Sunday, December 23, 2012

Some Staging is just Overkill

Can you tell the difference between these two photos?  It will probably take you less than a minute to figure out that the second one is missing the storage bench.  Other than that, does the deck really look any different? As in twice a large or prettier or anything that would make you want to buy the second place over the first?

Of course not, because it is the same place.  One of the realtors I know gave me a free consult on getting our condo ready to be put on the market (again).  He suggested for the deck shot to remove everything except the grill.  I get that he's trying to optimize every shot and if you have the option, sure remove the bench.

I'll give him some credit, it was just a suggestion not an imperative.  Many of the realtors I've encountered act as if the only reason your place isn't selling is because you didn't take their staging advice to the letter.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Smooth Plans and Mystery Projects

Taken by Yours Truly
 Nightingale and I are going to Nashville this weekend to see her folks for the holidays. While this trip has been planned for months, we do wish we were in town because we have some things to work on that would benefit a Saturday and Sunday of daylight.  The last several weekends we have been busy with other phases of Mystery Project Number 9 and when we get home in the evenings, it's too dark to work on it.

In the mean time I thought I'd post a picture I took today.  Others have posted this picture on Flickr and Facebook and other various sites. I took this with my iPad because I feel that if I'm not gonna write more detailed posts, I should at least include some fun pictures for my three readers to enjoy.

In the decade that I've lived here, I've only gone into Maria's Pool Hall to vote, never to play pool.  While it's usually empty, it does seem to have an element at a couple of tables that just doesn't seem too inviting to Default Easiest Level.  That's not to say that I wouldn't have gone in sometime with a few friends to shoot pool if there had been an opportunity. However as I have few friends who like to shoot pool and are ever in this area at a time when shooting pool would be a good way to spend some time, it just hasn't come up.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Some random pictures because I have little to say

A lot of things are going on at home and work, most of them good.  It's also the end of the year and holiday season so that means a lot of Social Maintenance obligations.  We are actually going to miss two annual parties because we are heading to Nashville that morning.  For some reason, these two friends always have their party on the same night.  Once upon a time, they lived about a mile from my apartment (in different directions) so it was easy to make both. 

Over the years we've all purchased homes in different parts of the city and I made an effort to continue making both parties.  Eventually it became apparent that FriendA was more concerned with me making her party than returning the favor.  So I was sort of looking forward to skipping her party and staying at K party longer.  Alas I have to miss both.

So what's going on.  To future descendants who may read this blog on some archive system, people are still weighing in about what happened in Newtown, Connecticut.  There isn't an easy solution because it isn't an easy problem.  Evil, genuine evil, exists everywhere and there is not way to eliminate it.  People who argue that defensive uses never save lives are being just as ridiculous as proponents who claim that guns don't increase the death rate.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

It's not the first volley in the War Against Christmas

I've mentioned before that I stopped sending out Christmas cards years ago. It wasn't a sudden stop, more of a gradual fade. It was my way of going green long before going green was in vogue.  Of course now that I'm married, Nightingale has resurrected the tradition.

In the world today, Holiday Cards are the Politically Correct answer to sending someone a greeting without offending them.  Non-specific Holiday Cards are nothing new. When I was growing up, we sent these too. Only it wasn't a "I don't want to offend you because I don't know what you celebrate or how strongly you feel about it" gesture.

If you got a Happy Holidays card back in the day, it was a personal indictment. We were admitting that either 1) we couldn't get our act together and get our Christmas cards out in time, or 2) we didn't expect a card from you and you surprised us when we received yours just too late to get one out by Dec 25th.

For a time we even handled those exceptions by sending out Happy New Year's cards. Except we quickly realized that if we couldn't get it together with a month's head start, we probably were not gonna get it done with small window between Xmas and NYE, especially since we had to rely on the Post Office.

I don't think of holiday cards as a way of taking Christ of out Christmas and I don't get offended when I get one.  I'm probably more put off if someone simply send a card with no personal flair indicating the card was meant for me other than the name and address on the envelope it came in.

When I did send out cards, I made a conscious effort to send my Jewish friends either Hanukkah Card, or a Holiday Card but if I slipped up and send them a Christmas Card, they took it in the spirit it was intended. 

Some people get bent out of shape that the Political Correctness movement has gotten out of hand.  It has, but not in this case. 

"As Roger Simon once wrote, another way to think of PC is CD -- common decency. It's common decency to use language that does not offend IF your sincere wish is not to offend." -- Eric Zorn from his comments on Change of Subject.

So if you wish to make a genuine acknowledgement to those who may not celebrate the same winter holiday as you and you don't wish to offend them through your reference, then you want to use a neutral term.

After all, isn't Peace on Earth the underlying theme of most of these winter holidays anyway?  

Thursday, December 6, 2012

CatchingUp on Bloggage

Things have been very busy both at work and at home. At work my summer slowness has dissipated and I now have more things going on. It's not quite the busy workload I'm use to and I would feel more secure in my employment if I had just a few more things going on, but it is a step in the right direction.

When it comes to workload, I don't like to be so busy that I cannot keep up with things nor do I like to only have one or two things that will take 5 minutes to complete once I get started. That's probably why my timesheets are always late.

At home we are doing some purging.  We are trying to get rid of things we don't need or use to make more room in our cramped condo and hopefully eliminate some things we would likely pack and cart off to a new home.  In that process I discovered a way to merge two gifts given by different friends at different times in my life.

I wonder if I could mass produce and market these?
 TrueSusan made this fruit bowl for me years ago as a condo warming present.  For our wedding DrDrea gave us this fruit holder wire basket.  Nightingale and I use it every day as she buys fresh produce every Sunday.  However, she felt that the wires were too far apart and smaller fruit would fall through.  Voila -- Icarus solves that problem.
Chicagoans are groaning about last Sunday's Bears game. We lost one we should have won. However, more than once this season we won one we should have lost (Carolina, Detroit). Even the defending Super Bowl Champion Giants lost to a rookie quarterback.

Sunday was also the start of Advent which use to be not only important for me, but also very symbolic. Advent is the beginning of a new Liturgical year in the Catholic Church.  This means Roman Catholics are preparing to celebrate in joyful expectation the birth of Christ. 

