Category Archives: Life

Reboot Camp

Much has been written lately about Steve Jobs’s legacy, and how he transformed not just several industries, but key aspects of our culture itself.

All of this is true, but other recent news has reminded me that he is in some ways not the only technology CEO to leave a mark on the wider culture.

Listening to a story on NPR yesterday about DC’s decision to restart all of its comic books at issue #1, after seeing a trailer the night before for the new new Spider-Man, I can’t help but think that Bill Gates has left some nontrivial marks of his own.

While Windows certainly doesn’t have a monopoly on the notion of rebooting, there’s no denying that it’s the product that introduced wide swaths of the population at large to the notion of resetting things that aren’t working.

Now if only someone could figure out the elusive special key combination for George Lucas and/or Star Wars.

Backhanded Gratitude

Or: Fancy meeting you here.

It’s been over a year since I last updated this site, and that, frankly, is pathetic. The problem is that as the delay since your last posting grows, and grows, and grows — even if it seems like you had extenuating circumstances at the time — you feel pressed to make the next one more and more momentous, to warrant finally breaking the longstanding silence.

Fortunately, it turns out that if someone or something sufficiently infuriates you, you will eventually snap, lose your temper, and resort to posting just to give yourself an outlet for your petulant little tirade.

So… thanks, AT&T!

Over Hill and Under Hill

Or: So, just what the hell have you been doing for the last six months, two entire frickin’ seasons, anyway?

Good question. The short form is, “Knitting, physiologically speaking, for a couple of weeks, then going back to work, then adding some ionizing radiation and chemical warfare to the mix just to keep things interesting.”

The slightly longer form goes like this. In the wee hours of the morning on Thursday, June 5th, Stanford contacted me to come in for surgery. This was basically as per plan — we hadn’t known exactly what time I’d be scheduled for.

The process was smooth and efficient: I signed in, went through a little paperwork, changed into the patient’s gown I was handed, and was then prepared for surgery, with a needle here and a needle there. Once everything was in place, my parents were allowed in and we said our pre-surgical goodbyes. I would think that I was still conscious when I left for the surgical chamber proper, but I have no memory of the trip.

The next thing I was aware of was waking in the Intensive Care Unit, sometime late that afternoon. Given that the conversation I’d had with the anesthesiologist and neurosurgeon the day before, I had expected to find myself conversing with the surgical staff while my brain’s left temporal lobe and its surroundings were mapped. My first conscious thought was something along the lines of, “Oh, crap — I slept like an idiot right through the whole thing, and they had to fly, or rather cut, blind. I’ll be lucky if I can still form complete sentences when speaking out loud.”

But no. When the anesthesiologist and neuroscientist stopped by to check up on me, along with my parents, I learned that I’d been a conscious and, difficult though it is to believe, even civil patient. I just happened not to remember any of it. (I suspect that’s why I don’t remember wheeling into the surgery room, either — I’m guessing that I was technically conscious at the time, but that the tapes on which the mental log of the experience was recorded were wiped along with those of the surgery itself.)

Somewhere in all of that, as I tried to assess myself, I had a slightly childish but nonetheless comforting thought: “Whatever else has happened, I have enough mind left that I’ll be able to enjoy WALL•E.” I’d been looking forward to the movie for a while, and fretted that its release would take place three weeks after my surgery. Moreover, I’d made a promise to a friend’s daughter to take her to see it, and I wanted to keep my word.

Physically considering that I’d just had part of my brain removed, and forty small, rigid, steel staples were now embedded in my flesh to help hold the incision shut, I didn’t feel all that bad. True, it was a bit of a struggle to recall, when asked by the staff, just where the hell I was — “Palo… Alto…” — but hey, any job a $300 GPS unit can perform is not one I need to lose sleep over.

My parents, having established that I was conscious and reasonably coherent — I think we briefly exchanged words in German and Spanish, just to verify that I still spoke those — left the hospital to sleep in actual beds. (I was glad of this, having encouraged them to do so prior to my surgery, assuming all went well. I didn’t see the point of their sleeping uncomfortably on-site just to show “solidarity”.)

I also slept, albeit in regularly-interrupted stints — the rules required the nurse on duty to check on me every hour, and “checking on” meant verifying that I could still maintain some semblance of a conversation. Since that seemed preferable to letting me quietly slip into a coma or something similar, I did my best to reply civilly.

My parents returned around 10:00 a.m. the next day, Friday, along with the surgical staff. When the neurosurgeon, Dr. Harsh, indicated that he thought it would be safe to release me that day, my mother initially thought he was joking. It’s hard to blame her, since we’d originally been led to expect that I would spend four or five nights in the hospital. (Mom later expressed her suspicion that my father’s MD probably hadn’t hurt matters, which seems credible enough. Whatever the reason, it was gratifying to hear a member of the ICU staff remark that she’d never seen a patient discharged directly from her department in something like 20 years of service.)

We drove home, and I wrote and posted the previous entry before going to sleep. Of course, sleeping under the circumstances required a bit of arrangement: doing so on my side was out of the question for a little while. Basically, I had to sleep lying… back, rather than down entirely, on a small mound of pillows. Arms at sides, facing the ceiling at something like a fifteen-degree angle. It felt odd at first, but was surprisingly easy to get used to.

