Oct 23

Death and its drawbacks

I cannot agree with this in any way.

No, the reason they get depressed is because when you’re retired, it is easy to feel like you have nothing to live for anymore, no purpose, nothing to get up for, no reason to even get dressed.

Only boring people get bored, I’ve found. And most people seem for whatever reason to base their entire lives around their careers, so when that ends – which it always will, and sooner than most people expect – that’s all they have.

Oct 22

Air on the side of incaution

Apple just released the lightest full-size tablet with the biggest, best screen out there.

Damn, will be getting this. In a tablet, 1.4 pounds vs. 1 pound is a world of difference. Yes, I will sound like an Apple PR person in this post but they deserve it.

And it’s 8x faster than the original with 72x graphics performance.

A few years ago when Steve Jobs bought that chip design company, 95% of people said he was an idiot.

But that right there is what you can get when you have your own chip design company.

So, can I borrow a tent to camp out in front of the Apple store with all those other losers?

Oct 22

Tiffany (post also contains Gravity plot details)

David Sedaris on the life and suicide of his sister, Tiffany.

I’m glad that writers and artists can find truth where we didn’t know we should be looking, or where we’d already looked and hadn’t found anything on our own. That is the best part of humanity, in my opinion.

As in the Sedaris piece, in Gravity Sandra Bullock finds the truth, too.

In the scene where she tosses the fire extinguisher away from her body to change her vector despite heading into likely death – that two seconds said more about her character than most films manage to convey in two hours of worthless banter.

Both of those works remind me of one of my favorite quotes, from T.S. Eliot’s “Little Gidding,” part of his Four Quartets.

We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.

That sense was what I liked about Gravity. And what reminded me of this Eliot work. When Stone has someone more skilled to rely on, she relies on him – but when he dies, she has to rely on herself only. And when this happens it feels like she begins to return from wherever the best parts of her have been waylaid for years, and then finally, haltingly, knows herself.

That progression is recursively the gist (I believe) of the entire film. Journey and return. Of seeing where you are for the first time. Of feeling the quotidian miracle of sand on your fingertips.

Oct 21

Heavy drop

Figured I’d write about a situation I was in where others’ inaction and panic almost got some people killed, since almost no one believes it happens in the ways that it does, nor do they believe how many people just utterly lock up in such situations.Giant_parachutes_collapse_as_their_load_of_Humvees_hit_the_ground_during_a_joint_operational_access_exercise_on_the_Sicily_drop_zone_at_Fort_Bragg,_N.C.,_on_Feb_130225-A-3108M-015c

As I’ve written before, I was a paratrooper in the army. But on this day, I wasn’t jumping from a plane but rather escorting some civilians out to the drop zone to view a jump. It was what is called a “mass tactical” jump, meaning it involves 500+ paratroopers jumping in with all their gear and equipment – including trucks, artillery pieces and Humvees.

This latter equipment is what constitutes the “heavy drop” of the title. Descending on multiple massive chutes, it is an impressive and awing sight watching a 30,000 pound military vehicle plummet from a plane and boom onto the drop zone without a scratch on it.

That day I’d herded the journalists to a supposed “safe zone” on the DZ and waited for the paratrooper jump to start. But first, the heavy drop occurs.

Something went wrong, though.

The pilots or the navigators of the planes with the heavy drop equipment didn’t see the drop zone in time and let the heavy drop equipment out too late. Far too late. Right over the heads of me and the journalists I was escorting.

It was at least 3/4 of a mile to the edge of drop zone. Too far to run before the equipment slammed into the ground. Nothing at all to do but wait, and dodge.

There were probably 50-75 pieces of equipment in the sky, about 500 feet above our heads. The wind was around 7-9 knots, making their paths a bit predictable but also means they were moving at good clip.

We had fifteen seconds.

The journalists were freaking out at this point. Not yet panicking, but it was on the way.

I told them to watch only the equipment closest to dropping directly on top of them, stay in a group, and to ignore anything else – and to walk upwind from the truck or gear directly above them as if they did, that one would pass behind them and they’d be ok.

There was plenty of space between the heavies to make it with no problems if no one lost their head.

Unfortunately, a few of them did. And panic, it spreads. It spreads like ebola.

