First to the Party

Imagine you were going to a party where there was a door prize for one person who comes. The person is chosen via a random number, so it could be the 5th arrival or it could be the 28th arrival, you won’t know the number until they announce it.

You and your brother decided to go together, and that driving together is a good idea because the party is pretty far from your place, so the drive is long. There’s plenty of time together in the car to laugh and joke and smack each other with normal sibling playfulness, but eventually you reach the party and walk together up to the house.

You’re about to walk through the front door when someone leans out of the window, grabs your brother around the waist and drags him inside before you. A few seconds later, they grabs you and roughly drag you through the window after him. Dazed, confused, yanked into this party, you stare and look around. It’s raucous, bright, and loud, and everyone is cheering for your brother, who was the winner of the door prize.

The fact that he won means that people are congratulating him all night, virtually ignoring you. You left at the same time, you traveled all the way to the party together, you walked up to the door together. But at the last minute someone– seemingly at random– yanked your brother through a window a few seconds before you, so he was the magical winning number, while you are basically forgotten.

And people continue to congratulate him for winning a long time after… for years, in fact.

This, apparently, is the situation that my daughter has to look forward to.

He’s first because he’s a boy

The analogy is not perfect, but it’s close. Twins, conceived at the same time, carried by their mother for the same time, and delivered in an emergency cesarean where a doctor pulled Adrian out of the womb mere seconds before Cecilia.

Yet, a year later, so many people who meets the twins comments that he must have come first, because he’s so much bigger.

Or because he’s a boy.

Now, look, I love people. I try to see the best in people. I tend to give people an amazing amount of benefit for whatever doubt I might have. But I’m very close to smacking the shit out of the next vapor-minded culture zombie who assumes that Adrian was born first because he’s bigger or because he’s a boy, or the next person who calls Cecilia “his baby sister” or calls him “her big brother.”

[pullquote]Boys usually come first[/pullquote]

Baby sister. Cute. Did I mention that they are twins? Because, seriously, he’s not “her big brother,” he can’t be, because they are fucking twins.

And it’s not just a few people here or there. Here is a small selection of things from the section of my always present notebook where are mark the “are you serious?” shit that I hear: ((as an aside, every one of these particular selections was said by a woman, which makes the whole situation even more tragic.))

  • “Boys usually come first”
  • “Who was born first? He was, right?” Why do you say that? “He’s so much bigger.”
  • “He came first, didn’t he?” Why do you say that? “He’s much more active and engaged.” (So my wife’s womb was like The Hunger Games and he was just strong enough to claw his fucking way out first?).
  • “You came first, so you could protect your little sister, didn’t you?” (Obviously, he can’t protect her from stupidity…)
  • “Who came first?” Neither, they were born at the same time. They’re twins. “But one of them had to come first, it was him, wasn’t it.” Why do you say that? “Oh, I can tell” (Followed by no explanation of what magical psychic ability gives them that information)
  • “Who came first?”Neither, they are twins, they were born at the same time.“Of course, but who came first.”Does it matter? I don’t think thirty seconds makes a difference?“Oh, you’d be surprised.”

Surprise!

I’d be surprised?

I am surprised. Frankly, I’m flabbergasted. I’m so completely mind-numbingly fucking blown away by the insidious nature of our cultural misogyny that I’m starting to lose faith in people. ((You know what I do? I lie. When people make the assumption that he was born first, I lie and say that she was. I’ve noticed something about this (and, again, I keep a notebook): When we say he was born first, there are good reasons– he’s bigger, he’s more active, he’s a boy. But when we say she was born first, the conversation just… stops.))

What, exactly, would I be surprised about? What is this magical difference there is in being born first? What can you tell me about the mysterious 22 seconds during which my son was outside the womb while his sister was still inside?

Because apparently I was thinking that he was bigger for the wrong reasons. Dumbass me was assuming that he is a male primate, who exhibits sexual dimorphism, and is therefore statistically more likely to be somewhat larger than a female of his exact same age.

A stupid reason, obviously.

[pullquote]Do we really want to live with women making the assumption that he obviously came first because he is a boy?[/pullquote]

For a while, I even wondered if she was smaller because she spent the first 7-8 months of her life barely being able to keep any food in her belly without throwing it up in a violent tsunami of milk and mucus. ((This is true, and was serious, as in “we brought her to specialists in another city because she lost enough weight that our doctors were seriously worried” serious.))

Nope. Not the reason that she is smaller at all.

Apparently, there is an undocumented period of rapid growth in the first 20 seconds of life.

…that only occurs in boys.

…and only if there is still another child in the womb.

…and only if that other child is a girl.

…and only if people are giant fucking vapor-minded culture zombies.

Because seriously, folks, are you really listening to yourselves? Are you taking even a split second to think about the words you are vomiting out of your drooling cake holes?

Even Candy Land is now sexy

I mean “He came first because he’s bigger” is already stupid enough, ((It’s really just as likely to be true as “He came first because I’m a vapor-minded culture zombie.”)) but do we really want to live with women making the assumption that he obviously came first because he is a boy? You’re actually okay with that assumption?

Girls come in last place

What is our culture telling us when people– when women– assume that the boy twin was born before the girl twin for no other reason than he is a boy? When people make such a big deal because they “know” he was born first? When we call a twin brother stupid shit like “the big brother” and say that the girl is “the little sister?” ((Disclaimer: I’ve said this last one once, and believe me when I say that I wanted to carve out my fucking trachea.))

I haven’t even really gotten into the violent, soul-sucking hell of sexualized toddler toys like sexy My Little Pony or sexy Candy Land – I haven’t even approached the part of the story her sole worth becomes A) meat pie, or B) homemaker (who’s still expected to perform the duties of a meat pie).

We’re still reading the first chapter of her life’s story, and it’s already apparent that Adrian– because he happens to be bigger, happens to be male, and happens to be more gregarious– is first to the cultural party while she is left out. ((Not to be left out of the hypersexualization game, he’ll be expected to have the perfect male physique as well)) He wins the prize, he gets all the congratulations, and people make vapor-minded comments like “it’s good she has a big brother to protect her.”

