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June 28, 2009

This Week's Tweets

fboosman...

...likes Starbucks' new store design direction: local craftsmen, regional motifs, recycled materials, and LEED as well. http://bit.ly/Tq88K
9:41 AM Jun 28th from bit.ly

While the new store designs are highly interpretive, they share several core characteristics:
  • Celebration of local materials and craftsmanship;
  • Focus on reused and recycled elements;
  • Exposure of structural integrity and authentic roots;
  • Elevation of coffee and removal of unnecessary distractions;
  • Storytelling and customer engagement through all five senses; and
  • Flexibility to meet the needs of many customer types – individual readers and computer users, as well as work, study and social groups.
...highly recommends this article debunking Canadian health care myths. They spend "less money... to get better outcomes." http://bit.ly/u44Sg 7:31 AM Jun 28th from bit.ly
As a Canadian living in the United States for the past 17 years, I am frequently asked by Americans and Canadians alike to declare one health care system as the better one.

Often I'll avoid answering, regardless of the questioner's nationality. To choose one or the other system usually translates into a heated discussion of each one's merits, pitfalls, and an intense recitation of commonly cited statistical comparisons of the two systems.

Because if the only way we compared the two systems was with statistics, there is a clear victor. It is becoming increasingly more difficult to dispute the fact that Canada spends less money on health care to get better outcomes.

...likes living in a place where to say "I'll have the salmon" would be strange and unhelpful -- like saying "I'll have the chicken" elsewhere.
7:29 PM Jun 27th from web

...can't get enough of Jabo0odyDubs' versions of Billy Mays infomercials. They get funnier with repeated viewings. http://bit.ly/2qFuwD
9:36 AM Jun 26th from bit.ly

Wow, was my timing bad on this one. Billy Mays died yesterday. Rest in peace, you overachieving pitchman.

...just read how one travel blogger thinks DL should buy AS. Would it be good for DL? Yes. Good for AS or Seattle? Um, no. http://bit.ly/Vs3hO
9:01 AM Jun 26th from bit.ly

...would very much like US politicians to look overseas as they redesign our health care system, but that's not happening. http://bit.ly/yeMH4
7:03 AM Jun 25th from bit.ly

Every day Washington's leaders tell us that we live in an interdependent world with a globalized economy. A butterfly beats its wings in Guangdong province, and four Wal-Marts materialize in Duluth. The peso plunges, and 30 Honda workers get laid off in Marysville. A coal-fired power plant belches carbon dioxide in Prague, and Lohachara Island sinks into the Bay of Bengal.

But change the subject to reform of the health care system, and the community of nations abruptly vanishes. No France, no Canada, no Germany, no Japan. Let there be no mention of any industrialized democracy save that of the United States, which is proud to claim 37th place in the World Health Organization's rankings of the world's health systems and 15th in the Commonwealth Fund's ranking by avoidable mortality of 19 industrialized countries (the highest rank indicates the fewest such deaths). To achieve a better score would be unpatriotic!

The political establishment's hubristic refusal to consider how other countries manage health care is encapsulated in the cliché "uniquely American," which is what Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., the lead legislator on health care reform, says he wishes his bill to be. It therefore goes without saying that the finance committee Baucus chairs could find no place in this year's exhaustive health care hearings for a single expert on how other countries achieve better health outcomes for their populations while typically spending, on a per capita basis, half what we do. When the finance committee releases its draft bill this week, it will be almost completely free of foreign influence.

...just enabled emoji on my iPhone. With everything happening in the world, how trivial a tweet is that? Share and enjoy. http://bit.ly/6YAeG
6:01 PM Jun 24th from bit.ly

...is delighted to see that Doug Coupland is updating "City of Glass", his zine-like guide to Vancouver. I can hardly wait! http://bit.ly/dVOSR
8:43 AM Jun 24th from bit.ly

...thinks that, based on the PBS documentary I saw, this upcoming TR Reid book on health care should be required reading. http://bit.ly/1nT9iG
7:18 AM Jun 24th from bit.ly

June 23, 2009

Two Weeks' Tweets

fboosman...

...is agnostic, but stories like this make me think that maybe I'm atheist after all. Certainly I lean that way. http://bit.ly/yndDT
1:26 PM Jun 23rd from bit.ly

A religious ruling permits ultra-orthodox Jews to operate their mobile phones on the Sabbath and religious holidays with their teeth...

Many of the ultra orthodox volunteers... work on the Sabbath and were confronted with the dilemma of how to activate their mobile phones without violating religious rules...

Rabbi Levy Yitzhak Halperin issued a new set of rules involving the use of a specially designed case that prevents phones from being shut down accidentally. To confirm response to dispatch, workers are permitted to hold a small metal pin between their teeth and press the necessary buttons on the phones.

...heard from his neighbors (she Eritrean; he Ethiopian), "we feel like we've found our long-lost brother." What a wonderful thing to say!
6:49 AM Jun 23rd from web

...already has a gift, a hug, and a phone call to show for Father's Day. What a great way to start the day.
9:17 AM Jun 21st from web

Every day, I think a little more than when it comes to loved ones and friends, the very best gift they can ever give me is their time.

...would love to get together with @DavidRPickering and @Joi in Amman or Dubai. That would be a trip to get excited about.
6:52 PM Jun 20th from web

...had tears in his eyes while reading this article about Pixar, "Up", and a dying girl's wish. http://bit.ly/174lGI
11:43 AM Jun 19th from bit.ly

Colby Curtin, a 10-year-old with a rare form of cancer, was staying alive for one thing -- a movie.

From the minute Colby saw the previews to the Disney-Pixar movie Up, she was desperate to see it. Colby had been diagnosed with vascular cancer about three years ago, said her mother, Lisa Curtin, and at the beginning of this month it became apparent that she would die soon and was too ill to be moved to a theater to see the film.

After a family friend made frantic calls to Pixar to help grant Colby her dying wish, Pixar came to the rescue.

The company flew an employee with a DVD of Up, which is only in theaters, to the Curtins' Huntington Beach home on June 10 for a private viewing of the movie.

The animated movie begins with scenes showing the evolution of a relationship between a husband and wife. After losing his wife in old age, the now grumpy man deals with his loss by attaching thousands of balloons to his house, flying into the sky, and going on an adventure with a little boy.

Colby died about seven hours after seeing the film.

...saw Lauren, Carissa, and Clay for dinner. As in Kelsey's former choir-mate, his former office manager, and Aiken. A dinner of coincidences.
7:46 PM Jun 18th from web

...likes the @jheitzeb rule: if you tweet more than 4x/day, you're at risk of being unfollowed. Yes, this means you. No, not you. Yes, you.
4:49 AM Jun 18th from web

...just 'greened' his Facebook picture. "Where is their vote?" -- that's the rallying cry. May fortune favor the protesters in Iran.
11:03 PM Jun 15th from web

See http://helpiranelection.com.

...is getting his Iran updates from Andrew Sullivan -- highly recommended. As for the mainstream media? Epic fail. http://bit.ly/xj3Q2
6:27 PM Jun 15th from bit.ly

...is just back from a visit to Paradise. The kind on the south slope of Mt Rainier. Far more snow than we expected to see. http://bit.ly/Jbb8c
6:49 PM Jun 14th from bit.ly

...will never, ever tire of listening to the version of "One" by Mary J Blige and U2. She practically defines the term "soaring vocals".
8:41 AM Jun 14th from web

...is actually impressed with someone on Fox News. How exactly does Shepard Smith manage to keep his job there?. http://bit.ly/t1I6
6:24 AM Jun 11th from bit.ly

...doesn't want to think about what he'd do for this house. Funny, funny video, especially for sci-fi fans. Enjoy! http://bit.ly/ZRhSA
7:56 PM Jun 10th from bit.ly

...recently recommended an article by Atul Gawande. Now Obama is recommending the same article, according to the NYT. http://bit.ly/106NT6
7:06 PM Jun 9th from bit.ly

...says the next time someone claims that blogs are inferior to traditional media and journalism, point them to this page. http://bit.ly/WTw4d
2:53 PM Jun 7th from bit.ly

June 07, 2009

This Week's Tweets

I do much more tweeting than blogging these days, which is leaving my blog feeling unloved. I've been wondering how to address the problem. Cross-posting tweets as individual blog entries feels like overkill, even for someone like me who typically tweets once a day (and tries to make it meaningful). What I've come up with is cross-posting my tweets weekly as a single blog entry. I'm going to give a try for a while and see how it goes. To make it more interesting, I'll occasionally add more commentary here than is possible within the confines of 140 characters. Consider this an experiment.

fboosman...

...misses Rob Riggle on The Daily Show. This segment on cloned steak is my favorite of his -- especially the "mutant pit". http://bit.ly/oqnE3
6:41 AM Jun 7th from bit.ly

...will never, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, ever, fly Ryanair. (With apologies to Winston Churchill.) http://bit.ly/15hbGI
4:03 PM Jun 6th from bit.ly

It may not have been a publicity stunt after all. Ryanair CEO Michael O'Leary says the European low-cost giant will indeed start charging customers one pound (about $1.65) to use the toilets on its flights...

O'Leary adds that he's asking Boeing to look into putting credit-card readers on toilet locks for new jets. "We are serious about it," O'Leary is quoted as saying...

O'Leary didn't stop there, taking the toilet idea one step farther. "He's now proposing ripping out two of the three loos on a Boeing 737 to make way for a further six seats, claiming passengers can learn to cross their legs on flights of only an hour or so," writes Alistair Osborne of the London Telegraph. The London Daily Mail quotes O'Leary as saying: "We are flying aircraft on an average flight time of one hour around Europe. What the hell do we need three toilets for?"

...read about a new tomato-derived supplement that eliminates "the oxidation of harmful fats in blood" within eight weeks. http://bit.ly/vl4bQ
7:43 AM Jun 5th from bit.ly

The tomato pill contains an active ingredient from the Mediterranean diet -- lycopene -- that blocks "bad" LDL cholesterol that can clog the arteries.

Ateronon, made by a biotechnology spin-out company of Cambridge University, is being launched as a dietary supplement and will be sold on the high street...

Preliminary trials involving around 150 people with heart disease indicate that Ateronon can reduce the oxidation of harmful fats in the blood to almost zero within eight weeks, a meeting of the British Cardiovascular Society will be told at Ateronon's launch on Monday.

...wonders what happened to the tradition of American elected officials not criticizing the President while he's abroad. http://bit.ly/dfO3X
4:38 AM Jun 5th from bit.ly

...just saw "Up" again, this time with Kelsey. A beautiful film with my beautiful daughter.
7:23 PM Jun 4th from web

...has posted his blog entry on the coming generation of "gestural natives". Remember, you heard it here first. http://bit.ly/12HXD9
12:56 PM Jun 4th from bit.ly

...likes this: "my problems with Obama... fade away when I read the speech. He is absolutely the right man for the job." http://bit.ly/IzjgM
10:07 AM Jun 4th from bit.ly

All my problems with Obama's handling of the financial crisis, the details about Gitmo, footdragging on DADT, etc. or any other details since he took office fade away when I read the speech. He is absolutely the right man for the job.

There is no other candidate that ran for President that could deliver this speech. They couldn't write it, they couldn't deliver it with any sort of credibility, and in all likelihood wouldn't even want to try.

...needs to check his tweets before saying EA did something that was in fact built by Microsoft (Lionhead, to be precise). http://bit.ly/rDV0m
5:02 PM Jun 3rd from bit.ly

...thinks EA's Project Natal looks stunning. But I'd love some one-on-one time with it to understand its limitations. http://bit.ly/rDV0m
2:20 PM Jun 3rd from bit.ly

I actually meant to say "Project Milo" here. Two mistakes in one tweet. A new record.

...would like to know how a list of the "13 best burgers" in Seattle could miss both Lunchbox Laboratory and Quinn's. http://bit.ly/KTUlV
9:46 PM Jun 1st from web

...checked in to find that his SEA-IAD flight was no more. Bird strike. Fan blade damage. Bad weather -> risky connections -> fly tomorrow.
6:32 PM Jun 1st from web

January 19, 2009

Heard at Lunch

A lunchtime conversation while I was visiting the office last week:

Me: So I have this idea to do a remake of Gilligan's Island with pop and hip-hop artists. Not as a reality show, but as a straight-up sitcom. It's all about the casting. I'd start with Sean Combs as Thurston Howell III. And a friend suggested Justin Timberlake as Gilligan. What do you think?

Ty: Not bad. You'd need someone as the Professor. How about Humpty?

Ken: You could have Mary J. Blige as Mrs Thurston Howell III.

Frank: That's good. I know Flavor Flav needs to be in it; I just don't know as whom.

Ty: How about as the astronaut who lands on the island?

David: Sure. But who would play the Harlem Globetrotters?

Ty, Ken, and me in unison: The Harlem Globetrotters!

I love working at home, but I just don't have conversations like this with my cat.

Thank goodness.

January 18, 2009

Tiki Towers

Because I haven't been blogging lately, I haven't written about Tiki Towers -- it's the first game based on a design of mine to ship since Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six, for which I served as one of the original co-designers. Tiki Towers was created by Republic of Fun, published by RealNetworks, and shipped in December for the Wii (as a downloadable WiiWare game) and the iPhone, and I understand it's shipping on various mobile phones internationally under the name Tropical Towers (in a version essentially identical to that for the iPhone).

The Wii and iPhone versions of Tiki Towers were done by different studios and are quite distinct. Both are based on the essential idea of using monkeys to build towers based of bamboo and coconuts. The iPhone version plays like a modified version of Lemmings -- the monkeys stay in a box while you build your tower using a finite set of pieces. When you're done, you release them and hope that your structure is built properly and enables them all to clamber to the goal. The Wii version also has you trying to get your monkeys to a goal, but you build the tower in real time while a chief opposes you, using spells to weaken your tower.

Predictably, neither version is an exact implementation of my original design. Each version is tailored to the specific requirements of the platform and incorporates the creativity of the studio that implemented it. I'm hoping to have the chance to see sequels ship that may include more of the ideas I originally came up with, but that will depend on sales, obviously. So far, the good news is that the iPhone version is the 13th best-selling game and the 3rd best-selling puzzle on the iTunes App Store, so I'm hopeful.

Many thanks to my friends at Republic of Fun, to the good people at RealNetworks, and especially to the teams at the studios who built them: Mr Goodliving in Helsinki (iPhone / mobile) and Mock Science in Austin (Wii).

November 15, 2007

I Guess I Picked the Wrong Week to Start Renting Cars

I'm in the midst of a West Coast trip -- three days in the Bay Area and then a long weekend in Seattle.

I arrived at SFO Monday afternoon, picked up my rental car, and drove to my hotel in Emeryville, where we were doing motion capture work. About 90 minutes after checking in, I walked downstairs to head out, only to find that my car had been broken into (via a smashed side window) to get at the GPS system inside. A trip to the airport rental car facility and a few filled-out forms later, I had a new car.

Last night I arrived at SEA, picked up my rental car, and drove to my girlfriend's gym to meet her there for dinner. I had been on the road less than 10 minutes when, stopped in traffic, I was rear-ended. I got out of the car expecting the driver to apologize -- though you're never supposed to admit guilt in an accident, when you rear-end someone, it's always your fault, so no sense holding back the apology. Instead, I got, "You stopped and made me hit you! Why did you stop like that?" Right. My car wasn't damaged much, but his front end was well-crumpled. A police officer showed up quite quickly and efficiently, took stock of the vehicles, wrote up a report, and then, as he gave copies to us both, explained to the other driver that he'd be receiving a ticket for the collision.

As best as I can recall, I haven't had a car broken into since the early 1990s, and I haven't been in an accident since 1998. Both those streaks ended in the span of about two days. To paraphrase Lloyd Bridges, I guess I picked the wrong week to start renting cars.

November 12, 2007

Ode to a Gaufre

Two guest blog entries in little more than a week -- this is great!

Ode to a Gaufre

A guest blog by Missy

Souvenir shops are everywhere. In Paris, the Eiffel Tower can be purchased in many sizes, made from just about any material you can find. I have a small metal on sitting on my desk at work from the first trip. A trip to Paris also requires a stop at Ladurée for macarons to bring home, a visit to La Maison du Chocolat, and a cosmetic/perfume purchase or two.

But my mostest favoritest place to souvenir shop is at the grocery store. You can find all sorts of interesting goodies that can't be found at home (although with the array of ethnic markets, this is much less true nowadays) and even for stuff you can find here... just the fact that it comes from somewhere else, and the label is in a foreign language makes it more interesting. Jars of romescu sauce from Spain, Ajvar from Croatia, olive paste from Rome, Lizano sauce from Costa Rica, grapefruit jam from Germany... the list goes on. Even a normal spice bottle seems special when it says cannelle instead of cinnamon.

Being the mother of teenage boys, grocery stores have been a lifesaver for me when it comes to bringing them gifts. T-shirts start to get old, and what teenage boy wants a mini Eiffel Tower? Being teenage boys, they like to eat... and the grocery store has never failed me when it comes to finding something fun. I've brought them back tiny cans of coke from Korea and the Netherlands, a Russian brand of ramen noodles from Vladivostok, spaghetti-flavored potato chips, gingerbread cookies, Kinder candy, you name it.

But in the eyes of my children, there is nothing quite like Gaufres de Liège.

Gaufres de Liège

Gaufres de Liège.

Gaufres de Liège, also known as sugar waffles, have the look of a Belgian waffle, but a taste more akin to that of a glazed donut. My family first discovered gaufres several years ago after my mom (their grandma) came back from a trip to Belgium. She'd brought back a box of 24, and they didn't last long at all. I subsequently had several trips within the next year or so to Belgium and France, and I always managed to bring some home. Then I started traveling elsewhere in the world, and honestly, I forgot all about them.

Fast forward to a week and a half ago, when we were driving back to Paris from Giverny. We stopped at a huge shopping complex to go check out the Carrefour store, which is like a cross between Super Target and Costco. As we were walking up and down the aisles, I saw them. I may have shrieked. Then I started pulling packs from the shelves. I would have just bought an entire case of them, but I already had two full suitcases (I'll definitely be taking a different packing approach next time). I ended up with two packs for each of them (with seven waffles per pack), and then one more pack of the chocolate-covered ones to share. Frank wasn't entirely convinced that these were worth the excitement I was exuding, but he threw another pack of the chocolate-covered ones in the cart anyway, just to see.

Frank opened his pack in the car. "I'll just try one... then I'll take the rest home." (Yeah, right... they were long gone before we left Paris.)

Even having watched Frank devour his, I started having doubts on the flight home. I had bought wine for my parents, cosmetics for my sister, and some chocolates and macarons to share at work, but all I'd got the kids was waffles. Would they remember them? Would they still like them? Was I a bad mother for having spent a week in Paris and coming home with only $8 worth of snacks as a gift?

I got my answer on Thursday after picking them up from their dad's. I'd left the packages on the coffee table, and very shortly after they got in the house, I heard two loud yeaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhhh's, and the ripping of plastic. In the last 48 hours, they completely decimated the package of chocolate-covered ones, and are each over halfway through one of their packages of the plain ones.

They remembered, they're happy, and right now... I'm the coolest mom in the universe. Yay me.

I seriously considered stopping by a local supermarket later during our week in Paris to buy more Gaufres, but then realized that if I did so, I'd simply take them home and eat them, and not necessarily with much help. And it's not as if the Belgians are known for their health food. So I resisted the temptation... this time.

November 10, 2007

Pictures from Giverny

While in Paris, we rented a car for a day trip to Claude Monet's home and gardens at Giverny.

Giverny Flower

A flower.

Water Lily Pond

The water lily pond.

Japanese Bridge at Giverny

The Japanese bridge. Monet's house and gardens fell into disrepair after his death and had to be restored based on records and -- naturally -- his pictures.

Giverny Bee

A bee.

Monet's House

Monet's house. The picture doesn't do justice to how beautiful this view was in person.

It was the last day of the year that the gardens were open for viewing. Being so late in the year, a recent frost had killed many of the flowers. Despite this, it was still spectacularly beautiful, and made us want to go back to see the gardens in the spring, in full bloom. I can't recommend a visit highly enough -- even if you're occasionally art appreciation-challenged as I am.

November 04, 2007

Lunch at L'Arpège

When we were preparing for our trip to Paris, I realized that this would be a great opportunity to knock off one of my 100 things to do in life (actually, it's up to 129 now, with 31 done, 98 to go), which was to dine at a Michelin three-star restaurant. (I considered making a trip to The French Laundry during a vacation in Sonoma Valley last year, but let it go.) Missy is far more tuned into good food than I am -- not only is she an excellent cook, but she can identify all sorts of ingredients in dishes she's served, and she can remember entire multi-course meals. So I left it to her to choose the restaurant, and she chose l'Arpège, Alain Passard's three-star destination in the seventh arrondissement.

During the meal, I realized I wouldn't be able to do it justice here, so asked Missy if she'd write a guest blog entry for me. She kindly agreed, and the results are below.

L'Arpège

A guest blog by Missy

When Frank brought up the idea that we should try a Michelin three-star restaurant on our trip to Paris, I was both ecstatic and terrified. I am a budget traveler. Having friends in several international cities has afforded me the the opportunity and local insight to have some of the best meals that €50-60 can buy... but for me, a €60 dinner is a huge extravagance, which is countered by several days living on €3 sandwiches, crepes, and fruit from the market. The idea that one meal could cost what I would normally budget for an entire week's vacation spending was more than a little intimidating... even if I wasn't the one paying for it.

It's something that he'd always wanted to do, and if you're going to do it, what better place that Paris? First, I thought he was kidding. Then a slight wave of panic set in. Do I have nice enough clothes? Will I pick up the wrong fork? And most importantly, would my slightly-less-refined-than-the-average-Pigalle-whore-palate be able to appreciate the subtleties of three-star cooking enough to make it worth the cost?

I found myself getting dressed for lunch at l'Arpège. I was intimidated, but very much anticipating the experience.

We started with a glass of champagne. A very large slab of salty butter (from Breton) was placed in the middle of our table, and I wondered why anyone would need that much butter. Then started what we came to call "the bread game". Throughout the meal, the moment either one of us picked up our crusty slice of house-made bread to butter it... it was replaced with another. I tried just pulling a small piece of the bread off and leaving most of the slice on the plate, but that didn't work well either. They just left a smaller piece... but another piece nonetheless. And despite my first thoughts… we made it through most of the butter.

At the end of the meal, the bread game gave way to the cookie game. We were presented a tray of different cookies, and thinking it would be rude not to finish, I made Frank eat one of my cookies since I was full. Less than a minute later... it was whisked away and another left in its place "just in case" we wanted more.

The bread game is just part of the service that makes a three-star restaurant. The service is exquisite. They manage to anticipate every need (even the needs we didn't yet realize we had) without being intrusive. There are approximately 20 tables on the main floor, and there were at least 12 members of the waitstaff buzzing in the dining room at any given moment, and I'm pretty sure we were served something by nearly every one of them.

But, oh the food. Every single bite of every dish was magical. We both ordered the prix fixe lunch menu. But before our food arrived, we were offered an amuse bouche, then the larger mise en bouche.

Looking back, I don't think that we could have made a better choice in restaurants. Despite being an avowed meat-a-saurus, I really love vegetables... which just so happen to be the main focus at l'Arpège. All the vegetables served at l'Arpège are grown organically in Chef Alain Passard's garden outside of Paris. They are shipped in fresh every morning by high-speed train. Once in the kitchen, the things he does with vegetables are nothing short of amazing. My favorite course was the celeriac (celery root) tagliatelle with a light herb sauce. It wasn't pasta made with celeriac... it was made from celeriac. Perfectly formed pasta shaved from a lumpy root. Simply amazing. And who'd have thought you could put green tomatoes in dessert, or put artichoke in a cookie? I think I heard Frank say "this is the best I've ever had" during almost every course.

In the end, my intimidation was unfounded. I was dressed much nicer than the rapper dude and his music industry entourage at the table across the room. They changed flatware with each course, so I only had one fork to choose from at any given moment, and my palate appreciated every magical bite of that meal.

But the very best part of the experience was when Chef Passard came out into the dining room to have his lunch. He graciously signed a copy of the menu for us, which will soon be framed and hanging somewhere in Frank's house, and we were able to thank him personally for the wonderful meal. Ok, actually... Frank thanked him personally while I was petting the rapper dude's cute little dog.

So I shall send my compliments to the chef via this blog entry, and say merci beaucoup à mon beau copain for treating me to such an amazing meal and an unbelievably lovely week in Paris.

The entire content of the Frank and Missy lunch at l'Arpège (mind you, these all sound better in French, and they taste much much better than they sound):

Billecart-Salmon Brut Reserve champagne.

2002 Gevrey Chambertin Premier Cru (Pinot Noir).

Housemade bread with salted Breton butter (a lot of it).

Amuse bouche – a fried parsnip "cup" with a thin slice of a carrot, then topped with a tiny perfect beet square.

Mise en bouche – poached egg flavored with maple syrup and cider vinegar.

Course 1 – creamed rutabaga soup with whipped salted cream.

Course 2 – roasted beet with chocolate sauce and sea salt.

Course 3 – sautéed spinach, carrot puree, and lime chutney.

Course 4 – celery root tagliatelle with mustard and herb sauce.

Course 5 – assorted roasted baby vegetables.

Course 6 – pan-roasted scallops (Frank); roast duck (Missy).

Cheese course – this wasn't included in the prix fixe menu, but they rolled a cart over with at least 20 fantastic looking varieties of cheese, and we couldn't say no. We let the waiter pick, and it was goooood.

Course 7 – green tomato mille feuille with lemongrass ice cream.

Course 8 – A plate of cookies including green tomato and artichoke macarons.

Coffee (Frank); mint tea (Missy).

I have very little to add to this -- just a few notes here and there.

