Old before his time?

Jonah and I woke up only moments ago wanting pancakes for breakfast. I told him I would make some for him but that I needed a few minutes first to drink my wake-up coffee, check my e-mail, etc. He said, “That’s OK, because I have to do some paperwork.”

(By which he means he needs to draw and cut out some new piece of artwork along the lines of this awesome “train.”)

Jones. Bond Jones.

Reviews for the new James Bond film, Casino Royale, are starting to pour in, and they’re almost uniformly glowing. Even the SF Chronicle loved it! They don’t love anything.

Time was, the Hollywood marketing machine had me squarely in its sights. Any decently assembled promotional campaign was enough to set me vibrating in my socks at the prospect of being first in line to see the latest essential release.

I’m long past that. I’m forty years old now! But I’ve still got a serious jones to see Casino Royale. My sister Suzanne, who long ago surpassed my own once-considerable movie-mavenhood, is coming to visit in a couple of days. She’d be the perfect Casino Royale viewing companion — but she’s vibrating in her socks so much that she can’t wait and is going to see it tonight.

Maybe while Suzanne is here, she can watch the kids while Andrea and I go see it. But Andrea and I get out together so seldom that it’s hard to justify spending two hours sitting still, neither looking at nor talking to each other.

What’ll I do? What’ll I do? (*smack*) Quit whining and do what James Bond would do: go it alone. Parachute in in the dead of night, get in, see the late show after the kids are asleep, get out, get the job done.

Update [18 Nov 12:40am]: Saw it. It rocked.

Dr. Harris is happy

In August I wrote of the impending closure of our pediatrician’s office. That has now come to pass. The private practice has been converted into an office of the HMO Kaiser Permanente, with two of the practice’s five pediatricians being brought into the fold, including ours, Dr. Harris.

In these times of widespread health-coverage horror stories it is a relief, and also a little embarrassing, that we were able to get Kaiser Permanente coverage for the kids at little added expense and without affecting the coverage we already had. So today Archer paid his first visit to Dr. Harris in his new, improved office to get a flu shot.

Andrea reports they were each excited to see one another, Dr. Harris showing off his new office while taking Archer for a tour, and Archer showing off his “monster shirt” for Dr. Harris. Archer was brave as usual getting his shot. As for lamenting the old practice: I assumed its demise would be cause for some sorrow on Dr. Harris’s part, but the staff told Andrea they’d never seen him so happy.

So once again, what looked in August like a crisis has revealed itself as an opportunity. Crisitunity!

Curiosity killed the camera

Earlier today a co-worker sent a link to a pictorial of a camera being disassembled, the point being how fantastically complicated it is compared to the device we make. It reminded me of this story:

A couple of years ago, the hardware guru at work, Sue, let me sit at her workbench and use her tools to try to repair my Canon Powershot digital camera, a midrange point-and-shoot model. On powerup, a tiny servomotor was supposed to telescope the lens barrel out of the camera body (just as hundreds of models do). Mine had stopped operating smoothly. The barrel, or the protective shutter in front of the lens, would get stuck halfway through an open or close cycle. I’d already gotten an estimate on a professional repair that was prohibitively long and expensive. Might as well give it a try myself and, at worst, buy a new camera.

I thought that by disassembling it as far as the lens barrel, I might be able to dislodge any grit or whatever was blocking its smooth operation, provided it wasn’t actually an electrical problem in the servo or anything else. I took out the batteries, then started removing screws and laying them carefully on the workbench in a way that might allow me to remember how they were all supposed to be put back together. But I was only able to remove tiny bits of camera at a time. Dozens of removed parts later it still looked pretty much like a camera. It was like the dance of the seven veils.

Before long there were so many screws and bits of camera shell and buttons and retainer rings and spacers on the workbench that it was clear it would never all go back together. But I pressed on anyway out of stubbornness and curiosity. Until the camera blew up in my hands.

Yes, I had forgotten about the giant capacitor that powers the flash. It discharged painfully into my fingertips with a loud BANG, a tiny shower of sparks, and of course the magic blue smoke. And that was the end of that. Now a little pissed, I spent another minute or two manhandling the (now slightly charred) camera just to get a glimpse inside the lens barrel by any means necessary. When I finally ripped it apart enough, there appeared to be nothing obvious I could have done anyway to fix it. I swept all the pieces into the trash as the phrase, “No user-serviceable parts” repeated over and over in my head.

Call your brother!

