Posted on March 20th, 2012 No comments
I don’t have anything to say publicly about Mike Daisey’s lies. What I will say publicly is that Heather and I saw The Agony and The Ecstasy of Steve Jobs at Woolly Mammoth Theater on April 14, 2011. It was a powerful piece, and – unusually for me – I saved the program. After reading this essay by the former marketing directory of the Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company, I have scanned page three and page four and placed them here. I have slightly edited the image of page three in an obvious manner. You may click on the the images to view full-size versions.
Posted on January 15th, 2012 3 comments
I graduated from college in 2000, with some student loans courtesy of the Department of Education. I consolidated them in 2004, and have been paying diligently through direct debit for the past eight years. I was fortunate and didn’t have much student debt, and the payment amount was low enough that I rarely thought about it. Month after month, year after year, my payment would be withdrawn from my checking account, marching steadily towards a payoff date sometime in 2013.
Several weeks back, I started receiving letters about my loan. First was a notice from the Department of Education that they had given my loan to a company called Mohela for servicing. Then I received similar letters from Mohela itself. (Stupidly, Mohela has also started sending me monthly paper statements.) But whatever – it’s fine. I don’t really care who collects the money as long as my loan is being paid off and the terms haven’t changed.
Today I opened another letter from Mohela, dated January 10, 2012. It explains inside that my loan terms have changed. The interest rate is the same, but my monthly payment has decreased 74%, and my loan term has been extended until 2019! The only explanation for this change is a cryptic statement at the very end of the letter: ”** Your terms have been re-calculated to maintain federal/program guidelines **”.
So let me get this straight, Mohela: You want me to pay the same interest rate on a principal balance that – under the new terms – is now decreasing at a significantly slower rate than before for an additional six years?! I don’t think so. Your little “re-calculation” works out to a significant increase in the total amount of interest I’m paying on that loan, without my consent. Sorry – I didn’t agree to that. You’re trying to steal from me.
I’ll be calling the Department of Education to complain on Tuesday, and I’ll be paying off the loan immediately. They aren’t going to get a single cent of additional interest out of me. I won’t be calling Mohela, however. They can suck it. It’s just not worth my time to try and get the payment terms restored.
Posted on December 1st, 2011 No comments
Facebook was always a sketchy proposition for me. I avoided it for quite a while, and then for a very long time I left my profile status “Brian is not Facebooking,” without accepting any friend requests. It has been about a year now since I was pushed into the pool, and I find myself still wondering, “What’s the point?”
I rarely log in, and when I do, I am immediately overwhelmed with the latest privacy updates, spam from Farmville, or news about the babies of people I haven’t seen since High School, most of whom I hardly talked to much even when I actually saw them daily. The people I actually do talk to on Facebook are the same people I talk to anyway, via chat, text message, telephone, or even face-to-face.
I post updates even more rarely. In fact, for months my only updates to Facebook have been cross-posts made from other tools, like Twitter or Instagram or Foursquare. So what is the point? I will be deleting my account in a few days. It’s just noise.
Posted on October 6th, 2011 No comments
Everyone has lunch at Caffé Macs on their first day. I was no different. It was exceptionally crowded that day, with a bevy of new hires meandering aimlessly around the cafeteria, overwhelmed by the myriad possibilities for lunch. You could barely hear the person next to you over the din of friendly chatter, clattering plates, and sizzling food. The lines for anything freshly prepared were long, and I opted for a pre-boxed lunch: a caprese sandwich and fruit smoothie.
After paying came the most daunting task so far: find a place to sit. I had lost track of the friend with whom I had come to lunch, so I just stood for a moment, barely past the cash register, and surveyed a scene of chaos and scarcity. Every seat at every table, both inside and out, was filled. People with trays of food circled the floor, a ravenous look in their eyes – for a seat or their lunch, I wasn’t sure. Chairs were snatched from beneath diners while they were still standing up, and more than once a newly-opening table nearly resulted in a brawl. As I tentatively stepped out into that shark pool, my eyes suddenly landed on an open spot.
It was a small, four-person table, with four chairs around it. Amazingly, three seats were empty, with only one person sitting quietly in the eye of the hurricane while the storm raged around him. Surely this person wouldn’t mind sharing a couple seats at his table! Without hesitation, I made a beeline for the table.
As I closed the distance, I had a few moments to actually see who was at the table. He had finished lunch, and he had pushed his chair a bit to the side. His legs were crossed casually as he quietly read. He had salt-and-pepper, scraggly stubble, a balding head, and was wearing jeans and a black sweater.
I stopped so fast the sandwich nearly slid off my tray and the fruit smoothie almost tipped over. It was Steve Jobs.
Should I approach his table and ask to join him? Would he care? What if I pretended to not know who he was? Would he be impressed by the courage of a first-day hire, or would I have the shortest career in the history of the company?
