Virulent Word of Mouse

December 26, 2014

Top Technology events of the year, 2014

Filed under: Computer and Internet Humor,Internet economics,We call it life — Shane Greenstein @ 10:24 am

It is time again for the best technology events of the year. We have quite a lineup this year, including Sony, Aereo, net neutrality, Home Depot, and a few surprise guest stars.

As with prior years, the winner had to do something in the calendar year. The action had to involve information and communications technology. It had to be notable. And, finally, the award winner has to contain something that deserves a snarky remark. This is nothing to take seriously, and it is all in good fun.

59TH ANNUAL EMMY AWARDS - PRESS ROOMAs in past years, The winners of these awards win nothing at all except a little sarcasm and a bit of fleeting attention on this humble blog. There is a symbolic award. It is called a “Sally.” This is named for Sally Fields, who famously blurted out at the Academy Awards “You like me! You really like me!” Why is a technology award named for her even though she has no accomplishments in technology? Well, why not? The stakes are very low.

With no further run-up required, let’s get started.

1. The first Sally is for Original Script. It goes to Sony Studios – and, if you have a taste for the absurd, this story also wins for best dark comedy. No writer could have imagined this plot. This studio had been hacked a few years ago, but, apparently not learning any lesson, it failed to take standard precautions in its IT security – for example, the IT department did not encrypt its email password lists. Hackers released tons of confidential information, including lots of sensitive email. Then in a perverse blurring of the line between gossip and free speech, the Hollywood press pasted the confidential emails all over the online news – which, of course, will encourage another round of hacking of every other Hollywood studio. In a further plot twist, the hackers also included threats about a film being released by Sony, which includes a finale in which the president of North Koreathe-interview-2014-movie-poster is blown up. (Though in bad taste, this is supposed to be funny. Go figure.) Hey, no threat is too small for this studio! Sony gave theaters permission not to show the movie. After being criticized by many commentators, including President Obama, for letting free speech become the victim of online blackmail, the studio then reversed itself, deciding a few theaters could show the movie. Ah, this clear-thinking executive team then really pulled a good one, and decided to piss off those brave theaters by simultaneously releasing the film online for streaming. (Here is a quiz for moviegoers: where would you rather watch this film, in the safety of your own home or at a theater that might get blown up?) In some cities the patriotic left has rallied and made it their duty to see this second rate comedy in the name of not bowing to terror – what a publicity campaign! I can hardly wait to see what Fox News has to say about it. If that is not weird enough, then it just got plain weird. Somebody – the US government, Anonymous, or some serious hackers with an axe to grind? – did an old fashioned Denial of Service attack on all the servers in North Korea, rendering the Internet broken for the three dozen elite North Koreans who use it. Next thing you know the Cohen brothers will make a movie about all of this.

ellen-degeneres-snaps-academy-awards-selfie2. The next Sally is for the Best Supporting Actress in a selfie. The winner is Ellen Degeneres, whose star-studded selfie at the Academy Awards was retweeted two million times in two hours. It included Meryl Streep, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper, among others, and the social media world could not get enough of it. This record surpassed Barack Obama’s tweet on election night that said “Four more years.” The volumes were so high that Ellen’s selfie crashed twitter. What a world we live in! Or maybe it is not so novel: after all, this shows, yet again, that the US cares more about its movie celebrities than its presidents. Here is a question for you. Look at the photo closely. How hard is it to find Dory in the photo? Can’t see her? Keep at it. Trust me. Eventually you will learn something by Finding Dory. Still can’t find her? Find Nemo first. Find him and you have found her. (That was way too much work for such a weak joke. Apologies.)

3. Speaking of comic security lapses, this next award is for Best Special Effects by a retailer. The home-aloneSally goes to Home Depot. This is also a story of a firm not paying attention and learning lessons from the events around it. Home Depot allowed itself to be the victim of a large credit card fraud – 56 million credit cards in total. Ah, but it was not the largest theft ever, because Target had already been a bigger target, with 70 million stolen. But, hey, why does security matter? Can’t all credit card holders merely pass the costs onto their credit card company? Ah, it is not that simple. Home Depot is in a competitive industry, and customers have a choice. Customers who feel unsafe will take their business to a place that makes them feel safer, such as Lowe’s, Menard’s, Ace Hardware, and plenty of others. Have you been to a Home Depot lately? The lines are so short the place could be renamed Home Alone.

