Sunday, December 26, 2004


On a very, very few occasions, I've had the following conversation:

Them: Hey, nice to meet you. So where you from?
Me: San Fernando valley. Y'know: Southern California.
Them: No, I mean where are you really from? You know, are you Chinese? Japanese?
And usually I just tell them that my parents are originally from China, and I leave it at that. But inside, it kinda bugs me. Really, I know it's just curiosity about family backgrounds, chit chat, getting to know you. It should be more annoying than anything, like if my last name was "O'brien" and the first question out of somebody's mouth was: "So, you Irish?" But that isn't the case, and I know that I've always had something of a neurotic streak in me, and that I've always been hypersensitive about being different, of standing out in the crowd. (I'm tall, it comes with the territory.)

So in my head, sometimes I take it the wrong way. I hear accusations that I'm a foreigner. That I don't belong here. And I just want to say: "No, I'm an American. I was born here. I live here. I'VE NEVER EVEN BEEN THERE! I'VE NEVER EVEN BEEN TO CHINA, FER CRYIN' OUT LOUD!"

And now all that's out the window now.

...because I'm going to China. T-minus 6 hours and counting. W00t!

My mom and I are heading to Shanghai for a week, and then hopping up to Beijing for another few days before heading back to the States. As mentioned, it'll be the first time over there for me, and the first time back for my mom in probably more than 40 years. Should be cool.

Of course, trying to avoid the political commentary here, but I thought I'd mention that it's been an interesting experience reading the travel guides about Shanghai which all give an overview of the city's history. The Paris of the Orient, Shanghai was a city largely partitioned up into concessions by multiple imperial powers (England, the United States and France) for much of the second half of the 19th and first half of the 20th centuries, each concession wholly administrated by a foreign power. But I'll leave the analogizing and conclusion drawing as an exercise to the reader.

* * *

Anyway, when we get back, the SOOTTAD is going to fly out to L.A. (pretty much day of) and we'll spend a few days hiking in the desert. AND THEN, some Korean BBQ in Vegas, catching another Cirque show and then finally back to Boston. I'm usually better about leaving some breathing room between activities, but there was a lot of cross-coordination that was needed on this one (the SOOTTAD almost immediately gets back on a plane to go to a dance thing in Florida), and we wanted to get it all in, so it couldn't be helped.

And I figure I've got some free time afterward, so I'll just rest up once I'm back home.

Running in LA; observations

Nobody walks in L.A.... unless they have to.

But people do run. And not just crazy out-of-town people who are visiting their folks for the holidays. I've even seen them. (Maybe two or three, but it is the Valley after all.) While I was running, of course.

A nice change, running outside in shorts and a T-shirt again; clear skies every day so far.

My first run was in the late afternoon, the day I flew in. I see nasturtiums (ours frosted over more than a month ago). I smell roses, I smell... wood smoke? I see the smoke from the chimney and smile when I think about what I'm wearing as I pass by outside. It's 60 degrees and the skies are a deep blue as we approach dusk. The same thought hits me as a run by a house bedecked with Christmas lights -- I catch a glimpse of a living room full of holiday spirit: the tree, lights and decorations, a warm cozy picture that seems somewhat out of place amidst the citrus trees and palms. And then it gets dark and the temperature drops about 15 degrees and I'm not quite as amused. I forgot how quickly it cooled off out here. I occasionally hit pockets of warm air and wonder if it's been trapped by the geography or it's just car exhaust.

The next day I run in the late morning. It's gotta be in the 70s, with a moderate wind. Longer run, different roads. More traffic during the day, but I also see more runners than the previous night. The smell of car exhaust ebbs and flows with the traffic and wind, but I catch other scents as I pass their sources: pizza from the take-out place, more flowers, pine trees ... and Christmas flocking (in pastel yellows, pinks and purples, iew) at the tree lot, water as I cross the Los Angeles River in all it's paved glory (although I do notice they added a walking path along one of it's "banks").

A run in L.A. is a run through my childhood.

I run by my old elementary school, maybe a mile and a half from the house. For some reason, it still surprises me how little has changed. The mural mosaic on the main office that went up when I was in 4th grade (made up of drawings by the students, none of them mine), is still there. The buildings. The grassy slope with the semi-circular concrete benches. The playground, now with the addition of a few trailers (temp-to-perm classrooms?) and the basketball courts relocated, but the handball courts (wall) still standing. The separate kindergarten building and playground is the same except for the sandbox which has been replaced with that space-age black rubber stuff. The tree just outside (under which I shat myself while I sat waiting for class to start because I was too shy to ask for permission to be let into the building to use the bathroom) is still there too.

I get to the park where we used to watch fireworks on the fourth, until it's demise after Prop 13. The "Land of Oz," a cool maze-like structure within a giant sandbox area (before the sterile suspended bridges and spiral slides became the norm), great for tag and hide-and-seek games, full of screaming, spastic children, and piss and feces -- gone. (The 3-story giant robot with tube-slides for arms at the other park I used to go to is also no more.) Basketball courts migrated to the other side of the main building, which is currently under construction. (What is it with the basketball courts anyway?) But I recognize the baseball diamonds where I played T-ball, anchoring the corners of the field where I could never get my kite to do anything but cartwheel along the turf. I run the "track" that encircles them, just packed dirt and gravel like it's always been, and pass the soccer fields and the separate little league diamonds. I run by the trees lining the fields, under which we'd eat the tart orange slices brought by somebody's mom (probably from oranges from their own backyards) after games, back before there were "Soccer Moms" or minivans or SUVs, or worries about mortgage payments, unemployment (mine or anybody else's), or "homeland security."

Some things change, some things stay the same.

* * *

A few other observations:

  • The air quality seems much better than it's been on my last couple of visits. I don't know whether it's a seasonal thing, or because it's been cooler, or if the winds have been carrying the smog out of the valley, or it really is just better, but the runs haven't been bad at all. I'm coughing a bit more than when I first got here (I sound just like my Dad sometimes), but at least I haven't felt that constricted and uncomfortable feeling in my lungs that I've experienced in the past. Dad's been taking the train recently; I suppose if other Southern Californians are taking advantage of the mass transit options even a few days a week, maybe the air around here really is getting better.

  • almost everyone I see is wearing sunglasses. Hey, it's sunny. The runners almost uniformly are wearing headphones, too. Running it their own private worlds, to their own soundtracks. Actually, on the one overcast day I've seen since I've been out here, everyone is still wearing sunglasses, even the older folks on their morning constitutionals. Headphones on, but still occasionally reciprocating a wave hello.

Friday, December 24, 2004

The Soundtrack

Running with music really is an entirely different experience. It does have all the drawbacks I've mentioned before, but with the right tunes, it can feel like your life has a soundtrack, like you're in a movie. And everything is focused on you. Because you're the star. And you're hitting your stride, and the music is hitting it with you. And everything's great, and you're connected to the world around you, just like it is on the big screen. And it's simply magical. It's this great, amazing feeling...

...except that it isn't real. It's artificial. Fake.

Sometimes the music is ALL THAT, but sometimes it will work against you and just throw everything out of whack. Yesterday, the tunes and all the rhythmic dissonance they were causing late in the run got me discombobulated enough that I managed to get a cramp.

On the long, gray and lonely days where I'm just dragging, I'll make do -- the tunes are a pretty good way to jump start my body when I'm dragging. (I've liked "Lester Left Town"" by the Bruknahm Project) But I much prefer it when you really are in tune with everything around you and you're making your own music.

Friday, December 17, 2004

Slow run; too much rhythm

I generally don't like running with music. There are actually a couple of reasons for this, most of which could be considered practical, and all of which I think I could convince you were valid.

The first is that when you're listening to music, you lose part of the connection to your environment. In practical terms, this means that you're much less likely to hear that truck that's about to run you over. But perhaps on a more ethereal level, I like running because I like being outside and taking everything in -- what I can see, what I can smell, what I can hear. And I've found that it's much more interconnected than I would have expected -- disrupting one sensory input seems to disrupt the others. The headspace is just different or something.

But I'm doing a lot more miles because of the training for the half-marathon, and those miles tend to be on the road and done on my own because I'm unemployed and starting the runs from the house. And as much as I like running and moving and being outside, given the number of miles I'm doing these days, and the roads, and the running alone thing, I hate to say it, but the runs can get a little tedious (not to mention that it's winter so often enough, it's landscapes of gray and grayer).

So I figured I'd try running with headphones again.

Now, the other problem I have with running with music is that it throws off my rhythm. I tried it once before, a long time ago, and my stride was all over the map. I follow the music. Or rather, my body wants to follow the music, but more often than not, the music doesn't want to be followed. At least on a run. But I've been running for a lot longer now and I have a better sense of pace, so I was hoping that it wouldn't be a problem.

Anyway, I tried to do this on a long run yesterday (7.8 miles), but as luck would have it, the battery in my MP3 player died just as I hit the bottom of the hill. (maybe 300 yards from the house) I should note that for the short time that I had music, it seemed pretty good. I got through maybe half of "1000 dollar car" by the Bottle Rockets before it died, a song with a nice slow tempo, and it didn't seem to throw off my stride at all. And on a cold day (like just about every other day recently), it was good to have a melody and rhythm to get me moving.

