Saturday, November 22, 2008

If it's not tied to me

I can forget it. When I tell many people, including some who have known me for years, how absentminded I am, they often poooh-pooh the idea. Because I don't tend to forget much in business and other meetings, they assume I must be exaggerating.

I'm not. If something isn't attached to me, or if someone speaks to me while I'm going through one of my many reminder rituals, I can forget it.

Case in point: lunch today. I had to take Sarah to her violin lesson and hang out there for about an hour. No problem; I have reading I want to do, and I needed to call my mom. Last night, to make sure I wouldn't forget the book I'm reading, I put a pair of glasses in the book cover (I safeguard each book I'm reading in a black leather book cover), then put the book on my dresser. At the last minute, though, I realized I could still forget the book because it wouldn't be directly in front of me on the dresser in the morning when I was grabbing my stuff (keys, wallet, handkerchief, knife, etc.). So, I put my keys on top of the book.

This morning, I was running right on the edge of late, as usual. After my shower, I dressed quickly, started grabbing stuff from the dresser, noticed the keys on the book, took both of them, and left. I drove to the lesson, made my call and read, and then took Sarah to lunch at a place near our house. We ordered, the guy told us the total, and I reached for my wallet--which I'd left on my dresser.

You see, each day after I put my keys in my pocket I reach one more time to the dresser, for my wallet and comb. I'd reached one more time today, but I'd grabbed the book. The ritual part of my brain knew I'd reached enough times, so it let me leave.

I apologized to the guy who'd taken our order, apologized to Sarah, and drove us home. All ended well--we returned to the restaurant, repeated our orders, and enjoyed our meal--but it was a classic case of my forgetfulness.

If you're ever around me while I'm packing or getting ready to go somewhere, and I ask you not to talk to me, please remember this incident. I'm not trying to be mean; I just don't want to forget anything. I really am that absentminded.

A geek milestone

In the last century and the beginning of this one, I worked for Ziff-Davis. The particular words after the ZD part changed, but the company was always Ziff-Davis, and it was a technology media powerhouse. The flagship property, the unsinkable battleship of the fleet, was PC Magazine.

Ziff-Davis Media, one of the two companies with the Z-D at the start of their names, announced this week that PC Magazine was going all digital--meaning, it was losing money in print and doing okay online, so they bagged the print edition.

I know it's just another magazine to fall victim to the combination of the consolidation of the computer industry and the rise of Internet-based publishing, but to me it's a special loss. Though I never worked directly for it, and though I've had only a few articles in it, as a ZD employee I served it in many ways, and it was always the rock of the company. I wish it well in the online-only format, but I'm still sad to see the paper version go.

Thursday, November 20, 2008

On the road again: Austin, day 4

The chicken and the poodle died in vain.
Omni shower: 3; Mark: 1. ‘Nuff said.

While I was on the treadmill this morning, an attractive mid-thirties woman entered the small hotel gym, approached me, gave me her best winning smile, and asked, “How much longer will you be there?” I considered lying and stopping early, but only for a split second, and then I answered truthfully, “Seventeen minutes.” She left clearly peeved.

Jennie, who was on the other treadmill, later commented, “You notice she didn’t ask me.”

Are we men really so gullible as to give up something we want for a winning smile?

In general, hell yeah.

But not today, and not in a gym, at least not I.

I’m happy to be free of that hell-hole of a hotel and back home. I had an exit-row aisle seat on the short leg from Austin to DFW, and on the longer flight home I was lucky enough to get the bulkhead aisle seat. I used to hate the bulkhead row, because you have to put your briefcase overhead until the pilot turns off the seatbelt lights, but I’ve come to appreciate the one great virtue of those seats: No one in front of you can lean into your space. So, I was able to work almost the entire flight, which is exactly what I want to do when I'm on a plane.

Last year, I sent Toni Slanted Jack on December 5. I’m pretty sure I’ll be a bit later with Overthrowing Heaven this year, but I am plowing ahead on the novel. As always, I’m not at all sure anyone else will like the book, but I’m enjoying it, and that’s a lot, really all that I can make sure I do.

Still, I hope you like it, too, when you read it. Don’t all writers?

