The wedding toast

The wedding toast that I gave at Mike and Rebecca’s wedding on 26 July:

I’m Rudy, one of the groomsmen along with Dave and John. We’ve been friends for absolutely ages. I’ve known Dave for coming up on twenty years; and we’ve known John for… it must be, oh, at least twenty hours now. You’ll notice that we’re getting married in roughly inverse hairline order.

Fifteen years ago, we took pity on Mike… and let him hang out with us and be our friend. We were so young then, barely out of college, and scrabbling to establish our lives and our careers. We didn’t have a lot of material possessions, but we were rich in friendships. I drove a second-hand Toyota Corolla with a defective door handle; Dave drove a Mustang, which I’m still not convinced had any suspension; Mike drove what looked like a hand-me-down Honda Civic, a very sensible car.

When we first met Mike, Dave and I thought, “oh, the poor guy. He’ll never be able to meet anyone to date, let alone get married.” It wasn’t because of where his hairline might be going, nor because he drove a ratty car. It was because when he showed up at his date’s place to pick her up, she could see the decal on his car’s rear window proudly proclaiming that he attended Starfleet Academy. He was quite the geek then.

We’re glad that Mike met Rebecca, who probably has smacked some sense into him. I notice that our tuxedos are very tasteful in black and white. Left to his own devices, I’m sure Mike would have picked Captain Kirk yellow for his tux, and red-shirts for the rest of us groomsmen.

With that being said, I would like to propose a toast that will be right up Mike’s alley, and offer a word of advice. To Mike and Rebecca: live long and prosper, and for goodness sake, don’t let your kid grow up as a space cadet.

Last day

Last day. Capricorn 29’s. Year of the city 2274. Carousel begins.

In Logan’s Run, upon their thirtieth birthday, everyone was on their last day, where they would enter into a ceremony called carousel in which they would undergo renewal and be reborn. In reality, nobody was ever renewed.

Today is my last day at work. I won’t be coming in to this office anymore; my renewal will be with another firm. For the first time in my seventeen year working career, I am out of a job. I’ve been retrenched and next week will be unemployed.

Technically, this is still my first post-college job, although I’m on my fifth company. I’ve survived numerous layoffs, mergers and acquisitions, and sell-offs, and have always been part and parcel of every transaction that saw the company name or ownership change. This latest development is the company principal wanting to do a drastic head count reduction. I saw this company go from a start-up in my boss’ home’s basement to being acquired by a near billion dollar company, and then being sold off again as small, lean, entrepreneurial firm, and now a company in shambles as it tries to operate with an understaffed IT group trying to pick up the pieces of the esoteric and complex processes that I dealt with everyday for the last few years in my cube.

Packing my belongings from my cube, I find the old reminders of the early days at the company. There is the superball that we used to randomly throw over the cubicle walls hoping that it would land or bounce onto a developer’s keyboard. There is also the small, hollow tube that I used as a blowpipe shooting wads of paper at the other programmers in the office. So, the denouement of my history at this job are the knick-knacks and toys that pack into a simple cardboard box, which I carry with me on my last exit from the building.

The first group

It isn’t true that Sirius doesn’t have any commercials on its programming. They just run their music channels without commercials. And just as well; I was listening to CNN on Sirius when I caught their commercial saying that in conjunction of the impending opening of Mamma Mia the movie, they are for a limited engagement dedicating their channel three to all ABBA all the time. They’re calling it ABBA Radio. I’m in heaven.

ABBA was truly the first musical group I ever listened to and followed. I was sooo young. I’m not even sure how I discovered them, but it likely might have been seeing them on TV after they won the Eurovision Song Contest. I remember walking what must have been miles (alone in those days) to get to a movie theater that doesn’t even exist anymore to watch ABBA: The Movie.

The first full album I ever listened to was ABBA’s Super Trouper; prior to that album it never occured to me to listen to a whole album; I just listened to whatever made the top of the charts on the radio. I discovered The Go-Go’s that way on the radio with their We Got the Beat. Later, I would go back to find Voulez-Vous and other previous albums all the way back to Ring Ring. Unknown to me, the seeds of ABBA’s eventual dissolution were already planted by the time Voulez-Vous was released. I thought they would make music forever. It never occured to me that it would end with The Visitors. After their final album, I kept waiting and waiting for another album, and wondering when another album would be released.

ABBA and The Go-Go’s remain two of my favorite musical groups; there’s a lot of nostalgia in it for me; they remind me of a very carefree and innocent childhood filled with discovery.