4. And now it is on to the Best Actor in a legal thriller (or the worst if you do not like the outcome). aereoNow that Apple and Samsung have stopped suing one another, high tech legal warriors have had to look outside of patent law, and, instead, look at copyright law! So Aereo gets this Sally. It lost its court case with the Supremes, 6 to 3. What part of Copyright law did they violate? Well, well, well, a typical Mission Impossible movie has a less convoluted explanation than this, so stay with me. This plot involves Aereo’s attempt to receive over-the-air signals of television programs and resell a service to homes. How did this work? Aereo hoped to help users escape their cable firm, where the charges are at a very high level. Aereo tried to find a new delivery method and escape retransmission fees from cable firms to content firms, which find their way into prices… How did it do that? Aereo asked, “Why can’t a firm just tap into that over-the-air signal?” Well, as it turns out, that might be illegal, according to US copyright law…. To avoid violating that law Aereo allocated a specific antenna for every household. Why did it have to be done this way? Um, stay with me… the answer has to do with an obscure part of copyright law that covers the conditions for paying retransmission fees, which the US Congress invented a few decades ago, but nobody actually anticipated that these retransmission fees would become as high as they have become, and Americans must have their football on Sundays, and it is the only reason most households still subscribe to cable, and if they could just find a way to get their sports over the air, then the entire US entertainment system would be toast…..Oh, this is too much! It is too convoluted. I give up! Can Tom Cruise just step into this plot and fix it? Please, please, please, can we change the channel?

5. Every year there is a special Sally reserved for Once-in-a-Lifetime achievement. The winner this FCC-logoyear has to be in recognition of the 3 million comments received by the FCC about net neutrality. This is a record for anything the FCC has ever done. Heck, that agency is lucky if anybody other than two dozen lobbyists ever show up for their hearings. So can you imagine it? Three million comments?! What an illustration of participatory democracy! Isn’t that just awesome? Except for one little problem. To whom do we give the Sally? Do we give it to Tim Wu, who coined the term “Net Neutrality,” but could not win his race for Lieutenant Governor of New York? No, he has tenure, so it is not as if he is out of a job. Perhaps it ought to go to Tom Wheeler, the chairman of the FCC, who is bravely conducting this exercise in online democracy in the face of presidential pressure and Congressional opposition. No, because we could just as easily give it to Verizon, who brought the ill-conceived lawsuit that generated this crisis, in spite of the fact that the old net neutrality rules really did not hurt them at all. Or perhaps it ought to go to the intrepid computer linguists who tried to analyze the words in the corpus of 3 million comments. They sought to figure out the fraction of comments which were pro or against net neutrality. No, not them. As if there was any suspense on that question? Duh. I think the Sally really should go to Marty Parker. Who, you may ask, is Marty Parker? Retired engineer, grandfather to my niece and nephew, and all around online maven, Marty believes so much in digital democracy that he personally penned three comments himself for the FCC. He can receive the Sally on behalf of all the online idealists out there. (For the nit picky among you, this does not violate the rules about favoritism towards relatives. He is my brother’s father-in-law, and we are not related by blood. However, he does subscribe to this blog, and I am not above favoring loyal subscribers. So there. Way to go, Marty!)

healthcare-gov-logo6. Speaking of Obama, a special Sally this year has to go for most boring sequel. The winner is the Obamacare web site, It went back up and, unlike its predecessor’s debut, it worked. Right away. And it kept working. Millions of people use it now and it just keeps working. No crashing. Just like any other web site. Ah, this is dull, nothing to see here. That is the problem with sequels. Once the story becomes routine it’s boring. Let’s move along.

