All posts by Jamie Todd Rubin

About Jamie Todd Rubin

Jamie Todd Rubin writes fiction and nonfiction for a variety of publications including Analog, Clarkesworld, The Daily Beast, 99U, Daily Science Fiction, Lightspeed, InterGalactic Medicine Show, and several anthologies. He was featured in Lifehacker’s How I Work series. He has been blogging since 2005. By day, he manages software projects and occasionally writes code. He lives in Arlington, Virginia with his wife and three children. Find him on Twitter at @jamietr.

Late Spring Reading

I have mostly finished what books I could find on the history of computing. A few more linger and I’ll get to them, but I have a rough idea of what I will likely be reading for this last month of spring, or so, and it has me steadily moving away from computing history.

I am just about to finish Andy Weir’s Project Hail Mary which is the first science fiction I’ve read in a while. It’s a fun book and I’m really enjoying it. What makes it even better is Ray Porter’s narration on the audio book.

The book managed to reignite my interest in science fiction, which had wane over the last 6-7 years. So a few of the books on my late spring reading list are my attempt to keep that interest kindled. Here is the list I am planning (not in any specific order, and butterfly-effect of reading always flapping):

  • Crypto: How the Code Rebels Beat the Government–Saving Privacy in the Digital Age by Steven Levy
  • 11/22/63 by Stephen King (my favorite book, which I try to re-read now and then)
  • The Invisible Life of Addie LaRue by V.E. Schwab
  • The First Fifteen Lives of Harry August by Claire North
  • Apollo 1: The Tragedy That Put Us On the Moon by Ryan S. Walters
  • Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
  • The Last Don by Mario Puzo
  • Becoming Los Angeles: Myth, Memory and a Sense of Place by D.J. Waldie
  • Baseball in the Garden of Eden: The Secret History of the Early Game by John Thorn
  • Significant Figures: The Lives and Work of Great Mathematician by Ian Stewart
  • The Pleasure of Finding Things Out by Richard P. Feynman
  • We Are the Nerds: The Birth and Tumultuous Life of Reddit the Internet’s Culture Laboratory by Chritine Lagorio-Chafkin

I think that’s a pretty good list for the next five or six weeks. I have a few more books on the back-burner in case I somehow manage to get through all of these.

In A Hurry

Some people are always in a hurry. Other people are not. I tend to fall in the former category and Kelly the latter, which makes our morning routines with the kids interesting. For instance, I take the girls to school on Tuesdays, Thursday, and every other Friday. Kelly does this Mondays, Wednesdays, and every other Friday. It is a good way to share the load. On mornings when Kelly takes the girls, the feeling is casual, and no sense of urgency, which I admire. The girls are up just before 7 am and out the door by 7:45 am at the latest. (School is a five-minute drive.)

On my mornings, however, the feeling is much different. The girls are up as early as I can manage to get them up. Sometime between 6:50 and 6:55 am is usual. They eat their breakfast with my constant reminders that we have to be out the door not later than 7:30 am. I try to have our youngest dressed and ready by 7:10 or 7:15 am at the latest. She can then spend 15 minutes watching cartoons, which makes her happy.

At 7:25, I ask them to make sure they have their shoes on and to grab a mask. I’ve already taken their backpacks and lunch boxes and put them in the car. We are in the car at 7:30 am and I’m pulling into the drop-off lane at school 5 minutes later. If there is a car in front of us, I undo the seat restraints in the car seat of our youngest so that were are not just sitting there doing nothing. When I push the button to open the door, I remind both kids to take their lunches and have a good day. Usually I am back home before 7:45–the time Kelly is normally leaving the house to take the girls to school.