You know, it is good. Sadly, he can’t protect her from our culture, or from dumbass, misogynistic statements like the one you just made. She’s one year old, she can’t even walk or speak yet, and you’ve already made the assumption that she can’t possibly become a strong girl who will be able to take care of herself.

Fuck off, asshole.

First to the party

Having a daughter is depressing because it opens my eyes to a lot of shit that I– as a man, as “first to the party,” in a position wherein I walk with a cultural expectation of dominance– didn’t really see quite as well before.

In fact, the worst part of this is just that: I am a man– I’m fully ensconced in the gender that should not be able to see this– because I don’t have to. I love cheerleaders, I love women who ride bikes in skirts, I’m fully part of the reason there is sexual objectification, and this shit is so blatant that even I’m sitting here saying “Seriously? You’re gonna go there?

It makes me frustrated, it makes me angry, it really does make me want to bitch slap any vapor-minded culture zombie that speaks with my daughter. ((I want to state for the record that I’m not a bigot. I don’t have anything against vapor-minded culture zombies. I know lots of vapor-minded culture zombies, and they’re perfectly fine people. I just don’t want any of them talking to my daughter.)) I don’t want to live in a world where my daughter, before she can walk and speak, is already subjugated to a position of irrelevance. I don’t know what I’m going to do– what I can do! I’m essentially the enemy for fuck’s sake– to protect her, but I suspect that I’m going to teach her a lot about looking past what people say to what they mean, and looking past what they mean to whether they’re just an idiot or not. I don’t want to have to do that, I wish it were different, but it’s being proven to me that it’s not, and I want her to have the tools to know a vapor-minded culture zombie when she sees one.

Coda

Cecilia is not speaking yet, and I’m not going to pressure her about her first actual words, but if they were something like “Fuck patriarchy,” or “I support Pussy Riot,” it would make her daddy very proud. In fact, the night after I drafted this post’s original version, I had a dream that a high school Cecilia got suspended, and when I asked her why, she said:

“This boy was picking on Adrian and no-one picks on my brother, so I kicked him in the balls.”

That’d make me pretty damn proud.

Interview with a Programmer

My company, Qstream, is making a “Meet the People” page and sent around interview questions to all of us. Answering them was a more enjoyable process than I thought.

Strange as it sounds, it felt like I was being interviewed by someone like James Lipton, even though the questions were in an email and I just typed the answers.

Since I blog everything like this, and only a couple of the questions from each section will be used officially, I figured I’d post the complete set.

Business Questions

Q: What brought you to Qstream?

A: I was a consultant and not interested at all in becoming an employee. I enjoyed helping companies solve problems, and then moving on when the project was done. Working with the [then one person plus the CEO] engineering team proved to be the most fun I’d had in years, so when they made me an offer, I went against my standard practice and took it. I’m really glad I did.

Q: What is a cool project or problem you had to work through at Qstream?

A: Figuring out how to mine our data for useful analytics is one of those things that sounds really, really boring to anyone who doesn’t think it’s really, really cool.

Recently, I’ve also become a fan of making small upgrades to our software that have big, noticeable differences for users and the sales team. That really scratches my “like to help people” itch.

Q: What has surprised you the most about working at Qstream?

A: That I lucked out working with a group filled to the brim with such amazing people.

Well, that and really good tea.

Q: How do you make an impact at Qstream?

[pullquote]I mostly write on paper, but occasionally write things that make computers do stuff[/pullquote]

A: Originally, I tried to write every new person a letter, but I’ve fallen off the wagon on that one– mostly because it’s hard for me to feel genuine saying “hello person I don’t know yet, I’m glad your here.” So, I think I might write each person a letter after working with them for a while.

Q: What makes you excited to come to work every day?

A: My co-worker Barry Paul’s dog Bones. It gives an office a totally different feel to have a dog traipsing around and periodically saying ‘hi’ to you with its wet nose. Chewing through the telephone cord and eating my shoes was a bit frustrating, but he’s over that now. I’m very close to buying a dog because of Bones.

Just For Fun Questions

Q: What do you do when you’re not at work?

A: I’m mostly a writer, actually, and I’m even so geeky that I write everything with a fountain pen. One of my friends joked recently that I “mostly write on paper, but occasionally write things that make computers do stuff.”

I also love cycling, hiking, golf, martial arts, Irish flute, banjo, cider making, and lots of playing with my twins.

Dream pen: Namiki yew wood.

Q: What’s the next cool gadget you have your eye on to buy?

A: A really beautiful yew wood fountain pen by Namiki with a medium, italic nib in 18k gold.

As far as electronics/internet, I left Facebook years ago, and I’ve actually just gotten rid of my smartphone in yet another attempt to be more present. My gadgets these days are notebooks, good paper, beautiful inks, and fountain pens to write with. There’s really no experience quite as lovely as painting words with a proper pen.

Q: If you were stranded on a desert island, what three things would you need to have to survive?

  1. A Midori Traveler’s Notebook
  2. A $500 Nakaya fountain pen filled with ink
  3. An exceptionally large bottle filled with excellent rum.

(The bottle would, of course, deliver my incredibly well-written story when empty.)

Q: What six people (living or dead) would you invite to dinner? And why?

A: The answer to this question always changes, and will be different if I answer it tomorrow, but off the top of my head:

  1. Jesus. I’m not even a Christian, but he just seems like he’d make a really good drinking buddy and just be a really great guy all around. He’s not a deity to me, but I’m so intrigued by him as a person.
  2. Buddha. If I sat him next to Jesus, though, they’d probably just chat the night away and ignore everyone else, so he’d be at the other end of the table.
  3. Douglas Adams. Who would sit right next to Jesus, and probably make him laugh non-stop.
  4. My Father. Who died when I was much too young to realize, as bad of a husband as he was, what an amazing father he was.
  5. Dorothy Parker. Preferably before she got completely wasted. Her quick wit was amazing, but it could also get hurtful when she remembered her own pain.
  6. Wenjipahkeehlehkwe (Nora Thompson Dean). She was the last native speaker of my people’s language. The problem being that if she were there, I would probably ignore everyone else and just try to learn as much as possible.

