27 December 2010
26 December 2010
Right now, it's December 26th and I am holed up at home taking it easy. It's a cold blustery day outside (28 degrees) and I see absolutely no need to venture outside the nest.
25 December 2010
To all my friends, you have my heart, every bit of it, I cannot begin to tell you how much you add to my life.
03 November 2010
Never miss opportunities to think outside the box. You don’t need to reinvent the wheel. You need to figure it out how to use a tool better than anyone else. It wasn’t the company that invented or sold mainframe computers that became the most successful. It was a guy called Sam Walmart with a small chain of retail stores who was looking for a way to compete with the big guys like Kmart. He realized he could use computers to manage his inventory, sales, and pricing better than anyone else. He was right, last year Walmart had over 400 billion dollars in net sales and has become one of the largest retail operations in the world.
Starbucks is another example of thinking outside the box and doing it better. Look at coffee. Anyone can grow coffee, anyone can brew coffee, anyone can sell coffee, and it’s an extremely competitive market. But Starbucks figured out how to do it better. Starbucks changed the entire experience of buying coffee. You walk into a Starbucks you don’t order a small, medium, or large. At Starbucks when you aren’t paying five bucks for a small coffee. You are paying for a “Tall”. You aren’t paying ten bucks for a medium coffee. You are paying for a “Grandi”.
Everyone talks about what they are going to do someday. They are going to take that class, apply for that promotion, buy a house, save money, or pay off that credit card… someday. Most people spend most of their lives on Someday Island. And what do you think the main topic of conversation is on Someday Isle? EXCUSES! On Someday Isle everyone sits around the campfire explaining why circumstances have them stuck on this crappy island and why they can’t do anything about it just now. VOTE YOURSELF OFF THE ISLAND! Be aware that nobody on the island is going to encourage you, they don’t really want you to succeed, the last thing they want is to see you do something they’re unwilling to do themselves.
Ask yourself what is it you want and why aren’t you doing something about it? Is there an excuse you are giving yourself that is keeping you prisoner on Someday Isle? Take a close look at that excuse to see if it’s real or not. Although obstacles cannot be instantly overcome, there is usually something that can be done today, an action step you can take now, have you take that step or are you waiting to do it someday soon.
VOTE YOURSELF OFF THE ISLAND!
It’s not hard to get off the island. Make a list of your goals, list the actions you need to take, and take action. Make a plan and get to work.
Change begins at home.
This day can be the first day of the rest of your life.
It’s not where you start. It’s where you are going and how you get there.
Leadership is about putting your troops in the best position to get the job done. Individuals need a sense of purpose and need to know the mission. The mission and goals of the individual need to correspond with the mission and goals of the overall organization and there needs to be an understanding of how these goals relate to each other. Employees need to have a vested interest in the success of the organization. Leaders must have passion and inspire their followers Inspiration is the essence of great leadership. Take care of your troops by giving them what they need to get the job done. Recognize the good performers by telling them they are doing a good job and thanking them for their efforts. Be willing to trim the deadwood. If someone isn’t performing, retrain, reassign, and if they still are not performing get rid of them, they are holding everyone back.
You have achieved excellence as a leader when people will follow you anywhere if only out of curiosity. This means that you have people’s trust. They know that no matter how dire circumstances seem, you have their best interests at heart and you have a plan to get them where they need to go. You gain trust by always acting selflessly, never selfishly.
Everyone needs something to do, someone to love, something to hope for, and something to believe in.
If you want to win, always ask yourself (W)hat’s (I)mportant (N)ow? Am I focusing on what's important right now? Am I doing the next right thing?
Like a tree you are either growing or you are dying and that has nothing to do with how old you are. It has to do with all the little decision you make every day all day long. It is how you spend your time, what you listen to, who you hang out with, what you do in the evening.
You have to have a dream, you have to want something.
If you don’t want anything that is exactly what you will get.
Have a positive attitude; be excited about what you are doing even if you are not. “I’m not always feeling great and I am not always in the mood to be on camera at ESPN, but when they turn the cameras on I am the most excited guy on the set.” Have a purpose; help people get what they need better than anyone else. Find out what people want, find out what they need, and help them get it. Embrace change, change is what allows you to satisfy your purpose.
You are either lifting people up or pushing people down, which are you doing?
To have meaningful relationships you have to be confident and believe in yourself.
Rules for life:
- Do the right thing.
- Do everything to the best of your ability.
- Show people you care.
- Can I trust you? Always do the right thing and people will trust you.
- Are you committed to excellence? Always do your best. Always try your hardest. This shows you have standards.
- Do you care about me? Smile at people, shake their hand, show respect, ask people about their day, encourage everyone.
Never attack the performer, attack the performance.
People need love, compassion, and understanding the most when they have done their worst.
General Stanley McChrystal
General McChrystal told the story of Robert the Bruce the Solider King of Scotland. Robert the Bruce had been crowned the King of Scotland but was being pursued as a criminal by the armies of the English. He’d been driven from his castle, his family had been captured, and he was being chased by an army. One cold night he found himself alone in a small hut on the lonely Island of Rachrin. He lay on the floor on a straw pallet looking at the beams of the hut wondering if he should give up his battle against the English. He asked himself if the freedom of Scotland was worth the price he was paying. He’d already been defeated by the English six times and chances of victory seem slim. That’s when he noticed the spider hanging from of the huts beam by a long silken thread trying to swing itself to another beam. One, twice, three times the spider tried without success. Again, again, and yet again the spider met with failure. Robert decided that if the spider failed again then it would be a sign he wasn’t going to succeed in his efforts to fight the English. The spider tried again and this time made it to the next beam. Robert took this as a sign to continue his own struggle. Although it took eight years and many battles Robert finally drove the English out of Scotland in the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.
Rick Belluzzo, former CEO of Microsoft
Look for disruption, look for opportunities for change, never be a victim of circumstance.
- Strive to make a difference. Every job matters. Be proactive, find solutions to problems.
- Take risks.
- Be self-aware and open to feedback. Be easy to manage. Make it easy for people to tell you things you don’t want to hear.
- Persevere: Staying the course gives luck a chance.
- Always maintain integrity: always ask yourself what the next right thing to do is?
