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25 Years and Counting

25 years ago today, I started my first job out of college. I’d graduated about three months earlier, and spent the summer after my graduation continuing to work in the dorm cafeteria office, where I did some computer work. Meanwhile, I looked for full-time job.

I graduated with a degree in political science and journalism, and really had no idea what I wanted to do for full time work. I was good with computers, having grown up learning to tame them, and when a job came up with a company looking for computer people to work at the corporate “helpdesk”, I applied. I was eventually called for an interview. That interview lasted all day. Then, nothing for several weeks.

Eventually, I got a call offering me a job. It came with a salary, and benefits, and I was really excited about it. I took it. My first day was on October 17, 1994.

Fast forward a quarter century. Today, I am still working for the same company. My role has changed over the years, as has my location (in 2002, I relocated from California to Virginia), but I still work for the same department as I did when I first started, although it has gone through a number of name changes in the 25 intervening years.

When I tell people I’ve been with the same company for 25 years, the response I get is a nearly universal, ” That’s unheard of these days.” All I can say is that I wouldn’t really know, never having worked anywhere else since graduating. I will say that longevity is fairly common where I work. In fact, I am not even in the top 100 in terms of longevity. Indeed, even within my own department, I am 16th overall in terms of how long I have been with the company.

My kids asked me this morning if I liked working there, given that I have been there so long. I smiled, and nodded, and said, “Yeah, I guess I do.” When I first started, I wasn’t sure I’d make it through the first year. Everyone else seemed so much smarter than me. Now, they still all seem smarter than me, but they tolerate me, and I’ve got to admit, I think I’ve finally warmed to the place.

I’ve always been the slow, but steady type, after all.

Books I’m Looking Forward to in October

October may be a rare month for boys* but it looks to be a great month for books. I don’t know why, but there are a ton of books that I am looking forward to reading coming out in October. Here are some of them:

  • Letters from an Astrophysicist by Neil deGrasse Tyson (October 8)
  • Home Work: A Memoir of My Hollywood Years by Julie Andrews (October 15)
  • Edison by Edmund Morris (October 22)
  • The Life and Afterlife of Harry Houdini by Joe Posnanski (October 22)
    Agent Running in the Field by John le Carré (October 22)
  • Walt Whitman’s America: A Cultural Biography by David S. Reynolds (October 29)
  • Charlotte’s Web by E. B. White (Full cast audiobook starring Meryl Streep) (October 29)
  • Blue Moon: A Jack Reacher Novel by Lee Child (October 29)

These are just books coming out in October, above and beyond the books I have queued up to read soon. Having recently gone through my worst reading drought in nearly two years (I read only 5 books in August, my lowest since January 2018), it is an embarras de richesse to have so many books to look forward to.

*A reference to Something Wicked This Way Comes by Ray Bradbury.

Stalking the Music

Now and then, I see one of those memes asking parents to name something from their youth that their kids wouldn’t recognize or understand. There are plenty of obvious answers to this, but one occurred to me recently as I listened to my kids ask Alexa to play various songs for them (many of them from the Descendants franchise).

The ability to ask for and instantly hear any of several million songs is something that I couldn’t do at my kids’ age. Indeed, to listen to music, I listened (mostly) to the radio. If there was a song that I really liked, waiting and waiting, hoping with each fade out that the next song (after the inevitable commercial break) would be the one that I was waiting for was my only real tool. I can remember daydreaming about the ability to listen to any song I wanted to, any time. The closest I came, as a kid, was by stalking the music like some game hunter sitting patiently in a blind, finger poised over the trigger of the “record” button on the radio/tape player I had, waiting for the desired song to play.

Even that was imperfect. Often, I was surprised and caught off-guard, and I’d cut off the first few bars of the song. Or, the D.J. would jabber into the first part of the song and so the recording would be corrupted by his banter. Even when I did manage to catch the song perfectly, it was often buried in the middle of a tape, and I’d have to hunt around for minutes trying to find it. So much better was record album in which I could simply drop a needle in the appropriate groove.

Now, none of that matters. It is not even quaint; it is an extinct activity. If I want to hear a song, I have only to ask for it to be played. I get a perfect digital version, far better quality that what the radio played, or what I managed to capture on tape. To my kids, the thought of stalking the music is inconceivable.

And yet, there is something of a letdown to the ability to hear a song whenever you want. Perhaps it is the spontaneity of the radio, or eager anticipation, but asking Alexa (or Siri) to play a song for me diminishes the experience in some small, intangible way. The exceptions prove the rule. Occasionally, there is a song that is not available from Apple Music, and when that happens, it seems, my need to hear the songs grows desperate. It is a rare throwback to the days I spent stalking the music with a radio and tape player.

Today is Great: A Daily Gratitude Journal for Kids

I’ve written quite a bit about diaries, journals, and notebooks over the years. I got a relatively late start with my own diary. I was already 24 and I wish I’d started sooner. A few years back, I tried to get the Little Miss to start a diary, but as with many diaries, it didn’t last very long.

So I was delighted to learn recently that my friend Vicky, who runs the popular Mess for Less blog, has a new book coming out called Today Is Great: A Daily Gratitude Journal for Kids.