Advent is acknowledgement of the days growing shorter and darker.  While many people believe the bridge between the world of the living and the dead is extended during Halloween, a few Catholics believe Advent and Christmas is another time when that veil is thinned.  I'm not sure how I feel about that.  It harkens both the dark days of superstitions and the bright light of faith.

I use to think of Advent in the same way that people like to look at New Year's Day. Purging, Clearing out, Preparing, Examining.

I'd get all self aware and reflective. I'd look back at the calendar year that had passed and take stock of my successes and failures and think about what i could to do improve the next year.  There were a lot of Sundays in church looking at the Advent candles -- one, two or three lite -- and reflecting on the damaged relations and lost friendships of the previous year.

Friday, November 23, 2012

How to succeed in bidding on One Project Closer items

The Humble Brag Link Party

One of the many sites I visit on the interwebs is One Project Closer, a DIY blog written by two couples on the East Coast.  They have many good How To posts and often feature new tools, products and projects that I'm jonsing to try once we have our Forever Home.

Cannot wait to use the Nail Gun
They also feature a reward system and auction site.  You get points for visiting and commenting on posts.  You can use these points for bidding on auction items.  Here's a picture of some of the things I've won over the last year.

Having won the last four auctions I've participated in on OPC, I thought I'd give a little helpful hints on how to win on bidding. First you need to accumulate points so you have something to bid with. You get 2 points for visiting each day. Actually, you get 2 points for visiting every 20 hours so in theory you could get 16 pts a week if you are an insomniac. 

You also get 5 points for new comments on posts (follow up comments do not yield points). There is usually one post per business day so that's 25 more points for a potential of 41 pts/week.  Additionally, at the end of each post, before the comments, there is a section which features related posts. Most of these are from the days before the point system. So this is an excellent way to rack up some additional points.

Pro Tip:  They are very liberal in what constitutes a valid post and do not over enforce their posting policy.  Having said that, it is a DIY community that pleasantly lacks trolls (as far as I can tell) so please don't spoil it by making lame short word posts like "Looks Good" or "That Rules".  It doesn't take much effort to come up with a substantive post, especially if you ask a good question such as  "how much did that cost" or "could you have customized the dimensions to fit a different space."

They also have a sister site called The Better Half.  While they don't post quite as often as OPC, there are some interesting posts every couple of days and comments here earn you points as well.
Once you have enough points you may decide you want to bid on something.  Here's my technique.  It's not rocket science but I have won the last three auctions I've attempted.  Most of the auctions close at 10pm CST usually on a Saturday night, when most of the world is doing other things.  Fortunately for me, I'm an old married guy in a time when internet access is more prevalent than in my youth. 

So I set a simple Calendar alert on my Outlook Calendar on my PC and also on my smart phone for about an hour before the bidding ends.  I've found that it's best to access the bidding site via a desktop or iPad browser. [My android phone didn't work but Nightingale's iPhone did.]

Pro Tip: My secret for winning the bid?  When you log in, bid the amount that is currently listed.  Usually I'm the first and only bidder but at least two other times I was competing with someone else.  So the super secret technique that I alluded to?  If you find that you are competing with someone, bid all your points!

That's right, if you look at the current LeaderBoard, you'll see that I'm 7th though I've been as high as 3rd.  So theoretically, only six other commentors can beat me.  So by bidding all my points, the others have to decide if the item for bidding is worth giving up all their points.  Most are Risk Adverse and will not bet the farm for a power tool in spite of the following.

Now for the secret:  These points are not worth anything outside of OPC.  So there really is no reason to save them.  The current bidding schedule gives you enough time to replace whatever points your spend on an item if you win.  Worst case, you have to skip the next auction or two while you rebuild your points in the mean time you get to enjoy whatever item you won.  Good luck and remember, YMMV.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

One More Thing I'm Thankful For

Being a Subject Matter Expert as well as a customer of the No-Name Software Company, I was included in a Customer Briefing about questionable accounting and business practices by former management prior to the current companies acquisition.

Let me try to clear that up, when I first worked for the No-Name Software Company, it was called something. Through a merger/takeover, another company bought it and changed its name. I still get recruiters calling me to see if I'm interested in taking a contract job out-of-state for a position I have no qualifications for whatsoever. A simply reading of my resume and cursory understanding of the position you're trying to fill should make that self evident but alas, recruiters are mostly bottom feeders who couldn't make it into Human Resources.

Anyway, a few years after I left No-Name, another company acquired it. This is the company that allegedly implemented said questionable accounting and business practices and is now under investigation by the SEC and UK's Serious Fraud Office for civil and criminal investigation.

I have no way of knowing if the way they cooked the books is illegal, legal or just screwy.  It's probably one of those risk versus reward factoring chances of being caught scenarios.  What I can speak to is the culture that existed when I was there.  Everyone from the Top down had a culture of only sharing as much information as necessary and only when it absolutely needed to be released.  Development would release software with known issues and not share them with Consulting Services who would discover them at advanced installs and not share with Technical Support, who would discover work arounds and not propogate those back to anyone.

My point is that I probably left in the nick of time, though I had no idea at the time. Even though things were rough at the Low-Rent Consulting Company (C2), I did learn a lot of my current skillset and much more than I would if I had remained at No-Name.

I left C2 to go to a Big Bucks Law Firm. I was there for almost 3 years before running, not walking away. While I wasn't the first rat to scurry off the sinking ship, I once again got out in the nick of time. Everyone was geting the hell out of Dodge including the CIO.  A few months ago, the FBI charged the replacement CIO with fraud. I was not involved with any of that.  However, it's just never a good thing to be in the vicinity of such impropriety if you can avoid it.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

It's All How You Look at It

We had another low key weekend!  On Thursday Nightingale had an afterwork event that we needed to attend. It required a suit although I was able to get away without wearing a tie. It just made sense to work downtown. I wore the suit and during lunch, ran into several ex coworkers from the law firm, including my old boss. It is a nice thing when people see you looking your best especially when some of them were expecting you to be down and out.

Friday I worked from home so I picked up our race packets (see below) and went to Andi's.  I like going there early before they run out of the good stuff.  It's a shame I don't speak Polish, I'd own that place.  There's a deli worker who simply stops working the counter when I am in line.  She either doesn't like me or is shy about speaking English.  Either way, I always get one of the ladies who doesn't speak English very well and we have to communicate with Clicks and Whistles.