The service was the best I've ever had in a restaurant, and I've had some good service over the years. It wasn't just the bread game that Missy describes, or the fact that they somehow managed to refill my wine and sparkling water without me noticing. When our primary server introduced herself, I spoke in French at first, but asked if she could speak in English. She claimed that my French was far better than her English, but said she would give it a try, and then proceeded to speak perfectly fluent English. But what truly impressed me was that she adapted perfectly to us both. Missy speaks a smattering of French, and I'm at something like the second-year or early third-year college level, and our server seemed to know exactly when to speak in French to each of us, and when to revert to English because the wording would be too complex.

In terms of the things I thought were the best of their type I'd ever had, to be specific, there was the champagne (which, thankfully, I've found an online source of by the bottle or case since our meal), the butter, the beet, the duck, and the mille feuille. Oh, and one of the cheeses we were served was the best I've ever had. Missy will almost certainly remember the name; I don't, only that it was a hard cheese, perfectly salty, sliced at our table from the largest cheese round I've ever seen.

Coincidentally, over lunch, Missy and I had been talking about the issue of introducing oneself to celebrities in restaurants -- would we do so? The conclusion was that it's a tricky thing, because you don't want to intrude on someone's private life. When Chef Passard came out to have his own lunch, taking a corner table, we weren't sure at first that it was him we were seeing. As we were getting ready to leave, I spoke to our server in French, in a low voice:

Me: Is that gentleman over there the chef?

Server: Yes, it is.

Me: I wouldn't want to disturb him, but would you tell him that we found the meal to be extraordinary?

Server: I will do so, but you would not disturb him at all.

Me: You are sure?

Server: Oh, yes.

So I didn't feel bad in walking over, pardoning the intrusion, and thanking Chef Passard for the extraordinary cuisine. He was gracious and accepted the compliment with pleasure.

I can't recommend l'Arpège highly enough. It's expensive, to be sure -- on a per-person basis, with the weak dollar, it cost about three times as much as I had ever paid for a meal before -- but you owe it to yourself to have an experience like that at least once in life.

Finally, thanks to Missy for writing such a great guest blog entry, and especially for being such a stylish companion at lunch.

November 02, 2007

Pictures from Paris

A few pictures from one of my favorite cities...

Rue de la Huchette at Night

The street on which we're staying, the always-lively rue de la Huchette, as seen through the plastic sheets keeping in the warm air for our cafe seats at a restaurant just a few steps from our apartment.

Rainy Day in Paris

A rainy day as seen at the intersection of rue de la Pépinière and boulevard Haussman.

The Seine at Night

The Seine at night, looking towards the Eiffel Tower.

Parisian Sidewalk

A sidewalk along boulevard de la Tour Maubourg.

Rue Saint-Dominique

The Eiffel Tower as seen from rue Saint-Dominique.

Flowers on Rue Cler

The display in front of a flower shop on rue Cler.

November 01, 2007

Paris Is Paris

As noted, my girlfriend and I spent a quick day and a half in Barcelona last weekend before moving on to Paris. I didn't have much time there, but from what little I saw of Barcelona, the food was great and the weather was practically perfect. That said, we had issues there. The dinner venue had to be changed at the last minute -- our host told us that the original restaurant had bumped us in favor of a larger party. We didn't drink all that much, but the rich food and wine hit Missy like a ton of bricks the next morning, poor thing. And then while I was off walking La Rambla, she spent an unexpectedly long two hours on buses to have only five minutes with an old friend.

From the moment we arrived in Paris, though, everything has been right. Sunday evening, our taxi driver warned us that the trip in from Orly might take as long as an hour and a half, but we made it in 20 minutes. Monday, we spent all afternoon walking in the rain and loved every moment of it. We stopped for hot chocolate at Angelina and it was the best I'd ever had. Tuesday, we had dinner at the home of my friends Jean and Martine and the food and the welcome were both extraordinary. Wednesday, we drove out to Claude Monet's home in Giverny and were blessed with the best weather we could have possibly hoped for so late in the season. Today, we had lunch with Jean and Martine at Les Ombres, where the setting and the meal were both tremendous -- Jean was predicting it would soon have its first Michelin star.

I can't explain why everything is going so smoothly in Paris. It probably has something to do with the fact that I have extraordinarily kind friends here, so we're not alone. It probably has something to do with the fact that my French is getting better and better, so I feel more comfortable. But in the end, I can't fully explain it. I guess it's just that Paris is Paris.

The Best Hot Chocolate in the World?

Monday, we were walking down the rue de Rivoli when we came upon Angelina. "This place," said Missy, "has the best hot chocolate in the universe." Solely in the interest of blogging material, in we went.

Angelina has a stunning array of pastries, and a more-than-serviceable lunch and dinner menu, but what they're famous for is their hot chocolate, especially their signature drink: un chocolat à l'ancienne dit "L'africain". When you order it, you're given a small pot of the chocolate, a cup, a spoon, and a bit of crème chantilly on the side.

The chocolate isn't overly hot -- I'd call it warm at best. But it's the thickest hot chocolate I've ever seen. It's the thickest hot chocolate I can imagine. Seriously, it's as if the restaurant takes blocks of chocolate, melts them down, and cuts the result with just enough cream to keep it liquid as it's being served. It's probably the most decadent thing I've ever had. The pot contains enough chocolate for two cups each for two people, and after my two, with the obligatory dollops of crème chantilly, I was actually feeling a bit light-headed -- it was probably the most sugar I've had at a single sitting in years.

So was it the best hot chocolate in the world? As with the sandwich at Viena, I can't say. But it was the best hot chocolate I've ever had, and I can't begin to think of what would take second place.

I didn't take any pictures inside, but here's the front of the restaurant:

Angelina

Of course, I need pictures of the actual chocolate serving, so we're going back later this week -- once again, solely in the interest of blogging.

You can try this hot chocolate for yourself at:

Angelina
226, rue de Rivoli
75001 Paris
Tel: 01 42 96 47 10

October 31, 2007

Eating "The Best Sandwich in the World"

After a quick day and a half in Barcelona over the weekend, I'm now in Paris and starting to catch up on my trip blogging.

Last week, I blogged about the Barcelona restaurant Viena, where New York Times food critic Mark Bittman had eaten what he called "the best sandwich in the world". While there, I had to try it, so I made a trip to La Rambla to visit Viena for a flauta d'ibéric d.o. jabugo.

Viena

So how was it? It wasn't the best sandwich I've ever had -- but it was very good. What was impressive was how simple it was: a bread roll that was nearly perfect, with a crunchy, almost crackling shell and soft interior; crushed tomatoes; possibly a bit of olive oil (or oil in which the tomatoes might have been packed); and of course, the salt-cured Iberian pork, sliced as thinly as possible. Highly recommended (even if I still prefer the sandwich I had at Barndiva last year).

As you might expect, Viena is making the most of their glowing review:

Viena Quotes Bittman

October 26, 2007

Off to Barcelona and Paris

I'm off for a week's vacation in Europe -- a quick 36 hours in Barcelona, then a week in Paris. For those of you in the Southeast, from which I departed today, enjoy the much-needed rain (it was deluge-like all day).

I'll report back here on the sandwiches and foie gras in Barcelona, and on the fireplaces and home-cooked meals in Paris.

October 21, 2007

The Best Sandwich in the World?

A week from today, I'll be in Barcelona with my girlfriend -- a quick 36-hour stop on our way to a week in Paris.

A few days ago, I was skimming through an episode of Mark Bittman's series The Best Recipes in the World (after his book of the same name) and noticed he headed for Barcelona. He visted a restaurant on La Rambla called Café Viena, where he ordered a flauta d'ibéric d.o. jabugo -- a salt-cured ham sandwich that he pronounced the best in the world. Not the best ham sandwich, but the best sandwich, period. Here it is in its porcine glory from his review in The New York Times:

The Best Sandwich in the World?
I'm not qualified to say whether it's the best sandwich in the world. No one is, including Bittman. But I'll report back if it's the best sandwich I've ever had. It will have tough competition: last year, I had a barbecue short rib sandwich at Barndiva in Healdsburg, CA that I immediately pronounced the best sandwich of my life. We'll see.

October 14, 2007

Exercise and Fitness Update

Back in June, I blogged about my decision to begin exercising every single day. Over four months have gone by, and the time seems right for an update.

I did end up missing a day in July, after 18 weeks straight of exercise. I didn't mean to -- I was traveling, was tired from lack of sleep, and thought at the time that I had walked enough that day to count. When I thought about it a few days later, I realized that the walking hadn't been nearly enough, so I counted the day as a miss. I've missed two more days since then. Both were deliberate -- days on which I felt bad for some reason and didn't feel up to powering through it. In each case, I felt much better the next day and resume my normal workout schedule, so I assume I made the right decision both times. That makes three days off in the last 31 weeks. I'm averaging just under an hour of exercise every day (59 minutes per day, to be exact, since I began). So how is it going?

The good news is that my physical condition continues to improve. My resting heart rate keeps falling, and it's taking more and more effort to get my heart rate up during exercise. I can tell from playing soccer that I'm faster than I was at the beginning of the year. And I'm fairly sure I'm stronger than I've ever been, based on how much I can lift now.

But perhaps the best news is that -- as I noted in my previous entry -- exercise is now a way of life for me. It's what I do, every day. The two days I deliberately took off were difficult decisions for me. I agonized over each of them. And there have been many more days that I felt low for one reason or another but never considered skipping exercise.

On the negative side, while I was losing about a pound a week through late July, I've plateaued and haven't lost any weight since then. I can tell from my clothes that I'm continuing to lose inches -- in fact, I have a large stack of too-large clothes in the back of my car, waiting to be dropped off at the Goodwill store later today. But that's a slow process, and I have weight yet to lose, so I have to get on track. I've been doing research on my own, and talked with the nutritionist at my gym, and have a multi-point plan that I'm starting to implement:

  • Interval training. I had settled into a routine of 60 minutes or so on the elliptical, always set to level 18 (out of 25). The problem is that as my aerobic fitness increased, my heart rate went down. I had metabolic tests done at the gym and found that my body is now accustomed to working efficiently when my heart rate is at 70-80 percent of maximum. This means I need to spend time with my heart rate at 80-85 percent of maximum, which in turn means interval training. I started a couple of weeks ago and can definitely see the difference when I'm on the elliptical machine.
  • More weight training. I've been good about lifting weights at least twice a week, but I need to be more consistent about lifting at least three times a week. There's abundant evidence that weight training in combination with cardiovascular training is the best way to become (or stay) fit. This has been difficult due to my travel schedule, but I think I'm on track now.
  • Better nutrition. I've been careful about how much I eat, but not necessarily about what I eat. I'm not a junk food junkie, but I'm definitely a quick food junkie. I enjoy cooking for other people, but not for myself alone. As a result, far too often I've come home from work and had cereal (healthy organic cereal, but cereal just the same) for dinner. Or a few energy bars, or a protein shake. Not good. I haven't made the jump to cooking for myself yet, but what I have done is started buying healthier ready-made frozen entrees from Trader Joe's, so there's always something in the freezer that's healthy, balanced, and can be ready in a few minutes. I'm also making a point of eating more salads, as well as servings of fruits and vegetables. This is coming along.
I'm also considering lowering the amount of calories I allow myself each day, but I have a trip to Paris coming up in a couple of weeks, and so I think I'm going to wait until after that to do so. (Though I will be hitting the gym while there -- there looks to be a beautiful facility just a few blocks from the apartment in which I'll be staying.)

One more potential change for me is to introduce more variation into my cardiovascular workouts. With the hot, humid summer we had here in North Carolina, bicycling dropped off my list. That left me with one soccer game each week and six days of elliptical training. I haven't seen any studies showing the effect of more or less variation in workouts, but my hunch is that more variation must be a good thing, if for no other reason that it leads to working more and different muscle groups, rather than the same well-trained muscle groups over and over again. The weather is beautiful here now, so I'm going to go back to bicycling once a week, and I'd like to take up swimming once a week as well. I'm also considering running again -- my knee isn't great, but after months of self-guided therapy (based on current research papers), it's doing better, and I think I might just be up to a run once a week.

In the end, I'm as convinced as ever that exercising every day is a good thing. At least it has been for me.

September 01, 2007

Off to the Pacific Northwest

I'm off to the Pacific Northwest -- Labor Day weekend in Vancouver, then a short week of work in Seattle, a weekend there, and then back home again. I may blog more than I have been. Or not. It's hard to say. I suspect at this point, my irregular posting schedule has alienated what few remaining readers I might have -- hence there's no one left to offend if I don't post.

August 17, 2007

Lockheed Martin Acquires 3Dsolve

I'm pleased to be able to blog about the acquisition of 3Dsolve, the firm I co-founded and for which I've served as COO, by Lockheed Martin. The news broke about an hour ago, which means at last I can talk about something we've been working on for months now.

From the press release:

Lockheed Martin Corporation announced it has acquired 3Dsolve, Inc. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed. 3Dsolve is a privately held company that creates simulation-based learning solutions for government, military and corporate applications. The company's innovative software tools assist clients with collaborative training utilizing interactive 3D graphics (aka, "serious games")...

"The acquisition of 3Dsolve will strengthen our ongoing initiatives in the rapidly growing training and simulation market, allowing us to provide a broader array of solutions and services to our expanding customer base," said Dale Bennett, President, Lockheed Martin Simulation, Training & Support (LM STS). "This transaction represents a solid strategic fit for our business and will enable us to strengthen our core competencies, leverage the talents of our employee base and support Lockheed Martin Corporation's long-term strategy of value expansion." ...

"We are very pleased to join LM STS to address exciting opportunities. With our experience in gaming, visualization and training combined with Lockheed Martin's expertise and resources, we intend to be the leader in simulation-based learning," said Richard Boyd, CEO of 3Dsolve, now Director of the Lockheed Martin 3D Learning Systems.

This acquisition is exciting for my teammates and me. We've always felt like we had superior technology. Now we get to see what we can do when that technology is backed up by the world's largest defense contractor. I'm interested to start learning about the depth and breadth of resources we'll be able to call on.

On a personal note, this is validation for a tremendous amount of work and sacrifice put in by a dedicated group of people. The startup life isn't the easiest career path to follow, but the rewards are tremendous -- not just when your company is purchased, which is great, but more from the daily experience of working with people whom you like, trust, and respect (to borrow a phrase from Alex Osadzinski).

For those of you wondering why I haven't blogged in over three weeks, I hope this explains it. The negotiations and due diligence were a tremendous amount of work for a number of people -- at 3Dsolve, Lockheed Martin, and our respective law firms. My days consisted mostly of working on the acquisition until the evening, coming home to rest for an hour or two, heading out to the gym, returning home to crawl into bed, and sleeping a few hours before starting the process over again the next day. Blogging fell off the list. I'm hopeful that now I'll be able to get back to a more regular schedule.

July 22, 2007

Back from Seattle

I'm back from Seattle -- I actually have been for a couple of days now, but am just starting to catch up with things like blogging.

It was as good a week as I could have hoped for. The actual content of the conference wasn't terribly compelling, but the meetings we held couldn't have gone better. The old friends I caught up with, and the new friends I got to know -- that was great. And up until the last day there, the weather was practically perfect -- sunny and in the low-to-mid-70s every day.

Oh, and then there was the food. A wonderful dinner at Dahlia Lounge, my favorite restaurant in Seattle. Lunch at Serious Pie, the new pizzeria also owned by Tom Douglas, home to the best pizza I've had outside Rome. Drinks and dessert at Salty's on Alki, at sunset, no less.

July 15, 2007

Redhook Brewery

After embarrassing myself more than once over the years by explaining that I had never been, I finally visited Redhook Brewery in Woodinville, WA. The beer was excellent, the food great, it was a gloriously perfect Pacific Northwest summer day, and the company couldn't have been better -- my friends Ian and Terra:

Ian at Redhook

Ian at Redhook.

Terra at Redhook 2

Terra at Redhook.

July 13, 2007

Off to Seattle

I'm off to Seattle in the morning for the Casual Games Association's Casual Connect Seattle meeting this coming week. I'll try to get some catch-up blogging done on my flights out there -- lots to write about.

June 29, 2007

"I Must Sound Like a Horrible Parent"

As noted before, I've been watching what I eat and exercising every day for a while now -- I'm currently at nearly 20 weeks of eating properly and 108 days in a row of exercise. I've proven to myself that I'm serious about this, and so decided to visit my new gym last night for a consultation on training. The first step is going to be full assessments of my resting and active metabolic rates, which will help me in planning my nutritional requirements (in the case of the resting rate) and will give me specific guidance on how to structure my cardiovascular workouts for maximum benefit (in the case of the active rate). After that, I'll make a decision about when and how to use a personal trainer.

During the consultation, the trainer I met with, Matt, asked me about my goals for strength training (I already lift weights three times a week):

Me: Well, I'd like to be able to lift without some of the nagging pains I've had in my elbows and wrists.

Matt: We can help you with that. What else?

Me: In general, I'd like to see how strong I can get. I'm making reasonable progress on my own, but I think I could go much farther with someone to help guide me.

Matt: We can definitely help you there, and that's the kind of goal we like to work with. That's good. Anything else?

Me: I'd also like to keep the ability to lift more than my sons. We're very competitive.

I paused for a moment.

Me: Oh, gosh, did I just say that? I must sound like a horrible parent.

Matt: No, you don't. It's something we see a lot of. Our clients tend to be successful people, which means they're usually driven, competitive types. So you're not unusual and you're not horrible.

I'm sure it still sounds bad, but at least I'm not alone.

Matt: So you can lift more than them now?

Me: Yes.

Matt: How old are they?

Me: 20 and 18.

Matt: Not bad!

Now, in my defense, when I compete with my kids -- whether at bike riding, weight lifting, a pickup soccer game, one-on-one basketball, or anything else -- I figure I can't lose. If I win, then I feel good about myself. If they win, then I'm happy to see them pushing themselves and doing well. And even when I'm telling myself to push harder, to try to win, I'm also cheering them on, wanting them to do their best and try to win. It's kind of complex.

Am I the only parent who thinks like this?

June 19, 2007

Heard at the Office Today

Picking up in the middle of an end-of-the-day, walking-out-the-door office conversation about the infamous baby-versus-cobra video (in which a baby is allowed to 'play' with a cobra whose mouth has been sewn shut):

Me: I think it might be the worst thing I've ever seen that wasn't gory or pornographic.

Rett: I actually felt sorrier for the cobra than for the baby.

Me: Why is that?

Rett: Because the cobra was saying to itself, "What's wrong? I should be killing this thing."

Me: Right. "WTF? Aw, snap!"

Rett: You can't say "WTF" and "snap".

Me: Yes, I can.

Rett: We've been over this.

Me: House says them. Well, he doesn't say "WTF", but he says "snap".

Rett: You're not as charming as House.

Me: Actually, I've already told David Smith he's the House of the company.

Rett: What did he say?

Me: He was down with it.

Rett: What you should have said was, "If you were smarter, you'd be the House of the company."

Me: Aw, snap!

June 11, 2007

Tragedy, Guilt, and This Strange World in Which We Live

Certain aspects of this story have me walking along two lines, one being that of what I'm comfortable writing about when it comes to my personal life, and the other being protecting the anonymity of a dear friend of mine. I've tried my best to tread carefully down those lines here, balancing storytelling with privacy, but if my storytelling seems awkward at times, blame a writer on unfamiliar ground.

Tragedy

M is one of my best friends in the world. We've known each other only a couple of years, but I think we both realized early on that we'd be friends for life. She's smart as hell, one of the funniest people I know, and a kind soul, but for me the clincher is how we tease each other relentlessly and without mercy. I don't know how to explain it -- it's just how we relate. When she becomes sincere on occasion, and tells me how much she cares about me as a friend, the first words out of my mouth are, "Do I have cancer?" (She says something similar when I'm sincere with her.) She had a rough few years there, but her fortunes are looking up -- she recently married a great guy and has a beautiful new baby daughter. I think of her as my sweet, sharp-tongued kid sister.

While I was in Whistler last week, M's best friend from childhood, J, died. Not of some disease that gave everyone time to say goodbye, but unexpectedly and to the shock of everyone who knew her.

M was devastated and drove to her old hometown the next morning to be with J's family and friends. M and I talked while she was on the road, and I've never heard her so upset. She'd get a sentence or two out, cry for a moment, pull herself together, then start all over again.

J was young, M's age, in her late twenties. I didn't know her, but M had told me about her in the past. From what little she had said, I had a picture of someone attractive, intelligent, and loving, trying to move past hard times in her life. Since J's death, M has written more about her, and I can see from what she has written that my impression was accurate. M posted a photo of J, and when I look at it, I see a beautiful dark-haired girl, relaxed, comfortable with herself, yet sad somehow.

The funeral was held a couple of days ago. I spoke with M afterwards, and from what she said, it was understandably emotional. I haven't had a loved one die unexpectedly as J did, so I don't know how hard that must have been for everyone. I don't want to find out.

Guilt

The night before J died, she talked with M. J had been engaged some years before, and it ended painfully for her. She had recently been reminded of the engagement, and was hurting. When M asked, it turned out that J still had a number of mementos from her ex-fiancé -- pictures, journals, clothes, and the like. They discussed it and decided together that J should burn the mementos to put him behind her. M suggested waiting for a little while, so that she could come up with a cleansing ritual, and they could do it together on her next trip home.

J died when her house burned that night.

I know what I've said to M. I know her friends have said the same things. I know she's told herself the same things. She suggested waiting. She didn't mean for J to do it on her own. She wouldn't have done it in the house. It's all true. It wasn't M's fault, not in the slightest.

But I also know how I'd feel in M's place. I'd feel that it was absolutely my fault. I'd feel that my friend was dead because of me. Even if all her friends and family, and all my friends and family, were telling me it wasn't true, even if I rationally knew it wasn't true, I'd still feel that it was my fault, without question. I know that. But again, I don't know how hard this must be for her, and I don't want to find out.

So now M is dealing with both the sadness at the loss of her best friend from childhood and the guilt over feeling that the responsibility was hers. And I know that there's nothing I can say or do that will really, truly help. I can tell her how sorry I am, tell her that it's not her fault, ask her if there's anything I can do. But no one, not me, not even her husband, can make this better. Only time can.

This Strange World in Which We Live

M told me about the fire and its cause over the weekend. I thought about it often until we talked again earlier today.

"This may sound macabre," I said, "but I'm surprised you didn't introduce us."

By way of background, my relationship with my long-time girlfriend ended permanently a few months ago. (The term "long-time" is an oversimplification, but it will have to do here.)

The more I thought about it over the weekend, the more I read and re-read M's words about her friend, the more I wondered why she hadn't tried to set us up. I can't point to anything specific about J that made me feel that way, like her enjoying the same food as me, having similar goals in life to me, liking the same music or movies as me... it wasn't anything like that. It was just something in the way M wrote about J, something in how she described her attitude towards people and her outlook on life.

"I actually thought about it," M said. "I really did. Don't you remember me talking about her?"

"I do, yes." She had mentioned her briefly during a conversation a few weeks ago after a trip home -- nothing special, just in passing while talking about her visit.

"I had thought about setting up the two of you. I just didn't get around to it."

M knew that I was fairly fresh out of my relationship, and that I was deliberately taking some time to reconsider my priorities and to focus on myself -- not in the sense of buying myself this or treating myself to that, but in the sense of thinking first about living the best life I can, as opposed to thinking first about making a relationship work (which can come once again down the road).

I don't think it was that M "didn't get around to it". I think she felt -- rightly -- that I wasn't quite ready to launch into another serious relationship. Given time, would she have tried to introduce us? I think so.

It's not that I think, "there but for tragedy goes my would-be love", not at all. Had M eventually introduced us, I don't know whether J and I would have been available, whether we would have been interested in each other in the slightest, whether we would have hit it off. I don't know and I never will. And since I don't know, it's not something I'm pining over -- which would in any case be self-indulgent of me given the pain my friend is in. So I'm not pining.

But I do wonder.

June 09, 2007

The Police in Concert

So, after all the build-up, how were The Police in concert? They were terrific. The Seattle Post-Intelligencer had this to say of the show:

Police fans were walking on the moon Wednesday night.

The Police opened the U.S. leg of its long-anticipated reunion tour with the bang of a gong and a parade of hit songs at KeyArena. Concertgoers responded with handclaps, singalongs and whoops of approval...

In Seattle, the good vibes and celebratory nature of the opening shows in Vancouver were still evident in the band's spirited performance, as well as fans' excited reaction to seeing their longtime heroes back on stage...

The band's performance was tighter and more focused than the tour's opening night May 28 in Vancouver...

Sting, playing a scuffed and seasoned electric bass and wearing a tattered white tank top, smiled broadly for much of show and looked happy to be back on stage with his former bandmates. Summers looked far more serious, while Copeland was positively intense.

And The Seattle Times wrote this:

Competing with the memory of your own greatest performances is a daunting proposition.

But the Police, the classic English rock trio that had not played in the Seattle area since its memorable 1983 show at the Tacoma Dome, managed to pull this feat off pretty well Wednesday night at KeyArena.

Though the band wasn't exactly relaxed -- you could often feel their concentration -- they played their old songs with real spirit and commitment and were sometimes even inspired.

By the end of the show, pumping out those insistent punk/new wave beats, they had worked their magic. It felt like 1983 all over again.

The energy level of the band and the audience was amazing. And the band maintained that energy over a two-hour set without breaks. That gave them time to play all the songs I really wanted to hear (though Duncan was disappointed they didn't play "Omega Man").

Here are a few of the photos I took of the concert. I'm not vouching for the quality of the photography here, just trying to convey the feel of the show:

The Police 1 (Synchronicity II)

"Synchronicity II".

The Police 10 ("Roxanne")

"Roxanne".

The Police 15 ("Next to You")

"Next to You".

My Flickr photoset from the concert is here. I've posted two videos on YouTube; until they're undoubtedly taken down, they're here and here.

