I really dislike the term “homeland”—as in “homeland security.” I am sure that I am in the minority there. It feels a bit like criticizing the pledge of allegiance, or the singing of the national anthem at sporting events. People think of you as a crank. But, until recently, I never once heard this country called our homeland. I heard, land, nation, country, home. If I heard the term homeland at all, it was to refer to whatever country immigrants to the United States left behind.
In the summer of 1984 I worked at Computerland of North Denver. A father of a good friend owned the store and was kind enough to give me the job. I remember that I made $5.50 per hour. I commuted from Boulder to Westminster, transferring buses once. I had a tiny purple portable radio and earphones that helped make the bus ride more pleasant. I learned a little bit about retail computer sales—profit margins, quality control, inventory, and so on.
As a kid I was a reader (and re-reader) of Greek and Roman mythology (and to a lesser degree of Norse, Christian, Egyptian, and Native American myths). One day when I was a ten-year-old (in school in Canterbury, England for a year while my Dad taught at the University of Kent), we were given a class assignment to locate the answers to fifty wide-ranging questions like “What is the term that describes the type of trees that drop their leaves? It was basically and open-book test to help us learn research skills. So I discovered the word “deciduous.”
Nights with a small child in a tent. My almost three-year-old does not want to go to sleep right away—she wants to go outside and play with the flashlight, or read a book. She does not want to sleep inside her small orange sleeping bag. In the middle of the first night, she sat up and said, “I’m cold.” She’s never cold, but it was freezing. I asked her if she wanted to get into her sleeping bag or join me in mine, so I ended up with two people in my bag. Consequently, we were both warmer.
For a few seasons quite some years ago I coached a coed soccer team of ten to twelve year olds in the Washington, DC league called “Soccer on the Hill.” It was quite a fun experience, but it was also a lot of work. The kids varied in every way that I could imagine—race, gender, economic background, size, skill, work ethic, and coachability. There were children of Senators and bus drivers, competitive players and others who were easily distracted by butterflies.
In basketball, relative to other players my age, I peaked in sixth grade. I played in the “after school basketball” league at Flatirons Elementary School. We played on nine-foot rims on a shorter than regulation school gym court. I was something of a star, averaging about seventeen points per game (according to my possibly untrustworthy memory) while playing three of four six minute quarters. For years I held the season free throw percentage record that was posted on a wall at the school. I remember from introductions that I was 4’11 1/2 inches tall. (The tallest players, the centers, were in the 5’3” to 5’5” range). I played point guard.
All of life’s big decisions have a quality to them that makes them hard to judge in retrospect. Whatever direction you turn at a particular moment utterly affects the rest of your life, but you will never be able to compare that path with any other. Or, for a better way of putting it, see Robert Frost, The Road Not Taken. Only in the movies (or other fiction) can you explore multiple futures. I have been thinking this morning about the spring of 1984 when I was a senior at Boulder High School deciding what college to attend. It was one of those moments that make all the difference in your life.
As I undertook the forty-minute drive to Saturday’s soccer game in Anacostia, I was in a grumpy mood and I started to wonder about retiring from the sport completely. I will be forty in the fall and I questioned whether it made sense to drag my body around the field again with people half my age. Given that it was ninety degrees outside, and I have a lot going on, I felt some incentive to leave it all behind.
Some couples say that they found love at first sight, describe each other as “soul mates,” tell and re-tell their engagement story, or see their relationship as a fairy tale. Today is my wife’s birthday, so I thought I would honor the day by telling the story of how we met. (I have been striving for years to build a romantic mythology around this event, but I have not received as much cooperation as I would like.)
Next to the couch in my living room is a rectangular plastic container with a green top whose original use was to hold ten pounds of “Deli-Cat” cat food. That container now serves as a place to keep moist a similar weight of grayish pottery clay. It is a significant improvement over the plastic bag I used to use for the same purpose.
Yesterday I decided that I was going to reestablish a small garden plot in my back yard so that my daughter can learn how plants grow from seeds to flowers or edibility. Gardening has taken a back seat to other priorities for me in the past couple of years, but I know my way around that territory, and I want her to as well. I got out my small rototiller from the garden shed.
I spent Memorial Day weekend at a beach house on the outer banks of North Carolina with three other families. Four couples with six kids under the age of five, all girls. Quite amusing. Interspersed with making sand castles, watching the kids, eating, talking with the adults, and watching my daughter fall asleep in a go-kart, I read Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution by Steven Levy.
I have recently started to read with renewed interest some historical treatments and thought pieces about computers, programming, the internet, and technology. I am playing catch up in this area. My work life has been so focused on one software project that I have wanted respite from reading about anything related to computers in my leisure time. But now I suddenly have five or six books on the topic going at once. I will post about the good ones as I finish them. On list for today is The Cathedral & the Bazaar: Musing on Linux and Open Source by and Accidental Revolutionary, by Eric S Raymond.
Nowadays, when I meet or hear about someone new I often “Google” him or her. That is how I discovered that David Bennahum, with whom I have had one telephone conversation about politics and technology, had written a book called Extra Life, about “Coming of Age in Cyberspace.”
