Sunday, May 31, 2009

3:59:55 baby!

That's right - I made it by 5 seconds!! I yelled and jumped when I crossed the finish line. I really, really didn't think I was going to make it there but well, it happened. I think my "chip time" will be more like 3:58 but the clock showing the gun time read 3:59:55 when I crossed. Pretty freaking cool.

I'll post an in depth review of the race as an act of pure sadism so you will all have to read it. Why should I be the only one to suffer today?? But for now, I'm kinda tired, and dizzy, and I'm going to lie down.

Saturday, May 30, 2009

Tomorrow is The Day

Well, tomorrow is the day for the marathon. I've been blogging about it, worrying about it, looking forward to it, all that for months. Now that it's here I'm a bit concerned that 1) it's supposed to be a hot day tomorrow (I have a very hard time running in hot weather, see prior posts) and 2) I've got the cold from hell. I've had some good runs while I've been sick, and if it doesn't go into my chest I should be fine. I feel tired and crappy now, but when you start running you tend to forget that and think of how tired and crappy you feel because of the run :o) I'm going to go out with the pace team for a 3:50 goal, which I do not think I'll achieve. But that way when I start to lag, I can drop back by a few minutes and still get under 4 hours. I'm still trying to think positive about it and assume that the sub-4 is still a possible goal. It will be mine ... oh yes ... it will be mine!

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Be Healthy in 20 Years

I saw this title in a magazine, I think it was "More" or something like that, that someone had brought into work. So the picture is of some 40 something lady who is obviously healthy, and the title is, as I said "Be Healthy in 20 Years." And all I could think was, Damn they want you to be patient. I'd rather be healthy in a week or two if it's all the same.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Send in the Klowns...

After Katy's last post I couldn't stop myself from a quick Google search. Enjoy...

Send In The Clowns - Krusty The Clown & Sideshow Bob

Theater and Walking

Well, at the end of my last post I noted that we were headed to a play. Since then I've seen three, and I've come to the conclusion that I'm a philistine.

The first one we saw was "The Thirty-Nine Steps," a comedy based on a play that Hitchcock also used for one of his lesser-known films. There was a cast of four, and with the notable exception of the main character (Hitchcock's typical "ordinary man caught up in a web of deceit") each actor played multiple roles. The set was spare, the effects were limited to a couple of gunshots and some strobe lights, and it was really, really enjoyable. It was very funny, unpretentious, and just a lot of fun.

The second play, one we got last-minute half-price tickets for, was "Jersey Boys." I think I missed the opportunity to see that one in the states, partly because I couldn't really remember what Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons sang. (You neither? Sherry, Big Girls Don't Cry, Walk Like a Man, Working My Way Back to You, Can't Take My Eyes Off of You.) The rule about music, which I totally forgot, is that it is So Much Better live. The story was predictable, and not just because we know that Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons aren't still playing Vegas. It's predictable in that musical biopic kind of way, where the band breaks up (dude, the Yoko factor ain't just for the Beatles) and people are Unwise on the road where drugs and sex are at their beck and call. We've seen it all before. Who cares? The music is hot.

Now the one from tonight? Half price and thank goodness. It's called A Little Night Music, and it's dull, dull, dull. I cared about some of the characters a little. But not enough to sit through what had to be at least two and a half hours of poorly-strung-together music, including (no, I'm not kidding) "Send In The Clowns." I'm sorry, but there's a rule. If you use "Send In The Clowns" and there is no irony anywhere on the stage, then you're taking yourself Far Too Seriously. There had better be some Serious Drama and it had better be good. There wasn't. I felt bad for the cast, who all had great voices and who tried hard to sell the cobbled-together story (it involved a lot of adultery, and I can't be bothered with summarizing it), but I felt worse for myself.

The best that could be said for the play was that I got to sit down. I walked all day today (at the British National Gallery, which for some reason isn't my favorite museum, and at the National Portrait Gallery, which rocks, but which seems to have been rearranged to make everything further away--maybe just because I was tired). I did defray the effects of all the walking with a glass of wine, but I was still mighty glad to sit down for 2.5 hours, even if it involved listening to "Send In The Clowns."

So what about it, imaginary readers? Is it so wrong that I heard this song and thought to myself, "You know, Krusty could really liven up this moment"? It is, isn't it? Oh, well. I guess I'll turn in my membership card to the snooty intellectuals club. Oh, wait, they took that back years ago. In fact, I think they have my picture up behind the bar with a sign that says, "Notify security immediately."

