Sunday, July 31, 2011

The End of the Arc of Vacation

Tonight marks the official end of my vacation. Tomorrow I will rejoin the working world. It was a good vacation and the last two days have been relaxed and enjoyable, even as I was playing reverse Tetris with my apartment. My plan tonight is pretty simple - a long hot bath, a little bit of DVR watching, some reading, and a full night of sleep. I am sure I'll have some more thoughts on this most recent vacation - but for now, tonight, I am content here at the end of the arc of vacation.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Minimalist Tetris

Thursday, I spent the entire day playing Tetris will all of my physical possessions. Basically, I took the entire contents of the apartment and moved it into kitchen/dining room or patio - stacking it into the kitchen in the reverse order I would need to stack it out.

Amazingly, it all fit and with some room to spare. (That is a tribute to the distance I've traveled on my journey toward a more minimal lifestyle.) At about 8:30 the workers showed up to rip the carpet out and replace it with new carpet. They did a good job and were done by about 2:00 in the afternoon.

In between, I spent the morning wandering, running incidental errands, getting some service done on my car (including a detail), and picking up a new bedroom lamp and a pair of incidental stands. I've completely redecorated the bedroom in a very minimalist style. So far, the only things in the bedroom are the bed and the two new stands, with the lamp and clock. I have a new wall hanging (a collection of empty frames, which caught my eye and was inspired by T.R.) which I haven't hung yet because my toolbox is still behind a pile of boxes.

As I play the reverse game of Tetris and shift my worldly possessions back into the apartment, much of the stuff is not going to make the shift back. Since everything was moved into the kitchen, everything is up on the block. As I move each piece I am asking - do I really want this, do I really need this, and do I really use this? At the end of this particular game, I am going to end up with significantly left stuff. I might even make it as far down the path of minimalism that I need to go.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Home, Sweet and Simple

Today was a traveling day. Now, as it winds down into dusk, my eyes are heavy. Part of that heaviness is probably allergies (in the last couple of days down in San Diego I developed a scratch in my throat that I've brought home with me), and part of it is just that great sense that comes of being home after a time of traveling. I've resisted the temptation to take a nap, largely so I can fall deeply into sleep once I slip into my own bed.

As nice as the hotel was, as comfortable as the hotel bed was, there is nothing quite like the comfort of your own bed, your own sheets, your own pillows and the soundscape that you know so well. I am sure I will sleep deeply and restfully tonight.

The last two days of the San Diego vacation were spent mostly in just relaxing and then relaxing a little more. On Monday we went out and saw "Captain America", which was enjoyable, then has dinner with a cluster of Tony's friends which was fun. On Tuesday, we had breakfast at Janet's, I had a work related teleconference, and then we drove up to Palomar Mountain and checked out the observatory. (There was other stuff in there too, but right now I am too tired to write about them.)

The Palomar Observatory was a pretty cool place - it was well worth the trip. The drive up the mountain was nice, but on the drive down the late summer haze had risen so all the vista's were blurred. I took a couple of pictures, but nothing of particular note. (So much of photography is about light - and good light makes all the difference.) The 200 inch telescope there is a pretty impressive feat of engineering and gazing at the displays of the various astronomical pictures and features was pretty cool as well.

Tonight though, it is simply good to be home and my plan is a quiet evening, followed by sweet and blessed sleep. Tomorrow will be a brisk day - I need to move all my furniture and stuff off the carpet so I can have the carpet replaced on Friday. That is going to be very cool and I am looking forward to it. I don't have that much stuff anymore, so I suspect everything is going to fit either into the kitchen or bathroom and onto the patio. I actually expect that it is all going to fit pretty seamlessly into the kitchen. Moving things around is also going to give me some incentive to do a bit more purging. I expect that a few bags and boxes of stuff are going to make the outward bound trip as I continue my journey toward simplicity.

So, at the traveling end of the vacation (though with four days left before I have to return to work) let me just bid every a simple goodnight.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Jim Henson, Deborah Ann Woll and Aphaereis

Okay, once again, let me start with a bit of a Non Sequitur. This song was the first song I heard this morning and it rode through the entire day with me and well into the evening. I thought I would share it with you - it's a great little song you might have heard before.

"This One Goes Out To The One I Love" by REM.

So, today moved very pleasantly. Breakfast at The Broken Yolk Cafe, then an easy day at San Diego Comic Con. I went to two panels - the first was a presentation on early Jim Henson (prior to the Muppets) with the archivist from the Jim Henson Company sharing four of his earlier works (all demonstrative of Jim Henson's particular brand of genius). Then they spoke about a collaborative work that is coming out as a graphic novel, based on an early script by Jim and his writing partner Jerry Juhl, written in the fifties and sixties. Here is a like to the work at Bleeding Cool...

A Tale of Sand

Following that panel, I went to panel called "Character Voices II" which was a panel with a half a dozen voice actors, talking about their work, and then doing a cold read of a tale about Snow White that was very funny. I will try and find a copy of it on YouTube and share it with you.

Following that, I headed across the street and donated some red blood cells via Aphaeresis. If you're not already a routine blood donor, I would encourage you to become one. It is an opportunity for you to quite literally save the life of someone you'll never meet - and that is very cool. So, by all means, donate blood.

While I was strapped to the machine, sitting there watching all the other donors, one of the cast of the HBO series "True Blood", Deborah Ann Woll, came in with her boyfriend to donate and to visit and encourage the donors. It was a very nice touch and they were a gracious couple. She chatted with donors and staff, signed autographs, and posed for pictures.

After that, once I had my free cookies and apple juice, I met Tony and Toby at Cafe Diem for lunch, then we wandered back. It was good to get off my feet, take a hot bath and just ease into the evening. The plan tomorrow is to just relax, do whatever strikes the moment, and enjoy the day. We've got two full days of pure relaxation that I am looking forward to, and then it will be back to San Jose. So, from the end of the last day of Comic Con - good night!

I Dream of Tarseem Singh

Love always begins with a preference and a passion. (That actually has nothing to do with the rest of the entry, but it was a thought in my head this morning, so I thought I would capture it here and save it.)

I dreamed of Tarseem Singh last night. He is the director of the upcoming "The Immortals" and his past work includes the Jennifer Lopez vehicle "The Cell". He is amazingly visual director and since I am a visual person, I am dazzled by his work. Yesterday we had gone to presentation for "The Immortals" and saw more footage of the film. (We'd also seen his presentation at Wondercon in San Francisco earlier in the year.)

So, last night, while I was sleeping, I dreamed that he directed a documentary of the life of an ordinary housewife in the fifties, yet it was entirely in the visually kinetic and dramatically staged style of "The Cell" or "The Immortals". Lots of billowing and flowing colors, lots of stylistic action, lots of wonderful music, and lots of dynamic posing. It was an amusing dream.

Today is the last day of Comic Con. As usual, its been nothing but fun. I have not got a ticket for next year yet - I am going to get it online rather than pre-register, in part because the changed the method for pre-registration - basically, you have to get up extra early in the morning and than go stand in line at another hotel for hours to get a ticket to buy a ticket. I am doing enough standing in line as it is and something in me rebelled at standing-in-line to get a ticket so I could stand-in-line to stand-in-line next year. I am still planning on coming next year, but I'll take my chances with online purchase. (Most of the people I know who went online last year were able to get their tickets without too much difficulty.)

They've changed the way they sell the tickets - pre-registration does not give you a price break any more, which pushes the total package up to $175 (with preview night) or $150 (without preview night).