On the road again: Austin, day 3

The hotel is intensifying its hate campaign against me.

The bandwidth has turned from bad to teasingly bad: working for a few seconds, then cutting out entirely, then sending an entire message as if it were an actual broadband connection, and then sneering at my Outbox queue.

Not content to hurt me only while I'm here, the hotel has now contacted the Schlotzsky's, whose reliable bandwidth of yesterday is now a distant dream. Today, it cut out at a crucial moment in an email interchange, failing entirely, the network itself gone. Some may think it's a coincidence, but I know the hotel is behind it.

The housekeeping staff has joined the battle, too. Today, they stole a bathrobe; fortunately, one was in reserve. They didn't clean the room until late in the afternoon, when I needed to be working in it. I now have to check my towels for scorpions; good thing I'm vigilant.

On the water combat front, I'm sad to report that my shower has game. No longer content to behave randomly, it is now directly targeting me, staying warm until I'm fully under it, then cutting immediately to freezing and from there in mere seconds to scalding.

I hate this hotel. It hates me. I will beg for crash space from friends before I will ever stay here again.

Dinner saved the day by being an excellent time with client friends at Uchi, a sushi place I recommend enthusiastically. I would list for you everything the five of us tried, but I honestly can't remember it all. Suffice to say that we spent enough that as we were leaving the wait staff began dancing and singing that the recession was over.

The bandwidth issues this trip are costing me hours each day, so I must cut short this rant, take last night's coughed-up, slimy chicken and poodle, which we finally trapped, tack them to the floor of my room, and sacrifice them to the hotel's bandwidth gods.

If those demonic creatures judge my little critters to be tasty enough, perhaps I'll even get to send some mail.

Lucky me.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

On the road again: Austin, day 2

I hate this hotel. The bandwidth sucks, though I must give credit where credit is due: Tonight, it is only the worst I've had in a hotel in years, as opposed to last night, when it was effectively unusable. Still, my phone downloads email over the cellular (non-3G) network faster than my notebook over this hotel's supposedly broadband Internet service--which costs the usual $9.99 a day. I hate this place.

What made email possible was a mid-day two-hour lunch at Schlotzsky's, which offers free WiFi. Thank goodness for that place, or I'd never have caught up on email.

I ran into a Barnes & Noble right after lunch to see if they had my books and perhaps to sign stock, but they had only one paperback of One Jump Ahead, so I didn't bother the staff. They had filed it under "N", however, so I moved it to "V". Frustrating.

Back to the hotel. I don't drink coffee, and I don't drink tea; I use no beverages to jump-start the day. I depend on a long (if time permits) hot shower. Unfortunately, this hotel's shower sucks worse than its bandwidth. You have two settings: ice cold, and random. Given my need to wake up but my lack of desire for early morning pain, plus my goal of soaking a bit after exercising, I opted for random. Consequently, in the course of ten tension-filled minutes I experienced water so cold my genitals fled to my throat, thus strangling my screams of pain, and scalding liquid so hot I once pulled the shower curtain in front of me for protection and squealed like a little girl.

Perhaps I'll go for ice cold tomorrow.

The non-work high point of today was dinner at the truly exceptional Lambert's Downtown Barbecue. Though I could tell from the taste--and the server later confirmed--that they cooked their meat over gas with wood added for smoke infusion, a sin that would cause me to take an immediate dislike to most barbecue places (but one I commit at home from sheer laziness), here it simply made me all the more awestruck at the quality of their food. We sampled an enormous amount:

* deviled eggs with caviar
* housemade charcuterie platter
* side of macaroni and three cheeses
* pulled pork
* brisket
* beef ribs
* jalapeno sausage (not too hot at all)
* bread pudding
* fried chocolate pie with homemade ice cream (which Jennie deemed "too wee")

The worst was darn good; most was excellent by any measure. This place is now on my Austin must-eat list.

After dinner, like all good fat Americans, we waddled out to our giant SUV, squealed our way out of the parking garage, watching as our fuel gauge dropped faster than the altitude in the building, and ran over three pedestrians on the way back to our hotel. Getting out of the SUV so disturbed our distended guts that we each hacked up a small animal we'd inadvertently eaten in the course of our meal; where Jennie found a chicken I will never know, and my poodle skittered away before I could step on it and put it out of its misery.

