Sunday, February 29, 2004

Au Revoir

My name is David, he spoke into the phone. I only speak a bit of French.


Is there anyone there who can speak English?

Yes, but perhaps we can speak in French anyway?

He said ok.

The conversation didn't last long. He wanted a room for a night in July. Nothing was available, but she told him they had rooms the night before and two nights after.

He didn't know what to say. Not due to surprise. He simply did not know how to respond in French.

There was brief silence on the long distance telephone lines.

Au revoir? she suggested.

Au revoir, he said.

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 Saturday, February 28, 2004

Strange Thing in the Morning

I lay in bed this morning in the dark. Though as for that the lengthening of the days is upon us, and so in spite of the early hour there was a slight gray glow in the air. But I had my eyes closed.

So I lay in bed in a self-imposed darkness. And I listened to the song of a cardinal outside. That was the only sound to be heard as I lay in bed this morning in that darkness: the singing of a distant cardinal in the silence of the dawn.

Yet even though the cardinal was all I could hear, there was also the tree he was in and the branches and buds beginning to push out into spring. I could hear all this in the song of that cardinal singing at dawn. Really, I could.

But that is not what I wanted to talk about.

The strange thing about this morning was this. As I lay there I could no longer sleep. And since I could no longer sleep I got up, and coffee got made, because Trudy got up, too. And the dog began running around, and the cat jumped into my lap as I sat at the keyboard typing these words.

The strange thing was that even though the dawn was only just dawning, and even though day was mostly still dark, and even though the only sound to be heard was that cardinal in the tree, and even though it was the weekend and there was nothing to do, I got up.

The strange thing was that I was wide awake and got up to tell you what a strange thing it was that I would get up to tell you what a strange thing it was.

Strange thing, indeed.

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 Friday, February 27, 2004

Smells of Smoke

This place smells like smoke.

Coming down the wide, carpeted stairs. Holding onto the polished brass banisters. Listening to the echoes of voices near and far. Watching people come and go across the open floor of the hotel lobby.

With the late afternoon sun reflecting off the building across the street and shining thru the 20-story wall of glass. With the cloudless blue sky behind.

This could kind of be nice.

But the place smells like smoke, and that kind of ruins the other stuff.

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 Thursday, February 26, 2004

Layoffs and Purchases

They were standing around the table. Manfred was talking about the latest round of layoffs he had heard about. He was talking about how his friend's company had laid off a bunch of people and also bought another company.

They laid them off and then they bought a company!? one of the others erupted.

No, explained Manfred, they bought the company and then they laid them off.

Oh. I see.

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 Wednesday, February 25, 2004

The Man From the Twentieth Century

Tell us about when you were young, Grandpa.

They gathered around as he rocked back and forth in his rocking chair and gazed at the ceiling.

When I was young, he began, we believed that we could change the world. Because the world had changed so much since our grandparents were born.

When I was young, he continued, we worked hard because hard work got things done. Hard work sent men to the moon. Hard work invented computers. Hard work built tall buildings and paved wide highways and sent cars and trucks racing from coast to coast.

When I was young, we convinced ourselves that we should protect the environment, and we passed laws to do it. We believed that we could reduce poverty, and we invented programs to help people who needed help. We believed the Holocaust was an anomaly.

And when I was young, we believed that principles made us different -- that our country was founded on them and our laws derived from them. We only had to read the Constitution to see them.

But that was the Twentieth Century, and this is now. All the environmental laws are gone. Social security and medicare and medicaid are no more. Today genocides are just the cost of politics. And our Constitution has been amended so many times that you can't see the principles anymore. Today hard work doesn't count, only money does.

And today, people no longer believe they can change the world.

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 Monday, February 23, 2004

Geeking Out Again

I said Bill was showing off his new chain saw. I said Vivian was talking about her power-washed deck. I said Trudy was shopping online at Travel Smith. And I said I was just writing code.

We were all geeking out, I said. But she looked over her shoulder at me with a quick glance and the squint of an eye.

It seems to me that you're the only one that fits that description, she said.

But no, I say. That was my point. I was not the only one. What was Bill doing, sawing out? Was Vivian decking out? Was Trudy shopping out? No. We were all just doing what we like to do.

