May 31, 2007

thursday thirteen (#9)

Thirteen haiku for your Thursday enjoyment. As you can see, I tend toward the light verse in favor of the serious, traditional poetry. The ones in purple I wrote while on a business trip a few years ago.
  1. Crowded room, white noise
    Witness my enlightened truth
    Hey, is this thing on?

  2. A haiku I wrote.
    Magnetic poetry rocks.
    Blogging makes it so.

  3. coffee-stained papers
    crumpled on an airplane seat
    haiku from the road

  4. smiling stewardess
    no, I don't wear red makeup
    ink stains... damn pen leaked!

  5. big mac for dinner
    taxi stinks like an ashtray
    how was your flight, sir?

  6. sudden gusts of wind
    sweep across bare, white plateau
    farts in hotel bed

  7. channels mislabled
    Law & Order on AGAIN?!
    I wish I could sleep

  8. empty, hot darkness
    pale voices adrift outside
    one pillow vacant

  9. forty-dollar steak
    worth every penny I spent
    it was your money

  10. when will this day end?
    clock, in slow motion, ticks once
    vacation pending

  11. clear-cut, barren hill
    no more old growth, no new seeds
    receding hairline

  12. sweet, wet, wretched stench
    slime oozes, something sticky
    take out the garbage!
    sweet, wet, wretched stench
    slime oozes, something sticky
    don't elect that guy!

  13. long, smooth cylinder
    two double-A's bring such joy
    plastic submarine
And one more just because hey, it's my blog:
  1. pain, anguish released
    willful fury, cold attack
    pen touches blank page

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!
The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It’s easy, and fun! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! I will link to everyone who participates and leaves a link to their 13 things. Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

May 30, 2007

nurses are angels

My boss was diagnosed with lung cancer back in January. She is one of the most remarkable women I know, and someone I respect and admire deeply. She is being treated at Swedish Medical Center in Seattle, and a little bit of her story appears in the Spring 2007 edition [pdf] of the medical center's magazine, which is called Forum.

Page 17, the bit about Joan, is the page blogged here. (Click it to enlarge.)

May 29, 2007

Script Frenzy

Those of you who know me know that I've now won NaNoWriMo three times, writing three novels in the process. The first I revised and shopped to six agents, four of whom rejected it and two of whom never replied. I've since mothballed it, at least for now, because, well... it suffers from some "first novel" ills that, while not insurmountable, I don't feel much like surmounting at this time. I'm not sure if the second one will ever see the light of day. The writing is pretty good in spots, but the plot and characters are a bit clich├ęd and vanilla. The third novel, Forced Air, has commercial potential and is in revision now.

But there's this new thing called Script Frenzy, wherein you write a full-length screen or stage play of 20,000 words in one month. I wrote a short one-act a few years back, and I strongly recommend it to every aspiring writer. The focus it takes to move a plot along by dialog alone and to restrict yourself to a manageable cast and settings is a challenge indeed. And, if you do it well, it is a terrific learning experience.

As for Script Frenzy, however, here's how I feel about it [link to original]:
(Calvin says in the final frame, "I can't imagine mastering the skills involved without a clearer understanding of who's going to be impressed.")

While it does, potentially, sound like fun, my extremely limited writing time is sucked up with revising Forced Air and with trying to get these three pretty good short stories I have sold somewhere. So I won't be frenzied about a screenplay in June.

Are you participating in Script Frenzy? Or are you a fellow NaNo winner mired in revision and needing a shot of enthusiasm and momentum?

Work Update: Still crazy busy. We have a contractor coming in to help. I travel twice in June: an overnight to Seattle and an entire week in Minneapolis.

Writing Update: I've gotten through chapter six of Forced Air but still have a long way to go. "35 Across," a story that everyone seems to like a lot, just got another door slammed on it, so it's going out to try again this week.

Yard Update: No more contractors or landscapers crawling around! The pool is in great shape, and the hot tub is a dream come true. Just some planting to take care of. Sweet. Photos to come some time soon.

May 24, 2007

thursday thirteen (#8)

(Under the new Thursday Thirteen format, which I am late to join!)

