Thursday, November 29, 2007

The house turns for the season

Ah, Thanksgiving has passed, and it is now time for the house to shift from Autumn footing to Christmas style. Pamela and Bella got going on this in earnest yesterday, and by the time I came home today, all of the leaves, acorns, squirrels, and whatnot are back in the basement, and trees, garlands, doves, and owls are now the order of the day. Pamela is a decorating genius, and try as I might, I can never see/comprehend what she's up to until it's done - it's as if she waits for me to leave the room, then wiggles her nose and makes it all "gel". It is a true art.

Bella loves the house decorating just as much as Pamela, and gets a faraway look in her eye and a beatific smile as she carries around decorations. She insists on packing a box of decorations for her own room... which will be done mother-daughter tomorrow. Her sparkle is truly wonderful.

Christmas carols are the soundtrack of our life now.

Isaac is changing too for us: He's been spectacularly restless in the night: Monday had me holding him for over 2 hours: He would settle, but refused to be set down, with the most pitiful wails of spiritual angst. I'll give you angst, kid. But the byproducts of the "brainstorms in the night" are new skills - He's learned a new sign for "crackers" (in addition to his previous sign for MORE PLEASE). He has a new spinning dance he does - round and round. His fine motor skills keep refining - he was stacking blocks with me the other morning. And his babbling is quite multisyllabic with some new phonemes... he's really conversing.

So I don't mind that I'm exhausted, that I slept right through two workouts this week, that I passed out at 8:30 last night... My kids are fabulous, and this time is short. I look at Bella, so big, and remember when she was Isaac sized, and smaller, and know I have to love all of their phases - there are no replays.

Kindle Update

I've finished reading my first book on Kindle, and it was GOOD. Both the book and the experience. The go-anywhere, instant-on nature of the Kindle made it possible for me to read a 350 page book in the edges and corners of my days - waiting in lines, killing a few minutes waiting for tea to brew, a few pages while the kids were playing well...

I'm realizing that the best use is to keep it close at hand, and pick it up when a moment presents itself. For as large as it is, it does fit easily into my coat pocket, AND it clips nicely onto the outside of my moleskine, so it's no fuss to carry around.

The newspaper delivery has actually improved in the week I've owned it: The NY times is sending along more pictures, which do help add context to the stories.

You're not tied to the Amazon content: I do have a few E-books in TEXT and HTML format, and I sent one along to Kindle (you just email it to your device), and it's the second book I'm reading now.

So one week in, and I've got solid use out of this device every day. We'll see how this goes!

Monday, November 26, 2007

Yes, it was busy

So many fun things this weekend... Thanksgiving/Birthday was very nice - as noted in previous entries. Another Scotch night with a few avengers on Friday, with some very nice old ones sampled. Saturday was a bit lazier... Erik treated us to bacon and eggs while we sat around.

Isaac wound up LOVING Erik to an almost disturbing degree. If I was holding Isaac, and Erik walked in, Isaac shrieked and reached out for him. Erik got not a minute of peace with his little "fan" around. Isaac also continued on his slow taper toward eating "food", enjoying a full piece of bacon... probably since Erik made it and all.

Bella, Erik, and I went off to a story telling celebration, and Bella amused herself with French Lady stories, but started fidgeting... so off to the next thing: The comic book store. She sat down in the kid's section, and very carefully browsed through, to find two comics she wanted to take home: Yes, Scooby Doo.

Then off to a Model Store: I've told Bella many stories about making models as a kid and she wanted to know more about this activity. She picked out a few snap-together kits: An SR71 Blackbird spy plane, a fire truck, and a french rally car. We made two of them that afternoon, and she was GREAT at following directions. I think she'll be a good kit builder in time.

One treat I got was the game "Rock Band" for Playstation3: This comes with a guitar, mic, and drum set. Songs play and you're supposed to hit drums/frets/sing as specified. It's not EXACTLY mapped to real notes (ability to PLAY said instrument can be a liability actually)... but there is definitely an element of skill...

