Friday, November 18, 2005

In defense of the Hold

Some of my stocks aren't doing so well today, and that got me thinking...

We have heard before that a decision to hold a stock on any given day is the same as a decision to buy at the current price. I think that you can take that statement too literally and forget both the frictional costs of investing and the opportunity cost of selling.

Two questions surround the decision to hold, and you need to answer both, not just one before you decide to change your position:

  1. Would I be comfortable buying the stock at this price?
  2. Would I be comfortable selling the stock at this price?
Note: "comfortable" not "happy." Sometimes, selling makes you extremely unhappy (as I have witnessed on a couple of my own stocks over the past few weeks) but significantly increases your comfort level.

Holding a stock is not the same as buying, nor is selling the same as not buying. Buying increases your risk and your potential reward. Selling decreases your risk, but eliminates your potential reward. Holding maintains the status quo, balancing the current risk with the potential reward.

Holding should be a reasoned decision, not a state of crossing your fingers and hoping, but it still requires a balancing of the risk and the potential reward of your current situation. It should balance the feelings of greed and fear in your stomach with the knowledge in your head about this company that you have come to know.

It's easy to focus on the risk side of the equation, which I think is exactly what the "hold=buy" thought process does. The logic, as far as I can see goes like this, "If I wouldn't be willing to increase my risk with this company today, then why should I take any risks with them?" If the answer to question 1 is "No," then get out before everyone else does. This misses out on the potential rewards and leads people to sell too soon.

Question 2 presents the reward side of the equation, and could be rephrased as, "If this stock goes up 10% next week, am I going to kick myself repeatedly because I should have known it was going to happen?" This is the opportunity cost of selling, and it shouldn't be ignored by lumping holding in with buying. It also addresses the intellectual investment that you make in a company, which you essentially sell along with your stock when you decide to move on to a new investment. Sure, you can take lessons learned with you, and you may be prepared to "jump back in" down the road. For practical purposes, though, even as you increase your cash balance when you sell a stock, you reset our knowledge balance to zero when you move on to the next big thing.

Before I sell a stock, I make sure that I can firmly answer "No" to question 1 and "Yes" to question 2. If I'm wishy-washy in either answer, I hold until I can find something to make up my mind.There's a reason that a body in motion tends to stay in motion: energy was invested in that motion, and more energy will be required to change its direction. So, too, a decision to hold preserves the energy that has been spent on a stock, and a decision to sell expends it.

Sometimes, inertia is a good thing.

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Friday, November 11, 2005

The French are Sittin' Mad!

French Stage Sit-In to Protest Violence

PARIS - Angry residents of riot-torn suburbs staged a sit-in Friday near the Eiffel Tower, calling for an end to more than two weeks of arson and vandalism across France. While the protesters were sitting at the Eiffel Tower, rioters burned and vandalized their now empty houses in the Paris suburbs.

Asked about their future plans now that this attempt had failed, one protester shouted, "We're so mad, we'll sit anywhere! We'll sit on the Champs Elysees, if that's what it takes. And if that doesn't get our message across, then we will sit in the Louvre and drink wine in the 'No Beverages Allowed' area. We want the world to know that we mean business!"

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Friday, November 04, 2005

Should Google be reined in?

Reining in Google - Commentary - The Washington Times

There seems to be a lot of misattribution of intent going on right now, not just in the media, but in the publishing community as well, around Google's Print Library Project. Yes, in an ideal world Google would only scan public domain books and let authors opt in to their larger program of making the text searchable, much as Amazon does with its "Look Inside" program. However, that would be extremely unwieldy and error-prone, resulting in both lower quality and poorer selection in their digital library. Imagine your public library having to go ask each author or publisher for permission before stocking their books, rather than just buying a copy, then expand that to a global scale, and you get an idea of the problem.

The real question here seems to center on what Google means by a "snippet." Those with a more sinister bent assume that a snippet will be somewhere between a chapter and the entire text of a book, so they cry copyright infringement. Those who assume Google has the best of intentions see this as a boon to authors, making a taste of their work available to the whole world and potentially spurring sales, just as free MP3 samples spur the sales of complete CDs.

Myself, I see this as Google pushing the boundaries of fair use in the pursuit of their greater goal: the digitalization of all knowledge. They may find a way to do this without infringing on copyrights. If they don't, then they have clearly decided to test the current laws and let the courts define new boundaries. It's probably time that we did that with print, just as we have done with music over the past five years. We can't think of words as being confined to one medium, location, or even a sequential format anymore. We need to stretch our thinking and our laws to ensure both protection for the artist and realistic usability for the consumer.

I think that Google is forcing that conversation to take place now, while they can still take the lead on this new frontier, rather than waiting another decade for the law to catch up to the market. By then, of course, Amazon will already have every book scanned and ready for sale by the page. As an author, I will applaud their audacity now, and be prepared to voice my displeasure if they take it too far. Even then, though, I will appreciate the fact that someone is stretching the boundaries to ensure that the written word, in all its glory, is not left behind.

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Wednesday, November 02, 2005

I'm officially guilty of fraud...

... or satire, whichever carries the lighter sentence.

THEY PRINTED IT!!!

I can only assume one of three things happened:

  1. The college's alumni notes are handled by an intern who doesn't know how to read English and only clicks the Copy and Paste buttons repeatedly as part of his work-study job.
  2. The Alumni Notes editor is so jaded by self-congratulatory "announcements" from alumni trying to one-up the people they were forced to live with for four years and haven't seen since that he didn't see anything wrong with my message.
  3. Someone at my alma mater has a sense of humor.
Based upon the constant requests for money -- from a university with an endowment of more than a billion dollars -- I think that I can safely rule out any humorous self-awareness within the Hallowed Halls of old Shiz. I'm going with Option 2 until I hear otherwise.

Now the fun part: seeing if I get any emails from people congratulating me on my "success."

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Tuesday, October 18, 2005

Lose weight, feel sexier; touch water, feel wet

From the Your Tax Dollars at Work file:

Lose weight, enjoy a better sex life: study

Obese men and women who start to lose weight will also see an improvement in the quality of their sex lives, according to a U.S. study released Monday. Even a moderate weight loss reduced complaints of feeling sexually unattractive and led to improved desire, according to the study. After announcing their results, the scientists added that their next government-funded study will seek to determine whether people who touch water feel a "wet" sensation, and whether people who touch a hot stove feel a "burning" sensation.