- Be hard headed, but soft hearted. Do what you need to do in business; business exists to make a profit. But always remember to treat people the very best you can and have empathy for them.
- Never miss an opportunity to invest in yourself and increase your personal value.
Your brain is plastic; you can change the way you think and your attitude towards life.
One of the most powerful tools is the gratitude list. Everyday write down three things you are grateful for.
Take brain breaks three times a day. Three times a day stop for a moment, take a deep breath and let it out slowly, ask yourself if you are doing the next right thing. If not, adjust your course and move on.
14 October 2010
The Mouse I Took to Starbucks
It was a hard day in technical support and I had to stay late at the office to do a couple of employee reviews. I stopped by Trader Joe's on the way home to pick up some miscellaneous groceries and didn't get home until about 8:45 pm. I heated up a bowl of chili and curled up on the couch to watch Criminal Minds. I turned off the television at ten and a bit later settled into bed feeling tired and drained.
As I lay there on my side with my arm under my head, I felt my cat Shadow prodding my hand with her sharp pointy claws trying to get my attention. I had just fed her and I didn't understand why she was being so persistent, usually she just curls up next to me and goes to sleep. Finally it got to be so annoying that I rolled over to say something. I didn't see her right away, but I figured that the fur ball had leaped from the bed and dashed into the hallway ahead of me hoping I was on the way to her food dish. I thought, well that is a good place for her. I shut the bedroom door and headed back to bed.
About five minutes later Shadow was back, prickling my hand and pulling on my hair. Annoyed I rolled over and flicked on the light. It took a minute or two for my brain to work out that the door was closed, that the cat was locked out of the bedroom, and the logical consequence of this is that it was not my cat that was pawing my hand. A quick survey of the room revealed no cats in the house that I was unaware of. My brain sometimes works a little slowly, but by now it has worked out that if it wasn't my cat and it wasn't some cat that wandered into my house, then it probably wasn't a cat at all.
Okay, at this point I am completely awake.
I ran the possibilities through in my mind, squirrel, mouse, rat, or worse? I was not thrilled as I pondered the possibilities. I grabbed my flashlight and started looking around the room. I peered under the nightstand, under the bed, under the desk, behind the desk, and bingo! Shining the light down behind the desk I saw a large mouse looking up at me.
I realized that I was standing there barefoot clad only in cotton red plaid boxers. What does one do in this situation? I decided that the next right thing would be to put on some jeans and a pair of sneakers. After dressing I paused and considered my next move. Just going to bed and ignoring the situation didn't really seem like a valid option. The mouse might devour me completely before dawn rolled around. If I just went out and sleep on the couch, who was to say the mouse wouldn't follow.
I considered the matter. How does one trap a mouse in one's bedroom? I could throw my cat in the room, close the door, and let gladiatorial combat commence, but that seemed a little blood thirsty for such a late hour. I looked around the house for answers. I wandered in the kitchen and grabbed two large clean empty yogurt containers from the dish rack then put them back. I decide they were not quite what I was looking for. I wandered into the guest bedroom and perused its shelves of random objects.
I spotted the vacuum cleaner and went so far as to drag it into the bedroom and plug it in. As I stared at the nozzle I thought to myself, not exactly the most humane way to do battle. But then again, I was not down with spending the night with a mouse loose in the house. I wandered back into the guest bedroom and noticed some empty plastic shoeboxes. I thought maybe I could catch it with the vacuum and get it into a shoebox without causing it too much damage.
I headed back into the bedroom where I started to plug in the vacuum. As I leaned over to plug it in I noticed the cover on the heating pad on the floor by the bed moved. I saw a nose peaking out of the cover. I quickly covered the lump inside the heating pad cover with the shoebox and carefully slipped the lid under. I had captured the mouse.
Now I couldn't figure out the etiquette of the situation. Here was an invader of my home that had crept into my house, in my bed, and had been nibbling on me! But safely encased in a clear plastic shoebox my uninvited guest seemed a good deal less threatening. In fact, as it sat there nonchalantly grooming itself, it was kind of cute.
With the culprit safely apprehended, Shadow wandered in to see what was going on. I am going to have to talk to that cat about exactly what her role is around the house and let her know that this incident will show up on her next evaluation.
I taped the lid on the shoebox and stowed my prisoner in the linen closet for the night. It was at least a couple of hours before I settled down enough to go to sleep and admit to a bit of restlessness as I lay there in the dark listening to every little sound. I wondered if mice ran in pairs, if there was a whole gang of other mice that were hiding in the closet just waiting for me to fall asleep before they could fall on me like the Lilliputians fell upon Gulliver. Eventually with only a few scant hours to go before the alarm would wake me, I fell asleep.
This morning I awoke and left the house with my plastic shoebox in tow and my guest none the worse for wear. I had to ponder a bit about where to leave my furry guest. The parking lot at work didn't seem ideal and as amusing as it might have been to set it loose inside the call center, that didn't seem the humane or prudent course of action.
I remembered that next to a Starbucks I frequent there is a fenced and wooded gully. It is a pretty substantial bit of greenery in an area that is mostly concrete and asphalt. And should I happen to be dropping a mouse off then perhaps it would not be such an inexcusable thing to stop in for a latte.
And that is the story of the mouse I took to Starbucks.
09 October 2010
The Sweet Sound
So I come home and it's already been a day, I mean it has been one of those daily grinds where nothing in particular has gone right or wrong and there is nothing really to make it an easy day or a difficult day or even to distinguish it from any other day. The only quality of the day that comes to mind is of what I call grindiness. That is the grind of daily life that has made the hours between pulling in and out of the driveway seem so long and at times tedious.
I turn off the ignition, get out the car [buzzing] and walk down the drive to check the mail. [buzzing] I hear this continuous buzzing sound like a leaf blower, but [buzzing] cannot quite identify where it is coming from. Okay, part of my brain clearly knows exactly where it's coming from because I am looking everywhere it's not coming from. I don't want it to be coming from my car so that's the last thing I check. [buzzing] I peak over the fence into the backyard, realize the noise is behind me, look across the street, and finally give in, lower my head close to the engine compartment and sure enough the cooling fan is buzzing right along in there.
