Wednesday, August 28, 2002


In my Handspring Visor, I have 590 addresses in my address book. There is not one address or name that begins with the letter "X".

Tuesday, August 27, 2002

Being Recognized

This week, the cashier at the cafeteria called me by my name.

I have worked at my present job for over a year. For almost that entire time, nearly without fail, I go to the cafeteria and pay seventy-five cents for a soda or an ice tea. Occasionally, I'll buy a lunch. I've given her my name once or twice when I didn't have money (the cafeteria allows us to keep a small "tab"). The folks with whom I eat lunch say my name, and she knows and uses their names. I must be filed away in her memory as "the guy who always pays for his soda with exact change." But this week, she used my name. I dropped the change in her hand, and mumble "Here you are, Sharon." She said "Thanks, Rick. Enjoy the lunch."

I think everyone enjoys being recognized.

Monday, August 26, 2002

"How Was Your Weekend?"

"So, how was your weekend?"

It's the obligatory work question after a weekend. How was your weekend? As if people cared. And while some probably do care, I'm sure my answer ("Oh, it was fine.") leaves a lot to be desired. But maybe that's the point. It's like nodding hello, or asking "How are you?" ("Oh, I'm fine.").

So how would I really answer, about my weekend? Well, I spent it chasing around Mia. I spent a few hours on the computer learning PL/SQL. I read part of The Rainmaker. I went to church (but I didn't lector). Jenn and I ate take-out at our usual restaurants (Shanghai Village, Bertucci's, McDonalds).

I napped. I washed dishes. I took lazy swings with a golf club (my pitching wedge). I spent the evenings writing my Mia journal (a personal one). I wrote an entry for this BLOG. While I normally sustain myself on The Boston Globe during the week, the weekend is a feast with both the Globe and the NY Times. For TV, I caught some of the NEC Invitational. I chatted with my neighbors. Jenn, Mia and I all went to Toys R' Us to buy some Teletubbies.

Often, when someone asks about my weekend, it is usually an invitation to listen to that person's weekend. On a Monday, I'm not that interested to hear about someone else's weekend, no matter how good or how bad it was. So my weekend is always "fine". And I often have to remember to volley back the obligatory "And how was your weekend?"

I just want to respond "my weekend was the usual; now let's get to work."

Sunday, August 25, 2002

Big Pumpkins

I'm strangely repulsed by the thought of huge pumpkins. The Boston Globe ran a feature on the growers of giant pumpkins here in Massachusetts, men who admit that there's a little "insanity" in them.

The article described a collegial atmosphere at the annual weigh-off in Topsfield, MA, but the craze is hardly local. I visited, and prowled through a number of pictures of people growing their prized pumpkins. There are growers in Germany, England, to Manitoba, Canada, and everywhere in between.

Can you even eat a giant pumpkin? The leaves on these things are huge. In the article, Jim Kuhn has several 700 pound pumpkins in his pumpkin patch. When they're that big, I think they should use another word besides "patch".

Spooky though they may be to me, I am impressed at the record growth of the top growers (1262 pounds). But what do they do with them after the weigh-off? There's a video that I could order, showing giant pumpking growing techniques, but it comes with free giant pumpkin seeds. I'm too scared to place these seeds anywhere!

Monday, August 19, 2002

Nikon Coolpix

My Dad just got a Nikon Coolpix 2500, and it's awesome. I'm so ... jealous! My rugged camera looks like an Edsel compared to his sleek, compact device. He came up this weekend with Mom and my brother, and during his visit he tinkered with the camera, and read its manual. Gawd. His camera is half the price of mine (dpreview lists the Coolpix 2500 as less than $400), but it's easily got twice as many features.

My Dad's been a photo-bug since I can remember. At every family occasion, he was always taking pictures. I felt that he enjoyed getting the most out of his equipment. His primary camera is a Minolta model, a fully-automated SLR with manual override. I think he's joining the digital photography age, and I'm happy for him. But I wish I had thought to just give him my camera, so I could run out and get this cool Nikon.

Cooling Off

The weather is cooling off. The evening temperature is 72 degrees Farenheit. Thank goodness.

High Heat

Bleary-eyed, I stared at the weather report this morning, and found that today would be another day of high heat. I'll be at work, avoiding the brunt of it, but Jenn and Mia are home. I also found that Greater Boston is working on eight consecutive days of 90+ degrees Farenheit, not two weeks. Tomorrow's forecast: high 70 degrees Farenheit.

Sunday, August 18, 2002

High Heat

In New England, there was almost two weeks of high heat (heat above 90 degrees Farenheit). Jenn and I never put up an air conditioner so we suffered. Our fuses were quite short, and the evening never arrived fast enough (but even when it did, it offered little relief). We have employed multiple fans to move the air, and I have one aimed at my body all night.

The weather should be breaking into cooler climate by tomorrow. I've lost all my taste for the summer.

Friday, August 16, 2002


Thanks to a visit I made to Graceland three years ago, today's 25th anniversary of Elvis' death is quite meaningful. I played the King in my car stereo all week. He rocks on, in the hearts and minds of new and old fans. We remember you fondly, Elvis, wherever you are.

Wednesday, August 14, 2002


16390, 47840, 19540, 79370, 49880, 35190. These were my scores from playing Asteroids tonight, an ancient arcade game that I have been playing thanks to MAME for Windows.

I was lamenting to a gamer at work that my best scores seem to come within the first three or four games. The rest of my games were crap. Tonight's high score: 79370, in game four. But it was a tight 79370. With an extra ship every 10000 points, I almost broke the 80000, but lost concentration.

