Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Planning to be in Baltimore this coming weekend? Come on by Balticon!


I'll be there, and I'll be busy. I'll fill you in on my activities in the next couple of days, but key among them will be having the privilege once again of acting as the Master of Ceremonies for the Opening Ceremonies of the con.

If you'll be at the con, definitely come by one of my panels and say, hi!



Monday, May 22, 2017

A test of my loyalty to Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson


I'm a huge fan of Johnson's films. He generally turns in an appropriately scene-chewing performance, his comedic flair keeps getting better and better, and some of his films are even legitimately good (ref., for example, Central Intelligence).

This weekend, however, brings us the movie that may well push my loyalty to the breaking point: Baywatch.

I never watched the original show, and each time I've encountered it in reruns, I've either scooted right past it to the next channel or given it two minutes and then moved on by. Every minute I caught was painfully dumb.

From the trailers, it's clear that Johnson and the folks behind this reboot are frequently playing it for laughs, which is a welcome goal. I'm just not yet sure if that's enough to get me to the movie theater.

Time will tell. If I do go, I promise to report back.



Sunday, May 21, 2017

Alien: Covenant aims to return to its Alien roots


The real title of this film should be Prometheus, Part 2, but the Alien franchise, old as it is, has more marketing power than the kinda-sorta prequel, Prometheus. I didn't hate Prometheus, but I didn't love it, either, as my earlier entry on that film stated. The good news about this sequel is that it's a more engaging and entertaining movie than its predecessor--and Michael Fassbender is again wonderful. The bad news is that it shares some of the worst flaws of the earlier movie.

This time, we follow a group of colonists who are heading for a distant planet when something happens. Rather than delving into spoilers, I'll just say that from almost the moment humans get involved, they start making poor choices. The quality of the choices goes down as the film progresses.

Meanwhile, the scenery and the effects are gorgeous, the people act reasonably well, and Fassbender is a delight.

So, yet again, we have a big summer action movie that is fun and will entertain you--as long as you turn off your reason.

It makes me yearn to write a movie about aliens or about zombies in which smart, well-trained, efficient people make intelligent choices, execute them well, and carry the day. Alas, there doesn't seem to be a market for such offerings.

If you're in the mood for big, brainless fun that is gorgeous to watch, check out Alien: Covenant. If you insist on involving your reason, give it a pass.




Saturday, May 20, 2017

I hadn't planned to blog another movie trailer


but then I saw this and so fell in love with its stupidity and cast that I simply could not resist sharing it.



Let's face it, with Bruce Willis, John Goodman, a dog, drugs, and all manner of other strangeness, Once Upon a Time in Venice is made for me.



Friday, May 19, 2017

Yeah, it's time for a little Blue Rodeo


Specifically, the song, "I Can't Hide This Anymore" from their latest album, 1000 Arms.



I've enjoyed their music since I heard it first in Toronto in December, 1987, and I've never stopped loving this rock/country/jazz band.



Thursday, May 18, 2017

Do we really need


a sequel to Blade Runner?

No, we absolutely do not.

That said, will I go watch Ryan Gosling try to fill Harrison Ford's shoes in this sequel, Blade Runner 2049?



Yes, yes I will.  I just can't stop myself; I don't even want to.





Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Doing what's easiest vs. doing what's right


All too often, I encounter people doing whatever is easiest for themselves rather than making the small extra effort necessary to do what's right for their clients or friends or families. Tonight, leaving work, I encountered a perfect small example.

I was stepping out of an elevator in our office building into the lobby. The floor of the lobby is tile. The room was brightly lit and recently mopped, but enough of the water had dried that I didn't initially notice any of the floor was still wet. After a few steps, I almost slipped, caught myself, and then sighed. I'd complained before that when the janitorial team mopped, they should put out a "wet floor" caution sign so folks would avoid slipping--or at least have notice that they should.

As I was carefully continuing my walk to the door, I noticed there was indeed a "wet floor" sign--but in a corner, out of view of either elevator, near the door the cleaning crew probably took to exit the lobby. The sign was technically in the lobby, and its location was probably convenient for the person doing the mopping, but it did absolutely no good whatsoever.

Oh, what a difference just a little bit of thought and consideration could make.



Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The second trailer for Atomic Blonde


only makes me want to see it more.



Yup, I am so there, maybe even on Friday, July 28, the day it appears.




Monday, May 15, 2017

Colossal intrigues and ultimately satisfies


Most films today follow entirely predictable paths. When you enter the theater, though you won't guess every detail of the storyline, you will already know the shape of the plot and the outline of the ending. Colossal is not one of those movies. As long as you don't read any spoilers, you are unlikely to see just where this one is going, much less how it ends.

Consequently, I don't want to tell you much about the plot. I will say that it's SF, but SF in the here and now, where the fantastic element takes a while to assert itself. I will also say that the acting and directing are strong and both contribute beautifully to the film's growing tension. I expected a good turn from Anne Hathaway, but I was pleasantly surprised by what an excellent performance Jason Sudeikis turned in. The film is quiet, at least most of the time, but it is still compelling.

I very much recommend Colossal, but go with as little knowledge of the movie as you can. This one deserves more attention than it has gotten.





Sunday, May 14, 2017

King Arthur: Legend of the Sword


I went to see this movie for two reasons: I'm a sucker for director/co-writer Guy Ritchie's style, and I'm generally a fan of King Arthur stories. I entered the theater more than a little concerned, though, because critics had widely panned the film. As of this writing, for example, its Rottentomatoes scores are 27% for critics--but 78% for the audience.

I stand with the audience. Yes, the movie is a hot mess with a heavy measure of social commentary applied entirely too liberally, but the style is classic Ritchie, the soundtrack is spot on, the key cast members chew just the right amount of scenery, and the sets are wonderful.

The story borrows from the classic legend only what the writers felt like taking, which is to say that if you're expecting this film to fit well in the Arthurian canon, you will be quite disappointed. If you're willing to let it play out, though, and if you can accept Arthur as yet another kid with special talents raised rough on the street, then you'll have a grand time.

As is my way, I wanted the movie to work, so I had a fine time with it.

Of course, like most movies these days, this one's story requires you not to think too hard at any turn, because key elements stretch your disbelief to the breaking point, but if you're willing to do that, you'll enjoy it.

I recommend the film with those caveats and must admit that I enjoyed it. It will and not should win awards, but it's a fine summer flick with a decent heart.




Saturday, May 13, 2017

How I fared in my UFC 211 picks


I'm happy to report that I was right in my picks of the two championship bouts on tonight's UFC PPV event. I chose both champs to win, and they did.

I said that heavyweight champion Stipe Miocic would beat challenger Junior dos Santos by TKO, and indeed Miocic did just that. I was also right to note that it would come before the end of the third round, but I was off in my belief that the fight might go as long as three rounds. Instead, Miocic polished off dos Santos in brutal fashion mid-way through the first round.

Strawweight belt-holder Joanna Jedrzejczyk dominated challenger Jessica Andrade for all five rounds of their bout and emerged with the decision victory, as I predicted. Andrade deserves a ton of credit, though, for taking a huge number of hits and never slowing down, never giving up, and even hurting the champ in the first round. Andrade is tough as nails. For now, though, Jedrzejczyk is untouchable in her division and really ought to be ranked second on the pound-for-pound charts (behind men's flyweight champ Demetrious Johnson).

For the next big UFC event, I might take more risks and call more fights, but I'm definitely happy with tonight's results.



Friday, May 12, 2017

Calling tomorrow night's two main UFC fights


Tomorrow night, UFC 211 will feature two championship matches:  heavyweight champ Stipe Miocic vs. challenger Junior dos Santos, and women's flyweight champ Joanna Jedrzejczyk vs. challenger Jessica Andrade. I'm looking forward to watching both fights, but I'm going on record now with my prediction: the current champs will come home with their belts.

Miocic is quicker, in better condition, and more powerful than dos Santos. Unless dos Santos gets lucky early, which could always happen, Miocic is going to hit him until he drops him. Miocic will earn the victory, and probably by TKO before the end of the third round.

Jedrzejczyk is a buzz-saw of a champion with a significant reach advantage over Andrade. Andrade is definitely tough, and Jedrzejczyk has plenty of holes in her game, but so far no one has really taken advantage of them. This one is likely to go the distance, but one way or another, Jedrzejczyk's hands will go up in the end.