So today I figured I'd do a SLOW and EASY run, so I picked a 5-1/2 mile loop, put on the headphones and headed off.

Here's the playlist:

1000 Dollar car - the Bottle Rocks (4:46)
Higher Ground - Red Hot Chili Peppers (3:22)
Plenty - Guru w/ Erykah Badu (4:38)
Conjunction Junction - Schoolhouse Rock (2:59)
Deadweight - Beck (6:13)
Do Your Thing - Basement Jaxx (4:41)
Two Way Action - Andrew Bird (4:43)
That Don't Impress Me Much (Dance mix) - Shania Twain (4:28)
She Don't Use Jelly - Ben Folds Five (4:13)
Rock Lobster - B-52s (4:54)
Love Shack - B-52s (5:22)

I should note that our house is on a hill, so any run I do is, by default, a hill run. And then the area around us is also essentially on a hill, so the geography kinda looks like a stretched out, lopsided bundt cake pan. Anyway, I head out down the hill to "1000 Dollar Car" again, and it's feeling pretty good -- a nice slow song as a warm up for my nice slow run. It's supposed to be an easy day after all. Turning the corner, it's still downhill but the grade is lower, and it's the Chili Peppers' version of Stevie Wonder's "Higher Ground." It's got a faster pace, but it's ok, I can kind of manage striding half-time. It's not quite right, but it's manageable, and I'm concentrating on going at my own pace rather being controlled by the music.

The first sign of trouble is on "Plenty." I can feel that I've picked up the tempo, even as I turn the corner and the grade flattens out. But it feels good to run with the music, it's like I've found a slipstream and it's practically carrying me along. During the next mile or so, and the next two songs, I feel like things are somewhat back under control: I bring the tempo down, and am going at more or less my own pace (although probably still a bit quicker than I would have liked, but ok), turning the next corner and starting the first of the long uphill sections of the run.

And then all is lost: "Do your thing," Basement Jaxx. I thought I was strong. I thought I could handle it. I try to hold my pace, but the driving beat proves too much for me. BOOM, BANG, BOOM BANG-BANG. Stride, stride, stride-step-step. I must look like an idiot bounding up this hill like some crazy cartoon character. step - step - tri-ple-step And in my head, I'm following the magic bus, shooting rainbows and cellophane stars. Mile three of my slow easy run, and I'm striding, leaping, bounding UP THIS HILL. I'm feeling good, the musical slip-stream pulling me along, and it's easy, and my legs are... tiring. I notice... my breathing. Funny how quickly these things catch up with you.

Next corner, new song, new hills. The tempo is all wrong. I'm trying to establish a rhythm to get up the next hill, to get some momentum, but the music is now getting in the way. Can you - hey - move over th' - *exhale* - got to ge' - leg, move... It's a struggle to get back. There's an easy downhill towards the end and I recover a bit. It's also a bit warmer here, catching the last of the afternoon sun (what there is of it), and finally with the wind at my back (Did I mention that it was windy? And somehow, it was a headwind for almost the entire way except for this one stretch.) as "She Don't Use Jelly" ends and I pick up "Rock Lobster" for the home stretch. The Lobster has some drive and it helps me get up the beginning of the last hill, but it ends just as I'm in the thick of things and the "Love Shack" followup just takes the wind out of my sails. The last push to the house is a struggle.

5-1/2 miles, planning to run 9-minute miles. I end up with sections where I was running sub-8s. Whoops.

Maybe I should save the headphones for fartleks. We'll see, I'll probably give it another couple of tries.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

The Futility of Being Good

I had my first job interview today; so leading up to it, I've been trying to be good.

Last week, I turned down an offer to hang out in San Francisco for the weekend, FOR FREE. A friend, who knew that I had some free time, was flying out to the Bay area on business and thought it'd be more fun to have other people to hang out with, so he offered me a free ticket and a place to crash, if I was interested. And I was, but I figured it might be unwise to go into an interview just back from a cross-country flight, possibly hung over, probably jetlagged; and anyway, I thought it would better if I spent the time reviewing my old projects so that I could talk intelligently about them.

And last night I tried to be good because I knew I had to be up early this morning for the interview. We had plans to meet up with friends for dinner in town, but I didn't have any drinks and we didn't stay out late so we could get home and get to bed at a reasonable hour. It was kind of a bummer having to cut things short, but I wanted to be well-rested, and thankfully everyone understood and was supportive and wished me the best of luck.

I was a little stressed when I got to bed and was still running over some things in my head (prepwork for the next day), but it didn't keep me up.

The heartburn did, though.

I've noticed a few twinges over the last few days, but thankfully nothing full blown. I thought it might have been the acidity or sweetness of the juices I've been drinking in the morning (cans of Hansen's fruit smoothies -- leftovers from the summer party), but it's probably just the stress.

Over the last few years, I've observed that there seems to be more of a relationship to what I'm doing rather than what I'm eating when it comes to getting heartburn. I normally can eat things that are pretty spicy or greasy or whatever without any problems, but if I'm overtired and stressed (like trying to force myself to stay awake when I'm doing late night driving and my body really wants to be asleep), I could be eating dry white toast with saltines on the side and still get heartburn. I've also learned that I can sometimes nip things in the bud if I notice the symptoms early and take an antacid and get some rest.

Last night's dinner certainly wasn't out of the ordinary (fried chicken served over mashed potatoes with a white gravy with sweet peas at the Linwood Grill in the Fenway), but I did notice the beginnings of that familiar burning, so I took a Zantac and headed for bed. I figured I'd be fine. Of course, no such luck. You've got an interview tomorrow -- do you really think we'd let you be well-rested? Dude, what were you thinking?

So that sucked -- it wasn't the worst heartburn I've had, but it was enough to make it hard to get to sleep, and what little sleep I got was fitful and uncomfortable. It felt better around 6:30am, almost right on time for me to get up at 7. (That's also common: the whole suddenly it feels fine at way too late AM for no reason thing. I've never quite understood that either.)

So in the morning, feeling better but still tired, we have breakfast at Wilson's diner (blueberry pancakes and bacon -- mmmm, bacon) and I drive up for the interview.

The interview.

Yeah, so, it could have been worse; it could have been better.

It also could have been over.

But it's not.

It turns out that they're right in the thick of crazy schedule crunch to meet a deadline and they don't have time to interview me today. I get to talk to one guy, but after that, I'm told that I'm done for the day and that the hiring manager will give me a call to reschedule things.

So I guess I haven't put this interview cycle behind me yet so I still can't concentrate on all those other things I wanted to get to.


UPDATE 17Dec2004:
The hiring manager never got back to me, so I finally called today and left a message. (Maybe I misunderstood what the office manager said? Was I supposed to call him?) He calls me back and tells me they found someone to fill the position, oh, and sorry about not calling you back and all that.

"Mea culpa," he says.

Sometimes I wonder why I bother. But in Steve Martin's immortal words:

"Sure, I'm pissed; but what difference does it make?"

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

Irony. Not.

Comment spam, posted by "Blog Ethics," advertising a "Blog Publishers Association."

Help stop evil word of mouth marketers like by supporting the Blog Publishers Association founded by legendary blogger Jason Calacanis.

Posted by Blog Ethics at December 6, 2004 07:57 PM


UPDATE: It occurs to me that this isn't some group with an ends-justifies-the-means mentality that is trying to get the word out, it's just the same bunch of deceitful, lying bastards that will do anything to promote their own sites. I did google "blog ethics" and ended up at Mr. Calacanis' site where he states that the comment spam isn't from him.

F'ing spammers.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Stupid Cold, Moron.

So I went on a short run today, the first run this season with the temperature below freezing. (WeatherUnderground said it was in the high 20s.) Just an easy run after a day off and the 27+ miles from last week, keeping things loose for some trackwork tomorrow. The run was ok -- I initially felt like I hadn't worn enough layers, but after the first mile (while still being cold) it felt tolerable.

However, for the last hour or so, my right nasal sinus passage has grown increasingly irritated (sorry, I know that's gross but I'm having trouble explaining it with prettier pictures). It's not running like a river or anything and it doesn't feel congested...and yet it does. The near constant nose-blowing accomplishes nothing. It's like you're in an apartment where you've just noticed a damp spot under the water stain in the ceiling, so you mop it up, but really it's just a matter of time before the whole ceiling collapses in a downpour because the upstairs apartment has actually flooded because your moron neighbor left the bathtub running.

Except replace the apartment building with my head, and replace the moron with me because I signed up for a half-marathon in March which forces me to have training runs when it's below freezing outside.

In unrelated news: it's 5pm and no napping has occurred.

Sunday, December 05, 2004


I have to say, I'm really going to miss the afternoon naps when I start working again.

I haven't really napped in years; probably since college. It's funny, I can still remember hating "nap time" in kindergarten, when you had to lie on these thin gray-brown segmented mats on the parqueted linoleum of the classroom with the lights out, when you just wanted to do, I dunno, probably just about anything but lie still on the floor in a darkened classroom. And then sometime in high school, it seemed only natural to take a long nap immediately after getting home from school (probably for 2-3 hours) and then waking up for dinner, TV and bed again. (I think I managed to do most of my homework at school during free periods.)

