Tuesday, June 06, 2023

A Million Miles Away

So I officially became a published author today, when I self-published A Million Miles Away on Amazon.

I started writing it as part of NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month), surpassing the goal of writing 50,000 words or more in the month of November. This was in 2020, the first fall of the pandemic and before the first vaccines were available, so we sure as hell weren't traveling anywhere. The timing, for bad reasons, couldn't have been better.

But the origin of the book goes back decades. I had written the first paragraph almost word-for-word when it was actually still the '80s.I just never had anything else to add to it. People always say "write what you know" but as far as I could tell, all I knew was the IT stuff that I've now done for four decades. I (conveniently?) forgot all the other stuff that I've done, including owning a rock and roll club, running the local chapter of an animal rights group at the height of the last AR movement in the early 90s, being a half-way decent photographer, etc. It hasn't been a boring life.

When I put together the Rhythm Alley Redux blog posts in 2014, I started thinking that maybe I really could write a book. A couple of ideas started forming but it was still many years later before it started coming together into some sort of narrative.

A Million Miles Away was actually originally conceived as a mystery, even though that's not a genre that I read. But that's not where the story took itself. Side characters wrote themselves into starring roles, other characters' motivations changed from what I thought they were in order to find their truth. I've always heard people talking about how characters wrote themselves or took on a life of their own - I know that to be true.

I've edited this thing to a fare-thee-well and gotten the help of a number of folks (mentioned in the Acknowledgements section) and it should have been out at least a year ago, but getting rights to publish song lyrics, figuring out if I wanted to pursue a publisher, and all the other stuff that goes along with putting something out took time. 

And now it's here! You can search for the title in Amazon and wade through a dozen or more books with the same or similar title. Or you can search "Tony Patterson" and wade through all of the copies of Richard North Patterson's "Tony Lord" series. But I hope you'll make the effort to find me. I'm rather proud of this thing.

 You could also try this link

I hope you'll read it, I hope you'll enjoy it and I hope you'll let me know what you think - good, bad or meh. I've got a pretty thick skin.The main thing is that it was fun as hell to write!

One disclaimer - YOU are not a character in this book. While I do name-check a few real bands and a few real people (all of whom remain off-screen), none of the characters are based on real people or are even composites. They all take up real estate in my head. And now maybe yours. :-)

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Sunday, October 24, 2021

Why has no-one filmed...?

 It hit me today while waiting to watch Dune tonight and while reading a GQ article on the filming of The Wheel of Time and being reminded that Tolkien's Second Age is also coming to Amazon, it's time to re-up the discussion on what sci-fi/fantasy series are out there waiting to be turned into cinematic or streaming hits.

The Chronicles of Amber - I've long thought that Roger Zelazny's Amber series would be perfect for a movie or series treatment. I would do the first series, based on Corwin, as a movie trilogy and then do the same for the second series, based on Corwin's son, if the first was successful. The right are apparently held by Disney/ABC, but I've heard nothing of any development. The first series is heavy on family intrigue, power politics, sword and sorcery - Game of Thrones material. The second ventures more into cyber-thriller territory. As I recall, they both feature some strong female characters that could be updated.

The Belgariad - A Science Fiction Book Club discovery for me, not long after they came out. And I read the subsequent series and one-offs as they were released. Best-sellers, even if some people wrote them off as Tolkien-light. Polgara is one of my favorite literary figures. Yes, it's another literal hero's journey (as are LOTR and Wheel of Time) - lots of walking and riding from place to place, but that lends itself to cool scenery and world-building.

Saga of Pliocene Exile/Galactic Milieu - Julian May's series is another that I jumped into about half-way through its publication history. It takes place both in a near-ish future as well as six million years in the past and would make one hell of an extended prestige TV series, with lots of opportunities for fabulous sets/costuming and some pretty cool CGI work.

The Chronicles of Thomas Covenant - NOPE. Nopitty-nope-nope-not-on-a-bet. 

According to Wikipedia, classicist Nick Lowe (not the singer) suggested "a way to derive pleasure from Stephen Donaldson books. (Needless to say, it doesn't involve reading them.)" This proposal involved a game he called "Clench Racing", wherein players each open a volume of the Chronicles of Thomas Covenant to a random page; the winner is the first to find the word "clench". Lowe describes it as a "fast" game – "sixty seconds is unusually drawn out"

So what would you guys like to see on the screen?


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Friday, January 29, 2021

Pandemic Thoughts

It hit me this morning that one year ago today, I was in Bangalore accompanying a new customer on a tour. The night of the 29th, we were sitting in a gorgeous outdoor restaurant, drinking craft beer (a new concept in India) and talking about coronavirus.Yes, it was still January and we were fully aware of the potential danger and already talking about the potential for sending people to work from home (in the US) for a period of time.

My customer had routed their flights through Hong Kong to get the airline and schedule they wanted and by the end of the trip, their travel department had changed their flights home to go through London. We laughed about them having come in via China, but it was nervous laughter.

It has never been unusual in international airports to see people wearing facemasks.It has been a common practice in a number of Asian countries. But as I was going through customs in Mumbai on the way home, I saw a definite increase in mask wearing. This was still the first week of February.

When I landed in New York, I zipped through customs in no time at all (Thank you, Global Entry Program!) but I did see people being pulled out for questioning and their temperature taking by TSA. I assumed it was people coming in from China. I was surprised even then that the TSA folks were not masked. Again, this was still the first week of February.

All this is to say that this was not a goddamn surprise. Even an uninformed rube like me saw the potential for this creating serious problems in the US all the way back in January. And as we know, our government officials, including the President, knew as well and while some profited from it, they chose to hide it from the US public and continued to not only downplay it, they actively worked to discourage people from taking precautions. We don't talk about that much any more but we should. Over 400,000 (and counting) American deaths later, those deaths are on their heads.

