Friday, August 26, 2011

How Mom got trapped in My Sister’s Van

I went to Lynch Park with my sister and her three small children and my mother. Lynch Park has two beaches, a playground a rose garden and an ice cream stand, so it’s the perfect place to take small kids. My Mom used to take my sister and I (and all of our cousins) there when we were kids for the same reason. Unfortunately for us, Lynch Park has lately removed all their trashcans in an effort to save money. (Because allowing people to throw litter on the ground and make the place disgusting isn't going to eat into your revenue stream the way having trashcans will?)

We spent the morning on the beach, and aside from the part where my smallest nephew decided he was afraid of seaweed, we had an enjoyable morning. We ordered take-out from Dom’s Trattoria in Beverly Farms and ate the take out at a picnic table. Because there were no trash cans Mom and I took the pizza boxes and plates back to the car to throw out in my trash. Here is where the problem arose.

We got stuff into the trunk, but then Mom wanted to put my niece’s shorts (which had gotten wet) into the car to dry so that my niece could wear them later. Mom pulled on the handle of one of the back doors to the mini-van and the car started crying. “Now we’re going to have to go get your sister.” Said Mom. I didn’t want to walk all the way up the hill to where my sister was, because then I’d have to oversee the three small children while she walked out to the parking lot. Also, the car would be crying and using up its battery the whole time this took, so I called my sister to ask for help. Unfortunately, she wasn’t answering the phone. I kept calling her.

After another 5 minutes of trying to get doors opened, I decided it was time to take matters into my own hands. I don’t drive—but I troubleshoot machines for a living. I asked for the electronic key fob. I pushed all the buttons on it (luckily for us, this key fob did not have a panic button which sets off the car’s alarm.) When I hit the button for close and lock all the doors (I assume-the key fob is a bit worn so the icons convey less information than they originally did) the car stopped crying. But now my 70-year-old mother is trapped in the back seat and the back doors won’t open (when she tried to open them the car started crying again.) She was uninterested in climbing back into the front seat to go out the two doors that work.

So I did the thing that made the most sense to me. I sat in the driver’s seat and turned the car on. “Do not turn the car on!” Said Mom.

“Mom, if I’m going to figure out what’s wrong with the car I have to sit in the Command Center.” (A friend of mine laughed her ass off when I described the driver’s seat as the “Command Center” but I think my metaphor was not too wrong.) I had unhappy machine. In order to figure out why it was unhappy, I turned it on and went to the place where all the information was displayed.

“Turn the car off!!” I really don’t know what she was thinking—*I* know I can’t drive—I didn’t plan on solving the problem by taking the car for a spin. “Turn the car..!! Oh. It’s in Drive. Put it in Park.”

“How do I do that?”

“Move the lever—no not that lever—the other one. Up one. No up one more.” My mother has a Master’s degree in Education, but apparently this does not apply when Teaching How To Operate a Motor Vehicle.

“So..the doors wouldn’t open because the car was in dive?” I asked.
“You didn’t put the car in Park when you ‘parked’ it Mom?”

It was at that point I heard my phone saying “To replay this message press 1.” So the whole episode was caught on my sister’s voicemail.

Saturday, August 20, 2011


On Friday morning, I was discussing Frankenstein with a good friend of mine over breakfast. We were in Sugar Magnolias,in Gloucester awaiting one of the best breakfasts to be had in Massachusetts. Now, my buddy Mike does not like Frankenstein where as I, well it will be hard for me to say I *like* it (which I will explain more about in a minute) but I think the book is very important and as a Sci Fi fan I think he aught to respect it more. Consequently I bring Frankenstein into the conversation and wave it in front of his face whenever I think there is an opportunity to make him think better of the book. I was bringing it up in this instance because I had asked him about the most recent Planet of the Apes movie which he had gone to see and which he had enjoyed. When he described the plot, it sounded remarkably like the plot of Frankenstein and I asked how he could still hate the book, when this enjoyable movie had the same plot.

That my buddy Mike will continue to engage me in discussions of Frankenstein, instead of shutting me up with a withering glare or by simply saying that I don't know what I'm talking about is a kindness given that 1) he is a professor of rhetoric and I'm a network administrator and 2) as became apparent in our most recent exchange he has read the book more recently than I have.

I don't remember what age I was when I first read Frankenstein, but I remember that I got the book by ordering it from Scholastic through my school. When I was a kid, before the advent of, Scholastic and other publishers of children's books would distribute catalogs through schools. The catalogs were age-appropriate so that a 4th grader would not see the same catalog as a 1st grader. A kid would get a catalog and an order form from his/her teacher and take it home. The kid and his/her parents would decide what books to order and bring the order form and a check back to the teacher. A few months later, the books would arrive.

I wanted Frankenstein because I was fascinated by horror and occult books. When the thin volume arrived I was disappointed because it said "abridged" on the cover. Even as a grade-schooler I saw no point in reading abridged books. I don't know what I actually expected the plot to be--I only remember that having discovered an interest in ghoulish literature, I was delighted to see a book that I knew (even at the age of 8 or 9) was a classic work of horror in my catalog.