Saturday we slept in and it was wonderful.  Don't recall what else we did that day.  I mean we straightened up the house and oh and we picked up something a neighbor was giving away that we will be able to use in the very near future.

Sunday we had the Lincolnwood Turkey Trot, which we pretty much do every year.  Some years it's freezing some years it's like yesterday where the weather is unseasonably warm.  Back in the day, it use to be just SHB and me doing the race but as of a few years ago, B and Na and of course Nightingale have joined in.  The last couple years we've had a cluster fuck rying to find a place to eat after the race so this year I took action and suggested a venue beforehand.  I chose Latitude because we happened upon it last year and we got seated immediately and pretty much had the place to ourselves.  SHB countered with a more fluffy choice in the same area.

When we learned it would be a 40 minute wait at SalMarie, I was instructed by Nightingale to start walking down Lincoln to see if other restaurants had less wait time.  The logic was since I walk fast,  I could get to Latitude and back before our table was ready.  I was going to try the Daily Bar and Grill but across the street was Fork.  I figured this was a step up from Daily and walked in to see if they could seat 7 adults and a 1.1 year old.  They said they could clear a table in 10 minutes -- one more reason cell phones are a necessity in life. 
And you think Garza Strip is bad:  B is still not speaking to Na.  I was surprised she joined us for brunch though she sat at the opposite end of the table, though also in part to take care of her 1 year old.  Na said hello to her at the race and she said hi back, but nothing more. 

Without going into the specific details of their "conflict" I can understand and appreciate the complexity of the situation.  Situations like these are rarely one issue incidences.  I think of my own Radio Silence with So-Suede.  From my point of view, I feel he's a dbag and am annoyed that our mutual friends have not called him out on it.  Our mutual friends are fatigue of having to walk on egg shells or pick sides and it's easier to hang out with him since he's not asking them to pick a side.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Free Safety

This was weekend was the first one in a long time where we didn't have some obligation that cut our day in the middle.  We didn't have any open houses to attend.  We didn't have guests in from out of town nor were we out of town.  No vet visits.  We even got our grocery shopping out of the way on Saturday which left Sunday completely open.  I was able to get a good bike ride in while Nightingale went to the gym with SHB.  We didn't do much in the afternoon other than some routine clean up. 

1)  Bathroom.  Once again there was some type of water leak that caused damage to my condo.  And once again I asked my upstairs neighbors if they had any issues.  I got an email from Mrs M3 saying everything was find.  However, at their Halloween gathering, Mr M3 admitted that they had some issues with their caulking and it was fixed now.  He said he would reimburse me for the $200 I spent.  That was 12 days ago and I've only had occasion to bring it up once (see #2).  Update:  he gave me the $200 in cash a couple days ago.

2)  So it was bound to happen sooner or later.  My Honda Element was violated a couple Fridays ago.  Theives removed my catalydic converter along with the oxygen sensors.  I knew the minute I started the car that was what had happened because of the noise.  I hoped that it was something else.  I prayed that it was something else. 

I came home late because I stayed in the burbs for a friend's bday get-together at The Club House (suburban cougarville).  I thought I was lucky that I found a parking spot so close to my home, less than 50 yards away.  Unfortunately it was a spot that was between the two street lights range and thus was very dark.  This made it even easier for whomever came along and decided my car was the lucky one tonight.  Based on the surgical like cuts,  I don't think parking anywhere else that night would have made too much difference unless I could have been right under a street light.  Update: Filed a claim with Insurance Company and they quickly sent me a check which covered about half of the repair costs ($500 deductible).

3)  The Bears lost yesterday and now the talk about them not being a legitimate team is all abound.  You aren't gonna win all of them and after winning six in a row, albeit against inferior teams, they were due for a loss.  Even previously undefeated Atlanta got their first loss of the season.

As a fan, I want my team to win all their games and this was a winable game. A final score of 13-6 isn't as bad as some of the blowouts I've witnessed in my years of being a Bears fan.  It does suck that it happened on Prime Time where they just cannot seem to win consistently.  Note the eagles also lost their QB to a concussion as did the 49ers.

And I still had to paint it myself

Thursday, November 8, 2012

My thoughts on the Presidential Election

In 2008 I was invited to attend the Obama rally in Grant Park by Katness.  Her husband wasn't interested in going to a crowded event and I was apparently the first person to respond to her email.  Though an Obama supporter, I wasn't so much into the politics and policies other than wanting an end to the madness that was the majority of the Naughties.  Mostly, it felt like something special was in the air, and I naturally wanted to be part of it.

That November was unseasonably warm and perfect weather for a rally in Grant Park.  I'm sure a lot of people felt it was Divine Intervention, or at least Celestial Approval of our country's first black president.  Facebook was still relatively new to those who weren't members because of their college .edu email address.  I could barely get a signal in the park because everyone was tweeting, posting and texting to anyone they could about this historic event.  I do recall the temperature seemed to suddenly drop and it went from a pleasant autumn evening to a cold November night, a foreshadowing of the next four years it now appears.

In the days after the election, many of my conservative republican friends, especially the subset that are close-minded bigots, spewed hatred about what a mistake we had made.  Apparently Obama became the first president to do so much damage with his presidential authority before even being sworn in, a constitutional technically my bigoted friends chose to ignore.

Four years later, the weather was not as pleasant and instead of an outdoor rally, the Victory Party was held indoors.  Nightingale and I stayed home although I think Katness and J were in the vicinity of McCormack Place if not actually there.  The one thing that is the same is the hysteria, the venom and the crazy from the close minded bigots.  My Facebook feed is about evenly divided by those who feel we made the right choice and those who feel that we are dead in the water.

The thing is, I'm certain that if Facebook had been around during the 2000 and even the 2004 elections, a younger even less mature Icarus would be posting similar things about Bush.  All the people who are bitching and whining about Obama today would have been cheering and jeering about Bush back then. 

Just because Bush and Obama won their elections doesn't imply either has a mandate. That those elections were so close relatively speaking just means they managed to get a few more votes than the other person.

What it really comes down to is our country is so divided right now and has been for so long.  Instead of figuring out how to solve problems and fix this country, each side is bent on making sure nothing happens that could be perceived as a victory for the other party.

We need to come together as a country and figure out how to fix things instead of tear it further apart.  We need to truly understand the meaning of the word compromise and accept that we won't get anything we want if we aren't willing to make some concessions for what we don't want.