Without looking it up on a calendar, I can tell you that the last live performance I saw was Destroyer at the Cradle on the second Wednesday of March. That Friday was the last time I went out for a beer after work, sitting down at Gizmos (the old Rathskeller) and chatting with the manager about the lockdown that was starting on Monday. The last time I ate inside a restaurant was that Saturday, when we stopped off at Sushi Bomb and sat at a bar table after stocking up on groceries, thinking that we'd keep our heads down for a few weeks and stop this thing early. Those small, normal events stand out sharply in my memory almost a year later.

Everything since then has pretty much been a blur. I tracked my grocery store visits for awhile, in case contact tracing was needed. But I've stopped being very good about that. We've gotten away for a couple of short hotel stays (room service only, wipe everything down, masks everywhere) and one glorious week at a condo in OBX last fall, but everything else has been pretty much an undifferentiated fuzz of work and... well... work.

I used to try to imagine how we would come out the other side of this. Now I frankly have no idea. It's been clear for almost a year that what was normal will likely not be normal again. What that *new* normal will look like, I haven't a clue. I realized yesterday while out for a walk that the thought of being in a crowded space anymore fills me with loathing. "Social distancing" has become the new norm and I'm not sure that, even when Covid winds down, I'm going to be in a hurry to be in close proximity to a bunch of strangers. I was usually more inclined to stay to the side or in the back at the Cradle and other clubs anyway (that stool at the back of the bar in the Cradle Back Room is MINE, dammit!). I have no idea how I'll deal next time (and there will be a next time, hopefully soon).

All of this being said, I realize how incredibly fortunate we are. We're not worried about where we're going to sleep tonight. We're not having trouble making ends meet. We're not having to go out and put ourselves at risk in order to keep working. Hell, I was mostly working from home anyway. I also recognize that all of that could change in an instant. So many people are hurting so badly from this and will continue to do so long after it is over.

So get your vaccinations. Keep your distance. Wear a fucking mask (a good one or at least 2 less-good ones doubled up). Wash those paws. And let's try to create a new normal after this that is safer, saner and more honest.

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Friday, July 17, 2020

RIP, Reverend Vivian

I learned this morning that Reverend C. T. Vivian passed away last night at 95 years old. He never got (nor I suspect craved) the public acknowledgement (from white America, at least) that John Lewis or other leaders of the civil rights movement in the late '50s and early '60s got, but he was a towering influence in many ways and a remarkable human being.

In the late '90s, I was working for Nortel Networks, a Canadian-based high tech company responsible for the digital switching revolution that really allowed for the growth of the internet. We had a distribution plant up in Creedmoor, NC, between RTP and the Virginia state line. The plant director realized there were racial tensions on the floor that were disrupting operations and he brought in Rev. Vivian's consulting company to hold a handful of two-day seminars that proved to be so successful, management extended them to the main offices/manufacturing floor in Research Triangle Park.

I grew up in about as un-bigoted a household as you could find in Nashville in the '60. My elementary school was over 60% African-American - when they instituted busing after my 5th grade year, I got bused to a whiter school. There's nothing about that that ensures that I would not be prejudiced of course, but I was sure that I was not.

I got signed up for the seminar and viewed it as a couple of days off of work (and maybe a chance to feel a little superior to my fellow white folks who would undoubtedly learn some painful lessons). Yeah, not so much.

Rev. Vivian gently and insistently led us toward truths we hadn't considered and that I think a lot of people are only now starting to understand. That the problems of being black in America didn't end with the Civil War or with the Civil Rights Act or with the end of Jim Crow (or now, later, after having a black President). That "I don't see color" is a bullshit statement. 

The seminar was personal, not about societal problems like red-lining and hiring preferences etc. It was about *me* - each of us as individuals and how we feel in our heart of hearts and what we could do about it. It was intensely personal. That's a long, arduous path to take to change the world, but he spent decades doing it one small group at a time and doing it well.

After the first day, I called my dad. My grandfather (an unfortunately racist man) drove a Nashville city bus during the formation of the SCLC and NCLC and the sit-in movement with students from Fisk University and American Baptist College, where Rev, Vivian was an older seminary student. Dad was right out of high school and driving a bread truck and while John Lewis and others were sitting in at a restaurant (while the manager turned the heat on full blast or sprayed them with bug spray), Dad might have been in the back, pulling bread back onto the truck because there wasn't going to be anything sold that day.

I made sure I sat with Rev. Vivian at lunch the second day, to share a little background and get his take on, well, those days I guess. He was gracious, engaging and funny. At the end of the second day, he had us line up and he went down the line, shaking hands and having a quiet word with each of us. 

In the days and weeks that followed, I fought back internally against some of what I learned about myself during those two days. Thankfully I mostly lost that fight and realized that there were unlearnings that I had to do. Some of that continues to this day and I hope that the past few months of racial reckoning is doing the same for others. 

It's ok to consider yourself to be not a racist. I still do (but I'm more not a racist today than I was before that seminar, if that makes sense). It is probably not ok to consider yourself "not a racist" without some ongoing self-reflection and self-assessment. 

All of this is to say that I am a better person for having met Rev. Vivian. I think about him and the seminar often and the world will miss his grace, his wit, his compassion, his love  and his strength. Rest in Peace.


Sunday, March 15, 2020

Working from Home - A Guide for Noobs

In 1998, while working for what was then a rapidly-growing Nortel Networks, I took advantage of their telecommuter program and started working from home full-time. Office space was at a premium, I was working with or managing teams in London, Ottawa, Texas, Toronto, Sydney etc, so when I *did* go into the office, I spent most of the day on the phone wearing a headset.

