Sunday, July 28, 2002

Rescueing Trapped Miners

I think the part I enjoy the most about the successful rescue of the trapped miners in Pennsylvania is the sheer surprise on the part of television news reporters. The two newscasts that I watched (CNN and NBC) had reporters expressing their own doubts as to whether any of the nine miners would even be found, much less alive.

This news item made the headlines late last week, but I didn't track the story on CNN. So when I fetched my Sunday Boston Globe this morning, I was amazed at the headline: "Pa. miners are rescued". Tears of joy began to form as I blurted this news out to Jenn and Mia. "They're found!" I turned the TV to CNN.

How rare it is to be forced to contemplate your death. How rare it is to experience what these men experienced for the three days they were underground. We will all want to know what they felt, how they coped, how they came to terms. What did they talk about? What pacts did they make with one another, with God? News and TV will inquire and probe. I applaud Harry "Blaine" Mayhugh's courage to answer some of these questions so soon after this ordeal.

They'll have a special perspective to view the world now. I hope those of us who watched can grasp some of that perspective.

Wednesday, July 24, 2002

The Making of the Atomic Bomb

Every evening, since July 13, with the exception of two nights (tonight being one of them), I have been reading The Making of the Atomic Bomb. This is a thrilling and compelling saga about the discovery of nuclear fission, and how that jump-started the building of the atomic bomb. I plan to write a more thorough review when I'm done (I'm on page 318; 470 pages to go).

But I must share the part that made me laugh out loud. I'm at the part of the book after President Hoover formed his Advisory Committee on Uranium. The nuclear scientists are meeting with the Navy and Army weapons "experts". During the lengthy discussion about how to harness a chain reaction into a bomb, the Army expert said, "In Aberdeen, we have a goat tethered to a stick with a ten-foot rope, and we have promised a big prize to anyone who can kill the goat with a death ray. Nobody has claimed the prize yet."

I burst out chuckling. How contemptuous! But can you blame him? To him, these scientists were dreamers! A chain reaction from atomic particles? What did that mean? Of course, we all know how it turned out.

This history of discovery is sure to be the best book I'll have read this year.

Thursday, July 18, 2002

Internet Outage

Tonight, we had another outage with our cable modem. This time, it took only a half hour to resolve. There was no lengthy hold times to reach support. Maria took my call initially. Angela (second tier, ticket number 1900728) resolved the issue (she had to key in my cable modem's MAC address back into their system).

For Jenn and I, this represents a "rash" of outages (we just faced a two-day outage last week).

Home for Lost Pictures

This picture made me think of Accordion Crimes, by E. Annie Proulx. Her wondrous book about the many lives a single accordion had touched still resides in small places in my brain.

La Moderna Association has created a home for lost pictures, and it's tantalizing. Like many folks, my house has plenty of photographs, stashed in various nooks and crannies. A majority of them are lumped into a box. Some are in albums. Some are still in their photo lab envelopes, tucked into a shelf.

I sometimes wonder if I'll ever "organize" them. Perhaps with a scanner. Perhaps with some album indexing software. I suspect this is a project that will remain in a formulated state, but never executed. Or executed partially. I'm thankful that Mia's pictures of growing up are on a web site with some organization.

Sunday, July 14, 2002

The Highest Free-Fall

I first read about the man trying to break the world record for highest free-fall in Sports Illustrated. It's deeply fascinating to me.

When I was in college, one of the fool-hardy things I did was go for a tandem sky-dive. The sky-diver that I was attached to was casually eating a burrito before our take-off to 10,000 feet. I remember signing and initialing a lengthy disclaimer form (there was a lurid clause that the company wouldn't be liable if I were to somehow hit a plane on my jump). I didn't feel like I was falling. Only when we landed did I feel the earth rushing towards me. Point Break emphasized this fearful feeling.

Michael Fournier will jump from 25 miles up. That's 132,000 feet. From that height, he requires a pressurized space suit and helmet. He will break the sound barrier.

The Sports Illustrated article said that Joe Kittinger did his record-breaking jump in 1960 as an Air Force test pilot, primarily to test "bailout and recovery equipment for future spacemen." His record has been in the books for four decades. The two others who tried to conquer this height have died in their jumps.

Mr. Fournier is set to go in September. I'll be watching.

Thursday, July 11, 2002

How to Start Blogging

I was inspired to start this BLOG after reading an article in the Wall Street Journal. Here's their latest take on how to get started.

Wednesday, July 10, 2002

The Importance of the Internet

My wife and I were without our Internet connection (through AT&T Broadband) for the past two days. We had our service restored just this morning.

It was an unsettling two evenings without the Internet. I kept having to remind myself: "I don't have a connection. I don't have a connection." Jenn had access through her work laptop, and even though I have a junky old laptop with a phone line modem, I thought I should "tough it out."

For two days, I called into AT&T Broadband customer service phone line. I gave an inward chuckle with the happy-voice announcing that I can get more help going to their web site. My longest hold time: 25 minutes. This tells me that we weren't the only ones calling in. In my first call, I reached Tom, who opened a second-tier trouble ticket (1823095). He explained that AT&T Broadband went to a new server, and that customers using the old LANcity cable modems didn't get properly converted. I'll buy that.

I called again later that first evening at 11PM. Again, 25 minutes on hold. I reached Dan. I asked him if my ticket had been updated. He sent me to "tier 2". I spoke with Grant. He said my ticket hadn't been updated yet. One whole night without the Internet. I ended up watching TV (HBO's Curb Your Enthusiasm).

