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  • The Family Business

    Posted on May 8th, 2010 Brian 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.

  • Leaving the Library, Joining Apple

    Posted on May 7th, 2010 Brian 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.

  • Why I’ll Be Getting The Swine Flu Vaccine

    Posted on October 16th, 2009 Brian 2 comments

    Flu Bug 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!

  • Do Your Part To End The Early-Christmas Madness

    Posted on October 15th, 2009 Brian 5 comments

    It seems Christmas comes earlier every year, doesn’t it? Well fight back! Shortly after Halloween last year, I popped in to the Cosi on Pennsylvania Avenue in Capital Hill to grab some lunch after a meeting.  I was irked to hear “Silver Bells” and “Carol of the Bells” and “Jingle Bell Rock” pumping through the sound system.  No, I don’t dislike bells, nor carols, but playing holiday tunes anytime before Thanksgiving is a strict faux pas in my world.

    After venting on IRC to a friend of mine who happens to work for the company, she suggested I write a comment on their web site.  She promised they read them regularly.  And so I did, more out of humor than anything else.

    To my surprise, I received a prompt reply, apologizing for the early onslaught of merry tunes.  I was told that some overzealous soul had switched the restaurants nationwide tunes early, and that now that they were in place the switch couldn’t be undone.  I was assured, however, that they would not make the same mistake in 2009.  The response seemed a bit fabricated, but the management vagaries of massive corporate chaindom are beyond my ken, so I gave them the benefit of the doubt.

    Now we’re fast approaching the regular start of the insanity, and I have made a personal vow to stay vigilant on that Cosi I frequent for lunch.  Whether they really will hold the music until after Thanksgiving remains to be seen, but even if not, it occurs to me that the ever-expanding breadth of the holidays is at least partially within our control.  It takes only a moment to send a note to an online feedback form – maybe if we each sent one, we could make a difference on something mundane.

  • NextBus Has Some Work To Do

    Posted on July 23rd, 2009 Brian No comments

    I’m standing at stop #1001178, at the corner of 14th & I, waiting for a bus going north. I decided to wait and try out NextBus to see how it works. For the past 20 minutes, my bus has been between five and two minutes out.

    Bus 6422 just pulled up, 21 minutes since I’ve been waiting. Looks like NextBus still has some work to do.

  • Robbed on the Metro

    Posted on July 18th, 2009 Brian 15 comments

    I was sitting on the Metro platform at Mt. Vernon Square yesterday evening. It was a quarter to six.  The Cubs were in town playing the Nationals, and I was waiting for the Green Line train down to the ball park for the second game in the series.  I had come down the first set of stairs onto the platform, and saw that the Metro employees had set up one of those huge industrial-strength fans blowing right at the bench that is tucked under the escalator, and a couple of them were sitting there cooling off, so I had joined them.

    A baseball game always means a busy evening for the Green Line, and this evening was no exception.  There were plenty of people milling about on the platform, some in Cubby blue, others in Nats red.  In retrospect, the bench I was sitting on is isolated from the rest of the platform; “sketchy,” Hedda called it.  But I’ve ridden the Metro a thousand times before, and felt uncomfortable only a few of those times; my hackles weren’t raised this evening.  I was playing solitaire on my iPhone.

    And suddenly my phone was snatched out of my hand by someone behind me.  After a half-second of stunned incapacity, I spun around, and saw a body disappearing around the other side of the escalator.  I jumped up and followed and caught up to the person before they got much farther.  Honestly, I was expecting to see a friendly face, perhaps one of my friends from Hedda’s days on the Nader Campaign or from my game group, pulling a prank on an unsuspecting me.  Instead, I was met with a face I’ve never seen before: a large black man, several inches taller and fifty pounds heavier than me.

    At this point, a strange calm came over me.  I knew what was happening, and I knew he had nowhere to go.

    “You took my phone.  Give me my phone back.”

    “What you talking about? I a’int got your phone.”

    “You took my phone.  Give it back.”

    “You’re crazy, man.”

    If my phone had been back in my hand at this point, I probably would have dropped the whole thing.  Instead, I realized this is getting nowhere quickly, and so I started yelling “Police!  Police!”  (I know, so cliché!  But it works.) A pair of faces framed in Cubs royal blue peered around at me from the other side of the escalator; I made eye contact with them and said, “Go get the police.  This guy just stole my phone.”  They nodded, and left, and I turned back towards the thief, and told him again to give me my phone back.

    He did.

    He walked around the platform, and I followed him – back a bit – to make sure I wouldn’t lose track of him.  After a bit, a Yellow Line trained pulled up in the station, and he boarded.  I stood outside the open door and stared at him, memorizing what clothes he was wearing, the color of his shoes, his hair cut, the number of the car he was on.  He taunted me to get on the train with him.  Ten seconds later, the doors closed, and the train started to move.

