Saturday, March 29, 2014

Fly Me to the Moon (A Habitable One, Please)

I mentioned in previous blogs the book, The Millennial Project: Colonizing the Galaxy in Eight Easy Steps.  It was a book written years ago by Marshall T. Savage where he listed the way he thought mankind should use toward interstellar colonization.  
One of my favorite steps in the book was the one he called, Avalon.  This was the step where, in his book, humans would colonize the moon by placing domes, filled with water to provide protection against radiation, over the craters and creating Earth-like habitats inside of them.  

When I read this section of Savage’s book, I found myself wanting to live in such a place.  The lesser moon gravity would make it possible for someone to strap on a pair of wings and fly.  You could even put a dome over a smaller crater and create a private villa for yourself.  
Living on a moon would be cool.  
Finding life on a moon would be cool, as well.  An article in Scientific American’s January, 2014 edition talked about the efforts of some scientists to locate habitable exo-moons, the satellites of the exo-planets we’ve been finding in recent years.  While some of the planets we’ve found are in the “goldilocks zone,” the volume around a star where water would remain a liquid, most of the exo-planets we’ve located are gas giants, which would not be hospitable places for life, at least as we know it, to exist.  Some scientists have speculated, though, that if these massive exo-planets had moons sufficiently large to support a breathable atmosphere, then those exo-moons could harbor life.  
The methods used to find exo-moons are similar to those finding exo-planets, looking for the wobble in the planet’s revolution that could be caused by a satellite’s gravity as they revolve around a shared center of gravity.  The problem is that such a wobble is several magnitudes smaller than the wobble the planet causes in the star it revolves around and would be much, much harder to detect.  There has been only one possible candidate for an exo-moon found so far, and it has not been validated yet.  It could be more of dual system, with a Neptune sized world revolving around a brown dwarf, both of which are traveling around their primary.  
One thing I got out of the article are the three ways moons can be formed.  
Way Number One is forming out of a disk.  Just as the Earth formed out of the dust and debris circling the Sun, the moons of a gas giant, such as Jupiter, would form out of the dust and ice circling that planet.  One problem for creating a habitable moon is that this method has an upper limit to the size of the moon that can form, and that limit is too small for the satellite to have enough gravity to hold a breathable atmosphere.  
Way Number Two: Massive Collision.  This is how scientists believe the Earth and Moon were formed, when a much larger “Earth” was struck by another body, about the size of Mars.  The collision tore a huge chunk of material out of the Earth.  Eventually this chunk grouped together to form our Moon.  This method can produce satellites of any size, even to the point of creating a dual planetary system where both bodies could support life.  Dual planetary systems have been used as settings in a number of science fiction stories, most notably in Ursula K. Le Guin’s, The Dispossessed.  
Way Number Three is almost literally a cheat: Planetary Capture.  A satellite in space, created by one of the two other methods, comes close enough to a gas giant that it is captured and brought into orbit around the planet.  They believe this is how Neptune acquired its moon, Triton.  If it came from a dual planetary system described in Way Number Two, then the gas giant would still the partner away while flinging the other satellite off into space.  If the satellite were big enough, and the gas giant in the star’s habitable zone, then it could be habitable.  
I’ve always like habitable moons as settings for stories.  The most famous examples I can think of are from the Star Wars universe.  Yavin was the exo-moon where the Rebel Alliance base was hidden in the original Star Wars movie, which later was identified as Chapter IV, A New Hope.  Endor was the exo-moon where the Empire hid the second Death Star and where the Ewoks lived.  
You notice how both Yavin and Endor had trees everywhere?  Wonder where Lucas got the concept “moon=forest”?  
It does seem to me that, as settings, moons are regarded like islands where the planets are more like continents.  Hidden places that you really have to search for hard to find, or which you find by stumbling over accidentally.  
One of my favorite exo-moon settings came from a role-playing game, Traveller 2300 (later known as 2300 AD).  One of the first adventure modules in the game takes place on a world called Aurore, which is actually a moon orbiting a gas giant in the planet.  The gas giant is actually outside the habitable zone of the star it circles but provides enough thermal energy in the form of infrared light to make it warm enough to have liquid water.  The Aurore is tidally locked to its gas giant primary, one side always faces the gas giant.  This creates two habitable zones where the humans have planted their colonies, a “Hot Zone,” which faces the gas giant where its too hot to live, and a “Cold Zone,” the size that perpetually faces away from the gas giant and is constantly covered in ice.  
I really liked the description of Aurore, with the gas giant always on the horizon, bulging up like the setting sun, but never rising or going down.  An exo-moon circling a gas giant in the habitable zone of its star might see a different sight if tidally locked.  At “Noon,” when the gas giant is overhead, blocking the star, the inhabitants would look up and see a massive black disk or hole in the sky, with the stars visible around it.  At “Midnight,” when the star would be behind the moon, the light reflecting from the star would reflect off the gas giant, revealing it in all its glory.  In between, you’d see the gas giant go through phases as the star rose up at dawn, only to plunge the world into night as it vanished behind the gas giant.  Moon-dawn, and Gas Giant-Dawn would be two points in the “day” when light would return. 
That would be such a cool thing to see. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

