Monthly Archives: October 2010

Really Deep Thoughts

17 October 2010

Lessons from the 2010 Copiapó mining accident

By now, everyone knows the story.  On August 5, 2010, the San José copper and gold mine near Copiapó, Chile, collapsed, stranding 33 miners about 2300 feet below the surface of the earth.  To give some sense of this, this is about the height that the two World Trade Center buildings stood, if stacked on top of each other.

For seventeen days the miners waited in the darkness, lit only by the lights of their helmets, not knowing if anyone knew they were alive, or if anyone was trying to find them.  At the same time, no one outside the mine knew if there was anyone alive to rescue.  Finally, on August 22, an exploratory drill punched through to the miners’ chamber.  They attached a note, previously prepared, stating “Estamos bien en el refugio los 33″, “We 33 in the shelter are well”, in English.

On October 9, an escape borehole reached the cavity where the miners were stranded.  On October 12, all 33 miners were successfully brought up to the Earth’s surface, while we all watched on our cable TVs.

This is a great feel-good story.  But I think there are a number of lessons that can be learned from this story beyond “don’t work in a copper mine.”  I’ll write about what I learned.  I’d like to hear what you learned or what you think about my “lessons”.

International Relations

After this accident happened, many nations came to the rescue.  Drill teams came from the United States, Canada, and Europe.  We spend a lot of time talking about the differences between countries.  And these exist.  But when we see real human beings in trouble, people gather together and recognize that the things we have in common outweigh the differences.  Most people are basically good.  Even most governments try to do good.  When we pool our resources, great things happen.  Like the miracle of these 33 lives being saved.  I’m not sure why we don’t pull together to help those like the refugees of Darfur or even the oppressed of North Korea, as two examples.  I think this is something we should look at.

Government Regulation

In this country, the US, at least, there is a cry from some corners against government regulation.  There has been a huge revolution, starting with the Reagan administration, for deregulation.  While I don’t agree with everything he did, I am a huge fan of Ronald Reagan.  Too much regulation is a bad thing.  But no regulation is a worse thing.

Chile does a lot of business in mining, and has a number of regulations regarding mining safety.  The San José  mine was actually shut down in 2007.  But it was allowed to reopen in 2008, even though it still hadn’t complied with Chilean safety regulations.  This points out a couple of things.  Some companies will try to obey every law whether it makes sense or not.  Without proper enforcement, these companies are placed at a competitive disadvantage by their compliance.  Other companies will ignore all regulations as long as they feel they can make more money doing so.  Appropriate regulation, uniformly enforced, helps us all.  Regulation that is not enforced routinely hurts everybody.

Executive Action

When the accident occurred, Chilean president Sebastián Piñera went almost immediately into action.  Before he arrived at the scene, one rescue effort was already in progress.  At that point, it was not even known if any miners were left alive.  But this effort was not sufficient for him.  He called for every effort to be made to rescue any miners that may have been trapped.  Two more rescue efforts were mounted.  It was one of the extra drill-holes that reached the trapped miners first.

When the first trapped miner was rescued, one of the first to embrace him was President Piñera.  I’m trying to imagine this happening here in the United States.  I can’t imagine Barack Obama being present in a raincoat and hardhat embracing someone plucked from a mine in Pennsylvania.  I can’t even imagine Joe Biden in that role.  Maybe that’s for the best.  Obama and his Secret Service contingent might just have gotten in the way.  But I don’t really think that’s an excuse.  I think that the best that we might have expected might be a fly-over in a helicopter.

I’d like to draw a parallel to the gulf oil spill earlier this year, supposedly the “worst natural disaster in US history.”  Where was Obama when it came to this disaster?  Yes, he eventually flew over in a helicopter, walked on a beach or two, and even visited some of the affected businesses.  But what did he do about it?  Did he do one thing to fix the problem?  Piñera asked for solutions from multiple countries to solve his problem.  Did Obama even call on the experts available in the United States?  No!  He was quick to say he would find out who was to blame and that they would be held accountable.  Who cares?  We had a state of emergency, and emergency action was necessary.  The issue at hand was closing the spill.  He left that to British Pretoleum, BP, the supposed perpetrators, to fix the problem.

What could he have done?  He could have asked for other countries to assist in the well closure.  He could at least have set up a board of experts from US companies to help with coming up with a plan for capping the oil well.  He could have assigned NASA to the problem.  But he was too busy assigning blame.

Other countries volunteered to help.  They event sent cleanup vessels to help.  Vessels that were not allowed to enter US waters because the US government would not yield its sovereignty to US waters, even for this limited purpose.