7. Now it is time for the Sally that rewards the most obnoxious violation of privacy. Sadly, this no-privacyseems to be turning into an annual award, and once again reminds us that free speech needs to be used responsibly. In other words, the winner (or loser) has to be the hack of the iPhone cloud that leaked naked photos of Kate Upton and Jennifer Lawrence, among others. Look, I just cannot maintain the snarky tone on this one. It is hard enough to be a celebrity, but not everybody is as shallow and attention-hungry as Kim Kardashian, and the online world should not presume everyone is a potential target for an immature joke. Why can’t online society let famous women retain what little of the privacy they have left? Please just leave these people alone.

gal-alice-wonderland-24-jpg8. Speaking of tasteless, now it is time for the Sally for the Worst Horror Movie of the year, and this year they get a special Red Queen award for taking “off-with-their-heads” too far and too literally and without enough makeup. Yes, this award goes to the losers at ISIS – or ISIL or the Islamic State or whatever they call themselves. They did something truly horrific, filming their beheadings and pasting them on YouTube for the world to see. Quite a few commentators have noted the irony of using modern Internet video technology to publicize such a barbaric action, marrying the best and worst of human invention.  Look, once again, it is difficult to maintain sarcasm on this topic. I think I speak for most civilized people in saying it would be ok if YouTube decided to ban beheadings in its terms of service.

(Ah, let’s lighten it up again, and change the tone. For a moment there I was becoming preachy. Yes, now and again, even your truly wishes we lived in a better place.)

9. Now it is time for matters of commerce, and every year a Sally has to go to the most interesting markus-notch-perssondeal of the year. There were many candidates (e.g., Whatsapp or Nest). We are living in a boom time and the bubble has not yet burst, so there are surely more to come. But this year the Sally goes to… Markus “Notch” Persson, who had founded Mojang, along with Jakob Porser and Carl Manneh. Notch was the lead designer for Minecraft, Mojang’s big hit, which was recently sold to to Microsoft for $2.5 billion. Notch is widely admired online for his creativity and independence, and he has inspired a big online following. Quite a few users have admired the way Minecraft combined a zombie game with a sandbox creative game, and left it open ended enough so it appealed both to new users and experienced users (which is NOT an easy thing to pull off). Notch gives inspiration to programmers everywhere – if a company run out of Sweden can make it big, so can a company from anywhere. If that that is not enough, however, Notch gets the award for what he did next. He bought the most expensive house in Beverly Hills for $70 million, outbidding Jay-Z and Beyonce. Who knew? Even Swedish programmers prefer L.A.’s winter over Stockholm’s. Ah, California dreaming on such a winter’s day. Now there is a pretty little song for you.

justin-bieber-baby10. Let’s end on an even more sarcastic note. Here is the Sally for the worse song of the year. It goes to Justin Bieber for being the second person to have a YouTube video downloaded more than a billion times, joining the Gangum Style video, which was the first to achieve this feat. Justin gets it for the song “Baby.” You may be wondering, “Why give it to Justin? Isn’t he a publicity hungry and spoiled rich little cutesy who is close to outstaying his welcome in the hearts of preteen girls?” Yes, but I think I speak for all parents of young daughters when I say that I am grateful to hear anything other than the songs from the movie, Frozen.  Thank you Justin. May pictures of your many pretty little cheeky punim continue to appear in the online gossip pages, and may it help to distract kids from singing a Disney song. (But, hey, come to think of it, yes, I do want to go build a snowman. It would be nice to get outside.)do-you-want-to-build-a-snowman-23

Well, that is it for this year. Comments are welcome. Surely some notable events were missed.

And *sigh* now that I mentioned it, I cannot get those stupid little songs out of my head. Argh, we all just want to let it go.



December 7, 2014

My Daughter, Your Sparkler, On her Bat-Mitzvah

Filed under: We call it life — Shane Greenstein @ 9:09 pm

My dear Ilana Shira,

Before teenage life leads you to be too embarrassed to be seen with me, I would like to take a moment to discuss who you are and what choices you will face.

sparklerYou are distinctive. If each of us has a delicate light inside of us, then you were born with a sparkler. It is not visible, but if it were, it would NOT be a roman candle or an ostentatious fireworks display with the cannons booming.

Rather, your light resembles the sparklers that chase the moon on Independence Day. It is more like an endless trick birthday candle that fizzles and flits unexpectedly left and right.

Though small, its effects are visible.

I can see your sparkler when you smile and when you dance, especially when you imitate a Whirling Dervish by circling on the kitchen tiles. I also see it when you delight in figuring out the math problem of the day, or show me a draft of your essay for school. I also can hear it when you sit in the backseat of the car, oblivious to everything else, and hum.

