Anyone else see the problem here?

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That’s my driveway. It’s a bit of an optical illusion – those trees are not as immediate a threat to my power line as they appear, but how they got to this state suggests they may soon be. Several years ago we had a freakish 10+” snowstorm in October when trees still had most of their leaves. It damaged and killed tons of trees in our area, and we had no power for almost 7 days as a result. It also took me 2 years to clean up my own property. One of the leaning trees in this photo was killed during that storm, and has slowly, ever so slowly been toppling over, grabbing other trees on the way down. A recent windstorm changed the angle by at least 15 degrees or so, and a collapse now seems imminent. If they fell on their own they are unlikely to hit our power line despite how it appears in the photo, but our worry is they will pull trees on the other side of the driveway down with them, and those will reach the power line.

Long story short we called a tree guy, who is going to take those down and also remove all limbs anywhere near our power line so we don’t confront this problem any more. Meanwhile here’s hoping no storms bring them down before he can get the work done.

Dual birthday party a rousing success

Here’s the family sans me shortly before the festivities commenced:
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Since their birthdays are so close together we decided to hold a joint birthday party this year, once again at the Holyoke Children’s Museum. The kids love the place and had a blast. We had a about 20 children attend along with roughly as many parents, and everything went off without a hitch. Afterwords we visited the adjacent Holyoke Merry go round for a ride and both kids met Santa Clause for the first time, which they also loved. Hopefully Susan or I will get more photos up of the festivities – if we find time to do that I’ll post the link here.

An unlikely sequence of events

I’ve been using a Sansa Clip MP3 player while doing yard work for years now – they’re inexpensive, tiny, durable, and you can install Rockbox on them, which has the most bulletproof audiobook playback of any device I’ve used (as an aside, seriously, why is this so hard to do well? I have one thing an audiobook player must always do: remember where I was last time I listened to the book, without fail. Rockbox never fails, all others sometimes do). Anyway I had it in my pants pocket Saturday while mowing up the seasons’s leaves. I had snaked the headphone cable under my coat, something I’ve taken to doing to keep it getting hooked on something while mowing. Only a little loop sticks out between my coat and pants pocket. Somehow an apple tree branch snagged it, which I discovered when the book suddenly stopped and I noticed the end of the headphone cord dangling down the side of the mower. Bummer! It had apparently been flung into the leaves I had been mulching, and I spent the next half hour or so with a rake trying to tease it out of the piles. Many curses later, I had not found it. I gave up, finished mulching, then went inside for lunch. I ordered a replacement Sansa Clip from Amazon while I ate, this time a garish colored one the better to notice it next time. I came back out later with my phone for audio to mulch a different section of the yard. When it got dark I headed inside and tossed the fleece coat I had been wearing down the basement steps into the laundry pile. It hit the basement wall with crash, and bits of my Sansa clip scattered onto the floor, to my great surprise. Somehow that apple branch flung it from my jeans pocket into my fleece coat pocket, which in itself seems impossible, and then I took that coat off and put it on again at least twice without noticing that the player was in its pocket. Granted it’s the size of a matchbox, roughly, but are you kidding me? Worse, I tried to cancel the order with Amazon but missed the window, so now I have two Sansa Clips, one with a busted clip.

This wasn’t much fun the second time either

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Brady was in the emergency room for the second time in his young life, once again for a seizure brought on by a rapid spike in temperature. Last time this happened it was absolutely terrifying. Susan and I spent a horrific 30 minutes driving to the hospital with basically no information aside from ‘he had a seizure.’ This time was sort of the same deal, but with us sitting there thinking ‘man, basically I hope this is the same thing.’

It was. He had a second febrile seizure and the doctors were not particularly concerned. His primary care doctor didn’t even think it necessary to see him the day after the event, they’re so unconcerned, so I’m trying hard to follow their lead.

He and I spent the day together while he recuperated and it was fun, though he did manage to scare me about as badly as I’ve ever been scared. He went down for his nap still with a mild fever. I went up to check on him after 2 hours and he was laying there staring off into space with a blank look. He didn’t react to me entering the room or me saying his name several times, causing me to panic and rush over to him, at which point he sleepily looked up at me and said ‘what, Dad?’

What indeed. This child rearing stuff is tough!

