Myriad Randomness – Drought Edition

As you may have heard, there is drought in California.  What does this mean to me, specifically?  I’m glad you asked.  Here’s what I’ve changed.

  • I have a bucket in the shower. I catch the “warm up” to water the tomatoes.  That’s new.
  • I reuse my shower towel “many” times. It is 85+ most days and it dries quickly.  That cuts down on washing.  I did this in college and in my younger days.  No longer is my hamper full of towels.  (You know, that subtle status symbol of being economically stable.)
  • I only run my sprinklers 2 days a week. Usually after 9pm when the sun goes down.  My once envied super green lawn looks like every other sad, green lawn in the Nor Cal.  I haven’t decided to kill it yet.

What does this mean?  We are mandated to cut our usage by 25% from 2013.  May I was down about 50%.  No earth shattering changes.  Just lots of little ones.

I know I’ve been a bit outspoken politically lately.  Quite honestly I’m both thrilled and heartened by many (but sadly, not all) of the responses I have gotten.  Don’t go by the comments here, there aren’t many and I delete all the “I want to kill Ashley” or “I want Ashley to host my Bukakke party” comments.  Most are far worse.

But seriously, how can things continue to unravel in our world?  Pope Francis works hard to bring the Catholic Church into the 20th Century and Fox News calls him the most dangerous man in the world?  People I know on Facebook call him “EVIL”.    I guess the world still must be flat, the sun revolves around the earth and Torquemada was misunderstood.  Really?  You know what I think.  I just can’t understand how some conclusion could be reached, held so tightly and preached so violently.  We know the gene pool is flawed, just saying.

I still love my coffee.  Have you had Equator Coffee?  I’ve been buying their stuff on line (their roastery delivers for free for a $50 order and I have it in 2 days) and now they opened a shop next to the Warfield.  We know mid-Market is on the upswing, but this is huge.  Granted it’s a mile walk from the office, but I get exercise, the coffee is great and they have food too.  Check it out.  Only downside is that their bean selection is limited.  No fear here, I don’t mind the online thing.  The sweet spot is the 2 pound bags.  I’ve been drinking the Brazil 45 Espresso (it makes a mean, well rounded regular cup).  $13.25 for 0.75 lbs.  That’s $17.67/lb.  Or $30.05 for 2lbs.  $15.03/lb a savings of 15%.  Compare that the various coffees at Peets’. They are $14.95-$16.95.  So the same price or less and much more complex and delicious.  And honestly, smelling Major Dickasons at home today, it smelled burnt.  Fantastic coffee doesn’t always mean expensive.  But there are expensive options too.  Ping me if you need coffee advice.

Sandra Bland was in jail for 3 days.  She was arrested for an illegal lane change.  Later, she hung herself in her cell (allegedly).  She was college educated.  She was back in her college town for a job interview. And she was black.  I have about 400 questions.  If you don’t, stop reading this now.  You probably shouldn’t ever come back to this page. I’m sure incidents like this have happened far more often than “white” America realized in the past.  It is glaringly obvious now.  Our blinders are off.  They need to stay off.  I’m not going to pontificate on this today.  But I am outraged.  You should be too.  How can you not be?

I’m pondering a long piece on the death of middle management.  Clearly, I’m not in the top 2% and I see so many fixable issues that are allowed to fester.  That’s what 30+ years of working in corporate America will do for you.  Of course I worry about being to self-centered and whiny.  And that you won’t care.

And for those of you that don’t know, R+L=J.  It is known.  It always has been.   Three words: Tower of Joy.

I’ve read a few things lately that you should might enjoy.  I loved the latest James SA Corey Expanse entry Nemesis Games.  It is getting mixed reviews from my friends, but I’m firmly on board and can’t wait for the show on Syfy.  It looks fantastic.

Tex Thompson’s second book Medicine for the Dead builds on her debut, One Night in Sixes and shows vividly what a fantastic writer she is.  Seriously, in 10 years you’ll wonder how you missed this.  She’s going to be huge.   Trust me.

Did you like Flowers in the AtticJR Johansson’s Cut Me Free builds off a similar premise.  It is defiantly YA, but sometimes I act as if I’m 14, so it makes sense.  I really enjoyed it. I’m looking forward to reading more of her stuff.  Especially those that are painted in horror tones.

I’ve never given Leigh Bardugo column space here.  Her Grisha Trilogy is fantastic.  Shadow and Bone, Siege and Storm and Ruin and Rising are all great reads.  Her next novel, Six of Crows, is set in the same universe with new characters.  It is scheduled to come out later this year and I’m excited for it.

In the kitchen this year I’ve mastered hummus.  Who’d have thought?  But homemade is so much better than store bought, especially when you can spice it to your tastes.  More lemon? Yes.  More harissa? Yes.  More fresh onion, garlic and herbs? Yes.  Hummus it’s not just for hippies anymore.  No need to wear the tie dye today.  Tomorrow you can.

