Thursday, January 28, 2010

The big question...

I'll just answer it: I love the iPad, and I haven't even seen one yet (because they're 60 days from release).

Again, Apple has created their own category: It's not a phone, it's not a laptop. It does more AND less than both, but those things it does, it does beautifully. It is gorgeous to look at, and all reports are that it is a pleasure to use. I note that just like the iPod and iPhone, those viewing from a distance are writing about what it can't do and how this is a disappointment. But those who get to spend a few minutes with it (at the show) are amazed: You can't really SHOW a perfectly responsive user experience. I think that once people actually get them in their hands, we'll have a better idea.

But as of right now, there's no question I want one.

It's EARLY: I was up at 4am ET to catch this flight, and we're boarding in a few minutes... I am hoping to catch a little shut-eye. I'm off to Philly for a company meeting, and will be sprinting out to Jersey for an hour meeting along the way. So it'll be a busy busy day.

I've mentioned that the client site in Cleveland is in a depressed neighborhood: Yesterday my co-worker and I decided to venture out and see if there's food in the neighborhood. We found an italian deli - a huge old building with three older people working it... and we stood there for a few minutes while they eyed us from back in the kitchen, assessing whether they should deign to come forward and see what we want. By the end of the visit the lady was chatting us up a bit, asking us if we were employees, or "on assignment". We decided that "on assignment" is a great way to refer to consulting.

She asked Jeff where he was from, and had to clarify Madison WI, not Madison OH. For me, she said "Minneapolis.... it's cold there, right? Or is that Minnesota that's cold....? Don't you have that big mall too? Is that in Minnesota? Or is it in Minneapolis - I can't keep them straight".

Allright, time to board the plane.

Saturday, January 23, 2010


Well, my last update from Cleveland was at the end of a long week and my brain was frankly wiped... and I was a bit frustrated at having been uninvited to a meeting that was actually the only reason I had stayed in Cleveland through Friday, so my apologies if it read as "annoyed". But annoyed I was. A day has cooled my temper.

First things first: "Dinosaur Train". This is Isaac's new favorite thing. It's a show about talking dinosaurs who take a magic train through time to visit other dinosaurs. It's a clever way to acknowledge that not all dinosaurs existed at the same time. Its a semi-science show too. But at the heart of it: It's DINOSAURS and TRAINS. Pretty much subject-matter CRACK for the 3 year old boy brain. Bella likes the actual science of it too. Finally, it's fun to say. DINOSAUR TRAIN. Ok. On to the rest of it.

Today Bella got a second place ribbon in her Synchronized Swimming technicals - this was just presentation of the forms, which she did ably and happily. Pamela was with her all afternoon as this was going on, and Isaac and I were men about the house. Isaac swam this morning and we had lunch, a couple of shows, some wrassling, and some epic Hide'n'Seek. Isaac likes to tell me EXACTLY where to hide, then goes off to count, and makes a beeline for where he told me to hide, yelling "FOUND YOU!". After indulging him once, it became great fun for me to quietly move to a different location and make him FIND me. And happily, he actually thought that made it a more fun game (!!!). When it's his turn to hide, 99% of the time, he will simply hide exactly where he found ME, but with modifications - he is very good at squeezing behind and under things, so it actually is a bit of an adventure to find him. By the end of the day, he was tired and cranky, which made the arrival of Bella and her friends from synchro a bit of an upset - he was NOT happy to have visitors, and hid.

In addition to the Synchro friends, we had a special visitor this evening: Justin, who was Bella's "Manny" for a couple of years (and also sat Isaac in the first 6 months of his life) is taking off to LA to try to make it in the film business, and is making the rounds of farewells. It was wonderful to see him - and Bella was very happy to see him too. Isaac was of course too young to really remember him, but was nice to him nonetheless... he warmed up a bit.

It's a quiet house now: Pamela fell asleep with Bella, Isaac zonked out, and Zinsser is asleep with Isaac. I'm the lone mouse making noise in the house, and I think it's time I packed it in too.


Going geek here: Last night I caught my favorite show "Fringe" (time delayed from Thursday), and while it was a good typical Fringe show, I felt vaguely unsatisfied, just as I had the previous week. And the reason was the Arc.

