Bottle Brush

3 March 2015

Dear J-

Well, I’m feeling rather unsubstantial today. There’s a lot going on in the City this weekend but I wonder what the convenience factor of it is and why am I already thinking about the weekend this early in the week, anyhow? There’s much to be fought and lost between now and then and I hope to keep fighting it as we go on. No, I’m going to be done with the report today, then we move on to tackle the quality control issues that are so very thrilling and then … you know, I didn’t think I’d be doing quality again but these things follow you no matter where you go, apparently.

The world is small: you can be around the world in a matter of days from where you are now, assuming you have the patience and the money for it. The world is also small the more specialized you get; I see the same colleagues at different meetings throughout the year, which is fascinating and frightening as we keep trying to change what we’re known for but perhaps this is what we’re supposed to be doing all along, right? If it keeps following you then maybe it’s meant to be. It’s easier to give in to fate than to think about how to change, but we should keep fighting these fights as long as we can.

I think about how we changed our lives within six months which happened now almost eighteen months ago, and what we’ve done with the next six and the six after that, falling into old habits and patterns and never forgetting — or make that always forgetting — what we learned before. The town where I grew up in paved one of the streets running in front of the house (we were on a corner) with tar and gravel one year, I think to maintain traction (it was on a hill) and as a cheap way of repaving a potentially high-wear street. Things can change overnight; there is a right way and a wrong way to do it, though and the trick is knowing — or measuring how to figure it out.

Mike

Sleep Deficit

2 March 2015

Dear J-

Well, I’m starting this week down on sleep, which is no place to be for someone who’s supposed to churn out a whole report this week with some semblance of dignity. There’s also a presentation to give, I think, and lots of other factors to weigh while we’re heading towards completion of various projects and then … what else? One more month until opening day. There seems to have been a steady stream of work up until there wasn’t, and how do you keep yourself busy after that? We have plenty left over to consider.

I wonder if it would have been better — wiser, that is — to celebrate in less flashy ways but this is life and this is the pace: we have a lot of different family holidays and celebrations coming up, things to do and see as well as the joy of … this is what lack of sleep will do for me. Malformed thoughts and half-turned phrases (not frases, thank you) stalk my mind and leap onto the keys before I have a chance to edit them out. It’s all words, and individually they may make sense; it’s when you put them all together like this that they don’t have a chance.

I thought I remembered there was a mockup cockpit of the Space Shuttle at Lawrence Hall of Sciences, but perhaps that’s been moved in the twenty-plus years since I last went there (possibly 1989, though I honestly don’t remember the exact year). This is what memories can do for you and I wonder how easy it would be to implant false ones, or ones that we need to moderate before we’re all fully formed in mind and body.

Mike

Way to Start

27 February 2015

Dear J-

So I had a couple of ledes in mind for today.

1. I love these people, but I feel like I’m always intruding when I watch them sitting in their face-to-face set: she has her shoes off and feet up on his thighs; he’s got a light grasp on her ankles and they’re both sleeping. It is at once intimate and oddly public, perhaps a way to keep some time together while they roll on to their separate destinations.

2. Well, that’s a way to start your day: catch up on your email that you’ve been ignoring so that one more name you know — and this time, knew pretty well, to boot — drops off the list of the living. I know this is an inevitable consequence of aging; I get that. I just don’t have to accept it, I don’t think. What’s left is nice words from friends and coworkers and then … ? What? Will we be so lucky?

I started wondering about (1), why I loved them so much and cynically concluded it was because they were quiet and modest and then I started to hate myself a little — a lot — for that; just because you don’t want to be challenged doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be, There’s a lot more in this world than just making sure folks are quiet and respectful and not buggin’, after all.

Then for (2) I didn’t like the idea of starting off with someone most of you might not know, though I always enjoyed working with him. It feels like every couple of weeks there’s something of a gut-punch although I suppose it shouldn’t be a huge surprise, given the aging population of plant employees — now ex-plant, to be accurate — and my inability to keep up with names and respond in a timely fashion. I feel like … I don’t know what to feel. What is appropriate? Is this what they talk about when we talk about how we talk glory days and by-gones?

It is Friday. All this will pass.

Mike

Steady Progress

26 February 2015

Dear J-

There are a lot of words you can use to fill empty space until it looks more cluttered and you’re not so intimidated by the blank spots, words that fill only and mean nothing at all, the literary equivalent of junk food only not nearly as tasty. So you use these fillers as a way to measure progress against nothing at all until you’re finished with it, or at least as done as you plan to be. Even if you know you don’t have much to write — or much to say — at least there’s something being produced on the page to think you’ve made some steady progress.

I got up as late as possible and decided not to pack a lunch sandwich, hoping to rely on the kindness of strangers and leftover Chinese food (assuming it hasn’t been thrown out yet). I’ve alluded to but haven’t completely described what’s happening with our taxes; after year upon year of steady refunds, we’re on the hook this year because we made a fairly substantial amount of money, though less than the year before — and I didn’t switch my withholding appropriately. Smart, right? Yeah, I thought so. We’ve had more money during the year but now we’re feeling a pinch, and that’s mainly my fault for not forcing us to withhold more estimated taxes throughout the year.