And my point was that the term geeking out means doing what you love to do, to software folks anyway. Yet somehow, it's a label of derision?

Are we different? Are we not supposed to like what we like? Are software people somehow unique? Hmm...

Trudy might have been right after all.

I feel sorry for them all.

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 Sunday, February 22, 2004

Geeking Out

We all geek out in our own sweet ways.

For Bill across the street, it's a new chain saw. For Vivian next door, it's the imperfections in the power washing her deck got the other day. For me, it's coding when I'm at home or reading weblogs. For Trudy, it's shopping the incredible sales at Travel Smith online.

We all geek out in our own sweet ways.

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 Friday, February 20, 2004

A Tube of Caulk

Anyone will tell you: I am not a handy-man. These are the hands of a paper engineer. These are the hands of a software man. These are not the hands of a handy-man.

My grandmother knew it. My wife knows it, too.

So you might imagine the courage it took for her to go along when I said I would disconnect and reconnect the sink when we had the counters redone.

The workmen did the job quickly. By evening there was little evidence left, except for the neat new look of our kitchen. ... And the sink. It was still disconnected.

Although I was hungry and had even less of a home improvement attitude than usual, I had promises to keep. So I took the sink out to the garage for a thin clear line of silicone caulk.

I pulled the trigger. Nothing. And I pulled again. Nothing. And again and again. Still nothing. I pulled and I pulled until I gave up. But as I set the gun down, I noticed silicone oozing all over. Clear goo all over the tube and the gun. Everywhere except where I wanted it to be.

This is my life, I said to Trudy when she came to see. It's always the simple things with me. Who ever has trouble with their tube of caulk? I confess, it felt like defeat.

She looked at the directions (which I had read three times, I might add).

'Pierce the seal,' she read.

Did that, I said. Look at the tip.

No, she said. It says 'Pierce the seal and then cut the tip.'

Oh, I said. I was thinking that 'Pierce the seal' was a strange way to tell me to cut the tip.

T'was ever thus.

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 Thursday, February 19, 2004

The Soundtrack

I set it there this morning. Finally brought it to work as I have intended for a long time.

A square frame around a square image. The black of space. A turning wheel space station partially under construction. A sleek white shuttle rocket flying away.

I set it on my desk with a Strauss waltz running thru my head. It sat there quietly, and I forgot about it as the day ran on.

Cool! a friend said from the hallway in the afternoon.

He was looking in thru the door, looking at the new picture on my desk.

That's so cool!

I looked at him. He had a slightly puzzled look on his face.

Do you know what it is?

It's 2001.

Yes, but do you know what that is in the frame?

What do you mean?

That's the soundtrack. The album. My brother gave it to me for Christmas -- framed.

The album... You mean like a vinyl LP!? He held up his hands in the shape of a circle.


That's so cool!

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 Wednesday, February 18, 2004

Time for Bed

I wonder what it means that when I come home in the evening I can't wait to sit down at the computer. Sit down at the computer and check my email, sure. And read some news, sure. But I wonder what it means that I want to write code.

And I wonder what she thinks it means.

And I wonder what it means that I wonder what she thinks it means.

It means it's time for bed.

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 Tuesday, February 17, 2004

Think Globally, Act Locally

I stood outside this evening, in the dark, around the corner of the garage, leaning over the garbage can.

I stood there with pliers, pulling the metal and plastic dispensers off the top of four glass nasal spray bottles so that I could recycle them (each small enough to conceal in my fist).

In the dark, for five minutes I pulled and pried and finally tossed the four dispenserless bottles into the recycle bin.

What're you laughing at?

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 Sunday, February 15, 2004

The Motorola Half

We took hot showers and drank hot coffee to warm our bones. We donned running tights and sweat pants, long-sleeved shirts and wind-breaking vests. We wore the closest thing we have to winter coats. And we went with hats and gloves.

Yesterday at that time, the ground was covered in snow. Today, it was gone (except for the melted remains of snowmen built by children and parents up and down the street, and except for a great snow-boulder rolled by the diesel-driving Bubbas on the corner).

The snow was gone. But it was still plenty cold.

