The Deal

Okay, as I mentioned, a lot is up right now.  One of the big things is that my work geography is about to get very complex and very simple.  Let me try to explain.

I was essentially offered my old job in New York, with a couple of differences.  One is that I won’t work in New York – I will be working from home.  The other is that this company got bought by a much larger company last year, which means the whole playing field has changed.  But things will be simple in the sense that instead of spending roughly three hours a day commuting, I will spend roughly fifteen seconds walking down the stairs.  The complicated part is that I will be working for a company in Palo Alto as a California employee, but I will be working with a team that’s in my old digs in New York, but who also has a chunk of employees in Boston.  So the “where do you work” question technically has at least four answers.

And although I am in the Pacific time zone, I will be working Eastern time.  This isn’t a big deal for me; at the time I usually get ready to hop in my car and battle the 880, I will sit down at the computer and start working.  The real win is that I can wrap things up early in the afternoon and have a couple of hours to write and deal with various domestic duties which may or may not include Call of Duty.

As always, I’m sort of weird about discussing my work here, so no more details, although it’s not terribly hard to figure out.

The weird part of all of this is leaving Silicon Valley.  I mean, I technically won’t – I still have an office in Palo Alto, and I can still drive an hour or two and hang out there.  But I won’t be day-to-day down there.  It’s odd to think I’ve been doing this daily drive for two years now, and I’m still not that familiar with the area.  But I do love to see the big futuristic buildings, the chrome and glass towers and campuses that belong to companies that everyone has heard of, or to companies nobody even knows yet.  And then there’s the strip malls and rows of buildings that looked futuristic back in 1982, and now look like a beaten, middle-aged hooker, but are still rented out at a premium.  I wish I could quantify this architecture more, start a site about it, take lots of pictures of rustic earthtone trim and solid wood faceplates and old buildings labelscarred with removed SGI or DataGeneral logos.  But now that I’m not down there every day, that’s another project pushed to a deep back burner for now.

I now have a million other projects, including crap like where I will fit another computer, how I will run a new KVM, what ethernet hub or switch or other crap I will need to add to the home network, and how I will keep the cats away from me while I work.  And I’m fighting a low-grade cold, which will hopefully pass in another day or two.

But first, I get to go sit in the parking lot officially known as the Nimitz freeway for the next hour or two.  I better enjoy it while it lasts.


Desk shopping

I am looking for a new desk setup.  I think this is pretty ideal, but I’m concerned about available space.  Also I don’t know if I have the right cable to hook my PS3 into this, and I’m sure it’s like $78 down at Best Buy.

I am currently using an Ikea desk that was obviously designed for double-leg-amputee midgets that work on a Fischer Price My First Computer that does not generate any heat.  I will start working from home next week, so I’m going to need more space for a second laptop, plus the cat that will most likely demand constant attention during the day and probably require some kind of cat shelf to be added to the desk.

Big fan of the Anthro cart, but I’ve never bought one – I wonder if it’s worth it to buy direct and get a discount, or try to find some resale place or a good deal on a used one.  I would go check eBay, but I know I will just end up spending five hours searching for signed baseball memorabilia and/or exotic sports cars (or even better, impersonator kits of exotic sports cars.  I wonder if the Fiero designers at Pontiac ever knew so many of their creations would be chopped, stretched, and reskinned as imposter Lambos and Ferraris.)


Subtlety of design

I always think it’s weird to look back at how drink containers have changed over a relatively short period of time.  Like, I think of 1993 as being pretty much the same as 2010 in many ways: no flying cars, no mind-melding machines, still had 50 states, Cubs still hadn’t won a World Series, etc.  But when I look at a picture that has a Coke bottle or a Pepsi logo, it seems like it has changed 100% from the current design.  Like this picture – it’s from the end of 2000, so it’s not ancient times, but that bottle looks entirely different from a current one: the background image, the angle of the lettering, the little details.  And it isn’t that often that I pick up a bottle and it’s 100% different, so it’s always these little tweaks that happen to font spacing or borders or something else that I never notice, until I look back ten years.

