Sunday, November 30, 2003

After Thanksgiving Weekend

Thanksgiving is over. The goose isn't so fat anymore.

The chill of autumn worked its way down to the Gulf this weekend, turning on heaters and turning out blankets all around Houston. Whereas shorts and short-sleeve shirts seemed about right for the trip when we left, when we arrived we felt differently.

The temperature dropped with each mile we drove, and we got to wondering about our potted plants and heater-turned-off back home. And we got to wishing that we had brought something warmer to wear.

Still, the sun shined brightly all weekend long. And even though it was chilly and the wind blew mightily for a day or two, there is something about the sun shining against a bright blue sky that warms the soul.

So in spite of autumn and in spite of the wind, the long weekend let us recharge a bit, including as it did a visit with family and a long overdue visit with a long-time friend and a feast of turkey and potatoes and stuffing and casserole and cranberry sauce (molded perfectly to the shape of the can) and corn and sweet potatoes and pumpkin bread and pie.


The air still has a chill in it now. But the sun never faded during the day, and the blue sky stayed with us all the way home. And we pulled into the driveway in the early afternoon, which means that we are here while thousands are still out there driving in the dark amid the chaos and panic of Interstate-10.

That we are here at home and not there on the road is cause enough to be thankful. So I count my blessings and wish many for you.

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 Thursday, November 27, 2003

For These Things

For a dog that sings with me in the morning.
For a cat who is the silent side that the dog doesn't have.
For a boy who hops out of bed in the morning when I ask (sometimes).
For a Trudy who waves her hands and swings her hips to Blondie.
For Blondie and Boston and Don Walser playing on the blasting stereo.
For a brother who sent an Onkyo from eBay unlooked for.
For nieces and a nephew in the cold north.
For a sister-in-law who loves fantasy and science fiction.
For cousins and cousin-kids and cousin-spouses.
For three cousin-dogs and one cousin-cat.
For a mother-in-law with a big brick house on the coastal prairie.
For a brother-in-law with books.
For a sister-in-law and her kids my boy's age.
For aunts who are Chachis.
For a father and step-mother who travel the world.
For a step-father who plays trombone and owns a Mac and fixes things.
For a mother who always understands.
For evening runs on the lake or at the middle school track.
For swirling golden Ash leaves at the doorstep.
For blue sky and sun.
For green grass and growing trees.
For a wonderful life in a wonderful land.

For all these things on this and every day I am thankful.

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 Monday, November 24, 2003

Stretching in the Dark

I sat in the dark alone, stretching first one leg and then the other. I sat in the dark, and the steam rolled off my shoulders.

No one was there to see this. No one was there to see the steam rolling off my shoulders. Do you realize this? The steam was rolling off my shoulders. Kind of a manly image, wouldn't you say?

So I sat there stretching with no one else around, not a soul. Where two months ago at this time the stretching area would have been teeming with runners and walkers and bikers and toddlers, two months ago the sun would have been up. Now it was dark, so I sat alone.

The rush of traffic raced on the freeway overhead. A distant light from the Zilker Moonlight Tower shined bright white in the night. Mars glimmered overhead, between the deck of the northbound lanes and the southbound lanes, diminished in the inverse square of distance from its August close approach.

I sat there stretching in the dark and listened to the traffic, and listened to the air brakes on a bus behind me, and gazed up at red Mars and gazed down at the green bow-light of a sculling boat glide silently up the river.

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 Sunday, November 23, 2003

House For Sale

There is a house on a corner in a town in the north, where I went many times when I was young. It's a white house on a lot with a wrap-around porch, and it's surrounded by a transplanted garden.

The town is the town where my grandfather was born, and the house is the house where his brother lived for years. But not so long ago (though as for that it has been long) Uncle Oliver passed away. Yet the house stayed in the family, and years later it welcomed Bill Bunting home.

It was no accident that he moved back there. My grandfather had a way of making things come together all his life. And that he should return down the street from where he was born came, I suppose, as no real surprise to those who knew him well.

