Friday, February 29, 2008

Web Stuff Friday: No Garfield, but Sixteen Games

Garfield Minus Garfield is one of the greatest things I have seen in ages. It is simply brilliant. Some of the comics work better than others, but as a whole, the effect is FAR better without the cat. I actually hate the Garfield comic. It is a sign of deep emotional issues that I have not been able to stop reading it. Comic reading habits die hard for me. It took me a while to kick Family Circus and Spider Man out of my comic life, but Garfield has just stuck around. Now, I will read every Garfield strip that has Jon in it as I imagine what each strip would look like without the cat.

grid16 is the ultimate ADHD game for a generation much younger than I. I really just started trying it, but the gist of the game is that you are given 16 games to play, but you only play each for a few seconds before moving on to another game. Once you fail at a game, it goes away from your grid. Essentially, you want to keep as many grids as you can alive for as long as possible. It's quite interesting.

Note: I had a post for today all written about some music I wanted to share, but then a friend sent me a link to this Garfield Minus Garfield site. This has led me to realize that it is time to set up another special weekly blogging day. We already have Web Stuff Friday. The next post will be the inaugural Music Monday.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Knowing My Limitations: Thanks Dr. O'Brien

Friends of ours recently had their first kid. I visited the three of them at the hospital and it was great. Grace is a beautiful baby, she hardly fussed at all, and of course, there's that new baby smell.

When I left the new family, I called a mutual friend of ours to mention that they were doing well. As I gushed about how much fun it was seeing and holding the kid, we had a conversation that went something like this:
me: It was a really nice visit. Grace is beautiful and her head has that great new baby smell. They are so happy.
friend: Yeah. That 's great.
me: You know what this really makes me think about, don't you?
friend: Sending Dr. O'Brien a thank you note?
me: Actually, more like giving him a great big hug.
For those of you who are not middle-aged men, let me explain that Dr. O'Brien is the man who ensured that neither my friend nor I will be directly involved in the joy of new babyhood ever again. Dr. O'Brien is a good man who does good work.

I love my kids, but as Clint Eastwood's Dirty Harry says "A man's got to know his limitations." I am too old to start this again. Also, being able to cover the kids man-to-man is key. If Mrs. Kid and I had to go zone, we'd be dead. Frankly, Girl Kid is a full-time job for at least a person and a half. If we had the bucks to get a nanny, we could go Cover 1, but we don't, so we need to stick with man-to-man. With two little ones, Mrs. Kid and I are slightly outnumbered; if we were to add another kid in there, we'd be crushed.

Mrs. Kid and I are a great match in many ways. She is smart and pretty and nice and a great parent and I am ... currently employed. OK, so maybe that's a list of how we are complementary. One way we are a good match is our agreement that two kids is our limit. We both know our limitations.

Video Nugget: Menomena performing Weird in Juan's Basement

The Day
  • Workout: crunches,
  • Music: Stan Kenton, Menomena, Cloud Cult, Brian Eno, The The

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Good to Great: Great People

A friend of mine's work woes have me thinking about business/management stuff. It is really hard for me to write coherently about this sort of thing, so I'm sorry for the particularly incoherent ramble.

Some day, I will figure out how to start a company of my own (or at least glom on to someone else's idea and be there at the beginning) and when that happens, smart, hardworking people will be my first hires. When people look at what helps companies go from good to great, it's all about hiring great people, and then putting them in the right positions. If a company doesn't hire and retain great people, then the company is screwed. Having the great idea is not sufficient. Lots of companies start with great ideas. The difference is that great companies hire great people, put them in the right places, and then let the team generate great ideas and drive the company in the right direction.

Anyway, here are some completely random thoughts:
  • Managers should be more interested in helping their staff be excellent than in their own glory. I don't care how smart a manager is. When it comes to managing, the most important thing is the ability to foster an effective work experience for your people.
  • If you are smart (or at least knowledgeable), hard-working, and ethical, others will recognize this and will want to do good work for and with you. Work hard and do good.
  • Communication is really important. Great decisions require great information. Very often, bad decisions are made because the right people didn't have the right information. Communicate effectively or accept that bad decisions will surround you wherever you go.
  • Make teamwork happen. Great execution is all about having a superior sense of team. Most people will work harder and better for a good team than when they feel like they are alone.
BTW: I'm not saying that I do any of these great things or have any of these great qualities, but I really appreciate them in others. My strategy is to work with smart, hard-working, ethical people, then try to blend in.

