September 18, 2012


It was a "back of the envelope" estimate of the number of dead on Sept 11, 2001. I'm an engineer, so that sort of calculation comes naturally.

I was out in Chicago that week; and watched the towers fall from the floor of the Stephens Convention Center in Rosemont, IL. Somewhere that morning I heard the total occupancy of the towers, and based on where the planes struck, the time the towers remained standing, and the number of first responders, media, and onlookers, that was the number I imagined I had just watched perish as the buildings collapsed.

A lot of things went right that day. The World Trade Center occupants and safety personnel had a test run back in 1993, and folks remembered and kept their heads. The terrorist attacks came early in the day before the offices filled. The towers stood long enough for many to escape. The buildings pancaked in on themselves, containing the damage to the World Trade Center footprint. When all was said and done, 3000 had perished - a horrific number, to be sure, but I never quite forgot my initial estimate. And so I walked away thinking "it could have been so much worse".

In the ten years since that tragic day, we've witnessed a lot of mass casualty events:

2010 Haitian Earthquake - 300,000
2008 Sichuan Earthquake - 68,000
2005 Kashmir Earthquake - 79,000
2004 Indonesian Tsunami - 230,000

Yet those things happened far away, the World Trade Center was right here - on the skyline, in our collective and recent experience, our friends and neighbors. And the attacks were not arbitrary acts of nature, of chance, of misfortune - they were deliberate, targeted acts.

Perhaps my initial calculation tempered the shock and grief, for me. I mourned the 3000 dead, but I also felt deep gratitude for the 47,000 I had imagined to be dead who remained alive. And in the subsequent years, I have carried that sense of proportion with me as I watched my government and country respond in terms of security, privacy, military actions, torture. I don't think it was wrong to seek retribution and justice. But I wish we had a more intelligent, more thoughtful, and more patient government at the time.

Revenge, as they say, is a dish best served cold. How much sweeter would it have been to track down and dispatch Osama Bin Laden had we not added nearly 6,000 dead, 40,000 wounded, to the pricetag. The terrorists could not have scripted out a better response to the attacks in terms of American costs - loss of life, loss of capital, loss of world reputation, loss of rights and freedoms, distraction from global and national issues.

So, on this 10th anniversary, I mourn the loss of those who suffered and died ten years ago. And I mourn the effects of the resulting 10 years on my country.

Not a very popular posting, I am sure.

I Am the 53%

Mitt Romney got caught on video a while back, at a fund-raising dinner in Tampa. Mother Jones recently released that video, and it does not reflect well on the former Massachusetts Governor.

The content itself is not all that controversial. 47% of Americans pay no income taxes, and those folks are not going to respond to Romney's sales pitch of lowering taxes. So he's going for the folks who do pay taxes. And I'm open minded enough to understand that when Romney says "[M]y job is not to worry about those people.", he's talking about getting their votes, not their lives. 

But it was the surrounding opinion - wholly not needed to make a point but probably reflecting Romney's personal feelings, that are damning. 

There are 47 percent of the people who will vote for the president no matter what. All right, there are 47 percent who are with him, who are dependent upon government, who believe that they are victims, who believe the government has a responsibility to care for them, who believe that they are entitled to health care, to food, to housing, to you-name-it. That that's an entitlement. And the government should give it to them. And they will vote for this president no matter what…These are people who pay no income tax.

"[M]y job is is not to worry about those people. I'll never convince them they should take personal responsibility and care for their lives."
Mighty big brush you are tarring a huge swatch of the American populus there, Mr. Romney. And a lot of "those people" are your base - senior citizens, military personnel,  the working poor.

It's not the politics I find objectionable - I do not agree, and feel there is amble evidence that Romney's policies and monetary philosophy are bankrupt. But on top of all that - Romney appears to be too dumb, too inept, too incompetent to be president. Who, running for president and knowing that every moment may be caught on video or audio tape, says these things? If Romney's main claim to the office is his executive experience and competence, he's demonstrating, over and over, that he's not qualified.

OK, I'll fess up. I pay income taxes. I am self employed, I'm not wealthy by any standard. But despite my best efforts to optimize expenses and deductions, my mortgage deduction, etc. I write a check every year for Federal income tax on top of my Social Security and Medicare dues. I am, therefore, part of the 53%. And I'm voting Obama.