I had to send my ass and stomach on separate elevators up to my room, where I'm now using the king-sized bed as a chair to support my enormous mass as I type this entry.

I'm so happy to be an American!

Monday, November 17, 2008

On the road again: Austin, day 1

The day began with the flights looking ominous: a middle seat on one leg, and no assigned seat at all on the other. Fortunately, being a lifetime American Airlines Platinum traveler paid off again, and both the upgrades I requested came through. Thus, I was able to work quite a lot on the first leg, and I was never forced to curl in my shoulders to avoid sharing body heat with a stranger.
The luggage pick-up was slow but not unusually slow, and the rental car pick-up was the same.

Then we hit the hotel: the Omni Austin Downtown. This place appears to be a nice establishment, and the room is fine, but the rest of the experience here has sucked rocks. The bandwidth is the worst I've experienced in a long time, our reservations were messed up, the reservation and wireless sign-up software systems use different rules (which I had to figure out, explain to their tech support, and get the manager to act on), and the staff seemed nice but clueless. I will not stay here again if I can possibly help it, and I cannot recommend this place.

To be fair, I must give the hotel this one excuse: It is full of attendees of the Supercomputing 2008 conference, SC08. I suspect at least some of the Internet performance issues have to do with the fact that this is one seriously geek-heavy crowd. That said, I wish I could move to another hotel, one where it didn't take 37 minutes to download 11MB of email or six tries and ten minutes to upload five messages, but I can't.

I continue to chug along on Overthrowing Heaven and hope to move soon from pass two to pass three--and for the first time to let another person (Dave) see it. I'm sincerely hoping it doesn't suck. I don't think it does, but at this stage of any book I can't trust my own opinion.

Time to unpack, then back to work. I hope each of you had a less frustrating day than I did.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Quantum of Solace: YES!

As I'd mentioned earlier, on Friday we closed our entire company for a few hours and went en masse to see Quantum of Solace. My verdict on the new Bond movie is in this entry's title; go see it.

Daniel Craig continues to remake the role, and he is definitively my favorite Bond. Even Connery, the previous best Bond by a large margin, could not deliver the blend of thug and sophisticate that Craig portrays. The director and writer continued the practice from Casino Royale of creating a more realistic Bond, one with real rage who both hurts others and suffers himself. That's not to say, of course, that the movie is anywhere near realistic; it's not, and that's fine. You still get the great stunts, the extraordinary locations, and many of the other trappings of a Bond flick. Still, if the Roger Moore movies with the Jaws character are at the far left end of the realism scale, firmly holding their grip on unreality, then Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace anchor the far right side, pushing Bond as close toward realism as anyone yet.

The best fight scene in the movie, by the way, was a small one, just Bond and another guy in a knife fight. It had the brutality, speed, sense of danger, and unpredictability of a real fight, and Bond's violent nature has never been clearer than during this battle.

Yeah, the title song does suck, and Olga Kurylenko proves yet again that Americans will accept any accent that isn't their own as being any other accent, but those are quibbles. I liked this movie quite a lot, and I heartily recommend it.

And the winner of the Zombie film mini-festival is

(drum roll)

Dance of the Dead. Of the four contenders, which we watched in this order

Zombies Zombies Zombies
Zombie Strippers
Dance of the Dead
Dance of the Dead was far and away the best. I can honestly recommend watching it for a fun time.

The worst of the crop has to be Poultrygeist, which even by Troma standards sucked rocks. It might have squeaked out a victory over Zombies Zombies Zombies, but it was 15 minutes longer and therefore significantly more painful.
On the UFC front, almost all the fights were good, and Brock Lesnar emerged victorious in the second round of a contest that he had largely controlled up to the point at which he TKO'd Randy Couture. Beating Lesnar will be an interesting challenge for ary heavyweight.

Finally, in my own three ongoing battles--the second draft of Overthrowing Heaven, catching up on the budget box work, and taming my work life--I am doing well, failing, and failing miserably, respectively. Still, I remain optimistic--and Monday morning before my trip, no matter what, I must trim my beard so I can be professional in appearance for my clients. Here's hoping I tame the wily budget box before then.


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