The Day
  • Workout: crunches and push-ups
  • Music: Beastie Boys, Peter Gabriel, R.E.M, Jean Michel Jarre

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Working in an Office: Snapple Stories

Today was a pretty boring day until someone came into the office and mentioned a couple stories from the early days of our company. These stories wouldn't be particularly interesting to anyone outside the company, but they really amuse those of us who were around and shared these experiences. Here is a snippet from an email that is the beginning of one of these stories:
At today's cook-out, I had put 2 snapples in the ice cooler to keep cold. Someone accidentally took them not realizing that the snapples were not everyone but for me. I don't drink soda.

Please buy me two snapples as replacement for the ones you mistakenly took. I am for you cooperation and honesty. No questions will be asked if you replacement them. Thank you.
Anyway, this email (which was sent to the entire company by the man in charge of our IT) set off a chain of responses and satires that are now the stuff of legend. The so-called "Snapple" incident is one of the great jewels from our company's early days. We have all worked really hard for our company, but we also work for each other and shared experiences like this have helped to create bonds. Frankly, I often feel like I am in a high-tech sweat shop cranking out lessons. The pace is relentless. Brief moments of levity really help.

Telecommuting is great, but there would be no Snapple story if we all worked from home. Crazy, stupid stuff like this helps to make the crap of an office more bearable.

The Day
  • Workout: crunches and push-ups
  • Music: Curtis Mayfield, Led Zep, Kraftwerk, Crystal Method

Monday, February 25, 2008

One Space, One Heart

It's not a matter of opinion. Only one space should follow a period (or semicolon or comma). Chicago Manual of Style says so.

If you took typing in high school, your teacher told you to use two spaces. She was probably wrong then, but definitely would be wrong now. Two spaces were necessary in the olden days of fixed-width fonts, but variable-width fonts provide for the proper spacing (I think it's a space and a half) after punctuation. When you add a second space, you mess with the way words, sentences, paragraphs, and pages are supposed to look. To many people who look at printed material for a living, two spaces after each period creates an unattractive visual. The extra spaces are like missing teeth in an otherwise lovely adult face. Fix the gaps and all is right with the world.

One space...One Love...One Heart

The Day
  • Workout: crunches and push-ups
  • Music: Steely Dan

Friday, February 22, 2008

Web Stuff Friday: Michael Cera and a Lazy Sunday Cannon

Clark and Michael is an online series by Michael Cera (from Superbad and Juno) and a friend of his. I haven't watched the entire series, but it looks pretty interesting so far.

NLOS Cannon Challenge is pretty fun. In my office, the men did better than the women and the explanation is pretty straight-forward: Men are used to aiming. Women aren't. We do it every day. If you are a guy and can't make it past level 5, then watch the movie Full Metal Jacket, go write your name in the snow or hit some cheerios targets in your toilet, and then try again.

Lazy Sunday is the greatest music video to come out in a decade. The Chronicles of Narnia DVD is on its way to us (thanks to Netflix) and we are reading The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe with Boy Kid, so this is the perfect time to re-visit this acclaimed gem from SNL. Here is my favorite quote from the song:
You can call us Aaron Burrs,
From the way we’re droppin’ Hamiltons.

The Day
  • Workout: crunches and push-ups
  • Music: Bob Marley, Herbie Hancock, Marvin Gaye, Depeche Mode

Thursday, February 21, 2008

No Wallowing, Tony Parody

I wrote an entry that was a real downer, but have mothballed it. When a friend from work sent me a link to something that made me laugh (see below), I realized that I didn't want to wallow. There is a fine line between rambling and writing a diary and I am cool with the former, but not the latter.

As I have mentioned before, I like to listen to the Tony Kornheiser Show. A friend from work who knows I like the show sent me a link to a great entry at a sports blog called Kissing Suzy Kolber. If you read this parody of the Tony Kornheiser Show, you will get a feel for how the show goes. Any fan of the show will get some good laughs from this.

Today's entry is lame, but at least it won't depress anyone. Tomorrow is Web Stuff Friday, so we all have that to look forward to.

