Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Better Days and Blueberries

Despite the fact that I woke up this morning thinking of work it did turn out to be a better day. I approached the pressure inducing analysis that I've been working on with a "head down, tight focus" attitude and moved through most of that day simply focusing on the task at hand.

It was time consuming, but ultimately it moved smoothly. About two thirty in the afternoon I sent both the reports off for review. One was approved and I expect to see the other approved tomorrow morning.

I managed to weave in and out of a few meetings and stop by a potluck as well.

Then, the best part, at the end of the day I stopped at Holder's Country Inn for the most excellent blueberry blintzes. My plan tonight is to keep it low key - spend the evening reading and thinking, then most likely a call home to the folks, time with T.R., and an early visit with the sandman. I may even spend some time writing, if the mood strikes me.

Monday, August 29, 2011

We Love The Working World - Uh, Maybe

I am struggling to get focused today. I’ve a couple of things going on that have me a bit scattered.

First, it is Monday at work. Monday at work is always a bit of a challenge as everyone hits the deck running, communications fly back and forth, and everyone is full of energy and trying to gain some traction on their work items. This Monday was no exception. I spent most of the morning working my way through about fifty assorted email. One of the challenges there is a classic one. Not every communicator is created equal. Some folks write great email. They are clear, concise, and detailed. They are rapidly actionable. Other email are opaque, bureaucratic, jargon laden, and carefully non-committal. Unfortunately, you have to read through each one to figure out which is which. Now, at the end of the process of the original sweep through the incoming email, I ended up with about ten email that require some form of action. Two hours later of course.

Second, why people schedule meetings the first thing on a Monday is often beyond me. Most of the attendees in the meetings are dealing with item one, so they are distracted or multitasking or both. But, you end up sitting through long meetings that don’t necessarily make any sense. Of course, you never know that until you are through the meeting. Another two hours of the morning was eaten up by a pair of one hour long meetings that could have easily been summed up in ten minutes.

Third, I’ve got a small mountain of work in front of me this week, so I am struggling with where to start.

The end result, the morning is gone, I worked, but I didn’t accomplish anything. Ah, don’t you love the working world?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

A Violent, Graphic, and Strange Dream

This morning I woke around my normal time, about five AM, maybe a little earlier. Coffee, oatmeal, a conversation with T.R. and then I decided to go back to bed and read for a while. I read a chapter in "A Clash of Kings" by George R.R. Martin, and then fell back asleep. While I was sleeping, I dreamed. Let me give you a warning, it was a strange, violent, and graphic dream. I haven't had a particularly violent dream in a long time, so it was striking.

In the dream I was walking through a parking lot with a friend of mine in a crowd of people, all coming out of a building complex. It had the feel of the end of a concert or the end of some other public event. There was the usual jostling of a large crowd and at one point I went to my right and bumped into a young Asian/Pacific Islander couple. I immediately apologized and stopped to let them go by. The young man bristled and his friends around him immediately bristled as well. There was a bit of posturing going on and I tried to stay calm and extract myself from the situation by apologizing and moving away.

Suddenly, one of the young men reached over and grabbed my testicles very hard. The move shocked me and surprised me and we wrestled about a bit. His friends were laughing and taunting. Still not wishing for a violent encounter I warned him several times, but he was laughing and playing for his friends, who had gathered around - about a dozen younger people and a half dozen older people as well. At last I resolved myself to the act of violence and when the young man who had a hold of me turned to talk to his friend, I swept his leg, took him to the ground, and broke his jaw with a solid descending punch to the hinge. It was a brutal and violent blow, intended to do exactly what it did, incapacitate him quickly. With that onset of violence my friend suddenly took off running into the night, leaving me alone.

Chaos erupted as he howled in pain, a wounded and broken animal. The older adults urged the younger ones to attack me. I moved clear of my fallen opponent so I had room to maneuver. Two of them rushed at me. Using Jiu-Jitsu moves, I tangled the two of them up, sending one crashing into a border chain at the edge of the parking lot, and capturing the other in a wrist lock, pushing it all the way through until I heard the bones of the wrist pop and grate and he went white with shock.

At about this point one of the older women pulled out a small automatic pistol, a .32, and fired a shot at me. She missed. (It's far harder to shoot someone than you might think, even at close range, if the target is moving.) I immediately closed with her, struck her ruthlessly several times, and disarmed her, capturing the pistol. As this short and violent encounter was happening, one of the older men reached under his coat and drew a Beretta 92SB. I shot him three times with the .32 and he staggered and fell. People were now screaming and running in every direction. Several of the people, men and women, were now drawing pistols, so I scooped up the pistol on the run and kept running into the parking lot, ducking and dodging and weaving among the cars. Bullets were popping into cars and through windows as I ran. I ran long enough to convince them to chase me.

I turned and ran straight back at the group following me. I caught three of them by surprise and shot them all at nearly point blank range. I reversed and sprinted off into the parking lot again. They continued to pursue, urged on by older people, but far more cautious. This enabled me to begin an orderly retreat, firing, retreating from covered position to covered position, and firing again when a target presented itself. I was very much aware that I had one magazine of ammunition and no reload, so I was trying to work my way back to where my car was and make a getaway. Unfortunately, they spread out in a crescent and began herding me toward the edge of the parking lot, which appeared to back up against a railway storage yard. I had no choice but to fall back before them.

There was a berm at the edge of the rail yard beyond which I could see the tops of Conex containers. I knew that I was going to be horribly exposed as I crossed the berm, but I was running out of options. I reached the last row of cars and figured this was the end of it all. I waited until they started to advance, shot one, who fell screaming, and then turned and sprinted over the berm, expecting to feel the bullets tearing into me at any given moment. I reached the top of the berm and dove over, rolling, spinning and turning.

