Sparing. Hating.

Curling is nothing like life.

One of them involves desolate expanses of ice littered with obstacles where you try to annihilate anyone that gets in your way and the other is a winter sport played by…

You get the idea. Nothing at all alike. (Except that alcohol sometimes makes both easier.)

Sparing, though, is different. In one fairly tenuous way, it is a little like life. (More on that later.)

I’ve mentioned before that a curling team consists of four people. If one of them can’t make it, you get a spare because playing with three is often suboptimal. (Although we played a team of three the other night in the semi-final of the ‘not really that good at all’ division and they came within 2.54 centimetres of kicking our posteriors. Suboptimal indeed.)

I like sparing.

For one thing, you get to play different positions. On your own team, you usually play the same position every game; sometimes it’s nice to stretch a little and try something else. For another, there’s usually not a whole lot of pressure: when a team asks you to spare they’re usually satisfied if you show up more or less on time (I usually come through the door about three minutes before the start of a game), get along reasonably well with everyone on the team and don’t embarrass yourself too badly. (If you can hear the skip grinding his teeth when you throw a stone you should probably work on your game a little if you expect to be asked again.)

Despite my chronic near-lateness, incredibly inconsistent play and unnecessarily abrasive personality I get a fair number of calls, often from the Senior‘s league. (It’s not that old guys like long-haired neurotics wearing tie-dye that much, it’s just that two of the ‘not just old guys’ leagues conflict with hockey so mostly people in those leagues don’t bother calling.)

So I got a fair number of calls this season — enough that over the year I played every position, played for lots of different teams and ate a lot of lunch. (On Mondays there’s a pretty good lunch. Homemade pulled pork for the price of a cold beverage is a darned good reward for spending two hours in an ice shed. Besides, a full tummy helps the rest of the team forget the time I ‘accidentally’ threw my broom at the lead. (He started it.))

Late in the season a very nice man who I’ve never seen wear a fez (not Gordon Sumner — the guy I threw my broom at) went somewhere warm for a few weeks and asked me to be him while he was gone. Just as he was about to come back, though, one of the other members of the team (an eighty-six year old French-Canadian with an amazing command of invective) had an accident involving a curtain rod and suffered a season-ending concussion. The skip asked if I could be him for the playoffs?

Me? Annoy someone with his blessing for several weeks?  (This is where the comparison of sparing to life comes in. Or, to be more precise, marriage. Sparing is nothing like marriage, of course, but… Rita Rudner puts it pretty well.)

(Sometimes it’s not a bad thing to be annoying. Well, not too bad. Or too annoying. Sometimes.)

Anyway, he (I’ve mentioned him before – the guy with the ugly lamp) asked me to annoy him for several weeks. I was up for that — I had the time, I had the tie-dye, I had the attitude. And the refreshments.

Wait, what?

When I curl I usually take a beverage with me — often a can of something, a can carefully chosen for its lurid packaging (usually not a mustachioed plumber, though). (This isn’t necessarily annoying, but it definitely boggles people — I’m often asked “What the hell is that?”) Most of the time, though, I just take tea in the least efficient beverage container ever invented. Last week I was standing with the skip watching the opposition discuss a shot. I was a little dry from my powerful [sic] sweeping so I grabbed my bottle of tea and started unscrewing the lid (when you’re as sloppy as I am, lids are just good thinking).

“What’s THAT?” he asked.

“Tea.”

“I hate tea.”

“You hate everything, though.”

“I don’t hate everything. I don’t hate [long pause] whiskey.”

It sure took a while to think of something he didn’t hate. I changed
the subject a little: “Uh huh. I bet you hate this shirt.”

He frowned. “I don’t hate that shirt.” Pause. “What is that, cabbage?”

Not quite the reaction I had expected.

Tie dye made by 'Costa Nada'

I’m not sure I’d want to eat coleslaw made from this.

Classifying

One day last summer while my gaze was fixed firmly on my bellybutton (apparently there’s a word for that) I threw some of the stuff I had written (everything I had ever written for this blog, for example) into an on-line text analysis tool. (I’m not sure but I may have used this one.) It told me a bunch of things. It told me that my ‘average’ sentence has just under ten words. (I’m not sure if that’s good or bad.) It told me that my text isn’t particularly easy to read. And it told me that I write like an annoying ten year old kid. (Well, it didn’t actually use the word ‘annoying’ and didn’t say ‘ten years old’ — it said ‘grade five’. I’m just reading between the lines and remembering what I was like in grade five — I was ten yers old and annoying. Heck, my grade five teacher — the large-glassesed Miss C — tried to strangle me one day. I don’t remember why, exactly, but I probably deserved it. It may have had something to do with politics. Yeah, right…)

Tonight I did it again.