Many people have seen the effect of your sparkler on the soccer field. You dribble for a few steps,DSC_1439
focus, and pass to a teammate with a precise and selfless touch. It is wonderful to watch.

Your sparkler also informs your exceptional sense of fashion. It may come as a surprise to you, but socks do not have to contain silly patterns and bright colors to function properly. Your delightful playfulness with clothing will eventually cost your mother and I dearly, but please ignore our sighs. If beautiful clothes make the sparkler shine more brightly, then wear it.

If I might be allowed to say it, I also hope you learn someday that a true friend also can love you in a plain white t-shirt. Just saying.

t-shirtYour sparkler appeared at the service today when you smiled, and when you sang the words of the Torah, and when you put your light voice to the Haftorah. You connected your sparkler to all those who have come before you.

Your mom and I are very proud of you.

Here is what I am trying to say. Your sparkler can inspire. Have the courage to act on its inspiration. Put it into words. If you want to offer a witty pun or any other warm and caring remark then do so. Give a smile to a friend, and offer a greeting, or a soft touch on the shoulder. A big gesture is also ok, like a hug or a high five. And do me a favor: don’t hold back in my presence.

Speaking of favors, it would be nice if – from time to time – you brought your sparkler to the breakfast table. Again, just saying.White cup of coffee isolated

Now for the avuncular advice: Your sparkler will burn more brightly the more you genuinely use it. As with dancing, practice makes action smoother. So use your sparkler when it does not matter; that will help you hear it during the moments when its inspiration can help you.

At the same time, using a sparkler often is not the same as using it well. It is evanescent and vulnerable, so it is ok to let it rest. It can be especially difficult to keep lit in the face of sustained adversity.

Hey-JudeBy the way, it is especially ok to let it dim a bit after sleepless nights with a baby. Again, just saying.

Finally, you will find in life that all sorts of behaviors and circumstances seem to be designed to discourage you from dancing in the direction your sparkler leads. There is no general principle to use, but please keep in mind that line from Hey Jude, “It’s a fool who plays it cool… by making his world a little colder.” You don’t have to be cold or cool.

Here is my biggest wish for you: I hope that someday you will trust someone enough so they see champagne_glassesyour sparkler in all its depth. Show them affection. Maybe you will get a close look at their light.

Let’s drink a toast to sparklers, and to the dance of life. L’chiam.




December 18, 2013

Top Dozen Tech Events of 2013

Filed under: Amusing diversions,Computer and Internet Humor,We call it life — Shane Greenstein @ 10:48 pm

It is time to look back, and give some awards for the best events in information and communications technology. And what a year it was — with Snowden, Healthcare IT, the Twitter IPO, and plenty of other events deserving both recognition and sarcastic observation.

Just like last year, there are four criteria for winning. The winner had to do something in the calendar year. The action had to sally-fields-the-flying-nuninvolve information and communications technology. It had to be notable. That is not asking much, so the final feature is the most important: The award winner has to contain something that deserves a snarky remark or a bit of sarcasm. Like last year, every winner gets a virtual trophy called a “Sally,” affectionately named for Sally Fields. Why her? Because she memorably said, “You like me, you really like me.” That label is meant to convey a simple message: none of this should be taken too seriously.

Here are a dozen. If you disagree with my choices for awards, feel free to suggest your own in the comments section. Let’s get to it. (more…)

October 29, 2013

William C. Lowe

Filed under: biography,We call it life — Shane Greenstein @ 8:37 am

All students of the computer industry have heard of Bill Lowe, the leader of an IBM Boca Raton facility that launched the IBM PC. That launch was a signal event in computing. It catalyzed growth in the small systems market.

William C. LoweI had the great pleasure to interview Bill a few years ago for a research project comparing the response of large firms to external events (Tim Bresnahan, Shane Greenstein, and Rebecca Henderson, 2012. “Schumpeterian Economies and Diseconomies of Scope: Illustrations from the Histories of IBM and Microsoft,” The Rate and Direction of Technical Change, 50 Year Anniversary, Edited by Josh Lerner and Scott Stern, University of Chicago Press. Pp 203-276.)

The news this morning announced Bill Lowe’s passing. I am greatly saddened to learn of his passing, and my sympathies go to his many friends and family. He had a unique role in computing history. In this post I would like to share a few memories of those interviews.