I’ve also kicked up the frequency on my bacon jam. Bourbon Maple Bacon Jam.  It goes well on crackers, bread, grilled cheese sandwiches AND on your burger.  I made a huge batch and my guests inhaled it.  Guess I’ll need to make more soon.

The view from my building

And I love working in SF.

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First World Problems – The Customer Is No Longer King

Sometimes I wonder what other people are thinking.  Or you can hear Jerry Seinfeld ranting “what were they thinking?”  I learned early one that most things have an element of customer service.  I work in IT and while there is a ton of technical details to consider, learn and execute, if you fail on the customer service aspect, you’ve failed completely.  Pretty much everything you do, you are doing for someone.  If they aren’t happy, you aren’t succeeding.  I don’t know about you, but I want to succeed every time.

Of course I realize that many companies put rules in place to manage exactly that their employees can and can’t do which often can result in dissatisfied customers.  This is especially true when the staff are not empowered to use common sense or have avenues to do the right thing.  The corollary to everything is customer service is that it is far cheaper to retain a customer than it is to get a new one.  In this case the cost to retain the customer was $35.  I haven’t made up my mind, but as you will see by this on-line venting, I’m not happy.

Let’s rewind the film to last week.  The hard drive on my satellite dvr/receiver died.  There it was on the screen right before work.  Error 311 I believe.  No NFL AM, no Good Morning America, no Despierta America (ok, that’s a guilty pleasure of dancing and Honey the Chihuahua).  I gathered my wits, went to work and called in the problem to DISHnetwork. Or @dish if you are on twitter.

Issue one, you can’t call in a problem unless you are in front of the TV.  They need way too many numbers to do anything.  Of course I got a call center where they wanted me to reboot the device several times.  Of course I had done this 3 times per the instructions on the error message to no avail.  It was dead as doornail.   This also means no Daily Show or Colbert Report before bed.  How would I get my Fox News?  It made me wonder, why couldn’t the installer have noted which machine was in which room?  Add two pieces of info and the need to specifically identify each device is rendered moot.  Unless they don’t want to.  Hey executives, use this idea for free!

So, here I was at work unable to get this party, I mean process, started.  When I finally got home it was late but I called it in and yet another staffer wanted me to reboot.  I satisfied his inner curiosity and showed him it didn’t work.  As well as you can via the telephone.  So it is Thursday night at 11pm and I finally have  convinced someone to send me a device.  It will cost me $15 in shipping.  Ok.

But of course it will take 2-3 (meaning 3) business days to get to me.  Yep, that means Tuesday, best case.  So of course the device comes at 7:30 PM on Tuesday.  Following the Giants win in World Series game 1, I got to installing the receiver at 10pm.  I can do this.

My first clue something would go wrong was step 6 where the software checks to see if my connected phone line or Ethernet cable is working.  I have had DISH for the better part of 20 years, I have never had a phone cable near where the receiver was.  All that means is that I can’t order pay per view.  Color me crushed.  This is great user interface after it fails that step, it lets me know to try again.  Why not ask me if one is connected?  That’s not an option. So it tries again.  That’s two times at two minutes each.  Remember this.  It will come back like that bad fish from that road house you wish you had avoided.

Then came step 7.  This is the step where it tells you call in to active the receiver.  I call. It knows I want to activate.  So far so good.  It doesn’t like the number I’ve punched in.  I’m reading it off the TV screen.  3 time, no bueno.  I push 0 and hope I get a decent agent.  I do.  She activates it.  Then comes step 7a.  10-20 minutes to set up.  Sigh.

So I say goodnight and watch the status bar move slower than traffic at the Bay Bridge Toll Plaza at rush hour. At the 15 minute mark, the screen changes.  That’s right it wants me to call in and activate the receiver, again.  So I call again.  This time there is not activation process, because the system believes it is activated.  I get a nice enough young woman.  Sally as I recall.   She and I had plenty of time to get acquainted.  We were stuck at the activation screen.  She had me  pull the smart card out and that’s when the fun really started.

Pulling the smart card is a hard reset. All sorts of moving parts moved and rumbled.  It was loud.  It was ugly.  It went on for 15 minutes.  And then there was the false ending.  That’s right we were back at the test the phone segment of our show.  FUCK ME.  She suggested I skip this step.  I suggested they put a path for e to skip this step. And we were stuck at the call and activate segment, again.  She sent signals.  I did a rain dance.  I prayed to Cthulhu and the old ones.  No dice.   We pulled the smart card again, and waited 15 more minutes amid the rumbling.

And I’m back at the fucking phone test again.  And the activation screen.  When I’m about to give up and become a Hare Krishna Missionary, it activates.  Of course that means the 20 minute download.  No I’m not letting her off the phone till we are done.  Did I tell you she’s from El Paso and didn’t watch The Bridge? I must have been the only one because she was surprised it was cancelled. She did like Breaking Bad, though.  We bonded watching the status bar do its imitation of paint drying.  I convinced Sally to give me credit on my account, because I had gone 6 days without being able to use that TV.  $7 and change. Woo hoo!

