Category Archives: Narcissism

Thoughts of Ishikawa / 石川市の考え

An old pile of photos, sitting on the corner of the desk, waiting to be scanned…

You know it well.

Last weekend, I finally went through my own version of that pile. Some of the photos were taken in a small city called Ishikawa, the first place we lived in the central part of Okinawa, Japan. The city has since merged with other local municipalities into a larger city called Uruma, so it only exists in our memories. I remember the day my Dad told us we were moving to Japan: wow! Images of toys my friends had received as gifts from afar when their fathers were overseas sprang to mind: Hello Kitty! Transformers! Gundam! I thought about my aunt’s car, a Toyota… I thought about Godzilla.

GODZILLA!!Gojira_1954_Japanese_poster

I remember being concerned as to whether or not there would be a Taco Bell. (No.) I thought about my friend Sherman, who was half Okinawan, and whose mother woke us up every morning chanting to Buddha at the family altar after I spent the night. I thought about the Karate Kid 2… would I see all those amazing things? Typhoons? Sliding doors? Tatami?

Our flight there seemingly took forever, and not because it was halfway around the world. We were flying Military Airlift Command (MAC) on the Flying Tigers, so our flight went from Los Angeles to San Francisco, to Anchorage, and then finally to Kadena Air Base. I didn’t know for a couple more years that there were direct flights to Japan, and that the military basically considered us cargo.

We were very tired when we arrived, blinking into the very hot morning.

Amazing what you find when you search for "Karate Kid II Okinawa" — I don't remember this part of the film.

Amazing what you find when you search for “Karate Kid II Okinawa” — I don’t remember this part of the film.

We thought we’d be living in a hotel for awhile, so I unpacked and organized all the clothes and books I’d stuffed into my suitcase and several carryons. (For the record, I thought I’d finish almost all of Roger Zelazny’s Nine Princes in Amber series on the flight over… the flight was long, but not that long.) A few days later, my father told us we’d be moving to “Riverstone”. (I was on book two of the series.)

Riverstone? That sounds… very American.

I didn’t need to worry. We looked at a few houses in “Riverstone”, far from any military installation, and chose the one on the hill overlooking a bay with the least amount of dead roaches in it. Of course, what we didn’t know was that they just hadn’t fumigated the place yet, and seeing it a few days later was disturbing: it was impossible to avoid stepping on a dead roach while walking around; it was like some avant-garde artist had decided to weave a floor from dead roach carcasses. Crunch, crunch, crunch.

There’s an opportunity for a Björk video, there.

Mercifully, the dead roaches were gone when we moved in, probably just swept out the door and onto the hill we lived on. Of course, at least one survived, and I had an epic, unconscious fight the first night we were in the house: I won, and found its massive carcass under the bed. It did not pass on its poison-resistant genes. Bleah.

The view from our front yard onto the bay.

The view from our front yard. Friends lived in the house on the right, and I think the house on the left was a kindergarten of sorts, although I don’t ever remember seeing any children. And there probably weren’t environmental laws for whatever that plant is out there across the bay.

As time passed, I learned to read and write Japanese, and learned that Ishikawa meant “stone river”, and finally, “Riverstone” made sense.

Okinawa didn’t seem to have zoning laws where we lived; we were surrounded by a mixture of houses, stores, a beach, sugarcane fields, the occasional vending machine conveniently located in the middle of a field, and tombs. Our neighbors were a mixture of Okinawans, American-Okinawan households, and a few Americans. Halloween wasn’t really celebrated, but the neighbors were willing to go along with it: I got rice crackers and seaweed.

The road to town got a little wider while we lived there.

The road to town got a little wider while we lived there.

The bus ride to school would take over an hour on occasion, and the route varied, depending on where families ended up living. Since there were Americans scattered in different places in town, they’d have the kids pile up in one place as best they could, but on occasion we’d stop next to a sugar cane field, and someone would hop on or off the bus. I spent a lot of time reading… and the extra hour in the morning was the perfect time to get last-minute homework done.

Games with the neighbor kids were a learning opportunity: it’s funny how a game of tag can quickly teach you the words for “wait!”, “sorry!”, “run!”, “just kidding!”, and “sorry for running in front of your car grandma!” in a foreign language. And of course, I learned the coarse words of swearing and economics before anything else. You need to know what people are yelling at you, and how to buy candy, right?

Happily doing my own thing, always.

Happily doing my own thing, pretending to run my own apothecary in the backyard.

Living in the country that was the source of Nintendo games was thrilling, and honestly, expedited my acquisition of Japanese as a second language. How else are you going to read the magazines and cheat books?