But not always. Because not everyone is in a hurry like I am. Take this morning, for example. We pulled into the drop-off lane at school just as a car in front of us came to stop to drop off their own children. They were not in a hurry. The driver’s side door creaked slowly open and the dad inside got out, stood, stretched. He took a final look at the sports page he’d been reading and tossed it back into the car. In the course of getting his two children out of the car, he managed to open all four doors in the car, and the trunk. Apparently, the kids sit in the back seat, while a lunchbox rides in the passenger seat and a backpack rides in the trunk. He managed to walk around the car twice doing all of this and then spent what seemed like hours saying goodbye to his kids. He made his way slowly back to his car. He closed three doors and the trunk. He retrieved his paper, slid into the car, started the engine, checked all of the instruments to make sure the car was running properly, and finally drove off.

I may be exaggerating a little, but this is a good example of someone who is not in a hurry.

Ideas and Execution in Storytelling

I am reading Andy Weir’s new novel, Project Hail Mary, and enjoying it quite a bit. It is the first science fiction novel I’ve read in a while. As I started it, however, something seemed vaguely familiar about it. If you are not familiar with the book, here is part of the publisher’s description:

Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission—and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish. Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it. All he knows is that he’s been asleep for a very, very long time. And he’s just been awakened to find himself millions of miles from home, with nothing but two corpses for company. His crewmates dead, his memories fuzzily returning, Ryland realizes that an impossible task now confronts him.

I seemed to recall once writing a story years ago about a person waking up from suspended animation to find the rest of her crew dead on their star ship. I wasn’t certain, but I thought I had. It certainly sounded familiar.

I have often wondered if long-time actors completely forget about a role they’ve played. Stephen King has written that he doesn’t remember writing much of Cujo, I believe. So it is not unheard of to forget, I supposed. Despite all of my efforts at record-keeping, I was never great at keeping a list of stories I’d written. So yesterday, I went on a digital search to see if I had, in fact, written a story with a similar opening to that of Project Hail Mary. I turned out that I had.

The story, called “Wake Me When We Get There” was written sometime in late 2004. Here is the opening of the story:

Day 3. I have decided to write these notes as a way of facing this situation rationally and avoid the panic that crept upon me as I came out of the Sleep. It’s the training: in an emergency, take stock; thus these notes. Here is the situation, as I understand it:

1. I came out of the Sleep two days ago.

2. My sleep tank has malfunctioned and I have been unable to get it to work thus far.

3. The other sleep tanks appear to be functioning normally and the crew’s vital signs are stable.

4. The ship is still ninety days from earth, still traveling at 99.9% light speed.

As you can see, my memory was not perfect. In my story, the rest of the crew is still asleep, not dead. But I remember the conundrum now. My main character can’t wake them without risking their lives since if she wakes them, she may not be able to get them back to sleep.

This is a great example of the problem many writers face. Very few story ideas are unique. What matter in these cases are execution. Weir’s story reminded me of my story in the similarities of their opening–astronaut wakes from sleep far from Earth and can’t get home–but Weir’s all around execution is far better than mine was. He pulls off his story with verve, while mine has many amateur elements about it. (This story was written over 2 year before I made my first professional sale.)

Indeed, it was this story that Sheila Williams at ASIMOV’S rejected in 2005 by pointing out how Allen Steele had pulled the idea off to much better effect in one of his stories. So apparently, I was a newcomer to an old idea, and Andy Weir is an even newer-comer to the same old idea. Allen and Andy could make the idea work and I couldn’t. Some might be bitter about this, but I am glad that they made the idea work because it makes for great reading.

And besides, there are always plenty of other old ideas to try out.

Coding and Sewing

Not having to work this weekend, I spent some time doing things around the house. One of those things was repairing the deck tent. The tent, which we got last spring, was damaged in some recent strong winds. Eight Velcro straps sewn into the tent ripped off during the wind storm. They weren’t sew on well to begin with. But rather than go through the trouble of finding another tent, I decided to fix this one.

The challenge was: I’d never really sewed anything before. Determined to fix this myself, however, Kelly pulled out a sewing kit she has and proceeded to show me how to sew. This included threading the needle, tying it off, and the actually process of sewing. I then set about sewing back on the eight Velcro straps that had been pulled off.