There were a dozen people yelling, howling, and running from the parking lot after me, firing pistols. I went to shoot and realized I was out of ammunition, the action of the Beretta locked back and open. I turned and ran for the Conex containers, which were about fifty yards away and separated from me by a single rail line, rising up on another, smaller berm. As I desperately ran for the cover of the containers, my friend, who had abandoned me at the beginning of the dream, suddenly rose up from the ditch behind the rail line, waving me forward. I sprinted toward him as I heard the harsh buzz of bullets flying past me.

I sprinted over the rail line and discovered, to my surprise, a long row of crouching Civil War soldiers, in three ranks, rifles in hand. An officer, bearing a saber, suddenly stood up and commanded his men to fire. In ranks, they rose up and let loose with a volley of black powder rifles, a deafening roar of fire, catching the charging people behind me in the open. The Civil War soldiers let off a second volley and a third volley and then, with a yell, charged over the rail line.

It was at this point in the dream that I woke up, about seven-thirty in the morning. It was a very graphic dream, full of the sights and sounds and sensations that make some dreams very real. I am not sure where the civil war soldiers came from in the dream, but I am glad they were there. The fear, the adrenaline, the sensations of the dream - being grabbed in the testicles, breaking a jaw, wrestling the gun from the woman, shooting at people and shooting people, the sheer terror of running and dodging through the cars, expecting to be hit - all of these things were very real. That sensation of running for cover and expecting to be shot at any moment was also very real and very terrifying. The tremendous sense of relief when I crossed the rail line and saw the soldiers waiting in ambush, that sense of floating, floating through the world, your heart pounding in your chest, seeing things through pure tunnel vision, your ears roaring, all of these sensations were very real.

However, I would not call the dream a nightmare. It was violent, it was graphic, it was very real and in it's own way it was terrifying, but it never had that sense of unreal helplessness that marks a nightmare. I woke from the dream, not with the residual terror, but rather with the simple thought of "wow, that was a violent, vivid and strange dream". It was vivid enough that now, eleven hours later, I recall it well.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Two Very Ordinary Pictures

Two very ordinary pictures. The first is my new lamp (a Possini Euro Lightstack from Lamps Plus) in action and the second was tonight's dinner (chicken, hot links, potato salad, and garlic bread from JC's BBQ on Saratoga Avenue in San Jose, California.

There is an art to celebrating the very ordinary things of life. They hold such beautiful simplicity inside of them. They are what they are, nothing more, nothing less. These two pictures really don't serve any purpose other than to be simply ordinary. That is my plan tonight - to be simply ordinary. And watch Ghost Hunters.

How To Slow A Day Down

One of the challenges of our very modern lives is time. We often come under pressure to think and act quickly. The tempo of our days seems elusively beyond our grasp. We react and respond. When we have those moments where we are in control of the tempo we drive forward quickly from the certain knowledge that our control of the timing of our days is only temporary. Those are the days we need to slow down.

I balance my time at work between responding to customer requests and project related work. Often any balance between the two forces is imaginary. They both push and pull simultaneously, competing complexities swirling about. Priorities shift, deadlines change, requirements creep – all of these things happen on a daily basis. Each of them has the capacity to spin the day out of control. Those are the days we need to slow down.

This is my small checklist on how to put the brakes on a careening day.

First, I recognize when I have “lost control” of the day. When whatever plan or intention I had was side-swiped as it approached the on-ramp.

Second, I acknowledge it by stopping, stepping back, and simply saying “Okay, my original plan and intention for the day has just been lost. Time to start over.”

Third, I make a physical break in the day – I will step outside to stand in the sun a bit, I will sit on a bench and admire the Japanese maples, I will listen to the calling of the sea-birds. For reasons known only to my mind, I find it so much easier to restart the day if it included this physical component.

Fourth, I will make a “perspective check” – that is, just step back, look at the day in context of the whole picture, and regain the perspective that I lost in feeling harried.

Fifth, I will cut off interrupting communications – instant messaging, the telephone, and email.

Sixth, then I will start moving slowly and methodically through the day, focusing on one thing at a time.

Usually, somewhere in this process, I find I am breathing a lot better and I’ve settled down quite a bit. Then, I will move forward through the day at the slow and steady pace. One of the things I always remind myself of is this – the urgency of other people is not my urgency. I will do a thorough and professional job based on my skills and abilities – that is what I am paid for. That is what my task assignments are. So, I take a deep breath, I slow down, and I focus on the bigger picture.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Slowing Down The Day

I had to take steps today to simply slow the day down. I was in the aftermath of yesterday and my day started out with a small piece of chaos. Like many corporations we use proximity badges and card readers to move about inside the plant, so your employee badge is not just a handy form of identification, it's a necessity if you want to go anywhere.

In the routine of getting ready for work this morning I left without my badge. I drove all the way to work (about twenty minutes or so) and was literally in line waiting to pass through the outer perimeter gate when I realized I didn't have my badge. It is enough of an inconvenience to not have your badge that it is worthwhile to go home and get it when you forget it.

So, basically, I started the day by repeating my commute - twice. Fortunately, I was running early enough that I managed to dodge most of the traffic, even on the second commute. On top of that I had the wonderful company of Florence and the Machine, whose album "Lungs" has been in high rotation in my car CD player.

Realizing that the act of forgetting my badge and having to play Ground Hog Day with the commute had the potential to side-track me, I made the decision that once I got into the office I would do everything in my power to simply slow the day down. I was pretty successful. I eased through the day, making the choices that kept things at a low key.

