Archive for the 'Memories' Category

United Past

The Object at Hand for today caught my imagination at a moving sale, as a perfect hook to write about a few things. I present for for your amusement (or at least my own), a common corporate giveaway item  from the 1960’s: A United Airlines pocket knife.

United Knife

United Knife UnfoldsNow in the post-911 world of confiscating suspicious nail clippers, examining everyone’s shoes, and forbidding shampoo bottles, it seems hilarious that airlines once armed its passengers in this way. The blade in this is just 1½ inches in length, and was considered safe enough for airlines to distribute to passengers during the frequent hijacking era of the 1960’s and 1970’s.

I dated the knife by the logo: United changed its letterhead regularly. This knife had to be produced between 1961 and 1974.

History of United Logos

History of United Logos

Possession of knives was so casual in 1970 (when I was nine) that two aunts each gave me pocket knives for Christmas, at my grandmother’s house in Berlin. We then flew to Tel Aviv to visit my other grandmother, where I lost one of my new knives in the sand at the beach. No one thought anything about those 3″ blades in my carry on bag during any of the seven air legs of that trip.

Aside: I remember lugging my carry on up those rolling stairways into a variety of planes on that trip: 727’s between Germany, Israel, and Greece, and JFK to StL; 707’s across the Atlantic; and the short steps up into a DC-3 from Eilat on the Red Sea back to Tel Aviv. There was a caged chicken in the overhead rack next to the barely caged fan on the DC-3 flight. We’d taken the bus down, to tour the sea of Galilee, Jerusalem, Bethlehem, and a few other sites for separating tourists from dollars.

In that more innocent era, there were no metal detectors or enclosed jet ways, and family greeted us right at the plane in Israel, and at the gates in Berlin. In New York I recall a cheerful porter racing us through JFK from international to a United gate to barely catch our flight, because the scheduled 3 hour layover became 15 minutes due to traffic control issues in those days before weather satellites, computer flight tracking, and automated approach beacons.

All these glancing observations evoked by spotting this little knife in a pile of cast off minutia at a moving sale.

Sash Above, Pole Below

When I was in third grade, in the 1960’s, I noticed that my teacher would open and close windows in peculiar ways during the warm part of the year. The early 20th century building had nice high ceilings with windows that went from the radiators up to nearly the top. Every afternoon, she would open the normal bottom sash about a foot, and then used a special pole to pull down the top sash by a foot. In the mornings, she would close them to keep the cool air in.

A few years later I got a vintage high school text book at a yard sale in which they suggest that the best way to cool off a room at night was to open the top and bottom sashes to let the cool air in below and flush the warm air out above. That made sense. But most people are not even aware that top sashes can move. Before that school year, I was one of them!

When I moved into an 1890’s home with 10 foot plus ceilings, I decided to vent the bathroom by opening the upper sash for much of the year. For many years, I would reach up over the top of the closed lower sash and push on the lower part of the upper sash vigorously with my crooked fingertips to open it a crack. Closing was much easier, using a broom stick or any convenient 3′ or longer rigid object.

But as opening was not a trivial task, the window often stayed open a few inches from warm-enough in the spring till getting-too-cool in the fall, with occasional shuts for really hot days. Not the most energy efficient air management.

Sash lifter hardwareFinally, I decided enough was enough, and went online shopping for a proper vintage sash lifter; today’s Object at Hand. A vintage cast iron pole tip was not hard to find, and the metal inserts to allow me to pull the upper sash from the top is still in production! So armed with these parts, I needed only to buy a pole. Fortunately, a 1″ diameter hardwood dowel at four feet length was conveniently available at a big box hardware chain store.

Sash Pole StainingSo I rounded one end of the dowel with a file and sandpaper, and tapered the other end with similar technique. Then sanding, staining, and varnishing took a couple of days of mostly waiting.

