A scattering of recommendations

I am a huge fan of audiobooks. If iPods and audiobooks were around when I was painting houses professionally, I might not have stopped. Well, I still would have stopped that as soon as possible, but it would have been much more enjoyable.

I highly recommend the following, all of which were in my ears during my recent painting escapade:

Stephen King’s 11/22/63

Stieg Larsson’s Millennium Trilogy 

Jim Butcher’s The Dresden Files – sadly two of these are not in iTunes, though they are available at audible.

And a treasure I have been saving for, now “out of print” but still it can be found, the only Unabridged Recording of JRR Tolkien’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. *Ultra Nerd tie-in: I am almost certain that this is the same version that Eddie Dean listened to in Stephen King’s The Dark Tower Series.

Huh. These were unavailable, not even through audible, but for resellers for the past few years and even a month or so ago when I purchased them, but now it looks like they are on audible…

In the world of comedy, I learned about Tig Notaro when I went to the “Live” edition of This American Life  this past spring. She is a great comic and her debut album Good One  is Fun-Knee. In the past 4 months or so, some terrible stuff has happened in her life and she lets it all hang out in a recently recorded show – Live. That show will blow you away! And, Tig is one of the few comics I love, like Mike Birbiglia, who uses no profanity in her shows. She remains a little edgier than Birbigs, but still “clean”.

Audible vs iTunes – I prefer to buy stuff through iTunes. I like getting the content, backing it up, and knowing that I can revisit it whenever I want regardless of whatever licensing deals make content come and go from any vendor. This works in iTunes, but not with audible. Also, the sound quality through audible is less than that via iTunes.  That said, audible is a good service and can be a much cheaper way to get content.

On an audio-related front, Headphones!

My grandpa is 90. He served in the Air Force during WWII, Korea, and Vietnam. He has diabetes, a touch of gout, prostate cancer, after-effects of Agent Orange exposure, and did I mention – he is 90! He is doing well, but he doesn’t get around as easily as he used to. He likes to watch TV – Westerns, Action, Bond, anything about how stuff is made, and many more. But, he does not hear so well anymore and when he is watching TV in the basement, it is so loud i can hear it while listening to my in-ear headphones on the third floor – or even outside. Let me clarify – I can’t *just* hear it. It is still so loud, I can’t listen to spoken word items, news podcasts, books, anything like that. His shows overpower my ability to focus on the words literally pouring into my ears.

He won’t wear his hearing aids – that is a non-starter. For years, he would not use headphones either. My brave and loving father stays down there with Pappy and, somehow, works in that cauldron of aural pain. We got my dad a tool that does help – an older version of these Bose Quiet Comfort Active Noise Canceling Headphones.

Vance and Pappy at the Hoover Dam
Vance and Pappy at the Hoover Dam

The past year my dad has been having Pappy wear these in the car and on the train back and forth to the VA near Philly, and Pappy likes them. He bobs and rocks out to Big Band tunes from the War Years and some similar stuff. This planted a seed that has born glorious fruit. I found the perfect solution for us now that Pappy is no longer headphone averse.

These are no longer available from the Sony site, but I found them in stock at the local Circuit City replacement HH Gregg. They are very comfortable, wireless, simple to setup, and have a few truly awesome features. The transmitter that allows these to be wireless acts as a charging base station for the headphones. Pop them in the stand, magnets lock them into place and they recharge.

The headband is two-piece. The inner piece which sits on your head is the On/Off switch. They headphones are Off by default, but they turn On when you put them on your head. They turn themselves Off when you take them off. Genius! The Headphone volume is independent of the TV volume so he can have it LOUD in his ears and the TV can be on mute, or on low so others can stay in the room and watch a show with him.

Our house has gone from a War Zone of Pain to a peaceful Sanctuary!

Hey, that’s it for today, but I have got more lined up for you, including the conclusion of the JMT. I am looking at you Sweet!

Gulash – another mash-up

I have been playing with the scheduled release of blog posts and liking it. If you do not know, you can write entries and choose when they will be automatically published.  This is awesome for me given that i go through droughts of not writing and then writing four or five posts at once.  Now, i can spread those out.  It is a little difficult to deal with both tense and timeline issues, but i think it is worth it.  I released two or three posts via the scheduler Fri-Sun.

A little job news – one of the places i applied that i was excited about was the Apple Store at the local mall here in Millersville PA.  They are revamping their Business Team (which is a great and necessary idea) and have some openings. It has been a week and i have heard nothing.  I did go in the day after i applied online and spoke to one of the managers briefly just to verify that they were still looking as the post had been up since september.  It was a nice chat and i left feeling positive.

