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A catastrophic long tail

A few years ago, I wrote about a minor long-term effect of the Chernobyl radiation leak. It took almost twenty years for a specific type of radioactive isotope to make landfall and destroy Norway’s reindeer-meat exports. Obviously, with all the other lives and ecologies and industries that Chernobyl affected, the small market in reindeer meat isn’t a big deal, but it reminds me that disasters can have far reaching consequences that no scientific model can ever compute. It’s the long-tail effect applied to catastrophes.

I think about this when I read about the BP pipe rupture. The above image is of the Gulf Stream, specifically showing the heat transfer from the Gulf of Mexico to the rest of the North Atlantic. How long, I wonder, will it take for the suspended oil droplets to surface and where will it happen? I fear that my friends in the Tampa area of Florida are going to experience a depressed environment for years to come.

But look at that map again. Imagine in 20 years what is left of east coast fisheries. Imagine how the oil and dispersants will affect cod hatcheries in Iceland and England. Imagine what effects oil and chemicals added in the millions of gallons into dozens of unique and crucial ecosystems will have on all of us. Can you? I know I can’t. I would never have expected an isolated nuclear disaster to have affected something thousands of miles away and dozens of years later. We make a mistake in thinking that radioactive isotopes are more dangerous or last longer than crude oil and chemical dispersants. The major difference is that it will take longer for the BP oil disaster to affect more people, but affect us it will. It’s only a matter of when. The long-tail of this catastrophe will be measured in decades.

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Further notes from a commuter

12/2 10:23 pm

— I have a button on my messenger-bag that says “I read banned comics.” It’s a fairly old button, and I got it because it the late 80s and early 90s there were a few comics that were being banned. I don’t think I actually read any of them, but I supported the people who did. It wasn’t so much a rebelious thing as an act of solidarity. But those days are gone. I don’t really read new comic books, and I couldn’t tell anyone what’s being banned, if anything is.

I Read Banned Comics button

Outside of my necklace, the most-commented part of my apparel is that button. Most of the folks I work with are 25 years-old or younger. Someone at work will see that button and ask me, “You read banned comics? What comics are banned?” Truthfully, I answer that I don’t know.

I’m sure in some small communities there are people who are trying to ban works of fiction, but today there just isn’t the nationwide push to ban supposedly dangerous comic books like there had been starting from the 50s. I’m pretty sure this is because of the Interweb. Not only does it make attempting to ban something pointless, but it’s changed the distribution model, too. If some young Turk wants to put out something so edgy that no publishing house will touch it, the artist can skip the publisher all together and get it to an audience online. He won’t make any money, but that’s not what edgy, dangerous art is about anyway. Rarely does a boundary-pusher live comfortably.

— That Marley-covering busker was back in Penn Station. He did this medley of “Stir It Up” and “The Tide Is High” by Blondie. It lasted like 10 minutes. I purchased his CD.

12/5 10:09 am

— Having a regular schedule is soothing. I’m sitting on the same seat on the train coming in to the City and going home. I’m getting the same parking space in the morning at the train station. It’s oddly relaxing to have these things be consistent from day to day. I’ve never understood why humans desire this, but now I certainly appreciate the mindless joy of it. I’m guessing that this has something to do with the primitive part of the brain, the animal instinct. And I’d also guess that it’s the same part of the brain that believes the past is more comforting than the future. It’s the conservative mindset. I wonder if having a rigid schedule makes one less likely to accept radical ideas and change. I wonder if they go hand-in-hand.

12/16 10:23 pm

— An unfortunate combination: a loud, grating voice and my train ride home. Oh, well, gives me a reason to listen to some tunes. Oddly, I don’t often listen to music on the train. But I will tonight. Thanks, woman who is just blabbity-blab-blabbing two seats in front of me.

— My poor phone. Today, before I left work, I put the phone on a chair when I had to do something with two hands. There’s a setup here. The chair is in a stairwell against a wall facing out, on a landing, one flight up. The stairwell almost, but not quite, butts up against the wall, leaving a one-inch gap between the stairwell-landing floor and the wall. The chair is plastic and slightly slopped towards rear of the chair, and the chair back is open and does not meet the seat of the chair. See this setup? I put the phone on the chair, where it slides towards the rear of the chair and out the space between the back and the seat. The phone falls perfectly into the gap between the landing floor and the wall and falls one story to the concrete floor below.