Shit. Guess I'll just have to have a little more fun.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Speaking of good vibes...

This post is to express some good, healthy, lucky, wonderful vibes for one of my siblings who has a medical test coming up tomorrow and some surgery the following week. He doesn't read this blog (the bastard) but the vibes are there none-the-less. He's a very cool guy with a lot of stress right now. If you've got a moment send some good thoughts towards this nameless fellow as he deals with the medical madness.

Running report

As you all know, because I won't shut up about it, I'm on taper at the moment. Tapering for a marathon I'll be running this weekend, in fact. Taper has made me nervous, though, because I haven't done a long run the past 2 weekends. Partly that's cause I've been out of town, but mostly because, well, I'm tapering. But how do I know that I can do this marathon in a good time if it's been so long since I ran a 20 miler at a good pace??? It's the kind of insanity that bothers me. I also did relatively few runs over the past week (non-long ones, that is) and at a slow pace, partly in the spirit of tapering. Again, worrisome - I've had some good runs this training season, but what have they done for me lately? How do I know I'm ready??

So today I went out for my last 7 miler before the marathon and I decided to just run it and see what kind of time I could get. I didn't really go out deliberately to push the speed, but I also didn't deliberately run slowly, which I've been doing. I thought I was lagging badly, and was worried, until I looked at my watch after the 1st mile and saw 7:18. For the whole 7 miles I did just under 56 minutes, or a 7:56 pace. That is damn fast for a slow guy like me and I was really happy. I've had this happen on tapers in the past as well. When you're well rested, you can run faster without spending as much effort, so you feel slower than you really are. Which is the whole point of the taper. You rest so you've got the energy and strength to run the race well. So now I feel a bit relieved - still have some speed left in me, and obviously I'm better rested than I was a few weeks back. One more 5 miler in a few days, at a SLOW pace, and then the big one. Send me imaginary good running vibes on Sunday!

The return to Hell

Tomorrow I go back to work after more than 2 weeks out of the office. Pity me.

It is my nature that after a vacation I think not of all the great stuff I got to do on the trip, but all the awful stuff that I'm returning to. It is also my nature to realize, now that I've had some distance from all that awful stuff, that I really do NOT like so much of it. About a year ago, when I took my new position, I described it as "the death of a thousand cuts." It's not that any one part of it is overwhelming, it's just the sheer mass of tiny little problems constantly requiring attention and preventing you from functioning in any productive capacity at anything else that gets you. So by the end of every single day you've bled out. And now, after a vacation, when many scabs have healed up, I get to dive right back in. Come on in boys, the water is filled with tiny razors!

So tomorrow marks the resumption of a thousand cuts. $#@! Eventually one way or another I will find a way out of this mess, but until then, dear readers, I'll try to keep the number of anti-work posts to a minimum. Unless they're funny. Then I'll blast them out for your imaginary edification.

A quality gap...

Some of you may have noticed a quality gap in posts lately. Katy has been posting about museums where they have stuff on encryption and World War 2, and London, and I've been posting about anatomy in small cardboard containers and sequels to said anatomy. It's a widening gap, and I speculate that soon we'll see Katy posting various observations on the movements of stellar bodies and implications for string theory while I'll be posting short notes to the extent of "*belch* heh heh heh." I've been pondering this growing divide, and have decided that it all comes down to travel. Travel is changing our posts. The thing is, both Katy and I have been or are traveling. She to England, I to the Southwest of the US. I speculate that travel has different effects on us. For Katy it serves as an edifying, growth-oriented experience that stimulates her mind and leeds to cool posts. To me it serves as a stultifying and mind-numbing experience that leeds to fart jokes. The really weird thing is, we both enjoy traveling. So perhaps Katy enjoys stimulation, and I enjoy bodily functions? And no, I won't go into sitmulating bodily functions, casue, well, that's the kind of post I'm talking about.

