6/21/2016

High Noon

Why do so many youtube reviews of amps and effects always begin with all the controls at noon? I wonder if people actually set their gear up that way. Electronically, there's usually nothing special about noon (i.e. it's usually not "flat") and the device rarely sounds its best dialed that way. I don't do video reviews but if I did, I'd dial up the best sounds that it was capable of. And maybe the worst as well.

6/19/2016

Small Day



"So, do you have a big day planned?"

"Nope. I have a small day planned. As small as I can make it."

So went my exchange with the hair stylist this morning. I decided to go out and get a haircut on Father's Day.

It was a productive weekend. I assembled a hitch cargo carrier which I'd been reminding myself to buy every camping trip for the last 3 years when I'd stuff the SUV to the brim with crap. It's funny. The wife and I used to camp for 3 or 4 days and carry everything in two backpacks. I used to do crazy stuff like cut half the handle off my toothbrush to save weight and space in my pack! But with kids, we require an entire SUV, and now a cargo carrier. Anyway, I also rigged a place in the garage to hang the carrier when it's not being used.

After my haircut, I spent the day removing grout from our master bathroom shower with Chris Isaak, King's X, and The Beat keeping me company (apparently I was in an '80s kind of mood). Removing grout is a tedious and tiring job. But now it's done and I just need to re-grout it.

I wrapped up at about 5PM, then took a shower. For dinner, I grilled some ribeyes. Overshot the cooking time a little (medium rather than medium-rare), but they were still quite tasty. The wife (God bless her) made chocolate soufflés for dessert.

Small-ball Father's Days are the best.

5/27/2016

Dumeril's Ruby Slippers

Ridin' the storm out
I've had a fear/fascination with tornadoes since I was a child. To this day, I still have dreams about them occasionally. But after 25 years of living in Texas, I'd grown to accept them as part of the deal with living there. During my time in Texas, I spent a few evenings in the closet under the stairway waiting out a tornado warning. I watched from a high rise office building as the storm that produced the F5 that obliterated Jerrell came roiling into downtown Austin. My boss and I foolishly drove into a really nasty looking cumulonimbus while driving a rental car to Austin after our flight was diverted to Abilene due to storms. Within a minute of driving into that black cloud, all hell broke loose but at least there wasn't a tornado although that storm produced several that day. I finally got to see a tornado with my own eyes north of Austin about 16 years ago.

Here's my latest tornado tale. It happened yesterday while trying to return to Raleigh from Kansas City.

If you've been paying attention to the Weather Channel the last few days you know that the Midwest is currently getting pummeled with storms. My flight was scheduled for 6PM but I arrived at the airport early at about 3:30. It was already looking pretty ominous when I returned my rental car and I'd mentally accepted the possibility that my flight might get delayed or canceled. I went through the security line, bought some snacks, then settled into a seat to work on my laptop.

About 30 minutes later, the emergency sirens went off. A person on the airport intercom announced that a tornado in Platte county triggered the sirens, but it wasn't close to the airport and that everything was okay for the time being.

I watched the storm through the big terminal windows. It was coming down in sheets by that time. Fierce wind. A few minutes later, they came back on the intercom to tell us what we were to do if we did need to evacuate - exit the gate area, proceed to the ticketing area, and go down the stairs to the tunnel hallway that leads to the lower level parking garage.

Another 10 minutes and we got to put those contingency instructions to use. They announced that a tornado had been sighted near the airport and we were to evacuate to the storm shelter.

People were remarkably calm. I guess living in Kansas will do that to you. No pushing, no panicking. People calmly but efficiently proceeded to the ticketing area and down the staircase. A lot of people stopped at the foot of the stairs and kind of block progress for a little while (not realizing how many people were going to be coming down those stairs) but an admonition from security cleared that up quickly. They piled about 400 people into that tunnel. I went most of the way to the end of the tunnel where there were glass doors leading to the parking garage. I didn't get too close to the doors because, you know, glass. But I could see through them to the area beyond where you could see the effects of the storm. It was clearly a violent storm, with tons of rain blowing sideways.

I chatted up some people near me and saw a guy wearing a T-shirt advertising a Harley dealer in Las Cruces. It's not often that I see fellow New Mexicans, but I didn't get a chance to talk with him.