In short, if you're a fan of The Police, try to see them on this concert tour. It's a great show; you'll always be able to say you were there when they reunited; and given their legendary fights, you never know -- it could be their swan song.

June 07, 2007

Flying Is Hell These Days

Duncan and I are flying home from our brief vacation today, and while the vacation itself was great -- mountain biking in Whistler, catching up with old friends in Vancouver and Seattle, seeing The Police in concert -- the flights on both ends have been wretched.

Our plan last Saturday was to fly into Seattle, rent a car there, drive up to Vancouver for dinner, then drive up to Whistler and check into our hotel. We arrived in Chicago to find that our flight to Seattle had been cancelled, and that there were no seats on the next available flight. The best United could do was to get us into Seattle five hours late. By that time, it would have been 5:30 PM, and we would have faced five to six hours of driving plus a dinner break. So, I suggested, why not just fly us into Vancouver instead? There was an earlier flight with seats available, and by not driving from Seattle to Vancouver, we'd end up just about even. They agreed, but it meant (for rental car purposes) that we had to fly out of Vancouver on the way back as well. So be it. My one concern was our bags, but the Red Carpet Club agent assured me that there was plenty of time for the baggage people to change their destination and get them to the right plane. Fine.

Of course, we arrived in Vancouver without bags. The baggage agent assured me that the bags would either be on the next flight to Vancouver, or were on their way to Seattle, and that either way, they'd be delivered to us in the middle of the night. Fine.

Of course, our bags didn't show up during the night. This led to multiple phone calls to United's baggage service line. Unlike the elite flier phone lines, the baggage service call center is located in India, staffed by people who read from apologetic, supplicating scripts, but who are empowered to do exactly nothing. They told me that at least one or two of our bags, and possibly all three, would be delivered that afternoon. Fine.

Of course, our bags didn't show up that afternoon, and anyway, we didn't want to miss our day of mountain biking, so we went ahead and purchased clothing for the day (for which, theoretically, United will partially reimburse us). Our bags showed up in the middle of the following night, almost 36 hours late, and just a few hours before we had to leave.

Today we're flying back home. It has been a long day already -- we didn't get out of the parking lot after The Police concert until after 11:00 PM. With a 6:20 AM departure, and a two-and-a-half or three-hour drive, it didn't make sense to stay in a hotel, so we had dinner along the way, pulled into a rest stop for a bit, and arrived at the airport just after 4:00 AM. The flight to Chicago was fine, but we arrived to discover that for the second time on the same trip, our connecting flight had been cancelled. High winds are causing problems all throughout the East, leading to hundreds of cancellations. We're on standby for a flight at 4:30 PM; if we don't make it onto that, we'll be placed on standby for a flight at 6:00 PM; and if we don't make it onto that, we'll be placed on standby for a 9:00 PM flight. If we don't make it onto that, we're stuck here for the night, with no bags -- they're going onto Raleigh-Durham with or without us. And no hotel voucher, either, since it isn't the airline's fault. And if we have to fly back tomorrow, we won't be flying together -- there weren't two seats available on the same flight until tomorrow night.

Flying really is hell these days. The scary part is that I'm experienced, have been through this sort of thing, have an idea of what to expect, and have elite status with multiple airlines. How rough is this on the average traveler?

June 04, 2007

Whistler Mountain Bike Park

Our time in Whistler is over, and we're now in Seattle. A few photos from our time there:

Bike Park, Here We Come

The Whistler Mountain Bike Park as seen from our room in the Sundial Boutique Hotel.

Duncan

Duncan taking a break on the mountain.

Whistler Mountain Bike Park

Whistler Mountain Bike Park.

On the mountain, Duncan fell more often, but far more gracefully -- he'd jump off his bike in mid-fall and generally land on his feet, and walked away essentially bruise-free. Me? I went down twice, but each time I went down hard. The first time I fell, I tumbled, and when I righted myself, I saw two long cuts running down my left thigh. They weren't bad, but blood was beginning to run from them. I looked at the cuts for a moment and thought, "Cool!"

As we were gearing up at the rental store in the morning, I remember wondering if I really needed all the protective gear -- the helmet was a given, but forearm-elbow pads and shin-knee pads? Later in the day, I wondered, "What would have happened if I hadn't worn the gear?" Let's say it wouldn't have been pretty and leave it at that.

June 03, 2007

Consistency and Exercise

Four months ago, I decided it was time to do something about my diet and fitness. Over the prior six months or so, I had lost track of these issues, eating food that was bad for me (and too much of it), and exercising inconsistently at best. I can't say what led me to make the change, but looking back, I'd say it was a feeling that grew, the growth unnoticed like a child you see every day until suddenly you look up one day and realize they're taller than you. I woke up one otherwise unremarkable day and knew it was time.

Starting that day, I began rigorously keeping track of my diet and staying within guidelines I set for myself. I also began exercising five days a week, a mix of cardio work at the gym, a weekly soccer game, a weekly bicycle ride with my daughter, the occasional long walk, and lifting weights here and there. The results were good, but after a few weeks, I began to think I might feel and do better if I could exercise every day.

For as long as I can remember thinking about exercise, I've always assumed that days off were necessary components of an fitness regimen. Everything I can remember reading about exercise programs preached the idea of days off for all except elite athletes. But is that really good advice? Do we really need days off? I found myself not so sure, and wondering what would happen if I exercised daily without fail for an extended period of time. And I had always assumed that if I tried to exercise every day, I'd be setting myself up for failure. But is that true?

As it happens, other people have been thinking similarly. One blogger writes:

The first few times I tried to install exercise habits, they fell apart. Attempting to exercise three or four times a week, simply didn't stick. What eventually did the trick was making it a daily habit. It may seem counterintuitive that exercising more frequently is an easier habit to install, but when you look into the mechanisms that create habits, it makes sense.
And other blogger writes:
The problem with trying to make exercise a habit, and it's something that we've all faced, is that you usually try to exercise 3 or 4 times a week... and that makes creating a new exercise habit difficult. The reason is that the more consistent an action is, the more likely it is to be a habit.
These entries were written after I made my decision, but it was nice to see people agreeing with me after the fact.

So, 12 weeks ago, I began exercising every day. I didn't make any other radical changes to my exercise habits, with the exception that I set a goal of lifting weights three times a week as part of my program. A typical week might look like this:

  • Monday: soccer game
  • Tuesday: weightlifting, elliptical trainer
  • Wednesday: elliptical trainer
  • Thursday: weightlifting, elliptical trainer
  • Friday: elliptical trainer
  • Saturday: weightlifting, elliptical trainer, walking
  • Sunday: bicycle ride
(I should note here why it is that running isn't a part of my program. I enjoy running, and ran my first half-marathon early last year, but have been suffering from a persistent case of tendinopathy in my left knee since then. Supervised physical therapy hasn't helped. After reading through the latest medical journal articles, I'm trying eccentric patellar strengthening at home, which seems to be helping, but very slowly. Until it's better, my orthopaedist's advice is to avoid impact activities as much as possible -- so the only running I do is during my soccer games. which I refuse to give up.)

At first, my goal was to see if I could go three weeks in a row without missing a day -- I couldn't remember doing that since I was in the Army over 20 years ago. When I reached three weeks, my goal became eight weeks -- I figured the longest stretch of daily exercise I might ever have had was that long, while I was in basic training back in 1980. Now I'm at 12 weeks and figure it's time to blog about what I'm doing.

So far, the results have been great. I'm losing a pound a week. I'm wearing clothes I hadn't put on in a few months. I have more energy. I'm sleeping more consistently. I'm feeling faster during soccer games and on bicycle rides -- I assume partly because my cardiovascular fitness is improving, and partly because I have less weight to move around.

I've also seen good results from the weightlifting. I had been lifting now and then for a couple of years, but never with consistency, and never tracking what I was doing. Now I'm lifting three times a week, and keeping a log of everything I do. I push myself to make progress -- even a little -- every session. I think I'm stronger than I've ever been, and I'm starting to see muscles appear in new places, which is nice.

All that said, I think the most important change has been in my attitude towards exercise. I don't think of it as something that I need to try to work into my day; I think of it now as a given, as something I will do no matter what. It's not always easy, I have to say. It means going to the gym at 5:00 AM because I know I'm going to be busy all day, or going at 11:00 PM because I've just flown in from a long trip. It means planning ahead, ensuring that no matter where I am, no matter what I'm doing, I have the opportunity and ability to exercise. Sometimes it just means exercising when I what I really feel like doing is going home, having dinner, and crawling into bed. But I always feel better for having exercised, both physically and mentally.

I wrote about the goals I've had: three weeks in a row, eight weeks in a row. I find myself no longer thinking in those terms. I don't feel like I need a goal like that to motivate myself on a daily basis. As one of the bloggers mentioned above wrote, "the more consistent an action is, the more likely it is to be a habit". Daily exercise is a habit for me now, something I don't consider skipping. Of course, the day will come when I'm sick or injured and simply unable to do anything physical. I'm not looking forward to that day, but at the same time, I don't worry about it being the first step down a slippery slope. If I can't help missing a day or two, I believe I'll get right back out the next day and keep going. It's what I do now.

June 01, 2007

Off to the Pacific Northwest

Tomorrow morning, my son Duncan and I are off to the Pacific Northwest. We're going to spend two nights in Whistler so that we can go mountain biking on Whistler Mountain (something I've wanted to do for years now). Then it's three nights in Seattle, where we're going to visit friends, bike the Burke Gilman Trail, do some sightseeing, and then see The Police in concert at Key Arena. Bon week-end!

Remembering Shasta

Shasta

Shasta, Christmas Day 1999.

My ex-wife Karin had our Siberian Husky, Shasta, put to sleep yesterday. It was for the best. Shasta had a cancerous growth on her leg that kept regrowing and wouldn't heal, was partly blind and deaf, and lately was having a great deal of trouble just moving around the house. The veterinarian recommended that Karin make the decision, not only for these reasons, but because he found fluid in her lungs as well -- she didn't have long left to live, and would have suffered greatly.

But I'm writing this entry not about Shasta's death, but rather about her life.

In the mid-1990s, Karin and I were still married and had just bought a house here in North Carolina. We knew we wanted a dog, and Karin was researching possibilities. She found a no-kill rescue shelter in Nebraska that seemed like our kind of place, and the shelter had recently taken in a female Siberian Husky. This dog had wandered into a little town, malnourished but just as friendly as she could be, wandering down the sidewalks, into and out of shops, and responding warmly to people. The people at the shelter took her in and started looking for a home for her. It was clear from talking to them that this was a dog they all wished they could keep for themselves.

From the photos, we could see that the dog was beautiful, though still gaunt from her time on her own. They estimated she was a year old, though they couldn't be sure how long she had been fending for herself. They interviewed us, decided we were a good match, and we made arrangements to adopt her. There was a direct flight from an airport in their region to Charlotte, so they shipped her there rather than to Raleigh-Durham (which would have meant changing planes). Karin and I made the drive down in our van to pick her up.

In Charlotte, when we took her out of her crate, we saw she was even more beautiful in person. Being underweight made her look dainty, in a way, and I always thought of her that way as a result. She hopped up in the van and seemed delighted to be with us -- many huskies remind me of bottlenose dolphins in that they look as if they're always smiling, and I suspect that perhaps they really are, that it's not just an accident of the evolution of their facial structure.

We named Shasta after a husky we had met years before at a party held by acquaintances of ours in San Diego. They had a husky named Shasta, but who was often called Shasta the Wonder Dog for various reasons, notably her habit of 'speaking' when spoken to. We always remembered Shasta the Wonder Dog, and when we got our own husky, we never seriously considered any other name for her.

That first night with Shasta, before turning in for the night, we were talking about whether we should allow her to sleep on the bed when, out of the blue, she hopped up there on her own and made herself comfortable. She had a habit of crossing her paws when she laid down, which seemed very ladylike and never ceased to amuse me. Karin and I looked at each other, looked at Shasta, and I think it was me who said, "Well, it looks as if she made the decision for us." With her crossed paws, and smiling up at us, we couldn't imagine refusing her anything. In the end, though, she decided she was more comfortable on the floor, and always slept there, not far from us.

In all the time I was with her, I have only one memory of Shasta being aggressive with any of us. It was in the first day or two after we brought her home. I can't remember what I was doing, but it was something she didn't like, and she turned to yelp at me. When she did so, her teeth grazed my hand. It was nothing, but I decided to be firm with her, and alpha-rolled her on the spot. She responded perfectly and she never did anything of the sort ever again -- despite the presence of our three kids, whom I'm sure tortured her when we weren't looking.

Shasta wasn't aggressive, but huskies have reputations as big babies, and she was no different. Someone would barely step on her tail and she'd cry out like they were ripping it off whole -- though she wouldn't nip at them. I took her in to have her tattooed for security purposes, and it took four of us to hold her down, and you would have thought she was having surgery without anaesthaesia from the way she was crying. The veterinarian, the staff, and I were all laughing, actually, at how much she complained.

Shasta was incredibly intelligent. We knew she was smart, but we didn't know quite how smart until the first or second Easter after we adopted her. We hid eggs for the kids around the house -- both hard-boiled eggs and the hollow plastic kind filled with miniature candy bars (the little ones from Hershey). We tracked down all the real eggs, but missed a few of the plastic versions. We left Shasta at home and went out for part of the day. We came back to find plastic eggs popped open and empty candy bar wrappers nearby -- not torn-up wrappers, mind you, but unfolded wrappers with their candy missing. It was hard to believe a dog was capable of such a thing. We decided to see how she did it and placed more candy in plastic eggs and set them out in front of her. In our presence, she acted innocent, as if she had no interest in them. We had to leave the room and spy on her to see how she did it. After she thought we were gone, she carefully picked up an egg in her mouth, gently bit down until it popped open, fetched the miniature candy bar out of it, then used her paws and her teeth to carefully unwrap the candy.

Shasta didn't 'speak' like her namesake, but sometimes, if I pretended to howl, she'd howl along with me. I wondered if she dreamed of running with huskies, or hunting with wolves. I'll never know, though I do know that when we tried hooking her up to a sled one winter to see if she'd pull one of the kids, she acted like we were from another planet. So much for having sled-pulling in her genes.

With the cats in the house, Shasta was always gentle and tolerant. We brought home a rescued longhaired kitten named Saffy for my son Duncan, and once she came out from beneath Duncan's bed -- which took a while -- she gravitated towards Shasta. They became friends and always were until Saffy died a few months ago.

Somehow, as with so many dogs, Shasta was perfectly capable of distinguishing between friends (like our cats) and prey. She didn't have much opportunity to hunt, because we didn't have a fenced yard most of the time we owned her, but we did when we lived in California in the late 1990s. The kids were out back and yelled for me to come. Shasta had caught a squirrel and had it in her mouth. I was actually proud of her for catching it, but the kids didn't want to see her eviscerate an animal, and I was worried about parasites and disease in any case, so I had her drop it and led her away. But when she had the squirrel in her mouth, she looked more than ever like she was truly smiling -- like she was the happiest dog in the world.

I knew that Shasta wasn't going to be around much longer. I had offered to be the one to take her to the veterinarian, but it was easier for Karin to take her. Writing this, I wish I could have been there for her, too. I'm sorry she's gone, but I'm glad she's not suffering, and I'm very glad she was able to die peacefully, with dignity, and with a loved one there.

I haven't owned a pet since I moved out eight years ago -- I've moved too often, and even when I've been settled for a while (as I am now), I'm on the road too much to have a pet as a single person. I do want a dog again someday when the time is right. I don't know what kind of dog I'll end up with, but I know that if that dog is as beautiful, as happy, and as loving as Shasta was, I'll consider myself lucky.

May 30, 2007

The Police Tour Begins

The Police opened their tour in Vancouver this week. The reviews so far have been great (BBC News roundup, The Vancouver Sun, CBC News). Billboard posted the set list from the dress rehearsal:

"Message in a Bottle"
"Synchronicity II"
"Don't Stand So Close to Me"
"Voices Inside My Head" / "When the World Is Running Down, You Make the Best of What's Still Around"
"Spirits in the Material World"
"Driven to Tears"
"Walking on the Moon"
"Truth Hits Everybody"
"Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic"
"Wrapped Around Your Finger"
"The Bed's Too Big Without You"
"Murder by Numbers"
"De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da"
"Invisible Sun"
"Walking in Your Footsteps"
"Can't Stand Losing You"
"Roxanne"
"King of Pain"
"So Lonely"
"Every Breath You Take"
"Next to You"
I'll be at the first of the two Seattle concerts next week, and it looks like it's going to be a great show. Plus there's the benefit of crossing off an item from my "100 things to do in life" list.

Ordering a 'Frank'

I wrote earlier about my apparently unique Starbucks drink preference. Earlier today at the drive-through order screen for the Starbucks across the street from my office:

Barista: Good morning, and welcome to Starbucks. May I take your order, please?

Me: Good morning. I'll have a venti decaf iced espresso. That's five shots...

Barista: I've got this one. Sugar-free vanilla syrup and a little bit of cream on top, right?

Me: That's right.

Barista: We've got it. Drive on through.

A moment later, at the drive-through window:

Barista: What's your name? We've decided to name this drink after you.

Me: I'm Frank.

Barista: Okay, this is a 'Frank' from now on. Thanks!

May 29, 2007

Doune Castle

One thing I didn't have the opportunity to do in Scotland was to visit a castle. It was something I wanted to do, but there was so much to do that it just sort of slipped away. A few weeks after my return, I received a message from my host Richard Harris:

We went down this weekend to see our local castle -- Doune Castle.

It's a lovely Roman -> 14th century building but, as we walked up to it, it did seem strangely familiar. I couldn't however place it until we got inside and, at the ticket desk, discovered that they were passing out pairs of coconut shells to any visitor who wanted them.

And many did -- the courtyard echoed to lines of Swedes and Germans all solemnly clip-clopping their way around the walls and towers of the old place. Yep -- it was where Monty Python and the Holy Grail was filmed... Pity I hadn't realised that before you came over!

Doune Castle is in Stirling, which is on the route from Richard's town of Balquhidder down to Edinburgh. I hadn't known the story that when permission to film at various castles was revoked at the last minute, the Holy Grail producers decided to film Doune Castle from a variety of angles, so that it served as most of the castles in the film.

May 23, 2007

Where to Start?

Having not written a blog entry in the last 10 days, I now have nine Firefox windows open, each on a different subject, most with multiple tabs displaying various reference sources. The problem is not source material, it's time, which has been in short supply lately. And then there's the issue of where to start...

April 30, 2007

Rob Roy

While I was in Scotland, my hosts, Richard and Gill, and I watched Rob Roy, all of us for the first time, though they live only a mile or so from Rob Roy's grave in the churchyard in the village of Balquhidder.

Rob Roy
Their opinion of it was that it wasn't at all historically accurate, but that it nonetheless did a good job of portraying the kind of man they thought Rob Roy to be, and the times he lived in. They also felt it was far better than that other film of Scotland, Braveheart. When I asked why, they talked about how Braveheart perpetuated every cliché about the Scots. The next night, neighbors of theirs visited for dinner -- people who live in a house built on the site of a house once owned by Rob Roy himself. When they heard what we had watched the night before, the husband said, "Good film, that. Much better than Braveheart." Apparently that's a sentiment of Scots, of Highlanders, or perhaps just of the residents of Balquhidder.

I had visited Rob Roy's grave earlier in the week, but having seen the movie, I stopped by it once again during a hike the last morning of my stay. It was early and there was no one out -- Balquhidder is a sleepy village at the best of times, doubly so before breakfast.

Robert Roy MacGregor

I stood in front of his grave and said aloud, "If you were half the man I saw in that movie, I salute you," then did so. It seemed the right thing to do.

While doing research for this entry, I found a poem by William Wordsworth, "Rob Roy's Grave", which I hadn't known of before. The poem opens with these lines:

A FAMOUS man is Robin Hood,
The English ballad-singer's joy!
And Scotland has a thief as good,
An outlaw of as daring mood;
She has her brave ROB ROY!
Then clear the weeds from off his Grave,
And let us chant a passing stave,
In honour of that Hero brave!

April 23, 2007

Impressions of Scotland

I'm near the end of my fifth day in the Scottish Highlands. I can tell already I'll miss being here when I'm gone.

Everyone I've met -- not just my wonderful hosts, Richard and Gill, but their friends and acquaintances as well -- has been kind and gracious. If all Scotland is this welcoming, it's even more extraordinary than I know.

Scottish Pasture

I can't get over how completely, how inescapably, how finally green it is here. It's greener than the Puget Sound area of Washington, or the Lower Mainland of British Columbia, and those are green places to be sure. I mentioned to Richard and Gill the apocryphal story about Eskimos having 23 (or 42, or more) words for snow, and said that perhaps Scots should have 23 words for different shades of green.

Loch Voil

The loch beside which Richard and Gill live, Loch Voil, is small but utterly fits with my vision of a Scottish loch -- narrow (less than 500 meters at its widest) and long (about 6 kilometers), steep hills on either side, with just enough room for small sheep farms along the slopes.

The roads here remind me of those in the Dordogne: narrow and twisting, and people drive them fast. They're great fun when in Richard's BMW station wagon or Gill's Golf, but I wouldn't want to think about driving a lumbering SUV, much less a tractor-trailer along them -- and yet the roads are packed with such vehicles.

The food here is good, even very good. Richard and Gill's favorite pub down the road, The Munro Inn -- equipped with free computers, a library, and HDTV -- does a good steak sandwich and chips, I have to say. In Killin, at The Falls of Dochart Inn, I had an outstanding meal of oatmeal-crusted salmon in Drambuie sauce, with sticky toffee pudding for dessert. (If only they had let us take our food in the pub area, with the fireplace roaring behind us, rather than in the less-atmospheric dining room -- but that's picking nits.)

I can't imagine a better introduction to a place than to be welcomed by natives who warmly open their doors to a visitor, introducing him to their friends and neighbors, showing off their country to him with pride, and patiently answering his every question, no matter how inane it might sound. I'm incredibly fortunate to have this time here.

April 20, 2007

At the Red Carpet Club

Wednesday afternoon, I was in a United Red Carpet Club at Dulles International Airport, waiting for my flight to Heathrow. I had a few minutes before I needed to grab dinner, so I found an unoccupied corner, took a seat, and proceeded to log on and get some work done.

I hadn't been there long when a large group came in and sat down across from me. It consisted of one American male with a group from an Asian country -- a leader of the group (male) and three aides (one female and two male), the entire group in business attire. I kept on working, but couldn't help overhearing that the group was from Indonesia, the leader was the Indonesian Minister of Defence, and the American was an escort from the State Department, assigned to see them to their onward flight (to Rome).

The Indonesians seemed far more knowledgeable about world events than did the American. Their discussion turned to Poland at one point, and one of the aides explained to the American that the Polish Prime Minister and President are identical twins. "Really?" asked the American. The Indonesian repeated it. "Really?" he said once again. I piped in. "Yes, it's true," I said. "They're identical twins." Then, in a jokingly conspiriatorial tone, I half-whispered, "But they're kind of crazy." The Indonesians all started laughing, including the Minister. The American looked nervous and said, "Uh, he's not an official representative of the State Department." I said, "Well, I think the word The Economist used was 'unstable', actually." More laughter. More nervous looks from the State Department functionary.

(Actually, The Economist didn't use the word "unstable". What they called the Kaczyński government was "vengeful, paranoid, addicted to crises, divided and mostly incompetent" (article here). But I was close.)

I had to leave for my flight soon after that -- though not before the Indonesians nearly had to explain to the American what a blog was. Ah, civil service.

April 18, 2007

Off to Scotland

I'm off to Scotland for a week's stay with my friend Richard Harris, who recently purchased a home on the shores of Loch Voil, in the village of Balquhidder, about an hour north of Edinburgh. Our plan is to use our time together to brainstorm, hike in the surrounding hills, and drink great Scottish beer -- if I'm lucky, in about equal proportions.

April 16, 2007

The Launch of Acrobat, TED3, Monterey, 1992

I registered for the new TED.com site today, which has a personal profile section (looks like they're moving rapidly towards social networking). There's a field on the profile page for "My TED story", which led me to think about my TED experience. I couldn't fit the whole story there due to their 1,000-character limit, but here it is in its full glory.

I've been to one TED conference, TED3 in 1992. I was the product manager for Adobe Acrobat, which we launched at TED3. John Warnock gave a talk on the future of digital documents, and I did the on-stage demo.

So far, so good, and all a matter of public record.

What you might not know is that, at the time, Acrobat was still well over a year from release, and as a result, wasn't completely stable. We could open PDF documents, including fairly complex files, but we suffered from intermittent and unpredictable crashes. And I truly mean unpredictable: I could do a clean restart, launch Acrobat, and open a document with perfect results, then do another clean restart and perform exactly the same steps and get a crash. This was made worse by the fact that, as part of the demo, we wanted to show conversions of some of Richard Wurman's ACCESS guide files -- extremely complex maps and the like that were destined for press use.

Not good.

At the time, the Macintosh was our leading development platform, so we did most of our demos on it. But we also had less-advanced versions running on Windows and DOS, which we showed mostly in static form -- "look, here's the same document we showed you on the Macintosh, already open in Acrobat for Windows". So if we were going to suffer from a crash, it was going to be on the Macintosh.

At the time, Apple shipped a debugger for the Macintosh that would intercept a system error and bring up a debugger window instead of an error dialog. I had this running on my machine when I discovered the existence of a configuration file that allowed the user to set the foreground (text) and background color of the debugger, which was full-screen. I realized that if I set the foreground and background colors both to black, a system error would immediately display a blank screen.