Back in the olden days, weekly shows were somewhat self contained: Things that happened one week might echo later, and sometimes you'd get a big two-parter, but mostly, you could watch any episode in any order and be pretty ok. Think about old Star Trek - any episode wasn't particularly dependent on any other. If you had a long story you wanted to tell, you created a mini-series.

in the early 1990s, Babylon 5 had ambition: Not only was it going to be a weekly show, but it had a BIG story to tell, which the creator had plotted out over the course of 5 years. Things would happen, people would change, and information would be delivered that would help make sense of the larger story. It also helped that the creator actually WROTE most of the episodes, so the narrative was completely consistent.

After 2 middling years, Star Trek Deep Space 9 devoted a season to a larger narrative arc (the "Dominion" storyline). And I started to really LIKE the idea of a show that is both a weekly story, and a BIGGER story. Of course, heavily Arc'ed shows are relatively viewer hostile - if you can't enjoy a standalone show, you'll never be comfortable as a late joiner to the story. Look to LOST for the ultimate Arc show - I'm pretty sure that if you aren't fully up on the plot, a show would have zero relevance.

So a show like Fringe is in a tricky situation: It's popular, but not SUPER popular. They have a really compelling "Big Story" Arc, but don't want to alienate a growing audience. The way around this is "arc lite" which is a 50/50 mix of shows that stand alone, and shows that contribute to the Arc. People learn and change, but you are never asking people to review their notes to recall what happened before.

The X-Files started this direction, creating the larger Arc of the Aliens, but committed the unforgivable sin of not adhering to the Arc rules with any consistency: Scully would see something one week in an "arc" episode, and then the next week would be the same old skeptic who acts as if she'd never seen anything odd in her life. By the time you got to the movies, you realized that the creators/writers weren't actually working from an actual Arc - they were making up cool stuff in their world, and then trying to wrap an arc AROUND it, which made no sense.

Heroes, on the other hand, had a great Arc season 1, then lame Arcs for seasons 2,3 and 4... and not only that, they were 100% arc, with no standalone option: But the amount of plot they embedded in the arc was probably enough for a full season "background arc" (where you alternate standalone and arc shows), but not enough plot to sustain a 100% arc show, so it felt STRETCHED. Plot points were telegraphed literally 3 shows in advance. Someone could probably edit a full season of Heroes into a 6 episode miniseries that felt tight and strong. But 24 episodes... it's padding. And not good padding.

Dollhouse is a true gem of a show, which started as a show-of-the-week series, and started getting Arc-y in the second half of the first season, culminating in some really amazing shows.... They were believed to be canceled, and somehow got a second season, which they started with standalone shows again - perhaps wanting to remain accessible to those outside of the arc... but it got them canceled, though with a 7 show "permission slip" to wrap it all up. And so for the past 2 months I have been deliriously enjoying Dollhouse's conclusion with 7 pure arc shows that cater directly to the story with very little standalone.

Back in September, when Dollhouse was only slightly arc-y, and so was Fringe, I was loving both shows. But today, with Dollhouse being in full Arc, the fact that Fringe returned from Xmas hiatus with not one, not two, but THREE non-arc shows (each of which offered but one SENTENCE of reference to the larger arc), I just feel disappointed.

I'm sure that next week, things will be back on track, since they only have 8 more episodes in the season, and some major plot arc to move forward... Plus Dollhouse will be dead and buried, so I'll have to love it. I've got nothing else left!

In conclusion, my name is Jim and I'm a geek.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Same Old

Remember the one about the parrot who ate the wristwatch? Polly Ticks? Yeah, that's what we have in Cleveland. This week the fun was in discovering that the "best in the country" clinical implementation we're building our system around actually has quite a few gaps that we'll be exposing, so there were a lot of wagons being circled. I won't go into it further... it's just amusing.

I will say that there are some stretches of road in Cleveland that are flat out depressing. I was going up Euclid east of the city passing block after block of boarded up shops, buildings, houses... Major seeming intersections have their stoplights set to flashing yellow - such is the light traffic.

In general, the driving in this city is a bit frustrating to me - people are generally not in a rush to get anywhere, and when they're thinking about turning, they like to slow down and REALLY consider that course of action. And if someone's slowing down to your right, you should probably slow down too, just to make them feel ok. I've seen 3 lanes of traffic going slower and slower in sympathy for someone who is making a right turn in a half block. It's remarkable.