Where was the celebration when BP, acting alone, capped the oil spill, weeks ahead of projections?  Every news outlet, from CNBC to Fox News, calmly reported that the oil well had been capped, then promptly stopped talking about it.  No one congratulated BP.  No one got hugged.  Have you heard one word about the real environmental impact since then?

I may not be the first.  But let me say:  Congratulations, BP.  Thanks for stepping up fixing a problem that your company created.  I know that you didn’t intend for this to happen, and didn’t expect this to happen, but thank you for accepting financial responsibility for those that were impacted by this accident.  I do believe that you could have anticipated this disaster.  I also believe that you didn’t anticipate it, and that you’re working hard to make things right.  I believe a lot of people that led to the accident need to get sacked.  I also believe that a lot of people that helped to solve the problem should have gotten hugs.  I would hug them in person if given the chance.  In the meantime, please accept this electronic hug.

The Space Program

Yes, really, I’m talking about the space program.  The vehicle that rescued the trapped miners was designed by NASA, the US National Aeronautics and Space Administration.  NASA helped with understanding and treating the condition of the trapped miners, not unlike the condition of astronauts trapped in Earth orbit for long periods of time. 

There are those that would end our US space program.  To be honest, they already have.  They are ignoring, or discounting, the benefits of this endeavor.  It isn’t just about discovering what the Moon is made of or landing men on Mars, both of which do have their own benefits to speak of.  But we all gain, every day, from the technologies developed in this endeavor.  We probably wouldn’t, for example have our I-Phones or even our laptops today, without the transistor research funded by the space program.

Robots

Yes, really, I’m talking about robots.  These days, my car is built by a robot.  When I call my bank, I don’t get an operator like I used to.  I get a robot.  How am I better off by having a robot answer my phone call?  How does this help anybody but the shareholders of the bank?  Does it help the people that the bank used to employ as telephone operators?  And yet, we accept this as progress.

How can we sit still while robots are replacing telephone operators, while human beings are working 700 meters below the surface of the Earth to find the copper that goes into our telephones?  I will tell you that as long as we are ok with this, we are responsible for what actually happened, and what might have happened, to these 33 heroes.

Since the year 2000, an average of 34 people have died in mining accidents in Chile.  That’s more than the number that were rescued this month.  Where was the international coverage for this loss of life?  43 died just in 2008.  Did you hear about that?

Why on Earth, or under the Earth, would we replace human operators to answer our phone calls, to save a few cents per call, buy we won’t employ machines to do the work of those who risk their lives to walk hundreds of meters below the Earth’s surface just to provide our coal, our jewels, and the metal that makes our cell phones work?

Confessions of a Craig Ferguson Fan

5 October 2010

Let me tell you about Craig Ferguson.

A couple of weeks ago my wife and I were in Los Angeles for a conference she was attending.  We’re big fans of The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson.  So we decided to stay an extra couple of days to play tourist and see if maybe we could get tickets to the show.  I’ve never been to a live show like that before.  I learned a few things I didn’t expect.

One thing I didn’t expect was the standing around.  They tell you to get there early, because the audience has to be seated 30 minutes before the show starts at 3 PM, and if you’re not there early enough, you might not get in.  Makes sense to me.  So we got there about 1:30, about ninety minutes before the show.  We weren’t the first ones there, but close.  What they don’t tell you is that the line forms on the sidewalk outside the studio.  Every once in a while, someone comes out to tell you they’ll be bringing us in soon, or to explain what’s going to happen, which isn’t what actually happens.  But mostly it’s just a bunch of strangers milling on the sidewalk like we’re waiting to see Star Wars in 1977.

Lined up on the sidewalk across the driveway were the people waiting to get into Dancing With the Stars.  They were much better dressed than we were.  Dancing has a much stricter dress code.   Some people got kicked out of the Dancing line.  They came to watch Craig with us.  The Late Late Show dress code seems to be, no shirt, no shoes… well at least you’re wearing pants.

So here we are still waiting on the sidewalk at 3:10, about forty minutes after the audience is supposed to be seated with the rest of the 150 hobos.  Someone comes out and tells us that they’ll be taking us in just a minute.  Really, just a minute.  Seriously, it will be just a couple of more minutes.

Finally they really did start letting us in.

On the way in, not one, but two people checked our IDs.  They were very clear that everyone needed a photo ID.  I’m not sure what that was about.  They didn’t type our names into a computer to see if we were on the no-fly list.  They didn’t even compare our IDs with a clip-board to see if we were actually on the ticket list.  Maybe they just wanted to confirm that we weren’t vampires and could actually be photographed.  Or maybe they just want to make sure they can quickly identify the bodies if the studio caves in.

