Friday, February 27, 2009

A Meeting of Minds

Linda came back from work yesterday with a fascinating story. The group she manages had a breakfast roundtable discussion, and the key speaker was a CIO who discussed how his department and company were coping with the need to cut jobs during the economic downturn.

Part of their process had been to map out what the staff were doing and how productive they were being. As you might expect, they discovered there was overlap among quite a few employees. What you might not have expected was also a surprise to them.

They discovered that one woman spent virtually all of her time doing nothing but attending meetings.

This is kind of a litmus test. When you hear this your reaction is either A) what a waste of time! or B) where can I get this job? I am pretty sure most people choose A because most people hate meetings with a passion.

There's an interesting New York Times article by Reid Hastie that makes the point that meetings actually tend to reduce an organization's productivity. He writes, "As a general rule, meetings make individuals perform below their capacity and skill levels."

Hastie's chief point seems to be that busy people are short of time. Most meetings take up far too much time and produce almost no substantial results. Losing that time in the meeting is almost as bad as losing money yet people are careless about it. "Time is the most perishable good in the world and it is not replenishable," he writes. "You can't earn an extra hour to use on a busy day."

Having run more meetings than I care to admit, I know there's more to it than that, though. Meetings are also great ways to establish the pecking order, to show who's important. Oh, and once in a while to share information.

Let's face it, calling a meeting says, "I am important enough to call a meeting and ask you to show up and waste your time." And going to, say, the boss's meeting says, "I am important enough that the boss wants me to share my ideas, which will be the only part of the meeting that isn't a waste of time."

So I have come up with a proposal that will simultaneously increase business productivity, ease the economic pressures on pensioners and yet retain the status-building benefits of the current system.

I am organizing fellow retirees to become stand-in meeting attendees for busy businesspeople. We'll call it The Grey Proxies, and like the daemons in the Golden Compass we will show up at, say, the quarterly results meeting and simply walk in and explain whom we are representing.

The Grey Proxies will not say anything at the meetings, which will shave precious minutes for those who choose to attend it themselves. They will, however, laugh at the meeting organizer's jokes and may, at the end, compliment people on their PowerPoint presentation.

During the meeting the Grey Proxies will take copious notes, although in fact they will be writing letters or solving Sudoku puzzles since they will have no interest in the topic of the meeting. In this they will be similar to several of the actual attendees.

After the meeting, they will brief the person they represent. It will be concise and very nearly always take the same form. "The meeting was a waste of time."

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Poetry Man

And where are the tinkers of yesterday
fixing what no longer works
when we live in an age that replaces
all those things that broke.

And some times even choose
merely to live without.


The toaster menace, I mean repair, reminded me of those lines of poetry I wrote about 40 years ago. They aren't the exact lines because I don't have any of my old writing anymore, but they are pretty close to it. I think I was feeling pretty sorry for myself that I had been dumped one more time. Very elegiac. That is, if elegiac means wimpy.

Later I learned that anger was more interesting than self-pity. When Gloria decided that I was no longer the man of her dreams, I wrote the best poem I ever wrote. It started out:

Witch, make her old like you.
Make her hair fall out in handsful.
Make her skin grow rough and coarse.

Et cetera, et cetera. There was lots more, but you get the idea. There were two problems with that poem. The first was that I completely stole the idea from Diane Wakoski, a truly great poet who had written "I'm Dancing on the Grave of a Son of a Bitch". The second problem, as you see by re-reading the first few lines again, is that the curse rebounded and it all ended up happening to me.

I don't write poetry any more. Haven't for years. It all got way too hard somewhere about the time I spent most of my day writing and editing articles about computers. That's not a good excuse, of course. Lots of great poets have held a day job and still gone four-to-the-beat pretty well.

Many poets became university teachers, of course, so that's more like job-lite and doesn't really count. But others were productive outside their stanzas. John Donne was a diplomat and a lawyer. Gerard Manley Hopkins was a priest. Ezra Pound was a highly successful fascist and lunatic. And my hero, Wallace Stevens, was a vice president of the Hartford Insurance company.

There's a wonderful story about Stevens that I hope is true and not urban myth. A writer for a literary magazine had an appointment to interview Stevens at his office. By that time, Stevens was generally acknowledged in the literary world to be one of the great poets of America.

Stevens' secretary chatted with the writer as he waited and finally asked him why he was interviewing Stevens. When the writer told her, she was taken aback. "Our Wally is a poet!" she said.

When I taught poetry at the university, I always included lots of his poems. He wrote some lovely stuff. In fact, when Linda and I were moving into the madly part of falling madly in love, I gave her a book of his poems so she would A) get to enjoy his stuff and B) learn a little more about me by seeing what I really loved.

That part worked. The part that didn't go off quite so well was the other book I gave her, Edith Wharton's novel "Ethan Frome". That's the one where the star-crossed lovers have one moment of very innocent happiness and decide it would be better to die together than live apart. They jump on a sled and go down a steep hill straight into a tree. Only that goes wrong; they both survive and live into old age bitter and - literally - twisted.

After she read it, I can still remember LK asking me in a very odd voice just what in the hell I was trying to tell her by giving her that book. Oh, I answered, I hadn't even thought about what actually happens in the book. I just love the way it's written.

So I guess I accomplished one goal. She learned a little bit more about me.

Nonetheless, she married me anyway. I should note, however, that she and I have never gone sledding together.


And as a postscript, LK and I remain strictly white bread for one more day. The toaster repair has been delayed again. I forgot that the car was going in for servicing early this morning, so I haven't had a chance to get around to the hardware store. But it's coming. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Quick Note So My Mother Doesn't Worry

Since I don't want my mother worrying until late afternoon (US eastern time) which is morning when I wake up here, I am dropping a quick note to let you know I am alive. And the toaster is still waiting.

I got to step #1 and removed the toaster bottom, but I didn't have the right size tool to continue to step #2, so I did what any sensible person would do. I made soup instead.

I will go to the hardware store tomorrow and should have nice brown color on both sides of the slice of bread by tomorrow night.

And while you're at it, there is a really interesting comment from Jorge at the Reality Bytes post. It was nice of him to take so much time to write, and it goes to show how much effort goes into succeeding on these reality shows. And it also explains why he was our favorite.

Can't post more right now. We're watching very old Top Model episodes, followed by Masterchef.

Elementary School

"This chick is toast."
Bill Murray as Peter Venkman
in Ghost Busters


Today is going to be an adventure for me.

I hope.

