christmas 2008

Briefly, on yesterday's political news...

I hope to have a longer post up soon on the ramifications of the events of November 8. For now, I'd like to share the comments I made to my Senators - one of whom I voted against ten days ago - on the two nominations the President-elect made public on Friday:
Senators Casey and Toomey,

I'm writing to you today to express my hope that you will oppose the nominations of Rep. Mike Pompeo to head the Central Intelligence Agency and of Sen. Jeff Sessions to be Attorney General.

Rep. Pompeo has made comments calling for the execution of Edward Snowden, prejudicing any future judicial proceeding that may eventuate against Snowden by declaring his desired outcome. Rep. Pompeo's stated opinions on the collection and retention of metadata are totally inconsistent with the American tradition of a people free to live their lives without the Government prying into their every activity, absent individualized suspicion of wrongdoing. All the reasons for which Senator Paul filibustered John Brennan's confirmation to this position apply with equal force to Sen. Pompeo.

Notwithstanding any comity you may personally feel with Sen. Sessions, the prospect of him as Attorney General carries perhaps greater implications for freedom in the Republic. Sen. Sessions fervently supports the President-elect's inhumane and unconstitutional proposals on immigration, and I have no doubts that he would unleash the full power of the Justice Department to achieve those ends. Doing so would pose grave threats to our freedoms under the First, Fourth, Fifth, and Eighth Amendments, and the effects would undoubtedly spill over to American citizens. I fear a renewed push for nationwide mandatory implementation of REAL ID and E-Verify, which run the risk of creating a "papers, please" state that would be the envy of the kingdom from which we broke in 1776 (to say nothing of the KGB or the Stasi). To add to this, Sen. Sessions' full-throated support of civil asset forfeiture is equally disqualifying. Seizing "guilty property" whose owners may have had no awareness of its criminal implications turns the concept of "innocent until proven guilty" on its head - in short, it's un-American, and needs to be eliminated, not expanded, as I fear Sen. Sessions will do.

I thank you for your service to the people of the Commonwealth, and look forward to your contribution to a healthy Senate debate on not only these appointments, but all those the new Administration makes.

Sincerely yours,
Matt Carberry
NB: I had already seen Sen. Toomey's statement of support of Sen. Sessions' nomination when I wrote this - I elected to send it to him anyway.
christmas 2008

THIS! IS!... my first post here in a while

Those who follow me on Twitter know that for about the last two years, no less than eighty percent of the content I post on that feed is related to America's Favorite Quiz Show, Jeopardy! My history with the program might best be described as off-again, on-again — with it becoming permanently on-again in the summer of 2014. One consequence of becoming a deeper member of the J! fan community was discovering #JeopardyLivePanel, a weekly video stream/podcast featuring lots of recent and not-so-recent players. Last season, one such contestant asked the panel "how did you fall in love with Jeopardy!?" It is that question that I intend to answer at length here.

The program, in its current (Alex Trebek-hosted) incarnation, premiered when I was three. By the earliest time that I could remember, it was firmly established on the station and in the time slot where I feel it was meant to be — 7:00 p.m. on WABC — and where it still makes its home today (and similarly on WPVI, the Philadelphia ABC affiliate). I didn't watch it every night, but I certainly saw it enough to remember the old sets and the first couple versions of the Think! theme.

I first had vague thoughts of trying out for the show after graduation from high school. I still have a red Cornell sweatshirt that I originally bought back when I was an undergrad there, and now, when I pull it out, I imagine the missed chance to wear it during either of the College Championships in 2000. But the opportunity passed — not least because during my first two years at Cornell, I didn't have my own TV on which to watch, and other, non-Sony Pictures Entertainment-approved methods of watching the show were few and far between. That problem was only exacerbated after I joined the Navy; I didn't spring for my own cable service in the barracks at NNPTC, so while I heard plenty of the buzz surrounding Ken Jennings's historic run, I caught very few of the games as they originally aired. Completing naval nuclear propulsion training and reporting to a submarine didn't enhance my viewing opportunities. After getting out of the Navy and moving back to my parents' place on Long Island, I caught the show more often, but it still wasn't a nightly habit. One game I certainly remember seeing was during the 2012 College Championship, when a semifinalist from Columbia extolled the virtues of that school's "marching band." That comment was a rare instance of me actively wanting an opponent to lose.

