Friday, January 30, 2009

25 Random Things About Me

I was tagged by the raging "25 Things" disease on Facebook (yes, I am exactly that cool) and decided to repost here, since it is easy.

1. I was born the same day as Heavy D.
2. I have no particular distinguishing physical characteristics.
3. I had six wisdom teeth.
4. I lived in Iowa for 18 months once. It seemed like much longer.
5. When I describe myself as "laid back" to most people, heads nod. When I say the same thing to family and close friends they laugh at me.
6. My first real job was at Dairy Queen, where I used to make out with Nancy Jacuzzi in the walk-in cooler. (Yes, those Jacuzzi’s)
7. I am afraid of heights. Not like being inside of tall buildings or airplanes, but ladders and roofs and things from which I can fall.
8. I was a roadie for a time. I took this job partially to face my fear of heights.
9. I sold waterbeds. I took that job partially to understand people better.
10. I owned a fireworks stand.
11. There really aren’t very many people I don’t like.
12. I love to cook. Especially bread.
13. I can drive for a long time without getting tired.
14. All of my hair fell out one time. (See #4)
15. I love music. I have zero talent for it.
16. When I was a kid there was a cemetery behind my house where they buried people from the state psychiatric hospital. I walked through it every day on the way to and from school.
17. All of my siblings are redheads.
18. So is the woman who has my virginity.
19. So is my wife. I try not to think about this very much.
20. I am definitely a cat person.
21. I keep fish.
22. I like fire.
23. All my ex’s live in Texas.
24. I watch entirely too much tv.
25. The first song I remember hearing on the radio is "Last Kiss" by Wayne Cochran & the C.C. Riders.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Two Kinds of People

There are two kinds of people in the world*: people who can be friends with people they have dated (or been married to), and those who cannot. I am generally one of the former. I don't say this with any particular pride, since I'm sure it springs from some sort of desperate need for external approval and emotional fulfillment. It can also be a tremendous pain in the ass.

For those of you in the second group who have never tried it, the biggest problem in the long term often turns out to be new lovers and spouses and such who believe that communicating with people you have had intimates with is practically cheating, and if not cheating then it's certainly uncomfortable and not something to be tolerated. So what happens is that you are friends for a while, then one party or the other drops off the face of the Earth. They resurface when the relationship is over, or presumably if it "takes" then you never hear from them again.

I'm not claiming that there is never a reason for people to feel threatened by old flames. After all, they call them that for a reason. There are almost always unresolved feelings that linger after a serious relationship, and they are rarely tidy. I have suspected on more than one occasion that the jealous new lover or spouse provided a somewhat welcome excuse to pack all of that emotional baggage into a Samsonite "Suppressor" hardside with wheels and retractable handle, lock the lock, eat the key and stuff the bag into the depths of the subconscious, where it will often keep the door from closing properly.

And I can see where children could motivate one to cut ties with the past. "Kids, this is the man that gave Mommie the best orgasms of her life until he dumped her for that slut and she settled for your Dad", is not a conversation most parents (or children) probably want to have. As much as I believe in being honest with children, there are just some things no one should have to hear before they are about thirty. Like the night I heard my mother scream from all the way upstairs, and I don't think she stubbed her toe on the dresser.

I lived in Texas about 30 years ago and dated a girl who waited tables at a restaurant I frequented. They made a killer Monte Cristo sandwich. We were very comfortable together. She tracked me down one time after a divorce (don't judge, you know you've done it), discovered that I was in a serious relationship, and we settled down to a period of exchanging Christmas cards and e-mail once or twice a year. After a few years of this she sort of freaked out one day and admitted that she had originally gotten back in touch because she saw me as "one who got away." We worked through all of that and she became a very good friend, though still living far away.

That is until last month when she told me she was getting married to a guy she had kicked to the curb a year or so ago. I had noticed I was hearing from her less often lately, and I expect it will stop altogether in a month or so when they get hitched. That's the second friend I have lost this way in the last year or so.

So why do I bother maintaining relationships with old lovers? Two reasons -- three if you count the emotional neediness thing. First, these people know who I was. There is a lot of mythology and philosophical meandering behind the idea that we change all of our cells every seven years and become totally different people. Scientifically, it turns out to be mostly crap, but as a metaphor the concept is very appealing. We really do become different people as time goes on (if we're learning anything), and the people we know now have no way to know those past selves. Even people we have known a long time have progressed with us, and the old selves are buried under the new. Sometimes it can be very good for us to have someone remind us of the people we came from.