In any case, until Katy comes back from her quest to the Continent I fear we'll have better and better posts coming from her. And from me, well, I'm back from my vacation so I'll start to slowly rebuild my intellect enough to post intelligently soon. In the mean time, *burp*.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Bletchley Park

We had a pretty full day of it yesterday at Bletchley Park.  We did get to see the Enigma machine and the bombe and assorted (and I do mean assorted) other wartime paraphernalia.  Bletchley desperately needs an infusion of cash, and perhaps a human with talent and perspective to weave their stuff into coherent exhibits and organize it into some multimedia story.  They have literally thousands of fascinating objects, but the place is just getting its feet under it as a popular museum, so the same information is presented multiple times in multiple locations, as though every exhibit is a standalone (they may have been before they found their home at BP).  There are giant cases of apparently random objects, and you find yourself thinking, "Am I looking at an example of a ration book, or is this a specific ration book belonging to a specific person who was important to Bletchley Park somehow?"  Occasionally you find evidence of the latter--you'll be looking at an evidently unremarkable object, and then there'll be a card with a witty anecdote linking it to one of the girls who worked at BP during the war.  There was an audio tour which we didn't purchase, but I have to say I'm not sure whether that would have been better or worse. 
The ultimate expression of the theme of disorganization was a loaned collection of Churchill memorabilia.  Everything from buttons to tea towels to jigsaw puzzles nestled cheek by jowl with original letters from Churchill and his family, often to the collector himself or his wife.  It could have filled a room five or six times as large as they were able to provide, and it was clearly difficult to organize it all.  The owner of the collection was present on Sunday and spoke to us personally--he took quite a shine to my mother which delighted and embarrassed her in equal measure. 
The place isn't short on fascinating objects and information.  The replica bombe alone would be worth a viewing, and there is also a hugely impressive collection of information and technology related to codes and ciphers.  A bonus exhibit on spies of WWII that was just fantastic (maybe all you imaginary readers knew that Ian Fleming, the creator of James Bond, was a real spy, but I was wholly ignorant of his exploits until Sunday).  Overall, it was a gorgeous day and the trip was well worth it.
Today we went back to the Victoria and Albert museum, my personal favorite.  I normally spend a huge chunk of time looking at the Japanese, Chinese, and Indian art, but since that's not my folks' cup of tea, we spent most of the morning looking at jewelry and architecture.  There was also a theater exhibit that was skillfully organized in a small space, with costumes and other memorabilia from the last 100 years or so, artfully broken up with multimedia reels of archival footage.  We walked back to our hotel through the park on the third improbably sunny English day in a row.  It's been just lovely.
Tonight we're headed to a play.  It should be a beautiful evening.

Sunday, May 24, 2009

Home Sweet Home Away From Home

I've finally been to London often enough that I no longer need to spend 30 minutes refreshing myself on how to get to the city.  My flight was wonderfully short compared to flying here from the Southwest, although I did have time to watch two movies (Last Chance Harvey, which was darling, and Bolt, which I had wanted to see forever--I identify with the little hamster.)  I fought off jet lag as long as I could but inevitably ended up wasting half the afternoon in bed.
The Heathrow Express is fantastic.  The ride into London is so brief it's almost annoying when you've met someone really nice to talk to.  I spent the end of the customs line and the trip to London with a truly charming merchant marine (no, seriously) who was home for a visit from the Virgin Islands.  He didn't seem to think of himself as particularly English any more--he moved away a long time ago.  But he greeted me with typical English understatement.  At the end of the customs line the carpet unexpectedly gives way to bare cement framed by tatters and threads, and he said, "the carpet's a bit threadbare, isn't it?"  We had a fine chat, and it was actively disappointing when the train pulled into Paddington so promptly.
My folks and I spent the morning walking along the Regent's Canal, which was lovely despite the fact that we headed in the wrong direction and didn't end up in Regent's Park.  Another charming Englishman kindly stopped to help us while we pored over our maps, and gently set us down going back the way we'd come.  It was still lovely weather and a lovely day--the canal was full of baby birds (mostly geese, but some other water birds as well).
Today's the field trip to Bletchley Park...

