November 02, 2001
Borg Cube

Much has been going on these past two weeks. Much has required a great deal of effort and energy, but some has been making the ride a little more enjoyable that it might otherwise be.

I received a cube from the borg earlier this week, which is a happy thing.

At my former employer (actually, the employer before last), members of the collective were encouraged to innovate; to find new ways to delight the customer with an improved product experience. To this end, many of the collective devise features and/or techniques which may be so innovative as to be patentable. As a result, my former employer encouraged its employees to file for patents whenever a feature or technique was considered to be patent-application worthy.

By great good fortune (as well, I hope, as some amount of skill or talent), a couple of features I'd worked on for a software project there were considered as potentially patentable. Even as I was preparing to leave for another employment opportunity, I'd been informed that they wanted to pursue the patent application process for one of those features.

As a result, I did spend some time (even after my departure) helping out with the application process, and soon became documented as the genuine co-inventor (with a brilliant gentleman named Kevin Browne) of a patent pending. Yee-haw. Sounds impressive, and looks great on a resume.

But, there was always something missing. You see, employees of this company, my former employer, are often given a token in recognition of pursuing a patent application. Said token takes the form of a small cash grant and a stately Patent Award in the shape of a small-but-weighty marbled cube (with gold lettering to display the name of the recipient and the title of the patent application).

Having left the employ of this fine institution before the application process was complete, I had forfeited any chance of receiving the cash award (which, by the way, I would have been more than happy to receive), but there was some question as to whether I'd receive the cube. While I'd certainly never turn down the money, the cube was a little dearer to me. It's a kind of status symbol. It would be one of the few awards I've received that would actually have some merit for me, because it would serve as a reminder that my time with said former employer was not all spent in vain. I actually did *something* that made *some* difference.

Well over one year later, the question has been answered. I am now the proud recipient of my very own patent cube, which even thanks me on one of the sides for my innovative contribution to my former employer.

Yes, it's a little thing. There are so many bigger things that are currently proving to be a looming worry in my life. But, the little things do matter.

My little borg cube is now proudly displayed in my own little office (which, in turn, is *not* a cube), and I'm glad to have it. Isn't it amazing, what we choose to allow to make us happy?

Posted by at 03:05 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits II
 November 05, 2001
A novel you shouldn't refuse

I recently finished reading Mario Puzo's The Godfather. My father had recommended that I read the book, during a conversation earlier this year in which we talked about the relative merits of the movies by Francis Ford Coppola. I particularly enjoyed the novel; the writing in general is decent, but the story itself is stunningly well constructed.

Along the way, Puzo gets into the motivations of the various characters without being either sentimental or critical. He lets you see the way the characters see the world without having to point out to the reader with big, bold letters where lay the irony and where to note self-delusion.

There were several passages that rang with a note of such truth that I had noted them down on my bookmark. This is a practice I've gotten into over the past few years; when the author says something interesting, I note it on the bookmark. As a result, many of the books in my library have bookmarks that are covered with notes. Any book that I finish without writing on the bookmark is a book that I consider to have been 'slight'. Not necessarily a waste of time, but not one to ever return to.

(I use old business cards as bookmarks, btw. B-cards of mine from past employment situations. Waste not, want not, eh?)

One of the scenes that grabbed me in particular is when Michael Corleone, who had always flown the straight and narrow up to this point, volunteers to "hit" the men who attempted to murder his father. All throughout the book, everyone talked about how hits were (ideally) a matter of business; they were nothing personal. Michael finally disagreed:

"Tom, don't let anybody kid you. It's all personal, every bit of business. Every piece of shit every man has to eat every day of his life is personal. They call it business. OK. But it's personal as hell. You know where I learned that from? The Don. My old man. The Godfather. If a bolt of lightning hit a friend of his the old man would take it personal. He took my going into the Marines personal. That's what makes him great. The Great Don. He takes everything personal. Like God. He knows every feather that falls from the tail of a sparrow or however the hell it goes. Right? And you know something? Accidents don't happen to people who take accidents as a personal insult. So I came late, OK, but I'm coming all the way. Damn right, I take that broken jaw personal; damn right, I take Sollozzo trying to kill my father personal."

While I think there are some juicy bits in there about what is "personal" and what is "business", I also like Tom's rebuke:

"I'll tell you one thing you didn't learn from [your father]: talking the way you're talking now. There are things that have to be done and you do them and you never talk about them. You don't try to justify them. They can't be justified. You just do them. Then you forget it."