With them, my grandfather and grandmother brought much into that little white house on the corner. They had the accumulated treasure of many years. There was antique furniture, and yucky cupboards. Framed photographs and certificates. China and crystal and silver and carpets. There was a garage full of boxes and shelves and files and crates and barrels and tools and a work bench piled high with the stuff of a real engineer. And there was a transplanted part of the far-away garden that was their yard for so many years.

But my grandfather died several years ago, and my grandmother has been drifting deeper in a world of her own ever since he left. And although the house still stayed in the family and the stuff of their lives only slowly moved down the generations, the house is sitting vacant now. Its occupants are gone.

It must be cold in Michigan. Deep fall has probably given way to winter. The calls of crows must be echoing in the barren woods outside of town. And the little white house stands empty. Its occupants are gone.

Oliver is gone. Bill Bunting is gone. The renters are gone. The heat will soon be turned off. The pipes will soon be drained.

Soon little will remain of all those years. ... Of movies on the wall of the Odd Fellows Hall. Of generations of cousins running down the gravel road. Of the sound of hard Jeep tires whining on the pavement. ... Soon all that will remain there will be the name Bunting painted in black on a gray standing stone that sits in the yard of a white house on a corner in the town in Michigan where my grandfather was born.

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 Saturday, November 22, 2003

Procrastinator's Weather Report

Saturday, as it happened, a front blew thru, breaking the calm of the past few days. There were widely scattered clouds, but the sky was blue. And the sun was shining and the air was warm.

A good day for a science project, I would say. A good day, considering that it is due too soon.

So the wind may be blowing, and the sun may be shining and the weekend calling, but this day you'll watch the day and the wind and the leaves and the clouds go by from the inside of the window while you make your measurements.

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We are well past the turning point at which our cultural and legal notions of property on the one hand and intellectual property on the other are colliding.

In the minds of non-lawyers reading books, listening to music, and surfing the web, copyright is not necessarily a stimulating topic of conversation. But being at the turning point as we are, we need to talk about it. We need to understand it. We need to wrestle with it.

Sadly, however, before the talking and understanding and wrestling has even begun, the conversations have largely stopped. The notion of theft has preempted any fundamental inquiries into the various principles.

It is difficult for non-experts to understand why the concepts of copyright, free-use, intellectual property, and digital rights are not just special cases of physical property, where the notion of theft is so easy to understand.

Copyrights and Copywrongs: The Rise of Intellectual Property and How It Threatens Creativity, by Siva Vaidhyanathan, pursues the subject. Here is a snippet from the dust cover

[Copyright/Wrong-comments]: Embedded in conflicts over royalties and infringement are cultural values -- about access, ownership, free speech, race, class, and democracy -- which influence how rights are determined and enforced. Questions of legitimacy -- of what constitutes "intellectual property" or "fair use," and of how to locate a precise moment of cultural creation -- have become enormously complicated in recent years, as advances in technology have exponentially increased the speed of cultural reproduction and dissemination.

I haven't read the book, but I'm headed to the library in a few minutes.

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 Friday, November 21, 2003

The Curmudgeon

I am not a fisherman. My grandfather knew it, and I like to think that he got a kick out of it, since he never was, either.

I am not much of a golfer. In fact I'm not a golfer at all and cannot pretend to imagine its appeal.

Not a baseball fan. Nor football. Nor basketball.

Then there's hunting. It's not the guns. It's not the animals. It just isn't my thing, either.

Nor motor boats. Nor power tools.

So keep your fishing lures, I guess. Keep your sports equipment. Keep your rifles and deer corn and loud roaring machinery.

I am content to be the curmudgeon that I am, pronouncing what I am not and proclaiming what should not be.

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 Thursday, November 20, 2003

These Are The Days

These are the days that kept me in Texas. Low clouds in the eastern sky glowing electric pink at dawn. Deep blue during the day. A gentle sun turning the crisp morning air warm. Green leaves and green grass in late November. And a crescent moon hanging near the westering sun in the afternoon.

This day, and yesterday, and tomorrow. These are the days that kept me here and will never let me leave.

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 Wednesday, November 19, 2003

Is It Wrong?

Is it hateful to believe that politicians in our capital only choose policies that keep themselves in power? Is it disloyal to believe that we are convincing the world to hate us? Is it unamerican to believe there is a role for government that private industry must not play?