We had weak air conditioning, and electricity was so pricey we had a flock of well-used fans scattered about the house. We had a barely functioning phone we rarely used—0989655135, and it always sounded like you were on the other side of the world no matter where you were—and heat came in the form of a kerosene room heater we moved around the house when necessary. Our house was built from concrete, which made it seem almost impermeable to the typhoons that would swirl outside—except for the hole in the ceiling in the bathroom, which was open to the world, and made it easy for all sorts of bugs and lizards to get into the house. While there’s no footage of me shrieking out of the bathroom after wrapping myself in a towel that included a gigantic, squirming roach, none of us will ever forget it.

Following our street up the hill, you'd soon be met by rows of silent tombs.

Following our street up the hill, you’d soon be met by rows of silent tombs.

On the way to school and home, I walked by myself past tombs, sometimes in terrible downpours, and sometimes in the dark. There are moments in Miyazaki films where one feels a sense of haunted wonder—it’s the closest thing I can describe to what it was like. There’s a summer festival called Obon, like a Japanese version of the Day of the Dead, and just prior, families return to the family tomb to clean it in preparation. Whole tombs would emerge from what I thought were hills covered in grass! Offerings would be left, and the tombs would be decorated. It truly felt foreign.

It made me question.

Okinawan Tombs, (c) Hideki Yoshida

Okinawan Tombs, (c) Hideki Yoshida

Shortly after moving there, and just before the school year started, I witnessed my first Obon performance. Okinawa’s Obon festival is slightly different from the mainland’s, and happens later in the summer. It was after dark, and I was in a neighbor’s yard, examining some weird plants, and I started my way towards home. I noticed a light coming from down the road, reflecting off the surrounding walls and earth. I crouched in some bushes as it approached, bearing a small parade of dancing people carrying lights and signs. I watched as they moved into the courtyard of a large mansion down the road. Suddenly, as though by magic, all the lights went on in the building, as though the revelers brought the house to life. I couldn’t believe it!

I sat, mesmerized, feeling far from anything I’d ever known, but welcome in this far-off land.

A not uncommon site overhead.

Blue skies, crazy power lines, heavy military aircraft: just another day.

A Tale of Two Scarves

There’s a bunch of meaningful stuff I’d like to write about, but this seems short. Also, fashion.

Two weeks ago, I misplaced a scarf. It’s a wool blue tartan scarf, from Scotland, made by BEGG.  BEGG was founded in 1869 by Alexander Begg, and is currently located in the seaside town of Ayr, Scotland. They make beautiful scarves. I’d link to one of their several websites, but the useful one is under construction, and the other ones are outdated and require Flash. I.e., these guys are so good they don’t even care about their website. Wish I could say the same.

Oct. 2013 update: Begg & Co. contacted me – I thought this was a soliloquy! – to tell me about their brand new websitehttp://www.beggandcompany.com/, where you can browse and purchase their fantastic fashion! As a previous User Experience lead, I’m happy to say that they’ve done a great job with the usability of their online store.

Check them out!

This scarf was given to me by my sister. It’s beautiful. It feels wonderful to wear, and it’s visually stimulating. I was really distressed to have misplaced it. I’d been wearing it most of the day, and remember playing with the ends during a meeting at the end of the day. The time between that moment and the realization it was no longer on me when I arrived home amounted to less than an hour.

Did I take it off? Did it fall off somewhere? How would I miss that? Am I really beginning to forget things so easily? I’m not that old. I went back to work to search the parking lot and our office, and ultimately sent out a few messages to coworkers and building mates. And then I did my best to embrace my inner Buddhist: it’s only stuff. I was sad.

After celebrating my birthday over the weekend, I went to the office on Monday and discovered a gift on my chair. My friend (and coworker) Zoe and her wife Rachel surprised me with a fantastic blue scarf! It wasn’t exactly the same, but it’s sleek, it’s modern, it’s me. And it meant a lot that they’d thought of me and my predicament. Suddenly losing the scarf didn’t seem so bad.

Check out my new scarf, yes.

Today I happily wore my new scarf to the office. I didn’t get a chance to model it for Zoe—she’s a busy person, on the go, making things happen—but it went well with everything else I was wearing, and seemed to fit right into place where the old one had left off. It turns out there was another surprise to be had: at the very end of the day, after a strategic meeting that left me feeling slightly drained, Zoe’s boss walked in holding my original scarf in his hands.

I couldn’t believe it: I had searched all over the office, under things, in closets, even going through garbage cans in case I’d thrown it out instead of the actual garbage I’d had in my hands—you’ve done it, you know it. I hugged him; apparently, this is my week for spontaneously hugging the sales people: watch out!

It had slipped off my neck and into the cushions of a chair.

Two Scarves

Guess who has TWO awesome scarves now?