I explained the situation to John, telling him, "If the screen goes blank and I say something like, 'It looks like we have a video feed problem, so could we please switch the projector to the Windows machine?' that means that Acrobat crashed, so please talk for a moment while I reach down and reboot the Macintosh. Also, could you not ask me to switch around too much between documents, or scroll around the really complex ones? That seems to cause problems fairly regularly." He didn't complain or criticize at all and said it wouldn't be a problem.

Now, after all that, when we went up on stage, Acrobat worked like a charm -- my debugger trick turned out to be unnecessary. Of course, John was enthusiastic and wanted to show off his baby, so he had me switching back and forth between documents, zooming, scrolling, doing everything. Not a problem in sight.

After the presentation, Richard walked up and handed me a TED3 speaker's 'TED bear', which I have to this day.

A postscript to this story is that when we showed Acrobat at a Seybold conference not long after, and ran essentially the same demo, it did crash -- and thankfully, I was still using the same debugger trick. Acrobat crashed, the screen went blank, I gave John the verbal signal, and he covered for me perfectly.

April 13, 2007

Heard in the Valley

While in Silicon Valley this week, I saw a couple of old friends who were once entrepreneurs, now venture capitalists.

Over breakfast, one said to me:

I used to be a whore. Now I'm a pimp.
He said that it was definitely better to be a pimp. I wouldn't know -- I've always been on the other side.

I had lunch with the other at Sundeck, the restaurant that sits quite literally at the center of the high technology venture investment universe -- it's in the middle of a circle of Sand Hill Road buildings filled with venture capitalists. My friend and I walked in at noon to a packed house. He turned to me and said:

You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.
Well played, sir.

April 12, 2007

Life Is Still Good

Waking up to the first day of a short break with my brother and sister-in-law in Austin.

Coffee and a cranberry orange scone for breakfast at Starbucks.

On a picture-perfect springtime-in-Austin day, lunch at Chuy's Hula Hut on the banks of Lake Austin -- grilled salmon tacos and a Corona Light.

Working out with my brother at Life Time Fitness -- my first look at a branch of my new gym, opening at home next month.

A dinner of smoked chipotle salmon, artichoke-feta-lemon fritters, and steamed asparagus, all picked up at the Whole Foods landmark store earlier in the day.

Dessert at Amy's, my favorite mix-in ice cream anywhere -- malted vanilla with Nutter Butters and Reese's cups for me.

Watching Casino Royale in high definition.

That's two amazingly good days in the last week -- and the days in between weren't bad.

Life is still good.

In the end, I think maybe it always is.

April 08, 2007

Life Is Good

An exit row seat with the middle seat empty on my flight from Chicago to Seattle.

A room at the new Silver Cloud Inn across from Safeco Field, upscale and a great bargain.

A beer and calamari strips while watching the end of The Masters at Pyramid Alehouse across the street.

A coffee at the original Starbucks.

Walking in off the street without reservations and nabbing a window table at Etta's Seafood, on Easter Sunday, no less.

Seared rare albacore tuna with sesame noodle cake for dinner.

Life is indeed good.

RDU-SEA-SFO-AUS-RDU

I'm off this morning for two days of meetings in Seattle, a day of meetings in San Francisco, and then four days with my brother and sister-in-law in Austin. A bit whirlwind, but I'm looking forward to all of it.

April 05, 2007

The Kora of Mount Kailash

When I wrote this entry about seeing The Police in concert this summer, I wrote that I had 119 goals in life, with 26 down, leaving 93 to go. Make that 122 goals, 26 down, and 96 to go -- I forgot visiting Nepal, visiting Tibet, and making the kora around Mount Kailash.

Mount Kailash is a holy site for multiple religions, including Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, and Bön. All these religions hold that circumambulating (circling on foot) Kailash, known as the kora, has special significance. Buddhists believe that making one kora washes away the sins of a lifetime. (They also believe that 108 kora confer instant nirvana.)

The summit of Kailash is 6,638 meters. The various religions that revere Kailash believe that to climb to its peak would be sacreligious, and it's not clear whether this has ever been done. The highest point of the kora is a pass at 5,630 meters. There is an inner kora that leads to a special pilgrimage site at 6,096 meters, Serdung Chuksum, the Cave of the Thirteen Golden Chortens. By tradition, this inner kora cannot be attempted unless one has made 13 kora (also known as the outer kora).

Luckily for those of us with busy schedules, there's a Buddhist Monopoly "get out of jail free" card. Every 12 years, during the Year of the Horse, one outer kora counts for 13, so one trip around Kailash and you get to attempt the inner kora. (There's an excerpt from a good National Geographic Adventure article on the topic here.)

According to the Chinese astrological calendar, the next Year of the Horse runs 31 January 2014 to 18 February 2015. I don't know if I'll be capable of attempting the inner kora -- even the outer kora is said to be extremely difficult. But if one were planning on going, going during the Year of the Horse would at least give the option of attempting the inner kora -- and how many people in the world can say they've been to Serdung Chuksum?

The obvious question in all this is "why?" I've long considered myself agnostic, though truth be told, I'm closer to atheism than agnosticism. If I don't believe in Buddhism, or nirvana, why make the kora? The answer for me is that I can appreciate the symbolism of a religion without accepting its core beliefs. It's why I ritually cleanse myself before entering a Shinto shrine in Japan (link here, scroll to the bottom of the page). And while I may not believe in the supernatural aspects of any religion, I have particular respect for Buddhism as a philosophy. One doesn't have to be mystical to see the principle of karma at work every single day.

So I'll go to Tibet, make the journey to Kailash, and attempt the outer kora. If I make it, I may go on to try the inner kora. And while I won't literally believe that the sins of my lifetime are being washed away, I'll appreciate the symbolism of it all. I'll admire the faithful who make the kora without North Face jackets, without Vasque boots, without LaraBars or Jetboils or Katadyns. I'll be amazed by the faithful who make the entire journey prostrate, crawling their way around their holiest peak. And I'll come back a different person.

In what way I'll come back different, I have no idea.

April 04, 2007

SFO Memories

This is such a beautiful view of SFO, photographed from a private aircraft, that I couldn't resist linking to it.

SFO at Night
As I looked at the high-resolution version (click the photo, then click on the "ALL SIZES" button), I thought of how much time I've spent in that airport over the years, and it wasn't gray and monotonous as one might expect of airport memories. Some of my memories of SFO are good ones.

In December 1980, I was stuck there for a few hours, on holiday leave from Russian studies at the Defense Language Institute, waiting for a flight to Spokane to visit my father. I had bought one of the first Sony Walkman cassette players, the TPS-L2, and spent my layover time in a large seating area in the middle of a junction between two wings (now the food court in the United departure area). At that time, most people hadn't listened to a Walkman, or even heard of one, and it's hard to remember now, but back then, we associated portable headphones with transistor radios. No one thought much of them -- we assumed anyone with them was listening to a tinny AM station.

Every so often, someone would walk up to me and ask, "Are those earphones? Are you listening to the radio?" The first few times, I'd explain what I was listening to, but after a while, I would just hand them the headphones and say, "Listen for yourself." They'd put them on, their eyes would go just a bit wide, and then they'd smile and say, "That's amazing!" And for an extroverted gadget geek like myself, that wasn't a bad way to spend five or six hours.

March 30, 2007

Am I the Only One?

For years, my drink of choice at Starbucks was a venti skim decaf latte. (As a general rule, I avoid caffeine except in times of extreme need -- maybe once every month or two.) Along the way, I experimented with an iced version of the drink, because unless it's seriously cold, I prefer chilled drinks. About a year ago, I decided that the milk in the latte was just empty calories, and so switched to the venti iced decaf americano, which I would then top off with a little bit of skim milk.

Recently, though, I found myself thinking that between the water of the americano and the ice, I was getting a fairly watered-down drink. I wondered, "Can't I just ditch the water and order an iced espresso?" I decided to add a bit of flavor by including sugar-free syrup (Starbucks offers three varieties). And I tried out half-and-half, and realized that in the small amounts I'd be using, it was a minor luxury that greatly improved the taste.

So with all that, my order is now a venti iced decaf espresso, add a shot (for a total of five), with sugar-free syrup, fill the cup with ice, and top it off with half-and-half. I usually get the same reaction whenever I order it, which is something like, "I've never seen that before." So am I the only one?

March 12, 2007

Good News

Duncan is out of surgery and came through it just fine. According to his surgeon, the probability is that it wasn't an infection. Osteoid osteoma is a possibility, as is a stress fracture, but we won't know definitively for a few days. The bottom line is that he's coming home tomorrow, and unless something unexpected turns up in the post-surgery laboratory tests, he won't be on antibiotics longer than a day.

Waiting at Duke

I'm spending this morning in the surgical waiting room at Duke University Medical Center. My son Duncan is having surgery on his hand today -- in fact, as I write this, the operation should be well underway.

Duncan has been suffering from pain in his right wrist and hand for the last few months now. An x-ray at the orthopaedist was inconclusive, which led to a bone scan. That showed a mass, but of unknown type. His orthopaedist referred him to the specialists here at Duke, who did an MRI. That, too, showed a mass of unknown type, so at that the point, the only option was surgery.

What the surgeon is telling us is that there are two basic possibilities:

  • Duncan has an osteoid osteoma, which is basically a benign bone growth. If this is the case, they'll remove it, close him up, and he'll be back home by tomorrow at the latest.
  • He has an infection in his hand. If this is the case, they'll remove all of it that they can find, and then he'll be in the hospital as long as five days while undergoing intensive antibiotic treatment. After he's discharged, he'll be equipped with a shunt for a few weeks to deliver antibiotics directly into his bloodstream.
The surgeon was hopeful that Duncan will have the osteoid osteoma, not the infection -- he says he only sees half a dozen such infections each year. We're hopeful, too. We should know in about an hour.

March 11, 2007

Section AA, Row 36, Seats 5-6

In 1998, I started compiling a list of 100 things I wanted to do in life. (In the eight and a half years since, I've accomplished 26 of my goals, but added another 19, so I still have 93 to go -- but that's another story.) One of my goals was to see The Police in concert should they ever reunite. I had no idea whether this would ever happen -- after all, the stories of Sting and Stewart Copeland going at one another are fairly legendary. But I added it to the list just the same. Now it's 2007 and The Police are touring this year... and my son Duncan and I have tickets for floor seats to see their first show of two in Seattle this coming June.

I've long been convinced of the essentiality of setting goals for ourselves -- after all, if we don't know where we want to go, how are we ever going to get there? Now I'm convinced that at least some of our ambitions should be goals we don't know how to accomplish when we set them. As Goethe said, "Dream no small dreams."

Writing this entry, and thinking of no small dreams, I'm reminded that one of the goals I set for myself back in 1998 was to visit space -- six years before SpaceShipOne and the founding of Virgin Galactic. That particular goal doesn't seem so impossible now. Just expensive.

March 05, 2007

When in Doubt, Generate Random Answers

My son Duncan, who's 19, is looking for a job. He recently applied on the Website of a major grocery firm -- a company that operates a variety of grocery chains around the country. The hiring manager at the local store invited him in for an interview, which was last Friday. Duncan stopped by to see me before the interview for some last-minute practice, and he was well-prepared. I wished him luck and he was on his way.

The next day, he came by the house to spend some with me before I took off for San Francisco (where I am now). I asked him how the interview went. "It was pretty strange," he said.

When Duncan applied on the Website, the only thing the Website asked him to do was to fill out a form with basic résumé-type information, which he did. It turned out there was also a personality test, but the Website didn't offer him the chance to take it. When Duncan indicated that he was done with the form and wanted to submit his information, instead of generating an error, or submitting his information with blank personality test results, apparently the site filled in random answers for the test.

Duncan said the first few minutes of the interview were straightforward, and then the manager told him that the reason he had brought him in were his personality test scores, which were the worst he had ever seen -- in terms of suitability for employment, Duncan had scored something like 8 percent on one scale and 13 percent on another. Apparently the only reason the hiring manager had invited him in for an interview was because he wanted to confirm that the test was representative of Duncan's personality, and if so, to flag him in his company's system so that he would never be hired by any of their chains.

Of course, Duncan explained that he had not, in fact, taken such a test. The hiring manager figured out what happened, asked him to take the test, and when last I heard, it looked promising that he was going to get the job after all.

I give the hiring manager a great deal of credit for actually taking the time to investigate and not simply accepting the ludicrously bad personality results, which many people might have done in his place.

The obvious question is, how many people have been flagged by how many companies for tests they never took, answers that were never theirs? How many hiring managers haven't investigated test anomalies such as Duncan's? How many companies have missed out on great employees because of poor Website design and implementation errors? How much does this sort of thing cost us?

February 28, 2007

On the Future of My Blog, Part 2

In my last entry, in mid-December, I wrote:

[I]if I'm going to continue to blog, there needs to be a point to it other than keeping a public record of things I find interesting...

If I focus on my personal life and the things that would be interesting to my friends and family, then where do I blog about the things I find interesting about the world at large?

If I focus... on semi-random bits of trivia, then where do I blog about my personal life? And more importantly, does anyone care about semi-random bits of trivia anymore?

I've been thinking about this question for the last two and a half months. I've wanted to blog on many occasions, but held off because I promised myself I wouldn't write another entry until I had figured out what I wanted to do.

I've figured that out now.

When I went through old blog entries of mine, the entries I was the most proud of weren't the semi-random -- or perhaps I should say pseudorandom -- bits of trivia (though these have their place). Nor were they the long quotations from other sources, with small amounts of commentary added (though, again, these can be useful). Instead, they were the essays, on subjects as diverse as a science fiction author's views on gay marriage, the Pledge of Allegiance, the murder rate in Baghdad, and, pre-invasion, my opinion of war with Iraq. (In the last case, I'm proud of the thought I put into my position, but not of the position itself. I was terribly, terribly wrong.)

I was also reminded of my time at Be Inc., when our CEO, Jean-Louis Gassée, would write a weekly column for our e-mail newsletter. I had tremendous respect for this, because his columns were, on the whole, well-written and thought-provoking. That took a tremendous commitment and effort on his part, given his day job. (Sadly, it's difficult to find his columns online now. They're an interesting perspective on that time in the computer industry, and it would be useful if they were collected in an easy-to-use resource. Pending that, many of them can be found via this Internet Archive page.)

So essays it is. Not that the the other entries -- the bits of trivia, the personal items -- are going away. But the one thing I will try to do without fail is to post essays here on a regular basis. If I do nothing else but write one thought-provoking, long-form entry a week, I'll consider that a great success.

I considered focusing on a specific subject, and I'm sure that, over time, that would probably be the best way to increase readership of this blog. But though I'm as much of a sucker for traffic statistics as the next person (especially after, say, being Slashdotted), in the end, I've never wanted this blog to be about anything other than what's important to me. If that happens to coincide with the interests of a group of people in the larger world, that's great news and I'll run with it. And my interests are wide-ranging.

I'm in the process of spinning out a new business, a business for which I serve as CEO, and I considered creating a CEO blog. However, the business isn't a Web 2.0 business where we're hungry for every scrap of publicity we can get. Our primary relationships and projects are things we won't be able to talk about for many months. That's not to say I won't occasionally blog about my business, or about issues related to what we're building, but I don't want to commit myself to regular, in-depth blogging on a subject with so many disclosure restrictions.

So in the end, I'll write essays on whatever it is that interests me -- though if I had to guess, and based on what I'm thinking about these days, I'd guess I'll be writing about entrepreneurship, venture financing, game design, social networks, the videogame market, aspirational marketing... and, yes, travel, relationships, human rights, you name it.

Another of my concerns in my last entry was the issue of how to target my blog at different audiences:

I'm thinking about splitting my blog into two halves. One half would be personal and probably interesting only to friends and family. The other half would be completely new and would be focused on a subject that is personally interesting to me, that is of interest to an audience in the larger world, and that I'm qualified to discuss...

If I create two new blogs, then I'd have to decide what goes where. Do I retool this blog to be personal or to be popular? Or do I close out this blog and create two new blogs?

In the end, I've decided to keep one blog, but to offer three different feeds, tuned to three different audiences:

  • If you're interested in reading the full stream of everything I say, you can continue to access a feed of every entry here.
  • If you're only interested in the long-form essays I write -- which I hope to publish on a weekly basis -- you'll find an essay-only feed here.
  • If you're only interested in personal news from me, and not the technical, political, or other general entries, you can subscribe to a personal-only feed here.
I hope that these three choices will make it easy for my readers to focus on their specific interests. (Note that the three feeds aren't mutually exclusive; for example, there can and will be entries that are both personal and essays.)

Thanks to the people who commented and who wrote to me privately on this issue -- especially to my friend Michael Morrissey, who sent me a long, eloquent, and incredibly kind message. I truly appreciate all your input.

And with that, back to the blogging...

December 15, 2006

On the Future of My Blog

It has been over six weeks since my last blog entry. It's not that I haven't had things about which I've wanted to blog -- I've had many. It's not that I haven't had the time to blog -- I've been incredibly busy, yes, but I could have made time for an entry every day or two.

I haven't been blogging because I don't know why I'm doing it anymore. I don't mean to say that I find blogging pointless -- I certainly don't. What I mean to say is that I've come to realize that if I'm going to continue to blog, there needs to be a point to it other than keeping a public record of things I find interesting. I need an intended audience, and a reason they should care about what I have to say. Otherwise, I should just write down everything in a personal journal and keep it to myself.

If I'm blogging to keep my friends and family updated on happenings in my life, then why should they care about the ice sheet covering Greenland or Starbucks trivia? If I'm blogging to share interesting tidbits of information with the world, then why should my readers care about my daughter's jokes at chorus camp, or my friend's Maine Coon Cat (now sadly passed away)?

In other words, I need a focus to this blog.

If I focus on my personal life and the things that would be interesting to my friends and family, then where do I blog about the things I find interesting about the world at large?

If I focus (if I can use that word in this sentence) on semi-random bits of trivia, then where do I blog about my personal life? And more importantly, does anyone care about semi-random bits of trivia anymore? That was how I came to be introduced to blogging -- by blogs without a core focus, simply brief pointers to items of interest interspersed with the occasional longer essay. And to be honest, I don't read any of those blogs anymore -- even from my friends. I just don't find them compelling enough. So why would I expect anyone to read what I have to say along those lines?

I'm thinking about splitting my blog into two halves. One half would be personal and probably interesting only to friends and family. The other half would be completely new and would be focused on a subject that is personally interesting to me, that is of interest to an audience in the larger world, and that I'm qualified to discuss. (I'm not ready to talk about the subject yet -- I'm still mulling over the precise definition.) This is attractive, but I'm worried about keeping up two blogs when I've been having trouble with only one.

If I create two new blogs, then I'd have to decide what goes where. Do I retool this blog to be personal or to be popular? Or do I close out this blog and create two new blogs?

In any case, I'm going to try to make a decision and implement it by the end of the year, so that I can start fresh in 2007. If you have any thoughts, feel free to post them in the comments section, or write to me as you see fit.

August 12, 2006

I'm Not Sure...

...why I haven't been blogging lately. It's true that I've been busy with a host of activities -- soccer with my older son, hiking with my younger son, mountain biking with my daughter, hosting old friends visiting from out of town -- but I could still make time if I wanted. And it's not that there's a shortage of things about which to blog. I see them every day.

I'm leaving for Seattle tomorrow morning, and for whatever reason, the fact that my trip is fast approaching is making me want to blog again. We'll see.

July 22, 2006

Choral Camp Humor

Heard while picking up my teenage daughter Kelsey on her final day of music camp. We were walking past a friend of hers from camp:

Kelsey: Hi Derek.

Derek: Hi Kelsey.

Kelsey: Derek Derek bo berek, banana fana fo berek, fe fi fo ferek, Derek!

Me: A little music camp humor?

Kelsey: Choral camp humor, actually.

Me: That's cool.

Kelsey (without missing a beat): Well, it's better with Tucker, Chuck, and Mitch.

If I had been drinking, I would have done a spit-take right there in the parking lot. That girl of mine is funny and quick on the draw.

May 26, 2006

Zarniwoop

From The Restaurant at the End of the Universe:

Zaphod Beeblebrox entered the foyer. He strode up to the insect receptionist.

"OK," he said, "Where's Zarniwoop? Get me Zarniwoop."

"Excuse me, sir?" said the insect icily. It did not care to be addressed in this manner.

"Zarniwoop. Get him, right? Get him now."

"Well, sir," snapped the fragile little creature, "if you could be a little cool about it..."

Look," said Zaphod, "I'm up to here with cool, OK? I'm so amazingly cool you could keep a side of meat inside me for a month. I am so hip I have difficulty seeing over my pelvis. Now will you move before you blow it?"

"Well, if you'd let me explain, sir," said the insect tapping the most petulant of all the tentacles at its disposal, "I'm afraid that isn't possible right now as Mr. Zarniwoop is on an intergalactic cruise."

Hell, thought Zaphod.

"When he's going to be back?" he said.

"Back sir? He's in his office."

Zaphod paused while he tried to sort this particular thought out in his mind. He didn't succeed.

"This cat's on an intergalactic cruise... in his office?" He leaned forward and gripped the tapping tentacle.

"Listen, three eyes," he said, "don't you try to outweird me. I get stranger things than you free with my breakfast cereal."

"Well, just who do you think you are, honey?" flounced the insect quivering its wings in rage, "Zaphod Beeblebrox or something?"

"Count the heads," said Zaphod in a low rasp.

The insect blinked at him. It blinked at him again.

"You are Zaphod Beeblebrox?" it squeaked.

"Yeah," said Zaphod, "but don't shout it out or they'll all want one."

"The Zaphod Beeblebrox?"

"No, just a Zaphod Beeblebrox, didn't you hear I come in six packs?"

The insect rattled its tentacles together in agitation.

"But sir," it squealed, "I just heard on the sub-ether radio report. It said that you were dead..."

"Yeah, that's right," said Zaphod, "I just haven't stopped moving yet. Now. Where do I find Zarniwoop?"

Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Zarniwoop, a Maine Coon cat who lives with the ape-descended life form Richard Harris in Hindhead, Surrey, England, United Kingdom, Earth. (This is an utterly insignificant blue-green planet, orbiting a small unregarded yellow sun, far out in the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the Western Spiral arm of the Galaxy.)

Zarniwoop

Zarniwoop.

Zarniwoop is sitting on the desk behind my laptop as I write this -- at 10 kilograms (22 pounds), he's absolutely huge, but has managed to wedge himself into an impossibly small space and yet seems comfortable. (Richard tells me this is typical of Maine Coons.) He's one of the friendliest cats I've ever met.

I suspect Douglas would be quite pleased.

May 25, 2006

Surrey

Surrey

A village in Surrey, as seen from seat 34A, AA 174, RDU-LGW.

May 23, 2006

Off to London

I'm off to London this afternoon, to speak at Apply Serious Games 2006. I'll be giving a talk Thursday morning and then sitting on a panel that afternoon.

May 12, 2006

Chuy's

Chuy's is an Austin tradition for Mexican food -- it's hip and funky and fun. It wasn't the best Mexican food I've ever had, not even close -- that honor would belong to Border Grill -- but the atmosphere made for a great time.

Chuy's

The entrance.

Chuy's Hubcaps

Hubcaps on the ceiling.

Mount Rainier

I'm just now starting to catch up with my blogging. I'm with family in Austin at the moment, having visited Louisville, Seattle, San Jose, and Los Angeles so far on this trip. The nicest moment in the air was seeing Mount Rainier -- not guaranteed on every flight into Seattle, but it's nice when it happens, especially when flying so close you feel like you can reach out and touch it (not this time).

Mount Rainier

Mount Rainier, as seen from seat 7A, UA 343, ORD-SEA.

May 10, 2006

Now Begins the Vacation Portion of My Vacation

I had every intention of blogging the past few days, but my travel schedule was too busy. I wrote earlier that the first days of my vacation were scheduled down to the hour, and in fact that's how they turned out. I'll try to do some catching up here shortly as I enjoy a few days in the company of my brother and sister-in-law in sunny Austin.

May 03, 2006

Off to the West Coast

I'm off today on a trip that's one part business, eight parts vacation: a day in Kentucky for work, then I'm off the clock and it's on to Seattle (two days), San Jose (one day), Los Angeles (one day), and Austin (five days). I'm trying to see as many people as I can, especially in Seattle, but at this point, the first four days of my trip are scheduled, I think, down to the hour.

To my friends I'm seeing on this trip, I'm looking forward to it. And to those I'm missing this time out, I'll be back out soon, and look forward to catching up with you then.

April 27, 2006

Information Overload

After a stretch of a few months in which I missed only the occasional day of blogging, and often made multiple posts in a day, I missed yesterday and the day before. Partly it's because I've been so busy, but I think it's also because I have so much information, so many ideas at the moment that I don't know where to start sharing. It's strange, though -- isn't blogging the ideal way of sharing disconnected thoughts?

I'll get it all under control and get back on track shortly.

April 20, 2006

TOWER23

I've been meaning to blog about this hotel since I stayed there last November... but better five and a half months late than never. The TOWER23 hotel isn't the most luxurious hotel at which I've ever stayed (though it's in the top five), but it's without a doubt the hippest.

The TOWER23 hotel is an anomaly, an ultramodern hotel set in a bit of a funky beach town (the Pacific Beach area of San Diego). There's nothing nearby that's like it -- accomodations in the area range from mid-range condominiums to dilapidated cottages set on a pier. But the setting doesn't detract from the TOWER23, and in fact seems to bring it into sharper relief.

I had an oceanfront room, a "Surf Pad," which was delightful. The bathroom was stylish, the shower large and equipped with a rain-style head. The bed was one of the two or three most comfortable I've ever slept on. The flat panel TV was good, and I used the Xbox to play DVDs that I had brought with me (you can borrow movies from the front desk, or there's a Blockbuster next door). The room had both wired and wireless connections to the hotel's free Internet service.

But the star of the room was the view -- a third-story, top-floor view of the boardwalk, the beach, and the ocean. Sunsets were absolutely spectacular.