No Rain to be Gone, but I CAN See Clearly

I played Little League when I was a kid.  Just one season.  I wasn’t ver good.  I could field, but I was an atrocious hitter.  I went the the entire season without getting a single hit.  The closest I got to getting on base was once, after swinging and missing on a strike three pitch, the catcher dropped the ball.  I didn’t realize he’d dropped it until a couple moments later and started to run to first, but he caught me and tagged me out.  
It was few months after the end of the baseball season a teacher at school noticed me squinting at the blackboard from the first row and suggested that I be taken to an eye doctor.  
Eventually, in High School, it was determined that I had an eye condition called keratoconus.  The most common thing my eye doctors have told me over the years is that my cornea, the clear part of the eye that sits over the lens, is shaped like a football.  The way I describe it to people is to imagine a circus tent, with poles supporting the curving shape of the tent overhead.  The poles in my eyes, along the edges of the cornea, are broken and sagging, causing the middle section to stand out like a cone.  
What this has meant for me has been a new pair of glasses every year.  My prescription can change wildly from year to year as my cornea changes shape.  I also have a degree of far-sightedness but my keratoconus is so bad that it turns it into near-sightedness.  I tried contact lenses in the past, both hard and soft, but fell out of using them.  The hard lenses cut the surface of my particularly soft cornea, and the soft lenses conformed to my cornea’s misshape and did little to help me. 
Years passed.  I found my current eye doctor through the insurance I had at work at the time.  He took special care to monitor and track the changes in my cornea’s shape and state of my keratoconus.  In December he told me that my keratoconus was progressing to the point where he was losing the ability to correct it with eyeglasses.  
Huh.  Ok.  I remember thinking to myself, after hearing him say that, “And...  So...  How long before I can’t see well enough to drive to work?”  
My eye doctor has been giving me the names of specialists who treat keratoconus that I’ve been going to see.  They’ve talked to me about the different treatment options that are now available.  
One of them is something called “Intacts.”  As the name suggests, they are something like contacts that are inserted into one’s eyes.  Little rings of special plastic material that support the edges of the cornea to keep them from sagging.  A brace for my sagging tent poles.  
Another treatment is call “cross-linking.”  This is where they grow new support material within the cornea by bathing the eye with riboflavin, vitamin B2, and dousing the eye with ultraviolet light.  
When I was told about cross-linking, I thought back to the scene in the movie, Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan, when Bones brings Kirk his birthday gift, a pair of reading glasses.  
“For most patients of your age, I usually prescribe Retlax Five.”
“But I’m allergic to Retlax.”  
“Exactly.  Happy Birthday.” 
I wish they had invented Retlax already.   
The problem with these treatments as they apply to me is timing.  Which is another way of saying that at my age, they only have a fifty-fifty chance of working and, in the case of cross-linking, is not covered by insurance because it is so experimental.  
One of the specialists, though, is a Dr. Silver in Sherman Oaks.  He makes contact lenses for people with keratoconus.  “I don’t even know how to use the equipment he has,” my regular doctor told me when giving him my name.  
Going to see Dr. Silver, I was skeptical.  I had tried contacts before.  The soft lenses were no better than glasses because they would conform to the shape of my distorted eye.  The hard lenses did better, but I had trouble working with them.  But I wanted a chance to correct my vision and even though I knew it was going to be very expensive and most of it not covered by insurance, I went.