It falls so quickly that all I have time to do is laugh, because I can’t believe that the phone would fall so perfectly into that tiny gap, but, of course it does! There wouldn’t be anything funny or interesting about this anecdote if it didn’t fall through that gap.

I run down the stairway to the first floor hoping I didn’t bean anyone with it, and it’s face down on the floor–and intact.

I should mention that I have an Agent 18 case, which is plastic like the seat is, explaining why my phone was so slippery on its surface. But the Agent 18 case extends over the phone a bit. This gap prevented the glass surface of my phone from shattering into a spiderweb of misery.

I’m surprised as anyone that my phone continues to function as it had before the fall, but as soon as it happened, I thought it was not only something that I could write about, but also a great story to tell customers at work when they ask me about cases for their phones.

— Last night in Penn Station, a guitar-playing busker sang “Babylon Sisters,” by Steely Dan. Never–not in a dozen score years–did I expect to hear “Babylon Sisters” covered by anyone. It’s a fairly complex song, musically, and he did it pretty well. It’s really ambitious to play it solo, for sure. He said afterwards that he thinks it was written about women from Babylon, a town on Long Island, a busy stop on the LIRR. I think he was serious, unfortunately.

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More notes from a commuter

11/18 1:21 am

— The old LIRR trains with the blue and red seats were just not made for typing on a portable computer. They have outlets, but there is no way to get comfortable while typing.

— Today at {computer company that shall not be named} there was a graduate student who was working on her end of semester paper when her computer crashed and wouldn’t come back on. When she tried, a very specific indicator that her hard drive was ruined would appear on her screen. She came in, hoping against all that was reasonable, that somehow we could help retreive her school work. There was nothing I could do, and she was in tears, having potentially lost a semester of work. It was the most heartbreaking moment I’ve had at work. I’m so empathetic, though, that she apologized for getting me upset. I assured her that I was fine, and I offered information about some data recovery companies.

My point though is to keep a backup of your data. Seriously people. You’re going to kill me if you don’t. On that subject, my iMac’s hard drive is clicking and occassionally will not mount. I will have to bring it in for service, and the hard drive will have to be replaced. I will lose what ever is on that hard drive. Am I concerned? No, my friends, for I have seen the light and am true to the way. I have a backup of my data. All hail the external hard drive!

Photos! Email! School work! Music! LOL Cats! Whatever it is on your computer, why would you risk losing it all to a micrometer sized bit of ferro-aluminum oxide flipping from north to south? Back up your data!

— I tend to rant a bit at night.

11/21 11:07 pm

— Okay. There was a hockey game again tonight, and the hoochie ladies were out in full force again. There was a group of them with totally inappropriate footware getting pictures taken with NYPD officers. At one point they shouted “Islanders suck!” which promted mixed reactions from the sea of Islander-jersey wearing male fans who were gawking at them anyway.

— I don’t know when the eighties fashions came back, but I want to hurt the designers and shops that are pushing them. Those women by the cops were straight out of a Whitesnake video, with only slightly smaller, slightly less teased, hairdos.

— John Hodgman didn’t say hi to the Genius Bar when he made a speaking appearance tonight at {computer company that shall not be named}. I’m a bit disappointed. I was probably one of the few who knew him from the “Ask a former literary agent” days, and not just as the PC guy. The folks I was helping at the store asked if “the Mac guy” was there too. To which I should have replied, “We’re all the Mac guys here,” but didn’t. I’m a bit disappointed in that too.

— It’s good to have a steady gig in this economy. I’m suspicious of my current good fortune.

Thanksgiving Update — computer is back from repair with new hard drive. My system is restored from my backup. No muss, no fuss.

