January 2010
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 Thursday, January 7, 2010

Galilean Satellites

"Are you still cold?" Trudy asked.

"No," I said as I zipped a vest over my sweater. "I'm going out to see Jupiter."

"Oh. Right."

Four hundred years ago Galileo looked to the heavens through a telescope and found Jupiter to be a world of its own with moons going 'round. Tonite was a good night to do the same. So I picked up my gloves and stocking hat. I grabbed the binoculars. I buttoned my winter coat and went out the front door.

Truth be known, my winter coat is not much of a coat, and my gloves are not all that warm. And no more than ten steps out, I figured that my stocking cap was not enough and pulled a second one over the first, looking perhaps just like ...

There was a woman standing outside her duplex down the street talking loudly into her phone. What on earth she was doing standing outside on a night like this with temperatures plunging and a cold wind blowing? She might have wondered the same thing about a man with two caps and a pair of binoculars dangling around his neck.

I crossed the street. The wind picked up and slapped me in the face. It was really cold.

Ok, maybe I don't need to stand WAY OUT in the field. Just in the lea of the school building will be fine.

On the far side of the school, around the back corner, the wind stopped. I leaned against the brick wall with my shoulder propped against the gutter and held the binoculars to my eyes.

My teeth chattered and the muscles in my back started clenching. Jupiter jumped around in the field of view making fractal Lissagous curves. Or was that really Jupiter? I couldn't see any moons, but then I was having no success holding the binoculars still.

Maybe it's that bright star over there. Where else could it be? I looked around in vain. Why didn't I do my homework? Oh man am I cold.

Four hundred years ago, any respectable astronomer would have drooled over my binoculars and would have braved such cold to gaze at Betelgeuse and the Pleiades and would have stayed out late as the stars wheeled overhead. But my teeth are chattering and my legs are cold and either I don't know where Jupiter is tonite or the clouds are just enough to blot out those little Galilean satellites.

So I called it quits.

I turned back around the corner of the school into the cold wind and walked back home with nothing to show. Too bad. I would have liked to tell you about it.

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 Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Going to School

Ben was up before the dawn scrambling eggs for himself and drinking a glass of orange juice. He jumped into the shower before I even dared emerge from beneath my layers of blankets and flannel sheets.

As Trudy and I cooked our oatmeal (mine in a pot, Trudy's in the microwave), he came into the kitchen.

"How do I look?"

He looked great -- a warm sweater, a smile on his face, wide eyes and (can you believe it?) a sport coat.

And then it was time for him to leave. Time for the first day of his winter term project working with fourth graders and his teacher from when he was just that age.

"I'm off!" he said, and he put a backpack on and stepped out into the cold morning.

We caught a glimpse of him as the door shut behind him.

"The boy is going to school," Trudy said.

The kids are going to love him.

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 Tuesday, January 5, 2010

No Hopes To Dash

There he was, running through the darkness, stealthily moving in the night, going from one side of the field to the other as I walked along.

"Are you coming?" he asked, as I fell behind. "Are you coming!? Come on!"

So much for him to do in the dark, in the cold, in the night.

"Come on!"

"I'm coming. Hang on."

He doesn't care about the new year or about about that hellish decade just passed. He had no worries. He had no hopes to dash. There was only today's walk to the soccer field or maybe around the block or a jog at the track or a stroll to the woods will you take me now, please?

As I caught up, he went running off again, a sleak black dash in the night.

I set aside the grumblings that were eating at me and pulled up the collar of my coat and followed my dog.

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 Sunday, December 13, 2009

Telling My DNS Story

One night, several weeks ago, I noticed that my browser was taking a long time to connect to web sites. That problem started happening, it turns out, after we dropped our DSL service and succumbed to the borg that is Uverse. What a coincidence, eh? The old router gone. New wires have been run. And now my browser takes a long time to lookup Internet domain names.

Being averse to all-things-borg and knowing a little about domain name servers and resolvers, I decided that I didn't want to rely on the Domain Name Servers resident at AT&T. Years ago on a Mac almost forgotten (but actually sitting silently in the corner behind me) I had installed a DNS server of my own, so as I sat there at my computer that evening, I proceeded to do the DNS-server-thing again on this (relatively) new Mac. Of course, even though I had done it years ago, I needed to learn it all again.