There is an up and a down side.  The up is that i do not really want to stay in Pennsylvania. I was serious when i applied and i would take the job if they offered it today, but i would want to learn and position myself to move before next winter. The down is that i do not understand why i did not get any contact. I felt like my package was good. Some of the folks in the store know me, a few managers, lots of floor staff, the Business guy, and the Regional manager. I am considering contacting my Business sales guy to try to set something up to find out what happened. Not so much to be begging for a job there, but to learn what was wrong to help me in the future. Did i make some gross error i am unaware of? Is it the pitfall i have found many times – overqualified? Is it the employer second guessing the applicant game of ‘he can’t really want this job, he’s been a CEO!’

The other facet of concern – I also applied for the same job in Georgetown as well as a job one rung up in the business division also in Georgetown.  Those jobs i am very interested in, and i have a bud in Apple throwing a good word my way. Probably the Apple thing is not going to work out right now, but that is OK. I have some other consulting leads and am setting up meetings for this week (and next if necessary). I do plan to go into the Georgetown Apple store though while i am down NOVA way. I can probably make much more money consulting, but i imagine that i would be happier working at Apple.

State of the Blog – I believe it is about time to kick it back into gear with the move to a self-hosted blog.  I did seriously slow down on that effort, but i hit an unusual wall.  I could not make the self-hosted site work on the free space at godaddy.  I read that many people had the same problem, and a few people made it work.  That was only designed to be a temporary stage anyway, as it would include godaddy banners at the top of each page.

I have been working on a post about Malcolm X (and a little about Martin Luther King Jr.) and some decent ideas hit me while walking this morning and i used the voice memos thingy on the iPhone to capture them.  I wanted to intersperse these voice clips with text in the entry, but you cannot upload mp3/m4a on a free blog hosted through wordpress.  The upgrade package to be able to post audio is about $20.00 a year.  Not bad, but if i have to pay, i would rather pay to host it myself and get the rest of the features that i am missing and the additional customization.

But – all that will have to wait until i get a new job.  I refuse to spend money on my blog while under-employed!

The Malcolm entry is probably going to stay in draft form for now.  It is too important to me to not craft it well, and that is going to take some more time, and i need to get back to other things.

For now let me just say that i hope we all take a minute to remember Malcolm today (he died on Feb 21, 1965).  If you do not know much about Malcolm, i encourage you to learn.  One of the best places to start is here!

If you know some about Malcolm and have a negative opinion, i encourage you to read this!

Martin and Malcolm

A little housekeeping

Since i have been a little more nomadic than usual the past 18 months or so, i do not have a very good idea where my things are. I do not think of myself as very materialistic, but i do have some things that i enjoy quite a bit and like to keep on hand. One recent example was the search for fiction before the Mexico trip and my inability to locate all of Asimov’s Foundation Universe novels and Herbert’s Dune novels. Another more recent example is the unfulfilled desire to watch some films on DVD, since i do not know where my DVDs are right now.

Hanuman Temple, Tamil Nadu, with Sarala

A quick bit of background. I came home from India and soon thereafter moved to Arizona. After a year in AZ, i moved back East, originally setting-up in my old suite in my folks’ basement in PA. I was splitting my time between PA and Richmond (RVA) and other points further south, and my grandfather was soon to return to PA to stay with my folks for about 6 months.

Peavine trail in Prescott, AZ with Jake

I closed out my grandpa’s house in Brandon, MS and drove his bedroom set to PA.  I packed up my stuff quickly and took it to the family storage shed and set-up the basement with all of my grandfather’s gear. I did all this very quickly, because i was always eager to get back to RVA to see a girl. I also was expecting at that time to have a job in RVA soon and to move back down there. That project got delayed and complicated for reasons that are best suited to another discussion.

The point is that i packed my stuff quickly and haphazardly. Some of my books were put in wine boxes, most in paper bags or backpacks. Some things went out to the storage shed, and some were hidden in closets or under the stairs or the attic at my folks’ place.

Another factor to add to the chaos.  During this period i remodeled the first floor of my folks place. I took everything apart and rebuilt it.  So, we had to move a lot of things around in order to make room for that project.  After that, we had a painter come in and do the whole house – another period of rapid packing and moving of items.  And that was capped off with my remodel of the bathroom in the basement. Keeping track of exactly what is where has not been easy.