After moving here to the Philadelphia suburbs, I continued to catch the show on occasion, including some of Arthur Chu's run. But it was an unexpected turn of events that made me all-in on Jeopardy! as I am today. Through a co-worker, I re-connected with someone who I attended Cornell with, who had been a contestant in 2011, and we had dinner in Center City. Among the many things we discussed was her appearance on the show, including what Alex Trebek is really like, to the limited extent the contestants interact with him. Simultaneously with this, the hiatus between Seasons 30 and 31 was showing reruns of the Battle of the Decades, which brought back 45 of the best J! players of all-time playing for a grand prize of a million bucks. Once the new season began, I had the series set for recording on my DVR, with my rear end plopped on the couch at 7 p.m. whenever possible. It's been that way ever since, although being on rotating shift work now, I often watch the show at 6:30 a.m. the following morning after coming home from work. Whatever the hour, I watch every game, I track my Coryat scores and Final Jeopardy! record, and even have compiled some figures and statistics about the show. Last week, I took the online contestant test for the second time — and (presumably) passed for the first, so now I'm hoping for the email invitation to an in-person audition.

As much as Jeopardy! itself has had a positive impact on my life, acting as a respite from my nuclear license training and being on shift, its role as a gateway to its fan community has been even more so. A few weeks into Season 31, I started live-Tweeting episodes under the #Jeopardy hashtag. And through doing so, I discovered... JBoard. The incredibly exhaustive J! Archive. Keith Williams, the 2003 College Champion, who runs The Final Wager, which changed the way I watch the game, by making me intimately aware of when a contestant has blown a shot to win — and more than once inducing me to fist-pump at the screen when a number is revealed showing a player's depth of preparation. Andy Saunders, who now runs The Jeopardy! Fan, home of the aforementioned #JeopardyLivePanel. All of my fellow #Jeopardy live-Tweeters, howsoever they opine on the game and the players...

...and especially all of the players on Twitter who I've had the pleasure of interacting with. Players who left Culver City with only a consolation prize, and players who now have the honor of being known for all time as Jeopardy! champions, and players who were invited back to play in the Tournament of Champions. Players who've endured the wrath of Alex (like current champion Susan Cole, who got slagged for her love of "nerdcore hip-hop"), and players who've endured the wrath of knowledge-less armchair commentators who see fit to spout off on attributes far removed from how they played the game. Players like Jocelyn Dorfman, whose taste in baseball I may disagree with but respect nonetheless; players like Terri Pous, who gave us a glimpse behind the scenes of the show; and players like Talia Lavin, who courageously chronicled the harassment she endured following her appearance last season.

One and all, these players make Jeopardy! the great program — nay, the great institution — that it is today, as Trebek himself is fond of saying. I may quibble with how they play the game, if it disagrees with the strategy I think gives them the best shot to win. But win or loss, agree or disagree, I'll defend each and every last one of them against criticism of their interview topics, mannerisms, or looks. They've defied the odds, been in the arena, and done the damn thing. For that alone, they're deserving of the utmost respect — and I hope I get the chance to join them, especially before Alex Trebek makes his final farewell.
christmas 2008

A Christmas both familiar and unfamiliar...

Last time around, I mentioned my brother had moved to the West Coast. Strictly speaking, that isn't technically true. He's an hour inland, having landed himself in Corvallis, Oregon. When I unexpectedly saw him at Thanksgiving in Greenlawn, he mentioned that I would need to rent neither a room nor a car should I decide to trek west for a visit. I tossed that idea around in my head, until realizing... I've got a ton of reward points available to me! After looking at various itineraries, I booked one that I thought would work well within my schedule, while still ensuring that I'd pay zero dollars out of pocket (for the airfare, that is - still paid to check a bag).

And so, last Monday, I flew PHL -> MSP -> PDX. It wasn't without difficulty. Once I'd packed my seabag, I tried to lock it... but it failed to lock. I had to detour on my trip down to the airport to buy a luggage lock, leading Delta to declare that I was checking my bag "late"; running that through the Airline to English translator yields "45 minutes early." They told me it might not arrive when I did; I walked away from the counter chalking that up as merely some kind of scare tactic to get me to show up earlier next time. The layover in Minneapolis-St. Paul just added to the fun. I thought 43 minutes would be sufficient to grab a bite and connect. In related news, I fly quite rarely, and not in over two years prior to last week. Hearing my last name and the words "final boarding call" while I'm walking down a conveyor belt for humans definitely finds a way of putting a spring in your step. One of the unexpected highlights of the trip came right off the bat; just after touchdown, my brother let me know that my half-brother wanted to have lunch with us. His choice of venue - Claim Jumper in Tualatin - was spot on, although it felt like dinner to me, as the food was set down about 3:30 Pacific time. I was wiped and so I slept most of the drive down to Corvallis.

