Thursday, October 31, 2002

Inside Outside

Inside, he sat in the quiet beside the window.
Outside, the sky was grey. Yesterday's sun was gone.

Inside, he held a hot cup of coffee in his hands.
Outside, the temperature dropped. The air grew chill.

Inside, his cold fingers clicked at his keyboard. A white light shone on his face.
Outside, a lone white pumpkin-skull guarded his door.

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Tools of Coercion

The regime in Iraq is brutal, violently brutal. Evidently life means nothing to them, only power and control and ruling the roost. They know how to keep the people quiet, trembling in the corners, thankful for the opportunity to breathe. The Christian Science Monitor has this article on life under the hammer. It shows how adept the regime is at turning individual surivival instincts into a tool for maintaining power.

We are hopeless... We are controlled... Maybe we are defeated within ourselves.

Sadly, the tools used by the Iraqi regime are to some extent the tools by regimes in control everywhere.

Let's not forget that when the Ayatollah deposed the repressive regime of the Shah in Iran, he found it useful to retain the services of the Savak to ensure that the citizenry adhered to the new regime's dictats.

And let's not lose sight of the fact that although government-sponsored brutality and violence is largely absent in our country, the rush to wage a new war on terrorism in defense of the homeland has led many in our halls of power to advocate the use of ratting on neighbors, making the use of that technique in Iraq (as reported in the article above) seem less ... unique.

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 Wednesday, October 30, 2002

Watch the East

The Christian Science Monitor has a good article about democracy in Iran. There are trends there that give hope to the notion that Islam need not necessarily run hand-in-hand with autocracy.

Analysts say secularization is a social movement that could explode if democracy is thwarted. Even some reformist clerics are calling for a separation of mosque and state

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Dirty Hands

I'm a software guy. Generally speaking, you'd be advised to keep me far away from your hardware, because I break things. Breaking software might not be so bad and often can be useful (depending on the circumstances), but breaking hardware is rarely a good thing. So I just stick to software and steer clear of hardware. You might say I don't like to get my hands dirty.

Outside today, the sun is warm and the sky is blue. The mist and the drizzle and the clouds and the rain of the last few weeks are gone. And outside today, I discover my compost pile has shut down: it's colder deep down inside than the warm air all around.

So it's time for a compost pile kick start. After all, it's full of potato skins and grapefruit peels, egg shells and apple cores. It's a piping hot brew just waiting to happen. So I step away from my keyboard and take the pitch fork into the back corner and turn. By tomorrow it should be hot again. In the meantime, I see on the ground around me that there are earthworms enjoying the coolness of the ground.

Earthworms! Gather them up with your hands. Dig them up with your fingers. Pull them out as they burrow down. Get the dirt under your finger nails. Get your hands dirty. Collect them and move them by the handful to the mulch at the base of the little oak tree. Let them do the dirty work, ...

... because you don't like getting your hands dirty.

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 Tuesday, October 29, 2002

A Mad Scientist's Disconnect

A long time ago, I had a friend who was a coding wizard. If you had a programming question, he had an answer -- always solid, always insightful. We called him the mad scientist, because he could disappear for days (literally) and emerge from the wilderness bearing miracles.

One day he said with great animation and a broad smile stretching from ear to ear, I have written a program that will do anything.

He was our mad scientist. Who were we to doubt him? We stood there waiting for his elaboration, for clearly he made his statement in the form of a question, waiting to supply the details. He stood there looking at us.

So we asked for the details. And he showed them, sitting down at his workstation as we peered over his shoulders watching him type at the keyboard. After hitting the return key, he pushed back and let us appreciate his creation.

It did nothing. It just sat there, cursor blinking. He stared at us with a look of Well? on his face.

Well? we asked him.

So he turned back to the workstation, the smile still on his face and typed a few characters more

printf( "foo bar baz\n" );

and he quickly pushed back again.

Instantly, these words appeared on the screen

foo bar baz

See? he asked. It will do anything.

A mad scientist has a different way of looking at the world, spinning inside his or her own model of reality for most of the time, popping out only infrequently to project it onto those standing nearby. To us, do anything was a tall order, and he knew it. To him, it meant compile and execute any syntactically valid program I type at the keyboard.