It’s even more strange in foreign countries.  I remember the first time I ever went to Canada, in 1988. I went to this Shakespeare festival in Strattford, Ontario with a bunch of people from my school.  (I don’t love Shakes like other drama nerds; it was a chance to miss a week of school and go to the country where Rush came from for something like $175 plus meals.  I half-expected to see Geddy Lee walking around a Tim Horton’s or Beer Store, but did not.)  I remember being in the lunch room of this weird nursing college where we stayed, putting a bunch of monopoly money coins (seriously, a dollar coin people use?) into a vending machine, and getting a can of Coke.  But it was all off, the size was like a millimeter or two the wrong way, the metal was a different thickness, or maybe it was steel instead of aluminum, and it wasn’t an honest-to-Jesus American twelve ounces; I think it was like 300 mL or 29 furlongs per parsec.  I could never wrap my head around that, and now every time I go to a foreign country, I take ten thousand pictures of every can and bottle I get my hands on.  If I went to Hiroshima in 1945 and the sky was still raining body parts and heavy water, I’d be snapping shots of a Japanese six-pack of Tab.

It’s weird now that I don’t drink regular Coke anymore.  My apartment and my desk at work used to be predominantly decorated with empty red cans of syrup-water, with the occasional desk or bed mixed in.  Now, I think the last time I drank a regular Coke must have been – I don’t even remember, maybe two years ago?  And now, a regular can of Coke looks almost alien to me.  We still have cases of the stuff at work, and I dig through them looking for a Diet Coke or Diet Pepsi (it’s all chemicals, I don’t really give a shit anymore) and the red looks weird compared to the silver non-calorie versions.

I have discovered I have hundreds of pictures of my injuries – every time I get a sunburn or a broken anything, I seem to take a dozen pictures of it.  Trying to think of some great montage to assemble.  If I was smart, I’d apply for an NEA grant with some huge bullshit artist statement about the healthcare crisis and how we are all art in a failing medical system, or whatever else.  Meanwhile, I find myself in the strange situation for the next month or so where I actually have double healthcare, two sets of insurance through the same provider even.  If I didn’t hate going to doctors so much, I would spend some serious time hopping from office to office, cashing in on this somehow.


The notebook

In a perfect world, I’d have the One True iPhone app that would somehow take any of my stray ideas and easily catalog them in one place, that would let me collect all of these random thoughts and later develop them into sketches that got inserted into stories.  That app would have to use something more rapid-fire than the existing iPhone keyboard – a bluetooth keyboard I could always keep with me?  A way to do speech-to-text and also catalog photos I took?  Some way to beam text from any of the 19 computers I use during the day into the one repository?  Does this finally give me a good excuse to buy an iPad?  I don’t know.  Until then, there’s paper.  And for the last fifteen or so years since I became a writer, I’ve been amassing a lot of paper in a few different formats.

I used to use spiral notebooks, 8.5×11, college rule, and every night, I’d fill up a page or two with the doings of the day, the various things that happened, the pieces that stuck out and needed to be captured.  This was good in that I dumped out things and captured them in amber, but I also kept my writing going in some sense.  It’s no substitute for sitting down in front of an emacs buffer and hacking out a couple thousand words, but it keeps the wheels spinning.  Now I’ve got a few dozen of these sitting in my bookcase and in my storage unit, and at some point, I might do something with them.  (Wish there was an easy and cheap way to scan them all in, but I hate my current scanner, and it also stopped working when I got the new laptop.)  This method pretty much stopped a few years ago – I think I still have the same notebook I started in 2006, and it’s not going to ever get filled at this rate.  This online journal and the need to write other stuff has pretty much killed that whole thing.

But I still need to keep notes.  And I’ve been using those moleskine notebooks, although I still don’t know how the hell you actually say moleskine, and the first time I have to say it aloud to another human being, I’m going to look like a genius.  There’s also some worry about the fact that I might look like a hipster doofus, carrying around one of these things.  But I don’t live in Brooklyn, so it’s no big deal.  And my new laptop bag (which I already hate, after my last trip, and I really need to get another one) has a pocket on the front which is the perfect size for two moleskine books and a pen.  So I’ve been filling one up lately, and I think since I started a new one in mid-July, it’s maybe half-full already.

So I was in Denver, and I got this small routine going where I’d get up early, go down to the restaurant in the hotel, and eat breakfast outside, while enjoying the cool Denver morning prelude to the afternoon heat.  And I’d eat my eggs and toast and fruit, and pick at my iPhone and the email a bit, and pick at the notebook a bit, maybe write down part of a weird dream or an idea for a story.  And then after breakfast, I’d go sit down in the hotel lobby with my netbook and crack out a thousand or two words.