What to others might seem ordinary enough will be for me a test, a challenge, an opportunity to prove that my handyman skill set is not as bad as everyone thinks. Or it may kill me.

The task at hand sounds simple enough. I am going to replace a burned out element in our toaster. I said it sounds simple enough, but when I went online to find out how to do it, I realized this is a project that rivals the complexity, say, of putting together an Ikea entertainment unit. And the problems I encountered on that project remains one of Linda's favorite dinner party stories.

I am starting on this project because LK went into the kitchen supply store Saturday to buy a new toaster to replace the Dualit. The store was out of the 3-slice model we wanted, but in the ensuing conversation the clerk learned that the only problem we had is that one of the elements had burned out.

"Only an American would buy a new $350 toaster rather than replace the element," she sniffed. And I should add that when Linda told this story to Davy, his immediate response was, "You have a $350 toaster!"

That, of course, is a whole different story. I am not sure why we decided our bread would be browner with an expensive toaster, but somewhere back in history that is exactly what we did. I have a vague recollection that it had more to do with the looks of the toaster than the end result. But no matter, I digress. This post is about my decision to tackle the job myself.

You can see what I will be doing by going to this incredibly handy site written by Peter Eland in the UK. He has put together pictures for every stage and really explained it well. (That's one at ths top of this post.) He has also started his how-to lesson with this:

Please note: This is just an account of how I did it. I am NOT a trained Dualit technician. I am NOT an electrician. If you do anything whatsoever to your toaster you do so ENTIRELY AT YOUR OWN RISK. This page is in no way endorsed by Dualit or anyone else. I have no connection whatsoever with Dualit, not even as a customer! If you have the slightest doubt as to your competence then do not do what is described here and instead go to a Dualit service agent or electrician.

Well, I am getting verrrry tired of being the odd man out. All I know is my father would fix his own toaster. And Robert in California would fix it - and probably add three or four new features. And Andrew in Sydney would just unplug it and plug it back in, saying "This fixes most things."

Well, it's time for this Rusty to join the club. I'm doing it myself.

I will let you know tomorrow how it went.

If there is no post tomorrow, don't worry. I am sure I will be OK, but there may not be any power in the house.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Reality Bytes

Well, this blog's readership continues to swell. No, I am not talking about the explosive growth that has seen us record about 1,000 page views in the past month. (OK. It's 651, but that rounds up to 1,000 doesn't it?)

What I am talking about is in fact either the first time I've been punked here or the first time I've had someone outside my circle of family and friends who has posted a comment. In case you missed it, Jorge from "Groomer Has It" left a message on the last post. (Or someone pretending to be him did, but frankly I just don't think any of you are that way inclined. Well, maybe Robert and Ian, but I cannot imagine either of them knowing any of the details about Groomer Has It.)

Just to make it easier for you, I am copying his comment here:

Hi there!
Is me Jorge, I just come across your post. I love the fact that trough the show I have met a lot of great people from Australia, and wile I complain about the cold weather here, they get to tell me how temperatures over 100F feels like :).
I hope you enjoy the show, and if for whatever reason I make u smile, even with my silliness, is great, that is what the entertainment industry is all about. and By the way... Malissa, the blond girl... it wasn't an act.. she did believe in her 7th sense....

Not only was it fun to get that note, but it led to some fascinating discoveries. First I checked out Jorge's web site, I learned all about Jorge, who is a New York-based groomer to the stars, or more precisely, to their animals.

But then I clicked on some of his links and a whole new world opened for me. For it turns out that Jorge is a graduate of the New York Reality TV School. That's right. There is a school dedicated to training people to become reality show contestants.

Jorge, in fact, is one of their star graduates. "Jorge Bendersky trained at The New York Reality TV School, was immediately cast on Animal Planet's 'Groomer Has It'," their home page begins. But it's not just my newest blog reader they've trained.

Check it out: "Jonathan Fable took a one time seminar on a Tuesday night, flew to Hollywood on a Thursday, auditioned for "Hole in the Wall", was cast and won first prize and $10,000 on Friday! Billy Garcia was cast directly out of a class line up for the newest Busta Rhymes music video!" Well, you get the idea - and the exclamation points are all theirs.

Elsewhere they run this glowing student testimonial:

I learned more in one session with (school founder) Robert Galinsky, than I did in weeks of class. His style is unique, effective, and worth the investment!" - Charles Mack (Academy Award nominee, "August Rush")

(Although, I must admit that this one confuses me, since Charles Mack was nominated for writing a song for the movie August Rush, and I cannot quite figure out how the New York Reality TV School courses would have helped him do that.)

It is somewhat amazing to me that this whole sub-industry for reality TV has developed. As with any reputable educational facility, the NYRTVS (that is one amazingly long acronym) has a mission statement. In their case, it is "to train and develop non-actors, and actors, through the spectrum of experiences a reality TV contestant/actor will face . . . We are about finding and hi-lighting what makes you unique, building your confidence and examining how you package yourself so you can best get cast on the show of your choosing. We trains (sic) students to be exciting confident members of Reality TV casts . . ."

Wow, can it be that big a business to justify starting a school to train non-actors and actors? (And doesn't that pretty well cover everyone in the world? Except for maybe Daryl Hannah, because she's not really a non-actor and she's certainly not an actor.)

Well, IMDB, the movie and TV database, lists 4,066 titles for reality TV. And just look at the shows the school's current guest lecturers have been on: American Idol, I Want to Work for Diddy, Survivor, Hell's Kitchen, Amazing Race, Groomer Has It, Glam God with Vivica A. Fox, The Bachelor, America's Next Top Model, Queen Bees, Blind Date, G's to Gents, Human Weapon, I Love New York, The Apprentice, Deal or No Deal, A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila, Top Chef, Beauty and the Geek, and Yo Mamma.

Thank God we live in Australia, where only about half these shows air. I doubt if LK and I would ever leave the house if we also had the opportunities to watch I Want to Work for Diddy, A Shot at Love with Tila Tequila and Glam God with Vivica A. Fox, as well as the others that have made it here. I mean, let's be honest. We're now watching a four-year-old rerun of America's Next Top Model that we missed the first time around. And of course, this post all got started because we are hooked on Groomer Has It.

Which is a neat way to bring it all back to Jorge. According to the NYRTVS web site, he is now a spokesperson for Animal Planet and a lecturer on their staff, in addition to running his grooming business. He has been interviewed on heaps of TV shows about his reality TV experience, and I suspect that he's having lots more fun telling his tales in front of the cameras than behind the pooches, lifting their tails.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Groomsman

That's Jai Rodriguez. He's one of those people who have become minor celebrities on TV without actually acting, singing, dancing, telling jokes or otherwise entertaining us. (Mind you, he has a decent resume of stage work as an actor and singer, but that's not how he became a minor star.)

