25 June 2007

Not Gearheads (over there)

Looking for reading material? This week's item is over on the other side... All about strollers and diaper bags and more. Oh, my!

20 June 2007

Catching Up

It’s only Wednesday – it’s only been 5 days – and already I feel behind on just about everything.

It’s an illusion. I’m not behind – I’m actually ahead, and I just have to help myself admit it.

I had big plans: I was going to clean my desk. I was going to go through and organize a massive slew of digital photos that I dumped off the camera in a panic about 5 months ago when I needed to take some new pictures and the chip was too full. I was going to do a variety of other, similar activities that don’t consume a lot of brainpower and can be done in small chunks that nonetheless accomplish much.

I also, desperately, want to write down the order and flow of life from last Thursday through Sunday before that time, too, becomes more memory than reality.

A few things have happened, a few others haven’t. I’m learning to accept it.

It’s easy because at 2:21pm last Friday, June 15th, the world changed forever. Not just my world, or our world, but the world. Our daughter arrived, a healthy 7.11 pounds, with all the necessary body parts (including a healthy set of lungs, which she has made a point of testing out periodically) and a face that radiates beauty, happiness, and love. Radiates it – and reflects it every time we look at her.

And yes, that is the world that changed because every child does it: every child becomes part of a chain reaction, the long line of “amor fati” that they contribute to and participate in, the life in which they may experience some pain (but we hope not) but in which they also provide joy, goodness, and love in abundance. All of that, each little piece, if it affects one person it affects the world.

So I’m behind, but I’m not sure I care. I’d rather spend time with my darling little girl, enjoying the days now that already seem to pass too fast (exhausting though they may be).

12 June 2007

No Deus Ex Machina

When I wrote recently about the importance of technical knowledge, given the world in which we live, I was thinking in particular about a few people I know who often have complicated, hard-to-resolve computer problems that often seem self-created. But I was also thinking about myself – reminding myself to stay on top of my technical game. It’s been a long, long time since my first Commodore and my first Apple, but the perspective I formed then, as a kid – that we should probably make people pass a test before they can use a personal computer – has never left. It is, in a sense, like driving: if you don’t know how the machine operates on the inside, then what you do with it on the outside will always derive from a limited perspective.

Which is all well and good to say. How about when your computer just stops doing something it was doing perfectly well the day before?

That is what has been happening to me. My reasonably new Dell XPS 400 – running Windows XP, with a 3 Ghz processor, a full gigabyte of RAM, and a 150 GB hard drive – decided randomly three weeks ago that it wouldn’t recognize my camera. Nothing had changed since the last time that I’d used the camera: same computer, same software, no updates or installations, same cable and USB connection...

So I moved the cable from the USB hub into a different USB socket, and then the camera worked. Odd.

Then my printer stopped working, too. Similar situation: nothing had changed, and the computer even said the printer was installed properly – but it wouldn’t do a test print, and wouldn’t print my document.

I changed the USB port, reinstalled the printer, and then it worked. Frustrating, and odd.

The one commonality – I thought – was the USB hub: both the camera and the computer were plugged into the same one. Maybe the hub was broken? I unplugged the hub and tested it in a different USB port; it works fine. Well, if the obvious pattern no longer fits, one has to start looking for some hidden pattern: what could I have done that, ever so inadvertently, caused something to stop working? Nothing, I was sure of it.

Except use Window’s “Standby” mode to cool down the computer when I was away for long periods.

As a PC user who ditched Apple more than 20 years ago in frustration, let me say: I also hate Windows. I left Apple because, back in the era of the early Mac, I found the system inscrutable when problems occurred: with a PC, I could always tinker, get inside its guts and fix the problem; with the evolving Mac, I got only a cute little system bomb icon, followed by the dulcet tones of a hard reboot, and no chance to see what was going wrong. The beauty of Apple’s system for the computer-illiterate was a red flag of frustration for the tinkerer. Still, I hate Windows, too, precisely for problems like the one I’m experiencing, the seemingly-arbitrary, difficult to resolve issues caused by the entirely inadvertent user action. If I’d known about the “Standby” problems, I might not use it. (The knowledge that the new Mac operating systems run on user-accessible code might some day lure me back.)

And so, to my problem... It looks like the issue may be a quirk in how Windows uses the “Standby” mode: in cutting power to the USB hub, it may no longer recognize the hub when the computer wakes up. I have two external USB hubs and, indeed, one does not have a separate power supply; it draws power from the computer. I made the tweaks recommended, but to no avail thus far. Now I’m testing my own resolution to this ridiculous problem: activating one of the devices connected to the hub, like my printer, before bringing the machine out of “Standby” mode. Thus far the results remain, in a word, frustrating.

05 June 2007

Who's Your Mommy?

With my wife due with our first child any day now, we’re planning – as much as is really possible – for the gear-shifting between the long period of gestation and the expected reality of having a child to care for. It’s exciting and terrifying all at once.

This seems like a good moment to reflect on the pregnancy itself, and especially on one specific aspect: societal reactions. A friend who was pregnant a couple of years ago used to tell me, somewhat amusingly, of the varying reactions of people she would see on the street in the latter stage of her pregnancy. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe her, but seeing for one’s self is just different. And she was right: you can just about draw a bright line through New York’s diverse community, with the white (and Jewish) folk on one side, and the Black, Hispanic, and other minorities on the other.

Now, let’s be clear: I’m talking about strangers, people you “meet” when you’re shopping or on the bus, or just walking down the street. These are fellow citizens who know nothing about us except what they see in front of them: a very pregnant woman and, presumably, her husband.

The reaction of the white strangers has tended towards the extremes. On the one hand, some of them don’t react at all – which might be fine, except that offering a very pregnant woman a seat on a crowded bus would just be polite; too polite by half, apparently. When they do react, it’s usually in a way that probes or pushes more deeply than one might want: they’ll ask if we know the baby’s gender, or they’ll offer up comments like “Oh, life as you know it will be over,” the latter usually with a little half-chuckle.

Ha-ha. Thanks.

Those among New York’s Black and Hispanic populations respond rather differently. Those strangers are, almost by definition, more polite and more enchanted. They’ll offer congratulations (not to mention a seat), they might ask if it’s the first child or when the specific due date is, and they’ll smile in a way that suggests a real understanding of the impending joy. There’s no hidden snark, no subtle or not-so-subtle suggestion that life will change and not necessarily for the better. The reaction is almost pure: babies are to be celebrated, as are the women who carry them. This was our experience on a trip to Mexico a few months ago too, when again the status of a pregnant woman was elevated well above the rest of us.


I cannot offer much in the way of explanations for all this except to say that perhaps it reflects a deep divide in perspective, a distinction between those who view childbearing and childrearing as, fundamentally, about themselves – versus it being about the impending child. It isn’t as though one group or another makes, de facto, for better parents, and there have been (as always) exceptions to the apparent rule. But it is a strange element of the experience, living in a city like New York – a strange reflection of our cultural diversity.