Archive for the ‘Entertainment’ Category

Earlier this year, I took a Masterclass – Steve Martin teaches comedy. It’s a series of 24 lessons, each one between 10 and 15 minutes, about how to become a better comedian. It also has a workbook for you to follow along and do the exercises. I finished the classes in about 4 1/2 weeks, but I never really did the exercises (I’m a bad student, I know). Still, I retained a bunch of the knowledge.

I am not a funny person. Occasionally I will say funny things and people will laugh, but I don’t have the knack for making people laugh. Usually, it’s by accident or because I’ve copied it from someone else.

I don’t have any intention of becoming a comedian, but I thought I could work it into my performances – either when I do magic, or when I give talks/presentations at conferences.

I’ve known that I’m an average performer when it comes to magic; I can hold people’s attention for one trick and perhaps two, but I can’t carry an entire performance on my own. I’m at my best when I do a single trick by itself, and work it in that way. I don’t think people would pay to see me they way they would pay to see a professional comedian.

But that’s okay, I have no desire to be a famous comedian. I just want to be a better performer. I’ve taken some classes on it before, and this would help boost my skills. While I’m not the best performer around, I know I’m better than most of the speakers at conferences I go to.

There’s a few things that stuck with me from the Steve Martin comedy class, but the one that does the most is this – Use Everything. That is, if you look at opera performances they have lighting, and music, and costume, and staging… the whole nine yards. Comedy shows usually don’t. Therefore, as a comedian you should use everything you possibly can. Steve Martin used to use physical comedy in his routines (doing goofy things and making funny faces) and would also incorporate music.

The takeaway I got from that is to use everything I have when I do magic shows and talks at conferences. Or rather, when I give talks at conferences, use everything I have. I had already been doing this (open body position, arm motions, animations, and magic tricks), but now I do them on purpose. In order for me to give a good show, I should be using everything I can possibly use – music, magic, body language, facial expressions, funny voices, etc. So while I may not be able to say funny jokes, I can do funny things that are unique to me. I already have a reputation as someone who moves around a lot on stage, and does a lot of motion.

Looking back on my previous magic performances, I can see I didn’t necessarily do this. I have some magic tricks that are entertaining and can hold a crowd. But a lot of tricks are just… tricks. I am not differentiating them. That makes me a decent magician but not a great performer, only an average one.

So here’s my tip to the performers out there – use everything you have. It’ll make you a better performer.

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About a year and a half ago, we got Esmerelda, the younger cat in the household. When she first arrived, she was super needy. She kept crawling into my lap while I was eating, she kept shoving her face under my hand at night, and she meowed around the house when she wanted attention.

Well, that didn’t last.

Nowadays, she doesn’t need attention at all. In fact, she requires so little attention, I’ve nicknamed her “The Hermit” because she mostly stays in an upstairs bedroom and lazes around under a chair. She only occasionally comes out for attention, and that’s late at night (and maybe in the morning while we are eating breakfast). Otherwise, she pretty much hangs out there and we don’t see her unless we go in there to bug her. Contrast that to Ruby who almost always has to be in our vicinity, and there’s a strong contrast between the two cats.

Of course, it’s not always that Zelda doesn’t want attention. Once in a while, she will jump onto my lap and stay with me. Usually it’s for less than five minutes, but in a blue moon she’ll stay for about 40 minutes. In addition, roughly 2 days out of 7, I’ll wake up in the morning and she’ll be sleeping on our bed.

Finally, late at night, she’s figured out that when the wife comes home, she starts meowing loud, as if to say “Let’s play with the stick under the blanket!” She has figured out that I’ll play with her at this game after the wife comes home. She starts to meow at roughly 9:50 pm.

So, she still likes attention some of the time. The below pictures are four separate occasions.


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Remember that episode on the Simpsons when Homer went to clown college?

It all started when the first day of the month, Homer declared it was new billboard day! He sees ads that he found desirable (such as for food), but then saw one for Clown College. He says in disgust “Clown College? You can’t eat that.” He then drives off, determined to ignore the billboard.

Yet he can’t get it out of his head. In everyday situations, Homer images himself at Clown College, taking the classes to become a clown:


Even when eating dinner with his family, he images them not as table mates, but as clowns:



Finally, he gets up from the table and declares – seeming out of no where to the rest of his family – “You people have held me back long enough! I’m going to Clown College!” He then gets up and leaves the table.