Am I siding with the enemy to say these things? If I am not with us in every way, am I against us? Is this aiding and abetting? Is this Is this treasonous behavior? Is it not allowed? Are they watching my words as they travel down the Internet? Is my name now on a list?

Is it wrong to believe, on this day, in government of the people, by the people, for the people?

I think not.

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 Tuesday, November 18, 2003

Lileks in Las Vegas

I don't know why I have it out so for Las Vegas, but I do. Here are two good sentences from Lileks/Bleat.

[Lileks in Vegas]: It looks great at night. In the day, it winces like a hungover vampire.

Read it. (He's not as down on the place as I am.)

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Two Out Of Five

Are you depressed? she asked.

No, I said in a tone that spoke the answer as well as the word.

And our conversation moved to other things.


Am I depressed? No. But I am tired.

I am tired of this all. I just want to wake up in the morning and go to work. I want to go to work and do my best and come home in the evening. I want to come home in the evening and know that tomorrow will be another day. I want to look to tomorrow with hope not despair.

I want to know that Ben is finishing his science project.
I want to know that Trudy has our finances under control.
I want to know that our city fathers are looking out for the aquifer.
I want to know that corporate accountants are balancing the books.
I want to know that our politicians in D.C. are thinking of the future.

Oh well, two out of five isn't bad. ... Is it?

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 Monday, November 17, 2003

The Pursuit of Happiness

How can we act this way, watching our liberties wither, sitting silently as one by one the environmental policies of the late-middle 20th century are dismantled, remaining mute as the role of government is auctioned of to private industry (schools, prisons, power generation, water). Does no one care?

No, my friend. No one cares.

What is "freedom" after all if not the means to an end: the pursuit of happiness. No more. No less. You have been fooled by the turbulent times in which you lived, fooled by your own propaganda (and that of your history lessons in school).

My friend, the ultimate good is the "pursuit of happiness", and if there are other means to that end than thru democracy and freedom, those means will serve just fine.

So stand back. Stand back, and hold your tongue, for while you whine about your precious notions of freedom and openness and contemplate your principles and philosophies, people are dancing in the streets. Dancing at the new low cost of a pair of jeans. Dancing at the colors on their digital TVs. Thrilled to shop at the mall carved out of the hill. Thrilled to race home from work at 90 mph on ever-widening lanes of asphalt.

They are happy I tell you, and there simply is no greater good than that.

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 Sunday, November 16, 2003

First Person

My causes are the just ones. My good book is the only one. My close friends stand fast. My enemies turn and run.

I harken to grander truths. I see with keener sight. I follow a straighter path. I answer to a higher-law.

I write the songs that make the whole world sing.

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 Wednesday, November 12, 2003

Still Life

What was all that about?

What was all what?

All that stuff about soap. You know, that piece you wrote about coconut soap. What was that about?

It was about a bar of coconut soap. What do you mean?

Come on. I read this stuff a lot, ok? But what's up with coconut soap. Like, why do I care about a bar of coconut soap?

Still life.


Like, why do do I care about some apples and some flowers on a table in a darkly lit room?


You asked the question.

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 Tuesday, November 11, 2003

Simple Symbols

I had a professor once who was from China. The class was small. We all sat near the front of the room. And from time to time he shared with us his insights as an engineer working in a foreign language.

Chinese is much better for engineering, he said to us more than once, usually when struggling to write a long formula on the board.

In Chinese there are so many symbols to use, he said with a mischievous grin.

In engineering and mathematics, the symbols you use can be as important as they concepts they represent. The power wielded by a Greek letter alpha can be substantial. No need to write angular acceleration in your equations in each place the term should appear. Just drop in an alpha, and everyone understands.

A single character is more than enough.

Not so in the modern programming world, however. As the fashion of close-to-the-metal C fades to distant memory, new conventions and fads have replaced the no-nonsense sensibilities of the old timers (who would have loved to have an alpha key on their keyboards, I suspect).

So whereas e would have been perfect once upon a time as the name of a mouse click event. Today we are told that we must use event. No, we must use clickEvent. No, we must use mouseClickEvent.