23andme—Who am I?

Just the facts, please.

Just the facts, please.

Who am I?

We probably all ask that on occasion. Family stories, assumptions people have made and some frustrating things I assume are genetic have had me asking it more often lately.

Shortly after the start of the year, a friend of mine shared some results on Facebook from a site called 23andme.com, which has a goal to sequence the human genome through lots of people choosing to submit theirs. The benefit to you is you can:

  • See what diseases for which you’re a potential carrier
  • See your ancestry
  • Meet genetic relatives you may not know you have
  • Learn more about yourself as they continue to learn more about all of us

My friend was surprised to discover some unexpected ancestry, so I checked it out.  After reading this cool article and seeing it cost $99—down from $999—I signed up! I wanted to know if it was true that I have French ancestry, however little, and if I carry the genes for lung cancer. When I was a kid, Mom ominously told me I could smoke if I wanted to, but to know that all the men in my father’s family die from lung cancer when they do so. She also told me my eyes would get stuck if I crossed them, and we know how that turned out.

What did I find? Well, I’m not entirely sure I’m French, although I have a lot of “nonspecific European” DNA. I’m not genetically Japanese, so there’s something to be said for environment influencing who we are. I’m more of a neanderthal than I thought, and…

Mom? Dad?

Are you sitting down? I have something I have to tell you.

I’m black.

What?! No, really.

More on that later…

The consent form that I had to sign made me hesitate, and as someone who understands the security implications and sells two-factor authentication, I’m here to tell you it’s a big concern that my genetic information is protected by only a username and password.

Despite that, I decided to share my results for research purposes.

It took about 2.5 months from the moment I ordered to when my results came in.

My timeline:

  • Sunday, January 13 – order kit
  • Tuesday, January 15 – kit is shipped
  • Friday, January 18 – kit arrives
  • Saturday, January 19I process the kit, more on that below
  • Monday, January 21 – I mail the kit back
  • Saturday, February 2 – kit arrives in LA, about two weeks later
  • Wednesday, February 6 – kit processing, with an estimate of 6-8 weeks
  • Tuesday, March 26 – my initial results, more on those below
  • Wednesday, March 27 – the rest of them

From start to finish: 10.5 weeks.

So I was excited about it, okay?

Processing the Kit

The kit shows up in a small, nicely designed box. You open it up to discover a lot of red-on-white lettering on how to go about using it correctly to get a sample. (I would love to see all the mistakes they receive at the lab, because you know people still manage to get it wrong.) It has a smaller plastic container nestled inside, which in turn contains the sample tube and a plastic bag to put it in, which then goes in the box for return.

The 23andme box.

The 23andme box.

Inside the box—I guess I should register.

Inside the box—I guess I should register.

Registering the Kit

This is where things began to concern me. First you enter in your barcode, you read the terms of service, and then the consent form comes up…

Okay, type in the barcode from the tube and an annoying CAPTCHA...

Okay, type in the barcode from the tube and an annoying CAPTCHA…

Need my name, okay, relative finder? Ancestry? Interesting.

Need my name, okay, relative finder? Ancestry? Interesting.

There are an awful lot of words here, some of them are kind of scary.

There are an awful lot of words here, some of them are kind of scary.

You can read the consent document in full here, but here are some of the more concerning parts:

  • If we are required to do so by law, 23andMe may release the individual-level information.”
  • “Your genetic data, survey responses, and/or personally identifying information may be stolen in the event of a security breach. In the event of such a breach, if your data are associated with your identity they may be made public or released to insurance companies, which could have a negative effect on your ability to obtain insurance coverage. Although 23andMe cannot provide a 100% guarantee that your data will be safe, 23andMe has strong policies and procedures in place to minimize the possibility of a breach.” [Uh-huh. I saw a movie once, where it was paramount to avoid a breach. Guess what happened? DOOMED.]
I think this means they might go look at my saliva more than just one time.

I think this means they might go look at my saliva more than just one time.

They need my sex and birth date to process the sample? Can't they figure out my sex at least?

They need my sex and birth date to process the sample? Can’t they figure out my sex at least?

Setting up the account using email as an index…

Setting up the account using email as an index…

I'd already set up an account on their site, so it matched my accounts.

I’d already set up an account on their site, so it matched my accounts.

Taking a Sample

After all that reading, it was time to make some spit! Aside from being concerned about my future ability to obtain insurance, generating enough spit was probably the most difficult part of the process.

It took more effort than you might expect.

It took more effort than you might expect.

Here's the biohazard bag to put the tube into.

Here’s the biohazard bag to put the tube into.

Sealed for freshness—and to keep it dry.

Sealed for freshness—and to keep it dry.