After the first day of this, I realized my notebook was missing.  I freaked the fuck out, of course.  Did I put my name in it?  My number?  Was it downstairs in the lobby?  Would it turn up, or would someone just think “oh, cool” and pocket it, tearing out a month of golden entries and destroying my work forever?

But my greastest fear was, if the book does turn up, will someone start reading it?  Because here’s the thing: my notes are so god damned random and bizarre, any sane human reading them would think they found the unfinished manifesto of a deranged serial killer.  Like, if you open this notebook and turn to the first page, there’s this rough idea about Evel Kneviel carrying around an iPad that contains scans of all of his xrays from his various motorcycle crash injuries.  No idea what anyone would think about any of this.  Luckily, my handwriting is so horrible, it would be difficult for anyone to pick up on anything within the book.  But still, losing that would be a huge, huge deal.

Luckily, I went back to the front desk, and someone turned it in.  Crisis averted.  Now I can continue pouring raw thoughts into the pages.  I’m still not sure what the process will be for doing anything meaningful with the notes on the other side.  Like, maybe I will fill the whole thing up, then sit down with emacs open and transcribe the pages into a buffer, and then later try to tag up or expand each of the little nodes of thought and let it go from there.  Or maybe I should find some place that will scan all of this crap into a useable digital format, although I’m sure it would cost a buck a page, and the book would have to leave my hands, which makes me bunchy.  And evernote times a thousand could not figure out my handwriting, so I still have to read it and type it.  More research to do there.

Side note: I have been going through old entries here and titling them.  There are almost a thousand entries total, going back to 1997, and maybe a couple hundred of them are titled.  The old pre-wordpress system I used up until last year did not have a title field, and so everything I imported had a blank title.  I’ve been wanting to add titles to everything, because there’s a cool plugin that shows you a bunch of random entries, but it shows them by title, so you can’t click on most of them.  As I’ve been doing this, which is a huge pain in the ass, I’ve been doing some very minor cleanup and tagging, and there were a couple of entries I deleted.  No major self-censorship trip, I just nipped the entries that were one sentence and said stuff like “I just changed the site – tell me if there are any problems” or whatever else.

Still on the mad push to 1000 entries.  I wish I knew how many words that was – I’m sure there is a wordpress hack or plugin to figure that out, but I’m too busy to find it, and this Call of Duty game won’t play itself.


Various rectal-related maladies affecting US Presidents

I was reading this page on the health history of US Presidents and I am entirely convinced you could write an entire book on the rectal issues that have been rampant in the Oval Office. Aside from the fact that pretty much every other president of the 18th and 19th century had some encounter with rampant dysentery, here are some examples:

  • James Garfield got shot in 1881 and died 80 days later. And during that time, he could not hold down food. So his doctors (and it’s been widely speculated that his doctors’ incompetence is what really killed him) had to feed him rectally, by giving him nutritional enemas.
  • During the Bay of Pigs invasion, John F. Kennedy had constant and acute diarrhea.
  • Eisenhower had a severe bowel obstruction in 1956.  The first course of action was a tap-water enema, but he was rushed to the hospital and had a foot of his intestine bypassed with a colostomy.
  • After Abraham Lincoln was shot, one of the methods used to revive him was anal dilation.
  • Garfield suffered from an anal fissure that required surgery in 1875.
  • In 1941, Franklin Roosevelt suffered from iron deficiency anemia due to rectal bleeding from hemorrhoids.
  • In 1984, Bill Clinton underwent a colonoscopy due to rectal bleeding.
  • Jimmy Carter had to receive emergency hemorrhoid treatment in 1978. It was hidden from the public, until Anwar Sadat told the people of Egypt to pray for Carter because of his ailment.
  • Ronald Reagan had two feet of his colon removed in 1985 due to colon cancer.  He had a colonoscopy that revealed the cancer, and when the doctors wanted to operate immediately, Nancy Reagan consulted her astrologer, who told her to delay the surgery.  But he didn’t want to repeat the pre-colonoscopy purging routine, so he had the surgery the next day.
  • George W. Bush had hemorrhoids during the time period of his National Guard service.

[I swear I didn’t make any of this up. Go read the site.]