The TOWER23 has its own oceanview restaurant, JRDN. I had excellent sushi rolls there on two occasions, and the breakfasts were some of the best I've had in the last few years, and reasonably priced. At night, JRDN becomes a popular club -- be prepared to get your Banana Republic on.

The hotel has a second-floor deck with comfortable seating and a fire pit, the modern style with flames dancing over sand. I spent some pleasant evenings there drinking cocktails brought up from the club below.

I wouldn't recommend the TOWER23 for people who want a very quiet hotel. Although the rooms are soundproofed quite well, once JRDN becomes a club at night, it becomes fairly loud, especially on Friday and Saturday nights. This wasn't an issue for me, but I can see some people having problems with it. Nor would I recommend the hotel for people with small children -- the beach is really the only place for them to run around, as there's no pool or playspace of any kind -- it's just not that kind of hotel.

To San Diego visitors looking for a beachfront hotel, a trendy place to stay, or a hotel where one can party into the wee hours, I can't recommend the TOWER23 highly enough. It's less expensive than many of the dull mega-hotels in the city (especially if reserved along with flights on Orbitz), but with better rooms and polite, boutique-style service.

TOWER23

TOWER23.

TOWER23 from the Beach

The hotel as seen from the beach below.

Balcony View

The view from the balcony of a "Surf Pad" room.

March 29, 2006

Bowling with Bumpers

Talking with my daughter Kelsey about her recent bowling excursions:

Me: So what's your high score?

Kelsey: I scored a 138 the other night.

Me: 138? That's not too bad. Good for you!

Kelsey: Well, that's with bumpers.

Me: You scored a 138 with bumpers? Isn't that like saying you managed not to run off the road on Autopia?

March 21, 2006

My Conference Blogging Style

At the end of the presentation "Putting Games to Work" yesterday, my co-worker Christophe looked at my laptop screen, saw me posting to my blog, and said, "It's already up? How can you do that? Oh, you're not adding any commentary -- you're just transcribing."

When I'm in a conference session and taking notes for a blog entry (or for a private description of the session), I'm neither smart enough nor a fast enough typist to be able to a) listen to and assimilate what the speaker is saying, b) take detailed notes of the talk, and c) provide real-time analysis of what's being said. So my style is to listen, understand, and transcribe, but leave the written analysis for later.

As the week progresses, I'll look back over the sessions, try to find the themes, and if I come up with anything interesting to say by way of commentary, I'll post it here.

March 17, 2006

Off to California Tomorrow

Tomorrow morning, I'm off to California for a week at the Serious Games Summit and the Game Developers Conference. I'll be blogging both as much as I can, so if you're interested, stay tuned here.

It's going to be a busy week -- between the two conferences during the day and catching up with friends over breakfasts and dinners, nearly all my time is spoken for while I'm there. I know I'll come home tired and needing some down time, but happy and enlightened.

Speaking at Apply Serious Games 2006

I'll be speaking at the Apply Serious Games 2006 conference in London this May. The conference runs 25-26 May; my talk will be on the first day:

Abstract Title: Game Engine-Based Instruction: A Nuclear Submarine Security Case Study

This presentation is an in-depth look at a serious game project from conception to shipment, a force protection and anti-terrorism training tool developed for the Submarine On-Board Training (SOBT) group within the US Naval Submarine School (NAVSUBSCOL).

SOBT had previously developed a video-based trainer consisting of a series of simple branching scenarios. As is typical of video-based trainers, modifications after the fact to reflect changing conditions (e.g., changing doctrine) were difficult. The solution was a simulation-based engine using a role playing game (RPG)-style user interface, with editable XML-based scenario definition files. In the first phase of the project, the project team replicated the 17 scenarios of the original video-based product; in the second phase, the team extended these scenarios from the exterior of the submarine to include 5 new scenarios taking place within a detailed model of the submarine interior.

This presentation will include experiences and lessons learned, both business and development, and from the perspectives of both the developer and the customer.

It should be a fun conference, and it has been far too long since I've been in London. Actually, I just went to look it up and I haven't stayed in London (I'm not counting connecting through Heathrow) since May 1998 -- that will be eight years by the time of my trip. It's funny -- I've been to Paris many times since then, and to Tokyo too many times to count (it's over 10), but somehow London fell off the radar. It will be good to get back.

March 08, 2006

First Game with My New Team

As noted earlier, I'm no longer blogging my soccer games by default... but I thought I'd mention that I had the first game with my new team Monday night. There weren't any free slots on defense, which left me to play as a midfielder, a new experience for me. (If you're not a soccer geek, midfield and defense have significantly different strategies, and midfielders run about twice as much as the defenders, because they have to cover so much more of the field.) After a full season away from soccer, and no experience at my position, I felt like a fish out of water at first... but gradually discovered that I actually like playing midfield, so I think I'll stick with it. And not that I had much to do with it, but our team won 6-0, which was nice.

Is it ever too late to try something new? I suppose that depends on what it is. I took up soccer at 41 and have been having a blast ever since. I ran my first half-marathon at 43 and now want to go for a full marathon as soon as I'm ready. No matter what age you are, if there's something you've been wanting to do, if it's even vaguely within reason, then get out there and do it. Will you encounter difficulties? become discouraged? injure yourself? Possibly. But I'm coming to understand more and more how essential it is that we challenge ourselves throughout our lives. More on that soon.

March 04, 2006

"The Everything Zen Book"

I've decided to keep a log here of the books I read in 2006. In most cases, I won't review the books, but I'll at least include an excerpt from each, and in some cases a bit of commentary.

The first book I read this year was The Everything Zen Book: Achieve Inner Calm and Peace of Mind Through Meditation, Simple Living, and Harmony.

From the book:

Many of the great religions and spiritual practices tell us the same thing: True happiness lies in getting outside of ourselves and helping others. To be locked inside oneself, obsessed with one's own thoughts and needs, is to truly suffer. It is to suffer the bondage of self. Real freedom exists when you cease thinking of yourself all day long...

We live in a time in which we are often coddled and told, "Take care of yourself." We are admonished to take time for ourselves and pamper ourselves. We deserve time off, long baths, new clothes, and a dinner out. We overindulge, overspend, and overeat. And we are not happy! Clearly, the way to a peaceful life is not through spending more money, eating more food, and paying more attention to your own needs.

To be honest, I bought this book because I was looking for a basic introductory book on Zen, but I didn't want something with "...for Dummies" or "The Idiot's Guide to..." in the title. It was pretty much what I expected it to be: straightforward, easy to read, and written for absolute beginners. Reading it convinced me to give Zen a try -- there's a beginner's session at my local zendo tomorrow, and I'm looking forward to seeing how it goes.

February 25, 2006

In My Native State

I'm in the state of my birth for a quick weekend with friends.

Back in the Bay Area

UA 217, IAD-SFO, over San Francisco Bay.

FSM

An innocuous car ahead of me in traffic... but check out the badge on the back.

FSM Close-Up

It's the Flying Spaghetti Monster! Now I know I'm in California again. I see the occasional Darwin badge in North Carolina, but if Pastafarians live there, they don't advertise themselves -- but there are lots of pro-Bush bumper stickers. Now that I think about it, I didn't notice a single pro-Bush bumper sticker while driving yesterday. So far in the Bay Area, it's Pastafarians 1, Bush 0.

Half-Marathon Photos

A couple of photos I just uploaded from my trip to Myrtle Beach to run in my first half-marathon last weekend:

After My Half-Marathon

At the hotel after the race.

With Cameron in Myrtle Beach

Out for lunch with my son Cameron later that day.

The results were posted and my official chip time was one second slower than the watch time I posted earlier -- 2:19:38.

February 24, 2006

Off to California

I'm off to California this morning for a quick weekend with friends. I spent a long weekend in San Diego last fall, but this will be my first time in the Bay Area since October 2003 -- it's hard to believe it has been that long. My time is completely spoken for at this point, but thankfully, I'm headed out again next month for the Game Developers Conference, and so will have many more opportunities to catch up with friends.

February 23, 2006

Please Update Your Feed

If you subscribe to a feed from this site, please update it to my atom.xml feed. I'm trying to find a way to be backwards-compatible with the old index.rdf feed that some of my subscribers use, but I haven't figured it out yet. If you haven't seen an update to my news feed since last week, this is why -- you're subscribed to index.rdf. Sorry for the inconvenience.

Things I Wish I Had Known a Week Ago

If only I had known all of this a week ago...

  • Six Apart advertises Yahoo Small Business Web Hosting as their "spotlight partner." However, Yahoo launched its Movable Type hosting program on 12 December with a known bug that would affect Yahoo users but that had already been fixed.
  • Yahoo promises "automatic upgrades to new versions of Movable Type". However, 10 weeks after launching their Movable Type hosting program, they have yet to upgrade users to a version of Movable Type available to them before they launched. Apparently upgrades will be automatic, but very, very slow in coming.
  • Yahoo promises "FastCGI to help you speed up blog posting and updates", but running on their servers, Movable Type is sometimes extremely slow, and occasionally completely unavailable. (I've had the slowness confirmed for me by Six Apart employees experiencing the same problem.)
  • Yahoo promises "24-hour toll-free support" to its Web Hosting customers. Their support, however, does not include support for Movable Type (this is disclosed in the fine print).
  • Also on the topic of Yahoo's support, if you're having problems with mySQL -- entirely possible given that Movable Type relies on it -- they don't support that over the phone. That's not disclosed in any fine print I saw before joining. In my case, the support representative gave me an e-mail address to use instead, but that bounced. When I submitted my question via their support form, it was ignored.
  • Need command-line access to your account? No, Yahoo doesn't offer it, and again, I didn't see that disclosed in any fine print before joining -- in fact, I only found out when I called Yahoo support to find out how to log in to my site. (In my case, I wanted to use ln to create a dynamic link from my new XML feed to a file named the same as my old XML feed. Yes, I could use theoretically accomplish the same effect by editing my Movable Type templates, but the bug referenced above is caused by template editing, and at this point, more than anything, I want my blog to keep working.)
I should point out that the Six Apart people have been as helpful as they could be throughout this. Their hands are tied by Yahoo, because Yahoo obviously controls its own servers.

In any case, it's clear to me now that, as much as I may like Yahoo as a company -- and I do -- their Small Business Web Hosting program is, at least for Movable Type users, something of a disaster. This presents an obvious dilemma: after a week of my blog being mostly down, and having spent far too many hours to count trying to get it back up, do I now take the chance of moving it to a hopefully more reliable hosting service? Or do I leave it where it is, avoid doing anything unusual to it, and hope that Yahoo gets their act together? On the one hand, I really don't want to be stuck with Yahoo Small Business... but right now, the thought of spending even one more hour just trying to keep my blog running is too much to bear. So I'll stay where I am, for the moment. Malheureusement.

Back Up at Last

I can't remember ever being so frustrated with software or a software service as I have been with the combination of Movable Type 3.2 and Yahoo Small Business over the last week. There's a long, long story, and I may tell it at some point, but right now, I'm just happy to have my blog back up. I only hope it stays up.

February 18, 2006

2:19:37

This morning I ran the Dasani Myrtle Beach Half-Marathon, my first half-marathon (and long race of any kind) ever. I wrote that my goal was to finish in 2:20:00, but that I'd be happy finishing in 2:25:00. Not having run more than 10.1 miles at a stretch since late December, I found myself slowing down fairly dramatically near the end -- I ran the first six miles at a 10:01 pace, and I'd estimate that I ran the next four miles at an 11:00 pace, but after that, I was down to something like an 11:40 pace. My legs were fairly sore -- I was having ankle, knee, and iliotibial band problems. I tried to power through the last mile, but just couldn't, and with about 0.6 mile to go, did the math in my head to figure out I could take a 30-second walking break -- any more than that, and I'd be over my goal time. But after that, it was the home stretch, with crowds and cheering and the final turns in sight, and the excitement and my determination to hit my goal time carried me over in 2:19:37 (unofficial, self-timed).

Having so little experience with races, I didn't know what to expect, but this race seemed extremely well-run. There were markers each mile, many with timers (though they displayed gun time, not chip time, and so weren't useful to me, but that was unavoidable) and refreshment stands every two miles, many with electrolyte drinks. After the finish line, there were people to untie runners' shoelaces after the race, extract their chips, and retie them again (which seemed quite beyond me immediately after finishing); people to hang medals around runner's necks; and people to hand out more drinks. It all felt quite efficient to this neophyte.

I'm still thinking about how I feel about the experience, but I know I want to find a way to keep running, and I want to run a full marathon -- but I also want to make sure I'm properly trained and completely ready for it. I can say this: if you have any interest at all in a marathon, half or full, read up on Jeff Galloway's program, follow it, and go for it. It's not as hard as you might imagine, but it's hard enough that you'll feel proud of yourself, and you'll have achieved something that can never be taken away.

February 17, 2006

Half-Marathon Tomorrow

This afternoon, I'm off to Myrtle Beach, SC to run in the Dasani Myrtle Beach Half-Marathon tomorrow morning. A half-marathon is 13.1 miles, which should be well within my range -- I ran 14.0 miles in early January late December, and then 10.1 miles a week and a half ago. But I still have a small case of butterflies in my stomach -- it's only my second race at any distance, and my first long-distance race ever.

On this blog, I generally write about challenges I face after I've accomplished them, rather than before -- I don't like the idea of using my blog as some sort of public self-motivation tool. Nevertheless, I'll go out on a limb here and say that while I'll be satisfied finishing in 2:30:00, and happy if I finish in 2:25:00 or less, my goal is actually to finish in 2:20:00. We'll see what happens.

February 16, 2006

Well, That Was a Bad Idea

Long ago, I gave up on trying to upgrade my copy of Movable Type -- my hosting provider, WestHost, didn't make it easy. I was having problems with spam -- first comment spam, then trackback spam -- but I couldn't install MT-Blacklist and I couldn't upgrade to a newer version of Movable Type that would include anti-spam features. I thought of switching hosting providers, but in the end simply turned on TypeKey authentication for comments (effectively ending comments on my site) and completely disabled trackbacks.

Yesterday, I wrote this blog entry in response to an entry by Andrew Sullivan, my favorite political blogger. Andrew wrote back saying that he'd link to my entry today. I woke up this morning thinking of the hordes of people who would shortly be visiting my site, and thought it would be a great idea if I reenabled trackbacks. "No problem," I thought. "I'll turn them back on and just deal with the spam problem as it happens." Er, not so fast there, Sparky. Within minutes, I was being flooded with trackback spam -- a new entry every 20-30 seconds or so. I couldn't keep up. I once again disabled trackbacks and sat licking my wounds.

"I know," I said. "I'll upgrade to the latest version of Movable Type. It's supposed to be easy -- just upload the files, run, and go." I downloaded Movable Type and read through the installation instructions. Fairly straightforward -- just copy some settings over, upload everything, check permissions, and go. It didn't take me long and I was ready to activate my shiny new Movable Type 3.2-powered blog. I entered the URL and... a series of errors. Not good. I Googled the error text and found that I wasn't the only one to have the same problem. Far more worringly, other WestHost users had reported the same problem months ago, with no word of a fix.

At this point, the main page of my blog was still up, but all functionality was dead, both for users and for me. No comments, no trackbacks, and no new posts. Nothing. About this time, Andrew linked to my blog entry. How much better could my timing get? I decided to switch to a Movable Type-friendly hosting provider, and fairly soon was up and running with Yahoo -- chosen for no other reason than they were the only such hosting provider with 24-hour, toll-free technical support.

It took a few tries to get everything put right again, but now my blog is up and running once more, and hopefully e-mail to me is no longer bouncing as it was a couple of hours ago. And blog readers no longer have to register with TypeKey to be able to comment, and trackbacks are once again enabled. But for the first few hours after Andrew's link to me, my blog was down, save for a static, non-interactive home page.

What did I learn from this? That upgrading to a new version of my blogging software just as one of the world's more popular bloggers was linking to me probably wasn't the best idea I've ever had.

February 04, 2006

My First Race

A week ago today, I participated in my first race ever. I was visiting my friend Tina in Massachusetts who, knowing I'd want to run that weekend, found the perfect (i.e., short) race for me: the Greenfield Winter Carnival Sleigh Bell Road Race, just four miles long.

My goal was to finish in 40:00, or 10:00/mile. I told Tina that I'd be happy with 40:00 and stunned if I ran it in 38:00 (or 9:30/mile).

The first mile was a long shallow downhill followed by a really steep hill at the end, and I ran that in 9:05. That was good by my standards, but it was the start of the race and I was excited. The second mile was flat to uphill, and I was already really tired from the hill at the beginning, so I ran that in 8:55. At that point, I was just thinking, "hold on to where I'm at and finish in 40:00." The third mile was downhill and then flat, and I ran that in 9:22. I worked out the time in my head and realized that if I kept to my overall pace, I would beat 38:00 -- about 37:49 or so. The last mile was a steep downhill and then a shallow uphill, and I was really tired over the last few hundred yards, but I was psyched and so was running okay. I ran it in 8:51, even faster than the first mile, and so I finished in 37:13 for the race, or 9:18/mile.

By anyone else's standards, 9:18/mile over four miles is pretty slow. But for me, it was a glorious thing. During the race, on one of the downhills, when I had the chance to think, I wondered to myself if relative effort is all that matters. If I push myself to my limit -- if I give it everything I have -- and run 9:18/mile, is that just as much a personal victory as anything done by a more accomplished athlete?

February 03, 2006

So Much to Catch Up On...

...yet so little time.

Lots of entries to come. Stay tuned.

January 17, 2006

Rationalizations

This past Sunday, I had scheduled a long run for myself -- sixteen miles, actually, which would have been two miles more than my long run two weeks before and would have been my longest run ever.

About four miles into the run, I started asking myself, "Do I really want to run sixteen miles today?" At six miles, I had a choice: turn left for a sixteen-mile run, or turn right for a nine-mile run. I turned right. Here, presented in the order in which they occurred to me, are the rationalizations I came up with while trying to decide what to do:

  • My first half-marathon is five weeks away, so I could run as little as eight miles today and still be on schedule.
  • I've been tired during my runs lately. I've probably pushed myself too far, too fast -- from seven miles in early December to fourteen miles in early January.
  • My orthopaedist just advised me to permanently cut back on my running once I run a marathon. My knees and ankles just aren't built for it. No wonder I've been in pain.
But the best rationalization of all was the one I came up with after I had made my decision:
  • When people ask me how far I ran this weekend, saying, "I wimped out and only ran nine miles" sounds pretty freaking cool.

January 09, 2006

Green Lasers

For Christmas, I got my son Cameron this green handheld laser -- he had wanted it for some time, and having tried it when it arrived, I can testify that it's very cool. It's a 5-milliwatt laser with a range of just under two miles. The opportunity for mayhem is reduced given that the beam itself is visible, not just the dot where the beam lands (thereby making it easy to trace to the source).

Now (via an entry here) a Chinese company has come along with its own line of green lasers that make the standard 5-milliwatt models sold in the US seem like Fisher-Price toys. They range from 15 to 115 milliwatts, with ranges of 6 to 50 miles. Videos on the Website show the more powerful models cutting through black tape, lighting matches, and the like. Cool! The mayhem is back!

The best part about the site is the marketing text for the lasers. From the description for the 75-milliwatt model: "The phoenix soars for miles blazing a green trail leaving everything scorched in its path." For the 95-milliwatt model: "Wield the chaotic forces of the nexus to create a new star." For the 115-milliwatt model: "Break apart the boundaries of this world and enter on a journey to your new reality! Use the forces contained within this powerful laser to bring light and creation to your new universe!"

How could I not want one of these?

January 03, 2006

At the Gym

From a conversation at Impact Athletics, Cary, NC (my gym for the last year):

Me: What's up tonight? I've never seen so many cars in the parking lot. Are they all New Year's resolutions?

Trainer: That's it. Give them six weeks and they'll all be gone. Sad but true.

January 02, 2006

I Have the Best Friends

Seriously, I have the best friends. I can't fully explain why -- I just know that I do. I'm a lucky person and I know it.

I Have the Best Friends

Jon, Eve, me, Reid, and Michelle, Sticky Fingers, Charleston, SC.

Happy Birthday to Me

This is what happens when you step away from the table to take a phone call (a nice one from my kids, as it happened) while out for dinner on your birthday.

Happy Birthday to Me 2

Surprise birthday cheesecake, Garibaldi, Charleston, SC.

Mrs. Susan Hall Legare

During my visits to Charleston with my friends Eve and Jon, every so often we'll go walking through the small cemeteries that are scattered throughout downtown. Once in a while, a headstone will get to me for some reason. Two and a half years ago, it was a marker for a wife from her "most afflicted Husband". This trip, it was this headstone:

Headstone

This Monument
is inscribed
to the memory of
MRS. SUSAN HALL LEGARE
by her afflicted husband
DR. THOMAS LEGARE.
In her was lost
a tender and devoted wife,
an affectionate mother,
a dutiful daughter,
a faithful sister and relative,
a firm friend, and above all
an unaffected Christian:
who performed
all the various duties of life justly,
leaving the consoling reflection
to her bereaved friends
that her Soul is now at rest
in the bosom of her God.
She died
on the 19th of August 1826
aged 27 years.

January 01, 2006

Wisdom and the New Year

A year ago today, I wrote:

Today I turn 42. I'm hoping that the number 42 really does have special properties -- even if only because I expect it to -- and so as a result I'll be especially wise for the next 365 days.
On the one hand, I can't look back at 2005 and say that I was especially wise. On the other hand, I feel a bit wiser now. Perhaps I'm confusing being wise with becoming wise.

In any case, Happy New Year, and may you all achieve your goals for the year. Well, unless they're evil goals. Then... um, let's just say Happy New Year and leave it at that.

December 31, 2005

14.0

Three years ago, I was training to run a marathon using Jeff Galloway's system -- taking walking breaks, increasing distance by one mile per week, and two weeks between long runs after passing 10 miles. I made it to 13.1 miles with a seriously stiff and sore leg at the end -- but I made it. Two weeks later, I ran 15.0 miles, but was stiff and sore the entire second half of the run. Two weeks after that, I had to stop midway through my long run due to serious pain, and my marathon training attempt was over.

It took visits to two different orthopedists, and finally buckling down and going to physical therapy, but this year my leg finally started to feel better. When I went to Paris last month, I decided to exercise by running instead of buying overpriced day passes to do cardio work in Parisian gyms. My runs were short, but enough to convince me that I might be able to take up running again on a regular basis. I did more running the following week in Orlando, felt great, and my decision was made.

I'm in Charleston for New Year's weekend, and while researching before my trip down, found a rail-to-trail conversion, the West Ashley Greenway -- 10.5 flat miles of packed dirt, unlike the jarring sidewalks on which I usually run. I went out for a 14.0 mile run this morning, and honestly, I was a bit nervous about it given my injury history -- 14.0 miles would be right up in the territory where I hurt myself before.

I shouldn't have been nervous. Though I had some ankle issues, they weren't severe, and my troublesome knee was no trouble at all. I finished my run without any major problems, and a full 54 seconds per mile faster than my 15.0 mile run three years ago. A marathon seems a distinct possibility in 2006.

What have I learned so far from this experience?

  1. Don't ignore pain. It's your body's way of telling you something's wrong, and it's not going to get better on its own.
  2. Don't underestimate the value of physical therapy. A good therapist can teach you exactly what to do to correct your problems.
  3. Don't give up! Life is full of second chances. I seriously thought I would never have another shot at running a marathon. I'm not there yet, but based on how good I felt after my run today, I'm closer than I've ever been.

December 26, 2005

A Belated Merry Christmas

For Christmas 2003 and 2004, my blog entries (2003, 2004) were the same -- an excerpt of dialogue from A Charlie Brown Christmas on the commercialization of the holidays. I thought about posting it again last night, but it just didn't feel right. Is Christmas incredibly over-commercialized? Yes. But it didn't bother me this year because of the time I was able to spend with family and friends. (Probably the fact that I nearly completely avoided the crush of the malls by shopping online helped.)

I took my daughter to my company's holiday party just a few days before Christmas. The day before Christmas Eve, I had my kids with me for presents and Christmas dinner before their holiday trip to California. I spent Christmas Eve with a good friend, and in the evening we attended a traditional French Christmas dinner graciously hosted by friends of mine. After a long run the next morning, I spent Christmas Day with another good friend. So Christmas this year was, for me, about being with friends and family, sharing food and wine and conversation... and it was the best Christmas in a long time.

Not that Lucy wasn't right back in 1965:

Lucy: Look, Charlie, let's face it: we all know that Christmas is a big commercial racket. It's run by a big Eastern syndicate, you know.
But it just didn't seem to matter this year. Besides, we all know that now Christmas is run by Amazon, which means it's run by a big Pacific Northwest syndicate, and somehow that seems far less troubling to me.

Oh, and last year, my resolution was not a single gift card. I ended up buying two, but given that that was down from at least a dozen last year, I'm reasonably happy with my progress.

Anyway, to you all, a belated Merry Christmas. I hope your holidays have been as good as mine.

December 22, 2005

My Date at the Company Party

My company held its holiday party earlier this week. It was our third holiday party in a row at the same venue, and it was gratifying to see that we've gone from a room in the back in 2003 to taking over the entire place in 2005.

The highlight of the party for me was the opportunity to take my daughter Kelsey as my date. She looked so beautiful and carried herself so well that people were astounded to hear that she's 15 and not 18 or 19.

Kelsey and Frank 1

Kelsey and Frank 2

Kelsey and Frank 3

My entire set of pictures from the party can be found here.

December 15, 2005

Christmas Shopping Lessons

I've been staring at my list of Christmas gift recipients for days and days now, with no ideas for most of them, but determined not to resort to gift cards except in extraordinary cases. I finally buckled down tonight and decided that no matter what, I'd have all my Christmas gifts ordered before the evening was done. What did I learn?