At first, I am not overly concerned. Don't car fans always run for a bit once you turn the engine off? Well in point of fact my Honda is close to fifteen years old and I have never known that fan to run after the engine has been turned off, but it speaks to my complete terror and distaste for car repairs that I am willing to say to myself that perhaps I've just never noticed it, that the fan [buzzing] has probably been doing this for years without my noticing. On some level I know better, but this idea is an easy sell to me because it's one that will let me go inside my house and eat a bowl of chocolate chip cookie dough ice-cream while [buzzing] I give the situation a chance to resolve itself.
Thus once again I have failed to live up to that uber-male ideal in my head who knows the mysteries of yard work, work politics, electrical work, plumbing, talking to women, and car repair. The uber-male would change out of his nice work clothes, come outside in jeans, roll up his sleeves, hang his shop light from the hood over the engine compartment, and with a magician's flourish, reach in, check and adjust ten or eleven things, [buzzing] then walk into the garage, pull out a high temperature thermo sensor fan switch off the shelf where it's grow dusty since the day uber-male picked it up "just in case." It would take uber-male five minutes to replace the part, a good two or three minutes of which would be devoted to him wiping his hands and putting away his tools after he's finished. "There!" uber-man would say as he closes the hood and wipes a spot on the car's gleaming finish, "That should fix her!"
In point of fact, I don't dress as snappily as I should, I don't have a garage, I don't know all that much about cars, and as for that gleaming finish… well it doesn't describe my car because whatever gene allows uber-man to devote the time and energy necessary to keeping his car meticulously detailed, I don't have. Nor have I hit such a point in life or in the lottery to allow me the ability to delegate such tasks to others. My solution to the probleme du jour is to try denial and hope the problem will just go away on its own. [buzzing] I decide to give it a half-hour and then come back outside and reassess the situation.
I enter my domicile, turn off the alarm, [beep] stash groceries in the kitchen, and prepare the aforementioned bowl of ice-cream. I settle on the couch to ponder the matter and to give my car's engine a chance to cool. [beep]
So I sit on the [beep] couch eating ice-cream and feeling no small amount of self-loathing at the calories I am downing (uber-man wouldn't, he's naturally thin and looks a lot like Charles Atlas did in those ads in the back pages of comics or Boy's Life) when I realize that ever since I have entered my house I have been [beep] hearing one of those damn beeping sound. I look for the obvious source, a smoke detector. Most of them are lying fairly near where they normally mount to the ceiling and none of them currently have batteries. Evidently, prompt replacement of batteries is not something I have yet to achieve judging from the layer of dust I find on these wonderful devices that could save my house and potentially even my life if I could just be bothered to put batteries in them. I will have to go out of my way to avoid firemen, rescue workers, my insurance agent, and more practical minded friends until I get this situation resolved. I cannot stand disapproval.
I my search for the source of the beeping I come up empty. In fact [beep] I am having a terrible time identifying what room the sound is coming from. So I begin to circumnavigate the house trying to triangulate the source that is beeping about once every sixty seconds. It doesn't sound like a harsh interrogation technique, but after only five minutes I am ready to start giving up my secrets. [beep] I stand in the hallway sixty seconds [beep] stick my head in the hall closet for sixty seconds eyeing the burglar alarm suspiciously[beep] then I try the living room [beep] master bedroom [beep] hall again [beep] kitchen to refill ice cream bowl [beep] study [beep] guest room [beep] hallway again [beep] coat closet [beep] guest bedroom [beep] guest bedroom closet [beep] guest bedroom [beep] hallway again [beep] guest bedroom again [beep] guest bedroom [beep] guest bedroom closet [beep. I open the lid and look inside a large plastic bin containing a large wooden antique telephone and one combination smoke alarm carbon dioxide detector from my old apartment. I remove the batteries, and wait and… [_____].
I return my ice-cream bowl to the kitchen, find a flashlight, and venture out into the darkness to see if the fan is still running on my car. Oh please let it not be running. [buzz] Still going. It has been a long day and I am not at my best. I don't want to deal with this, but clearly something must be done or the battery on my car is going to run down. It cannot power the fan forever. I scratch my head and wander inside to consult the modern day oracle for all questions, the Internet. The Internet is a marvelous tool, but diagnosing obscure car problems isn't something it's particularly good at. I leave my computer confused, befuddled, and annoyed, but I know that I need to stop that fan from running at least for the night. So I drive the car down the interstate for a bit, turn around and come back to the house just to see if that resets anything. It doesn't. I realize that it's time to disconnect the battery, get some sleep, and reconsider the entire matter in the morning.
By now it's gotten dark. I don't have any working lights on the driveway. [buzz] That's one of the home repairs that uber-man does without breaking a sweat. So I am standing in the dark with a Maglite jammed into my armpit going through every possible socket in my collection of tools trying to find the size that will allow me to unclamp the terminal and disconnect the battery. Uber-man would take a look at the bolt, reach into his carefully organized set of tools, and pluck the correct size from its resting place on the first try. But in the dark after a particularly grindy day, it seemed like I had a plastic file box of sockets that were all the same wrong size I had to try about twenty of them [buzz] and was seriously beginning to wonder if I was going to be standing out there all night trying to disconnect the battery and listening to the fan get slower and slower as the battery died when on or about try number twenty one I found the right socket, loosened the battery cable, and disconnected it. The fan fell silent. [_____] I reconnected it. [buzz] I disconnected it. [_____]
The next morning after much debate, I decided to take the car to the shop rather than to try to follow the long list of possibilities pointed to by the Internet. I think multiple parts, multiple junk yards, many multiple hours driving around disconnecting and reconnecting the battery every time I stop might make it worth paying a professional to figure it out. I call the shop, make an appointment. I gather my things. I go outside. I connect the battery. [buzz] The fan starts buzzing away again. At least it seems to be consistent and reproducible.
I drive to the repair shop about fifteen minutes away and worry about how late I am going to be to work. Can I really afford to be late? I park in the repair yard at Summit Automotive. I turn the engine off and get out of the car.
It's been a few days now. I have been carrying around the wrench in the glove box needed to disconnect the battery. The problem has not yet reoccurred.
23 August 2010
I got the feeling that not a lot of this movie was shot on location. The camera work was more reminiscent of a television show than a movie. I felt that there was a lot of green screen work, and I got the sense that some of the scenes of the big starts were in together were shot on different days, like one actor shot his half of the conversation on Tuesday and the second actor recorded his bit the following Thursday.
