Tuesday, December 31, 2013

As you enter 2014, may you...


...have the discipline and strength to reach your personal goals

...have the empathy and strength to help others reach theirs

...love fiercely with no expectation of love in return

...be loved fiercely

...enjoy great art

...create art, great or small, that makes you happy

...be safe

...take new risks

...be healthy

...push your limits

...see the world clearly and as it is

...see the world as it could be and work to make it so

...hold tight and close those you love

...give the freedom they need to those you love

...give more than you demand

...receive more than you expect


I hope this New Year is a wonderful one for you all. 

Monday, December 30, 2013

A piece of job interview advice I've never read elsewhere


Don't wear any perfume or cologne. 

Some would amend this advice to say "wear at most very little scent," but I believe you're safest wearing none.

Before going further, let me stress that no one I've interviewed recently has violated this advice, and I'm not talking about anyone in particular.  So, if you're reading this blog and wondering if I'm talking about you, I almost certainly am not.

In past years, though, I have run into multiple candidates of both genders who chose to douse themselves in such strong scents that their odor inevitably became a topic of conversation among those discussing their interviews.  This is not a good thing, because you want those who have interviewed you to be discussing only how great you are, how you'd fit with their teams, and so on.

This bit of advice is particularly crucial, by the way, because most interviews occur in relatively small spaces (offices, small conference rooms) whose doors are closed for the obvious privacy reasons.

A corollary is that it's probably a good idea to come to an interview freshly showered and dressed appropriately--or slightly over-dressed.  Starting an interview reeking of gym funk--and, yes, in years past I've encountered this--is effectively choosing a different scent and just as bad as wearing too much perfume or cologne.

If this piece of advice is unnecessary, sorry about taking your time.  If, though, you were planning an interview and trying to choose the right cologne or perfume, then put them all away, take a shower, and head off to win a job. 


Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Wolf of Wall Street


is

  1. a compulsively watchable three-hour train wreck of a film
  2. a movie that exists so Martin Scorsese has an excuse for showing dozens of topless young women
  3. a sleazy trip into the darkest heart of the American dream, with an unrepentant dreamer as your tour guide
  4. the home of the very best performance Leonardo DiCaprio has ever given
  5. all of the above
The answer is obviously E, all of the above.

I was not bored for a single second of this movie that ran a only one minute short of three hours.  I knew how it had to end, knew its trajectory, and didn't like anyone in it, and still I didn't want to look away.  The direction and the performances were both so good that I was with DiCaprio to the very end.

The levels of nudity, drug use, and general debauchery were so high that at times they felt completely over the top--and yet, again, I bought that these characters went that far.

I was also taken by how very little Jordan Belfort, the character DiCaprio plays, learned and grew.  He managed to reach great heights of wealth and great depths of characters and emerge the same shallow salesman he began--though a more polished version of himself.

A lot of the movie's appeal rests on DiCaprio's performance, which is astonishing.  I'm generally not a fan of his work, but he was superb here.  When Oscar time comes, I hope he and Christian Bale battle it out; both deserve to win.

I very much recommend this movie, even though I don't think it teaches us much and certainly none of its characters learn anything, because it is a masterful and gripping piece of filmmaking.  Check it out.


Saturday, December 28, 2013

UFC 168: What a card!


Earlier tonight, a group of us watched the latest UFC event on pay-per-view, UFC 168.  It was one hell of a card. 

Almost all of the prelims delivered entertaining fights.

Travis Browne knocked out Josh Barnett with vicious elbows and established himself as a serious heavyweight contender.

Challenger Miesha Tate took Women's Bantamweight champion Ronda Rousey past the first round for the first time in Rousey's MMA career, but in the end Rousey won again the same way she's ended all of her fights:  by armbar.  It was a great bout in which both women showed once again that they are true warriors.

In the main event, Chris Weidman retained his Middleweight championship by defeating Anderson Silva for the second time, but this match ended freakishly:  Weidman checked a kick, and Silva's lower leg snapped in half from the collision.  It was gruesome to watch.  Silva is clearly one of the greatest pound-for-pound MMA fighters ever, and we all can only hope that the surgery goes well and he recovers fully.  I fear, though, that this will end his MMA career, which will be a sad ending to an amazing run as a fighter.

Though Weidman won in this odd way, I believe he was winning both rounds before the kick, and I had picked him to win.  I expect him to hold the middleweight strap for quite some time.


Friday, December 27, 2013

Zombie Hunter


Kyle's visiting, so the bad-movie times are rolling here at our place.  Last night's second--and worse--movie was this classic bit of low-budget zombie fare, a film whose box boasted the presence of Danny Trejo but whose actual footage suffered acutely from a severe lack of Trejo mojo.  I don't normally review our late-night flicks, but I'm writing this short piece as a public service to those of you who, like the two of us, will give pretty much anything a try if Trejo appears in it.  Unless you're a desperate Trejo completist, I have to suggest you give Zombie Hunter a wide pass. 

If you do decide to invest 93 minutes (and, oh, are they padded minutes) in this one, be prepared for such wonders as

  • one of the oddest looking actors I've seen in quite some time
  • zombies who started with a popular drug, a sad origin story
  • more vomit scenes than any one movie should contain
  • the worst skin on an actress in recent memory
  • a semi-zombie wielding a chain saw on that same actress
  • giant mega-zombies who appear for no particular reason
  • more blood-on-the-lens effects than any movie in recent memory
  • possibly the single worst sex scene ever filmed--and, no, there's no nudity
Seriously, despite that awesome list, I can't recommend this one.


Thursday, December 26, 2013

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug


Peter Jackson's second installment in the trilogy he is managing to wring from a combination of Tolkien's novel and his own imagination is an amusement park ride of a film, a two-hour-and-forty-minute journey that entertains you and then deposits you outside the theater, unchanged except for the passage of time. 

This middle entry advances the plot in basically one key way (spoilers):  All the bad things are now winning.  At its end, our dwarves have failed, Gandalf is a prisoner, some new friends are about to turn into dragon crispies, and, as you might guess from that comment, Smaug is flying the Middle Earth skies, and, boy, is he pissed.  In the course of taking us to these places, Jackson keeps the pedal to the metal and avoids the boring stretches of the first film. 

I enjoyed this movie, even found it satisfying enough as an adventure, but I wanted to care more than I did. 

I can't imagine you don't already know if you want to see this one, but if you're on the fence, wait until you need a few hours of mindless film adventure to relieve the stress of your day, and then check it out. 



Wednesday, December 25, 2013

Off doing Christmas stuff


If you celebrate Christmas, I hope you have a very merry, love-filled one indeed.

If you don't observe this holiday, I hope your day is still merry and filled with love. 


Tuesday, December 24, 2013

And now, a piece of Christmas Eve advice from Holden


Holden, lacking any ability to type, asked me to post this for him.

Click on the image for a larger version.
Fellow creatures, 

Cold weather is here and going to stay for a while.  Even if your winter coat has come in as nicely as mine, consider getting a nice blanket or fleece for those afternoon naps and long winter sleeps.  You'll be glad you did.
He also noted that you don't have to wear your blanket.  You can snuggle in it.


Or even simply rest on it.


How can you possibly ignore such sage advice from such a stylish dog?

You can't, of course.



Photos courtesy of Allyn.

Monday, December 23, 2013

The award for the book that in 2013
Most Made Me Love It...


...goes to Nick Harkaway's glorious Angelmaker.

Before I turn to the novel itself, let me deal with a bit of inevitable bookkeeping business:  Yes, I know Angelmaker appeared in 2012, but I didn't get around to reading it until this year, and these are, after all, my awards, so just live with the date and let's move on, shall we?

Angelmaker's protagonist, Joe Spork (how can you not love that name?), repairs clockworks and other mechanisms in a shop in a dodgy, little trafficked section of London.  His profession and his ancestry lead him into a set of adventures that I won't even bother trying to describe, because all I could do is diminish your experience of the novel.  Suffice to say that as the stakes ratchet upward, and oh how they do, Spork's world becomes more complex and more enchanted, in good ways and bad, than he could ever have imagined.

Our world does the same.

A novel in the grand fantastic tradition, Angelmaker is a glorious, insane, love-suffused ride that I encourage you to take.  I have recommended this novel more than any other this year.

I do not know Harkaway, but, Nick, if we're ever at a con together, please find me, because the drinks are on me all night long.