He revelled in the disconnect as we rolled our eyes.

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 Friday, October 25, 2002


Joshua Marshall said this in tribute to Paul Wellstone who died with several others, including his wife and daughter, in a plane crash today:

I've seen my share of the fundraisers with their endless harvesting of checks from the fancy-hatted, the useless and the corrupt. But, you know, you do what it takes to accomplish things you believe are right. For a dozen years Paul Wellstone managed to show that these trade-offs did not necessarily have to be made. At least not for him. He was irreplaceable.

I originally found the link to Marshall's comments on Taegan Goddard's Political Wire, where there are other links to reflections on the man.

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Cold Day, Warm Steel

From the back yard you could hear it: music drifting on the cold wind over the tops of the trees and the roofs of houses. The day was gray and drizzly, but the music carried warm Caribbean breezes and images of palm trees leaning in the sand.

Down the block, around the corner, across the street, under the shelter of the entrance to their elementary school, the kids sat and listened. They listened to the low bass and the middle sounding cello and tenor drums. They listened to the leads hammering out steel drum melodies. They listened, and they watched. They clapped. And not a one spoke to another.

When the time was done and the songs exhausted all but one, the kids groaned in disappointment. Then they cheered as the director offered to play their one remaining tune as the kids filed back into the school.

While the Star Wars bar room music bounced off the shiny metal of the drums, one by one the classes stood up and went back into the building. Some were bouncing as they walked. Some were clapping to the beat. Some were staring back, eyes still on the music. All of them were smiling. The director held the final note extra long, for the last kid to pass back in thru the doors.

You made a lot of kids happy, he said to his band. Thank you, and well done!

In spite of the gray clouds and the cold drizzle, the day was a wee bit warmer.

Bailey Middle School Steel Drum Band @ Patton Elementary, Austin TX
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 Thursday, October 24, 2002

Janus at the Door

Janus is waiting at the door. Sitting, waiting, Janus knows that time or space will eventually bring us to his feet.

Who can say what beyond the door awaits. For in passing thru, identity is lost. Shape, size, taste, smell: stripped off by the singularity of that passage. From this side to that, from here to there, Janus is waiting for us to come to the center, to pass thru to door, to make a new beginning.

And in the end we will. Perhaps not by way of the spinning vortex that surrounds the door. Perhaps not by the path that follows the straight and narrow. Perhaps not soon. But in the end each one of us will.

And when we do, when we lose that which made us us and become the something elses that we will then be, we will look back thru that door, we will look back over the shoulders of the waiting one and see the swirling chaos amid the void: the galaxies, the stars, the planets, the moons, the skies, the mountains, the trees, the fish in the sea, the love, the hate, the music, the shouting, the tranquility, the war, the silent whispering, the ugly belligerence, fragrant flowers, dismal ghettos. We will see it all for what it really is.

Listen to the music. Water a tree. Swim a river. Fertilize a rose. Reject the hatred.

Put down your arms.

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 Wednesday, October 23, 2002

Avoiding the Void

Beyond the forest edge the landscape flattened. The tree-covered hills were gone, replaced by flat grassland as far as the eye could see. And there was a stream winding thru the waving grass. It came meandering out of the wood and passed under a lone fallen tree lying on its side some distance away.

The tree suggested a direction, and he took it. There was no path, but beyond the margins of the forest the grass was not yet tall, and he easily made his way. It was once a large tree and had evidently long grown alone beyond the eves of the forest. Standing on the trunk passing over the creek, he could see far in all directions.

To the west he could see more hills. He determined to go there, and he began to make his way. As he went, his eyes darted from the wide trunk under his feet to the distant hills. But just before he stepped down on the far side, he had to stop. There was something large lying on the ground in front of him.

At first he thought it a shadow, but there was nothing to throw it and the sun was hidden behind the clouds. When he came close, he realized it was a hole. He walked to the edge, as close as he dared, and looked over the edge. He saw nothing. There was no bottom (although he did not step so close as to look straight down), and even the sides of the hole were dim.

He got down onto his hands and knees. He wanted to look farther into the hole, and he felt safer on all fours, less likely to stumble. He peered over the edge and looked into a featureless void that revealed nothing. His eyes tried to pierce the gloom, but there was nothing else to see. He felt an emptiness under him that made him shrink slowly back to the fallen tree, where he put his hands on the solid trunk and regained his bearings.

