Aug 20

The china syndrome

It’s our wedding anniversary. Today Marie and I have been married for twenty years. I must have repeated those words to myself a hundred times today, trying to grasp the significance of the day, but I just can’t get my head around it. Twenty years. It doesn’t seem possible.
And then I look at my children, one of them on the verge of adulthood and the other seeming to grow an inch taller every week, and I think: Yeah, it’s possible. In fact, there’s no other explanation.
Marie and I said our vows in 1983. Ronald Reagan was still in his first term as president. Return of the Jedi was only two years old, and Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan had just premiered the previous year. The space shuttle had only been flying for two years. The earliest IBM PCs were only two years old, and the first Macintosh wouldn’t arrive in stores for another year.
The Internet existed, barely — its predecessor, ARPANET, had just begun using the TCP/IP protocol. Microwave ovens and VCRs had only been available for a few years, and the first CDs had just appeared in stores. Cellular phones had been available for less than a year.
It was a different world.
I guess I can’t deny it. We really have been married for two decades. But it’s still hard to believe.

Posted in Me
Aug 15

By the numbers

Today is Jen’s birthday. I hope she won’t be annoyed if I mention her actual age, but since she announced it herself a year ago, I think the risk is minimal. She’s 31, which is cool, because it’s a prime number. Jen may not think this is a big deal, because it’s only been two years since the last time her age was a prime (29). But this will only happen once more in the next decade, when she’s 37. (As it happens, my age is also a prime at the moment: 43. Just thought I would mention that.)
This is a game that I always play on my own birthday: what’s the mathematical significance of my new age, and how rare is it? Prime-number ages are interesting, but relatively frequent; if you look at this list, you’ll see that your age will be prime twenty times if you live to 71, and thirty times if you make all the way to 113. But there are other distinctions. Next year, Jen’s age will be 32, which is a power of two. That’s really rare — now that I’ve passed 32, this will only happen to me one more time, when I’m 64. (Medical science will have to make some impressive advances if I’m going to live to be 128. I’m not betting on it.)
And then there are perfect squares. Jen’s last one was 25, but she’ll be square again in five years, when she turns 36. And the year after that, she can use her age as an excuse to quote Monty Python and the Holy Grail: “I’m 37! I’m not old!” Well, she can if she’s as much of geek as I was. Of course, that means that when you turn 42, you have to point out to everyone that your age is the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything.
Actually, I suppose you have to be a geek to play this game at all, don’t you?

Aug 15

Look it up!

I just sent the following e-mail to National Public Radio:

Subject: Error in today’s story “A Brief History of New York Blackouts”

In his report on the New York blackouts of 1965 and 1977, John Nielsen stated that “in 1977, the war in Vietnam was on the nightly news.” Actually, the war ended in 1975. I’m sure Nielsen is right that the social changes wrought by Vietnam were a factor in the breakdown of order during the ’77 blackout — but that’s no excuse for getting basic historical facts wrong.

This may seem like nitpicking, but it isn’t. Journalists are supposed to verify their information before they go to press with it. It took me all of ten seconds to find out when the Vietnam War ended. Nielsen could have done the same thing, but he didn’t bother. And the editors and fact-checkers at NPR didn’t notice the error, either.
If Nielsen and NPR aren’t willing to do simple, easy research like this, how can we trust them with real investigative journalism?

Aug 11

Now why didn’t I think of this?

James Lileks has come up with an idea that should have occurred to me in 1989. In a column about his daughter’s third birthday, he writes:

I got her a car. A real one. No, she can’t drive it; she’s only 3. I’m just thinking ahead 13 years when she hints that a car would make a great birthday present.

I already got you one, I’ll say. You never used it.

Alas, it’s too late to use this trick on Ruth. Anyway, we already told her that she has dibs on the ’95 Neon when she gets her license. Oh, well. (But maybe Ruth can use the idea on her children.)

Aug 06


It’s been over a month since my last post here, and I’m not sure when I’ll be able to return to regular blogging. This is not from lack of interest, but lack of time and energy. I’ve recently had five weekends in a row when I was either out of town, involved in all-day activities, or sick. I’ve found that this sort of thing does more than just screw up your weekends; it also pushes all of the usual weekend tasks like laundry and yard work into the weekday evenings, ensuring that you have no spare time at all. And to make life even more exciting, several of my projects at work have become quite demanding, causing me to stay late on weekday evenings.
Yeah, yeah. Nobody wants to read a litany of excuses. But I thought I should post something here to let my readers (assuming I still have any) know that I haven’t given up, and I will be back.
In the meantime, here’s a link to a bunny with pancakes on his head. His name is Oolong, and you can see him balancing lots of other things on his head at this site.