less the cowardly lion

I confessed to feeling a coward a little over a week back. I turned down some job responsibilities associated with a software tool I was working on for the last eight months. Though I thought it best at the time to do so, I felt bad to turn down a challenge.

Well, two things have happened since then that make me feel much better about that decision. The first was a little talk that I had with my manager last Wednesday. He basically told me that a Company O. junior Vice President (his boss) ordered me to no longer work on the project. That made me feel a bit better. The other thing happened in a meeting today. After a highly charged exchange lasting twenty minutes over why the tool I was working on and its sibling were not being used with the compnay, a senior technical person stood up and said “There is a meeting with (Company O. senior VP M.) at 1pm tomorrow afternoon. You have until then to get your stories straight. I don’t want to see anyone laid off over this.” After that, silence.

I’m glad I wasn’t there to see it… because I’m not working on this anymore. Thankfully.

it’s Charlie Brown season!

Beyond the usual traditions of the Yuletide season (trees, gifts, fruitcakes,) the 5-6 weeks between Turkey Day and New Years Day is the time of the year when I allow myself to dust off my collection of Christmas CDs and give them a listen. This makes December the month of A Charlie Brown Christmas and When My Heart Finds Christmas as well as everything else. It seems to be part of what makes the time of year special for me.

I usually don’t think about Christmas music during most of the year… say, February to October. Anticipation starts about the time that Halloween rolls around. It then grows until that day after Thanksgiving when ten months of abstinence is passes.. and the Christmas season can really begin.

My favorite Christmas CDs include the two above and the following:

  • George Winston’s December(though this can be somewhat austere)
  • Tony Bennett’s Snowfall
  • The Starbuck’s Christmas jazz compilation A Merry Affair

I suppose these choices put me firmly in the “Christmas jazz” album camp… and I will admit to some partiality along those lines. The jazz guys seem to take a more reverent approach to arranging and performing Christmas songs. The idea of recording with an orchestra is also not alien to them.

Still, I like to keep an open mind. If anyone knows any great Christmas compilations not on my list… let me know. If Amazon.com has samples, I’ll give a listen.

pies! pies! pies!

Both Thanksgiving and its Friday sequel went pretty well. As you can see, I managed to put together not one pecan pie but two… one for both Thursday and Friday. You can also see a skilletful of cornbread that was used in a cornbread and sausage stuffing I brought over on Friday. It seemed that nearly everything I cooked was last minute and in a bit of a hurry, but, came together on time.

Aside from turkey and all the trimmings on Thanksgiving, Mrs. Geek’s Stepmom R. got out something special: 20 year old grappa made by her uncle B. R. is Italian American in backgroud and I’ve come to discover that grappa is essentially Italian moonshine. It is the seeds and skins leftover from wine-making fermented with sugar and water, distilled, and then aged. I must say that Uncle B. knew what he was doing when it came to wine making and grappa. It had the color and clarity of tea and must have been about 120 proof based on how it moved across the tongue. R.’s son-in-law G. and I had more than a few small glasses of that, let me tell you. I’m hoping to take a sample back with me for my Dad to taste after Christmas.

We also had a couple vegitarians with us on Thanksgiving Day, including one vegan. The vegan was a good cook. He brought some vegan mashed yams, some cranberry sauce with roasted pecans and honey, and a store-made vegan mocha cheesecake. All three were actually quite good. While I can’t bring myself to give up meat anc cheese, I grow more impressed all the time with some of the vegetarian and vegan alternatives available out there today. True, I don’t think there will ever be good vegan alternatives to everything — soy bacon, for example — but I think there are a lot of very tasty non-directions to go in. As someone told me once, if vegetarian food is boring, it is because it is not being cooked right.

Friday at D. and J.’s was a good time. D. made a plain roast duck that was quite delicious. Accompanying it was my cornbread and sausage stuffing with some turkey gravy I made. I think there was a vegetable… but all I rememeber is having these carrots that had roasted with the duck. Carrots roasted in duck fat is probably just an incredibly delicious way to clog your arteries. We had “Old Vines” Zinfandels from Renwood (mine) and Rosenblum (theirs) with the dinner… and then my Compass Box Eleuthra afterward. Mrs. Geek brought along our DVD of the Crosby and Kaye opus “White Christmas” and we settled down after dinner to watch that.

I did relatively well in portion size control for most of the food. True, I did have desserts on both days… but dinner portions were of moderate size. Where I failed completely in terms of calorie count (and hangover duration) was in the alcohol department. Between wine, grappa, and whisky, Thursday and Friday made for small to moderate hangovers on Friday and Saturday. The worst was on Saturday. D., J., and I all had over a bottle of wine a piece, plus whisky.

