Okay, really: enough of this.

This is now the third time in two months (approximately) that I have been felled by a sinus cold. It’s taken residence in my throat too. I want my immune system to step up and do its job. Unlikely with the rain that we’re having right now, though: there’s no sunshine predicted for the next ten days. Fortunately I’ll be in San Francisco next week for the Gartner ITXpo—and they have sunshine.

Oh yeah: George, are you in town next week?

How to upsell with poor channel management, by Toyota

As I alluded in passing last week, we made a pretty big personal purchase, finally replacing Lisa’s 12-year old Geo with a new car. We wanted something a little bigger for cargo considerations, as well as for more comfortably hauling more than two or three people—long car trips with her parents are sometimes a challenge in the Passat thanks to the limited storage space. So, reluctantly, we decided to go for an SUV (we aren’t quite ready for a minivan). But we didn’t want to compromise too much on gas mileage, especially in this post-Katrina world.

On a recommendation from Charlie and Carie we started out looking at the Toyota RAV-4, which has been redesigned this year. It’s much bigger, almost as long as a Highlander, and now has the option for a third-row seat—something that we felt might give us some additional flexibility and was also on our requirements list. Thanks to some clever engineering and flexibility in the on-demand AWD, Toyota claims to be able to squeeze 28 MPG highway/24 city from the 4-cylinder engine that’s the base configuration. Sounded great.

Unfortunately at this point the limits of Toyota’s product design process revealed themselves. Lisa wanted a moonroof but found out we couldn’t get it if we had the third row seat—something about the required headroom for the third seat being consumed by the space for the moonroof to retract. OK, not the end of the world. But the next point was. While it’s theoretically possible to order a RAV-4 Limited, which comes with side impact airbags unlike the base model, with a third row seat, no such models would be in the channel until late April. This was too much, and bad planning on Toyota’s part. After all, if you’re planning to carry older passengers or other extended family and thus need a third row seat, I would think the side impact air bags would be very important. Regretfully, we said goodbye to the RAV-4 and started looking at other options.

We briefly looked at the Subaru Tribeca, their new bigger SUV, but had to nix it; Lisa’s parents said the rear seat felt like sitting on two inches of padding on top of a steel plate, and described the ride in the back as very rough. So Lisa returned to Toyota and looked again at the Highlander Hybrid—and found that at the base trim level she could get a third row seat, side curtain airbags, and a moonroof. Problem solved, and with some aggressive negotiation we got a good enough deal on one that we were able to upgrade it with leather and heated seats.

So we now have a hybrid, with EPA numbers of 31 city/28 highway. We got closer to 24 on a shakedown drive on Saturday from Boston to Portland and back, but we weren’t driving especially cautiously, and early results gadding about Arlington have been very promising on the city side. We’re not foolish enough to believe we’ll totally recoup the cost difference in better mileage—although the payback calculations that are commonly used to determine such periods probably underestimate the five-year increase in gas prices—but as early adopters we feel like just investing in the technology will ultimately encourage the evolution of more efficient vehicles.

In fact, I’ve started to wonder if my beloved Passat might have to go for some smaller, more fuel efficient vehicle, now that we have a big family hauler. Too bad you can’t buy a passenger diesel in Massachusetts; the TDI version of the Golf sounds awfully promising…

The Pops, Jesus, and Santa

Singing with the Boston Pops has been a mixed blessing this season. I’ve had to confront my lack of holiday spirit head on, but I’ve also been given plenty of exposure to the lighter side of the season–the side that is about excited children and Santa and cheery singalongs.

It’s sometimes difficult to reconcile all of the facets of Christmas. Yes, Christmas is traditionally among the most depressing times of the year; yes, it’s a solemn religious holiday that observes the birth of Jesus, the arrival of a baby who would die on the cross as a replacement sacrifice for our sins and be raised from the dead in the promise of our ultimate redemption. But it is also, and perhaps equally fundamentally, a season of hope and love. The knowledge of Christ’s ultimate destiny deepens that sense of hope and makes it more poignant, rather than diminishing it.

