Friday, July 29, 2005

Within inches of quitting

There's a lot to be learned by just listening -- listening, that is, without waiting for a tiny pause in which to inject one's own brillant words. There is even more to be learned from the experience of 'thinking out loud' while being listened to attentively, without the need to react, to entertain or to defend oneself against attack.

Taken from "A Feminist I" by Christine Overall

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

Okay. I give up.

ns-2: C'mon guess.

me: I don't want to.

ns-2: C'mon guess.

me: I'm tired of you.

ns-2: C'mon guess why PCF has the same packet loss at 10% load as it does at 50%. There aren't any collisions at 10% load. It's weird isn't it?

me: Yes. It's weird.

ns-2: C'moooooonnnn.....guess!

me: I hate you.


There are events that make me pause and try to comprehend how so many people live on this planet, and how their lives progress completely in parallel. Last week, for example, I wrote my ns-2 script files, met The Old Timer, and ate a porkchop sandwich.

And while that was happening, my friend Amy considered what music she would play during our Doris-Day-A-Thon that we'll be airing next month. She fretted over what factoids she would mention, and her talking-to-music ratio. She e-mailed me with questions, and I assured her that her vision would be great.

And while that was happening, my father bought a plane ticket to come visit me next month. He got in his truck, drove to the travel agency, and cashed in his free ticket for Alaskan Airlines. He probably teased the ticket agent about something funny. He does that. On his way back, maybe he stopped at Subway for one of his favorite chicken sandwiches.

And while that was happening, a man in London got on the Number 26 bus on his way to Hackney Wick. He sat next to the grey and black duffel bag and attempted to detonate a bomb. His bomb, perhaps by accident or in a moment of doubt, exploded only enough to blow out the windows on the top deck of the bus.

And while that was happening, some of the 295 million Americans watched Fox News, shopped at Wal-Mart, listened to NPR, waited in hospital emergency rooms while their wives had emergency c-sections, bailed their kids out of jail, attended funerals, decided between buying medicine or food, searched for lost dogs, got caught in the rain, tried to stay cool in the summer heat, and slept under city bridges.

And while that was happening, some of the 6.5 billion people in the world woke up, witnessed birth, ate breakfast, witnessed death, coped with their heartaches, mourned the death of a soldier, missed their beloveds, listened to music, authored their blog entries, prayed to their gods, hoped for a better world, got shot by Iraqi soldiers, got shot by American soldiers, and celebrated recent engagements.

And while that was happening, my friend Andy from Vancouver, Washington was trying to save some kids in Mexico from drowning, and ended up drowning himself.

Everyone talks about how small the world is. I disagree. I think it is rather big.

Monday, July 25, 2005

Good dog, Rusty.

The phone rang at 8:50 am. The voice, almost a whisper, "That you Bunbucket?"

"It's me," I answered, recognizing the not so happy voice of the Old Timer.

"It's my dog Rusty. He's so old. He can't walk. He won't eat. He's just so skinny. I think I need to take 'em to the vet and put him to sleep. I can't lift him, so if you could come out to my place..."

"I'll be there in 40 minutes."

I arrived to his trailer park a short while later. He showed me his pictures of him with Johnny Cash and the other country stars who'd made their way through our corner of the Midwest. We walked to the back of the trailer where Rusty was laying down in the bedroom closet. He was a good ol' houndog, practically blind in both eyes and at a skinny 48 pounds. We brought him out to the front room. The Old Timer got down on the floor with him and started to say his goodbyes. He spoke the words out loud, some for me, some for Rusty, and some for himself.

"I just can't stand to see you suffer Rusty dog. I hate to do this. He's a good ol' dog. Ain't never hurt a soul, don't even know what it means to hurt. He loved everybody and everything. But I'll bring you home and you'll be up on the mantle with Bear the Dog and Calico Cat."

He was ready. I lifted Rusty up, felt his bones bore into my arms, and we were out of the trailer. I helped him stand while he emptied his bladder. I lifted him into the back of the Oldsmobile. I drove the 4 miles to the Animal Hospital while the Old Timer sat in the back with Rusty to console him and himself.

We took Rusty into the Animal Hospital. Mona, the receptionist, showed us to a room. The Old Timer took a package of Keebler Soft Bake cookies from his pocket. "Rusty, I got your favorite cookies here." Rusty couldn't eat the cookie, he was breathing too hard from the trip. The Old Timer was crushed. What seemed like the last of his family was too old and too sick to eat his favorite cookie.

