Archive for January, 2011

Road, rail, and air

Saturday, January 29th, 2011

As a sound track to today’s writing, pick a road song to play in the back of your consciousness. Maybe the Allman Bros’ Ramblin’ Man. Or Gladys Knight’s Midnight Train to Georgia. Or Jackson Browne’s entire Running On Empty album (bearing in mind that I’m not necessarily recommending the lifestyle choices therein.) Or Willie’s On the Road Again. There are plenty to choose from. Got one? OK, you may proceed.

After years bereft of work-related travel, I took a trip this week to Palo Alto (yup, the one in Cal-i-forn-i-a) for a couple of meetings at the AT&T Innovation Center under construction there.

Palo Alto Panorama

View from the Innovation Center

While I dearly missed most of my day-to-day, I always enjoy shaking up my routine, seeing new places, trying new things. This trip was definitely a working trip, rather than a sight-seeing one, but there are always sights to be seen, and I sought (and saw) some.

And (surprise!) there were also people. There were a half-dozen or so of my Atlanta co-workers there, a similar number of locals whom I knew by name but had never met, and another half-dozen AT&T folk and vendor-partners from other cities. I met a friend of Dick’s who played bass on a famous R&B song (Ed Sterbenc, and the L is silent <grin>), and even talked shop with an electrician from Fresno, who was helping install the power feed to a big UPS (that’s “uninterruptible power supply”, not a package delivery service.) It was fun visiting with old and new friends in a new context, with more time and opportunities than usual to chat.

Monday morning’s trip started early via a van ride to my usual parking spot in Midtown, then took Marta to the airport. After a mere five hours in the air, Delta dropped me off in San Francisco (where, inexplicably, I managed to retain possession of my cardiac organ.) From SFO, I rode BART to a Caltrain station, and Caltrain then sped me to Palo Alto, arriving a mere dozen or so hours after I left home. Trust me, there were plenty of sights to be seen on that multi-modal trip.

PA is definitely a walking town, and I did my share. It’s also a pretty good eating town. Notable grub included a huge salad at Whole Foods, Westin’s breakfast quesadilla, an Atomic burger at a local diner, sandwiches brought in by a vendor, and a nice sea bass at an Italian restaurant. One afternoon three of us in need of gustatory motivation wisely copied Dick’s standard, rhythmic Starbuck’s order, a “Grande Frappucino Double Chocolate Chip No Whip,” which worked like a charm.

The actual work, over a long Tuesday and an even longer Wednesday, included meetings, discussions, document reviews, prognosticating, and even some wire-pulling, furniture-moving, and printer-driver-installin’. (John Henry got nothin’ on me, right?)

I got up in the wee hours Thursday morning (at least, by local time) to reverse Monday’s process, and the afternoon found me back in Atlanta early enough to actually do a little catch-up work in the office, and then meet my much-missed missus for what has become a post-hairdresser tradition, pizza at Elwood’s. I crashed like a boulder when we got home.

Friday we got up and drove to Mississippi, which pretty much brings me to now, so I have to stop writing and wait for something else to happen.

. . .

Ok, nothing is happening, so I guess I’ll go ahead and post this. Catch you later.

Ask not

Wednesday, January 19th, 2011

Yesterday was the 50th anniversary of John F. Kennedy’s inaugural address, which is generally regarded as one of the greatest speeches in American history. It ended with the challenge to “Ask not what your country can do for you — ask what you can do for your country.” In commemoration, All Things Considered broadcast an article (here’s a LINK) about four young Americans who responded to Kennedy’s challenge in different ways.

Tuesday the reporter visited Kennedy’s cemetery, and asked a 21-year-old if he thought that those words still have power, and he replied that he thought they did. He said he had heard them repeated multiple times during his school years, and he noted that he was just returning from his sixth trip to New Orleans to help rebuild flood-damaged houses.

When I first heard the article, I did some soul-searching of my own, and I have to admit that I don’t feel the same as I did when I was that age. I know that I have changed, gotten more realistic, perhaps more pessimistic, but it also feels like the country has changed, has become more self-centered. Of course, I must admit that that feeling may just be me.