October 13, 2013

Just Finish it

Filed under: We call it life — Shane Greenstein @ 9:42 pm

Walk into any running store and tell the employees you will run a marathon or half-marathon-photomarathon. Inevitably that employee, who is usually a runner too, will respond in a hushed tone with a measured statement, like they are imparting a truism, but afraid of offending your religious sensibility. They say, “I prefer the distance of a half-marathon. That is a good distance.”

I think I finally understand that statement, and why everyone says it with such reverence. It is a lesson that can only be learned the hard way. I learned it this morning running the Chicago Marathon.

I ran the Chicago Marathon last year. It was my first marathon. The bucket list figured prominently in the motivation for trying that race.

The bucket list does not explain why I ran the Wisconsin Marathon last spring, nor why I ran this morning. The motivation remained difficult to articulate. I will get to that momentarily. I mostly wanted to satisfy my curiosity.

Chicago_Marathon_LogoYes, most people do not train for and run marathons just to answer a question. That will take some explaining.

Today’s blog provides a discourse on the motivation for running marathons. Oh, it also has details about how today’s went. (more…)

July 1, 2013

Information Technology in the Desert

Filed under: Amusing diversions,Essays,We call it life — Shane Greenstein @ 8:09 pm

Every summer my wife and I take the children west to experience nature at its grandest. Though these trips are designed to foster “quality family time,” invariably they teach us more about ourselves than merely about nature. In previous posts I have used these trips to learn something new about the role of information and communications technology in our lives.DSC_0880

This year we visited the southwest. The Hoover Dam served as appetizers then we turned to the main course –Zion, Bryce and the Grand Canyon. The Petrified Forest and the Painted Desert served as dessert. Yes, indeed, the desert was dessert. (Sure, it was clumsy, but worth the artlessness nonetheless. How many times in your life do you ever get to put those two words in one sentence?)

This year I learned two kinds of lessons. One was about connectivity, while the other was about prediction. That is not obvious, to be sure. Give me a minute. I will get there. (more…)

May 12, 2013

The revolution will be televised: A teaching moment.

Filed under: Amusing diversions,biography,Essays,We call it life — Shane Greenstein @ 10:02 pm

As a parent I view the modern era of hyper-connection as an infinite opportunity for teaching moments. My children humor my pursuit, bless them. I do worry that they perceive their father’s aspirations as random outbursts of unconnected insights, barely Gil-Scott-Heron-002 (1)distinguishable from the indecipherable utterings in Ezekiel’s visions, and vested with much less authority. Yet, I persist.

On a recent Saturday I became a taxi driver for my oldest son, and drove him home from the gym. Something by Gil-Scott Heron came up on the bop jazz channel on the car’s satellite radio. Heron’s rebellious expressions made him famous, but today the radio played themes of love. It was one of Heron’s earlier and milder pieces.

The jockeys experiment on this channel on the weekends, taking the music to the edges, though this hardly qualified as an edge. Though Heron is not regarded as a jazz pioneer in most circles, the beat poets influenced him, and he borrowed many of their rebellious forms for individualized expressions.

My son stared out the window, rendered silent by one of those adolescent moods in which sentences never exceed three words. Sometimes the mood can last for months.

gil-scott-heron-the-revolution-will-not-be-televisedLooking for an opening, I faked surprise. “Well, look at that.” I said with an upbeat tone, “It is Gil Scott-Heron.” This registered nothing from the passenger seat, not even a curious question, such as “Who is Gil Scott-Heron?” Was my son listening or descending into a month-long silence? He remained motionless.

A father has to be intellectual resourceful at these moments. I gambled, and issued an overstatement that I hoped might catch his attention. “Some people regard Gil Scott-Heron as the father of Hip-Hop and Rap.” If my son was at all paying attention, he would regard this sentence as a stretch, at best. The present song more closely resembled a male rendition of something acceptable to Ella Fiztgerald. Nothing about this love song would suggest such a radical interpretation. Still, the music contained enough rhythm to be catchy. My son stirred, and I sensed he was listening to me.

If the hook was in, then perhaps he would take the bait. “His most famous song was something called ‘The revolution will not be televised.’ Have you ever heard of that?”