He had sweat running down his forehead. His heart was racing. But away now from that abyss, the murmuring of the leaves in the forest and the trickle of running water in the creek brought him back. Hearing these things and feeling the solid wood against his hand, the emptiness receded and he was able to stand again.

So he put his eyes on the horizon. He put the void behind, and he set off to the hills.

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 Monday, October 21, 2002

Telecommuting Teleconference

Dark gray skies. Dark green grass. A barrel full of water at the side of the house. Summer is finally gone for good. The soft ground is soaking up the rain, and there seems to be more on the way.

I watch all this from behind my keyboard, looking out my window, while a teleconference goes on in my ear. I listen intently but see none of them, watching instead the lobeless green leaves of the Monterey Oak hanging still in the quiet of this fall day.

We move one step closer to a distributed spacecraft simulation.

The tree sinks its roots deeper into the ground.

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 Friday, October 18, 2002

Man in Black

I saw a rock start at the airport last week: a scary looking man with an aura about him.

He had black hair: long, jet-black hair, cascading in tight curls down the front and back of his black shirt. He had shiny, tight-fitting black pants that looked like leather from a distance, but were probably polyester; they flared in a bell over his black leather boots. A black wallet in his back pocket was attached to his belt by a long, looping chain.

In his hands, the man held a single red rose. He held it along with two paperbacks. The nails on his fingers were painted in black and silver, so the rose wasn't the first thing you noticed when you looked at him. But eventually it made itself known, peeking out from under the books, contrasting with all the black that he wore.

While we waited for the plane, he took out a cell phone and called up his mom. He spoke to her in a caring voice, thanking her and his grandmother for what they had done.

Mom, can you give me Grandma's number, he asked. I don't have it with me.

Wait, he said. Let me find a pen. And he juggled the books and the rose and a pack.

Use my pencil, I said, holding one out to him. He didn't hear me and told his mom again to wait. Here, I repeated. Use this pencil.

He looked up, briefly surprised and then said thank you and jotted the phone number down, returning the pencil when he was done.

Thank you very much, he said and proceeded to dial his grandmother's number. She wasn't home. So he left a long thank you message ending with I love you Grandma. and resumed his waiting in line.

He was standing behind an old couple: a man in loose clothes and tennis shoes and a woman who looked as if she were going on vacation. He said something in passing to them, and they said something smiling back. The three of them then proceeded to chat with fair animation until our airplane arrived.

On board, he sat down in a seat near the back. After only a few moments, he leaned forward and tapped a man in front of him on the arm. The man looked back from across the aisle. He was a football-looking man, a marine-looking man, and looked back in doubtful curiosity at the man in the black. The man in the black spoke quietly, evidently asking a question, to which the marine-man nodded. The man in black spoke again, and the marine-man responded. Their conversation never stopped, and when they got up to get off the plane, the marine-man reached over to the man in black and shook his hand firmly and said, Good luck!

I saw a rock star in the airport last week: a scary looking man with an aura about him. But if you looked long enough, if you watched him and listened, you'd realize that his aura was not what you'd expect.

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Of the many things that Enron taught us, perhaps the most important (for after all, all the other lessons will be forgotten soon) is the notion that publicly run utilities are a good thing.

In the midst of the energy crisis in California, those who cried foul and claimed that it was all a hoax were universally derided as paranoid. Even my cynicism couldn't muster the courage to make such outrageous claims. Yet now we see the truth as the rascals start confessing:

Enron Corp.'s [...] former top energy trader pleaded guilty to criminal fraud charges on Thursday, admitting he was part of a conspiracy to artificially boost power prices during California's devastating energy crisis. [Reuters]

The notion that utilities are perhaps not managed in the public's best interest by a corporation whose sole interests are profit or shareholder value was a bit too radical prior to this whole Enron affair, but now things look less bleak, and the notion that perhaps the public good is best served by public utilities has less of a heretical ring about it. Evidently they feel that way in Louisiana, where an effort to privatize the water supply has fallen flat:

In a landmark vote with repercussions that will ripple through the nation, the largest proposed municipal water privatization in the United States was rejected today by the New Orleans Water and Sewerage Board. Citizens fighting to keep water in the public trust have triumphed over a private company[base ']s profit-seeking venture. [Public Citizen]

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 Thursday, October 17, 2002

What She Didn't Realize

She must have seen me shivering, the woman on the train sitting in the seat behind us. She must have seen me, because she said something when we sat down -- something about how I finally got warm. Her voice was empathetic.