Very quickly, I noticed something. Sitting there, threading the needle in-and-out in what sewing experts probably would likely frown upon, a calm focus settled in over me. It was a time-consuming process, in part because it was new for me, and in part because I was determined to sew them on better than the factory had. But it was also hypnotic. Time seemed to disappear as I focused on each strap, and the feeling I had when I finished one an emerged from that focus was familiar.

It was, I realized, the same feeling I have when writing computer code. All of my concentration goes into it to exclusion of everything else. When writing code, the focus is often the concentration that comes from trying to contain the whole program in my head, how all of the pieces fit together, and how one change impacts something else. With sewing, the concentration stemmed from the physical aspects: the dexterity (or lack thereof) involved in handling the needle and thread; the focusing on my vision on my target. In both cases, the word fades away and only comes back once the task in completed.

When I finished the job–it took some time–I was pleased with the result. I immediately went out to the deck and reinstalled the tent, fastening the newly resewn straps into place. It was the perfect afternoon to test out my work, breezy enough to shake the tent about once I had it up. It seemed to hold. I guess time will tell. In any case, the tent is back in place, which is good, because the weather calls for much more time on the deck. I ate my lunch on the deck today, instead of at my desk. And now we can use the tent again, too.

The repaired deck tent
The repaired deck tent.

The Practical Value of Reading Biographies

I read a lot as a child and as a teenager. Most of what I read was fiction, and much of the fiction I read was science fiction. In school, I read what we were given to read which was usually either some classic or, in high school, something a little more outside the norm, but generally fiction. Shakespeare, Dickens, some Vonnegut, some Kosiński. The bulk of the nonfiction reading I recalling doing was either in text books, or clippings of essays from works of philosophers, or the occasional report we had to do.

I suppose my reading influenced me somewhat in what I wanted to do when I grew up. Early on (in first grade), I came across a book called The Nine Planets which turned me onto astronomy. I thought I wanted to be an astronomer. Later, reading science fiction made me want to write science fiction. In both cases, I knew nothing about what it means to be an astronomer or a writer, I knew nothing of the mechanics of the job. Nothing I learned through high school taught me more about this.

Looking back, I find this disappointing. Beginning late in my college career, I began to read biographies and found, to my surprise, that they were an excellent source of what a certain career was really like. The first of these was Isaac Asimov’s memoir, I. Asimov, which I read in my senior year of college when it first came out, just after Asimov’s death. I learned what being a writer was really like, and I learned even more from Asimov’s lengthier 2-volume autobiography, In Memory Yet Green and In Joy Still Felt which went into painstaking detail on the life of one writer.

Eventually I branched out and read more widely in biography. I read many biographies of presidents and scientists. I read biographies of other writers. I read biographies of buisness leaders, technologists, journalists, soldiers, teachers, astronauts, pilots, engineers, software developers, and countless more. In many cases, I read enough in an area so that the extremes balanced out and I got a good sense of the profession as a whole. Each time I finish one of these biographies, I come away, more often than not, thinking, “That’s what I want to be when I grow up.” I thought that this very morning as I finished up a biography of J.C.R. Lichlider.

Why don’t schools encourage more reading of biographies? In my experience, a biography is great way to learn, not about one person’s life, but about a particular career path. Students get a sense of what the life of an astronomer, or lawyer, or software developer, or police officer, or cow hand is really like. Reading multiple biographies allow students to compare and contrast different possible interests. It seems to me that students well-read in a variety of biographies will find that they enjoy some more than others and will pursue those more and more. By the time college arrives, there may even be a realistic inkling of what field of study that student wants to enter.

My own choice of major–political science and journalism–was made out of a lack of other ideas. It seemed a general enough for anything. Besides, I had my computing skills to fall back, which I ultimately did. But if I have read more biographies in grade school and high school, I think I would have been better prepared to make a decision about a field of study than I was when I entered college (a physics major, originally!).

Looking at the books that my kids read in school, I don’t see much biography involved so I suspect things haven’t changed much. I’ve tried to encourage the occasional diversion into biography, but the truth is, I’m just happy the kids are reading anything and don’t want to discourage that.