Ready for shipping!

Ready for shipping!

My Results

When I was notified that my sample was being processed, it said it would take 6-8 weeks, so I figured I’d hear back sometime between March 20 and April 3. I was so anxious to find out, I checked in once a week to see, and then everyday after March 20th. Of course, the day I finally got over it and decided to just wait to hear from them was the day I was notified that my results were in!

There they are, in all their color-coded country-of-origin glory.

There they are, in all their color-coded country-of-origin glory.

They came in two parts, and the first was pretty much everything but genetic ancestry information, including:

  • health risks
  • drug sensitivities
  • inherited conditions
  • genetic traits
  • haplogroups for my mother and father
  • neanderthal ancestry

Most of the information they have about you is provided immediately, but they hold some things back, e.g. Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and ask you to agree to see your results before showing you.

So what did I learn?

Always an overachiever.

99th percentile, of course. Always an overachiever. But I could never rock long hair.

WHAT?

Physically, I’m more like the guy on the left in the image above. That said, all the men in my family are able to speak to each other by grunting, so maybe there’s something to it.  And on occasion, a few people have seen a side to me that probably makes them wonder what kind of animal hybrid I am. Joking aside, it’s currently theorized that neanderthal language was highly musical, pre-dating the separation of music and language into different modes of cognition (Mithen, The Singing Neanderthals, 2006)

Tootle-tweet.

What else?

  • I never thought about it, but I have slightly increased odds for: type 2 diabetes, venous thromboembolism (like all non type-O blood types), and esophageal cancer.
  • Higher odds of developing melanoma (not surprising!) based on one set of genes, but a protective genotype and therefore lower (cool!) in another which also results in a large number of moles as a kid that eventually disappear (nice to know).
  • Really surprised by three times the odds of developing a particular type of glaucoma—I’m glad I’ve been getting tested for it.
  • Lower risks for prostate cancer, macular degeneration (you can stop worrying now, Mom), pancreatic cancer, testicular cancer, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s…
  • Typical risks for assorted other things, just like most of you!

In the drug response department, apparently I’m more sensitive to caffeine than most people are: something we figured out empirically is now confirmed genetically! Probably wasn’t such a great idea to subsist on Mountain Dew throughout high school…

I don’t have any forty or so inherited conditions they can test for, although I’m a carrier for hemochromatosis (high iron levels).

They also said I probably have red hair, blue eyes, don’t flush red when I drink, I don’t think brussels sprouts taste foul, am resistant to norovirus (hello, cruising vacation!) and am a likely sprinter, among myriad other things.

A sampling of the things you might learn about yourself.

A sampling of the things you might learn about yourself.

The next day, my ancestry information came in! 100% me!

WAIT. WHAT?

No way.  But my skin is so white, it’s pink. Sometimes, I’m lucky and I freckle.  I’ve spent too much time identifying as a soulless ginger that you can’t just come along and tell me I might have a little soul in me.

I found out that I’m :

  • 0.1% Sub-Saharan African—meaning 1 out of a thousand—which doesn’t sound like much. Who knows how long that bit of DNA has been hanging out on the chromosome, but it’s essentially the equivalent of having a completely Sub-Saharan African ancestor who was born in the 1750s.  Based on the chart, I think this is on my Dad’s side of the family.
  • 1.6% Scandinavian, meaning the equivalent of a completely Scandinavian person born sometime in the 1830s managed to create a branch in the family tree, a great-great-great-great grandparent. I can thank my Mom for my innate sympathy for the Swedish Chef on the Muppet Show. BORK BORK BORK.
  • 31.6% British and Irish: no surprise there.
  • The rest of it, “standard European”, although poking around a bit elsewhere on the site found people with French and Polish backgrounds. The French isn’t a surprise, but the Polish? Who knew?

Regarding being “black”: I don’t mean to be glib and do a disservice to the history of an oppressed racial minority. However, under the ridiculous “one drop” Jim Crow laws, I would have been considered “black”, which may seem just as ludicrous as those laws actually were. They never would have known, of course, but there it is. And we all agree that those laws were bad, right?  Just like we’re going to look back one day and agree that anti-gay laws are also bad, right?

I wonder how those genes manifest themselves, if at all. I have lots of ideas, and perhaps at some point they’ll be able to tell me exactly what I can credit to them. In the meantime, it should give everyone pause when it comes to judging and stereotyping people: you never know what’s on the inside. I think it’s pretty cool to find out, though.

Another way of looking at things.

Another way of looking at things.

They also give you a view of the data based on genetics you share with other people who self-identify as being from or of a particular nationality or country. Information about “old world” countries is a bit more revealing than “new world” countries. For example, I share genetics with people who are from the UK, Ireland and France, all things I expected. The Polish ancestry was a surprise, but are via genetics I share with someone who has two parents who are both from Poland.