Napping is a lot harder to do when you're working or when you're out and about or when you have things that need to get done. You're just too busy to nap. I'm sorry, power naps don't count. (Although I have to admit that 10-15 minutes can do a decent job of recharging me.) And I think at some point I also started to worry that it would just make it more difficult to get to sleep at night, especially when I had to be up the next morning.

But now with my more, uh, flexible schedule, none of those things are really a problem -- I've probably napped every single day this past week.

And it's not like I'm even keeping particularly weird hours right now: I don't go to bed particularly late, and I'm not getting up particularly early. But for whatever reason, my body just seems to want to shut down sometime in the mid-afternoon and I need to be horizontal. I occasionally experienced this feeling in the past, but generally speaking, sacking out at your desk tends to be frowned upon by the management-types.

I dunno. Maybe it's the shorter days. Or the mid-day long runs. Or just a by-product of an unstructured schedule.

Regardless, I seem to be getting my nap on, and I'll enjoy it while I can.

And the KTUs (Kitty Thermal Units) are a nice bonus.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

'Burb Development

A friend of mine sent me an article from the local paper about the development going on in our neighborhood.

However, more and more, the homes in Lakeview, especially on Marivista Avenue, are being torn down and replaced by taller and larger homes. Rose's single-story home is now sandwiched by towering houses.

"They're too tall," Rose said yesterday as she sat in her kitchen. "The neighborhood was beautiful, and it was very peaceful until they started the construction."

Two similar-sized homes once sat on either side of Rose's house at 113 Marivista Ave. One of her former neighbors, she said, was a gardener for the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. When he sold his property to be developed by Walter E. Ohnemus Inc. last year, his beautiful landscaped yard went away as well.

His lot now holds two homes on one side of Rose's house. And on the other side, two more homes replaced a lot that once held one house, Rose said.

"When they razed the homes, they also razed the beautiful trees I enjoyed," she said. "Where the house (to her right) sits now, there used to be a beautiful ash tree that turned a gorgeous gold in the fall. It used to cast a golden light into my kitchen. Now, I can practically reach out and touch the new house."

There has been quite a bit of development going on in Waltham. It's hard to miss when you can hear the construction and the road traffic (trucks and backhoes and the like), and previously, the excavation (can you say...BOOM-BOOM?) from the bedroom, with windows closed. There's also been flyers around town about the proposed development of Lincoln Woods. But I hadn't really noticed all the other pockets of construction until I started running around the neighborhood again. I was kind of surprised how many new constructions were getting squeezed into spots around the neighborhood.

I'm not so thrilled about all of it, but I have to remain a bit circumspect. I was thinking about it on my run this afternoon, and I remembered a conversation I had with one of my neighbors who told me that the land my house was built on had actually been part of the lot next door, and that one of the previous owners had built a second house, my house, and sold it off. And as I walked my cool-down along the street, I think I could tell which houses were from the original neighborhood, and which ones had filled in the cracks, mine amongst them.* It was actually interesting to imagine what the street would have looked like without all the modern colonials that have gone up over the years -- a handful of bungalows on nicely sized lots dotting the road, all with a view of Hardy Pond out the back and with nothing but the tree-filled hillside across the street.

* FWIW, I take at least some consolation that my house isn't wildly out of scale with the rest of the houses in the neighborhood, as opposed to some of the newer McMansions that are going up right now.

My house wouldn't exist if there hadn't been any new development. I can appreciate that. And I can appreciate that I probably wouldn't have been able to afford any other house in the area because of it. But it still bums me out. And I guess I'll just have to deal. And I'll have to be thankful that, at least, they didn't cut down the ash** and oak trees that are now in the backyard of my house.

** The sad thing about the ash tree is that it hasn't been doing so well over the last few years. It seems to be constantly shedding branches (especially in storms) and the foliage has been looking a little thin. I had a tree guy look at it last fall and he told me that something has been happening to the ash trees in the area, and that they weren't sure if it was due to some kind of disease or just the result of recent changes (hopefully temporary) in the local climate or environment.

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

Red fish; travel churn

So I'm beginning to wonder whether that whole business with the phone call I got last week about a job opportunity was just there to get me all agitated instead of letting me relax a bit. After submitting my resume, I've heard pretty much nothing. Granted, we just got back from a long holiday weekend, but I figured if they really were in such a hurry to fill this position, they would have given me a call first thing back Monday morning to schedule something. Then again, maybe I just have a misguided sense of the process and it takes longer to take care of this kind of thing -- I mean, really, I haven't done this in a while.

And despite the original sense I had from friends that the local job market has been improving, things still seem somewhat tepid. So, now that I've officially started looking into finding new job*, things are looking pretty lame. Figures. Maybe I should get my holiday plans in order, since I'm sure once that's set up, I'll have more calls than I know what to do with. Bah.

* I've actually been convinced by enough friends (including the SOOTTAD, who can be very convincing) that it'll be ok to hold off on the full-on search until next year. So I figure I've got this and one other thing in the pipe, and that'll be it until January.

And on the subject of holiday plans, things are brewing in the background, but like everything else, they're likely to implode like [insert colorful metaphor here] if even the slightest thing goes awry.

I was originally planning on heading back to L.A. for the holidays, and then spending New Year's with the SOOTTAD and some friends hiking around the Mojave again. But with the sudden appearance of available free time (barring a new job magically falling in my lap), I'm reconsidering a trip to China. Or rather, after initially dismissing the idea when my Dad brought it up, I finally realized that this might be the best chance I'm gonna have to make the trip. But now we've got the whole mess of evaluating prepackaged tours, figuring out flight itineraries and trying to coordinate schedules, all against the backdrop of having to balance all the special needs and particulars that the three of us have (related to destinations and trip duration and which I don't even want to start getting into here). Oh, and with a departure date sometime before the end of the month, not to mention the part where I have to get myself to L.A. to make all this happen.

I guess if it happens, it happens. And if it doesn't, it just wasn't meant to be, and we'll go back to plan A where we vaguely plan to take a month off sometime in the not too distance (but not too, uh, closer) future.

[UPDATE: I left a message with the hiring manager this afternoon, and when he called back, he told me that, because he's out of town next week, they'd try to set something up for the week after. So, I guess the ball really is rolling.]

Tuesday, November 23, 2004

Gotta Run

So I just signed up for Boston's Run to Remember, a half-marathon through the city of Boston. It seems like a cool way of participating in something associated with the city without having to qualify for the Boston Marathon, let alone do that whole "running a marathon" part. A half seems doable; a full marathon, not so much (despite having numerous friends who have completed one, or more).

I haven't run in an organized race since 1995, when I ran in the Thanksgiving Day Turkey Trot in Buffalo, NY.

I've actually signed up for two races since then (the Bay State Marathon in '98 and the Muddy Buddy race in 2002), but in both cases I managed to sustain debilitating injuries just a few weeks prior to the race date.

A coincidence?


But a parting thought for your edification: I signed up for the race last night, and during my run this afternoon I rolled my ankle on the way back to the house.

Not a bad start, huh?


As I've already mentioned, I've been sleeping better since the RIF actually happened. But I must say, I have been having a lot of strange dreams lately. I often have vivid dreams, and I'm going to take the fact that I'm having so many of them as a good sign that I'm finally getting enough rest and my creative batteries are starting to recharge.

On the other hand, the subject matter may be an indication that I'm not completely at ease these days.

    Sunday night:
  • Someone was trying to perform some operation that I was convinced was going to kill me.
  • I'm in a coma for what seems like months, if not years at a time, and every time I wake up, the organization of the company has changed, with only a few people providing any kind of continuity for me.
  • I've been laid off again, only this time they've got extra security detail (in tidy white uniforms, like a milkman or 50's gas station attendant), and I have all this extra crap in my office that I have to take home -- papers, books, boxes, several extra pairs of shoes, roller blades, it goes on and on. Where the hell did all this crap come from?
    Last night:
  • I'm driving to the office when suddenly my car veers hard to the right, flipping over when it hits the curb. I pull myself out, more or less unscathed, but I figure I should at least get myself checked out, so I ask someone to call 911 for me. The call never gets made, but as I walk through the field towards the nearby gas station, I find my cellphone lying in the grass (it must have fallen out of my pocket during the flip) so I try calling myself but at some point the call gets disconnected.
  • I'm at the office of the company that I'm going to interview at, although the interview isn't today. I guess I'm just here to drop off my resume. But, hmmmm, I don't seem to have it with me, despite having a huge stack of papers -- notes, random junk mail, paper recycling -- in my briefcase. Seems like a nice office though. I see a few ex-coworkers from the last job who have already started. It smells busy. You can hear the buzz of...quiet. Of people working. Ain't no screwin' around here.
  • I couldn't find my car in the parking lot, so now I'm riding with Earl, a buddy and helper (henchman?) of a friend. Somehow my car got taken away in a mix-up during some weird deal that went down. (drugs? money laundering? I have no idea.) On the way to the car, Earl spies a friend of his that's involved in a scuffle and tries to intervene, managing to get himself shot as we make our getaway. As we go off road through some nasty hills, he tells me he's fine... but I know he'll be dead before we get to my car. Watching us pass over the rough terrain, I wonder if my car could possibly make the journey back even if I found it.
So yeah, weird dreams.

