Category Archives: General

Taking sides

This sort of thing just keeps happening:

Two people – let’s call them A. and S. – have a brief, tempestuous and profoundly dysfunctional relationship. Sometimes, it’s a personal relationship; other times, business. It starts well enough, but ends badly. Very badly.

One of the principals – let’s say it’s A. – posts a lengthy explanation of how it all went wrong, and why S. is to blame; and the internet erupts in outrage.

Some people believe A., and start hating on S. Others side with S., and start hating on A. Sometimes, a third party – let’s call this one W. – gets dragged into it, mostly to embarrass S., but also because there’s so much hate sloshing around the internet that it’s hard for everyone involved to stay focused.

After a while, S. posts a lengthy narrative of injuries suffered, not so much to refute anything in A.’s post as to protest the myriad dirty tricks perpetrated (on S.) by the anonymous horde of internet outrage junkies. This does nothing to calm the outrage; if anything, it fires off a new round of meta-outrage about the outrage.

Of which, I suppose, this post is an example, because my reaction to all of the above was: For [expletive]’s sake, people, grow up.

Here’s some advice – free, and worth every penny – to all the former teenagers working so hard to turn the internet into high-school drama writ large:


Don’t air your dirty laundry in public.

If your ex does it, don’t respond.

If a friend goes through a messy breakup, be caring and supportive – in person, not on the internet.

If a stranger goes through a messy breakup, stay out of it. Mind your own business.

Don’t violate anyone’s privacy.

Don’t post threats.

If a few thousand strangers on the internet are ignoring all of the above, and behaving abominably, don’t join them.


I’m not going to take sides in any of these internet-augmented breakups. I’ve reached the age where having opinions isn’t as much fun as it used to be, and persuading strangers that my opinions are better than theirs just isn’t worth the effort.

Elm Street

Tuesday’s walk – 11,847 steps, just over five and a half miles – included a few blocks of Elm Street, over in Urbana.

That’s a residential neighborhood: apartment buildings, and houses subdivided into apartments; mostly for students, but with an admixture of former students & general layabouts.

Somewhere on Elm Street – I have, perhaps to my benefit, forgotten exactly where – is the house where D. lived. She was the friend of a friend, which is how we met, in the spring of 1989.

There were a few parties we both attended, a few afternoons we spent together. We went out to dinner. She borrowed my car, once. There was one party that we left early, together. (And whatever you think I’m implying with that, you’re probably wrong.)

I liked D. I enjoyed spending time with her.

One day I visited D. at her new apartment, in the house on Elm. She’d just moved in, and was still unpacking, cleaning, doing minor repairs, etc., etc. After some small talk – something about a loose floorboard, an injured knee, and dubiously-acquired self-administered antibiotics – the conversation turned unexpectedly serious.

It’s been twenty-five years, but I remember D. looking at me, and asking, “What are you after?”

Um.

“After”?

I was stunned. All this time – I thought something was happening between us – Is that all you think of me? I didn’t say that; I didn’t say any of what I was thinking, didn’t raise any protests or offer any defenses. Would there have been any point?

There’s no response to an accusation like that.

I don’t remember what I said, but I do remember that it didn’t change D.’s mind about me. I didn’t see much of her after that. (Before drifting completely out of my life, D. introduced me to her friend, T. What a disaster that was.)


I wrote most of the above on Tuesday, revised it a bit on Wednesday, then…couldn’t bring myself to post it. Something about it bothered me.

If you stare at a wall long enough, you’ll see the bricks; today I realized: I hadn’t been very fair to D.

It can be hard to tell caution from suspicion, when you’re on the receiving end of it. If D. had learned – or it was simply in her nature – to be wary of men she hadn’t known very long, who am I to say she was wrong?

It’s harder still to think clearly when your feelings have been hurt.

Perhaps the truth of it – a quarter-century too late to do anyone any good – is that D. had her own feelings about what was happening, they were different from mine, and…that’s ok. Worrying over who was right, who was wrong & whose feelings were hurt worse accomplishes exactly nothing.

Stalking

Long ago and far away, I worked with a woman named…let’s just call her A., for reasons that may become clear.

In 1990, she & I were members of a small enclave of twentysomethings working in the mumble mumble department at [redacted] Insurance Company, Evanston, Illinois.