Trinidad and Tobago? I don’t think I have ancestors from there, but it’s more likely that someone from there and I have a common ancestor from elsewhere.

My expectation is that the results will continue to be refined as more people submit their DNA for testing and the site acquires more data.

I’ve discovered I have at least some second cousins on the site, and a number of people are coming out of the woodwork who want to share genetic information. I haven’t taken that step just yet, although I still would recommend that you sign up if you can afford the $100!

Maybe we’ll find out we’re related.

Facebook Withdrawal

Last year, I gave up Facebook for Lent—I’m not a practicing Catholic, but it has a few handy practices—and decided to keep a diary about the process.154668_340.jpg

After two days, I realized I didn’t care enough to continue writing things down. Basically, the first few days were the hardest, like… breaking any habit. Interestingly enough, a paper I read on social interaction design commented that it takes 3 days to come off social media habits. While I couldn’t find a cite for it, it does seem to hold true for me. Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and their ilk are desire engines. Effectively, despite all your rage, you’re still just a rat in a cage. It’s no longer enough to dazzle people to get attention; instead, sites and products must instill habit, and they do. Fortunately, there are ways to break habits by recognizing exactly what it is they reward.

At the end of the year, I decided to do it again for a couple of weeks because of several days of reactive behavior:

Critical thinking had died.

I’m back—who cares, really—and here are some observations about things on Facebook:

  • Arguing about gun control and posting crappy images, one way or another, immedately after Sandy Hook seems really, really tactless if you go review it all now.
  • The next time some free social media service changes their Terms of Service, give them a few days before you react… chances are they’re just not thinking particularly clearly. They’re not geniuses, they’re just people like you and me.
  • Google something before posting it as truth, especially if it seems pretty fantastic.

Some observations about Facebook withdrawal:

  • People check in via texts and messages when they notice you’re gone; that’s nice.
  • It takes a bit to shake firing up Facebook when you get bored or frustrated.
  • I use Facebook to keep on top of current events; moreso than news websites: regular news websites have their own (entertainment) agenda and can be slower than Facebook.
  • Facebook messages, while sometimes spotty, can be more reliable than regular email.
  • I missed seeing my family.

Some positive things:

  • I occupied myself, e.g. finishing all those online articles I meant to read later.
  • I felt like time slowed a bit, because life was more quiet.
  • Created more, consumed less.

I recommend the experience. Another friend is doing it for a year, which is pretty impressive. I’ll miss him, but I’ll just have to find him in person to see how life is going. Personally, I’m going to limit myself, but I’m not quite sure how, yet. I like being connected to people, so how often? Once a day? Once a week? What do other people do?

Facebook

I signed up for Facebook sometime in the Fall of 2007.  After Friendster (why?), Orkut (too closed—and G+ didn’t learn anything from that; BRAZILIANS!) and MySpace (getting there, but indulging everyone’s inner kindergartner a little too much), I really didn’t think much would come of social networking, so I promptly did nothing.

I don’t even know why I signed up.

In Feb. of 2008, I traveled to Savannah, Georgia, to attend the IxDA ’08 conference.  While there, I realized I didn’t have a calling card: my business cards were out-of-date (and embarrassingly boring) and my personal website was stuck in 1997.  The organizers had made an attempt to create an online social group for the conference that required you to build a personal profile.  When it came to website… I hesitated.

And then realized that Facebook might just come in handy.

I switched over and set up my Facebook profile, adding a photo and filling out various bits of information.  Unfortunately, at that time, Facebook was more closed and less user-friendly: the URL looked ugly, and when you clicked on it, you couldn’t see much other than the fact that you and I were not friends.

I made no friends that way, but suddenly, Facebook was a little more interesting.  Friends of mine commented on my spiffy new photo and invited me to play Scrabulous (“Words with Friends” in 2008).  Photos?  Online games?  It was like The Sierra Network in 1993, or AOL.  The public internet had finally crossed the chasm and embraced what it made fun of when the AOL newbies were unleashed upon it in 1993.

I use Facebook frequently now.  I keep up with my far-flung family, I get news from it, I find out about cool upcoming events: it’s very handy!  But I find myself checking it—without even thinking—for that little hit of dopamine, more often than I’d like.  And frankly, people are just not updating or doing things fast enough to keep up with my addiction.   I have become a rat in a cage.   So I’m going to take a break and see what it’s like.  It’s been four years, Facebook.  We need a little time away.

See you in the spring.

Pappy

At his 60th wedding anniversary in 2007.

