# 01 Oct 2007, 02:33PM: Copout Time!:
When you have a short story due
And you don't know what to do
It's copout time!
Walk a gunman in the door!
Faint the protagonist to the floor!
All the time in the world
Wouldn't save the story you started
So give up, give in, and finish
With a dishwater cliché halfhearted
Five minutes later: My first short story in ten years, "Ronnie," is now on its way to Michael. Much like my Amazing Morphing Accent (you wanted Scottish? how about Russian/French/Indian/cockney?), "Ronnie" displays the Amazing Morphing Tone of a first draft. Police procedural? Lovecraft? Keilloresque close observation of small-town life? I couldn't decide, so why should you?
No, you (probably) can't read it.
# (1) 04 Oct 2007, 10:45AM: Reasons To Mistrust Government(s):
A libertarian trifecta: people in governments abuse their powers to stalk their exes, arrest legal citizens in immigration raids, and murder hundreds of people and destroy villages when citizens peacefully ask for democracy. That last article on Myanmar, by the way, describes yet another example of Amartya Sen's thesis on famines.
# (2) 05 Oct 2007, 02:05PM: Plans:
Planned for last night: a sprint of sorts, where I'd help a friend spec out and start writing an app he's writing for his job and I'd do a few chapters of How To Design Programs. We did some speccing, I did exercise 4.3.3, and we talked a bunch about careers, money, sex, and relationships. I'm surprised religion and politics didn't make it in there.
It was rejuvenating to do project-manager-y stuff with him and remind myself of why I'm on my path. It's been a tough week with Leonard away at Martha's Vineyard. As he has a concentrated week of working on his dreams, I'm alone in our apartment looking for any dreams I might have had and then buried. Necessary Dreams: Ambition in Women's Changing Lives showed up for $2 at a thrift store yesterday so I bought it and it's helping.
# (1) 06 Oct 2007, 01:51AM: Investment In Education:
I was the best scorer on my high school's Academic Decathlon team in the spring of 1997. So the county gave me a USD$100 savings bond. I believe someone told me it would mature in five years. A hundred dollars! My teenage self was very pleased by the amount, although I'm guessing I ferociously underplayed the prize with the kind of false modesty that smothers one's own authentic satisfaction in accomplishment.
Sometime between 2003 and 2005, I ran across the bond in my files and went to a bank to get my hundred bucks. It would pay for a couple of phone bills, dinner, that sort of thing. The teller told me it wasn't mature yet - come back ten years from the issue date.
Yesterday I felt guilty for spending more than I'd expected on packages to Sarah in Mali and post-deliverable dinner with classmates. I figured cashing the savings bond would help me feel better about it, so I went to a nearby bank. The teller seemed confused, and told me they'd only give me about $75 for it; it sounded like she was saying that her bank wouldn't pay me the interest I'd earned, just the purchase price. That sounded wrong, so I went to another bank, one where I had an account.
The second teller told me I'd get $75, too. But it's a mature $100 ten-year bond, issued ten years ago! I said. The teller finally had me look in the corner of the certificate: "Series EE: Interest Ceases 30 Years From Issue Date."
After five seconds of wanting to obstinately wait till 2027 to get $25 more on the bond, I cashed it. I knew a lot of trivia when I was fifteen and tested well, ergo a central California county board of education paid to send some copies of Mad, Bitch, Games, and Atlantic Monthly to a Peace Corps volunteer in Africa and keep me in sushi and Chardonnay one Monday evening in the Upper West Side.
In my filing cabinet tonight sits an envelope, labelled "
130 Year Savings Bond s", now half as full as it was yesterday morning. I got one of those Academic Decathlon highest-scorer prizes in 1998, too. I knew a lot of trivia. I had to stop watching "Jeopardy!" with my mom because just before Final Jeopardy! in every episode they'd play the "how to try out" message and she'd say I should go. Their tryouts were never in Stockton, and if I'd ever wanted to get driven to LA or San Francisco to try out my parents would have made it one of their Things and make a big deal out of it....I'm back-forming those excuses. I don't know why I never tried out.
In 1997, the first year that our high school had a Quiz Bowl team, I led it to third place in the region, beating a school that had won every year previous. The next year we won the regionals, again under my captaincy. I still have those shirts -- the 1997 one has held up remarkably well for a free custom-printed tee that I've worn regularly for ten years. Maybe it's held value better than that savings bond. It says "National Society of Black Engineers" on it, because the local branch of NSBE sponsored the tournament, and sometimes when I wear it people ask about my affiliation with NSBE. I generally say that I'm neither black nor an engineer nor a national society of any sort. One of those personal canards you get used to saying because it takes less effort than thinking up a new mediocre witticism each time.