Friday, November 2, 2012

The Art of Empathy

A long time ago, in my Single Decades, I reached out to some friends to try and vent a little about my lack of luck in Love and the frustrations of the dating scene I was experiencing. 

I recall one person eventually wrote back and said something like "sorry, I've been so removed from the dating scene for so many years that I cannot relate."

I was floored and didn't know what to say.  I felt bad for bothering that friend and that response has stayed with me all these years.  I think I honestly stopped emailing her with any life updates though I did continue to read her yearly newsletter about how the kids were in 864 different soccer games and they went on a family vacation somewhere.

Now I realize that it was really a douchey copout.  By that logic, if someone had a terrible accident and lost their legs does that mean you cannot empathize because you can still walk?    How hard is it to say "I feel your pain," or "from what I remember, dating sucks more often than not." 

Which brings me to today's rant.  My wife and I are looking for houses and not finding anything in our price range that we like.  What is really frustrating is that I don't have anyone to vent to about this.  My two closest go-to friends are not remotely in a position to buy a house right now so conversations about what we are going through are short and subjects changed faster than an ADD monkey on crack flings his poop.

The annoying thing is I've seen this movie before.  When they get to this station on the Experience Train of Life, they are gonna bombard me with questions and appeals for advice.  Hopefully I'm too busy unpacking in our new home to answer them.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Halloween needs Smarter Zombies

Kinda like this but less cute
Autumn is my favorite season and Halloween hands down is my favorite all time holiday.  As a kid I loved trick-or-treating and going to cheesy haunted houses.  as an adult, extended my enjoyment of the holiday because it was the one time of the year I actually did exceedingly well with the ladies at Halloween parties.  It's amazing what a disguise can do for you.

What use to be a holiday of witches, ghosts and vampires has become one of zombies.  So I'm calling it here:  The next big monster revamp in popular fiction will be the Zombie. 

"The zombies of 2012 seem no more advanced or complicated than the zombie of the late 1960s. Human dies, human transforms into zombie, zombie starts growling and snarling while shuffling along in search of human flesh on which to feed"  -- Richard Roeper.

Only it will be an intelligent Zombie. Remember, before the mutant zombies of the George A Romero era took over, the original Zombie was a dead person who was brought back to life through Voodoo.

"Think of the vampire, who started off as a bloodsucking night creature who roamed castles deep into the night, wearing his couture outfits and speaking in a formal tone as he searched for a neck to bite. That guy was kind of a stiff.

"But today’s vampire glistens in the sun, romances humans and even has his own government and society and sets of rules. Some of them are more sociable and accessible than many a human neighbor." -- Richard Roeper.

This concept will be the vessel for intelligent zombies. Instead of zombies who stumble around and utter no words other than arg and erg, the New Zombies will have memories and heightened emotions.  I wonder if it's possible to patent this idea?

Friday, October 26, 2012

Detroit Marathon: Dark Knight Rises

So it should be no surprise to anyone who knows me that I decided to run the full marathon instead of just the half after all. By my estimate, I completed about 85% of the training, which is about what I did my first couple of marathons over a decade ago, i figured I might as well get another marathon on my running bio after all. I seriously considered calling it at mile 12 but realized I'd have to wait another hour for Nightingale to finish her half and I'd only beat myself up second, third and 4th guessing my decision.

The bib# seemed like an omen that I would run the full marathon
 I actually ran as far as the 13 mile marker and then turned off my Garmin and started to walk back to the finish, thinking I would call it a day. But then I realized I had not one but two hours to work with and thought a slightly over 4 hour finish time was within reach. So I started again.

Essentially I covered 7 miles in the first hour, 6 miles in the second a little more than 5 in the third and then another 5 in the fourth.  It took the last 35 minutes to cover the remaining 3.2.  That includes stops to try and stretch my tight muscles.

I'm pleased to report that my knees, while a little tweaky at times, held out magnificently. During the last two weeks before the trip, I rested my knees by tapering much more than the standard marathon training program calls for.  While this saved my knees, it cost me endurance. 

It was my calf muscles and lack of endurance that got to me kinda like many of the other 21 marathons I've run. While I would have preferred a time closer to four hours, I can live with my 4:35 time.  This probably isn't my last marathon.  It probably is my last for a year or two. 

The course is rather pleasant, the trip through Canada is fun and Belle Island is amazing. Downtown Detroit has a lot of cool architecture, although sadly the inner city is a shell of its former self. Still, a very enjoyable course nonetheless.

When we were walking to the starting line, we passed the buses for the relay runners. It reminded me of New York Marathon because they bus you out at 4 or 5 in the morning since it's a point to point marathon.

I tried to stay with Nightingale's friend Ann, but she was having none of it.  She dropped back and was going too slow for me to keep up with, so I continued at a more comfortable 8:30- 9 mm pace.  On the Ambassador bridge to Canada, I noticed a loose mat that was probably placed to make the transition a little smoother.  About 20 seconds later we heard a crash and it appears a runner tripped on it, bringing two others down with him.  Don't know if they were half or full marathoners or a combination.  A lady running next to me exclaimed that she was almost part of that mess and was relieved because she was 5 months pregnant. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Post Marathon Depression

If I had run the marathon on Sunday I would probably be feeling down, like many of my running friends right about now.  It happens to virtually even marathoner especially if you have a goal beyond simply finishing the race.  You spend 16-18 weeks training and sacrificing for your sport and you get once chance come race day.  If it's not your day, it's a long time before the next do-over.

Surprisingly, I'm not sad that I didn't run on Sunday.  Any wistful longing for being part of a ritual I followed for more than a decade was eased when I watch several runners struggling just to make it to the finish line, their hopes of a PR or BQ dashed.  Any thoughts I had of still doing the full marathon in Detroit on the 21st are quickly dismissed thanks to my rickety knees.

I will admit I do wish I were one of the many friends who was able to post a new PR on Facebook or have their friends congratulation them in the comments.  I'm a little jealous of all the buzz that seems to be languished upon my friends who have recently discovered running and marathoning. 

In the days before FB, I would send out a post-marathon story to my friends in an email blast, and then later a link to post on one of my old blogs. Running marathons was one of the few successes I had in life and I wanted to share.