Sort of — I looked for different information since I already ‘knew’ a few things. I asked it what language I write in — it said English with a zero percent chance of Hungarian. (Reassuring.) I asked it what topics I write about; it said Arts and Games. (That’s not what I would have said but what the hell do I know?) I asked it about mood; it said I was upset. (Well, I do rant a lot.) I asked it about sentiment; it said I was mostly negative. (No surprise there.) I asked it about gender and age.

Well.

It said I write like a woman in the age range 65-100.

So I’m a negative female senior citizen who babbles angrily about ‘the Arts’ in English at a fifth grade level.

Not entirely correct, but interesting.

At least this week there was no goo.

 

Sounding (a different kind)

Healthcare can be a funny thing.

Not that long ago I wouldn’t have thought that, but in the last year or so I’ve had a moderate amount of contact with the healthcare ‘process’ and I’ve changed my mind to some extent. (I mean, you meet a ton of people and people can be funny, you see a lot of technology and technology can be funny and there’s a large bureaucracy and bureaucracies can be funny when they’re not being frustrating and obstructionist — and sometimes even when they are.) In that time every single encounter with the health-care system has triggered my sense of the absurd to some extent. A couple of them were odd enough to make me want to write them down and inflict them on other people. One of those (an encounter with an MRI machine) caused flashbacks — to an ancient email routing syntax, to the best damn bulletin-board-ish system ever invented and to old memories of a Celtic songstress (one that Craig Ferguson meditates to). In the other (when I went to a clinic) I had an encounter with some technology that made me feel horribly inadequate and with a woman’s shoes that didn’t.

(Well, not as much.)

A lot of other stuff made me smile or just scratch my head. I’m lumping all that together here.

At the clinic, I was Summoned to the desk where two harried-looking receptionists (too big of a message to be conveyed by one person, I guess) told me that despite the fact that I had a little appointment card thingy, I did not in fact have an appointment — so said The Computer. (Trust the Computer. The Computer is your friend. Keep your laser handy.) A piece of surrealist (or at least absurdist) theatre followed after which I walked home and tried to decide if I was more like Vladimir or more like Estragon.

It didn’t get any less absurd: when they sent me away they gave me a phone number — I was to wait three days, reflect on paramagnetic contrast agents, then phone that number.  When I called the number, though, I got voice mail — the message said (a) that they (whoever ‘they’ were) wouldn’t return my call and (b) I should fill out a form I didn’t have and had never seen. Neither of those seemed relevant to my particular circumstances so I phoned back. And phoned back. And phoned back.

For five days.

When I eventually spoke to someone her first question was “Who gave you this number?” When I babbled incoherently about orange shoes and Irish playwrights she seemed confused. I think she gave me an appointment just to make me go away.

When I eventually saw the doctor, we talked for a while, he stuck pins in me (“Can you feel that?” “YES!”) and then sent me off for more tests. That was kind of what I expected (except for the pins — that part was a surprise).

On the day of the first test, I was walking down a hallway toward the relevant office to check in (and hoping there wouldn’t be a touchscreen) but before I got there I was accosted by a guy in a white coat. At the sight of the white coat I cringed, scrabbled against the wall and shrieked like a character in a 1997 video game. (Very dignified.) He waited patiently until I calmed down then asked if I was there for an appointment. Yes I was; I was on my way to tell ‘them’ I was there. Don’t bother, he said.

Say what? That’s practically seditious — you always tell ‘them’ you’re there. (Of course, it might be better if I didn’t check in — the check-in process couldn’t make me feel inadequate if there was no check-in process.)

The next test was on a Friday evening sometime after 9 PM. I wandered
empty halls, looked at empty offices and surveyed the empty check-in
counter.  How could I check in with nobody there? But then I spotted a
sign. The sign told me to find the waiting room and wait.

Finding the waiting room was a bit of a challenge — it was down a (deserted) hallway, hang a right, walk about half a mile, turn right again, walk another half mile, then turn left. In the waiting room were the usual waiting room furnishings — hideous yet strangely uncomfortable chairs, ancient magazines and… another sign.

A sign that said to go back to the check-in desk.

Apparently the check-in process involved walking back and forth between the check-in desk and the waiting room. That seemed a little odd but I can occasionally be an obliging sort, so I started walking.