While down there, I got the chance to explore a little bit, insofar as the immediate Corvallis area offers. But I did end up spending a lot of time camped out and relaxing at the house my brother and a friend of his have rented, where two more of his friends will join him early in the new year. I learned that John is a massive History Channel junkie. I was cool to The Curse of Oak Island, but the show that really got him going was Hunting Hitler. He got me caught up before last week's new episode. I thought the series was well edited for dramatic effect, but my evaluation of the fruits of the search turns heavily on what burden of proof you apply to Bob Baer and his team. If it's the criminal standard of "beyond a reasonable doubt," then one must find for the settled history (Hitler died in the bunker in Berlin). But on the civil standard of "preponderance of the evidence," they might carry the day, although given that P(Der Führer lives) < .001, I'm not sure how much it matters. Try him in absentia? Given we have much bigger fish to fry, why? Speaking of those fish - my brother's on the left, I'm on the right:

(That was a few hours before last night's finale.)

John could not have been a more gracious host. Two weeks before I touched down in Oregon, he exhibited class by not trash talking until Josh Brown's kick sailed wide in overtime. (He's a Jets fan.) He indulged my craving for Jeopardy! each weeknight (delaying as necessary for football or the aforementioned Hunting Hitler) so that I wouldn't be behind when I came back east. He set us up to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. I enjoyed it more than he did; he pegged it as too derivative of A New Hope and Return of the Jedi. As everything closed up on Christmas Eve, he delivered delicious chicken parm, in honor of our late parents' traditional Sunday dinner. The next morning, as we lazily watched Die Hard, he served up a tasty surprise: chicken and waffles for brunch. That being so, we resorted to cultural appropriation a few hours later, ordering in some Chinese for dinner.

The twenty-sixth dragged, especially for me, toward an absolutely ugly NFL matchup - Washington at the Eagles. I was in the hellish position of having to drop my resistance to the Eagles fandom, as they needed to win to give Big Blue even the slightest chance to win the NFC East. As the game clock at Lincoln Financial Field closed out the division title for the Snyderholes, the clock had already run out on my time in the Beaver State. As we left Corvallis to ferry me to PDX, my flight out had already been delayed nine minutes. When we took the exit off Interstate 205, it'd been delayed another twenty. That put me in a perfect position - plenty of time to clear security theater and find some beer and food, and plenty of time to make the connection. On the drive up, I'd researched food and drink options in Concourse D; I was intrigued by the Rogue Ales & Sprirts. After the government was through with me, I found my way there... right next to the gate! SCORE! Two tall drinks and a chicken finger platter eased the way... until the time on the board changed from 11:25 to 11:55. Even then, I knew I'd be in trouble on the back end. Not the kind of thing you want to be worrying about on a red-eye, when you want to be sleeping. And I was most certainly awake for the full duration of the return trip. An unexpected upgrade to "economy comfort" sustained me, as did the chance to correct a mistake from the summer - I caught Trainwreck, led by the amazing Amy Schumer. But I spent the second half of that flight checking, rechecking, and checking again the gate assignment of my connecting flight...

... for very good reason. The delay out of PDX had cut my layover to twenty minutes. I retained vague familiarity with DTW, having driven to it from Findlay many times as I interviewed for my current job. When I saw the gate for my connection, I knew it would be hella close. The flight crew was on point with the announcements - paraphrasing: "if you're getting off here, or if you can take your time, sit the heck down." I could do neither of those things. Emerging from gate A72 at 7:00 Eastern time gave me a brief flashback, quickly replaced by the need to reach A25 - and with a quickness. I sprinted. I used the conveyors. I walked quickly. I used more conveyors. I glimpsed A25... plane still there! A shot! I reached the counter, thrust my boarding pass at the attendant. She goes down the jetway... nothing. She calls somewhere... asks whether I have roll-on bags... I don't. Like Link with the magical key, the door opens for me! I collapse in my seat...

... only to endure an hour ground stop. The weather in Philadelphia prevented anybody from taking off or landing, so we'd have to wait. Fortunately, it was only an hour. As I walked off that flight and through PHL's Concourse D, I knew I'd need a boost. In 1987, it was called "liquid Schwartz"; nowadays, we call it 5-Hour Energy. It was indeed enough to get me to my "new" car (hold on, I haven't mentioned that here yet) and back to Phoenixville. I was a shell the rest of the day, which is just as well, as it gave me an excuse to turn off that horrific Giants-Vikings game halfway through the third quarter.