Now, you combine that with something else that I've observed - it seems to me that attendance is down this year here. With the exception of Hall 20 (where most of the big TV show panels displayed), we've pretty much been able to get into everything we wanted to see. We even spent a couple of hours on Friday and Saturday in Hall H, in both cases dealing with truly minimal lines. That was actually awesome. From a matter of personal preference, I would like to see Comic Con drop in size to back around or under 100,000 people. That would be a good and vibrant crowd, without the significant over-crowding. (One of the signs of the off attendance has been the lines at Starbucks and the ATM's. Normally, on Saturday, give up all hope of success at either of the things. The lines were, in fact, reasonable. Also, the ability to move about the convention and the ability to move about the vendor halls were rather reasonable.)

But, all that said, it has been a great little vacation and once the convention ends today, we've got two days of vacation left. My poor foot has taken a battering, due to all the walking and line standing, but it has recovered each night fairly nicely.

Today will be a nice and relaxed day - there are a couple of panels that I would like to see, but other than that, my main plan has been to spend the day people watching and to walk the vendor. I've ventured onto the floor a couple of times, but I really haven't spent any time there. I like to get into the small press and independent sections and just wander around, maybe pick up a few pieces for enjoyment and a few pieces for the collection.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Saturday Shows - Part II

-"The Immortals", directed by Tarseem Sing

-"The Knights of Badassdom", directed by Joe Lynch

-"Snow White and the Huntsman" directed by Rupert Sanders (Charlize Theron, Kristen Stewart, Chris Hemsworth, and Sam Claflin)

And now, out for Mexican at Ponce's Mexican restaurant.
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Saturday Shows

10:00 - Attack of the Show with Kevin and Candace. Very funny panel from the folks behind a very funny show.

11:00 - Sanctuary (with Amanda Tapping). One of my favorite SyFy shows.

12:00 - Being Human - a show I've actually watched all of...once. But Tony likes it.
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A Pause on Saturday Morning

The last show we attended on Saturday was the presentation for TNT's "Falling Skies", with the full cast including Noah Wylie, Moon Bloodgood, and Will Patton. It was a fun and entertaining presentation and for the gift from the studio with got a light weight gray hoodie - with the alien "harness" from the show printed on the back of the hoodie. It is a pretty cool gift.

We had a simple dinner at the Marriott's there (I opened for crab cake and a salad), then wandered our way back through downtown to the hotel, where the day was basically done. I had a conversation with family and a conversation with T.R., then fell pretty rapidly to sleep.

Today, Saturday, is the big day for the convention - the largest crowd will be today, so, depending on how the panels stack up, today is usually the day where I spend most of the day people watching, taking pictures (the costume masquerade is tonight, so every one will be out in their costumed finest today), and wandering the floor. I may or may not slip into a couple of panel. My foot took a beating yesterday, so I am going to try and take it easy on it today.

As usual, this has been a great vacation, with good company, engaging panels, cool art, strange people, and the general niceties of San Diego. All in all a nice vacation.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Attack the Block

Aliens invade a tough neighborhood in south London. Edgar Wright. By the people who brought you Shaun of the Dead. It looks good. With Nick Frost as "Ron the Weed Dealer".
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Underworld Four

Attending the panel for Underworld Four, with Kate Beckinsale returning as the Death Dealer. "I see that there is a scene in the movie where you're naked. I just wanted to say thank you."

"The costume is just like a giant condom." Kate Beckinsale on her characters costume.

The film is shot in Real 3D. It looks hyper-kinetic and visually rich. The upcoming Blu-Ray box set will include animated shorts relating to the series.

Kate Beckinsale on acting advice from Emma Thompson - "Don't shit on anyone important."

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Relativity Media

Just saw the Relativity Media presentation with John Cusack for "The Raven". It looks excellent. I'm in Hall H - "The Big Hall" and eating lunch while waiting for the Underworld 4 presentation. A good day so far.
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Film Making By The Seat of Your Pants

They start showing a trailer for "Blackstar Warrior", think Star Wars with "Shaft" as Lando. Make for 4,000 dollars. The trailer is hilarious. The panel is the creators going through how they made the film.

-Lesson One: You Must Have A Story

-Lesson Two; Why Are You Doing This?

-Lesson Three: Choose Something With A Built In Audience

-Lesson Four: Create Buzz (they invented an elaborate backstory, and created mockmentaries about the lost scenes/film, find the on YouTube)

-Lesson Five: Spend as little money as you can. Use volunteers and keep in short and simple. They found people who had what they were looking for (R2D2, a Wookie, Storm Troopers) and paid them with sandwiches.

Lesson Six: At the end of the day, it is all about the story.

Lesson Seven: Shoot in Your Weight Class. Make a film that is an appropriate scale.
(If you plan and light your shots right, you can shoot a movie with a smart phone.)

-Lesson Eight: Make it fun. They pretended they were making an A List Feature.

-Lesson Nine: Plan, plan, and plan again.

-Lesson Ten: Plan for Disaster. It's going to happen, be ready to improvise. Keep the positivity and things will come together for you.

-Lesson Eleven: Take the time to find the "right" people and give them the latitude to do their jobs. Don't micro-manage.

-Spend your money on catering, craft services, camera/lens, and sound.

It was six months of planning for a three day shoot, cost 4000 dollars, most of it was catering. A firm believer in everyone focusing on one job (no multitasking) so they can do it well. Be gracious.

(Read "Invisible Ink" by Brian McDonald, a book about story telling)
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Critical Approaches to Comics - Theories and Methods

-Importance and relevance of the visual placement of elements of a panel. (Deliberate or Subconscious?)

-Abstract Comics as a method and not simply genre, removing narrative as an element, sequetial dynamism and iconostasis. Comics as music (opera)

-Comics as Philosophy (ethnographic studies of comic creators) Ethonography of Production: Editor Axel Alonso and the Sale of Ideas. Character as creation of the disjunction of multiple personalities involved in the creative process.

-Feminist Analysis - comics as a window on societal interpretation of feminism and the position and nature of women. Lois Lane reflects societal images of career women for seventy years. Two or more women, having a conversation, not about men.

-The birth of the superhero genre Peter Cogan. Central to genre theory is genre in relation to other genres. All superhero comics are read in relation to other superhero comics. All Star Superman is a blueprint to contruction of a superhero.

-Henry Jenkins "Convergence Culture". Is there an emergence of a discipline (academic) of comics. Comics exist across many media and so call for the most expansive view of the field.
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IO9 Panel - Science Fiction That Could Change Your Life

This was an enjoyable little panel - basically writers discussing the science fiction they liked over the last year. I took some notes and you can google some of the things to see if you like any of them.

-Charles Yu "How to Live Safely in a Science Fiction Universe"

-Collected Works of James Stokoe (a Canadian cartoonist).

-Sucker Punch (there was a great movie in there that just missed - a really bad chef working with great ingrediants)

-Source Code and Limitless - ideal driven, medium budget movie, which actually made money. (Moon from last year was 5 million)

-Tower Prep (unsupported quick dying television show - was very good, but lacked support) and a movie called "Never Let Me Go" (if The Island had been written by intelligent people)

-Torchwood: Miracle Day "The singularity happens and it totally sucks."

-A Short Story Collection - "Slightly Behind and to the Left".

-The Quantum Thief (Novel) A society completely obsessed with privacy.

-World 34 (Novel)

-Awkward Embraces web series

-Six Months, Three Days Charlie Dean Anderson

"Technology is a metaphor for what is in the soul of the writer."
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Star Wars: The Old Republic

Yesterday I went to one of the panels I was looking forward to, which was the panel on the forthcoming (holiday season 2011) Star Wars: The Old Republic MMO. It looks gorgeous and it sounds like fun and though the panel was rich on visuals and people talking about how cool the game was - there really wasn't any details, nothing about the game play, nothing about controls or leveling, etc. So, so far, all I can say is "pretty but empty". I'm definitely interested, but I had been hoping for a little more detail.

