList
Playlist is z-IncludeMovieTV
Playlist is z-IncludeSkip1
Playlist is z-IncludeSkip2
Playlist is z-IncludeSkip3
Playlist is z-IncludeSkip4

Match Any
Match Only Checked Items
Live Updating


Note: First exclusion list.  Could probably clean up by tagging the childrens' music with a comment and then matching that comment.  (This was a quick fix to make sure I could still hear Jim Brickman who was also included in the kids' list.)  Yours will, of course, vary, though I would hope anyone reading this would still have the first one in theirs.

Artist is Hanson
Artist contains Bee Gees
Artist is Bette Midler
Artist contains Laurie Berkner
Artist contains Veggie Tales
Album contains Les Miserables 10th Anniversary Concert
Album contains Classical Music for Babies
Album contains Disney's Lullaby
Album contains Lullabies for Babies
Album contains Mother Goose Lullabies
Album contains Jack's Big Music Show
Album contains Classic Disney
Comment contains Instrumental-Lullaby
Comment contains Sound Effects
Comment contains SoundEffects
Comment contains Children's Music
Comment contains [xJames] <-- another way to permanently ban.  All of my new comment tags are in [] to avoid clashes with other comment tags.
Name contains zzz-delete <-- this is my shorthand for deleting music - just a quick rename.  I'll go through later and completely delete.
Playlist is Audiobooks (built-in iTunes smart playlist)
Playlist is z-Exclude2
Playlist is OSBC -- for choir practice, Lori temporarily loads music (this prevents it from appearing in my list since I don't own it)
Rating is * -- allows me to permanently ban something from the iPod by quickly giving it one star
Skip Count greater than 4
Last Skipped in the last 4 months

Match Any
Live Updating


Note: This keeps the top 5 most overplayed songs on our playlist off of my iPod.

Playlist is Only Music

Limit to 5 items by most often played
Live Updating


Note: Bring in 25 Christian songs that haven't been played recently, provided they've only been skipped once at most.

Playlist is Christian Music
Playlist is not z-Exclude1
Skip Count is less than 2

Match all
Limit to 25 items by least recently played
Match only checked items
Live updating


Note: This helps skew Christmas a little higher than normal during the holiday season.

Playlist is z-Christmas
Playlist is not z-Exclude1
Skip Count is less than 2
Last played is not in the last week

Match all
Limited to 30 items least recently played
Match only checked items
Live updating


Note: Causes items in the James25 list to be added more than they normally would in general selection.  Picks least played, meaning they were the most recently added to the z-James25 playlist.  (So ones I've recently decided I really like a lot.)

Playlist is z-James25
Playlist is not z-Exclude1
Last Played is not in the last 7 days
Skip Count is less than 2
Limit to 25 items least often played

Match all
Match only checked items
Live Updating


Note: Lori has a standard playlist of her favorites.  It includes stuff I've just purchased and stuff that are on my z-James25 list.  (So that means that some of my favorite stuff I'd never get to listen to under normal circumstances because she would have recently listened to it. )

Playlist is Lori's
Playlist is not z-Exclude1
Playlist is not z-IncludeSkip1
Playlist is not z-IncludeSkip2
Playlist is not z-IncludeSkip3
Playlist is not z-IncludeSkip4
Skip Count is less than 2
Last skipped is not in the last 30 days

Match all
Limit to 25 items by least often played
Match only checked items
Live updating


Note: This lets more popular music back onto the playlist sooner.

Playlist is Only Music
Playlist is not z-Exclude1
Last played is not in the last 1 month
Skip Count is less than 2

Match all
Limit to 25 items by highest rating
Match only checked items
Live updating


Note: This was originally just to let that one song back onto the list after a few weeks, but I've added a couple of others since then. So now it's just like James25, but a lot more exclusive.

Comment contains [JamesSpecial]
Last played is not in the last 2 weeks

Match all
Match only checked items
Live updating


Note: Gives the least played items in iTunes a slightly better chance of being played, provided they've never been skipped.  Socialism.

Playlist is Only Music
Playlist is not z-Exclude1
Skip Count is 0
Last Played is not in the last 14 days.

Match all
Limit to 25 items least often played
Match only checked items
Live updating


Note: This gives the most recently added items a better shot of being played again soon.  It's a mixture of added/purchased but in general probably helps purchased get played more since there's a second list for purchased also.

Playlist is Only Music
Playlist is not z-Exclude1
Playlist is not z-IncludePurchased
Skip Count is 0
Last Played is not in the last 14 days

Match all
Limit to 25 items most recently added
Match only checked items
Live Updating


Note: A fun sublist.  These are sound clips - random pieces of dialogue, theme songs, etc. from everything from Futurama to Bear in the Big Blue House to Mystery Men to The Angry Beavers.  This just provides fun little random interludes.