I don't have the words to express just how strong a chord this all struck in me, having seen from the inside exactly how certain large corporations work, and how their employees handle the situations that spring up in that environment. But it amazes me, the contortions through which people put themselves, all in an effort to justify what they do or do not do, and the extent to which they do (or, more often, do not) separate the business from the personal.

Sometimes for good, but mostly for ill.

By the way, I recommend this book if you haven't already read it.

Posted by at 01:27 AM in the following Department(s): Books/Movies/Music
 November 06, 2001
Election day, 2001

This is what is known as an "off year election" -- a year during which there are no major federal elected positions up for grabs.

Alas, it is during the so-called off year elections where most of the real business gets done. Your city and county councils do more that directly affects your life on a day-to-day basis than anything any President or US Senator has ever done. Take it from a former news horse and one who still attends city council meetings from time to time: these are the folks that determine more about your quality of life than any other political officials.

Tuesday, November 6th, is Election Day. Time to get out there and determine who is going to make or break the rules that determine whether your neighborhood will get DSL, or competition among the cable companies, or which streets get torn up and rebuilt and which traffic lights will be installed or taken out.

...and, how much of your money is being spent on exactly what.

So, get out there and vote!


Posted by at 12:57 AM in the following Department(s): Tidbits III | Comments (0)
 November 14, 2001
Chapter 4: Done

I'm about 20,000 words into my first "showable" version of The Do Over -- I just completed Chapter 4. The approximate length of the finished first draft is likely to be somewhere between 90,000 to 110,000 words, and the total chapter count is likely to come in at around 20.

Which is by way of saying, I'm about 20 percent of the way through my first complete draft.

Tomorrow: Chapter 5!

...and, yes, that is still just a tentative title. No word yet on a final title.

Posted by at 09:01 PM in the following Department(s): Novel-in-Progress | Comments (0)
 November 17, 2001
D-S-L! D-S-L!

Friends, Romans, and Countrypersons,

The saga isn't over yet, but the DSL line is finally up and running, at least. We don't have a router (it's arriving tomorrow, hopefully), so we can only have one computer on the internet at a time, for now. Nonetheless, this is most excellent.

We have finally gotten with this new-fangled 90's technology. :-)

For those of you who don't know what the heck I'm talking about: DSL is a means of connecting to the internet via your existing phone line that lets you still use your phone line as a phone line. In other words, you can surf the web on your computer at the same time as you make a phone call or send a fax. I've heard some people say that cable modems are better at accomplishing this goal, but you have to have cable, and we don't happen to subscribe (nor are we likely to in the near future).

It requires lots of equipment and lots of time for the goobers at the phone company to all get together to make it happen. But, it's happened (for the most part), and now we're just waiting for the last of the equipment.

For those of you who *do* know what DSL is all about: sorry to bore you like that.

Anyway, I installed the DSL software onto an old machine that we use as our data server. It's a machine I haven't used in a long time, and it has a conventional monitor (I've grown accustomed to my PowerBook's flat screen) and is running an older OS, etc., etc. The fonts look different, and the color registration is different, as well.

So, I now see my site a little differently. Instead of a muted cream (creme?) colored background, this site now appears to have an icky yellow. Ewww. Perhaps I should put a sticker on the site that proclaims "Best viewed from a portable computer's flat screen". (My computers at my two most recent employers were also portables, so I haven't seen the site from a conventional monitor in a long time.)

Let's see. Other fun things about DSL: it's much faster than a modem connection. And yet, when I check my hotmail account, it still takes a minute or so for every page to load. LAME.

Much, much else to report... which, of course, is why I've been too busy to post lately. Don't you just love irony?

Truly, I'll post more soon.


Posted by at 02:06 AM in the following Department(s): Technology | Comments (0)
 November 18, 2001
Critiquing the Godfather

We had several friends over today (mostly writers, as well as one friend who used to work in the movie biz) for dinner and a critique session for the movie The Godfather. So, of course, we had to watch the movie in order to be able to critique it.

What I found fascinating in studying the structure of the movie is how completely rich every scene was with detail (setting and emotion) as well as with plot implications.

Having recently read the book, it was also very cool to see just how much of the detail in the movie related to parts of the book without being dwelt upon. Every gesture in the wedding scene that opens the movie, for example, is a significant reference to some scene in the book. Exquisite. The character of Al Neri from the book is actually present in every scene he's supposed to be in when you watch the movie, even though he isn't introduced by name to the audience. A nice touch that works well.

