Recent Reading

One nice thing about the long plane and train rides on my trip to Finland was that it gave me time to read (especially on the flight home, when the power at my seat wasn’t working!).  And the lack of English-language newspapers encouraged me to read the books that I’d brought with me instead of blowing my time on USA Today.

On the flight to Finland, I mostly read magazines I’d brought along to read and discard, as well as doing some reading in preparation for the session, but I did squeeze in one book, Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders, by John Mortimer.  Since Leo Kern is no longer with us, I guess this will never be turned into a TV production, but I could hear him thundering in my head anyway, along with the rest of the cast (especially She Who Must Be Obeyed).  This was a quick read, but definitely fun — recommended.

In Tampere, I found myself eating dinner alone most evenings (my IBM contact recommended I stay at the Tampere City Center, which was quite nice, but almost everyone else was at a slightly less-expensive hotel, the Cumulus, four long and cold blocks away).  Fortunately, the dining room was well enough lit to let me read while I waited for my meals; the book which kept me company was Bill Bryson’s A Short History of Nearly Everything.  I enjoyed Bryson’s wandering around cosmology, evolution, and other scientfic topics nearly as much as I’d liked his Notes from a Small Island, and considerably more than I’m a Stranger Here Myself, which, as a collection of columns, was less consistent than the other books of his that I’ve read.

I was sufficiently busy throughout my stay in Finland that I didn’t finish the Bryson until the end of my flight to Frankfurt.  So I started Neil Gaiman’s American Gods partway across the Atlantic.  I’d been meaning to read it for quite a while, probably ever since I saw it win the Hugo at ConJosé, but I knew I’d need a concentrated chunk of time, and the flight seemed like the perfect opportunity.  I’m not sure I got out of my chair after starting the book — and, even though I was exhausted when I got home, I continued reading it, and finished it on Sunday.  It’s been a long time since I’ve been that intensely involved in a book or had finished a long novel so quickly.  I strongly recommend the book, and am planning to read more of his stuff soon.

I enjoyed getting back to reading SF so much that I decided to read another novel almost immediately, Ken MacLeod’s Cosmonaut Keep.  I’d seen MacLeod on many panels at Interaction, where he struck me as intelligent and entertaining, so I put him on my “to read” list, and put the book in my briefcase, where it made several long trips without being opened.  But I pulled it out after this trip, and started it a couple of days ago.  I didn’t have quite as much free time available to read it as I might have liked, so I had to split the book over several evenings, but it was well worth the time — lots of ideas and politics, not to mention sex, drugs, and some awful lines from SF of the past.  This book is the first of a series, and I’m looking forward to reading the others. 

But not yet — I’ve also been getting the library at work to buy books for me (not fiction, at least not deliberately so), and it’s probably a good idea to finish them and make them available to folks on the waiting list.  So the next book I plan to read is Freakonomics, which made its first trip in my briefcase on Friday night.  I’m on jury duty next week, so I may have some good blocks of reading time available.

Home is where the activity is

Note to my readers:  if you’re expecting anything profound, read some other posting.

I managed to stay awake, if not entirely coherent, until a normal bedtime on Saturday night.  But when I finally did go to sleep, I slept well and for a long time — Diane convinced me to get out of bed fairly late on Sunday morning.

I’d gained weight in Finland (no surprise there!), and so I knew I needed to start working it off.  So I went to the JCC and managed to do a reasonable time on the treadmill, but I gave up after only a few weight machines.

The rest of the day passed uneventfully.

Monday, it was back to work; I’d been keeping up on my e-mails, so I didn’t have the inbox from hell to worry about, but I did have to get back to work on my projects.  There was one break, though — one of my colleagues celebrated his 40th anniversary at IBM, so there was coffee and cake and a good time (the caffeine was welcome, but I probably should have skipped the cake).

I like to go to the JCC on Tuesday mornings, but that wasn’t possible this week; I had an early call, and then a colleague from Phoenix was in town.  We had collaborated on some articles last year, and needed to decide what kind of follow-on activity we might undertake, so we’d blocked out the entire morning to make BIG PROGRESS.  After some discussion and serious thought, we decided that neither of us could commit to a major activity at this time, so I erased the workplan from my whiteboard (it’s saved in my mail, anyway).  That was BIG PROGRESS, though not quite what we’d expected when we scheduled the meeting.

Yesterday, I took advantage of technology and handled my first call of the day while waiting for the 5,000 mile service for Diane’s Prius; I had hoped to do that on Monday, but every time I called the dealer, they told me that there was a 90-minute or longer wait for the “Express Lube”, which didn’t seem very express to me!  Wednesday morning was a much better time to go; I think the whole process took less than an hour (I’m not sure, because I was on the phone for most of the time).

Then I drove home to meet the insurance inspector — he was there to look at the roof damage we took on New Year’s Day.  In the meantime, I’ve gotten estimates from three roofers (they vary widely, so I need to be sure that they’re all specifying the same work), and we’ll get the process started next week.  Fortunately, the tarpaper stayed intact, so we don’t have to take urgent action.