One conclusion I reached during this self-analysis is that I am a man of small vision. Sometimes I wish it weren’t so, but it seems to be the product of many of my characteristics. Many of those characteristics are positive, but multiplied together they give me a narrow rather than a broad focus.

So my contributions to society over the years have tended to be small, relatively common things. Church tithes and United Way donations, blood and platelets, hoisting and moving and connecting things.

Perhaps I can claim some credit for the fact that my children are very giving, although I suspect most of that came from their Mom, an exemplar of giving if ever there were one. Various of my children have been to Haiti, Peru, or New Orleans to minister and rebuild, and they have have contributed time, effort and blood of their own to people in need. Some are supporting youth sports, and all of them make me proud.

I hope I’m wrong, about myself and the country. I hope we all still ask what we can do for our country, for our fellow citizens, even for the world.

When I got home yesterday, there was a package in the mail, bearing a couple of those rubber wrist bracelets. They were a gift from el Oasis, a Christian-based youth support center in Chile. Years ago we agreed to support a nephew when he moved there to work with disadvantaged youth. Eventually his organization convinced him that, with his experience, he could be even more effective for them supporting and managing workers like himself, so he moved back to the states. But he “handed off” his support to an enthusiastic local worker, and we have continued to support “Frizz” and his work.

That was good timing for the mood I was in. Even though my vision and my support are small, they are enough for Frizz to want to send me a token. I can live with that.

Snowpocalypse

Wednesday, January 12th, 2011

The missus and I just returned from a venture into the frozen wasteland that surrounds us. We thought her office was opening at noon today, but a timely cell phone call stopped us before we pulled onto the I-85 parking lot.

I’ve seen lots of snow in my life, and I will not be shy about offering some of my peculiar perspectives.

snowy-front-yard

Snowy front yard at night

I don’t remember specific storms. Or hardly anything else, for that matter. Many (most?) people remember specific weather events by date, and even by name. SnowJam 80-something. Hurricane Somebody back in ninety-whenever. Unless I have a memorable connection point, I don’t remember that sort of thing. I remember Hurricane Katrina, but I have to use other data points to figure out when it happened. It would be convenient to blame it on the number of birthdays I’ve enjoyed (most of them, by the way), but it was true even when I was a young pup. I can still remember part numbers from control panels I built in the 80s, but so much of my life can’t be reduced to part numbers. And what she was wearing on our first date? Nope. Sorry.

Southerners don’t make good snow. OK, I know we don’t make it. Maybe I should say, we don’t get good snow. I’ve driven on snow in Chicago and Indiana for comparison. Let me clarify – I didn’t go to Chicago or Indiana for the sole purpose of sampling their snow. But, having driven on their snow in order to get around, I can compare it to Southern snow. With a few exceptions, most of our snow is really more icy and sleety. What snow we do get usually thaws then re-freezes, insuring a slippery surface. Snow in Chicago stays snowy, from my experience, and it is much easier to drive on.

In the 70s and 80s, until child #2 made his appearance, we mostly drove my GMC pickup. Pickup trucks are good for lots of things, but driving on snowy roads ain’t one of them. I purchased a set of chains from the Sears & Roebuck catalog after our first storm. I kept them in my tool box, and I can still remember the finger-numbing process of installing them over multiple winter storms. Fortunately, our current front-wheel-drive sedan gets around exceptionally well on snow.

back-deck

Back deck

By the way, my first real adult driving-in-snow experience was in Indiana, where I had flown for work. I had a rental car, and I took some of the locals to lunch. They were surprised at my ability to drive in the snow, commenting that they didn’t think people from Georgia knew how. I told them that it was just like driving on a muddy clay road, which I had done plenty of time in South Georgia. In fact I think snow is easier. And it’s also easier to get off your clothes.