But we live in the age of google, you see: presto the steps are in front of me.

And so I spent some hours reacquainting myself with the software and reading suggestions on installing it on a Mac and deciding I didn't like the suggestions and coming up with an approach which I began to implement very slowly in small, deliberate steps, since I had to be root and didn't want to make any (nonrecoverable) mistakes. And in the meantime, my googling also confirmed that indeed, the Uverse approach to DNS is indeed lame and many people have chosen to lookup elsewhere.

So I was on the right track, except for these pesky features in the new Mac OS that made it difficult to do what I was trying to do. And that led, you might not be surprised, to some more hours of googling and reading suggestions and trying to figure out how to separate the wheat from the chaff so that I wouldn't end up messing up my machine irretrievably.

And in the end, the pieces came together, and I satisfied myself that I had fixed the problem.

The next morning, as Trudy and I were sitting in the living room, I looked over at her and began to explain my adventure from the night before. I talked with great energy about DNS servers and about DNS caches and about djbdns and about creating new users on my Mac to run the various background processes and about making sure those users don't appear on the login screen of the Mac itself and about installing software as root and about overriding the DNS server on Network System Preferences panel when your IP address is served up by a DHCP server that wants to tell you to use its own DNS server.

The story when on for a while, because I had learned and relearned so many things that were important to explain, yet Trudy sat there politely listening and nodding at the right moments, sensing, I suppose, that this was a cathartic monologue I had launched into and that it was best to let me proceed unimpeded.

So I proceeded and finally came to the end where I shuffled into the bedroom at some obscene hour and collapsed onto my side of the bed. My story finished, I looked up at her, and she looked back at me, and we sat in the living room for a brief moment in silence.

Then Trudy said, "So let's eat some eggs!"

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 Saturday, December 12, 2009

Alone on the Fields

We took a walk tonite, doggie and I, out into the night with the fog and mist clouding the streets and orange cones of light shining down from the streetlights. We went out to the soccer fields and were the only ones there.

To our left, we could hear the muffled rush of highway sounds and see the lights of cars coming and going, white lights and then red glowing in the mist. To our left, somewhere deep in the distant neighborhood, there was a dog barking. Ahead of us in the distance, the lights of Austin glowed behind the silhouette of the Oak/Juniper grove on the other side of the middle school track.

And as we walked out there all by ourselves, I thought of an afternoon months ago when we had been there in those same fields.

The sun was shining. The sky was blue. There were soccer teams practicing in the fields, and two teams of touch football, and lacrosse. And there was a football game going on in the infield of the middle school track. We jogged our requisite laps slowly around the elementary school track, and then we cooled down. The soccer coaches were shouting instructions. The touch football coaches were putting their boys thru drills. The lacrosse teams were too far away to hear. And periodically, a cheer would rise up from the infield of the middle school track as someone ran the ball downfield.

On that day, we were not alone, and as the doggie and I were walking out there tonite, I remembered that other day.

I remembered black vultures circling in the air -- dozens of them, some up high, some low, spiraling on an updraft that was evidently moving to the northeast, for as they turned in their great circles, climbing into the air, they passed before me and gradually moved off to the right.

And I remembered how as those vultures receded into the distance, I heard an airplane droning loudly and turned to see a crop duster flying low, coming from the direction of the hills, going in the direction of the birds. And I wondered if the pilot saw them, for he was headed straight into their circling spirals. And I stood to watch to see what would happen and saw the plane suddenly head south in a wide turn around the vultures.

I remembered all this tonite as doggie and I walked across those fields by ourselves in the nighttime mist. No coaches. No parents. No kids running up and down the fields. No sprialing vultures. No droning airplanes. Just doggie and me.

We did a wide loop around the tennis courts and headed back home, for there was cobbler waiting.