The vet, a cold-seeming fat man, came minutes later. The Old Timer looked to him, "Is this the right thing to do Doctor? I mean, is Rusty suffering?" Even in the Animal Hospital, with Rusty on the steel table, he wasn't sure if he was ready to part with his friend, or if this was the right thing to do. The vet assured him that Rusty was old, he was in discomfort, and it was his time. He assured him, in short, unemotional words, that the Old Timer was performing an act of kindness.

As the vet prepared the two shots for Rusty, The Old Timer prepared Rusty. "I'm sorry Rusty. I have no choice. But you'll go up to doggie heaven. It's just that now," and this is where the Old Timer broke, "I won't have anyone to come home to. I'll be all alone." I watched with tears in my own eyes as The Old Timer sobbed over Rusty. He took a moment, kissed Rusty on the forehead, and the vet gave Rusty the first shot to sedate him. The Old Timer wouldn't stay for the second shot that would stop Rusty's heart. "I can't take it," he said. We left.

I'll be doing the radio show on Saturday for the Old Timer. He needs a day off. The show will be in Rusty's memory. Good dog, Rusty.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

The Old Timer

Last weekend I was at the radio station doing some random manual labor. I happened to be at the station at the same time as "The Old Timer." He's an eighty-something young man that has a weekly show. He plays the country classics like Hank Williams, Jumpin' Bill Carlisle, Grandpa Jones, Roger Miller, Little Jimmy Dickens, or anyone else that was on the Grand Ole Opry stage from 1964 to 1967. It's the sort of stuff I remember from all the Hee Haw episodes I watched as as a kid. My favorite part of the show was the series of one-liners folks like Archie Campbell and Buck Owens told each other out in the cornfields. Seems ironic now that I live in the cornfields, which I don't think is funny at all.

The Old Timer hollers into the microphone at 80 dB introducing every set and telling stories about how he met Johnny Cash or explaining how Minne Pearl is from Grinder's Switch, TN. He punctuates almost all his sentences with "By Golly!" or "Everything like that." Down at the station last weekend, the Old Timer and I got to talking a bit. After some joking and laughing, he asked me to help him sub his show from time to time. He said, "I need a day off." He said, "You'd make a good hillbilly radio DJ. You could be my cousin from Gobbler's Knob."

He called me last Wednesday to ask me to help him with the show. We met today and he began with, "I don't think your name sounds like you are from Gobbler's Knob. I think we should call you Cousin Tawnee Bunbucket from Gobbler's Knob." So I was Cousin Tawnee and he was the Old Timer and we made up stories back and forth about my hometown. It was big fun for me. Off the air, we'd chat about other stuff. I'd talk about my family back home. He'd talk about his kids and his ex-wives that would "horn in on everybody's business." About twenty minutes into the show, he said the following off the air,

You seem to me like kind of a loner, but you have such a good personality, and you are as cute as a button. I mean, forgive me for being so bold, but you seem like the kind of person that anybody'd like to have as a friend.

And then,

I think that you are more effected by your parents divorce than you let on. I think you sell yourself short, and that you are afraid to be in any kind of relationship because you don't want to be like your mom.

And then,

I think you are afraid to get close to anybody but deep down you want somebody to care about you the way that you care about people.

This was after just two days of knowing the guy. When I told him that he was completely right and asked him how he'd figured that all out in so little time, he was modest, but replied, "I used to work on a crisis line many years back from 11 to 7 because I was always home. I got pretty good at analyzing people, I guess."

I was amazed that he'd hit the nail on the head so hard that tears about came to my eyes. Later in the evening we went to the county fair which is in town this week. We ate porkchop sandwiches at "Miss Piggy's Pork Palace" and watched the demolition derby. I told him he was "my hot date" and he giggled. I helped him walk to his car, and he dropped me off at my house. He drove his Oldsmobile Alero away into the night, I was glad to have a new friend and everything like that.

Friday, July 22, 2005

A conversation about inter-arrival time, or reason #3,781 why I hate ns-2

This is a rephrase of an e-mail conversation over two days with the very smart post-doc that used to work with my research group.

Me: I am having some trouble with ns-2.

Pd: What's that?