The bandwidth available wasn't stellar but I was managing people rather than systems so it was fine. And except for a couple of times when I had to spend a few months at a customer site, I continued to be a full-time telecommuter from 1998 until 2006. 

I've since had to spend most of my time in various offices, partly because of the workstyles of the companies I was working for and partly when I had a lot of direct reports (or reports of reports) all in the same place.

But the past three years I've been back to full-time working from home, with (as you will have seen on FB) frequent trips to visit customers.

If you're new to working from home, particularly if you are new to being a people manager from home, I've got a few thoughts that might help.

1)  Get ready for work in the morning! No, you don't have to wear a tie but I highly recommend that you not work in your PJs or a robe or your "Too Drunk to Fuck" shirt that you still have from college. I generally go for jeans and a sweater or a button-up shirt, even though I rarely use the webcam. It reminds me that I am a professional, that I'm at work, and it helps differentiate between work-time and personal-time.

2)   Which brings me to the second point - clock in and clock out! We all already have enough problems with that, responding to emails at all times of the day or night, letting people schedule you whenever it is convenient for them. It's worse when you're working from home. Not long after I started WFH, we bought the house we're still in - downstairs master bedroom and and upstairs workspaces - so there is a clear delineation between work and not-work. I realize that many/most of you won't have that option, but I would strongly suggest you do your best to find a space your can carve out specifically for work so that you can LEAVE it at the end of the day. Corner of the den, space in the basement, whatever you can do.

3)  Under other circumstances, I would suggest getting out and working from your local coffee shop occasionally during the day if you are someone that craves constant contact - I generally don't but I know plenty of folks that do. That is NOT a good idea right now. Instead, take a few minutes throughout the day to step outside, walk around the block but also have a chat online with a friend to maintain contact.

4)  On the other hand, it is easier when working from home to let yourself get distracted by social media, the constant news stream, etc. Set break times to check out your Tweeter feed or to see how your FB friends are coping but do NOT leave them open on your screen. Just don't.

5)  On the OTHER other hand, those same social media techniques can do wonders to keep you connected to your teams and co-workers. Whether you use Teams or Slack or Skype for Business or WhatsApp or any of the other work-share and communication apps, they provide a way to check in with your team (especially as a manager). Note that I said "check IN" and not "check ON". Look for work output, not whether they are online every second of every day. 

6)  Go ahead and take a break to throw some laundry in (you'd be amazed at the number of people I've heard argue against their people working from home - "what if they're doing laundry instead of working?"). The time it takes to throw in a load of laundry pales in comparison to the thirty minutes those same blowhards would waste regaling you with their vacation stories or what they watched on HBO the night before. You need to get your ass up and move around anyway.

7)  Trust but verify. So I'm talking about IT professionals here, right? We usually have deliverables and project plans and deadlines, whether we're developing code or installing virtual servers or whatever. Sometimes we miss those deadlines but we should be clear on why that happened. Trust your people to do the work, verify that they did or that they had legitimate reasons for not and they will (usually) reward that trust with good work. For the handful that do not, do what you would if you were all in the office - make sure your expectations are clearly understood and reasonable, put 'em on a performance improvement plan if necessary and if that doesn't work, you might have to replace them. Chances are you'd have had to do that anyway.

8)  If you're the boss, schedule regular team meetings. Sure you'll be communicating with team members and groups all the time, but it is good to have a set regular meeting to catch up on all the other stuff that needs to be shared.

Of course your mileage may vary. And I know that many many people can NOT work from home. That makes it even more imperative for those of us that can to do so, to slow down the spread of this thing as much as possible. These are just a few thoughts - I'll likely add to this. And I welcome your own ideas and experiences!

Stay safe!


Tuesday, February 04, 2020

Customer Service - good and bad

I feel like I've spent my life working in Customer Service. Not only when we owned/ran a bar, but my whole life in IT support also qualifies, even if our contact with actual customers is sometimes limited. I very much appreciate our local restaurant culture and cringe both when I see bad customer service as well as when I see shitty customers that demand too much and that treat staff badly.

I had lots of opportunities to see all of that on my trip home from India - good customer service, bad customer service and boorish behavior by my fellow customers.

My itinerary for my return trip was an 8:45pm (IST) Saturday night flight from Chennai to Mumbai on Vistara Airlines (one of two full service airlines in India), a 2.5 hour-ish layover before a 12:55am Delta flight to JFK then a two-hour layover before my Delta flight home to RDU.

I know it takes a long time to get into the airport and I didn't have anything I wanted to try to do Saturday afternoon, so I arrived many hours early (around 3pm), hoping to check my bags, get through security, and then do a little shopping and hang out in the Priority Pass lounge. But Vistara would not let me check in until 6pm, leaving me hanging out in the departures lobby for three hours dragging around three bags. Bad customer service (I'm pretty sure that is not an airport or government regulation as I have checked in way early before on other airlines at the same airport.)

At 6pm IST on the dot, I went back to the counter only to find out the my flight was delayed by 1.5 hours, leaving me very little time to make my connection. The agent suggested that I not check my bags and that I carry them ALL onboard on the slim chance that I could make my flight. He also said he would inform the ground crew in Mumbai that I had a very tight connection and that they would help me get to the Delta gate. If you read my previous post about security, you'd know that even if the plane had been on time, I would have been hard-pressed to make it through, so while I appreciated the helpfulness, they really should have known that there was no chance in hell that I could make that connection.