  1. Amazon's gift lists are great -- not so much their editors' picks, but their lists of most wished-for gifts, and not always for the gifts on those lists themselves, but for the ideas they lead to.
  2. Amazon Prime -- unlimited two-day shipping for $79 per year -- is incredibly useful. It freed me from worrying about how to combine orders to reduce my shipping costs, and made it economical to ship even relatively inexpensive gifts.
  3. Sadly, Amazon doesn't have everything. Halfway through the process, I was spoiled enough to be irritated when I'd go to another site and realize that I'd have to pay for shipping, or that I'd have to pay sales tax.
So, 21 gifts later, I'm all done. I hope.

October 16, 2005

Has It Really Been Three Weeks?

Yeah, it has. I guess when I drop out of blogging for a while, I really drop out. And I don't even have a good excuse like Joi's "I've been playing lots of World of Warcraft".

August 26, 2005

Expectations and Disappointments

I once heard someone being interviewed on NPR say, "expectations are just disappointments in progress." That certainly seemed to be the case for me as I traveled from North Carolina to Missouri earlier this week.

I expected my flight from Raleigh-Durham to Atlanta to leave at 4:52 PM, my flight from Atlanta to St. Louis to leave at 7:06 PM, and, with the 2.5-hour drive afterwards, to be in my hotel room by 11:00 PM, ready to get a good night's sleep before a meeting first thing Wednesday. Instead, my flight departed Raleigh-Durham at 5:20 PM, was delayed again en route, and diverted to Knoxville for fuel. The pilot's advice was, essentially, don't worry, because all the flights would be late, including our connections. Correction: all the flights were late except my connection, which, by the time we finally arrived in Atlanta, I missed. Instead of leaving at 7:06 PM, I was rebooked on the last flight out, at 10:57 PM. That didn't leave until 1:40 AM. By the time I arrived at my hotel, it was almost 5:00 AM in Missouri, giving me enough time for a half hour nap, a shower, and then heading out to my meeting. In the end, I slept 30 minutes out of 41 hours straight -- maybe 45 minutes if I count a few brief catnaps.

So much for expectations.

August 07, 2005

Sleeping with History

I'm in Charleston visiting my friends Eve and Jon. They live in a beautiful house downtown, in the heart of the city. Eve, who is an architect by training, has researched the house and found tax records that go back to the 1790s, but suspects it dates from as far back as the 1760s.

When I stay with them, each night I lie in bed, look around at the guest bedroom, and wonder to myself, "How many people have been born in this room? How many people have died in this room? How many people have fallen in love in this room? How many people have fallen out of love in this room?" I wonder about all the incredible history that must have taken place in the last two centuries within the walls that surround me.

And then I sleep better than I sleep anywhere else in the world.

July 28, 2005

Military Training Technology Article

My newest article, "Open Source, Open Standards", written for the July 2005 issue of Military Training Technology, is now posted on their Website. Excerpt below:

[M]ilitary customers must require that vendors release all code developed using government funds under an open source software license. This may be the most difficult change to engender, because as a customer, it is easy to say, "I paid for it, so I should own it exclusively." This can be a tempting thought, but it is counter-productive. As more and more military customers release code for their projects under open source licenses, the availability of such code will create a network effect, amplifying the efforts of all vendors by allowing them to build on what already exists. As has been so amply demonstrated in the civilian open source community, this will lead to better products at lower prices.

As a growing number of organizations require the use and development of open source software by vendors, the military simulation learning community will create an ever-growing body of tools and technologies, available for all to build upon, fueling ever-faster growth in capabilities and applications.

July 27, 2005

Heard on the Way into the Office

Heard at the front door of our building this morning:

Me: This is just stupid hot.
Co-worker: Yeah. It's supposed to get up to 102. [The heat index is supposed to reach 115 today.]
Me: The crazy thing is that I have a soccer game today.
Co-worker: Oh, you should just shoot yourself in the head right now.

July 25, 2005

Green Tea Frappucino Part 2

The last time I was in Japan was two years ago. My friend David Smith was there much more recently, and so his memories are undoubtedly fresher. He tells me the US version of Green Tea Frappucino is sweeter than the Japanese version, and not as good.

If someone in Japan is reading this, a little research at a Starbucks on your end would be most appreciated!

This Could Be Rough...

...I have a soccer game in about an hour and a half. As of right now, the temperature here is 96 degrees, with a heat index of 107 (that's 35.5 and 41.6 degrees Celsius respectively).

Speaking of soccer, I've decided not to blog about any more of my games, because the only people in the world who could possibly be interested are my teammates. So game reports are out, though of course, anything interesting to a larger audience will remain material for the blog.

July 23, 2005

Green Tea Frappucino

For me, one of the many nice things about visiting Japan has been the Green Tea Frappucinos available at Starbucks there. Now we have them in the US! This is a happy day.

Here's the even happier part: now I know how they're made. The barista at a nearby Starbucks showed me all the ingredients -- very kind of her, I thought. So here they are:

  • Cream base. She didn't know all the ingredients, but said it was made from skim milk, thickened somehow. How to do this? Add egg whites to skim milk? Or a touch of light cream? I need to ask a friend who's an expert cook.
  • Sweetened green tea powder. This carries the Tazo brand. The ingredients couldn't be simpler: refined sugar and green tea powder. There's an obvious opportunity to lighten the recipe here by using Splenda instead of sugar.
  • Melon syrup. I didn't notice the brand, but Torani has a version, though sadly not in a sugar-free variety. Note the potential for an alcoholic version of this drink by substituting Midori liqueur here.
  • Ice. Of course.
So now to assemble the ingredients at home and try to nail down a workable recipe...

July 19, 2005

We're 2-3... 2-4... 2-5

I haven't blogged in a while about my summer soccer team. The last three games haven't gone so well.

After the last game I blogged, we held our typical Sunday afternoon practice. I was one of the defenders on drills with other players taking turns as forwards. One of our star forwards, a girl with a very strong leg, took a full-power shot just as I happened to be in front of her, not more than two or three yards away. The ball hit me square in the face, and I don't think I've ever felt anything quite like it. I crumpled to the ground. After a moment, I felt my face and realized I wasn't bleeding, so decided to get up... and was actually dizzy and couldn't quite stand up straight at first.

Of course, it's easy to guess what happened at the game the next day -- having never taken a ball in the face like that before, it happened to me again while we were playing. This time, I didn't go all the way down, just to one knee, thinking, "Oh, no, not again," kind of like Douglas Adams' bowl of petunias. Anyway, we lost that game 3-2, but played reasonably well, I thought.

The next game, we faced off against the team that gave us an 11-0 drubbing earlier in the season. We played them harder the second time, and it was closer, but we still lost 5-1.

In last night's game, we started off well, and I personally felt like I played my best all season -- I had a save in goal, and practically flew to come this close to another save when our keeper was out. But we seemed to wear down and ended up losing 6-0, which was frustrating.

So now, by my count, we're 2-5. But though I'm frustrated with our performance, I don't love soccer any less than when we were winning last summer, and win or lose, I wouldn't want to play with anyone else.

June 23, 2005

We're 2-2

After Monday's awful blowout of a game, I'm sure my teammates were as motivated as me to play hard and get back to our winning ways last night.

Our opponents scored twice, both by men, to jump out to an early 2-0 lead. But despite the score, we were playing much better -- playing a much more coordinated and communicative defense, and our forwards were putting together better runs. Sure enough, we scored to make it 2-1, and then kept scoring until we had six unanswered points, finishing the game 6-2.

Last night I learned the value of talking on the field, though I find myself wondering sometimes what the right words to say are. "Switch?" "I'm wide?" "Marking in the middle?" I'd like to find a reference to in-game soccer lingo. It must exist somewhere on the Net...

June 21, 2005

We're 1-2

On Sunday, my soccer team had a good practice. Instead of just scrimmaging, we worked on defensive drills, practicing bringing the ball out and working together to push attackers to the outside. It was good. I felt like we all learned something. At the end of the practice, I said, "I think we're going to have a great game tomorrow."

Um, no.

Last night we lost 11-0. I went back through my blog entries, and our worst loss last summer was by two points, which happened only twice (we were 7-2-2 that season). The other team beat us in every way they could beat us -- they beat us to the ball and to the net; they beat us on offense, in the midfield, and on defense. We spent the entire game backed up on our heels. It wasn't our goalkeeper's fault -- he played well. It was that we let shot after shot through.

After the game, I had conflicting feelings. Part of me lay on the grass, looked up at the sky, and calmly thought, "Well, this is going to happen every so often. Maybe it's a good thing. And besides, there's nothing I can do about it now, so I just need to accept it and come out and have a fun game on Wednesday." But another part of me was angry with myself for the mistakes I made, and couldn't think about anything but getting back out on the field and playing better and harder and winning hugely.

Now? I'm not exactly calm about it, but I'm not exactly angry, either. Calmly angry? Angrily calm? I'm not sure.

June 16, 2005

We're 1-1

My soccer team won 4-0 last night, making us 1-1 on the season so far.

In the first half, my inexperience nearly cost us. In the summer league, we play on a short field, and the keeper isn't allowed to kick past the midfield line on goal kicks. Early in the game, the keeper kicked it to me to kick back to him. This had never happened to me before, and my r-brain said something roughly like, "Giant lizard coming! Panic!" I kicked it back to him, but far too hard, and it was very nearly an own goal.

However, I redeemed myself in the second half. I had my first save ever while guarding the goal. And two of my kick-ins indirectly led to our two goals of the game -- both great to watch, by two of the talented group of women we're so lucky to have. So it ended up being a good game, both for the team and for me.

June 14, 2005

We're 0-1

My summer soccer team got off to a bit of a slow start with a loss last night, 5-3. But at least two-thirds of the team was new, so we were getting used to one another, and we only had two substitutes, so we were all dragging in the heat. We need more players!

June 13, 2005

Summer Soccer Again

Summer has definitely arrived here in North Carolina, which means it's time for Summer Heat, the laid-back version of adult soccer -- no off-sides, no throw-ins, no slide tackles, 25-minute halves.

I played soccer for the first time in last year's Summer Heat, and had a great time. We started and finished well, and ended up near the top of our division.

I didn't find a team last fall, but did make it onto a new team for the spring season. Spring and fall leagues are a bit different, adhering more closely to the rules -- slide tackles aren't allowed, but throw-ins are throw-ins, and off-sides are definitely called. My spring team played at a higher level than my summer team, and to be honest, it was difficult and frustrating at times. In fact, it was so frustrating for me -- feeling like I wasn't doing my part for my team -- that I didn't blog about it at all. But my teammates, all of whom have many years of experience, were kind and gracious, tutoring me when I needed it and putting up with my rookie mistakes.

I decided to rejoin my old team for this summer, mostly just because I missed the people, but I'll go back to my spring team for the fall season and beyond. I'm hoping to be ready for the fall much better prepared to play than I was when spring started.

I wrote last year that soccer is like meditation for me -- when I'm playing, I'm completely focused on the moment. I feel the same way when I'm skiing at or near the limits of my ability, but soccer is quite a bit cheaper and more readily available.

I'll post updates here during the course of the season.

March 29, 2005

The Dordogne

While in France, I spent five days in a rented house in Le Coux, a village along the Dordogne. I had been to France many times, but with the exception of one trip to Cannes, it had always been to Paris. This was my first time staying in rural France, and it was wonderful.

The Dordogne region is a patchwork of medieval villages, vineyards, foie gras farms, winding roads, castles, and sites of prehistoric human habitation, including the famous caves at Lascaux.

It had been cold until just before my arrival, when, according to the people I met there, spring apparently magically appeared, making for wonderful weather while I was there -- perfect for morning walks along the trails criss-crossing the countryside.

All my photos from France are available on Flickr here. A few of my favorites:

Maison a Location

The house I rented while there, originally built in the 1780s.

Dordogne Pathway

A pathway near my rented house.

Morning in the Dordogne

Morning in the Dordogne.

Dordogne Orchard

An orchard.

Home Again

I'm back from a little over two weeks on the road -- vacation in France, speaking at a conference in Maastricht, and then a weekend in New York. Much to update. Stay tuned.

March 21, 2005

I'm Back

After a four-and-a-half week absence, I'm back. Why was I gone? I could point to the 12- and 14-hour days I was putting in at the office for a while there, but I've had those before. I could point to all the travel I've been doing, but I've traveled before. I could point to the fact that I was sick, as sick as I've been in a decade, but that only lasted a week or so. I could point to my vacation, but that was only a week as well (last week, as a matter of fact). I think in the end, I just didn't feel like blogging. I'm not sure why. And since blogging is a hobby, not a profession, if I don't feel like it, I'm not doing it. I'm not sure I'd be blogging today but for some big news (already well-covered) that I'll write about shortly. I can't not write about it, so here I am. And once I'm started, I suppose I'll just keep at it.

February 10, 2005

So Much to Blog, So Little Time

I'm just back from a trip to Northern VA. Tomorrow I'm out the door for a weekend in Charleston, SC. I return Sunday and then leave Tuesday for Boulder, CO. How am I going to blog over the next few days when already I haven't blogged in over a week?

January 22, 2005

Heard over Dessert

Over dessert with my kids at Borders today:

Kelsey: If only they had let Hitler into art school.

Me: But he was a bad artist.

Kelsey: Yeah, but then he wouldn't have joined the army and wouldn't have ended up killing all those people.

Me: Are you suggesting that we let all bad artists into art school so that they don't become mass murderers?

Kelsey: No, just all bad German artists.

January 17, 2005

Papers at TESI 2005

I'm going to be presenting two papers at TESI (Training, Education, and Simulation International) 2005 in Maastricht, Netherlands this March. They are:

Game Technology in Security Training

Training military and civilian personnel alike in security procedures has become a major challenge in today's challenging threat environment. How can public and private organizations effectively train their personnel in often complex and sometimes ambiguous security procedures? Can content for such training be developed in a cost-effective and timely manner? What can be learned from modern entertainment software in the development of security training tools? Are there particular types of game titles that suggest especially useful approaches to this problem? How can security training tools be made engaging and replayable to a generation of personnel who have grown up with Nintendo and PlayStation consoles? Answers to these questions do exist and will be explored in depth in this presentation.

...and:

Open Source Software and Simulation Learning

The open source movement has spread rapidly across products, markets, and geographies. The simulation learning industry is working hard to create and use a variety of standards to mix and match learning content from different vendors. As more standards for learning-focused data representation and interchange are adopted, the value of vendor-created content will continue to increase as a result of its increased usefulness, not only for the customer, but for vendors as well. This is an essential insight into the popularity of open standards: as they enable the creation of progressively more valuable content, and as customers recognized this increased value, vendors stand to gain through increased sales. As more and more customers require the use and development of open source software by vendors, the simulation learning community will create an ever-growing body of tools and technologies, available for all to build upon, fueling ever-faster growth in capabilities and applications.

As soon as they're ready, I'll post them here, and with Creative Commons licensing if at all possible. Now, without further ado, back to trying to finish them on my day off...

January 15, 2005

I Look Like I Know What I'm Doing

Well, until an expert skier sees this and points out a dozen flaws in my form. But until then, I'm going to enjoy the temporary illusion of competence.

Skiing at Snowmass

January 13, 2005

Back from Colorado

I'm just back from Colorado, where I spent the weekend skiing with my son at Buttermilk and Snowmass before spending three days working in Boulder. Back to blogging now...

January 01, 2005

The Meaning of Life, the Universe, and Everything

Today I turn 42. I'm hoping that the number 42 really does have special properties -- even if only because I expect it to -- and so as a result I'll be especially wise for the next 365 days.

I don't feel any wiser, but who knows? Maybe I am. Anything's possible.

While on vacation for Thanksgiving, over dinner a earlier that week, one of the people at the table posed the following question:

What's the most important thing you've learned from the relationships you've been in?
I thought it was an excellent question. We took turns going around the table. The answers surprised me. Some of them were inspiring, but others were sad. When it was my turn, I thought about it, then said:
The most important thing I think I've learned from the relationships I've been in is that no matter what the other person is saying or doing -- no matter foolish or silly or wrong it may seem -- to that person, it's absolutely reasonable and logical.
Is that wise, or just obvious? Am I smart, or just catching up with everyone else 20 years on? I can't tell.

December 25, 2004

Another Scene from a Movie

My new gym was closed yesterday and again today. So the night before Christmas Eve, I was determined to get in one last swim before taking a couple of days off. I was held up in the circle of Hell popularly known as Crossroads Plaza, and so didn't make it to the gym until 40 minutes before closing time. Two employees and I were the only people there.

Me: Are the lights in the pool room on? It looked dark from the outside.

Employee: Oh, you want to swim? I just switched the lights off. I'll go turn them on now.

I changed and walked into the pool room, where the employee was waiting. It was dark except for the lights in the pool itself. The employee pointed to the overhead lights and said they'd take a few minutes to turn on. I thanked him and jumped in for my swim.

The pool room is separated from the main gym by a series of windows. I had been swimming a couple of minutes when the employees shut down the lights in the rest of the gym, which made it really dark except for the in-pool lights. I had swum before in pools in the dark, but always outdoors with lights from buildings around. There was really no external light at all.

As I swam, I thought to myself, isn't there some slasher movie rule about swimming alone in pools at night? There has to be at least one movie where someone gets killed that way and then the audience tut-tuts them for their slasher-attracting act of obvious stupidity.

And then the lights came on.

December 23, 2004

"Isn't This a Scene out of a Movie?"

Yesterday was a momentous day for the company I co-founded, 3Dsolve. For a variety of reasons, we've made the decision not to publicize the details of the event, but it was a huge step forward for us -- validation of what we've achieved so far and the means to accelerate our growth in the future. I can't imagine us being more pleased right now.

We were trying to wrap everything up at the end of the day and I needed a signature from Joi Ito, who is an investor and advisor of ours. I left him an e-mail saying, "Call me the moment you get this," then, knowing it was still before sunrise in Tokyo, went to put in a kilometer swim at my new gym. I got out of the pool, showered, and walked back to my locker to find a missed phone call from Joi. I called him back right then. The signature wasn't a problem -- he just needed to know where to send it. I looked around, realized there was no one else in the locker room, and went through the deal points with him. As I stood there in my towel, talking pres and posts and ratchets and dollars, I thought to myself, "Isn't this a scene out of a movie?" If it isn't, it should be.

Anyway, congratulations to the entire 3Dsolve team on their acheivement, and thanks to all our friends as well -- including Joi for a bit of last-minute help.

December 18, 2004

Interview from Online Educa

After my talk at Online Educa a couple of weeks ago, I did a brief interview with Dhal Anglada of LearningTimes.org. The interview can be found here (scroll down to Entry 2).

December 12, 2004

Online Educa 2004

The week before last, I traveled to Berlin to speak at Online Educa, "the world's largest international e-learning conference and accompanying exhibition and also Europe's largest gathering of e-learning and distance education professionals." According to the Website, 1,703 people registered for the conference -- my on-site estimate had been 1,500-2,000, so that sounds just about right.

Unfortunately, my time at Online Educa was limited to the day of my talk, as I had a meeting in Magdeburg the following day. But from what I saw, it was an excellent conference.

Nancy DeViney, General Manager of IBM Learning Solutions, gave one of the keynote speeches, and I was struck by just how much IBM is focused on the e-learning space and how coherent their vision of the future is. Her talk was on the future of learning, and her key points were:

  1. Learners will be empowered to create their own learning experiences
  2. Collaborative learning environments foster breakthrough thinking
  3. Learning embedded in real-time workflow complements formal and work-enabled learning
  4. Learning enhances relationships across the enterprise and its value chain
To a large extent, her points agree with the trends I'm seeing in military training, the near future of which is most definitely collaborative and embedded.

As for me, my talk was titled, "From Videos to Simulations: New Technologies in Training." I've posted the paper I presented (PDF, 149 KB) and the presentation I gave (PDF, 2.75 MB). I talked about a project that's in progress, in which we're converting existing video-based training in port security to simulation-based training for the US Navy Submarine Learning Center.

The short form of the presentation is that for schedule and budget reasons, we opted for a third-person role playing game style interface rather than a first-person shooter style interface. What we've discovered so far is the following (from my paper):

  • Game-engine derived training tools seem to provide a better sense of place than do their video-based equivalents. Given the obvious inherent quality of video footage, this seems counterintuitive until one realizes that the camera within video footage is fixed, whereas in a simulation-based training tool, if designed properly, students can have much more freedom to move and look within a space. This seems to dramatically increase their knowledge of the space even before entering it in the real world.
  • Game-engine derived training tools are far more extensible than their video-based equivalents. Much of the investment in creating a simulation-based training tool -- environmental artwork, character artwork, dialogue recording, animation sequencing, and so on -- can be effectively reused, whether to update existing products (based on changing training requirements) or to create new extensions to existing products (based on expanding training requirements).
  • Flexibility in development can be a double-edged sword. In the production of video-based training tools, the conclusion of filming is seen as a 'hard stop' by customers -- the point after which the content cannot be changed without significant expense. In simulation-based training tools, a comparable milestone (in terms of the customer's perception) does not exist, and so this increases the requirement for the developer to finalize source content as quickly as possible and explain to the customer the implications of changes to this content.
I'm going to be presenting two papers at TESI 2005 (Training, Education, & Simulation International) in Maastricht, Netherlands this March: "Open Source Software and Simulation Learning" and "Game Technology in Security Training." More on those papers soon.

December 08, 2004

Things to Blog About

Things I should blog about, yet haven't because I've been so busy, but will, unless the mere act of listing them gives me a feeling close enough to actually having written about them that I no longer feel the need to do so:

  • My favorite recipe from Thanksgiving vacation
  • My talk at Online Educa in Berlin
  • Other talks at Online Educa
  • Berlin at Christmas
  • Haus am Checkpoint Charlie
  • What "SWISSAIR" really stands for
  • My impressions of I/ITSEC
  • My two upcoming talks at TESI in Maastricht next March
  • How well Flickr is doing
I'll start getting to this soon... I promise. I mean it this time.

December 01, 2004

"If You See It at Dinner..."

My teenager daughter Kelsey spent Thanksgiving at the house of a friend's grandmother, in a small town a few hours away. When I saw her after her return, I asked her how her trip went. It was okay, except for the meals. Apparently her friend's grandmother has a rule: "If you see it at dinner, you're going to see it until it's gone." Accordingly, the main courses of her meals Thursday and Friday were:

Thursday (Thanksgiving) dinner: Sliced turkey
Friday breakfast: Sliced turkey
Friday lunch: Turkey sandwiches
Friday dinner: Turkey sandwiches

I like turkey, but I had to admit, this sounded a bit rough. "But that wasn't the worst part," Kelsey said. The worst part was breakfast Saturday morning, which consisted of pancakes with turkey. Is this some freakish Southern custom I've managed to avoid these past few years?

November 29, 2004

Second Breakfasts

I'm back from Thanksgiving vacation, which was delightfully spent with my brother and sister-in-law (and her family) in a little town in East Texas.

My sister-in-law fixed lots of amazingly tasty food while I was there. One morning, I had a bowl of cereal early, then found myself eyeing leftover cranberry pie around 10:00 AM. "It's okay," she said. "After all, hobbits have second breakfast." I embraced her philosophy, and later in the week, had another second breakfast of her pumpkin-chocolate cheesecake. I ran four of the days I was there and I'm sure it barely made a dent in working off all that I ate. How do hobbits keep in shape, anyway?

November 20, 2004

On Vacation...

...with my brother and sister-in-law. I'm facing a hard week of multiple Thanksgiving dinners, some serious Xbox action, and power lounging. Keep me in your prayers.

October 06, 2004

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

The good: I've finally upgraded to the newest version of Movable Type, version 3.11. This means that comments are once again functional, after I disabled them months ago in response to severe levels of comment spam (and an inability on my part to get MT-Blacklist working).

The bad: It wasn't easy to get done. I couldn't get the upgrade version to install, and so I ended up having to learn a bit of MySQL -- enough to delete my database contents so that they could be rebuilt from my backup data.

The ugly: In the process of rebuilding from my backup data, all my entry URLs were changed. All of them. That means work for me to correct intra-blog links, and it means that pre-existing links from external sites into individual entries are now broken.

September 09, 2004

"We Apologize for the Inconvenience"

I apologize for the lengthy gap -- nearly three weeks now -- in my blogging. Too much work, too little free time, the usual suspects. Those of you who blog, you know the drill. Except for those of you who never miss a day. You don't know the drill. But the rest of you? You know it.

August 07, 2004

My Favorite Concert Ever

After fourth row right side tickets to the Sarah McLachlan show at RBC Center last week, I wondered if I could possibly be any luckier with the Barenaked Ladies show at Alltel Pavilion. It has been years since I was at Alltel Paviilion, so I wasn't familiar with the layout. I picked up the tickets at the Will Call desk and my son Cameron asked me what the seats were. The tickets read Section 2, Row B, Seats 9 and 10. I wondered, "could Section 2 be the center? Could Row B be the second row?" Not wanting to get up Cameron's hopes, I said that I couldn't tell how good the seats would be until we got there. In fact, they were second-row center seats, the best I've ever had at a concert.

We arrived about a half-hour into Alanis Morrissette's performance. I like some of her Jagged Little Pill-era songs, but overall, it struck me as a fairly run-of-the-mill rock-and-roll performance -- fine as it went, but nothing unique, no special connection with the audience.

When the Barenaked Ladies came out, it was nothing short of amazing -- the energy, the passion, the connection, all of it. And our view was incredible.

Courtesy of barenaked.net, here's the set list for the performance:

Brian Wilson
Some Fantastic
Maybe Katie
In the Car
Another Postcard
For You
Lilac Girl
One Week
Pinch Me
The Old Apartment
Have You Seen My Love?
Too Little Too Late
Lovers in a Dangerous Time
It's All Been Done
Shopping
When I Fall
If I Had $1,000,000
As I told a friend, the only way it could have been better would have been if it had been a BNL-only tour, giving them two hours to play instead of an hour and a half. I missed some of my favorite songs. But it's a small complaint to be sure.

