Saturday, January 31, 2009

Fits & Starts

I realize I have been writing a lot about the Wii this week, but it is my latest toy - literally. However, the truth is that I bought it primarily because I had heard it had this fantastic exercise program that made getting fit easier and more fun than trekking off to the gym.

In my 60+ years, I've been able to defeat dozens of get-fit-easily schemes, so I have serious doubts about this Wii Fit, but I am ready to give it a fair go. Well, actually, I thought I was ready but now I am having second thoughts.

I picked it up Thursday and made the very bad mistake of reading the manual that came with it. It makes all this workout stuff seem only marginally safer than following Dr Jack Kevorkian's manual.

Let me give you an example.

"Consult your doctor before playing Wii Fit if you are pregnant or may possibly be pregnant, suffer from heart, respiratory, back, joint, or othopaedic problems, have high blood pressure, are diabetic, are not used to physical exercise."

Well, at least I am not pregnant.

But seeing that bit got me reading the rest of the warnings. It turns out that 1 in 4,000 people may have blackouts or seizures because they are playing video games. In fact, they offer very good advice. "Stop play immediately and consult a doctor if you or your child have any of the following symptoms: convulsions, eye or muscle twitching, loss of awareness..."

I am glad I read the booklet, because I am the sort who could go into convulsions and it wouldn't even occur to me to stop playing. I would just assume they call it Wii Fit because it, er, gives you fits.

Other great advice they offer: "If you feel symptoms such as tingling, numbness, burning or stiffness, stop and rest for several hours before playing again." Damn! That would never occur to me, either.

They also caution you against using the "rumble feature" of the remote control. "Do not use the Rumble feature while the Wii Remote is pressed against bony areas of the body, including the head, elbows and knees, or touching your skin such as around the face and abdomen, as it may result in pain or injuries."

Don't even know what the Rumble feature is, but you can bet I'm going to find out now. No way am I putting the remote against my head with that feature on.

If this begins to seem as if there is danger lurking at every moment, it gets worse. Apparently your socks can become lethal with Wii Fit, which comes with a balance board you stand on. The company cautions: "Be sure to use the Wii Balance Board barefoot. Using it while wearing socks or shoes could lead to falling, accidents, injuries, damage to household objects."

But you know, all of this isn't the scariest thing about Wii Fit. The truly frightening bit is that when you first start using Wii Fit, it measures your balance and body mass index. Seeing that information up on the TV screen is the chief reason I am going to put this off for another day or two.

Friday, January 30, 2009

In Praise of Music and Genius

I have a love/hate relationship with technology. I love the new stuff, really love the things it enables us to do. I hate it when it doesn't work well. I suppose that's why I started out in the IT magazine business, reviewing mostly games and gadgets at first until I learned how computers actually worked. (Or to be precise, until I knew enough to bluff people into believing that I knew how they worked.)

It's always more fun to blast something that doesn't work well, but today I am going all soft and mushy and praising two bits of technology that I love.

The first is some software for the Wii called Wii Music. I picked up Lily from school yesterday and we decided we needed something new for the week-old Wii that she could enjoy. I suggested we drive to Toys 'r Them. She pursed her lips and said quite sternly, "Bampi, it's Toys 'r Us, and you know that."

Great, a 6 1/2-year-old is turning into LK junior.

Anyhow, Wii Music is great. Kids get to make believe they're playing any of 60 instruments. Somehow, they've written the software so that no matter when the kid plays the notes, they sound good and fit in with the band that's playing backup. And best of all, the whole performance is recorded and converts into a music video, complete with MTV-style labels of the song and band ("Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" by The Lily Band).

It's fantastic, and she loved it. In order to put some sense into the collection of videos, the program asks you to rate it from 1 to 100. Lily did a piano and a sax version of "Twinkle Twinkle" and she thought both rated 100. She then did a sax version of "My Grandfather's Clock".

We both agreed it was too slow and not as nice as Twinkle. Nonetheless, once the judges start handing out perfect scores, it becomes hard for them to stop. I suggested to her that maybe it shouldn't get a mark as high as her best video. She thought, moved the bar to 99, then thought again and moved it back to 100.

In hindsight, I think she was right.

The other great software is the Genius program Apple has introduced for the iPod's iTunes. All you have to do is pick a song on your iPod and the Genius program makes a playlist for you. It is a fantastic DJ and in one way better than the playlists I make myself because there's always a surprise or two that I wouldn't have thought to put on the list.

Here's the songs I heard on my walk this morning. I started out with Ray Charles' "Shake a Tail Feather" from the Blues Brothers soundtrack. Genius followed it with Aretha's "Think", also from the soundtrack. And then it got creative:

  • Shake a Tail Feather, Ray Charles
  • Think, Aretha Franklin
  • Green Onions, Booker T and the MGs
  • Dancing in the Street, Martha Reeves and the Vandellas
  • Fever, Ray Charles and Natalie Cole
  • Can I Get a Witness, Marvin Gaye
  • I've Got to Use My Imagination, Gladys Knight and the Pips
  • I Can't Stand the Rain (extended version), Tina Turner
  • I Just Don't Know What to Do, Dusty Springfield
  • Let's Go Get Stoned, Ray Charles
  • Gett Off, Prince & the New Generation
Great list. I had forgotten how fantastic Ray Charles and Natalie Cole's "Fever" is, and I hadn't listened to it in ages. And I don't think it would have ever occurred to me put Dusty Springfield in there. Not least because, despite her name, she is a whiter shade of pale than the other performers. But somehow her song fit in.

I will let you know later on what songs Genius puts on the list when you start with "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" by the Lily Band, but I am pretty sure "My Grandfather's Clock" will be there.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The Entertainers

Two bits of great entertainment yesterday.

In the morning I downloaded on to my iPod the audiobook "Ricky Gervais' Guide to Natural History". It's $2.99 and lasts for 45 minutes so it sounded like good value. I popped in the ear buds, hit Play and started my walk. I probably won't do that again.

Not because it isn't funny. In fact, parts are very funny, and that's the problem. The world has long ago become used to seeing people walking around with white strings coming out of their ears, sometimes even patting their hips in time with the rhythm of they music they are listening to.

But people tend to forget that you can have more than music coming through the earpieces. So there you have a very sweaty, red-faced plus-sized guy in t-shirt, shorts and a baseball cap huffing his way up a hill and having to stop every once in a while because he is snorting and laughing out loud and it's' impossible to breathe when you do that.

The looks I got were interesting. It was pretty much, "I'm going to act like I am not really watching you, but I will dawdle with taking the groceries out of the car until I am sure you are well and truly past my house and have no intention of coming in here." Greenwich doesn't tend to see crazy street people wandering through our streets, and I suspect I may have triggered some sort of early warning neighborhood watch.