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Monday, October 10, 2005

Something Tiny in the Air

Ford, Boeing, Northwestern Join In Nanotechnology Research

Ford Motor Co., Boeing Co. and Northwestern University have formed a research alliance to develop commercial applications for nanotechnology, a science that develops materials at the molecular level. Asked about the goals of the alliance, a Boeing spokesman said, "Our airline partners have already shrunk seats, meal portions, and customer service about as far they can go. We're hoping that nanotechnology can help them squeeze another few picograms out of each customer."

Added a representative from Ford, "We're just hoping to find a technology that will make it possible for us to measure our profits again."

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Tuesday, September 27, 2005

"Passionate" vs. "Professional"

Creating Passionate Users: "Dignity is deadly." - Paul Graham

Kathy Sierra has started an interesting conversation about what happens when startups try to "grow up." I wrote about this a while ago (OK, "ranted" is probably a more accurate term). To save my reader the trouble of looking, here's what I had to say before:

I Won't Grow Up!

What the heck: I'll just paste the whole thing here (who says padding your posts can't be fun?) Put on your satirical hat, gentle reader:

I have to say, I am so grateful for the grownups in the business world. They have taught me so much and helped me to mend my foolish, childish ways. You see, I used to actually think that people were supposed to enjoy their work: imagine that! What did I think this was, college? As it turns out, to be a successful, mature company, you must put such silly notions out of your head and realize what business is really all about: obligations, responsibility, and the burden of respectability.

Young companies and entrepreneurs are allowed to play for a while, but the grownups demand their due in the end. After a while, the press and the other experienced business leaders start saying the things that all grownups say to young adults: "You can't keep playing around like this forever, you know. Eventually, you'll have to start recognizing your responsibilities. You have a duty to the board, to your shareholders, and to the market that must be shouldered. There are bills to pay, reports to deliver, five-year plans to assemble. You've had your fun, but now it's time to start acting like an adult."

Adulthood, according to our wise gray mentors, is a collection of obligations: to family, to country, to employer. There is no room for fun, because that implies that we have some energy left to spend on ourselves. Grownups live a life of dull daily sacrifice, and are glad, in their gray way, to do it. They protect what they have, risk little, and ensure that their obligations will always be met. If they have a little extra time, they pull weeds.

If this is adulthood, then I'm with Peter Pan:

I won't grow up,
I don't want to wear a tie.
And a serious expression
In the middle of July.

And if it means I must prepare
To shoulder burdens with a worried air,

I'll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up
Not me!

I will cling to the belief that work can be fun, and fulfilling, and profitable, all at the same time. I will refuse to accept that a happy employee is an inefficient one, or that money spent on quality of work life is wasted. I will continue to expect that, if I challenge people to rise beyond what they have done before, to push their boundaries and to push each other, that they will rise to the challenge and smile while doing so.

I will not accept the belief that in order to get the most out of people you must beat them down first. I will never allow the frowning grownups with their clucking about "obligation" to convince me that life is only meant to be survived. I may have to spend the rest of my life as an adult, but I refuse to spend it as a grownup! And,

If growing up means
It would be beneath my dignity to climb a tree,
I'll never grow up, never grow up, never grow up
Not me!


I still believe that it's possible to make money and even grow a company without sacrificing the creativity that made you successful and drew all those intelligent people to work for you in the first place. I just wish that there were more real-life examples to bear that out.

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Save gas, save money, or make a statement: pick two

CNN Money has several articles on saving gas and/or money, starting with another article on the questionable savings on some hybrid vehicles. Could hybrids be the Macs of the car world: a more expensive way to do the same job, but with style? Is it a car or a lifestyle choice? I have a vision of the Earth Day 2007 buyback event, when all of the liberal/progressive people in America turn in their Subaru Outbacks for the new Toyota Prius wagon, complete with mudflaps so that you can pretend that you like to go hiking on the weekends.

Hybrids: Don't buy the hype

Gas Savings Tips Put to the Test

Fuel-Saving Tech is All Around Us

Or should we just go back to diesel?

I remember driving a VW Vanagon from Oregon all the way to central California when I was 18. It started throwing oil if you got above 60 mph, so we just put it in neutral all the way down the mountain passes. Oh, and it smelled like the inside of a used oil filter. I understand that they have found a way to make diesel engines quieter and less obnoxiously smoky, but I'm not sure that's the right way to go. I mean, how else are you going to let everyone else on the road know that you care about the environment? I guess you could put some stickers on the back, like "Bush for Lawn Gnome" and "Don't blame me: I tried to vote for Perot," or "No blood for oil, unless it's diesel." That will have to do.

Of course, I suppose you could just bike everywhere. Then the only oil you use is on your chain.

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Sunday, September 11, 2005

Dear Fellow Alums, I'm Awesome!!!

Have you ever actually read the Alumni Notes that people post in their college allumni magazines? I haven't seen such puffery and blatant self-promotion outside of Senate press conferences. Well, I decided that if you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Putting my recently honed satirical skills to work, I wrote an alumni note of my own. Let's see if they publish it.

(All names have been changed to protect the innocent)


Hi Fellow Alums!

Sorry I haven’t written in a while, but it’s been a busy few years. Let’s see: where to begin?

Let’s start with the kids. Both Buffy and Johann are in school full-time now and seem to love it. We’re committed to the public school system, but we do supplement their normal curricula just to keep them sharp. You know, the usual: dictionary memorization or biology before breakfast, number theory in the evenings. They can’t get enough of irrational numbers! We expect Buffy to finish college by age 13 (14 if she double majors) but we plan to let Johann go through school at the normal pace so that he can get that football scholarship. Some dreams just have to be pursued, you know?

My wife Roberta figured out the answer to the question, “What do you do with a BA in English?” You write Jewish pop music, of course! After finding decent international success with her first two CDs, she is now entertaining offers from several major record labels. The real deal-breaker – besides royalties and distribution, of course – is getting one of them to commit to a concert tour slate that fits in with the kids’ vacation schedules. She’ll work it out perfectly, of course. She always does!

