10 Years Ago

10 years ago, I was waking up for an ordinary day. I’m an early riser. My typical day at this point is to wake up around 5:30a.m., turn on the TV to KRON, and listen to their early morning news while I slowly wake up in the other room checking my e-mail and surfing the web.

On September 11, 2001, I woke up a little later than normal. I turned on the TV, saw the comforting face of Matt Lauer and continued on to my office and stopped short in my tracks. Why was Matt Lauer live at 5:50am PT?

I went back to the living room, sat down, and proceeded to not leave that spot except to grab my laptop or go to the bathroom for a couple days.

I remember an e-mail later that morning from someone at Yahoo management that basically said “we’ve got no idea if Silicon Valley is any sort of target”, and they knew some people would be coming into the office and some people wouldn’t and basically if you wanted to stay home that’s fine, and if you wanted to work from home, that’d be great, but it was really like this crazily worded hall pass… We realize you’re not going to get shit done for the next day or two at least, but if you can tear yourself away from the news, there’s still a bunch of stuff that needs to get done around the company.

I remember getting out my rifle and ammo from the back of the closet, and not necessarily “camping out” with them, but they were moved to a location that’d be a whole lot easier to access if there was a whole “get out now!” situation going on. Because, quite simply, nobody knew what was coming next. Was this it? Or was this all the distraction, Act One in some sort of ugly three act play.

In hindsight, of course, why on earth would Silicon Valley be a target? I think it was just an excuse we all made for ourselves so that people could sit at home and stay with their families.

I remember some concern about the location of my cousin, who thankfully got out of the area just fine. I can’t remember now if she worked in WTC, or just nearby, or even if it was just the somewhat irrational fear that she might’ve somehow been nearby by accident. It all blurs together.  As a New Yorker, I consider myself strangely blessed that I didn’t actually know anyone personally that was lost that day (or at least, to this day, I’m not aware of anyone from my past that was working there that day). It seems that everyone I talk to knows someone, or in a couple cases, know dozens of people, that were there that day. So in some way, I’ll never really fully understand the pain and horror of the day.

I remember days later, that my proudest moment ever working at Yahoo was the night that there was a celebrity telethon for the first-responders and their families. Every network was airing it, and they were taking donations both over the phone and online. Every dot-com put aside their rivalries and came together to “find” servers we could spare throughout our organizations to turn them into donation-servers, as we all shared the workload of processing all those donations. As the telethon happened, competitive advantage was largely ignored. If CompanyX saw a way that CompanyY’s servers could perform a little better, and handle a few more donations, that information was shared freely between them. As server farms ran out of capacity, I remember top-level management at Yahoo talking to product managers from properties like Books, or Movies, or whatever, and saying “Can we steal some of your servers?” and the answer always being “yes”, and those servers being quickly rebuilt and repurposed to join the donation farm. It was, as far as I’m concerned, one of the Finest Hours for a dot-com era more famous for decadence and hypervaluations.

I remember when air travel resumed, I had tickets to a Megadeth concert in San Francisco, and the band was going to be able to get back into the states in time to make the gig come off as scheduled. I had this whole huge argument with myself, weighing the fact that this didn’t yet feel to me like the time to go to a concert and “have fun”, and yet if I didn’t, wasn’t I letting those bastards win? I was afraid I would feel “disrespectful” of the circumstances if I went, and instead I chose just to stay home. I couldn’t yet bring myself to just be randomly social.

9/11 would have lasting effects on my politics, I think though. For some people – ignorant people – it became about the vilification of the “other”. Brown skinned people who believed in some other form of god did this to us, and those folks had to pay, and that mindset definitely began to permeate some of the mainstream politics of the day, even if those espousing it might not actually admit it in public. For me, though, it became a focal point for change in our society that forced me to really examine things. Before that date, I was interested in politics, but I viewed it as largely a pendulum swinging back and forth from left to right and my goal was simply to try and keep dragging it towards the center. In the years that followed, the things our government did in response to the attacks really clarified for me my libertarianism far more than any Ayn Rand novel ever could have hoped to. What had always previously been this nebulous, soft, “I’m a centrist” mentality was really refined into my libertarian beliefs of today.

I think everyone who lived through that day is changed in some fashion. For some people, the change was a horrific one that the rest of us will never really fully comprehend, as they lost loved ones, or a friend, or even dozens of friends. I count myself lucky that the change it evoked in me is simply one of political clarity.

