Posts Tagged ‘The GPS Wars’


November 28th, 2011    -    6 Comments

It took a very long while. Thirteen years. It took a lot of people. Nine thousand or so. We had to travel a far way. From California to Florida. To wake up awfully early. Five a.m. We took a car, a plane and then a bus before we sat on the shore of Banana Creek in the drizzle of a gray dawn to watch the Mars Science Laboratory – NASA’s newest and largest rover – lift off from Cape Canaveral.

The rover will look for the smallest signs of life.

My husband had a role in its engineering for several years. I do not recall the stretch of time with particularity. In the heroic cause of ordinary life, the days do not shine with glory.

We sat in bleachers for two hours as the minutes and clouds passed. We chatted with our neighbors, compared stories of kids and colleges, and drank coffee and hot chocolate, our gaze focused lightly on the horizon, where a shiny sliver stood against all odds that time could yet stop, or the day turn disastrous.

As the count drew down, the flight director made one more audible poll of system flight controllers for a go/no-go call, a spoken ritual broadcast on loudspeaker. There was no no given. There was only go, and again, go, and again, go.

Go, and all accounted for, go.

Certain then that neither earth nor sky would intercede, we stood and crossed our hearts and sang an anthem, then heard one last benediction, one final decree, a dedication to all the men and women who had risen each day to this task, traversing their own long years and brave distance, in the split second before their work could be judged as success or failure, taking measure by each part, each step, allowing the greatness to be no greater than the small in each of us.

And I thought to myself: Could there ever be life more intelligent than this? The propulsion of human ignition, the momentum of life itself, the genius of the inevitable, irreversible, go.

galaxy at the bottom of a glass

March 29th, 2010    -    2 Comments

That you could spend nearly a thousand dollars we don’t yet have, to save the crippled cause of a poor public school, for a clutch of stuff that you didn’t much want, a blurry galaxy rendered through the bottom of a bottomless champagne glass: a tripod telescope, Dodgers seats, a studio tour and four seats at a TV show taping. That you could pan this fool’s gold and thus deliver our daughter to a stretch of celestial awe beyond the arc of the moon. All to see the stars! The stars!

Well done, husband.

(After a night at the public school auction.)

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Discuss amongst yourselves

November 20th, 2009    -    7 Comments

I have a little load of delicates in this just-published book. I haven’t seen the book yet, but I’m posting this promotional video to make it easier for me to view another 2,000 times:

Since the video is a little finicky, you can always click and see it here.

The book is one thing, but the really interesting thing (to me) is that the editor, Kirtsy co-founder and social media maven Laura Mayes, was once a co-worker of mine. Actually, I was her dictatorial but charmingly benevolent boss back when I was a woman of substance. That our lives have intersected again is something far more interesting than anything of mine you’ll see in the book, because it’s the way women’s lives really are: deeply and profoundly connected.

I can get as riled up as the next gal about the inequality in this world of ours, the his-versus-hers, the patriarchy, and the idiots in pants. But the more I see, the more I see that’s the way it has always been. There is no equal, and there is no quality. So I don’t want to spend any more time getting riled up. Not while there is so much to do. Like write, and read, and fold laundry; like start companies and spread peace; like soothe the suffering and calm the cries; and discuss, yes, discuss everything amongst ourselves.

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Proof of an alternate universe

June 22nd, 2009    -    8 Comments

Me: I have to pick up the dog poop in the yard before Amy Tiemann comes today.

Him: I just picked it up on Saturday.

One day soon he should get a dog.

In the end analysis

June 9th, 2009    -    24 Comments

You know I’ve been married before, so you might wonder how the second time around is better than the first. Surely the first one was wrong and the second one is right?

I’ve stopped thinking that way. It seems to me that we have the same fights, the same frustrations, the same salty tears, the same low-grade despair, and yes, even the same loneliness. I’ve stopped thinking that one husband is different than the next, or even that my husband is different than yours. They all seem a lot alike to me. After two, five, ten years or more of cohabitation, they still don’t know where you keep the extra toilet paper.

In the middle of it all I remember that my husband doesn’t have a spiritual practice, so he can’t always see things clearly. In the middle of it all I remember that I do have a spiritual practice, so I try to see things clearly. I cannot find a different husband, but I can find a different me, who looks at things differently, taking more responsibility and assigning less blame, appreciating the whole instead of dividing the parts.

