NaBloPoMo, day 23: how we got here

I was there, you know. September 11, 2001, running from the office to Foggy Bottom with my future best man to make sure his then-girlfriend was OK after reports of a car bomb at the State Department (which turned out to be false). I knew that things were going to change in air travel – that was obvious. And when I flew to Alabama on a one-way ticket the following month to collect my own girlfriend, I got pretty much what I expected, which was fine – I figured naturally it’s going to be pretty ragged at first, but they’ll figure it out pretty soon.

I never expected that we’d go nine years without anyone figuring it out.

The amazing thing is how reactive everything has been, and how permanent the reaction. The abortive shoe-bombing attempt led to all shoes on the belt. The alleged liquid-bomber plot led to the 3-ounce rule and everything in a baggie and don’t bring your Coke through. And years on, we’re still doing that, despite the fact nobody else in the world does this shit. And now we have the much-debated “nudity machine”, which is one of two mandatory options – the other being the kind of roughing-up somewhere between second and third base that some of us would have killed to grasp at on prom night. And nobody else does that shit. Not Britain, not Israel, not places with a lot more experience of terror.

I honestly expected we’d get a ground-up reorganization of the entire way we look at airline security. Instead, we got exactly what we had before, with an extra layer added every time somebody pulled something. So now we have the computer out of the bag, the shoes on the belt, the jacket off, the liquids in tiny little bottles in their own bag, and now a little pirouette and maybe a bump-and-grind for the wage-slave behind the screen…because when you get right down to it, it’s still September 12. Everyone has carried on in the full flush of panic, when we had no idea what we were up against and for how long, and nobody has rethought our circumstances to account for the fact that we are not, in fact, fighting a vast secret army of superhumans.

This year, something’s going to have to give. Too much of our security policy has been driven by the absolutist ravings of square-state plushbutt yahoos who insist that we have to do everything in our power to stop the terrorists because that’s what the guy on Fox said, and if we don’t, we’ll all be destroyed, so quit your whining because lives are at stake. You know…September 12. It was the right response on September 12, 2001, but things may have changed a little in nine years. And now, a lot of amateur travelers are really going to get up close and personal with what it means to encounter the full force of an absolutist approach to airline security – and even if they don’t flip out in rage that somebody would dare inspect them, a white person, they’re at least going to come away with the thought that “there’s got to be a better approach to this.”

And there is. It’s called starting with a clean sheet – if we were to design how security is done in a post-September-11 world, based on the kind of attacks and plots we’ve seen, how would we do things? Other than, you know, doing the same thing we did before and then just slapping on an extra step every time we hear of something scary. It’s going to involve a lot of analysis, a lot of consultation, a lot of talking to people who have done this sort of thing before. You know, a lot of rational thinking.

And if there’s one thing we as a nation have completely forgotten how to do in the last decade, it’s think rationally.

Killin’ time

This is yet another test of the Bluetooth keyboard with the iPhone now that I’m on iOS 4.2.1. Not that it makes a huge difference one way or the other, but just proving again that the main obstacle to using the iPhone as a replacement for everything is carrying the Bluetooth keyboard around. No stuffing this thing in your pants and trying to slip through the security checkpoint. Actually I might have more to say on that later.

Come to think of it, an iPhone and iPad (the latter with Wi-Fi only) would pretty much give you what you need from a MacBook Air – the iPad does everything that needs the bigger display and a fuller browser, while the iPhone handles communications anywhere and video chat. An iPad would do for me anywhere I use the laptop now, since I only have Wi-Fi and no 3G card on the laptop, and even if you bundle a keyboard with it the iPad is still going to be lighter than the MacBook Air, even the 11″ model. And maybe an A4 processor is weaker than a Core2Duo, and 256 MB of RAM is definitely less than 2 GB, but iOS has to be a lighter load than OS X 10.6.5…something to think about. In fact, now I really have to start thinking: what is there that I have to have a laptop to do?

NaBloPoMo, day 22: threads

After washing out of grad school, my first job was a temp gig with SONAT – the parent of Southern Natural Gas, a huge energy concern throughout the South, headquartered in Birmingham. Very old, very traditional, very stodgy. Casual Fridays meant you could go without a tie. So there I was, May-June-July, hottest summer in years, wearing a shirt and tie and getting out of the car at 7:45 to go to work when it was already 78 degrees.