For those of you will to much time on your hands, you can sign up at Old Republic dot com for September beta testing weekends. They said they will be adding thousands of people to the beta test and opening it up for weekend runs.

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Yes, Stripper is a Costume

Well, as usual, it is a complete and total zoo down here, but it's a lot of fun. Each year, there are new wrinkles, both in the organization of the con (they are spreading out to other facilities, which is a plus (more rooms) and a minus (more walking). They remain immensely popular (more cool stuff, but bigger crowds). Today and tomorrow are the truly chaotic days. If you were to come down and not in particular be interested in the Hollywood panels (which I am only peripherally interested in), then it is still a good time. It is almost as if it is two conventions - one is the movie and television side of the convention (which draws massive crowds, huge lines, etc.) and the other is the comic book and graphic arts part of the convention (which is quite reasonable, all in all). Today's plan, at least for me, is to take it entirely as it goes and engage in a lot of old fashioned people watching.

One of the wrinkles I will write about more later is - I may not be able to get pre-registration badges for 2012 on site this year. They've changed the mechanics of it - moved it to another hotel and capped the number they are selling each day. Consequently, the line has started at very early (6:00 AM or earlier) and has quickly sold out for the day once the door opens. Additionally, they've capped the number of total pre-registration sales on site, so they can have a quantity to sell over the web. I definitely understand why they would take a different approach - I cannot over emphasize the total zoo like qualities of the event. Just watch out for the lions!

Oh yeah, and once again I am reminded of a thought that always pops into my mind when I am people watching. "Yes, "stripper" is a costume."

Hotel at Night

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Thursday, July 21, 2011

Dragon Age Redemption

That first panel was mainly a sneak peek of an upcoming web series called "Dragon Age: Redemption" (star and producer Felicia Day"). The production value and the sound of the demo were excellent. It looks like it will be entertaining. They don't have a release date yet, but it will be forthcoming.

When the panel wrapped up, we checked the line to Ballroom 20, the 2nd largest venue. The line was insane. Tony wanted to see the Game of Thrones panel, but standing in that giant line was definitely prohibitive.

Tony had heard the rumor that the Twilight fans had actually been camped out for Hall H since Sunday night. Fans are incredible. I had commented the only thing that would make me stand in line that long was Kristen Stewart doing unprintable things. Then I might stand in line for four days!

Speaking of lines, we're currently waiting to get into the next panel on my list...
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First Panel: Web Series

Okay, after an hour standing in line we're seated in our first panel - about web based series, how they work, etc. The main guest speaker is Felicia Day of "The Guild".
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Still Point

I woke about five thirty AM this morning and lay there in the darkness, waiting for the still point of the day. You know that point - that moment when the night surrenders to the dawn, that moment when all the world is precariously balanced on a very fine scale and darkness and light weigh in equal measures the very nature of our souls. A perfect moment.

From there, it was a shower, a shave, and a cup of hot coffee. (The coffee machine here is fine, but - it's no Gort (Gort is my Kuerig at home). Still, Gort's little cousin provides a serviceable cup of coffee.

Today is the first day of the San Diego Comic Con, so I packed my shoulder bag of necessary goodies to survive a day at the convention center (snacks, water, ibuprofren and sunscreen), making sure to leave enough room for the variety of things that will be available. If I have a plan this convention - I want to spend a significant amount of time on the vendor floor, weaving my way in and out among the various vendors and artists and talent, with an eye out for something cool.

Here at the resort, many of the people in the resort are attending the convention. Last night, during badge pickup, we stood in line with a young woman and her son who have come in from Manila, which was pretty impressive. I've been sitting here on the patio watching the people starting to flow out to head downtown - the convention runs shuttle buses from this hotel, the train is just out back, and you can always drive. Parking is tight downtown, unless you get there early or late. In all the years we've been coming, I think I've only bounced off full parking lots two or three times, and then usually because we were running late.

Well, I am looking forward to the start of the four day event, as I move through the still-point of the morning. I may go to short updates from the Blackberry as I weave through the day, assuming that AT&T has the capacity. (Yes, there are so many people in Comic Con, texting, tweeting, and calling on their cell phones, that sometimes the cellular networks go over capacity and you just hope for a signal.)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

A Day in Pictures

The day went well - I've two picture sets for you viewing pleasure.

Official San Diego Comic Con 2011 Publications

These are six pictures of one of the official bags (there are several variations) and the official program and souvenir book. I spent part of the evening browsing through both of them, then had an excellent conversation with T.R., while dining on mushroom soup and hot wings.

Incidental Pictures from Wednesday in San Diego

This second set of pictures includes Janet's Montana Cafe in Alpine, some more pictures of the Town & Country resort, and a pair of pictures from the line to get our badges for the convention. Tony went down to the preview night but I skipped it - I was tuckered from standing in line and wanted to make sure I moved on a smooth pace through the weekend and didn't burn out on the first couple of days.

So, tonight, I am going to get a good night sleep - and tomorrow will be the first official day of San Diego Comic Con 2011 for me.

Interior - Janet's Montana Cafe

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Strange Sleep

The first night sleeping in a strange place is always a bit of a challenge. You have to adjust to a new bed, a new pillow, the feel of new sheets and the incidental sounds of both the building and the life that swirls around the building. For a first night, last night was a not a bad night for sleeping in strange places. As always, with a new bed, there is a degree of shifting about to find that comfortable position, that intimate balance shared between your body and your old bed. If you're lucky, you find it quick enough - if not, you may toss and turn until dawn comes. Fortunately, I found that spot fairly quickly.

I am an early riser, so I was awake at 5:00 AM or so and just sort of forced myself to linger in bed, waiting for the day to open up. Around me, outside of the hotel room, I was surprised to hear other people waking and moving about, starting their day. With San Diego being the tourist destination that it is, I am sure some of them were headed out to get an early start on some summer sports for the day - the beach perhaps, or a walk in the mountains, or morning on some unknown vista.

I finally rolled out of the bed, took a nice hot shower (excellent water pressure and temperature by the way - few things can ruin a hotel stay like miserable water pressure and uneven temperatures), shaved, dressed, and made a cup of coffee. At this moment, I am sitting on the red-brick patio in front of the hotel room, drinking my coffee, listening to the morning sounds of San Diego waking up, and watching the hotel staff move about as they prepare to start their days. It is kind of peaceful, if only because the highway sounds like the tumbling of some distant river.

(If you look in the previous entry, you'll see a link to some pictures from the resort - the one with the red brick patio and the white wrought iron furniture is where I am sitting at this very moment.)

The plan today is breakfast at Janet's Montana Cafe in Alpine, about thirty miles to the east. I also mentioned it in yesterdays entry - I am definitely looking forward to it - the times we've been there before the food has been excellent. Then lunch with Tony's friends at one of the local Indian casino's (I think the Barona, unless they plan on driving farther than I think). During the afternoon they've got the satellite badge pick up here at the Town & Country Resort, so we can get our passes to San Diego Comic Con ahead of the maddening crowd. Then, we may or may not go downtown tonight for Preview Night. Right now, we are inclined to, but it will most likely depend on how the day goes.

So, with that quick summary, I am off to start the day - wish me luck!

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Tuesday in San Diego

Tuesday in San Diego

Today was a traveling day. We flew down from San Jose about mid-day for a lazy afternoon and evening here in San Diego. It definitely feels like it is vacation now. Part of it is the traveling, part of it is the destination and part of it is just...being. I shot the above incidental photos today, most of them here at the Town & Country Resort. I consider it sort of a warm-up run for the long convention weekend.

Our plan for tomorrow is to head up to Janet's Montana Cafe in Alpine, California for breakfast. It has become a sort of San Diego tradition for us, since we first discovered the place a few years ago. I had read an article that said it was the best breakfast in San Diego country and while that might be a pretty high standard, I can quite honestly state that the food there is excellent. Their Spanish Omelet is simply outstanding. Then, following breakfast, we're going to circle back into San Diego and join two friends of Tony's for lunch.