Sunday, December 22, 2013

[ONE] restaurant: World-class cuisine in the Triangle


I've reviewed [ONE] in multiple past posts.  I've talked about its good start, some less good periods, and its recent dramatic transformation.  I've talked about its potential. 

Last night, I got to experience that potential.  Calling [ONE] the best high-end restaurant in the Triangle is accurate, but it's also inadequate.  As someone who has eaten in many Michelin three-star-rated restaurants and in many of the places ranked in the top fifty in the world, I'm here to tell you that the full truth about [ONE] is so very much better than that bit of praise.  It's simple.

[ONE] can deliver world-class meals.  The one I ate last night was on par with anything I've had anywhere, from El Bulli to Robuchon, from The French Laundry to Guy Savoy (the real one in Paris). 

In an earlier blog post on [ONE], I talked about my desire to have its star chefs, Kim Floresca and Daniel Ryan, cook the meal they would love to create were there no restrictions on price or creativity.  Last night, a group of us ate a version of that meal--not the full, no-holds-barred version, which was not possible due to this being a holiday Saturday night, they told me, but a version good enough to merit a world-class ranking. 

The chefs created this meal despite having to deal with a large group with two vegetarians and a pescetarian.  Here's the menu I ate.  (The distortion is due to the angle at which I had to take the shot not to have my phone's shadow in the picture; sorry about that.)

Click on an image to see a larger version.

The meal began with four snacks, each a lovely bite-sized morsel, all delicious. 

Then, the menu began.  I'm not a fan of the beet, a trait I consider a foodie weakness but nonetheless the truth.  Thus, I was a little nervous about this dish.  I did not express this dislike to the chefs ahead of time, however, because I have learned something important over the years of superb meals:  When a great chef prepares a dish that includes ingredients I think I don't like, I often find I like the food after all.

Tonight's beet dish had me scraping every last bit of flavor from the dish.


While we were enjoying this beautiful and delicious mixture of ingredients, Chef Floresca showed us a loaf of rye bread in which they were baking the rutabagas that were central to the next dish. 


You can barely see many of the ingredients in this one because of all the white truffle shavings, which Floresca applied herself to each of our plates.  Wow, was this superb!

Next, they threw us a curve ball, as Floresca said in her introduction to the dish, by adding a dish to our menu. 



A mixture of lamb tail, lamb heart, and lamb bacon in an amazing sauce over absolutely flawlessly prepared pasta--all topped by black truffle shavings that she again applied--this small bowl was as perfect a dish of pasta and as perfect a winter food as I have ever tasted.  I would love to have this available every time the weather turns unreasonably cold. 

I could go on and on, through every dish, but the outcome was the same each and every time:  The food was creative, fun, and, most of all, delicious.  Our table filled with laughter and exclamations of joy as we ate.  The desserts, which I had once critiqued as weak, were delights.  I didn't catch the pastry chef's name, but he did great work.  In my previous entry on [ONE], I'd praised the snowball as a dish that showed what this team could do.  Here it is, now refined, in a special ice sculpture and with fingerlime caviar atop it--an addition that elevated the already great concoction.


After the two dessert treats on the menu and the two small ones they added, I spent a few minutes in delightful conversation with Floresca.  We talked about food, art, the value of experiences, the importance of humor in art, and many other subjects. 

I cannot recommend [ONE] too much.  It wasn't full on a Saturday night, so I worry (I hope needlessly) about its future, but I very much want it to succeed.  It deserves to be a destination restaurant, the kind of place that brings foodies in New York and LA to North Carolina. 

If you live in the area, do yourself a favor:  Open yourself to culinary wonders, let the chefs cook whatever they'd like, and eat a world-class meal at [ONE].  If you don't live nearby, no worries; you can get to RDU from just about anywhere in two flights. 

Chefs Floresca and Ryan, as well as the whole team at [ONE], flat out deliver the goods.  This is a world-class cooking team. 

Go eat their food.  Be sure to come by and say, "Hi," if you see me, because I'll be there every chance I get.


Saturday, December 21, 2013

The award for the book that in 2013 did the
Best Job of Hiding in Plain Sight goes to...


...Neil Gaiman's The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Let me explain. 

A few zillion people clearly loved this novel, and even more love its author.  It was a New York Times best seller, the reviews were overwhelmingly positive (were there any negative reviews, outside the unavoidable set from Amazon readers?), and tickets to Gaiman's signings were almost as coveted as dinner reservations at Per Se (but way easier to obtain).  Critics commented on its many virtues, with its lovely rendering of various aspects of childhood among them.  The book was indeed all of that, and I quite enjoyed it.

What I've yet to see anyone comment on (well, anyone except the author indirectly via a blog post from his wife) is what struck me as the deepest, truest heart of this book (and if you don't think books have many hearts, you're not paying attention):  It was a love letter.  A long, complex, bravely told love letter, a letter that exposed the author's weaknesses, a letter of love and gratitude, not just for the love given back to him, but also for the love that helps anchor him in this world even as he explores others.

I don't know Neil Gaiman.  I have no insider knowledge.  I may be way off base here, seeing something that is not there, as we all do in books, those we love and those we hate.

But I don't think so.  The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a wonderful, brave love letter hiding in plain sight as a best-selling fantasy.  If you have not already read it, you should, both for what everyone has seen in it and for this.




Friday, December 20, 2013

More on PT's sabbatical program


PT recently released a video in which Bill and I explain some of the background of the company's sabbatical program.  Though I can barely stand to watch myself in this one (or in any video), enough folks have asked about the program that I decided to embed the video here. 

Enjoy.




Thursday, December 19, 2013

Expendables 3 -- don't hate


Yeah, I know:  I'm supposed to be this author with literary ambitions.  Well, I am.  I'm also a guy who loves bad action movies and is as excited as hell to see this one.



As Walt Whitman wrote, "Do I contradict myself?  Very well, then I contradict myself, I am large, I contain multitudes."

And every single one of them is squeeing with fanboy joy at watching this group of action stars--a group that includes UFC Women's Bantamweight Champion Ronda Rousey--kick some serious butt.

Oh, yeah.

Don't hate.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Bruuuuuuuce!


From the new album of the same name, coming January 14.  Oh, yeah, I'm already excited.




Tuesday, December 17, 2013

It takes a lot of help


to decorate a Christmas tree this big.  Fortunately, last night a group of folks joined our traditional Christmas-tree-trimming ritual and helped us adorn this year's huge beast.

The first stage was to wrap it with enough LED lights to guide a plane into a safe landing on an aircraft carrier.  Our usual team of lighting specialists, aided by newcomer Evan, was up to the job.

Click an image to see a larger version.

Sorry for the slightly out-of-focus image. 

Next, a large group began the process of placing ornaments on the branches.


More ornaments will follow tomorrow. 

Yeah, this is our biggest tree ever. 

Clearly, we need more lights.


Monday, December 16, 2013

Another giant passes: RIP, Peter O'Toole


When I was growing up, a handful of actors made me yearn to grow up to be cool and sophisticated--a goal I've never achieved.  Top among them were Omar Sharif, Cary Grant, and Peter O'Toole, who died yesterday at 81.   

Lawrence of Arabia was the first epic I remember seeing, and parts of it still have the power to give me chills. 

Eighteen years later, O'Toole starred in The Stunt Man, a movie I still love. 

Two years after that, he starred in this comic gem, a film that is deeply underrated and that should be on everyone's must-see list.



Seriously, if you have never watched My Favorite Year, buy a copy and treat yourself to an absolutely wonderful 92 minutes.

No matter how good or bad the film, Peter O'Toole made it better with his presence.

We shall not soon see his like again.



Sunday, December 15, 2013

Ten and a half years in


Holden is still the best dog in the world.  He can do sensitive and attentive, while at the same time protective (of his bone).

Click on an image to see a larger version.

He can do slyly pensive.


Really, he can do it all.




Thanks to Gina for the photos!

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Have we finally gone too far with this tree?


That is the very question we were asking ourselves today as we watched three guys, one of them quite big, load this year's Christmas tree atop the van.  (As we were buying it, one of them had asked us if it was a tree for a church or a private residence.) 

Click on an image to see a larger version.

The view from the front was even more unsettling.


Yes, we made the roughly three-mile drive home very, very slowly, with Scott following us in his car and both of us using our flashers to warn other drivers of our slow progress. 