He first showed up in our living room as one of the Fab Five on Queer Eye for the Straight Guy. Each of the gay guys had a particular skill they brought to bear on improving some hopeless straight guy.

Ted was great in the kitchen and taught the loser to cook. Carson was an expert on men's fashion and helped the hopeless soul look good for his lady. Thom was an extremely talented interior designer who made over the bachelor pad so the guy's date wouldn't feel she needed to wear latex gloves all night. And Kyan was very knowledgeable about hair, beards and grooming in general. He got the blokes a haircut and then taught them how to take a shower and shave.

By the time those four got done, you might think they had pretty much covered all the bases and there really wasn't much need for a fifth guy. You'd be wrong, of course, because you also needed to teach the straight guy a little culture. Well, that was the premise. The fact that Jai was gay, young and prettier than the other four combined might have had something to do with the producers' decision, also.

Anyhow, Jai's entire skill on the show seemed to be limited to listening to people sympathetically and then suggesting that they do whatever is in their heart - and put it in a nice package with a bow to make it more attractive.

I suspect this wasn't an act, by the way, because Linda and I got to see it in person once. He was on the same flight from San Francisco to New York as we were. Waiting to board, some woman was talking to him. And talking to him. And talking. When we got to New York, he was still listening to her as we waited around the luggage carousel. By then, I would have been tempted to just run away from her and buy new clothes rather than have to listen to one more word. But not Jai. He had totally mastered the ability not to look bored.Which probably does go a ways toward proving that he is in fact a good actor.

Anyhow, this post was prompted by the latest TV incarnation of Jai Rodriguez. He is hosting an Animal Planet reality show (that has already aired in the US) called "Groomer Has It". I know I should be embarrassed to admit that LK and I actually watch it, but it is just the opposite. We watched the first episode out of curiosity to see how Jai would do in a role that didn't involve nodding and looking interested. But now not only are we not embarrassed, we can barely wait for the next episode each week.

The show is a version of American Idol (or Top Model or Top Chef etc etc), but it is for dog groomers. That may sound as awful as a reality show can get, but that is not the case here. The contestants are so over the top and the challenges in which they compete are so stupid that the show really seems more of a clever parody of reality shows than an actual straightforward contest. In fact, each week I ask Linda if she isn't sure that this is some grand Christopher Guest-type mockumentary.

Take for example, the contestant who had been criticized by her fellow groomers for being a dumb blonde. She objected to being stereotyped based on her hair color, and went a long ways to destroying that stereotype when she corrected herself for saying we have seven sense. She had meant to say six senses. And she counted breathing as one of them.

Or how about the challenge where the groomers had to make designer dog biscuits. And Jorge, the flamboyant contestant from South America, said with great confidence, "How hard can it be to make a biscuit a dog will eat? They eat their own poo once in a while."

Throughout it all, Jai smiles, tells the contestants what their challenges are and at the end announces the judges' decisions. And he probably thanks his lucky stars that he got such a break with Queer Eye that he gets to be the host and doesn't have to actually have a conversation with the people who spend their lives clipping doggie toe nails and brushing away the matted fur around their butts.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Sweating Bullets

Today we were at the North Sydney markets loading up on all sorts of good food when I looked down to see my t-shirt was covered with big blotches of perspiration.

If genius is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration, call me Einstein. I don't even need to be moving to break into a sweat when it's the least bit humid. In fact, my body kind of works on a 30-second delay. While I will sweat up a little bit while walking or exercising, it's after I'm done and just sitting still that I start to look like Albert Brooks in that great flop sweat scene in Broadcast News. The term sweatshirt is meaningless because every shirt I own is likely to earn that title sooner or later.

So today when I looked down I realized I had few options. Since we were at the markets, I briefly thought I might try to convince someone that the sweat patterns looked a lot like the Virgin Mary and sell them my shirt for a couple of hundred dollars. The problem with that idea is that A) the patterns didn't really look like anything and B) I doubt that there is anyone in North Sydney who is religious enough to hand over their Visa to buy a sweaty miracle. Oh yes, and C) selling them my shirt meant I would be without one - and that would not be a good thing for the people trying to sell food there.

And to turn the Einstein quote on its head, today it was perspiration that caused inspiration as a line from the old Andy Griffith Show from the 60's popped into my mind. It was a line delivered by Goober Pyle that must have struck me silly as a teenager because I still remember it - or at least I did today. Trying to say something nice to a chubby girl, Goober had come up with, "For a fat girl, you don't sweat much."

And that got me thinking of all those other great comics of my youth.

Phyllis Diller - "She's so fat that when she sits around the house, she sits around the house."

Rodney Dangerfield - "I had a girlfriend that was so fat her belly button made an echo."

Henny Youngman - "My doctor said I was fat. I told him I wanted a second opinion."

And later, the very large Louie Anderson - "My first words were, 'Seconds, please'."

Well, you get the idea. Of course nowadays it's not politically correct for comedians to make fun of people who are overweight. There was a real brouhaha recently when Ricky Gervais (who acknowledges he is overweight himself) criticized people who have surgery to reduce their waistlines. When he was attacked for being insensitive to overweight people, his reply is screamingly funny. It's outrageous and very funny, but way too raunchy for many, so find it on google at your own risk. (And Mom and Dad and Peg, don't even try.)

But Gervais is undoubtedly the exception. In day-to-day life no one ever points out that I am a XXL sort of guy (no one, that is, except for that damned trainer cartoon on Wii Fit). Yet we all learn to substitute other words to make the same point. At the markets today several people looked at me and I am quite sure I overheard them saying to their friends, "Look at him. Isn't he one of the sweatiest men you've ever seen?"

Friday, February 20, 2009

Movie Money

My portfolio went up about $15,000 yesterday, making it worth more than $20 million.

No, no. Don't bother writing to ask for a loan. It's not real money, but a make-believe trading game based on movies. It's at (that stands for Hollywood Stock Exchange), and I have been playing this for at least nine years.

The game principally involves buying "shares" in movies. The price of the share is ultimately determined by the movie's US box office returns in its first four weeks, where one dollar in share price equals 1 million in box office. My biggest success by far happened this year when I read a rave review of Slumdog Millionaire and bought 50,000 shares at $2.75. I finally sold at $78, although if I had hung on another two weeks I would have made $11 more.