Anyway, I think I was finally settling into things by yesterday morning. Despite the weird dreams, I had slept soundly. Over the weekend I'd started reading Journey to the West again (which I started reading about 4 years ago) and was planning on getting back to it later in the day. I also watched an on-line tutorial on character animation using Flash and thought I could either look for more tutorials or try doing a few tests on my own. I studied a little Chinese while eating breakfast (leftover pumpkin pie from the previous day's "friends Thanksgiving"), and was surfing online for places to learn massage therapy when the phone rang.

It's a woman from the career transition service that's being provided as part of our severance package. They've got a bunch of resources and some seminars that I figure might be a good way to get my head back into the game of looking for a new job. Not 5 minutes later, I get another call -- a headhunter. We chat only briefly before I get a call-waiting beep. It's a hiring manager from a local high-tech company -- he got my name from a former coworker.

I have to admit that I was a little troubled when I met up with a bunch of folks last week and heard that most of them had already been contacted by headhunters or had job interviews lined up.

So I got my calls, and I have to schedule the interview after I'm sent the guy my cleaned up resumé.

And I've got to clean up my resumé. And it seems like a really exciting opportunity, and honestly... I'm not so excited. I mean, I am. I'm excited. I can tell how cool it would be to work on the project he's describing. And I can tell I'll be engaged. But I can also tell that I'll feel in-over-my-head again, and I'll have to put in the extra hours and work my brains out, again. And I wonder if I've had enough rest (or will have had enough rest) to dive back into this. And there's a little voice in the back of my head that keeps asking me if this is really what I want to be doing.

And I know I haven't had enough time to sort that one out.

And that doesn't even get to the FEAR and the well of SELF-DOUBT that always threatens to drown me.


Friday, November 19, 2004

"Freedom": Day 4

I've slept better since they dropped the axe. There's a lot to be said for the relief afforded by resolution, regardless of what the actual results may be. And I've already said it to some who have asked how I felt about it: it could be worse -- I could still be working there. And the ultimate worst-case scenario, getting laid off, but deemed essential enough that they keep you around for another month before you officially lose you job. I don't know how they do it, on both sides of that particular equation.

So, I've been sleeping better. And waking up in the morning and realizing that I don't have to sit in a car for a half an hour to get to the northern reaches of the state to be at work has been nice, but it's a little weird filling the day. And it has been getting filled, certainly.

I cleaned up my desk. I paid the bills. I finally got around to raking the leaves in the yard*. Filed for unemployment**. Went running. Played piano. The SOOTTAD has been pleased that I've been around tidying the house and keeping the chaos in the kitchen in check. Busy. Busywork. But it's been tough trying to feel like I'm being productive, that I'm getting things done. It's tough wrestling with the whole idea that I need to be productive.

* I think my neighbor has been annoyed with me and has been waiting for me to get around to doing this. In past years, I've let it go until late in the season (hey, I get busy, these things happen), and invariably, sometime after he'd raked his yard, there'd be a really windy day and half the leaves that I'd left in my yard would blow into his. Last year he put in some hostas along the border of his yard and put up some low garden fencing, as much an aesthetic addition as a barrier against leaf intrusion. As I was raking yesterday, I noticed that my neighbor hadn't raked yet, or had left several sections unraked. I finished at dusk last night, and when I looked out the window this morning, the neighbor's yard, full of leaves the previous night, had already been cleared. Is he sending me a message? I'll admit that it was a pretty nice day to be outside doing yardwork (I think it hit 60°F, just a week after we got 4 inches of snow), but normally I would have expected him to do it sooner.

** So it looks like I won't be seeing any unemployment benefits anytime soon. It seems that severance pay disqualifies you because it's considered income, which I understand. I mean, they are effectively paying me to look for a new job. It just seems like it diminishes the "thanks for not suing us" goodwill that I thought they were trying to buy. Hey, I've said it before and I'll say it again: it could be worse.

One of the reasons I'm not terribly upset about getting laid off is that I've felt like I've needed a break for a while now. More than a weekend in Vermont, or a long weekend in Baltimore or Vegas. Or even a week-plus in and around L.A. Some real time off, just to shut down for a while.

And then there are also a bunch of projects that have been sitting on the sidelines for quite some time now. Things that would take more than a week or two to do properly. Learn Chinese, for real. Visit China with my parents. (That kind of follows the learn Chinese thing.) Work on an animated film, or three. Drive across the country. Maybe try a new career, something completely different.

But there's the fear. The fear that I won't get another job. The fear that taking any time off will reflect poorly on me and will make it even harder to get another job. The fear that I really will need unemployment.

There's also a strange sort of peer pressure, both internal and external. The external is obvious: there are a few people I've talked to already who are encouraging me to jump back into the engineering workforce ASAP. "[Y]ou can enjoy life and have time off in your vacation time while you have a job," one of them says. Which I suppose depends upon how much time you need, and how much vacation time a company is willing to give you. But that's in the minority. Most of my friends have been doing a pretty good job easing my concerns over taking some time off before jumping back in.

The internal, I admit, is a little weird, but I guess it's all about me and how my head is wired. I had a friend in high school (also American but ethnically Chinese) who would talk about how we were programmed: programmed to do well in school, to study, to work hard, to be competitive (academically), programmed to be geeks and nerds. We busted out in our own ways (he got a perm in 11th grade, I, uh, well... I think I just kinda burnt out in college at some point, met a girl), but a lot of that wiring is still in there. And I see my colleagues already posting job opening information, getting their resumés out, scheduling interviews, and I can feel the current trying to pull me along with them. I should be doing that. I need to get myself out there.

But I still feel like I need to take some time to get my shit together. Part of me loved what I was doing: design, understanding problems, finding solutions. It was like getting a new puzzle to play with and figure out. It was great. And yet, it's never just that -- there are usually other job responsibilities, and other factors, like company environment and social dynamic. So I wonder whether it's really what I want to do.

Jumping back in is certainly the path of least resistance -- I may worry about finding another job, but if I get it, it will at least be a familiar exercise, learning new environments and technologies, striving for understanding, proficiency, success. But I wonder whether I'd just be jumping back into the same situation I was in before, being miserable, wondering if I'm really doing the right thing. I feel like I'd be cheating myself if I didn't consider all my options, and regardless of where I end up, I'd like to make sure I take enough real time off to let me reset.

The starting point is what's hard right now. Do I hurry up and find a job or do I take some time off? I may not be working right now, but just this little decision point is keeping my stress levels at a point where it's distracting.


Monday, November 15, 2004

Talking about values

Just wanted to have a pointer to this column in the Globe:

PRESIDENT Bush and Vice President Cheney make reference to "Massachusetts liberals" as if they were referring to people with some kind of disease. I decided it was time to do some research on these people, and here is what I found.

The state with the lowest divorce rate in the nation is Massachusetts. At latest count it had a divorce rate of 2.4 per 1,000 population, while the rate for Texas was 4.1.

. . .

...Massachusetts also leads in per capita and family income while births by teenagers, as a percent of total births, was 7.4 for Massachusetts and 16.1 for Texas.

Take THAT, red states!

More good stuff at

The waiting is over

Well, I'm officially unemployed. The first time I've been without a job since graduating from college.

I've already filed my claim with the Massachusetts Division of Unemployment Assistance. One of the questions they asked was:

Have you been laid off from this job or industry before?
(Answer: no.)
It reminded me of all the numbers that you always hear on the news about unemployment. The unemployment rate, jobless numbers, first-time filers. Hey check it -- I'm a first-time filer! And I suppose I'm being just a tad cynical when I think: "yeah, here's your F'ing economic recovery, Mr. President."

Company layoffs seen during Bush Sr.: 1 (Companies:1)
Number of times laid off during Bush Sr.: 0

Company layoffs seen during Clinton: 0 (Companies:3)
Number of times laid off during Clinton: 0

Company layoffs seen during Bush Jr.: 5 (Companies:1)
Number of times laid off (so far) during Bush Jr.: 1
I realize that isn't actually a fair measure of a presidential administration, but if people are going to continue use things like the GDP to gauge how well the economy is doing (a fallacy if I've ever heard one), I'm not going to feel so bad about it.

Friday, November 12, 2004

RIF watch, Day 2

So I'm not really sure what I'm supposed to be doing at this point.

I just updated the bug report with the stuff I've been investigating over the last few days, but it looks like that project is being cancelled too. Just going through the motions... Due diligence, I guess.

Nobody's really doing any work right now. A few people that got back from the remote site meeting are filling out expense reports, but that's about it.

People have been gathering in the hallways all day. There are managers that are openly making jokes about how bad things are looking for everybody. We're already exchanging emails and other contact info.

I saw three people I didn't recognize being escorted to the CTO's office. Someone in my cube mentions that there was a whole line of heads prairie-dogging as they walked by. Did I mention that everyone's a bit on edge?

A vendor FAE who's been supporting one of the designs on-site for the last several months was collecting email addresses as he left. (For lunch? For the day? For good?)

And apparently I missed out on a big group lunch/drinking outing yesterday. Oh well.

Will they just get it over with, fer cryin' out loud?!

Thursday, November 11, 2004

Signs & Portents

There have been rumors going around the office over the past week or so.

I haven't really been paying attention, having been wrestling with my own effort to stay focused on the things I needed to do. But at some point, you really can't help but notice. Maybe it's a random comment somebody makes during a conversation. Maybe you catch a snippet of a conversation in the bathroom or from people walking by your cube.