Then I drilled a hole in the old sash for the insert, mounted the puller on the pole. Now either I or my petite spouse can easily take the pole from where it hangs at the side of the window and pull open or push closed the sash at whim.

So here is how it looks in use on our 119 year old window. On the left, hanging on the old roller shade holder. On the right, in use, with a detail of how it fits in the socket.



Doughnuts to Burn

I was lighting up my grill the other day, and I (as a gestalt) flashed on three different posts that I could hang on that action, using three different objects. To start with, I have been using chimney style charcoal lighters since the 1980’s. Sure, my father lit his hibachi with lighter fluid.

This is he. I am the wean with the camera in hand.

Anyway, I used about one bottle of starter (like I learned from my pop) before I switched to the chimney starter.

But I recently wised up about putting a wad of newspaper in the bottom: The point of the chimney is to let the air flow through, but most people start by plugging the bottom with paper.

Now I wad the two sheets of tabloid-size newsprint into long rumpled cylinders, and then twist them into a torus.

“Bull!” you say?

No a torus, or doughnut shape, is the perfect form for the task. This lets the hot flames flow up the center, rather than out the side holes.

Here’s how it goes:

Step 1, make a ring out of old newspaper (Today’s Object at Hand):


Step 2: Stuff it in the bottom of the chimney:

Step 3: Fill the top with your favorite charcoal (more about this in a later post):

Ready to Light

Step 4: Ignition from below:


Step 4: Wait the usual 20 minutes at the charcoal warms up, hydrocarbon free.


So today’s Object at Hand is a bit of twisted trash used intelligently.

Letting Code Go

FolkFireCalendarI have written about letting go of old industrial code in the past. But today I have decided that it is time to discard a vestigial part of my first website, something where the code is still in use. Barely. Today’s Object at Hand is the old FolkFire calendar.

I started writing the FolkFire web site in early 1995, using my $25 copy of Netscape Navigator 2.0, and writing my code in Notepad for the proposed HTML 2.0 standard. I bought a book on HTML and taught myself as I coded. I had to manually install a TCPIP socket (“winsock”) on my DOS/Windows 3.11 machine in order to connect even to my local server. Sorry about the “Back when I was a kid…”

In 1996 I added an events calendar, written in Perl using another book to learn as I went. This was back before Google, before Yahoo, and before local newspapers, TV stations, etc. had sites with calendars of events. We consolidated events from all over the region, to make it easier for both people and groups to do their planning.

Over the next few years, this calendar evolved a bit. I put in hundreds of volunteer hours just for the calendar. By Y2K it was pretty much in its current format (click on the image to see it as it was, via the Wayback Machine Web Archive). It leveled off at about 1,200 lines of original code, because I am always careful to remove what is no longer needed. Sometimes adding a feature resulted in shorter code.

But since the millennium I have been trying to divest myself of this web site. There has been a Help Wanted banner on the FolkFire home page for 13 years!

Then I noticed that for the last several years, no one even submits events to our calendar any more. Long ago I lost the eager drive to chase after groups and beg them for their information so that we can give them free promotion. So it is time to put this piece of my history to bed. If a FolkFire calendar is to rise again, whoever does it can use the Google calendar engine.

Memory of a Pressing Business

Label MakerMy previous post about making labels reminded me of a time when I was but a lad, 5th grade, 1971. My mother’s best friend gave my baby brother and me each Dymo label makers for Christmas. They were the full size gadget, somewhat like this Object at Hand from a yard sale that embossed the labels for the previous post.

But my original one was beige and brown, and didn’t have the metal plating, replaceable fonts, or extra adjustments. My little hand was barely big enough to hold it, or strong enough to firmly emboss the letters. I did not appreciate it much as a toy; it sat unused till the end of the following summer.

As I prepared for sixth grade, in a mysterious different building across from my familiar grade school, where all sixth graders from the district were concentrated, I decided to seriously label all my stuff. The stiff embossed labels did not work on pencils. But notebooks, lunch box, pencil boxes, and so on took the labels nicely.