That leaves me, I suppose. It’s been several years since I struck out on my own, but my company is doing well. We were a little disappointed at only moving up 43 places in the Inc. 500 this year, but my sales guys have promised to do better this year, and I believe them! The IPO plans are still on track for some time next spring, so I’m not worried. The business slowdown had a beneficial side effect, though, since it enabled me to finish my third book, If I Can Do It, Anyone Can! Look for it in the business/self-help section of your local Barnes & Noble this spring!

With such a busy life, I need to find ways to relax. For me, that means bicycling. I finished my third 100-mile ride of the year over Labor Day weekend, but I don’t know if I’ll have time to get in another one before the weather turns. That ride up Mt. Washington sure looks tempting, though!

If any college friends out there want to reconnect and get the real inside scoop, you can contact me at wickedsmaht1@yahoo.com. Hope to hear from you soon!

WickedSmaht
Class of ‘92


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Friday, September 09, 2005

Katrina: Still more ways to help in Boston

Saint Katrina Event
"Sounds like a tea dance at the neighborhood Catholic church. Unfortunately for the plight of our Southern countrymen these days, life is anything but. While heading down to the Gulf Coast may not be a realistic option for many, heading out to one of Boston’s hottest nightspots and raising money while having a good time, well, there’s really just no good excuse to stay home."

$25 minimum ticket donation.
$20 gets you an arm's length of raffle tickets, for the chance to win a grand prize trip for two to Cancun or Aruba, generously donated by GWV Travel, along with many other items.

100% of proceeds benefits the American Red Cross

Monday, September 12, 2005
6-10 PM
90 Exeter Street
Click here to make a secure reservation today

Bake Sale Benefit at UpStairs on the Square
September 11, 1-3 p.m.
Winthrop Park, at the corner of JFK and Winthrop Streets, Cambridge, 617-864-1933.
www.upstairsonthesquare.com/


Jazz fundraiser for the Hurricane Katrina Disaster Relief Fund
featuring New Orleans' own Terence Blanchard
September 15, 8 and 10 p.m.
Scullers Jazz Club, 400 Soldiers Field Rd., Boston, 617.562.4111.
Cost: $20
www.scullersjazz.com/

Donate your vacation days

Treasury, IRS Announce Special Relief to Encourage Leave-Donation Programs for Victims of Hurricane Katrina

Come on, you know that you're not really going to take 3 weeks off between now and the end of the year. Do some good with those days, especially if you're on a use-it-or-lose-it plan!

Talk to your employer about putting this plan into action in your company.

Another way for Boston residents to help the victims of Hurricane Katrina.

The Greater Boston Food Bank is gathering food and shipping it to wherever it is needed most. Of course, they will also need to replenish their supplies to help the needy in Boston this fall, so the more donations they receive, the better.

http://www.gbfb.org/katrina/

Thursday, September 08, 2005

Hurricane Katrina: It's Put Up or Shut Up Time

I realized something yesterday after a week of watching news coverage and reading the anymore list: it’s very comfortable to look for someone to blame when a catastrophe of this magnitude occurs. We feel powerless in the face of this much destruction and misery, but we feel that someone should have the power to make it better or, better yet, should have kept it from happening in the first place. So we blame the government, we blame the people who stayed in harm’s way, we blame God. It doesn’t change what happened, but we feel better because now we know whose fault it is. More importantly, we know it isn’t our fault, so we can look at those sad faces on TV and safely get mad about the whole thing. It’s a natural response, and we’ve all seen it happen several times in the past four years.

Here’s the deal, though: no matter whose fault it is, the reality is that we are facing the biggest human catastrophe in our nation’s history, and our fellow Americans need our help. The scope of the destruction, in terms of property, infrastructure, economic impact, and human life, is beyond the capacity of our government and the major relief organizations to handle, and people continue to suffer. Clearly, this requires a grassroots response at the local, regional, and national level.

Rather than asking, “Who’s to blame?” I would love to see this country focus our efforts on asking, “What can we do to make it better?” There’s a lot of brain power here, not to mention some small amount of resources. Let’s put it to use and show these people that someone cares about their plight.

Jesse Jackson said that the response to this tragedy will have to move in stages: Rescue, Relief, Recovery, and Rebuilding. The rescue effort is (finally) well under way, and there is little that we can do to accelerate it. Right now, the focus is on relief:


  • We can give money. I have already given as much as I can afford right now, and will figure out how much more I can give in the coming months. Logistically speaking, that is probably the best way to help right now. It’s a lot easier for organizations to leverage the existing distribution networks of the major store chains and buy what they need locally than it is to ship used goods from here. Maybe they’ll run out later, but for now, money moves faster. If you don’t trust the Red Cross or the Salvation Army with your money, then find one of the local organizations that are housing people or trying to set up long-term shelters. It seems that just about every church and synagogue in Louisiana and Mississippi is doing something. Maybe we can get a list of those local organizations so that we know our money is making a direct impact.

  • We can offer space. There are a lot of landlords out there. Does anyone have some extra space where they could house someone? I know that several churches in the Boston area are coordinating efforts to house evacuees here, complete with background checks on both the landlords and the evacuees to try to keep people safe.

  • We can offer prayers. I don’t care what your religious leanings are and, frankly, I don’t care to hear them right now. If you are on speaking terms with a higher power, start asking for relief, for some miraculous rescues, and for people’s hearts to open up to help. It costs you nothing more than a few moments of your time, and if there’s a remote chance it can help then it’s better than sitting in front of the TV and stewing.

  • We can ask others to help. I asked my company to help, and even though we don’t have a formal contribution matching program, they have now offered to match every employee donation to the relief effort. You can ask your HR department if the company will make a special contribution, too.

  • We can keep thinking. There are all kinds of other relief efforts springing up and looking for donations beyond money. We can keep watching for opportunities to help in the weeks and months to come.

It will take years for the region to recover from this and for people to put their lives back together. Right now, the needs are dramatic and immediate. As time goes on, the stories will fade from the headlines, but the needs will remain. How can we help in the long term? Can we help them rebuild? If we care enough about these poor people to get angry that the government failed them, do we care enough to help them get their lives back? If so, then we need to look beyond today and think about the long term:

  • I’ll bet that Habitat for Humanity will be down there rebuilding houses. Can you take a week off from work to go help?

  • Do you belong to an organization that could coordinate a rebuilding effort in a Gulf Coast community? A lot of the people who lost homes were uninsured, so the only way a lot of houses will be rebuilt is if someone volunteers to do it.