When I started at NG, we were still shirt-and-tie although Fridays were wide open – jeans, sneaks, whatever you had was fine. There was an abortive attempt at doing “wacky tie Thursday” but it never really took. I don’t know when the policy changed exactly – as late as spring 1998 there are pics of me at my desk, shirt and tie, no goatee – but by the end of the year we were pretty much down to Casual Monday, Casual Tuesday, Very Casual Wednesday, Extremely Casual Thursday and Just Don’t Come In Butt Naked Friday. Except for a couple of attempts to impress the girls in NG Channels International with suits on going-out nights, that was it for the ties.

The next big wardrobe shift came with the heat of summer in 2001. At some point, I quit wearing jeans between April and October, and largely switched to cords December through March. Summer meant khakis with a steady stream of black Hawaiian shirt, black mambo shirt, black bowling shirt, etc etc; winter meant an endless array of black polo shirts over the cords topped with the black leather car coat. You had to be kitted out for 95 degrees and Code Red conditions in August and 10 degrees and blizzard snow in February.

That’s not the case out here. Conditions in Silly Con Valley are best described as “DC in early April” for the winter months and “DC in late April” for everything else, and even the occasional high-90s heat wave doesn’t come with the caliber of humidity you get down South. And my first year and a half was spent basically dockwalloping, so everything was steel-toes, dirty jeans, and an endless array of T-shirts. Desk duty allowed me to clean up the jeans and find a slightly nicer shirt, but car commuting made outerwear less of a consideration. I somehow found myself buying a waterproof-suded jean jacket, which I almost never have cause to wear, and a couple of rain shells which are generally all you need unless the temps are dropping below 55 or so.

Having gone back to train commutes in the last two years has complicated matters. Now I definitely need waterproofing in some form. And since my office goes around with me in a Timbuk2 backpack, something like a leather coat of any kind is impractical as the pack is sure to ruin it. Jeans are damn near the only thing I wear ever, although apparently T-shirts are a no-no if there’s any chance at all you might get sent to a Dean’s office to fix something, so I’m back on an endless supply of solid-color sport shirts.

I still wear the Docs almost every day, obviously, but the steel-toes are too heavy to commute with unless you’re driving. =)

There was no point to all this. I just couldn’t come up with anything else today and I had to kill a few hundred words somehow.

NaBloPoMo, day 21: this is why we can’t have nice things

They’re taking away my Redskins bar.

Two years after I discovered it, Dan Brown’s Lounge in Palo Alto is closing in a rent dispute with the owner of the building. This is distressing in ways I can’t even begin to explain. Setting aside the fact that the Skins have won every time but once or twice that I’ve been in attendance, this is a place made with me in mind. Half of it is a Redskins bar – framed Riggins and Grimm jerseys, oil prints of Jurgensen and Monk, signs and pennants – and the other half is a straight-up dive, complete with pics of the Rat Pack, and Sophia Loren giving Jayne Mansfield the side-eye, and a large nude of Marilyn Monroe over the curved bar. It’s not the most accessible place via public transit (though it’s doable), but in every other respect it’s just my kind of place.

And a week from tomorrow, it’s no more.

I’ve tried. God knows I’ve tried. But there’s not consistent enough music at any Irish place, O’Neill’s is too far north and O’Flaherty’s too far south, Trials has no television and takes forever to get home from, BBC picks up too many douchebag mid-life crisis cases, Mervyn’s is just too hell-pray-we-don’t-get-shot, Iberia is way too expensive, Tied House has terrible food and the Saint is way too may-contain-Irish-substance, and the Ritz-Carlton in Half Moon Bay is way too far away.

How long O Lord will I search in vain for something to replace the 4P’s?


How is it that Stanford can be ranked #6 in the country, sitting on 10 wins and possibly looking at the Rose Bowl, and Vanderbilt can’t see the far side of .500 more than once in a quarter-century? Everything else is competitive – both basketball teams and the baseball are annual postseason contenders and always competitive with the best in the country – so why the FUCK can’t football get over the goddamn hump?

NaBloPoMo, day 20: the death penalty

Southern Methodist University was the worst offender in a conference full of them. in the days of the Pony Express, they were laboring under their seventh stint of NCAA probation, when an intrepid investigation by the local television sports crew unearthed a long-running slush fund for payment of players. Exasperated at last, the NCAA handed SMU a ban on football for 1987 and a limit of 7 games in 1988 (all on the road, to fulfill conference obligations). It’s the only time the NCAA has ever shut down an entire football program at a member institution.

SMU chose to leave the program shut down in 1988 rather than play only on the road, and set about retooling their athletic department, but the damage was done. The program has never been the same, and the entire Southwest Conference broke up in the realignment of the early 1990s – some schools to the Big XII (itself now coming apart), some to the WAC, one to the SEC. This kind of ripple effect is probably the reason why nobody’s gotten the death penalty since, and probably the reason Miami wound up skating on its Pell Grant scandal in the early 90s.