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Apple Computers

It’s no secret that I’m an Apple fanatic. I’ve used Macintosh computers since 1986. I’ve taken apart the Mac 128K to see the developers’ signatures inside the case. There has never been a point where I thought I would have to abandon my favorite platform. During the dark-days of the late 90s, I still knew that using a Mac beat using a Windows machine, no matter the gigahertz difference. Even though Apple’s switch to Intel processors seemed like a slight to us partisans, it was more like the fall of a wall between two former enemies. The time was right.

Back in the 90s, the tech press all but wrote off Apple. Well, actually, a lot was writen about Apple, but it all entailed how Apple should sell off their properties and close shop. When the iMac came out, starting the annoying and inexplicably continuing trend to name everything “iWhatever,” the press began to turn, ever so slightly in Apple’s favor. But old habits die hard, and now that Apple is really on top of their game, the old tech-heads can’t admit defeat. They’re still warning Apple to sell off the hardware business, to merge with Google (nee Sony), to license their software. It’s crazy.

Mostly, they do this for the hits. Apple partisans are a vocal group. We learned how to use the internet shortly after the DEC users, but long before everyone else was on it exchanging Windows viruses via email. We read articles about Apple voraciously, positive or negative, so anything that discusses Apple is going to get a magnitude more hits than not. The best way to get hits is to call Apple users “fanboys.” Also, call anyone who points out illogic arguments and mistakes in your article an “irrational fanboy.”

But bad press or no, Apple is doing pretty well for itself. Before the iPhone came out (grrr… iPhone), the tech press was insistent that Apple better produce one or the company would go down in flames. Now that the iPhone is out, and successful, the tech press is thrilled to warn Apple of its impending doom.

When the rumors about the iPhone surfaced (three years before the actual release date), I wasn’t confident in Apple’s ability to pull it off. In fairness, I am never sure that whatever Apple does is the right thing. I second-guess that company more than the tech press. “iPod?” I said in 2001. “The world really needs another MP3 player?” Anyway, when Apple released the details of the iPhone (6 months before the introduction), I thought that maybe it would be a decent phone. Surfing the web on it, though? Why bother?

Finally, the iPhone was released, and I’m apathetic about it. I’ll wait for the first revision, I said. But when my Nokia died, I rushed out to get one, because I am an Apple fanatic. The experience of the phone is far better than I could have imagined. I’ve used this phone more in two months than I’ve used any other phone. Mostly, that’s because I don’t like to talk to people on the phone, but the iPhone has a camera and web access. Huh. Guess putting a browser on it was a good idea after all.

Anyway, here’s a photo of a place I drove by in Brookhaven town, taken, of course, with my iPhone.

Phoenix Gallery, Brookhaven, NY

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They can charge money for that? Pt 2

Seen at the local PETCOPetmate® Cat Crazies®:

Cat Crazies

“Cats go CRAZY over these specially designed toys!” If only the inventor of the cap on plastic milk cartons thought of this. My step-dad walks into 7-11 in the morning and gets a dozen of these for free.

But cats do go crazy for them. Both of my cats fetch the milk-cap rings. Indy or Jinx will come up to either Katherine or me and drop one by our feet. Then he or she will meow until we throw it. Then he or she will chase it and bring it back, until the other one gets involved, and then it’s no fun anymore.

In a pinch, the ring left from unsealing a vitamin bottle will work too, but those are a stiffer plastic and subject to quicker destruction via kitty teeth. It isn’t pretty. But it sure is cheap.

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A quick summary

So Katherine and I married last Friday, October 19. Everything went great, except for the weather, but we managed. Here’s a quick rundown of things that I’d like to note:

  • I started the day very stressed. I wasn’t so much worried about getting married, as I was about the actual process. We heard that the weather was going to get really bad, which it eventually did, but even before that, when I was waiting at the apartment for Katherine to return from the hairdressers (we saw each other before the ceremony), and the videographers were already there, along with the makeup artist, our power went out. For a minute or two, I thought Katherine had run away, and that everything was going to fall apart. When Katherine came back, she was smiling, and said everything was going to be fine, and 90% of my stress fell away. I was still too nervous about other things going wrong, which didn’t go away until the ceremony, but I felt much better once I saw her.

