Monthly Archives: January 2008

The Coldest Weekend of the Year

One good thing about the coldest weekend of the year:  I’m getting a lot of writing done, at least today.  Yesterday was Junior’s Batman-themed birthday party, and the ten four-year-old boys (plus the three members of the League of Older Sisters) wore us all out, so I didn’t get anything done on the novel yesterday.  Today, though, I had to skip my run (it was -5 degrees at 8:30am, and while I may be crazy, I’m not stupid), so I’ve written around 1800 words on Meet the Larssons, plus a couple of posts here.


Weekend Assignment #199: When do you sleep?

I left the link to the assignment off the original post – sorry Karen.

When I was in high school, my motto was “No sleep ’til Brooklyn!” I lived in Brooklyn, though, so that was alright. It’s not like I never slept.

Short answer: my sleep schedule is unhealthy and likely to lead to heart disease and unsightly wrinkles.

This winter, I’m getting up around 6:45 am on weekdays in winter when I don’t run before work (most days, since it’s cold and dark in the morning and I’m a wuss). It’s when I go to bed that’s a problem. I had gotten to the point by December where I came home, helped put the kids to bed, then logged back into the office and worked until midnight almost every night. I was able to put the brakes on that, but now I have the novel to work on, not to mention the blog, so I’m staying up even later. At least I have some work/life balance. When I have some discipline about going to bed, I’m running on about six to six and a half hours of sleep a night during the week, which is just under what I need in order to function normally; when I let things go, it’s more like five.

Extra credit: If we had no other obligations, it is entirely possible that Mrs. Unfocused and I would go back to the sleep schedule we had the summer after we graduated from college, when we were unemployed, living on credit from Harper Foods, and spending our days swimming in Lake Michigan at The Point. That summer we went to bed at 4:00am and slept until noon.


I was at 14,800 words (and change) last night. I banged out some dialogue this morning before work, and just realized that Meet the Larssons is now over 15,000 words long, which, according to Scrivener, translates to approximately 70 pages. The longest piece of fiction I’ve ever written, a coming of age novel that I stopped working on 15 years ago and never finished, was 75 pages, and it took me months of inconsistent but tortured effort to get that far, and finally, with a great sigh of relief, I gave up on it.

On the other hand, it was an inconsistent and tortured story about inconsistent and tortured people. No reason the writer should have been spared.

Did you order Chinese take-out tonight?

I work in a big downtown highrise, and my cell phone reception in the office is not good. Every so often, someone calls my cell, and I have to stand by the window and shout “I… will… call… you… back… from… a… land… line!”

I just got a call on my cell — from “Private Caller” — and when I picked it up, a man and a woman started screaming and yelling into the phone. I got over by the window just in time to hear the woman shriek “fucking kill you!” into my ear.

Now, if I’d gotten this call in the morning, right after my coffee, it would have just made my day. But I’m trying to wind up here, I don’t need this crap, so I say “I think you’ve got the wrong number.”

The man pipes up and shouts “No we don’t. You ordered one hundred dollars of Chinese food, you come pay right now!”

I repeat that they have the wrong number. The woman screams something unintelligible, and the man yells that I had better come pay right now.

So I hung up. They haven’t called back.

If you ordered $100 of Chinese food in Chicago tonight, I suggest you go pick it up, and leave a big tip.

Coolest news story ever?

It looks like those radio telescopes out in the desert may finally have found somebody out there, according to a report posted on the web yesterday by KTVU in California (thanks to Mrs. Unfocused for emailing me the link). The story says that SETI researchers have found “a mystery signal has been picked up by a giant radio-telescope in Puerto Rico.” I tried a quick search on the web for more detail, searching Google News, The New York Times, Digg, The SETI Institute, SETI@home, and even, as a last resort NASA (even though we all know from watching Close Encounters of the Third Kind, E.T., and Men in Black that if the government ever gets in contact with aliens, we will never, ever be told the truth), and found precisely nothing. If “researchers searching for signs of life in space were abuzz this week” with the news, why hasn’t anyone else covered it? Maybe I missed it — I’ll look more tonight. It does seem odd, though, that news of first contact would be broken by the local Fox affiliate in Oakland and no one else would even notice.

