Life is a Mystery

23 April 2013 . Comments Off on Twenty Five Years

Twenty Five Years

I made the best decision of my life on a snowy April morning in 1987. Mary and I had been living with one another for several years and she had suggested a few times that we might make a commitment to do so for the rest of our lives. I was reluctant. I was afraid of becoming my father, of being unable to live out such a commitment without an alternate life and harbors of secrecy. I was afraid that saying I’d do anything for the rest of my life was a bit insane when I was only 24 years old.

We were living in Ohio at the time, and I woke up one April morning to find the world covered in white. An April snowstorm had transformed spring to winter overnight. The bright light of spring on the carpet of snow, the thick sticky white on the branches of the trees, struck me dumb with wonder. What a crazy spring. What a topsy turvy world. As I looked at the transformation outside I realized I could transform inside. I decided if God could be so impulsive as to drop snow on us in April, I could be crazy enough to say yes to Mary. We decided that morning to get married a year later, in April, whatever the weather.

We had a beautiful day, of course, no snow, many friends, and a wedding we structured so that our vows could be shared by many friends who were not (yet) allowed to be married. Saying yes to Mary and this path was the best decision I’ve ever made.

Mary and I have been blessed with two wonderful children and a wonderful journey together. Whatever the future holds, I am grateful to be on this road with Mary. It has not always been smooth sailing and I’ve railed at God (easier to believe in God when I’m angry) plenty of times for the awful and oppressive. But I’ve never been alone, because I find God in my nearest neighbor every day. As our rings say, “journey is reward.” Just being next to one another through thick and thin has been such a great reward.

So today, our twenty fifth anniversary, is a magical morning not for any of the grand plans we’ve made (it looks like we will simply be home together) but for the gift of a snowy April morning outside. This very gift 26 years ago helped me say “yes” to the partner of my life. I give thanks for another April snow, and for the reminder that life is full of the unexpected, transformations are possible, and even beneath the cold white blanket likes the promise of spring. I give thanks for Mary in my life. I love you, Mary!


28 July 2010 . Comments Off on Anchoring yourself

Anchoring yourself

I noticed long ago that our salaries tend to only be flexible at certain moments in time. One of these moments is the hire. I would always encourage staff, especially women, to ask for a bigger salary than they were being offered. There is no harm in asking, and there may be some flex in what you are being offered. Your employer will never be as flexible as they are at the moment of hire and all your future salary increases will be based on where you start. It is worth making some attempt to reset that starting point, I would counsel.

Today I came across an article that helps me understand the dynamic I was unconsciously tussling with: the anchoring effect. David McRaney describes it mostly in terms of sales and purchasing:

You walk into a clothing store and see what is probably the most bad ass leather jacket you’ve ever seen.

You try it on, look in the mirror and decide you must have it. While wearing this item, you imagine onlookers will clutch their chests and gasp every time you walk into a room or cross a street.You lift the sleeve to check the price – $1,000.

Well, that’s that, you think. You start to head back to the hanger when a salesperson stops you.

“You like it?”

“I love it, but it’s just too much.”

“No, that jacket is on sale right now for $400.”

Its expensive, and you don’t need it really, but $600 off the price seems like a great deal for a coat which will increase your cool by a factor of 11.

You put it on the card, unaware you’ve been tricked by the oldest retail con in the business.

It seems that we are wired to anchor our impressions of a number on a prior number we have associated with that item, whether or not that prior number has any basis in reality. This is what manufacturers suggested retail price is about. You may not be able to defend yourself from this anchoring effect even if you know about it. Read the article, I dare you to not succumb to the anchor.

But knowing about it, you may at least be able to use it to help yourself out from time to time. Be prepared to name a high anchor when it matters. And it matters when negotiating a starting salary. Aim high, it is your only real chance to do so, and they want you so they will at least entertain the notion. Value yourself, use the anchor!

Money. Some rights reserved by Vanessa Pike-Russell.

9 July 2010 . Comments Off on A day with Android

A day with Android

Those who know me know that I am a real Apple fan, and not the sort who discovered Apple with the iPod or iPhone. I discovered Apple with the Apple ][nex, fell in love with the Macintosh, followed Steve to NeXT where I learned Unix and NExTSTEP, and was blown away when these worlds merged into the renewed Apple and Cocoa/xCode. I am an Apple fan, and a real fan of the discipline and taste Steve Jobs brings to the company.