I did drag all my bags through security and up to the Priority Pass lounge and noted that there was a further delay in the flight from Chennai, leaving me no more than half an hour for the connection, clearly impossible. So I called Delta from the lounge and sat on hold. And sat on hold. And sat on hold. And sat on hold. For 45 minutes. (This after having to search the web for a non-US tollfree number since those don't really work from India.)

When I finally did speak to an agent with Delta, she was actually very helpful. I had done some research while waiting on hold and noted a flight from Mumbai to DeGaulle in Paris with a 3.5 hour layover to the direct Paris flight to RDU. It was leaving Mumbai at 2:05 am (still tight) but maybe possible. So she got me booked on those flights since my next best option was the flight I was scheduled on - but 24 hours later.

So I finally boarded the Vistara flight, found room for three bags in the overheads (making enemies of every other person on board) and we took off close to 10:50 pm IST. We landed around 12:15 am and I grabbed my bag and my other bag and my other other bag and took off for the departures area and the Air France counter as the Paris flight was code-shared with Delta. The only promised help that I got from the Vistara agents in Mumbai was pointing me in the direction for transfers. Not all that helpful. It was probably 12:40pm when I got to the counter and they basically said no. Delta had booked me but not ticketed me (something about having already checked in to the Vistara flight) and while there was room, they determined that it was too late for me to make it (the flight wasn't scheduled to leave for another hour and 15 minutes and I still saw bags tagged for CDG waiting to go on the belt). So boo Air France (although if you read my post on airport security, they were probably right).

So now it's 1am IST, I'm exhausted, my cell phone is down to about 25% and my backup charger is dead and I can't find a fucking outlet anywhere in the airport. I called Delta back
and sat on hold. And sat on hold. And sat on hold. And sat on hold. For another 45 minutes. Finally got another also very nice and very helpful person who confirmed what I suspected - that I was fucked until 22 hours later and the next iteration of that Mumbai -> JFK flight that I'd missed.

So I was booked on those and was able to go to the self-service kiosk and actually print out real honest-to-god boarding passes for both flights, which helped tremendously with the security stuff (see my other post). App-based eboarding passes are still not a thing in India.

I did some looking for hotels (it's getting towards 3am by this time) and found that there is a hotel in the International terminal in Mumbai ("hey, that's where I am!") that had pretty good reviews. I called them, confirmed that they had rooms available, and then set out to find it. That's when I realized that I was not allowed to leave the damn Departures lounge without a hall pass. The first soldier didn't really speak English so I had to wait for the second guy, who sent me back up the escalator to the information desk.

I talked to the nice lady there and found out that someone from the hotel would have to come up and escort me. She called them and a bellman came up a few minutes later. He asked if I had a reservation, which I did not yet. Apparently that was bad, as he was supposed to show a piece of paper with my name on it and a reservation. So he pulled one from someone else out of his pocket, scratched out the other information and put mine in, and away we went. And it worked.

So I checked into the hotel around 3:15am with a checkout at 10pm. Very nice looking place. Also, as you'd expect, quite expensive - ~$150 US (really nice hotel rooms in India are often no more that $70-80 a night). But it was there (no having to deal with transportation) and I was too damn tired to worry about the cost.

So I had a shower, slept for a few hours, had a very decent room-service veg biryani (no beer as the hotel apparently isn't licensed) and hung out in the room as basically there was nowhere I could go without going back past a security checkpoint.

From a customer service perspective, the rest I guess is anti-climactic. I found the service on the Mumbai->JFK flight to be just fine (Delta has become one of the best for service) but the food was mediocre at best (at least compared to my past British Airways flights). For the flight over, I had ordered "vegetarian" meals which might seem superfluous since pretty much every flight into and out of India is going to have a veg option or two. But the problem is that sitting back in steerage, you get served last and choices may have run out. ALWAYS order a special meal, even if you don't have to. You'll never regret it.

So, what are my conclusions? Avoid Vistara, first of all. I had a much better experience with IndiGo (a low-cost local airline) on my flight from Bangalore to Chennai mid-week) than I did with Vistara. Their app didn't work at all, their agents were ill-informed and I think next time if I have to make internal transfers, I'll look for IndiGo.

For Delta, other than the ridiculously long wait times, I was pleased with their service. The agents I talked to were helpful in every case (and they were NICE), their app works better than that of most airlines and their flight attendants are a cut above American and United. And I'm guessing employee satisfaction is pretty high since the company just announced a profit sharing total of the equivalent of 2 months salary for all Delta employees!

Air travel is just not fun. I don't think it has been since the 80s, with deregulation and ever-tightening security and ever-shrinking seats making it an ordeal to be survived rather than a pleasant way to get from point A to point B. Since I've been traveling much more frequently the past three years, I'm looking for every little break I can get, whether it's TSA Precheck and Global Entry (both a huge help) or spending the dough required to get a credit card that has travel perks like airport lounge access (I'll never travel enough miles + segments to qualify for Gold or higher status with any airline). The other thing that makes it tolerable is good customer service - be happy if you find it!


Monday, February 03, 2020

Security Overload

I'm going to write a long post on the air travel experience to India that I just finished but I wanted to give you guys some idea of navigating airports in India, especially when it comes to security.

First of all, never expect security procedures in other countries to be anything like those in the US. Partly because security concerns are different (India has had both internal political violence as well as ongoing disputes with Pakistan, particularly when it comes to Kashmir) and different governments have different ideas for how to address the same problems.