When the end of the day arrived I was ready to head home. I grabbed dinner at JC's on Saratoga (chicken and a salad) and then spent a simple and quiet evening with T.R.. It is still early here tonight and my plan is to ease out of the day like I eased through the day, with a quiet hour or so of reading before I fall asleep.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Introspection in August

I was thinking about writer's block today. You may have noticed that I haven't complained or commented about it in quite a while. Basically, I think I am over my extended period of writers block in general. I have returned to my old levels of productivity both here and professionally. Once again I write with a certain ease, with a certain flow, that feels comfortable and natural.

But I was thinking today that I haven't really had any extended periods of creative writing. Oh, bits and pieces fall out here and there, but I really haven't sat and written anything of length or complexity in a while. In the aftermath of my surgery almost two years ago now I went into a very reflective place. I am still more inclined to observe, to simply observe, then I am to write about those observations, or to pass through through that alchemical process that results in fiction or poetry.

I had a bit of insight today on that subject that I thought I would share here. Part of this reflective process has been a good deal of introspection. But it hasn't been structured or disciplined introspection. T.R. has this habit - periodically she will take a day and simply sit and do a self-assessment. An open eyed period of gazing at herself to try and understand the person she is, the person she has become. I don't do that. I don't take that length of time. My periods of introspection seem to be short in duration and incidental in occurrence.

It is as if I am moving down a path of introspection while, at some level, resisting the movement down that path. If introspection were a pool, I am compelled to slip into the waters of the pool, I am compelled to dive deeply into them, but then, when I find myself there, I turn and swim to the surface. As I pass through the month of August, where I am making those decisions to slow the month down, one of the things that I am going to try is to take some windows of time to simply, deeply, focus on the introspective journey. I'll let you know how it turns out.

Rat Rod at Breakfast

Sent via BlackBerry by AT&T

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Technical Dreams

A technical dream infiltrated my sleep last night. We're got a problem at work (the worst kind, intermittent) where, when a user clicks on a link that is supposed to open a Microsoft Word template in Windows 7, the template starts to open - and then blinks and closes, but the application logs that the act of creation was successful.

I am sure that it is a setting or a flag somewhere in the wrong position, but Windows 7 security has the desktop locked down pretty tightly, so we have to rely on the Windows 7 support team - and so far, that has been pretty disappointing. Last night, I dreamed that I finally figured out what flag was causing the problem and, as suspected it, was a simple problem. In the coming week, I think I am going to try and carve out a couple of hours to see how deeply I can get into this specific problem.

I had a second dream, which was also work related, but I only vaguely remember it. In that dream, I was helping a couple of co-workers from another department moving some boxes of marketing collateral. It was a very vague dream, in all I recall is they had a small red pickup with a big stack of boxes in the back. I was walking across the parking lot to get my car so I could take some of the boxes and lower the height of the stack in the back of the red truck.

Other than the two dreams, it was a nice night. I watched Torchwood: Miracle Day on the DVR when I got home, spent a little time reading the latest issue of Asimov's, and went to bed fairly early. I slept well and then lingered in bed this morning. Breakfast was a cinnamon danish with cheese, coffee, and now a tall glass of iced water, watching Reliable Sources of CNN. I am going to get together with the guys this afternoon for lunch at Red Robin and then the new "Conan" movie with Jason Mamoa.

I think I am going to have a slow and lazy morning, spend some time sorting through my book stack, maybe doing some idle rearrangement in the apartment. Whether or not I'll stick to the plan remains to be seen, but there is a plan to start the day.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Fabric of Nearly Perfect Days

Some days hold a certain beauty, almost magical. They are, in their own way, nearly perfect days - perhaps so nearly perfect that we cannot recognize their perfection. When I see this, I see it in the ordinariness of the day. Extraordinary days are many things - but I would not characterize them as perfect or nearly perfect. Extraordinary is a sufficient description for them.

But for those other days, for days like today, they are perfectly ordinary. There in lies their beauty, wrapped deeply inside their simplicities. The sun is bright and warm. The sky is a certain shade of blue. There is a breeze, faint, soft, enough to keep you cool in the warmth of the sun. There are scents riding upon the air, the faint scents of a hundred parallel universes, all interwoven. The world feels firm under your feet. Those things you touch with your hands have a certain weight and heft - they feel exactly like they should feel, regardless of what they are. That is the fabric of the tapestry of nearly perfect days.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Sun Slowly Sets

Today was a good day. Yesterday, I forgot to mention a discovery. I was sitting at work in the afternoon and I had a craving for pizza. Now, I happen to like Chicago style pizza, but it is a rather rare style in this part of California. Most of the places here are either California style (which is basically New York Style, with sprouts, LOL) or New York Style. I took a look in Google and fount Pizz'a Chicago in Santa Clara, just off Lawrence Expressway. All I have to say is - awesome pizza. I think I have a new favorite pizza joint.

Today was nice and quiet at the office and I was very productive, working my way through a lot of backlogged items, logging a few hours of regression testing, and updating all of the tickets assigned to me. I often joke that if it wasn't for every other Friday (when most people are on their off Friday's), I wouldn't get much work done. Since it is generally a quiet day, it is usually a good chance to do the routine administrative things that have to be done in any line of business.

So, at the tale end of that productive day, out for a simple dinner, then home for a quiet evening. You can't ask for much more than that on a warm August night.

One Excellent Book - The Hunger Games

Okay, if you haven’t read it, I will not hesitate to recommend “The Hunger Games” by Suzanne Collins. It is a great little tale, pure and simple.  The plot is pretty straight-forward (teenagers selected by a post-apocalyptic government to participate in a tournament to the death to remind the Districts that the Capitol is in control).  The main characters are wonderfully drawn and delightfully nuanced.  As I reader, I instantly connected to the protagonist, Katniss and her fellow “Tribute” from District 12, Peeta. 