She was a mother. She and her daughter had come to Chicago to celebrate the daughter's birthday -- a girl's weekend off from husband and brothers. The came to watch the marathon. And they, as we, were riding the CTA back where they came from now that it was done.

If she saw me walk up at the end, she probably thought I was in tears from pain or maybe from cold. But she wouldn't have known that that wasn't it. She couldn't have known that I often come close to tears (as unmanly as that may be) after crossing the finish line, and I can rarely hold them back when I find family waiting at the end.

She was a parent, so she would have understood that had I explained, but I was only now beginning to warm up and my feet were only now becoming less sore. So I let the others chat with her, and I sat still with my arms tucked together and hands in my lap gazing ahead as the train swerved and swayed from side to side.

She wished us well as we got off at our station, and she offered me words of support, not knowing that I had finally warmed up and the pain in my feet was gone. And she will never know that in a strange way those tears she saw will warm my heart for a very long time to come.

CTA Blue Line to Cumberland, Chicago IL, 13 October 2002
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 Wednesday, October 16, 2002

Morning Light on the City

In the dark of the morning, in the cold of early autumn, the wind of the lake is cold. The wind of the lake is cold, but for the people converging on the city today it is barely a thing to notice. This is race day.

Today is race day, and we have been here before, in the dark, in the wind, in the cold. Some days it has been almost unbearable. But this morning, only the stars are in the still-night sky. The clouds that moved in yesterday have blown away. This is race day, and the sun will be coming up soon.

The sun will be coming up soon, I whisper to my boy. We look out over the lake, at the growing light in the east. And then I point to the west. Remember this, I tell him. Watch it come.

Remember the coming of the day, before the race, with the tens of thousands of runners lined up behind the starting line. Watch the morning come after you watch us go. Watch it hit the city standing at the edge of the lake. Stand here just a few minutes longer. Before you turn to seek out warmth, stop a moment and watch the dawning day as the red sun rises and throws a rosy glow on the city's skyline.

Chicago skyline in the morning, 13 October 2002
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 Tuesday, October 15, 2002

Chicago 2002

At my brother's house again for a mid-October run thru the city...

Flashing lights in the basement. Rise and shine!
Toast and raw honey. Hot coffee, and a couple of bottles for water.
A plastic bag for you, my brother Ben says.

Riding a packed CTA train before a Sunday morning dawn.
Rush hour on an off-day.
Those three guys who just got on are looking around at the crowd.
They're not runners.

Palmer House for a pit-stop away from the crowds.
Short line at the bathroom. And a friendly attendant checking the stalls.
Look at the runners congregating. Look at the ceiling.
Sit, stretch, wait.
It's nice and warm in here.
It's time to go.

Sidewalks and streets crowded in the pre-dawn light.
The starting line with elite runners warming up.
Towering speakers powered by watts and amps.
Happy faces. Hopping runners.

It's almost time. This'll do right here.
Stepping into the crowd, we leave behind our curbside crew.
Clothes flying thru the air.
T-shirts, ragged cotton sweatshirts, fleece pull-overs.
Gloves, headbands, hats.
Plastic bags. (We keep ours on.)

Was that the start? Wave goodbye to our smiling crew.
Surging runners. Run, walk, run, walk.
Under the starting banner, and now it starts...

