Posted by: no deep thinking | February 3, 2009

A hint of snow

We had the best kind of snowfall here today – enough to look scenic, but with no accumulation on the roads. And it allows for playing with the phone camera for something other than what’s on my desk…

Posted by: no deep thinking | January 31, 2009

iTosser

It’s possible that I might have bought an iPhone, and it’s possible that I might have started acting like a complete iTosser by playing with it all the time. I am doing a decent job of remaining in touch with the people around me though. Speaking of, time to get the children out of the house…

Posted by: no deep thinking | January 5, 2009

2008 and 2009

I’m going to cheat on an annual review by shamelessly lifting Kirsty’s post format on the same subject. So:

2008 In Review:

1. What did you do in 2008 that you’d never done before?

Um. Ah. 

Oh, I signed up with eMusic.com for 50 songs a month to force myself to listen to new music. It’s been a mixed bag, but Dead Heart Bloom, Let’s Wrestle, and a couple of others were good finds as bands go. I also acquired (elsewhere) (legally) Stainless Style by Neon Neon and They Live by Evil Nine, which were very good, and I rather liked the Adam Freeland mix from Radio 1’s Essentials show. 

And I played Rock Band for the first time – the only reason I didn’t rush out to get all the equipment (including an X-box) was an interest in remaining employed and married. 

2. Did you keep your new year’s resolutions? 

Oh hell. Aside from drinking more water and not buying it in plastic bottles, no. My diet and sleep management are still crap. My ambition to read more was undone by excessive ambition in what I picked – so Fathers and Sons by Alexander Waugh and Young Stalin by Simon Sebag Montefiore remain partially read, and all I achieved by signing up with goodreads.com was being reminded of my crap reading pace, and discovering that people’s enthusiasm for books doesn’t always translate into having something interesing to say about them. 

3. Did anyone close to you give birth?

No. The missus was excited by two dear old friends of hers having their first (and possibly only) children, but that’s it. 

4. Did anyone close to you die?

No, which is always a plus.

5. What countries did you visit?

Domestic travel only this year, but in the “new” category we had a family excursion to downeast Maine to see my mother-in-law and her husband, and I have started travelling to New Orleans for work. An old friend got married in Los Angeles, so I was able to sneak out there for a long weekend to be best man, and catch up with a bunch of friends besides. 

6. What events from 2008 will remain etched upon your memory?

Taking the girls to Chinatown in Manhattan for dinner on Chinese New Year’s. We went with the wife’s aunt and uncle who live on the Upper West Side – between the ride down in the back of a car service Lincoln Navigator with the kids looking at the buildings in awe (me too), watching the world go by while waiting for a table, the unbelievable food, and the girls’ wonder and happiness about getting a fiver each in a very fancy red envelope from the manager (for good luck for the restaurant) – that was grand. 

Also, the 6 year old deciding to get me a replacement pocket knife – I had been forced to chuck my old one at airport security coming back from Maine, and the lack of it had been vexing me for months. So big girl got her sister on board with getting me a replacement for my birthday, got their mother to take them out to buy one, and made sure it was the same color. I couldn’t have been more touched, except for perhaps a couple of days later when it emerged that little girl had “bought” a doll for big girl that big girl had fancied for ages – huge hugs all round. 

In the area of things that others might care about, the election. I’ll admit to misting up a bit during the speech in Grant Park. 

7. What did you get really, really, really excited about?

See above answer. Also, embarrassingly, Holland versus France in Euro 2008, Michael Phelp’s gold medals, and Usain Bolt’s 100m and 200m records. 

8. What was your biggest achievement of the year?

Sadly, I think it might have been finally finding a home at Megacorp on a new project. And that was handed to me. Ahead of the layoffs and benefit and effective pay cuts. But, in terms of monthly cash-in, cash-out, all remains steady, and having a job is always better than not having a job, I find. 

9. What was your biggest failure?

Aside from last year’s resolutions? I spent the summer working on a business case for a client and it just was crap – which is to say, all the logic and assumptions were impeccable, but I am challenged by numbers and I spent effing months trying to clean up the actual cost model… all the while looking like a bigger idiot. 

Failing to curb my short temper or raising my voice to the children was a poor show, also. 

10. Did you suffer illness or injury?

Nothing out of the ordinary, with the possible exception of throwing out my back while using a brush to kill ~100 camelback crickets in the garage in the late summer.  

11. What was the best thing you bought?

An iMac for the missus, followed closely by a chassis for the hard drive of her old PC (to establish that I could rescue her data from it when the old PC crapped out from a motherboard issue), and closer still by Aid4Mail, an application made by a Swiss company that allows you to process Outlook mail into mbox format, while stripping out and indexing all the attachments. Not a life saver, but a data and “institutional knowledge” saver, which was at least as exciting. 

12. What was the best thing you were given?

As noted above, a pocket knife, as well as an iPod Classic, a Nalgene camping water bottle with the slogan “I will never take this camping” printed on it, and, from the missus, Persepolis and Kitchen Confidential

13. What song will always remind you of 2008?

Perhaps Show Your Hand from Hey Venus by the Super Furry Animals (hey, it was a 2008 release here), or any of that album, really. 