Me: Well, I'm noticing a difference between utilization at 99% load and 130% load.

Pd: Why are you measuring at 130% load?

Me: Originally, it was out of curiousity. Now, it's because I'm seeing this disparity.

Pd: How are you defining load? Input rate over link capacity?

Me: Yeah, I'm calculating the packet inter-arrival rate for the desired load, and setting the constant bit rate traffic generator accordingly.

Pd: Oh, you should measure it. You can't trust that just because you set the inter-arrival rate on the CBR in ns-2, it will be reflected correctly.

Me: Oh. Hm. Oh.

Two hours later, a month-long problem is solved. Just six more things on my "to-do" list before I have my final journal paper submission draft. This weekend will be busy.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

A Day in the Midwest

It started at 8:30 pm this evening, though it really began at 4 pm when the heat index had hit 110. National weather service warnings came onto the radio, interrupting Bon Jovi and his prayer. Severe thunderstorm warnings in the county just north of mine. At 8:46 pm, the warnings came again, this time reporting 59 mph winds at the nearby airport. At 9:15 pm, my county was finally included in the warnings. The neighborhood was dark and the street lamps were without electricity. Across the street, the neighbor's power had gone out. Their generator sputtered and their lights flickered making their house look like a mad scientist's lair. At 9:20 pm, I decided to escape the neighborhood to find comfort in my university office building. The dog, who insisted on coming, is finally asleep at my feet, having been a nervous wreck at home. The walls in the office are much thicker, and the booms of the thunder are barely discernable over the noisy HVAC. Margo Timmins sings over my headphones, and I review the evenings network simulation numbers.

The 29 requirements strike back.

Published on January of 2004, "The 29 Requirements" are my list of desireable characteristics in a mate. They were inspired by a journal entry I'd written a year before in the leather-bound book I keep next to by bed. It seemed like a silly exercise at the time, but in the following months, I found myself not wasting as much time dating men who didn't meet the requirements. No more would I spend five years living with a man who wasn't intelligent enough to discern the very complicated instructions on a washing machine at the neighborhood laundromat. The requirements include the obvious "must find me sexy" and the less understood "must not be afraid of bees."

Recently, I had a conversation with a young friend of mine. She's been having boy trouble. I said, "I think it's time for you to compose your own 29 requirements. You are old enough now."

She replied, "I have only two requirements. 1. He has to be intelligent. 2. He has to like me."

Without hesitation, I asked, "What if he was an atheist bisexual addicted to cough syrup?*"

She replied, "Well..." with a long explanation about how he could be godless but not bisexual and that he also had to respect his own life. Suddenly from two requirements, there were four. The conversation didn't go much further than that. But it was a nice reminder of how well the 29 requirements were to me, how they helped me to be patient and not waste my time on big fat losers who couldn't see the fabulous woman before them. These days, I'm dating a guy who so far meets 27 of the 29 requirements. He might meet #12, but I can't tell yet, and #18 is out of date.

* I've dated many atheists, one bisexual, and I was addicted to cough syrup last winter.

Monday, July 18, 2005

It's just one letter.

Yesterday, I hosted a radio show on my community radio station. I recently became part of a group of women who take turns hosting this show called, "Womyn Making Waves." Its intent is to highlight female musicians. At first glance, it's a good idea, since there aren't as many female artists known in this world as male artists. To see what I mean, look at all the past female Grammy Award winners for "Best Album of the Year" since 1959,

  • 1962: Judy Garland

  • 1964: Barbara Streisand

  • 1992: Natalie Cole

  • 1996: Alanis Morissette

  • 1997: Celine Dion

  • 1999: Lauryn Hill

  • 2003: Norah Jones

"Best Record of the Year" is a little better, highlighting female artists such as Carole King, Roberta Flack, Olivia Newton John, Tina Turner, and Sheryl Crow. Still, I can see the importance of a community radio show highlighting current female artists who aren't singing half-naked and/or Brittney Spears.

What I can't stand is the insistence on spelling women with a "y." I mean, I'm a feminist, but I'm the kind of feminist who doesn't really give a crap that English happens to use "men" in both the male and female genders. I'm the kind of feminist who is interested in spending her time and energy on other problems. In fact, if men and women were completely equal in EVERY other facet of their lives, I still wouldn't give a crap about the damn "y." Internationally, the "y" is even more pointless, given that English is one of the only languages with this gender reference phenomenon.