Later in the afternoon we can pick up our tickets for the weekend and we will, most likely, head down to preview night - though, I might pass on preview night. Preview night is mostly about touring the vendor floor and getting a jump on the acquisition of goodies. It can be fun, but I have not really been in a goody acquisition phase for a while. (In keeping with the whole movement toward minimalism, my goodies are headed in the opposite direction.) Plus that, there are going to be plenty of opportunities to stock up on stuff over the next couple of days.

Tomorrow will be a nice and easy day and then the four days of fun will start from there! (My excitement will gradually increase as each day approaches.)

Monday, July 18, 2011

The Morning's Thought

Freed from the discipline of the clock, we are bound only by the habits of the heart.
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Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Third Day of Vacation - An Incidental Day

If I had to characterize today I would call it a day of odds and ends. Breakfast with friends, I stop at the car wash, a few errands, a movie, some cleaning, and assembling some empty boxes for use tomorrow. Tomorrow will feel like the first true day of vacation because tomorrow will be the first day where I have to go to work but don't. The last three days were simply like an extended three-day weekend which happens to me every other week. But tomorrow, tomorrow morning when I wake up, I will lay there in the full realization that I don't have to go to work.

I have four things planned tomorrow. I want to do a couple loads of laundry. I want to wash the bathroom walls. I want to box the contents of my DVD collection. Finally, I want to pack my bags for San Diego. That should fill the day nicely. It might sound like a lot but really it's not, and should flow smoothly. I've got 10 empty boxes sitting here in the living room but I won't need them all for my DVD collection. Some of them will end up holding some stray books that have to go. I'm anticipating that sorting my book collection is actually going to be much tougher than sorting my DVD collection. I've already been through multiple sorts of my books, so what remains are the cream of the crop. I guess what I have to do is skim some of that cream off. Will see how good I am at it tomorrow.

As I played on the computer tonight I struggled with sleep. I should've taken a nap in the afternoon. I thought about it but then I got caught up washing the ceiling in the bathroom of all things. It had to be done! Of course, that's what we compel me to wash the walls tomorrow. You can't just wash the ceiling, you have to do the whole thing. Well, I am definitely looking forward to tomorrow! I am going to love that feeling when I lay in bed and realize I don't have to get up. Realize that Monday belongs to me. It's going to be a great feeling.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

The Second Day of Vacation - I Try Not To Run Errands

Today was the second day of my vacation and I started by lingering in bed. I spent some quality time with TR. I had a bowl of oatmeal. I had a cup of coffee. I sat in the living room in the silence of the morning, drinking my coffee, and listening to the birds sing. I thought about how overstimulated our lives can be in this modern age.

Breakfast was with Bob and Tony at the Hickory Pit, followed by a walk-through at Fry's Electronics, where I picked up a SD memory card for my video camera. I also grabbed a few other miscellaneous things I thought I needed and one of those things was Neil Young's greatest hits. the Neil Young CD kind of reached out and grabbed me because Tony was talking about the song "Cinnamon Girl" while we were at breakfast. Besides, you can never go wrong with Neil Young.

After breakfast I went out to run a couple of errands and had to slow myself down because I found myself rushing through the tasks. I literally stopped myself and reminded myself that there was no reason to rush. Normally I like to knock off all of my errands in one day on the weekend since it will leave me the other day free. Without really thinking about it I had slipped into that rhythm. So I told myself "slow down, slow down, slow down" and picked up assorted odds and ends that I've been needing.

Then I headed home, unpacked the items I bought, put some of them away, and put the rest to use. I spent a very lazy afternoon doing some incidental cleaning and watching the DVR. I watched an episode of "Haven" from SyFy, I watched an episode of "Torchwood: Miracle Day" from Starz, and I watched a Gemma Atherton movie "Tamara Drewe". All of them were worth watching. I especially enjoyed the movie with Gemma Atherton. It was sort of a sweet quirky little movie, which almost always gets me. I thought the best characters in the movie were the two young teenage girls who serve as sort of a Greek chorus, observing and commenting on all the goings-on. I'd recommend it if you can find it On Demand or on Netflix.

While I was sitting in my chair watching the DVR I also engaged in a little bit of cleaning. In my bathroom there are two drawers under the sink, under the vanity - they are incidental drawers and they end up with incidental toiletries. I emptied both the drawers, surveyed all the stuff inside, threw about half of it away, and cleaned the rest and put it back. When I say cleaned I mean scrubbed in hot water and took a toothbrush to them, where appropriate. It was productive and it fulfilled the needs of my cleaning bug.

There is a Zen simplicity in cleaning. The repetitiveness of the tasks, the rhythms, the ability to fall into a sort of mindful state while you're cleaning is powerful stuff. So that was my day in a nutshell. Enjoyable. Simple. Productive. Entertaining.

I also, while I was on my errands, stopped and picked myself up a birthday present. My birthday is coming up next week, and there was an item that I've been meaning to get for several months now, but kept forgetting. It isn't a must-have but it was definitely a want to have kind of thing. It's the Kindle III. I have a Kindle II of course and I've spoken of my love for it. My II is several years old has seen better days so I've decommissioned it and stepped into the newer product. I'm going to enjoy it.

Steak and Potatoes


1 - Rib-Eye Steak, your choice of size and cut. (I prefer mine well marbled).
1 - Dry Rub (your favorite)
8 - Small Yukon Gold Potatoes
1/2 Cup of Bleu Cheese

About two hours before you're ready to cook lightly tenderize the steak and then rub it down with your favorite rub. Place it in the refrigerator.

Wash the potatoes, place them in a pot of cool water, and start the water boiling. You'll boil them until they are fork tender (about twenty to twenty five minutes on my stove). As the potatoes start to heat turn the oven broiler on and set the rack about five inches from the broiler.

Once the broiler is heated up, place the steak on a small broiler pan and put it into the oven. Broil the first side of steak for six minutes. At the end of size minutes, turn the steak and broil for three additional minutes. Then, liberally sprinkle the steak with bleu cheese crumbles and put it back into the broiler for another two or three minutes, until the cheese is melted and browned. Take the steak from the oven and let it set on the counter (always let a broiled steak set for five to ten minutes once cooked, this will ensure the meat is evenly cooked through and through).

When the potatoes are done (you'll be able to easily slip a fork through them), place them on the plate with the steak and serve. (I generally lightly dust them with pepper). You can compliment it however you want - I prefer a mixed green salad. It is a very simple, very hearty meal that is quick and easy to prepare. With a little bit of practice, you can get the timing down perfectly for yourself.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Running Toward Emptiness

I've been on the journey toward minimalism for the better part of a year and a half now. It was a natural inclination that found a window of opportunity when I was recovering from surgery last year and was definitely inspired and encouraged by TR. She is my touchstone of simplicity among other things.

I woke up this morning thinking about minimalism, thinking about the journey to simplicity, and specifically thinking about what my next steps will be. I've got new carpet coming into the apartment on the 29th. To facilitate that I need to move everything off the old carpet onto the portions of the apartment that are hardwood or linoleum. Since I've minimalized it's all actually going to all probably fit in the kitchen.I may move some of the longer term storage stuff out to the storage unit near my carport. I've flagged half a dozen items of furniture to go.

And I'm about to start when may be close to the final run to simplicity. As I approach it I feel like I felt when I donated my Encyclopaedia Britannica. I feel attached to the things I'm going to sort through and donate. Though there is no real attachment when I think about it it's all an illusion. One of my other personal touchstones as I've gone through this process has been sort of the utilitarian approach to it. I made sure the value of things based on whether or not I use them. It takes some effort but I've learned to set aside my assigned value. I'm learning to understand that just because society or someone else thinks something has value doesn't mean it actually does.