Today, I did manage to hit the JCC first thing, and then it was a full day of fun, excitement, and meetings.  I took advantage of my time on the treadmill to finish listening to the “Getting Things Done…Fast” CDs that a colleague had lent me; I found them helpful, but they wouldn’t have been nearly as useful if I hadn’t already read the GTD book.  I am a long way from being a black belt, but my inbox is empty, and that’s a start.  I need to get up the courage and initiative to tackle the home office next — there are dozens of projects waiting to be defined!

Home again, efficiently

My flight from Helsinki was supposed to leave at 7:15am, so I booked a taxi for 5:15am.  Even though it was snowing, I was still at the airport by 5:40am, and completely checked in and through security by 5:50am.  I guess I could have slept later.

Most of the shops were already open, and Stockmann opened at 6:15, so I did some last minute candy-buying (I thought about bringing smoked salmon or smoked trout home, but I was worried about not being able to keep it cold), and still had 20 minutes to kill in the SAS/Star Alliance lounge. 

European airline lounges are different from the Admirals Club.  They always have a variety of things to eat and drink, all for free (and yes, there was wine, beer, and hard liquor available at 6:30am!), as well as an assortment of newspapers and magazines.  My Admirals Club membership is going to expire next month, and I’m not sure I’m going to bother to renew it — I don’t fly American as much as I used to, and the benefits of the club seem to be diminishing every year.

The plane had to be de-iced before we could leave, and then the captain announced that we were going to be flying without water (and so no coffee!), but he thought that was better than waiting around for an hour or two until they could fix it.  I thought so, too, since my connection in Frankfurt was only an hour.

Well, it was supposed to be an hour.  But we had to be de-iced in Helsinki and were in a holding pattern in Frankfurt, so, even though I was the first person off the plane, I had only 30 minutes before my flight home was due to take off.  And, of course, it was at the other end of the concours.  And I had to go through passport control and security.  I wasn’t optimistic, especially considering they’d made an announcement on the plan urging US-bound passengers to go directly thru security as “the procedures are time-consuming”.

There was a line at passport control, but there was also a pointer to “additional passport control” a few meters away, so I went there.  At first, I thought that had been a mistake, as I only saw lines for EU passport holders and for crew, but they were taking everyone, and I had no trouble.  Elapsed time: 3 minutes.

Security had a longer line — there was a separate line for First/Business passengers, which helped a bit.  What helped more was my asking several people ahead of me when their flight was — and everyone whose flight was after mine offered to let me go ahead of them.  I was impressed.  Screening was thorough — they use a hand wand for everyone, rather than having you walk through a magnetometer as happens in the US.  And, although I had to remove the computer from its case, I didn’t have to remove my shoes.  Total time in security: 10 minutes.

From there, it was a quick dash to another barrier whose purpose I didn’t take the time to understand, but which had a very short line, and then a hike to the end of the terminal.  I was on the plane by 9:40, 15 minutes after getting off the incoming flight.

I think they held the plane for some late arrivals, because they didn’t close the doors until 10:05 or so.  By that time, I was settled in and ready to go home.

I thought the food in this direction was better than my outbound trip — it was inspired by Chef Tam Kok Kong of the China Club Berlin.   The wine list was the same, but this time I remembered to ask about the Wine of the Month, which was a 2000 Pierre/Rodet Beaune Premier Cru (I should have been more careful in copying down the label!).  It was very pleasant, but I preferred the 2003 Dornfelder Classic.

We arrived on time; my luggage was one of the last bags to be unloaded (I guess it had a hard time making the connection in Frankfurt, too), but I was still home by 2pm — just in time to go out with Diane and Jeff for lunch at Willow Street Pizza in Los Gatos.

And even though it was raining a little bit at home, it was much easier to deal with than the weather in Helsinki today: snowing most of the day, with highs near zero Fahrenheit.  It’s good to be home!

Finnishing up my trip

Most of this trip has basically been a business trip like so many others — I knew I was in Finland, but it wasn’t terribly important.  That started to change last night when I went out in the cold and had dinner at a Viking restaurant (ok, a Viking-themed restaurant).  And today, the business of the trip took a back seat to being in Finland (though for anyone at IBM who’s interested, I am checking and dealing with email!).

I started the day with breakfast, as usual; but since I didn’t have to rush out of the meeting, I followed it with a trip to the hotel sauna.  It was an indoor sauna (of course), and there wasn’t the option of going into the snow or diving into icy water, but I enjoyed it anyway and left feeling quite clean and nicely warm.

The warm part didn’t last long.  I wanted to visit the Lenin Museum.  It was only a mile or so from the hotel, so I decided to walk — the sun was out, and I was wearing my long underwear, so how bad could it be?

That bad. In Fahrenheit, it’d be -11. That’s cold. And there was a breeze, too.

Soon, I crossed the river, which was flowing briskly along, steaming merrily along the way.

A few minutes later, I found myself at the entrance of the Lenin Museum, which occupied the third floor of the Tampere Worker’s Hall.

I went in, paid my four Euros, and spent an hour or so looking around. All of the items were in Russian, and all of the explanatory material was in Finnish. Fortunately, there was an English translation available which I carried around the museum. I’m not sure I know that much more about Lenin now than I did when I went in, but it was an experience only available in Tampere.

I left the museum and hiked back to the hotel. This time, I didn’t stop to take any pictures.