My peers noticed my bright, embossed labels, and asked where I got them. I confessed to their creation. They wanted me to make them some. Well, I was quite aware of the price of the labeling tape, so I agreed only on condition that they pay me.

In what was either an uncharacteristic fit of business savvy, or an attempt to stay out of the business, I quoted a nickel per letter (a regular candy bar was about 15¢). This  was quite a handsome mark up. But  they went for it! Oh, well. Over the next few months, my hands got stronger and I bought quite a few rolls of label tape, in every possible color. Wood grain was very popular, and harvest gold.

My mother was also a good sport, commissioning quite a few labels for her garden. I had to print many unpronounceable Latin names that I just copied letter by letter from her lists, written in the old German script.

A friend then suggested that we could probably sell this product to others, outside of school. So I drew up a mimeo master flyer by hand, pressing quite hard to transfer the wax well. My father let me in to the copy room in his university department, and I ran off the copies: Ka-chunka, ka-chunka, ka-chunka… sniffff. Ahhh. My friend and I biked around and slipped about a hundred flyers into mail boxes in the nicer neighborhoods near my house. We received no calls, after all those hours of marketing labor. Most adults probably recognized that the cost of a dozen labels would capitalize the industry for themselves.

But this is what flitted through my mind as I finished up my previous post; my first entrepreneurial effort and a hot summer day of stuffing flyers in doors. I wish I had a copy of the flyer. They were hand written by 11 year old me, and printed in fading blue mimeograph style. They could hardly pass for professional.

Melanoma: Know More

A couple of weeks ago, I got a diagnosis of melanoma, and posted Melanoma is Sneaky over at Dangerous Intersection. Go there to see a nice video exhorting regular skin check-ups.

I considered several “objects” on which to hang this post. My first thought was of surgical tools or the fancy high-tech, waterproof, breathable membrane bandage that covered the wound for a few days. But I chose to showcase the memento I will forever carry around with me, the scar where the tumor was removed.

But before I show you the image of this silly badge, here’s how my day of surgery went:

Karen talked me out of walking to surgery as we had walked to the preoperative visit. So we drove the few blocks to the hospital and parked there in about half the time walking took. We finally found the right elevator and went up to the third floor to the ambulatory surgery unit. There was no one at the reception desk, but as we proceeded past toward the nurses station, we hear a “Be right there!” A very swishy man bustled over and cheerfully took my detailed information. He was fun and flirtatious. He passed me to another nurse, who weighed me, and brought me to curtained cubicle #12 on the end of the hall.

I changed into the paper gown, keeping on my shorts and socks as instructed. The gown had many fasteners and ports. I figured out that one wall mounted gadget was a hair dryer-ish gizmo with a hose that could be plugged into one of the several ports built into this disposable gown for warming. Karen went for coffee as I settled into the comfy recliner between layers of pre-warmed blankets. I handled my anxiety at impending surgical assault by falling into a zen-like trance. I happily observed the various light fixtures and gadgets in my cubicle, and the curtain fabrics and hardware. I listened to the layered conversations invisible around me, mapping the people in my visual cortex. I had an hour and a half to wait, and was in no hurry. Karen came back with coffee and occasionally got impatient and fetched nurses to move along the stages of my prep. She has always been a good patient advocate, and has even considered doing that for a living.

Several nurses came in to ask pages of questions that had already been answered. Each department seems to need its own set of answers to the same suite of questions. It’s a pity that medical histories cannot travel with patients from practitioner to practitioner. I find filling out these forms not only tedious, but an insult to the computing technology that could have replaced such iteration a generation ago. I also blame the HIPAA act that seems to do all it can to inhibit the portability of medical information that it was supposed to enhance.