What was also cool was getting together with a bunch of friends to eat lasagna, garlic bread, and salad (plus a wonderful dessert!), and talk about the importance of family, the problems with job interviews, and the concern over the latest events in the news.

All in all, a pleasant way to spend an evening.

Posted by at 03:48 AM in the following Department(s): Writing | Comments (0)
 November 19, 2001
Decisions, decisions

I've received some excellent feedback on the first two chapters of my novel-in-progress, The Do Over. Actually, I've received critique on every scene written so far (which means pretty much the entire book), but now I'm getting critique on those scenes that have been strung together to make the first couple chapters.

Alas, with critique comes the decision of what changes to make. Since the purpose of critique it to find out what readers think about what they've read, my job is to determine if they're thinking what I'd hoped they'd think, and how/whether I should change what I've written in order to better achieve my desired effect.

Anyway, I'm currently faced with a few interesting decisions. 1) Should I change the opening of the novel. 2) Should I move up the time that the first "act" of the story takes place, so that it is closer to the events (temporally) in Act II. 3) Should I change my main character's name?

1) There is a growing consensus that I need to provide more information about Brian's first life at the opening of the story, rather than doling it out over time. One way to do this quickly would be to have an opening scene (probably a prologue) that takes place in Brian's adult life just before he wakes up in his childhood. This is one possible solution to the problem. I decided to create a poll to see what y'all think. Naturally, I'm not writing the book according to the poll results... I simply think it's interesting to see what kind of thoughts y'all have on the subject.

2) I'm still hoping to avoid restructuring the chronology of events in Act I and Act II. Changing the opening setting and time of the novel was a lot of work... and that involved shifting events by one week. To shift the events of the first act by two years would be heartbreaking.

But, more to the point, I'd do it if it made the story more solid, but I don't think it will improve the story. There are good reasons to have Brian involved in events in the eighth grade which become relevant when he is involved later in events in high school. To force the events to happen in a shorter time frame would be dishonest.

3) I was unaware that there is an MSNBC broadcaster named Brian Williams, and he is the heir apparent for Dan Rather. I may have to change my character's name just to avert confusion. After all, it would be silly to have the major character of my novel to be named "Dan Rather." Too much baggage associated with the name. I'm thinking of renaming him... Paul Reubens? No. Bill Banner? No. Uh... Grucious McLavender? No.

Actually, I'm thinking that I'll just change his last name to Reynolds. A nice, generic name. Oh, wait. Frank Reynolds was an ABC News anchor. Rats.

Anyway, here I am on Chapter 5, and already I need to reconsider Chapters one and two. Bleh.


Posted by at 02:56 AM in the following Department(s): Novel-in-Progress | Comments (0)
Chapter 5: Done!

Took some time away from home to visit another writer friend of mine where we worked (mostly) without distraction.

Chapter 5 of my novel-in-progress, first complete draft, is now done! Woo-hoo! Word count is over 25K.

For those of you following the saga, that means that, word-count wise, I am roughly a quarter of the way through my first complete draft. Of course, *work* wise, I should be much further along than that, since most of the book is already written... it simply needs to be polished for the first complete draft.

Then again, there will be another re-write, so who knows how long this will take....

Posted by at 07:58 PM in the following Department(s): Novel-in-Progress | Comments (0)
 November 23, 2001
China to put a man on the moon?

The news these days is very weird, what with our nebulous war against the al Queda, spontaneous outbreaks of anthrax in New Jersey... and, of all places, Chile, and with Russia poised to obtain a veto in NATO operations.

But, what I find most interesting of all -- at this moment, anyway -- is a little ditty I saw on my instant messenger ticker about China's space program. The news reports say that China plans to put a man on the moon by the year 2005.

I firmly believe that we need to have a strong, productive space program. I very much believe that as a race, we can not afford *not* to spread our wings and start exploring our solar system and the stars beyond.

Perhaps with China getting into the fray in this fashion, Americans and others might once again look to our future beyond this planet and get excited again about the possibilities. Perhaps we will see renewed support for a robust space program.

I'm also particularly intrigued to see how well the Chinese are able to execute on their plans. China may yet become a player with the rest of the grown-ups at the table. Very interesting, indeed.

Posted by at 04:57 PM in the following Department(s): Tidbits III | Comments (0)
 November 25, 2001
Plagiarism... or, I did it all for the cookie

Every year I order a calendar from Despair, Inc. featuring "Demotivators", which are parodies of those motivational placards you see at stores like Successories. I first found out about them when I used to work at a certain software company based in Redmond, WA, and they were quite a hit with my co-workers.