Q: What’s the coolest blog/website that you follow?

A: XKCD. Geeky math and science comics FTW!

Q: What is your guilty pleasure?

A: Rum.

There’s something wonderful in sitting down alone, after everyone is in bed, and taking a sheet of nice paper and a fountain pen and writing a letter, or writing in my journal, or writing poetry or fiction– while sipping a small glass of excellently caramelized  rum.

I really love very good scotch too– in some ways, I love it more. But scotch is more of an intellectual investment. Drinking scotch is like talking to your genius philosopher uncle: It’s a great conversation, but you can’t do it for fun. Good rum is different, it’s like chatting with your friend through the night.

I’m probably not supposed to say “my guilty pleasure is booze,” but there you are. (In my defense, I’ve published fiction, poetry, and written almost 500 letters this year, so it’s not all lost drunken time.)

He was a geek first, and a hero second.

Q: Han Solo or James Bond – Who reigns supreme?

A: Neither, both are too cavalier about living dangerously.

Indiana Jones.

He’s a geeky college professor with a grudging second life protecting the artifacts he teaches about. If he had his way, he’d be living a boring life in front of a chalkboard at university.

I wish they filled out his non-adventure side more, actually. Having a character like that say “This is not what I want to be doing, I do it because I have to” is a quite wonderful way to build a hero.

This character, more than any other in fiction, helped me through my very awkward, geeky childhood. He’s was also more of my persona than I realized when I was a field geologist teaching undergrads. In fact, Dr. Jones still defines a lot of my aesthetic preferences. The clothes that I tend to gravitate towards, and even my notebooks and the leather satchel that I carry them in, they are all Indiana.

Q: What is a random fact about you that would surprise your co-workers?

A: When my wife and I got married in 2005, we chose the name “Metta” for our family, which means “Loving Kindness.”

I was born Pennington, and she Sladek. Women always feel obligated to change their name, and my name was picked at random by an escaped slave. We decided to chose a new name– what we wanted to present to the world as a family– with intention. That’s the name our children will inherit.

Q: What would you do if you won a million dollars?

A: I imagine that I’d do the same thing I am now. I can’t not work, so would at least have hobbies of programming and cider making– maybe more cider making than I do now.

Actually, the more that I think about it, it’s likely that I might invest it and live off the interest while spending most of my time writing and playing with my kids.

That’d be a pretty fun life.

Bouillon de Culture

Okay, since I was already here, and I always loved Inside the Actor’s Studio, I’ll also answer the ten questions that Bernard Pivot came up with for Bouillon de Culture, and that James Lipton always asked at the end of Studio.

Q: What is your favorite word?

A: Patience.

Q: What is your least favorite word?

A: Nigger.

Faggot is a close second. Unless you’re actually making a fire… in rural England… and it’s the middle ages.

Q: What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

A: Kindness and laughter, for all three. Not sarcastic or hurtful laughter.

Q: What turns you off?

A: The feeling that I’m an inconvenience/nuisance– which usually comes from within, but occasionally from another’s arrogance/ego.

Q: What is your favorite curse word?

A: Scheiße!

Q: What sound or noise do you love?

A: My twins giggling together.

I could really dig a life in a library…
fighting the forces of evil
…in tweed.

Q: What sound or noise do you hate?

A: Leaf blowers.

Q: What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?

A: Watcher. I’m a guy, so I can’t do the actual vampire hunting, but living in a library like Giles and helping out would be awesome.

Q: What profession would you not like to do?

A: I’ve done a crazy amount of different jobs. I can’t honestly think of one I’d never want to do, ever. You can always learn something, even if it’s just “how other people who do this job experience the world.” A couple days garbage collecting would probably give me a lot of empathy toward garbage collectors, so I can’t really think of anything.

Except that I do think I’d take Watcher over Vampire Hunter… given the choice.

Q: If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?

A: Just kidding!!

He’d bust out laughing hysterically, slapping his knee. Then he’d put his arm around me and hand me a glass of excellently caramelized rum.

There has got to be a lot of good rum in Heaven.

Dumbing down the news?

Today is the first day of the Oregon Public Broadcasting Radio (OPB) fund drive. ((We’re are members– In fact, I’ve been a pretty consistent member of an NPR affiliate since I was in high school)) This morning, they had a disappointing statement of their purpose in their opening.

“The new gets more and more complicated every day, government shutdowns, [etc]… You depend on OPB news to bring these stories down to a level you can understand.”

Wow, really?

Beyond being somewhat insulting, I think this is just wrong. I do not depend on OPB to “bring [the news] down to a level I can understand.” I don’t want OPB simplifying and dumbing down my news. I expect a simplification from Fox News and MSNBC, I emphatically do not want that from an NPR affiliate.

What I expect from any NPR station that they will– due to the necessity of time constraints– provide a précis of the news. The intent of any summary, however, is not to simplify the larger story’s content, but to distill the content into a smaller size– a smaller physical size, rather than a smaller cognitive size. Important is that this distillation contains the same relevant information of the original.

Distilling the news so that I can fit the summaries into the time constraints of my radio listening period? Yes, please. “Bringing it down to a level I can understand?” I can understand quite enough, than you very much.

The Best Company In The Universe

IMGVery periodically, I’ve written things like “companies should have friends” and various other topics centered around my wish that companies were less WalMart/Amazon and more “my friend Brian.” I find these things increasingly important in my life as our world gets ever bigger and more instant.

Today, I thought I’d praise what is currently on my list of awesome companies as literally the best company in the universe. ((For the reasoning behind my use of “literally” here, and the resulting hyperbole, watch Marriam-Webster associate editor Emily Brewster describe how James Joyce used the same word in Ulysses))

The various writers and other people who, for whatever absurd reason, follow me and my blog will know that I am an obsessive fountain pen user. I carry one with me everywhere, use them exclusively, and drool over new inks much more than I do over new ciders and sour beers.

