Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Problem With The (Traditional) Media Today

CNN reported yesterday that

The Turkish Airlines plane that crashed this week in Amsterdam fell almost vertically to the ground...

Having some interest in things aeronautical, I clicked thru and started reading the article.

They followed up with additional information:

That sudden drop indicates the aircraft did not have enough forward speed when it crashed...

...Forgive me now, but I'm going to get pedantic...

How does a vertical drop "indicate" that there wasn't enough forward speed? It's as if they're telling us that the vertical drop is "evidence" and that the lack of forward speed is a "conclusion". And because such logic is a bit technical (in their estimation), they've decided that they need to explain it to us.

Except that a vertical drop is not evidence for "lack of forward speed". There is no indication at all. Vertical means "not horizontal". There is no logic to follow. There is nothing to explain. This is not an if p then q kind of situation; p and q are the same thing.

And this, you see, is the problem I have with mainstream journalism today. It's all about pumping up the words to make it seem like they have something meaningful to say, and in most cases they either don't or they're just mindlessly regurgitating what someone else said.

In this case, a single statement would have sufficed: The plane crashed vertically down into the ground. Period. End of story.

But of course, that doesn't count at "reporting", and if you've got a deadline and you yourself really don't understand the difference between vertical and horizontal because you never understood all that Cartesian geometry stuff anyway, what you need to do is invent something that makes is seem like you've uncovered a story: Experts conclude plane had no horizontal speed based on vertical trajectory evidence!

I'm not really sure why I bother going to this place for news, anyway. My bad, I confess.

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 Friday, February 27, 2009

Asking Her About Birthday Presents

"What do you want for your birthday?" I asked from the study.

"Dish towels!" she replied from the living room.

"Dish towels!?" (A long time ago I gave kitchen paraphernalia as a gift, a mistake that I vowed not to repeat.)

"I thought you were going to get me something so that I can listen to the TVs at the gym," she said.

"Well... I haven't said what I'm getting you one way or another. It was just an innocent question."

There was a momentary pause.

"Binoculars!" she shouted.

"Binoculars!?" I exclaimed with visions of mega-long, high-tech ones that I've only seen behind locked glass enclosures.

"I'm not sure this conversation is going in the right direction," I said.

She laughed loudly. I returned to reading about database sharding.

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Red Shirts

The socks I grabbed were some of the first running socks I bought way back when I rediscovered running. The shorts I grabbed were whatever was on the top of my pile. The shirt I grabbed was a red one from a race we ran last year.

I hesitated momentarily as I was about to pull the shirt off the hanger. Trudy was wearing her red shirt from the same race. We'd match exactly. Just a brief moment ... and then, yes. I put the shirt on.

When Trudy came in from outside, the dog came running into the bedroom to announce their return and tell me what a wonderful walk I missed. Trudy looked thru the doorway from the dining room.

"We match!" she said when she saw me, pointing to her red shirt. "Did you know?"

I smiled and nodded.

"You did!? Oh but that's every wife's dream come true!" she said with open arms.

Um, I turn 50 next month. If someone had just told me this earlier, things would have been so much easier!

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 Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Don't Give Up

No. No! Don't say that. You can't say that. Think of the consequences!

The markets won't like it. Listen to what they are saying! When have they gone wrong?

Don't give up on the bankers. Let them do what they get paid to do. Give them a chance to execute. When have they gone wrong?

So no more talk about receivership. No "nationalize". It's gone far enough.

Hat tip (chance to execute): TPM/cry me a small pond

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Talking to Joe

I was on my cell phone in the middle of explaining a list of points to Joe, who was patiently listening on the other end of the line. I think there were four points, and I was somewhere in the middle of the last one. It was taking quite a bit of time.

The other phone rang, and the fair and industrious Trudy answered it. I continued with my explanation for Joe.

Trudy came walking up.

"It's Joe," she said.

My eyes widened.

"Hang on, Joe," I said and turned to Trudy.

"It can't be Joe," I scoffed with a sneer on my face. "I'm talking to him!"

"Joe?" I asked into my cell phone, to show that she must be confused.