  1. Because it can never be repeated enough: 3,434 and counting
  2. This daily sight on my commute grows more confounding every day, and not because I disagree with its message.
  3. 400,000 died in World War II
  4. Those who suffered through a confusing period of our country.
  5. Still one of the greatest self-sacrifice heroism stories in our country's heritage.
  6. Not all soldiers bear arms. Some find the pen is mightier than the sword.
  7. 115,000 died in the trenches of hell in World War I.
  8. What a tragedy the Civil War was.
  9. Women: are they really the "weaker sex"?
  10. A group I don't know enough about.
  11. Abraham Lincoln: "What constitutes the bulwark of our own liberty and independence? It is not our frowning battlements, our bristling sea coasts, the guns of our war steamers, or the strength of our gallant and disciplined army. These are not our reliance against a resumption of tyranny in our fair land. All of them may be turned against our liberties, without making us stronger or weaker for the struggle. Our reliance is in the love of liberty which God has planted in our bosoms. Our defense is in the preservation of the spirit which prizes liberty as the heritage of all men, in all lands, every where. Destroy this spirit, and you have planted the seeds of despotism around your own doors."
  12. There are many good reasons he's called The Father of Our Country.
  13. And I also want to honor those currently serving, particularly my friends Chris and Rob and, possibly somewhere in the Marines, Jim.

Get the Thursday Thirteen code here!
The purpose of the meme is to get to know everyone who participates a little bit better every Thursday. Visiting fellow Thirteeners is encouraged! If you participate, leave the link to your Thirteen in others comments. It’s easy, and fun! Be sure to update your Thirteen with links that are left for you, as well! I will link to everyone who participates and leaves a link to their 13 things. Trackbacks, pings, comment links accepted!

May 23, 2007

i love my new hot tub

Expensive as hell, but it's totally sweet to go soak in a spa for fifteen minutes just before bed. I've never slept better, and the aches and pains from too much soccer seem to be more muted. I shoulda done this years ago. Now all I need is the privacy screen so the whole thing isn't exposed to the street.

May 21, 2007

thank-you note

Sam had to write his thank-you notes for his birthday gifts recently (he's just turned 8). Mom directed him to personalize them, say something about each gift. He did quite well, saying things like this: "Dear Nate, thank you for the present. I really like it. You are a true friend." My favorite, however, is the one he wrote to Isabelle thanking her for the gift card she got for the Oakland A's: "Dear Isabelle, thank you for the A's gift card. I do not know where it is. From, Sam."

Fortunately, Mom knows where it is.

May 18, 2007

regarding timetables, software, and Iraq

I have had mixed feelings about the president's insistence that there be no timetable for leaving Iraq. Any timetable, he opines, would simply embolden the terrorists and undermine the work of the American (oh, sorry, "coalition") generals and their soldiers in Iraq. How can they plan and work effectively if there's a timetable for when they have to stop? How can you expect such a chaotic thing as war to fit into a neatly budgeted and politicized timetable?

My problem with these questions is that they are a political smoke screen for the fact that Bush has no definition of "success" in Iraq and no idea how to achieve it.

Anyone who has ever had to deliver a product knows that you can't realistically do it without a deadline. And you can't set a realistic deadline without knowing your definition of success. I've been involved in the delivery of several software products in my career, and the ones that always failed miserably were the ones where the end result was not well defined, and the approach involved "it will be done when it's done." They invariably took far too long to market, and they invariably failed to meet the precise needs of the target market... or in many cases did not have a defined target market. That is, they had no clear definition of what success looked like, so the developers kept building until finally someone said, "We need to sell something in order to keep paying you all, so let's release it."

That's how Bush is approaching Iraq. There is no clear definition of success towards which the soldiers are working, so they just keep plugging away. Because there is no definition of success, there is no way to set a realistic timetable; any timetable would appear arbitrary.

A far better approach would be to state clearly and unequivocally what goal Bush hopes to achieve in Iraq. Then, given that goal, determine exactly how long it will take and how much it will cost. Then commit the adequate resources.

I am not naive enough to think that war is as clean and predictable as software development. Hell, we can't even end homelessness or poverty or hunger in our own cities. We can't even graduate 80% of our children with the skills to read and write. How can we expect to build a thriving country on the other side of the world in a hostile environment with an aggressively hostile population? Yet that appears to be Bush's goal, with the ultimate intent that a positive cycle will result and the rest of the Middle East will westernize and become our friends.