While walking down the (empty) hallway to the waiting room for about the third time I bumped into a technician (maybe there’s something to this no-check-in check-in process after all) in a white coat (Aieeee!) who told me to get ready for an injection from a giant, comic-opera syringe. (AIEEEEEE!)  Suddenly, the uncomfortable chairs in the waiting room looked very attractive.

Scanned artwork from the 1985 Golden Age of Champions role-playing-game supplement.

Not exactly as shown

But that’s not what I was going to talk about. I was going to talk about ultrasounds.

One of the battery of tests that I took (an examination of my neck) apparently suggested that an ultrasound of my abdomen was in order. Well, okay. You’re the professionals. I didn’t know much about ultrasounds; in fact, I knew exactly two things: they were usually nonthreatening (and hence would probably not involve any Syringes Of Unusual Size) and I could probably wear my glasses so I wouldn’t walk into walls and things and generally look like a schlemiel.

I learned two more things that day.

Firstly, ultrasounds involve goo. My understanding (dim at best) is that goo aids in the transmission of acoustic energy from the transducer to the middle-aged lump of meat. (I read a little about matching acoustic impedances but I got dizzy and my eyes glazed. Give me a good old-fashioned set of general relativistic matching conditions any day of the week.) The goo isn’t sticky or anything but they use a lot of it, it gets everywhere, and they give you a towel the size of a postage stamp to clean up afterward.

The second thing I learned is that ultrasound technicians have a sense of humour. (I was going to say more, but let’s just leave it at that, shall we?) After squirting me with about a liter and a half of goo and poking me with his thingy (no, not that kind) for a while, he said the three little words that every fiftysomething male desperately wants to hear:

“You’re not pregnant.”

Well, that was a relief. (Probably an ultrasound technician staple when dealing with middle-aged men, I decided.)

Six months later there was a ‘followup’. And that meant another cold examination table, more goo in my shorts and a slightly larger postage stamp. This technician was a nice lady with a sore arm and a limited conversational repertoire (“Take a deep breath.” “Roll to your left.” “You can leave now.”) So limited, in fact, that  she didn’t make the joke.

Oh.

So what am I supposed to make of that?

Searching. And not whacking. (Or sighing.)

I’ve said before that I’m interested in/entertained by what brings people here. (Clearly, most people aren’t looking for self-indulgent drivel but what are they looking for?) Yesterday, for example, I was informed that someone was here because he (or she, I suppose, but I’m unable to bring myself to use ‘they’ as a third-person-singular pronoun) typed the following into a search engine:

what does the h and * mean on a curling score board

My first thought was “that might be a googlewhack.” It isn’t, of course — I was tired and didn’t think it through. It can’t be a googlewhack because it’s more than two words. (Googlewhacks are two and only two words. I’ve only ever found one — some years ago a search for ‘studebaker stoolpigeon’ (and I won’t say what I was looking for) only returned one hit. These days it’s over fifteen thousand. Things change, I guess.)

It’s also not a googlewhack because it returns more than one hit. In fact, it returns eight. One of them (#5) leads you here.

That’s interesting. Weird, but interesting.

Maybe I should make some wild assumptions and try to come up with an explanation. Just, you know, in case he comes back.

There are at least two kinds of curling scoreboard. At the club level  the scoreboard is slightly arcane; it’s used because it’s easy to predict the exact number of score ’tiles’ that will be needed to play a game. (That kind of scoreboard is explained here.) I’m betting that my visitor was looking for something else, though — he was from Canada and Canadian TV is currently showing the Women’s World Championship. On TV they don’t use that style of scoreboard — they use a slightly less arcane style with many, many more tiles. It’s
easier to read that way and doesn’t require any explanation. Fine.

Besides ‘lots of tiles’, the TV scoreboard has also has a couple of other features the curling club scoreboard lacks. I suspect that’s what he was trying to understand. The TV scoreboard often includes a tile to indicate who currently has last rock. (This information can be determined from the curling club scoreboard, but it’s a little easier with the extra tile.) That tile often has a picture of a hammer (because having last rock advantage is often called ‘the hammer’) but I suspect that’s the ‘h’ he’s wondering about. The ‘*’ he’s wondering about is probably the scoreboard notation to indicate who had last rock advantage in the first end. Probably.

Now I just have to figure out a clever explanation for ‘Unknown search terms.’

Skating (with the man)

(Not waiting for one — even though I like the song.)

I have a problem with authority.