I'll let you know after the fights how I did.




Thursday, May 11, 2017

Star Destroyers


is the name of the upcoming Baen anthology, edited by Tony Daniel and Christopher Ruocchio, in which I have a new story, "Another Solution." I mentioned the book in an earlier post but at that time didn't know its name.

I've seen the Kurt Miller cover, and it definitely fits the title; this is a classic space war SF cover.

I've also read a David Drake story that will be in the book, and it's quite good.

I do like my piece. I hope you do, too.

Unfortunately, I don't think you can yet read the book.

Yup, I'm teasing again.



Wednesday, May 10, 2017

You know you travel too much when


the only restaurant in which you eat dinner twice in a month is in an airport. In my case, this happened tonight in the DFW Au Bon Pain in Terminal A near gate 33. I had a fairly tight connection and needed some sort of meal, so I grabbed a small sandwich and some fruit there.

Just to prove to myself that I'm not set in my ways, however, I did not order my usual (chicken Caesar wrap) and instead opted for another sandwich with similar calories (ham and cheese and lettuce). Take that, those who would pigeonhole me!

I'm now home for a couple of weeks, and I'm mighty glad to be here.



Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Keeping it simple and delicious at Bouchon


My colleagues and I dined tonight at Thomas Keller's lovely Bouchon in the Venetian. The bread and butter are so good that I could almost live on them, but instead I opted to add the steak frites, a dish in which the steak is good but the frites are better. I made them better still by asking to have truffles on them--a standard offering of the restaurant.

Wow, was it good.

Click the image to see a larger version.

In a stunning display of self-control, I scraped the butter off the steak and gave a chunk of my frites to a colleague. I still didn't come close to finishing them. The small steak, though a tough cut, proved to be perfectly prepared and delicious.

You really cannot go wrong with a Thomas Keller restaurant.

If only I'd had the time to eat brunch at Bouchon, my time there would have been complete.




Monday, May 8, 2017

Just another friendly Las Vegas person


I was walking this morning from my hotel to the convention center, moving along well, minding my own business, and enjoying the people watching. At a bus stop ahead of me, a woman was dancing. She was about four foot nine, maybe two hundred pounds, and wearing skintight bright white tights and stretch top. The white fabric extended to her wrists and her ankles. On her feet were white shoes, and she wore short white socks. Her hair was bleached white, and it poked out from under a pure white ball cap. As I drew closer, I saw that she was in her late sixties or early seventies, and though she was dancing, she wore no headphones or ear buds; the music she heard came from inside.

She flirted with each man who passed by, and she offered each a chance to dance.

I went wide and opted not to accept the invitation.

Part of me wanted to know her story; part of me still does. Part of me, though, feared that even hearing it might draw me into a rabbit hole I have neither the time nor the inclination to visit.

As I walked away, I glanced back over my shoulder, and though she was then all alone, still she danced.




Sunday, May 7, 2017

The best and the worst, all in one day


I flew on two planes today, and I ate two meals, and each pair yielded examples of the best and worst of travel.

The first flight went as perfectly as one could ask: I received an upgrade to first class, the plane left on time and arrived early, my row-mate was quiet, and I was able to finish a lot of work. I left the plane feeling better than when I entered it.

The second flight, by contrast, proved to be a nightmare. Though I had an exit row, the leg space was minimal.  I was by far the smallest of the three of us in the row, and my shoulders were definitely the narrowest, so none of us had any space. Rather than all suffering, however, the guy in the middle decided to launch an attack for the available space. He spread his shoulders and elbows into both me (aisle) and the other guy, and whenever we tried to regain any space, he'd raise his arms and push back. I didn't want to end up in a fight on a plane, and apparently the guy in the window seat decided the same thing, so we just took it and leaned away from the guy in the middle. By the end of the flight, I was so angry that it took all of my self control to exit the plane calmly.

My first meal was on the first flight, and it was a wilted salad flanked by a wooden piece of the Chicken of Great Despondency (patent-pending by American Airlines). I've eaten a lot of rubber chicken, but this was wooden chicken. Every bit of the salad was droopy and almost as sad and defeated as the chicken, but in a wet, wilted, go-ahead-and-try-to-eat-this-veggie-mush sort of way.

My second meal was dinner at the amazing é by José Andrés. It's very late, and I have to get up very early, so I must save the full review for later. Suffice for now to say that the meal was world-class, the staff's performance exemplary, and as a bonus, all nine of us in the dining room got along well, were foodies, talked and laughed a great deal, and generally made a great meal even better.

More on this meal later, but if you're in Vegas and can afford the time and cost--it's not cheap, but it's worth the tab--definitely check out é by José Andrés.




Saturday, May 6, 2017

Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2


is a romp with both snark and heart, a worthy successor to the first Guardians and about as close to a guaranteed good time as you're likely to find. Though it lacks the surprise of the first one--because, after all, we have seen these tricks before--its heart is stronger and the key cast members now feel more comfortable in their roles.

The storyline is fun, but what matters most is that in the course of it, each of the main characters grows and becomes more self-aware. Pratt's Peter Quill remains the center of attention, but this time each of the other leads gets to show change and growth. Michael Rooker's Yondu character is even more important this time than last, and Rooker makes the most of all of his screen time.

If you want big summer fun, go see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2--and for double the fun, (re-)watch the first one before you do.




Friday, May 5, 2017

PT doing good in the world: Gina's sabbatical video


As I've written many times before, I'm particularly proud of PT's sabbatical program and all the good work that PT folks do during their sabbaticals.  In this new video, Gina talks about her recent work with the Shepherd's Table Soup Kitchen.



I also worked at this place on my sabbatical, and it was a fulfilling and moving experience.  The people there feed anyone who shows up.  They do good work, and I'm glad we're supporting them.

Enjoy!



Thursday, May 4, 2017

Delta Rae's new EP is out--and you need it


A Long and Happy Life is the name, and you can get it anywhere you buy digital music. Check out the title track--but do remember this is not a professional recording or mix, and the whole band isn't playing--and then get the EP.



Yeah, the marketing behind this EP is portraying it as country music, and I'm not generally a country music fan, but when it sounds this good, I am.  Plus, the intro to this song is pure heart.

These folks are awesome.  I love their music.  Check it out.



Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Confessing a guilty pleasure


I watch The Ultimate Fighter reality show. I won't try to justify it; I know it for what it is.

Go ahead and judge me.  I deserve it...but do it quickly, because I need to go see how the first episode played out.



Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Will the JLA movie be the one DC finally gets right?


I don't know, but at least this trailer makes me hopeful.



I am definitely there.



Monday, May 1, 2017

Mom


She would have been 84 today, and I would have called her to say, "Happy Birthday." It would have been another call on another day, because for the last few years of her life, I called her every day that I was in town. I would have had little to say to her, but we would have spent ten minutes on the phone, and I would have ended by saying, "I love you, Mom," something I spent over forty years not saying. I would have mocked the call a bit, shrugged it off as a duty, and even truly felt that way some of the time.

Had I known she was going to die, I like to think I would have appreciated those calls more, but instead I would probably have spent all my energy trying to stop her death and still not truly enjoyed the short talks we had.

Cling tight to the ones you love, folks, and appreciate them, and revel in how much they are so perfectly themselves, and see the parts of them you've never been open to seeing before, because all too soon we or they will be gone, all gone, and you will not get those moments again.

I've said before that I never danced with my mom, and to the best of my knowledge I haven't, but this Delta Rae song now always reminds me of her.



I love you, Mom.




Sunday, April 30, 2017

One more TED 2017 takeaway: control screen time


Multiple sessions of this past TED focused on various aspects of our addiction to our screens, the smartphones, tablets, and PCs/Macs that dominate so much of our time. A lot of the data suggested bad, often seriously bad, effects from our need to constantly check in with our phones and other devices. The data is compelling, but even more compelling to me is that I definitely feel those urges and too often yield to them.

So, over the next year or so I hope to take more direct control of the time I spend staring at screens. Rather than check email at every opportunity, for example, I intend to relegate that task to scheduled times. I'm thinking of asking everyone at dinner parties to leave their phones in their pockets/purses/whatevers. And so on.

I'll let you know how it goes.