But the main thing is – as trite and jingoistic as it sounds – that we don’t ever allow ourselves to forget not just what happened, but also how we all responded – both good and bad – in the days, weeks, and months that followed. That is the true legacy of 9/11.

Awesome Customer Service

For as often as I slag companies on bad customer service, I want to give props where it is due.
I was visiting a data-center out here in Salt Lake City this week, and I noticed that Ogio, the company who makes my laptop case, was located directly behind them in the industrial park.
Now, this laptop case is phenomenal. I love its configuration, the pockets it has and where it has them, pretty much every damned thing about it. EXCEPT the strap that it came with. The shoulder strap has these clasps (for connecting to the bag) that are horrific. They’re essentially a pincer, with a grip on one side that, if you move it, “un-pinches” and releases the bag. Or, alternatively, if you’ve got a lot of stuff in your bag, the sheer weight of it can pull downward enough to force the pincers to move up-and-away against their springs, releasing the bag.
And any design which can “accidentally release your laptop bag with its laptop still inside when you least expect it” is horrible.
After it happened a couple times (specifically the time in Israel that left a massive dent in my MacBook Pro …. still a little annoyed by that, btw…), I ditched the shoulder strap, and just started hand-carrying my laptop everywhere – on my commute, on planes, across Europe, etc., etc… and I hated it. I tried other straps we had for different bags in the house, but they weren’t the right length, or width, or whatever, and it just didn’t work. I did some research, bought a NEW laptop case from a different manufacturer, and after a couple weeks, went right back to hand-carrying my laptop case around by the handle.
So I dropped by the Ogio corporate offices, to see if I could talk to a designer about the defect-in-design. I was told that the designers were all in a meeting for the day, but if I came back in a little bit, the woman in charge of warranty replacements would be back from lunch. So I came back. And as I explained the problem to the receptionist, who then relayed it back to the warranty-person, she immediately understood the problem and came up front with a replacement strap which had a different design for the clasps. She indicated that they were aware that there were problems with the old design, and this was the new design going forward.
And life was good.
The new strap works great, doesn’t suffer from the problems the old one did, and allowed me to immediately start using my messenger-bag-laptop-case as a messenger bag again.
Thanks Ogio! You guys rock!

What Happened To “Snow”?

It has just been a fuck-awful winter this year. I think we’ve had more sleet or freezing rain this season than we have actual snow by a factor of like two or something. It has definitely been non-conducive to commuting, which is kind of a pain in the ass. I mean, I feel lucky that my job it is at least possible to work from home, even it can sometimes annoy people when it has to happen unexpectedly. I can’t imagine the level of “suck” for those people who looked outside today at their frozen cars, looked at the weather forecast of “when you’re coming home it’ll be far far worse than it is now and you’ll be stuck out on the road so you’ll have to deal with it,” and have no alternative but to suck it up and risk life and limb to go get their paycheck.
Note To Mother Nature: I’m officially over “ice”, please just send “snow” from now on. If you insist on ignoring me, I’m going to buy a fuckton of illicit CFCs and release them into the atmosphere so as to speed up this “global warming” thing. You have been warned! 🙂

Crazy Dreams

This week while I was at LISA, I had one of the craziest dreams I’ve ever had.
I’m in someone’s small kitchen, sitting at one of those teeny-tiny bar-style tables next to Obama. We’re just hanging out, drinking beer, etc. One of my friends come by and makes some sort of joke at my expense (can’t remember what) but after he walks away, Obama looks at me and goes, “pffft, what a dick!”, and I nod.
We get talking and he eventually tells me “You should come work for me,” to which I tell him “I’ve got such a debt-load there’s no way I could live on government pay.” He nods slowly and says, “yeah, I hear that a lot….”
At the end of the dream, I tell him “D and I, and you and Michelle and the kids should get together for dinner some time soon, before it gets too hectic for you” and he agrees.
So, no idea what THAT means but it was definitely amusing to recount it a couple times this week. 🙂