    It was then I noticed a station manager walking up to me from the tunnel side.  I ran up to him, pointed out the guy in the car as it was passing, gave him the car number, and explained he’d tried to rob me.  He immediately went over to a phone to call in the Transit Police, and then he took me up to the kiosk to wait.  We chatted for a bit, and I learned a great deal about the problems with kids that they have on the Metro, in large part because they have unlimited-ride cards.  They get on the Metro system and then just goof around, and the employees can’t do anything to stop them unless the Transit Police happen to be nearby.  (I can’t seem to find any reference to this program online; I’d love to learn more.)

    After a few minutes the Transit Police arrived.  I filed a report with A. France and M. Bradley, and got myself an incident number.  While we were talking, they got a call that they searched the train he was on, and didn’t find him.  I’m sure he got off before they were able to stop the train.  Hopefully my description will be of some use, though.  All was done, so I left and went to the baseball game.  While I was waiting for the train – again – I played solitaire on my iPhone.

    The Cubs won!

  • Desi Deschaine – You Will Be Missed

    Posted on July 14th, 2009 Brian No comments

    Desi was always quick to smile, and quicker to raise a glass of wine! I write with a heavy heart that our good friend Desi Deschaine has passed away. As a staffer for Mayor Williams, and later Councilmember Jack Evans, Desi tirelessly worked for the betterment of the District of Columbia and Ward 2; and as the Vice-President of the Logan Circle Community Association, he continuously worked to improve our neighborhood.

    His boundless energy, enthusiasm, laughter, and love for life will be missed by everyone who knew him, and thousands more who didn’t.  His positive impact on our lives cannot be overstated.

    Update: Story in the Post

  • Jury Duty Takes Its Toll

    Posted on September 25th, 2008 Brian No comments

    I’ve been on jury duty all week this week. The experience has been a fascinating glimpse for me into the inner workings of the criminal judicial system, as well as a fascinating glimpse into my own psychological and emotional limits. The trial isn’t over yet, so I
    cannot say anything about that; however, I can talk about my personal experiences.

    This is my first time on a jury – or even called up for jury duty. I take such a civic duty quite seriously. Though serving on a jury is second only to voting in importance for securing trust and transparency in our particular civilization, it easily surpasses voting in the impact it on the lives of other people. The responsibility is enormous, even greater than I imagined. Sitting in judgment of another person, with life and liberty at stake, is weighty indeed.

    The case has continued on a couple of days longer than the judge expected. From my first night home after a day at the courthouse, despite no more than an hour actually in the courtroom, I was simply overwhelmed. There was so much in my heart and mind, and I simply couldn’t get it out. Our instructions from the bench are to speak with nobody about the case, including spouses. Cut off from Hedda’s amazing ability to listen, I quickly devolved into a near-depression. Except for a short interlude of wine and beer on Tuesday evening, my week has basically been:

    1. Wake up;
    2. Go to courthouse;
    3. Come home and eat;
    4. Sleep.

    This reaction surprised me. I wasn’t expecting to be so affected. I didn’t realize how greatly I needed to talk to somebody – anybody! – about these life-changing judgments placed (partially) upon my shoulders.

    Today I’m feeling better than I have all week, though. We started deliberations this afternoon, and with deliberations is lifted the restriction on speaking to my fellow jurors. Upon finally speaking with them, I felt a great tension drain from me, as the reservoir of thoughts and emotions pent up inside me finally had somewhere to go.

    I’m looking forward to finishing our deliberations – hopefully tomorrow!

  • I’m Running For ANC

    Posted on August 6th, 2008 Brian No comments

    I’m running for ANC 2F03!

    This morning, I picked up my petitions for inclusion on the ballot. Soon (probably tonight), I will start collecting signatures in my Single-Member District. If you live in ANC 2F03 and you see a guy with a funny hat carrying a clipboard with pink pages on it, please take a moment to stop and sign. You must be a registered voter, but that’s it!

    Chris Dyer, the current and long-serving commissioner for ANC 2F03, announced at the last ANC meeting that he would not be seeking reelection this fall. He will be missed. And though it will be impossible to fill his shoes, I am personally looking forward to the opportunity to fight for our neighborhood as best as I can.

    I guess I have to get on the ballot first, though. Wish me luck!

  • My Last Will and Testament, Part 2

    Posted on July 8th, 2008 Brian No comments

    Following along the lines of Part 1, I would like it on the record that my funeral should be a Speaking, and be at least as awesome as this.