* * *

The first time it came up was the week before Halloween. We were supposed to have a potluck and costume thing on Friday and they cancelled at the last minute (the Wednesday before), replacing it with a pizza lunch celebrating the Sox winning the series. It raised an eyebrow or two. I heard one person suggest that they didn't want a social event planned for the same day as a layoff. I suppose that would have taken some of the wind out of the festivities.

Anyway, we had pizza on Thursday, and Friday came and went without incident.

But it had me nervous.

* * *

The following week, during my performance review, my old manager tells me that the project that I got pulled off of (to handle the current disaster) is likely to be cancelled. Hmmm.

* * *

The buzz picked up again this week. Nothing definite, but like I said: you pick up things here and there.

There's this quiet, stoic guy at the office who's doing most of the lab testing for the device we're currently debugging. He'll occasionally swing by my cube to give me updates of his observations and to ask for insights or recommendations. Yesterday he stopped by, and during our conversation he made a comment about the device (the details of which I've forgotten) and suddenly burst out with this lengthy, crazed laugh. It kind of caught me off guard. I mean, I've heard him laugh before, but he really does have a rather reserved countenance, so in the past it's always been just a quick smile or a light chuckle. Yesterday's laugh was boisterous. And it was uncharacteristic and unnerving.

I ask if he's heard anything. Nothing definite, but he notes that there have been several closed-door meetings and off-sites that are being held by senior management. I haven't really noticed this myself, until I catch my manager meeting with HR as I leave for a lunchtime run. And catch another manager going into her office when we return.

* * *

Today, the tension is palpable. My daily fortune:

"A surprise announcement will free you."

Does it count if you already know about it?

When I get up to get water or to go to the bathroom, I often see groups of people standing around, talking in the aisles. Not much work is getting done. Some people are already tidying their desks. But no, we're all still here.

RIF watch, day 1. All's clear.

People are guessing tomorrow or Monday. I feel like the company likes to have its RIFs on Mondays, but others correct me, reminding me that we've had one on a Tuesday and on a Wednesday before. A guy who's been at a remote site all week gives me a call about a question I emailed him and at the end asks how things are going. I'm honest with him -- I have no idea. But we have a meeting scheduled tomorrow morning (he gives me a worried response) -- a debug meeting (whew, ok) -- so we're probably ok, at least for tomorrow, I tell him.

Yeah, we'll probably have until Monday.

* * *

I'm getting ready to leave, and double check my calendar. Huh. Where's that meeting?

I check my Inbox. One new message:

Tomorrow's, 11/12, XXXXX debug mtg has been canceled.

Oh shit.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Bah. (different from the last)

Stupid comment spam.

I'm sort of the default administrator guy over at FoodNerd!, and we started getting comment spam over there about 2-3 months ago. Online porn, gambling, prescription drugs. (I had no idea what cialis was until I started seeing this stuff.) Coffee? Dental insurance? Ok, that's a new one.


I've installed MT-blacklist which seems to have stemmed the tide somewhat. But the blacklist is huge (it's currently at 2172 entries) and will often take a couple minutes to run through all the steps. And I still get new URLs every day or two.

Does anyone out there have any suggestions? Should I upgrade? (We're currently running Movable Type 2.661 with MT-Blacklist 1.6.5) Are there any other tools or plug-ins out there that I should check out?


A friend of mine sent this to me via email yesterday; no other recipients listed in the headers. I'm not sure if she thought I needed it special, or if she had just been sending it out one at a time. Still, another take on where we go from here.

"We must make justice imaginable again in a world so obviously unjust. Give happiness back once more to people poisoned by the misery of the century. Of course that is a superhuman task but superhuman is a term for tasks that take a long time to accomplish that's all." Camus

by Clarissa Pinkola Estés

My friends, do not lose heart. We were made for these times. I have heard from so many recently who are deeply and properly bewildered. They are concerned about the state of affairs in our world right now. Ours is a time of almost daily astonishment and often righteous rage over the latest degradations of what matters most to civilized, visionary people.

You are right in your assessments. The lustre and hubris some have aspired to while endorsing acts so heinous against children, elders, everyday people, the poor, the unguarded, the helpless, is breathtaking. Yet, I urge you, ask you, gentle you, to please not spend your spirit dry by bewailing these difficult times. Especially do not lose hope. Most particularly because, the fact is that we were made for these times. Yes. For years, we have been learning, practicing, been in training for and just waiting to meet on this exact plain of engagement...

I grew up on the Great Lakes and recognize a seaworthy vessel when I see one. Regarding awakened souls, there have never been more able vessels in the waters than there are right now across the world. And they are fully provisioned and able to signal one another as never before in the history of humankind... Look out over the prow; there are millions of boats of righteous souls on the waters with you. Even though your veneers may shiver from every wave in this stormy roil, I assure you that the long timbers composing your prow and rudder come from a greater forest. That long-grained lumber is known to withstand storms, to hold together, to hold its own, and to advance, regardless.

In any dark time, there is a tendency to veer toward fainting over how much is wrong or unmended in the world. Do not focus on that. There is a tendency too to fall into being weakened by dwelling on what is outside your reach, by what cannot yet be. Do not focus there. That is spending the wind without raising the sails. We are needed, that is all we can know. And though we meet resistance, we more so will meet great souls who will hail us, love us and guide us, and we will know them when they appear. Didn't you say you were a believer? Didn't you say you pledged to listen to a voice greater? Didn't you ask for grace? Don't you remember that to be in grace means to submit to the voice greater?...

Ours is not the task of fixing the entire world all at once, but of stretching out to mend the part of the world that is within our reach. Any small, calm thing that one soul can do to help another soul, to assist some portion of this poor suffering world, will help immensely. It is not given to us to know which acts or by whom, will cause the critical mass to tip toward an enduring good. What is needed for dramatic change is an accumulation of acts, adding, adding to, adding more, continuing. We know that it does not take "everyone on Earth" to bring justice and peace, but only a small, determined group who will not give up during the first, second, or hundredth gale.

One of the most calming and powerful actions you can do to intervene in a stormy world is to stand up and show your soul. Soul on deck shines like gold in dark times. The light of the soul throws sparks, can send up flares, builds signal fires, causes proper matters to catch fire. To display the lantern of soul in shadowy times like these - to be fierce and to show mercy toward others, both, are acts of immense bravery and greatest necessity. Struggling souls catch light from other souls who are fully lit and willing to show it. If you would help to calm the tumult, this is one of the strongest things you can do.

There will always be times when you feel discouraged. I too have felt despair many times in my life, but I do not keep a chair for it; I will not entertain it. It is not allowed to eat from my plate. The reason is this: In my uttermost bones I know something, as do you. It is that there can be no despair when you remember why you came to Earth, who you serve, and who sent you here. The good words we say and the good deeds we do are not ours: They are the words and deeds of the One who brought us here. In that spirit, I hope you will write this on your wall: When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe, there can be no doubt. But that is not what great ships are built for.

This comes with much love and a prayer that you remember who you came from, and why you came to this beautiful, needful Earth.

[Clarissa Pinkola Estés, Ph.D. is an internationally recognized scholar, award-winning poet, Diplomate senior Jungian psychoanalyst, and cantadora in the Latina tradition. Author of the national bestseller Women Who Run With the Wolves, she has also been a post-trauma counselor at Columbine High School and in the community of Littleton, Colorado, since 1999. Along with Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou she wrote the texts for a composition by Judith Weir, commissioned by Jessye Norman for performance in Carnegie Hall called "Women. Life. Song." MJH]

Friday, November 05, 2004

Chin up.

It's on.

There's an election in two years.
There's nothing we can't do.

[From the folks who brought us Get Your War On]

Too much Us versus Them is probably counter-productive, but sometimes it's better to just let yourself get angry and fired up than to wallow in depression and helplessness.

[20Nov04: updated link]

The Unifier, take 2 -- Day 2

I saw the following in this article today:

I earned capital in the campaign -- political capital -- and now I intend to spend it," he said at a news conference 24 hours after securing his second term.
These aren't the words of someone who is trying to earn people's support, to win their trust. These are the words of someone who thinks he already has it. (like that was a surprise.)

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

A matter of trust

Now that W has been reelected to a second term, he claims that he wants to seek "the broad support of all Americans." [AP]
"A new term is a new opportunity to reach out to the whole nation," he said, speaking directly to Kerry's supporters.

"To make this nation stronger and better, I will need your support and I will work to earn it," he said. "I will do all I can do to deserve your trust."
Funny, I thought that was what he was going to do the last time around with that whole "I'm a uniter, not a divider" schtick. He seems to have a strange idea about what it means to unite people. I always thought it meant that you were supposed to build consensus through dialog and compromise. Not: expecting a rubberstamp on anything and everything you propose, forcing your choices, picking who gets to participate in your consensus or loyalty oaths.

He said it himself:

Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
Oh wait. No sorry, that's not what he said. He said this. (An explanation?)

So, shameful fool or cautious anti-American?

Not much of a choice... but perhaps par for the course these days. I guess we wait and see.

Bryan Adams saw this same quote and had his own take on it.

Your new term is a new opportunity, Mr. President. But none of us have forgotten about the last four years – a time during which we were ignored while you did things we despised. If you really want things to be different, then it’s going to have to start with you acting differently. It's going to have to start with Republicans making more of an effort. It’s going to require you to change.