After packing and checking out, I walked across the street to go back to Helsinki. I found a ticket office immediately and bought my ticket, discovering that the trains to Helsinki were running about 90 minutes late. Luckily, one ran every hour, so they sold me a ticket for a train which should have already been in Helsinki but which was due in about 30 minutes, and I went to find lunch.

I was lucky (or maybe smart) and got my chicken kebab to go, because the train made up some time and was in the station when I left the shop. So I ran to the train and jumped into the closest car. I had seat 42, and it was free, but I was in the wrong car — car 5. I should have been in car 2. I wasn’t sure how long the train was going to stay in Tampere, so I dragged my suitcase through the crowds, up and down stairs, and through the dining car, finally arriving in car 2 a few seconds after the train had started moving.

The rest of the trip to Helsinki was uneventful, except that it started to snow about 20 minutes out of the city. And it kept snowing. But it was easy to get a taxi, and I was once more ensconced at the Scandic Grand Marina by 3:30.

I didn’t want to stay in the room, so I braved the snow and wandered downtown, where I had some gelato at Stockmann (quite good!). By the time I left the store, it was fully dark; I walked over to Senate Square to see how the Lutheran Cathedral looked in the snow.

Not too good, but when I tried again without flash, it looked far less leprous.

I had had several restaurants suggested to me before I left, but none of them were very close to the hotel, and I thought I’d had enough winter for the day anyway. So I had dinner in the hotel restaurant. But unlike the Scandic City Centre in Tempere, this restaurant had some Finnish dishes. In particular, it offered a smoked reindeer appetizer, so I ordered it (along with the nearly inevitable Lapin Kulta). It was tasty — a bit stronger tasting than beef, but not overpowering. I thought about having the reindeer steak for my main course, but decided it was likely to be more than I wanted and ordered the vegetarian pasta instead. The portion was huge, and I only finished half of it.

Then it was time for one more sauna before calling it a night — this time, I didn’t feel rushed, and I made two cycles through the process. I could get used to saunas.

But I’d rather go home. Morning will come early, but it’ll be worth it!

3db behind schedule, but I’m leaving early anyway

Today was the third and last day of the DBE review.  I am happy to have spent the whole day inside (the high temperature today has been -21C (-5F), and the sun set about an hour ago), but it’s been a very long day.  We’ve just (at 4:50pm) finished the presentation which was supposed to have been completed at 12:30 — fortunately, the rest of the schedule was devoted to “discussion and feedback”, which got truncated.  We finished the session at 6:30, though the final readout from the reviewers was delayed until 8:30, back at the hotel where most people were staying.

I joined the crowd to wait for the results — as you might guess, most of the waiting happened in the hotel bar, where I tried yet another local beer, Koff.  I didn’t like it as much as Lapin Gold, but it was much better than Karjala.

After the review, the IBM team went to a local restaurant which was not in a hotel — Harald.  I wasn’t hungry enough for a full meal, so I passed on the reindeer sword; instead, I had some mushroom soup and a “chicken small bread”.  It was good, and I’d happily go back, preferably at an earlier hour — we left at 11:30pm local time, and that only because I insisted.

The temperature was down to -24C, so we took a taxi back to the hotel, where I called Amex and switched my flight home to be Saturday instead of Sunday.  I’ll still do some sightseeing in Tampere on Friday, and probably get to Helsinki early enough to see some more of the city, but there will be other trips, possibly even in warmer weather, and a week away from home seems long enough for this round.

Tunes that won’t go away

Many years ago, I used to go to filk sessions at conventions — I still vividly remember one session at the first Westercon we went to at the Sheraton Palace in San Francisco, when we were moved out of the hallway and into the ladies’ lounge (which shocked a few mundanes who wanted to actually use the restroom).  I’ve forgotten most of the filk songs from that era, but I’ve suddenly been reminded of the old classic, “If it tastes like cardboard, it must be skiffy”, sung to the tune of “Shine On Harvest Moon”:

Cylons, Cylons carve up moons
Out of the sky.
They killed all the colonists
on Aries, Sagittarius, and both Gemini.
Microns aren’t as small
As microns used to be.
Oh, Cylons, sigh along with me
For you and your show.

Why do I mention this song now, you may ask? It’s because I’ve noticed that the connection from this meeting is in the domain, which I find enormously amusing. 

Oh, yeah, and Battlestar Galactica has been revived.  Fortunately, it’s better this time around.

There goes the world….

I’m back in the DBE meeting today, having been formally introduced as a member of the Strategic Advisory Board for the project.  It’s cold in Tampere, currently -17C (but at least it’s above zero Fahrenheit!), but since I’m inside, that doesn’t matter much.  The sun was out for the first time since I’ve been in Finland, which was nice; I say was, though, because they’ve just closed all of the curtains in the room, so now it’s dark in here again.

At least I’m on the same side of the room as the reviewers, so I can follow what’s happening better — that’s good, because today’s session is for the Computing Domain of the project, which is the part I was brought in to advise.  Time to concentrate….

Where am I?