Counting down…

As of today, I have one more month of employment, after which I will be retrenched.

I’m not entirely certain what I should be doing at the office during this last month. Should I keep working on the initiatives on which I’ve been working, knowing that I probably won’t be able to complete them in time, and that it’s unlikely that any other programmer will pick up the effort after I leave? Most of my code deals with configuration management; it’s not customer facing. So it’s not like if I don’t finish my work, a customer will notice its absence and demand its implementation. My work deals with configuration management and comes into play when changes need to be made to the database: my code makes managing rolling out these changes easier, more reliable, and more robust. At least I’m not getting a slap in the face by being tasked to train-up an employee or outsourced employee who is replacing me at a lower salary.

On the other hand, it is a bit of a refreshing feeling, coming in to work and knowing that I can largely skive and get away with it, since no one will really be gauging my productivity anymore, and I can spend my day working on my resume and looking for a new job. But still, it leaves me with an uneasy feeling that I’m about to go out without a safety net, and not having a job for much longer.

The head-count reduction that the company principal wanted may be going deeper than he anticipated. He’s let go of about half the development team, added to those who have voluntarily jumped ship on the first hint of lay-offs in the pipeline, plus those of us still here but actively searching for new jobs because we don’t see any future in the company anymore. Whomever is left, which may be down to a number you can count on one hand and possibly one finger, is really only enough staff to come in everyday to monitor for problems and reboot the servers if things do go wrong.

Abandon ship!

For the first time in my decade and a half of working career, I am facing the prospect of being retrenched and having to look for a job. I was hired right as I graduated and have held on to my first job even though I’m on my fifth company. In the time since I was first hired, the company has been mergered and acquired, sliced and diced then sold, reacquired, and I have been passed along to each new ownership.

The company for which I work now has been operating as leanly as possible; we run like the early days of dot-com startups. Our job descriptions basically fall into one of two departments: customer service, or software development/QA. We don’t have any dedicated IT staff to minister the network or servers. All of us wear multiple hats as programmers in addition to network, server, and system administrators. There is no tier-1 support staff from whom difficult trouble tickets would escalate to the development group; we as the non-customer facing department are hit directly when goes wrong with the production system and we serve as the first-line of support.

The absentee principal in the company lives and works in a different state, so he’s rarely if ever in our office space. He conducts his management of the company primarily by email and phone. He recently has decided to reduce head count in the development group down to a level that we in the local office feel is unsustainable for continued operations. With as deep a staffing cut that he desires, those of us left would be in a position only to watch and we would no longer have staffing flexibility to do any development nor management beyond putting out fires as errors occur in the production system, even then we might not have enough resources to fix the error beyond diagnosing and acknowledging that a valid bug existed, and to tell our customers not to perform that operation in the future.

On Friday afternoon, he let go a key staff member. Immediately after that layoff was announced, none of us felt safe anymore, knowing that the next cut could indiscriminately be any one of us; it was like a gunshot had gone off in the room. The whole development team resembled rats abandoning a sinking ship. What little more time that we endured in the office that day was spent on cell phones lining up head-hunters and job searches, and commiserating the loss of our colleague.

We left work early and went to the pub around the corner to finish off this disastrous day.

One thing led to another…

a bottle of Marmite I recently developed the biggest craving for Marmite and ended up spending some time reading the Marmite Wiki article about this savory, yummy goodness.

Marmite and its closely related cousins Boril (Bovril Wiki entry) and Vegemite (Vegemite Wiki article) are by most accounts acquired tastes, usually requiring to one to have been exposed to it at a fairly young age to be able to tolerate or like it in later years. There is also apparently the Swiss version of Cenovis, but its sales seem to be limited to Switzerland. For me, I grew up with Marmite and Bovril but I don’t recall particularly liking nor disliking it; just something that I remember having as a child. So it came somewhat as a surprise to me that I really wanted to have some Marmite recently.

I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen these yeasty bottles in the local supermarkets before, but certainly on my recent foraging trips, I couldn’t find any. So I did what every well-connected netizen would do: I mail-ordered it from an Internet site. While I was at the business of ordering Marmite, I decided that I might as well augment the order and pad it with a second bottle of Vegemite, and a pot of Bovril. Then it was time to wait for the order to arrive.