So that brings me to the point where I'm standing right here, right now. Having spent the day in contemplation, having searched for some sort of theme, some sort of inspirational reference, I decided to take an approach that will limit what I retain. Two of the areas where I'm going to do some healthy purging are my movie collection and my books. Now, I haven't touched my movie collection yet. I have previously purchased a lot of books. The book part of it is going to be fairly easy, the reality of many of these books is as much as I like them I don't use them.

And it's that same reality that's going to let me purge a big portion of my movie collection. The truth of the matter is two thirds of my movies I will in all probability never watch again. I'm going to try and restrict it even more, I'm going to try and keep only 50 movies at the most. I'm going to aim at keeping 50 movies and 50 books. I'm going to aim at keeping one five shelf bookcase. I'm going to try and get the entire collection into it.

Honestly, I expected to be hard. Donating the Encyclopaedia Britannica's set was not easy. I really struggled with that for several months. But in the end utility wins out. If I'm not using it what value does it truly half. Most of the movies you can buy for five bucks to for 10 some cheaper some may be a dollar or so more. And of course it got almost no resale value two bucks at best. So why let them take up the space in my life? Purely and simply they need to go.

TR said something the other day when we were talking about a related subject that's actually given me some fuel for this last purge. We were talking about the changes of technology and she had commented that everything of course is going digital and that includes our movies and music. That was an inspiring thing to say. DVD's are going the way of videotapes, they are nearing the end of their run. Regardless of my attachment to them their value falls every single day.with on demand and streaming they've rapidly becoming irrelevant.

So here I sit, on the edge of another short journey of simplicity, coming closer and closer to my goal of minimalism. I'm actually kind of excited about it. I think that the end of this cycle of purging I'm going to come very close to having maybe 10% of what I had when I started two years ago.

Now there is one thing that I'm keeping, one item that I'm clinging to. That item is my comic book collection. My collection of comic books and graphic novels and trades. I'm going to parse through it in the coming months, simply because it needs a good pruning. But that's a pruning I actually routinely do. Like novels some comic books are read once and forget. When it comes time to forget them you simply forget them. Comic books and graphic novels are one medium that has yet to successfully migrate into the digital world. Oh, you can find all kinds of scanned works on the internet. But, a big part of the older of comic books and graphic novels is the format.with that format comes a certain look, certain feel, certain texture.

TR and I had talked about that in regards to regular books. I'm a big fan of my Kindle, I do probably 80% of my reading on the Kindle.but there are certain books we need the actual book. There is a substance to a book that's lost in the digital media. Again, it's texture, it's scent, it's look, it's feel. All of those contribute to the nature of books themselves. It's definitely a Neo-Platonic kind of thing.the shadow of the book is not the book itself. Electronic text is just a shadow of a book. We can learn a lot from that shadow, that shadow can be very revealing, but in the end there is some substance, some invisible essence, that resides in the form of a book. There is a purity in a book, appeared either doesn't exist in electronic text. Poetry, art, philosophy, great literature – all of those best reside between the covers of a book. Does my lifelong love affair with books reveal itself? Good, it should.

The First Day of Vacation - Lunch and Horrible Bosses

Well, today was the first official day of vacation. I did my best to move effortlessly through the day. I had a supremely lazy morning, and I met a pair of friends for lunch at the Sonoma Chicken Coop in Campbell.well, I met one friend of mine in Campbell, the other one got twisted around and went to the same restaurant but in the wrong city. I took the blame for that I had only known there was one and he knew of another and when we spoke of it we both assumed we were talking about the same place.still, I think what's important is that I needed to lunch and it was a good lunch.

After lunch we went out and saw the movie Horrible Bosses. I was a little reluctant to see it because I wasn't sure if it was actually going to be funny or not. I can report that it was pretty amusing and there were a couple laugh out loud minutes. So, I think I would recommend that you catch a matinee. Jennifer Aniston is of course very funny in the movie. She has always had a comedic gift. Her character in the movie is, well, slightly more than twisted. Which makes for some very funny scenes.

Now it's the early part of the evening, I'm sitting in the living room talking to my computer, having just had pizza for dinner. It was a Hawaiian pizza ham and pineapple and fairly good. I chased it with a glass of iced green tea. I don't really have a plan tonight mostly I've been thinking about minimalism. I'm going to wrap this entry here and save it. I actually started out to write about minimalism about the last run to minimalism but that I just update you on the day instead. Following this all right the article on minimalism.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Gift of Slowing Down

At four clock p.m. today my vacation officially began. It was a quick day with about seven hours of it spent in meetings. I was in meetings from 8:30 AM until 3:30 PM. During those meetings I had no choice but to multitask, to work my way through the buckets of e-mail I wanted to try and clean out. I did a fairly good job. I have a bit of work that I want to do this coming weekend, I handful of e-mail that I have to write, some analysis that I want to get sent off. Nothing major, just a few hours of work.

After work I met Tony it By the Bucket for pizza. It's an Italian restaurant, and a pizzeria, and a seafood restaurant all rolled into one. The food there is excellent. The service is also very good. It can get a little expensive but expensive is always relative. It was an excellent way to start a vacation.

After that I came home and switched into some comfortable clothes and basically just put my feet up. I watched an episode of Warehouse 13 on DVR. I made a couple of phone calls to friends and family. Then I fired up my computer and started playing with Dragon NaturallySpeaking again. I tried to update my journal here in Internet Explorer nine using Dragon NaturallySpeaking, but I didn't have much success. The problem wasn't to Dragon, the problem was Internet Explorer. I'm not really sure what it is but I seem to have problems updating blogger when I am in IE 9. Things don't seem to work like they should, it's like I'm missing some plug-in, or I don't have a setting in the right configuration. Maybe I'll take a little time while I'm on vacation play with it and see if I can clear it up.

I'm hoping to spend a good portion of time on this vacation just reading and writing and relaxing. Just the ability to slow down is such a gift in our busy world. I think that's a powerful argument for keeping the Sabbath day holy, just take a whole day, and do nothing with it. Okay, maybe that's not the intention of the Sabbath, but that would sure be nice. Of course, the reality of it is I could do that if I want, it's just a matter of choice. Once again we find ourselves circling back around to one of my favorite subjects choice.

The power of choice to shape our world is astounding. Our unwillingness to recognize that power can be equally as outstanding. Sometimes it seems like we move through life seeking someone else to take responsibility for decisions. Almost as if there was a deep-seated need to blame. It really doesn't matter who we ultimately blame, just that we have someone to blame, just that the responsibility lies somewhere else. Mindfulness is never easy. Awareness is never easy. Being present is never easy. Making choices is never easy. Yet they are all remarkably simple.

But those simple things can be such a challenge.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

The Dragon Speaks

Well, I'm about to enter a new world of technology.This is the first time I am using Dragon NaturallySpeaking to update my blog.I installed the program on my computer earlier this evening. I've been playing with it ever since. Of course with it being a new technological toy I'm entirely fascinated by it. It's not perfect both the program and I have some learning to do. But for the most part it works very well. Now, I normally update my blogs through Firefox. It doesn't seem as crisp in Firefox as it is in Internet Explorer. For example, it seems to have a problem capitalizing the first letter of a sentence. There is a portion of the program called Natural Punctuation that determines where certain punctuation marks go. It seems to work better in the Microsoft Word and Microsoft office suite programs. Part of it of course is it's a learning program so as I'm learning it, it's learning me. It may take a little while for the two of us to get to know each other well.