One nurse gave me a set of packaged, heated, antiseptic sponges with a page of detailed instructions on how to use them. Three minutes scrubbing with each and in a particular order on specific areas from neck to toes. I thought this was a silly step. But I had been forewarned by phone the previous night that it was to be done. Afterwards, my hands felt quite sticky and softened.

The surgeon was ready for me while the third iteration of questions was still being administered. They had brought a gurney, but then decided to just wheel me in the throne. I commented that I should have had a crown and scepter to be so royally escorted to the operating room. I did wave to the peons as I was wheeled past. I was having a good time, and as far as I knew  had yet to receive any drugs aside from the antibiotic in my neutral saline IV.

Once in the operating room, I stepped from my throne over to the narrow operating table starkly lit under the triple set of suspended and jointed reflector lights, one with a camera built in. The nurses and resident seemed to be a cheerful team. I tried not to distract them, but wanted to join in. When the first set up an arm table to the side, I pointed out that this would not work. They seemed surprised at my effrontery. But then they saw I was right and rearranged me to have my arm on my belly. I seemed to puzzle them a bit, as I was completely cooperative, alert, cheerful, and knowledgeable. Yes, I was aware of compensating for anxiety; I began studying psychology in 8th grade, got a degree in it, and have been studying related fields ever since.

They gave me a nasal cannula and draped me with green crinkly paper sheets. When they first smoothed it across my face, I suggested that my nose was actually supposed to be convex. After that a hand appeared in my green world occasionally to lift the paper from my nose. But it wasn’t bothering me. I’m not claustrophobic, and was getting cool oxygen in my nose. They started the Lidocaine drip without my noticing. But I quickly got more relaxed.

When the surgeon, Eddy Hsueh, came in, he told me that they were now going to give me the sedative, a truth serum. (Precedex, I believe.) He said that now I would have no secrets.

I said, “I’m on FaceBook; I have no secrets!”

Best laugh of the session. They chuckled and repeated it to each other. One of the nurses later repeated it to Karen when she wheeled me back.

I distinctly felt the first couple of shots of local anesthetic in my arm. I don’t think that I actually passed out at any point, but things were fuzzy while he cut out the initial disk of skin. I tried to “see” from under my green sheet by listening carefully. At one point the tone of the heart monitor seemed to change. I asked about it, and they assured me that it hadn’t. In retrospect, I think I’d gone under briefly and come back without noticing at that point.

I was quite alert as they (surgeon and resident) started stitching. I could feel the pulling, even the vibration of the gentle texture of the stronger sutures pulling through. Dr. Hsueh is a teacher, and was guiding the resident to close. In this case, closing involved pulling the open circle into a line, and then trimming the puckered “dog ears” on each end to allow a smooth closure. I had assumed that the necessary eye-shaped cut would be the initial profile. But apparently they cut out a circle, and then trim the pointy ends after pulling the circle mostly closed. Hsueh was a harsh critic, a perfectionist, who scolded the resident for cutting the end too round, for pulling with the wrong suture (including a pedantic lecture on the physics of force), and for not having good technique in pushing the needle through the skin. I’d never before heard a grown man chewed out for not doing his homework. I was embarrassed for the doctor. But from their point of view, I wasn’t there. All they saw was an arm and green sheets. Often even when people can see me, I manage to be invisible: I see more, this way.

So they finished suturing and started undraping me before they got the bandage on. I started to get up, and they told me to wait as they put some gauze and a clear adhesive patch covering the whole thing. This oxygen-permeable membrane is certainly new since my last surgery, in the early 1980’s. No cumbersome wrap of bandages was necessary

I stepped easily off the operating table and back to the padded throne, and was wheeled back to the cubicle. Karen was retrieved from the waiting room, and we sat for a while, waiting for discharge. I felt like I was sobering up quickly. But I was certainly hazy, and glad that Karen was there to hear the post surgical directives. My arm didn’t hurt at all; the local was very effective.