Saturday, April 29, 2017

TED 2017 takeaways


Since the November elections, I have felt more determined than ever to stand up for what I believe in, to support the causes I cherish, and to refuse to be quiet ever again when someone makes a sexist, rascist, homophobic, transphobic, xenophobic, or other hurtful comment around me. My time at TED only deepened that resolve.

I am going to think a lot about coaching and how it might improve my work and the work of my colleagues.

I am still gnawing at the edges of the creative process the OK Go folks described, but I'm convinced there's some goodness lurking for me there, goodness in both my writing and in my work at PT.

I'm definitely determined not to slow down, because there is so much for all of us to do, so much of interest and so much of aid to others.

This event also made clear to me an uncomfortable truth I routinely ignore: I need to find a way to carve time out of my life to lose weight, get in shape, sleep more, and generally take care of myself. This one will be the hardest to implement.

More resolutions will undoubtedly surface over the coming weeks, but a last one stands out still: now more than ever, we all have to take care of each other. We cannot rely on the government to protect us. We have to protect one another, hold tight to each other no matter the dark weights that threaten to oppress us, and we have to extend that love and respect to all. As a species, we need to learn once and for all that over the long haul, nobody wins unless everybody wins.




Friday, April 28, 2017

TED 2017 finishes in grand style


Today's extra-long single session began with a group of 13 attendees who had one minute each to critique, praise, or even rebut a previous talk. Quite a few of these folks made very good points. My favorite was the man who suggested that David Miliband should re-enter politics and stand for PM in the UK. I obviously can't vote there, but if I could, I would certainly think quite seriously about supporting Miliband.

The first talk of the day was an unannounced presentation by Tristan Harris on persuasive technologies and how the online "race to the bottom of the brain stem" was ultimately doing a lot of damage to us all. Harris delivered a powerful, persuasive, and rather disturbing talk. I definitely plan to investigate this area further, for I know way too little about it.

The next talk, though, was my favorite of the day. Jim Yong Kim, the president of the World Bank Group, proved to be a charismatic speaker with a huge heart and an incredibly sharp mind. As he told his story, past and present, I found myself wishing I could work with him.

Jeremy Thal of the Found Sound Nation spoke briefly about that group's work and played a video showing some of the results of the pop-up music studio they had set up at TED.

Anne Lamott, a novelist and essayist, wandered over a lot of territory that ultimately converged on her list of true things, which included one I particularly liked: "Everyone is screwed up. Don't compare your insides to anyone's outsides."

In what Chris Anderson said might be the longest single presentation in TED history, he interviewed Elon Musk for a bit over half an hour. The conversation ranged over everything from The Boring Company to Tesla's new semi truck to SpaceX and its missions. Musk came across, as usual, as both intelligent and completely willing to dream and act on an extraordinarily large scale. My favorite line of his was, "I'm not trying to be anyone's savior. I'm just trying to think about the future and not be sad."

In the spirit of hopefulness, constitutional law scholar Noah Feldman argued that contrary to what many believe, America has been this divided before, and it'll all be fine, because the constitution will ultimately take care of us. I'm not sure I share his optimism, but I certainly welcomed it.

As has been customary for multiple years, Julia Sweeney wrapped up the conference with a bit in which she poked good-natured fun at the presenters and the show itself.

Lunch was a party that filled the floor above us, and then it was back to my room to work as I re-entered my regular world. As always after TED, I'm finding that difficult to do, because living in this pampered bubble of great talks and lively conversations and a huge staff taking care of feeding us and cleaning up after us is an amazing treat.

Tomorrow, I fly home. Perhaps along the way I will figure out what new things I want to implement as a result of this TED.

Yup, I'm definitely coming back next year.




Thursday, April 27, 2017

TED 2017: Another beautiful day


Despite forecasts calling for rain all day every day, the weather here in Vancouver has been spectacular, with cool clear days and only occasional slight rains. Today was another such day, a lovely time to be here.

My first activity was a session on confronting your implicit bias, with a particular focus on attitudes toward Muslims. We all agreed to keep private what folks had to say, but I think it's fair for me to relate that I found the discussions interesting and occasionally enlightening.

The first group of presentations focused on Bugs and Bodies. Neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky kicked us off with an interesting conversation on why we humans do what we do, especially at our best and worst times. I was intrigued enough that I'll be on the look-out for his upcoming book, Behave.

Other notable talks in this session included Ann Madden's fun presentation on the many microbes on our skin and in our homes, and David Brenner's proposal to use a special form of UV light to kill super-bugs without harming the host humans.

One of my two favorites of this session was photographer David Biss' presentation on his spectacular photographs of bugs, photographs he creates with amazing lighting and depth of field that he achieves by taking many, many almost identical shots. I hope one day he puts out a book of his bug photos.

The other was Nobel Laureate Elizabeth Blackburn's engaging and informative discussion of her research into the role of telomeres in aging. If you're interested in aging, check this one out when it hits TED.com.

We also had a chance today to hear a pitch from Richard Browning, founder of Gravity, for his personal flying device, which is about as close to the propulsive bits of an Iron Man suit as we're likely to see anytime soon. He later demoed the early stage tech in the adjoining plaza.

The ninth session, It's Personal, began after the lunch break.

Helen Pearson presented some data from the longest-running human development study around, an effort in Britain that spans many decades and multiple generations. One of its key findings is that being born into poverty will for most people have consequences that will disadvantage them for the rest of their lives. The pressing need to address poverty as a global issue is a clear theme of this conference, and one I applaud.

Susan Pinker's discussion of the importance of in-person social interactions intrigued me, but I really would like more data. In one study she found that the factor most likely to keep you alive longer was staying socially integrated, which means having regular contact and relationships with multiple people. Her research shows that digital interactions simply are not as good for us as real, human contact.

Adam Alter argued persuasively that our need to check our devices is in every sense an addiction--and not a good one. He suggested more time away from those devices, and that is something I'll be pondering a lot in the days ahead.

Chuck Nice did a reasonably funny comedy turn, something TED offers from time to time. His jokes fell flat fairly frequently, but he's a pro and recovered well each time.

My favorite talk of this session was Guy Winch's presentation on effective strategies for handling heartbreak. He noted that research has proven that dealing with the end of a romantic relationship is basically the same as withdrawing from an addiction. Interesting stuff.

Tony- and Grammy-winning performer Cynthia Erivo started the last session of the day with a couple of songs and a short discussion about performing. Her voice is incredible, and her rendition of "(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman" was spectacular, a treat I'm glad I got to hear.

Indian film mega-star Shah Rukh Khan gave a humorous talk and then joined TED Curator Chris Anderson in a discussion of the upcoming Indian TV show of TED Talks, a show that will appear in Hindi. A testimony to Khan's popularity was the large crowd waiting outside the convention centre for hours in the hopes of seeing him and getting an autograph.

Ashton Applewhite's presentation on ageism and our need to combat it was both compelling and full of fun pull quotes, including "Everyone is old or future-old," and "Ageism is prejudice against our future selves."

Nigerian-born artist Laolu Senbanjo showed and discussed some of his intricate, interesting art, and even brought on stage two women whose bodies he had almost entirely painted.

Podcaster Manoush Zomorodi talked about the value of avoiding our devices and letting ourselves be bored so that our brains could switch into more creative modes.

Poet David Whyte closed out the day with some talk and performances of two of his poems. I found him engaging and the poetry lovely; I need to check out more of his work.

After dumping our packs back in our rooms, Bill and I joined the traditional large party on the last evening of the conference.

Tomorrow morning, we have an extra-long last session of TED 2017!



Wednesday, April 26, 2017

TED 2017: day 3, and already my brain hurts


I come to TED to make my brain hurt. After yesterday's sessions, I was well on my way to that state, and today definitely took me there at times.  It's quite late here, way, way later than the timestamp says, so I'm going to hit only some of the talks that particularly struck me.

The first session opened strong with a talk by Michael Patrick Lynch on our need to reconnect with the idea that we live in a common reality. In a time in which too many of us seem all too willing to accept the ridiculous notion of alternative facts, I found his talk refreshing and compelling. I particularly liked the way he noted that when the powerful get to define truth to their liking, we are in for big pain. "You can't speak truth to power," he said, "when power speaks truth by definition."