But I will on hesitantly say this so far I like what I see. Now, there is always a possibility that to the neighbors I'm going to sound insane sitting here talking to myself. But, that shouldn't come as a surprise to them I think I established that more than once in more than one way. The mad dancing around the living room to Celtic music probably gave me away the first Saturday morning I was here. I really should learn to close the window. But you never know when the voyeurs need something to watch.

I did something I rarely do with new software. I took the time to actually listen to the tutorial. This of course violates the guy code. One of the central tenants of the guy code is that we never ever read the instructions. That also holds true for any tutorials. We must, by law, ignore them completely if at all possible. But, trust me, every now and then in the dark of the night we secretly read them.

Tomorrow is my last day of work before my vacation begins. To say I'm looking forward to it would be an understatement. I've been looking forward to it since last week. This week has passed very quickly as I tried to get as much as I can off my plate.I've been marginally successful. I have managed to close quite a few things and I've managed to get a few other things delayed. I am still going to be going into the vacation about a dozen open items which is more than I'm comfortable with. But, life is what life is! I'm also equally certain that it will all be there for me when I come back including some stuff that's not there now. I've got three projects I want to close on tomorrow and they're mostly just writing. Some going to spend the day writing and weeding and out of meetings. I'm sure that I'm going to end up doing some additional writing over the weekend simply to get closure on a few things. And, as much as I hate to admit it, I am sure I'm going to check my e-mail a couple of times at least one on vacation.

There is basically an ulterior motive for that. It's always rough to come back from vacation and walk into a storm you're not expecting. By monitoring your e-mail when you're on vacation you give yourself peace of mind. You can sleep better at night. Our imagination is the main thing that interrupts our lives. If you're worried about what's going on at work or simply concerned about it then just by all means check your e-mail.

Things seem to be ramping up at work, there are a lot of changes, there are a lot of programs growing and expanding. There is always a level of stress that comes with change. Uncertainty does that to us. It gets inside of our brain and just kind of hangs there, just kind of sits there, just kind of waits. I'm not sure world the changes going at work, I'm not sure of the direction it's heading in. They are doing some things that I don't understand and some of their processes are confusing me. In large part it doesn't seem to me like there's a single guiding principle involved, it seems like they're embracing change for change's sake. I suspect there's a driver behind it but so far, at least at my level, it's a hidden driver. I hope in the near future that somebody illuminates it. But, it wouldn't be a first time in my career that I went to a large period of uncertainty.

In the and we are all children of fate. We like to imagine we have more influence than we do. That isn't said to deny the influence we do have but it's a simple statement. We may be the children of fate but the particulars of that fate are decided by our choice. That holds true in the work environment as well.

Well let me wrap up this entry was the final plug for Dragon NaturallySpeaking. I have the home version. I'm not sure if having the professional version would make any difference. I say that simply because I am honestly really impressed with this version. I've been playing with it for probably the better part of three hours now. About 90% of the time when it makes what appears to be a mistake the source of the mistake is me. either I didn't use the words my brain thought I did, or I mispronounce something, or I simply misused a word. There is a feature that allows you to play back which you just dictated and that is a pretty cool thing. You can listen to it and it helps you realize where you're making the mistake. I haven't played with the learning functions of the program yet, but I am definitely looking forward to that. There are a few pieces of slang in my vocabulary that when I think about it I can cut them out of it, but otherwise a keep sneaking in. I say things like kinda and "ennit". "Ennit" is a contraction of "ain't it. It is pure reservation slang and one of the things I've held onto all these years. I also have a habit of saying crick and not creek.I'm sure over the passage of time I'm going to pop up with some other words there to confuse the heck out of the program.

So, from a brave new technological world I bid you good night.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

A Day, A TV Show and a Book

Well, every day ends. Today ended well. I am sitting in the living room with my feet up, having just had dinner and watched the latest episode of TNT's "Falling Skies", which I am enjoying - in large part because I think the triad of Will Patton, Noah Wylie and Moon Bloodgood are a set of very enjoyable actors, and in part because, well, I am a sucker for nearly anything that has to do with alien invasions.

The day passed quickly at work - I've been focused on trying to get as much cleared from my desk as I can before the vacation starts. I always hate leaving anything behind but I am not going to really have any choice this time around. Fortunately, I am not leaving anything major behind - just a lot of small stuff. I spent a good portion of the day today delving deeply into the operational metrics for the first half of the year and that kind of interesting. I always love crunching data because there is so much revealed (and concealed) in the counts.

My plan tonight is a simple one - I am going to spend time with TR and then read my way into the night. I haven't had much of a change lately to invest a few hours in reading, so I am going to make up for that tonight (and I am planning to make up for a lot of it while I am on vacation). I am currently reading a good Science Fiction book called "Spares" by Michael Marshall Smith. It's a book TR recommended and I instantly liked it from the first chapter. It is very well written and it quickly draws the reader in. I am about a third of the way into it and I wanted to read more deeply and make more headway because I am curious about how it is going to turn out. So, with that curiosity intact, I am off to read myself to sleep.

Semi-Random Thoughts Early on a Tuesday

An early morning here in California. I went to sleep last night about 9:30 or so, after spending some time with T.R. and I fell straight into a deep sleep. I woke up this morning about 4:30 AM with no memories of dreaming, rested and refreshed. I laid there in the darkness for a while, contemplating the nature of the universe, and decided falling back asleep wasn't in the cards today. I got up, had Gort brew me a cup of coffee, made a bowl of cereal, and than settled in to ease my way into the day.

I mentioned in an earlier entry that I had gone up to the Los Altos Art & Wine festival and had a good time. As usual, I carried my camera with me. I posted five new pictures to my Flickr account. As I went through them I was amused that, of my favorite pictures from the day, none of them actually have anything to do with the festival. One of the pictures includes a couple sake bottles, but that was entirely incidental.

Here is the link: Los Altos Art and Wine 2011

I'm in final countdown to vacation of course. I have three days of work left and I am planning on going in a little early today, since I like to leave work as cleanly as possible when I start vacation. I already have one meeting planned while I am on vacation, but it is a pretty straightforward thing in support of a project I am a contributor on. It's a pretty top down driven program, so my contributions are limited. (The project team has been told what their result is going to be, so there really isn't any creativity or imagination there.)

The apartment complex here is going to install new lighting (ceiling lights with fans) in three rooms and new carpet on the 29th. So, on the 28th I've got to get all the stuff in the apartment (fortunately, there isn't a lot of it) moved off the carpet. Supposedly they can do the whole place in a single day, so it will be inconvenient but not to bad. I am looking forward to getting the new carpet. Between here and there, into the first couple of days of my vacation, I am going to do some more purging. I've got approximately six items of furniture and some more small stuff that I need to get rid of as I continue on my journey of minimalism. I parse out things I don't need or use and continually find, layered beneath them, more things that I don't need or use. It's been an interesting journey and I am curious where it is going to end up.

We're entering a period of high change at work, with many teams running in many directions looking at many projects, and changes in the process of how we actually operate as a larger entity. As with all change, the verdict is still out. There are things being done now that I do not like (my objection has primarily been with process, not results), as we seem to be transitioning to a very top down structure. Quite frankly, I am not sure it is going to work, but that may definitely be reflected in my own philosophy that an open and collaborative environment is far more effective and efficient. My boss came around the other day and scheduled a series of meetings for some workload redistribution and then asked us how we were feeling about it and I responded "ask the question again in ninety days". It's going to be a personal challenge for me to try and embrace changes I don't necessarily believe in, that I may in some cases actual think is movement in the wrong direct - but the thing I keep reminding myself is - everything changes.

To keep me focused, I've got one of my favorite little haiku displayed on my computer desktop at work. It is from Eric Lustbader's "The Golden Naginata".

We were dawn's dewdrops
Blasted from existence.
We were never stone.