  • Can you budget money for the long term to keep supporting the organizations that will keep helping people? The economy will take a while to recover, and the housing market even longer, so it’s unrealistic to expect people to just go get a job and find a new place to live next month.


Let’s leave the smug finger-pointing to the politicians and the newspaper columnists. Instead, let’s see what we can do to make the situation better for our fellow citizens have seen their lives destroyed and who desperately need to know that someone cares.


PS - Here are some sites I have found where we can give money and goods now. If anyone else comes across more organizations, please post them.

www.bostonredcross.org
http://www.salvationarmyusa.org/USNSAHome.htm
www.networkforgood.org/
http://www.cradlestocrayons.org/HOW_TO_HELP_Hurricane_Relief.asp

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Up Next on the WB: The Freakish Life

Jackson family shops TV series

The Jackson family has reportedly been shopping around an idea for a reality television series to various networks, according to sources within the networks. This activity comes on the heels of Paris Hilton's recent statement that she plans to "give up public life" after she marries fiance Paris Latsis. Program executives from several networks stated that, in Paris' absence, a Jackson family series could fill a crucial gap in the "celebrities so stupid that it's surprising they remember to breathe" programming lineup for next fall's season.

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Friday, May 27, 2005

You'll go blind....

FDA Looking Into Blindness-ED Drug Link

WASHINGTON - Federal health officials are probing reports of blindness among dozens of men who used Viagra and other impotence drugs — but at the same time cautioning that the vision loss can be linked to the same illnesses that lead to impotence. They reported that they are also investigating unconfirmed reports of hairy palms among younger users.

Thousands of mothers across the US were quoted as saying, "Ha! We told you what would happen if you kept doing that!"

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Thursday, May 26, 2005

Riding with my Buddies to the Kennedy Compound

Last weekend, I did the Best Buddies Volvo Hyannisport Challenge, a 90-mile ride from Boston to Hyannisport (look here for more details). Here's the ride report that I sent to my supporters.

If you want, you can also read about my last century, The Climb to the Clouds.


To those of you who were planning to call Visa and cancel your donations if I didn’t complete the Best Buddies ride: you can put the phone down. I did it! Sure, I suffered near-hypothermic shock, and maybe I threatened the life of the person who scheduled a ride in New England in May (more than once), but that’s not important now. The important thing is that I – and my whole team of ten riders – completed the Best Buddies ride last Saturday. No one dropped out, no one got hurt, no one complained (much), and we all proved up to the challenge (the Hyannisport Challenge).

To give you a feel for the ride, I now present my mile-by-mile commentary:

5:30 AM, Mile (-10)
We meet at Danny’s house and load our bikes into a rented truck. Eight of us will do the 90-mile ride, while two will do the 20-mile ride that starts later in the morning. Morris is very excited to drive the half-ton pickup truck because, “I don’t have to look for openings before I change lanes. They have to get out of my way.” I check the ropes on the bikes again to make sure that the impact won’t throw them out.

7:30 AM, Mile 0
Registered, dressed in our Best Buddies jerseys, and on our bikes, we wait for the start. It’s chilly and breezy, but no rain is falling yet. Everyone involved in Best Buddies, including founders, sponsors, fundraisers, and participants in the organization, seems to need to speak before we can start. I spot Senator Kerry about ten feet away, dressed in a yellow rain jacket and riding a very nice bike. Anthony Shriver jokes that Kerry promised that the 2009 ride will start at the White House. Finally, we’re off!

7:45-9:15 AM, Miles 1-16
With a police escort leading the way, we make our slow way through Boston, Quincy, Braintree, and other South Shore suburbs on our way to the Cape. Everyone is excited and chatting with the people around them, and our team tries to stick together as best we can. Still, we are quickly separated into clusters of two or three in the crowd as we fight to stay on our bikes and out of each other’s way. The average speed of 10-12 mph makes it tough to keep your balance at times, but at least everyone is together. Some riders start fighting to get in the front, preparing to be set free from the escort. Kerry goes zooming by after about five miles, and I never see him again.

There’s a team from Ireland here, riding four tandem bikes. They have never been to the US before, and ride as though they are in a parade, waving and calling out to everyone on the side of the road. After trying several greetings, they settle on “Aloha!” as the best one to shout to the confused pedestrians.

9:15-9:35 AM, Mile 16.2, Rest Stop #1
Music is playing, people are cheering, and food is piled high at the first stop. We stop and wait for our team to arrive, passing the time by waiting in the long line for the Port-o-Potties. Apparently, everyone took the “Hydrate” advice to heart, or else, like me, they needed a double dose of coffee to get moving this early in the morning. Once we are all gathered, we eat some bagels and bananas and chat before moving on again. The weather is warming up, so I take off my rain jacket, roll it up, and stuff it in my jersey pocket.

A photographer comes over, accompanied by two people: an expensively casual-dressed woman in glasses and a Gilligan hat and an ostentatiously scruffy young man in designer corduroy. Obviously, we are about to be joined by celebrities, even though we have no idea who they are. Danny, ever willing to start the awkward conversation says, “I’m sure you’re celebrities, but I don’t recognize you. Who are you?”

The short scruffy dude standing next to me says, “I’m [the short scruffy guy] from CSI: Miami.” He gets polite handshakes and thanks for coming out.

The woman pulls her hat back from her face and says, “I used to be on a show called The Brady Bunch.”

“Marcia!!!” everyone screams. “Oh my gosh, it’s Marcia!”

“Gee, thanks,” mutters CSI-Boy. We get a group photo, thank them both for coming all the way from California or Miami or whatever warm climate they left to come freeze with us, and we all climb back on our bikes. Now the real fun begins.

9:35-10:20 AM, Miles 16-30
We depart as a group, but quickly string out again. It’s clear that we won’t be seeing much of each other today, but that’s OK: everyone is intent on riding his or her own ride, and just finishing. Danny leads the way, whooping and hot-dogging on his bike. Clearly, he is ready to pick up the pace, as am I. Taran and Eric plan to ride at their own pace, which will be significantly slower than ours. We won’t see them again until the finish. Len and Susan are somewhere in between. Danny, Morris, Liz, and I ride together for a while, but on the first big hill Danny and I drop them. Our legs are fresh, and it feels good to just cruise along at around 20 mph. The rolling hills have more downhill than up, which helps, too, especially for me, since gravity exerts, shall we say, a greater pull on me than on most people. We pass many riders, but are only passed by one, another Clydesdale who has also benefited from the downhill trend. I can’t completely relax on these hills, because I am afraid that we will have to regain this elevation as some point. I am not wrong.