Next, we went through the metal detectors.  I don’t know if they actually care if you’re carrying weapons.  But they were very serious about no cell phones in the studio.  If you had a cell phone, they seriously took it away from you until, but you could get it back after class.  This part I really understand.  Can we get movie theaters to start doing this?

At this point, they assembled us in an area that looked like the line to get on a ride at Disneyland, complete with the captive audience souvenir stand.  Nothing there from Ferguson’s show mind you.  But all of the CSI: New York gear you could ever want to have.  We’re still outside the studio.  But at least we’re off the sidewalk.

At this point, another intern comes out to yell a bunch of rules and instructions.  One of them was, make sure you laugh at the jokes, even if you don’t get them.  Another one was, if you have weird laugh, don’t laugh too loud.

Now they turn it over to the warm up comedian.  He’s like the cheerleader of the show.  He’s the comedy show version of a fluffer.  He’s a middle-aged man with three days of beard stubble who describes himself as a mediocre comedian.  He shouldn’t have said that.  He set the bar too high.  So he tells us about five minutes worth of bad jokes so that we can practice laughing loudly at jokes we don’t get or aren’t funny, and finally, it’s time to go inside.

They run us up five flights of stairs to some sort of staging area.  They line us up along three lines of colored tape on the floor so that they can tell us some more rules.  Actually, they were the same rules.  I guess some of us don’t pay much attention.

I’ve never been in a TV studio before.  I don’t know if they all look like this off-stage.  This one looked dark and dreary, with a bunch of equipment sitting around that looked like it was probably high-tech in the 60s, but hadn’t been used in years.  It reminded me of the janitor’s equipment room in elementary school.  It would have seemed very cool if I was seven years old and wasn’t supposed to be there.

Finally, they take us into the studio.  They actually tell everyone exactly where to sit.  I felt very honored when they asked me to sit in the middle of the front row.  The most notable thing is how small the studio is in real life.  Remember those multiplex theatres that sprouted up in the 70s and 80s?  Remember how they had some bigger theaters for the big new movies, and some tiny theaters that they would use for the for the movies that had been out for a month?  Imagine one of those little bitty theaters.  Then cut it in half.  I don’t know how they make it look so big on TV.

Once we’re in the theater, the warm up comedian tells us a few more bad jokes.  Then gives us a well-rehearsed speech about how we are not the audience.  We are actually part of the show.  We are “show enhancers.”  He actually tries to guilt us into laughing at all of Craig’s jokes, even if we don’t understand them.  And this actually works, for a while.  He actually tells us that he doesn’t understand most of Craig’s jokes because of his accent.  Craig Ferguson is an American, damn it!  We don’t have accents.

Finally, about 4:00, the show begins!  Craig comes into the studio, and we all stand up to cheer, on cue.  Yes, we were instructed to give a standing ovation.

I’m so excited because I’m in the middle of the front row, and Craig is going to be standing five feet in front of me doing his monologue!  So Craig walks to center stage, and the camera moves into position.  Between me and Craig.  If you go to a live TV show, and they invite you to sit in the center of the front row, don’t feel honored.  It means they don’t like you.  The only thing I got to look at was the TV monitors and the back of the camera woman’s head.  I didn’t actually get to watch the show until I got home and watched it on my DVR.

They don’t do many shots of the TV audience.  But I was on camera twice during the show, both times from behind.  I’m the guy with the bald head looking to left so I can see the TV screen while everyone else is looking directly at Craig.

As I mentioned, I’m a big fan of Craig’s.  I’ve read his book, which I recommend.  I watch his show just about every night.  It’s one of the few shows I record automatically on my DVR.  But there are two things he does on the show that I hate.  One is when he plays his harmonica, or, mouth organ, as he puts it.  The other is when he uses his puppets, especially the potty-mouthed rabbit puppet.  So, you guessed it, he played the harmonica.  And he did, not one, but two segments with the rabbit puppet.  I don’t think I’ve ever seen two rabbit segments on the same show.

Craig’s first guest was Mindy Kaling from The Office. Craig clearly has a huge crush on Mindy.  I’ve seen her on the show twice before.  I can’t think of anyone else I’ve seen on his show three times.  The interview goes something like this:  “You look amazing.  I hope you’re not offended.”  “Why would I be offended?”  “How did you get into such great shape?”  “It took a lot of work.”  At which point lovely Mindy explains her workout routine.

I actually watched a re-run sitting in a live studio audience.