And if you’re not willing to do that, then at least don't patronize me with talk of "national unity."
Check it out.

I have no blog and I must scream

"Terrible thing, to live in fear. ... All I want is to be back where things make sense. Where I won't have to be afraid all the time."
-Ellis Boyd 'Red' Redding, the Shawshank Redemption

I had trouble sleeping last night. We did end up watching Shawshank Redemption, after the SOOTTAD dealt with a few hours of an unplanned work emergency. We felt pretty good after that. But almost immediately afterwards, we were caught off guard by a foreboding soundbite on the TV just as we were turning it off. And shortly thereafter, a glimpse of an electoral map on Mozilla when I went to turn off the computer pretty much sucked all the hope and positive mojo right out of us. It was already down to 3 states and looking ugly.

Executive decision: go to sleep. It would still be there in the morning. But easier said than done. The SOOTTAD was shaking; I could feel her heart racing. I laid awake, unable to turn my brain off, thinking of all the things a second Bush presidency would mean: Supreme Court appointments, skyrocketing national debt, selling off the rest of America to corporate greed, piece by piece.

Strange dreams. (This is not so unusual.)

Tonight, there was a horse race, except with cats, and with hurdles of different heights. An out-and-back race. Several of the cats look alike. As I ride mine, we seem to be doing alright, but each hurdle becomes more difficult to clear, and we've slowed down a lot. We barely make the finish, but I'm pleased to see we've taken second, which doesn't seem too bad out of a field of five or six.

I wake up around 5am. While, in the dream, taking second feels pretty good, I have an uneasy feeling that, as far too many Americans seem to see it these days, taking second means only that you didn't take first. That you didn't win. That you are a loser.

My metaphorical horse/cat didn't win.

I can't get back to sleep -- dread and hope duking it out in my head. (dread actually going to town on hope, really.) But I keep postponing the inevitable, unwilling to turn on the radio. Blustery winds gust outside -- it sounds like turmoil to me. I give in at 7:09am. The radio is unhelpful, but it sounds bad. Online, I learn that it's down to Ohio. A sliver of hope? Will John Kerry be the Red Sox in game 4 of the ALCS? How many miracles can we have this fall?

Just one, it would seem. Kerry concedes around 11am.

* * *

The SOOTTAD cried this morning. I cannot say that I did not shed tears of frustration as well. I've been feeling it too. Stressed. Anxious. Shell-shocked. Numb. A little helpless. And I needed to get it out of my system.

Back in college, we had a traditional nightly primal scream (that is, until they banned it); I didn't think it would help now.

I thought writing might help and tried to get onto Blogger, but couldn't. Couldn't get in. Help! I need to blog! [Still having issues, even now. I've already lost one version of this post.] You'd think something big just happened or something.

So today it's been just me and the SOOTTAD looking for answers. How? Why? What next? I know we need to carry on, to be strong. But we also need to rest and recover, so that we can be ready for the right-wing onslaught that's sure to come over the next few years. The SOOTTAD worries that this was the nail in the coffin of our democracy. An understandable thought, given the reports of voting irregularities you can find around the 'net. (The Diebold machines are particularly scary.)

I ended up hitting the political blogs again to find some consolation in numbers, in shared pain, sadness. It was some help (yes, you are not alone), but not much.

Four more years.

All I can think is "Four more years? Four more years of what?"

Four more years of fear. Four more years of lies, greed, intolerance. Record deficits, uncontrolled and unchecked corporate malfeasance, deconstruction of environmental protections. An energy policy apparently made solely of concessions to the energy industry (that seems to only encourage increased consumption and international dependence), the erosion of civil liberties. Four more years of placing politics ahead of science, of using discrimination and bigotry to split the electorate.

I've read that some believe we should give him another chance, to give him the opportunity to prove himself.

Sorry, I already did that 4 years ago. And again after 9/11. And from day one, I watched him walk all over that goodwill. And, as many have pointed out, this time he doesn't have to worry about reelection.

At the moment, I'm not pissed, just sad and deeply disheartened. But I'm sure that'll change soon enough.

Hope is no longer about a Kerry presidency, it's about progressives winning the hearts and minds of those who are currently blinded by the current administration's smoke and mirrors. And preventing our democracy from sliding into the abyss.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Election Day

For the past several weeks I've been trying to avoid watching or reading about the election. I realize that it's important to stay informed, but it really was driving me crazy. I was stressed, I felt anxious, and I couldn't concentrate at work.

So I stopped.

Or at least I tried my best to stop. I don't watch TV news, but I stopped hitting the political blogs, changed radio stations, tried not to follow the online headlines. But stuff leaks in. I turn on the radio in the morning to try and hear the weather report, there's a TV on at the restaurant I go to for lunch, it comes up in conversation, it shows up in non-political blogs. We had the ALCS and World Series as a distraction (GO SOX!), but three days later I hear Schilling is stumping for Bush in Ohio. *sigh* (I had some thoughts on that in particular, but I don't want to go into it right now) You really can't get away from it -- VERB, that's what's happening.

So I've been hiding.

Yesterday, I thought I'd turn over a new leaf and avoid surfing completely. Shockingly, I was successful, and even got some work done. But today, it's election day, and you just can't get away. The SOOTTAD and I voted before I drove into the office and I thought that would be it. I'd get in, sit down at my desk, settle in and get to work. Stay focused. I could do it once, I could do it again.

I was pretty good through the morning, although I did read a (Technology) news article about the guy behind the website Kinda cool -- I actually own one of his books, and I even sent him an email about the site a while back.

After lunch, my resolve fizzled. I just couldn't get my brain back into work mode. First checking email at 30 second intervals, the reading one blog, then another. I'm still avoiding the political sites, but I can't say that's much of an accomplishment.

So I've missed a few fun posts, and I realize that my desire to blog about things is directly inspired by reading interesting or amusing things that other people have written. And even though I know there are actually very few people that read this site, I feel like I should take a moment and say...something.

Reflect. Encourage. I don't know.

It's an important day. I think it's the fifth presidential election I've participated in, and I've never felt so nervous. This year is a big deal. A turning point. I don't think it ever mattered so much. But I'm not good with words, and I really shouldn't be spending even the time that I've already spent trying to craft something here.

But Andrew Tanenbaum has revealed himself, and I thought he had some valuable things to say.

Let me tell you a short story. When I was in elementary school, the school was plagued by a bully. He was the biggest, strongest kid around and would beat up anyone he didn't like. We were all exceedingly polite to his face, but hated his guts behind his back. One day he was chasing some poor kid and he tripped and skidded a considerable distance, scraping his face on the rough asphalt of the playground. He was bleeding and in pain, screaming for help. But nobody came to help him. We all just walked away. George Bush is the world's playground bully. The world sees him--and by inference, America--as arrogant, self-centered, and mean. I spoke to Americans from dozens of countries at the DA caucus. Everyone told the same story--the world hates America. When talking to foreigners, I can tell them about the Bill of Rights or freedom or World War II, or whatever I want, but all they see is this big, stupid, arrogant, playground bully and a stolen election in Florida last time. I think America deserves better. I want America to be respected in the world again, and John Kerry can restore the respect America deserves.

Check it out, and get out and vote. There's still time.

I'm still not going to try and follow the results on TV tonight. For one thing, even without a court challenge or a repeat of recount madness, it's probably not even going to be decided tonight given all the absentee ballots coming in this year. Maybe we'll watch Shawshank Redemption. The results can wait until tomorrow.

And until then, I'll try to keep the faith, and hope.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004


Red Sox sweep the Cards to win the World Series!


(This is so cool that I will forgive Fox Network for the cuts to the "multi-national" force in Iraq watching the game.)

Vegas, Bad Luck, Good Luck

It's just over 36 hours since I got back from Vegas and I'm still feeling it. Still, I'm in much better shape than I was yesterday morning. Man, I hate redeyes (until the trip home this past March, I probably haven't been on one in almost 10 years), but I opted for the non-stop and full day home before returning to work over traveling all day. I'm still not convinced that was the best decision.

We were ostensibly out in Vegas for the Lucky 7s Frisbee Tournament, but I think most people were really just using it as an excuse to go to Vegas. That's fine by me, I wanted to play some disc this fall since I never got around to finding a team for Sectionals. And I can't say that I minded going to Vegas. Especially with this crew. We appropriately dubbed our team "Shenanigans."

The tourney was a lot of fun, but clearly not the highest priority for some people. For one thing, THE SOX MADE THE SERIES! When we were scheduling flights back in September, we already knew that the tournament was happening during the first games of the World Series... but I don't think any of us considered that the Sox would be playing. We had a bunch of Sox cheers, and received a bunch as well, including a "1918" cheer, but also several GO-SOX! from other teams. Most of us were also exhausted from the flight out, getting to bed late, and having to get up and get ready for a 9:05 start. And, of course, there was the whole Vegas thing. One of our numbers didn't show up for the 2nd day, preferring to spend it making "donations" to the local economy.