Well, holidays come only once a year, right? It’s probably best to just ease back and enjoy.

ah, the pilgrim holiday…

I am regretting the fact that Thanksgiving is a holiday about food. I started showing signs of having a cold on Monday night. So, I’ve been dosing myself with this stuff called Zicam… a homeopathic supplement that contains zinc. Perhaps the effect is only psychological, but, my own experiences with Zicam and various zinc lozenges shows that they can be effective in shortening the duration of colds and sore throats in particular. A little searching on the web shows that serious pharmacology school types are also looking at this — so far the small number of studies on the subject show some positive results, but the studies also seem to suffer some flaws. So while the academic jury may be out, they’ve got my vote.

The only problem with all this zinc is the bitter taste. Thanksgiving is, after all, a holiday about sitting down to a feast. It really doesn’t help to sit down to a lovely Thanksgiving meal with your taste buds numbed by the bitter taste of zinc — at least not if the food is good. If the food is bland and the wine is “Two Buck Chuck”, zinc might be there to help you. We are spending the day at Mrs. Geek’s Dad and Step-mom’s house tomorrow. Mrs. Geek’s Step-mom is good cook; I’m sure the meal will be excellent.

I’m not actually cooking anything. I’ve got a bottle of Renwood Old Vine Zinfandel that I’m bringing… which I hope will be good with the meal. I’m also bringing a bottle of Compass Box Eluethera to share… my step-brother-in-law (wife’s step-sister’s husband… let me check that again… yes, that’s it) is also becoming a bit of a whisky connoisieur and hopefully he will enjoy as well.

I’m still cooking however. Mrs. Geek and I are having “Thanksgiving II” with our friends D. and J. on Friday. We’re having roast duck. I’ve committed to bring some Craig Claiborne-inspired cornbread stuffing and a dessert item — in this case, a pecan pie. I spent today making some turkey stock that I could bring along with stuffing… I like some gravy with my stuffing.

All the cooking is bringing out my worst tendencies in the kitchen. I seem to have a pathological problem with burning my hands in the kitchen. We got all this nice Calphalon tri-ply stainless cookware in the last year or so… and I’m not used to having cookware and I can put in the oven. Sure, I’ll use an oven mit to take it out of the oven… but once on top of the stove, I consider those pot and lid handles fair game. I often tend to regret reaching for those handles very quickly.

Other than that, it was a rather quiet day. We got a copy of the last Harry Potter movie on DVD from Columbia House today. The Prisoner of Azkaban is Mrs. Geek’s favorite book in the series and the movie did not quite meet her expectations. As Ms. Rawling’s books become thicker and thicker, squeezing them into a two hour movie is getting harder and harder. Subplots are jettisoned, and much of the little incidents that tend to flesh out the secondary characters in the book are lost. Dumbledore really wasn’t a character in the movie… none of the faculty were, really, with the possible exception of Lupin. It’s getting to be a shame… what with Gary Oldman and Emma Thompson appearing in the film, their roles appeared to be little more than cameos. It was really more of a “Harry Potter Action Adventure Movie” with more of the action holding the movie together than anything else. Oh well.

To all my U.S. readers, have a Happy Thanksgiving! To everyone else, I hope your day is lovely… and pray for peace. We seem to have a distinct need for some peace in the world these days.

a guilty pleasure

I tend to think that we all have a few skeletons in the closets of our musical tastes. You know the ones. Those artists and songs that seemed dreamy and to-die-for when we were thirteen or sixteen, but who now seem… well, tired, dated, and a flash in the pan. Europe. Rick Astley. El De Barge. White Lion. Debbie Gibson. Winger. Poison. Admit it. You know who you are and who you loved. It’s ok. We all felt that way about someone.

For me, it was (gulp) Samantha Fox. In the mid-to-late 80’s, she was what a lot of thirteen to sixteen year old boys yearned for. Blonde. Buxom. Very fit. Willing to pose for topless posters. Not the greatest of singers, but always singing (perhaps naively) about sex. She knew what her strengths were and who here audience was. Even if we didn’t like the dance pop music so much, she could more directly appeal to adolescent male horomones.

I was no exception. I have cassette copies of her first two albums somewhere. There are also likely a couple of those aforementioned topless posters still squirrelled away too. They’re probably in some drawer or closet at my parents’ house in my old bedroom.

I was reminded of this today when I heard her first US single “Touch Me” at the gym this morning. The track has not aged well, and it has aged magnificently. I don’t think it’s aged well because it sounds horribly dated. On the other hand, add a few R&B vocal stylings and you have the same sort of thing that Britney or Jessica or Christina use to dominate the charts today.

The way so many female artists are presented to the public is even the same. I mean, look at the pose in the picture. Substitute the torn jeans with something more modern and a thong and you have an image that could be Britney or Christina or Beyonce or even Janet. It’s nothing new.