So it is odd that at this point I am the only person in my little family without an iPhone. Mary bought an iPhone two years ago, and has loved it. This summer she upgraded to the iPhone 4, gave her old 3G to Nathaniel, and Alex bought another iPhone 4 for college. Me? I’ve got a Motorola F3, practically no phone at all! I’ve resisted the iPhone for a lot of reasons, mostly to do with monthly costs that just don’t feel justifiable to me when I spend most of my days at home basking in the glow of WiFi. My reasons also include a deep discomfort of the way Apple is running the app store, even though I love the iPhone SDK and development environment.

This year my brother got a free Nexus One at the TED conference. Although I put in my plug for it the very day he got it, I only finally got it in the mail. It seems his daughter wanted to give it a go, and brothers just can’t compete with daughters, which is as it should be! Now I have an Android phone, I slipped my SIM out of the Motorola and have been using it for a day.

The Nexus One is a beautiful machine. Not quite as beautiful as any iteration of the iPhone, but very very close. It feels good in the hand, it has a wonderful screen (until you compare it to the Retina Display of the latest iPhone), and with the Android 2.2 operating system that came out just this week, it is as peppy and responsive as any device I’ve used. Google has done a wonderful job polishing the device and the OS to work really well together. If the iPhone didn’t exist, this phone would be outstanding!

There are a number of things Android does better than the iOS operating system in the iPhone. Multitasking is much more full-fledged than even in the new iOS4, enabling all kinds of nifty features. Widgets were a revelation to me, allowing me to place essentially larger versions of app icons on my phone desktop which contain live-updating information like the next calendar entry, current weather, latest headline, or most recent tweet. This makes the Android phone useful at a glance, where the iPhone is only useful after a tap on some app or other. Android also handles notifications much more gracefully than iOS. The status bar at the top of an Android device is a live notification zone that flashes brief messages and can be pulled down like a windowshade to reveal details about past notices. I can’t tell you how often I wished that the status bar on my iPad or Mary’s iPhone was “alive” to reveal more information, the Android windowshade is brilliant.

Android’s deeper implementation of multitasking also provides the user with a very different navigation model than the iPhone.

Most iPhone apps allow you to, essentially, move back and forth through a tree of information, like a hierarchical menu structure. As you leave one app and launch another, you enter a new tree. Depending on the app, when you return it may put you back on the same branch of the tree, or it may just plop you down on the trunk again. Multitasking on iOS allows you to decide when you want to jump from one tree to another more spontaneously, and makes it easier for the developer to make sure you land on the same branch when you return, but the trees still feel very independent of one another.

It took me some getting used to, but Android is a whole different beast. In Android, the apps are not really trees, they interact, intermingle, and the navigation moves seamlessly from one app to the next. I think this is why Android has a dedicated “back” button, so you can always go back to the last thing you were looking at. If an Android app brings up a web page, a simple click on that back button returns you to the original app and the very view you were looking at. You can, in fact, retrace all your steps right back to the home page this way. The experience is much more fluid than in iOS. I find myself forgetting the boundaries between apps altogether, the device become one whole organism more than the collection of apps I feel on the iPad or iPhone.

I am surprised to find that I am a big fan of Android! But it has some equally deep flaws. Flaws that may be showstoppers for me, and certainly may cause problems for real world users.

The Nexus One was commissioned by Google and built by HTC. These are two companies that know Android inside out and have a lot of experience building what David Pogue likes to refer to as “app phones.” And yet the N1 has wretched battery life. Left fully charged on my night table it was at 36% charge the next morning. An iPhone on the neighboring night stand still showed 100% charge in the morning. I have not been able to get through a whole day of normal use (for me anyway) without running down the battery. I’ve had it for a little less than two days and have already had to charge it three times. And it charges very slowly (at least with the USB cable). This poor battery life is probably closely related to the fabulous multitasking I so enjoyed. That takes power. Apple has constrained iOS in ways that feel draconian to developers and dysfunctional to some users, but these measures are aimed at conserving energy. And it works. Apple also makes much more radical hardware decisions, such as using a non-standard battery that virtually oozes into all the free space of the iPhone to give it as much power storage capacity as possible. Some reviewers count this as a negative, but I see the resulting longevity of the device as a big positive for real world users. The battery life itself almost makes the Nexus One a loser (and you will find many Android phones suffer from the same problem, read the reviews before you buy!).