We’re talking about one’s sight.  When it’s something like that, you go.  
Dr. Silver mapped my eyes with his high tech equipment, he explained what he was going to do.  It was going to take about three months to fit me with the right type of lenses.  I was going to keep coming back, every two weeks, until they got it right.  The lenses would cost about a thousand dollars.  Five hundred for the visit and the measuring.  Another five hundred for the lenses themselves, two-fifty each.  
I took a deep breath and nodded.  I think I might have said, “Ok.”  
“Let’s try something...”   Dr. Silver probably sensed my hesitation inducing skepticism.  He left the office and came back a few minutes later with what he called a “test lens.”  It was not powered, it had none of my prescription added to it.  He wanted to put it into my left eye and give it a try.  
I’d worn contacts before.  I remembered the procedure.  He put it in for me.  He congratulated me on taking it so well.  He told me to keep my eyes closed for a minute or so and then open them.  He’d be back a few minutes after that.  
I did as instructed.  I think I even counted to a hundred and twenty to make it an official two minutes.  Then I opened my eyes.  
When I was a young kid, after that disastrous first and only Little League season, and first fitted with glasses, my mom asked me, “Are you crying?”  
“No, no...”  The eye doctor answered for me.  “That can happen when you get your first pair of glasses.  The eyes can water because of the extra light they are taking in.”  
The doctor was covering for me.  I WAS crying.  I was crying because I could SEE!  I could see the pictures on his wall.  I could read the lettering on his diploma.  The world had transformed itself into a muddy, soup of objects bleeding into one another, which I thought how everyone perceived it, into crisp and clean, individualized things!  For for the first, I saw my mom as she actually looked, not some blurred version from an impressionist’s dream. 
When I opened my left eye in Dr. Silver’s office, I remembered that moment.  Because, for the first time since then, I could see clearly from that eye.  I could read the chart on the wall across the room.  The bottom-fucking-line!  It was incredible.  
The doctor explained, when I asked him how this lens made me see so much more clearly than other contacts I had tried, he said that his lenses are cut on a 3D lathe that etch these tiny structures into the inside surface that allow them to match with the sagging parts of my eye, compensating for the distortion.  The hard lens will help push my eye back into a more normal shape.  Eventually I will have to get a new prescription for my eyeglasses, to wear when I take my contacts out, because the shape of my eye will change.  
I tell people about this and they say things like, “Wow...”  or “That’s incredible...” or “You look weird without your glasses.  I don’t like it.”
Well, get used to it.  That’s what I’m trying to do.  I’m aware of them all the time.  My vision is twisted around.  I can see better with my left eye now than I can with my right, I FEEL that when I turn around to look at something.  And, while I’m getting adjusted to my contacts, my reading vision is worse.  Dr. Silver tells me it should adjust itself by the time we’re done fitting me with my final set, but if it doesn’t, then he can tweak the contacts to make one of them stronger for reading vision and the other for far vision.  My brain will combine the images as needed.  Until then, I’ve purchased a set of non-prescription reading glasses to wear while I’m doing things like writing this blog entry.  
I’m told I have to be patient.  It will take a while.  But, as the nurse commented when I popped the lens in and out as part of my training, “You’re strongly motivated for this, huh?”  
Yes, I am.  Whenever I feel my eyes getting tired, or irritated by having something there my brain wants me to pluck out, I close my right eye, take off the reading glasses, and look out and SEE.  That motivates me to stick with.  
Wow...  This apartment REALLY does need straightening up.  Hadn’t noticed before...