I bring this up because over the past few months, I’ve been getting more interested in politics. I’m not sure what the catalyst is for this upsurge in interest [1], but here we are. I try to stay away from editorials, and instead I’ve done a few things:

a) I started subscribing to the Council of Foreign Relations (CFR) daily newsletter, and I browse through the articles. The CFR is mostly non-partisan and provides a roundup of news from around the world. I even play to join the CFR if I can get a few members to recommend me (Note: I currently know nobody on the CFR).

b) I subscribed to Foreign Affairs, a newsletter and website that discusses foreign policy as it affects the United States. They are articles written by industry people with a lot of expertise. It cost $40 to sign up, and I read it most days

c) I listen to the podcast The President’s Inbox. This is put on by Foreign Affairs, and every 2-4 weeks they have a new episode of issues facing the President of the United States. One episode was on North Korea, another on jobs training, another on the impact of the US withdrawing from the Paris Agreement on Climate Change, and so forth. The President’s Inbox is also non-partisan.

d) I clicked on an ad from Norwich (online) University about getting a master’s degree in diplomacy, or perhaps in international relations. I had no interest in this until a couple of weeks ago, and I’ve been poking through it. I thought to myself “Hmm, it could be interesting to be a diplomat.” This is especially true when I saw that you could specialize in cyber diplomacy. I’m like “Well, I like geo-politics, and I’m skilled with cyber-space, and now they’ve merged these two together and created a course about it?” There’s a big need worldwide for cyber diplomacy because cyber security is such a difficult topic, and there aren’t that many people in general with the necessary skills. There’s even fewer who would want to do government work.

The drawback of this is that while the course can be completed in 18 months, and is done on your own time and is online, for me to go into diplomacy would be a pay-cut, probably 25-40% (I don’t know why the software industry pays me so well, but they do). And that’s for a mid-career level diplomat, not someone who starts from the bottom which I would probably have to do. Another drawback is that the tuition for those 18 months is $30,000. That’s a lot to shell out. While I could afford it, it would be a big investment for a repayment that is less than what I get now. And getting the wife to sign off on it is another big challenge.

So, it’s (d) that keeps sticking in my head. I’m like “A masters in diplomacy? How is that going to help me? This advertisement has no effect on me whatsoever!”

I just hope I don’t make an outburst like Homer Simpson during a meeting at work one day.

[1] Just kidding. It’s the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States.

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When at the office using Microsoft Outlook, when you are going to be away for a while, there’s a neat feature you can do to let others know that you are going to be gone.

First, you set up a meeting request and invite people to it but you have to do three things:

1. Make sure you uncheck the response options (that is, make sure “Request Responses” and “Allow New Time Proposals” are deselected).

Those are useful when sending a normal meeting request so you can know whose coming, and if they can’t come they can propose a new time for the meeting. But, they are not useful when you are sending a notice that you will be out of the office.

2. Next, make sure that the time shows up as “Free” because since you’ll be adding it to people’s calendars, you don’t want their time blocked

3. Finally, make sure that there is no reminder. You don’t need to annoy people that you’re going to be on vacation


You then send it to your coworkers so that your out-of-office shows up on their calendars.


Second, you create a second appointment (not a meeting) that overlaps with the one from above, but make sure that the time shows up as Busy:


You don’t invite anyone to this, and then save it. Whenever anyone tries to look at your calendar to schedule a meeting, they’ll see the time is not available. This lets others know that that time slot is blocked, and it’s also color coded.

That’s how you let others know you’ll be away.


But what other people do is treat their vacation meeting notices like regular meetings. They’ll send one meeting per the first one above where the time shows up as free, but they allow responses, and also let you propose a new time.

So, every time someone sends me a meeting request that refers to their vacation, I decline it and propose a new time, usually a week or two later. I edit the response before sending, saying “Proposing a new time for your vacation.”

The first time I do this to someone, they universally react with confusion. They say “Did you just decline my vacation and say a new time would be better?”

I say “Yes. Yes I did.”

The confusion gives way to amusement. Everyone always laughs.

And now you know why I send two meeting requests. The one I send to others prevents others from doing the same thing to me (declining and proposing a new time) that I do to them. I suppress the “Decline and propose a new time” option.

A couple of co-workers have learned that I always do that, and changed their behavior.

I consider that a personal victory.

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We discovered over the past couple of weeks that we have a paper shredder in the house.


This cat sure doesn’t like pieces of paper randomly laying around. She sits on them, chews up the paper, and spits it out.

This was a pamphlet for a cruise (my in-laws get them all the time). I guess the cat is not a fan.

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This past year, the wife and I were in Salzburg, Austria, for a couple of days. We went there while we were making our way through Germany.

One thing I learned while we were there was the historical background of the Christmas carol “Silent Night.” You know the words, it’s that Christmas carol that romanticizes the night of Jesus’ birth.

Silent Night was composed in 1818 by Franz Gruber, in a small town 11 miles north of Salzburg, although the lyrics were written in 1816. That’s a critical year in Austrian history for two reasons:

  1. First, the Napoleonic Wars had completed raging through Europe only the year before, ending in 1815.

    Napoleon had marched through Europe multiple times, and Salzburg had switched sides four times between competing armies. Each time it did, the invading army ransacked parts of it, and deported many national treasures out of the city. Relics were taken back to other cities like Paris and Munich. It is only recently over the past 50 years the Austrian government had been able to recollect some of them and put them on display.