Today’s my anniversary, both of the day that Andrea and I got married (seven years ago) and of the day we started dating (eleven years before that). This morning I got a congratulatory e-mail from my sister Suzanne that read in part:

Subject: Happy anniversary

…of the day you nearly gave me a heart attack.

The story:

Having been together for almost eleven years when we finally decided to get married (in a domino effect beginning with our friends John and Linda and then Scott and Patrice), Andrea and I dreaded planning a big wedding full of guests all of whom would say to us, “What took you so long?” So we eloped to Disneyworld. We were married in a small ceremony (witnessed by those same friends Scott and Patrice) beneath a palm tree on a grassy hill between Disney’s Polynesian Resort and the adjacent lagoon, with views of Cinderella’s Castle and Space Mountain in the distance. It was very memorable.

Coincidentally, Suzanne had a European vacation planned for the same period of time. Our wedding package included a limo ride around Orlando after the ceremony, and one of the things we planned to do during that ride was to call our families and surprise them with our happy news; but I had no way to contact Suzanne, whose European itinerary was fluid at best. However, I did know she’d be checking her Hotmail account from time to time. So before leaving for Florida, I programmed my computer to send her this e-mail message at 3pm on our wedding day:

Subject: Call your brother!

Hi Suze! Please call me ASAP on Andrea’s cell phone.

Poor Suzanne saw the message within two hours but had no way of calling for several hours more, during which time she was sure something terrible had happened! In my excitement before leaving for Florida it never occurred to me that my message could be taken that way. When I did finally speak to her, she tried to be glad about my news but was pretty annoyed at having worried all day for nothing.

Her annoyance was not improved by my laughter at her expense.

Andrea: Happy anniversary, I love you! Suzanne: Sorry again! I love you too.

Ibid update

Ibid (“incremental backups to infinite disk”) is a tool I’ve written for backing up files. When I first posted it (read about it here, download it here) it was at release number 18. Now it’s at release 24. Here are the changes between then and now.

  1. If the same pathname is encountered a second time in one session, don’t treat it as a hardlink to the first time.
  2. Restructure the ~/.ibid directory and add an extra level to target pathnames when many sessions begin to accumulate.
  3. If the old session file was compressed, compress the new session file the same way.
  4. For determining whether a file is a mere rename of one already archived, consider its size in addition to its device, inode, and modtime.
  5. When running with –ensure, flag (in the session record) the files that have been verified as present in the archive, so that future sessions won’t have to reverify the same files.
  6. Remove an extraneous newline from “ibid -D” output.

Still to do: a proper home page for ibid.

Angry kids say the darnedest things

Andrea took the kids to the city today. They went to the California Academy of Sciences, had lunch at Buca di Beppo, walked around the waterfront, and generally had a fun time. But at one point things turned ugly when Jonah refused to listen to Andrea and started running away from her, and Andrea had to read him the riot act. It escalated from there and, in the ensuing argument, Jonah angrily hurled this statement:

“I’m eleventy feet mad at you!”

A little later in the same argument Jonah had composed himself enough to construct some plausible deniability:

“Mommy, you have to calm down. You disturbed my thinking when I was running down the hill.”

Four and a half years old, ladies and gentlemen, and already mastering the rhetorical technique of deflecting blame onto the accuser! That’s-a my boy.

Die Weiße Hölle vom Panther Hollow

This is another story about a crisis in a snowy hollow with a male and a female friend.

This one takes place in the winter of 1984-85. I was a freshman at Carnegie Mellon and hung around a lot with my friend David (a different one) and his girlfriend Julie. One clear, cold winter night there was a social event for CMU freshmen: free ice skating at a skating rink somewhere in Schenley Park. David, Julie, and I joined scores of other freshmen in congregating outside Skibo (CMU’s meager student union building, replaced since then with a gigantic activity mecca) and walking about a mile and a half through the park to get to the skating rink.

Now, Pittsburgh is a very hilly city. Its topography is characterized by wide, deep ravines that criss-cross the whole area. The ravines serve as natural boundaries to Pittsburgh’s neighborhoods. They are so prevalent, and form such effective barriers to getting around, that the city of Pittsburgh (which was compelled to bridge most of them in several strategic points) is second in the world only to St. Petersburg, Russia, in number of bridges! Or so I’ve heard.

It was a very chilly and long walk to the skating rink. Once we arrived, I looked back and observed that the campus wasn’t very far away as the crow flies. But because there was a ravine between the campus and the rink, we’d had to go far out of our way to cross a bridge and then backtrack once we were on the other side.

I couldn’t really skate and neither could David or Julie, so at the rink it was a fun time of continuous near-falling and catching each other and crashing into things.