To me, biographies are much more than histories of people. They are practical guides to life and careers based on lived experience, and I try to take away something practical from every biography I read. For a 12-year old, there may not seem much practical in reading a “boring biography”, but I’ve rarely encountered a boring biography, and as a 12-year old, the practical value is in learning what life in a certain kind of career is really like. It helps form opinions and make decisions further down the road.

Visualizing History and Science

Yesterday, I walked across the Beringia with a branch of Ancestral Native Americans, ancestors to the First Peoples. Later, I boated with them down the western coast of North American, several thousand years earlier. In both cases, I took note of what I saw around me, even though none of that was described in the article I happened to be reading in the May issue of Scientific American. I marveled that this was all happened 15,000 years before what history books typically describe as history. I watched as some of the people stopped to form settlements while others continued south. I watched their struggles a they emerged from colder climates into more mild ones. I couldn’t understand what they said, but I saw an occasional smile, heard and occasional laugh, or a shout of anger.

I can only speak for myself, but this is what happens inside my head when I read. Whether it is a novel, a book on the history of computing, or a science article on genetic and archaeological discoveries about how the Americas were populated, they somehow come alive in my mind. Reading an Isaac Asimov essay on, say, an electron, I am swept into its orbit, where the electron itself appears as a big world. Reading an article on supernovae, I don’t see the words, but instead, I’m hovering somewhere on the outskirts of the unfortunate star, impervious to harm, but able to witness the blast, and see the shock waves forming.

Thinking about those people crossing the land bridge into North America, I imagined them seeing deer flitting about. In my mind, their reaction wasn’t much different than the reaction I had this morning when several deer crossed my path on my morning walk. I paused to observe them, I watched their movements, curious about their behavior.

Maybe this is what is meant when someone is said to be a visual thinker. It is just how my mind has always worked. Science isn’t a bunch of equations and theories in my mind. It is a narrative, a story that unfolds as I read, and one that I see as clearly as I see the stories that unfold from novels, or history, or virtually any other type of reading I do.

When I think about evolution and genetics, it is less about the theories, though I think I understand them quite well, but more about the practice. There is Darwin, hip-deep in muck, collecting samples. There is Mendel, bent over his garden, gnarled hands touching every budding pea plant.

In science articles, timescales often become incomprehensible. How it is possible to imagine 15,000 years, or 14 billion years, when I haven’t even lived half a century? My mind plays little tricks to convey these distances, but I doubt any of them really get the message across in a comprehensible way.

There is so much history and science to read that it seems impossible to come close to scratching the surface on most of it. Perhaps one of the most profound and delightful reveries I have when considering these vast histories is that they are just a spec in the potential histories out in the universe. If other intelligent life exists somewhere else, just think of the histories they carry with them, multiplied over and over again. Are there common threads? Is Romeo and Juliette a uniquely human story? Is the struggle for rational thought a battle fought again and again, in those rare and delectable places, as Throeau once wrote, “in some remote and more celestial corner of the system, behind the constellation of Cassiopeia’s Chair, far from noise and disturbance”?

A Do-Nothing Weekend

This is my first weekend off work in a month. My big project has rolled out and the first week of its use went well. I don’t have anything to stress over on that system anymore. I can at last relax and enjoy my weekend. It is a do-nothing weekend at last.

Of course, do-nothing weekend, doesn’t mean do nothing. For instance, there is catching-up to do so maybe I should call this my catching-up weekend. There is a pile of unread magazines on my desk (and several more digital versions on my digital desk) that I have neglected and need to catch up on.

A pile of unread magazines on my desk

Then there is the cover to the deck tent. I pull it off the frame before a recent wind storm and noticed that some of the Velcro straps that attach to the beams separated from the cover. They weren’t sewed on very well. Indeed, 7 of 8 came off and I need to sew them back on so that the whole think is more secure. That means I have to find the needles and thread, and well, maybe watch a YouTube video or two on how to sew.