Dream Interlude - Spirit Walk

I had a really strange dream last night.  Thought I’d share it with you...
I’m in bed.  Someone else is snuggling close against me.  I open my eyes and see that it is morning.  Light as bright as if the sun is right next door.  I hear water sounds.  
The person next to me is an attractive Japanese woman.  Her eyes are fluttering.  She’s just waking up.  I don’t recognize her from my real life.  She looks much younger than me, but the thing about most Japanese women is that they often look younger than their actual age.  
I hear people calling to me.  I get up on my elbow and look out side.  There are a group of people out there, calling to us.  That’s right...  I’m in Japan.  I’m with a group touring the country.  One of them, laughing at me as he’s waving, looks like my friend Marq Del Monte, except his beard has grown into this chest covering, mountain-man bush, and his hair is in this big fuzzy afro.  They yelling at us to get up.  We’re going to miss the ferry we need to take that morning...
I’m now running down the boardwalk.  Someone is running with me, holding my hand.  Our feet are pounding on the slate boards.  People are jumping out of our way.  
I get to the ticket counter. I start slapping money on the counter, pushing it through the opening in the teller’s glass.  “Ni mai!  Ni mai, onegaishimasu!”  Two tickets!  Two tickets, please! 
The old woman in the booth scowls at me.  She’s dressed in a peach colored kimono.  Her hair is cut short.  She’s giving me an annoyed look through her tiny, round rimmed glasses.  
“Chekketo ga ni mai hoshii desu.”  I want two tickets.  Is my Japanese bad?  Am I not being polite enough?  “Chekketo ni mai kuremasen ka.”  Will you please give me two tickets? 
She frowns.  I look at the pile of money before her.  I suddenly get it.  I’ve been pulling dollars out of my wallet.  I open it up and take a look.  I don’t have any yen, no Japanese money.  
“You don’t want dollars!” I say to her in English.  “You want yen!”  
“Hell, yeah!” She says back to me in a heavy Texas drawl. 
My companion steps up to her and they start talking rapidly in Japanese.  But now my companion is my ex-girl friend.  She’s dressed in a purple kimono with a pattern of growing vines on it.  Her hair is long, hanging down her back.  She looks beautiful.  I start looking around for my group, and the woman I was with before.  I am thinking of an excuse, “I was running to buy tickets and ran into my ex-girl friend.  I didn’t even know she was here!”  
The old lady in the booth tells my ex-girl friend that there are people down the boardwalk that exchange money for us.  She turns and heads that way.  Still looking for my group, I follow after her.  
There’s a festival on the boardwalk.  A matsuri.  But it’s not a normal Japanese matsuri.  The Japanese people are all wearing European renaissance clothing. The activities are more like what you would find at a Renaissance Faire.  Jousting.  Swordsmen fighting in European armor.  Jugglers and acrobats dancing on moving barrels.  
My ex-girl friend and I walk through the crowd.  We come to a large enclosure.  It looks like a pen for a big animal, with a rail fence surrounding an area covered knee deep in hay.  But no animal is in there.  On the far side I see tent booths with tables and chairs in them. One booth has a woman wearing a long purple renaissance gown, with black hair stretching down to the back of her knees.  I immediately think that she’s some sort of fortune-teller.  
“Will You Take The Spirit Walk?”  This is what the sign over the entrance to the enclosure says.  A small crowd of people are milling about before the entrance.  They are like penguins at the edge of the ice, pushing and jostling about to have someone else go first.  
My ex-girl friend steps through the crowd and opens the gate to the enclosure.  The fortune-teller, whose dress is the same purple as my ex-girlfriend’s kimono, crosses through the hay.  He takes my ex-girlfriend by the hand and draws her inside.  
I look around.  I don’t see anything that looks like a money exchange place.  I don’t see my group.  I don’t see the Japanese woman I woke up with that morning.  I only see a bunch of Japanese people play-acting at being renaissance folk.  I turn back to see what my ex-girlfriend is doing.  To ask her where the old lady in the ticket booth told her the money exchange place is...
But she’s gone.  As well as the fortune-teller.  The crowd of people are gone, too.  The enclosure is still there, still full of hay, but there is no one else.  I can see that the booths across the way are empty.  
“Will You Take The Spirit Walk?”  I read the sign again, wondering what to do next.  
That’s when I wake up.  
Anyone care to interpret?