Instead of spelling women with a "y", I would rather spend that time and energy:

1. Eliminating female circumcision.

2. Ensuring safe, legal, but rare occurrences of abortions by providing young men and women with the family-planning education they need to make choices about safe, accessible, and cost-effective birth control.

3. Reducing the rates of episiotomies and caesarian-sections in the U.S in part by getting HMOs the hell out of the birthing room.

4. Increasing the number of women in the sciences by making academia more female and family friendly, and providing cool female role models to young women in K-12.

5. Helping women to close the pay gap and save enough money to retire.

Whether or not you spell it women or womyn, to find out more about cool female artists, check out the mp3 blog

Friday, July 15, 2005

You know you've had a bad day when...

...the girl at the liquor store says, "I think you'll need a cart for all of that."

A watch, a dog, and a stalker.

I've been sitting in front of a computer to learn or earn a paycheck since 1994. That's over a decade of sitting and typing. In those ten years, I've never worn a watch regularly for a couple of reasons. The watches I've bought have either broken or gotten lost. They break, because I buy cheap watches. They get lost because I take the watch off in a computer lab, and it just gets left behind. I take the watch off, because usually the band clicks or rubs against the desk and keyboard, distracting me from my important coding. But now, I've found the perfect watch for all my sitting and typing. It's a cheap little digital watch mounted on flourescent rubber tubing. The tubing is squishy, so when I rest my wrist on my desk, there's no annoyance. And, well, I think wearing a flourescent rubber tube on my wrist is pretty hip. Moreover, it's only $8.50, and it comes with a 2 year warranty, so it's a good little financial investment.

For the good news, the dog, after her geriatric screening, is in "pretty good shape for her age." She just has a little extra weight and a gimpy knee. But then, after falling out of a ski-lift at 19, and 10 years of sitting and typing, so do I. I'm relieved. Maybe we'll pull a Thelma and Louise outta here after all.

For the bad news, the creepy guy might have renewed feelings for me. He just happened to get on his bike at the same time I was leaving my house on my bike this morning. Fortunately, I was able to nonchalantly go a completely different direction. Three blocks away, after rounding the corner, I could see him a couple of blocks off, circling and waiting. I biked like I was on fire to school, going the long way, hoping not to run into him. Maybe I'll borrow that .22 automatic from my neighbor after all.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

Shoes from the past, and my mortal dog.

Two things this week have reminded me that my life comprises more than the simulations I need to finish. The first took place while I cleaned my closet last weekend. Too many things had collected there, and I found it was time to cast away old shoes, clothes I haven't worn, and organize my feather boa collection. In the end, I took two bags of stuff to Salvation Army, and threw away a pair of shoes I'd bought three years ago.

I'd bought the shoes for $5 at the Value Village in Vancouver, WA. They were cheerleader tennis shoes, the kind actually worn by cheerleaders. The shoes met two of the important conditions I have for buying used items. They were kitschy and they were cheap. They made the perfect dancing shoe, having no traction left on the sole. I'd clocked many spins on each shoe, told by the holes I'd worn. Though I threw away that pair during my closet cleaning, I kept the three other pairs of dancing shoes I own.

It was strange to come across all my dancing shoes. Over time, living in GradShitTownVille, they've made their way from the front of the closet to the rear. Seeing their dusty bodies, I was reminded of the woman I was. The girl who danced in Portland four nights a week--able to go from Cha Cha, to Salsa, to Lindy Hop without a blink of an eye--is gone. At least, she is hibernating, since GradShitTownVille offers so few opportunities to dance with people who aren't groping, cliquish, assholes.

I found it strange that a pair of shoes could have so powerful an effect on me. I thought of who I was in my previous life, regretting that I had lost who I used to be in a city for which I felt ownership and affinity. I regretted that I no longer have a home to call my own. I am no longer a citizen of Portland, no matter how often I visit, and my disdain for GradShitTownVille keeps me from thinking of it as anything more than a temporary hostel. I often wonder if I'll ever have that feeling of home again. I wonder if I will ever be in a place again that feels like home. Will I find another place that speaks to me in the language of city life, through effective public transportation, healthy air mandates, restored movie houses, mountainous landscapes, or abundance of good beer?