We have gutter covers on all the gutters, but I still like to spot-check them once a year to make sure nothing managed to find its way inside. That requires pull the ladder up from behind the shed. It’s a cool day today and so I’ll probably save this for the afternoon when it will be warmer out.

I’ve noticed a few light bulbs out around the house, including one of the two over the sink in our bathroom. I need to replace that. When in Florida a month ago, I stocked up on t-shirts, and now my closet is overflowing with more shirts than the hangers will hold. I have to go through and get rid of the ones I no longer wear, and put them in the box of things to donate. The utility closet downstairs could use some spring cleaning. Eventually, I’d like to put a spare freezer down there, and maybe add some shelves to the walls.

I’ve already managed to tackle a few things on this do-nothing catch-up weekend. I got out for an early morning walk, timing it perfectly just as the overnight rain stopped. When I got back home I emptied the dishwasher, and put the accumulated dishes in. Looking at all of the things I need to catch-up on this weekend, I realize I’ll need more energy than I have at the moment. I think what I’ll do is take one of these magazines, and read for a while, and then take a nap. After my nap, I’m sure I’ll be ready to start catching-up in earnest.

BREAKING NEWS: I Have the Weekend Off!

ARLINGTON, VA. This is just in: having successfully rolled out the big software system I’ve been working on for the last 441 days, I have the weekend off. These are my first days off in a month. I worked 126 hours in the last 2 weeks alone. I am tired, worn out, elated, relieved, and happy that I have a couple of days off where I don’t have to think about work. Really, I don’t. The rollout was clearly as success. After giving a briefing to my department management today I was asked to brief senior management, which I take as a good sign.

This really was a team effort. Much of my team, alas, doesn’t have the web presence that I do, such that it is, but I want to call attention to the most talented programmer I’ve ever worked with: John David Parsons. If you are a writer, looking for a tool to help inspire your writing, you should drop what you are doing and check out his Story Ghost, which he’s somehow managed to build while also building a complicated corporate system as well, all during the middle of a Pandemic. It’s definitely worth checking out. It’s also on Twitter at @storyghostai.

For now, I’ve ordered pizza and wings, had a few beers, and I am going to enjoy the weekend with my family.

Improving My Information Security, Or “Noncoterminous Planch Dotal Steeple”

I’ve often thought that it is fairly ridiculous that, in order to be able to confirm my identity, some web sites require you to answer a set of three question. You know the kind: First car you drove? Name of your 2nd grade teacher’s wife? Middle name of the doctor who delivered your grandmother’s best friend? It seems to me that by providing this information, I am giving away personal information when I should be protecting it. I used to just have three words I’d use, one for each question, the same three for all sites, but that doesn’t seem particularly secure either.

So a while back, I wrote a little command line alias I call random-word. As might be expected, typing random-word on the command line give me a random word. For example:

As it turns out, “lambency” is a good word because I am not familiar with it1. I know a lot of words so if I don’t know this one, I imagine it is pretty hard to guess.

The source for random-word is the Unix dictionary, which is convenient because it makes the actual command behind the alias very simple. Plus, there are over 235,000 words, so I am not likely to run out.

Well, today, one of the services I used moved to a new site, and I had to verify my account there. Part of the process involved supplying a new password and answering three intimate questions about myself. I decided to put my new script to good use. For each of the 3 questions I was asked, I ran random-word and the first one that came up I used to answer the first question. I repeated this for each of the 3 questions. It makes for some amusing response. Here is a made up example (courtesy of “random-words”):

  1. The model of your first car? pell
  2. Your mother’s maiden name? oxamate
  3. The town in which you attended high school? bejuggled

Yes, that’s right. My mom’s maiden name was Oxamte. I went to high school in the little-known town of Bejuggled, and I drove there in my Pell.

I record the question and the random word in LastPass, where I also keep my passwords. In this way, I befuddle any would-be hacker of my account and/or personal information snooper in said service. This worked perfectly. It’s funny because it never really occurred to me to provide completely meaningless answers to these questions. But it makes a lot of sense.