10:20 AM, Mile 30
From behind me, Danny jokes, “Do you keep spitting, or is it starting to rain?”

I spit on him and reply, “Maybe a little of both.”

(Not really, Mom, but I did think about it)

10:21-10:45 AM, Miles 30-34
The joke quickly loses its humor as the sky begins insistently spitting upon us. Within a couple of miles, I consider pulling my rain jacket back on. Since we are close to the next rest stop, I decide to hold out, but it is raining for real by the time we reach it. I start praying that this is only a passing shower.

10:45-11:00 AM, Mile 34.3, Rest Stop #2
“Ants on logs, cool!” I shove several of the peanut butter, raisin, and celery treats into my mouth as I begin grazing at the food table. I have hardly touched my water bottles while riding, but I down a Gatorade while standing under the tent. It is raining steadily now, and I try to stay under the food tent for as long as possible. The coffee is almost hot, but not hot enough to really warm me. One of the buddy tandem teams (a regular rider and his handicapped “buddy” on a tandem bike) comes in just behind us, and they are so wet that they don’t even bother to get under the tent. I’m not there yet, but I will be soon.

No more celebrities here. I guess their contracts limited them to the first stop. It’s just as well: those nice jackets didn’t look waterproof.

Morris catches up to us at the stop, as do Len, Susan, and Liz. Once I can feel my feet again, it’s time to go. Susan and Len tell us not to bother waiting for them, but Liz joins us as we head back out. We’re still feeling good, but really wishing that the rain would stop.

11:00 AM-12:30 PM, Miles 34.3-57
Morris, Danny, Liz, and I leave the rest stop together and make an attempt at a paceline. It doesn’t help much, because each bike sends up a rooster tail of spray from the soaked pavement, so we are forced to choose between the wind and a face full of gritty water. Danny is still too excited to set a pace that everyone can keep, so we lose Liz after a few miles. Morris, who has just discovered that his bike has gears, attempts to shift them while climbing a hill, locks up his chain, and has to stop. We don’t stop, of course: Liz will pick up the pieces when she comes through in a few minutes. Danny and I continue onward.

Funny thing about gravity: it’s a fickle mistress. It’s all helpful and friendly when you’re going downhill, urging you on to greater speeds as you whip through turns and screech into intersections. But try going against it, climbing further from the core of the earth where it lurks, and it turns on you in a second. And the bigger they are, the slower they climb. Danny pulls away from me as we climb a series of hills, his light bike and size Medium rain jacket flashing mockingly in the dull light as he disappears over the crest. I am in no-man’s land between the sprinting Danny and the cruising Morris/Liz combo, so I ride on alone.

Hills. Lots and lots of hills. That’s what I remember from this leg. We ride through Plymouth, and I can see why the Pilgrims were able to land here: the Indians could never have seen them coming. I can smell the ocean, but it’s nowhere to be found. I make my rolling way through Standish State Park, thinking about how nice this ride would be if I weren’t wet and freezing. A cheerful man named Lloyd catches me, and we talk for a while as we ride. His presence is a double-edged sword, because while the conversation distracts me from how tired my legs are becoming, I have to push to keep up with him on every climb. I have a feeling that I’m going to need that energy later. My bare legs are numb from the knee down, from both the cold and the pressure of pedaling. This makes it difficult to push hard on each new climb: how do you tell a block of ice to push? Finally, we come to the end of the park and to the next rest stop. The rain falls unceasingly now, and the wind is a steady 10-20 mph.

12:30 PM, Mile 57.6, Rest Stop #3
I am cold now, and stopping only makes matters worse. Under my jacket, my two shirts are soaked with rain and sweat, and the moment that I stop the wind starts to leech warmth from my body. The coffee at this stop is lukewarm at best, and I have trouble deciding whether to drink it or pour it on my shoes in the hopes of waking up my toes. I opt to drink the coffee and run hot water over my hands after going to the bathroom. I am pleased to note that dehydration, at least, will not be an issue today. Lucky me.

Danny is waiting at the stop, as usual, and Morris and Liz coast in about ten minutes behind me. They had a grand time on the hills, chatting while they rode the roller coaster landscape. I’m glad they had fun, though I wonder if we’re riding the same course. I seem to be suffering more from the cold than the others, since I can’t stop shivering and my teeth are chattering, so maybe that’s part of it.

We see several riders give up at this stop. The medical van is busy, and people are packing their bikes up to hitch a ride into Hyannisport. I envy them for a moment, thinking about how nice a heated van would feel right now, but I have no thoughts of giving up. It’s time to get moving again, though, while I can still move.

(We found out later that several people were treated for hypothermia toward the end of the ride, so maybe I wasn’t suffering the most from the cold.)

12:45-1:40 PM, Miles 57.6-68
The next eleven miles pass in an immeasurable blur, and not just because I’m pre-hypothermic. Somewhere along the last leg, my cycling computer gave in to the rain and stopped working. I now have no idea how far I have come, and thus no clue how far I have to go. I decide that it’s better this way and focus on just getting over the next hill or around the next corner. The orange arrows on the pavement that mark each turn are my friends, because I have once again lost my teammates. This time it was Morris who dropped me, because Danny and Liz stopped to get some warmer gloves. Apparently Liz’s hands were cold. I should have such problems!

It takes a mile or two to warm up again, during which time I discover that a few good whoops and yells help to channel the shivering into something more productive. To keep my mind occupied, I start writing this ride report in my head. Unfortunately, I am too tired to remember much of it, so I just keep repeating the same phrases over and over in my mind. They’re funny the first thirty times. After that, not so much.

1:42-2:00 PM, Miles 68-70.4, the Bourne Bridge and Points South
Danny and Liz catch me just as I dismount to walk over the Bourne Bridge, a high, arching marvel of engineering that looks really windy at the moment. Looks do not deceive, but we make it across without anyone being hurled into traffic by the gale-like winds. One rider stops, ostensibly to enjoy the view, but I suspect that he’s just waiting for a clear space to test whether he can spit to Nantucket from here. With this wind, I give him even odds.