Anyway, we received a solicitation in the mail recently to purchase the 2002 Calendar from Despair. Among the sample tidbits that were mentioned in the solicitation, a Wall Street Journal article was mentioned that indicated that the One-Minute Manager, one of the best-selling business books of all time, was largely plagiarized. I had missed this article, as I don't subscribe (although I intend to look this up soon, just to verify the veracity of the story), but I was certainly disappointed to read that Mr. Blanchard had been accused of plagiarism (rightly or wrongly).

...not that I give a rat's pitootie about Ken Blanchard. Rather, I was disappointed because it is yet another reminder that the road to riches does not seem to involve hard work or even talent, but just knowing which is the good stuff to steal and then packaging it for resale. I've been working hard on my novel, but why bother, if plagiarism is so often rewarded and honest, original effort is so often denied?

Never mind. That's a rhetorical question.

So, the plagiarism thing bothers me. It bothered me at the University of Pennsylvania, where a tenured professor was censured but not in any other way taken to task for plagiarizing from a grad student's thesis. Oh, sure, the professor in question will supposedly not be allowed to hold a Dean position at the University, but that's the extent of his "punishment".

For those of you who don't know, there are only two legitimate grounds for a professor to lose his tenure (outside of being convicted of a felony): 1) falsifying data / forging research, and 2) committing plagiarism. This is the whole point of the tenure system. And yet, this jerk stole a grad student's thesis, delivered it at a conference as his own, and had it subsequently published under his name. And, what happened when it was revealed that this was the caliber of faculty on the rolls at UPenn? They told him that he had been a bad boy, and please don't do it again.

(The fact that the student he plagiarized from was an "Alan Rouselle", or maybe it was "Roussel", from Texas A&M certainly made this case stand out in my mind. When the story hit the Daily Pennsylvanian, I had a number of fellow grad students kid me about my "new line of research." The plagiarized thesis had something to do with the patterns of diarrhea in bovines, or something like that.)

It always bothers me to hear about some well known poobah who rose through the ranks by stealing from others, but I guess it should no longer surprise me. The irony that one of the best-selling business books ever in the history of publishing should have been primarily the product of plagiarism is actually (if true) quite delicious. It speaks volumes about the ethics of business today, and the rewards accorded therein.

Think about it.

Okay, now *stop* thinking about it. That's what I decided to do. I'd considered writing about this juicy morsel, but decided instead to bake some cookies for dessert and maybe write about something else. Baking cookies (using the Nestle Tollhouse pre-fab, pre-cut cookie squares, which means someone else has done all the work and that I could pretend I had something to do with the making of said cookies because I bothered to preheat the oven and stick 'em in) made me think of a song by Limp Bizkit called "Nookie". Why? Because lots of people I know keep referring to it as "I did it all for the Cookie".

I came down to my office with a couple hot, gooey cookies and a glass of milk, and decided to look on the internet to see if anyone had actually posted a recorded parody song of "I did it all for the Nookie". I surfed on over to Google, searched for "I did it all for the Cookie", and there were a ton of hits. I found a couple of decent parody lyrics, a few personal home pages (why people would name their home pages "I Did it All for the Cookie", I don't know) and web logs, plus some computer geek sites that involved all sorts of word play in describing certain computer-related issues. (Linux Bizkit was mentioned in one...) I wasn't able to find any recorded parodies -- at least, not in the first few pages of links -- although I found a fake news article that referred to such a (fictional) parody and parental protests that it generated.

Interestingly, though, I also found a number of sites where different people claimed to have written a set of lyrics parodying the LB song, and they were all the same. (Starting with the lines "I came into this world as a Muppet/Look into these eyes and you will see that they are googly..."). They were all very obviously copied from the same original, but it was hard for me to determine which, if any, legitimately claimed authorship of the parody lyrics.

Too bad, too, because it was a pretty good parody. But, I guess that's the way things go, these days. Who needs original content when you can just copy someone else's?

I suppose I should go now and check to see if there really was a WSJ article about Ken Blanchard and the One Minute Manager being the work of plagiarism....


PS: A couple of the entries from the first Demotivators calendar were substantially the same as other posters that had been circulating on the Internet at the time, and I've often wondered to what extent this was coincidence and to what extent this, too, was an act of plagiarism. Another thought to ponder as I consider business models....

Posted by at 11:32 PM in the following Department(s): | Comments (0)

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