14. What was your favourite TV programme?

Embarrasingly, Top Chef and Top Gear. 

15. What was the best book you read?

Harrumph – well, what I read of Young Stalin was pretty impressive. 

16. What was your favourite film of this year?

I didn’t see any films that were released this past year. I’m not sure that I actually watched any films this past year. And I feel completely fine about that. 

Now, for 2009:

I have only one resolution – whatever I end up doing, don’t do it half-arsed. The details are where I always go wrong, so I’ll pick a couple of things to work on, and see how doing them well goes.

Posted by: no deep thinking | November 7, 2008

Yay

Well that was a satisfying election result. Perhaps if we’re very lucky, Obama might turn out to be okay at this job. That would be nice.

Posted by: no deep thinking | November 4, 2008

November 4th

I don’t believe in political movements, and I don’t believe in Messiahs. As a general rule of thumb, I just want my bunch of crooks and liars to win, and the other bunch of crooks and liars to lose. This time, though, I desperately want to see Senator Obama win.

I used to say that I became a US citizen because I liked the novelty of having a written Constitution, and because of the first, fourth, and fourteenth amendments. All of those reasons have been taking a battering over the last four years, as Andrew Sullivan sets out in a fashion that is clear, calm, and devastating.

Sullivan plainly understands something that it took me a while to grasp. At first, I was baffled by the American recourse to the law in order to resolve political questions, but it became clear that Constitutional cases and precedent wasn’t just a brake on progress, but on government control, and I was on board. There’s a lot to be said for the clear and public evolution of the law, so that as citizens we all know where we are and in some sense where we’re going.

I don’t need to further recount the abuses that the Bush Administration has undertaken to the rule of law, but I am struck that they are characterized by the absence of transparency. The same lack of transparency was typified by the absence of regulations on financial instruments such as credit default swaps, so that when the music stopped, everyone assumed they had a ticking parcel. The Bush Administration wasn’t alone in that, but they were instrumental in making sure that the absolutely critical features of a well-functioning market – transparency and information – weren’t available.

The lack of transparency, sadly, was an instinct that appeared even when it wasn’t planned. Sullivan doesn’t place the same degree of importance upon the Federal government’s response to Hurricane Katrina that he does on the Constitution, but they are both emblematic. In the case of Katrina, the urge to hide meant that inept relief efforts were rendered even more hopeless than before.

Some people will try and tell you that having New Orleans stand as the emblem of Katrina and the uselessness of the Bush Administration is to unfairly ignore the role of corruption and incompetence in Louisiana and New Orleans. I don’t doubt the local failures at all. But when Katrina hit, one of the administrative assistants at my office got tired of not being able to reach her family in coastal Alabama, so she set off with whatever supplies she could get in her truck and the money we had given in a whip-round at the office. She found her cousin dead from lack of insulin, her cousin’s children hospitalized from dehydration and lack of food while they waited for “Mommy to wake up,” her grandmother dead from dehydration. Fewer than 10 miles up the road, FEMA and the Red Cross were bickering over who was supposed to deliver aid.

Last week I went to New Orleans for the first time. I was surprised at how small a city it really is – ten minutes from downtown heading east on Interstate 10 for a meeting, it was practically the sticks. I have no clue – not one fucking clue – how everyone managed to so comprehensively fuck up rescue efforts in such a small space.

Last night I watched this old clip from Fox News wherein Sean Hannity tries to take up the line that reporters on the ground were exaggerating conditions, and Shepard Smith essentially told him he was full of shit. If you have 8 free minutes and low blood pressure, you can remind yourself of what a clusterfuck this was.

No-one knew what was going on, and the first thing the federal government did was to try and draw a curtain over what they were – and were not – doing. Perhaps I should be grateful that they were as bad at concealment as they were at managing a relief effort.

There are so many other elements to my view of the last 8 years, both common to the general public and specific to friends of mine – the NASA physicist whose funding, for the basic research that keeps the US economy ahead, is cut year in and year out; the lawyer who left his job with the environmental division at Justice because the political appointees were refusing to pursue cases where the government was actually enforcing the law and he could do more to promote ecological issues in the private sector – that I could go on and on.

But I won’t. At root, political preferences aside, I am tired of a government that fails both deliberately and on the basis of incompetence, that doesn’t respect the rule of law, and that doesn’t respect its citizens – the very people who authorize its existence. McCain and Palin have made it clear where they stand on all that, to those of us who aren’t real Americans, so they can whistle for my vote.

If all I can get out of tomorrow’s election is a return to competence and, if not transparency, at least not paranoid concealment, then I will feel satisfied. I don’t want miracles, I just want someone who takes governing seriously.

Posted by: no deep thinking | October 21, 2008

on the musical side…

Man cannot live on podcasts of Fighting Talk alone, and I am often too lazy to go to the local bookstore and pay for Q magazine to tell me what mainstream goodness I should be buying. Not surprisingly, the haul of music in 2008 has been rather… deliberately spaced out, I think I’ll say.

