Saturday, December 22, 2007

Blogging from my new phone

The Wife got me a nifty new BlackBerry Pearl phone, so I am trying to
submit an entry from it. If this works, this will give me a new way of
posting, which would be cool.

I have a cold and am about to have a crappy night of sleep. This is a
fun time of year, but not a fun time for a cold.

Sent from Gmail for mobile |

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Wine, Food, Friends, and More Wine

Someone reminded me about a funny experience I had a while ago, so I will re-tell this old story.

A friend from work (Alex) has been somewhat obsessed with getting on a reality show. She has applied for a few including one where they fix up your garage. While she was in the thick of this, she was contacted to be on a show called Wine, Food, and Friends. Alex had just started up a cooking club and they wanted to feature one on this episode. The problem was that the club had yet to meet, so Alex had to scramble to put together a crew. Another challenge was that the filming would be during the workday, so only a couple women from Alex's club could make it. Since she was desperate for a couple warm bodies, Alex asked me and The Wife to come join them.

The filming went from about 10:00 to about 3:30 or so and we drank wine just about the whole time. It was great. It was interesting seeing how this psycho host (she was quite the character who could turn on the charm for the cameras, but could be pretty snippy with the crew) ran the show. She guided us as we cooked food and tasted wine so we learned quite a bit. Frankly, I am not a particularly sophisticated guy and I was not alone. Alex's husband (Barney) was right there with me. As a matter of fact, when it was time for us to eat "dinner" (which was at about 2:00), Barney wolfed his down before they had a chance to film him savoring it. It was great. He and I had a fun time eating and drinking on the periphery as the ladies really got into the whole thing.

One tricky part was that TW was about four months pregnant, so she had to take fake sips and hide her small but showing belly.

Here is a link to the web page about the episode. The page includes a link to a video trailer.

The net result was that Alex had her reality show jones satisfied for a while (though now she is applying for the Amazing Race) and TW and I got some free food and wine. It was a good, boozy time.

The Day
  • Workout: none (yes, I know, but my foot bothered me today and the morning was a bit crazy)
  • Music: Handel

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Study Then Sleep

I just thought about an old post by Ze Frank today. He is a really interesting guy and has some interesting ideas for how to study then sleep.

Many people with whom I went to college tried to stay up late drinking coffee to study for big tests. Then, when it was time for the test, they choked. Why? My brother suggested that the reason was state-dependent learning. When the mind learns, the information is trapped in a brain in a certain state. If the brain is tired or on caffeine or on some other drug, then that information is in a brain in that state. If you don't re-create that state for the test, then you could be in for an ugly surprise.

My strategy (based on my brother's ideas) was to listen to the same album over and over while studying. Picking the album for a semester took some effort. I needed to really like the album because I would be listening to it over and over for the following week or two. There was considerable diversity in my choices. I used Charlie Brown Christmas, Rachmaninoff, Rush, Joe Jackson, and others. Once I picked the album, I would listen to it repeatedly while at home.

When I went into the final, I had all the music (and thus all the knowledge) right there in my mind. No need for an iPod (good thing since they were over a decade from existing) because I had heard the album over and over again and had it resonating in every fiber of my being. I could just summon the music and along with it came the information I needed.

Most people in my family are too smart for these sorts of tricks. They did crazy stuff like keep up with their work all semester, but for me, this sort of thing worked well. Final exams almost always brought my grade up a letter at the end.

Anyway, I know this is probably too late (in some cases many years too late) for most who are reading this post, but I thought I'd share. You never know who might need to take a test of some sort.

The Renovation
Yesterday Herb (the electrician) and Doug (the GC) came back to fix some wiring and paint the siding where the sliding glass door used to be. Today, Doug came back to install the last upper cabinet doors and shelves as well as the last lower cabinet drawers. He is still waiting on the little fake drawer that goes in front of the sink.

The Day

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

The Joy and Pain of Kisses

Here is something from Niece II (a follow-up to A College Acceptance to Be Proud of):

"...My English teacher got so excited [about Niece II's acceptance to PWC] he JUMPED and then threw Hershey Kisses at me and the rest of the class. Then he said he always feels awkward congratulating people this time of year because "there's always some kid who was certain that they were going to get into MIT and is totally heartbroken because they got rejected." A girl in the back of the room burst into tears on the spot; she was that kid. It was both sad and hilarious. Everyone felt awkward but he kept throwing candy."

I used to teach at that school and I know how her teacher feels. So often kids get attached to the idea of one particular school being perfect for them that they are devastated when they don't get in. You can't tell this kid that there are other great schools any more than you can tell a fifteen-year old boy who has had his girlfriend leave him for the captain of the football team that she is a tramp and there are other fish in the sea.

The pain can seem irrational or unimportant to an outsider, but it is very real. I really think that every kid who is applying to schools needs to understand that it's always a matter of some luck. Even the most perfect kid isn't guaranteed admission to every school, so if you get fixated on one in particular, there is a real chance that you will be disappointed. Taking a shot with early decision is great, but if you don't get into the school of your dreams, apply to a range of schools at which you could be happy.

College can be an incredible experience. Even if you don't get in to the school of your dreams, you can still get into a school that is really good for you. When it comes right down to it, college is more about what you do than it is about what college you attend. You can do great things after (and even while) attending a small state school or you could do nothing great after attending the finest institutions in the country. You have to accept responsibility for who you will become and not simply give some person or institution the blame or credit.

I know this seems like it's written to a senior in high school, but 1) I hope Niece II and Niece III read this and 2) all adults who might come in contact with a junior or senior in high school should think about this sort of thing so we can provide some sage advice to these kids. OK, maybe not sage advice, but not putting your foot in your mouth or saying something that results in the kid being miserable doesn't seem like such a lofty goal. BTW: I will write about college majors in a later post.

