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.

Serious birthday dining

Today is Diane’s birthday, and so, as usual, we’ve invited some friends over for dinner and New Year’s Eve TV-watching.

Diane does most of the cooking (somehow, this seems unfair, but no one ever said life was fair); she made “Michelle’s Chicken” (from the IBM Research cookbook), Butternut Squash with Ginger, and Amaretto Carrots, all of which were delicious.

I made dessert; at Alwin’s recommendation, I made the “Simple Chocolate Sheet Cake” from America’s Test Kitchen. But, rather than make the Creamy Milk Chocolate Frosting that went with it, I chose Hershey’s “Especially Dark” frosting on the theory that a dark chocolate cake deserves dark chocolate frosting (that, and the fact that I’d’ve had to buy a whole bottle of Karo Syrup for two spoonfuls if I wanted to do the milk chocolate frosting). The consensus at the table was that this was a good decision — even Sam, who’s not a chocolate person, had a slice (though he didn’t have seconds, so I failed to convert him). I inadvertently modified the frosting recipe by omitting the vanilla (the phone was ringing a lot as I was making the frosting), but no one seemed to mind.

The diet starts tomorrow.

Happy New Year!

Game On!

The Tech Museum usually has a special exhibit; currently, it’s Game On, which was actually mounted by the Barbican Museum in London. But it’s very appropriate for Silicon Valley, since it’s an interactive history of the video game, both arcade and home versions. I knew I wanted to see it, but hadn’t gotten around to suggesting it until today (partially motivated by realizing that the exhibit closes Monday). So we spent the afternoon at the Tech.

Well, Jeff and I did. Diane got tired of the exhibit pretty quickly and went across the street to the San Jose Museum of Art, while Jeff and I enjoyed the exhibit. Especially playing the old games, like Pong and Spacewar and Space Invaders. I remember losing many quarters to those during college, but here, they were free. And I was able to compete with him moderately well, unlike the case with newer games (they had plenty of those, too, but they all blur together in my mind).

After an hour or so, we’d played all of the interesting games, so we joined Diane at the art museum. We took a quick look at the downstairs exhibition, Visual Politics, and then caught up with her on a small docent-led tour, just as they were starting on the Selections from the Permanent Collection. Touring with a docent was a definite improvement over wandering around independently — she asked us questions and forced us to interact with the works on display, instead of just looking at them (or, worse, reading the descriptions adjacent to the works and not really looking at the art itself, which I’ve been known to do). After the tour, Diane went to the museum shop and Jeff and I visited Sandow Birk’s Divine Comedy, which is a retelling of The Divine Comedy in images set in Los Angeles, San Francisco, and New York. Well worth viewing.

From there, it was a quick walk to Ben and Jerry’s, and then home. Not a bad way to spend what was, effectively, the last day of vacation (we have Monday off, but Jeff doesn’t, so we’ll be getting up at a ridiculous hour to get him to school on time. *sigh*).

Shabbat Shalom!

The movies are too popular for me

I had hoped to see several movies during this break. So far, the grand total is zero. We actually tried to go see either King Kong or Harry Potter 4 yesterday, but by the time we got to the theater, the first available showing was a couple of hours away. And, while we did need to be out of the house for a few hours, we didn’t need to be gone quite that long. So we went to Barnes and Noble instead, where I did some research for an upcoming trip to Finland (brrr!) and read a book which I’d seen while we were in England this summer: A Year in the Merde. Time magazine’s review sums it up well. I enjoyed reading it, but I’m glad I didn’t actually buy it.

Today, after working out at the JCC, I’ve spent far too much of the day dealing with financial records and catching up on my Quicken duty.

What I haven’t done today is write a single line of code. I’m waiting for Userland to set up the CNAME so that gets you to this blog. Then I’ll look at the 404 log and see if there’s any traffic worth redirecting programatically; I also plan to create a custom 404 page as suggested by the Sacramento Web Developers SIG, which will point people to the popular places on the site.

But that’s all for tomorrow; for tonight, it’s time to write those last minute tax-deductible checks….

GTD and GMail

Tessa Lau wrote a comment to my posting on the joys of an empty inbox, asking whether Gmail and Getting Things Done might not be incompatible, since Gmail discourages filing, while GTD discourages leaving things in one’s inbox (physical, computer, or metaphorical).

I don’t think they’re incompatible. I archive things in GMail to get them out of my inbox (and therefore, out of my face) unless I expect to deal with them almost immediately. The only filing I do in GMail is to automatically move some mailing lists into their own folders, never letting them into the inbox at all — and to be honest, I’m not sure that’s really a good idea for most of them, because then I’m tempted to let them sit. For everything else, I rely on search.

That’s actually fairly similar to the way I work in Lotus Notes, too; I have a few folders I use for active projects or obviously-related things (all of my electronic paystubs get filed in their own folder, for example), but most of my stuff gets “filed” in “Miscellaneous” (which could just as well be named “not the inbox”) and I rely on search to find anything I need. Keeping my Notes inbox empty is a harder task than my GMail inbox; I haven’t looked at it since I left for vacation nearly two weeks ago, and I dread what I’ll find when I do look.

Thank you, Fry’s ad!

Fry’s had a couple of DVDs that we wanted in their “one day sale” ad in today’s Murky Nooz: Serenity and Battlestar Galactica Season 2.0. (“We” is defined as “at least Jeff”, by the way.) But, after my recent experience, I didn’t want to go to Fry’s if I could possibly avoid it (by the way, I still haven’t gotten a response to the letter I sent Randy Fry).

Instead, I went to Circuit City to test their price matching policy.

The first cashier I dealt with was at a temporary register, and he said he couldn’t do a price match, but he sent me to one of his colleagues at a permanent register. He couldn’t help me either, and sent me to the returns/exchanges/customer service line. We were first in line. It still took several minutes for someone to help us, and I had to show him the price on both items in the Fry’s ad, but there was no problem in meeting it — in fact, he didn’t even bother to phone Fry’s to make sure they still had the DVDs in stock.

But then I threw a wrench into the proceedings; there was a coupon on the DVDs, good for $10 if you bought both Serenity and BSG 2.0 together. He wasn’t sure if he could honor the coupon and do a price match, so he vanished into the back room for a few minutes. Then he came out and rang up the lowered price (in fact, now that I think of it, he saved us an extra 8 cents by reducing the price of BSG by $10 instead of entering a $10 coupon).

I can’t call this a “no-hassle” experience, but it was enormously easier than getting a price match at Fry’s was. I intend to continue to avoid Fry’s whenever I expect to be able to pick up the same merchandise elsewhere.

Rather broad, but generally satisfactory

We just got home from San Jose Rep‘s production of Pride and Prejudice. I thought it could have been tightened up some (the play ran 2:40 with intermission, which is pretty long for an 8pm show), and they played it more for laughs than I thought the book called for, but in general, I enjoyed the show. I wouldn’t mind seeing the movie (either the current movie or the classic BBC production) to compare.

Pre-burning calories

We used to go to the movies on Christmas Day — we’d have the place nearly to ourselves, and it was wonderful. Maybe not for the theater owners, but we liked it. But over time, more and more people decided that Christmas was a good day for the movies, and the theaters became fairly crowded. And then Hollywood caught on and started releasing movies on Christmas, and we stopped going.

Today, we took advantage of the JCC being open on Christmas (at least in the morning). I think this was the most crowded I’d ever seen the exercise room. But we were able to get our workouts in, and now we’re ready to consume vast quantities of calories this evening.