Cutting the tree free and rolling it down the side of the van was not hard; I was able to manage that part by myself.

Pulling it into the front hall, though, was a trying task that gave me more motivation to get back to the gym and that involved four of us, with me alone on the heavy end.  Here we are on a break, with Scott cheering our progress so far and Sarah smiling a grin of terror at the work still to come.


Note to self:  I hate how fat and weak I've let myself become.  I definitely must fix that.

Amazingly, thanks to good planning and having five of us helping lift the beast, the rest of the setting-up process went more smoothly than in any year in recent memory.

Scott in shoes is about six feet tall, so this picture should give you a better sense of the size of the tree.


It's a very good thing that we own a lot of lights and ornaments.



Friday, December 13, 2013

Wondering what to give your friend who likes to cook?


Wonder no more:  Try this cookbook from Chef Gabriel Rucker and the fine folks at Le Pigeon, one of my all-time favorite restaurants.


Yes, I already own a copy.

No, I don't make any money from you buying this, nor did Gabe ask me to plug it.

I just think it's awesome and wanted to recommend it to you all.


Thursday, December 12, 2013

Telling a twenty-minute story in five minutes


Last night, I headed over to Motorco in Durham for the Monti StorySLAM event.  The last Monti event of 2013, this one had as its theme "Stranger."  Though I waited too long to buy a ticket and the event sold out, thanks to Gina's email messages and phone calls, the executive director, Jeff Polish, decided he would sell me one ticket on my promise to put my name in the jar as a possible storyteller.  I wanted to do just that, because the theme had reminded me of a bit of new material I wanted to try out for the new spoken-word show on which I've been taking notes from time to time.

I learned all of this a little less than three hours before the event started, however, and I had to work right up to when I climbed into the car to drive there, so I didn't get the planning or rehearsing time I would normally have taken.  I had, though, thought about the bit off and on for a while, so I wasn't totally unprepared.

I had a very good time listening to the stories.  As I did, though, I realized a few things.

First, the audience--a drinking crowd of about 200 in a bar--quite reasonably above all else wanted to laugh.  I should have figured that out, and normally that would be fine for me, but my story was a more serious one.  As I listened to others, I made some mental adjustments to work in more humor.

Those changes, though, led to my second realization:  my story was way, way too long to tell straight-up in five minutes, much less with humor.  As best I can now figure, it'll end up consuming about twenty minutes of a show.

Finally, I realized that because of those two facts, there was no way I was going to win.  Winning the competition obviously would have been nice, but I had come to try out the material, so I stopped thinking about anything other than the story.

After the intermission, I was the first storyteller.  I ran over the five-minute mark but under the six-minute limit, after which you lose points for running long.  The crowd applauded loudly and enthusiastically.

I ended up in third place.  I criticize myself for not doing better, because had I hit on those insights earlier I might have been able to rewrite and shorten the piece in my head, but other than that, I'm fine with the result.  I now know a better way to tell the story, and I also now see how to make this fundamentally emotional story funny and, I hope, ultimately still moving, so I gained from the experience.

I thank Jeff and his team for putting on a good show and letting me be part of it.


Wednesday, December 11, 2013

American Hustle


The Carolina Theatre, the prettiest movie (and show) house in the area, recently became one of the more than fifty theaters showing the New York Film Critics Series of advance screenings of independent films before they're widely available.  Last night, a group of us headed over there to see American Hustle, the latest offering from writer/directory David O. Russell.  Silver Linings Playbook, his previous film, was one of my favorites of last year, so I was quite excited about this one. 

I'm happy to report that I loved American Hustle.  Smart, bold, frequently over-the-top, relentless in the pursuit of its theme, and yet always entertaining, the movie was a joy from start to finish.  If you've caught the trailer, you know the cast is also outrageously strong:  Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Lawrence, Jeremy Renner, Robert DeNiro (in a very small role)--the list of strong actors in this movie is long indeed.  Each and every one of them turns in a stellar performance. 

The movie weaves into one coherent whole a love story, a con-man plot, a dissection of the American dream, and a coming-of-age tale, yet it never felt preachy; I loved every second of its 138 minutes.

I don't want to give you any more of the plot than what the trailer discloses, so I'll say simply that you should run, not walk, to your local theater to catch American Hustle as soon as you can. 

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Two unrelated things popping up frequently in my mind


The first is this song, which I've had in heavy rotation lately while doing various sorts of tasks at the keyboard.



The other is the show this trailer advertises, a show that I, like so many others, eagerly await.



I do not believe the two are connected, except by my brain.


Monday, December 9, 2013

On seeing Yo-Yo Ma


Last night, a small group of us went to the North Carolina Symphony, an unusual outing for me.  We were there to see the guest performer, world-famous cellist, Yo-Yo Ma.  The tickets were quite expensive, and the event was the night after the PT Seasonal Celebration, so I had initially been a little hesitant to go.  As little as I know about classical music and its scene, however, even I had heard of Yo-Yo Ma.

So, into the drizzling, 34-degree weather we went. 

I am so very glad we did.

The music was delightful.  Though, as I noted, I know next to nothing about classical music, I still enjoy it on the rare occasions when I listen to it.  Tonight's performance began with a Mozart piece, the Overture to The Marriage of Figaro.  A bit gaudy and definitely emotional, it was right up my alley, so I quite enjoyed it. 

The next two selections, a Haydn and a Brahms, were lovely, though I am positive I missed much of their meaning.

Yo-Yo Ma then appeared.  The orchestra launched into Concerto in A minor for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 129.  It was very pretty...and then he began to play.  The hall filled with such sweet, wonderful sounds that I was amazed.  Watching him play, seeing how much passion he brought to the performance, and listening to his music was enchanting. 

Afterward, he was gracious and constantly including the conductor and the rest of the orchestra in the ovation that the standing audience was very clearly directing at him.  After a great deal of applause, he sat again and explained that what followed was as close to a Christmas song as he could think of right then.  I don't know what he played, but it was wonderful.

At every point, he came across as joyful, in love with the music and performing, and so gracious, humble, and self-effacing that you could not help but instantly like him. 

If you get a chance to see him perform, do not pass it up.


Sunday, December 8, 2013

The PT approach to winning


I mentioned in yesterday's entry that last night our company, Principled Technologies (PT), held its annual holiday party, the Seasonal Celebration.  At that party, my business partner, Bill Catchings, and I gave a few remarks at different points throughout the evening.

A couple of sections of our talks focused on winning and how we believe PT--and any company, really--ought to win.  I thought you folks might find those bits interesting. 

Here's the first, from about midway through the talks.

Our principles are not for sale.

If you see a PT logo on a piece of work, you know you can trust that work. 

Don’t get us wrong:  we want all the business we can get.  We are very competitive.  We want to win. 

Gore Vidal once famously wrote, “It is not enough merely to win; others must lose.” 

We have a different take on winning. 

At PT, it is not enough merely to win; we must win while sticking to our principles. 

Every day, work--life--brings us chances to compromise those principles, tempts us to make PT a little less than it should be, to make each of us a little less than we should be. 

We must refuse to surrender to those temptations. 

We must continue to do all we can to be the company we aspire to be.
Near the end of the evening's presentations, we added this bit.
We believe PT is a special place.  We aim to keep it that way, and we look forward to all of you helping us do that. 

Nelson Mandela, who died just two days ago, once said, “There is no passion to be found playing small--in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”  We believe the same applies to this company.  Our passion for PT comes from our belief, our complete conviction, that by not settling, by always striving to be the company we are capable of being, we can all benefit, we can all enjoy passion for our work, and we can all win--with integrity--together.
I'm very proud to be at PT.  We don't just say things like this; we try to live by them.


Saturday, December 7, 2013

Don't even ask


Earlier tonight, our company hosted its annual holiday party, the Seasonal Celebration.  I've talked about this event in past posts, so I won't go into detail about it here.  Each year for some time now, during this party we've played a video to sum the year.  As our studio team has become more and more superb, this annual video has become more and more...interesting, particularly for Bill and me, because each year's video typically has a little fun with us.

In this photo, I'm holding one of the stars of tonight's video.  Instead of the shirt he wore in the video, though, he's dressed up for the event.

Click on the image to see a larger version.

Nope, I won't answer.  Don't even ask.