    No doubt about it, Salzburg took a pounding during those wars. When your city gets beaten up as much as Salzburg, it can demoralize the residents.

  2. Second, environmental pressures yielded a bad set of crops that year.

    1816 is known as
    the Year Without a Summer because of severe climate abnormalities that caused average global temperatures to decrease by 0.4–0.7 °C (0.7–1.3 °F). This resulted in major food shortages across the Northern Hemisphere.

    The root cause was a volcanic eruption of Mt Tambora in the Dutch East Indies. The resultant cool temperatures and heavy rains caused failures of wheat, oats, and potato harvests all around Europe. This led to food shortages and famines, and the BBC estimates that it led to 200,000 deaths in Europe.

So it’s these two factors combined – a ransacked city and famine around the land – that is the background for the song.

You might think a carol would be composed that reflects the turmoil of the time, and it does… but you have to look really hard. Rather than decrying the circumstances of the time period, Silent Night says “Yes, I know that things are tough, but we can be calm. Look at the miracle that has occurred! Even in the midst of all this turmoil.”

So, the carol’s lyrics are repudiation of the bleakness of the time.

When I first heard that story, I thought “Man, why did I never notice it before?” I didn’t have the song memorized, not past the first verse anyway. But when I looked them up, even then it doesn’t jump out at you. I’ve reproduced them below along with color-coding what can be a repudiation of the despair. Obviously, most of the song will have some theological significance, but other parts have clues:

Silent night, holy night,
All is calm, all is bright
Round yon virgin mother and child.
Holy infant, so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night, holy night,
Shepherds quake at the sight;
Glories stream from heaven afar,
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia!
Christ the Savior is born,
Christ the Savior is born!

Silent night, holy night,
Son of God, love’s pure light;
Radiant beams from thy holy face
With the dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth,
Jesus, Lord, at thy birth.

A “silent night” where a child “sleeps in heavenly peace” seems paradoxical if your city has no resources and no food. But I think that’s the point of the song.

If you read up on Silent Night on Wikipedia, you won’t read anything like what I just told you.

And now you know.

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(I’m currently writing this three weeks after the fact)

I recently turned 38 years old.

I know that some people lament getting older, and of course, no one likes it because your body starts getting aches and pains; there’s a cult-of-youth in our society; and it means you are one year closer to death.

But, it also means you are still alive, your mind got a little more mature, you got to experience a bunch of new things (hopefully), and you (hopefully) became a little wiser. It’s actually not all that bad.

For my birthday, the wife and I went out to an estate sale. That’s something we started doing this past year, and we’ve picked up a few things like little paintings, a chair, and a bookshelf. The prices are competitive if you go late in the day towards the end of the sale.

We didn’t get anything that day, but we did see these interesting carvings:


That may be difficult to see, but they are small carvings of dragons. I might have bought them and given them to a friend… if they weren’t going for $400.


Later on that day, the wife and I headed down into Seattle to Café Turko, a Turkish restaurant located in Seattle’s Fremont neighborhood.

We discovered this place after returning for Turkey. We were like “Are there any Turkish restaurants in the city?” And there were! We’ve only checked out this one, but we liked it a lot.

The wife asked me where I wanted to go out to eat for my birthday, and there were a few places that ran through my mind. But in the end, I went with Café Turko.

Before the meal, we got appetizers – Rainbow Hummus. This is where they give you warm pita bread (I love warm pita bread) with four different types of hummus: regular, beet hummus, olive hummus, and sweet potato hummus. It is super-good, I can’t recommend it enough.

Then we ordered the main course. I can’t remember what I got, or what the wife got, but it was also good.

What I like about this place is that the food is not overly covered in sauce, but instead the meat, rice, and salad are flavored with spices.


Finally, for dessert, we had Turkish coffee. If you haven’t had it before, it’s super strong coffee. My mother once likened it to putting a spoon in it, and the spoon standing straight up. We have ours with cardamom; and while it is strong, I like it. It’s not a large cup of it, just a little shot glass-sized cup (I guess this is one of the few times I buy coffee, but in my defense it’s Turkish coffee which is something I would never brew at home).

We went to Café Turko somewhat early in the evening (getting there at 4:30 pm) so we got out of there reasonably early. I can’t remember what we did after that, we may have come home and watched a movie, or perhaps went out to see a movie.

One of those two things.

But as you can see, my birthday was pretty low key. But I like low-key things. It’s not a lot of pressure, and you can take things as they happen.

So, a pretty good 38th birthday.

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