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The Other End of Sunset



Random musings from just this side of ... well, somewhere that you passed in a taxi.



Updated: 2017-11-27T12:25:00.820-08:00

 



This End of Sunset

2012-05-10T09:28:00.275-07:00

Hello OtherEnders...

I know it's been forever since I've written here, and I guess I want to celebrate the passing of TheOtherEndofSunset.  I've written some funny things (I think, anyway), and a load of sad stuff.  But it's all been honest, and I've tried (very) hard not to talk about business here.

But this phase of my writing is over. At least for now.

I'm writing a new blog -- entirely business focused -- over @ Forbes.  I hope you will like it.  You can find it at http://blogs.forbes.com/douglasmerrill/ -- pretty great branding, eh?

The Forbes blog has my political viewpoint, my humor (whether you like it or not!), and song lyrics. But it won't talk about my personal life (or at least I don't think it will).

If you like my writing, I'd love it if you'd read the stuff I write on Forbes.  I'm having a good time writing it, and I haven't written anything that makes anyone cry!

Hope to see you over there, comments welcomed as always...

--Douglas



French, and English, at the same time

2011-10-14T15:55:34.880-07:00

Hello my OtherEnders.It's been a while since I've felt like writing.SnowblindI can't get away--StyxI've done some writing for work, and I've really meant what I said. I built a company that can -- and will -- save the underbanked billions of dollars. I plan on transforming an entire industry. Every minute I spend thinking about it, every new hire we make, every new product we push… they all make me more convinced that ZestCash can change the world.But there is another part of me that writes. It's sad, it's forlorn. (And, apparently, it's redundant).I never knew it was part of me. It first raised its ugly head when JR got sick.That side of me is driving right now.It's understoodthat Hollywoodsells Californication--Red Hot Chili PeppersI described Jeanne's death here. She passed on in the afternoon of June 23rd, 2006.// Side note: "Passed on" is such a silly way to say "died", don't you think? You get passed on an expressway, not in life, nor in death. //When Jeanne died, I was holding her hand. I couldn't feel the minute she died, like in the movies. Her hand was cold, slightly blue, and still, even before she died. The nurse told me when she died. Just about 1:30 in the afternoon.I didn't feel anything at first after she died. Just … quiet. Still. Not good quiet, like in a library. Bad quiet, like the stillness between a heartbeat and the next when you have hurt someone, badly, and they find out.Then I took a handful of Ativan and went to sleep. Everyone left the next day, but our two rescue dogs were still with me. Minnie, the Dalmatian, and Tyrone, the Brown-Dog-of-Mixed-Parentage.Back on the chain gang--The PretendersAlmost two years ago, Minnie started walking with her head down, below her shoulders, and dragging a foot slightly. We thought she had a back problem, so we gave her pain killers, and assumed she was just getting a bit arthritic.Then it got worse. Much worse. Suddenly.We did X-ray after X-ray after CAT scan after MRI … And nothing made sense. Until the doctor had the idea of scanning Minnie's brain.Revealing a large tumor that was killing her.// Side note: Ever since we've been a couple, SL has tucked in both dogs every night. She has a particular set of words she starts with, and ends with, and a cadence that both dogs recognized. It's a thing of beauty, light splayed across a wall from a prism in the window, the first day of spring. You should envy me for getting to hear it. //A few weeks after we found her tumor, Minnie lay in bed next to me, with her eyes partly closed listening to SL giving her a final tuck-in. The tuck-in ended just before the vet injected poison into her front paw, stopping her heart.I knew when Minnie died. I could feel her heart stop. And feel her postural muscles give way.Tyrone missed Minnie a lot for a while, but then settled into his role as family guardian. He would sit between SL and anyone he didn't entirely trust. When she was pregnant, Tyrone stared balefully at SL's personal trainer every time he touched her. It was clear that he was watching.When Elisabette was born, Tyrone changed his focus from just SL to cover our new pack member as well. He sat in the doorway to Elisabette's nursery when SL was feeding. Nobody was getting past him. His job was to protect everyone when I wasn't around, and he took that job seriously.A few weeks ago, Tyrone started walking more slowly, his head below his shoulders. This time, we didn't think it was his spine. We found a large mass, about the size of a tennis ball, just behind his front leg.He had cancer of the blood.Every day, he'd get a bit slower, and have a bit more trouble getting up the stairs. But he still blocked the doorway if I wasn't there, and he still barked at the doorbell. He wasn't going to let cancer stop him from doing his job.Two days ago, he lay on a blanket, in our front yard, listening to SL give him his final tuck-in. He lifted his head and looked at her. As the drugs took over, he lowered his head, but didn't stop looking at her until the end.I ha[...]



Trim the plants around the cameras

2011-08-20T18:08:26.539-07:00

Well I guess you scared me too --Concrete Blonde First, let me shout in jubilation that the West Memphis Three were freed today, 18 years after a huge, terrible, awful miscarriage of justice. Sadly, instead of walking out of prison as clearly free men, they are walking out of prison under a most bizarre legal arrangement that has them proclaiming their innocence, while the criminal justice sees them as guilty. Kind of. But, at least they are out of jail. I wonder what each one thought as they felt the Arkansas sun on their face, smelled the late summer honeysuckle, heard cars go by. All the same as when they were in prison, but, this time, wearing street clothes, with nobody to stop them walking across the street, no guns, no guards. Do you think they are slightly scared? The world of the last two decades was awful and unfair… but they were used to it. I wonder. Is the joy balanced with terror? I started looking for a warning sign --Coldplay I'm sitting at my desk in the corner of the main room of my company, listening to music. Pretty normal day… well, except that most days I don't get to spend much time at my desk, but let's ignore that for now, ok? You'd normally find me drinking coffee, or water from my water bottle. // Side note: really, don't use the plastic water bottles, think of the landfill waste!! // However, at the moment, I'm drinking neither water nor coffee. I'm drinking a Canada Dry ginger ale from a can. The can is showing ads for characters in the upcoming movie "Captain America". Am I the only one that perceives a bit of irony in a drink called **Canada** Dry showing ads for Captain **America**? An unusual marketing arrangement. I'm quiet you know. You make a first impression --Howie Day We are hiring like mad at my startup company, ZestCash. (Yes, if you're interested, we are hiring software engineers, machine learning experts, product managers, and relationship managers.) This week we interviewed 4 software engineers, two product managers, and two senior non-engineering related people. Wow. My calendar looks worse even than it did at the end of my days at the Big G in the sky. But it is a really good use of time. Perhaps the single most important thing a startup CEO can do. It's super important to hire well at small companies. Hiring matters everywhere, I think, but mediocre employees can bounce along at large companies. Weak hires don't add much, other than cost, but they also don't risk the company's existence. At a startup, bad hires can sink the ship. A single bad hire sets a cultural tone that excellence doesn't matter. One bad worker makes everyone else work less. And, at least at my startup, there is always a lot of work to do. If everyone works a little less, we are less likely to hit our targets. Thus, bad hires make it less likely that the company will thrive (or, I guess, even survive). If you'll let me use a bit of "HR speak", talent is the whole game. I'm obviously not the only person who thinks this. Mark Suster agrees. Dave McClure does as well. Marc Andreessen has a slightly more nuanced view, but doesn't contradict the point. If your product space is dumb, or is too small make a viable company, then perhaps talent won't be enough. But, otherwise it's all about great employees. I believe that, given the right talent, you can find a good product-market fit. Thus, I spend a lot of time on hiring. We had the same general view at Google, where I spent at least 25% of my time dealing with hiring in some form or another. // Side note: It's pretty cool to be able to compare my little startup to Google! // Over my career, I've hired literally thousands of people. I've fired a few. I've laid off many… thanks to Schwab, mostly. I have a group of folks that tend to move from company to company with me. I get asked a lot how I think about hiring, what should candidates say to get my attention, or how resumes matter, etc. Thus, this blog post: How does Douglas think about hiring. First, a few[...]