While I love the freedom and fluidity of the Android OS, I am also a longtime avid computer user with a high tolerance for complexity. I like all the options I have in Android. I can follow the subtle flow from one app domain to the next, I notice the relationships between the widgets and the apps. But I imagine to many real world users this stuff will feel like magic. Some good, some quite dark. What app do you blame when something goes wrong? Why is the phone suddenly so slow? Why does the phone ring, but the screen present no way to answer the call? Where is that setting I was looking for? Android feels like it is aimed at a tech-savvy user, much like Linux. Most of the people I know will feel much more masterful using an iOS device. And being the master of your technology is an important factor in being comfortable with it.

Finally, I hate to say it, but the Android “Market” is no “App Store.” I thought the App Store had poor navigation and search until I met Market. It is not horrible, it does the trick, but it brings no joy to the experience of finding an app. And many key apps (Skype anyone?) are missing altogether. The technology press seems to believe that this will change, that many developers are going to jump on the Android bandwagon. I’m not so sure. For one thing, they are underestimating the seductive power of xCode, Cocoa, and the iOS framework. These are all tools that are over 15 years old! They started at NeXT and have been polished to a stunning glow at Apple. Developers who now experience the Apple way are, I believe, going to find it very hard to pull away. And porting to Android is no trivial feat. It is a whole different and less forgiving development toolkit (Eclipse), with a tougher programming language (Java), and much younger toolkit (GWT). The differences in the underlying navigation paradigms I discuss above also mean that many apps have to rethink at least a few basic assumptions before they are reborn. This is not super difficult, but it is also not trivial. I think it will take a few years for Android to attract these developers, and a few years more in Apple’s hands is a pretty big iOS advantage.

That said, this is also where Apple is by far the most vulnerable. As seductive as coding for iOS can be, the endpoint is only one place: the App Store. In my view Apple has been very abusive of its oversight of the App Store. Developers are starting to get very upset and quite verbal about their displeasure. If Apple does not significantly alter its ways in the next year or two, all bets are off. They could very well lose to Android as it improves and developers are pushed out by Apple itself.

I’ll be giving Android development a whirl. I have a trivial app of my own that Apple rejected. I’ll see what it takes to make it an Android app, maybe I’ll find the tools much more of a pleasure than I imagine.

Meanwhile, my bottom line is that I really like the Nexus One and Android 2.2. It is a wonderful device. I just wish it could keep its eyes open for at least a whole day at a time!


18 October 2009 . Comments Off on Delta Disses Macs

Delta Disses Macs

Here in the Twin Cities the Northwest/Delta merger has been big news. Minneapolis and Saint Paul was the hub for Northwest and thus it will be hard to fly in or out of Minnesota without encountering Delta. As a Mac user, I loved the web site. In almost 10 years of flying Northwest, I never had a Mac-related browser hitch. When you consider how Apple was doing 10 years ago, that’s pretty amazing.

Last week I used Delta’s web site for the first time. It had some major hiccups related to seat selection that prevented me from buying a ticket with Safari. I started over again with Firefox and all went well. OK, I thought, that is unfortunately more typical of the industry. I’ll just let them know and hopefully they will fix the bug.

I filed a report and got back the a form letter that said, among other things, the following:

To view, one of the following browsers is recommended:

Microsoft Internet Explorer 6.0 or higher
Firefox 2 or higher for Windows and Mac
Safari 2 or higher for Mac

Great! Safari was on the list. I wrote back pointing out I’d used Safari 4, which was supposed to be supported. That’s when I got this puzzling reply:

Currently, is designed and constructed to be best viewed by a
Windows-based, PC platform using Internet Explorer 6.0 (and higher), as
well as Netscape 7.2 (and higher) browsers. This was established based
on the dominant type of users throughout the industry. We regret that we
cannot guarantee service on every computer platform. However, we will
regularly review the Mac population of users and respond accordingly.

Huh? IE6 and Netscape7.2? Not even any support for the Mac until some further “regular review” happens? That does not sound very helpful. Given the penetration of Macs into the home market that sounds downright disrespectful of customers. Not to mention blind to the direction web standards are heading.

If anyone knows the right way to put pressure on Delta to fix, I’d love to hear it!