Despite seeing fountain pen sales increasing annually at a surprising rate, ((Here’s a really good BBC article on “Why are fountain pen sales rising“)) I found it rather difficult to find a place to buy pens and supplies. I enjoy favoring my small, local stores (in my very small mountain town), but their selection of one pen (which, by the way, I did purchase) left a lot to be desired. So, I grudgingly struck out on the internet, barren wasteland of impersonal corporate greed that it is, sad that I couldn’t buy from a small family business.

The Undiscovered Company

“Family business” really means family business at The Goulet Pen Company

What I found was, amazingly, a small family business!

Called The Goulet Pen Company, it has nearly everything I could ever want in the world of pens, inks, and papers. More than that, this tiny company knocks the “How to be awesome” ball out of the park.

It’s a small company in Ashland, Virginia started by a guy with a hobby. ((Source for all this hearsay is on Goulet’s About Page)) Brian Goulet was a pen-turner who apparently got caught in his lathe and accidentally spun deeper and deeper into the world of pens, ink, fountain pens, and eventually, fine paper.

I’ve no idea what Brian’s real career goals were when this hobby overtook his life, but I’m glad he gave them up because the hobby turned business– co-run by his awesome programmer, accountant, manager, customer support, social media evangelist, how-the-hell-can-one-person-possibly-do-so-much wife, Rachel– is the best thing to happen to fountain pens since, well, ink. Brian and Rachel have managed to make very successful business out of a very specialized part of the market, and do so in a way that perfectly enhances why that market exists.

Pens and People

Allow me to wax philosophical for a moment and explain why I’m such a fan.

Fountain Pen Elegance

Fine paper, fountain pens, beautifully colored inks, all of these exist in a world where fastsuperficial, and replaceable are not the for-grated norm that they are in our digital lives. To write with a fountain pen is to fall in love with elegance, to accept a slower, more measured and mindful pace. Most importantly, it is a place where the focus naturally falls away from “information” and onto people.

That is exactly the experience you get with The Goulets. They have an incredible selection of pens and paper, of course, and their website ships just as fast as any other, sure. But then you get these wonderful hand-written notes with your order, little signs everywhere that this isn’t Amazon but, well, you’re friend.

Then there is the access. Few if any companies make themselves available the way Brian and Rachel do, with active social media accounts that are not merely used to blast out their latest sale. They engage us by having conversations and asking questions as much for their own curiosity and interest as to drive what they post about and sell. This is where the social rubber hits the road. I can’t find another company out there willing to personally answer hundreds of random questions from users by doing weekly videos. They’re really part of the community, active on The Fountain Pen Network, have about six blogs ((Okay, it’s really just one– but seriously, Ink Nouveau is like 6 blogs!)), and even have a video series podcast.

These are not stupid advertising “here’s why you should buy X product (from us)” videos. No, no. These are blog posts and videos by someone just as interested as you, who actually dives into the product for their own curiosity. You want to learn about an ink? Ask The Goulets. You want to know about a new notebook? The Goulets have probably put it through the ringer and will tell you what they don’t like, as much as what they do.

It’s almost as if The Goulet Pen Company is just a mistake. As if there were just these two people who wanted nothing more than just to be an incredible resource helping people like me learn about different pens, inks, and papers. They just accidentally built a company while they were doing it, and couldn’t shut it down because people like me would riot.

This is why I love the Goulets. They’re not a company so much as part of my fountain pen family. ((I’m starting to think that this is the “be awesome rather than market” strategy for success. I recently had a conversation about why I was so successful as a consultant when I did no marketing. I just liked talking to people, helping them out when it gained me nothing, and buying folks drinks. The fact that I liked being a nice, helpful person was better than any marketing because it was real, rather than… well… marketing.))

The Midori Example

Midori Traveler’s Notebook (Source: Ryan Scott)

Recently, I decided that I needed to get a different journal/notebook for everyday carrying. ((I may post on notebooks at some point. Suffice it to say that after 20+ years of trying different notebooks, I’ve slowly zeroed in on what constitute three different sets of characteristics– some mutually exclusive– that each comprise “the perfect notebook” for various situations. Until now, I’ve been unconvinced that it was possible to have them all in one. Apparently, it may be possible)) I stumbled across a lot of love for The Midori Traveler’s Notebook and decided to look into it. It’s incredibly expensive for a notebook, and is a rather bizarre shape, so I was trying to figure out both why it was so expensive and whether– given whatever those reasons are, and its odd shape– it would be a good fit for me. So, what did I do? Ask The Goulets, of course!

I also asked a bunch of other people as well, queried the relevant forums and blogs, and even posted about it in the Google+ Fountain Pen group– all of which amounted to the same thing, because all the information led be back to… you guessed it, The Goulets.

Apparently, Brian had the same questions I had about this strange notebook, and answered them in the form of not one, but two videos featuring the notebook. One with an introduction to what it’s all about, and a second featuring various ways he’s come up with arranging it.

This is the reason The Goulets are amazing, because there is little that exists in my admittedly small but important to me fountain pen universe that they have not tried and written or commented on, or blogged about, or made a video about, or…

You get the picture.

In the end, Brian’s videos– along with a bunch of other contributing notes/posts/love letters I read– convinced me to get the Midori. You can bet that there’s only one place I’m buying it.

Coda

Brian and Rachel are, like so few things in our modern world, a beacon of how things still can be. As we move ever farther into a world of consolidated corporate ownership and disconnected consumer experiences– ever farther away from real person-to-person relationships– it’s really nice to know that those of us who miss that connection with other people have places to go where people– where we and our silly hobbies– are still the most important thing.

That, like my fountain pen and my notebook, is a beautiful thing to hold on to.

The Priorities of Hospital Security

As many people know, my son Hawk has craniosynostosis. As I write this, we are in Doernbecher Hospital in Portland after his surgery. While at the hospital, I’ve noticed a number of interesting things, most quite positive and fun. One thing, however, bugs me and so I thought I’d write about that rather than show images of a gruesomely swollen child who looks like something in between an alien and a cartoon character. ((Updates and images about him are being transmitted over a private email list, so I won’t go into details here except to say that he is on track and the surgery went quite well.))