The game is fun for me, because I am an absolute junkie for reading movie reviews and articles about the film industry. I like to play a game with the Leonard Maltin movie guide, which is almost 1,600 pages long. I turn to any two pages and look to see if I have seen any of the movies on those pages. I have yet to find two pages where I haven't seen at least one and often quite a few more. I don't know what it says about me, but couch potato does come to my mind.

The irony of the HSX movie stock game (for me) is that because it is about future releases I am almost always relying on what other people are thinking about films rather than what I have seen. But I guess it really does mimic the actual stock market for most of us in that regard, except at HSX there is no mechanism to bail out the guys who gave bad advice.

One result of sites like this is that players actually get extremely good at predicting what is going to happen in real life. While it is hard to see how predicting a movie's opening box office would have much value, it's pretty easy to see how it could be applied, for example, to something like the IT industry, where spotting the next big thing could be very rewarding.

(And alternatively, spotting the next big flop might help avoid losses. Take it from a member of the founding editorial team of PCjr Magazine and still a proud possessor of a mini-CD recorder and player who has no mini-CDs to play on them.)

When I was running the company here, I begged, pleaded and ultimately demanded from the online team that we develop a site similar to HSX for our industry. Besides being able to get a handle on the future directions of our business, I argued that we would be able to build a strong community of people who exchanged their ideas and knowledge with one another - and us. Surely that would be good for a specialist publishing company.

I still think it was a great idea. However, it is a testament to my managerial skills and leadership clout that it never happened.

The funny thing is that our parent company ultimately did create just that sort of site in the US. It was a financial flop. But I am not sure it failed because it was a bad idea, but because there were already lots of other sites doing the same thing.

And it probably didn't help that they chose to re-use the name, The Industry Standard, our most famous and colossally failed business during the dot-com era. (Care to cruise on Titanic II? How about some aerial photography aboard the all-new Hindenburg?)

Based on the Hollywood Stock Exchange, there are certainly enough people to make such a site hop. After all these years I am now nearing the 93rd percentile among HSX players, meaning that only 7% of the people have a bigger portfolio than I do. But in real numbers, I rank only 55,400 which means I had better a few more Slumdogs this year because there are an awful lot of good players ahead of me.

Anyhow, every morning I check how I've done at HSX and once in awhile I will spend some time deciding what I want to buy next. Right now my hopes for the future rest on "X-Men Origins: Wolverine" and "Percy Jackson and the Lightning Thief". Which is probably quite odd since I would never spend the money to actually go to the theatre to watch either one of them. But I'm banking that lots of other people will.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Day Lily

One of the great things about not working is that I have had more time with the most perfect girl in the world.

When her mother has to work until six, she often asks me to pick up Lily from school. I like these afternoons when she and I get to spend some time alone together. The last couple of times, though, Lily has acted like a six-and-a-half-year old kid who has been cooped up at school all day and needs to release all that pent-up energy. I, of course, have acted like a 60-and-a-half-year old with the fitness level of a 71-year-old.

By the time Rachael picked her up, I needed a drink. Oh, come to think of it, that's true on the days when Lily isn't here, also. Thankfully, Lily was a lot quieter this week.

After I picked her up, I had had to fill up the car. I let her buy a snack at the service station. I am not sure, but it is just possible that eating almost an entire bag of Cheetos may have a tranquilizing effect on young kids. Or perhaps she was just tired. In any case, she was quite happy to drink a glass of chocolate milk and watch TV.

(And I know that is not the nutrition you should be giving a kid, but every once in a while a grandparent can get away with it. )

When we turned on the TV, they were just starting "Honey, I Blew Up the Kid". I had never seen this movie from 1992, but I knew it was from Disney so how bad could it be. Actually, we found out. About an hour into the film and Lily asked, "Is this movie for kids?" That must be one of the most damning criticisms I've heard, but I fully understood why she was asking.

But this post isn't about doing a review of a 17-year-old movie. It's about the fact that during the movie Lily moved on over to my lap and sat there while we finished watching it. I know I am a big sook when it comes to Lil, but there really aren't any nicer moments than when my favorite little girl in the world resting her head on my shoulder.

She's only a few months short of seven, so I know it will stop all too soon, but for now she likes a cuddle and I am only too happy to be her big teddy bear. And that's one of the best benefits of retirement that you won't see in any planning literature.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

The Muzak Box

Fifty years ago this month was "The Day the Music Died", when Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens died in a plane crash. It took karma fifty years and one week to fix that mistake, but it did so last week when Muzak died - or at least began the process by filing for bankruptcy.

Muzak made its now long-gone fortune by piping bland music into elevators, restaurants, lobbies, department stores and work places. The worst thing you could say about a band in the 60's was that they were like Muzak. The best thing you could say about Muzak itself is that it was really never meant to be listened to.

Muzak's music was always intended to be background noise. The company promoted itself in the 50's as a way of increasing productivity in the factories and sales in the stores. They produced all sorts of efficiency reports showing that a place with Muzak playing was a place where customers were paying.

Their studies also showed that the most effective music was bland, soft music of a certain tempo. Anyone stuck on an elevator stopping on every floor pretty quickly grew to hate Muzak. But that, of course, showed how correct the company was. Because almost no one ever talks on an elevator, when you are on one, suddenly the background noise is in the foreground and it's all you hear. It only took a couple of trips up and down a building for most people to become haters of elevator music.

But once back on the floor, the music faded into the background, making the place seem just that much nicer or more sociable or whatever else it was the Muzak thought it was accomplishing. And, of course, after more than 50 years of piping this stuff into just about every public place there is, we hear it all the time but we've all trained ourselves to automatically ignore it.

Probably the last time I noticed background music was a couple of years ago when Linda and I were on a cruise. Probably not surprisingly, we found ourselves in the bar as the ship left port, and the music was just some noise no one was listening to. But then they played a stringed up version of a song I so disliked that it moved its way to the front of my brain.

About 35 violins were working their way through "My Heart Will Go On". Hmm, I said to LK, I don't know about taking a cruise on a ship that plays the theme from Titanic as it leaves port. So I got another drink from the bar and forced myself to ignore the rest of the music.

Unlike the sound that was Muzak, there is another kind of music meant to be played in the background and I surprise myself by listening to it quite often lately while I am doing stuff on the computer. I stumbled upon a web site called This is not the kind of music I usually - or ever - listen to, but I thought it might be interesting.