Thursday, May 21, 2009

London Calling

I'm going to the UK tomorrow!  I get to see my folks and have a week in London.  We're also doing a couple of day trips.  First, the incredibly geeky field trip to Bletchley Park, the estate where Britain basically dumped all its code-crackers and computer experts during WWII (back when the computer was more a concept than a household object, and building one involved knocking down walls in your giant estate to house its big sorry ass) so that they could crack the German code and win the war.  So kind of like software testing with the sense of perspective completely flipped--it actually was a matter of life and death, and winning was infinitely more important than any of them knew at the time.
The Germans were using a machine called the Enigma machine, which was basically the size of a really old portable typewriter and used three layers of code--you typed in your message, the machine encrypted it, and then the guy on the other end set his settings like yours and de-crypted it with an identical machine.  My understanding (pre-field-trip) is that these mathematicians at Bletchley Park essentially built an early computer to assist with the calculations needed to build their own decryption device.  (Oh, and by the way, one of the principle participants, Alan Turing, was gay, so after the war the British arrested him and treated him with estrogen until he killed himself.  I'm a serious Anglophile but that's not their finest hour.)
The other field trip is to Castle Howard, an enormous 18th-century residence that gained fleeting fame as the setting for screen adaptations of Evelyn Waugh's Brideshead Revisited.  It's seriously baroque and just one of those places that makes you feel like history is lying under every stone in England in a way that isn't really palpable here in the US.  The English love to drop sentences like, "the Howard family has lived here for 300 years" just to make you feel like you come from a young and impetuous nation of rowdy upstarts.
Wish me luck packing....

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Why Domestic Partnership Isn't Enough

There are big problems with the issue of how hospitals decide who gets to be with someone who's under their care (privacy, security, and common sense seem to be potentially conflicting priorities), and a lot of them don't have to do with whether or not someone's gay. As this article in the New York Times points out, many older couples don't marry because it would end their social security benefits from their deceased spouse and leave them without income or with substantially reduced income. Heck, if you read the comments, people are denied access to parents, and even legally married heterosexual couples are denied access to each other if their names aren't the same. The solution suggested most often in the comments is to lie. Just say you're the person's spouse or sister or brother...or hell, their third cousin twice removed. Anything that fulfills the hospital's expectations of family is good enough.

But these are two couples working within the legal limits of what's available to them, with legal paperwork appropriately provided to the hospital, and in each case one of them died alone. When people ask me why I'm an advocate for gay marriage, this is often the situation I suggest they consider. And they always tell me "that would never happen."

From your lips to God's ear.

Athletes and OCD

The New Scientist recounts a session at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association documenting obsessive-compulsive tendencies in elite athletes that are often acute enough to be rendered as actual obsessive-compulsive disorder. When you think about it, it makes perfect sense--the same traits that allow them to strive for perfection probably leave them vulnerable to some obsessive-compulsive behaviors.

So now I can use my inability to get to the gym every single day as proof of mental health, which I enjoy.

If you liked D*ck in a box

This is not remotely safe for work. For those of you who a) liked D*ck in a box (see last year's posts) and b) don't watch SNL regularly (in other words, for those of you who are just like me), here's the next song in the series. I'm not sure if it's as funny as the original, but it's still pretty twisted funny. Emphasis on twisted:

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Don't Go Into The Room

Sounds like a horror movie, doesn't it?
My project is in the testing phase.  In previous projects, this would mean that the project team would be locked in a room with candy and soda and not allowed to come out until the testing was done.  So when the project team asked me if I planned to be in the testing room, I was like, "Duh."  Of course I'll be in the room.  My colleague, who has been here longer than I have and who has implemented two other projects with the team I'm working with now, angled his notepad so that I could see it and wrote "Big mistake."  I think he underlined it four or five times.
It has been a big mistake.  Not only do I not get other work done, which is actually fine (I have to do it at home later, and sometimes later is a lot later, but it's okay) but I don't actually get work for this project done.  That's because instead of well-organized tests, we have a group of tabulated fiascos.  (What is the plural of fiasco?  This project is teaching me a lot of things I didn't think I'd ever need to know.)  Every single script is halted by at least one defect.  Frequently when one defect is cleared, another pops up so fast that we don't even have the chance to erase the first defect from our white board.  There is no chance to make any sort of progress.  Last week I did 58 hours, and we got almost nothing accomplished.  This week will be fewer hours and proportionately less progress, mostly because a lot of us can't spell our own names any more.  Monday I felt like a stroke victim.
Next week, though, I'm on vacation.  Against all the odds, my vacation was approved, and I'm going to be out Tuesday to Friday to go to the UK with my folks.  It's their 50th wedding anniversary, and my mother is clearly thinking that this could be our last family vacation (her father was dead shortly after his 50th, and I know that's weighing on her mind, even though she's tons healthier than he ever was).  I'm excited about it and I plan to have a good time.
There are two people covering for me.  We'll call the first one Mo, short for Maureen, and she's the sort of person who's blindingly intelligent but not overly concerned with methodology or protocol--she seeks the most expedient solution, and her solution will fix whatever the root cause is.  I'm spending an hour with her going over the information this afternoon, and she'll be set for the two days she's responsible for.  The other person who's subbing for me while Mo is gone, we'll call Raj.  Raj is a methodical little workhorse and he does everything by the book and gets everything done to exceptional standards, but he does like his i's dotted and his t's crossed.  Plus he'll be my backup to support this sucker if it ever manages to pass its tests.  I'm spending about 3 hours with him and I'm not sure he'll be comfortable, but that's all I can spare.
At our staff meeting today, everyone gave Raj one piece of advice.  "Don't go into the room!"  Cue the scary music...