So let me give you an idea of the security checkpoints I went through on the trip home I just completed, with a route of Chennai -> Mumbai -> JFK -> RDU

To get inside the airport in Chennai (or any airport in India), you have to present a boarding pass and ID to military security outside the terminal. But for the most part, eticketing is not a thing in India. So luckily I had printed out my itinerary and presented the officer with the sheets showing my Vistara flight from Chennai to Mumbai and the Delta flights to get me home from there. But... what I showed him didn't include my name. He directed me to the outside Vistara counter (all the airlines have counters that face outward from the terminal, which makes sense given the requirements to get inside). I stepped out and then realized that I needed to pull out the first sheet of the itinerary printout that had my name on it and got back in the mercifully short line and got through.  Passport check #1.

After going through the line at the Vistara desk, I got my boarding pass (but NOT the passes for the two Delta flights) and took my bags through security. The security checks at Indian airports are much different than those in the US. It's a bit of a mob scene, for one, with just a table for bins in each queue that people don't really queue up for all that much. Laptops AND cellphones come out and belts come off, but I was wearing sneakers and did not have to remove them (no sneaker bombers in India, I guess) and nothing about liquids. 

I travel with a CPAP for sleep apnea and left that in my carryon sometimes, took it out others, and it was never questioned. But the young man in front of me at one checkpoint that had unsealed containers of what appeared to be protein powder may still be in the airport. Or disappeared.

Everybody gets wanded and patted down. Everybody. They have metal detectors that look like the ones they installed in US airports in the late 60s after idiots kept hijacking planes to Cuba, but everybody gets a pat-down. So they direct female travelers to separate lines, including splitting families up. Passport and boarding pass check #2.

Passports were checked again at the gate and away I went, but 2 hours delayed with no way to make my connection - more on that later.

Mumbai is where things got even weirder. I had carried on three freaking bags in the vain hope that I'd make my connection so I didn't have to deal with baggage claim. So I hauled all the bags up to Departures, with a military check of passport and boarding pass/printed itinerary to get up there. Check number 1.

Having missed my flight as well as the flight through DeGaulle that Delta had put me on, I ended up booked on the flight to JFK leaving the next day at 1am (my original flight +1 day). I found that there was a hotel inside the Mumbai airport, called to ensure they had room, then went off in search of it. But security stopped me from LEAVING the Departures lounge as I didn't have a reservation. They sent me to the Info deck in Departures, who called the hotel to come up and escort me down. Checkpoint number 2.

Given the restrictions of movement, I spent the next 20 hours in a very nice hotel room in the Mumbai airport, trying to get some rest and eating a pretty decent veg biryani.

I *had* managed to get my Delta boarding passes from the self-service kiosk so I was prepared to get through security to get to Departures. Checkpoint number 3.

While in line at the Delta counter for the bag drop, Delta agents walked through the line, checking passports and asking immigration-type questions (reason for visit , point of entry, places visited, etc), then stickered my passport. Checkpoint number 4.

At the counter of course, I had to produce the passport again. Checkpoint number 5.

Go through security - similar rigamarole to above, maybe a little less chaotic. Checkpoint 6.

The to the very long line at immigration. Checkpoint 7.

Walk through the mall-sized Duty Free shop to get to the gates. I was confused about why the desk agent told me that boarding was going to start at 11pm for a 1am flight and I checked with the gate agent to see if that was right (I really wanted to check out an airport lounge and relax a bit). But no, the 11pm checkin was correct.

Scanned boarding pass at the gate plus passport check. Checkpoint 8.

Found that there was a temporary looking FULL SECURITY CHECK between the gate and the airplane. Take everything out of bags, wanded again, etc. Checkpoint 9.

I *think* that was it. But it wouldn't surprise me if I missed something - unlike previous trips I never got into a good sleep pattern and I was living on 3-4 hours a "night" and was a little punchy. 

I understand a "belts and suspenders" approach to security. But this seemed like a "belts, suspenders, bungee cords, Superglue, staples and duct tape" approach. Even if my Vistara flight had been on time, I would have been hard-pressed to grab luggage off the carousel, go to the Delta desk to drop it off, make it through security and customs and still reach the plane in the two hours that were originally scheduled. All my previous trips to India (all TWO of them, so not that many) were direct flights into Chennai, so this was my first experience with combining domestic flights with international. Lessons learned.

 The other thing that I find very different is that so much of this is handled not by a TSA analog, but by camouflage-uniformed military personnel, including pairs of uniformed soldiers patrolling the Departure area with machine guns at the ready. Takes some getting used to.

Additional security measures vary at hotels and work spaces. This trip, they actually seemed a little less than the trips I took in 2017. Where before the hotel security would run a mirror under any car to check for bombs and baggage had to go through a scanner, that didn't happen this time in either Bangalore or Chennai. Guess it depends on current tensions.

The good news was the Global Entry when I reached JFK was a fucking miracle. No line at the kiosks, 30 seconds for it to take my picture and print out a slip with a grainy photo, no more than 5 minutes in line to present to the Customs officer, and that was it! If you travel internationally, I highly recommend going through the hassle of getting it (it also gets you TSA Precheck, which helps not one whit internationally but is a huge help domestically).

I've never seen anything really describing this whole process. I was lucky I printed out my itinerary as I don't usually for domestic travel. Guess the moral of the story is be flexible, be patient and be as prepared as you can. Now at least you are prepared for your next trip to India!


Saturday, January 04, 2020

The Cradle

My history with Cat's Cradle doesn't go back 50 years. It goes back around 38 though. I had seen the Fabulous Knobs on the lawn at Connor Beach during Springfest in '79 with a bunch of friends and one day a couple of years later, my friend Kevin Bruce suggested we grab dinner at Tijuana Fats and then catch them again at the Cradle next door.

I was hooked from night one. By the band, certainly, but by the vibe of the room and the people. I went on to see the Knobs at the Pier (I even got pulled on stage to dance with Deb for "Teenage Boogie" one night) and other venues but it was never quite as awesome as the shows at the Cradle. They were always on fire and the audience was too.