It has turned out to be just that. It's not full of those awful songs they keep nominating for Oscars. Mostly it's orchestras playing the score for a scene from a wide variety of movies. Here's some of what I heard the other day:

WarGames - Arthur B. Rubinstein
Helicopter Pursuit & Launch Detected (1:20)

Open Range - Michael Kamen
Wagon Wheel (1:36)

Paperhouse - Hans Zimmer
I´ll Be Back (2:11)

Queen, The - Alexandre Desplat
Flowers Of Buckingham (2:07)

Rocker, The - Chad Fischer
The Rocker Score Suite (2:30)

Samsara - Cyril Morin
Dawa's Theme (2:16)

On The Beach - Christopher Gordon
The Burial Cloud: Flight Through The Apostles And Elegy (5:43)

Indiana Jones And The Last Crusade - John Williams
The Keeper Of The Grail (2:38)

The music is occasionally quite good, and almost never bad. And it is surprising to me how much music is being composed for movies and TV (and video games, too). I would guess they're the reason that any of our young composers even have a chance to have a career in a world that doesn't seem to disposed to going down to the symphony to check out the latest opus.

Anyhow, it's better background noise than Muzak. It was written to make a scene more dramatic or romantic or suspenseful or exciting. Not to increase sales by tricking part of a customer's brain into thinking they're in a friendly, happy environment.

Friday, February 13, 2009

A Balanced Decision

My name is Don, and I am a procrastinator. I thought having more time in retirement might cure it. I thought by writing about it and sharing that with my friends and family might do the trick. But time and confession have not cured it. I still procrastinate. In fact, my whole life seems to be run with the motto, "Never put off until tomorrow what you might be able to get away with never doing at all."

Take a couple of these posts as an example. In mid-September I wrote about our proud acquisition of the Big Green Egg, the superduper smoker/griller/barbecue. We had great plans for it. We were going to smoke fish and turkey legs and our own home-made sausages. Well, given that the cover has not yet come off five months later, you'd have to wonder if we weren't smoking something illegal ourselves when we decided to buy it.

The other procrastination is a bit less severe - I only stalled a couple of weeks. But if ever I start to feel vaguely guilty for not doing something promptly, this has cured me. Sometimes it is better to just wait. And wait some more.

On the last day of January I wrote about getting the fitness program that runs on the Wii. To no one's surprise, I am sure, I only got around to actually using it today. And that was because it was bucketing down rain and I didn't feel like combining the dog paddle with my daily walk.

Even back in January I had had my suspicions that this Wii Fit might not be all that enjoyable. Now that I've tried it, let me tell you it isn't. Oh, it's actually quite effective and entertaining as a workout program. But the stuff I had to go through in the process -- well, that was not fun.

First off it starts by measuring your weight, your body mass index and your balance. I have scales, so I knew what I weighed, and because I have not been able to convince LK to remove all the mirrors in the house, I also have a pretty good sense that my body has put the mass in massive.

So it was no surprise when the Wii told me I had weight issues. The fact that it had to use 10 to the third power to express my body mass index was odd, but I could bear it. But the Wii started to test my patience when it took my little cartoon character that I use with it and made his belly enormously round.

But it really was the balance assessment that made me realize Wii Fit and I were not going to be good friends. After having me do things like lean and stand on one foot, it proclaimed that I wasn't doing very well in the balance assessment. And then it asked me - and this is 100% true - "Do you fall over frequently when you are walking?"

The fact that I do in fact stumble occasionally in no way lessens how annoying it was to read that question on the TV screen. Fortunately it was a rhetorical question and I didn't have to answer it. The program then went on to calculate my fitness age. Turns out I have the agility, strength and fitness of a 71-year-old.

When I told my mother this, she didn't think that was too bad. I had to point out to her that it probably looks damned good for someone in their 80s, but it's not all that encouraging when you're only 60. Of course, it does make me one of the few 60-year-olds in the world who can set a target of being as fit as a 65-year-old for their workout regimen and be proud of improving to that level.

Anyhow, I wasn't about to let Wii's snide comments stop me in my quest for fitness. I started the program's activities. First came some yoga. I got pretty good scores on the breathing in and out part. But I suppose if you're not breathing in and out, no fitness program is going to help you much.

The program didn't like my hunter pose because it felt I was "fidgety", which meant I couldn't stand still while voguing. But it was the one-legged pose - in my case, think of it as The Fat Flamingo - that was, literally, my downfall.

Oops. You put your foot down, my screen instructor said. Oops yourself, I said. It was either that or fall into the new TV. Anyhow, I didn't get much of a score for that one, but I did get a label. Apparently I fell into the category that Wii Fit labels "Unbalanced".

In the course of my first workout, at least four other activities declared me to be unbalanced. I choose to believe that this refers to my physical state, because I don't know how they could evaluate my psychological condition. But it is a bit odd to have a now rolypoly cartoon character decide you are unbalanced.

The program does have some neat games that at least make it enjoyable to be working out. I tried the hula hoop and thought I was doing OK except the program kept pausing with a message saying the trick was to make a big circle with your hips. "That's what I'm doing, you dumb machine," I replied. "It's not my fault if you're too stupid to know it."

Probably the most fun is the ski slalom. The fact that I missed at least seven gates every time I played shows, I believe, a design flaw in the program. Also problematic was that this was one of the activites that decided I was unbalanced.

On the premise that it's probably not good to have the body of an unbalanced 71-year-old, I will persevere. Besides, I am assuming I will get better at most of this. Certainly I can't get much worse than I was on the stepping exercise. Basically, all you do is step forward or backwards or sideways based on the directions on the screen.

I thought I was doing OK until the program stopped four or five times with a message that said, "If you can't follow the directions easily, just watch the characters and do what they are doing." That made it easier until I fell over taking a step to the left. Fortunately, theWii couldn't tell that I had stumbled. It just assumed I was too tired to continue. It ranked my results on this activity as "Couch Potato", which surely must be better than "Unbalanced".

See. Already I was showing improvement. On to tomorrow.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

A Post in Which I Admit I Was Wrong, I Was Wrong Again, I Hid Something from My Mother and I Refuse a Challenge

We had a great morning today. A friend we haven't seen in more than a year was in Sydney and came over for breakfast. Since he left the company, Mark has been travelling the world (mostly Pacific islands and Central and South America) and we were lucky enough for him to find time to stop over before heading off to Singapore, Vietnam, China and Russia before eventually finding his way back to the UK.

He had great stories, and looked great. It was fantastic catching up.

If I am going to post today, though, I am going to have to be quick about it, so I will just do a few updates to some of the most recent posts.

