Oldskooler Ramblings

the unlikely child born of the home computer wars

Archive for the ‘Sociology’ Category

Hello Again Everybody

Posted by Trixter on November 15, 2009

Exactly one year ago, I attempted to change my entire life to get ready for my 20th-year New Trier Class of ’89 high school reunion.  Brought on by conflicting emotions of wanting to be accepted and faint memories of truly good times, my head was swimming in thoughts like:

“I’m at a good place in my life right now, so I wouldn’t feel ashamed to attend.”

“Some of my old friends will be there, and it will be great to catch up.”

“Hey, I still have all my hair and none of it is gray; maybe if I lose a few pounds I can look closer to how people remember me.”

I can already sense what you’re thinking, and you’re right, but I went ahead with the plan anyway.  I joined Weight Watchers, and worked up the courage to look for a new job that would advance my career while being rewarding at the same time.  Lost 30 pounds.  Got the new job.  Mission accomplished.  Well, the reunion is right around the corner — and I will not be attending.  Why?

While I have some genuinely fond memories of both high school and the friends I met there, it became increasingly clear towards the end (this is the obvious part) that, 20 years later, I was still chasing feelings of inadequacy.  New Trier was (and might still be) one of the most competitive public schools in America, with more than 80% of students scoring well above the national average during the time I went there.   (The top 1/4th of my class had a weighted GPA of 3.9, and the top 1/10th had a weighted GPA of 4.6 which sounds impossible until you realize their entire coursework consisted of AP classes.)  It was one of the largest suburban public schools of the time, with a total student population of nearly 3800 when I attended.  My graduating class was over 800 students, nearly all of them grossly better than I was in almost every area of academia.  And in my head, then and now, I was trying to be accepted by everyone I personally knew, usually failing at the same time.  That’s not healthy.

I asked friends for advice on whether or not I should attend, and got good advice.  When asking ‘shouldn’t I go to catch up with old friends, etc.?’ the responses were along the lines of “Isn’t that what facebook is for?” or “You knew them for four years, then didn’t talk to them for twenty; why do you want to go again?” or “My reunion consisted of all the jocks and cheerleaders hanging out with each other while a few people sat alone at tables — just like high school!!”, etc.  The most humbling reply was from a friend who lives within driving distance:  “You don’t need a reunion to catch up with me; stop by any time.”

They’re all correct.  You can never go back, and in my case, I shouldn’t want to go back.  Still, in my head, it stings.

Many of my fellow classmates have gone in enviable directions.  Without naming names(*):

  • Our class valedictorian (and a friend of mine) went to Harvard and then scored in the financial industry in the 1990s
  • My first girlfriend became a Rhodes scholar and got her doctorate in a literary field and now lives in the UK
  • One friend who was always a better programmer than me leapfrogged me entirely by becoming an electrical engineer who also did low-level interfaces for embedded systems (some medical, I believe)
  • Another friend got her masters in environmental engineering and is now a director at a California water company, championing water quality
  • One of my oldest friends (even before we attended high school) entered one of the most selfless professions and became an educator (say what you want, that takes dedication and cajones)
  • My senior prom date got her doctorate in a musical field and has composed and performed music heard by hundreds of thousands people
  • One ludicrously talented composer and performer made the leap to Hollywood and married a brilliant mathematician (and actress)

…and the list goes on.  Compared to them, I could feel like a failure.

But I’ve done well too, in my own way.  There is a dumb yet succinct saying that goes “The only person who can make you angry is you.”  It took me a long time to realize that applies to how you feel good about yourself as well.  So here’s where I bring the reunion to me, and tell any fellow Trevians who happen to catch this blog post how I’ve been doing:

So that’s me since high school in a nutshell.  Nice to see you again.

In honor of the positive times I had at New Trier, I’ve done two things.  First, I’ve uploaded some photos of me during that time with friends to facebook, and I’ve tried to tag them where possible.  (They should be viewable even if you don’t have a facebook account.)  Secondly, and of substantially more interest to my typical nerdly blog readers, I’ve made available a transcription of the New Trier High School Fight Song played at every home game — as rendered by Music Construction Set running on a Tandy 1000 in loving 3-voice dampened square waves.  Seriously.

