PAgent’s Progress

Words Are My Favorite Toys

October 13th, 2005

A Home Without Children….

…is remarkably quiet. I got up at six and got in the shower, but by the time I was out I knew I wasn’t going in to work today. Too much abdominal instability, plus a fever of 100 degrees. Plus, I just wasn’t comfortable being more than 30 feet from a bathroom for any length of time.

I fixed the kids fried egg sandwiches for breakfast, and got the trash out to the curb for pickup. This pretty much wiped me out. The kids went off to school, and my wife (who is also sick, she has a rhinovirus) went off to run some errands. And the house became quiet.

My house is never quiet. The children are always making noise of some kind, and my wife typically has the radio on or an audiobook playing. Sitting in a quiet house is a truly odd experience. It’s also just odd being home on a weekday. Strange programs are on TV. I caught the last half of “The Quiet Man” with John Wayne, one of my favorite films. It’s too politically incorrect to be made today, but I love it. Great characters, and some of the extended scenes between John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara have no dialogue at all, yet beautifully reveal the relationship between them, in all its human complexity. Man, I wish they made more movies like that now.

I got a chance to sit down with Resident Evil 4, and managed to beat Mendez. I had been stuck there for a while, and was getting cranky about it. The wife brought home Thai food for lunch, and after finishing it I was feeling awful again, and laid down for a bit of rest.

To my surprise, I awoke hours later when the kids came home from school. Guess I needed more rest than I thought. I had received some homegrown honey from an online friend in the mail. I was completely tickled by this.

I find it amazing how the web can strip people of their pretense and posture, their social camouflage, and reveal their true personalities. Where anonymity exists, with no social consequences, all too many people become obnoxious trolls, abusive for the sake of being abusive. And then there are people who, with absolutely no possibility of recognition or reward, remain kind and thoughtful. Like my beekeeper friend, who has never met me, and yet shipped me a pint of his precious honey harvest simply to share with me. Such a kind gesture. It’s good honey, too.

Having missed (almost) two days of work, I am in the awkward position of having to inform a client that I won’t be able to get a project done by the end of Friday that I had promised to him. I really hate it when that happens. Nevertheless, I don’t see how I could have gotten anything done in the shape I’ve been in, and I surely needed the rest. I hope he’s understanding.

October 12th, 2005

Workday, Interrupted

I’ve got some kind of stomach bug. I’ll refrain from clinical details. Let’s just say my routine has been disrupted. So much so that I came home from work early and went to bed. I initially thought it was food poisoning, but it may be some kind of virus.

The most entertaining aspects of this particular illness thus far are the ominous and loud noises that periodically emanate from my abdomen. They sound like a cross between distant thunder and some kind of tar pit. They are not reassuring.

October 11th, 2005

Trying to Remain Tired

I left work early yesterday in order to get back to Les Schwab. I was supposed to get my lug nuts retorqued (and if THAT doesn’t sound like a euphemism, I don’t know what does) but I also wanted to talk to someone about this wheel rubbing issue.

I was immediately disabused of my notion that I could just put stiffer shocks on the car. The nice gentleman at Les Schwab said it would completely change the way the car handled, as well as being expensive, and I wouldn’t like the results.

He suggested three options: I could go to a narrower, yet taller tire that would probably clear the lip on the wheel arch. I could go to a smaller tire overall, or I could get the wheel arch lip ‘rolled’.

You see, the only place the tire touches is on the inwardly projecting edge of the body panel above the tire. And it barely touches, even there, and only when I have more than just me in the car. Apparently there is a special tool (called, appropriately enough, a ‘roller’) which auto body shops use to roll this horizontally projecting lip of metal into a more vertical position.

This is apparently a routine strategy when putting oversized tires on one’s inexpensive import, as all the cool kids are doing. I did a bit of web research, and apparently great care must be taken in the ‘rolling’ process to avoid cracking the paint. Presumably an auto body shop knows how to do this.

So, the guy at Les Schwab will call around and get some price quotes for rolling my car. Will I do it? I don’t know. I really, really like the way the car is handling now. It always used to feel tentative, as if I was only a few pounds of lateral force away from completely losing traction. And I was plenty tired of spinning out at green lights. Now it feels rock solid, and I like it. If I’m going to spend time in commuter traffic, I like having some sort of defense against the idiots I encounter. Going to a smaller tire footprint will mean I lose some of that control. Maybe just a little, but still it would be a step in the wrong direction.