Let the record reflect that Laura’s first word is…

…’up.’ Of course she’s been communicating with us for months, but this is the first intentional verbalization that she’s consistently using correctly, including when she wants it to happen and when she recognizes it’s about to happen to her. Susan is a bit disappointed that it’s not ‘Mom,’ a word Laura does understand and sometimes use, to counterbalance the fact that Brady’s first word was ‘Dad,’ but it is what it is, the kid wants up 🙂

Don’t click on that gift horse

An episode at work which I recently wrote up brought an old story to mind.

I have an acquaintance who was one of the founders of Flooz, a dot.com 1.0 startup which offered a virtual currency that was accepted at participating websites. Many folks remember it because of its silly name and because Whoopie Goldberg was their celebrity spokesperson and appeared in a lot of advertising.

Flooz came to an unhappy end – organized crime allegedly figured out a way to use Flooz in a money laundering scheme, and it was shut down abruptly, with most people who held Flooz losing all their currency.

I was aware of this, and as things came to a head I happened to be reading Fuckedcompany.com, which was a site insiders used to come visit to trade war stories about the dot.coms as they imploded during the original dot.com collapse in the late 90’s. One of the posters claimed that he had discovered the method the criminals were using to exploit the system, a backdoor url anyone could use.

As I was reading this my girlfriend at the time had come home. I clicked the link, thinking that while it was unlikely, I might discover something of use to my friend. My girlfriend came into the room shortly after I clicked.

What happened after I clicked is my browser went berserk and began spawning pop-up windows with photos of explicit gay sex.

I should mention that our relationship at this time was on the rocks. It was already clear to me that things were coming to the end between us, but we hadn’t had ‘that talk’ yet. I had taken to sleeping on the couch a lot though, a prelude to the impending separation.

My girlfriend freaked out. What the FUCK is that!!! was her basic reaction. Is this why you’re sleeping on the couch? What the fuck! And so on.

Explaining things was harder back then because pop up advertising was brand new and most folks weren’t really web savvy – this included my girlfriend. She was no dummy, but she also basically didn’t understand what I did for a living and had only a nominal sense of what the web was – she had been exposed to it, and used it occasionally, but it’s not like today where it’s a common experience with a shared vocabulary. Also bear in mind that this was over 10 years ago – computers were slower and browsers were more fragile. My machine’s reaction to this accretion of popup windows was…to……get…………..ever……………………slower, ultimately ignoring mouse input and other attempts to stem the tide of new images. Why it didn’t occur to me to just flip of the monitor instead sitting their frantically clicking close boxes as I tried to stammer out an explanation for what was happening on the screen I’ll never know, but that just made the explanation seem flimsier at first.

I did talk my way through it and calm her down, but man was it embarrassing. Ultimately we recovered, as did the machine after a reboot. For years after this I kept this to myself, but nowadays it’s fodder for cocktail hour story time when I’m looking for a laugh and the audience seems right.

Embarrassing Google story to the max

This was so embarrassing that I’ve written drafts of this little vignette then deleted them later twice now, but at the same time it’s really funny and I can’t resist sharing it.

We added a new feature to our site a few months ago, taking advantage of Google’s increased support of microformats/data, which they call rich snippets. It’s a way to teach the google search engine small facts about your web content so people get more context about the search results they get. We were applying this to a number of things on our site, but the thing we knew most of the users would appreciate was the fact that if someone searched for them by name, in the search results Google would always show their title and contact info.

Right after we enabled it on our site, I was in a meeting with 10-12 folks, and mentioned we had done this and offered to demonstrate when my description wasn’t clear enough for them.

I should mention that a) I should have known better, and tested the demo before showing it to folks, and b) my name is common and I share it with several notable people, including a photographer.

So I google ‘David Hamilton,’ and what comes up as the first result is the photographer, who specializes in nudes. Adjacent to this as the first result are a bunch of thumbnail photos of prepubescent female nudes.

!!!!

I have never closed a browser tab faster, but man did I initially stammer my way through the explanation of what everyone had just seen. What’s worst about this is I have known for more than 10 years about this guy. He’s famous, he’s always the first result on my name, and I knew Google had started showing relevant content adjacent to search results. Somehow, despite knowing all this, I did my own name instead of, say, one of our faculty.

Fortunately I knew everyone in the room, some very well, and I had enough credibility with the crowd that my truthful explanation was accepted with good humor, but I cannot recall a moment at work where I’ve been so thoroughly embarrassed. Best remark from the room, and probably the biggest contributing factor to my becoming flustered, was a muttered ‘how is that even legal?!?’ from one of my colleagues.