Anyway, I knew a lot of trivia but somehow I didn't have the mindfulness to look at the maturity terms in the corners of those bonds sometime in the past ten years. I'm wondering whether to cash that other savings bond now or wait till 2028. It wouldn't really be about the money; it's not even worth calculating how infinitesimal 25 nominal dollars of interest would be over 21 years, even discounting inflation. It's worth more if I cash it now, even if you believe the US Government will still be good for this particular obligation when it matures. And if I cash it now I'm done with it and it's one fewer envelope in the filing cabinet.
But I kind of want to keep it. My niece Maggie will be young enough in 2028 that an unexpected gift of a hundred dollars might keep me safely at Cool Aunt status. And unlike nearly every other plaque, trophy, or gewgaw I got for winning school contests, this has dollars backing it. It's proof that my mindless, voracious appetite for factoids, sometimes substitutable for an education, was literally valued (passive voice deliberate; thinking of the whom will just depress me and enumerating the whom will bore you).
I don't garden; sometimes I think my strongest emotional commitments are to my marriage, my blog, and a few TiVo Season Passes. But if all it takes to grow this emotionally resonant little bugger is leaving it alone in a hanging folder, sure, I can leave it to mature all the way. And if it's blooming later than I thought it would, then it won't lack for company in this apartment.
# (1) 06 Oct 2007, 01:02PM: Vintage MoCCA Report:
Months ago, I went to MoCCA and, unlike Hal, didn't provide a roundup. Until now! I'd expected to meet, and did meet, Alison Bechdel again, Raina Telgemeier again, and Ryan North again. Various works by them got bought and signed. I also got to get a signed copy of the first volume of Nothing Better by Tyler Page.
I did not expect to get a painting for Leonard of the first pirate on the moon. I didn't expect to meet Josh Fruhlinger, or to see Rose, Francis, and Lorinne. I didn't expect to come across the fantastic Teen Boat. And I was utterly astonished to meet and converse with Randall Munroe, just walking around on a day trip from Boston. I gaped openmouthed and dropped to my knees in obeisance. I think he laughed nervously.
I've already pronounced on much of my taste in comics. Some additions: I can feel myself getting into Sheldon, I'm amenable to reading Batman one-offs, and Fables is not as annoying as I thought it was a year ago.
# (1) 08 Oct 2007, 11:45AM: I'm Disappointed In...:
Colson Whitehead and Justin Lin. I'd enjoyed John Henry Days and Better Luck Tomorrow, so I eagerly dove into Whitehead's new book, Apex Hides the Hurt, and Lin's new film, the mockumentary "Finishing The Game". "Your single likeliest choice, statistically speaking, is a book by an author whose other works you've read and enjoyed, because you know it's a good bet that you'll enjoy this one too." That's what I'm saying, Teresa Nielsen Hayden! For example, I'm eager to read anything that Gordon Korman puts out: adventure serials, standalone zany-school-antic tales, reworkings of The Great Gatsby (really!), anything. And I basically feel the same about Neal Stephenson, Leonard, Michael Lewis, and Tracy Kidder.
But Apex was just a dim reflection of John Henry Days, complete with unnamed city slicker narrator ambiguously helping a country town trying to reinvent itself. It wasn't as funny, moving, deep, incisive, or anything. It was shorter, though.
And Finishing The Game had a great trailer, but it spread attention over too many characters, slowed its pace too many times, lost the funny, and completely broke tone in the last ten minutes. It did make me want to see This Is Spinal Tap again, though.
A guy in the credits: Sergei Sorokin, probably this guy. The name made me think of what The West Wing would be like if Aaron Sorkin had been writing within Soviet Russia. Martin Sheen is...Leonid Brezhnev!
Random thought from today's handball-playing with Leonard: Lydia the DRM'd Lady. Chastity belts are DRM.
# 09 Oct 2007, 10:18AM: Seen:
Now that Leonard's starting his new job, we're waking up earlier and moving our daily handball games to the realm of 7:30 or 8am. This means that today we saw Astorians in suits walking to the subway. The most prominent example: a youngish man in a very proper suit and the most incongruous camo baseball cap ever.