01[9:16] Look back. Look back! (But don't trip like that guy just did.)
02[9:42] An alley with dozens of dumpsters. Perfect for a quick pit stop!
03[8:40] We're doing just fine.
04[8:29] Separated from Ben. I can see him waving his glove in the air.
05[8:29] Lincoln Park. Trees, grass, an old stone bridge. I've been here before.
06[8:29] The cheering crowd. The cheering crowd.
07[8:06] You go ahead, Ben says.
08[8:19] Steve is here again, just as he said he'd be, waving and cheering and jogging along! He smiles his wide smile and has some words of encouragement, handing me a banana and jogging along for a while.
09[8:19] Lots of high-fives with the crowd. Run, Tex! Lincoln Park!
10[8:23] Maybe I should slow down a bit.
11[8:40] Coming up on the turn... Wee!
12[8:07] Where's Trudy? Where's Trudy? There's Trudy! Will I stop for a smooch? Weeee! High-five! I guess not.
13[8:42] There's that hamstring. Relax. Relaaax.
14[8:20] Where's Trudy? Where's Trudy? I didn't see Trudy. (But she saw me, and Ben did, too.)
15[8:44] Behind me a runner's buddy finds her running friend and runs along for a while. You rock girl!
16[8:34] Fallen in with the second 3:40 pace team.
17[8:34] Clif Shot Zone. Vanilla. Mocha. Goo all over the road. Watch where you step. Sheesh, this is worse than the banana peels.
18[8:38] 8.2mi to go. I can do this.
19[9:00] I think I'll let the pace team go, now. Downtown looks so far away.
20[9:11] Good crowd cheering. Loosens up that hamstring. Relaaax.
21[10:00] Across the highway: those guys are running back to town!
22[9:30] Finally we're not running to St. Louis, anymore!
23[9:50] It's a piece of cake from here. Doesn't feel like it. Once I tried to speed up, here. Not this time.
24[10:00] There was a great band here a few years ago, playing booming tunes in the cold. I can still hear them. ... Why did that woman just shout, One and a half miles to go!!? These people need to study their maps.
25[10:00] Into the tunnel under McCormick place. Darkness. Silence. We are all inside ourselves.
26[9:39] Ok, go faster now. Maybe beat 3:50? Relax. Smooth strides.
26.2[2:00] Wind. Cold. Finisher's blanket. Finisher's medal. Water. One banana.

Final time: 3:52.

I have to sit down.
I'm sitting down and can't get up!
I think I'll just sit a while longer.
Stuggle to my feet.
Cramping thighs. Hurting feet. No light-weight shoes next time!

It's so far to the runner reunite place.
One step at a time. Don't sit down. Don't sit down.
Oof! The G-H reunite banner is on the far side of the fountain.
Sore thighs. Hurting feet. Shivering cold.
One step at a time. Keep moving forward. You'll get there.

Ben finds me with a look on his face only a companion runner could have.
He smiles and comes up to me. He knows.
He puts his arm around me and takes me to our family.
My Ben is standing on a post looking for us.
Trudy comes up and hugs me and lets me go my tears.
And my Ben comes up and puts his arms around me, too.

And mom is there, as she has been year after year in the dark and the cold of these mornings, watching her sons run with that smile on her face and that sparkling light in her eyes.

And my father was there, although he was not there. He sat in the rain at a jubilee for the queen. But he was there as he also has been, year after year in the dark and the cold of Chicago in October to watch his sons do this strange thing.

Chicago Marathon, 13 October 2002
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 Thursday, October 10, 2002


We live fewer than 15 minutes from the middle school. Small it's called, but small it's not -- a thousand kids or so. And in the morning, the cars and buses and SUVs and vans and pickup trucks converge on the parking lot, idling in line and belching the smoke that has helped to turn the Austin sky brown in the last decade.

But we live fewer than 15 minutes from the school (as the student walks), and so Ben goes in the morning. It would take longer and would be more painful to battle traffic and sit in line and would serve no purpose at all to drive the short distance from here to there. So he walks (loaded down usually with backpack, lunch and trombone).

Between here and there, there's are playgrounds and soccer fields. In the middle of the summer the fields are brown and hard, but in the spring and the fall when the rains do come, they are green and soft. And muddy.

It is fall now, and the rains came the day before yesterday, filling up the rain barrel and making the earth soft. Imagine the shoes of a coming-home kid after walking across the fields of green grass and wet mud. And imagine the consternation of a father upon finding the tracked-in mud on the floors after they have been meticulously swept and mopped by his spouse. Imagine the words from the father to the son and the urgency with which he dispatches the boy to clean up the mud before the meticulously mopping wife comes home.