As for Santa Claus: Tony Pierce has had some very pointed things to say on the subject of the Big Guy with the Beard over the years. Certainly the focus on Santa to the exclusion of Christ is a mistake. But I think it’s also a mistake to exclude Santa, who provides a focus for the secular parts of the holiday in a context of love and acceptance. Yes, there is some greed that creeps in around the edges. But if you could stand on the stage at Symphony Hall in Boston and see the look on the kids’ faces when Santa Claus enters the hall, you’d see no greed. You’d see excitement, and joy. And happiness. And I’d rather see that by having a Santa–a proxy for hope and love–come into the hall than some actor dressed as Christ, or worse as Mary carrying a babydoll. If we must risk cheapening something with pageantry, let us cheapen the Victorian image of Santa rather than the cosmic mystery of the Redeemer.

Tree trimming

We get a little closer to the holidays every day. Our Christmas cards are just about ready to drop in the mail—at least, once I finish addressing the envelopes and signing them, which will probably take another three days. (So if yours is late, apologies). We got the tree up last night with a minimum of loss of life and only two broken ornaments—considering the ornaments went from Kirkland to Arlington with minimal protection that’s not too bad. And our new front door supports our wreath hanger, so I’ll be picking up an evergreen wreath on the way home.

It took about three weeks, but I’m finally getting the holiday spirit. (Ironically, I think it was the cross country sales trip that did it. Being removed from all the hustle and bustle of the holiday makes it that much clearer which things are important.) Alas, I have another three days (at a minimum) in the office this week, so I probably won’t really get into the spirit until the day before.

Dark mornings before Christmas

I awake this morning at 5:30 — not as much of a hardship on the left coast, where I’ve been for the past few days with a prospective customer — and think, It can’t really be Christmas in ten days.

This year it seems that time is going faster to Christmas than ever before, and, even though I’ve been attending church regularly, I haven’t felt that Christmas spirit. Partly it’s work–I have been working on getting ready for this client visit for what seems like months. Partly it’s everything else. Singing with the BSO and the Pops is magnificent, and there is something really nice about a group that puts so much individual responsibility on its members and only rehearses a few times prior to each concert. But each concert is sung at least three times–many more, in the case of the Pops Christmas concerts–and they all back up on each other.

I feel as though I have lost any reflective time that I ever had. As I get older, I find that’s more precious than I had ever realized, and find that I feel much less myself with no time to settle my head.

To that end, I have discovered something about business travel. There is no better use for those hours stuck in an airplane than reading, or re-reading, books of poetry. I hadn’t touched Seamus Heaney’s work in several years, and his Seeing Things hit me with a ton of bricks as I was reading it on Monday, flying between Chicago and Sacramento:

The Skylight

You were the one for skylights. I opposed
Cutting into the seasoned tongue-and-groove
Of pitch pine. I liked it low and closed,
Its claustrophobic, nest-up-in-the-roof
Effect. I liked the snuff-dry feeling,
The perfect, trunk-lid fit of the old ceiling.
Under there, it was all hutch and hatch.
The blue slates kept the heat like midnight thatch.

But when the slates came off, extravagant
Sky entered and held surprise wide open.
For days I felt like an inhabitant
Of that house where the man sick of the palsy
Was lowered through the roof, had his sins forgiven,
Was healed, took up his bed and walked away.

I think I keep forgetting that time moving forward does not always mean an end, and that Christmas is here in its wide eyed astonishment whether I am the same person I was twenty years ago or not.

Font for the nations, now under open license

The new version of Gentium, a Unicode typeface family designed to provide well designed characters for all the Latin (and Greek, and soon Cyrillic) characters in Unicode, is available under the SIL Open Font License which allows modification and redistribution of the font. All you multilingual font designers out there, hop on.

I last wrote about Gentium in 2003, which is the source of the leading quote on the main project page for Gentium. Maybe I’ll play with it again to see if the bold weights have been improved—or the size on Windows machines.