The second guest was some documentary reporter from some television show that I’ve never heard of probably on some cable network that I don’t get.  I can’t remember the name of the show.  He seemed bored to be there, Craig seemed bored to have him there, and the best part of the segment was watching a camel chewing on his arm in the video clip.

Geoff Peterson was definitely the high point of this particular show.  I love the robot skeleton, and he and Craig had one of their longest exchanges that day.

By the way, there’s no free chicken.

It may not sound like it, but I did have fun.  I don’t regret going, but I don’t know if I’d do it again.  I’m still a big Ferguson fan, but , I admit, some of the magic is gone.  Sometimes, “Don’t look at the man behind the curtain” is good advice.  If you’re a Craig Ferguson fan like me, I recommend you try it.  Even if you’re not a Craig fan, but you’ve never seen a TV show recorded in person, I recommend that you try the Late Late Show.  At least you don’t have to get dressed up.

Talking Trash

4 October 2010

Aren’t you sick of the negative political campaigns and the misleading TV and radio ads this election season?  Not that this season is any different.  I find them insulting.  They assume that we aren’t capable of thinking for ourselves.  They assume that we’ll remember the five second slogan on we saw on TV on election day, instead of reading the ballot measures or doing research on the candidates to make the best decision.  Judging from the results of most elections, they may be right.

A recent example is the latest bru-ha-ha involving Meg Whitman, a candidate for governor in California, the former leader of EBay. She’s running against Jerry Brown, a career politician, and the former governor of California.

The latest scandal involves a former household employee of Ms. Whitman, Nicky Diaz.  There is some disagreement about what exactly happened, or exactly what it means, or exactly why it matters, but there are some facts everyone seems to agree with.  In 2000, Ms. Whitman contacted an employment agency to find a nanny for her children and housekeeper for her home.  They referred Ms. Diaz, who was hired for the job.  She produced a social security card and California driver’s license, and filled out the appropriate tax forms.  The identification Ms. Diaz provided was fraudulent.  She was an undocumented worker and not legally permitted to work in the United States.  In 2009, about the time Ms. Whitman began running for governor, Ms. Diaz asked Ms. Whitman for help in gaining US citizenship.  At that time, the nanny was fired.

Everyone seems to agree on these facts.  But there are several sides to the story.

Meg Whitman’s side:  Nicky was a valued employee, but she lied to get her job.  When it was revealed that she was an illegal alien, and that it was illegal to employ her, her employment was terminated.

I haven’t exactly figured out Nicky Diaz’ side.  It seems to be something like “She’s a mean lady who didn’t help me.”  In her words:  “”I was shocked and hurt that Ms. Whitman would treat me this way after nine years. I realized at that moment that she didn’t appreciate my work. I felt like she was throwing me away like a piece of garbage.””

Gloria Allred, Ms. Diaz’ attorney, has another side.  She claims that Ms. Whitman and her husband knew all along that Nicky was illegal, but they kept her on so that they could exploit and abuse her.  They only fired her in 2009 because she could become a political embarrassment.  As proof of this, she produced a document sent by the Social Security Administration stating that there was a problem with Ms. Diaz’ Social Security number.  There is a handwritten note written on the letter, apparently written by Ms. Whitman’s husband, Griff Harsh saying something like “Nicky, would you please look into this.”  She claims that Ms. Diaz found lots of letters from Social Security just like this in the family garbage.

I don’t want to get too heavy into the debate.  But let’s look at the facts.  Both sides agree that the nanny was fired when she came and asked for help getting a green card.  This is consistent with Whitman’s claim that this is when she discovered Diaz was illegal.  If this is true, Whitman had no legal option but to terminate the employment.

Allred claims that Diaz was employed just so she could be exploited as an undocumented worker.  Really?  She was paid $23 an hour to be a nanny.  How many illegal aliens get $23 an hour?  For that matter, how many nanny’s get $23 an hour?  The average pay for a nanny in the United States is $13 an hour.  This doesn’t sound like exploitation to me.  And if she really felt exploited, why didn’t she go back to the employment agency and look for a different position?

Ms. Allred claims that Ms. Whitman must have known about Nicky’s status because she got a letter from Social Security.  Um, who has that letter?  Nicky Diaz.  Is there any evidence that Ms. Whitman ever saw the letter in the first place?  And what is Ms. Diaz doing with somebody else’s mail?

Of course there are all the letters that were supposedly put in the trash.  Really?  Is there any evidence of this?  And think about this.  Their story was that there was someone inside Whitman’s house for nine years, going through her garbage, and this is the most dirt they could come up with.  Not much of a scandal if you ask me.