A reflection on recent social media reconnections.

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The secret life of men

February 19th, 2009    -    11 Comments

I don’t have anything to wear.
Does this make me look fat?
You hurt my feelings.
I hate my hair.
Does my breath smell?
Does waxing hurt?
My boss doesn’t like me.
I’m beginning to look like my dad.
It’s my natural color.
I borrowed your moisturizer.

The secret life of men is the secret life of us all. So there are no secrets.
Now, can you keep it a secret?

Notes on congeniality

September 4th, 2008    -    14 Comments

When I was a senior in college – serious, smart and ambitious– a professor asked if I wanted to grade papers for hourly pay. I accepted, not just because I needed the money, $2.50 an hour, but because I needed a mentor. Now this was not a good or well-liked professor. He was tenured, but he had stopped actually teaching his students decades before. In each class lecture, he droned disinterestedly from a yellowed sheet of notes he took from a dusty three-ring binder, the pages as aged as his skin, as discolored as his teeth.

He never looked up and he knew none of our names. But he sought me out, and I traded on his attention.

I did his work and I took his wage and I felt lucky about it. When I graduated, he arranged a series of job interviews for me with the executives who were at the top of my profession in the city where I would live. I had agreed to his proposal because he had that kind of power, and in leveraging it, I landed my first real job.

Later on I came to realize that he had probably not chosen me for this gratuity because I was serious, smart and ambitious – what I perceived to be my obvious qualifications – but more likely because of other attributes. I was no pageant winner, but I could contend with the best, and I was congenial.

Young women are often granted the gifts of old men’s power. We are given the opportunity to do their work and do it cheaply. We do it well; we are recognized and applauded. We might be invited into the club room, on occasion, where mostly other men chat amiably about the mission, and the team, and the objective, and the strategy for whatever consumer, capitalist or culture battle they are plotting at the time. We might view this admittance as our achievement and reward for being serious, smart and ambitious. But it is not, no, not hardly. We are invited in because we are young women, and we have the charms of a certain kind of young woman. We do the dirty work well, and hot-damn, we are congenial.

That is, until.

And it’s what happens after that makes all the difference.

How the better half lives

May 25th, 2008    -    12 Comments

Upon returning from the pet store with goldfish, hermit crabs and/or aquatic turtles, which have been called one of the most labor-intensive reptiles to maintain:

Don’t worry, you won’t have to do a thing.

Upon being reminded that it’s time to renew the car insurance, pay the property taxes, or fix the broken sprinkler that sprays a 30-foot geyser onto the neighbor’s front porch every morning.

It’s on my list.

Upon hearing of the bolt embedded in the tread of my brand-new tire:

That’s easy. Just drive it down to the station and wait for it to be fixed.

Upon learning of the first day of school, the date of the parent-teacher conference, the call from the school nurse, the school reading night, art night, volunteer night, open house, and the last day of school:

Wish I could be there.

Upon entering the kitchen while the lasagna is in the oven, the artichokes are steaming, the maple-glazed carrots are glistening, the salad is chilling and the garlic bread is warming 15 minutes before the company arrives:

Do you want me to grill something?

Upon opening the drawers where four dozen articles of clothing have been sorted, washed, dried, folded and returned every week for the last 12 years:

Thank god. I was almost out of underwear.

Upon getting out of bed, after the dog has been walked and fed, the water boiled, the beans ground, the slow-drip coffee made, the girl’s breakfast and lunch assembled, the dishwasher emptied, the permission slip signed, the homework checked and the child herded out of bed and wrestled into her school clothes, all by 7:25 a.m.:

Are you in a bad mood today?

Upon being asked to check his calendar for a week in the summer when it might be possible to plan a vacation.

Nothing. Not one word.

DISCLAIMER: These incidents are not exactly based on the real life of any actual better or worse half that I know. But they may be based on one you know.

Cutting the cord

May 5th, 2008    -    6 Comments

My husband came back crestfallen.

I had saved the flyer for weeks in hopes that the planets would somehow align between opportunity and initiative. It was Free E-Waste Recycling day in our town, and they would take everything. They would take everything electronic taking up space in closets, occupying that place in our heads called “Maybe Someday.” As in maybe someday we’ll find a use for this again. It is the nature of this stuff that it cannot be useful, at least not in the same way, again. It is by design that it is obsolete and incompatible. It is the global economic model.