And now, imagine the scene on the other end, the scene when the boy arrives at school, having walked those 10 or 15 minutes across the soft, muddy fields. Imagine the scene around his chair when the father walks into the classroom to watch the 6th grade put on a show and looks to the boy sitting at his desk dressed as Mark Twain in white with distinguished sprayed-gray hair. Imagine the son looking up and beaming and throwing a quick wave as the father walks in. Imagine the father smiling once and then smiling twice upon seeing the dried mud on the floor in a circle about the boy's desk.

He's the only one with mud.
Is he the only one who walks?

Clint Small Middle School, Austin TX
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 Wednesday, October 9, 2002

The Last Few Seconds

The days are shorter. Darkness comes suddenly at 7:15. With little warning after the in-between light of dusk, the sky turns from evening-blue to gray to black.

In the fading light with only minutes left, dozens of runners come and go. Some are just starting, but most are done. Drinking Gatorade, stretching, talking, cooling down. I've got a boy with me, showing me his math while I stretch a sore thigh. I squint in the dimming light; he talks about means and medians and independent and dependent variables. I watch him talk, and I hold my left leg.

In the car driving home, we sit silently and watch the nighttime descend. Venus and a crescent moon shine between scattered shreds of cloud left from the storms of yesterday. In the west billowing thunderheads balance on the horizon, and the black cloud deck is torn open -- a hole in the sky revealing another deck of clouds above.

The upper deck is in flame, bright crimson and pink for just those few seconds as we drive silently home, just those few seconds after the sun has set, just those last few seconds before the black of night falls.

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 Tuesday, October 8, 2002

The Answer

He took the train. Usually he went by car with friends or family or sometimes even the bus, but this time he rode the train.

There wasn't much to bring along. He only had a backpack slung over his shoulder. College students can travel lightly; they have so little clutter. So when the train pulled rolled slowly into the darkness under Wacker Drive and came to a stop, he was the first onto the platform.

He walked toward the double glass doors at the far end. As he went, his heart began to race. He tried to remain calm, but his mind was too far ahead of him.

She had said to him on the phone that she wasn't sure how she felt anymore. Her words were like a knife driven into his already crumbling heart; yet in those words he had detected a glimmer of uncertainty. She had not said they were through, only that she wasn't sure. And so although she had broken his heart again, she had also given him reason to hope.

When they had spoken on the telephone, she said that she needed time. She had told him to look for her at the station when he arrived. That way he would know her decision. So it was that his heart raced as he walked past the passenger cars, past the baggage car, past the idling diesel engines and thru the sliding glass doors.

With a hushed whoosh, the doors parted as he approached. A crowd of people stood and stared behind burgundy velvet barricades. They stood shoulder-to-shoulder, face upon expectant face, waiting for the other passengers. But in all those faces he didn't see the one he was looking for.

After only a few moments, he spotted a tall man at the back: dark skin, dark hair, dark eyes, standing still with his gazed fixed straight ahead. It was his father, and his father saw him, cracking that half smile that he would reveal only once in a while. The crowd began seething in anticipation as more debarking passengers came in thru the doors. His father stood at the back letting them seethe.

There were shouts of recognition and hugs of welcome-home. A small boy burst into a run from somewhere behind to jump into the arms of another father who stooped and picked up his boy, swinging him in the air. There were smiles and peering faces. But he couldn't see hers.

It was only seconds that he stood there. He only had a brief chance to look around. But in those moments, his hopes were crushed and his heart collapsed. Still, as he greeted his father, who insisted on carrying his pack, he continued looking around, thinking perhaps she was late, that she was walking up to him even now.

So as they walked down the hall and up the stairs and out into the vast waiting room with cool stone floors and long wooden benches, and as they went out into the street and around the corner to his father's usual parking spot, he was barely present in their conversation, looking still for her.

But when they got to the car and closed the doors and his father pulled away from the curb, the fire was utterly extinguished and his hopes were dashed. He knew her answer and sat in silence the rest of the way home.

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Intellectual Property

In this post-Napster era in which ideas are being labelled as property and fenced off behind corporate walls, in which the notion of fair use is withering in the face of its redefinition as theft, law professor Lawrence Lessig suggests in this interview that we step back and think about the notion of ideas as property from a different perspective:

Everybody talks about intellectual property as a form of property. One thing we might ask these people is, Have you paid your property taxes for this property?