Even for an action adventure movie which is expected to have a bad script, this movie’s script failed on multiple levels. It actually makes several false starts before it settles into a pedestrian storyline. The ominous and threatening Bruce Willis character disappears with zero explanation and zero impact on the storyline. An appearance by Schwarzenegger sets you up for a plot twist that never happens. He too must have just been visiting the set on day so they wrote him a couple of lines and threw him in the movie.
And any action movie which wastes several minutes with the heroes sitting around talking about the medical causes of cauliflower ears doesn’t understand the meaning of the word action.
Mickey Rourke seems to have been included in the cast for the one scene they thought would require acting, and that’s all he gets to do. The scene seems contrived to bring in a designated actor for a scene Stallone couldn’t pull off. Part of the appeal of Stallone movies was watching him make a fool of himself trying to act. He could never act, but we liked him for at least making the effort. I guess Stallone is beyond risking making a fool of himself, because in this film he doesn’t even care enough about us to try.
And will someone please stop casting Eric Roberts in anything, particularly as the villain. We’ve seen this so many times.
There were a lot of explosions and a lot of shots fired in this movie. If all that you have to do is show one of your hero’s place c-4 then this would be the action movie to end all action movies. As one of the characters placed what seemed like the 100th charge of c-4 I was actually thinking, “More c-4? Where is he carrying that? Is there that much room in his pockets? I hope they remember to place it all. Gosh it would be a shame if they over looked a brick and left one in their pocket, that would be surprising. You suppose one store had that much c-4 or did they have to stop at multiple stores on the way to the badguy’s castle.” Keep in mind this is during the run up to the climatic fight scene of the movie. Suspense should be building. I shouldn’t be worrying about how many stores they had to stop at to get that much c-4.
Was there anything I liked about this movie? Jason Stratham and Terry Crews had more energy and presence that any of the other stars combined. I kept thinking that those two could do a bromance movie that would kick the Expendable’s ass. Terry Crews and his fondness for his automatic shotgun was one of the few bits of the movie that I liked and that the crowd seemed to react to. Jason Stratham seemed to have shown up for this film, but the script couldn’t seem to decide if he was a central character or not. At times the story seemed to focus on him and then suddenly he would be out of focus and be relegated to a supporting bit part.
I was sorely disappointed by this movie.
15 August 2010
Out of nowhere Scott meets the girl of his dreams, when she rollerblades... through his dream. As Scott finds when he finally meets her in real life, her name is Ramona Flowers. He pursues her and no sooner than they have the barest possibility of a relationship Scott is confronted by the challenge posed by her seven evil exes. It seems that Ramona’s seven exes want to control her life and will kill anyone who even attempts to date her. Undaunted, Scott carries on and it’s not long before he’s attacked by the first evil ex.
The world Scott inhabits is one where spending hours and hours playing combat video games in the arcade is suitable preparation for being able to perform feats of martial arts in real life. So despite his outwardly mild appearance, Scott is no pushover for the evil exes. He has mad martial art combat skills honed by years of playing video games.
The story of Scott’s relationship with Ramona and his friends actually works pretty well. These are likable, interesting people, trying to connect and find meaning in their lives. There is a lot of wit and humor and the seven evil exes are a nice metaphor for the challenges of a new relationship. Unfortunately the seven evil exes and all the screen time devoted to them almost drag down and sink the picture. The fight sequences which start out visually compelling start to feel a little overwhelming and even boring. I found myself wishing the fights would be over so we could get back to those really interesting characters and find out what is going on with them.
Parts of the film strike this marvelous pitch perfect witty whimsical note that I would have loved to have seen maintained throughout. Unfortunately that is not the case. It's a movie that could have been great, but ends up being rather ordinary. Still I enjoyed the movie more than I thought I would and would recommend it.
08 August 2010
It’s the story of Ree, a 17 year old girl carrying the responsibility of caring for her two younger siblings and her mentally ill mother. Her absent father is facing charges of manufacturing methamphetamine and has put up the family home for his bond. As his trial date approaches, dad is nowhere to be found. The sheriff and the bond company come by the house to let Ree know that unless her father shows up, she and her family will need to be looking for another place to live. So Ree sets on a quest to find her father, bring him home, and save the family home. The people she goes to, "family" in the sense that there is some blood relationship, but more business assotiates of her father, are a scary bunch. They don't take kindly to her questions and seem very reluctant to help her. The head of the family refuses to see or talk to her because "talking just creates witnesses". People don't take kindly to Ree asking questions. There is enourmous pressure for her to back off looking and just let her family be taken by social services. But that's not who Ree is.
At 17 Ree is already a remarkable woman and heroic in the sense that she has these incredibly strong values that she’s willing to stand up for. First and foremost she values family and is willing to fight like a lioness when it comes to protecting them. She is willing to do whatever it takes to take care of them. Her strength comes from her belief about doing the right thing whether it’s making sure dinner gets on the table, or tracking down her father. She’s not particularly brave and there is good reason for her to be afraid of the people around her. She acts because something in her requires it of her. As she says at one point, “There is stuff that you are going to have to get over being scared of.”
The world of the Missouri Ozarks as portrayed in the film seems a hostile and dangerous place, the men and woman can be hard and dangerous, kind one minute and cruel the next, yet there is a code of behavior that governs it all and keeps order. In the quest for her father, Ree finds herself having to oppose that order more and more, and the more dangerous things become for her.
One of the striking things about the film was the sheer number of strong performances by both the professional and non-professional actors. Professional actor Jenifer Lawrence is mesmerizing as Ree and anchors the picture. There is a particularly strong scene with her and an army recruiter played by real life Army recruiter Russell Schalk. He manages to communicate an amazing amount without ever breaking out of his gung-ho Army recruiter persona. There are a number of other great performances in this picture to watch for including John Hawkes as Teardrop and Dale Dicky as Merab.
There are a lot of classical elements to this story. It is the tale of the hero, the fight against all odd, the quest, and there are elements of Greek tragedy. It’s a tight little story, suspenseful, well-acted, and well told. It’s one of the best movies I have seen all year.
