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Days Gone By by Shawn Bilodeau

In petty steps, one per day
The world is changing, has gone away

Day on day, the years have fled
And the world has changed, as I have said

But the world has not changed alone
I too have changed, bone by bone

The boy I was is not with me,
He did not see what I now see

If he were here, for just a blink
He’d smile (I’d like to think)

And laugh, and with a nod
He’d still tread, the steps I’ve trod.
2012 in ReviewCollapse )
The following is our (normally) annual end-of-year newsletter. This year's newsletter actually reviews both 2010 and 2011, because I didn't write a review for 2011.

Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanza, Happy Winter Solstice, Happy New Year, Happy…how about if I just say "Happy Holidays!" so I don't miss anything nor disappoint anyone? So, Happy Holidays from the Macaione-Bilodeau household! It's hard to believe that it's less than a week until Christmas as I write this. While it's a bit chill outside, it's not the December chill I remember from my youth (lo, those many, many, many years ago) and there isn't even a hint of snow on the ground. I, for one, am hoping that doesn't change soon, nor in any great degree.

It's been two years since our last newsletter. I won't cover everything that's happened with us over the past two years, but I will try to hit the highlights. (Largely due to the fact that I'm getting older, and the memory isn't what it used to be. They say something about memory being the first something, but I forget what, exactly…)

Our grandson, Max, who was only a few months over one year old at the writing of the last newsletter is over three years old now, and is a wonder and a joy and very much an individual in his own right. He loves "Nomas" (Thomas the Tank Engine.) He loves being thrown up in the air and caught. He loves doing puzzles and playing with his toy trains and finding snails outside. He loves his trips to myGym. His favorite color is purple, and he thinks it's funny that Grampa has five or six favorite colors.

And on top of all that, Max is now a big brother. His new little brother, Ben (Benicio Victor Jacobson) was born just last month, November 7th. Given that Ben's birthday is 7/11, we figure that he's going to be lucky his entire life. Ben just adds another layer to all the reasons that we continue to spend so much of our free time out in Tarzana. Criss was fortunate enough to be able to make it out to California on the day he was born, and I was able to make it out there myself on Thanksgiving Day.

Criss is still very active in theater. To start off 2010, she was cast in STC's production of "The Mermaid of Edam," an original musical by local playwright Kit Goldstein. In late spring she played Mrs. Barrymore, the housekeeper, in Circle Theater Player's production of "The Hound of the Baskervilles". The production was very well received (more than one audience member was heard to say that it was the best show that CTP has done in several years.)

The late summer and early fall of 2010 were devoted to Classic Theater Guild's production of "The Giant Hoax." (another original musical written by Kit Goldstein) About the Cardiff Giant hoax of the 1860's, this wonderful show boasts memorable music and a very large cast. Criss directed the show and I was the assistant director. While we had a lot of fun with a great cast over the entire production run, I think the most fun we had was during the publicity shoot Criss arranged at the Farmer's Museum in Cooperstown, NY.

We spent most of a Friday in early September arranging cast members over, around, and near the actual Cardiff Giant while taking scads of photos of them in period costume. While we were officially the director and ass't director, Criss and I both wore many hats during this production. I was the photographer for the Farmer's Museum shoot, and built black-out flats for our performance space. (The show was performed in the Fenimore Gallery, upstairs at Proctor's, in Schenectady.) Criss designed and put together the playbill and helped with publicity. It was a very time consuming show, but well worth every minute, as we sold out every performance, and actually had to turn people away because of the gallery's limited space.

After a brief respite following "Hoax," Criss was back at work with STC for their 2011 production of "It's Raining Tamales." Not only was Criss cast in the show, but she also produced it. As is typical for STC shows, "Tamales" was originally scheduled to be just a spring show, but ended up adding several performances this past fall.

About the same time as "Tamales" went into production, Criss started having pain in her foot/ankle/leg. She ended up with the leg in her walking cast/boot for the rest of the spring and part of the summer, making it nearly impossible for her to perform in the show. It only took three doctors, a set of MRIs, several sets of X-Rays, and three months for them to finally figure out that her difficulty wasn't just due to her usual systemic issues, but was the result of a broken bone in her lower leg. There is a reason they still call it "practicing" medicine…tho' we keep hoping that one day they'll actually get it right.