I read the entire book in four days – including the final run through it last night.  I turned off the TV and read myself to sleep, then, on waking, picked the book up and finished it.  It has been a while since I’ve read a story as compelling.  The book is widely acclaimed and popular and it’s easy to see why.

The movie has been cast and is shooting in North Carolina, with Jennifer Lawrence in the lead role.  I’m a huge Jennifer Lawrence fan based on her excellent performance in “Winters Bone”, which was one of my favorite movies when it was out.  Now, there was some controversy when she was cast as Katniss, mainly due to age (Katniss is a teenager, Jennifer is in her early 20’s) and appearance, but from the publicity stills it looks like most of that was irrelevant. 

Because I am such a Jennifer Lawrence fan and I knew she’d been cast in the role, I had absolutely no problem visualizing her as the character as I worked my way through the first novel of the trilogy.  Once again, a simply outstanding little tale.  All kudos to the author, Suzanne Collins!

Thursday, August 18, 2011

A Simple Night "In America"

I've been on a movie kick lately. Tonight I watched "In America" with Paddy Considine and Samantha Morton. I recall the film as it made it's way through the theaters, but for reasons lost to the mists of history, I have no idea why I didn't see it. Well, it certainly is a powerful little movie with a tear-jerking end. I'd recommend it if you are in that type of mood. I am going to call it a night early tonight - I am deeply engaged in "The Hunger Games" and should finish in a two days or so. An excellent story.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

At Work, We Play The Hunger Games

Publicity still - Jennifer Lawrence as "Katniss" in "The Hunger Games"

Ah, it is good to be home at the end of the day. I spent most of the day running reports and analyzing data and though time consuming, it went rather smoothly. No smooth day goes unpunished though.

Just as I was about to leave the office I had a couple of customers contact me and report one of those persistent but intermittent problems. The kind of problem that happens some times, to some people, but cannot be forced or predicted. Those are the worst kind of technical problems, since they are the most difficult to trouble-shoot.

I got a frustrated there at the end of the day because it is either a network latency problem or a hosting server latency problem, but, unfortunately in a complex environment, there is too much wiggle room for groups to go "not us" and point at each other, demanding the others prove it's them. Very frustrating.

So, I vented in the privacy of my car, ranted and raved a bit, then got home, made a big salad, and all is good again. Tomorrow, I will see if I can push it up the hill and get someone to understand that it is a big problem and that it needs to be addressed. We'll see if I make any headway or not. I often joke that, with these types of problems, the only real headway I ever seem to make is to bang my head against the wall which is...painful.

Other than that frustration there at the end of the day though, it was a pretty good day. I was productive in regards to the reports I ran and the analysis I was doing. I had a nice lunch at Hobbee's. My team was in good spirits.

I've started reading "The Hunger Games". Given that it's a young adult novel, I am blazing through it fairly quickly. I am about a quarter of the way through in two nights, so I anticipate finishing the book within the week. I can see why it draws so many fans - it is a well-written little tale.

Jennifer Lawrence, who did such an excellent job in "Winters Bone" has been cast as Katniss (the protagonist of the novel), so I am looking forward to the movie as well. Indeed, the reason I decided to read the novel is because I am looking forward to the movie.

I think, in general, that young adult novels tend to translate better onto film - mostly due to complexity and length. This is a huge generalization of course, but adult novels tend to be both longer and more complex, which means that in the process of adapting the work for film something has to get left out.

My plan tonight is pretty simple and straight-forward. I am going to watch the movie "In America" on DVR and do a little writing and a little reading and just ease my way into the night. I'll probably invest a little time in bagging and recycling books as well. So, it should be a nice night.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Terminator v. Planet of the Apes

Well, I definitely chalked up another weird dream last night. It was a cross-over dream that involved Terminator and Planet of the Apes. In the dream gorillas had taken over the world and ruled humanity with an iron fist.

At a distant point in the past a human brain had been grafted onto a gorilla brain, resulting in a being with human like intelligence and no ethical or moral sense, which allowed it's ruthless rise to power. The graft was done with the brain of a woman who was an expert in gorillas, who was developing the process, and then was killed and so her brain was used for the experimental surgery.

As a time traveling assassin my goal was to travel back in time and kill her and insure that her brain was destroyed in the process. Given that the original event had occurred in the distant past the fear was that, rather than solving the problem in the future (the rise of the apes), it was in fact the triggering event - that the conspirators in the future, rather than preventing the future were about to cause it. The key to my success was to be not that I killed the woman, but rather that insured her brain was destroyed and the graft did not take place.

I have no idea how it turned out. The dream ended while we were discussing the ramifications of the actions being plotted and the possibility that we were the cause of the very future we sought to prevent. All in all, it was an interesting dream - a cross between Terminator and Rise of the Planet of the Apes.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Crashing Into Monday Morning

I crashed into a wall of stress when I walked into the office this morning. It arose out of a constellation of three things.

First, while I was out over the weekend a meeting was scheduled for early Monday morning. Because I had no idea the meeting was scheduled I was late for it and then I was unprepared for it. I am most decidedly not a fan of ambush meetings. One of the areas I think we do very poorly with at work is meetings. They tend to be unfocused and unproductive, with each individual in the meeting pursuing their own issues and items to the expense of the collective. If I had a related wish I'd wish that our entire directorate be sent to "Meeting 101" and learn three things - 1.) always have an agenda, 2.) always share the agenda prior to the meeting, and 3.) always stick to the agenda. Just those three things would increase the value of our meetings significantly. So, in short order - I dislike ambush meetings and I dislike unproductive meetings and this one managed to hit both of those buttons in one stroke.