So we bundled up and headed out with night still over the city. Thousands of others converged on the spot. We passed the hard-core runners warming up on the hill. We passed shivering people and their radiating smiles. The music was blaring. And the lines were forming at the porta-potties, although we scored big-time and found some with lines only two people deep.

It was her race. We ran together at her pace.

We ran by the sliver of woods that remains near the malls and the restaurants and the office buildings in North Austin. We ran across the highway and watched the sun rise before us. We ran along the tracks, where a south-bound Union Pacific train flew past us, pulling empty gondola cars back to some quarry far away.

The wind blew in our faces. The sun felt warm.

We ran up and down hills -- down much more than up. We ran by bagpipes and jazz bands and drummers drumming cadences that made our nerves tingle. We ran past rock bands and neighborhoods gathered by the curb (in defiance of the cold) to cheer us with coffee in their hands.

As we turned south, the wind bothered us no more.

We ran down the hill on Duval and thru UT around the last turn. And with the finish line in sight, we let it go and finished strong. We beat 2:30 with time to spare.


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 Saturday, February 14, 2004

A Day of Snow

The weathermen called for snow -- an inch of snow, they said. I shook my head and muttered.

Right. An inch of snow. And I rolled my eyes.

But this morning we woke to a blanket on the ground. The branches of the trees (Oaks, Elms, Ashes, Pine), down the the tiniest twig, were lined in white. The logs in the back yard against the fence were invisible under the snow that hid them. The rose bush was a drooping mound of white and green.

As the sun came up, gleaming droplets of sunlight fell from branches to the ground. Snowmen began to line the streets. Kids in the neighborhood practiced for perhaps the first time how to pack a snowball and lob in at their chosen adversaries who were slower (or more meticulous) in the packing.

The sky was blue. The falling jewels from the trees made clicking sounds as they landed on the ground. We stood in the snow-covered grass with the sun at our back and listened to the call of a cardinal in an Ash tree to the west. He sat there singing, bright red against the leafless brown and snow-covered white and cloudless blue.

And I ate crow.

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 Thursday, February 12, 2004

The Boy Goes Shopping

The jewelry store was a flop. When we walked thru the door we knew it wasn't the right place.

"Dad? Can I go down to GameStop? There's nothing here."

I let him go. And although there really was nothing there, and although it was he who was looking for a gift, and although I had no interest in the place, I couldn't bring myself to leave so soon. So I looked around and contemplated peridots and amethysts, which was about all I could find in that store of gaudy flash.

Things were different on the other side of the parking lot. He probably knew it from the moment we walked thru the door.

Phyllis was arranging some pottery when the tingling bell hanging from the door knob rang. She turned and looked at us. She smiled when she saw my face. (I had been in there only a few weeks before.)

Hello!" she said.

"Hello again," I said. "I've come back. This time with my son."

We introduced ourselves again. She looked over at him.

"Are you hear for a ... girlfriend?"

"No. For my mom."

She looked at me as she listened to him.

"His mom and I are divorced, so I'm kind of letting him do this on his own."

She smiled broadly and nodded.

She was good with him. She walked him around the place, asking questions and making suggestions. Getting a feel for his taste.

He asked if she had plates or something that could hold a candle. His mom had lots of candles, he said.

"Birthday or Valentine's Day?" she asked.

"Valentine's," he said.

So she showed him a translucent, waving, red glass thing that immediately caught his interest. I kept my mouth shut. She showed him some other things on another table and some things over by the wall. It was there that he saw what he wanted.

"This is perfect," he said, holding up a small rectangular ceramic plate with greenish-bluish patterns in it. "It will match the walls in the living room."

"If it speaks to you..." I said.

"It speaks to me."

Phyllis smiled, too. And she took the plate and set it on the counter, where she tenderly wrapped it in tissue and put it in a box.

Soon, with a receipt in my hand and the box in a bag in his, we were ready to go.

As I turned toward the door, he noticed the translucent, waving, red glass thing still sitting on the counter.

"What about this!?" he asked, thinking we had forgotten it.

"I don't think so," I said. "Not on my dime!"

It just slipped out that way. It's certainly not what I meant. That red thing, as wavy and translucent as it was, just wasn't the right gift for his mom. And it was not that appealing. And it's price wasn't right. But that's how it came out anyway.