Erik and I made a "band" called "Eclectricity" and began our tour. Two hours later (and 20 songs) the game politely informed us that we were no longer allowed to use the "Easy" setting... and bumped us to Medium, and we collapsed in ineptitude. Well that's not entirely fair - we did OK. The songs for the game are very fun - Blitzkrieg Bop, Should I stay or should I go, Wanted Dead or Alive, Gimme Shelter....

I think I need to create "synthpop hero" where you and 4 friends stand around with monophonic synthesizers while your drums come from a 1/4 inch reel to reel tape deck.

Sunday Pamela "encouraged" us to get out into the beautiful weather, so we went out to Uncle Franky's, which I haven't been to since switching to the "new client" back in July. Still delicious. Then off to a real record store, the electric fetus for good old fashioned shopping.

An old tradition of mine and Erik's is to spend an hour or more browsing in record stores, and we try to bring worse and worse "recommendations" to eachother. My Japanese Import of Queensryche "Operation Mindcrime" was the winner this time.

When we got back, the kids had so thoroughly exhausted Pamela, that she took a 3 hour nap...

In the evening, after "rocking out" for a while (with Pamela and Bella helping out on Vocals), Erik and I watched "Live Free or Die Hard" - the 4th in the franchise, and a worthy member of the family. I had read about some nerds who didn't like the way the interweb was depicted, about how the computer use was completely unrealistic. Yes, and in this same movie, he drives over a fire hydrant, and the resulting gusher of water is high/strong enough to knock a sniper out of a helicopter. He tumbles out of a moving car which retains enough momentum fly up a concrete barricade and crash into said helicopter, while only getting some scratches.

Sister, if you're worried about realism what with the computers, perhaps we should start with the basic laws of physics which were being violated. So with that said, I made an agreement with my brain to go ahead and enjoy this... and enjoy it we did.

Erik took off this AM, and it was back to the salt mines for me. I did spend an hour in a meeting in my NEW position (yes, the one I start in February... i want to get myself wrapped into it), and as if to keep pushing me toward the door, the vendor at my current client just came through with the news that one more piece of functionality that we were counting on will be ready for us in December. 2008. YES.

And now it's off to bed: The morning will come early, and I need to get back on my workout schedule, getting the less "good for me" parts of the weekend out of my system.

(And I hope you can forgive my geeky KindlePost)

Kindle and Me

This is a geeky post wherein I describe my experiences with the new Amazon Kindle E-Book. Here goes.

You all know that I am something of an early adopter of technology. I got the first iPod. I got the first Macintosh back in the 1980s. I had anywhere wireless service in 1999, with Metricom (wireless at dial-up speeds!!!) I had early TIVO service. I've had a few palm pilots, a few gaming systems, and of course, I was VERY early into the virtual synthesizer game, retiring my hardware keyboards (my first virtual was back in 1998)

Sometimes my experiments are good (iPod), sometimes they don't work out (Roku media player? Metricom? Chapman Stick?) So it was with some interest that I noticed the announcement of the Amazon Kindle.

I've always been interested in E-Media: I have many books in PDF form on my computer, and I've tried various ways of "enjoying" them in any way... but everything has been been too complicated, too many issues. Reading long documents on a computer is completely ridiculous. Palm Pilots were interesting, but it took work to move the documents TO them, and once loaded, they had this tendency to turn off the screen after 60 seconds on inactivity (apparently it couldn't SENSE my eyeballs reading). Plus, traditional backlit screens are just a bit rough on the eyes. Finally, there was the battery issue - when scrolling through text, the screen, hard drive, everything is working... so you're stuck with 6 hours MAX on either a Palm or a computer.

Add to this, that Palms and Computers are primarily for other things... they're not tuned to the reading experience, and they suck you over to their other uses... oh, let's check mail, surf the web, check our calendars clean up my contacts... You CAN read on them... and you CAN store recipes on them too, but who does?

