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.

Holiday meme

Yep. When there’s no room in the brain for anything else, try a meme. As seen on Isis:

1. Egg nog or hot chocolate?

The nog, but only if I make it. True story: we used to do team Christmas parties in my first job, and we were all supposed to bring refreshments. I brought eggnog, and not knowing any better decided I was going to bring real eggnog. This one had a fifth of whiskey in it, and the whole team was pretty darned unproductive the rest of the afternoon.

2. Does Santa wrap presents or just sit them under the tree?

Actually, Santa wraps presents then sets them under the tree. Yes, Virginia, Santa Claus is a grammar Nazi.

3. Colored lights on tree/house or white?

Growing up I was always a white lights on tree, no lights on house kid. These days it’s colored lights on the tree and while we haven’t done any exterior decorations, one of these years…

4. Do you hang mistletoe?

Never did. I was always a weird, no touch kid and never wanted that stuff. Now, I may have to find a way to sneak some into the house.

5. When do you put your decorations up?

Late. This year, very late. I might get a tree up by Christmas.

6. What is your favorite holiday dish (excluding dessert)?

The quail risotto that I made a few Christmases ago in Pennsylvania with quail my Uncle shot. Including plucking the shot out of the quail as I prepared it.

7. Favorite holiday memory as a child?

Christmas Eve services in my home church. There would always be an organ recital at 10:30 pm and our organist was into moody minor key modern arrangements. I can’t remember the composer who did the Greensleeves arrangement that we heard year after year but it’s stuck with me.

8. When and how did you learn the truth about Santa?

I don’t remember but my Mom probably does. Maybe I just figured it out.

9. Do you open a gift on Christmas Eve?

I’ve always kept away from spoiling the surprise, but my wife’s family believes in opening presents early.

10. How do you decorate your Christmas tree?

Tree is artificial and pre-lighted, so sets of balls and ornaments that match are first—balancing the colors around the tree. Then heirloom ornaments. Finally the star, which I optimistically bought one year out of college and have been storing and using ever since, which has been challenging considering it’s blown glass.

11. Snow! Love it or dread it?

Both. Love it when it’s falling and it’s cold, dread it when it’s four months old and everywhere.

12. Can you ice skate?

Yes, but I haven’t tried in years.

13. Do you remember your favorite gift?

Maybe my first iPod, in 2001 when I was a grad student and we were living on a fixed income. It was a gift from Lisa.

14. What’s the most important thing about the holidays for you?

Thoughtful and watchful anticipation of the coming of Christ and meditating on the meaning of forgiveness. Followed closely by not killing people at shopping malls.

15. What is your favorite holiday dessert?

My mom’s chocolate covered candied orange peel.

16. What is your favorite holiday tradition?

Tie: Being together with my parents and sister on Christmas Day, and my wife’s traditional Christmas Eve dinner of seven (or at least multiple) fishes.

17. What tops your tree?

See answer to #10.

18. Which do you prefer, giving or receiving?

When I’m feeling depressed and self effacing, giving. When I’m feeling strong and honest, receiving.

19. What is your favorite Christmas song?

Right now, “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day.”

20. Candy canes?

Oh yeah, preferably with a good book.

21. Favorite Christmas movie?

A Charlie Brown Christmas. Though I still get hysterical giggles when I think about the scene in the mid-90s Charlie Brown Christmas special when Peppermint Patty falls off the curb, and Marcie asks, “Slouching toward Bethlehem, sir?”

22. What do you leave for Santa?

Whiskey. Or holiday ale.

Tagging: Zalm, Small Cafe.

A holiday hint

ThinkChristian.net: Protest or Celebrate?. A nicely done tweak at those who protest the lack of publicly endorsed Nativity scenes and insist “It’s Christmas, dammit” when you wish them Happy Holidays, in the form of a letter from the Big Guy himself:

How I personally feel about this celebration can probably be most easily understood by those of you who have been blessed with children of your own. I don’t care what you call the day. If you want to celebrate My birth just, GET ALONG AND LOVE ONE ANOTHER. Now, having said that let Me go on.

If it bothers you that the town in which you live doesn’t allow a scene depicting My birth, then just get rid of a couple of Santas and snowmen and put in a small Nativity scene on your own front lawn. If all My followers did that there wouldn’t be any need for such a scene on the town square because there would be many of them all around town.

Also see this post on Universal Hub about the aforementioned anti-Happy Holidays crazies.

It was 17 years ago today (er, yesterday)…

At perhaps my strangest birthday, in 1989, I had friends and family together at my house. One friend (who I’ve lost touch with—where are you, Jenny Choi?) bought me a copy of Salman Rushdie’s Satanic Verses—hot on the controversy tip, and just prior to the fatwa. My family got me a copy of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band—the first time I had heard most of that album.

And a couple of my friends decided to get me a belly dancer. Yep, at my house. I was so mortified I didn’t even know where to look—which was, perhaps, the point. I still don’t know whether to thank Jim and Andrew or throttle them.

And what’s most astonishing to me is that that particular memory is almost old enough to be drafted. Half a life ago.

Happy birthday to me

The end of the year has gotten to be a much busier time since my career started spanning both product management and sales. (As the director of product management for iET Solutions, our North American sales engineers report to me, and I’m frequently out on the road to talk with existing customers or work with prospects or analysts.) So the holiday month of December takes on a combination of anticipation and heightened stress for me as last minute sales calls and end of quarter business combine with holidays, the Pops, and church choir services.