When you check a child into Doernbecher for surgery, the child gets an armband to identify them. Interestingly, both parents also get the exact same armband. ((Out of curiosity, I asked when she put them on if they were the exact same)) They print three copies of it, and we all wear it.

Containing the usual information– Name, birth date, gender– it also contains a barcode. The fact that Jessica and I are both wearing this armband means– since it’s created in a non-tamper-able, non-removable way– only we can walk out of this hospital with Hawk. When we leave, an armed guard will make sure that our name band matches Hawk’s name band, and if it doesn’t, he’ll shoot us.

Okay, maybe that’s a bit dramatic. We probably won’t get shot, but we certainly won’t be able to leave. It’s a system that’s all designed to protect against baby theft, and let me tell you, the people at this hospital take this system very seriously. I’m not sure if Jessica noticed, but I’ve watched basically everyone we interact with take a quick but serious glance at our bands. Often, people will ask me “Are you dad?” and when I answer yes, they always look at my wrist (assuming they haven’t done it before the question, which is often the case).

Physical security is paramount. No-one is stealing a baby from Doernbecher.

Equally interesting is the barcode. Every medication, every piece of equipment, every bag of saline has a barcode on it. Whenever they administer something to Hawk, they scan this barcode and scan his little ankle (where the name band goes on wee ones). I’m assuming that this barcode to barcode mapping is done partially to keep good medical records, and almost wholly to ensure proper billing.

Financial security is assured. Everything we use get’s scanned and charged to Hawk’s name band.

Now, the most interesting, and disturbing, and frustrating thing about this, is that physical security and financial security don’t match.

To wit: I offer a situation. One evening on the first night after surgery, Hawk was in so much pain that he could not sleep and couldn’t stop screaming– even dosed up with enough morphine to drug a kid three times his size/age. ((Seriously, their computerized medical system didn’t have enough numbers in their “how much shit are you pumping into this kid” dropdown to document it– they made a note in the file))

During this time, when a nurse was giving Hawk the fourth dose of morphine in an hour and a half (the norm is one per hour), his little legs were bundled under blankets enough that moving them to get to the band was impossible without really shifting him around and making him thrash about– which is something we absolutely did not want him to do, having just had cranial surgery and having 8 different tubes and wires coming out of everywhere from his skull to his penis to his feet.

Jessica was sleeping and I was helping the nurse as we tried to figure out how to scan his bracelet without causing him to scream more, so I said “You could just scan mine, they’re the same.”

The nurse looked at me like I was insane.

Seriously, she gave me this look like I was from another planet and suggest she try one of my local delicacies of sautéed alien insect. Then she said– in that super patronizing way that simultaneously tells you “no” and “you’re too young and stupid to even comprehend why that is a dumb idea”–

“It’s really better if I scan his bracelet.”

Now, really, I understand why someone would say that in most cases. Let’s just reduce the chances of error, right? Since there is, despite all the security precautions, the slight possibility that I might be some guy from another room who’s wearing the exact same wrist band as another child– rather than this one. Even though it’s the middle of the night, the only people allowed in this room are the parents, and you yourself have already verified that I am, indeed, the parent. Sure, it’s possible that I’m just some random guy.

But seriously, we’re talking about a 10 month old baby who, only four hours ago, has had his skull cut into tiny pieces and reconstructed, and is now stillin pain, despite being hopped up on enough morphine to make you think you are one of The Beatles. Can’t we take a split second and realize that the cost-benefit of this situation warrants a wee bit of thought?

No. We woke Hawk up. He screamed and thrashed like mad. I held him down as she reattached the oxygen sensor and EKG lead that he ripped off.

This is the part that really bugs me, because this situation is a statement that the financial security of that single dose of morphine is– when it comes down to it– more assured than the actual physical security of my child.

You are quite willing to let me walk out of this hospital carrying this baby– thereby making the assumption that these bracelets match exactly– yet you are unwilling to match the charge of a single dose of medication to my bracelet– assuming that the bracelets might not match.

I have to say that, overall, our experience at Doernbecher has been fantastic. The nurses in Pediatric ICU and on the ward have been great, Hawk’s needs have been seen to without fail, and the surgical team who reconstructed his skull are, by all accounts, absolute geniuses (and personable to, as opposed to having House slice up your child’s skull). So I’m not complaining when I say this, rather, i’m writing about what seems like a philosophical mistake in priorities. It’s probably just a fact of the modern (United States) health care system, honestly, which is sad.

We collectively trust my bracelet enough to let me walk away with the child, but we don’t trust it enough to charge $50 worth of medicine?

And we don’t find anything troubling about that?

Through the Looking #Glass

Today, an interesting post came across my Google+ stream:

We are redesigning the Twiddler (as you may have noticed in Thad’s posting in July) and would like to get your input on the use of indicator lights on the device… (via Wearable Computing – Community – Google+.)

Twiddler, a chording keyboard

For those who don’t know, the Twiddler is a one-handed chording keyboard. It’s a keyboard on which you can type any character by pressing multiple buttons (chords) at the same time. The post was interesting because it brought back memories of a time in my life when I sought out such technology with a wild fever.

Into The Matrix

In the late 1990s, I dove head first into the world of wearable computers. I had a Twiddler before upgrading to a Twiddler 2. I hooked it up to a PC/104 computer (hanging around my neck by a strap) that ran FreeBSD and combined it with with a $2500 set of almost custom bulky glasses with a projection screen. I simultaneously taught robotics to 8th graders, hacked wearable computers and early handhelds (remember the iPaq?), and designed autonomous underwater vehicles. I even published a series of articles in the then nascent journal Linux Gazette on the philosophical aspects of the Open Source Culture ((Reading them now, it was obvious that I was just a kid. It was so long ago! I did it under my pre-marriage name: Pennington. Part 1: The Philosophy of Doubt; Part 2: Cooperation vs. Competition. Strangely, I can’t find a link to the third in the series.))