Then it was the dBs and the Pressure Boys and a bunch of other bands and I was in love. DR moved the club to Franklin Street (the location alternately known as the "long skinny Cradle", "the shoebox" and "the bowling alley") and Judy Hammond opened Rhythm Alley in the old location. While I spent a lot of time at the Alley (and fell in love there and got married there and bought the damn place with my bride), I never stopped going to the Cradle. I'd sneak out to take in a couple of songs from time to time and catch a show when we didn't have anything booked.

When we were a few months into our ownership of the Alley, in 1986, DR announced he was closing the Cradle. A number of folks coming to the next couple of shows commented that that was good news for us. But we knew it was not. What was magic was being able to plop down the price of an import beer at two different clubs a couple of hundred yards apart and catch incredible music in both places. The west end of town got lonely after the Cradle closed.

Later that summer, I was putting up posters on West Franklin Street when Richard Fox stopped me and introduced me to the new owner of the Cradle, some dude named Frank Heath. 33 and 1/3 years later, he's still running the place. That is clearly impossible - it just doesn't happen that someone owns a club for that long. Frank (and he will tell you, all the folks like Derek and Andy and the rest of the team) are the reason that the Cradle thrives, 50 years on. It's impossible, yet here we are.

The other thing that makes this work for local musicians, though, are the other clubs and venues that give bands starting out places to play, learn, and build an audience. So don't *just* support the Cradle (although support them with all your might!). Spend some dollars at the Cave and Local 506 and the Pinhook and Motorco. And I promise to take my own advice and do the same.

Cheers to Bill, Jim, Marsha, DR, Frank and all the other owners, managers, bartenders, soundfolks, stage managers and other folks that keep the Cradle rocking - thanks for 50 years and here's hoping for 50 more.


Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Glasses Half Empty

Well, *yesterday* was a mixed bag! The morning started with an early flight to JAX via ATL and was the first time I've had the full benefit of spending craploads of money to make air travel less shitty. TSA Precheck made security a breeze, an upgraded seat via Skymiles points made it quicker to deplane in Atlanta and access to the Sky Lounge meant I could park my bags, hit an uncrowded restroom, grab a cup of coffee and catch up on a couple of emails - all in about 15 minutes. Budget Fastbreak meant picking up the car was a breeze. All in all, the way travel is supposed to be.
Then while at the hotel before meeting my customer for dinner, I broke my glasses. Not a lens - I broke the frames, right at the bridge. They're effectively wire-rims, so a nerd repair with tape or a bandaid wasn't possible.
So I found myself driving a strange car on strange roads in a downpour in the dark in heavy traffic wearing my prescription Ray-Bans. Probably not the safest choice but I was already running late and didn't have time to try to get a Lyft.
It is likely that none of you other than my family have seen me without my glasses on, unless we've gone swimming or had sex together. I've been wearing glasses since I was in first grade, which was @^#%%@@% years ago. I do not look like *me* without my glasses, even to me, since I can't really see myself clearly without them.
So I'll navigate through the day today looking either like I'm nursing the mother of all hangovers or trying to be incognito. I'm curious to see if anyone asks me for a selfie at the airport, thinking I must be SOMEbody they know. (The last time anyone seemed truly convinced that I was someone else was in 1983 in a bar in Georgetown, when some drunk young thing was sure I was Max Weinberg. Springsteen was in town the next night, I think, and she was absolutely sure despite my protestations that I was the E Street Band drummer, despite the fact that he's ten years older).
Wish me luck!

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Sunday, February 10, 2019

What's Up With Your Taxes?

Just finished filing our income tax today and no surprise, I've gone from getting a low 4 figure refund the past few years to owing a small amount to the IRS.  That seems to be the norm, so what's going on?

First of all, I'm not a tax accountant.  Second of all, those of you that are already scoffing at me for not planning my withholding to the penny so that the IRS didn't get to use my money interest free all year may as well stop reading - I'm not writing this for you.  Yes it's smarter to minimize your refund, but it ain't easy to do and most people would rather get something back than run the risk of paying (hence the uproar now).

So what happened?  Let me give you an example (these numbers ARE NOT my actual numbers - they are made up round numbers for illustration purposes).  We'll look at Jack (a high school teacher) and Jackie (a Windows server admin at a mid-sized company).  They file married/jointly and their income after the little bit they carve out pre-tax for her 401K is right at $100K.

Their first combined paycheck in the middle of January 2018 was $100 more than last year.  Hurray!  They get paid twice a month so that's $2400 a year!  Not enough to go buy a new car, but it's significant.  Might mean some new clothes, dining out more often, maybe even a weekend at the beach.  Awesome!  The $100 is nice, but by April they've kind of forgotten about it and then Jackie get a little merit raise at work in June and it all blends together.

So now it's February 2019 and tax time.  Jackie and Jack are used to getting a decent refund (around $1500) and using that to take a vacation after the school year.  But as they go through the tax program, they start noticing some things.  They're used to itemizing deductions, claiming mortgage interest, property taxes, donations, state income tax, etc.  But some of those are now being capped.  They're pushed into the standard deduction of $24K for a married couple - higher than it was previously, for sure.  But the personal exemption is gone which counters some of that gain.  After all is said and done, they end up owing the IRS $150!

So did their taxes go up or down?  Well, they did go down,  But not by $2400.  They went down by $750.  That's not a figure to be sneezed at, but it's not nearly as much as they thought a year ago and they miss having the big refund that they can use for a down payment for a car or for a getaway.