At 23 minutes we discussed the lemon on my dresser and how to replace it.  Then, like Renly’s Ghost on the Blackwater, the TV suddenly went on!  Of course then we waited and bonded for 10 more minutes for the guide any my programming to download.  I hope my mother likes Sally, we’ve become very close  I decided to introduce Sally to the family, as Lambchop slumbered two feet away  ignoring my bonding with the telephone agent.  Finally, I had completed this hideous task.  What should have taken 20 minutes at 9:45 had taken almost 2 hours.  Sally and I parted, my boys would never call her mom.

At 11:45 or so I started watching the repeat of the repeat of the repeat of the World Series Post game.  As the Panda sat down for his interview, the system did hard reset.  That’s right. It was  rumbling and shaking, again making god awful noises.  I was too far into this to quit.  I shut out the light and decided to sleep through it and everything would be good in the light of an October morning.  I should have been thinking mourning.

The third time the system reset and woke me up, I turned off the power to the socket.  Do you think DISH cares that their hell spawned equipment ruined 8 hours of my life?  I don’t think so either. So first thing in the morning, well after a cup of coffee, I called again.  The nice system told me that Sally wasn’t available.  I wondered who the trollop was stepping out on me with.

It didn’t take long to convince the Sally surrogate to send me a new device.  Being reasonable, I asked to have it expedited.  I really didn’t want to wait another 3-4 days because they sent me a lemon.  It would cost $35 dollars to expedite the 3rd receiver.  I suggested as a longtime customer they should waive the fee.  At this point she informs me that because of my less than $8 credit, the expedite fee could not be waived.  I kindly suggested that she reinstate the $7.68 and waive the $35.  She politely informed me she could not.  I suggested she talk to her manager.  He denied me too.  There are rules you see.

Here’s where I got really pissed off.    But first, some background.  I pay DISH in excess of $125 a month.  How much in excess is embarrassing so we’ll skip that.  Let’s just say it has been at that level for about 6 years.  This is the 3rd receiver I’ve had break in 10 years, and I always have 2.  I’m not a high maintenance customer.

They let me know they would waive the $15 standard shipping.  As well they should.  It wasn’t my fault they sent a piece of shit box.  And the kicker?  I was informed if I had paid $8 per month for the protection package, they would have shipped the new receiver overnight FOR FREE!  Let me get this straight, you’d save me $35 if I pay you $96 per year, for the last 4 or 5 years?  I must not be as smart as they think I should be.

DISH is willing to risk a $1500+ per year customer over a $35 charge emanating from their product.  It doesn’t make sense to me either.  Perhaps the customer service VP at DISH is sleeping with the Parking Nazi.  Nothing else really makes sense does it?

Parking Wars: A Descent into Madness

As you might have heard, we had another BART strike in the Bay Area.  This forced every commuter into new modes of transportation.  That meant I had to drive to work.   There were two key impacts here:  traffic was ridiculous and I needed to move my car each day at lunch.  There are plenty of pay lots, but with the abundance of 4 hours spots, and meter maids that only make 1 circuit, it seems silly to pay $7 a day.

You may recall, I have an on-going feud with a business around the corner that harasses people who part outside of their office.  The walls of their office had been cargo bay doors, but now they are walls.  There is one door which might still be a bay, so I don’t park in front of it.

I tend to park other places in the morning, because I can always park in front of their faux driveway in the afternoon.  A few weeks prior I had noticed they had added a new sign on their walls (not the steel doors that protect the walls at night).  They read “Tenant Parking Only  Violators will be towed.”  This is the part of our show where we get to discuss reality and some people’s lack of it.  I have no doubt that the tenants want to park there.  But, as I discussed with a parking enforcement officer, unless there is an official city sign, those signs that were bought on line for $20 hold no weight.  Wow they must be committed to the cause.

(Seriously, check out that link.  Clearly there is a market for people tricking others into not parking in legal spaces.  I bet they make a ton.  Wish I was selling these idiots their signs.  And yes, I know I completely ignore the fourth wall.)

They must have forgotten that the street and sidewalk are public property.  They have no specific rights to stop others from parking there.  While there was a cargo door they had easement rights of access and the right to be unimpeded, but they forfeited those rights when they built walls. The reality is that if they tow someone’s car for parking legally in front of a wall, in a public space, they are liable for the cost and inconvenience. I personally would love for them to tow me so I can sue them and go after punitive damages.  I will.

As delusional as their signs and appeals for drivers to park other places are, they have finally hit a new low.  Last week I got a new harassing flyer.  I put it back in their mail slot, so I’ll have to paraphrase.

[In an angry, yet pleading tone:]

You can’t park here.  We will have you towed.  Really we will.  We haven’t yet because we don’t know how to contact you.  We need these spaces because when we use the cargo door, we need to park the truck at an angle so as not to block the street.  We WILL tow you.

