contributions to history

I sometimes wonder what the digital revolution will mean for the perception of history by future generations. Bits are both the most transient of things (because an electric spark in the wrong place can wipe them out forever) and the most eternal of things (because they are effortless to copy.) This simply means that we must choose to save all the bits we scribble in a way we can easily interpret and voila! Future generations will have access to all the unvarnished primary sources about lives great and small that they will ever wish to look at.

Sadly, this is an ideal that is not even close to being achieved in practice. Organizations like the government have document retention policies which allow the deletion of key information in mere months or years after such data is created. There is even active incentives for the tidy removal of data; I seem to recall that Ollie North, John Poindexter, or one of the other Iran-Contra bozos of the late 1980’s was caught because e-mail had not been fully deleted… and we can’t have that sort of thing happening again. No, it is a sad thing that all the type-written memos and letters that historians have come to depend on to learn the straight dope about what was going on during, say, the Cuban Missile Crisis, will not be available to future historians seeking to understand what was really going on immediately following 9/11. No, all that information will probably be wiped off of a hard disk in the next few years.

In another sense, historians will have a field day. I shudder to think about the kind of diverse information that historians will have about everyday folks that is completely missing from the study of past lives. With the arrival of the Net, the Web, and the Blogsphere, everyone now gets a chance to walk up to the mike and say his or her peace. Is most of what’s said worth hearing? That’s debatable, but if you want to know what people are thinking or doing, an archive of the Net and related services can tell you a lot about what is going on.

This is already happening. A case in point: I recently discovered an archive of information about the contents of the Internet ten years ago. In it, I was able to find a personal ad I posted in early 1994. Here is its:

Hi there,
I thought write a little post saying that I’d be interested in meeting a few single women, making a few net friendships, and/or maybe meeting that someone special (c’mon, I know you are out there somewhere).
I’m a SWM, 24, just south of [region removed to protect the innocent]. I’m6’0″, dark brown hair, gray eyes. In regard to my looks, I may not beRichard Gere, but I’m certainly not Richard Nixon. I enjoy cooking,eating, dancing, film, jogging and working out. I’m very taken withmusic of most kinds (Randy Travis and Erasure don’t do it for me.) andlisten about 25 hours a day. I don’t believe in political correctness.I’m very curious about society and this whole difference between thesexes thing. I like philosophy and contemplating some of the bigquestions every now and then. I like going out either to dance, seebands, or just to talk. I’ve been wanting to play more pool or dartslately or maybe get out more with the mountain bike. I can also dealwith quiet dinners and nights at home.
Now, you ask, what am I looking for? I’m looking to meet or talk to a few S*F’s about my age (20 – 30) with some interests beyond the Internet. Meeting would always be great, but if you’re not in [region removed to hide the guilty], I love to talk.
What can we talk about: we can exchange stories or poetry, views of life, views on the universe, the twisted nature of the bar scene, vegetarianism, why people color their hair blue, history, philosophy, sex, drugs, rock and roll, or anything you want to talk about, just as long as it’s not just repeated descriptions of the weather.
So, if any of this sounds interesting, drop me a line. I lookforward to hearing from you.
Dr.-in-training G.

If you had told me then that I would be able to locate this stuff in less that 15 minutes of searching, I probably would have thought the idea a little odd… to say the least.

anniversary cake

The true art of gossip is dead. As Lynne Harris notes in her recent article So, why aren’t you knocked up yet?, it seems that there is an inherent loss of civility with regard to personal matters, especially when it comes to marriage and child bearing. Gone is the veiled reference, the knowing wink, the couched innuendo about what might, or might not, be happening to those around us. Now, the level of discourse when it comes to certain personal matters seems to regularly have all the discretion of a men’s room at a meat market bar on a Satuday night — “so are you two screwing like mad bunnies, or what?”

Even more, people seem to have advice about what you should be doing. I first learned this the hard way once I got out of grad school. Everyone had advice about what I should be doing with my money, if they knew the particulars of my situation or not. Next, once I met Mrs. Geek, the question always was “so when will you two be getting married?” When we were engaged, there was a never ending stream of “well you should get married here, but not there… there but not the other place… you mean you don’t want $2000 on the cake?” Now, the question is “when will you be having children?” Mrs. Geek dreams of responding to this question by asking “so you want to know how often my husband and I are having unprotected sex? is that what you are asking?” but never does in the interest of diplomacy.