I awoke Monday morning somewhat refreshed. Hadn't completely acclimated to the time change back, but had done enough to get through a test and a scenario. But as our planet approaches the arbitrarily determined start/finish line of its orbit, I feel ready to take on what 2016 is going to bring on. And it starts early - our NRC exam will conclude before January does.

In 2015, I broke a good habit by barely posting here at all. I hope to re-break that habit in this year that will see me to three and one half decades. As for whatever else I can do to improve my life? Perhaps a piece of property, or someone to share this... or both? That's up to the Fates and me to determine.
christmas 2008

All that's old is new again - but not the same, nor can it ever be

Thanksgiving is, of course, about homecoming, and about family. But for the reason detailed in my last post here so very long ago, Thanksgiving no. 35 was unlike any of the first thirty-four.

What to do over this long weekend had weighed heavily on my mind for a while, but was uncertain, given the radically changed circumstances in my family over the last twelve months. My brother moved to the West Coast in August. At the end of September, we closed on the sale of the land on which the Ancestral Palace formerly sat. Though my roots will always be spiritually on Long Island, the temporal roots had pretty much been severed...

... or so I thought, until two Fridays before last. On the day Paris was targeted by the scum of our species, I got an email from my cousin who works for the State Department. She'd attached pictures of standstill rush-hour traffic in Jakarta, where the government had sent her. She also mentioned her return date and plans for the holiday - dinner with her sister - and that I was welcome to get in on those plans if I wished to. Problem solved! Having set my agenda, I didn't think much of what John would be doing; having made a trip back east last month and making another one in December, I figured he'd be content to stay put in Oregon.

Just as the football commenced on Thursday, I walked into an unfamiliar house in Oyster Bay, weary from three hours seated in my car. Though I really would have benefited from having a family tree in my pocket to keep the relationships straight, I immediately felt at home. I especially enjoyed the more civilized timing of the meal. I was told that we were starting at 1:00, but we didn't sit until a little before three, giving us plenty of time to socialize and catch up. I made it a point to show up only a few minutes before one, having heard Adam Carolla complain year after year about his parents arriving 45 minutes early, with the meal nowhere close to being ready. At the same time, I couldn't shake the urge not to be late, because for so long as I can remember, Mom saying "we're eating at 2:00" meant "I'm shooting for 2, but it certainly won't be later - and it might be 1:45."

Between my arrival and our eating, I got a text from John; I let him know what I was up to. He responded with the news that, four days earlier, he'd bought a ticket and flown in. Of course, now I had to go see him. I meandered my way to where he was - so that I might pass through Northport for the first time in three hundred forty-nine days. I made stops down at Village Park and at the plot of land on which I was raised - on which is being built a worthy replacement to the Ancestral Palace. Befitting the styles and preferences of the times, it encompasses both more square footage and more height than its venerable predecessor. When I did finally meet John, he informed me that one of our neighbors is quite displeased with the structure going up, and wrote strongly worded letters to that effect. But we (read: my brother) sold to a relative of his former construction boss, who knows both the zoning requirements and how to stay within them. That neighbor can go... well, let's keep this clean.

John and I caught up with each other while we watched Bears-Packers, followed by a few episodes of Pawn Stars. I ended up crashing there with him, before leaving early the next morning, and finally making my way back down here to Phoenixville mid-afternoon. I'm already looking at PHL-PDX round trips over Christmas; and perhaps more importantly, the trip has left me feeling rejuvenated - a most important feeling, as I and my class head into the home stretch of our license training.

christmas 2008

"What we leave behind is not as important as how we've lived."

Those words, uttered by Captain Jean-Luc Picard in the final scene of Star Trek Generations, have rung through my mind more times than I can count over the last two weeks. They were the words I uttered shortly after 9 p.m. on the Tuesday before last, to only three other people in the room, just before I did the hardest thing I've ever had to do -- which is saying something, given that I said something very similar less than eighteen months ago. This is a story that has, to some extent, already been told in the media. Let me tell it from my end.

Friday morning, December 5. Refueling today. Fun topic... we'll learn how we get old fuel out and new fuel in, something you don't really do in the Navy. The lecture starts like any other, seemingly, until about 8:15. The site training director enters, and pulls me out. Highly irregular. My first thought is, come on! Last exam was only an 84! An off day, but I still passed! He asks me to dial one of the senior managers. That senior manager gives me a number with a 631 area code. Without dialing, I knew then that serious shit was going going down back home. I call the number, I speak to my brother, I hang up the phone. I open the door to the office, and the training director asks me, "Everything all right?" And I can only respond truthfully... "no, it is not."

