Friday, July 27, 2001

The Executioner's Song

I'm presently reading The Executioner's Song, by Norman Mailer. It's a long book (over a thousand pages), and it somewhat mirrors the story line from Theodore Dreiser's An American Tragedy.

Last night, I read a powerful sentence by Mailer:
The violence of Portland licked right up to the edge of the store and left a spew like that yellow foam on city beaches where old rubber dries out with jellyfish and whiskey bottles and the dead squid.
What an amazing sentence! Such imagery! You feel the words when they're strung together so superbly.

How did I chance to be reading this? A few months ago, I read an article about Louis Menand, who recently wrote The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America. Mr. Menand was asked what his favorite books were, and one of them was The Executioner's Song. He had high enthusiasm for this book, and I made a mental note to pick this up as soon as I could. I have not been disappointed so far, and I don't anticipate being disappointed.

I once thought it'd be an interesting exercise to describe the various threads between the ten books I've read so far this year, but the leading spark has been, more often than not, whimsy. Still, it delights me when whimsy leads me to text like I've read in Mailer's book. I'm savoring every bit of it.

Monday, July 23, 2001

Concord and Merrimack

A few weeks ago, the Boston Globe ran an article on Henry David Thoreau, the famous recluse/philosopher who wrote Walden. The article was about how people misunderstood Thoreau's writings. I read articles like this, and it makes me want to hole up in a library for a week reading Thoreau. What is there to misunderstand? What was his main message?

So over the past few nights, I've dipped into A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers. This was his first published book (1849). I have one of those 'handsome home-library three-volume set' of Thoreau's work from the Book-of-the-Month Club: Walden, A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers, and The Maine Woods.

The Boston Globe article said that A Week on the Concord and Merrimack Rivers is fairly impenetrable. The foreword to my edition states that reading this from cover to cover would be a tough diet.

I would somewhat agree with both of these. He spends a good portion of the book ranting. He goes from a detailed look at the specific biology on these rivers, to a discourse on various religions. Sprinkled throughout are pithy wisdoms ("He who resorts to the easy novel, because he is languid, does no better than if he took a nap."). This was a man who thought, and then wrote it down.

Every weekday, I go over the Concord River, on Route 3. It's a short bridge. Now I find myself looking down the river, as I pass by. It is so peaceful. And Thoreau canoed past this spot once.

I don't necessarily plan to read all of this book, but I will be dipping into it. I need something to think about when I go over that brief bridge.

Friday, July 20, 2001


I spent $6 on a tee-shirt from place where Jenn and I get take-out pizza practically every Friday, Nicola Pizza House (1215 Massachusetts Avenue, Arlington, 781-646-6090). We've been eating pizza from here since we moved to Arlington, over four years ago.

The owners know me by now. Nicky always gives a big hello whenever I place my usual order. I once didn't have money, and they let me get on their tab.

At Nicola's, they also make pastries: cannoli, tiramisu, cheese cake. Sometimes, I'll splurge and grab one of these, much to the delight of Mary, the sharp-tongued matriarch who occasionally slings pizza boxes with her boys. Nicola's has also brought us great sandwiches, pasta dinners, salads, and fish and chips. Lately, we've been getting mozzarella sticks with our pizza.

There was much kidding when I announced Jenn and I were having a baby. They thought I'd be ordering a few more pizzas every week. As it is, I can't wait to share Nicola's with Mia when she gets old enough to appreciate pizza. Anyway, I have the tee-shirt.

Thursday, July 19, 2001

Trip to Graceland

I posted my trip to Graceland web page on Yahoo! a few months ago. Every once in a while, I get a note from some Internet visitor, saying the pictures were nice. Today's e-mail was from New Zealand, and the writer expressed gratitude because she said she was not likely to make a pilgrimage to Memphis.

By the way: The final song in Cast Away? "Return to Sender", as sung by Elvis.

Wednesday, July 18, 2001

Casting Work Away

I finished listening to the DVD commentary of Cast Away.

Tom Hanks was on Sixty Minutes last December. He said something that I think about regularly: do what you love to do; that is half the battle. He said from his experience, one cannot go into film or television hoping for fame, money, or even power, as those things are often fleeting. He said go into film/television because it's something you enjoy, and you'd be doing it anyway.

Of course his comments extend beyond Hollywood: if it's something you enjoy doing, and you'd probably be doing it anyway, then it's a likely profession/avocation/vocation.

I ask myself often: Is this what I'd rather be doing? There are a lot of grays in my answer. It's not a resounding yes; it's not a distasteful no. And I'm sure if I ask myself this during work tomorrow, my answer would vary.