4 June 2009 . Comments Off on In awe: substance

In awe: substance

Somewhere in 2007, when I was not yet blogging again, I began to articulate my hopes for an Obama presidency. One foundation on which my hope for change rested was the simple symbolism of his name and skin color. I wanted to be able to hold his image before the world as a concrete demonstration that the US was changing course. He hardly had to do more than exist, I imagined, to make the world a better place.

Today that vision became real, and so much more. Barack Obama not only exists, he invites, engages, and challenges the world. He calls us all to be better than we have been. His speech in Cairo makes me feel like we are not in Kansas anymore (so to speak). We have entered a new era.

Without leadership painting a vision of the world we want it is very hard to act together toward a constructive end. Obama is laying that vision out, and the world he envisions is a world I want to live in. It is a world I want to work to create. I doubt I am alone. I think we are in the presence of true leadership.

All of us share this world for but a brief moment in time. The question is whether we spend that time focused on what pushes us apart, or whether we commit ourselves to an effort — a sustained effort — to find common ground, to focus on the future we seek for our children, and to respect the dignity of all human beings.

It’s easier to start wars than to end them. It’s easier to blame others than to look inward. It’s easier to see what is different about someone than to find the things we share. But we should choose the right path, not just the easy path. There’s one rule that lies at the heart of every religion — that we do unto others as we would have them do unto us. (Applause.) This truth transcends nations and peoples — a belief that isn’t new; that isn’t black or white or brown; that isn’t Christian or Muslim or Jew. It’s a belief that pulsed in the cradle of civilization, and that still beats in the hearts of billions around the world. It’s a faith in other people, and it’s what brought me here today.

We have the power to make the world we seek, but only if we have the courage to make a new beginning, keeping in mind what has been written.


22 May 2009 . Comments Off on Coping with Mary Jane

Coping with Mary Jane

I’ve never smoked a thing, much less marijuana. On the other hand, I don’t feel terribly judgmental about pot. If anything, I think it is probably on par with alcohol, redeeming social qualities in a package I just don’t happen to enjoy (I run from smoke). It amazes me we spend so much energy outlawing the stuff, that seems like a true waste of time.

Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish has spent a good bit of time covering cannabis this season. Today I noticed two posts that discuss the value of pot in taming the emotional outbursts that attend Aspergers Syndrome.

One reader of the Dish writes:

I first tried cannabis at age 17. I quickly found that when I was medicated, people around me coped far better with my eccentricities. Like many ASDs I have a violent and explosive temper and am often described, especially by women, as a “Scary Guy.” The cannabis increases my tolerance for interruption and also helps me be more extroverted and therefore social.

Another chimes in with:

Example: my morning routine is to wake up early, put on a pot of coffee, let the dog out, pour my cup of coffee, let the dog back in, stir in my cream, then sit on the couch and read or listen to my iPod until my coffee is done. If I haven’t been smoking regularly, and my girlfriend comes down and lets out the dog BEFORE I put on the pot of coffee, that will completely ruin my day if not my entire week. I’ll be irritable by the time I get to work, and liable to snap at the smallest provocation.

On the other hand, if I had smoked the night before, I will notice that my routine has been jockeyed, but it just won’t bother me that much. The same goes for my social connections; when I smoke, I reflect upon, and come to value a social connection, but it’s a cognitive process for me… It’s not something I do naturally, and it’s not something I’m inclined to do if I’m sober (my mind says, “THERES NO TIME, THERES NO TIME”)

Now I wonder, might judicious use of cannabis help, for example, Alex cope with daily life? What if it were available in a non-smoking, perfectly legal form? I get angry all over again that we spend out time outlawing something so benign as marijuana. What a waste.


11 May 2009 . 1 Comment

Worst case scenario

Mary loves walking Nathaniel to the school bus because it is a time that he often shares things happening in his life that she might not otherwise learn about. I can understand that. I love those moments of sharing. Still, I wish we could let our kids go a bit further afield. The other day I let Nathaniel go to the local park with two friends to play basketball. That earned me a horrified look and an order to head over to the park myself to keep an eye on the three of them. I went, I played b-ball too, I had fun. But I failed to let Nathaniel and his friends own the afternoon.

Today Andrew pointed me to an interview of Lenore Skenazy. Remember her? She let her 9 year old ride the subway alone in New York, earning all sorts of praise and condemnation. I believe she is right, we fundamentally wrap our kids in too much “protection”. They need room to grow, we keep them in pots way too small.