Customer Service matters

2011-08-05T12:56:32.372-07:00

One more time, loud as you can --Eminem I was in Australia for a week recently, carrying (sadly) all of my devices. I was carrying a MacBook Air, an iPad, and my iPhone. I hate traveling with that many bits of hardware, but, c'est la vie, I guess. I was carrying the Air in case I needed to project stuff during my talks. Turned out I didn't, so that was a waste, but I didn't know that. I was carrying the iPad because it's my primary device now -- I use it to read, to do brief emails, listen to music, etc. I was carrying my phone to have an easy to use phone (yes, I could have used GVoice, FaceTime, etc., on my iPad, but I haven't bothered to set any of them up. Sorry.) Now, I normally turn international data roaming off on any device I carry, relying on wifi wherever I am to grab content and email. However, this trip included loads of time where there wasn't any easily available wifi. Ergo, I left data roaming turned on for my iPhone. I'm grateful that they show me the way 'cause I could never know --Steve Taylor So, if you do this, you land in , and immediately get a text telling you that "international data rates apply of $ per MB". OK, thanks, I get it. Although I appreciate the warning, I deliberately ignored it. I needed my data, so I was resigned to paying a lot for it. And having ignored the warning, I ignored the data rates themselves. I didn't care about the cost at that moment, I cared about the functionality. On my 3rd day traveling, I got a text (from some random number) telling me that "[my] international data usage is high. Please call AT&T at ". OK, I've got other things to worry about, but I dial the number, put my phone on speaker, enter the dozens of different numbers asked for by the IVR, and wait. I'm not just sitting here during this wait, I'm actually trying to work. But every time a voice comes on the line, I stop what I'm doing to pay attention in case it's actually a human. I wait about 15 minutes for a real human, but have listened to recorded humans about every minute during the process. With such a high rate of interruption, I got virtually no work done. Heaven forbid you end up alone and don't know why --the fray At 15 minutes, another recording comes on, but this one tells me what the call is about -- they want to sell me a new data plan. They have wasted my time in order to sell me some new product. I hate that. I don't care about AT&T's sales goals at this moment. // Side note: I don't care about AT&T's sales goals at ANY moment, actually, but I was particularly disinterested at that moment. Back to the main line now. // Having realized that this is a sales call, I hang up. The (annoyed) finger having writ, moves on. 667 The Neighbor of the Beast --a T-shirt A few days later, I get another text from that same random number. This time, the message is "due to your high data usage, we are turning off your data plan. Your data access will not be turned back on, even in the US, unless you contact us at ". OK, now we've changed from a minor annoyance to a fairly major one. So I dial the number… and have the same experience as before. This time, however, I wait for a real human -- it takes about 20 minutes. The real human that I talk to is a customer service agent. Now keep in mind, my only goal is to get my data plan turned back on. Nothing more, and nothing less. Not a terribly hard problem. However, the customer service agent can't turn it back on. I *must* sign up for an international data plan to get the data turned back on. So, I listen to the sales pitch, and sign up for the cheapest plan. This gets me my data back. Yay! And, it yields *less* revenue to AT&T. The amount I paid for my plan (even annualized) would be less than the expected international data costs would have been, given my travel plans. Yes, that's right, not only did AT&T annoy me, they yielded themselves less revenue! Some marketing person should lose their job, al[...]



Maybe the gypsy lied

2011-06-23T08:19:12.253-07:00

All you have to change
Is everything you are
--Pink


5 years ago today, Jeanne Michelle Russell won her battle with cancer. I wrote about it here.

I was sitting with her, at about 1:30pm pacific, holding her hand, in the little room down the hall.

She asked me if I was ready.

I said yes.

I was an idiot.

And who shall wear the starry crown?
--Alison Krauss


I met Jeanne -- I called her JR -- when I was at Schwab. If you're interested in the story, it's all laid out, in embarrassing detail, in my blog.

From this distance, it all looks different. I feel differently - I've released on some of what I got wrong. I've gotten more upset at myself about other things. I understand some things more, and find others even less clear, fuzzy, as if in a haze from a distance.

It feels a bit like a sharp object wrapped in cotton for shipping. If you hold it "right", it doesn't hurt.

But most definitely if you grab it by the point, it still draws blood.

What made you forget
that I was raw?
--LL Cool J


Dear Jeanne:

All these years later, I still celebrate your birthday. I remember how your eyes shone when I brought you flowers, or bought you a present, or said you were lovely.

And I still mourn the day you died.

I know that Minnie is with you now. I hope you are remembering that she likes to rip the squeaker out of her toys, and vivisect the little stuffed ones.

Get her lots of toys, she deserves them.

And don't forget to keep her away from the hot dog buns. Remember the year that she grabbed the bread off of the little table that we put beside the bench in the back? How sick she was for days? It was sad… but, really, it was funny. You know it was, even though you didn't say so at the time.

When you lose something
You can't replace.
Could it be worse?
--Coldplay

Brown is lying at the foot of the bed, panting. He's getting lots of love. Lots of treats -- he still likes the Greenies best. Lots of pats -- but he still hates to be groomed. He eats mostly soft food these days. I know, I'm spoiling him. But he's a good boy. You'd be amazed at how much more pack-like he's become. He wants to hang with us, he kisses us, he gets bummed when I travel.

He's become a bit like Minnie, actually. The best of him, with a touch of her. It's wonderful.

I think I'm better too. Perhaps a bit more like the man you always thought I was. I'm a little calmer, and a little more understanding. I hug more often, and tell people that I love them more.

I learned that from you.

You'd really like Sonya. You both think the same things are funny, and both love wedding magazines. Really, what is that all about? Regardless, you'd be pals.

And Elisabette is remarkable. Luckily for her, she doesn't look or act like me at all. But I'm still going to read to her, kiss her, and try to do my best with her. I wish you could say hi to her.

So much of what's good in me came from you. When I'm sad, I try to think about all the good you did, and all the people you touched.

But, really, I just feel my way into the parts of me that wouldn't exist without you.

I shall never forget you. Five years on, I'm still crying.

And suddenly
I become part of your past
--The Fray



Musings on technology, product, and customer service

2011-03-03T22:41:56.977-08:00

Dressed up like a million-dollar trouperTrying hard to look like Gary Cooper--TACOThere's an article on Slashdot today talking about equity trades "in picoseconds". Fascinating stuff. Trading systems are complex -- there may, or may not, be a central arbitrator of trades. Usually there are only two parties to a trade, although there can be more. (I don't think there can be less, under most assumptions of mental health.) There must be a way to settle trades between parties.For a trade to matter, two parties have to agree on a security, a price, and a clearing method. Clearing methods are usually automatically selected, so that shouldn't take any extra time.But you still have to find a security and a counterparty.Trading at picosecond speeds? it takes about 3 picoseconds for light to travel a millimeter. The average ethernet cord -- the thing that goes from your computer to the wall plug -- is 5 feet long, which is about 1,500 millimeters. So, it will take about 5,000 picoseconds for a single pulse of light to get from your computer to your wall. Add on a substantial amount of time -- in milliseconds, anyway -- to get through your router and to your ISP. And let's not forget about the time it will take your packet to traverse them-there-Interwebs to the arbiter (or to the counterparty). I'm sitting on a good network, and I'm about 90 milliseconds from google.com. They have pretty good connectivity. Like, really good. And they are 90 milliseconds away.90 milliseconds is about 90,000,000,000 picoseconds. (Just to put that number in perspective, there are about 197 million square miles on the surface of the earth. Which is about 500 times fewer than 90-milliseconds-as-picoseconds.).We may be talking about trading in picoseconds, but, if we are, we aren't making any sense. In other words, where's the Tardis?Your faith was strongbut you needed proof--Leonard CohenI'm crazy into bags -- laptop bags, messenger bags, suitcases, whatever, I like them. And I own an unreasonable number of them.But, still, I'm always in search of the perfect .Lately, I've been wanting a way to hold my phone onto my shoulder bag strap, so that it's easier for me to talk on my headset when in an airport. I use a binaural wired headset, like the one that comes with the iPhone (but not that one, I use one with more comfortable earplugs and a longer cord).Even though my headset has a longer cord, it still isn't really long enough for my phone to be in my pocket while using it.Hence, my search for some way to hold the phone on/in my bag. The obvious solution is a sock-like-thing that attaches to the strap of the bag.Obvious, yes. Easy to acquire, no. I've tried several. Each has some failing -- too big, so the phone falls out; bit that holds it into the strap too weak, so it falls off. I've almost given up on the whole idea.Until I found Waterfield bags (www.sfbags.com). They sell a few things that I really want, including a phone holder. (They also sell a cool gear bag, which I also use, but that's not the point of this post-let).I ordered the phone holder last week, in black. Because black is slimming, you know.Anyway.I find it hard to tell you,I find it hard to take--Gary JulesA day or so after my order, I got an email from Waterfield's customer service, letting me know it wasn't available in black, and apologizing. However, they could ship it out to me immediately in a different color. I didn't care about the color that much, so I picked one that was available.And about 5 minutes later, I had another nice email from customer service, thanking me and apologizing again. I got the sock-thing the next day.I am blown away by how friendly and competent the support folks were. The response was fast, accurate, and left me feeling good about them not having the color I wanted. Well done, gang; few places deliver so well.I really (really) want to support places that get customer service right -- so please open[...]