It may be the warped perceptions of youth – or perhaps the culture shock of leaving a Champaign tech startup for an eighty-year-old Evanston insurance company – but most people in the department seemed really old. Geezers. Aliens. Incomprehensibly different.

The few of us who weren’t superannuated tended to stick together, even though we seldom had any work projects in common. We ate lunch together, took coffee breaks together, were friends in the arm’s-length sort of way that comes of spending forty hours a week in the same room.

In 1991 I quit [redacted] and moved back to Champaign. I haven’t seen or spoken with A. since.

Yesterday evening, quite out of the blue, I found myself thinking of A. She has a son, M., born sometime in 1991; he’d be an adult now. What’s he up to? I wondered.

There is no privacy these days. Everything’s online. Alas for A., what’s online for M. is…a police report, court records, Sentenced to 160 hours of community service, etc., etc. I even found M.’s mug shot.

Handsome fellow. Looks like his mother.

Privacy advocates always come at the issue from one side: You have the right to keep secrets. Well, yes, that’s true enough. But it’s also true that knowing others’ secrets can be troubling & burdensome. I was happier not knowing about M.’s legal problems.

I need to remember that, the next time I’m tempted to rummage around in other people’s lives.

Games

Many of my friends at Buffalo Grove High School – class of 1980 – were into games: all the big 1970s role-playing & combat games, with dice and hexagons and tiny cardboard chits.

(A friend of a friend – a fella named Pete S. – was famous for once playing War in Europe as the Axis…and winning.)

I tried to be a gamer, like my friends. I bought a stack of Dungeons & Dragons books, and was a regular reader of The Dragon. I bought a half-dozen games (some of which were quite expensive). I attended meetings of the local war-game club. I even played a few games.

But I never was very good at them. (I have no skill at strategy games, and no patience for fourteen-hour military simulations.) As soon as the high-school gamer crowd broke up – we graduated, started college and/or military service – I drifted away.

A corollary hobby – painting tiny lead figures – persisted a few years longer, but in the end I gave that up as well.

Most of the relics from that time are long gone: the books, the magazines, the paints & brushes. I sold some, gave some away, threw out nearly all the rest. I do have a few lead figures, packed away in a closet somewhere; and, in a grocery sack under my desk at work, I have two SPI games: Sinai and World War III.

The one is a simulation of the Six-Day War, the other a (hypothetical!) global conflict between the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. (this was the 1970s, after all). I’ve never played either of them. They’re so ferociously complex that I likely never will.

I really should just throw them away.

Books

I was looking at the living-room bookshelves just now, and realized: Most of these authors are dead.

Specifically, these authors:

Douglas Adams
Isaac Asimov
Ray Bradbury
John Brunner
Arthur C. Clarke
Philip K. Dick
Robert Graves
Robert A. Heinlein
Frank Herbert
Ayn Rand
J.R.R. Tolkien

They were all still alive – most of them were still writing – when I started reading them. Now they’re all gone.

I don’t have favorite authors any more: people whose writing careers I follow with interest, whose forthcoming books I anticipate eagerly. Mostly, I haunt the cheap lists on Amazon and drop the occasional $2 when something catches my eye.

I can’t seem to get into the current crop of science-fiction authors. I read their books, but none of them yet has sparked the Must read all from this person obsession that directed my library-building efforts back in the 1970s & 1980s.

Why is that?

Walking

I’ve been walking, despite the weather (and the sometimes abominable condition of streets & sidewalks): about three miles a day, according to my pedometer.

The limiting factor in how far I walk isn’t anything I would have guessed, back in the days when walking two blocks would leave me winded. I stop walking – and head for the nearest bus stop – mostly because I get bored. Not tired.

(Well, yes, and also because my feet hurt; but that’s because my sneakers are wearing out. Perhaps next month I will replace them.)

Winter

…and here we are, five weeks into the winter of 2014 – 2015, with eight weeks (less a day) remaining.

One might argue that winter really began a month before the solstice, with an unexpected weeklong cold snap that brought single-digit overnight lows. That was the inflection point, when normal changed from autumnal (warm, with occasional cold) to wintry (cold, with occasional warmth).

It’s the sort of transition visible only in hindsight.

We’ve had a few storms. The last one dropped an inch or so of slush, that froze afterward into a treacherous glaze on sidewalks & secondary streets all over town. Perversely, the ice was worse where people had tried to clear the sidewalks.