Film Night At Tanglewood

Last night, as a “mutual gift-giving event”, my parents treated D and I (for my birthday), and I treated my parents (for their anniversary), to Tanglewood‘s 10th annual Film Night At Tanglewood, conducted by the master of motion picture scoring himself, John Williams.
Unexpected was that after performing “Anything Goes”, whose vocals were provided in Temple of Doom by Kate Capshaw, Mr. Williams invited Kate Capshaw herself up onto the stage to take a bow. Once that reveal was done, however, Mr. Williams wasted no time in introducing someone who would be an obvious person to join her on stage, her husband and Mr. Williams’ many-times-employer, Steven Spielberg.
Spielberg proceeded to stay on stage, seated to Williams’ left, and introduced every piece of the remainder of the evening, which concentrated on the Indiana Jones movies, with an encore of music from E.T. thrown in at the end.
Near the end of the night, my “hunch” played out. I couldn’t picture that Spielberg would be here in the Berkshires talking up Indiana Jones and Kingdom Of The Crystal Skull, and that Karen Allen – who returned to the Indy saga in that film to much fanboy rejoicing – wouldn’t make the really short trek down to Lenox. And I was right, as they brought her out on-stage as well to tons of cheering.
I feel like I’ve been neglecting something these past few years. I’ve always been a huge fan of Williams’ work, and I had no idea that this was an annual thing that happened each year, only an hour away. I’ve always been thinking to myself “I’d really love to some day make it out to LA for one of Williams’ Hollywood Bowl summer performances of film music,” and in reality, I can go see that right in my backyard so to speak.
We all had a great time, and I can’t wait for next year now. This is totally going to be an annual event for me.

Drink Lots Of Water

I had a rather interesting experience this week. Sunday night (Monday morning) as I was returning from Yankee Stadium (having had the dubious privilege of attending the only ALDS game we won), I stopped at a nameless diner at 2am to grab some grub. It was not one of the normal diners I eat at, and it was clearly a run-down place, but I was starving, and it was late, and my options were extremely limited.
When I woke up Monday morning, I felt like crap. After a couple hours of fighting my own body’s urges to do things it seemed incapable of doing, I recognized the tell-tale signs of food-poisoning. I’d gotten a really bad case of food poisoning a couple months ago (where I ended up in the ER… an IV drip of fluid, pain-killer, and antacid later, I was good as new). Seeing that the “pain level” on this was heading to exactly the same level as the last trip, I drove myself to the Emergency Room.
D was out of town. She was down in Pennsylvania enjoying a nice “girls’ weekend” with some of her sisters. I knew that a food-poisoning issue would be “done and over” before she even got half-way home, so there was no point in calling her and ruining her weekend.
As I was going through the motions with the ER doc, she’s doing the usual poking and prodding… “Does it hurt here?” “What if I do this?” etc. She asks when I ate last. I tell her the Diner story. She seems unconvinced.
“Your pain seems like it’s in the wrong spot, I’d like to order a CT to rule out appendicitis.”
… and then, like all docs in a busy ER, she just wanders away leaving me with lots of questions, not the least of which is, “Hey, what are the odds it’s an appendicitis?”
I consult with the ER Nurse, explaining the “D situation”, how she’s four hours away, and I don’t want to bug her for food-poisoning but if they’re gonna slice me open to fish out an organ that’s about to explode poison all over my abdomen, then maybe that might warrant an advance phone-call. The ER nurse convinces me to let D relax for a while, and wait for the CT and the results of it, before we do that. And then she hands me a Big-Gulp sized cup of some crazy semi-radioactive Gatorade they want me to finish before they can do the CT.
While sitting there sipping my Big-Nuke, I decide to call my parents. I figure if I’m in a hospital, freakin’ someone should know I’m there… they decide to come down to the hospital. While waiting for them, they take me away, and do my CT scan.
The CT technician was kind of amusing. Lots of good advice, “You’re going to feel like you’re urinating… you’re not… it’s just your body working overtime trying to sort out what is going on between the stuff we’ve put in you and the MRI itself… just relax”.
After my parents arrive, the doc comes back and says “You don’t have appendicitis. You’ve got… a kidney stone.”
Wait, what? A kidney stone, at my age? That’s gonna hurt like fuck, man…
“Can’t we make it an appendicitis?” I ask the doc, but she is unwilling or unable to magically make my ailment be something that I’ll be blissfully sedated for the resolution of.
“It’s very small,” she says in response, but aren’t they all, really? The issue is just that the hole they have to evacuate through is small as well.
I’m sent home with a referral to my primary doc and a urologist, as well as a 190µ mesh sieve that I’m supposed to strain my piss through, hoping to catch pieces of the stone as it passes, to bring to my urologist for “analysis”. I read the instructions which are basically “pee into a glass or jar, and then strain the results through that mesh”. Oh, and one other take-home that will be very useful, I begin to suspect: a prescription for Percocet.
Egads, this is gonna be a long week.
I call into work, and play the “I’m going to be working from home the next couple days….” and tell a couple people why. They’re very supportive. Nobody wants me to commute an hour each way where one of those ways might have to be doped up on Percocet. And I seriously doubt anyone wants me straining my piss on-campus. That’s just gross.
I make my follow-up appointments with the doctors. Tuesday with my PCP, and Thursday with my new urologist. My primary doc appointment, well, that was kind of a waste. “Oh, they sent you here? You’re feeling fine right now? Do you need more pain meds? OK, pay at the desk on your way out.”
Wednesday morning, I need to run over to the hospital to pick up a CD-ROM with all my MRI images on it for the urologist. While in the shower, the combination of running water and warmth take their toll (as they often do on members of the male species), and I find myself letting things flow and — hey, wait, what the heck is that thing that just shot across the shower!?!
I bend over and grab it before the flow of water takes it swirling down the drain.
Holy crap, I just passed the damned stone. Without even noticing it. If I hadn’t actively been watching things happen looking for this, and if I hadn’t been in pain the other day enough to go to the ER, this whole thing could have happened without me even being aware of it, that’s how crazily this thing went.
So I end up the next day, Thursday, at the urologist who declines to take the stone. “Oh, they told you to bring that to me? Nah, for your first stone, I don’t bother…. it’d be several hundred dollars of lab work to tell you the same basic things… drink lots of water, reduce your salt intake, avoid certain types of foods.”
And so now that’s it… this is me with my public service announcement message for the day: Drink lots of water. I’m not that old (although the definition of “old” is now certainly becoming very elusive for me as I start to approach ages I once would have attached “old” to)… if it can happen to me, it can happen to you. Drink lots of fluids. Keep your salt intake down.
And avoid having kidney stones like the damned plague…..