Monday, May 18, 2009

Running ... on the outside

I had a random thought today as I was running on a treadmill.

By the way, if I stopped running this blog would have only half as many posts, but I guess you all know that.

I was running and was reminded of one of the main things I really do enjoy about running. While you are running a long way, anything more than a half hour I guess, you are of necessity detached from everything else. You cannot, as you are moving down the road, or even on the treadmill, be working on something else. You can't be solving some other problem. You are even limited on the conversations you can have. Anyone you talk to has to be running with you, and you're not going to solve any great work dilemmas, even if you're running with coworkers. Unless you bring your cell, you can't get any calls. You can't return pages. You are removed. And that, for me, is a beautiful thing. I'm the kind of person who does not stop thinking about what I have to do, what I should be doing, what I'm not doing, whatever else like that, for very long. My mind stays engaged. And it stays worried. And it eats at me, like I'm either working or I should be working. It tires me out.

But when you're running, well then ALL you should be doing is running. One foot in front of the other. That's it. And nobody can call you to tell you to do something, and you don't have your damn pager, and it's just you and the next foot in front of the other. The next lap, the next mile, the next hill. And it's one of the most peaceful things you can feel. And as you're feeling it, you're feeling it with your whole body - all of you is involved in this. Arms, legs, stomach, neck, all moving, all together, not just your head. And all of you is free, and detached, with just one foot in front of the other.

So as you know, because I whine a lot, there is a lot of stress in my life. And when I'm running, I'm outside of that stress. It is outside of me. And it's a tremendous break. Screw the fitness, and the pace, and the goals, and the races. Those are all just window dressing. Bits of color, pieces of flare (ha ha) in the overall landscape. What it's really about, when you get down to it, is running, on the outside.

What I think people are missing...

Is that a democracy should piss you off.

I was just thinking of this when I considered how angry people get at the government. "They're not representing my needs/thoughts/wants/etc." People then feel talk about how awful the government is, how the country is going/has gone/will go to hell in a hand basket, and so on and so forth. This happens on both sides of the spectrum, of course. The current most obvious example of it is the Teabagging movement, which aside from making so many men so very happy (ha ha) really embodied people talking about the Evil Government and even (as the Today Show nicely illustrated) people complaining about taxation with representation.

Ok, so again, here's what people are forgetting. Democracy is not designed for you to get your way. It is not designed to have a government that does what you want. How could it? It's designed to give a large proportion of the population a voice, an equal share, in determining what happens to the country (in a very indirect way). So since a) everyone has a say and b) most of us don't agree then c) everyone will always be unhappy with something the government does. If the government does everything you, as an individual, want then democracy has failed to provide input or a voice to that substantial portion of the country that disagrees with you. The fact that the government does some things you hate is in a way an indication that it's doing its job. Now, you can argue that this substantial portion of the population are blooming idiots, and I often do, but you cannot argue that they should have no say over what happens in a democracy. The point is that they should.

Of course, this is a blatant oversimplification, and there are very real and valid concerns (in my mind) that the government is disproportionately influenced by the powerful to the exclusion of the majority, and if that's why you're unhappy, well it makes perfect sense to me! You could rail against the power of special interest groups and if so, hey, I'm with ya. but if you're just mad cause the government does things that you don't like, well, get used to it. Because if we fix it just right, so all these barriers and problems are removed, it had better continue to do things you don't like. And then if you don't like them you can either a) put up with it, b) try to influence others to help you change it, or c) move. Weird, but that's what we've got, I think.

Hmm, to be honest I think there may be some holes here (yes, imaginary critical readers, you're all saying "ya think?!"). I'm too tired to come up with them now though. Off to bed.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Wish me luck!