So along comes the Kindle. On one level, it's a reader to beat all: A crisp high contrast screen that uses "E-Ink" technology: What this means is that once the page is "set", it takes NO electricity to keep it. It's matte, with no backlight, and is perfectly readable in sunlight and candlelight: Wherever you could read a real book, you could read this. The other advantage to this technology: Almost 30 days of reading on a battery charge.

Next, it's light and compact: Smaller than a laptop, bigger than a palm it's exactly Moleskine sized, with a reading area a little smaller than a typical paperback. Around 10 oz, it's easy to handle. It has dedicated buttons for turning pages, and a really cool navigation wheel to get you around.

But the BEST part is that it has an integrated bookstore: It has a cellmodem, which connects you to the Amazon Kindle bookstore, where you can buy books (it's tied to your Amazon account), and have them immediately sent to your Kindle, no computer, no wifi, no nothing needed. Using the modem burns battery faster (you need to charge every other day when it's on). Also, you can subscribe to newspapers and magazines, and they show up overnight.

Ok. I haven't told you anything that you couldn't get from just going to the Amazon site and reading. But I just wanted to introduce the technology to you. Now, let me tell you about two days with it.

Sunday Morning: A crazy runaround - Bella and Isaac had cabin fever and needed a lot of attention. Isaac in particular needed to escape the kitchen, and had a running circuit from the dining room to the fireplace and back. And I was the sentry keeping him away from the fire.

In my right hand, the Kindle, with the Sunday NY Times loaded. As I walked with Isaac, keeping an eye on his mischief, I browsed the news, the editorials, and the NY book review (they liked "Options" by Fake Steve Jobs). When both hands were needed, I set it down anywhere. It was perfectly readable at full arm length, and the page forward and next buttons made it a strictly one-handed affair.

End result - MOST of the NY Times were read while I was on my feet. I'm not sure that Erik and Pamela were able to consume as much of the Sunday paper. One downside - can't do a crossword or sudoku on this: It's strictly for reading.

My first bought book is the Golden Compass by Philip Pullman - the movie opens next week and I wanted to re-read it. Throughout Saturday and Sunday, when I had a free 5 min, I'd pick up the Kindle and do a chapter or two... sitting, standing... no matter. I put it down, and it stays in the right place. I switch to the Times, and come back to the Compass, and it remembers where I was.

Monday I popped into a favorite place to grab a quick lunch before a meeting... I'm told there's a 15 min wait. I can do that. I stand against a wall, load up the Golden compass, and read... and read... and get so lost in the actual book that by the time they call my name, I realize I've been waiting a full half hour, and didn't even notice. The Kindle offered a fully immersive reading experience.

I now have 5 books on it: One is a Japanese Language primer (while my verbal is good, I need to work on my reading...). I switch over to it for a little review. Also, I check the headlines on the Times. Now, if this was all paper, it would have been a full satchel. As it is, it's still a small compact device.

So far so good, I say. My goal was to take this technology out for a drive and see if it delivers on the promise. And so far it is. There are issues, and I'll get into them in the next update.

If at the end of 30 days, the Kindle is seeing daily use, it will stay in my home. If not, that fancy package will make its way elsewhere....

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Got it.

Pamela with Bella tonight. Scene, Bella in bed, stories have been read, Pamela's looking for an exit:

P: I need to go check on the boys (Jim and Erik)
B: Why?
P: To make sure they're doing their job
B: What's their job?
P: To finish carving the turkey and get rid of the carcass
B: What's a carcass?
P: It's the bones... it's like a skeleton.
B: (Holds her arms out) Wait... I GOT IT... Only it's an Ostrich. In a pet cemetery.
P: ... ok...

Thanksgiving dinner with Erik was great. Isaac was completely nuts throughout, and crashed well before dessert. Now we're off to watch a fine holiday film: Probably Die Hard, which was just delivered in Hi Def yesterday. Good times.

Happy Birthday....