Ultimately, my disenchantment with the lovely Ms. Fox came from two sources. One, my musical tastes really began to develop during my junior year of high school. Two, her second album included a dance pop version of The Rolling Stones’ “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction” that I still consider to be one of the worst covers I’ve ever heard. There’s a sample on Amazon. Go listen to it. It’s atrocious.

OK. As harri3tspy observes, it isn’t THAT bad… but Lord, it isn’t good.

I don’t get “Gangs of New York”

I caught part of the Martin Scorsese opus Gangs of New York the other night. I may be committing heresy by saying this, but, I don’t think it is the great movie that some people say it is.

Don’t get me wrong. I admire the historic sweep of the film. The times of the Dead Rabbits, Plug Uglies, and Shirt Tails of the Five Points area of Manhattan are an interesting story to tell. Likewise, the cultural sweep of Tammany Hall and the draft riots of the American Civil war also present the opportunities for telling many tales of social conflict in 19th century America.

What I think I don’t get is the casting of the film. The movie is supposed to be, in part, about the struggle of the famine Irish for acceptance in the urban United States. Yet, there are are a scarce few Irish, British, or Irish American actors in the cast.

. Let us review the principal dramatis personnae. First, there is the strapping Liam Neeson, a native born Irishman… but he gets killed in the first 15 minutes. There is also Daniel Day Lewis, a Brit who rose to fame playing Irishmen in My Left Foot and In The Name of the Father… but he’s cast as the fanatically anti-Irish “Bill The Butcher”. That’s pretty much it for actors from “across the pond”.

The rest of the leads are populated by Southern Californians. The Irish American hero of the film is played by Leonardo DiCaprio… who seems to spend the bulk of the film glowering behind a cheesy little goatee of the sort that supposedly disappeared with the grunge movement in the early 90’s. Despite supposedly being a tough among toughs, Leonardo never seems to capture any real feral intensity for me… put him in the movie Fight Club and Tyler Derden would own his little behind from the get-go. To me, he just looks more like he sulking most of the film — like Kato Kaelin picked up a woman he was eyeing all night at a bar in Hollywood. There is also Cameron Diaz — pretty much adrift in this testosterone soaked epic — as a not-horribly-glamorous redhead.

Still I suppose we can be thankful for one thing. This is not Bernardo Bertolluci’s Little Buddha with Keanu Reeves as Siddhartha — who despite his best efforts still makes me think the Buddha is going to say the word “dude” before the film is over. No, Gangs of New York is much better than that.

I think I’ll have to cleanse myself by watching Once Upon A Time In America. True, Robert DeNiro and James Woods aren’t exactly Jewish New Yorkers either… but they chew up so much scenery that nobody really cares. If only the Scorsese movie had more of that intensity.

I am a coward

I am a coward. I was told that my name had been suggested for some “product management” duties at Company O. and was asked earlier this week if I was interested. I said no.

Product management at Company O. is, as a colleague put it, being asked to be treated like “dog feces.” It is a position that carries no real authority in itself. It is merely like so many of the positions at the courts of the old European monarchs; you work by influencing those who have real power to get things done. When done right, it can be very helpful in the development of product… but I find myself wondering how often it is actually done right, especially in my division of Company O.

It is also worth adding that I would be product managing the project that forced me to participate in two of the WORST fucking meetings I’ve ever been part of (described here and here.) Truth be told, the project was started with a compelling business brief and the best of intentions. It is a service-related offering, and no one did their homework about how best to make the thing work when we went from having one customer to when we have five hundred of them. Scalability. Profitability. Operations research. Business flow. Not enough numbers were crunched. Prototypes were not constructed, at least not by the right people. Salespeople promised the moon… and engineers and system operators are now finding it difficult to deliver profitably.

Now they are looking for “a few good (wo)men” to pull the fat out of the fire. After ranting extensively about the subject matter behind the previous paragraph for nearly an hour to the woman who was asking if I was interested, she replied “yes, but it will be a great challenge and a chance to grow.”

Well, I’m all for growth opportunities. It’s why I decided to finish a Ph.D after five years in the grad school pipe line when I figured out that I probably didn’t want a job that would require a Ph.D when I finished. I was 90 percent of the way up the mountain… and giving up would be a mistake.

But I said no. I’m newly married. I need a life right now. I can’t probably find a project to work on that is a completely clean sheet of paper, but I would like to find one with the words “eat shit and die” scribbled on it a bit less frequently.

Yet, I feel a little guilty. I’m the kind of guy who wants to finish what I start. Call this a strategic retreat, but it is still feels like running away. This project needs someone with some of my skills… but I can’t be part of this.