Friday, December 6, 2013

My weather algorithm needs work


Where I grew up in Florida, weather was simple.  It was hot, or it was too damn hot.  It was raining, or it wasn't.  That's it.  Sure, a few times in my life a hurricane trashed us, and once a June storm caused flooding, but those events were more like visits from political candidates than regular weather:  Everyone talked about them, and you had plenty of warning they were coming.  I consequently grew up with a simple approach to the weather:  It was what it was, and it didn't matter to me.

I've now lived far more of my life outside Florida than in it, but my fundamentally blase attitude about the weather has stayed with me.  I've sharpened my weather-planning algorithm only slightly:  In spring, I switch to short-sleeve shirts; in summer to shorts; in fall back to long pants, and in late fall to long-sleeve shirts.  When it starts getting cold, I add a light coat when I notice people around me wearing one.

This approach generally works for me in my part of North Carolina.

Today, it did not. 

I'd upgraded to a coat a bit ago, when the weather turned cold, and I knew it was December, so I figured I was done thinking about the weather until March.  I'd noticed over the past few days that the coat was a bit much, but I figured that situation would correct itself soon enough.  In case I was wrong, though, I left the coat on the hanger this morning and wore a heavy long-sleeved shirt.

Bad choice.

Today, the high was something like 77.  The day was glorious, the weather the perfection of a late September or early October afternoon.  I should have been in short sleeves.  Everyone else was. 

I definitely need to improve my weather algorithm.  The problem is, I can't be bothered.  Doing that would just add overhead to my day. 

Yes, I know I could look at the weather app on my phone, and I do that every now and then--but only when I've dressed inappropriately.  I could check it before dressing, but I won't, because, well, I'm stupid that way. 

Maybe I'll just leave a coat in every car we own and at my office.  That would cost more, but only once.

See?  I told you I'm stupid that way.


Thursday, December 5, 2013

A wonderful, terrifying moment


I'm driving down the road, listening to the radio, enjoying this simple experience that has given me so much pleasure ever since the day I got my driver's license.

This song comes on the radio.



I know it very well, of course; it's been popular and out for a long time. 

I find myself singing along to the words.

Inside my head, the refrain feels real, appropriate, strong--I am young.  I burn with the energy of my youth.  The music ignites and engages that energy and my passions, as rock and roll has always done for me, and for a wonderful moment I am a young man singing along to music that speaks to his youth. 

But of course I am not young.  I am 58 years old, less than a third of a year away from turning 59.  My hair is mostly gray, my beard, white.  In the most optimistic moments I can wrangle, when I picture myself living as long as anyone in my ancestry has ever lived, I still have far fewer years ahead of me than behind me.  I have so much I want to do, so much passion, so much anger, so much love, so much of everything that I cannot possibly have so few years left, cannot possibly be so old, cannot possibly no longer be young.  Yet I am.  The terror of my oldness, of my mortality, hits me harder than any beating I have ever taken, and I have taken hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of them.

The moments--both the wonderful one and the terrifying one--pass.

I lift my hand to turn off the radio.

Fuck that. 

I return my hand to the steering wheel and let the song play on. 

I go back to singing along with it. 

I don't care that I am 58 years old.  I don't care that my hair is gray, my beard, white.  I am young inside.  You can call it delusion, or trying to turn back the clock, or stupid, or whatever.  I don't care. 

If I live to be a hundred, I hope songs still light the passions in me, bring back my youth, and leave me happily singing along with them.


Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Gina's sabbatical


I've talked in earlier posts about PT's sabbatical program, and in one entry I gave a bit of detail about how we handle sabbaticals. 

Now, we've posted another video about the charity work that one of our staff members did on her sabbatical.  Check out Gina's story.



I'm incredibly proud of all the PT folks who have used part of their sabbatical time to help make the world a better place.


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Check out the new Blue Rodeo album


If you've read this blog for a while, chances are good that you know that Blue Rodeo is one of my all-time favorite bands.  Outskirts, their first album, is still one of my desert island top ten picks.  These guys have been playing together since the late eighties, and they're still making wonderful music.  Now, their new album, In Our Nature, is in the stores and available online.  I haven't listened to the whole thing yet, but from just this opening song I can't wait to hear the rest.



If you want more samples from other albums, you can find great songs in earlier blog entries of mine. 

Do yourself a favor: Spin a little Blue Rodeo, and then pick up both Outskirts and In Our Nature.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Tesla redefines great automotive service


When I went to drive my Tesla Model S on Thanksgiving day, I noticed it had not charged overnight.  I figured I had failed to plug it in all the way.  No problem; I had plenty of miles of range left.

That night, though, when I plugged it in, I stayed to make sure it started charging...and it didn't.  I tried several times, but each time the car's display told me it was unable to charge. 

I had a problem:  an electric car that would not charge.  I did some online research and learned that this had happened to at least a few other Model S owners.  I wasn't happy that my six-month-old Model S had a problem, but I also wasn't greatly upset; it's new tech, and I'm willing to live with some debugging in return for the greatness that is the Model S.

This problem also gave me a chance to test Tesla's service, admittedly under warranty--though I paid extra to have the same level of service for the first eight years I own the car.

Very late that night, I emailed my local service center and, for good measure and because I'm that kind of guy, I also left them a voice message.

Late the next morning, I awoke to a phone message from the local service center.  I called back.  The rep offered to have a service tech bring me a loaner, pick up my car, and bring it back when they were done with it, which he guessed would be very late that day or early the next day.  It sounded great to me.

The tech showed up about an hour later.  Describing the problem and filling out the loaner paperwork took about 15 minutes.  The tech said they would fix my problem, check to see if any other fixes were appropriate, install the latest software, and "clean it up" for me.  He drove off in my car, and we headed out for a family lunch in the loaner.

Late that afternoon, the rep called back to say my car was ready.  Before 6:00 p.m., they brought it back.  They had fixed my issue; the tech stayed to verify that fact.  They had installed the software update, as the tech had promised.  They had checked the tires to make sure they were wearing well--I have sport tires, and I do drive the car like a sports car--and gave me an estimate of when I would probably want to replace them.  They had also scanned all the other Model S owner complaints and made about eight small changes to the car to reduce noise on turns, eliminate a potential click in certain situations, and so on.  They replaced my front brake rotors because newer, better ones were now available.  Finally, they completely hand-detailed the car, inside and out.

Cost to me:  zero. 

The tech noted that the software update had not captured the correct tire type for my car.  He also asked if my dual charger was using Tesla fuses.  It was not.  He recommended them as being the best.  He offered to come out the next morning to update the software with the right tire type and to put in Tesla fuses.  I said, sure. 

He did those things the next morning. 

Cost to me:  zero.

I once owned a Lexus LS400, which was a superb car.  The Lexus dealership's service was fantastic, easily the best I'd ever experienced. 

Tesla's service simply blows away Lexus' service. 

I already loved the car, which is amazing.  Now, I love the service, too.




Disclosure:  I own a Tesla Model S (duh) and Tesla stock.


Sunday, December 1, 2013

I dreamed at length last night


about the word "consternation."  Mind you, I was not feeling consternation.  My subconscious simply decided to focus on the word.  It was all a-twitter about the term itself.  With relentless focus and a surprising amount of passion, my brain explored the many ways people use the term, and I more or less watched it work, a spectator to my own thinking. 

To some people, and in some dictionaries, the feeling of dismay the term includes must be paralyzing or at least something that gives you pause.  Other sources characterize the word as simply referring to strong feelings. 

Similarly, most sources I checked today seem to agree that the feeling must hit suddenly, though exactly how quickly seems up for grabs.

So, too, is the degree to which the feeling is negative.  Google the term, and on just the first page you'll see feelings ranging from anxiety to dread, and from confusion to dismay. 

What's fascinating to me is how broad a range of reaction the many definitions of this single term manage to encompass. 

Nothing really is simple, not even consternation.

And certainly not my brain's odd dream-time obsessions.


Saturday, November 30, 2013

The right way to use Rotten Tomatoes


The film review and news site, Rotten Tomatoes, has earned a reputation with a great many folks as the go-to place for movie reviews. For those few who don't already know the site, it aggregates both critical and audience reviews into percentages of positive reviews.  If the percentage of positive critical reviews is somewhere over 50%, the movie gets a tomato (for "fresh") next to it.  Films with a lower percentage of positive reviews get a green, leafy icon (for "rotten").  Many folks I know check out the Rotten Tomatoes rating, and if it's low, they give the movie a pass.