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On Safety in the Modern Economy

Chuq/Teal Sunglasses has some words about the Big Thunder disaster at Disney World:

[Chuq/Safety at Disneyland]:  I'm angry, pissed and disgusted at the Disney bean counters here. They made a conscious decision to reduce the safety factor to save money, in a stupid way by basing their safety factor on data that was obsolete the day they laid off their first 20 year mechanic. And nobody within the park seemed to stop to think about that? To me, that's not stupid, that's criminal.

And whoever made those decisions to cut back maintenance has the blood of two visitors on their hands, and will for the rest of their lives.

Inexcusable. It'll be a cold day in hell before I go back to the park;

Lot's of folks wearing management hats and evidently fewer engineering hats than there used to be.

For another case of management-hat focus, see this discussion of the Challenger disaster.

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 Monday, November 10, 2003

This Coconut Soap

Was this for you, this block of soap, a natural product made in Fiji? Was it not for you? Certainly it was not for me.

I have no need for hand-crafted, natural-oil coconut soap, although it has come in handy holding the pages of these piled-up books open.

Yes, I think it was for you. And although it works well on the books late at night, and although it has been sitting here now for days in front of this keyboard where I frequently find myself, it does not seem to belong.

Perhaps you saw it sitting here and thought I had grown attached to it. Perhaps you thought better than to take a book-weight away from a man with many books. Perhaps then, you thought you'd just let me keep it.

But there was no need to think that. And I think that these 110 grams (when packed) of natural-oil, hand-crafted coconut soap should be yours.

Here, I insist.

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 Sunday, November 9, 2003

Optimism or Dread

What will we say forty years from now when they ask us, What was it like living at the beginning of the century?

There is so much bad news from so many directions that I find it hard to piece it all together coherently. I cannot weave a story around it all. I can't begin to fashion an answer.

Yet how will we answer that question when they ask? For there will come a time, when the history books have been written and the great movements of our times have been chronicled, there will come a time when the curious will turn to us and ask, What was it really like?

What are the things that worry us? What things give us hope? Will we recall these years as a time of optimism or a time of dread?

I read today that the Statue of Liberty has been closed since 9/11. The Park Service says we are welcome to walk the grounds but the statue is closed, and they won't answer questions about it until they post an update on the monument's web site.[1]  I read that public funds are not available to open it again -- for the security upgrades -- and that private donations are being sought.[2]  Folgers, "America's #1 coffee brand (based on unit sales)" is leading the charge.[3] 

This story is a metaphor for what I see as the dominant themes of our time: the withering of liberty and the transfer of responsibility to corporate America. With this, I find it impossible to feel optimistic, which leaves me with a feeling of dread. And unless something changes (and I pray it will), that will be my answer.

Maybe its just me. But then I didn't ask the question.

[1] NPS/Status of Liberty National Monument
[2] The News & Observer
[3] Folgers

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 Friday, November 7, 2003

Band Weather

The message said that the event was cancelled due to band weather. It must have been a true Freudian slip. What is band weather, you ask?

It is very cold outside, the band leader wrote.

I might add, it was probably in the upper forties.

She added, I don't want to go and have them sitting there with their instruments frozen to their lips and their teeth rattling in their heads.

Which reminded me of marching on the field with my cornet valves frozen stuck, a.k.a. sub-freezing. And I might add, your teeth can't rattle in your head.

So the Clint Small Pep Band won't be at the high-school game tonite. They'll be at home where it's nice and warm. I suppose that's good.

But what about those frozen valves on my cornet? And let's talk about when I walked across campus in waist-deep snow.

Ok, ok. I take it back! She had the right idea. Let's just stay home and drink hot tea. I did, after all, move to Texas and have never gone back!

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 Wednesday, November 5, 2003

Enchiladas and Politics

We sat there talking politics while we ate tortilla chips and waited for our enchiladas to arrive. We talked about Dean and the Democrats. We talked about Bush and the Republicans. Some were optimistic. Others were not.

We sat there, each of us chiming in from time to time, some speaking more often and keeping the conversation between strangers alive.