By the time I got back to the hotel, I was tired enough that I didn’t want to go out for dinner.  Instead, I went back to the hotel restaurant — Piazza Foodfactory — where I had what I guess must be a typical Finnish meal: tapas as an appetizer, and “salmon wok” for the main course.  The food in the restaurant is good, but there’s definitely no sense of place — the decor is that of an upscale food court, and the menu features curries, wok dishes, pastas, pizzas, and burgers.  There doesn’t appear to be any reindeer or bear available, either — plenty of turkey, beef, chicken, pork, tuna, and salmon, though.

At least they do feature Finnish beers; I’d had Lapin Kulta on draft the first night (as well as in Helsinki), which was pretty good.  But I wanted to try a different beer this time, so I had a bottle of Karjala.  It was nondescript.  As it happens, both beers are brewed by the same company, Hartwall, which is now owned by Scottish & Newcastle of the UK.  I’ll have to check out the beer menu at the restaurant to see if they feature other S&N beers (perhaps Newcastle Brown Ale), but I’ll probably go back to the Lapin Kulta. 

The house wines, by the way, are from Ernest and Julio Gallo, speaking of a lack of place.

To be fair, I should mention that the breakfasts at the hotel are more localized; they have Finnish porridge and rice cakes, as well as smoked salmon, smoked trout, tasty breads, and much more.  Breakfast is definitely worth the time!

Dark so soon….

Sundown here was about 25 minutes ago (3:50pm local time), and now having lots of windows in the meeting room is a disadvantage, because it feels later than it is (4:15pm local time).  I guess it would be better if the lights in the room were turned on.

The good news, though, is that the discussions have turned from project management to technical issues, so I’m more interested.  And there have even been some questions raised, unlike the earlier presentations, so there’s some energy in the room, too.

But it’s hard to overcome the darkness.

A chilling trend

Today, I’m paying for yesterday’s sightseeing.  I’m in Hermia, which is a suburb of Tampere, at the Technology Centre, attending the second annual review of the Digital Business Ecosystem project.  This is a three-day meeting; I’m here as a member of the project’s Strategic Advisory Board (as a result of reviewing some proposals last year), and so I’m learning a lot and meeting many people.

There are about four official EC reviewers here, and the presenters are speaking directly to them; unfortunately, I’m on the opposite side of the room, and no one is using a mike, so paying attention isn’t easy.  Add to that the fact that this is my third day in Europe, which is usually the worst day for jet lag for me, and that the meeting room is quite warm, and…well, the fact that I’m blogging probably speaks for itself.

At least the room has lots of windows, so we’re getting some natural light.  Not much, because it’s cloudy; in fact, it’s snowing lightly.  And the exterior temperature has been going down all morning; it was -2C when I left the hotel, and now it’s down to -6C.  I went out for a few minutes during the break, and the cold cleared my head nicely — but then when I came back in, the fog set in again.  Somehow, -6C seems colder than the equivalent of 21F — which is cold, but not ridiculous.  Tomorrow’s forecast, however, is for a high of 6F and a low of -4F; that is ridiculous!

No museums in Helsinki

I had set my alarm for 7am, so I wouldn’t sleep away the day, but I wound up waking up on my own a few minutes before the alarm was ready to go off.  The hotel’s breakfast was very good; I had smoked salmon, smoked trout, good bread, a good orange, and even some cereal.  No bagels or cream cheese, though.

I left the hotel about 9am, after checking out and storing my luggage; I wandered over to the Esplanade, and then to the Helsinki Tourist Office, where I discovered that most of the museums were closed because it was Monday.  But I bought a tram pass anyway, and then went to Stockmann, a large department store, where I hoped to find a hat and better gloves than I’d brought with me.  Unsurprisingly, I was successful — and the hat was even 40% off because of the big January sale. 

Properly attired, I went out into the cold again and walked to the railway station, because I had two reasons to go there.  One was to buy tickets for my trip to Tampere this evening; the other, of course, was to do a cache.  I accomplished both missions in short order, then walked back to the harbor to take a few pictures and contemplate taking the ferry to Suomenlinna.

(Don’t let the colors fool you — I had Photoshop brighten everything and increase contrast.  It was a very grey day, so grey that I didn’t put on sunglasses even though the jet lag plan calls for them after noon.)

But I decided to stay on the mainland and save Suomenlinna for another day.  So I went into The Old Market Hall for lunch.  It reminded me very much of Faneuil Hall in Boston — two hallways of shops (mostly food stalls).  I fought off the temptation to have sushi or falafel and went with a kebab instead.  Then it was back into the cool weather and a stroll over to Uspenski Cathedral, which was closed (it was, after all, Monday). 

But the trip wasn’t wasted; as I was leaving, I checked my GPS and discovered that there was a cache right at the Cathedral.  It was easy to find, but when I was ready to put the cache back, a workman had just gotten into his van right by the location.  So I took the cache for a little walk, and when I returned, the coast was clear.

I then took the tram over to Senate Square, only to discover that I’d been there before — it’s the site of the big Lutheran Cathedral where the cache I found last night is hidden.  So I got back on the tram and went to Töölö to do yet another cache.  And to go visit the Sibelius Monument, which was a few minutes’ walk away.

Getting there was more interesting than I’d expected — I left the beaten and plowed path, and found myself on a layer of ice.  And then I found much more of myself on the ice; no harm done, though, and I picked myself up and started walking more carefully.  I got to the monument at the same time as a busload of tourists — I’m not sure where they were from, but they were speaking a Slavic language.  I was comforted when I saw them slipping and sliding around, too!