I don’t see them go by, but my family drives by me on the bridge on their way to the finish line. They see me, so I have a message waiting on my cell phone at the next stop, which is mercifully nearby.

2:00 PM, Mile 70.4, Rest Stop #4
Our final rest stop is outside a big CVS drug store in Sandwich. There are sandwiches to eat, and against my better judgment I choose a turkey, ham, and cheese and wolf it down. There is another tent near the food tent for additional shelter, since this is where the 20-mile “Friendship Ride” started a couple of hours ago. The wind is blowing so hard, though, that it keeps lifting the sides of the tent, so we don’t get much warmer standing there. I go inside the CVS to use the bathroom again (hooray for hydration!), then decide that I’d rather stay in the entryway and warm up than go outside and shiver again. Our team gathers again, and this time all six of us – Len, Susan, Danny, Liz, Morris, and myself – leave together. As soon as we step back outside, the wind sucks the CVS warmth away and I start to shiver again. Whooping helps again, though it makes me no friends among the people who just came here to buy some shaving cream.

2:20-3:15 PM, Miles 70.4-80
Once again we try the paceline, and once again I can’t hold on. We stick together for a couple of miles, but on the first long hill I fade and watch the rest of the team slowly pull away. The cold has sapped too much of my energy for me to keep the pace, so I settle back to whatever I can manage, which isn’t much, speed-wise. It’s steady, though, and I find that I can keep going even as the hills roll on. I have lost my team, but I am not the slowest rider on the road. As I chug onward, I pass several other riders who all look the way I feel: dead tired and bone-cold. One rider takes exception to being passed and passes me on the next hill. My blood is too thick for the testosterone to get to my brain, so I don’t even try to hold him off. There is grim satisfaction in passing him a mile later, though, and I don’t see him again.

My wife calls a couple of times to see where I am. Though I really can’t talk, what with all of the huffing and puffing, I am encouraged to know that my cheering section is waiting for me in the rain. I find that I have a little bit of energy left in my legs, though I don’t even think about sprinting. Steady as she goes.

I pass a yellow sign that reads, “10 miles to go!”

3:15- 3:49 PM, Miles 80-90
The hills have started rolling downward again, and gravity is my friend again. I find that my burst of energy is still there, so I start to push a little harder and shift up to the big gears. I can pick up enough speed on the downhills to get most of the way up the next upslope, and standing up gets me over each crest. Now I am moving, and it feels good to let my bike run. More riders pass behind me, and I am ready for the homestretch.

A nasty surprise awaits me as I pass the “5 miles to go!” sign. As I approach the water, there are fewer obstacles to the wind, which has only picked up in the past couple of hours. Sideways gusts almost knock me off of my bike, and when I turn into the wind it feels as though I have just jammed on my brakes. The wind is a tangible force, trying to stop me or at least throw me to the ground. I get as low as I can, grit my teeth, and ride onward, one pedal stroke at a time. As I approach the last couple of miles, I shelter behind two other riders until we are no longer head into the wind. It’s hardly proper etiquette, but I really don’t care at this point. As we turn sideways to the gale again, I push past them with a cheery, “See you at the finish line!” Their tired grunts are ripped away by the wind.

I can see the final turn, and I put everything I have into the last strokes. Then I hit the brakes as the police officer manning the final intersection warns me that it’s too crowded ahead to go fast. So much for my triumphant finish, with fists upraised as I zoom under the finish line. I settle for not crashing into anything as I wave to my soggy personal cheering section, made up of my family and the other team members who pulled in seconds before I did.

The timer above me says, “8:04.” It’s time to join the other guys shivering in towels over by the big semi trailer and hit the showers. I did it. I survived the 2005 Volvo Hyannisport Challenge. And quite a challenge it was.

4:00-8:00 PM, Postscript
By 5:30, our entire team is in. We all finished, even when more experienced riders dropped out. I am extremely impressed with every one of my teammates, most of whom had never ridden more than 20 miles at once before signing up for this ride. Despite the conditions, everyone maintains a cheerful attitude, and no one complains beyond a serious desire to be much warmer.

Later, at the clambake, after we have all had our lobsters, chicken and chowder, Danny asks me, “So are you ready to do it again next year?”

“Give me a couple of days to thaw out, and then ask me again,” I reply.

I’ve thawed out now, and I am ready to do it again. Maybe we can talk about moving it to July, though?


File under:

Friday, May 06, 2005

Darth Greenspan?

Fed Chief Says 'Forces' Keep Inflation Low

CHICAGO - In comments after a speech to the Chicago Federal Reserve, Alan Greenspan said that a revival of the 30-year Treasury bond would be unlikely to raise long-term bond yields because "forces worldwide are keeping inflation low." When asked to elaborate upon these "forces," Greenspan refused to answer directly. He did, however, lean back into the shadows and mutter that "my young Padawan will soon see the power of the Dark Side of inflation. He will bring them to heel."

File under: ,

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

Fingering a suspect in the latest food crime

CNN.com - Customer finds employee's finger in frozen custard:

WILMINGTON, North Carolina (AP) -- A man who ordered a pint of frozen chocolate custard in a dessert shop got a nasty surprise inside -- a piece of severed finger. This incident bore morbid similarity to recent events at a Wendy's fast food restaurant, and police are seeking a connection.

"We suspect that this might be a serial crime," said a police spokesman. "The good news is, unless this guy is extremely creative we're looking at no more than six more incidents, eight tops. Unless he moves on to his toes. In that case, all bets are off."

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Tuesday, March 29, 2005

Deja vu all over again

Iraq Parliament in Uproar Over Stalemate

BAGHDAD - Two months after more than 8 million Iraqis braved suicide bombers and death threats to vote for their new government, elected officials in Iraq are still unable to agree on who will lead the new government. Asked for comment on the situation, President Bush stated, "I don't know what's so hard about it. Just tell them to have their brother recount the votes until they get the result they want."

In related news, former presidential candidate Al Gore emerged from the cave in which he has been hiding to offer himself as a viable compromise candidate for Iraqi president.

File under: ,

Friday, March 25, 2005

Stop the madness!