Thus ended a long day.

“Feels like a fire down below…”

We interrupt your regularly-scheduled litany of borderline-morbid neurological news for something completely different.

Frank and I were returning from coffee yesterday afternoon, and he was dropping me off at the side entrance to Cisco Building 20, when I noticed something unusual in the enclosed area housing the dumpsters. Through the narrow gap beneath the locked steel gates, bright orange flames danced, licking the air.

“Hey, do you see that?” I asked, pointing. Indeed he did. He slowed the car, and we took enough of a look to verify that, yes indeed, something was on fire in there.

By the time he’d parked the car, it was clear that more was burning than just the bits of cardboard we’d spotted earlier. The flames had spread to the contents of at least one of the dumpsters.

Since there didn’t seem to be an immediate threat of the fire spreading, we decided to call Cisco Security rather than 911. Not having their number in my phone at the time — I certainly do now — I headed to the building’s lobby to call in the alert, then headed back to the side entrance.

The first Security truck arrived promptly, but its occupant didn’t really seem to have much more idea of what to do than we did. “Yep, it’s on fire all right” seemed to be the extent of the immediate response.

This was approximately the point where Frank and I decided be a bit more… hands-on, and headed into the building to grab a fire extinguisher or two. I will cheerfully confess to a certain amount of glee at the prospect, as I had never had a chance to use an actual fire extinguisher against an actual fire before.

Standing on the concrete base of lamppost and bracing ourselves against the enclosure wall, we took turns aiming for the base of the flames and spewing gouts of powdery white extinguishing compound at it. This put out the visible flames, but we could tell that hot spots remained beneath the ashes.

At this point a second Security truck appeared, and its occupant actually unlocked the gates. We had a better shot at the flames now, but had completely discharged our extinguisher. After checking in his truck for another, the second Security guard came up empty, so Frank and I went back into the building for seconds. We handed one of our finds to the guard, who was apparently unfamiliar with the whole “pull pin to enable trigger” concept. A few more blasts of noxious white powder — nearly as suffocating to humans as to the combustive process — and some poking of the embers, and things seemed to be under control. (In the process we noticed that there was in fact a fire extinguisher attached to the inside of the enclosure. Security Guard #2 wasn’t any more aware of it than we had been.)

I had to leave to pick my father up from the airport at this point, so I missed whatever epilogue might have unfolded. While on my way to Terminal 1, though, I made the mistake of licking my lips. Ugh. There was enough powdery residue on my skin to convey a hint of bitterness, unwholesome and deeply synthetic. (That stuff’s probably carcinogenic. Hahahahaha. Carcinogenic! Ahahahahahaha! Ahem.)

This story has two morals. First and most importantly: when something’s on fire, call 911. Do not screw around with half measures. Do not assume that the employees of your private security firm have the training, equipment, or expertise to handle the problem effectively.

The second, less crucial moral has to do with the guy on the third-floor balcony who was jabbering away on his cell phone — and not, from the sound of it, to the fire department — while the contents of the dumpster were blazing merrily away a few dozen yards away from him. I feel a certain measure of satisfaction in the fact that he must have been engulfed in clouds of the asphyxiating powder our amateur efforts at fire suppression unleashed, and I hope it ruined his day. But he served to illustrate an important point: don’t be a self-absorbed little twit if you can help it.

Here endeth the lesson.


I just deactivated my Facebook account, and scheduled its MySpace counterpart for permanent destruction. It’s enormously liberating, and I highly recommend it.

Like a good number of others, I’ve found that Twitter does a very credible job of keeping me abreast of what my friends are doing, without the usual attendant toxic waste of time and resources. (Sparkling GIFs! “Virtual presents” that cost real money! Zombies! Fuck all of that. It turns out some things are so onerous that people will actually submit to a 140-character constraint on message size just to escape them.)

The Thousandth Landing

(With apologies to Bear McCreary, Brendan Adkins, and pretty much everyone at Bungie.)

The staff is a lashing blur, but ‘Otamee is prepared, already leaping up and back as it strikes his chestplate; the glancing blow discharges most of the weapon’s energy into the air, with the remainder just enough to carry him through his roll back into a ready, empty-handed crouch.

The armsmaster watches with a fond approval he’s careful to hide. “Well. At last you move like the heir to your birthright. Time for the next lesson.”

He tosses ‘Otamee an inactive arcstaff grip.

“You’ve learned how to take a blow.” He smiles. “Now you learn how not to have to.”

Incidental Genius

With apologies to Ed Nather:

The most perfect checkin comment I ever saw
was a few years back, at Juniper.
An engineer named Dan,
not related to your humble scribe,
was making a fix
to the way the routing engines in a redundant system
resolved the question of which one was active
and which one was standing by.

Reading his one-line summation of his efforts,
I thought to myself:
Here is the essence of wisdom.
Here are words that might have sprung
from the pen of his countryman Machiavelli.

Do not declare yourself master until you have become master.

Neil Gaiman once said
That one of the hallmarks of good fiction
Is the way it leaves room for things to mean
More than they literally mean.
Which is true as far as it goes.
But it turns out to be true
of more than just fiction.

Over the years I’ve had frequent occasion
to appreciate the reminder
that prudence and humility
are so often one and the same.