  • Ironically, Katherine had, very early on, put the kibosh on not seeing each other before the ceremony, because she thought that she’d be too stressed out without me there. Turns out, I needed to see her. Still, (advice to prospective brides and grooms) ditch the unnecessary separation before the ceremony. Dancing Queen!


  • Wild Rose Video. Excellent. We were hesitant to get a video of the wedding. We’ve never been too impressed with the final result, but at the same time, we didn’t want to miss all the stuff that the couple does miss at their own wedding. We went to see Wild Rose and they’re product is simply wonderful. They had Katherine tearing up at total stranger’s wedding videos. The folks there, including the videographers, have been wonderful to deal with. Pete, the videographer, who spent the entire reception with us, was friendly and helpful. We highly recommend them.

  • North Island Photography. So far, so good. Michael, the photographer, was great, and very relaxed. Of course, the proof is in the proofs, so to speak, which we will get to see when we return from our honeymoon. His gallery and samples are fantastic, so we’re really excited to see what he’s done. I look like a goof-ball in about 3/4 of all photographs, so if I look like one only 50% of the time, than Michael is the genius that we thought he was when we booked him.

  • Flowerfield. We had a great cocktail hour and reception. The food was amazing, and they set up the cocktail hour with pumpkins and other fall flourishes that simply complemented our wedding theme without us ever asking for it. Andy, our Maitre’d, and Joette, the bridal attendant, were out of this world. They were fixing things before we knew that they needed fixing. We’re sure the rest service was great, but, honestly, we only ever had to deal with Andy and Joette. They were constantly by our sides.

  • Audrey’s Bakery. Our cake was gorgeous and tasted great.

  • Long Island Sound. Great work by the MC, Andy, and the DJ crew. We got complements on the DJ throughout the evening. MC Andy kept the crowd going, without badgering them. Our last song was “Don’t You (Forget About Me),” by Simple Minds, from the movie, The Breakfast Club. As it played, Andy spoke the soliloquy that was read by Anthony Michael Hall at the end of the movie. Great stuff. Highly recommended.

  • Stacey, Katherine’s makeup artist was very nice, and very patient, since we lost power when she came over. Katherine is always beautiful to me, but Katherine, herself, was very impressed with Stacey’s work. A plus: There wasn’t a ton of makeup to make Katherine feel like clay was applied to her face.

  • There was a problem with the wedding dress, which was not taken care of by the store where we purchased it. That is a note for another time.

  • We have a bunch of photos from our guests at our wedding page.

  • There are thank-yous that I wanted to specifically point out. Mom and Steve and Katherine’s parents–thank you for all your help. Thanks to Deb and Karen for the amazing flowers and centerpieces. How many groomsmen get complimented on their boutonnieres? Thank you to Rich and Melissa for your design advice and help in getting the invites and various printed materials out. Thank you to my Uncle Frank for the hotel accommodations and setting up the wonderful brunch the next day. Thank you to Michele and Aunt Joyce for readings, and again, with Jennifer and Danielle, for setting up the shower. Thank you to all our generous and wonderful friends and family for making the wedding a tremendously enjoyable time for us.

I know there is more I want to point out, but we’re off to Aruba for a few days. We’re staying at the Bucuti resort on the west side of the island. We’ll try to get some photos up from there, too. But for now: Sorry, ladies, he’s married!

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Notes from the field

At 11:52 p.m., on Monday, September 24, 2007, a Suffolk Police officer from the second precinct, driving in Car 205 turned on his lights to run the intersection of Commack Road and Jericho Turnpike. He’d been sitting at the light for a few seconds, when I pulled up. He was in the left turning lane, and was clearly chomping at the bit to run this light. The problem? Besides me, there were cars across and perpendicular from him. He kept creeping forward trying to trigger the sensor, but that particular light takes a full minute to turn, no matter what the traffic conditions are.

When Car 205 finally went through, he turned west in front of eastbound oncoming traffic. He didn’t use his siren, just his lights, and promptly turned them off when he made the turn.