I know a lot of people are not command line users like I am, but those of you on Macs or Linux who want a peak at my random-word command, here it is:

cat /usr/share/dict/words | shuf -n 1

In English, that says: display the content of the Unix dictionary, but filter it through a shuffle program and return the first random line that you find.

I turned this into an alias in my .zshrc file like this:

alias random-word='cat /usr/share/dict/words | shuf -n 1'

Now, all I need to do is type random-word to instantly get a random word (saphenous). It’s fun and it makes me feel less lame when filling out those “security” questions.

I feel like I could put this little script to even better use. I’m thinking of using it for my next post, which I plan to title: “Noncoterminous Planch Dotal Steeple”, which sounds a little like the title of a Ph.D dissertation in higher mathematics.


  1. I just looked it up: “playing lightly over a surface; flickering.”

Root Beer to the Rescue

A can of A&W Zero Sugar Root Beer

Root beer is the best of all the soft drink. I am re-learning that now. On Sunday, April 18, 2021, I gave up caffeine cold-turkey. This was not the first time I’ve done this. I did it for a 7-year stretch from 2003 – 2010. And if you search the blog you’ll find other attempts. I love my Cherry Coke Zeros (and just plain Coke even more), but I was finding it difficult to sleep. This was the reason I gave up caffeine for 7 years and so, my desire to sleep won out over my addiction to caffeine. And it is an addiction. I can’t have just one Coke. I need to have them all.

The withdrawal period was tough, but I’d been through it before and after two weeks, I no longer felt the headaches, or shoulder or neck aches, and the moodiness lifted. My morning Cokes were replaced with orange juice, but I needed something during the day. Of course, in the past when I gave up caffeine, I’d just turn to caffeine-free Coke. But I don’t want those calories. That was what was great about Cherry Coke Zero. I liked it, but didn’t have to worry about calories.

A&W Root Beer is caffeine free, and so I’d pick one up occasionally on an afternoon walk. Root beer is like a dessert to me. I love it, especially when it is ice cold. I think of it as a summer drink. There is a passage fairly early in Stephen King’s 11/22/63 where the main character drinks a root beer, and his description captures my feelings every time I have one. Which is why I say that root beer is the best of all soft drinks.

But root beer is heavier in calories than even Coke. I’d seen diet root beers, but shunned them because it seemed to me that the fullness of a root beer would be lost in a diet version. Once again, desperation kicked in. I don’t have many vices. I’ve never smoked (never even tried). I don’t drink much alcohol. My vice is my soft drinks, and I enjoy them, chemicals be damned. I found over the last few weeks that water wasn’t cutting it. Juice and milk, both of which I enjoy, have too many calories to make them a useful substitute. So one day, on a walk, a picked up a bottle of A&W Zero Sugar Root Beer and girded myself for disappointment.

Instead of disappointment, however, I tasted surprise. Indeed, I was very much surprised. I could not tell the difference between a regular root beer and the zero sugar version. This was a godsend. A&W Zero Sugar Root Beer would be my new soft drink. Indeed, if I’d known how good it tasted, I might never have gotten into Coke Zero in the first place. As it turned out, the local Safeway had a sale–buy 2, get 2 free on 12-packs of soft drinks, including A&W Zero Sugar, so I picked up 48 cans of the stuff, which should get me through a couple of weeks.

Meanwhile, I’m feeling pretty good about having given up caffeine. I always wonder if it will stick, and I know if it doesn’t, I’ll be right back up there maxing out on caffeine every day. But I slept well last night, and that helps. To be honest, however, I’m not sure what helps more, the sleep, or knowing that I can still enjoy root beer without the caffeine, or the calories.

To Rain or Not to Rain

The Littlest Miss woke up in a good mood this morning, which makes everyone’s morning significantly easier. It is a Wednesday and that means I get out for my morning walk a little earlier. I was looking forward to it, it being a mild spring morning. The forecast, however, suggested I might need to wait until 8 am. “Light rain starting shortly,” my phone told me. So I decided to wait until the rain passed and get a little work done first.