When I was little, the one thing that frustrated me about my Pappy was his name: it was impossible to find a card to wish him a happy birthday, or any other holiday.  There was every permutation of “grandfather” except for the one I happened to use.  It’s one of the many things that made him unique.  Nobody else I knew had a Pappy.

And now, no longer do I.

Before I go on, I want to say that he was 91 years old, and he had an amazing life.  After a trying childhood, he made the best of life, and life rewarded him for it.  He was married to my grandmother until the day he died, he had two daughters and four grandchildren he loved tremendously, and he never wanted for anything.  He was also mentally sharp and full of stories until the very end.  His heart just finally gave out.  I was close to him, and I’m sad, but I’m happy to say it is possible to live a wonderful life and go relatively peacefully.

He and my grandmother had just moved into an assisted living facility a few months ago after he’d had a heart attack; we thought it was just too much for them to keep living on their own.  When I saw him at Thanksgiving, he seemed himself.  When I saw him at Christmas, he seemed much more delicate—he was paler and seemed to be fading, despite his ability to socialize and tell stories—and I wondered if his time might be near.  Before I left, he suggested I could buy him a book of poetry again for his birthday that I’d bought for him years ago, which had gotten lost in the move to the new place.

I sent it as soon as I could.

He died around 3:00AM EST Monday morning.  My mother had called me Sunday night to tell me he’d had another heart attack and was in the hospital, but he was alert and seemed to be doing fine.  He had another shortly thereafter and Mom was concerned he might not make it, and then finally one early in the morning…

That night, I played an old album to hear its coda, a song called “Hello, Hello (Turn Your Radio On)”, that I’d discovered unexpectedly stuck in my head.

Pappy was born and raised in San Francisco, California by my widowed and peripatetic great-grandmother Norene—’Rene to her family.  His father caught tuberculosis and died when he was young, and life with my great-grandmother sounds like it was a trying adventure at times.

Circa 1980.

After graduating from Cal in Berkeley, he eventually made his way down to southern California—Long Beach to be exact—and began a career with the city after marrying “the girl from Grande Island”.  He spent his entire career working for the city, eventually working all the way up to Assistant City Manager, and after a scandal, Acting City Manager, and retired after realizing the Mayor would never have him as City Manager due to his long affiliation with the previous one.  My grandfather was never bitter, though.  He’d had a great time, great experiences and he was ready to move on to the next phase in his life.

My grandfather loved us.  I was his #1 grandson, and of course, politically astute as he was, I became his “first” grandson after the other two came along.  He never failed to share his pride in me.  As little kids, we spent lots of time riding horses to Banbury Cross on his knee.

I’d like to think my sense of optimism comes from him; when I was disappointed in something, he’d start singing “Ac-Cent-Tchu-Ate the Positive“, and as cheesy as it sounds, it demonstrated to me that I had a choice in my disappointment.  I could carry it around (and sometimes I do—on purpose) or I could choose to move past it.  Most of the time, moving past it pays off in the long run.

Having a laugh over the assisted living menu with Rob

My grandfather was incredibly generous, and besides sharing his sense of style and his wardrobe, one story stands out for me.  When I was a young teen, I was really into personal computers.  I’d helped build the one we had at home with my father.  In the late 80s, PCs were still kind of crusty: you might have a hard drive, you might have color graphics, but you usually didn’t have any sound but a tinny beeping speaker.  I was envious of my friends who had souped-up Atari 800s and Amiga 500s.  When was the music ever going to show up at my house?  Why were PCs so retrograde after the Commodore 64?

Enter the AdLib Synthesizer, a card you plugged into the back of your PC that gave you up to 9 channels of FM synthesized sound, a drastic improvement over that tinny speaker.  It cost around $100, well out of my reach.  I’d only learned about it by reading the included literature in one of the many games I’d bought.  I didn’t think my parents could (or would want to) afford it, so I decided to write to my grandparents to see if they could help me get one.  I was very enterprising, pointing out all the things I could do with it, and how it would add a new dimension to the thing I spent most of my time doing.

I didn’t expect them to go along with the idea: it was a green card that went into a computer to give it sound.  It didn’t sound interesting, and it seemed like it would be a boring thing to consider for anyone else.

Instead, I got a letter in which Pappy wrote: “ask, and ye shall receive”.  It blew my mind.  It also made me realize how special it was that he could do that, and how fortunate I was to be his grandson.  And, that I should never abuse it, but respect it, and find my own way to pay it forward when I had the ability to do so.

Telling a story this past Christmas, as always.