The moral of this story: don’t google for me – you won’t find me, and the chances of you having an appreciation for what you do find are really low 😉

(this story brings to mind an episode with a girlfriend from some years ago which was just as embarrassing, also featured prurient content, but did not feature public humiliation. Still a good laugh so I’ll write that one up soon).

 

self absorbed rant: oh how I hate the telephone….

I cannot even count the ways, but I’ll go ahead and try.

I can hear numerous relatives letting loose a heavy sigh as they read this, frustration borne of years of trying to get hold of me with limited success after many tries. Maybe some time spent explaining this once in writing will help.

The antecedents of this go back to when I first got out of college. I found my friends scattered across the continent – people I had spent time with daily were suddenly out of my reach. Almost no one had email back then, and none of us were letter writers, so obviously I turned to the phone. For the first time I came to realize how damned expensive long distance phone calls were, as I entered the adult world and started paying my own bills. This was the first strike against the phone – I couldn’t afford it, is what that boiled down to, but I also had this vague sense that I was being ripped off – how could this be so expensive?!?! Monopolies is how, was about how my thinking went. As far as I can tell I was basically right.

Strike 2 was a coincidence that took many years to sort out. I moved to Yarmouth, Maine probably around … 1995? At first I shared my roommates’ number, but they moved to California, at which point I got my own number. That number received calls from fax machines several times a day at all hours. The phone company was unwilling to help, basically putting it on me – if I could identify the number or numbers faxing me, they might look into it, and oh by way they had a new service I could buy, callerID, to help me figure out who’s faxing my phone. So … fuck them is what came of me trying to get their help. Plan b, an answering machine with the volume turned down and a phone with the ringer off, is what I moved to. Now if you wanted to talk to me, you left a message. I checked now and then, and if I found your message amongst the faxes, I called you back. Eventually…probably.

Meanwhile as this was evolving, email had gotten to the point where it was (almost) mainstream, and I had begun to tell people if they wanted to reach me, they should email me, as the phone was hit or miss. Success with email was also hit or miss – some did, others (my parents for example) it took another decade to bring along.

Around this time I finally figured out why I was getting faxes, completely by accident. My sister came to visit and stopped in the Freeport, Maine visitors’ center, where she spotted my number on a pamphlet in one of those racks of pamphlets you find in such places. Turns out I had been issued the fax number of a candle shop in Freeport, Maine that had gone out of business years previously, but still had pamphlets in the visitors’ center,and …idiots were still trying trying to fax orders to them? I don’t know. Anyway a call to the phone company again netted me nothing, though I didn’t press as hard since to my view I had the problem solved.

Meanwhile the answering machine had begun to accumulate more and more messages – for whatever reason, at this time, national trend or specific to me I do not know, but I was getting literally 2-4 phone calls a night from telemarketers, sometimes even more. Insurance, long distance service (!) and credit card offers were the majority, but it was all kinds of things – chimney sweeps, power washing, vehicle detailing, all kinds of stuff. I began to sometimes just delete messages without hearing them in this era, if I checked and found 9-10 messages on the thing. Who had the patience? It became basically impossible to get me on the phone starting around this time.

Within a couple of years the course of this was almost reversed, because the do not call list came into being, and once I got onto that, miracle of miracles, most of the calls stopped. The faxes had slowly been decreasing too. Suddenly, if I checked my messages, they were (almost) always from someone I was actually interested in hearing from. But then I took a new job and moved to New York. I got my first cell phone, and lo and behold I was issued the previous number of a delivery truck driver for a luncheon meat distributor. Almost every day for the first couple of months I was getting multiple ‘yo, Tony, I need 20 LB of this and 10 of that and return my calls already whydoncha?’ messages. This coupled with the fact that I got no cell reception inside my house meant I was right back to a pattern of behavior – ignore the phone, maybe listen to the messages, maybe delete them. Usually it was just delete them*.