Enjoy the Hershey's Kisses.

The Day

Monday, December 17, 2007

Good News and Bad News for My Brain

The good news is that Verizon is working in my neighborhood to install fiber cables. This means that I will be able to get FiOS soon and will have super-fast Internet access as well as a second choice for television instead of just cable (the big trees to the south of my rambler ensure that satellite is not an option.)

The bad news is that they seem to have cut our phone line, so I will have no Internet access (we from home for the next couple days. Living without Internet at home is going to be a problem. What if I want to order a plain beef pizza online?

My brain is busy storing all sorts of really critically important information such as the name of Cheap Trick's drummer (Bun E. Carlos) or Elvis Costello's real name (Declan MacManus), so I have outsourced much of my memory functions to Google and Wikipedia. These search and content tools are essentially extensions of my brain. I know just about everything. Ask me whatever you want, just be sure I have access to my extended brain. Without it, I am about as knowledgeable as a can of potted meat.

Life without my extended brain is going to be difficult. Most of my (now copious) offline time will be spent avoiding answering any questions or making decisions of any sort.

At least I can look forward to a brain upgrade once the fiber is in and we get FiOS.

The Day

Friday, December 14, 2007

Fare Thee Well, My Little Monsters

The Wife just took a bunch of old computers to the recycling center today. This means that I am finally able to park my car in the garage. I should be happy that I can use the garage again and some of the clutter is out of my life, but I must admit to having just a touch of melancholy.

For a somewhat technical guy, I am really quite cheap when it comes to computers for my home. Most guys who are technical poseurs like myself have impressive computers at home. At least they have machines that were impressive sometime after 2000. Not I.

I put together those behemoths from scraps. They were all cobbled together like Frankenstein's monster. A floppy drive from here, a hard drive from there, an Ethernet card from this machine, a modem (yes, some were that old) from that machine. Some of these machines had gone through several makeovers like a West Palm matron who just doesn't know when to give it up and accept the aging process. Others were organ donors again and again. By the end, a couple of the machines were little more than a case, a power supply, and a 10BASE-T Ethernet card.

Nowadays, for the price of a decent case, motherboard, and hard drive a la carte, I could get a machine at Circuit City that includes everything I need including a flat panel monitor and printer. It's sad to realize that my days of tinkering with computers are mostly behind me. I still have the last monster here under my desk. It is running Ubuntu Linux and is a total mishmash of pieces from here and there, but it's decent and it's my last vestige of control over my computer hardware.

I'll get rid of this last monster as soon as Jocelyn Wildenstein goes back to her original face, buys a minivan, and becomes a soccer mom.

The Day
  • Workout: long run
  • Music: Miles Davis, Matisyahu, Modern Jazz Quartet, G. Love & Special Sauce, Franz Ferdinand, The Crystal Method

Thursday, December 13, 2007

A "Real" Company Going Public

My company went public today. From where I sit, this really has more headaches than benefits for me.

First of all, some of the headaches: Because we are a "real" company now, we need to start doing things the right way. The problem is that we are only doing things a little bit right and that creates several problems. For instance, here is what happened with the project I'm starting on. Back in May or June, we came up with an approach for the project that involved three phases. Based on very little information, some folks came up with numbers for how much each phase would cost. These were total guesses that were pulled out of someone's hind quarters. Now it's six months later and the approach for phase 3 has us requiring a budget that is significantly bigger than someone's random number from May.

This is bad enough, but because we start working on these things way before they get approved, some things I'd like to cut have already been done and thus can't be cut. This leaves me having to cut pure muscle out of this product. This situation doesn't make anybody happy. Management didn't know or understand the cost increases as they happened. We didn't understand the budget ramifications of everything we planned to do (most of us are not budget people.) Nobody feels like they have enough information to make really good decisions.

Like a real company, we are trying to stick to a plan; unlike a real company, we have no clue about how to make a decent plan that can be adhered to. There are many other ways in which we are not really a real company, but are trying to act like one. I won't go into them here since I promised to avoid talking about my company. I am giving myself a pass for today since we went public.

Now for the meager benefits. The company has not communicated much about the IPO, so we all just learn about stuff from the Internet. In November, we learned that the strike price would be about $18. People with stock options did some quick calculations and said "yay." Later, it came out that there was a 5.1 for 1 reverse stock split. This means that someone with 5,000 shares of stock instead has about 980 shares. Of course the split had happened before the stock price was set, but the price had raised hopes for people. Now, a bunch of people who gave 7 years of their lives to this company are a bit underwhelmed. They shouldn't be, but such is human nature.

Some thoughts on all of this:
  • Don't count on getting rich from stock options even if you work your butt off and the company seems like a great idea. No matter what, it's a crap shoot. Owners and high-powered execs get big bucks in these situations. The rest of us rarely get the big bucks.
  • Don't bitch about "only" getting thousands or tens of thousands of dollars of free money just because you had dreams of hundreds of thousands.
  • If you are lucky, you can find a job that pays the bills AND is meaningful, satisfying, challenging, and gets you in contact with good people. Finding a job that also makes you rich is a bit much to ask.
The Day

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A College Acceptance to Be Proud of

My niece (Since I have one niece who is older and one who is younger, let's call her Niece II) is a senior in high school, so she is in the throes of the college admission process. Back in May, a documentary team asked if they could shadow her through the process and she said "yes," so she has had company as she goes on visits, fills out applications, and thinks through what she wants to do.