So no more Gervais on my iPod during my walks, even though the recording is crude and rude and occasionally side-splittingly funny. (And it's also very lazy, for it is really just him and his sidekicks sitting in front of a microphone and trying to be funny. Fortunately for them, they are.)

Then last night it was an entirely different type of entertainment. LK and I went with Jason and Lora to a concert by Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova, the musicians who made the wonderful movie "Once" in 2006. I fell in love with the movie when I first saw it, bought the CD and continue to listen to it regularly, liking it more each time I listened. Obviously, this is true of lots of other people, as well, judging by the audience last night.

I really liked the concert, although I think my age works against me. I didn't mind climbing the four flights of stairs to the back of the Opera House Concert Hall. I figured it was the problem of those sitting by me to deal with the consequences of the sweat that soaked my shirt.

Given my girth, the seats were interesting. Let's just say if an earthquake had destroyed the concert hall and sent us all tumbling to the seats on the floor below, they would have found my body with Seat 18U still firmly attached. Given that the Opera House is a government project, that may have even been a safety feature for all I know.

But the bit that disappointed me most was the acoustics. I know the Concert Hall has good natural acoustics, so what I am really talking about was poor amplification. The mic on the piano was so loud it drowned out Marketa's voice on her solos. And Linda, who didn't know most of the songs, couldn't understand a lot of the words, which was a shame for the kind of music they sing.

The irony, of course, is that in recent years I have become an amplification junkie, turning up the TV and car radio to near maximum volumes some times in order to hear the program. So for parts of last night to be too loud must mean that it was really, really loud. It's interesting that Jason and Lora didn't have a problem with the amplification, and both said just about every concert they go to is just as loud. All of which makes me thing that this ear-budded, loud amped generation of our kids is going to be even more stone deaf than most of us boomers who used to crank up our stereos to vibrate-the-floor levels.

Don't take all this to mean it wasn't a good concert. I thought it was very, very good. But the crankiness that comes with getting older seems to be setting in -- $32 for parking, getting all sweaty climbing to the tight seats high in the back, and listening to the piano drown out the voices made me understand and agree with Linda when she said later on, "I had a really great time. But I don't think I want a really great time like this again."

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Retirement: The Musical

[Warning: If you didn't read the earlier post "The Halls Are Alive with the Sound of Music" this will make very little sense to you.]

Act One. Final Scene.

(LK exits stage left, unaware of DK's hidden love for her, a younger woman. DK stands center of a dark stage, lit by a single, slightly yellow spotlight. A single violin softly plays as he looks forlornly at the departing LK. He turns to face the audience. Speaking, more than singing, he begins softly:)

You're young and unlumpy
And I'm old and dumpy.
Together we neutralize each other.

(He sobs, the full orchestra plays with volume. Stage to darkness. Curtain. End of Act One.)

As I said a few posts ago, there are a few songs written for the musical of our formerly private life. I haven't written anything else for Act One, but you know how it goes. Boy meets girl, boy falls in love with girl, girl doesn't get it and the first act ends with the heartbroken boy singing of his unrequited love.

Of course, in this one, it's old guy meets younger woman, etc, but you get the message.

I see a raucous dance number beginning Act Two, done to the tune of "Evita" but called "Mojito". The chorus begins chanting, "Mojito, mojito" and then begin dancing wildly as they sing, "Let's all get drunk/ on mojitos. The truth is/ I need another."

It should revive the audience from the downer that ends Act One. And those who hit the lobby bar during intermission will feel a kinship with the song.

There's more written for Act Two, including what I believe are a couple of surefire hits. They are the songs that define the hero and heroine and bring them together.

The first, Linda's Theme, is sung by LK to the tune of Dion's "The Wanderer":

Oh, I'm the kind of girl
Who washes clothes all night.
I never toss in coloreds
When I do a load of white.
They call me the launderer.
The launderer.
The clothes go round and round and round.

But the breakout hit is DK's. It's sung to the tune of the Candy Man (the old Sammy David jr hit from "Willie Wonka", not Christine Aguilera or Roy Orbison songs of the same name). The song was inspired when Linda noticed during her real-life laundry chores that I had about 35 pairs of underpants. I don't know why I do, but something made me keep buying them.

For those in the US, you should know that Napi-San is a bleaching product in which you soak white cotton clothes (nappies is the Aussie equivalent of US diapers). Anyhow, these are the lyrics to The Underpants Man

Who can take white cotton,
Sprinkle it with poo,
Soak it in the Napi-san
And make it like new?
The Underpants Man.
The Underpants Man
'cuz the Underpants Man

Anyhow, the play ends happily, of course. I figure the song that ends Act One gets reprised at the end of Act Two, only then it's a duet and they both sing "Together we neutralize each other", making a sad song into a happy ending. The music swells from the full orchestra. The curtain falls.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Dual in the Sun

Australians all, let us rejoice
For we are young and free.

We've golden soil and wealth for toil,
Our home is girt by sea.

The older I get the more I enjoy singing the bit about being young in "Advance Australia Fair", which celebrates its 25th anniversary as our national anthem this year. The song meets some of the requirements for national anthems, but misses the mark on others.

Its main achievement as a national anthem is that by the fourth line it uses a phrase that no one has any idea what it means. (Just go up to someone today and work in the phrase "girt by sea" and you'll know what I am talking about.) It also can lay claim to being a proper anthem in that virtually no one knows the words, especially if you get to the second verse. (I can almost hear some of my Aussie friends saying, "What? There's a second verse?")

Unfortunately, the song falls down miserably as a national anthem in one key area. It is easy to sing, upbeat and has a refrain that everyone knows and joins in even if they don't know the rest of the words. No high notes challenging even professional singers. No dirge-like rhythm. Nope, certainly not a world-class anthem when it's that easy to sing.

All of which is on my mind because yesterday was Australia Day, the holiday that celebrates the Europeans first landing here. I won't go into the obvious conflict this makes with the aboriginal tribes who think of it as "Invasion Day", but instead recall that this is the anniversary of the day Linda and I became citizens four years ago. We are very fortunate to be in one of the countries that has dual citizenship with the US, the chief benefit being that we get in the shortest lines at both immigration checks.

To qualify for citizenship we had to prove that we understood the English language and knew the benefits and responsibilities of Australian citizenship. In what I took to be a very clever way of checking on both with the least amount of trouble, the person interviewing me gave me a sheet of paper listing the benefits and responsibilities of citizenship. Obviously, in English. She then asked me to name three benefits and three responsibilities. I aced it and became true blue dinky-di.