This is a mistake. 

The problem with this approach is that it tells you only what the critics are saying.

Many critics hold all films to the standard of the very best; they might, for example, feel it's reasonable to compare Thor: The Dark World and Casablanca.  You can certainly make a case for this approach, in that all films are working in the same medium and have the same opportunities for greatness and failure.

Other critics will compare a movie to the very best of its type, pitting all the action films against that genre's greatest exemplars.  Again, it's easy to make a case for this approach; after all, we'd all love for each film to hit the highest standards of its genre.

What precious few critics do is tell you whether you're likely to have a good time at a given movie if you like that sort of movie. 

When you're considering going to Thor: The Dark World,  the odds are good that you've seen the trailer, seen some other recent superhero movies, and already know whether you're likely to enjoy this one.  Most reviews ignore this reality.  What most of us want to know is whether we're likely to enjoy this Thor movie, or this Arnold movie, because we already have a strong sense of what a Thor movie is, what an Arnold flick has to offer.

Which brings us to the much better way to use Rotten Tomatoes:  Check out the audience rating and its relationship to what the critics have to say.

The ideal, of course, is for both ratings to be high.  If both the critics and the audiences turn in over 80% positive ratings, the odds are that the film in question is genuinely a good movie of its type. 

If the critics are high on a movie and the audiences are not, odds are that the film will be arty but not a lot of fun. 

The golden equation for bad movies is when the critics' rating is rotten and the audience rating is fresh.  When there's a gap of at least 40 percentage points between those two and the audience rating is higher, you're likely to have a movie that delivers exactly what it promises, but no more.  If you go to that movie with the right expectations, which is to say that if you go knowing full well what it's likely to be, you are going to have a good time. 


Friday, November 29, 2013

For no good reason


this 1980s teen rom-com flitted through my mind earlier tonight.  I've always liked it, and I particularly liked this Elvis cover at the end by Lick the Tins.

Enjoy.




Thursday, November 28, 2013

Reversing the balance


I spend a great deal of time fretting about what I haven't accomplished, what I don't have, what I have yet to do, my failures and my limitations.

Every now and then, I remind myself to be grateful for all that I do have.  On Thanksgiving day, like many people I make a special effort to feel and express that gratitude.

I need to reverse that balance. 

I need to always be grateful for the people in my life, for all that I have, for everything.  I have so very much to be thankful for that spending time fretting about the rest is unseemly. 

I doubt I will succeed in this attempt, but I aim to try. 

I hope on this day that you have much to be grateful for, and that you express that gratitude.

Thank you for reading this and supporting me.  I am truly grateful to you.


Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Thanksgiving etiquette


Quite some time ago, Jennie turned me on to the wonderful videos of ze frank.  If you don't already watch his true facts about animals, you are in for a treat.

In honor of the holiday, he resurrected an older video on Thanksgiving etiquette.  It's not entirely child-safe, but it cracked me up.  In the ramp-up to the holiday, I hope you have time to enjoy it.



Any time you need a laugh, check out his work.

I should also note that he occasionally does very touching videos, such as this one about the time we all have, or this one, which really works for me and which I've loved since I first saw it.



Enjoy. 

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Today's burning book-filing questions


I'm not looking for the official library answers; I'm curious what others think. 

1. Do you mix hardbacks and paperbacks?

I do not.  I recognize the down side of this choice: To find all of an author's books, you have to check in two locations.  The up side, though, is more important to me: Mixing mass-market paperbacks with hardbacks tends to cause warping in the hardbacks, particularly on very full shelves.

2. How do you file the books an author writes under pseudonyms?

This one is trickier, because there are so many good answers.  I tend to put all of an author's hardbacks together, even if she/he wrote them under multiple names.  So, my Donald Westlake and Richard Stark hardbacks stand together.  Even with this choice, though, I am torn on whether to put Stark after Westlake, mixed with Westlake in chronological order of publication, or before Westlake. 

These are the sorts of questions that a person who lives in a library spends entirely too much time discussing and pondering.


Monday, November 25, 2013

UVM vs. Duke: What a game!


Thanks to my friend, Lynn, I was able to attend Sunday night's game between Duke and the University of Vermont.  On paper, this game should have been a rout for Duke; what happened is something entirely different.

Duke entered the game ranked sixth in the country. The only flaw in its 4-1 record came from a loss to fifth-ranked Kansas.  Its roster is one of the best in the country, thanks to the usual superb recruiting of Coach Krzyzewski and his staff.  Cameron Indoor Stadium is one of the hardest places in the country for a non-ACC team to play; the last time Duke lost a non-conference game there was on February 26, 2000. 

Vermont walked into the building with a 1-4 record, a small section of fans, and the certain knowledge that everyone in the basketball world expected them to lose badly.

Then the game started. 

UVM hung with Duke but fell slowly behind in the first half, at times facing a 13-point deficit but ending the half down eight. 

In the second half, UVM simply outplayed Duke.  They out-rebounded Duke, out-worked Duke, and out-shot Duke.  The buzzer sounded a split second before a UVM player let go of a baseline lay-up that swished through the basket.  A fraction of a second was all that stopped UVM from winning.

The game was as exciting as it sounds.  I feel privileged to have been able to see it.  In many ways, it was the kind of game that makes college sports so exciting. 

I hope Duke's players learn from this game that they should never, ever, ever take any victory for granted and that they should respect each and every opponent. 

I hope the UVM players go home fired up, more confident, and more determined than ever to play their best, because on this night their best was enough to give one of the best teams in the country all that it could handle.


Sunday, November 24, 2013

Two images from the last trip


On the first day in Portland, I went out for a walk to stretch my legs and pick up some soda and pretzels for the room. I wandered into a nearby mall that has a pen store; pens are always fun to check out.  The mall had this display in its center.

Click on an image to see a larger version.

For no reason I can clearly define, I found this charming, not over the top. 

Later, at a client's site, this grand old vehicle was sitting in the parking lot.


You have to wonder about the stories behind this one.  You could fill an anthology with them. 


Saturday, November 23, 2013

Because every now and then


you need a little Bill Hicks.



Yes, we all do.

Friday, November 22, 2013

On the road again: Portland, day 5


Ah, the joys of travel.  Today's trip started with a wake-up call at 5:15 a.m., a time when I am vastly more likely to be going to bed than getting up.  The next couple of hours went to the usual drill:  shower, check out, drive to airport, turn in rental car, check in, go through security, get some food for the plane, go to gate, etc.  No upgrades for me today, though I can't complain too much, because I had exit-row, aisle seats on both flights.

The first flight passed reasonably quickly, and I landed nearly caught up on work.

The time to the second flight was initially tight but grew a bit due to flight delays.  The extra minutes, even after the additional walking time necessary to change gates, still left room for a quick stop at a Red Mango for one of their delicious parfaits.  Red Mango makes every day better.

We boarded the second plane at the new gate and...sat.  And sat.  And sat.  A part necessary to make the captain-to-passenger intercom work had broken, so maintenance had to find and bring a new part.  Unfortunately, they brought the wrong part.  Repeat.

A couple of hours later, we took off. 

I'm home safely now, and I get to stay home until CES in early January.  That's a nice treat. 




Thursday, November 21, 2013

On the road again: Portland, day 4


The meetings ended early enough today that I was able to head downtown for an afternoon snack of amazing ice cream at Salt and Straw.  I don't love every flavor these fine folks make, but I love the vast majority of them, and I applaud their inventiveness.  For example, today I tried the pumpkin and chevre ice cream, which was the happy child of an insanely rich cheesecake and perfect pumpkin ice cream. 

I'm so glad this ice cream place is nowhere near me.

After a lot of work, dinner provided a welcome break.  Tonight's meal was at Le Pigeon, which frequent readers will recall is one of my favorite places in the whole world.  I was able to sit at the bar beside the tiny kitchen, so I had the chance to chat occasionally with gifted chef and great guy Gabriel Rucker.  Gabe is one of the folks who noticed in my novel Slanted Jack that the title character bears a great resemblance to Harry Harrison's wonderful Stainless Steel Rat.  As I've explained, that was an intentional homage to a set of books that I greatly enjoyed many years ago--as did Gabe.