September 17, 2012

Checked Off

I'm coming off a rather remarkable period of productivity - checking items off my "to do" list that go back months, if not years. I moved into my present digs three years ago October, and at that time I pretty much threw my office into boxes and moved it into the basement. Not much got organized below grade....ever. Until now. So here's the canonical list of my September cleaning and organizing.
  • Purchased and hung a wall rack to store speaker and mic stands
  • Consolidated and organized PA system cables, mics, accessories
  • Permanently mounted 2x track lights and associated dimmer switches. 
  • Removed most of the wire that once supported a suspended ceiling in the basement
  • Removed all remaining ceiling tiles (stuffed above walls, etc.) that carried some cigar / smoke odor
  • Cleaned and organized desk, two tables, four shelving units, and one printer station
  • Cleaned and organized the under stair crawlspace
  • Installed hangers for XC skis and got those off the floor
  • Purged several boxes full of paper, magazines, etc. (four more to go)
  • Cleaned out and organized all desk drawers
  • Installed a perf board to hang tools, and organized same
  • Installed a wooden shelf to store chemicals, paint, etc. 
  • Vacuumed office area
  • Reorganized and consolidated all electrical and mechanical household supplies
  • Purchased and installed a new label printer (the old one ate a label and died)
  • Took several boxes of old electronics and cables to Green Monster
  • Installed a pencil sharpener that has been lying around forever
And above grade, things were also pretty busy:
  • Removed bedroom A/C unit
  • Removed, cleaned, and stored bedroom and yoga room fans
  • Installed track and hangers for guitar, bouzouki, and bass in bedroom
  • Organized guitar supplies (cables, strings, tuners, switches, etc.)
  • Cleaned and vacuumed living room
  • Vacuumed stairs (two sets)
  • Cleaned top of fridge and put everything there-on away
  • Cleaned both bathrooms
  • Purchased luggage tags and laminated business cards for luggage and tool kit ID
Not 100% sure of what is behind all this productivity, but a bunch of things factor in: 
  • I love the cooler late summer / early fall weather
  • Fall is a good time to transition / make changes
  • My 11 days without a car got me cleaning to start with (nothing else to do)
  • My 11 days without a car had me cooking in more, eating healthier (higher energy)
  • Once I got the car back, hitting retail shops to pick up supplies and hardware seemed like a privilege
  • I have a bit of romance in my life. It just does a body and spirit good
I can only hope that this spurt of energy and drive to get things done continues - I really like it, and I am truly enjoying my much more livable and pleasant work and living spaces! 

Hartford Stage - Age Discrimination Fail

So Hartford Stage is marketing to the young.

Stage Pass

Introducing a $38 Unlimited Season Pass!


An unlimited season pass to Hartford Stage’s 2012/13 season. If you are
18–27 years old and love theatre, Stage Pass is definitely for you. Purchase a Stage Pass for only $38 – yup, that’s it – and get into every Mainstage production at Hartford Stage for the 2012/13 season. That’s basically what you would spend going to the movies twice, and just think how sophisticated you’ll sound when you tell your friends and family you are “going to the theatre tonight.” Speaking of friends, want to bring a friend when you use your Stage Pass? Go ahead and do it! Purchase up to 3 companion tickets for only $20 each.
 I'd slap a big old Facebook "Like" on that if I were not, well, 51, and therefore ineligible.  FWIW, I love the theater, and I'm not really able to afford Hartford Stage except on special occasion.

Apparently, offering a special to a particular age (and by default, not offering it to those outside of that age) is legal and socially acceptable (of course it is, look at all the senior discounts out there). But imagine if this special offer were limited to people of a certain race ("If you are white and like the theater....") or religion ("If you are non-christian, come on down...."

I get that they want to bring a younger crowd in the door, but jeez, there are ways to do that (how about targeting the offer via youth-heavy conduits such as QR Codes, twitter, handing out physical coupons at particular events) - instead of blatant age targeting (and flipping the coin over, de facto discrimination).

Instead, I'm vaguely resentful that Hartford Stage is not offering me this particular special. 

September 15, 2012

Car Troubles

I mentioned in an earlier blog post that I lost use of my car for 11 days. Here's the blow-by-blow.

My Check Engine light has been lit for, well, months. No excuses there - I needed to get it in, but the time and money never coincided, and the car continued to run. A bit roughly, but it never conked out, never stranded me. I assumed it was a bad spark pug or something.

So when I got some money and the end of the summer rolled around, I took it in. I've been meaning to find a regular, independent mechanic and garage, but never got that sorted out. So, needing to get the brakes checked out, and having had the brakes done in the past (with a lifetime warranty) at Pep Boys, I took it there. Mistake #1.

I took the car in late in the day on Wednesday. Waited around for it - by diner time, they had gotten stuck (Cylinder #3 was not firing and had low compression) and were dialoging with a national specialist. They took me home, and I started figuring out options. Thursday morning the diagnosis came in - bad ECM (computer). Bad computer = big money ($1200) but what are you going to do. The problem was, with Saturn out of bizness, parts were not easy to come by, and the Pep Boys folks could not program (or "flash") the computer. So I'd have to wait over the Labor Day weekend. They hustled to get a computer on Friday, but when they replaced it, the new one was dead out of the box. So I waited until Tuesday.

Tuesday, the call came - the computer was replaced. The problem was still there. Upon further inspection, it turns out that here was a bent valve, it had damaged the #3 spark plug, coil, and head. They *said* that had damaged the computer (I remain dubious, think they were just throwing parts at it, and one of the parts they threw was the computer). Nevertheless - big job. To make a long story short, they ended up remachining the head,  which took until Saturday). $2900 later, my car runs great.