Most of my friends humored me or used it as an excuse to check in on how I was doing otherwise and share any news of their life.  Of course I had friends like Fitz who made me feel bad about my running hobby.

A couple months ago, someone posted this link to the Onion article on my Facebook wall. It stung because its true.

When someone asks how are you, most of the time its just to give themselves a second to catch their breath before they tell you how they are doing. 

Many of my friends got married 10 minutes after college graduation and started families. Every year I'd get the photocopies holiday newsletter which sounded pretty much like last year's newsletter. Soccer games, scouts. family vacations. I assumed that if I read through their newsletters someday they'd return the favor. Nope, I can't tell you how many emails I'd get from some friend saying oh I haven't read your newsletter yet.

I guess its hard to find time between children were "sleeping dry" at age three months and that Larry and Barbara got 18 miles to the gallon out of their camper on the way to Former Landfill Lake. I found these photocopied diaries impersonal and boring, and if their poodle was depressed following her hysterectomy, I really didn't care but at least I made the effort to acknowledge it

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Marathons and Technologies

Several of my friends registered for the Chicago Marathon and now for various reasons, cannot participate.  Some are injured, some are undertrained, some have physically relocated. 

The Chicago Marathon's official stance is that you cannot trade or transfer your bib and there is no deferral option.  The dubious reason given is for insurance purposes.  Apparently if something happens to you while you're running under someone else's name, you wouldn't be covered by the insurance policy and I suppose technically the waiver "you" signed wouldn't apply.

It's an unfortunate situation especially since the entry fee is about $150.   Which means people are gonna do it anyway.  The risk of getting caught is low and the desire to recover at least some of your money usually outweighs any moral dilemmas. 

The Powers-That-Be at the Chicago Marathon should really just accept it and come up with a system to transfer or defer your entry.  They could charge a modest fee and impose a limit such as must be done at least 30 days before the marathon and limited to 500 people.  I'm certain the technology exists since the New York Marathon use to let you defer and other races allow you to switch from one event to another. 

However, just like the Cubs will probably never have to worry about attendance, the Chicago Marathon will never have to appease the average runner as long as it keeps attracting the elite world record changers.

You wouldn't go to Podiatrist a when you need a Oncologist. Or Urologist when you really need a Neurosurgeon. Sure they all might have sat in the same anatomy course back in Med School, but their career paths and specialties are vastly different.

Very few in IT look this good
 It's like that in a lot of fields. There are different types of lawyers. Even different types of accountants.

Yet for some reason, people lump everyone in Information Technology under the same umbrella.  They think we are sitting around, holding hands and singing Kumbaya about the servers or something.

Here's the thing.  Some IT people write code.  Some IT people manage databases.  Some people create web sites.  Some IT people fix broken desktops and laptops.

Most start out in a lower level role and work their way up to something more lucrative, important and impressive. 

When I tell people that I work in IT, they immediately start telling me about their computer problems, which can all be diagnosed as you are using a piece of technology you do not fully understand, please find an 8 year old to explain it to you immediately.

My job itself is hard to explain even to other IT people.  Usually I can get away with saying I'm a SME (Subject Matter Expert) or Application Manager.  Basically I'm riding the coattails of the product I supported at the No-Name Software Company.  It has kept me employed through a couple of recessions.  Meanwhile, I also strive to learn new technologies so as not to get pigeon holed into one product that might someday become obsolete, like Lotus Notes.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Scaled back weekend

This was shaping up to be a very busy schedule-packed weekend.  Fortunately, we had the good sense to scale back on some activities and obligations.

We opted to sleep in instead of getting up and run at the lakefront.  I was scheduled to run 12 miles and Nightingale 10 miles, but it was a late night Friday at Pub Trivia with Mr Lumpy so while we set the alarm and the coffee, we told ourselves we would play it by ear.  Most of the summer it was already starting to get light when I get up for the Saturday LR at 5 pm.  Yesterday it was pitch black so that made the decision an easy one. 

I wasn't the only one who skipped or delayed the LR.  SHB said she slept in and saw many of our fellow runners on the path when she started out at 11 am on her run.  She's not one to skip mileage especially since she was forced to cut her 20 miler short last week because she fell down while running on some uneven payment.  Luckily, I do have the option to skip miles since I'm not planning on running the full marathon in Detriot anymore.

We did get out for a run of our own, though only 4 miles for me and 5 miles for Nightingale. She felt great and was looking forward to today's 5K.  Our pre-birthday tradition is to run the Fall into Fitness 5K at Portage Park.  We do the family registration which is more economical than registering individually and then we go out for brunch afterwards.

Mr Lumpy took one of the spots from a runner who couldn't make it.  SHB and Na were also there though Na couldn't stay for brunch.  It's too bad because it helps to have an extra person around to help carry the conversation.  And we wanted to pick her brain about the work she and her husband had done on her house earlier this year.  They essentially added a second floor to their cottage in New Town.

Right now we are debating going to a couple of Open Houses. We got outbid on a house a couple weeks ago and we are still feeling the sting. We over-thought the situation and lost out on a house that we liked enough to put an offer in on.  It lacked closets upstairs and would have to be dormered, hence the desire to chat with Na about their addition, but otherwise it had a lot going on for it. 

Last night we went to a Haunted Historic Tour in Elmhurst.  It was a little cheesy and a lot of a waste of time but it did give us an opportunity to hang out with my cousin and his wife.  It was the first time that we hung out together outside of a family gathering.  Let's just say there was lots to talk about.

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Last day of Summer

Future gift for the Nephew Monkeys
Nothing much to write about because there isn't anything new to report and I don't have much to say.  I have to admit, part of it comes from not having an interactive audience here.  My friends have blogs where others comment and I wonder if it's because they established themselves with one another when the blogging thing first started, or am I just that boring that my friends cannot even check out my blog once in a while even though I comment on theirs quite often.

My 20 mile run at the Ready to Run on Sunday was decent.  CARA has made an event out of the 20 miler the last several years and this year the weather was fantastic.  I walked a little bit but not nearly as much as I did during the grueling 18 miler that I cut a mile short.  I did come to the conclusion that I will most likely run the Detriot half instead of the full marathon in late October.  The thought of walking for 10-15 miles doesn't appeal to me and I don't need another 4+ hour marathon under my belt.