She finally decided to apply to my sister's alma mater (Prestigious Women's College) early decision. Getting the application, transcripts, and all the other stuff to PWC took some effort, but it all got done. A few weeks ago, the documentary folks called my parents and told them that they want to film Niece II opening her letter of admission or rejection, but they can't get a film crew out here until a week after letters are mailed. As a result, they asked my parents to intercept the letter and hold it until the camera crew arrives.

This information delay would have been tough enough 25 years ago, but is impossible these days. PWC sent the letters last Friday, so Niece II started to hear about girls getting in on Monday. She heard about a girl in MA and a girl in France. Eventually, she saw the letter that goes to girls who were accepted. In part, it mentions that the class of 2012 includes a diverse bunch including a girl who is currently doing nuclear genetic research into the markers for autism. This is Niece II's senior project (she is at a science and tech magnet school.)

Anyway, Niece II knows she got in. My mother knows she got in (the letter is apparently "the size of a calendar"), and just about everyone else who knows her knows she got in, but everyone needs to look surprised on Friday when the film crew rolls. The Wife and I already bought her a PWC sweatshirt, so she'll have something to wear at school the next day, but it will be somewhat anti-climactic.

We are all incredibly proud of her. My only regret is that her mother is not able to enjoy the amazing achievement more fully. Niece II is a great kid who has worked really hard for this, but it is also a team effort. Her mother worked really hard to make this possible and my parents have worked hard to keep it going as my sister's abilities (though not her strong will) have waned. This is the culmination of everything my sister hoped for her daughter and yet the dream was not crushed by its own weight.

My sister would be so incredibly proud of her daughter that it would have made her cry for days on end. I am so proud of both of them that I get emotional myself.

BTW: If you see Niece II this week, don't tell her about this post until Friday. I'd hate to spoil the surprise.

Disappointed Vicariously

Follow-up to my post about Living Vicariously. Here is my friend's telling of what happened when he went for his blind date with The Entertainer's mom after poker.

"Nothing much happened. We talked. The whole house was awake. The Entertainer was there too. From what I can tell nobody in the house ever sleeps. The Mom was missing four lower front teeth and smelled of cigarettes and bourbon. The Entertainer has blond hair, most likely colored, but The Mom had very black hair and a style that closely resembles Elvis in the 50's. I stayed 45 minutes and got home. That was the evening."

Sometimes reality falls short of the promise. The next time will be different.

The Renovation
The box for the final cabinet arrived. We won't have shelves or doors for it until next week, but at least Doug was able to install the box, the molding and under cabinet lighting. He also hooked up the range, so we are literally cooking with gas.

Tomorrow: No more daily renovation updates. It's going to be a few days before the rest of the cabinet and the last drawers arrive. Doug will be back next week when he has all the stuff he needs to finish up. In the meantime, we have a perfectly functional kitchen.

The Day

Monday, December 10, 2007

Be Careful

When I was a kid, I remember my grandmothers having plastic covers on their furniture and a plastic runner or two on the floor. They wanted to protect their nice chairs, couches, floors, and stairs. Frankly, I suspect that they only pulled that plastic protection out when they knew my cousins and I were coming over to destroy their homes. Most of the time, the home was probably plastic-free.

I always thought the plastic was a crazy decorative statement. Don't you own things so you can use and enjoy them? If a chair is so uncomfortable that you don't like sitting on it, isn't it not providing the utility for which you own it? What about the noise? Have you ever heard the noises that result when it's summertime and a leg tries to slide on a plastic-covered chair? It's like the sound of a sea star being pulled off a windshield. It is not pretty to see or to hear, and is certainly not comfortable.

So, why do I bring this up? With our kitchen renovation finishing up, I have a new-found respect for the protective quality of plastic. I want to coat our entire new floor in plastic (The Wife joked about it, but I think it's a great idea.) I want to put plastic/rubber feet on everything that comes within a foot of our counters. For a while, every rub, scrape, and ding will drive me nuts. No shoes. No glass. No porcelain. No long nails (finger or toe.)

Does anyone know where I can find big, clear plastic runners? I'm sure this paranoia will pass, but for now I need all the help I can get.

The Renovation
Week 5 is underway. The granite guy came, so the dishwasher is properly affixed to the counter now. The big (and loud) event was the floor. Working in the basement while they installed wood flooring in the kitchen and family room (four feet above my head) was a challenge at times, but I put on the most minimalist, repetitive music I could find and muddled through.

Tomorrow: The last upper cabinet? The last drawers? Gas stove hookup? We'll see.

The Day
  • Workout: crunches and push-ups
  • Music: Jean-Michel Jarre, Philip Glass, The Polyphonic Spree

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Living Vicariously

When I was working at my first job after grad school, I led a life that was not particularly wild, but I was single and energetic. As a result, when I came in to work on Monday after a weekend of water skiing, volleyball, soccer, and the occasional nightclub, my coworkers with kids seemed to relish my telling the story of the weekend. These stories were rarely wild, but they seemed to do the trick.

Now that I am married with kids, I look forward to fun weekend stories from my single and/or wilder friends. Vicarious living is a long tradition. It's like the circle of life and I have gone from being a young lion cub to being an old adult watching the action from the sidelines. Some folks abhor this transition, but I'm fine with it. Family life has many rewards and I am quite happy to watch the energetic have their fun.

I'm watching football while typing this, and it occurs to me that my situation must be a bit like a former player watching a game. He liked playing the game and it certainly still looks exciting, but all he has to do is watch a player get hit really hard and he knows those days are behind him. My wild, single days are behind me, but I still like to hear the stories.