I'm going to write a couple of letters. Pep Boys gets a letter- both for the length of repair (11 days? really?) and the computer (which as I noted, I do not feel was bad). And Saturn / GM gets a letter, since th Pep Boys folks feel (based on the engine head damage) that the net valve may have been there from the get go (the car has 80K on it, but never really ran smoothly,  and the first tank of gas post repair got 4 MPG more than any previous tankful, and I monitor that fairly closely)

While the car was out of commission, I ended up riding my bike a bit - mostly back and froth to the studio (15 miles round trip). But I only rode up to teach (15 miles bike ride PLUS a hot / power practice would have been too much) so my own practice, as well as my social life, suffered.

On the up side, being home alone gave me the time to clean - and that has precipitated an amazing life change here, to be blogged next!

Love That Dirty Water

One of the off-shoots of Camp Camp 2012 is that I met someone.

Won't go into too much detail, other than she is my age, is a lovely amalgam of goofball, sweetie, and hottie, and lives along the Boston greenway. And so my energy is drawn back to Boston, after many years. There is a largish camp enclave in Boston, and I think I'll end up visiting this coming year.

Kind of weird - I've lived in Connecticut my entire adult life - since graduating in college in '83. Yet Massachusetts was where I came of age - learned to drive, went to ball games and concerts, took the T. I have a certain familiarity and fondness for Beantown.

So when I drove up for a visit last weekend, it was all familiar, comfortable. And although I drove through more rotaries in one car trip than I have in the past calendar year en route to West Roxbury. It was altogether familiar.

We took two laps around Jamaica Pond, which was beautiful and fun - sort of like the WH Reservoirs in energy but embedded in the city - not reserved for the suburban crowd.

I miss having a queer community. I miss having friends who might drop by and visit, or who might call up for dinner, music, a movie, or a night on the couch watching TV. And finally, with my mom getting older, and we siblings starting to face our own mortality, the prospect of moving back to the Boston area seems a lot less like an unreasonable than it might have in the recent past.

I do not move around a lot - I've been in CT nearly 30 years and have lived in just three homes over the past 25 years. So the idea of picking up and moving is a lot to wrap my mind around.

But, if one intends to turn an aircraft carrier, one starts planning for that a long time before one makes the turn. let's just say I am thinking about it....

Democratic National Convention

I must admit to having fallen in love with the Obama Administration and the DNC this past month.

I watched a bit of the RNC - know your enemy, and all - and was unimpressed by the whole thing. I actually have attended the RNC back in the GWB era, in Philadelphia (I was back-up sound engineer for that was live streaming the convention) . Anyway, RNC was kind of bland - speakers not all that energizing, message muddled, even if I disagree I can appreciate a good show. Not happening in Tampa.

The DNC, however, had me hooked. Michelle Obama was amazing, and so many of the speakers that first night were energizing, passionate, engaged and informative. Contrast to the DNC of the past, where the party was so intent on pandering to the middle that they lost the passion of the left. It was a wonderful change, IMHO, and I ended up online Tuesday night to throw in some bucks (via Trans United for Obama) and buy some swag (a campaign kit and a shirt, neither of which has shown up yet). Then Bill Clinton on Day #2. I hang on until the end, and was entranced. I'd vote for him again.....

Finally, the president himself. Older, greyer, a little less passionate and little more careful, but still my guy.

I'm feeling good about the presidential election this year. Romney is another one of those "next in line" Republicans - I remain convinced that his religion and his moderate history in MA is keeping the red meat conservatives from getting behind him. And his pandering to the right will keep the moderates and independents away.

My two cents on the economy - I am an engineer, so it's hard not to look at the problems of the past few years as being analogous to an underdamped control system. The monetary policy and the regulatory environment resulted in the gain (especially on the housing market) as being too high - so prices rose too fast and hit the rail - and the system crashed. The present economic policy - perhaps a bit cautious and conservative, is still resulting in slow and steady growth, and a gradual recovery. The last thing we need is to return to the policies of the past, set a fire under the housing market and reignite the underdamped control loop. 

Yes, unemployment is high, and that sucks. But I'll be honest - I've never been that impressed with the 9-to-5, corporate america crowd. It's my freelancer, techno-ninja history and experience perhaps (and my lean to the bone lifestyle), but it seems like a lot of the folks working in corporate america are filling out suits and holding a spot in the daily meeting. A lot of waste in the system. So not too sure those jobs are (or should) be coming back all that quickly.

Long Overdue

Rainy Saturday morning, and a long overdue blog update.

The end of summer was a busy time - I spent a week on a Hillside in New York at the Falcon Ridge Folk Festival; my annual musical retreat among a family I have known for 20 years. In addition, I spent a week in Maine for my second visit to Camp Camp - a GLBT adult summer camp which, truth be told, has stolen me heart and spirit. I am sure I will be back.

In addition, I spent a few days in Missouri at a customer site, and a week in Tulsa at another customer facility. And finally, I had an 11 day car fast - took my vehicle in for a long overdue tune-up (check engine light) and it took 11 days and $2900 to set it right (bad computer, bad head, destroyed cylinder)

So it's been a bit of a crazy few months, and one very bad blogger. This morning - I'm going to post a bunch of things - catch up a bit. And then see where we go from there.