Home, James…

I get to indulge in the most satisfying of trips… The one that takes you home. Sure, I’ve got to cross a third of the continent, but every mile is worth it. The longer I’m away, the more I want to be there. I guess there’s nothing fading about my brand of homesickness. I’m even becoming more generous with what I think of as “home”; a phrase that now encompasses wide swaths of Virginia, DC, West Virginia, and Maryland.

Any trip back east is a cause for celebration, but this isn’t a normal trip home. I get the extra perk of seeing one of my oldest friends getting married to a truly classy guy. Now I’m not usually a proponent of weddings as a rule, but this one is getting my personal seal of approval. Congrats, Sandi and Jon!

Location, Location, Location…

Usually, I’m first on the boat when it comes to rolling out new and interesting tech. I’m still on the fence, though with Facebook’s new “location” service (and its cousin Foursquare). As much of a technophile as I am, I’m feeling a certain level of unease with the whole idea of mobile tracking. I mean I’m as much of a Facebook whore as anyone, but wow, that’s some serious self revelation.

Aside from the gee wiz factor, I just don’t know that I’m seeing that much utility here. Maybe if I were a 21 year old bar hopper, but as a typical suburbanite slob, I’m missing it. Tracking is pretty new on the mass consumer side of things and I know it’s been a real revolution in industry, so I’m guardedly optimistic that it will prove to be something just as powerful in the hands of the individual. Until then, I’m glad It’s an opt-in kind of thing.

Something is better than nothing…

So it feels like I should at least write something this weekend. Well, technically, I guess I have been doing plenty of writing, but none of it for publication. As much as I love my ranting and raving here, occasionally I do have to take a break to do actual productive work. As everyone knows, of course, I try to keep that to a minimum.

It’s the spirit of something being better than nothing that has kept me busy most of the weekend. I’ve been doing alot of bitching and complaining lately, but I forgot that if you want to change anything, first you have to start. Most of the weekend has been getting up a head of steam for that start. Getting entrenched in the day-to-day is the easy thing to do. Twisting up your fortitude to start making hard decisions, now that’s tough.

Don’t worry, I can’t imagine a circumstance where I’ll quit my bitching… but my hat’s over the wall. Now I’ve gotta go get it.


Yesterday, what the media are calling the last American combat convoy left Iraq. That draws down the force in being to something a little larger than 50,000, from one at its peak hovered around the 140,000 mark. Seven years is a long time, particularly for a country that can be challenged by paying attention to a 30 minute television show.

For someone who has spent most of his life fascinated by history, just the phrase “last convoy” brings to mind certain imagery. Watching the Strykers lumbering across the Iraqi desert, it’s hard not to conjure up images of the final Soviet personnel carriers crossing out of Afghanistan or the iconic picture of the Huey evacuating CIA operators from a downtown rooftop during the fall of Saigon.

In every case, there’s something unsettling about the scene – something unfinished. We seem to be pathologically hard wired to demand an ending to every story or to expect that some final grand gesture will bring closure. Study history long enough and you come to the conclusion that nothing ever really ends it just becomes part of our collective past and informs the future in the same way that Vietnam informed the Soviets in Afghanistan and both influeced how we did and didn’t behave in Iraq. Eventually, and probably sooner rather than later, the Iraq experience will inform whatever comes next. And history sweeps on towards the next last convoy.

A message to Comcast…

Dear Comcast,

We’ve had a long history. I’d love to say that we’ve stayed together because of your amazing products or first class customer service, but we both know it’s only because you’re effectively the only game in town in terms of “high speed” interment service.

All I wanted to do today was swap out my older-than-dirt cable modem for a brand spanking new model. Nothing fancy, nothing extreme, just trading one piece of hardware for another. Like everything else in the universe, I assumed that this would just be a plug and play experience… But you know better don’t you? You know how important it is that I call you and wade through your “automated customer support” menu before sitting on hold for 25 minutes waiting for a real person to come on the line so they could tell me that I needed to be transferred to someone in your “internet department.” The best part was then spending another 15 minutes on hold so I could manually provide a serial number to you.

This is the year 2010. Are you seriously going to tell me that somewhere deep in the bowls of the Comcast corporation there isn’t a computer that could have remotely interrogated my shiny new modem, figured out where it was on the planet, and tied it to my account? I mean it’s not like I’m standing up a supercomputer or a server farm over here. All I really want to do is be able to connect my MacBook Pro to washingtonpost.com and Facebook. Just seems like something we could have made happen without going through an hour long process. Of course you know better than I do, as technology is new and frightening.

I’m glad we’ve had this time together, because it’s reminded me just how much I’m looking forward to kicking you all the way to the curb as soon as I have half a chance. Have a great weekend.

Your friend,



I’ve been noticing more and more in the last six months that I’m getting alot of lag in downloads and even in regular web surfing. Gaming? Fuggidaboudid. It was one of those things I’ve been meaning to get into, but hadn’t quite found the time to attack. Status: Annoying, but not critical. Until a few days ago when I was downloading two patches and trying to read the Post. That’s when Safari actually stalled out. Do not pass go. Do not collect $200. Stalled out and stayed that way for the better part of five minutes. In internet time, that’s effectively forever.