I guess it will come down to how much it will cost, and how much of a pain it will be to get it done.

Of course, I also have my eye on this totally bitchin’ spoiler….

Peace out, yo.

October 9th, 2005

Riding Under Strange Duress

I’m used to having arguments with myself. In particular, I’m used to having arguments between my rational mind and my physical self. Generally they go something like this:

“She wants you. You know she does. You should get yourself some of that.”

“How can you even contemplate such a thing, knowing the shambles it would make of our marriage, our career, and our future?”

Thankfully, that argument has been going on so long that it’s become more like an amiable sports rivalry between old friends. While the exchanges still go on, there’s no heat in them anymore.

No, the arguments that still carry some passion go something like this:

“Given our family history, and current weight, it would behoove us to get some exercise.”

“Screw you. I’m comfy right here on the couch. Get me some pizza.”

So it was a bit of a shock when I realized today that even though I really wanted to lay around the house, my body was craving exercise. All the riding in the month of September had triggered strange biochemical changes in me, and part of me just really wanted to get out on my bike.

The forecast was for mid-60’s and only a 20% chance of rain. I surely wasn’t going to get a better chance than that, maybe for the rest of the winter. So off I went.

When I hit the bike path, I was reminded of an important aspect of autumn in the northwest. I’ve heard that in other parts of the country, autumn leaves are crisp and fluffy. They blow about in the wind, and crunch underfoot. That is not the case here. Here, autumn is the beginning of the rainy season, and autumn leaves are flat soggy things that carpet the streets and sidewalks, and smother the lawns. Most importantly to cyclists, wet leaves on pavement have a coefficient of friction similar to mineral oil on Teflon. So, I rode very cautiously indeed while I was on the bike path.

Other than that, it was a good ride. I took a route I’ve been reluctant to try in the past because of the hills involved. After my trials commuting to work, I decided I shouldn’t be so afraid of hills anymore, and in fact it wasn’t that bad. There was one curving descent that was a lot of fun. The air was crisp, and although dark clouds occasionally threatened rain, it remained dry.

Today’s stats:

  • Total distance: 25.8 miles
  • Max speed: 38.6 mph (THAT was fun)
  • Total time (moving): 2 hrs 7 minutes
  • Ave. speed (moving): 12.1 mph
  • Time stopped: 9 minutes
  • Ave. speed (overall): 11.2 mph
  • No. of recumbents seen: 2
  • No. of pieces of roadkill seen: 2; 1 possum, 1 raccoon
  • No. of llamas seen: 3
October 8th, 2005

In Which I Get Tired

I drive a Toyota Corolla. It was purchased to be my commuter car, and it does it’s job very well. It’s small and economical, getting good mileage. Unfortunately, because it is light in weight and front-wheel drive (some of the same factors that make it economical) it can be a bit squirrelly. Particularly on wet pavement, it’s easy to lose traction. Now, you can imagine that being in Portland, I spend a lot of time on wet pavement. This is something that has made me nervous on more than one occasion.

So, when I noticed that my tires were getting a bit worn, I decided to try and improve the situation with an upgrade in tires. I went to my local Les Schwab, and told them the situation. They recommended a new set of all-season radials, with siping.

I’ve never been one for showy appearances. If I cared how the car I drove looked, I wouldn’t be driving a Corolla. But the plastic hubcaps on the Corolla are spectacularly ugly:

I just wanted something that looked a little better. So I asked about new rims. Nothing flashy, nothing showy, nothing expensive, just something that looked better than those plastic hubcaps. The Les Schwab guy pointed out some inexpensive clear-coated rims that he thought would look nice on the car.

Then we discussed going from a 14-inch to a 15-inch tire. The larger tire and rim would be slightly more expensive, but should improve handling. So I said yes.

I was driving home with my daughter, when I heard an intermittant scraping noise from the wheel wells. This was troubling, but I had an apppointment across town, so I loaded up the rest of the family and headed out. This time the noise was incredibly loud. We went back home and took the minivan.

When we got back home, I started to take the Corolla back to Les Schwab, but it made no noise. I went fast, I went slow, I went over speed bumps, turned hard right, turned hard left. No noise. Hmmm. Must have fixed itself, whatever it was.