Second, immediately on the heels of that meeting I went into another meeting where, of all things, the focused on one of the trendy management books, on discussing what they thought about it. First, I wasn't aware that I had joined a book club I had no interest in joining. Second - I've been in the working world for thirty years and I've been in supervision/management for twenty. I've seen dozens of trendy management books come and go. I've seen dozens of managers pay lip-service to the magic contents of these books, then turn right around and be a good manager (if they were already a good manager) or a bad manager (if they were already a bad manager). In short, I am highly skeptical when it comes to such books and their real impact on teams. The basics of management never change and success or failure as a manager depends entirely on whether or not you can do the basics. It really is that simple.

Third, I had a half-dozen issues escalated to me this morning that were not items I could do anything about. Technically, the specific support the customers were looking from has to come from another group. But, the issues keep coming to my desk because the responsible group has "dodging responsibility" down to an art form. I get badly frustrated by this because a.) it is not my area of responsibility and b.) there isn't anything I can do to help the customers. I am not sure which of the two irritates me more.

This constellation of events pretty much spun me into a very bad mood this morning. Once I made it through the meetings, I took a few minutes outside to breathe, to don my psychological armor, and to soak up a little sun. Then, I went back to work - one of the things I did was sit down and mentally work my way through root cause analysis and possible solutions for some of the problems I was facing. Fortunately, I like doing that. One part of my job that I still enjoy is productive trouble-shooting. I've always liked solving puzzles. It was very productive session - I managed to draw a six page root-cause analysis diagram and drill all the way down to the very bottom of one issue, coming up with three possible corrective actions.

Once I'd managed to reset the day by actually doing something productive I was able to salvage the rest of the day with productive work. I was definitely glad when the day ended though. I drove home, stopped at Sushi Totoro for a Golden California roll, a Philadelphia roll, and a bowl of Miso soup. I'm slowing winding my way into the evening by watching some SyFy, writing, and beginning the process of sorting my books. A rough start of the day but a gentle ending.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Help - Oscar Worthy Film

A most excellent Sunday. After breakfast some of us decided to go see "The Help", the new movie with Viola Davis, Emma Stone, Octavia Spencer, Jessica Chastain and Bryce Dallas Howard, about the writing of a book that tells the story of the black maids in Jackson Mississippi. Outstanding. The first Academy Award caliber movie I have seen this year - alternately funny and poignant. I see a Best Picture and a Best Actress (for Viola Davis) nominations. Just a truly awesome movie.

After the movie, we walked Microcenter to look at technology and then Tony and I grabbed an early dinner at El Burro. I wandered home and, as typical after a great dinner at El Burro, I took a nap. I followed the nap with a lazy reading of the Sunday paper and idling my way into the evening. It was an excellent weekend - slow, lazy, and quiet. I feel nice and recharged as I move my way into the new week.

I've been deliberately trying to "slow August down" in order to get some nice summer relaxation under my belt and this weekend was definitely a "win" in that regard. My plan this evening is to go to bed early and read myself to sleep and start the week was a lazy Monday morning.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

A Dream, A Fiesta, Lunch and Two Movies

Last night I dreamed that there was a tear in the fabric of reality and "something wicked" came pouring through. In the dream it happened while I was at a Mexican restaurant and we (the customers and the staff) barricaded the doors and windows and fought the monsters off with improvised weaponry (kitchen utensils, clubs and spears made from broken furniture, etc.).

I am sure the dream was a subconscious reaction to the book "Spares", which involves crossing over into an alternate reality, called "The Gap". It wasn't really a scary dream, nor was it a threatening dream, it was more about the power of people banding together for a common cause. It was a fairly theatrical dream and always have within it that feeling that it was a story I was watching/telling myself.

After breakfast, following a stop at Fry's, I went to the Los Gatos Fiesta de Artes, and met Don there. It was a pleasant afternoon wandering in the sun, with a nice lunch at Double D's Sports Grille. It warmed up a little, into the mid-eighties, by the time we decided to call it a day, so I was toasty warm when I got home.

I had a light salad for dinner, then watched one of my favorite movies on the DVR - "Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai" with Forest Whitaker. If you've never seen it you should immediately run and rent it. It is written and directed by Jim Jarmusch and is simply one of the coolest movies ever made. I took a lazy nap and woke up in time to catch the start of another excellent movie - "A Bronx Tale" with Chaz Palminteri and Robert DeNiro. All in all, it was an outstandingly lazy Saturday.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Guard

At noon today I went to CineArts and saw "The Guard". The movie definitely lived up to my expectations - funny, well-written, well-acted, and filled with moments where you were laughing, even as you realized what had just been said was totally inappropriate.

I would highly recommend the movie if you need two hours of escapism and a good laugh. Brendan Gleeson is excellent in the film - and the character he portrays is just a great character. I would definitely rank the movie high with my favorite Irish movies. I won't tell you too much about it, but I would guarantee that if you've a fan of funny and clever dialogue, than this movie is for you. So, check it out when you get a chance.

Two Dreams and A Brown Out

I slept well last night, after I read myself to sleep. (I still haven't finished "Spares", but I am no nmore than another reading session or two out from finishing it.) During the night I dreamed of two things.

First, I dreamed that I had a new attache case. I've been thinking about getting one. My current computer bag, though it works well, has seen better days. I've been looking at one of the leather ones down at OfficeMax, but I haven't made the decision to jump yet. In the dream, I had one, but rather than being filled with work related things (like my current case is), it was filled with compact art supplies - a drawing box, a painting box, a folding easel, a brush case, etc. It was as if the art supplies, in their boxes, were designed specifically to fit the attache case. That was pretty cool.