The menu from the restaurant at the end of the universe

2010-10-16T21:52:28.017-07:00

@font-face { font-family: "Cambria"; }p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: "Times New Roman"; }div.Section1 { page: Section1; } Hi to all… Since ZestCash launched, there's been a lot of discussion about our product, and the space as a whole. We thought it would be helpful to drill down on a few areas of our business, especially pricing and costs. Come writers and critics Who prophesize with your pen --Bob Dylan On our site, we lay out several options for short-term credit. Readers will note a few key points on that page. Most importantly, credit (of any sort) is more expensive than using savings to buy something. Even so, people still need credit. A borrower who does not have access to traditional credit could go to a payday loan store or to a pawn shop. According to the FDIC survey of the un- and underbanked in the US, 30 million Americans have taken out a payday loan or a pawn loan in the past year. Clearly there is a need for this kind of credit. Given that, I believe that people deserve to have credit that is reasonably priced, transparently offered, and fair. I don't believe anyone disagrees on this point. However, thoughtful people can -- and should -- disagree on exactly how to provide that credit. There is evidence that payday loans yield a marked increase in personal bankruptcies. There is also evidence that *lack* of access to payday loans leads to higher bankruptcy rates and higher costs for alternative credit-related products like bounced checks. Both articles point to the need for credit, and the fact that people who get payday loans are right on the edge of financial ruin. Payday loans could push them over the edge -- or not having them when needed could push them over the edge. The data is unclear. So, let me start with the hardest, most important question: What is a fair interest rate? This is hard because the question has so many facets, and so much importance to social policy. You'll be singing in the rain Said don't stop to the punk rock --Blondie First of all, let's be clear: APR is a good measure to use to compare credit options. It's been the standard for 30 years, and has been used to drive public policy discussions across many credit domains. On our site, though, we suggest that total loan cost can also be a useful measure for short term credit. Let me explain why we say so. For a given loan, with the same interest costs, APR varies with the length of the loan. Generally, all other things being equal, a shorter loan with the same out of pocket cost for a borrower, has a higher APR. If you were to stretch exactly that same loan out over a longer period of time, it would have a lower APR. However, these two loans would have exactly the same out-of-pocket costs to the borrower, despite different APRs. The borrower will have paid the same dollar amount of interest for both loans. Mullainathan and Shafir (2009) point out, in fact, that APR may not capture the way that payday loan borrowers actually make credit decisions. This doesn't make APR a bad measure. It means that, under certain circumstances, looking at the cost -- the out of pocket costs -- is important to consider as well. This is why we suggest looking at total loan cost on our site. We aren't trying to hide APR -- in fact, we list it on each page of the application -- we are just trying to help our customers understand their actual out-of-pocket costs. There have been several attempts to set reasonable prices for credit. Many advocacy groups and governmental organizations have suggested that 36% APR is the appropriate interest rate for small dollar, subprime credit. This rate has been embodied in various state and federal regulations over the past few years. The FDIC did a two-year study, the Small Dollar Pilot [...]



ZestCash launches!

2010-10-13T17:36:34.712-07:00

The waiting is the hardest part--Tom PettyHi there, my OtherEnders. I've been really busy launching my new company, and have had almost no time to write. I'm sorry for the huge lag! I'm very excited that my company -- ZestCash -- has finally launched! We have been working hard on the product for many months, and are officially in the market today.Move the heart, switch the paceLook for what seems out of place-Peter MurphyNews flash: The economy is in bad shape. The past few years have taken a huge toll on the world's economies. In the US, the economic crisis was the most severe downturn since the Great Depression.The scale of the economic devastation is hard to understand. It's just so immense.In December, 2008, California's unemployment rate stood at 5.7%. By August of 2010, the CA rate had climbed to 12.4%.In one month alone -- January of 2009 -- almost 800,000 jobs were lost across the United States. That's roughly the equivalent of every man, woman, and child in San Francisco losing their job. All at once -- in one month.// Side note: I hope most of the children in SF don't have jobs anyway, but that's not relevant to my analogy. Work with me here? //Hurricane Katrina destroyed about 275,000 houses in her swath of destruction across the US. Banks foreclosed on 10 times as many homes -- 3 million homes -- in 2009.Although there are many, many other examples of hardships, even this few casts the crisis into high relief.The crisis also caused a very large number of banks to fail. These failures sharply reduced the amount of credit available -- in June 2009, almost 33% of all credit in the US economy was frozen, unavailable. Most of this credit was used by business for a variety of purposes.However, the credit crunch also hurt regular people's ability to get credit.Everyone needs credit. We use credit when we buy lunch, make a monthly payment toward our car, or in any of hundreds of other common ways. Here in Hollywood, you can even pay your parking meter with a credit card. It's just part of life.But it's not a way of life for many Americans. There's an entirely separate credit system for people with bad credit, or no credit. It's called the "alternative financial system" (AFS). The AFS serves people who don't have good relationships with banks. They may have no bank at all, or may have a limited bank relationship that doesn't offer credit.These people are often referred to as "underbanked".He said "Do you want to know the truth, son?I'll tell you the truth!"--Iron MaidenBefore the current credit crunch, many of the underbanked might have been able to get a subprime credit card, from companies like Capital One or Providian. They would have paid a higher interest rate than you or I likely pay, but they'd have had credit.Not any longer -- the subprime credit card providers have experienced the same credit issues as the rest of the economy, and have sharply reduced the number of cards they issue.Unfortunately, that has left the underbanked with only 2 sources of credit -- payday loans and pawn shops. According to the FDIC, almost 10% of American households have taken out a payday loan or visited a pawn shop in the past year alone. That is almost 30 million people -- about the entire population of Canada.For those of you who haven't ever taken out a payday loan (congratulations!), the process is disturbingly simple. You walk into a payday loan store, and walk up to a person (who is likely behind bulletproof glass). You give that person a check, dated two weeks in the future, for the amount of the loan and the fees. Then, happy days, you walk out the door with the loan principal in your pocket, and a very expensive loan on your back.Payday loan users aren't bad people. Quite the opposite. Most people who take out a payday loan make between $15,000 and $45,000 per year at a job. They are teachers, bus drivers, waitresses, and handymen. M[...]



The finish you want

2010-06-23T19:18:34.515-07:00

Another year has passed, wind through the candles, cries in the night.

Four years ago, Jeanne Michele Russell died, at 1:30pm Pacific, in her day bed, in the second floor guest room of our house in California.

After she died, we dressed her in the Etro shirt she loved.

The hospice lady put makeup on her.

She didn't look asleep. That's a myth. She looked dead.

I miss you Jeanne.



Images, a song, and a scar

2010-05-07T18:41:21.226-07:00

Came in close, I heard a voice
Standing stretching every nerve
Had to listen had no choice
I did not believe the information
I just had to trust imagination
-- Peter Gabriel
Hello, OtherEnders.

I was cleaning up a couple of old computers lying around my house. A couple of them were Jeanne's machines, from various times -- an old Mac she used to play games and a Windows machine she used for work and other miscellaneous stuff.