Leonard suggested that the worker was dressed for "Casual Tuesday," "Funny In Context Tuesday", or "You Had To Be There Tuesday."
# 13 Oct 2007, 03:53PM: Warning! Volleyball.:
Yesterday I was walking west from the NYU College of Dentistry (strawberry-flavored fluoride prophylactic tastes way better than whatever they had when I was a kid) and happened to walk a few blocks alongside a group of three young adults chattering in Russian. My fluency has gone straight k chyortu since I left St. Petersburg in 2001, but I could catch the odd phrase.
As we stopped at a corner, I mused over what I might innocently say to them in Russian. Izvinitye, or "Excuse me," in case I was in their way. Or Ostorozhno ("Caution"), in case I saw a car coming towards them, or something.
The light turned green, they started walking, and I saw a car finishing a turn -- towards them! "Ostorozhno!" I yelled.
They stopped, none died, and I continued on my way.
Later yesterday, as I entered the Columbia gym, I heard that a women's volleyball game was in progress, so I went to watch it. We lost to Dartmouth, but there were some epic rallies and volleys.
I heard multiple spectators yelling, "Sideout!" as an encouragement. I asked one of them what it meant. It used to be that serving and losing on a turn simply meant that the serve for the next turn switched to the other team; the team that hadn't made a mistake won no point, and was said to have "sided out." Now we have "rally scoring," where a point is scored on every turn, and so there's no such thing as siding out. But people still yell "side out," the spectator said, because "there isn't much you can really yell in volleyball. 'Do well'? 'Hit it to the right place'?" I tried out "keep it up," "come on," "go Lions," and the like. He was right.
# 13 Oct 2007, 04:10PM: Better Things Are On Their Way:
On Friday I also went to the Software Freedom Law Center's summit and got to, among other things, meet and hear the tremendously smart, accomplished, and inspiring Eben Moglen for the first time. I intend to organize my notes and post the most surprising and insightful bits from the talks.
Moglen came to the law from hackerdom (as Luis Villa and Dan Berlin are doing). I'm in some liminal space among writing, software, and business, and many attendees at the summit occupy similar neat positions. Dilettantes can become ambassadors. That's my hope.
# 16 Oct 2007, 09:29AM: Attempts:
Right now: doing a long-distance code sprint with Brendan. Or trying to. Note to self: schedule these things later in the day than 8am, if possible. Or wake up earlier to eat, check email and RSS feeds, etc.
Later today: short story critiquing session with Michael. He wrote:
A special thanks to Sumana for challenging me to do it and not giving up on me when I didn't make the deadline.
Awesome! Maybe it really will work out to be a manager/friend/leader/parent.
# 17 Oct 2007, 08:14AM: Index Cards:
So far my most successful sprint/work date has been the one with Fureigh on Sunday. Outside the house, no internet access, 4 to 5 hours long.
Fureigh mentioned that she knows someone who, among other things, walks the Columbia University gym track late at night memorizing Shakespeare with a friend. So of course the very next night I spotted the pair and introduced myself. New York City won't feel like a small world on its own; being in communities (tech, software freedom, Columbia, on a very small scale Slightly Known People fandom) makes it smaller.
# (2) 17 Oct 2007, 01:12PM: Clarity in Pricing Is Respectful, Not Sordid:
Jay Parkinson, the new Brooklyn doctor who does house calls, instant messenger, and email, has now been practicing for a few weeks. I'm hoping that Parkinson's example, like that of quick clinics (link to my January rant), helps add healthy competition into a really freaky economic situation.
Markets work when sellers compete and when buyers and sellers have good information about the choices they make. But when was the last time you saw a simple price list posted at a doctor's office, the way there is at a body shop?
One interesting moment:
I saw a patient the other day who needed an inhaled steroid (no generic available) that the local big chain pharmacy here in NYC sells for $130. My database says there is a mom and pop pharmacy in the Lower East Side that sells it for $85. I called the pharmacy and told them their "drug retail price list" says they offer it for $85 and I have a cash-paying patient who needs this drug. The pharmacist was quite surprised. "How did you get this and who gave it to you?"...
Wouldn't it be nice to be able to do a Google search for the actual price of a mammogram (the price range here in NYC is $125 to $750) at any facility in the country for a cash-paying customer?... At present, there is absolutely no way to search these prices short of calling hundreds of facilities to find the best price. Trust me, I've done it. It's hard work trying to uproot an entire industry's concerted effort to keep you in the dark.