So I loaded up the family to go to dinner, and stayed outside the car while they climbed in. The car body settled disturbingly low on the new tires, low enough that when the car hit any bump at all, the edge of the wheel well rubbed on the outside edge of the new, and wider, tires. Well, damn.

Schwab is closed on Sundays, so I will have to wait until next week to address the issue. I can’t decide whether to go back to a 14-inch tire, or try to do something about the suspension, maybe get stiffer shocks. I don’t really want to give up the new tires, because it was raining cats and dogs this afternoon but the car felt much more stable. I even tried to peel out from an intersection, on a hill, and it was hard to do.

But aside from the uncertainty in resolving the wheel scraping, I am still troubled. I look at my car now, and I wonder why I got those new rims. I’ve never particularly cared what my vehicle looked like before. I think that if I had realized that the rims were made by American Racing, with their logo prominantly displayed, I would have demurred.

When I look at my car, with those new rims on it, it looks very flashy and ostentatious to my eyes. Whatever could have gotten into me?

Then it hits me. This is the first stirring of my mid-life crisis. First flashy rims and new tires. Next, I’ll put on a spoiler. Then, tinted windows and decals. An overpowered stereo with a massive subwoofer. A coffee can exhaust pipe. A body kit. Then….neon lights underneath. Heaven help me.

October 4th, 2005

Do Not Touch

One of the things I find most satisfying about marriage is the opportunity to really get to know another person. All their secret dreams and secret fears, what they like, what they hate. I get a kick out of picking things out for my wife and finding out if it’s what she would have chosen for herself. That’s the kind of exploration that can be truly rewarding in a relationship.

Of course, the learning curve can be a real bitch. My wife was rather spectacularly active in her youth (ultimate frisbee, crew, running, swimming, etc.) and as a result she has destroyed virtually all ligamental support in her ankles. Typically, this just means you need to take care not to fold, spindle or mutilate them at any time. Kid gloves, always.

Mind you, my wife has a tremendous pain threshold. She can take a lot of punishment, it’s just that under the influence of either illness or injury she turns into, well, a bit of a she-demon. I remember the first time I tried to comfort her when she had the flu, before we were married. It was really kind of cute the way she bit my head off when I suggested a particular kind of medication, and then snarled when I tried to cover her with a blanket.

The births of our children were another interesting learning experience, but she actually maintained a tremendous degree of self-control during labor. In fact, after our daughter was born, I regained feeling in my fingers in only a few days.

However, about every year or two, my wife will plant a foot wrong, step off a curb wrong, or step on a loose rock, and twist her ankle. And by ‘twist’ I mean brutally sprain. This has happened so many times that my response has become largely automatic. When my son threw open the back door last night yelling that “Mom fell down!” I had a good idea what to expect, and sprinted out of the garage.

There she was, in a posture I knew well: Flat on her back like a junebug, swearing under her breath. Of course, even after all these years, I can forget what I’m doing, so I reached down to her and–


Whoopsie. How silly of me to forget my basic safety protocols. I carefully stuffed my hands in my pockets, and repeated the only phrase appropriate under the circumstances:

“What Would You Like Me To Do?”

I’m generally safe if I just repeat this phrase until I get some kind of cogent instruction. Hands in pockets, check. I’m standing out of reach, check. It’s not raining very hard, I can stand here for a while.

Then, to my horror, my son moved toward his injured mother. You see, my son has a kind and gentle soul. He saw his mother go down hard, crying out in pain. It rattled him. He wanted to both soothe her, and get some reassurance for himself.

The poor little fool.

He actually stepped between her legs, placing him in terrifyingly close proximity to her injured ankle. My heart skipped a beat, and I quickly swooped down and yanked him out of harm’s way. Thank God. Poor guy, he wasn’t old enough to have learned the cardinal rule of the injured Momma — Do Not Touch.

After a few minutes of this, my wife asked to be pulled into a sitting position. She had, of course, twisted her ankle, but in the process had landed rather heavily on the driveway on her other knee. Ouch. She began giving specific instructions. At last, I could act.

I collected the requested analgesics and medications, while my son got her a bottle of water. I then helped her into the mini-van, so she could take our son to his cub scout meeting. She actually still went to the meeting. While the popular conception is that our daughter got her stubborn streak from me, I can assure you that she inherited a healthy dose from both sides of the family tree.