Her book birthday is coming on October 1, so if you have kids interesting in diaries and journals, and who are looking for a fun way to ease into the process, be sure to check out the book!

Tube of Holding

Now it can be told! After decades of research, I have discovered the secret toothpaste manufacturers don’t want you to know about. But let me back up. First, my credentials:

I have been brushing my teeth roughly twice daily for nearly five decades. Call it about 33,000 observations. Each time, I am required to take hold of the tube of toothpaste and squeeze it onto the brush. I can’t properly guess how much toothpaste has been consumed in this activity over the decades. Call it a lot.

The reason I can’t properly estimate the amount of toothpaste is the crux of the issue. It is far easier to estimate the number of tubes of toothpaste I’ve run through over the years. Call it half a dozen tubes a year, giving a value of close to 300 tubes of toothpaste. Isn’t it simple multiplication to figure out how much toothpaste you’ve used? I hear you asking.

You would think. But you would be wrong.

After careful observation and analysis over the decades I have come to an inescapable conclusion, one that will shatter your perception of the toothpaste industry forever: The volume of toothpaste in a tube exceeds by a great deal the volume of the tube itself. Yes, there is more toothpaste in the tube than the tube can hold.

How can that be? I haven’t quite figured it out yet, but that doesn’t change the facts of the case. Take the current tube of toothpaste, for instance:

The current "empty" tube of toothpate
My current “empty” tube of toothpaste

The tube has been flat as a pancake for the last two weeks, and yet, twice a day, with a bit of effort, three of us are able to squeeze a blob of toothpaste onto our brushes. Empty though it seems, it keeps producing toothpaste. I suspect a wormhole, or tesseract, or perhaps a twist on the old D&D bag of holding: a tube of holding.

Why then, would the TIC (toothpaste industrial complex) not want you to know about this? Isn’t this a break-through discovery that could revolutionize all kinds of storage and delivery systems? Sure, but at what cost? If the world discovered an infinite supply of toothpaste in a single tube, no one would buy toothpaste anymore. What would four out of five dentists recommend the, eh?

I’m recording all of this in my lab notebook each night and will continue to see how long this empty tube of toothpaste continues to keep my teeth in tip-top shape. In the meantime, do me a favor, will you? Feel free to take full advantage of this incredibly discovery of mine but keep it under your hat for the time-being. The last thing I need right now is to be hunted down and lectured to by the TIC. I get enough of that from my dentist.

Editorial Changes

As my wife will attest, I am a creature of habit. There is nothing extraordinary about this to me, as it seems this is the way I have always been. It does mean that when things change, I can get a little uneasy. This change goes for many things, including the editors of the magazines I read. I remember, for instance, a decade ago when Mariette DiChristina took over the helm at Scientific American from John Rennie. What changes would that mean for the magazine I’d been reading for a long time?

Some months back, after Kathleen Fleury left her post as editor of Down East magazine and Brian Kevin took over, I began each new issue of a magazine by skimming the editorial that month to see, if perhaps, another change was coming. Each magazine gave me a few nervous moments, until I saw that things were continuing as normal. But a few days ago, as I turned to the editorial in the September 2019 issue of Scientific American, I quickly discovered that Mariette was leaving, and the September issue would be her last. She’d been the editor for a decade, and I liked the general direction of the magazine during that time. Indeed, if I am being completely honest here, I was just getting used to her as editor. As I said, I am a creature of habit.

Well, now a new editor will take over, and inevitably there will be changes, and I will wonder about those changes until they are a settled thing, and I have another decade to get used to them.

I suppose this isn’t much different from editorial changes from the writers’ perspective. I sold a story to Stan Schmidt at Analog just a few years before he retired as editor of the magazine after 33 years. When Trevor Quachri took over, I was nervous. But I ended up selling him another story, and two editorial so that worked out in the long run.

Then, too, I suppose the angst I feel at a new editor is similar to when I get a new boss. I’ve been with my company for 25 years as of next month, and I have probably had 10 or 12 bosses during that time. Each time, it is a little unsettling.

As it happens, I think the September 2019 issue of Scientific American looks particularly good (I’ve only had a chance to read one article so far). It certainly sets the bar high for whoever takes over. I think that is a good thing. As with most jobs, an editor should try to leave things better than she found them. I think Mariette DiChristina did just that.

I’ve Never Seen the Wrath of Kahn

Until last night, that is. Unable to sleep, I took a break from the late Tony Horwitz’s excellent (so far) Spying on the South, and decided to watch a movie. Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn was one of the recommended movies. Now, I’d seen bits and pieces of it before, but never the whole thing. I knew parts of the story line, but had no continuity. So I decided to watch it, and see if it measured up to the hype.

It did.

The story was so good, in fact, that I hardly noticed how quaint and dated the special effects seemed. I’m glad that I took the time to see it, even though it didn’t help much with getting to sleep.

Enlightenment

In our new house I am discovering things that I love, and things that annoy me. The things I love are big things, and fortunately, the things that annoy me are little things. But they still annoy me. Take the bathroom on the main floor.