Been A While

Before yesterday, it’d been a while since I’d blogged, and it hasn’t been anything “about me”, but more just immediate commentary on something timely that needed talking about. There’s been a lot that I’ve missed over the last few months… didn’t blog about spending a week in Ireland for our belated honeymoon, or how D and I went to see The Police at Madison Square Garden on their reunion tour, or any of the myriad other things going on.
Summer was just hellishly busy at work this summer, rolling out a new e-mail system to the entire campus. D and I had plotted out “the weekends we had free to do stuff” and there were, like, three. Total. For the entire summer. That’s how busy it’s been.
Hopefully now that school is back in session, and the kids are back, things will slow down enough that I can at the very least keep current, and maybe even fill in some of the missing stories.

My Life Is A Crappy Star Trek Episode

This is a scary moment for me, really. With all due deference to Wil Wheaton, who’s a pretty hip cat, I really never ever wanted to consider myself to be analogous to Wesley Crusher. Unfortunately, that’s the position I find myself in.
Everyone — well, a lot of people anyway — at work has succumbed to the charms of Second Life.
Now, frankly, I don’t understand the appeal. At all. I mean not a single bit. Except for those who are chat-room addicts desperately starved for human contact, or people who want to live out their Furry Fetishes, the attraction of Second Life is completely lost upon me. I find myself regularly thinking to myself that all the jokes at this site ring true.
You want to play Star Wars Galaxies and pretend briefly to be in a sci-fi universe? I get that. You want to play World of Warcraft and pretend briefly to be in a swords and sorcery, good and evil, universe? I get that, too. You want to play Second Life and pretend to be… a normal person who has to buy clothes, and pay rent on land, and all that jazz? What the fuck dude, don’t you get enough of that shit in the real world?
This virus is spreading like wildfire… first my boss’ boss found out about it, then all of our helpdesk people, now it’s like spreading to other schools, and a good friend of mine it seems mentions at least once a day how she was doing this, that, or the other thing “in SL”.
Yeegads, people, do all those things in the REAL WORLD. You know, The Big Blue Room. The room with the Scary Yellow Orb in the ceiling. The one those Luddites called in the ancient tongue, “Outside”.
And that’s where Star Trek: The Next Generation comes in. I’m stuck in an episode called “The Game”. I’m Wesley Crusher, they’re all the rest of the crew, and I’m really hoping Data figures out how to crash the game for good before they pin me down and force me to join in.