Saturday, March 15, 2014

More Real Than Real

Russ Colson, a writer friend of mine, posted an blog recently about the Mars One Initiative.  For those that may not know, this is a organization that is organizing and advocating for a one-way trip to Mars.  In August last year they called for volunteers to be potential colonists to go to Mars and live there forever.  They got over 200,000 applications.  They’ve winnowed that down to 1,000 candidates.  
You can read Russ’s blog by clicking here, but to summarize, Russ questions whether the organizers are serious about creating this expedition, whether it is “real.”  He offers his own opinion that a colony on the Moon is a better target site for Mankind’s first extra-planetary colony.  He then questions whether the Mars One Initiative signals a renewal of our country’s spirit of adventure, which he sees has having waned.  Russ finishes his blog by asking if they reader has any thoughts on the matter.  
As a matter of fact, Russ, I do.  Several, in fact...
Thought One: The Mars One Initiative reminds me of The Millennial Project.  
There was a book published back in 1992 entitled, “The Millennial Project: Colonizing the Galaxy in Eight Easy Steps.”  It was written by a man named Marshall T. Savage, and it offered his plan by which the human race could become a space-faring people, spreading life, our life, throughout the galaxy.  Mr. Savage quickly founded an organization, called The First Millennial Foundation, which aim was to work toward bringing the steps illuminated in the book into reality.  
I loved this book.  It was logical and well researched, but inspirational as well.  Its proposals were grounded enough to seem reasonable, but had a quirkiness, I guess I’ll call it, that made them fantastic and desirable.  It became a sourcebook for me in my written, using it to make the futures I was writing about in which space travel took place fleshier and different.  
Around the time the book was published, ’92 or ’93, while attending Comic-Con in San Diego, I met members of the First Millennial Foundation.  They had a booth at the convention where they were selling memberships, tee-shirts and copies of Mr. Savage’s book.  I stopped to talk to them about the book.  They told me about a proof of concept project they were trying to fund, “Step Zero,” I think it was referred to, where they were going to build a floating habitat in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Texas using the same methods Savage described in the book to build the floating cities in the equatorial zone of the Pacific ocean, the First Step in his plan to colonize the galaxy.  They were taking donations to fund that project as well. 
I bought a tee-shirt from them, with an illustration of Aquarius, the floating city Savage offered as the first of the aforementioned “easy” steps.  I did not buy a membership nor donate to the proof of concept project.  As much as I enjoyed the book and was excited by its proposals, I did not believe it had much of a chance of coming to fruition.  
The reason was that it was too elegant, in a way.  It was too perfectly laid out.  To come into being, it needed too many people agreeing on way too many details and sticking with them far too long.  Human achievement, I think, is driven in bursts and happens more accidentally than that.  The Mars One Initiative has a similar feel to me.  If they sell a cool tee-shirt, though, I’ll buy one. 
Thought Two: Dreams are not made up of Logic.  
The Moon is not as dreamy as Mars.  It’s the girl next door.  The one we see every night when we come home.  We dated her back in the late 60’s and early 70’s.  It was exciting at first.  But the attraction waned.  All the reasons for getting married to the Moon are good, solid practical ones.  She’s close.  We DO know her well.  She’ll help us with our problems, by giving us the resources to grow and develop, and possibly even fueling our expansion by supplying us with plentiful amounts of Helium-Three.  
Mars, on the other hand, is a fiery, red-hair temptress.  She calls to us, so close and yet so far away.  She may be the closest place where some form of life exists besides that we find here on our planet.  But she seems intent on keeping those secrets to herself.  Half the probes we send to her, like unwanted emails or text messages, become lost, leaving our questions unanswered.  
Purple prose aside, from the standpoint of the average member of society, I would think that Mars has more fertile soil for planting and reaping a crop of adventurous spirits.  The Moon has a more “been there, done that,” feel to it.  I personally would give whole-hearted moral support to any such project.  But if it were a beauty contest, and in the world of political financing and political well such beauty is important, I think Ms. Mars has an edge.  
Thought Two-point-One: If you do want a Moon base, it’ll probably be easier to get as part of a “Let’s Go to Mars,” proposal, than if you proposed it as a stand alone venture.  It would be needed as a base of operations for the final, ultimate goal.  
Thought Three: It’s one coming from Russ’s closing paragraphs, about where the spirit of adventure has gone and the waning of adventure stories in favor of action oriented thrillers.  To get to it, I first need to write about Fermi’s Paradox.  
Fermi’s Paradox, as most people reading this blog, is the apparent contradiction between the seemingly high probability of intelligent life being out there and the complete lack of solid evidence of such existence of, or contact with, that intelligent life.  We of the Earth should have been visited or contacted by aliens already.  So, where are they?  
Several possible answers have been posited.  “They just aren’t there.”  “They don’t want to talk to us.”  “They blew themselves up when THEY discovered atomic power.”  And more.  
But looking around at our society, I think I have another possible answer.  They are not looking up at the sky in wonder because they are too busy looking down at their cell phones answering their most recent text message. 
I think the “Spirit of Adventure” comes from a desire for experience.  It is based on curiosity.  But it’s a type of curiosity that needs to be satisfied by seeing for oneself.  
We have, in our internet connected world, created a sort of virtual experience sphere.  It is easier today to get some sense of experiencing anything simply turning on a screen.   The postings of photos, videos, jokes, cute kitties and puppies, give us a quick and immediate taste of someone else’s life and experience.  More interactive experiences can be found in online role-playing, adventure or strategy games.  
Is this the same as a genuine adventure, something that would expand one’s personal horizons and maybe even that of mankind as well?  No.  Not at all.  But just as someone might pull into the corner fast-food restaurant instead of buying the ingredients for a more nutritious and flavorful meal to be prepared at home, people often do make choices based purely on convenience.  
So my last thought can be summarized like this: The spirit of adventure isn’t waning because people have lost the desire for it.  I think its still there, but is being overwhelmed by a diet of experience that passes for adventure, the same way a Happy Meal passes for real food.  
In this sense, the Mars One Initiative is like a nerdy friend, telling you of the benefits of a vegetarian diet based on what he or she grew in the community garden at the end of the block.  It might not get me to adopt the lifestyle such a friend might propose.  But if it gets me to consider healthier choices, such as promoting and supporting an initiative that will bring man one step, or eight easier steps, closer to the destiny I hope we follow, then its something worth praising.  
In that sense, the Mars One Initiative is more “real” than what the average person “experiences” in their life on a daily basis.  There are at least 1,000 people who are hoping to experience something for themselves that no one in the history of our species as experienced yet.  
The effort to reshape reality can be more real than what’s really there.  