The other benefit is the emotional baggage thing. There can be a lot of discomfort and rehashing of old greivances and nostalgic yearning for a while, but these things will fade. Once we are able to disconnect the expectations and hurt and anger that we attached to the other person, we can rediscover the person we thought was cool enough to sleep with in the first place. Except by that point we also usually have a clear view of why that is not an experience we care to repeat, so the attraction thing tends to fall away. Perhaps the biggest benefit is that each person is left holding the big bag of expectations and hurt and anger, and is forced to either deal with it or drop it. I tend to wear my emotions in places where I can't see them, so it helps to be able to unpack a bag of old crap and get rid of it sometimes.

I definitely have to give the wife props on this subject. I know she doesn't just love the idea of me being in touch with old lovers across the country, but she understands how important it is, and how much it helps my relationship with her, so she grits her teeth and puts on a big smile and very rarely makes a snarky comment. When she does, it's usually both deserved and funny. She's a class act.

* Actually, the two kinds of people are: people who think there are only two kinds of people in the world, and those who know better. Makes a nice kind of koan, doesn't it? I think perhaps it's a quantum thing. There are two kinds of people in an infinite number of worlds? People and anti-people? Or vice-versa? Or maybe each of us is both kinds of people until we are observed being one or the other. Any psycho-physicists out there with an opinion? On a related note, this is why computers aren't very good thinking machines. They believe there are only two kinds of everything.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Fun with Google Image

I think we've all been surprised at one time or another by the results we get from Google Image searches, like the time my wife typed in "discipline dog collar" to try to find a product to help control her unruly pooch. This can lead to literally hours of entertainment if in the proper frame of mind. Personally, my mind runs too much on the tracks to think of typing in "angel butt" or "church dress". But this doesn't mean I can't have fun with Google Image Search myself. Even those of us who are creatively challenged can enjoy this great (and relatively low cost) entertainment, thanks to the chaotic wonder of the Internet.

So try this for fun. Type in your birth date, or your name or hometown, or the street you grew up on and your first pet. Practically anything will do to get the game started.

Once you find something interesting, type that back in as the search term. I mean, how else are you ever going to learn about pansy rings? (I'm actually surprised I didn't get something completely different for "pansy ring".)

This reentrant search technique is sort of the solitaire version of a word association game -- except with pictures -- and can really take you some places you never in a million years thought you would end up. It's not really limited to images, and it's fun for the whole family as long as your SafeSearch parameters are set properly. I got a picture of some stuff in a dishwasher just now that I will spend a good part of the weekend trying to drink out of my brain.

Anyway, enjoy. I guess the real question is how many different terms will you type before you get a picture of Kevin Bacon?

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Best computer science paper title ever!

"Dynamic Taint Analysis for Automatic Detection, Analysis, and Signature Generation of Exploits on Commodity Software"

Thank you James Newsome and Dawn Song of Carnegie Mellon.

Friday, January 9, 2009

Eight(y) is Enough

The last things I thought I would be talking about when I started this blog were death and old age and other depressing shit like that. But that's what's been happening in my life, so there you go and there you have it and there you are. Anyway, if you're not depressed enough by the post-holiday-economic-meltdown-seasonal-affective blues, let's see what we can do about that.

I sent my father's widow (I've never been able to call her my stepmother, since I was in my 30's when they married) a Christmas card, and got this message in reply:

I hope this is still your correct email address. Merry Christmas to you and (wifey)! I appreciate your remembering me this year. My life is very quiet now and I don't drive very much anymore, so I stay home a lot. Some of my friends cannot even do that. Enjoy each other and do all the things that you wish to do while you and young and able.

I mean, Holy Shit! What am I supposed to do with that, besides everything in my power to make sure I don't live that long? After sitting alone in the dark for a couple of weeks with a bottle of Jack and a loaded handgun, I decided that the only thing any of us can do is to take her advice. My father went through several careers and started a number of companies, the last when he was 79. He used to say that when a door closed on our lives (NO! Not the window thing!) it was time to pick up whatever we had left and head on down the road. (Whew! Close one.) My father was full of crap about a lot of stuff, but I think he had this one right.

Life is too short, people. And to paraphrase someone smarter than I, it's definitely too short to live it in a way that makes us wish it were shorter. It's also too precious to spend it beating ourselves up because we're too fat or we don't make enough money or our job sucks or we already broke our resolution or our loser <pick one> left us for some <pick again>. I can go you get the idea?... good, because we were about to go blue.

So be happy today. Do something you've always wanted to do. Or watch reruns and eat a whole box of Cheeze-its. And if you end up never visiting the Parthenon, don't beat yourself up about it. The thing we can never do later is live our life the way we wanted to live it at the time.

If I weren't so lazy/busy, I would go find one of those Bon Jovi smiley face things to put here. You will have to use your imagination.