Wine, whine

Here’s something that comes up occasionally when googling myself, something that I do when I can’t write, which is pretty much constantly, especially when I wake up at five AM to write and I’ve only slept about four hours the night before: I once worked on the Wine software project, in the most trivial way, but enough to get my name in the list of contributors.  It’s one of the things on my ever growing list of crap I did a long time ago that I probably should have parlayed into some kind of career or fame or fortune, but did absolutely nothing with, either due to my own stupidity or poor fortune.  (At some point, I’ll make a web page of all of these.  And about ten years later, some other idiot will do the same exact thing and get a six-figure book deal out of it and everyone will call him a genius.)

Wine is an open source Windows compatibility layer written for Linux.  Basically, the goal was to be able to run a Windows program on a Linux machine, without actually buying and installing Windows on a PC.  You can now buy a virtual machine emulator like VMware and install Windows in it and run Windows software, but their goal was to reverse-engineer how Windows worked and then write this wrapper layer so you could run TurboTax or whatever the hell Windows-only software you needed to run on your unix machine.  This project started in 1993, and it was of great interest to me, because I ran Linux on a machine that I built, and I was too cheap to give Microsoft a hundred bucks or whatever Win 3.1 cost back then, and after spending all day and night sitting in front of nice SPARC stations, I didn’t want to go to the clunky monstrosity from Redmond.

I wrote Bob Amstadt an email and begged to help in any way possible, which wasn’t much because I wasn’t much of a programmer, and I’d never worked on Windows before, and I’m sure Win32 calls (which are made by passing like 17 parameters, 14 of them being pointers to structs that contain pointers to structs, and every single data type is some weird custom type) would have freaked me out.  (Like, instead of passing pointers to structs, I would just write shit into a temp file and maybe later remember to actually delete it, so my VMS C programs would litter your home directory with TMP.TMP files or something stupid like that.)  So he wrote back and put me in charge of his Listserv.

Do people even remember what a Listserv is anymore?  It’s a mailing list that you subscribe to by sending commands in an email message to a server.  I guess now people use Facebook or Yahoo Groups or some other web-based thing for discussion lists or announcement lists.  But back then, Listservs were social networking, and aside from maybe usenet, they were the only way a person could announce something to a huge group.

So Wine HQ had this listserv, and every time they had a build, they sent a message to the list.  I helped out pretty early in the process, and at that time, they were trying to get 16-bit Solitaire to launch, and would post stuff like “this build gets it to almost start before it crashes”.  The problem was, this list had a ton of people on it using these primitive Linux systems hung off of very tenuous connections to the internet – flaky UUCP gateways and modems that dialed up once a day to fetch their email.  We take it for granted that even our phones can constantly open a wide pipe to the internet through the ether, but this was when a good 14.4K connection to the world was a premium service.  So every time one of these messages went out to thousands of users, at least a few dozen were using some duct-taped together mail server that would flake out and bounce the message or get caught in some permanent mail loop.  And I got a CC of all of the errors to the Listserv, so I’d get a ton of these messages and then would have to figure out if the person’s account was permanently hosed, or if their email only worked on every other Tuesday, and I’d have to unsubscribe people from the list.  And I had to handle people who wanted to move their email from one address to another.  All of this was done with these commands I’d email in, like “DROP/NONOTIFY JOESMITH8724@OLYMPUS.CCLAB.UG.SOMECOLLEGE.EDU”.

I didn’t do the job for long, and I don’t remember when I stopped – probably when I had to go home over a break, or when the whole thing got boring.  I liked the idea of Wine, but it seemed like it would take a decade to implement, and it basically did.  This was when 32-bit Windows was on the horizon, and there was a lot of discussion about the future of the project, and how Windows 95 would derail the whole thing and set stuff back another year or two, and I lost interest.  I still ran Linux for a long time after that, and didn’t actually buy a Windows machine for the first time until 2000, and even then, I dual-partitioned it and spent more time in Linux.  But it’s part of that weird little spark of a dream I had to have this ten thousand dollar Unix workstation in my apartment, except I barely had the budget to buy secondhand used PC parts from usenet.

So Wine sort of mostly works now, and people use it.  And there’s this huge list of contributors, and my name is in it, although maybe it shouldn’t be, because I didn’t do much.  I suppose if I was more of a Type A personality disorder type of person, I could hem and haw about how I’m some kind of open source revolutionary and try to get some cred for this, but it’s like a bunch of Jawas saying they were responsible for blowing up the Death Star because they sold Luke Skywalker a couple of droids.

Okay, time to make the donuts.