I’m not completely convinced this was the right thing to do — the idea is more or less to break even or have a modest payment at tax time — but instead of me floating the government a loan without interest we’ll be keeping a tighter eye on what we’ve estimated our taxes to be throughout the year; it won’t be fun to see the money go out more often but better than one big chunk this time of year, I suppose. Steadier losses means progress too, right?

Mike

Catch’s Up

25 February 2015

Dear J-

I’m in the ever-evolving process of catching up with things; I’ve finally uploaded pictures from December and I’m ready to turn my attentions to January, though I’ve been lazier there than I care to admit. There’s still plenty of work at work, so I’ll stay busy with that, as well. I’ll catch up. There’s the personal ledger I need to settle and balance and weep over as we contemplate the tax burden that stretches before us, too; we’ve got a while left before we can think about paying a lot of these things back, I suspect, what between all the other large expenses that show up this time of year (property taxes!) like unwelcome guests.

I joke about unwelcome guests because our house is almost purposefully designed to be as unwelcoming to guests as can be, it feels like. Between the small size and single bathroom it’s almost as if it’s set up to discourage long-term stays, but there is the extra bedroom I should be cleaning out and making whole … any day now, guy. Any day. Instead of acquiring interesting electronics to decorate the garage with, let’s find a way to cut down and cut back; how do you ensure that, how does that happen?

Catching up with everything; there’s a thousand ways to do it but only a few correct ones; the longer you stretch it out the more disreputable you become. It’s a burden of … well, being responsible, I guess. You are a responsible adult, aren’t you? I like to think so, or at least I like to believe so, so it’s time to start acting like one too.

Mike

Time Passes

24 February 2015

Dear J-

To the surprise of probably no one who knows me, I have no doubt a lot of watches, to the point where if I get lazy in the rotation some of them may stop from disuse; there are a lot of analog watches with hands showing the time and several digital models, all arranged in a row so that in the regular scheme of things, I can go weeks without changing out of a given mode: now analog, now digital. When I’m going on digital, you get hesitant about fractions of a minute: it’s 5:04:34, can you still make it all the way to Burlingame? When analog, you realize that time moves in fits and starts; now it’s 5-ish; later it’ll be … later.

Time is digital in nature, perhaps; it marches at a steady pace and you can tell what it exactly is if you have one of these so-called atomic watches, which regularly synchronize with the atomic clock radio signal from Boulder. It is habitual and punctual, by definition, fully defined and precise. But on the other hand I’ve walked around without a watch for weeks and months at a time in an attempt to obtain a better sense of reckoning, bolstered by occasional glances at clocks and the sun and after a while you get it: it’s about … this time or that, you have a few minutes or time’s up, let’s go. We can triage these things but it’s never subtle: either it’s time or it’s not, and let’s keep going forward.

Perhaps it’s the reliance or just the not-knowing that drives us towards precision; for a while I was setting my watch a few minutes ahead so I’d always be early, but after a day or two your brain adjusts to the trick and you end up subtracting, mentally, a few minutes here and there until you’re skating on the edge again. Without your own source you’re reliant on others to have set those wall clocks correctly (hint: don’t; it’s like assuming everyone washes their hands after using the bathroom) although I guess in this cell phone age we can all tell what time it is. Time is not a subtle thing, measured with maybes and sortas, unless you want it to be.

Mike

Getting Done

23 February 2015

Dear J-

There’s what feels like miles left to go and I’m still exhausted by all of this: so much going on, catching up on photos, getting ready to submit the final report. I’m ready to nap, I think, and I only just got up, more’s the pity. The bike car has been considerably more popular lately, though, and that’s a positive development I think. Even if it means there’s less convenience for me, there’s always a spot open when I get on, so life is good, I can’t complain. We have our meeting today; again, life is good: I’m happy to be done with that sort of thing after it’s been hanging over my head, just out of reach (the day of, we always seem to be scrambling to see what times are available) for the last two weeks; let’s squash this thing and move on with our lives.

Let’s be done and move on; that feels like my motto lately but there’s still a thousand other things to do as well, I think. Or maybe not. They have me worried about billability, how if the average billing around the office is this high and I’m this low, that tends to prioritize people and categorize them into stereotypes. It’s a visible parameter, too, so heaven help you if it keeps falling too low. On the other hand there are so many things to be done around the office you don’t even know how often or how many times you have an opportunity to break for a little bit and regroup. It’s made it hard to concentrate on any one thing but it’s a price you’ve gotta pay at times, i suppose.

It feels like a perfect confluence of events I suppose; there’s people riding today that I didn’t know were going to be riding — occasional riders, if you will, folks that aren’t here every time, but familiar faces at least — and things are getting done today. Finally. Let’s saddle up and ride it out.