It’s funny seeing this movie right after seeing the summer blockbuster Inception whose sense of amorality has been bothering me more and more. In fact, despite the craftsmanship of that film, I am having a hard time recommending Inception to people. Winter’s Bone on the other hand has a strong moral center and I know why I am routing for Ree. On a number of levels she is very much the old fashioned hero worth routing for.
07 August 2010
In A Monstrous Regiment, Mary has graduated college and is about to come into her inheritance. She’s introduced by a friend to Margery Childe, a charismatic mystic who runs a temple and women’s shelter. Mary’s degrees are in Theology and Chemistry and she finds herself both fascinated and drawn to Margery. As she begins to learn more about the temple some tries to kill her friend. The attempt reveals a pattern of murder centered on Margery and the temple which Mary sets her will on resolving.
Laurie R. King does a wonderful job of bringing nineteen twenties England to life as we watch Mary trying to unravel the mystery. It’s a good book to curl up with when you have a pot of tea on and a long evening ahead of you, because you are not going to want to go anywhere till it’s finished.
01 August 2010
Leonardo DiCaprio plays Cobb, a master thief using this new technology. If you want a secret stolen, he’s the best. So it is to Cobb that Saito, an ultra-rich industrialist, turns when he wants something even more difficult. Saito wants Cobb to break into someone’s mind and leave a thought behind without the mark knowing or suspecting what’s been done, to plant the inception of an idea.
On its face it seems impossible, how do you get someone to think something, to have than initial beginning of an idea, and for them to think that it was there idea all along? But despite the seeming impossibility of the task, it’s something that Cobb is willing to try once Saito finds the right way to pull to motivate him.
The structure and the plot of inception borrow heavily from the classic caper movies combining basic elements from two standard storylines, the reluctant bank robber enticed into one final heist and the -layer within layer confidence scheme. Nolan breathes new life into these storylines and in truth I did not even see the parallels until I was reflecting on the movie later at home.
At 158 minutes, Inception is a long film, but it moved along at a brisk pace and seldom seemed to drag. It’s a visually spectacular film, but oddly one of the things that made the movie work for me was a sense of restraint. Typically I find that when attempt to portray dream states or altered realities they become impressionistic mishmashes that make me vaguely seasick. While Inception has no shortage of special effects that are extremely well done, there is a logical believability to them, mostly because the camera frame is full of everyday objects, even if they are seen behaving in unusual and unexpected ways. Any CGI that was used was held to an almost photo-realistic standard. I didn’t have any moments where my suspension of disbelief crumbled because the CGI was so mind blowingly unbelievable.
And just because a lot of the action takes place in dreams, thankfully the characters don’t get to go around dodging bullets in slow motion or jumping tall buildings in a single bound. Characters are still bound by laws of physics and placed in believable jeopardy. There is a fight scene in zero-gravity that is especially well done. Not only was there a logical reason these people would be fighting in zero-gravity, but it actually looked like a fight that was taking place in zero-gravity. It was good enough that I had to go online to see if maybe Nolan and company had perhaps used an airplane to actually achieve temporary zero-gravity to shoot the scene.
When we go to movies, we suspend our belief to become emotionally engaged with what the director has created. The director has created a world, with sets and actors to manipulate our minds and emotions. There are some similarities in what Cobb and his crew do. They build the set, take on roles, and follow the script. But morally the two things are as different as night and day, and I almost wish the film had demonstrated more of an awareness of that distinction. As the outsider of the gang, Ellen Page’s character of Ariadne does make some attempt to ask ethical questions, but it’s done weakly and she never gets close to any of the big questions.
Not every tale has to be turned into a morality tale to be enjoyable, but on reflection I find making a business of breaking and entering into a person’s dreams and manipulating their subconscious into revealing their innermost secrets a terrible form of assault on the self. And breaking in to leave thoughts the victim would take for their own seems worse. There is enough backstory that we understand Cobb and his motivations, but should that translate into us routing for him and his gang to succeed?
But morality aside, Inception is one heck of an original caper film.
25 July 2010
With their new movie Salt writer Kurt Wimmer and director Phillip Noyce manage to pull off it off with just the right pinch of originality and the result is outstanding summer movie fare. Angeline Jolie is cast perfectly as Evelyn Salt, the hard to read CIA agent accused of being a Soviet mole. She is beautiful, mysterious, and as hard as nails. (Did I mention beautiful? The filmmakers try hard to pretend that they don’t notice, but it quickly becomes a conceit. The camera absolutely loves Jolie.)
The movie moves at the perfect pace, it gets the ball rolling with few preliminaries, opens up the throttle, and then never slows down or makes the mistake of giving you time to think. If something preposterous happens, there’s no time for the audience to dwell on it, there is already something else exciting going on.
The role was originally written for a man and there is some visual irony in seeing a character being played by Angelina Jolie being physically treated like a character being played by Bruce Willis. (And there is a lot in this movie that reminded me of Die Hard, another great action hero, hunted, up against overwhelming odds movie.)
It’s interesting that the movie had to be completely rewritten in order to let Angelina Jolie step into a role originally meant for a man. According to the Jolie it allowed the movie and her character to become “harder and darker.” Although we like to see Angelina Jolie acting almost hyper-masculine at times, I am not sure we’d be willing to accept a man in the same role without lightening him up, making him warmer, or making him more sympathetic. There is definitely no lightness to Evelyn Salt and there’s more than a touch of the Dark Knight.
One particularly refreshing thing about the movie was a return to real stunt work and a switch away from the heavy use of CGI, which easily overwhelms my ability to maintain the suspension of disbelief necessary to enjoy a film.
Is it great cinema? Not even close, but for a summer action movie it’s an unexpectedly well-seasoned treat right out of the oven.
11 July 2010
The minions in question belong to Gru, voiced by Steve Carroll, is an evil doer extraordinaire who is in danger of being shown up by a Johnny-Come-Lately by the name of Vector (who for some reason kept reminding me of Bill Gates). Vector steals a super weapon from Gru that he needs for his big come back. In order to retrieve it, Gru adopts three orphans as part of a plan to steal it back. The danger, if you are a despicable super villain, of getting to close to super cute adorable orphans is they might start having a deleterious effect on your cold calculating evil-minded despicability.