I relay what I've been told over the phone. There's been a fire back home in New York. The house is destroyed. And Mom's gone.

Within two and a half hours, I've told my classmates, been walked up the hill back to my car, thrown some clothes into a sea bag, held my mail (instinctive from going underway on the submarine), and pointed the Focus toward what was left of the Ancestral Palace. I reached Northport shortly after two, picked up my brother, and drove out to Crab Meadow. I turned the corner, and there was a giant truck. At first, I thought it was a news crew, but when I recognized the crest as that of the Suffolk County Police, I was relieved that it was their mobile command unit. I briefly talked with them, left, and an hour and a half later, came back and stepped foot into what was, for all I knew in that moment, the eighth circle of Hell. The house I'd stood in less than a week before, fully intact, was a mess of blackened debris. And yet somehow, my brother's wallet had been sufficiently shielded from the flames. One small sign of hope.

As all this is going down, I fielded the first of what have been innumerable messages of condolence. One of them was from a couple of friends from the Big Red Marching Band back in the day, who live in nearby Huntington. I didn't want to smother my brother, and wanted to ensure he has space to grieve as he wished to, so I asked them if I could crash at their place. They graciously offered their guest room, and for the next seven days, that was home base for me. It was also a welcome distraction; they've got a three-year-old daughter, so I got to play blocks and Legos and watch Cinderella in between everything else I had to deal with. That said, I briefly questioned the little one's movie choice at the time; I had to summon a bit of self-control to keep from losing it at the mention of Cinderella losing both her parents, so that I would not have to disclose to her the true reason for my visit.

There are many events that bring long-lost friends and family out of the woodwork. Winning the lottery, or getting drafted into the pros and signing your first contract, can bring them out and showing you their worst. On the other hand, when something like this happens, they come out and show you their absolute best. One of my friends from high school appeared with basic clothing for John. His friends rallied behind him, not only on Long Island, but coming in from around the country to help us grieve. It's unfortunate that it takes an event where we lose so much to remind us of just how much we still have.

Saturday was spent in a holding pattern. I'll say here what I've said to many others - I hope and pray that nobody has to hear the words "forensic dentist" outside of dramatic fiction. Finally, on Sunday, the body was released, and we were able to make arrangements. Monday was another day without forward progress, strictly speaking, but it was still filled with warm experiences, despite the cold weather. I spent an hour and a half walking in the woods near the house with my friend who brought the clothes for John, and we caught up on a whole lot of things; among the topics covered were international bureaucracy and long-lost high school classmates. Later that evening, I processed with Ryan over dinner and drinks downtown.

Tuesday was the wake. It ran the gamut, to say the least. There were the highs of remembering all the great things Mom did with so many of the people she touched so deeply. There were the deeper lows of just how senseless and raw this is. As the crowd dwindled and it was getting to be that time of the hour, I felt the urge to share the thought I shared here at the top, which had lodged in my head so soon, particularly because it was a fire that claimed the lives of Captain Picard's brother and nephew earlier in the movie. I recall saying "let's not sugarcoat this - there isn't much left behind. But how Mom lived is beyond question."

We tied up some loose ends over the next couple of days. I spent much of both those days researching things like estate taxes and the finer points of the Estates, Powers, and Trusts Law of New York State. We met with the lawyer who had drafted a will for Mom. We also met with a representative from Fidelity, who manages Dad's retirement account. But by Friday, I knew there wasn't much more I could do there. I had one last dinner with John, and pointed my car southwesterly, at least for the time being.

I reported back into work on Monday morning, and set about the task of catching up on what the class had done in my absence. In particular, they'd taken two exams, and a third this past Wednesday while I was studying for the other ones. I took the first one on Thursday, and came out relatively unscathed. The remaining two will be taken next week, the aim being to get me all caught up by the time the class reconvenes for the second year of initial license training on January 5.

Those two exams won't be easy. Nor will be the process of picking up the pieces from what happened. But my brother and I have incredible strength behind us to get through the challenge - not only from the people around us, but from the values instilled in us by our parents. And we take further strength from the knowledge that though neither of them remains with us here on Earth, they watch over us from somewhere - and wherever that may be, their souls are healed simply by being reunited with one another.
christmas 2008

The Battery Bungle, episode 2

(Episode 1 occurred back in July 2008.)