Yesterday i said ‘Enough’!  In addition to wanting to find my stuff and get it organized, i was also without my computer as it was getting its Superdrive replaced at the Apple store.  I spent an hour or so at the storage shed, and two hours at home collecting books and looking for other things.  Then i began sorting…


The Sorting Floor



*by this late hour, my laptop was back and smart enough to read CDs and DVDs again.

The boxes i bought on the first run to the store are way too big to deal with books.  So, despite weariness and the late hour, i went back out to find small boxes.  Without putting some order to this mess, i would have no place to sleep.

A few hours later – Presto!

Sorted and Labeled!

Billie Holiday

I have been saving this one for a little while.  About two weeks ago I had to go to the storage unit to look through my stuff in order to review my library to see what remains of my sci-fi section.  (I have always maintained a library but I tend to give a lot of books away.)  For personal and professional reasons I want to re-read the writings in Asimov’s Foundation Universe and the Dune series.  I did have all of the Asimov at one point but could only find the Foundation series minus book one – no Robot books.  I did find my special copy of Foundation and Earth.  It is thankfully back in print now, though it was out of print for years.  I picked up mine from my room in a hotel made famous by a former president.  They had not one, but three hardback copies on one of the four bookcases in the room. I liberated two and gave them both good homes.  I remember having four Dune books but I cannot remember them all.  I love the world of Dune and I did enjoy the first two or three books but I remember having trouble maintaining interest during God Emperor of Dune

I bought another copy of Foundation and began the re-read.  I started Foundation’s Edge last night.  I am really enjoying re-visiting this world.  Even though I know and remember and anticipate the major plot shifts, it is still a great ride.  My familiarity with the books makes the professional side of the re-read a bit easier.  I am paying attention to methods of character development, landscape descriptions, and descriptions of space travel, as well as keeping an open ear to how the broad spans of time are used, layered, and referenced.  The Dune re-read will have a similar focus.

While digging through paper bags, boxes, and suitcases full of books – I did come across a few other interesting items.  The find that beat all other finds probably ever in the history of my life – three cassette tapes.  I found more than three, but these three are special and magical.  This is really about one tape, the first tape, my first real exposure to Billie Holiday.

I cannot say for sure but I believe it was 1989 and i was 13 or 14.  I took German in high school and despite attending a gigantic school, language classes tended have smaller class sizes.  There were two German teachers and most people found one they liked and stuck with it.  I was a Frau Fredette (sp?) man and I had the same teacher and the same classmates for three years running.  One of my classmates who became one of my buddies was Jen.

I had just started my several year affair with the Beat Writers and was at that time still reading and studying On the Road.  Jen and I talked about this a little bit.  I don’t remember exactly how it came up, if it was me or her that brought it up, but we talked about the scene where Sal Paradise was driving away from his recent Mexican lover without any real goodbye or explanation and he is fantasizing about Lover Man and wishing that he could make someone feel like that someday.  Not necessarily make them feel that sadness, but feel that depth and intensity that would be the precursors for such a level of sadness.  It came up that I did not know this song, nor was I really familiar with Billie Holliday.

Some short period of time later, Jen brought me a mix tape.  Since I have it in my hand, allow me to quote the spine, “Billie Holliday – Live Recordings (Mostly)”.  This is an amazing collection of recordings.  Not only are they mostly live, they were taped from a collection of vinyl records (!) many of which were rare.  These are very raw and full of emotion (duh) but I say that to contrast to the bulk of the studio recordings that just don’t reach the same emotional level.  This set of live recordings has (to me) a really depressing (but beautiful) current.

I was instantly in love.  I would have fallen in love with Billie no matter what, no mater what I heard first, or how old I was or what I was reading.  But, I was 14 years old, in love with Kerouac, in the midst of discovering how to live the theory of excess in all things – that I of course thought I invented.  (Like most arrogant kids who read Blake, and love the Proverbs of Hell, I only had the limited wisdom to understand one interpretation of “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom”.)  Over the next few months and years as I added Miller into the mix, I had predictable habits.

But the tape, I loved this tape.  I listened to it driving alone or with others.  I listened to it in the rain.  I listened to it while i read Important Books and had Big Thoughts.  I listened to it while I drank wine on the roof.  I also listened to it with many, many girls.  Probably the trappings had little to do with it for anyone else, but the basement, the fire in the fireplace, and the Billie on the high fi – quite a bit of magic happened.