The notion of theft, has allowed corporate America to recast the conversation about intellectural property in a light that favors their terms. It has effectively squelched dissonant voices and effectively labelled those on the other side of the issue as counter-culture contrarians who advocate free theft for all. The corporations would have us see it this way; they would have us see their fight against fair use and their efforts to perpectually extend copyright protections as the only hope for civilized socity. (Apres moi, le deluge.)

Perhaps introducing the notion of property taxes can dim that light a bit, permitting those with different points of view to state their case (and have that case heard without being written off) and allow the conversation to continue.

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 Monday, October 7, 2002

The Smell of Rain

The smell of water was in the air this morning. Outside with a cooler breeze replacing the sweltering heat of yesterday, the air from the north held a slight hint of rain.

To a midwesterner, that smell is like the smell of the ocean must be to someone who's grown up along the coast, or the smell of the woods or of the pines for someone from the mountains. It tells the story of a life gone by.

The smell of rain carries memories of thunderstorms rolling in from the west, turning the sky black; of an approaching wall of gray as the leading edge races across the land; of running barefoot in the yard on the soft ground with pelting drops of water drenching your hair and clothes; of raindrops coming down so hard you can barely see.

The grass in the yard is browning and dry. The ground in places is hard and cracked. But the air is cooler and the sky is gray, and they tell us that rain might be on the way.

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To Grow...

Kaveh Khodjasteh has a list of things we should to do to keep growing:

8 drift...
13 slow down
14 don't be cool ...
15 ask stupid questions...
23 make your own tools...
26 don't clean your desk...
30 don't borrow money

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 Wednesday, October 2, 2002

A Different Kind of Language

Give me a stagnant backwater swamp where the water is still and the air is thick with it and the heat and the smell. Give me damp pools of silent water nourishing the cattails standing in the night. Give me the feel of water at my feet and sand and black muck oozing thru my toes.

It has a logic of its own, a structure sufficient unto itself, a grammar decorated with meaning. Give me the foreign syntax of the swamp. I may not master its idioms or recite its rhymes and meters well, but I still yearn to speak that strange tongue.

Meaning without words. Substance exploding from chaotic form. Give it to me, please.

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Lori Wyatt

Who is this Lori Wyatt that sends me this "unsolicited" email:

Lori Wyatt is playing the Beat Kitchen this Sunday at 8:00 this Sunday night. The band is welcoming their new drummer Ben Hasan. "We are all very excited about Ben." Lori has just returned from Mid Point Music Fest in Cincinnatti, and is looking forward to playing in her hometown for a change. The band will play for one hour, so all can be home early for work on Monday. So take a nap, or some No Doz, and get on out there. For directions to Beat Kitchen....log on to www.beatkitchen.com

Another message for the SPAM can. No wait! Her drummer is Ben Hasan!? I know him! You go, bro.

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It's all in the words you choose. No ideas without the right words first. But not just the words you choose, not just the words you stumble on, not just the words that first come to mind. But words that convey, that stand alone and radiate meaning. Words that shed unambiguous light on the thoughts about which they are woven.

This sometimes gets in the way when I code. I struggle for the words to make the code clear. To make the algorithm speak for itself. I struggle with the declarations like a teacher at the blackboard in front of an algebra class: How can I make all this clear to them? And the struggle itself often massages the code. The search for words widens into a search for meaning. The thoughts themselves give way when the right words can't be found.

Perhaps I let it bug me too much, this thing about words. Whatever, they say from across the table looking back at me blankly at best but more often rolling their eyes.

Still I'm stuck with this way of being, inherited from who knows where. I'm stuck with it. It's inside me. I can't pretend it isn't there.

So give me a good word or two, and we can share your thoughts over a cup of hot tea.

Sugar cube?

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 Tuesday, October 1, 2002

Did I Tell You Thank You For

Did I tell you thank you
for the breakfasts that we eat together?
for balancing our balances?
for reminding me to take my vitamins?
for running along the trail with me?
for camping in the woods with me?
for laughing your laugh the way you do?
for loving my son as much as you do?
for handing me Gatorade and Gu in the dark?

Did I tell you thank you?
Thank you.

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