I can't take it anymore! The English language is suffering such abuse in the business world that we can barely understand each other anymore. Words that used to mean something completely different have now been shanghaied by otherwise intelligent businesspeople, forced to do tasks for which they were never intended, and then so overworked that they have become utterly useless.

Here are some more victims of jargon enslavement:

Leverage
This should not be used as a verb. I know that we do, and that it started with financial terminology, but come on: it has become a synonym for "use." ere's an actual excerpt from a recent email I received:

Given the other large implementation, overall resource issues, and combined with other items, the "usual" process has not been leveraged.

You know what? You don't sound any smarter when you use three syllables in place of one. In fact, you just make it harder for anyone else to "parse" what you're saying. Which brings me to...

Technical Terms in Non-Technical Conversations
First, congratulations to all nerds. I'm very happy that -- outside of Harvard, of course -- computer engineers and other super-smart science folks have risen to such prominence in society. It's chic to be a geek. However, this has led to a disturbing trend in my conversations, and I would like the rest of society to knock it off. Namely, the usage of highly technical programming terms by people who can't even figure out Excel.

To these people, I say: just because you heard the poorly dressed guy with bad hair in the cubicle next to you use a word doesn't mean that you know what it means, and it certainly doesn't mean you should try to apply it in everyday business conversation, OK?

Some shocking examples:

"I'm not sure I can parse what you want from me."

"Let's take this conversation offline. Let's take that offline too. I don't want to talk about that now: offline it for later."

"I couldn't get her to compile the memo for me, so I told her to fork it and I'd get back to her later."

OK, I made that last one up. Still, it hurts to hear these otherwise useful words being mangled so. Please, people, stop abusing the language! Use simple words whose meanings you understand, and if you find yourself wanting to "leverage the synergies in your vocabulary," don't. The more you do it, the closer you come to sounding like a blithering idiot.

Trust me: I've worked with enough of them to know.

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Now you can pick your liver

Australian Scientists Grow Stem Cells from Nose

SYDNEY (Reuters) - With the help of the Catholic Church, Australian researchers have successfully grown adult stem cells harvested from the human nose, avoiding the ethical and legal problems associated with embryonic stem cells. The scientists cautioned that there are some kinks in the process, however, since organs grown from the stem cells "could tend to be a bit boogery and might unexpectedly sprout tufts of hair as patients get older."

You Want Fingers with That?

Diner Finds Finger in Wendy's Chili

SAN FRANCISCO (Reuters) - A diner at a Wendy's fast food restaurant in San Jose, California, found a human finger in a bowl of chili prepared by the chain, local officials said on Wednesday. When asked for comment, a spokesperson for Wendy's insisted that this was not an accident but part of the chain's new marketing campaign honoring their late founder: "There's a little bit of Dave in everything we make."

Thursday, March 10, 2005

But seriously, folks

Just a tip: if you ever read something I wrote and wonder, "Is he serious?" Chances are, I'm not.

Irony is dead

Bomber Hits Shi'ite Mosque in Iraq, 46 Dead

A suicide bomber attacked a funeral in the northern city of Mosul on Thursday, killing at least 46 people and wounding dozens more. Among the casualties were a high-ranking cleric, several security troops, and the Iraqi sense of irony.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

Live Life to the Fullest

Deep Thought for the Day:

If you want to live life to the fullest, your experience should outpace your understanding.

Monday, January 31, 2005

Last Chance for Tsunami Donations Deductible in 2004

If you've been procrastinating, knock it off:

January Tsunami Donations Deductible for 2004

After midnight, you'll have to wait until next year to get the tax benefits of a tsunami relief donation. It's nice to see that the government can do some things quickly when it counts, isn't it?

Too lazy to find an organization? Here:

World Vision donation page

Feed the Children donation page

Unicef donation page

The Red Cross doesn't appear to be accepting any more donations specifically for Tsunami Relief. They're all full up.

Now, go do something useful with your money!

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

Charity sex

Brothel Donates Money for Tsunami Relief

BERLIN - A German brothel owner has been so moved by the plight of survivors from Asia's tsunami disaster that she is donating part of her profits to the relief efforts.

"It's so terrible what happened there and I wanted to do something," said Mercedes Mueller, who owns the Happy FKK Club in the western city of Dortmund.

Members of the Class Action Attorneys' Charitable League (CAACL) have protested the publicity the brothel has received, noting that they have been screwing their clients and donating part of the proceeds to charity for years, and no one thanked them.

Gov't to America: You're Fat AND Stupid

Government Urges Most Americans to Cut Calories

WASHINGTON - The government on Wednesday urged most Americans to eat fewer calories and exercise 30 to 90 minutes a day, updating guidelines that advised people to lose weight but gave few specifics on how to do it.

Federal officials acknowledged that much of the advice will not be new to Americans, who spent millions on diet books trying to lose weight.

"It's really common sense. Do you want to look better? Do you want to feel better?" Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson said. "You lower your calorie intake, you lower your carbs, your fats. You eat more fruits and vegetables, and you exercise. That's as simple as it can be. That is not too hard."

"You people are really stupid, aren't you?" he added. "What, did you think that Super Size Me was an instructional video?"

When asked for comment, Americans tried to voice their outrage, but their mouths were full.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

BlogStreet : Take Ownership





Taking ownership on Blogstreet

Monday, January 03, 2005

A personal year in review

Having a birthday just before the end of the year can create a veritable maelstrom of self-evaluation. Fortunately, I'm just self-aware enough to benefit from this confluence without being so self-absorbed that I'm destroyed by it. This year, I asked myself and my friends the following questions, just to get people thinking and make sure that the year doesn't pass without a little bit of reflection.

I really believe that this is important, by the way. It's easy to become overwhelmed by world events -- wars, famines, tsunamis -- and decide that there's no point in looking at your own life when such terrible things are happening everywhere else. You can even decide that it's narcissistic to think about your life when the lives of others are being turned upside down and inside out somewhere else. If all you ever do is think and don't act, then you're probably right. If your self-evaluation precedes change, though, and improves the way that you deal with the world, then you're wrong, and quite possibly lazy. When it comes down to it, we are all individuals, not members of some collective intelligence, and we each must take responsibility for how we interact with the world at large. If you and I don't try to improve the way we live our lives, then we aren't doing our parts, and the rest of the world suffers for it.