There have been some interesting businesses, and I'm taking pictures as we pass them. Near our office is "Everything, and then some" fast soul food. Wednesday's special? Neckbones. A bit further up the road, T&L Pest Control and Christian Book Store - In four windows: "Church Supplies" "Bibles from $1.95", "Roach and Ant Spray", and "Mice and Rat Bait". Captain Jack's Shrimp Boat and Liquors had an empty lot, but a guy going in and out of the front door looking furtively. I decided not to take that picture.

I'm on my way home now... looking forward to the weekend! Bella has her first Synchro Swim meet!

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Back in Fashion

Isaac has decided just recently that cuddles are a-ok, and has been giving them out again. He's still very emotional, and prone to fits of tears over seemingly minor things, but he's been connecting with us a lot more again.

I had a wonderful day with him - we visited Edinborough Park TWICE today, and he got a total of over 3 hours of climbing and jumping in. We dined together, we took a nap together, and he was saying things from the back seat like "DAD, when we get there, I want to give you a hug, ok?" It has been wonderful, even though the day started with a 20 minute screaming fit because he wanted MOMMY to take a car off the shelf for him NOT DADDY. But hey, he's 3.

Bella has been amusing me with more food choices - On Friday night we all went out to The King and I for dinner - the kids have always liked Pad Thai, so why not? Anyway, Bella decided she didn't like the noodles this time, but ate almost EVERY SINGLE PIECE of tofu. With relish. Today she scarfed down a Turtle Bread spinach quiche this am, ate some heavily spiced fries at Kings for lunch, and for dinner, ate fried chicken (skin and all). Now, to get more green stuff in her. HOW?

Dollhouse's last episode aired: There is one more - it's an epitaph ten years later. And it was pretty cool how they worked their way up to "Yay, we saved the world!" Fade to... no they didn't. And the villain had a point: Once an idea is out there, either you own it and run with it, or somebody else will, and you'll get run over. So stopping the one group that had the tech first didn't really stop the coming problems with mind wiping technology.... ;->

Speaking of Technology: Another year of the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM) trade show has passed, and I can honestly say there wasn't a SINGLE thing I saw presented that had my finger twitching on the buy button. Yes, it's a recession, and yes, musicians are of all people quite subject to the whims of the economy (the "day job" is not always the highest paying to begin with...). But I have always loved the cool new "unobtainium" models they came out with every year.

I suspect part of it is that computers have become such a huge part of music these days that there is less of a drool market for a keyboard or drum machine outside of the boutique 'it does this one thing REALLY WELL' models, which nobody can make a profit on anymore. And it's hard to drool over software.

Speaking of jaded: We had a hilarious moment at our Scotch Avenging where we were enjoying a new bottle, a "secret stills" bottling from Skye (AKA Talksker), and it was so smooth and delicious and scarily drinkable, and our only criticism was "well, you can't really tell it's a Talkisker". We have become ridiculous. And it's wonderful.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010


2 Media things today, then some family.

1) Wow, synthpop is really coming back. I just found out about LaRoux today, a mouthy 21 year old androgyne who works with a reclusive older synth geek (who doesn't appear in public) to create amazing 1983-vintage songs with melodies, verses, choruses... chord progressions! Crunchy bleepy synths that sound right from the era. Sounds like early Yazz and Erasure - Vince Clarke must be proud. I'm so happy. This is much better than the spate of "electro" bands 5 years back where they used bleeps a bit, but forgot about the music. I also discovered Parralox, who do the retrovintage thing, only imagining what if the girl from Berlin sang for the Pet Shop Boys - Everything is very accurate for the 1984/1985 sound, and it's wonderful.

2) Ok, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang has haunted me a little: I can't recommend it to anyone, but it's so full of clever bits that I WANT to share it, if only I could x out some of the more dark parts- the gratuitous nudity and the disturbing incest subplot... but Val Kilmer and Robert Downey Jr were just so great.

Not media: Isaac has had a tough couple of days - lots of tantrums. A house is getting knocked down 2 doors down, and he started screaming with fear that they were going to keep coming up the block and start on our house next. It was very very disturbing to him. But with all of his toughness, he's also accepting a lot more cuddles, if you're willing to work with him on it. He's cuddling for naps. He's collapsing into hugs during wrestling sessions... but he's not walking up to you with his arms out.