Highlights and lowlights:

  • Got out of the office a bit later planned... to find a flat right front tire. F. Fortunately made it home after filling it at the local gas station, getting to the airport without further incident.
  • We had reserved rooms at the Flamingo. Turns out they were overbooked. Well, sorta. So we ended up at the Luxor on the first night and back at the Flamingo for nights 2 and 3. I have to say, much nicer bathroom at the Luxor, but I'll take the truly smoke-free rooms at the Flamingo. (The Luxor rooms were supposed to be non smoking rooms, but I'd have a hard time believing that.)
  • We watched the first two Red S... I mean, World Series games from the hotel room. Awesome. It was reminiscent of the 2002 NFL playoffs when we watched the Pats beat the Raiders in a Foxboro blizzard from Tampa, FL. It was great to see other fans around the city. I bought a hat in the airport so I could represent.
  • I was trying to stay away from beer Sunday night -- I figured I'd have a better chance avoiding getting sick or having a hangover. Did you know that the only place you can buy booze on the strip is at the ABC store in the Aladdin? $6.99 for a 375ml bottle of Early Times bourbon. I had a few Wild Turkey Rocks as well at the bar and tables. Let's just say the plan failed.
  • 3 nights, 3 days, 6 frisbee games, 2 World Series games, one 3-mile hike, 14 hours of sleep.
Y'know, I think I've pretty effectively burned out any Vegas bug I might have had before this weekend.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

What could it mean?

Once again, Bill Simmons has an excellent column on game 7 of the ALCS series. However, he opens with:

I just watched my beloved Red Sox win the American League pennant. That's only happened twice in my lifetime. I watched them rally back from three games down in a playoff series. That's never happened before, not in the history of baseball. I also just watched the Sox beat the Yankees in a deciding playoff game. Not only has that never happened before, it's a possible sign of the apocalypse. (emphasis mine)
Oh no! Terrorist attacks, plagues (frogs, locusts and squirrels), and then Bush is going to get re-elected.


The Evil Empire has fallen. The Sox didn't choke in game 7. Their come-from-behind ALCS victory was unprecedented. It's not about the past, the darkness, the fear. It's about fighting the good fight and beating the odds. The Sox have beaten the Yankees in the postseason. It's a sign that anything can happen. It's a sign that good things can happen.

It's still a tight race, but Kerry's still in it. He still has a fighting chance.

I still believe. I have faith. I have hope.

And I'm gonna keep staying away from the political blogs so my blood pressure doesn't go through the roof.

I'm sorry, I misspoke

Two down, two to go.

What I meant to say was: four down, four to go!

The Sox are going to the World Series!

We heard a strange crackling from outside. We went out to investigate...


We whooped it up; screamed in support. (I hope we didn't wake up too many neighbors.) The last two nights have been amazing, amazing, amazing.

GO SOX!!!!!

Monday, October 18, 2004

Keepin' the faith

11pm, Ortiz lobs one into short center field to drive in Damon, the winning run.

When I was playing disc earlier tonight, there were four teams on the field in Lexington, engaged in competition. The team cheer from the other game: "GO SOX!"

On our field, I arrive late. Another group of players come after.

"Hey, what's the score?"

"four-two," I say.

Another answers, "One-zero." Oh, right -- our game, not the Sox.

The radio is tuned to the game on the sideline.

There are four teams on the field, and really, we're all on the same side.

* * *

I can watch Sox games again.

We all have our superstitions: last year, they lost every time I watched a game. Except when I was actually in the Fenway and watching the game, from bar to bar. But the extra inning loss in the first game of last year's ALDS (from my living room) was heartbreaking. And I'm sorry, game 7 just didn't happen. At least not after the 7th inning.

This year, I avoided games 1-3, but couldn't help myself in game 4, turning on the TV to watch D-Lo strike out the last two batters in the top of the 2nd. And flipped on the TV just before Ortiz cranked the game winning homer in the 12th. A friend of mine said the Sox only did well during Game 3 when someone was in his kitchen. They got ahead when he was there getting drinks for people. I was going to cut my hair after my birthday, but I caught a clip of Johnny Damon, Captain Caveman, and now I'm gonna keep it long until they win it (we're not gonna talk about that other possibility right now).

So I had the game on from the 7th inning on. The SOOTTAD got back to the house just in time to watch the hometown boys tie it up in the bottom of the eighth. And then the craziness started, as opportunities were missed and peril was averted. We started doing shots at the bottom of the 12th.

We were pissed when Francona pulled Arroyo, but were totally behind Varitek and Wake. Anticipated every Ortiz at bat. Our hearts went out to the struggling Damon, and were happy to see him make good defensive plays and bust out for the winning run. (Bill Simmons gives an excellent rundown.)

Tomorrow, game six in New York. Schilling starts.

Two down, two to go.

Hope is still alive...

Around 1:30am, I should be in bed, but at least I'm up to see Ortiz homer to right to win it for the Sox in the bottom of the 12th. Sweet!

Yankees still lead series, 3-1. Game 5 tonight at Fenway, Pedro starts.

Let's go, Red Sox!

Saturday, October 16, 2004


Two (odd) things I got in the mail yesterday:

  • A birthday card from my State representative. Boy, what a swell guy! He must be a really great friendState rep to have remembered; I should vote for him!

    Ok, so my State rep has a mailing list of his constituents and their birthdays. Seems an awful waste of time and money. And it skeeves me out just a little, as it reminds me that privacy has become a fairly tenuous concept at best these days, and really, is more like an imaginary curtain we draw across our eyes to make us feel better.

  • Marketing propaganda from IBM's "Business Development Executives focused on sales in the Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual and Transgender (GLBT) segment." (No really, that's what it says.)

    Again, two things:

    1. they have a special group that markets specifically to GLBT businesses? Because gay businesses only work with other gay businesses? Because IBM's regular business development group is too homophobic to conduct business effectively?
    2. why am I getting this? Ok, I know why I'm getting this. I'm getting this (and subscription offers to Out magazine --- not to be confused with Outside magazine) because with all the stupid discriminatory constitutional amendments flying around the state and the country, I've donated to several GLBT advocacy groups. But I guess it riles me that there's this idea that only gay people support gay causes. It reminds me of the junk mail I get that's written entirely in Chinese (usually for phone plans, I think -- I'm not entirely sure, I can never read them), presumably because I have a Chinese surname. Or the telemarketers that immediately start talking to me in Chinese, hoping to make that quick connection and quick sale. (Usually after I give them a perplexed "excuse me?" they hang up, occasionally after a brief apology. But usually not.)
    I suppose I understand the reasoning behind it, but for whatever reason, it just rubs me the wrong way.

Friday, October 15, 2004

Bad Kitty

Perhaps this is just a story about the difference between cats and dogs.

Dooce has an entry about Chuck, their first born (their dog). And when she writes about disciplining him when he behaves badly...

Things that go into the bathroom trashcan are by nature awful things with awful fluids and waxes on them, so having them regurgitated and strewn about the floor is by nature unpleasant and punishable by death. But we love Chuck and the most harm we ever do to him is bring him into the bathroom to the scene of the crime and shout NO! NO! NO! several times while hitting the toilet paper and tissue and used q-tips. Trust me, it?s more painful for us than it is for him.
...I can't help but recall my friend's cat, Guido.

Guido was a giant furball of a cat, who eventually grew so large and fat from the overindulgence of owners whose children have moved out of the house that he had to be reclassified as a small herd animal.

But when they first got him, he was a cute fluffy kitten that pretty much had the run of the house. And he was quite cute and adorable except for one minor problem -- he would occasionally not poop in the litterbox. (I'd like to think that Dooce would appreciate this post because I'm mentioning "poop," although it's about kitty poop and not people poop. And it should be noted that I'm not mentioning poop because I want to make Dooce happy, but because poop is, in fact, integral to the story. I'm actually having some fun with this. Can you tell?)

Anyway. Guido would sometimes not poop in the litterbox. And it wasn't like he just missed 'cause he was a kitten and just had his little kitty ass hanging out the wrong side of the box or something, he actually pooped smack in the middle of the bedroom (living room? I can't remember now -- it's been a long while -- but you get the idea), a room with wall-to-wall carpet. When they discovered that this had happened, my friend later recalled, they did what they thought you were supposed to do: they took Guido, brought him over to the mess, put his nose in it and gave a stern "NO!"

Sadly, this did not achieve the desired effect.

Unless the desired effect is to train your cat to be afraid of its own poop.

Apparently after this punishment/training (I'm not sure how many times they did it), Guido continued to poop on the carpet. The only difference being that after said pooping, he would immediately run in terror from the room and the punishment incurring substance.

So again, maybe it's cats and dogs. But I think one must always keep in mind, that it's not always about whether a message is received, but if you're sending the right message.

There's probably a point in there somewhere, but I honestly (HONESTLY) didn't try to make one. Which I suppose means I'm not even following my own advice.

too liberal?

I was listening to the radio again this morning (big mistake), and they were talking about the post-debate rhetoric and I heard W's voice telling a crowd:

"Kerry is too liberal for America."*

And that just pissed me right off.

Not that this is anything new, of course. And that would be both the part about me getting pissed off about things coming out of W's mouth and the part where Bush is demagoguing his opponent by painting him as an ultra-liberal, way outside of mainstream America.

I recognize that I live in Massachusetts (and despite my previous post, I do realize that we're most decidedly not a red state), but I don't really consider myself that liberal (I am the more conservative member of the household -- being perhaps ever so slightly more center than the SOOTTAD). But even so, when he says that Kerry is too liberal for America, it sure feels like he's saying that I'm too liberal for America, too.