"Joe?" I said again.


Trudy handed me the other phone and walked away, pointing a finger of shame in my direction.

Evidently I lost him somewhere in the middle of point two.

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 Monday, February 23, 2009

Too Big To Fail

Those magnificent men in their flying machines, they rose to dizzying heights and now they look down to see nothing between them and the ground.

But our fearless leaders won't tell us this from behind their podiums. They pontificate and they dance under bright lights as cameras click and whir. They protect us from the truth.

And the sad truth is that the big boys broke the banks. There's nothing left to do but close their doors, clean them out, break them up, and sell the pieces we can back to the private sector.

Maybe too big to fail wasn't such a good idea after all.

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 Sunday, February 22, 2009

A Long Way to Go

As I turned off the bridge that crosses the river and started to run out from the shadows into the warm sun, I came upon a family. Two parents, one dog on a long leash that spanned half the trail, and three young kids that took up the other half. Together they managed to block the path from left to right.

I ran between the dog and a little boy who was darting to and fro with his sister. They were both about the same size, coming up to about my waist. Although the space between them and the dog was closing fast, I managed to squeeze thru and get by.

"Good," I thought and began to enjoy the sun on my fingers, which are constantly cold these days.

After about 30 seconds, I heard a voice behind me from what must have been that same little boy. I was a bit surprised that I could hear him so clearly, but after all he was a little boy and the sky was blue and the sun was warm.

"Hey!" said the little voice. "Let's run to that man up there. First one wins!"

I was too far ahead of them by now to be the man, but I imagined, without looking back, the race. I imagined the little boy getting a head start on his sister who darted off after him to catch up. And I imagined the third sibling realizing late that a race was on and running hard to catch up with the two of them. I imagined this.

Then I heard little racing footsteps on the trail, soft at first but getting louder. I heard them way behind me -- two, three kids running hard. They got louder and louder until I could hear the crunching of their shoes on the crushed granite and their panting just behind me. And then I saw someone about the height of my waist come beside me out of the corner of me left eye and just break the plane of my forward motion.

"I win!" a young boy's voice exclaimed.

Three little kids. Just up to my waist. Use me as the finish line of their race as if I was standing still.

I got a long way to go before that 10K race next month.

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Standing Watching His Oaks

A man stands under the blue sky with a cool breeze in his face and the warm morning sun on his back. A Red-bellied Woodpecker knocks on an Ash tree across the street. A Mourning Dove coos. A Blue Jay complains. In the distance a Crow calls.

The man stands there gazing at the uppermost branches of his Oak trees, checking their buds, wondering when the leaves will come, hoping they didn't get too dried out last year. He looks first at the Monterey Oak, remembering how small it was when he planted it only eight years ago, and then at the Lacey Oak, yearning for the return of its dusty blue-green leaves.

Two neighbors get into their car and look over at the man as they drive away. One of them smiles and waves. The other just stares with his mouth agape, evidently wondering about this spectacle of a man standing doing nothing in the sun with his neck bent back.

How can you live in the shadows of Oaks and not watch them when the sky is blue and the morning sun is shining and the birds are singing? On a warm day in early spring, how can you not hope for more rain and wonder when the leaves will come?

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 Thursday, February 19, 2009

The Dog's Advice

It's dark outside, and cold. The bed beckons.

"Mr. Man?" she sings from under the covers, as she hears me stand up from the chair.

The dog barks in agreement and comes out into the living room to encourage me, to offer his advice. But I turn away and walk toward the room with the keyboards and the monitors and the spinning disks. He stands silently and watches me leave.

I have one more thing to say. I need to get it out before I collapse under the covers. But it's not about Irises blooming or sunny blue skies. And it's not about birds singing or grass growing. Maybe I should reconsider.

Perhaps not now after all. Not with this bitterness in my mouth. Perhaps I should just let the words sit the other window before I mash the send button. Let them mellow with age. Perhaps I should just follow the dog's advice.