1)Two days ago I wrote this about my new friend Shane the Plumber:

He is coming back tomorrow to correct whatever it was he did. I assume he will turn some handle ten degrees and everything will be fixed. Or, just as likely, he will tell me it was nothing he caused and we need thousands of dollars of repairs. Because with my new friend, I am starting to wonder if I am going to take a bath before I can take a shower.

Well, Shane came by yesterday afternoon. He turned some handle ten degrees and everything was fixed. He was very embarrassed that he had forgotten to do that the last time. I told him not to feel bad because we all make mistakes. (Like me, thinking he was conning me. Only I didn't tell him, of course.)

Linda was delighted to have full pressure in the shower and the washing machine. She did, however, keep mentioning that if I had called three weeks ago it would have made life a lot easier. I told her we all make mistakes. Like me, thinking everything would fix itself without calling the plumber back.

2.) In that post about my long-haired days, I wrote:

I can also remember my parents being - as always - tolerant of the goofy look I was sporting. But I don't recall too many people being invited over whenever I visited them.

Let's just say that my mother did not agree with my memory. "We had people over when you visited," she said. "I don't know why you would think we didn't. Besides lots of people were wearing their hair that way back then."

On the joint principles that A) you never argue with your mother and B) I can't remember things from last week let alone 30 years ago, I humbly apologize to my mother. Which is more than I did with Shane the Plumber.

3.) In the post about my brother Bob's birthday, I wrote about playing a rather rough game with him and our chihuahua. It was called Buttons Ball, and it was not so much a game as a scientific experiment to prove that the smaller the creature, the tougher they are.

The day after the post, I was talking with my Dad who quietly told me that my mother was a bit surprised because she never knew I did that with my 9-year-old brother when I was babysitting.

I was obviously not having a good blogging week with Mom. But if she was surprised at some of the things she didn't know I did when I was 17, wait until I work my way up into my 30's! Actually, given her reaction to the post about my long hair, maybe I won't get into all of that.

(By the way, in case you missed the comment to my post about Bob's birthday, I once again made my sister-in-law Sandy cry. I am beginning to feel like I am the donut shop of blogging. Cry at twelve of the posts and you get the next one free.)

4.) In the post following up on the New Year resolutions, I confessed that I hadn't been very rigorous in following the South Beach Diet. Well, technically that's not true. I was rigorous, but only for a day or two.

Soon after that I received an email from my friend Robert. He is challenging me to a weight loss competition. He suggested that between now and June 4, we would see who could lose the most weight. His rules are relatively straightforward:

1. You cannot stop drinking your cruse ship standard alcohol intake." Happy Hour two for one & wine with dinner "
2. No liposuction.
3. No cutting you head off for an extra 10 lbs weight loss.
4. No Linda can't hold your legs up while you sit on the scales for extra weight reduction.
5. Yes you have to put your entire mass on the scales now and again on June 4, 2008.

I haven't answered him yet because I cannot decide whether to accept his challenge like a man or waddle away in disgrace.

My biggest issue is that I don't think of weight loss as a competitive event. Sure, they have eating contests - who can eat the most hot dogs, pies, or whatever. But going in the other direction losing weight just doesn't seem like much of a sport to me. If it's going to go ahead, at the very least it will need to be set up like boxing or wrestling. I obviously would compete in the super heavyweight division, but you could have different levels - middleweight, welterweight (whatever that means), lightweight, featherweight and bulimic.

My second biggest problem is that by eliminating liposuction and not letting me have Linda hold my legs up while weighing myself, Robert is proposing rules that are obviously designed to make me lose.

If I do go ahead with this, I have decided that I will tell him that as of today I weigh 475 pounds. That should make it relatively easy to beat him - and let him try to prove otherwise! My mother didn't raise her boy to be a liar. But then, perhaps I should leave her out of this one given the week I've had.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Cold Truth

On the great scale of things that can go wrong with you, catching a summer cold probably ranks no more than 1 or 2 out of 100. But when it is your head cold with your eyes burning, your throat sore, your lungs wheezing -- well, it just seems that it is more significant than that.

To be honest, I haven't even entered that stage where I can claim to be ill. Today is more of a "Is this a really bad allergy attack or a slowly developing cold?" day. But I have one clue that it's a cold and not hay fever. I am feeling sorry for myself.

With even bad allergies, I never feel bad for myself. I think there's a psychology at play there. I know that allergies are just the body overreacting to pollen or some other foreign invader getting into the system. Kind of a Bush-Cheney way of dealing with dust and plants. It may not be pleasant. It certainly is not effective. But at least it is a sign of strength, however miserable the end result makes us. But in the face of all this, we simply do not feel sorry for ourselves.

But a cold is so passive. Some virus has jumped up our nose and is now marching through our respiratory system like Sherman through Georgia. And in the ultimate sign of passivity, the medical community seems powerless in the face of this attack. There is no cure for the common cold, they tell us, and you kind of get the impression that they really don't care all that much.

The best you can do is make yourself comfortable, drink lots of water, take an antihistamine and an aspirin or two and rest. That's what LK does when she catches a cold. Then she basically does a Garbo and firmly lets me know she wants to be alone.

But I am a guy, and we aren't wired that way. If I have the sniffles, then give me a hug. Plump up my pillow. Check for a fever by placing the back of your hand on my brow. Kiss the top of my head. Surprise me with a cup of tea, even though I don't ever drink it.

Give a man a serious injury or disease, and most of the ones I know are incredibly stoic, quietly dealing with the challenge. But give us a little thing like a cold and most want to revert to when we were six-years-old and mother did her best to make the little darlings comfortable.

I am guessing here, but I wonder if it isn't all part of our DNA. Men want to be "mothered" when ill because we have such hardwired memories from when we were babies and mother took care of us during illness.

Let's face it, the words say it all. Men may like being mothered, but have you ever heard anyone say, "When I have a cold, I just want to be fathered."

The very meaning of the words is telling. To "father" is to create life, but the word is not used to extend to that more difficult bit about raising the bubs for the next 20 or so years. But to "mother" means to nurture and care for. It may not be very 21st Century, but the very language we use reveals the oldest of old-fashioned thinking.

But perhaps the most telling use of words is one I have heard my beloved proclaim just about every time I have a cold. "Men are such big babies."

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Plumbing the Depths

I am starting to rethink my belief that, given time, many inanimate objects that aren't working properly will fix themselves. Call it the Natural Healing Spirit of Things. I am aware that I am probably one of only a few people who actually believes this, but it has happened enough that I accept it not so much as an article of faith, but a blind trust in dumb luck.