Hey, I’ve still got my hair.  That’s gotta count for something.

Jim, seperated by 20 years

Jim and Jim^2, separated by 20 years

Whoa — is it me, or did it just get fatter in here?

(*) Names available upon request

Posted in Family, Lifehacks, Sociology, Uncategorized | 15 Comments »

Voter’s Remorse

Posted by Trixter on November 3, 2008

Nothing upsets me more than political discourse.  And, with that sentence, I have immediately alienated approximately half of my readership — which naturally upsets me more.

Every four years, Americans put themselves through hell trying to elect someone whom they can come to terms with.  There is no perfect candidate; there is no best match (even Mondale got six electoral votes).  I am reminded of Robin Williams appearing on Letterman in 1988 shortly before the election, trying to decide who to vote for:  He likened Bush and Dukakis to a Ford Pinto and a Suzuki Samurai:  One blows up; the other rolls over — so which car do you feel comfortable driving?  I would rather walk, thank you.  But stating that publically gets you treated like a terrorist.  Celebrities mocking you into voting does not help.

This year’s election has many facets, but the most dividing issue in my neck of the woods is war: Defense spending, the Iraq war, the military, etc.  You either believe that attacking threats abroad is necessary, or you believe that it is wrong to pre-emptively strike first.  That’s pretty much it; there’s no gray area.  I mean, sure, there is a gray area, and it’s okay to put yourself in it, but you’d never know it from listening to both sides.

It doesn’t upset me that people choose opposite from me on issues; everyone is free to believe what they want.  What upsets me is how intolerant they are of my position.  In the last week, I have heard some of the most spiteful, pretentious, and downright sarcastic language regarding any political position I may or may not hold; from coworkers, random strangers, even members of my family.  Some of it is motivated by fear — biologically, a great motivator; intellectually, a terrible motivator.  Much of it is motivated by wealth.  Unfortunately, some of it is motivated by race.  It’s all terrible.  If voting for our government is such a gift, why are we made to feel worthless for expressing what direction we want to cast ours?

From now on, I’m keeping my political opinions to myself.  Never before have I been so maliciously scarred for exercising a basic right.

Posted in Sociology, Uncategorized | 5 Comments »

Utterly random observations

Posted by Trixter on June 23, 2008

I had to kill a mouse this morning before leaving for work; our young male cat catches things outside and brings them inside, and must have forgotten to deal with this one.  It was a young, small mouse, and it was really fast; I did my best to try to trap him such that I could grab his tail and remove him while still alive, but after almost losing him several times I just had to end it quickly to prevent him from entering the bowels of the house.  I am still saddened by this hours later, and I wonder why.  We kill insects and plants daily, sometimes without knowing it; this doesn’t trouble me, but killing a mammal does?  We have the largest cattle rendering industry in the world and yet I am bothered by killing a mouse.  What a screwy society.

George Carlin died today.  This is unrelated to the above discussion, I assure you.

I have reached an epiphany regarding weight loss:  I think it’s truly time to start losing weight when the distance of your belly from your waist exceeds the length of your junk.  (Applicable to men only, of course — I have no idea what the corresponding metric would be for women.)

Despite the above ruminations, I am not depressed.  Just introspective.

Posted in Sociology, Uncategorized, Weight Loss | 2 Comments »

Black Hole

Posted by Trixter on January 23, 2008

I am smarter than most people. I am aware how very conceited and pretentious that sounds, but it’s true. And it sucks.

“Boo hoo, poor me,” I hear you say. Yeah, I get it. It still sucks. It results in “conversations” with people where the exchange is typically something like this:

Hey <person>, you can’t perform process X without first processing Y.

“Why not?”

Because you don’t know what procedure to follow until you have the results from Y.

“But I always follow schedule A to process it!”

(let out a sigh) Without checking the results of Y?

“It’s always worked before…”

But that’s a coincidence. I’m amazed the service is still up. You really should read the documentation and follow the proper process.