The Day
  • Workout: crunches and push-ups
  • Music: Gnarls Barkley, Sergio Mendes

Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Akira vs. Godzilla: A Promethean Battle

I watched the movie Akira and it was quite something. It isn't for everyone, but I thought it was really interesting. It's a japanese anime version of a manga comic. If you are into animation and sci-fi and don't mind a fair amount of violence, then this movie is for you. This is anime, but don't imagine something like Speed Racer or Kimba the White Lion. The scenery is really great, the action is pretty compelling, and the acting isn't campy.

Thematically, it reminded me of a Godzilla movie. As I recall, some of the Godzilla movies were all about how man's technology (e.g., nuclear weapons or pollution) would ultimately destroy the earth. Kaiju such as Godzilla and Mothra defended the earth from man-made problems. Note that they were NOT defending mankind. They were defending The Earth. When Akira cleansed Neo-Tokyo in the movie's finale, it reminded me of Godzilla on a rampage.

In Akira, I also saw a strong theme about how science tries to dig down to find truth, but ultimately delves into areas that cannot be measured or understood. This epistemological problem seems to be at the crux of what the movie is all about. This conflict is similar to what we read about in the original Frankenstein, The Modern Prometheus or the more recent Jurassic Park. In this light, the finale is more like Mary Shelley's Frankenstein running amok or a T-Rex tearing up an amusement park.

I'm a pretty rational person, but I believe that rationality and science have their places. Ultimately there is a limit to what can be known through rational thought. I respect scientists that keep on digging for ultimate scientific truths, but I am inherently skeptical of efforts to find ultimate Truth in science.

Anyway, it was a fun movie with some interesting themes. Then again, maybe I just imagined the themes and it was supposed to just be a fun movie. Regardless, I now have to get the trade paperback of the comic which undoubtedly has a more in-depth version of the story.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

I Crushed Arnold Palmer

As a kid, I spent sick days watching crappy daytime television. My go-to fare were shows like Love American Style, Bewitched, Gilligan's Island, Courtship of Eddie's Father, My Favorite Martian, and several other shows. The lineup changed over the years, but you get the idea. I was a pretty sickly kid, so I had lots of opportunities to watch all this great junk on TV through the years.

As a young, single adult, my rare sick days were all about Ricki Lake and Jerry Springer. I am so high brow!

When I was sick last week, I discovered a new way to veg out: Tiger Woods 2006 for PlayStation2. For a while, all I ever did with TW06 was play against My Boy. The nice thing about PS2 is that he and I can compete on a level playing field. I can't take advantage of being taller and he can't take advantage of being younger and smarter. But when I was sick last week, I played on my own against great golfers through the ages such as Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer, and Justin Leonard. It was lots of low-key fun and now my player kicks some pretty major butt.

With cable and video on demand, I could probably cobble together a sick day like the ones of my youth, but this new sort of day works for me. Now, when I watch pro golfers on TV, I can say "I played that guy and he's really not very good. My putting is way better than his."

The Day
  • Workout: crunches and push-ups
  • Music: Dizzy Gillespie, Sonny Rollins, Sonny Stitt

Monday, February 18, 2008

In Honor of Presidents' Day

The connection to Presidents' Day is a tenuous one, but bear with me.

This weekend, I tried something new. With great trepidation, I bought new equipment I needed, then went to give it a try. The stakes were high, but I steeled myself and dove in. As my family looked on, I could feel their fear feeding my own. I began tentatively at first, but after a while, I gained some confidence and tried taking some chances. Fear had given way to exhilaration, but at the first sign of blood, I was immediately brought back to earth. This is serious work.

Ultimately, the adventure ended successfully. My Son's hair was cut and did not require a trip to Cartoon Cuts the next morning. I had scheduled my attempt for a day when he would not have to go to school the next day, just in case I would need someone to cover up my gross incompetence. As it turns out, his hair doesn't look much worse than after any professional haircut he has had.

My paternal grandfather (Tasco Delano shared a middle name with the 32nd president of the U.S.) was a barber who put my father through Yale with his scissors and clippers. As I look at My Boy's haircut, I can't help but connect back to my grandfather and his work and sacrifice for our family. His was the first black-owned business on Georgia Avenue in DC, so he gets the credit for being one of our family's first trailblazers. His hard work, perseverance, and values still reverberate through our family today.