It was a heady time of seemingly endless possibilities, and an incredibly positive social outlook on what technology could do for us.

[pullquote]We’re connected, always connected, but who– or what– are we connected to?[/pullquote]

Lately, and especially since having children, I’ve become rather sad and jaded. What seemed like a wonderful future of mobile computing and people-centered connectivity has turned into little more than a landscape of hyper-targeted advertising injected directly into the brains of a population that is ever more disconnected from the present moment. I don’t know what I wanted when I built my own computer from scratch, but it certainly wasn’t taking my kids for a walk in order to hack an Ingress portal at the local park– barely aware that my children are even with me. ((You want to know crazy? I took my infants on a walk in the stroller– delaying their small but important dinner– just to walk past specific places in town at a specific time in order to play a goddamn virtual reality game on my phone. That is fucking crazy, people.))

I thought it would bring us closer, but we seem to have traded actual human connection for an almost completely unconnected lifestyle. We’re connected, always connected, but who– or what– are we connected to?

We’ve gone from being present in the moment with a close friend to having a conversation with that close friend only to constantly break off to look up random, unimportant trivial facts, or text someone who isn’t even there– and doesn’t need to know right this second that you are supposedly talking with a friend.

No, no, I’m listening, really. I was just looking up something on Wikipedia while I listen…

It’s even worse when I realize that I spend all day in front of a computer, programming web applications, only to then go home to stay in front of the computer… wasting time posting on web applications. How much in the moment am I if I go on a hike in the woods and need to tweet pictures of a particularly interesting mushroom, rather than actually be present and experience the particularly interesting mushroom?

And there’s a certain abject horror to my phone pushing coffee advertisements to me as I walk past Starbucks. (“Wait, why am I suddenly seeing Amazon advertisements for a book called “Mushroom Hunting in the Pacific Northwest?”) Is it just me, or does 90% of our new tech seem to be centered around phones with better advertising? Because that’s really about all I see. It’s coached as “Location checkins” or “Friendship requests” but in reality, it’s all about better advertising. We’re just selling– rather, willfully giving away– our souls to provide advertisers better access to us.

And the more I think about all the pictures I post of my wonderful twins, the more horrifying it gets, because I’m literally donating all the data they need to identify them using facial recognition engines (For an article on how advertisers are using facial recognition to store information about children in order to market to them, here’s an article in Slate magazine that will terrify you).

Glasses and #glass

As an anthropologist, I think a lot about the cultural implications about this, and it’s rather ironic that I would turn away from one set of technology, but embrace others. Cyborg Anthropology, the study of human interaction with technology, would tell me that I’m already a cyborg. I wear glasses, which enhance my human vision with artificial technology.

Screen Shot 2013-09-11 at 12.03.25 PM
Screen Shot 2013-09-11 at 12.07.18 PM Some are better able to manage multi-tasking than I am

Part of me thinks “This is nothing more than pen and paper, which is just humans using technology.” Part of me thinks that wearing Google Glass is– in the grand scheme of things– little more than me wearing better glasses.

Amber Case, one of our ((whether “our” is “The Portland Metro area” or “The Country,” I’m not sure of, but I’d bet it’s the latter)) preeminent cyborg anthropologists seems to agree. She’s commented much on how multi-tasking reduces one’s ability to focus on a single, particular task– yet as a cyborg anthropologist, she’s embraced Google Glass, moving beyond “multi-” into a hyper-tasking landscape where not just one, but endless other tasks are possible at any given moment.

The anthropologist in me thinking that this is just simple iterative advancement of human technology. Yet the human in me feels that some line has been crossed, like some vague, arbitrary– perhaps meaningful only to me– moment has been reached. I feel like I am standing at a threshold to a virtualized existence, beyond which I can’t seem to go without feeling as though I’ve lost something… real.

Maybe others are better at this than I am. Maybe I’m one of the few who can’t effectively be present in the moment with a computer literally in front of my eyes. Amber Case obviously is, I hope others are. I hope others are better than me, because if not, I’m sad for the ever increasing lack of depth every human relationship will have from this point forward.

For me, however, it’s a different story. Whatever I’m doing, I always feel like I’m thinking about something else, and that something else is always right there, accessible, at my fingertips.  I’m just about fed up with that feeling. I want to look people– look my children– in the eye and have them know that I am there, with them, in the moment, and not looking up a Wikipedia reference about something they just said.

There and Back Again, A Technologists Tale

William Gibson once spoke ((paraphrased)) of this undocumented moment in time in New York… the week immediately before the introduction of broadcast television through the week immediately after. During the week before broadcast television, everyone was outside in the evening, sitting on their porches talking with one another. No-one knows what happened outside during the week immediately after, because everyone was inside watching television.

I feel as though we live in a similar timeframe, where something fundamental is happening to our human relationships without us consciously considering the consequences. I feel like it’s happening too fast for us to be able to consider it. I’m not anti-technology, far from it. I’ve been all the way into The Matrix– hell, I still work in it as a software developer– and yet I’m just about done with hyper-connected technology.

My preferred platform for mobile connectivity

While so many others are buying better smartphones and getting excited about Google #glass, I just dropped my data plan and got a basic phone so that I can still make a call, but not do, really, anything else. Every day I carry my silly leather satchel, filled with my fountain pens and my notebooks, and I write.

Yes, by hand.

Since January, I’ve published poetry and fiction, and written about 400 letters, often notes to people I barely know. And you know what? Every time I write something by hand– no matter how long it takes, or how trivial it is– I feel a bit less inclined to post something on the internet. Anything digital just feels less and less… real.

There’s something so vastly different between an email or Facebook post and a handwritten letter that they may as well reside in completely separate emotional landscapes. And, when I step back and look at those two landscapes, there’s really only one in which I want to live.