Blizzard? What blizzard? Years ago I came up with my own definition of ‘blizzard’ – more snow than a region’s systems can handle. It happens even in places like Buffalo, NY, where snow is just a fact of life. (Sadly, I can’t remember when the big Buffalo Blizzard was, but it was between 1977 and 1986, and every component I ordered that month was delivered late because, inexplicably, all shipments went through Buffalo.) In Southern cities, it just takes much less snow to overwhelm our systems. Few plows, little salt, no shovels, it just hasn’t been cost-effective for Georgia governments to purchase that sort of stuff as rare as snow storms are here.

I should also clarify that my definition of a blizzard is not even close, from a meteorological perspective. There are good definitions on the internet, including this Wikipedia definition of a Winter Storm, which pretty much says that same thing I said, just more eloquently.

Southerners exploit snow whenever possible. We see it as a divinely-ordained day off. And the second day is even better. But the third day? We’re tired of being cooped up, so we get out the garden shovels, clear off the driveway, and try to go about our business. And for most storms, that is about the right timing.

The storm we are in the middle of this week looks like it may go longer. Our brief excursion out confirmed that there are still plenty of ice patches, treacherous roadways, and overly-confident drivers. That is not a good combination. And with the prediction of high temperatures still in the sub-freezing range until Friday, it may not get better until the weekend.

Sometimes we over-react. Jayne tells a story of the time our kids cut out paper snowflakes and taped them to the front windows of our house. She claims a passing school administrator saw them, and called off school for two days.

Sometimes it does seem that we over-react. But for those responsible for making the call, it is a difficult balance. If you close down and nothing happens, you look foolish and waste valuable time. But if you don’t, and tragedy occurs, you look irresponsible. Fortunately, we have much better access to weather forecasts, traffic reports, and first-hand observation thanks to modern communication technologies.

Eventually the snow goes away. Even in the extreme climes (parts of Canada, Alaska, and the poles excepted), the snow melts, and life gets back to it’s non-snowbound state. Especially here in Georgia.

For most of us around here, it’s pretty, and it’s fun, and we enjoy the break from routine.

And those are my wishes for you today, that you enjoy the good parts, and the bad parts of being stuck in airports or on highways fade away as if they were stored in my memory.

Addendum

I recorded a trip over crunchy snow to check the mailbox, and since I haven’t posted a sound yet, I thought I would try it. In addition to the crunching, you can hear occasional gusts of wind, and hear the mailbox close right in the middle. Heady stuff. Click to listen to the sound of snow crunching.

By the way, when the uploader was processing the file, it displayed the word “Crunching”. It was most certainly a technical term, rather than an interpretation of the audio, but it tickled me nonetheless.

Happy 2011!

Wednesday, January 5th, 2011

Obviously I didn’t post anything on Monday, but that is only a single data point, from which you should probably draw no definitive conclusions.

The fact is, I haven’t really decided how to proceed this year, posting-wise. I felt like I was losing inertia at the end of last year, not to mention wit, but I also can’t really imagine a total cessation. I’ll figure something out. Suggestions are always welcome, by the way.

For today, I offer a brief holiday update, and a link to clarity. (O that it were that simple.)

Our holidays completely failed to live up to the term “Suckiest Christmas On Record,” as it was dubbed by one of the organizers. With a bunch of help from willing hands, I managed to button up the home repair effort literally moments before the first guests arrived on New Year’s Eve. We ate, drank, made Merry, watched movies, played games, and just generally enjoyed one another’s company, almost oblivious to the the fact that much of the kitchen was floored only with plywood sub-flooring. At least the den and the hall had real flooring, not to mention furniture.

As for the clarity, this comes from today’s xkcd cartoon. It’s a link to the Wikipedia entry called List of Common Misconceptions. Some them will surprise you. And if you are as peculiar as I am, you will enjoy some of the “See Also” links. I followed Straight and Crooked Thinking, which led me to the web’s Way Back Machine archive, and eventually to 38 dishonest tricks.

I guess posting can be easy if I let the internet do most of the work!

Happy New Year to one and all.