Saturday, March 08, 2014

A Tale of Two Problems

I was confronted with two very similar problems this week.  I reacted to them very differently.  I think it was because they were headed different ways.
The first one took place on Monday.  I was called from my office due to a problem someone was having with the network.
Before I go any further, I should explain that I’m not an IT guy.  I’m not part of the IT Department for my company.  That is based in Houston.  Our system is designed to handle most networking issues remotely.   But every so often something happens that needs someone on site to do something.  A new module won’t plug itself into the network tree.   When those situations arise, I’m the one they call upon to do it.  
Some of my colleagues think I’m the one to handle all the computer problems because I’m smart.  While I certainly don’t want to dissuade people who think I have a higher than average degree of intelligence, when it comes to computer stuff I don’t think I’m all that smart.  The big difference between me and most other people is that I’m not AFRAID of computers.  That’s because I know how truly stupid computers are.  I remember a joke I heard back in the stone age of computer programming.  A programmer asked me, “Do you know why they don’t put wheels on computers?”  
“No.  Why?”  
“Because they’d roll off a cliff if you told them to.”  
And that’s the absolute truth.  You can tell a child, “take off your socks,” and the child will be able to do that even if they are currently wearing shoes as well.  Say that to a computer and it will rip the socks to pieces trying to get them off over the shoes that are still on because you didn’t say, “Untie your shoes.  Remove your shoes.  Take off your socks.”  Once you know that computers have THAT level of comprehension, and you have to tailor how you talk to them to speak very simply and carefully, then the fear most people have of the devices goes away. 
Anyway, this is why I get the call when someone can’t get a device associated with our network to do what they want it to do.  
Monday’s problem involved our Wi-Fi network.  One of the court reporters that work for our company had been unable to use a program specifically requested by a client at a recent deposition.  This program allows the transcript being created to be viewed by the participants as the court reporter types it out.  There are many such programs and means of doing this, I found out on Monday.  The program the client requested can broadcast the ongoing transcript directly to personal devices like iPhones, iPads and laptops.  
Because the court reporter hadn’t been able to get this program to work, the deposition had to be rescheduled.  She had come back on Monday to see if she could find out what was wrong and get it fixed.  When she and the person in charge of handling depositions in our office couldn’t get it to work, they called me.  
It took about four hours of learning about the program, watching it in operation, calling the manufacturer for specifications and calling our own IT department for information on our Wi-Fi’s set-up.  I discovered that the type of Wi-Fi access point, or broadcast station if you will, was designed to prevent the program from doing what it wanted to do.  
Our Wi-Fi access point has two networks being broadcast from it.  One is a public or “Guest” network, made available to our clients and visitors for them to use while visiting our office.  The other is a secure or “Employee” network meant for visiting sales people, etc., who are working in our office for the day.  The Guest network, I found out, is designed to prevent devices from contacting or seeing each other over the network.  It is done this way so a visitor can’t use the network to possibly hack into someone else’s computer, or spread a virus to other devices that the owner of the infected device doesn’t know that they have.  The Employee network is designed to allow this sort of cross-communication between devices on the network.  
In the end, a third network was created.  It was based on the secure Employee network, but had additional firewalls installed to prevent anyone from using from accessing devices on our network.  This will allow our court reporter to use the program the client wants to use until a permanent solution is constructed.  
The guy in charge of depositions told me that it looked like I was having fun solving this problem.  And I have to admit, I did enjoy it.  I learned stuff about Guest networks and Wi-Fi protocols that I didn’t know before AND, more importantly, the problem was solved.  It WAS fun.
The same could not be said for the problem I dealt with at the end of the week.  
This problem took place on Friday.  I was called from my office due to a problem everyone was having with the network. 
About a half-hour or so after I got to the office, everyone lost some degree of contact with the network.  People in my department and the adjoining Invoicing Department lost everything, phones, email, access to documents.   All gone.  Other departments couldn’t access our database, but still had phone and email connections.  The Wi-Fi was shut down as well.
After running to the room where our networking equipment is kept and doing some pulling out of cables (in between the pulling out of hair) with people from my IT department, we discovered that one of our switches, these large boxes with multiple data ports that look like oversized phone plug connections, had gone bad.  All the people connected to it had lost all their network access.  Because our records server was connected to the same switch, everyone else lost access to their data.  
It took about four or five hours of work, trying to power cycle the switch, testing connections, unhooking two people that still had connection to the network to reconnect the records server so everyone else could work, running to Frye’s Electronics to get cheap, 24 port switch so that my people could access the database and get back to work, before everyone was able to do some meaningful employment yesterday.  A technician came late in the day to install a new switch to restore the network to the way it was that morning.  
“How ya’doing, Erick?” someone asked me late in the day.  “You don’t look good.”  
“I’m mad enough to bash someone’s head against a table,” I replied, “But I’m too tired to do it.”  
This definitely wasn’t a problem I’d describe as “fun.”  It’s solution was merely a relief.  
This morning, looking at these two problems, I asked myself, “Why was that?  What made one problem fun and the other pure annoyance?”  
In the novel I’m writing, my main character has a lot of problems to solve.  Some of them are pure annoyance.  Others threaten his desired way of life.  One threatens his very life itself.  
At one point in the story, though, to gain the assistance of powerful people, he has to oversee the cooking of a multi-course banquet.  This is not something he’s done before.  He has cooked for multitudes of people working at his family’s inn, but that isn’t the same as preparing dish after dish at a banquet.  But even though his life is under threat, in the greater sense, for this one span of time during his crisis, he enjoys himself.  
I thought about the hero of my story while thinking about these two problems.  The difference, I believe, is direction.  Monday’s Wi-Fi problem was going forward.  It started at zero and ended up at some point, let’s say five, steps further down the line.  I lost time working on it, but the company gained overall.  
Friday’s switch-going-bad problem was going backwards.  We started at minus ten when the problem was discovered and were falling faster with each passing moment.   Steps had to be taken to slow the descent then level off.  Finally, by the time I left the office after a twelve and a half hour day, we were back to zero.  Actually, when I think of the work that didn’t get done, minus five.  
There’s also a part of me that wonders if there is something else at work.  Would Friday’s problem had been more fun if I had looked at it differently?  If I had taken a more...  Zen-like look at it, say?  Since the time for the switch to go out had come, it presented the opportunity to strengthen our network by designing it to be more robust.  It was an opportunity for us to grow stronger in the future...
Nah.  It was fucked-up.  Not fun at all.    