Tomorrow morning, 3:30am sharp, me and the fam begin our 24 hour drive from here to ... there. As in another state that is 24 hours away by tiny car loaded with 1 wife, 2 kids, and 1 Shifter. It's the dreaded, infamous, Family Road Trip and it's starting so very, very soon. We've all done 'em, as kids, but now I'm doing 'em again on the other end. I'm the one who will be saying "We get there when we get there!" and so on. Parenthetically, my planned patented answer is actually going to be "About 100 miles." I've been using it when driving the kids around town, so they're getting used to it.

So wish me luck, dear imaginary readers, and infinite patience and a whole lot of Mountain Dew!

Neil Gaiman weighs in

A while ago I posted a link to a letter by Guy Gavriel Kay on authors relationships with their fans, especially as they relate to fans through blogging, and the conflict that sometimes arises as fans get demanding. It came up in a Patrick Rothfuss blog, if you'll recall. Well, in a comment to a different post of that very same Rothfuss blog I found a link to Neil Gaiman's take on the whole thing, which he title "Entitlement issues." Of course, it is well reasoned and well written, so if you were interested in the first issue you may want to check it out.

PS - is it lame to put in a post to link to a blog that you've already got linked in a permanent way on the right? Imaginary readers are invited to weight in, but I don't think they really care. Do you?

And now for something completely different

I found this indirectly through another link on Bill Harris's Dubious Quality blog. Most of us have heard about the efforts to digitize libraries and have them available in digital format. I had heard of, but never really considered, some of the efforts going on to digitize ancient texts. There is a cool story about this process here, and in reading that story I came across a link to this site, which is one of the repositories of archaic texts that has been scanned. My favorite was the letter by Christopher Columbus, but there are just loads of scanned and viewable (in their entirety) manuscripts that you can view there. It's worth checking out, but if you're like me you'll want a bit of time to browse around and see all the cool stuff they've got there.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Email Spam

On a whim, I looked in the Spam folder of my gmail account this morning. I cam across this subject line:

"Make it reach your knee"

Intrigued, I read on:

"Forget about fear to be "limp" in front of woman - get the support of your dream."

Putting aside the fact that if it is in fact reaching my knee, is is most likely limp, I was intrigued by what sort of support of my dream they had in mind. But, sadly, I feared a possible scam and so now my curiosity will go unrequited, and my knee will continue on without interruption from my, well, you know. Tripods are over-rated anyway.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

I get it but I can't say it

I was listening to NPR the other day and some musician was being interviewed. He was saying that he wanted people to be moved by his music in ways they could not explain, to feel things but not know quite what they were or why. And I just thought "that's me, dude!" I love music, and I really love song lyrics. I'm one of those people who used to just sit and memorize song lyrics cause they're so damn cool! I've been on runs where we just recited songs to take our mind off the pain. But just cause I love it, and I feel it, and I do feel it, doesn't mean I get it. I am, secretly, one of the worst people in the world at interpreting songs. I'll read reviews of songs that I thought were about cutting the grass and find out it's actually a political commentary on the Republican response to the brush fires of 1983. And they're like some of my favorite songs, that I know by heart, and they're all about something not at all like what I thought they were about. I'm always amazed at how people can just put these meanings together out of the words!

I prefer to think that you can deconstruct the meaning of anything and assemble a myriad of meanings, all without equal "truth value" because truth is socially constructed anyway. I prefer to think that, but I think what's really happening is that I am the Rain Man of song lyrics. I can recite for you the square root of pi, but I can't wash myself, song-lyrically speaking.

But anyway, anonymous musician guy on NPR, I'm your guy. All the way. Me and you buddy. I don't even care if your music sucks. You had me at "could not explain."

First Dates

Ok all you imaginary readers out there with imaginary partners or spouses or whatever. Quick question for you. Do you remember your first date with your partner/spouse/whatever? You do? Good! Now, did you know it was a first date at the time? I didn't.

When I talk about my first date with my wife I talk about going to see that Kevin Costner flick Perfect World and then grabbing a bite of dinner at Wendy's (yes, I was a Cassanova even then!). When she talks about our first date it's going to study at the University library. We studied statistics and design, and I walked her back to her dorm cause it was dark out. Unbeknownst to me, this was a date, she swears it. And I had no idea! I mean, I was there to study statistics and design, and to help her out with ANOVA. That's what she said she wanted. And I taught it to her, and I was happy she was getting it. And all along it was, well, an elaborate diabolical plot! There's me, in my stat-headed geekish innocence and she's just playing me like a fool, stalking me like a, uh, stat-interest-faking stalking thing! So what I've thought was our first date was our second. I was calculating within cell variance during our first.