The tape I found is not the original tape I was given.  It is at least a second generation tape of that tape – maybe further down the train.  It is still in good shape, and luckily i kept the original case and liner notes. Compared to the polished studio stuff, the degradation of the tape itself or issues brought on my multiple dubbings only add another layer of beautiful ambience to the existing hisses and pops of the vinyl from which it was taken.

I mentioned three tapes.  The other two are also Billie Holiday and they too fill me with joy.  My parents found these for me and what a happy accident this turned out to be.  They bought me the two cassette collection “lady in autumn: the best of the verve years” and this is definitely my favorite collection of Billie’s studio recordings.  I have owned others and heard others, but I got rid of them all because they did not capture what I love about Billie.  These verve recordings have a lot of live material and while they do have some velvety smooth studio cuts – they maintain the deep despair that I love in her tone and delivery.  I have not taken the plunge yet, but I did finally find this exact set of verve recordings available for download on iTunes (I had never found the cds before) – and it is not polished, it is just the same recordings in a different format and I could not be more grateful that they left them alone.

I used to listen to the verve tapes on my walkman riding a bicycle on the macadam paths through the farms outside Stuttgart with a little wine and/or beer flowing in the veins and thoughts of loves past, loves lost, and loves yet to be.

When I put a few extra coins together I must buy that verve download, but more importantly, I must find an audiophile to turn my original mix tape into digital files.  Now that I found it again, it must be preserved!  If you will excuse me, i am going to set something on fire, drink wine from the bottle and find some ladies…just as long as there is a tape player nearby.

*** Written after sleep – apparently someone at NPR was up late thinking about Billie also.  I found this today.

I was just a little bit older than this guy
But not as old as this guy
Jen has the shortish blond hair and glasses

A little bit of random for you (or welcome to my head)

I am still here, still doing ok, and still committed to writing in this blog.  I have not run for several days, but i have stayed on the abstinence plan.  I celebrated 4 weeks of cleansing on the 4th with a nice bottle of tap water!  Without thinking about the larger context, i ate a chocolate covered coffee bean in Giant.  It was awesome, but after 4 weeks with no caffeine or coffee – it took about 3 seconds before i REALLY wanted a smoke.

I am currently working on a few different, hopefully brief, personal writing projects offline that i will bring here when they are a little more advanced. {Current difficulties with the running/exercise, why i hate the holidays, the general anxiety/dread/discomfort i feel related to impending life changes, the golf basics project, and a political mash-up (voting, the state of public discourse, the “discussion” about health care reform, taxes, government spending, and more!) that will take a while to untangle into manageable chunks.}

I also still have a lot of my least favorite kind of  writing to do for work (corporate re-branding) involving my least favorite professional subject matter and format (me, my career, the resume, and the short form narrative bio).

Redesigning schematics at midnight

I have made some good progress, but i need a few more hours of dedicated but undirected writing to get more of the broad strokes down.  I will also need another brainstorming session and review of my notes and emails to jog my memory and capture some critical past events and projects.  (For example, i forgot all about developing a TV show in India, and writing and doing the voice-overs for commercials/promotional videos in Doha and India until a short work session this morning.)  Then i have to craft that mess into sections and sift and evaluate.  What should go on the website to describe capability?  What should go into the projects archive? And the challenge for long-winded bastards like me, The One Pagers!!  What gets cut from the narrative bio?  How to mash all this crap into something attractive for a resume?

Sorting out the Tents

I will get there – but i hate this.  The last time i was even asked to submit a resume to get a job was at Borders in 1998 (maybe 99 – i am no good at historical time-lines), so this is not a simple update.  It is really hard to figure out how truthful to be also.  I don’t mean “should i embellish”? I mean “should i leave most of this out”?  Will people hire a dude who has been largely self-employed for 11 years, who founded/or co-founded six companies on three continents, who is still the CEO of three of those, and a Senior Partner in another? But who only has a BA (technically three, but no one really cares about that) and is not in a higher ed program currently?

Enough.  I gotta do some head clearing with the books or the tube for a bit and sleep.

I did golf today.  The first time i played 18 holes in a long while.  I did many things that i have been working on quite well, but i could not put it/keep it all together to avoid a few of the big numbers.  After 7 holes, i was feeling good and thought, “i will break 90 again today”.  But i carded a 101/98 (there was no one out there and i played 2 balls on two holes). My best score ever is still an 82, and i did not think i would beat that, but i feel like i should be breaking 90 much more often.

More practice required…

Two days of Slack (kinda)

Two days of no running, no other real exercise to speak of, and no stretching routines.  (Tomorrow’s stretches and run should be interesting.)