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 Wednesday, February 18, 2009

When They Were At The Helm

I'm imagining a board room. Long mahogany table, dark paneled walls. Spectacular view of the metropolis out floor-to-ceiling windows with the sun shining against a clear, blue sky. Cold water in crystal glasses. People sitting in leather chairs wearing expensive clothes. Flashy watches. Fancy phones.

These are the best. These are the brightest. They come from the right families. They went to the right schools. They know the right people. From their positions high above the city streets, they pull the strings. Their words move mountains.

But the enterprise has gone astray. The ship has gone off course. And the problem is, that no one knows what course it is on. Worse, they don't know where the navigation equipment is. Yet worse, none of them will admit that they haven't the faintest idea what to do.

That's what I'm imagining. And I'm wondering what they will tell their grandchildren about the ship that wrecked when they were at the helm.

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 Monday, February 16, 2009

The Beginning of It

So we stood there along the finish line, cheering and clapping and shouting and laughing. My shouting drew looks from the otherwise silent crowd. But I just shouted louder and my throat began to hurt and my brother began to harass me and my wife began to cover her ears from the pitch of my whistles.

In short, this was a Group W bench moment. I mean... if we weren't having so much fun and if the sun finally shining down on us didn't feel so good, they might have all moved away from me. But they didn't move away, and we just laughed and clapped and shouted.

My brother looked at Trudy and me and said, "I miss Ben."

He wasn't with us, and this was the kind of moment he would have shared with us. A moment to laugh and make fun. A moment to soak in the sun and cheer for others. He would have been here with us laughing and clapping and shouting and poking fun at his dad.

"I miss Ben," my brother said again. "He should be here."

Trudy and I looked at each other. We didn't need to say anything. This was only the beginning of it.

At the Austin Marathon with Ben away visiting a prospective college.

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 Sunday, February 15, 2009

One Hundred Meters

We stood there in the sun along the finish line of the marathon route. The crowd was shockingly quiet, most of them waiting for their one friend or their one spouse to finish, at which point they would turn and leave. Their silence was embarrassing.

So as we stood there, warmed by the rays of the sun that had just broken thru the clouds, we cheered loudly. Trudy periodically took out a small bell and rang it. And she clapped and shouted to the runners. My brother Ben, who had run the first six miles of the route in amazing time, clapped and shouted, too. I stood there whistling and cheering for all I was worth.

I've been on the other side before. A loud crowd cheering you on is something to behold. So I whistled as loudly as I could until I was blue in the face. And I shouted as loudly as I could in spite of the fact that I knew I'd be hoarse for days.

"Go runners!"

"Good job! Finish hard, runners!!"

"One hunnnndred meeeeters to go!!"

My brother chuckled at that last one, and he repeated it in a quiet voice, perfectly mimicking me: "One hunnnndred meeeeters!" And he made some comment about the "cheering man" that the other spectators were undoubtedly whispering about.

"Am I being obnoxious?" I asked.

"You are not being obnoxious," he said, and yelled out, "One hunnnndred meeeeters to go!!"

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 Friday, February 13, 2009

Packing for His Trip

Ok, so he did clean his room. And he took his Government test at the community college. And he went to the bank and deposited his check and got a printout of his 1099. And he did clean his bathroom which desperately needed it, including the mirror which I would have left to another time. And he did do several loads of his laundry, even folding and putting away some of it. And he gave the dog a bath, telling him he was a good boy.

What the heck. He can go to the gym, right? He knows he needs to pack for his college visit. He knows he's leaving at the crack of dawn and that we need to wake up even earlier. So cut him some slack, right?

And now I'm sitting here and it's 10pm, and he's not home yet. And now it's 10:30, and still no sign of him.

What's he thinking!?

He needs to be at the airport before the taco shacks will open for breakfast. His step-mother made all the arrangements for this trip. And his aunt is driving across the tundra, mile after mile, to get him at the airport and show him around Philadelphia. And he doesn't even seem to know that he's got to pack and get some sleep!!

And now, I hear a car pull up and a door slam. And the front door opens, and he comes in and says, Halloo! And he pets the dog. And he sits down on the couch and listens to Trudy give him some instructions about I don't know what. And now he's in his room packing.