I have problems with a lot of things (it’s all part of my… let’s just call it ‘charm’) but authority is definitely one of them. I have issues with pretty much every type of authority figure that exists (Ms. Rose can confirm that. Sir Rose can confirm that. Heck, anyone can confirm that.) but I have a special place in my…. um… (not heart, but you know what I mean) for academic authority figures. Teachers. Administrators. Teachers who administrate. I remember being a grad student and hanging up the phone on the Dean of Graduate Studies when he sort of phoned me but didn’t. (He didn’t phone me — some subordinate did. The phone rang, I said hello and the voice said “Mr. Glace?  Please hold for Dean M.”  I counted to ten, he still wasn’t there so I hung up. He called back. I knew he would. Or the flunky would. Someone. I can be such a jerk sometimes.)

And that brings me to The Man.

The Man has been mentioned before. In general terms, The Man is an anthropomorphic personification of authority. In the current context however, The Man is a talented young lady who used to live around the corner from me but couldn’t bear the proximity (I almost said ‘propinquity’ but that has several inappropriate connotations.) and moved. She stopped fleeing when she was two hundred kilometers away, clearly assuming that was far enough. (I’m just that annoying.) She’s a university professor, which almost makes her an authority figure. She’s also occasionally a department head which definitely makes her one — which is why I call her The Man (Do it now, kids — stick it to the man!). She hates that. So, of course, there’s not a chance in hell that I’ll stop.

Last Saturday — like most Saturdays; I’m a slave to routine — we (Ms. Rose and I) went to the Insomniac Capriform Cafe for breakfast. Last week was different because The Man and her family came too — Mr. The Man (mentioned under a different name in ‘Painting‘) and their lovely and talented daughter Miss The Man.

The Mans (The Men?) had come because they had proposed a post-breakfast trip to the nearby skating rink. (The one mentioned in ‘Skating‘.) I was interested to see if my ‘skating clothing’ theory (if you missed it, I observed that all female-type persons younger than some critical age wore pink, purple or pink and purple when visiting the rink) would hold on a second day.

It did. Heck, if anything, it seemed to hold more: there seemed to be more women wearing ‘skating colours.’ There was a toddler playing with her grandfather, a retired MPP (at first I thought they were dancing). She had pink pants and a purple hat. There was a slightly older young lady in snow pants (not pink) and a painfully pink helmet. There was a twentysomething woman (significantly older than the previous ‘cutoff’ age) in bright yellow skates (they make yellow skates?) and a neon pink sweater. Everywhere I looked there were ladies in pink and/or purple. I felt absurdly pleased with my theory.

Until.

Until I noticed an anomaly. It didn’t ruin my theory, exactly, but it certainly weakened it. Because there, wearing no pink or purple WHATSOEVER, was Miss The Man.

The Man.

Like I said, I have a problem with authority.

Installing

Some months ago, I talked a little about computer science education (but only in passing — it wasn’t the focus of the story). I’m going to do it again. Sorry about that. Blame Krista. It shouldn’t be too bad, though — once again it’s not really a big part of the story. Honest. Would I lie to you?

Once upon a time, not everyone had a computer. In those days, when one taught computer science, one needed a place for students to practice what they had been taught. A place to do assignments. A place to eat pizza at 3 AM the night before the assignment was due.

In short, a lab.

When I last took computer science (just after the last ice age) the lab was fairly simple. It consisted of three rooms: one full of 029s, one with a card reader and a line printer that would sometimes fling your deck of cards against the wall and a room full of tables, chairs, crumpled paper and many, many confused-looking undergraduates. Over in the corner was a harried-looking TC (a staff member whose job it was to fix recalcitrant equipment and help the confused-looking undergraduates look less confused) with a never-ending supply of anti-static spray. (Line printers generate unbelievable amounts of static electricity — more than a dryer full of gym socks, even.)

Time passed. Things changed — sometimes (but not always) for the better. Punched cards and all their associated paraphernalia vanished (that’s good). TCs disappeared (that’s bad). Confused-looking undergraduates didn’t change a whole lot (that’s probably inevitable). A couple of generations of lab came and went and in the early 90s, a couple of departments (computer science and electrical engineering) managed to negotiate a significant donation from a major computer company that no longer exists. This donation was to be used to build a new lab — one full of more or less state-of-the-art workstations. Computer science students would use it to (duh) learn computer science. Electrical engineering students would use it to run engineering-type applications (for example). The vendor would get publicity and a large tax write-off. Everyone would win.

Meetings happened. (Lots of meetings. Lots and lots of meetings. I hate meetings.) Eventually we nailed down what we were getting: a moderately powerful central server with ‘enough’ memory and disk, two dozen clients and enough network hardware to glue everything together. The computer company that no longer exists took the order, nodded sagely and went away. The local folks started renovations. The rooms were rewired and painted. Locks were changed. Snazzy new furniture was ordered and delivered. Two unfortunates (um, that would be Ms. Rose and I) pulled a couple hundred meters of RG-8, covering everything in sight with special cable-pulling lube in the process.