Since I started up Asteroids (a few days ago), I've been steadily improving. I broke 50000 in the second night of playing. Then 60000 the next night. 70000 last night. I was a decent Asteroids player in my youth: I turned over the coin-op machine a few times. Someone at work suggested I take up a more modern game, but I love the simplicity of destroying asteroids, then firing at a buzzing saucer.

I played for nearly an hour tonight. I hope to post up some analysis on this in the future.

Monday, August 5, 2002

The Making of the Atomic Bomb

I just finished reading The Making of the Atomic Bomb.

Coincidentally, August 6, 2002, is the 57th anniversary of the day the United States dropped "Little Boy" on Hiroshima, Japan. Three days later, we dropped "Fat Man" on Nagasaki, and five days later, the Japanese surrendered.

The "Bomb Book" as I've come to call it is a comprehensive, sweeping history of the making of the atomic bomb, from the earliest discoveries of the nature of the atom, to the effort made by the United States to harness this power into a weapon of mass destruction (the Manhattan Project), to the delivery of the bombs on Japan, and the forces that led the United States to this fateful decision.

Tom Clancy's The Sum of All Fears led me to the Bomb Book. He spent a whole chapter describing the explosion of a nuclear bomb. It was fascinating, and it kindled an interest to learn more. Discussing this at work, a colleague mentioned that I would probably want to tackle The Making of the Atomic Bomb.

This book is a monument. The author, Richard Rhodes, must be commended. His bibliography lists 556 sources. He has distilled these plus what was obviously many many interviews into a 788-page book that must be considered the definitive history of the atomic bomb. This book was published in 1986, and it won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for General Non-Fiction.

This is the hardest book I've read in a long time. Big novels don't scare me. I've read A Man in Full (700+ pages), An American Tragedy (800+), The Sum of All Fears (900+), and Executioner's Song (1000+ pages). But as someone recently characterized, the Bomb Book is very dense.

I started reading the book on July 13. I spent every evening (I only skipped two nights) reading one chapter. It took me up to two hours to read the 40-70 pages that make up a chapter. Towards the end of the book, I was able to digest a few pages into the next chapter. I didn't watch TV or DVDs. My wife often saw me reading this book at the dining room table, my pen in hand.

Despite the density of the material, Rhodes' terrific writing made it very bearable. His long historical and scientific passages are necessary, but he also turned out some dramatic and suspenseful paragraphs. Mostly, I found myself engrossed and amazed. This really happened, I kept telling myself. Even though I didn't understand all of the physics involved (and there's a lot; a periodic table is presented early in the book, I often referred to it), I felt awe at each discovery that made the bomb possible (fission, the neutron, U235, plutonium). The bold men and women who made these discoveries (Ernest Rutherford, Lise Meitner, Neils Bohr), and the men and women who engineered these terrible weapons (Robert Oppenheimer, Edward Teller, Leslie Groves) are captured clearly in this work.

Rhodes has a thesis that I'm still trying to digest: the bomb as the "entity" or strong force that will dissolve the nation-state. The discovery of the bomb will force nations to deal with one another openly or with ever-widening suspicion. This duality, its complementarity, was proposed by Neils Bohr, and Rhodes adopts it as the key proposal of the book. The bomb is supposed to end wars, but of course it hasn't. Will we as a country (with other countries) learn the other lessons of the bomb?

Thanks to this book those lessons are at least written down.


Thursday of last week, the company where I work had an off-site meeting in downtown Boston, and I decided to leave my car at home, and take the bus and T to the venue. Since early 1997, I have been a regular automobile commuter. So the day trip into Boston was a very pleasant change from driving my car.

I have to walk through a lightly wooded dirt path and then down a steep hill to get to the bus stop. I met two nice gentlemen, who cordially introduced themselves to me. It was a marked difference to being alone in my car! There was a nice pace to the morning as we each exchanged pleasantries.

The bus trip was filled with chatting, and people watching. The crowd of people increased as we neared the Alewife T Station, where we would pick up the train. There, I felt the rhythm of people rushing to get tokens, newspapers, iced coffees, before boarding.

On the train, people were in their own "space", listening to music, reading books, magazines, or newspapers. I spoke with my bus-riding colleague until he reached his stop, then sat alone, feeling wonderfully at ease.

My meeting didn't start until 10AM, so when I got to my stop, Park Avenue, I leisurely strode down Tremont Street, and picked up breakfast at McDonalds. Park Avenue is a crowded stop, at the intersection of the Boston Common, the State House, and the start of the Freedom Trail. People going to work were walking briskly, with high purpose. Tourists walked like zombies, looking everywhere except ahead of them, as they drank in the surroundings. I was in between: I was touring a familiar place, on my way to "work".

Some of my colleagues and I compared notes on our various commutes into Boston. Some drove in ($15 to park!). Most took public transportation. Our company chartered seven buses for those who wanted to go the office first. We all acknowledged that our routines would have to be different if we worked in Boston.

What I enjoyed the most last Thursday was just the ability to walk in a vibrant city. In my first year in Boston, I lived in the Back Bay with three other guys (the only way I could afford it). From the apartment, a few of us would often walk to work. We cut through the Public Garden, up Charles Street, then over the Longfellow Bridge to get to our office in Kendall Square (near MIT). People from the world over come to Boston to see these sights, and it was for me an ordinary and mundane walk to work.

And that's the kicker: if I had to commute into Boston by public transportation, it would eventually become mundane, would become ordinary.

When the Red Line train leaves Kendall Square, it rises out of a tunnel, then lumbers over the Charles River, offering a postcard view of the Boston skyline. It's a gorgeous view, and I gawked out at it, while my fellow commuters remained unmoved. I had been away so long it was all new to me again.