Looking out the windows, however, it is clearly not raining. Which means, I could be out instead of sitting here writing this. The rain was supposed to start 20 minutes ago and for 20 minutes, it has not rained. Looking at my phone, it shows that it is raining, and tells me that the rain will stop in 35 minutes. Looking out my window, it is clearly not raining.

Here is the dilemma, one which I am sure everyone is familiar with:

If I trust my eyes, instead of my phone, I will walk half a mile and then the rain will start and I’ll be half a mile from home. If I wait 35 minutes until the alleged rain stops, I’m sure I will never see it start in the first place.

As Thomas Magnum might say, “I know what you’re thinking.” You’re thinking: “Just take an umbrella!” The dilemma there, of course, is that if I go through the trouble of taking an umbrella, the very fact that I take the umbrella will ensure that it will not start raining. Then I’ll be the only one walking with an umbrella, which is kind of humiliating. On the other hand, if I throw caution to the wind and leave my umbrella at home, it will virtually guarantee that it will rain just as soon as I am far enough from the house to make it not worthwhile turning back.

I used to joke with the kids, telling them that I ordered up sunshine for them, or snow, if it was winter (after the fact, of course). But now, it occurs to me that I my actions do seem to influence to the weather. It makes me wonder what other ways I might manipulate the complex interactions of sun, earth and atmosphere? For instance, it seems to me that if I get the snow shovel out of the shed when snow is in the forecast, it never snows. If I leave the shovel in the shed, however: snowmageddon!

If there are strong winds in the forecast and I decide to leave the deck tend up, the winds will almost certainly dislodge it and it will flap around madly. If, however, I spend the twenty-or-so minutes taking the tend apart, then all we’ll get is a mild breeze.

It occurs to me that perhaps the secret to weather control is figuring out what would mitigate the weather circumstances (umbrella, shovel, tent) and then doing that thing if you don’t want the weather in question.

By the way, still no rain.

Life Cycle of a Career

A friend of mine is retiring on Friday. He is about 10 years ahead of me in the career life cycle. He started at the company about 2 years after I did, and he is now retiring after 25 years. It has been a long time coming for him. His wife retired about a year ago, and he’s been talking about retiring for several years. And now he’s done it and Friday will be his last day.

It is a bittersweet thing for me to see him retire. When he started with the company, I was 24 years old (I was 22 when I started there). I was still relatively new to the I.T. world (back then, the term “I.T.” wasn’t used yet) and it seemed anything but certain that I’d be at the company for very long. A quarter of a century later, he is retiring and I am well into the late innings of my own career.

I can remember so clearly–as if it was just the other day–the runs we took after work in the park on Ocean Avenue in Santa Monica in the late 1990s. I remember the time we went to see Harlan Ellison give a talk in Marina del Rey and how flustered Ellison got when Donald Sutherland walked into the room.

We were both younger back then. I didn’t think of my work in terms of a career. It was, especially in the mid-90s, during the Dot Com boom, a lot of fun. Things were changing so quickly. We worked in a much more informal environment than what we have today. An we had a core team of great co-workers, many of whom were also long-timers, and all since moved on or retired.

I think I have said this before but the downside of a long career at the same company is seeing those colleagues and friends I’ve worked with for so long fade away, one-by-one. Some are claimed by other companies and opportunities, some by retirement, and too many, sadly, by death.

With the departure of my friend, only one person remains in my group from those early days and she was a big part of the software system we successfully rolled out earlier this week, after 14 months of remote development. There are other people still around from the mid-1990s, but none that I worked with on a regular basis.

I’ve heard it said that the curse of longevity is seeing all of your friends and family fade away as time stretches on. It certainly feels true in terms of the longevity of career at the same company. On the other hand, I just finished up the most exciting project I’ve ever worked on, which just goes to show that there is always something new over the horizon, and you never really now how things will turn out, and what surprises await there.