“No.” My son shifted his weight while answering. Maybe I had him. This is what passes for a teaching moment in the suburbs.

“I will play it for you when we get home.” I promised, “You might like it.” No sound came from son, and we drove on. (more…)

May 4, 2013

Popping it at the Wisconsin Marathon

Filed under: We call it life — Shane Greenstein @ 9:10 pm

wisconsin marathon- logoWhat would be the point of being human on this little earth unless we aspired to reach audacious goals from time to time? Of course, reaching for something far and high contains its risks. Sometimes the aspirations will not be realized.

I ran my second marathon on the morning of May 4th. It was the Wisconsin Marathon in Kenosha – official slogan: “The World’s Cheesiest Marathon.” The token meal at the end of the race includes beers and bratwurst. The race has a nice playful atmosphere. My first race had been the Chicago Marathon seven months earlier. Wisconsin had just under 3,400 participants. Chicago had just over 30,000. Both were a big party, but at a different scale. I liked them both.

I had been optimistic about this race and had compiled a special list of upbeat favorites designed to make the run more enjoyable by quickening the pace. The songs started with “Linus and Lucy” by Vince Guaraldi. I crossed mile 25 as the iPod played the last song in the compilation. It was Bruce Springsteen’s “Born to Run.” It made me smile. Though I did not need to quicken my pace at that point, I was rather content with the outcome, despite not realizingborntorun most of the goals. At least I had made a good spirited attempt trying.

There were six goals for this marathon, listed below in order of importance. These were:
1. Don’t die.
2. Finish.
3. Don’t throw up.
4. Beat the time from the Chicago Marathon (i.e., faster than 3:40:19).
5. Don’t walk (except for water).
6. Qualify for the Boston Marathon (i.e., faster than 3:30).

As it turned out, I only achieved two of these goals. You can probably figure out which two (Obviously, this post is not written from the grave). But focusing solely on the outcome does not really tell the story of how the goals came to be unrealized just after Mile 24. That is an amusing story worth telling.


October 7, 2012

My First Marathon

Filed under: We call it life — Shane Greenstein @ 8:19 pm

Somebody told me that after finishing my first marathon I would feel invincible. I didn’t, not on any mental level. I felt exhausted beyond fatigue, light-headed and delirious, and disoriented. A runners high never materialized, so there was no feeling of elation.  Same issues in the physical realm, as my body also did not feel invincible. My legs were rubber. The calves were tightening. I crossed the finished line and immediately began worrying about preventing nausea from turning into throwing up.

Walking did not come easily. The legs were no longer following mental commands. Adjusting my weight to the outside of my feet, I weakly stepped forward, and began to focus on finding electrolytes and a banana, following a few people in front of me. Experience had taught that these foods prevented throwing up and fainting, even in the absence of hunger.

Someone put medals around runner’s necks, like Princess Leia at the end of the first Star Wars movie. So I got in line, bowed, and received one. I could barely hear the person say congratulations, another sign of the need to return to mental equilibrium. Another person put a covering on the runners to keep them warm, which I accepted passively, like a child weakened by a fever. I had seen these quasi-metallic capes in half-marathons, and knew they worked well. I hope I said thank you, but looking back on it, I cannot recall through the mental fog and haze.

(The covering is in the picture below.)

Cape and medal made everyone look like royalty. Actually, in my disorientation everyone looked like surreal royalty – not Salvador Dali surreal, but much closer to the surreal mix after oral surgery and an ophthalmologist visit. Dentist laughing gas gives that disorienting feel, except the pain did not go away after the race. Ophthalmologists put things in the eye and that distorts the way light enters. Any light color shined, and the reflective metals seemed otherworldly. The reflection off the jackets took on a sheer similar to the shine of the aliens in the movie Cocoon.

I followed the other alien royalty runners, walking forward as a strategy to not faint. Thousands of bananas sat on a table to the right. They glowed in the light, looking like suitable alien food. Someone put items in a bag. Polite aides directed runners forward. I walked and peeled the banana. Equilibrium returned soon, and I headed to pick up my gear so I could get over to the bean, where my family waited. (For those unfamiliar with Millennium Park in Chicago, the “bean” is the big mirrored sculpture pictured behind my kids. It was not far from the end of the race in Grant Park, and made for a central place to meet up.)