Phyllis erupted in laughter.

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 Wednesday, February 11, 2004

Only The Votes Count

Yes. That's it! Organize Kurdish Iraq so as to keep the Turkomen minority in place. Because you know this thing about equality is overblown, anyway. Principles are the plaything of children. Get with the program. We're in the majority, and we've got the votes.

Yes. That's it! Construct an Iraqi government on the basis of the words of a Shiite cleric. No caucuses. No deliberations. No consensus between the tribes. Our time has come. There are more of us than them. And we've got the votes.

Yes. That's it! Amend the Constitution so as to forbid same sex marriage. Because you know this thing about equal treatment under the law has been blown out of proportion. Principles are one thing, but really. And anyway, we've got the votes.

If you've got the votes, that makes it right. Only the votes count. Nothing else.

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 Monday, February 9, 2004

That's So Lame

It was a dark and rainy night -- not so good for jogging on the trails, although that's what we did. Mercifully, the rain let up while we were running.

Afterwards we went into the Y to cool down and stretch. She road on a stationary cycle, which was where she was when I returned. I tapped her on the shoulder and she gave the bike to the next refugee from the rain who was waiting in line.

We went to the weight room and stretched. She rolled around on an exercise ball, and I just sat there stretching my hamstrings, amazed at how tight you get when you don't run.

The weight room was just as full as the cycling room. There were teenagers talking with animated faces. There were men lifting with stern faces of intense concentration. There were woman looking as if they just wanted to be left alone. And there were the two of us.

She was rolling around on the ball, sometimes looking like she was working hard, sometimes looking like a kid. I was ogling her long, lean legs and winking at her as she rolled around.

That's so lame! came a voice from next to us.

We looked up with startled expressions. A slender trixie of a woman stepped down from the pull-up machine, her exercise pants riding very low on her hips, her blue midriff top drawing eyeballs to her flat stomach and her muscular arms. She was looking straight at us.

What? I asked.

That's so lame. I only did four pull-ups. When I was in elementary school I could do more than that!

We smiled and nodded agreeably. She turned and walked to the next machine, revealing some sort of planetary configuration of a tattoo on the small of her back, disappearing into the waist of her low-cut pants.

Elementary school! Trudy whispered.

I thought to myself, I wish I could remember elementary school.

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 Sunday, February 8, 2004

Coming Back From Lunch

They were done with lunch and on their way back to work. Ari was at the wheel with Gary in the passenger's seat. Tariq and Guy were in the back.

The traffic was light, and the cars were speeding along on the road. In moments, the chicken sandwiches and waffle fries would be a distant memory, and they would be back at their computers writing software, making plans, and answering email.

Then, at a stoplight there was a musical ringing sound. It filled the car. All of them looked around. Guy reached into his pocket and pulled out a ringing gadget -- a phone and a PDA rolled into one. It had a stubby black antenna on top and shiny keyboard with tiny keys arrayed below an LCD screen.

It's my wife, Guy said before the phone was out of his pocket. It's her ring.

The light turned green. Guy answered the phone.

Hello! he said.

The other three politely tuned his conversation out at first, but his voice got louder and louder until they couldn't help but listen.

Where are you, now? Guy said.

Tariq rolled his eyes to himself. He was a bit of a anti-techite in spite of his job writing software. Cell phones made him mutter to himself, and conversations like this forced him to bite his Luddite tongue.

We're coming home from lunch. On Parmer. Where are you?

Now we're next to the insurance building.

We're going west. Where are you?

Now we're across from the Walgreen's.

It kept on going like this, Guy giving frantic updates on their location and asking his wife where she was.

She's coming from the other way! Can you see her? She's in a black Camry.

They were driving along at 45 mph. The traffic in the lanes across the median was going the same speed the other way. The oncoming traffic approached them at a relative speed of 90 mph. White cars. Red cars. Blue pickups. Red pickups. And a black Camry.

There she is!

In seconds a black car passed them going the opposite way. And for a brief moment they saw her. The face of a woman. Sitting behind the wheel of a shiny black sedan. Looking out her window. Eyes wide. Mouth open as if she were yelling to them. Smiling. Waving at them. Cell phone in her hand.