“But I like my eggs sunny-side up!”

If that last line doesn’t make any sense, it shouldn’t. That is quite seriously how much of my conversations have gone today. You try to have a rational interaction with someone, and they let out a statement that so utterly and completely misses the point, misses all points ever made, that your brain completely blows the stack and dumps core.

The frequency of this happening at my workplace is increasing over time. I am beginning to think that it’s a natural defense of stupid people — to feign ignorance until the protagonist at a loss for words.

There are days when dealing with people becomes an exercise in endurance, where you struggle to communicate basic tenements of logic in a futile effort to get something done. These days I can handle, as I am fairly patient. But then there are days where you are clutching to a ledge by your fingernails struggling to avoid getting sucked into a black hole of mass idiocy. These are the days I can’t handle, and must resort to playing loud repetitive 1990s acid house in my earbuds to drown out the frustration.

I wish I could expand on the kind of day I am having in glorious sarcastic detail, but I can’t, since a few co-workers read my blog and I wish to keep my job position. At least I have my broken XT keyboard to “play” with tonight after the family is asleep, which should take my mind off of things.

Or a game, I suppose. But that wouldn’t be very productive, and after today, I sure as hell need to get something done.

Posted in Sociology | 4 Comments »

Coming out of the closet

Posted by Trixter on December 20, 2007

No, I’m not gay. But I feel as if I can relate to the GLBT community because I subscribe to a belief system that usually changes how people treat me once they know it. I rarely open up to people about it for fear of being ostracized, and of ruining friendships or business relationships. Like being gay, my belief system is a personal choice and doesn’t hurt anyone, yet half of the people I open up to seem threatened by it and never treat me the same way afterwards.

I’m tired of hiding it so I’m going to get it off my chest and be done with the misplaced panic and frustration. My belief system is simply this: I don’t have a belief system. I’m an atheist.

Previously I would only tell people that I knew (from personal experience) were kind, forgiving, and open-minded. But even for such people (especially the devout religious), it’s harsh, so I sometimes soften the blow with a quick follow-up that I’m “really more of a skeptic”, and just haven’t been presented any credible proof that deities exist. If I’m lucky, they accept that and move on, probably with an internal understanding that “I’ll find my proof some day and join the rest of the population in believing in [insert personal deity here].” If I’m unlucky, I’ll have to field questions about the Bible. And then there are days where I have made a horrible calculation in judgment about a person, for which I am sent a barrage of “scientific” proof that $DEITY exists that I am expected to comment on. (These usually start with The Lost Day and quickly go downhill from there.)

Being an atheist is becoming easier in an increasingly modern world, but I can’t shake the feeling that society still has many years to go before athiests are treated fairly. Unlike similar issues of sexual and racial tolerance, there is no modern social identity of a “defense” for atheism. For example: If you discriminate against a minority race, you’re shunned by society as a racist. Same goes for discrimination against sexual orientation; you’re seen as a “gay basher” and similarly shunned. But tell people you’re an atheist, and it’s open season, no consequences. I have even had the pleasure of having my character questioned, I swear I am not making this up, by a gay, religious, African-American. The irony of the event was not lost on me, I assure you.

There are no feel-good Lifetime Original Movies for people who come out of the closet about being atheist. There are no moments over the Thanksgiving turkey where a family member proclaims, “I’m proud of you for being true to yourself.” Instead, it usually goes something like this:

“Why don’t you believe in [insert personal deity here]?” Because I haven’t been presented credible evidence that your deity exists. I’m a practical, scientific person; I usually require proof of something before I subscribe to it.

“What would it take for you to believe in [insert personal deity here]?” A giant flaming hand that lowers out of the sky and points directly at me, while a thunderous booming voice fills the heavens with a single “Believe in me!” (That’s not a joke answer — I’m being serious.)

“How would you know that such proof was ‘real’ and not faked?” In the case of a giant flaming hand coming out of the sky, would it matter? Either it would be true (ie. $DEITY exists), or it would be a truly phenomenal feat of engineering, optics, and science. Both explanations would warrant unconditional worship!