Second, I dreamed about a giant hole in the ground. It was about fifteen to twenty feet across, bored into the earth, with irregular edges. It was surrounded by stanchions with yellow safety tape, keeping people back from the edge, and there was an observation platform that allowed people to get close to the edge and look down into the hole. Though I had no clear picture or idea what I was doing, I had the sense, in the dream, that I was preparing to descend into the hole with a ground of other explorers. There was a sense of impending excitement, like the excitement of exploration.

I woke this morning with the memory of both of dreams. I will attribute them to the raft of strange and vivid dreams I've been having lately, most of which I have been blaming on the process of completely rearranging my apartment.

Even this morning I spent some time in the bedroom, both getting ready to go out and do some laundry and putting together a box of clothing to drop off at the donation center. I am often amused by the times you buy clothes - and they look good, the fit well, and at the end of six months you realize - you just never wear them. Those are the clothes that are perfect for the donation center.

At about 8:00 AM this morning (7:53 AM according to PG&E) my neighborhood went into what is basically a brown out. There was some sort of large report outside (I assume it was a transformer or a junction box going), and then the power to the apartment got all wonky. I am getting power, but it is a low level of power. For example, the laptop charger is working, the modem is working, that low watt hall light is working - but the higher watt items - the TV, the overhead lamps, the cable box, etc. - they are all either not working, or they were flickering on and off so I had to turn them off. The overhead lights come on, but they come on very dimly and they flicker. So, I figured that was a perfect excuse to turn off the TV and get the day started with a couple of loads of laundry. According to the PG&E map the brown out doesn't extend to the laundromat, so I should be good there.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

An Evening with Charlie Bartlett

The weekend begins. After breakfast-for-dinner with Tony, I decided to watch a movie I've had sitting on my DVR for a while - "Charlie Bartlett" with Anton Yelchin and Robert Downey Jr.. It's had a few laugh out loud moments, but I would describe it as choppy.

It was another busy week at work - I spent the lions share of the day in meetings, following by an extra meeting or two. In between I managed to get a little work done, but for the most part I am carrying a lot of stuff into next week. I may, if I am up to it, spend a few hours working over the weekend, but right now I am definitely not there. I am not even anywhere close to there.

Tonight, I just want to relax, to slide slowly into the evening, and to spend some time reading "Spares". That is a perfect way to start a three day weekend. My plan is to keep it simple tomorrow - breakfast, a little cleaning, a little laundry, and then out to a movie and lunch. I'm planning on seeing "The Guard" tomorrow at a matinee. It's playing down at the CineArts theater in Santana Row, which is a very nice theater.

At some point over the weekend - perhaps even tomorrow, I am going to tackle this big stack of books on the kitchen table, sort through it, and find the fifty books that I want to retain. Depending on when I contemplate that task - some days I think it will be easy and other days I wonder if I will be able to do it. I definitely attach to books. I love reading. I read a lot. I've always read a lot. Each book contains within it an entire world and that always amazes me. (Of course, some of the books and some of the worlds are far better than others.)

I am finishing up "Spares", and I've got George R.R. Martin's "A Clash of Kings" and Suzanne Collin's "The Hunger Games". I am looking forward to each one. "The Hunger Games" is technically young adult, but I happened to be a fan of Rick Riordan's "Percy Jackson.." series and James Patterson's "Maximum Ride" series - both of which are young adult. A well-crafted story, regardless of the intended audience, is a piece of art. Just writing about books makes me want to curl up and read, so I may call it an early a night - and then read into the deep darkness of the night finishing up "Spares".

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Grace, Art, and Beauty

My dinner tonight was a simple but excellent Cobb salad. I spent the rest of the evening relaxing, then catching up with my DVR watching. I watched an episode of Eureka, I watched an episode of Haven, and I watched the Jon Stewart show.

Interwoven through those shows I was moving stuff from the kitchen into the spare bedroom. I pretty much got all of boxes cleaned out of the kitchen - they are now stacked in the middle of the floor in the spare bedroom, with the rest of them in the dining room. My kitchen table is still covered with books I haven't started sorting yet and I probably won't do that until Friday or maybe one of the other days this weekend.

Having officially recaptured my kitchen however I'm looking forward to cooking dinner tomorrow night. I've been eating out a lot and I can tell the impact of processed food on my system. I'm craving fresh fruit and fresh salads. Maybe an egg white omelet or two.

Let me entirely switch gears now. I'm not sure if you're fans of the show So You Think You Can Dance. If you're not you're missing what really amounts to being a truly incredible show. I've always been terribly impressed by the raw physicality and grace of dancers.

I remember when I was an undergraduate I had class, a theater history class, that was preceded by a jazz dance class. It was held in an auditorium and sometimes I would arrive early before my class began and join a handful of people watching the jazz dance class. Over the course of the semester I recall just a tremendous growing admiration for the sheer strength and stamina of the dancers. That feeling infuses me when I watch So You Think You Can Dance. This season has been incredible and it has come down to two truly amazing dancers - Melanie and Sasha. They are both simply dazzling. So, that is my little tribute to one of the truly entertaining pieces of television out there.

Since this is my three-day weekend tomorrow is my last day of work this week. I've got a small stack of meetings, I've got about 20 odd things stacked up in my e-mail box, and I've got about a dozen open tickets. What can I say - it's been a week. I'm definitely looking forward to the weekend. I really want to go out and see the movie The Guard with Brendan Gleeson and Don Cheadle. My tentative plan is to do that on Friday.