This is so ridiculous that I don’t know where to start.  How about that it’s a very wide street and only a double trailer will block the street?  Or that trucks that are unloading block streets all the time? Perhaps they use the only driver in the US that worries about other cars being able to drive when they are off-loading?  If they park at an angle, how will the cargo be off loaded to the bay, if the truck isn’t flush?  Let that sink in gentle reader.  Reread this list till you realize that it has been proof of sorts.  (I’m sure more than a few of you took geometry in high school.)

Thus, I believe we can safely say that if their goal isn’t to use the bay door as a cargo bay, because the cargo must go the sidewalk before it can be lifted up, then they don’t really need a bay door and the need to not block it is silly.  The truck can park parallel to the parked cars.  I really can’t see how they are making their case.

Therefore, I propose a call to action.  Everyone should find a reason to park in front of 229 Harrison St. in Oakland.  (This is a visual daily double.)   If you look at the picture, you’ll see 4 garage doors:

  1. The first has a stair case in front of it you can park there
  2. I’ve never seen the 2nd open, I wouldn’t park there
  3. The third is an office wall
  4. The fourth is an office wall

This is our cause, take up your keys and park happily.  And when the wicked witch of parking delusions accosts you, tell here Lee sent you.  I don’t suffer fools and neither should you.

This was the start of an exciting several days, don’t miss the next post, you won’t believe my Tuesday.

Of Art, Ice and Fire and Untimely Deaths

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It is no secret I am a huge George R. R. Martin fan.  A Song of Ice and Fire with its  layers of hidden mysteries, plots twists and characters is one of my favorite obsessions; first the book, then the TV show. I am often called on to answer questions for my father and engage in deep analysis with some of my coworkers.  One area that I’m also a fan of is the comic book.

I must admit, however, I’ve not read the comics of  “A Song and Ice and Fire.” In my earlier days, back when Berkeley was the center of the comics universe (other than DC & Marvel offices of course) I worked in one of the premier stores in the country.  I was the old comics buyer and, I’ve been told, I might have been pretty good.  So I have a ton of comic cred, but I really stopped buying them somewhere around 97 or 98.  Having kids also played into that.  Needless to say I have approximately 20,000 comics.  I also have a nice collection of original art. Even though I’ve sold several items over the years, I still have several nice pieces.  These are a few of them:

Ken Macklin's Contractors (1987)

Ken Macklin’s Contractors (1987)

From Fish Police #8

Ted McKeever’s Fish Tale From Fish Police #8

I’ve always loved great art and these two are wonderful.  Ken Macklin never really seemed to get the fame I thought he was due.  This page found its way into my collection over 25 years ago and it is one I won’t part with.  His ability with shading, composition and making animals interesting, without being cloyingly cute are things I’ve always loved.  He’s an artist you might have missed, but shouldn’t have.

Ted McKeever, on the other hand, brings the deranged to life. I loved the work he did on Eddy Current.  Who would not love the exploits of an escaped mental patient?  This page is from a short in the Fish Police.  You’ll notice Inspector Gill stuck in a bar between two headless men.   I have a special place in my heart for Steve Moncuse’s  The Fish Police.  I might have been sitting there late one Saturday might drinking and watching SCTV when one of us yelled, “Holy Mackerel!!! It’s the Fish Police!!”  I’m pretty sure it wasn’t me. Steve never parted with his originals in those days, so I settled for one of the guest artists.

I may need to pick up the run of Game of Thrones comics.  I’m also a huge Daniel Abraham fan, so I feel bad that I haven’t read these.   While I’ve not read them, I do keep abreast of the covers. Michael Miller does a fabulous job with the covers and postes them regularly on his FaceBook page – Art of Ice and Fire.  You might recognize the background of my blog as one of his covers.  His work captures the look and feel  of Martin’s imagination in fantastic detail.  Needless to say, I think he is great.

I became a fan of Mike’s when he did the comic interpretation of  The Hedge Knight.  What? You haven’t read The Hedge Knight, The Sworn Sword or The Mystery Knight?  You don’t know Dunk and Egg?  These are Westeros stories that are set about 80 years before A Game of Thrones.  Not only do they provide clues to mysteries and questions we have about Westerosi history, they are great stories on their own.  Mike drew the art for the comic versions of the first two.  Here’s some art from The Hedge Knight.

to slay a dragon

to slay a dragon

DSC01928

Tourney from the Hedge Knight

In both of those double page pieces, Mike uses composition to make the pieces really sing.  The dragon flowing out of the cowl is very reminiscent of pieces Neal Adams drew in his Ben Casey strip.  And who doesn’t want to be compared to Neal Adams?   The tournament piece highlights the speed and clash of steel that happens.  Mike takes the approach of book-ending the violence with the knights’ prelude to contact and the blood lust of the cheering crowd.  This composition helps to make these pages stand out.