I was neatly reminded of all this over the weekend when I picked up our “anniversary cake.” Rather than save and freeze the top tier of our wedding cake for our first anniversary (as is custom), our wedding cake provider instead gives each couple a small, specially made cake. The chit-chat I exchanged with our wedding cake vendor ran something like this:

Her: Hi, what can I do for you?
Me: I’m here to pick up my anniversary cake.
Her: Which one are you? There are about four in the refridgerator. We must have been super busy for the 25th of last year.
Me: The name is Geek, G-E-E-K.
Her: Ah, here it is… with the Heath Bar crunch, right?
Me: Me. Yes, that’s us.
Her: Doing anything for your anniversary?
Me: We’re going to a family party, and then spending the night at nearby four star hotel.
Her: You two have anything “in the oven?”
Me: Umm… no. Not right now. Maybe next year. At least we’ll be talking about it a lot more seriously by this time next year.
Her: Well, at least get lots of practice between now and then.
Me: Umm… ok. Have a good day!

I consider myself to be a fairly open person… but I didn’t go over there expecting to even tangentially discuss my sex life. Oh well. At least she knows how to bake a beautiful and delicious cake, shown above. It was delicious!

doing the wedding picture cha cha

Sunday is a special day for Mrs. Geek and me. It is our First Wedding Anniversary. Has it really been 12 months already? The time just seemed to slip by for the most part. Our wedding in some ways seems like it happened yesterday… and happened a long time ago in others. It’s been a good first year though, with far more ups than downs.

With the passage of a year, it seems a little weird to be bringing up wedding-related business. After all, the vendors are all paid off. The wedding cake is long gone. Everyone speaks of our reception in a “wow that was a great party” tone. Yet, there still are a few bits of wedding business that weren’t successfully resolved until today.

One of the decisions we made early on was to have our wedding pictures hosted on the Web. Our relatives are pretty much spread all over the place, and many of them have connections to the Internet. So, we figured that it would be easier for them to just go online to pick out pictures and order prints from the web hosting company. Sounds simple, right?

Well, it was simple for everyone… except the Mother of the Groom. My mom finally ordered her pictures back in late February. She then heard nothing from the hosting company for over a month. When she finally called them to learn the score, she found out that some of the digital scans of our wedding pictures did not meet quality standards established by the company. So, they were trying to contact the photographer to get the negatives to create new scans and send her the pictures she ordered.

Here is where Mrs. Geek and I enter into the picture. We got the negatives for our wedding pictures from our photographer back in December, as per our agreement with her. When the hosting company got in touch with her, she referred them to us… after making sure that the shipping company would pay the shipping costs to send the negatives.

We finally got all this back and forth about negatives straightened out by the end of April. I marched down to the local Fed Ex office with a printed out shipping label, negatives in hand. I then mumbled a silent prayer to whatever photography gods or saints might be listening and gave over our wedding posterity into the hands of others.

It is important to note here that the end of April coincides with the end of a sixty day period after my mom ordered the pictures with her credit card. Why is that important? Well, sixty days is the period of time that my mom’s credit card company gives their customers to dispute charges on the cards they issue. Since nearly two months had passed and my mom still did not have pictures in hand, she filed a complaint with the credit card company. My mom did not want to cancel the charge, but she did want to go on record that it was “in doubt”, should she wish to cancel later. She thought that this was understood by the credit card company but was not… as we will see.

After that, no one heard anything from the hosting company for over a month. By early June, my mom, Mrs. Geek, and I all began to become nervous. My mom started calling the hosting company daily. The customer service response tended toward the rude; service agents didn’t know what was going on, claimed this was somehow my mom’s fault at one point, and rarely, if ever, returned calls. After a week of this, I began to call regularly as well with much the same result. We all began to get a little tense.

Finally, a picture of the situation began to emerge. It seems that my mom’s call to the credit card company did trigger a request for the hosting company to return the money. This, in turn, cancelled my mom’s order. As for the negatives, the customer service department did not know where they were… or really who to ask about where they might be.

At this point, I finally decided to reconnect with our photographer. She was very apologetic and worked things from her end. I don’t know what she did, but we recieved word within two working days that my mom would be getting her pictures and Mrs. Geek and I would be getting our negatives back soon.

I am happy to report that both pictures and negatives arrived at the correct locations safely today.