I think it speaks eloquently to the transitory nature of the world, including the working world. The only constant is change. I think that as long as I keep reminding myself of that, I should be fine. I am currently in a place where I am well equipped to deal with the rising stress that comes with change. I will just approach in a focused and disciplined manner, with my sense of curiosity intact, using the variety of stress management techniques I had refreshed during my time in work stress counseling. Chief among those is this - give an honest days work, do the best you can, and don't become attached to the outcome.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The Hedonism of the Day

I got home last night and spent the evening watching "Neverwhere", a BBC television series written by Neil Gaiman. I own it on DVD and enjoy it immensely. On Friday I'd watched the season premiere of "Torchwood: Miracle Day" and that reminded me that I hadn't watched Neverwhere in a while, so I watched all six episodes yesterday and this morning (it's six thirty minute episodes).

Last night though, it was nice and cool and I curled into bed, in that warm cocoon the covers make, with the windows open and a fan slowly turning. I slept deeply and richly. When I woke this morning I was more comfortable then I remember feeling in a long time. I think it was a combination of a cool night, of clean sheets and a warm blanket, and my brain starting to spin down as it anticipates my upcoming vacation. I've got four working days until my vacation starts and I am already in count-down mode. I am going to struggle this week at work not to be to happy!

In the midst of the comfort of that night, I had an interesting dream. I dreamed I was riding a bicycle through the parking lot of a grocery store in the wee hours of the morning. I rode all the way across the parking lot only to discover the far side was blocked off by a chain link fence and I had to turn around and go back the way I had come. Except, in the dream, there was a man standing in the only way out of the fenced in area. I rode up to him and we exchanged words and, without recalling the details, in the dream I came to the conclusion that he was going to try and rob me. I habitually carry pepper-spray when I can (I can't carry it at work, so that is about the only exception). It's a habit I developed many years ago when I was a police officer and learned the value of pepper-spray in self-defense circumstances. The nature of that beast is you may go your entire life and never need your pepper-spray, but if the time and circumstances arrive where you need it - well, you are going to need it and be glad it's there. Anyway, in the dream, I dipped my hand into my jacket pocket, pulled out the canister, flipped it off safe and pepper-sprayed the guy. I then simply rode around him in the dream. But, as I left him there is in the parking lot, staggering around and whimpering, I had mercy on him. I went into the grocery store, bought a gallon of water and a roll of paper towels, and came out and helped him rinse and wipe the pepper spray off. It was about there that I woke up.

As I mentioned earlier, I spent a bit of time this morning watching the last two episode of "Neverwhere" and then went out and met some of my friends for breakfast. After a good breakfast I stopped at the market, picked up a few odds and ends, and then headed home. I ran a few errands around home and then headed up to the Los Altos Art & Wine Festival, where I spent the bulk of the afternoon simply listening to music, people watching, and visiting with a friend of mine from work. It was an excellent way to spend the entire afternoon.

At the end of the day I came home, had a pair of sandwiches for dinner, watched two episodes of Mythbusters and took a long, hot, soaking bath. All in all, it was a hedonistic day, and very enjoyable. My plan tonight is to read the most recent issue of National Geographic (about Cleopatra) and spend some time with TR. The countdown to vacation is well underway!

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Days Wrapped In Their Own Simplicity

It is a simple Saturday morning. We've had a run of nice summer weather for the last week, with days in mid-eighties, which felt really good. Last night, it cooled off nicely and I woke this morning to a cool and gray day. I am loving the simplicity and relative silence of the day. I am sitting here in the living room, listening to the clock on the wall ticking, the birds outside singing, and the sounds of the street as the morning begins to move. I love days like this, days wrapped in their own simplicity, where things are what they simply are.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Suddenly, the Absurdity of It

I've written a couple of times in the recent past about work (though, as usual, I write vaguely, so as to protect both the innocent and the guilty). Let me summarize real quick - lately, one of the people I report up into has been causing me some degree of anxiety, for a variety of reasons.

It is the usual corporate inanity that influences tens of thousands of workers in tens of thousands of jobs, so there really isn't anything spectacular about it. I am a firm believer that all people are distributed on a bell curve and some folks are below average and some folks are above average and that's just kind of the way it goes.

The same holds true for management - there are bad managers, there are good managers, and there are all the other managers in between. I've had some great managers over the years - my current manager is one of the best in a dozen different ways. The person I am currently challenged by - well, not so much.

Today when I woke up and went through my morning routines, before driving into the office, my monkey mind has seized on this upper manager - not in a particularly stressful way, but in a way where I was moving the pieces of the jigsaw puzzle around, sorting out a variety of incidents and observations and trying to find how they all fit together. As I went through this process during the drive to work I was suddenly struck by...

The absurdity of it. This is an individual who is fairly well qualified (on paper) and middling high up the corporate food chain. But, what it really comes down to is - they're floundering. Their actions are not the actions of a confident leader. They're the actions of someone who is lost and flailing around trying to find something to grab hold of. Now, in corporate terms, that doesn't make them any less dangerous - anytime upper management starts flailing, pieces can get broken.

The trick to the game of corporate survival is to try not to be one of the pieces that gets broken in the flailing. Most of the time, once you're aware of it, you can dodge it, stay nimble, and move through the subsequent chaos. Sometimes a random bit of flailing will take a piece of you and sometimes that random bit of flailing will knock you entirely out of the corporation. That is just the way it goes - fate, at its finest.

I firmly believe there is a force that moves through the universe (I call it God, or the Mystery, being Catholic). I think there is a plan and sometimes we get glimpses of that plan and other times part of it are sprung on us. I've been working for thirty plus years - I've been successful, by my own terms and to a degree by societal terms, everywhere I've worked. If I were to lose my job tomorrow, konked by a random flail, I would do what I have pretty much always done - thrive.

That is the absurdity of worrying about it. First, most of it is beyond my choice - I can only make the choices I make, according to things I value. How other people choose to react is beyond me. The choices they make I can, maybe, marginally influence. Wherever this path goes, whatever twists and turns it makes in the course of that journey - I have faith in The Plan. It is absurd to be overly concerned about the flailing of one upper manager. What happens to them will be according to their own little version of The Plan. (Isn't pre-destination a wonderful tool for us to find a modicum of peace in a turbulent world?)

So, today, struck by the absurdity of what I am observing, I spent most of the day working on the tasks in front of me, being present in the moment, and laughing as I viewed things through the tinted glasses of absurdist theater that are the best corporate goggles, I found a spot of peace.

Movie Review - Stone

Last night I caught a movie on my DVR and then watched it tonight, after dinner, as I eased my was into the evening. The movie was "Stone" with Robert DeNiro, Edward Norton and Milla Jovovich. I had seen it pass by in the theaters last year, but missed it. It was...unexpected.

First off, that is just an excellent cast, pure and simple, DeNiro, Norton and Jovovich are all great actors who can brilliantly portray badly damaged people. Without providing any spoilers, let me just say that both the arc of the story and the arc of the individual characters take some unexpected turns - and for me, as a jaded movie goer, to say unexpected, then it must be - not even the expected unexpected, but the truly unexpected.

I'd recommend the movie if you have a quiet evening and want to feed your brain something of a little substance.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Light of Minimalism

Well, a sudden flurry of action on my road toward a more minamalist life style and it was all sparked by the the death of my lamp. For more that a few years I've had a black halogen torch style lamp as my primary lamp in the livin room.

On Satuday, it died - it simply stopped working and some basic trouble shooting could not reveal the problem so I decided it was time to get a new lamp. With a little help from T.R. I found an excellent lamp (Possini Euro Lightstack). I checked it out online and instantly knew that it was the one.

On Monday, after a game of pool at Edgies in Milpitas, I drove to Lamps Plus and gave it an in person inspection - it pased with flying color - great lines, great texture, excellent warranty. The only challenge was loading it into my car - the box it came in was taller than I was. Fortunately, with a bit of a front seat overlap, it fit.