That letter, and many like it, were a lifeline to a family back home in the US.  When we moved to Japan, it took time for me to make friends, and Pappy helped fill that void by writing me letters.  I think he also knew how disappointed I was that my friends back in the States weren’t particularly inclined to write me back, and so he decided to fill in the gap.  Those letters would come 3-4 pages in a stack, usually front and back, often with a small note from my grandmother as well.  He loved to write, and I loved to read.  And as long as I wrote him back, he’d write in return.

I have boxes of letters from our time in Japan and beyond.  Once we started the habit, we kept it going until they moved back east to be closer to the family, well into my 20s.  His letters stressed to me the importance of keeping up your end of the conversation, regardless of the medium.

They also demonstrated how much he loved me.

As I flew to Atlanta today, I looked out into the blue sky and thought about him dwelling in rays of light, and how he’d be happy I was traveling as he liked to so much.

I miss you already, Pappy.

Vs. Peanut Butter Cups—Tasty, Tasty Peanut Butter Cups

I like to keep healthy and fit.  Part of that is working out four mornings a week and playing some sports on the side; the other?  Diet, of course.  A couple of years ago I transformed myself physically (6’2″ and 140lbs. to 6’3″ and 200lbs.) through a combination of diet and exercise.  I’ve never been healthier.

After the bulk (so to speak) of it, I stopped paying as close attention to my diet.  For two years I avoided candy, soda, carbs, cheese, dairy, etc.  The power a donut had over me was overwhelming.  And one day, I decided life was too short, and so I ate it.

I’ve decided recently to get back to a more regimented diet.  On one hand, it can be boring, but on the other, it allows me to focus on other parts of my life since there’s a simplicity and stability to what I’m eating.  And the upside is being even leaner.

The catch is that now,  I’m used to being able to “eat whatever I want to”, mostly because of extreme metabolic activity—I heat up a room in more than one way, babe—I burn it right off.  And so, if I want that mid-afternoon candy snack, no worries.  But I’d like to be a little leaner, and as I’ve been cutting things out of my diet, those snacks seem to be screaming at me.

Do you hear it crying? It is crying for freedom. FREEDOM.

The amazing part is I’m not actually hungry.  I’m just savoring what it will be like to have those luscious gobs of fat and sugar briefly overwhelming my senses.  In college, peanut butter cups were one of my basic food groups, but I always bought the king size: two just weren’t enough.  After four I’d feel a bit gross, but that would dissipate in an hour.  Reese’s figured this out and now makes them with 3 cups to a package, which is just a micron above the plateau of gross… you can eat that, go on.  It’ll be all right.

And I’m not. Even. Hungry.  I have sympathy for those who struggle with their weight.  If the food is calling my name, I can only imagine what it’s like to be starting from a point even further up on the scale.

I’ll Follow You Until You Love Me, Maser-Maser-Maserati

I remember hearing the word “Maserati” when I was a kid, unaware that it referred to a car marque.  I just liked the way it sounded and how it flowed over my tongue, quickly and with a staccato punch at the end.  When I got a little older and realized it referred to a car, the sound of its name seemed almost perfectly synesthetic.

Oh, yes, now we're styling!

Of course, Maseratis numbered few when I was growing up.  A great aunt of mine had a Biturbo Spyder in the late 80s, a de rigueur blocky and angular cherry red convertible. The best part about it was that she let her granddaughter—my cousin—drive it.  So we’d steal away during family get togethers… la-da-di-la-di-da, listening to Crystal Waters sing about the gypsy woman, we thought we were hot.

We had no idea.

You're not fooling anyone, nope.

At the time, Maserati was owned by DeTomaso, and one of the Spyder’s contemporary cars was the unfortunate Chrysler TC by Maserati, a rebadged Chrysler LeBaron.  I suppose we should give them a break because the 80s were the Golden Age of Badge Engineering, but still, BAD IDEA.  It makes one wonder what was going through the heads at Daimler-Benz when they were acquiring Chrysler. Shortly after the TC, and plagued with the perception of expensive, low quality cars, Maserati left the US market in 1991.

By 2005, Maserati had changed hands a number of times and found themselves as part of Alfa Romeo underneath Fiat.  Just prior to that in 2004 they released the very sexy 5th generation Quattroporte, which was available for purchase in the US because Maserati had returned to the market in 2002.  Quattroporte means “four doors”, and simply put, the car is incredibly sexy and elegant.  But at a cost of over $130,000, it’s not exactly within most people’s budgets.  I lust for it from afar.

The very sexy Maserati Quattroporte.