At the oath-taking ceremony they gave us an odd assortment of flag-themed gifts. We got baseball caps with part of the flag design, the flag itself and some cotton shopping bags with the flag on it. The bags were made in Malaysia, of course. You know you're in a country with the right attitude when they celebrate your new citizenship by giving you a foreign-made shopping bag with the flag on it.

One of the benefits of becoming citizens that wasn't on the test was that we inherited a queen. For most Americans, having a monarch is the stuff of Disney movies. And here we were with regal, grand Elizabeth now our very own head of state.

Those of you in the US need to know that this is not necessarily the most popular part of being an Aussie for many of our fellow citizens. A few years ago a vote to become a republic and break from the monarchy failed, primarily I think due to some oddly detailed options for the proposed new government that were not very appealing to many. However, it seems inevitable that there will eventually be a legal break from our old UK ties. (And in case you're in doubt, the Queen is mostly just a symbolic head of state as we are completely self-governed by our own government. Confused? You should be,)

But for our four years as Aussies it has been in place, and we have enjoyed a real benefit of dual citizenship as we have been able to downplay the fact that our US citizenship gave us President W and could concentrate instead on having QE2 as our monarch.

But now there's a new guy in the White House, and someday Charles will inevitably take over at Buckingham Palace. And if Oz hasn't dumped the monarchy by then, that may well be the time to hum the Star Spangled Banner, even if no one can hit those high notes.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Bowl Games

Happy Australia Day, our 21st in this country.

Things don't always go as planned. Take yesterday, for example, when I planned to complete the post about the "musical" I am writing. Well, events overtook me.

The day started out wonderfully when Lily came over for the morning. We hadn't seen her for a while so we were definitely ready for a Lily fix. I fed her breakfast, which takes about an hour. I have never seen anyone eat so slowly in my life. She can take five minutes between bites, which is about the time I take between courses. Nonetheless, she eventually gets the job done and is growing fast and is very fit and strong so however she gets her energy, it's obviously going well.

After breakfast and some mandatory Nickoledeon Jr, I told her about the new Wii console. So it was upstairs to that TV for the rest of the morning. She loved the bit about the Wii where you can create a cartoon version of yourself. So first we made a Lily, and then she decided she should do one for the rest of the family. She was quite good at making the characters look like real people, except for Linda whose character looks more like Hilary Clinton than LK herself. But at least Lily stuck with the concept of Power Woman.

Lily proved quite adept at bowling and tennis, and quite intense also. I have no idea where she gets her competitive spirit from, but she does like to win. Anyhow, eventually Matt decided they were going out to a museum and maybe some real bowling after that. So by noon Lily was gone.

However, the Wii was still here.

Linda and I had a bite of lunch when she suggested the bowling looked like fun. Would I be interested in a game? How can you turn down a chance to play a few matches with a Hilary Clinton lookalike?

The Wii is actually an impressive bit of technology. You literally have to go through the motions of bowling a ball to make the game work. You put spin on the "ball" by going through the same motions as if you were actually hefting a 16-pound ball. (That's a little over 7 kg to my metric Aussie friends. And by the way, we're talking about 10-pin bowling here, played in proper air conditioned bowling alleys, not out on the lawn in the hottest part of the day.)

Anyhow, LK soon mastered the technique and eked out a 2 -1 victory in her last frame. "One more?" she asked.

I could go into great detail, but suffice it to say that we "bowled" for about 5 hours. In that time, we both scored new personal highs. I first set the record at 220 - a very respectable score I probably never attained when I was bowling for real. Linda did not want to quit while I had the record, so we soldiered on and around three hours into our play she had an amazing game of 264. I imagine the record she set on her first day may never be beat.

But she needed to find out for herself. She wanted to bowl more. And hey, it's not like I couldn't have stopped if I wanted to.

The Wii grades you with a skill level, and we both watched ours rise until we reached the Pro level. I never thought of Linda as the type to be interested in becoming a professional bowler, but she was exuberant and proud of her achievement. (And by the way, I probably should add that we were drinking nothing stronger than iced tea. God help us if we'd been on stronger stuff!)

Unfortunately, as the hours wore on, our coordination and timing suffered. Soon our scores were low. Maybe it was time to quit, I suggested. She snapped back at me, "I'm not leaving with a 136 as my last score!" So on we played.

Eventually our lower and lower scores led to our skill levels falling, and both of us lost our professional status. In the space of five hours, we traced the patterns of most athletes' careers: you start slowly, develop your skills, peak - and perhaps are good enough to play professionally, but then you keep on playing and your skills deteriorate. Eventually you're hustling for beers in some backwater bowling alley and getting beat by the local kid on the rise.

Anyhow, eventually we were shooting scores that were closer to what Lily shot than the records that we set . And we were also noticing that hips, shoulders and other parts were starting to ache. I had thought it ominous that the Wii's manual starts with two solid pages of health warnings, one of which is for repetitive stress. Now I understood what they meant.

I think LK might still have been ready to play on, but she didn't argue when I arbitrarily shut the game off and declared cocktail hour open. But last night, both of us grunted and groaned when we got up from our chairs or did just about anything involving our shoulders. I call them "painful bowl movements". But they're much better this morning. I don't see why we can't squeeze a few frames in before we head over to our friends' house for an Australia Day lunch.

A post about Australia Day tomorrow and eventually back to that music stuff.

Friday, January 23, 2009

The Halls Are Alive with the Sound of Music

One of the things about blogging is that you reach a point where you have written so much about the little things in your life that you have to debate whether to reveal some things about yourself that in every other instance you would just as soon not let other people know.

I'm not talking about deep, dark nasty secrets. I don't imagine that just writing a blog would make you suddenly want to tell everyone that you are wanted by the authorities in five countries or can't quite cure the infection you got in Bangkok. No, I am thinking more about the sort of stuff that we do that we are embarrassed about doing, but not so much that we stop doing it.

Which leads to this post. But wait. I can hear some of you thinking, "You have written extensively about your physical shortcomings, your personality flaws, and most of your recent screw-ups. What secret could you possibly have?"

Well, the truth is I am writing a musical. Sort of. Right now there's just a couple of songs, and none of them have original music. Kind of like Weird Al Yankovic, I use music and put my own words to it. The difference is that Weird Al can be quite funny and he makes money out of it.

Oh, I should also tell you that there will never be a performance of the musical mostly because it will never be completed, but also because it is meant as a private thing between Linda and me. Or was meant to be until I started writing today.