Genre contains "TV and Movie Themes"
Playlist  is not z-Exclude1

Match all
Limit to 10 items by least recently played
Match only checked items
Live updating


Note: This is the big one, the largest piece of the playlist spaghetti.  This will contribute about half of the songs to the playlist when all is said and done.  This is the music with the least recent "last played" dates.  (Also any that are blank because they've never been played.)

Playlist is Only Music
Playlist is not z-Exclude1
Skip Count is 0

Match all
Limit to 150 items by least recently played
Match only checked items
Live updating


Note: Keeps the purchased items in slightly higher rotation.

Playlist is Purchased (built-in iTunes playlist)
Playlist is Only Music
Playist is not z-Exclude1
Skip Count is less than 2

Match all
Limit to 25 items by least recently played
Match only checked items
Live updating


Note: It gets harder to get on the list once you've been skipped.  The next few playlists let a few songs on the list, but it gets progressively harder to get played as your skip count increases.

Skip Count is 1
Playlist is not z-Exclude
Last Skipped is not in the last 2 months
Last Played is not in the last 6 months

Match all
Limit to 5 items selected by least recently played
Match only checked items
Live updating


Skip Count is 2
Playlist is not z-Exclude
Last Skipped is not in the last 2 months
Last Played is not in the last 6 months

Match all
Limit to 4 items selected by least recently played
Match only checked items
Live updating


Skip Count is 3
Playlist is not z-Exclude
Last Skipped is not in the last 2 months
Last Played is not in the last 6 months

Match all
Limit to 3 items selected by least recently played
Match only checked items
Live updating


Skip Count is 4
Playlist is not z-Exclude
Last Skipped is not in the last 2 months
Last Played is not in the last 6 months

Match all
Limit to 1 items selected by least recently played
Match only checked items
Live updating


Note: This pulls in the top 15 (it says 20, but remember that the very top 5 will be excluded) most listened to songs.  This and a few of the other "popular" lists were needed because before they were added, the list was a little dull at times.

Last Played is in the last 6 months
Last Played is not in the last 3 weeks
Playlist is not z-Exclude1
Skip Count is less than 2

Match all
Limit to 20 items by most often played
Match only checked items
Live updating

Christian Music

Note: This pulls all Christian music, unless it's been commented/tagged "[xChristian]" - there's some stuff on WOW and some Veggie Tales stuff I want to exclude because it's too jarring, too inconsistent with the rest of the music.  We only pull the top 800 least recently played (just temporarily keeps the most recently played off the list).

Playlist is z-Christian Music
Last skipped is not in the last 12 months
Skip Count is less than 6
Comment does not contain [xChristian]

Match all
Limit to 800 items by least recently played
Match only checked items
Live updating

z-Christian Music

Genre contains Religious
Genre contains Christian
Genre contains Gospel
Comment contains Christian

Match any
Match only checked items
Live Updating

Only Music

Playlist is not Audiobooks (built-in iTunes playlist)
Genre is not TV Shows
Podcast is false
Kind is not mov
Genre is not Podcast
Genre is not Spoken Word
Genre is not Audiobooks
Kind is not PDF Document
Playlist is not Movies (built-in iTunes playlist)
Playlist is not TV Shows (built-in iTunes playlist)
Playlist is Music (built-in iTunes playlist)

Match all
Match only checked items
Live Updating


Note: I usually keep all unchecked except "Jingle Bells" by Barenaked Ladies.  Starting in October(!), I'll start checking a few boxes a day to ease into the holidays and by Thanksgiving I'll have all of them checked.

Comment contains Christmas
Album contains Christmas
Album contains Holiday
Genre contains Holiday

Match any
Live updating


Note: This was originally supposed to be my list of my 25 favorite songs, but I had a hard time keeping it to that, so there's a lot more in there.  I suppose I could have used a standard playlist like Lori does.  *shrug*

Match the following rule

Comment contains [James25]

Live updating

Also one I like, but not part of the list above (not required by any list up there)

Sunday Afternoon

Note: Ok, so this is a complex one.  This one mixes Christian music with my general smart playlist at a much more even mixture rate.  There are certain songs in my playlist that I like that are really probably ones I wouldn't want my church friends to hear playing.  The "[xSunday]" tag makes sure they don't play in this Sunday afternoon list.  Also, they can't have been skipped, and they must have already been played.  Not something just purchased or something from the iTunes free song of the week that I'm not yet sure about the content of.  Goal of this is that we can play it on Sunday afternoon on the home computer with children around.

Playlist is z-Sunday Afternoon
Playlist is not z-Instrumental
Comment does not contain [xJames]Comment does not contain [xChristian]
Comment does not contain [xSunday]
Skip count is less than 1
Play count is greater than 1

Match all
Limit to 300 items selected by least often played
Match only checked items
Live Updating

z-Sunday Afternoon

Playlist is Master List
Playlist is Christian Music

Match any
Limit to 1,000 by least recently played
Match only checked items
Live updating