Speaking of wild single friends: A friend of mine was setup for a date by a couple sisters who work together as entertainers. Was he setup with a friend of theirs? A coworker? An old friend? No, they set him up with their mother. The idea of a friend of mine leaving poker night after midnight for a blind date with the mom of a pair of entertainers was pretty funny. How it turned out is immaterial (I think the date was a bust), but the fact that he was in the position is really amusing.

The story is great single guy stuff, but I'm glad it was he and not I.

The Renovation
This weekend has been all about unpacking boxes. My mother came over for an hour or two both days to help with the unpacking, so we are in pretty good shape.

Tomorrow: flooring

The Day
  • Workout: my knee has been bothering me, so i took the weekend off
  • Music: miscellaneous xmas

Friday, December 7, 2007

The End of Week 4

Let's just skip to the kitchen update:

The Renovation
On the last day of week 4, Doug installed:
  • microwave/convection oven
  • pulls on the drawers
  • light for the pantry
  • water line for the refrigerator (thus, fridge water and ice work)
As a result, we have a kitchen that works a bit. We don't have a stove, but we have an oven, a fridge, a sink, and a dishwasher that works, but is not secured to the granite yet.

This weekend: we will start moving stuff into the cabinets and drawers. figuring out where everything will go is going to be a fun challenge.

Next week: floors, gas range/oven hookup, one more upper cabinet, drawers for one base cabinet, and miscellaneous stuff.

The Day
  • Workout: dumbbells, dips, crunches
  • Music: Aaron Copland, Jack Johnson, Propellerheads, Public Image Ltd.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

The Change Challenge

A bit more than a year ago, I decided to start exercising as a way to reclaim my physical health. I committed to doing crunches, push-ups, and running. More workout details will follow when I need a quick and easy blog entry, but the structure of the regimen is not the point today. The point is the essence of the big challenge.

I find it easy to make a big change in my life. I can go from slovenly to neat, from fast-fooding to fat-free, or from uninformed to totally in-the-know. My problem is maintaining the change. Big change for a short period of time is easy. Small, sustained change is hard. Making the transition from "I'm gonna do this" to "I'm gonna keep doing this" is not easy for me.

My runs are neither fast nor long, but I keep on doing them. I had to rest five times as I sauntered ("jog" would be an exaggeration) for that first mile last year. It was pretty sad. Over the course of the next weeks and months, I gradually took fewer and fewer breaks en route to finishing my mile and then a bit more than a mile. By keeping at it for weeks and months on end, I have worked my way up to running a few miles without resting. This past year, I have set a low bar for myself, but have doggedly stuck to it. I don't run on consecutive days. I don't run when I am hurt. I don't run far. The bar is low and really unimpressive, but attainable.

Eating better is even tougher for me than the exercise and the holidays make it a fair bit tougher. At this time of year, I am reminded of a man I know who quit smoking cold turkey. I once mentioned how amazed I was that he could quit while his wife, sister-in-law, and her husband all kept right on puffing away like chimneys. He told me that he craves a cigarette every single day, but keeps on resisting because his health depends on it. Like him, I resist stuffing large quantities of unhealthy food down my gullet because I must, but every day I go past the vending machine in the office (offering everything from Ho Ho's to glazed cinnamon buns to Pop Tarts all for just a quarter), it is a struggle.

One day at a time.

BTW: I can resist the vending machine, but if The Wife's chocolate chip cookies are wrong, I don't want to be right.

The Renovation
Herb (the electrician) made it in. This was impressive and quite a relief. He's been really great and we are glad that we finally have real switches for the lights instead of having to plug in the big, nasty cable that was jerry-rigged straight to the wiring. There is also under-cabinet lighting as well as recessed lights over the peninsula. The sink and faucet are hooked up and functional. The granite guys didn't drill holes for attaching the dishwasher, so Doug called them up and will have them come fix that. The cabinets have pulls, so that's nice.

Tomorrow: We are still waiting on one more upper cabinet, so maybe it will arrive and be installed tomorrow.

The Day
  • Workout: slow, short (3-mile) run on very scenic, snowy paths
  • Music: Dido, Chicago, Beethoven, Maynard Ferguson

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Have a Bud and a Smile

I had to present a demo in a meeting today and one of the people there for the presentation was Bud Spillane, who was the Superintendent of the school system in which I was a student and later a teacher. The cool part is that he knows my mom and was gushing over how good she was at her job. In front of some frightfully important people from my company, he was talking about how she was an amazing school administrator and if I got even a little bit of her talent, I must be an awesome educator.

No pressure.

The Renovation
Walls are painted. Granite is in. They were still here installing the granite when I got home from work this evening. Getting these things done on a snowy day (a clipper system dropped a few inches on us today) is pretty lucky.

Tomorrow: plumbing hookup, electrical work? appliance installs? We are still waiting on one more upper cabinet to arrive, but there is plenty of other stuff to do.

The Day
  • Workout: crunches and push-ups
  • Music: The Wiseguys

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

Fun With Race

OK. One more post about racial stuff. Being a black man in a white man's world is not generally easy, but it does have one big perk: I get to make white folks feel just a little bit uncomfortable about race every once in a while. I get to make racial comments at the office or with friends of mine that make them wince and that is good, clean fun.
  • I'm the last in my office to get a flat panel monitor? It's because I'm black.
  • Someone gets a warning instead of a ticket for going 45 in a 25 zone? I would have been Rodney Kinged.
  • My order comes up last at Panera? It's because I'm black.
Fun stuff. I'm usually mostly kidding, but sometimes...

The Renovation
The last base cabinet arrived today, so we are ready for the granite tomorrow. The GC also squared off the slanted area that is above the place where the stairs go down to the basement. This gives us a nice, flat bottom for the corner of the pantry. Plus, the refrigerator and microwave/convection oven/hood arrived this evening. The fridge will really make The Wife happy.