Dan Ariely and Mariano Sigman then conducted an experiment on the audience in which they posed two dilemmas, asked us to rate the proposed solutions from bad to good, and also asked us to rate our certainty. Then, we were paired with another person or two--one, in my case--to compare our answers, discuss them, and see if we persuaded each other to change. The woman with whom I was paired made good points on each dilemma, and apparently I did the same, because we each changed our opinions somewhat and landed on common answers.

Neuroscientist and novelist Lisa Genova presented a lot of information and some perspectives on Alzheimer's. I didn't learn much, but I care about this topic and so enjoyed the refresher.

The second session focused heavily on environmental issues and contained many compelling talks.

I know very little about the Greenland Ice Sheet, so I found Kristin Poinar's talk on it both informative and more than a bit scary.

Artist Daan Roosegaarde showed some very cool projects, including a smog-removal tower that his team installed in a park in Beijing. The tower extracts smog from the atmosphere and yields pollutants that Roosegaarde and his team then turned into parts of jewelry.

Peter Calthorpe railed against sprawl as part of his call for transit-based urban planning. Though I'm not at all sure I agree with many of his proposals, I enjoyed learning about them and will be considering them for some time.

Former Vice President Al Gore made a surprise brief appearance on stage. He plugged his upcoming second climate change movie and made the case that even this administration is likely to try to grapple with climate change.

In my favorite talk of the session, Republican and conservative Ted Halstead argued for a carbon dividends plan that would include a gradually rising carbon tax, carbon dividends for all, regulatory rollback, and a climate domino effect. I found his proposal compelling and look forward to learning more about it.

After lunch, Bill and I attended a session on augmented reality. I found it mildly interesting, but I didn't learn much new. This technology could one day be very useful, but the implementations, particularly the glasses, have a long way to go.

The last session of the day focused on connection and community. Given that focus, you'd expect it to be the most emotional of the day, and indeed it was.

Musician and artist Jacob Collier kicked it off with two songs that involved him playing every instrument, singing all parts, and controlling all of the live video. Interesting stuff, though I don't think I'd enjoy a steady diet of it.

Architect Anna Heringer showed her work using mud to build structures that are amazingly durable and attractive. As she noted, this material is available almost everywhere in even the poorest areas.

My two favorite talks of this session were both emotional pleas to our better selves on the subject of refugees. Former UK Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs David Milliband, both of whose parents were refugees who ended up in Britain, made the strong case that we must take care of the refugees simply because it is the right thing to do. "This is not just a crisis," he said, "it is a test, a test of us." I strongly agree, and I hope that we as a country rise to this test better in the future than we are doing now.

Luma Mufleh gave an even more personal take on the refugee crisis. As a gay Muslim woman who had to flee her home country and who now coaches and works with refugee kids, she related moving stories of her own experiences and her work. "When do we say, enough?" she asked.

I pray soon.

The evening took Bill and me to a Jeffersonian dinner on the topic of whether businesses might be able to do a better job of uniting us than government. The nine of us who chose that topic enjoyed several hours of lively conversation and companionship. Despite always feeling awkward in such situations, I had a good time and learned a lot of interesting perspectives.

TED always leaves me resolved to do more and to do better, and today certainly filled me with those desires.



Tuesday, April 25, 2017

TED 2017: A day that started well and ended wonderfully


The title for the morning sessions was Our Robotic Overlords. Marc Raibert of Boston Dynamics kicked it off by showing one of his company's robots and discussing his vision of robotics. The demo was fun, but as someone who follows AI and robotics, I didn't learn a lot from it.

Noriko Arai followed with a discussion of the AI she is building in the hopes of one day passing the entrance exam to the University of Tokyo. Like the first talk, this one was pleasant but not particularly informative.

Stuart Russell's talk was also not particularly new, but I found it more intriguing because it focused on how to align human and AI values and objectives, a topic that might well be vital in the future.

Joseph Redmond's discussion and demo of image and object recognition showed that this technology is improving rapidly enough that in no time we can expect it to be in all of our smartphones and to be operating there at a high level of capability.

Tom Gruber, one of the creators of Siri, provided the most optimistic viewpoint of the session as he argued for what he called humanistic AI, AI that makes us all smarter.  I didn't find his arguments particularly compelling, but he clearly is an AI optimist.

In a fun break, Todd Rejchert debuted the Kitty Hawk Flyer. The initial unit will be available, they hope, late this year, and will fly only over water. I don't have a use in the world for such a device, but I sure would like to try one.

Schooling and other collective behaviors are fun to watch and to study, so I quite enjoyed Radhika Nagpal's talk. She reviewed the basics of this topic and discussed how her Harvard lab team built a set of 1,024 mini robots that they programmed to exhibit such behaviors.

After a short break, we returned to the theater for a session on a very different topic, The Human Response.

Rutger Bregman, an historian and writer, gave the most moving talk of the day to that point by pointing out that despite the belief of many, poverty is not a character flaw, and by then arguing for a basic income guarantee. He provided a lot of supporting data and left me leaning heavily toward this concept, which he claimed we could implement in the U.S. with a negative income tax for $175B, a price worth paying to lift all Americans out of poverty. Definitely catch this talk when it hits TED online.

Martin Ford's talk started by asking if we were heading to a future without jobs but ended up with another, albeit less compelling, argument for a basic income guarantee.

I've followed Patreon for some time but still found it interesting to hear the story from its founder, Jack Conte. We have no way to know just how well the concept is playing out, but right now he said that they have over 50,000 creators earning money via Patreon. I hope the platform continues to link audiences and artists effectively.

Sarah DeWitt argued for the potential positive power of screens in the hands of kids.

I'm still quite torn between the vision of his company that Ray Dalio presented and what I've read about it in other places, but certainly the general goal of an idea meritocracy is one I support in principle. Implementation, though, is everything in this case.

I've been a member of the ACLU for most of my adult life, so I was interested to hear what its executive director, Anthony Romero, would have to say. Despite his topics, which I care very much about, and his use of the art of Italian masters, which I have studied a bit, I found his talk ultimately a bit flat. I'm still grateful for the good work he does, but I wanted more from this talk.

This session closed superbly, however, with a talk from Vanessa Garrison and T. Morgan Dixon, the founders of GirlTrek. This group focuses on African-American women and girls and encourages them to walk as a way to fight health issues. I teared up at this talk and gave it a standing ovation, as did most of the people in the hall.

After lunch, which for me was some tasty mac-and-cheese with pulled pork from a food truck, I joined the first TED en Espanol session. I have no Spanish, so I listened to the talks via headphones and live translation.

All of the talks were at least interesting, but it's late and I'm running out of steam, so I'm going to mention only a few.

I enjoyed Jorge Drexler's music, but the rest of his talk felt less engaging.

Journalist Jorge Ramos, on the other hand, showed a dedication to journalism and a willingness to stand up for his beliefs that touched me, and watching him be thrown out of a Trump press conference (when Trump was a candidate) was chilling. Ramos deserved his standing ovation.

His talk's intensity, though, understandably paled next to that of the presentation from Ingrid Betancourt, which was one of the most riveting of the day. A candidate for the presidency of Colombia in 2002, Betancourt was kidnapped by guerilla rebels and held captive for six years. Her story of her struggles and how she fought with fear, her own violent urges, and hopelessness moved me greatly, and I was impressed by how much she came to forgiveness and the divine. I stood and clapped long and hard for her.

After another short break, we headed into the day's final session, Health, Life, Love. It began with a pleasant but otherwise straightforward interview of Serena Williams by Gayle King.

Atul Gawande really touched me with his story of how employing a coach not only improved his performance as a surgeon but ultimately proved instrumental in greatly increasing the quality of care in birthing centers in low-income areas.

Anna Rosling Ronnlund showed us a great way to visualize the degree of poverty and wealth in people all over the world with a demo of her project, Dollar Street. This is a site you're going to want to allow some time to play with and to study.

In a surprise move, TED Curator Chris Anderson then came on stage to announce that we were going to see the debut of a talk recorded earlier for TED 2017 by Pope Francis. I was blown away by the degree to which the Pope focused on solidarity and inclusiveness. This talk is already live on TED.com, with the title Why the only future worth building includes everyone, and you should check it out.

Jon Boogz and Lil Buck debuted an original dance that was at times moving and at other times just not my thing. Overall, I'm glad I got to see it.