Replacement workout bag: $4 Salvataion Army
I had to replace my workout bag the other day.  I know exciting stuff right.  Running was once marketed as an inexpensive sport.  You only need a pair of running shoes. 

Wrong!  You need running shoes, which are $80-$120 or more.  You need running clothes for all seasons that are designed to wick sweat.  You need several pairs because they get stinky quickly.  Then there's the gels, the GPS watch, the headbands, the gloves, etc.  It all adds up. 

Fortunately you can start slowly and build up over time.  And now stores like Target even have decent running clothes so you're not stuck going to the few dedicated Running Stores within the city limits.  When I first started marathon running, our choices were Fleet Feet, Universal Sole and Vertel's, which couldn't compete and went out of business.  Speaking of which, I've accumulated quite the collection and it's time for yet another running clothes purge.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Connections are Important to keep open in Corporate America

One of my first experiences negotiating the Corporate Ladder came at the No-Name Software Company. My team lead JT -- which stands for Jealous Troll -- wanted all the benefits of being in charge but none of the responsibility.

I recall asking JT for a day off about a month in advanced. JT's answer was to ask him when the time drew closer because he didn't want to endure the overhead of tracking vacation requests. Because, you know, it would be such a hassle to put a note on his Outlook Calendar.

Even with my inexperience in Corporate America, I could see where this was going, especially since I heard him say the counterpart to another teammate earlier in the week. As the date drew closer, he would say "oh so and so already requested that date off and he has seniority." Pause. "You should have asked sooner."

JT had many of these management quirks. When a new guy would start, JT would take the computer equipment ordered for that person and swap it with his stuff so that he had the latest available hardware. And he'd brag about it.

No-Name Software Company was a dysfunctional culture. In the early start up days it was possible to get away with anything because the employees were young and the culture wasn’t very mature. Once we grew and went corporate, that shit wouldn’t fly and JT got demoted. Most of the people he use to have seniority and authority over are higher on the Corporate Ladder than he.  JT finally left the software company about a year ago.

JT reached out to me last week.  Apparently he's sick of his current position and is desperate to get out of there. The interesting thing is a few months ago I reached out to him to see if anyone we worked with needed a new position and he was all coy and evasive, wouldn't connect me with anyone. Instead he took the info and said he’d pass it along

Another person from the No-Name Software Company whom I’ve spoken to on the phone but only met once at a going away party reached out on LinkedIn. At that going away party we were introduced and chatted but were abandoned by our common connection and ran out of things to talk about which thus made for an awkward moment. I think we could have been friends except I suspect my "reputation" kept this person from connecting at first. The LinkedIn connection doesn't mean anything besides she's covering her bases. Still, a part of me likes to think that's progress.

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

We Will Forget

Today is a Tuesday, just like that day 11 years ago. We didn’t have Facebook or Twitter and most people still got their news from the television, not the internet. Today people are posting on FB what they were doing when they heard the news.

I came into the office at the No-Name Software Company and my Team Lead had a smile on his face. Neal said a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center. At that moment, we didn’t know what was happening. Neal just thought it was cool that a plane had crashed into a big building.

When the second plane slammed into the other tower and the first tower collapsed, we knew something more was afoot.

It was so surreal, as everyone has said. The days following were eerily quiet. We looked to the skies for the planes we expected to see going to and coming from O'Hare airport. All air traffic had been stopped and the birds enjoyed the skies to themselves for a while.

A few days later, there was a call to light a candle and step outside at a specific time in remembrance. I recall going outside and seeing no one, the only candle I had was my Confirmation Candle from RCIA. One of my neighbors later claimed she and her roommate had also gone out. I didn’t say anything but my thought was really, you need to fib about that!

In the days and weeks after 9/11, people were noticeably nicer to one another. At the time there was genuine concern more so than fear that the terrorists would strike again and quickly, particularly here in Chicago.

As much I was not a fan of President Bush, I do not criticize him for continuing to read to a classroom of students when someone whispered what was going on in his ear. I do absolutely hate him for the Patriot Act and the creation of TSA. I also have a hard time believing his lack of action directly caused 9/11.

If it didn’t happen on September 11th, we would be saying things like “remember 9/23 or never forget 10/14.” My point is that something was going to happen and for that I do blame Bush and others. Like it or not, our foreign policy has been inconsistent and grossly shortsighted for decades.

We will forget. Not my generation or anyone old enough to fully comprehend what was happening that Tragic Tuesday eleven years ago. We will always think of 9/11 as our Pearl Harbor Day. But even today 9/11 is becoming a faded memory for many, especially those that were not directly affected like New Yorkers, First Responders, and relatives of the fallen.

In 2001, we talked about the events of that Tragic Tuesday for months. The FB posts and Mimes related to 9/11 have already been replaced by current events like the Chicago Public School teachers strike locally and the murder of the US Ambassador to Libya nationally. We will forget.

I wanted to write a lot more about 9/11 but as I already technically missed the deadline, I'm posting what I have and moving on. 

In October of 2001, I ran my 4th marathon, the LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon. My previous three marathons yielded finish times that were over 4 hours, including the 4:00:56 time in 2000. I so wanted to break 4 hours.

There were three songs that I keep running through my head (I don't run with headphones).

Perfect Memory by Remy Zero

Still Fighting It by Ben Folds

Superman  by Five for Fighting.

I don't know why these three songs stuck in my head other than perhaps at the time they were used as background music in some post 9/11 documentaries.  All I can say is that on October 7th, 2001, I not only broke 4 hours, I set a new PR by almost 15 minutes and I think it had something to do with these songs running through my head.

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Thursday, September 6, 2012

Labor Day Weekend delayed post

When you have an impromptu low key cookout, you either get too many guests or not enough guests (to eat all the food) there is no happy medium.

One Saturday at marathon training, Ging asked if she should just invite herself over sometime for a cookout and I suggested the Sunday of Labor Day weekend. We invited SHB and a few other random friends over as well. Okay so it wasn’t completely impromptu, it was more mentioned and then not really planned until last minute.

I use to love to have parties at my place but somehow my condo feels smaller than it did once upon a time. And since we would be hanging out on the deck, we had to keep the invite list manageable, especially since many of my friends from different groups don’t cross pollinate well anyway.