After about a half hour, the storm settled down a bit and they let us go back upstairs. So we didn't get blown to Oz.

Unfortunately everybody had to go through security again, which really sucked. I stood in a line with several hundred people and TSA didn't ease up on their screening process in order to expedite things. It took awhile, but I made it.

Unfortunately, but not surprisingly, my flight ended up being canceled. There was yet another huge line at ticketing to re-book flights, so I decided to just check into a hotel and re-book from there over the phone.

So I write this from my room at the Four Points Marriott near the airport in Kansas City. It things go to plan, and it's not clear they will, I'll get on the same flight 24 hours later to get back home. Wish me luck!

4/11/2016

Dave's Excellent Adventure, Part II

So the flight back to Raleigh proceeds uneventfully except for a bit of weather-related turbulence. It's funny. I've traveled a lot over my life. When I first started, turbulence didn't phase me. I just got a kick out of being on a plane. Then over the next 10-15 years as air travel lost its novelty, I became more and more bothered by turbulence and thinking about falling out of the sky would make me nervous about flying. But at some point, I looked back at my early life and how enjoyable I found flying, and I decided I simply didn't want to be one of those people who allowed irrational fears to affect what I do and keep me from enjoying my life. To me, that's weakness of the worst sort. I don't want to be controlled or even slightly influenced by stupid shit like that. Life is challenging enough without inventing obstacles to worry about. So I just mentally decided I wasn't going to let it bother me. And now it doesn't. Simple as that, I just willed myself out of letting it affect me. The mind is an amazing thing.

Anyway, I'm in the next to last row of seats due to my crummy boarding sequence number. But considering the relative ease with which the airline allowed me to do a last-minute change to my travel plans, I'm not complaining. At least it's an aisle seat. The plane touches down at RDU near midnight, and I do the half hour drive home. I'm in bed by 12:45AM.

Normally, I'm an early riser and don't require an alarm. But this week I've accumulated a sleep debt, so that night I set my alarm for 7:30AM. It's a good thing because the alarm wakes me out of a deep sleep. I get showered, pack clothes for the weekend, and I'm ready to go at 8:30. But I can't leave. Remember when I said that the kids were staying with neighbors? Well, they're now waiting outside across the street for the school bus. They don't know I'm just inside our house. I haven't seen much of them for over a week (remember, I was sick, then they went on the fishing trip without me, and then I went on a business trip). I really want to go outside, give them hugs, and tell them goodbye before I drive to Alabama. But I resist the temptation because they're at an age where seeing me may make them decide that they want to go with me to Alabama and they won't understand why I won't take them. I don't want to have that conversation and make them get on the bus after rejecting their pleas to go with me. So I wait inside for their bus to pick them up before loading the car and starting for Alabama.

The drive to Alabama goes without a hitch. I-85 is packed as usual. Everything is flowing well, but all that traffic means that driving requires constant concentration. There's no mental downtime. I bring my camera because, well, that's what I do. But I'm in a hurry and I don't stop to take any photos (although I do make a mental note that I'm going to have to do some sunrise photos of Jordan Lake very soon!). I only stop for gas, food, and to pee. As I said, traffic on I-85 is flowing nicely. But I hit the usual traffic jam on the I-285 loop around Atlanta. Now, I'm used to shitty traffic as I lived in Houston for a few years. But Houston has nothing on Atlanta for shitty traffic. Atlanta is like one giant parking lot.

I arrive in Tallassee in the late afternoon/early evening. Unfortunately, through a miscommunication they ended up scheduling the funeral for Friday. So I've missed the service! This really sucks. Partially because I don't want it to appear that I didn't care enough to attend the service, but mostly because I would have liked the opportunity to pay my final respects to my father-in-law. But what's done is done and it doesn't do anybody any good to worry or complain about it. I'm here now and I can still serve a purpose in supporting my wife and grieving and reminiscing with the family.  So I do that. I've said my prayers and have gone through my mental tributes to my father-in-law on the drive out. So that'll have to do.

We spend Saturday at my in-law's home where my wife receives a few of my father-in-law's possessions that hold sentimental value to her. I'm really glad she got those because those kind of things mean a lot to her.