We had some record or near-record low temperatures here in the northwest suburbs of Philadelphia last night. For the first time this autumn, the mercury dipped near 20 °F as I left for work at six this morning. When I went to start my car, it wanted to, and it struggled... but that struggle was followed by a series of clicks. No dice, but the actuation of lights signified only a low voltage condition, one that hopefully a jump start would temporarily correct.

Being as it was so early, there didn't appear to be anyone else up, and I wasn't about to wake them. Around 6:15, someone came out of the building across from mine. I asked her if she'd be willing to help me. She asked me where my car was and if I lived in the complex. I pointed to my car and apartment; she said she had to bring her dog inside; and so I walked back over to my car. After a few minutes, I wondered what was taking so long, but I wasn't about to tell someone who'd agreed to help me to hurry up. Someone else came outside, and I considered asking them for a jump, but the first lady had gone to the trouble of putting her dog back in her apartment, so I didn't think it proper to turn around and tell her I didn't need her help.

A few more minutes pass, and I see someone who I think is her looking down at me. The situation completely flips at about 6:30, when around the corner rolls... a cruiser belonging to the Phoenixville Police. He told me that it wasn't standard procedure to give jump starts. I replied that nor was it standard procedure to call the authorities when a neighbor asks you for help. I'm conflicted about the encounter. On the one hand, I wonder if something I said or did alarmed the neighbor, and having the cop jump me saved me a few minutes over having to wait for another neighbor. On the other -- and pardon my language, but it is my blog -- what the fuck is our society coming to when a simple request for help is rejected without telling me so, and the police are called? I did not say a single word which would have in any way threatened my neighbor. Two years ago, I was driving back to Long Island from a job interview in Maryland. While getting dinner at a rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike, an older gentleman asked me for a jump start. You know what I did? I pulled my car around and provided my twelve volts! Not that difficult! Are we so wrapped up in media hype about "stranger danger" that we've lost all perspective and can't help each other out when we're in need?

Fortunately, the officer was friendly and jumped my car, and I was on my way, arriving to work only a few minutes late. Once I arrived, all heads turned to me. One co-worker asked me how old my battery was. "As old as the car -- four years, eight months," I replied. He suggested replacement, which is exactly what I did on my way home this afternoon. Given that the battery failed on the first truly cold day of the season, I'm confident it's the right call, and it'll save me from not only unintended lateness, but unpleasant interactions with either unfriendly neighbors or the local P.D.
christmas 2008

Presents on my doorstep!

And by that, I mean I got the stuff I ordered from Amazon last Friday. I'm no longer amazed that when I buy from them, my goods arrive to me well before the promised date. In fact, I wonder whether they blatantly rip off Scotty's tactics.

Here's what was in the goody box:
  • 2 12-packs of orange 5-Hour Energy. Our training normally rolls from 6 am to 2:30 pm or 6:30 to 3, to which my nocturnally inclined body does not acclimate well. In days past, I would remedy this by downing Coca-Cola. But with me sitting in a classroom all day, and needing to log north of eighty miles a week on the bike just to hold my weight steady, an additional forty or more grams of sugar per day is out of the question. Thus I turned to the energy shots several weeks back, and they've worked reasonably well. After having sampled several of the flavors on offer, I've come to roll with the orange as the most palatable. I was only going buy one 12-pack to take my order above the $35 threshold for free shipping*, but I elected to throw another one on there, since I'll consume them eventually.

  • A pair of EARBUDi. My new iPhone came with the standard Apple earpods, which I considered buying by themselves years ago (and didn't). While I like having the remote control on the right earpod cord, they tend not to stay in my ears. I wondered whether I was wearing them correctly, and so I googled "how to wear apple earpods" or something like that. That search yielded this blog post; I checked out their website and added them to my order. They snapped right on to the earpods, and they've performed quite well at their task, including my bike ride this afternoon.

  • Overruled: The Long War for Control of the US Supreme Court, by Damon Root. I enjoy Root's writing at Reason, and I expect this book to be just as fine a work. As the summary at the link states, the debate over judicial activism vs. deference is one that cuts across the traditional American political divide, uniting Oliver Wendell Holmes and Robert Bork against modern jurists like Randy Barnett and Alan Gura. It's also a debate that could come to another head in the year to come, with the Court having agreed to hear King v. Burwell (Root's summary). I'm definitely looking forward to getting into Overruled when I can find some spare moments to do so.