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 Thursday, December 10, 2009

Gonzo Justice

We should have abandoned the idea ... Because at that point we could really not count on Republicans to cut off investigations or help us at all... If we could do something over again, that would be it. [What I've Learned/Esquire]

That's Alberto Gonzales reflecting on the main mistake they made as they tried to fire US Attorneys who didn't pass political muster.

Because, you know, the most important part of leading the Department of Justice is knowing when to stop breaking the law so that ... um ... no one catches you in the act.

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 Thursday, November 26, 2009

Hanging Out A Little While Longer

What the heck, I'm on a roll. And a pie is cooling in the laundry room with a timer to put it in the fridge in an hour. So let's knock out one more Oberlin story and finish this interminable story about our trip there...

I think Ben was expecting us to leave just after breakfast on Sunday morning, but he didn't flinch when as we were walking back towards his dorm I told him we wanted to hang out with him for a few more hours. Not the slightest flinch. He took us to his room where we printed out our Southwest Airlines boarding passes, and then he took us out to Wilder Bowl where we found a warm, sunny spot of greenery and sat down.

Actually, I sat down. Ben and Trudy laid back on the grass. He curled up a bit, closed his eyes and seemed to be sleeping after we had been chatting a while, although he would periodically chime in on the conversation without opening his eyes.

And then after a while, we all sat up and talked. I couldn't resist it. There were some pearls of fatherly wisdom I wanted to share before we left town. Pearls about making good use of this time in his life. Pearls about studying as hard as the Music Conservatory students practice. Pearls about ... I don't know what all else, but you get the idea.

And then in a flash, several hours of hanging out had passed and it was time for us to leave for Hopkins International airport.

"I'll go with you to the car," Ben said. "You don't have to walk alone."

So he walked us back to Tappan Square, where we had parked along Main Street. We hugged goodbye. We told him we're proud of him. I said to work hard. And then we got into the rental car and waved goodbye.

I sat behind the steering wheel watching him walk across the square in his disheveled shirt and his flip-flops. He pulled out his phone to check his messages. And he didn't look back again.

I sat there watching as he walked on the grass under the leafless trees to the far side of the square and then crossed Professor Street and was gone.

I sat there watching my son, my only child, walk back into this new life that he is making for himself in this place I hardly know, making brand-new friends, doing brand-new things, figuring it all out for himself.

Tears streamed down my cheeks.

"Do you want me to drive?" Trudy asked.

"No, I'm fine," I said, and I started the car.

...So there you have it: our Parents' Weekend trip to Oberlin College. And now, about that pie in the laundry room.

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Finding His Own Way

On Sunday morning, we were supposed to meet Ben at the Black River Cafe at 10:00. But he went to a dance marathon after the swing dance, whereas we went back to the hotel to get some sleep. So we weren't particularly surprised when there was no Ben there.

The weather had been fantastic that weekend (given the cold weather the week before), and that morning was the warmest since we arrived on Thursday night. So we walked the half-block back to Tappan Square and found a bench in the sun and sat down to wait.

A few minutes passed, and we saw Rachel and David across the street. They waved and came over to where we were sitting. Ben had invited them to breakfast. They reported that he had gone over to Keep Cottage after the dance marathon and spent the night there.

Keep Cottage was two blocks north from where we were sitting, and as the four of us turned our heads in that direction, there he was, walking towards us with his hands in his pockets and his long hair looking like ... looking like he just got up a few minutes before.

"Does he study?" my mother asks me after reading these stories. "Does he get grades?"

Yes, of course he does. And he did talk about them a little. But we didn't want to spend our time grilling him about those (obviously important) things. It's his first semester at school a long way from home. He's been tossed into a completely new world and has a little exploring to do. And the thing of it is that his parents have way more visibility into how he is doing than my parents had into what I was doing during my first semester at the University of Illinois 30+ years ago. So even though we really wanted to ask him those questions and more, we just didn't need to grill. I just need to be patient for a little while longer, give him some space, let him start finding his own way.

Find his own way within limits, of course. But ragged hair and wearing the same clothes on a Sunday morning that you had on Saturday night are well within limits, as I see things right now. Especially since it was only 10:10. And especially because we were just so happy to see his sheepish, smiling face.

There'll be time for questions later.

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