I found a few pictures of her. Since I don't have very many, I'm pretty happy to have a few more. But I'm also pretty sad.

Thought you might like to see them...

(image)
It's clearly impossible to take a good picture of yourself. I look awful -- what is that stupid facial hair thing? She's smiling her fake smile -- probably saying "oh shut up and smile" to me -- and she's wearing my sunglasses. I don't recognize where this photo was taken... I wonder what we were doing.


(image)
Jeanne loved to laugh. You can see that in this picture, of her with two of her team members at Schwab -- she's laughing almost hysterically. That's the JR I try to remember.

Don't be fooled by the radio,
the TV, or the magazines.
They show you photographs
of how your life should be.
They're just someone else's
fantasy.
--Styx



The women of the page

2010-04-27T19:36:10.357-07:00

Stop what you're doingcause I'm about to ruinthe image and the stylethat you're used to--Digital UndergroundUsually I blog from a plane. Not this time! No, I'm not writing from a plane, but rather from a breakfast place. Specifically, from the 101 Cafe in Hollywood. I recommend it if you find yourself in Hollyweird. It's inside a Best Western, has been open forever, and is a good place for people watching. The service stinks. A lot.But the food comes quickly -- actually, so quickly that I wonder if it is all precooked… or maybe pre-extruded. But it's still good! There are always loads of tragically hip people having a cup of coffee, in sunglasses, black clothes, and a necklace or two.// Note: Every generation goes through a "dress for tragedy" phase, and it always makes me laugh… even when I was dressing for it. The black on black on black look, often with eyeliner, is a staple of teenagers and twentysomethings. What is it about being young that makes the world look so insufferably grim? //Usually you can watch a few celebrities, for varying definitions of "celebrity", while you eat. Today, for example, one of the actors from the TV show "Sons of Anarchy" is at the table next to me. Sadly, he looks not at all like a biker in real life. Nor is he tragically hip. Just a guy in a sweatshirt reading the LA Weekly.Well, it is, after all, the year of the hoodie…Doesn't it make you feel better?-- Nine Inch NailsAllow me a slight digression. I was watching the Olympics this year, and I saw several advertisements for a drug that treated "bipolar depression". Several questions spring to mind. If bipolar depression is different from unipolar depression, how do the drugs differ? Why is the drug treating bipolar depression, not bipolar mania? Perhaps mania would look too "fun" for the ad, not serious enough?And what audience was the drug manufacturer hoping to reach during the Olympics? Do people who have "bipolar depression" enjoy short-track ice skating races, vicariously feeling the round-and-round-getting-nowhere as representative of their lives? Or perhaps ski jumping works better, with some odd suicidal connection of jumping off a house?Really, what are those ads supposed to do? Such silly things keep me up at night. And now, perhaps, will keep you up as well, a bit…You're a dream for insomniacs,prize in the Cracker JacksAll the difference in the worldis just a call away-Soul AsylumIt's an odd day, here Chez Douglas. April 27th is Jeanne's birthday. She'd be 49. That's today, just in case I get this post lost in editing-Purgatory. I'm headed up to Seattle to give a talk. (And, now, by the way, I am at an airport, though not on a plane. yet.)JR's birthdays aren't as hard for me as the anniversary of her death. I can't remember what we did for her birthdays, when we were together. I remember the last birthday, very clearly.I remember the first one as well. It was before we were a couple. She mentioned that she liked a particular type of steak in a joking work conversation. So I sent her a mail-order box of steaks.I'm hilarious, I am.Now, it would have been especially funny, except that I forgot to sign the present. So the UPS guy delivered a box of meat from an anonymous admirer.Might have moved from my goal (charming, quirky, and sweet) straight into creepy. I mean, who sends meat anonymously?Oh, well. It worked out.But she didn't let me live down the "anonymous meat" for years.But I don't remember the middle birthdays. I can't remember what we did when we were both healthy and having fun.How sad is it that I've lost touch with the real parts of our lives together -- the parts that are day by day, full of love and light. I can only find the painful ones, the cancer, the darkness, the tears.It seems unfair.When the first breath of Texascomes[...]



It's an ill wind, blowing no good

2010-04-26T17:30:35.952-07:00

Rings as hollowas a high school cheer--Chagall GuevaraWelcome back, my OtherEnders. I was at a cool entrepreneur event in LA (LaunchpadLA) a couple of weeks ago, and was chatting with someone over drinks. In the course of the conversation, he said "Hey, you haven't posted anything on your blog in a while. Whenever I read it, I get this weird sense about the world."Now, I don't know what that weird sense might be, but he's right, I haven't posted in a long time. I have a few half-written posts in my Dropbox -- my favorite storage tool ever -- and I'm going to try to get them out over the next few days. So, sorry for the flood of Sunsets about to hit your RSS feed. And each of them will be shorter than usual. Keeping them short minimizes my desire to write another paragraph, and add another lyric, and ... keep editing forever.So, a short post...The first one is about email. I got a set of questions after my last post (which was about meetings), about how to communicate outside of meetings. So, rather than answer them individually, I'll answer them here. And, since it's my blog, I'll use myself as an example.Not surprisingly, if you want to reach me, email is the best way. I do have a phone (as you know from my earlier post on Google Voice), but I don't like to talk on the phone. So, if you want me, send an email.Thus, this post is about email, in general, and, specifically, that which is sent to me.On topics like this, people vary widely, so this will be very idiosyncratic.Who's that writin'?John the Revelator--classic gospel hymn// Note: For those of you playing the home game, I can't take credit for the John the Revelator lyric. I picked it up, sadly, from the Sons of Anarchy television show. Great show, cool bikes. And pretty good soundtrack music. I'd like to say I knew this classic from the dusty recesses of my brain. But that would be a lie. Back to work. //Email, as a general medium, is a quite poor way to hold long conversations. Tools like GMail's threading view -- where the emails are grouped together by topic, automatically -- help by keeping context together.But real conversations are rich communications -- intonation, physical position, motion, facial expressions, cultural knowledge are all used in our understanding of someone else's speech.Obviously, on email, most of these things don't translate. For example, your intonation doesn't come across -- so it's hard to figure out which things you're serious about, and which things are asides. And, as we all know, jokes really don't translate well to email. These limitations make email a terrible way to hold long, involved conversations, especially controversial conversations.Don't get me wrong, I'm a huge email user -- even in my current, confused work status, I get hundreds of emails each day -- so I'm not going to suggest we ditch email entirely. And, as a result, I've developed a system for dealing with my mail. I'm not saying it's the perfect way, but if you're trying to reach me, here's the user guide.First of all, be brief. Don't channel my blog, nor your inner novelist. Be brief. Did I mention be brief? Writing more than a page to tell me what you want to tell me usually means you don't really understand what you're writing. You are probably providing too much detail, not summarizing enough -- and it makes it far more likely that I won't read the entire mail. Rewrite, over and over, until you get to the core message.This is somewhat akin to the elevator pitch for a company. Brevity helps.Again, half as long--A River Runs Through ItBe clear in what you want from me. I talked about being clear in the ask in a previous post, so I won't belabor it here. Any more than I already have, that is.And use the technology for what it does well. Put your additions/c[...]



Was it right?

2010-03-07T11:41:35.156-08:00

Black Velvet
if you please
--Alannah Myles

The cover of this week's Businessweek is a story about the author's husband, and his death from cancer over a set of years. The goal of the article is to talk about the different treatments used, and their costs (and who paid them).

That's interesting enough -- and I've posted about similar things related to JR. It's clear that late-stage care is very expensive, and is almost certainly a bad allocation of resources for the system as a whole... and sometimes for the patient too.

But the article reminded me of the many opportunities one has to second guess treatment decisions, or the decisions not made, or... well, everything.

One of the many things I loved and respected about JR was her bravery. She wasn't going to go try strange experimental treatments -- she often said "I'm not going to China to drink herbal tea". She wasn't negative to people who chose that route, it just wasn't for her.

She did try lots of different drugs (including Avastin), when her doctors suggested they were worth a try.

And when it was time to move to Hospice care, she made that decision, and stuck to it. There were a few opportunities for her to have another surgery, or try some other experimental drug. You can't do those things while in Hospice care -- we would have to put her back into the normal medical regime. She turned the opportunities down, because she knew they weren't going to work.