This all probably had its origins in a very annoying habit of mine. For some reason, quite a few years ago, I took the part of My Sharona where they go ma-ma-ma-my Sharona and when LK and I were alone in the car or at home, I would sing ma-ma-ma-my Babushka.

Now I have no idea why I did that. Maybe babushka seemed like a funny word. Don't know why else I would have chosen it. But, as most of you would know, I am prone to excess. And I believe I must have been singing ma-ma-ma-my babushka to LK quite a bit. I guess I assumed she thought it was cute or funny or at least OK.

But alas I was in the car with my beloved one day and was just getting ready to ma-ma-ma when she said a word she very seldom uttered. "No more f***ing babushka songs!" she snapped. And so I stopped mid-verse.

Initially in my mind that became the Day the Music Died. Afraid that I was annoying the woman I loved rather than amusing her, I stopped singing.

But then one day it hit me. It probably wasn't the idea of me singing to her. It was probably that there was only that one line over and over. And over and over. I knew what I had to do.

And so, when the time was right, longer songs with a message and a story began to be formed and sung to her. Songs like "You're Young and Unlumpy" and "The Underpants Man", and even the little ditty, "The Mojito Song".

But this post is long enough today. As I said at the top, this was all something I kept from others. I guess partly because I didn't think it would be a good message for the head of a publishing company to be known as the writer of "The Underpants Man".

Anyhow, the cat's out of the bag now. Next time, lyrics and music to my musical.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Advice for the Newly Retired

Forget Obamania. Sure there's a buzz and excitement with the new president. He's young, handsome, eloquent, exciting and adored by millions. Nope, when I look around the cast of characters in today's spectacle, he's not the guy I can align myself with.

Not too hard to figure out it's the other one, the guy in his early 60's who is retiring after what seems like an eternity on the job. I know what he's going through. He has just spent the last year more or less killing time in his office and staying out of the way because there was no sense in starting something if he wasn't going to be around.

And in the past three months, once everyone knew who was replacing him, he probably was lucky if he got more than a couple of phone calls from people who used to contact him daily. He's got a wife who is clearly going to be setting his sunset agenda for him. And his parents still love him even if nobody else can figure out how he managed to drive so many successful things straight into the ground.

Given that I've gone first into this great state of retirement by about four months, I thought I would write an open letter to the world's newest retiree.

Dear W

Welcome to the part of your life where you can finally do absolutely nothing and not be criticized - except of course by your wife. No one will judge you anymore if you say something dumb or incomprehensible. That is mostly because no one will be listening anymore or taking any note of what you have to say.

Sure, a photographer may pop by every once in a while to see how you're doing. But by and large you should stop worrying about appearances and feel free to adopt my recommended standard retirement wardrobe of shorts and a t-shirt. (You can substitute sweats in cold weather.)

Tomorrow when you wake up, you will have absolutely nothing to do that must be done. Actually, it looks as if you've been at this stage for a while so it may not be as much of a change for you as it is for some. But my strong recommendation is to A) enjoy not having to do anything and B) don't let Laura know you don't have anything to do.

The whole point of retirement is to feel good about yourself and your life. Whatever course you take, just have one goal in mind. When your final hours are ticking away, be able to look at those around you and say, "Mission Accomplished." But then again, perhaps there may be a better way to word it.

It says in the New York Times that you plan to write a book. That's a great way to spend your time, but it really requires a lot of work. You were reported as saying you want people to be able to understand what it was like in the Oval Office when you had to make some of your tough decisions.

I don't know if that is the best topic for your first book. You've got to remember that not all of your grand plans turn out exactly as you had hoped. This book could easily backfire and end up being used as a series of case studies on how not to make good decisions. My suggestion? Work with Laura and do a barbecue recipe book. It will lead to far more guest appearances on daytime TV.

One good thing about retiring so early is that you have plenty of time to rehabilitate your image. Sure it's got to be embarrassing having the lowest approval ratings in modern history. I mean - lower than the guy that got impeached, lower than the guy who couldn't rescue hostages from Iran, lower than the one that resigned in disgrace. And of course, although I am sure this wouldn't upset you, much lower than your father's ratings even though they kicked him out of his job.

But your golden years can be used to work on that poor image people have of you. Look, Jimmy became popular by building houses with Habitat for Humanity and then meddling in numerous international disputes whether he was asked to or not. Bill, who left with high ratings despite Monica, has used his after-work years to get incredibly rich and still spend much of his time trying to set the global social agenda through his foundation. And of course he and your Dad go to just about every natural catastrophe that befalls the world, kind of an odd-couple tag team of fundraising doom.

So find yourself a new cause to promote. All of the businesses you ran before becoming a politician failed, so why not consider using all that experience to start a support group for the thousands of people whose businesses are failing due to the economy you insist has nothing to do with you.

Or how about buying foreclosed homes and renting them real cheap to formerly employed people now living hand to mouth? Or perhaps you could consider establishing legal funds so the people of New Orleans can sue the federal government for its failures with Katrina and its aftermath. You know what a botched job that was and hey, it's the other guy's government now, so what do you care?

Those are just some ideas off the top of my head. There are other options, of course. You could just spend your days taking walks, reading, blogging and watching old episodes of America's Next Top Model. If that is more appealing, send me an e-mail. I have lots of advice on how best to do that.



Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Oui, oui! We have a wee Wii. Whee!

The last Whee in the title was pushing it a bit, wasn't it? One of my greatest weaknesses as a writer is a profound fear of the Delete key. Once I think of something, I am so reluctant to chuck it in the bin. Oh well, that's why we all need editors.

Which has nothing to do with today's post.

I woke up Tuesday morning feeling the effects of having had a bit too much wine. I know I had too much wine because I remember thinking that black Russians would be the perfect way to end the evening. While they are effective at ending the evening, they aren't exactly the perfect way to do it. And certainly not when judged from the perspective of the next morning.

But the night before, before I moved the wine from just right to too much, Caroline told LK and me that we absolutely had to get a Wii. She had played on one over her holidays and she was smitten with the game console. I don't always do what Caroline suggests. For example, last night I ignored her and opened that last bottle of red, and I didn't even ask her about the black Russians. But with the Wii, her suggestion made sense so it was off to the mall this afternoon to get myself a Wii.

It probably strikes a few people as odd that a 60-year-old is splurging on an interactive video game console. The fact is I love games. My very first job in this industry that gave me my career was reviewing computer games. So I have a great affinity for them. So much that I believe a Q-bert machine in New Jersey was finally retired with DKK as the top scorer.