If a stable Iraq is the project, and the US military are the developers, then Bush is the CEO of the company developing it and Congress are the venture capitalists who have been funding it. In business, which is something most Republicans seem to understand and appreciate, venture capitalists eventually pull funding from failed projects and especially from failed management. And always, always, venture capitalists have a timetable in mind when they approve funding. Bush and the Iraq project have failed all but the earliest milestones, and we are now in a neverending cycle of paying for something with no hope of success. It's time either to manage it properly or to pull the funding. Since Congress appears to have decided they can't manage it properly and be reelected, they have decided to pull the funding.

What a tragedy for the Iraqi people that this has all gone so wrong.

I find this chilling

From an article in today's Washington Post:

U.S. District Judge John D. Bates asked: "So you're arguing there is nothing -- absolutely nothing -- these officials could have said to reporters that would have been beyond the scope of their employment," whether the statements were true or false?

"That's true, Your Honor. Mr. Wilson was criticizing government policy," said Jeffrey S. Bucholtz, deputy assistant attorney general for the Justice Department's civil division. "These officials were responding to that criticism."

This is regarding the civil suit that Joseph Wilson and Valerie Plame have brought against Dick Cheney for violation of privacy and ruining Plame's career.

The implication here in what the defense is saying is that the Vice President can say anything--anything at all--about any citizen if that citizen criticizes current policy. For example, if John Doe said he thought Bush and Cheney should be impeached for their consistent and ongoing [insert any number of examples here], Cheney could come out and call John Doe a child molester who funds terrorism with stolen pension checks from old Army widows. And the Defense in this case is arguing that that would be part of a normal "policy dispute" in line with the normal duties of the Vice President. And therefore the Vice President would not be liable for any damage caused to John Doe's career, reputation, or life.

Talk about un-American. This is about as un-American as it gets. This is totalitarianism at its most bald-faced, unapologetic extreme. The idea that the top policymakers in the United States can essentially ruin anyone without consequences simply because that person disagreed with their policies is... well... chilling.

Almost makes me wish Pat Robertson had won the Republican nomination in 2000.

May 16, 2007

Happy #8!

Tonight we go to McCovey's (an overpriced, baseball-themed restaurant here in town) to celebrate Sam's eighth birthday. We're going there because his first grade class made a field trip there a few weeks ago, and he hasn't stopped wheedling us about going back. And he doesn't like baseball any more than I do.

Last night was open house at the school. Ethan's fourth grade teacher is awesome. Not only did he put together a DVD with baby pictures and class photos from the year for Mothers Day, but he had all kinds of stuff set out for the parents to look at. I remember doing open house as a kid and being so proud of all the things I'd written, pictures I'd drawn, projects I'd posted. I saw that same pride and eagerness to please in the kids last night. At times I felt a little impatient about getting out of there (much of the work like the mission report and some writing I'd already seen), but I know how much it means to them to show off what they've learned and done. And I totally get it. And it won't last forever.

Writing update: I revised a few more chapters of "Forced Air" on my trip to DC, but I've stalled again for the moment. Ah, what I wouldn't give for a really good writing group right now to keep my momentum up.

Other update, because it bears repeating: 3,400 and counting.

May 14, 2007

the view from here

The conference I attended last week was at the very nice building of the US Chamber of Commerce, which is on H Street NW just north of the White House. There was a pre-conference reception that was supposed to be on the roof of the US Chamber building. But we were told that due to a helicopter landing at the White House, we shouldn't go up there if we didn't want to get shot. So that wasn't a difficult choice. But at 6:30 we were allowed on the roof, and we were treated to a perfect night with the dramatic view pictured here. (The photo was snapped with my cruddy little phone camera.) The building to the right is the Eisenhower Old Executive Office Building. I think it means the building is old, not that it's a building full of elderly executives.

I admit that it is a bit of a different thing for this liberal Democrat to be teaming up with serious business-first and faith-based proponents, but the ultimate goals of everyone at the conference were improvement of our communities, elimination of (or at least amelioration of) poverty, and overall improvement of opportunity and quality of life for everyone, especially the neediest in our country. And unlike certain things in politics where it's either one philosophy or the other, in this arena there's room for all approaches as long as you can find someone to underwrite it. The trick is to get all those different approaches coordinated to reduce redundancy and maximize impact. And after all, that's not a bad job to have, if you have to work for a living.

May 9, 2007

the halls of power

Today I was in a meeting with a person famous enough to have his very own Wikipedia page sporting a photo of him with Vice President Dick Cheney. The meeting was in a gated/secure White House facility. I was disappointed with the security, though. I mean, there was a metal detector, sure. But if I want to get on an airplane they make me take my shoes off and run them through an x-ray machine. These yahoos didn't even make me untie my shoes. Amateurs.