We get back to the hotel late on Saturday night. Honestly, I think it would have been better to have another day there, but we've got to get back to the kids and I've been out of the office for two weeks already. The drive back home goes basically the same as the drive out, which is to say, uneventfully. I share the driving duties with my wife though, so at least it's less exhausting.

When we get back home, I find out from the neighbors that my oldest son was really missing us and asked several times to come home. So it was a good thing that I didn't go out say "Hi" to him before he got on the school bus. That would have probably set him off and made the whole thing a lot harder on him.

So right now I'm at work, typing up my blog post. This little chapter of my life is over. Lots of stress, lots of sorrow, lots of reflection. But I'm glad to be home, healthy, and with my family. The events of the past couple weeks have reminded me that I have a good life and that I should pause every so often and appreciate it.

4/07/2016

Dave's Excellent Adventure, Part I

So, here I sit in Houston Hobby airport, in the middle of a surreal segment of my life. I've just finished a surprisingly good (for airport food) meal of fajitas from Pappasito's airport location and listening to a surprisingly good flamenco band playing in the food court. Not a bad bit of travel downtime in the big scheme of things.

Let's go back to last week. On Monday 3/28, I went to work as usual. It's the last week of the quarter and therefore Potential Hell Week. Which means that, every deal closing has the potential for an all-hands-on-deck exercise to ensure the sales rep gets whatever he needs to close it. Whatever he asks for, he gets. Urgently. But that's fine, I know the score.

Unfortunately, just after lunch I started feeling bad. A little dizzy, a little nauseous, slight sore throat. It wasn't the food. I was coming down with something, and it was coming on fast.

By that evening, I had a full-on headache. The little bit of nausea turned into a lot of nausea, and my sinuses were screaming. The flu perhaps? So the rest of the week, I was home sick in bed. Last week of the quarter; absolutely the worse timing.

But there were no fire drills to help reps close deals. That's fortunate from the standpoint of my flu. But the reason there were no fire drills, is because deals were not closing. And that's not good from the standpoint of continued gainful employment. Frankly I don't know what, if any, fallout there will be on that, but that's not really where this story is going anyway. Another day on that one.

My week in bed, I spent binge-watching Dexter on-demand. Made it through most of season 5, including the big season 4 finale where Rita dies. A great show and I'm enjoying it immensely, although being sick in bed and watching a series about a serial killer is not a recipe for a bright, optimistic outlook. But dammit, I like the show and I press on.

Anyway, another thing I'm doing during my illness is desperately hoping I get a leg up on the illness by Friday (4/1), as I have a small vacation planned for the family. I've been looking forward to it for six months. It's going to be opening day of trout season and this will be year two of what will hopefully be a family tradition of renting a cabin in western NC, getting up at the crack of dawn on opening day, and trying to catch river trout.

Unfortunately, by Thursday I'm really no better and I decide I'm not going to go. However, the cabin's already been paid for so I encourage my wife and the kids to go on without me and they do. While they're fishing, I continue watching Dexter and convalescing. I think the loss of Rita has eroded a bit of soulfulness from the show, and for this subject matter you need that heart lest the show become fall into just being a murder of the week. I'm curious to see if and how they'll restore that balance. But I digress.

On Thursday night, I start to wonder if all the pollen in the air is part or all of my problem. There's a layer of green/yellow dust on everything outside where all the trees have blown their spores in the air. Allergies or not, that shit can't be doing me any good. So on Friday, I go out to the drug store to stock up on allergy meds and get some distilled water for the neti pot.

Now that actually did some good! I don't know if my illness was ready to turn the corner anyway or if flushing pollen out of my sinuses with the neti pot actually made a difference, but Friday I seem to get a leg up on it and start recovering over the weekend.

Damn good thing too. Because I know have a business trip coming up the next week. By the time my wife and kids get back from fishing on Sunday (caught only one fish between 'em!), I'm feeling a lot better and confident about my business trip.

On Tuesday (4/5) I leave for Wichita Kansas. I'm scheduled to talk to some customers about our product roadmap plans. On the next evening, I'm scheduled to fly to Houston to do the same with other customers.

The flight to Wichita occurs without any sinus issues, so that's a huge relief. My business meeting goes well. During the meeting my wife leaves me a voice mail but I don't have time to check it. I get to the airport to catch the flight to Houston and have some spare time, so I listen to the message. My wife sounds distraut and wants me to call. So I do.