And then she was gone.

Bye, honey. Love you.

And then the four of them were alone again. In moments, the chicken sandwiches and waffle fries and passing black sedan would be a distant memory, and they would be back at their computers writing software, making plans, and answering email.

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 Thursday, February 5, 2004

On Pencil Color

A: Thank you, Mr. B for talking time out from your day to speak with us here on the show. It is a pleasure to have you with us.

B: You are welcome, Mr. A. It is wonderful to be here again.

A: Mr. B, I'd like to get started directly with a question, if you don't mind.

B: Certainly. I am sure your good listeners would appreciate that. We are here for them after all.

<brief pause>

A: Mr. B, can you tell me the color of this pencil?

B: You know, that is an excellent question you ask. I believe that pencils are of great importance to our culture and our nation. And I have always felt that pencils are superior in many ways to any other writing instrument.

A: But with respect to this pencil and its color, Mr. B. What would you say?

B: Well you know Mr. A, it is not really color that is important. I would ask, rather, how soft is the lead. We all know that only with a soft lead can you make a good impression. I strongly support soft lead, and it has always been my belief that the people of this country deserve to know the softness of the leads in their pencils. I am committed to giving them the tools they need to answer that question.

A. Thank you, Mr. A. It looks like we are out of time for today. It has been pleasant speaking with you. Thank you again for taking time out of your busy day.

B. You are welcome, Mr. A. It has been my pleasure.

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 Wednesday, February 4, 2004

Just Answer the Question

Intelligence gathered by this and other governments leaves no doubt that the Iraq regime continues to posses and conceal some of the most lethal weapons ever devised. [White House]

Leaves no doubt? As in zero doubt? Or maybe it depends on what the definition of no is.

Possesses and conceals? Present tense, as in right now? Or maybe it depends on what the definition of now is.

Some of the most lethal weapons ever devised? As in real weapons? Or maybe it depends on what the definition of real is.

Would you stand by your words today?

An answer of "no" is ok. Really. Perhaps you were coming at it from a different direction. If so, just say so. It's ok. But the question still stands. Would you stand by those words today?

Don't tell me that they had plans. Don't tell me the had intent. That's not what you said. And that's not what I'm asking.

Just answer the question. Please.

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 Monday, February 2, 2004

Time for Bed

Time for bed, I told him.

You know how that goes. The first time he doesn't hear you. The next time he says, Huh? I was tired of it -- the day hadn't been the kind of day that makes one, shall we say, charitable.

So from my machine I typed,

% ssh admin@vertigo

The disk drive on his machine spun up, but he didn't notice. He was busy typing and clicking with a toothbrush hanging out of his mouth.

% ps auxw | grep neb

And all of his running processes were laid bare, including one that said "Explorer". I looked over at him, giving him another chance. He continued typing and clicking, eyes glued to the screen. I looked back at my screen and typed,

% sudo kill 557

I turned my head to face him before I hit Return. A character was moving around the screen. He was typing a message in some dialog with another character whom he was helping.

I hit Return, and Explorer was gone.

He didn't notice at first. I caught him in mid-sentence. When he looked up, his eyes widened, and he gasped, "Ah!" A second later he looked over at me. Without missing a beat, he stood up and went into the bathroom.

I stood up and went to make his lunch.

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 Sunday, February 1, 2004

A Spider in the Afternoon

Afternoon. Cool air. Cloudy skies. Overdue yard work to do.

Dig chop dig bend dig dig heave dig pull dig bend bend dig. Then, Stop.

Trudy, Ben! Come look at this spider!

It lies motionless in the cool air, curled in a ball with its jet black legs crunched up under its abdomen.

I turn to the patio door. No Trudy. No Ben. Not even a dog coming dashing thru the doggie door.

No nothing. Just z's coming from under the sliding door:

<zzz> for Trudy who slaved away at Quicken and thus has much sleeping to catch up on.

{zzz} for Ben who slept over at a friends house and thus has much sleeping to catch up on.

[zzz] for the dog, who is ... well ... a dog and so always has much sleeping to catch up on.

And the spider walks away.

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