I don’t know exactly how long I stood there staring, but my racing thoughts were interrupted by an incoming text message. My buddy had found a table, and had let me know where it was. I turned, and I walked away from the only chance I would ever have to meet Steve Jobs.
I keep a small list of regrets: moments and decisions in my life from which I vow to learn a lesson and not repeat the same mistake again. The time I didn’t meet Steve Jobs is on that list.
Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure — these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.
– Steve Jobs, 1955-2011
Posted on December 23rd, 2010 No comments
Hedda and I went to see Second City’s touring company at the Woolly Mammoth Theater last night, for their show entitled A Girl’s Guide to Washington Politics. As always, the show is a blast. The stage was decked out like a Metro platform, complete with red warning lights in the granite that blinked when a train arrived. Highlights included Nancy Pelosi’s Stand-up Schtick (she’s not bitter), the Agony of Todd Palin, and Elena the Opera. Definitely see it if you can – it runs through January 9.
One moment of disbelief for both Hedda and I, though, was during the Guide to Financial Planning, a hilarious skit where financial advice was proffered to the audience in a sort of Suze Orman meets Mad Money style. The audience was asked if any of them owned a car, and of course most of them did. Then they were asked how much they paid for their cars. Hedda and I nearly fell out of our seats when almost everyone in the room simultaneously blurted, “Thirty thousand dollars!”
That is a lot of fucking money. And I am sure they were only considering the sticker price. With financing, the real cost of the car could be nearly double. My mind boggles at what they’re paying after factoring in fuel, insurance, maintenance, parking. So, since we are a car-free household, here is a list of things I would rather spend $30,000 on:
- Twelve 55″ HDTVs,
- Eleven bottles of 1958 Glen Garioch whisky,
- Ten solar panels,
- Nine top-secret smart phones,
- Eight 450-year-old bibles,
- Seven nights in a beach house,
- Six home micro-breweries,
- Five golden rings!
- Four years of college,
- Three trips to Europe,
- Two life-sized gingerbread houses,
- Or a savings bond worth $34,848.50 in five years.
Posted on December 15th, 2010 No comments
I haven’t blogged much lately. My employment has taken away my ability to talk publicly on most technical topics of interest to me, and my interest in engaging in public political debates has waned as I’ve grown more disaffected with the futility and destructiveness of the national political discourse. Local politics still holds interest, although since refocusing my efforts onto my software career and our new home I have had less energy for direct involvement or thought on all but the issues that most directly affect my daily life (e.g. rats in the alley).
When I first started blogging, it was with the intention of keeping a dairy of interesting thoughts, but in a public way. Such a digital talking-out-loud helps me to crystalize incomplete ideas into cogent concepts. I want to get back to that.
But I need to deal with something first: comments. I’ve had comments on here since the beginning. Comments are traditionally seen as necessary for a good blog – a way to foster discussion between the writer and readers. At first, that seemed true, as I would often engage in heated debates with the commenters on the topic at hand. Later, my comments morphed into defense or further explanation of an opinion I held. These days, I barely took notice of the comments, except for the rare occasion where a long-lost friend would choose a random post comment as a way to re-connect.
One might say I have become set in my thinking as I have aged, but going back and reading even the best threads here has convinced me otherwise: Rather than being useful discussions, they were merely naive passion-fueled debates between uninformed parties – full of sound and fury, but signifying nothing. They added little, but took time and energy that is in short supply. Perhaps most damning, though, is that they didn’t serve my purpose here.
So I am taking back my blog. I have disabled comments, and from here on I will write for myself, like no one is reading.
And who cares, really? This is just some backwater blog on the ass-end of the Internet, and the comment threads were never really that good. It might be just a symbolic move, but symbols matter. And if you have an opinion you would like to share or feedback to give, then you know how to reach me. We can talk about it in a more personal manner.
Posted on November 14th, 2010 2 comments
I’m on a bus to the airport at the moment, and I’ve been reading plenty about the new security scanners at the airport. I have been subjected to them in the past, but I have since been vowing to opt-out of them if I were selected to go through them.
But the TSA really, really wants us to go through them. After spending hundreds of millions of dollars on a technology with marginal gains, they had better use them! So to *ahem* “encourage” folks to not opt-out, they have instituted a new We’re-Gonna-Feel-You-Up policy. That is, if you opt out of the insane invasion of privacy the scanners represent, of if you don’t want a picture of your naked body stored by some nameless agent (as has happened in several cases where operators have intentionally or unintentionally stored the near-naked pictures of passengers’ bodies despite assurances that such a thing could never, ever happen), then you will be subjected to the most humiliating, groin-rubbing, feel-coppin’ pat-down they can muster as a punishment.