When they came in with the discharge papers, I was ready to go. I asked to use the restroom, and they let me. We discussed the necessity of the ceremonial wheelchair as I walked, and pirouetted to walk backwards, and then ducked into the restroom. It is good to have dancer reflexes. But they were adamant about wheeling me out. One nurse rolled me down the hall and elevator, and out to the door while Karen got the car. I grew tired of sitting, and the nurse reluctantly let me stand up. She guarded me like a wary physical therapist as I rose, then stayed close to me as I walked out the door, and waited. When Karen arrived, the nurse escorted my to the car door. She was taking no chances. It was about 2:00 as we drove the mile or so to South Grand.

First we picked up my meds at our local pharmacy: A prophylactic antibiotic and Percoset. I rarely use pain pills, and was feeling fine at the time. But I figured that I might use the latter as a sleep aid, at least the first night. We stopped in next door to the pharmacy to chat with our investment banker, and then walked a block to use a coupon for lunch at Qudoba. I was feeling a little dissociated, but not dizzy, nor in pain. It seemed about as traumatic at that point as getting a large filling in a tooth.

Once home, I settled in front of Roku for the remains of the day. Not a movie, just old TV shows like Ally McBeal and Cheers. We don’t have cable or satellite, so Netflix feeds my video addiction. After a few hours, the local anesthetic wore off, and I began to see the wisdom of pain meds. Each time I’d shift, my arm kersploded with a bright flash of unpleasantness. I did resist the oxycodone till bedtime by holding the arm very still as much as possible. Owy. Only woke a few times in the night.

So now, a few days later, I unveil my new dermal embellishment:

Melanoma: 14 stitches for an odd mole

Half a Century

The object at hand is a memento of my first breath, 600 months ago. Shown here are a few distinctive items from a pile my mother had collected and stashed away, and I discovered after her death.

Click to Enlarge

I was born on the day of the Bay of Pigs Invasion. Back then there were no weather satellites, no weather radar, no mobile phones, nor email. “Cable” meant sending a telegram, a less expensive and more reliable alternative than a long distance phone call. A letter cost 4¢ by ground, and air mail was extra. Here are congratulations from Germany, Israel and New York. And I have no idea if this birth certificate would be official enough to satisfy doubters.

The reverse of the Pet Milk stork card is revealing of the era when men were birthday bystanders:

“Congratulations, Dad!
To see your baby, please present this souvenir card at the nursery window.
Hold card against window so nursery nurse can see the name.
Please return card to mother’s bedside.”

But my purpose in this post is to observe some things of interest in the past half century.

Click to Enlarge

I was too young to notice when the first man went into space, but I stayed up late to watch the live broadcast of Armstrong stepping down from the Lunar Module. Billionaires can now buy a ride into space, but few bother. America has apparently passed the baton to Europe, Japan, and China as the rulers of space.

I remember fallout drills, and actually saw “Duck and Cover” in school. Everyone worried about radiation on a daily basis, but hadn’t heard of cholesterol. Guess which one kills 1,000 times as many people as the other?

One of my teachers was so used to the original Pledge of Allegiance that she would occasionally leave out the “Under God” that had recently been inserted in the middle of “One Nation Indivisible” when we did the daily ritual. She also showed us the proper way to stand from when she was in school. See The Changing Recipe of Pleasure Lesion Stew for a surprising picture.

In the last five decades organ transplants went from science fiction, to an abomination against God that should be outlawed, to a rare and expensive major surgery, to a fairly common procedure that anyone might expect. Drivers licenses (at least in my state) have a donor form. Mine is signed. Is yours?

As I grew up, vacuum tubes gave way to transistors and then integrated circuits. Several technological inventions in the last half century have changed society. I mean, really altered the ways in which people interact.