Enough with the skepticism. The article jumps straight to the interesting part of the discussion: if we have received a coherent signal of clearly intelligent origin from thousands of light years away, should we respond and if so, what response should we make?

The naysayers are worried that if we send a signal back out there, we may not like the response we get. The article quotes others who believe that even if the civilization that sent the signal is malevolent, what harm could they do to us?

It’s a fascinating question. I’ll post some thoughts of my own tonight.

My first trackback

I had a frenetically busy day at work today, largely because opposing counsel in a case I’m working on filed a bunch of motions on Friday, to be heard tomorrow morning, then mailed them. From out of state. We found about it purely by luck and got copies by email, but still.

Here’s a tip to the attorneys out there who think that’s acceptable: You should know there’s something wrong with you when other lawyers think you’re an asshole.

Logging onto my blog account this evening, though, I got a nice surprise: my first trackback! I didn’t actually know what trackbacks are, so I did a search on The Google and found this very helpful article by Dave Taylor, suggesting that many trackbacks are from spammers, as, unfortunately, was mine. But still! A spammer — a professional marketer — thinks my blog is worth hitching a ride on! The three of you out there who occasionally read this blog (hi, Mrs. Unfocused!) must be very important consumers. Try to step up the consuming, though. The economy’s going in the tank.

10K & TKD

All in all, a pretty good weekend. Mrs. Unfocused, the Princess, and I had our first Family Tae Kwon Do class at the YMCA. Junior was signed up for it but got nervous and freaked out; he watched for a while, then the Mrs. took him to the child care center. He says that next week he won’t be shy about it, and did shake the instructor’s hand very nicely when we ran into him later on. Because TKD is 9:15-10:15, and the Princess has a swimming class at 11:30, we will be spending every Saturday morning at the Y; the Mrs. and I can each grab a workout while the kids are in childcare after TKD, and I can take Junior to Starbucks while the Mrs. takes Princess to swim class.

If a plan ends with me getting coffee, I’m all for it.

On top of that, I got a 10-mile run in this morning. I ordered some new cold weather running gear a few weeks ago, and tried some of it out today, and it all met expectations. I’m still slow, but at least I’m not a corpsicle.

I have to come up with a new nickname for the Princess on this blog, because if there’s one word that does not describe my daughter, it’s Princess. I used it in my first post for lack of the imagination to think of anything better, but she does not now, nor has she ever, given a good goddamn about princesses, or Barbie, anything similar. She is a nice, bright kid who’s interested in science, ancient Egypt, and animals. And Harry Potter. And Batman (although not as much as Junior). And Star Wars. And various other things.

Right. Unfocused Girl it is. That was easy.

To top it all off, I finished my 5,000 words for the week in the novel. That means I’ve got 10,000 words written (10,024, to be exact), which is the same length as my senior thesis in college. The Mrs. picked out a new laptop for me to work on at home (the old Pismo was on life support, unfortunately), and it came this week: a new MacBook running Leopard. I spent another forty bucks to buy Scrivener, a nice app for writers that provides a real assist in organization.

Yes, I know. I get five thousand words into a novel that, in all likelihood, no one will ever read, and all of the sudden I need a new computer and special software, when writing the first 5,000 words in OpenOffice (free) on my old work laptop ($1 when they switched me to a new one) worked perfectly well. If you’re thinking that’s a little ridiculous, you’re right. But I needed the new laptop anyway — they can make me use a Windows machine at the office, but I’ll be damned if I’ll use one for personal work at home (literally damned, because that’s my definition of hell).

As for Scrivener, hey, it was $40 — not exactly a fortune. It is very useful, too, including half a dozen easy to use features that I will probably actually remember to use. I note that productivity maven Merlin Mann uses Scrivener. He’s very productive, you know, so the software has to be useful.

So now I’m blogging away on my new MacBook, and it has been a pretty good weekend. The only problem is that it is now 12:43am on Monday morning, and I’m still messing around on the computer when I should really go to bed. That’s the problem with new toys.