I really like the cover of Dunk sitting melancholy on his horse, echoing Frank Frazetta’s Death Dealer.  Growing up, Frazetta was the premier fantasy artist.  Seeing Mike’s homage the first time made me happy on multiple levels; both nostalgic and present.  As a side note, can I get a show of hands for those of you that have a copy of Molly Hatchet’s Flirting with Disaster and just had the “a ha” moment?

DSC01930 (2) rot

Dunk

I have really liked the covers Mike has done for the comic. Clearly you know I like the one I use as a background on this blog, as well as the other ones above. He does such a great job of conveying both grand fantasy and nuanced detail.  It has been fun watching a very good artist continue to grow and be come a great artist.  In the cover below, look at how much work went into the Hound’s chain mail. Combining that with the well crafted rage in the Mountain’s expression is fantastic.

Sandor-in-A-Game-Of-Thrones-Comic-sandor-clegane-31372205-500-750

Check out the detail on the Hound’s chain mail!

Michael’s latest piece is stunning.  Of course it doesn’t hurt that he has a dynamite colorist adding drama to the finished piece.  In his latest cover, the Kingslayer, Jaime Lannister is bearing down on several unfortunate Northmen.  I thought the detail on the Hound’s chain mail was exquisite. Then I saw Jaime’s armor and his horse’s plating.  Especially exquisite is the details on the coward at the bottom of the cover.  I think he really got that guy’s goatee and nose right!  What really got me is that the character, though unnamed, is Me!.  Seriously.  I had joked with Mike previously about drawing me into a crowd shot.  If I estimate correctly, my face will peek out between the “G” “H” and “R” on the cover.  If only I could use those superimposed letters to hide from certain doom at the hands of the greatest warrior in Westeros.

recognize the guy in the bottom left?

recognize the guy in the bottom left?

Look at me prepare to die in the mud like the sniveling coward I am.  Maybe I can be resurrected and be a blue lipped warlock in A Clash of Kings.

10 Potential Spinoff Shows from ‘Game of Thrones’

10 Potential Spinoff Shows from ‘Game of Thrones’.

I enjoyed this. you might too.  today’s theme:  Lee, the lazy poster.

Chicago: Day 1

As we flew into Chicago’s Midway Airport, I noticed the landscape was very different from home.  Green open spaces and small forests, covered with trees unfit for lumber filled my view.  Then houses and more spaces.  But no real hills or mountains.  I thought it odd that the genie in my iPhone didn’t jump to Liz Phair’s “Stratford-On-Guy”

In 27-D, I was behind the wing
Watching landscape roll out like credits on a screen

</required song quote> Of course I was in 22-C, so there was some logic to the Genie’s decision.  Looking across the row out the window by Lambchop, the description was apt.

A friend had recommended we take the L into town rather than a cab.  A $4.50 train ride beats a $40 cab ride most of the time.  We had two large rolling bags, a duffel bag, a computer and my murse.  I know it’s a messenger bag, but since my niece named it, I always hear her voice when I think of it.  Had we been on a Sunday stroll, it would have been a nice walk. It went on.  And on.  There were elevators and hallways.  Ups and downs.  Lambchop was a trooper and didn’t complain, but I knew she would have been happier in a cab in traffic. Take a  cab on the way back

A few years ago, they added an extension to BART that ran to SFO.  My current position allows me to commute on the train (but of course by now you know this.)  About half the trains I take to work end at SFO and half I take home come from there.  The amount of luggage and neophytes on those cars  make the journey harder than it used to be. Somewhere along the way people decided their luggage should block the aisle and empty seats. Commuting etiquette has gone the way of the dodo. As we wheeled our luggage into the L  and looked for ways to be out of others way, I realized the cost of cab ride made me “that guy.”  I guess everyone does have a price.

As we rode into town, I saw what a different place Chicago is from San Francisco or Oakland, my local urban references.  Flat.  Lots of brick.  Houses, then industrial areas, followed by more houses.  And then, looming to the right, a large skyline.  As much as I love San Francisco’s skyline, it is just a cute puppy compared to Chicago’s Polyphemus – awe-inspiring and, perhaps, partially designed by gods.   We were speechless.  As we drew closer on the train, I think we both noticed each other’s smiles broadening.

Finally getting to our hotel, we quickly checked in and kidnapped our Aussie friend Neal for some <food!> Chicago Style Pizza </FOOD!>and to begin drinking. There was a larger group going out later, but evil forces had scheduled a fantasy football draft at 8pm local time and it was 6pm.  We really hadn’t eaten other than the crackers and pretzels on the plane.  Football and famine demanded a meal then and there.

Dining alfresco was fun, but the humidity did take some getting used to.  We caught up on the last year and enjoyed the cocktails and beers.  I had a chocolate stout that just blew my socks off.   The pizza was pretty good too.  The final crescendo to the meal was our waitress; explaining we were in town for a convention, I asked her for some recommendations.  She came back with a 3 page hand written list that looked like it came from a laser printer.  Such penmanship must delight the kitchen staff.   Mine isn’t good enough to be a doctor.  My favorite Chicago spots were on that list including 1 I had not heard of yet. But one I was to learn to love.