I rang in the new year last night by seeing Beowulf with a few buddies... IN 3D. It was an odd movie. Definitely some fun stuff in there, some cool 3D effects, but the entire movie was undone by the horrible dead-eyed cyberpuppets that Zemeckis seems compelled to make his movies with. Of particular note, the Queen and Beowulf's consort: I've seen more compelling virtual actress performances in the Barbie Fairytopia movies.

Given that the whole movie takes place in around a 5 square mile area, it's not as though the sets were SO fantastic they needed CGI to make it happen, either. This movie could/should have been done for under half the cost, blending live action and CGI. But hey, I'm not a moviemaker. I just like movies.

Today Bella and Isaac woke up before 7, and I got the kind birthday gift of a little sleep in... since I didn't get to bed until 1:30. The sleepin ended when Bella decided enough was enough and I needed to get up. At 7:30. Pulling my covers off and hollering. I love that girl.

My former college roommate and best man Erik is flying in today, joining me for the holiday and gadding about for the long weekend! For now, we're just tidying up, and getting started on the cooking - Pamela did a TON of prep work, so today shouldn't be too intense. It's a small Thanksgiving this year - just the four of us and Erik. It'll be a nice relaxing day, and a fine way to ring in the fourth decade.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

From the mouth of Bella


"Guys, didn't I used to have a leopard that was covered with salad? Salad leaves?

Or was that in a dream?"

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The best book in the universe

The Firefly Five Language Visual Dictionary

This thick volume has over 1000 pages, each filled with very detailed drawings of objects, with what they are in English, Spanish, French, German, and Italian. Why this is brilliant is the RANGE of information presented... it's frankly astounding.

Page 375: Cuts for Gemstones (schifformen für Edelsteine), including Stop, Rose, Table, Cabochon, Emerald, Brilliant Full, Eight, Scissors, Baguette, French, Oval, Navette, Pear, and Briolette cuts - all illustrated, all with 5 languages. and that's HALF the page.

How about pages 474-475: A detailed overview of how postal distribution works - from mailboxes to sorting facilities, to distribution centers, to postmen. Page 830 - an Olympic Swimming Pool, with lane ropes, false start rope, stroke-placing-turning judges, backstroke turn indicators?

Page 254: Wood flooring arrangements? Inlaid parquet, overlay, strip flooring with alternate joints, herringbone parquet, chantilly parquet....?

Page 101 - Insects: Flea, louse, mosquito, tsetse, termite, furiture beetle, ladybird, sexton, yellowjacket, hornet, horsefly, bumblebee, oriental cockroach, peppered moth, giant water bug with eggs, monarch buterfly, great green bush-cricket, cicada... Followed on 103 with a tarantula and a diagram of the internal organs of a spider?

Every page is an adventure. I LOVE THIS BOOK. Get it.

Saturday, November 17, 2007


To Thanksgiving, to Christmas, to New Years, to my Birthday, to my new Job... so much that we're on the approach to.

Today we got up bright and early and had a parent-teacher conference with Bella's teacher Suellen. Now, last year, when i went to the conference, I felt like I was hearing stories about a kid I didn't know: Bella had a truly VERY different home persona from school, and we were amazed to learn about this girl. This year, the two Bellas have really merged, and I felt I was hearing my daughter described, which is a good thing.

Something I heard was that Bella is very considerate and has deep friendships with a few people, but is not out in the front of the crowd. This jives with our perceptions. But one thing that was touching: There's a girl in class who never speaks - she's amazingly shy. Bella seems to have decided to try to be her friend, to take time out to check in on her, and the teacher really thought that was a sweet gesture. It made me proud.

After that, we piled in the mobile and headed out to Bachmans for the annual arrival of Santa. We got there early so Bella could enjoy a quiche, and then settled in for the arrival (pulled by one beautiful reindeer), the show, and the pictures afterward. The Bachmans Santa is just the best in the world. But the "Arrival Day" has become something of a zoo: Even last year, it was still a pretty mellow affair, but this year, it was PACKED, and frankly a little less fun for it. We'll probably adjust and just go a week or two later in future years. Naturally, Bella watched the show intently. Isaac and I walked all through the store.