The meal tonight was, as usual, exceptional.  Rucker's complex combinations frequently leave you shaking your head in wonder at all the ingredients he manages to get to play together in incredible, delicious harmony.  I cannot recommend this restaurant too highly.

Tomorrow morning, I must arise way before the butt-crack of dawn to check out and head to the airport.  Oh, boy!


Wednesday, November 20, 2013

On the road again: Portland, day 3


Less than three hours after I crawled under the bed covers, I stood up and got back to work. The day passed in the usual business-trip way: lots of email, lots of work, all of it about very interesting topics that I cannot discuss.

Dinner this evening was a very good meal at Roe, a small restaurant nestled at the back of a bigger restaurant, Block+Tackle, in Portland's Richmond area. The four-course menu featured three seafood dishes and a dessert.  Each one was delicious and inventive.  My favorite was a beautiful tuna tartare covered in a foie gras snow made by shaving frozen foie and letting it come up to room temperature. 

If you like seafood and live in this area or visit it, you definitely need to check out Roe.


Tuesday, November 19, 2013

On the road again: Portland, day 2


From very early in the morning until very late at night (well after two-thirty a.m. Pacific time), work consumed almost all of this day.  It was a rough one.

At the same time, it was an exhilarating one.  The work meetings were interesting and exciting and gave me a great deal to ponder.  I like when I have to work my brain hard, and today gave me several opportunities to do that.  Great stuff. 

Dinner was with colleagues and friends at Irving Street Kitchen, a very good restaurant in the Pearl district.  David, one of my colleagues, learned that a friend of his was the pastry chef there, so we had to check it out.  She and they treated us like VIPs, sent us a couple of extra appetizers, and then delivered one each of every dessert.  All were excellent.  I'd definitely go back there again.

In the "I am weird" department, as the meal was winding down, while the others at our table were talking, the music playing just below the volume of the sea of conversation in the restaurant turned to this lovely Death Cab for Cutie song, "Transatlanticism."



I couldn't quite hear it at first, and we couldn't Shazam it, but moments after we gave up I caught the words clearly and recognized it.  The song hit me like a sledgehammer to the heart, and then I got a double whammy as I flashed on this lovely Levi Weaver video, which I've featured before and in which Sarah and Ben appear and something magical happens at the end.



In an instant and for only a few seconds, I ached unbearably for all the people I've ever loved and lost, for those I wanted to love but never had the chance, for those I've known who were so in need of love that they glowed with the pain of their need, for the times when my children were young and small and I could hold them close to me and thought I could protect them always just through the sheer power of my love, for all the times I wished I could hold someone closer. 

I thought then, as I often do, that of all the forces that bind us humans and all the traits we share, love and the power and the ability and the need to love are among the very finest, the very best parts of us. 




Monday, November 18, 2013

On the road again: Portland, day 1


When I know I have to get up at seven a.m., I inevitably take forever to fall asleep, sleep poorly, and wake up often.  Last night, I had four hours in bed, maybe two of them asleep.  Learning to fix this weakness in myself clearly needs to become a priority for me. 

Still, I felt reasonably good after my usual hot shower.  I made it to the airport quickly and without hassle, checked in easily...and then waited in a huge group for quite some time due to a false fire alarm. 

I didn't luck into upgrades on either flight today, but I had an exit-row, aisle seat, and the planes offered bandwidth, so I could work.  I alternated working with dozing throughout both legs of the trip.  In DFW, I had just enough time between flights to grab a small lunch from the only restaurant near the gate--Taco Bell, the first time I've eaten there in ages--and then I was on another plane.

The rest of the day also went to work, though a working dinner with colleagues and friends was a very good meal at Toro Bravo, a local Spanish place I've long wanted to try.  The portions of the large plates were way bigger than I had expected, so I sent home with a colleague 80% of my entree untouched.  I would definitely go back there, but I'd order far less.

Now, it's time to finish unpacking and crash.  Tomorrow, meetings!


Sunday, November 17, 2013

UFC 167: How we fared


There's no nice way to put this, so with great reluctance I will get right to the point:  I kicked Kyle's butt in the prediction contest last night.  With me correctly picking the winner in four of our five disagreements, I had what may be my biggest victory ever. 

I wish I could claim skill made the difference, but our track record proves that's not the case.  I just got lucky.  Still, I'll take it. 

Let's run down the results, starting with the Facebook prelims.

Cody Donovan vs. Gian Villante

At the end of the first round, which Donovan won easily, I was despairing that Kyle would start off the night with a victory.  In the second, as both fighters began to gas, Villante clocked Donovan with a right, followed him to the ground, and punished him until the ref stopped it.  Villante's victory put me up 1-0.

Sergio Pettis vs. Will Campuzano

Boner-powered Will Campuzano looked a bit over-matched for most of the first two rounds, as Sergio Pettis was enough better to clearly win those rounds.  In the third, Campuzano made a push, and one judge even gave him the round, but Pettis was clearly the winner.  My choice of Anthony's little brother put me up 2-0.


Jason High vs. Anthony Lapsley

In one of the night's many grinders, High and Lapsley went back and forth in every area, though much of the fight was on the ground.  High took the first and third rounds and so won the fight. 

I finished the Facebook fights with a perfect 3-0 record, while Kyle started the televised bouts only 1-2. 

Erik Perez vs. Edwin Figueroa

We both chose Perez, and we were both right.  Figuerora was never in this one, as Perez did exactly what I'd predicted and ground out a victory. 

Brian Ebersole vs. Rick Story

Ebersole is a tough, tough man who ate a ton of shots for 15 minutes and kept coming forward.  Rick Story, though, dominated him the entire time.  The end was never in doubt. 

We'd both picked him, so I moved to a still-perfect 5-0, and Kyle improved to 3-2.

Ed Herman vs. Thales Leites

I began my prediction with "Poor Ed Herman," and I was right to feel sorry for the ginger.  Leites dominated him for all three rounds, though to Herman's credit Leites was never even close to finishing him.  We both said it would go for Leites, so neither of us gained any ground on this.


Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone vs. Evan Dunham

By this point we were desperate for a finish.  We got one.  I wrote yesterday that I wanted Cerrone to win, even though I chose Dunham, and I got my wish as Cerrone dominated Dunham in the first and submitted him in the second. 

Cerrone's win ruined my perfect record, but Kyle had also picked Dunham, so he didn't gain on me.

Going into the pay-per-view, I was 6-1, while Kyle 5-2. 

Tim Elliott vs. Ali Bagautinov

Elliott was very aggressive and drove the pace of the fight for most of the three rounds, but Bagautinov landed more strikes and carried the day.  His victory gave me another win over Kyle, as I improved to 7-1 and Kyle dropped to 5-3.


Josh Koscheck vs. Tyron Woodley

Josh Koscheck was in this fight right up to the moment the referee told them to fight.  From then on, Tyron Woodley was everything Kyle said he statistically should be:  more powerful, more accurate, and possessing stronger take-downs and better take-down defense.  With less than half a minute to go in the first round, Woodley knocked Koscheck down and nearly out, then hit him again and put him completely out.

Woodley's dominant victory dropped me to 7-2 and improved Kyle to 6-3.

Rory MacDonald vs. Robbie Lawler

If anyone had asked about Rory MacDonald in the post-fight presser, I'm pretty sure Dana would indeed have blasted him as I predicted.  I was also correct to note that MacDonald would turn in a safe, boring fight.  Heck, at times it looked as if his goal was to avoid touching Lawler.  What I got wrong--and what Kyle also called wrong--is the outcome:  Lawler clearly (to me; one judge saw the fight for him) won two rounds and so earned the (split-)decision victory. 

With the co-main event ahead, I dropped to 7-3 and Kyle 6-4.


Rashad Evans vs. Chael Sonnen

If Chael Sonnen's testosterone usage was helping him, you couldn't tell it past the first minute of tonight's fight.  Evans dominated after an initial take-down attempt, and, to my surprise, Evans finished Sonnen in the first round. 

This was the last fight on which we disagreed, so with a record of 7-4 (to Kyle's 6-5), I won our competition going away. 

Georges St. Pierre vs. Johny Hendricks

If you look only at the list of winners and losers, Kyle and I both appear to have correctly called this fight for GSP, because the judges awarded him a split-decision victory.  Though the stats were close, the result didn't appear to be:  Hendricks looked like no one had touched him, while GSP required stitches and was a bruised and bloodied mess.  Fans will be dissecting this controversial ending for a long time. 