My father-in-law has died.

I won't spend a lot of time talking about him – once again that's a post for another day. But let me just say he was a good man and I will miss him.

My wife of course was broken up. We'd been expecting it for quite some time with his Alzheimers, but no amount of knowing it's coming can really prepare you to lose a parent. It's a shit sandwich no matter how you prepare it. My wife was hurting, but I was literally a thousand miles away. And my mind's reeling because I'm processing the news, while simultaneously trying to figure out what I should do in terms of my travel. I don't think I was properly attending to my wife's emotional needs on our call because of this. So about 10 minutes after we talk, I call her back to talk some more, this time letting my heart do the talking instead of my head.

After some minutes pondering it, I decide that my odds of getting back to Raleigh that night are very low. My best bet is to go ahead and travel to Houston and try to get back to Raleigh from there. My original itinerary had me flying from Houston to Raleigh on Friday (4/8), but I think that I can do my Thursday meetings in Houston, then catch a flight back that evening, arriving home a day early. I make the calls and get it arranged. By the way, at this point, I'd like to give a shout-out to Kathy at Southwest Airlines for getting me on the flight with no change fees or airfare differences. She probably pulled some strings to make that happen.

So I arrive in Houston, call my wife and do some more feeble consoling over the phone. The funeral service is scheduled for Saturday, with a Friday viewing at the funeral home. While I'm doing my business meetings, my wife will fly out to Alabama where her dad lived. Then I will fly back to Raleigh that night, and drive out to Alabama on Friday. I will miss the viewing, but at least I'll be able to attend the funeral service. The kids will be staying with neighbors since they're not old enough to really process all of this. Heck, I'm not old enough to process all of this.

To recap, here's my itinerary:
  • Tuesday – Fly from Raleigh to Wichita
  • Wednesday – Fly from Wichita to Houston
  • Thursday – Fly from Houston to Raleigh
  • Friday – Drive from Raleigh to Tallassee Alabama for the funeral service
  • Sunday – Drive back to Raleigh
Yikes. It's a crazy schedule, and occurring while I'm still a bit woozy coming off the flu. But it is what it is.

My meetings in Houston on Thursday go well. And that brings us to this moment. I'm in the airport food court waiting for my flight to Raleigh. I've finished a good meal and I'm listening to flamenco which I've always liked. So it's a nice little respite in the middle of an insane schedule – the eye of the hurricane.  At about midnight tonight, I'll land in Raleigh, drive home and, try to get as much sleep as possible before the 10 hour drive to Alabama on Friday.

3/10/2016

Opening the Box


Last week I ordered some prints of my favorite photos to hang in my office. I ordered them on metallic paper from Adoramapix, as I'd had some other prints made in the past on metallic from Adorama and and I absolutely love them. Unfortunately, this batch wasn't quite as fabulous. Well, some of them were, but overall the prints were a bit darker and had a warmed tone that my other metallic prints don't have (and weren't apparent when viewing the photos on my computer). The prints do look cool, but decidedly different than they look on my computer.

Now, I realize there could be a variety of things going on:
  • My monitor is not calibrated, so it's entirely possible that my monitor is brighter and cooler-toned than it should be which is causing me to compensate and adjust my photos to be overly dark and warm.
  • I had Adoramapix do color correction on them (because my monitor isn't calibrated) and maybe I just didn't care for the job that whoever worked on my photos did.
  • Maybe Adoramapix uses a different metallic paper than they did before and the current paper (Kodak Endura Metallic) imparts that look.
It's impossible to tell exactly what caused the problem because there are too many variables. All of this points to the need to calibrate my monitor and get serious about color management. I've been avoiding getting into it because color management is a bit of a Pandora's box - there's a lot to learn and a whole lot of tedious work to get all the tools and workflow set up just right. I've been fortunate in the past that either my photos have printed pretty true to how I see them, or I've not had the discerning eye to be bothered by the differences. But I think I've reached the point in my photography where I need that control and the box needs to be opened.