But even more to the point is that I have been thinking about buying a Wii for a while, and Caroline's rave just clinched it. It's been getting great reviews, and is clearly now the console of choice among gamesters. But what impressed me the most was the program Wii Fit, which is a very popular fitness and exercise regimen. That meant buying the Wii wasn't some supercilious exercise in rampant consumerism but vitally important for my health.

But somehow, when I told Linda about buying the Wii when I picked her up, she didn't see it that way. She laughed and told me that I had bought more toys for myself in the four months since I retired than I did in the past five years when I was working.

I'm sure she's wrong. But I couldn't make much of an argument in this instance.

The store was out of stock for Wii Fit, and won't get anymore until February. But I bought the console anyway and picked up the Sports pack which has tennis and bowling and some other games. They may not help me get fit, but Caroline said they were great fun, and I can always get the exercise program next month. We'll see.

Monday, January 19, 2009

The Eagles Have Landed

It is not in my nature to ever pick the winning team
Sometimes I think I'm happy then I remember it's a dream

Now it isn't in my nature to ever pick a winner
Kirsty MacColl, "England 2 Colombia 0"

That's how I felt as the Philadelphia Eagles lost their NFL playoff game to the Arizona Cardinals today. I lived in Philly for a couple of years and have a strong memory of watching them lose a playoff game back then, so I should have known better than to have actually cheered for them and cared about them making the Super Bowl. In a year in which I cheered on the Patriots, Buccaneers and then the Eagles, I am left without a team I care about for the big game.

Oh well, at least by losing the Eagles have made this a significant day for us in Australia. The Cardinals' punter, Ben Graham, will now become the first Aussie to ever play in the Super Bowl. He used to play Australian Rules football at Geelong where he was the team captain. But at the age of 31 he moved from the AFL to the NFL when he signed a contract with the New York Jets.

Given today's result, he must certainly qualify as one of the luckiest guys around. He started this season with the New York Jets and got fired. He got picked up by the New Orleans Saints and got fired. The Cardinals did not hire him until December. And now he'll be playing in the Super Bowl.

I cannot think of any other athlete who got sacked twice in the same season by teams that didn't even make the playoffs and then ended up playing in the championship game with his third team. Talk about good luck. But in this regard, Graham is a little bit like another icon of Australian sport - Steven Bradbury.

Bradbury won Australia's first ever gold medal in the Winter Olympics at the 2002 Salt Lake City games. He competed in the 1000-meter short track speed skating finals against four others. The race lasts just a tick over a minute, and Bradbury was hopelessly behind the other four as they turned for home.

Within sight of the finish line, the other four collided and in a split second they were sprawled across the track. Bradbury carefully skated around them and became the gold medal winner. After thinking about Ben Graham and Steven Bradbury, it's not hard to understand why Australia is called the Lucky Country.

PS - The other day my father complained that I never write about sports. So, Dad, this one was for you.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

The Bees' Knees

Saw this on my walk this morning. I am pretty sure this is a flowering gum tree (and my Australian friends will very quickly correct me if I am wrong). The flowers have just come out in the last day. I hope you can see enough detail to spot the bees having a feast.

I will post later, but I wanted to share these pictures.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Quarterly Report

I vowed to never produce another Powerpoint presentation once I had retired. Like so many of the things I said I would and would not do once I retired, this is another now resting firmly in the scrapheap.

The simple fact is that for 18 years I communicated with my colleagues here in Oz, my bosses in the US and with our customers using Powerpoint slides. I once considered using it with Linda, but she wasn't willing to sit through the slideshow.

Anyhow, my chances of not wanting to use it once more were about as strong as the likelihood that a passenger plane could land safely in the Hudson River. Well, OK, even less likely than that.

So without further preface, I present the first quarter report of Retirement Year 2009. Please note the retirement year runs from October through June, which makes absolutely no sense. But then those dates made no sense when they were for the company's fiscal year, either.

I am experimenting with saving the presentation as a video and hope it works OK here. It's tough to know how long to keep the slides up since I know what they say and therefore read them faster than anyone else. If it changes too fast, I think you can just hit the || symbol to pause it and the > to start it again as with any CD or video player. If it's going too slow, I don't think there's much you can do except congratulate yourself on being a fast reader.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Blog Rolling in Our Time

Earlier this week I turned into a domestic whirlwind. Made soup, made a salad with a recipe from the South Beach cookbook, vacuumed the whole house, scrubbed all the tiles in the bathroom. I even lifted the cushions of the couch and cleaned off the crumb magnet known as the bottom cushion.

It was getting painfully obvious that I was putting something off.

That something was writing a new post for this blog. Despite my original intention to treat this as a diary of my retirement, it changed once I let other people read it. It's one thing to write a diary entry for yourself - "Cleaned the house and read a book today" - but it is entirely different to write it knowing that some of your family and friends are going to be reading it. It seems to me it either requires a humorous way of writing about the mundane, or it needs spicing up.


Humorous - "Cleaned the house because Linda said I would have to get a job at McDonalds to pay to have the house cleaned if I didn't do it." That's not true, but I know Jon, at least, will think it's funny.

Spiced Up - "Cleaned the house, read a book and started research on a historical novel about 19th Century Australian cowboys. Cannot decide if I should call it 'Lonesome Galah' or 'Bury My Heart at Wagga Wagga'." That's not true, either - and in fact I am stealing a real concept Matt is researching for a novel he plans to write - but at least it's more interesting than the plain facts of my day.

(Although the folks in North America probably won't have any idea what either joke is about. To help you, that's a galah in the picture at top. Wagga Wagga is just a place here with a funny name.)

Don't get me wrong. I absolutely love doing this. For one thing, it has helped me - in a fairly structured way - t0 resume the type of writing which I hadn't done for years. In a real sense, this is the sort of exercise I needed if I were to ever tackle some seriously challenging writing project down the road.

But knowing that this is being read by family and friends has been the best part. It has proved to be a 21st Century way of connecting with people I care about. And the best part is when it's two-way as people either leave a comment at the bottom of a post or write or call me to react to something I've written. I suppose I should be a tad concerned that my most popular posts have to do with me stumbling, faltering, getting lost, or other examples of low self-esteem.

Of course, on the surface not every day of the retired life is rich with variety. Yet there have to be limits about how much people want to read about my walking, housekeeping, dieting, etc. So this blog has also made me look for new things to talk about, which must surely be a good thing for a person who today is most likely going to clean the house and read a book.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

The Heights of Despair

One of the funniest sites on the web is Their humour is cynical, satiric and often mean-spirited. I love it. But, of course, it is not to everyone's taste. As Mr Spock said on Star Trek, "Humor - a difficult concept." has some very funny parodies of training videos (check out my favorite - "Disconfirmation"), motivational posters and various other lampoons of the usually inane things spawned by the industry dedicated to getting rich by supposedly helping businesses motivate staff. These are the businesses that have convinced managers to give them money on the premise that meaningless slogans with cute pictures of koalas and kittens will make underpaid staff work even harder.