Weekend Assignment #198: On Winter

Waiting until the last minute to do my homework — it’s just like high school. Or college. Or law school. Or elementary school, for that matter. The new Weekend Assignment is up at Outpost Mavarin. Here it is:

Weekend Assignment #198: What is your favorite thing about winter? Whether you love this time of year, hate it or merely endure it, you should be able to find something good to say about the season. What is it?

Before we had children, every winter the Mrs. and I used to drive up to Door County right after Christmas and stay until New Year’s Day or January 2. (For those of you not familiar with the Midwest, Door County, Wisconsin is the northern tip of the peninsula that divides Green Bay from Lake Michigan, and is a summer resort area for families from Chicago, Milwaukee, Madison, Green Bay, and as far as the Twin Cities.) Most of the shops and many of the restaurants are open for that week — everything closes after January 2 until May — but it is never crowded, except for breakfast at Al Johnson’s in Sister Bay.

We went snowshoeing in the state park, antique shopping, watched old movies at night. One year, we were supposed to leave on New Year’s Day so I could be at the office on January 2, but on New Year’s Eve, it started to snow. When we woke up on New Year’s morning, it was still snowing. We tramped into the main building at Eagle Harbor Inn (where we always stayed) for breakfast, and heard that the road from Green Bay to Milwaukee had been closed by the state police, and would not reopen for several hours after the snow stopped, at the earliest. We were free! This was around 1998 or 1999 — I had no Blackberry or laptop, so I had to just leave voicemails for a few people, and then I was completely off the hook. There was no problem with our staying an extra night in our room, we drove into Egg Harbor to see the wonderful New Year’s Day parade (including the town’s little yellow fire engine) and eat dollar brats grilled up by members of one of the local service clubs as a fundraiser. I don’t remember what we did that evening, but I’m sure we enjoyed every minute of it. It was the best snow day I had had since the winter of 1978/79, when New York (where I grew up) had a massive blizzard and the snow plow broke down in the middle of our street, leaving us with an eight-foot high wall of snow, easily four to six feet thick, crossing the entire street, and all of the kids on the block stayed home and had the mother of all snowball battles, using the wall of snow as our barrier, our fort, our mountain, or our high ground for firing down at the others.

Now I watch my kids when they have a snow day; they’ve only had one or two since they started school (they’re young yet), but I remember my daughter jumping up and down the first time she learned that when there is enough snow, they cancel school and you get to play outside.

That’s what I love about winter: the possibility of snow days. No other season offers anything comparable, the possibility that the weather will be so bad that school is canceled, but so good that you can spend all day playing outside (with occasional breaks for hot cocoa and marshmallows).

Extra credit: What do you hate most about winter?

This is harder than the main assignment (which I suppose is why it’s extra credit). My first thought was: travel. I fly often enough for business, and flying in winter is really miserable because of the weather delays. I’m not going to use that as my answer, though, because these days flying is a miserable experience in all seasons, so there is no reason to single out winter.

The winner is: cabin fever. I get it as bad as the kids do. It’s hard to get up to run outside in the dark. It’s even harder when you know that out there in the dark, it is really, really cold. By spring, I am leaping at the chance to run outside in 40 degree weather, and the kids are begging to spend as much time as possible in the mud pit that is our backyard in April. By the end of February, we are all a few cards short of a deck. What I hate most about winter: cabin fever.

Words I Never Thought I’d Hear Myself Say, #754

“You have exactly as much tablecloth on your side of the table as your sister has on her side! Now leave it alone!”

Quick Hit: Back From Court

I just got back from the Daley Center, and the FBI Stop Raping My Wife guy (who I discussed here) was standing there in the rain with his sign (but not the big sandwich board). I left the building a little before 10am, and he was packing up — he probably figured that if he the 9:00 and 9:30 calls covered, there wasn’t much point in hanging around in the rain for the probate calls at 10:00 and 11:00, considering how many fewer people that involves. He’s probably a pretty good judge of the ebbs and flows of foot traffic by this point in his incomprehensible silent protest. So he’s got that going for him.

Sorry for the lack of a photo — I left my phone on the charger at the office.