“What about the [insert religious text here]? Isn’t that proof that [insert religious text’s deity here] exists?” Nope. Text without verification is fiction. Can you prove that the events in the text actually happened?

Not coincidentally, this is the most common place for the conversation to break down. How they react to that question is a good barometer of how much longer I will be able to talk to this person; hopefully measured in decades, but sometimes only in days. When it goes bad, it goes in multiple directions, none of them salvageable:

“What do you tell your kids?” I tell them the truth: Some people believe in a single God (with optional messiah in human form). Others don’t, preferring instead to believe in multiple gods. Still others eschew deities entirely, choosing to hold belief systems in reincarnation, nature, crystals, inner Chi, the Force, or the Flying Spaghetti Monster. And some don’t believe in any of that. I trust my children to be intelligent individuals who will research any religion or belief system that interests them. It’s completely their choice; as long as they remain intellectually curious, I am satisfied.

“Christianity is the most popular religion in the world.” No, it’s the third most popular. Hindus and Muslims have you beat.

“You’re going to Hell for your heresy.” If I believed in Hell, I guess I’d be scared. Got any travel brochures?

“If you don’t believe in Heaven, aren’t you afraid of dying?” Yes, but my fear of dying is the inverse of a love of life. It is the most amazing and wonderful opportunity we will ever have, this existence, and I find at least one gift in every day. It saddens me to know not everyone can do the same.

So. I’m an atheist. I’m out of the closet.

I hope we can still be friends.

Posted in Sociology, Uncategorized | 14 Comments »

24 hours of MTV

Posted by Trixter on August 2, 2006

Well, there were a lot of repeats on the first day of MTV, but I guess that’s to be expected for the first day of any cable channel. (For a particularly heinous example, try the first week of the Sci-Fi channel — it was a handful of Paramount movies in heavy rotation, mostly “The Sword and the Sorcerer” and “Krull”.) And with all these repeats, two artists saw even more repeated airplay:

  • Elvis Costello
  • REO Speedwagon

Like The Pretenders, Elvis Costello’s music holds up very well after 25 years, also sounding somewhat timeless. REO Speedwagon’s music, OTOH, is almost completely forgettable. It took me around 3 viewings of “Ride The Storm Out” before I realized I’d already seen it.

Was watching all 24 hours worth it? No. It would have been worth it if it were really the first real 24 hours, VJs, commercials, and all. But it was cool to see the video for The Ramones’ “Rock And Roll High School”, which features Johnny Ramone in drag. 1981 was the height of the arcade coin-op craze, so I logged two instances of Space Invaders (The Buggles’ “A Plastic World” and something else I can’t remember) and also Super Road Champions (Nazareth ‘s “Holiday”). And Genesis’ “Turn It On” sounds better with each listen (the video, not the studio version — the video version is slightly faster and lengthier).

Posted in Sociology | Leave a Comment »


Posted by Trixter on August 1, 2006

I’m not going to let it get me down, but oh my god what a complete disappointment the “first day of MTV programming” is on VH1 Classics. They’re showing the videos only!! The whole point of watching the first day of programming, I assumed, was so you could see the original VJs, see what non-commercial filler was like, see the “I want my MTV” promos… But no, VH1 Classics is showing the videos only. Yes, there are occaisional VJ clips, but they are all 15 seconds long or less, and have graphics and music overlaid onto them — useless. There are some retrospectives from artists, but they are presented in an incredibly annoying “I’m in a fake television with fake static noise and fatty scanlines” floating graphic.

Normally I don’t swear in print, but this situation warrants it: What the fuck? What is the point of advertising “the first day of MTV” when it clearly isn’t? What a major letdown. Maybe someday The Internet Archive will have the real programming.