I got it home and spend some time assembling it, having made a strategic error earlier in the day by vacuuming the living room floor and then unpacking the light. Once assembled I moved it into place and was instantly pleased by the purchase.

Besides being a great looking and working lamp it "fits" on a certain level. The old lamp was the bright halogen and this one is a significantly softer and warmer light.

On Tuesday, in the aftermath of the lamp, after work, I came home and went through my living room - removing and moving the incidental furniture around to open the room up even more. (It amazes me as I go minimalist how there always seems to be more room to go even farther in a minimalist direction.)

Once I'd cleaned the furniture out, I re-vacuumed the floor and made some minor rearrangements. I don't quite think the living room is in it's final configuration - but it is close to it, closer than it has been in a long time. Then, tonight, in the shadow of the new living room, I took the time to pack a couple of boxes of gently used clothing to donate tomorrow. I am constantly amazed that the process of moving toward a more minimalist life often moves in inspirational waves and that there always seems more stuff to go.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

On A Slow Sunday Morning

It was fairly hot here yesterday, ending the day in the mid-eighties and taking that long, slow cool down into the night that foreshadows the heat of today. According to the weather channel we are supposed to climb into the low nineties - so that is going to be one warm day. I haven't decided if I am actually going anything today - I may spend the day dodging the heat or doing incidental errands around the apartment. Mostly though, I am going to simply flow through the day.

I tossed and turned for a while before I finally fell asleep last night and then I woke pretty crisply at 5:30 AM this morning and ran through a shower, than had a simple breakfast. I sorted and bagged some laundry (which I may do later in the morning), I cleaned the kitchen (my usual Sunday morning ritual), I had a light snack (since I am planning on going out to meet the guys for breakfast in about an hour), I logged onto my work email account (just to make sure their wasn't anything major unfolding over the weekend, also something I usually do on a Sunday morning), I programmed my DVR to capture TNT's "Falling Skies" tonight, as well as an episode I missed last week while my DVR was down, and finally - I've been intermittently watching a couple of episodes of "The Dresden Files".

Looking back on that paragraph, it appears as if it has been a brisk morning. I am tempted to vacuum the living room floor, but it is still a little early (before eight AM) and I may want to save that for later in the day if I decide to hole up against the heat. In short, its been a good Sunday morning so far. (Oh, and yesterday I installed Windows 7 on my Sony laptop, so this is my first attempt at updating my blog in the new OS.). For whatever reasons, known only to the mysteries of the heart and the universe, I am in a pretty good mood this morning and looking forward to the day.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

The Voice of Dissent or Don't Drink The Kool-Aid

I thought I would take some time this morning and write about something that happened during the week at work, because I think it is a pretty common event. I can't (and won't) go to deep into the details, but first, let me lay out the general scenario.

The company has a process that is very unpopular. Approximately 50% of all employees have a negative view of the internal process (as demonstrated on a survey). Since the process is viewed as necessary, the company has undertaken an extensive program to do two things - first, they are changing the process, rather significantly, and second, they are engaging in a widespread communication effort in an attempt to get the employee base to better understand both how the process works and why it is what it is. It's a noble effort in my opinion. I think it has a fifty-fifty chance of success, better if implemented well, worse if not implemented well. (On my cynical days I have used the expression - "you can paint a pig silver, but that doesn't make it a jet".)

So, upper management is tasked with addressing the issue of the 50% negative impression of this process. In a meeting with my management team (my peers and my upper management) we went into a long discussion about the existing process and the negative perception.

Now, I've got thirty years work experience, over half of that in supervisor, management or leadership roles within organizations. On top of this broad base of experience I layer both formal education and a lot of self-directed reading. Over the course of this experience I have come to the professional and personal opinion that, when it comes to managing employees, honesty is always the best policy. That includes the issue of being critical of company policy, when those policies are not working, poorly constructed, or poorly implemented.

Inside an organization these voices of criticism are critical to a successful organization. The ability of employees (and managers) to honestly voice their opinions, their perceptions, and their feelings is crucial to employee satisfaction, which in turn leads to higher engagement, higher morale, and higher productivity. For several years now I have been a vocal critic of the particular policy. I've written memos, I have presented my criticisms to upper management, in a variety of one-on-one and group settings. Often, it has felt like a lonely place to be - I've landed in meetings where I seemed to be the lone voice of dissent.

In the management team meeting to discussion the solution (which I think is communication, transparency, honesty and a solid feedback loop) things got - testy. My current director did not respond well to the criticism of the company policy and we ended up, overall, in five hours of meetings, both with the management team and one on one. At the end of this chain of events, I think I finally managed to get my points through, at least I left the last meeting with that feeling (thought I could be entirely wrong).

But it did bring me to the point I wanted to make here - dissent is important to the health of any organization, whether that organization is a company or a family or an informal group - if no one questions to processes of the group, if no one approaches them with a critical eye, then the group runs the very real risk of group-think. In my organization, I think a large reason the bad process did as much damage as it did (to the point where 50% of the people have a negative opinion of the process) was that no one was listening to the early voices of dissent. Now, fixing the process is a key objective of the entire corporation - and it never should have gotten that far. If you listen to the voices of dissent in your organization, if you foster an environment where that level of trust exists, where the rank-and-file members of the organization can opening apply a critical eye to internal processes and feel comfortable bringing those critical opinions and perceptions to their leaders - knowing that those leaders will listen, accept, acknowledge and follow-up on those criticisms as appropriate - then you are going to build a great organization, both from a productive standpoint and from a personal standpoint.

Let me close with a final little anecdote. In the course of the wide ranging and sometimes tense discussion with my upper management, the oblique criticism was leveled at me that I was someone not loyal because I wasn't "presenting the right message" (i.e. a non-critical view) to my team. My upper manager made the comment that she had "drank the kool-aid", by which she meant that she understood, accepted, and was completely loyal to the company. I responded "not only didn't I drink the Kool-Aid, I don't drink the Kool-Aid, ever". It let to a tense couple of moments. I've rarely been as far out of step with upper management as I find myself with this particular one. I am hoping this conversations, and others, lead us to find a place where we can compromise and understand each other. I am skeptical, but then keep in mind that I generally a highly skeptical guy.

Friday, July 1, 2011

A Small Branch

I saw Terence Malick's "Tree of Life" today over at CineArts. I enjoyed it - though it is not for everyone, it is a visually rich tapestry which unveils a powerful story. If you're expecting normal Hollywood fare, you'll be disappointed, but if you're open to the experience, I can recommend the movie.

Inspired by it, let me just quickly illuminate the branches of my tree today.
-Breakfast a bowl of Total, with milk and a cup of black coffee.
-I watched two episodes of "The Dresden Files" on DVD (Harry Dresden is a great character).
-I drove up to the Comcast office and picked up a new controller/DVR box.
-I drove into the office and picked up some paperwork, talked to my analysts, and then returned a couple of phone calls.
-I had lunch with D.R. at Sneha on Lawrence (excellent Indian buffet).
-I drove to the wrong theater (Camera 7) to see the movie, but fortunately had enough time that I was able to drive over to the right theater (CineArts).
-I saw "The Tree of Life".
-I had an early dinner with Tony at Mama Mia's on Hamilton (pizza, chased by a piece of Tiramisu).
-I came home and got my new controller/DVR all set up and programmed.
-I got my new work laptop (a sweet little HP with I5's) set up to connect to my home network.
-I went online to work and rooted through the email (about thirty), handling some, sorting others.
-I spent slid gently into the evening with T.R.
-I wrote this entry.

The Tree of my Life had some active branches today, but it is a three day weekend ahead of me and I am looking forward to moving through it slow and easily.