For those of you that have already filed, does that look like what you've seen?  Were you smart enough to change your W-4 at the beginning of the year?  And for those of you that pay a lot more attention to such things, do I have this right or am I missing something?


Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Take the win

While a lot of you knuckleheads spent Election Night with your favorite disinformation channel on the tube and FiveThirtyEight open on your iPad, Jeannette and I spent the night at the Cradle enjoying a fantastic Psychedelic Furs set (nice opener by Liz Brasher too).  We got home by 11 and I took a quick look to reassure myself that the House was going to be majority Dem and then went to sleep.

I see a lot of hand-wringing from folks that did watch the results all night - I like the perspective I got by NOT watching it like a tennis match and just looking at the end results (I know there are still some undecided races out there, but you get my drift).  By not sweating over every precinct return, I think I kept a little perspective.

Democrats won enough seats to take the House. That might not have been the ONLY thing that mattered, but it mattered more than everything else.  That means that Adam Schiff and Maxine Waters and Elijah Cummings are likely now to be committee chairs.  That is a Big. Fucking. Deal.

Democrats picked up a large number of governorships, which will make a huge difference.  Scott Walker and Kris Kobach went down in defeat. No, Dems didn't win Florida or Ohio, but they won a bunch.  That is vitally important as we head into the 2020 census.

Closer to home, the GOP lost supermajorities in both sides of the NCGA, meaning that they will no longer be able to automatically override Gov. Cooper's veto.  [Edit - I see I spoke too soon as there are races that are undecided.  No more supermajority in the House but Senate is still uncertain.]  And the two referenda that would have restricted the NC governor's powers were defeated. And the Dem won the State Supreme Court race.  We've got districts that have been found to be illegally gerrymandered and we're in better shape now to ensure that that is resolved.

It was a good night.  Maybe it wasn't a fantastic night, but it was a good night.

Now the cries will begin for the new House majority to "show restraint" and to "avoid legislative overreach".  Complete and utter bullshit.  The GOP House did not suffer from spending millions of dollars and 1000s of hours in incessant investigations of non-scandals like the IRS and Benghazi.  The Dem House will not suffer from actually investigating the vast amount of real wrong-doing that is out there to be brought to light.  If we have learned anything in the last two years (or last forty years) it's that there is no such thing as overreach anymore.  The House turned more blue-ish because of Trump, not because of Devin Nunes or Trey Gowdy.

What the Democratic House does have to do is prove that it can walk and chew gum at the same time.  There is no reason that they can't put forth a reasonable, progressive legislative agenda at the same time they investigate the massive fraud and misdeeds of the Trump administration. Yes, that agenda will be stymied in the Senate but that doesn't mean that they shouldn't try - that's what they were elected for.  And that doesn't mean that if there's some area of common ground with the GOP, they shouldn't pursue it.  But being seen as a roadblock to the Trump agenda will *not* be a negative, despite what corporate media will try to say.

And yes, they should pursue investigations professionally, reasonably and to the fullest extent that they can.  There is plenty to investigate that others have pointed out over and over.  And once they've started turning over those rocks and shining a light on what comes wriggling out, along with the next few weeks of Mueller investigation reveals, yes they damn well should start impeachment proceedings against Trump.  The Senate may not vote on it but the Senate election landscape for 2020 is much more favorable to Dems than 2018 was and putting GOP Senators on the line for their votes on what will be obvious illegal activities from the Preznit will not hurt.

Nancy Pelosi will pick the the majority leader gavel again and should keep it until someone comes along that has her fund-raising and cat-herding abilities and not one second before.  The fact that she's the boogie-woman that GOP uses to scare their sheeple at night should be seen as a badge of honor, not a detriment.  They will use WHOEVER is in the position in exactly the same way, so it really doesn't matter.

Things have started to change for the better.

Yesterday was a good day.


Friday, July 13, 2018

First World Problems - Business Travel Sucks

"You'll survive all of this if it kills you
Just to show them that you never lost your nerve."
- The Old Ceremony, "Ghosts of Ferriday"

I have not always been a frequent business traveler but I'm an experienced one, both domestically and internationally, both pre- and post-9/11.  But I'm ready to stop.  Just quit it completely, unless it's a drive rather than a flight away.

I don't blog about work often and I'm not really talking about work itself here, just some of the wonder that surrounds it.

A couple of weeks ago I was visiting a customer in Andover, MA, around 45 minutes north of Boston.  Being the good corporate citizen that I am, I scheduled my flight for relatively late in the day so I could get a good day's work in before signing off.  The flight into Logan was uneventful, I picked up my rental car, plugged in the destination in Google Maps and away I went, through the Big Dig and off into the rainy night.

I arrived at my hotel around 11pm, maybe 11:15 and there is where the trouble began.  I had no reservation.  No record of it.  None. And of course the hotel was completely booked.  The guy behind the desk suggested a couple of other places to call (he did NOT offer to do that himself) but they were booked as well.  As a matter of fact, one of the people I spoke to at another hotel said she had been trying to find rooms as far away as Maine with no success.  There was some sort of huge softball tournament or some such going on and rooms were just not to be had.

Thinking that the travel folks our company uses had screwed the pooch, I emailed them and (to their everlasting credit) they responded within 5 minutes (meanwhile I had powered up my laptop and was looking for other options myself).  I heard the phone behind the reception desk ring and realized that the guy behind the counter was being reamed out by our travel people but to no avail.

I tried a few more places on my own as did the guy from our travel team.  I had zero luck.  He kept finding places that had rooms available online but when he called them to confirm, they were not actually available (again, I've derided these guys before but they performed admirably).