Having done a reasonably competent job with My Boy's hair fills me with happiness far out of proportion to the magnitude or difficulty of the task. I am still basking in the connection to my past.

The Day
  • Workout: hill run
  • Music: Elvis Costello with Burt Bacharach

Friday, February 15, 2008

A Long Hiatus Is Ending

I have been sick for the past week, so took the week off from writing. Now that I am starting to feel a bit better, I'll get back to writing. I thought about pre-dating a week's worth of entries, but probably won't. The record may as well show that I was too much of a pansy to post for a week.

So, a quick week in review:
  • Had to work last weekend to hit a deadline this past Monday
  • The Girl has been battling a cold for a week or so
  • Woke up Monday feeling like crap (as did The Wife)
  • Stayed home Tuesday sick as a dog
  • Worked from home Wednesday
  • Made it to the office Thursday and Friday, but felt pretty crappy
  • A few late, late nights of work
  • No workouts all week
Anyway, more stuff will come once I am able to sort through a bunch of ideas and get it all out there.

The Day
  • Workout: none
  • Music: Kraftwerk

Friday, February 8, 2008

Web Stuff Friday: Qwyzzle and Not Pr0n

Qwyzzle is a big brainteaser. It's pretty addictive if you are into this sort of thing, but getting it to work properly can be a challenge. Many hints are provided in the status bar, but recent versions of Firefox and IE seem to have some problems with them. Today, I had more success with IE than with Firefox. I completed it a couple years ago. I recall that I went to help sites a couple times, but was able to do most of it on my own (I used Google a fair amount, but avoided cheat sites.)

not pr0n seems to be a geek's brainteaser. It took me a while to get through level 2, but levels 3 through 6 were much easier. I have really only started this, but it looks like good fun. To give you an idea about the addictive nature of not pr0n, I have had to edit the preceding sentence three times in the past half hour. It started as "3 and 4", then was "3 through 5" and finally the version you see. Now I have to force myself to go to bed. Work to do tomorrow.

Note that unlike samorost (which I blogged a few days ago), these brainteasers are easy to pause. Just bookmark the last page you get to and you can jump right in at that point any time you want.

Today's Video
If you are still reading this, then you are probably at least a little bit of a geek. Here is a video about a really special set called the Mandelbrot set. I know that a video about a set sounds like a pretty boring idea, but this video is pretty nifty. The Mandelbrot set Forget it. I won't bother trying to explain it since this video does a far better job than I could ever do. Be sure to listen to the lyrics.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

He's so Well-Spoken

OK. More racial stuff.

A friend of mine and I have a running joke. We sometimes refer people as "well-spoken." This is something that he and I have heard fairly often. Usually it comes up in the context of someone who is black or an athlete (especially both) who is able to speak in standard English.

The phrase "well-spoken" seems to be our culture's code for "I expect him to be dumb as a doorknob, but he speaks standard English, so he must be smarter than most people like him." When referring to someone who is black, it can translate roughly as "he doesn't speak in Ebonics, so he must not be as ignorant as most negros." OK. Maybe that is too harsh as a ridiculous generalization, but that's how I often interpret it. Frankly, in many contexts it says more about the person saying it than it does about the subject.

I've heard this phrase used with athletes, broadcasters, and politicians. I'm sure some people have used it to describe me since I speak in standard English. As a matter of fact, my Ebonics is really bad. Any time I try to "go ghetto" in my speech, it sounds absolutely ridiculous. It's kinda like Carlton Banks from Fresh Prince of Bel-Air trying to be tough. It just doesn't work.

Some truly special people can go back and forth between speech that works in predominantly black groups and speech that is considered "well-spoken." I really respect these people. Being able to play to your audience is a tremendous skill to have. On the other hand, I am just a well-spoken negro.

BTW: Checkout jblocksom's comments on yesterday's post on Presidential Dreaming. The links he posted are quite excellent.

The Day
  • Workout: leg raises
  • Music: Beethoven, Kraftwerk, Bjork
Video Nugget
Autobahn is one of the most unknown great and influential albums of all time. Kraftwerk were on the bleeding edge of techno music with this. All synth-driven funk and pop music owes a debt to these guys.