Bella left 3 pages of math homework to do all tonight (she had a week), so I put my foot down, and she got it done, but not without some serious eye rolling. We enjoyed some cocoa while doing it. I also visited her at school today, bringing a burrito for lunch. I sat at her table and made small talk with the gang of 1st grade boys she sits with. She was wearing a black adidas track suit and had pigtails, and was elbowing her buddy Cooper a lot. It was very cute.

In all, it was a good day. I got a lot done for both clients, AND some good family time too. Pamela collapsed with a migraine in the early afternoon and Isaac took a nap, so it was a quiet place for me to work this afternoon. Looking forward to another good work day tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The wrapup on this one.

In general, it was a good day. No bodily injury. Work-related things went well, if a little strangely. In Jersey, I confirmed that I really am reaching the end of the project. There were no tears, but there was one final run out to Primo's for lunch, where they bestowed upon me a PrimoDonna-of-the-Month calendar: 18 months of cheesecake Jersey hotties holding sandwiches. Sadly, it stayed in the rental car this evening, so you'll just have to imagine this. If it was a little more self-aware, and a little less "actual sexy pinup", I might have considered keeping it.

As to Cleveland: the pieces of the puzzle are becoming clearer: We truly are in the middle of a massive rescue mission... for a project that is only 3 months old. The clients are very happy for our help and are very supportive. I'm feeling good.

But on to the craziness. Just two things to add to the story today:

As a favor for a co-worker I committed to running a stack of invoices over to the business office in Jersey today. My original plan was to take off around 3:30, drop them by 3:50, then get to the airport (a half hour max) in plenty of time. As you can figure, things got backed up, and I didn't leave for the business office until 4, hit traffic, and didn't head to the airport until 4:30. Still - no problem right? Yeah. That would be two massive accidents on the highways that turned my typical 20 minute drive to over an hour. I was white knuckles on the steering wheel loudly cursing the gods. I even took a whoops-backdoor alternate route - along with several thousand other smart people like me, so I don't think it helped.

I walked into the airport with less than 30 minutes to go to departure, without a boarding pass and not through security. I was OJ'ing through the airport and was the second to last one on the airplane - only the clear acrophobe was behind me, dragging his feet. Yes, my late arrival meant my first class seat was given up. Yes, TSA had set up a substation and went through my luggage and patted down my nether regions.

The flight was on time and uneventful: I sprung for the can of pringles, since my Primo Hoagie was so much earlier in the day AND I had counted on a first class meal... and I watched the Shane Black meta-movie "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" on the computer, with the window shrunk practically to iphone size and my hand shielding the proceedings - there were boobs in that movie I guess. I wanted to be respectful to my fellow passengers. This is where we need eye-phones. I think I liked the movie - some great Robert Downey Jr bits, but also a lot of Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (WTF) stuff. Also, Shane Black is clever and knows it, so perhaps instead of calling it "Kiss Kiss Bang Bang" they could have called it "Wink Wink Nod Nod". PS - I made that up - you can use it though.

Upon landing, I found a few messages from Jaguar: They were trying to pick up my car from the airport, but I wasn't there. Of course when I set up the pickup, I was clear: I will be on an airplane until 8:15. Have them come around 9pm. All of the messages were from 8pm, so I'm guessing we had a time zone problem with the pickup scheduling system. Fortunately they sent another truck out to get the car, and it was actually EARLY.

As I rode in a taxicab home, secure in the knowledge that people will be looking after my car, I got a call from the tow truck driver: They didn't want to let my car out of the garage without paying for parking. Also, they didn't let HIM out without paying for HIS parking either. You know, it sure seems like when a guy is getting his car towed, they could cut him a break at the parking lot, but no. They're on the lookout for those scammers - "DUDE, you should park at the airport, and then when you leave, just call a tow truck - you'll get off SCOT FREE". It was resolved with a bit of phone tag, but in the end: Ridiculous.

I got home and Zinsser was totally excited, as was Bella, who was up well past her bedtime waiting for me. We cuddled and she's off to sleep, and I'm just happy to be home.