Tomorrow: paint and granite

The Day
  • Workout: hills
  • Music: The Crystal Method

Monday, December 3, 2007

Out With the Old Floor and Reaction to the Pediatrician

The old hardwood floors are out. I feel for the guy who hauled them out of here in his truck. He probably thought it would be an easy job, but certainly carrying it all out to the truck was not easy. Still, I'm glad it's all gone.

Speaking of getting rid of wood, another tree fell in our backyard. This one is way at the back of the yard and is nowhere near the house. Still, we probably should get it taken care of. We really don't need another expense right now. In May, a 90-foot tree fell directly toward our house. Luckily, its base was about 90 feet away from the house, so the tips of its highest branches ended up lying on our back patio without causing any damage. Still, getting it chopped up cost money.

Darn trees.

Finally, several friends have reacted strongly to my post from yesterday. Some want me to tell someone at Pediatrics@Night about the doctor. Others wish I had quoted my resume to the guy. Most are simply aghast.

Frankly, I'm a cynic. I assume that most people have a plethora of prejudices. My strategy for fighting them is to live my life my way. I'm not going to try to beat anyone over the head with the stupidity of their ideas. If I had tried to explain to the doctor the idiocy of his ideas, I would probably have sounded pompous and would certainly have not changed his mind. All I can do is be who I am. If I'm lucky, I can have some small influence on a few people just by being me. This might seem like a cop-out, but it is who I am.

Many men and women (including my parents and grandparents) fought long and hard for me to be able to have the freedom and opportunity to live my life my way. I try to honor their efforts by living a life that is not constrained by other people's opinions about who I should be.

The Day
  • Workout: crunches and push-ups
  • Music: The Cars, The Benedictine Monks of Santo Domingo, Vince Guaraldi, Steely Dan

Sunday, December 2, 2007

A Pile of Wood and Color Blindness

Pete and Stinky (more on the latter's nickname some other time) came over today and helped rip up the old hardwood floors. We now have a mountain of wood and nails in our living room and a similar one in the dining room.

The Wife has found someone who will come by tomorrow and haul away the piles. Once that is done, we can clean up and be another step closer to being ready. This week should see the last cabinets installed, as well as the sink, appliances, and the granite. Basically, we should have a pretty functional kitchen at the end of this week and will just have little stuff and the floors left for the following week. We can hope the plan comes together.

On a different topic: I have crazy people all around me. Family, friends, and co-workers all provide a rich supply of situations, quotes, stories, etc. that could fill this blog quite often. Though this sort of thing would be quite amusing, I am not comfortable telling these stories in such a public forum. You won't read about the wacky divorces, the crazy kids, or my dysfunctional company on these pages. You never know who will read this. If you know me, then you know you have probably done, said, heard, or seen something you'd rather not read here. Don't worry. You won't. The only stories I will put here are ones I don't mind the subject reading before coming to my house for chili.

On the other hand, strangers are fair game:

The Boy has an ear infection. He was really pathetic on Saturday as he just curled up and fell asleep in a tiny waiting room chair at Pediatrics@night. The Wife and I both knew he had an ear infection, but needed to get a doctor to prescribe the drugs that would make it all better. Anyway, The four of us went to the office and I accompanied TB into the examining room with the doctor. After the physical check, the doctor was entering data into his computer. He seemed like a nice, normal suburban guy. Nothing unusual about him. As TB napped with his head on my lap, the doctor asked me "What do you do? Are you a basketball player?"

Pete and Stinky: You two can stop laughing now. Anyone who has seen me actually play basketball knows that I stink. I am better at snow- and water-skiing than I am at basketball. Heck, I'm probably better at badminton, water polo, and perhaps ice hockey than I am at basketball. I stink. Why would he ask me this question, even in jest (as it certainly was?)

Later, he made the comment that his son wants to be a football or basketball player, but sadly, "He doesn't have a chance. I'm a geek. I mean, if he had some black in him, he'd have a chance, but no."

Why do I mention this? Many people I know insist that race is no longer an issue and that it's all about socio-economic class. They often say that they are color-blind. My point is that few people are truly color-blind and those who aren't are not just rednecks or old folks or in any other pigeon hole you'd like to put them in. Obviously there is nothing malicious about the doctor's comments, but what else is in there? I'm clearly athletically gifted as a result of my race (again, Pete and Stinky can stop laughing any time now), but does my race also make me less intelligent or more lazy?

Race is still an issue. I tend to fall on the Bill Cosby or Jason Whitlock side of these issues rather than Jesse Jackson or Al Sharpton's side, but the issue is still relevant. Now to go wake up TB so we can practice our jump shots. We both have an image to live up to.

The Day
  • Workout: long (about 5 mile) run
  • Music: Beastie Boys

Friday, November 30, 2007

Finishing Week 3

The kitchen has most of its trim and it looks like we are on schedule for the painters next week. Hopefully the last base cabinet will be in before the granite. As long as that timing works out and Herb (the electrician) is able to finish up, we should have nearly all but the floors done by the end of next week. Appliances arrive Tuesday so they should be here and ready for Herb to hook stuff up and for Doug to figure out the vent for the hood. Flooring should happen week after next, so it looks like I have two weekends to rip up the old flooring. I will be helping a friend of mine move this weekend, so he will return the favor by helping with floor removal on Sunday. If all goes well, we will have the old hardwood floors up by the end of this weekend.

The last renovation update for this week is in the week 3 web album.