This movie is strictly a comedy. It has a smaller dose of pathos and wit than you will find in the really great animated movies that can capture an adult audience along with the kids. It's just out to have a good time which it succeeds at completely. If I was going to overanalyze it looking for some kind of message, and why don't I just take a minute to do that, I could make the case that it's all about the importance of having minions. Gru's life is greatly enriched by the presence of his minions and his unexpected feelings for the orphans. Vector on the other hand is strictly a solo bad guy. He might have power on his side, but is power any match for an army of minions?
If you are interested, I strongly recommend finding a kid to take with you to see this movie. There are movies you can enjoy watching as an adult, and then there are movies that you enjoy vicariously through the kid you brought with you. I think Despicable Me would definitely fall into this latter category. It was fun seeing it with a friend, but I thought it would have been better if we had a kid to borrow and take.
05 July 2010
29 April 2010
27 April 2010
Fernando was one of several friends that showed up not just to move me into my new house, but also for the earlier and considerably less festive task of moving my ex-wife out of our apartment. Before that day we moved my wife out, I'd never really asked for help from a group of friends like that. The fact that friends showed up and helped, some that I knew well, some that I didn't know all that well, really kind of knocked me for a loop.
I've spent a lot of my life feeling like I was on the outside of things looking in, that I wasn't a part of a community, that I didn't have friends. And although things are different, it has been hard for me to accept that things have changed. That morning, when so many folks showed up to help load the ex-wife's things into the back of a big yellow Penske rental truck, really rocked my perception of the world. It strikes me that I have done a poor job of saying thank you to those folks, not because of a lack of gratitude and appreciation, but out of inexperience and a sense of the inadequacy of words to explain.
I think it was that sense of people coming together for me and wanting to pay some of that back which helped motivate me to spend at least a little time with Fernando over the past few weeks and I am extraordinarily grateful that I did.
26 April 2010
Saturday I was up very early and wrote a short story, visited friends, went out to breakfast, stopped by the hospice, came home for a few minutes, then went bowling of all things. It's been twenty years since I've bowled and it showed, although I did improve as we went along. We bowled for about two hours at Midtown bowl and I came close to winning the final game. All I had to do was get that final pin of a spare plus any one pin in the next frame and victory would have been mine... but all my final ball collected was air as it went by that last remaining pin. Saturday evening was a bit of a bust, I futzed around the house for a bit, looked at a friend's defunct computer, laid down for a nap, and never got up again until the next morning. I don't think I get enough sleep.
Sunday I was up early and watched Mongol about the early life of Genghis Kahn. Very interesting and difficult life even before he united the Mongols and set about conquering half the world. I had coffee with friends, stopped by the house, picked up the pick, went over to Stone Mountain again, did fifteen miles this time, came home, showered, and tried to get interested in doing things around the house. Eventually I managed to get it in gear, getting some cleaning done, getting out to the pet store to buy a real litter box, and picking up some sundries at Target. I added oil to the Honda, changed the wipers, replaced a headlight, and threw away the trash that had accumulated. Then I puttered around the house doing laundry, putting things away, and other random acts of domesticity. Somehow that managed to take up the rest of the day except for the hour where I watched Bones on the computer. (I hate watching things on the computer, there are all these little pauses that drive me nuts. I don't know if the problem is my video card, cpu, bandwidth, or the Internet itself.)
But now the three day weekend is over and it's back to reality.
22 April 2010
19 April 2010
Sunday, I met friends for coffee, shopped at Trader Joe's, talked to a friend on the phone for awhile to get advice on a situation. That might have brought me back to earth in a necessary way, but it left me in kind of a lethargic contemplative mood all afternoon. I did manage to mow the yard, wash, fold, and put away laundry and get a couple of miscellaneous other chores done. I even managed to squeeze in a nap.
I got one phone call and made a couple of phone calls which cheered me up... and then the weekend was over and it was time for sleep. Not the most productive weekend, but there was some time well spent.
16 April 2010
14 April 2010
Monday was a long day, as soon as got home I walked down to the village to score some coffee. By the time I got home, it was time for a quick dinner and bed. Tuesday I actually had a few minutes in the evening to put my feet up, email a friend about something, and watch a few minutes of United States of Tara. Then I went to bed early to try to get in some make up sleep. Might have helped a little, although I am still tired this morning.
12 April 2010
Saturday, met friends for coffee, shopped at Trader Joe's and tried to flirt with the cashier I think is cute, stopped at Lowe's for lawn supplies, came home and worked in the yard mowing and weeding for several hours, came inside, fixed my bike, took a short test ride, watched a couple of episodes of The United States of Tara and to bed.
Sunday met friends for coffee and ending up talking forever, then went to the Sunday morning matinee of Clash of the Titans in 3D, lunch and more talking, a short break to come home, prep a salad for dinner, and clean up some of the tools I had left out from the day before. Then I went with a friend to visit a friend at his home who has pancreatic cancer and just started his chemotherapy Friday. It was a good visit and I really enjoyed the time I got to spend with him. I went over to a friends house were we grilled chicken, tossed a salad and talked forever. I stumbled home about two hours past my bedtime and fell into bed. It was kind of a weird day, I talked more than I ever do and a lot of it was about stuff I never talk about.
07 April 2010
06 April 2010
05 April 2010
Had what can only be described as an awesome weekend. Saturday I had breakfast with friends, did my shopping at Trader Joe's, came home, was very domestic around the house, called a friend, went to a movie, bought a push mower and a ladder, came home, made dinner, and went to sleep. Sunday a friend surprised me with Starbucks, I mowed my yard with a manual push mower. Talked to my neighbor the gardener about what exactly was in my yard, what I should weed and what I should cultivate. He pointed out some things that I should watch out for, ie Poison Ivy. I got up on the ladder, which I really don't like and confirmed the squirrels have been coming in where I thought they were coming in and I noticed that I have a soffit that is moving up the list of things that are going to need attention right away.
I know people told me owning a house was going to be a lot of work, and I intellectually understood the words at the time. But now it is begininig to since in at a gut level. All I can say is thank goodness I didn't really understand what people were saying. I might never have pursued being a homeowner.
02 April 2010
Wednesday I fell off my diet and felt like crap.
Thursday was a win.