The first fly in the ointment was timing: the computer company that no longer exists couldn’t promise to deliver things well in advance of the school year. No problem, though, they could loan us a server; we could plan disk layouts, compile stuff and write tools that we might need. Stuff like that.

The loaner arrived quickly and we set to work. We learned the hardware. We learned Ultrix. We learned Hesiod. We learned arcane license `management` software. We learned a lot of stuff. We did surveys of faculty to determine what software they’d need and we installed it. Ms. Rose wrote an application to bulk create accounts — we knew we’d do that a lot. I compiled a pile of open source software tools (including emacs, of course). Eventually, the server was more or less ready and all we needed was ‘our’ hardware. And the room, of course.

That’s where we hit a large snag. (More than one, actually.) The room wasn’t ready (the rewiring, I think, but I don’t remember exactly) and ‘our’ hardware hadn’t arrived yet. And the start of classes was getting uncomfortably close. There was tension. There were phone calls. There were more meetings. There was finger-pointing. Finally, though, a giant (24 workstations is a lot of boxes) shipment appeared and the room was finished. We were good to go. The only trouble was that it was the afternoon of the Friday before the first day of classes. We had a weekend to install everything. No pressure, but they expected everything to be perfect at 8:30 Monday morning.

Of course, it got worse.

When we opened boxes and assembled the server, we found that they hadn’t sent the right amount of disk.

Oh.

We had ordered two of the vendor’s newest disk drive to provide ‘enough’ space for twenty-four almost-but-not-completely diskless clients and a bunch of applications with space left over for user files so people could, you know, get some work done. Officially, though, those disk drives were so new, so recently added to the catalog that they weren’t ‘officially’ supported with the server hardware we had ordered. Yet. (They worked of course — that’s why standards are nice — but there was no Official Check Mark in the order book.) Some faceless clerk in the Practical Joke department had looked at the order, decided that since the RZ58 wasn’t ‘officially’ supported, they’d just send RZ57s instead. This wasn’t a problem except for the fact that it meant that a quarter of our disk space was missing. There was no way to configure our lab with the hardware we had available to us. And the chances of getting replacement disk drives before Monday morning was (let me think) zero.

But, like I said, no pressure.

The Officially Supported and Documented configuration was, as I mentioned, almost-but-not-completely diskless clients. The clients had small internal hard drives but they wouldn’t boot from them — they’d boot across the network and load their operating system from the server. They’d use the local drives for temporary file storage and for paging and swapping.

The wrong server disks meant that we couldn’t do that.

Krista asked if I thrive under pressure or if I crumble. Some people would thrive. Some Roses would rise to the challenge. Me? I crumbled, at least for a while. My first instinct was panic: “We’re DOOMED!  Aieeee!” I clutched my head and ran around screaming for a while. After sufficient time wallowing in fear and despair, after several incredibly patient looks from Ms. Rose, I calmed down. Was there a way out?

Maybe there was.

The disk drives in the workstations were the key. They were small but they were large enough to boot from. Large enough to hold a small part of the operating system. Once a system had booted from its local drive, it could mount the rest of its operating system from the file server. It could work. It should work. It would work.

The only trouble was that this was completely uncharted territory. Not only was it not documented, the official Word Of God (or at least the vendor) was that it wouldn’t work at all. And this was pre Google (heck, it was pre Alta Vista) so if someone had done it and if they had written down what they did (both pretty big ifs) there was no way to find their notes.

So all we had to do is find a way to do something that there were no procedures for, that wasn’t documented anywhere, that the company that made the hardware and software said couldn’t be done and do it in two days. And do it twenty-four times.

Sure thing. Can do. No problem.

I don`t remember a whole lot of that weekend. I remember being a little punchy in the middle of the night and naming one of the machines after the third most ineffectual member (okay, ‘third’ is probably arguable…) of the Legion of Super-Heroes. I remember about a bazillion false starts. And I remember the moment (I don`t remember when it was, only that it was dark out) when we made it work. It felt good. Eureka moments always feel good.

Then all we had to do was formalize the procedure, work out the kinks and bugs and do it twenty-three more times. Piece of cake.

So when Monday morning rolled around, the lab had two dozen working computers and two very sleep-deprived administrators. But we made it. We were done.

Until they did it to us again the next year.