Anne at the end of the table had a confession to make.

I voted for Nader, she said with a sheepish look on her face and a tone of confession in her voice. And I have to think that this is kind of my fault.

Did you live in Texas, then? Phil asked.

She said she had, and instantly several people responded, Oh, then your vote didn't count, anyway.

That's how it is down here.

Dean for Texas Meetup
Austin, TX

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 Monday, November 3, 2003

Some Mornings

It was time to go -- five minutes past time. And the freeway is a demanding mistress: leave five minutes too late and you'll get to work 30 minutes later than usual.

As we walked to the door, the dog looked to the boy's room.

Ok. Let's go wake up the boy.

He wagged his tail and started jumping and looked up at me and down the hall to the dark room where the boys sleeps.

Yeah. The boy. Let's go wake him up!

With that, he dashed down the hallway and around the corner and started barking at the sleeping boy in the bunk. The once-sleeping boy was motionless for a while and then groaned and then stared over the edge at the wagging, jumping, barking dog.

He had no choice. He had to get up.

Be a good boy, I said. I'll see you on Wednesday. And I turned to leave.

Wait, came a plea from the bedroom. Wait!

I stopped at the front door and waited.

He came down the hallway in his underwear with a wagging, jumping, barking dog alongside. He came around the corner and into the foyer in full view of any passers-by and gave me a hug goodbye.

Some mornings are better than others.

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 Sunday, November 2, 2003

District Auditions

The halls of O'Henry Middle School were empty -- an eerie feeling. There were no voices of children. No voices of teachers. No ringing class bells or announcements over the PA. There wasn't a soul to be seen except a kid periodically running around a corner with a look of terror in his or her eyes and an instrument held tightly.

Although the halls were empty, it was hardly quiet. Music streamed into the halls from behind closed doors. Here there came the blaring of trumpets, there the waddle of bassoons. Here were the clarinets, and just outside the bathroom (that took forever to find) were the trombones.

I walked up to the window on the door hoping to spy my kid. It was papered over except at the edge. I pressed an eye to the glass. Here was the bell of a trombone and the hand of some kid (not mine) sliding his slide in and out. There was a tapping bare foot with red toenails and her sliding slide, too. From the sound behind that door, there must have been many others.

Down the hall, a tympani was rolling. The percussion auditions had started. And two doors down, the flutes erupted into a flutter of practicing where before they had been quiet. Evidently they were taking a break.

Behind my door, a young man wrote instructions for all the kids to see:

  - G scale (1 octave)
  - F scale (2 octaves)
  - Chromatic scale
  - Etude #1
  - Etude #2
  - Etude #3

One by one the kids started playing. I listened closely to the first and the second and the third. I listened hoping to catch my son as he played. A woman walked up beside me.

They will play the music twice around, she said and sat down on a chair next to the door. She had a book with her. She smiled at me and began to read.

I walked back down the hall from where I had come. I could swear that was him playing a chromatic scale as I turned the far corner. At least, I like to think that I know his sound.

District Band Auditions
O'Heny Middle School, Austin TX

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On the Value of Consumer Electronics


[...] I mean, I'd like to just go to the doctor when I felt sick. That is what I want. I'm a f*****g American, I work hard and make good money, but I can't go to the doctor. [...] it still really sucks here now.

I pointed to the DVD player. That said, it is remarkable how inexpensive consumer electronics have become. [...]

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 Saturday, November 1, 2003

Up Before the Dawn

We were up before the dawn, not all that early but well before the light now that daylight savings time is here. There was running to be done by the woman of the house, and there were auditions for the teenager. I went along for the ride.

So we were up before the dawn and out the door earlier than most sane people on a Saturday morning. And the day flew by.

In the evening, after eating dinner and rinsing the plates, after the teenager had run off to spend the night with a friend, the woman runner and I stood in the kitchen kissing.

The day had flown by, and we were tired. As we stood there smooching, I looked over her shoulders to see that it was dark outside, which was a relief, because I was tired and ready for bed.

I turned my head and looked at the clock: 6:30.

She looked at me and laughed.

Did I say we were up before the dawn?

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