Stand in this bathroom, if you will, and face the window above the toilet. The window looks out into the deck, which in turn looks out down the slope of our yard toward the bike path that dives down into the local park.

Right above you, smack in the center of the room, is a typical bathroom fan. To your right, above the sink is a pair of lights. To your left, above the shower/tub is another light. Okay, now, turnaround. Just above the towel rack, you’ll find a light switch panel with three switches. Turn on the switch to your left. Remember, you are facing opposite to how you started. The left switch is the one closest to the sink. Flip it on. On goes the light above the sink. So far so good.

Next there is the center switch. Of course, the fan is right above your head in the center of the room. Flip that switch on, go ahead… and now the light above the shower is on.

Maybe it is just me, but it seems that if you have a light switch arrangement where the switches are left, center, right, and the left switch controls the light on the left side of the room, wouldn’t it make sense that the right switch controls the light on the right side? And the center switch, with nothing else to do, would control the fan in the center of the room.

When I go to turn on the light above the shower, I inevitably reach for the switch closest to the shower, but on goes the fan. And vice versa. To me this is just bad user interface design. Why would someone do this?

And in case my description hasn’t been clear, I sketched a diagram for you. A represents the light above the sink. B is the fan, and C is the light above the shower/tub. The smaller letters represent the switch positions.

It’s a small thing, I grant you, but it’s one of those things that has continued to annoy me since moving into the house.

New Office, All Done!

Two and a half months after moving into the new house, my new office is now completely setup the way I want it. Yesterday I completed the task of organizing the books on the shelves, as I mentioned. I opted to keep the same sort order I originally used, alphabetical by author and then chronological within an author. It was just easier that way. There are a couple of sorting exceptions where a large book is involved, but otherwise, they are back in order after more than 10 years of disarray.

It took a long time, and I was up late working on this. I didn’t want to quit until I had it done. The sorting was complicated by the fact that the books had been arranged in no real order, beyond how they came out of the boxes. That meant a lot of hunting down a book in order to put it in its proper place. What I did was sort the books in LibraryThing based on their entry date. That way, I had a rough idea of what shelf they were on by where they showed up in the list. I worked one shelf at a time, removing all of the books on the shelf, and then refilling it with properly sorted books. At the peak of the process, this meant I had books scattered everywhere.

Once I was finished, I straightened up the rest of the office, got rid of a bunch of junk I’d been collecting, and after lunch, here is how my mostly-complete office looked:

My office, looking east
Looking east, from a slightly different angle
My office, looking south (and into the living room)
My office, looking northwest

I say “mostly” complete because we still have to have French doors installed between my office and the living room. Everyone will be happier when this is done, given my volume of work-related called and video chat.

While putting the books in order last night, I took note of how many of them were signed. The result: 52 of them: a full deck.

R.I.P. Jim Bouton

I read in the Washington Post this morning that Jim Bouton had died at age 80. He pitched for the Yankees in the 1960s, but was perhaps most famous for his groundbreaking book, Ball Four. It is a fantastic look inside baseball in the late 1960s. If you are a fan of the game and haven’t read the book, you should. I think it is #3 on Sport Illustrated list of best sports books of all time.

My kids knew of Jim Bouton as well. As I took them to camp this morning, I mentioned that he had died. The Little Miss said, “Who is Jim Bouton?” and the Little Man replied almost at once. “He’s the inventor of Big League Chew.”

In an eerie coincidence, last night, I was reading For the Love of the Game, Bud Selig’s new memoir about his life in baseball, and there was some mention of Bouton and his book. Then I saw his name and face in the paper this morning.

Some Summer Reading

As one who likes to tempt fate, here is a list of some of my upcoming reading for the rest of June and early July. I say “tempt fate” because as I have said before, my reading is guided almost entirely by the butterfly-effect of reading. In other words, I make plans, and the butterflies laugh. That said, here’s what I am looking at:

  • Cryptonomicon by Neal Stephenson (currently reading)
  • No Cheering in the Press Box by Jerome Holtzman (currently reading)
  • All Those Mornings…At the Post by Shirley Povich
  • The Great American Sports Page edited by John Schulian
  • The Map of Knowledge: A Thousand Year History of How Classical Ideas Were Lost and Found by Voilel Moller
  • One Giant Leap: The Impossible Mission that Flew Us to the Moon by Charles Fishman
  • Range: When Generalists Triumph in a Specialized World by David Epstein
  • Son of the Wilderness: The Life of John Muir by Linnie Marsh Wolfe
  • On Democracy by E. B. White
  • Ten Innings at Wrigley by Barry Abrams
  • Spying on the South: An Odyssey Across the American Divide
  • The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam
  • An Army At Dawn: The War in North Africa (1942-1943) by Rick Atkinson
  • The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal

What are you looking forward to reading this summer?

Heading Home

I’d intended to have a full post today, but I find I am exhausted from my trip to L.A. and the post will have to wait. I’m presently at L.A.X. waiting to board my flight home and hoping it gets in before the snow starts falling.

I’ll have a new post up as soon as I’ve had a chance to rest and settle in back at home. In the meantime, have a great weekend.