Mrs. Geek and I are still left with a few odds and ends to deal with, however. One thing about owning wedding picture negatives is that there is always some relative or another who wants to borrow them, run them down to the corner pharmacy, and make “just a few prints” without paying $6-12 a print to the hosting company. This is something Mrs. Geek and I have been very hesitant to do… as we have been told that handing over professional quality negatives to high school age pharmacy photo counter technicians is a great way to get them scratched and ruined forever. The alternative is to take them to a professional quality photo lab, which ends up costing nearly as much to make that first print of a given photo as the hosting service. So, our answer has always been “just deal with the hosting service, please.” Some of our relations have been a little resentful about this… and we don’t know how long we will be hearing about this.

Then again, it’s always something where relatives are concerned, right? Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t. At least our wedding picture negatives are in our hot little hands once again… and off to the safe deposit box they will go.

in defense of scrapbooking

I am a scrapbooking widower. Mrs. Geek is one of those ladies who is more than content to spend an afternoon placing pictures on pages, and then adding embellishments. (Oh, and don’t you know it… it is all about the embellishments.) She sometimes does this alone on a table in a corner of our living room. She more often goes to crop with other ladies at the store down the hill or at events within a two hour drive.

On the whole, I like this hobby of hers. I am the first to admit that I am lousy about “recording the moment” for posterity. I always forget to bring a camera, and often forget to use it when I do. A case in point: my sister and her husband spent two years living in Europe. At the end of that time, my parents and I went to visit. When I had the first roll of film from that trip developed, I found pictures from my sister’s wedding and wedding rehearsal, just over two years before. So having a wife who is perpetually recording where we are going and what we are doing in such spectacularly crafty fashion is a real plus.

I recently read speculation that scrapbooking is an outlet for stay-at-home moms to reconcile a need to be out of the house with guilt about leaving family members at home. I know that this is not the case for Mrs. Geek. No, she is a childless working professional who got involved with scrapbooking long before she ever met me. She has an undergraduate degree in adverstising, and therefore has a long standing interest in the graphic arts. I cannot speak to whether or not this is true of all scrapbookers out there… though I am told that the hobby has roots in the Mormon love of family history and geneology.

I believe that I am a good scrapbooking widower. I’m glad that Mrs. Geek has a hobby that gets her out of the house — I love being married, but I like a little time alone once in a while. When Mrs. Geek showed me our wedding album (that she did herself), I won eternal praise from all her scrapbooking friends by saying “I think it could use a few more embellishments.” I also didn’t yell when the expenses for that wedding album started to pile up.

No, I like that she scrapbooks… though ssssshh… I’m also glad the wedding album is finished, and paid for.

doing my part for PBS

I know we’ve all seen bogus petitions for years floating around the Internet about threatened cuts to Public Television. Well, this time it is actually true. A budget proposal by the Republican majority has made it out of committed that threatens to end Federal funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting over the next few years, and significantly reduce the amount of money directly granted to PBS stations. I believe we are speaking about less than a billion dollars in this year’s budget here with measurable cultural significance. The Federal Deficit for last year was about 477 billion; there are other, much bigger budgetary fish to fry.

To do my part, I just sent the following note to my Congressman:

Dear Congressman XXXXXXXXXXX,

I write to you tonight to protest recent efforts by elements of the Republican majority in the House of Representatives to curtail funding for the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Public Television in general.

I am strongly of the belief that advances in knowledge and human endevor do not exist in a vacuum. It is therefore true that in order to have faster computer chips and fighter planes, we must have an abundance of art and poetry. To say otherwise is to deny something fundamental about the human spirit. We cannot lead the world in technology while letting our artists and writers, great and small, starve. We also cannot deny anyone the opportunity to learn about them.

Yet, I fear that this is the stand taken by some members of the House. They question the need for government to nurture education in the arts and our cultural heritage in the name of “fiscal austerity” and “fairness and balance.” Such intellectual pursuits stray far from the preservation of “common sense” and “family values” and represent an active threat to an outlook supporting only black and white answers because the developed mind can discern shades of gray.

At 36 years of age, I feel I owe a lot to PBS. Sesame Street went on the air when I was barely a year old, and certainly helped me learn letters and numbers. Shows such as Nova helped me to cultivate an interest in science and mathematics that led me to a career in software development. Shows like Austin City Limits and Sessions At West 54th brought musical performances that I find memorable. Ken Burns’ three epic mini-series “The Civil War”, “Baseball”, and “Jazz” represent the kind of illuminating television that could never be seen elsewhere.