Slow progress

As if you couldn’t tell from my unusually glacial posting this week, it’s going to continue to be light for a while. Final rehearsals for the Boston Pops Christmas concerts are tonight and tomorrow, the first concert is tomorrow night, and I’m up to my eyeballs in preparations for a three day demonstration at a potential customer site.

But I have found time to get a few things done. Our Christmas cards came back from the printer this morning and look great (now I just have to address them). And I was able to get one of our three computers printing to the new printer–apparently, searching for it by hostname worked where specifying the IP address didn’t. But I still haven’t gotten the installer working on a Mac.

Weekend update, and Boycott Sony on the air

I have a fair number of updates from the weekend to post, including Justin Rosolino’s gig at Club Passim, the annual Old South Thanksgiving service at the historic Old South Meetinghouse, and the (all-but) completion of our bathroom renovation—not to mention a CD review. But in the meantime, check out the Sony Boycott blog, where things have been popping now that the mainstream media has picked up the story. And be sure to listen in when I go on the air to discuss the Sony situation, in about fifty minutes.

Complete with souvenirs

It’s probably a good sign that people are starting to joke about the Parisian riots. I mean, as opposed to my horrified silence as I watched most of the coverage over the last few weeks. Anyway, the Attu Sees All blog claims that this is the latest souvenir trying to cash in on the civil unrest: the Parisien Matchbox car.

(Over at the Boycott Sony blog, I’m getting links from the damnedest sites. For every Slashdot or BBC, there are probably a hundred links from random sites like Attu. In addition to making me happy that the word about Sony BMG’s shenanigans is spreading, I’m finding the most random stuff imaginable on some of these sites… the above is a minor case in point.)

Happy anniversary to us

I don’t do it publicly nearly often enough, but I would like to thank my very patient wife Lisa today and wish her a very happy anniversary. (For the record, this is apparently the bronze/pottery/linen/lace anniversary, none of which are going to fit in my carry-on bags, alas.)

When we got married back in McLean, Virginia, and left the service for the reception, sleepless and getting slightly punchy, and left the church for that awful limo with the skanky Persian rug and the lingering cigarette smell, I turned to her and said, “It’s all uphill from here.” And you know? It really has been.

Aux armes, citoyens

How are you planning to celebrate Bastille Day (er, 14 juillet)? Me, I think a glass of something French is in order, along with a big raspberry for Margaret Thatcher for once remarking of the French: “who can trust a people who celebrate, as their national event, a jailbreak?”

Wonder if we can get a chorus of La Marseillaise going tonight at Berkman. That would be something worth podcasting… At the least, take a second to download the first verse from this comprehensive La Marseillaise site.

Pack up your bombs….

Brilliant, brilliant letter from the London News Review to the perpetrators of yesterday’s attack. Best bit excerpted below:

…we’re better than you. Everyone is better than you. Our city works. We rather like it. And we’re going to go about our lives. We’re going to take care of the lives you ruined. And then we’re going to work. And we’re going down the pub.

Check out the original for the punchline, which completes the title of this post. (Via Tin Man.)

Four explosions rock London transit

Oh hell. CNN: London rocked by explosions. CNN says that it now appears that three explosions went off in the Tube, and another ripped through a double-decker bus as it was approaching Russell Square.

Lisa and I stayed in Russell Square during our first stay in London in 1999. We felt it was one of the most peaceful places in that busy city. Sadly, not anymore.

Update: Jeff Jarvis has a growing list of links and first hand reports from London bloggers.

Well, that was interesting

It’s early morning on Sunday the 26th. I thought I’d be posting about the free Hatch Shell concert from earlier tonight. As it turns out, though, I slept through it.

And when I say “slept through it,” I mean I went upstairs for a nap at 4:30 PM and woke up at midnight.

And now, of course, my body doesn’t want to go back to sleep because it’s already had almost eight hours.

What’s the opposite of insomnia?

I have long suspected that my occasional marathon naps have something to do with depression, but this is a new one—I don’t feel depressed, just disoriented. Unless, of course, I’m hiding something from myself.