19 April 2013

Nine miles away

Boston is a small town, much smaller than you probably think if you know it mostly from Cheers or eighth grade history. You can walk its length in a single afternoon, although you'll probably be sore the next day. There are 21 neighborhoods in Boston, but don't let that fool you. It's not so big.

As I'm typing this, Boston and several of its neighboring towns are under police lockdown while the search for Dzohkhar Tsarnaev continues. Perhaps the manhunt will end, one way or another, by the time I finish writing. The transit systems are not running; the schools are closed; citizens have been instructed to shelter in place—that is, stay home, stay off the streets. My wife and I have spent the morning bunkered in our basement watching the news and keeping watch over our respective laptops with our respective news sources. From time to time we point out some nugget of information to each other and hypothesize about its significance or lack thereof. Like everyone else, we have no particular insight into the brothers or what motivated their crimes. I personally doubt that they were affiliated with any larger group or had any agenda beyond their own sad ideology, but I have no basis for this beyond the feeling I get looking at the eyes of the photo of Tsarnaev that hangs on the left side of the news story. And now that photo is gone as the feed switched to men in fatigues—SWAT? Federal agents? I don't know—boarding armored personnel vehicles outside the Arsenal Mall, about nine miles away.

It's incredible to see the city so completely shut down and the thousands of police officers that have been mobilized. I've seen posts online questioning if the response is commensurate with the seriousness of the crimes committed. I can only speak for myself but it doesn't feel to me like the city is in the grip of hysteria or rage. The reaction feels somber, sad, and purposeful, just as the reaction to the Marathon bombing has been all week. There has been remarkable restraint and grace in the face of ugliness. People from around here often have a reputation for being scrappers, but they also have a reputation for being deliberate. That measured, careful quality that is one of the best traits of New Englanders has shone through. But probably it's the way anyone would react to events in their own back yard.

When the bombs went off on Monday, every Bostonian who heard the news knew that small stretch of Boylston street near the library, only too well. This morning when we first heard of the previous night's events we knew each and every one of the locations involved: MIT, Memorial Drive, Watertown, Cambridge. The Arsenal Mall is where we bought our daughter's dorm room supplies; now there's a Blackhawk helicopter in one of its parking lots. I may have mentioned—it's a small town.

21 March 2013

Dot coms and dongles

I worked at a dot com for a few years during the heady days of the Web bubble. While I never got a tribal tattoo, I did dutifully line my desk with action figures and engage in office hijinks such as making an enormous mobile out of AOL free trial CDs and ordering single rolls of lifesavers from kosmo.com. In other words, I was trying to live the New Economy dream of the office as a living space. After the 80s and 90s had seen the Baby Boomers cede more and more of their private lives to their companies in the form of pagers, cell phones, and weekend hours, we of Generation X were going to turn the tables and make our offices into crazy playrooms and reclaim those lost Saturdays in the form of slack.

I began my adventures in the Web trade in '99 just as streaming media was becoming a thing. An ongoing fascination for some of the women in my office was a series of video feeds that originated in a strip club in New Jersey: the club's website showed a grid of four different camera views of the private (or apparently, not-so-private) rooms in which patrons got solo performances. When she caught a glimpse of action in an open browser window, one of my co-workers would shout: "Lap dance in quad three!" and a collective giggle would pass through the office as everyone commented on the stripper's nails or the patron's polo shirt.

While I'm sure this sort of thing will strike many as harassment, or at least terribly inappropriate for the workplace, for us it made a weird sort of sense. These sorts of transgressions served as passwords into the clubhouse and this wasn't no girls allowed. If anything, the women in my office were more given to rude jokes and time-wasting. This was a young industry and they were establishing from the beginning that there would be no double standards of behavior. The utopian vision was that women and men would work side by side, united by a common love of fart jokes. Well, at least until the bubble burst and everyone got laid off in 2002.

I thought about my old job when I heard about the controversy surrounding an off-color remark at Pycon, a tech conference, yesterday. Two men were joking to each other about big dongles while seated behind a woman who took offense—and then took a snapshot which she tweeted. In the ensuing fallout, one of the men has lost his job and the woman has received death threats. It's a sad case and one that I can see from all sides—well, not from the side of the company that fired the guy, that was pretty awful. I'm sure the two men were not intending to harass; I'm also sure that the woman felt harassed. But what she would have made of my old office, I can't say.

Sadly, I see no clear moral to any of this. I don't want to support harassment, but I also like living in a world where consenting co-workers can make anatomical jokes to each other, regardless of gender. I want a standard of professionalism; I also want people to be comfortable being silly. Perhaps the takeaway here is to always be careful what you say. But in the immortal words of Frances, "Being careful is not as much fun as being friends."

Update: It appears that the woman who tweeted the image has also been fired. Let me go down on record on the side of no one getting fired on either side. C'mon, companies, stop being so awful.    

Dongle image by Alphathon (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

19 February 2013

MOAH SPOILERS don't yew know

We herewith present earlier drafts of Mr. Fellowes's first-draft ending for the fantastically-popular-and-in-no-way-phoned-in-by-a-cast-who-were-already-out-the-door Downton Abbey Christmas on Ice Special.


MARY is in bed looking slightly disheveled but still in the bloom of English womanhood. (Ask Michelle to maybe tousle her hair? Something with the eyebrows. Oh, those eyebrows.)

Oh dearest Mary now that you have issued forth a tiny new Earl we need never have sex again! Once again Britannia is safe from the Hun! Cheers Huzzah.

Indeed Matthew it is the happiest of outcomes. Now we shall be happy forever and ever and ever to the end of our painless and exceedingly long lives! 

I find myself so overcome with emotion that I must now leave this happy, happy tableau! Farewell, gentle Mary, I will see you anon and for the rest of our aforementioned freakishly extended lifespans!


MATTHEW exits looking very much a young Earl-to-be in the prime of English manhood. He dons his rakish cap and smiles to the heavens. Immediately a piano falls upon him ha take that Dan Stevens you ungrateful bastard film career my arse oh God what do I do now all I had was this show

Alternatives: falling safe? quicksand? dingoes

16 January 2013

SPOILERS don't yew know

MARY I have heah a letter from Levina's deah dead Papa but I shawn't read it really I shawn't

but MATHYEW what if it is a message, don't you know, saying desh it all, Leviniah wanted you to take all her money and HAIRlooms and give them to my deah destitute fahthah to save us all

MARY as I hev said before, don't you know, that my DASTARDLY handling of pooah Leviniah is what done her in as I am such a ruggéd type that the females can't help themselves but up and die once I hev SCORNED them

oh Mathyew too trew too trew I myself hev so often born the chestnut-haired brunt of your ruggéd scorn but still think of DOWNtun think of the pooah servants all waiting in the cold with their trays to serve us but the bells they don't ring, they don't RING, Mathyew

MARY my mind has been made up in such a ruggédly handsome way and why don't I burn the deshéd thing already I swear I will really I will in the finest of cognacs I will

Next time: Matthew pulls out a match, Mary glares ever so earnestly