Finally, the intent of the whole affair is obvious from the timing.  Two months before the election.  Allred is a life-long liberal, with connections to Jerry Brown going back to his first stint as governor.  Not long ago Ms. Allred raised a similar scandal against then gubernatorial candidate Arnold Schwarzenegger, also months before the election.  Even if everything Allred claims is true, Ms. Diaz chose the wrong lawyer.  Who can believe anything Gloria Allred says with her track record?

Finally, who really cares?  Seriously, what difference does it make?  Suppose Meg Whitman employed an illegal alien until a year ago.  Does that mean she won’t be a good governor?

Oh, but she speaks out against employing illegal aliens.  She’s a hypocrite.  Maybe.  Barak Obama wrote about his experiences with drugs.  Is he a hypocrite when he enforces US drug policy?  Maybe.  Do you want him to stop doing it?  Is he a bad president because he does?

But Rick, you say, it goes to character.  Seriously, who cares?  I don’t care if my governor has character.  I care if they do a good job governing.  If we eliminate everyone that has ever had a scandal in their past from running for office, who’s left?  Not me.  You?  Anybody you know?  It doesn’t leave many people.  And those that are left are not there because they’d be good leaders.  Probably their left because their more careful about who gets to see their garbage.  If someone has never made a mistake in your life, it may be because they’ve never done much of anything.  The only people I know who have never had a parking ticket have never owned a car.

But doesn’t character matter?  All things being equal, of course it does.  But think about it.

When I think about a politician with character, I think of Jimmy Carter.  Carter is probably the best ex-president the US has ever seen.  He travels to other countries to negotiate peace settlements, to oversee elections, to get US citizens released from foreign prisons.  He builds houses for the homeless with his own hands.  In all seriousness, while I don’t agree with everything President Carter says and does, I admire and respect the man.

That having been said, I think Jimmy Carter was the worst US president in my lifetime.  He is a great person, but was a lousy executive.  Even if you don’t agree with me, would you argue that Carter was a better president that Bill Clinton?  No?  Would you say that Clinton had better character than Carter?  If you had to pick one to replace Obama, who would it be?  The one with character?

I’m not writing this to endorse Meg Whitman.  Her main qualification for governor is her experience as an executive running EBay.  And I’m not happy with everything I know about her time there.  On the other hand, I’ve met Jerry Brown, and I remember the last time he was governor.  With all his time in his many offices, I’ve seen that he’s an excellent politician.  But I’ve never seen any evidence that he’s qualified to govern.  I do wish there was a better candidate available to choose from.  We’re not even left with a choice between the better of the evils.  It’s more like a choice between evil or dumb.

I started this rant complaining about negative campaigns, and I only brought up Meg Whitman and Jerry Brown as an example.  Nobody likes negative campaigns, but they keep happening, because they work.  And there’s really only one way to stop it.  Stop listening to them.  It’s up to you and me.  These tactics work because we fall for it.  And they won’t stop until we stop paying attention.  If you vote November 2, don’t do it because of some TV commercial you saw that appeals to the lowest common denominator.  Don’t do it because of a sound bite from a press conference obviously intended to offend your sensibilities and distract you from the issues.  Do some research.  Find out where people really stand.  And then, based on facts, and not innuendo, vote for the candidates that you honestly believe will do a better job.

The Torture is Over

3 October 2010

I know I’m not the first to say it.  But I can vouch for the accuracy of term torture when applied to the San Francisco Giants.

I attended all three Giants games this weekend, intend on being there when and if the Giants claimed the mantle as National League Division Champions, or to “clinch” their place in the playoffs.  I did see this happen once before.  But if you’re a baseball fan that follows just about anybody but the Yankees, this is pretty much a once-in-a-lifetime event.

Let me explain the torture of waiting to see a clinch happen.  First, your team has to clinch.  So that means they have to be the best team in their division.  For the Giant’s, this means they have to beat four other teams.  So, on average, this means that this only happens one in five years.

Next, they have to clinch at home.  Yes, if you’re a fanatic like me, you could follow them on the road to see them clinch.  But there is nothing like the excitement of the home crowd when your team wins the division.   So even if your team clinches, there’s a 50-50 chance that the game will be played on the road somewhere, and the best you can do is watch it on TV in a local sports bar.

To make matters worse, you don’t always clinch by winning.  Sometimes the clinch happens when the second place team loses.  So you could have tickets to what could be the game-of-a-lifetime.  But on the drive to the game the second place Dodgers lose to the Mets in New York, making the Giants the champions.  So now you’ve got tickets to an exhibition game that doesn’t mean anything to anybody.  Don’t turn around.  The pre-game festivities are going to be a ball.  (High and outside.)