Thus it was a rare pleasure to actually enjoy my birthday yesterday, which included not only tributes from Isis and A Small Café (and, Isis, just for that I may have to break out my scanner and my high school pictures; the photo illustrations on both posts indicate the ongoing dividends of befriending a photographer during those sketchy days of high school fashion) but a rare visit from Charlie and Carie, who were in town to finalize their move to Manhattan by finishing the sale of their New Hampshire house. So I got to enjoy some serious cooking last night. We made a risotto with prosciutto and peas—Charlie’s first; he even got to stir the pan a fair bit—and then had a chicken that I had boned and stuffed with a mixture of sausage, bread crumb, parmesan (no, not parmagiano reggiano—this stuff came from Argentina and was powdered. But hey, it was in in our fridge), garlic, and parsley. Which, for those of you who have the Marcella Hazan Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking, came out looking nothing like the illustration on page 346. A trussing needle is not an optional piece of equipment for preparing this particular bird. But it was delicious anyway.

And it’s a good thing that Saturday was relaxed and delicious, because getting in Thursday at midnight, and coming home early from work on Friday to deal with our wommitin’ dogs as they recovered from the anesthesia of their tooth cleaning, was not fun. But that’s (mostly) behind us now, and the pink streaks from the Pepto Bismol are fading along the dogs’ muzzles, and we are going to be OK, and life will go on for another year. And next time I might reflect on how much time has passed since certain photographs, but maybe I won’t, either.

Side effects

I’m still fighting this cold. Today was better but tonight I’m still hacking hard enough to pulse a vein in my forehead. And it’s sapping my energy, both at work and on the blog (as if the longeurs between posts on this blog weren’t bad enough, now my limited brain cells are being crowded out by mucus). And as of last night I’m all out of Robitussin (aside: who came up with that name? It sounds like it’s meant for robots).

So my brain is fighting with my body, which points out that there is a need to do something about the pounds of extra turkey in the fridge. As a result, tonight was turkey pot pie night. Somehow in between coughs we assembled two, which are now in the freezer, with one more waiting in the fridge (we didn’t make enough crust—that’s tomorrow). And I have to come up with a Christmas card soon.

Is this cold over yet? Can I please get it out of my system before the weather turns cold again and makes things worse?

Back on line

Quiet few days after Thanksgiving. We had a successful dinner and then spent Friday catching up on sleep and doing … well, a whole bunch of other stuff I don’t remember. Lisa’s folks, here since Tuesday, took off yesterday, leaving the rest of the weekend for us to recoup.

And I had to recoup from a few things. A nasty cold, for one, that settled in my throat sometime on Wednesday, followed by nasty headaches brought on by all the coughing. I’ll survive but hope that it lifts pretty soon.

In the meantime… what’s up with the world? It’s been in the mid-50s here all week while in Seattle… snow?

Mr. Morton, take your neuroma back

I’ve had a lot of difficulty standing and walking this week; I woke up on Tuesday after a long rehearsal Monday night with very strong pain in the toes on my right foot and wasn’t able to put any weight on my second or third toes—meaning I couldn’t walk very quickly and putting on a shoe was torture. I managed to get around it through the remaining four rehearsals and Thursday night’s performance by pushing my foot over the edge of the risers on which we sing, so my weight rested on the back of the foot and the front was free. But climbing through the airports on Friday was murder, and things didn’t seem to be getting better.

So Saturday I took myself down to the Walk-In Clinic (yes, I know; the irony) at Mt. Auburn Hospital, where they indicated that no bones were broken. Instead, they think I have a Morton’s Neuroma, a condition where a foot nerve gets pinched between the toe bones and a shoe and swells, developing a growth that leaves you in more or less constant discomfort. Um, yay.

So now I have to hie myself to a podiatrist. I didn’t really think I was old enough for podiatry. Welcome to my thirties.

Catching my breath

I haven’t really been any less busy in the last week—I was in Pittsburgh on Tuesday, Chicago on Wednesday (hence the no blogging), and have been trying to balance my BSO and church choir commitments. Fortunately our kitchen is in a state where I can’t do anything on it until the plasterers are done, or I’d be a wreck.

But for once I’m breathing easily. I managed to arrange a break in my schedule this morning so that I can help manage the contractors for the plaster work, and I have some time off this afternoon. It’s a short respite—in the interim, I have a trio of meetings and then on Sunday I hop a plane for Salt Lake City. But I somehow have the feeling that I’ll survive now.


Crocodile Hunter Steve Irwin killed. And the tributes pour in. I’m sure I’m not alone in praying for Terri and their kids.

And thanks to Irregular Webcomic, who have been running a Steve and Terry (sic) tribute feature since the earliest days of the strip, for their tribute today. You may need to know that in the strip, there’s an incarnation of Death for every possible way to die, and all of them have been going after Steve, and having to let him go, for many years.

The news is shocking because Steve Irwin did cheat death for so many years to bring happiness and knowledge to so many people. Rest in peace, Steve.

Jumping, saying hi

Finished reading The Discoveries last week. A recap of the major scientific discoveries of the 20th century, complete with the actual research papers, it plunged me back into my physics past.

It made me think about quantum physics and how it has really changed everyday life. Example: while for some medical imaging ultrasound is the way to go (including the echocardiogram and fetal imaging), to view the detailed inner workings of the organism you have to go CT—computed tomography. Three dimensional reconstructions of 2d x-ray slices.

And what’s an x-ray? High wavelength light being absorbed and reflected from different densities of materials, and a little fluorescence.

And what is fluorescence? A photon’s energy is transferred to an electron, kicking it into a higher energy state—usually followed by retransmission of the energy. It’s as if the electron is jumping, saying hi, then dropping back down.

I thought about this as I watched our dog Jefferson, an inveterate ladies’ dog, greet a crowd of teenage girls out for a walk tonight, as he stood on his hind legs, wagged his tail, barked once, and sat down again in the grass.