They took the massively elegant G4 processing tower which was the size of a small child.

They took my old laptop which was really OK except it wouldn’t power the new programs.

They took our first-generation digital camera which always amazed people when we said what we’d paid for it.

They took a colossal monitor, the kind that required its own furniture and corner of the room.

They took keyboards made sticky with dust and crumbs and a wee splash of Pinot Grigio on a late night or two.

They took a tangle of mysterious cords and mateless remotes.

They took everything.

And for a guy who has staked it all on technological prowess, they took a slice of his religion.

“You should have seen the pile of TVs and video consoles and cameras and plasma screens,” he muttered post-traumatically when he came back. “We probably paid $15,000 for the stuff we gave.”

It goes back to the business of worth, and how it isn’t ever what we think it is. There is that saying we all repeat and even believe – you get what you pay for – but it’s not entirely true, is it? In the end, and always sooner than you expect, you give what you pay for. And that shift in view can really change how you live, what you work for, and what you cherish.

The closets are clearer today. I’m going out to pull weeds.

Where in the world

April 23rd, 2008    -    13 Comments

My husband gave me a new car. This is a gift of staggering dimension, and I’m only now, as they say, beginning to “wrap my mind around it.”

It was not a surprise. On Christmas morning he handed me a piece of paper with the picture of a car on it, the car he had determined was right for my needs: hauling all kinds of precious and ever-growing cargo. Then he spent several more months deliberating on the features that were the ones he thought I deserved.

My old car was doing fine, but at 12 years old, it could definitely be called old. I had driven it from Texas to California in 1997 and it symbolized the life I had left behind: a life of workaday grind, grief and stress, yet relative solitude and independent ease; a life without a child, a dog, a Brownie troop and Keebler crumbs. Mine was the kind of car that never fails, yet lately, when pressed to make a road trip, I felt better off renting some reliability.

When we arrived at the dealership, I could tell from the start that times had changed since the last time I bought a new car.

I remember the delivery process like this. You sit behind the wheel with the salesman beside you. He shows you the refined and slightly unfamiliar features of the dash: the windshield wipers, the gear shift, the lights, the stereo, the AC, the adjustable steering column, the cruise control, the CD changer (!), the remote side mirrors (!), the cupholders (!).

There was none of that.

Instead, we sat in the front seat and he began punching a touchscreen that occupies the center of the cockpit. As a car marketing professional, he must have sensed the slight quiver that was about to send my female eyeballs orbiting, because he said:

I’ll never buy another car without one of these.

Hmm, I thought, I’d better keep my opinions to myself.

His fingers were flying through maneuvers that I would never remember.

You can find the nearest Starbucks, for example.

Isn’t there one on every corner?

When you’re alone on the road this will lead you straight to the nearest Chinese restaurant.

If I’m ever again alone on the road I’m heading straight to China.

I’ve already programmed in your home address.

Can’t I just go back the way I came?

I considered it all harmless folly, even when he handed me the owner’s manuals. That’s right, two manuals. The manual for operating the car was 584 pages. The manual for operating the GPS system was 274 pages.

My husband sensed my trepidation and said, “Want to just follow me?”

And I did. Things went smoothly until he decided to try a shortcut. Then the map started scolding me, in that mildly sensual yet patronizing voice inherited from patriarchal computer forebears.

Right turn in one-quarter mile, she suggested.

Left turn in one hundred yards, she intoned.

Right turn ahead, she insisted.

Left turn ahead, she shrieked, and shot me in the head.

The commands elevated in urgency as the system rapidly reconfigured the route to accommodate my husband’s own innovative guidance choices one car ahead. Once we arrived home I was drenched in flop sweat and palpitating with fury.

I did not set my ass in that car again for one week.

Oh I know there’s plenty of gender psychology at work here, but I consider it all too obvious to mention.

Suffice it to say this may well be the car that I deserve, but I’m more convinced than ever that I don’t deserve it.

Honey, I said carefully to my husband one morning, I just don’t find myself getting lost that often.

Compassionately, he disabled the GPS and I’m getting used to driving again. I’ve located the radio. But I haven’t yet ventured toward the windshield wipers.

And I know in my gut what the lesson is. If I can overcome my aversion, if I can truly find my way around it, then I will finally be getting somewhere.

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