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Nights to Remember

I can't let this day pass without mentioning a time and a place and a group of people that meant a great deal to the direction of my life. Somewhere around the dawn of time (1970), when rock concert tours were starting to be a big deal, a couple of musicians from Dallas discovered that they were actually better at building sound gear than they were at making music come out of it. The demand for their equipment was high enough -- and the interest in their music low enough -- that they decided to start a sound equipment rental company. This was the beginning of SHOWCO, Inc., a sound -- and eventually lighting, staging and special effects -- company that became almost synonymous with the golden age of big rock shows in the 70's and 80's.

Besides providing sound equipment, lights, pyrotechnics, lasers, spotlights, mirror balls, projectors, bubble machines, chase lights and practically everything else you can imagine to the biggest names in the music industry, SHOWCO and its people helped create and define an important segment of the entertainment industry with constant innovation and a commitment to excellence that was second to no one. If companies had mission statements back then, theirs would have been, "Make it happen." I once saw them charter a Lear jet to fly a laser to Canada for a stadium show that was going to start in a little over eight hours.

The lighting division of SHOWCO was eventually consumed by their own invention, the Vari-lite, while the sound arm was purchased in 2000 by their major rival. The company that bought SHOWCO used both names, like FedEx Kinkos, until they decided this past year that time had run out on the SHOWCO brand and retired the name, presumably forever.

The company provided services to more top tier bands than I can list here. Led Zeppelin, The Who, Black Sabbath, The Bee Gees, Genesis, Three Dog Night, Paul McCartney, Willie Nelson, David Bowie, ZZ Top and James Taylor are a very few examples. In addition, they produced several large fashion shows, conventions and special events, including the annual convention for Mary Kay Cosmetics, whose big pink headquarters was around the corner from their own. Oh, and their lighting director programmed the big light ball on top of the Dallas Hyatt Regency. Most people don't know that the lights were supposed to flash in patterns. The first couple of nights they used it there were so many accidents on I-35E that they had to stop.

The scale of some of these tours, and the work required to put them on, was hard to conceive. The very large tours would have up to 15 semi trailers packed full of equipment that had to be unloaded in the morning, put together, tested, repaired and adjusted, used to its limits during the show, and then pulled down, taken apart and put back in the trucks. All fifteen trucks would then have to drive three or four hundred miles to do it all again the next day. Along the way they faced and solved technical and artistic challenges on a daily basis. Whether it was chroming the entire lighting system for the Bee Gees, mounting six huge, rotating mirrors above the Genesis stage that totaled more than 2500 lbs., making music sound good outdoors and still be loud enough to make your ears bleed, or simply figuring out how to put together pyrotechnics that would rattle the Superdome, SHOWCO people made it happen time and time and time again.

The workload was brutal. It wasn't Alaskan crab fishing dangerous, but there were definite similarities. Thirty-six hour days were common. Days off on tour were rare, which meant that the traveling crew were living on two or three hours of sleep (sometimes less) for weeks at a time. One becomes very familiar with the lower end of Maslow's hierarchy. Very few people lasted a year. I once fell asleep on the sidewalk at the Sacramento airport while someone went to fetch the rental car. And when Jackson Browne said that roadies were "working for that minimum wage," he was being charitable if you consider the hours worked. His was another SHOWCO crew.

So why did people do it? One thing: the music. Not "partying with the band," not the women (they were only interested in the musicians, anyway), and not the glamorous lifestyle. When you were on tour with a good -- or even better a great -- band, the two hours or so of live music made up for all of the pain and loneliness and frustration. There is nothing like being at a great concert with 25,000 of your closest friends, unless it's being onstage for it. I can't even imagine what a rush it is for the musicians. No wonder so many of them go all crazy. Oh, and tour jackets were cool, but they weren't really worth the effort without the music thing.

I was fortunate enough to work for SHOWCO for three years in their heyday. I worked with some of the biggest acts on the planet, visited 45 states and 3 foreign countries, stayed in practically every Holiday Inn in America, and became intimately acquainted with theater and arena design. To this day I don't even have to think about where to find the bathrooms in a public arena. And I made a few lifelong friends. I met some of the best and most interesting and unique people I have known, and each and every one would show up to help you move. I learned things in that three years that most people will never even suspect.

Tonight at the Arcade Bar in Dallas a bunch of nondescript, middle-aged men and women are gathering to mark the passing of the SHOWCO name and raise a glass to the days when sex and drugs and rock & roll were as much a part of the fabric of the country as consumer credit and reality shows are today, and the dinosaurs of entertainment ruled the earth. I'm sure many lies will be told, and even more true stories that are harder to believe. At least as much of it as they can remember. If you happen to be there, or if you ever run into an old roadie in a bar, buy them a drink. They will almost certainly have an interesting story to tell.