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Presidential Dreaming

Obama and Clinton's success in the democratic primaries has energized lots of people. One woman actually said to me that their success makes her "proud to be a democrat." The republicans are putting up the same old white men while the dems are putting up a face of diversity.

This sort of thing makes me think back to a famous quote:
I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.
I am happy for Hillary and Barack, but I can't wait for us to move past the novelty stage and on to the time when we really are energized by the quality of the candidates' ideas and plans. It seems like many people are excited about the idea of Hillary or Barack. Breaking down barriers is important, but so is having a really good president who has the ability to make and implement great plans.

I'm not saying that Hillary or Barack are not good candidates, but I hope that we can move on to really address their ideas, plans, and ability to lead instead of being infatuated by what they stand for. I have opinions about their abilities in these areas, but am not going to turn this into a political forum (at least not yet.) Rather, I just want to encourage people to think of the candidates as more than symbols.

The Day
  • Workout: crunches and push-ups
  • Music: Cake, Miles Davis

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

My Name Is RestonKid and I'm an Addict

That's right. I'm addicted. It's early in the addiction, so it hasn't yet caused me real problems...yet. I still have my job, my kids, my wife. I've noticed that my physical fitness is starting to slip, and my diet is going downhill, but it hasn't gotten really bad yet. Down the line, I might look back on these days fondly. The days before my addiction wrecked every aspect of my life. I am almost looking forward to my flight out to rehab in California at the end of my episode of Intervention. The recovery process won't be pretty, but ultimately I will be healthier.

I am addicted to... My Queue. That's right, Netflix has me in its grasp and if addiction to my Netflix Queue is wrong, I don't want to be right. Every time I go to Netflix, I am presented with recommendations. I keep on rating movies so Netflix can improve recommendations. The ultimate goal is for every recommendation that Netflix serves up to me to be perfect. No duds. This is clearly unreachable, but my pursuit still drives me to visit the site at every opportunity. The problem is that Netflix's catalog is deep and goes way back. We're not just talking about all the movies I've seen in the last decade (which is a really small number), but pretty much every movie I have ever seen. So much to rate. So little time.

As the Netflix recommendations improve, I keep adding to my queue and that provides an entirely different challenge: sorting the queue. It's like being a DJ. Choosing the movies is not so tough. Figuring out the right order is really tough. Should Hotel Rwanda come before or after The Bellboy? These are the choices that test me every day.

Anyway, I wish I could say that I need to get back to work or to my family, but the truth is that I just realized that I haven't entered ratings for Repo Man, Yellow Submarine, or The Sound of Music.

The Day
Music Video of the Day
I love the bottle of wine sitting on the keyboard in this video:

Monday, February 4, 2008

It's Finally Finished

After a while, you can get used to little blemishes. For instance, we had gotten used to having no fake drawer in front of our sink. I actually liked the convenience of not having to open anything when I wanted to toss a grocery bag under the sink, but I knew the convenience had to come to an end someday.

We were surprised when Doug called this morning, but the day had finally come to install the fake drawer (which flips out to hold sponges.) The kitchen renovation is completely done.

Here is the Kitchen Reno Final album at picasa. If you want a day-by-day account of the journey, check out Kitchen Reno Day-by-Day.

The renovation was quite the adventure, but we absolutely love the end result. It fits our lives really well. It's not the biggest or fanciest kitchen around, but it is perfect for us.

The Day
  • Workout: medium run
  • Music: Dizzy Gillespie/Sonny Rollins/Sonny Stitt

Friday, February 1, 2008

Web Stuff: Samorost: Neat Online Game

I'm going to try to get into a rhythm with my posts. To start with, I think Fridays are good for posting web stuff. I have found some fun and/or interesting stuff over the past few years and can share them here once a week.

A few years ago, a friend at work sent me a link to a "game" of sorts. When you open it, it hardly even seems like a game. It looks like some odd work of art or maybe the opening sequence before a game starts. It's subtle, but once you get into the groove, it's really neat. This is not a game with much action. It's all about exploration and persistence and enjoying a rich environment.

samorost was developed by a really talented guy in Prague.

Now there is a sequel that is equally intriguing: samorost 2

These games are really cool, but be careful because they can be addicting.