Hello? We're all Americans, assholeMr. President. Or are you saying that I'm not part of America? That I don't belong here? That I don't count? That I don't matter?

Oh yeah, I forgot.

* ok, I could have sworn I heard those words coming out of W's mouth this morning on the radio, but at this point I can't find a quote, an audioclip or anything about it online, only references to 3rd party attack ads that say as much. If someone can tell me I'm not crazy, I'd certainly appreciate it.

Thursday, October 14, 2004


An interesting article on Slate which discusses Bush's latest meme of calling out Kerry as being a über-liberal by constantly describing him as the liberal senator from the ultra-liberal state of Massachusetts. Tim Noah provides a few interesting insights:

Want to know something funny about Taxachusetts? For every dollar it pays Uncle Sam in taxes, it receives only 79* cents back in federal services and subsidies. That ranks it 44th among the 50 states in federal expenditures per dollar of taxes. Indeed, there's a very strong correlation between liberal, pro-government "blue states" and states that are least dependent on federal spending. There's also a strong correlation between conservative, anti-government "red states" and states that are most dependent on federal spending. (Click here for details.) If you think of Red America as stubbornly self-reliant and Blue America as a drain on the Treasury, you've got it exactly backwards.

the field, the zone, A.D.D., the zone and the field

I think there's some kind of productivity field around the office.

Not that magical safe-space kind of thing where everything is clicking and flowing and you're getting stuff done mad-crazy. No, it's not THE ZONE. I'm talking about an area, a "field" if you will, that just sucks every bit of productivity out of you, so that you're left as nothing but an empty shell of apathy and ennui.

And it feels like there's one at the office.

I've been having trouble focusing. I suspect that part of it is that I've probably got a little of the ADD. There was an ad on TV a few years ago that began with a woman sitting in a meeting, and then suddenly cut to these random images: a garden, babies crying, a car chase, hot naked chicks... Ok, fine. I don't really remember all the things that they showed, but you get the idea. Anyway, they cut back to the woman and she's being asked a question in the meeting that she clearly didn't hear. And I saw this ad on TV and I said to myself: Hey! That's me! (No really, I swear that's never happened to me before. Nope. uh uh. Not me, no sir'ee.) Of course, it could just be that I'm not particularly interested in what's going on at work, especially considering that I'm back working on the project from hell again. You know, the one that just won't die or go away. I mean, dying would probably be bad (this is a product that the company would like to sell, after all) but it keeps coming back and they keep sticking a bunch of us back onto it. Again. And really, it sucks.

It's past one o'clock and I'm having some trouble focusing as I try to sift through code and figure out what's going on with the current bug that's driving everybody crazy. Actually, I'm having trouble even looking at the code at this point, and instead I'm checking my inbox every 30 seconds or so, hoping someone has emailed me a 10-second distraction as I desperately try to fight to urge to surf the web. So I finally decide to take a break and go for a run. I need the exercise, and I really do think it helps get the blood flowing to my brain.

This doesn't always work, but today, it's good. I consciously try to nudge my brain in the direction of the bug, and am surprised to find that it doesn't put up much resistance. Things start to make a little more sense again and I'm finally able to take a step back and think about the underlying problem we're trying to figure out. I remember dependencies, interactions. A few concepts come together -- a get an idea or two, different ways to think about the problem. I'm in THE ZONE, baby!

Like I said, feeling good. The run itself actually kinda sucked (I was sucking wind for a lot of it) I just haven't been doing enough running recently, I think. But mentally, I felt refreshed. Recharged.

And with the building back in sight, all of a sudden I'm thinking about political arguments, how to partition up the functions of a poker odds calculator I want to write, something I wanted to look up on the web...


I hit THE FIELD. And as I enter the building and make my way up the stairs to the office it just pushes all the productivity out of my body. When I get to my cube, I desperately try to scratch down some notes on my whiteboard before it's completely gone. By the time I'm showered and back at my desk, I'm right back where I started. Bah.

I think I need to seriously consider working from home...

Monday, October 11, 2004

Unexpected Wretched Excess

Binney Pond
Although I don't like to make a big deal about birthdays, I do like the idea of doing something meaningful for myself. Something a little different that, I dunno, lets me reset or reflect or something. So of late (that would be the last two years), I've taken a day off from work and gone on a hike. Last year we ended up doing a moonlight hike of Mt. Monadnock in New Hampshire. (It wasn't planned that way, but it worked out well enough. I got a flat that couldn't be plugged early that afternoon, so we ended up getting there at dusk -- but it was a known option when I decided on the hike.) This year I figured I'd go hike the Wapack trail that starts at the "base" of Mt. Watatic in Ashburnham and ends at North Pack "Mountain" in Southern New Hampshire. (Sorry, coming from California, I still am embarrassed to call some of the bumps out here "mountains.") I usually do this hike over Labor day weekend, but this year got filled with various events and activities, so I had to skip it.

I usually start out in the early afternoon from the parking lot off 119 in Ashburnham and do an out-and-back hike, turning around based on my best guess as to how much light I'll have left. I usually make it to somewhere around New Ipswich Mountain before heading back. I had hoped to get an earlier start this time, but the margaritas from the previous night (a birthday dinner for my friend JBar) had done a pretty good job on me, so I ended up getting to the trailhead around 1pm. Not really an issue -- I had already assumed that I'd be hiking back in the dark given the rapidly shortening days and had brought a few extra layers along with a headlamp and the best freakin' flashlight on the planet. (Saved our ass on the Monadnock hike when we accidentally got off-trail.) The plan was to try and get to Rt. 124 in New Hampshire, the first road-crossing the trail makes, if not Kidder Mountain. I figured it was a bit less than the halfway point of a 21-mile trail, so guesstimated it to be about 10 miles out. I didn't really think much beyond that. I thought it would be cool to have a tangible goal and set off for the trail.

It was a beautiful day, and it was good to be outside. I'm glad the weather held out, since there had been forecasts of clouds and possible rain that night or the next day. (it ended up holding off the entire weekend)

It being a weekday, I only ran into four or five groups of people:

  • A young couple and their dog sitting at the summit of Mt. Watatic...
  • followed by two women and five fair-haired children just as I was heading back onto the trail
  • A middle-aged couple in a beat-up blue Ford pickup with NH plates, the bed full of wood and a gas-powered chainsaw. Between the MA/NH border and the Binney Pond area there's a section of access roads, so it's not totally crazy to see a vehicle on the "trail," but it's the first time I've ever seen one. I think they were gathering firewood. It's New Hampshire -- Live Free or Die country. We made a little chit-chat about the Wapack trail as I passed, and I went on my way.
  • As I neared Binney Pond, I noticed another blue truck, this time with MA plates, parked on the side of the road, a CD collection of baby tunes on the passenger seat catching my eye as I passed. Sure enough, as I started walking along the pond, I could hear the shouting of small children, eventually catching up to, and passing, a guy with a goatee and wraparound sunglasses with mirrored lenses, holding the hands of (presumably) his two daughters, each with matching backpacks. It really was adorable.
  • Another middle-aged couple, the woman wearing a semi-dressy white top and capri pants, the man, in jeans and a navy blue shirt, smoking a cigar, backpack slung over his shoulder with a loaf of french bread sticking out the top.

By the time I made it to 124, I was just about ready to give up and head back. The timing worked out pretty well since the continuation of the trail wasn't immediately obvious to me. (Incidentally, the area around 124 is actually a cross-country ski and snowshoe area -- all the extra signage was a bit confusing until I figured that out.)

I was already pretty tired at that point, so I took a short break (taking the time to find a trail map from the ski area), and then started on my way back. That was probably around 5pm. It was around that time that a few things started to concern me. Sure, it was getting a bit late, but that was expected. (There were certainly a few moments where I had to get the Blair Witch Project out of my head. Annoying.) But my feet had started to hurt. And there was that sign I saw as I made my way down to 124.

What was that, again? About half of the 21-mile trail... 10 miles... 8.6 miles to 119...

Aw crap! I just brain-farted my way onto a 18-mile hike!

At first, I figured I'd be alright. Sure, my left heel was rubbing uncomfortably in my sweat-soaked socks and the laces on my right boot felt like they were starting to crush bone, but it's just a walk. A long walk, but a walk nonetheless. What's the big deal?

Well, the light-hiker socks and the light-weight boots to start. I think the light-hike ended about 3-4 miles ago.

I took a short break on New Ipswich to take in the sunset. I probably would have stopped to eat except for the mosquitoes that would have joined me. I tried to adjust my stride, hold my feet up with my shoulders, use my momentum to get one foot in front of the other, just concentrating on getting back to the car. It was the strangest feeling to have to struggle just to take one step after another.

7:40pm and I'm in the car, chowing down on cheese and pepperoni and triscuits. I actually leave the parking lot at 8pm and catch Ortiz's game winning homerun in the bottom of the 10th on the radio.

I'll be home in an hour.

Postscript: after cleaning up, we grab some dinner downtown. I'm craving noodles so we hit a Korean restaurant in Chinatown and I get jambong -- a spicy seafood noodle soup. Tasty. But having not eaten anything substantial all day, I end up feeling totally stuffed and bloated, and am unable to fall asleep until way late. Oy.