The Day
  • Workout: crunches, push-ups, dumbells
  • Music: Sierra Leone's Refuge All-Stars

Thursday, November 29, 2007

A Tragedy and Blackness

There have been no photo updates the past couple days because the workers have just been slinging drywall mud and sanding. There are some week 3 updates today since the drywall work is done and most of the cabinet doors are now on. We are still waiting for a couple cabinets that had to be modified , but after a few days that seemed slow-moving, visible progress is happening again. Some folks have asked who has been doing the work. His name is Doug Jones.

As you might notice if you look at today's music selections, I am feeling particularly black today. The recent passing of Washington Redskins safety Sean Taylor and some rather interesting articles on the subject (e.g., by Mike Wilbon) have me thinking more about blackness.

First of all, I'm not exactly the "blackest" guy around. Still, I feel the conflict of the different worlds to which I belong. The one way in which Wilbon is slightly off base is that the draw of the culture that draws in some black men to a world of violence and entitlement and living on the wrong side or edge of the law and responsibility can be weak when the right environment and upbringing are brought to bear. We all saw Michael Vick deal with the conflict between worlds in a very public way, but does anyone imagine that Grant Hill had such a tough time making the right choices when he was young? When you have the right environment and the right people raising you, making the right decisions can become natural.

How can a black man help foster good decision-making while keeping touch with his background? I'm not sure, but recognizing and acknowledging the complexity of the issues seem like good first steps. Maybe I'll just make sure they listen to lots of Curtis Mayfield, Sly Stone, and George Clinton.

The Day
Workout: interval running
Music: Curtis Mayfield, Sly and the Family Stone, Funkadelic, MFSB

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Keeping in Sync With Google Calendar

On the reno front: It's mostly about getting the drywall to look pretty. Lots of mud being slung around. The painter looked at the room today and the granite guy came and made his measurements. This evening, The Wife went out and used our Home Depot gift card (a rebate from buying the fridge and microwave/convection/hood) to buy our pulls and a new kitchen faucet. We are still looking good for being done around the end of next week.

Google Calendar: The Wife and I each have our own gmail accounts. We use those accounts to manage our calendars as well. It's cool. TW manages calendars for herself and each of the kids. I manage my own, but we each share with the other so both us of can see all four calendars color-coded in Google Calendar and iGoogle (the personalized Google front page.) My events are black, TW's are orange, Jack's are blue, and Maggie's are pink. The system sends me an email once a day with my agenda (which I can view on my Blackberry.) Anyway, Google provides some nice tools for sharing information. Keeping in sync is key.

The Day
  • Workout: medium run
  • Music: Bob Marley

Monday, November 26, 2007

Less (hair) Is More

Nothing much going on with the renovation today. We decided to deep-six the cubbies that were supposed to be under the cantilevered granite peninsula because they created a seating/eating problem. They forced a big distance from the tops of your thigh (under the cubbies) to the eating surface (an inch or two above the cubbies). This would have created a situation where either your legs would have been squished by the cubbies or your food would have been in your chin. Neither would have been a good situation. Anyway, we are going to take the cubbies and make a little homework desk out of them in the family room.

BTW: Week three of the reno has its own album in picasa. The Wife has threatened to impose a complete media blackout, so the pics could stop flowing any day.

On an entirely unrelated topic: If you are a man with a receding hairline (like mine), think twice about fighting it. Someone I work with just hacked his hair back with clippers and a #1 guard. It looks much, much better.

So, here are some thoughts for guys who are having problems accepting their scalps.

The combover: Lots of guys try the combover. It starts out innocently enough. You start styling your hair that way (perhaps because you saw your mother's father and knew you'd need an excuse in another decade or two) and just by accident, the style covers up your developing lack of hair. What a coincidence. When the combover only hides a small bit of scalp, this is fine. What is small? Let's agree on the size of a roll of scotch tape as reasonable. When it's the size of a roll of masking tape, you have issues and should try something else. When it's the size of a melon, you have major issues and need counseling.

The ug's (rugs, drugs, and plugs): Any solution that requires you to spend money is probably a bad idea. Any solution that has potential side-effects or recovery time is completely crazy. Stop the madness.

the good: the bald hall of fame

the bad: Marv Albert, Gene Keady

Shaving tips:
  1. You don't need to take it down to the skin like I do. Use clippers and go with the Andre Agassi look. A #1 or #2 guard can work wonders. I especially suggest this path for most melanin-deprived gents out there. When white guys shave it clean, it can look like the result of chemo, so keep that in mind.
  2. Never shave in a hurry. If you do, the result will be a "lost a fight with a weed-whacker" look.
  3. Shave in the spring when you can ease your way into a good head tan. In the winter, you will end up with a pasty look for a while. In the summer, you might burn.
The Day
  • workout: crunches and push-ups
  • music: Art Blakey, Bjork, Brian Setzer

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Turkey Day

A day without renovation. We actually were able to sleep in a few minutes and it felt really good.

Turkey Day starts with Turkey Bowl. A bunch of middle-aged men running around trying to play football. Most of us are slow, but we have fun. This year was an unusually injury-free day, so that's a good thing. I see a bunch of these guys only once a year, so it's always a good time.

Next, we went to my sister's house for dinner. She's not very healthy, but was having a good day. I'll write about her another time when I have lots of room, but at this point, suffice it to say that she is an amazing woman who has made many doctors look stupid. She has been given months, weeks, and even days to live as long ago as 15 years and as recently as a little over a year ago. She's incredible and all of us are thankful that she is still around.

I have been pretty good about food for a year, but moderation went out the window today. When turkey and stuffing and sweet potatoes and gravy are put in front of me, I revert to the adolescent who thinks he has a bottomless pit for a stomach. Weak people (skinny people) save room for dessert. Strong people (over-eaters) make room for dessert.