By this time, it was getting late (or at least it felt that way — it was only 2:30pm, but it was pretty dim), so I took a tram back to my hotel, picked up my luggage, and trammed to the railway station, where I took the train to Tampere and then walked the half-block to my hotel,  the Scandic Tampere City Center.  My room is smaller than the one I had last night, and doesn’t have much in the way of storage space, which will be a little bit inconvenient.  But it’s warm and has heated floors, which are both nice attributes in this climate.  It also has a nice, if over-heated, fitness center, which I suspect I’m going to need to use a lot on this trip.

I had dinner in the hotel restaurant with one of my colleagues on the project and should meet the others tomorrow (they’re staying at a different hotel).  Tomorrow is going to start early, so I think I had best stop now!

I guess this is a warm evening

I’m in Helsinki tonight, at the Scandic Grand Marina.  While I guess I could have booked an onward flight to Tampere, my actual destination for this trip, I didn’t think it was a good idea; instead, I’m spending the night here, and will take the train to Tampere tomorrow.

The flight from Frankfurt was fine — in some ways, nicer than the transAtlantic trip, since I didn’t have anyone directly in front of me leaning his seat almost into my knees.  And I wasn’t frustrated by the lack of Internet connectivity because I knew there wasn’t going to be any.  I was impressed that Lufthansa fed me a full meal on a two-hour flight — I almost regretted having had a snack at Frankfurt Airport (which doesn’t seem to be overly endowed with good places to eat, at least not behind security in Terminal A).  They also had wine — I was surprised that it was a California wine, 2002 Blackstone Cabernet Sauvignon, which I’m pretty sure I’ve seen in Trader Joe’s.  I guess it’s more exotic on a flight from Frankfurt to Helsinki than it is at home!

I was in the hotel by 7, and was able to use the WiFi to call home.  Then I went out for a little walk — the temperature is about 1 degree Celsius, which I guess is quite warm for Finland in January.  I didn’t know where I was going to go, other than “downtown”, but I took my GPS (well, Diane’s) with me, and eventually found myself at a cache.  Unlike the one at Frankfurt Airport, this was a real cache, so I had to find the hidden object and log my find — this was tricky while wearing gloves, and I eventually had to take them off to deal with the pen. 

Then it was back to the hotel for a snack (I guess that’s my sixth meal of the day!).  I’m trying to decide if I should take a sauna or just call it a night — or go back out and take some pictures of Helsinki by night.  My mind would like to go do something active, but I think I’ll listen to my body’s call for sleep instead!

A long way to walk for a virtual cache

The rest of my flight was uneventful, if cramped.  I read all of Rumpole and the Penge Bungalow Murders, along with a bunch of magazines — my jet lag routine calls for me to stay awake until bedtime in Helsinki, hours from now.  I’m not sure I brought enough reading material.

When I arrived here at Frankfurt, it took me almost 30 seconds to clear immigration (I’m sure it won’t be that fast when I return home).  Then I had to reclear security to enter the domestic/European gate area, where I am right now.

I took a hike before settling in to the Lufthansa lounge, though — all the way to Gate 42 to pick up my first German geocache (and the only one I’m likely to get for a long time).  Going there and back was nearly a 20 minute walk; that’s probably the only exercise I’m going to get today.

The Internet connectivity here is fairly expensive; 6 Euros for 30 minutes or 13 Euros for 2 hours.  I chose the shortest option, and have already checked my email (nothing exciting, which isn’t surprising since it’s a weekend).  My next posting should come from Helsinki.

In-flight wine review

I’m typing this aboard Lufthansa flight 455 from San Francisco to Frankfurt; I’m actually on my way to Finland for a week’s worth of meetings.  I had hoped to try out the “FlyNet” service and blog this live from the air, but they are using an old plane for this flight, so there’s no FlyNet, and when the guy in front of me reclines, I only have a couple of inches of legroom (it could be far worse — I could be in coach!).

Fortunately, the food and wine didn’t suffer from using an old plane; the meal was nothing special, but it was pleasant.  I tried all of the wines on offer (the glasses are small, and what the hell, I’m not driving anywhere for a week!), and thought I’d write up my thoughts while they’re fresh.

The first wine I tried (before any food arrived) was the 2004 Sonnenwind Riesling Spätlese trocken from Weingut Motzenbäcker in Germany.  I liked it; it was sweet, but not too sweet, with a definite flinty character. 

I had an Austrian wine with my salad, a 2004 Grüner Veltliner Spiegel, from Weingut Sonnhof Jurstchitsch.  The first taste was sweet, but it had a very strong mineral aftertaste.  I liked it less with every sip, and didn’t finish it.

They had two red wines available, and I tried a little bit of both with my main course (even though it was chicken).  The first was French, a 2001 Château Castéra Cru Bourgeoise Médoc.  It was fruity and pleasant, but very simple.  One sip was all I took; instead, I tried the German red, a 2003 Dornfelder Classic, from Wingut Anselmann.  This was a winner — complex, fruity, with quite a bit of tannin.  Very drinkable, so I had a full glass, and would happily buy a bottle to drink at home.

