New lenses on the world

A few weeks ago my eyes turned bright red. They didn’t hurt but something was clearly wrong. I stopped wearing my contacts for a few days and got rid of the infection that had settled in. In the meantime, I relearned what I already knew: my glasses prescription was woefully out of date. Like, when I got these glasses, Clinton was beginning his second term. They didn’t correct for my astigmatism and I had a headache after a few hours wearing them. And the frames were loose to boot.

So I bit the bullet and got new glasses. They’re a departure—I went to heavier Italian black frames, about ten years after everyone else did, and the effect is a cross between young Peter Sellers and early 1950s British Health birth control glasses. This post is, as they say on Fark, useless without pictures, so I’ll see what I can do about that.

But I had forgotten what it’s like getting used to new glasses. I need to keep my head very still or the distortions moving in my peripheral vision give my stomach flip flops. And trying to glance down at my iPod while driving in was a whole different experience again. Like: if I ever give up contacts for good, I might need to go to bifocals.

So: not exactly the total stylish package that I imagined. But at least I can see through them, when I look straight ahead. I think the bottom line is that I’m really glad that I can switch back to my contacts.

Some days are not profound

This is one of those days.

Nothing’s really wrong. I’m just weary of winter. The sun is out and I’m not out there. I really, really want to put my snowblower in the back of the garage and pull the grill to the front.

RIP, Myrtle Talbott

Every now and then, you lose one of the truly influential people in your life. Earlier this year, it was my grandfather. Last week, I got word that another one had passed on: Myrtle Talbott, who taught my once-a-week TAG class when I was in fourth and fifth grade, who was a longtime member of my church, and who was the first teacher I had who really stretched me.

Picture this: I’m in elementary school, glasses and so uncoordinated they give me extra time in the gym outside of classes so I can learn how to do something athletic without falling over. I’ve been through third grade and the teachers are so tired of trying to keep me engaged that they shift me off in the corner with a book. Then fourth grade starts and they round me up with a few other kids, put us on a bus, and send us to another school halfway across town, where Ms. Talbott waits for us, along with a Spanish teacher, CPR practice, creative writing instruction, real-life biology and science, and a bunch of kids who didn’t seem to mind that I was so odd. And she wouldn’t let me just slide by on glibly knowing the answers. Indeed, she was the first teacher I had who gave me an inkling of that uncomfortable truth: sometimes there are no right answers, only tough questions.

Later I saw her all the time in church, but I never made that connection again. She had already put me on the path and I needed to find my own way from there. But I still wish I had been able to come back and see her before she passed away. I don’t think I ever really thanked her for everything she did for me.

So if you see this and were one of her students, stop in at the guestbook and leave a tribute, won’t you? It seems a shame to leave it empty.

Sharper Image Bankruptcy Schadenfreude

Couldn’t resist pointing to this article about Sharper Image’s bankruptcy filing. I remember back in the 1980s when they were the coolest thing around, at least to a 12 year old boy. Tons of gadgets and insanely expensive lifestyle gizmos.

What changed? Well, for one thing, fewer yuppies. For another, their target audience got older. You can’t continue to draw a new audience, particularly one willing to pay a hipness premium, when you’re pitching to their parents. Exhibit A: Turbo Groomer. No matter how you slice it, a nose and ear hair trimmer is never going to be hip. But the damned thing is always on page 2 of the Sharper Image SkyMall pages. Exhibit B: Fresher Longer. Sorry, guys, it’s Tupperware. No sale.

VW Passat coil packs: How not to get return customers

I was driving my 2003 Passat home from the office on Tuesday when something weird happened: the car started idling very rough at a stoplight. I haven’t had a car run that rough since the days when I was driving my 1977 MGB. I thought that perhaps I needed to get a tuneup. I did what I used to do on the MG: put the car in neutral and bring the engine speed up. That calmed the idle a little bit, but when I started driving it past the light the problem came back. Then the check engine light came on. And started flashing.

At that point, I should have pulled over and turned off the car, but I was less than a mile from home so I nursed it there and parked it. Then restrained myself from kicking the car.

The rough running turned out to be caused by misfires in two of my four cylinders; when I got the car home I was only running on two cylinders. I was without the car for two days while the dealer replaced two ignition coil packs that had failed and reprogrammed the car’s computer. To my relief the bill wasn’t exorbitant, but it makes me wonder whether the other two coils are due to go too.

The capper is that I happened to look up Volkswagen Passat in Wikipedia, and found this lovely piece of text for the Mark 5 version:

A common problem that arose along with the introduction of the 2001.5 “B5.5” models was a common failure of ignition coil packs. This problem applied only to owners with the 4 cylinder 1.8T engine, whose coil packs are marked with the part number “06B 905 115H”. The solution is a simple swap of the coil pack for a newer version, a minor repair in both time and cost.

The article even cites a very detailed page on about the problem, which apparently mostly affects late 2002 and early 2003 models. My car was one of the first 2003s.

So the question is: why hasn’t Volkswagen issued a recall of these cars?

Happy New Year

I have a bellyful of lentils and zampone, and I’m watching Virginia in the Gator Bowl. So far, a pretty good start to 2008. It’s snowing again, of course, but you can’t have everything.

I downloaded Dave Winer’s new FlickrFan yesterday, which is worth a look if you are a Mac user—a quick and easy way to put other people’s photos on your screensaver, and as Dave says particularly good for putting content on your HD TV. I don’t currently have a Mac hooked up to our 32″ LCD, so right now it’s driving my screensaver. I think the biggest stroke of genius in the thing is the default inclusion of the AP Photos RSS feed—absolutely brilliant to see totally world class photos of events almost as they happen.