As we walked through the fake christmas tree section, Isaac would occasionally pause, and give a lusty "HA!!!", as though he was a mighty viking warrior, pleased with the tribute offered to him. The he'd be back to not just walking, not just running, but skip/galloping. The boy is a speed demon.

Pictures with Santa... Isaac pulled a Ghandi and went all limp in Santa's arms, shrieking. The moment we picked him up, the waterworks ended, and he politely waved to Santa. I tell you, that kid knows what he does and does not want. Bella, she did give us a sweet smile, unlike previous years where a serious glare was all we were allowed to photograph. On the ride home, Bella did want to know why Santa didn't ask what she wanted for Christmas: Alas, the pictures thing moves kids through pretty fast. We told her the elves have been taking notes all year, so she doesn't need to tell him: After all, what if a kid didn't get a chance to SEE Santa? How would he know what that kid wants unless he had a network? Bella was satisfied with that.

And finally, continuing on my countdown to 40 consumer frenzy (new TV, new suits), I finally caved in and got... yes... the iPhone. AND I AM SO MAD THAT I DIDN'T JUST DO THIS MONTHS AGO: This is the finest piece of technology I have ever possessed. Mein Gott, was dachte ich? It is a great phone, it's a great ipod, it shows pictures, it surfs the web.... man. MAN. To everyone who supported me in my quixotic quest to abstain from that thing - thank you. But come on, it is just too great. Man was not MEANT to resist this. Much less geeky, mac-loving man, like me.

Friday, November 16, 2007

The Skeleton Factory

Last night, Bella told me about a dream she had:

It is a factory with a long conveyor belt, where skeletons are made bone-by-bone. At the end of the conveyor belt, the skeletons jump off, and they work on the line for a while, building other skeletons. After doing some time on the line, they climb on the SECOND conveyor belt.

The second belt is for "Skin patching": There is a giant robot hand with skin on it. It slaps down onto the skeletons, giving them skin on one side. Then a spatula flips the skeletons, and the hand slaps down on their backs, giving them skin there.

And that's the end of the line: Now they're people.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

And now a message

From my left arm: Recipient of a flu shot today.

Ok, remember that one posting I made that I had to take down because it wasn't public yet? Yeah. Well it's back up... I can announce it because it's been revealed to the hundred-odd people in the company, so I'm not spoiling any secrets.

Yes, I am moving to a new position - and it's in the glamorous world of SALES. I'm returning to the nest of the firm I've worked with on-and-off for the past 7 years, and coming in as a VP for business development. The important stuff (money) has been figured out, but start date, and my exact territory is still up in the air, but it's looking very west-coastey. No worries, travel is limited, and it's only for account management: Mondays and Fridays are always here... it's fundamentally different from a traveling consultant position.

One fun bonus is that I need to kick up the presentability quotient: Jackets and suits are far more needed. Fortunately, there's a store in town (Kuhlmann) with very reasonable prices, extremely attractive merch, and a strange phenomenon: Their suits fit me PERFECTLY off the rack without alterations. I got one of their suits 2 years back for my 10th wedding party, and I just went back for a few more... Alas, with my skinny neck and long arms, I can be hard to fit shirt-wise. Kuhlmann always lets me down (they need to add 2cm to their sleeves!!!). But Thomas Pink of Jermyn Street (and Macy's Downtown) was quite able to accommodate my very scottish/german look and were quite happy to sell me some dressy shirts.

As I approach 40, I am sadly noticing that my eyeglass prescription is in dire need of an update... things require a few more blinks to get into focus, and for the first time, close up things are starting to blur slightly. OH ACCURSED GENETICS. So I'll be making an appointment with Dr Eye soon enough... and updating the lenses in a few of my frames... retiring one or two... and maybe getting 1-2 new looks. Lasik? Don't make me laugh. Glasses WORK for me.