I'm still not sure if I should be offended or flattered by this aspect of our history. We're married now so I figure flattered is the way to go with it.

But there's an interesting footnote to this whole thing. The only time I've ever had to use the "gosh, thanks, but I'm married" line in my life has been when my wife and I had been married a few years and I was tutoring someone in graduate school and they called me up afterwards to ask me out. Yes I was wearing my ring, and yes, she was embarrassed when she realized she had asked out a married guy. But do you know what I was tutoring her in? Statistics. Single imaginary readers take note: Stats are sexy!

Monday, May 11, 2009

Celebrating the Small Achievements

One thing that you learn from being on a project that is going down in flames is to celebrate those small achievements, because sometimes that's the only momentum keeping you from stalling out in a particularly dead and depressing way.
It is on that note that I announce a comparative triumph over my gmail.  I had accumulated over 1900 messages in my inbox.  Yeah, I know.  That's a lot, huh?  And that's since January, when I had about 20 in there.  And no, that doesn't count spam.  Spam gets deleted every day or two, and in addition I try to read and delete things like white paper abstracts, professional invitations, professional newsletters, alumni updates, and LinkedIn mail on a daily basis.  So those are actual e-mails, most of them from human beings I know personally or professionally.  Scary, huh?
During all the chaos and horror that's been going on over the last two weeks, I've often had small chunks of time that were only about a minute long.  As much as I'd like to be a GTD Lifehacker, unfortunately I find it distracting to do something real and meaningful for a minute in the middle of another task.  So instead of using that time to do something constructive at the office, I've been going through the unreal and meaningless task of deleting or archiving a few of my gmail e-mails.
I'm now down to 80 e-mails, which is pretty good.  Some of them are things I still need to do something with, which is scary, because I don't want to delete them until I finish whatever the thing is (looking into why I'm still getting charged for cable, taking a free online course, making sure I got credit for a course I already took, etc.).  Then again, if some of those things take a minute or two, maybe I can keep reducing it....

Friday, May 08, 2009

I couldn't have said it better myself (in fact I didn't)

John Stewart and his team over at Comedy Central of course had their own take on the Tea Parties and tea bagging, and it was freaking hysterical. The John Oliver skit in the middle was particularly brilliant. All the stuff I wanted to say but didn't know how to say, and I should have said but didn't think of ... they said it. Here is the John Oliver part:

And here is the whole episode (still funny, but the best part was the John Oliver part):

Thursday, May 07, 2009

Wasting away

This is a running post, for all of the imaginary readers who have been demanding more updates on Shifter's exciting running career. I am officially on taper. Woo hoo! I have done four 20 mile runs and one 22 mile run in the past 7 weeks, which is a lot. In the past I've done more like 3 of those runs before a race. My pace is still fairly strong, but I've been much more tired the past few long runs. I was talking with a friend today, who has loads more running expeirence than me, and he was saying I should definitely taper to let my muscles rebuild. Which is when I remembered "Oh yeah, long runs like that eat up your muscles." Which is sadly true. I was noticing last night that my arms have shrunk noticably. I've never been a stick kind of guy, but I have like no biceps. This is kind of sad! I like having biceps. I don't actually like losing muscle mass. I like running faster, but losing muscle seems, well, unhealthy. So this is a dark side to running - you shrink. I've seen runners who really looked skeletal, like scarey. Fortunately, I have no self control with food and eat like a horse when I get to this point, so I don't turn into a skeleton but I do, well, reduce a bit. Sigh.

But the good news is now I' m on taper - I've got a 17 miler in a few days, then it's nothing more than 5-7 mile runs until May 31, when I do the first marathon of the season. And that 17 miler is going to be a FLAT 17 miler, by god. I tried a new route last weeken for my 20 because I was tired of the damn hills. Turns out I should have driven the new route before I ran it, because it had MORE hills than my old course. Including one O.M.G. hill that was like running straight up a wall. I was literally thinking "You've gotta be kidding me" haflway up that thing. And when I was coming back the other way and was at the top of that hill, I could see all of two different cities (suburbs) spread out before me. That part was actually pretty cool, but the running up it part Sucked.