* Before you remind me of the existence and/or greatness of Amazon Prime, let me counter by saying that I purchase from Amazon so infrequently as to not make it worth my while. When I placed this order, the default address listed was in Findlay.
christmas 2008

gluttony for punishment

As I type this, I'm on an NJ Transit train bound for New York City to watch the Big Red football team battle it out with the Columbia Lions in football. Actually "battle it out" may not be quite the proper term. Fortunately, Harry Enten of FiveThirtyEight has given this game some prominent Internet exposure; many of the relevant statistics are stated there. I'd add one more: since the last time Cornell traveled to the northern tip of Manhattan, Columbia is winless. The Lions carry a 19 game losing streak into today's clash of titans of futility.

The prospect of some abjectly bad football adds an extra layer of anticipation to a game that I'd be attending anyway. The abundance of Cornell alumni in the area bumps up the red-clad turnout. And afterward, we get a parade! Down Fifth Avenue! That's right, after Cornell at Columbia in each even numbered year, Cornellians parade six blocks from Rockefeller Center to the Cornell Club. It's a tradition dating back over four decades. I marched in one as an undergrad in 2000, and this will be my third straight one without the band uniform on. So even if the product on the gridiron is putrid - heck, even if the Big Red fall this afternoon - it'll still be great to catch up with many folks from the good old days on the hill who I don't get the chance to see too often.

Let's Go Red!
christmas 2008

How many hoops can one be made to jump through...

... to get one's hands on a new iPhone 6 and obtain the promised trade in value?

When Apple's newest cell phone model was first announced, I had no intention of replacing my trusty 4S. It may have been pushing the limits of its memory and been slowing down a tad, but that's nothing I wouldn't be able to live with. After all, I did have a flip phone for nearly seven years.

It was only after a conversation with someone next to me at the bar at Iron Hill Brewery in Phoenixville that the seed to upgrade was planted in my head. He showed me his 5S, and I liked the feel and speed. Since the 6 was on the verge of release, I went with the new model, not needing the larger 6 Plus because I already have an iPad mini. I finally pulled the trigger on September 30 so that I could take advantage of AT&T's offer of a $200 promo card for my old phone. It would be a couple of weeks, but I had no problem waiting.

What I did have a slight problem with was the delivery window being shifted from the end of October to the first two weeks of November. I was beginning to get antsy. Finally, last Friday, I got the email that my phone had shipped. Bad news: despite being shipped 2nd day air, it would need four days to reach me. Good news: like myself, UPS was working on Veterans Day, so I got it on Tuesday, exactly six weeks after placing the order. The process of bringing over my data from a backup was seamless. And the phone is as excellent as advertised, especially the new features like Touch ID.

When I went to start the trade-in process on AT&T's website, the promo code I'd been given failed to work. So yesterday, I went back to the store and talked to the sales rep again. I waited patiently as he spent nearly an hour on the phone with AT&T corporate, talking to at least five different people. Finally, he got a promo code, which I wrote down as he repeated it back. I left the store relieved... only to have my aggravation re-ignited when the code didn't work when I got home. When I called the sales rep again, he did a smart thing - he texted me the code. This alerted me to the fact that it contained two dashes that I didn't know existed. At long last, I was able to print out a receipt and label, and ship back my old phone.

It was an arduous ordeal, but I came out the end of it with everything I wanted. At the end of the day, that's the most important thing.
christmas 2008

The best kind of crazy

During the cooldown portion of my time on the stationary bike this morning, I caught the tail end of Let's Make A Deal. Wayne Brady, not needing to choke a b*tch today*, noted that a contestant had turned down an expensive prize, and said that she was crazy. The school-bus-clad contestant responded that it was the good kind of crazy. That got me back thinking about some other things I've been exploring, to the extent the Internet allows me, during this period off from work. I'm not sure how often I've mentioned it here, but growing up, I was fascinated with the Tour de France. I would watch the highlights on summer afternoons on ESPN, amazed that these men could speed and sprint and climb and time trial under such repetitively stressful conditions. I didn't follow the TdF quite as closely after the rights transferred to what was then the Outdoor Life Network (now NBCSN), and even less so after the Lance stopped winning Tours.

