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March 30, 2009

The Road Back... To Work

It looks like I will be starting my first Canadian job tomorrow. Coast Tire has offered a three-month contract position for me to help them write a bunch of how-to sheets, update and proof their existing manuals, and help with some other items, as needed (like possibly their website).

I'm sure it will be good work and, as a contractor and working hourly, I'll have the flexibility to work from home and work odd hours if needed (I do have some medical appointments coming up and may need to interview for a full-time position if some irons heat up in the fire, etc.).

It will likely be awkward working with my wife, however. There is a certain separation between your work life and your personal life that most people desire, and having your spouse intrude into one can be difficult. I'm hopeful it won't be an issue as I won't be right with her, will work with other people on their documentation needs, and won't press too hard. Plus, it is a part-time job; I'll be there only as long as they need me and have work for me to do.

One awkward issue is the fact we will both report to the same manager. I did ask the company to check to see if Canada has a similar law to US about not allowing married or related people to report to the same manager (or to one another, if one is a manager). The company does not believe so, but is double-checking just in case.

So, tomorrow I have to get up, get dressed, and head into work with my wife. As I was released from employment at my previous company at the end of May, it winds up being nearly a year since I last formally worked. It will be exciting and interesting to get back into the swing of things.

- - -

PS - As a reward, I bought a 22" LCD monitor that was on a ridiculous sale. I've used my current 17" monitor for... about 7 years (maybe longer). Since I love playing games, bigger is definitely better. Plus, my video card has the DVI input and this new monitor has DVI output, so I should have the best, clearest, fastest possible (my current monitor is a standard VGA).

March 24, 2009

Spring Sprung

Since moving here I have consistently been excited by my first winter. I haven't seen this much snow, well, ever, and, although I dislike some of what that brings (the bad driving conditions, shoveling, falling on head due to ice, etc.), I have really enjoyed watching it fall and coat the ground with a clean white slate.

However, this week is my first where I'm having difficulty. In Southern California, Spring ... springs! By the end of March and beginning of April, temperatures are rising, the winds start to die down, the rains come, and the entire area starts blooming and the animals and birds return. The world begins to look alive.

And, well, that is what I've been used to for 37 of my years.

So, to find it snowing after the first day of Spring has been a disappointment. Not that I don't like the snow -- as I said, I still enjoy watching it -- but more because my internal clock is set to "temps rise, things bloom, life returns" at this point of the year.

My wife tells me we may be running the stove into mid-April. We may have at or below freezing temps through April and into May. And, of course, Spring and Summer are very short seasons here because of it.

So, for the first time since moving here, I'm feeling a bit down and bit disconsolate due to the weather. I'm sure, once I get fully acclimated and my body has a chance to relearn its internal clock, this will fade. But right now, today, watching the violent wind throw fine powdery snow around, I'm feeling a bit blue.

March 17, 2009

Universal IM

I have a few friends or family on each of the big four IM clients; MSN, Yahoo, Google Chat, and AIM. Since these companies are, apparently, patently stupid and refuse to work together to come up with one universal IM protocol, I have been once again searching for a third-party universal chat client that I can use.

Pidgin is pretty good. It allows you to connect to all the main and a few of the smaller chat protocols pretty easily. However, some of them require a bit of effort. You don't have a lot of leeway in fonts, styles, windows, or emoticons, and the transfer files feature is a little hit or miss. However, I used the product from this group before they renamed it to Pidgin, and the Pidgin version is much better, easier, and simpler. Note that Adium is the Mac OS X client built on the same client as this app.

I like the Trillian IM client. It is fast, nice to look at, and fairly simple to set up. However, the free client doesn't allow Jabber, which is the protocol used to connect to Google Chat. That's a major disadvantage for me, and I'm not sure the $25 is worth it to gain this one client in the Pro edition. It has a variety of emoticons, allows for the system fonts to be used, and has an email checker for each of the services you sign up for.

Qnext is a Java IM client. It was quick to setup, had options to allow all the main protocols I need, and looks pretty good. However, it has the typical problems of any java app -- it displays things in windows that are too small, it makes a lot of assumptions, and the interface is not very user-friendly (when will Java programmers learn to actually listen to the client base?). In addition, I can see no way for it to check for emails on the clients I installed, there is limited to no individual sorting of the IM list (I like to put my most used IM partners at the top of the list), and font setup seems to be limited on a per-window/IM basis (and there are very, very few emoticons available). On the plus side, there is a client to allow you to access your PC from any other PC when both are running Qnext. Which I can see being an advantage.

I just installed Digsby. It has all the clients I want (and then some), has all the options I want (and then some), has all the features I want (and then some). It has a lot of customizability, allows for email and social networking clients, has a very small install, and is pleasant to use. I think we have a winner!

March 16, 2009

Through Rain and Snow... But Not Directly!

I ordered some items from ThinkGeek. The shipment was in prior to 1 pm EST, so the order was cleared that day and the next day it shipped. The warehouse the order shipped from is in Edison, NJ. I'm following the UPS Tracking on the order as it is being shipped to ME and I will need to run down to get it (plus some groceries and such).