So much for why to do this. Here's how I did it this year, with these four questions:

  1. What was your greatest challenge last year?

  2. What was your greatest accomplishment?

  3. What lesson did you learn from the last year?

  4. What do you want to accomplish in the next year, both in terms of personal changes and tangible products?

Here are my answers, in brief. There's a year's worth of experience behind each one. Read them if you want, but they're posted here as much to help me remember as anything else:

Greatest Challenge:
In 2003, this would have been completing a cycling century. This year, I was lucky to get on my bike regularly, so I didn't have a nice, clean physical challenge to complete. This year, my long journey was one of the soul, as I struggled with restlessness and dissatisfaction with the current state of my life. While it started with some serious questions about the my job and whether I'm doing the right job, it really had more to do with my need to find a greater purpose in my life. There's something called "divine restlessness," where God puts a call on someone and pulls him out of his present comfortable situation to find something greater. He did it with Abraham when he called him to pick up and leave his family lands in Ur, he did it with Moses and the Israelites when he led them into the wilderness, and he did it with Jesus when the Spirit moved him into the wilderness for 40 days. I think he does this with us at various times, too, and he's doing it with me now. That doesn't nevessarily mean that I have a great, world-changing destiny ahead of me, but it means that I have to prepare to do more than I am doing now.

You have two choices when the restlessness comes upon you: you can run and hide or you can seek and find. Some people, when they feel that they should be doing more with their lives, try to find the elusive "more" in the form of a new car, new city, new family. They usually find that "new" does not equal "more." Others simply slip into depression, feeling that they missed their chance when they were young, and now it's too late. I will admit that I did a little of that, though it was more of a "why is this taking so long?" kind of depression, rather than "it's too late for me." In both these cases, though, the restlessness just shows how unsatisfactory your current situation is, without looking at how it could be better.

The other, better option, is to embrace the restlessness and use it as motivation to find something more for your life. I believe that the only way to do that is to seek the will of the one who made you for that purpose, so when I was done feeling sorry for myself I turned to God and asked him what this was all about, and what big plans he had for me that were worth shaking up my tidy little world. He still hasn't told me, but we're getting closer. Instead, he's been teaching me what I have to do to be ready for the new thing:

  • I have to draw closer to him. Some people claim that they can hear God's voice without even trying. Some of those people are, frankly, crazy. Others, though, are perfectly sane, and seem to be a lot more balanced in their lives and happy with their choices than I am. I want to live like that, and I can't do that all by myself, prodigious brain power or no. I need to draw closer to the furnace if I want to feel the heat, or else I just end up running around trying to create all of the heat on my own, wearing myself out in the process.
  • I have to "fold the socks," and do the work that's in front of me. Nothing that I have to do today is every exciting, or even challenging, at least 0n an intellectual level. A lot of it, especially at work, is pretty tedious, to be honest. It's about as exciting as doing laundry, and there's always another pile of smelly socks waiting to be washed when I'm done with this batch. But I'm learning something through this process, even if it's just patience, so I need to faithfully do the work until something bigger comes along. This applies to my book, too, which is by far the longest slog upon which I have ever embarked.
  • I have to be ready. When the "more" comes along, I expect it will come quickly. I need to be ready when it arrives, and not get so comfortable again that I forget that I was ever restless.

I expect that more will come in 2005, but 2004 will be the year that it all began.

Oh yeah, I also finally took up the gauntlet and started that book. Keeping it going and learning how to work steadily with no end in sight was another challenge last year. Funny how the process of writing a book and the process of finding your purpose in life can be so similar.

Greatest Accomplishment:
Did I mention that I'm on Chapter 8 of my first novel? Personally, I'm more than a little surprised that I'm still going, and not just because I thought I'd be done by now. This is the longest that I have ever worked on anything without completing it, and I'm learning more about myself every time I sit down to write. Specifically, that I will do a lot of other things before I get around to actually writing.

Lesson Learned:
People have said this before, but now that I am experiencing it I know what it really means: the process is at least as important as the product. I may never see my book published, I may never achieve historically significant things, but what I am learning now by mindfully going through a process of patiently working toward an unseen goal will help me in everything else that I do for the rest of my life. In essence, I now become the end result of my own strivings, and the other outputs become a side effect. When I cooperate with God to become the man he wants me to be, I am able to produce bigger and better results, which I couldn't have produced if I had set my sights on them in the first place.

This is a hard concept to grasp, but it makes so much sense when you do get it. Think of Mark Bellhorn of the Red Sox in the ALCS playoffs this year. He wanted nothing more than to start hitting again, and not just because Sox fans were ready to kill him if he struck out again. But the harder he tried to hit the ball, the more he fouled out or popped up. The breakthrough came when he stopped just swinging like mad and worked with the hitting coach to break down his mechanics. A small adjustment in his stance, a minor correction in his grip, and suddenly he was hitting game-winning home runs when his team needed them most. By looking at how he was doing things, he was able to improve the quality of what he did. God is my coach, and now he's helping me with all aspects of my game, including waiting for life to throw me the right pitch.

Accomplishments for 2005:
First, the wishy-washy, zen goal: I want to continue the process of change that I began last year, following it through to completion.

In one sense, I know that this process never ends, but I also believe that there are tangible milestones ahead in 2005. What will they be? No idea, but I am determined to be ready for anything, and open to all changes. On the other hand, I am also determined not to force any changes simply because I'm tired of waiting. I will live completely in the moment, grateful for each day and doing the best I can with the situation I have. I will live life like an owner, not a renter. By the end of this year, I want to look back and say, "I couldn't have given any more than I did, and here are the results."

And now, in order for my project managing nature to be satisfied, I must follow that squishy goal with a tangible one: I will complete my book by the end of the year and submit it to at least one agent and/or publisher.

I won't lock myself to any unrealistic deadlinese between now and then, because the one thing I have learned about writing is it takes as long as it takes. Just completing and submitting the book by year end will require enough effort, including spending at least an hour most nights writing. Any goals for first drafts and things like that will be blown away by the vagaries of my muse, so why antagonize her? Give her a year and be done, I say.

So there you go: a Wicked Smaht 2004 in review, complete with resolutions for the new year. I promise to come back next year and check up on how I did.

So now I've answered my own questions. What would your answers be?


Progress?

I got no writing done this weekend, but I made up for it by getting very little sleep, either.

I think the bloodshot-red really brings out the blue in my eyes.