Normally, desert at Thanksgiving with my family is the weak spot. Some store-bought pies. Probably a home-made cake. Perhaps orange jello with banana slices.

This year was different. After eating too much dinner, I found that a cousin had made both banana pudding and peach cobbler. I went back for seconds on both. It's unfair when someone who is nice, attractive and very smart is also a good cook. The former Tournament of Roses princess who is now on Harvard Law Review baked killer desserts that might force me to go back up a notch or two on my belt.

The Day:
  • Workout: interval run and Turkey Bowl football
  • Music: Sounds of the Seasons

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Drywall Finishing, Cabinets Starting, Granite Chosen

Cabinets are being hung by the kitchen with care in hopes that the granite soon will be there.

Drywall is done and cabinets have begun. We also picked out our slabs of granite. The granite is greyish and blueish and has a few shiny flecks in it.

The Day
  • Workout: crunches and push-ups
  • Music: Vince Guaraldi and Bola Sete, The Stone Roses, Big Audio Dynamite

Tuesday, November 20, 2007


When I came back from my "run" this morning (I have to use quotes on that when I move as slowly as I did today. Honestly, I can still feel the pain from my 5k run on Saturday, so I am not pushing it), I was happy to see a county pickup in the driveway. Inspection went smoothly, so they started hanging drywall. Frankly, our GC was pretty chummy with the inspector, but I am hopeful (and pretty certain) that this is not a bad sign.

Cabinets should start tomorrow, but the big news for me is that it looks like I am going to have to pull up our old hardwood floors so we can save a bunch of money. This is going to be backbreaking work, but at least I have my youth. Wait. No, I don't. I'm a decrepit, old man. This is going to hurt for weeks, but I will save over a grand.

Time to get the ice packs ready.

The Day
  • Workout: nice, slow 3.5 mile "run" to Steeplechase
  • Music: War, Wayne Shorter, William Shatner, Yes, XTC

Monday, November 19, 2007

A New Week, A New Renovation Album

So, when the stillness of a beautiful Fall morning in Reston was shattered by the hammer, circular saw, and drill, I knew the renovation week had started.

Last week was awesome. Stuff got torn up, and few things are as fun to watch as controlled devastation. This week has started off more subtly. Today, they did a bunch of work on wiring and got the pantry framed in. The bigger event was that Habitat for Humanity showed up and hauled away the old cabinets and the old freezer. It was really great to see that stuff go away and at the same time help someone out. Our new cabinets will begin showing up in the garage this week.

The inspector comes tomorrow to make sure we are up to code. As long as all goes well, drywall work will begin tomorrow right after the inspection. We need to pick out a slab of granite (maybe tomorrow) and make the call on flooring.

My brother and his wife and daughter will be with us this week. Entertaining in the construction zone and makeshift kitchen should be fun. It will be good to see the Brooklyn, Chicago, New Haven, and Cambridge crowds.

Note: I have decided to keep a separate album for each week of the renovation, so this (the second) week's pics are here in the Kitchen Reno Week 2 album. Once the renovation is finished, I will combine them into one trimmed down album, but for now I will upload a bunch of photos each day.

The Day:
  • Workout: dumbells, crunches, dips
  • Music: The Beatles, Brian Eno, Saint-Saens, Miles Davis

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Raking on the Edge of the Desert

When most people think about yard work, they probably imagine manicuring a neat lawn or raking leaves into a nice, neat pile.

These people have never seen a house in the older parts of Reston. Controlling your yard in this area is like trying to control a small sandbox that is in the middle of a desert. I filled six bags of leaves from the front yard, then turned my attention out back. With the help of a leaf blower and ample work with the rake, I made a massive leaf pile. You could hide a mid-size car in there. I'm kinda afraid to let my son jump into the pile because he might not find his way out. He's a nice kid and we'd hate to lose him.

By the end of the week, the yard will look like I never touched it, so I better take a picture of it now or the moment will be gone forever.

The Day
  • Workout: raking and blowing leaves, lawn mowing; ice skating with Jack at Town Center
  • Music: Gorillaz

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Being Healthier: Eating Better

First of all, I am nobody's health nut. I still eat and drink just about everything I like to eat and drink. On the other hand, I want to model a healthy lifestyle for my kids, want to be able to play with them, and want to be around for years to come. I'm on the old side, so this takes work. The result of eating better and exercising is that I can play more actively with the kids and feel much, much healthier.

Here are the highlights of the better eating routine:
  1. Start the day with some exercise at least 5 days a week (more on that in a separate entry).
  2. Eat breakfast every day and have that breakfast be raisin bran or frosted mini wheats (FMW) and a glass of juice 6 days a week.
  3. Try to snack before lunch (preferably dry FMW, but maybe not). This happens maybe half the time.
  4. Normal lunch (avoid fries and greasy chips)
  5. Snack between lunch and dinner (FMW or pretzels or fruit or yogurt, fruit, and granola).
  6. Normal dinner, but usually no seconds and generally end with a big salad. Cut back on french fries.
  7. Drink water throughout the day.
  8. Drink Arnold Palmers (iced tea and lemonade mix) instead of soda when eating out.
  9. Cut back on dessert after dinner. In the summer, this is usually Fla-Vor-Ice Plus (33% juice and 25 calories each). I need a cold weather option for dessert.
That's pretty much it. When I go out to dinner, I often get a buffalo chicken salad or steak salad, but not always. Notice that I still eat desert, drink the occasional beer, and enjoy waffles with strawberries and whipped cream every once in a while. This isn't about starving myself; it's about moderation.