Knowing that there was an issue somewhere, I started running through the normal tech support stuff. Ran the diagnostics, cleaned up files, rechecked and cleaned connections, ran speed tests, visually inspected the hardware… and that’s when it hit me. Sitting quietly in the back of the “TV nook” was my cable modem; the same cable modem I bought when I was living in Virginia in 2003. Yeah, 2003. Somehow in my grand plan for tech replacement, I missed the modem completely. Probably because it’s one of those ultra-reliable always-on kind of things that I’ve never needed to think about, at least until it started choking the rest of my tech.

I think I can safely say that when it comes to the widgets connecting your house to the interwebs, seven years and two generations has been a bit too long to wait between upgrades. A trip to BestBuy seems to be in order today.


I’ve liked books since I was a kid. In 5th grade when the other kids wanted to play kickball, I had my nose buried in a biography of Douglas MacArthur. Seems I could never walk by a book store without at least popping in for a look and I would never have dreamt of leaving the house without a least one book stashed somewhere. Unfortunately, stashed is usually where they would end up staying. It would take me months to read a book carving out five or ten minutes at a time to focus on it.

I’ve been hesitant, even hostile, to the idea of using an e-reader. In fact, I blasted the concept pretty roundly right here not so very long ago. The historian in me couldn’t quite come to terms with the idea that books could be anything other than words printed on paper and bound. It seems that, at least in this case, I may have been misinformed.

I’ve bene regularly using the Kindle app on my iPad for the last few months and my book consumption has been way up. As much as I hate to admit it, it just makes reading more convenient. Since the Kindle app crosses devices, I can start a page on my iPad and then finish the same page on my iPhone without missing a word. The app records where I stopped and picks up there regardless of what device I happen have in my hand. Add in over-the-air downloads from Amazon and it’s pure convenience… and we all know how I feel about that.

The e-reader has basically replaced the printed book for me. I don’t anticipate that the books filling shelves in the office will ever go anywhere, but I definitely won’t be adding to their number nearly as often. Of course some titles aren’t electronic and some may never be, so I suspect that there will always be room in my heart for both print and electronic books, but for sheer ease of use, I’m officially leaning way into the electronic camp. If you’re a reader and haven’t given it a chance yet, I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.


Sometimes it’s important to revisit the lessons of the past. I learned a long time ago that killing zombies was a truly cathartic exercise. “Zombies” is mostly a catch all phrase for anything that falls into my field of fire in World of Warcraft. For the better part of a year, I played at least an hour every weekday – some days a little longer, some days a little less. Through it all, shooting fire from my digital fingertips at my undead enemies, gave me a venue to get it out of my system. I got away from it mostly because it became more of a time commitment than I was willing to keep up with. In the interests of not losing my mind completely, it’s probably something I should get back to. Then again, I’ve been kicking around the idea of picking up an xbox and expanding my gaming horizons a bit. With everything else around here that needs kept up with, I’m not sure either of those is actually a good idea. Having a slight compulsion towards neat and tidy makes sitting around playing games feel like something I shouldn’t have time for, but the benefit of not stapling people to their cubicle walls may make it the lesser of all possible evils.


It’s easy to work up a rant when you’ve already got a full head of steam behind you. The real challenge is doing it when the boilers are cold. Right now, though, I’m not about the challenge. It’s feeling more like a stream of consciousness kind of evening. Actually, tonight is feeling more like a trickle than a stream. Well, that’s not exactly true, either. There’s plenty to say; plenty of things that need to be said in the clear. Not that I expect that would change anything other than adding fuel to the fire. I don’t have quite enough ego these days to think that I can make that much of a difference – That got smacked out of me last fall. Maybe the best thing now is to focus on getting my eight-and-out every day, make self-preservation and sanity-preservation a priority, and stop trying to draw fire. I’m not sure I even remember how to do that.

Signs, signs, everywhere there’s signs…

When things start coming off the rails, there are usually alot of small indicators that its about to happen or that it’s actually started happening. If you’re lucky, you’ll know what those indicators are when you see them. If you’re not, well, aren’t you in for a surprise?

Maybe the best heads up that stupid is in firm control of the situation is when the word goes out that it’s mandatory that everyone get along with one another. Respect is a slippery thing. The best people command it just because of who they are. They wear it like a cloak of authority. The second tier will get respect because of the position they happen to occupy. People will follow them, but their hearts aren’t likely to be in it. The worst of the lot try to command respect through intimidation and by exerting good old fashioned command and control. Sure, that works… For a while. In the end, all you’ve done is breed a culture of resentment, driven real opinion underground, and created a world where it’s better to hide than stand out. In that environment, you’ve set the stage for dissent, frustration, apathy – the great hallmarks of a race to the bottom and the time when you have to start telling people to be nice to each other.

Once you’re bogged down in that morass extracting yourself is a bit of a problem. Not impossible, but certainly not easy. The tendency of people is to stick to what they know. The factions will pile up. The conflict will continue. It’s the only release valve left when you’ve slammed shut the only other avenues of advance. No one wants to fail as a matter of principle and for the most part, people want to believe what they are doing makes a difference. Take that away and what’s left is a tiny universe filled with the cynical, the sarcastic, and the discontented. Not exactly a recipe for high performance teaming.

All the “Working with Difficult People” training and be nice to each other pep talks in the world aren’t going to fix that. At best, it only recognizes that things are on their way from bad to worse. That’s something, I suppose.