  • The Pill made it possible for women to have a career and social life without either a husband or celibacy, so now women are almost half of the workforce. It also changed the point of dating. Girls no longer consider finding a husband their only goal, and mostly not their primary one.
  • The rapidly evolving WWWeb allows people to  interact in many new ways for both business and social purposes. One minor sign: Video phones and teleconferencing are no longer solely toys of millionaires and super-geeks. It is now fairly common for people to work from home.
  • Cell phones mean that no one has to make social plans in advance, nor wait by a phone. The world is un-tethered! And you can’t get away from the office!
  • Between the web and cell phones, privacy is dying. This is inevitable. As new generations grow up with ubiquitous communication, everything they think and do is broadcast and stored. Much like after the Kinsey Reports, as everyone begins to notice how many others share their own private thoughts and behaviors, guilt will recede.
  • The web has also killed the publishing and copyright models of the 16th through 20th centuries, in much the same way that Gutenberg changed the previous setup. Music, text, and video is now cheaper to share than gum. There is still a crying need for editors and librarians, to polish and organize the flood of new and traditional media. This change is ongoing, and we still don’t know how it will settle out. But historians will mark its genesis in my lifetime.
  • Containerization (that was just taking hold in my childhood) now makes goods from the far side of the world price competitive with local products. “Imported” now rarely means rare or posh. And the improved communications infrastructure allows many jobs to be moved around the world to find cheaper labor. It is truly becoming a unified world economy.

Some things have not changed much during my life.

  • Personally owned motor cars are still the major influence in the planning of transportation and towns. Pubic transit infrastructure in most cities has declined as a result. But it shows signs of returning in the next half century as the cost of extracting fuel rises.
  • The price of a gallon of gas is still about half the cost of a movie ticket and about the same as a fast food meal. No change over the ten presidential administrations that I’ve experienced.
  • Men still wear pants, although now women also do, without undue notice.
  • People still mostly work 40 hour weeks, although now it takes two working adults to support most households.
  • People used to get their news from the newspaper with whose editorial slant they least disagreed. Now they get their news from the video and web columnists with whom they almost perfectly agree. Maybe this belongs in the “changed” section. Human nature hasn’t changed, but the media are much better positioned to pander to it.

So a half century gives me some personal perspective from which to view history and humanity. Or at least the illusion that I have it.

Banking on My Heritage

This object today was my mother’s coin bank. This is a promotional product from her father’s place of business. His branch of the then-nationalized bank, Die Sparkasse der Stadt Berlin, was in a trendy new west county suburb of Berlin as the Third Reich rose from the ashes of a defeated and crippled nation.

Photographically Unwrapped, Click to Enlarge

My grandfather Otto was not really a banker; he was a calculator. He sat at one desk in a large room full of desks and calculated columns of numbers, like interest payments and account balances. He’d run his finger down a column and write the sum. Yes, I am descended from math geeks on both sides.

What really impressed my mother as a little girl (when she went with him to work) was the vertical people conveyor they used as a worker’s elevator in the 1930’s. It was a continually running vertical belt of person-sized platforms in a shaft that you step quickly onto and off of as it reaches or clears your floor. I’d put a picture of one here if I could find one.

I never met my grandfather. His asthma, quick wits, and connections kept him away from the front during the war. He become a bicycle courier when the banks (and all non-essential business in town) closed, as the war drew to its by-then inescapable conclusion. But Allied heavy artillery disassembled him and his bike near the center of town within a week of V.E. day. At least he went quickly while doing something useful. My mother found out months later, when the Soviets allowed her to return to what was left of her hometown.

Mom managed to keep this bank as a memento. The Allied soldiers who occupied her home had left it behind, along with the other things that were not valuable or particularly portable. She carefully packed it from place to place in postwar Germany for a decade, and then brought it to the U.S. where it survived a few more moves before she settled down. She gave it to me when I was almost old enough to understand that it was precious to her. I’d guess about half of the dents and scratches were my doing, from when I was small.

So today’s Object At Hand is a souvenir from one of my ancestors.