And she wanted to focus on her friends, her family, and me. She wanted to say her goodbyes, hug her dogs, and hold my hand.

She wanted to see a beach again. We did that. She wanted to see Paris. We didn't do that.

Jeanne's death was very expensive -- we spent a great deal more than the author did -- but she didn't feel she was desperately chasing the next drug that would save her. She felt that she did what was right for her, for us.

I still second guess myself, fairly constantly, but I never second guess her.

I follow where my mind goes
--The Psychedelic Furs



Help wanted...

2010-02-28T13:42:39.967-08:00

May good fortune be with you
May your guiding light be strong
--Rod Steward
Hi to all. One of the most common questions I've been asked in the last year is "What are you doing these days?" Normally, when asked, I've been coy, not really answering directly.

And now? I'm going to change that… slightly.

I've founded a startup company. We are in stealth mode, so I'm not going to describe what we're doing here.

For now, I'll just say that we are helping people who are socially and economically disadvantaged. If we can get it right, we can change their world.

And we are hiring. We need…
  • software engineers with front-end or large systems experience
  • mathematicians with statistics, modeling, or econometrics experience
  • people with credit, risk, and fraud expertise
  • techy product manager types
  • and other generally smart people.
We are looking both for full-time folks and part-timers (moonlighters welcome!)

We are based in Hollywood, alongside the Walk of Fame, right between the guy dressed up as Captain Jack Sparrow and the one dressed up from Avatar. You can't miss us.

If you want to work at a small company, with a great mission, an innovative culture, where your work will have real impact, send me a note (or leave a comment here, I won't publish any of the comments to protect your privacy).

Thanks!

It's a holiday in Cambodia
Where people dress in black
--Dead Kennedys



Meetings and interviews, with me, anyway

2010-02-01T16:31:17.242-08:00

As a friend,as an old enemy--NirvanaHiya Otherenders....Mark Suster over at Both Sides of the Table inspired me to dig this post out of the dredges of my files. I started writing it a long time ago, when I was still at Google, so please forgive the fact that it's reasonably Google specific.Also, forgive me for changing the OtherEndofSunset ground rules -- I have begun to talk about work on my blog, against my "never talk about work" rule. However, this is, I think, the first post that is entirely about work; this feels like the right time to point out that I'm apparently changing my rules slightly. I will still overwhelmingly post about personal, humorous things, but I'll add some work topics as well. Today is a totally work post. Hope it's fun anyway!She movesin mysterious ways.--U2I've spoken at loads of conferences for vendors and startups. I consistently get questions on "how do I reach you to pitch you" or "what should I say to sell to you," etc., or questions like "I want a job at Google, what do I do?"I have interviewed a lot of job candidates in my career, and had lots of meetings with vendors of one sort or another. Here are my set of principles, first, for meetings, and second, for job interviews. I am trying to be specific, and thus, am in danger of sounding arrogant or snotty. That's not my point, I just want to highlight what works for me.Note: I'm not a Googler anymore. The world has changed since I was. I still interview, and still take meetings with vendors, but things have changed at the Big G in the sky. These guidelines may be completely irrelevant. Your mileage may vary. Past success is no guarantee of future returns. Do not fold, spindle, or mutilate. And so forth!Another industrial ugly morningThe factory belches filth into the sky-- The PoliceIn no particular order, if you are meeting with me…1) Show up on time. I know, this sounds pretty basic, but you'd be amazed how many folks get it wrong. I allocated time for you, and I'll try to give you all that time and focus on you while I'm doing so. Please do the same for me. At the least, if you're going to be late, let me know -- everyone who meets with me has (at least) my admin's contact info. Don't be afraid to use it!2) Do some research. My background is easy to find. Look it up. You might want to use an analogy that is close to some company I used to work for. And, in a few cases, that's turned out to be embarrassing for the vendor. One of my personal favorites was a vendor who explained to me how Google's IPO worked. And got it wrong. I didn't buy from them, by the way.3) Don't pretend to know me if you don't. I know, this is somewhat contrary to principle #2. Just because you know my background doesn't mean you know me. Don't pretend that we've met before, or had coffee, or dinner, or whatever. I have a good memory. If I don't remember, I apologize, but if I do remember, and you pretend to know me, I'm going to start checking my email while you talk.4) Be professional. Really, I don't want to fist bump with you. I don't care how much you drank last night. I don't care that you know the best club in Vegas. I promise. You're here to sell me something. Just do it. Which leads to…5) Make your pitch. I'm not expecting that we're meeting to discuss world peace. I'm not going to buy from you just because you mention Best Friends' Animal Society. Just ask me for what you want.6) … And be clear in what you want. The mark of Douglas Doom: When I say "ok, what's the ask here". That means I don't know what you want. If I think you're smart, I'll listen to the answer, and try to work with you to clarify. If I don't think so, I'm probably out of the meeting in a [...]



Sunny, Rainy, Cloudy

2010-01-29T15:47:49.355-08:00

It takes you in,and spits you out--Peter MurphyRemarkably enough, I am not on a plane at the moment. I just got off a plane, but am not, in fact, sitting on one now.I'm in the Bay Area -- it's not raining today, which is nice, but it's much colder than I'm used to. Yes, yes, for those of you in real cold climates, 50 Fahrenheit is not cold. But I'm from LA. It's cold to me.I'm sitting in a breakfast place, listening to all the deal negotiations around me. I'm always astonished by what people are willing to say publicly. I know the valuation that one of the Sand Hill crowd is offering a small tech company. I know the price of the deal that a hardware company is offering their newest client, and that the client overpaid by a lot.And here I sit, typing away, talking to you. I guess I, too, am talking in public, but it feels somehow more private.Ironic, isn't it.Palms sweat, blackjackOn a Saturday night--Sheryl CrowSpeaking of irony. I flew Virgin America over the holidays, I can't remember where I was going. The cool thing about Virgin America is that they offer wifi during the flight -- which means that I can work through the entire flight. I know, that sounds like torture (after all, flights were our last bastion of magazine reading), but actually it's very useful for me. I turn on my music -- with my custom earphones that cut 25 decibels of exterior sound making the flight almost silent -- and write.I don't have one of those security screens on my laptop, so I assume that everyone around me can read what I'm writing. Thus, I don't write very sensitive stuff. But there's loads of work I can do, catch up on, and the like. So, the wifi is really great for me.At least on the flight I took, Google was sponsoring the wifi. It might have been part of Google's "free wifi for the holidays" thing, I don't know. At any rate, you had to do various things to get access to the wifi.As part of the process, you had to give an email address. I hate giving email addresses to places I don't want to hear from later, and so many places assume you want to get their spam in the future (and make it difficult -- or more difficult than it should be -- to stop the flow). I don't want to collect many different email addresses simply to accumulate spam -- I don't want to remember that many user id and password combinations. GMail has a really cool feature that I use often: You can use a "+" in your email address. The stuff after the plus sign is ignored by GMail, so the mail gets sent to the address before the plus sign, but you get the stuff after the plus sign in the mail you receive.For example, if your email address is "email.me@gmail.com", you can give someone (say, in a comment to OtherEndofSunset.blogspot.com) "email.me+otherend@gmail.com". The mail will go to you at "email.me@gmail.com". However, you can use a filter within your "email.me" account to automatically do something with mails that include the "otherend" tag after the plus. You could filter all mails with "+otherend" into the trash, for example.I wanted to use a + in my Virgin America email address -- specifically, I wanted to use my-email+VirginAmerica@gmail.com -- so I could filter future Virgin emails into the trash.However, this email, sponsored by Google, didn't allow the "+" as a valid email address. The code they had to verify the email address failed because a + is not a letter or digit. Apparently, + is not a valid character for an address. But it is. But I couldn't use it. Aargh. More spam.If you write code to validate email addresses, include the +, please. But you shouldn't write that code, there are loads of modules out there in the wild that you ca[...]