The last and final straw has been work, quite recently. 3-4 years ago, my boss quit and I was appointed interim co-director, a quasi-CIO position. I updated my Linkedin profile to reflect this fact, and within weeks my work phone started constantly ringing – no exaggeration, as many as 5-6 calls a day, all selling IT services and products. Some of them call twice a week like clockwork, some even call more than once a day. Some call repeatedly AND bombard me with ‘did you get my voicemail?’ emails. If I make a mistake and answer these calls, I am either stuck for 30 minutes listening to sales pitches and endless efforts to keep me engaged and on the phone no matter what, or I have to be a dick and just cut people off and hang up. I do not like being a dick to anyone, and despite how annoying they are these folks are just trying to make a living. So – now, even at work, I never, ever, answer the telephone, and the circle is complete. What I really mean is, I never answer telephones, period.

Over the course of years I’ve thought a lot about this, as the preceding paragraphs might suggest. Leaving aside all the inconvenient coincidences and struggles with technology, the base issues for me are that generally I prefer asynchronous communication, and I almost exclusively prefer communications to be on my terms. The former has to do with patterns of behavior and with efficiency. By patterns of behavior, I mean that generally my phone conversations are largely transactional, ie ‘are you coming this weekend? Yes? When? ok, see you then.’ Email is so much more efficient than voice for the majority of my phone calls that there’s no comparison. The latter issue has to do with flow. Phone calls are disruptive, demanding attention on someone else’s terms no matter what I might be engaged in at the time. Email is not – I can attend to it when time permits and it’s convenient. I’ll always choose the latter over the former.

So what does this long winded screed boil down to? Despite huge advances in technology and law (no more sales calls on my cell phone, and I usually can see who’s calling me) and despite me having to be a lot more responsible about things now that I’m married and have kids, I still won’t let myself be inconvenienced by the telephone, and almost 20 years later email is still the best way to get in touch with me.

*(This did bite me in the ass hard once while I was in New York. Unbeknownst to me, my gas company had gotten my mailing address screwed up and started sending my bills to the wrong location. When I failed to pay a bill I had never received, they started leaving me ever more dire voicemail messages. I discovered all this one day when I came home to discover I had no heat, and did not even have a propane tank attached to my house any longer. Still, I learned no lesson from this beyond ‘my gas company sucks!’ which they did cop to).

Scare with Laura

We went to my Sister-in-law’s wedding two weekends ago. On the way home from Maine Susan noticed that Laura was hot. By Monday morning she was at 103 and home from daycare. By Tuesday she was off to the doctor’s and home with a diagnosis of an ear/sinus infection and a prescription for antibiotics. By Thursday she was back to the doctor with a 103 fever that wasn’t reacting to the antibiotics, a stomach ravaged (probably) by said antibiotic, and no appetite. From there she was headed straight to the emergency room when the doctor discovered a skin rash which Susan and I hadn’t even noticed* which can be a signifier for blood infection/sepsis.

!!!

So that’s the scariest parts. The truth is the whole thing was unreal. The whole time, Laura just seemed like a kid with a bad cold to us, and every doctor who examined her said some version of the same thing: this rash makes us nervous as do some of these other issues, but bottom line is, she seems ok based on appearance and how she’s behaving, and everything we’re doing is by way of being cautious.

Being cautious still meant 5 hours in the ER, people doing awful things to my daughter which made her howl piteously, and no small amount of anxiety, but compared to a few episodes we had with Brady this was easier to live through. She left the hospital after an injection of a different antibiotic and a prescription for a third one.

She’s still not entirely done with this episode. She has to go back for more bloodwork Wednesday, and one of the tests they did (a blood culture) won’t have results until the end of the week. If you saw her today you would think nothing was wrong with her though, the fever is gone, and her appetite is mostly back to normal. Her stomach is still tetchy is her only remaining ailment.

The doctors aren’t really sure what this was. It could all be the ear infection and a reaction to the initial meds, or it could be more than one bacterial infection at once (sinus and digestive being the best bets) or bacterial plus viral. If all the bloodwork comes back clean by the end of the week, we’re more or less done – we’ll never know exactly what happened, but she’ll be clear of whatever it was. This is the outcome I’m hoping for.

By coincidence I’m reading Mantel’s “Bring Up the Bodies,” which follows the reign of Henry VIII, wherein infants die of ailments many and sundry, most not understood by anyone. Thank god my daughter wasn’t born a few hundred years ago – she might have been one of them 😦

* in defense of Susan and me, this “rash” consisted of 5-6 tiny dull pencil point sized skin blemishes. I had actually noticed one and thought it a bug bite. I certainly wouldn’t have called it a rash. Now I know.