So let me set the stage for this weekend’s torture.  On Thursday, the Giants finished a sweep of the Arizona Diamondbacks (winning all three games in the three game series), and ended up three games ahead of the Padres with three games left in the season.  In any other season, this would mean that unless the Padres won every game left, and the Giants lost every game left, the Giants would win the division.  To make things even more interesting, the last three games would be against the Padres at home in San Francisco.  So if the Padres did win every game left, the Giants would have to lose every game left.

Friday night Matt Cain was on the mound, pitching on his birthday.  Cain is one of our most reliable pitchers, and one of my favorite players.  I was already to watch a victory and go home to relax the rest of the weekend.  In the second inning, Cain gave up a home run to Ryan Ludwick, and the Giants were immediately down 1-0.  In the third inning, Cain gave up three hits.  The last was another homer by Adrian Gonzalez.  The score was now 3-0.  The Giants never came back from this.  They lost the game 6-4.

Saturday’s pitcher was Barry Zito.  I’ve never really liked Zito, so I wasn’t nearly as optimistic.  But the pundits on the radio were talking about his experience as a veteran who has been there before, even claiming he was the best man to pitch today.  So I arrived at the ballpark with high hopes.

After facing four batters, Zito had the bases loaded with one out.  The only out was intentional by the Padres, coming on a sacrifice by Miguel Tejada.  This was scary, but we relaxed a little when he got the second out.  But with two outs, he walked the next two batters.  With the bases loaded, this means the Padres were able to score two runs without swinging a bat.  (Scott Hairston did swing once, but he missed.)  The Giants were already down 2-0, and two runs were all the Padres needed.  San Diego wins, 4-2.

Side-note:  Barry Zito was paid about $18,000,000 this year, about $90,000 an inning.  So he got more than $3000 a pitch for Saturday’s game.  Why are my tickets so expensive?

So we’re down to Sunday, the last game of the regular season.  Now things get really interesting.  The Giants still only need to win one game to clinch.  Even if they lose, all is not lost.  They can still tie.  To make things even more interesting, Atlanta is tied with the Padres for the wildcard spot in the playoffs.  If the Giants lose, and Atlanta wins, the season ends with a three-way tie.  If the Giants lose, they would have to fly to San Diego to play one last game with the Padres for the division championship.  Even if they lose that game, they have one more chance at the playoffs.  Then they’d have to fly to Atlanta to play a game versus the Braves to see who the wildcard team would be.

If Atlanta loses to the Phillies and the Padres win, the Giants still get to go to the playoffs.  But the Padres would be the division champions.  No championship, and no clinch.

Within the first couple of innings, we knew the Atlanta result.  The Braves won.  The Giants still needed to earn their own way into the playoffs.  If they lose today, I’m driving to San Diego tonight.

But today was a different game.  Jonathan Sanchez was on the mound.  He doesn’t have any experience in playoff atmospheres like this, but he’s one of my favorite players, and in the past it seems like he does better under pressure.

But the first inning seemed like déjà vu all over again.  The first batter, Chris Denorfin, got a hit.  He advanced to second on a sacrifice.  I was thinking, here we go again.  But Sanchez settled down, and things went smoothly from there.  He got out of the inning without a run scoring.

With the Giants at bat and no score in the third inning, a ball was hit to triples alley.  It took such a lucky bounce, that I thought I might even see my first inside-the-park home run.  I was astonished when the runner went into third standing up.  Why didn’t he at least round the bag toward home.  And then I understood.  The triple had been hit by the pitcher, Jonathon Sanchez, maybe the worst hitter on the team.  Of course they weren’t going to risk hurting the pitcher in a collision at home plate.  It was the first triple in Sanchez’ career.

Sanchez scored on a hit by Freddy Sanchez, and suddenly it didn’t feel like déjà vu no more.  The Giants were leading for the first time in the series.  That run proved to be all the Giants needed.  Brian Wilson, he of the beard, came on to pitch the ninth inning.  He retired the side in order.  He struck out pinch-hitter Luis Durango on three pitches.  Durango never swung the bat.  Giants win, 3-0.

Things got really fun from there.  The crowd was a sea of orange, waving their rally rags.  The Giants piled on each other on the infield, then ran a victory lap around the outfield, high fiving the fans in the front rows.  No one was running for their cars to get ahead of the stairway crush, to beat the rush out of the parking garages.  Nobody moved.

There’s nothing like a clinch at home.  And now I don’t have to drive to San Diego.  The torture is over.