Lucas had surgery yesterday.  It was not a big deal, but he is an old guy and there is always risk.

Dog on blue backdropI hold up quite well on the outside, but i don’t do too well when my dogs are in surgery.  I can accomplish what is necessary to support the dog(s), but i cannot focus on other things.

He had an epulis removed.  These are fleshy masses that grow from around the gums/root of the teeth outward and downward (or upward).  It was pretty big – as wide as at least two teeth and longer than those same teeth.

While he was in surgery anyway, i also had a cyst removed from his back (upper right shoulder area).  The cyst was small – like a jellybean, and i would not have (nor would our vet team have recommended) surgery done just for the cyst, but while he is under anyway, might as well.

The cyst we did not even need to send out for biopsy as it was obviously nothing.  Our surgeon said that the epulis looked fine, but we did send that out for analysis just in case.

They did have to remove 2 teeth to get the roots of the mass.  I knew that going in and told them that i would prefer that method rather than a surface or cosmetic procedure that would not actually get the root of the mass so that it would be able to grow back to full size within 6 months to a year.

I did my usual thing.  Vance and i got up early and walked 4-5 miles with Lucas and saw the sunrise.  I took Lucas and several books and the car-dog-comforter with me into the vet.  Lucas and i got in our cage and waited for our turn.  I read to Lucas and of course, all the other dogs in the kennel area.  They get quiet and like it when i read aloud.  We napped a bunch until it was Lucas’ turn.  The surgery went well and i was waiting in the cage for my main job – hold my doggy and pet him and keep his head from hitting the walls as he recovers from the anesthetic.

He was definitely sore and uncomfortable, but he (as usual) did not say anything about it to me, but waited until he had the audience of my mom and dad before he began to tell his tale.  I have been wondering all day if he was really in pain and letting them know about it, or if he was telling them, “that boy took me somewhere and i had a really bad time!”  I gave him his doggy pain pills wrapped up in some ham.

He was so tired, even though he did sleep most of the day, but sleep at home on my bed is different.  I got in bed with him and we both struggled  to stay awake (well he slept, i struggled) until his normal pill time at 8:15.  We were both out by 9.  I woke up at midnight and then again every hour to check on him, and make sure he was comfortable, and see that he had not vomited, or had excess oral bleeding, or ripped out some stitches, or…

Today he definitely felt better, though not 100% and he really wants to scratch where the stitches are on his back.  He is drinking loads of water again and he ate a pretty big dinner.  I have not looked into his mouth at the surgical area yet.  I remember mine and i imagine his mouth and gums and such are sore.  I can look in a few days.

Vance and i had a surprisingly huge amount of errands to run and Lucas came with us (of course).  We just finished out last errands (that we started at 9 am) and ate some pizza dinner and cleaned up about 8:30.

Tomorrow i will find a good time to leave Lucas and Vance to watch each other and get in another run and workout.

I did have some great and nostalgic experiences in Borders today.  I sold two books, or one book and one set of 7 books.  I really miss working in a bookstore.  You can’t make a living at it (not the fun part with the customers) but it is rewarding.  My mom was looking at some kind of Diary of a Whimpy Kid game and i asked her if she had read the books.  She had not but said that my youngest niece is into it.  I took her straight to the section to show her the books (they are not far from Artemis Fowl i noted on my last trip in to ogle Artemis).  Then i showed her Artemis, and the other Eoin Colfer Independent Reader stuff.  After talking with her for a minute about what my niece has been reading, i described Half Moon Investigations for her and she bought it.  While this was going on, i overheard a couple talking and they had found one book they were looking for but “…she also said the Chronicles, something.”  I reached over and grabbed a boxed set of The Chronicles of Narnia and politely interrupted to offer them the set.  They were so excited.  I talked with them a minute about their little reader and told them the history of the changes to the ordering of the books in the series and which way to go for different reasons.  They were grateful and went off to pay.  Something like this happens probably every other time i go to any Borders.  I can’t help it and people generally like it.  A bookstore is one of the few places i have found where eavesdropping (if done with good intentions) is usually rewarded.  This works out well for me as i am physically incapable of not eavesdropping.  I don’t mean in an ‘i can’t control my curiosity’ kinda way i mean in an ‘i actually cannot NOT hear you’ kinda way.

Anywho – Vance is good, Lucas is doing well, and i hope to get a little uninterrupted sleep tonight, after i check in with what is happening on Anacreon and Terminus