I was disappointed and shocked. This was the saddest book I had ever read. I hated it, because it made me so sad. Why did Victor Frankenstein suddenly hate his own creation? It wasn't horrible to him when he was sewing dead limbs together (which I personally, would have found gross) but once it was alive he despised and feared it. Why would he not, once his creation had come to him and begged him for a wife not give it to him? His creation merely asked for a companion.

When I discovered that I had to read the book in 9th grade English I was dismayed--I hated that book. I have not reread the book since then. Why then am I forever bringing this book, which I hated in (let's say) 4th grade and again in 9th grade into the conversation?

Frankenstein made a big impression on me. At the time I first read it I was simply horrified by how stupid and cruel people could be--even smart ones like Dr. Frankenstein. But as I've read more science fiction, I have come to the conclusion that Frankenstein is important because it is one of the first pieces of science fiction. The story is important because although science changes and the manner of writing books changes (epistolary novels have fallen out of fashion) the story is still relevant. I realize that I am not the first person to have made this connection--but I made it on my own without the guidance of a professor or anyone else (since most of the people I know who have read the book prefer, like Mike, not to discuss it.)

My undergraduate degree is in French Literature--not English Literature. If,like my buddy Mike, I'd had to read Frankenstein in college and spend hours discussing, and writing papers on, whether Frankenstien's fear of his creation had it's roots in Pygmalion or whether he (Frankenstein) was trying to be God by creating new life, or whether the whole book was really about how people were afraid of science and scientists I'd probably hate the book too.

Instead I've come to my own conclusions about Frankenstein. They range from "why not just pick some guy who died of a heart attack and replace the heart--instead of building a whole new being" and "well, actually it would never work because once the brain dies, if you reanimate it, it will be with severe lack of function" "The real monsters are the normal humans" and "If you're into reanimating corpses, make sure you have stomach--not just curiosity."

That I think is the real point of the book, and it's one that is still relevant. If you are creating a monster, have some plans for what to do with it once you've created it. Have some sympathy for your monster

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

What I have been doing a lot of lately

It's 10 PM on a Tuesday and I'm pacing around my apartment having several conversations with myself. Most of them have to do with what I need to do at work over the next few days.

I have been very busy lately at work. I have been busier with straight-up work (as opposed to work-and-school) than I have ever been excepting the 12 day week I worked in Winter 2010 when we moved our environment to new servers.

I like being busy. I like learning new things (and I have certainly learned a boat-load of new things in the past few months*.) But I am overwhelmed. I feel like a processor in a computer. I move all day and cannot say at the end of the day what I have done (partly because my short term memory is shot, but also because I feel like I spend all day answering requests for data that someone else has to process.) I've become afraid of going into the kitchen for coffee because some staff member might corner me with a problem they're having with a printer or our Document Management System or worse, a problem that a client is having accessing our online client vault. I feel bad about this.

At the risk of ranging into Christian metaphors--the user community is my flock and I am their shepherd.** Or to put it another way, they are *my* clients and when they ask me for help I would like them to see my willing, helpful face as opposed to my "whaddayouwantnow-I'm bizy" face.

It's times like this that I wish I had some sort of partner. I can't explain everything that's going on at work to my friends and I can't express everything that I feel to my co-workers. I wish I had someone who could listen with a sympathetic ear and provide advice "Look into the SQL Management Console" or alternatively "Never touch the SQL Management Console again."

However, the technical problems are not as worrisome as the "people" problems. Technical problems can be hammered out, usually by speaking with software and hardware vendors. Technical problems are matters of electrons, resistors, conductors and the software that was written to make these things all work in concert. I cannot imagine that the ways in which we are trying to make our software work have never been though of before, so somebody must be able to make them work.

Working, as I am now, on IT projects all the time I had assumed that once we had gotten a blessing from the owners I would be working with geeks--INTJ types like me and that would make everything work smoothly. Sadly, no. I don't understand why.

Here I can't go into the details, because it's private, but suffice to say that people, who I had known for years to be sure to think "x" had suddenly decided to think "y."

I know that large technical projects are rarely completed on time and within scope (70% are not according to my Project Management professor Fall term.)

I am beginning to take a cynical point of view. I think of two things that people have told me. The first is my best friend on advising me on how people in New England drive "think of the least logical-the stupidest--way that people will behave and expect it and you'll be alright." The second thing that comes to mind with this current project is something a friend of mine in high-school said "My mom says that the number of teenagers present is the inverse square of the number of brains present" (assuming I stated that correctly 2 teenagers - 1/2^2 or 1/4 brains present.)

If anyone is actually reading this post I apologize for being vague and rambling. The point of this post was more to scratch a boil on my brain than to make any sense.

*to the point that I've had bad dreams about SQL 2008 Management Console and Microsoft Exchange
**Only in terms of technology. It is for others to decide everything from standards of customer service, trading workflows and financial planning workflows.