Markie's Musings

Friday, March 03, 2017

Historic milestone passed...

Fifty years ago on 27-Feb-1967, I embarked on my current career in high-tech, at General Electric Company's King of Prussia, Pennsylvania's Space Systems Division. I was hired as a Mathematics Technician at an annual salary of $21,000 (in today's dollars, according to Inflation Calculator, $152,683.20). Since I had no college degree at that time, and previous work history as a jewelry manufacturer's bench-slave, my sole credentials were outstanding scores on a qualifying test.

You can read more on my personal web site.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Drama in a suburban back yard

Spring cleaning, suburban style, involves more than vacuum cleaning and scrubbing. There are leaves to rake, lawns to mow, and fallen branches to pick up. Our yard is lined with a group of hedges from hell, privet which has achieved unmanageable heights of 20-30 feet, and creates a perpetual cycle of droppings including leaves, blossoms, and little berries the size of BB shot. These berries attract swarms of robins when they ripen, which are then excreted in purple splats around the yard and on our parked cars. The berries which are not consumed end up sprouting all over the lawn, adding to the endless dandelions and spurge which need to be plucked.

It was while trimming back the privet that I almost committed an act of ecological terror, which I was able to avert through quick thinking and delicate handling. I had clipped a number of branches which were overhanging our yard and the neighbors, and was following up by cutting the clippings down to manageable lengths so they could be removed by the recycling trucks later in the week. I was about to pick up one particular branch when I noticed an odd shape in one of the crotches. It was almost spherical in shape, grayish brown, about 2 1/2 inches in diameter, and something was moving in it! I got closer and realized it was a nest, and the movement was a baby hummingbird. It was tiny, slowly opening and closing its beak, emitting the tiniest of squeaks. I remembered noticing the mature bird while I was clipping, thinking it was searching for blossoms. Now I had to return the nest to its proper place, to allow the hatchling time to mature. I carefully lifted the branch while climbing the ladder. I was able to secure the branch back in the tree, and positioned it with additional cover to allow concealment from predatory cats. Then a thought came to me, suppose there was more then one chick? I very carefully stepped down from the ladder, and carefully inspected the lawn where the branches had been. And there I found another small bundle of feathers. This one was even stronger than the other, eyes almost open and struggling to find shelter. I very carefully picked it out of the grass, and cradling it in the palm of my glove, returned to the ladder and attempted to place it back in the nest. I knew I could not touch it with my bare hands, as that might prevent the parent birds from recognizing their own young. This was not as easy as it would appear, since the nest was barely large enough for the chick already in it. And the one in my glove clung to the weave of the palm, so I could not just tip it into the nest. It took some very delicate maneuvering and manipulation but I was finally successful, and both chicks were secure. We removed the ladder and remaining debris from the area, and later observed the return of the parent bird to the nest. We were able to rest, assured that two tiny lives had been saved from a cruel and early demise.


Friday, April 28, 2006

Favorite Mac Tools

I fancy myself a “Power User” since, as I say in my intro, “I’ve been using computers since before they were small enough to fit under your desk or in your hip pocket.” I have written complex analytical programs to solve scientific problems, crunched billions of numbers to create simulations, crafted computer-simulated 3D scenes for feature films, and woven numerous Web sites.

Most of the time, I have worked on specialized systems, some of them using obsolete or bespoke operating systems (who remembers RT-11 or System360?) but the past twenty years or so I have owned computers built by Apple. I won’t get into “Religious Wars” about which operating system is superior; this is everyone’s personal preference. But I find myself spending more time being productive and less time fussing with trying to keep things free of evil crap than people who use a certain OS from Washington state. And I am happy to use superior programs which I find available only on MacOS. Among these are my “Swiss Army knife” text-editor, BBEdit, and a marvelous collaborative tool from some German proframmers who call themselves “Coding Monkeys” - SubEthaEdit. Using SubEthaEdit, you can share live documents on the network and allow others to view and even edit them. This happens without needing to host a Web site, or needing to share your entire disk or even a subfolder.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Conversations with the Driving Impaired

Or as I call them, the “Hard-of-Driving”

I’ve been having conversations with the other drivers on the road. Not directly to them, as they can’t hear me and I don’t hear them. But I feel the need to address the idiocy I see every day as I drive to and from my work. I need to travel about 35 miles each way on busy freeways in Silicon Valley. Although I have a deep appreciation for how little people are aware of the consequences of their activity, it still annoys me when I see stupid behavior. The most obvious is how drivers merge onto the freeway. Exceptionally rare is the use of a signal as they enter the traffic; “Does your mother know how rude you are?” I ask them. “Would you push your way into a line of people without an Excuse me?” That is one of the first things I would teach people if I were a driving instructor. A turn signal is not an announcement: “Oh, hey! I am now turning left!” or “Oh, yeah, I have merged into your lane in front of you!” To me, a signal happens before you wish to make your move, to let others know your intentions. Making a signal AFTER or DURING a maneuver has no purpose other than to prove that you are absent minded or ignorant.

If I were a driving instructor, the first thing I would make my students aware of is the “First Rule of Driving: Never move in front of someone who is traveling faster than you are.” This seems to me to be a no-brainer, yet everyday I am forced to move into another lane when I see this in front of me. Invariably, it is when I am coming up to an on-ramp, and someone has just entered the freeway. Oblivious to the speed of the other drivers, they will blithely move from the right-most lane to the next on the left, into their own blissful place. Most of the time, I will move to the right, where the lane is perfectly clear and the driver who just entered should have stayed until they became used to the increased speed of the freeway compared to the street they just left, but whose speed they still maintained. But as I pass them on the right, I see that they are busy talking on their cell phone, or reading the directions to their destination. So it would be useless, even if they could hear me, to point out that there was no reason for them to leave the lane they entered on, even if they bothered to adjust their speed to the traffic in the lane they were in, whose previous occupants were already busy trying to go around them.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

Bizarre End to 2004 (I almost get killed)

Monday, 27 December, started as a fairly normal workday. We had just returned from a long Christmas weekend, traveling over 400 miles each way to spend time with family over the holidays.