Oh well, I still have fond memories of other early cable television properties to sustain me, like early Nickelodeon. The interstitial non-commercial filler was presented like a real nickelodeon, with most of the “talent” being a mime acting something out. I can remember Pinwheel, the only show on in the morning which lasted for 4 long hours and featured international cartoons, puppets, and other kid drivel. But my standout memories of early Nick are the ultimate example of low-budget cable television in 1980: Reading comic books aloud while the camera pans around the panels ala Ken Burns. I swear I am not making this up! Even better, the majority of the comics were, get ready for it… Swamp Thing! And this was a channel meant for children! (Hint to the comic clueless: Swamp Thing has never ever been appropriate for children.)

Ironically, I have those cheezy memories to thank for getting me into arguably Alan Moore’s best work: I picked up a Swamp Thing in 1985 out of curiousity, remembering the panels I’d seen, and it was Swamp Thing #35, where Moore really started picking up the story. I then collected all 16 Miraclemen, and of course Watchmen. So, thank you early low-budget cable television!

Update:  You can indeed see the first full hour online at music.mtv.com, but it’s a tiny flash DRM’d thing.  Geezus.

Posted in Sociology | 6 Comments »

Halfway there

Posted by Trixter on July 31, 2006

35 years ago, I was born on August 1st. 25 years ago, also on August 1st, something else was born: MTV. And 11 days after that, the IBM PC was
introduced. Is it any wonder that I enjoy blending all three together?

As I reach what I consider the halfway point in my life, I am surprised that I’m not more depressed about it: I’ve graduated from the cool marketing group
(18-34) to the latter, less hip group (35-49). I’ve gained back all the weight I lost from the beginning of the year. I haven’t saved up enough for my
kid’s college, or even my own retirement. I have more unfinished projects than finished ones. I’m in debt up to my hairline.

And yet, I’m not depressed. I can indeed say that I’ve had my 15 minutes of fame (properly adjusted for inflation). I met the girl of my dreams, married
her, and we’re still together with two great kids to show for it. I’m in a career where the work is related to my hobbies and, hold onto your seats, is
fun to do. I make a decent living. I have a roof over my head and transportation. And that hairline I’m in debt up to? It’s still where it was when I
graduated high school.

VH1 Classics is re-running the first 24 hours of MTV ever broadcast starting at midnight tonight (eastern). Back in 1981, at the tender age of 10, my
father made sure I was up to see it. As nerdy and un-cool as my father is, he recognized the importance of the event, and he has a pretty good track
record: He made sure I would remember the bicentennial by having us dress up in our Sunday best and waving flags and bells in the middle of the afternoon
on our front porch. He also made sure I was up to witness the first ever Space Shuttle launch. I’ve never forgotten all three, and for that I’m grateful.

Life is good. I want my MTV. We can keep going.

Posted in Sociology | Leave a Comment »

Inanimate Empathy

Posted by Trixter on January 28, 2006

My very first digital camera broke today: A Casio QV-3000EX, purchased in early 2001. The second 3-megapixel camera ever on the market, it took brilliant outdoor shots in automatic mode, and took generally stellar pictures if you knew how to use its manual settings (f-stop, apeture, shutter speed, and more). See for yourself; here are some shots taken in full automatic mode:

Lee and Alexis HaskellJohn, Sam, and Max Leonard

I took the time to learn a few things about amateur photography and how to use some of the manual settings, and it took some the best 3MP shots I’ve ever done:

Tree In FogChicago At Dusk1-minute chickKite in Sky

I loved this camera. I mean, I really got to know everything about it, what its strengths were, weaknesses, and more. when I put it in the trash, I felt like I was burying a friend.

And right now I’m thinking, why? Why am I personifying this camera like it’s a friend that I’ve lost? Why do we, as a society, project empathy onto inanimate objects like they’re people? Several times while writing this post, I wanted to use terms like “my camera gave up the ghost” or “it finally died”. I felt strongly enough about my first computer that I wrote fiction from its point of view. People call ships and planes “old girl” or even actual female pronouns like “old bessy” or “nellie”. It’s fascinating, and probably answered in a psychology book somewhere.

I’m going to replace it with a used model, probably off of ebay. I wonder if it will mean as much to me as the original did.

Posted in Sociology, Technology | 4 Comments »