* * *

The second reminder came via the dog. My dog will be eleven years old next month, fairly old for my four-legged pal. On Monday, I took her to the vet due to complications from a knee surgery she had last year. It's both pathetic and endearing how she tries to hop and limp while maintaining her regal appearance. Last night, I heard her wheezing, so we go back to the vet on Thursday. I lament the money I have to spend, having no pet insurance, but I can't imagine doing anything else. She's been with me through three boyfriends, fine needle aspiration, two houses, three cities, three jobs, a rejection letter from University of Washington, and three years of graduate school. I've been with her through a benign tumor, heartworm, knee surgery, and the time she tried to chase a damn tugboat, swimming after it in the Willamette River. She's like the prettier, but less vocal girlfriend that offers unconditional support, except during the occasional electrical storm, when I'm sure she's plotting ways to grow an opposable thumb so that she can stab me in the night for moving to this horrid place.

My dog is my reminder of mortality, for a dog's lifetime nests easily within that of a human being's. During my own life, I've lost two dogs. I witnessed them go from puppy, to adolescent, to old maid. This dog is my first as an adult, without my parents feeding it or paying for the vet bills themselves. As I worry about what will come tomorrow at the vet's, I know that I'm not ready yet to lose her. If anything, she deserves to see me graduate, so that we can get the hell out of here together.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

The Messiah

I used to eat at this cool lunch place just a 15 minute walk from my office. I used to tell people that "The Messiah" worked there. She remembered the faces of the regulars, and could remember your order. It wasn't simply a matter of remembering "my usual," she was far more amazing than that. A typical exchange would go as follows,
Me: "I'll have that fish thing I had a couple of months back."
Messiah: "It was the fish and veggie hot pot with garlic sauce. Sure."
Here, you'll note that she's highlighted my order in orange pen, for just the right amont of spicy for my palate.
Me: "Oh, and that guy I usually come in with, he wants me to bring him back something. What do you recommend?"
Messiah: "The tall blonde guy, right? Sure, I can get him something."
And so forth for my first few years in GradShitTownVille. It was a sad day last summer when the father of the Messiah, the owner of the place, decided to retire and sell the place. He supposedly taught the new guys how to cook, but it just wasn't the same without the Messiah.

Today, however, was a glorious day. The Messiah has returned to my life. I just found out that she's opened her own place, even closer to my office. I have the option of Indian, Thai, Chinese, or Japanese food now, and yes, she still remembers me. Today, I ate the Spicy Fish with Lemongrass and it was divine. The portions are just as generous at the old place, so I can count on my $8.10 feeding me both lunch and dinner.

We could pause here, and wonder if all this means I have gone from being a Jew to a Christian, seeing that the Messiah has returned, but that's all really very silly.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

Scissors, tape, and a clock

I think I should write down the lessons I've learned in the past few days, lest I forget them due to being over jetlagged.
  1. Do not do two hours of yardwork before getting on a 10 hour flight. If so, you will have T-I-G-H-T hamstrings.
  2. Japanese jetlag cancels out Spainish jetlag.
  3. Bus companies which charge 1,85 EURO on their airport bus and only 1,10 for all their other city busses are very smart.
  4. Dying hair at 2 am because you are bored with your town and hate your life is never a good idea.
  5. Dying hair at 2 am with non-permanent dye--because you are bored with your town and hate your life--is a fabulous idea.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Planes, trains, and automobiles...but no busses.

It seems that the closer I get to GradShitTownVille, the less public transportation I'm provided. In Tokyo, the subway was perfect, except when the four companies who privately own the subway lines fail to cooperate in planning the stops. The trains came almost every three minutes, and for just 160 yen, I could get to where I wanted to go. In Big City, USA where I have to catch a shuttle to GradShitTownVille from the airport, I had to wait 3 hours in the badly air conditioned shuttle lobby, having missed the previous shuttle by five minutes. For $42, I travelled 135 miles in 3 hours. This is rather unlike the bullet train, which offered a much faster meter per yen. Today, in GradShitTownVille, I have to make my way yet again to the horrid shuttle to take me back to airport so that I can go here. However, since it's the 4th of July, there are no busses running today, so I had to walk 40 minutes to the shuttle stop. The walk was nice, and I thought ahead and left my luggage in my office. But still, it seems kind of irresponsible not to run busses on a day in which all Americans seem to drink a lot while setting stuff on fire.