So what on earth was I getting so bent out of shape about?

gumby and pokey

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 Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Just Kabuki Dancers

The stage is dark and quiet and quiet. A pipe whistles a long, harsh note, then another, and another. A single pop of a drum, and the quiet returns.

A light shines on several people dressed in flowing costumes with bright white makeup and streaks on their faces. They all begin to sing.

four dramatic kabuki faces

Stiiiiiiiiiimulous bill!

BipAAAAAAAAArtisan agreement!


AAAAAAAAAAAAAdjustments downward!

They turn and step on stage in well rehearsed, exaggerated movements, swinging their arms in great circles, holding their bodies at acute angles. We know all this. We've heard the words. We've heard the song. Same as it ever was. The same old words time after time, posturing and scoring points in the old familiar ways.

They're just a bunch of Kabuki dancers hiding behind their white makeup. They're just a bunch of Kabuki dancers acting out the play we all know so well. They're just a bunch of Kabuki dancers, and it evidently hasn't occurred to them that for once something different is called for.

Kabuki Masks art: Marco Almera

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 Monday, February 9, 2009

Sunday and Monday, Lilies and Irises

Sunday night. It was dark. We were tired from the long drive. We walked into the house and were greeted by (in addition to a very happy dog) the fragrance of the Stargazer Lilies that we had left on the kitchen counter. Many new blossoms had opened while we were gone, and the house was full of the sweet smell of them.

Monday morning. It rained last night. Drips were still dropping from the trees. I walked out into the yard and was greeted by (in addition to a few welcome drops on my head) the cool fresh air, the kind of sweet fragrance that only comes after a rain. And across the yard, the new blossom of a white iris stood where none was just a few days ago.

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 Thursday, February 5, 2009

Greed Was Good

So how'd that work, that greed is good thing?

That blind faith in the invisible hand? That efficient markets mantra. That notion that we need not fret over values or talk about the public good. That worship of the captains of industry with their bonuses and options and gilded compensations and their night dreams and cravings that would rise the tides and raise the boats.

How that turn out? You doing ok?

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 Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Stargazer Lilies

As I sat last night working on a presentation, typing away at my keyboard, donning and doffing my sweater as I got alternately hot and cold, the fragrance of lilies surrounded me.

The fragrance of the bespeckled blossoms filled the house and soothed my mind as I sat there with the clock on the mantle showing a later and later hour.

And when I woke up this morning and retook my seat, they were at it again.

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Feeling Like a Foreigner

I've been here before.

These spiraling concrete stairs climbing up from the Underground into the shade of Live Oaks and a blue sky beyond.

This sloping drive down into the courtyard with tables where we used to eat and drink and philosophize, where I struggled to contain my panic and salvage my dissertation and failed.

The winding stairs on the other end of the Union and a tiny room somewhere at the top where in 1984 we published a newsletter for campus Macintosh users.

That television room over there behind that wall of glass where we sat glued to our chairs all day after we heard about Challenger.

I've been here before, been here often, lived here for a time. But it's been a long while, and I see that it belongs to other people now. And I kind of feel like a foreigner.

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 Sunday, February 1, 2009

Floppy Disks

I found some boxes of floppy disks when I was rummaging around the garage today. For heavens sake, more floppy disks. I thought I had purged them all.

It was a painful process, that purge. Floppy disks and old CDs and old computers that were such friends for so many years.

floppy disk photo

And books on programming them that will never be read again no matter how much I might wish otherwise. After having salvaged the aluminum shutters off the whole lot of them, I tossed them into the garbage and didn't look back.

floppy disk aluminum sliders photo

floppy disks in garbage photo

Yet, today here were more, staring up at me from the bottom of a box, shaming me for my crime. New ones, even, stickerless floppies lined up in a row just as they had been when the box was first opened many years ago. They never got written, never got read, and now it was too late.

I stood there speechless, then shouted to Trudy, "There are more floppy disks in here."

I don't think she heard the anguish in my voice.

"I think these were yours," I said.

And that made it easier what I had to do next.

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