Semiformal dinner, by candlelight

2010-01-19T17:18:43.590-08:00

She make a manwant to speak Spanish--ShakiraWell, hello, my dear OtherEnders. I'm, as usual, on a plane. But this time it's a long flight -- southeast Asia back to LAX. We are riding the jet stream home. The upside? The flight is really short. The downside? The flight is really bumpy.Bleech. I hate turbulence. I wonder if anyone doesn't hate it? Or is it just "hate less"? I wonder if pilots are even immune to the yuck factor? I bet it's better when they are flying, rather than being a passenger -- like how you don't get carsick if you are driving?By the way, I can't find a verb that shortens "being a passenger" -- I need a gerund. Like "passengering" But I don't have one.The guy in the seat one in front, and one to the right of me is really scared. He's grabbing his seat and closing his eyes so tightly that you can see the lines in his forehead. He just asked me if everything is ok -- you have to be pretty scared to ask another passenger if everything is ok.I feel badly for him. It stinks to be afraid. I told him that we are ok, and to turn on some music to distract himself. He grabbed his bag, desperately, the whites of his eyes showing, and pulled out his headphones and music player. He seems a bit calmer now.However, I wish the flipping turbulence would stop. It's getting really annoying…I remember when I lost my mind--Gnarls BarkleyI've spent a lot of time in the San Jose (California) airport lately, with a large proportion of it spent waiting for the rental car shuttle. You pick up your rental car at a parking lot that is a mile (or so) away from the terminals where you disembark your plane. There's a bus that makes the rounds of the terminals, picking up passengers and dropping them off at the rental car lot. It's a loop, from car rental lot, to the first terminal, then the second, and then back to the lot. Arriving and departing passengers are mixed in the bus, so you don't have to make sure you're on the right bus -- just grab whatever you see.The lot is only about 10 minutes' drive from the terminal. You'd think it'd be fast and easy to get out.It's not.The last time I got a car at San Jose, it took 50 minutes to fly from Burbank to SJC. It took 40 to get to my car after arriving at the rental bus stop outside my terminal.The shuttles run fairly infrequently, and there are a couple of them in route at any point. Which should speed things up, right? However, when a shuttle reaches a stop, it waits for the next shuttle -- the one behind it -- to get to the stop before proceeding onwards. This has the effect of clumping the buses together at the stops, and ensuring that the wait for each shuttle is a function of the rate of all other buses.Basically, instead of running in sequence, at the same rate, at opposite points on the curve connecting lot and terminals, the buses run more or less together.I'm reasonably sure this more or less maximizes the expected length of all shuttle rides. And I'm quite sure it's at least as annoying as this turbulence.You're out there runningjust to be on the run--Nanci GriffithIt's strange, the things that remind you of a memory. For any of you that have been reading OtherEnd for a while, you know that I am often trapped by my memories. Held hostage, like a squid in a dryer, to the guilt and sadness and loss that accompanied my life since JR died.Unlike said squid, I have a huge amount of happiness as well -- I have SL, great friends, a great dog, nice house, and a generally positive outlook on life. But I am sucked back into the morass fairly regularly.Often by surprising things. Things you wouldn't expect -- or, at least, things I wouldn't expec[...]



We can be like they are

2009-12-13T10:17:55.896-08:00

And lovers war with arrows overSecrets they could tell--Duran DuranIt's been another several flights for me since my last posting. I often fly out of the Burbank airport (also known as Bob Hope Airport). It's small -- I think it has only about 20 gates -- and is easy to get in and out of. However, the roads that are inside the airport (for pickup, drop off, and parking) are tiny and crowded.The folks who run the airport have thought through many of the things that slow you down, including the tiny-road-generated traffic. My favorite trick they do is to provide "valet parking". Basically, instead of pulling into the parking structure and driving around looking for a parking space -- thereby creating traffic and losing loads of time -- you pull around into a valet line. The valet line looks for all the world like a rental car return area: There are several lanes that you pull forward into, and some employee walks over to take your keys, gives you a tag for your car, and sends you on your way.It usually takes about 5 minutes. And it's the same price as the parking structure. It clears traffic and saves you loads of time. Great idea for all parties involved.When you land, you call a toll free phone number, key in the number from the tag, and they bring your car out. It usually takes about 10 minutes to get your car out. If you are checking baggage, you pick up your bags on the way to the parking area and the car beats you out there handily. If you are carrying on, you have time to stop for a restroom break before walking out, and your car is waiting for you. There are payment machines all around the exit, so you can prepay your parking fee without waiting in line for a payment window. If you prepay, you show your receipt to the valet, who gives you your keys and you scoot off. It usually takes me about 20 minutes from when the wheels touch down on the runway to being out of the airport, on the road home. I love getting in and out that quickly. It's a great example of rethinking -- and removing -- the way institutions usually constrain us. Traffic and frustration getting your car into the airport doesn't have to happen, but it usually does.A tip of the hat to the Burbank airport management.Towels on oven doorsdo not freeze.--Nanci GriffithSL is doing some consulting now, for a few different clients. Accordingly, we decided to get her a better email domain (in Google Apps) and a Google Voice number for her business.She's a smart lady, and is comfortable with her technology. But she was pretty freaked out about these changes. And, if you walk through how to create and configure the tools, it sort of makes sense why.I'm a huge Google Apps fan -- I mean, I just finished a book lauding them in the context of getting yourself more organized (and less stressed as a result). But they aren't perfect, and today's chat is about the lack of perfection. I still would not trade them, in case you are wondering!Let's do a Google Apps creation first. You find the Apps home page (which I always find through search, but I think it might be something creative like google.com/apps.). On that page, it's easy to find the premium edition, which provides a lot of functionality for $50 per seat -- very cheap compared to other solutions for business use. However, we just needed the free version -- she only needs a couple of email addresses, and doesn't need the support you get with the premium version. I mean, whatever else you can say about me, I'm still reasonably good tech support.It's not obvious where to find the free version. This is atypical for Google products -- usually the in[...]



There's magic in the night

2009-11-18T20:39:25.500-08:00

Like the one you knew beforecalling me back once again-- Screaming TreesI hate cancer.My beloved Dalmatian, Minnie, died last Friday. She had a brain tumor, inoperable brain cancer.In a period of about 2 months, she went from perfectly normal… to dead.In an eerily reminiscent state, the drugs she took made her stomach terribly upset, and almost killed her. Sound familiar?The last week or so, she wasn't really able to walk. Her right side paws would collapse under her. She was scared of the stairs, and would walk in circles -- to the left -- if we didn't call her. I clapped to get her attention and keep her in a straight line.But she still wagged when she saw me. She was lying on her bed, mostly unable to move, but she wagged her tail when I came home.I don't know what would be more tragic: Her wagging, or her not wagging.She made a great showing at SL's birthday party -- she walked well, stole food, kissed people, and was generally similar to the Minnie I had known for years.That was her last, final performance.We put her to sleep, to ease her pain. The last two days I spent lying in our bed, with Minnie lying next to me. She could stretch ut that way, and was warm. She loved being cuddled. If I moved away, she would open her eyes and look at me. I didn't stay away much.She was lying across my lap, in that same bed, as she breathed her last breath. I was talking to her, telling her we loved her, and that her brother would be ok, and that we'd miss her.Sound familiar?I hate cancer.She finally looked at me in love,and she was gone.--Crosby, Stills, and NashAt the end, I felt a presence I knew well. I felt a calm, welcoming spirit come for Minnie.I believe Flanny and JR came back, to help Minnie move on.Once there was a darkness,deep and endless night.You gave me everything you had,you gave me light.--Sarah McLachlanOur brown dog is pretty tweaked. He can't figure out where Minnie went. And he's afraid that SL or I will be gone next.He's always been a herder, but now he's nearly frenetic about it, running back and forth between us on rapid patrol.We are trying to tell him we love him, and he's safe, but he's right, the pack has changed, and nobody told him how, or why. I can't explain it to him, but I like it that he's much more cuddly.I just wish it were for a less tragic reason.One more chance to make it real,to trade in these wings for some wheels-- Bruce SpringsteenThere are two kinds of motorcyclists, the saying goes.You are a motorcyclist that has either gone down, or is going down.For those of you who don't pay attention to such motorcycle cultural icons like "Sons of Anarchy" or the like, to put a bike down is to crash.Not the same as putting a dog down.Thus, the saying indicates that all motorcyclists either have crashed, or are going to crash in the future, probably soon.I was proud to be solidly in the second category -- the "will go down" camp. As always, I overestimated my control of my environment. This is a bad habit on a motorcycle.Because you are only partly in control.Last weekend, I joined the first category -- I put my bike down. I crashed the Saxon, which is rich with irony -- it didn't break down, I broke it. Seems fitting somehow.I was coming down a freeway offramp, into a left turn. As I came down the ramp, my instincts started screaming "Danger!" I didn't know what was wrong, and so I ignored them.Pesky instincts.As I turned left off of the ramp, the front corner of the frame dug into the pavement.If the front of a bike is pulled down (and, by extension, back), the back of the bike has to come up to balance the mo[...]