Instead, the NCAA goes for the neutron bomb approach – kill all the people but leave the structures standing. That’s what Alabama caught in the early 2000s – and the justice of that penalty, with no finding of lack of institutional control and no finding of culpability on the past of any university employee, is still up for debate – and it’s what USC caught this year. Take away postseason play and a critical mass of scholarships, and you can devastate a program for the better part of a decade. For the Tide or Trojans, of course, there’s always a chance to come back, as Nick Saban demonstrated – the great powers usually have the means to recover.

The reason this is interesting now is because of Tennessee. The men’s basketball coach got an unprecedented half-season suspension from conference play from the SEC office – something they have never done before – because he lied to NCAA investigators. Said investigators have not reported back, possibly because they are also dealing with the slew of violations reported under Lane Kiffin in football and rumblings around the baseball program as well.

So is Tennessee in line for the death penalty? Probably not. The official NCAA standard is “two major violations in five years” but it’s unclear whether that standard could be applied if the violations are in two separate programs. (Alabama was literally threatened with it – “looking down the barrel” was the phrase the investigating committee used – but the first of the two violations was in basketball.) It’s a little bit mind-blowing how the athletic director in Knoxville still has a job, to be honest, but maybe they’re waiting for the official letter of inquiry so they can loudly and publicly sacrifice him. After all, if there’s one thing we’ve learned over the years, it’s that the only chance of surviving an NCAA probe is to immediately self-immolate and throw yourself on the mercy of the committee. Standing up for yourself only gets a harder smack.

And, as is ever the case, it does very little good. Sure, USC had to vacate a ton of wins and their 2004 national championship (the only actual one of the attempted three-peat, thanks to LSU), but do any of the fans care? Does Auburn get hooked up with a title? Does Cal get a retroactive Rose Bowl berth against Michigan? Does Vince Young get Reggie Bush’s Heisman? No, no, and no. So I ask you this: if the punishment is long delayed and never as bad as the crime was good, and if Vanderbilt has an endowment pushing $3 billion, why the hell haven’t we broke out the checkbook and taken this thing as far as it can go? Sure, they can vacate all that shit in five years, but if I was there at the Sugar Bowl, I’ll know better…

NaBloPoMo, Day 19: Brightest day, blackest night, uh…with liberty and justice for all

There are five superheroes that anyone in America knows: Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, Spider-Man, and the Hulk. The first three of those are DC Comics properties – and while the Christopher Nolan reboot of Batman has been a tremendous success and wiped the slate of those Schumacher abominations, the recent Superman revival was a dud – and let’s not even start in on the development hell of Wonder Woman. Meanwhile, across the aisle, Marvel has taken one of their second-tier properties in Iron Man and turned it into a phenomenon (largely thanks to the born-to-play-him casting of Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark). So now DC prepares to do the same…with Green Lantern.

This is a reach, to say the least. Green Lantern isn’t even part of the regular Super Friends rotation (the aforementioned trio plus Robin and Aquaman, for those of you born after 1978 or so) – so, like Iron Man, you’re going big with a character who is largely a blank slate in the public mind. Apparently there has been more complexity and hogwash around Green Lantern in recent years than almost any other character, with a whole rainbow of alternate lanterns and some sort of zombie Black Lanterns and…oh I can’t even. One of the problems of flogging the same characters for fifty years that the accretion of previous continuity and retcons and plot devices run amuck results in the need to blow everything up and start fresh (thinking of the Ultimate Marvel line here).

So instead, we’re going down a similar road, judging by the trailer: lovable rogue suddenly finds himself in a position of great power and has to overcome his own limitations to become A Hero. We have seen this ONE MILLION times, so the success is in the details. And despite all manner of gadgetry and psychotic foes, the success of the Nolan Batman and of Iron Man – in my opinion anyway – has come from the fact that these stories are explicitly not about Batman and Iron Man, but about Bruce Wayne and Tony Stark. Hell, Iron Man is groundbreaking in that when’s the last time you saw a superhero with no secret identity in mainstream entertainment? Part of the thing about the movie version is that everyone knows Tony Stark = Iron Man, and there are issues that flow from that.