You want kids to feel like the world isn’t so dangerous. You want to teach them how to cross the street safely. You want to teach them that you never go off with a stranger. You teach them what to do in an emergency, and then you assume that generally emergencies don’t happen, but they’re prepared if they do. Then, you let them go out.

The fun of childhood is not holding your mom’s hand. The fun of childhood is when you don’t have to hold your mom’s hand, when you’ve done something that you can feel proud of. To take all those possibilities away from our kids seems like saying: “I’m giving you the greatest gift of all, I’m giving you safety. Oh, and by the way I’m taking away your childhood and any sense of self-confidence or pride. I hope you don’t mind.”

Amen. Of course, some kids will be hurt this way, but you know, kids get hurt every way you turn. How do kids get hurt the most? By being in cars with their parents.

We visit my grandmother in Austria regularly. On a recent trip my kids worked up a “Vienna Culture” comic book. Many pages were devoted to public transit, and one in particular to kids taking public transit to school. Alone. Heck, I took public transit alone in Cleveland, Ohio, from third to sixth grade. Why do we run school busses hither and yon instead of making public transit more multi-age and core to our society?

We worry so much about the worst case scenario instead of celebrating the varied and welcoming world around us. The irony is that the more we wall ourselves and our children off from the chaotic and beautiful world around us, the more that world loses its light and our children fail to thrive. Sounds like a vicious cycle to me.


7 May 2009 . Comments Off on Partners in Cleveland

Partners in Cleveland

Today my home town of Cleveland, Ohio, began to accept domestic partner registrations. As bigger dominos fall around the country (yeah Maine yesterday!) this can seem like a small step. But even small steps help move us forward. I particularly like that heterosexual couples are registering, some in lieu of marriage, as an act of solidarity with gay friends. One couple writes:

We’ve both always felt strongly about equal rights for everyone, and for the past four months, we’ve been working with the gay-rights organization called Ask Cleveland, on their “Keep the Registry!” campaign. Marriage may be in our future somewhere down the line, but we feel it is important for us to show our support for the LGBT community by registering now.

When we were married, we shared our vows with everyone who joined us, because we knew many of them had not been allowed to share such vows with one another publicly. I am hopeful that the day is coming when our friends won’t be excluded from the peculiar pleasure and pain that is marriage.


3 April 2009 . 1 Comment

Black liquor

I think one brand of evil is extreme selfishness. Such as gaming a tax break just to pull in money even though you know you are doing the precise opposite of that the tax break was designed to accomplish. Why do people feel they can just wash their hands of this sort of behavior?

“The credit is supposed to encourage the use of green fuel.” Sure, I said, but isn’t it a bit weird you’re now adding diesel fuel to the process in order to take advantage of it? “It is what it is,” she said.

Who is this? Ann Wrobleski, vice president for global government relations at International Paper. What did they do? IP and other paper manufacturers added diesel fuel to the “black liquor” they use to cook fibers and make paper. Black liquor is the carbon-rich residue of the paper making process and until now has been sufficient to fuel the process without any diesel additive. Why add diesel? Because that allows the paper moguls to claim a tax credit for the use of a fuel mixture that combines “alternative fuel” with a “taxable fuel”. Get that? They add fossil fuel to a biofuel and claim the mixed fuel credit, even though for decades the biofuel alone has been sufficient for the industry.

The current estimate is that this will net the industry $8 billion in tax credits. So $8 billion of our tax dollars is going to fund this travesty! Your money, my money, paying to burn diesel for no reason other than to line paper pockets!

Read the whole story at The Nation. Get angry. Write your Senator and congressperson.


Update: Slashdot has picked up the story.

2 April 2009 . Comments Off on Designing a newspaper

Designing a newspaper

There is a lot of handwringing about the death of the newspaper these days. But I found myself arguing, a couple weeks ago, that a newspaper could still be viable. I thought it would take some real embrace of the medium, the opportunities a printed page offers to one-up the experience of the screen in resolution, beauty, and context. Little did I know there was already such a pathfinder out there.

I love how Utko focused on the constraints of the printed page, and then pushed up to those boundaries. He does not let any of us off the hook, anyone, with or without budget, with or without staff, anyone can push to be better than good.

Eric Celeste / Saint Paul, Minnesota / 651.323.2009 /