The day ended with the award of the $1M TED Prize to Raj Panjabi, whose dream is to bring health care to the one billion people in the world's most remote communities. His approach is pragmatic and proven to work, and I hope his new organization, communityhealth.org, succeeds.

I was once again more than happy to stand and applaud.

A great end to a strong TED day.



Monday, April 24, 2017

TED 2017, day 1: Wow


I'm not going to talk further about our announcement earlier today, because I want to focus on TED, but I will show you this picture of Bill and me wearing the shirts at the big photo-op TED sign.

Click an image to see a larger version.

Bill's smiling nicely, and I think I've managed to tone down my resting I-will-kill-you face to something only vaguely violent, but you be the judge.

TED kicked off with two sessions of presentations by over two dozen of the TED Fellows. All of the talks were interesting and informative, and I was glad to have been able to catch them. Because it's late here and I have to get up early, I won't run through them all, but a few struck me as particularly notable. (All really do deserve your attention; I'm just hitting ones that stayed strongly with me and are still on my mind.)

Karim Abouelnaga discussed how his Practice Makes Perfect organization is closing the education gap for students from low-income communities in the New York City area. Both practical and inspirational, his work deserves more attention and support.

Neuroscientist Rebecca Brachman gave an intriguing talk on the possibility of resilience drugs that could act basically as vaccines against PTSD and clinical depression. Both the possibility of such drugs and the ethical issues that preventative psychopharmacology raise are fascinating topics.

Artist and activist Damon Davis used art as both a defense against fear and a way to boost courage during protests in Ferguson, Missouri.

Wanuri Kahiu, a Kenyan filmmaker and writer, argued persuasively for the importance of what she called "Afrobubblegum," escapist stories set in Africa. I found it refreshing to hear someone else espouse some positive values of science fiction.

Comedian, filmmaker, and social activist Negin Farsad again wrapped up the Fellows' presentations with a lot of funny and yet shrewd observations about how to deal with tyrants, even if they happen to occupy an elected office.

Honestly, I could say good things about all of the Fellows' presentations, but it really is quite late here, so on I go.

Each year at TED, I've shown the contents of my goodie bag, so I won't break the tradition.


I chose some of the items, while others were standard.

After a snack and conversation break--before the day ended, a couple of folks had indeed asked about our shirts, so we made a tiny bit of progress on that front--the TED main stage opened with the first session, One Move Ahead.

Wow.  Just wow. This was the strongest opening TED session in my memory. The weakest talk was good, and most were excellent.

We began with Huang Yi dancing with a robot he created, while cellist Joshua Roman played beautifully. The interplay between man and robot was both beautiful and frequently touching.

Futurist and designer Anab Jain discussed projects her studio creates to show people what possible futures would look, feel, and in one case even smell like. Mixing the predictive futurism of some SF with both artistic and practical design considerations, her work serves to give people a great way to consider what might be coming.

Chess great and human rights activist Garry Kasparov discussed not only his experience first beating and then losing to IBM's Deep Blue, but also deeper considerations of the relationship between people and increasingly smart artificially intelligent machines.

Cyber-security specialist Laura Galante argued persuasively and passionately that Russian state-sponsored hacking and information manipulation may have been the key element in the election of our current President. I do not have and probably never will have access to the data necessary to know if what she said is what indeed happened, but even if it did not, the strategies she outlined were enough to make clear that the battlefield of future cyber-warfare is vastly more complicated than most people ever imagine.

Next up, the band Ok Go first played live along with a video and then shared some insights into how they create their incredible videos. Singer Damian Kulash, Jr. explained that they do not so much create ideas as find them, a statement that does not do justice to the approach he then explained. I am still processing this approach to creativity and expect to be doing so for some time, but I believe I have a great deal to learn from it--both for myself and for my businesses. They received a well-deserved standing ovation, as did the next three speakers.

Tim Ferriss spoke about his approach to dealing with stress, an approach that he has used to help cope with being bi-polar and having suffered over fifty depressive episodes to date. Basically, he practices stoicism. He showed some particular tools he uses to manage the stress that can trigger his episodes, and like the notions of creativity Kulash discussed, I am still processing these. I will say that a lot of what he described is similar to techniques I've come to rely on during the past several years, so I'm certainly in his target audience.

In a deeply touching and disturbing talk, artist Titus Kaphar discussed his work to illuminate the real history that art frequently hides and how we can reclaim that history from art without getting rid of the art.

Last up was Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, who in addition to having a great deal to say was also clearly an accomplished orator. He argued that futurists examining the evidence of today might well conclude that we worship the self, the I, and that instead we should put our energies into the us. I know that sounds crunchy, but it's not, because there is a real difference between focusing all of our energies on ourselves and directing them to the service of others. He argued for the us of relationships, of identity, and of responsibility. "It's the people not like us who make us grow," he said as part of his discussion of the importance of communicating with people who feel differently than you do.

I've not done justice to any of these talks, but fortunately, TED will ultimately put them all online, and then you can watch them for yourselves. I definitely recommend you do so.

Late in the evening, I've now caught up with personal email and so can try to sleep, but my mind and spirit are still trying to process all that I heard. That's why I come to TED, and it's a delight to be so full and so challenged so early in the week.

Oh, yeah: I've already signed up for next year.



Buy a shirt. Start a conversation. Change the world.


I’ve been teasing for a while now that today I would announce one of the odder things I’ve done. I’m happy to deliver on that promise by introducing you to Limit Your Greed (formally LYG, LLC), a new company that my business partner, Bill Catchings and I are starting. You can visit its site here.

As friends and long-time readers know, Bill and I are the founders and co-owners of Principled Technologies, Inc. PT is the leading fact-based marketing and learning services provider, but it is also — and always has been — a social experiment.  Bill and I started PT in part to see if it was possible to build a business that follows very different principles from traditional businesses and yet still does well and makes a profit.

With PT now in its 15th year, we’re happy to report that the experiment is a success. You can run a business very differently and still do well.

Now, we want to take that lesson to a broader audience—in fact, to everyone—and try to change the world. We want to do so by persuading business owners and executives to choose to do something both simple and radical: to take less so that others can have more. To limit their greed.

Our goal is not new government legislation; instead, we’re hoping to help start a movement in which folks choose to build different businesses and help make the world better for a lot of people.

One way in which we hope to do that is by selling a book, Limit Your Greed, which we’re still working on but should finish soon.

Another is today’s announcement.

As the site says, “Philosophically, LYG is a movement. Practically, it’s a clothing company.”

The idea is simple: Buy shirts that contain challenging and conversation-worthy slogans. The first is “Limit your greed.” Another is “Nobody wins unless everyone wins.” Each shirt comes with talking points. When someone asks what your shirt means, you have a chance to show them a better way for businesses large and small to behave.

I don’t want to repeat all of the material on the site, so let me instead point you to its Practice page for answers to the questions about how to make this happen.

Of course, you could just buy the shirts because they’re cool—and they are. They’re made in North Carolina, where we’re based, from cotton grown here, and they’re soft and lovely to the touch. The designs are nifty, both visually appealing and conversation-worthy.

You could also buy the shirts in the hopes LYG makes a profit, because if it does, half of all profits will go to charity.

What we most hope, though, is that you will buy the shirts—Get ‘em all! Collect the whole set!—and help us change the world.

I have to warn you that you can’t buy the shirts quite yet. That’s intentional. Bill and I will be wearing one of these shirts each day at TED, which we’re attending this week. To help make sure no one felt we were flogging products—a TED no-no we take seriously—we didn’t want them available for sale yet.

So no, we’re not wearing the shirts at TED to sell them. We’re wearing them to do what we hope you will join us in doing: start conversations, and change the world.

I promised odd, and I think that me going into the movement and clothing business is odd enough to make that promise real.

Odd or not, though, I hope you join us in this movement. Together, we can make the world better.





Sunday, April 23, 2017

A few quick pics from my day


After a wonderful sleep that lasted over eleven hours, I worked for a bit and then walked into the food court that connects to my hotel.  The spicy bento box struck me as just the right choice for lunch.

Click an image to see a larger version. 

It was indeed delicious, though it could have been even spicier.

After strolling over to the Convention Centre and registering for TED, a process that is as easy and as luxurious and as tightly controlled as it could be, I found my way back to a wonderful local gelato shop, Bella Gelateria.