Dreams of My Father

2 October 2010

For some reason today I’m thinking about my father.  My father was the smartest person I’ve ever met.  I’m told that he started playing serious chess before he started school.  There’s no way to confirm that story today, but I believe it.  I played many games of chess with my father.  I remember one time, not long after moving out.  It was one of my first trips home, probably about 1979.  I was about 18.  I’d been playing chess pretty seriously with some friends of mine, playing every day.  I even bought some chess books and was studying various openings.  Dad, on the other hand, hadn’t played in years.  We got out the chess board, and about an hour later, I was actually up material!  I was winning.  A few minutes later, I made a mistake, which he immediately capitalized on, and he beat me.  I never beat him.  Not once.

I only saw my father lose one game of chess ever.  We had some people staying with us.  A family friend Norman, was pretty good at chess.  I played him a number of times.  I won a couple of times.  But he was pretty good.  That night, we decided just for fun that Dad would play three games at the same time.  Typically for my dad, that wasn’t enough.  He had an hour talk to give the next day, so he was going over his outline.  And we were playing in the family room with the TV on.  Norman actually beat him.  He won the other two games, and gave a great talk the next day.

Dad put himself through college about the time that I was born.  He went to school full time while also working full time.  He had two kids before he was finished.  In less than four years he graduated from San Jose State with a CPA.

His first job out of college was as the interim controller at Stanford University Hospital.  This was a sign of things to come.  A few years later he became the chief financial officer of Children’s Hospital in San Francisco, which was the second largest hospital in California at the time.  Later in life, he was invited to be a federal judge on the Medicare Reimbursement board in Washington DC.  This is an appellate court that handles nothing but Medicare cases against or filed by hospitals.  It’s the only US federal court where you don’t have to be a lawyer to serve as a judge.  The cases that he handled either ended, or went next to the US Supreme Court.  On one such case, he had written the minority opinion for the case.  The Supreme Court reversed the decision of his board, citing the arguments in his minority opinion.

I’ve tried to find this case but can’t.  If any of you lawyers out there know how to go about it, I would love to read it for myself.

Dad was always thinking.  He had a system  for doing everything.  Like his chess game, he was always thinking several moves ahead.  For any trip, he knew six ways to get from point A to point B, and knew which one would be fastest at any time of day.  He kept lists of everything.  I wouldn’t be surprised if he kept lists of lists.

Dad loved all kinds of puzzles.  I remember when the Rubik’s Cube was the fad in the ‘70’s.  My dad was the only one I knew that could do it.  He did some reading about it, and commented that some were talking about its application to group theory.  I studied group theory in a class in abstract algebra some twenty-five years later.  I can see how they are related (or at least I did at the time), but I still couldn’t tell you how the Rubik’s Cube could help you understand group theory, or how group theory could help you solve the puzzle.  To my knowledge, dad never took a math class beyond calculus.

Like all of us, he had his flaws.  He had an explosive temper.  He was never physically or even emotionally abusive.  I don’t remember ever getting a spanking that didn’t come from my mother.  But there was plenty of shouting, and we kids learned to be wary of making Dad angry.  Thinking as he did about everything, I think it was really frustrating for him when people did things without thinking.  That’s how I look back at it now.  At the time, all I remember, is “Dad’s mad.”  He definitely mellowed as he got older.  Probably because he turned his thinking on his own behavior and came up with some system for dealing with his frustrations.

He was a good provider that always put his family’s material needs first.  Even with six kids, we never wanted for anything.  My mother never had to work outside of the house.  And with six kids, that was a blessing.  She had work enough to do.  We always lived in good neighborhoods, and most of us got our own bedrooms.

There’s a lot of my father in me, both the good and the bad.  I, too, have a system for everything.  I try different routes to places I go to regularly.  I don’t just think I know the fastest route to take.  I know the best lane to be in during rush hour.  (I think I actually got my aggressive driving skills from my mother.)  I definitely have Dad’s temper, and I definitely get frustrated when other people do dumb things because they haven’t thought about them.  Or maybe just because they haven’t arrived at the same solution I did.  I do understand that this is probably my perception, and definitely my problem, not theirs.  And, like my father, I definitely have gotten mellower over the years.

I love learning, and read voraciously.  I like to know something about everything, and everything about some things.  An impossible task, but I love the chase.  I don’t do it consciously, but I think I’m still competing with my father.  I know I’m not as smart as he was, and never will be.  But I am a better man with  the role model that he left for me.