May 4, 2007

looking good ain't cheap

I am off next week to some very interesting meetings about corporate community involvement. The centerpiece of my trip is a conference put on by the US Chamber's Business Civic Leadership Center. Should be very interesting. But I also have some other meetings set up with some pretty senior government and corporate leaders involved in solving problems in communities across the country.

So we figured my 10-year-old suit wasn't going to cut it, and we headed out to The Men's Wearhouse with one little credit card and a lot of angst.

Several hundred dollars later, I have what amounts to a whole new professional wardrobe. But if I'd gone to Macy's, I'd have paid twice as much. And if I'd gone to Nordstrom, I'd have paid twice as much for half the stuff. And Orlando, the store manager who helped me, was terrific. At no time did I feel entirely foolish for my lack of style and my outdated clothes, and he set me up with some flexible mix-n-match that will cover my entire trip and be useful for what I hope will be the next ten years.

Now I just have to get me a job that requires me to dress up more.

Side note: I feel really bad for the receptionists of the world who work in professional settings. They typically get paid the least in the office yet they have to wear expensive clothes and deal with The Public. How anyone could be a single mom receptionist is beyond me. Especially in a high priced area like the Bay Area.

Writing update: Nothing to report.

May 1, 2007

to swim or not to swim?

My soon-to-be-eight-year-old wants to join Swim Team.

Besides the normal blessings we count with our children--ten fingers, ten toes, that sort of thing--I had always considered a major blessing that neither of my boys wanted to play baseball or join swim team. I know what you're thinking: what an un-American commie pinko I must be. Baseball? Who wouldn't want their son to play baseball, for God's sake?

Me, that's who. Around here, little league is not just a game. It's not just a sport. It's not just an activity. It's a serious commitment in time, energy, money, and emotion. Most teams practice at least two days a week with games another one or two days a week. And I remember my own little league games--interminably hot and dreadfully boring, sitting around for an hour between brief periods of activity. Most of the activity involves failing to hit the ball, failing to throw the ball, or failing to catch the ball. Don't get me wrong--I wasn't bad at the sport. In fact, on opening day one year I hit the game-winning triple. And I was often asked to attempt to steal second. But I also ended many games with a swing and a miss.

In any case, I just don't get why kids like baseball. Talk about boring. And it can't be much better for the parents. I suppose if you are a fan of the majors, playing would be fun. I used to like it, before the last player strike. Now all I see of the professional sport is the economic stupidity of it all. Forty bucks for a few hot dogs and beers, and where does that money go? To a guy who makes ten million dollars a year to sit on the bench because he has a deep thigh bruise or something. People call the lotter a "stupidity tax." I think major league baseball is probably the biggest wealth redistribution program in the nation's history--taking from the poor and giving to the rich.

But I digress.

Most of the little leaguers around here will probably be out of the sport after 8th grade, if not earlier. So why spend half the weekend canceling other activities because of baseball games?

Swim team is different in that at least it helps the kids become better swimmers, and that can only help when they're adults, even if they don't stick with it as a sport. But it's even more of a commitment than baseball. Swim team practice in the summer is every freakin' day. Swim meets are every Sunday, all day. Parents are required to volunteer in the snack bar, or timing races, or doing something else. Out here in the summer, the weather gets to be over a hundred not infrequently. And again, it's a lot of sitting around waiting with brief periods of frantic activity.

So I was not that happy when Younger Son declared he wanted to join Swim Team. I was much less happy when I realized how much it would cost, even forgetting the personal time commitment in the snack bar. Keep in mind that we have our own swimming pool, which is not an inexpensive thing to maintain. We keep it up ourselves and chemicals don't cost that much, but energy to run the pump and a new liner every eight years and other activity add up. But to join Swim Team we have to join the local "cabana club," the community pool. There's a $400 initiation fee. Then another $400 annual fee for membership. Then another $125 for each kid that joins Swim Team. Holy crap. A grand just to sign up. Then another $500 a year until he gets tired of it. You'd think Swim Team would be the cheapest sport on the planet. A speedo every couple of years, maybe some ear plugs. Goggles perhaps. Even soccer should be more expensive.

But he's my kid. What am I going to do?