And of course the managers who hang these things on the walls then tell their bosses how proactive they are being in motivating their staff, which will hopefully motivate the boss to give them a substantial raise even if they aren't doing much for the staff itself.

In my final year with the company, I concluded every presentation to my boss and board with one of Despair's posters. It was called Retirement, and the thought underneath the picture of a chewed-up stub of a pencil read, "Because you've given so much of yourself to the company that you don't have anything left we can use."

Funny enough to me, but it was interesting how unfunny it was to some others. And how some of those who thought it funny became a wee bit nervous that not everyone else was laughing. Even funnier when it turned out to be more or less accurate.

Anyhow, the reason I was thinking of was because I saw one of their newer "demotivational" posters. It's called Blogging, and the thought underneath reads: "Never before have so many people with so little to say said so much to so few."

I guess it's a case for me of if the shoe fits, and it certainly got me thinking about this blogging stuff I've been doing. I'd been thinking about it quite a bit yesterday because, having had almost nothing to say for a couple of days, I was wondering where the next blog would come from. But then, Despair sends me an e-mail newsletter and I'm off to the races.

I could write more of my thoughts about blogging, but the lead-up about Despair is enough for today's post. As they've learned on TV, the absence of big ideas is a problem easily solved by a two-part show. So tomorrow, a blog on blogging.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Weekend Update

Letters. We get letters.
We get lots and lots of letters.

Isn't it amazing that more than 50 years after they sang this on the Perry Como TV show, it still sticks in my mind. Anyhow, unlike Perry, I don't get lots and lots of letters and I certainly have no requests to sing the song you like best. But this being the weekend I thought it would be a good chance to catch up on a couple of responses to some posts.

First Jaki wrote after reading about my reaction to Robert's "innovative" diving suit design involving a fishbowl as my helmet, which also included a picture of an old dive suit that might have been stretched to fit me if I was content to never breathe out and forgo having blood circulate in my limbs.

She wrote: "Just wanted you to know that I had no part in the designing of the Dive Suit. Fact is I cried when he poured "Goldie" out in the back yard on the frost ridden grass, even the gravel was cold. As far as the "suit" part - that guy has been hanging in my laundry room for over 2 years now, can't imagine why he has no head nor where it could have gone but he seems pretty content to just hang there. I'll work on getting Robert to REALLY look into this project a little more SERIOUSLY."

I doubt that she will have much luck changing this mad scientist, but good luck to her.

And yesterday I was talking with my mother who had just read my ramblings about my body's not quite classical proportions in my last post.

"I think you were very unfair to yourself in your blog," she said. "You don't have a big head."

I thanked her for her totally unbiased opinion, but explained that it wasn't my idea but some street artist in Paris who had yelled it at me.

She obviously was still doing her motherly bit to help improve my self esteem, forgetting that a few days earlier she had told me she laughed til she cried reading about me scooting across the floor because my knee was a mess and I couldn't get up.

"And lots of people's arms are longer than their legs," she said.

"But my sleeve length is 35 inches, and my inseam is only 28," I said.

"Oh," she said. "You really do have short legs. I never noticed." Well, at least she tried to make me feel better.

And overhearing that phone call, the lovely LK piped in, "Even my legs are longer than yours."

And my bride, obviously also worried about my self esteem, quickly added, "But you do have a long trunk."

It's nice that the women in my life are trying to make me feel better. And I am a tad sorry they aren't a bit better at it. But, it doesn't matter. I am pretty comfortable with the hand I've been dealt (even if there are stubby fingers at the end of it).

In fact, in that earlier post about the big head, etc, I had meant to also write about the time I went to get the car serviced. A woman and her little girl were ahead of me at the counter when the girl turned around, opened her eyes wide and pointed.

"Look, Mama," she said. "He's got a fat tummy!"

Probably just as well I left it out. I'm pretty sure none of the women in my life are going to try to disabuse me of that one.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Coming to Grips with Myself

Now that I am retired, I have more time for navel gazing, although in my case I need a mirror in order to gaze at my navel. But today in the shower it occurred to me that I am spending far too much time worrying about the width and circumference of my body rather than its proportions.

I thought of this because I caught myself gripping the shower floor with my toes as I shampooed. Until I married Linda, I had not been aware that I spend much of my time gripping floors with my toes, holding on fiercely as if I am unconsciously afraid that gravity might stop unexpectedly and I could end up floating away.

I now find myself doing it quite often, but there are definitely certain times I grip with my toes - brushing my teeth, loading the dishwasher, chopping food. I don't know why I do it, and I don't even know if other people do it. It's not like I am going to be at a dinner party and say to the table, "Hey, do any of you unconsciously grip the floor with your toes like I do?" Actually, given what most people think of me, there isn't any reason not to ask.

My personal hunch is that I am a toe-gripper because my body is just plain out of proportion, and not just around the waistline. For example, we were in Paris once and a street artist yelled out at me, "Monsieur, vous avez un tres grand tete." I then made the very big mistake of translating for Linda who to this day reminds me that my head is very large.

But it's not just the head that's big. My arms are very long. In fact, my shirt sleeves are 25% longer than the inseams of my pants. So the combination of short legs and long arms overall contributes to a pretty good sense that I am more directly descended from tree-dwelling apes than, say, almost everyone else in the world.

Take a look above at the Vitruvian Man that Leonardo drew. If you were to draw a circle around me standing in that pose, it would end up shaped more like a lightbulb, with another somewhat smaller lightbulb at the top. And the box he's in would definitely be more of a trapezoid than a square.

Leonardo made lots of notes about the proportions of the human body. Here's how I rated with some:

The length of a man's outspread arms is equal to his height.
This means that I should be about 7 foot 6. Which is pretty good news because it means that according to the charts my weight is correct.

The distance from the top of the head to the bottom of the chin is one-eighth of a man's height.
That's a tad more realistic. Now I should only be 6 foot 10. But at least now I will be going to the Tall side of the Big & Tall Shops, not the section that screams lack of willpower to the world.

The length of the hand is one-tenth of a man's height.
Unfortunately, with my stubby fingers I now should be 5 foot 6. Back to the diet and the other side of the store.

But my favorite is this one.

The distance from the hairline to the eyebrows is one-third the length of the face.
Given where my hairline is today, this means that I now should be roughly the same dimensions as the Charlie Brown balloon in the Macy's Thanksgiving parade. I guess that artist in Paris knew what he was talking about.