I was shocked when I saw the desserts — there was no chocolate.  Fortunately, they remedied the situation by passing out little boxes of Peters pralines, which I’d never had before.  I would have preferred dark chocolate (these had mixed dark, milk, and white chocolate coatings, and the dark chocolate is only 59% cacao), but it’s a long way to the nearest See’s.

I should arrive in Frankfurt about 10am German time; my flight to Helsinki leaves about 2, so I hope to have time to do a geocache at the airport (there’s only one that I could find in the terminal).

Now it’s time for me to sit back, relax, and read something.  More later.

Yak shaving for fun and profit

Today started with an experiment; since I didn’t have any meetings in the morning, I decided to work out immediately after taking Jeff to the JCC instead of trying to squeeze it in between work and dinner.  So I spent the 90 minutes between 6 and 7:30am “at work”.  And that led to the first bout of yak shaving for the day.

One of the tasks I had to accomplish during that time was to talk with a colleague in Belgium.  I had hoped to find him on Sametime, but he wasn’t logged on.  And I didn’t really want to call him on my home phone and have to deal with filing an expense claim for a few dollars (nor was I willing to subsidize IBM by not filing a claim if I did make the call).  Instead, I wanted to use the Cisco softphone on my laptop to call Belgium; that way, the call would originate from my desk, and the billing would be handled properly.

But if I was going to use the softphone, I was going to be stuck with using the Thinkpad’s built-in speakers and microphone, which doesn’t lead to great sound quality.  Instead, I wanted to use my Bluetooth headset.  But I’d just reinstalled Windows XP, and the only services that showed up when I paired the headset with the computer were virtual COM ports, not audio.  I vaguely remembered having had problems the last time around, so it was off to Google.

It took a little digging, but eventually I discovered that the problem was that the Windows XP SP2 Bluetooth stack is crippled; it only supports mice, keyboards, and COM ports.  I had to uninstall its driver, which let the Widcom driver supplied by <strike>IBM</strike> Lenovo take over (once I told Windows that I really wanted to use an evil unsigned driver).  And then I was able to properly use the headset and even do file transfer to and from my phone, which had failed earlier.

With that accomplished, I phoned my colleague, who was busy.  But he phoned me back a bit later, and we had our conversation; then I rushed out the door, took Jeff to the JCC, did my workout, and finally drove to the office, where the hallways were mostly deserted.  I’ll give this schedule another try on Thursday and see if it’s really viable — it sure felt good!

There were other yaks to shave later in the day and after I got home; perhaps tomorrow, I can stay on track a bit better.  I can only hope.

A day of enormous wonderfulness

Well, not really.  I spent too much of the day doing yet more of the migration to my new system image; I think I’ve got all of the critical stuff done, though.

I did have a chance to talk with the Executive Director of the JCC about the music in the exercise room there; all too often, it’s been far too loud — at times, loud enough to penetrate my headphones.  And they’ve also put it on rap channels more than once, which I think is unsuitable for the JCC (even though they have avoided the “xl” channels on XM).  I’ll see what happens as a result of this conversation.

I’m glad it’s been quiet at work, but the pace is starting to pick up.  It’s a good thing I’ve gotten the housecleaning done!

Kushi Tsuru for lunch and a 61st birthday party for dinner

Diane had to pick up a “Book Club in a Box” this afternoon from the Jewish Community Library in San Francisco, so we all drove up together, planning to have lunch somewhere nearby.  The people in the library recommended a place called King of Falafel on Divisadero, but they didn’t answer the phone, so we went with our original plan: go to Japantown and look around for a place.

We found parking easily enough at Japan Center’s garage.  Diane and I had stayed at the Hotel Mikayo there once, before we moved to California, but we didn’t remember any restaurants, so we just went into the Center itself and looked around.  We saw one sushi bar which looked quite appealing, but they didn’t have anything Jeff would eat.  We saw a Behihana (it didn’t say “Benihana of Tokyo”), but moved on.  Eventually, we chose Kushi Tsuru — it looked busy, though there wasn’t a line, and their menu had something for all of us.

Jeff, as usual, got the chicken teriyaki, and he was pleased.  Diane and I got bento boxes with salmon teriyaki and maguro sashimi.  The salmon teriyaki was good; the sashimi was blah, and there didn’t seem to be any wasabi available.  I’d try somewhere else next time.

After lunch, we drove home and got ready for a friend’s triple-threat party:  her 61st birthday, her near-retirement, and the burning of her mortgage (and she had a separate cake for each of the three events).  Besides friends, family, and food, she also supplied a balloon-maker and a magician, Tye the Magic Guy.  I’m not much of a balloon guy, but I enjoyed Tye’s show, despite (or maybe because of) the groaners in his patter.  All in all, a good evening.

They’re not all gems

We continued our exploration of Costco’s wines tonight, with the Kirkland Signature Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2004.  It was perfectly drinkable and innocuous, if a little sweet, but I’d rather have the slightly less expensive Cloud Piercer from Trader Joe’s.

And “less expensive” may be a more important consideration soon than it has been lately; we had a second roofer look at our roof, and he agreed that it’s not worth repairing.  He also gave us an estimate; inflation has hit roofing over the last 18 years! 