It's going to take a lot to top that and ever have a better concert experience. It's hard to imagine, really. As for Cameron, this being only his second rock concert, I'm sure he's completely spoiled. Not bad for a 15 year-old.

July 22, 2004

We Finished 7-2-2

My soccer team played to a 0-0 tie last night, finishing 7-2-2 on the season. Though we didn't come away with a win, I felt it was our best game in a number of ways, and it was a great way to end my first season of soccer.

We played a good team who played a tough but clean game. They fought hard; so did we. They threatened to score on a number of occasions; so did we. Their forwards and keeper played especially well; so did ours. When the referee called the end of the game, after exchanging congratulations, someone asked, "Who wants to keep going?" We talked it over briefly and everyone on both teams wanted to play on. The referee graciously agreed to go on as well, and when he asked, "Do you want this to count?" the answer was an immediate "Yes!" We kept playing, both teams with just as much intensity, until the referee called the game on account of darkness. There was another round of congratulations and I honestly didn't feel bad about walking away with a tie.

We won't know for some time how we finished in our division -- second or third, I suspect, but whatever the result, I had a tremendous amount of fun, learned a great deal (and realized how much I have yet to learn), made new friends, and found a new passion in my life. I suppose old dogs can, after all, learn new tricks.

July 20, 2004

We're 7-2-1!

My soccer team returned to winning form with a 5-0 victory last night. After two straight losses, it felt awfully good to be winners once again.

I was sure before the game started that we were going to win. There was an energy around the team that just felt right. Everyone showed up not only on time, but early, so we had plenty of time to stretch, practice, and talk about what we wanted to do. It made me even more sure that had the team all shown up on time for our last game, we would have won that one, too.

I've been meaning to write for a while now about why I enjoy soccer so much. As I told a friend last night, it's like meditation for me. When I'm on the field, I'm not thinking about anything except the game -- I'm totally in the moment. I'm not thinking about work, relationships, money, or anything except what's happening in the game. When it comes to real meditation, I have yet to reach the point where I can focus like that... but a soccer game takes me there instantly.

If we win our final game of the season tomorrow, we'll finish 8-2-1 -- a respectable record, but we won't know for a while whether we ended up first in our league.

July 14, 2004

We're 6-2-1, Damnit

After going undefeated through the first seven games of the season, my soccer team is now 0-2 in its last two games, having lost 4-2 tonight.

Tonight's game was much different from the game on Monday. The other team played a tough but clean game. The weather was fine and we played the full time. Our most serious problem was that we had a number of players miss the game entirely or show up late. As the game started, we had to play one player down, and we were missing four of our five best players. Players began to show up during the first half, but it was hard to recover our composure on the fly. We regrouped at the half and began to come back, holding our opponents scoreless, but we could only score twice ourselves.

I played better tonight than I did on Monday; I'm not sure why. I know that I was determined not to play sloppily or make stupid mistakes, and for the most part, I didn't. That's something.

A friend wrote to me after my last game and pointed out the character-building aspect of losing. True enough, but I think I've built enough character now, thank you.

July 13, 2004

Found Memories

A couple of months ago, my Aunt Dorothy died -- the last survivor among my father and his two sisters. Afterwards, I found myself remembering things about times with her that I hadn't thought of in years, even decades.

As a teenager, I spent a summer with Dorothy and her husband John in Oklahoma, part of it at their vacation cabin on a lake there. Besides learning to water ski that summer, I found an old, rarely used shortwave radio there. At night, when everyone went to sleep, I stayed up late tuning in distant stations. I didn't have a listening guide, and didn't know any foreign languages, but I found it all quite exotic. I can't be sure, but I seem to remember listening to Radio Moscow's English-language service and being amazed that one could listen directly to the voice of the "enemy." That, plus my dad taking me to see Ice Station Zebra as a kid, led me to wanting to learn join military intelligence and learn Russian.

I hadn't thought of this in many, many years, and I'm sure I never told Dorothy... so she never knew the impact that summer had on the course my life took.

July 12, 2004

We're 6-1-1

My soccer team lost tonight, 3-1, and I'm as angry as I've been about anything in a while now.

I'm angry at the other team for their style of play, which seemed often to consist of pushing and shoving (especially by one of their players in particular) just up to the point of being called by the referee. Legal? Yes. Good sportsmanship, especially in a recreational league? No.

I'm angry at the referee for calling the game five minutes into the second half, just as we were starting to come back. It started to rain, and then we saw thunder and lightning, and that was it. My understanding is that according to the rules, calling the game is what's supposed to happen. However, the rain stopped, at least for a while, not five minutes later, and I didn't see another burst of lightning until I was almost home. We could have easily played on.

Mostly I'm angry at myself. I felt good but played sloppily. I spent much of the game frustrated with my attempts to get the ball to my teammates.

Given that we hadn't lost yet this season, and that this is my first season of play, tonight was my first soccer loss ever. It's harder to take than I thought it would be, and has definitely left a bad taste in my mouth.

I think that's a good thing.

June 24, 2004

We're 5-0-1!

The now-obligatory soccer match report: my team won 7-0, making us 5-0-1 on the season -- or as our captain Tony says, "five, oh, and a sister kiss."

My daughter Kelsey went with me to cheer us on this evening. Well, that and watch boys. Okay, mostly watch boys. But she was there! Seriously, she was very sweet to come along with me. After the game, I asked her how she thought I had played. She considered my question carefully. "You're determined," she said.

I'll take "determined."

June 22, 2004

We're 4-0-1!

I've been so busy lately that it seems the only blog entries I have time for are soccer-related. I keep saying I'm going to make the time and get back to other topics, but it just hasn't happened yet.

My soccer team won again last night, 2-1, making us 4-0-1 on the season. It was a good game and I feel like I'm improving a bit each time I'm out there. Not that we track such things, but last night I had my first assist on a goal, which was fun.

After the game, I said to my teammates that one of the things I liked about us was how enthusiastic we were to get out on the field. I noticed during the game that our opponents were having to coax substitutes off the sidelines to come in for them. With us, it's the other way around.

As for the one tie we've had, we confirmed last night that the direct kick (i.e., a kick awarded on a penalty that goes straight into the goal without touching a player) on which our opponents tied us should not have taken place under our league's rules, so we're protesting the decision. We might end up 5-0.

June 17, 2004

We're 3-0-1!

I know, I know: I've completely given my blog over to discussion of soccer and related injuries. At least it seems that way. And I know that I could probably count all the people who care on one hand (and have fingers to spare). But it's what has been on my mind of late. At some point, I'll settle down, it will become routine, and I'll get back to blogging about more popular topics. I'll also work on upgrading to the latest version of Movable Type so that I can re-enable comments.

Anyway, our soccer team won again last night, 5-2, making us 3-0-1 on the season so far. I came out with about five minutes left in the first half and our unofficial co-captain complimented me on my play. I replied, "I actually started to feel like I was a soccer player out there." I meant that as opposed to feeling like someone playing the role of a soccer player and faking it. There were moments of decision where I felt like I knew what I was supposed to do without thinking about it. And there were moments where I did what felt right and it worked out. It wasn't quite at the transcendant level of learning to carve parallel turns, but it was up there.

It turns out that I didn't pull my thigh muscle, I tore it. I'm now the proud owner of the largest bruise I've ever seen on anyone in my life. In fact, the people who have seen it have all said it's the worst bruise they've ever seen. That's because it's not a bruise in the typical sense of the word -- it's discoloration where the muscle tear bled out. But I've played two games on it, and actually felt like I was playing at 80-90 percent last night, so it can't be too bad.

June 15, 2004

We're 2-0-1

My soccer team, the Defenders, played to a tie last night, so we're 2-0-1. We had a number of new players on our team, so I think we did well to come together as we did. Personally, I was happy to be playing at all.

Sunday morning, I took my daughter for a workout at the gym -- our first together. She wanted to focus on weight training, so that's what we did. I never do lower-body work when I'm lifting, and she wanted to, so we included some of that in our workout. Not being used to it, I pulled a muscle in my right thigh, though I didn't realize it at the time. During my cardio workout afterwards, I felt a little pain, but shrugged it off and kept going (mistake #1).

That evening, my team had soccer practice. My sons went with me to help out. As the practice began, I wound back and took a hard kick on the ball and instantly felt the full extent of the pull. Not wanting to miss the practice, I stretched for a while and then hobbled through it (mistake #2). After half an hour of practice, we were challenged to a pickup game by some people on the next field. Despite the fact that I was in pain, and had a game the next night, I played the full half-hour (mistake #3).

I'm sure it's obvious that by the time I woke up Monday morning, I could barely move. I started taking ibuprofen (the anti-inflammatory wonder drug) and stretched before going into work. I took more ibuprofen during the day and stretched again. Then I took yet more ibuprofen and stretched right before the game. Thankfully, I was able to play, and able to run nearly at full speed.

If you're curious, yes, I learned my lesson: at the first sign of pain, stop, figure out what's going on, and treat it appropriately. Had I taken it easy Sunday night, and done the right kind of streches and used an anti-inflammatory, I probably would have been in better condition by game time Monday.

A slightly cynical friend of mine listened to my story yesterday and gave me three weeks before I quit playing. That's not going to happen.

June 10, 2004

We're 2-0!

My soccer team is now 2-0, after a 6-2 win last night. I play in a coed league in which goals by women count for two points. One of our two primary forwards is a woman and she had three goals last night, one on a penalty kick. So far, the team is doing a good job of feeding her the ball and she's doing a great job of being in position to make plays.

I felt like I played a little better last night. I went on a walk Tuesday with my son Duncan, who has played defense for soccer teams for many years now, and he gave me some good tips. I found it quite rewarding to be learning from my own child. There was something gratifying about him having things to teach me instead of it always being the other way around. I think that's a good sign.

In any case, as I wrote to a friend:

I have a lot to learn. Where to stand on a near corner. Where to stand on a far corner. Where to stand on our own corner. When to push up. When to fall back. How to defend one-on-one. When to cross. When to clear.
Of course, my first thought was to turn to the Internet. Amazingly, at first search, I couldn't find a free "how to play soccer" resource on the Web. I would have thought there would be something just like that. Market opportunity?

June 07, 2004

We're 1-0!

One of the items on my list of things to do in life has been to play soccer in a league. I haven't played an organized team sport since I was in high school (and that was orienteering, the kind of sport where you get a letter but get made fun of if you have the temerity to sew it on your jacket).

I finally joined the Triangle Adult Soccer League for their coed summer session and my team, the Defenders, had its first game tonight. We won, 3-1! What a nice way to start my soccer playing days.

Early on in the game, I happened to be in the right place at the right time and came this close to scoring the first goal. My shot went just over the net. It was luck, because after that, my lack of experience showed. I know I have a lot to learn. But what fun!

Why didn't I do this a long time ago?

June 04, 2004

On Board the USS Hartford

I've been in Groton, Connecticut this week with a team from my company. We have a contract with the US Navy Submarine School to develop a simulation-based port security trainer for the Submarine On Board Training group. Our job this week has been to capture the interior and exterior of a 688I Los Angeles-class fast attack submarine, the USS Hartford, such that we can model it in 3D.

Spending most of the week inside a nuclear submarine has been extremely interesting and something I wasn't sure I'd ever get to do, despite having designed a submarine simulation game (Tom Clancy SSN) earlier in my career. Thought I knew a bit about submarines, I have to admit that I wasn't prepared for how tight the conditions actually are aboard them. I walked away impressed with the submariners who spend months at a time in such conditions.

Until this week, the most expensive vessel I had been on was a Boeing 777, which costs up to $231 million. A Los Angeles-class nuclear submarine like the Hartford costs $900 million. It was sobering to think of that -- to look around and say to myself, "this is almost a billion dollars of hardware."

The officers and crew of the Hartford were extremely gracious to us, so although it has been a very long week, it has been productive and fun, too.

I'll post some pictures when I'm back in the office and have access to them -- probably sometime next week.

May 20, 2004

At the CDC

I had an interesting but all-too-short visit to the Centers for Disease Control yesterday. As I noted in my previous entry, I was looking forward to it partly because I have so much respect for the CDC -- it seems to me to be consistently competent and resistant to partisanship.

The best part of the visit was when my colleagues and I were given a tour of the CDC's new Emergency Operations Center. As I said afterwards, "It was the first government facility I've ever been in that really felt like something out of the movies." Large projection screens on the walls, flat panel displays and task lighting, continuously updating threat monitors, conference rooms with liquid crystal windows... it was all quite impressive. I didn't see more than 10-15 people while I was there -- thankfully, there are no major public health crises at the moment -- but according to our host, had I visited during the SARS outbreak last year, I would have seen every seat filled.

Sadly, no photos are allowed within the CDC, but there's a press release on the EOC here, and a few photos (none a good overall shot) can be found by going here and searching on "emergency operations".

I asked about the Andromeda Strain facility, with pools of antimicrobial fluids to swim through and an onsite nuke just in case something gets loose, but apparently that doesn't exist. Or so I was told...

May 19, 2004

Off to the CDC

I'm off to Atlanta today for a meeting at the Centers for Disease Control. Besides the business interest in going, I'm looking forward to the visit because I've never been to the CDC, and it's probably the government agency I admire the most. From the outside, the CDC usually seems well-run, efficient, and non-partisan. It should be interesting.

May 07, 2004

Sorry About That

I've been busy, away, the usual excuses. Back to the blogging grindstone.

April 26, 2004

Contradictions

I love to cook for friends and family, but if it's just me, and there aren't any leftovers, it might be Pop-Tarts for dinner.

I love to ski, but know that I have little talent for it (and don't particularly care).

I can be a wimp about the cold, but one of my goals is to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro before its ice cap is gone.

I think cigarettes are a blight on the modern world, but I enjoy a good Cohiba now and then.

I speak French, Russian, and Japanese with good accents, but my vocabulary in each is terrible, so I quickly get myself into all sorts of trouble.

I think hiking is great, and try to get out regularly, but when night comes, there's nothing like a warm bed in a cozy room.

I'm disappointed to see the US-centric homogenization of world culture, but it sure is cool to have Starbucks in Tokyo.

I love watching movies, but I despise broadcast television.

I'm fascinated with and admire many foreign cultures, but I worry about the long-term effects of immigrant populations that don't assimilate into their adopted countries.

I was born in California and reside in North Carolina, but I feel truly at home in the Pacific Northwest, despite having lived there less than two years in total.

My entire career has been based on computing technologies, and I don't go anywhere without my laptop, but I occasionally wonder how much net benefit we derive from personal computers.

I'm grateful for having been born in the US, and love much about my country, but I sometimes think I might be happier someplace kinder and gentler.

I'm agnostic, but I want to make the kora around Mt. Kailas, the Tibetan trek that is said to cleanse past sins.

I find that as I cast off possessions, I become happier, but that doesn't stop me from wanting an iPod.

March 11, 2004

Bisy Backsun

I'm sorry I haven't posted anything these past few days. I had intended to blog often from Seattle (where I am until heading to Vancouver tomorrow morning), but I have been struggling to adapt to the time change (oh, for the days when I could fly overseas and not miss a wink of sleep -- now I have trouble just flying across the country); I have been fighting off some kind of bug today, causing me to cancel appointments with two friends (sorry, Michel and Jeannie); and in the midst of all this, I have been dealing with an unexpected and very difficult personal situation. When it rains, it pours.

I'll get back to posting just as soon as I can, and try to catch up on this trip, especially the great people I've seen.

February 27, 2004

Questions? Answers.

Yes, I do cover subjects other than the failures of President Bush and my belief in the right of same-sex couples to wed. It's just that these have been on my mind of late.

No, I'm not a registered Democrat. I'm registered as an Independent. I think of myself as a middle-of-the-road pragmatist, pushed leftward over the last couple of years by the right wing agenda of the current US administration.

No, I'm not entirely happy with the Democratic contenders for the presidency. But I will happily vote for either Kerry or Edwards rather than suffer through another four years of President Bush.

Yes, I'm going to write again about same-sex marriage. Soon, in fact.

February 07, 2004

Isn't It Ironic?

Two aspects of my joining Ludicorp's board of directors strike me as ironic.

First, though Ludicorp founder Stewart Butterfield is a rising star in the social networking software community, my introduction to him didn't come through my connections to that community. I count LinkedIn founder Reid Hoffman and super-blogger Joi Ito as good friends, and know many other people working on social networking software services, yet I met Stewart through my brother Eric, who works in the computer game industry. Eric knew someone at Ludicorp, knew of my interest in Vancouver, and arranged an introduction. In other words, non-software-enabled social networking led to my becoming involved with a social networking software firm.

Second, the reason Eric thought to introduce me to a Vancouver-based company was because of my then-girlfriend, who is from the area. Prior to coming back to North Carolina to co-found 3Dsolve, I had moved up to Seattle -- and later to Vancouver -- to work at QDesign, a Vancouver-based audio software technology firm. Moving back East meant a long-distance relationship, and Eric kindly wanted to help with that. However, the relationship ended last year, and my ex-girlfriend and I have both moved on, negating the original reason for the introduction. Past relationships notwithstanding, though, I love Vancouver and would have been grateful for any reason to get out there more often. Little did I suspect that I would be presented with such a wonderful opportunity to do so.

December 25, 2003

Thankful at Christmas

I normally don't write in this blog about the company I helped to found and continue to work for, 3Dsolve. I can be passionate about my beliefs when it comes to political and social issues, and many of those beliefs conflict with the stated practices of our current US Administration (as well as any other likely to be in power anytime soon). Given that much of 3Dsolve's business is in government contracting, it has seemed best to me to maintain a separation between my business and personal lives. With that said, I've been thinking lately about how fortunate I am when it comes to my job, and I don't want to let those thoughts go unwritten. I'm therefore making an exception to my general rule and writing about 3Dsolve today.

3Dsolve is the second company I've helped found. (We'll call the first "Company A." If you're motivated, you can easily figure out the name, but to provide a modicum of protection to the innocent and the guilty alike, I'll leave it out of this entry.) 3Dsolve is as different from Company A as night and day. At Company A, we had what amounted to guaranteed funding. At 3Dsolve, nothing has been guaranteed; we've had to fight for everything. Company A was overwhelmingly owned by non-employees. 3Dsolve is primarily owned by its founders (and, naturally, all new employees receive options). Company A's CEO was chosen for us and brought in from outside our industry. At 3Dsolve, we chose our CEO from among the founders because we felt he was the best person for the job. Although the core technical and creative team at the Company A had worked together for some time, the company quickly grew with new hires unknown to us. At 3Dsolve, only once have we hired someone we hadn't worked with before (and we were very careful about that).

At 3Dsolve, we do our best to treat our partners as friends and our co-workers as family. We work hard to build the best possible products for our customers -- that's not just a saying; it's the truth. In short, 3Dsolve is the company I've wanted to help build for a long time now. I hope and believe that I'm helping to create exactly the kind of company at which I'd want to work -- and I do. It hasn't always been easy, but nothing worth having ever is.

Why say all this now? Because in this holiday season, I want to recognize my co-workers for the opportunity they give me every day to work with them -- the opportunity to work with people whose passion for their jobs, loyalty no matter what the challenge, humor in the face of adversity, and concern for their fellow human beings make me excited to come into work each morning. To these co-workers, thank you all for this wonderful gift -- the value and uniqueness of which I try to keep in mind every single working day.

Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.

December 22, 2003

BNL's Set

Following up on my previous entries, here's the set that the Barenaked Ladies played last Friday:

It's All Been Done
Pinch Me
Oh! Susanna Rap
Another Postcard
Maybe Katie
Green Christmas
Call and Answer
Testing 1, 2, 3
Too Little Too Late
Alcohol
One Week
The Old Apartment
If I Had $1,000,000
Encore
Do They Know It's Christmas?
Brian Wilson

Now, before this becomes a BNL blog, back to our regularly scheduled content...

December 18, 2003

BNL, Here I Come

Tomorrow night, I have the pleasure of seeing the Barenaked Ladies perform at the Longbranch Saloon in Raleigh. The first (and last) time I saw BNL perform, it was at GM Place in Vancouver, a large venue. From what I've seen, the Longbranch is fairly small, so this should be fun.

According to a fan site, BNL's last two sets on tour have been:

It's All Been Done
Pinch Me
Another Postcard
Maybe Katie
Jane
Aluminum
Green Christmas
War On Drugs
Testing 1, 2, 3
Too Little Too Late
One Week
The Old Apartment
If I Had $1,000,000
Encore
Brian Wilson
Do They Know It's Christmas?
and...
It's All Been Done
Testing 1, 2, 3
Maybe Katie
Pinch Me
Alcohol
Another Postcard
One Week
The Old Apartment
If I Had $1,000,000
Brian Wilson
If their set tomorrow includes only the songs in common from their last two performances, I'll be a happy guy. Anything more than that would be a bonus.

December 08, 2003

Self-Referentiality

I just realized the self-referentiality of my previous entry.

The discovery of a trivial piece of information on a social network led me to write an entry about the impact of the knowledge carried within social networks on interpersonal relationships, with my experience as the catalyst. I myself have added to the "persistent, available, and malleable" information about my life and my relationships -- however abstractly -- using social software (Movable Type). The act of documenting this phenomenon has increased my participation in it.

Too Much Knowledge ≠ Good Thing?

I've spent a good deal of time discussing social networks with people far more knowledgeable than me. I use social networks for a variety of purposes (especially LinkedIn for business networking, with Ryze, Friendster, Tribe, and other social networking services trailing far behind). Until, however, an experience today in which I discovered new information on a social network, I failed to appreciate how personal an effect social networks (as currently instantiated by social networking services) could have.

Some years ago, going through a difficult personal situation, I by chance found another participant's accounts of the situation in a public place. I understood their motivation as well as their right to do so, but this understanding didn't make it any easier for me to read what they had written. What happens as more and more of us capture our interpersonal relationships through social networking services? What happens when the trail of our personal lives is out there, waiting to be followed, always just a click away, for us or anyone else? What will the effect of this be? Will more knowledge empower us? Will transparency in social networks fundamentally improve human relationships? Or is too much knowledge sometimes a bad thing? Is there information we're better off without? I honestly don't know, but I think we're going to find out, and soon. Social networking isn't a fad, it's a huge trend, and we're just at the start of it.

When social networks reach a billion humans through their cell phones, when social networks form the open directories of the future, when we share our words, our sounds, and our images with our social networks on a continuous basis, when we leave behind trails of the experiences that form our lives, when these trails live in multiple networks and are interconnected, persistent, available, and malleable... then we'll begin to comprehend how social networking will change us, how it will change our perception of ourselves and those around us, how it will change the fundamental nature of how we create, sustain, and destroy relationships.

Oh, and this is all going to happen within five years or so. Get ready.

November 12, 2003

The Value of Friendship

I was on the phone yesterday with one of my dearest friends -- someone I've known for 15 years. We're good about telling one another what each means to the other. "What we have is beyond friendship," I said. "I know... it's like we're family," she said.

On reflection, I think of our friendship as more than family -- after all, one doesn't choose one's family, but we chose each other. But like family, we've stuck together through thick and thin, and I know we always will. She knows that she could call me in the middle of the night, from the middle of nowhere (which isn't out of the question, given her travels), needing help, and I'd find a way to get there. And I know the same is true in reverse.

This was brought into focus for me by a very different interaction I had later in the day... a friendship that turned out to be more ephemeral than I had thought it to be. It reminded me of how precious true friendship is and how lucky people are when they find it.

September 13, 2003

Isabel Headed This Way?

Hurricane Isabel, with 160 mile-per-hour winds, may be headed for North Carolina.

The forecast path shows it hitting North Carolina sometime next week. The good news is for me that I'll be in Vancouver then -- I seem to have a knack for being on the road when awful weather hits this area -- but I'll still have family and friends here. I'm concerned, especially given what happened when Hurricane Fran struck this area (which I'll write about another time).

September 05, 2003

What Country Am I?

I took the Country Quiz the other day. Here are the questions, my answers, and the result:

  • How's your quality of life? [Good | Could be better] Good
  • What climate do you prefer? [Stay cool! | Mild and tropical, baby] Stay cool!
  • Do you ski? [Yes | No] Yes
  • How do you resolve conflicts? [Let's talk about it. | I hate you. Die.] Let's talk about it.
  • Are you social? [Go away. | Hi there.] Hi there.
  • How do you feel about foreigners? [They make me nervous. | Let's have open borders.] Let's have open borders.

2003-09-05-01.gif

You're Canada!
People make fun of you a lot, but they're stupid because you've got a much better life than they do. In fact, they're probably just jealous. You believe in crazy things like human rights and health care and not dying in the streets, and you end up securing these rights for yourself and others. If it weren't for your weird affection for ice hockey, you'd be the perfect person.

I wasn't trying to be Canada, but there you go.

Interestingly, when I was in Japan this summer, Joi Ito took me out for dinner to a private club located beneath the Canadian Embassy in Tokyo. Walking through the lobby, I mentioned to him my affinity for Canada. "You could be a Canadian," he replied. "You like to get along with people." True enough.

August 24, 2003

My Next Car

I've been watching closely news on the 2004 Prius, the redesign of Toyota's successful hybrid automobile.

2003-08-24-01.jpg

Now the New York Times has a review of what I think will be my next car:

[T]he redesigned Prius goes on sale in mid-October at $19,995 -- a price that has not changed since the first version was introduced in the United States in 2000...

Having grown five inches in length, the new Prius is closer in size to the compact Corolla, yet it has more rear legroom than the midsize Camry. It is also more powerful and more fuel-efficient than the old Prius, Toyota says, and its emissions have been cut by nearly 30 percent.