Fortunately, the boot and broken leg didn't keep her from directing STC's summer camp production of "Pinocchio." The STC summer camp is open to children from 8-14 who want to learn all kinds of theater skills, not just acting, and Criss has been involved with it since its inception.

Recognizing her talent, skills, and dedication, Criss was elected to the Presidency of STC this past September. This has her even more involved with STC than she has been in the past. She even talked me into a board position for STC, by getting me to agree to take care of their website and Facebook page.

The most fun I've had recently with STC was the chance to work with Criss on STC's Hallowe'en Haunt. She was a marvelous wicked Gypsy, and I got to play the Evil Puppet Master (including writing my own lines -- "Would you like to join the puppet troupe? No strings attached…" *crazy cackle".)

The normalcy of doing theater (and who would ever think I'd say _that_?) contrasts with the rest of our lives. The biggest change we've been through in the past two years is related to my job. In April of 2010, after working for them for nearly 15 years, I was laid off from my job at Pitney Bowes Business Insight (formerly known as MapInfo.) The number crunchers at Pitney Bowes corporate headquarters had decided that even tho' we were making money at PBBI, we weren't making _enough_ money, so they laid off about 25% of the engineering staff, including me, to reduce their expenses.

Fortunately, my years of service at MapInfo/PBBI left me with a good severance package, as it wasn't easy for a 51 year old Build Engineer to find a new job. It'd been so long since I'd last had to hunt for a job that I'd nearly forgotten how to go about it. It'd been so long, in fact, that I had to pull the last copy of my resume off a floppy disk! (And it's a wonder I still had access to a computer with a working floppy drive.) My interview skills were rusty, as well, and it took a few interviews before I felt like I was actually coming across properly.

But, by the first week of December, I was back at work at a local gaming software company, Vicarious Visions, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Activision Blizzard Inc., doing builds of "Guitar Hero." You may know the parent company, as they also publish a couple of games that you may have heard of: "Call of Duty" and "World of Warcraft." Now, this is where the job hunt story gets odd…

Exactly eight weeks after I started working at Vicarious Visions, the entire staff was called into a meeting. The parent company had decided that there wasn't a future for new releases of Guitar Hero, and that VV needed to be restructured. "Restructured" was corporate speak for laying off over 30% of the staff of VV, including their newest build engineer, me. So, after a brief respite, I was back job hunting again. This time around was easier in a sense, tho', with the previous year's experiences still fresh in my mind. I got not just one, but two jobs offers by the beginning of July.

Unfortunately, neither of them were in Albany. The first (by about a week) was from Neversoft Studios in Chicago, for their Senior Tools Engineer position. Neversoft is another gaming company (a subsidiary of Warner Brothers, where Lara works, via Warner Games.) Their main product is "Mortal Kombat." The job sounded extremely interesting, but would have left me living in Chicago and only being able to get back to Albany and Criss about once a month.

The second offer was from TripAdvisor Media Group, the company that produces the tripadvisor.com website. (If you haven't heard of the website, I can highly recommend it. It's a great place to get real reviews, and real photos, of hotels, B&Bs, vacation rentals, restaurants, and things to do all over the world, as well as serving as a portal for booking flights and hotels once you've finished with the reviews and forums.) TA is based in Newton, Massachusetts, about 10 miles west of Boston. I accepted their offer.

So, now I'm the Senior Build Engineer for TripAdvisor, and I have an apartment in Newton. I drive out to my job early Monday morning, and drive back to my home in Albany on Friday afternoon, staying in the apartment Monday through Thursday evenings. It makes for a very odd lifestyle, but leaves me very, very, very happy to be back in Albany with Criss every weekend. I'm enjoying the job a lot, and learning a tremendous amount about building, maintaining, and administering a website (not to mention Linux, Perl, Python, bash shell scripts, and numerous other topics.) And I've gotten very, very good at navigating Boston Friday afternoon rush hour traffic. (Having driven in both, I can honestly say that Boston traffic is much worse than LA traffic. LA traffic is bad, but Boston traffic has a deliberately crazy feel that LA lacks.)

Besides the oddity of my new job, 2011 also brought a couple of big milestones for Criss and I. We celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary this year, in September. We celebrated it by attending the marriage of Michelle Kodweis (Michelle is one of Criss' sister Toni's granddaughters) to Christopher Rodd in California's wine country, followed by a few days in San Francisco. We hope that Michelle and Christopher have the same happiness together as we have been fortunate enough to find. We had a good time at the wedding, seeing a lot of family there that we hadn't seen in awhile, and then had a good time in SF, as well.