But this marathon on May 31 is going to be it. The one. The sub-four. I've been trying to get one for 2 years and now it's gonna happen, damnit! And I'm really, really hoping that I'll feel a lot more rested and ready when I do it than I do right now, cause right now all I feel is really freaking tired.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

A Sorry State

Things have come to a pretty pass when your colleague confides in you that she's been so busy that she hasn't gone to the bathroom two in the afternoon.  Things have come to an even prettier pass when, at 5:15 in the evening, you realize that although you urged her to go to the bathroom and chastised her for not taking care of herself, you haven't been to the bathroom since 7:30 this morning.

Will The Real Clint Eastwood Please Report For Duty?

I vaguely remember, in a previous life, working on a project that was in full swing.  I remember getting up at 6 and checking my e-mail and responding to various things, trying to get ready for the day's meetings.  I remember taking a break around 7:30 for breakfast (a 30-minute program, Tivo'd down to about 20 minutes).  I remember working straight through until 8 or 8:30. 
I was working on one project.  I was working from home, generally in my pajamas.  I was able to get a healthy lunch (assuming that I had procured healthy food) by putting the phone down for a moment or by stretching my headset over to the refrigerator.  And the bright side was that at 8:30 I was home.  I could cast off the trappings of my workday (so basically the headset and the computer) and walk over to the sofa and my work was done.
Lately, though, I've found myself working on two projects.  One of them is mine, meaning that I was assigned to it and I am, by and large, responsible for the stuff associated with it.  This project is not a good project--it's not especially well-managed (not necessarily a reflection on the project manager, but on the project management conventions of the organization) and its product is, perhaps, not the best possible solution to the problem.  It kicks up a fair amount of dust, but I could just about ride through it, imagining myself to be, say, Clint Eastwood in an old spaghetti Western, making the best of a bad situation.
The other project is Not Mine.  And I'm working on it because it is "too big to fail."  The perception of the project, whether it's true or not, is that it's a big mess.  I honestly think it's not going so badly, but the "deliverables" that our organization thinks make a project healthy are all missing, so all the managers who fancy themselves doctors think the patient is sick or dying.  This causes immense stress on the project team, all of whom are overworked and underpaid, and now doing their jobs under a spotlight that would make anyone sweat.  My best case scenario in this project is to be Robert DiNiro in Brazil.  I can swoop in and keep the wolves away from the door with my skilled use of bureaucratic language, but it's largely an existential protest against the injustice of our situation rather than a long-term solution.
The problem is that I'm not sure one person can be Clint Eastwood AND Robert DiNiro.  I'm pretty sure that's going to cause some kind of multiple personality disorder.  Either project would be a large workload, but at the moment the two of them together are eating me alive.  Which is another movie entirely....  Hostel, maybe.

Monday, May 04, 2009

This made me happy!

Ok, well the Linux box has proved its worth! This evening I was working on some statistics for this proposal I've been, uhm, invited to join and I came upon the need to do some crude power calculations. I won't bore you with describing what that means (I know, I know, so why do I bore you with all the other stuff? Silence, imaginary readers, and hear the tale!) But the long and short of it is that the software packages that I usually use are damned inconvenient if not hostile when it comes to power calculation. So I look online for some free tool for calculating power and I get directed to a site selling add on packaged for the low low price of $1,089. For a single add on package! Needless to say they're targeting institutions, not little ol' me, but as they aim that elephant gun at the institutions it blows me away quite effectively, damnit! I've hit this before with power analysis - lots o' programs, none accessible without wads o' cashage.

But then I remember - I have a Linux Box, and one of the reasons I built the Linux Box was because I knew I could put R on it, and R is a quite powerful, and quite free/open source statistical programming language with all sorts of goodies on it. I grabbed my one handy dandy intro to R book, looked up power analysis, and shore nuff, there is a handy dandy procedure written for R with all kinds of simple but powerful bells and whistles that could do what I want. Literally five minutes later, after all of 1 line of code, I had my power analysis. For free. Woo hoo! I can't tell you the hours I've spent getting pissed off over power analysis in the past. I am a very happy Shifter.

So this post is lovingly written to you all on the Good Ol' Linux Box. Woohoo! Now I just have time to play some games on the resource hogging but very capable Windows box sitting right next to it before going to bed. If there is a mothership for geeks, it's calling me home...

Friday, May 01, 2009

Star Trek Story Generator

It's not bad enough to be a Star Trek geek.  I actually geek out over flowcharts.  I know...sad, isn't it?  When Sheldon created his friendship flowchart on The Big Bang Theory I laughed so hard I almost fell off the couch.  But this is a good one.