I awoke, showered, had breakfast and got into my 1994 Lincoln Mark VIII for the 40 mile trip to my new job I had started two weeks before. I was pleased the showers predicted for the day had subsided somewhat, and marveled at the emptiness of the freeway as I entered by the mall on Blossom Hill Road. One mile down, at Almaden Boulevard, I noticed someone coming up the ramp, so I moved over to the center lane as I approached the 65-mile speed limit. Imagine my amazement as moments later I saw the car approaching, not at a merging angle up the ramp, but at 90 degrees to the traffic flow, directly into the lanes. I had a helpless feeling as the next few seconds unfolded, the car hit me directly on the passenger-side door, my car started spinning sideways and I tried to think of what to do. I had no time to avoid the collision, I just was praying there was no one approaching who might hit me. I managed to stay on the brakes as my car completed its spin which included striking the concrete barrier in the center and left me facing forwards up against the center divider on the overpass to Almaden Expressway. The other driver had stopped in the left shoulder lane, about 10 car-lengths back. I looked around and realized the entire right-side of the car was smashed in, shards of glass from the side windows covered every surface of the interior including my seat, and I was bleeding from several cuts on the back of my hand. I also was in a daze from the shock of it all, and this was to continue for the remainder of the week. Moving my head from side-to-side was becoming painful, but I managed to get out of the vehicle and commenced the process of dealing with the details of the collision. As I mentioned to the California Highway Patrol officer who showed up about 5 minutes later, we had just completed paying off the loan on the car which we had bought only three years earlier. What an irony that now we probably had to start payments over again! Here's a link to a page showing the car when I got it in 2001 and how it looked after the collision.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Go Skate on a Freeway

A completely empty brand-new freeway. A clear and crisp Fall day. Ten years ago last month, I enjoyed a unique experience. Known by politicians as "the last freeway to be built in Silicon Valley", California state highway 85 was constructed at great expense through 5 communities to help the heavy commute traffic from the southern suburbs to the upper communities on the Peninsula. It was intended to take a lot of traffic from route 101 around downtown San Jose to highway 280 and beyond to route 101 in Mountain View. Parts of the new freeway had already been opened to traffic at the North and South ends. But the connection between the two ends had been built last.

In preparation for the grand opening of the new freeway, the surrounding communities of San Jose, Campbell, Los Gatos, Saratoga and Cupertino all prepared "block parties" at the various interchanges. And as an added benefit, the entire new section would be closed to vehicle traffic for the last weekend before the grand opening, to allow bicycle and pedestrian traffic to enjoy the vast expanse of concrete.

As my personal salute to the prowess of Cal-Trans civil engineering, I chose to explore the freeway on my preferred mode of transportation: Roller-Blades. I had just received a new pair several months before as an anniversary present from my wife, and I was yearning for a good workout. I drove from our Blossom Valley home up to Cupertino, and parked in the lot at Taligent, where I was working at the time. Our offices were just a couple of blocks from the Stevens Creek interchange, which is where the freeway used to end before the new section was built. There were already crowds gathering in anticipation of parades and barbecues along the route, and some folks were walking and others cycling down onto the roadway. I joined them and headed South. I had thought to bring along a camera, but managed to capture only a few shots.

Along the way, I had a chance to take in the sweeping curves and marvel at the scenery along the way. Much of the freeway snakes through mixed residential and commercial areas, but there are spots of wooded acreage that remain unspoiled and serene.

Monday, October 11, 2004

Thoughts from a seaside parking place

I've just spent a pleasant lunch with my son, Tim, who will be 35 in December. He is currently working as a "Leave Benefits Associate" with a disability-insurance management company in the San Fernando Valley. Their office is within 5 miles of the house where we lived when Tim and his older sister, Jenn went to Jr. and Sr. high school.

I had a few hours this morning between the time I awoke at my friend, Alex's, house after the party he had Sunday evening. As usual, there was an eclectic mix of people at Gemini Manor, Alex's unique house in Hollywood. There were nerds, musicians, theater people, film people, intellectuals, what-have-you. We spent time chatting, singing, socializing, munching barbeque, and exploring the miriad connected rooms of Alex's 'museum-like' abode. Everywhere you look, there is artwork, knick-knacks, architectural salvage, furniture, collectibles, anything and everything! Alex showed the promotional trailer for "The Dream of Alvareen", his first feature film project. Alex has gathered some exceptional talent and has a bit of work remaining before he will be able to premier, but what we saw exhibits grand promise.

So while I had to wait some several hours between awaking and my appointment in the afternoon, I took a liesurely drive out Sunset Boulevard, stopping for breakfast at "Mel's Drive-In" on the "Strip" and then out through Beverly Hills, Brentwood, and Pacific Palisades before hitting Pacific Coast Highway and then Topanga Canyon out to Calabasas, where Tim and his wife, Karla both work. And on the way out, while driving through Beverly Hills, I placed a call to Tim on my cell phone; I felt every bit the consummate "Hollywood Insider" as I discussed the opportunity for Tim to make a creative contribution to Alex's film project with the music from one of the bands Tim has ties with. He is the former front-man for "Super Dank Brothers" and is manager of a group with some friends, "Strange Fruit." Their music is not particularly to my own tastes, but is a mix of Hip-Hop, Rock and Jazz, and definitely original.