In the same vein of acquired taste foodstuffs is natto, a Japanese item of fermented soybeans. For many people, the off-putting thing about natto is its slimy, sticky texture. This guy, Steve, I’m almost certain, is not a natto lover if his blog on his natto eating experience is any guide. I, however, happen to love natto, and at sushi restaurants, I almost always try to order a natto temaki if available. It occured to me that having to go to a sushi restaurant for my natto fix might better be fixed by visiting the local Japanese grocery store and getting my own in-house supply of natto, so that I may partake of it at will on my schedule.

From the most informative Wiki article on natto, I learned that in Japan, natto is commonly eaten with rice as a breakfast food. That seemed like a capital idea, although I couldn’t countenance natto on those mushy 90-second microwavable rice packs. This would need freshly made rice.

So starting with Marmite, through Vegemite and Bovril, to natto, and then to rice, one thing has led to another, and now I find myself the proud owner of a rather expensive, but very capable, computerized rice maker, which to its credit makes very good and convenient rice.

Mattie Cat

In my life, I have had to say good-bye to two cats. The first was Tumbles, years ago. He was an orange cat, who toward the end had lost control of his bowels, and it turned out to be a lower GI tumor. I didn’t get to say good-bye per se. His owner had taken him to the vet, who kept Tumbles overnight for tests and observation. We went back the next day, and were told that it was inoperable. Tumbles’ mom made the decision to put him to sleep. We weren’t there for the procedure, and the vet kept the body because the ground was too frozen in the winter to bury Tumbles. I wonder if Tumbles and Mattie might recognize each other in kitty heaven by their common shared bond through having known me.

Mattie’s very fast decline started with paraparesis about a week and a half ago. An ultrasound at that time revealed an abdominal mass; the blood tests took several days to process, and on its return, the CBC showed abnormal cells. The vet diagnosed Mattie with feline lymphoma and possible sepsis from a tumor on her intestinal wall, and prescribed a mega dose of antibiotics to control the infection, steroids to alleviate the tumor symptoms, and a fentanyl patch to control her pain.

On Friday last, Sara decided it was time to put Mattie to sleep, and I got to spend about half an hour with Mattie to say my good-bye. Mattie had been refusing food for four days, and was beginning to refuse water. When I got to Sara’s place, Mattie was lying on a loose pile of clothes on a throw rug, and looking very sad. I laid on the ground next to her and scratched her under her chin which she’s always liked. I felt bad for all the times that I pushed her away while I was encamped on the couch typing on my laptop computer. And now, I was trying to pack in a lifetime of happiness for her into the thirty minutes we had. If it could have made any difference now letting me make Mattie happier or healthier, I would have let Mattie type all she wanted on my keyboard. Mattie was still concious, and I’d like to think that she still recognized me, laying her head on my hand for affection. Then she looked around, as if she was looking for something, so I offered her some water which she lapped up. After the water, she continued looking around, so I offered her some tuna, of which she ate some. She moved around a bit, but never really getting up on her hind legs, mostly just using her front legs to scramble about.

Mattie Cat and laser dotI pulled out the laser pointer, which always fascinated her and in better times caused her to go chasing after it all over the apartment. Mattie was still lucid enough to take a weak, little swipe at the red laser dot. I will forever remember this image of her as the last happy time she spent with me. Of all the days of playing this game, on this day today, she finally got to catch the little red dot. And then it was time for her to go to the vet.

That Friday turned to be a reprieve; the vet’s opinion was that Mattie had improved significantly, and that the steroid was doing its job in reducing size of Mattie’s tumor, even though it was by no means a cure. At the vet, Mattie was showing an interest in her surroundings, and grooming herself somewhat, which meant that she still wanted to live. So it was with hopeful optimism that Sara brought Mattie back home again, and it would be day-by-day to see if Mattie would continue to improve.

Late morning Sunday, Sara texted me, saying that it was time. After some initial improvement including on Saturday, Mattie woke up Sunday morning miserable. I met them at the animal hospital. Mattie was looking very sad and tired and showed no interest in anything. The nurse took Mattie away for a few minutes to get an IV line started in preparation and while they had her also made a little impression of Mattie’s paw in a clay disk for Sara to keep. Sara then had Mattie on her lap and I was right next to them, and we comforted Mattie as the hospital did their paperwork. Then it was time; the little moving around we had to do caused Mattie to groan in pain, but she was otherwise listless; she was ready to go. We kept on petting and stroking her, letting her know that she was in the hands that loved her in her final moments. The vet gave Mattie the bolus of euthanasia drug. Mattie perked up a bit, raised her head and looked around with clear, sparkling eyes; the vet had warned us about this, it was just her body releasing some endorphins and cats get excited; it was less than a second. Then she put her head down one final time, and was quietly gone.