Are we working at what we want to work on? That's a fair question.

Tuesday, July 10, 2001

Fondly Remembering Cycling

The Tour de France started a few days ago. As I write this, American Lance Armstrong is 6th in the GC (for you cognoscente).

I was a fan of bike racing so long ago, it's not even funny. Example: I had the issue of Velo News that announced Greg LeMond was going to France to ride with Bernard Hinault's Renault team. Example: I own a copy of a Bud Greenspan's documentary on Eddy Merckx, cycling legend.

I recall being amazed at the movie Breaking Away. I read Sam Abt's Tour de France stories in the NY Times, because when I started to follow the Tour, it wasn't on network TV (today it's covered daily on The Outdoor Life Network).

All this was in the early eighties, during my teen-age years.

I had log books detailing all of my riding. I dreamed of becoming a racer. Despite my fervent interest in bike racing, I only competed in one race, and on that rainy day, I got a flat. It didn't stop me from attending races though, and the highlight of all this interest was watching a criterium near Central Park in New York City. Greg LeMond raced that day, and when he finished, I got his autograph.

I trained with a pack of boys (Jose, Shawn, Dave) sharing the same innocent dreams. We rode hard and fast up and down Bayonne Park, and stalked all the bike stores, driving the owners nuts with our demands to see Campagnolo bike parts. As boys, we didn't own bike shorts, or real cycling jerseys. Whenever we saw "a real rider" wearing these clothes, we'd watch them warily, wondering just how fast could they go.

Like most boy-hood interests, this one faded away. By the time Greg LeMond won his second Tour de France, cycling had already left my life. Sometime before college (1986), I got into an accident: I looked down to shift, and next thing I knew, I was lying on the ground, having run into the suddenly-stopped car in front of me. My bike (Panasonic DX-2000) was broken beyond repair, and on a "spare" bike, it was hard to go fast.

Fast forward to today: I do own a dusty racing bike, bought with practically my first paycheck out of college, but I never rode with the same fervor like I did. In fact, I hardly ride at all. Golf has filled the places in my heart where bike racing used to live. I used to be able to recite the winners of the Tour de France, and the years when Merckx and Anquetil won their five Tours, but now I look that up, like everyone else.

"On va! Allez allez!", people would write, on the roads the Tour de France riders would race over. I have gone, but I fondly remember.

Thursday, July 5, 2001

Paying Off My College Loan

I received confirmation today from the lending bank that they have received my final student loan payment. My student loan towards Rensselaer is now "paid in full". I called the bank and inquired about the final payoff amount (almost $700), and wrote them a check in the middle of June.

The loan to pay off my college education was $16,000, but thanks to simple interest (8%), I owed a total of $23,000. I started paying off this loan in August of 1991. I knew from the notes that it would take ten years. And here I am, ten years later: absolved of this almost-$200 monthly obligation.

I can recall times I let the monthly payment 'slip' a few weeks, but I never failed to pay the full monthly amount every month. I like to think that Jenn and I were able to get a mortgage because of my dutiful payment of this loan through the years.

Was college worth all this though? Yes. Absolutely. It's true I don't need to use physics, chemistry, or advanced calculus, but I am always learning using the methods I picked up at school. My perspective and sensibilities about technology and science were gained at Rensselaer.

I first logged into UNIX at RPI, and I still refer to my school-aged battered copy of The UNIX Programming Environment. I wrote hard software there (a C-like interpreter, a shell). I attended a co-op at JPL, where I discovered what I could contribute as a computer professional.

But even beyond all the 'school' stuff were the people, and experiences: learning to ice skate at the Houston Field House; being a college radio dee-jay; going to midnight movies; road trips; absurd drinking games; bonding over ice hockey, pizza, dinners, and late-night studying. Many of good friends are from RPI, class of 1990.

College was where I tried growing up. College was where I gained some perspective. College was my launching pad.

My student loan, pricey as it was, pales in comparison to the actual value of my collegiate experiences.

Wednesday, July 4, 2001

An Artifical Heart

Today, a human heart was replaced by a fully enclosed artificial heart.

As I read about this ground-breaking surgery, I was amazed that the doctors and engineers who built the heart don't expect the patient to last more than a month. I was also amazed that the company who built the heart is located in nearby Danvers, Massachusetts.

The patient wishes to remain anonymous, but I frankly have a hard time believing he'll stay anonymous. If it were me, I'd be on TV as soon as reasonably possible.

My other thought about all this: we are soon going to be able to make cyborgs: half-human, half-robot beings.