Saturday, March 01, 2014

Somewhere in the 6th or 7th Inning

Today I turn 53 years old.  Assuming it ends up a regulation game, I’m somewhere in the sixth or seventh inning, the bottom half.  My time to bat. 
I’ve often thought that baseball represents life.  One aspect of the game that clearly parallels our existence is that we don’t know how long a game can last.  A regulation game is nine innings, but you can play a complete game in just six.  Or you can go extra innings, play twelve, fifteen or more.  
The longest recorded game in MLB was 26 innings, played on May 1st, 1920.  The Brooklyn Dodgers and the Boston Red Sox played to a 1-1 tie that day.  The longest game with a winner was 25 innings played on September 11, 1974, with the St. Louis Cards beating the New York Mets, 4 to 3, in New York.  Those games would be like someone living to 106 or 110 years old.  
At 53, if my “game” were to end tomorrow, it would be a “regulation” game, though not complete.  I’m expected to go a few years more.  And I’m healthy enough now where, barring an accident, like rain calling it short, I should get to nine innings.  
Having started with this analogy, an obvious question comes to mind.  Am I winning? 
Two innings ago, I was getting roughed up pretty bad.  At work, the company I worked for was taken over by a new administration.  Things didn’t go well for me in the transition.  Without going into details, I was demoted from my position and on the verge of being ousted from the company.  I was tucked away into a corner where I couldn’t do any harm.  I didn’t do myself any favors with how I was dealing with the transition, though most of the damage was done to me rather than by me.  
In my creative life, things went sour as well.  I had worked for years trying to get my comic book scripts published.  One of my pieces won an aware for Best Horror story for the year it came out from a well-known publisher and had actually signed a contract with them to write an online comic.  But shortly there after, they split into two related companies and then both companies went bankrupt and I ended up having no work in print and no artist to work with.  
Scoring the inning, it went something like this...  My team walked the first batter.   When he tried to steal, the catcher overthrew the second baseman, letting the runner get to third.  The next batter hit a line shot, just left of center field.  The runner on third scored and the batter got to second.  The next batter hit a line drive which the shortstop knocked to the ground, but he couldn’t grab the ball in time to make a play.  Runners on first and third.  The batter after that hit a towering shot.  It arced high into the air.  The left fielder caught it on the warning track.  The runner on third tagged up and beat the throw home, with the runner on first advancing to second.  The next batter struck out, but the one after that hit a ball into the right field corner.  The man on first went from first to home and the batter made it to second.  The next batter got behind on the count, 0-1 the 0-2, but hung tough and fouled the next three pitches off in defensive swings.  The pitcher missed the corners on the next two pitches.  Then the batter turned a slider just off the hands into a Texas-leaguer that looped over second into center field.  The runner on second scored.  Finally, on the second pitch to the next hitter, a fork-ball that dove to the low and away corner turned into a ground ball struck to the shortstop ended the side.  But not before four runs were brought in.
It felt like I was going to get yanked from the game.  
But things change.  That’s one of the things I like about life and baseball.  Like the great Yogi Berra once said, “it’s not over till it’s over.”  As long as the game goes, you have a chance to win. 
At work, the new president of our division decided to create a position for me, turning my demotion into a side-step into a new job at the same level.  I was called a “Project Manager,” but basically my “project” was to fix and take care of the cruddy stuff no one else wanted to deal with.  A couple years later, this same president decided to give me the job of Production Manager, running the production department for company’s work in California.  Things have improved since then.  Quite a bit actually.  The department ended up leading the company at the end of my first year, and my second, and is leading the company now after the first two months of this year.