One of the highlights of our time in SF was our first ever visit to the Exploratorium. Housed in the Palace of Fine Arts, the former heart of the 1915 Panama-Pacific International Exhibition, the Exploratorium is not only beautiful to see from the outside, but one of the most entertaining, exciting, and just plain fun places to spend time that we've ever visited. If you like interactive exhibits, and hands-on learning, then you have to visit the Exploratorium. Every exhibit gives you something to do, as well as something to learn. We spent most of an entire day there, and barely scratched the surface. And new exhibits are rotated in on a regular basis.

The other milestone that 2011 brought us was Criss' 65th birthday. It's hard to believe that my beautiful bride is now 65, but it's true. She's now officially a senior citizen. Not that she's letting that slow her down at all. She's just as busy as ever (if not busier, being STC's President on top of still being a standardized patient at Albany Medical College, and Freddie's nanny, and Max and Ben's Nana, and estate saling, and… I could go on, and frequently do, but this time I'll spare you all my babbling.)

Well, that's about it for this newsletter. I'm sure there's lots I've missed or forgotten, but I think I've managed to share some of the highlights with you, our friends and family. May your holidays be wonderful, and may your 2012 be full of delightful new memories for you and yours.


Criss and Shawn
"Eating Memories" by Patricia Anthony is an anthology, a collection of 28 short (some very short) science fiction (for the most part) stories. They cover a very broad gamut of themes and ideas, from the discovery of life on Mars, to the dangers of past-life regression therapy, to genetic manipulation, to the life of an alien among men, to the life of a man among ants, and on, and on.

Each of these stories is finely crafted, lovingly polished, well written. And nearly every one of these stories is incredibly depressing. Ms. Anthony seems to be in love with dystopias, with the inevitable triumph of death and chaos, over life and order, with all the possible things that could go wrong every time those with differences meet.

On the plus side, the stories do tend to make you think. On the negative side, mostly what they make you think is just how bleak that view of life must be.

So, if you like dark, twisted, idea-driven, very well constructed stories, then you'll be likely to enjoy the stories in "Eating Memories." If you like the occasional ray of sunshine in your SF, then I can't really recommend the book.
"Darkly Dreaming Dexter" is the novel upon which the first season of the Showtime series "Dexter" was based. If you aren't familiar with the premise of either the book, or the series, it's very simply stated. Dexter is a serial killer who only kills serial killers.

This might seem like an original idea to you but it isn't, I assure you. For a more elegant (and much more succinct) exploration of the predator's predator, I'll direct you to Roger Zelazny's short story "Dayblook", as just one prior example of the genre. What "Darkly Dreaming Dexter" does, and does so very well, is to make you really like this serial killer, this well-dressed wolf in polite sheep-people clothing.

The story, set in sun-soaked Miami, introduces us to its title character just as a series of brutal murders draws his attention. And why do they draw his attention? Because they bear a remarkable resemblance to his own, well-hidden, activities...

The prose is generally clean, tho' occasionally the author indulges in, well, let's call it "purple" phrases. The characters are interesting, including Dexter himself, whose motivations and behavior aren't exactly what I'm used to expecting from a protagonist. The plentiful atrocities are mitigated by regular leavenings of dark humor.

I enjoyed the book, but not as much, I think, as I'd have enjoyed it if I'd read it before I'd watched the first three seasons of the series, which differs in some details, large and small, from the book.

This is a well-done first novel, and overall, I'd recommend the book as worth reading.
"Killing Floor" is the first of the Jack Reacher novels by Lee Child (in truth, it's also his debut novel.)

Jack (NMN) Reacher is in Margrave, Georgia. He's a drifter, more through choice than necessity. An Army brat grown up into an ex-soldier, ex-Major, ex-Military Police, he's been very much rootless since birth. He's more comfortable moving from place to place than settling down. He'd like to continue drifting, but having just been arrested for a murder he didn't commit, he's finding that a bit difficult...