Our Internet connection still hadn't been restored the next day. So after work, and after putting Mia to bed, I called AT&T. Only 5 minutes on hold. I reached Jason. Again, no update to my ticket. More TV (ESPN2's Tuesday Night Fights). I called again before I went to bed (around 11PM). I reached Bonnie. "No update to the ticket, but these things usually take 24-48 hours to resolve." This was last night.

My wife sent me an e-mail before lunch today, saying we're back online. I'm relieved as I write this. The Internet to me is just below electricity and water. I'm perturbed when it goes away unexpectedly. This is the first time our service has cut out like it did, and we've had it since June 1998. I'm hoping this is our only outage for next four years.

Friday, July 5, 2002

Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu

Tonight, to remember Ted Williams, the famed Boston Red Sox hitter who died today, I reread "Hub Fans Bid Kid Adieu".

This is a famous 1960 article about the great hitter written by John Updike for The New Yorker. It recounts Teddy Ballgame's history (in footnotes), and his famous last at-bat. I had actually underlined and made marks next to sentences, so wonderful is the writing. Its famous first sentence: "Fenway Park, in Boston, is a lyric little bandbox of a ballpark."

Of course, I never saw Ted Williams play. But I have gone to Fenway Park, and pondered his retired number 9, and I have driven through the tunnel that bears his name. When I was learning Red Sox lore, Ted Williams towered in my studies.

The Updike article is a glorious fan's perspective on the self-described Kid at his final scene. In the days before ESPN and 7-by-24 baseball coverage, Updike, as a youngster, followed Ted Williams through box scores: "He radiated, from afar, the blue glow of high purpose." When Updike visited Fenway on that blustery September day in 1960, Williams was the old man (42) among young talent. Updike describes the crowd (10,454), the game (a come-from-behind Red Sox victory, 5-4, over the Orioles), and his at-bat: "The crowd grunted, seeing that classic swing, so long and smooth and quick, exposed." Williams stroked a home run ("there it was"), and was gone after running the bases.

As his obituary streams across America tonight, it will be noted that he was noncommital to his fans; that even after this final home run in his final home at-bat (he would quit before the last away games with the Yankees), he didn't come out to tip his cap. "Gods do not answer letters." But Updike writes movingly that Ted Williams addressed the crowd before the game began, and said "I want to say that my years in Boston have been the greatest thing in my life."

He is the last man to hit above .400 (he hit .406, going 6-for-8 in the final double-header of the season). He did this in 1941, the same year that Joe DiMaggio hit safely in 56 straight games. These are immortal records.

Today, Ted Williams died. It's now time for us to tip our caps to him.

Thursday, July 4, 2002

American Citizen

I wasn't born in America. But I'm an American citizen.

I have this memory of me in the 5th or 6th grade, and Mom announcing to me and my brothers that we were citizens of this country now. Having already lived here since I was three years old, I was somewhat surprised. Weren't we always citizens? But on that day, we were official.

Mom showed me the certificate of citizenship, and then said she would be keeping this for us. Now, many years later, this all important document (dated December 14, 1978) is locked away in a safety deposit box. I remember mailing this certificate to customs in order to get a passport, and I felt uneasy not having it around until it was returned to me.

Since I was born outside of the country, I can't become president. That's OK by me though. There are plenty of other great things about living in America than having the opportunity to become its president.

A Little Cooler

It's a little cooler (below 90!) already. Tomorrow should be fine.

Wednesday, July 3, 2002

How to Handle Heat

For the past three days, Boston has been in the throes of 90 degree weather (Farenheit). It's 78 degrees now in the late evening as I write this.

In my town's mailing list, a few of the subscribers have posted reflections and thoughts about the high heat. A few of mine:
  • Think of Winter

    The beauty of changing seasons is that Summer Heat will come to pass. In fact, it's predicted that our heat wave will break in Friday. One more month, and it's August. After that, the pro ice hockey teams start camp. The heat will pass.

  • Do Everything Slower

    When I'm in the heat, I walk slower. I wash dishes slower. I don't rush to get the paper. No sudden moves. Go slow. The heat will sap your energy. Take it easy.

  • Drink Water

    Forget soda. Forget ice cream. Water. Cool water. Any water. Keep hydrated.

  • Shower Before Bed

    After a hot afternoon and evening, jump into a cool shower. The brisk water always invigorates me, and cools me down enough to lie in peace.

Tuesday, July 2, 2002

Nigerian Bank Scam

I receive a good amount of spam e-mail. Of all the spam I receive, I am most intrigued by the Nigerian Scam.

The e-mails are often serious in tone. They contain a sincere-sounding request for your help transferring millions of U.S. Dollars from Nigeria to a U.S. bank. A very generous fee will be provided for your help.

Of course, it's too good to be true. The 419 Coalition was set up to fight this fraud. People who are lured into the trap of these scams (not just through e-mails, but through letters and faxes) often find that their bank accounts are swept clean by "advanced fees."

Incredible as it sounds, this is the third to fifth largest industry in Nigeria, and most of the letters and e-mails do originate from there. What's amazing is that people still feel bound to "inquire" about this fee. I get these e-mails about once a month. I sometimes let myself ponder what would happen if this were legitimate: if someone really did my help in moving a large sum of money to a U.S. bank. But it's too good to be true.

World Cup Predictions

Turkey won, which I predicted. Brazil won, which I didn't predict.