And on the eyes front: I can't recall if I told the blog about my 40th birthday present to myself: a large Hi-Def LCD screen and a Blu-Ray player. High definition is absolutely blowing my mind: My cable box gets HD, and there's a show called "Sunrise Earth" which is 1 hour of sunrise around the world. It is flat out amazing... especially in the crisp clear hi def. We watched Blu-Ray Ratatouille, and it was so bright and clear, I thought they were jumping out of the screen at me.

I am now a hi-def evangelist. This is to DVD as DVD was to VHS. I'm not exaggerating: The clarity is incredible. And watching Heroes at that size, in HD... Oh Sylar, I can see your devious cunning EVEN MORE CLEARLY now.

I end with a quote from Bella the other night. She was mad because it was late and her friend had to go home. Stomping her foot, she declared:


Again, it was very hard to keep a straight face and sagely nod my head to empathize.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Oh, the dots.

Yes, we were affected by the AquaDots recall: Bella had got a big set of them, along with some expansion packs. Truth be told, she preferred directing OTHERS to the tedious work of arranging the beads on the trays... and actually her favorite part of the whole thing was loading the beads into the hoppers, and turning on the drying fan.

In case I need to back up a bit: AquaDots are little colored beads that you arrange on a grid to make pictures, then you wet them, they melt slightly, bond with eachother, and your art can be lifted off the grid and proudly left around the house to be tossed out eventually.

The scandal is that the manufacturer (or more precisely, the manufacturing subcontractor in... wait for it... CHINA) substituted one of the chemicals for a cheaper one. The problem being that that cheaper chemical essentially turned each dot into a powerful drug called GHB - which causes blackouts and hallucinations.

Given that we have a kid in the house who puts everything including dead centipedes in his mouth, our risks of him eventually ingesting one of these beads was quite high. So we had to get rid of the toys.

Bella cried for 20 minutes, pleading to keep them, and in the end, we did keep some of the non-bead plastic bits (which will NOT cause blackouts). She also insisted that we write a letter to the company to make them promise never to take a little girl's toy away again.

Ok. Another Bella Quote:
Last night, Pamela and I were talking about how the word "Foxy" has fallen out of common usage, but how it was the ULTIMATE gauge of hotness when we were in highschool.

Pamela related that the popular girls would greet eachother in the halls with a "Hey, Fox!" She then lamented that that was NOT a greeting she and her friends could use with eachother.

Bella said "well, you then could probably say 'Hey, Turkey!'"

We were paralyzed with laughter. She really didn't have the concept of the meaning of "turkey" in this context... but landed on it quite randomly. And hilariously.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The Latest

First, a new quote from Bella:
"My teeth feel like secret knives that cut food up"

Now, onto the news:
They have made an arrest in Mark's death. There are some things happening in the news, some unsavory details that may or may not be accurate, which I would prefer to not address right now... let's let the dust settle for a day or two and then I'll share my thoughts.

On that subject - since Google kindly shows my blog as a destination for people looking for info for Mark, there is a rather active set of postings happening on the "Missing Mark" entry. I'm letting some of this continue for a while, but there are some angry people over there... I'll keep an eye on it. Just letting you know.

No more for today. The knives post would have been enough, but I wanted to at least mention the other big news.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

The next generation

I went over to visit Mark's family tonight, and brought along a surprise for Max: I have been reading about and desperately wanted to see a game called "Portal".

This is a completely wild game in which you're presented with simple, non-violent challenges that require that you use portals, which let you enter and exit from places in walls. So you can put an entry portal on the floor, and an exit portal in the wall, jump down, and you'll fall out of the wall. It truly requires some 4-dimensional thinking.

The reviews have all said "it's tough, but it teaches you as you go..." and "seriously mindbending".

Naturally, when we put it in, Max had some innate knowledge of how it all worked. In the short hour I was there, he finished over 3/4 of the game. It was fun, though, as the WHOLE gang of us were transfixed on the game, coaching him for ideas.

Still, it's a remarkable thing for me, a guy whose game experience stops with a mustachioed plumber, to see how even an advanced concept game like that can be totally assimilated by a smart 12-year old. I was, dare I say it, proud?