That (NMN) above means "No Middle Name," as we discover while we learn more about his past, and how his past has brought him to Margrave. And it's that past that ties him to Margrave in ways he doesn't even suspect. The story that unfolds as he puts his police experience to discover not just who commited the murder, but who it was that was murdered and how it will change his life is told in spare, well paced prose.

This is a clean, lean novel. It reads quickly, without feeling rushed, and it holds your attention. The characters are well-drawn, without being over-detailed. Reacher reminds me of a modern Travis McGee, a little less macho, a little less self-loathing, but still someone who's trying to do the right thing in a world that he knows has more than a little darkness.

A very good novel by any measure, this is a gem of a first novel. Highly recommended.

[And just for a little bit of a giggle, I've been told that 6'6" 240+ lbs Jack Reacher is going to be played by Tom Cruise in an upcoming Reacher movie. Which says everything you ever need to know about Hollywood, celebrity, and the influence of money.]
It's been quite awhile since I last read a King novel. I'd read all seven of his Dark Tower novels the summer the last one came out in hardback, and had been left feeling a little burnt out and a little betrayed by it all. [If you haven't read the whole series, I don't want to spoil it for you - you may like it - and if you _have_ read the whole series you probably already know what I'm talking about.] So, I wasn't quite sure what I would think of "Duma Key."

Let's get the bad news out of the way first: I liked it. A lot. "Bad news?" you ask, "but you liked it!" Yeah, bad news. It means I'm going to be reading more King again, hoping for more like this and less like "Pet Sematary" and the Dark Tower series. ["Pet Sematary" is the only book I have ever thrown across the room because of its ending. I was tempted to do the same thing with the Dark Tower books, but it's a lot harder to chuck 10,000+ pages in hardback across the room than it is to heave five or six hundred pages of paperback.]

"Duma Key" is the story of construction tycoon Edgar Freemantle, and what happens to him after he nearly dies in an on-site accident. It follows him from his no-longer-home in Minnesota to the island of Duma Key, off the west coast of Florida, and then into much, much darker places. The kind of places that only Stephen King can paint quite so vividly.

The book is an exploration of life after personal disaster, of whether you're still you after brain damage, of the healing powers of art, and of the dangerous well from which creativity springs.

If parts of the story sound a little _too_ real (successful millionaire, terrible accident, struggle for recovery through art,) well, art has always imitated life. There are many writers who have used their own personal tragedies as the pigments for their art, but there are only a few who've been able to do it as successfully as King has in "Duma Key."

If I haven't made it clear, I recommend this book. Enjoy!
I've been doing book reviews on my Facebook page for a couple of years now, generally in lumps of a dozen or so at a time. People seem to like them, but I've grown to find them too darn restrictive. How can I tell you honestly what I think about a book in the 140 or characters they give you? [No, I don't have a Twitter account, why do you ask?]

So, I'm going to try something new. I'm going to write the review here and post a link to the review on FB. Let me know if the reviews get too long, all right? Next post will be the first of the reviews.
Draft Christmas newsletter written for 2009, containing a review of both 2008 and 2009, since I never wrote a newsletter for 2008. The actual newsletter sent out has been drastically edited to reduce the length to about a third of this.

2008 and 2009 In ReviewCollapse )
So happy to wave good-bye to 2007. It wasn't a good year. It wasn't a good year that went out with a bang.

Well, more of a "crunch" or a "grind", to be honest...

Heavy snowfall on Sunday, and a slow start to Monday left me out cleaning my car off to go to work in the early afternoon. Criss, who'd taken Paddy Cat into the vet hospital earlier that morning, had parked her car directly in back of mine in the driveway. Not paying as much attention as I should have been while moving Criss' car so I could leave in mine, I managed to crunkle both cars.

Crunkle. That's a portmanteau, born from "crunch" and "wrinkle." I managed to back the CR-V just right so that I snapped the driver's side view mirror off the Accord while managing to shatter the bottom of the CR-V's driver's-side taillight. *sigh*

I am so happy 2007 is over.

Did have a good time at Steve and Margaret's party last night, which has become something of a New Year's Eve tradition for us the past few years. Enjoyed spending time with Keith and Mary, and Rich and Denice, and of course Steve and Margaret (tho' it wasn't as much time as we'd've liked with Steve and Margaret, they being the hosts and having other guests to deal with.)

But, as nice as that was, I'm still so happy 2007 is over. Here's to a much better 2008.

Happy New Year, everyone!