Now I am not so sure. Before Christmas our kitchen tap started dripping. But I wasn't too worried, pretty sure that one day soon the tap would stop dripping.

So I ignored Linda when she kept complaining about the water we were wasting. (OK, let me be more precise. I never ever ignore Linda. I just didn't get around to doing anything about it.) And I kept on not doing anything until even I had to acknowledge that the drip was getting worse each day.

In this way I discovered there is a treasure trove of do-it-yourself information on the web. I knew from a handyman who had done some work around here that this was a cartridge-type tap, and you don't just replace a washer. "It's a plumber's job," he said.

Just for the fun of it, I did a little web research. There are ample sites with instructions on how to replace the cartridge. This, for example, from


* Shut off water supply valves then drain lines by turning faucet on.
* Pry off decorative cover and remove screw cap.
* Pull spout assembly off.
* Pull retainer clip from its slot.
* Using pliers, lift cartridge out of body. Note position of cartridge ears so that when replacing, they are in identical position.
* Remove "O" rings by prying away from body and rolling new ones into place, or replace entire cartridge.
* Reverse procedure for reassembly.

But given my d-i-y skill sets, I was quite sure that prying off the decorative cover and removing the screw cap was looking way too challenging. And the rest was only marginally easier to understand than hieroglyphics.

So a quick google, a phone call to a company I had never heard of, and a plumber was on the way. And here's where I wonder if maybe - just maybe - I should have given the tap a little more time to heal itself.

First I got a call from my new friend Shane the Plumber who was at the plumbing supply store to get the cartridge prior to coming over. Unfortunately it was out of stock and apparently out of the country. Did I want to wait a couple more weeks or would I rather just replace the tap?

Having already waited so long, I decided it was time to stop the drip so a new tap it was to be.

It was also several years past the replacement date for the pressure valve on our hot water tank, so I had Shane do that. It was at this point that he told me I needed something or other that would extend the life of the heater and it only cost a little bit more. So, in for a penny. Or actually it was now starting to be quite a few pennies, but you get the idea.

Shane then pointed out that for just a few dollars more I could join their preferred customer group (which I think of as their Frequent Flusher Club). Joining it will save me heaps of money on any further service calls. OK, may as well.

Shane also offered his company's absolutely free inspection of all our plumbing. I told him we really didn't need anything else, but since it seemed to be the only free thing that was going to happen that afternoon I took him up on it.

There was good news. Everything was in good shape. Which just goes to show you that it's all in the timing. Because within 24 hours after Shane left with about three times the money I expected to spend, something happened that screwed up our water pressure.

A couple of times in the morning, there was barely a trickle coming out of the upstairs taps. Linda got quite grumpy when the washing machine took about 30 minutes longer than normal to fill up. So I did what anyone in my position would do. I did nothing, assuming it would fix itself. That was three weeks ago.

But on Sunday Linda had been out in the backyard on a very hot and sunny afternoon. When she came in to take her shower, she was not amused when absolutely no water came out of the shower head. I was pretty sure the pressure was down because the timer had just come on for the drip irrigation system. Either that or one of our neighbors had figured out how to divert our water supply - kind of like a Greenwich-based version of the movie Chinatown.

I must have been right because the water pressure eventually came back about half an hour later, even though the irrigation system never caused pressure problems in the previous seven years.

So yesterday I rang and booked my new friend Shane. He is coming back tomorrow to correct whatever it was he did. I assume he will turn some handle ten degrees and everything will be fixed. Or, just as likely, he will tell me it was nothing he caused and we need thousands of dollars of repairs. Because with my new friend, I am starting to wonder if I am going to take a bath before I can take a shower.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

He Ain't Heavy, But He's My Brother

Today is the 53rd anniversary of one of the best days of my life. My brother Bob was born this day, and as you can see from this early picture of us, he immediately removed all the pressure for me to be the cute one in the family.

I was nearly eight years older than him so in the first few years I was more often a baby sitter than a buddy. And later I missed all of his high school years, having moved out and started my own family long before then. It is a real joy for me that despite all that we have become very close friends as adults.

Bob was almost the opposite of me as a kid. He was an incredibly natural athlete, whereas I was - and am - not. Bob excelled in baseball and basketball. I feel proud when I walk a full block without stumbling.

But DNA always ends up showing through and we do share more or less the same hairline and sense of humor. In fact, I do not believe I laugh as much or as hard as I do when he and I are together.

Bob's a hard worker, a great father and in recent years has been a fabulous son, helping my folks in so many ways while their other son sits writing blogs half a world away. But this is a post celebrating his birthday, not a homegrown episode of "This Is Your Life". So let me wrap it up with one of my favorite memories.

I was 17 at the time, and he was 9. I was big. He was whatever size a 9-year-old is. When my parents went out, I was the default babysitter. But unlike somewhat more sedate nannies, the sound of their car leaving the driveway was often the starting whistle for a game of Buttons Ball.

Buttons was our chihuahua. Typical of the breed she was dumb and aggressive. Buttons Ball was a pretty simple game. One of us would take Buttons' toy ball and have to hold onto it for, if memory serves me right, a count of 10. It was the job of the other guy to do whatever he could to wrestle the ball out of his opponent's hand and begin the ten count himself. No punching or kicking, but no Marquis of Queensbury rules, either.

Wait, you're saying. You were a fully grown 17-year-old, and he was a little 9-year-old. Well, that's true but the matches were usually quite even. That's partly because Bob was tough, strong and agile. And I wasn't. But mostly it was because Buttons was also playing.

This dog the size of a large rat was ferocious when we held her ball and she wanted it. She would yelp and growl, and when she saw even a bit of the ball she would scratch madly at your hand as she growled, trying to grab the ball in her teeth.

So you need to picture me as Big Guy desperately clutching the ball, while little guy is doing his best to bend my fingers back past breaking point, and all the while the yappy rat dog was baring her teeth and clawing at the skin on my hands.

It was a great game. We couldn't wait for the folks to leave. I don't remember much about the outcome of the Buttons Ball matches, but I do recall one of my friends at high school looking at me oddly when he asked why I had all these welts on the back of my hands and I told him I had babysat my brother the night before.