By this time it was around 12:30 am and I was contemplating sleeping in the back seat of the little Mercedes crossover I had rented and then blowing off my customer meeting and flying the fuck home.  I had been pretty well convinced that this had been a screw-up on the part of our travel people but just for the hell of it, I called the toll-free number for the hotel chain (yes, it was Holiday Inn Express).  I gave the guy my reservation confirmation number, telling him that the guy at the deck hadn't been able to find it.  No, the voice on the phone said, we had it but we canceled it because you hadn't checked in.

What the ever-loving fuckety fuck?!?!?

After blowing off a little steam venting at the sap on the other end of the line, I asked him how the hell that could happen, given that the room was guaranteed.  Apparently that doesn't mean doodly in situations like this where they've overbooked and everyone else around is booked solid as well.  After questioning the parentage of the dumbfuck that thought up that policy, I demanded the smug little shit from customer disservice find me another damn room.  And he did.  In Seabrook, New Hampshire.  Another 35-45 minutes north.  Okay then.

I packed up my crap, which by this time was spread all over the lobby, and headed up through the rain to Seabrook.  And a bed.  And all of about 4 hours of sleep.

After a good meeting with my customer, it was time to head back to Logan.  I knew I was going to have a few hours to kill at the airport and figured I would use some Delta Skymiles to buy an afternoon in their Sky Club so I could have a comfortable place to sit and get some work done before flying home.  So I did.  It looked like a refugee camp.  The thunderstorms rolling through Boston were holding planes destined for Logan at their destination for hours, so everyone that had any way to access the Sky Lounge had done so.  I was lucky enough to find an actual chair (there were people sprawled all over the floor, leaning against table legs, etc and the line for the free (sucky) beer was 30 people deep).  All of that being said, I was more comfortable that I would have been in the terminal while I saw my departure time slip out by 1 hour. 2 hours.  3 hours.  For a second time in 24 hours I thought about calling my friend Lynn at BU to see if she'd come get me and let me crash on her sofa.

We finally took off around 11:30pm, landing at RDU well after 1am.  By the time I got out, got the car and drove home it was 2.  By the time I actually wound down enough to get to sleep it was 3, with a full day of work ahead of me starting a couple of hours later.  Another 4 hours of sleep.

Okay, so that sucked but how often is THAT going to happen.  Well, apparently, every.  fucking.  time.

I'll admit that Wednesday's flight through Charlotte to Birmingham went without a hitch.  Rental car achieved.  Hotel was fine.  Dinner with our team was fun and the food was good.  Good meetings with the customer.  Uneventful trip back to the airport and a quiet gate to catch up on some more work and make a few phone calls.  I was traveling with one of my guys and we had 50 minutes to get from our flight to the next in Charlotte, which I thought was cutting it close but figured we had a shot.  Then the delays started.  15 minutes.  45 minutes.  Then they stopped updating it but I was watching Flightaware and the equipment we were going to use was coming in from Charlotte, which was under a very angry-looking thunderstorm.  The good thing was that lots of planes were being held at their departure location before coming into Charlotte.  Except for one, apparently.  Our connecting flight was coming in from Providence RI and was perfectly on time, no delays, might have even been a couple of minutes early.  Naturally.  I heard others around me talking to the gate agents to rebook their connecting flights and they were all the next day at 10am, 11am, 1pm.  Fuck that.  We finally boarded about 50 minutes late and before they buttoned up, I pulled up the Budget website, logged into my Fastbreak account and reserved us a car for a one-way from CLT to RDU.  I figured I could cancel it if by some miracle we made our connection but as we landed at Charlotte-Douglas, Flightaware showed our connecting flight as taxiing on the runway.

So off we went to the Budget counter and our grey Nissan Sentra and a long drive to RDU.  We left around 11:15 and I figured we'd get to RDU around 1:45, which was after the Budget counter closed, so I had a 1pm turn-in time.  The drive was uneventful despite the construction on vast stretches of I-85 between Charlotte and Greensboro (lots of night work).  I dropped my friend off at the terminal so he could catch a shuttle out to park-and-ride to get his car and then headed for home, music blaring to keep me alert and awake.  Home at 2:15, asleep a little after 3, an all-to-familiar story.

My calendar for Friday was a disaster.  I was determined to blow off my 8am meeting and the hour-long 8:30 meeting but I was doubled-booked for the rest of the morning.  I finally had a break around 12:30 with my next (must-do) meeting at 2pm, giving me exactly an hour and a half to drive the rental to RTP, gas up, turn it in, take the shuttle to the terminal, walk over to the garage, pick up the XTerra and get home.  I pulled off on Miami Blvd to gas up and as I got back onto I-40 I realized that I had neglected to grab either my parking ticket or my freakin' keys to my XTerra.  So exit onto Page Rd, hop back onto I-40 (westbound this time) and back home.  I called Budget and spoke to a robot for 15 minutes in order to extend my rental for another 3 hours, then did my can't-miss meeting and tried it all again.

Luckily this time I was successful and things went off without a hitch, which is good as I was pretty much incapable of handling complexity after only around 4 hours of sleep.

I'm not sure if there are any lessons from any of this.  I'm pretty good at packing for air travel, I know how to manage the security lines even without TSA Pre, I always get to the airport with a few minutes to spare so that I'm not crushing people trying to reach my gate.  But some things are clearly beyond my control.  Which is actually the worst damn thing about air travel.  Other than unexpected traffic, I feel much more control if I'm driving, and if I can get to my destination in 6 hours or less, I'm driving not flying.  But that doesn't help me with Boston or Birmingham or Atlanta or London or Chennai or really anywhere beyond the DC Metro and Charlotte.

So I'm going to have to find a way to cope with this but any more of these 2am homecomings and I may have to find a way to retire early.

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