All things water

I’ve never been that big on swimming nor water activities. Nevertheless, I find myself in or on the water quite a lot these days.

Crew rowing has always been a passion of mine since I discovered it in college. I’ve never truly managed to leave the sport, even as I quit it for a few years, and I return to it a few years later. Sara brought me back to rowing this time when she signed up to do the corporate crew program at the boat house. So, I’m back to coaching sweep rowing. At the same time, an opportunity presented itself for me to learn sculling. Years ago, when I was sweep rowing, I took up sculling, and the sum total of my sculling instruction from my then coach Liz was her telling me, “remember it’s left over right; everything else is left-over. You’ll do fine; go out and have fun.” So I consider this recent sculling instruction as filling in the blank spots for which I never had to the opportunity to learn.

Last weekend, Sara organized a rather good sized whitewater rafting trip at Ohiopyle. It was a wonderful weekend spent at a great lodge, and the Gear and Beer microbrew festival was also on the same weekend.

The other activity I picked up for this year is that I’m volunteering with Venture Outdoor for their kayaking (and biking) events. So I’m going to be on the river even more. I do remember that Lawrenceville spring break in Mexico, and kayaking in the Sea of Cortez and camping in the desert. That was a great school trip.


Against my better judgement, the Venus Flytrap that Kim had given me for Christmas is still alive. There’s been a constant renewal of greenery in the little pot: some green fingers of leaves have died off, but have always been replaced by other leaves coming up. In fact, the plant is absolutely thriving, if it can actually thrive in a pot barely larger than a shot-glass. I have more green things in there now than when I first received it. Admittedly, Kim had said that she won’t blame me if the plant died because she forgot to water it for quite a bit while awaiting gifting it to me. It looked sad enough when I got it that I thought it might be a hopeless case.

Kim had gotten idea of giving me the Flytrap because in high school, I had a venus flytrap, that accidentally died when I took it for a walk one night. I went to a boarding high school, and I was in the house (dorm) one night, with my Flytrap in hand, and walking it around. I had stopped in the hallway to talk with someone, I think it was Paul. Someone else came by and bumped into my elbow, which made me drop my plant onto Paul’s foot; Paul, sensing that something had landed on his foot, and not realizing that it was a poor plant, thought that an animal had latched onto his lower extremities, reflexively kicked. The plant and pot both launched up and bounced off the ceiling, before bouncing on the floor. The plant was never the same after that, and shortly later died, wasting away like people do in comas in the ICU. It would have probably died anyway because while I was attentive and feeding it meat from the cafeteria, my classmates were feeding it pistachios and pencil lead; not proper plant diet.

Coming back to the plant that Kim got me, in my first few weeks nursing it back to health, I worred that my house had no flies or mosquitoes upon which my pet plant could feast, so I was quite attentive in feeding it meat from a Wendy’s burger. However, the Flytrap never closed its trap. For a while, I thought that this plant too was in its agonal coma, waiting to die in the ICU that was my kitchen window ledge. Against my worst anxieties, it began to recover and grow. Then it occured to me, “this is a fscking plant! It doesn’t need meat; all it needs are sunlight and water, and it understands photosynthesis.”

And I don’t have to clean out any litter boxes.

On experts

Researchers John Hayes and and Benjamin Bloom have written that it takes about ten years to develop expertise in any of a wide variety of areas.

I’ve never considered myself truly an expert. Often, I’ll hear myself being introduced to our clients as the Oracle expert, which always surprises me, because I know there are so many dark corners of an Oracle database in which I have no idea of its workings.

By another measure, an expert is someone who is no longer obligated to follow conventional wisdom. Owing to his or her mastery of the subject matter, an expert is allowed to forge off the well-worn path, and develop in new and novel directions. Over time, perhaps these novel and unique directions may eventually become the new conventional wisdom for others to follow.

I’ve never considered myself truly a rowing expert, although I have spent at least a decade on-and-off with crew rowing. I’ve rowed stroke; I’ve coxed; I’ve coached; and I’ve taught. My rowing charges probably do view me as some sort of authority in rowing since they are learning from me how to row. They ask me questions for which I have well-reasoned answers. And I have gone off in my own direction on developed what I think are the best techniques for moving the boat through the water. Yet, I know I still am not fully an expert.