Crazy Ass Dream

So here’s what I remember of this crazy-ass dream I had last night:

  • A friend of mine (whose name, even in the dream, I could never remember and kept getting wrong) and I somehow ended up being captured.
  • There was this whole matriarchal society thing going on and we were escorted to this tall building in the center of what looked like park land
  • You went up an elevator, and when you got off the elevator, there was some long hallways leading to common rooms, living quarters, etc.
  • There was this whole air of “combat” to it. When people greeted each other, there was this manner of exposing both hands to show that there were no weapons and that intentions were peaceful.
  • There seemed to be some sort of pretext that you might have to go engage in combat against the guy you just ate dinner with, if your name came up flagged on “the list”.
  • There were some guys who seemed to be “in charge”, but I think they were just privileged captives as well. They were the ones who had “the list” on clipboards, and would read off the names of the people who were heading to the elevator to go up a couple floors.
  • “the list” included peoples’ names and their e-mail addresses. I kid you not. Names were circled in red grease-pencil if they were going off to … whatever awaited them (I never saw it, there was only an implication that there was something bad involved).
  • There were big floor-to-ceiling windows where you could look out over the parkland, and see the women playing outside and living a grand old life. The view looked a lot like you might expect to see looking out over the quad of a 1930s girls school, that sort of “play”.
  • The guys who were “in charge” seemed to be perfectly reasonable and helpful, just that they didn’t appear to be in any threat of heading into the elevator any time soon.

I don’t know what particular sci-fi book or movie my brain scraped this story nugget out of, but it’s definitely weird.

My Christmas Gizmos

This year, thanks to my adoring wife and my wonderful sister-in-law, I received two gadgets that I’d been wanting for a while.
First, in a tip of the hat to a previous blog entry, I finally managed to get my hands on a calculator that supported Reverse Polish Notation (RPN). My sister-in-law, S., got me an HP 33s calculator. While it doesn’t have the cool horizontal profile of the older HP calculators of my youth (but HP doesn’t make any that do look like that anymore), it has all the same features, and the two-line display actually makes the RPN functionality a little easier to use (as you can see the previous element in the calculation stack that way).
A couple people who I’ve told about this wondered why I wanted a calculator given that I’ve got computers-aplenty at my beck and call. The reality is that “appliances” have their place. Just as I’m not trying to build my own DVR and am willing to trust my cable set-top box or TiVo to “just work”, there’s something nice about having a little device next to your computer that you can use to do the “quick math” functions you need to do throughout the day. I can’t count the number of times in a given day where I fire up a terminal window and type something completely lame into bc, or worse, when for some reason I’m feeling particularly brutal, to do something like:

$ perl -e 'print ((12345/6)*7-8)'

To have that functionality off to the side? Very convenient.
Then, my lovely wife got me a Harmony 880 universal remote. This thing is frickin’ sweet, that’s all I have to say.
It’s programmed entirely via a computer application (Mac-compatible!), accessing an online database of damned near every TV, cable box, stereo, etc., etc., ever made. There’s a community of people editing and modifying and improving this data, so the codes are nearly always right. The biggest “hiccup” I had with mine has to do with the fact that my HDTV unit doesn’t support discrete-input selection. This means that if I want to go from “VIDEO1” to “COMPONENT2”, it’s not just a single infrared code, like it is for most TVs, but instead is a sequence of “[NextInput]” codes, to cycle through all the VIDEOx inputs, past COMPONENT1, and finally on to COMPONENT2.
But I can’t fault the remote for a failing in the TV. To be fair, we have the same problem with my older remote — the one D has never liked (for those who care, it’s an MX-500… it’s not a bad unit, but not nearly as friendly or as cool as the Harmony).
D now has a whole bank of buttons that pushing them will automatically switch to the right input on the TV, change the channel on the set-top box, etc. It’s easier for her to use, and it’s cooler to look at. That and I’ll save a fortune in AAA batteries, since the Harmony is rechargeable.
(PS – Kudos to Amazon.com… Christmas night I figured out that I wasn’t having some incompatibility problem with the [Pause] code for my cable box, but it was in fact that the Pause button on the remote itself was dysfunctional out of the box. Amazon Fedexed a replacement on Tuesday, and it arrived on Wednesday, a mere two-day delay that they’re eating all the shipping on… contrast that to a problem my boss’ boss had with one where $NAMELESS_VENDOR disavowed all knowledge and he had to deal with it directly with Logitech as a warranty issue, over about a week or so.)
So overall, a really good Christmas for gadgets in the Balling household.