Here is, so far, the route this one 3.7 lb package has taken:
  • Departed Edison, NJ 3/14 and arrived in Parsippany, NJ 3/14 (about 40 miles).
  • Departed Parsippany, NJ 3/14 and arrived in Hartford, CT 3/14 (about 145 miles).
  • Departed Hartford, CT 3/16 and arrived in Chelmsford, MA 3/16 (about 105 miles).
The package still has about 330 miles to go from Chelmsford, MA to Calais, ME, and I expect it to make at least one more stop along the way. And, of course, the extra 75 miles that I get to drive (one way) to get it from there to here.

My question: is this the best route this package could take? There isn't a way to ship it straight to, say, Portland or Bangor and then drive it up to Calais in a "usual" shipment? It just seems odd that this one package is taking the scenic route and stopping so many places along the way.

It seems more efficient to me to have large city transports on a regular basis, and then drive from those large cities to the smaller ones as needed and as packages come in. These shipping companies have been doing this along time; I'm guessing they've worked out the kinks by now. Still surprises me to watch this package go through its paces.

Addendum 3/17:

Sure enough, the package finished with:
  • Chelmsford, MA 3/16 to Brewer, ME 3/17.
  • Brewer, ME 3/17 to Baileyville, ME 3/17.
  • Baileyville, ME 3/17 to Calais, ME 3/17 (final destination).
What a way to go!

March 14, 2009

ER Closure

Here's what indicates to me that it is good that the once-great show ER is finally closing its doors after this season-- the episode this week with Noah Wyle, Eriq LaSalle, George Clooney, and Julianna Margulies had me caring more about the show than any time in the last 2-3 years. Having those characters back made me interested and involved in the show again.

Neela used to be a decent character, but now she's just the whore of the ER. The annoying prick from Australia is a waste of space. Angela Bassett's character is one-note at best (which is too bad for such a great actress), and John Stamos' character is just, well, a combo of Carter and Greene redux.

As I said to my wife as we watched this week's episode, "It is like putting on a comfortable old pair of shoes" in reference to having Carter, Ross, Hathaway, and Benton back on the show. I want to know what they are doing and what has gone on since they all left the ER. As for the new cast, I had to struggle not to fast forward whenever they were on camera.

So, in the end, it is good that the ER is closing its doors.

March 11, 2009

De Pain!

Well over a week ago (probably closer to two weeks, now), I did something to cause my lower back to give me pain. Now, due to RA, I'm in pain a lot-- but usually low throbbing/swelling pain that I can handle, but which affects my desire to do certain activities. This was sharp, acute pain that became "gasp-worthy" if I leaned forward at about a 10% angle or more and jars me badly as I go up and down the stairs to the basement.

Since then, I have taken long, hot showers and baths. I have used a heating pad. I have alternated hot and cold. I have upped my prednisone intake and tried supplementing with Advil. Nothing has really helped it.

Yesterday, the pain was at manageable levels for the first time in a while. By the end of the day, it seemed like it was improving and the kink or whatever it was would be gone soon. I took another very hot bath in the mid-afternoon, and that also seemed to help relax things and bring the pain under control.

However, last night, wife and I watched some TV together, and the position I was in seemed to exacerbate the problem and now, today, my back hurts as much as it did when I first discovered the problem.

While my tailbone area is sore, too, the problem is not the spine-- there is a spot just to the right of the spine where the muscles feel hard as rocks and it hurts to press against those muscles. When I bend my back the least bit, this area sends spasms and lances of pain out from that region into my buttocks, back, and sides. The pain is enough that I tend to groan or gasp each time. I woke up every single time I moved last night while attempting to sleep-- the pain of moving was enough to wake me from a sound sleep.

Not sure what I can do about it. We have things that need to be done and nothing I do seems to help the pain. I'm obviously going to avoid that position on the couch for awhile and continue to use meds and/or heat and cold to alleviate the discomfort. Beyond that, nothing really helped for the last over a week, so I don't expect anything to really help me now.

March 10, 2009

Chicken or Egg?

A recent responder to one of my posts thought that the talent in a league getting 60% of the revenue for that league seemed low. His/her argument was that the talent brings in the audience and, without talent, the league fails.

Yet, without the league, there is no recourse for the talent to shine and bring in ad revenue and gate. Most of the professional leagues were created well before there was a "talent pool" from which to pull to increase the gate.

It becomes something of a chicken and egg argument-- if there is no league, the talent can't shine and without the talent, the league doesn't shine.

I fall on the side of the league. If you have a venue, a certain core audience is going to find you and pay attention. By doing this, the audience allows the league to make a certain amount of money. Now, if spent wisely, the league can go after talent (possibly from other sports or from college ranks, etc.) that may be unique and interesting enough to expand the audience, which brings in more money.

For example, the NBA survived for many years with little of what we would call super-stars today. People were not paid as well and they didn't make the news or onto sports shows (which were also in their infancy). However, it was popular enough that other people decided to compete against it and created the ABA. The ABA took a different economic model toward its product, hyping the excitement of the players and the talent pool more than the game or match ups. It then actively pursued talent like Dr. J, which then brought in more revenue. In the end, the NBA bought out the ABA, learned some lessons from it, and started hyping the talent as another means by which to bring in money.