So as I slide into the weekend let me do it in the state of grace, dazzled by the dancers on television, and anticipating the power of modern theater through the lens of filmmakers. It seems that I am ending the day in appreciation of the arts that so cover our lives, that so enrich us, that so dazzle us. The picture that graces the beginning of this entry are those two amazing dancers I spoke of earlier, Melanie and Sasha. This is link is to one of their routines that brought the house to it's feet - enjoy - Melanie and Sasha Dancing.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Life is Mystery

It is a quiet Tuesday evening here in San Jose. I thought I'd take a few minutes and write about today. It was an interesting day. It started with the strange dreams about the nature of reality that I wrote about a short while ago and that contemplation of reality continued through the day. I had worked late last night and I went into the office early this morning with the intention of leaving early. Unfortunately that didn't happen. My calendar is kinda full this week and that is has made for some days are passing very quickly. This is my short work week so I have Friday off.

I came home tonight and stopped at JC's for some barbecue. As usual it was excellent chicken and hotlinks. I had that simple barbecue dinner and spent two hours watching the series finale of "Falling Skies". It was an excellent series and I'm glad to hear they renewed it for another year. It has an excellent cast Noah Wylie, Moon Bloodgood, and Will Patton. (I also happen to be a big fan of Noah Wylie's "The Librarian" series. It's sort of a guilty pleasure for me.) Rather than letting the DVR skip the commercials I let the commercials run and used that opportunity to start moving things back into the spare bedroom. The apartment complex is planning on coming to on Friday for a plumbing inspection, the routine deal, happens once a year. I had quite a few boxes stacked in the kitchen that I needed to just get out of the way.

I have all my books stacked on the kitchen table I'm guessing there's maybe 200 to 250. There might be less. I'm going to take a run through them, recycle more than a few and try to cut the number of actual physical books I have down to 50. I'm not really sure I'll be able to do it but I am going to give it a try. I would say that I currently do about 80% of my reading on the Kindle. I'm just a huge fan of the Kindle. Electronic media is the wave of the future whether it's books, music or movies. We can resist it but it's not a resistance we will ever win.

T.R. is traveling right now, sort of a mini vacation, sort of a getaway, sort of her retreat. All of those things wrapped together. We will communicate as we can while she travels and I'm sure I'm going to spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about her. I am, as I mentioned in my profile, intensely private person. There are a variety of reasons for that, some good, some bad and most just are. it's hard for me to quantify or qualify the impact she's had on me. She moves with the simple grace, as mere TR, and it is sufficient that she is TR, and it is sufficient that she is mere. Sometimes life is about the sufficiency of things. Sometimes life is about the mere-ness of things. Whatever it happens to be about, life in all its glory is Mystery.

Is Reality Fragile?

I’ve mentioned before I am reading “Spares” by Michael Marshall Smith. I am at a point in the novel where the hero is about to enter “The Gap”, a sort of alternate reality/cyberspace construct to attempt to rescue the spares (clones) and the nature of reality is very slippery. I’ve been thoroughly enjoying the book so it came as no surprise to me at all that I tossed and turned most of the night dreaming about the nature of reality.

Let me paint the scene for you. In my bedroom I have minimal furniture – I have a bed, two little night stands, a lamp, a hamper and a ceiling fan/lamp. There is a sizable window on the east wall of the bedroom and the window is shaded with both blinds and curtains. Because of the heat I have the window open and a small fan in the window and because of the light that streams in from outside I have the blinds lowered and the curtains pulled, all except the very small portion where the fan fits. Both the window fan and the ceiling fan are on, slowly turning, to keep the room nice and cool while I sleep.

I am laying there in bed, tossing fitfully, dreaming that the very nature of reality in the room is shifting. There isn’t a specific shift going on – it is just that everything is very amorphous, very fluid. Each time I sleep, reality shifts. Each time I wake, I anchor my thoughts on certain things and reality settles back into place. Somewhere in the middle of the night I realize that I can hold reality constant as long as I limit my thoughts to about seven or eight different items. It is only when my thoughts go above that number of items that reality begins to shift. Half-awake, half-asleep I anchor the room in my mind consciously by counting the objects in the room and placing them each in their proper position.

Then, finally, I am able to fall asleep and sleep soundly through the remainder of the night.

As a result of this nocturnal exploration I woke up this morning with my thoughts slowly maneuvering around the question of what is real. I think there was an interesting insight wrapped inside the dream. The human mind can hold, on average, four objects in our minds simultaneously (two in each hemisphere). When we cross that threshold, we begin a process of rapid switching objects in and out. The more objects we attempt to comprehend simultaneously, the more likely we are to make a mistake in our comprehension of the objects and by extension our interpretation and perception of reality becomes increasingly inaccurate.

Reality (based on our perceptions) is a fragile place. The more complex reality is the more fragile it becomes. I think that is a lot of the power that lies in any of the approaches to reality that stress simplicity and being “in the moment”. The fewer items we attempt to comprehend in any given moment, the more likely it is that our comprehension of those items will be accurate. By pulling ourselves into the moment, by focusing on a few simple things, we are better able to accurately perceive reality. It’s not that the complex nature of reality becomes any less fragile, but rather that we are more accurate in our interpretation of reality at the given moment.


Sunday, August 7, 2011

Strange Dreams and Ordinary Days

I had another strange dream last night. I dreamed that I was kicked out of a luxury hotel. (Basically, in the dream, I was escorted out because I questioned (forcefully) the quality of some of the services the hotel was providing and the overall quality of the facilities). I have no idea why that dream surfaced - I've had a few confrontations with hoteliers over the years - but I've never actually been kicked out of a hotel. My most recent hotel stay (at the Town & Country Resort in San Diego) was excellent.