I tasted three flavors, and each one was superb.  This place deserves all the honors it's earned.

The view out of my room's huge window, which runs the width of the space and most of the height, is both attractive, industrial, and indicative of the prevailing weather I've experienced here.


Tomorrow morning, TED!

Oh, yeah:  Look for an early blog post from me tomorrow, round about noon Eastern time, for the odd thing I've been mentioning for a while now.  I think you'll find it at least interesting, and I hope it intrigues you.




Saturday, April 22, 2017

Sometimes the perfect plan is a simple one


I'm now in Vancouver for TED, which starts Monday morning and for which registration opens tomorrow.  I've not seen much of this city, but it seems to be a cool place, and I know it has a strong food scene, so normally I'd be spending my Saturday night at a hot restaurant.

Instead, I'm eating room service and watching a movie in my room--because it's exactly what I want to be doing right now.

In unrelated news, my next band name may well be Chew the Sphincter.

Oh, yeah:  the new thing launches Monday.



Friday, April 21, 2017

Willow and TED


Over the last year, Willow has become one of my favorite Portland restaurants, and it's also the best bargain for a tasting menu I've experienced.  Earlier tonight, I enjoyed a delicious six-course (seven if you count the amuse) meal for fifty bucks; that's a bargain.  Every course was interesting and delicious.  I can't recommend this place too strongly.

Tomorrow, I must get up very early to do the check-out/airport run/flight thing.  Destination:  Vancouver, B.C., Canada, and TED!  I'm excited.



Thursday, April 20, 2017

So, about that new, odd thing that's coming Monday


You can see the countdown to it on Facebook, on Twitter, and on Instagram.  Those pages will give you a tiny bit more data.  Sign into your accounts on all three, like these entries, and follow them, and more info will come to you.  On Monday, a lot more will come to you.

I'm excited.  I hope you will be, too.




Wednesday, April 19, 2017

Monday


is when that new, odd thing should appear.  Already, a countdown is showing up on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

I'll tell you a tiny bit more tomorrow.


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

I'd tell you more about a very good dinner at Little Bird


but right now, many, many hours later than the timestamp on this blog post indicates, I'm too tired to do anything but crash.

Tomorrow.  For sure.


Monday, April 17, 2017

Phrases of a very long day


Five hours of sleep.

Twenty-two hours of day.

Two flights.

One exit-row seat, almost tolerable.

One non-exit-row seat, with one folded laptop, two nearly cramped shoulders, and one sweat-soaked shirt.

Spam musubi and macaroni salad snack from a nearby Hawaiian food stand.

Wonderful Mediterranean dinner from Tusk.  Eat there if you can.

Lots and lots and lots of work.


Sunday, April 16, 2017

One of the problems with being a night owl


is the challenge morning flights pose.  Take tomorrow, for example.  I have to be at the airport at 5:30 a.m., which means I have to get up to shower at 4:45 a.m.  For some people, that would be no big deal, just waking up an hour or two earlier than usual.  For me, however, it means that about the time I'd stop reading in bed most nights, I have to get up.  To get any sleep at all, I have to try my luck in the bed during what is normally for me prime productivity time.

I consequently hate early flights, inevitable as they are on some trips.

I am not looking forward to the morning.



Saturday, April 15, 2017

The odd thing is still coming


and it's much closer now.  I wrote about it in an entry a few weeks back, and I was excited about it then.  I'm even more chuffed about it today, though I will again confess that it's one of the odder things I have done in a life that contains quite a few odd choices.

I will give one clue:  it'll make its public appearance about the same time as the start of this year's TED, which I am fortunate enough to be attending.

Is that a coincidence?

Hmmm.




Friday, April 14, 2017

The Fate of the Furious


is everything I hoped it would be and more, a fine movie in this franchise and probably my second favorite (after the fifth) of the bunch.

With more and stranger action than you would imagine possible--a trademark of the series--and nods to all of the elements of its predecessors, the movie just picks you up and carries you along in its explosive-laden hands.  You're not going to be bored, and though you can easily know the direction of the story, the particulars are good enough that you enjoy the ride.

The movie also manages to give some time to all of the key members of its huge and growing cast, and it does so with both love and a great deal of humor.  Watching Dwayne Johnson and Jason Statham taunt each other is a special treat, but so, too, are the more far-out action bits, which the script and actors handle with just enough self-awareness that you feel like they're both in on the joke and enjoying the hell out of making the movie.

I believe you could come to the film cold, with no knowledge of the previous seven, and still have a good time, though you'd be aware you were missing some of the gags.  Having seen all of the films more than once, however, I was in the perfect audience for this one, and I had a perfectly grand time watching it.

When you're in the mood for summer blockbuster action fun, check out The Fate of the Furious.




Thursday, April 13, 2017

I'm not solely responsible for the rise of the big, dumb action movie


but I certainly share the blame with some of my friends and millions of other viewers who see a trailer like this one and know they must catch this film.



We're talking Samuel L. Jackson and Ryan Reynolds chewing the scenery, gunfights and chase scenes, and enough of a story to keep the action rolling along.  What's not to like?

I will need to read afterward to repair my brain, but I can live with that.




Wednesday, April 12, 2017

I fail the tire test


Yesterday, the rear passenger-side tire of my Tesla Model S picked up a very large screw that quickly turned the tire flat.  Though I was sad to see it and more sad to have to buy a new tire, this sort of thing happens.  It was late, so I got a ride home and emailed Tesla Motor's local service manager om the wee hours of the evening.

Today, in the wonderful Tesla style, they brought me a loaner on a truck, parked it, put my car on the truck, and took it off for repair.  Total time cost to me of this encounter:  four minutes.  Wonderful.

After picking up the key fob for the loaner, it occurred to me that I had not gotten new tires in quite a while, and given that my car has sports performance tires and I do drive the thing like a sports car, I should have needed new tires.  I mentioned this to the guy who picked up my car and asked that he have the service manager check out my tires.

A couple of hours later, the service manager, a woman who's always been incredibly efficient and great to deal with, called me.  She was laughing.  She asked if I had looked at my rear tires closely.  I allowed I had not.  She said that, yes, I did indeed need two new rear tires, because the cord was showing on both.  She was amazed they were still working well--which they were.

I clearly failed the tire test.  I shall endeavor to be more observant in the future, but I am also quite glad to report that the tires managed to keep me driving even when I neglected them.




Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Even though outrageous is the new normal


sometimes I'm surprised by how stupid our current administration can be.  Case in point:  Sean Spicer's recent remarks about Hitler and his subsequent lame attempts to explain away his remarks.

Nothing is too ludicrous or offensive for this administration.



Monday, April 10, 2017

Thor: Ragnarok had me


by existing, but then it gained Cate Blanchett and a few other actors, and, well, this trailer.



Yup, I'm there.



Sunday, April 9, 2017

Yes, I ate that


Char-Grill is a Raleigh institution, a mini-chain that grew from a single location in 1959 based on its ability to serve reliably tasty burgers and very good steak fries.  I grab a burger there from time to time, but the fries are the main attraction, because for my taste, the burgers tend to be over-cooked and dry.  I have never, though, eaten one of their hot dogs.

Today, on the way to the grocery store and rather hungry, I decided to stop there and eat a hot dog so I wouldn't enter the Whole Foods hungry.  (I've learned that doing so can hurt my wallet far more than the price of a tube steak.)  I chose a hot dog with cheese.

This is what awaited me inside the very cheerful "Hot Dogs! Enjoy" wrapping paper.

Click the image to see a larger version--if you dare.

I'm not sure which red dye this dog was, but I'm pretty confident that dye was one of the tube steak's major components.  The bun was white and soft, a full commitment to 1959, and the "cheese" seemed to be some sort of mini-slice of cheese food, though it's possible this cheese was just a very weak real cheese.

Of course, I ate it.  It wasn't bad.  I've had far worse hot dogs--which, unfortunately, tells you way more about me than about this particular dog.

On balance, though, in future Char-Grill visits I'll be sticking to the fries, maybe even a burger, but I won't be ordering another hot dog.





Saturday, April 8, 2017

In tonight's UFC Light Heavyweight Championship match


the champ, Daniel Cormier, faces a man he's beaten once before but who is on a fearsome knock-out streak, Anthony "Rumble" Johnson.  The match-up is particularly interesting because Cormier is smaller and older than Johnson, and now on the wrong side of 35, while Johnson seems to have improved a great deal in the two years since their last match.