Soon, it had the talent like Magic Johnson, Larry Bird, Isiah Thomas, Charles Barkley, et al, to market around, further increasing its ability to market, get on the TV and into sports news, and bringing in more revenue. Finally, it created the quintessential marketing person for the industry, Michael Jordan, and the money shot into the stratosphere. Players were able to demand more, every team needed a "super-star" in order to compete for gate, TV time, and ad revenues.

Now, all those who play in the NBA feel a sense of entitlement that they deserve that money, even though the gate is down, the ad money is drying up, and the league is losing money in many areas due to the current economic crisis. You have people making millions a year in the richest league (by average player salary) in the land feeling disrespected that they can't get a contract extension, can't get a new contract, or can't force a trade-- all during a time when the jobless rate is hitting highs never before seen and the people who ultimately pay those salaries cannot afford to go to see the product OR the talent any more.

So, while I respect my Anonymous responder's argument, I see it from the other side: without the league and the fans, there is no talent and that talent doesn't get paid. So that talent better be willing to make sacrifices and be careful of how he talks about his millions to those unfortunate people who are out of a job, lost their life's savings, and are desperate for help.

March 6, 2009

Ad Woes?

I was a bit surprised that Slumdog Millionaire had no previews at all. Then The Wrestler only had one.

One of the reasons that production companies show previews before movies is because they have a rapt audience. There is only one thing to do/look at and everyone's attention is focused. To have 1 total ad prior to two movies was... odd.

Note: Wife and I have discussed this, and we agree that there should be a small pamphlet with the previewed movies available at theaters. We watched one movie that had something like 8 previews (which is a bit excessive-- 3-4 at most, guys!), and we couldn't remember the first three by the time the last one was playing. However, a couple were intriguing to us but, since we couldn't remember the titles, we had to just move on. If there had been a pamphlet outside the theater that showed the previews shown for that movie, we could have picked it up and had the movie title and main relevant info for it right in hand.

March 5, 2009

Two Great Movies

I recently watched both Slumdog Millionaire and The Wrestler, and I have to say I was impressed by both of them.

Slumdog has a great soundtrack, an inspiring story, and a fine ensemble cast that makes the story work. While I do not generally like flashbacks, this story used them to great effect and as what they are meant to be-- a storytelling device (rather than what so many movies try to use them for-- a device to create tension). You see the "slumdog," a poor boy from the dregs of society, answering questions posed to him by the host of the Who Wants to be a Millionaire show in India. After each question, but usually prior to his giving an answer, you flash back to his hard life and how he learned the answers. The story is about what motivates him to do everything he does.

The direction on this is fast, frenetic, and colorful, but avoids the usual pitfalls of "shaky cam" and too many quick cuts. The movie's silent costar is India itself; the locations, colors, sounds, and spirit of the land pervade the movie and I have a hard time believing that the same film made in another region would reverberate as well.

The Wrestler, on the other hand, is about a broken down man who is holding onto his fame twenty years after his heyday. His body is failing him, his mind is going, but he cannot give up the adoration of the fans or the rush he gets when they cheer him on or chant his name. He has deluded himself into thinking he has a relationship with an aging stripper, he wants to try a fresh start with his estranged daughter, and prove that he matters. After a heart attack, he finds the shock of the "real world" too much and he would rather risk his life by going back to the ring to hear the fans shout his name than be a no one with the stripper.

The documentary style shoot helps to impress upon the viewer the stark realities of this man's life. However, the exclusive one-camera style sometimes made me a little nauseated when the camera would swing 180 from one person to the other and back. I especially liked the fact that they didn't have great exposition into why these people are the way they are; too many films explain every character trait and nuance away, and leave nothing to the imagination of the viewer. In this film, you don't know the back story of the stripper, you don't know what happened to cause Randy to leave his daughter and become estranged. You just pick it up in the middle, learn what you can, and move on.

Mickey Rourke is fabulous in it. I'm not a big fan, thinking he peaked about 9 1/2 Weeks and has been going downhill since. But this role was practically written for him and it is great that he went into it full bore and balls out. I think this would have been a great choice for the Academy Award for best male performance and would have been an awesome counterpoint to Heath Ledger's supporting Oscar; one role (The Ram) allowed the actor (Rourke) to take so much of his actual life and use it to make a role feel even more real, while the other (The Joker) allowed the actor (Ledger) to create a fictional character from whole cloth and make it so totally real and frightening. Each shows the opposite end of the acting spectrum but both were extraordinary performances that deserved awards.

I agree with those who thought Bruce Springsteen's end credits song should have been nominated for an Academy Award. It was a powerful, stripped down, bare bones song that fit perfectly with the movie. I'm not saying it was better than the three songs nominated (or the Slumdog song that won), but it was certainly a worthy effort for nomination. It actually would have been a stark contrast to the upbeat, driving force of the songs from Slumdog, and would have given Academy voters something different to consider.

All in all, two great movies that deserved the accolades they received.