Creatively, I went back to writing fiction.  It felt like starting over at first.  After years of writing nothing but scripts for someone else to draw from, I was having to paint the pictures for the reader myself, for them to draw in their minds.  If a writer could have used training wheels, I could have used them then.  I could still use them sometimes, I think.  
But my stories have gotten better.  I had one really BIG sale, which appeared in Asimov’s Science Fiction in September, 2011.  I’ve not sold anything since then, unfortunately.  But now when I submit stories, I get personal replies from editors telling me what I think.  My last two submissions got, “This was nicely done, but...” sort of responses.  And, during this time, I finished a rough draft of a fantasy novel.  The longest continuous story I’ve ever completed, something I would have told you was beyond me when I started.  
So, back to the game...
Bottom of the inning.  My first batter gets behind in the count, but stays patient, eventually getting the count to full.  The pitcher misses the corner on his strike-out fastball and the batter walks.  The next batter bunts successfully, sacrificing himself to get the runner to second.  The batter after that hits a line drive near the first base line.  The first baseman knocks it down.  He’s able to scoop it up and make the tag, but not before the runner gets to third.  The next batter hits a dings a sputtering ball that just makes it into the out field.  He makes it to first and the runner scores.  The next batter pops out the end the side.  One run scored.  
The same pitcher from last inning stays in the game.  After being roughed up the last inning, he’s come back with purpose.  The first batter grounds out on the second pitch.  The second batter hits a foul ball that’s snagged by the third baseman.  With the third batter, their power hitter, he gets behind on the count, 3-0.  The batter fouls a pitch away, then another, then a third.  He’s a fastball hitting specialist, and the pitcher can’t seem to get the ball past his bat.  Finally, he winds up and throws.  It looks like another four-seam fastball, but it’s a change up instead.  The batter swings way ahead of the pitch.  The side is retired in order.  
Bottom of the inning, my first batter dings a single.  The pitcher throws his next three balls to the first baseman, keeping the runner in check.  When he finally throws to the batter, he hits a pop-up that goes a mile high.  One out.  The next batter takes the first two pitches, both low and away.  Suspecting that the next pitch will have to be across the plate I signal for a hit and run.  A two-seam fastball comes out.  The runner goes with the pitch.  The batter hits the ball perfectly, sending it through the empty spot where the second baseman was standing before the runner went.  The runner turns on second and charges to third.  Runners on first and third.  The next batter strikes out.  This brings up my clean-up batter.  Maybe the pitcher is feeling cocky.  Maybe he thinks he has the stuff to deal with my guy.  Maybe he has no respect for my hitters playing my short-ball game.  He throws his heat to strike my guy out.  My guy responds with a towering shot that reaches to the top row of the bleachers, right below the “Jumbotron.”  A three run shot.  
The next batter strikes out trying to repeat his teammate’s homer, but we’ve regained all the runs we’ve gave up the inning before.  
But...  Am I winning?  
I wrote up a list of the things I want to get in life.  Most of the things on this list have been there for a while.  Years and years, in fact.  It’s not that I haven’t been trying for them.  I just haven’t gotten them yet.  This makes me feel like I’m not ahead in this game.  Not yet.  
But the game’s not over.  There’s a few innings left to play.  If I’m behind, hopefully I can tie the game up.  Maybe take it into extra innings.  I just have to keep stepping up to the plate and take my swings.  
Batter up...!