It started thinking about the recent flurry of strange dreams I've had and I have an inclination to lay the root cause on my apartment floor - specifically, on the new carpet. Not the new carpet itself, but the extended game of Tetris and the very significant re-ordering of the interior of my apartment, the significant changes in my living spaces. I suspect those have reached fairly deeply into my subconscious and have caused those deep and still waters to be stirred, resulting in the strange dreams. They haven't been bad dreams - they've just been vivid, unusual, and strange.

I've been moving slowly in my game of reverse Tetris, but I am going to pick up the pace this week. The property management firm wants to come through and inspect the plumbing and the smoke detectors (a yearly inspection), so I'll have to move a few boxes so they can get easier access to the kitchen. I've still got the boxes to be sorted through in the kitchen.

With the start of waking from the strange dream, it has been a good day. I met T. and B. at the Hickory Pit for breakfast. From there we went and saw "Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes", which was very well done and enjoyable. A stop at the bank, a stop the gas the car, a hair-cut, a quick stop for lunch (sushi and Miso soup), then a couple of simple errands wrapped up the day. I swung home in the afternoon and took a short nap, then ordered pizza for dinner. Dinner is now done and I'm lazing my way into the evening, watching "The Last King of Scotland" on IFC and playing a bit of my game of reverse Tetris.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Comic Con 2011 Photo Set

Here's the link to the final photo set from the 2011 Comic Con trip. An outstanding time as usual!

San Diego Comic Con 2011

Have a mentioned that in my heart of hearts - I such a total geek.

Swordfish Dreams

I woke this morning from a dream of grilled swordfish and asparagus spears. It was a very vivid dream and I woke up hungry. I usually don't dream of food, but food (from a conversation with T.R.) was high on my mind last night when I drifted off to sleep. I may have to make it a point to find that piece of grilled swordfish this weekend.

That puts a strange thought in my mind. There are times when I find myself limited by the range of my habits. Thinking about the swordfish - there is excellent fish at the Race Street Fish Market, which is not that far from my apartment and maybe twenty minutes from work. I always enjoy the food there, but I rarely go there. Why? Habit pushes me toward other places, no other reason.

I've been reading an excellent book - "Spares" and I'm about two-thirds of the way into novel and it is outstanding. Twice in the last week I ended up either staying up late or getting up a little early so I could move through a couple of chapters. I'm within a night or two of finishing the novel and I almost don't want it to end. I'd definitely recommend it, just as T.R. recommended it to me. Well worth the read.

Today was a good day, breakfast, socializing with friends, a late burger, some DVR time and soon enough I am going to curl up with the novel and finish the day.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Weight of Things

There are days when I let the weight of things get to me. I woke up on Tuesday thinking about the phrase “the weight of things” and have been contemplating it through the course of the last two days. When I say “the weight of things” I mean, I think, the value and importance that we assign to all the various objects, incidents, and accidents that move through our lives. Each thing has its own weight, it’s own true weight, and then we add to (or subtract from) that weight by our own choices and value judgments. During the month of August I want to spend some time focusing on the weight of things, focusing on the choices I make in regards to the weight of things, and maybe shift some of that weight around.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

A Slow Journey Through An Old Box

I've started to slowly move things back into place in the house, sorting through them as I go. Tonight, I moved my computer table back into the spare bedroom (my office) and I threw out the contents of one drawer, one box, and an old light box.

The one drawer was an old desk drawer that contained some "stuff" that had probably been in there for years - old pens, old office supplies, old business cards, an envelope of old photos of no significance or quality. The only thing of interest that came out of that old drawer was an old pocket watch of mine. I'd almost forgot about it, so I moved it over in with my other watches.

The box was incidental paperwork that I'd held onto from about six months ago - since six months have passed I simply tossed it. Several of my boxes of stuff are now date stamped - if I am not in them after a certain amount of time passes away, out they will go.

The light box was an old light box I had kept from the days when we used to make technical drawings by hand. It's all done by computer now, so I have no need for it. It survived the last purge more from nostalgia and potential use that anything else - but, I haven't used it for over a year, so out it went. Once I get through my purging, I may take up drawing as a hobby again, in which case, if I need a light box I will just get a new one.

Over the next day or two I am going to break down and through away two pieces of furniture - an old desk and a four drawer bureau that I used in the bedroom. Both of them had been "stuff repositories" and with a few exceptions, I rarely dipped into them to use the stuff they contained, so by the law of usage they are done. Neither of them are of any particular value as furniture - both are just incidental pieces that were picked up somewhere along they way purely for their utility.

So, it was a night of steady progress in my minimalist journey. Slow and steady almost always takes us where we're going. Tonight's plan is simple - some DVR, some reading, and then some quality time with T.R.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The Return

Rapidly back into the swing of things at work I was struck by two things today.

First, the volume of irrelevant email is, as always, amazingly high. I picture offices full of people whose sole job is to write irrelevant email and see how widely they can get them distributed.

Second, I am struck by the number of times people in a big organization are simply looking for someone, anyone, to throw them a lifeline of some sort. Usually, it's because they work for people who fall into the first category above.

So, with those two observations in place - it was a good return to work. Yes, I had a small mountain of email to surmount, but I managed to get through about 75% of it. Yes, I went to a meeting that spun out of control and stretched on and on and on. Yes, working for micro-manager's is as pointless as it is amusing. But, all in all, it was a productive day.

I don't have anything major planned for the next couple of months, so I am looking forward to slipping into a simple routine and savoring these late summer days. Of course, that is a plan, and we all know what happens to the best of plans.