That’s what passes for security in our airports now. I have to choose between a naked body-scan or some guy rubbing my penis to make sure it isn’t a bomb. And Osama bin Whoseitsfuck is laughing his ass off.
UPDATE: Well, I didn’t get groped because there were no full-body scanners at the security station I went through. They did take my razor, though, so now I can’t shave. They’re 3/10 on finding them, though, so I’ll keep trying.
Posted on May 8th, 2010 1 comment
I have geek in my blood. My grandfather, Gus Hahn, opened an electronics store in 1929 with his former high school physics teacher, Ralph Coe, and for some 80 years – passing on to my uncle after my grandfather’s struggle with Parkinson’s disease left him unable to work – it serviced the south suburbs of Chicago. They sold record players and radios, installed PAs and police radios, and showcased fancy new technology like televisions in color.
The story of Hahn & Coe is the story of American ingenuity and entrepreneurship through generations. It tells of burgeoning opportunity, economic and technological changes, and the struggles of a family to make it through on their own despite obstacles I can hardly fathom. But the story has reached its end. Sadly, the continuing poor economy in a long-downtrodden suburban area of Chicago has finally taken too much a toll. The family business has closed its doors.
I keep a few of my grandfather’s things near my desk. His old, wooden level looks almost comical in the bright glow of my dual monitors, and his cracked, yellowing slide-rule is painfully low-tech next to my sleek, black iPhone. But they remind me of how far I am from vacuum tubes and CB radios, and yet how not very far at all. There was geek in his blood, too.
Posted on May 7th, 2010 4 comments
Yesterday I announced my impending departure from the Library of Congress at an all-hands meeting of the group I helped form. My last day will be May 14. I’ve spent seven years at the Library, and every one of them has been fantastically rewarding. I have learned so much through the successes and failures, and I couldn’t have asked for a more dynamic and intelligent group of people to work alongside. It has truly been an honor.
I will be moving on to exciting new territory, however. I have accepted a position with Apple, and the thrill of working for such a dynamic company on ground-breaking technology cannot be overstated. Those who know me know I’ve had my ups and downs with Apple over the years, from buying an iPhone to decrying DRM. None of that changes my commitment and interest in Doing Cool Things. And Apple is certainly Doing Cool Things. I can’t wait to begin.
Finally, Hedda and will not be moving to California. I will be spending a fair amount of time in Cupertino, but our home base will remain in the District.
Posted on October 16th, 2009 2 comments
With the start of the flu season and the advent of a vaccine, swine flu is coming back into the spotlight. Rather than covering the pandemic itself and disseminating widely useful, factual information, the media is covering the controversy over the vaccine that has been stirred up by hand-waving critics. I highly recommend the Effect Measure blog as a fantastic source of science-based discussion of the Swine Flu Pandemic. The contrast between the reasoned analyses of trained epidemiologists and the frenzied hype of news anchors or the fear-mongering of the anti-vaccination woo-heads could not be greater. The short version? The swine flu is a big deal and we need to care about it and take reasonable steps to prevent it, but we don’t need to freak out: the virus isn’t going to wipe a billion people from the planet and the vaccination works and doesn’t make you sick.
A recent post explores the editor’s reasons for getting vaccinated, both for swine flu and the seasonal flu. It’s a good article, with graphs and charts, and filled with words like “trivalent vaccine” and “cross-reactivity”. And though it inspired me to write this particular post, I found its reasoning a bit over-thought for those of us not studying infectious disease for a living.
So, why would I want to get the flu vaccine? There’s lots of good reasons. For example, based on the experiences of the southern hemisphere (who are just now coming out of their flu season), it appears that there were 15x more people admitted to the ICU for flu cases than in previous years. Or that the swine flu is more greatly affecting people in my age group than the people the seasonal flu affects. Or that the virus is hitting close to home now, with local blogger Mr. 14thandyou writing this morning that he came down with it, saying:
Whatever the news reports may say about this thing not being as bad as it has been made out to be: they lie. The H1N1 flu is awful; I think this was the sickest I have been since I was in grade school. It’s the kind of flu that makes raising a glass of water to your mouth and successfully taking a sip a feat of superhuman strength.
But none of that is really why I’ll get the swine flu vaccine. (And the seasonal vaccine, while I’m at it. I get that every year.) So, why will I get vaccinated? It’s quite simple, really: I just don’t want the flu – swine or otherwise.
You see, getting sick with the flu will mean at least several days where I’ll be unable to work. I am self-employed, and I get paid when I work. Conversely, when I don’t work I don’t get paid. I bear a direct economic cost if I get sick. And that’s not even to mention the fact that getting the flu sucks even when it’s not the pandemic variety – aches, pains, chills, sweats, vomiting, and diarrhea are really not what I enjoy doing on my days off. So if a shot in the arm, which has been shown to be reasonably effective, might protect me – well, where do I sign up!