I’ve written before on this, most notably when I left Facebook. I’m still on Twitter and Google+, but I see myself interacting with them a great deal less as time progresses. Just like back in the 90s, when I dove headlong into the modern world of connectivity, I’m doing the same; but this time, I’m coming back in the other direction. Sometimes I feel like a lone pedestrian heading the wrong way on a one-way street full of fast moving traffic.

And just as I didn’t know exactly what I wanted from “connectivity,” I’m not entirely sure exactly what I want from a lack thereof. So far, what I’ve found is that the less “connected I am, the more connected, and the more human, I feel.

For now, that seems like a good place to start.

U.S. Government Pays Lipservice To Bees

Isn’t this just like the U.S.

After the loss of 10 million beehives to Colony Collapse Disorder and numerous studies linking bee deaths to neonicotinoid pesticides, the U.S. government is joining the European Union to pass legislation protecting this vulnerable species. (via U.S. Government Steps Up to Protect Bees | Ecorazzi.)

For interesting background reading, The Xerces Society for invertebrate conversation has a lit review on neonicotinoid effects on bees. The EU has decided to ban their use for two years to study it and come up safety measures, saying basically that the loss of bees is important enough to take heavy steps immediately.

And that’s true. Without bees, we have no food, period.

And so the U.S. is “joining” the EU. How? By putting little bee stickers on the pesticides. Nice. Oh sure, the proposal is to “ban their use while pollinators are present,” but that is a voluntary ban (they’re still available, and really, who’s enforcing) and ignores the bioaccumulative aspect of the chemicals ((i.e. how they build up in plants/animals over time)). The measures fall far short, but it’s all the US wants to do because of the possible effects on the economy. We have to decide what’s more important, eating food, or making money.

Actually, strike that. We decided what’s more important long ago.

Hyperloop my ass. #glass #tweet

[rawr]

Hyperloop my ass.

I'll believe it when I see it. This strikes me as little more than the same futuristic fantasy talk we've heard since the 1950s. Super livable space stations, ridiculously fast transport, all that Star Trek bullshit. Blah blah blah.

The dream of The Space Aged Future is more a pipe dream than any coming reality. It's all big talk and pretty drawings… and complete fucking rubbish. The present of today is effectively the same as the present of the 1950s, except with cooler phones and more invasive advertising. We have Google #glass . So much more shit to distract us.

Oh, sure, we have amazing improvements like GPS in our cars now, and those phones are computers, so we have William Gibson-like connectivity, but there's a reason Gibson started writing about life in (and coined the term) Cyberspace – it's because he gave up on the promise of actual space, on the promise of that futuristic landscape touted since the 1939 World's Fair.

Sadly, I have too. I don't see it happening.

We're still driving on 1950's era interstates with the same oil-based transportation system used when those futuristic dreams were so heady. Our cars are chocked full of new technology– crazy packed with ultra-tolerance fuel injection systems and packed with computers and all kinds of high-tech shit. Now they get 35 MPG rather than 20.

What a fucking advancement.

We've even dumbed down our expectations enough that a self-driving crap-mileage oil-based car is the highlight of our imagination. We don't even have a functioning commuter rail system in 95% of the country. Suddenly we're going to build underground transportation systems out of a Phillip K. Dick novel? How likely is that really?

Who's going to do it? Not our government, it can barely function as things stand. We can't keep up with our failing infrastructure now, highways and bridges falling apart, shipping lanes in trouble, we defunded NASA, we're not going anywhere. Private developer? Good luck, private developers don't develop without money– a lot of money. Where's the $400 billion dollars going to come from? Usage fees? Charity?

(Note: The Channel Tunnel cost about 10 billion pounds in 1994, twice the original estimate. That's 10 billion dollars to send a relatively slow train across 32 miles. Adjust for inflation in todays dollars, then realize that we're talking about 320 miles, ten times the distance then realize that we're not talking about a slow train, but about some super-fast train in a tunnel with super tight tolerances and higher safety costs. Convert to dollars. $400 billion is probably an underestimate)

We don't care about changing the world to any futuristic landscape (and I'm not necessarily arguing that would be a good idea anyway) or in making real changes that will create that future, we care about money, pure and simple. Individual bits of money for individual companies who don't have either the ability or desire to wait 30 years for a return on an investment in the hundreds of billions of dollars. Why do you think shit like phones and websites are the primary advancement society has made in the last 20 years? It's about easy revenue streams, people. 

Look, I'm a software developer, I believe in the future. Hell, half the time I'm amazed at how much we live in the future. I'm even part of the problem because I build those easy revenue stream websites. But my future is the practical reality of the 1950s with not much changed but with cooler phones. That's really what we have.

I'm not saying that great sweeping projects like this can't happen, I just have absolutely no faith anymore that they will. We won't do it. A four-year election cycle combined with a growth-dominated, rapid return economic system is the econo-political reality we live in.

I've given up on our ability– at least in the US– to do something quite so… advanced.

I hope it happens, sure. I want it to happen. But I'll believe it when I see it.

#glorious #tweet

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Posted at August 12, 2013 at 07:49PM on Google+

[/rawr]

Parenting can cause PTSD

Before I get into what will be an incredibly brief and insightful post that you will certainly want to read in its entirety because of its incredible brevity and insight, I need to discuss some terminology. I need to present definitions of some basic vocabulary so that the content of this incredibly brief and insightful post is as understandable to those haggard, stressed-out, zombie-looking wretches who have no children as it is to us– the well-slept, ebullient, happy-go-lucky population of parents.

The Tsunami

The first term I will define is Tsunami, and the best way to define a tsunami is to describe it. Let us imagine.

The scene is this: You are sitting with your infant child nestled quietly on your lap. You have just finished feeding this lovely cherubic jewel of generations, and want to “burp” them, which means nothing more than you pat them lovingly and gently on the back– as softly as if a butterfly is landing– and after a few moments, they let out a slight, whispery breath: “ahhh.” Your baby, is well fed, and you are both happy.