Merry Christmas, several days late

When you think your coolest Christmas gift is an 11″ AllClad skillet, it can safely be said that you are a culinary geek. Especially when you then make up an excuse to use it in the preparation of the Christmas dinner.

Since I got the iPhone around the time of my birthday, my Christmas gifts were pretty moderate, though I was very grateful for my gifts: the skillet, a new pair of slippers (badly needed), and a set of brass collar stays (a gift I didn’t know I needed until I started doing a lot of traveling and our otherwise superb dry cleaner systematically ate all my plastic ones). We’ve had a quiet day just decompressing; tomorrow, with a visit to my family in Pennsylvania, it should be a lot less quiet (and a lot more driving).


No, not the actual candidates; more the realization that today I am of the age where nothing could stop me if I were to decide to run for the highest office in the land.

No, not American Idol judge.

A nice day—got a fair amount of house cleaning done. Amazing how being a little domestic feels really good from time to time. Also had Niall and his fiancée Julia over along with our next-door neighbors Ross and Heide, which was fun.

The big news, of course, is that I’m now within striking distance of getting an iPhone. And at this point I have to be honest: I’m more excited about getting rid of the old Sony Ericsson right now, which is a total boat anchor.

Post-turkey haze

I’d love to be able to blame a caloric coma on my posting drought, but of course that would only explain yesterday and today, and not Tuesday or Wednesday. What can I say: work, like sand, piles up against the breakwater of a vacation as though it is determined to fit the same volume of labor in half the time.

We have had a nice holiday with Lisa’s folks. The meal (turkey a la Alton with brown gravy, sausage and apple stuffing, mashed potatoes, Swiss chard smothered with onion and bacon, green beans with a little olive oil and sea salt, and the requisite cranberry sauce) is by now approaching familiarity, which is by no means bad. For instance: this year the stuffing wasn’t bone dry!

So, what am I thankful for? Many things which I will not list in this space, and some I will:

  • That our forebears had the first Thanksgiving feast in the new world 388 years ago, in Virginia (take that, Plymouth!)
  • That a more perfect cell phone has been created, even if I don’t own one yet
  • That the Democrats control Congress, and, even if they can’t scrape up enough political courage among themselves to pass gas without fear of the President, that at least they are better than the clowns who were in there before, and that none of them have been indicted yet
  • That I’m slowly learning not to eat everything on the table at Thanksgiving

There are more things, but that will do for now.

I can always tell when fall arrives…

…because the Black Dog starts sniffing around the door.

So far, it’s not much more than a sniff. But here I am in New York, ready to go on stage at Carnegie Hall for the first time in my life, and I’m feeling a little blah about it. Well, terrified would be more accurate—not about going on stage, but about leaving the hotel room.

The good news is that after all this time I can recognize my apparent agoraphobia for what it is—mild depression waiting until I drop my guard to spin up into a full fugue. And I think that I might be able to keep it at bay tonight, for I have a secret weapon. It’s called dinner in New York City, provided I can find some people to go with me.


I had one of those dreams last night, the kind I almost never have: I dreamed about an ex-girlfriend. No, not that kind of dream. I don’t, as a rule, dream of ex-girlfriends; as Lou Reed once sang, “when things/end for me, they end.” But last night I did. In this dream, I was at my office, and headed for the door when she came in. We haven’t seen each other for 13 years, so there was a brief greeting and a comparison of notes.

In the dream, she told me about driving up to Boston from Virginia and about her mansion in DC that had to be subdivided to sell. I told her about work, about the things that I do, about life when I was at Microsoft.

In the end, I told her it had been nice to see her and she agreed. Then she said, “Let me know when you’re hiring.” I was puzzled—software isn’t her field. She continued, “You are so passionate about your work, you care so much, that I can’t help but want to work here.”

Then I woke up.

But honestly, the dream couldn’t have come at a better time. It’s been very mixed at work, a lot of challenges and trials, but also some exciting things just around the corner. And sometimes in the thick of things it’s hard to remember that I’m doing what I love to do. I think I needed to hear an affirmation, and dream ex provided it. Thanks, dream ex!


Let me count the ways:

  1. Trying to track down the authors of a Microsoft code sample which essentially disappeared when Microsoft pulled down the GotDotNet community site.
  2. Being gobsmacked by this article about “Conception Day” in Russia—a state holiday set aside to reverse the population decline, for exactly the purpose that you might imagine. Gotta be a hoax…
  3. Watching the WSJ try to find new angles to cover in Wikipedia. The real fun is in the discussions, huh? Wait until they start covering watched articles and user pages…
  4. Trying hard not to laugh at the description of Giuliani journalistic chronicler Wayne Barrett as “a sort of dark Boswell to Rudy’s
    …in a note about Giuliani’s philandering.



I posted a whole bunch of photos to Flickr last night from this weekend’s trip to Richmond to see Esta graduate. Many many things at which to marvel, including a sea of academic regalia, some pretty great party faces, Richmond’s very own Art Deco movie theatre and SR-71 reconnaissance plane, and others.

I also posted some foliage shots. The iris bulbs that my dad sent me from my grandmother’s garden in North Carolina finally produced flowers this year, and they are extraordinary. I spent much of the morning and afternoon yesterday putting down mulch in our flower beds and it was nice to be out in nature again. It was also nice to contemplate a reduction in weeds. We’ve stayed away from mulch after our experiences in Kirkland, where the weeds seemed to be able to grow in anything thanks to all the rain, but last summer’s barrage of uninvited guests convinced me to give the mechanical strategy of protecting the soil another try.