If you had asked me a few years ago I would have said that I could not run a marathon. The physical demands appeared out of reach. The Chicago Marathon is considered an easy marathon due to its flat course, but the physical demands lived up to the billing. Twenty six miles is still quite far, too far for even a casual athlete.

Still, middle age hit, and the bucket list seemed to loom more central in my mind, and I started experimenting with novel activities, like training for a marathon and writing a book. I did the necessary training. Nine months of training after a half-marathon last fall reshaped my body. Including the training for the half-marathon, then it was eighteen months of training to get beyond a ten kilometer run to a marathon.

This was the most physically demanding athletic activity I have ever done. I can recall soccer games in high school that went into overtime, but these rubber legs were more rubbery than they were in youth. Hiking to the top of Half Dome from Yosemite Valley and coming back in the same day also produced rubber legs, but the experience was so exhilarating I did not notice, and, again, I did that demanding hike when I was half my present age. Climbing up and down Mount Merapi, a live volcano on the island of Java, did make me throw up, but seeing smoke from the cone at sunrise in fifty mile an hour winds also was the most thrilling moment I have ever experienced. Every prior moment of physical exhaustion came with a quid pro quo.

This was different. This involved discipline and persistence in training, and endurance in execution. The last few miles involved a test of character. I was trying to prove something to myself. Just don’t ask me what. I am still trying to sort it out.

While we are on the topic, I could say this: I am most proud that, despite the rubber legs and fatigue and disorientation, I never walked. I never gave in.

Here is something else I learned: I could not do this alone. Many people helped along the way, and I am very grateful. Jen Brown stands out most of all. She provided constant advice and encouragement, going all the way back to the first half-marathons. She also ultimately provided the key ingredient for the marathon, electrolyte pills from the brand, Nuun, which solved my issue. I call her coach, and she deserves the label.

Other key advice and encouragement came from a couple other accomplished marathoners, Sarit Markovich and David Spak, as well as the runners in the school bus gang, Christina Cripe, Jen Lawless, and Annie Kay Taylor. Thanks to all!

The crowds were great, cheerful and positive and loud. Special thanks to David and Nami, and Phil and Yael for coming out to watch too. (Phil took the picture of me in the race, shown at the top of the blog).

Last and most important, I must thank my family, my wife and kids, and our nanny, Barbara. They played along, let me run, asked about my progress, and left my special foods for me in the fridge. They also made fun of me when I threw up during practice runs at longer distances (due to electrolyte imbalances), which added the right amount of levity to it all. Best of all, they came out for the race, situating themselves at the halfway mark. That earned them a sweaty hug, which nobody seemed to appreciate. It gave me a lift, and I could not ask for better.

Only one more detail and this post is done. My time was 3:40:19, not too shabby for a middle-aged first timer, and good enough for the bucket list.

I have missed ice cream these last few weeks. It is time for a sundae.

August 24, 2012

Whitewater, Wimax, and the Milky Way.

Filed under: Amusing diversions,We call it life — Shane Greenstein @ 10:36 pm
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Our solar system inhabits an anonymous nub in one of the swirling fingers of the Milky Way. Suburban life renders the neighborhood invisible from the earth’s surface, collateral damage from too much light. Before a dam turned it into a reservoir, the Stanislaus River wandered through the foothills of the Sierras, far from such interference. Lying in a sleeping bag next to that river I first saw the Milky Way as a young teenager. It appeared as a faint background to the brightest stars, as if a spectral highlighter painted the fuzzy line.

I was in that sleeping bag during a whitewater river raft trip, halfway down the Stanislaus. My father had arranged for the trip. Partly as an act of homage to him, and partly to check an item off the bucket list, this August I arranged for two days of white water rafting for my family on the Southern Fork of the American River. I also hoped to show my children the Milky Way.

This post summarizes my family’s summer vacation. Similar to prior posts about summer vacations (e.g., here and here and here), it tells a number of shaggy dog stories about the role of IT – specifically, about choosing the campsite, traveling on the road, and making conversation in a boat. In brief, the post uses my family’s vacation to illustrate the role of information technology in daily life. I hope these stories resonate with you, and I hope you find them entertaining. (more…)

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