Wednesday, January 7, 2009

Instrument Landing

My parents may not have had a lot of money when I was young, but that never stopped them from finding a way to make sure I received such important things as music training.

Unfortunately, at the time my musical destiny was being decided, the Lawrence Welk Show was a big hit in the US and so I ended up being trained to play the accordion. This instrument has gone from being very popular in the 50s to being one of the least liked half a century later. And I can tell you it was not the instrument of choice at anti-war rallies in the 60s.

It was so in vogue when I was young that even a little place like Rutland had an accordion school, where dozens of us would troop off to Mr Coutermarsh's with dreams of mastering "Lady of Spain" and eventually graduating to very fast polkas.

There was one problem for me, though. To play any musical instrument well requires a good sense of rhythm and tempo, which I lack. But that was trivial to the other requirement of playing the accordion well - physical dexterity and coordination. Even thinking about it now, I am amazed I was able to play it at all since it required playing the melody with your right hand, pulling the bellows back and forth rhythmically and playing the bass with your left hand on those silly little buttons you cannot even see. Let's face it, this is one of the few musical instruments where you literally have to strap yourself into it.

Nonetheless I did persevere and learned to play some easy songs poorly. But I am pretty sure that somewhere around 1958 my folks abandoned their dreams that I was going to replace Myron Floren if he and Lawrence ever got into a fight.

My own dreams lasted a bit longer. In 1965, the same year that Mick sang "I Can't Get No Satisfaction" and Sam the Sham did "Wooly Bully", I convinced some friends who were forming a band that a fairly unskilled accordionist was just what they needed. Two rehearsals later they convinced me to go solo.

A few years later during my university days, I would go to parties and jealously watch guys pull out their guitars and they would soon have people sitting around listening to them, some times even singing along. It seemed so unfair that they could get away with it. If I even brought my accordion along with me, people insisted I leave it outside. In the years of the countercultural revolution, the old squeezebox just wasn't going to cut it.

Oh well, this all came back to me today because I passed a second-hand store that had an accordion prominently displayed in the window. I looked at it quite a long time, and was wondering how much I could negotiate them down from their $280 price tag.

But then I thought about it. If anything, I am surely going to play less well now than I did before. Even more importantly, Linda and I have just spent a couple of nice weeks together while she was on holiday. I just don't think I want to add accordion stress to our life together. I don't even think it would help were I to learn to play "Smoke on the Water".

Monday, January 5, 2009

The Diving Bell and the Walrus

Our friends Robert and Jaki have been amazingly generous in sending Linda and me a deep-fat turkey fryer. It surely makes us just about the only people in Oz who can (and would) just drop that big bird in a bubbling pot of oil and pull it out fully cooked a little later.

And as long as I can continue to cope with the side effects of my cholesterol medication, I think we can anticipate being the envy of our friends who may eat healthier, but seldom happier.

But there is another side of Robert that is starting to worry me. You may recall that he and I were going to explore starting a new website that would make great use of his talent for solving and inventing and my talent for blathering. Kind of like the Mythbusters show only he does all the work and all I do is stand there and point at him yelling, "Hey, look at that."

Our first project was to solve the problem of how to get me under water with them when they come out here. It's a problem because the last time I looked the Big and Tall store had run out of XXL wetsuits. And even were I to find one, I cannot but imagine that every shark in the Pacific that got a look at me would think their most secret walrus dreams had come true.

To tweak Robert's inventiveness, I proposed that he make one of those old-fashioned diving suits. You know, the kind of suit Cuba Gooding wore when he played the first African-American to become a US Navy diver. (Which also proves that Hollywood will make movies about just about anything they hear of. By the way, the Oscar-winner Gooding rescued this bobble in his career by subsequently appearing in such hits as Pearl Harbor, Snow Dogs and Norbit.)

Anyhow, back to Robert. That picture at the top of this post appears to be the best he can do as a suggestion for a helmet. And although he swore to me that he really is quite good at building things and inventing solutions to mechanical problems, I am fast losing confidence. This is how he suggested getting around the "drawbacks" of diving with a fishbowl on my head, especially one that measures less than six inches at the open end:

I think we can solve this problem
Option 1 - By having LK work some of her training procedures on you. As she should be able to convince you that with a little lubrication your head will go in the helmet (fish jar).
Option 2 would be to have a shrink work on you, you know the kind of guy that does the shrunken heads. I think you have a tribe in Australia, if not we can get one from the Amazon to come in to do the deed.
The air supply (fish tank pump) will limit how deep you can go under water. LK will have to find an extension cord long enough to plug in the air supply. Her option, will the cord reach the dive site?

I would say "Back to the drawing board," but this seems to have never even made it to that stage. Of course, I could just use an ordinary wet suit if I lose weight, but I have as much confidence in that happening as George W Bush getting his face on the dollar next year. And eating deep fried turkey isn't helping the cause one single bit.

But thanks anyway, Robert. And by the way, you really should get out here soon before our native head shrinking tribes disappear.

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Assembly Required

Every once in a while, life has a way of giving you Before and After pictures. Yesterday was one of them.

You see we bought a new stand for our TV and it required assembly, so for what seemed like hours we were working together trying to make sure that the screw we were using to attach the shelves was in fact Screw A6 and not A4. We weren't doing too badly. Unlike my previous assembly attempts, holes lined up, screws fit, the front bit wasn't facing the rear, etc. All went smoothly, that is, until the final bit, which required putting the glass shelves on.

Up until that last step, we were able to sit or stand and just attach things by turning the stand on its side. But once the glass shelves were on, it was too heavy so we had to get on the floor to finish off the job by putting in the final six screws for the top shelf.

I can hear Linda saying, "What's this 'We', Gimpy Man?" for my knee doesn't like ground level. So LK volunteered to kneel down and put in the last screws. And of course, as if there is some divine law that no self-assembly can ever go smoothly, that was when things didn't line up properly and the last two screws wouldn't go in properly. Linda was trying her best, but I decided I was just the man for the job. So knee be damned, and down to the floor I went, too.

Of course, I had no more luck than Linda, but that didn't turn out to matter so much in the end. For within a few minutes, virtually simultaneously, pain struck both of us. Linda got a cramp in her foot and began doing a reasonably good impression of a python trying to catch a ferret.

But I wasn't paying much attention for at precisely the same moment, my knee felt as if various parts of it were snapping loose from whatever holds them in place and they were now spewing hot flames down my leg. I needed to stand up promptly, but of course I couldn't just do that because my knee no longer believes in practicing straightforward standing up.