I don't know when it first was that I heard of a test of will and strength of shorter duration, but of significantly greater severity. I speak now of the Badwater Ultramarathon. The lowest and highest points in the lower forty-eight United States lie less than one hundred miles apart, as the attack crow flies. Respectively, Badwater Basin at -282 feet (-85.5 m) and Mount Whitney at 14,505 ft (4,421 m). There's enough man-made interventions between the points so the route can be traversed. Four decades ago, a man named Al Arnold decided to do so. After two failed attempts, he succeeded in 1977. It became something of a holy grail to ultra-distance runners - people who'd refer to a marathon as a warmup run - and a decade after Arnold blazed the trail, an official race was born. Nowadays they only go to the Mt. Whitney trailhead, but nonetheless, "135" - the number of miles from Badwater to the Whitney Portal - is a hallowed number. Oh, and let me mention some other points. In the Tour, you take the start as a team of nine, and as you're hauling ass up those Alps and Pyrénées, the team leader has his domestiques to conserve energy for him before he drives to the top. At Badwater, the organizers strenuously object to and strictly prohibit any sort of drafting. You've got a team along the way - in fact, you're required to - but each competitor must cover every centimeter under their own power. And this race takes place in the middle of July. You don't need to remind me what Death Valley is like in that kind of heat. In 1999, during our family's road excursion to Alaska and back, Mom took us through there. On July 11. Some checking reveals that was only four days before that year's Badwater 135. I slipped out of consciousness for at least part of that leg of the journey, probably thanks to mom securing the air conditioning - which on balance, was integral to us getting through and on to Las Vegas.

Something brought me back to the Badwater website shortly after the start of the year, at which time I discovered a total travesty - the route would have to be significantly altered in this and possibly subsequent years. The superintendent of Death Valley National Park had suspended the issuance of permits for sporting events within the park in order to conduct a "safety review" of such events, notwithstanding the impeccable safety record of AdventureCORPS, the company that stages the event (and others in Death Valley). Seeing this raised the usual libertarian impulses within me, which comprise a combination of "oh, come on now" and "I am not surprised in the least." AdventureCORPS did two things. First, they released a strongly worded statement, combining strains of "you're really stabbing yourselves in the heart" with "did you forget we run 100 milers for fun? We're ready to fight for this." Second, they composed a new course which is arguably tougher. Twenty miles of climbing off the bat? Check. Eight miles up, over dirt, to a ghost town, and back down? Done. Plus the usual finish at Whitney. Striking at Badwater only makes it stronger. Take note, DVNP.

But who gets it in their head to do this? Why does anybody think this is a good idea, much less pay a thousand dollars to do so, not to mention organize the support crew and logistics? Last night, I found the answer in a talk from last year's TEDx Honolulu:
The runner's low - depression & the badwater ultra marathon: Hannah Roberts at TEDxHonolulu
I was stunned by how Hannah laid everything on the table - not only about the community of ultra running, but about her own struggles. On top of that, having done it, she comes back the following year... not to crush the course again, but to crew for somebody else. That brought it home to me just how much of a family the ultra-running community is. I then made my way to her blog, Run Sea Legs Run. The Navy hook intrigued me. I clicked that tag in the sidebar... and found one post in particular. Whoa! Ex-LTJG Roberts is a hard-core "I'm done with this, and I don't care who knows" type, just as I was once upon a time. (There are innumerable posts to that effect in the history of this blog; finding them, especially in the 2007-2009 range, is an exercise left to the reader.)

As topsy-turvy as the last five years have been, I most certainly would not have traded them for an equivalent period of time in utilities the not-so-new anymore Navy BDUs. I knew, from a time long before I met my own EAOS, that it was the goal. What I have to admit I'm still looking for is something that Hannah expressed exquisitely in her TEDx talk, and which I requote from AdventureCORPS here:
I used to say that Badwater saved my life and I think I believe that still to an extent, but what I see now, is that it's not the race, because that's really just a place-holder. It's more the community of people that I have been exposed to doing these races. What I think primaly was so initially powerful and appealing to me was not necessarily that people are running this distance in this heat, but as you watch people talk and do Badwater, you are watching people do what they love with people that they love. I think, more than I wanted to be an ultra runner, I wanted to be someone who does what that they love with people that they love. And through ultra running I am so grateful that that has been part of my story. So my hope is not that everyone goes out and runs Badwater, but it is that you find your equivalent, whatever it is that lights you up, and maybe the people that also light you up. So I hope you find a community that by your involvement in, you make it better, and that they make you better.
I hope that Hannah finds the perfect shade of blue for her hair, and that she continues to find the right races to challenge her and the right people to get to the finish line of each of them. And I hope that the rest of us - myself included - find the strength to live up to her words, to find the spark to our torches and the friends to keep them lit over whichever one hundred and thirty-five miles we choose.

* Discovered this clip while searching or the one above linked. Plus two to Robert Flores.