I think that one night away is actually harder than 3 nights away (FOR ME) in that I'm on the move the whole time: With a multi-night stay, you kind of have a home base and can put your feet up. When you're in-and-out, it's much busier.

Monday, January 11, 2010

The Ongoing Crisis

First let me say: It was a wonderful weekend. We had the Wisconsin branch of the family in town for Grandma's 10th annual posthumous birthday party. We got the Fort Atkinson brood on Saturday, with the three boy cousins Seeger, Liam, and Julian. Bella and Isaac were in play heaven... (more on that, of course), with a chili party over at cousin Heather's, and then the birthday BRUNCH on Sunday at the Lexington. This is usually a dinner, but schedules just seemed to dictate a brunch option, and it was wonderful, if for no other reason than there were no complex "who goes to bed where and with what stuffed animal" instructions for the babysitter - just 4 hours of playtime.

But there were some... stresses...

It all started Friday: My project out in Cleveland is for strategic planning and review, preparing for a major project launch. On Friday, they pushed the fast forward button: Our gears shifted into "MAKE THIS THING GO NOW", and I got a field promotion to the (interim) Project Director. So my nice every-other week gig has turned into a full time monster starting now. I actually could have worked all weekend on this, but I put my foot down and agreed to just work harder this week, because come on, the FAMILY was in town.

So I was good and stressed about this - big responsibility, lots of people asking for my time, PLUS feeling sad about having to get back on the road so quickly... and we're working hard to clean the house for the arrival of the cousins. Right after dinner, I take a good look at Bella and realize she's got Pink Eye. Goopy green gunk, red eyes. Bella and I jumped in my car to make it to the Target Clinic before they closed, and just three blocks along the way... my car decides it's time for its annual "throw off a tire" game. So I'm driving on the slippery snow with a tire shredding on the wheel, my daughter with pink eye in the back... (if you're keeping score at home, my car does this once a year - a tire just comes OFF of the alloy wheel on a very cold day)

I found a place to park, and Pamela picked us up with Isaac and we made it a family outing. Pamela and I got our H1N1 shots while we were at it.

Saturday was more scrambling to clean before the cousins came (the christmas decorations came down too), PLUS "gotta respond to this" emails about Cleveland... AND my client in New Jersey appears to have read her email from the past month all in one go, and sent me a strange snippy email that betrayed a complete lack of understanding of what I've been doing for her for the past month. I wisely decided NOT to reply to her, but the stress level went back up.

Now, with the late night at Target, Isaac was definitely low on sleep, so when the cousins did arrive, we got a fair amount of territorial posturing and screaming... he had to go to bed GOOD AND EARLY. Fortunately, he was a good bit more civilized on Sunday...

And the time with the cousins WAS wonderful, and I did my best not to let all of the madness of the previous days impact me, but I wound up just being exhausted.

By Sunday night, I was wound back up again, thinking of all I'd need to do this week (though I had successfully kept from doing any work during the weekend), and I excused myself to get an early bedtime (for my 7am flight - 4:45 wakeup). And spent most of the night staring at the ceiling feeling my heart pounding. Not much sleep, alas.

Driving to the airport, I noticed the car was riding a little rough, and pulling into the airport garage, I saw that the air suspension system had gone haywire, with the driver side riding low low low, and the passenger side riding high high high. So I needed to arrange for a tow truck on that (needs to wait until I return, however).

Fortunately, meetings and work actually went VERY WELL - for all of my worry, I actually got down to business pretty well. I even had a little skip in my step as I left the Jersey client for my car. As I crossed the street, a car stopped for me at the crosswalk (backing up 10 cars behind him). I gave him a hearty wave, and walked right into the ped xing market, knocking it into the street and following it right down.

My client saw it happen from her window and rushed down to make sure I was ok. Sure, she won't respond to emails or phone calls in a timely manner, but fall face first outside her OFFICE, and I get a response. ;) It seems overkill to mention that the hotel lost my reservation... but they did, but they had room for me so it was ok.

Anyway, I took it as a sign to cocoon for the evening. I did venture out for some pasta at the family-owned place near my hotel and had some fabulous gnocchi. There is good in this world.