The plan was to enjoy our deck for the afternoon and then head to the Taste of Polonia in the evening. It didn’t go that way at all. First, Ging canceled 11th hour. SHB and her husband aren’t really fest people and they certainly aren’t the type to go to a polish fest. And just as they were getting ready to leave, a couple of NG friends arrived, so at least we had a good rotation.

Friday, August 31, 2012

It's best to shower for everyone's benefit

New shoes broken in this week
 I’ve talked about the challenges involved with marathon training many times here. The first and last third of the schedule aren’t so bad, especially for the Novice and Intermediate programs. At the beginning the distance for the weekday runs are less than 5 miles which is easy for most runners to get in before work, during lunch or after work even in warm temperatures. At the end you are tapering and the mileage decreases as well.

It’s the middle of the schedule that is always tough. Background on marathon training: There are typically three training programs that people follow: Novice, Intermediate and Advanced schedules. The essential difference is amount of miles you run per week, including longer LRs. For instance this past Saturday it was 15, 17 and 19 respectively.

Here’s a typical week pulled from the middle of the schedule:

Mon Tue Wed Thur Fri Sat (LR) Sun
Rest 4 mi 9 mi 5 mi Rest 18 mi  Rest

If you don’t run before work, you have to run after or during lunch. The typical member of the RatRace isn’t going to get that 9 mi run in during their lunch “hour”. If you go by the book and adhere to expert advice, you really should allow 24 hours rest between runs and a rest day before your LR. It’s a good idea to take a couple days off after the LR once the mileage gets up to double digits.

Some people are very consistent and can adapt their lives to this schedule. SHB is one of those people though she pays a price for that ability.  For most, including myself, Life gets in the way and I end up adapting the schedule to my life. In my former Single Life, there was always some social event that promised interaction with the opposite sex and adult beverages. I’m terrible at getting up before work and running and back then running during lunch wasn’t an option so I often had a dilemma: run after work or go to the event? In the early weeks both could be done with time for a shower.

Today I don't usually have a social event to run off to after work.  Instead I'd prefer to get home before the parking disappears and enjoy some sunset decktime. Yet I still struggle with keeping to the schedule. 

Weather wise, it would have been prudent for me to run Mon, Tues and Wed with two days of rest before this week's 18 miler. Even though Saturday's run sucked, it was a cutback so it would have worked from a mileage standpoint as well.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Two Brilliant Moves Inspired by Life Hacker

Two brillant moves I've made this summer thanks to Life Hacker

1) we could not get good wifi on our back deck. If we had our door open, we got a sight unstable signal. With the AC on, we usually needed to keep that door closed, which all but killed the signal.

Gotta find a use for that extra network port
 One option was to hack my old routerlike this article suggests, and convert it into a repeater.   The IT geek in me really wanted to try this.  However, I know that since this isn't something I do every day, it would probably take me hours longer than the article suggests.  Instead I bought a repeater on the recommendation of a friend from the Low Rent Consulting Company days.  Berwyn Boy knows his stuff when it comes to networking and I trust his recommendation.

It cost $60 but it was money well spent because I didn't waste 2+ hours of my life attempting to acheive this hack. The sad thing is that I'm probably going to try when we get a house because I suspect I'll need more than one repeater and because I'd be a poor IT guy if I didn't try. So challenge accepted.

2) Through another LH article, I discovered Amazon Subscribe and Save. Changing the cat box has become my job and along with that comes buying the litter. Given that's one more thing to haul up two flights of stairs especially since we sometimes don't get to park on our block let along out front of our condo building, I decided to give this a test and ordered Kitty Litter.

The possibilities are only limited to our available storage
I read through the reviews at Amazon and there is some controversy over the type of litter they advertise and what they actually send. If you don't know this, cats can be somewhat picky about where they shat. There's also issues with dust and clumping and whatever. Basically the pet industry has figured out a way to make oodles of money on cat latrines.

We are fortunate that the brand they ship meets our needs so once the first order I arrived, I upped our monthly repeating order to a full months supply. Yes it costs a little more than at Jewel but it's totally worth it.

When we get the house, I may add other items like paper towels and toilet paper.

Monday, August 27, 2012

A Tale of Two Armstrongs

Last week we lost two heroes named Armstrong. One through death, and the other through a fall from grace.

With apologies to Charles Dickens:

One was the best of a generation, one was his own worst enemy,
One advanced the Age of Wisdom, one apparently succumbed to foolishness,
One was the epoch of belief, one will unfortunately become the epoch of incredulity,
One invited the season of Light, one will now live seasons of Darkness,
One brought the spring of hope, one bears the winter of despair.
Both Armstrongs were heroes and had their moments in the historical spotlight. Neil avoided it, Lance exploited it.

I was barely two months old when Neil Armstrong walked on the Moon. So I cannot accurately speak of what it was like to be there when it happened. Ironically, we didn’t have social media, yet achieved something fantastic with technology and budget probably significantly infantile when compared to the infrastructure of YouTube, Twitter and Facebook.

News sources agree that Neil was truly reticent. He downplayed his role in history, and didn’t reach for supersized share of the glory pie. I’m guessing he wasn’t part of the one percent, though I doubt anyone would begrudge him if he were. He was content to retire in a suburb in Ohio and teach at University of Cincinnati. Very modest for someone who went where no man has gone before.

Lance Armstrong is the polar opposite of Neil. An opportunist, he leveraged his battle with Cancer and his passion for cycling to raise millions of dollars for cancer research. His other claim to fame was leaving his wife for Cheryl Crow. We may never know the intimate details as Kristin has been nothing but classy about it on her blog.

And while I thought he was such a pompous ass when he attempted to run his first marathon that I not so secretly wished he would break a leg, I too cheered when he broke the record for Tour de France titles. After all, it gave French people yet another reason to hate Americans.

In the minds of his detractors, Lance fought USADA because he was a cheater. And he gave up the fight because he was a cheater. Can’t have it both ways. Maybe he just realized it was a no-win situation. In no-win scenarios, heroes are expected to make the best, right decision not the easy, popular decision.

I don’t know if Lance cheated and neither does the average Joe. Only Lance and his maker know for certain. According to my quick Google-fu, Lance never failed any tests and there hasn’t been an official trial. There have just been a group of people who testified that they saw him doping. Either the guy found a new way to dope that eludes testing, or … Occam's razor might apply here.

Both Armstrongs were heroes, which are always harder to believe in than martyrs. And because they are harder to believe in, they are judged harder and held to a higher, perhaps impossible standard.