It started with expensive video camera gear on the ground. One of the reporters noticed that it was likely to get crushed by a heavy. She and her partner are freaking out about the camera gear, and about the heavy drop right above our heads.

We had maybe 10 seconds before we’d become crushed like bugs by a 30,000 pound truck.

The worst off of the two was walking back and forth in a little circle as panic and indecision set in. I didn’t have time to restrain her and drag her out, and her partner was just too big to attempt to do that to. And no way I could’ve done it to both, anyway.

The other journalists, while still freaking out, had at least managed to follow my instructions somewhat well. They were rubbery with fear, but were going to be ok it appeared as I glanced their way.

At this point some of the first equipment to be dropped had started hitting the ground and as it collapsed the shock-absorbing cardboard attached the bottom of the drop palette, massive and resonating booms echoed across the DZ. The parachutes collapsed in slow billowy blooms like decaying mushrooms.

“Look at me!” I hissed to the woman. Her eyes were wide, glazed. “Do you want to die for a camera? A fucking camera? Come with me right fucking now or that’s what you’ll do!”

I thought – rightly – that if I could move her, her partner and cameraman would follow.

Luckily my guess was correct. She came, me leading her by the hand, jogging upwind. Three or four seconds later came the expected massive boom, and the ground shook under our feet.

A few seconds later, a massive chute from another drop, one I hadn’t seen, descended over our heads, burying us in viridian glow, blocking our sight of the sky. If there were any more heavy drops in the sky – and judging by the booms happening nearby there were – we wouldn’t be able to see them.

By this point, both journalists with me are visibly shaking with fear. The woman has my upper arm clasped in her fingers, and they were very cold. I could feel her trembling. “Oh my god what do we do?” I heard her say, but ignored her as I tried to quickly figure the fastest path out of the chute.

“This way, move,” I said and headed towards the suspension line portion of the chute. A few seconds later we emerged into the yellow sunlight again. There were no more heavies anywhere near us.

Everyone was alive. The journalist was still clutching my arm in a death grip. I pried her fingers away. Her arm hung in the air. I pushed it down to her side. Her partner looked like he did not know where he was.

But no one died, and that was exactly why I was there.

I’ve told a very short, very humorous version of that story before to a few people. You know, “The time we almost killed a bunch of journalists by dropping big-ass trucks on them, ha ha.” As to me, that was just another day. I have no desire to make myself look like a hero or any such thing so I’ve never told anyone the full version of that tale. I don’t have a panic button and I was not afraid. I am just not constitutionally set up that way. There’s no courage in that, trust me — it is just the way that I am.

But that’s what really happened that day, and that’s one of the reasons I know how people react in such situations.

And that was with very simple, very clear instructions in a fairly linear, predictable situation.

So that’s how I know also that Sandra Bullock’s character in Gravity does an exceptionally good job of handling her fear and panic and turning it into something useful.

Oct 21

The key

Every time I hear how Windows 8 is great because, “Yeah, they took everything away, but you can just use keyboard shortcuts from the Windows key,” I am reminded that I’ve been in IT for many years now, and that in the whole time maybe only three or or four of the thousands of users I’ve supported even knew where the Windows key was on the keyboard.

And of those few, only one of them I’ve yet encountered knew what it did and how to use it at all.

Only one.

So you see, obviously Microsoft is on the right path of user design because some wedgehead on Ars Technica who hasn’t seen the inside of a shower since the early ‘90s said they are.

Right-o, then.

Oct 20

Gravity waves

Gravity.

Wow.

That’s all there really is to say about it, though of course I’ll say more. Sandra Bullock was excellent in the film. Really, amazingly great.

Ignore all those who give it less than full plaudits; most of them are suffering from the common delusion that they’d do better under severe stress than the main character. But I’ve been in situations of extreme stress and trust me, most people do far worse and fall apart for far longer than she did. Her breathing heavily – nearly hyperventilating – is normal in such events and was very realistic, and how she was able to control it was also realistic for a strong-willed, intelligent person. Most people aren’t the macho cowboys they imagine themselves to be is really what was going on with those reviewers.

For the first time in a movie in a long time, there was a realistic depiction of how real-life courage and resolve actually looks in most humans.

I haven’t seen a movie that good in nearly a decade, I think. It is transfixing and even though it runs only 90 minutes or so, it feels three hours long because the tension is unrelenting and yet unlike many movies completely appropriate to the situation.