I know that some will say that these cuts will not threaten a show with a profitable merchandising arm like Sesame Street. That is true in a very narrow sense, but completely misses the point. Public Television was created to be community television and these cuts will force stations to make tough choices. I feel fortunate to live in a major metropolitan area where three fairly affluent PBS stations exist. I grew up in a much smaller city where the local PBS station has already been forced to curtail locally produced programming because of budget cuts during the last 15 years. An additional loss of Federal funding such as the one proposed would be devestating to such a station.

I write to you now as XPBS broadcasts a rendition of Tchaikovsky’s ballet “Swan Lake” by the American Ballet Theater at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC. Flipping the channel over to the Arts & Entertainment Network, a supposed for-profit replacement for what PBS offers, I see the reality show “Growing Up Gotti”. I know that PBS is far from perfect but, I know that it’s like will never be seen again if it goes away.

For these and so many other reasons, please vigorously oppose cuts to funding to the Corporation for Public Broadcasting and Public Television.


Dr. Geek

watching the money

One thing I always liked Nick Lachey on Newlyweds: Nick and Jessica was that he had his eye on the money. This was sometimes taken to silly extremes, like the time he hired some pretty lazy guys from a local temp agency to lay down sod. It just as often made some sense however, like when he uttered the classic line: “Jessica Simpson, you did not spend $1200 on sheets.”

In my marriage, I’m the one who keeps his eyes on the money… and that has been the source of some stress lately. The expenses (here and here) incurred at the beginning of May continue to have financial repercussions. I just don’t feel like I’m getting ahead. This feeling is somewhat illusory, however; any temporary poverty on our part is largely to an aggressive repayment schedule on debts incurred before our marriage. Part of me is quite determined to get all that behind us on a schedule I set up some months ago… which is already about two months behind where I would like it be. At the same time, I see that this “tightening of the belt” may actually be choking us financially… because there are large expenses we haven’t been able to avoid, and there a couple of trips we very much want to take this summer (one to one of the Disney parks, the other a wedding in the Great Northwest in July.)

Of course, any real estate deliberations only increase my discomfort. Mrs. Geek and I decided to stop and have a look at a property for sale just down the hill from us last night. It was new construction, about 2400 square feet, two bedrooms, two baths, one “bonus” room, with hardwood floors, granite and marble counters, CAT 5 networking, two car garage, 80 square foot yard, interesting view, and a number of interesting upgrades. In all, a very satisfactory place to live, except for the price: $868K. It will probably go for more than $900K. The mortgage payment on a regular 6% 30 year mortgage for this little slice of heaven: $4689… which more than I take home every month. The interest will be tax deductable, it’s true… but still… I get slightly depressed when I hear Mrs. Geek say “It [staying in the area] all has to work out somehow.”

the piper must be paid

Chapter: the latest

In which the fair Doctor learns that revelry has its price.

Suffice to say, I knew that trouble was coming. I could see all the signs. Too many fattening culinary experiments on the weekend. Too many extra carbs and snack foods. Too many wine- and food-filled weekends with friends. Too little portion control. Too little discipline about sticking to my fitness regimen. It all adds up to a recipe for weight gain.

Best just to say it: I’ve now gained about 8 pounds since being at my lowest weight in early December. That’s still about 8-10 pounds less than my peak weight before getting married at about this time last year.

It’s been a fun ride though through a season of good food and good wine. I made some delicious baby back ribs (using a dry rub of my own invention.) The Fuddruckers’ burgers Art & Wine festival were great. As was that improvised beef stir fry… even if the the propane burner from the Turkey Fryer kit still didn’t work. Mrs. Geek and I have been experimenting with ways to make carmelcorn and its toffee-based variants. Yum! The thin crust pizza was a bit of a bust… but I need to find a better recipe, or have the time to fully follow the one I used. There also were some yummy Dinosaur Bar-be-que jamaican jerk chicken breasts and some good baked beans.

Well, I don’t think it will be rice cakes and wheat grass juice for me from here on out but, I do need to pay more attention to diet and exercise. I need to fight the yo-yo effect. I need to find a way to live that gets me both a fit body and some delicious food.