The schools have taken two snow days – though it was subzero temperatures, not snow, that kept the kids home. A week later, it was just as cold, but school was on. Go figure.

I walk as much as I can, despite the weather. Putting 10,000 steps on the pedometer is relatively easy these days: more a question of opportunity and motivation than of stamina. The cold doesn’t bother me too much, though I wouldn’t turn up my nose a knee-length wool coat & a good scarf.

I’ve looked everywhere for a heavy wool greatcoat, but all I’ve found are costumes for military re-enacters and decades-old army surplus. (Some moth damage, the vendor confessed. Suitable for costume use.) Other styles – trenchcoats, topcoats, overcoats – seem mostly intended for twentysomething hipsters.

There’s nothing for an old man who’s tired of being cold.

So, until I find (and acquire!) the coat of my dreams, I layer up, minimize exposed skin, and think of spring: fifty-five days, and counting.

Baggage

Most mornings, I leave for work. (Some days, I stay home.) I carry with me a few things:

  • Wallet
  • Phone
  • Travel mug (contents: coffee, essential)
  • Lunch bag (contents: lunch)
  • Bifocals (for indoor / outdoor use)
  • Reading glasses (for computer use)
  • Fitbit One (for step counting)

That’s not so much, as gear lists go. I’ve heard of people who can’t face the world with less equipment than Lewis & Clark took up the Missouri, but I’m not one of them. Just the essentials, please.

I’ve tried over years a number of bags, backpacks, satchels, etc., etc., to carry all my stuff. A number of rejects – experiments that failed – are cluttering up the bedroom closet:

  • An old canvas briefcase. I’ve had it so long that I don’t remember any more where it came from. (The archives record that it came from Land’s End.)
  • A Timbuk2 messenger bag. (Most of the time, their prices are way over my budget; but once in 2012 their inventory-clearance prices dipped low enough that I could afford one.)
  • A backpack, picked up from Target way back in 2008.
  • Not one but two Wolfram Research tech-conference-swag “laptop bags”. (They’re identical. I’ve no idea how I ended up with two of them.)

I’ve settled for now on the lunch bag: it holds my lunch, with enough pockets left over for everything else. It’s not perfect, but it works.

That might change, if I were to acquire a sufficiently portable work computer. The one I have now – a fine example of the Soviet Architecture school of design – is far too heavy to lug around. It stays at work, and pretty much never leaves my desk.

Something smaller and (much) lighter, in a messenger bag large enough to accommodate lunch & travel mug – that would be nice. I have the notion to sit at the library, sipping a latte while vpn’d in to work, checking on builds.

Internet of Things

Much chatter of late on the so-called Internet of Things: connecting to the internet gadgets & appliances that previously weren’t connected to anything.

I suppose I’m participating, in a small and relatively private way, with the (ongoing, eternally unfinished) Yard-Cam project; but I’m not all that interested in providing internet access to the refrigerator, thermostat, washer & dryer, light bulbs, etc., etc.

What would I do with all these newly-networked devices? Adjust the thermostat while riding the bus? Start a load of laundry from work? (Can the Internet of Things move laundry from washer to dryer? Didn’t think so.) Flush the toilet from across town?

I don’t want my toilet on some Bulgarian botnet.

(It occurs to me that the U-verse router is already having problems, servicing the computers we’ve connected to it. Were we to pile on two dozen more wifi connections for light bulbs & assorted frippery, the wretched thing would likely melt down.)

Goodbye to 2008

This morning, I retrieved the 2008 archives from long-term storage (i.e., the closet in #1 son’s bedroom), and shredded everything: old bank statements, utility bills, insurance papers, even some medical records.

My cholesterol in 2008 was…normal.

2008 was the year I bought a Sidekick, my first phone that didn’t have a hinge in the middle. It had a gorgeous screen, a surprisingly good keyboard, and – best of all – a great camera.

I had a grand time with my Sidekick, until Microsoft managed to destroy both the company that made it (Danger) and the data center that it relied on.

Way to go, ’softies.

The accordion folder previously dedicated to 2008 will now receive the 2015 archives (which are currently piled on my desk, and very much in the way). A year from now, it will go (back) in the closet; six years after that, it will be time to say goodbye to 2015.