3/07/2016

The Best Camera


I'm an early riser. Yesterday I woke up at about 6:30AM. My 11 year old had had a sleepover for his birthday the night before, so I was planning to go to the store to buy some bacon to make breakfast for everyone. I got downstairs and looked out the window and saw that it was foggy. Prime photo opportunity! But I had a dilemma: My cameras were in the bedroom. My wife is not an early riser but she is a light sleeper and I usually let her sleep in on weekends. So I could go creeping back in there and surely wake her up, or I could just let the photo opportunity to pass. I decided instead to just use my phone and live with its photographic inadequacies. I went to a nearby lake and snapped a dozen or so shots before heading off to the grocery store as per the original plan. This photo is my favorite of the lot, and if I say so myself it's not bad at all.

The old cliché is true: The best camera is the one you have with you.

2/25/2016

The Pencil Is Mightier Than the Laptop

I'm a note taker. Have been for more than 30 years. When I was in college (before laptops became ubiquitous), I had a set of loose leaf binders – one for each class in the semester – that I'd fill. Mostly handwritten notes from lectures but also handouts, tests, quizzes – anything associated with the class. I had decent handwriting and the ability to organize things pretty well on-the-fly. I developed a little system. I devised a set of symbols and abbreviations to shorten common words and phrases. I used mechanical pencils so I wouldn't have to sharpen them, nice drafting erasers so I could erase errors cleanly, and a 3-hole punch so I could incorporate any printed material into my notebooks. It was a great system, the creation of which help me memorize stuff and made a great study aid for tests. I was so attached to my notes that when a semester was over, I'd seal up the notes for each class in manila envelopes and file them away in boxes, which I still have in my attic! Nuts, huh?

When I joined the working world, I continued my note taking. Ironically, as a working professional my notebooks were less organized. In retrospect I suppose it's because college lectures are usually (hopefully!) monologues delivered in some kind of orderly fashion, but works days are haphazard and require you to be an active participant, not just a listener. So my work notes were more unstructured and chaotic. But they were still essential to helping me remember things. When laptops became ubiquitous my notes became electronic. First as text documents filed in folders. Then eventually I discovered OneNote and became a big fan. With OneNote I love how you can incorporate any media into your notes, insert web links, embed other documents, and link notes to appointments in Outlook. And I absolutely adore electronically searching for things - that's a huge time saver.

But I'd noticed that my retention of material when I take notes on a laptop is much reduced. Honestly I thought it was the slightly diminished memory of my middle aged brain. But then I listened to a Freakonomics podcast that talked about studies showing that understanding and retention of material is significantly eroded when you take electronic notes. It wasn't just me! The suspected (but unconfirmed) reason is related to the fact that you can't write as fast as you can type. This forces you to listen and assess what is being said so you can figure out what are the important bits to commit to your notes – as opposed to typing where you become a machine just transcribing words without a lot of thought. Also, the physical act of writing might have an impact as well. Regardless of the reasons, it's been proven: Handwriting notes leads to better understanding and recall.

So a couple weeks ago, I decided to try out my old way of doing it again. I bought a notebook and a couple of mechanical pencils and drafting erasers. I decided to not use OneNote for my business meetings. I would still use it for research because of the multimedia abilities, but otherwise I'd commit to using pencil and paper for at least a couple weeks. And I'd try to make my paper notes a little more structured and suitable for later referral than my earlier work notes on paper.

This week was the real test. I had a series of customer meetings, each was 2-3 hours long and covered several topics with multiple speakers. I used completely handwritten notes for all the meetings. In these meetings complicated problems were being discussed, important information was being revealed, key decisions were being made, and critical tasks were being handed out. So it was very important to my job to stay engaged.

The result? I'll be damned if it didn't freakin' work! A surprise for me is that, for some reason, my mind doesn't wander as much when I'm writing on paper. Honestly, in the past I've found it difficult to stay 100% in the game beginning to end in these sort of long intense meetings. But this time I was fully engaged the entire time. And I definitely have a much better understanding and recall of the meetings, I'd say the experiment was a big success.

I'm still a bit worried about losing the ability to electronically search my notes, but I think there's really something to handwritten note taking. I'm going to keep it up. I need to re-think my system a little because I'll need to refer back to my notes longer than just one semester. Maybe. Come to think of it, once a note is 3 months old, it's a rare event that I need to refer to it again. And once it gets a year old, I can safely toss it 99.9% of the time. I will need to figure out how to best divide and organize my meeting (handwritten) notes and research (electronic) notes so I can find things. But I think the effort will be worth it.