So that was my crazy few days. I am feeling good about things, but boy, that world threw me some curves these past few days. I'm looking forward to some equilibrium again.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Cleveland Style

1) The meetings here in Cleveland have gone very well, and I got the info I needed to take the next steps in this project. The cat is out of the bag, strike up the band, we're getting this show on the road.

2) We have had ICE DRIZZLE here for 3 days now: My car has been become encased in ice every time I park it, and today I wound up scraping the windows 5 separate times. I AM TIRED OF THIS. We're talking thick ice mixed with snow making all of the windows completely opaque. IT IS RIDICULOUS.

When I return in 2 weeks, I fully expect this situation to be resolved.

3) Speaking of leaving - I am jetting out of town early tomorrow to avoid a lake-effect snow storm that will dump over a foot on the area starting late afternoon. I think the ticket change fee was well spent in this particular case.

4) Tonight I had "Cleveland's Best Pizza" at Geraci's. It's a really sweet tomato sauce and a thick chewy crust, with thick cut pepperoni and sausage with big fennel seeds.. I'm gonna go out and say that I have not had pizza like this before: This is not new york style, nor chicago style. It is Cleveland Style. And I like it.

Between the ice storms and the pizza, my co-workers and I are now applying "Cleveland Style" to have both positive AND negative connotations. It's the verbal equivalent of a shrug.

Monday, January 04, 2010

It was glorious

18 days at home. It was wonderful.

Now I am headed to Cleveland. But it's going to be great.

Friday, January 01, 2010

After the storm...

Whew. Christmas is over. It's a new year. "Twenty Ten" is how I'll be referring to it, not "two thousand and ten". Looking back, my hope for using "Aught" never really caught on - I'm referring to last year as "Oh-Nine".

We rang in the new year last night playing Monopoly (Horse Lover's Edition) with Lilli and PapaBam, who are here for the week. Bella did a good job playing too - we had to help her with some of the money stuff. Plus she was up WAY past her bedtime and was seriously punchy. Uncle Rich rang in the new year asleep with his CPAP machine softly purring. I would have loved to have been in bed too, but nobody likes a party pooper, so I settled for lights out at 12:05.

Yes, Bella stayed up to Midnight, and yes, she got up at 8 and yes, she's crabby. Isaac has had to give up his room for houseguests. On the first night, he screamed for a solid hour at bedtime wanting to be in HIS room. He's used to being in our room now, but here on day 3 of the visit has taken to walking around asking "DAD WHEN ARE THEY LEAVING? I WANT THEM TO GO HOME NOW". So New Years Day will be a day where we give them lots of movies in the basement and count the minutes to an early bedtime.

Of course, it hasn't been all crabby around here: Papa and Bella have clocked a lot of time building a wooden train from scratch. Isaac and Rich have been bonding in guy sporting things. Lilli and Bella have been great cousins... And Papa, Lilli, and I snuck off to see Avatar in 3D. It was my second viewing, and boy, what an amazing film. WOW.

I read an interview with James Cameron in Wired where he proudly zoomed in on one of the NaVi, and showed her headdress, explaining that every part of it had been individually modeled, that no detail was left out. I mention it because when we left the theater, the FIRST thing out of Papa's mouth was "DID YOU SEE the knot work on their jewelry? It was immaculate! The gems and bones were beautiful!" Add to this our Horse Girl Lilli was thrilled with all of the riding/flying scenes, and her 13-year old brain quickly latched on to the political allegories in the movie ("You know, it got me thinking that we did a lot of that sort of thing to the native americans, didn't we?") It speaks to how sometimes there are levels that we as older moviegoers take for granted that will actually turn on lightbulbs for younger people.

So in conclusion: We all loved Avatar. PapaJoe said "It's the best thing I've ever seen".

Being at home has been wonderful: I head out to Cleveland next week, and I have some pre-work to do this weekend, but I could get used to being in this house. I'm also taking advantage of my time to get back into shape: Pamela and I are sharing a personal trainer, and Tammi is completely whipping us into shape. I've had some days where I literally couldn't move (2 days after the workout is when the hamstrings tighten up, she told me), but I can feel this stuff working. IT's different than the work I was doing last year: This is building work - high weights, low repetitions - as opposed to toning work (lower weights, higher reps).

Final note: I love my Kindle DX. The larger screen really does make a difference, and it's completely worth the upgrade for me.