I started this about a year ago and am feeling much healthier. As you might imagine, I violated every one of these just about every day before that for years and years.

If I think of something else I am or am not doing with my diet, I will edit this entry, but the other side of this is the exercising I have been doing. I am a big believer in the demand side of things (burning calories), but the supply side (diet) is important as well.

The Day
  • Workout: Herndon Turkey Trot 5K Run
  • Music: Cake

Friday, November 16, 2007

Gun Control vs. Sleep

I'm generally a pretty conservative guy in terms of wanting the government to stay out of my life. The ACLU usually has it right in my book. I don't want the government supporting religion or suppressing free speech or otherwise taking upon itself to tell us what to do.

On the other hand, I don't think that semi-automatic assault rifles and armor piercing ammo should be available. I know this is a bit of a conflict, but so be it. Hunting rifles are fine. Target shooting is fine. AK-47's and glocks are dangerous.

Why does this come up? I like to sleep. Actually, one of my favorite pastimes before kids was to wake up at 8:00 on a weekend, then roll over and head back to sleep. Just because I could. Then kids came along and they have been our alarm clocks for the past 6.5 years. Until now. What wakes me up every morning just a little after 6:00? A woodpecker pecking on the lovely wood siding right behind our bedroom. I appreciate that he wants food and shelter, but that's what we have zillions of trees for. This isn't an area that has been clear-cut. We have scads of trees, but this woodpecker wants my house instead. I am ready to buy a shotgun and start looking up woodpecker recipes. Woodpecker and dumplings? Woodpecker pot pie? I'm ready to give them a try.

Anyway, the NRA is still pretty evil, but I want one of those evil folks to come by my house one morning and help me do some selective reduction of the woodpecker population. I'll even invite the sharpshooter over for some dumplings or pot pie.

The Day
  • Workout: 3 x (dumbells(curls, shoulders, chest) + 100 crunches + 12 dips)
  • Music: WFMU, Cloud Cult, Dee-Lite, Led Zeppelin
  • Photos: Day 5 of the renovation

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Stinky's Reaction to My Rambling Blog

(2:09:47 PM) stinky: you created your own blog??
(2:09:51 PM) me: i did
(2:09:53 PM) stinky: what's the matter with you?
(2:09:57 PM) stinky: you don't have enough to do??
(2:10:01 PM) stinky: you need some chores??
(2:10:18 PM) stinky: come over sat morning. i've a few things for ya to do since you've got so much free time on your hands
(2:10:32 PM) me: doesn't take any time, really
(2:10:37 PM) stinky: dude
(2:10:40 PM) stinky: it's just one more thing
(2:10:54 PM) me: actually can save time. "how is the reno going" me: "check the blog"
(2:10:57 PM) stinky: i'm trying to take things off the list, some as simple as a phone call or putting the seat down

Scary Renovation Stories, Part 1

On the first day of renovation, the GC and the electrician were joined by some muscle who helped with the demolition. Since that first day, it's been a two-man show. I like hearing them work stuff out together and it gives me great comfort. One person is bound to miss stuff. Two are more likely to work stuff out well (geeks in the audience might think about Extreme Programming as an example of this).

Anyway, the scary part is when they find messed up stuff (which is often.) They have found:
  • Junction boxes that are wired in an unsafe manner.
  • Live wires tied in to boxes and just hanging behind drywall (so a nail driven into the drywall could have found an exciting surprise.)
  • Outlets that had fires behind them years ago.
  • A big, fat electrical cable that goes nowhere and was cut off abruptly with a saw.
Maybe they are just making this stuff up, but it gives me comfort to know that all the money we are paying (and it is lots of money) will result in a house that is more pretty, functional, and safe.

It almost makes the 6:55 a.m. wake-up call (courtesy of a reciprocating saw in the dining room) worth it.

The Day
  • Workout: interval running (30 sec. hard run/30 sec. jog for about 2.7 miles) here is the map
  • Music: Carl Orff, The The, Sublime, Beastie Boys, English Beat
  • Photos: Day 4 of the renovation

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Kitchen Renovation Begins

Well, we have finally decided to renovate our kitchen. The old one was small, ugly, and not well laid-out.

Problems we had with the old kitchen:
  • The crazy former owner blocked off the family room, so he had to put in a sliding glass door where a window used to be so he would have access to the deck. He was a nut. He also had walled off the dining room, but that's another story altogether.
  • From a single spot in the kitchen, you could see 7 different flooring surfaces.
  • The space in the kitchen was very cramped and there was no good place to eat in the kitchen (thanks to the slider)
  • Everything was old and hideous.
  • We really wanted a second oven as well as a fridge that didn't stick out into the room.
  • Not enough storage or light.
What we are doing:
  • Gutting the entire room.
  • Moving the opening from the corner to centering it on the Dining Room wall.
  • Moving the Dining Room wall over a foot (toward the kitchen) to make enough room to walk through from the rest of the house to the new pocket doors into the kitchen.
  • Putting in a small pantry.
  • Replacing the slider with a window, extending the counter down under the window and adding a peninsula that will extend from under the new window.
  • Adding Maple cabinets and new floors.
  • New counter-depth fridge and moved other appliances.
  • Marble counters.
  • Recessed lighting.

Anyway, here are the pics of the project. I have been pretty good so far about uploading updates every day.

Starting off

OK. Let's see if I can keep this puppy going. Time to start having a place to post random stuff.

Some recurring themes that can be expected moving forward:
  • Reston stuff
  • Exercise
  • Cool websites
  • Random stuff
  • Topical stuff such as our kitchen renovation (currently in progress)
  • Work
This might be short-lived, but I gotta try.