My dad left us in 1995.  I went back to school a few years later.  In 2003, I graduated from UC Berkeley with degrees in Mathematics and Computer Science.  Now I work as a software engineer for one of the world’s largest software companies, which basically means that I get paid, probably too much, to think about problems and create systems to fix them.  I think Dad would have been proud.

I may have been thinking about Dad because I went to the Giants game today.  Most of the time I spent with Dad after leaving home was at Candlestick Park watching the Giants.  We were there together for the 87 playoffs, when the Giants won the pennant in 89, and when they lost the World Series the same year.

I’m going the game again tomorrow.  If the Giants win, they will again go to the playoffs.  If they lose, I’m glad he won’t be there to share the heartache.  But if they win, I’m sorry he won’t be there to share the joy.  Either way, I miss you Dad.

Blog-a-rhythm

1 October 2010

Welcome to my new month’s resolution.  Yes, I really have those.  Every month I try to set a goal that challenges me, just for that month.  I find that more of my monthly goals actually lead to long term habits than things like new year’s resolutions.  I think there are several reasons for this.  One of them might be that I get twelve chances a year.  But I think the main reason is that you can do just about anything for a month.  Doing something for a year, or worse, making a lifetime commitment, can be overwhelming.  Knowing that you can stop in a month makes it easier to keep the commitment.  And actually doing it for a month is long enough to actually develop some good habits.

Other times, I just find out that some ideas really suck and I don’t want to do them anymore.

Back to this month’s goal.  I plan to blog every day for the month of October.  I don’t usually tell everybody what my goal is going to be.  This saves the embarrassment if I don’t follow through.  And I also don’t get confused halfway through the month, thinking I’m doing this for somebody else, which can lead to silly resentment about something that they never asked me to do in the first place.  But I thought my one blog post in September followed by 31 in October might lead some to believe that something is up.  So the cat is out of the bag.  I have my doubts that anyone will be reading this after about October 3 anyway, so what’s the big deal?  I do thank the three of you that will be with my that long.

I’ve been intrigued with the blogging concept for a long time.  I’m a long time self-described frustrated writer.  I have done some professional writing.  But I’m always writing about what other people want written.  I seldom take the time to write about what is interesting to me.  I’m really pleased that this creative channel  has been open in our time.  I’m envious of those that have embraced it and run with it.  And I hope I can truly make a habit of it.  I think it will be a good thing unto itself even if nobody else ever reads it.

So what will I blog about?  I really have no idea.  I hope it won’t turn into one of those journals about what I had for lunch.  In my first post, I realized, after the fact, that I had taken on both the largest country in the world and the largest company in the world in one sitting.  That might have been a little ambitious.  Or maybe next I’ll take on the capybara, the world’s largest rodent.

There’s a big election coming up next month, so I doubt that I’ll avoid the instinct to talk about some politics.  If you’re wondering what my political affiliation is, you shouldn’t.  I’m not left.  I’m not right.  I’m not middle of the road.  I’m all over the road.  If you’re a democrat, you’ll be convinced I’m a republican.  If you’re a capitalist, I’ll convince you that I’m a socialist.  If you’re a moderate, you’ll be sure that I’m a radical.  If you’re a radical, you’ll wish someone declared a fatwa on me if you don’t do it yourself.

It looks like my beloved San Francisco Giants will be advancing to the post-season, if they can avoid choking four days in a row.  So there’s a good chance I’ll be talking about baseball.  I started my first blog when following Barry Bonds on the road when he was trying to break the home run record.  The travel and writing every night were so tiring that I didn’t even write about it when he actually broke the record.  Yes, I was there.

A couple of warnings might be in order if you don’t know me.  I have a very dry, frequently wicked sense of humor.  I’m not saying I’m wickedly funny.  I’m not even saying I’m funny.  But much of what I write will probably be tongue-in-cheek and I season my writing and my every day speech with sarcasm.  It’s intended to make you laugh.  If all I get is a groan, I’m satisfied.

I’m a big believer in challenging common assumptions, not following the crowd, and thinking outside of the box.  I believe in being respectful, but I don’t believe in being politically correct.  I’m going to write about my opinions on things.  Given an entire month, I’m sure that I’ll say something that will offend just about everybody.  It’s never personal, even when it’s personal.  If I say something that challenges your beliefs, take it to mean that I respect you enough to know that you’ll spend some time thinking about and considering another point of view.  If you do take the time to think about it, and decide you had it right in the first place, I’ll respect you even more.  If you take the time to share your thoughts, I’ll really respect you.  Any comments left in the same spirit will always be welcome.  This corner of the internet will be pretty boring without them.

I hope to hear from you soon.  And I hope to write to you tomorrow.  And I hope it’s after a Giants victory.