Since I got a ticket for turning right on red at that very same intersection in February, I’m gonna report this one, and, of course, post it on the net. I don’t really see why traffic cops shouldn’t follow the same law as everyone else. A few weeks ago, I was about 2 minutes away from witnessing a horrible accident, which highlights how dangerous it is to blow through red lights. And in that incident, the officer was actually pursuing someone, not just feeling inconvenienced by a long traffic light.

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Impulsive at Starbucks

I have to make a promise to never walk into a Starbucks alone. When I go in with other people, I’m all business. Let’s get our fruity coffees and leave. Don’t buy the muffins. Don’t buy the mugs. And especially don’t buy the overpriced albums.

But when I’m by myself, I’m much more relaxed. And impulsive. There I am buying my iced coffee, when I see an album called Hail, Brtiannia: The British Invasion 1964–1969. It’s a collection of a bunch of singles of bands like The Kinks and Traffic. It even has a wonderful instrumental from a way-pre-Stevie-Nicks Fleetwood Mac. It was too hard to resist. I mean it was only $14. If I purchased the 16 tracks from iTunes, it would have cost over $15. But I probably wouldn’t have purchased the Lulu track, or the worst Dusty Springfield song, “Wishin’ and Hopin’.”

Seriously, that song sucks. It’s catchy, because it’s written by Burt Bacharach, who writes very catchy but really crappy songs. There I said it. The worst song on The White Stripes Elephant is the one written by Bacharach, “I Just Don’t Know What To Do With Myself.” Of course, when I hear the song, I keep singing it in my head for a day or two. I can hum it now, while listening to something else. And Dusty Springfield’s incredible voice is totally wasted on that damned song. Grumble, grumble.

Anyway, besides “Wishin’ and Hopin'” and “To Sir with Love,” the songs on the album are pretty good and paint a nice picture of what must have been an incredible time to listen to pop music. I had to buy it. And right next to it was a Thelonious Monk compilation. So help me, I’ll never walk into a Starbucks alone again.

On the chalk board at Starbucks, they had a question of the week: “What fruit has the most fat per serving?” I had an answer right away, because I think it’s the only fruit with fat. Every other oily vegetable is either a nut or a seed. What do you think it is?

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Steve Jobs just put out an open letter laying out the plans for Apple to become more environmentally-neutral. It’s an interesting read, and it’s great to see that Apple has worked and will work to get a lot of the poisonous garbage out of it’s systems. There were a couple of things that I did not know before. * If you bring your old iPod to any Apple Store to recycle, they’ll take off 10% of a new iPod. They’ll be extending that program this year by allowing you to mail it in. * Apple pretty much eliminate lead from it’s manufacturing chain by eliminating CRT monitors. * This one is obvious, but it never occurred to me before: lighter machines mean less waste. As items get smaller, not only do they take up less material, but they also leave less of a footprint on the environment. Sure this one is kind of a duh moment for me, but I just hadn’t considered it. This was basically a way for Steve to tell Greenpeace to shove it. They’ve been singling out Apple for not being green, and letting other computer companies with future plans for reducing waste to slide. I can’t wait until someone else pisses off Steve.

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I’m a lot like you were

For years I had wanted to meet Kurt Vonnegut. Then, about 10 years ago, I saw him on some sort of show. I forget the exact nature of it. Vonnegut must have talking about Hocus Pocus or maybe even Timequake. But the point here is that he was old, an old old man. And there he was only 74. I’ve never really made peace with the old man, in any form. And to see Vonnegut as an old man really bugged me. What time does to us. It’s cruel and pointless and vicious. But that’s my hang up. Anyway, my point is that from that time on, I figured that I would never get to meet Vonnegut. Who knew I’d have 10 years to throw away not meeting him? Still, in that time, I grew to accept that idols only exist in our perception of them. The Kurt Vonnegut that I wanted to meet was already in his books. It’s a trite philosophy, for sure, and one that allows me to rationalize my situation where I will meet nobody whom I idolize. But it is true. I may never be friends with someone like Vonnegut, but all my friends are partially friends with him, because of the huge influence he’s had on me.