After dinner we headed back to the hotel and my football draft.  Later, we headed down to the bar where we knew our friends would be.  There they were, in the bar almost, but not quite, waiting for us.   We squeezed in to hang out with our friends.  New friends were made and there were copious drinks all around.  Then, there was more drinking.  I had a few cocktails and discussed the “Cheezborger! Cheezeborger! Chip! Chip!” SNL skit  with the guy  that wrote The Song of Ice and Fire books.  Did I neglect to mention we were in town for the World Science Fiction Convention and that is basically the only sectioned event for the Brotherhood without Banners, the George R.R. Martin Fan Club?  I may be a Knighted Ser of that group, but I learned early on that I couldn’t drink like Jebus or schmooze like Ser Cam.

It was a great start to what was about to become a most excellent week.

Napa in 3 dots or less

By now you’ve figured out that I have way too many thoughts running through my head.  It has always been the case, but it can be harder to hide it as I write about diverse topics and try to weave topics together.  Most every day, I start a post only to realize it’s going nowhere fast.  Much like Hawaii, my blog has a minimum speed limit.  Those posts don’t see the light of day.  One day you’ll thank me for that.

Someone recently urged me to write about my last Napa trip so she could live vicariously though my blog.  That post never materialized.  Too many moving parts and too few coherent thoughts prevented that from happening.  But I do have a few things from that weekend.

  • Alpha Omega is fantastic winery. Thanks to my brother for getting us in and kudos to the staff for taking such good care of us.
  • Hartwell and Elyse remain my two favorite Wineries.    Both produce excellent wines and have fantastic staffs.  Hartwell is my luxury Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc.  Elyse’s wines run a wide stretch of the varietals, each excellent.  I love their Cabernets and Petite Sirahs (on the Jacob Franklin label.) The Jacob Franklin Hayne Vineyard Petite is my favorite wine these days and the Quality/Price Ratio at Elyse is off the charts.  Rick at Elyse or David at Hartwell make both places warm, welcoming and must visits.  Drop my name, it might help.  But don’t be upset if it doesn’t.
  • If you must wear designer flip-flops this season, they should Gucci.  Prada is so 2010.
  • Sift in Napa makes great cupcakes judging by the half of the bacon cupcake I was allotted.
  • In Downtown Napa, I love the service, vibe and coffee at Caffe Molinari.
  • Sweetie Pie makes whoopee pies to die for.  Someone please send me a care package.
  • My BBQ is better than the 2 places I had BBQ at.  I’m not sure if I’m that good or they weren’t.
  • Dillon at Cindy’s Backstreet Café made every woman in my family swoon.
  • There was no Jello on the menu at any restaurant I visited
  • Bello Family Vineyards in St. Helena is an up and comer.  Nice wines, great staff and a spectacular tasting room.
  • I sat next to Abbie Hoffman, or someone like him, at the Oakland Raiders Training Camp.

Those are just some of the things I tried several times to weave into a narrative.  Continuing my homage to Herb Caen we have:

  • I have never had a better Greyhound than the ones at Van Kleef in Oakland.  There is magic in their grapefruit juice.  I do love a great dive bar.  Especially one with a Rhino, Boar and Bear holding court.
  • Keep your eyes open for Stag’s Luncheonette in Oakland.  You’ll hear about them soon.
  • Strange de Jim is not feeding me information. His silence frightens me.
  • The drama at work is never-ending.  I am thinking of asking Lemal to write a theme song.
  • I am very excited to being going to the Windy City for WorldCon.  The Brotherhood without Banners will be well represented.  An advance scout team from down under is in San Francisco and ready to drink.  Good times will be had.
  • If you learn nothing else from Robert Irvine, you need to use more salt and pepper.  And you shouldn’t get ice in restaurants.  Too many bad restaurants cause us to question all ice machines, even the clean ones.
  • A six-foot pallet makes a great planter.  But no fence is strong enough to support that weight.  Yes I might have bought 50 more succulents.  And some crazy grasses.
  • The donuts at Donut Savant in Oakland are great.  And small.  My mom would still try to limit me to half of the tininess.

And with that, I hope everyone has a wonderful weekend. Crack a few bottles, have a  whole donut or kiss your loved ones.  It’s all good.  Sometimes, its even better.

 

Opposing views

Wrong is wrong and right is right
Nothing changes overnight
I’ll believe it when I see it in black and white
Todd Rundgren  1976

When I was young, I really believed everything was black and white.  For example, my father was either happy or very angry, there was no in between; vegetables were peas and carrots and those were good or they were lima beans or cauliflower and they were hated.  I was the same way when I started my career things were right or they were wrong- the concept of gray did not exist.  I quickly found that didn’t go over well in the business world.