Too, Batman and Iron Man have the advantage of being guys in suits. You may have to CGI some of their shenanigans, but these are not things that are totally beyond reason. It remains to be seen how responsive non-fanboy audiences are going to be to an interstellar police force with “power rings” and green Spandex. Then again, the filmmakers have cleverly broadened their appeal by casting the newly-minted “Sexiest Man Alive” as their protagonist and helpfully put him in nothing but his drawz to open the trailer. Setting aside the question of “when the hell did the guy off ‘Two Guys A Girl And A Pizza Place’ become the Sexiest Man Alive?” it will be interesting to see whether Ryan Reynolds can walk the same tightrope that RDJ did without the advantage of being a functional alcoholic playing a functional alcoholic. (Maybe he can get an introduction, since his wife was the one spying on Tony Stark for SHIELD…)

Watch it? Of course I will. Hell, I went and saw Watchmen, didn’t I, and what a load of old shite that turned out to be…at the very least, I want to see whether it’s going to be Iron Man or Daredevil

NaBloPoMo, Day 18: Welcome to the Future

Yesterday, I got a message from my counterpart on Team Black Swan. As has become traditional in times of stress or novelty, he sent along a picture of the day’s chosen beverage. Unfortunately, drinking establishments being how they are, it wasn’t too too light in there…


So I saved the picture out of MMS into my camera roll on the phone, fired up Photoshop Express, upped the exposure and ran a couple of sharpening filters, and tweaked the contrast ever so slightly…and got this:


Great picture? No. Able to clearly distinguish the straight whiskey with a beer? Absolutely. And I did all this with nothing but the very phone I received the message on. The same phone that I’ve blog-posted from before. The same phone that lets me video-chat from my phone to my wife’s computer. The same phone on which I see real-time updates of things happening right around me, whether it’s a parade or a Cal game or a night out at Singlebarrel – my friends can see what I’m doing and respond to it in real time from anywhere in the country.

I’m sure I’ve told this story before, but I’ll tell it again: when I was in first grade, the big thing was to fold up a piece of paper into a long strip which then got folded over three times and decorated heavily in number-2 pencil. On one side, when folded up, it was a badge with “Lt. whatever” (the universal sci-fi rank, is Lieutenant, which I couldn’t spell in first grade). On the other side, the various phaser/blaster controls. Open it up and there was your tricorder, your scanner, your force field, your cloaking device, all the necessities for a bunch of kids with runaway imaginations in the era of Battlestar Galactica and Buck Rodgers and Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

It’s hard not to shake the feeling that thirty years on, all I lack is to put on a lock-screen picture of a badge that says “Lt. Donkey.”

NaBloPoMo, day 17: it’s not the mileage, it’s the years

Last night I had the strangest dream. (I did not sail away to China in a little rowboat to find ya.) I don’t know if it was to do with trying to catch up on a month’s worth of Glee (we are seriously in arrears on television, and Top Gear has gotten totally out of hand) or just a byproduct of Sunday’s trip to the theatre, but somehow, in my dream last night, a bunch of people I didn’t know and some I did were doing some sort of theatrical production. I was late, but I didn’t have any lines until the second act. And I had no idea what my lines were, but knew that it was something very natural and that with a glance at the script beforehand I’d probably be golden. And somehow we did the performance and it was a smashing success, and later that day I had to retrieve something from the crawlspace under somebody’s house, but I have no idea what that had to do with anything…and scene.

Today’s topic stems from the last trip to Disneyland, in October, when I was hanging over the rail at the Boardwalk hollering at people getting ready to be railgunned on California Screamin’. It was a beautiful day, we were having a spectacular time, everything was going great, I’d forgotten all about Vandy getting railgunned themselves by Connecticut the day before, and the thought flittered through my head, I’m in denial about how old I actually am.

I don’t feel 38-and-a-half. It feels like not that much time has gone by, even though some things feel like they took place several lifetimes ago. It doesn’t seem real that next May Day, I will have been in California as long as I was in Northern Virginia. Come Christmas, I’ll have been away from Apple as long as I was at Apple. I’ve been in my house for five years, which is the longest stretch I’ve lived at a single address since I left home for college, which was itself more than half my life ago. I remember the last week of undergrad, thinking “it can’t possibly have been more than two years. I have so much left to do.” And the kids born that week are driving now.

Sometimes I think that’s what did it – high school was my college, college was my high school, grad school was trying to make up for the college experience and I wound up landing in the real world like a 21-year-old, only at age 25. It seems like everything was in slow motion, or else took forever. Hell, I wasn’t married until I was 33, and that was after four years in the relationship. Mentally, I’m still wired like a college student. Late nights and later mornings. Wall-to-wall college basketball. I want to stay up for 1 AM tipoffs at the holidays and yell like hell. I want to have a Nerf gun in my bag in case one of the zombies makes a move for me on the way to the cafeteria. I want to drop by random friends’ places and hang out after class work. I sign up for things like Foursquare and Twitter, knowing full well that the key utility in them is not for people like me – I’m not going to look and see “hey, my friends are hanging out at Tied House, I should go” or check in myself at the Saint knowing that somebody will probably pop in eventually. For crying out loud, I actually volunteered to be part of somebody’s adult show choir…that is, until they got distracted with a full-scale theatrical production that they may be moving to SF or LA.