The profits in the healthcare industry depend upon their customers' ignorance of the actual cost of medical goods and services and the data behind why you actually need these goods and services.
# 19 Oct 2007, 12:11AM: No Surprise:
As of right now, the DonorsChoose site is not terribly responsive.
# (4) 19 Oct 2007, 06:29PM: Day Of The Lurkers:
If you and I have never met in person, but you read my blog, please leave a comment on this post to say hello!
For example, if you're the person who thoughtfully sent me Yevgeny Zamyatin's We, or you're the Bob Smith who knew the lyrics to "Bon Anniversaire", please accept my thanks and take a bow.
# (2) 21 Oct 2007, 12:41AM: They're Everywhere:
When ironic/sarcasm scare quotes meet signmakers who use quotation marks for emphasis, you have the "Quotation Mark" Abuse photo pool (found via every damn blog ever).
# 24 Oct 2007, 10:15AM: Logic Puzzle:
Chief Information Officers say: 41% of us report directly to the Chief Executive Officer. CEOs say: 63% of our CIOs report directly to us.
# 26 Oct 2007, 09:43AM: No Ex Post Facto Law Or Bill Of Attainder:
One of my favorite bits from the Constitution. It's fun to say and it's the right thing to do. That's why I'm with the EFF on this one.
Update: Seth points out that this is probably a retroactive amnesty that doesn't fall under the prohibition on retroactive creation of criminal liability. Oh yeah.
# 28 Oct 2007, 10:18PM: Colbert Sighting:
Twice tonight, Bravo's showing Stephen Colbert obscure candy. Specifically, at 10pm and 1am, it's airing the episode of Law & Order: Criminal Intent where Colbert guest stars.
# 30 Oct 2007, 07:36PM: Patents, Trademarks, Trade Secrets, and Copyrights:
Back in February, my law & technology class hosted Mark Kesslen, an IP lawyer at Lowenstein Sandler. He gave a guest lecture on intellectual property. I'm enough of an IP obsessive that I transcribed my notes and gave them out to classmates. Since I'm prepping my notes from the Software Freedom Law Center summit, I realized that a crash course on the US quartet of IP categories would come in handy. So: Intellectual Property crash course: Patents, copyrights, trade secrets, and trademarks. Please let me know of horrible inaccuracies.
# (5) 31 Oct 2007, 10:30AM: Had Me, Lost Me:
At a VMWare recruiting session on Monday, the Ryan North lookalike Eli Collins mentioned dtrace. I thought, "I should learn more about dtrace!" Today I happened across Bryan Cantrill's Google Tech Talk on dtrace and decided to watch it.
Within the first five minutes, Cantrill mistakenly calls Dreaming in Code a bad book and regales an audience at frickin' Google with the "is software information or a machine? both!" conundrum as though it's new. OK, fine, I'll just go read a tutorial somewhere rather than listen to this guy for an hour.
# 31 Oct 2007, 11:28AM: SFLC Summit Retrospective, & Bob Loblaw:
I went to the Software Freedom Law Center summit a few weeks ago and evidently waited for other folks to give their impressions and reports:
None of those reports are terribly thorough, though. So I've put up my notes from the four-hour Legal Summit for Software Freedom 2007. The speakers covered copyright, patent, reverse engineering, and organizational issues, as well as the future of software freedom and of the SFLC. If you still wish you'd been there, you can listen to a separate talk by the guy from SFLC who talked about copyright at the summit. I wish I could link to a video of Eben Moglen's closing remarks at the summit. He was great.
I look forward to the release of the SFLC Legal Issues Primer for Open Source and Free Software Projects; we got a draft at the summit and it is 45 pages that every FL/OSS leader should read. We also got copies of SFLC's guides to mixing GPL and more permissive code in a single project and understanding what "originality" really means in fights over copyright infringement.
Fun facts: the New Delhi office of SFLC is scheduled to open in 2008. Also, SFLC has a software project called Loblaw, named after the Arrested Development lawyer and his site, "Bob Loblaw's Law Blog." When I was at Salon.com, and we were getting the VideoDog video clip subsite going, the video clip we used to test the embedded player was the Bob Loblaw commercial from Arrested Development. That commercial is to VideoDog as Tom's Diner is to the MP3.
Cogito, Ergo Sumana by Sumana Harihareswara is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.
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