Nonetheless, I'm going with Cormier--and writing it here to put myself on record with the choice.  I think Cormier will smother Johnson and stay on him and be smart enough to avoid the knock-out in the early rounds when Johnson still has energy.  I don't expect it to be pretty, but I do expect Cormier to win a decision against an exhausted Johnson.

In four or five hours, we'll find out if I'm right.



Friday, April 7, 2017

A birthday present we'll be watching soon


Check it out, and you'll know we have to.  We really do.



Yes, it's time to get in the cage for some seriously odd craziness as only Nicolas Cage can deliver it.






Thursday, April 6, 2017

How is it possible


that in today's highly interconnected world there is no way for me to legally watch the 10-minute sequel to Love Actually, Red Nose Day, Actually?  I'd pony up a few pounds/dollars/whatever to see it, but alas, I cannot.  Now, the news is that the U.S. version will be different from the UK one, which makes this travesty even more intolerable.

I am not amused.



Wednesday, April 5, 2017

I'm almost certainly going to be disappointed


by this film, but there's no way I'm going to miss it.



After all, who can resist Tom Cruise being used by a mummy--at least for much of the film?

Not I.



Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Holden spurns Fur Holden


What cruel rejection is this, that Fur Holden, a creature born of the mighty dog himself, should suffer such willful inattention at the hands of his creator.


Fur Holden, lacking legs, could only hold his ground until breezes or grasping arms or Swiffers hastened his departure from this short, cold life.



Monday, April 3, 2017

Holden says


All your remotes are mine.


He is correct.



Sunday, April 2, 2017

If you want to enjoy Ghost in the Shell


the most important thing you need to do is decide to watch it on its own merits and not compare it to the original anime movie (or subsequent films and series).  If you approach this live-action film as part of the Ghost in the Shell canon, then you'll probably be disappointed, in part because the emotional heart of this one is rather different than that of the anime offerings, and in part because the powers of Major are definitely not consistent with those she has in the anime pieces.

As always, I walked into the theater hoping to enjoy the movie, and I'm happy to say that I did.  Visually, it was gorgeous--not as pretty as the anime film, but for a live-action movie, quite lovely. The lead actors, notably Scarlett Johansson, Pilou Asbæk, and "Beat" Takeshi Kitano, turned in solid performances, with Kitano particularly fun in his role as the head of their agency.

If you don't know the anime predecessors, of course, then just go and have a good time.

Even if you do, I recommend the film, provided you can allow it to be its own thing.  It's far from a perfect movie, but it's beautiful to watch and does have a heart, something many action films lack.



Saturday, April 1, 2017

Yes, I am watching you


and, yes, I am everywhere, so don't you start doing anything bad.


Don't make me come there and shut down your party.




Friday, March 31, 2017

Highlights from a day of travel


If you think business travel is romantic, you haven't done much of it.  Today's mission was to check out, drive to the airport, and be home by four--easy enough with on-time flights.

The route to the airport was a new one, with lots of slow-downs, insane drivers, and plenty of construction.

The first plane was so late that the second was set to take off seven minutes after I exited the first.  Nothing says fun like dashing through an airport to try to turn a ten-minute walk into a three-minute sprint.

Fortunately, that second plane was late, so I made the connection--where I then sat on the tarmac for a bit over two and a half hours.

I made it home about two hours late.

At least I am home now, and glad of it.





Thursday, March 30, 2017

My room won't obey me


I like to keep my hotel rooms cold.  I usually opt for 65 to 67 degrees Fahrenheit, which is as low as most U.S. hotels will let you take the room.  I work very late, and the cold helps keep me from falling asleep.  Plus, it's fantastic to sleep under heavy covers in a cold room.

This room has apparently decided it wants to be warmer.  I set it to 65, and it chills to that lovely temperature--for a while.  An hour or two later, I notice I'm warm and comfortable, when I should be cold and uncomfortable.  I check the thermostat.  The room is now 70.  Yes, I verified how the HVAC controls work, and I even had a maintenance guy check that I was doing the right thing.  This room just will not obey me.

I look forward to returning to my usual hotel on my next Austin trip.




Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Another lesson I didn't need to learn


Staring at your face in a hotel bathroom's magnifying mirror when you're exhausted after an eighteen-hour work day will never lead to anything good.



Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Hotel room randomness


The hotel in which I normally stay here in Austin was sold out, so I ended up in another hotel about fifteen minutes away.  This hotel is part of a more upscale chain, so you'd expect it to be nicer than my usual place, and in some ways it is.  The hotel has also proven, however, to be at least as random as my usual.

For example, when I checked in yesterday, my room was 82 degrees, and its phone handset was missing.  The AC did work, so I fixed the temperature.  A maintenance guy found the phone handset way under the bed, one of the few places I had not thought to look.

Today, the folks who cleaned the room brought me two more complete sets of toiletries--does anyone use a full set of toiletries in a night?--but didn't empty the bathroom trash can.

Consistency is clearly harder to achieve than one might think.




Monday, March 27, 2017

If it's Cooper's, this must be Austin


Indeed it is.  I landed this afternoon in Austin, worked for quite a while, and then headed downtown to Cooper's for some extremely good barbecue.

We're talking serious meat here, rich and delicious brain food.


Of course, we had to add a little bacon jalapeno mac and cheese, some beans, and a little Wonder Bread and pickles.

For the short time before I wanted to crash (I didn't; it was a very late work night), I'm sure my IQ doubled under the influence of the barbecue's power.

Pure Texas joy.



Sunday, March 26, 2017

Life


If you've watched any of the trailers for this new science fiction/horror film, you've probably thought, "I've seen this movie before under other names."  For the most part, you're right:  you have.  What surprised me about Life, though, is that it entertained me and held my attention the whole time, even though I knew exactly how it would go almost every step of the way.

One of the reasons it's so engaging is the cast.  All of the actors turn in good performances, and the director, Daniel Espinosa, takes the time to let us get to know each of them at least a bit.

Another aspect that worked well is the use of the International Space Station as the setting.  From its construction and layout, which lent themselves well to long shots in cramped spaces, to the choice to make all the action occur in zero-g, the ISS proved an unusual and powerful place to stage the film.

What you have to suspend to enjoy the movie is your analytical side.  If I had designed the ship's lab, for example, the first bit of bad action would have occurred, and my safeguards would have taken care of the problem in no time at all--but then we'd have no movie.

As long as you're willing to stop analyzing, though, Life will reward you with an entertaining and engaging story.




Saturday, March 25, 2017

Something odd is coming


I can't yet tell you anything about it, except that it's a rather odd thing for me, and I'm rather excited about it.

I'm pretty sure you'll know it when you see it, but I'll definitely remind you that it was what I was talking about when I wrote this entry.

More to come as this mystery unfolds.




Friday, March 24, 2017

On my mind tonight, for so many reasons


Marilyn Monroe, Norma Jean, and this fine Bernie Taupin/Elton John song about her.



She's still running around in a lot of our unconsciousness.



Thursday, March 23, 2017

What will I be trying to watch on May 25?


Why, the Red Nose Day, Actually broadcast, of course.



I know it's just a 10-minute film and likely to have all the depth of any cast reunion, but it's from Richard Curtis, and it's about Love Actually, so I'm unreasonably excited about it.

Of course, if I were back in London, I could watch it on BBC One tomorrow, but I'm not, so I can't.  Lucky Brits!





Wednesday, March 22, 2017

About that amazing dinner in Barcelona


In an earlier post, I mentioned that I had eaten a wonderful, world-class dinner in Barcelona, and I promised to tell you more about it.  I'm writing now to fulfill that promise.

The meal was at Enigma, a new restaurant from Alber Adria (with some input from his brother, the famed Ferran Adria, ex of El Bulli).  Though Adria's name is on the restaurant, its lead chef, Oliver Pena, and his team do the cooking, and they do it extraordinarily well.

As the name suggests, Adria's concept is to lead you from one mystery to another.  For example, they call each of the multiple separate dining rooms an enigma, and you move among them in the course of your meal.  To help with the illusion, they ask that guests not reveal the menu or show any photos of the food, so I cannot do either.