When she hobbled back afterwards, I installed her on the couch, got her ankle propped up, and fetched her a couple of ice packs. Later on, I got her tucked into bed. This morning before I left for work, I got out her crutches and aircast. Yes, she owns her own pair of crutches and aircast. While I hesitate to call this perfectly normal, it’s utterly unsurprising. We’ve done it before, we’ll do it again.

I predict she will be hobbling around for a couple of days. Then slowly, as her ankle recovers, she’ll limp less and less, until she’s fully recovered. It’s all just another routine, just another aspect of my married life. As odd as it sounds, I can’t imagine my life without it, somehow.

Still, I should take an opportunity some time soon to teach my son about when he should keep his hands in his pockets. That kid’s going to get himself killed.

October 2nd, 2005

Various Orthogonal Responsibilities

I didn’t get home Friday until after 10:00 pm. Sometimes the job requires that you stay until the job is done. However, this seems particularly true for patent work, where deadlines can be absolute and nonextendable. I’ve been doing this for more than ten years, and this was certainly not the first time that I’ve had to work late on a bar date. My wife certainly knows it can happen at pretty much any time, and I’m very fortunate that she puts up with it. I’m also very glad that it doesn’t happen more often than it does.

In this case, I was not working alone, which always sucks. Rather I was working with another practitioner, one with a great deal of experience. This always makes the work more pleasant. You both know what needs to be done and the kinds of details that have to be checked off. And there are many, many volumes full of patent cases that have hinged on the little details of patent practice. It’s good to have another pair of eyes.

After this very long day, I then had to get up on Saturday morning to take part in a retreat. I’m on the Board of Directors of a local nonprofit, and we were having a retreat to finish developing a strategic plan for the organization. The meeting lasted from 9:30 am to 3:00 pm.

Although the retreat was very productive, and a lot was accomplished, I was left feeling strange about it. When I was invited to join the Board, I did so because I really felt strongly that what this group was doing was important, and I wanted to have some small part in helping them succeed. I figured, I was capable of calling people and asking for money, I could volunteer at an official function or two. But now I’m being called upon to help chart the actual future of the organization. What the hell am I doing? I’m a chemist, and a patent weenie. Although I’ve been in the workforce for quite a few years, I have no real management experience, don’t have an M.B.A., and have never studied such things. What business do I have advocating any course of action for this organization? As Admiral James Stockdale famously asked, “Who am I? What am I doing here?”

To put the icing on this particular comedic cake, I have been asked to be vice-president of the Board next year. Now, I grant you, the responsibilities of the vice-president appear to be pretty much limited to making a commitment to being president the following year. But still, what am I doing here?

I guess I can only continue to do my best. I still feel strongly that this organization deserves to succeed, and that such success in turn would continue to strengthen the community I live in. It is of such things that civilization is made.

Predictably, after two such long days, I had little patience or enthusiasm for my other full-time job, that of being a husband and father. Nevertheless, I managed to scrub parts of our bathroom, shop for and prepare Sunday dinner, and repair a broken toilet in the utility room. Oh, and we had yet another ‘incident’ with my daughter.

We took the kids to a local party supply store to get Halloween costumes. After the requisite oohing, ahing, begging and whining, they picked out costumes, and we went to the front of the store to check out. My daughter had her arms pulled into her shirt, stretching it out. Her mother told her to quit stretching her shirt, and bring her arms out. She pulled her right arm out, but kept her left arm in. I told her to get her other arm out of her shirt.

When she did so, it became obvious that she was hiding something under her shirt. I asked her what it was, and she brought out a package of ‘dirt candy’, probably crushed oreos. “I was going to show it to you when you were in line and gross you out”. I was furious. I made her put it back and ordered her outside.

Was she trying to shoplift it? I honestly don’t know. She denies it, but she has a history of both stealing AND lying when it suits her. As a result, her denial means nothing. I want to believe her, I really do, but it seems all too plausible that she wanted to smuggle the candy home so she could eat it after she went to bed. We simply don’t know, and can’t know.

Which results in a dilemma: Do we believe her, and punish her only for the bad judgment of tucking candy she hadn’t paid for under her shirt? Or do we assume the worst, and punish her for a clumsy attempt at shoplifting? Is she trying to be honest with us now, and paying the price of her earlier dishonesty? Or is this just another example of the kind of games she has always played with us?

All I know for sure is, I’m tired.