I am made of strong opinions.  People who don’t really know me see someone who is analytical and breaks everything down into an analysis that generates answers.  Like yes and no.  While I do have those skills and do that from time to time, I’m really much more intuitive, balancing facts, figures and formulas with perception, behaviors and politics.  I didn’t do that so much early in my career and found myself being a polarizing figure.  If you agreed with me or were persuaded by my arguments, you generally like me.  Otherwise, it has always been quite easy to dislike me.  I see that.  I still have strong opinions.  Sometimes I present them less forcefully.

This leads me to where I find myself today – not ready to throw away my principles, but always willing to listen and try to compromise.  The best solutions are not the ones you think of in isolation and force on others.  When you look around you and see who our workplace leaders are, who really holds power in your office or influences others, it is generally not the rocket scientists.  It is not the people who insist on being right 100% of the time.  It is the people who listen, cooperate and communicate.  It’s the people who traditionally did not have all the answers and learned to work well with others.  They probably shared their toys too.

Being able to solve most problems quickly and have the “right” answer has hurt me in retrospect.  It retarded my growth as a person and kept me from building some bridges and relationships that might have helped me in a previously unforeseen manner.   I am not perfect now, but age and my inability to stay in one job help change perspectives.  I no longer am the senior manager/executive who people look to for the answers and leadership.  I’m a consultant.  That’s a fancy name for a contractor with gray hair.

I often find myself disagreeing with the decisions and tactics my coworkers take.  I try to persuade them to consider other angles.  This generally works.  In many discussions with my “boss” I will disagree with him, give him my opinions and why I believe in them.  And then I reiterate that I will do what he wants – it is his shop after all.  I know I am a guest here and I really don’t want to be asked to move out.  Not everyone thinks like that.  I work with a few people who not only have to be right all the time, they need to be continually validated as the  smartest person in the room.  I stopped believing that is possible when I was 35.  Besides, I can usually tell who the smartest person is and it is rarely me.

The other day I overheard another person loudly tell another, “that isn’t best practice and I will fight you on everything that isn’t a best practice!”  Really?  I was appalled.  Beyond the fact that this was confrontational and counterproductive, it was unrealistic.  The concept of best practices is great, but what company is ready to institute best practices across the board?  Most aren’t.  Best practices are like recipes.  It’s great to have recipe, but you don’t always have all the ingredients. I think of recipes as frameworks to help me build the best thing I can. Life, work, cooking are all about improvisation in my opinion.  Except baking.  Baking must be exact and now you know why I rarely bake.

I actually fled from the confrontation I described .  Neither party was willing to listen to the other nor was I in the frame of mind to be the adult helping these two to grow up.  Sadly, I often take that role in the workplace. I had too many other things going wrong to also shoulder their immaturity.  Another thing I’ve learned along the way is that in order to really communicate with someone, they have to be in a place (emotionally, intellectually etc.) where they are open to listening.  They have to want to listen; they need to be receptive. In my mind this wasn’t in the realm of possibility,

One reason this confrontation bothered me was that hit too close to home.  In my world, I try to make politics off limits with my father.  He is very strong in his convictions and cannot discuss politics without yelling and demeaning.  Yes, he does watch much too much Fox News.  He doesn’t need a reason to get upset.  A picture of Obama will do it.  For the record I forced Clinton to have sex with Monica Lewinski and helped railroad Nixon. Its easy to pick on the right wing because they are so preposterous with both their attacks and their stance of being attacked.  But, I don’t care if you are watching the “liberal media” or the “right wing propaganda” both sides are screaming that the other is wrong and they are being attacked unfairly. Really?  In reality it seems to me that they have some similar thoughts, but insist that “theirs” is the right one.  The other is wrong.  and they will do anything to discredit the other.

Neither party gets along with the other.  Both use sound bites to make the other look bad with creative editing.  There are people on both sides of the aisle that are a bit nuts, that’s a given.  And both parties seem to have developed the strategy over the last 20 years that if you won’t do it my way, I’ll stop you from doing anything.  It drives me crazy in life and I saw that in the confrontation at work. When did we substitute compromise with stubborn opposition and blocking tactics?

You know what happened when Ned Stark refused to compromise. Did it matter that he was right? I think we all need a touch of gray.  Right?

A Song of Geekery, Prose and Art

I’m sure this won’t come as a surprise to most of my 30 readers, but I’m a bit of a geek.  I know you probably aren’t surprised because if you are visiting my little vanity project here  you are probably a good friend of mine.  (Your visits are always appreciated.)  For those of you that don’t already know (I think that’s 3 of you), I worked in a comic shop in college.  More specifically the non-comic company center of the universe in the mid to early 80’s.  That explains the 15,000 or so comics and cache of original art I have. And my banner here.  About 15 years ago I added a new category to my myriad geekery – A Song of Ice and Fire.  You probably know it better by “A Game of Thrones.”