When we emerged, I looked across the ravine at the nearby campus, then at the flock of freshmen trudging the long way around, and thought, “Not me!” Always valuing the bold departure from convention (sometimes to a fault), I announced my plan to cut straight across the ravine to get back to campus. David and Julie were in.

We stepped over a small railing and immediately began descending the steep, lightly wooded hillside. Just a few yards from the well-traveled paths we left behind, we discovered that the snow was much deeper — up to our waists in some places. Soon we fell silent as we concentrated on safely making our way downhill. The snow and the steepness made it slippery, while hidden roots and bushes snagged our feet and made it more treacherous. In a few places we had to allow ourselves a controlled fall, catching hold of the next tree down.

Finally we were on the level floor of the ravine (called Panther Hollow). From down there we couldn’t see anything atop either side of the ravine, but we could see the bridge. Lacking any other reference, we made for the bridge’s far side.

As we crossed the center of the ravine floor, we sighted up and down the train tracks that bisected it and remarked on how remote it felt. It was dark, quiet, snowy, and a little eerie. We joked with Julie (who was Russian) about being in a Siberian wilderness rather than the middle of a medium-sized American metropolis.

We reached the base of the hill beneath the bridge and began to climb. Almost immediately we realized what a pickle we were in. As difficult as the downhill part of our trek had been, the uphill part was all but impossible. It was just as steep and just as slippery, and though there were plenty of handholds in the undergrowth, the undergrowth was buried beneath several feet of snow, and of the three of us, only David had gloves!

It looked like a long way up, and our hands were already aching with cold. David, a gentleman, gave his gloves to Julie (on whose small hands they did not “fit like gloves”). I also did my chivalric duty by climbing a few feet, getting a secure foothold, and then pulling Julie up, in alternation with David. Soon Julie was getting so much help this way that she relinquished the gloves; I got one and David got one. Our hands were numb.

It had been fun up to this point, but now we saw how easily it could turn serious. An unlucky fall. Frostbite. Our mood turned grim.

Halfway up the hill we reached one of the bridge’s stanchions: a vertical steel beam that disappeared into a cylinder of concrete embedded in the ground. David pulled himself up onto the concrete cylinder, whose top was level. There he pulled Julie up while I pushed; and then I followed. The three of us sat and caught our breath on that flat circular seat. The remaining part of the climb looked to be just as difficult, but it began to seem doable.

We resumed climbing. Nearer the top of the hill, the snow was less deep than it had been. The hill was less steep. Soon we didn’t need our hands to climb. And then we were walking normally. And then, at last, we were at the top.

The campus was nowhere in sight.

We were in a run-down residential neighborhood with street names we didn’t recognize. The bridge beneath which we’d been climbing was not the same one that we’d crossed at the beginning of the evening. We had no idea where we were or how we could have gotten there.

The Cathedral of Learning

But it didn’t matter; we were no longer in peril. We struck out in a random direction and, before long, through a gap in the houses, we caught a glimpse of the Cathedral of Learning — as good a navigational beacon as any in Pittsburgh. Aiming for it, we finally emerged into familiar territory: downtown Oakland, a ten-minute walk from campus. We ducked into the McDonald’s to warm up and get some chow, then walked home, elated about the adventure and its happy outcome.

My friend Julie died of cancer early in 2001 at age 36. Many months later it occurred to me to e-mail a version of this story to her mother, Olga. She’d always been very nice to me and I guessed she’d never heard it.

I heard back from Olga promptly. She reported that, earlier the same day, she’d sent e-mail to Julie’s old account, which still existed, asking for a sign that Julie was still somewhere thinking about her family. In another example of the way things work out, my message arrived ten minutes later.

[The title of this post is a reference to this film.]

A good day

An orderly transfer of power? No tanks rolling down city streets? Republicans in tears? Donald Rumsfeld facing war-crimes charges? Dennis Hastert finished? Katherine Harris ruined?

Good ol’ Constitution, maybe the last bit of life hadn’t been wrung out of you yet after all. Good ol’ voters, knowing when the country is in real trouble and needs your help.

Maybe I won’t have to flee to Amsterdam with my family.

Maybe we actually can restore our rights. Maybe we can heal the planet. Maybe we can get some accountability. Maybe we can govern with compassion.

Maybe we can wipe the smirk off George Bush’s face. Maybe we can tell Dick Cheney to go fuck himself. Maybe we can give them two years of heartburn and sleepless nights.

Maybe it’s OK now to take my family to Disneyland.