They sit with you, and are not squirming around like a meth-addicted octopus, shoving their snot-covered hands into your eyes, or any of those other fallacies that Hollywood tries to tell you about. They are infants, and like any infant, they want little more than to quietly enjoy your lovely time together. You are looking into their eyes and saying meaningless words and cooing in that lovely way that feels like a spike is being driven into the spine of those haggard, stressed-out, zombie-looking wretches who have no children. They don’t understand.

This is our scene. Now, if this were a horror movie, or a science fiction movie, or a romantic comedy, now would be a good time for the arrival of your lover– who happens to be a killer; or the arrival of an alien– who happens to be a killer; or your lover, who happens to be alien… uh… fighting for immigration reform while you fight for your relationship… in spite of your racist mother’s protests. Lots of options, but the point is that if this were Hollywood, someone would arrive to spoil this angelic scene of parental beauty. But this is not Hollywood.

This is much, much worse than Hollywood.

Because what arrives is not a killer lover, or an alien killer, or a lover alien, but a single, soft, almost unnoticeable hic.

Here’s where much more public education is needed. Smokey The Bear is all up in the asses of city-dwelling seven year olds everywhere about forest fires, but no-one says a damn thing about how seriously we should take these signs of impending catastrophe.

Because following this small, soft hic there is… a pause. It’s a slight pause, and seems undramatic– but it’s not!

Because following this pause is… another pause. Actually, it’s really just the same pause as the other pause, if you look at it a certain way. But when you hear this hic– and if you know what to watch out for– you know that this second pause is meaningful, because if nothing was going to happen, you would only get the first pause. If you’ve experienced the disaster, you know that the fact that you’re now in this second pause is very, very bad.

Because following this second pause– that is really just the same pause as the other pause– is… another pause (this one is not really just the same pause as that other pause, or as the pause that’s really just the same pause as that other pause. This is a completely different pause, that accompanies a very slight tremor in your child’s stomach).

That is immediately cut short by the eruption from your child’s mouth like the explosion of the Krakatoa. Suddenly, your sweet child is a volcano, and with all the sublime violence of Pele, this volcano erupts and spews a column of liquid comprised of every single morsel your child has eaten within the past 12 hours straight up into the air. In your terror for your (oh… right… and your child’s) safety, time slows down and you see this mass, roiling with formula and stomach acid and who the fuck thought raspberries were a good idea, rise into the air, and are just about to grab something to try to catch it when you feel the next tremor. Raspberry acid forgotten, but still rising, you look down at the volcano child, retching again, and see the wave.

The explosion, you see, merely released the pressure.

Suddenly from the depths of this horrific demon you hold in your arms rises what you now understand viscerally as the definition of the word volume.

Pouring forth from the creature’s mouth it comes, covering its head and body like some frightening molten mass. It pours out, threatening to cover your body, to fill the very room. It hits you and crests over your leg like a wave, crashing to the couch and continuing, un-slowed, as if the sea itself were behind it. Wave after wave, like the tides of hell, it pours forth and covers everything in its path. Then suddenly the air bound column returns with crash, splashing everything not already covered and following the wave’s downward descent to the carpet below.

Then, silence.

And in the aftermath, ruined and sobbing, surrounded by this scene of utter destruction, house destroyed and coated in thick, raspberry colored stomach acid that soaked you all the way to the crack of your ass, you look down in tears and see the bright eyes and smiling face of a baby who looks back at you as if to say “Is something the matter, dear?”

That, my friend, is The Tsunami.

PTSD

Unfortunately, The Tsunami is an all-too-common occurrence in the households of some unlucky parents. ((I will note that it is disappointing that the Japanese government did not check with parents before using this term to describe a tidal wave. It would have saved everyone a lot of confusion.)) In fact, in many households (mine is such a one), it can be said that The Tsunami is probably, going to happen after at least one feeding a day. This brings me to another term where definition is necessary: PTSD.

PTSD, or Probable Tsunami Stress Disorder, is a type of anxiety disorder. It can occur after a parent has gone through an extreme emotional trauma that involved the threat or actual occurrence of tsunamis at random, un-predictable intervals. ((I will note that it is disappointing that the US government did not check with parents before using this term to describe shell-shock. It would have saved everyone a lot of confusion.)) Probable Tsunami Stress Disorder is a serious disorder that negatively affects a parent’s ability to perform the functions necessary in feeding their children– or, at least negatively affects a parent’s ability to appear relatively sane while and for any length of time after they are done feeding their children. Common symptoms include suddenly jumping out of the way when people open their mouths, grabbing damp cloths at random intervals, and frantically brushing off their clothes and yelling “AHHH!” at unexpected hic-like sounds.

And, believe it or not, it’s even worse than it sounds. Because parents with PTSD often develop serious psychological protection mechanisms to prevent themselves from needing to feed their children. They routinely invent mythical scenarios intended to exclude them from feeding duties, saying things such as “I have to get to work early, can you feed the babies?” And “I feel sick, maybe I shouldn’t feed the babies.” And even “Ooh, look! I have to have knee surgery! Could you feed the babies?” All of these illustrate how serious this affliction is.

And I know, I have PTSD. I’m constantly stressed out and ready to change my clothes, I walk around everywhere with spit rags in my pocket, and I jump out of the way screaming “IT’S PROBABLY A TSUNAMI!!” at random sounds. The other day, while in the produce section of the super market, an old woman coughed as I passed by. Before I even knew what happened, I threw her to the floor, covered her with a blanket, and screamed to the people near me to run before they drowned. It all happened so fast that I still haven’t answered the most troubling question: Where the hell did I get a blanket in the produce section of Safeway?!

I have PTSD and I haven’t fed my babies in weeks. Unfortunately, my wife has PTSD too, so I have no idea who’s feeding them. As best we can tell, they are periodically crawling into the kitchen and eating the cat food to stay alive.

Spitty little fuckers.

The Message

Now, having defined our terms so that even haggard, stressed-out, zombie-looking wretches who have no children can understand, we come to the incredibly brief and insightful post that you will certainly want to read in its entirety because of its incredible brevity and insight. That post is this:

Parenting can cause PTSD.

There, I’ve said my piece. I hope this helps someone.