However, the wife’s brother-in-law somehow managed to persuade me that I should investigate eMusic. It’s a site where you pay a subscription but at the end of the day, you end up with 25 – 50 (or more!) MP3 files with no DRM restrictions.

I can’t say that I would have otherwise acquired Congotronics by Konono No. 1 or Norwegian ska band No Torso, left to my own CD devices. There have been a couple of stinkers as well, but at a third of the price of a cd* that’s not the end of the world.

*Once upon a time, we called it “the late 80s” then, I used to buy cassette versions of albums to see if I was interested in the band before laying out the serious cash ($16!) for a “perfect sound forever,”

Posted by: no deep thinking | October 21, 2008

An embarrassing reminder

In the run-up to last Christmas, I was determined that I would get back into reading more books. Accordingly I asked for “Fathers and Sons,” by Alexander Waugh; “Young Stalin,” by Simon Sebag Montefiore; and, “Fateful Choices,” by Ian Kershaw.

I also signed up for goodreads.com. The reviews are mostly poor, but I liked being able to build a list of books that I might theoretically read at some point without completely tipping my hand to Amazon. And then I started off on the books by Waugh and Montefiore.

Unfortunately, I made the mistake of admitting to goodreads.com that I had in fact begun to read the books by Waugh and Montefiore. The other day I got a monthly site update email from goodreads, who also reminded me that I’ve been reading the two books for 265 days.Maybe I would like to post a review? I would not. (They’re both good for what that’s worth…)

So much for reading more quality writing this year, eh?

Posted by: no deep thinking | October 20, 2008

who’d have thought it

Had you told me a year ago that a junior Senator from the middle of the US, with a funny name and an African father, would have won the Democratic nomination, have a small but distinct lead coming up to the election, and have just raised $150 million in campaign funds in 30 days, I’d have suggested that you taper off on the hallucinogens.

Instead, I’d like you pass over some of whatever it was that you were smoking, because damn if it doesn’t seem to be true.

Posted by: no deep thinking | October 19, 2008

be a dad?

I’ve been mucking about for too long now with a particular form of self-help literature, loosely orbiting around the “getting things done” variant of personal productivity. The idea is that by applying the right set of disciplines and tools / tricks / etc., you can overcome procrastination and the temptations to waste time inherent to a relatively unstructured job.

As it turned out, my efforts at self-improvement foundered on lack of discipline, which in turn reflected no motivation. My mistake was not to deal with the lack of motivation.

The first response was to arrange an internal transfer at work. I’ve now gone from having the excuse of nothing of interest to post (because it’s all a long work-related moan) to having more work than I can keep up with. It’s interesting work though, and with a good team of people. Thus far, no-one has accused me of losing their  million dollar business because of quality control in an Excel-based cost model  (a particularly overheated and blame-redirecting outburst from a now former program manager, why do you ask?) so it has been a step forward.

The second and bigger breakthrough is going to seem as ridiculous to you as it feels to write: I found a heuristic that works, on a presentation about attention management by the writer behind 43folders.com, Merlin Mann. (Apparently this isn’t a pseudonym.)

The heuristic was so simple as to seem pointless: be the dad to your brain. (This came in the context of Mann and his wife having a child recently.) The more I thought about it though, the more it made sense.

At a pragmatic level, I’d pointed out to the missus a couple of months ago that if I saw someone managing their childrens’ diets, exercise, sleep, work, and play the way that I manage mine, I’d call them dangerous to the welfare of those children. I certainly don’t let my children live without friends, boundaries, accountability, exercise, sleep, healthy food, or any acknowledgment of whatever else keeps them healthy and happy. Why do so for myself?

At a more philosophical level, I am something of a materialist in the area of human cognition – I think of it as chemicals and electricity. As a result, I think of the notion of a self separate from the brain as a cognitive artifact, a bit like the “soundstage” of a stereo audio recording. That made it harder to accept the advice from Mann.

But that cognitive conception’s not helpful for managing myself. If I think of my brain, as an id-driven entity that needs guidance, and not negative hectoring guidance, all of a sudden I have a different way of thinking about how to make myself function more like an adult. Superficially so, anyway.

Has this been even a partial success? It’s too early to say, but there’s some entertainment to be had in the possibility that my ability to function like an adult lies in treating myself like a child. And on that note, I’m sending myself to bed.

Posted by: no deep thinking | September 2, 2008

Where do they come up with this stuff?

The extent to which I have provided religious instruction in this house is in explaining to the six year old that some people (this being America) find it very offensive when you say “Oh God!” So you can imagine my surprise a few months ago when she declared that “we don’t believe in God, do we Daddy?” We don’t? I didn’t know there had been a family-wide policy decision.

Any religious ceremony that the girls have participated in has been Jewish, with either certain of the in-laws or some neighbours – with whom they’ve been celebrating the arrival of Shabbat on Fridays. By “celebrating” I mean “putting an enormous dent in the supply of challa.”

Add those together and I assume that why the aforementioned six year old was skipping around the house today chanting something along the lines of “We made them cancel Shabbat! They can’t believe in God anymore!” I’d have taken notes, but my jaw had dropped to the point where I couldn’t see a piece of paper in front of me. How on earth does she start coming up with these things?

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