I ended the night a very respectable 8-4, Kyle stayed over .500 at 7-5, and we had a generally good time watching the fights. 


As always, don't rely on us for betting advice!

Saturday, November 16, 2013

UFC 167: Kyle and I pick 'em


Kyle and I haven't picked the winners of a UFC event in ages, and we're watching UFC 167: St. Pierre vs. Hendricks together at my house tonight, so we figured it was time to try our hand again at prognostication. 

As usual, we'll begin with the preliminary fights that you can see only on Facebook. 

Cody Donovan vs. Gian Villante

Mark:  Both of these light heavyweights lost last to Ovince St. Preux.  The difference, though, is that Donovan was KFTO'd, while Villante lost due to a stoppage from a bad poke in the eye.  Donovan fights by eating shots, a strategy that doesn't tend to work all that long.  Villante will punish him and take him down until the ref stops the fight.  Villante for the win.

Kyle:  Villante is a KO artist who came up through Strikeforce but lost his UFC debut against Ovince St. Preux.  He’s coming in as a late replacement on two week’s notice to fight Cody Donovan, who also lost to Ovince St. Preux in his last fight.   I don’t know much about either fighter, but two weeks isn’t a lot of time to prepare for a fight in the UFC.  Donovan to win.

Sergio Pettis vs. Will Campuzano

Mark:  Pettis, the brother of lightweight champ Anthony Pettis, brings a perfect record to his UFC debut.  Campuzano has four losses and hasn't won in two UFC outings, but he's bigger, stronger, and over his UFC debut jitters.  For those and other reasons, a lot of the folks I've read are picking Campuzano to win.  I'm going against them.  I think Pettis has trained with enough good people to be ready for this challenge, so I'm picking him to win, probably by spending most of the fight landing light strikes and then dancing away from Campuzano's longer reach. 

Kyle:  The betting odds have this as the biggest mismatch on the card, with lightweight champ Anthony Pettis’ little brother better than a 4-to-1 favorite over Will Campuzano.  Campuzano went 1-2 in the WEC and is 0-2 in the UFC, but has put together a five-fight winning streak in other promotions to earn his way back into the Octagon.  Despite the odds, though, I’m picking Campuzano to win.  From the remarkable boner he displayed at theweigh-ins, Campuzano looks like his testosterone levels are high and he’s excited and ready to go.

Jason High vs. Anthony Lapsley

Mark: I haven't seen Lapsley fight, but he's certainly on a good winning streak.  He's making his UFC debut, though, and High is not.  High looks to be the better wrestler, and he's not been doing too bad lately, either, winning eight of his last nine.  I'm going with High. 

Kyle:  High and Lapsely are both smallish welterweight grapplers who’ve looked good in smaller shows, but have lost when they’ve faced big names.  Now they face each other in a journeyman bout.  Their skillsets are similar, but High has faced stiffer competition and has looked better in recent fights.  High by submission.


The rest of the card is available on television.  You can find the next four bouts on Fox Sports 1.

Erik Perez vs. Edwin Figueroa

Mark:  Like a few other fights on this card, this one features a fighter with the power to win at any time via KO (Figueroa) against a fighter who's better technically in striking and in wrestling (Perez).  I have to go with the most likely chain of events and pick Perez to grind out a decision victory.

Kyle:  Perez is 3-1 in the UFC, with his loss being by split decision to the formidable Takeya Mizugaki.   Figueroa is 2-3 in the UFC.  Perez has a better record, and I bet it’ll improve to 4-1 after tonight.

Brian Ebersole vs. Rick Story

Mark:  Brian Ebersole strung together 11 victories in a row, including four in the UFC, before he turned in a lackluster performance that cost him a loss to James Head.  Story once appeared to be on his way to stardom, but he never made it.  Even so, he's stronger and better at grinding than Ebersole, so he'll pull off the decision win. 

Kyle:  Rick Story is the real deal, a terrific wrestler with wins over Thiago Alves and—improbably—Johny Hendricks.  He’s struggled against stiff competition in recent years, though, while Hendricks has improved his game and soared to the top of the welterweight division.  Ebersole took the UFC by storm in 2011, winning his first three fights in the promotion, only to go 1-1 in 2012 and then disappear for a year and a half because of an injury that he won’t divulge.  If Ebersole had stayed more active, I might pick him to win, but ring rust is a real thing.  Story should be able to take this.

Ed Herman vs. Thales Leites

Mark:  Poor Ed Herman.  He's a good fighter, a very good fighter, but he's never going to make it to the elite ranks of 185ers.  Now he has to face Thales Leites, who is bigger, stronger, and better at BJJ.  I'm not sure if Leites will beat him down and submit him late in the fight, or just win by decision, but I don't see any real hope for Herman in this one. 

Kyle:  Herman and Leites are similar in size and similar in skills.  But Leites has a better record, particularly in recent years. Leites to win. 

Donald “Cowboy” Cerrone vs. Evan Dunham

Mark:  This one will be a war.  The oddsmakers have Cerrone as a tiny favorite, but Dunham is exactly the right type of fighter--an extremely aggressive fighter who won't back down and who has decent wrestling--to beat him.  When fighters bring the battle to him and close the distance, Cerrone sometimes looks like he doesn't know what to do next.  I want Cerrone to win, but I'm going with Dunham.  Whoever takes this, it's likely to be by decision after three very tough rounds. 

Kyle:  This fight is a strong candidate for fight of the night, as both fighters keep a brisk pace and have shown themselves willing to stand and trade.  Dunham, however, averages 50% more stand-up strikes per minute than Cerrone.  I think his ability to sustain a faster pace than Cerrone will earn Dunham the victory.


To catch the big five fights, though, you have to pony up for the pay-per-view broadcast.  We've already signed up for it.

Tim Elliott vs. Ali Bagautinov

Mark:  Kyle tends to dislike the fights with the smaller guys, and at 125 pounds each these two are as small as the UFC gets.  This one, though, should be very entertaining, in part because Bagautinov has the power to end it at any time.  He probably won't, but he will be just enough better in every area than Elliott, who to be fair is a very good fighter, to walk away with the win. 

Kyle:  Elliott is the bigger man, has the better record, and has more experience in the UFC.  Elliott to win.

Josh Koscheck vs. Tyron Woodley

Mark: Poor Josh Koscheck.  He made it to the mountain--St. Pierre--but like so many before and after him, he couldn't reach the peak.  Now, he's stuck as a gatekeeper at 170.  Facing him is Tyron Woodley, a younger, faster fighter.  Many are figuring on Woodley's speed giving him the edge over Koscheck, but I don't buy it.  This fight will be close, but in the end Koscheck will grind out a decision victory by out-wrestling and out-grinding Woodley. 

Kyle:  Koscheck and Woodley are like old and new models of the same fighter, NCAA All-American wrestlers who learned to love punching people.  The stats say that Woodley is a little bit better across the board:  more power, better accuracy, better takedowns, and better takedown defense.  Woodley to win by being new and improved.

Rory MacDonald vs. Robbie Lawler

Mark:  In the post-fight press conference and the later media scrum, there's a better than even chance that Dana White is once again going to blast Rory MacDonald for fighting a safe, boring fight en route to a victory.  The alternative is White praising MacDonald for getting a submission victory.  Though Lawler has looked very good lately and certainly has a power puncher's chance to end the fight at any moment, we can expect MacDonald to enter the octagon with a great game plan, execute that plan, and walk away the winner. 

Kyle:  Twenty-four-year-old Rory MacDonald has put together the kind of winning streak in the UFC that Robbie Lawler must remember being his ten years ago.   At 31, Lawler isn’t that old, but he has a lot of miles on him.  MacDonald has energy and accuracy.  He throws 40% more significant strikes than Lawler and attempts more than twice as many takedowns.  Again, I’m picking the younger, better man to win.

Rashad Evans vs. Chael Sonnen

Mark:  Sonnen is still on the juice--excuse me, he still has his Therapeutic Use Exemption for testosterone--so he has a chance to win this fight.  I was even picking him for a while, but I've come to believe that his heart just isn't in this one.  He knows he can collect a big payday for a decent performance against his friend Evans, and then he can head to Brazil for an even bigger payday in a fight he genuinely wants against Wanderlei Silva.  Evans needs the win and is a good enough wrestler to mostly neutralize Sonnen's signature take-down and grind game.  In the stand-up, Evans is faster and going to score more often.  This one goes "Suga" Rashad Evans by decision. 