It's now Friday morning, I've just looked at the clock and realized that I need to finish my blueberry smoothie and get in the shower if I want to get the usual bus. No big plans for the weekend, I have not even really been able to think about the weekend. The week has been one long coaster ride that's left my head spinning and unable to think clearly. I think I need some downtime this weekend. Not sure what I am going to do.
31 March 2010
I did have a latte at Starbucks... no more. At least not for awhile. I need to get back on my budget wagon pronto which means cutting my visits to the two tailed mermaid down to once a week. So I am officially declaring myself baned till after next Tuesday. Gosh, I hope they don't go out of business.
I feel like I am running a little behind at work. Got to get on top of it today.
30 March 2010
- At work did a fairly decent job of facing unpleasant stuff head on and getting the worst stuff out of the way first
- Stuck to my diet, yet had breakfast, lunch, and dinner
- Treated myself to a latte at lunch
- Got some walking in as part of my commute
- Updated my checkbook
- Got my Starbucks Gold Card
29 March 2010
Post-movie I headed back to the house did laundry and cleaned. The usually weekend stuff, strip the beds, wash the linens, remake the bed, vacuum the house, mop the kitchen, scrub the bathroom it all its multi-surface glory, wash any remaining laundry and put away; balance the checkbook, reconcile bank statements, open and pay any bills that I had missed during the week; enter any transactions I had forgotten about; take a nap; and watch a foreign film, in this case Reprise which I just didn't get. The characters were not compelling and there was not much of a detectable story. It's shame because I really wanted to like it.
Didn't feel very good Sunday, mostly from having slept like crap on Saturday night. I tried unsuccessfully to take a nap, but my nerves were too jangly. I felt hot and feverish, which probably didn't help my liking of Reprise. I blew my diet to hell with judicious application of Ben and Jerry's Cheesecake Flavored Ice Cream, but damn it, it did make me feel a bit better. Today is a new day however, and it's back on the diet wagon for me.
28 March 2010
Thursday I went with the guys to lunch at La Botana, a local Mexican restaurant and managed to a) not eat any of the chips and salsa b) find something to order that fit into my diet. (chicken tacos, no cheese)
For lunch Friday I took a long walk (2 miles) to Chick-Fil-A to grab a sandwich, then stopped by a nearby Starbucks to have a coffee intending to sit and write for awhile, unfortunately time ran a little short and it was grab and go.
Saturday I had a very enjoyable breakfast with friends at the corner cafe, did my weekly shopping at Trader Joe's, came home, put things away, and then went over to a friend's house to hold a ladder. A raccoon that had been living in his walls managed to die in his walls, a contractor came and found the critter by cutting holes in the walls and ceiling. Repairing the holes was not included in the corpse removal fee which explains why my buddy is fifteen feet up in the air trying to patch his ceiling and needed me to hold the ladder.
I got home in the early evening, had a frozen protein smoothie and went for about a 3 mile walk through the village. I sat on the front steps for a bit as I watched the sun go down, went inside, made a salad and some salmon wraps, watched a bit of Angel, then tottered off to bed for what turned out to be a pretty restless nights sleep, listening for critters in my attic and a couple of other things on my mind. I woke up early and decided it was a good as time as any to update my blog.
25 March 2010
24 March 2010
So why the getting serious again about getting more exercise and losing the extra pounds?
- Getting back to my goal weight is #4 on my list of New Year's Resolutions.
- I need to buy more pants or fit into the ones I already have.
- I am working on a personal program for healthy living.
- And I have been thinking more and more about resolution #1.
23 March 2010
I need to start working out, but sitting here in the cold at 4:37am drinking a nice cup of coffee, I am just so not motivated to get down on the floor and start doing crunches. I think I am going to have to work up a little motivation before getting started on an exercise routine. Although even just the walking that I have been working in on my commute has been making a difference.
22 March 2010
Sent from my iPhone
Green Zone was not bad for a war movie, technically it was great, Matt Damon is a solid action star. The shaky cam eventually became a bit much as did all of the extremely dim night shots. The story was relevant and topical. Everything was nice and tight. But I didn't really like the movie. I was hoping more Borne Identity and less Big Red One. It could be that I don't like war movies or just Iraq fatigue on my part. I am sick of being at war/fighting in both Iraq and Afghanistan. A movie is going to have to be pretty compelling to cut through my natural dislike, and this wasn't that movie. I was also vaguely annoyed because the trailer I saw in the theater didn't seem to match up with the movie I saw very well.
So post movie I headed home and proceed with the mundane tasks that I actually kind of like. I finished doing the laundry, got it folded and put away, I vacuumed the house, scooped the litter, made a smoothie for lunch and later heated up a can of black bean soup and made a spinach salad for dinner. I had just finished eating and was debating if I wanted to try to get anything else done when I heard a noise indicating that I had caught another squirrel in the attic. I turned out that it was not much more than a baby. Not so small that I felt bad about driving it cross down and setting it free somewhere else, but pretty darn small. It was pretty hysterical at being trapped in a cage and kept making this ear-splitting whistle which I guess was some sort of distress call. I kept looking over my shoulder as I climbed out of the attic for mommy squirrel and and company.
Out of consideration for the squirrel's feelings I didn't make it wait overnight for release, I got in the car and drove it across town and released it in a school parking lot. I got caught in some serious rain showers driving back home, saw some really interesting skies as the sun was going down, stopped at Trader Joe's, headed home and called it a night.
20 March 2010
I spent the better part of the day cleaning up the kitchen and trying to organize the stuff in the "spare room" so the spare room is more of a spare room and less of a catchall for everything that doesn't have a place. I threw some stuff out and put some more stuff in the car to drop off at Goodwill. I worked at it for a good five hours before deciding that enough was enough. I walked for a couple of miles around the village, then came home, made a salad and heated up a can of soup. As I was making the salad I realized that I had forgotten the dressing and didn't have any in the house. The funny thing is between the humas, feta cheese, and black olives the salad didn't actually need dressing.
While I ate I sat and watched the first couple of episodes of Nurse Jackie.
While I was busy cleaning the neighborhood cats kept coming around and peering into the window, much to the consternation of my cat. I thought this photo was interesting with my cat named Shadow on the inside and the light colored cat named God knows what on the outside.