There’s another afternoon I’ll never get back

My ThinkPad has been somewhat slow and flaky lately, and it’s clearly software.  The installation of Windows on it is over a year old, and so it (and I) are suffering from Windows rot.  Since it was a slow week at work, I decided to take advantage of the quiet and install a fresh image on a new disk, and then copy and reinstall what I needed.

Good plan, but it’s one which is very tedious to execute.  I have a list of about 70 apps to reinstall; I’m less than halfway through it (and let’s not even think about the long list of Firefox extensions that I haven’t installed yet….).  And, in at least one case, even though everything is installed, something isn’t working right, so I’ll have to swap the disks, boot to the old system, and look at the registry and the environment to see what’s up (it’s Emacs, so I suspect it’s an environment variable, not a registry item).

But I will say this — the new installation boots much faster than the old one!

Shabbat Shalom!

Four calls — that’s not too many.

Life is getting back to normal after the year-end break.  The Daily Show is out of reruns; traffic has picked up; gas prices are going up; and I had four conference calls today.

What wasn’t normal was having all but one call end early; usually, all of my calls run over (and start late because the previous call has run over), but today, that wasn’t a problem.  Even the call that ran late didn’t cause me any problems.

And having big blocks of unscheduled time is letting me make progress on cleaning up “stuff” at work, as well as planning what I need to do this year. 

I know it won’t last, but I’m enjoying it so far.

First conference call of the year

Things are definitely getting back to normal at work; I had my first conference call of the year today, and, of course, it was at lunchtime.

IBM changed their health plans for 2006; they no longer offer a $150 “rebate” for not smoking; instead, they’ve taken that money and made it available to employees who go through a “Preventive Care” assessment and commit to taking at least some of the actions recommended. It worked on me; the assessment reminded me that I needed to schedule a physical (well, a screening) with my doctor, and I did so.

They also offer a $150 rebate for following an exercise program for at least ten weeks; the requirements were very low last year, but they’ve beefed them up a little bit for this year. You either have to exercise four days a week or exercise two days a week and do an online assessment and coaching. The required “exercise” is not hard to attain — 20 minutes a day is sufficient — but I’m doing the assessment and coaching, too. So far, it hasn’t been as effective at changing my behavior as the Preventive Care one was.

Tomorrow, my schedule features four conference calls. It was nice while it lasted…

Coldstarting the year

Today was the first day of work for the New Year. I hadn’t really done anything with my email while I was gone, though I did take a quick look over the weekend and got rid of the obvious spam, so when I arrived today, I had 120 or so “real” emails to deal with. Of those, all but 43 were broadcasts and therefore easy to deal with. But the remaining 43 kept me occupied for the whole day, since some took real thought to answer.

I also did my annual cold-start of my mail, copying all of last year’s mail to a backup database, then deleting it from my live mail database. And I took advantage of having a small mail database (only 50MB, down from 500MB before I started the process) to “upgrade” the design to the latest version, and, for the first time, I installed the special IBM version instead of the vanilla Lotus out-of-the-box edition. And then I added back my own personal tweaks. The process was time-consuming but not difficult.

I left the office with an empty inbox. I know it won’t last, but it feels good for now!

Roof News

All of the roofers I’d called over the holiday have returned my calls, and I had the one who called back first examine the roof. The good news is that the old shingles and the ridge cap came off cleanly, not ripping holes in the plywood, and so he thinks we aren’t in immediate danger of leaks, and repairs for the damage over the weekend won’t cost too much. The bad news is that many of the shingles seem to be brittle, and all of the ridge caps probably need replacement in any event, so we’re probably looking at a reroofing job sooner rather than later.

I don’t have the warranty which applied to the shingles on the roof, but I looked at the warranty for current purchasers, and came away unhappy. The warranty has clauses which make it very difficult to fix the roof in a timely manner and still collect on the warranty:

HOW CLAIM WILL BE HANDLED: Within a reasonable period of time from receipt of the claim, copy of warranty card and proof of purchase of the Shingles, ELK will review your letter and may ask for samples of the Shingles, such other shingles, and photographs showing the extent of the problem. You are responsible for providing these items, and any other materials reasonably requested, at your expense. You must allow reasonable time for investigation, including roof top inspection by an ELK employee and laboratory testing of the suspect Shingles.

ANY CLAIM FOR SHINGLES WHICH HAVE BEEN REPLACED PRIOR TO ELK’S RECEIPT OF WRITTEN NOTICE, SAMPLES, AND ON-SITE INSPECTION CONSTITUTES SPOLIATION AND WILL BE DENIED. If the investigation reveals manufacturing defects covered by this Limited Warranty, ELK will provide, within a reasonable period of time, a settlement in accordance with the conditions of the Limited Warranty.

I don’t know, of course, whether the warranty had similar clauses in 1988, but I’d be surprised if it didn’t. Still, it’s worth a toll-free call to see what they’ll do for me.

Mainframe Haiku?

Today’s Merc brought news of the mainframe haikus recently submitted as part of the IBM Student Mainframe contest. I showed the article to Diane, since she works on mainframes. She wondered if the two haiku printed in the Merc were the best, which moved me to compose my own haiku on the subject.

If those were the best
they should have used EBCDIC
they would be no worse

After looking at the broader collection on the website, I didn’t think the ones the Merc printed were the best, so my haiku was somewhat unfair — but it may be the first time “EBCDIC” has been used as part of a haiku, so I decided to post it anyway.