I can show you the imposing door

Click a photo to see a larger version.

and its keypad,


on which you have to enter a special code, which varies from person to person and which they supply only when you've paid your reservation's deposit.

The many, many courses are all remarkable, each one a blend of largely local ingredients and the sort of modernist cuisine cooking techniques for which El Bulli was justly famous.

I can't say more without violating my agreement with the folks there, so let me just suggest that if you are ever in Barcelona and can get into Enigma--it's perpetually sold out, and I ate there only by being on the waiting list--you should.  It is a wonderful, delicious experience.



Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Thunder filling the air and rain falling on the skylights


are two of my favorite sounds.  Earlier tonight, I had the privilege of enjoying both, and for the short time they lasted, they were wonderful.

Thanks to the intertubes, you can have your own, should you feel in the mood.



Not as good as the real thing, but on a decent set of speakers, not bad.



Monday, March 20, 2017

Bernie Wrightson, R.I.P.


Yesterday, a man I thought of as a legend passed away.  I never met him, but from the first time I saw his work in comic books, I admired him and looked for his art.  I loved his Swamp Thing, and his illustrations for Mary Shelley's Frankenstein were amazing creations.  Wrightson worked in all sorts of commercial art, but no matter what he did, his illustrations stood out.  Tinged with horror and with amazing line work, each Wrightson piece rewarded closer inspection.

I am glad to have been able to enjoy his work, and I am sorry there will be no more of it.



Sunday, March 19, 2017

"A Little Time"


is the title of a new song that my friend Aaron (on the left) wrote and my friend (and son-in-law) Ben (on the right) sang.  You can listen to it here.



It's also my privilege to get to work with these guys.

Enjoy.




Saturday, March 18, 2017

Kong interrupted


I'd planned to share my thoughts on Kong:  Skull Island after seeing it earlier tonight.  Unfortunately, a little over an hour into the nearly two-hour movie, someone or something triggered the fire alarm at the theater.  We all exited, waited a while, and then learned that was it for the night.

In case I don't get to watch the rest of this film until after it hits DVD, I will say that I was having a pretty good time watching it, the effects were decent, Samuel L. Jackson was doing a good job of chewing the scenery, the soundtrack was excellent, and plot holes were abundant.

I'll tell you more when I know more.




Friday, March 17, 2017

Music in the park on a sunny afternoon


Barcelona wasn't exactly warm that afternoon, and in the shade of the trees many people zipped up their light jackets, but as long as you were walking in the sunshine, the temperature in Park Guell could not have been more perfect.

Click an image to see a larger version.

I was in the minority in short sleeves, just another tourist who had to pay to gain access to the steps of the wonderful complex at the park's lower main entrance.


From the famous lizard partway up the steps


to the mosaics on the ceiling of the structure


it sang with color and with Gaudi's genius.

The view of the city from atop the structure gave way to the Mediterranean in the distance,


while the walkways under the neighboring overhangs transported you inside the skeleton of a beast long vanished.


Up and up the breath-stealing steps led, until I reached the top and surrendered to the curving paths, which wound me once again downward.

In a corridor not far from the bottom, a lone violinist played a song I could not name but vaguely recognized.


I moved closer and leaned against a rock wall just outside his setup.  I closed my eyes.  The sun's hands on my face were as soft and gentle and warming and loving as a mother's embrace of her baby.  The music filled my heart to the point that--and this is the sentimental, silly truth of me--I thought I might not be capable of containing the pure, wordless, unburdened joy of that moment.

If I have ever given a reader that much joy, for even a single instant, then I have done at least one thing of wonder.

I remained there, utterly still, eyes closed, for I know not how long, and then the music stopped, my heart released its control, and I opened my eyes and walked on.

A perfect Barcelona moment.


Thursday, March 16, 2017

Logan


I saw this movie on a drizzly Sunday night in London, at a cinema that was running it on a gigantic screen.  I watched from the second row in the balcony, a beautiful seat from which to take in the entire film.

I absolutely loved this movie.  The story, the cinematography, and the acting were all excellent.  Rather than the usual superhero movie formula of action, action, snarky comments, and more action, Logan relentlessly follows its decaying namesake character as he reluctantly ends up in another battle when all he's trying to do is live under the radar and take care of an increasingly frail Charles Xavier.

Hugh Jackman and Patrick Stewart turn in very strong performances in those roles, but young Dafne Keen steals the show as a mutant girl with enormous powers and minimal socialization.

My only real complaint about the film is its reliance on a bit of footage and dialogue from Shane, choices I consider to be blunders, but even with those errors the film is a powerful and compelling work that never wavers in its intensity.

I don't want to give away any spoilers, so I'll stop here.  Go see Logan.




Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Amorino


While in Las Vegas for The Ultimate Fighter finale last December, Kyle and I ate twice at a place with exceptionally tasty gelato, Amorino.  We were surprised to learn that the company has a location in Raleigh.  I've since tried gelato from there, and it was very, very good.

On my recent European trip, I encountered Amorino stores in Florence, Barcelona, and London.  All of them were always full of customers.

If you like gelato, definitely get to the Amorino location in downtown Raleigh and try some of their offerings.  I'm partial to the amarena, but I've not tasted a bad flavor yet.

If you do, I'm betting you'll join the folks in all of those towns and more who've learned that Amorino provides reliably good gelato in multiple countries and locations.





Tuesday, March 14, 2017

A few quick thoughts on the occasion of my birthday


Far less of everything--summer, Christmas, new music, hot movies--awaits me than is behind me.  That is a sobering and difficult proposition to accept.

I continue to feel 16 inside.  I am as churned up as I have ever been.

That said, I feel I have gained some measure of self-control and maybe even of wisdom.

I am not accomplishing enough.  I must pick up the pace.

I cannot fathom those who are bored by life.  I could live a hundred lifetimes and never be bored.  So much art and food and beauty and people and life to absorb and revel in, and never ever enough time.



Monday, March 13, 2017

I hate to hit you with another trailer


but you seriously must watch every second of this amazing bit of video.



When Dwayne "The Rock" Johnson says, “take the wheel,” and proceeds to manually re-direct a torpedo hurtling along the ice, I want to explode with joy.

I can't wait for this one.



Sunday, March 12, 2017

At the top of today's most want to see movie list


are two films with very strong women kicking butt.  One is the better known and long expected Wonder Woman movie.



The other is one I learned about only recently but which looks like even more fun.



Oh, yeah, I'm there for both of these.




Saturday, March 11, 2017

Home


Good, on-time flights, business-class travel, and good airline lounges with all the Coke Zero/Diet Coke and still water I could want.  It's hard to ask for more from a travel day.

That said, this travel day lasted about 18 hours, so I'm going to attend to life and then crash for what I hope will be a very long sleep.



Friday, March 10, 2017

Heading home tomorrow


Today's highlights included some lovely time in the British Museum, a little wandering in the shops of Covent Garden, and a fun and ultimately touching musical based on a movie, The School of Rock.

In the morning, I get up way too early to begin the long trek home.

I will force myself to stay up late tomorrow night, endure the dreaded spring forward, and hope to awaken Sunday feeling more or less like I'm in the right time zone.



Thursday, March 9, 2017

The three highlights of a wonderful London day


Touring a lot of the Impressionist section of the National Gallery and getting to see half a dozen Van Gogh works, including the remarkable Sunflowers.

Watching raptly The Old Vic's production of Rosencrantz & Guildenstern Are Dead, in which the entire cast, notably stars Daniel Radcliffe, Joshua McGuire, and David Haig, were superb.  This time around, I found the ending particularly touching.

Eating and enjoying a world-class dinner at The Ledbury, a restaurant that deserves every accolade it's received.

Wow, what a day.



Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Quick highlights of another grand day


I keep failing to do detailed blog reports, because between mostly vacationing and having to cram in multiple hours of work, I find myself late at night, the blog in front of me, and a choice between filling it or getting a good amount of sleep.  This trip, I'm choosing sleep.

A few highlights from today will have to suffice.

I spent hours renewing old artistic friendships at the Tate Britain and touring its extensive David Hockney retrospective.

I enjoyed the best tikka masala sauce I've ever tasted at a little place round the corner from here, Strand Tandoori.

I also sampled, for the second time this trip, some of the best gelato I've had anywhere, courtesy of La Gelateria.

Another fine day.



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