In 1983 one of my best friends handed me a copy of  Fevre Dream by George R.R. Martin and said it was the best vampire novel.period.  He was right.  Thanks Carl.  Thus began my love of the collected works of Mr. Martin.  His next novel was the Armageddon Rag, a rock and roll horror story.  I’ve never understood why it was not more popular.  It was, in my opinion, the perfect book for the time, with Reaganomics changing our culture, the Rolling Stone generation had hit a crossroads that I felt and saw. Add some horror and kick ass Victor Moscoso cover (on the Limited Edition) and you have the perfect book.  Try to see the words in the negative space in the picture.  Its one of the great features of the cover. Oh yes, I love my horror and my 60’s Rock Posters.  You already know our home is teeming with vintage Fillmore Posters.

Martin quickly became one of my favorite writers.  I devoured everything he wrote or contributed to.  Have you read the wild card series?  George and several others take comic concepts — super heroes, mutants and aliens — and place them in our history to create shared world series of mosaic novels, short stories and novellas.  It’s required reading if you love comics.  Or music.  Spoiler Alert – in this world Frank Zappa is a general and The Lizard King (Mr. Mojo Risin’) is a villain.  Great stuff. But in 1996, it all changed.

The internet was still developing and information flowed differently.  I got my book and literary information by going to Barnes and Noble once a week or so.  I saw on the new releases table A Game of Thrones, the first book of A Song of Ice and Fire.   Not only was different from anything George had written, but it was one of the singular best pieces of fiction I’d ever read.  Thus began my love of all things Westeros.  You thought Lost (the TV show) was complex and full of mysteries? Nope.  The slowly exposed back story, puzzles hidden in the background, and unreliable narrators make these books a serious investment in thoughts and emotion; a cost that pays off in spades.

I’ve been a huge fan from day one.  It was several years later when it dawned on me that level of detail (nothing in ASOIAF is insignificant) was a fertile field of information, perfect for an internet forum.  And there it was –  Westeros.Org.  If you haven’t been there, you should go.  It’s a wonderful community (minus a few trolls, as with anywhere in cyberspace).  Elio and Linda have set up, grown and maintained an important resource for years.  With the increased interest from the wonderful HBO adaptation, it’s even more needed and appreciated.  I have benefited greatly from the discussions and friendships that have grown from being part of  that on-line community.   The Brotherhood without Banners (you’ll see them in Season 3 of Game of Thrones) is the George RR Martin fan club and has a home there.

Yes, I’m a bit of a zealot.  But it’s rational — who doesn’t want to share something they love?  I was able to make Lambchop a convert several years ago.  It took a while, but I finally got my brother to get on board and he reads far less than we do.  Even my father watches the HBO version and then calls on Tuesdays with questions.  Even though we are heavily invested in all things Westeros, Lambchop was hesitant when I insisted we go to the World Science Fiction Convention in Reno last year.   Afterwards, after making friends and being knighted by George (we and several others are now Awful Awful Knights) we were thrilled to be going again this year.

Last year we met John Picacio, a gifted artist.  His work is well represented in my book collection — He’s done the cover for several Dan Simmons novels, another of my favorite authors.  John did the art work for the 2012 ASOIAF calendar.  He debuted the art at the convention and we were blown away.  Needless to say we were thrilled to find out he was producing limited edition prints of the images.  And who doesn’t want to support people they genuinely like?  I know I do.  Of course I had to get some. I did and off to the framer they went.  Lambchop was excited to have these prominently displayed in our house.

Several years ago, through Westeros.org I had met Mike Miller.  He had done the comic art work for The Hedge Knight.  The Hedge Knight was the first of a planned seven novellas that help solve several of the mysteries in ASOIAF by slowly revealing history.  Being the comic geek I am, I was thrilled to be able get several nice pages from him, including an alternate cover, which I consider to be the iconic image of that series.  Through Facebook (isn’t social media wonderful?) I have kept abreast of Mike’s work and was able to acquire the cover to one of the issues.

Yesterday was a red-letter geek day.  We had gotten a call from the frame shop where the 5 prints from John were being framed.  We had spent some serious time pondering how best to frame and display this spectacular artwork. When we got to the framers, they purposefully took their time bringing the pieces out.  Lambchop was clearly touched by what a great job they did and how it all looked.  But they brought out the Jon Snow piece last.  It was stunning and she teared up in happiness. There really isn’t  much that compares to seeing someone you love in the throes of unbridled joy.  Tyrion found a home a top the book-case next to the Wall by Martina Pilcerova, who also does some wonderful work.

After our framing adventure, we went by FedEx where they were holding a package for me.  Being a consultant, I can’t really have packages delivered where I work; I think it is bad form.  I wasn’t sure what it was, but I had a sense.  I was hoping it was the piece from Mike.  Indeed it was.   Lambchop hadn’t seen the original and seeing the color version next to the pencil and ink it was clear these needed to be framed together.  I guess I’m going back to the framer.   I might need to buy a bigger house if only for the wall space.