Kyle:  Sonnen does one thing, but he does it well:  He takes men down and beats on them.  That’s not going to be an easy feat with Evans, a Division 1 wrestler who missed being All-American by a hair.  Evans is a much better striker, so if the fight stays on the feet Sonnen’s going to have a rough night.  Nonetheless, I’m picking Sonnen to win.  The Nevada State Athletic Commission is allowing Sonnen to continue using Testosterone Replacement Therapy for this fight, and I think that the anabolic supplementation will give Sonnen an edge that an unaugmented human like Evans can’t match.

Georges St. Pierre vs. Johny Hendricks

Mark:  Hendricks is a legitimate contender and a worthy opponent for the champ.  He's an excellent wrestler with tremendous power in both hands, and if he lands a clean shot, he absolutely can knock out St. Pierre.  If you were to judge this fight only by the UFC's promotional material, you'd be right to expect Hendricks to beat St. Pierre.  That's a great testimony to the craftmanship of the promotion package the UFC has put together for this fight.

The thing is, though, Hendricks is going to lose.  St. Pierre is going to do what he does:  jab, kick, keep Hendricks at a distance, shoot sometimes--though maybe less than in past fights, out-box the challenger, and execute his usual sound game plan.  He'll do this at roughly the same pace for all five rounds, and at the end the ref will raise his hand in victory.

Kyle:  Hendricks is a wrestler in the mold of Josh Koscheck and Tyron Woodley, who primarily uses his wrestling to keep his feet and strike.  He’ll be the stiffest test yet for St-Pierre, who has used his own superior wrestling to smother recent opponents and ride his way to victory.  Hendricks has amazing knockout power.  If the fight ends early, it’ll probably be ended by Hendricks’ powerful left hand.  But GSP has an amazing 7-inch reach advantage and one of the best jabs in MMA.   I think that GSP will be able to keep to the outside and jab his way to victory.


Amazingly, though Kyle and I generally agree on fight picks, for tonight's card we differ on five of the eleven winners.  One of us is going to be happy tomorrow; check back then to see which of us it will be. 

As always, don't rely on us for betting advice!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Thor: The Dark World


Let me get right to the bottom line, in case you're in a hurry: If you think you might like Thor: The Dark World, you're probably right, and you should go see it.  You'll have a pleasant time, though you will leave the theater less than fully satisfied.  This reaction is one that big-budget summer movies--and ignore the date of its release, because this is a summer movie--frequently cause, so you're probably already used to it.

You'll have a good enough time because plenty of shit blows up real good, as Joe Bob used to say, and the story takes exactly the sorts of twists and turns you expect it to.  A key character dies, another one appears to die, and good people find themselves regularly in bad situations.  Chris Hemsworth takes his shirt off for no good reason.  Etc. 

You'll exit with less than complete satisfaction, though, because there's not much real drama here--no one grows, no one truly changes--and because the story is less a story than a collection of scenes.  Taken individually, each scene is decent enough.  As a group, though, they feel disjointed, almost as if a completely different crew filmed each one and then clipped them together.

If you've read any reviews of this movie, you've probably seen that a lot of reviewers and critics are hating on Natalie Portman.  They're wrong.  She did as much with the cardboard character the writers gave her as anyone reasonably could.  Give Natalie a little love for being a trooper in the face of the sad role she had. 

In the credits, the movie delivers the Marvel Easter eggs we've come to expect, and the greater plot arc marches on toward the next Avengers movie.

So, yeah, I enjoyed it well enough, but it highlighted yet again how much less a film is when it has little heart and a weak story.  It's really a shame that Joss Whedon can't write and direct all the Marvel movies. 


Thursday, November 14, 2013

On About Time and beautiful sentiment


Richard Curtis, who wrote and directed this film, has earned the odd distinction of being the perfect sentimental movie writer/director for my taste.  (I'm sure he's thrilled at this honor.)  The previous two movies he directed--Love Actually and The Boat That Rocked--unabashedly mix humor and romance with heaping amounts of straightforward, heartfelt sentiment, and both are among my all-time favorite movies.  In About Time, Curtis again focuses on familiar targets, including romance and father/son relationships, again mixes humor and romance and sentiment--and again leaves me loving the result.

The key plot gimmick is a simple bit of pseudo-SF:  When a man in the protagonist's family turns 21, as the protagonist just did, he can travel back in time--but only to moments in his own life.  Later, rules appear, and the protagonist also gets a sense of the cost of time travel.  Over the course of the film, we watch as first his romance and then his life with a woman he loves unfold, and we also see his touching but always understated relationship with his father. 

The movie makes several key mistakes in its handling of time travel, though they all boil down to inconsistent application of the rules.  It also skirts a central issue:  Deceit--his use of time travel to manipulate things--is the very foundation of his relationship with his love.

None of that ends up mattering, though, at least not if the movie works for you, because the metaphor that time travel provides speaks to the very heart of the film, a simple message:  Enjoy every moment you're alive, and particularly enjoy the moments with the ones you love.

Stripped to its barest minimum, this message, like all profound ones, sounds dopey and obvious, but of course it never is, for few, if any, of us are capable of doing that.  I certainly am not.

More importantly, most of us don't go to fiction of any sort--films, books, comics, whatever--for the messages.  We go for the stories, the characters, the plots, the escapes.  The story and characters--all the key actors really deliver the goods--of About Time so charmed me and carried me along that I loved every minute of it, and it moved me deeply at the end, even though I was very aware that Curtis was expecting to move me.

If you hate his other two films, I'd guess you will hate this one, too.  If you don't know his work, though, or if you liked those movies, or if you're just in the mood for a beautiful film about love, both romantic and familial, then do not miss About Time.




Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Time for a sentimental song


I'm going to write later about the new Richard Curtis film, About Time, which despite its many flaws I absolutely loved.

For now, though, because it's been on my mind I'm going to share with you a version of the Waterboys song, "How Long Will I Love You," that in the movie a trio in a Tube station play.

I quite like this version.



I hope you do, too.

BTW, the film ends with a second version, the recent cover from Ellie Goulding.  If you want to contrast it to the one above, listen to this one.




Tuesday, November 12, 2013

11-12-13


Don't you just love this date?  All three numbers right in a row, an event we won't get again for thirteen months.  Seeing numbers occur this way makes me a little happier inside.

Of course, I am weird.


Monday, November 11, 2013

My thanks to our veterans on Veterans Day


I never had to fight for our country, nor was I ever in the military.  I came close to being drafted after high school, but Nixon canceled the draft before I had to show up.  I was and am very grateful for that.  It may be the only thing I like about Nixon.

I've had my share of disagreements with our government about its choices of wars in my lifetime.  As I've written before, I've never felt we should have gone into Viet Nam, nor do I think we were right to invade Iraq, to pick but two examples of where I think politicians have made the wrong choices.

I have, however, never blamed the men and women who've served our country for those choices.  They signed up to do military service, and politicians sent them off to fight.

I tremendously respect and appreciate the service those men and women did.  Though I believe I can never fully understand the prices they paid, through veteran friends and family, including Dave and my stepfather, Ed, as well as via my own PTSD, I have a tiny inkling of that cost. I know they will continue to pay for the rest of their lives. 

On this day, let us thank our vets and honor them.  We cannot thank them enough.

Let us also push our government to take better care of them when they return from active service. 

They have more than earned that care and our thanks.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Bill's sabbatical


As I've mentioned in previous posts, Principled Technologies, the company Bill and I co-founded and work at, offers a sabbatical program to all of its employees.  (I gave more detail about the program in this earlier post.)  A key part of the program is that PT encourages employees to do a week of charity work and provides funds either for travel expenses to go to the charity or as a donation to the charity.  As I've also shown in some earlier entries, we're making a series of short videos about what employees have done for charity work during their sabbaticals.  We post those videos on our site and YouTube channel, and we also give them for free to the charities for their use. 

The video for Bill's sabbatical work is now available.  Check it out.



You can get Bill's take on his charity time via this entry on his blog

Bill's been working with this group since long before we created our sabbatical program.  He truly loves spending time with and helping the children there.  He's a good man, and I'm proud to have been his business partner for 28 years.


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