Neil held to that standard by staying out of the limelight and true to his beliefs that “The space program was one with many, many moving parts, and he was only one of them.” He worked within the system to find the balance between giving the public what they wanted and maintaining his privacy.

Lance attempted to outpace that standard and was seduced by opportunity. He bucked against the system time and time again and when the music stopped, he had more people who wanted to see him fall than rise.

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Different approaches to the same goal

Not one of our more active weekends.  MIL is in town staying with us for the weekend because she has a nearby work assignment during the week.  So we are dragging her along on our errands and house-hunting adventures.  We were walking around the neighborhood of a house we are going to look at and found a gem of a second hand store where I picked up a nice little book for our future children.

Hopefully this gives them an edge at Hogwatts
 Nightingale has been coming to the downtown site to do some running with one of our friends. They are training for the Detriot Half Marathon so it makes sense for Nightingale to meet up with her before the sun gets too hot.  With MIL in town, Nightingale was anxty about getting home as quick as possible. 

This is one of the ways we don't operate on the same wavelength.  I figure her mom is capable of keeping herself entertained for a few hours while we go about our routine.  Nightingale believes that her mom is in town and they should spend every available moment together.  It's probably how normal people do it but I was raised by wolves.

We still made time for breakfast and social maintenance with our runner friends.  SHB asked me how my run went and I didn't seize my moment quick enough so she started talking about hers.  With her I feel like I have to either say everything I want to say in that moment or yield the floor.  After a 12 mile run, it sometimes takes me a minute to gather my thoughts.  I did make a little better progress getting talk time in at the Starbucks though that is probably because there were only three of us.  When there's an audience SHB doesn't give up center stage very easily.

In any event, this run was not as good as the 15 and 16 milers probably because it was hotter and humid,  and I also wasn't properly hydrated especially since Nightingale, MIL and I went through four bottles of wine.  At least I did go to bed early enough even though they stayed up and argued politics until midnight.

It's hard for me to determine if my struggles are simply that I haven't run this much mileage in a couple years and my body is making normal adjustments or if it's my knees, or both.  To be sure, the knees do experience some soreness.  There's also some tightness in the quads, hamstrings and even IT band.  This is usually somewhat normal for runners training for a marathon.  I need to err on the side of caution however and slow down or cut out miles if it gets to be too much however and live to run another day.  After next week's 18 miler I should know better whether it's soreness or pain.

So this is the last weekend that DrDrea and Tracy are both leaving Chicago on Monday.  DrDrea is moving to Houston to be with her husband and Tracy is starting a new position in DC.   Normally we'd do something with them this weekend but again, with the MIL in town, it isn't very feasible.  I hope DrDrea understands: welcome to Married Life.

Friday, August 17, 2012

It's hard to run when you have your foot in your mouth

I worked from home (WFH) on Wednesday so that I could get my midweek long run in and also go to the concert in the park. It was 8 miles and I had intended to run earlier in the morning or at least no later than noon, since that would be the lunch hour and I'm least likely to get bugged by work related events. Unfortunately a call took longer than expected so it wasn't until 1pm when I got out the door. Even at my peak form it would have taken me an hour to run 8 miles and when you factor in traffic, water fountain stops and whatever else, we're talking the better part of 90 minutes all said and done.

Getting an 8 mile run in city streets requires a very carefully planned route. I usually run east to Sacramento and then head north until I can connect with Ronan Park. An out and back on this route gives me 6 miles. By running California Avenue, and then north through the windy Ravenswood Manor streets I can usually add an extra half mile each way. So I would have had to simply find another mile at the end, perhaps run up another north-south street to Irving Park and back.

Alas, I just wasn't feeling it. Though I'm getting stronger, I'm not in peak form and with the cloud cover gone and the sun, it wasn't an effortless run. Plus I was stressing in my mind about not having enough time to do all the choirs I’m able to attend to while WFH and still make it downtown to meet Nightingale for setting up. So I opted to cut the run short. I was going to come back up Sacramento Avenue to catch the light at Lawrence but wanted to hit one last water fountain. This is where i goofed and went around the wrong side of the Water Reclamation plant, not only missing the water fountain but extending the route that i was trying to shorten.

The point is that because I started my run late, ran it at a diminishing pace and took a different street home than planned, I ran into none other than Yoga Instruction Julie.  Julie use to teach a yoga class at St Ben's and I (and later Nightingale) would attempt a session or two. 

I had seen on FB that she had recently had a baby and it appeared her and her husband moved from their condos to a SFH. I just sort of assumed they bought one in the Green Zone. While we were catching up, she mentioned that she lived nearby. She actually told me the cross streets and had I not been in the middle of a runner's high induced lack of concentration, i would not have put my foot in my mouth. I told her we were house hunting too and she asked if in this hood. We were on Ravenswood Manor side of Montrose and I blurted out "no we cannot afford here." I assumed Yoga Julie and her husband had simply sold their GZ condo and managed to find a home here. Then I realized she was walking toward West Horner Park, just a half mile or so from my place.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Ravinia Learning Curve

Every summer we talk about going to Ravinia and Ravinia-like events as much as possible. It's fun to pack a picnic, grab some wine and enjoy music with friends under the stars. We go through what I call the Ravinia Learning Curve. The first time we set out, we usually forget many things like paper plates, plasticwear and the all important corkscrew. Or everyone brings a lot of the same things (chips and salsa, and tons of hummus).
We try to grap a spot near the bathrooms but not too near the bathrooms

By the end of season we're experts in what to bring and how to pack and then the winter comes and we somehow lose our learning curve.

Last year Nightingale's schedule was not Ravinia friendly and I ended up going to a couple of concerts without her.  Now that she is done with school and has a more marriage friendly work schedule, we were determined to make it to more events this summer. 

We haven't made it to Ravinia yet -- and probably won't as Summer winds down -- but we have gone to two free concerts at Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millenium Park. I think I like these better because you don't need a ticket (yay for free) and its easier for us to get to than Ravinia.  Nightingale already works downtown so we load her car with the blankets and non perishables and then I meet up with after work (either working from home or the downtown office) and we go claim a spot.

We were there yesterday and while I did invite some of my imaginary guy friends, they must have had their invisibility cloaks on because none were there.

The people in front of us

More people in front of us