We have way too many books in our house. I have many plastic containers in the basement full of them, plenty of bookshelves, and piles of them everywhere. My wife and I both have years of being students; too many years of reading. Sitting in the living room right now I can see at least forty books piled around. Books on manhole covers, Roman history, product strategy for high tech companies, a collection of poems, on political targeting, on movies, on how to play go, a mystery, on Gauguin, on clay figures, and a stack of kids' books.
This morning I finished the book Just for Fun: The Story of an Accidental Revolutionary. It was written by Linus Torvalds, the creator of the Linux operating system, and the “benevolent dictator” who manages the core of that, the most successful of open source programming projects.
There are only 10 types of people in this world; those who understand binary, and those who don't.
I came across the Pulitzer prize winning poet Mary Oliver, strangely enough, because Debra Winger had written Oliver’s poem The Journey on her hand before her interview on the TV program "Inside the Actor's Studio.”
When I find something that I like, I want to tell others. That urge seems to come from a desire to share the pleasure of the experience, but perhaps also from wanting somehow to get credit for the discovery, or to raise your status by association with something cool. That feeling is particularly strong for me when the experience in question has not yet discovered by the public at large. Right now I am a fan of the Falafel Shop in Adams Morgan, DC—see if you agree. But I want to call attention in this post to something that is well-known and already justly famous. It is the awesome 1984 Talking Heads movie Stop Making Sense.
A couple of years ago I tagged along with my friend and neighbor Steve to my first and only gun show. I took Steve up on his invitation because I enjoy his company, and because he is something of a gun nut I figured he would be an excellent interpreter of this Virginia cultural event. He drove out from DC, and on the way he regaled me with stories about his own guns as well as his run-ins with other people and their guns.
I grew up in a family that valued money management. That background has served me well in running my business. My parents, both teachers, conserved money by turning down the heat at night, shutting off lights when they were not in use, cooking our meals rather than going to restaurants, packing lunches to take with them to their work, cutting our hair rather than paying a stylist, cleaning their own house rather than hiring help, sharing one car, and shunning conspicuous consumer goods.
Because we wanted a reasonably unusual name for our daughter, I used the web site Behind the Name to find the frequency of the various contenders. Ella was born (and named) on July 17, 2002. At the time I was a little concerned, because her name had moved, according to the Social Security Administration, from 377th place in 1999 to 268th in 2000 and then to 195th in 2001. But 195th was still very uncommon. I should have known what was coming:
2002: Ella is .179 of girls’ names for 92nd most common.
2003: Ella is .294 of girls’ names for 44th most common.
2004: Ella is .409 of girls’ names for 29th most common.
I have only one thing to say about this: Stop naming your girls after my daughter!
I will be even more peeved if I find out that her middle name, “Qian-Qian,” is taking off.
Last week I read Inside Intuit: How the Makers of Quicken Beat Microsoft and Revolutionized an Entire Industry. I used to read a lot of biographies—progressive politicians, baseball players, composers, Native American chiefs, kings and queens, diplomats, muckrakers, but I do not remember reading about a single businessperson. Now, almost a decade of trying to figure out how to run a company, I have started to take more interest in capitalists.
I might be a little behind, but I just read with interest a book that came out in 1996, by Intel Corporation CEO Andrew Grove, called Only the Paranoid Survive. Even though my business is microscopic in comparison, many of Grove’s points made sense to me. He says that when it comes to business, he believes in the value of paranoia.
Go rent the DVDs for the British sitcom “The Office.” There is a reasonable probability that you will not get it and with just find it painful, in which case, my apologies. You need to understand that it is a “mockumentary.” Do not take it seriously. There are only two seasons and one special. Watch them. In my opinion, it is brilliant.
To my mind, some ways of spending money are highly virtuous and others are dreadfully appalling. Of course, deciding how to spend money is one of our great freedoms, and my intention in writing about my own biases is not intended to criticize yours.
One of the many ways that I asserted my difference with other teenagers was to avoid the rush to learn how to drive a car. Instead, I bicycled, got rides to soccer games, and found other ways to get around. In fact, I did not get a driver’s license until I was twenty-five.
With apologies to the many charming people who say or believe it, the phrase “everything happens for a reason” is absurd.
I went to a birthday celebration for Senator Debbie Stabenow from Michigan today after work. Both she and Senator Carl Levin spoke to a group on Maryland Avenue here in DC. They were great--playing very well off of one another--funny, real people. Michigan is lucky. Four of my employees also showed up; we are all proud to work for both of their campaigns. Both Senators have been database clients of my firm for years now, though I regret to say that neither has any idea of who I am personally. But I was very proud to shake their hands.
I just read about a craftsman who worked appealingly outside of time and technology in Shoji Hamada: A Potter’s Way and Work, by Susan Peterson. Hamada was the most famous ceramic artist in Japan, and, according to Peterson, one of the most important ceramists of the 20th century. I saw a different book, Hamada, Potter (which I have not yet read), on the bookshelf of my aunt Phyllis, who I wrote about in this previous post.