And I’d really like to sign up for the junior year abroad program – except I don’t think my employer has one for IT staff.

I wonder if this refusal to come to grips with how old I actually am is what they mean by “midlife crisis” – probably, except I don’t have any impulse to go get hair plugs and a motorcycle and start macking on girls half my age. I’m not out to recapture my youth as such, I just wish I’d gotten a full youth’s worth out of it. Maybe I did, and I just don’t know what’s average or normal, but somehow it never quite feels that way.

NaBloPoMo, day 16: Scotch and soda

Last week I had a rough time, owing to somebody else’s personal business that I won’t go into here. Suffice to say it was the sort of thing that made me want to cocoon in a big way – I wanted to unplug the phone, shut off the email, and just get away for a bit.

And I realized, I can do exactly that.

I had a miniature 12-year-Dewar’s left over from a Christmas present a couple years ago from my surrogate big sister. I have a Sodastream machine capable of creating my own fizzy water 24 ounces at a time. I have a nice rugged polycarbonate double-old-fashioned rocks glass, and I have a fridge that makes ice. I don’t know what inspired me to pull it all together, but I had a fleeting memory of the McTeggarts, who would occasionally play a song they introduced as “a favorite of all the boys in the back, so we’ll play this one for them,” and play the old Kingston Trio tune “Scotch and Soda.”

And I sat on the couch, sipped my drink, watched some of the backed-up episodes on the DVR, and just breathed deeply. And it was phenomenal.

A while back, another blogger of my acquaintance embarked on a program by which she would do one night a week unplugged. The more I think about this, the more I’m inclined to try it myself. I have a couple of thoughts on how it would work for me, though, because my problem is that I will invariably hitting refresh on Twitter, on Facebook, on my RSS reader, lather rinse repeat. And I don’t need to just keep running laps around the same four apps on the iPhone or laptop.

So, my thoughts on how this would go:

* No laptop. Or desktop, for that matter.

* No iPhone. I could pull out the backup phone solely as a lifeline for planning or in case the wife needed to reach me if I’m out, but I’m not really accepting incoming calls. (Let’s face it, anyone who knows me knows the best move is to text me anyway.)

* No iPad – I don’t even own this one – but I’m wondering whether to caveat that for use of the Kindle app (or even an actual Kindle) for reasons below.

* No TV, at least not as a crutch for background noise. If I’m going to watch something I should bloody well watch it.

So what do I hope to accomplish by this?

* More reading. As it is, the magazines, and there aren’t many, tend to pile up for a while. I want to avoid that – actual words on a printed page will force me to perhaps slow down, skim less, actually try for some comprehension. Books as well – I’m currently re-reading some stuff, but I may want to branch out and read new material soon, and for that I want to allow an electronic loophole as Kindle-based reading is both cheaper and easier to transport.

* Movies. The wife and I do not see movies. This is a problem. I have lost count of all the things we need to see and haven’t – we still haven’t seen Up, for crying out loud, never mind Toy Story 3 or the new Harry Potter or Red or Date Night or Scott Pilgrim vs the World or any number of things. We’re working on an upgraded internet connection, we’re probably going to have AppleTV to go with the DirecTV box, there’s Netflix, we’ll have any number of ways to get movie content in front of us – there’s no excuse at this point.

* Going out and about. Picking Wednesday means that I start the evening in Menlo Park, which will make it easy to hop on Caltrain to visit people who live further up the Peninsula – or to go all the way into the city if need be. It also puts Iberia back on the grid, which can get expensive but has leather chairs with an actual wood-burning fireplace and sangria that’s less sangria and more Gibraltar Island Iced Tea. Or the British Bankers Club, which can douche up from time to time but also has perhaps the finest cocktail menu in 650. Or perhaps south, all the way to San Jose and Singlebarrel or Trials or O’Flaherty’s – or even just to the Cuban place on Cal Ave which is halfway home anyway.


Basically, I’m just hoping to get off the Internet treadmill for one night a week and see if it helps ratchet my brain down a little. And hell, if I’m going to drink like an old man, I may as well try to live like one…