In 2009, Fiat took a 30% ownership stake in Chrysler. At the time I remember being grateful, because it appeared that the Big 3 were going to go out of business, which would be really painful to the local economy.  If Fiat hadn’t come through, the US government was not going to bail Chrysler out, and the company would close.  I haven’t ever owned an American car, but at the same time, I didn’t want to see them go out of business.  (Maybe I’ll reconcile that for you later, although now that the American auto companies are starting to make appealing products, I might not have to explain myself.)   Bonus: Fiat and Alfa Romeo might also bring their cars back to the US!  Still I wondered why Fiat made the decision, and while I’m sure it’ll be the topic of some book someday, I think I know why: the Jeep Grand Cherokee.

I'll save you!

This isn’t the first time the Grand Cherokee has done this, either.  For those of you who aren’t from Michigan, or aren’t car nuts, you may not remember that there used to be another car company up until the late 1980s: American Motors.  American, who brought us the cult-classic Gremlin, found itself struggling in the market due to poor reception of vehicles and a mismanaged alliance with French automaker Renault.

In 1987, Renault divested themselves of American to Chrysler, which was keen to get its hands on the forthcoming Grand Cherokee.   I’m not sure if Daimler-Benz was keen to get their hands on it as well, but there are two things to consider:

  1. What else would Daimler-Benz get out of the deal?
  2. The latest M-class Mercedes (2012) shares its platform with the Grand Cherokee.

That Grand Cherokee must be something else behind closed doors.  But we were talking about Maserati, right?  How does any of that relate?  Behold the Kubang, the first joint venture between Chrysler and Maserati since the ill-fated TC:

Il Grande Cherokee

Skip to about 2 minutes to avoid most of the badly-chosen, cloying power-pop backing track:

So now we’ve come full circle.  This Maserati will be built in Detroit on the same platform as the Jeep Grand Cherokee.  It’ll feature two engines: a gas 4.7l v8 making 450HP and a 3.0l turbo-diesel making around 300HP.  A Maserati SUV seems like a bit of an oxymoron, yes?  I used to think SUVs were a terrible thing, and SUVs from traditionally exotic sports marques were blasphemous.  After getting my own SUV due to last winter’s miserable driving weather, I’ve changed my mind.  However, this isn’t the first time Maserati considered building an SUV.  Kubang originally debuted as a concept car back in 2003:

2003 Kubang Concept Front

2011 Production Kubang Front

2003 Kubang Concept Rear

2011 Production Kubang Rear

Depending on the price, my dream of a diesel-powered, Detroit-built Maserati may just end up in my garage in a couple of years. Here’s to hoping.

In the news…

Every once in awhile, the company I work for appears in the local news.  A little background on the local news…  a few years ago, we had an actual printed newspaper, and a few years prior to that, they’d spent a great deal of money updating the printing presses to do color in a more compact form factor.

So it came as a surprise when the people who owned the paper decided Ann Arbor would be a great place to try a new experiment: they decided we’d be the first community to have a completely on-line newspaper since we’re so cyber.  They closed the paper, and now we have AnnArbor.com.  Unfortunately, it’s not quite the same.  The stories aren’t as well-written—and some feel the prior paper didn’t exactly have qualiy reporting—and often aren’t written by actual journalists.  It’s meant to be a community-oriented paper, which means community members often write for it.  There’s something to be said for having a journalism degree.

You can also comment on articles, too, which begs the question of how useful comments are.  The same people post over and over again to the point where you can predict what they’re going to say based on the long-term pet peeve they’re passively agressively tending to, and the unfortunate part is it becomes part of the dialog surrounding the article, sometimes to the point of obscuring the article.

We’ve been in the paper a few times, and I’m glad to see Ann Arbor is doing well by the company to extend some tax breaks.  We’ve been in the area for over 10 years now and hire people to stay here in Michigan.  We pay well, we have a great environment and we get to work on cool things.  In addition to working here, we also live and spend our money here, which has a multiplier effect.  Tax breaks in this case are a pretty good investment.

I take issue when people speak without any firsthand knowledge.  I can say that economics did in fact put us in a more conservative posture after the financial meltdown in 2008, but we’re in a good position to do more local hiring again finally.  I’ve also been part of the interview process for nearly everyone we’ve hired in Ann Arbor in the last six years, so I’ve seen the kind of candidates we get.  We’re not in Silicon Valley, so it’s hard to attract people to Michigan.  And it’s hard to keep young graduates in the state, although we’re trying.  The other thing to consider is that computer programmers are not interchangeable cogs.  Just because there are people looking for work in Michigan who have programming experience doesn’t mean they’ll be the best match in terms of skills at our company.  We work in a niche market, and we do it well.  It’s why we’re good.  We happen to look for a niche skillset, although if you’re a really good programmer, it’ll probably work out.

It’s only a comment on an article that not many very people care about, but it’s unfortunate when a company that does well by its community is still attacked, and the person attacking it isn’t held accountable for his or her assertions.

Have you created any jobs today?