If it's dark outside or light

2009-11-07T22:31:47.802-08:00

If you love mewon't you let me know?--ColdplayI was driving up the 101 the other day, in the Silicon Valley, and I came upon (and passed) a large city bus. The bus was packed with people, each looking out the window, or reading a magazine, but, apparently, never looking at each other.This is, of course, the rule -- on a bus, you can't peer around at your fellow travelers. Unless you are traveling with them.Or if you are a creep.But I digress.I noticed this bus, grimy, with oil stains on the engine cover, and dirt marks on the sides of the bus from where the wheels threw road mess up.I noticed this bus -- in passing, as I passed it -- because the bus destination sign was prescient.The destination signs on buses -- out here, at least -- is an LED sign that spells out the line, sometimes the line number, and often other information.This bus' destination sign reflected a sublime, Manichean truth.The bus' destination was "NOT".So true.// Side note: I have to specify where I am on the 101 these days, since I could be on the traffic-clogged 101 through the San Fernando Valley in LA, or the almost-equally-clogged 101 through the Silicon Valley.And I have to specify which "valley" as well, since the referent changes if you are in SoCal or NorCal. I'll try to remember that. //Somewhere 'roundmile marker 112,Papa started humming the funk-- Marc BroussardI have been spending a roughly typical amount of time on the road. Well, less than in my previous short, happy life, but a reasonable amount, nonetheless.// Side note: Yes, that was a Hemingway reference. Yes, I thought about rewriting the sentence to have only 5 words, and none longer than two syllables. But then I wouldn't have been able to use the word "syllable", and what fun would that have been? //I am, however, in a far better mental space than my not-so-recent travel travail. As a result, I'm noticing more of the irony that used to amuse me about being away from home.Have you ever been on a Southwest flight? I spend a fair amount of time in the Silicon Valley (see story, above, for those of you skipping around). I live close to the Burbank airport, and it's a quick jaunt to San Jose from Burbank. And the jaunt is best done on Southwest.Southwest has all kinds of funny policies, including the seat number thing that apparently nobody can figure out. It's like forgetting your raincoat at a Rocky Horror Picture Show screening -- immediately flags you as a flight-virgin. Folks, match number on ticket to number on pole. Not rocket science. But you have to figure that any system that seems incomprehensible to so many travelers is probably designed wrong.But that's not my point. Actually, I want to talk about the people who pretend not to understand, but clearly do understand. They cluster around the front of the boarding line. When they first get there, they give a token look of "confusion" -- in case anyone is following their trek -- and then settle down to enter the plane first, before anyone else. On my last flight, one of these reverse-lemmings actually pushed one of the people getting on because they needed extra time.I thought about punching him, but the flight attendant did a good job of freezing the idiot in his place.You see other behaviors from the genus Tool. They do stuff like throw their coats onto seats from rows away to save the seat. Or put their bags in the overhead bin, lay their coat out flat, and then close the bin so nobody else can put stuff in there.It's hilarious to watch. Totally jerkish behavior, on a flight that is going to be 40 minutes l[...]



What would you change if you could?

2009-08-20T21:56:18.890-07:00

What would you change if you could?I was sitting in my house the other night, looking out the kitchen window into the darkness. In front of me is the hedge of ficus trees. Beyond that, the street, with intermittent traffic buzzing by, on their way to Hollywood for the sin and scandal, or the Valley to shop or to hide.I often wonder where cars are going, even when I'm in one. Don't you?I did my bestit wasn't much.I couldn't feelso I tried to touch--Leonard CohenI know I wrote about traffic last posting, so I won't go into it again. Rather, hear the murmur of sound in the background, and let it give rise to the noise in the foreground.As I sat there, I noticed an abnormally large fly buzzing about. Seeing such flies makes me wonder what's in the water around here to yield such huge insects. But let's ignore that for now.The fly was buzzing around the window I was looking through, and the noise was bugging me.Yes, the pun was intended.Reflecting for a moment on being the top of the food chain, I decided to kill the fly. I gave myself a moment to bask in the thrill of the decision, flying in the face of my humanity.Yes, that one was intended too.Fail to see the tragic.Turn it into magic--Marilyn MansonThere was a flyswatter lying on the counter next to me, cleverly masquerading as a Pottery Barn catalog. I rolled up the magazine, and went to town swatting the fly.Needless to say, I missed it. Several times.But then the fly outsmarted itself. It flew down to the lower corner of the window, directly behind a pill bottle that was left there for no apparent reason.I grabbed the pill bottle and pushed it back to the glass, crushing the fly behind it. Voila, no more foreground buzzing, back to reveling in the background noise from the street.Sometimes you have to use the weapons that lie scattered around you.Me and the royal denizensgot damn good reasons for our sins--Mary GauthierI've been reading a lot since exiting stage left. Some good books -- I'm currently focused on the Ascent of Money -- but loads and loads of garbage -- fantasy, science fiction, war novels, general dreck. It appears there are trends, or fads, in books as well as in fashion, etc. The current fad is books about vampires. With a close second place given to books about magical detectives. Generally very strange, and, unfortunately, not very good.A really good marker of whether your book stinks? If you find yourself using bizarre (or made-up, or italicized) words in some created language, and defining the words in the next sub-clause.For example, "You don't want an undead to have access to the Monnowtizer, the weapon the gods made to kill undead. And even worse is to walk in on a BloggyWhackp, the race of armored dwarves known for carrying magically spelled pill bottles."Really, if you are making up words, and defining them in such a hacked way, go write fairy tales. Or mark your books as "cheesy", in which case I won't clutter my Kindle or my mind with them.Thankyouverymuch.In her hand when she diedwas a note that cried"Fare thee well,Tecumseh valley"-nanci griffith, originally by Townes van zandtI'm writing this while watching "Elton John: Me, myself, and I" in the background. Jeanne was a huge Elton John fan. She'd have loved this show. To large extent, this show is a biopic of Elton John making fun of himself.Part of his life was intertwined with the life, and death, of Ryan White. The images from White’s death, in Indiana, are filled with women with that fluffy hairstyle that women wore in the 80s. I have a pictu[...]