Happy birthday, Bob.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Hair Apparent

Gimme a head with hair,
Long beautiful hair
Shining, gleaming,
Streaming, flaxen, waxen

Give me down to there hair
Shoulder length or longer
Here baby, there mama
Everywhere daddy daddy

Hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair, hair
Flow it, show it
Long as God can grow it
My hair

Gerome Ragni and James Rado
from Hair: The American Tribal Love-Rock Musical


Despite what I write, Linda doesn't really nag me. I guess that after 25 years it only takes a look or a tone of voice to deliver a shorthand version of a full-blown nag. But yesterday, in her own way, she nagged me about getting a haircut.

I haven't had one since September, and my hair is getting a wee bit long in the back. Obviously, there is no need to write about the length in the front.

Linda seems quite worried that I will soon be wearing a ponytail and looking like a silly old fart who doesn't even know how silly he looks. Or to be more precise, I think she is worried that she will have to go out in public with a silly old fart who doesn't know how silly he looks.

I am posting this picture from 1973 for two reasons. One, to let Linda know that by earlier standards today's 'do isn't even close to meeting my definition of long hair. And two, to show her that when it was indeed long hair, I preferred the "let-it-flow-like-the-prophets-did" look rather than the "aging-ad-agency-creative-type-with-ponytail" look.

Back in the early '70s I was a moving haystack - beard down to my chest, hair to the shoulder blades. You can complete the mental picture with my standard costume of bib overalls and, in the winter, a hunting jacket. I can no longer recall what made me choose this look, but I suspect I may have been overly influenced by the movie "Deliverance". I am pretty sure I wasn't going for the "Fat Country Jesus" look.

By the time of this picture, we had already gone through the hippie era and come out the other side. The Summer of Love had moved onto the Fall of Saigon, so it was not as if I was just adopting the same look as most other people. In fact, I can remember that I became known for having the longest beard and hair at the university where I was doing my graduate work.

(I can also remember my parents being - as always - tolerant of the goofy look I was sporting. But I don't recall too many people being invited over whenever I visited them.)

I also do not have any memory of why I finally trimmed the beard and cut the hair. I can only guess that it had to do with finally leaving university and having to get a job. Or perhaps there's an even more likely reason. Around this time I went through my first divorce. Let's face it, there's only a limited set of women who get turned on by a guy who looks like lead singer for ZZ Top.

Those are the singers who were offered a million bucks each by Gillette to shave their beards for a commercial. They turned it down with a reason that, in hindsight, I can fully understand. They told Gillette, "We're too ugly without 'em."

Anyhow, got to run now. I have a 9:30 appointment to get my hair cut.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Buddy, Can You Spare a Million?

The global economic crisis is pretty much mucking up everyone's life right now, but once in a while amidst the gloom something funny shines through. Today was one of them.

Imagine working for one of the big US banks that needs government bailout funds. If you didn't get a pink slip last month, now you're finding out you can't make more than $500,000 this year. Life's tough, isn't it?

When Obama decided today that beggars can't be millionaires, it started some of TV's greatest comic moments. Analysts who last month were showing their great sympathy by applauding companies for cutting 10,000 jobs are now on air talking about what a mistake it is for the government to cap executive salaries at an amount most people only dream about. That amount, in fact, is 20 percent higher than the president himself makes (but then again, he gets room and board for the whole family thrown in).

One Wall Street "expert" was just on CNN saying that it is always a mistake when the government tries to control how business operates. On the surface that makes sense. Government does indeed screw up most things it tackles.

But when this guy says this pay cap will make these businesses run less well, he makes me laugh. These are the companies that were already so poorly run that they had to borrow taxpayer funds to buy a big enough beggar's bowl to hold the billions they needed from Washington. Surely even a Washington bureaucrat can't screw them up much more than their current crew has done. And if they do, at least we won't be paying them millions to do it.

The logic of Obama's proposal seems overwhelming to me. If you can't run your company well enough to avoid corporate welfare, then you can't make more than $500,000 a year. If anything, most people would think these folks are getting overpaid at that amount.

But the reaction has been hysterical. It is a challenge beyond even the best spinmeister to convince people to let these guys gorge themselves at the trough, when it's your money that filled up the trough in the first place. It is too early for polls right now, but I doubt that there will be too many people sympathizing with people who ONLY make half a mill a year.

The most interesting thing, though, has been the psychology of Obama's decision. He was visibly angry last week when he heard about the Wall Street bonuses going out to executives in companies receiving bailout funds. LK said it best, I think, when she heard about the pay cap proposal - "I don't think people are going to want to piss this guy off too much in the future."

Of course, for every yin there's a yang. I should add that the pay cap may not hurt these fat cats as much as some fear. Based on many of Obama's cabinet picks, it looks like he isn't too fussed about whether they pay their taxes on time.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

A Man of High Resolve

OK, no more excuses. Back to the blog posts.

I had a great excuse for not writing on Monday. The Super Bowl began a little after 10 in the morning, and by the time it was done much of the afternoon had slipped away, as well. It's still very strange to be drinking your last cup of morning coffee as they toss the coin for a football game. I know some people here who recorded it so they could have a proper beer and a bowl of chili with their game, rather than coffee and a croissant. But I hate watching recorded sports. Don't know why, especially if I don't know the score. But it just doesn't feel like the real thing.

No excuses for not posting yesterday. I did start writing some other non-blog stuff, and was pretty much done with any more writing when I finished. I will have to figure out how to switch from one mode to another. But I figure anybody who was once able to write corporate marketing material in the morning and "The Underpants Man" that night should regain that versatility in retirement.

Now that February is here it's probably a good time to check on the New Year resolutions I made. This will be quick.

First, I resolved to get a hair cut and not wear just t-shirts and shorts every day. I am probably getting a hair cut this week. I did wear a polo shirt and chinos three times last month - once to a friend's for lunch, once to the eye doctor and then to the Glen Hansard concert. So more or a less a tick mark for that one.

Resolution No 2 was starting the South Beach diet again. Big tick. Fortunately, the resolution required starting the diet, but it did not require staying on the diet. Otherwise my efforts might not count for much. I know it's nitpicking, but I treat New Year resolutions as legal documents and pick them apart like a lawyer hungry for a case. Anyhow, I did start the diet. Three days later I said to hell with the part about not having a glass of wine at night. Two days after that, the lure of potatoes overwhelmed me.

Resolution No 3 was that I would eventually start writing to all the people I should be writing to. In the spirit of legal technicalities, I never set a starting date so this one is still alive, even though I haven't written to anyone yet. I really plan to. Really.

So there you go. Looks like I did pretty well with these resolutions this year. Or to be more precise, I did pretty well writing them so that I could avoid feeling even the tiniest bit of guilt when I didn't bother to keep them more or less within a few days of making them.