April 6th, 2007

libraries

I used to read so much as a kid.  From Kindergarden, I remember my dad getting us books, but it would be until second grade when we were allowed to select books beyond the red masking tape boundary of "big kids books" at our K-4 elementary school library.  Upon that, nearly 40 feet of 4 foot high shelves were at our disposal, and so went the floodgates free.  So many selections to make, all conveniently stored by subject!  What a remarkable idea.  Geography, social studies, geometry -- oh how I loved the primitives, but then during the summer between 4th and 5th grade they purchased an all new inventory and as a helper I was allowed first choice.  Tainting each volume with my full name in the stamp pad was a delicious appetizer into the meal of science to follow.

Upon 5th and 6th grade, I found the next school woefully short on materials.  Indeed, it's library was a mere fraction of the previous school's.  Still, I was able to maintain a vigorous appetite for reading about new sciences, including chemistry and physics.  But the limelight faded away from what the school could provide.

It would be the public library that brought me the final satisfaction of learning during those childhood years -- hundreds of racks of books, spanning between the downstairs children and young adults section, to the full assault of real life grown up books above.  Over a few summers I would spend weeks on a given subject- meteorology, space (my all time favorite and common recurring obsession), and even less worthy subjects such as space aliens.  I remember sitting out on the back room of the house during the middle of the day, bright and full summer, terrified out of my mind of creepy abductions.

So the, the hormones started to kick in and the desire to learn went the wayside.  I guess it would be a decade before they calmed down enough for learning to have some merits again :)

is pluto a planet?

During one of my space fascinations, sometime during first grade, our class was treated to a Space Week, where we learned all about the planets and stars.  Naturally, as an upcoming nerd I was already keenly aware of the matters of outerspace, but was still kind enough to participate enthusiastically. 

At the culmination of space week, we were treated to a generous surprise -- the auditorium had been filled with space related media, and two astronauts in training -- a man and a woman from NASA itself -- stopped by to answer five questions from we unwashed masses of children.

Desperate to confirm a suspicion I'd read in books earlier on my own accord, with some unknown strength shy, 7 year old me was able to draw the selection of one of five.  And so when my turn came around, I asked with unmitigable intent, "Is Pluto a planet?"

"Yup, next question--" the lady astronaut answered, and I was muted by the groans of my classmates.

"You idiot, we have been studying that all week!" they cried.  I attempted to regain the astronaut's attention, but was silenced for my rudeness.

The other day, 20 years and some odd days later, I was walking through a giant book store nearby, wasting away a snow day of no electricity back home.  As I wandered the aisles, I spotted a hard bound textbook, proudly leaning against a bulkhead display.  The title?  "Is Pluto a planet?" 

I rolled by eyes back in my head, and wondered what that seven year old would have done with his life if the lady had simply answered, "What do you think?"

of utilies not to be

Part One

Our neighbor was the mayor of Claremont.  He lived in a simple house and led what we assumed to be a simple life.  He drove a big dumptruck everywhere and was a real nice guy. 

I guess he got into a fight with the power utility people, though.  I remember it happened in the dead swampy heat of summer, when only plunging down a steep hill on a bike would quietly cool us, and then only for a fleeting moment -- the pace of our lives was about to slow dramatically.

We're each and every one of us electricity junkies.  Just this other day, the power went out for 13 hours -- 3am to 4pm, and I was unable to maintain sanity aside nearly napping it all away.  So imagine back in 1996 or so, when the town lost power from a large thunderstorm.  Torrential downpour blanketed the asphault in wavy sheets, and the air was ripe with wet so thick you might never feel the fear of God so real again.  Lightning crashing against the tempest of swirly black and grey clouds scraping the flooded lawns, thunder shaking your chest milliseconds after compressing the hefty timbers of the house frame -- this was an intense storm, and caught in the gusty winds and whirls of cold and hot air as fronts collided to and fro, within boundary of your own person -- BZzzt!  Out, then, went the power.

For five days.

Oh, how horrid it was.  The fridge needed to empty out of dairy by day 1 and most others by day 2.  Each day following was a trip to the strip malls for three meals each.  Showers were mitigated by the pool, which somehow worked without electricity.  Many free hours at work were labored away, stealing the air conditioned climate and fast computers.

It was only the 5 houses at the end of the street, you see.  The rest of our town was fine by the rest of the day.  It was admitted by our good neighbor the stunt was a political message.  Listening to the rumble of his portable generator, watching the glowing lights from his television beam across the street those five nights didn't help cheer us up. 

Part Two

I worked at an ISP.  It was one year there was a large political bill being passed in New Hampshire to force the incumbent telephone provider, Verizon, to open access to its infrastructure such that competitive local exchange carriers, i.e., companies like the one I worked for, could also provide internet service at a competitive rate.  So in other words, there was a bill on the NH Senate that would force Verizon to let us resell their service at the same profitability Verizon enjoyed.  Verizon, as it happened, was not a fan of this bill.

Our boss was fairly involved politically, as the empire was still on the way up at the time.  He had the backing of many small NH ISPs, and a coalition was run by he and others with similar interests.  So, in a blanket email to each and every customer, he announced the upcoming bill and the manner in which to vote to ensure cheap internet access from third parties, interested in keeping things fair. 

As it happened, Verizon employees were customers of ours, and as best we can guess, someone received the email's direction on how to put the screws to Verizon through voting.  It was unfortunate that mere hours after the letter was sent, the T3 feeding our core infrastructure was reconfigured.  We weren't particularly interested in this gratis reconfiguration, as it didn't happen to be compatible with our equipment.  It was further unfortunate this setting was well hidden in submenus enough that it took three entire business days of calling their level two tech support before someone found the right setting.  "That's weird, you're on ANSI-D.  Well I could just flip that for you..."  Instantly we were back online and had learned a lesson.  You don't ever mess with Verizon.  There's no force that can stop them and they will drive right over you if you get in their way.  (Interesting sidenote:  Vonage, who provides my telephone, crossed Verizon by messing with some key VOIP patents, and has found themself barred from signing on new customers as of this very day -- interesting)