Mike

Pumped Up

20 February 2015

Dear J-

Man, I’m getting nothing done this week. It’s an aggressive way to be and to declare it so early but there you have it. You begin to believe that you can do anything when you’re young and then you’re stuck looking at refried plates of the same hash you’ve been slinging for the last few years and my word, where did the time go while you had your head down? There is a lot (a lot) of things to consider but one of the first ones should be this: where are you going with this? Do you have a greater point? What did you want to describe here? There are a thousand lives coursing around the city at any given moment and if you’re not out to touch them then maybe this is the wrong game.

I should explain. Or at least I should make sense. There are lots of people that you can make connections with throughout the course of your day, but if you choose to be obtuse or using (what can you do for me; oh, perhaps you’re just a convenient place where I can plug a TV in and watch?) the chances are likely any such connection will be shallow and lacking in merit. There’s an awkward silence and then what? There are no advanced degrees required here: you’re going to be alone. Alone can be nice, but it doesn’t pay the bills or feed the needs.

At the moment I’m wrestling with taxes and wondering what constitutes a legitimate business expense, although I suppose we have TurboTax to query for that. We’re down a little bit but I haven’t put in any deductions yet; it feels like cheating some times (hey, I earned that money and it’s mine, right?) but as a user of governmental services and infrastructure, it’s my part, right? Your right, your privilege, your decree, thy will be done on earth and so on. I’ve also got some minor headaches developing already.

Mike

Rewired Thinking

19 February 2015

Dear J-

We have a good long ways to go yet before I can rest and there’s what seems like a thousand little things to take care of as well between auditing and QA and other minor details of the office but hey, that’s what you signed up for isn’t it? It feels good to have done the analysis and mad respect to doing it from scratch, but that’s really not what the client was asking for so get over yourself: update was wanted and update shall be had, all right? there are parts that can be integrated and molded to finish up and close out what you did, so let’s tackle these things one at a time. If what is wanted is a turd, so be it: a turd shall be delivered, gift-wrapped and well-understood by all.

I admire my office mate, who is blunt and outspoken without conscious regard for people’s feelings all the time, though not without tact and diplomacy (she asks me if what she’s saying is too harsh; I wonder if I’m too accommodating to people, because I always advise her to tone it down or deflect with humor — my main advice here was always to write the email twice: once to say what you really want, and then delete it and write something nicer because the written word can be forever). There’s a certain kind of confidence that lends you: the insistence that you’re always right and this is the right thing to do, which I think is reflected in what I do and how I do it.

Let me explain: if I get the idea that this way is the right way, I’m apt to carry it through and finish the analysis regardless of whether or not it’s what’s needed. I need to do a better job of building on past work and dissecting it for feasibility and reasonability, although I like to think that I’ve got a good handle on things when I do my independent analyses. On the one hand this can be good — hey, fresh approach, new set of eyes, I need to learn — but on the other it feels like I’m reinventing the wheel more often than not and above all else it’s the client that suffers with crazy-bad schedule performance. I dunno if it’s arrogance or stubborn, but that’s how I work and so far I’m not so impressed.

Mike

Driving Forces

18 February 2015

Dear J-

I didn’t realize that the Internet Archive had full-color scanned copies of BYTE online (this was my path of progress: note that our lab had a Micro PDP-11 in a BA23 rack-mount, look for pictures of it, then find the Wikipedia entry and start to check out the references), so I picked an issue at random and flipped through it in some idle time I had, reading up about Winchester drive options and Princeton Graphics monitors (640×480 full-color suitable for IBM Professional Graphics Array and compatible cards: a cool $850 for the SR-12P) as well as useful articles (sorting algorithms! code optimization!) and other dated advertisements (there was a head-tracking option to move the mouse pointer on the Mac; did you realize that?). Old magazines are dangerous like that — this was the 10th anniversary issue in 1985.

Lately it feels like my editing pattern goes like this: notice minor fact detail that needs checking, okay, let’s tackle that (or find some article in dire need of improvement in the course of editing another, sure, let’s drop a few lines in). Then you start to notice how some of the references may be lacking in details (c’mon, people; bare URLs?) or may no longer be valid (let’s look it up on the Internet Archive!) so then you embark on a campaign to improve those as well. Finally you get the bug to check out all the available facts and you end up with a references window sitting off to the side full of links to be incorporated into the text and that’s how you get where I am.

Before I used to be happy surfing around Wikipedia, touching on some articles and noting the weak ones in my mind with some distaste, but not actually acting out on them. Then you put your mark on a few pages and all of a sudden, it’s all you can think about in lieu of the other million things that need to be taken care of, like taxes or uploading photos or … it has been nearly three months since I updated many of the things I hold. It has been too long, in other words.

I need to figure out how to map the Bay Trail and whether that makes sense, if that’s something that can be done easily or just painfully instead. But on the other hand, do I NEED to do anything? It’s better, I think, to stay involved and engaged.

Mike


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