Anybody know a good roofer?

A few minutes after I posted my last entry, the lights blinked and then came right back on. This wouldn’t have been a problem except that Diane had just put a loaf of bread into the breadmaker — but since we’d just begun the cycle, we thought it would be OK to restart it. Which we did. But then when the lights blinked again, Diane decided that it would be safer to take the dough out, knead it by hand, and let it rise on its own, to be baked later. So she did, and then we left for the JCC.

When we returned about noon, all was well; Jeff said that the power had stayed on while we were gone, and he was finished with his homework. That was a good thing, because the lights started flickering again almost immediately. And then the winds really picked up, and we heard a very loud vibrating, buzzing noise. After a few minutes, it died down, and we went to shower.

The lights went out yet again right after I got out of the shower; this time, they stayed out. After a while, I called PG&E’s outage number to see if they knew anything; the system claimed that our outage had been reported at 9am. So I decided the odds were against the power returning any time soon, and we got in the car to go to California Pizza Kitchen for lunch (since they use a wood-burning stove, I thought there’d be a good chance we could actually get a hot meal there).

But as we backed out of the driveway, I noticed something funny about our roof. A small section at the peak had blown away (which explained the noise). There wasn’t anything I could do about the problem at the moment, so we continued on to lunch. The mall had power, food, and even covered parking, so that was probably a good decision.

When we returned, we still had no power. But the rain had stopped, and the wind had died down, which was good. I called the insurance company to see if they could recommend a roofer, but the 24-hour “Good Neighbor” service desk couldn’t. So I found an issue of Bay Area Consumers Checkbook which talked about roofers and tried to call a couple of the high-rated ones. Needless to say, I got answering machines.

Then there was a knock at the door; it was our next-door neighbor, telling us that she’d seen the shingles on our roof flapping in the wind earlier in the afternoon. We told her that we knew — but later, I figured out that she was talking about shingles other than the ones which had blown off. Oy!

A few hours later, power returned, and our moods brightened along with the lights. We still have a hole in the roof, but maybe we’ll get some more calls returned tomorrow (one roofer did call, and said that he could get a crew to us today if absolutely necessary, but that he’d have to charge us triple-time — he suggested waiting if water wasn’t pouring into the house, which it isn’t).

Jeff’s school starts up tomorrow, but Diane and I have the day off. Since we have to get up early to take him to the JCC, we’re pretty sure we’ll get our exercising in early in the day; after that, who knows?

I wuz gonna….

Here it is, New Year’s Day 2006, and, as I look back, I think of all the things I was going to have accomplished by now.

I was going to learn Ruby (and Rails).

I was going to get my digital photographs consolidated onto one computer and remove all the duplicate copies that I’ve created as backups.

I was going to catch up on watching the shows on my TiVos.

I was going to catch up on reading Analog.

And those were just some of the projects for this vacation, let alone all of the plans I’d had throughout the year!

So as I look forward, what are my plans for this year?

The biggest thing I need to work on this year is focus; instead of having dozens of half-formed, tenth-executed plans, I need to concentrate on doing the important things well. This holds both at home and at work, but especially at work; 2005 was a much better year for me at work than 2004, but I still didn’t have the impact I would like to have had, and a lot of the reason is that I scattered my efforts instead of focusing them. The principles and tools in Getting Things Done helped me in the latter part of 2005, so I plan to continue to use them this year. (I’m not looking forward to dealing with the last two weeks of inbox buildup — I’ve taken a quick look, and there are hundreds of e-mails waiting for my attention, even if it’s only to hit the “delete” key.)

I still do want to learn Ruby and Rails; I even have a small project in mind at work which looks like it would be a good candidate for these tools.

I need to follow up on a piece of advice I got at the TechGen GDC program last month; I was there as an “observer”, which meant, among other things, that I worked with the other observers and the HR staff to help create feedback and advice for the attendees. And one of the HR guys pointed out that I should listen to some of the feedback and advice I was giving — that it was right on target for me. So this year, I intend to work on my “customer partnering”, and to seriously look at my strengths and weaknesses in the other IBM Leadership Competencies.

I also need to pay more attention to my strengths and successes and not spend time on what might have been — so I will mention a few things I did accomplish on this vacation (and there’s still time to accomplish more!):

I blogged daily; I may not keep up the pace in all of 2006, but writing is a useful thing to do, and writing in public forces me to, if nothing else, think about what I’m writing.

I read The Essential Drucker, which gave me much to think about in planning 2006.

I moved my old blog entries here, so that they won’t be lost (not that all of them were worth preserving).

I managed to get to the JCC at least every other day while not travelling, and so, despite the odd indulgence or two, I’m in reasonable shape heading out of the holidays.

I made a good dent in the Analog backlog (all that I have left is the current serial, Sun of Suns, whose last installment just arrived this week).

Diane and I finally watched an episode of Numb3rs, which we’d been TiVoing since its premier. And as soon as we’d finished watching that episode, I removed Numb3rs from the Season Pass list, which will save disk space for better shows in the future.

And there were more, but it’s time to stop writing and start doing before the power goes out; the JCC awaits.