So while Linda is slithering in one direction, I'm scooting across the carpet like a dog with a bad case of worms until I can reach the couch and use its arm to drag myself up. The good news - neither her foot nor my knee seemed to have come out with longer term problems from the moment. The better news - no one was filming us. The best news - we decided we would finish next day and have drinks now instead.

We'll find out today whether the stand will hold the TV without two of the screws in it. I'm pretty sure it will. In the meantime, I can't get past remembering some of our more passionate times when we were first together - that's the Before picture. The After is what happens now when we get down on the carpet for an entirely different type of screwing.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Talking 'bout a Resolution

That's a kookaburra I saw on my walk this morning. They're a type of kingfisher and have a wicked sort of laugh when they make a noise. Even with all the parrots, cockatoos and other birds around here, these are my favorites, and it was fun seeing it.

OK, enough stalling. I promised New Year's Resolutions for yesterday and here it is today and I am writing about birds instead of ways to improve myself in 2009. I am pretty sure that this is surprising no one who knows me. I am hardly known for my rigorous attempts at self-improvement. But a deal's a deal. So here goes.

My New Year's Resolutions

1. Avoid the Lures of Retirement

After three months of retirement, I am perhaps enjoying it too much. Not having anything to do really does have its appeal. Of course Linda would suggest that being retired and not having anything to do aren't exactly the same thing, but that's another discussion.

However, I am aware that perhaps I am embracing the lifestyle a little too vigorously. My first clue was when Linda asked - quite seriously - if I was going to become one of those weird old guys with no hair on top of their heads and a long pony tail down to their butt. I think this question arose when she realized I haven't had a hair cut since, well, some time before I retired.

So just to make sure I don't become a latter day hippie, I am adopting these resolutions, all subsets of #1.

1A) If I shake my head and hair gets in my eyes, I will get a hair cut.
1B) At least once a week, I will wear a shirt with a collar, if only for a few moments.
1C) I will wear socks at least once a week, also. And that doesn't include the little sockettes that I wear with sneakers. However, it will not be necessary to wear socks and shirts with collars at the same time.
1D) To avoid falling in a rut, I will not follow the same routine every morning. Today, for example, I fed the cat before I made the coffee. Tomorrow, I will make the coffee first.

2. Start the South Beach Diet for the Seventh or Eighth Time

I love the South Beach Diet except for the fact that I can't eat the food I like or drink booze for the first two weeks. But it does make me lose weight, undoubtedly because I can't eat the food I like or drink booze.

Anyhow, I am going back on it. You can tell because I have been carbo dumping for the past two days, eating breads, crackers, pasta - anything made of flour. If it weren't for the fact that I am gimpy, overweight and out of shape, you'd think I was getting ready to run a marathon.

And of course, there is the interesting issue that every time I go on this diet, I eventually go off it and return to my original weight. I am not sure why I choose to go through the pain of dieting one more time knowing its benefits are almost surely going to be temporary, but I think the ability to think in this way is part of the same gene that contributes to overeating.

3. Write Letters to My Friends Whom I Haven't Been in Touch With Lately

This was my New Year's Day project. It is now January 3rd and I've obviously had to revise the time line. I hope to do it some time by the end of the month. But I am realistic. If I just get some of it done eventually, I will be happy.

4. Prioritize the Three Resolutions in the Order in Which I Will No Longer Do Them

I am not being fatalistic about all of this, but after 60 years I am realistic. But now that I've laid these out for all to read, I not only will feel guilty about not living up to them, but I will be embarrassed as well. So I need to figure out which goes first. It will probably be based on which is the least embarrassing to admit.

Anyhow, progress reports as the New Year rolls on.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

The Year in Review

And so we have ended a year that, for me, will be unforgettable (except of course when I start forgetting just about everything). I would like to write today about some of the top things that happened to me in 2008. By tomorrow, I suppose I need to rustle up a resolution or two. Otherwise I won't know why I'm feeling guilty when I begin to ignore them the day after tomorrow.

#1 Life Changes

My new motto: Work to live, don't live to work. Or better still, don't work.

Retiring was the big change in my life this year. And after three months of it, I cannot say how much I am enjoying the time to do things that have nothing to do with spreadsheets, budgets and presentations.

One of the happiest realizations I had when I left the company was that I would never again have to wake up knowing that I was going to tell someone I liked that they didn't have a job anymore. It was by far the worst thing about my job. With what is going on in the economy and the industry right now, there is no way we could have protected all the jobs in the company. So good riddance to that, and condolences to those who still have to deal with it.

#2 Family and Old Friends

Should auld acquaintance be forgot? I don't think so!

This was a year when Linda and I were able to spend more time than usual with family and friends. Lots of great moments - a fantastic 60th birthday in Rutland with so many people stopping by; a special week in Disneyland with Lily who got to meet for the first time her great grandmother, aunt, uncle and cousin; a wonderful visit to Andy and Doni at their beautiful home just a few (hundred) miles outside Toronto; a chance to spend time with our oldest friends on the planet, Walt and Terri, and pick up right where we left off; a great tribute to me and two other retirees at the dinner for the company's European meeting, where I also got to see so many of my international friends; and a lovely farewell party here with the people with whom I had worked so many years.

If nothing else happened, just being able to spend time with these people would have made 2008 a wonderful year.

#3 New Friends

It is especially encouraging to learn that there are still friendships to be discovered and built upon. I've written elsewhere about meeting Jaki and Robert. Against all odds, we remain in touch and will no doubt do so for a very long time. Tomorrow I will share Robert's latest suggestions for my diving suit. You will see why I like him. You will also see why it's probably going to take a while before I get to go diving.

#4 Travel

I'll say it first. We overdid it. But in our last year of company-paid trips it just seemed daft not to add on a side trip here or there. Let's just say that my frequent flyer points are close to being able to charter my own jet after a year in which we were in Prague, Bangkok, Phuket, Honolulu, New York City, Boston, Rutland, Helsinki, Anaheim, Las Vegas, San Francisco, Toronto, Lisbon, Milan, Verona, Venice, Dubrovnik, Corfu, the Amalfi Coast and lots of other Italian ports, Monaco, Majorca, and Barcelona plus all those places in Alaska with such charming names as Skagway.

I find that I really don't miss my old job. I think travelling to all those international meetings, though, will be the exception.

So, 2008 is gone. We put it to bed last night with Lily, Matt, Rachael, Jason, Lora and Shirley. It was a very pleasant night. LK did up an American-style picnic and barbecue, and we were lucky enough to be able to watch the fireworks from our backyard.

Good luck in 2009 to all our family and friends, old and new.