And oh yeah, did I mention how great Bullock was? She should get all the awards, and not just ones for movies. Give her a Nobel, maybe a Pulitzer, too. I don’t give a fuck. Her performance was truer than true.

Oct 19

So true

When I was young, I was told: ‘You’ll see, when you’re fifty.’ I am fifty and I haven’t seen a thing.

-Erik Satie

Experience is overrated, I think, for the most part. Especially for life in general; every situation is different. I was about the same at 12 as I am now. That might not be true for most people, but it definitely is for me.

Oct 19

Office

Of the three married couples I know of who work in my office, all three of them met at work while I was working there with them. Just realized that, and thought it relevant to the below.

Oct 19

Risk and no (professional) reward

I think I mostly disagree with this. My thoughts used to be quite different but they’ve changed a lot over the past few weeks with all that has been going on. I do think it is safer to avoid female colleagues

By the way, I do think what Bora did and was apparently doing was wrong and qualifies as harassment.

However, that doesn’t change the fact that if any expression of interest in a female colleague can be misinterpreted or potentially used against you in the future, the safest act is to pretend that she doesn’t exist.

Since humans will never be the sexless, perfect automatons that we wish, I don’t really have a better strategy as a male – protecting my interests to me is more important than advancing someone else’s career. That is harsh I realize, but also true.

I don’t think in the current climate I’d ever want to or attempt to be a mentor or close confidante of a woman in IT, as there’d be just too much risk of misinterpretation by others and by the woman herself. While it’d be perfectly natural for me to ask a male colleague if he wanted to grab a bite to eat with me after working a long night, with a woman that’d be suspect if she and I did it alone. Etc.

Fuck that. I don’t have time for dealing with that. I don’t want to treat my female colleagues as fragile flowers and where all my actions that I’d do without a second thought with a male colleague are suspect and that I am creepy and threatening with no possibility of being proven otherwise.

That isn’t equality. That’s just the opposite of equality, actually.

The other day when I was reading about Jeff Bezos’ “shadows,” it bothered me a little that not a single one had been a woman. I have no idea about Bezos’ thinking on the matter, but I understand I think why that might be the case. It’s about managing risk.

And no, I don’t believe that every woman is out there, just waiting for the opportunity for some ambiguous event to occur to take a powerful man down.

But I do believe it’s far less risky as a man in the current climate to just avoid the issue altogether. I really, truly hate saying that as I’ve always been (as anyone can see from reading my blog) an utter and unapologetic proponent of women’s full participation in society and also a campaigner for full, true, radical equality.

Speaking only for myself, though, for me at this point it is just not worth the risk. Others can decide for themselves, of course.

This is playing itself out in real life, though I didn’t connect it until now. The other day I had to do some work on the phone system, and I ended up at a woman’s desk and idly chatting with her as I did something to her phone. Turns out we had a lot in common and that our personalities seemed to mesh. She’d even worked in IT in the past as a helpdesk tech, and had liked it.

Normally, she’d be someone I’d probably talk to again and would even try to recruit into IT as there are so few women. And perhaps make a friend (though that appears verboten these days).  Instead, I’ve found myself avoiding her and deliberately not talking to her as I just don’t want to go there. Just too much risk in it all.

I don’t give a shit about losing male privilege. I don’t even want male privilege. But when the risk vs. rewards of doing something are not in my favor, it is natural to respond to the incentives present and err to the non-risk side.

While it’s clear that what Bora did was wrong, the way this has all been conducted, speaking as a man here is exactly what most men are going to get out of this: Wow, seems like there is no safe way to conduct ourselves around female colleagues, and woe betide us if we happen to actually like our female colleague as more than just a co-worker*, despite the fact that romantic feelings often just happen without anyone wishing them — therefore it’s just safest just to avoid the women at work altogether if possible.

I imagine more than a few men who’d never harass a woman or anyone are making the same calculation. The problem with all this of course is those men who’d never harass women are most affected, while the harassers and creeps are mostly untouched.

And of course women’s careers are even more damaged.

But that’s life – it doesn’t have to be fair. And it isn’t.

*Something like 50% of people meet their spouses at work. That’s where people spend most of their time, after all. Making any expression of interest in a colleague forbidden and default harassment is absolutely fucking insane, in my opinion.