I did meet someone today I thought was quite interesting that I really should have invited out for coffee and shame on me for not doing it. It caught me a little off guard and let's face it, I am a little out of practice.
18 March 2010
complicated creatures and that step between what we do and what we want to do can be enormous.
I seem to be pretty good at getting it together in one area, but feel challenged when it would be nice to take on a couple of areas at once.What are all these areas of which I speak?
Work: staying on top of current stuff, looking for where I can improve, developing my skills
Social: putting energy into friendships, meeting folks, and gasp, dating
Personal: eating health, exercise, activities, working on my house,
decorating, housekeeping, etc
sent from my iPhone
17 March 2010
As I first looked back on yesterday I was struck by how I didn't put one ounce of energy into any of my hopes and dreams. The day seemed wasted, a filler day between birth and death. I didn't take a half hour to write, I didn't eat particularly healthy, I didn't set down and work on my budget, I didn't do this and I didn't do that. All these things that I didn't do that I need to be doing if I want specific dreams to come true.
But if I go back and look more closely at yesterday, I find there was quite a list of things that I did do. I went to work, worked hard, was focused, and got a lot done, which is no small accomplishment, required a lot of energy, and is a necessary supporting piece of a lot of my hopes and dreams. I took the opportunity to go to lunch with friends because that's important me. I texted a friend while watching NCIS just to say hello. I walked from the train station to work and from work to the train station for the exercise. So on reflection the day was not the complete waste I first thought when I sat down to write about it.
Lately I find myself conscious of what I am doing with my days and how they are numbered. I don't know how many there are, there should be plenty left, more than half, but I do know they are a finite quantity. And the quality of my life is good right now. There will be times when that isn't the case.
So yesterday wasn't just a filler day, but I see room for improvement. What small step will I take today to ensure that today is not just a filler day?
16 March 2010
So I come home and check my carefully laid traps. Queue my best evil villain victory laugh, muahaha! I have caught you Mr. Squirrel. Why don't you just sit there while I look up recipes for squirrel stew and tell you my plot to take over the world which is safe for you to know for the few minutes you have left since it is impossible for you to escape my clutches, make your way back to the squirrel army, lead a strike force back to steal my flux capacitors, and destroying me in an emotionally satisfying manner to make the audience happy while leaving a tiny bit of doubt about the finality of my end in case the studio green-lights a sequel in which I come back horribly scared and looking for revenge.
15 March 2010
13 March 2010
12 March 2010
Came home, reheated some sketti, and watched the rest of The Jane Austen Book Club, a cute movie, but one that made me feel bad about having never read Jane Austen.
11 March 2010
Having nothing to do with the passage of time, I find it amusing that the cat can jump into my lap as I am sitting at my desk typing. I cannot quite work out the physics of how this works. I suspect that several laws of motion are in fact being broken or that cats discovered how to teleport some time ago. Evidently they can read as well, she just looked at what I was typing, gave me an exasperated look, and jumped down, probably to go report me to some cat authority for giving away their secrets.
Wednesday actually started with a couple of setbacks, out of coffee, missing umbrella, missed buses, but things seemed to turn around once I hit Starbucks on the way to work and achieved Cafe Latte. I pushed myself in a couple of areas and the results were positive. I took something personally and then got over it. I found out something I didn't like and will have the opportunity to fix it. I think I learned a few things. Then I came home, made sketti, ate too much, and went to bed. Not the worst day I ever had.
10 March 2010
Not the greatest day ever, but I found things to be grateful for in it. I started the day with a cafe latte, got a lot done at work, saw a couple of pretty girls, got a call from a friend, all good stuff.
09 March 2010
08 March 2010
Eventually I gave up on getting anything of substance done with the rest of the day, my face was throbbing and I felt like I had been ridden hard and put up wet. I put on the sweat pants, heated up a can of black bean soup, fired up the DVD player and watched Law Abiding Citizen which was a much more entertaining movie.
07 March 2010
06 March 2010
05 March 2010
I wonder how many people are going to get up this morning and go off to work wondering what they would really like to be doing for a living. I have always envied those folks that seemed to know from 5th grade what direction they wanted to go with their lives. I remember being asked that question in 5th grade and being completely unable to choose, there were things about all the classic professions, policemen, fireman, astronaut, doctors, lawyers, writers, and teachers that I thought was pretty cool.
The only occupation that I ever really felt drawn to was that of writer, but I have never had much luck trying my hand at fiction and I don't know how much of that desire was a fantasy of the lifestyle of a writer and how much is actually a love of writing, since as I say, I don't sit down and actually write fiction very often. There is something however that I dearly love about sitting at a keyboard and writing. I love it when my fingers dance across the keyboard and words come out, it feels like magic. If I think back about the things in my life that I am proud of a funny thing comes up. That 25 page term paper I wrote on the use of trains in early 19th century novels. That was a bear of a paper and I hit a home run on that one. So if I had a dream job, I think it would involve writing.
I think part of my problem with trying to write fiction has always been this awful self-criticism that I have always felt when I have tried to write. Everything comes out sounding horrible to me and I frequently stop before I get very far. It's only been relatively recently that I have realized that some of that, perhaps even a lot of that, might not be real or fair criticism. Since coming to that realization and starting to build a little basic self-confidence, I have not really had the opportunity to go back and apply that to writing. It seems like life has been moving a thousand miles an hour for awhile now.
It's only been lately that I have started to realize that waiting for life to smooth out or for there to be more time is a fool's game. Life is an endless banquet which presents an endless number of choices most of which are coming at us simultaneously. Life's choices are not this nice series of linear decisions my brain would prefer. It's more like making a bunch of decisions rapidly and at the same time. It's setting priorities, trying to live by some basic principles, and hoping for the best.
So what do I need to take from all this early morning rumination which probably does not make the least bit of sense to anyone? Probably that I need to set aside some time to write. It' doesn't have to be much, but if there is even a small piece of the dream that I had as a little kid of being a writer then just maybe I should honor that by finding a couple of hours to see if there is anything there. What's the worst than can happen? That I'll end up with a terrible unfinished novel in the back of the file cabinet? That's not such a bad thing.
There is nothing wrong that an infinite amount of time and money will not cure.