With its larger cabin, the Prius is now classified as a midsize car by the Environmental Protection Agency, albeit at the lower end of the midsize range. The interior looks classier; it manages to be both elegant and a bit futuristic...

The car runs on Toyota's second-generation hybrid-drive system and its third generation of hybrid-battery technology...

Toyota has improved its system so that the Prius can operate more often on electricity only, in stop-and-go city driving. (Hence the gains in gas mileage and emissions.) But you have to keep a very light foot on the throttle to keep the gas engine from cutting in.

Because the Prius relies more on the electric motor around town, and the gas engine at speed, its fuel economy figures are higher for city driving than for the highway - the opposite of most cars. The Environmental Protection Agency's preliminary fuel economy ratings for the Prius -- which comes only with a continuously variable automatic transmission -- are 59 m.p.g. in town and 51 m.p.g. on the highway. The '03 Prius was rated at 52 in town and 45 on the highway.

Although the 1.5-liter engine was carried over from the old model, it is a bit more powerful, with 76 horsepower (at 5,000 r.p.m.), up from 70. The electric motor is also more powerful, producing 67 horsepower from 1,200 to 1,540 r.p.m. and peak torque of 295 pounds-feet from zero to 1,200 r.p.m. That compares with 44 horsepower and 258 pounds-feet for the previous model.

While this doesn't seem like a lot, the 2,890-pound Prius is hardly underpowered, even when merging into fast-moving California freeway traffic. It takes 10 seconds to accelerate from zero to 60 m.p.g., Toyota says, a reduction of 2.7 seconds.

59 miles/gallon on the highway and 51 miles/gallon in city driving? Incredibly low emissions? Plenty of interior space? Cool styling? DVD navigation system? Built-in Bluetooth? Excellent.

This is the car for environmental geeks and geeky environmentalists.

July 21, 2003

The Birth of Acrobat

In his entry on our lunch together last week, Robert Scoble wrote:

[T]oday I had lunch with Frank Boosman, who was one of the original program managers for Adobe Acrobat.
At first I was just going to write an entry saying that I was the original product marketing manager for Acrobat, but later thought that perhaps I should use this opportunity to tell the story of how Acrobat came to be.

From late 1998 until its acquisition by Adobe in early 1990, I worked for Emerald City Software, a 15-person firm focused on Adobe-related utlities. Founded by Randy Adams, Emerald City's first product had been Lasertalk, a development tool that used proprietary code licensed from Adobe to read the raw image buffer of a PostScript printer. The resulting program enabled programmers to execute PostScript programs and then view the results. At the time -- prior to the availability of Display PostScript on desktop PCs -- this was quite unique.

Later, Randy started thinking about using this same technology to provide a graphic arts utility with high-quality preview. (Keep in mind that at the time, graphics libraries for Macintosh and Windows were extremely limited.) I was at Mediagenic (a short-lived name for Activision, followed by an even shorter-lived name for the applications division, the truly horrible "TEN-point-O") and, having met Randy at a local event, was discussing with him the idea of publishing such a title. Eventually I decided to leave Mediagenic, Randy decided to self-publish his program, and I joined Emerald City Software as its first product manager. We shipped the product, Smart Art, early in 1989.

(By a complete coincidence, at Mediagenic I was the product specialist (i.e., product manager) for Open It, a Macintosh software product that enabled print-to-disk and document viewing -- Acrobat Light, in essence. Open It was written by Randy Ubillos, who went on to create Adobe Premiere and Apple's Final Cut Pro, but that's another story.)

Soon after shipping Smart Art, we learned that Adobe was going to ship a new type utility for the Macintosh, Adobe Type Manager (ATM), that would provide high-quality scalable typefaces on-screen and on non-PostScript printers. We also learned that a proprietary backdoor interface into ATM would enable us to render not only scaled text, but rotated and sheared text as well. Randy had the idea to create an Macintosh desk accessory that would enable users to draw text on a curve, distort it, and then paste it into word processing or drawing documents. (I'm sure this all sounds quite straightforward, but at the time, it wasn't even clear this was possible until Randy coded a proof-of-concept version.) We shipped this product, TypeAlign, on an amazingly short schedule -- nine weeks from proof-of-concept to golden master -- in order to ride the wave of ATM publicity.

Another PostScript-related product followed, and by early 1990, we were in serious discussions to be acquired by Adobe. The acquisition happened around February of 1990.

Immediately after the acqusition, I was actually quite concerned about what I was going to be doing at Adobe. I looked around and saw product marketing managers working on extremely high-profile products, whereas I was working on a proposal to update SmartArt using the Adobe Illustrator rendering engine. It felt... well, small, actually. The proposal was made in April of 1990 -- without me, as it turns out, as my daughter was being born -- and accepted. I came back to work and settled in to do the real work of product planning.

After having been back in the office a couple of months -- it was around June or July of 1990, I think -- Randy, who had been made VP of engineering for the applications division -- called a meeting without saying what it was about. I showed up to find him and a group of engineers -- mostly ex-Emerald City engineers, including Ed Hall, Mike Diamond, Mike Pell, and Bill Woodruff -- but also including joe holt, an old friend of mine whom I had helped recruit to Adobe.

Randy opened the meeting by saying something like, "John Warnock has an idea for doing platform-independent documents." That was the first I had ever heard of the concept behind Acrobat. According to Randy, we had two weeks to get a demonstration version ready. Bill came up with the code name Carousel, which stuck for the first couple of years of the project.

As I recall, joe and Ed did most of the engineering work, while I designed the user interface. Of course, with only two weeks, we had to cheat. I designed pages of content and stored them at Macintosh PICT resources. We created documents with sequences of these PICT resources, then loaded them into a viewer one at a time. It was, in some sense, too effective a demonstration: we were showing documents that were basically pre-rendered, whereas with the real product, we would have to do all the rendering ourselves, making viewing slower. We spent much of the Carousel/Acrobat development cycle trying to live up to the speed and fluidity of that first demo version.

In any case, we had the meeting with John, who liked what we had done and gave us the go-ahead on the project. Most of the team went back to their original duties, leaving Mike Pell and I as the only full-time team members for the first few months, until others within Adobe began to understand how important the project was and its need for resources. And that's how Acrobat began.

By the way, if anyone on the project reads this, I'd love to hear your recollections as well.

July 16, 2003

Lunch with Robert Scoble

Still catching up on my meetings from Monday...

Robert Scoble and I met at Joi Ito's party in Palo Alto earlier this year. After his move to Microsoft, we made plans to get together the next time I was in the Pacific Northwest (where I have family and friends).

We met for lunch on the Microsoft campus. As he said in his entry, there wasn't a single theme, but rather just an interesting discussion. We talked about trusted computing, messenger spam, the environment at Microsoft, the viability of Linux on the desktop, user interface evolution, and probably some other things that I'm forgetting.

One thing that came up was lobbying Joi to hold his next party in Seattle. Joi, consider this the start of the lobbying. Robert and I are volunteering to help with venue selection, and I think Robert might be able to pull something interesting out of his Microsoft hat as well...

July 15, 2003

Meeting John Ludwig

I'm finishing up my Pacific Northwest vacation. Yesterday I met with John Ludwig of Ignition Partners. I came to know John when he linked to an entry of mine on his blog. The idea of a venture capitalist with a blog sounded very cool -- it just didn't fit my usual profile of VCs. We traded messages and agreed to get together the next time I was out in Seattle. It turns out that John is just as interesting as one would expect from reading his blog, and a genuinely nice guy to boot.

An ex-Microsoft executive turned VC who's a really nice guy? Next someone is going to tell me that the best golfer in the world is black, or that the tallest player in the NBA is Chinese...

June 16, 2003

I'm Back

Sorry about the week's absence. I'll be back on a more regular schedule now.

June 06, 2003

Home Again, Home Again...

...jiggity-jig.

I'm back home from a productive but very short trip to Japan -- only two days on the ground. I'll be back on my normal blogging schedule soon.

June 02, 2003

Off to Tokyo

I'm flying to Tokyo this morning, for two days of meetings arranged by Joi Ito. I'll blog from there beginning tomorrow. See you then.

June 01, 2003

My Day So Far

I wake up this morning determined to finish my long-simmering paper on tools for emergent democracy. I gather together the feedback sent to me by kind friends and get to work. Let's see... David Brake suggests that my blog needs an "About Me" section. That's a good point -- how can people properly evaluate a paper from me without knowing more about who I am? I've been meaning to write such a section anyway. I start to write it and realize I also need to finish a personal branding exercise on which I've been working. I can't very well claim to know anything about strategic marketing while not applying its prinicples to myself.

I think this is as far down as I'm going to push the stack. Hopefully things will begin to pop off later today...

May 01, 2003

Mystic Pizza

I'm in Connecticut for a meeting today in Groton. My colleague and fellow traveler Tim Murray found a great deal on a hotel in nearby Mystic, so that's where we're staying.

Of course, if we were going to be in Mystic, we had to eat at Mystic Pizza:

2003-05-01-01.jpg

Mystic Pizza is a real place that existed before the movie of the same name. As the story goes, the screenwriter saw it while summering in the area and decided to base her story there.

In the movie, without revealing too much, the pizza is hailed as superb, its secret sauce recipe being the key to its flavor. How is the real thing? Not bad, but not the best pizza I've ever tasted. Still, it was fun, and I'm glad we went. We shared a small pizza and then headed down the street to the S&P Oyster Company, where, as promised by the bartender, we had orders of the best oysters I've ever tasted.

April 29, 2003

My Blogging Style

Trevor Smith, a former co-worker of mine, writes kindly of my blog:

This post on Pseudorandom is an example of Frank Boosman's style of taking rather large texts and quoting from them with commentary. At first I wasn't enjoying the length of the posts, as I think that there are shorter ways to make the points he's trying to make, but then a few weeks ago something clicked and now I'm reading every word. I think I switched from thinking of Pseudorandom as a personal blog to more of a one man online magazine.
Thanks, Trevor!

To answer the unasked question -- why I write blog entries as I do, quoting liberally from sources -- there are two reasons:

  1. I don't want to interrupt the reading experience for visitors. Although I think it's vitally important that bloggers provide references for their writings, I don't want to force my readers to trace through a series of links to be able to follow what I'm saying.
  2. I want my blog entries to be viewable in the future. If, for example, I was to link to a New York Times story without quoting from it, in two weeks' time, that link would break and my blog entry would be incomplete or even incomprehensible. This is something that concerns me about blogs in general: that years from now, as links die, they'll become unreadable. (The classic example would be of the "check this out" or "isn't this amazing" variety, with no other context provided. Once the link dies, the entry is useless.)
So that's why I blog the way I do.

By the way, in an effort to keep down the length of my entries, I try to edit quoted material as heavily as I can while preserving its meaning. I admit I'm not always as successful as I would like. I'll keep working at it.

April 15, 2003

Michael Jordan's Final Home Game

Courtesy of business partners, I had the extreme fortune of watching the greatest basketball player of all time play in his final home game last night.

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In the game, Michael's Washington Wizards lost to the New York Knicks, but of course it was the Michael Show. Every time he touched the ball, flash bulbs went off throughout the stands. Every time he scored, the crowd went wild.

The most amazing moment of the evening came at the end. With a little more than two minutes left in the game, Jordan went out. The crowd rose to its feet in a standing ovation as he walked off the court and then kept going -- as play resumed, as the Knicks got the ball, as the Knicks scored, as the Wizards got the ball, as the Wizards scored, as the Knicks got the ball again... through it all, the ovation continued unabated. I couldn't see a single person sitting down in the entire arena.

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It was a wonderful ending to an event that I felt privileged to attend.

April 10, 2003

Missed a Day

For the first time in months, I missed a day blogging yesterday. It was a long day coming at the end of the longest three-day trip I can remember (though a productive trip to be sure). Driving through the sleet and snow in New Jersey on April 7 was a real low point.

In any case, I'm back now. Sorry for the interruption.

March 18, 2003

Going Live with Movable Type

At last I'm switching from Blogger to Movable Type. It's a bit intimidating to switch eight months of work -- 334 posts -- to a new content management system. But my patience with Blogger had reached an end. The team at Pyra Labs deserves kudos for their innovation and market-building efforts, but their track record in building reliable software and offering new features to their customers is somewhat less praiseworthy.

What pushed me over the edge? Two things: yet another Blogger system failure last week -- at least five hours, as far as I could tell -- and my desire to have comments enabled before posting my paper on tools for emergent democracy (stay tuned).

If you run into any problems with the blog, please don't hesitate to let me know.

March 14, 2003

Heard Over a Movie Tonight

While watching Mars Attacks with my teenage boys, just before the Martians obliterate Congress, from my 15-year-old son Duncan:

They should get rid of Congress. They're lying, self-serving scumbags. Didn't you see The Simpsons last week?
All I need to know I learned from The Simpsons? Perhaps, but one could do worse...

March 13, 2003

Quote in GANAR

The March 2003 issue of GANAR, a Spanish magazine on "business and new technologies," is out, with an issue focus on PDAs:

I did an e-mail interview with a writer for the magazine, Ricardo Schell Schmid, which was reduced down to the following within a sidebar article on mobile wireless device manufacturers:
Para Frank Boosman, director de márketing de la consultora AirEight, "acquellas compañías que estén dispuetas a correr más riesgos y invertir en innovación serán las que lideren el mercadol."
This, I believe, is a translation of my original statement:
The companies that will win are those that are most willing to take chances and innovate.
Out of context, this sounds about as generic and meaningless as one can get. (So much for my rep in the Spanish high-tech community.) For the original context of the quote, within which it hopefully sounds less like useless drivel, here's the original interview:
Q: While PDAs tend to incorporate GPRS functionaliy and mobile phones adopt planning functionality, which will be the meeting point? A: It's not clear that there will be one "meeting point," but rather a variety of device types depending on consumer needs. Professionals looking for a robust, all-in-one solution will adopt PDAs with built-in wireless functionality (termed by some the "PC-minus" model). Consumers looking for a more capable phone will adopt phones with added organizer functions (termed by some the "phone-plus" model). Still others will choose simple, Bluetooth-equipped phones and use them in conjunction with Bluetooth-equipped PDAs. We believe that all three models will be popular over time.

Q: Are we going to a new sort of hybird devices? Which will be their advantages against pure PDAs and pure mobile phones?
A: I think we already see hybrid devices. The T-Mobile Sidekick (also known as the Danger Hiptop) is a good example of a device that isn't exactly a phone, but isn't exactly a PDA. It has the advantage of being smaller than a true PDA, and its software is optimized for mobile use, unlike PDA operating systems. On the other hand, it's larger than a true phone, and not as convenient to use when it's being used as a phone.

Q: Which companies are better positioned to fight in this new market: phone makers suchs as Nokia, Ericsson..., PDA makers like Palm, HP, Casio... or companies like Sony that do both things?
A: The companies that will win are those that are most willing to take chances and innovate. Adding GPRS functionality to a PDA may be useful, but it's not exactly an original idea. The most successful wireless devices of tomorrow -- whether wireless PDAs, organizer phones, or other devices entirely -- will be those that are to the greatest degree built from the ground up for their specific tasks.

Q: Which functionalities will be most demanded?
A: This depends on the purchaser, the market, and the intended use for the device. At a fundamental level, the most demanded functionality will be the ability easily download and install new software. The more that carriers try to erect "walled gardens" and prevent users from customizing their devices, the less successful they will be.

Q: Which paper will companies like Symbian, Palm Source o Microsoft, play in the development of new OS?
A: Microsoft, Palm Source, Sun, and Symbian will all have important roles to play in the future of wireless devices. All of them have strong relationships in the wireless industry, and none of them is going away anytime soon.

Ah, the joy of interviews... the knowledge that whatever you say may well be condensed down to the point at which you will no longer sound like you know what you're talking about.

TiVo Rewires My Brain

This is going to sound drawn-out, but in real time the entire sequence lasted two or three seconds.

While driving down the freeway yesterday, a cigarette butt flew from the car in front of me to the road below. As I glanced at it, another cigarette butt hit the road ahead of it. I looked up at the car, wondering if there were two people both discarding their cigarettes at the same time, and I swear to God, I thought "rewind," in the TiVo sense of hitting the back button to rewind 10 seconds. I wasn't consciously thinking of TiVo in any way -- I just instinctively reacted by wanting to go back 10 seconds, because I'm so used to doing it with television now.

I find it fascinating and a little scary that a consumer electronics device has rewired my brain like this.

March 12, 2003

Everything I Need to Know...

...I learned from the two women sitting next to me at my son's soccer game on Sunday:

  • The war in Iraq is all about the oil.
  • If we invade Iraq, 500,000 Iraqis are going to be killed or seriously injured.
  • Invading Afghanistan to capture Osama bin Laden was like invading North Carolina to capture the abortion clinic bomber hiding in the hills.
  • Gasoline costs US$3.00 per gallon in Canada.
  • The president's brother was on the board of the firm responsible for security at the World Trade Center. That can't be a coincidence.
  • The US military doesn't teach its recruits any useful skills. They say they do, but they don't.
  • The US military is blackmailing schools into allowing them to recruit their students.
Glad we got all that straightened out.

March 05, 2003

Trip Report (Short Form)

Metadata. Collaboration. Distributed systems.

Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

March 03, 2003

Joi Ito's New New Party

For his last party, Joi Ito had perhaps 30 or 40 people in attendance. This time the number grew to 140-150, and was held at Zibibbo in Palo Alto. It was a wonderful event. I wish the mingling cocktail party segment had lasted even longer -- there were scores of people I didn't get the chance to meet. I didn't meet Ben and Mena. I stood next to Justin, but he seemed preoccupied and I didn't have the heart to interrupt him. I didn't meet Evan, or Doc, or, or... but I was able to catch up with some old friends and make some new ones.

Above are Barak Berkowitz and Michael Morrissey. Barak is... um... he's working with Joi on some interesting things. How does that sound? Michael is an ex-colleague of mine from my Be days. He's now at Danger, which has a strong Be contingent. (Be takes over Danger and PalmSource... Jean-Louis' secret plan for dominating mobile wireless becomes clear at last.)

Speaking of Be, here's the ex-Be crowd at the party. From left to right, me, Michael Morrissey, Andrew Kimpton, and Hiroshi Lockheimer. Andrew worked for me as an evangelist before moving into full-time engineering; he's now leading development at BIAS. Hiroshi was either an engineer who kept getting sucked into product and sales management for Japan, or a product and sales manager for Japan who kept getting sucked into engineering. I'm not sure which. He's now at Good. Hiroshi is the official owner of the most embarrassing story about me from the last five years, so I keep a close watch on him. (Thanks to Michael's lovely wife Jennifer for taking the photo.)

Cory Doctorow is angry. Well, actually, no. (He's Canadian. Canadians never get angry -- just very disappointed in the rest of us.) He just looked that way in this photograph. I have a good Cory story ("Hey! I made a funny!" -- F. Leghorn) that I'll use in a future post.

Here I am talking with Lisa Rein, with whom I spent far too little time, to my regret, and Reid Hoffman. In one minute of conversation, I thought Lisa seemed cool. I'm sure she seems even cooler after two minutes. Reid is still in stealth mode. Presumably he'll come out soon, check for his shadow, and let us all know whether we're going to be using PayPal for the next 20 years. (Thanks to Kazuya Minami for the photograph.)

Ellen Levy's hands were cold. But Ellen was great! Sincerely, Ellen, if I meet many more VCs like you, I'm going to have to revise upward my opinion of the VC community.

Reid Hoffman and Marc Canter. Nope, sorry, Reid's still in stealth mode. Check again later. As for Marc, I'm trying to construct a grammatically and factually correct English sentence containing the phrases "Marc Canter" and "stealth mode," but it just won't come out. I'll keep working on it.

Joi and Dave Winer. Dave and I had an interesting discussion about privacy for weblogs. I think I can summarize his position as being that people don't really care about it. I know I can summarize my position as being that they do. We agreed to disagree.

Robert Scoble showing off his new baby. I want a tablet like this with a RIM-style keyboard -- say, about one-third to one-half up the device from the bottom, with half the keyboard on each side of the screen.

Thanks, Joi, for hosting such a great party. You were right: it was worth flying out for.

March 02, 2003

In Silicon Valley

I'm now in California (where I was born, incidentally -- San Antonio Community Hospital, Upland), partly for Joi Ito's party tonight and partly for meetings with Joi and some other folks over the next few days. I'm going to be catching up with many friends, and hopefully making some new ones tonight. It should be fun.

February 05, 2003

The News and Observer on Blogs

As noted last week, today's issue of the News and Observer is carrying Karen Mann's article on blogging:

"It's like a 24-hour holiday letter," says Frank Boosman, 39, of Apex. Boosman, who is chief marketing officer for 3Dsolve software in Cary, began his own blog in June after hearing a friend in Japan talk about his own. In it, he shares his thoughts on technology, the Internet, popular culture and pretty much anything that strikes his fancy.

"I thought, 'The time has come; this is not a pure geek thing any more,'" he says...

[30-year-old RTP-based Web developer and trainer for the Washington-based company MassLight Mark] Pilgrim compares making his first blog entry to his first (and only) time skydiving. "It's very scary," he says, "to put yourself out there and do it every day.

"There's a rush that comes from getting a link from a high-profile blogger," he says, noting that traffic on his blog jumped from a few hundred to about 4,000 page views a day after another blogger linked to a technical article on his site. "It's a real rush and there's a real addictive quality to it."

Even more perplexing: Why do people want to read intimate, and often mundane, details about other people's lives?

"There are people who, either for personal reasons or because of their perspective, I find so interesting I want to keep up with what they have to say," Boosman says. "If something's important enough that they want to say it, I think it's important enough that I want to read it."

At the RTP Bloggers lunch that Karen attended, Mark was actually complaining about how much traffic he gets -- if I remember correctly, his issue was that the popularity of his blog was inducing him to both increase the effort and alter the content he put into his blog, which he didn't want to do. Given that, of course, being quoted and having one's picture taken for a newspaper story on blogging probably wasn't the best strategy. In any case, Mark, if the crushing weight of 4,000 page views per day is getting to be too much, feel free to redirect them here.

February 03, 2003

David Smith in Japan

My long-time friend, colleague, and co-founder David Smith is with Alan Kay in Japan, and they dined with Joi Ito the other night:

It's a bit difficult to talk about the past, present and future of computing surrounded by geisha in a tea house, but we tried. Alan talked about how so much of great computer science was invited in the 60's and 70's and we're just getting around to re-discovering some of it...

It's great that Japan really respects Alan Kay and gives him a great deal of credit for his discoveries. I think Ted Nelson also gets much more credit for his discoveries in Japan than he does in the US. Maybe foreigners aren't as threatening. ;-)

Alan and David are working on Squeak and are also developing a completely object oriented, cross-platform, networked, collaborative environment called Croquet which sounds very exciting. David's supposed to give me a demo tomorrow.

Joi's entry on the dinner can be found here.

January 31, 2003

"I'm Pulling Out All the Tricks"

Karen Mann is writing an article on blogging for the News & Observer, which I believe may appear in next Wednesday's issue. She interviewed me for it back in December, and then attended the January RTP Bloggers lunch to gather more material. At the lunch, she mentioned that she'd need a photograph for the story and asked who might be interested. Nothing. At last I said, "I'm the least photogenic person at the table, but someone has to do this," and with that, it was done.

Yesterday, Mel Nathanson came to the office to photograph me for the story. I was expecting something simple, but he had in mind a much more artistic portrait. "You're going to be doing some contortions," he said, and he was right.

He asks me to move my face next to the keyboard. I do. "Closer." I move closer. "Closer." I move closer still. "Closer." Now my chin is touching the keys. "Perfect."

My colleague David Easter photographed the session:

When Mel got me into the desired position and began shooting, we had the following exchange:

Mel: Perfect. This is great.

Me: Really?

Mel: Yeah. You're going to look hip and cool.

Me: If you can make me look hip and cool, you're an even better photographer than I thought.

Mel: Well, I'm pulling out all the tricks.

Ah well. In any case, we should be able to see the final results next week.

July 01, 2002

Earthlink Woes

This is frustrating. Instead of writing away, knowing that my blog is going live, I'm still dealing with technical and other similar issues.

After two contacts with Earthlink support representatives this weekend, ending with the determination that I needed to have my domain hosting account reactivated, I called this morning and spoke with a customer service representative who couldn't even find my account. I gave up and IM'd my brother, who works for Earthlink, and asked him to help. No problem. He did some investigation, made a phone call, and transferred me to a customer service representative. "Great," I thought. "This will be fixed soon!" Not so fast. She told me that she needed to transfer me to yet another representative. There's a pause. Someone new answers and says that he has been told that I'd like to "discuss domain hosting options" with him. That's it. No mas.

I have officially given up on Earthlink as a domain hosting service. I'm going to try to find a provider with better service, and hopefully lower prices to boot. If I can do so, then all will end well... but it's still fairly frustrating at the moment.

June 27, 2002

Jet Lag

Bill and I returned to North Carolina from Tokyo yesterday and arrived early this morning. For the second time in two months, I flew American Airlines to JFK, then American Eagle from JFK to RDU. For the second time in two months, not only was my American Eagle flight delayed by weather, but the entire process was made more unpleasant by the lack of organization and ill manners displayed by the American Eagle employees at JFK. Given how much I generally like dealing with AA, at least compared to other airlines, I don't say this lightly.

Anyway, we were home by 00:30 this morning, which was better than my last trip, when I wasn't back until 02:30 or so.

Of course, my jet lag finally calmed down on the last night of my stay in Tokyo, so now I'm back to the sleepless nights. Is it just me, or does jet lag worsen with age? My first trip to Europe was on a military jet at the age of 18, and I don't remember a bit of lag then. When I was 30 and would travel to Europe from California, I'd adjust within two or three days. Now it takes me a week, which is usually just about how long I'm overseas. In other words, I adjust just as I'm about to return home.