Yes, really, it’s Douglas

2009-08-10T22:04:37.136-07:00

She got shot down in the road.
She looked up before she went,
Said, this isn’t really what I meant.
And the daily news said, two with one stone.--Sheryl CrowI had a complete parental moment tonight. I had taken the dogs on a field trip to their favorite holy ground – In ‘N Out Burgers. After paying homage to the great fast food gods in the sky – or in the drive-thru, anyway – we had gone back home. I pulled our SUV (hybrid, of course) into the driveway, but not into the garage.Long story, you can ask me why I didn’t park in the garage later. No, it’s not later yet.Anyway, the street I live on is fairly busy, and my driveway opens right onto the street. Thus, traffic is a fact of life. Since I hadn’t pulled into the garage, the car was right next to the street, and, by extension, right next to the traffic.I opened the door to get the dogs out. Normally, they are good at waiting their turn, and I can easily get each out individually, and keep them away from the traffic.Not this time.Both my Dalmatian and the Brown Dog decided they wanted to be first out. I managed to grab the Brown Dog and get him headed into the house – he’s pretty smart that way. The Dalmatian? She’s an escape artist. She jumps out of the car at the same time as the Brown Dog, but lands wrong on the driveway and falls toward the traffic.I dive out to grab her and pull her back in. Now, really, she’s 10 feet from the side of the road and there aren’t any cars at the moment. But my head didn’t see it that way.Revolutionaries wait
for my head on a silver plate.
Just a puppet on a lonely string.
Oh, who would ever want to be king?--ColdplayI thought she was about to get squished. I grabbed her and hauled her into the car with all my strength – and I’m much stronger than a 45-pound Dalmatian. As I pulled her, she ducked her head and cowered. She was fine before my gymnastics. She was fine afterwards, but scared that she was in trouble – she hates being in trouble. All day long, she fills me up with dogma.
She's all magazines and Benzedrine and vodka--Sheryl CrowI got her inside, and then proceeded to yell at both dogs. Neither dog understood what was wrong, but bore the yelling stoically. Or at least without talking back.Those of you playing the home game probably noticed that dogs can’t talk, and thus can’t talk back. But go back to your Sudoku, I’m busy here.I was totally angry – about nothing. It took me a minute to realize that I was terrified that something was going to happen to Minnie, and that I couldn’t prevent it, and that I’d gotten lucky this time. But what about next time.A total parental moment.Going where nobody says hello,
they don't talk to anybody they don't know.
You'll wind up in some factorythat's full time filth 
and nowhere left to go.
Walk home to an empty house, 
sit around all by yourself.
I know it might sound strange, but I believe
You'll be coming back before too long--REMMy book is finally done. It’s in the production process now. I have no idea, really, what that process is, or does, but, regardless, the book is in said process. Apparently you can preorder it on Amazon now. It hits the bookstores – on a shelf near you! – in March of next year. We are just doing final stuff – the cover art, the stuff on the back of the book, etc – but it’s done. A year of my life, captured in black-and-white on acid-free paper.Ironic, a bit, since I am rarely acid-free myself. And I rarely see[...]



Your readers are waiting

2009-07-19T13:02:36.682-07:00

Hello again my Otherenders. Hope the summer has been treating you well.I’m sitting outside at my house, with music playing behind me, sun on my arms and legs (I’m wearing a hat), and it’s already in the 80s. Pretty darn good start to a day.However, I’ve got a conundrum – I want coffee. I made a pot, although my coffee is so weak SL calls it dirty water. I was getting ready to pour coffee into my favorite mug – which commemorates something we did at Google, but, more importantly, is huge. Huge == “more coffee, fewer trips”. A nice optimization for me.However, my coffee mug was nowhere to be seen. MIA, I guess. Having an out-of-cabinet experience. Gone fishin’Anyway, it’s not here. So I try to find the next largest mug, and, as often happens to me, am confronted by a math problem. I have a cartoon mug that is pretty wide, and normal height.I’m halfway to deciding that I want to use this cartoon cup when I notice a mug behind it that is a little taller, and wider at the top. With a wider and higher top, this cup has greater volume. Unfortunately, life’s not that easy.The mug’s sides are not straight. Rather they are a curved shape that starts at a smaller base, and gradually gets wider, ultimately ending with a cup mouth that is far bigger than the base, and larger than my cartoon mug.The curve making up the side of the mug isn’t even – it curves more as it gets closer to the lip of the mug. In other words, the radius of the cup changes from base to cup, but it begins to change more quickly as you get closer to top. For those of you who like math, the second derivative is increasing as the curve varies from base to top.Now, my conundrum. Which mug holds more coffee? In the cartoon (simple) case, I can compute volume with the standard volume of a cylinder (2* pi * radius * height). However, if the radius isn’t the same across the entire cylinder, that formula won’t work.There are optimizations of volume computations. For example, there is a clear way to compute the volume of a funnel, in both radians and more traditional measures. However, by their very nature, funnels grow from base to lip evenly. The radius doesn’t grow more quickly near the lip. The second derivative of a funnel is zero.I assume there’s a way to compute the volume of my Capitol coffee mug. If you could measure the radius at each point, you could just sum each measure. Basically, cut the cup into a very large number of horizontal slices and compute the area of each. Which is something like taking the Integral of the area of each circle, from height = base to height = lip, for those of you who like the math game.But there are many a slip twixt cup and lip, and here’s another. I can’t figure out how to predict the radius of my cup at any given point. I don’t recognize the function that would predict the radius – If I did, I could simply rotate that function around the y-axis (using another nice bit of calculus), but I don’t.I could measure the cup, but I don’t have a soft measuring tape nearby.Thus, I don’t know if my Capitol mug is larger than my cartoon mug. Very troubling.In case you’re interested, I took the cartoon cup. Better memories. And drank it all dry, so I’m headed back to the pot for more caffeine (in an easy to swallow tablet).While I’m gone…--BostonBy the way, SL points out the obvious. Fill one with water and pour the water into the other to see which holds more.I didn’t think of that. T[...]



3 years older, no wiser

2009-06-23T15:51:58.338-07:00

The smell of hospitals
in winter.
And the feeling that it's all a lot of oysters,
but no pearls.
--Counting Crows


It's been another year, Jeanne. I dreamed about you the other night. It was nice to see you again.

Jeanne Michele Russell, April 27, 1961 to June 23, 2006.



More than this

2009-06-13T17:34:55.486-07:00

Wake up in the morning,See your sunrise.Does it go down?--Fleetwood MacHello again, my OtherEnders. For those of you playing along more regularly, guess where I am?Yes, I'm on an airplane.I'm headed North, to Alaska. My journey today is a voyage of discovery. Discovering history, bears, and trains. To find, and to lose, a childhood and a set of dreams. Seeking the boogeyman, and angels. And people, some good, some bad.And some without teeth.I'm also in search of some good weather -- ironically, the weather in Fairbanks when we land will be nicer than the weather in LA when we left. Yup, I'm going to *ALASKA* to find sun.SL is asleep, as always, curled up entirely in her seat, with an eyeshade on. It's cold on the plane, and there are no blankets -- because "they took them out, after the flu, you know, and haven't given them back yet" according to the flight attendant -- so she's shivering lightly. Her blonde hair is pulled up in a bun, as is her wont, but a few tendrils curl around her mouth, as if she is tasting them. She's not sleeping well.I've done more traveling after finishing my bit part in the Night of the Long Knives than I did during it. But most of this travel has been for fun, and much of it has involved motorcycles. And, so far, nothing has required my passport, although that will change soon.He's a sensitive type.His intentions are clear,he wants to be well liked.--Counting CrowsI know I wrote about my trip to San Diego. I can't remember what else, if anything, I've written about, so let's have a brief trip down memory lane.I love deserts, and there are some lovely ones near LA, so we've made a few motorcycle trips out.We rode to Death Valley. It was 102 degrees when we got there, and 60 when we left 2 days later. The wind on the way home was so strong that I had the motorcycle in a lean to the right the entire trip. I tucked the bike in next to 18 wheelers when I could do so safely, since they blocked the brutal winds for a bit. When we got home, my right shoulder hurt from maintaining the lean. Being in Death Valley was really fun. I'd never been there, so it was all new to me. We did some sightseeing, including going to a ghost town. The people left the town less than 100 years ago, and yet the entire place was destroyed, roofs caved in, walls collapsed. The entire place was pulling an excellent Ozymandius imitation.The next week, we rode to Joshua Tree. I think I've written about that trip. We stayed in a little 2 room hotel at the north Gate of the Park. The little city that guards the gate looks like every dive town I know, with tattoo parlors, gun shops, teeny grocery stores that sell more MadDog 20/20 than juice, and people who, mostly, don't meet your eyes. They are hiding from something, running from something, sometimes themselves.And the ones who look at you are predators. There is a lot of prey that finds itself in towns like that.Joshua Tree National Park is fabulous. The top half is a high desert covered with thousands of Joshua trees, as far as you can see, and rock formations erupting from the earth in "unnatural" ways. The bottom half is a lower desert, with warmer temperatures, and desert rock mountains.And JR, but that's a different story.We spent a couple of days in the Park, saw loads of pretty things, and said hello to JR. Then we rode back. And the wind picked up again.Aargh.Clearly a case forcorn flakes and classics--Elton JohnDo you r[...]