Discarding an Era

About 3 years ago, I pondered disposing of a certain box of papers that I’ve been keeping for decades.  Reluctant Admission of Obsolescence is the post I’d written.

Today, I finally decided to go through it one more time, and get rid of it. Or most of it. Today’s Object At Hand is the relatively thin pile that I decided to keep a while longer. This is merely a representative sample from a full file box.

What we have here is a short stack of folders containing some documentation and notes, some disks of programs and data, and a 30′ roll of a program listing. All the equipment involved is completely obsolete, the specific computer languages are no longer used, and the companies for which most of these projects were done no longer exist.

So, why do I keep these mementos?

Perhaps because I am officially a codger. “I remember when” we used assembly language. Higher level languages (Fortran, Pascal, HP-Basic) properly used line numbers and GOTO’s. The worst was having to program in relay logic for conveyor controls. Yes, diagrams of electro-mechanical circuits as a programming language. I decided to write a program to write the relay logic for me, from a simple set of rules. Had I patented and published that tool, I could’a been well off back then. But I was always writing tools to make my jobs easier.

“I remember when” floppy disks were actually floppy and could store between 140 KB and 360KB, depending on formatting and how new the drive was. Microsoft was a new contender in the systems and languages market for small computers. This code ran on a Hewlett-Packard massive 728 KB RAM 9816 computer using a Motorola processor that ran rings around Intels offerings. I also wrote code for several proprietary industrial and lab boxes that few would have heard of, even back then.

Printouts were either slow, noisy 8-pin dot-matrix, or (as shown here) a fancy, modern thermal printer. Thermal was fast (for the time) and quiet. But it fades, like memory. And the cheaper paper came in rolls instead of fan-fold.

It was an exciting time to be a geek. I eagerly read Byte magazine, and Computer Shopper. The latter was only a hundred pages when I started, and had actual articles and reviews. By the early 1990’s it was closing in on 1,000 pages of ads every month. I did order a 12 MHz 80286 IBM-AT clone with a huge 20 MB hard disk for under $2,000 for the company  in 1987. The Apple Lisa cost more and did less. The more powerful Commodore Amiga was mis-marketed; it could have been a serious third party as Apple and Microsoft rose from the chaos that was the small computer market.

There was no internet, but I had CompuServe. They charged $6/hr and no monthly fee, back then. But modems were only up to 1200 baud (0.00012 MB/s). It was text only.

Actually, the interesting part of the pile is a collection of minutes and memos from board meetings as the company imploded under (what I now recognize as) conflicting styles of mismanagement. Those notes are hilarious, in retrospect. Fresh out of school I learned how to run a start-up into the ground. Although technically a Vice President, I was actually just an engineer; was neutral and safe from the political machinations that chewed up the bosses. As it turned out,  I worked for a couple of months without pay. But it was interesting.

I guess that the object lesson is that I treasure learning experiences. These mementos remind me of my early heyday in that era when computer literati were a small club.

An Odd Number

I recently had jury duty. The number on my badge is one of the evocative ones, and made me think of a souvenir that was available in the gift shop in the building where my cousin used to work. Today’s object is that little pewter pin that I decided to wear above my badge while on duty.

911 badge and mementoMy pewter pin is not really the focal object. It was evoked by the the number.  The number is actually the object of interest.

This prime number. The sequence of digits that the FCC decreed in the 1970’s to herald and imply a call of distress via telephone, like “SOS” (di-di-dit da-da-dah di-di-dit) was the distress call of the telegraph. This number even visually resembles the former towers that come to every American’s mind when they hear the number. I wonder if the attackers considered any of this when choosing the date nine years ago.

The number has almost religious significance in our culture. Although most of the court folk — lawyers, clerks, fellow jurors — hailed me as “nine-eleven”, but one particular sheriff called out this, and only this, three digit number as three individual digits: “Nine-one-one”.

My cousin is fine. He got a different job after the first serious attack on those buildings in 1993.